1. Sweet Little Mystery – John Martyn

John Martyn’s Grace and Danger is widely considered to be one of the classic break up albums of all time, regularly being mentioned in the same breath as Blood on the Tracks and Rumours, and it isn’t difficult to see why.

Sweet Little Mystery heads up the trio of emotional killers here, being followed in short order by Hurt in Your Heart and Baby Please Come Home. It’s a lot to take in, even on a good day, so you should probably approach with caution if your own emotional life is a little rocky right now.

The context for the album is, of course, John’s tumultuous, protracted separation and subsequent divorce from his missus—and long-time musical collaborator—Beverley Martyn. As such, writing and recording took place in fraught circumstances at a time that would see John unravel both physically and emotionally. To be fair, if you yourself would have let Beverley Martyn slip through your fingers as a result of your own numbskullery, you’d be a bit miffed too.

It’s not the letters that you just don’t write
It’s not the arms of some new friend
It’s not the crying in the depth of the night
That keeps me hanging on, just waiting for the end

It’s that sweet little mystery that’s in your heart
It’s just that sweet little mystery that makes me cry

Sweet Little Mystery – John Martyn

It didn’t help that John got his mate Phil Collins involved too, himself going through a bitter divorce of his own at the time. Recording sessions must have been a right laugh.

If we’re looking to be critical, it’s hard to overlook the synth-heavy 1980s production, perhaps not entirely unrelated to Phil’s involvement. Either way, Grace and Danger is said to have remained John’s favourite of his own albums up until his passing in 2009. Not for nothing did he doggedly fight Island Records at every step simply to get it released, the powers that be feeling that it was all a bit too hard to listen to.

For all the heartbreak and catharsis here, there is an attempt at redemption. In Save Some (for Me), John throws up the emotional defences, maintaining that he wasn’t really all that committed to her after all:

I saved some
You didn’t get it all
‘Cause I saved some for me

Save Some (For Me) – John Martyn

Did you, John? Did you really? I’m not entirely convinced that you did. You don’t seem the type.

Nevertheless, a classic album, and for me Sweet Little Mystery is the track that captures its essence. Travel on you relentless beautiful jester and magician, Mr. John Martyn.

Artist: John Martyn
Album: Grace and Danger
Producer: Martin Levan
Released: Island Records, 1980

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