Life in a Northern Town

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"Life in a Northern Town"
The Dream Academy - Life In A Northern Town.jpg
Single by the Dream Academy
from the album The Dream Academy
ReleasedMarch 1985
The Dream Academy singles chronology
"Life in a Northern Town"
"The Edge of Forever"
Music video
"Life in a Northern Town" on YouTube

"Life in a Northern Town" is a song by British musical group the Dream Academy. The song was released as a single from the band's debut studio album The Dream Academy, released in 1985. The song was written as an elegy to British folk musician Nick Drake. Written by band members Nick Laird-Clowes and Gilbert Gabriel,[3] the song was produced by Laird-Clowes with help from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.[3] The single reached No. 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1986. It is the band’s highest-peaking chart single in the United States,[4] the UK,[5] and Ireland.[6]

Original version[edit]

The Dream Academy released the original version of "Life in a Northern Town" as a single in 1985. The song appeared on their self-titled album.[3] The single peaked at number seven on the U.S. charts.[7]


"Life in a Northern Town" was written as an elegy to British folk musician Nick Drake, who died in 1974.[8][9] The song's composition was heavily influenced by Drake's music (the acoustic arrangement was composed using the guitar Drake is seen holding on the cover of his 1970 album Bryter Layter), and the single's record sleeve includes a dedication to him.[citation needed]

Gilbert Gabriel, a member of the Dream Academy and co-writer of "Life in a Northern Town", said that the inspiration for the tune came from his experience at Dartington College of Arts.[10]

The song, which took a year to record, includes elements of classical music, an "African-esque" chant of "hey ma ma ma ma", which was later sampled by dance duo Dario G for their track "Sunchyme" and more recently by the duo Tritonal,[11] and hints of psychedelia.[10] The song is written in the key of E major with a main chord pattern of E-Amaj7-E and a vocal range from B3 to E5.[12]

Music video[edit]

Two different music videos were made for "Life in a Northern Town". The first was made in 1984 and filmed in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, England. It was directed by Tim Pope.[13][better source needed]

Upon the release of their initial music video, the band's members were unhappy with the finished product and elected to shoot a new video when the song became a single in North America.[citation needed] The North American version was filmed in 1985 and was directed by Leslie Libman and Larry Williams.[14][better source needed] It was filmed in and around Newcastle upon Tyne with some scenes filmed in Manchester in the UK and in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, United States, using footage of the now-closed LTV Steel and Duquesne Light facilities. The video featured footage from one of the band’s first television appearances, on The Tube. The second version is considered the band's official music video for the single.[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

7" single

  1. "Life in a Northern Town" – 4:17
  2. "Test Tape No. 3" – 5:01

12" single

  1. "Life in a Northern Town" (Extended) – 5:19
  2. "Test Tape No. 3" – 5:03
  3. "Life in a Northern Town" (7" Mix) – 4:14
  4. "Poised on the Edge of Forever" – 3:32

Chart history[edit]

Chart (1985–86) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[15] 4
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[16] 7
Ireland (IRMA)[17] 9
UK Singles (OCC)[18] 15
US Billboard Hot 100[19] 7
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 7
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks[20] 2
Year-end chart (1986) Rank
US Top Pop Singles (Billboard)[21] 78

Sugarland cover version[edit]

"Life in a Northern Town"
Song by Sugarland featuring Little Big Town and Jake Owen
from the album Love on the Inside
LabelMercury Nashville
Songwriter(s)Gilbert Gabriel
Nick Laird-Clowes
Producer(s)Byron Gallimore

The song was covered in 2007 by the country music duo Sugarland, along with Little Big Town and Jake Owen, on the Sugarland Change for Change Tour. A live performance from 2007 was made into a music video by Becky Fluke for the network Country Music Television.[22] Although not officially released as a single, this rendition received airplay on country radio, debuting at 57 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart dated for 5 April 2008 and reaching a peak of 28. It also peaked at 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 based on downloads.

This performance was included on the Deluxe Fan Edition of Sugarland's 2008 album Love on the Inside[22] and on Capitol Records' late 2008 re-release of Little Big Town's 2007 album A Place to Land. It was nominated for Vocal Event of the Year at the Country Music Association awards,[23] Best Country Collaboration with Vocals at the 51st Grammy Awards,[24] and Vocal Event of the Year at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music awards.[25]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2008) Peak
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[26] 53
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[27] 28
US Billboard Hot 100[28] 43

Other versions[edit]

  • In 1985, British comedian Chris Sievey – as his comic persona Frank Sidebottom – covered the song on the album Oh Blimey It's Christmas.
  • In 1997, Dario G sampled the song's African-style chant in "Sunchyme". As the lead single from the album Sunmachine, the song reached the top five in many European music charts. It also topped the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in the United States following its release there in May 1998. In the United Kingdom, the song peaked at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.[29]
  • In 1998, group Jakaranda used a sample of the track in their single "Never Let You Go", which was featured in Disney's The Parent Trap remake.
  • In 2005, Rick Springfield made a version of the song on the covers album The Day After Yesterday.[30]
  • In 2007, Sexton Blake recorded the song for their album Plays the Hits![31]
  • In 2014, Chris Collingwood, lead singer of Fountains of Wayne, released a cover version of the song on the multi-artist compilation album Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion. Philip Price and Flora Reed of the indie rock band Winterpills provide backing vocals on this version.[32]
  • In 2017, Tritonal released a single titled "Hey MaMaMa" in which the chant from the chorus of "Life in a Northern Town" is featured extensively throughout the track.[11]


  1. ^ Monger, James Christopher. "The Dream Academy – Artist Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  2. ^ "Top 20 Most Beautiful Songs of the 80s". Listverse. 6 February 2008.
  3. ^ a b c "Life in a Northern Town by The Dream Academy - Songfacts".
  4. ^ "The Dream Academy". Billboard.
  5. ^ "Dream Academy". Official Charts. The Official UK Charts Company.
  6. ^ "The Irish Charts - All there is to know".
  7. ^ "All US Top 40 Singles for 1986".
  8. ^ Monger, James. "The Dream Academy | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  9. ^ James McNair (26 March 1999). "Apprentice to the stars". The Independent. London. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  10. ^ a b Randolph Michaels (2005). Flashbacks to Happiness: Eighties Music Revisited. iUniverse, Inc. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-595-37007-8.
  11. ^ a b "Tritonal 'Hey MaMaMa' Turns Familiar '80s Sample into Dance Floor Gold: Listen". Billboard. 7 April 2017.
  12. ^ "'Life in a Northern Town' sheet music". Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  13. ^ " – the Dream Academy – "Life in a northern town [version 1]"". Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  14. ^ " – the Dream Academy – "Life in a northern town [version 2]"". Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  15. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (Illustrated ed.). St. Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 96. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. N.B. the Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA between mid 1983 and 19 June 1988.
  16. ^ "Canada peak". Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  17. ^ "Search for Irish peaks". Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  18. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  19. ^ "The Dream Academy Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  20. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 82.
  21. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc (27 December 1986). "1986 The Year in Music & Video: Top Pop Singles". Billboard. 98 (52): Y-21.
  22. ^ a b "Sugarland Adds "Life in a Northern Town" to New CD". CMT. 4 June 2008. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  23. ^ "Stars Shining Over CMAs". Great American Country. 11 September 2008. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  24. ^ "Alison Krauss, Robert Plant Score at Grammys". Great American Country. 4 December 2008. Archived from the original on 9 December 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2008.
  25. ^ "Academy of Country Music nominees". Academy of Country Music. 11 February 2009. Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
  26. ^ "Sugarland Chart History (Canadian Hot 100)". Billboard.
  27. ^ "Sugarland Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  28. ^ "Sugarland Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  29. ^ "Sunchyme – full Official Chart History – Official Charts Company". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  30. ^ "The Day After Yesterday - Rick Springfield | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic" – via
  31. ^ "Plays the Hits - Sexton Blake | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic" – via
  32. ^ "Life in a Northern Town, by Chris Collingwood". Curry Cuts.

External links[edit]