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Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega was the first major figure in the bumper crop of female singer/songwriters who rose to prominence during the late '80s and '90s. Her hushed, restrained folk-pop and highly literate lyrics (inspired chiefly by Leonard Cohen, as well as Lou Reed and Bob Dylan) laid the initial musical groundwork for what later became the trademark sound of Lilith Fair (a tour on which she was a regular). Moreover, her left-field hit single "Luka" helped convince record companies that folk-styled singer/songwriters were not a thing of the past after all, paving the way for breakthroughs by Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Shawn Colvin, Edie Brickell, the Indigo Girls, Sinéad O'Connor, and a host of others throughout the '90s. Vega's early commercial success helped open doors for a wealth of talent, and even if she couldn't sustain the level of popularity she reached in 1987 with "Luka" and the platinum Solitude Standing, she maintained a strong and dedicated cult following. Her association with -- and marriage to -- experimental producer Mitchell Froom during the '90s resulted in two intriguing but uneven albums; however, following their painful divorce, Vega returned in 2001 with her first album in five years, Songs in Red and Gray, which was greeted with her strongest reviews in a decade.

Suzanne Vega was born July 11, 1959, in Santa Monica, California; her parents divorced shortly thereafter, and after her mother (a jazz guitarist) remarried to Puerto Rican novelist Ed Vega, the family moved to Manhattan. A shy and quiet child, Suzanne nonetheless learned to take care of herself growing up in the tough neighborhoods of Spanish Harlem. Her parents often sang folk songs around the house, and when she began playing guitar at age 11, she found herself attracted to the poetry of singer/songwriter music (Dylan, Cohen), and found a refuge from New York's chaos in traditional folk (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Joan Baez). At age 14, she made her first attempts at writing songs; however, when she attended the High School for the Performing Arts as a teenager, it was to study dance, not music. She subsequently enrolled at Barnard College as a literature major, and during this time, she began playing at coffee houses and folk festivals on the West Side and near Columbia University; she soon moved up to the Lower East Side/Greenwich Village folk clubs, including the famed Folk City club where Bob Dylan started out. In 1979, Vega attended a Lou Reed concert, and the effect was a revelation: here was an artist chronicling the harsh urban world Vega knew, with the detail and literacy of a folk artist. Vega discovered a new voice and sense of possibility for her original material, and her writing grew rapidly.

Vega graduated from college in 1982 and held down several low-level day jobs while quickly becoming the Greenwich Village folk scene's brightest hope. Record companies were reluctant to take a chance on a singer/songwriter steeped in folk music, however, since they saw little chance of any commercial returns. After three years of rejections, Vega and her managers Ron Fierstein and Steve Addabbo finally convinced A&M (which had turned her down twice) to give her a shot, and she signed a contract in 1983. Former Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye was brought in to co-produce the debut with Addabbo and lend it a smoother, more contemporary flavor.

Titled simply Suzanne Vega, it was released in 1985 to much critical applause. Thanks in part to the single "Marlene on the Wall," the album was a genuine hit in Britain, where it eventually went platinum; while it didn't duplicate that success in America, the album's sales of 200,000 strong still came as a shock to A&M (and Vega). For the 1987 follow-up, Vega overcame writer's block to craft an eclectic batch of new material, as well as drawing upon a backlog of songs that hadn't fit the debut. Again produced by Kaye and Addabbo, Solitude Standing was Vega's finest achievement; the richness and variety of its compositions were complemented by the lusher full-band arrangements and more accessible (albeit less folky) production. The album's lead single, "Luka," was a haunting first-person account of child abuse, whose terse (and fictional) lyrics struck a chord with American radio listeners. As a result, the album was an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic; it debuted at number two in the U.K. and went gold within three months in the U.S., peaking at number 11 and eventually going platinum. "Luka" hit number three on the American pop charts -- unheard of for a singer/songwriter in the '80s prior to Vega -- and was nominated for three Grammys. As record companies rushed to fill a market niche they hadn't known existed (and uncovering some major talent in the process), Vega spent almost a year on the road touring in support of the record; exhausted, she returned to New York to take some time off, and also tracked down her biological father for the first time.

When the time came to record her third album in 1989, Vega decided to co-produce it herself with her keyboardist/boyfriend Anton Sanko (longtime bassist Michael Visceglia also had input). Vega began to experiment with her lyrics, pushing beyond the narrative story-songs that dominated her first two records, and had minimalist composer Philip Glass contribute a string arrangement. The result, Days of Open Hand, was released in 1990, but it didn't produce another hit single and was somewhat lost in the shuffle of new female singer/songwriters; though it did sell respectably, reviews were somewhat mixed. Even though the album didn't recapture Vega's 1987 popularity, she was still -- indirectly -- involved in one of 1990's most bizarre hit singles. Two British dance producers working under the alias DNA took the a cappella Solitude Standing track "Tom's Diner" and set it to an electronic dance beat, releasing the result as a bootleg single called "Oh Suzanne." When A&M discovered the piracy, Vega decided to allow the single's official release under its original title, and it became a substantial hit in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere. The following year, Vega gathered a number of other unsolicited versions of the song and compiled them as Tom's Album.

Intrigued by the success of "Tom's Diner," Vega began looking for ways to open up her musical approach. She hooked up with producer Mitchell Froom, best known for his work on '90s albums by Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, and Crowded House. Froom applied his trademark approach -- dissonant arrangements, clanging percussion -- to Vega's new 1992 album, and while 99.9 F° didn't reinvent her as a dance artist (as some expected), the synth-centered sound of the record was unlike any of her previous work. Froom and Vega began dating several months after the record's completion, and they wound up marrying; their daughter, Ruby, was born in 1994, and Vega naturally took some time off from music. She returned in 1996 with Nine Objects of Desire, again with Froom in the producer's chair, though his approach was somewhat less radical this time out; in terms of Vega's subject matter, there was a newfound physical sensuality borne of her marriage and childbirth experiences.

All was not well for long, however; Froom began seeing Ally McBeal singer Vonda Shepard, and he and Vega split up in August 1998. In 1999, Vega released the best-of retrospective Tried and True, taking stock of her past career (she had also split with longtime manager Ron Fierstein); she also published her first book, The Passionate Eye, a collection of poems, lyrics, essays, journalistic pieces, and the like. Vega began playing shows with bassist Michael Visceglia again, and worked on material addressing the breakup of her marriage. Songs in Red and Gray was released in the fall of 2001 and marked a return to the more direct sound of Suzanne Vega and Solitude Standing; it also garnered her the best reviews since those records. Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega arrived in 2003, followed by the Live at Montreux 2004 DVD/CD in 2006 and the all-new Beauty & Crime in 2007. In 2010, Vega released Close Up, Vol. 1 and Close Up, Vol. 2 -- the first half of a proposed four-volume collection of re-recorded versions of songs from her catalog, all featuring stripped-down, unadorned arrangements that highlight the lyrics and melodies -- and followed the first two installments of the series with Close Up, Vol. 3 in 2011. The final release in the sequence, Close Up, Vol. 4: Songs of Family, appeared a year later in 2012 and included two previously unheard tracks -- "The Silver Lady" and "Brother Mine" -- which had been written by Vega over 30 years previously. In early 2013 she demoed new material with the help of Gerry Leonard, her live musical director. This resulted in the album, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, which was released in February 2014. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Omg I'm scared soooo bad!!!
tomman30
good beat....nice tune...
What an over-rated hack Suzanne Vega was. Thank someone somewhere that whatever little talent and short career has come to and end. I'd like to give her credit for something but it's making my head hurt trying to come up with something.
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post in 2 days you will die. Now you've started reading so don't stop. This so scary put this on at least 5 songs in 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lovers name will come on the screen in big letters. This so scary because it actually works
Really good tiny desk concert with ms vega. Recorded recently at npr in DC. worth checking out if you like her music :-)
Sticky.
To Bond, James Bond 007! Dude F ing funny comment! Ahhhh!! hahahahhahha h a h h a h
Amazing song ,Beautiful !!!!!!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Her new record should be out early in 2014. When I saw her play recently in Chicago she said that she was adding vocal tracks at a studio in Evanston Illinois. She is great to see live.
Dedah da da da da where's Luka?
Love song of way back love heart in buster movie search
I love her voice, it has a soothing quality. Excellence production on most of her songs, and good, but not great songwriting.
dodd.harris
I find her cool and matter-of-fa c t vocals irresistible I've been a shameless fan since Left of Center. She's brilliant.
Beautiful song writer
'allow your children to become vegetarians! ! '
'allow your children to become vegetarians! ! '
'((lost lost lost lost in the ciry of l.a.))'
'((lost lost lost lost in the city of l.a.))'
((with love love love all around))'
((with love love love all around))'
'((who are you?))'
'((who are you?))'
((with luv luv luv all around))'
'((lost lost lost lost lost in the city of l.a.))'
'((lost lost lost lost lost in the city of l.a.))'
I have been a fan forever. She is a sincerely unique talent.
The Female Dylan.
Wow I used to hate her music, caramel rocks!!!!!!! ! !
TOM'S DINER is kinda a weird song. I mean, I like the bassline, but the fact that the song has no point to some very strange words weirds me out a little.
One of my favorite singer-songw r i t e r s period. It Makes Me Wonder stirs my soul. Suzanne, you are a rare talent!
She is just wonderful-al w a y s liked all of her work.
betitio58, I am sick of you. You call The Soldier and The Queen Bland?????? Oh God
ekroesc1
Windows Walk? Serious? How about Widow's Walk.
cowniew
The 1985 album entitled Suzanne Vega is a great album but gets no recognition. It's hinted at in what I consider a pretty good bio.
I understand that not every song a muscian does is always good,but I can safely say that about this one.
glet83
took my daughter to her first concert in Usher hall in Edinburgh. Suzanne Vega. That is first, "pop concert" She had been to the Philadelphia Folk Festival when she was on a pallet.
It's amazing to see that this bland singer has managed to stay in the music scene as long as she has!!!!
Totally agree with comments on Vega. I saw her years ago and have wondered what happend to her and why she doesnt come to Texas at all. Listening to her music reminds how mesmerizing her voice is. In a very busy world I live in, I miss those feelings.
See, this is what Pandora does. It reminds you of music that you used to love. And brings it back to life. Somewhere I have those CDs of Suzanne Vega.
Love her music. I've been told at the height of her fame that I resemble her. After watching the video Luka I totally see the resemblance. We have some of the same ancestry.
Anyone a fan of Adele? I know she was heavily influenced by Suzanne, and it comes across in her style! I just watched the coolest video by her for "Rolling in the Deep," one of her new singles!! Check it out @ http://bit.l y / h T x h H y if you haven't seen it!
!
AWESOMENESS
I think she is a great women. An inspirationa l record for the 21st century, not moving mountains, but moving... I used to talk with friends around a cup of tea a she surely was present in the background.. .
One of my favorite artists of all time, no one like her. She is an amazing talent, hope the best for her future...
tommyr91w
She's performing w/ Philip Glass in my town this Sunday. It's killing me that I can't afford tickets!!! There are only about 5 tickets left and they're all expensive seats! :-(
andreastreme l
Her voice reminds me of Poe, as well (at least in the song "Headshots") . I'm surprised Poe does not appear in the list of Similar Artists.
I love her music. It's beautiful.
Luka isn't a first hand account of CHILD abuse, but wife abuse, I thought. Luka is the woman, the abuser's wife, right??
i saw vega in college coffeeshops in the early 80's and knew she was something special. however, her commercial work always seemed so "downer" (much like that of tracy chapman, who was an amazingly vivacious player on street corners and folk shows!). i like this new, more upbeat suzanne. the world is full of tears. what we need is more people who can make us smile.
I remember when the song, "Luka" came out everyone was playing it over and over again and bopping around the room to the beat. I actually sat down and listened to the words of song. She painted the whole scene of this battered woman's life so vividly I was overcome with emotion. I realized that it was the bouncy beat that was the song's true genius.
She is VERY poetic. I really like "Penitent."
It is ad that in this day and age that artist's get one shot at radio play. We are inundated with the worst of sounds, no melody and constant complaining.
It is so nice to hear poetry put to music, it is much more difficult than looking words that rhyme with gun or johnson-oh well, that's just IMHO-and it doesn't count for much-I like her music and Leonard Cohen's. The Cranberries, Crosby, Stills and Nash (with or w/out Young), Neil Young, some Beatles's, Joni Mitchell.deb j s
she has a sweet sounding voice - I have always enjoyed her music - she is cute too -
Wonderful mellow music. If you are new to her, don't buy her regular albums, get her greatest hit CD, Retrospectiv e . Then if you like what you hear, buy Solitude Standing, then Days of Open Hand. (which isn't even on here)

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