A Life In Vinyl: 1983
One benefit of living in South Africa in the 1980s — an ugly decade in the country’s history — was access to places where one could hire LPs. At the very well-stocked Disque “record libraries” one would hire LPs for, I think, three days. You might sample them for possible purchase at a record shop, or tape them, or listen to them and decide that they were useless.
Popular new releases were usually out (though you could book them), but the joy was to try out less popular new releases as a way of discovering hitherto unknown music and to delve into music history with the classics. It was through the record libraries that I learned about bands like Little Feat and Poco, and about the Motown catalogue. It was through Disque that I became a Van Morrison fan (the title track of his Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart album would feature in this mix if Morrison wasn’t trawling the music blogosphere for his songs). Sadly the record libraries were banned in 1990 because home-taping apparently killed music.
So for much of 1983 I taped or bought many classic albums, and kept up with new pop music through video-recording from the Pop Shop music programme or taping hits off the radio. Perusing this list of songs here, it seems that until September I bought among new releases only the Bob Seger and Pink Floyd albums, and Heaven 17’s majestic Temptation on 12”. I also recall buying the An Officer And A Gentleman soundtrack. A new job I took up must have provided me with the means to purchase albums, because as of October I began buying many LPs. Of the songs listed here, I had the albums of all the artists as of track 15 (the Human League track I bought on 12”).
All of the songs here bring back 1983 to me. Kool & the Gang’s Big Fun reminds me of my workplace; Stephen Bishop’s song from Tootsie stirs up my yearnings for romance, which due to my working hours were impossible to pursue; the Madness song brings up the anxiety I felt when I spilled a bottle of red wine on to the carpet (hot tip: don’t try to vacuum up spilled red wine); the Pink Floyd LP recalls of my abiding hatred of Thatcher and the apartheid regime; the Billy Joel song reminds me of a girl called Pearl (and that line about “feeding the girl a comical line” has particular relevance to me); the Human League and Depeche Mode songs take me back of a New Wave club that I went to but which rarely was full…
Two songs here are South African. éVoid fused African musical styles with New Wave sounds; they had another hit in early 1984 and then faded from the scene when members left South Africa to avoid conscription into the apartheid army (since you ask, I too avoided the draft).
PJ Powers was a white singing star with her band Hotline who in late 1982 did the quite unthinkable of recording duets with one of the biggest African-language singers, the blind Steve Kekana. Those were the days when the charts in South Africa were segregated. African-language artists like Kekana or The Soul Brothers or Mahlatini easily outsold most US and UK artists, but the “official” charts would not reflect them, and the white radio stations wouldn’t play them. So when Powers and Kekana had a hit with Feels So Strong, and it received airplay, it was quite a revolution in apartheid South Africa. It helped that the song was catchy.
A song that should have featured South African artists was Malcolm McLaren’s Double Dutch, which more than borrows from the mbaqanga sounds of the townships. Indeed, McLaren and co-“writer” Trevor Horn were sued for plagiarism by South African group The Boyoyo Boys. An out-of-court settlement allowed McLaren and Horn to retain the copyright. It was not the first time South African act got screwed over by Western musicians.
Finally, an apology to Joan Armatrading. In 1985 I sat in the middle of row 2 in the Hammersmith Odeon in London for her concert. I might have eaten something off before the concert, which I really had been looking forward to. I felt ill, and kept falling asleep. When Armatrading announced Drop The Pilot, which features here, she called the crowed to come forward to the stage. That was highly irregular, indeed a security risk after Bay City Rollers fans had torn the place part a decade earlier. It is said that from the stage, performers can see the first three rows. With that strange chap sleeping through her performance, what choice did she have? So, Joan, if you’re reading this, I am sorry.
1. Kool & The Gang – Big Fun
2. Hotline With P.J. Powers & Steve Kekana – Feel So Strong
3. Bob Seger – Shame On The Moon
4. Joan Armatrading – Drop The Pilot
5. Tears For Fears – Mad World
6. Blancmange – Waves
7. Madness – Tomorrow’s Just Another Day
8. Nick Heyward – Whistle Down The Wind
9. Stephen Bishop – It Might Be You
10. Pink Floyd – The Final Cut
11. Heaven 17 – Temptation
12. Bananarama – Cruel Summer
13. JoBoxers – Just Got Lucky
14. Malcolm McLaren – Double Dutch
15. éVoid – Shadows
16. Billy Joel – Leave A Tender Moment Alone
17. Randy Newman – I Love L.A.
18. Depeche Mode – Everything Counts
19. Human League – Keep Feeling Fascination
20. Style Council – Speak Like A Child