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Life In Vinyl 1985 – Vol. 1

March 16th, 2017 5 comments

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What a year in music 1985 was for me! And what a pity that in terms of quality and excitement in British pop, it was nowhere as great as that incredible stretch from 1979 to 1981. In fact, by 1985, the corporatisation of pop music had already set in, and it was going to get a boost from Live Aid, an event from which every single act that took part in it enjoyed increased record sales — except for poor Adam Ant.

And still, it was a great music year for me. I had just arrived in London the previous November, and took full advantage of the range of concerts on offer. In four weeks between January and February at the Hammersmith Odeon alone, I saw acts as diverse as Chaka Khan, Leonard Cohen and Meat Loaf. In summer I saw U2 (of whom I was a fan then, believe it or not) in three countries, and Bruce Springsteen at Wembley. The culmination was Live Aid, which, for all criticisms one may legitimately level at the event, was nevertheless a magical day. I made a mix of the best Live Aid moments a couple of years ago. It’s still available here.

But it wasn’t just the access to live shows that was so special, but also my engagement with the charts. Previously I would consume records that usually had already been made hits by people in other markets. Now I was one of the hit-making market. I’d study the charts, I’d look out for new acts and champion them. I’d study their chart progress. And when they had a hit, I’d delight in my utterly useless status of having been an early adopter. If they became mainstream eventually, I might superciliously pull the “I like their early stuff” line.covers-gallery_1Some of these early adopted singles became hits — such as Since Yesterday or Black Man Ray — and others didn’t. For example, I bought Prefab Sprout’s sublime When Love Comes Down in spring; it became a Top 30 only after it was re-released in November. The Blow Monkeys’ Wildflower, a song I adored, didn’t even hit the Top 75. Irish band In Tua Nua also didn’t have a UK hit, though they were quite big in Dublin, where they supported U2. I was going through a bit of an Irish phase at the time, what with U2 and having a big crush on a cute Dublin girl.

Needless to say, I spent idiotic amounts of money on music. I bought some pretty bad music in 1985/86, and lots of great music. And, as ever, some music might have been bad but still occupy a special place in my musical heart because they remind me of good times. And 1985 was good times.

This mix covers the first eight months of the year. My arbitrary division of the year is governed by the time I started a new job, which also signalled a new chapter in my life.covers-gallery_2As always, CD-R length, covers, PW in comments. What are your 1985 memories?

1. Amii Stewart – Friends
2. Blow Monkeys – Wildflower
3. Killing Joke – Love Like Blood
4. Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday
5. Colourfield – Thinking Of You
6. Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels
7. China Crisis – Black Man Ray
8. The Alarm – Absolute Reality
9. Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down
10. Marillion – Kayleigh
11. Madonna – Crazy For You
12. Depeche Mode – Shake The Disease
13. U2 – Bad (Live)
14. Ramones – Bonzo Goes To Bitburg
15. Style Council – Walls Come Tumbling Down
16. In Tua Nua – Somebody To Love
17. Redskins – Bring It Down (This Insane Thing)
18. Bruce Springsteen – I’m On Fire
19. Eurythmics – There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)

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Life In Vinyl 1984 – Vol. 2

August 18th, 2016 2 comments

Life in Vinyl 1984-2

The first part of 1984 was the South African leg of the year; this part soundtracks the road trip in Europe and taking up residence in London.

I mostly listened to Motown and ’60s and ’70s soul and Purple Rain while I terrorised the highways of Europe, often on the way to football games. Among new releases at the time, I bought the cassette tapes of Heaven 17’s How Men Are, Madonna’s debut album, as well as by German acts BAP and Herbert Grönemeyer; the former sang in the Kölsch dialect that is peculiar to the city of Cologne — and yet they were about the biggest German act at the time. I went to see BAP in concert; it was one of the most energetic gigs I’ve ever been to. Frontman Wolfgang Niedecken had something of a German Springsteen (or Bono) about him.

The others of the first five tracks on this mix I recorded off the radio, as well as the 12” mix of Wham!’s Freedom, which I include as a bonus track. There were other tracks that unaccountably played in my car which I don’t include here, for which you’ll thank me: Hazell Dean’s Whatever I Do, Fox the Fox’s Precious Little Diamond, Al Corley’s Square Rooms and a musical disaster by Jermaine Jackson and retired gerontophile Zia Padora called When The Rain Begins To Fall.

covers gallery 1

I remember listening to the radio in Germany one afternoon when the DJ announced that after the break he’d play Stevie Wonder’s brand-new single. Being a big Stevie Wonder fan — the Original Musiquarium collection was a regular in my tape deck — I was so excited. Then I heard I Just Called To Say I Love You. My heart sank. I still deeply dislike the song, as most other Stevie Wonder fans do. I still bought the Lady In Red album on cassette. Big mistake; it was not very good..

Coming to London, I was pleased to find Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You topping the charts. Armed with my excellent portable radio-tape combo, I prodigiously downloaded from Capital Radio, finding delight in discovering new songs that would still become hits.

Still, there are three hits of 1985 I found by other avenues in late 1984: Big Sound Authority’s This House (Is Where Our Love Stands), which featured on Shoulda Been A Hit Vol. 1, was on the setlist of the excellent gig I attended at Camden Palace in December 1984 from which this video comes; Since Yesterday was performed by Strawberry Switchblade as they supported, ahem, Howard Jones.  And Immaculate Fools’ eponymous song that closes this collection was on the video juke box in the Notting Hill pub I used to hang out in with my new Irish friends. I don’t think many people were pleased when I put it on — many times. It entered the charts in January 1985, peaking at #51.

covers gallery 2

1. Billy Idol – Eyes Without A Face
2. Heaven 17 – This Is Mine
3. OMD – Tesla Girls
4. Paul McCartney – No More Lonely Nights
5. Chaka Khan – I Feel For You
6. Alison Moyet – Invisible
7. Pointer Sister – I’m So Excited
8. Murray Head – One Night In Bangkok
9. The Stranglers – Skin Deep
10. Meat Loaf – Modern Girl
11. Paul Young – Everything Must Change
12. Eugene Wilde – Gotta Get You Home With Me Tonight
13. Spandau Ballet – Round And Round
14. Lloyd Cole And The Commotions – Rattlesnakes
15. Tears For Fears – Shout
16. Style Council – Shout To The Top
17. Aztec Camera – Still On Fire
18. Immaculate Fools – Immaculate Fools
Bonus Track: Wham! – Freedom (12″ mix)

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Life In Vinyl 1984 – Vol. 1

May 26th, 2016 5 comments

Life in Vinyl 1984

The year 1984 in vinyl comes to you in two parts; not because 1984 was a particularly good year — it wasn’t — but because to me it was two years in one. For eight months I lived in South Africa; then I moved to London via a two-month European road trip. Part 1 concern itself with the South African half of 1984.

I see 1984 as the year that gave rise to the corporate mega-star. Michael Jackson’s Thriller had hit big in 1983 and was still hitting big, Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down was mega big, Bruce Springsteen turned out his most commercial album, Prince donned the dandyish purple and became an icon, in Britain Wham! and Duran Duran hit heights of superstardom, U2 hit their stride, and towards the end of the year Madonna released an album that would turn her into the quintessential 1980s star.

It all felt artificial, even if not all of it was. While Springsteen must have been aware that he was putting out a commercial album, most of the songs wouldn’t have been out of place on The River four years earlier — but I don’t think he knew just how stratospheric it would go . And I defy anyone to claim that Prince compromised his art for anything. Rather, it was the corporate icon-building, as if music was a Hollywood dream machine from the 1930s, that felt artificial.

And music has never recovered the already compromised innocence it lost in the mid-80s. There were moments in the ‘90s when it felt it might do so. The grunge scene was a rebellion to the corporate hi-jack of music. Hip hop offered an antidote. But the corporates simply poisoned the well by co-opting whom they could or promoting hack acts to replace those who were threatening the hegemony.

Now nobody threatens the hegemony any longer. We have our megastars and they hang around longer than their ancestors did. In the past, a teen star like Justin Bieber would have been off the scene the moment his fans grew pubic hair. Now he has unlimited shelf life, a star for the sake of being a star. The process of raising and maintaining stardom is driven by image management; new blood is added as needed, but the process is entirely in corporate hands.  And 1984 was a watershed in the inexorable process that, of course, had begun much earlier.covers gallery 1This collection, and certainly the second part, would better be called “A Life in Cassette Tapes”. Of the 19 tracks here, I had five on record (Grandmaster & Melle Mel, Tubes, Cars, Style Council on LP; Frankie on 12”. And I bought the Sade LP as a present for my sister). The rest I had on tape — bought or taped off records. Once I had a car, having stuff on tape was necessary.

As always, I don’t endorse everything on these mixes which are supposed to evoke that particular year for me. I can’t say many good things about Laura Branigan’s Italo-pop hit other than that hearing it takes me back to the driver seat of the blue Beetle I was driving in 1984. But I am also cheating a little by omission. When I think of May 1984, I might also think Matthew Wilder’s The Kid’s American, a song so bad I really cannot inflict it on you, no matter what other liberties I’m taking here. There are a few others. Ollie & Jerry’s breakdancing anthem Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us anyone? But I do include as a bonus track Break Machine’s rather good Street Dance, because breakdancing mattered.

Some songs here have personal meaning, a couple of them deeply emotional (including the Chris Rea sing), others quite comedic. On the latter front, the Thompson Twins’ Doctor Doctor represents a series of songs, which also included the two Jumps by van Halen and the Pointer Sisters, that soundtracked my curation of my younger brother’s first drunken barroom adventure. It culminated in little brother covering the interior of my friend’s car in vomit. To his credit, my friend took it in good spirits and cleaned the car while I put little brother to bed.

I might also have included Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, which accompanied the sound of my first broken heart, or Prince’s When Doves Cry, which excited me like no other song that year (Prince didn’t like his stuff to be featured on the web, so I’ll leave that one out). I went to see Purple Rain at the movies in consecutive screenings. The only other time I did that was later in the year, with the infinitely greater Once Upon A Time In America. I also watched the Sylvester Stallone & Dolly Parton vehicle Rhinestone twice in a day, first in the afternoon on my own and in the evening with friends, but let’s leave that bizarre decision alone. (Apparently Stallone turned down leads in Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop to film Rhinestone!).

I might have bought the Sade album for my sister but I loved it. I was torn about whether to include Your Love Is King or her wonderful cover version of Timmy Thomas’ Why Can’t We Live Together. Soul music gets short shrift on this mix. I also would have liked to include Patrice Rushen’s Feel So Real, Deniece William’s Let’s Hear It for the Boy or Cherelle’s I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On (later a hit for Robert Palmer).  

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes covers. PW in comments.

covers gallery 2

1. Grandmaster & Melle Mel – White Lines
2. Via Afrika – Hey Boy
3. The Tubes – She’s A Beauty
4. The Cars – You Might Think
5. Snowy White – Bird Of Paradise
6. Marillion – Punch And Judy
7. Style Council – You’re The Best Thing
8. Re-flex – The Politics Of Dancing
9. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes
10. Alphaville – Big In Japan
11. Nena – 99 Luftballons
12. Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
13. Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
14. Evelyn Thomas – High Energy
15. Thompson Twins – Doctor Doctor
16. Sade – Your Love Is King
17. Laura Branigan – Self Control
18. Chris Rea – I Don’t Know What It Is (But I Love It)
19. Mel Brooks – To Be Or Not To Be
Bonus Track: Break Machine – Street Dance

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A Life In Vinyl: 1983

March 10th, 2016 11 comments

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…

1983 gallery 1Two 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.

1983 gallery 2So, what did your 1983 look like?

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

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A Life In Vinyl: 1982

September 16th, 2015 16 comments

Life in Vinyl 1982

As I was writing this post, I received an e-mail from a company asking whether I’d write about their product. I get many of these; almost all of them I ignore because this isn’t that kind of site. This one, however, grabbed my attention: a gift crate comprising toys and sweets which Americans of a certain age would have known as they grew up in the 1970s and ’80s.

The company had good timing: I’ve had opportunity to immerse myself in the years 1976-82 through a treasure trove of old magazines. There’s nothing like childhood/teenage nostalgia. The e-mail got me thinking what I’d like included in a crate like that, since most of the articles in the gift crate are specifically American. I won’t bore you with my ideas, but the idea is great. So, without wanting anything from mancrates.com and taking a What The Hell attitude towards dishing out a free plug, I refer you to www.mancrates.com/crates/old-school

Which brings me to 1982, the year I turned 16 and during which my family left Germany to move to South Africa (an idea which I opposed due to apartheid, but I was in no position to negotiate a different destination).

82 gallery_1The Neue Deutsche Welle, or German New Wave, had begun to hit in 1981, with bands like Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft, Extrabreit and Ideal making an impact in a country where the tired, hackneyed Schlager had nothing new to offer. It peaked quickly in 1982. There was a lot of great stuff: Falco, Joachim Witt, Fehlfarben and Spliff were particularly good; the godfathers of Neue Deutsche Welle, Kraftwerk, had a fine hit with Das Model. The lyrics ranged from the abstract to the cheeky to the anarchic. Falco and Spliff sang about drugs, Extrabreit about burning schools, the Spider Murphy Gang about a prostitute. And all that hit high in the charts.

But then the silly novelty acts crept in with their novelty hits, and what had been exciting quickly became annoying. Still, NWD changed Germany’s stodgy music mainstream. Two tracks are included in the mix; two more (by Spliff and a dance classic by Joachim Witt are there as “bonus tracks”).

I clearly had eclectic tastes in 1982. On this mix we have new wave, heavy metal, MOR, pop, soul, disco etc. Not represented is the jazz fusion stuff I got into that year: Eric Gale, Spyro Gyra, Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour and so on. The closest to jazz this mix comes is track 2 from Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly album. I remember how I had to look up four record shops to find it; Fagen’s solo debut had been sold out in the other stores.

But my favourite LP of 1982 was Dexys Midnight Runners“Too-Rye-Ay” (and I demonstrate my devotion to it by the correct application of quotation marks, which are part of the title). Of course I loved Come On Eileen, a sing which I insist is ridiculed so widely not for what it is but for what people have made it. Anyhow, I feature a better track here. Also an album track in this collection is the one by Yazoo (or “Yaz”, as they are known in the US); Didn’t I Bring Your Love Down should have been a hit.

82 gallery_2Two tracks here are South African. Crocodile Harris’ anti-war ballad Give Me The Good News was only a #14 hit in South Africa, where airplay trumped sales in the compilation of the charts, but in France it apparently topped the charts and sold 650,000 copies. Another South African who was huge in France is Johnny Clegg, English-born honorary Zulu with his bands Juluka and Savuka. He recorded Scatterlings Of Africa with both. I prefer the version by latter, from 1987, but the Juluka version is the classic. It would always bring down the house at Juluka/Savuka concerts.

I mentioned above how I think Come On Eileen is a misunderstood song. The same applies to Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, not helped by the absurd video. Here Marvin is not doing a sleazy seduction routine through the medium of medicine. The lyrics are, in fact, quite disturbing. According to David Ritz’s excellent biography of the man, Gaye was into some joyless sexual stuff at the time, including what seems to have been an extreme porn addiction, which would also explain the masturbation reference. Within that context, Sexual Healing is not a seduction number, but a rather desperate plea for actual healing.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-cooked covers. PW here. You are invited to leave a message about your Life in Vinyl in 1982 there. One reason it took so long for me to do 1982 in this series was that the scarcity of comments discouraged me from carrying on with it.

1. Human League – Don’t You Want Me
2. Falco – Der Kommissar
3. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Maid Of Orleans
4. Fehlfarben – (Ein Jahr) Es geht voran
5. J. Geils Band – Centerfold
6. Iron Maiden – Run To The Hills
7. Toto – Rosanna
8. Johnny Cougar – Jack And Diane
9. ABC – The Look Of Love
10. Imagination – Just An Illusion
11. Fat Larry’s Band – Zoom
12. Crocodile Harris – Give Me The Good News
13. Billy Joel – Allentown
14. Donald Fagen – Green Flower Street
15. Dexys Midnight Runners – Let’s Make This Precious
16. Yazoo – Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)
17. Juluka – Scatterlings Of Africa
18. Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
19. Joe Jackson – Breaking Us In Two
Bonus tracks:
Spliff – Déjà vu
Joachim Witt – Tri tra trullala (Herbergsvater)

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A Life In Vinyl: 1981

February 19th, 2015 3 comments

A Life In Vinyl - 1981

With violent death of John Lennon just as 1980 drew to a close, the first few months of 1981, the year I turned 15, was spent on Beatles binging. I had been a fan before, but the only way to honour John Lennon was to go into manic overdrive. I even liked Yoko Ono’s single — and Walking On Thin Ice is a indeed a fine song on its own merit. It was the song John and Yoko were working on that 8 December, before Chapman shot Lennon dead outside the Dakota, apparently while John was holding the master tape of the song.

In February I bought Bruce Springsteen’s The River double album. On that day I had an eye test which for a few hours almost blinded me — I lacked the sense of knowledge or irony that might have prompted me to crack a “Blinded By The Light” joke. The second side of the album — starting with Hungry Heart and ending with the title track — and in between the glorious You Can Look (You Better Not Touch) — turned me into a Springsteen fan. Or was it simply the first track, the very underrated The Ties That Bind, which did the trick? It helped that Springsteen looked very cool, much like Al Pacino, on the cover.

From Springsteen it was a short jump to Garland JeffreysEscape Artist, a hit-and-miss affair that came with an EP, on which the E-Street Band’s keyboardist Roy Bittan and organist Danny Federici played. Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg also appeared on Jim Steinman’s Bad For Good album, a ridiculous and thoroughly entertaining affair which had been intended for Meat Loaf. The cover and the spoken track, Love And Death And An American Guitar, are so magnificently mad that Bad For Good should reside in every serious record collection.

Later I bought Nils Lofgren’s Night Fades Away; Lofgren would, of course, later join the E-Street Band. I listened to the LP again not so long ago. It’s not great, though Lofgren’s version of Peter & Gordon’s I Go To Pieces (written by Del Shannon) is pretty good. Around the time, or maybe a bit earlier, I also bought Neil Young’s Re-ac-tor LP, with its red and black sleeve. I listened to it again a while ago. I was reminded why I never listened to it back then. It’s awful. Even Opera Star, which prompted me to buy that LP.

81_gallery-1

I didn’t own Kids In America on record, and I didn’t really like it very much (though I did like Kim Wilde), but the song was so ubiquitous that hearing it beams me back to 1981. I rather enjoy it now. I also didn’t own Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes on record, though I taped it off the radio. It was a hit when my sister’s boyfriend returned from a visit to Colorado. For a German boy who had been around a fair bit in Europe, the USA was nevertheless terribly exotic. I expected that all of America sounded like Kim Carnes’ song and Juice Newton’s Angel Of The Morning. Which in 1981 much of the USA possibly did.

The year was also the time when the New Wave broke big. Visage’s double whammy of great singles with great videos — Fade To Grey and Mind Of A Toy — as well as Duran Duran’s Girls On Film and the OMD songs provided a whole new sound. Best of them was Ultravox’s Vienna. One of the great songs of the 1980s, and still it was held off the British #1 spot (when that still meant a great deal) by the ghastly novelty song Shaddap Your Face. Well, that nation re-elected Thatcher, so it had — and evidently still has — a surplus of idiots. Alas, last week, shortly after I had prepared this mix, Visage’s Steve Strange passed away at 55.

I bought the Rolling StonesTattoo You album, freshly released, on the day we were making a trip to East Germany. I taped it as we packed the car for our driving entertainment. At the border I hid the tape in my jacket pocket. I left the tape (and other contraband we smuggled over, at some risk) with our friends in the GDR. I wonder whether they knew to capitalise on having the brand-new Stones album. I have been told that my act of smuggling tapes and Bravo magazines (West Germany’s big pop and sex education publication) was greatly appreciated.

As autumn broke I bought Billy Joel’s Songs In The Attic LP, an album of songs recorded in concert which in their studio versions had been considered unsatisfactory by Joel. It is a near-perfect album, to this day an all-time favourite. In 1981 I played it to death. This and the older Turnstiles, The Stranger and 52nd Street LPs (I always hated Glass Houses) provided the soundtrack for and solace in many dark teenage days.

My quartet of acts that I was obsessed with in 1981 — Beatles, Springsteen, Joel — was completed at the end of the year by the German band BAP. Their story is remarkable: they sung only in Kölsch, a dialect unique to the city of Cologne, yet they went on to become Germany’s biggest act for several years. Their rock sound was catchy and their live performances incendiary. In 1984/85 I saw both BAP and Springsteen in concert within eight months or so of one another. The energy was comparable, though the quality of the music not so much.

81_gallery-2

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-reared covers. PW in comments.

1. John Lennon – Watching The Wheels
2. The Look – I Am The Beat
3. Yoko Ono – Walking On Thin Ice
4. Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind
5. Garland Jeffreys – R.O.C.K.
6. Jim Steinman – Bad For Good
7. Kim Wilde – Kids In America
8. Ultravox – Vienna
9. Visage – Mind Of A Toy
10. The Specials – Ghost Town
11. Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
12. Rolling Stones – Waiting For A Friend
13. Nils Lofgren – I Go To Pieces
14. Billy Joel – Summer, Highland Falls
15. Stray Cats – Stray Cat Strut
16. Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
17. Fischer-Z – Marliese
18. Hazel O’Connor – (Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up
19. Bap – Verdamp lang her

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A Life In Vinyl: 1980

November 13th, 2014 7 comments

A Life In Vinyl 1980

In 1980 I turned 14, and shortly before that I bought my 100th single — that is, the 100th single in my collection since I had dumped all my old Schlager platters and started accumulating proper pop records. The honour of providing my century went to Peter Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers, a song he also recorded in very broken German. I preferred the English version. Within a year I would almost stop buying singles in favour of albums (though I’d rediscover the joy of the single when I lived in London in the mid-’80s).

A couple of months later I bought in short order a quartet of singles which, along with New Musik’s Living By Numbers, define my year 1980: Tim Curry’s I Do The Rock, The Pretenders’ Brass In Pocket (to this day I have no idea what Chrissie Hynde is singing much of the time), the Ramones’ version of Baby I Love You, produced by Phil Spector, and Dexys Midnight Runners’ Geno.

If forced to choose, I’d call Geno my favourite single ever. It’s not the best single ever, of course, nor is it even my favourite song to be released as a single. It is my favourite single because never before or after have I loved a single — as an item and a song at a particular place and time – as much as Geno. I remember vividly buying it and sitting on the bus home, staring at its stark cover, anxious not so much to play it, but to own it, to place it in my collection of singles, as if this new acquisition was going to complete it.

The song may be somewhat derivative, but it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before: the urgent chants of the titular name, the minor notes of the stirring brass, and then Kevin Rowland’s distinctive style of staccato singing. It caused a weird sensation in my guts. I’ve heard Geno many, many times since then, and I can still feel that sensation of hearing it 34 years ago.

New Musik’s Living By Numbers is perfectly situated in 1980: the paranoia of the 1970s anticipating the computer age of the 1980s. Towards the end, there is a series of different English-accented individuals proclaiming: “They don’t want your name” (they want “just your numbah”, apparently). I derived much fun, and still do, from imitating the different voices as I sang along; correctly locating the strangely shrill and nasal women’s moment at 2:46 being a moment of particular personal triumph. I associate the song with another new innovation: it was one of the songs I recorded off a music show on our new video recorder, a machine using a format that was already obsolete in 1980!

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1980 was indeed an exciting time for music. Lots of new sounds emerged from Britain. The lyrics, to me as German-speaking teen, were secondary.  And so it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered that The Vapors’ Turning Japanese is not an ode to acquiring a taste for sushi and saki, nor  a narrative about the notoriously difficult act of assimilating to life in Tokyo, Osaka or Fukuoka. Turning Japanese apparently refers to the narrowing of the male’s eyes as he reaches the point of orgasm, in the case of the song brought about by masturbation. It might not be true, but I’ll accept that interpretation as fact.

It seems Germany in general didn’t care much about lyrics. How Frank Zappa’s Bobby Brown received wide airplay, to the point of turning this 1979 song into a big hit in 1980, is something I shall never understand.

1980 was, of course, also a year bookended by the deaths of two favourite singers. In February AC/DC’s Bon Scott died in London. Not long before that I had bought the Highway To Hell LP. On 9 December the radio alarm clock went off with more terrible news. I was just rising when the announcer said that John Lennon had been shot dead while we were sleeping. On my turntable was the second LP from The Beatles 1967-70 collection, which I had listened to, for the first time in a long time, the night before, when John was still alive.

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As always, this mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes covers. PW in in comments.

1. Status Quo – Living On An Island
2. Electric Light Orchestra – Confusion
3. Cheap Trick – Dream Police
4. Cherie & Marie Currie – Since You’ve Been Gone
5. AC/DC – Touch Too Much
6. Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
7. New Musik – Living By Numbers
8. The Vapors – Turning Japanese
9. Tim Curry – I Do The Rock
10. Marianne Faithful – The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan
11. Pretenders – Brass In Pocket
12. Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno
13. Ramones – Baby, I Love You
14. Frank Zappa – Bobby Brown
15. Randy Newman – The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band
16. Joan Armatrading – Me, Myself, I
17. The Police – Don’t Stand So Close To Me
18. Robert Palmer – Johnny & Mary
19. David Bowie – Fashion
20. Kate Bush – Army Dreamers
21. John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over

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A Life In Vinyl: 1979

October 16th, 2014 8 comments

A Life in Vinyl 1979.

As 1979, the year I turned 13, began I tried to fast-track myself to serious popfanship. The previous year I had started to investigate the pop music of the past. I had read up about the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s in a fanzine, and I had been particularly taken with the 1960s. The Box Tops’ “The Letter”, released ten years earlier and therefore in another lifetime altogether, was a particular favourite. For Christmas I asked for and received the three essential Beatles double album compilations: 1962-66, 1967-70 and Love Songs.

And in 1978 I had dabbled in punk. Now I flirted with the other side. I listened to Al Stewart, whose music I still like but who didn’t really aim for 13-year-olds. I pompously expounded on the “brilliance” of Barclay James Harvest’s XII album, which I neither understood nor actually liked. It is, indeed, quite awful. I soon became sick of the pretense. That didn’t stop me, however, from getting Supertramp’s Breakfast in America album later in the year.

By the time my birthday in April arrived, I had reverted to eclectic record-buying. LPs by Status Quo and Queen, and singles by artists as diverse as Thin Lizzy, Hot Chocolate, Billy Joel and the disco outfit The Richie Family. With that in hand, Barclay James Harvest and their prog-rock noodling was soon passé.

I was not immune to questionable musical choices. I would hesitate to describe ownership of Olivia Newton-John’s Totally Hot LP or Suzi Quatro’s Smokie-produced If You Knew Suzi…  album as evidence of musical sophistication. Still, I knew the real horrors of 1979, the songs which are forgotten by the nostalgia that recalls the year  as a highwater mark in pop — which, of course, it was..

Much of the charts were infected by some of the worst music ever made. There were some post-disco horrors around in Europe: Snoopy, Luv and Luisa Fernandez (couldn’t sing, couldn’t dance) were among the most talent-free offenders, and the Vader Abraham Smurfs song cannot be redeemed even by the most indulgent childhood nostalgia (Holland, you nearly fucked up 1979!).

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But I reserved my most virulent bile for two particular songs which, with hindsight, I acknowledge to be quite brilliant. First there was Patrick Hernandez “Born To Be Alive”, which blighted every German school disco (where I lived, it was “danced” to by jumping with legs closed from one side to another, if possible with the beat). The song still evokes the taste of cheap cola and peanut twirls, and the anxiety of relating to girls who suddenly had become romantic notions.

The other musical nemesis was Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. It’s a very good song, but it was ubiquitous in the summer of 1979. Besides, I had taken a dislike to Cliff Richard before I ever knowingly heard a note he sang. I was not going to surrender my antipathy to that song.

Cliff scored my unhappy summer of 1979, on which I was sent on a church youth camp, as I had been two years before. In 1977 the camp group had been great. I had fallen “in love”, we had great outings and fantastic leaders. In 1979 the group was populated by creeps, and I didn’t like any of the girls other than those older than I was, and therefore unattainable. On top of that, the camp leaders ignored my complaint of theft, the sort of commandment-violation one might think would require some sort of reaction in a church-run jam.  I never went again.

Things picked up in autumn. And what an autumn it was — indeed, the stretch from autumn 1979 to early summer 1980 produced a fantastic run of singles purchases. It started with The Knack’s “My Sharona”, the cover of which, I must confess, excited my hormones the way the girls in my age cohort on summer camp didn’t (I liked the song, too. Still do). There were some new kind of sounds. Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army, with the synth sound that seemed more musical to me than the robotic Kraftwerk, set the scene for the New Romantics which would arrive within a year and a bit. “Video Killed The Radio Star” sounded very unusual too.

But my favourite act of 1979 was the Boomtown Rats. I had liked them before, of course, but “I Don’t Like Mondays” was a few cuts above “She’s So Modern” or “Like Clockwork”. I loved their The Fine Art Of Surfacing LP. It has not really stood the test of time, but I’ll stand by the trio of singles — “Mondays”, “Diamond Smiles”, “Someone’s Looking At You” — and closing track “When the Night Comes” .

And as 1979 ended, I started to get into AC/DC — just in time for Bon Scott’s death in February 1980.

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For those who really need to know, songs with a green asterisk I owned in 1979 on Single, red on LP (track 7 on a compilation album), blue on tape.

1. Status Quo – Accident Prone **
2. Thin Lizzy – Rosalie (live) *
3. Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again *
4. Patrick Hernandez – Born To Be Alive
5. Ritchie Family – American Generation *
6. Billy Joel – My Life *
7. Gerard Kenny – New York, New York *
8. Elton John – Return To Paradise *
9. George Harrison – Blow Away *
10. Art Garfunkel – Bright Eyes *
11. Clout – Save Me *
12. Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood *
13. The Knack – My Sharona *
14. Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric *
15. Electric Light Orchestra – Don’t Bring Me Down *
16. B.A. Robertson – Bang Bang *
17. The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star *
18. Thom Pace – Maybe *
19. Boomtown Rats – Diamond Smiles *

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A Life in Vinyl: 1978

September 18th, 2014 5 comments

Life In Vinyl 1978

In 1978 I made it my business to become a respectable buyer of pop music — at least, to be more respectable than my fellow 12-year-olds. My benchmark in such things was my older brother, who had a broad record collection. He introduced me to things like Jethro Tull’s Aqualung LP (which I’d buy two years later). So in April I bought a bunch of singles: Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and, yes, something by Jethro Tull. My brother never indicated whether he was impressed; happily I liked my purchases.

A little later I discovered punk. My best friend at the time and I bought records by the Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, Sham 69, The Damned, Boomtown Rats and, erm, Plastic Bertrand (who, it later turned out was the Milli Vanilli of punk).

I was aware of disco, of course, and bought the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, though I didn’t play it much. I liked Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” though.

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But the records I’m most proud of are the singles I bought in January 1978, just weeks after I had still bought a single by Harpo: The Runaways’ “School Days”, Tom Robinson’s “2-4-6-8 Motorway” and Blondie’s “X-Offender”. All are still favourites, though the Blondie track featured here is the single I bought on a trip to Amsterdam.

Which brings me to the illustrations for these posts: of the records I actually owned, I include the cover of the format in which I bought them — single or LP. In the case of the Blondie record, I naturally use the Dutch cover.

And of this lot, I had all the records except those of John Paul Young (who would lend his name to two popes later that year), El Pasador, Brian & Michael, Marshall Hain and Exile — those I include because they recreate the smells and sounds of my 1978.

1978_2As always, CD-R length, covers, PW in comments.

1. The Runaways – School Days
2. Tom Robinson Band – 2-4-6-8 Motorway
3. Status Quo – Rockin All Over The World
4. Uriah Heep – Free Me
5. Wings – With A Little Luck
6. John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air
7. Darts – Come Back My Love
8. Genesis – Follow You, Follow Me
9. Brian & Michael – Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats And Dogs
10. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Davy’s On The Road Again
11. Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
12. Jethro Tull – Moths
13. Goldie – Making Up Again
14. Blondie – (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear
15. Sham 69 – Angels With Dirty Faces
16. The Stranglers – Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
17. The Motors – Airport
18. Sex Pistols – My Way
19. Plastic Bertrand – Ca Plane Pour Moi
20. Boomtown Rats – Like Clockwork
21. Marshall Hain – Dancing In The City
22. Clout – Substitute
23. Exile – Kiss You All Over

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A Life In Vinyl: 1977

August 14th, 2014 12 comments

Life In Vinyl 1977

Here’s a new series in which I follow my life as a music-consumer, from the time I became a serious buyer. It sort of follows the “Stepping Back” series which I abandoned a few years ago at 1981 because it was just too labour-intensive.

1977 was the year I turned 11. It was a pivotal year in my life, perhaps more than any other. My family was torn apart by my father’s sudden death, I discovered love, I began to take learning English seriously, and I became a serious fan of pop music. My love for the cute girl from a different suburb was short-lived, my family remained broken, but music was my big passion, alongside football.

Reviewing the music I listened to in 1977 and after that, I made some rapid leaps: in October 1977 I bought a record by teen idol Leif Garrett and in December still two by Swedish popster Harpo; by April 1978 I bought singles by Kate Bush and Jethro Tull, then by The Stranglers and Sham 69.

I didn’t have most of what is featured on the present mix on record, but these songs recreate the year for me. When I hear “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” I hear my mother’s grief. When I hear Kenny Roger’s “Lucille”, I can smell the leather of my new black shoes I received that autumn. “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” prompted me to become serious about learning English when I looked up a four-syllable word (“esitayshon”). Raffaella Carrà’s “A Far L’Amore Comincia Tu” became the first song for which I developed an active hatred; I feel slightly more generous towards it now.

Since the mix is timed to fit on a CD, I had to omit some songs which would tell a fuller story of my year in music. So you are deprived of Rosetta Stone’s cover of “Sunshine Of Your Love”, songs by The Rubettes, Tina Rainford and La Belle Epoque, Lonzo’s German version of “No Milk Today”, and Hoffmann & Hoffmann’s German cover of the Bellamy Brother’s “Crossfire” (and, indeed, the original). You might consider yourself lucky.covers-77-a I might well have duplicated some artists, especially Harpo, who had three other songs I had on record (“Rock ‘n’ Roll Clown”, “Television” and “With A Girl Like You”), Baccara (“Sorry, I’m A Lady”), Boney M (“Sunny” and “Ma Baker”) and the Bay City Rollers (“Yesterday’s Hero” and “It’s A Game”) . The BCR track included is a great pop song, incidentally.

The opening track by Marianne Rosenberg is now a cult hit, especially popular with Germany’s drag queens. It’s a slice of wonderful  Schlager-disco, with a lyrical concept which simulates that of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.

Since this mix reflects the listening pleasures and experiences of an 11-year-old, I don’t necessarily endorse any of the featured tracks, but I’d describe the ABBA song as my favourite by that great group.covers-77-bAs always, CD-R length, covers, PW in comments.

1. Marianne Rosenberg – Marleen
2. Smokie – Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone
3. Manhattan Transfer – Chanson d’Amour
4. Bonnie Tyler – Lost In France
5. Julie Covington – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
6. Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran – Rock Bottom
7. Oliver Onions – Orzowei
8. Space – Magic Fly
9. David Soul – Silver Lady
10. Amanda Lear – Queen Of Chinatown
11. Harpo – In The Zum-Zum-Zummernight
12. Baccara – Yes Sir, I Can Boogie
13. Boney M. – Belfast
14. Bay City Rollers – You Made Me Believe In Magic
15. Leif Garrett – Surfin’ USA
16. Umberto Tozzi – Ti Amo
17. Kenny Rogers – Lucille
18. Carole King – Hard Rock Cafe
19. Glen Campbell – Southern Nights
20. Raffaella Carrà – A far l’amore comincia tu (Liebelei)
21. Abba – The Name Of The Game
22. Santa Esmeralda – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

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