The series now hits 1980, which was a pretty good year for pop music. Good enough to warrant four instalments, I think. It was the year in which I turned 14.
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Cheap Trick – Dream Police.mp3
This was the first record I bought in 1980. Cheap Trick probably were the first hair metal band. I didn’t really dig them very much, but I did like Dream Police, even if I had no idea what the song was about. It had a good guitar riff, a catchy chorus and some amusing sound effects. The term “dream police” has been used to describe a state on an LSD trip when the brain figures out that it’s not in charge anymore (or something like it; what the hell do I know about LSD trips?). But I think the lyrics are far better applied to describe a state of schizophrenia, with its paranoia and controlling inner voices. The half-minute interlude at 2:50 certainly sounds like mental illness. Or, indeed, an alarming drugs trip.
Electric Light Orchestra – Confusion
And this was my second record of 1980. As with Cheap Trick, I’d never been much of an ELO fan. Don’t Bring Me Down changed that, and I liked Confusion even better (and perhaps still do; I prefer whichever of the two I’m presently hearing). Strangely, I didn’t buy the LP the songs were from. Later I discovered, as it were, that it’s a pretty good album. The purists don’t like it, I believe, because they thought that Jeff Lynne had sold ELO out to disco. Funny enough, disco often incorporated strings, which Lynne mostly dropped for the Discovery album. I’ll grant that Shine A Little Love and Last Train To London are a nod to disco, but for the most part it’s a wonderful pop album (Horace Wimple excepted).
Cherie & Marie Currie – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3
In later 1979 and early 1980 there were two versions of the Russ Ballard-penned Since You Been Gone (or Since You’ve Been Gone, as some have rendered it. You can get Ballard’s original here). The excellent Rainbow version was the more successful, and apparently South African popsters Clout had a single of it out as well. I bought this single, by former Runaways singer Cherie Currie with her sister Marie (whom you will remember if you saw the recent biopic of the Runaways). I think the Curries’ cover can just about compete with the Rainbow record. I’m not sure why I bought this single though. In the face of compertition by Rainbow, who were huge in West Germany, it wasn’t a big hit. Perhaps I saw it on the Musikladen TV show on which the sisters appeared in December 1979; but if I liked it, I’d have bought it right then, not in January (somehow I always had money for a single). Perhaps I bought it on strength of Cherie Currie, seeing as I liked The Runaways back in the day. Maybe I just like the cover…
AC/DC – Touch Too Much.mp3
Bon Scott was my first rock death as a fan. Of course, people whose music I had known had died before. Elvis, of course. Marc Bolan of T. Rex. Keith Moon of The Who. I had known their music, but I wasn’t a fan at the time. However, when Bon Scott died on 19 February 1980, I was something of an AC/DC fan. When the others died, I had no interest in their next record, but I was very much looking forward to the next AC/DC record, with Bon Scott on vocals, maybe featuring as great a song as Ride On from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. When the next album came out, with undue haste later that year, I had mixed emotions. The songs – Hells Bells, title track Back In Black, and especially You Shook Me All Night Long – were great, but to my mind new singer Brian Johnson was a pale imitation of the great Scott. I still think he is. So I started 1980 mourning the death of a favourite singer. I’d end the year in mourning an even more favourite singer.
Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.mp3
Like Since You Been Gone, The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan was a cover version, in this case of Dr Hook and the Medicine Show’s original penned by Shel Silverstein. Marianne Faithfull’s version is beautifully arranged, and the melody is lovely, but it was, of course, that broken voice which raised the song to another level. At the time I hadn’t heard of Faithfull’s history with the Stones. When I did, I went off Mars chocolate bars for a bit. Faithfull insists that the story is an untruth spreads by the London narcs after they raided Keef’s Redlands mansion. The singer says she is far too prudish to do that. In her biography she wrote: “It’s a dirty old man’s fantasy… a cop’s idea of what people do on acid!” Anyway, at the age of 13, Faithfull seemed to me so ancient as probably being close to death’s door from natural causes (of course, her drug use might have killed her). She was only 33, four years younger than Lucy Jordan…
Kenny Rogers – Coward Of The County.mp3
I never bought the single, though the chorus was pretty catchy. But buying a country record? Not very likely. It’s a jaunty little number that rather cloaks the disturbing lyrics. You don’t get many pop hits about gang rape. And that’s what happens in the song to poor Becky at the hands of the ghastly Gatlin boys. Trouble is, Coward of the County’s dad was a bit of a troublemaker in his time and on his deathbed extracted from CotC an oath of rigorous pacifism, with Uncle Ken serving as a witness to the pledge. So what does a pacifist do when the Gatlin boys violate his girl? Ah, I shall not spoil the ending for you, but it does not involve a visit to the local police station followed by a judicial process. We are not told whether Coward ensured that Becky would receive appropriate counselling.
Georg Danzer – Zehn kleine Fixer.mp3
I was a year late with this one, but what a good song it is. Danzer was an Austrian singer-songwriter – or Liedermacher (song-maker), as they say in German – who had a good reputation for producing accessible songs with sophisticated, sometimes funny and often socially conscious lyrics. He died of lung cancer in 2007 at the age of 50, having been a heavy smoker for years. In Zehn kleiner Fixer he sings about “ten little junkies” who die one by one. His tone is sardonic: while he shows little compassion for the junkies, but blames the ills of society for their condition.
Here’s my clumsy translation of the lyrics:
Ten little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death.One of them jumped overboard and sank like a stone. “Shit” was his final word; then there were only nine.
Nine little junkies; among them were girls. One was just 13, couldn’t break free.Went out on the corner, froze to death, then there were only eight.
Eight little junkies, one just out of jail. Parole officer let him down, no money for rehab, parents written off; he saw no other way out, then there were only seven.
Seven little junkies were so fed up with their lonely desert in the high-rise ghetto. One, they say, suffocated on wine and biscuits and indifference; then there were only six.
Six little junkies, one ended it with a golden fixall on the station toilet. Some tramp who found him took his shoes and socks, then there were only five.
Five little junkies, left all on their own, had neither hope nor money. One walked into a bank and “asked” the cashier who didn’t hesitate; then there were only four.
Four little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death. One reported a dealer to the police; when he was released again there were only three.
Three little junkies on the final tour; among them they had just one more fix. Oh, the heroin ran out and they capsized the boat.
Love was never their home, and now they were all dead.
Ten little junkies were now gone. Clearance sale, urban garbage, just lowly filth. But how long do we want to sweep them under the carpet? One day, when they rise again, they will strike back.
The Nolan Sisters – I’m In The Mood For Dancing.mp3
Now here’s a record I most definitely didn’t buy. I didn’t particularly like or dislike the song it was a hymn to my indifference. And yet the song stuck in my head for years. It was one of those earworms I found myself inexplicably singing at random moments. That kind of song. Some 11 years after this was a hit, I met my future wife. One day she randomly sang I’m In The Mood For Dancing. Then, a while later, she did so again. As it turned out, we had a shared permanent earworm of the random-singing variety (I don’t know the technical Greco-Latin terms for the phenomenon, I’m afraid). I’d like to say that I knew at that point that we would grow old together, but there were other, much better clues which did not involve the Nolan Sisters. Truth be told, I quite like the song now, in as far as inoffensive pop music from that era goes.
Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers.mp3
Peter Gabriel – Spiel ohne Grenzen.mp3
This was my 100th single. Now, that doesn’t mean it was the 100th single I had ever owned or bought. But when I bought it, it was the 100th single in my possession. Before that I had frequently swapped singles with friends (who exploited me; I gave away some really good records. So after that, I stopped trading). Others I had discarded for being too embarrassing to own, such as my Bay City Rollers records. But when I bought Games Without Frontiers in March 1980, it was single #100, a milestone. 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).
Games Without Frontiers refers to an game show that was popular throughout Europe at the time in which village teams representing different countries were pitched against one another in bizarre action games, usually dressed in silly costumes. In French the show was called Jeux sans Frontiers and in German Spiele ohne Grenzen (both mean Games Without Frontiers); in England it was It’s A Knock-Out. Gabriel re-recorded his entire 1980 album, which also included the anti-apartheid song Biko, entirely in German. Hence the second file: the German version of Games Without Frontiers.
Tim Curry – I Do The Rock.mp3
When I bought this, I was blissfully unaware of that overhyped cult twaddle that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Indeed, I remained so until the late ’80s. So when Tim Curry visited a restaurant in London where I worked as a waiter in 1985, my excitement was based on my love for I Do The Rock. The 80-year-old owner of the restaurant, an old Australian whom we had nicknamed Mr Magoo, was dining on Table 15 at the same time, and somebody advised him that a celebrity was at Table 8. Mr Magoo moseyed over, stood before Mr Curry and his lovely companion, stared at them for a bit while pushing his rolled-up tongue back and forth through his fleshy and disconcertingly moist lips, as he habitually did, and then blurted out in an accusatory manner: “So, you’re famous!” Mr Curry responded gracefully that he was an indeed an ac-tor. Thus informed, Mr Magoo grunted, turned and waddled back to Table 15 to complete his meal.
The song itself was one of thise that referenced the celebs of the day – from Solzhenitzin and Sadat to O.J. Simpson and Virginia Wade to Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Liza Minelli and Charlie’s Angels – and a few characters from the past, including Joe DiMaggio and former English cricket captain Colin Cowdrey. I Do The Rock also acquainted me with The Dakota as the New York residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a piece of information that would become relevant later in the year.
More Stepping Back