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Music for a royal wedding

April 27th, 2011 10 comments

The alert reader might have noticed that one William von Saxe-Coburg und Gotha is going to marry his blushing bride Catherine on Friday. Perhaps young William is better known by his family’s stage name Windsor, the name of one of the joints his family owns, chosen in order to distance the family from its German provenance during World War I.

This blog likes a good wedding, and in the spirit of the nuptial celebration would like to offer Wilhelm and his Frau a few sincerely selected party tunes for the reception, to be played when the wedding band takes a break from doing Come On Eileen. We mean it, man.

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The Redskins – Bring It Down (This Inane Thing) (1985).mp3
“You’ve never had it so good; the favourite phrase of those who’ve always had it better. You never had so much, is the cry of those who’ve always had much more, much more than you and I. Burn brother burn, fight together, this altogether’s an insane thing, insane thing. Bring it down.”

The Men They Couldn’t Hang – The Colours (1988).mp3
“I was woken from my misery by the words of Thomas Paine. On my barren soil they fell like the sweetest drops of rain. Red is the colour of the new republic, blue is the colour of the sea, white is the colour of my innocence, not surrender to your mercy.”

Stone Roses – Elizabeth My Dear (1989).mp3
“Tear me apart and boil my bones, I’ll not rest till she’s lost her throne. My aim is true my message is clear: It’s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear.”

The Housemartins – Flag Day (single version, 1985).mp3
“So you thought you’d like to change the world, decided to stage a jumble sale for the poor, for the poor. It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean, try shaking a box in front of the queen ’cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams. It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean.”

Manic Street Preachers – Repeat (1992).mp3
“Repeat after me: Fuck queen and country. Repeat after me: Royal Khymer Rouge. Repeat after me: Imitation demi-gods!”

Motörhead – God Save The Queen (2000).mp3
“God save the queen, she ain’t no human being. There is no future in England’s dreaming” etc.

Billy Bragg – Take Down The Union Jack (2002).mp3
“Is this the 19th century that I’m watching on TV? The dear old Queen of England handing out those MBEs. Member of the British Empire; that doesn’t sound too good to me… Take down the Union Jack; it clashes with the sunset.”

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986).mp3
“Farewell to this land’s cheerless marshes hemmed in like a boar between arches. Her very Lowness with a head in a sling, I’m truly sorry, but it sounds like a wonderful thing.”

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Twattery in Pop: Bono again

January 8th, 2010 16 comments

We should have seen it coming when this occasional series started: that megalomaniac twat Bono will do all he can to monopolise it. I have resisted taking the bait, but the man known to the Irish tax authorities as Loopholin’ Paul Hewson and to his immediate family as That Fecking Prat would not let up. And here the man called Bono Vox (which surely is an unprintable Gaelic insult) features for the second time on Twattery in Pop. Read more…

Music for Bloggers Vol. 10

May 15th, 2009 11 comments

It has been a long time since I’ve celebrated the work of my fellow bloggers. So long, in fact, that some which I might have featured along the way have given up (or hopefully just suspended) their endeavours. So, whatever happened to The Urban Woo? Will Catholick Tastes ever blog again? Got The Fever, the mercury is running much too low!

Oh, and if your blog doesn’t feature here, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. And at this point, I should express my gratitude to all the blogs that link to me, and especially to those that do so in their posts (with special props to Rock God Cred and its sibling blog Retro Music Snob). Click on the heading to visit the blogs reviewed.

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The Vinyl District

vinyl_district

This may look like reciprocation after The Vinyl District (TVD) chose your humble servant to kick off a new series in which that blog visits other blogs, asking them to tell about themselves and offer up a few tunes. Of course I sounded like an idiot, referring to this blog in the third person. TVD, on the other hand, astutely evades exhibitions of idiocy in its bid to promote the delights of trusty vinyl, which is sustaining something of a comeback. In doing so, the blog revisits old records and flags new vinyl releases. Periodically, TVD runs competitions, usually calling on readers to exercise their wit to win a t-shirt, a concert ticket or a deluxe vinyl edition of Jenny Lewis’ fine Acid Tongue album (I can never muster the required with, I’m afraid). And I love the website design: the vinyl LP coming out of the album cover. Brilkliant. It seems logical that the song dedication for TVD should be my vinyl rip of a hard-to-find song, a very beautiful 1982 track in the James Taylor vein by the Australian singer Richard Clapton.
Richard Clapton – Walk On The Water.mp3

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Another Nickel In The Machine

another_nickel

This blog is an absolute gem. Taking as its subject London in the 20th century, it is a cultural multimedia journey through eras, from the London which still had the murders of Jack the Ripper fresh in its collective mind to the pre-WW2 years to the Swinging Sixties to the brief punk period. Some posts include music, others photos or videos. The essays are beautifully written and invariably fascinating, even (or especially) for non-Londoners. Along the way we meet eccentrics, gangsters and musicians, read about “the Duchess of Argyll and the Headless Man polaroids” and visit Harry Nilsson’s cursed flat in which first Cass Elliott and then Keith Moon died, or take a look inside “the hippy squat at 144 Piccadilly”, which was guarded by a trio of fey looking Hell’s Angels.
The Smiths – Half A Person.mp3

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Oreo Cookie Blues

oreo_cookie_blues

I like a blog with great pictures and great music. One such blog is Dane’s All Eyes And Ears, which showcases her marvellous photography (which has influenced the way I look for subject matter in my own photographic endeavours) and fine music to illustrate the illustration. Oreo Cookie Blues is another fusion of sound and images, mostly photos taken by the blogger, from Toronto, himself. Some of the photos are utterly exquisite, and so is the music — for all you Ring Of Fire cover needs, Oreo Cookie Blues’ got ’em. I must run the all-too obvious song dedication, of course. Any Minor Dude, now 14, recently told me that, when he was small, he thought I was the Cookie Monster because I sounded exactly like him when singing C Is For Cookie. But to compensate for the novelty value of a Sesame Street classic, I also offer an early girl-group soul classic (with a weird spoken bit) from 1956 by a group which we will soon encounter again in the Originals series.
Cookie Monster – C is for Cookie.mp3
The Cookies – In Paradise.mp3

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The Cheese Does Not Wear Me

cheese_does_not_wear_me

I remember my university days with some affection; so much so that when I visit the campus, as I do when I am showing overseas visitors around, I get agonisingly nostalgic. Perhaps I just feel reminded of my rapidly receding youth. So I read Liz’s blog of life on campus in Winnipeg, Canada, with a certain empathy. It helps that Liz (who frequently comments on this blog, for which I love her) is engaging and witty as she shares the minutae of college life. She is at her best when she directs her bile at her more brainless peers. Liz recently completed her Bachelor of Arts degree (hurrah!) and will leave the site of her brainless peers. Happily for us, she is not going to enter the world of gainful employment (other than a summer job), but will continue her studies, post-grad style, at the University of Minnesota, home state of at least three bloggers previously featured in this series. As we know from the film Fargo, Minnesota has its share of dim people, so Liz doubtless will find fertile grounds from which to reap instances of brainlessness on which to comment. In Purple Rain, the objectionable side of Minnesotans was represented by the gloriously preening Morris Day. This is one of the songs Day and his group (which once included future producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam) performed in the film. It’s outrageous!
Morris Day & the Time – The Bird.mp3

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Groover’s Paradise

groovers_paradise

I’m not certain I am convinced of the merits of collaborative blogs. Of course, the benefit of pooling expertise and talent is a potential consistency of quality, but somehow I miss the one-on-one relationship between blogger and reader. This is not intended to deprecate such blogs, of course. There are many whose fused work I admire. One of them is Groover’s Paradise, among whose contributors are the always wonderful Gentlebear and the very impressive Setting The Woods On Fire, one of my favourite site for classic country fixes. Groover’s Paradise styles itself as a place “where we celebrate our favorite 20th Century rock, country, and soul music”. Which is as good a description as I might come up with.
Peaches & Herb – Shake Your Groove Thing (Original 12″ Mix).mp3

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Geezer Music Club

geezer_music_club

The title stakes out this blog’s intended audiences: if you are looking for Kelly Clarkson’s latest single, you probably won’t find it here. And, just in case you need to be reassured that Kelly does not live here, it says: “A special place for SEASONED music lovers.” What one will find is thoughtfully selected music with well researched and written articles of just the right length (in other words, the Big Geez does not waffle as prodigiously as your present interlocutor). I’m not sure at what point one becomes a “seasoned” music lover; I suspect it has to do less with age but with the extent to which one has been immersed in music. Read this way, following this blog can – should – be inter-generational.
John Prine – Hello In There.mp3

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Beatles Anecdotes

beatles_anecdotes

Can one ever know enough about the Beatles? Beatles Anecdotes offers a fresh nugget of information every day. That is quite an incredible effort: finding something to post, writing it up, logging in, posting…every day. That is dedication. And the information is very entertaining indeed. I didn’t know that Lovely Rita, the meter maid, was a real person called, of all things, Meta, whom McCartney met in St John’s Wood (and 20 years later didn’t recognise even after hearing her name). And I didn’t know that John Lennon gave the band Hot Chocolate their name, or that Ringo was briefly a Beach Boy. And here’s the kicker, all three nuggets of extravagant trivia appeared on consecutive days. This is a blog to visit for a daily fix of trivia, and to dip into the archives on a slow day. In tribute, José Feliciano’s fantastic live acoustic version of A Day In The Life from his 1969 Alive Alive-o! Live At London Palladium album (another vinyl rip of mine).
José Feliciano – A Day In The Life.mp3

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Number One In Heaven

number_one_in_heaven

And finally not a blog, but those who dabble on Facebook will find at least one group very useful indeed: Number One In Heaven sends out monthly messages notifying subscribers of the latest deaths in the world of pop. I did not know that soul songstress Viola Wills and former Delfonic Randy Cain had died until I received my update earlier this week. The group promotes Jeremy Simmonds book Number One in Heaven: The Heroes Who Died for Rock ‘n’ Roll (retitled in the US The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns and Ham Sandwiches). I haven’t read it yet (seeing as I live in a backwater where the music section in even the best bookshops offers a range of a dozen books, half of them about U2 and Nirvana, and Amazon don’t deliver to South Africa), but it looks like a fantastic work. The reviews certainly seem to suggest so.

And while you are on Facebook, become this blog’s friend (it’s OK, you won’t go to Guantanamo Bay for being friends with something called Amd Whah any longer). Apart from being alerted to new posts – and sometimes posts I’m working on – you’ll also learn such fascinating things about me as which West Wing character I am, my five favourite brands of ketchup and how well (or not) I perform in quizzes about Pauly Shore’s cinematic artistry. The sort of stuff that will enrich your reading experiences of Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. The song dedication is a bit obvious, though the song belongs in every collection that reserves a special place for spectacularly bad songs, such as this glorious cash-in on the death of Elvis, released within a couple of weeks of 16 August 1977.
Danny Mirror – I Remember Elvis Presley.mp3 (reuploaded)

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Previously featured in Music for Bloggers

Cover art: The Smiths – Hatful Of Hollow (1984)

February 24th, 2009 1 comment

The Smiths released their debut LP, and seven months later a compilation. How’s that for audacity?  Hatful Of Hollow included singles, their b-sides and BBC session versions of songs from the eponymous debut album (and, it must be said, the BBC session tracks are not all superior). It was just the first of several albums featuring repackaged Smiths material (The World Won’t Listen, Louder Than Bombs etc) Read more…

Longing for love

February 13th, 2009 5 comments

Is it better to have love and lost than never to have loved? There aren’t many songs about yearning for love. So, as decided by a staw-poll on my Facebook page (become my friend here), for Valentine’s Day here is a collection of songs for those who have nobody to share the commercial feast with, or don’t have the bitterness of love lost, rejected or betrayed to commemorate on the day.

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The Smiths – How Soon Is Now.mp3
how-soon-is-nowThe Smiths canon is brimming with songs about Morrissey’s unlovability. He doesn’t even get rejected; he just can’t find the right person to reject him (and when a girl comes on to him, as one does in Never Had No One Ever, he can’t even get “sorrow’s native son” to rise to the occasion). How Soon Is Now is the anthem of these songs. Every person afflicted with shyness will probably identify with Morrissey’s sad disco tales: “There’s a club, if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die.” Which more or less mirrors my juvenile experience, minus the crying and suicidal tendencies.

One day, when I was 19, some friends took me to Heaven, the great gay club in London. It wasn’t long before a very nice man timidly offered to buy me drink. I was flattered to be considered attractive enough to be targetted for a pull (and here is a collorary to the shyness: a lack of self-esteem) but declined politely. I thought what a displeasure it was to be a straight man in a city where the women in the clubs I went to were so stuck up when I wouldn’t even have to try to get laid if I was gay. What did not seem to occur to me was that the girls were probably not so much stuck-up as I was a victim of a shyness that was criminally vulgar which prevented me from actually approaching them. No wonder I couldn’t get laid.

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Richard Hawley – Coles Corner.mp3
coles-cornerLike Morrissey, Hawley is looking for company in bright, busy places, only to find nothing. “I’m going downtown where there’s music. I’m going where voices fill the air. Maybe there’s someone waitin’ for me with a smile and a flower in her hair.” And with such hopes our hero puts on his best shoes and (as Kris Kristofferson would have it) his cleanest dirty shirt and heads to Coles Corner, apparently a popular hang-out in Sheffield. “I’m going downtown where there’s people. My loneliness hangs in the air, with no one there real waitin’ for me, no smile, no flower, nowhere.” And so he’ll make his sad way home.

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Kevin Devine – Probably.mp3
Set in a train carriage, Kevin is admiring a fellow passenger, imagining her life (covering all the bases of contradiction): “You probably don’t wear your glasses but you probably need them to read, and you probably value your downtime and you probably don’t get much sleep, and you probably don’t like the movies but you probably go anyway, and you probably fight with your parents a lot when you feel like there’s nothing to say, and you probably don’t care for punk rock but you probably own Nevermind.” He thinks of chatting her up – “you probably don’t talk to strangers but you wish they’d talk to you all the time” – but either shyness or self-loathing preclude him from approaching her: “So I should probably say something to you, but I’d probably ruin it then. It’s best for us both if I keep my mouth shut and just stay on my side of the train.” It may well be his loss and hers. This is the far superior version from 2003’s …Travelling The EU EP.

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Hello Saferide – Loneliness Is Better When You’re Not Alone.mp3
hello-saferide_2Annika Norlin (for she is Hello Saferide) has nobody in her life, so she is looking to compensate for that with meaningless one-night stands, rationalising it with the statement of the song’s title. No strings attached. “I will be gone when you wake up. No awkward breakfasts, I swear. And don’t you look for me, because I could be anywhere – in someone else’s house, in someone else’s arms, with someone else to warm the pain away.” Her promiscuity is a band-aid for the sores of loneliness. She really would like closeness, to open up herself, not just her legs. “If I told you my stories and sang you my songs, would you laugh at me? Would you pity me? What would you say if I asked of you not out of accident, out of loneliness: would you shelter me? Will you shelter me?” And why does she not ask? Low self-esteem seems to be at play: “What can I ask of you? What would you want from me? What would you say if I just fell asleep?” Annika, there’s a club, if you’d like to go…

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Liz Phair – Fuck And Run.mp3
phairAnother song about promiscuity compensating for loneliness. She wakes up with a one-night stand guy and instantly has regrets, thinking: “Whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kind of guy who makes love cause he’s in it… I want a boyfriend. I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas.” But it doesn’t seem that a boyfriend is on the cards (maybe Liz should look in the unrequited love section; loads of nice guys there), even when a one-night lover reaches out to her. She doesn’t want his pity. So, she concludes, “I’m gonna spend another year alone. It’s fuck and run, fuck and run.” But there is an alarming clue in the lyrics which might explain her disposition. “It’s fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was 17. Fuck and run, fuck and run even when I was 12.” Does that suggest that she was abused, leading to these trust issues?

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John Prine – Aimless Love.mp3
in this 1984 song, Prine is singing about a sensitive soul, a guy who is suspicious of strangers and “a bit too gun shy to have his heart touched without a glove”. He really wants love to find him. Prine reminds him, and us: “Love has no mind. It can’t spell unkind. It’s never seen a heart shaped like a Valentine. For if love knew him. It’d walk up to him and introduce him to an aimless love.” In other words, open yourself up to let love in when you find it.

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Jay Brannan – Housewife.mp3
brannanIn an alternative riff on Audrey’s Somewhere That’s Green in Little Shop Of Horrors, Jay is describing a scene of domestic bliss (and great sex): “I’m making guacamole, he’s working on the car. When he grills turkey burgers he knows I like them charred. I like to wash the dishes, I like to scrub the floors, don’t mind doing his laundry, what are boyfriends for?” Yes, he wants to be a housewife. “What’s so wrong with that?” But, as it turns out, he’s not one yet. “Can’t wait to till he’s in my life, ’cause we haven’t met.” (Read my interview with Jay)

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Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life To Begin.mp3
colin-hayAt first glance, this song (from Hay’s 2001 album Going Somewhere; one of three versions) might not belong in this series, but I think it has a place, and right here. The singer has a girl, but she’s obviously not what he really wants. He’s holding out for a better life which does not seem to include her. Indeed, even now, she is peripheral. “And you say: ‘Be still my love, open up your heart, let the light shine in.’ Don’t you understand I already have a plan, I’m waiting for my real life to begin.” It seems to me that our friend could be in depression, vainly holding out for a better future — “Let me throw one more dice, I know that I can win” — and in the process is unable to return the love offered by his current partner. Which is really just as tragic as Morrissey’s shyness, Annika’s and Liz’s promiscuity, and Kevin’s lack of self-confidence.

Previously in this series:
Love Hurts
Unrequited Love
Being in love (Any Major Love Mix)

More songs about love

Albums of the Year: 1987

June 11th, 2008 No comments
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Some time ago I started a series of my favourite albums of the year, starting with round-ups of the ’50s and the years 1960-65. It was a good idea, but the prospect of choosing ten albums from 1966 and writing about them somehow put me off. So I procrastinated in continuing the series. Then, this morning, it hit me: why the compulsion to follow the years in a rigorously tidy chronology? Surely I won’t receive a flood of complaints if I focus on random years. So we’ll continue the long dormant series with a random year, inspired by the album I was playing in the car as I had my brainwave, and which tops the list. A few caveats: these lists represent my top 10 of albums in terms of my own enjoyment and/or the nostalgic bonds they represent. Greatest hits type compilations are not considered (else New Order’s Substance album would have featured). And, no, I never liked The Joshua Tree much, by 1987 I was past my Depeche Mode phase, and never owned Actually.

1. The Jesus And Mary Chain – Darklands
Somewhere I read the Jesus And Mary Chain’s 1985 aptly named debut Psychocandy described as the Beach Boys being played by vacuum cleaners, or a notion to that effect. The description is spot on: the rather lovely tunes struggled to be heard above the feedback. It sounded great, but somehow one wondered how great JAMC might be with a cleaner sound. Two years later the Reid brothers switched off the vacuum cleaner and, Hoover be praised, produced that clean sound. Listen to Cherry Came Too: you can imagine it being sung by the Beach Boys back in the day. Indeed, the Reid boys wore their influences with ease. The dark Nine Million Rainy Days pays homage, wittingly or not, to the Stones’ Sympathy To The Devil. Closing track About You could have been sung by Nico and the Velvet Underground. The title track channels Berlin-era Bowie (but is much better than that). Yet, they could not be accused of plagiarism, as Oasis would be later. The whole thing incorporates earlier sounds without compromising the JAMC’s originality. Two decades later, the album still sounds fresh and exciting. A forgotten classic.
The Jesus And Mary Chain – Darklands.mp3
The Jesus And Mary Chain – Nine Million Rainy Days.mp3

2. Prince – Sign O’ The Times
There probably is a critical consensus that Sign O’ The Times is the best album of 1987. There is indeed much to be admired. The music is great, of course. Provided one is in the mood for it, because it can be a bit tedious. Let it play on a non-Prince day — and surely everybody but the most devoted Prince fan has these — and the whole thing has the capacity to irritate. It is not a pop masterpiece like Purple Rain; SOTT demands that you to listen it, and forgive its trespasses, especially the flab (oh, but if you condensed it down to a single album, which tracks would you cut?). SOTT is to Prince what the White Album was to the Beatles: despite the flaws that tend to be a by product of innovation, a masterpiece.
Prince – Sign O’ The Times.mp3
Prince – Starfish And Coffee.mp3

3. The Smiths – Strangeways Here We Come
A year earlier, the Smiths had released their ageless opus, The Queen Is Dead. Now Morrissey, Marr and chums themselves delivered their swansong. It was not necessarily their finest hour: lead single Girlfriend In A Coma is a lightweight novelty number, presaging Morrissey’s solo career that is riddled with similar witless doggerels. It was a bizarre choice for a single. I submit that Unhappy Birthday might have become a big cult hit on the back of its wonderfully vicious lyrics. A Rush And A Push… and the oppressive Death Of A Disco Dancer are excellent, and Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me is one of the most affecting songs in a canon jam-packed with such things. The line “Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head” is emotionally exhausting. It is a great piece of sequencing that this track, a throw-back to the self-pity years, is preceded — at least on the CD, for Last Night… opens side 2 — by a song called Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before.
The Smiths – Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Love Me.mp3

4. Alexander O’Neal – Hearsay
When ’80s soul became unfashionable, O’Neal became something of a reject emblem for the out-of-favour genre. It was rather unfair on the man. He made some classy soul music in his time, thanks to his effortlessly expressive voice and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ sparkling funk-soul-pop arrangements. Hearsay is a concept album, with dialogue intros preceding each song (they tend to grate once the novelty has worn off). The first side is the going-to-a-party section with great funk tracks such as Fake and Criticise, on the flip side things mellow down a bit, though the thing continues to groove, as on the gorgeous duet with the frequent collaborator Cherelle, Never Knew Love Like This. This is one of the great soul albums of the ’80s. Why would anyone want to dismiss Alexander O’Neal? Little known fact: O’Neal was the singer of a group called the Flyte Tyme (with Jam and Lewis). The group was signed to Prince’s Paisley Park label, but after a dispute with His Tiny Highness, O’Neal left the group, which hired one Morris Day and renamed itself The Time, providing the baddy foil to Prince’s flawed hero in Purple Rain.
Alexander O’Neal – Criticise.mp3

5. Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Mainstream
In a comment to a post in which I featured Lloyd Cole’s best song, Rattlesnakes, Rol from the fine Sunset Over Slawit blog wrote that he “could live inside” that song. I know exactly what he means. Likewise, I could spend a lost weekend (with or without a brand-new friend) in Cole’s Mainstream album. Lloyd’s final album with the Commotions, it did less well than its two predecessors. This is a pity, because — and this may be fighting talk — it is in some ways even better than the debut, Rattlesnakes, and most certainly superior to the sophomore album, Easy Pieces. On Mainstream, Cole and his increasingly distant friends returned to the guitar-based sound of the debut. Lyrically, Cole seemed to be at war with himself, his band and the world. On the side two opener he prnounced himself Mr Malcontent, and on the excellent From The Hip, he declared that he doesn’t care anymore. Oh, but he did. There are a couple of commitment songs, notably Jennifer She Said. That line “her name on you…Jennifer in blue” is a regular earworm, sometimes supplanted by the repetitious “that’s forever she said…”.
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – From The Hip.mp3

6. Basia – Time And Tide
There is a very good reason why this jazz-pop singer goes by her Christian name. Basia Trzetrzelewska (try saying that after a few pints of finest Hevelius) provided the splendid three-octave female voice on Matt Bianco’s first LP. While I rather enjoyed Matt Bianco, their Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed song used to irritate me when I was still a notorious morning grump. There was nothing aggravating about her 1987 solo debut, a finely judged collection of Latin-tinged jazz-pop which could with ease move the twinkletoed to the dancefloor to do the samba (or its Capetonian cousin, the jazz). The title track and Promises received fairly wide exposure, and are indeed the strongest numbers on the album. But the entire set is strong, with the possible exception of Prime Time TV and How Dare You. Check out songs such as New Day For You or Astrud.
Basia – New Day For You.mp3

7. The Housemartins – The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death
Like an Indie-pop supernova, the Housemartins burnt out after two albums. It probably was just as well: the überanorak shtick was going to get them only so far. So bassplayer Norman Cook became a DJ and then Fat Boy Slim; singer Paul Heaton and replacement drummer Dave Hemingway formed the Beautiful South. Before going their own way, our Marxist-Christian pals left us with a maddeningly uneven yet rather enjoyable album, the title of which was a reference to the royal family. By now the political consciousness started to mingle uneasily with the wackiness. What at first was endearing started to irritate. The single Five Get Overexcited, catchy jangly guitar pop with a message about superficiality though it was, had annoying lrics (“I am mad from Scandinavia, I want a guy in the London area. He must be crazy and Sagittaurus, ’cause I am Leo and I’m hilarious”). Conversely, a serious song about the rotten class-system like Me And The Farmer fails to convey its message thanks to a happy melody (and a very silly video). The People Who… is at its strongest when things are allowed to calm down a bit. And so the stand-out tracks are the quieter Build and The Light Is Always Green. As an opponent of apartheid, I particularly appreciated the inclusion of Johannesburg, although the Housemartins deviation towards jazz was less welcome.
The Housemartins – The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death.mp3

8. Wet Wet Wet – Popped In Souled Out
This may be one of the most unjustly disrespected albums of the ’80s. I cannot understand why Wet Wet Wet have such a poor reputation. Is it because they were initially marketed as the teenybopper group they never could be (I mean, Marti Pellow was good looking, but the drummer and the little one are hardly dreamy heartthtrobs)? Is it because that song from a Hugh Grant movie was so ubiquitous? Was it the name? The answer is beyond me, but it surely cannot have been the music on the Scottish band’s debut album. This is high-quality blue-eyed soul, made by people who clearly understand the genre. The sound draws from ’60s pop and ’70s soul, and Pellow’s vocals settle for a fine balance between soul technique and pop delivery. The songs are very catchy. Strings swell, but never in a corny way. The lyrics aren’t Tom Waits or Patti Smith, but they remain on the right side of pop banality (and sometimes they are pretty good). What, I beg you, is there not to like here?
Wet Wet Wet – Wishing I Was Lucky.mp3

9. INXS – Kick
Let the record reflect that I had no time for INXS before Kick, and none after. And yet, I love this album. It is the most accessible INXS album; the slew of hits that emanated from it testifies to that. It is also their least self-conscious album; Hutchence lets it hang out like Jagger and actually seems to be enjoying himself. On Need You Tonight, Hutchence is sex personified. When he sings “Your moves are so raw, I’ve got to let you know…I’ve got to let you know: you’re one of my kind”, he is having hot ‘n sweaty sex. With you (well, if you happen to be listening to it). I can happily live without a few tracks from Kick, such as opener Guns In The Sky or Calling All Nations, but for all their exposure, I am never unhappy to hear Devil Inside, Never Tear Us Apart, Mediate, New Sensation, Mystify or the song on which Hutchence is having sex with us.
INXS – Need You Tonight.mp3

10. Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Third World Child
I like Johnny Clegg. I like it that an English-born Jewish boy would defy apartheid, which was predicated not only on the separation of races but also of cultures, and assimilate with Zulu culture but not lose the awareness that he could never be a fully-fledged Zulu. His affinity with the Zulu culture is sincere, as was evident in his previous group, Juluka. When Juluka colleague Sipho Mchunu left the group, Clegg founded Savuka. His new group continued in the Juluka tradition; in concerts the setlist included most Juluka classics and the old dance routines with the highkicks. Third World Child was more commercial and polished than Juluka, possibly consciously so as to appeal to the fans of Paul Simon’s Graceland. It was a better album for it, I think. One has the direct comparison of Scatterlings Of Africa, a Juluka single in 1982 and re-recorded by Savuka for this album. The latter version is marginally better. At times Third World Child, like everything Clegg does, is a little too earnest, and sometimes it seems Clegg got bored with an idea before completing its development. But, goodness, when it’s good, it really is great. Apart from Scatterlings, the stand-out tracks are Great Heart and the great anti-apartheid song dedicated to the then still jailed Nelson Mandela, Asimbonanga, with its moving litany of activists who were murdered by the regime.
Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Asimbonanga.mp3

Previously featured:
1950s
1960-65

Perfect Pop – Vol.1

March 17th, 2008 7 comments

Jim Irvin in the latest issue of that fine British music magazine The Word makes the point that when his fellow critics describe something as perfect pop, it probably is neither. “It’ll be the work of a tone-deaf beanpole with a great haircut who sings like a rusty hinge while his mates commit acts upon musical instruments that the Spanish Inquisition would have thought twice about,” he writes, exaggerating for effect only marginally. Irvin mentions three songs as examples of what does constitute perfect pop: Britney’s Toxic, Take That’s Back For Good, and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine. I think these are excellent choices. But perfect pop is not a rarity, as I and a few Internet buddies found.

So, what are the ingredients in a perfect pop record? One pal suggested that pursuing a recipe is like “unweaving a rainbow” (a reasoning which might recall Stephen Fry’s immortal line, “Don’t analyse comedy; it’s beautiful as it is”). Unlike my pal, I prefer to approach such things scientifically, so here are some criteria I’d employ:

1. Great tune (obviously)
2. A killer chorus
3. Relative brevity (six-minute epics really must justify their time)
4. Instant recognisability
5. A certain timelessness (it should sound fresh three decades later)
6. Singalongabillity (or humalongability)
7. something undefinable; let’s call it aural fairydust (probably the one essential ingredient)

With all that in mind, and acknowledging that discerning perfection in pop is intrinsically subjective, let’s dip into the first bumper lot of 20 perfect pop records (enough to make a mix-tape, so take your time):

Hall & Oates – Private Eyes.mp3
It is easy to make fun of Hall’s mullet and of Oates in general, but Daryl and John were purveyors of many a perfect pop record. ‘She’s Gone’, ‘Kiss On My List’, ‘Rich Girl’, ‘Everytime You Go Away’, ‘One On One’, perhaps also ‘Out Of Touch’ (were it not for the horrible ’80s production) are all contenders. ‘Private Eyes’, however, towers above all of these in capturing a flawless pop sensibility: you sing along with it involuntarily, you do the drum thingy, your foot taps, you remember the lyrics even when you haven’t heard the song in years…
Best bit: The whipping drum thingy (0:42)

The Sweet – Teenage Rampage.mp3
It could have been any number of Sweet hits. ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Blockbuster’, ‘The Six Teens’ or ‘Fox On The Run’ have no deficiency in the pop perfection stakes. When the verses are almost good enough to be the chorus, and the chorus tops it, and you have to sing along, then it has the main ingredients for perfect pop.
Best Bit: When the chorus kicks in (0:54)

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Just Like Honey.mp3
Can a record with excess feedback be perfect? In this case, I think it can be. Indeed, had the Reid brothers dispensed with the feedback for ‘Just Like Honey’, the song might have been just another Phil Spektor pastiche.
Best bit: The guitar solo gets even louder (1:42)

The Turtles – Happy Together.mp3
The sound of 1966, a great year in pop. A judiciously employed backing vocal of ba-ba-ba-bah and a martial beat can make a difference between a good pop song and a perfect one.
Best bit: “How is the weather?” (2:21)

Guildo Horn – Guildo hat euch lieb.mp3
Germany’s quite brilliant Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1998 seemed to at once embrace the contest and give it the finger (hence his relatively poor showing in seventh place). The name alone suggests some ribbing at the German Schlager (Guildo is phonetically identical to the surname of the late Schlager icon Rex Gildo, whose ‘Fiesta Mexicana’ can be found here). On ‘Guildo hat euch lieb’ (Guildo loves you [plural]), Horn accomplishes the impossible: he makes German sound good in a pop song.
Best bit: “Tief, tief, tief, ich hab’ dich lieb” (1:00)

Big Bopper – Chantilly Lace.mp3
This might have aged a bit since it was a hit 50 years ago, but if you have to listen to somebody speak on record, wouldn’t you rather it was the Big Bopper instead of bloody Fabolous?
Best bit: “Helllooooo baaaaaaybee” (0:01)

The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star.mp3*
Not quite three-and-a-half minutes packed with so many endearing touches, from the piano intro to the sing-along fade out. It’s impossible, surely, not to love this song.
Best bit: The drum comes in (0:31)

Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.mp3
Would one say this song was perfect pop if it wasn’t for that video? “Spinning Around” is perhaps the bouncier pop song, but this creeps into your head without you even noticing and squats there like a hippie commune. Where do I apply for the job as Kylie’s gold shorts?
Best bit: “La la la, la-la-lala-la…” (0:15)

Abba – Dancing Queen.mp3
Some would say that this is the most perfect pop song ever. If one takes the view that there can be such a thing as a single “most perfect pop song” ever, then ‘Dancing Queen’ would be as good a choice as any (but there can’t be, of course). Indeed, there are a number of worthy challengers in the Abba canon: there is only a sliver of difference in the perfection of ‘Dancing Queen’ and, say, ‘S.O.S.’ or ‘Mamma Mia’.
Best bit: “You can dance, you can jive…” (0:20)

Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This.mp3*
The Pet Shop Boys are another outfit who could churn out some wonderful pop. The 1986 debut album, Please, in particular boasted four singles which accomplished or neared perfection, especially ‘Suburbia’. But it was in tandem with another purveyor of great pop that they conjured indisputable perfection.
Best bit: Dusty’s voice goes higher as she sings “make me feel better” (2:48)

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Come Up And See Me.mp3*
Steve Harley’s periodically stuttering, spluttering and sneering delivery are complemented by a great tune, infectious hooks and an exciting arrangement, with sudden stops and those “oowooh-la-la-la” backing vocals.
Best bit: The two second pause between the acoustic guitar solo and Steve Harley resuming (2:19)

The Temptations – My Girl.mp3
One could fill a whole 2GB iPod with perfect pop from Hitsville, and still regret leaving out great songs. So we’ll settle for “My Girl” as a representative for Motown, appropriately so not only because it is a mindbogglingly great song, but also because it combines two agents of serial pop perfection: it was written by Smokey Robinson, and performed by the Temptations.
Best bit: “Hey hey hey” (1:42)

The Smiths – This Charming Man (Peel session).mp3*
There are people who have bought into the foolish notion that The Smiths were in any way depressing. Who created that idea? The Smiths were a great pop combo, and ‘This Charming Man’ is the best example of that.
Best bit: Marr’s closing chords (2:39)

The Kingsmen – Louie Louie.mp3
If you have the right hi-fi equipment and good hearing, apparently you can hear the drummer say “fuck” when he screws up as he comes into song. Which would be the first instance of the f-word word being released on record. Everything about this song is shambolic, which adds to its attraction. It makes even the untalented among us believe that anyone could do this rock ‘n roll lark. So it’s probably more punk than the Sex Pistols ever were.
Best bit: “OK, let’s give it to them, right now” (1:25)

Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3*
My son’s 13-year-old friend Thabo was going through my iPod, and attracted by this duo’s name (mmm, strawberries) discovered ‘Since Yesterday’, a piece of pop heaven from 1984/85. Thabo was so enchanted by it, he recorded it on to his cellphone (when all he needed to do was visit this blog to get the MP3. Or just ask me for it).
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:32)

David Essex – Gonna Make You A Star.mp3
Is this glam rock or bubblegum pop? Either way, it is faultless pop with loads of little touches which reveal themselves the more familiar one becomes with this1974 hit.
Best bit: “I’ gonna make you a stah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-ee-yah-ee-ye-yay-yeaaaa-ur (2:39)

Rainbow – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3*
Great opening chords, some of the best handclaps outside a Motown studio, a catchy chorus, and fantastic pop-rock vocals of the kind that would come to influence every big hair rocker (by a dude with short hair).
Best bit: Things picking up again after the bridge (2:15)

Wham! – Club Tropicana.mp3
Wham! had their share of great pop tunes: ‘I’m Your Man’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, ‘Freedom’. But this trumps any of these. It’s a total joy from the first few seconds when the crickets chirp to the final “coooo-ooool”. Only a curmudgeon could not derive pleasure out of this.
Best bit: The duelling saxophones (2:45)

DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince – Summertime.mp3
It is indeed the sound of a lazy summer’s day. If this is going to be Will Smith’s sole legacy worth preserving (as seems likely), then we nonetheless owe him a debt of gratitude for adding to the pop canon this most evocative seasonal anthem. Props to DJ Jazzy Jeff who presumably was responsible for sampling so well from Kool & the Gangs ‘Summer Madness’ (download that as well).
Best bit: The Kool & the Gang sample throughout.

* previously posted

Love Songs For Every Situation: Bitterness

February 28th, 2008 3 comments

Disappointment in love — a relationship that ended, unrequited love, even a relationship that couldn’t be — can turn to resentment. Love turning into hate can be a coping mechanism. It can be levelled at the ex- or putative partner, or at the whole notion of love in general. Such bitterness may be transient or it may abide, turning the brokenhearted into a fleeting wreck or into an enduring cynic. The songs in this post address the bitterness experienced by those fucked over by cupid.

Bright Eyes – A Perfect Sonnet.mp3
Conor Oberst has been dumped and he is bitter. Listen to his delivery: agitated at first, then rather livid, and all that in quivering pain. He yearns for love and resents those who have it: ” But I believe that lovers should be tied together and thrown into the ocean in the worst of weather, and left there to drown in their innocence”, and then, even better: ” I believe that lovers should be chained together and thrown into a fire with their songs and letters, and left there to burn in their arrogance.” But you cannot stay that embittered forever, and in the song’s surprising denouement, Oberst discovers just that. A fantastic song which shows that the premature and inaccurate hype about Oberst as the “new Dylan” was not entirely without merit.

Ben Folds Five – Selfless Cold and Composed.mp3
Ben Folds has written what I consider to be the best love song of all time (oh yes), “The Luckiest”. Yet, Ben is much better doing embittered. Take “Trusted”, where he does terrible things to her in her dreams, “Landed”, where the reign of the telephone tsar comes down, or the obvious “Song For The Dumped”. Here Ben seeks acrimony in a relationship that is ending when all he gets is sterile rejection. He wants to break plates, and she just smiles “like a bank teller, blankly telling me: ‘have a nice life’.” He wants confrontation, demanding that she invest some emotion into the breakup: “You’ve done me no favour to call and be nice, telling me I can take anything I like. You don’t owe me to be so polite. You’ve done no wrong…and you’ve done no wrong — Get out of my sight.” And all that to a cool, understated melody!

Hello Saferide – Valentine’s Day.mp3
What better day to execute a break-up with somebody who doesn’t love you back than on Valentine’s Day? Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide’s real name) is going to give him fish fingers, if they really must have a Valentine’s dinner. But much rather she’d dine with “the coolest girl” (which would be herself) and then go to a club and “find a kid who’s ready to play” — a statement of contempt, of course, not of promiscuity. “Got a feeling this is going to be Valentine’s year. Roses are red and violets are blue, sugar is sweet and I’m leaving you.” Goodbye, chump.

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now (Peel session).mp3
Early ’70s folk-rockers America had a song for all the lonely people who thought that love had passed them by. Morrissey upped the ante by telling us how it actually feels to be young and abandoned by love. Shyness (of a criminally vulgar kind, naturally) is the problem here, of course. So anyone afflicted by that condition will find instant empathy with Mozzer’s experience: “There’s a club, if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry and you want to die.” But here’s the upside of your situation, my despairing friend: if you remain single, your heart won’t be broken. Be glad and of good cheer for that.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (live).mp3
Buckley appropriated Cheerful Len’s song on his Grace album, to the point that it is now fully Buckley’s, with Jeff’s tweaked lyrics now more well-known than those of Cohen’s original (even though I prefer Len’s holy ghost to Jeff’s dove). This version is a live recording from the Olympia in Paris, released posthumously in 2001. Some might claim that “Hallelujah” is a love song. To me, it evokes betrayal and pain. “She broke your throne and she cut your hair” (degradation and emasculation), and yet the singer assented to his, voicing a feeble hallelujah, a response that suggests unconditional adoration. That worship turned sour, the relationship became conditional, and one dumped the other. So the singer concludes: “All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you. And it’s not a cry that you hear at night, it’s not somebody who’s seen the light — it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”. Cynical.

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game.mp3
Mr Isaak has a genuine grievance: somebody cruelly led him on (or so he claims) to believe real love was on its way, and then yanked the carpet from under his feet. “What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way. What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you. What a wicked thing to say, you never felt this way. What a wicked thing you do, to make me dream of you.” Damn, this is brutal.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain.mp3
This song merits inclusion for providing the greatest insult in music history: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”. Oh, and it is about Warren Beattie.

Colin Hay – I Don’t Need You Anymore.mp3
A song from Hay’s 1987 solo debut album, the title pretty much gives away the gist of the song. The woman who broke his heart wants him back. He isn’t falling for that: “When first I knew you’d gone, the wind grew colder. But after the pain had gone I felt much older [crap rhyme, but bear with him]. You had my very soul and my completeness, and now I find you here. You leave me speechless.” So, no, she may not sleep on his floor.

Nils Landgren – I Will Survive.mp3
Along the same tack, a lovely, jazzy cover version of Gloria Gaynor’s great counter rejection song. Everybody surely knows the lyrics from disco night, but this verse cheers me up no end: “It took all the strength I had not to fall apart, kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart. And I spent oh so many nights just feeling sorry for myself. I used to cry, but now I hold my head up high. And you see me, somebody new, I’m not that chained up little person still in love with you. And so you feel like dropping in and just expect me to be free! Now I’m saving all my lovin’ for someone who’s loving me.”

Etta James – Cry Me A River.mp3
And to compete the trilogy of scorning people who broke your heart — and what response could be more bitter than that — Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me A River” (not to be confused with Justin Timberlake’s musical assault with intent on Britney Spears), performed here by the great Etta James. And what an ass Etta is rejecting here: an idiot who thought love was “too plebeian”? Well, the sorry intellectual fraud doesn’t object to being plebe now that he wants to win back the woman whose tears over him have just dried. But no go, Joe. “Now you say you’re lonely; you cried the long night through. Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river — I cried a river over you.”

Carpenters – Goodbye To Love.mp3
Can one be gently embittered? If so, then Karen Carpenter shows us how. She does not blame the concept of love for her disillusionment, nor the people who didn’t want her. She has just decided that she is giving up on it. “All the years of useless search have finally reached an end. Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend. From this day love is forgotten…I’ll go on as best I can.” A decidedly self-pitying disposition which may well stand in her way when, as she hopes, “there may come a time when I will see that I’ve been wrong”. Anyway, never mind her, but check out that guitar solo…

Inara George – Fools In Love.mp3
Joe Jackson has a way of being bitter about love, as he was in this song, covered by the wonderful Inara George (a half of The Bird And The Bee) on this fine acoustic version. It’s a cynical song about how people in love are “pathetic” creatures. “Fools in love gently hold each other’s hands forever. Fools in love gently tear each other limb from limb.” So with that attitude it seems rather inopportune that “this fool’s in love again”.

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3*
I referenced this song in the second part of this series; it seems the prefect song to end it with. Originally recorded by the Everly Brothers and covered by many artists, Gram Parsons’ version is the best, capturing the disillusionment of love persuasively. Emmylou’s harmonies, so beautiful that you want to fall in love with her, serve to emphasise Parsons’ melancholy. Our man takes a dim view of love: it has pissed on him and burnt him, it has depressed him: “Love is like a cloud, holds a lot of rain… love is like a stove, burns you when it’s hot.” Love sucks so much that it is a myth: “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness [Gram and Emmylou sing that word, heartbreakingly, as though that is what they really want anyway]. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they’re not fooling me. I know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true. Love is just a lie made to make you blue.” Oh yes, love does indeed hurt.

And on that cheerful note, we conclude this series. Phew!

1984

July 21st, 2007 No comments

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What an exciting and traumatic year 1984 was. I fell in unrequited infatuation (Tracey McIntyre, if you’re reading this, I’m so over you), increased my party quotient, observed family crises, moved to London with no contacts or a job there (a crazy idea at 18), and suffered the loss of my mother. Musically it was a fantastic year for pop music.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes
“Relax” and “Two Tribes”, the sound of 1984! In the anti-Cold War anthem “Two Tribes”, the juxtaposition of the funk-rock and the classical interlude worked brilliantly, musically and metaphorically. The video, showing Reagan and Chernenko in a wrestling match, was quite excellent, too. Frankie’s two frontmen, singer Holly Johnson and dancer Paul Rutherford, were openly gay (a bit of a 1984 theme), while the three instrumentalists looked like posterboys for the Liverpool Gay Bashing Society.

Alphaville – Big In Japan
“Forever Young” by this German band is now the better known track (thanks in part to the O.C.-featured cover by the Youth Group), but this is the better song. Its sound is certainly of its time, the synth-as-kitchen-sink production testifies to it. As for the lyrics, what is it about? Drugs and prostitution?

Brenda & the Big Dudes – Weekend Special
Brenda Fassie’s debut at 19 was also her opus, a wonderfully poppy dance track with a memorable chorus. Fassie became one of South Africa’s most popular singers and most controversial celebrities, famous for her drug-fuelled lifestyle, sexual exploits, outrageous image changes and divaesque outbursts. She died in 2004, apparently of complications from smoking cocaine.

Prince – Darling Nikki
“Darling Nikki” is an often overlooked track in the masterpiece that is Purple Rain. One person who didn’t overlook it was Tipper Gore (Al’s wife), who took such exception to the lyrics about a girl who liked to masturbate publicly and grind a lot. Those “Adult Advisory” labels any two-bit rapper needs to have on the cover (even the whimpish wankers like Akon), well, it was Tipper who invented them because Prince corrupted the kids of 1984. The globe evidently had not started warming yet. As for Prince, his Purple Rain getup was rather flamboyant, so much so that many people thought he was gay. Prince. Gay. The innocent ’80s, eh? Elton John married Renate. Not gay. George Michael was adored by teenage girls. Not gay. Freddy Mercury sang ROCK, for crying out loud. Definitely not gay. Boy George…okay, we did suspect he was gay. Prince bedded more gorgeous women than any of us have seen in our lifetime. GAY, the ’80s consensus had it. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

InDeep – Last Night The DJ Saved My Life
Dig the Chic-sampling bassline and guitar. A dance classic that borrowed liberally from disco at a time when disco was anathema. Well, it had a rap in it to keep the breakdancers happy. And you must love a song that provides aural evidence of trouble going down the drain.

Weather Girls – It’s Raining Men
Hi-NRG disco was huge in 1984, and I fully welcomed that. Evelyn Thomas’ “High Energy”, Hazell Dean’s rousing dance anthems, the Weather Girls…it was the musical equivalent of a sugar rush. I have been told that “It’s Raining Men” is a bit of a gay anthem, but surely not.

Nena – 99 Luftballons
A perfect pop song with a weak-ass metaphor for the Cold War generation. Nena, bless her, made hairy armpits sexy. But the song’s real place in history rests in the fact that the German version was a huge hit in the US. In Britain, the far inferior English version was a hit.

Sade – Your Love Is King
In 1984, Sade’s sound was something quite unique. Boring acts like Norah Jones owe a lot to Sade, who never was as dull as her winebar reputation would have it. Her debut album scores the soundtrack of my last few weeks in South Africa (playing often in the blue VW Beetle I drove after obtaining my drivers’ licence in August — in SA you may not drive until you’re 18) and my arrival in Germany for a nine-week holiday before decamping for London. I love the sad-sounding saxophone that kicks off the song, and Sade’s cool yet warm delivery that properly communicates total yearning.

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now (Peel session)
The song that described my life for much of the ’80s. Shyness that is criminally vulgar? Check. Going to a club and hope to meet somebody who likes me and standing on my own and leaving on my own and going home and wanting to die. Check (didn’t cry, though). This version is from the BBC Peel Sessions, recorded in August 1984. Johnny Marr does recreate the wailing guitar sound, paying paid to the rumour that it was created through studio trickery.

The Special A.K.A. – Free Nelson Mandela
To the surprise of nobody, this was banned in South Africa. In fact, in apartheid SA it was illegal to quote Mandela (or any proscribed person) or even to own a picture of him. So I learned about this tune only when I arrived in London in November 1984. It had vacated the charts by then, but I embraced it wholeheartedly. It turned out to be a great awareness-raising song for the anti-apartheid movement in Britain.

Immaculate Fools – Immaculate Fools
December 1984 in London: my favourite pub in Notting Hill had a video juke box (oooh!)). This was on constant rotation. In Britain these soft rockers (think China Crisis) were a one-hit wonder. Google tells me that the Fools became so big in Spain that they moved over there. (previously uploaded)

The Toy Dolls – Nellie The Elephant
And this was another song on video juke box rotation. Depending on the levels of collective inebriation, he patrons would sing along with gusto whenever it came on. Its musical merits may be debatable (well, actually, not really. It’s not Pet Sounds), but it is a great fun song. I still enjoy it, privately.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

1983

July 20th, 2007 4 comments

1983 was my least favourite year of the ’80s, personally and musically. I worked inhuman split shifts throughout the year, leaving no time for a social life in a country I had arrived in only a year before. So I was hanging around with fellow hotel people which means that by the age of 17 I was drinking and clubbing prodigiously.

Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart.mp3
I saw Bonnie Tyler live some years before, supporting Slade. Even then I was suspicious of her housewife rock. But, my goodness, this track is utter genius. Written by Jim Steinman, who was responsible for the pomp of Meat Loaf’s glorious Bat Out Of Hell (as was producer Todd Rundgren), “Total Eclipse” recreates the rock operatic drama, supported by a wonderfully gothic and hilariously camp video (with flying altar boys!). What I like best about this song, though, is the percussive sound of the lyrics.

The Smiths – This Charming Man (Peel session).mp3

1983 saw the emergence of arguably the most important and influential band of the 1980s, the Smiths. U2, who made their breakthrough the same year, might have shifted more records, but virtually every Indie act owes a debt to Morrissey, Marr and pals. “This Charming Man” featured Morrissey’s great yelp, which is still there in this recording from the BBC John Peel sessions in August 1983.

Big Country – In A Big Country.mp3
Scotland’s Big Country were widely considered a poor man’s U2. Ironic, then, that U2 (with Green Day) recently covered “The Saints Are Coming” by the Skids, from whom emerged Big Country. Stuart Adamson’s band had a big, rich sound dominated by guitars that sounded like bagpipes, lending their brand of rock a celtic flavour. This song did worse in Britain than it did internationally, reaching only #17 in the charts. It deserved to do better, if only for the fist pumping “Cha!” shouts and a kick-ass catchy chorus.

Aztec Camera – Oblivious.mp3
When I think of Aztec Camera, I think of Bright Eyes. Like Mr Oberst, so was Roddy Frame considered a bit of a prodigy. Frame’s huge talent never translated into stardom, just as Bright Eyes will never become mainstream (and let’s thank the good Lord for that). “Oblivious” was the hit single from the lovely, utterly exquisite High Land, Hard Rain album, making the British Top 20. It’s the poppiest track from the album, but “Walk Out To Winter” and “The Bugle Sounds Again” are just as great. But in 1983 I didn’t know that; I bought the LP only in 1985.

Malcolm McLaren – Double Dutch.mp3
McLaren is best known as the manipulative svengali who made the Sex Pistols the boy band of punk, paving the way for Tory bastards Busted. As a performing artist, he compensated for his vocal and musical limitations by helping create cocktails of genres which were, if not always great, then consistently engaging and often influential. He (and, more importantly producer Trevor Horn) fused hip hop and African music with pop, popified Madame Butterfly and later introduced the world to disco waltzing and to vogueing well before Madonna did (1989’s “Something’s Jumping In Your Shirt” was quite brilliant). “Buffalo Girls”, which came out in late 1982, brought hip hop into the mainstream before anyone else did. “Double Dutch” — bizzarely a song about country music dancing — rode on the sound of South African kwêla music, but used a New York group, the Ebonettes, to provide the distinctive backing vocals in the style of the Mahotella Queens (whom Horn used six years later for the Art Of Noise).

Rufus & Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody.mp3
By 1983, soul music was going to pieces. The Philly Sound was dead, Motown struggled, Stevie Wonder was preparing to record the truly evil “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Luther Vandross was fine, but just too smooth. The even smoother Lionel Richie turned into soul’s biggest name. Despite the revolting “Hello”, you can’t dismiss Lionel (just hear “Love Will Find A Way” on Can’t Slow Down), but soul’s biggest name? OMG! Soul awaited its re-energisation at the hands of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and their likes. In the midst of all that despondency, the amazing Chaka Khan said goodbye to Rufus with one of the mightiest soul tracks not only of the ’80s, but of all time.

Blancmange – Living On The Ceiling.mp3
This song sums up the sound of 1983 for me. If musically that year had any redeeming graces, it was in New Wave: New Order, Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, Human League, Bauhaus, XTC… But also Kajagoogoo.

Depeche Mode – Two Minutes Warning.mp3
“Everything Counts” was the killer track on Construction Time Again, and “Love In Itself” was close behind. Yet it was this song, with its fantastic chorus, that really stood out for me on an album I totally loved at the time. Why was it never released as a single?

Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination.mp3
What an uplifting song, the kind one puts on in the morning to force a good mood. I really like Phil Oakley’s deep voice when he sings: “And then the conversation turned, until the sun went down.”

The Style Council – Speak Like A Child.mp3
And in the unlikely event that “Fascination” can’t lift a mood, then the infectiously cheerful “Speak Like A Child” should. Paul Weller had foreshadowed the Style Council song on some the Jam’s latter tracks, such as “The Bitterest Pill” and “A Town Called Malice”. Now he introduced brass and Talbot’s jazzy keyboards. I like the way Weller emphasises the word “a” in the titular line. I later saw the Style Council live twice, in 1984 and 1985, and very good they were, too. But they did dress like a pair of pretentious idiots.

Heaven 17 – Temptation.mp3
My favourite song of the year probably, and a great companion piece to New Order’s “Blue Monday”. Quite unusually for a New Wave it featured an orchestra, plus the soul beltation (a word I just invented) of Carol Kenyon, who provided backing vocals for Pink Floyd at Live 8. Singer Glenn Gregory looked a bit like a young Christopher Walken — adorable creatures with unacceptable features?

Culture Club – Black Money.mp3
1980s revivalists tend to regard Culture Club as a bit of a novelty act, thanks to Boy George’s image and the substance-free “Karma Chameleon” (and let’s not even think of “The War Song”). That is a huge injustice. Culture Club produced some of the finest pop music of the decade (“Church Of The Poison Mind”, “Miss Me Blind”, “It’s A Miracle”), and Boy George was a very good singer. This blue-eyed soul track from Colour By Numbers shows Culture Club’s depth, a powerful and sad song about unrequited love, aided by the turbopowered lungs of Helen Terry.

Spandau Ballet – True.mp3
Another ’80s revivalist favourite, Spandau Ballet are another terribly underrated pop band. Yeah, they do look camp now; indeed, they looked camp even then. They were regarded as a teenybopper act in an era when teen favourites were creating some excellent music. Only a fool woul

d deny the masterful pop of Wham!. Likewise, Spandau Ballet merit a thorough rehabilitation. Songs like “Gold”, “Round And Round”, “Only When You Leave”, “Chant No. 1” and this great ballad deserve to be regarded as bona fide pop classics.

Oh yeah, and there was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. You might have heard of it.