Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sweeping The Nation Covermount 5: Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered Eighties

A day earlier then we promised the other day, welcome to number five in our series of downloadable ZIP files full of mp3 greatness. It's on Sendspace again (and do tell us this time when it goes offline), and it's another double - we didn't envisage it as one, we just couldn't bear to cut the forty tracks selected in half.

It's an unorthodox Covermount, not to mention slightly complicated to explain the anchoring idea behind, but here goes. Everyone posts the accepted canon of eighties hipness, which is fair enough - we're as into that as the next blogger. But... we have a long held theory that, for all their popular image now of the gaudy, peacock feathered launch of the video age and thus style over content, it was that decade that gave rise to the greatest sustained period in pop history. And we don't mean pop as a concept, we mean pop as a unifying chart force, where around the New Romantics-novelty-power ballad-start of the hard sell era-rave culture right at the end template we have come to see the decade in British music as, all sorts of extraordinary stuff was happening, possibly because of the rate technology was expanding at and its almost naive uses and because nostalgia-fuelled sounds were just coming in. In our opinion, hardly any of the acts you see below would have made a massive impact in the 17-27 years since, and yet they were all top twenty hits in their day. The charts went mad, popular culture got pulled all over the place, and big numbers were achieved by songs that wouldn't get a band signed nowadays. And here's a crucial point - some of these acts came from punk/post-punk/nascent indie backgrounds, but for the most part they all wanted to be pop stars, and not in the desperate reaching modern sense either. Paul Morley would approve. He's in one of them, for a kickoff. Here is a selection of just what we mean, compiled with some help from the staffers at masters of their retro domain TV Cream.

As we say, all forty were top twenty singles, which meant some pain during the compilation process as we were forced to lose cast iron choices due to just missing out (Propaganda, whose Duel is quintessential ZTT, and Stiff's last stand Furniture, both of whom stalled at 21) or being just the wrong choice (Captain Sensible's number one Happy Talk no, Captain Sensible's number 26 Wot yes). We won't lie to you - two tracks weren't our preferred choices by the acts in question, but one was substituted to get its compilation under 74 minutes and the other we couldn't find. None of these are novelty hits in the strict sense of the term, and where you might think otherwise we've taken pains to justify their selection. A lot of genuinely interesting sustained hitmakers who emerged from the period have been left out because in our opinion most of us know their back catalogue so well we couldn't really surprise you with a lesser regarded hit in the way some are represented below. Don't think just because of this that we don't recommend harking back independently to the early hitmaking years of, say Adam And The Ants, Madness, Bananarama, the Cure, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ABC, Kim Wilde, Depeche Mode, the Specials... all very relevant to the cause, and even those first few Wham! moments are unlike anything they, and especially George, would ever countenance again, but this isn't Wow! Greatest Eighties Hits on BMG, and nor should it be confused for such. In our opinion, which here is the one that matters, everything here is to varying degrees and sliding scales great. Yes, your favourites given the criteria have probably been left off (Japan - there, have that one for free). We're not suggesting this was in any way easy to compile.

We've put you right off it already, haven't we? Ah well, here's your left click, bottom of page download links...

Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered Eighties 1

Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered Eighties 2

Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered Eighties 1

Trio - Da Da Da (no.2, 1982)
See, this is the sort of thing we mean. Kraftwerk had had their number one eight months before this entered so clearly the country was in the mood for Allemagne programmable keyboard development phases. He does sound a bit like a Teutonic Ian Dury, doesn't he?

The Associates - Club Country (no.13, 1982)
One of them wrote a response record to the Smiths' William It Was Really Nothing called Stephen You're Still Really Something, the other ran the college course that helped Belle & Sebastian form and release Tigermilk, together they made extraordinary glam cabaret new wave.

Scritti Politti - The Word Girl (no.6, 1985)
Italian for 'political writing', as Smash Hits found space for every fortnight for about three years. Not as solid on wipe-clean lover's rock as on the previous early New Pop flowerings, but don't overlook that this is actually a song about the word 'girl'.

Malcolm McLaren - Double Dutch (no.3, 1983)
Rubbish agent provocateur who Lydon blames for the Pistols not having an earlier, greater national impact and who went on to see more of a future in Bow Wow Wow than Adam Ant. Then he stumbled upon hip-hop culture and Soweto township vibes, still insisting on singing over them.

Modern Romance - Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey (no.10, 1981)
There was something of a revival of Latin sounds at the time, with Matt Bianco and Kid Creole And The Coconuts. Fronted by future Birds Of A Feather writer Geoff Deane, these were so out of place and time that these days they'd get a Victor Lewis-Smith produced documentary.

Pigbag - Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag (no.3, 1982)
And while we're talking jazz fusion going bad-meaning-good, Cheltenham fanfare freak-out collective whose founding member left when this became a massive indie chart hit a year earlier on the basis he was "losing control" of the band. Something Johnny Borrell will never feel.

Haysi Fantayzee - John Wayne Is Big Leggy (no.11, 1982)
Good lord, this was a decade for ideas. Pre-Ibiza Jeremy Healy and pre-Vogue photography Kate Garner wore dreadlocks and dressed in tatty garb that resembled Bob Cratchit at the Notting Hill Carnival, sounding like pop with the shiny bits heavily sandpapered.

Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy - Kiss Me (no.4, 1985)
Leave it, apart from the cover of this he's got one writing credit on Rudebox, as has Antony Genn and you're not instantly calling The Hours into account, are you? Difficult to find a version that isn't the sanitised US mix, but you need to hear that truck driver gearchange in full.

Grace Jones - Slave To The Rhythm (no.12, 1985)
A Studio 54 diva long before she was actress, muse, Harty slapper etc, going from obtuse disco to New Wave covers act. Only here did it become all pencil rubber hair, square shouldered suits and androgynous looks but in a way that would make Steve Strange shit himself.

The Human League - The Sound Of The Crowd (no.12, 1981)
The really strange Being Boiled made #6 in 1982 but on a re-release from 1978, although you have to say that cheeky sericulture isn't seen around here often these days. In fact, most of their imperial phase puts that nonsense about cocktail bars well in the shade.

Landscape - Einstein A Go-Go (no.5, 1981)
Play that electronic flute, synth futurist boy! Takes ages to get going then lurches into the final straight far too early, but you need not look any further for how far pop was willing to stretch its odd new black boxes, when even jazz fusionists could get involved.

Thomas Dolby - Hyperactive (no.17, 1984)
He created polyphonic ringtones, y'know. He also created this melange of horns, varispeed vocals and trombone. We wanted She Blinded Me With Science but it stalled at 49 in Britain, the US instead taking Magnus Pyke to their top five hearts.

Belouis Some - Imagination (no. 17, 1986)
NSFW, that video. Prime factory-reared electrodoominess, sounding like the point at which the new wave met the new technology and hence setting the bar from everyone from Blancmange to Yello as well, as inventing the look of Andy Bell from Erasure.

Dollar - Mirror Mirror (no. 4, 1981)
Paul Morley: "There was a whole movement of wonderfully creative pop music, but it was started by Dollar so we don't really mention it much." Important, this, as it was Trevor Horn's first big production success, bringing multi-layered megaproduction and Fairlight sampling to the masses.

Soft Cell - Bedsitter (no.4, 1981)
Oh, you know the Soft Cell iconography and the stories, but Tainted Love and possibly Say Hello Wave Goodbye aside their back catalogue of low life anti-glamour, the morning after the night out with the sex dwarves, often gets sidelined.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Maid Of Orleans (no.4, 1982)
Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were previously in a band called Hitlerz Underpantz. Yes they were. A lot of hits but few actively remembered, this chosen because a) it's an airy synth waltz and b) it was going to be called Joan Of Arc but that had been the title of their previous single.

Toto Coelo - I Eat Cannibals Part 1 (no.8, 1982)
Why have Bow Wow Wow when you can have Toto Coelo? We've picked this because it comes under the bracket of songs that are pure shots of lunatic memorableness that you just don't envisage any more. Note that this is merely 'Part 1', as if it could potentially go anywhere else.

Jona Lewie - You'll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties (no.16, 1980)
Even on the freaks, geeks and weirdos' house label Stiff Records Lewie was the class oddball, fated to spend his life on Robinson and Riviera's endless concept label package tours. Stop The Cavalry is fine enough but never overlook this lesson in pitch control on analogue keyboards.

Karel Fialka - Hey Matthew (no.9, 1987)
We know the No Novelty rule is bending horribly under the strain, but Fialka was a legitimate singer, if very much under the quirky banner, releasing this on IRS in America. It just happened to have his nephew on co-vocals, that's all. Note the insistence on captaincy of "a big boat".

Fun Boy Three - The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) (no.20, 1981)
Terry Hall, Neville Staples and Lynval Golding escaped the Specials to to craft two albums of skewiff pop, invent Bananarama and fail to crack Hall's expression. Neville Staples' Specials are touring with a partly reformed Beat in April. It'll happen to us all eventually.

Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered Eighties 2

Laurie Anderson - O Superman (no.2, 1981)
Seriously, what? We're aware it became a massive Peel favourite, but even in 1981 massive Peel favourites didn't tend to translate to the proper charts, especially not eight minute electronic vocal layering tone poems by avant-garde multimedia performance artists.

Art Of Noise - Close (To The Edit) (no.8, 1984)
And here's more for the time avant-garde boundary stretching, this time from a fundamentally overintelligent, supposedly faceless collective including Paul Morley as ideas man. The "hey!" is sampled on Firestarter, which must have made everyone involved rich beyond avarice.

Men Without Hats - The Safety Dance (no.6, 1983)
Mark Radcliffe reckons this is the worst song of all time, but it has a strident, rustic contemporary charm. Especially that pointless "and sing!" bit. Do check out that video for a Canadian representation of British medieval partying, including telegraph poles.

Sly And Robbie - Boops (Here To Go) (no.12, 1987)
They're no Sly Fox, certainly. Dunbar and Shakespeare, rhythm section to the Jamaican gentry, tap up Shinehead, and apparently Bootsy Collins is on - but of course! - guitar, for the schoolboy sniggering title of an age. Ignore Rudebox, this is unmatchable.

The Lotus Eaters - The First Picture Of You (no.15, 1983)
A prime choice from the area marked 'Post-New Wave New Pop', which stretched from the Icicle Works and the commercial end of Talk Talk to the Housemartins to the Angora jumper pop of Haircut 100, whose limnophobic (look it up) Love Plus One very nearly made the cut.

Strawberry Switchblade - Since Yesterday (no.4, 1984)
The original polka dot princesses, assuming anyone called them that in the first place, Rose McDowell and Jill Bryson got their name from a fanzine run by Orange Juice guitarist James Kirk and open this bittersweet pop gem by cribbing Sibelius' Symphony No.5.

The Dream Academy - Life In A Northern Town (no.15, 1985)
A tribute to Nick Drake before hardly anyone had heard of Nick Drake, produced by David Gilmour and a number 7 on the Billboard chart. Now, come on, how else does it need to qualify? Sullied by Dario G, its post-Fairlight nostalgic folk really needs revisiting.

The Teardrop Explodes - Treason (no.18, 1981)
We as a nation once made Julian Cope a pop star, and that is what is heartwarming about what we hold dear in 80s chart pop. The genuinely fabulous Reward and bendy mike stand-tastic World Shut Your Mouth everyone knows, so here's the other of his three top twenties.

Thompson Twins - We Are Detective (no.7, 1983)
Like Scritti, they moved from squats and DIY angularity to cleaned up synthy but still peculiar pop kids. With a fly-swatting xylophone style. Not even graduated yet to the status of a Wasn't Eighties Pop Naff, Eh? Eh? Eh? punchline, which says something for them.

Red Box - For America (no.10, 1986)
Their label asked them for a song for American radio, this is what they came up with. And now you understand one of the jokes, such as they are, from our last set of Christmas chart countdowns. Interested? Sign the album reissue petition.

Prefab Sprout - The King Of Rock'n'Roll (no.7, 1988)
Tough on Paddy McAloon, of course, that in many years of intelligent, oblique, critically acclaimed songwriting it's his atypical pisstake of ageing rockers and its nonsense chorus that became the commercial breakthrough. Tough, but great for our purposes.

Tenpole Tudor - Wunderbar (no.16, 1981)
Gangly oddball Edward Tudor-Pole became the Sex Pistols' frontman for The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle and presented The Crystal Maze for a bit, but it's for lunatic rock'n'roll he'll be remembered. That TOTP clip there - we're not sure he's actually playing that violin.

The Maisonettes - Heartache Avenue (no.7, 1982)
We mentioned that this was the launch of the retro period of pop, and this mod-Motown one hit piece is a fair summation of what this meant. Head honco Lol Mason hired two models to replicate the studio singers' backing vocals, then too late found neither could harmonise.

Dexys Midnight Runners - Show Me (no.16, 1981)
The fiddle/dungarees era everyone knows, the horns/Mean Streets lineup almost as much. The year in the middle, centring on ponytails, training gear and "communiques", is less celebrated but produced three tremendous Stax-powered singles, of which this was the only hit.

JoBoxers - Boxerbeat (no.3, 1983)
Dexys' success led to a brief revival in brass-led soul-pop and, in the case of these former members of underrated nearly-punks the Subway Sect, wholesale cribbing of the image. Their next single Just Got Lucky gave its name to a Lindsay Lohan film and the guitarist ended up in Earl Brutus.

The Piranhas - Tom Hark (no.6, 1982)
And the next one! Boring Bob Grover and co were originally a Brighton punk outfit who went ska when everyone else did and hit big with a rewritten South African kwela song. This happened a lot at about this time (see also the Belle Stars' Clapping Song), so screw you, Paul Simon.

The Creatures - Right Now (no.14, 1983)
Siouxsie and the Banshees became fairly unlikely hitmakers themselves in the decade (Happy House, the Dear Prudence cover, Peek-A-Boo) but her and Budgie's side project took off with a big band cover of a Mel Torme song, as only Siouxsie and Budgie would approach big band.

Bad Manners - Lip Up Fatty (no.15, 1980)
We could bore you for hours if we so chose about 2-Tone, but let's eschew the Specials for once. Bad Manners. It's a cliche, and a line we keep using in this, but you wouldn't get anything like this today. Nobody would countenance the waste of lager, for one. Still touring, obviously.

The Beat - Mirror In The Bathroom (no.4, 1980)
And as mentioned earlier some of these are doing the national rounds soon. Jonathan Ross joke source Ranking Roger (that's his son on Boys Will Be Boys), two future Fine Young Cannibals and ex-Desmond Dekker saxophonist Saxa (and a couple of others) offer a chirpy examination of schizophrenia.

The Stray Cats - Stray Cat Strut (no.11, 1981)
And finally, the rockabilly revival. Well, at least it's better than leader Brian Setzer's later career as a big band swing revivalist. They did it properly too, with quiffs, mild creepiness, double bass and stand-up drummer to go, and only Thriller held their album off US number one.


ian said...

So what couldn't you find?

Simon said...

The Piranhas' other top ten single Zambezi (produced by Pete Waterman). It'd probably have made the compilation overrun the 74 minutes in any case.

Matt said...

There is NOTHING LEGITIMATE about Karel Fialka.

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

The Piranhas, I've said before online and will doubtless say again, included my brother's music teacher in their line-up. By the time I joined the school, he'd left.

Chris Brown said...

I suppose the "too obvious" section means 'Me And The Farmer', 'Thieves Like Us', 'It's Going To Happen', 'Michael Caine'... or is that just me?

LB said...


Any chance of Red Box's "Lean On Me" next time? And possibly "Sinful", please. And some Adventures.


*sings the chorus from "Life In A Northern Town"*

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