Friday, January 27, 2017

40 From 40: 1987

Good news, everyone! STN is launching another longform feature involving playlists of old music that we'll doubtless abandon due to lack of readers and/or ennui within a couple of months! No, this time we'll try and see it out, promise, because we're invested in this one.

It's a simple premise with a lot of work as always - forty years covered, 1970 to 2009 inclusive, forty tracks from each year in question as curated by us, eked out over however long it takes and whatever time we want to take between each one. We're starting with 1987 because we did a poll over on Twitter for our compiling a snap playlist for a round number of years ago and that's how we came up with the idea for this. Simple. Possibly.

If you want something quicker than innumerable YouTube videos, here (barring the Gun Club and Microdisney, for old label/publishing contractual mess reasons) is the list as a handy Spotify embed:

Steinski & The Mass Media - The Motorcade Sped On
JFK, the cut-up version. Tracks made up entirely of sample collages as a hip-hop production effect, as opposed to something used for comedy records or medleys (or experimental purposes, as with John Oswald's "plunderphonics"), had started with Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel but took off with Steinski's Lesson 1 in 1983. By this point Coldcut and Negativland were establishing themselves through their differing methods with the form while the KLF's 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?) was taking the more direct route of having Bill Drummond essentially shout over other people's records. The Motorcade Sped On married Walter Cronkite to the Honky Tonk Women drumbeat to surprising effect.

M/A/R/R/S - Pump Up The Volume
Sampling culture had been around for a few years already and had already had a number one two years earlier in 19, but never before had something using this many diligently applied samples taken off so much, sounding just as alien in the pop landscape as fellow chart topper Jack Your Body did earlier in the year. AR Kane and Colourbox promptly fell out during recording and Stock Aitken Waterman attempted to sue them.

Eric B & Rakim - I Know You Got Soul
And here's where they got that title from. Coldcut had helped bring the pair into the mainstream themselves with their sample-heavy Seven Minutes Of Madness remix of Paid In Full, which neither Eric nor Rakim had even heard before flying to London for Top Of The Pops and didn't think much of when they got there. They didn't need it, with Rakim's smart production work influential in its own right. The introductory drums would be repurposed the following year for, um, the Anfield Rap.

Sly & Robbie - Boops (Here To Go)
Reggae and dub's standard bearer rhythm section have a go at electronic funk with the aid of Shinehead doing a Howard Cosell impersonation, Bootsy Collins on vocals alone and yet another reworking of Liquid Liquid's Cavern, of White Lines-but-not-really fame.

The Fall - Hit The North (Part 1)
Yeah, pretty much most years of this we'll get some Fall in, and even they were experimenting with sequenced synth-funk in 1987. Obviously very much in their own idiom, obviously, Mark E shouting out James Anderton and plenty of cryptic origin besides. It got them onto The Roxy!

Sonic Youth - Catholic Block
Sister was another tiptoe away from their experimental no-wave beginnings into songs with legible guitar hooks and driving melodies, making the noise segments work within the song. They still sounded threatening as much as thrilling.

Big Black - Colombian Necktie
Speaking of threatening, Songs About Fucking, the final album by Steve Albini, Satan's drum machine and co, thoroughly nasty, uber-distorted and abrasive just as you'd hope.

Hüsker Dü - Ice Cold Ice
From one great noise-rock band's final full-length to another, a Bob Mould song from Warehouse: Songs And Stories, the final statement from a band on the cusp of never wanting to speak to each other again. If only all bands' maturity phase could sound as urgent as this, and watch for that ending.

Dinosaur Jr - The Lung
At the other end of a career of noise and confusion, You're Living All Over Me was where Dinosaur added the suffix and established J Mascis, not quite shredding all over everything yet, as alternative guitar hero for the pedal collectors. The opening alone invents slackercore.

The Gun Club - Lupita Screams
The Gun Club, here on Mother Juno newly reunited, have been turning up as an influence increasingly often in recent years, the power of their countrified garage rock with mysterious and disturbing amounts of grime under the fingernails obvious and insidious.

Pixies - Caribou
We might not have known it yet, but officially 1987 was the year a mysterious, inscrutable and singular new power took up indie-rock's cudgels. And it's taken straight from the demo! They sounded like this - the guitar malfunctions, the familiar bass style, the Black Francis scream - first time out!

R.E.M. - Finest Worksong
Their final indie album, a step towards the mainstream that would come to envelop them, yet even if you can rest items safely on the guitar sound and make out all the words they were still their own men, especially when starting this crucial LP with what sounds like a blue collar Gang Of Four.

The Pastels - Crawl Babies
And now for something slightly different. The Pastels had no truck with clean production, instead choosing in their shambling bedroom DIY jangle miniatures to influence a whole host of bands sharing their throwback private world approach.

The Go-Betweens - Bye Bye Pride
Weird to think Tallulah, Forster and McLennan's great collection of love songs directed at love itself, was meant as the great commercial potential record. Weird because, while something arranged like this could easily have slipped into Deacon Blue territory Grant McLennan's delicately woven paen to longing and hope, plus oboe, is too smart for that.

The Dukes Of Stratosphear - Vanishing Girl
XTC's alter ego experiments in 1960s British psychedelia was better than the actual albums they were putting out around this time, and their sole full-length Psonic Psunspot is a fun kaleidoscopic journey through harmonic pop that stands up well beyond studio time-passing novelty intentions.

Microdisney - Town To Town
One of the great dichotomies of this era of exciting British bands, Microdisney were all about the push and pull between Sean O'Hagan's stately, classic arrangements and Cathal Coughlan's barbed lyricism. With that in mind, here's a sumptuous song about unrequited post-apocalyptic love.

The Housemartins - The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death
Similarly Paul Heaton made a habit of writing upbeat songs that lyrically came from the unexpected direction, even sending the band's image that way recalling their faux-Christian phase. The tabloids were up in arms about the anti-Royalist sentiment here, in a way that they used to care about.

Squeeze - Hourglass
Polished to within an inch of its life as was the style at the time and made at one of the regular intervals at which Difford and Tilbrook didn't see eye to eye, and it has a bad sax solo to boot, but one of the most effective latterday moments of that songwriting partnership at uniting pop melody and otherness.

INXS - Need You Tonight
So Michael Hutchence's preening leather rock god posturing didn't often match up to everything else about the band to the point of trying too hard, but his honeyed come-ons amid electro-funk here sell the idea perfectly

Felt - Stained Glass Windows In The Sky
Hardy perennials of 1980s releases, Lawrence was destined never to get his moment in the pop charts but with two minutes of unhurried retro summer daze pure guitar pop like this it wasn't for the want of trying to reframe the mainstream conversation.

Julian Cope - Trampolene
Saint Julian is one of those albums were you feel Cope is being a rock god within quotation marks. This was a single, for instance, sounding punchy and immediate but framed in a way that takes a sidestep from any audience that may have hung around from World Shut Your Mouth.

The Replacements - Alex Chilton
Pleased To Meet Me was the Replacements' commercial rock effort, though all things are relative and that might just mean they were at their mean cleanest after firing Bob Stinson. The Gaslight Anthem probably heard this song but got the wrong end of the stick.

Descendents - Coolidge
One of the great survivors of the straight-up LA punk scene, by All they were creating overarching concepts while still sounding as vital and energetic as any new garage kids even when dealing with loss of relationship cliches as here. When singer Milo Aukerman left after this album the rump renamed themselves All for the seven years until he came back.

The Wedding Present - Shatner
George Best defined the Weddoes in a way they'd eventually struggle with - David Gedge has problems with women, the guitars rush at warp factor around him.

The Brilliant Corners - Brian Rix
And sometimes janglepop about failed attempts to get off with girls just wanted to be wry and playful.

McCarthy - Antinature
And sometimes the jangle was used to smuggle greater, more polemic themes into listeners' homes. James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire are both enormous fans of I Am A Wallet, recognising the connection between holding the end up of radical thought and the rush to get ideas out.

The Smiths - I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
Oh yeah, and these were still around. Not for long, though, NME breaking the news of Marr walking in July. A great song of indifference was left in its wake, one that actually benefits from some background sax parping and Marr's restrained rockabilly swing.

fIREHOSE - Sometimes
Mike Watt and George Hurley's first steps out after D Boon's death brought an end to Minutemen dialed back the jagged post-punk edges of that band while making the influence from jazz, avant-funk and prog more apparent within a chiming alt-rock framework. They're better than history seems to recall.

The Sugarcubes - Birthday
Imagine you had no idea of Bjork up to this moment. How alien this sounds, the uneven soundscape and band seemingly playing entirely opposite to each other as well as the swoop and caw of those ESL vocals.

Black - Wonderful Life
We lost Colin Vearncombe last year, and while from his catalogue this knowingly ironically titled hit was all most mentioned - it wasn't even Black's only top ten single - there's worse songs to be remembered for, that dramatic smoky baritone and feather light touch with luxurious, bittersweet jazz-pop.

Prince - Sign O' The Times
The bare bones of a backing constructed entirely from Fairlight pre-sets, the most stripped back of socially conscious lyrics.

Wire - Ahead
Returning from a hiatus - On Returning, if you will - with a new metallic edge and the same incongruous questing spirit, The Ideal Copy experimented with a spiked dancier direction that on this sounds like New Order in the midst of a mental breakdown.

New Order - True Faith
Meanwhile the actual New Order were trying to work out their place between the post-punk synthpop they had been and the crossover dance act they were becoming. What that meant was an unashamedly bright melody and a thoroughly shaken through experience lyric.

Happy Mondays - 24 Hour Party People
And as the band that made Factory reached a commercial peak the band that would eventually ruin the label were getting going, the band making for effective scratchy livewire disco-funk while Shaun Ryder develops his meaningful nonsense style.

Public Enemy - Public Enemy No.1
Speaking of first steps by a band that would overturn their chosen genre in a couple of years' time, though the darkly dynamic production stew of the Bomb Squad, the self-referencing braggadocio and the raw street level anger writ large by Chuck D are already approaching full speed on Yo! Bum Rush The Show. Listen to that backing, it's basically a high frequency drone.

Yello - Goldrush
One Second is the album that features Billy MacKenzie (on backing vocals here) and Shirley Bassey, but the guests only serve as a reminder that Boris Blank's ideas on synthpop aren't like most people, and those ideas are best realised when he has Dieter Meier's abstract ideas to play off.

Steve "Silk" Hurley - Jack Your Body
Such a remarkable number one for the time it was featured on Newsround. Even now it's hard to think the house trailblazer was something this minimal.

Pet Shop Boys - King's Cross
Actually was quietly an anti-Thatcherism statement, Neil Tennant using one of Chris Lowe's most gorgeously flowing and sprawling arrangements to picture unemployment and homelessness in the days of urban renewal.

Colorblind James Experience - Considering A Move To Memphis
Lounge polka, Old Weird Americana in a post-modern style. With a vibes solo.

The Proclaimers - Letter From America
And finally, a rousing patriotic sentiment? Actually, no, it's a bittersweet lament about the aftermath of emigration and the Highland Clearances, because the Proclaimers people think of at least at first weren't that straightforward crowdpleasers.

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