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1988

July 28th, 2007 4 comments

A pivotal year. There were loads of parties, a memorable bus trip to Zimbabwe for the Amnesty International concert, during which I became close friends with people who’d have a profound impact on my life, and I quit the hotel industry in November, not knowing what I’d do next (events in January 1989 would decide that for me). Oh, and the security police raided my place for the first time. Musically it was a good year, too. Having moved from London in September ’87, my obsession with the UK Top 40 diminished. In South Africa, the singles market was tiny. Instead, there were record libraries, from which one could hire LPs, from rock classics to latest releases. I’d buy loads of albums having tested them first that way. Of course, the record industry forced these record libraries to close down by 1989, because home-taping kills music (as we have seen). The number of records I bought after that decreased as a result.

Chris Isaak – Blue Hotel.mp3
This came out in 1987, and really belongs in the 1987 post. It is here because it was on a tape I played on loop in my 1978 Audi 100 in early 1988. And that’s the point of this series: songs that evoke the times, like a smell etc. “Blue Hotel” does just that. There are only few Chris Isaak songs I really like; but those I do like intensely, including “Blue Hotel”, a song quite unlike anything I had heard before.

The Primitives – Crash.mp3
A quick burst of exuberance packed in glorious 2:30 minutes

Prefab Sprout – Cars And Girls.mp3
Allegedly a dig at Springsteen (if so, then misdirected), this came from the quite excellent From Langley Park To Memphis album, which also featured “The King Of Rock ‘N Roll” with the immortal chorus: “Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque”. This song is lyrically more coherent than that, but my favourite track from the album is “Hey Manhattan”, which I’ll save for a later post.

Morrissey – Every Day Is Like Sunday.mp3
I utterly love the Smiths, but don’t rate Morrissey’s solo career highly, mostly because his withering poetry has become a self-conscious shtick. Morrissey has turned into the Ben Elton of music. The tendency became apparent already towards the end of The Smiths, who broke up just at the right time. This track, released quite soon after the death of the Smiths, is Morrissey at his best. Preceding the total descent into self-parody, the lyrics and music evoke a particular atmosphere with eery accuracy.

Everything But The Girl – Love Is Where I Live.mp3
It’s not accurate to classify EBTG as a lounge-jazz pop act. In fact, it is impossible to classify them at all. Idlewild is their best album: it’s laid back but has a certain appealing intensity, and so much of what the clichémongers like to call “aching beauty”, particularly Tracy Thorns’ vocals.

Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Jennifer She Said.mp3
Lloyd Cole has been unjustly vilified by the taste gestapo, to the point of calumny. Rattlesnakes (1984) was an outstanding album, there was much to like about Easy Pieces (1985), and his final album with the Commotions, Mainstream, had many fine moments. Let’s rehabilitate Lloyd Cole fully, and admit that he was a bright spot in the patchy ’80s.

Wet Wet Wet – Temptation (live).mp3
Marketed to the teenage market when they first appeared on the scene in 1987, and subsequently a Moms’ favourite with that song, Wet Wet Wet are an easy target for snobbish relegation. Yet, the debut album was a minor masterpiece of pop. “Angel Eyes” and “Temptation” combined great melodies with well judged arrangements and superb vocals by Marti Pellow. This is a live recording which appeared on a best of collection released last year.

Mica Paris – My One Temptation.mp3
In the desert of ’80s soul music, 1988 was an oasis, and Mica Paris was pouring the cocktails. Her debut, “So Good”, was superb, with “Breathe Life Into Me”, “Words Into Action” (with Paul Johnson, featured in the 1987 set), “Like Dreamers Do”, the title track and this little gem.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang – The Colours.mp3
There are not many folk songs that invite such a mighty singalong as “The Colours”, which also offers a revolutionary history lesson framed by Big Country guitars. Everybody now: “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”. And down with the king!

Will Downing – A Love Supreme.mp3
A driving track based on John Coltrane’s work of the same title, this is a bona fide soul classic. Downing (a label mate of Mica Paris, with whom he also duetted) is a vastly underrated singer; his vocals on “A Love Supreme” are impassioned yet cool. And check out the House-style keyboards. A fantastic song. What a travesty that “R&B” these days is dominated by pipsqueaky fuckers like Ne-Yo and Omarion, yet Downing never became a legend (unlike John).

Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You.mp3
Chapman and Suzanne Vega were at the vanguard of a new line of female singer-songwriters. Chapman’s debut is a stunning, almost flawless album. Her set at the Amnesty International “Human Rights Now!” concert in Harare (oh, the fucking irony!) was great. Springsteen was good, Peter Gabriel theatrical, Sting earnestly poncey, Youssou N’Dour inspiring; but Tracy Chapman — a solitary tiny figure on stage, armed only with her guitar — touched the emotions more than any of them. A shame her subsequent output has been so decidedly patchy.

Tanita Tikaram – A Good Tradition.mp3
A folk-pop number with saxophone and Celtic strings sung by an exotic woman with a distinctive voice from Britain who was born in Germany. I’ll be totally honest: I bought Tikaram’s album unheard because I fancied her. It’s not a bad album, “Twist In My Sobriety” and “World Outside My Window” are pretty good. But I don’t think I’d need to hear it again. And “Good Tradition” song has aged a bit.

Bill Withers – Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix).mp3
Originally released in 1977, “Lovely Day” was said to have featured the longest ever recorded sung note. The song does what it says on the business plan: set you up for a good day. The remix, which was a hit in 1988, aims for setting up the party as well — and succeeds in doing so. (Previously upload

ed)

Kylie Minogue & Jason Donovan – Especially For You.mp3
I tend to use the term “guilty pleasure” at times, but don’t really buy into the notion that there is anything to be ashamed about in liking a song not considered cool. Admitting to liking supposedly unapproved music is the first step towards beating the taste gestapo. So here it is: I like “Especially For You”. I’ve always liked it, even when I pretended to disparage it. I acknowledge that it has no artistic merits whatsoever, but hearing it and crooning along to it makes me feel good. There, I’ve said it. Free at last etc. Liberate the Guilty Pleasures!

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1987

July 26th, 2007 3 comments

In January I returned from a long holiday in sunny South Africa to freezing London. Soon I felt that I had had enough of London. When my best friend, Paul, moved to the US, I decided to return to SA, to reunite with my brother. And so in early September I did, got myself a job co-running the Room Service department at a 5-star hotel, and instantly regretted leaving London. So it was a shitty year. Musically, it wasn’t particularly great either.

Blow Monkeys – It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way.mp3
I loved “Diggin’ Your Scene” the year before, but could not muster much enthusiasm for this song when it climbed the charts. Yet there it was on the radio whenever I put the thing on. It reminds me of cold, cold London, and having too little money to put on the gas heater. In the interim I have come to enjoy this song; it needs warm weather to be enjoyed.

A-ha – Manhattan Skyline.mp3
I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about A-ha, but this is a hell of a fine song. It reminds me a bit of the Beatles’ occasional strategy of banging together two quite distinct, uncompleted compositions into one song. This one starts of slowly before launching into a heavy rock (by A-ha’s standards) chorus, which the normally clear-voiced Morten Harket pulls off well.

Sly & Robbie – Boops.mp3
Robbie Williams sampled from “Boops” for his horrible “Rudebox” song. It pains me to think that a generation of people will grow up thinking that Williams created the only thing that is good about “Rudebox”. “Boops” has cool written all over it.

Terence Trent D’Arby – If You Let Me Stay.mp3
The superstar that never was, undone by his own preciousness. This, his debut single, was the only modern song to be played at the Locomotion, the Friday night old soul club at the old Kentish Town & Country Club, before it was even released. I suspect the Trout, who lived in Kentish Town, knew the DJ. It got the crowds on the floor, too.

Paul Johnson – When Love Comes Calling.mp3
A prodigy of UK soul-funkster Junior Giscombe (“Mama Used To Say”), Paul Johnson was a fine soul singer who could hit ridiculously high notes. He never enjoyed great success, which is a pity. This song has a happy vibe, and Johnson’s voice soars. Check out the long falsetto note when he sings “I’m masquerading” before launching straight into the chorus. An utter joy. (Previously uploaded)

Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Asimbonanga.mp3
In early ’87, Savuka played at the Kentish Town & Country Club. The place was packed, mostly with white expatriate South Africans, not all of them visibly of the anti-apartheid activist persuasion. So a Clegg gig in London was exactly like a Clegg gig in Jo’burg or Durban. This is an incredibly moving anti-apartheid song, with its litany of martyred activists (Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, Neil Aggett) and its lament that we haven’t seen Nelson Mandela. Less than three years later we would (see here).

Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This.mp3
Perhaps the single of the year. You had to admire the Pet Shop Boys for reintroducing the great Dusty Springfield from the over-the-hill circuit.

Black – Wonderful Life.mp3
The song that scores my departure from London. Recently I saw that lovely monochrome video again (look out for that superb shot of the rollercoaster at 1:23); it evoked a time and two places. I still like this strangely wistful song a lot, and the album, also called Wonderful Life, is quite excellent.

Prince – Starfish And Coffee.mp3
Just an album track from Sign ‘O The Times. I find that inexplicable, seeing that the crap “U Got The Look” was a single. This is one of Prince’s finest songs, with suitably weird lyrics, a great tune and a kick-ass singalong chorus. As for the alarm clock kicking off the song: inspired. Is Cynthia’s breakfast menu code for something? (Previously uploaded)

Bananarama – Love In The First Degree.mp3
It’s kitsch. It’s Stock Aitken Waterman. It’s 1987.

LL Cool J – I Need Love.mp3
I dig the tune, but the lyrics are hilarious. James promises to be a good boy if only somebody would love him truly. Aaah. But why on earth would J loo for the girl he’ll love in his closet or under his rug? I had a video recording of LL Cool J performing this live on the short-lived US version of Top Of The Pops; all the girlies wanted to be soft as a pillow for the man who’d be as hard as steel. And I bet LL Cool J was communicating to his posse which of these girls he’d use and dispose of that night (that is presuming that all these rumours about Cool J aren’t true).

Smokey Robinson – Just To See Her.mp3
A nice little soul song which gets the old toes tapping and the shoulders rocking. A rather more convincing plea for love than LL Cool J’s, and a persuasive demonstration that the great Smokey had not lost his musical mojo even after a quarter of a century of writing and recording.

Bright Blue – Weeping.mp3
A South African classic (recently inexplicably battered and assaulted by the horrid Josh Groban) by a decent rock group that could never reproduce the magic of this song. Strangely, it received strong airplay on radio stations owned by the apartheid state, for its lyrics are directed at PW Botha and his murderous chums. And so it came about that state-owned radio got to play the strains of “Nkosi Sikeli’ iAfrica” (then the anthem of the banned ANC and now the first half of South Africa’s cobbled-together compromise national anthem). I suspect a couple of DJs took great pleasure in doing so. More on Bright Blue and “Weeping” here.

Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – I’ve Had The Time Of My Life.mp3
This is a fantastic pop song. It has it all: you can dance to it (dirty or otherwise), you can sing along to it loudly, it has great moments like the bang as the saxophone solo begins, and the dramatically cascading notes building up to a crescendo before Medley summarises softly just how good a time he has had, leading to the celebratory climax. The song structure in fact captures the rhythm of sexual intercourse, with the subtle changes of pace and two distinct orgasms (you didn’t see that coming, did you?).

1986

July 24th, 2007 4 comments

Another good year, with fewer concerts and more clubbing. Most memorably I got into Stringfellows wearing my Manchester United t-shirt I slept in (sad, I know) under my jacket after my friend Paul dragged me out of bed to try the supposedly impossible. Telling the bouncer that you are there to meet a fictional diplomat helps; it adds to the amusement if said bouncer calls out to the head security dude if Mr Diplomat had already arrived. Seems like bouncer and I shared fictional friends. Added bonus to a year with a great summer: no unrequited crushes (alas, no requited crushes either).

Fine Young Cannibals – Suspicious Minds.mp3
In 1985 I was a bit of a FYC fan, having obtained a signed copy of the debut album and seen them live in concert (supported by a comic whose shtick was to get heckled for his non-punchlines, and then make slap down the hecklers with some hilarious one-liners. If anyone has his name, I’d be grateful to know it). “Suspicious Minds” featured on the album, but became a hit in this re-recorded version, with Bronski Beat/Communards singer Jimmy Summerville on backing vocals.

Hipsway – The Honethief.mp3
I discovered Scottish outfit by chance in 1985 when I bought the flopped single “Ask The Lord” from Woolworth’s bargain bin. A very good song, so when “The Honethief” came out, I excitedly bought the 12″ the same week. It became one of my songs of 1986, and still like it a lot (the ’80s synth notwithstanding). The vocals are quite outstanding, I find. It’s a shame Hipsway didn’t make it big, when the poseurs Curosity Killed The Cat did (for a while).

Cherelle & Alexander O’Neal – Saturday Love.mp3
The hints were in the air in 1984 and ’85 with acts like the SOS Band, but 1986 was the breakthrough for the Timbalands of the day, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Alexander O’Neal, Atlantic Starr and Janet Jackson were among their clients who had a big impact on soul music at the time. This was a particularly charming upbeat duet, which I bought on strength of Cherelle’s previous album. I had yet to discover O’Neal, whose follow-up single “If You Were Here Tonight” was one of the best moments in ’80s soul.

O.M.D. – If You Leave.mp3
The O.C. generation will know this as a Nada Surf song. Fulfilling my contractual obligation as an old fart, I feel compelled to point out that while the Nada Surf version is good, the original is far superior. The chorus is another perennial earworm.

Depeche Mode – But Not Tonight.mp3
Depeche Mode didn’t rate this song. They recorded it in one day and chucked it on the b-side of “Stripped”. Except in the US, where this was the A-side (in a bid to cash in on its inclusion on the soundtrack of Modern Girls, which flopped). This is by a fair length my favourite Mode track, a straight-forward love song with a pretty melody enhanced by Dave Gahan’s slightly flat voice.

It’s Immaterial – Driving Away From Home.mp3
One of the great songs of 1986. In fact, posting this song a few weeks ago inspired the idea for this series. At the time I speculated that I bought the single at the same time as “Camouflage”, but that can’t be. I bought “Camouflage” the day I also acquired Hollywood Beyond’s crap “What’s The Colour Of Money”. I don’t remember if I bought any other records when I got “Driving Away From Home”. I cannot promise that my memory will solve this mystery, so prepare for a few sleepless nights wondering about Any Major Dude Without A Heart’s 1980s purchasing record. (previously uploaded)

Stan Ridgway – Camouflage.mp3
Is this song considered a classic? It should be. It has a great driving melody, and it has a narrative that holds the interest; who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Ridgway’s theatrical, half-sung drawl — “And here take his dog tag son” — is very entertaining. I haven’t heard anything else by him (I don’t think I ever played the b-side of the single). Should I?

Jermaine Stewart – We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.mp3
The late-summer hit of 1986 by a Michael Jackson soundalike. Poor dude should have heeded his own advice: in 1997 he died of AIDS-related causes (wikipedia says liver cancer caused by AIDS. Really?).

Cameo – Word Up.mp3
That codpiece Larry Blackmon wore aroused no suspicion at the time, did it? Cameo were the funk band of the ’80s. They had a great line in soul as well (check out “I’ll Never Look For Love” and “A Goodbye”). I played “Word Up” to death at the time, as I did with the even better “Single Life” the year before. Even Korn’s piss-poor paint-by-numbers cover version a couple of years ago could not undermine my deep affection for the song.

The Housemartins – Think For A Minute.mp3
New Years Eve ’85/86 I saw Madness at the Hammersmith Odeon. The supporting act was an outfit I’d never heard of before, but whose performance I liked better than that of Madness. I bought their existing singles, “Flag Day” and “Sheep”. Then “Happy Hour”, with its clay animation video, became a hit. I was pleased, even though I didn’t really like the song much. The follow-up single was “Think For A Minute”, a pleasant mid-tempo number with a nice horn solo, featuring one of my favourite lines: “I can’t help saying told you so and have a nice final day”. By Christmas, the Housemartins were huge with their acappella cover of Isley Jasper Isley’s superior “Caravan Of Love”. The 12″ single of the Housemartins version featured a great clutch of faux-gospel songs, with Paul Heaton, a Christian, referring in evangelist preaching-style to “the great pilot in the sky”, which I found very funny indeed. Right click and open in new tab for the Funeral Pudding blog which has MP3s of the Housemartins live at Glastonbury in ’86 and other rare material.

Bruce Hornsby & the Range – The Way It Is.mp3
Not a song I liked at the time, but my brother played it in his car when I travelled to South Africa (at this point I’d like to say hello to the lovely Caroline Cave, in the unlikely event she is reading this), so this track evokes a time and place. Which was the point of this series in first place (still is). I started enjoying Hornsby’s music later. The Maybe We Ain’t That Young Anymore blog had a great 10-minute live version up not so long ago. I don’t know if it’s still up (lots of good stuff there anyway).

Erasure – Sometimes.mp3
The breakthrough single for Erasure, with Andy Bell doing his best Alison Moyet impression. I bought this single while it was slowly climbing up the charts. As an obsessive student of the UK charts I was worried about missing it’s progress while I flew off on a holiday to South Africa. It peaked at #2.

Swing Out Sister – Breakout.mp3
Just joyous! It may not please the taste gestapo, but I really like Swing Out Sister. And singer Corrinne Drewery looked very sexy with her flapper’s bob.

Freddie McGregor – Push Comes The Shove.mp3

McGregor had a nice line in light reggae, lovely stuff for the beach, and the perfect soundtrack to getting high from everybody else’s fumes at Sunsplash (in South Africa, you watch a Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates for the same effect). McGregor found hits in 1987 with reggaefied covers of old soul hits which were a bit better than UB40s karaoke records, but did the man no justice. I have no idea whether this track was an original, but it is very lovely indeed.

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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.

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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.

An Aussie and a Seffrican walk on a stage…

July 14th, 2007 3 comments

..and create some magic. Last night I saw the great Farryl Purkiss in concert in Cape Town, supported by Australian pop-folk merchant Bob Evans (and South African indie-folk singer Simon van Gend, who was quite excellent in his Clem Snide/Joe Purdy channelling ways). The photos are from that gig.

I’ve bigged up Farryl Purkiss before. His self-titled sophomore album was one of my picks of 2006 (and the lovely “Better Days” one of my songs of the year). He performed accompanied only by his guitar and a minimalist drummer. Having toured extensively internationally, he is making an impression with his mellow acoustic sounds. He should become huge enough to remain cool, like his heroes Purdy, Mason Jennings, Sufjan Stevens and Calexico.
Farryl Purkiss – Better Days.mp3
Farryl Purkiss – Escalator.mp3

Before last night, all I knew of Bob Evans — whose real name is Kevin Mitchell and comes from Perth — was what he streams on his MySpace page. On strength of last night’s performance, I bought the CD/DVD set Suburban Songbook. I’ve played it on rotation since then. The album, which won the Aussie version of the Grammies this year, was produced in Nashville by Brad Jones, who lists production credits for Josh Rouse — one hears that influence in Evans — and Yo La Tengo on his resumé. Clearly influenced by a host of ’60s artists (he even rocks a harmonica like Dylan), Bob Evans is a bit of an acoustic guitar-playing version of Ben Kweller, with a dash of country (he mentions Johnny Cash among his influences). Which is very much a good thing. This is upbeat folk-pop for a Saturday morning, to sing along to happily as one brews a good cup of coffee to go with the croissant.
Bob Evans – Sadness & Whiskey.mp3
Bob Evans – Rocks In My Head.mp3

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Introducing…

July 13th, 2007 No comments

Introducing the softer side of the Killers. “Smile Like You Mean It” is a great song. I love the Killers’ original; I love Tally Hall’s superior cover; and I love the acoustic version (but I’m a sucker for acoustic versions).
The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It (acoustic).mp3

Sounding a lot like the Killers is Cape Town band The Dirty Skirts, who made an impression at this year’s SXSW showcase. Their full debut came out in March, but this is their SA #1 hit from last year. Dudes will make it big.
Dirty Skirts – Set Me Alight.mp3

My England-based informant has told me that the very great Joshua Radin is supporting the ghastly Tori Amos on her tour there. FFS! It should be the other way around. Radin’s Nick Drake-channelling full debut We Were Here was my album of 2006. This track, from the First Between 3rd & 4th EP, remains my favourite Radin song.
Joshua Radin – Do You Wanna.mp3

One of the best alt.country songs of the last year was the Beauty Shop’s “A Desperate Cry For Help” (I love that line: “and all the friends I used to know have gone and formed a hate club…” video here). Use the Hype Machine to find it, but first check out the great opener from Crisis Helpline.
Beauty Shop – Paper Hearts For Josie.mp3

Props to the Bolachas Grátis blog for alerting us to the Antlers’ In The Attic Of The Universe, a quite excellent Indie album (according to Bolachas Grátis even an Album of the Year contender). OK, I confess, first time I listened to it I thought it was indifferent (that usually happens when I first listen to Indie albums; I thought the Arcade Fire were crap first up). After the second listen I was intrigued; after the third I was hooked. And the band wants people to download their album for free, for which we should love them!
The Antlers – Stairs To The Attic.mp3

Revisiting…

July 12th, 2007 No comments

Revisiting a few older tracks…

Two songs with a similar theme: retirement. Where Ben Folds’ Fred Jones is mostly sad and just a little frustrated (“and all of these bastards, who’ve taken his place, he’s forgotten and not yet gone”), the protagonist in Belle & Sebastian’s magnificent song is pissed at management and lets them have it in his farewell speech (“The others were shocked at this shameful disgrace at the end of an honoured career. He paused in the silence to pull down his tie
and observe the melee”). Both are lovely songs; how the B&S one was just a b-side and not a huge hit is incomprehensible.
Belle & Sebastian – Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It.mp3
Ben Folds – Fred Jones Pt 2.mp3 (Live in NYC; DVD Rip)

Playing on the same bill as Ben Folds at that NYC concert were Guster (and Rufus Wainwright). I’ve been revisiting Guster”s outstanding 2003 album Keep It Together, which I expect to be regarded as some sort of classic before too long. From that CD:
Guster – I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today.mp3

The proto Indie group arguably was Big Star, whose heyday was the early “70s. Listen to their stuff from that era, and you might well believe it was recorded by some Indie outfit fairly recently. Especially “Ballad For El Good”, possibly one of the loveliest songs ever written.
Big Star – The Ballad Of El Goodo.mp3

One of the unlikely hits of 1986 was It’s Immaterial’s “Driving Away From Home” (a song I always associate with Stan Ridgway’s “Camouflage”. I suspect I bought both records at the same time). It was also one of the best hits of 1986. Hmmmm, I think I should have a 1986 retrospective some time…
It’s Immaterial – Driving Away From Home.mp3

Higher and higher

July 9th, 2007 1 comment

Here is a music cliché that pisses me off: that a singer who is able to hit high notes must have a problem with testicular position, constriction or development. Or maybe I’m just being sensitive because I can do a mean falsetto and the contents of my scrotum are in perfect working order (too much information, right?). In honour of all men who can hit the high notes, here are some of the best:

Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire has a good claim to be the king of falsettoists. Check out the live version of the magnificent “Reasons” when he goes into duel with the alto sax. But Bailey demonstrates the skill it takes to sing falsetto not when hitting the glass-shattering high notes, but when he goes down deep (listen to his “ba-a-a-aby” just before the sax comes in).
Earth, Wind & Fire – Reasons.mp3

They say “Keep On Trucking” was the first disco hit when it reached the US #1 in 1973. By then, Eddie Kendricks had already established his legendary status as a member of the Temptations. The falsetto you hear on “Get Ready” is Kendricks’. I’d say in the battle of ’60s falsettos, Eddie wipes the floor with the chipmunkish novelty yelpings of Frankie Valli.
Eddie Kendricks – Keep On Trucking.mp3

Closer to the Valli sound was Eddie Holman, who had a hit with the cute “Hey There Lonely Girl” in 1970. This signalled the emergence a whole string of falsetto-dominated soul acts throughout the ’70s. Most, like the excellent Chi-Lites, the Delfonics, the Manhattans or the more poppy Stylistics, alternated the high pitches with deeper voices. Some, like Blue Magic led with the falsetto “” and it was beautiful. These acts enjoyed a fair run of success. Poor Jimmy Helms remained a one-hit wonder. His exquisite falsetto on “Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse” suggests that this was a musical tragedy.
Eddie Holman – Hey There Lonely Girl.mp3
The Chi-Lites – Stoned Out Of My Mind.mp3
Blue Magic – Sideshow.mp3
Jimmy Helms – Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse

By the ’80s, the falsetto had become unfashionable, perhaps because of its association with disco acts (if so, then unfairly so). There were a few exceptions, but even then, only a handful found commercial success. One singer cruelly denied such recognition was Paul Johnson, the bespectacled British soulster whose joyful 1987 single “When Love Comes Calling” was one of the finest recordings in its genre in the decade (oh yes), and arguably the finest falsetto performance of the past 25 years. I can think of only one rival to that claim: Prince (or “symbol”, as he called himself then) singing “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”.
Paul Johnson – When Love Comes Calling.mp3
Prince – The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.mp3

Lastly, an artist whose gentle countertenor would sometimes slip into a most restrained falsetto and back again: Curtis Mayfield. This song is not a falsetto, and I’m posting it gratuitously because it is a most beautiful song most beautifully performed. Released just a few weeks before the accident that robbed Curtis of his mobility in August 1990, this belongs in the canon of Mayfield’s absolutely greatest hits. But nobody seems to have picked up on that. You judge:
Curtis Mayfield – Do Be Down.mp3

Ben Folds live mix

July 1st, 2007 3 comments


Here in three packages is my mix of Ben Folds live tracks from:

Songs For Goldfish EP, 2005
Soundboard recording from gig in Berlin, 4 June 2005
DVD Rip of Summerstage gig in New York City, 14 July, 2004
DVD Rip of concerts with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra in Perth, March 2005)

All tracks have been normalised, and packed in three files for safer downloading (nothing as annoying as a 70MB download cutting out at 95%)

File 1
File 2
File 3
PASSWORD IN COMMENTS

Tracklisting
1. There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You
“Make me feel tiny if it makes you feel tall, but there’s always someone cooler than you.”
2. Rockin’ the Suburbs
“Mom and dad make me so uptight, I’m gonna cuss on the mic tonight”
3. One Down
“And I hate hearing belly-aching rockstars Whine and sob, cause I could be bussing tables, I could well be pumpin’ gas. But I get paid much finer for playin’ piano and kissin’ ass.”
4. Zak And Sara
“Sara spelled without an ‘h’ was getting bored on a Peavey amp in 1984 While Zak without a ‘c’ tried out some new guitars, playing Sara-with-no-h’s favourite song.”
5. Fred Jones Part 2
“Yeah, and all of these bastards have taken his place, he’s forgotten, but not yet gone.”
6. Brick
“Driving back to her apartment, for the moment we’re alone. And she’s alone and I’m alone and now I know it…”
7. Rock This Bitch (New York version)
“R.O.C.K. with your C.O.C.K. out in N.Y.C.”
8. Army
“In this time of introspection, on the eve of my election, I say to my reflection: God, please spare me more rejection.”
9. All U Can Eat
“See that asshole with the peace sign on his license plate? Giving me the finger and running me out of his lane. God made us number one because he loves us the best, well he should go bless someone else for a while, give us a rest.”
10. You To Thank
“Christmas came around and everything was going to crap. For moms and dads not a clue to be had; we put on a pretty good act and they seemed to all need to believe it. So we danced and smiled and paddled hard beneath it.”
11. Landed
“Down came the reign of the telephone tsar, it’s OK to call.”
12. Bitches Ain’t Shit
“I used to know a bitch named Eric Wright, we used to roll around and fuck the hoes at night. Tight than a mutharfucka with the gangsta beats and we was ballin’ on the muthafuckin’ Compton streets…” (it’s not autobiographical…)
13. Gone
“I wake up in the night all alone, and that’s alright. The chemicals are wearing off
since you’ve gone.”
14. Trusted
“She’s gonna be pissed when she wakes up, for terrible things I did to her in her dreams.”
15. Still Fighting It
“Everybody knows, it sucks to grow up,and everybody does; it’s so weird to be back here.”
16. Not The Same
“They come knocking at your door with this look in their eyes, you’ve got one good trickand you’re hanging on…”
17. Rock This Bitch (Perth version)
“We’re gonna rock this bitch orchestrally.”
18. The Luckiest
“What if I’d been born 50 years before you in a house on the street where you lived.
Maybe I’d be outside as you passed on your bike; would I know?”

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