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1984

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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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