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Step back to 1980 – Part 2

November 8th, 2011 7 comments

In past instalments of this series I have been very careful to issue a caveat about the music that I would feature, emphasising that the songs were chosen not because I endorsed them, but because they had the power to transport me back to a particular time or place. This caveat still applies, but it is becoming less necessary than before as the series goes on. This episode features some of my all-time favourite singles, and a few songs which I don”t mind hearing again. There is only among these eight songs from which I”d emphatically have to distance myself. During the second quarter of 1980, which is the time period we”re dealing with now, I turned 14. As ever, music and football were about the only bright lights in my teenage dejection.

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The Vapors ““ Turning Japanese.mp3
Sometimes you go through life with a fresh-faced innocence until your face doesn”t look so fresh any longer. And so it”s only a couple of years since I discovered that Turning Japanese is not an ode to acquiring a taste for sushi and saki (which in The Vapors” case would have been quite visionary), nor   a narrative about the notoriously difficult act of assimilating to life in Tokyo, Osaka or Fukuoka. Turning Japanese apparently refers to the narrowing of the male”s eyes as he reaches the point of orgasm (in the case of the song brought about by masturbation). I cannot verify that this is indeed an accurate description of the physiological response to the point of climax, as I have no habit of observing other specimen of my genus as they engage in sexual activity, nor have I filmed or photographed myself in the act of copulation (and actors in movies of the pornographic genre cannot be depended upon to convey an accurate portrayal of the man in the throes of base relief).

Apparently, however, men”s toes tend to curl at the point of orgasm. I don”t suppose The Vapors had any bright ideas as to how ascribe that physical reflex to a racial or ethnic characteristic. “Turning poor Chinese girl whose feet are deformed so as to appear dainty to misogynist patriarchs” does lack the zip of the title the Guildford quartet had their hit with.

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New Musik ““ Living By Numbers.mp3
This is one catchy new wave song, before that genre demanded the application of extravagant make-up, overdoses of hair gel, silly facial growths (yes, you, Midge Ure) and often injudicious use of synthethizers. I dig the sound of Living By Numbers, with its judicious use of synth. One of New Musik”s former members was Nick Straker ““ he left the group in 1979 ““ who had a disco hit later in 1980 with A Walk In The Park.

The lyrics of Living By Numbers are perfectly situated in 1980: the paranoia of the 1970s anticipating the computer age of the 1980s. Towards the end, there is a series of different English-accented individuals proclaiming: “They don”t want your name” (they want “just your numbah”, apparently). I derive much fun from imitating the different voices as I sing along, with correctly locating the strangely shrill and nasal women”s moment at 2:46 being a moment of particular personal triumph.

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Marti Webb ““ Take That Look Off Your Face.mp3
In early 1980 our family joined the video generation. An acquaintance was selling his video recorder, with his video tape collection. I don”t know whether the man opted for VHS or the system with the flamboyantly futuristic moniker Beta 2000. I do know that the video reorder he sold us conformed to neither system. The clunky cassettes we got with the bargain included such films Psycho and The World of Suzie Wong, an instalment in the Angelique series, and a hardcore porn movie, the first I had ever seen and the dialogue of which has equipped my brother and me with a bunch of good catchphrases which obviously make no sense to anybody else (it also had a funny cartoon interlude involving a Sex Olympics for medieval knights). And one of the first things we recorded was an episode of the legendary German music show Musikladen, which ran on Thursday nights.

Those were exciting days: I watched that recording repeatedly, until the novelty wore off. It made such an impression that three songs from that show feature in this instalment, though I had already bought the single of one of them, Living By Numbers. I quite liked Marti Webb”s song, and I still do, cheerfully disregarding the fact that it was written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber (for the flop musical Tell Me On A Sunday). I hope the dreadful Lloyd-Webber produced this single, so that I can hold him personally responsible for one of the worst fade-outs of all time: just as Webb is hitting a big theatrical note, the song does a two-second fade out (normally a fade-out takes something like five seconds). It”s a song from a stage musical: it shouldn”t even have a fade out.

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Godley & Creme ““ An Englishman In New York.mp3
An Englishman In New York (no relation to the Sting number) was the other song we recorded from Musikladen that day. It”s a strange song, and was even stranger then. In fact, it sounds as though pieces of three different songs were cobbled together by the two ex-10cc men. The performance on Musikladen was even more bizarre, featuring mannequins playing instruments, as did the groundbreaking promotional video of the song (something like THIS).

Eric and Lol would later produce another groundbreaking video, for 1985″s Cry, which featured morphing heads (a technique later used in Michael Jackson”s Black And White video). They also produced videos for hits such as The Police”s Every Breath You Take and Wrapped Around Your Finger, Duran Duran”s Girls On Film and A View To A Kill, Herbie Hancock”s Rockit, Go West”s We Close Our Eyes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood”s Two Tribes and The Power of Love, and Sting”s If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.

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Ramones ““ Baby I Love You.mp3
For some reason I had no idea at the time that this was a cover version of The Ronettes” 1963 hit, even as I did know Be My Baby. So, to me, Baby I Love You will always be firstly a Ramones song. And I love their version, which appeared on the punk pioneers” album End Of The Century (a point in time not all of them would live to see), produced by Phil Spector. The Ronettes” version was, of course, also produced by Spector. It seems none of the Ramones except for singer Joey appear on Baby I Love You. Dee Dee later expressed his hatred for the cover version, and for the album in general. He also claimed that at one stage during the sessions, Spector held him and Joey at gunpoint ““ a claim which we now know is not as outlandish as it might have appeared when Dee Dee made it. It”s safe to say that the recording sessions were not a happy time for either Spector or the Ramones.

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Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3
This is my favourite single ever. Now, when I call Geno my favourite single ever, I am not saying that it”s the best single ever, or even that it is my favourite song to be released as a single. It is my favourite single because never before or after have I loved a single “” as an item and a song at a particular place and time ““ as much as Geno. I remember clearly buying it and sitting on the bus home, anxious not so much to play it, but to own it, to place it in my collection of singles, as if this new acquisition was going to complete it.

The song may be somewhat derivative, but it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before: the stirring yet sad brass, the urgent chants of the titular name, and then Kevin Rowland”s distinctive style of staccato singing. It caused a weird sensation in my guts. I”ve heard Geno many, many times since then, but I can still feel that sensation. Incidentally, the line “You were Michael the lover, the fighter that won” refers to a track called Michael (The Lover) which had been a UK Top 40 hit in 1967for the subject of the song, soul singer Geno Washington.

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Johnny Logan – What’s Another Year.mp3
Before it became the cultish reality TV circus it is now, it used to be the righteous option to criticise the Eurovision Song Contest for producing horrible, banal music. Still, winners have included such greats as ABBA and Sandie Shaw, and the 1978 winner, Izhar Cohen’s A-Ba-Ni-Bi, was quite excellent as well (I”ll even confess to having a soft spot for Brotherhood of Man). The year after, Cohen”s Israeli compatriots Milk & Honey won with the utterly wretched Hallelujah, and then it was Ireland”s turn, with the clean-cut, Australian-born Johnny Logan.

At the time, I thought What”s Another Year was a pretty good song (though evidently not good enough to buy the record). It isn”t really, though. It is by-the-numbers US soft rock, but of the kind which Christopher Cross and Air Supply might have scoffed at for being too soft. It even has a saxophone solo which sounds like those featured, by some unwritten law, in every hip film of the 1980s starring members of the Brat Pack. Kenny G certainly has done an impressive job turning the coolest musical instrument of the “80s into the lamest ever since. Anyway, Logan made music history when he won the Eurovision Song Contest a second time in 1987, with an utteerly forgettable ditty called Hold Me Now.

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Frank Zappa – Bobby Brown.mp3
Incredibly, Bobby Brown received extensive airplay on West German radio. I can understand why the terminology of “golden shower” or “she had my dick in the vice” went over the heads of the German censors. But were they really happy to pass a line like “I”ve got a cheerleader here, wants to help with my paper. Let her do all the work, and maybe later I”ll rape her”? Zappa was not endorsing the sentiments of his protagonist, of course, and recording Bobby Brown was his prerogative (yes, I just did that). I’m sure Zappa, who is delivering a great vocal performance on Bobby Brown, was tickled to know it was being played on foreign radio. It”s a nasty and incredibly catchy song.

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More Stepping Back

American Road Trip Vol. 9

July 27th, 2009 4 comments

Last time on our US road trip, we left Pittsburgh. From there, one might travel in any direction to reach places of interest to our purposes. I do think it is time we come to the capital.

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Washington, D.C.

chocolate_cityI note Marion Berry, the four-term mayor of Washington DC was arrested again this month, this time for stalking a girlfriend. No matter what Berry”s accomplishments as a mayor and councillor, how on earth does that man still enjoy the credibility to be re-elected? How does the electorate of Washington arrive at the conclusion that a crackhead with the powers of judgment of a lemming is best qualified to govern their affairs? This is a man who delivers pearls of wisdom like, “The laws in this city are clearly racist. All laws are racist. The law of gravity is racist” or “The brave men who died in Vietnam, more than 100% of which were black, were the ultimate sacrifice”? It”s like the great American public electing a former drug abuser with no brains to the presidency. Which, of course, could never happen (and, yes, I can hear you whisper the name Zuma). Chris Rock perhaps nailed it when he said about Barry”s re-election as mayor after i his crack conviction: “How did that happen? Smoked crack, got his job back! What was the other guy on heroin?”
Parliament – Chocolate City.mp3
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Baltimore, Maryland.mp3

Well, I sold my pick-up truckGP to take my woman where she used to be. We left our friends and Marion Barry back there in Washington. And I bought those one way tickets she had often begged me for, and they took us to the streets of Baltimore. Well, her heart was filled with gladness when she saw those city lights. She said: “The prettiest place on earth is Baltimore at night.” But I soon learned she loved those bright lights more than she loved me. Now I”m a going back on that same train that brought me here before while my baby walks the streets of Baltimore. On second thought, fuck it, let”s go to Philadelphia.
Gram Parsons – Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

tsopTo people who grew up in the “90s, Philadelphia may be a movie about AIDS discrimination starring two insufferably smug, overrated actors. Or the hometown of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. To me, it evokes the sunny sounds of “70s soul. The Philly sound. The O”Jays. The Three Degrees. The Delfonics. Billy Paul. Jean Carn. Blue Magic. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The Intruders. The Trammps. Lou Rawls singing Lady Love. SalSoul and Gamble & Huff”s PIR.
M.F.S.B. – T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia).mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – T.S.O.P.mp3

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Previously on American Road Trip

Great covers: Dexys – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels

February 18th, 2009 18 comments

Although Dexys Midnight Runners drew their influences widely, the debut album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels sounded like nothing before it. Certainly Kevin Rowland”s voice was unique, and his lyrics never far from idiosyncratic. Although Rowland took time with his songs, eschewing radio-friendly abbreviations in favour of giving songs the treatment he thought they deserved, the sound was nervous and insistently impatient. The cover articulated the record’s atmosphere of agitation. The green-tinted cover photo communicated a sense of chaos, confusion and commotion. Read more…

Any Major Love Mix 2009

February 10th, 2009 11 comments

Amid all the heartbreak and unrequited love (with lovelessness and death still to come) we are looking at this month, we need a respite from the gloomy tears and instead frolic in the calm waters of true love reciprocated “” which in itself, as some of the lyrics here suggest, is a source of anxiety and uncertainty. And, well, perhaps some lucky person might need a decent mix for Valentine”s Day which does not include the unlovely horrors perpetrated by Chris DeBurgh, Jennifer Rush, Peabo Bryson, Céline Dion, Engelbert Humperdinck, Stevie Wonder and, of course, Michael Bublé ““ and who prefer to do without “edgy” comps featuring the love musings of Coldplay, U2, Avril Lavigne and James Blunt. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a CD-R. It might be a good alternative to an overpriced VD card (and if anybody tries that, please let me know if it was a good idea).

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1. Donny Hathaway – A Song For You (1971)
You taught me precious secrets of the truth withholding nothing, you came out in front and I was hiding. But now I’m so much better and if my words don”t come together, listen to the melody, “cause my love is in there hiding.

2. Carpenters – I Won”t Last A Day Without You (1972)
When there”s no gettin” over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won”t come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won”t last a day without you.

3. Ben Kweller – Sundress (2006)
I don”t need a smile from a mannequin, I just want to hold you in my hands. I do everything you want me to”¦for you.

4. The Weepies – Happiness (2004)
Friday 13, lights go red, green, in a coffee shop. I”m giving you the look while someone else is fingering your wallet in my pocketbook. It”s a mean town, but I don”t care. Try and steal this! Can”t steal happiness.

5. Mindy Smith ““ Falling (2004)
When I”ve almost had enough, something about you draws me back again. When I”ve almost given up, something about you pulls me in. And we”re falling”¦

6. John Prine with Iris Dement – In Spite Of Ourselves (1999)
She thinks all my jokes are corny, convict movies make her horny. She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs, swears like a sailor when shaves her legs. She takes a lickin” and keeps on tickin”. I”m never gonna let her go.

7. Moldy Peaches – Anyone Else But You (2001)
Here is the church and here is the steeple, we sure are cute for two ugly people, I don”t see what anyone can see in anyone else but you.

8. Simone White – The Beep Beep Song (2007)
(Yeah, the one from the Audi commercial) Despite all the warnings I landed like a fallen star in your arms.

9. Curtis Mayfield – So In Love (1975)
This love affair is bigger than we two. Lose our faith and it will swallow you. Loving you is what I”ll always feel, never ever doing things against our will. Loving means, never require any kind of test “¦ Ya got me so in love.

10. Aretha Franklin – Baby I Love You (1967)
If you want my lovin”, if you really do, don”t be afraid, baby. Just ask me, you know I”m gonna give it to you. Oh, and I do declare: I want to see you with it. Stretch out your arms, little boy, you”re gonna get it ““ “cause I love you.

11. Ron Sexsmith ““ Never Give Up On You (2006)
I”d never give up on you because I know you”d do the same for me. Never give up on you because you take me as I am, how I”ll always be.

12. Mary Chapin Carpenter – Grow Old With Me (1999)
Grow old along with me. Two branches of one tree face the setting sun when the day is done. God bless our love. (Beautifully sung by Carpenter, the real poignancy of this song derives from its authorship: written and demoed by John Lennon shortly before his murder in December 1980, it first appeared on his posthumous Milk And Honey album)

13. Tom Waits – Falling Down (1988)
For she loves you for all that you are not “¦You forget all the roses, don”t come around on Sunday. She”s not gonna choose you for standing so tall; go on and take a swig of that poison and like it.

14. Alexi Murdoch – Love You More (2006)
Love you more than anyone. Love you more than anyone. Love you more in time to come. Love you more. (That”s the complete lyric”¦)

15. Finley Quaye ““ Dice (2003)
I was crying over you. I am smiling, I think of you. Misty morning and water falls, breathe in the air if you care, you compare, don”t say farewell. Nothing can compare to when you roll the dice and swear your love”s for me.

16. Dexys Midnight Runners – This Is What She”s Like (1985)
“Well how did all this happen?” “Just all at once really. The Italians have a word for it.” “What word what is it?” “A thunderbolt or something.” “What, you mean the Italian word for thunderbolt?” “Yeah, something like that. I don”t speak Italian myself you understand?” “No.” “But I knew a man who did. Well, that”s my story. The strongest thing I”ve ever seen.” (Single version)

17. The Cure ““ Lovesong (1989)
Whenever I”m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I”m alone with you , you make me feel like I am whole again. Whenever I”m alone with you, you make me feel like I am young again. Whenever I”m alone with you, you make me feel like I am fun again.

18. Jens Lekman – I Saw Her In The Anti-War Demonstration (2004)
And the skies were clear blue skies, and her eyes were clear blue eyes, and her thighs were about the same size as mine, and we were walking in the anti-war demonstration; it was a sweet sensation of love.

19. Kacy Crowley ““ Kind Of Perfect (2004)
The last few years have been much harder than we ever thought they”d be. I know you hate it when I say I”m sorry, but I”m sorry. There was never a point in our love that I didn”t love you; not a point in our love. I always did, I always will, I always do, love you still, I always would, how could I not? Just look at us baby, we”re kind of perfect.

20. Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won”t Fall (2007)
I know you”re scared that I”ll soon be over it. That”s part of it all, part of the beauty of falling in love with you is the fear you won”t fall.

21. Nina Kinert – Through Your Eyes (2004)
All the time I stood here holding dandylions and chocolate for you. Tumbleweeds and fireworks go by. It”s hard to keep them still for you to see, nut you know that I try. I want to see you watching what I see, now that you”re mine, through your eyes.

22. Sarah Bettens ““ Grey (2005)
Will you be my everything? Maybe just this time we can really think that I am yours and you are mine; I am yours and you are mine…

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More songs about love

Albums of the Year: 1980

July 29th, 2008 8 comments

In my notebook, I have shortlists for my albums of the year for 1979 and 1980 side-by-side. The list for 1979 is shorter, but infinitely better; 1980″s list includes 24 albums, but fewer which I”m particularly enthusiastic about. While I”m deciding which albums to bump from “79, here”s the 1980 lot, with decent albums by David Bowie, Paul Simon, Kate Bush, Motörhead, Ideal and Roxy Music not making the cut for various reasons. It”s a rather predictable list, provided one knows that I never liked ska, got into New Wave only a year later, and mostly bought singles that year. And, it seems, I never really caught up with 1980. So no Specials, no Joy Division, no Talking Heads, no Jam, no The Beat, and (you”ll be surprised) no Gaucho“¦It is, in fact, a year to piss off the Taste Police (with the Police) with a pick of not the best albums of the year, but those I know and still enjoy.

Dexys Midnight Runners ““ Searching For The Young Soul Rebel
I had never heard anything like this before. Of course, West Germany was not a hotbed of soul music, at least not the soul music which inspired Kevin Rowland and his mates. Geno might well be my favourite single of all time; it certainly was my song of 1980. The album did not quite stand up to the pop sensibilities of Geno ““ the brass hook, the chanting, the idiosyncratic vocals ““ and at times seemed downright weird. Especially Rowland’s style of singing, even when he lurched into a falsetto in the song about Leeds, lost some of the novelty over two sides (minus an instrumental). It took the release of Too-Rye-Ay two years later to rediscover Soul Rebel. And what a fine album it is, with its jubilant sounds dressing the often cynical lyrics. There should be an NGO founded which would send a copy of it to every American who has the nerve to call Dexys a “one-hit wonder”. And a copy of Too-Rye-Ay, just to remind them that one Eileen not a group define.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Tell Me When My Light Turns Green.mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3

Bruce Springsteen ““ The River
A good writer will know that sometimes a great paragraph, a sparkling aside or a riotous gag will need to be sacrificed to maintain the flow, the rhythm of the whole piece. It”s what makes them good writers. Recording artists, even good ones, do not always exercise such disciplined judgment. Rock history is oversupplied with double albums which were rather good, but might have been bona fide classics had the artists limited themselves to two sides of an LP. The Beatles” White Album provided a template for excess and the problem with that excess. Which leads us to Bruce Springsteen”s 1980 offering. Cut the thing by half, and you”d have an album every bit as good as his artistic peak, Darkness At The Edge Of Town. Having said that, one of the more popular tracks on The River is Cadillac Ranch, which I wholeheartedly despise. I love the cover, on which Bruce channels Pacino and De Niro. It”s a very popular cover, as thousands of contributors to Sleeveface prove. This song, to me, defines the Springsteen sound of the era.
Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
Bruce Springsteen – The River.mp3

Warren Zevon ““ Stand In The Fire
Sometime in 1983 I discovered Warren Zevon. At the time, South Africa (where I has moved in 1982) had very well-stocked record libraries, where you could hire LPs for a day. Somehow the record companies didn”t like that, and by 1989 these great shops were forced to close. But when I was introduced to Warren Zevon, by my boss, I took out his entire back catalogue. Two albums stood out: Excitable Boy (naturally) and this live set. It is a rather poorly recorded live album, as these things go, but the cooking atmosphere of LA”s Roxy Club that night is steaming through the LP”s groove. The title is apt, the gig is incendiary. Zevon is often called the missing link between Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen; Standing In The Fire proves the point.
Warren Zevon-Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger + Bo Diddley.mp3

The Police ““ Zenyatta Mondatta
In 1980, the Police were still cool. Sting had not yet revealed himself to be the pretentious, tantric twat we know and hate now. He had edge, as did the other two blond chaps. I really liked the raw debut, Outlandos d”Amour, but found the follow-up patchy, besides its three big single hits. Zenyatta Mondatta (whatever that means), the final album before mega-stardom, was more cohesive than its predecessors. Where the previous two albums required the occasional song-skipping, all of the first side of Zenyatta Mondatta is quite excellent, in particular Driven To Tears. And, well, for the tune we ought to forgive the lyrics of De Do Do Do De Da Da Da. Much of my affection for this album is nostalgic: it transports me back to the day in November 1980 when my step-father and I wallpapered and painted my room. I had taken all my posters off, and threw them away. Of course, since I was a teenager, new posters would soon go up again, but that day marked a rite of passage, to the soundtrack of Zenyatta Mondatta.
The Police – Driven To Tears.mp3

ABBA ““ Super Trouper
By the time this was released, I had come to hate ABBA, much as I still loved the glam-pop of the mid-70s. By 1980, ABBA had grown up; I was still growing up and yet had outgrown them. I had bought Voulez-Vous, and despised the album. On the cover, our four friends looked like Mom and Dad going to the disco (and my mom and step-dad were middle-aged contemporaries of ABBA). On the sleeve of Super Trouper they were glowing at the sort of extravaganza no 14-year-old would be invited to. ABBA had entered a strange middle-age world. It was only when I had caught up with adulthood (in as far as I ever have) that I came to discover what a fine album Super Trouper is. The title track, which I had despised, is actually very lovely. The Winner Takes It All, a melancholy ballad set to a quasi-disco beat, is a high water mark in the ABBA canon, Lay All Your Love On Me is luscious and gorgeous, and Happy New Year is at once sad, bitter and hopeful. No surprises here, really. Those reside in the album tracks. If the synth-pop number Me And I sounds familiar, it does so because it would be ripped off throughout the 1980s. The Piper recalls Benny and Bjorn”s roots in northern European folk music. Andante Andante (one of those infuriating non-English titles) is a lovely ballad which, with a different title, might have been a hit. And the final track, The Way Old Friends Do, is a gloriously sentimental masterpiece. It possibly was initially conceived as a simple folk song, but here becomes an orchestral anthem, recorded live. It is a pity that the CD re-release came with three bonus tracks, because The Way Old Friends Do closes the album perfectly. Instead, it”s followed by the (admittedly very good) Gimme Gimme Gimme, the throw-away Elaine, and the absolutely awful Put On A White Sombrero, which is as bad as the title would suggest and recalls the turgid genre of the German Schlager.
Abba – The Way Old Friends Do.mp3
Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Abba – Happy New Year.mp3

Joan Armatrading ““ Me, Myself, I
Shortly before she passed away in October 1980, my grandmother lived with us. One day she gave me money to buy myself a new pair of trainers. Fashion be damned, I first bought myself two LPs with the unexpected moolah, and invested the remaining funds in the cheapest pair of adidas available. And I had change for some sweets still. The albums I bought were this one and Cornerstone by Styx (the one with Babe, though I bought it for Boat On The River). The latter I never played in full; Armatrading”s would get many spins over the years. The title track is excellent: great guitar riff and solo, and Armatrading in great lyrical and vocal form. All The Way From America and Turn Out The Lights are other highlights. Looking over the list it seems that I was rather too much into AOR (which beats being rather too much into S&M).
Joan Armatrading – All The Way From America.mp3
Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3

George Benson ““ Give Me The Night
After Zevon”s LP, this is the other album on this list which I can”t connect to 1980. I discovered it two years later. Benson has acquired an unfortunate reputation has über-smooth, glitter-jacketed soulster of 1980s lurve ballads. While elements of that are true, this image suppresses the respect the man merits for his pre-crooning days (just listen to his version of Jefferson Airplane”s White Rabbit). Give Me The Night, produced by Quincy Jones, finds our friend at a crossroad: part jazz guitarmeister, part proto-Vandross. Here the combination pays off: lite-funk disco numbers such as the title track and the exuberant Love X Love cohabit with fusion instrumentals such as Off Broadway (a play on his 1977 hit with the Drifters” On Broadway) and Dinorah Dinorah, and with a couple of nice but unremarkable ballads. The highpoint is Moody”s Mood, more recently sloppily covered by Amy Winehouse. The song was based on a sax solo on James Moody”s I”m In The Mood For Love, turned into a song by King Pleasure in 1952. On his version, Benson, usually an average singer, goes all Al Jarreau on us, with the help of Patti Austin.
George Benson – Moody’s Mood.mp3

Dire Straits ““ Making Movies
One day I might feature Dire Straits in the Pissing Off The Thought Police series. The credibility problem with Dire Straits was threefold: firstly, when CDs became popular, all the quasi-yuppies bought Brothers In Arms, which was seen (like Coldplay today) as “music for people who hate music”; secondly, Mark Knopfler and his red headband and C&W shirt; thirdly, Dire Straits negated punk by creating 9-minute songs. Of course, only the latter element applied in 1980. I had bought the first two albums, on strength of the excellent Sultans Of Swing. Apart from that, they were fucking boring to me. Not so Making Movies. Amid a few dodgy Knopflerifications which anticipated the hateful Money For Nothing, there were four magnificent songs: Romeo And Juliet, Tunnel Of Love, Espresso Love and the title track. When this album came out, one could buy miniature sleeves of albums containing pink chewing gum shaped like an LP, grooves and everything. I remember buying two: Billy Joel”s Glasshouse (the one Billiam album of the era I have no time for), and Making Movies. When I listen to the Dire Straits album, I can still taste the gum.
Dire Straits – Romeo And Juliet.mp3
AC/DC ““ Back In Black
This was the last AC/DC album I bought. When my friend Mike and I, both AC/DC fans at the time, first played it and Johnson”s voice burst forth, we burst out laughing. He sounded like a Warner Bros cartoon character doing an exaggerated imitation of the late Bon Scott. I still cannot abide by Brian Johnson”s voice. And for evidence to support my dislike, take Give The Dog A Bone from his first album with AC/DC. Bon Scott, who died just half a year before this album was released, would have invested his vodka-drenched soul into this schoolboy prank of a song to make you believe he was indeed looking to, er, feed a canine. In Johnson”s larynx, the song evokes a sleazy drunk about to get nasty with a blow-up doll while his virgin friends watch. So, I think it is fair to observe, I prefer my AC/DC with Bon Scott at the wheel. Johnson actually did OK on tracks like You Shook Me All Night Long (which is really Highway To Hell Redux), Hell”s Bells, Back In Black or Rock “˜n” Roll Ain”t Noise Pollution. But he was not Bon Scott.
AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long.mp3

John Lennon & Yoko Ono ““ Double Fantasy
John”s love for Yoko was exemplary, a real fairy tale story. This slavish devotion created his foolish impression that the sound of his wife singing was in some way attractive, so much so that the world had to be treated to it. To the world, of course, Yoko”s singing was akin to a recording of a parrot being violated and the sound of his sad squawks being played on 78rpm. Or perhaps I am being unduly harsh. Yoko”s Hard Times Are Over is a fine song, and Kiss Kiss Kiss is a good disco number. John”s tracks were great though. Even Woman, which was overplayed so much after Lennon”s murder that few people alive in 1981 should wish to ever hear it again. I will always love (Just Like) Starting Over, and defy anyone who claims it is cheesy (other than the bit about the Ono-Lennon”s taking out a loan for a trip far, far away. I imagine that Lennon had so much possession as to make the notion of him taking a trip to the bank manager obsolete [Edit: oops, misheard lyric rendering my gratuitous dig at the hypocrite Lennon obsolete. Damn]). As a father, I can identify with the sentimentality of Beautiful Boy. I”m Losing You is potent. And Watching The Wheels is among the very best things Lennon ever did out of McCartney”s earshot. Back in the day, I taped all of John”s songs, and added Hard Times Are Over and Yoko”s Walking On Thin Ice single which came out a few months after the murder (don”t let it be said that Yoko spurned great cash-in opportunities in her 28 years of grief). These days, a playlist employing the same selection technique will do the trick.
John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over.mp3
John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3

And what are your favourite albums of 1980?

Previously featured:
1950s
1960-65
1972
1987

1980

July 16th, 2007 5 comments


Let’s go on a nostalgia trip. This is the first instalment of a journey through the ’80s. These songs represent moments in time; they are not necessarily the best songs of the year, nor my favourites (neither then nor now). These songs evoke for me the feeling of the time, they recreate a time the way a smell might, or taste or photo (like the one on the right, taken in January 1980 on a visit to Finsterwalde in East Germany).

Rainbow – Since You Been Gone.mp3
There were two versions out at the time (both covers themselves). This was one, the other was by the Cherrie sisters, one of whom was in the Runaways. I had both singles, and actually preferred the Cherries’ one. Had Richie Blackmore been a hot blonde woman, on the other hand…

Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan.mp3
One of two songs that appeared in 1979 about middle-age women committing suicide (the song was the Boomtown Rats excellent “Diamond Smile”). This one became a hit in Germany only in 1980. I didn’t quite understand the song — still don’t. Kill yourself because you’ll never drive a sports car in Paris with the warm wind blowing in your hair? If only that was the extent of my problems! You have children, of school-going age; pull yourself together, Luce!

New Musik – Living By Numbers.mp3
I seem to recall that I bought the 7″ single the same day I bought “My Sharona” by the Knack. It’s still a favourite song, and I still can’t get the different “They don’t want your name” voices right.

Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3
My favourite song of 1980, then and now. The two-tone cover of the single was cool, the song beyond cool, with the horns and Kevin Rowland’s strange voice. I don’t think I had ever heard anything quite like it before.

Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers.mp3
The whistling! And working out that this was a song about the grotesque TV show we knew in Germany as “Spiele ohne Grenzen”! Plus, “Games Without Frontiers” was my 100th single. The album it came from also featured “Biko”, which got my left-wing teenage mind interested in the anti-apartheid movement. Two years later I (unwillingly) moved to apartheid South Africa.

Ramones – Baby, I Love You.mp3
I had liked the Ramones since I was a barely pubescent “punk rocker”. Gubba Gubba Hey and Sheena and all that. When this came out, I didn’t realise it was a cover version; I really thought the Ramones had changed their sound. I love this version; it’s terribly camp without intending to be so.

Robert Palmer – Johnny And Mary
I bought this album the same day as Bowie’s Scary Monsters and Paul Simon’s One Trick Pony. Then Lennon was shot, and I listened to his music for months (in fact, I was listening to the Beatles’ Blue Album the night before I woke up to the news that Lennon had been killed). So this track reminds me of the trauma I thought I had suffered through Lennon’s death.

Jermaine Jackson – Let’s Get Serious.mp3
Stevie Wonder produced this, and it sounds like it, in a “Do I Do” kind of way. This song is one funky bastard, coming out at about the same time as Michael’s Off The Wall. At the time I actually preferred Jermaine’s vibe. Is that Stevie actually doing guest vocals?

Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard – Suddenly.mp3
I’ve always been a leading candidate for the presidency of the Cliff Richard Hate Club. So I resisted this song for all it was worth (as I did with 1979’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore”). Still, the song is 1980, and with time I have come to accept it for the lovely bit of cheese it is.

Styx – Boat On The River.mp3
Styx were crap, really. And this song is a bit crap, too. And yet, as it is playing, I’m singing along with an unseemly amount of gusto. As a 14-year-old I thought I was rather sophisticated for appreciating the Greek-tinged vibe of this song.

Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3
I bought that album the same day I bought the Styx LP. My grandmother had given me money to buy new trainers. I bought a cheap pair so I could afford to buy a couple of LPs. In 1985 I saw Armatrading live in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon; second row, right in the middle of the stage. In the pub before I must have had a dodgy pint , because I fell asleep mid-gig. Eventually, introducing “Drop The Pilot”, Armatrading called the seated crowd to party in front of her stage, presumably so she didn’t have to look any longer at that sleeping fucker in the second row…

Ambrosia – The Biggest Part Of Me.mp3
This is how Steely Dan might have sounded had they developed like the Doobie Brothers. I imagined that this would be the perfect song driving along some random US highway with the car top down, and the warm wind in the hair. Bet Lucy Jordan never thought of that!

1982

June 24th, 2007 2 comments

25 years since1982. Fuck!

Donald Fagen – I.G.Y.
The Nightfly had one of the coolest album covers in rock history: a monochrome shot of Fagen as graveyard shift DJ, smoking a Chesterfield (Warning: smoking is not cool, kids. Only when Fagen does, it is). When the Steely Dan man’s solo album came out, I had to hunt it down; I don’t know if it sold out or whether the record shops were unprepared for the demand it elicited.

Dexys Midnight Runners – Respect (live)
Yeah, a cover of the Otis Redding song (covered as well by Aretha something). This is a bonus track on the special edition of Too-Rye-Ay, one of the finest albums of the ’80s (check out Until I Believe In My Soul). I love the idea of the celtic soul sound infusing the soul classic; it’s the sound The Commitments should have adopted, not the karaoke gig the producers opted for.

Yazoo – Bad Connection
Upstairs At Eric’s came out of nowhere. They were an odd combination: synth boffin Vince Clark and would-be soul diva Alison Moyet. It worked brilliantly, with Moyet investing a warmth in Clark’s cold electronic sound. An album later they were done. Clark reappeared a couple of years later with Erasure, Moyet had a couple of successful solo albums before fading from view. This is the loveliest track on Upstairs At Eric’s.

Toto – Rosanna
Stop sniggering at the back. This is Toto in their pomp, Coke Rock at its best. Written about Rosanna Arquette, you know (as you did). These days retro-minded DJs and VJs will dig out “Africa”, which is a decent pop song. “Rosanna” is miles better: the jazzy keyboard, the coke-fuelled guitar solos, the fantastic horns, and a killer chorus. Toto were never good enough to produce a credible Best Of album, but this (as well as “Hold The Line” and “Georgy Porgy”) would make owning a copy worth the slight embarrassment one inevitably would suffer when pals rifle through one’s CD collection.

Crocodile Harris – Give Me The Good News
A South African classic, but a bigger hit in France (where it shifted 650,000 copies) than at home. The Croc didn’t get another hit, but this one will lasts. On constant rotation on Johannesburg’s Radio 5 at the time, the lyrics were interpreted as a veiled criticism of apartheid. Amandla!

Going retro

June 22nd, 2007 1 comment

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (live) (1975)
From the Live At The Hammersmith Odeon ’75 recording which was released on DVD released. One of the ultimate live songs. Who’s Wendy?

Johnny Cash – Ring Of Fire (1968)
Bonus track on the re-released CD of Live at St Quentin. As a kid in Germany, Cash was always on the radio in a context with whoever was uncool. So I grew up thinking the Man In Black was not cool. Lesson: Don’t look at the people listening to the music but listen to the music.

Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno (1980)
Dexys Midnight Runners – Until I Believe In My Soul (1982)
Every two years or so I go on my Dexys trip. In 2005, I revisited the young soul rebel to observe his 25th birthday and that of my weeks-long obsession with “Geno”; in July I shall celebrate the silver jubilee of the most wonderful Too-Rye-Ay. “Until You Believe In My Soul”, from which that twat Sting stole the idea for a jazz solo interlude, features Kevin Rowlands sneering the immortal line: “You have to be fuckin‘ joking”, at a time when swearing still meant something.

Tim Curry – I Do The Rock (1979)
The song from which I learned that John and Yoko lived at a place called The Dakota. Prescient Tim. This song made me into a Curry fan before I knew about that overhyped Rocky Twaddle Picture Show. One day in 1985 he came into a restaurant in London where I worked. Lovely, shy chap. The 80-year-old owner heard that someone famous was at Table 9, so he waddled over, stood for a minute at the table staring at Curry and female companion while rolling his tongue over his open mouth, and the blurted out: “So, you’re famous?” I caught a glimpse of Curry’s totally bemused look before I dashed to the kitchen where I ROTFLed.

Ram Jam – Black Betty (1977)
Those was mentioned on my favourite forum, populated by very clever people who know their music. One confessed that he had heard “Black Betty” for the first time today, on the radio. I associate this, and Bowie’s “Starman“, with the first club I frequented (without mother’s knowledge) as a 15-year-old.

Sweet – The Six Teens (1974)
Too easily derided as bubble-gum glam rockers, the Sweet had some killer tunes. “The Six Teens” had the group all grown up since their “Little Willie” days, borrowing a bit from prog, foreshadowing Meat Loaf’s operatic rock drama, and still sounding incredibly fun! R.I.P. Messrs Connolly and Tucker.

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

Prince – Starfish And Coffee (1987)
From Sign O’ The Times. How was this, one of Prince’s three greatest songs, never a single? The alarm clock at the beginning always gives me a fright. To recreate that effect upon others, I like to put this track first on mix-tapes (well, CDs, these days) for others.

The Stranglers – Nice ‘n’ Sleazy (1977)
This might have been my first “punk” single. This or Sham 69’s “Angels With Dirty Faces”. Other punk rock acts of the time included the Boomtown Rats, Ultravoxx and Elvis Costello, who were to punk what Tony Blair is to socialism. Still, “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy”, with its sneering riff and insolent vocals is a great, great song.