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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

Music for Bloggers Vol. 9

November 12th, 2008 4 comments
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Sometimes I visit a favourite blog and, David Byrne echoing in my mind, I wonder: how did I get here? Totally Fuzzy is an obvious source of discovering favourite blogs. Links on blogs I like are another pretty reliable source (shared tastes, and all that). Some I might have stumbled upon while searching for a particular song, using a variety of search engines and aggregators. And many I”ve discovered when their owners left a comment. Occasionally I encounter members of my circle of blogging pals ““ people whose blogs I read and who read mine ““ in comments sections of other blogs. Did they get there through my links, or did I find them through theirs, or what other permutations might have led to our congregation at a third blog?

And how did people find my blog? No doubt, Totally Fuzzy, Elbows and good old-fashioned googling are a major source of exposure, as are Retro Music Snob and All Music, All Blogs. Some blogs clearly are so popular and trusted that their readers click on links to mine (Echoes In The Wind, DeaconBlues1103 and Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory are the most prolific sources of traffic in that respect). And if you”re reading this having read The Guardian’s blogroll last weekend, welcome (also featured was the excellent Ghost of Electricity).

Not so welcome is whoever DMCAs me to Blogger. Another post was zapped yesterday; Blogger again won”t say who complained. As you”ve probably noticed, I”ve not capitulated. Nor have many of the bloggers I particularly enjoy. Anyway, all this to introduce or highlight six more blogs I particularly enjoy. There were more on my shortlist, so if yours has not yet featured, it may well do so in the future.

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Modern Acoustic
Rich K puts out a PDF-based magazine featuring some of my favourite contemporary artists: Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Borges, Josh Ritter, Patty Griffin etc. To go with the mag (which can be downloaded at modernacoustic.com), he runs a blog with copious links to the official sites of the acts he is writing about. Rich is DMCA-safe because he posts no music, but he has taken an interest in the War on Bloggers situation . He wrote to me saying that he is researching an article on the subject. If fellow victims of the terror campaign, or other interested observers, would like to share their views or experiences with Rich, he can be e-mailed: rich [at] modernacoustics [dot] com. One act Modern Acoustics has not featured yet are The Weepies, whose cause I promote with undiluted enthusiasm. From a perfectly legal and band-approved top-notch bootleg:
The Weepies – Gotta To Have You (live).mp3

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The Gentlebear
To illustrate a point I made in the introduction, I found this blog just a few weeks ago and have no idea how I came by it. Whichever route it took, I am delighted to have arrived there. Gentlebear is one of those bloggers who educates and entertains with some fine writing and great song selection. I was particularly impressed with her recent post on The Temptations” song “I Wish It Would Rain” ““ possibly my favourite by the Temps next to “Since I Lost My Baby” ““ featuring a couple of great covers. When I discover a new blog I really like, I trawl through back posts until I have no more energy or time. I read all of the ursine”s blog in one sitting (well, it goes back to only June, but the point stands: this is a very fine blog). The song dedication comes from a 2005 charity compilation, War Child – Help: A Day In The Life. War Child is going to release a new comp in February 2009. Check it out.
Damien Rice – Cross-Eyed Bear.mp3

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The beauty of la musique
A bilingual blog from Canada which takes as its theme appealing or otherwise remarkable graphic artistry from yore. The blog pictures old LP or magazine covers, photos, posters, record labels and so on with a succinct illumination to explain its presence. Sometimes the narrative is very funny. I enjoyed this one for an early “60s record cover depicting a rather predatory sleazedouche doing the twist: “Here’s a stupid and ugly one, for a change. Richard Anthony was a popular French singer of the 1960’s. On the cover art of this single, he seems to have other projects than twisting. Look at the way he’s watching this girl… Help ! Police !”
Status Quo – Pictures Of Matchstick Men.mp3

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Silence Is A Rhythm Too
Here”s a blog that has been running since I was a little boy in Lederhosen (which reminds me of a boy at school in Germany who once pissed into his Lederhosen. As visitors to München”s Oktoberfest may know, not only is piss in Lederhosen eminently conspicuous, but it also produces a nasty aroma). Funk-loving Michael of SIART describes his blog as “an on-going mix-tape”, which seems to me quite an accurate description, though songs are mostly posted individually. Including a bootleg version of the song this blog is named after (though you”ll have to go back a couple of months to find that). Those still on an Obama-high can get an Obama Mix at SIART. It”s all stimulatingly eclectic stuff.
Gene Kelly – I Got Rhythm.mp3

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Jay Brannan: The Morning After
Jay’s debut album, Goddamned, might well turn out to be my most-played of 2008. The long-standing reader will recall that I interviewed Jay back in July. What came across was an appealing personality with some strong opinions and a healthy dose of wit. This is reflected in his apparently very popular blog (featuring a number of video clips from his gigs around Europe), which we can take for granted is written by the artist himself, not an intern at the management company. Jay is certainly building up a strong following around the world, and ““ this is particularly pleasing ““ across the sexual spectrum. As he said in the interview, why should his sexuality matter when he sings about stuff in his life? I imagine that Jay’s blog is named after this, the theme from The Poseidon Adventure:
Maureen McGovern – The Morning After.mp3

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The Music Blog of the Infonistacrat!
I feel a little guilty about not having featured the Infonistacrat before. I have found some great music there, especially from the “90s, which is a bit of a blind spot for me (fatherhood and lack of access to sources of decent music ““ DMCA fans might note that had there been blogs then, I”d have bought plenty more CDs then). The Infonistacrat also calls back into action songs from the “80s, including a lot of half-forgotten material. A great and frequently updated source of alt.rock, punk, indie, new wave and so on. The Infonistacrat will have this song already, probably. It’s that sort of song.
The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.mp3

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Previously featured:
Music For Bloggers Vol. 1: Totally Fuzzy, Not Rock On, Serenity Now (RIP), Stay At Home Indie Pop, The Late Greats, Tsururadio, 200percent, Jefitoblog (RIP), Television Without Pity, Michael’s World
Music For Bloggers Vol. 2: Fullundie, Mr Agreeable, Greatest Films, Peanut’s Playground, Just Good Tunes, Csíkszereda Musings, Mulberry Panda, The Black Hole, Secret Love, Hot Chicks With Douchebags
Music For Bloggers Vol. 3: Girl On A Train, Maybe We Ain’t That Young Anymore, Earbleedingcountry, Spangly Princess, Ill Folks, Deacon Blues, One-Man Publisher, CD Rated
Music For Bloggers Vol. 4: Pop Dose, Todger Talk, Holy Goof (RIP), Echoes In The Wind, Sunset Over Slawit, The Hits Just Keep Coming, The Ghost of Electricity, Guitariotabs
Music For Bloggers Vol. 5: The Quietus, Barely Awake In Frog Pyamas, The Great Vinyl Meltdown, Fusion 45, Inveresk Street Ingrate, The Songs That People Sing
Music For Bloggers Vol. 6: my hmphs, Visions of Wrong Terrence, Don’t Burn The Day Away, Mine For Life, 3 Minutes 49 Seconds
Music For Bloggers Vol. 7: Uncle E’s Musical Nightmare, Jens Lekman, Ain’t Superstitious, AM Then FM, Psd Photoshop Disasters, SIBlingshot on the Bleachers, Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory, NME & Melody Maker
Music For Bloggers Vol. 8: dustysevens, All Eyes And Ears, Bob Evans, Retro Kino, Retro Music Snob

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!