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Step back to 1980 – Part 3

January 25th, 2012 9 comments

There isn”t much I remember specifically about the late summer and autumn of 1980. We holidayed in Czechoslovakia and Austria, I despised school, my granny died, and I read English football magazines to brush up on my English skills. But I recall the vibe of that time, and these songs help conjure it.

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Kelly Marie – Feels Like I’m In Love.mp3
Here”s a great bit of trivia: Feels Like I”m In Love was written by Ray Dorset, the mutton-chopped frontman of Mungo Jerry, specifically for Elvis Presley. Alas, before Dorset could pitch the song to Elvis, the rhinestoned king died. But imagine Elvis singing Feels Like I”m In Love; with a different arrangement and perhaps slowed down a bit. Sounds like a hit to me. Of course, English disco starlet Kelly Marie also enjoyed a hit with it, a UK #1, and quite rightly so: it”s a very good song. I remember it being hugely popular at the funfair; when I hear it I smell candyfloss, sugar-roasted almonds and Bratwurst.

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Randy Newman – The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band.mp3
This is the bit where the threads of an American songwriter of wit and style and German football meet. Randy Newman was so much a fan of the Electric Light Orchestra that he penned a tribute to the band. The lyrics are, by Newman”s standards, fairly artless, but in his own way, Newman manages to recreate the ELO sound in an affectionate homage, while still sounding like Randy Newman.  Turn To Stone seems to Randy”s favourite ELO song, though he does recognise other worthy contenders. I was so taken by Newman”s tribute that I bought the LP, with its crap cover pic.

At the same time, my favourite football player ““ and when you”re 14, a favourite player is a semi-deity ““ was the diminutive but brilliant winger Pierre Littbarski, who played for my favourite club. Sporting exploits aside (and, at 20, he was not a star yet in 1980), there are three things I remember about Littbarski: he was a chocaholic, he supported the conservative CDU (boo!), and he was a huge ELO fan.

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Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3
Looking back, it seems that by now I was more into LPs than I was into singles. I bought Joan Armatrading”s  Me, Myself, I album on strength of its title track, with that abrasive guitar riff and Chris Spedding”s wonderful guitar solo , Cape Town-born Anton Fig”s thumping drums, the tempo changes and the catchy chorus. I still like the album a lot: All The Way From America, Feeling In My Heart (For You), and especially Turn Out The Lights remain great songs. At this point I had not yet become a Springsteen fan, though that was going to happen fairly soon. But the presence of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons on the album would have been an added bonus. It also featured Paul Shaffer, David Letterman”s annoying houseband leader, on keyboards. At one point, all of those who appeared on the song were members of the houseband, having met while recording with Joan Armatrading.

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Styx – Boat On The River.mp3
Yeah, I know it came out in 1979, but Boat On The River didn”t get much airplay on German radio until 1980. In fact, on our local station at least, this was bigger than the megahit from the same album, Babe. Perhaps it reminded the playlist compilers of those Slavic-sounding Schlager hits that were in vogue a decade earlier. I bought the Cornerstones LP, but I don”t think I ever listened to it in full, other than Boat On The River and Babe.

In past instalments of this series, I described how my grandmother bought me my first single (see HERE) and how she helped finance my fast-growing singles collection. The Styx and Armatrading albums were the final music acquisitions she funded. She had actually given me the money to buy new trainers. But instead of purchasing the medium range shoes my budget allowed for, I decided to go for a bargain (still cool: yellow Pumas with a black stripe), and use the difference to buy the two LPs. My mom was not impressed with me. My grandmother died a few weeks later at the age of 85.

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The Police – Driven To Tears.mp3
Liking The Police in the West Germany of 1980 was the mature and cool choice. Many of my friends loved AC/DC (good) and Kiss (meh). And a few sung the praises of Gerry Rafferty, even though his City To City album, released two years earlier, was quite ancient. But mention that you like The Police, and people would respect you, much like the neighbourhood respected the teenage Henry Hill in GoodFellas. Soon The Police became really massive and I had to abandon them, but when they released their Zenyatta Mondatta album in 1980, I played it to death.  I also played it to my stepfather when we were wallpapering my room, seeing as he had enjoyed the music of Bob Seger which I had introduced him to. He assured me that he liked the album. Looking back, I think he was lying.

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Diana Ross – My Old Piano.mp3
Upside Down had already been a hit, but it was this track that turned me on to Diana Ross, whom I had hitherto regarded, in my unformed ways, as part of the musical wallpaper, the sort of star who is a star because she is a star. Well, it wasn”t really Ms Ross whom I loved this song for, but the production. It”s a great, catchy number, with the sort of funky bass and cool strings you”d associate with a Nile Rogers and Bernie Edwards production. And then there was the fantastic piano and guitar solo; I presume Rogers did the guitar part, and I guess the piano solo was either by Raymond Jones or Andy Schwartz.

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Nick Mackenzie – Hello Good Morning.mp3
This is a terrible song. And when I think of 1980 it sticks in my head like the fumes from the gas released by a decomposing body that sticks on the clothes of your favourite CSI agent. Personally, I think they are all rubbish, none more so that sunglasses juggling fool from the Miami franchise, though I have a theory that David Caruso might play him with a bit of wink, creating a sardonic self-parody to offset the stink of the preposterous scripts; rather unlike Lieutenant Dan over in New York, who seems to play his equally preposterous role with a straight bat. But I digress. So, yeah, Nick Mackenzie was, as his name fails to suggest, from the Netherlands where apparently he was alternately known as Henk van Broekhoven and Nick van der Broeke, which might be a pun on his surname involving the Dutch word for trousers. And that is pretty much all you need to know as you decide whether Hello Good Morning is any good. Take his name or my word for it: it isn”t.

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More Stepping Back

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!