Thursday, April 26, 2012

1984: A labour of love

Of all the Eighties bands who've been rehabiliated and are now officially OK to like, there's one glaring omission: The Thompson Twins.

Perhaps not doing themselves any favours with her ludicrous hat and their cartoonish personas, they nevertheless should be remembered for their cracking hits. There's none more Eighties than that heavy keyboard and Linn drum sound, is there? Just a note of their over-produced music and I'm instantly transported back. 

I bought Lies, their first single to chart, in late '82. With its tinny production and general feeling of emptiness, it was however a taste of the fun that was to come. Love On Your Side, never my favourite, but rocketing them right into the Top 10 came next and from then on their career trajectory was set.

So by the time this corker was released around this time in '84, they were big. Like really big. Huge. This reached No.2, which is surprising because it could have been enormously hard work to like, with its strange industrial sounds and heavy use of the mouth organ, it's kind of folky electronica. But once you're in, you're in. You never hear this on the radio of course, but you don't hear Doctor! Doctor! or Hold Me Now either, and remember how they used to be everywhere?

It's a shame - they suffered because they were a bit silly and they're still suffering now. Trendy for about five mintues when they first started then it all went tits up image wise, and they were no more cool than Nik Kershaw or Bucks Fizz - i.e., not at all. Beloved by kids mainly and majorly Smash Hits-friendly. That includes me by the way. I wasn't ashamed to love the singles, but I didn't much care for anything post Lay Your Hands On Me, the song that came out in the latter part of this year and was meant to herald a newer, more grown-up direction, but actually just left everyone cold.

That said, I adore their gorgeous, rather moving If You Were Here from the film Sixteen Candles. Perhaps they don't want or need rehabilitation. Perhaps they wonder why on earth they should get back out there and do the nostalgia-in-a-basket circuit - the music should speak for itself, after all. However, I feel strongly that they shouldn't be forgotten. They're part of the fabric of music in the Eighties after all. They need to be brought to a wider audience again.

The campaign starts here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

1980: The feeling that I get from you

Bad Manners: The Love Songs. That would be a short album, wouldn't it?

When their long-forgotten hit Lorraine turned up on my ipod today, I was reminded that when they're being serious - or at least semi-serious - they're on a par with any of the great bands, those songs comfortably sitting among the pantheon of classics. All memories of their novelty past that has come to overshadow how they're thought of today are soon banished.

I have a major thing for Special Brew, a song that never fails to move me. Why it's so moving I couldn't say. Perhaps it's the key it's in, but it gets me in this video at about the 1.10 mark, and it doesn't let me go. But look, even here Buster Bloodvessel's in a grass skirt in a rocking chair. If you didn't know about the band you'd only heard this song you'd not think they'd be doing the Can-Can throughout the summer of the following year, would you, or silly covers of My Girl Lollipop, a song I dislike with every fibre of my being.

That said, I'm a huge Can-Can fan, and I've time for many of their other hits like Lip Up Fatty all the way through to Samson & Delilah and those songs that got sillier and siller and which barely troubled the charts. Nice to see they're still going strong though. I'd have put money on Buster Bloodvessl not making it into the Noughties.

This song does take me back to the depths of autumn of 1980, and to me it's always a dark evenings/cold weather song. It gives me a chill, in a nice way. It's quite beautiful. Shame about that fast bit at the end which slightly takes the shine off it, but you can't have everything.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

1985: How sorry you were

The Eighties: natural home of the power ballad. You can bellow all you like over a film's end credits today, it won't be a patch on what we were hearing back then. Love them or hate them, however, there's no ignoring them. Though I openly despised everything from Berlin's Take My Breath Away (never off the radio), to Patti Labelle & Michael McDonald's On My Own ('we were already talking divorce - and we weren't even married!') to Up Where We Belong (odd hands on Top Of The Pops), I had a surprise soft spot for this number. To Smiths-loving, Sixties-obsessed, chart pop fan me, Phil Collins was the total anti-Christ, especially after the year he'd just had, dominating the charts with his nasty bubbling pop monstrosities, and I'd never even heard of Marilyn Martin. Needless to say, it was a big ballad with a big production tacked onto a big film, in this case, the very silly but Mrs P fave White Nights, starring Gregory Hines and ballet boy Mikhail Baryshnikov - and to my utter horror, I loved it. Still do. I love the beginning, it's so unusual, and then it builds to this tragic sing-off in which no one wins. I'm filling up here. I have to say, as time goes by, I now have lots of time for all this shit. I never thought I'd see the day when I was belting out Roxette's It Must Have Been Love in the car, but frankly it moves me almost to tears it's so beautiful. Same for Take My Breath Away. I'm no longer a music snob of course, which helps, so Bon Jovi's Blaze Of Glory is on my karaoke most-wanted list and - gulp! - it was even refreshing to hear Whitney's I Will Always Love You after her death. But let's not go mad. Sorry Celine, you're barred. We all have room in our life for a power ballad, don't we, especially if it's from a cheesy film from the Eighties. Singing along at the top of your voice, knowing the words despite never owning the damn record is not only a briliant wave of nostalgia, it's also quite uplifting. If you stick your head out of the window right now, you'll just me hitting the top notes on Heart's Alone. So what's your favourite?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

1980: A town that's right for me

It's May 1980, and I'm really not looking forward to having my German exhchange person coming over.

I had enjoyed my trip to Germany beyond my wildest expectations, and had made some top friends, but now I heard that the person I really wanted to see, a girl called Beata Hack on whom I had a major crush, was not to be among them. She couldn't afford it, apparently.

We had a tearful (her!) phone call in which she couldn't speak much English and I couldn't speak much German and that was the end of that. Whenever I see Run Lola Run, I'm reminded of her, with her dyed hair and punky attitude she was a like a goddess. I wonder what she's doing now? Anyway, the shine had kind of gone off the whole thing.

So I was slightly worried at the thought of Kai's iminent arrival. Though we'd got on fine in Germany and I really liked his family who had made me so welcome, we didn't have much in common. He was into green issues, I was into Hughie Green issues, he wore those chunky beads tightly round his neck and and had a Shaun Cassidy hairdo. Compared to what was going on in Britain, with its new wave and ska double-header, he looked like he'd be more at home listening to Gallagher and Lyle at a sit-in in 1975.

I was right to worry, however, as he was a nightmare. Off-hand, piggish, un-coperative and a whingebag, mum and dad were appalled. We'd set up tons of sight-seeing trips, but he only wanted to go to Stonehenge. On top of the many things the school had organised, there wasn't to be a dull moment, but to him, every moment was a dull one. He sulked all the way up to London as Lipps Inc's Funkytown came on the radio every five minutes. That song will always remind of that day. We were stuck in traffic forever, five hot and cross people crammed into dad's metallic green Capri to visit the Tower Of London and other German-friendly sites. He didn't enjoy any of it. Dad dug his heels in and refused to go to Stonehenge. I think he was just being bloody-minded. It wasn't that far away.

Kai sulked most evenings in my bedroom, sneaking packets of pork 'n' beans flavour Rancheros in the dead of night until the whole box was gone. Sometimes we'd just go out and leave him there. Those 10 days seemed like an awfully long time. A continental presence such as this we'd never known. Were they all that ghastly?, asked mum. They weren't, but having them here was not nearly as much fun as going over there. In Germany it was all new and different, every day brought a new experience, and all in a foreign language. Having them here they were just unwelcome guests.

I never heard from him again.

Friday, April 13, 2012

1983: Drove you from my mind

Do you remember when they used to to that segment in TOTP, usually presented by Jonathan King of course, where they'd show you what was big on the continent?

It was always an eye-opener, but things rarely appealed. If anything crossed over it would be words by FR David or something ghastly like that, which I'm sure featured in that slot. I never rushed out to buy a thing.

But before this post turns into a copy of the Joe Le Taxi one, I do remember liking this song very much. I thought it was rather... unusual. It bothered the lower reaches of the charts but never made the Top 40 and I'd forgotten all about it until last week when I was browsing the excellent Chartstats website to have a look at all those songs I used to read about but never heard and try and give some of them a go via itunes. And I stumbled across this. Louise Tucker is huge - or was huge - in France. I've never heard anything else by her,.

When this video grows up it wants to be Total Eclipse Of The Heart. I had no idea a man was involved. I thought it was all Lou's own work. It's quite odd still, and reminiscent of something else (Chariots of Fire with words? Something classical - I really wouldn't know) but I can't quite put my finger on. But give it a listen, and I guarantee you'll be singing it all day. Don't say I haven't warned you. It's driving me crazy at the moment.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1978: Tired old man

"It's Friday, it's 5.15, it's CRACKERJACK!"

I didn't enjoy hearing those words. After a week of enjoyable kids' TV, Crackerjack was a horrible end to the week. Needless to say we watched it though, if there was nothing better to do.

I can remember as far back as Leslie Crowther, but it was the Peter Glaze/Don Maclean imperial phase - if there is one - that I recall the best, mainly because I always found Peter Glaze rather creepy. He was one of many old men you'd see on children's TV back then, but the reason I disliked him was because he reminded me of the new husband of our beloved neighbour, a woman we all called simply Trimmer.

I loved this woman, she'd give me jelly snakes each week and take me on outings. I had already had two grandmothers, but she was like a third. And she adored me, having had no children of her own. I was allowed to come and go as I pleased and she'd always make a fuss of me. She even forgave me when I picked all her black tulips from her front garden, furious as she was.

One day, coming home from school, an ambulance was parked outside. Her husband, whom I always called Mr Basil, had been taken ill. In fact, he died, so it was just Trimmer from now on. She can only have been in her fifties but she seemed really old. She wore pointed 1950s bras and had grey hair. She had a cleaner called Mrs Whittington who gave me a sixpence she found while hoovering one day. It's another era.

Not long after Mr Basil died, she married again. I wasn't aware of any of this until I was at her house one day watching Superman (the cartoon) and new husband Bill came in to entertain me. I recall lots of tricks with rubber bands but I simply didn't take to him. He reminded me of Peter Glaze. I wanted to go home.

Soon, he made her move away to somewhere far from her sisters, who lived just around the corner in a bungalow with a massive fishpond. Dorothy, Iris and her huband Les all lived there together. They were frequent vistors to her house, but now along came Bill - or Mr Richardson as I had to call him - and nothing was ever the same again. I was hanging around her front gate wondering where she was, when the new owners arrived: Irish hairdresser Aubrey and his foxy wife Barbara. They're another story, though I've mentioned them in passing. Trimmer didn't live here anymore, they told me. They did.

So that's why Peter Glaze always made me feel uncomfortable. That's perhaps why I didni't like watching Crackerjack. That and the songs. Their half-singing the words to the pop hits of the day was ghastly, wasn't it? When they were joined by that really cringeworthy woman called Jan something it just got worse. She tried far too hard and she often got the words wrong. Memorably (to me) she got opening line to this Brian and Michael one-hit wonder wrong. He didn't paint 'smoky mountain tops' at all you execrable woman. He painted Salford's smoky tops. Why change it?

And as for Stu Francis, well, I could crush his skull.

I bought this record back then, then quickly disowned it. But listening to it now I think it's rather lovely. Crackerjack could never do it justice.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

1979: It might be a sin

"Everything's good," remarked Dad apropos of nothing as we drove back from the off-licence where he'd nipped out to buy some chocolate to see us through an evening of family viewing.

It was a Friday night, about half past eightish. I'm sure this song was on the radio. I liked it up until that point. Sitting beside him in the car I knew that while he thought everything was good now, it wouldn't be when we got home.

I was right. Mrs Jones from next door had come and told Mum everything. I'd hoped against hope that she wouldn't but of course she had to. Me and her son had been cautioned for 'shoplifting'.

It's not quite as bleak and Crown Court as it sounds of course. Most Fridays, about 5.30ish, Mrs Jones from next door would go to Carrefour, the by now five years old hypermarket on the edge of town. With it being such a great place where you could by everything under one roof, including records, she'd take her son and daughter and me and usually my brother. We might have something to eat in the cafe, then browse the records - Roxy Music's Country Life being a source of great joy/amusement - or the posters - the one of the woman taking a piss standing up at a urinal is one that has particularly lodged itself in the memory for all the wrong reasons, and it was the kind of place that because it was so large and anything was possible, excitement took over and silly things were done.

So this week, rather than pop packets of Trill in unsuspecting shoppers carts or wheel the trolley around the corner leaving them thinking they were going mad, we decided to have a mushroom fight. This involved picking up the ones that had dropped on the floor and throwing them over the tops of the aisles to land on the poor, unsuspecting shoppers below.

We thought it was hilarious, oblvious the all-seeing eye cameras that spied down on us. I suddenly felt a strong arm grab mine. 'You run, we can run faster' barked a tall woman in a white jumper and green skirt, with hair like Vivien Merchant in Alfie. Next to her was a man who had my friend in a similar armlock. We were marched to the manager's office. Mrs Jones was duly paged over the PA.

We were told that what we were doing amounted to shoplifting and they had a good mind to prosecute. They'd seen us here before messing around and would stand for it no longer. They'd take it no futher but we were both banned for life.

Mrs Jones was furious. An eccentric at the best of times, she didn't quite know what to say. While she'd be a pushover, my parents would be the exact opposite. I'd said nothing when we got home, but I knew if was only a matter of time. So when dad decided to go and get some chocolate, I jumped at the chance to go with him, just to avoid the knock on the door that I knew was inevitable. But it was hardly the crime of the century.

Needless to say they were furious. That was Friday night ruined then. I was immediately despatched to my room. And I so wanted to watch The Pit and The Pendulum. I had to make do by creeping down stairs and sitting just outside the door. I'd often be allowed in eventually if I did that, but not tonight.

The next day it was all forgotten. A few mushrooms and all that heavy-handed store detective stuff. It's not like we set out to actually steal stuff. Just youthful high spirits.

I was back that supermarket in the four week's time. No one batted an eye. And now I knew who the store detectives were.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

1988: C'est ca vie

I've grown to love Joe Le Taxi very much. The more I hear it, the more melancholy it seems.

When it was first released it was song second, singer first, with the young Vanessa Paradis getting all the attention for being such a fox in the making. We always knew she'd grow up to be amazing, didn't we?

Vanessa aside, you do wonder if it would have been a hit had it not been for her. It's such a lovely song but probably needed a big sell to us Brits. Songs sung in foreign languages were not that common once upon a time. Often they were translated (cf A Little Peace/Nicole and A Little Love And Understanding/Gilbert Becaud, etc.) because we simply couldn't deal with anything that wasn't sung in our mother tongue. That's all changed now of course and it's all down to ecstasy, at least, that's what Shaun Ryder says. He may be right.

There was a time when anything from 'the continent' was derided and ridiculed, despite being big hits. People like Baccara, Sylvia, Ryan Paris, F R David, Kyu Sakamoto, Pussycat, Opus or the like were mere novelties and not be taken seriously. Sabrina shot up the charts due to her pneumatic, bouncy Eighties norks. Focus and Golden Earring may have been critically acclaimed Dutchmen, but they were still Dutchmen. That superior attitude we had (have?) about anything foreign extended to music as well.

So when ears began to open in the late Eighties and really were a-flapping in the Nineties, we didn't care where our music came from. It just had to be good. 2 Unlimited aside, the snobbery seemed to melt away. I was just as guilty.

Now I'm all over the continental charts of yesteryear, seeing what I've missed. And dear reader, there's some wonderful gems. I'll share them with you one day if you promise to behave.

In the meantime, let's enjoy Vanessa. For her music.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

1983: How everything will be in the end

Shall I tell you about the really boring Easter I had in 1983?

You know what, it probably won't, as it's really dull.

Okay, in brief: parents came home to sort out stuff in the house, it was overcast the whole time and all I remember doing is visiting somewhere grim like Camberley and buying this record in the bargain bin. I don't think I've even played it since. Funny, because I find Story Of The Blues by Wah! rather depressing too, with its hollow, empty, icy feel.

The whole of Easter '83 makes me sigh deeply.

Oh, and Sons & Daughters seemed to be on ALL the time.

Monday, April 2, 2012

1982: Nothing worth crying for

So, 30 years ag0 about now, I was just about to worry about conscription.

When the Falklands War began it didn't seem like much. But over the coming weeks when it escalated and talk became more serious, I was genuinely concerned that I might get called up.

I was just about to turn 17, and therefore ripe for the picking. I was living with my aunt and uncle at the time, a mismatched pair but with a great sense of humour, who loved nothing more than to tease me that if it happened I'd probably be on latrine duty. As grim as this sounded, at least I wouldn't be on the frontline. I wouldn't have lasted five minutes back then. Not sure I would now to be honest.

Never having lived through any kind of war, this was my first taste of what it might be like. Though it seemed remote, it was all-consuming. That said, I had other fish to fry, like music, mainly.

I was secret fan of this Buck's Fizz number, a much-derided band among my age group then as now, but there's no denying they had some stonking hits, and you can't beat a bit of Jay Aston. Whenever I hear this, I think of sunshine and war. What a combination.