Bowie did it, I did it, Junior did it, Junior 2 did it. We all BA-BA-BA-OOOOed. And with this werewolf howl we bid adieu to Good David Bowie Records, ‘Absolute Beginners’ just about sneaking under the wire thanks to a tune, some Liberace piano and at least a semblance of effort. Junior said her favourite bit was the saxophone ad-libbing at the end, and that’s a shrewd choice – it lends some ‘Whole Of The Moon’ glee to the affair, some devil-may-care euphoria.
Ah, the soul boys of the 80s. Even the NME, in 1985, was ranking What’s Going On as the best album of all time, before they decided old albums didn’t mean shit unless they directly influenced The Stone Roses. This edict has topped the commandments for 20 years and counting. Anyway, the soul boys of the 80s. Hipsway, sporting towering piles of Brylcreem, were formed by ex-Altered Image and future Texan Johnny McElhone but were all about gorgeous, pouting singer Skin. Well, Skin and – on ‘The Honeythief’ – a Chic riff that could carry a song alone. The 12” extended mix which, unusually for an 80s version, doesn’t rely (exclusively) on an elongated drum fill to pad it out, shows the riff in all its clipped glory and can be frugged to below.
Junior liked “the tune and the singing”, which has to be a ringing, riffing endorsement. But it wasn’t all gravy – the word “honeythief” sparked gales of laughter. Not so cool now, Skin.
Sure, I was born on the Yorks/Lincs border, but The Housemartins were a little too northern for me. By five I was in Berks, six Herts, and that’s where I stayed ‘til university. I’ve been lucky too to avoid the forced bonhomie of the rubbish post-work drink, “celebrated” here, what with my feckless career only carrying me to fun working environments where a cheeky half is with good company.
So what’s it doing here? I only bought it on impulse as part of a four-single box set at the end of 1986 (with ‘Caravan Of Love’ – a bit too Flying Pickets for me – ‘Flag Day’ and ‘Sheep’) and promptly gave the whole package to a girl I fancied, as a Christmas present. It didn’t work. Anyway, I had it on Now 7 too, so no great loss, and always liked its skittish bop and brevity. I grew to like the band more as they morphed into the yards better Beautiful South, though. Oh, it also had Furniture’s ‘Brilliant Mind’. Now 7, that is.
Junior listened, cogitated, ruminated and revealed, “It makes my shoulders go funky.” Which is a refreshingly compact way to describe a refreshingly compact record.
Junior laughed at the song title, then added, “It’s not funny, really.” And she’s right. We’re all going to hell in a handcart; Wallinger knows it, but he’s fo’ sho’ not going down with the rest of us plumbs. Rather winningly, he tells us this with the trusty implements of a dead catchy tune and some killer “ooo-ooo-OOO”s that Junior sings along with.
While Mike Scott was gazing at the whole of the moon, Karl was concerned with more earthly matters. Mainly matters like getting grumpy about not receiving full credit for his swirling synths, but also the fact our planet was on the brink of disaster. It continued to teeter on the edge on 1990’s superb Goodbye Jumbo album (which I’ve lost – so if anyone fancies sending me a copy, be my guest) and 1993’s ‘Is It Like Today?’ where even God was wondering, “How did it come to this?”
Well, it’s in more trouble today, Karl (and God), so can you lend a hand, please?
Aside from a few “lovely and brilliant” throwaways, Junior’s leading response to this was some zesty air guitar. There is some muscular soloing, but ‘Life’s What You Make It’ is about the big-fingered piano riff and Talk Talk’s new, ambitious, spacious, jazz-flirting sound. The Colour Of Spring album is the tantalising halfway house between the band’s synth-pop roots and the nearly ambient, breathtaking vision of Spirit Of Eden, the 1988 piece that wrapped commercial suicide in a startling prog-jazz overcoat. Give them their due – not everyone can carry off a prog-jazz overcoat.
Here, Talk Talk still make concessions to pop with almost-choruses and that catchy piano thump, but the shift has already happened. Critics’ fave Spirit Of Eden was not the bolt from the blue we’re led to believe; more than a couple of The Colour Of Spring’s meditative moments could flit between the two albums. The question is, did the band even lose something in their stubborn retreat from the pop fray? For me, it’s hard to pick between the two. It’s like asking if I prefer one daughter to the other. Well, it depends which day it is.
On the other hand, this is “good and lovely and great”, so at least I got the order right. Maybe starting school has turned Junior all militant, because – on learning the Bangles were an all-girl group – she announced, “I only want to listen to music by girls now.”
So of course I told her this was written by a boy. Well, Prince anyway. Along with his ‘Take Me With U’, this was meant for the debut album by Apollonia 6, but the sly old dog kept the former for his own Purple Rain and used this as leverage for a go at Susanna Hoffs. Who can blame him? She was cute; even more so when perched all petite in front of her somewhat butch bandmates. Come on, one of them was called Michael.
‘Manic Monday’ is a pretty ditty, buoyed by rolling piano fills and the other girls’ Byrdsian harmonies. It broke the Bangles over here, but they could never consistently capitalise, only ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ and ‘Eternal Flame’ providing sporadic highs while the rest of their output took the middle ground. Still, ‘Manic Monday’ was a No.2 hit in the UK, and runner-up in the US too, losing out Stateside to a certain purple pompatus and a certain record which we may or may not return to in a bit.
1985 was Madonna’s annus mirabilis, barely a week passing without a saucy New York dance-pop nugget brightening up the UK charts. She bagged eight Top 5 hits, including bona fide breakthrough ‘Like A Virgin’, ‘Holiday’ recharting 18 months after its initial Top 10 appearance, first No.1 ‘Into The Groove’ and the utterly forgotten ‘Angel’. Try and sing it, go on. So the slutty Material Girl angle was all sewn up; now it was time for the serious artiste.
We’d already had the ever-so-earnest ‘Live To Tell’, but ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ was the big one. A rather less trashy tackling of her Catholic guilt than ‘Like A Virgin’, it was real, honest and oddly – paradoxically – innocent. Dramatic too. ‘Like A Prayer’ would scare the horses, but ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ is the raw truth. Madonna was still fresh and unpredictable and winningly rounded too, not the skin-smeared Terminator we blanch at today.
Taken purely at face value, ‘Papa…’ is an easy singalong, but Junior might just have seen it as an oblique way of telling me to shut up. We can salute creativity like that. We also found the song good for call and response – “Papa preach?” “Papa DON’T preach!”
Pressed on the actual quality of the record, Junior declared it “good.” A future in music journalism awaits.
We’ve been living with 21 Singles and Psychocandy for a few weeks now – the road to actually posting our No.18 is paved with good distractions – and strange things have been happening. It’s not that I keep playing ‘Some Candy Talking’ with the daily intention of writing about it; it’s that Junior keeps asking for it. Asking for The Jesus And Mary Chain in general. She can sing this and ‘Just Like Honey’ and ‘April Skies’. More tellingly, she claims never to have heard of Jesus, which suggests she’s going to be expecting huge chunks of surfcore feedback when her reception class goes all Nativity in a few weeks.
Like me, she’s into ‘Some Candy Talking’’s calm release, its gently thrashed guitars and easy to follow chorus – she doesn’t care that it’s not really about the natter of a packet of sweets, nor that it sticks to a formula. Listen to their 21 Singles and you marvel at the if-it-ain’t-broke bloodymindedness of JAMC’s career. Yes, it all gets a bit shinier but, despite the odd loping baggy beat in the shaky early 90s, the whole set thumbs its snub nose at fashion. They were capable of dishing out scuzzily bejewelled classics like this from the off, so there was no need to shilly-shally with the template.
Infected was the second CD I ever bought (yeah, yeah, after The Joshua Tree – I wasn’t exclusively furrow-browed agit-pop) and a jolly listen it is too. Matt Johnson was always pretty straight-faced, but by The The’s second album proper, he wasn’t merely serious – he was grave. ‘Sweet Bird Of Truth’ tackles the dying panic of an American pilot plunging into the Gulf of Arabia, swearing that he’s only done his duty, that he’s never believed in God, but might God be so kind as to lend a hand anyway? It’s bitter, nihilistic and one of many kicks in the teeth Infected dishes out to the good ol’ US of A. I think Leona Lewis covers it on her new album.
But it’s also a sterling tune, dramatic and punchy, almost demanding an uncomfortable sing-song. Junior dances like a drunk to it, rolling her eyes, flailing her limbs – rather like Johnson himself in that bankrupting feature-length video accompanying the album. Insane pop-political statements, eh? Weren’t the 80s great?
TIME TO TACKLE 1986 AT LAST and we start with Moz, j’en ai mar and litigious chums. But first, a final word on The Beatles. Enjoyed this little exchange in the Past Masters sleevenotes, Brian Matthew interviewing the chaps in 1964 on the release of Beatles For Sale:
BM: I’ve heard it said that a lot of these would make good singles. Do you think there’s any likelihood at all of them being released?
John: You can’t release singles off an LP after the LP’s been out.
BM: A Lot of people do.
Paul: Well, in America they do…
John: Well, they’re different over there, aren’t they?
Paul: In America they do that, but it’s a bit of a drag.
The Beatles were, of course, er, past masters at dishing out the quality singles without recourse (on the whole) to plundering their albums, but it’s become a rare practice. In this sense, The Smiths were one of their last natural heirs, hurling out singles and albums at breakneck speed without repetition – until the record company squeezed everything they could out of Strangeways, Here We Come. ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’, indeed.
’Panic’ was one of those bonuses. Christ, it was released one month after The Queen Is Dead and doesn’t even appear on it. Throwaway downloads aside, I can’t imagine that happening now. Remind me if I’m forgetting something. Anyway, ‘Panic’ has a taste of will-this-do? about it, but it clangs and saunters amiably and is suitably apocalyptic, if on a provincial scale. Its signature line, “hang the DJ” smells a bit of sniffiness towards burgeoning club culture, but you can prefer to hear it as an early blood-on-the-carpet attack on Simes and DLT. Junior prefers to hear it as “gingerbread man, gingerbread man, gingerbread man”.
Gingerbread or not, she loves it, identifying with the title – “I do that sometimes, don’t I?” – and puzzling over the band members not actually being related. Like half the world, I’m in a Beatles moment right now, but she later makes me switch off Abbey Road to “play The Smiths again”. God, Dad, you’re so square.