[12] Hipsway, ‘The Honeythief’


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.

Sleek, big cat:

[14] Altered Images, ‘I Could Be Happy’

Altered Images

I reckon we’re past finding Clare Grogan’s voice irritating now; we can find it endearing and find the bite within the cute. I should have realised at the time, but I was a primary school boy and everyone was an Ant and we disdained, well, girls. Girl singers, anyway. Girl singers who weren’t Debbie Harry. I wasn’t much of an Ant, come to think, but that will become obliquely clear. Can you have obliquely clear?

Eighteen months later I’d blossomed into a mature pop aesthete and adored ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ – although I didn’t return to ‘I Could Be Happy’, ‘Happy Birthday’, all those earlier charms for another couple of decades. Over those decades, Johnny McElhone – the power behind the Altered Images throne – had formed Texas, first bolstering the Campaign for Real Rock with dull early songs then rediscovering the pristine pure pop of AI’s swansong. But Texas couldn’t trump White On Blonde with any more conviction than Altered Images could follow Bite.

Back to basics then. ‘I Could Be Happy’ is wonderful because its guitars ring and Grogan attempts to rhyme “tree” with “holiday” by singing “holidee”. If that’s not Top 10 Gold, I don’t know what is. We play both this and ‘Happy Birthday’ with Junior declaring she likes them “the same”. She air-drums along, but claims she’s “shaking a sweet jar” – and that’s really the essence of Altered Images, isn’t it?

[5] Texas, ‘Say What You Want’

When Texas first turned up with their worthy Americana it was the guitarist who was eulogised. He was tagged as a new axe hero for the kids, with Johnny Marr now out of the picture. Each record was duller than the last and soon the band fell right off the radar, presumably never to return.

Then, what do you know, they rolled up with this, with the pretty lady front and centre. A very 90s thing to do. The emphasis was off the big chords and onto the pattering groove and Sharleen’s breathy breaths.

Texas set about making the world’s coffee table their very own, but they’re a fondness of mine, with their safe songs and clean sheen. Altered Images veteran Johnny McElhone was now giving them a classic pop sound, an unashamed Fleetwood Mac-ish love of melody and glossy production. This song pilfers from Marvin Gaye and Al Green too, but Ms Spiteri has the chutzpah to carry it off.

Junior jealously guarded her own coffee table and rocked, but gently.