The following piece accompanied a CD compilation I put together for a select (unlucky) group of (former) friends during those early, heady days of Napster. If you wish to play along at home, most of these tracks should be available for download somewhere, but note that the version of the Medics’ “Burn” on iTunes certainly isn’t the single release I remember.
The 80s then. What was that all about, as they said a lot on I Love 1980s? Back then, we thought Kylie Minogue was the epitome of talentlessness, little realising that in the next century, a woman called Victoria Beckham would make her seem like a princess of pop. We thought the Kids From Fame were a bit naff, though we hadn’t yet seen Hear’say. But then, we thought skinny ties and leg warmers made you look cooler than Kajagoogoo (some of us thought wearing them together made you the coolest person in the history of the world EVER).
There was lots of great music in the eighties, and one day I hope to find some that I actually bought at the time, instead of the rubbish I seem to find in my collection when I look back through it now (did I really need all Mick Jagger’s solo albums?). Of course, the music scene has changed a lot since those crazy days. Back then, we had Madonna, Elton John, Cher and Phil Collins in the charts. Whereas today … well, Phil Collins has moved to Switzerland. So that’s progress. However, the songs gathered here really are overlooked gems, sadly none of which I bought when they were released. But sit around long enough surfing dodgy web sites and all things eventually float past you on the high seas of the internet, including pirate vessels. Some of them were hits at the time, but then sank from sight or were overshadowed by later releases, much like the bands themselves. Others never stood a chance after a single play on "The Chart Show". But no longer are they gone or forgotten - they’re here, for your (I hope) pleasure and delectation. Open a Kia-Ora ("it’s just for me and my dawg"), sit back and vow to anyone younger that you never, ever wore leg warmers/liked Kajagoogoo/danced to the Birdy Song.
- Hot water - Level 42
There was always a point during every Princes Trust gig when Mark King would come out and join Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler and that Mark Brzeckywicky drummer bloke from Big Country to play some totally inappropriate slap bass on a second rate Beatles cover. Then the celebrity band would break up because Phil wouldn’t change his name to Mark.
Before those tragic times, Mark King put his manic thumb to work playing the locomotive bass line to this groovesome jazz/funk workout, while Phil Gould played some tasteful guitar, Boon Gould remained one of the last men alive after prog rock to favour a piccolo snare drum and Mike Lindup…kind of jigged about like an overgrown Gerry Anderson puppet and sang girly backing vocals. As always. Then came the mad drive for success, Lessons in Love and umpteen pale rewrites and finally the Gould brothers quitting in disgust, taking the songwriting talent and any chance of future income with them. During that fateful ride back down to earth, Mark King allegedly insured his thumb for a million and embedded red LEDs in the fretboard of his bass. Earth calling Mark, prepare to crash land!
- Too late for goodbyes - Julian Lennon
Eeh, doesn’t ‘e look like ‘is dad? Doesn’t ‘e sound like ‘im? Unfortunately, it turned out that the public would have preferred the old one still alive to a clone. Junior’s first single is a fine pop song though, with a gentle reggae rhythm. Well, it’s better than anything Sean Ono did anyway.
- Einstein a go-go - Landscape
A song so good that, after writing it, Landscape called the President of America to tell him (it’s true! you can hear them do it at the start of the track). Possibly the first pop song to turn a scientific formula into a catchy hook - who were Landscape, an anonymous cabal of physics teachers with a progressive educational agenda?
- Iko Iko - Belle Stars
Iko Iko was actually first recorded in the fifties by the Dixie Cups, as you can tell by the fact that the lyrics are a load of bollocks. Revived for the soundtrack of Rainman with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, by which time the original Belle Stars were probably all dressing like the Dixie Cups.
- Just be good to me - SOS Band
Revived by Norman Cook as Dub be good to me with Lindy Layton on vocals ("Tank fly boss walk jam nitty-gritty, you’re listening to the boy from the big, bad city, this is jaaaam hot" - courtesy the GRA), the original is better. So ner. Revived a much needed sense of epic grandeur in soul. Push your jacket sleeves up and get on the dancefloor - smooooth!
- Chequered love - Kim Wilde
"Got some Kim Wilde coming up!" trills the DJ on local radio’s continual school disco nostalgia show. "Great!" you think, "Maybe it’ll be Chequered Love!" But no, it’s Kids in Bloody America again. Lots of 80s bands were one hit wonders and deservedly so but hey DJ, get this, Kim Wilde wasn’t one of them. She had at least … ooh … three hits. And her second single was the best one, OK? Even if the beginning was nicked from The Happening by the Supremes. And it was written by her dad and her brother. Families, huh? They’re so embarrassing.
- Rock me, Amadeus - Falco
As they say about all great art: yes but what does it all mean? For a laugh, find the lyrics online and feed them into one of the Internet translation services - "Baby baby DO it tons of ME skirt me"?? That’s probably about as close as you could come to the original meaning.
- Wouldn’t it be good - Nik Kershaw
Often wrongly listed as Wouldn’t it be nice, which is actually a rather camp sounding Beach Boys song (as opposed to a camp 80s hit). You’ve probably forgotten the sax solo and how mid-tempo it really is. In his book Lost in Music, Giles Smith recounts a brief meeting with Nik, something of local hero - sorry, only hero - in Norfolk before he found fame. Apparently a virtuoso, he was next seen miming on TOTP, doing some strange marching on the spot dance because he’d left his guitar behind. Just goes to show - anyone can be made crap, given enough money from the record company. Go on, admit it, you had one of those combat scarves (“snooks”).
P.S. Nik Kershaw now says that the lyrics of The Riddle are "nonsense, rubbish, bollocks, the confused ramblings of an 80s popstar". Now, if only Simon Le Bon would come clean…
- Burn - Dr & The Medics
Best known for Spirit in the sky, the Norman Greenbaum (who?) cover that was their debut single and their one memorable hit, the Medics’ followup single is even better, has a fantastic chorus and is original - which may be why it only got to no.29. The Doctor (Clive to his mum) still ventures out to perform from his base in the Brecon hills (some of us would still remember their triumphant appearance in the Marine cellar bar in Aberystwyth if it hadn’t been so forgettable - no, they didn’t play Burn). These days the Anadin Brothers are often a mother and daughter.
- Satellite - Hooters
Took their name from a daft little Hohner keyboard thing that you blew into (no, I’m not smoking anything, thanks). No matter, the weird little folky riff (which crops up all over the song) and the intro are brilliant. Came with a wacky video containing clips from US evangelist TV shows that, scarily, we were led to believe were genuine. Sadly, the Hooters had even fewer hits than other American bands that didn’t travel well such as Mr Mister and the Georgia Satellites. Did you know: members of The Hooters also wrote One Of Us by Joan Osborne and Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper.
- Obsession - Animotion
If you remember Entertainment USA with Jonathan King on BBC2, you’ll probably remember him showing the video for this every week - the one with people dressed as Valentino, spacemen, jesters and whatever else they found in the dumpster behind Universal’s costume dept. Looking like they were made out of spare body parts from all the other AOR bands, Animotion are often described as "the quintessential 80s band". Dig that stupid name! Admire those gorgeous mullets! Envy the wicked threads! Yep -quintessentially 80s. The band were: Astrid Plane; Charles Ottavio; Paul Antonelli; Don Kirkpatrick; the frankly terrifying Frenchy O’Brien (which sounds like a deviant Franco-Irish practice - "quick lads, let’s frenchy O’Brien!") and … Bill Wadhams??!! Interesting stage name there, "Bill". One can imagine the conversation on the tour bus:
"How about Zakary Pincetta?"
"Pepe Von Luego?"
"No! Look Astrid, I’m not changing my name!"
"Aw, come on! You can’t use your real name, Bill, it’s boring!"
"Not to me, it isn’t. I like it. And I’m keeping it."
"It’s only on stage. All the rest of us have got… OH GOD FRENCHY, THAT’S DISGUSTING! Look, he’s ruined it! I’ll never wash that stain out!"
"Nice one, Frenchy."
"Piss off, Pepe!"
Contains the immortal lines "My fantasy has turned to madness, and all my goodness has turned to badness" (simultaneously sung and spoken), which just about sums up male lust and its inevitable consequences. Obsession IS the 80s, with its stabs of artificial brass, burbling synth bass, odd drum interventions, spooky keyboard noises and rock guitar solo. Only the lyrics let it down, as they’re just too damn good for the period.
Animotion have reformed for 2001 to scare generations yet unborn. One imagines they have to break Frenchy O’Brien out of the asylum for each gig, rather like the A Team used to liberate "Howling Mad" Murdoch.
Minor boast: I actually bought the 12" of this from a second record shop. Ask me nicely, and I’ll play you the special dub mix.
- Over the hills and far away - Gary Moore
Known as "squealy guitar man" to those lacking in the testosterone dept, Gary Moore here produces another Celtic-tinged rock song with a gratuitous key change near the end to string it out a bit. One of the few songs with a plot: man is falsely arrested for armed robbery but can’t produce an alibi because he was shacked up with his best friend’s wife at the time and will therefore serve a long stretch - isn’t life so unfair?! (In the unreleased followup, best friend helps man escape, only to watch him ride off to the Bahamas with his missus while he himself is hung for aiding an escaped prisoner - yay, justice!)
- Paper in fire - John Mellencamp
Yeehaw, it’s a hoedown! One of those artists cursed by one early UK hit (Jack & Diane) and a subsequent long-running career out of sight, John (Cougar) Mellencamp failed to chart again with this barnstorming single. Also features the infinitely talented Lisa Germano on fiddle.
- Peek-a-boo - Siouxsie & The Banshees
Ah, those musical instruments that epitomise 80s rock: the Steinberg headless guitar, the Simmons electronic drum kit, the…accordian??! What the f*** do you think we’re doing here, singing a sea shanty? We’re GOTHS! We’re scary! We’re weird! We dabble in things mortal man should not meddle with! ‘Ere, wait a second, come back with that thing…
- Venus - Bananarama
How we hated Stock, Aitken & Wickerman. Did we all fantasise about them dying in a tragic chainsaw accident, or was that just me? Very occasionally (only twice to my knowledge), they could produce something that you could kid yourself wasn’t by them - usually when it was someone else’s song. Venus is a SAW production par excellence, brilliantly fronted by the Bananarama ladettes. Besides, as you can tell, I’m nothing if not unashamedly populist in my tastes. If only SAW had compared all their subsequent output to this before releasing it:
"Is it as good as Venus, Mike?"
"No Pete, it’s crap."
"Bin it then. Sonia love, go home."
- I eat cannibals - Toto Coelo
Awesome. Much derided now for their contribution to 80s fashion (basically the contents of an Oxfam shop shredded and lashed around the body - see also Tight Fit), Cannibals is still a powerful metaphor for vegetarian lust (probably). Dig that groovy rap on the run-out! Teach the kids to sing it while waiting for dinner; here are those profound lyrics in full:
Roastin’, toastin’, you’re the one I’m boastin’
Eat me, eat you, incredibly delicious too
Gourmet, flambé, serve you up an entreé
Intake, home bake, you’re the icing on the cake
Frighteningly, the full title for this song includes the words "(Part One)".
Toto Coelo became Total Coelo in the States, to avoid confusion with Toto (who dressed much worse) - to paraphrase a famous guitarist, how much more Coelo could it be?
- Hand held in black & white - Dollar
AARRGHH!! NOT DOLLAR, NOOOOOO! WHAT’S HE DOING TO US?!!
Aw come on, this was great! Well, apart from the girly vocals. And the naff rhythm track. And erm, the rest of it. But no, I liked it then and I… I’m keeping quiet about it now. It’s the Trevor Horn production I like really. And I don’t own the Mirror, Mirror single either, honest.
(Sadly, I didn’t have room for Bros…)