Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Top Five Embarrasing Admissions

I have always maintained that I hated the Eighties musically. It was the decade where I passed through my teens into my early twenties, so it should by rights have been the peak period of my life for exposure to contemporary music. Many people in their forties - especially Americans - seem to have a huge nostalgia thing going for the Eighties these days. But I'd been a precocious brat: I turned on to music early in life, and was already perhaps starting to get a bit blasé about it by my late teens. And the preceding decades seemed to have produced far more worthwhile music: my childhood in the Seventies had seen the exuberance of glam rock and the iconoclasm of punk; the Sixties, which I'd experienced a little vicariously through my parents and my older brother, had seen things like protest folk, the blues revival, psychedelia, and... well, almost everything good that ever happened in rock music, really. And then in the Eighties the music business (re)discovered that there was more money to be made selling records to teenage girls than to teenage boys, so androgynously good-looking male vocalists became the vogue. Somebody thought it was cool that you could use a computer instead of a drummer to lay down the beat. And people started playing keyboards more than guitars. Yep, the Eighties SUCKED.

And yet, and yet, much as I deplored the general trend of the times, I have to admit that in amongst all of that synth-pap and New Romantic bollocks, there were a few really outstanding artists at work, and some fantastic tunes being written. Much as I would like to write the whole decade off as a musical aberration, I do find myself getting sometimes quite wistful about a lot of the stuff we listened to back then - even some of the synthy stuff.

So, here is my shame-faced confession of....

The Top Five Eighties Tracks That Froog Really Likes (Despite Himself!)

5)  Depeche Mode - Master and Servant
These guys epitomised the synthy sound that I hated, but damn, they produced some good songs, particularly on the Some Great Reward album which came out shortly after I started at university. Atheist that I am, I liked Blasphemous Rumours best, but this is unquestionably catchier. And it's hard to resist a song about BDSM (the only other one I'd ever heard was Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango). [Also quite a good live performance here.]

4)  Thompson Twins - We Are Detective
I don't think I liked anything else this band did, but this was one of the best singles of the decade for me. The warped, witty lyrics, and the odd, lilting, folky feel of the tune - somehow evocative of Viennese café culture (I wonder if they were consciously seeking to conjure reminiscences of The Third Man?) - really made it stand out from the crowd.

3)  Big Pig - Breakaway
Australian Oleh Witer put together this drumming collective towards the end of the Eighties, and their debut album, Bonk!, briefly made quite a splash. Alas, it took them too long to put together a follow-up, and the project fell apart. But they had a really unique sound, and some very solid songs on their first album - and an outstanding vocalist in Sherine Aberaytne. I'm disappointed we haven't heard more from her in the last twenty years. [You should also check out their Devil's Song from the same album: not as catchy, but an even better song.]

2)  The The - Infected
I loved the dark intensity of Matt Johnson's lyrics, and he was one of the few artists of the early Eighties still emphasising guitars over synths (Johnny Marr played with him on a couple of his later albums). His 1986 album of the same name was a strong contender for album of the decade, in my view.

And there's a great live performance of this song here.

But my No. 1 this time, somewhat inescapably (since I was myself unable to escape it throughout my student days: it remained permanently lodged on the jukebox playlists of student bars for at least four or five years after its first release), is....

1)  Soft Cell - Tainted Love
Despite the underlying bounce of the tune, it was hard to credit that this song had started life as an early, unsuccessful Motown single (you can hear that original version by Gloria Jones here). Marc Almond made it completely his own. I'm always surprised to read that his version was released in 1981: I didn't really hear it until a couple of years later. And it wasn't until some years later again that I bought the album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (one of the GREAT album names!); I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a lot of other good stuff on it - not least Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, which somehow passed me by when it was first out as a single. These days, it's hard to conceive of a song becoming such a huge hit with such a terrible video; but video was very young back then.

PS:  I really wanted to include something by the Kane Gang here, but there's still not that much of them around on YouTube. Here are links to my two favourite songs of theirs, Gun Law and Losersville; but the former has rather dodgy sound quality, and the latter is audio only. Better than nothing.

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