Monday, 7 July 2014

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Now That's What I Call Music 5




(#319: 17 August 1985, 5 weeks)

Track Listing:  A View To A Kill (Duran Duran)/The Word Girl (Scritti Politti)/Axel F (Harold Faltermeyer)/Johnny Come Home (Fine Young Cannibals)/In Too Deep (Dead Or Alive)/Icing On The Cake (Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy)/Cherish (Kool and the Gang)/Every Time You Go Away (Paul Young)/Kayleigh (Marillion)/Slave To Love (Bryan Ferry)/This Is Not America (David Bowie and The Pat Metheny Group)/Don't You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds)/Get It On (The Power Station)/Black Man Ray (China Crisis)/One More Night (Phil Collins)/Frankie (Sister Sledge)/History (Mai Tai)/Money's Too Tight To Mention (Simply Red)/Feel So Real (Steve Arrington)/Round And Around (Jaki Graham)/Turn It Up (The Conway Brothers)/Magic Touch (Loose Ends)/N-N-Nineteen Not Out (The Commentators)/The Unforgettable Fire (U2)/Walls Come Tumbling Down! (The Style Council)/Walking On Sunshine (Katrina and the Waves)/Out In The Fields (Gary Moore and Phil Lynott)/The Shadow Of Love (The Damned)/Life In One Day (Howard Jones)/Love Don't Live Here Anymore (Jimmy Nail)





"Language is a skin:  I rub my language against the other.  It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words.  My language trembles with desire...To speak amorously is to expend without an end in sight..." Talking, A Lover's Discourse, Roland Barthes


Oh, the uncertainty of this time!  I do not mean the near-perpetual worry of nuclear war (I think now that Live Aid was such a success because it was something people felt they could actually do something about, instead of just worry about at night) but the uncertainty that happens during the middle of any decade.  And few years were more uncertain than 1985, when there was enough going on underground to satisfy the restless and yet there was also this sense of ennui and vague post-Live Aid well-what-are-we-gonna-do-nowness that was in the heat of August kind of exhausting. 



And it was hot; I was a high school grad at last, having survived summer school one more time, and had nothing to do but wait to start at Sheridan College in September.  I must have listened to the radio quite a bit; gone to the mall; gone to the library across the street or downtown.  I wasn’t bored, per se – the music on the radio was too good for that.  But that was CFNY, whereas this is the UK, this is a big pig takin’ it easy by the pool, this is what compiler (he’s called “Co-Ordinator” on the back) Ashley Abram was able to put together on relatively short notice…  



Some of these songs – I count six – have already been dealt with on TPL elsewhere – if I was sitting in a booth with its own little jukebox I wouldn’t choose any of them, as I’d know them already, and who wants to eat onion rings to “The Unforgettable Fire” anyhow?  I know I don’t.  As for the rest…


1985:  I Didn’t See Any Movies, Darn It

As anyone who knows me knows, I am not a great moviegoer and since I had no one to go see movies, even bad ones, with in the summer I didn’t see a bunch of what are actually probably pretty good ones.  To wit – A View To A Kill.  I have seen about the last ten minutes of this and it is ridiculous and eyebrow-raising and camp as anything could be with Roger Moore and Grace Jones; if only Grace Jones had done the title song and not Duran Duran.  There is nothing wrong or bad with this song inherently, but once Simon Le Bon starts his battle with Princess Metaphor, yelping and trying to sound desperate/sexy, then it’s all “so you went to the top floor of the Eiffel Tower, do you want a medal?” time and Roger Taylor, always my favorite of the two Roger Taylors (we will get the other one, at the end – Abram’s got his ways, you see) left to start a wine bar for the yuppies of Birmingham.  God, can you blame him?

I also didn’t get to see Beverly Hills Cop, though at some point I think I saw some of Eddie Murphy’s stand-up movie Delirious, which was (and is) funny.  But I digress.  “Axel F” sounds like what it is – a simple ditty by a protégé of Giorgio Moroder, a kind of German response to “Planet Rock.”  Because it is simple and elegant and even spare (oh, to have Metronomy cover this live) it survives.

The Falcon and The Snowman wouldn’t have appealed to me at the time – though it might now; not sure.  But Bowie yelping “NOOOO!” on top of an almost-too calm Metheny groove is a rough predictor of Radiohead, and hey, where have we heard the America-Miracle word swap before?  Culture Club, that’s where.  Bowie was more than knee-deep in movies at this time (“This Is Not America” sound more acted than sung), and so Metheny takes this song emotionally to where it could go.

The one movie that I really should have seen at the time was The Breakfast Club – I feel at a loss when I read anything about the movies of John Hughes, and as a minor delinquent in high school I would identify with the characters, for sure.  “Don’t You Forget About Me” is a swoon of a song, Jim Kerr singing low and sweet, not loud and sweaty as he had sounded on Sparkle In The Rain; it’s a Keith Forsey song, produced by him as well, so it’s not on Once Upon A Time, but it went to #1 in the US long before it got anywhere in the UK other than as an import, and why is that?  It’s “Pretty Woman” without the growling and martial beat, more or less.  This is the high school romance song I sadly never got to participate in, the one where the sweethearts actually do stay in touch….

1985:  Chic, the Wilderness Years

Or, ow, my head.  How can you take something sexy and make it leering?  I mean, already there’s Duran Duran trying their best to be Chic (and apparently pissing off John Barry at the time); but then there’s this inexplicably awful cover version of T. Rex’s “Get It On.”  I don’t even want to talk about the physical functions it sounds like, there is something brutal and frankly non-sexual happening here, however the participants are convinced otherwise, and I blame drugs entirely.  The Power Station were produced by Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson played the drums and yet there is nothing Chic about this whatsoever.  Andy Taylor and John Taylor play in a “manly” way that causes headaches and heading this Group of Death is Robert Palmer, who is always at his best when he is subtle, insinuating.  This is as come-hither as a wet towel and I’m just glad Marc Bolan never lived to hear this.  

I’m also not sure who Sister Sledge’s “Frankie” is supposed to be – Frank Sinatra?  Frankie Goes To Hollywood?   Nile Rodgers produced this and Denise Rich wrote it, having dreamt it up on a cross-Atlantic flight.  To his credit Rodgers didn’t like it at first, and yet it was an earworm for him, and then he insisted that Sister Sledge (who had brought it to his attention in the first place) record it.  Again, I can only blame drugs, and the times.  I mean, “I said to myself, we could have had twins”?

SIGH.

1985:  The Birth Of So(ul)cialism

These days it is a little bit forgotten, the So(ul)cialist movement, but if you were a conscientious objector to Thatcher and didn’t think New Pop was quite connecting with The People TM, then this was the thing.  Direct lyrics, danceable beats, Definite Attitude:  sharp dressing as well (paging The Style Council) was de rigueur as well, because, altogether now, there’s nothing wrong with being cool and going against the Live Aid hegemonic grain.  

Straight out of Birmingham, Fine Young Cannibals were the rhythm section of The (English) Beat and their old pal Roland Gift, and this sharp ska lament of a runaway son by his father echoes the lament that starts Our Favourite Shop – only he is missing, his father gets drunk every night, the world is turned upside down, and the cold Thatcher dawn is evoked as a place which has no place for runaway children.  No fingers are pointed, as such, but the ache in Gift’s voice is real, and the sparseness of this song is again very welcome, especially in the light of the all-too-produced likes of Bryan Ferry, Phil Collins, etc.

It is now that I should mention, in passing, that there was a riot in Handsworth, Birmingham when Now 5 was at #1; I can’t imagine that the good people of Handsworth really cared much for, oh, “Life In One Day” by Howard Jones (who isn’t part of the So(ul)cialist movement, though I’m sure he thought he was).  This flute-driven/don’t-worry-be-happy tune would be enough to make anyone feel like rioting, if only to run over to the radio/stereo, turn it off and put on Felt’s “Primitive Painters” or R.E.M.’s “Can’t Get There From Here” in order to restore some actual sense of human feeling.  How could anyone live their life in one day, anyhow?

My other favorite member of Duran Duran left before they became famous; Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy made a joy of a single with “Kiss Me” and this is his So(ul)cialist response to class snobbism – “Icing On The Cake.”  Be part of those who live on council estates or housing and be proud, says Duffy; “They want to break you, they want to make you unhappy.”  I don’t think I need to underline how this could be a hit today, or how a young Robbie Williams probably bought it – again a warm hug of a song – with his pocket money.  Unlike the previous song this didn’t get played on CFNY as I recall, as no one in North America knows what a council estate is (if he’d used the US term “the projects” then it would’ve been understood).  

And now to Manchester, where Mick Hucknall has stopped being post-punk and is now a full-time So(ul)cialist, covering The Valentine Brothers’ hit from ’82 and all but willing Bobby Womack (R.I.P. Big Man) to come out and sing with him.  By now the Thatcher-Reagan love-in vibes were well known, so singing about “Reaganomics” is a transatlantic howl of righteousness that everybody could understand.  Simply Red may have, as I once read it somewhere, ended up making music “for stewardesses” but this is just as tough as it needs to be, with the question “Did the earth move for you Nancy?” at the end as “Huh, what, he said that?” as ever.  

1985:  Miscellaneous, Inc.

In any year where basically no one knows (or seems to care) exactly what is going on, where the flux of things is too strong to pull against and people end up in a kind of daze, all sorts of things can and do pop up in the chart, as harbingers or signs of life.

Dead Or Alive – led by the frightening, imperious Pete Burns – is kind of hard to believe in “In Too Deep” – how could anything be too much for him?  And yet it works as he says he could “steal a car” to get away from his ever-demanding Other, the sort of Other who could have “ten diamond rings” and still want more.  You could be straight and say this was a song about an impossible lover, or be Situationist and say it’s about capitalism.  No doubt about it, though, that Stock, Aitken and Waterman were revving up their collective gears here to take over the charts with hooks and shamelessness, and Dead Or Alive were the perfect band for that mission.

Also from Liverpool, China Crisis were everything Dead Or Alive was against – serious, quiet, studious, the sort of band that purportedly put the producer here, Walter Becker, to sleep.  This song, about Man Ray, is a dull pacifier of a tune, ambling along helplessly, questioning whether Art or Danger or Life are worth essentially giving a damn about, when “God only knows in the end.”  “We the people” vs. “the heavenly” – the doubt is always there, but with this there’s no actual sense that anything could ever change; this is audible static, a lament of those who cannot, as they say in the UK, be bothered.  UGH.

Kool and the Gang, blessedly, exist to remind us all that everything we have is precious, and if this is as smooth as silk and helps to invent Easy Rock type stations, I don’t care.  It’s always a good reminder to have, that the one you love may “receive” his/her calling in the night, and that what matters is here and now.  Not many songs refer openly to this intense and humble feeling in relationships, of sheer gratitude.  I’d better stop here before I get too emotional, folks.

On the definitely chirpier side of things is “Walking On Sunshine” – a personal fave of Johnny Carson, as I recall – and dammit why aren’t more power pop songs hits?  That this paraphrases “Roadrunner” is just perfect, that this song refers openly to letters might make it seem quaint nowadays but letters are still sexy, worth yelping and jumping around about, with the joy (that word again, but it is the right one) unbounded by anything, even itself.   
 
There is no way my limited knowledge of cricket could help me understand “N-N-Nineteen Not Out” by The Commentators (aka Rory Bremner) but it’s charming anyway – mention of a cucumber sandwich (I was hoping for cake, but, oh well, close enough), the 1984 tour of the West Indies and the priceless and still appropriate “none of them received a standing ovation” were enough to make me laugh.  Produced by Joe Quick, who must be Paul Hardcastle himself…

And what to make of The Damned sounding like a Goth Smiths?  “The Shadow of Love” has a bass and drums so much like them I got distracted and kept thinking of Rourke and Joyce, haplessly. “Nowhere Fast”?  “Still Ill”?  The drums come straight from “Ballroom Blitz” and I am not sure their take on Goth is always straight, but they’re the Damned, why should it be?  Again, not played on CFNY, as “Grimly Fiendish” suited the station better…

Also not played – “Out In The Fields” by Gary Moore and Phil Lynott, nor “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” by Jimmy Nail.  The former is a rock lament to those who have to fight, sung by both men, the fight being maybe post-nuclear or pre-holocaust, hard to tell which.  But it’s done with more oomph than Dire Straits could imagine, and it’s likely one of the last things Lynott recorded before his death.  And it has “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” at the end, so it’s unequivocally against war, in its gruff way. 
 
I don’t know exactly why Roger Taylor of Queen worked with Nail to do this song, but it comes off fine, Nail’s voice sounding properly wounded and upset and the drums are bang-bang without being Collinsesque.  Now compilations often end with ballads, emotional ones, as if to say, that’s it, the party’s over…

…and as I understand it, this was at the time supposed to be the last of the Now compilations.  It was only supposed to be a fad, a teaser sampler for the albums, a way to get the singles and not have an awkward pile of singles around to organize.  There was, in the same week this was released, another compilation called Out Now! (not forthcoming on TPL) and I suspect the ever-expanding pig on the cover was due to explode, that his time was up.  But no…

1985:  Britfunk Lives!

Part of the underground movement I mentioned above was pirate or “unlicenced” radio, which certainly existed and played what I think wasn’t called “urban” music.  KISS FM was about to start and songs like “Round And Around” by Jaki Graham, “Turn It Up” by The Conway Brothers and “Magic Touch” by Loose Ends were just the sort of thing they would play; no doubt LWR (London Weekend Radio, where Tim Westwood got his start) were already playing them.  On the BBC only Tony Blackburn, a stalwart supporter of soul and funk and swinging pop played them.  This is a shame, and that these songs – all very fine – still don’t get played enough on, oh, R2 is a boggler; Jaki Graham shows she can get with the S.O.S. Band groove just as well as anyone, The Conway Brothers are asking for the song to be turned up before Public Enemy, and Loose Ends talk about magic, true love and tragedy in a way that is delicate and pure and of course it was a hit in the US as well as the UK.  

“History” by Mai Tai is at least heartfelt (“burn, burn, burn them up!”) and even if it’s basic stuff, it’s still based on – yep, again – that S.O.S. Band groove.  Still, as Marcello says, Control can’t arrive soon enough.  

This leaves us with the two supreme songs on this compilation…

…Steve Arrington’s gospel pop of “Feel So Real” is so fresh, so generous, so open-hearted…that Freddie Hubbard comes in for a solo seems like the most natural and inevitable of things.   “Freedom from the chains that hold us back” is what the song promises and delivers.  Was there really a prime time radio program once at this time that was nothing but gospel?  Why can’t something like that happen now?  

1985:  It Hits You, And Then It Hits You




There is no point in even my talking coherently here – Cupid & Psyche ’85 is by far my favorite album of the year*.  “The Word Girl” I probably didn’t even get at the time, but such a simple song carries such complex lyrics, lyrics that still look at the rest of pop music askance.  What are you doing?  What kind of language are you using?  The lightest of skanks had the biggest impact; and the whole album is one pulse and pull of language and what it may or may not be any use for.  The song halts itself, as if to say, wait a minute, this is a pop song too. And it sighs and continues, just as Green dou-dou-do-doo-doodle-doos; and the song is about Cupid in the dark, Psyche being realized, Cupid being realized…but you don’t need to know the story to get the song.  Just about every story that comes from this is known – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast; but Cupid has the arrow, the punctum, and Psyche has the soul;  and this album takes those opposites and makes them whole.  The wink and confidence of “Perfect Way” caught Miles Davis’ ear; “Wood Beez”  (those tumbling down the stairs beats, that “including doing nothing” that leaps to prayer) did more for Aretha Franklin than the entire soulboy contingent at the NME and “The Word Girl” left me quietly wondering when, where could I find anyone who could do that,  who could like this, as much as me.  This is the album I didn't even know I needed so much manifest; hearing it was somehow as much a reward for graduating as my certificate, and even now it sounds ahead, or rather outside, of its time.  

I would walk in my plastic shoes on weekends back from the mall, the small pebbles on the rough way getting in my shoes, smelling of Essence Rare and oh that ORANGE, that deep intense orange after the already strong first whiff, and along with this album the nothingness of August 1985 was forgotten, irrelevant.  That it could exist in the first place was proof that someone would find me, or I’d find them (out of restlessness) and this album has more genuine understanding of love than Bryan Ferry could ever have; that love is something to enjoy, not suffer, and even in suffering there is hope – the astonishing “Hypnotize” – oh, that I could go back and play this for my father and say, see, it swings!  This is taking all those love lyrics and making them come to life; and that line…”it’s so hard to tell to you that I love you” which is the center of the whole album…revealed at the end, only to send you back to “The Word Girl” and how hard it is to understand the flesh and blood, the real, but necessary too…

Clearly, 1985 from the point of view of this album is something of a mess; but there are enough good things here to suggest that the underground, that So(ul)cialism, and that New Pop were going to win out, that the dullness and inertia and anesthetic qualities were not always going to hold.  Through the humid languid haze something was sustained, and the seed of something else was sproutingIt is too easy, sometimes, to dislike 1985 because of the hegemony it represents; every time you hear something from it on the radio, it sounds so cut off from everything else, or it seems to.  

But beyond there was a push back, a defiance, a girl walking along eating wild raspberries and feeling like there is something beyond the washed-out pastels and florals of the day, something of phosphorescent and profound intensityOh let me feel the pebbles in my shoes, the wind that bends the trees, that...OH...pause...between the notes, the vivid things that are beyond the reaches of the mall, the library, the home.  

 
*Yes, I know, I know.  Get it on cassette, to get the versions, including the divine one of "Absolute" that sparkles like my pink pearlescent shoes did.





  


    




 

2 comments:

josesilvalopes said...

Yeah, I had a feeling that something would come on here on TPL about Scritti's summer sponger. The best track for hot days, mainstream wise( of course, Perfect Kiss couldn't be matched but that is a track for another world).

Now 5 really looks flat but it still feels better than the current crap in the charts at the moment.

Billy Smart said...

Along with Propaganda's 'Duel', 'The Word Girl'was one of the two 1985 singles that had the greatest effect on my twelve year-old self.

"Don't feel sorry for lover-boy/ though he wants the world to love him/ then he goes and spoils it all/ for love" (Scritti Politti, 1988)

The title alone has several meanings.

"The first time baby, that I came to you...": As a 12 year-old listener I thought that the Word Girl was supposed to be an actual woman, a rather bookish object of desire;

To do what I should do to long for you to hear
I open up my heart ... and watch her name appear

"The second time baby, that I came to you...": A little later I realised that the Word Girl was as much a creation on the part of the singer as a specific Girl, the actual loved other becoming rationalised, explained and formulated into a construct of language;

A word for you to use a girl without a cause
A name for what you lose when it was never yours

"The third time baby, that I came to you...": Decades on, I noticed that the title is sometimes written as 'The Word "Girl"': the song not even necessarily being about any actual Girl at all, but the effect of the idea of a Girl - as described and written through language - upon the singer.

Name the girl outgrew the girl was never real
She stands for your abuse the girl is no ideal

It's a word for what you do in a world of broken rules
She found a place for you along her chain of fools (...)

Oh how your flesh and blood be-came the word!

A fiendishly conceptual song, then. Something that is superficially a love song which then turns out to be a conceptual song about the construction of meaning does sound, when you describe it, like the sort of thing that would be wearisomely arch to actually listen. The reality is anything but the case. There are two very simple reasons for this; the music and the singing.

The music is dubalicious perfect pristine pop, ostensibly reggae but always something other, that transcends simple genre description. It serves two functions; sounding aquatic, shimmering and endlessly echoing, leaving you with the feeling as it progresses that you're listening to something far more expansive than the few minutes that it lasts for; but this echoing effect also sounds gleaming and reflective, the endless echoes also the endless reflections of life in a hall of mirrors, the singer's lovelorn thoughts of the girl forever reflecting in on themselves in a tantalising but intangible text. Both of these effects accurately evoke the sensation of knowing that you are in love and at the same time not knowing the loved other...

Although the action of turning a woman into a construction of language has a wicked fairytale-like quality as a metaphor, I don't think that many listeners hearing this would feel that the singer was at all a bad person, but a daydreaming romantic idealist. A lot of this weight is carried by the gorgeousness of Green Gartside's light tenor voice, an instrument once described as carrying a "debonair ruination", ideal for conveying wistfulness and fascination. This is especially apparent in the song's endless coda, two minutes of the singer's honeyed voice repeating

Oh how...
your flesh...
and blood...

He's reflecting on what was lost and what could never be; realising the actual beating heart of the woman behind his construction of her; and yet still lost in the rapture of putting this woman into language.

Its not just a conceptual exercise, but its a single with a genuine heart, and therein lies the source of its tremendous effect.