Forgive the title. It came up with it.
I’ve had it for years. I bought it second hand but never bothered to give it a proper go, which is why this morning, as I went about my research, I put on ‘Sulk’ by The Associates. Not half bad really and I never knew they did ‘Party Fears Two’. Mind you I never knew ‘Party Fears Two’ was called ‘Party Fears Two’ so it just goes to show how much music slips through the cattle grid between our ears. Having posted my favourite albums of the 70’s yesterday, I’ve now got the music bug and so am ready to plough on and get another instalment done. Some people say that the 80’s represent a kind of music nadir, a step backwards or maybe sideways but I would say that the 60’s were just as bad and oddly enough, as I’ve spent that last 2 hours sifting through my music, I realise it’s very hard to get a decent 60’s list done, so I’ll be leaving them until last. Which should serve them right for being so flowery and swinging and for giving us things like ‘Merseybeat’ and THAT band.
The 80’s was where I grew up; in hand-me-down stonewash jeans, with buck teeth, thick lenses and gently gingering hair. Thank someone my wife loves me. I actually had a great childhood. It was comfortable and fun and I got to be there as the world suddenly seemed to blossom before my very eyes. I was brought up with the usual southern middle class views; fear gypsies, the IRA are scum, miners shouldn’t be allowed to strike, no-one should be allowed to strike and so on. I still don’t think anyone should be allowed to strike, it feels a bit like holding your breath and stomping your feet when you want something really, really badly. Still, I’m glad the steel union bosses squeezed in a jolly to India before it all goes tits up in Port Talbot. Move on Hewitt. For me the highlights of this sumptuous decade were all cultural. Politics didn’t bother me and religion just confused me. It doesn’t anymore. No, I was much happier listening to Bobby Brown and Transvision Vamp and Paul Hardcastle and watching The Karate Kid and Police Academy and The A-Team and reading Asterix books or making the boat from Jaws with Lego. Again and again and again.
My brother and I got on well enough but he was a more wayward type and so spent most of his 80’s winding up my parents and making smells in his room. His impact on my musical education came a bit later so I got to spend the real 80’s with my sister and we got on very well indeed, thank you very much. It’s strange to say this but one of my sharpest musical memories of the 80’s was rushing down the stairs like The Milky-bar Kid on acid because Pet Shop Boys were doing ‘It’s A Sin’ on Top of the Pops, something which big sister and I seemed to think was at the very high end of the exciting scale. Another was going to some Capital Radio birthday party where I saw Kylie in her first flush of fame, Sonya, Hazel Dean (both successfully autographed), Curiosity Killed The Cat and the very confusing London Boys. I was never sure who exactly The London Boys were trying to appeal to. All oil and muscle and big smiles and back flips. Sadly they were hit by a drunk driver in Austria in 1991 (I had to look that up, I’m not their biographer) but thank you anyway for playing a small role in my memories and thank you for not being so appealing that you kept me awake at night. Right then, my favourite albums of the 80’s. Just to warn you there’ll be nothing from the ‘best’ band of the decade – The Smiths. Three quarters of a great band and very great music but Morrissey is a pompous prick with a singing voice that brings to mind John Major being pepper sprayed. New Order aren’t there because I shamefully only have compilations and they don’t count. That’s all out now. Let’s continue.
1. Spirit of Eden, Talk Talk. Not just a great record but one of the greatest of all time. What makes it so special is that you only need good taste and a bit of patience to appreciate how wonderful it is. You may remember Talk Talk for ‘It’s My Life’ and so on but this is several levels higher, or more accurately in a completely different layer of the stratosphere. It’s best appreciated loud or on headphones, just to get everything in. The distant, rumbling kettle drums on ‘Desire’ followed by a frenzied explosion of kitmanship is breath-taking. The way the second half spins gently into a fragile ambient drift makes it possibly the most beautiful sequence of sounds to have ever graced my lugholes. Except when my wife said ‘I do’, of course. The cover art is great and if you fancy a real musical journey then sandwich it between ‘The Colour of Spring’ and ‘Laughing Stock’ and just soak up the majesty. It really, really is that good and I feel a bit stupid sharing it now.
After number 1 it’s pretty much a free-for-all so I’m not going to worry about the order, just as long as I pick the right 9. Obviously it will have a numerical order, because that’s how numbers work.
2. Introspective, Pet Shop Boys. Seriously! It’s just a fantastic pop record and it’s got so many clever little moments that make me smile and, just as importantly, remind me of a time when I was still relatively innocent. ‘Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat’; the only song I’ve ever heard about wanting a dog (no, not like that); a splendid take on ‘Always On My Mind’ and they even managed to rescue the nightmare that was Patsy Kensit singing ‘I’m Not Scared’. ‘Domino Dancing’ isn’t quite up there but it’s all a big slab of 80’s multicolour, so it’s staying.
3. Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen. Far and away his best album. I never found Bruce particularly warming; just when he got close to touching you the bloody E Street Band would come clattering in like a herd of mental elephants to pour on the extra ‘glory’ of the blue collar, average American, hard-workin’ Joe, who just wants to race the fucking streets with some bird called Noleen or Mary Jane. This album on the other hand is everything Bruce threatened to be. Tender, thoughtful, not quite broken and quietly standing firm. Only without a saxophone blasting your ears off. The dark glee that ends ‘Brilliant Disguise’ and the organ that rises in the middle of ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ are worth the purchase alone. The rest just makes you glad you have your own copy and a happy marriage. Well done ‘The Boss’, though I’m sorry about the break up
4. Atmospheres, Brian Eno. It has a longer name and cast list but I can’t be bothered to write it out. Basically this ambient little beauty was supposed to accompany or complement television footage of space travel and the moon landings. As it happens its big famous star, called ‘An Ending (Ascent)’, is now used everywhere on television when someone wants exactly that kind of sound (find it and you’ll hear what I mean). I imagine Dr Brian Cox masturbates to this. Still, that’s not Eno’s fault and the whole is much more than the parts anyway. I would recommend any and all of the albums he made for Virgin but this one is my fave.
5. Gaucho, Steely Dan/The Nightfly, Donald Fagen. I feel bad that Steely Dan didn’t make it into the 70’s list but we’re lucky Gaucho took so fucking long to record that it can slip into this one instead. Every song is warped and oily and twisted, yet delicious all the same. ‘Hey Nineteen’ is a remarkable song but it’s got 6 pals just waiting to out-do it. Steely Dan aren’t everybody’s idea of a good band but they make me very happy and they’re one of very few acts who have never really put a foot wrong, a least not a big foot. What’s also quite interesting is they have only left a shimmer of a real popular legacy, like the outline of a daft birds wings on a window. Name me one well know act since 1980 that sound anything like them. See! Gaucho was made under circumstances that could be described as ‘trying’ and cost lots and lots of money to make, mainly because by this point they tended to employ every musician alive until they got ‘it’ right. ‘It’ being the clever sounds in their clever little heads. They being Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Fagen’s solo album was meant to be a nostalgic reflection of his childhood but he still makes it rich with Steely Dan’s trademark slickness, such is his genius. It may sound corny at first but this is the 80’s and once the groove wraps round your head you shan’t be going back. I must insist madam, you simply shan’t.
6. Tango In The Night, Fleetwood Mac. Ok, it’s not their best but it was my first and, as above, I feel bad they missed out from my 70’s list. I feel bad? They must feel crushed! Peak behind the curtains of any great 3rd phase Mac album (1975 onwards) and who will you find? Lindsey Buckingham of course. The guy is a towering genius and really should have earned global respect by now. As songwriter and producer he excels and as a guitar player? Well frankly, in my opinion, he has few equals. ‘Tango’ may be glazed in the customary 80’s sheen and has a few shall we say ‘flawed’ moments (usually when Stevie Nicks was ‘preoccupied’) but it’s got some great tunes and if you try telling me ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Little Lies’ and ‘Big Love’ are lame then I’m afraid we shall be heading for a falling out. While you’re there you might as well try Lindsey Buckingham’s first solo effort ‘Law and Order’. If ‘Trouble’ doesn’t catch you you’re not worth catching.
7. I’m Your Man, Leonard Cohen. I like Cohen, he’s funny. His 60’s output was a little too bleak in places and his 70’s got a bit weird but this one sorts all that out. It’s true that the synthesizers sound a bit naff but somehow they work beautifully and just make his voice sound even more like Zeus with a hangover. If you want confirmation of the greatness of this album just play ‘First We Take Manhattan’ as the backing singers kick in and gears move up. Mmmm, very nice, sir.
8. Graceland, Paul Simon. This album nicely split the 80’s and parts of it sound like they could have been made yesterday. All that furore about recording with African artists, that’s what really sounds dated. But really it’s not the beautiful African input that makes it work it’s Paul Simon’s ability to write a fucking belter of a tune. ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’ is yummy but the title tracks takes the honours. It’s splitting open with clever little things and has lyrics most writers would murder their granny for.
Crikes Bunter, it’s getting tough again. Lot’s to choose from but I’ll just go for two that have a special place for me, whether I discovered them during or after the decade that fashion bludgeoned to death with a chair leg. Oh and you’re not getting Michael Jackson. It’s not my fault that millions of people can’t tell the difference between good music and bad. Ooh, look I just did a joke without realising it.
9. Music for a New Society, John Cale. This should come with a warning really. Don’t play when you’re feeling low. Or late at night. Or in front of kids. Or other adults. Or when you’re on your own. I hope you get the idea. Very bleak indeed but when its manifold little moments of delicacy and wonder drift up to the surface you just appreciate them even more. His re-recording of ‘(I Keep A) Close Watch’ is sub-zero and riddled with a cancer of insecurity. Great! I should take a few moments to say that Cale’s career has been incredible and he is one of my favourite musicians of all time. He is fearless and abrasive one minute and whatever I said earlier about delicacy and wonder the next. His 70’s has more highpoints than the Himalayas. Mind you, no one bothered to buy his sodding records.
10. Grace and Danger, John Martyn. Martyn devotees can claim this as his last true masterpiece and they may be right. I am only a relatively recent disciple but such is the strength of his aura he has managed to squeeze out the likes of AC/DC, Van Morrison, Prefab Sprout and The Sisters of Mercy. Yes, that’s right, The Sisters of Mercy. Bruce may have been a bit moody when he made Tunnel of Love but for sheer emotional shredding Martyn wins hands down. This album also highlights what an unfairly ridiculed artist Phil Collin was. ‘Sweet Little Mystery’ is a heartbreak song, possibly written with the help of angels but the real winner is the cover of ‘Johnny Too Bad’, one of my contenders for best ever cover version. There’s a Youtube video of this being performed by a very sweaty Martyn on ‘Rock Goes to College’ throughout which he looks frankly haunted. And you wouldn’t mess with him either.
That’s yer lot. It’ll probably change tomorrow but goddamit I tried, at least I did that (guess the film).
G B Hewitt. 1.4.2016
Attention Lindsi and Paul, I want your lists by next weekend and you’d better behave yourselves.