The ’80′s was the decade of bombast. Everything had to be loud, brash, obvious. Music pummelled you into submission. Music had something to tell you, and it told you with fervour, without respite. Two of the most brash, fervent bands are represented here, along with a third artist who wasn’t exactly shy of making statements in her music.
Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)
U2 – New Year’s Day
Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Following the huge success of “Wuthering Heights”, Kate Bush’s young life was turned upside down. The now-predictable tales of touring, promotion, enormous record company pressures and the like, eventually drove her to becoming something of a recluse. 1982′s “The Dreaming” had not been particularly successful, and three years later, after nothing more had been heard from her, NME ran a “Where Are They Now” feature on her. Somewhat inauspiciously, her new single was played on the radio three days later1.
That new single was “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)”. The song itself wasn’t new; written three years earlier just after “The Dreaming” sessions, her record company had refused to release it under its original title of “A Deal With God”, fearing an unwelcome reaction in religious countries. They should have just gone for it; the song hardly deals in blasphemy. Instead, Bush’s voice demands that God swaps places with her, not so she can be God, but for God to see life from her side. The determination in her voice is frightening; this isn’t the hippy-dippy teenager of her early records, but a steely, confident woman.
The music, all thundering drums and Fairlight stabs, was made without any thought to ever performing live. Multi-tracked vocals, including using her own voice as a rhythm track, synthesised strings from those all-new electronics; the record is, as you’d have expected from her, remarkably futuristic for a chart-topping artist. Although some of the keyboards do sound a little dated, the track as a whole feels minty-fresh.
And, despite the religious concerns, the song doesn’t feel heavy-handed. “If I only could/I’d make a deal with God/And get him to swap places” is a marvellous chorus, defiantly railing at a deity that had forsaken her. Lovely stuff and well worth listening to again.
Years ago, I remember someone asking Tony Wilson (sorry, Anthony H. Wilson) what Joy Division would have ended up like if Ian Curtis hadn’t killed himself. He replied “U2″. As ever, his daft response had a whacking great big element of truth in amongst the crazy talk. Because U2 were at the time a clever blend of Joy Division’s more lively moments mixed with Bruce Springsteen’s stadium savvy, with a huge chunk of Evangelical fervour thrown into the mix. And I use capitalisation deliberately there – never, ever forget that above all else, U2 are a religious band, probably the most successful religious rock band ever.
With this song, Bono threw down the gauntlet to those who’d thought that previous album “October” wasn’t good enough. “War” was everything their growing legion of fans was clamouring for, and filled with the anthems that would go on to reverberate in stadiums throughout the world. One of my first gigs was at Cardiff Arms Park in (I think) 1984 and if there ever was a band to attract a 13-year old boy, it was U2 in the mid-eighties. That yearning! Those spiralling guitar lines! That sense of certainty in what was right and what was wrong! You didn’t get that from The Fall, I can tell you (it goes without saying that I grew out of that stage fairly quickly and moved onto the wonderful and bizarre world of The Fall, New Order and The Smiths).
Back to the song. Kicking off with an ominous piano line, quickly yelled passionately over by our Serious Artist friend Mr Bono, then in come the drums. Unusually for a U2 song, the piano drives the song, rather than being the backing for Mr Edge’s chiming guitar2. And lordy, the band batter you into submission over the song’s four minutes, making you want to pump your fist in the air on numerous occasions. Yes, Mr Bono, I will be with you again. For a pompous tosspot, you have to say he’s got the perfect voice for this kind of thing, and a pitch-perfect ability to write a lyric without quite going over the edge (no pun intended).
For all the stridency and bombast, I’ve quite enjoyed listening to “New Year’s Day” again. Takes me back to my early teenage years in a not entirely unpleasant way. Can’t say the same about Simple Mind’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.
I don’t like swearing in this blog, much. But fucking hell, is this song shit, or what? I’ve had to listen to it quite a few times to make sure, but yep, here is my verdict: It’s Shit. Anyone who says “Yes, but it’s a guilty pleasure and weren’t the Eighties great and blah blah blah” should be given a firm shake. Seriously, it’s songs like this that made the Eighties shit, and it’s songs like this that The Smiths and New Order and the rest saved us from.
Everything about it is just wrong. That awful echo on Jim Kerr’s voice! Those rubbish drums! Oh, sweet Jebus, that keyboard sound! Everything that works well in “New Years Day” goes horribly wrong in “Don’t You (Put The Rest Of The Line In Parenthesis)”. I can hardly bear to write about it any more. I just want it to stop. I hate it so much I’m not even going to post the track; you can watch the video if you really want to give yourself pain. I think I’d rather listen to The Alarm.
So there we go. Three more songs down, only another 351 to go. At this rate I’ll still be doing this in my dotage. Next up, some Great American Noise.
All of my Pitchfork articles are available here.
1 Funnily enough, in 2005 Mark Radcliffe and Mark Riley ran a regular feature on their radio show, trying to track her down, and meet up with her, assuming that she’d completely given up on the whole music thing. Unbeknowst to them, she’d recorded a double album.
2 Every music writer is contractually obliged to use the phrase “chiming” when describing his guitar playing. Like saying Johnny Marr’s guitar is “jangly”. ‘Tis the law.
MP3: New Year’s Day by U2