The Pitchfork 500 Bombast – Kate Bush to Simple Minds

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: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) by Kate Bush

MP3: New Year’s Day by U2

Amazon’s Kate Bush Store

Amazon’s U2 Store

Amazon’s Simple Mind’s Store (If You Really Have To)

The Pitchfork 500 – Candido To Goblin

After my last post, the epic Post Punk Part 2, it’s a much shorter one this time. Partly because there’s only five songs, and also because I don’t know too much about four of them, so I’m not going to talk much about them. Except for Kate Bush, obviously.

Now, you’ll know Candido’s “Jingo” even if you don’t recognise the name. It’s a classic slab of Salsoul from late ’70’s New York and mixes disco thump with jazz-inflected keyboards and funk guitar. And you’ll know that “HUNH!” from being sampled by everyone.

Dinosaur was a band put together by cellist Arthur Russell and DJ Nicky Siano, and featured the likes of David Byrne on guitar. Russell was classically trained, and played cello alongside writing disco tunes and pop songs; he was also unable to ever finish what he was doing. At his tragically early death (in 1992), he left behind 1000 tapes of music, including 40 tapes full of different mixes of a single song. In this song, “Kiss Me Again”, he brings a certain organic, live feel to disco. One can only wonder what he could have become if he could have concentrated on just one style, and focused on it. (Oh, and Dinosaur Jr were originally called “Dinosaur” until the legal folks stepped in)

When I first heard Monster’s “There But For The Grace Of God Go I” I thought “This sounds a bit like Kid Creole and The Coconuts”, and then went “Doh!” when I realised it was indeed written by Kid Creole himself, August Darnell. It’s a good little cut of what he does best – funky, tropical beats with a great singalong chorus. Shoddily remixed by Heller and Farley a few years ago, too. Perfectly nice tune, but can’t say it’s my cup of tea. But don’t forget kids, “Too much love is worse than none at all”.

Kate Bush appeared out of nowhere in January 1978 and made us all look at her video on Top Of The Pops and go “What the bloody hell?”. Well, I didn’t quite say that, I was only six, but the thought was definitely there. It’s an incredible song, and she looks absolutely possessed by her character. Funny thing is, Word Magazine recently did a set of articles about her, mainly by journalists who had met her over the years, and they all to a man (for they were all men) said she was totally normal and down to earth, a little shy and reluctant to discuss her private life, but utterly lovely. She’s one of those rare cases of a fantastic, hugely successful musician who doesn’t combine it with being a total show-off. Oh yes, the video:

See? Obviously bonkers. Totally, utterly, uniquely bonkers song, and even more amazing that it was written by an 18-year old, who had to fight with her record label to release it was her first single (they wanted it to be a B-side, but she eventually won. The single hit Number 1 in the UK). This says a lot for how the music industry used to be run. Singles weren’t checked by loads of focus groups and the marketeers, and PR’d to within an inch of their life. It was just up to a few people to make the decision, and occasionally something deeply odd like this would be released, and become a massive hit.

As I said in the first part of the Pitchfork 500 review, much of the early tracks on the list are mainstream songs, but just as odd (if not odder) as the last tracks on the list, who wouldn’t be recognised by the man on the street. So, these days, it’s probably easier to be unusual – with the Internet, blogging, MySpace etc you’ll hopefully find like-minded people, but you won’t get a major label deal and you certainly won’t appear on The X Factor or Amerikkka’s Got Talent. Can you imagine a 19-year old Kate Bush in front of Simon Cowell et al? She’d have been laughed out of the audition room (if she had even got that far). But the major labels, for all their massive faults, did sometimes tell us about truly remarkable talents, and give them the chance to develop how they wanted.

We won’t ever see the likes of Kate Bush become national treasures again.

And so, what more can I say about the song? Based on the last 10 minutes of Emily Bronte’s book (you don’t need me to tell you it’s called Wuthering Heights do you?), it features Catherine Earnshaw’s words. Bush’s vocal gymnastics are challenging and brave, the music is delightful, segueing gently from the minor verse into the major key chorus of “Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, come home\I’m so cold, let me into your window”. Now, frankly, it’s not a song to ever try at karaoke. Even the Bryan May-esque guitar solo at the end is nicely understated.

Goblin. Aaargh! Prog Rock! Worse, Italian Prog Rock! But it’s actually a pretty decent tune and, being the theme tune for the horror flick “Suspiria”, is also creepy. Full of squelchy synths, bells, ominous tom-toms, and what sounds to me like a gamelan. The song has also aged remarkably well. Reminds me a bit of the Halloween theme tune, which is an odd coincidence given that the next tune on the list featured in that film. ‘Till next time.

Suspiria by Goblin

The whole list is available here.