The Pitchfork 500 Shambles – Orange Juice To The Clean

This post is all about the jangly, amateur sounds of shambolic Indie-Pop. It’s a sound that would go on to heavily influence everyone from REM and The Smiths, the C86 movement, Pavement to Brit Pop and beyond. Not that they realised it at the time of course. This lot were just wanting to make a sound their own on often rather limited funds. $60 in one case.

Orange Juice – Blue Boy
The Television Personalities – This Angry Silence
The Fall – The Classical
The Clean – Tally Ho!

Orange Juice, led by the talented Edwyn Collins, can be considered a prim, Scottish version of hardcore’s Straight Edge movement. Fey middle-class kids like shaven headed, angry punks, I hear you say? Hear me out. These Scots popsters weren’t so keen on the macho drinking culture of Glasgow and wanted to go a clean route, eschewing the drink and drugs prevalent in the local music scene, and replacing them with, well, orange juice. And some amphetamines. And Alan McGee’s organ.

As for “Blue Boy”, it’s got the feel of a band who hadn’t really learned to play (yet) but were trying to copy Television’s chops. Get that guitar solo! For a band that influenced a number of musicians I’m a big fan of (step forward, The Go-Betweens), I’m amazed this period of Orange Juice’s history slipped me by. I’ve already been onto Amazon to buy the compilation released a few years ago, The Glasgow School. What a great song. Sometimes, I’m really glad I’m doing the Pitchfork 500 when I find songs like this on it.

Can’t really say the same for Television Personalities though. Whilst “This Angry Silence” has got that post-Jam, earnest young working-clarse Home Counties boy ranting about his unfair life feel to it, it’s not a patch on the real Jammy thing. Another token entry for the Pitchfork crew.

The Fall’s “The Classical” marks their transition from noisy, shambolic rockabilly post-punkers to something far more interesting. The Fall of the mid-1980’s was one of the shining stars of British music; continually evolving, always sounding different yet intrinsically The Fall, caustic, excoriating, mystical lyrics from their leader Mark E Smith barked over shifting, restless, inventive backing.

“The Classical” is a torrid, yelping affair, with Smith at his angry best. Even better, there’s actually a proper tune and some semblance of songwriting skill rather than the “play one riff and keep it going” methodology of “Live At The Witch Trials” and the like.

It’s also the tune that allegedly scuppered a deal with Motown, with the label’s managers none to happy with the line “Where are the obligatory niggers?”. Mark E Smith, never one to back down from a fight, ended up getting punched in the face in a hotel bar in the US. Sadly I can’t remember who. And what were Motown doing signing The Fall anyway? All sounds a bit odd to me.

Personally, whilst it’s a great song, it’s still not a patch on the work from their true golden age – from Perverted by Language to Bend Sinister – during which there are about 20 tracks that are superior to this. So I’m not sure quite why Pitchfork have chosen this one; the write-up in the book pretty much says the same. So, for you unfamiliar with The Fall, have a listen to this then go and buy some of their classic albums1. Or go on Spotify or Whatever. Just make sure you listen to them.

Lastly, and not leastly, is The Clean. Now this lot really passed me by. Whilst I might have heard Orange Juice’s more famous songs (ok, “Rip It Up”), The Clean made no impact whatsoever in the UK – a point recently (and serendipitously) made in this article in The Guardian just last week 2. “Tally Ho!” reminds me of early Go-Betweens – there obviously being something in the Antipodean water to make pasty white boys play awkward, gangly pop music – and also Pavement, who admit to being heavily influenced by these chaps.

Recorded for, yes, $60, it’s got that pure shambolic feel of a band bursting with tunes and energy but without the financial means to go into a nice, big posh studio. Back in 1981, there was no Garageband, no cheap knockoff copies of Cubase or ProTools, so you had to get a decent reel-to-reel recorder worth thousands to get your song released. Unless you borrowed a mate’s cheapo recorder and just did it all yourself with some friends. The organ riff has been playing in my head fairly constantly for the past few days, which is pretty much a good sign.

So, other than the Television Personalities tune, what a great selection of music. Shambolic, yes, but full of energy, tunes and sheer bravado. Off to the States for the last four songs of this part of the Pitchfork 500.

You can find the full list here.

1 Though quite why the CD reissues have been fiddled with, putting singles and B-sides slap bang in the middle of the album, is beyond me. Ok, in this day and age it’s not too hard to edit, but still, one shouldn’t have to do this. Next time they are reissued, please sort out the track listing. Thank you.

2 And weirdly enough, I was listening to The Clean whilst reading the article in the paper, not knowing the article was in there, and not knowing I’d be listening to The Clean that morning on the way to work. How odd is that?

MP3: Blue Boy by Orange Juice

MP3: Tally Ho! By The Clean

Buy Orange Juice’s “The Glasgow School” (CD)

By “Part Time Punks: The Very Best of Television Personalities” (CD/MP3)

Buy The Fall’s “Hex Enduction Hour”

Buy The Clean’s “Anthology” (CD)

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The Pitchfork 500 Goes METAL! – Flipper to Iron Maiden

METAL! Skulls. Cider. Screaming. Donington. Long hair. Longer guitar solos. Ludicrous lyrics. Bottles of piss. Dungeons and Dragons. Right, that’s the clichés out of the way.

Flipper – Sex Bomb
Motorhead – Ace of Spades
Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills

First off, it’s Flipper with “Sex Bomb”. Who, I hear you ask? I dunno, I reply. After listening to this a few times, reading the book, doing a bit of background work, I still have no idea. One of those bizarre, random entries that really don’t make any sense. It’s not like it was massively influential, or even that good. Listen for yourself:

Hmm. Any ideas? Anyone? Well, I suppose it’s got a certain chaotic charm to it, rather like James Chance playing something from the “Nuggets” compilation, but that’s no reason to put it on the list. Goes without saying that Kurt Cobain was a huge fan. Oh, and I hasten to say, it’s not metal, I’ve just lumped it in here for convenience.

Back to some normality with Motörhead’s“Ace Of Spades”. I remember watching this on The Young Ones and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. And it was. Still is. This song rocks. It rocks with a studded belt, a dirty t-shirt, oil-stained jeans, long manky hair, and an array of facial hair, metal adornments, and tattoos, possibly about your mother. Just look at them:

None More Rock

None More Rock

They rock. Lemmy rocks even when selling pensions, and manages to be even more rock by being rather more erudite and intelligent than most indie-schmindie kids (although the Nazi memorabilia thing is somewhat disturbing). Drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor looks like he’s spent his entire life mainlining meths and puts speed on his cornflakes, which, in fairness, he probably has. This is the man who continued to play after breaking his neck, and in a separate incident, gaffer-taped a drumstick to his hand after breaking it in a fight. See, Metallica? THAT is rock, not your pussy-assed whining about your therapist.

If an alien came up to you and said “So, Earthling, what’s this heavy metal all about then?” you’d just play them this. And they would agree, and spread the word of rock to the galaxy. This is rock. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, death, gambling, umlauts, what more can a man ask for?

Have I said it rocks yet?

Iron Maiden’s “Run To The Hills” rocks too, only not quite so much, and in a much more ludicrous way. Whilst “Ace Of Spades” is out drinking cider and shagging your girlfriend, “Run To The Hills” is throwing an 18-sided dice and wondering when it will finally get to feel a lady’s front bumps. Featuring more drums and guitars than you should shake a Staff of Nightbane (+10HP, +3 INT, -1 AGL) at, it also features Bruce Dickinson’s patented “Sing Like You’ve Caught Your Bollocks In A Door” singing style. Mind you, when you’re singing about the destruction of Native American civilisation and the murders of thousands, nothing less will do, I suppose.

Goes without saying that, just like “Ace Of Spades”, the drumming and guitar is phenomenal. This song defines that certain brand of Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)1 so beloved of spotty teenage herberts, much maligned and patronised, but also has a certain ludicrous beauty to it. I’d much rather listen to this than bloody Hall and Oates any day.

Next up, more Heavy Metal with Orange Juice.

1 New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, since you’re asking

MP3: Ace Of Spades by Motorhead

MP3: Run To The Hills by Iron Maiden

The whole list is here.

Buy “Generic Flipper”

Buy Motorhead’s “The Best Of” (CD)

Buy Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere Back In Time: The Best Of: 1980-1989” (CD/MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 Mosh Pit – Bad Brains to Wipers

These songs remind me of dark, hot sweaty underground clubs, filled with teenage men, hot sweaty and lithe, writhing against each other, limbs flailing, reaching a state of ecstasy. Ah, the mosh pit. What the hell did you think I was talking about?

Bad Brains – Pay to Cum
Minor Threat – Minor Threat
Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia
Black Flag – Rise Above
Wipers – Youth of America

Bad Brains started off as a jazz fusion act, until deciding to become a hardcore punk band. And that’s not a sentence I think I’ll ever write again. Wonder what prompted their change of heart? “Hey, Darryl, I’m tired of all these diminished 3rds and 7/8 time signatures, let’s just be punk, dammit!” So, anyway, there sure knew how to play, as “Pay To Cum” demonstrates – fast as hell, but beautifully timed with some serious chops on show.

Being so good at what they did kind of spoil the field for everyone who followed them – after all, part of the fun of punk was that it wasn’t full of excellent musicians, so up-and-coming acts had to work rather hard to follow Bad Brains – but they then decided they’d had enough of hardcore and morphed into a reggae band.

As you do. Anyway, great song.

Minor Threat defined the hardcore punk movement “Straight Edge”. Teenagers love to rebel. It’s what they do. It’s their raison d’etre. So what do you do when your parents don’t mind you drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and sleeping around? In fact, they actually promote it? You don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex. That’ll teach ‘em! Seriously though, it’s a funny thing to do as a teenager. As anyone approaching middle-age will be happy to tell you, one’s later years are spent not being able to do all those things, partly due to work and family commitments, and partly because you’re just too tired. Have one big night out and you’re still paying for it three days later. So not doing this as a teenager seems a bit off to me. Youth of today – eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you’ll have kids and a mortgage and a strange desire to watch “Railway Walks” (I speak from personal experience).

The song? Oh yes, it’s not half bad, you know. But really, kids, don’t listen to them – drinking is fun. Oh yes.

Out of all these bands, I’ve actually regularly listened to, and owned records by, only this one band – Dead Kennedys. I had “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” as an innocent 15-year-old and once delighted my friends by trying to play “Kill The Poor” on the guitar, alongside my redoubtable repertoire of “1969”, “No Fun” and a couple of Velvet Underground songs. Formed in late 1978 in San Francisco, singer Jello Biafra (not his real name) wrote lyrics of fearsome intensity and intelligence, backed with deranged, frightening guitar:

Mind you, my personal favourite has always been “California Uber Alles”:

But I can see why the Pitchfork writers went for “Holiday In Cambodia”. Both still make your hairs stand on end and fill you with righteous anger. They just don’t make ’em like this any more. Interestingly enough, both songs featured in John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 1980, and were the only entries by non-British or Irish acts (they both appeared in the following year’s chart, joined by Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”).

(This leads me onto a brief digression. As I mentioned, I had Dead Kennedys records, but the rest of these bands stayed pretty obscure in the UK at the time. I guess it was largely due to the fact that, since punk hit in 1976, people were rather tired of this sort of thing by the early 80’s. And there was rather alot going on, so music seen as just harping back to what had happened five years before kind of got ignored. After all, we had New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen, who needed angry young men shouting at you?)

Black Flag had been doing the rounds for a couple of years, with a fairly rapid turnover of members thanks to leader Greg Ginn’s insistence on a hardcore (boom tish) work ethic of daily practice sessions and constant touring. Henry Rollins, the band’s fourth (!) vocalist, described him as “Patton on steroids”. Fun guy. Also forming SST, the influential record label, Black Flag spread their word to the suburban kids by getting in a van, playing wherever they could, and selling records as they went. They were the evangelical preachers of hardcore, telling the kids they could rise above the expectations of their suburban parents:

Terrible sound quality, sure, but just look at those teenage Philadelpians yelling along to a topless Rollins (just started on his road to muscle-bound fury). Ah, the mosh pit. I’m getting nostalgic again.

Lastly, it’s Wipers “Youth Of America”. Don’t remember hearing this tune before, though I do remember hearing a very long hardcore punk song in a club I used to visit in Frankfurt (The Cave). So maybe that was it. Certainly more ambitious than your run of the mill hardcore tune, singer Greg Sage rails against both the left and the right beating down teenagers, saying wisely “They’ll try to put you 6 feet under the ground”. And at ten minutes long – shocking enough for a hardcore tune – he certainly has the time to drill the message home. Big influence on Nirvana, apparently (though let’s face it, so was every band you’ve never heard of).

Goes on a bit though.

Anyway, that’s it with this hardcore lark. Enough sweaty bodies and shouting. Next time it’s Motorhead (yay!) and Iron Maiden (boo!).

MP3: Pay to Cum by Bad Brains

MP3: Holiday in Cambodia by Dead Kennedys

The whole list is here.

Buy “Banned in DC: Bad Brains’ Greatest Riffs” (CD)

Buy Minor Threat “Complete Discography” (CD)

Buy “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” (CD)

Buy Black Flag’s “Damaged” (CD)

Buy “Best Of The Wipers And Greg Sage” (MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 Drivetime – Abba to Journey

These five songs on the Pitchfork 500 are the kind of thing you’d expect to hear on drivetime radio anywhere from California to Krakow. Mixing both European and American bands, all of these bands (aside one) were enormous in the 1970’s, making their fortunes in the great commercial explosion of popular music. Fascinating people too, from Abba’s intertwined romances, through Roxy Music’s son-of-a-coal-miner glamour, Queen’s flamboyant Zanzibari singer, to Bruce Springsteen’s Noo Joisey working class boy made good from hard, hard work.

Oh, and Journey. You just had to go and spoil it, didn’t you, Pitchfork?

ABBA – The Day Before You Came
Roxy Music – More Than This
Queen (With David Bowie) – Under Pressure
Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
Journey – Don’t Stop Believing

Abba had reached the end of their stunning musical career in 1982. They’d had hits all over the globe, sold an eye-watering 370 million records, were feted as musical geniuses, and with their deft mix of modern pop with traditional folk and a serious ear for a tune, had brought untold happiness to millions. As their magical chemistry faded away to rancour and bitterness, they released their last single, “The Day Before You Came”. The song, a tale of the mundanity of a young woman’s life before she met her lover, has all the faded glamour and chill of Stockholm in mid-December1. The last song they ever recorded, with Agnetha recording her vocals in the dark, “The Day Before You Came” is lovely, hopeful, and sad, in equal measure. A truly unique band.

I would have picked “Does Your Mother Know” though.

Roxy Music, formed by a bunch of art students from Newcastle Upon Tyne, brought futuristic glamour to mid-’70’s England. But after losing Brian Eno to a battle of egos with singer Brian Ferry, the arty edge that had made their music so fascinating was replaced by a smoothness and opulence, mirroring their now rich lifestyles (not bad for a band led by a man whose father made his living down a coal mine).

The song itself tells the tale of ships that pass in the night, one night stands, and being carefree. Nice to know that sleeping with all those models didn’t go to Brian Ferry’s head, eh? But you can hear the loneliness in Ferry’s voice, that he’s pining for more but can’t quite express what it is.

As for interesting backgrounds, how about a man from a small island off the coast of East Africa sporting a mustache that marked him out as very, very gay (this being back in the days when this sort of thing simply didn’t exist)2, with an opera-singer voice and a sense of drama unparalleled in modern music; mixed with a guitarist who’d built his guitar out of the wood from his fireplace and a dull but worthy rhythm section. Already massive stars, they recorded this in 1982 with David Bowie, who added his usual panache and dexterity to an often overwrought band. But all you hear when you play this record is some stupid dumbass rapping over the top of it.

Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby on MUZU.

Ok, it’s a great song, forever ruined by Vanilla Effin’ Ice. Git. Bowie and Mercury dance round each other, complementing rather than competing, and make the sort of record you’d be happy to listen to whilst sitting in a traffic jam on the M42.

It was not cool to like Bruce Springsteen in the ’80’s in Britain. He epitomised everything that was uncool about America, with his check shirts, plain Telecaster, and big muscles, grunting away about the working man and how great America was. Hey, we had synthesisers you know! What we’d missed was how he was a genuine successor to Dylan (not that he was liked much either), and was championing the common man rather than being a patriotic Reaganite – anything but, in fact.

“Atlantic City”, lead single from his gloomy album “Nebraska”, wasn’t exactly a hit. Many people were turned off by Bruce’s refusal to churn out hits like “Born To Run” and “Hungry Heart”, but now, nearly thirty years on, you can appreciate how he was trying to dig out songs from the depths of his soul, rather than just repeating himself.

Coming to Brucey late, I must admit I didn’t quite warm to this (I’d still have chosen “Hungry Heart”), but it does show off his superb skills, both as a musician, lyricist and a singer. How about “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact\But maybe everything that dies some day comes back” for starters? And you just know it’s all going to go horribly wrong for the subject of the song. Don’t meet the man! It’ll end in tears!

My golly, is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” bad. It’s Ace Of Base bad. It’s so bad I had to listen to it twice to make sure. Holy sweet Jebus, mother of Mary, but it’s awful. It’s the song that will be playing over the PA system at the gates of Hell. Really, those hipsters at Pitchfork must be chortling over this one. “So, let’s not put “Been Caught Stealing” in the list, even though it’s a modern classic with a superb video to boot, no, let’s replace it with a bit of godawful MOR that right this very minute, is playing on a Clear Channel radio station somewhere in this great country of ours”.

Bastards. Of course, being the hipster douchebags they are3, the book states that people who don’t like this record don’t exist. Wanna bet? Ok, so it’s got a certain earworm quality to it, but the awful instrumentation and clammy feel to it just turns me off. I’d rather listen to a selection of contemporary Christian Country music than this. Or maybe Jonas Brothers.

Ok, maybe not. Still, at least the next set of songs will soothe my furrowed brow.



1 Trust me, I’ve been there, I know what I’m talking about. The sun comes up at about 11am, then pootles around on the horizon before buggering off again some time after 1pm. No wonder they drink like crazy. Nice place, though.

2 Amazingly, there were people who didn’t realise that Freddie Mercury was actually gay, just that he was a touch flamboyant. I mean, Rock Hudson, yeah, that was a bit of a surprise, but Mercury? The tache? The leather? The calling your band “Queen”? What planet are you on? And don’t even get me started on George Michael.

3 I don’t really think that Pitchfork writers are hipster douchebags – they have introduced me to some fantastic music over the years and for that they earn my undying respect.

MP3: The Day Before You Came by ABBA

MP3: Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen

Buy “Abba Gold Greatest Hits” (MP3)

Buy “The Best Of Roxy Music” (MP3)

Buy Queen’s “Greatest Hits” (CD)

Buy Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” (MP3)

Buy “Don’t Stop Believin'” (MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 Mixed Bag – The Go-Go’s to Jackson

So far, listening to the Pitchfork 500 list has been great fun. In each group of four to eight songs, there have always been personal favourites that I love to talk about, or songs I’ve never heard before and loved, and some songs that I’d forgotten were so good. Sure, there’s been some duffers, but that’s in the nature of a list like this. But this next part, I’ve got to say, was something of a chore.

The Go-Go’s – Our Lips Are Sealed
Tom Tom Club – Genius of Love
Prince – Dirty Mind
Daryl Hall & John Oates – I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)
Michael Jackson – Billie Jean

First off is The Go-Go’s. This is the band that brought Belinda Carlisle her first taste of success, and for the most part, you can see why with this song. Funnily enough, I think it’s the first time I’d heard the original rather than the Fun Boy Three version. Mind you, as Terry Hall co-wrote the song and was a founding member of Fun Boy Three, does that still make it a cover?

See? Fun Boy Three is definitely the superior.

Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love” will be familiar to the younger readers amongst you as being heavily copied by Mariah Carey’s “Boyfriend”. See if you can see the resemblance:

Mariah Carey TV on MUZU.

(sorry, can’t find it on YouTube thanks to the ridiculous PRS in the UK)

Written by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads whilst David Byrne was off with Brian Eno, it managed to be a bigger hit than anything Talking Heads had so far released, showing Byrne that he wasn’t the only influential songwriter who liked exploring the boundaries of modern pop. Hugely influential, it’s been sampled by world + dog. And Mariah Carey.

I’m now feeling guilty that I prefer the Mariah Carey version. What I am becoming?

We all know Prince is a genius. A superb musician, blessed with stamina, finesse, and more funk in his little finger than most of us have in our entire bodies, he’s also guilty of churning out album after album of tedious funk-pop, when he could be writing more songs like “Alphabet Street” and “1999”. “Dirty Mind” is a bit of a funny choice, as it showcases his tedious funk-pop rather than the pop genius that has made him such a huge success. And I’ve tried it a few times but it just ain’t got that swing.

I can’t even find a YouTube video of it. Not going to be one of those days, is it?

And the less I say about Daryl Hall & John Oates’s “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” the better, I suspect. This sort of song makes me wish bad things on everyone involved. It’s a horrid, vapid, pointless waste of time. Why is it on this list? Why? WHY???

Just listening to it again. And read what Pitchfork had to say. Somehow I doubt it really influenced the next song that much. As Wilco once said, I can’t stand it. Ok, the middle eight bit is passable, I suppose.

(edit: I don’t know why I posted the video twice in the original article. All I can say is sorry for inflicting it on you twice)

Thank God for Michael Jackson for having the only sure-fire absolute classic of the five. As I mentioned on the first Jackson song on the list (Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough), when you forget about all his later troubles, you remember what a fantastic musician he was, and how well he worked with Quincy Jones.

What struck me, listening to this again, was the sense of space in the song. There’s nothing extra, no slack, and the ambiguous sense of both disbelief at the situation, and the underlying guilt, hardly hidden from view, adds to the palpable tension. It’s just a fantastic record, and nothing more needs to be said about it. If you don’t like “Billie Jean”, you don’t like music.

That’s all for this, rather short and inconclusive Pitchfork post. It gets better next time, honest.

The whole list is available here.

MP3: Our Lips Are Sealed by The Go-Go’s

MP3: Genius Of Love by Tom Tom Club

Buy “Go Gos Greatest Hits” (CD)

Buy “Tom Tom Club” (CD)

Buy Prince’s “Ultimate” (MP3) (Doesn’t have “Dirty Mind”, But you’re better off with this)

Buy “Looking Back: The Best of Hall & Oates” (CD) (If You Don’t Like Your Ears)

Buy Michael Jackson’s “Thriller [25th Anniversary Edition CD + DVD]”

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The Pitchfork 500 The Brits Are Coming Part 4 – New Order to The Beat

So, the last part of The Brits Are Coming starts with the 100th song on the list, and the most important band of the Brits series. Who they? New Order, of course.

New Order – Temptation
The Jam – Town Called Malice
Duran Duran – The Chauffeur
The English Beat – Save It for Later

What do you do when, on the eve of your first American tour that might well propel you to stardom1, your talismanic, troubled lead singer commits suicide? As the remaining members of Joy Division learned, you dust yourself off, change your name to New Order, take turns singing, bring in the drummer’s girlfriend on keyboards, and get on with merging rock and dance music like no-one has before (and arguably haven’t done as well since). A combination of visits to clubs in New York and Europe, a love of Kraftwerk, Barney Sumner and Steven Morris’s experiments with drum machines and sequencers, and an open-minded attitude saw them create a whole new sound. It’s a sound that would influence everyone from The Cure and U2 to Broken Social Scene.

“Temptation” was the first real fruit of this questing spirit (“Everything’s Gone Green”, released the previous year, certainly had the dancing beats but still sounded a bit like a Joy Division song that had taken speed and wasn’t sure what all this dancing thing was about). From this momentous single they would go on to the dizzy heights of “Blue Monday”, “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “True Faith”2.

Temptation 7" Cover

Temptation Cover

This is a personal favourite version, from a BBC Radio 1 recording filmed in 1984. I strongly advise you to watch the whole concert, too:

Loving those shorts, Barney.

As the song starts, the pulsing keyboards mesh with the mix of live drums and drum machine, and then the guitar kicks in. Suddenly, all the cares and troubles of New Order’s first couple of years disappear, like the sun bursting through the clouds after a thunderstorm. The effect is electrifying. And the lyrics offer something different to the gloom of Ian Curtis: “Heaven, a gateway, a hope”. Like many of Barney’s words, they can be impossible to decipher – “Oh, you’ve got green eyes\Oh, you’ve got blue eyes\Oh, you’ve got gray eyes”, yes, thanks for that Barney – but they work so beautifully in the song you just can’t help but forgive him.

So, redemption and hope after suffering and despair. What more can you ask for? It goes without saying that this isn’t the last of New Order on this list; and that even Pitchfork devote more than half a page to talking about them – more than any other band so far.

The Jam, hailing from Woking in Surrey, were formed by Paul Weller, a serious young chap with a huge thirst for the mod records of the sixties, along with soul, R&B, new wave and power-pop. This earnest fellow wanted to merge all those influences, mixing in the new punk sensibilities by telling stories of real life. “A Town Called Malice” is the fruit of that idea, and one of their best songs. Late 1970’s Britain being a grim kind of place was manna from heaven for a talent like Weller, and this song tells of “a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts” and “stop apologising for the things you’ve never done\Cos time is short and life is cruel”. The reality of unemployment hits the people hard: “To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear\It’s a big decision in a town called Malice”.

Stern stuff. Sung in his tense, angry voice, and pitted against Foxton and Buckler’s expert bass and drumming, with tinges of 60’s R&B, the song nearly explodes with tension and rage at the situation people were in. And like “Temptation”, it still sounds fresh nearly 30 years later. Two very different songs then; New Order’s looking solely to the future to try and forget the past, and The Jam’s using the music of the past to tell a tale of the present.

Next comes one of those periodic mis-steps on the list. Now it is safe to say that Duran Duran aren’t exactly the trendiest band from the early 80’s, though bands like The Killers are doing a job in reprising their sound. So to pick a song of theirs was quite brave. But a dodgy album track that sounds like The Cure with Simon Le Bon wailing over the top? Nah. Come on, it should have been “Rio”. Maybe “Save A Prayer”, at a push. Nah, listen to both “The Chauffeur” and “Rio” and tell me what you think:

Come on, if you’re going to do this English Invasion/New Pop thing, at least do it properly. As a bit of an aside, listen to how much is going on in “Rio”; the sequencers, the bass line, the guitar, the multi-tracked vocals, it takes a while to take it all in. There’s a richness and texture you just don’t get in modern pop music (with the exception of Girls Aloud).

Lastly, one of the pleasure of doing this list is hearing songs that have been so obviously influenced by ones that came a few years before. This one, The Beat’s “Save It For Later”, is like an unholy mix of Talking Heads and Elvis Costello, with some ska thrown in for good measure (and indeed, you can hear this song influencing bands like The Go-Betweens):

The Beat (or The English Beat for the Americans amongst you) were one of the Two-Tone Ska bands, who along with The Specials, Madness and The Selecter, turned the Sixties Ska sound into a particularly English phenomenon. More famous for “Mirror In The Bathroom” and their later cover of “Can’t Get Used To Losing You”, this song is more poppy and even has a string section poking into the song about halfway through. I was wondering why this didn’t seem at all familiar; it only got to number 47 in the UK charts (this is when any song in the Top 20 of any given week you’d be able to hum). I even doubt it was anything to do with the double entendre in the title, as Radio 1 didn’t even pick up on “Relax” for about a month. Anyway, I must say I rather enjoyed its power pop energy.

So that’s that; 12 songs that would come storming out of small towns and the largest cities of the UK, some fantastic, others less so. Some of these songs would change the world by showing what could be done with new technology, including making use of videos before any band in the US caught on; others would link back to the past of soul, R&B and Rock and Roll and twist them for the early ’80’s; and some were so shocking to US audiences that they would fuel the boom in guitar driven rock like Bruce Springsteen in response. And some would just quietly go about their own way, waiting for the world to catch up with them.

1 Or at least get you out of Macclesfield.
2 Funnily enough, “True Faith”, probably their best song, isn’t on the Pitchfork list but the other two are. I can kind of see why, but won’t go into it now.

MP3: Temptation (7″ mix) By New Order

MP3: Save It For Later by The Beat

Buy “The Best of New Order” (CD) (And You Really Should)

Buy “The Very Best Of The Jam” (CD)

Buy Duran Duran’s “Greatest” (MP3/CD)

Buy “You Just Can’t Beat It: The Best of the Beat” (CD)

The whole list is available here.

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The Pitchfork 500 The Brits Are Coming Part 3 – Human League to ABC

The early 80’s saw an explosion in electronic pop music from the UK. All around the UK, bands were messing around with primitive synthesisers, sequencers and drum machines. With a good ear for a tune and the ability to fiddle around with these new bits of technology, you could create something unique. These bands, along with others like Duran Duran and The Eurythmics, are often called “New Pop” for their marriage of pop sensibilites to the new sounds being made available through technology. The next four songs are:

The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
The Associates – Party Fears Two
ABC – All of My Heart

The Human League were at the forefront of the New Pop explosion, and their 1981 album “Dare” was the first huge release. “Don’t You Want Me” was a huge international hit, though funnily enough the band considered it one of the weaker songs off Dare. Which, in some ways, was right – it didn’t have the same depth musically, or the same pioneering attitude, as other songs such as “Love Action” or “The Sound Of The Crowd”. But what it had in spades was emotion. Love, jealously, ambition, revenge, laid open for everyone to see.

And as the British bands showed, image was as important as the song itself:

Hilarious now to look at this video, using a Rover and a Volvo to demonstrate how chic and rich the characters are meant to be. Ah, early ’80’s England. Still, it’s got it’s glamour and Trauffaut references.

The song, with its classic major verse/minor chorus motif, looks both to the future with its use of technology (trying playing this on a guitar, it just doesn’t work), yet it also harks back to old-style duets. Make something old and classic sound brand spanking new, and you’ve got a hit on your hands.

Thankfully Pitchfork didn’t try to be all clever (like they did with Adam Ant) and pick another song. This one is just perfect.

Unlike the next one. Now I’ve got nothing against “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. It’s a fine record, if rather over-exposed. But it’s a cover version, which is something I’ve complained about before – why list a cover when the same band have an original, much better composition? This is a time that Pitchfork should have been clever, and gone for “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”. Now that’s a song. See if you agree1:

Soft Cell – Tainted Love from ddeubel on Vimeo.

Go on, tell me from the depths of your soul, you know I’m right. “Tainted Love”, for all its slinky eroticism, just isn’t in the same league.

When I was reading through the list, The Associates song “Party Fears Two” made me think “Now, I’m sure I know that song, but I can’t quite place it”. Then I heard the first minute and thought “Hey, I remember trying to play that on my parents piano!”. Then Billy McKenzie started singing. By jove, I’d forgotten how bonkers he was. And what a mover:

(sorry, that’s the best quality version I could find).

Billy McKenzie was a famously dramatic fellow, hailing from Dundee, a city not famed for its welcoming attitude toward theatrical gentleman with multi-octave voices and a huge thirst for drugs and glamour. Teaming up with Alan Rankine, the pair of them formed The Associates, who (and this is a very brief history, you understand) managed to get a £60,000 advance to record their first album and spent it on:

1x 1962 Mercedes convertible
2x chocolate guitars for a ToTP performance
Board and lodging at the Swiss Cottage Holiday Inn (including an additional room for Billy’s pet whippets
Smoked salmon for Billy’s pet whippets
16 cashmere jumpers
Huge quantities of cocaine and speed (who’da thought it?)

Needless to say, they also worked very hard on their album, but it all went quite horribly wrong and Rankine left the band at the end of 1982. The days of being able to be completely bonkers and extort piles of cash out of gullible record labels were coming to an end.

Smoked Salmon makes for shiny coats

Smoked Salmon makes for shiny coats

Oh, the song? Great piano line, mad vocal histrionics, and quite unique. You wonder what else they could have come up with if they’d had a decent manager to rein them in. And laid off the drugs a bit.

And last of all, ABC. Now I must say I’ve never really got into ABC. They always seemed too cold and calculating, wearing their ambition on their sleeves. Can’t say that Trevor Horn’s clinical production helps their case either. So forgive me if I don’t really talk much about “All of My Heart”, with its Fairlight stabs and huge strings, as it just doesn’t warm the cockles of my heart.

Next up, the final part of The Brits Are Coming, featuring New Order, The Jam and some more New Pop.

1 Sorry, but Soft Cell are one of the bands who have had their videos removed by YouTube, and Vimeo doesn’t embed properly in WordPress.

MP3: 96-dont-you-want-me

MP3: 98-party-fears-two

The whole list is available here.

Buy Human League’s “Dare!” (MP3) (Essential Purchase)

Buy Soft Cell’s “The Very Best Of” (MP3/CD)

Buy The Associates “Singles” (CD)

Buy “The Look of Love: The Very Best of ABC” (CD)

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The Pitchfork 500 The Brits Are Coming Part 2 – Wyatt to Scritti Politti

Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding
Bauhaus – Third Uncle
Adam and the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier
Scritti Politti – The ‘Sweetest Girl’

Robert Wyatt’s one of Britain’s great cult musicians, having influenced everyone from Billy Bragg to Bjork. But till now I don’t think I’ve ever really sat down and properly listened to anything of his. Sure, I’ve heard him on the radio and all, but I’ve never properly listened to him. And what a fine experience it is. For a start, he really doesn’t sound like he looks:

God, If He Was From Bristol

God, If He Was From Bristol

Instead of sounding like a gruff blues or folk singer, he has a high, almost keening voice, suiting perfectly the song presented here, “Shipbuilding”. Written by Elvis Costello and Madness producer Clive Langer, the song tells of how the Falklands war both rejuvenated downtrodden shipbuilding towns, which built new ships to replace the ones lost in the war, and simultaneously sent the young men of those towns off to war to be killed:

“Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyard\And notifying the next of kin once again”

Well worth three minutes of your time.

Ah, Bauhaus. Now this takes me back to my teenage semi-goth years (I always liked bands like A Certain Ratio, New Order and Cabaret Voltaire to ever go Full Goth) listening to the likes of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. Listening to it now on Spotify, I’d forgotten quite how dubby the opening few minutes are. Maybe there’s a bit more to these Goth folks than met the eye.

“Third Uncle” is much less dubby than their most famous track, and much more the rocky post-punk band they really were. Lots of phaser on Daniel Ash’s messed-up guitar sound. Pete Murphy’s multi-tracked, desperate, angry vocals. But what’s noticable now is how many of their most famous songs are cover versions, this being a Brian Eno tune. And frankly, his version is that bit better. Sorry chaps. And I do have to wonder why a cover version’s on here again (and this is a theme I shall return to next article).

Adam and the Ants still can’t be treated seriously by most people. But, alongside all the Antmusic stuff, he was a pretty shrewd operator, and by singing “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of” in his biggest hit, he was able to clearly define himself as a combination of absurd and vital.

Ant had been around for a couple of years until he hooked up with dodgy impresario Malcolm McLaren1, who threw him a bone with the idea of using African tribal rhythms to underpin his sound, and then nicked his whole band. Undeterred – indeed, driven by this treachery – he hired a new set of musicians and had 6 hits in the UK in two years. Pitchfork have chosen “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” as their pick of his records, but it’s just got to be Stand And Deliver. Or Ant Music. Or Prince Charming. Oh, I don’t know.

But this song is probably the best to demonstrate the whole Burundi drumming thang:

He was dreadfully handsome, wasn’t he? Anyway, for that whole period, he showed how you could mix an absurd image, strong tunes, and more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek showmanship, into a huge pop monster.

Green Gartside, main man of Scritti Politti, never painted a stripe across his face and pranced round dressed up as a dandy highwayman. He was far too arty for such japes. Originally a knotty, angular post-punk band, heavily influenced by The Pop Group and Gang Of Four and huge piles of speed and alcohol, Green totally changed his sound after a night out following a show ended up with a stay in hospital. Whilst recuperating at his parents cottage in Wales (rock and roll, dude!) he decided to move the band in a pop direction, fusing soul, funk and lover’s rock with traditional English pop music. And what’s more, he wanted hits, lots of them.

The first song released on the new direction was “The ‘Sweetest Girl'”. So sweet that it could send a diabetic into a hyperglycemic coma from 10 paces, and featuring Robert Wyatt on piano, it wasn’t a hit (it only got to number 64 in the UK chart), but it did demonstrate what Green could do once he threw off his self-imposed Marxist shackles. And the hits would come, eventually.

Not sure it’s really my thing though. It makes my teeth ache.

That’s the second part of the four part The Brits Are Coming series, and it has to be said, the weakest by far. There’s some right crackers coming up, I can tell you.

1 Read the section on Bow Wow Wow in Simon Reynolds’ excellent “Rip it Up and Start Again if you want to find out just how dodgy. If he did that sort of thing these days, he’d be put in prison, and rightfully so.

MP3: 92-shipbuilding

MP3: 94-kings-of-the-wild-frontier

The whole list is available here.

Buy Robert Wyatt’s “His Greatest Misses” (CD)

Buy “Bauhaus – 1979-1983 Volume One” (CD/MP3)

Buy Adam Ant’s “Hits” (MP3) (And A Right Bargain!)

Buy Scritti Politti’s “Early” (CD)

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The Pitchfork 500 Missing List – Part One

When anyone looks through the Pitchfork 500 list, they are bound to go “Yeah, but what about xxx?”, where xxx = the name of favourite band, song, or horrible personal favourite.

Of course, choosing 500 songs and calling them the “best 500 songs” is bound to cause trouble. Of course, people are going to disagree. There’s some personal favourites of mine missing from the list, but I’m not going to start complaining that The Kingsbury Manx’s “Piss Diaries” is missing, because it’s quite obscure, and I’m not really sure that it’s everyone’s cup of tea. So I’m fine with that. But what this series of articles will do is highlight certain songs and artists that I think really should have been on there, because they really are something special, and (importantly) are more influential than certain songs that do appear on the list. I’ll be doing one of these every few months, usually just after I’ve completed a chapter of the Pitchfork 500. By the way, instances where the right artist is in the list with the wrong song are covered in the normal articles.

Today’s list features three bands, all from the UK; two from Manchester, on Factory Records, and one from the London. Those bands are A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, and Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

Durutti Column – Sketch For Summer (1977)
A Certain Ratio – Flight (1979)
Ian Dury and the Blockheads – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (1979)

First off, from 1977, is Durutti Column’s “Sketch For Summer”. Durutti Column was Vini Reilly’s band, hailing from Manchester. A painfully thin, fairly reclusive chap, Vini learnt electric guitar at the age of 10 and played with masses of delay, to produce a chiming sound that would go on to influence people as diverse as U2’s The Edge and Cocteau Twins Robin Guthrie. His songs were characterised by his trademark echoey, hollowed-out Strat sound, backed up with a drum machine on his earlier songs, and jazz drumming in his later work, and occasional vocals (he sampled Otis Redding to marvellous effect on the song “Otis”).

Vini With His Strat

Vini With His Strat

If you only ever hear one Durutti Column song, it really should be “Sketch For Summer”. Opening his first LP, “The Return Of The Durutti Column”, it kicks off with synthesised birdsong and a doleful drum machine, before starting on the trademark delayed guitar lines. What makes the song such a thing of sheer beauty is the way the arpeggios create a gorgeous choral noise, which disappear almost before you register them, overlain by syncopated, almost harp-like chords.

A Sandpaper Cassette Box

A Sandpaper Cassette Box

One of Factory Record’s earliest releases, it featured a sandpaper sleeve, to scratch the records next to them in the shelves of the record store. Lovely. If you’ve seen the Michael Winterbottom film, “24 Hour Party People”, Durutti Column are the band that always play to about 3 people in the Hacienda.

So why should this be on the list? Because it’s influential. Because it sounded like nothing else at the time. Because it showed that punk meant you could do what you damn well pleased, be it three-chord thrashes or creating a huge orchestral sound from the six strings of your Strat. But most of all, because it’s one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear. Words, who needs them?

Another Factory band, A Certain Ratio were the second to release a record on that label, after the Factory Sampler (featuring Durutti Column). Funny now to think that everyone’s heard of Joy Division now and ACR are largely unknown, but at the time, ACR were just as big1, and tipped by some to be huge. Whilst Joy Division were four skinny white guys from Manchester (or thereabouts) who took the music of Iggy Pop, Television and the Velvet Underground and gave it a special Northern twist, A Certain Ratio were four skinny white guys from Manchester (or thereabouts) who took the music of Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, and Northern Soul and gave it a special Northern twist.

The 1979 Abercrombie And Fitch Catalogue Was Not A Success

The 1979 Abercrombie And Fitch Catalogue Was Not A Success

Joining up with superb drummer Donald Johnson made them. Forcing them to actually learn their instruments properly, they mixed jazz, funk, soul, and Latin with a dour Northern sensibility and created something quite unique. “Flight” is an early example of this. At first, you might almost be mistaken into thinking it’s an odd Joy Division offcut, but then you notice the drumming. Then the fact that the bassline is far too slinky for Peter Hook. The harsh guitar chords have something of disco about them. And the falsetto singing. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

A Certain Ratio showed that with the right attitude, and a seriously talented drummer, you really could mix dark Northern rock up with Salsoul, and Disco, and whatever you fancied. After some early success with “Shack Up”, the band decamped to New York to record the album “To Each”, whereupon they went clubbing and expanded their horizons further. Indeed, they were instrumental in getting ESG to record the classic “Moody” (amongst other tracks) when they found they still had three days of studio time remaining after they’d finished recording.

So, A Certain Ratio deserve to be on here for fully integrating dance sounds into a post-rock framework, far more effectively than the punk-funk by the likes of James Chance and The Pop Group. And being scrawny white-boy funksters, well ahead of the likes of Spandau Ballet. They also feature in 24 Hour Party People, memorably being covered in fake tan by Anthony Wilson. Oh, and Donald Johnson was the drummer famously told by Martin Hannett to “Play that drum bit again, faster but slower”.

Ian Dury was an old hand on the London pub-rock scene, first with his band Kilburn and the High Roads, and then with The Blockheads. They were one of the bands for whom punk was an opportunity to reach audiences that wouldn’t previously have heard them. They, and their record label, Stiff, grabbed it with both hands.

Dury himself was a product of the grammar school system, with something of a mixed upbringing, crippled on one side of his body from childhood polio2. He was a devastatingly good lyricist, as you can tell just from his song titles: “Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll” (“\are very good indeed”, goes the song), “There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards”, with the immortal couplet: “Einstein can’t be classed as witless\He claimed atoms were the littlest\When you did a bit of splitt-li-ness\Frightened everybody shitless”. He spoke, rather than sang, the lines, in a droll, broad Cockney accent, with his band playing mean pub-rock, influenced by ska and everything else going on at the time. Plus, having been around for a while, they could actually play, which usually helps.

“Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” was their first number one, and manages to be rather naughty without being absolutely clear about it. And it simultaneously teaches us about the commonality of humanity – that no matter who you are, or where you’re from, we all want the same thing. “Je t’adore, ich liebe dich”, indeed. Plus, the backing is just great, from Norman Watt-Roy’s liquid, dextrous bass, to Davey Paynes two-sax onslaught.

All in all a worthy UK number 1, and a song that’ll still get Brits of a certain age cackling with laughter. And, as well as being a great song, it showed that whilst you might be an old geezer playing pub-rock, you could still have a hit. Punk wiped away the old snobbery and let some real talent through. Ian, we miss you.

So that’s three songs. I can’t explain why Pitchfork missed them – though in the case of Ian Dury, I can imagine that not many Americans have ever heard of them. For Durutti Column and A Certain Ratio, who knows? Maybe they’d already filled their quota of Factory acts. Still, three out of 50 or so isn’t bad, I suppose.

1 Admittedly, neither band were actually that successful in any way, shape, or form, at the time.

2 If anyone’s ever in doubt about the efficacy of vaccinations, they really should speak to anyone aged 35 or above – I’ll bet you they know someone who suffered from polio. It’s difficult for people to realise now just how prevalent it was.

MP3: Sketch For Summer by Durutti Column

MP3: Flight by A Certain Ratio

Buy “The Best of the Durutti Column” (CD)

Buy A Certain Ratio’s “Early” (CD)

Buy “Reasons to Be Cheerful: The Very Best of Ian Dury & the Blockheads” (CD)

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The Pitchfork 500 The Brits Are Coming Part 1 – Dexys to Specials

Dexys Midnight Runners – There There My Dear
Young Marble Giants – Final Day
Altered Images – Happy Birthday
The Specials – Ghost Town

This is the first of a four-part series of Pitchfork 500 posts, as the next 16 tracks are all from Great Britain. This was thanks to an amazing outpouring of pop and rock from the British Isles in the early ’80’s – bands that had taken the call to arms of punk and post-punk, and used the attitude of experimentation to make some rather startling new music. Some, like Dexys Midnight Runners and The Jam, would look to the past for inspiration; others, like Human League and New Order, would create something quite new. On a personal note, this period was when I really started to listen to music loads, recording stuff from my brother and sisters and taping tracks off the radio, kicking off a love that is still strong today (obviously, as I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise!).

Kevin Rowland was a charismatic Brummie with an ear for a good tune, and an eye for trouble. Passionate about soul music, driven by massive ambition, he wanted to recreate the music of black R&B artists like James Brown and Geno Washington, but twisting it in his own inimitable fashion. The track on offer here, “There There My Dear” was their second single (after the far better “Geno”, which for some reason misses out on the list), but gives you a good idea of where the famously puritan and driven Rowland was aiming for.

Get those horns! After another couple of singles, he decided he didn’t want to talk to the press any more, instead communicating to his fans by means of adverts taken out in the weekly music press. Let’s just say it didn’t make him a popular man. And after the hit singles “Come On Eileen” and “Jocky Wilson Said”, he famously went so far off the rails that by the time he came back in the 90’s, wearing women’s clothing, it didn’t even seem that much out of character:

Run away!  Run away!

Run away! Run away!

Anyway, “Geno” is much better:

Young Marble Giants made one LP, one single and one EP1 before breaking up. And much of what they did record was hardly there, so sparse was their sound. To be honest, Young Marble Giants have almost completely passed me by. Hard to remember now, but back in the day you only had the music papers like NME, Sounds and Melody Maker to read, and radio shows like John Peel to listen to, and things passed by very quickly. There was little or no looking back; so much music was coming out that anything over a year old tended to get lost. So this is the first time that I’ve knowingly listened to “Final Day”, and what a pleasure it’s been.

A song about nuclear holocaust, “Final Day” is less than two minutes long – one of the shortest tracks on the Pitchfork list – and to the sound of odd fretless bass and muted guitar chords, singer Alison Statton sings of “Put a blanket up on the window pane” and “There is so much noise\There is too much heat”. It captures that sense of final days beautifully. Really, teenagers are lucky now – all they get to worry about is chlamydia and the occasional suicide bomber; we had the entire nuclear arsenal of a spectacularly grumpy superpower pointed in our general direction for much of the 80’s. Sure does tend to piss you off a bit, that.

Speaking of a cloying sense of dread hanging over you constantly, here’s Altered Images, with their poppy, chirpy brand of Scottish whimsy. Boy, is it annoying. I’ve listened to “Happy Birthday” three times now and I still can’t understand why it’s on this list. To be on here, a track needs to be (on average) one of the best 15 songs released that year. This wasn’t even the 15th best song released that week. I can only think that the writer responsible had a teenage crush on Claire Grogan which hasn’t quite worn off yet. What does the book say? “You can practically hear Grogan pout her lips, stick out her tongue…”. Yep, that’ll be it. Does also say something about them practically inventing twee pop like Belle and Sebastian. Sweet Jebus. Now that’s something we could do without.

There’s probably never been a song to hit number 1 at exactly the right time as “Ghost Town” by The Specials. The UK at the time was a paranoid, desperate, angry place. Simmering resentment in many inner cities boiled over into some of the worst rioting the country had ever seen just as this song, detailing the misery of inner-city life in Coventry (a grim Midlands town with high unemployment and disaffected youth living in run-down concrete high-rise flats), flew to the top of the charts.

I was 10 when the song came out, and I still remember the fear in the air. We grew up near Bristol, one of the cities plagued by the social and racial tensions at the time, and there was a palpable fear that events were spinning out of control. Then out of nowhere came this song, written by Jerry Dammers for a band that weren’t even speaking to each other. Somehow it captured everything that was wrong with the country at the time, from there being too much violence in the clubs that they were getting closed down, to the final verse which said everything:

“This place, is coming like a ghost town\No job to be found in this country\Can’t go on no more\The people getting angry”

Followed by that odd, ghostly laughing chorus. What makes the song so great is the atmosphere of dread, the contrasting voices of Terry Hall’s white boy singing and Neville Staple’s ominous baritone and the mournful trumpet and organ sounds, underlain by none-more-dub drum, bass and reggae guitar stabs. Fantastic song.

I can still remember a family trip somewhere at that time, listening to Radio 4 news telling us, in sombre tones, about the previous night’s rioting in St Pauls (inner-city Bristol), with this song going round and round in my head. No-one of my age, who grew up in Britain, can think of the song without thinking of the riots too.

The Specials broke up pretty much straight after this song was released; Jerry Dammers keeping the Special AKA name, and Hall, Staples and Lynval Golding going on to form Fun Boy Three. Of which, a little more later.

That’s the first four of The Brits Are Coming; the next four coming soon.

1 Extended Play, for you youngsters out there. Like a long single. Or a short album.

MP3: Final Day by Young Marble Giants

MP3: Ghost Town by The Specials

Buy Dexys Midnight Runners “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels” (CD)

Buy Young Marble Giants “Colossal Youth & Collected Works” (CD)

Buy Altered Images “Happy Birthday” (MP3)

Buy The Specials “The Singles” (MP3)

The whole list is available here.

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