Wednesday, 6 June 2012
81 Night Moves - Various Artists
Purchased : 8 April 1988
Tracks : Dreaming ( Blondie ) / Video Killed The Radio Star ( Buggles ) / Every Day Hurts ( Sad Cafe ) / Lost In Music ( Sister Sledge ) / Street Life ( Crusaders ) / Reggae For It Now ( Bill Lovelady ) / Just When I Needed You Most ( Randy Vanwarmer) / The Loneliest Man In The World ( Tourists ) / Back Of My Hand ( The Jags ) / Can't Get Enough Of Your Love ( Darts ) / Ring My Bell ( Anita Ward ) / Bang Bang ( B A Robertson ) / Angel Eyes ( Roxy Music ) / Stay With Me Till Dawn ( Judie Tzuke ) / Skin Tight ( Noosha Fox ) / You Can Do It ( Al Hudson & The Partners ) / Wanted ( The Dooleys ) / Get Dancin ( Bombers ) / Morning Dance ( Spyro Gyra ) / Madness ( The Prince )
This was my second purchase from the Save records cassette sale. It was bought on my way up to Spotland for a coach to an evening game at Colchester ( by far the longest trip I'd undertaken in support of Dale at that point; we lost 1-0) and so not listened to until the following day. I also recall that after buying it I went to The Baum ( part of the Toad Lane heritage area celebrating Rochdale's role in the origins of the Co-Op movement ) for some lunch because my friend Sean's brother Frank was the (or at least a ) chef there. I was a bit disappointed. Although Frank did quietly acknowledge me I got no extras and indeed thought the portions ( Beef Stroganoff in case you were interested ) were a bit stingy.
This cassette must have been lurking at the back of a cupboard for some time since it covers the summer and early autumn of 1979. (In a sense we've come full circle since that was when this story commenced). It was released by K-Tel for the Christmas market that year and peaked at number 10. As usual with K-Tel it was an eclectic selection including two number ones and a non-hit on the second side. There were no bona fide favourites that I didn't already have in one form or another. This was simply bought to wallow for an hour or so in a musical snapshot from the happiest time of my life and writing in 2012 that is still true.
So what does this tell us about the music of 1979 ? Well, without The Police, Gary Numan and Joy Division, not everything obviously. The biggest band featured kick proceedings off with "Dreaming" which just failed to make it a hat-trick of number ones in the year ( they'd pull that off in 1980 ) despite being the lead-off single for a new album. The opening chords are strikingly similar to Born To Run and there's an obvious shared affection for Phil Spector going on here. Clem Burke in particular drums up a storm to give the song the required Big Sound. Debbie Harry co-wrote the song with Chris Stein and when you hear the opening couplet -"When I met you in the restaurant, you could tell I was no debutante" - you do wonder if the 34-year old intended to be quite so self-deprecating. As with "Sunday Girl" there's a clear homage to 60s girl groups ( around this time The surviving Shangri-las slyly pointed out that they were still younger than Harry ) on this paean to indolence but it feels like pastiche coming from sassy New Yorkers who'd been round the block.
It's followed by one of the two number ones but I've said all I needed to about "Video Killed The Radio Star" in the post on "The Age Of Plastic" so we'll move straight on to "Every Day Hurts" . Early on in 1979 I'd noticed a lot of posters for a Sad Cafe gig at Middleton Civic Hall so when they crashed into the singles charts with this elegant piano ballad I knew they were something of a local band. It took a few listens before I appreciated this AOR classic with its stoic verses exploding into the densely-packed harmonies of the chorus. As a tale of wrenching loss it's not as affecting as Without You ( singer Paul Young didn't have Nilsson's range for one thing ) but an honourable second. It peaked at number 3 by far their biggest hit. Less than 18 months later their chart career was over but they soldiered on until 1989 when Young became one of the two vocalists in Mike and The Mechanics. In the nineties I worked with his next-door neighbour for a time before his death in 2000.
"Lost In Music" had already re-visited the charts in 1984 ( when it was actually a bigger hit ) and would do so again. It is one of the four monumental tracks from the "We Are Family" album released as singles which -"Le Freak" apart - seem to have eclipsed Chic's own singles as the crowning glory of Rodgers and Edwards' art. Perhaps that's because the Sledge girls , particularly the brace-wearing Kathy were better singers than Norma Jean Wright and her replacements. The song is a simple statement of choosing to play music over a conventional career with the trademark bendy bass line and hypnotic rhythm gutar behind Kathy's husky vocal. I don't think the Chic duo were quite the geniuses they're made out to be by the likes of Maconie - there's a fair few conspicuous failures on their cv - but this is pretty unknockable.
"Street Life" reminds us of another great voice from this period. The Crusaders had been a respected jazz-funk outfit for two decades but it was the co-option of 27-year old vocalist Randy Crawford that gave both parties a commercial breakthrough. It's a delicious combination of a peerless vocal , ultra-tight playing from pianist Joe Semple and saxophonist Wilton Felder and an utterly scabrous lyric about the necessity of prostitution that didn't stop it reaching number 5 in the UK. Crawford of course was a major star in the following years but she never topped this.
The next song throws up something of a paradox when listening to the LP for the first time - it was some of the songs I hadn't heard before ( or had completely forgotten ) which had the most emotional impact. It was perhaps the thrill of hearing something from that golden time which was unsullied by being aired in the following decade. Douglas Coupland tapped into this feeling in Girlfriend In A Coma ; the comatose Karen is worshipped by her old friends because she's still got the essence of 1979 locked within her. I don't know how I managed to miss "Reggae For It Now" the first time round since it was a Top 20 hit but I loved it now. A white guitarist and songwriter from Liverpool Bill Lovelady eschews singing in a Jamaican accent for a white soul vocal on this London-set tale of wooing a high maintenance girl with the music. The sound owes a lot to Dreadlock Holiday but the song still sounds wonderfully fresh with its lilting melody and warm horn fills. There's another Proustian rush to be had from the lyrics with the line "Take your Interceptor right to her gate" which refers to the Jensen Interceptor, a trendy sports car which ceased production in 1976.
Next up is another one hit wonder. Randy Vanwarmer originally hailed from Colorado but relocated to Cornwall with his mother at 15 and didn't enjoy it over here particularly after his American girlfriend returned home. This event inspired the accusatory "Just When I Needed You Most" which was co-written with ex-Hot Chocolate man Tony Wilson and originally intended as a B-side. Vanwarmer's mard tones suit the maudlin self-pity of the lyric and the lush musical setting is marked by an autoharp solo in the middle eight from The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian. The single peaked at 11 here and 4 in the UK. Vanwarmer's general work was apparently more adventurous in nature and though he had a couple more minor hits in the US this was his success here before his premature demise in 2004 at the age of 48.
Then we have The Tourists with the equally maudlin "The Loneliest Man In The World" which gave the band their first Top 40 hit. The sombre organ chords of the intro recall fellow Scots Slik though once Jim Toomey's drums kick in there's an unmistakable similarity to Blondie's power pop sound. Annie Lennox's Scottish vowels are a little more prominent than on later work and she pushes her voice thrillingly close to breaking point in the middle eight. The track does offer a glimpse into an alternative future; it wasn't written by either Lennox or Stewart but the latter's fellow guitarist Peet Coombes who was the real driving force in the band and is a prominent backing vocalist here. When the band split in 1980 Lennox and Stewart went off to become superstars but Coombes never got back on his feet and died in 1997 after years of substance abuse.
Light relief then arrives with The Jags and their impressive Elvis Costello impersonation on "Back Of My Hand" a number 17 hit in October after saturation play on Radio One all summer ( when I thought it was called "Riddleman Daddleman" thanks to singer Nick Watkinson's murky diction ). It is a nifty little power pop number taken at a frantic pace and now sounds like a historical curiosity - the imminent steep decline in Costello's commercial fortunes meant that few would try to mimic him in future. The Jags follow-up single "Woman's World" joined the exclusive club of "doorstopper" singles by spending a single week in the lowest chart position ( then 75 ) and they disbanded in 1982.
Side One concludes with another band on the slide. "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love" broke a run of 7 consecutive Top 20 singles for Darts ( including 3 number 2's ) by peaking at 43 and they only managed one more sizeable hit in 1980. It's difficult to see why this song did so badly ( other than exceptionally strong competition ) and it's another gem that had passed me by at the time. It was produced by Roy Wood who also played the striking sitar intro. Written by drummer John Dummer it bounces along on a Dave Edmunds style rhythm guitar riff with an infectious chorus. Rita Ray does the lead vocal with Bob Fish and new bass singer Ken Andrews getting a couple of lines each on the middle eight.
The second side is more dance-focussed and so kicks off with the other number one "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward, one of the most obscure chart-topping artists of all time. A schoolteacher discovered by record producer Frederick Knight ( himself a one hit wonder as an artist ) she was persuaded to record the song originally intended for teen prodigy Stacy Lattisaw. The lyrics were made more adult for the 23-year old Ward and the rest is history. The song made number one on both sides of the Atlantic but now sounds one of the more lightweight products of the disco era, its most distinctive element the Synare electronic drum "playing a decaying high-pitched tom tone" ( thanks wikipedia) at the end of each bar. Ward herself sounds rather amateurish like she's attempting Minnie Ripperton for one of those awful Top Of The Pops albums.
Then comes a single that everyone around me seemed to love ( and it got to number 2 ) but I thought was awful. "Bang Bang" got a leg up from Noel Edmunds and gave B A Robertson a hit after 6 years of effort. To me it just represented the worst sort of Richard Stilgoe-esque smug doggerel, full of bad puns , faux-erudite references ( plus the ever-mystifying "Johnny Fruin" - to rhyme with ruin you see ) set to really dated Chicory Tip synth sounds. I look forward to reading what Lena Carlin thinks of it. I actually liked his next two singles but never thought he had the talent to be a lasting player. His career as a TV presenter when the hits dried up was torpedoed by Annabella Lwin who reacted to his rather creepy introduction by calling him an old hippie and accepting his disastrous invitation to walk out. He's still reasonably active as a songwriter but I haven't seen his Jimmy Nail-like visage in front of the cameras for decades now.
Roxy Music are next with the third single from their tepid comeback album "Manifesto". Although a sizeable hit ( number 4 ) it's best remembered for being in the charts at the same time as an Abba song with the same title. For me this is the least memorable of all their singles , a competent disco track with some nice instrumental touches ( the harp for example ) but at the heart of it an utterly vacuous song with no hooks or chorus. It always seems to end before it's got going.
One hit wonder time again but Judie Tzuke is a special case. "Stay With Me Till Dawn" reached number 16 in August and it looked like the first of many but thereafter it became apparent that Judie had acquired a fanbase which completely disdained buying singles. Her albums charted well throughout the eighties and she headlined Glastonbury in 1982 but there were no more hits. "Stay With Me" is a lush neurasthenic ballad evoking that same air of Home Counties ennui as Clifford T Ward or early Kate Bush, the angst of the comfortable. Judie's voice is deep and pure and it's hard to imagine any man resisting the sexual come-on. Although her following dropped away in the early 90s Judie's still active today, going her own way ( working with Gareth Gates for God's sake ! ) out of the spotlight.
Noosha Fox's "Skin Tight" is the joker in the pack here, failing to chart at all. I didn't catch it at the time and didn't realise until some time after 1988 that she was the ex-lead singer of mid-70s pop band Fox ( yeah yeah, I know there's a clue in her name ) . I just assumed from this that she was a Lene Lovich wannabe. This tale of female lust has an interesting arrangement with stabbing violins and banjo over a melodic bassline but Fox's mannered vocals make it sound horribly dated.
I didn't recall Al Hudson and the Partners' "You Can Do It" either though it reached no 15. On hearing it I wasn't surprised as it's an absolutely typical disco record in the Kool and the Gang vein with appropriately mindless lyrics. The only point of interest to me is the similarity of the keyboard riff to Curiosity Killed The Cat's Misfit.
"Wanted" was one of the big surprises of the year. The Dooleys had emerged two years earlier as a wholesome family act peddling saccharin Eurovision pop to near-universal derision. With this single they changed tack, pushed the girls forward and came up with this shrill synth-pop which crackles with frustrated passion and wouldn't have been out of place on Voulez-Vous. It became their only Top 5 hit but this seemed to scare the band and they retreated to type on subsequent singles soon fading away.
Bombers were a Canadian disco act and "Get Dancin" reached number 37. Their song sounds a bit like Chic and that's all I can think of to say about it.
There's little to be said about Spyro Gyra's instrumental "Morning Dance" either other than noting the interesting confluence of standard sax-led jazz funk with calypso steel drums which makes it instantly recognisable for pop quizzes ( thus distinguishable from Mezzoforte and Azymuth).
The LP concludes with an acknowledgement of the latest youth cult in Madness's "The Prince" their first hit and only release on the Two Tone label. A good-natured tribute to early 60s ska icon Prince Buster, it wasn't written by Mike Barson and therefore is no great shakes as a song. The unusual jerky rhythms and sax solo no doubt helped it chart but they would come up with much better than this in the future.
And there we must leave 1979 for the time being. The LP did its job but time moves on.