In case you didn’t have a C90 to hand, listen to the latest show here……But remember, “Home Taping is Killing Music” 😉
Show #18 18th June 2017
The Retro Remix Years this week are 1997 and 1969 with music, comedy and pop culture clips. Featuring Radiohead, Republica, Supergrass, Chemical Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, King Crimson, Scott Walker, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, new music from Pumarosa and the Mental Straights and more!
Show #15 The Annabel Lamb interview special 30th April 2017
In this special edition of “Retromix”, I talk to singer/songwriter Annabel Lamb about her long and varied career, the hit single “Riders On The Storm”, her influences, passions and David Bowie’s questionable driving skills! Including an exclusive preview from her forthcoming album “Blessed By The Songs”.
Check out the extended ‘video version’ with rare photos, videos and TV appearances too….
Mention Eurythmics to most people and the general perception might be – mainstream 80’s pop, safe radio-friendly AOR, Annie Lennox- darling of the establishment with endless Brits nominations throughout the 90s for seemingly doing nothing at all. Well, scrap all those preconceptions because pre-success there was a largely ignored debut album that displayed experimental art-rock leanings a million miles away from the stadium-filling act they would turn into. Discordant and unsettling, tuneless at times, but with an ethereal production courtesy of Conny Plank, it is more Cocteau Twins than Thompson Twins. (Actually they also started on a more avant-garde path, but I digress…..). 1981’s “In The Garden” has very little in common with the rest of their back catalogue and is all you would expect from a band named after a Pedagogical Exercise System.
By the time of recording their first album as a duo, Dave and Annie had been together for six years, although it was purely in a musical-only capacity by ’81. First band The Catch evolved into The Tourists and the 1979-80 period was an intense but fraught period producing three albums (mainly penned by chief songwriter in the group Pete Coombs). A new-wave-by-numbers take on Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Wanna Be With You” provided them with a major hit in ’79. Creative frustrations and the uncomfortable predictability of being marketed as the sexy girl up front, this did not sit well with the fiercely independent Lennox. Stewart’s latent production skills were yet to unleash themselves too, but that comes later in the story. So, they decided to go it alone, together. In the 80s the musical duos would rule.
Conny Plank was a legendary producer at the forefront of the ‘Krautrock’ scene of the 70s, including credits for Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno. The John Foxx fronted (pre-Midge Ure) line-up of Ultravox had the sense to hire his services for the “Systems Of Romance” album and Plank became the natural choice for the acts of the time who wanted to cultivate a little freakiness in their sound. Nothing demonstrated this more than the B-Side of second single “Belinda”. The A-Side is a lovely, relatively commercial affair, but the flipside is, well, just nuts….
In May 1981, five months ahead of the album release, the first Eurythmics single, “Never Gonna Cry Again” reached the dizzying heights of no. 63 in the UK. The flute solo is actually performed by Lennox on the track, as she had studied the instrument at the Royal College of Music in the 70s. On a whimsical note though; very nice Bowie-esque hair-do Annie, shame it made way for the crop. Here’s the very rarely seen accompanying video and it is bizarre….
The album featured Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebeziet of Can and also Clem Burke of Blondie on drums (who would five years later return to the Eurythmics stable as part of the “Revenge” album and tour- by then a very different band). I love most of the Eurythmics’ cannon, including the pure mainstream pop of the hits, but this debut shows a completely apposite side to them – a sign of how things could have gone. It’s coming from the same non-conformist stance as other contemporaries The Associates- bonkers but brilliant. (A feature on the genius of Billy Mackenzie will be coming here soon). It’s the sound of two very creative people trying to find their feet and not quite hitting the mark in terms of public acceptance. But who want’s that when the alternative is so much more interesting?
After a small scale, duo-only tour in support of the album, 1982 was spent downsizing to an 8-Track studio in Chalk Farm to record a much more stripped-back approach using electronics only. Three singles were flops (including the first release of “Love Is A Stranger), until early 1983 and “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This” changed everything. The pop years followed and over the next seven years, the sparse electro-pop made way for big stadium soul/rock/AOR. There were still traces on experimentation though on the otherwise lush “Be Yourself Tonight” from ’85. The following year’s “Revenge” took the AOR mould a little too far though in my opinion and has dated the worst. Those massive 80’s reverberant snare sounds get a little wearing after a while.
But then in 1987, they “made a turn sharp left” as Stewart put it. A return to the arch/art approach of the early days they dispensed with the full band and produced an album centred around drum loops and samples (care of the Synclaviar keyboard); they were a duo once again (save for the only other musician present- drummer Olle Romo) The feeling is more overtly European than the Amerciana of the previous two albums. Lennox is a great white soul singer with a clear passion for the genre (that duet with Aretha) but here those influences are supressed, or find a perfect marriage of soul and electronics, such as on “You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart” (contrarily performed live and unplugged on Top Of The Pops), or the sampled vocals and drums of closer “Brand New Day”. Unsurprisingly, “Savage” didn’t perform as well in the states.
The decision was made too to release a sister ‘video album’, all twelve tracks set in a loose narrative, directed by Sophie Muller. The album opener was also the lead single in the UK and proved a little too weird for pop tastes, stalling at No. 25. The video features Annie as demure but demented housewife, transforming into blonde trashy vamp.
In the long-form video, this then leads into the newly liberated character belting out “I Want A Man” like a wanton drag Queen. (No disrespect to Ms Lennox, beautiful though she is). The video album needs a DVD release and track it down on VHS if you can.
So, this has been a look at the more experimental side of a band you thought you knew. Before the split in 1990 came one final album, “We Two Are One”, but that displayed the safer side to Eurthymics that continued into their late 90s reunion. At various times in the 80s though, Annie and Dave displayed a compelling mix of the avant-garde and commerciality – which for me sums up the decade in general.
1989. David Bowie’s mid-life crisis? Perhaps. A radical attempt to fight creative torpidity and to re-connect with lost artistic integrity? Absolutely. Vilified and praised in equal measure at the time, Tin Machine divided opinion with comparative intensity. You either felt relieved that David had seen the light and left behind the awful 80’s excesses and below-par mainstream pop of the previous few years: here was bold, challenging music presented in his/their own terms, no compromises. Bowie the artist was back. Or it was lacklustre garage rock from four men old enough to know better. Whatever your opinions of the actual music on the two albums that Tin Machine produced, it was an essential exercise. As it happens, if you can put any pre-conceived notions that “Tin Machine is crap” to bed, you will find some of Bowie’s best work- a continuation of the outré experimentation the late 70s, helped in no small way by the ingenious guitar of Reeves Gabrels.
By the end of 1987, David Bowie was up creative creak without a paddle. However, in the spring of that year he was outwardly effervescent, enthusing to journalists about the up-coming “Glass Spider” tour and the new “Never Let Me Down” album. It’s interesting that in these interviews (particularly the one below) he saw both projects as a ‘return to form’ of sorts, bringing in harder guitar from Peter Frampton, social conscience in the lyrics and an (overly) ambitious live experience, akin to the “Diamond Dogs” spectacle from 13 years before.
The problem was that while the intentions were sincere, the execution was, well, a bit of a mess. The album did have some good songs (and some not so good ones) but suffered from complacent production values and the feeling of just trying a bit too hard and missing the target completely. The tour was overblown and lacking in focus- he would later admit there were too many ideas happening concurrently, with dance routines jousting for position with guitar solos and a rather gaudy red suit. Much of this was lost in the stadiums that the giant spider visited and is better appreciated on the VHS/DVD record. The best that can be said for this period is that it shows a desire to re-connect with rock n’ roll and theatricality that he had done so well once upon a time. It also pre-empted the massive visual extravaganzas that toured the world a couple of years later- Madonna, the Stones and U2 were watching.
If one were being callous, you could argue that David Bowie is only ever as good as his collaborators at any point in his career- whether it be Mick Ronson, Brian Eno, Nile Rodgers, Tony Visconti. What he needed was a new source of inspiration. At a wrap party on the Glass Spider tour, David received a demo tape from a member of his press staff for the North American dates. Her name was Sarah Gabrels, her husband; Reeves. So it was in early 1988 that the seeds of this new direction were sown. The pair started working together and the first fruits of this union was a re-interpretation of the “Lodger” track “Look Back In Anger”. This was premiered in a charity event called “Intruders At The Palace” at the Dominium Theatre, London in July 1988 showcasing the incredible La La La Human Steps dance troupe, featuring Louise Lecavilier. After failing to secure their services for the Glass Spider, she would later become an integral part of the 1990 “Sound + Vision” tour (and the accompanying “Fame’90” video).
“Intruders At The Palace” concert. London, July 1988:
So, with renewed vigour and intention Bowie had a singular vision of creating a project that fed artistic needs rather than the bank balance. Despite the wall-of-sound guitars, the techno backing of “….Anger” wasn’t quite the ticket. In a search for the perfect rhythm section to match Gabrel’s free-form style, a moment of revelation came in a brief phone call David made to his incumbent accomplice one night – “Just put on Lust For Life” – click. He was referring to the Brothers Sales- Hunt and Tony, players from the Iggy Pop album Bowie had produced some 11 years before. The picture was complete. After a few rehearsals and tentative recordings it emerged that this was developing into a true band situation, rather than the next David Bowie record. Ergo, with profits shared equally, no salaries and expenses paid for by each member, Tin Machine was launched on to a bemused public in May, 1989. The first gig was a clandestine affair at a small club in Nassau, Bahamas. Some aghast at seeing a bearded variant version of a rock superstar in such surroundings. Can it be?? Surely not! At the International Rock Awards in the U.S. just before the album release, their performance caused consternation among the corporate crowd, including disapproval from Tina Turner’s mother!
The eponymous album appeared on EMI Records on 22nd May. Taking sonic influence from then-current favourites the Pixies, it is brutal and uncompromising, especially in the context of late ’80s sophistication from fellow contemporaries. Lyrics highlighting vile neo-Nazism in “Under The God” and titles such as “Crack City” give the listener an idea that this is no “Let’s Dance”, but there are also love songs – “Amazing” and “Prisoner Of Love”. The latter displaying the searing chords structures that are trademark Bowie, an “Absolute Beginners” in a different musical context. The first tour was comparatively brief and resolutely small-scale. The band decked out in sober dark suits and a hirsute Bowie, looking like a smarter version of the Baal character he once played, there were no hits, no encores, no theatrics of any kind. Just David as part of a band. That That pleased some, angered others.
Rehearsal and interview. Manhattan, New York, 1989:
The following year David did something equally unexpected. In January he announced to the world’s press a large scale solo tour of his Greatest Hits and furthermore that it would the last time EVER that they would be played. In the pre-internet era, a phone-line was set up for fans to phone in their preferred set-list, with Bowie picking the highest votes from each world territory. (The NME in the UK starting their own ‘Just Say Gnome’ campaign, to get The Laughing Gnome into the set. A treat that was vetoed when the source of all the votes was discovered by the artist). A purging of the soul after this recent creative epiphany perhaps. As the ensuing years proved, this statement could constitute fraud as the old favourites crept into his set towards the end of the 90s. With stunning visuals from La La La Human Steps but with a very minimal approach, both sonically and visually compared to the previous solo affair, the result was a perfunctory style of execution- the musical backing providing adequate but uninspiring delivery, despite the fretwork of Adrian Below, last seen as part of the 1978 ‘Stage’ tour and King Crimson. There were much more interesting renditions of these songs to emerge later in the decade and into the 2000s.
Tin Machine, Part II. Having already recorded most of the next album at the end of ’89, the band reconvened in early ’91 to finish off the second chapter. Having cut the strings from EMI, the new record would appear on a small label called Victory, distributed by London Records. As such it is now the only the part of the Bowie canon that is currently out-of-print, and that is a real shame considering that most of the material here is superior to the debut release. Growing musically, the results are a more three-dimensional sound. A little more polished, but still retaining some underlying ferocity. Released 2nd September 1991, it even provided the band with their only UK Hit – “You Belong In Rock n’ Roll” (peaking at No. 33). This track in particular being a lot more radio and TV friendly, with appearances on Top Of The Pops and even Wogan. (Gabrels managing to get away with playing with a Vibrator, while a TOTP ban of the sex toy resulted in a bread roll substitution). David’s nature was somewhat contrary in most interviews from this period; this rendezvous with good old Tel is one of the milder examples. Get ready to squirm. Hello Ron!
“You Belong In Rock n’ Roll”, Wogan, 1991:
Not the best part of the album by any means (and you can safely skip “Sorry” too), highlights would be “Goodbye Mr. Ed”, “Shopping For Girls” and the sheer snappy-ness of the lead track “Baby Universal”. Had this track been released without the band moniker I’m sure it would have been praised as a return to form, but by ’91 the anti-band vibe was so strong that Bowie had taken to wearing “Fuck You I’m in Tin Machine” T-Shirt on stage. Not that many people cared. The sartorial style had changed considerably, David was now sickeningly suntanned, clean shaven and the whole band ditching the dark suits in favour of clashing colours (or bare-chested in the case of David and Hunt). David picked up the saxophone for the first time in years.
I’ve posted a full length concert here from the end of the tour in Japan, February 1992. For this tour, David declared that “We have no setlist whatsoever. We have a complete list of all our songs on the floor of the stage and we yell it out as we feel it. If you catch us on a bad night, it can be one of the most disastrous shows you’ve ever seen. But on a good night – and fortunately with this band most nights have been good nights – it really happens”. I think the version of Shopping For Girls” here is extraordinary (1:18:42)
Tin Machine – Live in Tokyo, Japan, 6th February 1992:
The notion of a simultaneous solo and band career was a possibility for a while and a third album was planned, but two months later Bowie would perform at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, marry his new-found love Iman and start work on the second Nile Rodgers collaboration “Black Tie White Noise”- a very different phase had begun. Problems had arisen with “certain members and hard drugs” on the tour which the reformed Bowie could not abide. However, Reeves Gabrels stayed in the picture for a full 11 years, a much longer time than any other Bowie associate (excluding Tony Visconti). The 90’s turned out much better artistically than the previous decade, with “1. Outside”, “Earthling” and “…hours” all benefitting from the brilliance and innovation of Gabrels. As with all of these compadres, it is very much a case of ‘services rendered’ when the artist decides to move on. I will always love David Bowie as an artist but I think it’s a shame that the musical bravery on display throughout this period diluted into safer territory with subsequent albums. I don’t really get the unanimous heap of praise that has fallen on “The Next Day”, in comparison to the negativity that surrounded a group called Tin Machine (and for that matter the derision generated by the ‘Drum n’ Bass Uncle’ vibes around the time of “Earthling”- which I would also defend heartily). It seems that the world and the artist themselves are content with the brand Bowie and everything is Hunky Dory. A little too safe in my opinion. Come on David, surprise us once again.
Neil Innes will probably have penetrated public consciousness most effectively for either being the writer of a jaunty 1968 Top Ten Hit “I’m The Urban Spaceman” by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (produced by one Paul McCartney under the alias Apollo C. Vermouth)…..
……or by being one of the “pre-fab four”, The Rutles along with Eric Idle in the late ’70s. This affectionate parody sprung out of “Rutland Weekend Television, the first post-Python project for Eric Idle that ran for two series in 1975-76. The content was sketches and songs, with Innes perfectly complimenting the irreverent humour and Idle’s inherent musical talents. These weren’t strictly ‘comedy songs’, giving zany-ness at every opportunity, no where Neil’s genius lies is his ability to write within the boundaries of a style, furnish it with love and come up with something that has humour, sometimes pathos but always with artistic integrity. These are NO cheap imitations, far from it. This clip is part of an extended skit on “Pommy” (“Tommy”) and shows excellence in the song writing of Innes and pokes fun at the visual absurdity of Ken Russell.
After “RWT” and Eric Idle’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in the states, NBC wanted a full-length TV Special and “All You Need Is Cash” was born. Executed as an alternative universe re-telling of the real Fab Four’s story, each song was a pitch-perfect parody but always with a ton of affection included. Neil might have been playing “Ron Nasty” (very loosely based on Lennon), but there was no malice here. George Harrison was of course an ardent supporter of all things Python, appearing as a pirate in the Christmas ’75 special of “Rutland Weekend Television”. He later rescued the “Life Of Brian” movie with an injection of much needed finance and set up Handmade Films, a name behind some 80’s successes such as “The Long Good Friday” and “Time Bandits”.
John and Yoko found it hilarious, not wanting to return the preview video sent for clearance. Always the sensitive one, Ringo liked the parts that weren’t recalling the bad times and Paul’s initial dissent (really only fuelled by the level of accuracy achieved to his original compositions) was eventually softened by fan Linda. Despite having support and approval from at least half of the genuine articles, it was a sad state of affairs that Sony/ATV Music were to ultimately declare that Neil Innes had to share 50% of the royalties with Lennon/McCartney. There’s so many songs to choose from – “I Must Be In Love”, “Ouch”, “Piggy In The Middle”, all bona-fide classics in their own right, but let’s go for “Cheese and Onions” from “Yellow Submarine Sandwich”. Just a little like Oasis, right? Well, quite rightly Innes was successfully awarded a share of the royalties from “Whatever”; the first part of the chorus seemingly lifted from “How Sweet To Be An Idiot”. When Neil gave The Rutles a second run with the “Archaeology” album in ’96, Neil closed the song “Shangri-La” with a mantra of “I’m free to be whatever…”. Touche.
Next came three series of the BBC series “Innes Book Of Records” which ran from 1979-81. When approached with the idea of his very own show, Neil scorned the concept of studio-bound variety showcase and steered it into something that could marry images with songs in a way that pre-dated MTV and the video revolution. From a very personal viewpoint, this series made a big impact with a particular five-year old. In 1980, I would put the microphone up to the TV speaker and record these wonderful songs on an ancient reel-to-reel. There was something in this very unique show that ignited my love of music but also gave me something that the Top 40 wouldn’t have at the time. Despite the fact these songs were appealing to a tiny mind, revisiting them again now there is an absolute purity here, unaffected by trends, fashion, forced youthful insouciance and other baggage of the pop/rock world. 35 years on there is room for something similar in the schedules, but then again I doubt there is anyone out there now with the talent to produce the musical diversity and sheer amount that Neil Innes was capable of. This is just pure, intelligent song-writing presented with visual flair and innovation. And a fair amount of silliness. We need a DVD release or at the very least a BBC Four repeat run now!
Here’s three contrasting songs from a very memorable episode of Series 2 in 1980, the one with the creepy Robot D.J.
And finally, I love this song that was originally performed on “Rutland Weekend Television”, but here is a rare John Peel session version from 1977 (“Neil on acoustic guitar and pi-ahh-no”)…
Now That’s What I Call Music arrives, 28th November 1983
When EMI and the relative newcomer Virgin got into bed together at the tail-end of 1983 with the idea of releasing a singles round-up LP, the music industry was shaken to it’s very foundations. Pundits may cite the subsequent decline of the singles chart, sparked off by this seminal release, but hey, let’s celebrate the brand for it’s own worth. There’s so much to enjoy.
Until the early 80s, pop fans had to make do with the now iconic, but frankly vile, Top Of The Pop collections. Charity-shop fixtures to this day, these imposters would rob you of your pocket money with note-for-note recreations of the hits du jour- “Bohemian Rhapsody” proving a particular challenge for the anonymous session players.
The TOTP records as a series finally bit the dust around ’81 (although it limped on with two final editions in ’84 and ’85. But by that time the public wanted the real thing). Pre-Now, labels such K-Tel Ronco and Telstar had cornered the market in cheap compilation albums, using original artists (albeit edited down to fit ten tracks per side). Your local RSPCA shop is now home for these naffly-titled selections – Raiders Of The Pop Charts, Close Encounters Of The Chart Kind and so on.
This was the environment into which Now That’s What I Call Music arrived on 28th November 1983, proclaiming “30 Great Tracks including 11 Number Ones!” A double LP, it’s gatefold sleeve exuded quality from the word go and it’s maximum of eight tracks per side meant better sound quality (the vinyl still sounds great to this day). It’s slightly odd moniker came from a slogan on a 1920s poster advertising Danish Bacon, hung on the wall of Simon Draper’s office at Virgin Records.
That same Beatific pig later donned the Raybans and defined the brand for up until Now 5…..
However, the Northern porker didn’t prove too popular amongst the ranks at Virgin EMI, and perhaps conscious of straying back into the tacky aesthetics of Ronco et al, the sleeve for Now 6 declared “Feel The Quality”, with silk inner lining mock-up.
Hereon in, up until Now 16, the gatefold artwork was really something quite special. Completely photographic, in the days before computer generated manipulation, the familiar four-ball/lightening flash logo took on many forms with increasingly imaginative scenarios- a neon hotel sign, submerged under water, skyscraper reflections, spaceship, fireworks and an ominous “15” shaped shadow spoiling an otherwise perfect Summer 1989 day on the beach. That was all spoiled though by the time of Now 20 when a generic, computer generated three dimensional logo arrived and the design department went on holiday forever, each release looking indistinguishable from the one preceding it.
The series also emerged blinking into the video age. An 80-minute title called, not surprisingly, Now That’s What I Call Music Video was available on VHS and Betamax. The accompanying video series lasted until Now 20. 1985 and ’86 saw the brand expand into various offshoots with The Christmas Album, The Summer Album and the successful Now Dance series.
Other record companies quickly caught on and in late 1984, CBS and WEA/Warners followed with their Hits album series. This equally successful venture wrestled chart dominance with Now for a few years, even preventing Now 4 from reaching the top slot.
As a snapshot the times, there is no finer document than these perfect audio time-capsules. It’s the sound of Now. By which I mean the sound of then.
If, like me, you were a child of the 80s and devoured the pop music of the time with a rapacious appetite, then it probably wasn’t Whistle Test (self-consciously no longer Old and Grey) that gave you your weekly TV fix, as was the case a decade before. That was for grown ups. And it probably wasn’t even The Tube as that seemed a little bit on the scary side; leave that for older, harder siblings. Top Of The Pops in the mid-80s was in it’s imperial phase ‘balloons and party atmosphere’ pomp of course and that was all well and good, but again belonged to an older generation. In April 1986 something appeared at Friday teatime on Channel 4 that seemed, well, shiny and new as Madonna would have put it.
Wow, it’s got titles that look like that Dire Straits video, you know the one about MTV. Cool. Hang on, what’s happening here, looks like the video’s on the blink, it’s rewinding. Do Channel 4 know? Where are the presenters? And the what the flip is an Indie Chart anyway?! To my 11 year old mind I thought it was something to do with a subcontinent.
Initially designed as a seasonal stop-gap in between series of The Tube, it ran for a total of 12 years, switching to mornings on ITV in January ’89. But it’s the 86-88 years on the alternative channel that hold a special place for me. For such a simple concept it really was revolutionary at the time. Before satellite dishes started popping up all over the place and bringing MTV into UK homes, we hadn’t seen anything like this. By ’86 the art of the music video had reached it’s zenith, and this was the perfect platform for those 4-minute marvels. This is where I first saw the stop-motion grotesque spectacle that was Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”. But it wasn’t all about big-budgets, for another area that became part of the show’s character were the specialist charts. The Indie, Heavy Metal, Dance and Reggae charts were where very strange, slightly unnerving pieces that looked like they were produced on a budget of 50 quid also aired. Before they raided TopShop with a pure pop makeover and a truncated moniker here’s We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It… OK maybe 50 quid was too generous.
In the early days we also had the Network Album chart and Compact Disc chart! Features like End To End, showcasing a video in it’s entirety (a must for the condensed-feature-film mood of the time, where most musicians proved to be terrible actors), Vintage Video, Rough Cut (an exciting pre-production preview of an upcoming release). It’s gimmicky trademark though was the combination of fast-forward/rewind mock video control and on-screen information courtesy of an cutting edge-at-the-time Amiga computer. The first few months featured a less aesthetically pleasing “H.U.D.” green graphical interface, to be replaced by the more familiar mouse/pointer/windows layout.
It was in the Indie Chart section that bands such as The Wedding Present, Pop Will Eat Itself, Sugarcubes, The Mission, Gaye Bikers On Acid, Danielle Dax, Fields of the Nephilim (causing pronunciation problems for one Peter Powell on Top Of The Pops I recall) and countless others that spawned from the NME C86 movement were given a chance of primetime exposure. Pre-Madchester, listening back to those “Indie Top 20” compilations that define that era, you realise that it is before the term “Indie” became homogenised and uniform into the 90s- the only criteria being that it was released on an independent label (ah, that’s what it means! – 11 year old self). So that’s why on those early Chart Shows you would have Erasure and , gasp, Kylie and Jason at the top of the Indie rundown. Yes, Stock, Aitken and Waterman really were a truly non-corporate venture, whatever you think of the output of PWL Records. But if that is pushing the boundaries too far for you, there was still your fair share of shoe-gazers and noise merchants too. Baggy beats and baggier jeans were just around the corner though when in late ’89 the indie landscape got funky. An edition of Top Of The Pops from November of that year had both The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays in the studio and soon you couldn’t move for Indie-Dance crossovers with the obligatory ‘Funky Drummer’ sample.
This clip is before the Indie kids got their groove on though (although No.1 New Order of course bridge the gap very neatly from gloomy introspection to dancefloor euphoria that was to come). Laibach doing a take on the 1985 Opus hit “Live is Life” there. Again, where the hell else would have broadcast that at the time?! God Bless you Chart Show.
‘Tis the season when even those who are either too young, too old or too cool to acknowledge the existence of Slade are forced into submission with a particular festive tune recorded some 40 years ago this year, the time is ripe to re-appraise the Wolverhampton wonders. This year for the first time in my 38 years I discovered the greatness of their recorded ouevre, and I urge any serious music fan to do the same.
The missing link between The Beatles and The Sex Pistols. Yes, there other hipper exponents of rude energy such as The Stooges, MC5, the Velvet Underground, but self-conscious art-rock and drug-fuelled garage rock aren’t where this is heading. Although Joey Ramone did cite “Slade Alive” as a major influence. They were more like the fab four in that respect; fun, irreverent and distinctly British working class. Let’s not forget Dave Hill’s “Super Yob” guitar, although it was always with a wink rather than a snarl. “Slade In Flame” was a “Hard Day’s Night” for the Mid-70s, bleak and seemingly less colourful than it’s black and white counterpart. Their glory years of 1971-74 gave us some classic pop hits but delve deeper into the albums that followed into the 70s and 80s and the music reveals a curious mix of raw power that would rival any metal band worth their salt and sophistication that belies their no-nonsense roots.
I’m not going to pore over the history of the band and their entire discography, as there are other websites that do that very well. Suffice to say that the 13 proper albums released from 1969 to 1987 (skip Crackers:The Christmas Album, please forgive them) are for the most part, a joy. A roller coaster ride historically as well, they document the psychedelic beginnings (with ’69’s “Beginnings” fittingly), through the short-lived skinhead phase at the turn of the 70s, the glam rock years, the failed ‘breaking America’ sojourn, the late 70’s down the dumper (only commercially mind) period, the 1980 re-birth, pop stars again and second commercial decline as the 80s wore on. Perversely though, it is the two periods of fallow sales that I think produced the most satisfying work.
It was a close second for 1985’s “Rogues Gallery” but I’m going for 1976’s “Nobody’s Fools”. And it’s Noddy’s favourite too.
“Rogue’s Gallery” gives us a very polished techno-rock sound that for some might be just a little too 80s (but that’s OK with me)- each track is a killer pop song, hooks aplenty and with a production that packs a melodic punch that stays the right side of smooth. There are times when it sounds like they might be trying a little too hard to emulate the likes of ZZ Top and Van Halen and it loses points there, but it’s a solid album that few bands can pull off almost 20 years into their career.
“Nobody’s Fools” was where Slade attempted, like many others, to break the States. They failed. After the release of Slade In Flame in ’75 failed to set the world alight (ahem), they upped sticks and spent the best part of a year touring, resulting in this collection of sophisticated gems. For the first time we have female backing vocals. Black soul-influenced ones at that. The US influence is rife, with country elements and a widening of the musical palette but it still stays resolutely Slade, losing none of their identity in the process. While The Clash broadened their musical horizons with “London Calling” and US success came in droves, the same cannot be said here as it marked a commercial downturn in fortunes for the rest of the decade, thanks partly to young upstarts such as the aforementioned sweeping away the previous generation. Anyway, back to the matter in hand; this is a fabulous album showing a three-dimensional side to the band, so the perfect place to start with their back catalogue. It will surprise you; if you think you know Slade already give this a spin and banish all preconceptions of them as comedy (Vic and Bob, I love but it did no favours for musical credibility) They deserve better, far better than that. And it is time for the accepted lists of ‘important’ artists of the period (which always favours the earnest and entertainment is a dirty word ) to recognise the rich musical legacy they left behind.