Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Boomtown Rats scurry up the charts with "Someone's Looking At You"

The Boomtown Rats: Someone's Looking At You

On January 22, 1980 The Boomtown Rats third single from The Fine Art of Surfacing, "Someone's Looking At You", had a new single entering the UK charts at #45. The "gently humorous song about paranoia" peaked at UK#4. "I wrote Someone's Looking At You in 1980," said BobGeldof in 2013. "But when we rehearsed it again the Guardian front page was Obama spying on the American people ...This shit has actually gotten worse".

The Boomtown Rats have reformed in a big way this year and have declared 2020 the Year of the Rat. A UK Tour to support Citizens of Boomtown, their first album since 1985, begins in March.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Kiwi New Wave smash

Split Enz : I Got You


On January 21, 1980 the New Zealand band Split Enz released their most commercially successful single, "I Got You", a #1 hit in both New Zealand and Australia that peaked at US#53 and UK#12. Written by 21-year old Neil Finn and produced by 19-year old David Tickle, the lead-off track from the upcoming True Colours is one of the most infectious songs of the new wave era.

I can remember feeling especially lucky to record the song off the radio one afternoon at school.

In America, Split Enz were considered an overnight sensation but "I Got You" is the band's 13th single and True Colours their 5th studio album. An eclectic art rock band that took the stage dressed as bizarro clowns in the mid 70's, the band had worn out their welcome in the UK a year earlier, heading home without a record contract.

With time on their hands, Neil and Tim Finn concentrated on writing song. Neil remembered the moment with BBC2's Johnny Walker:

"Tim and I were having sessions where he'd throw me a title and I'd throw him a title and we'd go off to our respective rooms and write a song. And he gave me the title 'I Got You,' and I went in and I wrote it, and I thought the verse was pretty good but I thought the chorus was only a bit average and I should change it at some point, but in fact it was never changed and it became... it just goes to show I don't know a hit when I hear one really."

  Split Enz would record together until they broke up in 1984. Neil Finn would founded Crowded House with Split Enz drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Ska EP that topped the UK charts

The Special A.K.A. featuring Rico: Too Much Too Young

On January 20, 1980 The Specials live EP Too Much Too Young entered the UK charts at #15, credited to The Special A.K.A. Within  a week it would leap over Madness's "My Girl" and The Beat's "Tears of a Clown" all the way to #1. Aside from the well known title track, the extended play also includes ska standards like The Skatalites's "Guns of Navarone", The Pioneers's "Long Shot Kick The Bucket", The Harry J Allstars 1969 hit "The Liquidator" and "Skinhead Moonstomp", by Symarip.

"Too Much Too Young" might have been a good description of Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers, who was also the running the Two Tone label. With an American tour, the label, a soundtrack that needed to be mixed for Dance Craze, Dammers was working himself to the point of collapse. 
At the same time,  2-Tone inspired suits, sweat shirts, hats, badges and t-shirts were being sold by companies that paid his label nothing. This ad is from a 1980 copy of Smash Hits.

By the Fall of 1980, The Specials would unveil a new sound and by the following year, tensions with the band would become insurmountable. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Album of the Month: The Pretenders

The Pretenders : Tattooed Love Boys

In January of 1980, The Pretenders released their self-titled debut album, a commercial and critical hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Within a month, the UK #1 hit "Brass in Pocket" would be racing up the American charts to #14. Not bad for a song Chrissie Hynde never wanted anyone to hear.

"I didn't like it very much," she told BBC2's "The Art of Artists"."It was one of the few collaborations I did at the time because I brought the songs in on my own. And thats what I did like about it . Jimmy ( Honeyman-Scott) played this great riff in the studio one day and I went 'Wow, what was that?' and I managed to tape it so I could write a song around it. That was great. I wish we had time to develop that because collaboration is the most fun thing. But I didn't really like my voice. I didn't like my contribution to it and I said 'That goes out over my dead body'".

Raised in Akron, Ohio, "The Rubber Capital of the World", Hynde was immediately drawn to rock music, getting most of her education from the radio. She moved to London in 1973, working odd jobs, writing for NME, surrounded by friends who were making headlines in punk rock bands.

"I wanted to be in a band so bad. And to go to all the gigs, to see it so close up, to be living in it and not to have a band was devastating to me," she told Rolling Stone.

In 1978 she met bass player Pete Farndon, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers, musicians from the cathedral city of Hereford. They practiced seven days a week, developing a sound that was heavy on riffs and more pop-oriented than punk (though "Precious" is about as punk as punk can get). By securing a demo session with Honeyman-Scott's idol Nick Lowe, Hynde convinced everyone to move to London and give The Pretenders a go.

The debut album, produced by Chris Thomas ( Roxy Music, Sex Pistols)  heralded a band of rockers lead by a woman, which may not have been a big deal in the egalitarian punk rock scene, but was the subject of a lot of writing by mainstream journalists.  

“It’s not easy to be in her position,” Pete Farndon told Rolling Stone. “You know— locked up with four or five guys who are talkin’ about tits and ass all the time. On the road, you’ve got nothing that most women would want. Chris isn’t like most women.” 

On the first American tour in March, The Pretenders ended their show with the Kinks cover that had been their first UK single. By now the reviews were all in and The Pretenders were on their way.

From Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, a grade of A-

Tough gals, tough gals--suddenly the world is teeming with tough gals. And Chrissie Hynde is a good one. Maybe not all of her songs are championship singles, but she's got more to offer emotionally and musically (and sexually) than any of the competition, unless Patti counts. She's out for herself but she gives of herself as well; when she alternates between rapacity and tenderness you don't feel she's acting coy or fucked up, although she may be. And she conveys these changes with her voice as well as with her terse, slangy, suggestive lyrics. James Honeyman Scott's terse, slangy, suggestive guitar steals don't hurt either.

   From Red Starr of Smash Hits a 9/10:

GREAT hard sound, especially guitar, 46 minutes playing time, high writing ability throughout, concentrated rock'n'roll energy, staying power...As one who'd previously thought The Pretenders nothing more than a collection of pleasant odd bits cobbled together, this comes as a very welcome surprise/ I'm converted! Great album. Best tracks "Tattooed Love Boys", "Brass in Pocket".

By the end of the Summer of 1983, drugs had taken the lives of both both Farndon and Honeyman-Scott. Forty years later, Hynde and Chambers are still touring as The Pretenders, performing on a double bill this coming Summer with Journey.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Marcel Duchamp of Electropop

John Foxx : Underpass

On January 18, 1980 ex-Ultravox singer/lyricist John Foxx released his debut solo album Metamatic. Infused with synthesizers at the height of Gary Numan's popularity, the album reached #18 in the UK album charts and featured two UK singles, the UK#31 "Underpass" and UK #32 "No One Driving".

Anyone who had listened to Ultravox's last album, 1978's synth-laden Systems of Romance, could hear an exciting new direction for music. Produced by Kraftwerk's Conny Plank at his studio near Koln, the album was full of atmosphere and alienation. In his book looking at the postpunk scene from 1978 to 1984, Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds suggests Numan was listening and taking notes ( and I see from my own post on Systems that I made the same suggestion).

For Metamatic, Foxx not only abandoned his band, but guitars and drums. The only human sounds came from Foxx's vocals and from Jake Durant on the occasional bass track. Of the sessions, Foxx writes on his website:

I was in retreat from bands, touring, etc. mightily convinced that electronics were the future, and reading too much J.G. Ballard. I lived alone in Finsbury Park, spent my spare time walking the disused train lines, cycled to the studio every day and wobbled back at dawn, imagining I was the Marcel Duchamp of electropop. Metamatic was the result. It was the first British electronic pop album. It was minimal, primitive technopunk. Carcrash music tailored by Burtons.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Rude Boy band with a Gift

The Akrylykz : Smart Boy

On January 17, 1980, the Hull-based ska band The Akrylykz released "Spyderman" b/w "Smart Boy". This single, originally released on Red Rhino Records, sold quite well, peaking at #17 on the UK independent singles chart. The Akrylykz toured with The Specials, Madness and The Beat. I can only guess how many times the band's name was misspelled on the marquee. 

When the latter broke up, The Beat's Andy Cox and David Steele asked Akrylykz lead vocalist Roland Gift to join them in Fine Young Cannibals.  In 1989, they would score two #1 songs in the US, "She Drives Me Crazy" and "Good Thing"and Gift would be named one of the "50 Most Beautiful People" in the world by People Magazine.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Beatle gets busted in Japan

Paul McCartney : Frozen Jap

On January 16, 1980 Paul McCartney was arrested at Tokyo's Narita Airport when authorities discovered half a pound of marijuana in his luggage. McCartney claimed it was all for personal use but, in Japan, that's enough to warrant a smuggling charge and a seven year prison sentence. Instead of celebrating the Beatle's first tour of Japan since the Fab Four did it in 1965, McCartney spent nine days in the Tokyo Narcotics Detention Center. Those nine days were the longest he ever spent away from his wife Linda.

That McCartney would bring in so much weed after years of Japan refusing his visa due to other marijuana arrests isn't easy to understand. But in 2004, McCartney offered up this explanation:

“We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there, This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”

Later that year, after disbanding Wings, McCartney released a solo album, McCartney II, featuring a 1979 Kraftwerk-inspired instrumental with the unfortunate title "Frozen Jap". Again, this one isn't easy to understand. Here's Paul's reasoning:

Now, I’m sure people will think it was recorded after that incident in Japan. We decided to change the title to Frozen Japanese for the album release in Japan, since we didn’t want to offend anyone over there. But when the Japanese were told of the album’s track listing, they went spare. They thought it was connected with the fact that I had been busted there. They regard it as an incredible slur.