Saturday, February 29, 2020

Wire's Unlistenable Break Up Concert

Wire: Everything's Going To Be Nice

On February 29, 1980, after announcing the band and EMI were parting ways because of a "breakdown of communications", Wire performed a bizarre farewell show at London's Electric Ballroom. Apparently they weren't looking for a new record label because they played an all new set of under-rehearsed and virtually unlistenable songs while actors joined them on stage. 

During "Everything's Going To Be Nice", a woman dragged two men across the stage in an inflatable jet. For another song 12 people wearing newspapers as headdresses played percussion. One of the band members wore a beekeepers veil. Some members of the audience threw bottles at the stage, thus ending chapter one of this band's art-punk career. The show is captured on the album Document and Eyewitness.

Colin Newman told Rip It Up And Start Again author Simon Reynolds he expected more from EMI:

We assumed thus very rich record company would be excited by new ideas. We wanted to sell records, We were talking about video. We had an idea for "May Ref" --hugely expensive , but we could probably have been persuaded to so something a bit cheaper if there had been a budget. But EMI said "You can't sell music on television, we tried".

Producer Mike Thorne says EMI repeatedly turned down Wire side projects:

The head of EMI pit it quite succinctly. Something like "a record company is not an Arts Council." And to be fair , Wire had lost touch with the fact that  a large record company has to show a return on their investment.

Colin Newman would release a solo album later in the year but Wire wouldn't reform until 1985.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Album of the Month: Crazy Rhythms

The Feelies : Loveless Love

On February 29, 1980 The Feelies released their debut album, Crazy Rhythms. The New Jersey quartet formed in 1976, taking  The Velvet Underground's "What Goes On"  ( or is it Patti Smith's "Free Money"?) as a starting point, but with even faster strumming, clean guitars and a lot of percussion. Quirky, influential and cool, this is one of 1980's essential albums.

In 1978 The Village Voice proclaimed the Feelies "The Best Underground Band in New York." A year later, they released their first single and the following year, after signing with Stiff Records, the album Crazy Rhythms debuted.  Glenn Mercer says it's not what the record company expected .

"They brought us into a meeting, put Lene Lovich's latest song on the turntable and said, 'You guys gotta come up with something like this.'"

The album didn't get much in the way of promotion, but critics raved.  Robert Christgau gav ethe album an A-, writing:

They're suburban lads from New Jersey every bit as normal and unspoiled as, oh, Brian Wilson, only this ain't 1961: why shouldn't they know about Coltrane and "Sister Ray"? Beneficiaries of local privilege note that the magnitude of their rave-ups--and in essence all they do is rave-up--doesn't come fully alive on record, but their freshness and purity of conception does. Exciting in a disturbingly abstract way, or maybe disturbing in an excitingly abstract way, and either way is just the way these so-straight-they're-cool weirdos want it. 

From David Hepworth of Smash Hits an 8 out of 10:

It's sometimes impossible to tell whether the tongue is in the cheek but they have the power to really draw you into their strange little suburban world. Definitely worth getting next to!

It would be six years before the Feelies released a second album, The Good Earth. The Feelies rarely toured ( although I did see them in Charleston, SC one time). Band members also played in Young Wu, The Trypes, Speed the Plough and The Willies.

Crazy Rhythms came in at number 17 in the Village Voice's annual Pazz and  Jop critics' poll, beating out such notable critics' favorites as David Bowie's Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), Joy Division's Closer, The Rolling Stones's Emotional Rescue and The Specials' debut album.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Notable Singles From February of 1980

Midnight Oil : Back on the Borderline

With "Back on the Borderline", released in February of 1980, Midnight Oil found the sound that would make them one of Australia's biggest rock'n'roll exports of the next decade. Lyrically, however, the song has none of the political fire to galvanize record buyers. The Head Injuries track failed to chart despite the music video, shot at a TV station.

Swell Maps : Let's Build A Car

Birmingham's Swell Maps released "Let's Build A Car", in February of 1980.  It was the first of the band's singles Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore purchased. This is from the liner notes he planned to write for a Swell Maps compilation:

the first swell maps singles (i bought for no reason cept what th' fuck) was “let's buy a car” which still to this day gives me a soul scorched buzz'n'rush. as soon as the nikki sudden gtr comes slicing slabbing and all out fuzzifying off the crackling indie vinyl groove you know yr gonna rock. this was important to a dickweed like me cuz the sensibility of the nyc creeps i was pubing with was towards the no wave trip (and if you don't know about no wave nyc 78/79 then..well, don't worry about it) which i of course totally flagwaved.

Notsensibles : ( I'm in Love With) Margaret Thatcher


Released in 1979, this post-punk attempt at humor did hit the Independent Singles Top 10 in February of 1980.

Spizzenergi : Where's Captain Kirk 


With "Where's Captain Kirk? "Spizzenergi became the first band to top the newly created UK Indie Chart early in 1980.More than two decades after its release, it was included in Mojo magazine's list of the best punk rock singles of all time. 

The Laughing Clowns :  Laughing Clowns

When The Saints broke up guitarist Ed Kuepper moved back to Brisbane and formed Laughing Clowns. In February of 1980 the band released its first single, also called "Laughing Clowns". Saints fans were confused by the new sound. Australian musicologist Ian McFarlane wrote 

"Part of the problem was that the band's sound defied categorization. Having to overcome such ludicrous labels as 'jazz-punk' ... [it] was diverse yet moody, at turns melodic or dissonant. It ranged from rock and soul to avant-jazz".

Another Pretty Face : Whatever Happened to the West

Finally, February of 1980 was also the month the Scottish band Another Pretty Face released its debut single. Lead singer Mike Scott would eventually form The Waterboys in 1983.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The early U2 single that vanished without a trace

U2 : Another Day

On February 26, 1980 U2 released "Another Day" b/w "Twilight", exclusively in Ireland. Bono designed the sleeve.That night the band played a concert at Dublin Stadium. While introducing the song, Bono mentioned that the single was out on CBS, but predicted that it would not be out on that label for long. After the concert, U2 signed with Island Records, making “Another Day” the final single to be released only on CBS in Ireland. “Another Day” did not chart and did not remain in the band’s live set for long, and in fact disappeared entirely by mid-1980.

The back sleeve clearly states that the B-side wasn't produced, but recorded in 15 minutes on four tracks. Worth hearing for Bono's hiccuping high notes in the lyrics.

"Twilight" remains the better known of the two songs. The band re-recorded the song for their debut album Boy and played the song on the Boy, October and War tours, including the legendary 1983 show at Red Rocks that spawned the Under A Blood Red Sky concert film.

Red Rocks, 1983. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Teardrop Explodes' "Treason" earns Single of the Week

The Teardrop Explodes : Treason ( It's Just a Story)

In February 1980 Teardrop Explodes released "Treason", their third and final single on Zoo Records. The debut album is still months away. Recorded in London with producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, the single would move 16,000 copies in its first week and peak at #3 on the UK Indie chart. Sounds' Dave McCullough declared the "Treason the "Single of the Week", writing:

"This is marvelous! Over a thrusting, vibrant pop background that only the Attractions could equal for earth panache, Julian Cope sings a complex love song in the kind of way that has you splitting the line sup in your head, seeing just how he phrases this or that line, marveling at how he says ' reaction is getting rather strange,' where his slight lisp and rich Liverpudlian tones turn every nuance into little works of art...Everything points to a record of 'classic' stature."

The b-side was a version of the Cope/McCulloch song "Read It In Books", which Echo and the Bunnnymen had already released as the b-side to their debut single, "The Pictures On My Wall".

The French version:

Monday, February 24, 2020

Blondie breaks out the biggest hit of 1980

Blondie : Call Me

On February 24, 1980, the same day Blondie's "Atomic" topped the UK charts, a new single was racing up the American charts. Produced and co-written by Italian musician Giorgio Moroder, "Call Me" would top the American charts for six straight weeks and finish the year as the biggest hit of 1980. 

Moroder already had the music.  When he couldn't get Stevie Nicks to help him with the song he turned to Blondie's Deborah Harry. She wrote the lyrics after watching the film. Imagining the opening sequence in which Richard Gere is racing down a coastal highway in a convertible Mercedes, she wrote "Colour me your colour, baby/ Colour me your car." 

Which goes to show lyrics don't need to make immediate sense to be successful.

Here's an isolated Deborah Harry vocal. Proof the lady's got a stunning voice even when she sounds tired. 

I bought the American Gigolo soundtrack for reasons I can't remember. But my favorite track is "Night Drive". Pure Moroder genius.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Josef K debut The New Puritan Sound

Josef K : Chance Meeting

On February 23, 1980 Melody Maker reviewed the debut single by Postcard artist Josef K:

Serious Edinburgh band put perfect Lou Reed voice on top of a pounding drum/bass motif and juicy guitar/keyboards noises--mainly to indifferent effect.

And from Smash Hits:

Named for the protagonist in Kafka's The Trial, Josef K had a clean sound and lyrics inspired by a lot of time spent reading great literature. Anxiety-prone Frontman Paul Haig stood 6 feet tall but weighed only 190 pounds. Dressed in long gray raincoats, the band led the New Puritan movement. They wouldn't tap into the rock n roll mindset, ignoring the girls who came back to their dressing room, refusing drugs and drink and never playing encores. 

The clip above sounds awful so give the version below a listen.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark proves synthesizers can be warm

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Messages

On February 22, 1980, fresh off a tour supporting Gary Numan,  Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released their sparse self-titled debut album to mostly ecstatic reviews.

"How fine and different their melodies can be, how detailed and distinctive their song-structure," writes NME's Paul Morley. "There is a constant change in emphasis and dynamics. It's definitely dance music. Orch Man's debut LP is one of the best of the year." Melody Maker journalist Ian Birch called the record "Unpretentious, tuneful and unceasingly pleasant". 

The album came in specially designed award-winning high tech sleeves, with each batch in different color combinations.

Inspired by Kraftwerk, singing bassist Andy McCluskey and keyboardist Paul Humphreys used what they had available to record songs like their latest single "Red Frame/White Light" "Electricity" and "Messages". There's a terrific interview with the duo in a recent episode of the podcast Sodajerker On Songwriting in which they complain about the analog synths . 

A Fairlight CMI Series 1 cost at least 12-thousand pounds so only musicians in the same league as Peter Gabriel, Alan Parsons and Stevie Wonder could write songs on them. McCluskey and Humphreys settled for analog synths of a lesser quality.

"We used them in the old days when they went out of tune, you couldn't MIDI them up and they weighed a fricken' ton,"says Humphreys. " You had to have five or six of them onstage because each one had a different sound you were using."

At the time of the album's release, "Red Frame/White Light"  was the new single. It's about a telephone booth.

"We insisted one writing songs that were not the average thing to sing about," says McCluskey. " We wanted to make something different. We kind of followed Kraftwerk's blueprint really because they hardly ever wrote songs about love. It was always about antennas and radios."

Friday, February 21, 2020

Wille Nile releases one of the best albums of the year

Willie Nile : It's All Over


In February of 1980 singer/songwriter Willie Nile released his self-titled debut album, a critical hit that made LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn call it "the kind of rare collection that reawakens you to the inspiring qualities of rock'n'roll".  Stereo Review magazine would call Willie Nile the record of the year, tied with London Calling by The Clash. 

After Pete Townsend heard the album he insisted Nile open for The Who on their Summer of 1980 tour. Over the years he would earn praise from musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Bono. Roger McGuinn and Richard Thompson have both played on his albums.

It would take 40 years for me to hear Willie Nile. The first song to hook me is "It's All Over".

The album has the same feel as an early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record, lots of jangly 12-string guitar and songs that sounds like they were born in a garage. In fact, many were written on an acoustic guitar Nile played in the Village. New York Times critic Robert Palmer discovered Nile at Kenny's Castaways and proclaimed him "the most gifted songwriter to emerge from the New York folk scene in some while".

There's a good chance you haven't caught on to Willie Nile either, despite the number of times Springsteen has invited him on stage or Lucinda Williams has praised his songs. Bad luck? Nile tells Louder Than War he doesn't see it that way:

I’ve had some bad luck but I’ve also had some really good luck. I got to tour across the U.S. opening shows for The Who. I’ve toured and sung on stage with Ringo Starr. Bruce Springsteen has invited me up to play with him numerous times in stadiums and in arenas and he’s joined me on stage a number of times. Roger McGuinn and Richard Thompson have played on my albums. I’ve been blessed with great musicians to play with and have had four amazing bands over the years. I’ve been very lucky with the press for the albums I’ve put out. They’ve been very kind to me. I’ve been blessed with a great family. I could go on.

Willie Nile still going strong...

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Hands Off : Another Top 10 hit for The English Beat

The English Beat : Hands Off...She's Mine

On February 20, 1980 The (English) Beat had a new single in the UK Charts, "Hands Off...She's Mine" b/w "Twist and Crawl", which had made its debut at UK#48. "It's good without being surprisingly good,"remarked David Hepworth, writing for Smash Hits.

Dave Wakeling's voice is an astonishment. You think he must be double tracking his vocals but I don't think that's the case. 

Like many Beat songs, there is a mixture of happy music and somewhat sad lyrics here. Wakeling explained to Consequence of Sound that's on purpose:

We wanted happy music to show that life is a joy; it’s a painful joy, of course, but it is a joy. But also, the stuff that goes on within our minds is often very, very painful, and I wanted that combination to happen in the same song, in the same three minutes. And I think that that’s how it connected to people, because people’s lives are complicated and often very painful. You know, life is a tragedy. It’ll all end in tears, as the Buddha said. And so, anything you can do to try and pick people’s spirits up, anything you can do to connect is a valuable aspiration, I think.

The single peaked at UK#9 and even hit #22 on the US Dance Club chart. When a high school girl played the song at her party, I don't remember anybody dancing but I was also worried that somebody was going to start up a game of Spin The Bottle. And at that age, I was a wreck.

The B-Side is "Twist And Crawl", another gem from the forthcoming I Just Can't Stop It.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Bon Scott : Death By Misadventure

On February 19, 1980 the body of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott was discovered in a parked car in East Dulwich. He had spent the night before pounding back whiskies at the Music Machine and had passed out in the car driven by a musician friend named Alistair Kinnear.

"I just could not move him," Kinnear told The Standard,"so I covered him with a blanket and left him a note to tell him how to get up to my flat in case he woke up.

"I went to sleep and it was later in the (following) evening when I went back out to the car, and I knew something was wrong immediately."

The cause of death was acute alcohol poisoning and was ruled death by misadventure.  Despite the death of Scott, 33, AC/DC promised to continue and entered Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas in April with Geordie singer Brian Johnson to record Back in Black.

About ten years older than his bandmates, Scott was the lascivious young uncle that winked and strutted throughout the five years he fronted the band. Classic Rock named Scott the greatest rock frontman of all time, writing:

‘Bon had a riveting presence. He was cocky but he wasn’t conceited. He was vulgar but he wasn’t boorish. He was tough as nails but with a soft white underbelly. He was a hero, an icon, but he was also the guy next door, lying underneath a greasy motorbike with a spanner in his hand.’

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Argybargy marks huge creative leap for Squeeze

Squeeze : Another Nail In My Heart

In February of 1980 Squeeze released Argybargy, their third album and the one that converted me. It offers the kind of sophisticated pop Beatlemaniacs adore, with imaginative musical flourishes and breath-taking guitar solos. While Cool For Cats made Squeeze sound like a bunch of young men obsessed with sex and finding trouble because of it, Argybargy is a much more mature effort, a leap not unlike The Beatles from Help! to Rubber Soul.

The UK#17 single "Another Nail In My Heart" was the first taste of the new album, a pop confection with a brilliant guitar solo just :55 in. David Hepworth of Smash Hits predicted the song "Should see them back on the charts as soon as that hook line digs in". 

"Pulling Mussels From A Shell" is a clever memory of a holiday camp where women read Harold Robbins paperbacks or shop for trinkets for the mantelpiece while men fantasize about having motorboats and sexual trysts behind the chalet. "I Think I'm Go Go " is almost worthy of Sgt Peppers. The Lennon/McCartney comparisons were forthcoming.

In the meantime Argybargy got solid reviews in the UK. From Red Starr of Smash Hits a 9/10:

Much less immediate than the poppy "Cool For Cats", this shows a new more serious side to Squeeze. Basically they've grown up a bit - Chris Difford's lyrics are much more mature while still as clever and descriptive, and the music is also more sophisticated and developed but just as melodic and varied. Gets better with every play --an album they can be proud of. Best tracks: Pick any ten from ten.

Rolling Stone did not review the album but would later call claim Argybargy is where Squeeze hit its stride.

The Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll would see Argybargy finish #24, though Robert Christgau gave the album a B- grade writing:

Popophiles Difford and Tilbrook don't settle for have-fun fall-in-love fear-girls. They pen short stories worthy of early Rupert Holmes, and with a beat (alternate title: Herkyjerky). 'Tis said McCartneyesque tunefulness is the ticket here, but to me Tilbrook sounds more like Ray Davies after est--at peace with himself and out for big bucks, pounds being a foregone conclusion.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Top 10 Yacht Rock Songs of 1980

Christopher Cross : Ride Like The Wind

On February 17, 1980 Christopher Cross entered the Billboard Hot 100 with his first single, "Ride Like The Wind" at #61. It would peak at US#2. Written during an acid trip, the single has become a classic example of "yacht rock". It has a sunny West Coast vibe, some funky percussion but not enough to alienate conservative white people and, most importantly, a special guest appearance by Michael McDonald.

In fact McDonald would sing on three of 1980's finest yacht rock's tunes, including the Doobie Brothers' own "Real Love" and Steely Dan's "Time Out of Mind". The comedy show SCTV caught on to the McDonald phenomenon with this memorable skit below. 


1. Steely Dan : Hey Nineteen

2. Ambrosia : Biggest Part of Me

3. Robbie Dupree : Steal Away

4. Kool and the Gang : Too Hot

5. Christopher Cross : Ride Like the Wind

6. Climax Blues Band : I Love You

7. Doobie Brothers : Real Love

8. Boz Scaggs : Jojo

9. Steely Dan : Time Out Of Mind

10 Rupert Holmes : Him

Honorable Mention : 
Christopher Cross : Sailing 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Johnny Ramone's All Time Top 10

The Ramones : Rock and Roll Radio

In February of 1980 Johnny Ramone provided Smash Hits with a hastily written All Time Top 10 list of albums to accompany David Hepworth's feature article on the band entitled "WANCHEWFREEFOR!!". 

The Ramones were touring England to promote the Phil Spector produced  End of the Century and their movie "Rock And Roll High School". Rather than concentrate on an album many Ramones fans hated, Hepworth asked questions about the band's history.

The most memorable quote is from Johnny:

"I think it takes more intelligence and, y'know, originality to sing about things that haven't been sung about, y'know? Like when we started singing about glue, pinheads, cretins and all these things, nobody was singing about these things, y'know, and it took a lot more imagination to sing about these things.

Eating Chicken Vinaloo?

"And then people call you dummy because you wanna sing about something funny. It's a lot dumber singing about the things that everybody else sing about like sex or something, y'know."

By the way, if you ever get to hear the demo versions of songs like "I'm Affected" on the expanded version, you'll hear that The Ramones hadn't lost a step. They were just recorded that way by Spector.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Elvis Costello unleashes a frantic tribute to American soul with Get Happy!!

Elvis Costello and the Attractions : 5ive Gears in Reverse

On February 15, 1980 Elvis Costello and the Attractions released Get Happy!!, a 20 track album inspired by 60's soul music that arrived nine months after Costello called Ray Charles a "blind, ignorant nigger" in a hotel bar argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett. Though critics were quick to point out the timing, Costello said in the liner notes of the 2003 version of Get Happy!! the album is no act of contrition:

It might have been tempting to claim that I had some noble motive in basing this record on the music that I had admired and learned from prior to my brush with infamy. But if I was trying to pay respects and make such amends, I doubt if pride would have allowed me to express that thought after I had made my rather contrived explanation ... I simply went back to work and relied on instinct, curiosity, and enduring musical passions.

Among Costello's enduring musical passions is American soul music. Before the band began recording in The Netherlands, he wanted to abandon the "new wave" sound for something else: Again from his liner notes:

I had begun listening again to the R'n'B records, filling in the gaps between the compilations of my teenage years, Atlantic's This Is Soul and Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3, with stacks of Stax singles purchased in Camden Town. The first trips to America had yielded still more riches: whole albums by someone like Garnet Mimms, who had previously only been the name on a single track of a "various artists" collection. Drawing on all of these sources, we set about re-arranging the songs using an R'n'B motor.

Fans can play spot the influences are just let Costello spell them out:

We made a pretty good job of lifting the main figure of Booker T. and the MGs' "Time Is Tight" for "Temptation," while the guitar part of "King Horse" alluded to The Four Tops' "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." Even the lyrics drew on these influences. The opening line of "High Fidelity" quotes a Supremes song, while "Love For Tender" (itself a re-working of the Armed Forces outtake "Clean Money") made use of the same "You Can't Hurry Love" riff that The Jam would take to the top of the UK charts three years later with the vastly superior song, "Town Called Malice."

Only "New Amsterdam" broke away from the formula.

(That) song, about a bewildered new arrival in the New World, proved impossible to improve on the demo rendition captured at Archipelago Studios a ₤15 per hour recording facility in Pimlico, London, and on which I played all the instruments.

I had a bit of a Twitter back and forth with Bebe Buell and came away with the impression that there are a few songs about her affair with Costello. There is certainly a female object of obsession  that keeps popping up in these songs.

From Bebe:
Of course- there are so many rumors out there- including some started by EC himself. I NEVER thought or claimed that any of the songs on This Year's Model or Armed Forces held me as the subject. Anything after that? All bets are off! EC is famous for denying! 

 40 Year Itch: 
Oh! I’m going to listen to Get Happy right now!!! 

Now you're on the right path!

Tom Carson wrote the review for Rolling Stone :

The tightly worked pop-song structures on Get Happy!! are built around one instrumental flourish after another, with no context to sustain them. Yet the effect isn’t slick. Instead, this method makes the music sound raw, urgent and all the more driven, because there’s nothing underneath it. Costello doesn’t give himself time to linger over any of these numbers: they’re jotted down in haste, each of them no more than just another fix on his obsession. If this one doesn’t capture her, he figures, maybe the next one will. He is, of course, fortunate in having a band that not only can keep up with him but give him a run for his money. The Attractions were one of the best backup groups in the world on This Year’s Model, and since then they’ve gotten better. 

In its year-end list, the NME named Get Happy!! the second best album of 1980, while the album placed seventh on The Village Voice's annual Pazz and Jop music critics' poll

Friday, February 14, 2020

"I Zimbra" anticipates a new direction for Talking Heads

Talking Heads : I Zimbra

In February of 1980, Talking Heads released "I Zimbra", the band's second single from Fear of Music and the song that most suggested the band's next stop, a full submersion into the sounds of African pop. "We ... knew that our next album would be a further exploration of what we had begun with 'I Zimbra', Jerry Harrison told Liquid Audio. That album would be Remain In Light, one of the decade's best.

David Byrne and Brian Eno share songwriting credits with German Dada poet Hugo Ball ( pictured above), who died in 1927. The lyrics contain the lines: 

 Gadji beri bimba clandridi 
Lauli lonni cadori gadjam 
A bim beri glassala glandride 
E glassala tuffm I zimbra 

adapted from Ball's poem "Gadji beri bimba".  

Though they may sound Africa, the words have no meaning. 

Robert Fripp played guitar on the recording., which was augmented with congas, surdo, talking drums and djembe ( pictured below). When Talking Heads performed the song in concert they hired another virtuoso guitarist to play lead guitar, Adrien Belew. Belew and Fripp would team up in King Crimson in 1981.

While the album version barely eclipsed the 3:00 mark, there is an extended version that runs 6:37.