Sunday, May 16, 2021

Wha'ppen to the Beat?


The English Beat : Doors of Your Heart

In May of 1981 The English Beat followed up their exhilarating debut with Wha'ppen, significantly slowing down the songs, making them more atmospheric and at times more political. 

"I hate lies," Dave Wakeling told Record Mirror. "Most of all, institutional lies. If they didn't fill up the news with the Ripper and Prince Charles perhaps they'd have to admit that yes, well, there are actually four million unemployed people in the country. As things get tougher the government are forced to show their cards, to get more obvious in showing that they are the capitalist, racist, sexist types that you always suspected they were"





Saxa, the 51 year old saxophone player, continues to play a big role in The Beat.

"Saxa's the most articulate musician in the band by far," says Wakeling. "When he's playing his solo, he's not aware of the instrument being there at all., he's just telling you how he feels at that particular moment, about that particular song. He teaches you what the song is about".


Released on May 8, in one of the great all time months for album releases, Wha'ppen peaked at UK#3 and US#126. The singles were the UK#22  double A side "Drowining/ All Out To Get You" and  "Hit It ( Auto Erotic)". The album finished No 4 in the NME critics poll, No 5 in Robert Christgau's year end list and No 23 in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll.



Rock critic dean Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of A writing:

David Wakeling shows more character (and timbre) than Terry Hall, Ranking Roger could rub his dub in a pedigreed reggae band, and the rhythms aren't solely riddims. So as two-tone grays out, the Beat follow their chops into the world-beat sweepstakes, where snaky grooves are worth their weight in yen. The Afrobeats and studio spaces and steel drums are as seamlessly colloquial as the depression politics and depressed romances, so it would be a shame if its sinuous midtempos dismay fans of its predecessor's hectic pace. I hear not resignation or compromise but a stubborn, animated adaptability. Unity rocker: "Doors of Your Heart," in which love means eros and agape simultaneously, and Wakeling finds that dread blocks the way to both, and Roger advises him to stop his fighting,



From Record World


Billboard:


The catchy song below is about shoplifting.





 

Friday, May 14, 2021

With East Side Story Squeeze gets cursed with an epic comparison


Squeeze : In Quintessence

On May 15, 1981 Squeeze released East Side Story, an album that expanded the band's sound and appeal, finally getting the band airplay on commercial radio stations in America. The album begins with a classic Squeeze song, "In Quintessence". Produced by Dave Edmunds, the single, says Glen Tilbrook, is about a bloke who "is now a very responsible teacher working just outside Liverpool. I saw him a couple of months ago and he said how perfectly this described his life at the time. Chris (Difford) was spot on in analysing him as someone who liked smoking joints and shagging birds, but what's wrong with that?" Amazing guitar solo from Glen.



East Side Story is the follow-up to Argybargy. To replace the departed Jools Holland, Squeeze hired Paul Carrack of Ace's "How Long" fame. The band had now added a touch of blue eyed soul to their repertoire, as well as the song  "How Long", which they would play in concert.



In the UK, the Beatlesque "Is That Love" was the first single, a UK#35 hit, previously discussed here.





In America, "Tempted" was the first single. It peaked at US#49 but has become the band's best known song as well as a favorite of both Difford and Tilbrook.



Producer Elvis Costello was the one who suggested Paul Carrack sing lead, and helped come up with arrangements based on The Temptations hits of the 60's. 



The critics were elated with East Side Story. Rolling Stone famously wrote “In songwriters Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford, the British New Wave has finally found its own John Lennon and Paul McCartney.”  

 “I was just confused,” said Difford in 2019, “because these Lennon/McCartney people had loads of money in the bank and we didn’t have any of those kinds of things, so I couldn’t see the comparison!” 



This Smash Hits review mentions the album's surprising country song which, as a single, peaked at UK#4.




Argybargy will always be my favorite Squeeze album, but this is my second favorite. I appreciate the band's desire to experiment. They deserved to. I didn't really care for "Labelled With Love", "Vanity Fair" or "There's No Tomorrow", but I have 11 other songs I can play with gusto. 



East Side Story ranked #6 on the Village Voice critic's poll, #19 in the NME poll and #4 on Melody Maker's year end poll.

Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of B+ writing:

They're finally beginning to show the consistency that's the only excuse for obsessive popcraft. The songs are imaginative, compassionate, and of course hooky--the warped organ on "Heaven" bespeaks divine intervention. And with Elvis Costello coproducing, the music is quite punchy, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it rocks.




The band's success and the Lennon/McCartney comparisons would put a lot of pressure on the songwriters when it came to following up the album. Aside from "Black Coffee In Bed", Sweets From a Stranger was a disappointment. The band soon fell apart.






Thursday, May 13, 2021

Au Pairs take on the Battle of the Sexes


Au Pairs : Come Again

On May 13, 1981 Birmingham's Au Pairs released their debut album, Playing With a Different Sex, highlighted by the recent single "Come Again", a song about faked orgasms. Most of the songs center around the things men and women do to hurt each other. The LP received a five star review form Sounds, their highest rating. Dave McCullough wrote "This is a truly sensuous didactic record...What the Au Pairs have to say, never mind the fact, is wonderful in itself, and that they manage to say it successively, strikes a magic modern chord of common sense".





a 5 Star Record Mirror review




 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Grace Jones releases NME's Album of the Year with Nightclubbing

 


Grace Jones : Pull Up To The Bumper

On May 11, 1981 Grace Jones released Nightclubbing, voted Album of the Year by England's New Musical Express. Produced by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the music pulsates around Jones' near monotone vocals. Nothing before Grace Jones ever suggested this would work. So much music that followed her example proved it did, from Beck to Bjork, from Massive Attack to even Madonna. 





 Nightclubbing included Jones's covers of songs by Flash and the Pan ("Walking in the Rain"), Bill Withers ("Use Me"), Iggy Pop/David Bowie ("Nightclubbing") and Ástor Piazzolla ("I've Seen That Face Before"). Three songs were co-written by Jones: "Feel Up", "Art Groupie" and "Pull Up to the Bumper". Sting wrote "Demolition Man"; he later recorded it with The Police on the album Ghost in the Machine. "I've Done It Again" was written by Marianne Faithfull.


Upon the album's release, the critics were all on board.In the UK Adrian Thrills of NME said, "I spent an otherwise-miserable weekend afternoon with the sound of Grace swirling around my little earphones, grooving on songs effortlessly sung but put together with a jeweller's eye for detail", and stated that the musicians "combine to etch out a shifting, soulful surface, an exotic ice-water backdrop for Grace's vocal veneer", noting that "the only times Grace seems ill-at-ease are as she swops Trenchtown patois with, presumably, the sharp-lipped Sly and then tries to rock out on Sting's 'Demolition Man'". Roz Reines of Melody Maker called it "an album with something for everyone: reggae, electronics, disco, blues – even a snatch of salsa funk. The incredible thing is that it all gels together so well – the common denominator is the danceability, which lasts all the way through: changes in tempo and pace only help to sustain the energy level." Deanne Pearson of Smash Hits said that Jones' voice has "neither range nor power", but "the arrangements and production almost make up for this." Record Mirror critic Simon Ludgate found that Jones transcends her vocal limitations through "her character and sense of the surreal" 









Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Death of the Prince of Reggae


Bob Marley and The Wailers : Three Little Birds

On May 11, 1981, at half past noon, Bob Marley died in Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Miami. He'd been secretly battling cancer for nearly a year when he was first admitted to New York hospital, supposedly suffering from exhaustion. In truth, he had a form of skin cancer that had spread from under the nail of a toe. His faith would not allow him to amputate the toe, which might have saved his life. Instead, he tried some experimental treatments in Germany, never chemotherapy,  hoping to fight off what was now lung and brain cancer.

"He could hardly walk and the brain problem affected the coordinated movement of his legs, " his wife Rita had said a month earlier.



In a cover story, Record World wrote:

 "Almost by himself, he brought reggae out of the ghetto, from a simple form of R&B to a true international force, backed by the power of the Rastafarian faith...He was the black prince, a bearer of peace and love and unity, and his tragically early death at the age of 36 has robbed the world whose life work was far from complete." 






 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Kraftwerk releases a tribute to PC's with Computer World


Kraftwerk : Computer World

On May 10,1981 Kraftwerk releases Computer World, their first album since 1978's Man Machine. By now the rest of the world had caught up with Kraftwerk's innovations. You can hear their influences in everything from electro to synth pop. Even the new Romantics revealed Kraftwerk's influences, even if they were filtered through Bowie and Eno's German experiments.




Kraftwerk's Ralf Hutter told the NME:

I see us as the musical Bauhaus. In their time, they could work in theater, architecture, photography and short films but they did not really have the technology to apply their ideas to music. We  now have it. We see ourselves as studio technicians or musical workers, not as musical artists" 




Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of B writing 

I once convinced myself to enjoy this band--if there had to be synthesizer rock, I thought, better it should be candidly dinky. And this is their funniest to date--every time I hear that machine intone "I program my home computer/Bring myself into the future," I want to make a tape for all those zealots who claim a word processor will change my life. But fun plus dinky doesn't make funky no matter who's dancing to what program. Funk has blood in it. 

The album finished #2 in the NME's year end poll, behind another album released the same week.



 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Bill Nelson gets the UK Top 10 beam with a collection of two year old recordings


Bill Nelson : Banal

In May of 1981, former Be Bop Deluxe frontman Bill Nelson released Quit Dreaming and Get On The Beam, an album recorded back in 1979."I was still with EMI Records when Quit Dreaming and Get on the Beam was recorded, Nelson says on his website. " It was always intended that the album would be released under the Red Noise banner." 

But by the time the American label agreed to release this second Red Noise album, Nelson had already tired of the name and went back to using his own. Despite the new single, "Banal" underperforming , the album sold well enough to achieve a top 10 placing on the UK album chart, entering the chart at No.7, a career peak for Nelson. 

Not bad for an album made up of studio experimentations.





Nelson only has the happiest memories of recording the album:

"The Quit Dreaming and Get on the Beam album was recorded using the [Stones mobile] truck...but, this time, no band was involved. It was just John Leckie and myself in the Yorkshire village of West Haddlesey where I lived at that time. We hired the village hall, (which was then a wooden hut-like structure), and parked the Stones mobile outside for several weeks. My equipment was set up in the village hall and cables for microphones were run from the truck into the hall. 




 "Once a week, we had to push my guitars, amps, synth and drum kit to the back of the hall to make room for the village ladies keep fit class.

 "I remember John and I walking, under a starry twilight, from the village hall, down the narrow tree-lined lane back to my home, (Haddlesey House), to have dinner. John stayed with us at Haddlesey House throughout the recording. Sometimes we'd return to the village hall after dinner to overdub something or other, or maybe we'd just go for a pint in a local pub. Very happy days indeed."








 

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Undertones release a positively beautiful album with Positive Touch


The Undertones : Julie Ocean


On Positive Touch, recorded in Holland and released in May of 1981, The Undertones lock up their fuzztone guitars and sedate drummer Billy Doherty in an effort to explore just how complicated and beautiful they could make their songs. The results speak for themselves. Just listen to the UK#41 hit "Julie Ocean", a wistful song with lyrics like "Nothing good lasts forever/ And sometimes nothing starts". Other highlights are "It's Gonna Happen!", "The Positive Touch" and "Crisis Of Mine".










 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Pigbag's Got A Brand New Hit


Pigbag : Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag

On May 5, 1981 Cheltenham's Pigbag released the single "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag", a funky instrumental that immediately got the "Single of the Week" nod from NME,  peaked at UK Indie #2 , then vanished without a trace only to return to the mainstream singles chart a year later, peaking at UK#3. The song also became a stadium anthem for Middlesbrough F.C. All in all, it's a good reminder that despite all the guitar oriented bands of the day, those with horn players like Pigbag and Dexy's were just as respectable.  Stylus Magazine ranks Ex Pop Group Simon Underwood's bass line the 40th best of all time.

NME ranked the song the 13th best single of 1981.





-Smash Hits






 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Tom Petty keeps his Hard Promises to fans


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers : Something Big

On May 5, 1981 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released Hard Promises, their follow-up to Damn The Torpedoes, which had sold 2.5 million copies. Petty, who was now making a habit of challenging record companies, challenged MCA's plan to charge $9.98 for Hard Promises. He threatened to withhold the album, or title it $8.98, and get fans to send protest letters before MCA finally relented.

The headlines hide the fact that the album merely follows the Damn The Torpedoes formula, without adding much new or the same amount of energy. Highlights are the singles "The Waiting" and "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)". The album was the most played on FM commercial stations during the Summer of '81.







Smash Hits review





Petty and the Heartbreakers would also perform on his 1981 hit with Stevie Nicks, Stop Draggin' My Heart Around". Later in the year, Petty would produce Del Shannon's comeback album Drop Down And Get Me.



 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

X's Wild Gift is 1981's best album... not that enough people noticed


X: We're Desperate

On May 4, 1981 X released Wild Gift, one of the very best albums of the year. Produced, like the debut, by Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the album paints an updated picture of Los Angeles, ten years after L.A. Woman





The album may sound cleaner than the debut, but it's no less ferocious. 

"The music hasn't changed," said John Doe in an interview with Billboard, for an article curiously titled "L.A. Group X Refutes Charges It's Sold Out". "We're not going 'ooh ooh' like Christopher Cross. All the songs we couldn't put on the first album we put on this one."

In Los Angeles, X were considered superstars. But they weren't getting any airplay on commercial FM stations. It's a subject X would address in the 1983 song "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts":

I hear the radio, it's finally gonna play new music /You know the British invasion/ But what about the Minutemen, Flesheaters, DOA, Big Boys, and Black Flag/Will the last American bands to get played on the radio/ Please bring the flag, please bring the flag".

Slash's Mark Williams , in a 1981 letter to Billboard, made a similar point:

Even local big boys like KLOS-FM and KMET-FM refuse to program a record like our latest release, Wild Gift, by a local band, X, lauded by some as "the best band in America", who sell out the prestigious Greek Theatre and over 60,000 copies of  their first LP, Los Angeles...We've wasted a lot of hard-earned money promoting records to commercial stations that do little more than laugh at us."






"We are caught on a weird situation," Doe says in the Billboard article. "Selling out means you've changed your music to advance your financial situation. We haven't sold out because we're not on a major label. Secondly, we haven't made any damn money. Selling out means you're on AM and are buddies with Dick Clark or whomever".






Wild Gift topped many year end critics lists, finishing second in the 1981 Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll behind The Clash's Sandinista!, which came out in 1980. 


Meanwhile in the UK, Ralph Traitor of Sounds wrote:

 "X keeps the promise of punk, use the devices of pop and exploit the inexhaustible legacy of the Fifties and Sixties to frame their soup kitchen romances and accelerated sleepwalks through a battle zone of teenage confusion. It's the Ramones crashing head on with the Doors and Gene Vincent clawing at each other to hang onto the rear fender and get things  under control."

X would sign with Elektra Records and release their third album, another great one called Under The Big Black Sun, that would also get ignored by commercial radio.





 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason releases album and it's no Wall Part 2.


Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports: Can't Get My Motor To Start

On May 3, 1981 Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason released Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports, an album he recorded two years earlier with jazz artist Carla Bley, NRBQ's Terry Adams, Robert Wyatt, Chris Spedding and many other artists. It's an exercise in eccentricity and it most likely would have remained shelved if Pink Floyd's The Wall hadn't sold 30 million copies.

"I'm proud of what the group ( Pink Floyd) has done," Mason told Billboard. "But after 14 years with the band, it's almost an act of cowardice not to do anything else. Quite simply, it's good for me to do something different".



FM radio programmers didn't leap on this album. One music director in Hartford even saying nothing here is "airplayable", though he enjoyed the copy he took home. 




Billboard Review


"Hot River" got some airplay because it sounded most like Pink Floyd.





 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Japanese New Wave scores its biggest hit in America


Plastics : Diamond Head


In May of 1981 the Japanese new wave band Plastics released Welcome Back, a charming and quirky compilation of re-recorded songs that borrow freely from Devo and Talking Heads. "Diamond Head" was the new UK single, though critic David Hepworth of Smash Hits was not impressed : "I use the term 'music' loosely," he wrote. His colleague Fred Deller was a much bigger fan. He wrote : If you fed all the elements for a successful 80's band into a computer, you might come up with The Plastics, If you were lucky". 



In America, SCTV gave the Plastics their biggest break, playing their inventive "Top Secret Man" video. Though I must admit the introduction is incredibly insensitive. 




 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Squeeze's "Is That Love" is the first single from upcoming East Side Story



Squeeze : Is That Love

On May 1 1981 Squeeze released the UK#35 hit "Is That Love", the first single from their critically acclaimed forthcoming album East Side Story. Chris Difford, who has written his fair share of songs situated in bathrooms, says this one was about his newlywed wife: "This was written around the time I got married. I remember being in the bathroom and seeing Cindy's wedding ring next to the soap, which inspired me to write the lyric. I don't think it was particularly about our marriage, but it started off a sequence of ideas in my head." Difford and Glenn Tilbrook would get a lot of Lennon and McCartney comparisons this year and Tilbrook admits that on this song he was very much influenced by The Beatles.




Other Squeeze songs situated in a bathroom:

If I Didn't Love You ( "Watching you play in the bath")
Tempted ("I said to my reflection let's get out of this place")
Up The Junction ("So I had a bath on Sunday")
Vanity Fair ("Paints her nails on the bathroom scales")


The B-side, "Trust", is a strange Adam and the Ants soundalike.




 

Friday, April 30, 2021

April 1981: Singles We Missed




Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers : The Waiting 

Tom Petty was always at his best when he was updating the Byrds sound. This US#20 hit is a good example. It may have been a former Byrd that gave him the lyric. "That was a song that took a long time to write," Petty said. " Roger McGuinn swears he told me the line - about the waiting being the hardest part - but I think I got the idea from something Janis Joplin said on television. I had the chorus very quickly, but I had a very difficult time piecing together the rest of the song. It's about waiting for your dreams and not knowing if they will come true. I've always felt it was an optimistic song."









The Psychedelic Furs : Dumb Waiters

The new Psychedelic Furs single has the added gimmick that you can play the picture sleeve, which is a flexi-disc with snippets of three songs from the upcoming album Talk Talk Talk










Kraftwerk :  Pocket Calculator

Returning from a three year absence, these Teutonic godfathers of every 80's synth act from Gary Numan to Visage show up with a tribute to, of all things, calculators ("By pressing down a special key it plays a little melody"). As if computers are EVER going to play a big role in our lives!! Dated, but still charming.







The Undertones : It's Gonna Happen

Another irresistible hit from The Undertones, their last to go Top 20. It's apparently a veiled attack on Margaret Thatcher's policy regarding the Irish hunger strikers.  






Level 42 : Love Games

Bassist, vocalist and songwriter Mark King had already perfected the thumb-slap bass guitar technique when Level 42 released its first UK Top 40 single "Love Games". The band made their first appearance on Top of the Pops thanks to "Love Games".














 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

April 1981: Some Albums we missed

 


Adolescents : Kids of The Black Hole

On their debut, releasedx in April of 1981, Adolescents reveal the nihilism of the American suburbs during the Reagan era. Morning in America? More like a nightmare for kids who need something to believe. The highlights are "Kids of The Black Hole", which describes a party house for punk rockers:"House of the filthy, house not a home House of destruction where the lurkers roamed House that belonged to all the homeless kids Kids of the Black Hole" ,  "Amoeba" and "Wrecking Crew". The band couldn't keep its line-up together long enough to tour the album. 






The Cramps : Goo Goo Muck

Without Alex Chilton producing or the charismatic Bryan Gregory on guitar, The Cramps sound tired on their sophomore album Psychedelic Jungle. The highlight is "Goo Goo Muck", a cover of an obscure 1962 single by Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads. During the recording The Cramps and IRS chief Miles Copeland began a legal battle that prevented The Cramps from releasing another album until 1983's Smell of Female.








Stiff Little Fingers : Just Fade Away 
 
Also in April 1981, Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers released Go For It, the band's third album and front man Jake Burns' favorite. It's a bit more adventurous musically than the others ( the brass section on "Silver Living") and lyrically ( domestic violence on "Hits And Misses"). Perhaps more than any other band, SLF provided the blueprint for the sound of the American punk-rock bands of the 90's.





The Flesh Eaters : Divine Horseman

Chris D. recruited LA indie heavyweights John Doe and DJ Bonebrake ( from X) , Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman ( from The Blasters) and Steve Berlin for this descent into madness. Village Voice critic Richard Meltzer wrote Chris D. " has lowered the boom...putting the TNT to the whole fragile whatsis of musically accompanied language per se ...BLABBERMOUTH LOCKJAW OF THE SOUL, which you gotta admit is kinda neat". Also kinda neat: following author Chris Desjardins on GoodReads. He's into the classic mid century pulp novels.






Van Halen : Unchained


On April 29 1981, Van Halen releases Fair Warning, a double platinum album. At this point listening to a Van Halen song means biding your time through misogynistic lyrics (She looks so fuckin' good/ So sexy and so frail/ Something got the bite on me /I'm goin' straight to hell) and David Lee Roth shrieks just to hear Eddie Van Halen rip through a solo.