Friday, June 06, 2008

Slipped Discs

In response to a tag from Old Cheeser I’ve been invited to share with you the ten albums that I just could not live without. The ones that saw me through the drink and drugs hell of my teenage years (I couldn’t get any for love nor money). The ones that helped patch up my achey-breaky heart (please note this post will be a Billy Ray Cyrus free zone). The ones that, joking aside, continue to inspire me, lift me and make the world seem a much better place when I listen to them.

Fire up the Quattro, guys, welcome back to the eighties!

In no particular order:

1. Killing Joke – Brighter Than A Thousand Suns.

I’ve been a long time fan of KJ, right from the occult inspired punk furore of their early releases through to the metal-esque tribal moshes of their more recent output. And yet I’ve never ever considered myself to be a metal-head. In truth I abhor heavy metal and all it stands for... Neanderthal, beer fuelled, sex obsessed, unintelligent music for spotty boys who cannot get girlfriends. Instead I’ve always leaned towards sensitive, well crafted, texturally layered music for young men who cannot capture the love interest of a beautiful gal. But KJ were the exception. There was intelligence behind the anger, a furious need to push back the boundaries, to confront everything. “Revelations” is probably the ultimate KJ album – it captures the KJ sound with a dirty purity never before or since achieved but because of that it is probably quite inaccessible to most outside listeners. Odd then that I choose “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” as this is probably their most accessible album to date and I’m sure many KJ puritans see it as a skeleton in the KJ cupboard. Critics at the time cursed it with the moniker Adult Oriented Rock. This does it a huge disservice. Oh I’m sure fans of KJ’s early punk forays were pulling out their spiked hair at Jaz Coleman’s beautifully honed vocals, the sustained chord changes, the orchestral sweep of much of the album’s content... it is after all a truly beautiful album. And this is not what KJ are supposed to be about. But the anger is still there. The occult paranoia. The conviction that the world is about to end imminently and enjoyably. The fire still burns but not now in an uncontrolled blaze... instead it has been sculpted into something truly majestic. “Chessboards” even today fills me with heart pumping exhilaration and “Goodbye To The Village” is a perfect anthem for the fight against global warming and world-wide corporate expansion. I still dig this album out on a regular basis and wallow in its unadulterated glory. Point of note: it was the amazing lyrics of this album that first got me into writing poetry.

2. Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work

What can I say about Kate Bush that hasn’t already been said? Everybody should own at least one Kate Bush album. Personally I’m the proud owner of just about every 7” single she’s ever released and have all her albums neatly lined up in chronological order on my record shelf. Everybody raves about “Hounds Of Love” and it IS a fabulous album but for me she hit her peak with “This Woman’s Work”. Lush and layered with rich depths – not unlike the woman herself – this album is amazingly evocative and emotive. “The Fog” is my all time favourite track though it is overlooked by many. Strings that catch the heart and a simple metaphor about learning to swim and letting people go all combine to get me watery eyed and blissful. The sustained emotional drive of this album is very powerful and purely feminine whereas “Hounds Of Love” has an inexplicable male energy to it – not that that’s a bad thing. “This Woman’s Work” is Kate Bush at her most complete and accomplished. It’s never been bettered.

3. Fields Of The Nephilim – Dawnrazor

OK. I admit it. I was a goth at heart. I even bought myself boots and a cowboy hat to see the Neph’s play at Birmingham Powerhouse in the mid to late eighties. This album owes more to Ennio Morricone than to true goth-dom however – full of howling wind and the ker-chink ker-chink of metal spurs. You can practically see the dust bowls rolling down the dusty street at high noon. “Volcane (Mr Jealousy Has Returned)” sees Carl McCoy’s thunder-bass vocals put to good effect with the catchy refrain “yer-hee yer-hee yer-hee”. Lyrically it’s a ridiculous album but something about the sidewinder guitars and the spaghetti western ambience just works for me. It makes me smile with fondness every time I listen to it. You gonna reach for those irons or just stand there whistling Dixie?

4. Breathless – Between Happiness And Heartache

I don’t actually know much about Breathless. I was given a copy of this album on cassette by a penfriend and fell in love with it immediately. It’s all ‘sensitive poetry boy’ kind of stuff but packaged up in jangly guitars and marvellously throaty vocals. Music to listen to when you’re reminiscing about a relationship break-up that no longer upsets you... when any upset you do feel is purely a luxury and a pleasure. This is an album of emotional indulgence for me. It’s a humble album in many ways and I doubt many people will have heard of it... but that all adds to the sense of intimacy I feel when I listen to it.

5. Danielle Dax – Jesus Egg That Wept

Danielle Dax is something of a curio and an enigma in the world of music – never quite crossing over into the mainstream despite many efforts to do so... and yet I bet most of you would recognize “Big Hollow Man” or “White Knuckle Ride” if you heard them. However, “Jesus Egg That Wept” was apparently recorded on a humble four-track before she got a major record deal and captures a rough and ready sound that is both unpolished and rawly energized. Danielle’s vocals aren’t for everybody – dipping to monster baritone and then rising to eyelash flickering angel all in the space of a heartbeat. Standout tracks here are “Hammerheads” – a nursery rhyme diatribe against the male ego and “Evil Honky Stomp” which begins with the memorable line “Up at the big house they’re branding niggers...” There was something both disarmingly charming and ineffably dangerous about Ms Dax. It’s a shame she wasn’t bigger as she would have been the perfect antidote to the Stock Aitkin and Waterman malaise that was to infect the UK music industry in the nineties.

6. Propaganda – P-Machinery

Ah Claudia Brucken and her fabulously sexy German nose! Propaganda delivered – with the help of Trevor Horn – one of the most perfectly polished and lush albums of the eighties. “Duel”, “Dr. Mabusa” and the title track all stand out as immaculate examples of synth driven eighties pop. My personal favourite is “The Murder Of Love” which features Claudia’s sexily Teutonic vocals put to good effect as she convicts a love-rat to some terrible fate. Sadly Propaganda’s follow up album was a huge disappointment - mostly because the wonderful Claudia had left (I think) to pursue a solo career that was just as equally disappointing. Alas we shall not see the like of her nose again. It made her look like an exotic bird woman. An eagle faced Valkyrie. Coupled with her cold Germanic demeanour and a fetish for outfits made out of metal lattice work... well, let’s just say she launched a few fantasies from the closeted comfort of my adolescent bedroom.

7. Wendy and Lisa – Eroica

Talking of adolescent fantasies, I’m a huge fan of Wendy and Lisa. Most people will know them as being members of Prince’s original backing band, The Revolution. When Prince disbanded the Revolution in the late eighties he lost, in my opinion, much of the beauty and the oddly delicate touches of much of his sound. He descended into self indulgent soul-funk and I bailed out of the whole Prince ‘thang’ when he released the God-awful “Graffiti Bridge”. Wendy and Lisa, however, decided to form a duo and go it alone together. If that makes sense. They released 3 superb albums here in the UK and developed a robust and respectable following... but alas they just couldn’t quite hit the big time which is a great shame. “Eroica” is their most accomplished album and features some gorgeous classics – “Mother Of Pearl” would have been an immediate smash hit if someone at their record company had had the brains to release it as a single and “Valley Vista” for some reason makes me melt at the knees. My God did I have a thing for Wendy when I was growing up. Sigh. Anyway, enough of my teenage bedroom daydreams – Wendy and Lisa are still plugging away at the music scene though have diversified into atmospheric and aurally textured sound worlds. Those of you that watch Heroes will know that Wendy and Lisa supply the incidental music and the theme. It’s far removed from the groovy-disco-pop-funk tracks that they were producing in the eighties. As a critic at the time memorably wrote – some people make music for people to dance to; Wendy and Lisa make music that dances.

8. XTC – Skylarking

As with Kate Bush everybody should own at least one XTC record. And as with Kate Bush I’m the proud owner of much of their vinyl output. I could have picked any one of XTC’s marvellous albums to grace this list: “Black Sea” with the classics “Sgt Rock” and “Generals And Majors”; “English Settlement” with “Senses Working Overtime” (possibly the greatest pop single ever) or even one of their later offerings, “Oranges And Lemons” with the heartily clever “Mayor Of Simpleton” and “Poor Skeleton Steps Out”. “Skylarking” however is the one that brought XTC some kudos and success in America thanks to the track “Dear God” (which initially didn’t appear on the UK release, pop-pickers). “Dear God” was a woeful lament about the state of the world and a loss of faith set against an almost medieval sounding acoustic guitar. Allegedly some disgruntled student in America forced his Uni radio station to play the track over and over again at gun point. But “Skylarking”, I have to say, is hardly a reactionary’s dream. It’s a warm, languorous, fun, ultimately English summer cocktail of an album that is best played outside when the sun is low and the barbeque is high and the beer is cold. If “Mermaid Smiled” doesn’t make you grin then your heart needs to be thrown onto the barbie to warm it up. Pop pure and simple, unpretentious and divine.

9. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Twice Upon A Time

It’s probably a cheat to have a compilation album on here but I don’t care. I love this album. “Swimming Horses” is hauntingly beautiful and is possibly my favourite Siouxsie track of all time followed closely by “Song From The Edge Of The World” which alas doesn’t appear here and “Dazzle” which does. The musical output of Siouxsie & the Banshees was an odd mix of experimentation and fixedness. No matter how avant garde they tried to be they only ever sounded like themselves. The reason for this I’m sure lies in Siouxsie Sioux’s distinctive vocals. Both a curse and a gift. Personally I’d veer toward the latter. What can you say about Siouxsie? Formidable. Intelligent. Uncompromising. Passionate. Individual. Wonderful. A must have.

10. Bjork – Debut

I was on holiday in Canterbury when I first bought this and initially bought it on cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman. I didn’t take it out again for the entire summer. “Debut” caught a charm, a knowing naivety, a gentrified naughtiness about Bjork that was never quite seen again in her follow up albums. “Venus As A Boy” is, of course, the stand out single – the video made frying eggs seem somehow incredibly sexy – but “Come To Me” is by way and afar my favourite track from the album. A warm, bath towel hug of a song, you can almost feel Bjork’s arms around you, holding you close as she croons / breathes the vocals intimately into your ear. Ah if only. How perfect Canterbury would have seemed if that had really happened! Instead I had to make do with Bjork on my Walkman and a collection of Roger McGough poems in my hand. An odd mix to be sure but it worked for me. And all of Bjork’s mispronunciations have never seemed so cute! Ah Bjork. How do you like your eggs in the morning? Oh. Fried. OK... do you want a sausage with that?

There you go folks, my top ten albums as picked today. Trouble is tomorrow I dare say I could easily give you a different ten. And a different ten the day after that. I’ve missed out loads but a top hundred would be totally impractical. Right I’m off for my lunch. May have to delve into some of these on the old MP3 player. Technology may have changed but my taste in music hasn’t. I guess I’ll always be an eighties boy at heart!


Anonymous said...

oooh yours are so much cooler than mine.

I was always rather keen on XTC too, much to my sister's disgust. And I had a short phase of being into Propaganda

Never been a Banshees fan though.

Cool choices, Steve and your post looks prettier than mine somehow!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Propaganda, Bjork and Kate Bush - three goodies if ever there were any.

Propaganda's 'P-machinery' was for me one of the definitive soundtracks of the 80s, part reminiscent of Orwellian 1984 nightmares and partly reminiscent of the coldness (and nightmare) of Thatcher's vision of Britain (not bad for a German band!)

Steve said...

Just reposted as for some reason Blogger had missed off the intro paragraph!

Gina, I think yours are easily as cool - The Clash? The Pretenders? All bands with major kudos in my opinion: wish I'd thought of them myself! As for the prettiness... well, shucks... (bats eyelids)...

Laura, you're a muso after me own heart, Gawd bless yer. I'm always amazed at how little P-Machinery appears to have dated. Dr Mabusa is such a dark record too - marvellous stuff!

Lucy Fishwife said...

Oh my god, "Duel" - as a soundtrack to my youth it's right up there with "Flying North" by Thomas Dolby. My favourite Wendy&Lisa was "Waterfall" although oddly it was on the cassette of "Fruit At The Bottom" that I owned but not on the CD I bought to replace it!

Steve said...

I've just discovered (doh) that Wendy and Lisa released a fourth album - but it seems only in the states - so I currently have it on order from Amazon which is quite exciting. It's a real shame that Propaganda didn't keep it together enough to follow through with the promise shown on P-Machinery... one hit wonders alas!

Daisy said...

to be honest i only knew a short handful of them...however my teens were spent in the 70's so disco, bob dylan, van morrisson, bob seger, harry chapin, etc were all the rage...probably why i am why i

Steve said...

Daisy, Dylan and Van Morrisson are always cool! ;-)

Glenda Young said...

Splendid stuff. I've been tagged by him too and can't whittle it down to 10, choices, choices!!

Steve said...

I know, Nora, I've thought of loads of stuff I should have included since making the post public... this is a subject I could return to many times without ever exhuasting it.

The Sagittarian said...

I agree, trying to narrow it down for me was an exercise in fiding the ones I could think of! Not easy when we have so many albums to choose from...I was teen in the (late) 70s as well but decided not to include The Osmonds "Crazy Horses" album....

Steve said...

I must admit, Amanda, I own a copy of Crazy Horses on 7". In fact I own quite a few records which would raise the collective eyebrow of my peers...!

skatey katie said...

woah steve, love that title lol.
but i have to 'fess that i am rather scratchy on your choice of albums. i guess different bands made it down under in the eighties?
we have a couple of 80's party CDs and the kiddos know all the words too.

Steve said...

Hi Kate5kiwis, funnily enough Karen and I were commenting the other day how weird it was that more music from down under doesn't reach the UK shores... would rather have your bands and singers than all the rubbish we get from the US (with the exception of Wendy and Lisa of course)!

TimeWarden said...

As luck would have it, "Skylarking" is the one XTC album I haven't got! Back in the day, a member of my band was going to make me a copy but it never transpired and, subsequently, I never got round to buying the record either. I love "English Settlement", too, and agree that "Senses Working Overtime" is a fine single as is "Making Plans for Nigel", of course, from "Drums and Wires".

I briefly considered giving up my degree course to join XTC, after the departure of Barry Andrews, but they opted for a guitarist replacement rather than keyboard player.

Favourite Banshees album is still the first. Their cover of The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" is a million miles away from the original, always a good thing if you're to make something new of somebody else's song rather than simply make a pointless replica!

Steve said...

Hi TimeWarden, Skylarking is a wonderful album - it feels like a slice of excellent summer weather and had a real cohesive ambience. Apparently Andy Partridge had his doubts about the album initially but came to realize that it does in fact work rather well. I heartily recommend you get yourself a copy! A shame you missed out on joining XTC!

Siouxsie always does great covers - Dear Prudence and This Wheel's On Fire stick in my mind as being very memorable.

The Sagittarian said...

Actually, I used to really like Kate Bush until she stole Pete Gabriel from me....

Steve said...

Weirdly Amanda, I used to like Peter Gabriel until...!

Actually, as Kate and Pete once sang together: don't give up...!

Old Cheeser said...

Well I posted a "I will comment on this properly soon" comment and as you said over on my blog, it evaporated!!

Anyway as I said before, I WILL comment properly on your choices soon, Stevenage, I promise! Just been busy (for a change). I want to do your post justice and comment properly. But well done for all your efforts, you 80s boy, you.

Steve said...

Looking forward to your imminent / eminent return OC! ;-)

Old Cheeser said...

Well, Mr Stevenage, I am here!!

I'm queer!

I'm not going shopping!!

Erm. Sorry, don't know what came over me. Perhaps the few tinnies I've consumed tonight?

But anyway, very impressive and interesting list with the appropriate well-written Bloggertropolis description that we have all come to know and love!

I'm sensing a definite indie vein to what you like...although I suspect "indie" might be quite the right label...then again neither is "rock". "Guitar" music then? And yes, there is an 80s influence there too.

Killing Joke. They did a song called "80s" didn't they? But I don't think I know much of their stuff. Kate Bush is a fan funnily enough! Your appreciation of them comes across strongly.

Kate Bush. Now the geek in me must correct you Steve. The album was actually "The Sensual World". I agree it's a goodie, although I'd be inclined to put "Hounds" at the top of the list. Good for you for going against expectations though. That's very interesting what you say about the "femininity" of the album too - I want to know more! Can you do a whole post on it, please? "This Woman's Work" itself is a great track. Did you ever hear Maxwell's version of it? I also really like "The Sensual World", "Reaching Out" and "Deeper Understanding" on the album.

Fields of the Nephlimm! Goth attack! My brother used to be into them. Whatever happened to 'em??

Breathless. Never heard of them! But your description is interesting, so may have to track them down...

Danielle Dax. I do recall this hippy chick! You didn't mention "Cathouse" which was rather groovy,no? Again is she a thing of the past?

Propaganda. Yay! Once again the Cheeser must correct you and inform you that the album was actually called "A Secret Wish". Funny you mention Canterbury cos I distinctly recall buying a cassette version of the album in that self-same town (we were staying with my Auntie and Uncle) when it first came out! And playing it in our Mum thought it was weird. You're right though, there are some lush tracks, especially "Duel" and the hilariously pompous "Dr Mabuse..." ("Selling your soul! Selling your soul!")I love your description of Claudia Brucken - an eagle-faced valkyrie - rather accurate actually. And as for the adolescent fantasies, one for erotic fiction maybe?

Wendy and Lisa. Yaaaay! You and I are such children of the 80s, Steve. You're right what you say about their influence on Prince, I think they contributed much more toward his sound/style than people realised. I too had copies of W & L's debut album (featuring the superb "Waterfall", "Honeymoon Express" etc) and their second, the intriguingly named "Fruit At The Bottom". But I never got hold of "Eroica" (even though I did have a copy of the single "Strung Out" - rather groovy). Your review has piqued my curiosity though and I have just been on (a very cheap download website that I can wholeheartedly recommend) and downloaded myself a copy! Can't wait to hear it.

And....the cover on your post is actually their FIRST album, not "Eroica". Naha nah nah!

Oh shut up you pedantic OC.

XTC! I remember reading reviews of "Skylarking" and I DO remember "Dear God". Starts off with a kiddie vocal doesn't it? And was one of their last hits? Another one to investigate, methinks.

Siouxsie and the Banshees. I don't recognise those tracks you mention but the group definitely had a weird and wonderful charm. My own personal favourite was "Peek a boo" ("Golly, jeepers, where do you get those peepers? Peep show, creep show, where did you get those eyes?")

Bjork! "I'm a little pixie!" as a friend of mine used to say in an excrutiating impersonation of the Icelandic which I would add: "I kick the sh*t out of journalists at airports!" (Well, she did, didn't she?) And another little Bjorky anecdote - she was a regular customer in the Blockbuster store in Maida Vale where I once worked! But - damnit - I only ever heard about her from other staff. Heard she was a bit bananas, surprisingly...

Anyway, I agree that "Debut" was a good un. Loved "Venus as a boy" (the Xylophone bit does sound a bit like Woody Woodpecker's laugh though - listen!) and "Big Time Sensuality" was funky and fun.

And that about rounds it up for my rather long response. But such an excellent and incisive post is worthy of it. Well done Steve and thanks again for responding to my challenge. Let's speed off in the Quattro with Gene Hunt and Alex Drake!!

Steve said...

Mr OC, your comment was definitely worth the wait... though I am hiding my face in embarrassment that I got the Kate Bush album and the Propaganda album incorrectly titled. Doh! That'll teach me for writing the post at work (when I should have been doing something constructive and productive for my employers) instead of at home (the appropriate place) where I could check the actual albums themselves! The Wendy and Lisa pic is indeed from their first album - I used it because I couldn't find a more recent one that I really liked... but well spotted. Wendy and Lisa actually did a fourth album under the name of Girl Bros which I have ordered from NY no less - it was never released here in the UK. So writing this musical post ha been good in lots of ways! You have me pegged correctly too - I am indeed an indie boy and love guitar music - I guess Bjork is the exception as she deliberately seems to avoid that. Danielle Dax did release Cat-House and though I like it I prefer her less commercial output - though Big Hollow Man is a huge mother of song that should have been a hit. After I compiled the post I realized I'd missed off a huge favourite - The Sundays - another indie guitar band who only released 3 albums in the eighties / early nineties but I still love them dearly... and of couse The Cocteau Twins... sigh, there's so many I could write about! I may take up your challenge and review The Sensual World sometime soon - it would be a good excuse to revisit it. At the moment, like you it seems, I am rediscovering Wendy & Lisa... (oo-er - I wish!) Thank you as always for your fab commenting!

steakhouse said...

I am a fan of Wendy and Lisa.....and thanks for your post...

Steve said...

Steakhouse: good man - I salute you, sir!