Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Part 1 of 3: The three 12”s of Christmas 1984….
Art Of Noise – Close (To The Edit) (Closely Closely (Enough’s Enough)) / Moments In Love / The Time To Hear (You’re Listening) – ZTT 1984
I asked my Mum for three 12” singles as part of my Christmas present in 1984. We`d moved from Scotland to Warrington in the North West of England that summer, and I suppose I wasn’t having the greatest time fitting into a new school in a new country, so I retreated into music – meaning I had already bought all the LPs I wanted at that point with a cunning combination of saving my lunch money and adding it to my pocket money – pretty smart, eh!
There were loads of great LPs out that autumn and winter, with Prince’s Purple Rain – and 1999, Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward, Bronski Beat’s Age Of Consent and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome To The Pleasure Dome, all getting a hammering at the time. But I had bought myself those, so what records could I get from Santa?
Art Of Noise`s Close (To The Edit) was already riding high in the charts and they’d even performed it on Top Of The Pops. I basically loved anything with synths, drum machines, and samples, so I thought this was the best thing ever! And they were cool because they were on the same label as Frankie, and Paul Morley did all the ads and sleeves, which meant they were covered in pretentious horse shit, which is the kind of thing you think is arty and cool when you’ve just turned 14 – and sadly, I kind of still do! I think I was initially a bit disappointed that the 12 didn’t have a certain mix I’d heard on it – or a proper picture sleeve, until I flipped it over, and heard Moments In Love for the first time. Talk about a life changing record … my first encounter with the Balearic Beat? Thanks Mum X.
Part 2 of 3: The three 12”s of Christmas 1984….
Cabaret Voltaire – Sensoria – Some Bizarre 1984
I was just turning 14 when Cabaret Voltaire’s Sensoria was released. At that age you’re probably looking beyond the charts for something different, so I was listening to more of Radio 1 in the evening – John Peel obviously, but also Janice Long. There was no pirate radio in Warrington, and it would be 2 years before hip hop and house led me to Stu Allen and his Sunday night Bus’ Dis! Show on Key 103, out of Manchester. But anyway, it wasn’t evening radio either that led me to this beast of a track, it was TV. I saw the video for this on The Tube one night and was blown away. I’d never heard of the Cabs until then, but the aggression, coupled with the technology, and bucket loads of funk, had me completely enamored. I had heard the Electro comps which Street Sounds were releasing by then and was definitely moving in that direction musically – I’d just been blindsided by Prince, so of course I was – but this track still has a rawness and an energy that makes it sound so different. The sleeve art is super cool too – by Neville Brody who was revolutionising graphic design with his work for The Face at the time. Thanks – again – Mum XX.
Part 3 of 3: The three 12”s of Christmas 1984…
Dazz Band – Let It All Blow – Motown 1984
I wasn’t some cool kid, sneaking into underground nightclubs at the age of 13 / 14 or anything – this record was a huge chart hit in the UK, going top 20 – I think? – and the video got multiple plays on Top Of The Pops. Again, you can’t understate the influence that listening to Prince had on me that year. Particularly the When Doves Cry single, and 1999 LP, which was available again in the wake of Purple Rain mania.
It’s the electronic elements that gripped me on Let It All Blow – the stabs of the intro, the programmed drum machine beats, and incessant handclaps, but most of all that ridiculously cool synth bass-line, which does everything. It’s the groove of the track and the initial melody line, and then when the bass relaxes and lets the piano chords do their thing, the whole thing flies.
I still have the lyrics that I cut out of Smash Hits inside the sleeve. They aren’t Shakespeare. Thanks – again, again – Mum XXX.
Some more 12”s… from the shelves … see what I did there? Dropping rhymes, AND knowledge!…
Marc Almond – The Desperate Hours (Extended Flamenco Mix) – Parlophone 1990
Kelvin Andrews sent me an edit a while ago. A killer tough electronic groove with bursts of flamenco guitars over it – a total winner. Very Kelvin, very me. “It’s a re-edit of a Marc Almond record”, he said. I would never have guessed in a million years, as the track was instrumental, and really quite hard in the way some Italo-Disco sounds – it has a really nasty synth bass part – killer. I decided I should check the original out, and boy was I GOBSMACKED. How the hell had I missed this? Released in 1990! Why on earth this wasn’t a huge Balearic classic I have really no idea. At its heart is a truly great song, with a brilliant vocal performance from Marc: all overblown drama and longing. And all the elements from the re-edit are there in the original. The tough, squelchy acid house bass-line, the driving house beat, handclaps, a one-note stabbing riff straight out of a Belgian nu-beat record, soaring strings and brass, and that huge flamenco guitar part! I’m ashamed to say that I had seen this record a million times before, both in work at Vinyl Exchange and in the wild while digging, often for pennies, and I’d never checked it out. Mistake rectified. It’s a few quid on Discogs including postage. Treat yourselves.
Some more 12’s from the shelves …
Masters At Work Present Nu Yorican Soul – The Nervous Track – Nervous Records 1993
It’s hard to fully appreciate how revolutionary The Nervous Track sounded when it hit the UK club scene in 1993. It really was like a bomb going off on the dancefloors of the time – and being in Manchester, we were almost literally aware of what that was like!
It’s a little odd, because I don’t recall any huge hype preceding the release: the kind of thing you’d expect today. I don’t remember any preview on Pete Tong, followed by weeks of waiting, or anything like that. MAW were already gaining a big reputation for themselves amongst house music aficionados and had begun crossing-over to the big remix gigs for major labels and artists that were so prevalent in the early `90s. A killer set of remixes of Saint Etienne in 1991 had led to remixes for Michael Jackson, Simply Red, Lisa Stansfield, etc., by ’92, so their star was on the rise in a commercial sense. But this just arrived in record shops one day.
I had this usual lunch time routine – to grab a sandwich and hit some record shops, calling into Eastern Bloc to see Moonboots at least a couple of times a week. I was propping up the counter, and he passed me this. “Masters At Work?” I looked quizzically at him… by now I was well aware that there were some misses amongst the hits. He didn’t say anything, just gave me this look … that said, “This was something special.” As usual he wasn’t wrong. It’s one of those tracks that was played by everyone: house DJs, hip hop DJs, jazz, drum & bass, techno DJs, simply everyone who had a clue played this track – it was so different, so ground-breaking. I probably hadn’t listened to this for almost 20 years – now I can’t stop playing it again. It still sounds as otherworldly and innovative as it did back then.
Some more 12’s from the shelves …
Tony Allen – Kilode (Carl Craig Remix) – Honest Jon’s Records 2007
Nigeria meets Detroit! What a fucking combo! And it’s not even my favourite Tony Allen record, or my favourite Carl Craig remix. Regardless, it’s a match made in heaven. Already a great track – a furious combination of killer beats, funky guitar licks, horn stabs and a beautiful female vocal from Zaki Ibrahim – Carl Craig turns in one of his finest remixes here. When it’s this good to begin with you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and this is one of his less radical / more faithful remixes. He just adds that extra layer of sparkle. On top of Tony’s already wonderful skittering drum patterns he sticks in a kick drum to take your teeth out. The horn stabs are sharpened to knife point. And then there’s the drop – and THAT bassline! I lose count of the number of times I’ve played this, and when you see the faces of the people on the dancefloor when THAT bassline drops!
There’s a series of these Tony Allen 12’s on Honest Jon’s, and I’ve also got the one remixed by Mark Ernestus which is also wonderful. This another 12” that`s really cheap on Discogs. Treat yourself.
T-Love Featuring This Kid Named Miles – Return Of The B-Girl E.P. – Pickininny Recordings 1998
I always think of the `80s as my favourite era for hip hop. It arrived first, before house music’s beat ate the world, and those years of 87-90 contain most of my favourite hip hop records. However, digging through the collection I realise that an absolute shit-tonne of killer rap and hip-hop records there were coming out during the 1990s as well. Perhaps it’s because DJ wise it was getting harder to include them in club sets? Who knows? What I do know is that T-Love`s Return Of The B-Girl is a monster of an E.P.
Fat City Records was right next door to Vinyl Exchange, in the site of our original shop in fact. I think it was Steve Yates who came back from Fat City with this record after his lunch break? It could have been Rob Bright, or Si G, but my money`s on Yatesy. It could have been Kathy Mac actually? Anyway, we were all madly into this record at the time. And it’s easy to see why. For a kick-off, it looks absolutely gorgeous – great cover shot, and the fake ring-wear effect on the sleeve makes it look like on old late `60s / early `70s US style tip-on sleeved jazz record. Then there’s the music: not a bum note on the whole E.P. T-Love’s voice is sublime, with her beautiful flow and delivery over all the tracks. Opener, What’s My Name, with its jazz vibes and weird ¾ time signature is my favourite, but Wanna-Beez – a duet with Chali 2NA of Jurassic 5 – is gold, as is title track, Return Of The B-Girl – featuring Kool Keith – with its little tambourine part that used to send Rob into raptures. Siah & Yeshua daPoED also turn up on the woozy and wonderful LA To Brooklyn.
It’s solid gold, and I’m astonished to see that it’s not some holy grail, triple figure, sought after rarity, but is in fact a couple of quid on Discogs. People are strange.
Compass Point Allstars – Peanut Butter – Island Records 1981
The B-side wins again! I’m pretty sure that John McCready pulled this out of the reggae section in Kingbee Records, in Chorlton, for me one day. I can still see the handwriting from the sticker that was written on it which credits the A-side – Junior Tucker`s The Kick (Rock On) – and B-side track, Peanut Butter. No mention of the Compass Point Allstars. For those that don’t know, Kingbee Records in Chorlton, South Manchester, is one of the greatest record shops on the world. John McCready strongly agrees with this statement, so much so that he moved into a flat just around the corner and lived there for much of the late `80s and `90s. Any of you who know John – legendary journalist, Hacienda resident DJ, record collector, and now academic – will know what a rare and elusive creature he was to spot. People would stake out Kingbee just in the hope of getting a rare sighting of this magnificent beast in his natural habitat. At one point it’s rumoured he was having his mail delivered there. Anyway, back to the record, one of millions that John put me onto over the course of our friendship. The Compass Point Allstars were the house band at Chris Blackwell’s legendary Nassau-based recording studio of the same name. Comprising Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare, Barry Reynolds, Mikey Chung, Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, and Wally Badarou. They played on hundreds of amazing records that I own. I thought this might be a version of the Gwen Guthrie track – which was also recorded by the Allstars at Compass point – but no, it’s something slightly more wonderful. A slow, low slung instrumental combination of reggae, disco and funk, which is so good that when Grace Jones heard it, she asked them to rework it and it ended up becoming Pull Up To The Bumper. Not bad. My copy has been played to death and deservedly so. Still sounds great though! The production on these Compass Point records is astounding.
Joe Cocker – Sweet Little Woman – Island Records 1982
Continuing with the Compass Point Studios theme … Joe Cocker recorded Sweet Little Woman at Island Records legendary Nassau studio during the sessions for his 1982 album, Sheffield Steel. The sessions featured the Compass Point Allstars, as well as Adrian Belew – then of Talking Heads – on guitar, and Jimmy Cliff on vocals.
I was totally unaware of this record until the early noughties. I discovered it via Danielle Baldelli`s Cosmic tapes. This was on the second tape that we heard. The first tape had come from Lexx – via Phil Mison. Moonboots then discovered Baldelli’s website where Daniele was selling old Cosmic tapes. The tape we`d heard already was from 1981, so Richard asked Baldelli to recommend his best tape from 1982….Three tracks in, after what we now know to be Gandalf`s Departure and Codek`s Tim Toum, came this beauty. It didn’t take a genius to recognise it was Joe Cocker singing, so a trawl through gemm.com – remember the days before Discogs kids? – I found that he did indeed have a record called Sweet Little Woman. Copies were immediately bought, for very minimal amounts.
It’s simply a lovely record. Joe’s voice has the usual soulful, gravelly delivery, and it glides over a sublime Compass Point groove – somewhere between reggae, funk, soul and pop. Those boys really knew what they were doing.
It took us quite a bit longer to discover what those preceding tracks were, but we got there on the end, although I’m sure there’s still a few we don’t know on that tape. It was C-65 if you want to check it out. It’s still my favourite Baldelli tape and I’m pretty sure it’s on YouTube for free now.