Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
There`s nothing like realising one of your favourite LPs is 40 years old today, to make you feel a bit prehistoric …
Japan – Tin Drum – Virgin 1981
I can still remember cutting out the advert for this LP from Smash Hits, as well as the lyrics to the single, Ghosts. It’s still one of the most extraordinary and original album that I’ve ever heard. It sounds like nothing else I own. Although they were often lumped in with the New Romantic movement, Japan really don’t have any connection to it, aside from the look of the band. Sylvian said “For them fancy dress is a costume. But ours is a way of life. We look and dress this way every day.” That said, their collaboration with Giorgio Moroder on Life In Tokyo produced one of the greatest dancefloor / pop records of the New Romantic era, but from that point on, Japan moved further from pop towards a more experimental avant garde aesthetic.
The album, Gentlemen Take Polaroids, was a giant leap forwards in terms of the completely original sound that the band were striving for. But after the departure of probably their most conventional musician, Rob Dean on guitar, and with the introduction of Steve Nye as producer, David Sylvian led the band to even stranger places than before, and in the process created a pop masterpiece. And yet this was to be their last studio LP. After the following Sons Of Pioneers tour in 1982, and just as it seemed that the world was finally falling in love with them, the band split up. The posthumously released live album, Oil On Canvas, recorded during their 7 night sell-out run at Hammersmith Odeon, would be their most successful LP.
I still have my original UK copy of Tin Drum, which sounds incredible, but a few years ago I treated myself to the new Half Speed mastered Abbey Road edition, pressed on 2 x 45 rpm discs – which is fantastic, although you do have to get up and turn the record over twice as often, so I suppose there’s a slight downside to it.
I’ve been waiting excitedly for this reissue to arrive, and it’s finally here …
Arthur Russell – Another Thought – Be With Records 2021 / Point Music 1994
This was the first posthumously released collection of Arthur`s music, issued on his friend and contemporary Phillips Glass’s Point Music label in 1994. This was the first non-dancefloor music of Arthur`s that I’d ever heard, and although comprised entirely of previously unreleased, and I’m sure to Arthur’s eyes / ears, unfinished works, it has always sounded to me like a brilliantly realised, and totally complete LP. I now own just about everything of Arthur`s that’s ever been made available, and this is still my favourite Arthur Russell album. It’s the perfect midway point between the ‘disco’ Arthur of Tell You Today, and the ‘singing in the bath Arthur’ of World Of Echo. It contains some of my favourite of Arthur songs -f rom the hauntingly beautiful vocal and cello pieces, like Lucky Cloud and Home Away From Home, to the wonky dance music of In The Light Of The Miracle and My Tiger, My Timing, and including possibly my all time favourite, This Is How We Walk On The Moon.
At the time Another Thought was only released on CD, it being the `90s. Then about 8 years ago there was a vinyl reissue on Arc Light Editions, and while it was great to finally have this LP on vinyl, it was a little disappointing that it didn’t use the original artwork, and as a result I found I didn’t play it as often as I thought I would. So, you can see why I was so excited when Rob announced earlier this year that he was going to reissue it on Be With Records. As usual, he’s done a wonderful job, tracking down the photographer Janette Beckman to use the original cover shot – or is it a slightly different one from the same session? – and making an excellent job of turning the CD liner notes into a gatefold vinyl equivalent. A wonderful LP.
I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to listen to this record again, so after shifting half a dozen boxes around to find it …
Kym Mazelle – Useless – Capitol Records 1988
It was worth moving all the boxes! This is about as timeless a house record as you can get. Produced and written by Marshall Jefferson, remixed by Clivilles & Cole, and with one of the finest house music vocalists that ever stepped up to the mic, the song stands the test of time as a total feminist anthem. Kym doesn’t want OR need her man, he’s fucking useless!
“Where is the love that you promised me? There’s a void where there should be ecstasy”
What an opening line!
For all that the Clivilles & Cole mixes have to offer, I’ve always preferred the simplicity of Marshall Jefferson’s ‘Clubb Mix’. It’s stripped to the bone, with the bass-line to the fore, and it’s moody, melancholic synth pads leave plenty of space for Kym’s vocal to shine and take centre stage – which is really what this track is all about. This is one of Marshall`s finest, of which there are too many to mention. House music all Sunday afternoon long!
Reading the two Duane Tudahl books about Prince back-to-back recently made me want to dig out this fabulous LP again …
Janet Jackson – Control – A&M Records 1986
All the stuff in the book about the break-up of The Time in particular, made me want to listen to this masterpiece from the duo that Prince decided to fire from the band in 1983. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ production career was just starting up, and after missing a show in Texas because they were snowed-in in Atlanta, Georgia, where they were secretly working with the S.O.S. Band, the writing was on the wall for them. They continued on regardless, bringing back their Flyte Tyme Productions moniker from their days before The Time, and after one of the tracks that they’d been working on with the S.O.S. band – Just Be Good To Me – became a global smash hit, they began to carve out a very reputable career as one of the go-to production teams of the `80s. However, it was on this album for Janet Jackson that they really went stratospheric. Janet was keen to throw off the shackles of her father’s management, which had resulted in two disappointing solo LPs. Ditching her old life – and husband James DeBarge – she moved to Minneapolis to work with the Jam & Lewis, collaborating in a way which reminds me of how Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards sat down with Diana Ross before working on the Diana LP. The result was a highly autobiographical and musically adventurous masterpiece, which in a year that also saw the release of Prince & The Revolution’s Parade, the Beastie Boys` Licenced to Ill, the Pet Shop Boys` Please – was one of the finest albums of the year, and still sounds like a timeless classic today, 35 years later.
The writing and production on this LP is of an astounding quality, with Jam and Lewis really perfecting their ‘machine-funk’ version of the Minneapolis sound – all booming TR-808 drum machines and synth stabs – with contributions from former The Time members, Jellybean Johnson and Monte Moir. But it’s in combination with Janet’s lyrical themes of female empowerment, and what some critics labelled it’s “soft-core feminism” that makes the collection really fizz, pop and zing! My favourite moment, from many, is during the wonky electro funk of What Have You Done For Me Lately, when Janet bemoans the state of her formerly promising relationship:
“Used to go to dinner almost every night, Danced until I thought I’d lose my breath, Now it seems your dancin’ feet are always on my couch, Good thing I cook or else we’d starve to death.”
The opening salvo of Control, Nasty, What Have You Done For Me Lately, were all released as singles, and what a run of singles, with possibly the finest track, When I Think Of You, also being a huge hit. The LP closes with Funny How Time Flies … which owes as much to Art Of Noise’s Moments In Love as to contemporary R&B.
At the time of its release, I was 15, and it struck me back then what a perfect teenage party record it was. Seven killer pop-dance tracks, followed by a couple of slow numbers. It’s also the year that I first started to go out dancing to nightclubs, to a crap disco called Evergreens in Warrington to be specific – yes, I was still 15, and you had to be 21 to get in. The music was actually pretty great, and every track from this album would get played. Her name isn’t baby, it’s Janet!
I tell you what, after writing that Janet Jackson post, 1986 wasn’t half a good year for records …
Willie Colon – Set Fire To Me – A&M Records 1986
Ignoring the fact that my favourite LP by my favourite artist was released that year, and that house was about to crash into the charts in the UK, and that hip hop / rap music was about to enter it’s ‘golden age’ and crossover to the mainstream in a huge way, 1986 was quite momentous in that I started to go out dancing for the first time.
I’d become friends with a group of people through playing football who were all slightly older than me and had left school, and so on Saturday nights we went to a local ‘nightclub’ called Evergreens in Warrington town centre. The Camden Palace this was not, but it was all we had. And to be honest, it’s tiny, mirrored dancefloor and music selection was great. I’ve no idea who the DJ was, but he kept me and my friend Pete dancing all night to a soundtrack of pop / dance crossover records like Cameo`s Word Up, Gwen Guthrie`s Ain’t Nothing Going On But the Rent, Duran Duran`s Notorious, Pet Shop Boys` Love Comes Quickly, early house like Love Can’t Turn Around, Music Is The Key, and Jack Your Body, alongside older dance music like Shalamar, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang and Maze. I first heard Twilight and Joy & Pain there. There was also this record, Willie Colon`s Set Fire To Me. I didn’t really hear it again until I crash-landed in Manchester, amongst the burgeoning Balearic scene of Most Excellent, Glitter baby and LuvDup parties, where it was constantly being played, although in its superior B-Side Inferno Dub version. Hardly surprising since it’s scat like vocals, huge Latino-jazz style piano riffs, and pounding, cavernous drums sound like some fusion between Chicago house, like Virgo, and Manchester’s own T-Coy. It was only later that we all discovered this was also a huge record for David Mancuso at his Loft parties in New York. New York – Manchester – Warrington – great music knows no borders.
Edit: It feels remiss that after all that waffle, that I failed to mention the genius production behind this incredible record. It wasn’t until Kath McDermott piped up that I realised I hadn’t even mentioned Yvonne Turner. The production is really what makes it on this record, sounding like some dream point in the musical universe halfway between Chicago and Compass Point in Nassau. Yvonne has a list of writing, remix, and production credits as long as the great wall of China, which includes artists like Loleatta Holloway, Whitney Houston and Lisa Stansfield, but possibly her greatest record – alongside this one – is the Arnold Jarvis classic, Take Some Time Out, which she co-wrote and produced with Tommy Musto. It sounds like Willie was more than a little intimidated, as according to the DJ History gang, when his record company suggested they work together again, he said no!
C is for … After playing the Willie Colon record, I found myself digging around in the shelves nearby, and dug out a few favourites …
Chris Cuevas – Hip Hop (Masters At Work Dub) – Atlantic Records 1991
About as concise and ‘to the point’ as house music has ever or will ever get. In just 3 minutes and 23 seconds, “Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez manage to pack in as much drama and excitement as an entire season of Line Of Duty. The original version is an utterly pointless piece of pop dance crossover pap, aimed squarely at the charts. It’s co-written by Debbie Gibson – yes, THAT Debbie Gibson – and produced by John “Jellybean” Benitez, and has absolutely nothing in common with hip hop at all. OK, it has a kind of NYC freestyle type rhythm to it, which obviously takes some influences from early electro, but still, definitely NOT hip hop! Tucked away on the B-side of this US only 12”, however, is an absolute masterpiece of a remix from MAW. Unfortunately, Atlantic Records were aiming squarely for the hit parade, and when the A-side failed to hit its target of pop smash success, they promptly stopped pressing up copies of the 12”. Unbeknown to those record company geniuses, this record had found an adoring audience, miles away on the other side of the pond, on the dancefloors of the UK. It was being played by EVERYONE – from the Hacienda to the Balearic network, to Shelley’s in Stoke, to huge raves in Scotland – everyone wanted this track. It was released around the time that I started working at Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, and copies dried up almost immediately, creating a huge demand. Partly, because due to it dying on its arse in terms of pop success, they simply stopped making copies, but also because due to its infuriating running time, lots of DJs wanted 2 copies to mix together. It quickly ended up fetching £25 and upwards – a new US / Italo import 12” cost just £5.99 back then. It’s a lot less than that now. Still incredible though.
C is also for …
Guy Cuevas – Obsession (The Nassau Mix) – Island Records 1982
And just next to Chris, who do we find but his brother Guy! I’m joking! They aren’t related- well, I’m pretty sure they aren’t.
Mark Seven introduced me to both of the excellent Guy Cuevas records that I own. Both of them – the other one I’ll write about another time – he played at various different dates during those incredible Daytime / Afternoon Sessions that Phil Mison and Steve Terry ran for a while back in the early noughties – first at Café 1001 and then The Big Chill Bar. It’s hard to choose a favourite between the two tracks, but this edges it for me. It sounds like the perfect Balearic disco track, like so much of the music that came out of Chris Blackwell’s incredible Compass Point Studio in Nassau. This remix is the handywork of Steven Stanley and Francois Kevorkian. You can picture a beautiful crowd dancing in some open-air nightclub in Ibiza or the Adriatic coast to this wonderful, floating, dreamlike, Latin tinged groove. Everything about this 12” is perfect, including the stunning artwork from Jean-Paul Goode – Grace Jones’ then lover, who was responsible for much of her sleeve art as well. This 12 was near impossible to get at a reasonable price, until Strut included it on their Compass Point compilation CD in 2008, at which point it became ACTUALLY impossible to find. Then a few years ago, after more than a decade of searching, my “radio wife”, Ben Monk, gave me a copy as a birthday present. What a lovely man he is!
C is also for …
Crusaders – Street Life (Special Full Length U.S. Disco Mix) – Mercury Records 1979
I’m sure that I don’t need to tell any of you how wonderful a record this is. Disco perfection, from a jazz band, nearing the end of a 20-year recording career. It also helped to launch the new career of vocalist Randy Crawford.
It was a massive hit in both the club world and commercially – this peaked at number 5 in the UK charts – which explains why there used to be so many copies of this record in second-hand record shops in the `80s and `90s. You could pick this original UK 12” up for pennies. It looks and sounds amazing as well. They knew how to press records back then. I have vague recollections of it from the radio back then, but I really fell in love with the track in the early `80s. I was sat up watching Match Of The Day one Saturday night in `83 or `84, and after it finished a film called Sharkey’s Machine started. It’s a Burt Reynolds film from 1981 where he plays a vice cop who falls in love with a high-class escort that he’s got under surveillance. The opening sequence is set to Street Life, and I was gripped. I still quite like the film, but I completely love the song.
C is also for …
Cocteau Twins – Aikea-Guinea – 4AD 1985
This was the first Cocteau Twins record that I ever bought. I was completely knocked sideways by it when I first heard / saw it. It was one Friday night in early 1985, and The Tube had an exclusive play of the video on the show. What on earth was she singing – was it even in English? I realiset this means that I was pretty late to the party, especially as while having recently moved to England, I found myself becoming such a staunch advocate of Scottish pop music. The band hailed from Grangemouth, Falkirk, not a million miles away from where I grew up in Midlothian, but sounded like they had beamed in from a distant galaxy. Better late than never though, yeah.
While on my recent reading binge of Duane Tudahl’s books about Prince’s recording sessions, it’s been really interesting to read how much of an influence the Cocteau Twins were on Prince. He and Jill Jones in particular seemed to listen to their music a lot in the period between 84 to 86, which does show slightly on the Around The World In A Day and Parade LPs. In Dylan Jones recent BBC series on 80s pop, he quoted Prince over a clip of Cocteau Twins: “You can’t understand the words of Cocteau Twins songs, but their harmonies put you in a dreamlike state.”