Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
One of the all-time great UK number 1 singles was knocked off the top of the charts on this day 40 years ago…
The Jam – Town Called Malice / Precious – Polydor 1982
I think it says quite a lot about this funny little island we live on, that the above single, having spent 3 weeks at number 1, was replaced by first one, then another, absolutely awful novelty pop songs. One nation under a quite demented groove!
This incredible double A-side entered the charts at number 1. That never happened back then! Even hugely established acts released records that gradually climbed the charts week after week. But not this. Straight in at number 1!
This was probably the high point of Paul Weller’s song writing while with The Jam. Two totally stellar tracks – the A-side the pop perfection of Motown, filtered through the prism of post-punk and topped off with the most memorable of Hammond Organ solos – the AA–side a slice of slinky, scratchy, irresistible funk, like Curtis Mayfield, if signed to Y Records. It replaced Kraftwerk’s The Model at the top of the charts, with the band performing both sides on Top Of The Pops over their 3-week run.
Then Tight Fit’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which in turn was replaced by The Goombay Dance Band’s Seven Tears, unceremoniously toppled them. Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you don’t know either of the tracks I’ve just mentioned, do yourself a favour and never, ever google them. The Goombay Dance Band in particular could make you never want to hear music again.
Over the years I seem to have lost my 7” of A Town Called Malice, but I picked up this 12” quite cheap many moons ago. The A-side is, somewhat disappointingly, a live version of TCM, which loses some of the sparkle and gloss of the studio version. It’s nice to have Precious on a 12” though. It’s the kind of track that belongs on that format.
And what a glorious looking 12”. It’s no surprise Weller’s next band were called The Style Council. So dapper!
This magnificent slice of what became known as “the new pop” was slowly edging its way up the charts this time 40 years ago …
ABC – Poison Arrow – Neutron Records 1982
From 1978 through to 1984 is absolutely the golden age of pop for me, and nothing exemplifies the sound of that period better than this match made in heaven – genius producer Trevor Horn and Northern funk / pop outfit ABC.
The Sheffield (& Manchester) band had made it to the lower reaches of the charts with their debut single, Tears Are Not Enough, in late ’81, which led them to work with Mr Horn. If you want to hear the story of how Trevor revolutionised their sound, you should really check out the wonderful 3-hour interview that Trevor Jackson conducted with the other Trevor – it’s on Soundcloud. It’s a truly wonderful listen.
In summary, Trevor convinced the band they could sound a lot better than the version they’d brought him, and began by rebuilding the track from scratch, programming with a Linn M1 drum machine, sequencers, etc. and then getting the band to play over the top. And boy did they sound better. What they ended up with is a glossy, sexy, glorious slab of polished dancefloor centred ‘new-pop’.
Poison Arrow managed to climb to #6 in the UK charts by mid-March 1982. It would be followed by two even better singles and one of my favourite LPs of all time, so they’ll all probably need posts of their own.
The album The Lexicon Of Love is probably in my top 5 Trevor Horn productions as well. That’ll probably have to be a series of posts too!
Another tragic victim of the Goombay Dance Band …
Imagination – Just An Illusion – R&B Records 1982
This all-time classic slice of UK soul / disco / dance suffered the injustice of being kept from the #1 spot in the UK charts by the aforementioned musical war crime – Seven Tears.
Imagination had broken through to the pop charts the previous year with the excellent Body Talk single, alongside a clutch of other UK bands – Freeez, Beggar & Co., Central Line…all labelled as Brit-Funk. Imagination’s sound was something quite unique though, a beautiful blend of funk, disco, pop and soul, polished to perfection by production and writing team Jolley & Swain (who also produced The Pedestrians` cosmic disco masterpiece, Commuter Fantasy – fact fans!).
It’s hard to overstate just how important and pioneering Imagination were in the early `80s. Not just in terms of paving the way for British black artists, such as Soul II Soul, Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry…all owe a massive debt – but also in terms of how they portrayed themselves as three black men. Singer Leee John in particular played with themes of style, sexuality, and gender like few artists at the time dared to. I mean – what WAS he wearing? It was a tantalising mix of overt sexuality, high camp and outrageous glamour. I can think of only Prince who was pushing the possibilities in the same way, and most people in the UK were blissfully unaware of him at that time.
The song, Just An illusion, itself is an utter masterpiece. You might forget just how good, until you hear that opening keyboard riff and those first bass synth notes come throbbing out of your speakers. It still sounds incredibly contemporary today, with a hypnotic, trancelike quality that pre-dates the feeling, if not the tempo, of the house music to come later in the decade.
After posting this on Facebook, the real life actual Leee John himself left a comment:
“Hi Mike, I wrote Body Talk on my mum`s kitchen table, Illusion I wrote with Steve Jolley in the studio, a lot of people forget I was a writer on all our hit singles and albums.”
So I thought I’d ask him… “I wonder if you hold as much of a grudge against the Goombay Dance Band as I still do?”
To which he left the magnificent reply: “lol totaleee!”
Let’s climb briefly out of the 1982 wormhole I seem to have fallen into … and fall back into the Andrew Weatherall wormhole I was in last week …
Colourbox – Baby I Love You So / Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse – 4AD 1986
Although this entire record is completely wonderful, I was drawn to it initially for the B-side, which I first heard played by Andrew Weatherall sometime in 1989. I was lucky enough to catch him live several times that year, but one of the most memorable was when he and Terry Farley DJed at a Happy Mondays post-gig party at Brighton’s Zap Club in November. The music they both played was mind-blowing, a total revelation of hot new music from all over the world – but particularly Italy – plus older tracks which were very special indeed, such as Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse.
This instantly floored me, sounding like some crazy Big Audio Dynamite record, remixed by Lee “Scratch” Perry. It would obviously go on to be a huge influence not just on Andrew`s own musical output, but on acts like Depth Charge, The Orb, and The Chemical Brothers as well. It was obviously very special to Andrew, as he included it on his now seminal Nine O’clock Drop compilation on Nuphonic.
I was in for a real treat after tracking down the 12”, because the A-side is also completely bloody brilliant – a cover of the Augustus Pablo / Jacob Miller reggae classic, in a similar style to the flip.
This was the second Colourbox record that I bought, and I only realised while writing this that they were both released on the same day – how insane is that! Colourbox were an incredible, unusual band, who only released a handful of records, but ploughed a totally unique furrow. Their last hurrah was alongside Dave Dorrell, CJ Mackintosh, and A.R. Kane as M/A/R/R/S for #1 hit Pump Up The Volume. They never released another record after that.
I couldn’t post one Colourbox record without posting the other one, now could I…
Colourbox – The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme / Philip Glass – 4AD 1986
As mentioned in my previous post, this was actually the first record by Colourbox that I ever heard or owned. The second was M/A/R/R/S with Pump Up The Volume. The very fact that they decided to release 2 singles on the same day will go some way to illustrating what an unusual and original band Colourbox were. Who the hell would think that was a good idea? But anyway, I’m glad they did.
This is an absolutely joyous cacophony based on a massive synth riff, pounding electronic drums, and howling electric guitar. Imagine if Underground Resistance had been asked to update the theme from Match Of The Day and you’re getting somewhere close.
Strangely neither the BBC nor ITV decided to use it for their coverage of what was a truly classic FIFA World Cup in Mexico that summer. Pity really. It would have been a great soundtrack to all those re-runs of the ‘hand of god’ goal.
I heard this played by either Janice Long or John Peel – or both – on their evening BBC radio shows. It became an absolute staple of the indie club nights I began frequenting in Warrington in late ’86 early ’87.
Over on the flip we have Philip Glass, a very gentle and beautiful tribute to the composer in the style of the man himself. However, on the 12” version it suddenly segues straight into another version of the A-side, which scares the bejesus out of you the first time it happens.
One of my all-time favourite record sleeves also.
After my 1982 wormhole, here’s 3 party starters from ’83 …
Jamaica Girls – Need Somebody New (Larry Levan Mixes) – Sleeping Bag Records 1983
This was right next to The Jam – Town Called Malice 12”, so when I put that back, this one had to come out.
This is a completely fantastic slice of New York electro disco, mixed especially for the dancefloor at The Paradise Garage by Larry Levan and Ron St. Germain. This record was big enough at the time to warrant a UK release on Island Records offshoot 4th & Broadway Records, and in the early `90s when I started my deep dive into the roots of this music that had taken over our lives, it was easy to find that pressing.
As my obsession grew, and when I came across this original US 12 at one of the black music specialist record fairs held at the Mitre Hotel in Manchester, for the very reasonable sum of £1.99, I decided to upgrade. The irregular record fairs at the Mitre Hotel were a constant source of some of my still most prized records. Situated behind the old Corn Exchange on Cathedral Gates, it’s still there, but I’m guessing it hasn’t hosted a record fair in a very long time.
Dropping the needle on this 12”, I’m instantly blown away by just how huge and totally modern it sounds. It was designed and mixed to be played on some of the best sound systems in the world, in some of the finest studios, by people who really cared, and it shows. It’s so so close to house music, but it’s still just a few steps away. I think it’s still got that funk influence, which the kids in Chicago and Detroit had begun supplanting with Italo-Disco and European synth-pop and new wave.
This is an incredible vocal dance record – the missing link between disco and house, and copies are peanuts on Discogs right now.
B.W.H. – LIVIN’ UP / STOP – House Of Music 1983
If I had to select an all-time top 10 favourite Italo-Disco tracks, I think this double A-side would be battling it out amongst maybe 3 or 4 others for the top spot.
The fruits of husband-and-wife team, Stefano Zito and Helene, it’s the only record that they released under this guise, and the first on this, their own label, which amongst its handful of releases, also manages another total classic – but that’s another post.
I first heard the track, Livin’ Up, on the now legendary I-F – Mixed Up In The Hague Vol. 1 mix CD. That CD was a gateway drug to a whole new galaxy of music for so many of us.
Over here in Balearic Beats Land, we had always thought ourselves pretty clued-up regarding Italo Disco. We knew about the tracks that had crossed over, tracks like Klein & MBO`s Dirty Talk, which was a huge Hacienda record in the early days of the club, Tullio De Piscopo (which I don’t think of as Italo-Disco but gets lumped in with it) and others like Alexander Robotnick and the Fuzz dance stuff. There was also a smattering that you would hear about from legendary Chicago house pioneers. Tracks like Trilogy’s Not Love, Capricorn’s I Need Love, Scotch`s Penguins Invasion, Doctor’s Cat`s Feel The Drive. But now with sites like Deep House Pages, you could hear actual Ron Hardy mixes from The Music Box, and it was obvious there was a lot more out there.
Then the I-F mix dropped, and within a short space of time you had Cybernetic Broadcasting System coming online, Morgan Geist launched his excellent Unclassics label, and suddenly you had access to this huge canon of music that was incredible, and that for the most part we’d not really been aware of before.
Anyway, after tracking this record down for the A-side, imagine how happy I was when I flipped it over to discover that the B-side is even better. A track that’s absolutely perfect, from the opening synth riff to the final second. It’s almost a house record, with its minimal vocal refrain and pounding piano riff.
Italians really do, do it better!
Toney Lee – Love So Deep (Instrumental) – Radar Records 1983
I was reminded of this total banger of a tune by my old friend, wee Davey Barbarossa up in Glasgow, a few weeks ago. I have to confess that I’d almost totally forgotten how good it is, and had a frantic, panicked dig in my record boxes, only to find it safely snuggled up next to my copy of Toney’s far more famous track, Reach Up. Yes, the one mercilessly pillaged by Phats & Small. Let’s speak of it no more.
Skip the vocal on this and head straight for the instrumental version for another missing link between New York disco and Chicago house music. Dare I say “proto-house”. I’ve never been that sure if that’s a real thing to be honest. Anyway, this track is a total dance-floor bomb. Pounding drums and percussion are joined by a floor wobbling synthetic bass-line, uplifting piano keys, synth stabs and handclaps, and it grooves along like this, dropping down to that bass-line, which fluctuates in and out, sounding like a Detroit techno record. It then has some of the best breakdowns EVER, first dropping to that massive hands in the air piano riff, then kicking back into nothing but drums, percussion, and the most incessant handclap effects you’ve ever heard.
This record sounds so ahead of its time it’s quite unreal. For me it’s far superior to Reach Up, but is far less well known, which makes it all the more special if you ask me. Cheers for the reminder Davey.
So, my Facebook memories just reminded me that a year ago I posted about Charles B`s acid house classic, Lack Of Love. In my post I mentioned that I probably heard it for the first time at Brighton’s Zap Club, possibly at the midweek acid house night they held called FRENZEE.
I was rummaging around in a box of old gig tickets the other day and found this, torn from an old listing’s magazine (Buzz?). The eye logo was the logo of the Zap Club at the time., My membership card looked like that – sadly long since stolen. On the rear coincidentally, is part of the weekly listings for the club, listing both the FRENZEE night I mentioned, and Chris Coco’s now legendary Coco Club on the Saturday. It also mentions that the guest that week at FRENZEE was Steve Proctor.
Just thought some of you might like to see it. No idea why I’d torn this out, or why I kept it, but glad I did now!
For more from Balearic Mike you can find him on both Facebook and Instagram – @balearicmike. Mike also has a Mixcloud page packed with magnificent, magical, music.