Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Merry Christmas, and may the new year be filled with more music and love…
David Sylvian & Ryuichi Sakamoto – Forbidden Colours (Theme from “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence”) – Virgin 1983
OK, a bit tenuous I admit. It’s not really a Christmas song, or much of a Christmas film if I’m honest, set as it is in the sweltering heat of a Japanese POW camp, but I don’t care. It’s one of my favourite records of all time and is utterly beautiful.
After Japan split up David Sylvian had been struggling to write anything. He and Sakamoto had worked together already, with Ryuichi co-writing Taking Islands In Africa on the LP, Gentlemen Take Polaroids, and the pair collaborating again on the 1982 single Bamboo Houses. Sakamoto had been commissioned to compose the soundtrack to the movie Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, which he was also starring in, alongside David Bowie and Tom Conti. Sakamoto handed Sylvian this beautiful piece of music, and David was inspired to write his haunting counter-melody vocal part to it. The process helped steer Sylvian in the direction of his solo writing, and what was already a blossoming collaborative relationship bloomed into a lifelong friendship between the two artists.
Forbidden Colours is just jaw-droppingly beautiful, and I loved it from the moment that I first heard it on the radio as a kid. My brother Chris and I were big Japan fans, and both adored this, and I think it was Chris who bought the 7” at the time. I bought this 12” copy from Tower Records on Piccadilly Circus in the autumn of 1986. I used to love visiting that store, and the HMV Megastore on Oxford Street, when we came to London to visit our Dad.
The song was also re-recorded in 1984 and appears on the B-side of David’s Red Guitar single – which is a great version. I also own the soundtrack LP, which has the original instrumental. That’s also bloody gorgeous. In fact, I doubt that it’s humanly possible to ruin this song. An orchestral version featuring vocals by Sylvian was included on Sakamoto’s 1999 album Cinemage – also, GORGE!
Next up are a handful of records that I wanted to write about before the end of the year, as they celebrated their 40th anniversaries in 2022…
Carly Simon – Why – WEA Records 1982
When writing my article about Donna Summer’s State Of Independence for Disco Pogo, I pointed out a couple of similarities between these two records. Apart from both being fucking brilliant, being sung by wonderful women, having a super-producer behind the tracks in question – Quincy Jones for Donna, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic for Carly – and now rightly being regarded as Balearic classics, there were a few other things that came to mind. Sonically, both songs take a fair bit of inspiration from reggae, both in their dubby, cavernous sound, and in their skanking, off-beat rhythm. Disco sucked remember, so both producers and artists needed a new groove.
Interestingly both singles had huge success in the UK and Europe, while flopping dramatically on home turf! In the UK Why went top 10, and after a Balearic revival in the summer of ’89 – which saw the track reissued again – went on to become an all-time club classic. In the US however, it stalled at #74 and disappeared. Perhaps America just wasn’t ready for those reggae-influenced grooves yet?
Although, I remember the track being a hit first time around and liking it very much, as I had done with most Chic-related releases I’d heard, it was during that long hot spring / summer of 1989 when I totally fell in love with it. Considering the list of credits to Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards name, I would still easily place this in my top 5 favourite Chic-related tracks. It’s a wonderful song, with that beautiful “La di da di da …” refrain, and one of Bernard’s all-time greatest bass-lines. That slower tempo and reggae rhythm seemed so perfect for that time.
There must have something in the air, because it seemed like a lot of DJs re-discovered the track at exactly the same moment. I can’t recall on which wonderful night out I first heard it being played again, but I know I heard it at Harvey’s Tonka parties at The Zap, as well as Chris Coco’s Coco Club, blending in seamlessly to sets which were full of Soul Il Soul beats, Daisy Age hip-hop and Italo-house, and by the height of the summer, even the DJ who played music on The Palace Pier, where I worked the summer selling ice cream, was playing it! It had been reissued by then obvs!
As well as fitting seamlessly into the soundtrack of that summer`s post acid house / Balearic club and rave scene, it also signposted the slowing of clubland BPMs, which would occur over the next few years. There were 95-100 BPM tracks utilising variations on that Soul II Soul beat, and cod-reggae grooves aplenty throughout 89-90-91. Even hip hop couldn’t resist its groove, with CJ Mackintosh sampling Carly on his stunning UK remix of A Tribe Called Quest’s Bonita Applebum the following year.
What a record. Now 40 years old, and still sounding timeless.
Carly’s autobiography Boys In The Trees is also quite an incredible read!
Wham! – Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do) – Innervision records / Columbia 1982
So, like most of the UK record buying population, I completely missed the release of the single Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do) when it snuck out in the summer of 1982. My introduction to George and Andrew – and Shirlie and Dee C Lee – occurred that magical night in November, when they performed the follow up single, Young Guns (Go For It) (hey, what’s with all the brackets George?), on Top Of The Pops. The performance is now legendary, like some West Side Story meets Boys From The Black Stuff musical theatre mash-up. The next day at school it was all everyone was talking about. I was now a Wham! fan!
Off the back of Young Guns going to #3 in the UK charts, Wham Rap got reissued, and then also went on to be a top ten hit… and no wonder. It’s a total banger! George accidentally making what some claim is the first UK rap record, with the sound and production inspired by the US import records that he and Andrew were dancing to in clubs like Le Beat Route in Soho, where DJ Steve Lewis played a soundtrack of the hottest new funk, soul, disco, and rap music. This is probably why the track still sounds so great today. It’s channelling a set of records that are now regarded as the bedrock of modern dance music, the sound of New York’s Paradise Garage, fused with Brit-Funk and a dash of Bronx hip hop. That the US label decided to ask a certain hot DJ turned remixer / producer called Francois Kevorkian to remix it for the American club market was not the worst idea anyone’s ever had. FK’s mixes are stunning, and the version you’re most likely to hear at a club or festival today. Sonically superb, particularly on the dub / instrumental version.
I bought the UK copy, but didn’t find the FK mixes until a visit to see my Dad in Washington DC in 1999. I wasn’t even aware of their existence until I came across this promo 12”.
I still know ALL the words!
Postscript: One of the great things about writing these posts is that sometimes other people add really interesting stuff that I didn’t know, or just talk about their own experiences of the record. On the original Instagram post, someone left a comment saying they’d heard rumours that Francois Kevorkian was pissed off with George Michael at the time. George had apparently said that he didn’t like the remix, because it didn’t sound like D-Train’s You’re The One For Me. I hadn’t heard this rumour before, but thought on the off chance I would tag Francois in my reply to the comment, asking if he could shed any light on this. Hilariously, Francois K did answer, and this is what he said: “Yes… maybe instead of forcing me to listen to his manager trying to produce the mix for the entire session he should have instead thought that perhaps what would have been helpful would have been to express this to me.? Or maybe his view was that as a “one-trick-pony” every record I made was supposed to sound like D train?”
C-Brand – Wired For Games – Spring Records 1982
I had no idea this record existed 40 years ago, but I’m pretty sure that if I had heard it, I would have loved it, as it’s a killer slice of synth heavy electro-funk, which tries to conflate sex with playing those new-fangled arcade, or ‘video’ games, which were capturing the imagination of the youth of the world at the time. I was of course, too young, and nowhere near cool enough to have encountered this great track when it was released, and I`ve struggled a bit to remember where and when I did come across it. I think that I bought it blind – deaf would be more appropriate, but you get my meaning – when I scored some bargain electro 12s at one of the stalls in the old Corn Exchange in Manchester. This dates it to before the summer of 1996, when the IRA decided to blow up central Manchester. It was alongside a copy of Cybotron`s Cosmic Cars, and a few other electro classics for £1 a pop, so I bought the lot.
C-Brand then got filed away for a good few years, and it wasn’t until the early noughties that I think I heard it again on the Cybernetic Broadcasting System, and dug it out and really started to play it regularly. It`s a wonderful slice of up-tempo electro-disco, somewhere between boogie and Italo, with propulsive drums, a killer guitar riff, and a great, soulful, and yet at times almost comedic vocal, which, as I mentioned, manages highlight the similarities shared by shagging and playing Space Invaders or Defender. Plus, it has that ace ‘days of the week’ storytelling motif a-la Craig David, etc., and we all love that shit, don’t we.
I know pretty much nothing about C-Brand, other than one half of them, Michael Calhoun, was also in the Dazz Band – who’s Let It All Blow I also love – amongst other musical projects, and that they only recorded one other single. Wired For Games is a great tune though, so maybe they were right to call it a day after this.
Anyone know who U. Lukowski is?
ABC – The Lexicon Of Love – Neutron / Phonogram 1982
I wanted to write about a few Trevor Horn productions, after reading his very enjoyable autobiography recently (buy it, it’s great).
I’ve already written a short post about the single, Poison Arrow, and how Horn managed to rebuild the track from scratch, turning it into a laser-guided torpedo of pop perfection which climbed to #6 in the UK charts, and was a big club hit on both sides of the Atlantic. This led to Trevor being signed up to produce ABC`s debut album.
Although from Trevor’s account the recording went well, he did persuade the band to sack their bass player at the start of the sessions, convincing them that if they wanted that highly polished Chic inspired funk groove, they needed a better bass player. Out went Mark Lickley, in came Brad Lang! As well as that drama, Trevor also managed to squeeze in moonlighting with Spandau Ballet, producing their excellent single, Instinction, a visit to the sessions from David Bowie, and oh yes, his wife Jill gave birth to their daughter 6 weeks prematurely.
On the plus side, Trevor had his secret weapon in the form of musical genius Anne Dudley. The classically-trained musician added multiple piano parts to the album, while also designing all the string arrangements for the orchestra. Yes, they were going to have a full orchestra on the LP! Go big or go home! But it doesn’t half pay off.
The other plus, was that the material was great. They re-recorded the previous single, Tears Are Not Enough, and another 7 tracks, including their next single, The Look Of Love, which would precede the LP and peak at #4 in the UK, and a third, final single, and for me their masterpiece, All Of My Heart – saving the best for last as The Human League did with Don’t You Want Me, although by releasing it in September, they blew any chance of being the Christmas #1.
This is one of my favourite LPs. It still sounds immense. Perfect pop.
Michael Wilson – Groove It To Your Body (FK Instrumental) – Prelude Records 1982
This is quite possibly my all-time favourite Francois Kevorkian remix. A big claim I know, as there are so many that would easily be included in my favourite records of all time list, “Go Bang”, “Wham Rap”, Let’s Starts The Dance Pt. III”, Snake Charmer”, all the D-Train records…. but I’m pretty sure this one beats all competition. It’s a record that sounds as modern and cutting edge now as it almost certainly did on its release in ’82. I first heard it around 1989, as it was a regular spin from Harvey and the Tonka crew at their Zap Club residency, fitting in seamlessly with the squelching acid house, Balearic Beats, disco, and Italo-house being played. It still sounds like it could have been made this week, with most of the modern producers who’s work I love, being hugely influenced by its sound.
It’s all about the instrumental mix, which is really more of a ‘Dub’. From its opening delay drenched salvo of drums and synths, to the closing strum of what sounds like a harp, this is the perfect record for playing all the way though, with the outro allowing you to go into whatever tempo you like straight after. The vocal version on the A-side is a perfectly good slice of electro-disco, but the version on the flip sounds like a completely different track. It’s packed to bursting with excitement and incident, from the funky, reverb-soaked guitar riff, the twisting, warping bass-synth – which sounds like it’s going through a wah-wah pedal – intense, fierce drums, tiny vocal snippets – which echo throughout – gorgeous brass parts, and the haunting harp. This is complete dancefloor perfection!
It took me years to track down a copy – like a decade at least. For years the only person I knew personally who had a copy was Oscar from Trax, and he wasn’t parting with it. I can’t recall now where I got my copy from. Most likely Nick the Record, but possibly early eBay?
It seems like Michael only made this one record. What a ‘one record’ to make! There’s a comment from him on the Discogs entry – dated from 9 years ago – saying he was about to release a gospel CD and that he’s now a minister. He also mentions writing the song in his mother’s attic in Brooklyn.
I’ve just realised this is turning into a Francois Kevorkian appreciation session. It`s fair to say he was on a bit of a hot streak in 1982!
D-Train – Keep On (FK Dub Mix) – Prelude Records 1982
I dug this out to write about, and then saw Bruce Forest post about it. He put it quite succinctly: “40 years old, and still one of the greatest dub versions ever.”
I don’t think there’s much else to say. I wish it was longer – it isn’t even the 3.44 that it states on the label, but obviously designed as a DJ tool to compliment the 9-minute remix. My copy came from a place that everyone in Manchester’s small Balearic / disco-loving community went a bit crazy for in the early days of internet record buying, a place called 21st Century Music, based in Tony Soprano’s patch: New Jersey! You can see that the original owner handily added some information labels. The most telling of which just says “DROP”! No doubt, with the beautiful phased accapella intro, that’s exactly how most DJs would incorporate this mix into their sets. A perfect little re-set DJ tool!
My collection of Loft / Garage classics on labels such as Prelude, Salsoul and West End has many records bought from the same place, and probably owned by the same DJ, covered in those same labels. I love how they convey little bits of information onto the next generation. You never really own records; you just take care of them until it’s someone else’s turn!
Phil Ramocon – Take A Trip (Dub Mix) – Mango / Island Records 1982
This really is a stone-cold killer. You have to head for the B-side of course (B-side wins again!). It’s on Island Records, and sounds like the kind of tropical influenced, dancefloor friendly, electronic, dub inspired masterpieces we expect to come out of Compass Point Studios, although I don’t think it was actually recorded there. A massive, bouncy synth bass part gets layered with delay and dub effects, the vocal is reduced to 2 short refrains which echo throughout, it has big bold brass riffs. It is in short, Balearic as f**k!Unfortunately, you’ll have to take my word for it, as I can’t find the dub mix online anywhere.
There is very little info on the record to go on, and I know very little about Phil, although a scroll through Discogs shows he was incredibly prolific as a writer and arranger rather than as a recording artist himself. He has a writing credit on Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance!
P-Funk Allstars – Hydraulic Pump – Virgin Records 1982
This is a bit of a cheat, as Hydraulic Pump actually came out in 1981 on a promo only US 7”, on the amusingly titled Hump Records label. This UK 12” however, didn’t emerge until March 1982, so I’m going to allow it! Regardless of its release date, this is one of the finest tracks in the entire P-funk canon, and I’m a big fan, who owns most of said canon. What do you expect when George Clinton teams up with Sly Stone to make a record! They’re actually credited as Sly Clinton and George Stone. I’ve no idea whether they thought this was a cunning plan to throw off the taxman. This was recorded during peak addiction years, so who knows what they were thinking.
Pre-dating George’s solo LP, Computer Games, by a few months, this is very much a blue print for the sound of that record, but if I’m honest I think this just edges it over the best tracks on that album. Mainly due to THAT riff! Head to ‘Part 3’ on the flip, where the whole track powers along, a mass of electro-funk, propelled by this insistent synth riff for almost 9 minutes.
A decade later, in 1992, it was sampled by Dutch techno master Orlando Voorn for a killer release on Kevin Saunderson’s KMS label, as Fix – Flash. I can still recall mine and Kelvin Andrew`s heads exploding upon first hearing Flash, when Huggy dropped it at Back To Basics in Leeds one night, both being familiar with the original, but never having heard the update from Holland, via Detroit.
Oh, and the cover art is fantastic, proving incontrovertibly that you can have a space ship in the shape of a massive cock and balls, and not be a misogynistic arse about it!
“Jump up in the air and stay there!”
Joe Jackson – Steppin’ Out – A&M Records 1982
In early 1982 Joe Jackson had relocated to New York to record what would become his album, Night and Day. While in the city he would spend time exploring New York’s gay culture, which fed into several songs, including this one. The LP would be his only album to become a top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and spawned this fabulous single, which again went top 10 in the UK and US.
Steppin` Out is a brilliant slice of minimal electronic pop music, with Jackson playing the Prophet-5 and Minimoog synths, Korg KR 55 drum machine and piano, in fact everything apart from one snare drum part. Over this driving electronic soundscape, he provides some gorgeous jazz influenced piano, while his soulful vocal beautifully expresses the excitement of heading out for a nocturnal adventure in the city that would soon become his home. It would be later in life that Jackson managed to come to terms with his own bisexuality, adding poignancy to this and other tracks from the Night and Day LP.
Despite being a total banger of a tune, and a deservedly massive hit, the 12” of this track seemed to be stupidly elusive, and I never managed to find a UK copy in the wild, playing the track from the LP for years, until coming across this Dutch 12” at a flea market on my first visit to Berlin in 2004.
There’s also a wonderful live version, that’s just piano and voice, and slots beautifully into those sunset / Café Del Mike style sets. Originally appearing on the double album, Live 1980/86, those cheeky folks at Slow To Speak / Celebrate Life released it on a – very unofficial – 12” in 2008. Brother Sean Johnston played this version at the start of his emotional ALFOS Phonox set the week after Andrew Weatherall died. I imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print