Super selections & wonderful words by Balearic Mike.
I’ve picked out a few of my favourite records by Terry Hall …
Fun Boy Three – Our Lips Are Sealed – 1983 Chrysalis
Although I’ve been a fan of Terry Hall’s music through many of the various stages of his career, from lead singer in The Specials, through the Fun Boy Three years – my favourite era if I’m honest, The Colourfield, and various solo projects, including his stunning early noughties collaboration with Mushtaq, I think it’s fair to say that I was surprised by how hard his loss hit me. What was equally unexpected was how widespread the sense of grief was. I can only really compare it to when we lost Bowie, or Weatherall. Even work colleagues, who I really wouldn’t have expected it to register with were affected. I think this stands as testament to not only how brilliant and creative an artist he was, but how deeply important the work he made was in people’s lives. Also, the sense of the kind of man he was, struggling with terrible trauma in his past, but still so engaged with his fellow humans, and fighting the good fight.
It won’t come as a surprise to many people that I pulled this record out as my favourite. It’s simply a bloody brilliant pop song, which will last forever, in the same way the best Lennon & McCartney songs will. It becomes even more beautiful when you learn how it came into existence.
The song was co-written with Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s – a hugely successful all-female US rock band, who’s lead singer Belinda Carlisle, once popped into Vinyl Exchange while I was working there, wearing a full length fur coat, and looking more glamorous than I can recall seeing any other human being – who supported The Specials on their 1980 Seaside Tour of England. Terry and Jane had a brief affair while touring, before she returned to the US. They stayed in touch, and Terry sent her a letter with some lyrics he’d written, which led to them writing this song together. Isn’t that just one of the most romantic things you’ve ever heard!
OK, so I missed out the bit where Terry was in a relationship with someone else at the time, hence the ‘secretive’ subtext to the song’s lyrics, but I still think it’s very romantic. As Factory Records founder, Tony H. Wilson, once said, “If you have a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend!”
The Go-Go’s recorded the song first. It was both the opening track on their debut LP, and their debut single, becoming a top 20 hit in the US, and top 5 in Australia and Canada. It somehow failed to break the top 40 in the UK though. It has an excellently shambolic video, which the ladies apparently didn’t want to make, although it looks like they’re having a right laugh.
It wasn’t until 1983 that Terry recorded the track with Fun Boy Three, and for me this is the definitive version. Produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads, they turn in a version influenced by disco – it has syn-drums! – afro-beat and dub / reggae, which really comes to life on the “Special Remix Version” on this UK 12”. It has all the ingredients necessary to not only become a huge pop-smash, reaching #7 on the UK charts, but also an underground dance music classic, being revived in the late `80s on the UK`s ‘Balearic Network’, with DJs like Andrew Weatherall and Justin Robertson often opting to play the stunning curveball of the ‘Urdu Version’, which appears on the B-side. This was when I picked up this copy, probably after some E-fuelled night at Venus or suchlike.
Our Lips Are Sealed stands as a testament to not only Terry Hall’s undoubted talents as a songwriter, but also his visionary and inclusive attitude to music, pulling in influences from different cultures, and musical styles, from all over the show. I suppose that in turn illustrates what an incredible moment in time the late `70s / early `80s was for pop music – which for me had replaced painting, sculpture and all the rest as the most powerful art form in the late 20th century.
This record is the bollocks!
Hello, I’m Terry, and I’m going to enjoy myself first …
The Specials – More Specials – Two-Tone Records 1980
I have a confession to make. At the time, I preferred Madness to The Specials. I was 10 years old for Fucks sake! I think Madness had that demographic sewn up. Everyone at school loved all the Two-Tone artists, and I could draw the ‘Two-Tone Man’ from memory, and did, all over all my school books, tape boxes, and anything else I so desired. My Dad was working in Saudi, and would send home these bootleg 747 tapes, so my brother and I had a ridiculously comprehensive tape library. Every album by Madness, The Specials, The Jam, the Beat, The Selector, but all on bootleg tape. It wasn’t until the mid `90s that I bought More Specials on vinyl, from Vinyl Exchange, while working there. Mine copy`s a first UK pressing, with a lovely sixties style laminated flip-back sleeve, and should have contained a 7” and a poster, but doesn’t. Fellow counter jockey and Bugged-Out resident Rob Bright had made this amazing tape of the kind of weird shit he would play upstairs at Sankey’s: stuff like Doctor John, Stereolab, and Tom Waites, and it included International Jet Set from this LP. I’d forgotten about the track in the decade and a half that had passed since, and have fallen in love with it all over again. It’s a woozy, psychedelic, disorientating pop masterpiece, which sounds is part `60s spy soundtrack, part lost library music LP, part ska band on smack. I recall preferring The Specials` debut LP, and I already owned a copy of that (actually two copies: I need help). More Specials is really quite odd in comparison. Much slower, more contemplative, darker, more sarcastic, scathing at times, and sometimes plain bonkers.
As well as containing some of their greatest pop songs, such as Stereotypes (“He’s just a stereotype, He drinks his age in pints, He drives home pissed at night…”), “Man At C&A”, with its warning of impending nuclear apocalypse, and possibly their finest song – yes, even better than Ghost Town – the wonderfully bleak Do Nothing (“I’m just living in a life without meaning, I walk and walk, do nothing…”), you also have some of the weirdest tracks committed to vinyl.
Exhibit A: Sock It To ‘Em J.B., which starts like a `90s drum and bass record for a few bars, then segues into a cross between Booker T and The MGs` Soul Limbo – but after several wraps of whizz – and a late `60s James Brown track, who is obviously the J.B. we are meant to think the song is about, except the lyrics are just a list of James Bond films!
(…and The Specials drummer`s name is John Bradbury : ) – Rob)
Exhibit B: Pearls Café, featuring Rhoda Dakar on vocals, and with a background chorus of the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, and Charlotte Caffey – all singing “It’s all a load of bollocks, and bollocks to it all”.
The album`s opener and closer – in a sly nod to The Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s … – is the wonderful Enjoy Yourself, which now sounds like sage advice from someone taken far too young…
I couldn’t not include this …
The Colour Field – Thinking Of You – Chrysalis records 1985
After a couple of really quite brilliant albums recorded with Lynval Golding and Neville Staple as Fun Boy three, Terry decided to form a new band, this time based in Manchester. The Colour Field recorded their debut LP, Virgins and Philistines, at Strawberry Studio’s in Stockport. It’s from that album that this single, Thinking Of You, was taken, and what a completely wonderful pop song it is. The Colour Field’s sound, lacking the input from Golding and Staples, would obviously be quite different to Fun Boy Three, mixing as it does `60s and early `60s pop music with more acoustic based melodies and orchestral arrangements. This song, however, seems to draw in an even more diverse set of influences than the band are given credit for. Its opening guitar part is more bossa-nova than pop, reminding me of the intro to The Girl From Ipanema, and what follows incorporates aspects of English folk music, and strings that wouldn’t be out of place in a Penguin Café Orchestra record.
Where it really excels though is the fabulous lyrics and vocal, delivered as a duet with Katrina Phillips. The chorus melts my heart completely, but some of my favourite lyrics come in the last verse:
“We should take a bus
To somewhere else to something new
Thank God we’re alive
And bite off more than we can chew
Do the things that just don’t matter
Laugh while others look in anger
Stumble over four leaf clovers
And say goodbye to lonely banners”
Again, it’s a song that crosses all musical barriers and boundaries, and I’ve heard it played many a time as the end-of-night record at some very fine acid house / Balearic musical gatherings over the years.
“Through thick and thin, I bear it and grin and never give in …”.
Thank you for the music, Terry, you beautiful person.
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print