It’s the series where I post three songs on a common theme. Today’s theme is finding out your childhood sweetheart who you’ve lost touch with has become famous when you see their picture in a magazine. Yeah, it’s a bit mundane but I guess it had to come up sometime.
So here we have three songs telling very much the same story, but each one taking their creators’ signature approach. So Kraftwerk are disapassionately robotic about it…
Link: Kraftwerk – The Model
While The J. Geils Band give it the bombastic American rock treatment…
And Thomas Dolby makes it into something about the cold war because… y’know, it’s Thomas Dolby…
And all of these songs became popular in 1981-2. Kraftwerk’s is older (it’s from their 1978 album The Man-Machine) but became a hit in 1981 after it was used as the throwaway B side to “Computer Love”, only to be picked up by Wonderful Radio One and become much better known. Although interestingly, when BBC Four did a documentary about Kraftwerk a couple of years ago, it didn’t mention “The Model” at all… yet we got “Talk” by Coldplay pretty much in full because it copied the riff from “Computer Love”. Interesting editorial decisions there…
Let’s do the obvious (though also the most tenuous) one first. Soul classic “Want Ads” by The Honey Cone was a US number one in 1971 and has inevitably been covered by a whole load of other people since. But here’s the original, which according to Wikipedia features a young Ray Parker Jr on rhythm guitar. And I know what a huge selling point that is.
The second song was also an American number one, the last of the 1970s in fact. But this time I haven’t gone for the hit version (by Rupert Holmes), but instead for a more recent cover by Jack Johnson, who actually pronounces the ñ in piña colada. So one for the linguistic pedants out there.
I suppose writing about personal ads does rather lend itself to the set up – punchline approach heard in “Escape”, and that’s used even more blatantly in my final song of the day. “Two For The Price Of One” is the token Björn-sung track on Abba‘s final studio album The Visitors, and is quite a departure from the notoriously gloomy mood of much of that album. That may be why a lot of people seem to interpret this as much darker than it really is. Also, a lot of people seem to take the title literally and assume it’s about prostitutes, which I’m pretty sure is not actually the implication.
According to Boston funk-metal outfit Extreme, there are III Sides To Every Story. But who cares what they think? However, it does give me an idea for another gimmick series: posting three songs on the same relatively specific subject. Today: Three songs about robberies gone wrong, though the last two words may be redundant since I can’t actually think of any songs about robberies that didn’t go wrong.
Actually, at one stage I was thinking of doing a series called “Criminal Records” about crime and criminals, but I figured it would have to just be about petty theft, otherwise I’d be having to write something lighthearted about murder and stuff, and that seemed a bit dodgy for some reason.
So here are three songs written from the point of view of robbers who’ve been nicked. First is Madness, still in their full-on nutty phase from 1981…
Then from 1982, one of the “lost” Kate Bush singles. It’s from The Dreaming, an album which baffled people at the time and seemed to signal the terminal decline of a promising career, though it’s since risen in stature to be generally viewed as one of her most creative and just plain best albums – right up there with Hounds Of Love. Some people dislike Kate’s accent on this one, though it’s nowhere near as jarring as the broad Australian accent she affects on the album’s title track:
And finally, the biggest commercial success for acclaimed dubmeisters Renegade Soundwave. Much like the Kate Bush song, this is rather an outlier in their catalogue, but a lot of fun…
Laurie Anderson has a bit of a reputation – one that she has not exactly discouraged – for making “difficult music”. And considering that her big hit, “O Superman”, was a menacing, eight-minute, mostly a cappella, allegory about US foreign policy, loosely based on an 1885 aria by Jules Massenet, and taken from an eight-hour stage show incorporating music, film and spoken-word musings on everything from the historical reasons for the location of Washington DC to the velocity of sperm… you can see how that reputation arose.
(As an aside, it’s weird to see how many people attribute “O Superman”‘s success to John Peel. OK, he was the first to play it, but when did John Peel ever make anything a hit? Other DJs picked it up and ran with it, that’s what made it a hit…)
However, on the whole, I reckon Anderson’s musical output is not really as difficult as some people, including Anderson herself, would have you believe. For instance, her debut album Big Science – the one including “O Superman” and commissioned off the back of its freak chart success – is distinctive… but it’s pretty accessible. If you like the direction Talking Heads were taking from Fear of Music onwards, then Big Science should hold no fear for you.
My pick-of-the-day is the album’s blackly humorous, Philip Glass-influenced opening song, “From The Air”. (Anderson and Glass go way back – they were friends and collaborators on the New York art scene before either of them became famous.) This particular track was never released as a single (there was a second single from Big Science, but it was an edited version of the title track), so I’ve assembled my own little single-type package for you instead, with a couple of tracks that could have been B-sides at the time. Brooding violin piece “Born, Never Asked” is one of Anderson’s better-known songs (some readers will know it from Spiritualized‘s cover version), and there’s a version on Big Science, but the recording here is from the music-and-poetry collaboration with William S Burroughs and John Giorno, You’re The Guy I Want to Share My Money With, which came out just before Big Science. The other track is from a 1977 collection New Music For Electronic and Recorded Media, an all-female compilation of experimental electronic compositions.
I don’t need to tell you much about the lead track, considering it’s one of their best-known singles, but in brief: non-album single released for christmas 1981; a cover of Labi Siffre‘s equally charming 1971 original; made #4 in the UK and snuck into the US top 40 on the coat-tails of “Our House”.
On this issue it’s supported by three excellent B-sides: “Bed And Breakfast Man”, the single-that-never-was from the One Step Beyond album; “Never Ask Twice” from the “Shut Up” 12″ single, here re-titled “Airplane”; and “Don’t Quote Me On That” from the “Nightboat To Cairo”-led Work Rest and Play EP, wherein Chas Smash responds to the idiot journos who accused the group of being supporters of the National Front, while the band get into the ska-funk groove thang behind him. I think the last two songs might have been making their CD debut.
Dipping into my shoebox of backup discs again, I pick out one dedicated to acts beginning with S, V and Y. They just happened to combine to make the right sort of total to fill a DVD-R.
The S folder contains a subfolder called “1980s”. It contains tracks from the 1980s. Given my haphazard filing system, this is not as obvious as it should be. Here are some tracks retrieved from that subfolder and its subsubfolders, all 12″ mixes.
Later reworked by Beats International as “Dub Be Good To Me” and Professor Green as “Just Be Good To Green”, but the original doesn’t get much of an airing anymore.
I know, Bronski Beat doesn’t start with S. It’s in a folder of various works by Jimmy Somerville. I think by now you should be starting to understand why I can never find the backup I actually want.
More Marc Almond, this time in an early Soft Cell classic. Strange to think this was never a hit, when it’s probably better remembered than bona fide smashes like “What” and “Torch”.
The much-vaunted, little-purchased Stock Aitken Waterman collaboration. The only way this could be more eighties would be to have Selina Scott introducing it.
Because Sigue Sigue Sputnik just aren’t uncool enough.