April Showers

Mixtape: Independence Day 0

“I’m Scottish. I can complain about things.” So said Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who on seeing the face and hearing the voice of his latest regeneration. For many centuries, my people, the Scots, have complained loudly and bitterly. Mostly about the English, about being stuck on top of a country that oppresses and ignores them. And after centuries of complaining, we finally get a chance to do something about it. The race is shockingly tight, so much so that my nation has been belatedly turned into the homely girl suddenly regarded as pretty, with the leaders of all three parties desperate for her attention and approval. Although I’m many thousands of miles away, my ill-educated and indefensible vote would be Yes. We wanted this for so long. Now let’s see what happens when we get it. The following songs aren’t particularly rousing, rebellious or patriotic. But if the vote is a yes, this is what Scottish radio eighties flashback shows will sound like.

“Celebrate,” Simple Minds

Before they were deliberately anthemic, before everything they did was tailored to fit the demands of a stadium audience, this was Simple Minds starting to find themselves.

“From Pillar To Post,” Aztec Camera

The great thing about Roddy Frame’s songwriting circa 1982: the more he tried to write an out-and-out commercial pop song, the more he imbued his lyrics and delivery with out-and-out contempt.

“Blue Boy,” Orange Juice

Simple Minds were a big deal even in their formative years but Orange Juice and Postcard Records put Glasgow on the map in terms of the musically-inclined-but-directionless suddenly finding steely resolve and starting their own jangly bands, in terms of the music press belatedly bestowing regional hotness on Glasgow and in terms of record companies indiscriminately signing up Scots of varying degrees of talent.

Tell Me Easter’s On Friday,” Associates

My co-author’s been on a well-received music-now-is-empty-and-crude rant. I semi-agree but my main complaint about contemporary pop is that the chances of us ever hearing another voice like Billy Mackenzie’s in a context where it’s on the radio and on TV and high on the charts is not even unlikely. It just couldn’t happen. People rapping about their butts doesn’t make me particularly annoyed; living in a talent vacuum does.

“Bring Me Closer,” Altered Images

Gary Kemp talks in Mad World: The Book about his courtly semi-romance with Clare Grogan. For a brief period, the entire country shared his infatuation. The double-whammy of her “Gregory’s Girl” role, coy pop star persona and tremulous vocals made crushing on Clare Grogan a national pastime. Journalists, producers and DJs old enough to know better, actors and fellow pop stars all made clowns of themselves over her. Ironically, the two men flanking her in this clip went on to greater post-Images success than she did, the guy on the left produced, among others, “Mmmmbop” for Hanson, the other guy founded Texas. The band, not the state.

“Candy Skin,” Fire Engines

LOVE this. Love it. Short, sneering Velvet Underground-adjacent single with sawing violin from the great short-lived Edinburgh band who shed their indie skin and remade themselves into a Heaven 17-style ironic corporation.

“You’ve Got The Power,” WIN

And that is that self-same ironic corporation. “You’ve Got The Power”, although never a huge hit, was inescapable due to it’s widespread use in a beer commercial.

“Never Understand,” Jesus & Mary Chain

They played fifteen-minute sets that climaxed in the band half-heartedly smashing up their equipment. Their songs were drenched in feedback to the extent that they sounded like a ride on an out-of-control ghost train. The sets got longer, they dropped the distortion and stopped destroying the equipment. They were still great.

“Touch,” Secession

Try not to think less of me as I admit I barely know this song. I was aware of Secession as a Scottish synthpop outfit of little import. Many years later, I came to understand that this particular song had way bigger impact in American cities with new wave stations and dance club than it ever did in it’s ungrateful homeland. On behalf of all the other Scots who gave you the cold shoulder back when it counted, I’m sorry, Secession.

“Waiting For Another Chance,” Endgames

No apologies here but Endgames were a band that received a fair amount of mockery on their home turf but were hailed as giants across Europe.

“Tell Me Why,” Bronski Beat

Glasgow was and is a notoriously tough town but Glasgow audiences also had a love of gay disco to the degree that when records like (“You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real”) by Sylvester and “Funky Town” by Lipps Inc became hits they were propelled into the charts by the huge sales emanating from Glasgow. Bronski Beat were the product of the citywide love of that sound but they were also the product of the city wide love of beating people up because they looked or acted different.

“Abandon Ship,” April Showers

Yeah, I know. Totally indulgent. Whatever. It’s my song. I’m Scottish. I wrote it in the eighties.

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Mixtape: Songs by New Wave Duos! 0

The eighties was the decade of the duo. It was the perfect economic division of labor. One member sang. The other played an instrument. But duos were just as susceptible to jealousy and backbiting as bands with more bustling populations and when a duo fell out, there was no place to hide. (For the Spotify playlist, click here.)

LM’s Picks:

“Mad World,” Tears For Fears

It’s the inspiration for our book title! Early on we’d considered a number of alternates: Just Can’t Get Enough (already taken — and by a fellow Abrams author, to boot!); Careless Memories (not mainstream enough); Space Age Love Songs (ditto). When our editor — also a new wave obsessive — suggested Mad World, we stroked our chins and thought, “Hmm. Why hadn’t we thought of that before?” It perfectly describes this wild, weird, and wonderful time in music, when artists came up with their own sounds and looks, when men pranced around in makeup and Annie Lennox donned drag. So, thank you, Tears For Fears: It’s a very, very mad world, indeed!

 

“Joan of Arc”/“Maid of Orleans,” Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

“If Joan of Arc had a heart/Would she give it as a gift/To such as me who longs to see/How an angel ought to be?” Only OMD would write a love song about Catholicisim’s most infamous martyr. Actually, they wrote two! In Mad World, Andy McCluskey speaks at length about OMD’s manifesto, and how they vowed never to use the word “love” on a track (and they didn’t for many years). However, they managed to pour an ocean’s worth of romance and emotion into their tunes — which is why I love them with all of my abused and quite bruised heart. (And may I add a shout-out to DJ Father Jeff who played “Joan of Arc” as the last song back in the day at NYC’s Ward 6 — an alternative night that’s still around today.)

 

 

“I Beg Your Pardon,” Kon Kan

How can you hear this song by the Canadian twosome Kon Kan and not want to get up and dance? That’s what we all thought week in, week out at Aldo’s Hideaway in Lyndhurst, NJ. Sadly, Aldo’s burned to the ground some time ago, but DJ Ted Wrigley will be warming the decks for Vince Clarke at the Mad World book launch party on April 21 at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Manhattan. RSVP here.

 

“Love is a Stranger,” Eurythmics
I can honestly say that I love every single song the Eurythmics have ever made, but I’m absolutely obsessed with their super new wave-y material (naturally!). And I dare you to take your eyes off of Annie Lennox in this video. Is there anyone cooler, more amazing, more talented, more beautiful?

 

“Blue Savannah Song,” Erasure
This dreamy tune happens to be my favorite from the British duo that formed after Vince Clarke had decided against forming another one after the demise of his previous twosome, Yaz. However, as Vince discusses in Mad World, Andy Bell turned out to be his forever music partner. Can’t wait for the new Erasure record later this year, which we hear will be more in the vein of the recent minimal masterpiece Snow Globe.

 

JB’s Picks:

“Party Fears Two,” The Associates

I would call this one of the best records ever to come out of Scotland but that would be too limiting. The Associates Sulk album is awash in dramatic, stop-you-in-your-tracks-songs but “Party Fears Two” is their showstopper. Nothing that comes out of Billy Mackenzie’s mouth makes any sense but his performance is so vast and engulfing, it couldn’t matter less. This is one of those records where you turn it up as it fades because you don’t want it to end.

 

“Living On The Ceiling,” Blancmange

I was a little sniffy about Blancmange’s version of “The Day Before You Came” last week. Their own handful of self-penned hits, though, are tops in my book. They carved out a niche for themselves that was both unique and narrow. The mixture of tablas, sitars, inflamed backing vocals and Neil Arthur’s twitchy lead set them apart from every other synth duo. But at the same time, there wasn’t an incredible amount of difference between “Living On The Ceiling”, “Blind Vision” and “Feel Me.” I’m not being sniffy this time, though. Nothing wrong with a signature sound.

 

“Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do),” Wham!

It’s not exactly fair to draw a comparison with Wham!’s first single and the debut record by One Direction. Wham! were self-starters. 1D were assembled on a TV talent show. This early version of Wham! were as much about grabbing column inches in The Face and the NME as winning the hearts of the nation. George Michael is only half-kidding when he says, “Hey everybody take a look at me, I’ve got street credibility.” Nevertheless, I’m going to make the 1D comparison because it is absolutely unimaginable that a contemporary pop group would be allowed or would even have the desire to put out a record that celebrated living off government handouts. (Although, Republican new wave fans, learn to live with the fact that every one of your eighties heroes did just that, and they were all happy to do so). After the initial flop of their life-on-the-dole debut, George Michael steered Wham! towards the winners’ enclosure with an even more alienating follow-up, the blisteringly misogynistic “Young Guns” which, in the age of “What Makes You Beautiful” sounds like a record made by insane people.

 

“John Wayne Is Big Leggy,” Haysi Fantayzee

This duo belong to a very special sub-genre active in the early eighties: the friends of Boy George. If they had elaborately arranged dreads, they dressed as Dickensian ragamuffins and boasted of multi-cultural influences, they had a decent shot at a brief chart career. Like the early incarnation of Wham!, Jeremy Healy and Kate Garner were way more concerned with being seen as cool–which they never were– than being liked. “John Wayne Is Big Leggy”, which sounds like someone playing all the songs from “Duck Rock” simultaneously. is sneeringly anti-American. The follow-up, “Shiny Shiny” was rousingly pro anal-sex.

 

“No Memory,” Scarlet Fantastic

End-of-eighties one-hit wonder. They came out of nowhere, made zero impression and vanished again leaving only this song which despite the ironic title, I always liked and still do.

 

“Each and Every One,” Everything But the Girl

From the early eighties, when a section of young Britain went boss-nova crazy, the sullen sounds of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. The early success of Everything But the Girl forced the duo into a bit of a good-taste trap which they wouldn’t escape from until more than a decade later when “Missing” pushed them in the direction of the dancefloor.

 

“Abandon Ship,” April Showers

And finally, if you’ll indulge me, my own ill-fated eighties duo. This was the first–and last– single recorded by myself and my singing acquaintance, Beatrice Colin. Here’s a brief backstory: in the post-punk environment, record label and music press writers went digging for gold. Punk seemed to have emerge from nowhere so it seemed possible that the rest of the UK was filled with obscure youth movements waiting to be discovered and exploited. So the media focus moved away from London and settled on Manchester, then Liverpool, then Sheffield, then Birmingham, then Newcastle and, after a long exhausting voyage of discovery, the spotlight landed on my hitherto-ignored home town of Glasgow. The jangly bands on local label, Postcard Records, stirred up enough excitement to bring a swarm of interested writers and A&R guys to the tough streets of my grey town. Glasgow’s teen opportunists, of which I was one, threw themselves into a frenzy of buying the right clothes, going to the right bars, being seen at the right clubs, referencing the right influences and, occasionally, recording the right songs. I’m not sure April Showers did any of these things but we were beneficiaries of being in the right place at the right time. We were also guilty, like everyone else in this pots-punk gold rush of being young and unable to grasp the big picture. Our journey ,from two people siting in a bar saying we should start a band because everyone else we knew was starting one, to hearing our first single receive it’s first national radio play, should have motivated us to cling on tight to this insane opportunity that had presented itself to us. Instead, we fought over trivial matters, let egos take over good sense and disbanded after our first single. That we were hardly alone in our poor decision-making is scarcely a consolation. Weirdly, “Abandon Ship” would go onto be something of a radio hit in the Phillipines. Maybe we should do a reunion tour over there.

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Mixtape: New Wave Winter Playlist 2

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It’s a minus-zero holocaust out there. Every time a respite is in sight, a fresh load of snow-related misery buries us alive. We feel your pain. Well, one of us does — the one who lives on the east coast. The other one lives in LA where it’s currently in the eighties. But there is no more appropriate music than new wave to accompany a season that’s lovely to look at but chills you to the bone. Here are some of our favorite cold weather-inspired songs. (To listen to this Mixtape, follow Lori Majewski on Spotify and click on her Mad World New Wave Winter Mixtape.)

JB’s Picks

The Cure, “Cold”

I remember being offered and turning down a paid writing job that involved seeing The Cure playing live. “They’re doing the whole of Pornography” was the opposite of an incentive. In small depressing doses, I can handle it. But not the whole thing. I’m too fragile for that.

 

Aztec Camera, “Walk Out To Winter”

Back in the day, this re-recording produced by New Muzik’s Tony Mansfield caused Scottish pop enthusiasts to react the way indie movie geeks are currently losing their shit over Greta Gerwig signing up for a CBS sitcom. The original was all jingly-jangly. This version is all bleepy-bloopy. Outrage! Treachery! A pox on both your houses! I loved it then. I love it now. A lot of British bands at the time–Everything But The Girl and Prefab Sprout being prime examples–strove to house their most grumbly, idiosyncratic songs in perfect and beauteous musical surroundings. The glossier the production, the more pissed-off and disillusioned Roddy Frame sounded. Here’s the super-long version:

 

Magazine, “Permafrost”

Have Magazine got a bit lost in the shuffle of new wave nostalgia or do I just keep forgetting them? Do people take for granted what a powerful, ominous band they were or did Howard Devoto’s ridiculous frontman persona help to erase how good they were? Discuss. “Permafrost”, I think, sums up their dilemma. Listen to how creepy and claustrophobic the music is and then this ooh-I’m-Mr-Spooky-the-spooky-man voice defiles the atmosphere. Or adds to it. Discuss, again.

 

Eurythmics, “You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart”

Be Yourself Tonight-era Eurythmics did nothing for me. When they swung the pendulum the other way for Savage, I was back on board. To me, they were never a band that suited a celebratory mood. A miserable heartsick Eurythmics is a Eurythmics I understand.

 

Cocteau Twins, “Pearly Dewdrops Drop”

Are you telling me for certain it’s not about winter? Because it sounds like it might be.

 

Lotus Eaters, “The First Picture Of You”

Bit of a cheat. This isn’t so much about the cold, slushy days of winter as it is the onset of spring but I felt we needed it after the grinding misery of The Cure. This song and this group were a real bete noire to me back in my distant youth. I was in a band called April Showers who played a brand of music that was cruelly and accurately labeled wimp-rock. Rather than embrace the name as a compliment aimed at our melodic, timeless music, it drove me mental, especially because the harmless Lotus Eaters, who were enjoying their first and only hit with this song were hailed as the leaders of the wimp-rock movement. For a few months, my every waking moment was devoted to NOT being like the Lotus Eaters. If anyone asked me the most innocuous question about my musical endeavors, I would routinely snarl, “It’s NOTHING like the Lotus Eaters!” Anyway, this is a pretty little song that in no way fills me with uncontrollable rage anymore.

 

LM’s picks:

“Vienna,” Ultravox

Dry ice, large overcoats with the collars turned up, snowy streets where Midge Ure and his holiday love “walked in the cold air.” Oh, “Vienna”! I’m still considering naming my daughter after this song, should the stork ever drop one off. No, I’ve never been to the city, but neither had Midge Ure when he wrote the lyrics. Just one of the fascinating facts stuffed into the overflowing chocolate box that is Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s.

 

“Wuthering Heights,” Kate Bush

The first time I heard this song I’d just read the book in English class and I thought, “What a wacky idea to have a song about a classic novel!” Decades later, I’m still charmed by the wackiness, as well as the icy tinkling of the piano and Bush’s inimitable soprano giving voice to Cathy and begging Heathcliff to “open the window/I’m so co-o-o-old!” Oh, and the demonic look on her face as she modern-dances in the video:

 

“Life in a Northern Town,” Dream Academy

Anyone who’s ready Morrissey’s Autobiography knows that life in a northern English town is dreary and Dickensian. Summer is the handful of days a year when the sun dares to poke through the thick, omnipresent cloud covering. Yet so many great bands and songs have come from Liverpool and Manchester. But not the Dream Academy; they’re from London.

 

“Winter Marches On,” Duran Duran

When most people think of Duran Duran, they envision the blue seas and white sands of “Rio.” But my favorite D2 tunes aren’t the ones that scream “sex on a beach” but rather “let’s turn up the heat inside this igloo”: “Winter Marches On,” “My Antarctica,” and (okay, Arcadia’s) “Lady Ice.”

 

“She Loved Like Diamond,” Spandau Ballet

“She loved like diamond/she cut so hard she died.” SO COLD!

 

“Blood on the Snow,” Erasure

When Vince Clarke told me last year that he was working on an Erasure Christmas album I resisted rolling my eyes. Holiday records usually come about for one of two reasons: 1. A band-of-the-moment’s record label wants to squeeze every cent out of the fanbase before they move on to another band-of-the-moment, or 2. A veteran band wants to squeeze a bit more money out of the fanbase without having to write and record new material. But Erasure’s latest, Snow Globe, not only breaks new ground for the 30-something-year-old band — it’s one of their best albums to date. Clarke says he prefers to call it a “winter” record, because a number of the tracks’ expiration dates exceed Jan. 1. Which is why I’m still listening to “Blood on the Snow,” “Bleak Midwinter,” and “Make it Wonderful” during these dark days of February.

 

“Porcelain,” Moby

JB, I know how much you like saying that it’s been years since you heard a song that made you go, “Wow! I’ve never heard ANYTHING like that before!” But that’s exactly the way I felt in 2000 when I happened upon “Porcelain.” So dreamy, yet so lonely, and so clearly the creation of someone who understands and was inspired by frosty sounds of OMD and Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode. Which is why we asked him to write an afterword for Mad World.

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