Jimmy Somerville

MIXTAPE: GENDER BENDERS 0

The expression ‘gender bender’ was practically invented in the 1980s due to a plethora of pansexual pop idols featured in this mixtape. Like its musical predecessors glam rock and disco, new wave music – most notably the Bowie-influenced New Romantics – took all the outrageous elements of fashion, unusual stage names, ambiguous sexual identities, make-up on both genders and over-the-top hairstyles. The early 1980s also gave the rise to music videos and MTV which were the perfect visual outlets for music artists to reach an audience 24 hours a day instead of the often brief appearance on the occasional weekly pop music program. This ability to break away from sanitized on-air TV appearances allowed many performers to further accentuate their gender bending persona.  Chris Rooney picks his favorite boys who look like girls and girls who look like boys.

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David Bowie, “John, I’m Only Dancing” (1972)
T.Rex’s groovy flower child Marc Bolan was the first out of the gate with a fully-developed glam rock image, but it was David Bowie’s androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust that one-upped Bolan when he declared in a Melody Maker interview that he was bisexual. His highly suggestive “John, I’m Only Dancing” further enhanced his gender-bending mystique as the song has long been interpreted as a gay relationship. After dancing with a girl, the narrator reassures his male partner that he’s “only dancing” with her and is not romantically involved. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Bowie wrote the song in response to a derogatory comment made by John Lennon about Bowie’s cross-dressing. Bowie’s flamboyant Ziggy Stardust along with Roxy Music’s panache would be the blueprint for the New Romantic subculture in London that would emerge at the turn of the next decade at Covent Garden’s Blitz club nights.

The New York Dolls, “Jet Boy” (1973)
Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, The New York Dolls made their way into the world kicking and screaming in platform heels while sporting ratty long hair, gaudy makeup, leather and tight pants. This ungodly birth gave rise to the 1970s British punk aesthetic adopted by The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux and The Damned and later the heavy metal glam image that would resurface in the 1980s with American bands like Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, Poison and Cinderella.

David Sylvian of Japan, “Life In Tokyo” (1979) / Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, “Planet Earth” (1981)
What came first: the chicken or the egg? In this case, it was probably a fuzzy, well-coiffed blonde chick. In 1982 one-time glam band, Japan called it a day and New Romantic newbies, Duran Duran became certified superstars. But between the two bands, they shared something in common: Japan frontman David Sylvian’s and Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes’ “gay but straight” looks were almost inseparable. In their late teens, Sylvian and his brother Steve stole some eyeliner from Bowie’s dressing room, some new last names from the New York Dolls, and sounds from both to create Japan. Sylvian dialed back the outrageous, imposing “alien from Mars” image that Bowie created (while keeping the gorgeous visage) and repackaged it in a more suave, sophisticated suit and masculine vocals reminiscent of Roxy Music’s troubadour, Bryan Ferry. When the 1980s rolled around, Japan were often associated with the burgeoning New Romantic fashion movement, though they denied any such connection. After Japan’s breakup, Sylvian went solo in a minimalist direction. Meanwhile, Nick Rhodes’ keyboard work emulated Japan’s 16th note sequencers that electronic music producer Giorgio Moroder introduced in “Life In Tokyo” and today Rhodes remains the world’s longest running David Sylvian tribute act, years after Sylvian himself put away the make-up and hair dye.

Klaus Nomi, “Nomi Song” (1981)
German-born Klaus Sperber discovered his love for opera and pop music in his youth. After struggling in Europe to define himself as an opera singer with his stellar countertenor (a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a female contralto or mezzo-soprano), he moved to New York City in the early 1970s to be a part of the art scene based in the East Village. Using the pseudonym Klaus Nomi, an allusion to the American sci-fi magazine Omni, his performances blended his opera background with pop music in elaborate stage shows reminiscent of visions of early science fiction: Kabuki-style white face painting, black lips, extravagant clothes and hairstyles inspired by early 20th century avant-garde. David Bowie discovered Nomi in 1978 and helped him with a record contract along with inviting him to sing backing vocals on Bowie’s 1979 musical appearance on Saturday Night Live. Nomi was so impressed with the plastic bowtie-shaped tuxedo suit that Bowie wore during “The Man Who Sold the World” that he commissioned one to be made for himself. It completed the otherworldly manifestation that Nomi is best remembered by now. Nomi’s musical career was cut short when he died at the age of 39 in 1983 from complications due to AIDS. In more recent years, Morrissey has championed Nomi by often using one of his songs as an introduction prior to taking the stage at his concerts.

Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, “Who’s That Girl?” (1983)
After Lennox and Dave Stewart left their previous band, The Tourists, she reinvented herself in their breakthrough video, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” with a fiery red buzz cut hairstyle and an authoritative tailored suit like she was a modern-day Marlene Dietrich. (Sorry Madonna, Annie beat you to it.) Lennox played up the image even further in their video for “Who’s That Girl?” with dual roles as a 60s-era blonde nightclub singer performing the song and a Elvis Presley-like male member of the audience with his eye on her. At the end of the video, the female Lennox locks lips with the male Lennox. Blink and you might miss appearances in the video by all four members of Bananarama, Kate Garner of Haysi Fantayzee and fellow gender bender, Marilyn.

Philip Oakey of Human League, “Sound Of The Crowd” (1981)
With his lipstick, eyeliner and asymmetric hair hanging long and down one side of his face, Oakey’s androgynous appearance and chilly baritone helped to define the look and sound of British new wave in the early ‘80s. Lyrics like “The shades from a pencil peer / Pass around / A fold in an eyelid brushed with fear / The lines on a compact guide / Pass around / A hat with alignment worn inside” was the same musical inspiration that a desperate Oakey probably used to get ready before heading to the Crazy Daisy Nightclub in his hometown of Sheffield a year earlier. There, to his amazing luck, he plucked Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall out of obscurity to be his tour dancers and backing vocalists when he set out to create a more pop-driven Human League.

Boy George of Culture Club, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” (1982)
America fell hook, line and sinker for the former Blitz Kid because of his witty personality and infectious retro soul pop sound so much so that Culture Club racked up five Top Five hits in the US within two years. His multicultural-printed baggy tops, ribbon-filled braided hair and accentuated facial features spawned such merchandise as a Barbie-sized doll by the American toymaker LJN that proclaimed on the box, “Boy George: The Original Outrageous Boy of Rock!” and the publication Boy George Fashion and Make-Up Book that featured instructions on how to create your own flamboyant hats and hairstyles and expert tips on make-up.

Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive “Brand New Lover” (1986)
If Boy George was the cute and cuddly androgynous performer that America could embrace, Pete Burns was Boy’s evil twin who brought a fiery sexuality to his songs and look. Burns has never shied away from flaunting his individual style and since his initial halcyon days with Dead Or Alive, he has gone through numerous cosmetic surgery operations to transform his face. While others of this era have moved on from their androgynous 80s style, Burns has constantly pushed his gender bending look even further.

Grace Jones “Slave To The Rhythm” (1985)
Long before Lady Gaga broke out of the gender box and Caribbean pop divas Rihanna and Nicki Minaj were even born, Jamaica-born Grace Jones was glamorizing a fiercely androgynous look with masculine, angular fashions and an imposing flattop haircut that could stop you dead in your tracks. Her commanding, yet exotic-sounding vocal delivery didn’t hurt either. Jones later appeared as the sexy assassin in the James Bond film, A View To A Kill for which Duran Duran provided the theme song.

Marilyn, “Calling Your Name” (1983)
Liberating the name that schoolyard bullies once taunted him with, Peter Robinson rechristened himself ‘Marilyn’ while wearing vintage dresses and bleach blonde hair when he became a regular at The Blitz along with his frenemy Boy George. After a small appearance in Eurythmics’ music video, “Who’s That Girl?” and Boy George’s success with Culture Club, Marilyn launched a singing career with limited success. Marilyn’s 15 minutes of fame stretched a little further when he took part in the Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” along with various other pop stars of the era. His notoriety soon waned after cutting his long blonde mane and ditching the makeup. At one time he was an item with the future Mr. Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale before Rossdale’s days as the frontman of the band Bush.

Divine, “You Think You’re A Man” (1984)
Cult film director and close friend John Waters first bestowed the stage name “Divine” upon the drag persona of Glenn Milstead and introduced the actor and performer as “The most beautiful woman in the world, almost”. After several movies under Waters’ direction, Divine branched out as a singer by cutting several Hi-NRG disco singles in the 80s that were club hits in several countries. Just as mainstream recognition was around the corner, Divine died in 1988.

Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat, “Why” (1984)
With a skyscraping falsetto that could make Barry Gibbs sound like Barry White, Jimmy Somerville fronted the openly gay synthpop group that explored overtly political commentary on gay-related issues coupled with a hard-edged dance-pop sound. Thirty years ago, it was almost unheard of to be an out-of-the-closet pop singer, yet with his autobiographical ‘Smalltown Boy’ and this song, he and his bandmates gained mainstream acceptance. Somerville left Bronski Beat after one album and had continued success in the 1980s with his similar-sounding synthpop duo, The Communards and as a solo artist.

Laurie Anderson, “Language Is A Virus” (1986)
Experimental performance artist, composer and musician, Anderson never quite fit the definition of “new wave” but embraced its sound in many of her compositions and its ambiguous style with her spiky hair and skinny tie masculine suits. A recurring motif in Anderson’s work has been the use of a voice filter which deepens her voice into a masculine register, a technique which Anderson has referred to as “audio drag”. For much of Anderson’s career, her masculine character was nameless or called the Voice of Authority, although more recently, he was dubbed Fenway Bergamot at her late husband Lou Reed’s suggestion.

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Friday Face Off: Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat, Simple Minds, A-Ha and…Eddie Murphy 2

1986. Does new wave as we know it even exist anymore? This is probably the final year before almost everything that was once fresh and exciting started to become part of the wallpaper. But it was a year that started promisingly…at least for one of the countries in our never-ending chart war. Here are the UK and US top-fives for the week ending January 18, 1986:  Brit-Hit61

UK Top 5

5. “You Little Thief,” Feargal Sharkey

JB: The Undertones were the best group ever to come out of Ireland. Some people may argue U2, but if you asked U2, I bet they’d agree with me. So it was something of a disappointment to learn Feargal Sharkey, the lead singer with the plaintive quaver, HATED The Undertones. Hated being in the band. Hated the other members. Hated touring with them. Hated singing their songs. Even now he refuses to talk about his time with this band whose reputation has only grown over the years. As it turned out, what Feargal Sharkey really wanted to be was a proper pop star. Like a Paul Young. He wanted to wear expensive suits, not The Undertones’ hand-me-down jumpers. He wanted to make glossy-sounding records at the best studios with the finest session musicians money could buy. He had a few hits in this incarnation; this one, written by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench about Maria McKee and what a whore he found her to be, is probably his best (his biggest, “A Good Heart,” was written by Maria McKee about her trepidation over dating Benmont Tench!) — but he’ll always be known as The Guy from The Undertones.

LM: I know “A Good Heart” but was not familiar with this one. It’s good. He’s not the best-looking of pop stars, though, is he?

4. Dire Straits, “Walk Of Life”

JB: Last week in this here column, I showered praise on Sade, who was able to take ten years off with her mystique unaltered. Dire Straits, I think, have been absent without actually officially splitting for almost twice as long. I choose to see that as a comment on their crushing anonymity. “Romeo & Juliet,” I’ll admit to liking. This? The frizzy hair/headband combo at the start of the video renders me blind and deaf immediately thereafter.

LM: I hated this song! And its NBA-themed video! And yes, the frizzy hair/headband combo!

3. “Hit That Perfect Beat,” Bronski Beat

JB: British bands had a hard time keeping it together. Haircut 100 couldn’t hold on to Nick Heyward after their first album. Kajagoogoo dumped Limahl after their debut. And Bronski Beat self-destructed after album number one. In all cases, the splits were contentious. Bronski Beat, from Glasgow, had that not uncommon problem where the band is named after one person — Mr. Bronski — but another person — Jimmy Somerville — becomes the focus of attention. Somerville decamped for the Communards and then solo stardom. Mr. Bronski and the other dude went nowhere. Except for this nostril full of amyl nitrate that made it seem as if they were the ones with the magic hitmaking formula. (And they might have been. Communards and solo Somerville had their biggest successes with cover versions). But if they had, they mislaid it after this — and the replacement singer is no Jimmy Somerville. He’s barely Jimmy Ray (90s reference!).

LM: I did a cheerleading routine to this! Bronski never really made it in America, except in the Weehawken High School gym. As an Anglophile, I loved them, though — but much more with Somerville.

2. “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” A-ha

JB: I know enough people — well, Lori and our friend Matt Isom — who swear by the totality of A-ha’s career, but I switched off after this song,which I love, and never found my way back. They probably have decades of classics but it’s too late for me to find out. I never learned to drive either. Some things you just have to accept aren’t going to happen.

LM: This is easily one of my favorite songs of all time. “Take on Me” was a fun little tune with a sweet, memorable video, but its main function was to serve as the gateway to A-ha’s moodier, more atmospheric material. (Although, to hear A-ha’s Mags tell it in Mad World:The Book, “Take on Me” is a melancholy tune; it was never meant to be the basis for a dance track by Pittbull feat. Christina Aguilera. Bet they made a nice bit of dough off of that, though.) Most Americans think of A-ha as a one-hit wonder, but they’ve racked up hits around the world and were an influence to Coldplay and even U2. Remember the “Beautiful Day” chorus: “Touch me…” Can’t believe A-ha didn’t sue!

1. “West End Girls,” Pet Shop Boys

JB: So here’s the thing. I freely admit in this blog, and in the pages of Mad World: The Book, that I get a lot wrong. But I was friends with the manager of this record’s producer. She told me how good it was. She told me how good the Pet Shop Boys were AND I IGNORED HER. Politely, of course. (Although knowing me at the time, probably not very.) In my defense — and it’s not much of a defense — we were up to our eyes in synth duos at that time (I might even have preferred Blue Mercedes!). Plus, the track record of journalists making pop records was not stellar. Also, it had been out once and flopped. So had “Opportunities.” It wasn’t until “West End Girls” was fully ensconced at number one that I got — and even then, only incrementally. First the bass line. Then little snatches of lyric — ”from Lake Geneva to the Finland Station” — got caught in my head. Finally it all made sense. But this was a post-Christmas fluke, I remember saying. They’ll never have another hit. They did. It was “Love Comes Quickly” and from that song up until, I’d say, 2006’s Fundamental, they were my favorite group. I still like them, just not with that blind acceptance I once had. To continue a long-running theme of this blog and this book, I’ve never been so happy to be so completely wrong.

LM: The first time I heard “West End Girls,” it was during a radio-station duke-out with Thompson Twins’ “King For a Day.” Now, I loved the Twins, but this little record by some guys from a pet shop was INCREDIBLE! Think about that intro for a moment — have you ever heard anything like it?! Then I heard that Neil Tennant had been an editor at Smash Hits and I was like, “I have to meet this dude!” So I went down to Rockefeller Center where they were taping Live at Five (I’m still sad about the unceremonious dumping of Sue Simmons, by the way), and I presented Neil with a box of Animal Crackers. I wanted him to remember me. Anyway, JB, when you included “Rent” in our recent new wave Valentine’s Day mixtape, I was inspired to spend the whole of Feb. 14 listening to PSB’s discography (and not just what’s on Discography). And I’ve decided that “Being Boring” is my life’s theme song: “We were never being boring/we were never being bored.”

US TOP 5

5. ”I Miss You,” Klymaxx

LM: Terrible name. They should’ve toured with Nu Shooz. Okay, let’s check out the video (because you know I never watched this thing all the way through back in the day). I didn’t know Klymaxx was an all-girl group. What’s with the baby-pink Saran-wrap David Byrne suit? Remember when it was all about buttoning shirts all the way up to the tippy-top? Aw, look: He gives her a puppy. Okay, that’s enough. Next!

JB: Allow me to eighties-R&B nerd-out for a moment. Klymaxx had some hot records–”The Men All Paused”, “Man Size Love”, “I’d Still Say Yes.” Singer Bernadette Cooper’s solo album, The Drama According To… had its moments and the girl group she produced, Madame X, deserved a lot more success than they had. Shame they’ll be best remembered for this one-eye-on-the-clock crossover hit.

4. “Alive and Kicking,” Simple Minds

LM: Simple Minds was one of the last editions to Mad World:The Book before we hit the deadline wall. And I love the interview you did with fellow Glaswegian Jim Kerr, JB. But when I hear this song all I can think of is my friend Kathleen and how she thought Jim was singing, “I love fried chicken…”

JB: Last week I recounted the classic anecdote about how I hated Simple Minds in principle but their presence on a John Hughes soundtrack caused me to shed my prejudices. This week, the stunning sequel to that story. Basically, I was prejudiced again.The end.  Not to give away too many of the gems contained in our much mentioned Jim Kerr interview, but he is well aware that his band’s evolution into An Arena Band Of Great Importance, which began around the time of this song, was divisive. In retrospect, as pompous as Simple Minds were about to become, 1986 was an all-time terrible time for Scottish music — the dark days of Deacon Blue, Hue & Cry, Fairground Attraction, The Proclaimers, Wet Wet Wet and worse — so my disdain was misplaced.

3. “Party All The Time,” Eddie Murphy

LM: This came out around the same time as Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat” and Bruce Willis’ “Respect Yourself.” All three were sad attempts by actors trying to be pop stars, but Eddie Murphy’s was definitely the most cringe-worthy. He was one of the most hilarious guys in the world, and here he was acting all earnest and seriously pop-star-ish while lip-synching in the studio… I honestly don’t think I can even watch this video again. What the hell was Rick James thinking?! Bring back Buckwheat sings the hits!

JB: I think we know what Rick James was thinking.

2. “Say You Say Me,” Lionel Richie

LM: Last week we had Madonna’s “Crazy for You” from Vision Quest. This week, it’s Lionel’s ballad from White Nights. Totally forgettable 80s movies, and a totally forgettable Lionel track.

JB: Old music business execs must look back to the eighties and weep. They had that shit sewn up. Every big movie had an accompanying soundtrack crammed with songs mostly left off albums due to variable quality. These soundtracks produced hits with videos that acted as extended movie trailers. Everybody profited from this mutual back-scratching. I’m writing about eighties soundtracks because there’s not a ton to say about the song that doesn’t sound like it kept Lionel up nights making sure it was just perfect. But if this was a chart week when the OTHER White Nights hit, aka “Separate Lives” by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, was on the ascendancy, I’d be bleeding all over the screen. I get choked up just thinking about it…

1. “That’s What Friends Are For,” Dionne Warwick & Friends

LM: I was totally about to slam this song when I remembered that it was an AIDS patients anthem.

JB: Just to point out the differences between our two great nations, AIDS gets a mention in the Bronski Beat record (“…hiding from the danger that was sent from hell”), but it’s in the context of a frantic night in the bowels of what sounds like a nightmarish gay dungeon. America got this all-star rendition of a Burt Bacharach ballad in which Elton John worked very hard to keep up with Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. Allow me to eighties-soundtrack nerd-out for a moment and point out that Burt Bacharach recycled the music for this song from the score he wrote for Night Shift, the much-loved Michael Keaton pimp comedy of a few years earlier.

VERDICT: The jury’s out on this one. No, it isn’t! The jury’s back, and it finds for the UK chart!

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Friday Face-Off: Wham!, Madonna, Simple Minds, Sade…and Murray Head! 2

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Two charts collide. This week, the UK chart we chose is filled with Americans and the American chart is four-fifths British. It’s like 1776 all over again. But it wasn’t. It was May 18, 1985…

UK Top 5

5. “Feel So Real,” Steve Arrington
JB: The ravenous demand from the soul-funk clubs in the South of England — the formative stomping ground of George Michael and Spandau Ballet’s Kemp brothers — for a new hot import every weekend regularly propelled records like this into the upper reaches of the British charts. In common with a lot of club records I loved at the time, this now sounds like a singer being suffocated by sterile production.
LM: Sterile is right! It’s just so forgettable. Now, the (barefoot!) singer’s blue satin monk-meets-toga party get-up, that I may never forget.

4. “Rhythm Of The Night,” DeBarge
JB: The only UK hit they ever had so it took years for me to hear how much better their other songs were. I’d take “I Like It,” “All This Love,” and “You Wear It Well” over “Rhythm Of The Night,” but I still have a soft spot for it. Just like DeBarge did for crack. (What? They were crack fiends. It’s a known fact.)
LM: I didn’t know they were crack fiends. But this was right in the middle of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Sad. Anyway, can’t say I was huge fan of the Barge, but listening to this now brings me back to that era of perfectly produced 80s R&B (see: Lionel Richie). I much preferred the edgier stuff by the likes of Lisa Lisa, like “Can You Feel the Beat,” though.

3. “I Feel Love,” Bronski Beat & Marc Almond
JB: Jimmy Somerville and Marc Almond both had fantastic taste in cover songs but this summit meeting is a bit of a drunken mess with both factions attempting to out-warble each other.
LM: I can’t believe this made it to number three. It feels like an experiment rather than a real single, like something that was just meant to be impromptu performance at London’s G-A-Y club — which would’ve been fantastic. The video is cracking me up, from Almond’s crazy-emotive lip-synching to Somerville’s synchronized surfing scene.

2. “Move Closer,” Phyllis Nelson
JB: The English soul clubs strike again. But I’m not mad at them for shoving this massive end-of-the-night smoocher into our lives. Unlike the Steve Arrington tune, this is an example of a singer and a song that rise above the eighties production.
LM: Nelson had a hit in the U.S. with “I Like You.” I think I might like this better! She looks like a long-lost Pointer Sister.

1. “19,” Paul Hardcastle
JB: Something unique to the pop musician of the eighties and rarely glimpsed since: the need to prove themselves more than superficial purveyors of catchy babble. The Human League revealed their global concerns with “The Lebanon”. Culture Club did it with “The War Song.” Spandau Ballet had “Through The Barricades.” Even Bananarama voiced their concern over the illegal internment of Irish political prisoners in “Rough Justice.” But none of these records were anywhere near as successful as “19.” Yet another beneficiary of the English soul club scene, Paul Hardcastle’s previous records had all been of the mildly-funky-jazz-lite you hear in the dentist’s office and thus associate with agonizing pain. Then he saw a TV show about Vietnam. I don’t have a favorite thing about this record but if I did it would be imagining the British session singers, who were probably fitting this in between a Kit-Kat advert and a car insurance commercial, glancing at their lyric sheets as they put the least possible emotion into singing, “All those who remember the war, they won’t forget what they’ve seen, destruction of men in their prime whose average was nineteen.” I do have an un-favorite thing: the stutter sample that everyone imitated for years to come.
LM: “N-n-n-n-nineteen!” Several times a week I do this thing where I marvel at how fast time has passed and say things out loud like, “1994 was 20 years ago?!” I didn’t do that in 1985, but, reflecting on it today, it was only 11 years earlier that the U.S. had withdrawn our troops from Vietnam. I was a teenage girl just wanting to have fun, but I can see now why anyone who was in that war was probably still thinking about it. Or, if they were trying to forget about it, “19” reminded them. I remember listening to the lyrics and and thinking for a moment, “What a big mess that was.” And then I went back to worrying about Duran Duran breaking up.

US Top 5

5. “Smooth Operator,” Sade
LM: Hellen Folasade Adu was the most exotic thing I’d ever seen. The classiest too. When she appeared in a white backless shirt at Live Aid she looked like she’d stepped out of the pages of Vogue, not Star Hits. And she looked stunningly beautiful in the “Smooth Operator” video. Her hair pulled back into a neat braid, those glossy red lips — how she stood apart from ragamuffins like Madonna and Bananarama. She wasn’t a girl; she was a woman. She was just 25 when she put out Diamond Life — can you imagine a 25-year-old pop singer being this sophisticated today?
JB: So now we come to the period in time when young British people were unironically wearing berets, sipping cappuccino, and carrying Charlie Parker albums in public. Did this signify their love of jazz? No, it signified their love of looking like they loved jazz. Which they did not. They liked the typography on vintage Blue Note album sleeves but they — and by they, I mean Teenage Me — couldn’t stay awake through a trumpet solo. What we were actually listening to was the faux-jazzy sophistication of the Style Council, Everything But the Girl, Carmel, Weekend, Matt Bianco (who begat Basia), Swing Out Sister, and Sade, who was the one faux-jazzy act who transcended fashion and became a genuine star. Her music may have been a little on the tastefully snoozy side but Sade had, and continues to have, a brand of mystique that cannot be taught or bought. It’s something to do with her forehead. Consider this: Sade took ten years off. Ten years without a Tweet or an Instagram. No pictures. No news stories. No one knew if she was living or dead. If she was married. If she had a child. If she was the victim of a debilitating disease. Total silence. Then she came back with a new record that sounded as tastefully snoozy as her old records and it sold exactly what the last record she’d released ten years earlier sold. And then her comeback tour outgrossed Bon Jovi’s. That’s what mystique does. Good luck with your Tumblr.

4. “Everything She Wants,” Wham!
LM: My favorite George Michael cuts are his ballads, naturally. “Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go)” is a novelty; all the Fantastic tracks are silly. “Everything She Wants” is the one Wham! up-tempo that sounds serious and grown-up. I particularly like the extended mix with the “My situation never changes…” breakdown. Poor George — women were always milking him for the money in his songs and he couldn’t have been less interested in their kind.
JB: The third chapter in Wham!’s woman-hating trilogy. “Everything She Wants” finds the braggart of “Young Guns” and “Bad Boys” working himself into the grave to satisfy his voracious demands of the lucky lady in his life. A fitting end and an awesome record.
LM: You’re right! I never thought about that before! Don’t forget about “Credit Card Baby,” in which George calls out yet another golddigger: “You can have my credit card, baby/But keep your red-hot fingers off of my heart, lady!”

3. “One Night In Bangkok,” Murray Head
LM: I went to Thailand for the first time a couple of years back and I was so excited to see the capital city’s “muddy old river” and “reclining Buddha.” All because of “One Night in Bangkok,” which happens to be my friend Mike the Crasher’s favorite karaoke song. I love it too. In my mind I always pair it with “Puttin’ on the Ritz” from Taco.
JB: Murray — brother of Anthony Giles-from-Buffy Head saw some minor UK success in the Seventies, principally with “Say It Ain’t So, Joe.” Back then he was an actor trying to pass himself off as a sensitive singer-songwriter. In the eighties, when he was an actual working actor divested of any musical ambitions, he found himself with a big hit. Even though “One Night In Bangkok” comes from the Tim Rice/Bjorn & Benny musical Chess, it seems likely that the American audience, who have never since made a song from a stage show anywhere near as big a hit, thought Head was a camp, emotionless English new wave fop in the Neil Tennant mode.
LM: Those of us who listened to Casey Kasem knew that it was from Chess. We American Top 40 listeners were very informed in that way.

2. “Crazy For You,” Madonna
LM: This was the ultimate slow-dance jam (along with Lionel Richie’s “Hello”). For some reason, the first thing that comes to mind is Madonna’s armpits, which I seem to remember she was constantly shoving in our faces during the video. Let me watch it again…
JB: The invisible Madonna hit. Does she ever play it live? Is it on any of her hits albums? It’s a stray song from a soundtrack that got swept up in the wake of Madonna mania. Also invisible: Linda Fiorentino, co-star of Vision Quest, the high-school wrestling film from which the song was plucked. Whatever happened to her?
LM: Linda Fiorentino was in Men in Black. What the hell was Vision Quest? I never saw that. Never saw At Close Range, either — the Sean Penn movie Madonna’s “Live to Tell” was from. But I was obsessed with “Crazy For You.” Still am.

JB: Yes, I know she was in MIB. I meant where has she been in the past 15 years. I could IMDB her if I really cared…

1. “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” Simple Minds
JB: When I interviewed Jim Kerr for Mad World, I prefaced my question about this song by saying, “I know you’ve probably talked about it a million times…” He gave this long groan and said, “I wish it had only been a million.” But after a few minutes he was conversing in glowing terms about the soundtrack hit he had no hand in writing. That mixture of reluctance and acceptance also sums up my experience. Simple Minds were in no way cool to me or my snobby Glasgwegian faux-jazzy sophisticates. John Hughes, however was muy cool. And I saw The Breakfast Club A LOT that summer. So I had to put my anti-Simple Minds bigotry aside. One of the few smart things I did that year. Or any other year.
LM: Wow — I’ve never known you to want to watch a movie twice. I know it’s an unpopular thing to say, but I wasn’t obsessed with The Breakfast Club. Even back then I felt the performances were a bit too forced, the dialogue a bit too perfect and high-minded. No teenager would really say the things those teenagers said. People would later criticize Dawson’s Creek in much the same way. But “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” seemed to be written just for me. It sounded the way I felt: scared, lonely, and anxious about the future.

America wins! But it’s a chart filled with English and Scottish acts so it’s also a Trojan horse victory for Britain!

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