Sylvester

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: Roots Of New Wave- The Legend Continues 0

Way back in May–May! Who knew this blog would still be alive by now?–we dug deep into the roots of this thing we label new wave and came up with music by the likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk and Chic. But there’s a deep well of influence so we submerged ourselves for another trip down into the depths. Here’s what we found:

“20th Century Boy,” T.Rex

David Bowie and Marc Bolan evolved beyond psychedelia and chased mainstream success at the same time. Bolan soared higher and fell faster. Over an incredibly intense two year period, the Bopping Elf ignited the worship and hysteria of Britain’s teenagers, drew grudging praise from the country’s glam-hating rock media, attracted the likes of Elton John and Ringo Starr and left Mick Jagger acting old and defensive. He did it with a non-stop barrage of funky rock records with nonsense lyrics that he delivered like a singing duck. Look at Adam Ant, Siouxsie Sioux and Marc Almond and you’ll see a Marc Bolan fan.

“School’s Out,” Alice Cooper

We talk a lot in MW:TB about the seismic influence of David Bowie doing “Starman’ on Top Of The Pops in 1972. Lest we forget, Alice Cooper debuted “School’s Out” on the same show on the same year and the nation’s impressionable pre-teens wet their beds later that night. In 1980, Alice made a bold and barely successful to hop on the new wave bandwagon with his single “Clones” which was a little bit Numan, a little bit Cars.

“Blockbuster,” The Sweet

The Sweet were but a cog in Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman’s successful British bubblegum machine. They were known and, in some quarters, derided for foot-tappers like “Wig Wam Bam” and “Alexander Graham Bell”. In 1973, they released “Blockbuster” at the exact same time David Bowie released “Jean Genie”. The two songs were built on the exact same guitar riff. It was hard to hate on one and applaud the other. Thus, The Sweet were elevated from bubblegum anonymity into one of glam-rock’s deadliest strike forces. Musically, Chinn and Chapman kitted them out with one shrill, shrieky high-concept hit after another: “Hellraiser”, “Ballroom Blitz”, “Teenage Rampage”, “Action” and the band even asserted their own chart-topping prowess with the self-penned “Fox On The Run”. Visually, they reversed the Bowie/ Ronson chemistry with blonde Glaswegian singer Brain Connelly, the hard-working straight man to pouting, lisping bass player Steve Priest’s camp camera-hogger.

“Waterloo Sunset,” Kinks

The Jam, Squeeze, The Specials, Blur: every band that made a virtue of it’s nationality, that performed melancholy narratives about the insignificant lives of ordinary people walk in the shadows of The Kinks and this is their crowning achievement.

“I’m Waiting For The Man,” Velvet Underground

Every band from Liverpool, every band from Glasgow, a lot of bands from London, a coupe from Dublin and maybe one or two from Wales wanted to be an iota as cool and as arty and as ahead of their time as the Velvet Underground. No one of them ever were. (Maybe one of those Welsh bands came close. Not The Alarm)

You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” Sylvester

A few years after this record was a hit, the UK charts would be filled with the likes of Boy George, Pete Burns, Marilyn and even Divine. In 1978, Sylvester stood alone.

“Hand Held In Black And White,” Dollar

No one in the right mind or out of it would have the temerity to suggest toothsome blonde British twosome Dollar were a seminal influence on new or any other kind of wave. Except, they were. Singers David Van Day and Thereza Bazar split from minor seventies cabaret chart act Guys N’ Dolls to become a kind of UK seaside resort version of Captain & Tennile. They had a few, barely noticed, barely appreciated hits. The they drafted in former Buggle and Yes band-member Trevor Horn to rejuvenate their stagnant career. He bought with him a team of hand-picked session musicians and a studio packed with expensive machinery. The first of the four singles Dollar mad with Horn was the glossy and expansive “Hand Held In Black And White.” Martin Fry of ABC heard it and decided that was how he wanted his band to sound. Suddenly Dollar who were not very cool at all and trevor Horn who, as a Buggle and a Yes-man was even less cool, were suddenly the epitome of everything eighties pop aspired to capturing. After their dalliance with Horn, Dollar’s currency plummeted. But if they hadn’t made “Hand Held In Black And White”, there would have been no Lexicon of Love, no “Relax”, no “Dr. Mabuse”, no “Slave To The Rhythm ” and the eighties would have been an altogether grimmer place. So, for their small but vital contribution, hail Dollar!

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