Say Cheese! Make love to the camera! Smile! Watch the birdie! Hold still! I’m taking a selfie!
Photographs can capture a moment in time just like any memorable song can. Working hard in his darkroom, guest shutterbug Chris Rooney has edited the most lyrical snapshots from this photogenic mixtape.
(To listen to this or any of our other playlists via Spotify, click here.)
Duran Duran, “Girls On Film” (1981)
“…Lipstick cherry all over the lens as she’s falling…”
Japan, “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” (1980)
“…Gentlemen take polaroids / They fall in love they fall in love… Just a foreign town with a foreign mind / Why is everything so cut and dried?…”
Aztec Camera, “Oblivious” (1983)
“…They’re calling all the shots / They call and say they phoned / They’ll call us lonely when we’re really just alone / And like a funny film, it’s kinda cute
They bought the bullets and there’s no one left to shoot…”
The Cure,“Pictures Of You” (1990)
“…I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you / That I almost believe that they’re real…”
Bucks Fizz, “My Camera Never Lies” (1982)
“…My camera never lies / So I’ll put you in the picture and cut it down to size…”
A Flock of Seagulls, “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” (1982)
“…If I had a photograph of you / Or something to remind me / I wouldn’t spend my life just wishing…”
The Speedies, “Let Me Take Your Photo” (1979)
“…I went and colored all my hair / Let me take your photo / So my snapshot won’t be there / Let me take your photo / I don’t wanna see no Polaroid, no! / Let me take your photo / Because I just might get annoyed…”
The Lotus Eaters, “The First Picture Of You” (1983)
“…The first picture of you / The first picture of summer / Seeing the flowers scream their joy…”
Mission of Burma, “This Is Not A Photograph” (1981)
“…This is just a perpendicular line to the grain / This is not a photograph…”
Blondie, “Picture This” (1978)
“…All I want is a photo in my wallet / A small remembrance of something more solid…”
Depeche Mode, “Photographic” (1981)
“…I take pictures / Photographic pictures / Bright light, dark room / Bright light, dark room…”
The Fixx, “Cameras In Paris” (1982)
“… There’s cameras in Paris / Some papers are missing / Exposure’s automatic…”
Siouxsie And The Banshees, “Red Light” (1980)
“…That Kodak whore winking / ‘Til the aperture shuts / Too much exposure…”
The Buggles, “I Am A Camera” (1981)
“…There by the waterside / Here where the lens is wide / You and me by the sea…”
This week’s U.S.-U.K. rivalry transports us back to April 30, 1983. Which country was tops with the pops? We’ll be the judges of that . . .
UK TOP 5
5. “Let’s Dance,” David Bowie
JB: Like I said in our hugely popular Breaking Up With... feature last week, it flummoxes me how David Bowie could come up with a blockbuster like this and tumble off a cliff immediately thereafter. I remember me and my Glasgow dole-rat roommates used to refer to Bowie somewhat sardonically as The Man. We dropped all the sarcasm the second we saw the video for “Let’s Dance.” “The Man’s back!” we agreed. “The Man’s winning hearts all over the world with this smash!” we said. We stayed in The Man’s corner through “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” But a minute into the “Blue Jean” video, we were back to calling him The Man in a way that signaled we no longer considered him The Man.
LM: In Almost Famous, the late (I can’t believe I’m writing that) Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs tells his protegé, Patrick Fugit’s 15-year-old William Miller, in 1973 that rock ‘n’ roll is over, and that they’re witnessing its death knell. “At least I’m here for that,” Miller says. That’s how I feel about “Let’s Dance.” Yeah, I was too young to experience Bowie at his height, but I’m glad I’m old enough to recall him as a contemporary artist who notched hits on the charts alongside so many of the musicians he inspired.
4. ”Speak Like a Child,” The Style Council
JB: This was the first Style Council single and it was a record people pretended to like. We’d had six years of Paul Weller’s gritted-teeth class-war anthems. Suddenly he was a camp clotheshorse coffee-house chanteur with a whimsical sense of humor and a band built around a chubby keyboard player. Much of my, and many other people’s, early Eighties was taken up with pretending to like things. The British pop press in its endless, frantic search for the latest post-punk hot trend dragged its mindless subscribers, myself very much included, into the quicksand of jazz, swing, Sinatra, boss-nova, be-bop and country, not because of their artistic merits but because of the accompanying clothes and lifestyle. Paul Weller was mired in the same quicksand. After The Jam he wanted to be in anything other than another rock band. It didn’t take long before The Style Council were actually as cool as the group he pictured in his head but at this point they were a band people pretended to like.
LM: When I interviewed The Smiths’ Johnny Marr for Mad World, he sang Weller’s praises as the only alternative artist in Band Aid. If not for the Style Council, I’d have to wonder if Weller would’ve been in Band Aid at all. Songs like “Speak Like a Child” and “My Ever-Changing Moods” put him in Smash Hits and Star Hits alongside fellow Band Aid-ers Duran Duran, Spandau and Culture Club. But I never thought of Weller as being in the same category. As a kid, the jazzy Style Council felt like adult music. Appropriately, my 43-year-old self loves them more now than ever.
3. ”Sweet Dreams,” The Eurythmics
JB: Anyone who says this was on their radar is lying. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart still had the stench of The Tourists on them. Their first album barely registered and “Love Is A Stranger” stalled outside the Top 30. It was another Glaswegian friend of mine, a guy called Brian Taylor, whose tastes ran the gamut from the Velvet Underground to…well, that’s as far as the gamut went…who recommended this. My Brit-punk-fueled prejudices initially kicked in: Weren’t they new wave nobodies with barely-hidden hippie pasts? My prejudices went down the drain the second “Sweet Dreams” started. Great pop music is still being made but it’s unlikely anyone’s ever coming up with something like this again. It’s more than a song, it’s an introduction to another world.
LM: I recall “Sweet Dreams” and the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” as being the two songs that, in the wake of Gary Numan’s “Cars,” made me think that music was changing. I was a New Jersey grade-schooler shaking my cheerleading pom-poms to “Maniac” from Flashdance, but Annie Lennox and the girls in the Human League were the women I looked up to, not Jennifer Beals. Annie Lennox was the toughest, ballsiest woman I’d ever laid eyes on up until that point.
2. “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler
JB: I was working part-time in a record store when this came out and I immediately knew I was going to be knee-deep in marked-down copies of her album because she was never going to be able to follow it. And so it came to pass. “Total Eclipse,” as Rob Sheffield points out, is a terrifying karaoke mainstay requiring superhuman breath control. But to Brits of a certain age, it’s proof of the potency of a monster Jim Steinman ballad. Bonnie Tyler’s career had juddered to a halt in the mid-Seventies. Like Rosemary’s Baby, she was little more than the receptacle to deliver Steinman’s demon. But Bonnie had the last gravelly laugh. Penning overblown marathons took its toll on Steinman, who faded into billionaire obscurity while Bonnie represented the UK in last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. She came 19th.
LM: You can never hear a song for the first time again. That feeling of being so blown away that you need to listen to it over and over and over, but you can’t because that’s not how radio worked in 1983. There was no YouTube or Rhapsody; you couldn’t just Google it. There was no instant gratification. So you’d grab a Maxell cassette and sit there with your finger at the ready, waiting to press record as soon as you hear the opening notes start up again. That was me and “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
1. “Is There Something I Should Know,” Duran Duran
JB: I autographed Lori’s copy of my first book, the award-winning The Word Celebrity Quizbook, with the title of this song. Little did I know I’d still be writing about Duran Duran with her all those many years later. <shoots self in face>
LM: Maybe it’s a testament to just how many classics Duran have in the armory that this super catchy single — their first number one in the UK, which debuted in the top slot — is probably my least favorite. But back in 1983, it was the “new Duran song” — the bridge between their seminal Rio album and the monstrous Seven and the Ragged Tiger. And it was the opening song on their Tiger Tour. Alas, it was also the track that would bump pretty little “To The Shore” off of the U.S. reissue of their self-titled debut. Sniff.
US Top 5
5. “Der Kommissar,” After The Fire
LM: I remember Casey Kasem explaining that there were two Der Kommissars in town: one version by After The Fire, the other by Falco. Years later that I learned that Laura Branigan had her own cover that she was about to throw into the mix before her label made a last-minute decision to release “Solitaire” instead. I always preferred the After The Fire version — much more new wave- and ominous-sounding, whereas Falco’s is a low-budget novelty recording.
JB: There was a breed of British band that found no success in their homeland but benefited from MTV’s non-discerning embrace of all things Anglo. A Flock Of Seagulls were Exhibit A. The Fixx were another such band. Naked Eyes and Boys Don’t Cry brought up the rear. These bands were all wretched but After The Fire, who were a long-in-the-tooth prog band passing themselves off as freshly hatched and of the moment, were a special kind of shit. Falco dead — if he is in fact really dead; conspiracy theories abound! — is better than these guys drawing breath.
4. “Mr Roboto,” Styx
LM: I’m a big fan of over-the-top pop. I’ll never change the station when a classic Meatloaf song comes on; the first album I ever bought with my own money was Macho Man by the Village People. But even I cringe at “Mr. Roboto.” Listening to it again today on Spotify, I’m hoping nobody notices I’m streaming it. And yet, the sci-fi fan in me wanted to applaud Styx’s Eighties-era rumination on the effects of “too much technology.” However, that was before I rewatched that video with all those dancing Killroys doing, yes, The Robot!
JB: Jonathan King, the British pop tycoon who discovered Genesis, 10cc and the Bay City Rollers, and would later be incarcerated for molesting underage boys, used to have a BBC show called Entertainment USA. It was a shabbily-produced grab-bag of movie trailers and junket interviews, but King would also devote airtime to a few select U.S hits. I vividly remember watching this with my aforementioned dole-rat room-mates. Our reaction was a communal “What the fucking fuck was that?” Years later, I saw Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw on VH1′s Behind The Music and his reaction was exactly the same. Watching Freaks & Geeks helped me understand–a little bit– how young people could actually be excited by a band like Styx. But even now, their bizarre mixture of prog, politics and Broadway makes them seem like a state-mandated Eastern bloc idea of what a rock band should sound like.
3. “Jeopardy,” The Greg Kihn Band
LM: I cannot think of this song without thinking of the Weird Al parody, “I Lost on Jeopardy.” Or the creepy skeleton bride in the video. Or his terrible album title Next of Kihn.
JB: I barely know this song, I’ve never heard the Weird Al version. But I am familiar with the Italo-disco cover that mashes it up with “Billie Jean.” Want to hear it? (You probably don’t but it’s great.) It’s posted under the — inferior — original below.
2. “Come On Eileen,” Dexys Midnight Runners
LM: I love Dexys for the way they magically turn the most pessimistic, sardonic and curmudgeonly of characters — i.e. you, JB — into a quivering, worshipping, wide-eyed fanatic. Your Mad World interview with Kevin Rowland is one of my favorite chapters in our book. I just wish Dexys had had another hit here in the States so your favorite band would not go down here as a one-hit wonder. P.S. As a kid I longed to be as cute as the girl in the video — who just happens to be the sister of Bananarama’s Siobhan Fahey! #sixdegreesofnewwave
JB: KISS had one hit in the UK: ”Crazy Nights.” It was during their au naturale period. No make up. No costumes. No fire. Imagine the frustration of a die-hard Kiss Army member being faced with a Brit who only knew them as an anonymous hard-rock band who weren’t particularly compelling showmen. Now you know a little of my pain as a card-carrying, lifelong Dexys fan who knows them as sooooooo much more than “Come On Eileen.” I’ve spent what seems like decades trying to convert skeptical Americans. It’s your loss. But buy the book and give me another shot at it.
1. “Beat It,” Michael Jackson
LM: In last week’s run-up to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan debut, I read an account from a blogger who was around to witness the actual event. He wrote that it would be hard to overstate the importance of that mammoth pop culture happening. As I recall the days of Michael Jackson’s Thriller domination I can’t help but think the same. In the years that followed MJ would morph into a weird, plastic-surgeried whack job before our eyes; he’d reportedly buy the Elephant Man’s bones, marry Elvis’ daughter and be accused of child molestation. But before all of that, he released smash after smash off of what would become the greatest selling album of all time. He single-handedly broke down racial stereotypes. It’s hard to believe now in this hip hop-loving pop world, but before Michael, the only African-American on MTV was VJ J.J. Jackson. While “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” is my favorite Thriller track and “Billie Jean” arguably the best song on the record, “Beat It” was the edgiest, flashiest, most dangerous of the bunch. It remained at number one for ages — until “Come On Eileen” finally over took it seven weeks later.
JB: I didn’t watch that Beatles thing, not because I have any sort of life– I think it’s pretty clear that’s not the case–but because it didn’t seem like many of the performers involved had any idea who The Beatles were. I wouldn’t class myself as much of a fan– I prefer the classics, you know, like Dexys– but The Beatles were a different group every record they made. Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Ed Sheeran? All talented but all stagnant. I feel the same about artists who claim to be influenced by Michael Jackson. Have you ever listened to Thriller? For a record-breaking blockbuster, it’s a weird, and weirdly personal, record. It’s all about his fears.”Thriller” itself: general monster-movie scares. “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”: fear of people–the media, his fans–getting too close. “Billie Jean”: fear of getting stung in a paternity suit. “Beat It”: fear of violence. Are any contemporary artists who claim to worship at Michael Jackson’s altar making records anywhere near as emotionally naked. Nope, they’re singing about getting ass in the club. (You could argue “The Girl Is Mine” is about fear of Paul McCartney. But I’ll quit while I’m ahead)
AND THE WINNER IS…
LM: THE U.K.! True, the U.S. had Michael Jackson and “Come On Eileen,” but “Mr. Roboto” and Greg Kihn bring the whole list down. The U.K. chart doesn’t have a single weak link.
JB: Between writing that somewhat unenthusiastic paragrpah about the Style Council and this part, that song has taken root in my head. Thus, it’s another dud-free UK Top 5.