Saturday, 30 March 2013

Cyndi Lauper 'Time After Time'

Chart Peak: 3


Though not as high-charting a single as 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun', and less of a staple of compilations nowadays, this apparently sold more copies here during the 80s (I'd imagine her first hit has overtaken again in the download era). It's the flipside of the youthful exuberance of that song, being a song full of uncertainty and people fumbling towards trusting each other. Although Lauper was thirty years old by the time the single was released, she captures what feels very like a a teenager's emotional confusion, presumably from memory, and sings with such conviction that you don't need to know or care how current the feelings are.

As a record, 'Time After Time' is notably subtle for the era, impressively reluctant to over-emphasise the genuinely strong chorus and lacking the gloss that we tend to associate with the 1980s. It's the faint strains and imperfections in her vocal performance that make it feel powerful and genuine, along with co-writer Rob Hyman's slightly odd backing vocal, which is in places quite divergent from the lead. That fits, and as she stumbles to the end of the song whispering the title, you feel like you're right there with her in whatever adventure is going on. It took me long time to realise just how good this was, and I think I might only really have got it when I happened to buy an 80s compilation that bucked the trend and did include this one.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 29
Available on: Time After Time: The Best Of

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Queen 'I Want To Break Free'

Chart Peak: 3
Side Three starts with another song of escape, albeit a somewhat lighter-hearted one. And proof that Queen aren't always the first track on a Now album, though they usually start a side.

'I Want To Break Free' was the second single from their album The Works and managed to spend three consecutive weeks at 3 in the charts; all of them were behind Phil Collins at 2, but there were two different Number One singles involved. Sales were perhaps helped by the fact that this was a different mix from the album track: unusually, the single edit is longer thanks to that dramatic intro. They were surely also assisted by the track's memorable promo video, which I can even remember seeing at the time. The cross-dressing allegedly caused some controversy in the USA, although as a British six-year-old raised on pantomimes, I didn't think there was anything particularly strange about it, it was just a little bit silly that Freddie Mercury still had his moustache while he was in drag. I hadn't noticed at that point that he does actually appear clean-shaven in one of the fantasy sequences.

The song was written by John Deacon, probably my favourite member of Queen, not least because he was the only one never to attempt a solo career and the one who seems to have been least involved in the disreputable attempts to keep the band going after Mercury's death. In a band of showmen, he was the calm sideman. Although my favourite of his was 'Another One Bites The Dust', which is too early for the series, this inclusion means that all four members of Queen individually appear on the Now albums as songwriters, as well as tracks credited to them collectively.  It lacks the emotional burden of the Bronski Beat track, seeming more a work of imagination, but when I say it's one of Queen's best ever pop songs I don't consider that at all a bad thing.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 4, 6, 7, 15, 16, 19, 21, 25 [with George Michael], 32, 33, 54 [with Vanguard]
Available on: Greatest Hits II

Monday, 25 March 2013

Bronski Beat 'Smalltown Boy'

Chart Peak: 3


All this year, Radio 2 are running a documentary series called The People's Songs, which makes the lofty claim of revisiting British social history through the lens of popular music. 'Smalltown Boy' was the subject of the latest episode, which offers such a thorough overview of the song and the culture it was released into that it doesn't leave me a lot to say (one reason this post is so late). Coincidentally, the song also shows up in this recent post at the AV Club about adults-only pop videos from the early days of MTV, although the content of this one is notably less salacious than most of the others featured. Interesting side-note that virtually all those videos are by British acts.

For those not in the know, the song was of course the chart debut of Jimmy Somerville, and an early taste of the lyrical themes that resonate throughout his career; it's about growing up gay in a small town and having to move away to a big city to find acceptance and start a new life. But you don't have to be gay or from a small town to be affected by it - strictly speaking, even the Glaswegian Somerville is only one of those things. I was too young to understand or appreciate the song at the time, but whenever I hear it now I'm assaulted by the beautiful sadness of it. Though obviously derived from the disco and hi-NRG sounds popular in gay clubs at the time, the song has a haunted, mournful tone achieved through a simple synthesiser line; the combination of purely electronic instrumentation and emotively human melodies reminds me somehow of Kraftwerk. Only in the middle section does the song break into a more forceful sound, presumably to indicate the Boy's hopes for his new life, and even that's undermined by the fact that Somerville's lyric at this point is "Cry boy cry!" Finally the song goes back to where it started with a repeat of the first verse, which may be intended to suggest that the Boy needs to move on again - or maybe it's addressing a different character, one of the many who found themselves needing this kind of escape and, despite the strides we've made in the past thirty years (and for that matter, the ones we already had in the preceding thirty) still do. Throughout the song, the fact that the lyric is in the second person adds an intimacy, and it's also interesting that the subject matter is never stated directly. Possibly this was to some extent a commercial decision but it does also lend the song a greater universality and perhaps makes it easier for a broader audience to sympathise.

Even though the final fade is a bit of a non-ending, the one significant flaw to the track, Side 2 of Now 3 has a strong claim to be the best-ever side of a Now album. But will Side 3 keep up the quality?

Also appearing on: Now 4
Available on: The Age Of Consent

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Bob Marley And The Wailers 'One Love/People Get Ready'

Chart Peak: 5


Unless I'm missing something, this is the first posthumous Now appearance (for Marley, obviously, not all the Wailers), not that the sleeve note feels the need to mention this. It's the first of three such appearances for him, with a 1977 album track that was belatedly released as a single to promote the immensely popular Legend compilation, reportedly the biggest-selling reggae album of all time. In fact, the original version of the song, in a more traditional ska style, was released by the Wailers in 1965. The subtitle, incidentally, reflects the fact that the song is based on 'People Get Ready' by The Impressions.

I've always been resistant to the deification of Marley since his death, and indeed I'm one of the few who never did buy a copy of Legend, but as it is 'One Love' is a short but sweet little number with a utopian sentiment that obviously appealed in 1977 (when he'd fled Jamaica after an apparent assassination attempt) and after his death. Just in case, the promo video tries to tug the heartstrings a little further with its combination of archive footage and a child actor, plus the endorsement of various celebrity cameos. Paul McCartney doesn't quite do the full thumbs aloft but he's certainly in that mood and Suggs and Chas from Madness have brought some of the stock footage from the 'Return Of The Las Palmas Seven' video. There's a zeitgeist moment when Marley's voice sings "fight this holy Armagideon" while Ronald Reagan appears on a TV screen.

Also appearing on: Now 23, 44 [with Funkstar Deluxe]
Available on: Legend

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Style Council 'You're The Best Thing'

Chart Peak: 5


Paul Weller's first Now appearance in this - and therefore any - guise comes a while into the Style Council's career. By this point they'd already released several singles and the album CafĂ© Bleu but for supposed "value for money" reasons that ignored the early hits and featured a different version of 'My Ever Changing Moods'. So 'You're The Best Thing' was their first single really taken from an album (albeit in an edited version), and even then it was officially half of a single called Groovin' with the new track 'Big Boss Groove'. Yes, it was the eighties, and in those days it was acceptable to call a single that.

I jest of course, but I suppose if there was one thing the early Style Council was about, it was doing things that Weller couldn't have got away with while he was in The Jam. And whilst 'You're The Best Thing' isn't most people's idea of a daring or experimental record, it is quite a departure from the sort of thing his audience would have been expecting just a couple of years earlier: no power chords, no leaping up in the air, no machismo but a sincere (or at least unironic) love song in a decidedly tender falsetto. Weller has claimed that the song was inspired by the Isley Brothers hit 'Between The Sheets', which is just about audible, although fortunately this track is much less priapic (no sign of the grunting from the second half of the Isleys track). In fact, if I were to name a Style Council song that was sonically similar to 'Between The Sheets' I'd probably have mentioned 'Long Hot Summer', which is even closer in tempo and has a similar keyboard sound. Source notwithstanding, though, this is a song that succeeds totally on its own terms, and I can say that wholeheartedly as somebody who ranks Sound Affects among his all-time favourite albums. It's a staple of love song compilations and oldies radio stations and for once deserves to be so. Weller has obviously always been a lover of soul music, which he's referenced even since the first Jam album, and unlike say Phil Collins he has a genuine aptitude for the style too. Typically his gruff vocal is part of that but even in this higher register he's an outstanding singer and the mood is just right too, with a real sense of vulnerability that makes this seem more than an exercise in genre, whether or not it actually is one. Also this track features what I reckon is my favourite sax solo in pop music, a lovely reedy sounding one that adds to the atmosphere instead of just sounding like somebody wants to get on one of those compilation albums.

The Council's desire to push boundaries led them down a lot of blind alleys over the years, many of them even more mistaken and futile than the mixed metaphor in this sentence. But when they hit the mark in the early days they made a notable contribution to their leader's stock of great singles, and this is among them.

Also appearing on:
Available on: Collection

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Womack & Womack 'Love Wars'

Chart Peak: 14


With Cecil Womack having sadly died last month (in South Africa, coincendentally) and Bobby Womack's profile at the highest it's been for years (his The Bravest Man In The Universe was probably my favorite album of 2012) it seems fitting to start this post by clarifying the family relationships: Bobby and Cecil were brothers, so Linda Womack was Bobby's sister-in-law and also his former stepdaughter via his marriage to Sam Cooke's widow. I believe they also had an affair at one point.

All this complexity seems to have provided some inspiration for the duo's first big hit, a brilliant piece of pop-funk that combines a big chorus with some dark moments in the lyric ("I promise to stop boxing you up, so don't scratch my face"). You can make your own judgement as to how positive the song really is, and how likely the protagonists ever are to make things better but it's hopeful and delivers more grit than most soul music of this era. Maybe it's slightly too slow to be danceable, and the full six-minute album version that's now available on CD is a trifle overlong, but this is extraordinarily catchy and driven by C. Womack's excellent bass playing. There's even a nice singalong moment with the title sung by a pseudo-choir at the start and various other points throughout the song. One of the lost classics of the Now series, I think.

Also appearing on: Now 13
Available on: Love Wars

Monday, 18 March 2013

Special AKA 'Nelson Mandela'

Chart Peak: 9


That's right, it's not actually called 'Free Nelson Mandela', at least not in the UK. Allegedly the BBC warned Two-Tone that to make such an explicit political statement in the song title would be going to far, but leaving it in the chorus was OK. Like the song's subject, Jerry Dammers was willing to compromise and the result was the Special AKA's only major commercial success after the departure of Fun Boy Three in 1981 left the remainder of the group in disarray. By 1984 they'd become a fairly loose collective, hence the eventual album title Special AKA In The Studio and, seemingly, the impracticality of getting the whole band in the same shot for the video to this song. Still, we get to see Dick Cuthell's impressive moustache.

Beyond its placing in the history of one of the classic groups of the era, 'Nelson Mandela' must also rank among the most successful protest songs of the era. At the age of six, I was still asking my mum why she wouldn't buy the South African apples in the shops, but apparently a lot of adults hadn't heard of Mandela then either. Whilst it would of course be a massive overstatement to say that this song changed the course of history (especially since it was inevitably banned in South Africa), it publicised the issue in Britain. Of course it's highly unusual among protest songs in tone, being mostly upbeat and celebratory, although tempered by some downbeat moments, like that descending brass intro just before the main bouncy riff. Despite being written by a white man from Coventry, it's also a very African-sounding track, which seems to suggest that this isn't just a detached commentary from a distant Westerner but a gesture of direct solidarity with the South African people. That gives it a great deal of its power (even if people in SA couldn't actually hear it at the time) and makes it feel like a real rallying call.

Little can anyone involved in this record have imagined that less than ten years after Now III hit the shelves, Nelson Mandela would be the democratically elected president of his country. It's less earth-shattering but still notable that this song wasn't entirely forgotten after that happened either, and continues to feature on Specials/Special AKA compilations to this day. This is, for obvious chronological reasons, the only interface between the Specials and Now, and even if not their best ever track it's one of the most historically significant.

Available on: Stereo-Typical

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Grandmaster and Melle Mel 'White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)'

Chart Peak: 7


Originally charted at No. 60 on 15th November 1983. Entered the Top 40 for the first time on 12th June and rose with a bullet to No. 12 by 26th June.
Ironically, I've been too tired to write this entry for a couple of days. But I promise nothing stronger than coffee has contributed to my finishing it.

Here's a really long-running hit. Between this and the aforementioned 'Relax' (which made its Top 75 debut the week after this) it rather seems that people in 1984 liked buying songs that told them not to do things. Or did they? The title phrase "don't don't do it" could of course be read as a double negative or as emphatic, and it's widely believed that the song was originally planned as an endorsement of drug-induced partying rather than the anti-narcotic warning it became in the end. Whatever the truth of that, it seems that there is slightly more to the message than the evils of substances themselves; there's a bit of social comment about racial bias in policing with the reference to businessman caught with large amounts and bailed; this is allegedly a reference to John DeLorean, who was subsequently cleared on the grounds of entrapment. It's also well-known that many of the people involved with this track succumbed to temptations. And so did Grandmaster Flash, who takes no part in the track with the "Grandmaster" credit merely there to mislead the public and associate the track with the success of 'The Message' a couple of years earlier. Perhaps they were trying to convince themselves as much as us.

When I originally heard this at the age of 5 of 6 I couldn't understand the subject matter in anything but the vaguest terms. However, I still remember the song, particularly that distinctive bass line, which I didn't realise at the time was based on 'Cavern' by Liquid Liquid (also the source of the "something like a phenomenon" lyric). Apparently Liquid Liquid never got paid for that either, which makes it hard to resist a "free bass" pun. To be fair, Sugrahill's use of the part is creative and much more directly funky. In both songs the bass is a spine with vocals and other parts seeming to come and go in a way that was pretty unusual for a pop song at the time, perhaps less so now. Coincidentally, the rather disjointed and fractured progress of the arrangement  reminds me of David Bowie's 'Golden Years', another record famously made on cocaine. Even more so than the Bowie track, though, this maintains a constant groove that makes it more easily listenable but also strengthens the creepiness when he says "now I'm having FUN baby". I couldn't resist playing this one through after the Frankie song in the previous post and I can imagine this would have sounded awesome in a club at the time too, but intentionally or not it says something too.

Also appearing on: Now 31 [with Duran Duran]
Available on: The Best Of Grandmaster Flash & Sugar Hill

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Frankie Goes To Hollywood 'Two Tribes'

Chart Peak: 1 [9 weeks]

Charted at No. 1 on 12th June - was still there several weeks later in July.
Yes, we're back to the nuclear apocalypse again. It was 1984, after all, and the band's first three singles are sometimes talked of as a trilogy of songs about the big topics: Sex, War and Love. Nine weeks this stayed at the top of the chart, the longest run of the 1980s, and at the time an extraordinary run for a single entering at the top; and in contrast to the infamous Top Of The Pops "ban" of their first single, they appeared on the show nine times with this song. As of 2013, this is probably the least familiar of the three Frankie chart-toppers, behind the signature tune 'Relax' and the recently revived 'Power Of Love'. But it was a massive hit at the time of course, allowing them to join the select club of acts to have two million-selling singles from the same album (others include The Spice Girls and, er, Robson & Jerome) with total sales now over 1.5 million.

Of course, the success of this and every Frankie single was assisted by the large number of remixes and formats issued, and as I discovered last night the version of the track on my copy of Now III is not the most familiar single/video edit but the 'We Don't Want To Die' remix from the 7" picture disc. This mix also showed up on a CD single when 'Two Tribes' was re-issued in 1994, but doesn't seem to have appeared on a widely available album again until last year, so it's a bit of an exclusive though I suspect it may be an accidental one. This mix is rather more guitar-oriented than the famous version and also features a different middle eight and whilst I wouldn't necessarily say either of them was better it makes a refreshing change not to hear the most overplayed version. In fact, I was interested to find that as I listened repeatedly to versions of the track in order to establish exactly what I had, the song grew on me considerably. I'd always thought of it as a showcase for a very dramatic Trevor Horn production with not much of a tune, but after about ten minutes the powerful chant began to hypnotise me and I was really getting into it. For the record, the band themselves dispute exactly how much Horn contributed to the arrangement, citing the very early Peel session as evidence; I don't take a side on this but thought it worth acknowledging the difference of opinion. You don't need me to tell you what the song's about, or probably what it sounds about, nor even to mention the appearance of the late Patrick Allen reading out the sound of the nuclear warning - he had recorded the real thing but of course that couldn't be used on a pop song so he had to redo it and apparently was a great sport about it.

Anyway, this track is better than I used to think it was. But unless something unexpected happens, this is the last we'll hear of them on this blog, just as I was starting to like them.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 26, 46
Available on: Frankie Said

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Phil Collins 'Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)'

Chart Peak: 2


The song that brought Phil Collins his first Oscar nomination was the title song of a film I've never seen, and his first solo Top 40 appearance since the the chart-topping cover of 'You Can't Hurry Love' that began the whole Now story. On a soundtrack that also included songs by Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford (I guess Tony Banks was on holiday), Collins was approached during a Genesis tour and asked for a title song. He obliged with a reworked outtake from his first album, part of his large stock of songs about being left by his wife. Fortunately, it seemed to fit the film storyline and he was able to get the the title into the chorus, even though it's not the hookline.

Nowadays this sounds the epitome of eighties blandness, suffering from Collins' inexplicable conviction that he's a soul singer. That said, the song is well-structured and it's one I can see the skill in even without especially liking it. Unusually, this song has twice been a UK chart-topper, but this original is by far the biggest-selling version as well as the only one to show up on a Now album.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68
Available on: True Love Songs

Monday, 11 March 2013

Blancmange 'Don't Tell Me'

Chart Peak: 8


Another song I didn't really know until I got this album, and a case of a one-off appearance that isn't the act's biggest hit. Admittedly, their signature hit 'Living On The Ceiling' predates the Now series and this is their second most successful 45, the lead single from second album Mange Tout.
As I think the album title suggests, Blancmange didn't seem to take themselves as seriously as other synthpop duos of the era (or of the present day for that matter), lacking the rather self-important stance of most of their contemporaries. That and their interest in non-Western percussion and rhythms gives this more entertainment value than a lot of the other music it could be compared to. Perhaps the closest resemblance is to Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode, thanks to the combination of chirpy melody and Neil Arthur's low-pitched voice, although it lacks the pomposity of even early DM; I suppose to an extent it sets a precedent for Erasure. Though the song itself is somewhat lightweight (and in some ways a pastiche of their first hit) it's one of the most enjoyable yet, and I promise I'm not just saying that because they apparently formed here in Harrow.

Available on: Second Helpings - Best Of Blancmange

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Howard Jones 'Pearl In The Shell'

Chart Peak: 7


The first song on this album I don't remember at all. In fact I was a bit surprised when I researched the Amazon link below and found that the 12" version was included on a compilation album I own on CD, although it transpires that my copy doesn't have that track after all (all but one track is identical so I presume it was a later change for contractual reasons). It does have the more familiar 'Like To Get To Know You Well', a song which I prefer but will never get to write about here.

'Pearl...' finds HoJo in his usual territory, exhorting us to realise our dreams, do the things we wanted to do, not be held back by fear etc., hence the central metaphor of a pearl remaining in a shell instead of coming out. The oyster might have a different opinion on this image, I suspect. The track is distinguished from most of his other output by a prominent saxophone, the one live instrument that seemed to be accepted in synthpop, played by Davey Gallagher of Ian Dury's Blockheads. It's distinctive enough for the video director to have based the entire premise around it, but it's not quite enough to make up for the unremarkable song which he'd done better before.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 4
Available on: Human's Lib (Remastered Edition)

Friday, 8 March 2013

Ultravox 'Dancing With Tears In My Eyes'

Chart Peak: 3


Five tracks in and we're already onto the second song about a nuclear apocalypse. Admittedly the video to this song implies that the cause of this one is accidental rather than military, although that's not made clear in the lyric, which is more about the reaction of a protagonist. Parts of the lyrical imagery and the concept are reminiscent of David Bowie's 'Five Years', although this one is obviously about a shorter timescale. Despite the greater urgency, though, this track does seem to share a flaw with a lot of pop from this era - a lack of development. There's no increase in tension as the song progresses and really once you've heard the first minute you've heard the remaining three as well; with this subject matter in particular that seems a bit of a lost opportunity.

Midge Ure does go some way to closing the gap with an impassioned vocal which is the most powerful element of the track. And the song is certainly catchy - it's one of only two Ultravox songs I can remember hearing in the 1980s (you can probably guess what the other one was) but I didn't pick up any sense at all of what it was about, even though I was just about old enough to have heard of such things. I sort of feel that if you're going to delve into such deep subject matter you have some duty to raise your game a bit.

Also appearing on: Now 24
Available on: The Very Best Of

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 'Locomotion'

Chart Peak: 5


You can tell we're back in the mid-80s here, because this track features a synthesised steel-drum solo, something that could only have been countenanced in a hit single for a fairly brief period. Still, it was an acceptable thing to do in 1984, and scored the duo their fourth Top 5 single, though only their second not about Joan Of Arc. That's a cute little fact anyway, but it does point to the move they were making at this point to slightly less arty, slightly more directly pop-focused material.

They're clearly trying to play the old trick of setting a downbeat lyric to chirpier music here, but that's a difficult thing to get right and whilst the latter is pretty much sorted they fall down somewhat on the former. As Andy McCluskey sings of "crossing every ocean for the sake of locomotion" the song is obviously supposed to be about restlessness, but the finished track is just too smooth and orderly to convey that sentiment - whether that's an intentional commercial decision or just a result of synths in that era not being able to cope with complex rhythms I'm not sure, but either way the meaning is lost beneath the gloss. Even the brass section, apparently arranged by no less than Tony Visconti and played by real people in the Netherlands, sounds like a cheap keyboard preset. Still, it does at least work as a pop song, with that low backing vocal of the "crossing every ocean" lyric an indelible hook. And the shaped picture disc does look pretty cool.

On a side-note, this was also the opening track on the Now 3 VHS tape, and one of only six tracks common to the video and audio versions of the title.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 8, 20, 25, 34
Available on: The OMD Singles

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Sister Sledge 'Thinking Of You'

Chart Peak: 11


No problems with 1980s production styles on this track, as it's from 1979 and features the immaculate production skills of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. They also wrote the song and indeed it's pretty much a Chic record with different singers on it, although this didn't save it from flopping in the US. Here in the UK it wasn't an A-side at the time but showed up as a single five years later for reasons that aren't instantly apparent: as far as I can tell there was no new Greatest Hits collection, and indeed the sleevenote merely attributes this as being taken from the original We Are Family album.

Whatever the reasons for its return, 'Thinking Of You' is a nice song to have back. Whilst Chic can be accused of being formulaic at times, it was a pretty good formula, and this songs offers an especially winning combination of their typical spotless perfection (listen to how fantastic Rodgers' guitar playing is on the intro, all the better for the fact that he's resisting anything showy) and rock-solid groove with some hint of emotional engagement, the latter not always being the case with the parent act. Indeed, I suspect this may be why it's been successfully covered, which doesn't often happen with Rodgers/Edwards songs. It was the start of a minor revival for the Sledges, followed by remixes of two more songs from We Are Family (with extra vocals from  members of Duran Duran, which would have made a neat connection) and, less cheeringly, by the drippy new song 'Frankie' the following year. This song got its own remix in 1993, as part of the next re-release programme.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 24
Available on: We Are Family [Expanded]

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Nik Kershaw 'I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me'

Chart Peak: 2 [47 in 1983]


Charted at No.18 on 18th June - had reached No. 2 by 26th June. Originally made No. 47 on 29th November 1983.
You might have spotted that I didn't actually bother reproducing the sleeve note from the Duran Duran track, as those on the early albums aren't generally that interesting, just recounting chart positions. This one does sort of give away when they went to press at least. As it turned out, this made no further progress, and to add insult to injury it was pushed down to 3 the next week by another track from the same act who were at the top of the chart.

Still, a big hit, and an improvement on its non-Top-40 performance when originally issued as his debut single. Repromoted as the follow-up to breakthrough hit 'Wouldn't It Be Good', this Cold War satire became his biggest ever hit as a performer, and not undeservedly so as, despite its slightly dated reference points it seems the better song now. When I wrote about 'Wouldn't It Be Good' (almost four years ago!) I did single out Kershaw's failure to adopt different voices for the two parts as a flaw. That's not a problem this time, but I do also think this one's more melodically satisfying, and the use of bitter sarcasm about the absurdity of global politics, though hardly original, was fitting then and now. Even after these years of writing about 80s pop I still find it hard to warm to this sort of production, especially from a muso like Ni[c]k Kershaw. In some ways I think this live version with real musicians from, of all places, Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival, is more effective; I wonder if that's closer to how he actually wrote it. 

Also appearing on: Now 2, 4, 6
Available on: Human Racing

Monday, 4 March 2013

Duran Duran 'The Reflex'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)



Yes, for the next couple of months we're going way way back. Back to the days when the Now albums were new enough that they needed to assert that the tracks were by the original artists (luckily they weren't still claiming that on Now 34) and to underline this with pictures of those artists on the front and rear; for the penultimate time, as it turned out, with Lionel Richie's dodgy tache on the front of Now 4 seemingly putting paid to the idea thereafter. Our porcine friend, so familiar from the early advertising, only lasted one more volume, bowing out on Now 5 - DANISH BACON FACTORIES are thanked on the back cover here for his presence.

Now 3 starts with one of the definitive tracks of the early 1980s from arguably the biggest band of the time (and certainly the biggest band of the time on EMI, which was handy for licensing). Duran Duran are among the handful of acts claiming a hat-trick of appearances with this album, and are promoted to opening track for the first time. Fans of trivia will be interested to note that it's the second consecutive opener to involve somebody called Roger Taylor, both as writer and performer.
So successful that an entire chain of retro nightclubs is now named after it, 'The Reflex' was Duran Duran's second and last single to top the UK chart but their first to do so in the US, pretty good going for the third single off an already successful album. The secret weapon is of course a single-specific remix by Nile Rodgers, meaning all the fans would buy it again and that the track was more appealing to the casual buyer as well. Certainly, the repeated vocals pastiching hip-hop scratching couldn't be more of their time and it's strange to think that there was ever a time when it would be considered modern. They, and the admittedly quite good bassline, lend the track some semblance of dancefloor credibility as Simon Le Bon wails on about something he thinks is very deep and philosophical, although by the time he's complaining on the second verse that "they won't slow down the roundabout" he sounds more like a petulant small child. I actually was a small child in 1984 and even I thought some of this why-y-y-y-y stuff was a little bit silly, but that seems typical of Duran's desire to have it both ways, to claim the teenyboppers' pocket money and to think of themselves as serious artists. The combination of po-facedness and inanity often seems to ruin the fun.

Also appearing on: 1, 4, 5, 8, 13, 24, 25, 31
Available on: Pure Gold