diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Silver discs (July 1981)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago


The three best records from the Top 10 (21st July 1981)
Specials - Ghost Town: Was ever a number 1 record better matched to its time? As Terry and Lynval burned up the charts with this hymn to urban despair, so the inhabitants of Handsworth, Toxteth and other disaffected inner city flashpoints arose to set their estates ablaze. With its haunting windswept intro and wailing chorus, the song spoke volumes on behalf of an increasingly forgotten generation. The B-side (Friday Night, Saturday Morning) was damned good too, mainly for its simplistic drunken logic ("I go out on Friday night and I come home on Saturday morning"). And then, just in time for the false dawn of Charles & Di's sham wedding day, the record was knocked unceremoniously from its perch by an upbeat Shakin' Stevens cover. The Specials split acrimoniously three months later, but their place in history was assured. [video]
"This place, is coming like a ghost town, no job to be found in this country, can't go on no more, the people getting angry"
Tom Tom Club - Wordy Rappinghood: Was it insane, was it kooky, or was it just years ahead of its time. Bassist Tina and drummer Chris took time out from Talking Heads to create this avant garde literary rap. Set to the staccato beat of a typewriter they rhymed, warbled and experimented their way into the hearts of those with a modicum of musical wit. Today's sixth form keyboardists could probably knock out something similar in minutes, but back in 1981 such intelligent innovation was a revelation. (Note to today's sixth form keyboardists: a typewriter was an ancient writing instrument a bit like a computer but with no delete key, no LCD monitor and no broadband interactivity) [watch]
"Words in papers, words in books, words on TV, words for crooks, words of comfort, words of peace, words to make the fighting cease, words to tell you what to do, words are working hard for you"
Stevie Wonder - Happy Birthday: He's written better than this sugary polemic, but few other songs have had quite such an impact on modern US society. Everybody remembers the catchy 'Happy Birthday' chorus, but fewer noticed the one-track ranting verses Mr Wonder slipped inbetween. Why, insisted Stevie, did Americans not commemorate the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King by enjoying a day off work and becoming a little more tolerant of one another? How could they be so blind? A 6 million signature petition riding on the back of this record finally persuaded Congress that the US should take another holiday every January. It's not quite the 'world partee' that Stevie wanted, but I suspect Dr King would be well chuffed anyway.
"I just never understood how a man who died for good could not have a day that would be set aside for his recognition, because it should never be just because some cannot see"

My favourite three records from July 1981 (at the time)
Barry Andrews - Rossmore Road: But I told you all about this musical gem six months ago. A quirky and desperately obscure song (which I still adore) about an insignificant North London sideroad (just north of Marylebone station). Go read my tribute blogpost here, or relive the song through the medium of photography here.
"The 159 runs along it, round the corner from Baker Street. There's a dolls house shop on the corner of Lisson Grove and Rossmore Road"
Kim Wilde - Water On Glass: Listening back now, it's not easy to tell why this was my favourite of all of Kim's singles. It has neither the innocence of Kids in America nor the energy of Chequered Love, neither does it display the polished professionalism of most of Kim's later songs. But the melody is still deeply-engrained in my subconscious even after all these years, so it must have some hidden magic. Smashing. [watch]
"Cascading down there's a sound vaporising into vision, it's a sound in my head that I feel and it shuts me in a prison"
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Hooked on Classics: Take a handful of the greatest classical tunes ever made, slice them up into 30 second snippets and glue the lot together over a heavy synthesised drumbeat. Louis Clark's orchestral collage may not have been original but it was incredibly commercial (surely the Classic FM of its era). Medley records were all the rage in the summer of 1981. You can blame Dutch novelty act Starsound for kicking it all off with a Beatles melange, then an Abba tribute, at which point the deluge started. Tight Fit went Back to the 60s, Lobo brought us the Caribbean Disco Show and Gidea Park (a well-known suburb of Romford) delivered Beachboy Gold. With one of Britain's foremost orchestras jumping on the bandwagon the end of the phenomenon was clearly near, and thankfully it would be another eight years before Jive Bunny would risk anything similar. [listen, with kittens]
"...thump ... clap ...thump ... clap ...thump ... clap ...thump ...clap"

20 other hits from 25 years ago: Can Can (Bad Manners), Stars on 45 Volume II (Starsound), Body Talk (Imagination), Lay All Your Love On Me (Abba), Memory (Elaine Paige), Razzamatazz (Quincy Jones), Motorhead (Motorhead), You Might Need Somebody (Randy Crawford), Chant Number 1 (Spandau Ballet), There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis (Kirsty MacColl), Throw Away The Key (Linx), Can't Happen Here (Rainbow), Me No Pop I (Kid Creole & The Coconuts), Take It On The Run (REO Speedwagon), I'm In Love (Evelyn 'Champagne' King), Visage (Visage), Never Surrender (Saxon), Computer Love (Kraftwerk), She's A Bad Mama Jama (Carl Carlton), Dancin' The Night Away (Voggue) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?

(If you like this sort of thing, mike's Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? project is just getting underway over at troubled diva)


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