diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 14, 2006

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


The three best records from the Top 10 (8th September 1981)
Soft Cell - Tainted Love: One of the most enduring singles of the 80s was born two decades earlier, first recorded by Gloria Jones, and kept alive on the Northern Soul circuit. It took two obscure Leeds Poly art students to spot the song's appeal, and a seemingly straight-forward recording session produced magical results. From the opening double-bleep and synth laserfire, the beat defies you to keep still. A debut Top of the Pops performance brought Soft Cell to immediate prominence ("Oh my god, who is that bloke singing?") and by the time the public realised that Marc Almond was no saint it was too late, they already loved him. Even America lapped up the dark duo, just this once, and the song rode the Billboard chart for a record-breaking 43 weeks. Rarely has perfection been so tainted. [1981 ToTP] [1981 video] [1991 video]
"Sometimes I feel I've got to run away, I've got to get away from the pain that you drive into the heart of me. The love we share seems to go nowhere."
Adam and the Ants - Prince Charming: After his highwayman phase, Adam reinvented himself Blackadder-style as a fairytale prince. It's the Cinderella pastiche video that everyone remembers. Not the amateur ugly sister opening, but the grand ballroom scene where dandy Prince Adam swings in on the chandelier. Casting Diana Dors as the Fairy Godmother cemented this three minute pantomime as a work of kitsch genius, that and the brilliantly inane dance. I bet you can still do the dance. Adam may have been turning back the clock by suggesting that men in make-up should take excessive pride in their appearance, but it turns out he was also 25 years ahead of his time. [video]
"Ridicule is nothing to be scared of, don't you ever, don't you ever stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome."
UB40 - One In Ten: But life in Thatcher's Britain wasn't all about extravagance and dressing up in frock coats. Birmingham's UB40 introduced a note of reggae realism with this song - a litany of the downtrodden, the outcast and the forgotten. Many a serious message can be sneaked into the charts if it's coated with a sugary enough melody. Within months the number of unemployed in the UK workforce would reach one in eight (although admittedly that wouldn't have made for quite so catchy a title). And while unemployment today may be down to one in twenty, old ladies still get mugged, teenagers still commit suicide and third world mothers still starve. The world still doesn't care enough. [live]
"I am the one in ten, even though I don't exist. Nobody knows me even though I'm always there - a statistic, a reminder of a world that doesn't care"

My favourite three records from September 1981 (at the time)
Portsmouth Sinfonia - Classical Muddly: It took one very special record to burst 1981's bloated medley bubble, from an ensemble without parallel. The Portsmouth Sinfonia were formed in 1970 as a unique orchestra whose members would "embrace the full range of musical competence". It didn't matter whether performers could play their instrument or not, just that they tried their best and attempted to go up and down in pitch sort of approximately. The resulting "cloud of sound" massacred several popular classics over the years, but always endearingly badly. Oh to have been in the Royal Albert Hall on that special evening in 1974 when the Sinfonia performed the 1812 overture and the Hallelujah Chorus to a stunned crowd of thousands. Classical Muddly was the orchestra's attempt to bolt together several well known classical themes, and resulted in an aural collision of monumental proportions. I adored it. Alas I've only ever owned a 7 inch vinyl version of the track, which I can now touch and adore but have absolutely no means of playing. So imagine my delight on discovering this fan's webpage with an mp3 link at the bottom. Ah, sweet discord! But I wouldn't bother downloading it yourself - you'll only ever play it once. [listen to Also Sprach Zarathustra]
"...clap ...pluck ...clap ...puff ...clap ...scrape ...clap ...screech"
Heaven 17 - Play To Win: While the Human League were basking in adoration at the top of the chart, their former bandmates - the half more likely to succeed - could do no better than number 46. Heaven 17's album Penthouse and Pavement foresaw (and suitably lambasted) the imminent yuppification of City life, and should have been huge but wasn't. The band had taken their name from a fictional Top Ten chart displayed in a record shop in the film A Clockwork Orange... and therefore narrowly missed being called Johnny Zhivago, Cyclops or even Googly Gogol.
"Suit the movement to the word, reverse and check the action, play to win!"
...and then there was my favourite record of all time. Of which, more next month when it reaches the Top Ten.
"Every time I think of you I know we have to meet"

15 other hits from 25 years ago: Endless Love (Diana Ross and Lionel Richie), Wired For Sound (Cliff Richard), Start Me Up (Rolling Stones), The Thin Wall (Ultravox), Abacab (Genesis), Everybody Salsa (Modern Romance), Souvenir (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark), Hands Up Give Me Your Heart (Ottawan), Slow Hand (Pointer Sisters), Pretend (Alvin Stardust), In And Out Of Love (Imagination), So This Is Romance (Linx), She's Got Claws (Gary Numan), You'll Never Know (Hi Gloss), Europe After The Rain (John Foxx) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?


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