Well, I warned you this was on the cards at least a year ago. To briefly summarise: I made my first ever Pick Of The Year compilation back in 1982, and have been doing them regularly-ish ever since. After a brief hiatus between 1990 and 1992, I was drawn back into making them at the request of my pal Lou in 1993: and all the ones I've made since then have been discussed and dissected on this website. There are therefore eleven years worth of Pick Of The Years which I haven't told you about before... until now. (Yes, I do mean eleven. I'll explain why in October.)
I'm going to turn fifty this year: if I can't write a series of eleven toe-curlingly nostalgic articles now, when can I do it? And this will be toe-curling, trust me. All those compilations made after 1993 were compiled for an audience, and some internal filtering took place along the way to make me look interesting. But 1982-1992? Those were purely for my own personal benefit. Some of the track choices don't hold up nowadays, but I'm not even sure some of them held up back then either.
Still, let's go for it. It's 1982. I'm nineteen years old, I've spent the past year buying records with the leftover cash from my student grant (ask your parents, kids), and I've also picked up a twin-deck Amstrad boombox to make the editing of cassettes a doddle. At the end of the year, I decide to dedicate two C60s to my favourite songs of the year: one tape of singles, one tape of album tracks. Stand by to watch my street credibility being torn to shreds.
1. ABC – The Look Of Love (special remix) (single, Neutron) [video]
This was probably the first time I’d heard a 12” remix that wasn’t just the original single intercut with an instrumental mix. In retrospect, this was producer Trevor Horn (assisted by what would eventually become The Art Of Noise) roadtesting ideas that would come to fruition a year later with the formation of ZTT Records, and all those Frankie Goes To Hollywood singles that were endlessly remixed to destruction. It still sounds fun now, but back in 1982 it was revolutionary. At least that’s how I remember it, anyway.
2. YAZOO – Only You (single, Mute) [video]
This still works, doesn’t it? For some reason, it’s the Flying Pickets version I’ve been carrying around in my head for the last few years, but one listen to the original cleared that out pretty smartish. Funny how when it first came out, the Vince Clarke connection made us all think Alison Moyet’s voice sounded a lot like Dave Gahan’s on the original Depeche Mode records. She soon put us right on that score, and is still doing so three decades later, most recently in a lovely guest appearance at a Divine Comedy show. Looking good, Alf.
3. FRANK ZAPPA – Valley Girl (single, Barking Pumpkin) [video]
Frank and his daughter Moon Unit really share joint top billing on this one, of course. Even if we didn’t know the valley girl personality stereotype back then (and some people may suggest the song partially created it), you could tell instantly that they’d nailed it in a tight four minutes. I blow hot and cold with Zappa, but when he’s this focussed I can listen to him for hours.
4. ELVIS COSTELLO – Man Out Of Time (single, F-Beat) [video]
Taken from Imperial Bedroom (of which more later), which was a blatant attempt by Costello to create something that could be seen as a classic pop album. At this distance, it feels like it’s trying a little too hard to reach that ideal, and this single is the epitome of that. It’s still a lovely song, but it’s trying to persuade you throughout that it’s great rather than just being great.
5. MADNESS – Our House (single, Stiff) [video]
Another one of those singles you can’t really argue with. So I won’t.
6. THE GIST – Love At First Sight (single, Rough Trade) [video]
Hooray! Finally, something that’s a little bit obscure. Quite a bit obscure, actually, to the extent that I’m not sure how I came to own the single in the first place. The Gist emerged from the remnants of Young Marble Giants, but as I was never especially fond of them that doesn’t really help. It sounds like a John Peel sorta thing, so I’ll assign the responsibility to him.
7. CRUELLA DE VILLE – Those Two Dreadful Children (single, Good Vibrations) [video]
And I think this has to be another Peel thing, surely? Particularly because it was released on Good Vibrations, the label responsible for his favourite single ever - I still own this in one of the label's homemade foldout sleeves. Like some sort of unholy mashup between Queen and Brecht, this is still quite a jolly thing to listen to. Cruella de Ville will return in a future compilation, signed to a major label and with all their interesting rough edges sanded off.
1. JOHN OTWAY & WILD WILLY BARRETT – Headbutts (single, Stiff) [video]
Yes, it’s true, I have in the past had a fondness for what you could call the ‘novelty single’. Still, I’m sure even Otway couldn’t have predicted that he’d still be singing this live several decades later, although the cumulative damage caused by his repeatedly nutting the microphone during the choruses means he doesn’t do it as often as he used to.
2. NICK NICELY – Hilly Fields (1892) (single, EMI) [video]
By 1982, I was coming out of my Pink Floyd phase – for most people of my generation, that phase included a period of bemusement when we discovered the early Syd Barrett recordings. But I’d heard enough psychedelia by that stage to realise that Nicely was doing something a little more authentic than a simple pastiche of sixties tropes. His career never really came to much, but he somehow got enough of a following to result in a compilation of his recordings making it onto CD two decades later.
3. AFTER THE FIRE – Rich Boys (single, CBS) [video]
Yes, this will happen a few times on these tapes – something that’s so authentically 80s it hurts. Quite boppy and sparkily produced, I guessed, but by God just look at the buggers. To think that in 1982, I was worried about being sent out to fight in the Falklands (I had an escape route to Ireland planned and everything), when it’s more likely that these guys would have been drafted instead. We'd have lost in no time.
4. GRAHAM PARKER – Temporary Beauty (single, RCA Victor) [video]
Back when he was with the Rumour, Graham Parker was responsible for The Parkerilla, one of the finest live albums known to man. Compared with that burst of raw energy, this has a little more of a laid-back “please like me America” feel to it, but he could always turn out a fine song to order, and this is another one.
5. BIG COUNTRY – Harvest Home (single, Phonogram) [video]
This came out a year before their first album, and I’d argue that Chris Thomas’ single mix has a better guitar sound than the re-recorded album version, which is all about Steve Lillywhite-produced massive drum sounds. This one kind of contradicts the old guitars-sounding-like-bagpipes cliché – it’s just a rock band having a damn good time.
6. THE BEAT – Save It For Later (single, Go-Feet) [video]
The whole Two-Tone/ska thing was one that I drifted in and out of – it was more my sister’s thing, to be honest. But the odd song would come through that hit me hard, and this is a great little pop single.
7. NEW ORDER – Temptation (single, Factory) [video]
I’d not really been paying attention to New Order until this song – suddenly, they came up with something that actually felt like a song rather than a general downbeat musical atmosphere, and it made me sit up and take notice. One year later, of course, they’d release another single that would have that effect on even more people, and we’ll get to that in the near future. Note that my preferred version at the time was the 7” mix, which played at 33 rpm and was always a top choice when it accidentally found its way onto a pub jukebox.
8. DIRE STRAITS – Private Investigations (single, Vertigo) [video]
Oh, dear. Expect a lot of frankly misplaced love for Mark Knopfler to appear on these compilations over the next few years. Although I’d argue that Knopfler could actually write some decent songs in the early years, only losing it completely around the time of Brothers In Arms. Already, this single is a fifty-fifty mix of production and content, and that balance would teeter more towards production as we headed towards the band's first CD release.
1. MOVING HEARTS – Remember The Brave Ones (from Dark End Of The Street, WEA) [video]
I remember the first time I heard Moving Hearts – it was at Piccadilly Records in Manchester, which played McBrides from the Hearts' first album in the shop while I was there, and told me what it was when I asked them. That’s why we need record shops, seriously. This follow-up album would never have quite the same impact as that debut, but the mix of rock, folk and hard-edged politics is as strong on this track as ever.
2. SCRITTI POLITTI – Rock-A-Boy Blue (from Songs To Remember, Rough Trade) [video]
I can trace this one pretty accurately too. Scritti’s The Sweetest Girl was one of the highlights of the previous year’s NME giveaway tape C81, and made me desperate to hear more of them as soon as they got around to releasing an album. Not sure if this is still the best track for me, but you’ve gotta love that bass work in the final two minutes.
3. NOT THE NINE O’CLOCK NEWS – Hollywood Loves Solidarity (from The Memory Kinda Lingers, BBC) [video]
Well, this definitely isn’t the best track on this particular album. I remember there being a bit of tabloid fuss at the time this sketch was broadcast, mainly from people choosing to misinterpret it as an attack on Solidarity rather than on Hollywood. Kinda Lingers (arf) was a two-disc set – fuzzy mono recordings from the TV show on disc 1, and the live Drury Lane show on disc 2 – and these days, I’d suggest that the live musical parody Laker! is more deserving of the slot. Maybe it was just too long? I dunno.
4. PETER GABRIEL – Wallflower (from Peter Gabriel 4, Charisma) [video]
Or Peter Gabriel, to give the album its official title (like the previous three in the set). The song still holds up, and it’s still a highlight of his live shows three decades later, as the video proves.
5. MAGAZINE – Back To Nature (from After The Fact, Virgin) [video]
Oh, this is a terrible cheat, I know. A track from 1979’s Secondhand Daylight album, only included here because it was on the band’s posthumous 1982 compilation. But it was the first time I’d heard it! And it’s good!
6. ELVIS COSTELLO - …And In Every Home (from Imperial Bedroom, F-Beat) [video]
The track on Imperial Bedroom that positively screams “look, we’re working with the Beatles’ engineer!”, as it mashes up subtle references to their back catalogue in the orchestral arrangement. Sadly, few of them make it into the live version linked to here, because keyboardist Steve Nieve simply doesn’t have that many hands.
1. KATE BUSH – Night Of The Swallow (from The Dreaming, EMI) [video]
Traditionally, The Dreaming is regarded as the album where Kate went a bit nuts. Which is harsh, but it’s certainly the most experimental thing she’s ever made, not afraid to look slightly ridiculous as she experiments with her Fairlight to try and make sounds we haven’t heard before. This is a perfectly fine piano ballad already, but the surge of joy provided by the Irish-flavoured choruses is the icing on the cake.
2. LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA – Hard Times (from Love And Dancing, Virgin) [video]
Another cheat, really – is this all that much different from the standard version of Hard Times that was released a year ago? Probably not, but the added production fiddling that was applied to old Human League material on this album perks the track up nicely. I dabbled a little with keyboards around this time, and was delighted to discover that Hard Times was written in such a way that you never have to touch a single black key to play it.
3. DIRE STRAITS – Love Over Gold (from Love Over Gold, Vertigo) [video]
Oh, God, not him again. Tell you what, why has nobody ever commented about how a couple of years later, Mark Knopfler recycled the chorus of this when he wrote Private Dancer for Tina Turner? Eh? (After a modicum of research: possibly because both songs were written around the same time. At one point, Private Dancer was planned to be included on the Dire Straits album, but was eventually dropped. As you were.)
4. ABC – Valentine’s Day (from The Lexicon Of Love, Neutron) [video]
Lots of good stuff to choose from on Lexicon, but in the end it looks like the one I went for was the best balance of smart song and OTT production. It’s still rather thrilling to listen to even now, mainly due to Anne Dudley’s kitchen sink arrangement.
5. NEW AMERICAN ORCHESTRA – Memories Of Green (from Blade Runner, WEA International) [video]
Here’s a strange one. Blade Runner was released in cinemas in 1982 and blew me away, as it did for lots of other people. But for one reason or another, Vangelis didn’t get around to putting out his soundtrack album till 1994. So in the meantime, we had to make to with this re-arrangement by a bunch of session musos. Curiously, by the time the Vangelis version was available, it sounded rather insipid compared to the bluesy swing of Richard Tee’s piano on this one. The orchestration is by Angela Morley, who before her 1972 operation was a man called Wally Stott, best known for writing the theme to Hancock’s Half Hour. Now that’s proper trivia for you.
6. STATUS QUO – Bye Bye Johnny (from From The Makers Of…, Phonogram) [video]
Oh, I have no bloody idea what this is doing on here. From The Makers Of… was, at the time, the definitive Quo compilation, and I guess I bought it because the completeness of it seemed interesting – two records of greatest hits, and a whole live album to mop up all the covers and lesser tracks. I remember being fond of their live version of the Doors’ Roadhouse Blues, years before I realised it was a Doors song. Beyond that, no, no idea why I decided to finish with this.
With all the duplication between the Singles tape and the Albums tape, you'll be pleased to hear that in subsequent years I ditched that idea and stuck to a fixed rule of one track per artist. But did I really keep cluttering the tapes up with more Dire Straits after this? Stay tuned to find out.