Good news! My first Pick Of The Year collection, made in 1982, was split into two halves - one C60 cassette of favourite singles, and another one of favourite album tracks. This led to some awkward duplication over the pair of tapes, with two songs apiece from ABC, Elvis Costello and (gulp) Dire Straits. When I chose to repeat the exercise a year later - more precisely, on February 4th 1984 - I decided against the single/album dichotomy, sticking to a rule of one track per artist no matter what format it came on. (And then breaking that rule completely at the end of side four, as you'll see.)
Bad news! At the same time, I decided that since there had been so much great music released in 1983, it needed two complete C90s to do it justice. So from this point up until 1989, my Pick Of The Year compilations would be gargantuan three-hour affairs. Looking back at them now, they could easily be trimmed down to something more manageable: but that's not my role here. No, my role is to give you an unedited view of what my taste in music was like thirty years ago, pausing occasionally to point and laugh at the twenty-year-old me and his ridiculous hair. Come and join me.
(And no, you're not getting a picture of the hair.)
1. NEW ORDER – Blue Monday (single, Factory) [video]
The record that taught an entire generation of indie white kids how to dance: and I’m not ashamed to say that I was one of them. As with all the best New Order songs, it’s the tension between the mechanical and the organic that makes it something special. In a recent 30th anniversary piece about the song, keyboard player Gillian Gilbert revealed that part of what makes the rhythm track so compelling is down to a programming mistake that she decided to leave in. I always insist that the band lost something when she dropped out of it.
2. THE HUMAN LEAGUE – (Keep Feeling) Fascination (single, Virgin) [video]
The Human League: the late 70s/early 80s equivalent of Dizzee Rascal? I mean that in the sense that they started out as a weird-sounding experimental unit, which evolved after their second album into a ruthless pop hit generating machine. But you could never quite blame them for selling out when the hits sounded as good as this one.
3. BIG COUNTRY – The Storm (from The Crossing, Mercury) [video]
Probably the most blatant example of the guitars-as-bagpipes cliché that people tend to associate with Big Country. Having said that, there’s an interesting country/folk tinge to this song that they never quite recreated anywhere else.
4. THE FLYING PICKETS – Only You (single, Virgin) [video]
I liked the Flying Pickets ages before you did! Really! Granada TV in Manchester used to have a Saturday night arts programme, and I can remember one night in the early 80s when it was dedicated to a full performance of One Big Blow, a 7:84 theatre production about a brass band in which all the music was performed a capella by the cast. When the six guys from the play turned up on Top Of The Pops a couple of years later, it was interesting to see how they’d run with the idea. Note that at this point in 1983, every single Pick Of The Year compilation I have made so far has included a version of Only You.
5. SOFT CELL – Soul Inside (single, Some Bizzare) [video]
I always thought this was their last single – it turns out that Down In The Subway actually came after it. But it strikes me as the sort of triumphant roar that a band would choose to go out on. Though you can see why Marc Almond would prefer the more melodramatic Subway, giving him the chance to “jump on that train track and die.”
6. THE DURUTTI COLUMN – Francesca (from Another Setting, Factory) [video]
I’d been slowly getting into the Durutti Column over the past couple of years thanks to my local library (ask your parents, kids), who had all of Vini Reilly’s early work available to borrow. I think Another Setting may well be the first record of his that I bought with my own money. It would not be the last, as you’ll see. And hopefully I still haven't bought my last Durutti Column record yet, despite the harrowing news that emerged earlier this year regarding Reilly's health.
7. PETE SHELLEY – Many A Time (from XL1, Genetic) [video]
To be honest, it’s more the collaboration of Shelley and producer Martin Rushent that makes this soar: the former’s faultless way with a pop song matched with the relentless drive of the latter’s electronic backing. The instrumental breakdown in the second half – taking a simple three-bar phrase and just looping and looping and building and building – is still as thrilling as ever.
8. ABC – United Kingdom (from Beauty Stab, Neutron) [video]
The narrative of ABC is pretty firmly established: classic first album, then it all started going wrong during this follow-up. Beauty Stab certainly doesn’t have the pure pop sheen of their debut, but there are still moments on it that make you sit up and realise we shouldn’t have dismissed them so quickly. This state-of-the-nation treatise has several of those moments. And as we get to a point thirty years on where these lyrics start to sound relevant again, you have to ask – why aren’t people writing songs like this now?
9. COCTEAU TWINS – Musette And Drums (from Head Over Heels, 4AD) [video]
I think the first time I became aware of Cocteau Twins was through a Channel 4 TV show called Whatever You Want. Hosted by Keith Allen – yeah, that one – it was a yoof programme of the precise type spoofed more or less at the same time by The Young Ones as Nozin’ Aroun’. I’d imagine that the discussions and current events elements would look horrifying now. But the live music bits they used to lure viewers in were excellent. Seeing the Twins do Peppermint Pig on the show led me to this album, and a few others after that.
10. CRUELLA DE VILLE – Gypsy Girl (single, EMI) [video]
Remember that 1982 compilation? Cruella de Ville showed up there thanks to the double A-side single Drunken Uncle John/Those Two Dreadful Children, released initially on Belfast indie Good Vibrations. EMI liked it as much as I did, re-released it, and watched as it continued to not roar up the charts. Subsequent singles like this one didn’t do much better, so the Muinzer siblings never got around to assembling a full album’s worth of material. Nevertheless, they’re still fondly remembered in some quarters.
1. DAVID SYLVIAN & RYUICHI SAKAMOTO – Forbidden Colours (from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Virgin) [video]
I think Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence was one of those films where I bought the soundtrack long before ever seeing the film – it must have been at least a year before I finally got to watch it. (My personal record for that is currently held by The Valley – I bought Pink Floyd’s soundtrack album back in 1978, but only acquired a copy of the film in 2012, and still haven’t watched it yet.) Anyway, Sakamoto’s score is typically lush and romantic, and Sylvian’s vocal version cranks it up to new heights of magnificence. Interesting that the song was presumably intended just as a promo for the soundtrack album, as Sylvian's vocal doesn’t appear in the film at all.
2. PETER GABRIEL – I Go Swimming (from Plays Live, Charisma) [video]
The odd song out from Gabriel’s first live album, as it’s the only one that hadn’t previously appeared on one of his earlier studio records. Fun, isn’t it?
3. HOWARD DEVOTO – Rainy Season (single, Virgin) [video]
Another song from a former Buzzcocks member. I was never entirely convinced by anything else in Devoto’s solo career, but this is pretty terrific. He looks really uncomfortable with the idea of making a video, though, doesn’t he?
4. U2 – Like A Song… (from War, Island) [video]
No apologies for the inclusion of U2 at this stage of their career: Bono hadn’t as yet started the long ongoing expedition up his own arse, and there was still passion in the band’s tunes. You could possibly map their slow downward spiral against their increasing appeals to their drummer “could you take it down a notch or two, Larry?” No sign of that happening in this song, though. Subtlety is overrated.
5. MONTY PYTHON – Every Sperm Is Sacred (from Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life, MCA) [video]
This may have just been me starting to rebel after twenty years of continuous Catholic programming. But some of Python’s finest moments were their songs, and this is one of the rare ones that doesn’t have Eric Idle’s pawprints all over it. If it had, doubtless he’d have found a way to somehow include it in Spamalot.
6. FUN BOY THREE – The Farm Yard Connection (from Waiting, Chrysalis) [video]
Ooh! Drugs! One of Fun Boy Three’s lighter moments – after all, the last track on Waiting features Terry Hall telling the story of his being abused by a teacher on a school field trip. By comparison, this is a jolly little thing about police corruption and middle class potheads.
7. MARK KNOPFLER – Wild Theme (from Local Hero, Vertigo) [video]
Spoiler alert: no, you’re not going to see Dire Straits turn up on any more of these tapes. They lost me completely with Brothers In Arms, an album I have literally never made it through to the end of without nodding off. But Knopfler’s atmospherics seem to work better on film soundtracks, like these final minutes of Bill Forsyth’s best movie.
8. THE CHAMELEONS – A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days (from Script Of The Bridge, Statik) [video]
Northern! Guitars! Gloom! Of course I was always going to love the Chameleons, and then whine uncontrollably as Coldplay ripped off all their best schtick for their first album fifteen years later. One thing Chris Martin didn’t steal from the Chameleons, though, was their peculiar habit of writing songs where the coda was an almost entirely different piece of music in itself – and this is probably the best example of that they ever did.
9. DAVID BOWIE – Cat People (Putting Out Fire) (from Let’s Dance, EMI America) [video]
Now this is odd. If you’d asked me up until recently to choose between the two versions of Cat People in existence – the 1982 broody one Bowie made with Georgio Moroder to accompany the film of the same name, or the 1983 rocker that made it onto the Let’s Dance album – then I would have said my favourite was the first one, much like Quentin Tarantino did a couple of decades later. And yet, looking back at what I actually put on the compilations at the time, I seem to have originally preferred the remake. Memory’s a funny thing. This one’s enjoyable enough, but the Moroder’s much more atmospheric.
10. CULTURE CLUB – Victims (from Colour By Numbers, Virgin) [video]
Colour By Numbers is the only Culture Club record I own – I was never that interested in anything they released either side of it, but the quality of the songs and the vocals on their second album made it stand out for me. And Helen Terry’s backing vocals are a major part of what made this track a highlight. Whatever happened to her? (Oh. I wasn’t expecting that.)
1. HEAVEN 17 – Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry (from The Luxury Gap, Virgin) [video]
That Human League evolution I mentioned earlier? If you’re familiar with their history, you’ll know that it was the result of the band splitting into two around 1980, with the League functioning as a chart pop band while Heaven 17 aspired to something more serious. From this distance, predictably, Heaven 17's music now sounds just as fluffy as the League’s does, no matter how ironic they may claim those “woo woo”s are.
2. THE SMITHS – This Charming Man (single, Rough Trade) [video]
Northern! Guitars! Gloom! etc. But yeah, it was inevitable I’d pick up on the Smiths quite early. It wasn’t until I moved down south one year later that I found out people existed who didn’t realise that Morrissey’s lyrics were funny. (Well, they were back then, anyway.)
3. RED GUITARS – Good Technology (single, Self Drive) [video]
A John Peel favourite of the time, I recall. Not much more that can be said about it these days, but I think it still holds up.
4. THE POLICE – Wrapped Around Your Finger (from Synchronicity, A&M) [video]
Compare this with U2 earlier, and I have to grudgingly admit that Sting can still crank out great songs even when he’s got his head firmly up his bum. I remember my dad being enraged by this when it played on Top Of The Pops, insisting that the verses are just one single musical phrase repeated over and over again. Well, that’s nearly the case: and it’s the nearlyness that makes it lovely to listen to. Three years later, I would find myself wondering if it was safe to play dad the Philip Glass records I’d just bought.
5. AFTER THE FIRE – Der Kommissar (single, CBS) [video]
ATF released the single Rich Kids in 1982, as I recalled in the previous article: it barely dented the charts at all, but CBS saw fit to re-release this older track of theirs off the back of that. It’s nowhere near as good. If anything, time (along with MC Hammer) has just emphasised how much of the chorus is stolen from Super Freak.
6. BILLY BRAGG – A New England (from Life’s A Riot With Spy vs Spy, Go! Discs) [video]
Another John Peel selection, and my own personal introduction to the Bard Of Barking, who’s still going strong three decades later.
7. WAH! – The Story Of The Blues (single, Eternal) [video]
A proper chart hit, eventually peaking at number three in early 1983 (although research has shown that it was actually released in late 1982, so it's cheating a little to include it here). This turned up on the radio just a week or two ago, and it’s very nice to hear it again.
8. THIS MORTAL COIL – Song To The Siren (single, 4AD) [video]
Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins again, fronting a multi-artist project by the 4AD label. This Tim Buckley cover basically blew all their other material out of the water, and nowadays it’s the only thing This Mortal Coil are ever remembered for.
9. PINK FLOYD – Not Now John (from The Final Cut, Harvest) [video]
From the Floyd’s awkward split-up album – effectively a Roger Waters solo project, with Rick Wright sacked and the other two more or less working as his session musicians. It has flashes of greatness here and there, though, and I’d imagine that all the effing and jeffing on this track is what ultimately sold it to me. After this, Waters set out on his own, with Gilmour and Mason continuing to trade under the old band name: none of them ever achieved anything on their own that matched what they did together.
10. MOVING HEARTS – Terrorist Or Dreamer (recorded from Whatever You Want, Channel 4) [video]
By 1983, Moving Hearts were entering a wobbly phase, during which Christy Moore left the band over disagreements on their political direction. He was briefly replaced by Mick Hanly: rather than playing down the politics (as the band would later do when they became an instrumental outfit), Hanly included a song in their live set that was originally written by IRA activist Bik McFarlane. Other versions of it can be found on YouTube, uploaded by people with usernames like FuckTheQueen1916: the Hearts arrangement is a gentler affair, keeping its rage under the surface, but they never recorded it. Hence this fuzzy taped-off-the-telly version. Sorry.
1. PAUL YOUNG – Sex (Club Mix) (from No Parlez, CBS) [video]
I’ve namechecked Channel 4’s Whatever You Want a couple of times, but what about their main music programme The Tube? I recall that Paul Young was never off it, but refuse to speculate on whether this was the result of backhanders being paid, or them just liking him a lot. Laurie Latham’s production job on the record is very much of its time, so it’s nice to watch the live rendition in this video and realise Young's appeal wasn’t entirely down to SSL knobtwiddling.
2. GENESIS – Mama (single, Virgin) [video]
Hmmm. Yes. But this is an interesting one, isn’t it? You can tell Phil Collins picked up a couple of things from his time working on Peter Gabriel’s third album (including engineer Hugh Padgham), and was keen to feed them into his solo work as well as what Genesis were doing. They’ve certainly never sounded as strange either before or since.
3. ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN – The Cutter (single, Korova) [video]
Quite a few singles cropping up on this collection, aren’t there? Back in ’83, they were still the main way I found myself being introduced to bands. I’m sure I knew of the Bunnymen before this single, but this was the one that turned me on to them properly. So expect them to turn up a few times over the next couple of years.
4. FLASH AND THE PAN – Down Among The Dead Men (single, Ensign) [video]
At the same time, there are plenty of one-hit wonders represented too. Australian band Flash And The Pan were one of those, but their one hit was Waiting For A Train – this failed follow-up actually came from their 1979 debut album. I think it’s better, though.
5. JOBOXERS – Johnny Friendly (single, RCA) [video]
Another one of those bands who had a regular residency on The Tube at the time. I think I managed to go at least a decade without being aware of all the references to On The Waterfront littered throughout the song.
6. FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – Relax (single, ZTT) [video]
Just to emphasise – this was on my 1983 compilation, from when the single was first released. Not 1984, which was when Mike Read belatedly picked up on its naughtiness and inadvertently sent Frankie on the road to notoriety. The 7” mix is the one I preferred, in this case: the various 12” versions ended up going too far into dull self-indulgence, as opposed to the exciting self-indulgence of the myriad mixes of Two Tribes the following year.
7. ELVIS COSTELLO – The World And His Wife (from Punch The Clock, F-Beat) [video]
This was the Elvis period where he was collaborating with Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, and there’s definitely a Madness-style jolliness to the horn arrangements on this track (though you’ll have to make do with a live version in the video above).
8. ROBERT WYATT – Shipbuilding (single, Rough Trade) [video]
And more Costello, indirectly, as he co-wrote this with Clive Langer before passing it on to Robert Wyatt to perform the definitive version. Again, you do find yourself wondering why the current political situation isn’t resulting in records as good as this one.
9. MALCOLM MCLAREN – Merengue (from Duck Rock, Charisma) [video]
Despite the early appearance of Relax a couple of tracks back, producer Trevor Horn’s campaign for world domination wouldn’t really hit ramming speed until 1984. His collaboration with McLaren on Duck Rock should have counted as an advance warning, though. Constructed – like the ABC remix on last year’s tape – by the people that would ultimately become Art Of Noise, it’s a fine lesson in how to assemble magnificent sounding pop records out of apparently mismatched ingredients. This is the Latin portion of McLaren’s world tour of music theft, and once again it’s the mix of people and machines that makes it so appealing, with real strings and horns battling it out against a clattery percussion loop.
10. AZTEC CAMERA – Back On Board/Down The Dip (from High Land Hard Rain, Rough Trade) [video 1 / video 2]
Remember Scritti Politti on the 1982 tape? They were there because I’d first heard them on the NME’s C81 compilation album, and had decided that I must own their debut album as soon as it came out. The same applies to Aztec Camera, except it took them a year longer to get that debut together. It was well worth the wait – and as these two lovely Roddy Frame songs are jammed together on the record, it seemed a shame to split them up on my compilation. (Not apparently a concern for the YouTube video uploaders, however.)
That was 1983, then. Within a year, I would obtain a degree and a job in rapid succession (ask your parents, kids), and leave Manchester for the big city. Would access to disposable income affect my record-buying choices? How would I react to the capital's live music scene? And could I find yet another version of Only You to include on Pick Of The Year 1984? Come back soon and you'll find out.