It says 1985 on the tapes, but if you look at the small print on the handwritten sleeve, it claims that this compilation was actually committed to ferric oxide between May 17th and May 22nd 1986. What took me so long? I'd imagine it was down to me doing all the things you'd expect a 22-year-old male to be doing once he'd been let loose in the capital.
1985 was my first full year of living in London, and a rather eventful one at that. I achieved my first promotion at work, although that was a standard thing after six months for a graduate entrant, unless you'd actually murdered someone on the job. I received my first ever eviction notice, which drove me out of a flatshare in grim tubeless south London to something that turned out to be a much better (and longer-lasting) arrangement. I continued to see a lot of movies, but I also started investigating London's live music scene, and that was probably the biggest development in my artistic life that year. By the end of 1985, I wasn't just an ardent gig goer, I was also a criminal, sneaking a series of ever-smaller cassette recorders into concerts and building a personal library of fuzzy-sounding live tapes that I still have to this day.
If home taping was killing music, I was murdering it in a couple of different ways, and this 39-song compilation counts as one more nail in its coffin. Some of the selections are baffling to me 28 years later - they're either songs I never realised I liked in the first place, or dull tracks off otherwise exciting albums. See if you can work out what the hell I was thinking, because I'm not sure I can.
1. NEW ORDER – The Perfect Kiss (single, Factory) [video]
New Order never really made concept albums, but their LPs (we still called them that back then) do have a kind of thematic unity to them, whether they're experiments in technology, an attempt to generate a particular sonic atmosphere, or recreating dance beats they've heard while high. Low-Life, for me, is the record where they briefly discovered how to write songs. The Perfect Kiss is one that obsessed me for a couple of years, its thunderous climax always ending up being cranked to a higher volume than it was when it started. There are all sorts of irritating edits of the track, but the extended 12" mix - also available on the cassette of the album, and recreated in Jonathan Demme's magnificent video - is the one.
2. TEARS FOR FEARS – The Working Hour (from Songs From The Big Chair, Mercury) [video]
Noodly sax solo alert! To be honest, that full-throttle solo at the end is the only reason for bothering with this now. Other than that, it's the usual glossy gloom we'd come to expect from TFF.
3. GODLEY AND CREME – Hum Drum Boys In Paris (from History Mix Volume 1, Polydor) [video]
My love of Art Of Noise - yeah, they're coming, don't worry - ended up infecting other things, including this bizarre album. Off the back of their successful collaboration with producer Trevor Horn on the single Cry, Godley and Creme backed it up with an LP where various AoN alumni violently kicked the shit out of a set of samples drawn from their solo and 10cc careers. Listening to this noisy thing now, cobbled together from three separate songs and never quite becoming the sum of its parts, it's hard to understand what I saw in it. (Other than, perhaps, being able to recognise its source songs.)
4. COCTEAU TWINS – Aikea-Guinea (single, 4AD) [video]
As I mentioned in a previous year, I appear nowadays to have completely lost the ability to identify Cocteau Twins songs from their titles alone. Once I played this and realised it's the one that goes 'widdly widdly widdly widdly wee' at the chorus, I could relax a bit.
5. ELTON JOHN & MILLIE JACKSON – Act Of War (single, Rocket) [video]
Hmmm. Really? It strikes me that I was taping a lot of stuff off the radio at this stage in my life, and as a result there are a few more surprise top 40 singles on this compilation than usual. Actually, this is a decent reminder of how great Elton can be when he's got a bit of aggression in him. (Though he has trouble keeping up with Millie Jackson on that score.)
6. DAVID BOWIE & PAT METHENY GROUP – This Is Not America (single, EMI America) [video]
Who remembers The Falcon And The Snowman? A true-life spy movie starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton, I could tell you virtually nothing about it 28 years after seeing it, other than this: a random line of dialogue became the inspiration for an end title song that Bowie wrote over a chord sequence from Pat Metheny's score. And it's rather pretty.
7. DON HENLEY – The Boys Of Summer (single, Geffen) [video]
I think I own three Don Henley singles, and precisely none of his albums. Maybe I should investigate him more, because those singles were terrific - the anti-tabloid journalism rant of Dirty Laundry followed up by this evocative bit of nostalgia for a time I barely knew. (Although a recent tweet by John A. Cecil has another more subtle interpretation: "Don Henley's Boys Of Summer has become exactly what it is about.")
8. RED BOX – Saskatchewan (single, Sire) [video]
Red Box took forever to release their first (and only decent) album. Their first single Chenko made my 1984 compilation: their second is right here. By the time the album came out in 1986, both singles had been rerecorded for it. I remember being disappointed by the new versions at the time, but it has to be said the single cut of Buffy Saint-Marie's song now sounds a little thin by comparison.
9. THE DUKES OF STRATOSFEAR – My Love Explodes (from 25 O'Clock, Virgin) [video]
Wonderfully silly stuff: this was XTC making a fake sixties psychedelic record, and getting it exactly right, without any particular nods and winks to the modern listening audience.
10. THE ART OF NOISE – Love Beat (from single Moments In Love, ZTT) [video]
First gig memory of 1985: the ZTT package tour The Value Of Entertainment, featuring all the label's non-Frankie acts. Well, almost. I've described the Art Of Noise no-show at the gig elsewhere, and apparently described it well enough to be cited on Wikipedia. The tour was eventually boiled down into a 45 minute video: the sight of Paul Morley tunelessly crooning 'suicide is painless...' over this magnificent Moments In Love remix has a certain entertainment value in its own right. Jump to the 26 minute mark on the video and see for yourself.
1. ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN – Bring On The Dancing Horses (single, Korova) [video]
Not quite sure what this is doing here. To be honest, the Bunnymen more or less peaked for me with Ocean Rain the year before: everything else after that feels like a deliberate attempt to scale things back, which just seems deliberately disappointing. If producer Laurie Latham had brought along some of the berserkosity he occasionally added to Paul Young's records, we may have got somewhere. As it stands, this feels exactly like what it is - the new filler track on a singles compilation.
2. PETER GABRIEL – The Heat (from Birdy, Charisma) [video]
Alan Parker asked Peter Gabriel to write a score for his film Birdy. Gabriel gave him a pile of instrumental mixes of his old songs to see if they did the job. I don't think many of them worked in the context of the film, at least for a Gabriel fan like me who was continually dragged out of the story by a familiar tune. Or rhythm, in this particular case. My appetite for massively OTT percussion had apparently grown in the three years between the original release of The Rhythm Of The Heat and this thumpy monster.
3. THE CHAMELEONS – Perfume Garden (from What Does Anything Mean? Basically, Statik) [video]
The Chameleons' proverbial difficult second album: certainly it's not one I've felt the need to revisit on CD, unlike the ones that came before and after it. I have no idea these days what made this song stand out for me amongst the other ones on the album, other than the Chameleons-by-numbers drop to half speed for the coda. They would do much, much better in the future.
4. THE COMMODORES – Night Shift (single, Motown) [video]
Another single off the radio I appear to have been fond of. Lord knows why. Fascinating, yet horrifying fact - if you ignore Millie Jackson's cameo appearance above, the Commodores are the first black people to appear in these compilations since they started in 1982.
5. THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN – Never Understand (single, Blanco Y Negro) [video]
Christ on a bike (no pun intended), that's a transition, isn't it? Having spent years following the Chain as they got more and more mellow, it's a shock to go back to the beginning and encounter the literally painful high-end feedback screech of their debut single. Lots of the songs on this tape have dated spectacularly - this seems, I dunno, immortal.
6. RICHARD STILGOE & PETER SKELLERN – By God We’re Good Now (from Who Plays Wins, First Night) [video]
Second gig memory of 1985: in the middle of a tasteful little West End cabaret show featuring the slightly bland talents of Stilgoe and Skellern, we got this blistering take on the miners' strike, and how redundancy had improved the standard of Welsh male voice choirs. Kind of like Brassed Off, but distilled into a single musical number and twelve years earlier. It's a perfect combination, with Skellern's taped choral vocals having Stilgoe's uncharacteristically piercing wit to play off.
7. GRACE JONES – Slave To The Rhythm (single, ZTT) [video]
I'd almost forgotten that this was another ZTT record - Grace hitching a ride on the Trevor Horn bandwagon with an album featuring multiple reworkings of the title track. The single mix is still the best, though, as everyone knows really.
8. THE WATERBOYS – The Whole Of The Moon (from This Is The Sea, Ensign) [video]
Father Noel Furlong did his best to kill this song during his camping holiday, but it keeps going regardless. Bit of an arse when you go to a Waterboys gig as recently as 2012, and people keep shouting for it all the way through, though.
9. PREFAB SPROUT – Desire As (from Steve McQueen, Kitchenware) [video]
Bit of a surprise, this. Sure, Steve McQueen is one of the finest records I own, and still remains so: I just thought back in '85 I would have picked the ecstasy of Goodbye Lucille No 1 over this slightly melancholy thing. But it appears that I didn't. There you go. I'm now wondering if there was some sort of dumping around this time that I've blocked from my memory.
10. ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID – Revolutionary Situation (from Sun City, Manhattan) [video]
Drums and yelling: the growing emergence of hiphop was made for me, and - aside from pastiche efforts from the likes of Art Of Noise - this would appear the first time it's been acknowledged on these compilations. It's a heady collaboration: Keith le Blanc doing the cutup thing more aggressively than our local equivalent Paul Hardcastle, with Miles Davis guesting on trumpet and attitude, throwing oil over the powderkeg of apartheid and chucking a match on top. The 80s jazz keyboards do date it a little, but it's still a rockin' piece of work.
1. PROPAGANDA – Dream Within A Dream (from A Secret Wish, ZTT) [video]
Third gig memory of 1985 actually turns out to be the same as the first one. With Art Of Noise otherwise engaged, Propaganda became top of the bill at The Value Of Entertainment, and justified their position with all the hits as well as debut outings for album tracks like this one, which hadn't been released at the time of the show. The arrangment was much better on the studio version - at least, on the one originally released on cassette, the CD being marred by a drum-heavy alternative mix just for the purpose of being different. My fondest memory of Propaganda's live set: Claudia Brucken announcing the encore. "We'll do P-Machinery again. Just wait while we rewind the tape." You wouldn't hear a band say that nowadays.
2. BIG DADDY – Ebony And Ivory (from What Really Happened To The Band Of '59, Making Waves) [video]
Looks like I hadn't quite shaken off the lure of the novelty record at this stage. A whole album of eighties songs performed in the style of the fifties? I paid money for this? It goes on forever, too.
3. MICHAEL NYMAN – Time Lapse (from A Zed And Two Noughts, That's Entertainment) [video]
I have a very clear memory of sitting in the Lumiere cinema in St Martin's Lane (it's a gym now), watching the trailer for Peter Greenaway's A Zed And Two Noughts, and realising that after two and a half minutes I still had no idea what the film was about. And that intrigued me. I was a fan of Greenaway for a bit after that, but have to admit that he was always at his best when he had one of Nyman's chugging scores holding his esoteric images together. I suspect my burgeoning interest in minimalist music stemmed roughly from this.
4. LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS – Cut Me Down (from Easy Pieces, Polydor) [video]
Heh. Another difficult second album. Like the Chameleons, I have a great fondness for the records that came either side of this, but I can barely remember half of the songs on here. That's despite it being the centrepiece of one of the first gigs I ever sneaked my recording Walkman into - I still have the tape somewhere.
5. EURYTHMICS – There Must Be An Angel (single, RCA) [video]
Another one taped off the top 40. I suppose the Stevie Wonder harmonica solo still holds up. But Annie Lennox is doing that bloody thing that everyone does on X Factor these days, cramming six or seven unnecessary notes into every single line. Pah.
6. THE SMITHS – That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore (from Meat Is Murder, Rough Trade) [video]
Yes, of course a track from Meat Is Murder was going to make it onto here, but why did I pick this one? Why not Nowhere Fast, the Morrissey lyric where every single line is a decent one-liner? (A year or so later, I would be the proud owner of a Moz t-shirt featuring the quote "I'd like to drop my trousers to the Queen".)
7. MOVING HEARTS – The Titanic (from The Storm, Tara) [video]
By this stage, the Hearts had got over their ideological differences by just resolving to play damn fine instrumentals. This two-parter is still a favourite of mine, mainly for the second half, where the tricksy 5/8-6/8-5/8 rhythm quietly resolves itself into 4/4 as if by magic. I still don't quite understand how they pull that off.
8. THE FLYING PICKETS – Broken English (personal live recording) [video]
Fourth gig memory of 1985: seeing the Pickets live at the Dominion, recording the show, really loving their cover of this Marianne Faithfull song, getting fed up they never did a studio version, and eventually deciding to include my hooky copy on the compilation. And now it appears to somehow be on YouTube too. Oh, the humanity. But it's good, innit?
9. PAUL YOUNG – Soldier’s Things (from The Secret Of Association, CBS) [video]
I hadn't really got into Tom Waits by 1985: that came a little later, when I heard a couple of tracks from Rain Dogs on the Down By Law soundtrack and realising I needed to own the album. So I didn't bring any baggage to this Paul Young cover of one of his finest tunes. Listening to it now I've accumulated that baggage... well, it's a massively dated arrangement, but Young actually does it justice vocally, so I'll let him off.
1. ANDREW POPPY – The Object Is A Hungry Wolf (from The Beating Of Wings, ZTT) [video]
Fifth gig memory of 1985: see first and third one. What can I say? The Value Of Entertainment was a pretty good show. The bill also included Anne Pigalle, Instinct and a pre-internet-sexcrimes Chris Langham as compere. But Andrew Poppy was the real standout for me, as Michael Nyman had already softened me up for his sort of quasi-orchestral minimalist noodling. At the time of the show, this record hadn't been released: in fact, his set consisted of well over half of his second album, which was quite some time off yet. A heavily rearranged version of the final minute of this track would end up becoming the theme for the final series of The Tube.
2. BILLY BRAGG – The World Turned Upside Down (personal live recording) [video]
Sixth gig memory of 1985: and if there was a show that rivalled The Value Of Entertainment for sheer impact on my musical taste, it would have been the GLC's Jobs For A Change, a huge free festival in Battersea Park. I spent a whole day wandering around with a full-sized ghettoblaster under my arm, shamelessly recording entire sets, including the one from Bragg where he hammered through this old Leon Rosselson song.
3. RY COODER – Paris, Texas (from Paris, Texas, Warner Bros.) [video]
Quite a few film tunes on here, aren't there? Mainly because I saw quite a few films. The Paris, Texas theme has become a right old cliche over the years, but I'm pretty sure it worked amazingly well back when it first came out.
4. KIRSTY MACCOLL – A New England (single, Stiff) [video]
More Bragg, obviously. Kirsty took his song in a whole other pop direction, and it's strong enough to cope with what she does with it. Any reaction to a record of hers is inevitably going to be coloured by memories of her sudden departure (it's always touching when Bragg pulls out her third verse whenever he does the song live nowadays), but I think this still works as a great single.
5. THE COMMUNARDS – Breadline Britain (from single You Are My World, London) [video]
Ooh, bit of politics. Be warned, there's a compilation coming up soon that's full of this sort of Red Wedge guffery. But Somerville and Coles were a class act when it came to political songs, always remembering that the song was the most important thing. Anyone fancy doing a 2013 cover of this?
6. SCRITTI POLITTI – Perfect Way (from Cupid And Psyche '85, Virgin) [video]
The big shock was when Green Gartside and pals hit us with their first two electropop singles back in '84. By the time of the album, their new sound wasn't as jawdroppingly unexpected, and we could just relax and enjoy the hell out of it.
7. FASCINATING AIDA – Moscow, Moscow (from Sweet F.A., BBC) [video]
Seventh gig memory of 1985: a cabaret show by Fascinating Aida at the Lyric Hammersmith, the first of many times I'd see them live. The album that accompanied the show was actually the subject of a BBC documentary, one largely about how making a studio album was a bad idea for an act that feeds so much off audience reaction. This is possibly the only song on this compilation that's dated lyrically rather than musically, but Dillie Keane gives it her all, as she still does to this day.
8. KATE BUSH – Cloudbusting (from Hounds Of Love, EMI) [video]
No explanation necessary even now, I think.
9. STING – Children’s Crusade (from The Dream Of The Blue Turtles, A&M) [video]
Noodly sax solo alert! Actually, unlike the Tears For Fears track earlier, there's an actual song here - Sting, for all his occasional arseiness, could usually be relied on for that - and the solo by Branford Marsalis is the icing on what's already a pretty substantial cake. That jump to the present day in the final verse really doesn't work any more, though.
10. THE POGUES – The Parting Glass (personal live recording) [video]
Eighth and ninth gig memories of 1985: seeing the Pogues for the first time ever at Jobs For A Change, and then again at their Hammy Odeon Christmas show. In between the two, I gleefully devoured the Rum Sodomy & The Lash album and was eager for more. Still, it's curious to see that despite all the fine stuff on that record, my choice was a trad. arr. B-side recorded fuzzily at that Christmas gig. Maybe I just couldn't resist the lure of using it as the final song.
So, yeah, some of those are pretty inexplicable. Will 1986 be any better? Well, you'll find out soon.