If part of the function of these compilation tapes is to provide year-by-year documentation of the state of my subconscious, then 1984 is probably the big one for you amateur psychologists to focus on. At the start of the year I was living with my family in Manchester, and in the final stages of studying for a degree. By the end of the year, I'd got the degree, had started my first proper job, and was living in London in my first ever shared flat. (In fact, by the time I got around to committing these songs to tape - March 28th 1985 - I was actually living in my second ever shared flat, having discovered the hard way how absentee landlords work.)
So I'm sure it's just a coincidence that while all this was happening to me, some of the finest music ever composed in the history of the world was being released. At least, that's how it seemed to me at the time. Shall we see if it still holds up?
1. FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – Two Tribes (single, ZTT) [video]
The Annihilation Mix: the twelve inch that everyone bought, the only one that counts, the one that was basically the soundtrack of the summer of 1984 for me. Although there were plenty of others to choose from. My local pirate station KFM (based out of Stockport: Craig Cash was one of their DJs years before Royle Family fame) had their own variant, which was basically the Annihilation Mix with added samples from Patrick Allen’s Barratt Homes adverts. “Put your grandmother outside! Tag her first for identification purposes! We guarantee you a mortgage!” That sort of thing.
2. BRONSKI BEAT – It Ain’t Necessarily So (from The Age Of Consent, Forbidden Fruit) [video]
Kate Robbins – probably best known in the eighties as a voiceover artist on Spitting Image – recently tweeted the following: “If ever I need cheering up, I just remember that my name is an anagram of Bronski Beat.” I’m not going to write anything funnier than that, so I won’t bother trying. Small Town Boy probably holds up better three decades later, but I suspect that one hit me a little too close for comfort in the year that I left home myself.
3. COLOURBOX – Punch (single, 4AD) [video]
This one, I’m pretty sure, was a discovery I made through KFM, which was the main radio station I had chuntering in the background during the periods when I was failing to revise for my finals. Fairly standard electro fun for the time, but nice to hear it again.
4. MARK KNOPFLER – Joy (from Comfort And Joy, Vertigo) [video]
Yep, that man again. Still, at least it’s got some sort of pulse, unlike a lot of the work he was doing elsewhere around this time. Taken from the soundtrack of one of Bill Forsyth’s more underrated films – if I remember rightly, Comfort And Joy was one of the first movies I saw in London when I moved there.
5. RED BOX – Chenko (single, Cherry Red) [video]
Remember when bands used to build themselves up slowly, rather than spunk everything away in a short-lived album release schedule? Over the next couple of months, you’ll come to remember those days, as Red Box take a good two years between the release of their debut single and their debut album. Like a disturbing number of tracks on this tape, there are a bewildering number of different versions of this one available, and the one on the video sounds like the tidied-up album cut rather than the edgier single mix.
6. SCRITTI POLITTI – Absolute (single, Virgin) [video]
Well, this came as a bit of a surprise. Songs To Remember in 1982 led me to expect that Scritti were a particular sort of scruffy lo-fi band, not the chart-storming electropop monsters they revealed themselves to be in 1984. But damn, this still works.
7. ENNIO MORRICONE – Poverty (from Once Upon A Time In America, Mercury) [video]
Another movie soundtrack – mind you, during those first few months in London I hit the cinemas hard, and there were enough good films out there at the time to justify it. I’m not sure if Sergio Leone’s gangster epic would still push all the buttons for me that it did back then: I picked up the DVD several years ago but haven’t watched it since. But it has one of Morricone’s lushest scores, and this still sounds like a highlight.
8. SIMPLE MINDS – The Kick Inside Of Me (from Sparkle In The Rain, Virgin) [video]
Sometimes, I think I liked the sound Simple Minds made rather than their actual songs, a point that would be emphasised five years later when I attended a plodding gig of theirs in Edinburgh. So the albums of theirs I enjoy the most are the ones where guest producers bent them to their personal will. This is a Steve Lillywhite one. A few years later, I would find that I liked their Trevor Horn one. Apart from that, the only thing of theirs I like as a piece of music would appear to be the obscure 1981 b-side Theme For Great Cities, and even that’s more of an atmosphere than a song.
9. PREFAB SPROUT – Cruel (from Swoon, Kitchenware) [video]
Remember how many of 1983’s selections were driven by appearances on Channel 4’s The Tube? Well, I’m pretty sure this was another one. I certainly leapt on Swoon the day it was released, as I’ve leapt on all Paddy MacAloon’s work ever since. Though I suspect that in this case it was partly down to fancying Wendy Smith a bit, and being confused by the way that one of my careers advisors at university looked like her.
1. 23 SKIDOO – Language (single, Illuminated) [video]
23 Skidoo had two sample-heavy singles out around this period. Coup was partially constructed out of bits of my favourite film, Apocalypse Now, with looped yells of “GI fuck you” weaving in and out of it, and you know how much I like that sort of thing. But this had the edge in terms of a funky dance record: when your percussion section is partly comprised of Actual Bruce Lee, you can’t fail, can you?
2. U2 – A Sort Of Homecoming (from The Unforgettable Fire, Island) [video]
Being a former U2 fan’s a bit like being a lapsed Catholic, isn’t it? You can rationally sneer at it all now, but there’s a bit of you deep down that still remembers how you used to react when you heard them at their peak. I’d still insist that their fall was a good few albums away at this stage, where the songs could still be heard over the bombast.
3. PROPAGANDA – Dr. Mabuse (single, ZTT) [video]
Yes, Zang Tuum Tumb records are going to be seeing a lot of action on this compilation. After a quiet start in 1983, this was the year when the hype actually paid off in terms of unmissable records. Mabuse was the one time that Propaganda were actually produced by Trevor Horn – subsequently, engineer Stephen Lipson would take over – and he took an already dramatic song and sent it screaming over the top. It’s almost hilarious how cheap the video looks when compared to the ultra-high gloss of the music.
4. RED GUITARS – Steeltown (single, Self Drive) [video]
If people remember Red Guitars for anything at all, it’s for their 1983 single Good Technology, which duly appeared on the previous year’s compilation. I’m not quite sure why this largely-ignored followup made such an impression on me. It’s okay, I guess, but I wouldn’t go much further than that.
5. ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK – (The Angels Keep Turning) The Wheels Of The Universe (from Junk Culture, Virgin) [video]
This was a track I taped off the radio (KFM again, I think). Junk Culture wasn’t an album I owned, and technically this wasn't a track on the album anyway – it’s from a single that was packaged along with the first few thousand copies. OMD have always had a flair for the unexpected bit of weird creepiness, and I’m surprised that in 29 years nobody’s got around to using this on a horror movie soundtrack. Having said that, all those keyboard settings have 1984 written all over them, so I suspect its time is long past.
6. THE FLYING LIZARDS – Sex Machine (from Top Ten, Statik) [video]
I’m ashamed to say that I knew this version long before I even heard the James Brown one, thus meaning that there was a whole layer of amusement that I completely missed out on for a few years. Sure, the Lizards were a one-trick pony, but I still like the sound of things being banged enough for this to still be entertaining.
7. ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN – The Killing Moon (from Ocean Rain, Korova) [video]
It’s lovely. Still lovely. Not much more to be said apart from that. Although “the greatest album ever made,” as used in the adverts, is fucking pushing it.
8. JOE JACKSON – Be My Number Two (from Body And Soul, A&M) [video]
Expect a steady run of Joe Jackson tracks for the next few years, starting here. Body And Soul was Jackson going all old fogeyish before it had become fashionable. In an age when records were constructed using tons of studio technology – well, just look at the other stuff on this page – he wanted a bunch of people all playing at the same time in a big echoey room. It’s an approach that completely justifies itself when the drums come in towards the end of this song.
9. THE ALARM – Blaze Of Glory (from Declaration, I.R.S.) [video]
Oh, dear. If I wasn’t listening to electronic artificial pop in 1984, the main alternative appears to have been people with guitars, passion and nothing else. “It’s funny how they shoot you down when your hands are held up high” – well, some people are asking for it, frankly.
1. THE ART OF NOISE – Beatbox (Diversion One) (from Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise, ZTT) [video]
To quote from my review of Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock (an album largely made by the techies and musoes who went on to form AON), “I spent a significant portion of the mid-eighties pretentiously insisting that The Art Of Noise's Beatbox (Diversion One) was a pinnacle of recorded sound that would never be surpassed.” So, there’s that. Still enjoyable after all these years, though.
2. INDIANS IN MOSCOW – Naughty Miranda (single, Kennick) [video]
This was another one of those songs that I picked up from watching The Tube - it's where the video clip comes from, but you probably could work that out for yourselves. Lead singer Adele Nozedar, one of the earliest examples of the look we now think of as the ‘hot mess’, has had a wildly varied career (or series of them) since this record came out.
3. TEARS FOR FEARS – Mothers Talk (single, Mercury) [video]
I suspect that Tears For Fears, like Simple Minds, were one of those bands where I enjoyed the production more than the songs. Well, it’s a pretty good drum sound on this one, isn’t it?
4. YIP YIP COYOTE – Dream Of The West (single, I.R.S.) [video]
Shit! Cowpunks! Or what passed for them in the mainstream while the real thing was playing in the back rooms of London pubs, anyway. Amazingly, Yip Yip Coyote still have a MySpace page, although they haven’t logged into it since July 2011.
5. MIKE OLDFIELD – Etude (from The Killing Fields, Virgin) [video]
Or The Title Music From Jack Hargreaves’ Out Of Town, as those of us of a certain age thought of it. It’s actually based on Recuerdos de la Alhambra, composed by Francisco Tárrega: Oldfield made a nice job of re-arranging it for the end titles of The Killing Fields. He’ll never get back to the raw power of something like Ommadawn – I suspect he had all that anger psychoanalysed out of him far too early – but I still have a soft spot for his work regardless.
6. THE WEATHER GIRLS – It’s Raining Men (single, CBS) [video]
An unapologetic disco classic, originally released in 1982, but I don’t think it made much of a splash in the UK until this 1984 re-release. Accept no imitations. That means you, Ginger.
7. LLOYD COLE & THE COMMOTIONS – Forest Fire (from Rattlesnakes, Polydor) [video]
Expect to see Lloyd and the boys around here for the next few years. There were a small clump of people who released albums around the time I made the big move down south – Frankie, Art Of Noise, and this lot – and they’ll be an integral part of my DNA forever as a result, as I assembled a small collection of cassettes in my first flat.
8. NEW ORDER – Lonesome Tonight (from single Thieves Like Us, Factory) [video]
For all the tricksy electronics that they’d become associated with as a result of Blue Monday, this B-side shows New Order at their finest. Nothing particularly complex in the arrangement, just guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and voice and a simple chord sequence. But it’s still magical nonetheless.
9. MIKE HARDING – The Accrington Pals (from Bombers’ Moon, Moonraker) [video]
The version on the album uses a brass band, which is maybe pushing buttons a little too obviously in a song about northern soldiers losing their lives in the First World War. I’m pretty sure that when I first heard Harding do this song, it was just like this video – performed live with just a keyboard as accompaniment. Harding still occasionally ventures onto the touring circuit, but hasn’t been near London for decades, and that’s a shame. His online Folk Show is a wonderful use of his time, true, but I miss hearing his own songs.
1. 3 MUSTAPHAS 3 - Introduction / Schnabbelleh Freilach Part 2 (John Peel session, BBC Radio 1) [video]
The whole concept of ‘world music’ was still a few years away in 1984, while we waited for Paul Simon to discover Africa. But 3 Mustaphas 3 - a bunch of English musicians who chose to pretend that they came from Szegerely in the Balkans - took the title at face value, smashing together musical styles from all over the globe to see what worked and what didn’t. The John Peel show introduced me to them while I was still in Manchester: it would be a year or two before I got to appreciate them properly on vinyl and in the flesh.
2. THOMAS DOLBY – I Scare Myself (single, Parlophone) [video]
The whole idea of production style taking over from musical substance is a theme that seems to be prevalent in this year’s selections, isn’t it? Thomas Dolby’s choice of stage surname left you in no doubt as to which side of the line he fell on, and it’s telling that my favourite of all the songs he ever released is a cover of an old Dan Hicks tune.
3. THE SMITHS – Still Ill (from The Smiths, Rough Trade) [video]
The thing I always found hard to explain to people, especially once I’d moved to London, was that the Smiths were funny. My prime example was usually Nowhere Fast, a song that’s basically more or less entirely made up of one-line gags: but this one runs it a close second. “There are brighter sides to life, and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often” has a perfect comic rhythm to it. It’s probably the biggest thing that Morrissey has lost over the years, with his marbles coming a very close second.
4. ELVIS COSTELLO – The Comedians (from Goodbye Cruel World, F-Beat) [video]
“Congratulations! You’ve just purchased our worst album,” said Costello in the sleevenotes he wrote for Goodbye Cruel World’s 1995 re-release. Oh, it’s not that bad really. He’s right that the Langer/Winstanley production overwhelms the songs sometimes, but the songs are still there underneath, and The Comedians is strong enough to shine through pretty much anything. Alan Moore certainly thought so, using this track as the hook for issue 2 of Watchmen.
5. BILLY BRAGG – St Swithin’s Day (from Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, Go! Discs) [video]
No risk of this song getting lost under a cluttered production job: for his second album it was largely Bragg, his guitar and his voice, with just the odd guest instrument here and there. I’m not one of those purists who insists all Bragg’s music should be solo, but it’s nice to reminded of what he can do on his own every so often.
6. GEORGE KRANZ – Din Daa Daa (Trommeltanz) (single, 4th And Broadway) [video]
Oh, this is just daft, and magnificently so. It’s interesting that when I was trying to track down this song on YouTube, I kept running into a series of US remixes that basically ditched the opening two minutes, which for me are its whole bloody point. Once it’s got properly going, it’s fine, but it’s the buildup that gives the track its place on here.
7. COCTEAU TWINS – Donimo (from Treasure, 4AD) [video]
Advance warning: there’s going to be a lot of Cocteau Twins coming up over the next few years. And looking at all the titles that are going to be appearing on future tapes, it strikes me that I can barely remember what half of them sound like. This one – the final track from the Treasure album – is, however, still stuck fast in my memory, mainly thanks to it having a simple structure of a Quiet Bit followed by a Loud Bit.
8. SHANNON – Give Me Tonight (single, Club) [video]
At the end of 2005, I was made redundant from the job that inspired my move to London back in the summer of 1984. (This is me whingeing about it at the time.) During a record shopping trip shortly after the shitcanning, I ended up with three albums: Madonna's Confessions On A Dance Floor, and reissues of Queen's A Night At The Opera and Elton John's Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy. The Belated Birthday Girl expressed concern at this point that losing my job might have turned me a bit gay. Mind you, based on the presence of the Weather Girls and Shannon on this compilation, it looks like I was a bit gay when I started the job too. I insist that for Give Me Tonight, you have to hear the 12" version or nothing at all, because the full-length Fairlight breakdown in the middle is the single most eighties-sounding thing ever recorded. Jump to 3'30'' on the video if you don't believe me.
9. AZTEC CAMERA – Knife (from Knife, WEA) [video]
Noooo! Mark Knopfler again! Roddy Frame and crew take the closing track honours for the second year in a row, but in the time between High Land Hard Rain and Knife he'd got himself a major label deal and a star producer to match. In the latter role, Knopfler makes everything sound technically perfect, as you'd expect. But technical perfection wasn't what you bought Aztec Camera records for. (It wasn't what you bought Scritti Politti records for either, but Green Gartside turned out to be more persuasive on that score.) Anyway, this is pretty but soporific and far too long: the perfect blueprint for Knopfler's Brothers In Arms the following year. Frame, at least, would recover from it.
So that was 1984. In musical terms, living in the capital hadn't had much impact on me as yet: I was spending much more time in cinemas than I was in concert halls. But that was all about to change, as you'll see when we look at Pick Of The Year 1985...