Well, maybe. For one thing, I'd stopped pretending that all my home-taped cassettes were being released on a label called Bootleg Records, as you can see if you compare the picture on the left to the equivalent one for 1985. In fact, the documentation accompanying these cassettes is rather minimal - it's the only compilation this decade where I didn't write down the day it was recorded on tape. This leads me to suspect that I made it some time in early 1987, when matters such as the death of my mum were a bit of a distraction from such petty details.
But the other big thing to note is the sudden upsurge in political songs. I wouldn't say I was particularly politically engaged at this point in my life, but I had all the t-shirts. I went to the Clapham Common free gig for Artists United Against Apartheid wearing a Spitting Image shirt featuring the slogan 'If We All Spit Together We'll Drown The BASTARDS' (the last word in Frankie-sized giant type), and remember thinking that was a fairly radical thing to be doing. But looking back on the songs here, most of them (though not all) are at precisely that level of facile sloganising.
Enough of insulting me from 27 years ago - let's insult what he was listening to instead.
1. DAVID BOWIE – Absolute Beginners (from Absolute Beginners, Virgin) [video]
I watched Julien Temple's film last year for the first time in ages. Like 2001 (and there's a comparison you don't hear every day), these days Absolute Beginners is much more reminiscent of the period when it was made than the period of the story. These days, even if you didn't know about its troubled production history, you could still tell that it had one: it's a collage bolted together from anything Temple could get on film, with bits of brilliance pressed up hard against the utterly terrible. (Curiously, it's an approach that works well in Temple's latter-day career as a documentary maker.) Anyway, Bowie's lushly romantic main title theme counts as one of those bits of brilliance that will never age, even underneath a characteristic bit of Clanger/Winstanley production.
2. THE POGUES – A Rainy Night In Soho (from Poguetry In Motion, Stiff) [video]
The Pogues' third album was still a couple of years off: between 1985 and 1988, they chose instead to consolidate their reputation as a great live band (this was the year that I saw my first St Patrick's Day Pogues show, at the Hammersmith Palais), with the odd single to remind us how good these songs were. Soho was an early demonstration of Shane MacGowan's perfectly pitched slushy side, before the booze took him into oversentimentality (among other things). These days, it feels very much like a dry run for Christmas 1987, which we'll come back to soon, obviously.
3. BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE – Beyond The Pale (from No 10 Upping Street, CBS) [video]
These days, you'd have to admit that BAD only had one really great album in them, and everything after their debut was a futile attempt to try and rebottle that lightning. But I came to them late, so This Is Big Audio Dynamite doesn't make it onto these compilations, and unmemorable tracks from the followups do. Even from this album, I'd suggest that C'Mon Every Beatbox holds up better than this pile of meh.
4. THE COMMUNARDS – When The Walls Come Tumbling Down (from single So Cold The Night, London) [video]
Here's an odd thing. Like last year, my choice of track from the Communards is a B-side that never made it onto their official albums. But I don't recall buying this single. So where did I record it from? No idea. Still, the realisation that I preferred Jimmy and Richard's piano ballads to their more famous dancefloor stompers is something that it's apparently taken over a quarter of a century for me to cop on to.
5. THE ART OF NOISE – Instruments Of Darkness (from In Visible Silence, China) [video]
And the little bit of politics continues, with AoN taking on the might of the South African apartheid regime, and not really saying much about it other than 'PW Botha's voice sounds unpleasant'. After the anything-goes approach of their time on ZTT records, this was a much more straight-ahead incarnation of the band, but there's still the odd avant-garde flourish where you least expect it. Still, they were also responsible for one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable gigs I attended in 1986: see if you can spot me in the front stalls.
6. THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG – Ghosts Of Cable Street (from How Green Is The Valley, MCA) [video]
Yeah, it's all getting a bit Red Wedge now, innit? Plus, you've got that whole awkward idea of songs about thirties fascism being used as an allegory for what the Tories were doing at the time, meaning that when actual fascists started crawling out of the woodwork there was nowhere for political songwriters to go. Still, good tune.
7. ELVIS COSTELLO – I Want You (from Blood And Chocolate, Imp) [video]
This was the year that Elvis released two albums back-to-back – the lightly countrified King Of America, and the more Attractionsy Blood And Chocolate. There are plenty of great songs spread across them both, but this one is still creepy as hell nearly thirty years on, and can still be relied on to completely bum out the audience at any of the gigs where he uses this as the final encore.
8. THE REDSKINS – Lean On Me (from Neither Washington Nor Moscow, London) [video]
Speaking of bumming out the audience at a gig, 1986 was the year when I got a tube all the way to Kentish Town to see the Redskins play, only to discover at the venue that the show was cancelled because the band had just split up. (You wouldn’t get those sorts of surprises these days, what with the internet and all.) Anyway, it always pissed me off a little that I never saw X Moore and comrades play live, because their records always sounded just a little bit too restrained for comfort. This track had already been knocking around for three years as a single, but this reworking – false ending and all – is the closest to greatness they ever reached on vinyl. (Apart from a posthumous live recording which we’ll talk about some other time.)
1. THE THE – Infected (from Infected, Epic) [video]
God, I used to love The The. Musically, I think the Infected album still holds up, despite being riddled with eighties production clichés from the giant snare drum sound to the fake brass stabs. Lyrically? At this remove, it sounds a lot like the sort of stuff old people tell youngsters that they’ll grow out of eventually, what with the apocalyptic AIDS metaphors and cheeky use of the word ‘scrotum’. But overall, it’s time capsule pop that perfectly sums up its era for me without making me want to tear my ears off now.
2. COCTEAU TWINS – Lazy Calm (from Victorialand, 4AD) [video]
As ever, I’m looking at a Cocteau Twins title and totally unable to remember the song associated with it. The wibbly intro/outro with sax solo seems massive uncharacteristic of them, but once the vocal kicks in it’s very much business as usual. I still find it hard to believe nowadays that there was once a period in my life when I could tell one Twins song from another.
3. JOE STRUMMER – Love Kills (from Sid And Nancy: Love Kills, MCA) [video]
A rockin’ bit of soundtrackage from Strummer, although it’s interesting to note that Alex Cox (director of Sid And Nancy) didn’t approve – in his book X Films he complains that the production job made mincemeat out of Strummer’s lo-fi demo. Well, he’s wrong. If this run through my 80s compilations has done anything, it’s made me hypersensitive to instances of overproduction that a song doesn’t deserve, and this isn’t one of those.
4. ANDY WHITE – I Will Wait (from Rave On Andy White, Decca) [video]
White first turned up on my radar with an EP released on Stiff in 1985, featuring four tracks that would subsequently be re-recorded for this major label debut one year later. I kept up with him for a couple of records after, but sadly I think he basically had the one great album in him and that was more or less it. Anyway, this is the best track on that one great album, so at least we’ve got that.
5. HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT – The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman (from single Dickie Davies Eyes, Probe Plus) [video]
I’ve loved the Bickies ever since their debut album Back In The DHSS in 1985 – I have a disturbing memory of taking an American acquaintance to the first gig of theirs I ever saw, and having to explain the title to him in great detail. By the time their second album came out (Back Again In The DHSS) they’d already split up, leaving a few singles and Peel sessions in their wake. Happily, they saw sense and got back together again a couple of years later, establishing the when-we-can-be-arsed release schedule we still expect from them two decades on. It’s nice that this particular song is so characteristically cheerful, even Dean Friedman likes it.
6. RORY McLEOD – Criminals Of Hunger (from Angry Love, Forward Sounds) [video]
There was a Radio 4 series called The Cabaret Upstairs, a showcase of alternative cabaret acts recorded, counter-intuitively, at London’s most famous cabaret basement (the Comedy Store). I went to a recording of one of the shows, and McLeod’s songs there impressed me enough to track down his album. But why did I pick this one? It’s far too long at over eight minutes, and again uses that whole apocalyptic it’s-like-Soweto-in-this-country-nowadays rhetoric that I’ve already complained about elsewhere on this page. The Wind Is Getting Stronger was the song he did on the radio show, which still sounds great, and is only half the length. Hey, 23-year-old me, size isn’t everything.
7. THE CHAMELEONS – Soul In Isolation (from Strange Times, Geffen) [video]
Having said that, here’s a seven-and-a-half minute song that’s even gloomier. (If you get to the end of side two of Strange Times, there’s even more of it hiding after the final track.) But I’ve always had a soft spot for the Chameleons’ particular brand of Mancunian gloom, and this is one of the best examples of it, which doesn’t appear to have been compromised by the move to a major label. And as was now traditional with the band, just before the end it morphs into an entirely different song, albeit one still using the chord sequence from the first one.
8. JERRY DAMMERS – Riot City (from Absolute Beginners, Virgin) [video]
Ooh! Cheating! That makes it two tracks from the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, how dare I? Well, at least it’s a very different proposition from Bowie’s title theme, with Dammers giving Steven Berkoff’s Mosley impersonation and subsequent West Side Storified race riot a much better backing than it really deserves. It’s a brilliant orchestration too, with even the jarring Fairlighty bits doing their bit to point up the horns. Dammers appears to have done precisely zero soundtrack work apart from this track, which is bizarre given that it’s as perfect a calling card for his skills as you could hope for. If nothing else, I’ve just spent several minutes playing enthusiastic air piano along to the bassline.
1. PETER GABRIEL – Red Rain (from So, Charisma) [video]
I'd need to go back and check this (and I probably won't), but I'm beginning to realise that the Peter Gabriel songs that make it onto these compilations are the ones where dynamics play an important part in their appeal. I was still working entirely off cassettes and vinyl in 1986, and CDs would be another couple of years away: but the opening crescendo (not to mention its mirror image at the end) are obviously built around the assumption that your audio equipment is ballsy enough to cope. Still, even on a cheap Walkman, the song works anyway.
2. SLY FOX – Let’s Go All The Way (single, Capitol) [video]
A big dumb dancey pop single: if anyone else still remembered it, this would have been a mainstay of School Disco nights in the late 90s. I vaguely remember a possibly-not-entirely-legal remix of this which did the obvious thing, given its dum-dum-BANG rhythm, of cross-breeding it with Queen's We Will Rock You. Wonder if it's still out there? Oh, yeah, I forgot, I have the internet, which in the last two weeks alone has delivered me forgotten eighties classics like David Smyth's re-arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon for three typewriters, and Mel Smith and mates performing Glompus van de Hloed's Tales From The Crypt. Anyway, here we are.
3. STING – I Burn For You (from Bring On The Night, A&M) [video]
I don't believe I ever saw Sting's concert movie Bring On The Night, but I have its soundtrack album. Inevitably, the focus is on old Sting songs, but this is a particularly old one: written for the soundtrack of Brimstone And Treacle, and given a bit of a polish in the arrangement so that the jazzers in his backing band had something to chew over. Still pretty enough to almost make you forget that in Brimstone, it accompanies the rape of a mentally handicapped child. Almost.
4. RUN DMC – Walk This Way (from Raising Hell, Def Jam) [video]
Well, everyone knows this one. It's generally accepted as one of the moments when hip-hop crossed over into the mainstream, and Raising Hell was certainly the first rap album I ever bought. Having only ever really heard 12" rap singles before, it surprised me at the time that it was packed with tight three minute songs - I assumed that rappers could only work in units of eight minutes at a time. Later this year I would also discover that rap gigs could be raggedy as hell, with sporadic moments of brilliance, as I saw Run DMC at Hammersmith Odeon. (They were somewhat overshadowed by their support act, as the Beastie Boys were at the height of their moral panic at the time. They even shut the bar, for God's sake.)
5. RED BOX – Leaders In Seventh Heaven (from The Circle And The Square, WEA) [video]
For those of you who are following these compilations in chronological order, we finally get to the year of Red Box's debut album, after two previous years of their early singles making appearances here. Once The Circle And The Square came out, their already limited impact on the public consciousness would dwindle to zero. That's a shame - they always had a good ear for a tune and an overblown choral arrangement. (Here's a fun fact for you: among the members of that overblown choir was part-time muso and full-time actor Anthony Head.)
6. NEW ORDER – All Day Long (from Brotherhood, Factory) [video]
For most of their existence, New Order could do no wrong for me. (Until Gillian Gilbert left them, and then they could do no right, a theory I expand on in the 1993 compilation.) All Day Long isn't one of their more spectacular tunes, and it threatens to turn into Whistle While You Work a couple of times, but it has all the elements of what they did best - a low-key vocal, a quietly building chord sequence, and a characteristically lovely Peter Hook bass riff.
7. 3 MUSTAPHAS 3 – Starehe Mustapha (from single Si Vous Passez Par La, Globe Style) [video]
I know vinyl's making a bit of a comeback as I write this, and it's interesting to see it being touted as a luxury product. Back in the mid 80s, as the industry was introducing the idea of CDs, it struck me that the quality of vinyl pressing was getting steadily worse, as if they were trying to persuade us we'd be happier with a medium capable of being covered in jam. (Ask your parents, kids.) Case in point: I must have taken half a dozen copies of Si Vous Passez Par La back to Our Price before I found one that played without skipping. It wasn't the A-side that was the problem, though - it was the extended instrumental piece on the flip, one which the Mustaphas characteristically described as "a three piece suite for the dancing." The rhythm's tricky enough already without a jumpy stylus adding to it. (Nowadays, you can get it digitally on the band's Friends, Fiends And Fronds odds 'n' sods compilation.)
8. THE SMITHS – I Know It’s Over (from The Queen Is Dead, Rough Trade) [video]
This was the year that I saw the Smiths live for the one and only time. (It was at the London gig that subsequently became the Rank live album, which we'll cover in a future POTY.) This was already a classic song for me, and Morrissey's performance of it at the Kilburn National took it one stage further, as he attempted to take off his jumper during the climax, failed, and walked off the stage with it still tangled around this head. People forget he used to be good with jokes: it's a shame he lost that.
1. PET SHOP BOYS – Paninaro (from Disco, Parlophone) [video]
This was precisely the point at which the PSBs transformed from a chart band I was aware of to something much more interesting. Specifically, it was their performance of this B-side on The Tube, which inspired me to pick up Disco, a collection of extended mixes. And I've bought every album of theirs ever since. (You've heard this bloody marvellous thing by now, surely?) Anyway: you wouldn't want Chris Lowe to do the lead vocals on everything, but his appearance on this track is pretty much perfect.
2. ENNIO MORRICONE – On Earth As It Is In Heaven (from The Mission, Virgin) [video]
Not counting the pair of numbers from Absolute Beginners, this compilation's surprisingly light on soundtracks. I believe this was the year that Tower Records opened their enormostore in central London, and their film music department was a wondrous place where I spent far too much time looking at expensive imports and occasionally buying them. By comparison, a tune by Morricone from a hit movie is a much more mainstream affair. Curiously, all I can remember of The Mission itself is its astonishing opening sequence, and its very final frames - did Roland Joffe and Ray McNally create the first ever example of those post-credits stings that most movies have nowadays? (It might be a close tie with Ferris Bueller's Day Off.)
4. BLACK BRITAIN – Ain’t No Rockin’ In A Police State (single, 10) [video]
Wah wah fascism etc. You get the idea by now. Interesting to compare this with the record it blatantly steals its title from: How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise? by Brother D And The Collective Effort, which I'd first heard on an NME compilation tape a couple of years earlier. Interesting to note that the Brother D record actually proposes possible solutions to the problems it depicts ("Agitate! Educate! Organise!"), rather than just whining about how bad they are.
5. NICK CAVE – By The Time I Get To Phoenix (from Kicking Against The Pricks, Mute) [video]
It took a couple of years for me to latch onto Nick Cave properly, mainly through compilation albums or (in this case) a song taped off the radio. And, of course, it's not even one of his songs. He does a good job with it, though.
6. BILLY BRAGG – Levi Stubbs’ Tears (single, Go! Discs) [video]
One of Bragg's best tunes, in its second best version. (No, you'll have to wait a bit before I follow up on that.)
7. TROUBLE FUNK – It’s In The Mix (Don’t Touch That Stereo) (from Live In London, Island) [video]
Earlier this year - and I mean 2013 now, not 1986 - Trouble Funk came back to London for the first time in a quarter of a century. Sure, like most bands doing what we tacitly assume is the Pension Tour, they're down to a couple of original members, plus some youngsters who do all the donkey work: and the jams only go on for several minutes without a break, not the couple of hours they used to manage in their heyday. Despite all that, it's good to be reminded what a top-notch live band sounds like. I have a few of Trouble Funk's live recordings, but this 1986 London set - criminally never released on CD - is an all-time best, with this track completely tearing the roof off the sucka at the climax.
8. MARIANNE FAITHFULL – The Hawk (El Gavilan) (from Trouble In Mind, Island) [video]
I mentioned the Tower Records soundtrack department earlier, and my tendency to buy expensive imports in there: well, here's one of them. Alan Rudolph's sorta sci-fi romance was one of my favourite movies of the year, with Mark Isham's blend of brass and electronics a large part of its appeal. And then at the end Marianne Faithfull wraps it all up with a Kris Kristofferson song of all things, and you realise that's twenty quid or so's worth of import vinyl you have to buy now.
Maturity? Well, maybe I wouldn't go that far, but I think there's some sort of progression starting to become apparent. Let's see if it continues in 1987...