As you’ve seen from the previous articles in this series, between 1982 and 1989 I created an annual series of compilation tapes, gathering together three hours or so of my favourite songs from the year just passed. You’ve probably gathered by now that a lot of effort went into these. I refer you to what I said in the context of the 1990 London Film Festival: “Yes, you'd be right: I wasn't getting any at the time, since you ask. And then, suddenly, in the autumn of 1990, I was.”
Apparently back then I was so good at sex that I didn't have time to do anything else. So my LFF attendance record dropped off dramatically compared with the previous year, and I never got around to making a compilation for Christmas 1990. One year later, things had calmed down a bit, but I'd lost the momentum, hence no Pick Of The Year for 1991 or 1992 either. It wasn't until 1993 that a pub conversation with Lou drove me back to the tape decks to restart the series, which has carried on uninterrupted ever since.
Jump forward to 2011. I'd spent the past year assembling huge chunks of this website into a series of generally-ignored books, focussing on the festival reviews and the travel articles. It struck me that the POTY compilations would be an ideal subject for another volume, but there were two problems. Firstly, I hadn't got around to writing up the details of the cassettes I'd made between 1982 and 1989: but as you can see, those are covered now. The more fundamental problem was that I hadn't made any compilations at all for 1990-1992.
So on one evening in 2011 - I feel I should be able to tell you the date, but I can't, sorry - I pulled out all of the records in my collection that were released between 1990 and 1992, and made a series of snap decisions that resulted in three 80-minute CD compilations for those years. Obviously, these were compiled in very different circumstances from all the other POTYs I've written about: they're not a snapshot of my mental state at the time the records came out, and are inevitably coloured by two decades of hindsight. I've tried to limit the selections to songs that I think meant the most to me at the time, but I know for a fact that a couple of these only really had an impact in the years to follow. Still: they're the best we've got in the circumstances.
1. PET SHOP BOYS – Being Boring (from Behaviour, Parlophone) [video]
No surprises opening with this one, I guess – the PSBs have been a fixture on these compilations for almost as long as the band has been going. (Spoiler alert: they’ll probably be on POTY 2013 as well.) It appears to have been a while since I last listened to the album version of this track, though, as that extended intro took me a little by surprise. Once the song properly kicks off, the combination of wistful nostalgia and propulsive rhythm makes this possibly one of the best things they’ve ever done.
2. HOODLUM PRIEST – Rock Drill (from Heart Of Darkness, ZTT) [video]
This is definitely cheating: I know I didn't hear this track until a couple of years after it was released. I'd read about it in the music papers, because a rock/dance hybrid sampling all the sweariest dialogue from Robocop is just the sort of thing that the NME would have been all over in 1990. But I wasn't anything like as interested in the output of ZTT Records as I had been in their mid-80s heyday. It was eventually fellow label obsessive Lou who finally passed me a copy of the record, and it pretty much lives up to expectations. If they could have somehow squeezed in the line "bitches, leave" in there as well, it would have been perfect.
3. THE WATERBOYS – A Man Is In Love (from Room To Roam, Ensign) [video]
For reasons I still can't quite fathom, POTY 1988 has no reference whatsover to Fisherman's Blues, regarded by more or less everyone as the Waterboys' finest hour. The not-nearly-as-good followup is very much Fisherman's Blues II, taking the folk-rock template that Mike Scott built and not really doing much new with it. But this song tickled me enormously at the time, probably because of the soppy mood I was in for one reason or another. The Waterboys were also responsible for one of my favourite gigs of the year: just a couple of weeks after the release of Room To Roam, they hit the road without telling people in advance that they'd ditched the folk and become a full-throttle rock band. When they walked out in front of a crowd expecting diddly-diddly music and launched straight into the fastest, loudest version of Be My Enemy I've ever heard them do, it was a sight to behold.
4. ENGLANDNEWORDER – World In Motion (single, Factory) [video]
The England World Cup Squad's collaboration with New Order was one of the inescapable songs of the summer of 1990, and one I associate closely with the birth of my oldest nephew. At one stage, when it looked like England actually had a chance of winning the World Cup, I had a horrible feeling that the poor lad would end up being named after the entire team. Well, that didn't happen - either the naming, or the cup win. But this still remains one of the best football tie-in songs ever made, if only for the coded references to sodomy in John Barnes' rap.
5. THE SUNDAYS – Here’s Where The Story Ends (from Reading, Writing And Arithmetic, Rough Trade) [video]
Jangly guitars and girly vocals performed by someone with nice hair: The Sundays could only really have existed in the late 80s or early 90s. It's easily been a good couple of decades since I last heard this song, and it's nice to discover that it still holds up. I still have their second album somewhere, and I'm not entirely sure if I've ever played it at all.
6. COCTEAU TWINS – Heaven Or Las Vegas (from Heaven Or Las Vegas, 4AD) [video]
Once again, another Cocteau Twins song that sounds like all the other Cocteau Twins songs: in fact, when I heard the intro of this, I half-wondered if I'd put on Aikea-Guinea from the 1985 tape by mistake. This was their last album with 4AD before moving on, and you could cynically view this as the start of a move in the vague direction of the mainstream. There's a recognisable verse-chorus structure, and you can even make out some of Liz Fraser's lyrics - well, the title, at least.
7. MARY COUGHLAN – A Leaf From A Tree (from Uncertain Pleasures, EastWest) [video]
Speaking of moving into the mainstream, Mary Coughlan's third album looked at the time like her label desperately trying to push her into a conventional pop career, getting in Fairground Attraction's Mark Nevin and all manner of big session musos to contribute. It didn't get quite the attention everyone was hoping for, but this is a bunch of fine songs, beautifully sung, if possibly a little too slickly produced for its own good. This Nevin composition is probably the best of the lot.
8. KIRSTY MACCOLL AND THE POGUES – Miss Otis Regrets / Just One Of Those Things (from Red Hot And Blue, Chrysalis) [video]
Kirsty and the Pogues were perceived as an item after the monster success of Fairytale Of New York, so it makes sense that they were asked to collaborate on this charity album of Cole Porter covers to raise money for AIDS charities. Very much a track of two halves, there's an enjoyable contrast between MacColl's sweet handling of the grim tale of Miss Otis, and MacGowan's guttural growls of regret over One Of Those Things. They're both textures that the Pogues excelled at, and it's good to have them both available in the same place.
9. PREFAB SPROUT – Jesse James Symphony/Jesse James Bolero (from Jordan: The Comeback, Kitchenware) [video]
Every so often, I have to consider whether Steve McQueen or Jordan: The Comeback is the best ever Prefab Sprout album. I think Steve McQueen tends to win on most occasions: it's a record that's closely tied to my early years of living in London, and I've played it more often. But once in a while I come back to Jordan, and the sheer ambition and scale of the record takes my breath away. The Jesse James diptych, as is usually the case with these things, is most notable for the glorious transition between the first part and the second: but either side of that you also have the first inklings of Paddy McAloon's future obsession with the romantic image of the Wild West.
10. THE BELOVED – Up Up And Away (from Happiness, WEA) [video]
I was still more theoretically interested in dance records than actually dancing at this point in my life, regrettably. But this still sounds like a perfect little parcel of joy some twenty-three years later, and I'm pretty sure that's how it sounded to me at the time, too. Yes, it's white boy indie disco: you've found my demographic, sorry.
11. FATIMA MANSIONS – Blues For Ceausescu (from Indie Top 20 Vol IX, Beechwood) [video]
I was still buying Beechwood's Indie Top 20 collections as soon as they came out, much in the same way that the pop kids were buying Now That's What I Call Music albums. It made for a quick easy way of getting hold of recent interesting singles, and once in a while the odd hidden gem would suddenly appear. Like this glorious burst of rage from Cathal Coughlan, which I remember causing ructions when I put it on at a party once and a Romanian guest got the wrong end of the stick. I had a recent surprise when I found the Mansions' 1990 album Viva Dead Ponies in The Belated Birthday Girl's collection, and discovered that this single isn't on there at all, despite being listed on the sleeve: it's only on the US edition, apparently.
12. JOLENE JOWETT – From A Distance (from Your Cheatin’ Heart, BBC) [video]
Who would have thought that the band with the biggest influence on my 1990 compilation would be Fairground Attraction? Aside from Mark Nevin's contribution to the Mary Coughlan track, we also have Jolene Jowett, a character in John Byrne's telly series Your Cheatin' Heart, played by none other than FA's Eddi Reader. Everyone remembers Byrne's big break with Tutti Frutti, but nobody remembers his follow-up Your Cheatin' Heart, a comic drama set in the murky underworld of Scotland's country and western scene. That's a shame, because it was all kinds of terrific: hopefully a recent revival at the Dunoon Film Festival might spark off interest in it again. In the meantime, here's Eddi Reader from the soundtrack, covering a song best known for its versions by Bette Midler and Cliff Richard, and beating both of them hands down.
13. P-FUNK ALL STARS – Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) (from Live At The Beverly Theater, Westbound) [video]
I used to have a superpower. It was this: if I heard an album I liked in a public place but didn't know what it was, I could make a stab at working out some track titles from what I could hear of the lyrics, and then walk into a record shop and look at the back of every album in the racks until I found the right one. Actually, maybe you should replace that first sentence with "I used to be dangerously anal." These days, you could pull off the same trick with an internet-enabled smartphone using Shazam or (if you're hardcore) Google. But in 1990, I was really pleased with myself for hearing this slab of primo funk playing in between films at the Scala cinema, and being able to identify the album within a couple of weeks. Saying 'George Clinton knows how to play funk' is the very definition of redundancy, but damn just listen to how those last five minutes cook.
14. CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE – Rent (from Indie Top CD Vol X, Beechwood) [video]
There's a certain symmetry in ending with this, I'm sure you'll agree. Carter frequently held themselves up as some sort of Happy Shopper Pet Shop Boys, so it was inevitable that one day they'd try out a grunged-up PSB cover for a b-side (subsequently gathered onto yet another Indie Top 20 album). If only the collaboration had gone both ways! The idea of Neil Tennant singing Sheriff Fatman is irresistable, surely?
So, I guess you can see where this is heading. Coming soon we have the compilations for 1991 and 1992: and once that happens, the retrospective run of 1982-1992 meets the already-documented run of 1993-now, and we have a continuous sequence of over thirty years of annual music selections. And then, possibly, the book? Well, we'll see.