In this record box, Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins takes us on a personal journey back into some of the most vital as well as overlooked records of the 1980's.
The Birthday Party came to London from Melbourne because of their love for bands like The Pop Group, but they were searching for a scene that didn't really exist, except inside their own vast imagination. Whilst in London they played several wild shows and released some of the most intense music of the period, described by Simon Reynolds as "three dimensionally vivid and visual", they took the existing ideas of post punk even further towards their limits. "The Friend Catcher" was recorded whilst still in Melbourne and was a favourite of Ivo Watts-Russell, the head of 4AD at the time, who signed the band the moment he realised he could release it. As he recalls in Martin Aston's book "Facing The Other Way", "The band came into the shop with the tapes and a grainy black and white photo of a cake they'd bought with a candle in, and that was the artwork".
Cabaret Voltaire were an experimental trio who pioneered the use of samples from TV and Film, inspired by Brian Eno's approach to music as a "non musician", their innovative performance art became integral to the development of industrial music and is considered widely influential within electronic music as a whole. "Second's Too Late" was released on Rough Trade in 1980 and it was received well, which exemplifies the effect that punk had on alternative culture at the time, as performances before punk broke were greeted with hostility and even violence.
"Sueperman's Big Sister" was released as a single to promote Ian Dury and the Blockheads second studio album "Laughter", and deliberately spelt superman wrong to avoid any legal issues. Notably, it was the 100th single to be released by the highly influential label Stiff Records. Dury wrote the song with Wilko Johnson, the strings were written and arranged by Ivor Raymonde who wrote for Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers amongst others.
Dif Juz were an instrumental post punk band formed by brothers Dave and Alan Curtis, along with Gary Bromley and Richie Thomas, although genre boundaries didn't really apply to them. "Huremics" was the first of two EP's to be released in 1981 on 4AD Records, it was recorded at Spaceworld Studios in Cambridge and although they didn't achieve commercial success, they became highly influential within the stable of bands on 4AD.
"Vibrating Air" was recorded at Blackwing studios with John Fryer, who engineered many 4AD releases, and along with Huremics which was released earlier in 1981, it was considered to be vastly "ahead of it's time" and Dif Juz were one of the most underrated bands of the era. Combining rock, dub, ambient and post punk music the group laid the innovative foundations for what would eventually become post rock. The band also became Lee "Scratch" Perry's backing band for a time, recording an unreleased album with him, such was their unclassifiable skill.
Despite having the songs and the star power of singer Billy Mackenzie, The Associates ended up becoming the "also rans" of early 80's pop. "White Car In Germany" is widely regarded as a high point of their career and was one of a string of six singles they released in 1981. The band's plan was simple and it worked, they took money from interested record companies to record demos, then they recorded cheaply, working at night at Morgan Studios. They gave old songs to the paying party, sold the new songs to Situation 2, and lived a relatively lavish lifestyle. It was a scam of sorts, but it was legal, and those drug fuelled sessions resulted in music that redefined boundaries with it's extravagance and experimentation.
Released on Situation 2 in June of 1981, "Storage Case" was the band's debut single and only release to feature singer Angela Jaeger, it was made single of the week in the NME and Sounds. The band released three singles before disbanding, with bass player Simon Raymonde going on to join Cocteau Twins.
A Certain Ratio were likened to Joy Division by many, and were somewhat infamously labelled as being "shit" by Ian Curtis himself, but for a time they were seen as Factory Records biggest hope of making an impact. This double 12" produced by Martin Hammet, shows the band adding the looser elements of funk and dance to their trademark post punk sound, which set them apart from the crowd but ultimately didn't bring them the commercial success they craved.
"Faithless" reached number 56 in the UK charts in 1982, it was the second single from Scritti Politti's debut album "Songs To Remember" following the success of previous single The Sweetest Girl. It was the beginning of the band's move away from leftist post punk to attempt, and briefly succeed, at mainstream pop success.
"Revenge Of The Underdog" was the second album by On-U Sound's reggae collective The Singers and Players, who were brought together by label owner Adrian Sherwood to promote the individual artists, but also to increase the profile of the label. They were considered to be a dub supergroup, releasing five albums during the 80's with an ever changing cast. This album features amongst others, Prince Far I and Bim Sherman, alongside musicians from the Slits, PIL, and Roots Radics.
Although it has Grandmaster Flash's name on the sleeve, neither Flash or most of his furious five had that much to do with what became one of their biggest hits. "The Message" was created by Duke Bootee and Melle Mel, although the whole group did perform the skit at the end of the song. At the time rap music really only served to soundtrack house parties and downtown nightclubs in New York, so when the rest of the group heard the song they thought the downtempo beat lacked energy, and more importantly, that people went to parties to forget about the subjects Mel rapped about in the song. However, "The Message" changed all that, transforming the genre into a vehicle for social change, providing an outlet and a voice to those who were previously voiceless. Which resulted in moving the MC to the centre of it all, the success of "The Message" meant that it was no longer enough just to speak, now you had to say something, allowing musicians the opportunity to energise crowds with their words as well as their beats. It was only the fifth rap single to become a gold record and its influence is ubiquitous, not just in hip hop, but across American popular culture.
Written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer, sung by Robert Wyatt, "Shipbuilding" is a poignant and powerful song about the human effects of war that uses small examples to discuss big ideas. It's the story of a community allowed to thrive by the shipbuilding industry, but the ships they built are used to go off to war, and they take with them the sons of those kept in work, sons who don't come back home. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest political songs of that era, Wyatt's delicate voice combining with Costello's lyrics to embody the melancholic struggle of the powerless.
The seeds for "Blue Monday" began some twelve months before it's release with the song "Prime 586", the result of the band's experiments following a trip to New York, and the band's desire to negate the need for an encore by leaving programmed music playing as they left the stage. It was further fuelled by their growing obsession with the likes of Giorgio Moroder, and switching their drug of choice from weed to acid. The single marked the culture shift that was happening, a line in the sand that came to represent the infectious sense of hedonism that crept into the Manchester scene, that provided the spark to start the Hacienda and the next decade of music that would emerge from the city. "Blue Monday" sold over one million copies and is still the all time top selling 12". Although infamously the first pressing actually cost the band money, such was the production cost of Peter Saville's die cut sleeve design, which were delivered straight to the printer without anyone from the band or label approving them.
The third album by The Specials took over two years to make, which is where the title "In The Studio" came from, and was finally released in 1984. It was received comparatively poorly, failing to capitalise on the success of the "Free Nelson Mandela" single, which made the UK's top ten. The album was more overtly political than their previous material, with songs like "War Crimes" and "Racist Friend" typically uncompromising, not long after it's release Jerry Dammers split up the band to devote himself to political activism.
"Birthday" was number one in John's festive fifty in 1987, it was originally released in Iceland the year before as "Ammaeli" but the band re-recorded it in English for their debut album "Life's Too Short". The album sold over a million copies, propelled by this single, putting Iceland on the musical map for fans across the globe. Although these days The Sugarcubes are probably best known for launching the career of their singer, Bjork.
Spike Lee approached Public Enemy, fresh from their second album "It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back", and asked them to record an anthem for his forthcoming movie "Do The Right Thing", but even he was probably surprised by the venomous power of the anthem they presented him with. "Fight The Power" went on to sell over half a million copies and helped inspire a generation with it's rallying call. It became the epitome of Public Enemy's ideology and approach to sound, discordant layered samples over heavy beats, with Chuck D tearing down the icons of white America with his powerful poetry.
"She Bangs The Drum" was a top 40 hit in 1989 but as time has passed it has become regarded as one of the top indie anthems of all time. Produced by John Leckie, the song exemplified the overriding feeling of the age, full of optimism for the start of the 90's, or at least hopeful for the end of Thatcher's 80's. Ian Brown set the tone, singing "The past was yours but the future's mine", kickstarting the decade of Britpop which followed it. A decade which the band themselves, aside from a few key events, would largely miss out taking part in due to internal wrangling and legal battles.