Hits On Fire (Ronco, 1983)

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Review
“What once was pleasure now’s pain for us all
In my heart only shadows fall
I once stood proud now I feel so small
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry
The long hot summer just passed me by”

The Style Council recorded their third single, Long Hot Summer, between 12 and 17 June 1983 in the Grande Armée Studios in Paris. It was released on 8 August with its promotional video filmed on the River Cam in Cambridge. By coincidence the British and Irish summer of 1983, most notably July, turned out to be one of the hottest on record – something that would not have been known at the time the song was written and recorded.

The beginning of July saw Ronco release a new compilation – Hits On Fire – with the tagline of “20 scorching tracks”. Two of these had already appeared on K-Tel’s Chart Stars, released the previous month: Bananarama – Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, Heaven 17 – Temptation. Hits On Fire also sees the first appearance of yet another song that would end up on Now That’s What I Call Music – Mike Oldfield’s ace Moonlight Shadow, a tune that is forever associated with strawberry picking at the O’Higgins farm in The Rower. There was a radio at the top of the drills which blasted out what’s now known as 2FM. It was truly sunshine pop for the ages. Maggie Reilly sang lead vocal on Moonlight Shadow and it reached #1 in several European countries. The music video was directed by Keith McMillan and shot on location at Hatfield House and Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire.

Hits On Fire begins with what Robert Christgau described as “a wrenching triumph” – Tom Robinson’s enigmatic and magical War Baby, a perfect late night number. Next comes the Eurythmics March smash, their signature song Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), a synth pop standard. There’s two Aussie treats in store: Flash and The Pan’s moody ‘n’ melodic Waiting For A Train is the first, a terrific tune. And a little bit further on, Men At Work’s downbeat Overkill, an ode to urban isolation and the stress of modern life. In the midst, Blancmange’s second wave, the brilliantly relentless Blind Vision. A first taste from the upcoming Mange Tout. Closer: Bucks Fizz’s uplifting Run For Your Life. Bring Me Closer #2: Into paradise with Altered Images as Clare Grogan’s vocal kicks in.

Listen, the second LP from A Flock Of Seagulls emerged in May 1983, some six months after the stirring Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You). Transfer Affection was its third 45, a pleasant slice of mid-paced synth pop that’s faded early. It leads into the closing track on side 1, Toto’s I Won’t Hold You Back. The ballad that barely scraped the top 40. It seemed to be much more popular over here and got regular airplay, reaching #11 in the Irish charts. Sticking on a romantic theme, Booker Newberry III kicks off the second half with his smooth disco jam, Love Town. Some Brit funk next – Freeez’s IOU – which was written, produced and mixed by Arthur Baker. It went all the way to #2. Breakers’ revenge.

Hot Chocolate continued to rack ’em up. What Kinda Boy You’re Lookin’ For (Girl) hit the top 10, a gentle groover. The next one makes me smile all over – Roman Holliday’s brassy toe-tapper Don’t Try To Stop It. Killer sax flourishes and bundles of energy. Back to funk: Imagination’s understated Looking At Midnight and I-Level’s X-rated Teacher. Its B-side All My Love is way better though. Elsewhere Kissing The Pink’s Love Lasts Forever is an interesting curio, the flop successor to The Last Film. We signing off with a real rhythmic gem, the super boogie of The Funkmasters and It’s Over. Total top minter. Disco heaven.

“1983. . . my 11th birthday. I received a Sony Walkman with Men At Work’s Cargo inside. I thought I had received the greatest present ever!” (LG Okie)

Favourite tracks
Men At Work – Overkill

Mike Oldfield – Midnight Shadow

The Funk Masters – It’s Over

Lest we forget
Roman Holliday – Don’t Try To Stop It

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Chart Stars (K-Tel, 1983)

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Review
Chart Stars was released by K-Tel in early June 1983. Its sketched photographic sleeve gave it a Number One or Just Seventeen look which set the compilation aside from its immediate BOGOF predecessors. The back cover comes with the customary disclaimer (in tiny writing) about running times being changed. All with the aim of ensuring the highest possible reproduction of course. By the time I got it, school was out for the summer.

Three tracks had already been covered by previous compilations namely:
Chart Hits ’82: Toto – Rosanna.
Chart Encounters Of The Hit Kind: Culture Club – Church Of The Poison Mind. Nick Heyward – Whistle Down The Wind.
Chart Tracks contains one tune that would make it onto Now That’s What I Call Music – Heaven 17’s Temptation which starts us off here. An intense three minutes of simmering synth pop, smothered with sexual tension and Carol Kenyon’s sublime backing vocals. It’s one of the few unedited songs here, the compilers deciding that snipping 30 or 40 seconds off everything was a democratic solution. A real pity given the intriguing selection here.

In second place are Fun Boy Three and their big breakthrough, Our Lips Are Sealed, written by Terry Hall and Jane Wiedlin but first released by her mob The Go-Gos. The cello adds a melancholy touch and the beat is exquisite. Equally downbeat is Blancmange’s Waves (which loses 67 seconds), its water video described as the antithesis of Duran Duran’s Rio. And another memory: “I remember a time, when I would blast this song out in my XR3i coming back from London, on the M1, no speed cameras, cheap petrol, no traffic, and I had a full head of hair and six pack. Chilled of course.”

There’s a generous allocation of our American friends over the remainder of side 1. Laura Branigan’s frantic Gloria is followed by Twisted Sister’s sturdy I Am (I’m Me). I remember one of their later albums getting -3 out of 10 in the NME. They always had the sniffiest musos writing for them. Also suitable for driving down the open road with the windows open – Toto’s Rosanna, Bonnie Tyler’s gleaming rawk opus Faster Than The Speed Of Night plus Hall and Oates’ take on Mike Oldfield’s Family Man. Their version of the song has some altered lyrics, including a line in which the man finally gets the nerve to take up the woman’s offer. Sadly she has decided to sling her hook so he screams out the chorus.

The first side ends with The Beat’s Can’t Get Used To Losing You. Another memory, this one from Gavin Paisley, fellow Irishman and also somebody who attended the greatest gig of all time. He says:
“I was too young in 1980 to connect with The Beat and ska / skinhead culture was for the older kids, but I remember hearing this for the first time at my debs (debutante ball, like an Irish version of Prom Night) in 1990. Looking back it seems a strange choice for the DJ, to play during a slow dance set, ten years later. but I was instantly captivated by it, I had to find out what it was. It sounds so radical for a pop song too, all the heavy echoes and distant vocals. I’m glad he played it cos it got me into the band. Can’t remember much else about that night lol.”

Side 2 gets into the groove with Phil Fearon’s Galaxy and the catchy Dancing Tight, all upfront synths with a liberal dose of funk. Phil is married to Dorothy “Dee” Galdes, the vocalist on the Baby D song Let Me Be Your Fantasy. Next comes the joyful Feed The Need In Me, courtesy of Forrest. And then a gorgeous smooth groove produced by Mtume’s Reggie Lucas – Sunfire’s Young, Free And Single. Talent time: a poor effort by the Kids From Fame (the lame Friday Night) is followed by the UK’s Eurovision entry I’m Never Giving Up sung by Sweet Dreams. A passable entry that earned 79 points including 12 from Sweden. Singer Bobby McVay went on to join Bucks Fizz in 2015. And so it goes.

Bananarama bounced back into the top 5 with their hypnotic Steam cover Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye. Meanwhile #43 was as good as it got for Dollar’s David Van Day and Young Americans Talking. Also narrowly failing to make an impact was the debut single by The Waterboys, the soulful sax-driven A Girl Called Johnny, a tribute to female condoms. And with bass played like a heavenly melody come China Crisis; Tragedy And Mystery is the first fruit borne from Working With Fire And Steel. Last: take some Geisha ladies in an empty office complex and call the song Change. Not forgetting Roland Orzabal’s freaky dancing. More from The Hurting; Tears For Fears at their most enigmatic and creative.

“Black as hell and white as a ghost
‘Don’t talk about life or death’
She said I’ve had enough of both
A girl called Johnny who was not scared.”

Favourite tracks
Heaven 17 – Temptation

Tears For Fears – Change

China Crisis – Tragedy And Mystery

Lest we forget
The Waterboys – A Girl Called Johnny

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Chart Encounters Of The Hit Kind Volumes 1 and 2 (Ronco, 1983)

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Review
It was May 1983. The days were getting warmer. Aberdeen had just won the European Cup Winners Cup by beating the mighty Real Madrid 2-1. Before, after and through half time, 10 Point Wembley was the order of the garden. A book called The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 and 3/4 was doing the rounds in our school. I was about twelfth in line. The Irish police were cracking down on Dublin’s pirate radio stations with equipment seized from Radio Nova, Kiss FM and Radio Sunshine. There was a new Ronco compilation in the shops. Buy one, get one free. And for the third time in a row:

THE TRACKS CONTAINED IN THIS ALBUM ARE THE COMPLETE UNEDITED SINGLE VERSIONS AS ORIGINALLY RECORDED.

Chart Encounters Of The Third Kind concentrates on the spring of 1983. 30 new tracks to savour with none of them overlapping with previous collections. First out of the blocks are Culture Club, bringing the house down with the superb Church Of The Poison Mind. It’s driving pop tune with quality backing vocals from Helen Terry. We rock down to Electric Avenue, Eddy Grant’s gritty streetwise Brixton boogie. But the traffic goes the wrong way for Belle Stars as the ordinary Sweet Memory misses the top 20 while Bob Grover’s skank rock Easy Come, Easy Go fails to make any impression. Thank the Lord for Depeche Mode who restore equilibrium with the delightfully melodic Get The Balance Right.

There’s good vibes all day long when Chill Fac-torr’s Twist (Round ‘N’ Round) blasts out out the speakers. An uplifting jazzy delight. Like night and day, the contrast of Joe Jackson’s Breaking Us In Two. A fan: “The video speaks tons to me…I just wanna feel so happy and cry at the same time seeing those overcast grey skies and cobblestones in a very familiar industrial English town. Sting’s work also has the same effect on me. Talking about steel mills and shipyards, why does industrial England resonate so much to me? I love the quality of towns/cities especially in Europe retaining its old charm for decades/centuries not ever-changing at all, unlike what fast changes the world has gone to now. I revisit artist’s works like these just so I wouldn’t feel lost in today’s world.”

Another world: Toto’s Africa. The one with the explosive chorus and the 7″ picture disc shaped like the continent. An ’83 staple. Fast forward to Nick Heyward’s solo debut, the stirring Whistle Down The Wind. A ghost story for March. More: Joan Armatrading’s terrific Drop The Pilot before the groove kicks in.
#1 Mezzoforte – Garden Party. All the way from Iceland, a jazz funk classic, worthy of its place among British contemporaries.
#2 I-Level – Minefield. A delightful slice of soul goodness.
#3 Grace Jones – My Jamaican Guy. Classic avant-garde directed jerkiness.
Side 2 signs off with Haysi Fantayzee’s party flavour Shiny Shiny followed by Phil Collins devastating ballad (another one!) Don’t Let Him Steal You Heart Away.

Volume 2 keeps the momentum going. The Thompson Twins bring more clues to the table on the puzzling We Are Detective. Quick step to premier goth rockers Bauhaus and their grinding She’s In Parties before the fat soul sound of David Joseph’s You Can’t Hide. Robert Palmer drops another taut groove with the zoned out You Are In My System while Prince Charles gives us a royal treat on the ace Cash (Cash Money). Northern disco: The Band AKA and the gorgeous Joy. It’s second time around for 4AD’s Colourbox and the enhanced Breakdown (Version 2) which comes with a new vocal from Lorita Grahame. One of my favourites on the label – check out the mini LP with the horse on the front and pump up the volume. And in the best possible taste – Kenny Everett’s hilarious Snot Rap.
“You can chuck in a word like circumcision, ‘coz we ain’t going in for Eurovision.”

Getting better: Madness’ resigned Tomorrow’s Just Another Day. And then Telegraph, the brilliant second single from Dazzle Ships. See Chart Runners for more on that classic LP. Elsewhere U2 go for raw power on the searing Two Hearts Beat As One. As they played Red Rocks (the greatest concert movie ever), I played a league final on a sunny O’Kennedy Park. The technology may be ancient but Pete Shelley’s Telephone Operator still rocks. Go back to 1798 for the solemn sonorities of Louise Tucker’s Midnight Blue which is based on Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8. Skip the horror ham of Julian Clerc’s Lili and bask in the moody Nightmares, a pop injustice for A Flock Of Seagulls. #53 with a bullet. Wishing. . .

Favourite tracks
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Telegraph

U2 – Two Hearts Beat As One

Joe Jackson – Breaking Us In Two

Mezzoforte – Garden Party

Lest we forget
I-Level – Minefield

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