Chart Runners Volumes 1 and 2 (Ronco, 1983)

chart-runners-v1

Chart Runners V1 r.jpg

Chart Runners V2.jpg

Chart Runners V2 r.jpg

Review
Ronco’s first compilation of 1983 was released at the beginning of March. Chart Runners came in two separate parts bearing a post-Tron image and a tagline stating “16 fast moving tracks!”” and “16 more fast moving tracks!!” Producer was Ashley Abram with Shoot That Tiger! taking responsibility for the sleeve design. And to show that late 1982’s glorious Raiders Of The Pop Charts wasn’t a one-off, we got this message in a a box:

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

Chart Runners contains 32 songs. 11 of them overlap with recent K-Tel compilations:
Hotline: Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love, Icehouse – Hey Little Girl, Culture Club – Time (Clock Of The Heart), Indeep – Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, China Crisis – Christian, Men At Work – Down Under, Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing, Billy Griffin – Hold Me Tighter In The Rain, The Stranglers – European Female, The Maisonettes – Heartache Avenue.
Street Scene: Blue Zoo – Cry Boy Cry which had 56 seconds hacked off it.

We blast off with Sign Of The Times; the Belle Stars’ signature song. It reached #3 and played under disco lights all over Europe. Proper girl power. Also hitting the top 5 was Forrest with his agreeable cover of the Hues Corporation’s Rock The Boat. Following the slinky Hey Little Girl is Johnny Chingas on the seductive electronic groove Phone Home. A mysterious number that inexplicably couldn’t get past #43. Marching through the corridors of power is Gary Moore with the surprisingly soulful Falling In Love With You. Next comes the atmospheric Listen To The Night from the Climax Blues Band (cross Mark Knopfler with Chris Rea) and Dionne Warwick’s gorgeous All The Love In The World.

U2 wrote New Year’s Day about the Polish solidarity movement. The single edit of the War album track retains the distinctive piano and bassline that makes it one of their most memorable creations. Time for a bit of wank: Yazoo’s anaemic Other Side Of Love, dropped from reformation setlists and generally considered their weakest tune. Things perk up considering on The Last Film, an oddly affecting number from Kissing The Pink. Threads set to music. Then a sparkling pop gem from the teenage Roddy Frame’s mob Aztec Camera. Oblivious is a masterpiece; the infectious sound of young Scotland. Stay jive on Richard Jon Smith’s electro boogie gem Baby’s Got Another, a Streetsounds favourite.

The second instalment of Chart Runners gathers momentum with Fun Boy Three’s arch Tunnel Of Love. Both the single and album contain the same version of the song. However on the album, David Byrne is credited with production, while the single credits The Fun Boy Three with production, and David Byrne and Jeremy Green with mixing. Elswewhere Tracey Ullman cooks up a rock ‘n’ roll meal on Breakaway while John Foxx evokes the sound of rainy Europe on the fatalistic Endlessly. White and Porch lie in wait and do their best Walker Brothers impression. Let’s Forget – no Parade but packs a cinematic punch.

“The album contained no obvious hits and soundtracked the cold war at its coldest. No one bought it, mind you, so Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Dazzle Ships came to be viewed as a heroic failure – the ultimate commercial suicide… it entered the charts at number 5, then dropped like a stone.” (Bob Stanley, The Guardian)

The beginning and the end: with Dazzle Ships, OMD imploded. The title and cover art (designed by Peter Saville) alluded to a painting by Edward Wadsworth titled Dazzle Ships In Drydock At Liverpool. The sound represented a major departure after the successful formula of Architecture and Morality; now we got musique concrète and shades of Stockhausen. Radio Prague uses the actual interval signal of the Czechoslovak Radio foreign service while Time Zones is a montage of various speaking clocks from around the world. Meanwhile This Is Helena, ABC Auto-Industry and International contain parts of broadcasts recorded off-air (a presenter introducing herself, economic bulletin and news).

Genetic Engineering, the first single from Dazzle Ships, is included on Chart Runners. It is an unsubtle tribute to Kraftwerk, most particularly Computer World. The song was later covered by US hipster slackers Eggs and appears to be been a big influence on Radiohead’s Fitter Happier. The 12″ mix is known as the 312mm version while the B-side comes highly recommended – the ethereal 4-Neu. Two other flipsides from the 1981 era, Romance Of The Telescope and Of All The Things We’ve Made, were re-recorded for Dazzle Ships and play a key role in the album’s structure. The band’s fourth Peel session was recorded on 29 January 1983 and transmitted on 21 February 1983. The tracks are Genetic Engineering / Of All the Things We’ve Made / ABC Auto Industry / Bunker Soldiers.

Invariably the quality deeps in the final quarter. Roman Holliday’s Stand By is far from being a forgotten classic while A Cha Cha At The Opera deserves to be buried in a 300 year old time capsule. The positives: Shriekback’s sensual, moody, industrial-lite Lined Up with its massive bass rips. Mahogany’s slice of disco supreme with Bernice Watkins belting out the vocals. As heard on sinister BBC mini-series The Dark Side Of The Sun; the one with Peter Egan and Patrick Mower as the dead man who keeps re-appearing. And to close, the atmospheric sound of Ultravox’s Reap The Wild Wind, first 45 from Quartet, produced by George Martin. A different shadow on the wall, a stranglehold on a certain feeling.

Favourite tracks
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Genetic Engineering

Belle Stars – Sign Of The Times

Richard Jon Smith – Baby’s Got Another

Aztec Camera – Oblivious

Lest we forget
Climax Blues Band – Listen To The Night

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15 Responses to Chart Runners Volumes 1 and 2 (Ronco, 1983)

  1. andynoax says:

    Ah, now we’re talking. In my mind, memories of this are mixed up with my final couple of terms at Primary School, doing my cycling proficiency test (!) and going to Aylesbury for keyboard lessons. I never did become the next Vince Clarke, alas.

    I either got this for my birthday or bought it with my birthday money in March 1983, and I think it’s probably my favourite compilation ever simply because I played it to death so I love the non-hits just as much as the big hitters (yes, even A Cha Cha At The Opera!)

    Difficult to name highlights, but I’ll try – Forrest, Icehouse, Culture Club, Kissing The Pink, China Crisis, Blue Zoo, John Foxx, White & Torch (they should have been massive), The Stranglers, OMD & Ultravox.

  2. cosmo says:

    You picked the Belle Stars (fab!), Richard Jon Smith and Aztec Camera (whose track here had to wait until the Christmas period of that year to finally stop at #18), which means I won’t.

    Plus:

    Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love

    Fun Boy Three – Tunnel of Love (again, I prefer this to their better-known songs, chiefly Our Lips Are Sealed)

    Blue Zoo – Cry, Boy, Cry

    Tracey Ullman – Breakaway

    (On Beat-Club/Musikladen [Germany’s answer to TOTP])

    Stranglers – European Female (I really like the music the Stranglers came up with during this period – moody and reflective.)

    Mahogany – Ride on the Rhythm (yet another pop chart escapee)

    And, sorry, like andynoax above I really like Cha Cha at the Opera!
    (Starts here at 2:10)

    • andynoax says:

      I’ve seen that video of A Cha Cha At The Opera before, it’s very funny and appears to be the only surviving footage of them. The guy’s voice is so high that before I saw it for the first time, I was convinced that it was a woman singing the vocal!!

  3. nlgbbbblth says:

    Cheers Cosmo – nice choices. Like Andy, I always thought A Cha Cha was sung by a woman too! I have a mix coming out next week that you both might like. It’s like a postscript to my Shattered Dreams project except that it focuses on the more indie side of sophisti-pop (again some may find the links tenuous). It covers 1981 – 1995 and contains quite a few lost tracks (rarely compiled – over half of them are vinyl rips).

    • cosmo says:

      Nobody beats Donny Osmond during his early career or the Stylistics’ Russell Thompkins Jr. for falsettos that are “gender-bended” to the extreme (although it is true that the former began his recording career just before his voice “cracked”).

    • cosmo says:

      Oh, and, yes, after having enjoyed your Mixcloud uploads I can’t wait to hear your next upload there! 🙂

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