To mark the upcoming year 2000, the Now team devised The Millennium series. This would encompass 20 volumes of 36 tracks, one for each year from 1980 to 1999 with the first 16 released during June 1999. They were compiled by Ashley Abram for Box Music Limited with QD Design Limited taking responsibility for the cover and Jo Payton writing the sleeve notes. While there are obvious parallels with Now’s 10th Anniversary set of releases (1993), the Millennium series starts by tackling those barren years of 1980 – 1982 when K-Tel and Ronco ruled the compilation roost. It’s those first three volumes that were most eagerly anticipated by me at that time.
I’ve touched upon 12 of the tracks when reviewing previous compilations. These are:
Star Traks: Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers, Martha and The Muffins – Echo Beach.
Chart Explosion: Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Enola Gay.
Space Invasion: Hot Chocolate – No Doubt About It.
Hit Machine: Madness – Embarrassment, Diana Ross – Upside Down.
Disco Daze / Disco Nites: Brothers Johnson – Stomp, Lipps Inc.- Funky Town.
Now That’s What I Call Music – Smash Hits: Blondie – Atomic, Adam and The Ants – Ant Music, The Jam – Going Underground.
CD1 begins with some big names and favourites from the early days of Now. Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust is a bass-heavy monster inspired by Chic’s Good Times. “I’d been wanting to do a track like Another One Bites The Dust for a while, but originally all I had was the line and the bass riff. Gradually, I filled it in and the band added ideas. I could hear it as a song for dancing but had no idea it would become as big as it did. The song got picked up off our album and some of the black radio stations in the US started playing it, which we’ve never had before. Michael Jackson actually suggested we release it as a single. He was a fan of ours and used to come to our shows.” (John Deacon)
The legacy: using three turntables and a crossfader, 23-year-old Grandmaster Flash created a continuous party jam out of records by Chic (Good Times), Blondie (Rapture), Queen (Dust) and more – showing off frenetic steel-wheels moves and establishing the DJ as a new kind of pop musician.
David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes was originally titled People Are Turning To Gold. He later saw it as “wrapping up the 70s for myself” with Dave Thompson noting that it was “a very deliberate acknowledgement of the then-burgeoning new romantic scene.” The strings coupled with its hard-edged funky bass and complex vocal arrangements make it come across as a plaintive reflection on his career to date.
“I’ve never done good things
I’ve never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue”
The music video is iconic. Bowie gets dressed up in the loud Pierrot outfit that became the dominant visual representation of his Scary Monsters phase. Also appearing were Steve Strange and other members of the London Blitz scene, including Judith Frankland who had designed clothes for Strange’s Visage videos and Darla Jane Gilroy, forerunners of (later participants in) the new romantic movement that was heavily influenced by Bowie’s music and image.
Roxy Music go wistful and nostalgic on Oh Yeah (On The Radio) a key 45 from Flesh And Blood. Meanwhile there’s a new wave triple treat: Split Enz’s buoyant I Got You followed by Elvis Costello’s I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down. And the cherry on top – Squeeze’s harmonious pop classic Another Nail In My Heart. To lipstick traces; Spandau Ballet’s launched with a series of publicity stunts including an appearance on HMS Belfast. To Cut A Long Story Short was their debut single (reaching #5), their first step on a journey to glory – all spiky synths with a stomping backbeat. In the zone: The Cure’s atmospheric A Forest or “the definitive early Cure mood piece” (Jeff Apter). The promotional video was the band’s first, created by David Hiller, who mixed footage from the band’s debut appearance on Top of the Pops programme with a forest montage. Sadly not the 7″ mix.
Compass Point Studios, Bahamas 1980: Robert Palmer records Johnny And Mary along with the rest of his Clues LP. While it only reached #44 in the UK, the song was used as the signature tune in advertisements promoting Renault cars throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The first disc concludes with a blast of fire: Motörhead’s blistering Ace Of Spades which is considered to be the band’s signature song. “It put a choke on the English music charts and proved to all that a band could succeed without sacrificing its blunt power and speed.” (Ian Christe)
“First heard this in 1982, when I was eight. It blew my tiny little mind, of course– I immediately lost almost all interest in my Rush LPs, and spent the next three years looking for Motörhead records in my crummy small town record shop, to no avail. Luckily, I captured this clip on VHS (God, how I miss VCRs) and watched it til the tape wore out.” (Paul Snider)
“I don’t want to live forever.” (Lemmy)
Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live! was only the second EP to top the UK singles chart. The title track is Terry Hall having a go at modern life, a total cracker. Next come UB40 with the stern ticking-off vibes of Food For Thought – a dig at Christmas – Robin Campbell remembers:“the fact that there are starving people in Africa and here we are all sat around eating our Christmas dinner and praising the Lord.” After Dexy’s Geno, Diana Ross’ Upside Down ushers in a sequence of soul, funk and (post) disco tunes. Kool and The Gang drop their party anthem Celebration while Jermaine Jackson’s Let’s Get Serious still retains a hard-edged funk side. The Gap Band’s anthem Oops Upside Your Head is all about the driving bassline and hilarious nursery rhyme interludes. Equally brilliant: Don’t Stop The Music, a set-ender by Yarbrough and Peoples (+ puppets) and the Average White Band’s Let’s Go Round Again (sounding more like 1974 than 1980).
Paul McCartney’s Coming Up is supposed to have spurred John Lennon back into the studio. The opening track on McCartney II (one of the decade’s best albums) has a minimalist synthesised feel to it. It featured vocals sped up by using a vari-speed tape machine. Macca played all instruments and shared vocal harmonies with wife Linda. Here are some more recommendations from that purple patch:
Frozen Jap: The Jap is explained by Macca as “shorthand for Japanese”. He amended the track title to Frozen Japanese for release there. Some think it’s a slight on Yoko Ono. I really don’t know but this is a wonderful jittery instrumental with an AFX flavour.
Temporary Secretary: What a hoot. This sounds like Devo and manages to transcend taste boundaries into something unique. How did people react to this in 1980?
Secret Friend: At 10 minutes and 28 seconds this is a monster. Some guy on YouTube says “Fela played by Kraftwerk” – not a bad description. File under floating ambient (like a Warp release) but remember it was recorded in 1979 not the early 1990s.
Front Parlour: Let’s stay (vocal) free with this soothing synthesised number. Marvelously plaintive in its delivery.
Check My Machine: Waterfalls was a decent ballad but I wonder what people thought when they flipped over the single. Play to people who think Wings / McCartney are crap. Avant garde weirdness with double tracked vocals and crazy sound loops.
Summer’s Day Song: A dreamy, going-to-bed track or a song for all seasons.
The long goodbye begins with Please Don’t Go, an evocative love ballad from KC and The Sunshine Band. KWS did a memorable cover in 1992 – one of the last 7″ singles spun in The Colosseum, New Ross. Never For Ever: Kate Bush’s tale of a marriage destroyed by paranoia is told on Babooshka complete with breaking glass at the end – courtesy of the Fairlight CMI digital synthesiser. Next is the perfect synergy between the Greek god Vangelis and the heavenly voice of Jon Anderson (Yes) on I Hear You Now. Spiritual and haunting with a deep bass sequence. Look sharp! It’s Joe Jackson and the sublime It’s Different For Girls. Easing in are The Korgis and their gorgeous zither ballad Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime – a sunrise song after a night out. Finally, all tired and emotional, we close with Don McLean’s hugely successful cover of Roy Orbison’s Crying.
Squeeze – Another Nail In My Heart
Joe Jackson – It’s Different For Girls
Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short
Jon and Vangelis – I Hear You Now
Lest we forget
Paul McCartney – Coming Up
Missing tracks and other thoughts
The first entry in the Millennium series is a fantastic trip. The mini-clusters of genres work well – the new wave blending into new romantic and the R&B grooves of the second half . The last six tunes on CD2 are particularly enjoyable while it’s good to re-acquaint ourselves with diamonds like I Got You, Johnny & Mary and Food For Thought. However, there’s a black mark against them for not using single edits. The offenders: David Bowie – Ashes To Ashes, Roxy Music – Oh Yeah (On The Radio), Adam and The Ants – Ant Music, The Cure – A Forest, UB40 – Food For Thought. Elsewhere Peter Gabriel’s Games With Frontiers is 3:57 (7″ 3:47, PG3 4:10) while I’m undecided on Madness’ Embarrassment.
25 tracks held the #1 position in 1980 but just six of them are included here. Your first port of call for Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (hit #1 in ’79, still there in January) and The Pretenders’ Brass In Pocket should be The 80s – The Album Of The Decade. There’s not much that I’d change here although it would have been quite nice to get an ABBA track (The Winner Takes It All) along with Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu and Kelly Marie’s holiday camp classic Feels Like I’m In Love. Maybe John Lennon’s Just Like Starting Over being slotted after Macca’s Coming Up should have been considered too. Otherwise the sequencing is excellent with a thoughtful selection of memorable songs across the spectrum. A decent start.