Volume 4 of Indie Top 20 saw the roads diverge amidst a yellow
wood price sticker. Two parts, two genres. I purchased Part 1 in HMV, Henry Street during July 1988, a regular stop on my sporadic record buying trips to the capital. Just a few months later, fans would queue outside the Grafton Street shop as they opened at midnight to sell copies of the new U2 LP, Rattle And Hum. At the time, HMV store manager, Bob Walpole, said he had never seen anything on this scale for an album launch. “It was a very emotional experience.”
Back in the late summer of 1984, Number One magazine ran a news snippet that went like this: “The new single from The Smiths – William, I Must Be Going Now The Toast Is Burning – clocks in at a measly two minutes and ten seconds. The B-side is even shorter.” It came in a rigid sleeve with a light green label containing dark green text. The original artwork depicted comes from an early 1980s advertisement for A.D.S. speakers – if you look closely at the object on the bed, you will see that it is a speaker. Both 7″ and 12″ versions came with the matrix message THE IMPOTENCE OF ERNEST / ROMANTIC AND SQUARE IS HIP AND AWARE. The song was of course called William, It Was Really Nothing; in Ross Records, the 7″ was behind the counter. I asked them for a look and was admonished with a “don’t bend the sleeve.” When performing William on Top Of The Pops, Morrissey ripped open his shirt and bared his chest. MARRY ME was written on it.
By May 1988, the entire Smiths singles were being reissued by Rough Trade on 12″ and the new-fangled CD format. Prior to then, William had subsequently emerged in a revised lilac sleeve, the one with Billie Whitelaw from Charlie Bubbles. And to another Billy – Mr MacKenzie of The Associates. For many years, it has been said that the song was about him. In 1993 he recorded a response – Stephen, You’re Really Something. The sleeve for the CD single reissue shows Colin Campbell from The Leather Boys. This artwork had previously been used in Germany for the single Ask. And if you didn’t know by now, William, It Was Really Nothing is the opening track on Indie Top 20 Volume 4 Part 1.
From dazzling brilliance to a baffling dalliance: The Woodentops, occasional Balearic favourites, slip in on the outside right with the melancholic Lloyd Cole-like strum of You Make Me Feel. If you managed to catch the music video on The Chart Show, then you’re in for a treat – the sight of Rolo McGinty running with a dog. One Man And His . . . song for the times, it’s the Brilliant Corners and the euphoric Teenage. This sounded great when I was 16, clumsy and shy. Steve Peeved was a fan too – “I spent a misplaced youth bopping to this at the Venue in Manchester.” Also check out Why Why Why – a squalling indie beat mash that I’d happy listen to in clubs for the rest of my life. Get Balearic Beats: The Album.
Meanwhile the first Wire song I heard was Ahead in 1987. So I bought The Ideal Copy and then A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck. Then I discovered that they had a post-punk past. So off to the Virgin Megastore on that same July ’88 day where I picked up Pink Flag. Back then Wire had their own vinyl section; the grey plastic divider had a large white sticker on it wherein album and single titles were written, accompanied by the dates of receipt and sale. The Snakedrill EP kept coming and going. I was blown away by the brevity and inventive tunes. 154 came next followed by Chairs Missing sometime in 1990. One of the greatest ever bands. Much overlooked Document and Eyewitness (1980) is also brilliant. Kidney Bingos is brilliantly constructed with an almost airy movement. Fast forward three years and I remember catching a glimpse of the 12″ sleeve in someone else’s bedsit.
One benefit of just 12 tracks on this State Of Independents is quality over quantity. This is borne out on the fifth number, the searing quiet / loud hook laden Is This The Life from The Cardiacs. Mark Deamer recalls “I can’t explain the power this song has over me. It simultaneously makes me tearful yet makes me smile. it’s like being in some unrequited love. Its beauty almost unbearable yet it is a beauty you can not live without. It is the musical essence of nostalgia . . . a beautiful slightly painful memory.” Logically, a slice of goth action to end side one makes the most sense and we get our wish. Fields Of The Nephilim’s Blue Water was a single released between the albums Dawnrazor and The Nephilim. The chugging melody, the nagging “perspiration” reference, the atmospheric video all combine to showcase the essence of the band in one handy five minute capsule.
1988 was the era of peak NME. The 2 January issue shines brightly because of their top 100 albums of all time listing. Topped by an 18 month old toddler, The Queen Is Dead with similarly fresh-faced Psychocandy at #2. Five weeks later, the 6 February instalment had The Wedding Present on the cover, red noses and a “BLOW UP” tagline. Also featuring: Prefab Sprout, Pop Will Eat Itself, Mighty Lemon Drops, Hue And Cry, Robocop, Jamie Principle And Acid House, Bomb The Bass. Plus an announcement for Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, a indie-tastic tribute to the seminal LP. But back to Gedge’s mob – they really raised their game with the new single Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm which kicks off side 2 and was the last recording session to feature drummer Shaun Charman. It’s a driving, breakneck classic with a ferocious melody and became their first music video. The first 8,000 copies of the 7″ came in a gatefold sleeve. B-sides across all formats included the brilliant I’m Not Always So Stupid and Don’t Laugh. The 12″ was a tough pull for many months; I eventually located a copy in Freebird for £5.99. Import tax on indie records.
The hit parade continues with The Flatmates’ finest pop burst, Shimmer. Get it on CD if you fork out for the excellent Scared To Get Happy (A Story Of Indie-Pop 1980-1989). It’s quickly followed by The Primitives and the buzzsaw Stop Killing Me. And then The Shamen return with the slowburning strange that is Knature Of A Girl. The McGonagles light show was a mere 10 months away. We then move into a world where a few guitars impersonate scratching – World Domination Enterprises’ I Can’t Live Without My Radio. An unfortunate misfire and the only rum tune on offer. Finally – and making their fourth successive appearance – are Pop Will Eat Itself and the oddly affecting There Is No Love Between Us Anymore. A repeated lyric, a haunting loves me / not sample (Joanna Lumley as Purdey in The New Avengers: Angels of Death) and a bulked-up B.A.D. sound. The beginning of the post-Grebo era and a precursor of what delights would later come.
Wire – Kidney Bingos
The Brilliant Corners – Teenage
Lest we forget
The Flatmates – Shimmer