Headline Hits (K-Tel, 1983)

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Review
There’s something very evocative about the sleeve of K-Tel’s Headline Hits. It was created by Acrobat Design Limited, also responsible for rival Ronco’s Street Level, Space Invasion, Super Hits, Disco Daze / Disco Nites along with K-Tel’s own Action Trax. The crudely pasted newspaper style caught my eye as soon as I thumbed through the racks at Ross Records in September 1983. I can still visualise the shop’s interior, a regular haunt after school with the LPs flicked through umpteen times during each visit. Familiarity breeding a weird kind of serenity, seven pound notes burning a hole in my pocket. And then hiding it in my wooden desk before swapping it in class. Fearful of Brother Cahill’s drumstick.

Freeez’s IOU had already been grabbed by rival compilation Hits On Fire which came out two months earlier. Meanwhile Headline Hits also sees the first appearance of two chart toppers that would end up on Now That’s What I Call Music: KC and The Sunshine Band – Give It Up, Paul Young – Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home). The former ruled radio during the searing hit of August, blaring from the radio at Riverchapel’s amusement arcade just before the big slide. Meanwhile Paul Young’s passionate version of the Motown classic was amazing, sheer perfection in its delivery. The 12″ version is magnificent.

Stuck in the middle of this pair of number ones are The Lotus Eaters. The First Picture Of You is an all-time great, a stunning debut single. Watching the video now is like zipping through a typical summer day in 1983. All the smells and sounds come to the fore: 99 ice cream cones, mint choc ices, running down to the Red Bridge and trying to avoid falling in the river, freshly cut grass, salads with ham for tea. Bicycles with no helmets, the sound of the A and B buttons in the local pub’s telephone. A certain beauty and sadness co-exist in the song; as summer ends and flowers die, so do May – September romances. Timeless.

We come to dance: Ray Davies wrote Come Dancing as a tribute to his older sister, Irene (Rene), who died of a heart attack while dancing at a local Palais hall. This sad loss took place on his 13th birthday, just hours after Rene had given Ray his first electric guitar. The single was initially released in November 1982 but failed to chart. Five months later it reached #6 in the US so a summer reissue saw it crack the UK market, all helped by a memorable video directed by Julien Temple. Jam on as Lafleur cover Heatwave’s Boogie Nights and Julie Roberts drops some smoking weekender soul on Fool For You.

Modern Romance eschew their normal salsa vibe for an unexpected ballad on the sweetly sung Walking In The Rain. A favourite of babysitters everywhere. John Du Prez on trumpets, natch. Yazoo’s poignant Nobody’s Diary follows, open sound and tight bass with loads of space. The first and only single from You And Me Both. One hit wonders Jimmy The Hoover were managed by Malcolm McLaren and their worldbeat smash Tantalise (Wo Wo Ee Yeh Yeh) epitomises the sunny vibes of the summer. A real bopper and a Derek Jarman video to boot. Side 1 ends with the languid Watching from the Thompson Twins. Please note that the single mix sidesteps Grace Jones’ backing vocals.

Depeche Mode’s Everything Counts sees both Dave Gahan and Martin Gore sharing singing duties. An attack on corporate greed from the decidedly non-businesslike Construction Time Again. You won’t hear this at your local Chamber of Commerce. Then the rockabilly rant ‘n’ rave of the Stray Cats – (She’s) Sexy And 17 while a little later on, we get Stop! Please Stop!, the undead rock ‘n’ roll of Rocky Sharpe and The Replays booms out. Inside there’s a mighty soul sandwich: The Chi-Lites’ ace Changing For You and Kenny Lynch’s upfront groover Half The Day’s Gone And We Haven’t Earned A Penny.

The Walk, a standalone single for The Cure, saw the band break into the UK top 20 for the first time. It was later compiled on Japanese Whispers. Meanwhile Flash and The Pan’s brilliant And The Band Played On (Down Among the Dead Men) – originally a #54 smash in 1978 – got a reissue during 1983. That’s how you do a song about the Titanic. Another curio comes on: Bruce Foxton’s frantic Freak. Lastly we slip away to the smooth disco sound of Phil Fearon and Galaxy with the mysterious promise of Wait Until Tonight. Forever melted in the mists of time, Headline Hits: “Today’s biggest sound around.”

Favourite tracks
The Lotus Eaters – The First Picture Of You

Paul Young – Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)

Jimmy The Hoover – Tantalise (Wo Wo Ee Yeh Yeh)

Lest we forget
Flash and The Pan – And The Band Played On (Down Among The Dead Men)

Posted in Pop UK | 7 Comments

Cool Heat (K-Tel, 1983)

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Review
“The hottest, jazziest, coolest, funkiest hits.”

It was August. We were gearing up for our third successive annual holiday to Courtown Harbour. The summer was proving to be a real scorcher. In a change from the usual chart round-up, K-Tel decided to make hay while the sun shone with their release of Cool Heat, a sizzling selection of funky numbers spanning the 1977 to 1983 period. Like another specialist genre compilation, Modern Dance, Cool Heat is hotly-mixed with tracks crossfading into each other. This is definitely an album for a future Mixcloud upload.

Reeling in the years.
1977: Weather Report – Birdland, Harvey Mason – What’s Going On?
1978: Lonnie Liston Smith – Space Princess, Herbie Hancock – I Thought It Was You, Quincy Jones – Stuff Like That.
1979: Spyro Gyra – Morning Dance, Stanley Clarke – Together Again.
1980: George Duke – Brazilian Love Affair, Azymuth – Jazz Carnival, Tom Browne – Funkin’ For Jamaica (N.Y.), Rodney Franklin – The Groove, Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
1981: Bob James – Sign Of The Times.
1982: Shakatak – Invitations.
1983: Mezzoforte – Garden Party, Bobby M – Let’s Stay Together, Level 42 – The Chinese Way, Mezzoforte – Rockall.

Opening track, Garden Party, is discussed on Chart Encounters Of The Third Kind. Sliding into the exotic and mysterious Space Princess by Lonnie Liston Smith. Check out his appearance on Gato Barbieri’s Under Fire. In another lifetime I wrote this:

“Under Fire, originally released by Flying Dutchman in 1973, was reissued on the Philips label in 1980. It’s a fluid Latin jazz record that sees Gato Barbieri jam with a stellar line-up including Stanley Clarke on bass and Lonnie Liston Smith (not to be confused with Lonnie Smith) on piano / electric piano.
El Paroma is harsh improv with a searing cacophony of instruments that gets more hypnotic as it unwinds over nine minutes. John Abercrombie’s guitar-playing is particularly relentless. Yo Le Canto A La Luna is more tranquil, a soothing melodic ballad with unobtrusive congas by James M’tume and a wispy vocal performance. The flailing rhythms of Antonico help to propel the track into a form of fusion heaven before it all ends too quickly.
The second side consists of two long pieces. Maria Domingas (written by Jorge Ben) is a frenzied race through riffs and sax while El Sertao consists of an intense yet harmonious groove that spirals out of control before quietly fading with a sweet coda.”

Moving on: the dusky grooves of George Duke’s southern fried Brazilian Love Affair. See Star Traks if you want to ride the Jazz Carnival. Take the love approach to Tom Browne’s Funkin’ For Jamaica (N.Y.), an edited school days / daze memoir of the neighborhood in tueens where Browne was born and raised. Keep the Brit funk firing for Shakatak’s sizzling Invitations while Bobby M and Jean Carn keep things happy and sad on their smoochy cover of Let’s Stay Together. Tina Turner would have more success later that year. Next comes Herbie Hancock’s disco sensation I Thought It Was You. Check out the 8:56 version on Sunlight. Side 1 concludes with Stuff Like That, a tune that slides between funky and grease from the hand of Da Q. Chaka Khan and Ashford & Simpson on vocals.

Jazzgasm, the way of Birdland – a jewel on Heavy Weather. And then Morning Dance, all mind blowing alto sax and furious percussion. Plus a steel drum to die for. Regulate! It’s Bob James with a Rod Temperton classic, Sign Of The Times. Rodney Franklin’s all about the groove while Stanley Clarke, also of Under The Fire fame, serves up a laidback special Together Again. Time for Level 42’s The Chinese Way – previously featured on Hotline while Brothers Johnson light up the night on Stomp! Dessert is served: a spaced out version of What’s Going On? from Harvey Mason. And for the coffee, the fusion sound of Mezzoforte (again) with Rockall, the newest tune here, reaching #75 during June 1983.

Favourite tracks
Herbie Hancock – I Thought It Was You

Level 42 – The Chinese Way

Lest we forget
Mezzoforte – Rockall

Posted in Pop UK | 8 Comments

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

Posted in Pop UK | 5 Comments