Tuesday, April 29, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 20)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

20. The Waterboys - "A Girl Called Johnny"

Other Contenders: This was the band's only indie charting single.

Chart Entry: April 16, 1983

Peak Position: No. 9

Comment: A tremendous debut single by Mr. Mike Scott. Man, do I hate saxophone, but it works better here than in just about any song I have ever heard. Tip of the cap to Anthony Thistlethwaite. This will help you pinpoint my age: 'The Waterboys' is among my first album purchases, and I'm happy to report I still own that same copy bought as a lad more than 30 years ago. "A Girl Called Johnny" preceded the album release by a few months on Scott's own Chicken Jazz label. Thus, the Waterboys had this one indie hit. The song is said to be a tribute to Patti Smith, one of Scott's favorites. I stuck with the Waterboys through "The Big Music" era of 'A Pagan Place' and 'This is the Sea.' I never bought another album from the Waterboys after 1985 (although I did follow Karl Wallinger to World Party for a bit), but I still visit the band's first three quite often.

Buy "A Girl Called Johnny" on 'The Waterboys.'

Here's a quick recap of the countdown so far. I'll post the list again when we get to the top 10.

50. Phil Wilson - Waiting for a Change
49. Ben Watt - Some Things Don't Matter
48. Depeche Mode - See You
47. Wire - Eardrum Buzz
46. Talulah Gosh - Beatnik Boy
45. McCarthy - The Well of Loneliness
44. The Field Mice - Sensitive
43. Felt - Penelope Tree
42. Razorcuts - Sorry to Embarrass You
41. The Jasmine Minks - Cold Heart
40. Electronic - Getting Away With It
39. Primal Scream - Crystal Crescent
38. Hurrah! - Who'd Have Thought
37. Shop Assistants - Safety Net
36. The Pastels - Comin' Through
35. The Sea Urchins - Pristine Christine
34. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Upside Down
33. The Brilliant Corners - Delilah Sands
32. Everything But The Girl - Night and Day
31. Associates - Kitchen Person
30. The Lightning Seeds - Pure
29. The Primitives - Stop Killing Me
28. The Loft - Why Does the Rain
27. The Flatmates - I Could Be in Heaven
26. Mighty Mighty - Throwaway
25. Yazoo - Nobody's Diary
24. The Wake - Talk About the Past
23. The Teardrop Explodes - Treason (It's Just a Story)
22. The Pale Fountains - (There's Always) Something on My Mind
21. Fire Engines - Big Gold Dream

Monday, April 28, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 21)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

21. Fire Engines - "Big Gold Dream"

Other Contenders: "Get Up and Use Me" and "Candyskin" were both bigger hits, and both are wonderful.

Chart Entry: Dec. 19, 1981

Peak Position: No. 15

Comment: Here's another coin flip. For weeks, Fire Engines' first foray into anything resembling pop, "Candyskin," had been inked in at No. 21. After the past several days of repeated listens, I changed my mind to "Big Gold Dream." Then I decided "Meat Whiplash," the B-side to "Candyskin," was so good it should break the tie. Done. Today, I gathered the art, transferred the song to mp3 and all of that, only to switch again. Both deserve accolades, OK?

Ultimately, that unified guitar and bass riff wins it for "Big Gold Dream." The band was always quite abrasive (in a good way), and it seemed the fellas were playing against all regular conventions, but this song was almost catchy. It melded their earlier forward-thinking sound with head-bobbing pop, albeit still in the strangest of ways. Perhaps this was all too much for us and them. Davy Henderson sang, "The band is my survival, I'm tired of this song." Fire Engines played this one on BBC2's "Riverside" as it was stalling on the indie chart. That performance marked the end of the band. Henderson was seriously considered for this list with his next group, the much poppier Win, but "Unamerican Broadcasting" was the only song that charted, and I think Win had better singles. Oh, and that's the fellas slathered in oil and covered in meat for the cover of this single. Well done. Not the beef, of course. It's raw.

Buy "Big Gold Dream" on 'Hungry Beat,' and here's a clip:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 22)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

22. The Pale Fountains - "(There's Always) Something on My Mind"

Other Contenders: "Just a Girl" was the band's only other charting single.

Chart Entry: Aug. 21, 1982

Peak Position: No. 28

Comment: Let's stay in Liverpool for another spot. In their day, the Paleys might have been the most underappreciated band on the planet. Between the terrific 'Pacific Street' and the even better '...From Across the Kitchen Table,' the best chart showing the lads could muster was a measly No. 84. What a crime. With the passage of time, I do feel like frontman Mick Head has begun to get the accolades he deserves. NME once described him as "a lost genius and among the most gifted British songwriters of his generation." Unfortunately, that remark came after the band's demise.

Prior to the Paleys' failed shot at stardom with Virgin, they released "(There's Always) Something on My Mind" via Operation Twilight and Les Disques du Crepuscule. You may know the song simply as "Something on My Mind," as it was later reworked for 'Pacific Street,' but this is an entirely different (and in my opinion much better) take. The Virgin-era version lost something in the atmosphere of the original. Sometimes less is more.

Sophisti-pop was about to become the rage, and there were bands all over the place that sounded like they were from a different era, but nobody sounded quite like the Pale Fountains. "(There's Always) Something on My Mind" could have been a hit from the Burt Bacharach/Hal David songbook, and nobody was striving for that in 1982. It's not my favorite song from the band -- that spot is reserved for "Jean's Not Happening" -- but this is a close second.

Buy "(There's Always) Something on My Mind" on 'Auteur Labels: Les Disques du Crepuscule.'

Friday, April 25, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 23)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

23. The Teardrop Explodes - "Treason (It's Just a Story)"

Other Contenders: This was the band's only indie charting single.

Chart Entry: March 15, 1980

Peak Position: No. 3

Comment: "Treason" was the result of a few minutes in the band's infancy on the legendary Liverpudlian label Zoo Records. It was produced by the clever duo of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. This song and the flip side, "Books," as well as a couple of other Zoo-era songs, would appear on on the band's debut album, 'Kilimanjaro,' later that year. The Langer/Winstanley version was actually used on the album, but it was said to be remixed by Hugh Jones. Frankly, I can't really tell the difference, but the song above is the Zoo take. The re-release reached No. 18 on the singles chart, making it the band's second-biggest hit behind the smash "Reward." That song would certainly show up somewhere on my all-time tracks list. I really dig both albums from the Teardrop Explodes, but I have always had trouble warming up to Julian Cope's solo work. I have a feeling this is my loss. "Treason" is the first Zoo single to appear on this countdown, but it won't be the last....

Buy "Treason (It's Just a Story)" on 'The Zoo Uncaged 1978-1982.'

Thursday, April 24, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 24)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

24. The Wake - "Talk About the Past"

Other Contenders: Surprisingly, there were only three charting singles. "Of the Matter" is a real keeper.

Chart Entry: April 7, 1984

Peak Position: No. 11

Comment: I have spent a considerable amount of time on this blog touting the merits of the Wake. I get the feeling the general consensus out there is something like, "Why don't you just listen to New Order? They're worlds better." That's what the music press back in the day thought, too, but I highly recommend the band's period beginning with this one-off single in 1984 through the "Something No One Else Could Bring" EP in 1987. Extra high marks go to the full-length album 'Here Comes Everybody' from 1985. One song in particular, "Melancholy Man," would be high on my list of all-time favorite tracks.

As for "Talk About the Past," the 12" version, clocking in at more than six minutes, is the band's most successful single. That's Vini Reilly from Durutti Column performing that wicked piano part. If you asked members of the band about why they never quite made it, I imagine they would tell a tale of Factory's lack of support and about how that fact eventually forced a defection to Sarah. I don't believe the problem was living in the shadow of New Order. In fact, there would always be renewed interest whenever they played live shows supporting them. I think it had more to do with the enormous gaps of time between recordings... due in large part to lineup changes. There should have been tremendous momentum following the success of "Talk About the Past," but it would be nearly two years between the release of that single and 'Here Comes Everybody.' Even I forgot about them for a while.

Buy "Talk About the Past" on 'Here Comes Everybody + Singles.'

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 25)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

25. Yazoo - "Nobody's Diary"

Other Contenders: Four of the band's five charting singles reached the top spot. "Only You" and "Don't Go" certainly wouldn't be out of place on my list of favorites.

Chart Entry: May 21, 1983

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: Mute Records occupies a second spot on this list, and like Depeche Mode's "See You" at No. 48, I'm going with the extended version of the single because whenever I play these synth-pop smashes I always want more, more, more. When I spin Yazoo (I'm American, but we'll go with the UK band name for this list), I'm immediately transported to the underage dance club I frequented on Friday nights in my youth. I see myself bouncing, sweating, smiling... and without a care in the world. "Nobody's Diary" isn't necessarily the Yazoo song that comes to mind when I'm taken there, but it's my favorite because of the drama created by Alison Moyet's fantastic vocal. For my money, the only female voice from this era that even possibly takes a front seat to Moyet's is Tracey Thorn's. Moyet and partner Vince Clarke have had many successful endeavors, and we can probably have a pretty good argument about 'Speak & Spell,' but I don't think either ever topped their short-lived stint as the duo Yazoo.

Buy "Nobody's Diary" on 'You and Me Both.'

Monday, April 21, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 26)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

26. Mighty Mighty - "Throwaway"

Other Contenders: Through the years, "Everybody Knows the Monkey" is the one that has popped up on compilations. The band is well known for "Law" from NME's 'C86,' but that one was never a single. "Is There Anyone Out There?" is really the only other song I considered, but "Throwaway" was the runaway choice for me. Incidentally, "Is There Anyone Out There?" was voted No. 44 on John Peel's Festive Fifty in 1986.

Chart Entry: Dec. 27, 1986

Peak Position: No. 7

Comment: "Throwaway" was the third of six charting singles for Mighty Mighty between 1986 and 1988 and the first for label Chapter 22. A version of it also came as a flexidisc with Baby Honey fanzine in 1987. If you're stuck with that one, I would be happy to take it off your hands. I dig the jangle and Pete Geoghegan's vintage Vox sound, but it's Russell Burton's Morrissey-like vocal that carries the day. As the cover illustrates, "throwaway, like the bubblegum when the flavor's gone, might as well throwaway." My favorite line, however, is when Burton pleas, "am I really so disposable?" An absolute C86-era classic. Beware. If you click on the link above, you're guaranteed to get nothing done the rest of the day.

Buy "Throwaway" on 'Pop Can: The Definitive Collection 1986-1988.'

Friday, April 18, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 27)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

27. The Flatmates - "I Could Be in Heaven"

Other Contenders: The Flatmates had five stellar singles between 1986 and 1988, and each of them made the indie chart. My personal battle was between their biggest hit, the more mature pop of "Shimmer," and this two-minute eye-opening debut.

Chart Entry: Nov. 1, 1986

Peak Position: No. 18

Comment: As you have surmised by now, I had a thing for girl and boy-girl groups, and the Flatmates were one of my favorites. I'm sure part of the attraction was lead singer Debbie Haynes and bassist Sarah Fletcher. For the most part, the songs seemed loud, fast and, well, kind of dirty, somehow. Just what this wimpy teen without a clue wanted to hear in his bedroom at the time. I heard girl groups of yesteryear in there, like the Shangri-Las and Ronettes, but with a dash of the Ramones thrown in for fellas like me. As for this particular song, it's the exchange of screams that always gave me goosebumps. Here's another in a long line of bands that imploded on stage just before they would have probably made it to the majors. With groups like the Primitives just about to hit the other singles chart, there is no reason to think there wouldn't have been room for the Flatmates as well.

Buy "I Could Be in Heaven" on 'Potpourri {Hits, Mixes and Demos '85-'89}.'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 28)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

28. The Loft - "Why Does the Rain"

Other Contenders: The band only had two singles, but both songs are so good. Do I choose the uptempo number that was the bigger hit, or do I go the sad-sack route that seems to be the more popular choice today?

Chart Entry: Oct. 26, 1985

Peak Position: No. 30

Comment: "Up the Hill and Down the Slope" was the hit, peaking at No. 3 on this chart, but BBC Radio One's Janice Long did everything she could to make "Why Does the Rain" the smash. In 2005, more than 20 years after all of those spins, she still claimed the song would be in her all-time top 10. Bob Stanley loves this one too, choosing it over "Slope" on his carefully curated 'CD86: 48 Tracks from the Birth of Indie Pop' collection from 2006. If you're still unsure about my choice, perhaps Dave Gedge will convince you: "We loved the Loft in the Wedding Present, and we were disappointed when we'd heard they split up. [Here's the tale of the band's implosion.] I found them very inspiring... especially Andy Strickland's guitar playing on 'Why Does the Rain.' I always hated that grammatically challenged title though." Turn it down for Creation 09. It's a slow burner.

Buy "Why Does the Rain" on 'Magpie Eyes 1982-1985.'

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 29)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

29. The Primitives - "Stop Killing Me"

Other Contenders: "Really Stupid" lost the coin flip. No, not literally.

Chart Entry: Feb. 28, 1987

Peak Position: No. 2

Comment: The Primitives were lumped into the so-called "blonde movement"`that included minor leaguers like the Darling Buds and Transvision Vamp, and this probably hurt the band a bit, but I think the first three singles for the band's own Lazy Records proved they were much better than the belittling label. These songs (including spectacular B-sides) had a pop sensibility that became more readily apparent a little later with the major-label albums, but the early work had a bite more aligned with the harder end of C86. As guitarist PJ Court described it, the lyrics were to "counteract the sweetness of the melodies with a bit of spite and venom." If you haven't heard this early work and were turned off by the commercial efforts of the late '80s, and I'm not in that camp, by the way, work your way to the Lazy era. Perhaps you'll like the more primitive Primitives.

Buy "Stop Killing Me" on 'Everything's Shining Bright: The Lazy Recordings 1985-1987.'

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 30)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

30. The Lightning Seeds - "Pure"

Other Contenders: "Joy" was the only other charting single... at least in this decade.

Chart Entry: July 8, 1989

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: Ian Broudie is one of my musical heroes. I just wish Care would have had a hit with "Whatever Possessed You." That would have looked really good nestled in my Top 10, but I digress. "Pure" was such a catchy piece of pop that in 1990 it even managed to crack the Top 40 here in America (for his only time). Broudie as the Lightning Seeds would go on to be quite a hit-making machine in the UK throughout the 1990s, but this first single was always my favorite. Now don't get me started with Broudie as producer. The list of those he's worked with is quite a who's who!

Buy "Pure" on 'Cloudcuckooland.'

Friday, April 4, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 31)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

31. Associates - "Kitchen Person"

Other Contenders: My favorite singles from the very early years are the cover of "Boys Keep Swinging" and "The Affectionate Punch," but neither charted.

Chart Entry: Aug 29, 1981

Peak Position: No. 9

Comment: Fans may think I have sold Alan and Billy short by shutting them out of the top 30. In my defense, the only singles eligible for inclusion were the six compiled on the album 'The Fourth Drawer Down.' If the 'Sulk' era singles were indie, the band would have appeared in my top 10. Man, that would have been a really tough choice. I appreciate Associates, circa 1981, but I'm a pop fan at heart, and I do find the duo's avant-garde bent much more of a challenge. The easily digestible "Tell Me Easter's on Friday" was the safe bet that I thought would occupy this spot, but after repeated listens this week, I have switched my first and second choices.

"Kitchen Person" is absolute chaos, but I find the noise inspired. It seems like it should be set to film, somehow. To me, Billy's incredible voice is normally the dominant instrument, but in this song the vocals are in for a scrap... especially with the percussion. Alan once said about the song, "There was no concept of 'we better not...' -- we were stretching our legs." There's just no vacancy in this space, and I'm in awe.

Buy "Kitchen Person" on the two-disc set 'Singles.'

Note: Twenty singles down, 30 to go. My kids begin spring break later today, and we are off to the California desert for a much needed break from the wettest March in Seattle's recorded history. So, expect the next installment on or around Monday, April 14. Take care.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 32)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

32. Everything But The Girl - "Night and Day"

Other Contenders: This was EBTG's only charting indie single. It really is too bad the duo never went on to do anything.

Chart Entry: June 19, 1982

Peak Position: No. 6

Comment: First, a word about this Cole Porter standard. If you search "Night and Day" on my iTunes, a dozen different takes come up. It really is one of my favorite compositions, and I have rarely heard a version I didn't like. U2 shattered that streak for me, but hey, it was for a cause, so go ahead and butcher away! As far as contemporary stabs at "Night and Day," EBTG's is the best I have heard. Beautiful.

I can't even imagine how exciting 1982 must have been for Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. While students at the University of Hull, each released wonderful solo albums, and this song marked the first single as Everything But The Girl. Many of you may have had your first listen of this beautiful and intimate use of guitar and voice on the legendary 'Pillows & Prayers' compilation Cherry Red released at the end of that year. Anyway, I guess the collaboration took, eh? Even though I already had EBTG's version in a couple of places, I always wanted the original single on vinyl. It eluded me for many years, but I finally found the 12" at Avalanche Records in Edinburgh on Feb. 4, 2012. It was a Saturday. There was an audible gasp. Yes, it was kind of a big deal.

Buy "Night and Day" on '82-92 Essence and Rare.'

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 33)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

33. The Brilliant Corners - "Delilah Sands"

Other Contenders: There were a slew of singles to choose from, but "Teenage" would be my distant second to this one.

Chart Entry: Oct. 24, 1987

Peak Position: No. 9

Comment: I have never met anyone that liked these guys, and the critics were usually pretty harsh as well. One legendary music magazine reviewed this single in two sentences: "The little beat from Bristol puts up its hand and asks to be excused. Don't hurry back." This same publication may have made a better point when reviewing another song a year later: "Unfortunately, like The Groove Farm, The Brilliant Corners' records are rarely as brilliant as their sleeves." That may be true, as I bought my first records by them without hearing a note. I could just tell by the cover they would be my cup of tea.

I take no offense at the "twee" label, and I like the humorous (and often bizarre) lyrics listeners tend to moan about, such as "I would bite you if I had the teeth" from this song. Plus, I'm a sucker for trumpet in my pop, and Dan Pacini's horn is all over the band's best work. If you don't know the Brilliant Corners, try the album 'Somebody Up There Likes Me.' Better yet, find the Canadian version. There are 11 bonus songs, including "Delilah Sands" and a bunch of other singles.

Buy "Delilah Sands" on 'Heart on Your Sleeve.'

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 34)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

34. The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Upside Down"

Other Contenders: This was the band's only charting indie single, but they seemed to somehow rebound from this disappointment. Within three months of this song the lads would be making appearances on the UK Singles Chart.

Chart Entry: Nov. 7, 1984

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: What more can I add, really? At 35,000 copies sold, this is one of the biggest indie singles of the entire decade. "Upside Down" spent 76 weeks on the chart and went to No. 1 more than once during that span. This song, and the followup "Never Understand," as well as some legendary shows... for good and bad reasons, had us all buzzing. Yes, you could hear the influences, but the band's sound seemed like something completely new. It only took another year before we got JAMC's masterpiece. You could still hear the noise and fuzz of "Upside Down" on 'Psychocandy,' but it was harnessed in a way that made it accessible to a slew of new listeners. By then the band's Creation years were already in the rear-view mirror, and I have to admit I didn't stick with JAMC much longer, but I'll always think of their brief indie appearance with fondness.

Find "Upside Down" on disc two of the 'Psychocandy' deluxe edition.