Monday, June 16, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (Postmortem)

Upon entering this endeavor, I believed choosing only 50 UK indie singles from the '80s would prove to be difficult. With caveats such as a) one song per band, b) must be a UK band and c) no Peel Sessions, however, it turned out the list of possible candidates wasn't too big to handle after all. With the first rule, the Smiths didn't get one-fifth of the slots. With the second rule, I didn't have to figure out how to squeeze in the Go-Betweens, Sugarcubes and many more from other lands. With the third rule, major-label bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees couldn't squeeze out a true indie, and John Peel's program wouldn't dominate the countdown. When all was said and done, I actually only had about 80 candidates to fill the 50 slots, and of those only about 10 songs or so caused any real toil about whether to include or not. Here's a peek at those on the outside looking in... in no particular order:

The Weather Prophets - "Almost Prayed"
Chart Entry: June 7, 1986
Peak Position: No. 3

Lush - "Scar" EP
Chart Entry: Oct. 21, 1989
Peak Position: No. 3

Echo and the Bunnymen - "The Pictures on My Wall"
Chart Entry: Jan. 26, 1980
Peak Position: No. 24

The Popguns - "Landslide"
Chart Entry: May 6, 1989
Peak Position: No. 20

The Imposter - "Pills and Soap"
Chart Entry: June 11, 1983
Peak Position: No. 1

Section 25 - "Looking From a Hilltop"
Chart Entry: June 23, 1984
Peak Position: No. 31

The Mighty Lemon Drops - "Like An Angel"
Chart Entry: Jan. 18, 1986
Peak Position: No. 4

The Woodentops - "It Will Come"
Chart Entry: Nov. 16, 1985
Peak Position: No. 4

The Marine Girls - "Don't Come Back"
Chart Entry: Feb. 26, 1983
Peak Position: No. 21

Tracey Thorn - "Plain Sailing"
Chart Entry: Jan. 22, 1983
Peak Position: No. 6

In a few of the above cases, like Lush, the Popguns and Echo and the Bunnymen, they got so much better within just a year of these first efforts that I felt these recordings, while excellent, paled in comparison. In the cases of the Marine Girls and Tracey Thorn, since I had Ben Watt and Everything But the Girl on the countdown, I felt like I couldn't afford to sacrifice four slots for the talented duo... even if it was deserved. With "Pills and Soap," well, Elvis Costello qualified as "indie" through the back door, didn't he? There were other well-done singles considered by 14 Iced Bears, BMX Bandits, Cocteau Twins, the Servants, the Wolfhounds, Young Marble Giants, Win and a few others, but these were a little further down the pike.

Now a couple of stats from the 50 picked you might find interesting:

Number of Picks by Label:
Creation - 6
Sarah - 4
Factory - 4
Cherry Red - 4
Postcard - 3
Rough Trade - 3
Subway Organisation - 3
Mute - 3
Zoo - 2
Kitchenware - 2
Situation 2 - 2
53rd & 3rd - 2
All Other Labels (one pick each): 12

So much of Sarah's output was in the early '90s. Otherwise, I think that label would have been the big winner.

Number of Picks by Year:
1982 - 6
1983 - 9
1986 - 9
1987 - 7
1989 - 5

As a big fan of the C86 scene, the 1986 results are not a big surprise, but I was shocked that 1983 had an equal number of selections.

So, just how "indie" am I? I asked myself this question because I wondered, if I had a countdown of my top 50 UK singles from the 1980s, how many of these picks from the UK Indie Hits countdown would be on such a list? My guess is between five and 10, but I'm not sure. I love these songs, but when I start thinking of favorites from that period missing from this list, it makes my head spin. There is only one way to settle such a question, and I will tackle that subject at some point. I think it would be fun.

As I said before I began the countdown, all of the numbers came from the reference book 'Indie Hits 1980-1989: The Complete U.K. Independent Charts (Singles & Albums,' compiled by Barry Lazell. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent pouring over this material. If you liked these posts, chances are you would enjoy this book too.

Finally, nothing but gratitude to all of you who participated with comments, positive or otherwise. That's really why this blog is here. I crave conversation from like-minded lovers of the music, and that's not easy when you're a middle-aged father of two young ones. Turns out I'm not alone after all. Special thanks to Seamus, George, Friend of Rachel Worth, Dirk (yes, you're correct about "Talulah Gosh"), Uncle E, Swiss Adam, Steve, Luca, Someone Said, Brett Alan, postpunkmonk, Sean, Phil Junebride (who are you?) and, of course, Echorich. Nostalgia trips are nice, but I hope you discovered something new as well.


Dirk said...

An impressive list and an impressive series, that's for sure! I did indeed discover something new, so thanks very much for all your briliant work. Alas I just got back from me holidays, so I couldn't follow up the final rundown. Your #1 is a very fine choice, although it wouldn't have been mine though! One (last) Thing about the Wild Swans perhaps: as brilliant Rev. Spirit might be, but I urge you to listen to what might easily be one of the finest recordings ever: their 'No Bleeding' from their Peel Session ... a MIGHTY tune!

Swiss Adam said...

Great stuff, from start to finish.

Echorich said...

That's a pretty impressive list of left behinds! Have to say I would have had a hard time keeping The Weather Prophets off The List - same for The Marine Girls and Section 25.
The high numbers for Creation and the year 1986 make sense to me as indie had become a movement by the time the label and the year had come.

It was a great series Brian. Wonder what you have up you sleeve next....

friend of rachel worth said...

Same as echo , almost prayed would probably have made my top 50. Have you read how soon is now by Richard king . Tells the story of uk indie labels and the mavericks who ran them. Its a top read

Brian said...

Dirk, Welcome back from Turkey. I think the Wild Swans' Peel material is among my favorites. It's all included in that double LP 'Incandescent' book I mentioned. Wonderful.

Echorich, Those left behinds were the tough ones. I'm also interested to know what I have up my sleeve next.

FORW, I don't know that book, but it sounds like one I would really enjoy. For better or worse, seems like all of my reads are music oriented these days. I'm going to find this one.

Echorich said...

FORW, I have to find that book as well. The indie impresario I am most interested in is Some Bizzare's Stevo...He was a one man dynamite implosion.

friend of rachel worth said...

Hi echo check out for an interview with matt Johnson that touches on stevo

friend of rachel worth said...

If we are starting a book club the other opus is bob stanleys ( saint Étienne) book yeah yeah yeah the story of modern pop. It is from a uk perspective but full of good stuff