I’ve done a bit of soul searching recently, a bit of contemplating on the deeper things in life, and it’s made me face up to some cold hard facts. Of course, as a shameless blogger, I feel compelled to share these thoughts with you, dear reader. Namely:
1. The no-panty-line panty is pure myth.
2. I curse Man United but I have impure thoughts about Dimitar Berbatov.
3. Elbow’s latest album is nowhere near as good as their last one.
There, I’ve said it.
Back in 2009, Elbow released a piece of pop perfection called The Seldom Seen Kid. And for the last two years it has easily been at the top of my most played list. Even now I reckon I listen to the gorgeous, evocative “Bones of You” at least three times a week. Prior to Seldom Seen…, I’d never heard of Elbow, even though they’d been kicking around the UK music scene for several years. Seldom Seen… changed all that, and deservedly so.They won awards and ended up on lots of year-end Best Of lists. “One Day Like This” was the big single, while the bite of “Grounds for Divorce” got lots of play on TV shows. I preferred the beauty and romance of “Mirrorball”. With lyrics like “We kissed like we invented it”, how could you go wrong? Elbow’s Brit pop was smart but fearlessly emotional. I loved these guys and was so pleased to see them enjoying success. So how excited was I when I heard they had a new album out as well as a slot opening for U2 this summer. I picked up the latest release, Build A Rocket Boys!, enthusiastically slipped it in to the car stereo, and readied for greatness to blast out of the speakers.
Then how totally disappointed I was to hear they’d made a noodle-y, meandering, experimental record. Ugh! Is it too much to ask to write a song I can sing to? I’m not talking “The Bones of You: The Sequel” (even though I’d love that), but come on! Yes, you can hear a lush, not-quite orchestral sound on the last album, but Jeez-Louise, with Build a Rocket… you’ve now got a full orchestra, a spoken word reprise and a youth choir! A youth choir?!? Did all that success go to your head? Too much pot in the studio? I’m wondering what happened to your straight-ahead cords and pop sensibilities, now given over for a go at out-radioheading Radiohead. Or maybe they were trying for a Tears for Fears-inspired sort of choral-group does melancholic introspection set to a grand synthesized heaviness. I’m drowning under the weight of their ambitions while they seem to be mocking me, “Radio-schmadio rockmom, we’re more interested in how this will sound in the Royal Albert Hall with a 60–piece orchestra.”
When the first cut, “The Birds”, clocks in at 8:04 you know you’re in for some serious musical ramblings. Time it’s time! It’s the second coming of Talk Talk! (whom I love by the way, but I’m not the moody teen I once was).
Having said that, there are a few gems to be found amidst the burdens these boys are carrying around, and yes I will listen to it, though not nearly as much as Seldom Seen…. I’m finding that most of the tracks, such as “Lippy Kids”, “The River” and the aforementioned “The Birds”, take time to reveal themselves, while a couple – “Dear Friends” in particular – are pleasures straight out of the box. Guy Garvey’s lyrics continue to unspool like poetry from a hopeless romantic. Past love(s) figure heavily again making me wonder who is Guy’s ‘freshly painted angel walking on walls, stealing booze and hour long hungry kisses’. She has been immortalized. If only!
As I listen to Elbow’s modern soundtrack for the moody teen, I’m thinking: either Elbow’s latest is an ambitious shot in to the pop darkness or a self-indulgent piece of rock star dress-up. You know, how many auteurs does it take to screw up a good thing? On the other hand, as I listen to Guy’s husky voice and lovelorn fearlessness, it does make me wonder: does Dimitar ever write poetry?
It started with Haircut 100.
My search, that is, for summer songs to play in the car with the kids – on the way to the pool, beach, movies. I was looking for clean, happy songs. I thought first of The Go-Go’s, of course. Playful songs with a girl power streak – just what my seven and nine year old daughters need! But then I couldn’t believe it when I realized: I do not own a Go-Go’s CD. How can that be?
So I pulled out Haircut 100 (Pelican West – see even the album name sounds fun!) along with The English Beat (Special Beat Service) and put them on heavy rotation in the car. Well, when I could get a break from Disney’s Girlz Rock 2 and Abba Gold – damn you Mamma Mia!
The next night, with my husband on a business trip, I went online to rectify that Go-Go’s omission…
See here’s the problem with iTunes and your husband being away.
FORTY-SIX song purchases later, it’s one a.m. and like a mad musicologist, I’m sitting before the glow of the computer screen creating for my children MY DEFINITIVE ’80s PLAYLISTS!
I’m putting that in all caps because when you’ve grown up in the ’80s it really deserves emphasis. And even though you might call it lame nostalgia I’m labeling it an Important Learning Experience, like the time my mom made us watch Easy Rider on Christmas Eve by explaining, “Kids, this is your history.”
So, now that you are intrigued, what is on these precious playlists?
I’ve created five playlists, each with 20 to 22 songs, each playlist with a different theme (okay wiseguys, go ahead and joke). If you listen to all five lists, you’re introduced to a glorious 100+ of pure ’80s pop and you basically become a diehard OMD, Yaz (aka Yazoo) and/or Talk Talk fan forever.
I consider these tunes quality ’80s music – some were big hits, some more obscure. I like to think of my taste as a bit left of field, so instead of Huey Lewis and The News, you get Colourfield. No Wang Chung or Cyndi Lauper but plenty of The Smithereens and Scritti Politti. And when I do pick the mega stars I like the lesser known tunes like Spandau Ballet’s “Only When You Leave” or “Hazy Shade of Winter,” which is an absolute underrated gem from The Bangles (on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, written by Paul Simon btw).
Theme One – Favs
These are my top picks. Here I’ve got a cross-section of favorite tunes from around the globe, heavy on the British contingent however: Bananarama, ABC, Haircut 100, Human League, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Wham, Spandau Ballet, Talk Talk, The Smiths and rounding out with the classic “Blue Monday” from New Order. To represent the Yanks, I’ve included Madonna and Michael Jackson (“P.Y.T.” not “Beat It!”) as well as Prince and The Revolution and Nenah Cherry (remember her? She’s half-American, I think). And last but not least a couple of Australian bands (no, no, not Men At Work, get serious), namely INXS and The Divinyls. Listen to it again and again – “Pleasure and Pain” is divine.
Theme Two – Brits & a Kiwi
Let’s go deeper in to Brit pop, which had such a strong influence on me. Heck, I was a Texas kid in the suburbs – crazy hair bands from the UK were the exotic and sexy lead characters in my Eurorail-pass escapist dreams.
Here we have more contributions from the bands I listed above as well as Echo and the Bunnymen x 2 (“Rescue” and “The Cutter” kill me), Love and Rockets, Elvis Costello, A Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Yaz, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (“Women III” – check it out!), The Psychedelic Furs, The Style Council and The Colourfield. I sneak in a quirky contribution from Kiwi band Split Enz – “Dirty Creatures” and top off the list with two definitive New Wave tracks: The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” Now we can all do that head-down, asymmetrical hair, mope-y dance.
Unfortunately I couldn’t include the sitar-bop of Blancmange’s “Living on the Ceiling” because it’s unavailable on iTunes! Any thoughts/suggestions on that would be most appreciated.
*UPDATE: since I wrote this, Blancmange has appeared on Spotify – yeah! So we can all now enjoy their exotic cool.
And can I just make a career suggestion here – one of you Mileys-Britneys-Demi’s-Selena’s-Ashley’s could kick so much pop ass if you did a Pharrell Williams-produced remake of “Situation” or “Don’t Go”. Think about it. (Katy P and Ke$ha, please don’t bother because we’re just counting the days til you go away.)
So at the risk of this turning in to my senior thesis (we don’t need that much nostalgia), I’ll wrap things up and run through the rest of the lists.
Theme Three – Dance
Think more Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, Sheila E, George Michael, Rob Base and Eazy E and again with the techno-booty-shaking Yaz.
*UPDATE: I would have preferred to include Scritti Politti’s “Lover to Fall” but alas not on Spotify so we’ll have to enjoy “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin”. Hope you’re all okay with that.
Theme Four – Rock & Pop
This list is reserved for all those pop-rock artists who weren’t necessarily groundbreaking but made some great music in the ’80s: The Police, The Pretenders, The Cars, Midnight Oil, Talking Heads, U2, Lone Justice, The Reivers (Texas band alert!), Paul Kelly (covering Crowded House), etc. plus my beloved R.E.M. and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
*UPDATE: Very limited selection of Lone Justice, Paul Kelly and The Reivers on Spotify, so I’ve had to improvise. But I added some Marshall Crenshaw for good measure.
Theme Five – A Little Edge
These songs close out the education with a slightly edgier look at ’80s rock plus a peek at rap beginnings: early Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, The Plimsouls, The Sugarcubes (Bjork’s original band), Run DMC and LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali” makes me think I’m cool), more R.E.M., a little Bowie and one of the GREAT college bands of all time: Guadalcanal Diary.
Oh, and a little Concrete Blonde.
Once when I was with my mom, “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and the Papas came on the radio and I sang along. My mom was surprised I knew the words and said, “You must have heard that in the womb!”
Now do I expect my girls to jump up and say, “Mommy this ’80s music is just so awesome, what IS it?”
But the hours I spent buying and organizing, rearranging and previewing were immensely enjoyable. Yes, I am the musical equivalent of a policy wonk. Yes, I indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Who doesn’t?
And maybe one day, I’ll catch my daughter singing, “We are young despite the years, we are concerned, we are hope despite the times.”
Long live the ’80s.