Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Retroactive : 1982

The year in music : 1982

The 80s had started brightly with a glut of thrilling new tangents in music and fashion that marked the new decade out from the stale conservatism of the 1970s but by 1982 the novelty had started to wear off. The charts were still full of classic British pop like Madness, ABC and even a new group called Wham! but punters had begun to dig below the surface for their thrills and much of the year's best music came from the underground with bands pushing established styles to new levels of intensity to create harsher, darker sonic hybrids. Punk had first risen to mainstream dominance five years earlier but 1982 was arguably the genre's finest year, ushering in a second wave of bands that stripped the music back to its basic components and produced something harder, faster and more immediate. Hardcore flourished on both US coasts whilst the UK '82 scene spawned grizzly new bands that would forge important inroads into extreme music - whilst this was all happening the older bands were enjoying their most successful period in the charts with the Jam notching two #1 hits, the Clash's 'Combat Rock' becoming their best-selling LP and punk-era veterans turning their hand to writing crossover pop hits with the Stanglers' 'Golden Brown' and Captain Sensible's 'Happy Talk' both selling by the truckload. But for many of those bands 1982 represented punk's last hurrah and few of the original first wave would survive further into the decade as the genre returned underground with MTV-sanctioned pop regaining the upper hand. Elsewhere Bruce Springsteen and The Cure both dropped their most depressing albums EVER to a backdrop of the Falklands War and the USA in the grip of Reaganomics and Alan Moore penned the original 'V for Vendetta' comic series as a stark reflection of the times. There were rays of hope breaking through all the negativity though with the arrival of Channel 4 to offer a fresher cultural outlet on British telly (primed by flagship music show 'The Tube' which launched several careers) and over in Japan something called a compact disc had just arrived in music stores. Spike up your hair, crack open a tin of Special Brew and prepare yourself for a warts 'n' all trip through the best 1982 had to offer.

Albums of the year

1. Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast
Looking back over lists of 'classic albums', you have to wonder how many of the people responsible for creating records now regarded as musical milestones can still live off their influence. Between messy break-ups, stints in rehab, religious conversions and ill-thought out solo tangents, the giants of musical yesteryear have often fallen by the wayside and are left looking back on their heydey wondering what went wrong. Unless they're Steve Harris, who these days spends his time flying round the world in a plane piloted by his lead singer and playing sold out arena shows to zillions of drooling acolytes kitted out in Maiden memorabilia. That's the difference between Iron Maiden and their peers - whilst other bands contented themselves with scene prestige and the odd breakthrough hit, Harris and co were plotting world domination from the very beginning.

'NOB' (hur hur) was the first sign of their determination starting to pay off. Whilst their first two records charted admirably, 'Beast' put them at the very top of the tree. Harris tweaked the existing formula by losing tough guy growler Paul Di'Anno and replacing him with erudite shrieker Bruce Dickinson and the switch paid off almost immediately when 'Run to the Hills' went top ten in the singles charts, prompting 'Beast' to go straight in at #1 in the album listings shortly afterwards and signalling the start of Maiden's commercial reign as metal's biggest sellers. Though their sound was massively catchy and superbly promoted via eye-catching Eddie merch, there's still a dark magic to this record - imps and demons frolic on the album cover and the lyrical subject matter (devil worship, executions and the 'melting his face, screaming in pain' bit in 'Children of the Damned') was tailor made to freak out those unfamiliar with the band's goonish humour behind the stony-faced album photos. The record improves with age too - after wearing out the hit-strewn second side (featuring '....Hills', the title track and epic show-closer 'Hallowed be thy Name'), you realise that side one is even better - convicts, Vikings, hookers and demonic offspring battle for supremacy over galloping basslines and screeching solos, all cemented by Dickinson's air raid siren delivery. This was metal coming out of the dark and into the spotlight without losing any of its underground appeal - Maiden would continue to blast their twin-lead epic storytelling take on the genre all over the world whilst decimating the pop charts and garnering a global fancult that remains to this day. Wherever you stand on modern day Maiden, you can't deny the power and influence 'Beast' had on getting metal into the mainstream and keeping it there for decades to come.

Check out - 'Children of the Damned' with that grizzly lyrical mid-section. Gah!

2. Discharge - Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
The early 80s must've sucked balls in most of the UK. In sharp contrast to the vibrant, colourful swathes of synth pop filling the singles charts, the underground musical remnants of that forgotten age tell a different story, one of empty frustration, lack of opportunity and unbridled fury against a government full of pompous, elite fuckwads criminally out of touch with most of the nation (any of that sound familiar?). Punk acted as a soundtrack to the times but things had moved on a lot from the original wave of breakthrough acts in 1976/77 when an infectious wave of energy swept across Britain and spawned the formation of numerous future headliners whilst propelling various up and coming newcomers into the charts. Fast forward five years to 1982 and what began as creative energy had turned destructive - the new wave of bands forming in the early 80s had no intention of appearing on Top of the Pops, their priority was to create a new disturbing form of racket to soundtrack the bleak outlook of the age in the midst of Thatcherite repression, widespread unemployment and the onset of another pointless war in the Falklands. Slogans weren't enough this time round, the focus was more on embodying the anarchist mindset in sonic form - bands abandoned melody, structure and even standard rhythm to create a savage, scrofulous output that barely merited inclusion in the 'music' bracket for many more sophisticated listeners. But the sounds would strike a chord with the mohican-sporting faithful in grimy venues across the country and go on to sew the seeds of various forays into nose-to-the-grindstone heaviness across punk and metal as the decade progressed and scenes spawned, cross-pollenated and competed in wars of one-upmanship across the realms of extreme music. 

It's pointless trying to identify the exact origin of the rougher, industry-resilient strain of second wave punk but I can't think of any band that nailed the blueprint better than Discharge with the relentless rush of audio savagery pedalled on their first full-length back in 1982. 'Hear nothing...' stands out from the crowd not just for the unbridled venom dripping from every second of the 27 frantic minutes that made it onto wax but for the grizzly sonic innovations used to convey the horror being described. The band members would have probably been kicked out of other groups for perceived lack of talent - vocalist Cal Morris makes no attempt to sing throughout the record, drummer Tez Roberts' rhythms wander all over the place and the atonal din churned out by the guitars and bass would make most people turn the stereo off in disgust. This, however, was the secret to the band's potency - their willingness to search outside the common model to craft new ways to terrify and provoke. Like Venom before them the band intentionally laid down the scummiest guitar sound they could find but unlike Cronos and co they weren't just after cheap shock value - guitarist Bones manages to soak his guitar riffs in so much distortion that they sound more like someone revving up a chainsaw than strumming away at a six-stringer and his jaw-dropping solos that lay down a marker for early thrash without indulging in any of the spiral staircase complexity that later axe heroes would make their trademark. Morris' vocals sound like a tramp arguing with a mountain lion in the middle of a hurricane but fit the mix perfectly, becoming more of a fourth instrument alongside the relentless assault from further back on stage and represent a benchmark in gruff vocal delivery that would be heavily imitated across punk's later permutations. Maloney went one better, spawning an entire genre with his erratic drumming in the shape of the 'D-beat' scene, a grizzlier take on punk rock that would inspire numerous scuzz lovers across the world as punk proceeded to go global. The band as a whole are perfect balance of venom and gristle, an infectious dose of controlled mayhem that would remain a staple of punk rock but ultimately manifest its influence more profoundly in the nascent thrash metal scene as bands strived to capture the raging intensity present on 'Hear nothing....' to soundtrack their own tilt on confrontational heavy rock. The band's grimy bootmark can be heard on 'Kill 'em all' and 'Show no mercy' which both dropped the following year as thrash got off the blocks but its influence didn't stop there - Celtic Frost would go on to cite the band as a prime inspiration whilst the corrosive sonic stew that became black metal was still brewing away and the bowel-quaking electric rumble of the guitars can be heard on late 80s death metal or more recognisably on the anarchist grindcore of fellow Brits Carcass and Napalm Death a year or two earlier. Headbangers have gone on to praise the band's virtues in the modern era with everyone from Slipknot to Sepultura knocking out cover versions of tracks on the album and 'Hear nothing....' remains a monument to sonic dissonance that almost every extreme band will come to lay a laurel at during their career. Historical significance alone shouldn't bring you to this album though, the shock and awe hydraulics are just as robust as they were thirty years ago when the band forged it out of the rage, negativity and destructive impulse that characterised the period. The sheer act of picking up this record should leave grubby marks on your fingertips like a cheap newspaper but that's the beauty of it - this is the grizzly soundtrack to a grim era in UK cultural history and still wields the power to disturb and inspire in times such as those we live in now.

Check out : 'The possibility of life's destruction'. Have I got your attention now?

3. Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Every few years Springsteen seems to decide that he has enough money in the bank already and releases one of what Buddyhead rather uncharitably term his 'fake Dylan albums', stepping back from the arena rock bombast of his regular material to laid down something darker and more personal. Rumour has it that 'Nebraska' was originally intended to be a full band effort in the vein of 'Born in the USA' before the boss decided against it and recorded everything on a shitty tape recorder with just him and his geetar - a ballsy move it has to be said as you can't imagine record company bigwigs keen for another 'Born to run' or 'Hungry Heart' being particularly pleased with the commercial potential of an album full of songs about serial killers and bleak wage slave misery. Unlike the rousing tales of honest toil and salvation that propelled his earlier work to the top of the US charts, every track on 'Nebraska' portrays characters stuck at a moral crossroads where every road leads to their downfall - the existential mire they find themselves in would make for a tough listen even in comfier surroundings but Springsteen's desolate, weary delivery over nothing but an acoustic guitar and a harmonica leaves the listener with nowhere to hide from the grim reality on show here. The boss sounds like he's taping this alone in one of those old American houses full of heavy oak furniture and big empty spaces, sat cross legged on the floorboards with a bottle of bourbon and the phone unplugged whilst the E Street Band are stuck waiting for him to turn up at the studio. I like to imagine that 'Nebraska' was intended as a riposte to the blue collar success anthems pedalled by Journey and Survivor at the time, with a hungover Springsteen finally snapping upon hearing 'Don't stop believing' for the umpteenth time and smashing his radio to pieces before fucking off to the middle of nowhere to write an album about what life's really like when you're trapped in poverty with no way out and there's no popcorn happy ending to look forward to.

This has been my fave Springsteen album for a while now, in fact it's probably the only one of his records that I can actually listen to all the way through without getting a bit bored. His 70s stuff, as much as I can see why people like it, is all just a bit too much for me - 'Darkness on the edge of town' just sounds like a horse singing over a barrage of clunky piano and sweaty bar rock posturing, it's just all too damn virile for my liking. Likewise the lumpen burger rock of 'Born in the USA' leaves me pretty cold - it probably sounds brilliant when you're loaded on Budweiser in a sleeveless top at one of his massive arena shows but I can't get a handle on it personally. 'Nebraska' is different because he doesn't sound like he's squeezing out a turd when he's singing for once, the stripped down production allows the basic elements of guitar, vocals and harmonica to flourish and you start to recognise the human being behind all that stadium spectacle. The title track kicks things off with a first person recount of the Charles Starkweather murders which simply concludes 'I guess there's just a meanness in this world', a grim acceptance of life's pervasive shittyness that becomes the backbone of the record - the protagonists on cuts like 'Highway Patrolman' and moderate hit single 'Atlantic City' aren't out murdering people but they're only one step away from a really bad life decision whilst the slightly cheesy 'Johnny 99' retreads the all-too-familiar 'lost job, got drunk, crashed car, murdered policeman' path in much the same vein as Johnny Cash at his peak. When you know the boss for thumping stadium rock anthems it's difficult to believe that this is the same guy - there are occasional glimpses of his old self on sprightly yet sarcastic closer 'Reason to believe' and you can hear him fighting back the urge to rock the fuck out on the choppy 'Open all night' but overall I'd still be tempted to ask to see some ID before I accepted a cheque from him. That Springsteen had the balls to drop 'Nebraska' between the bombastic twinset 'The River' and the planet-crushing Superbowl rock of 'Born in the USA' is all the more impressive when you think of how many more records he'd have probably sold had he played a safer hand - ultimately it didn't matter as 'Born in the USA' unwittingly tapped into a strain of mid 80s Reagan-era patriotism and Springsteen coined it in from the subsequent world tour and the live album series that went with it and somewhere along the way saw Jon Bon Jovi poach his 'Johnny and Gina' blue collar narrative for a series of poodle rock classics of his own. The boss kept his dignity throughout and has gone on to pepper his career with similarly dark slabs of country folk like 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' and 'Devils and Dust' every time he gets bored of playing 'Born to Run' to stadiums of coked-up accountants. I'm not about to pay through the nose to watch him fuck around onstage for four hours straight  but 'Nebraska' is an album I'll keep coming back to for a dose of the boss without all the bunting and bravado. I think that's the way I prefer him.

Check out : that spellbinding title track in all its desolate glory. 

4. The Exploited - Troops of Tomorrow
A lifetime spent in punk rock provides libertine thinkers with a chance to expound on their radical political theories and freeform anarchist alternative living. It also acts as a pretty good excuse not to get a proper job and contribute responsably towards society, which is perhaps what drew disenfranchised Glaswegian ex-soldier Wattie Buchan to it as the genre gained in strength in the late 70s. Having discovered that, whilst the British army catered to his taste for mindless violence, it imposed rather inconvenient limitations on his equally passionate fancy for heavy drinking and loud, uncouth tirades against authority. Hardcore punk must have seemed like the answer to his prayers when it swept the nation in the early 80s - why risk life and limb in the Falklands when you can start Special Brew-fueled riots back home every night of the week and become a star in the process?

'Troops of Tomorrow' fits the theme of this list quite nicely but it's also the strongest Exploited record featuring a number of their most recognisable tunes. 'Alternative' remains a staple of their live show to this day whilst '(Fuck the)USA' endeared them to legions of potential fans across the pond (the Yanks were quite good about it though, they loved 'em as much as anyone else). Their status as flagbearers for musical aggression was only strengthened when Slayer covered a further three tracks from the album on their rampaging medley with Ice-T on the 'Judgement Night' soundtrack ten years later, substituting the lyrics from 'UK 82' for a vitriolic update on the LA riots that were fresh in memory at the time. Which pretty much sums up the Exploited as a musical force - rather than acting as the Joe Strummer-esque motivational figure drumming up revolutionary unrest amongst the left-wing intelligentsia, Wattie and co were more interested in the waiting for it all to kick off so they could wade in and enjoy themselves. The motivation wasn't really that important, it was all about turning up on the day and leaving your mark. 'Troops' acts as the perfect soundtrack to such an appetite for unrest - it's full of short, sharp blasts of vitriol and venom and ideal for an evening spent kicking the shit out of your fellow concert goers. Many will view this as ethically unsound and they'd probably be right, but the continued popularity of the group right up to the present day is testament to the ever-present attraction of knuckle-scrapingly barbaric hardcore punk. Legions of mohawk-sporting deadbeats view Wattie as their own Bob Dylan and audiences worldwide turn out in droves to exorcise their own gripes against society at their brutal, uncompromising live shows (check out the video link below to see what I mean). Wattie's kept the formula fresh with a revolving door policy on younger, fresher backing musicians and a modern production touch on characteristically unsubtle later additions to their back catalogue such as 'Beat the Bastards' and 'Fuck the System' has only strengthened their position as streetpunk's noisiest and nastiest creation. The political landscape may have changed but 'Troops of Tomorrow' remains a great soundtrack to railing against your establishment of choice - Wattie's probably not too concerned about all that in any case, he just likes violence. And I'll always respect a man with a passion.

Check out : their entire set from Moscow 2005 celebrating 25 years in showbiz.

5. The Cure - Pornography
Let me just float an idea out there for you : it's easier to make a miserable record than a happy one. Don't get me wrong, we all turn to music to accompany us through our darkest moments and it takes talent to capture that sadness in musical form but my point is that none of the misery staples you hold so dear would have ever seen the light of day had their creators not been able to write stuff that wasn't miserable as a prerequisite. Joy Division would never have adopted such a prominent position in popular culture had they not been able to crank out danceable synth pop like 'Isolation' and 'Love will take us apart', Morrisey would never have been able to reach legions of droopy bedroom romantics had Johnny Marr not been around to provide the riffs and melodies to get the Smiths on the radio and 90s rock reference points like 'OK Computer' and 'In Utero' would never have become so widely appreciated without the initial mosh club top ten intrusions of 'Creep' and 'Smells like Teen Spirit'. Even Rivers Cuomo wouldn't have been able to unwittingly cire a generation of side-parting wrist slashers with 'Pinkerton' had he not had 'Buddy Holly' to keep the record company happy. Critics and music nerds remember the miserable stuff and everyone else sticks with the hits - you need to have something for both sides if you're going to make any real impact. Robert Smith may not have fully embraced this concept when he penned 'Pornography' back in '82 but in any case it marked both his band's bleakest moment on record and paradoxically the point where The Cure started to become the instantly recognisable global fancult that we know today via a series of radio friendly hit singles. 'Pornography' keeps the tone dour and depressing throughout but it was perhaps the grim ambiance that weighed so heavily on the group that they came close to disintegrating completely at the time of its release, prompting Fat Bob to put misery on the back burner for a while and pen some of their earliest pop hits as an afterthought. They'd pump out 'Let's go to bed', 'The Wait' and 'The Love Cats' before their next long player hit the shelves and the full band reconvened by the mid 80s as their began the second stage of their career as the world's biggest goth band. It's perfectly likely that most fans of their stuff post 'In between days' would find the desolate throb of most of 'Pornography' a bit bleak for the tastes but Bob ranks the album as the first part of a trilogy of releases (completed by 1989's stadium goth masterpiece 'Disintegration' and the oft-overlooked late period gem 'Bloodflowers' from 2000) that best define the band's identity. Safe to say then that it's probably worth a listen if you've not yet had the pleasure.

Having emerged from the post-punk landscape as one of the era's more likely crossover acts, The Cure managed to nail their niche market with early single 'Boys don't cry' - the track didn't encapsulate their signature sound (which would evolve dramatically over later releases) so much as set them up as an authority on fragility and futility, blokes in touch with their emotions but ultimately too sensitive for the world around them. They ploughed that same furrow over the next few years to increasing commercial reward and began to make a dent on both the single and album charts whilst maintaining a distant, aloof relationship with the media and remaining practically invisible wherever possible. By the time 'Pornongraphy' was released in 1982 they'd pretty much backed themselves into a corner - the record was their bleakest, coldest release yet but nevertheless provided them with their first top ten hit on the album charts. Despite the perceived inaccessibility of their music, the band were more popular than ever. However, the weighty nature of the music and lyrics was starting to become difficult for the band to shoulder without consequence - Smith would relive the subject matter on stage so vividly that he'd frequently finish gigs in tears and the album tour cycle ended with bassist Simon Gallup leaving in a huff (he and Smith would barely speak until he rejoined the band for 'Head on the Door' in 1985) and drummer Lol Tolhurst was relocated to keyboards as Bob switched formations for the band's next stage. In modern day hindsight it's perhaps a relief that Smith's solution was so pragmatic as the outlook on 'Pornography' suggests that he was pretty much ready to cash in his chips by this point - references to death, drowning and disease abound across the eight tracks of unparalleled desolation present here and the album's cold, detached production style makes it sound like vultures were circling overhead as the band recorded it. If your teenage kid starts looping this album or writing Smith's lyrics on their school books, hide the fucking razor blades - 'Siamese Twins' bemoans a vicious circle of futility over a stark funeral dirge ('Dancing in my pocket/worms eat my skin....Sing out loud, we all die/Laughing into the fire, is it always like this?) whilst the aptly-named 'Cold' sounds like Smith marooned inside a polar ice crater. 'A Strange Day' presents a slightly more upbeat tale of drowning yourself, opener 'One Hundred Years' greets us with the cheery maxim of 'It doesn't matter if we all die' and the ominous title track sounds like Joy Division's 'Atrocity Exhibition' being performed from the bottom of a mineshaft. How exactly Smith managed to sort his head out after writing all this stuff is anyone's guess but he was steady enough to take stock and re-assess why he started the band in the first place, eventually drawing a line under the oppressive gloom of 'Pornography' and retreating from plain sight to re-emerge with some distinctly more upbeat material along with a new line-up and the now distinctive big hair 'n' lipstick look that would prove pivotal in making The Cure a household name over the next few years. It's slightly baffling even today to think that the bloke responsible for this album could come out with 'Just like Heaven' and 'Friday I'm in love' but that's what sets apart a talented songwriter from just another grim-faced introvert wallowing in their own misery. You don't have to be a Cure fanatic to get into what's going on here and many fans of the group's poppier material will prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of this stage of the their career but if you can handle a bit of bleak then this might just be your next undiscovered gem (one tip though - if you're going to download a copy then be VERY careful what you click on when you type the album title into your search engine......).

Check out : 'A Strange Day', the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon spent drowning kittens.

6. Men Without Hats - Rhythm of Youth
We're not exactly spoilt for choice in North American synth pop acts - in fact, I can't think of any from the States but these weirdos led the charge from north of the border. I hold true to the theory that truly weird music is never intentionally odd, it all seems perfectly rational and reasonable to those making it - the ice-cold sonic mechanics of Kraftwerk were quintessentially German whilst the stiff-upper lipped eccentricity of the numerous British acts was typical of our fair island. Over in Montreal, these guys were doing their own thing - I can't put my finger on why but it's got the Maple Leaf all over it. It's not just the occasional burst of French lyrics or the deapan theatrics of 8 foot baritone frontman Ivan Doroshuk, there's just a discernable whiff of Canada (or, if we're being accurate, Québec) about the whole affair. Canada's a fucking weird place anyway, it's like the Belgium of the Americas - half the population can't agree with the other half over what language to speak or what to call the country. The Belgians make waffles, the Canadians make syrup to put on the waffles. And they both produce strange and fascinating bands. There's a connection, you can't deny it.

I'm straying slightly off topic here. 'Rhythm of Youth' is the band's debut and it's chock full of anthemic synth pop with a nutzo streak a mile wide. The most logical place to start for those unfamiliar with the band is their unfeasibly catchy hit 'Safety Dance' - one listen of this and it'll be stuck in your head all fucking day. The promo clip showcases Doroshuk prancing around a medieval village spouting nonsense, surrounded by dwarves, wenches and morris dancers. Unsusprisingly, it was a big MTV hit. The rest of the album treads similarly eccentric ground - 'Living in China' enthusiastically explores the finer points of Oriental culture ('Ping Pong! Egg Foo Yung! etc) whilst 'Antarctica' does the same for the South Pole. Later singles 'I Like' and 'I got the message' also tore up the charts, although the group are generally regarded as a one-hit wonder due to the ubiquitous 'Safety Dance' and its long chart run in '83. Since then they've become a bit of a footnote, a Canadian sideline into a genre dominated by other nations (a bit like the synthpop Anvil if you like) but this one is well worth digging out for another look.

Check out : 'Safety Dance' getting the Beavis and Butthead treatment.

7. The Misfits - Walk among us
Whilst the punk movement certainly had its intellectuals, there was always plenty of room for big dumb fun in the two-minute quick-fix universe of classic punk rock. Getting people's attention via short blasts of catchy aggressive music was a great way to introduce them to a new branch of political idealism but it was equally well suited to pairing up with the grimier elements of pop culture for an irresistible fix of cheap thrills. The Ramones tapped into the universally recognisable everyday backdrop of surf music and 60s pop to soundtrack their apolitical punk-era tales of sniffing glue and eating cheeseburgers and bands cropped up all over the States in the ensuing years to offer a soundtrack to the trashier elements of Yank culture, revelling in the instant gratification provided by classic pop, rock 'n' roll and even country and western along with the nationwide subculture of comic books and horror films. New Jersey's The Misfits were firmly focussed on the latter, eschewing real life references for lyrics revolving around B-move sci-fi plots and trashy horror novels, the basement end of popular culture typically derided by critics and conservatives alike and generally regarded as artistically worthless. It was just this visceral low-level charm that made the genre the perfect companion to the Misfits' splunderous punk rock assault, an instantly accessible mix of blunt hardcore and classic rock 'n' roll rampage augmented by the 'Evil Elvis' baritone of lead singer Glen Danzig. The band had an theatrical image to match their sound too, pumping weights to stack up wrestler-style biceps for their stage show and fashioning their hair into a straight-down-the-front 'Devilock' to mimic the otherworldly creatures in the horror films from which they cropped many of their best ideas. The early years on the US punk scene were characterised by a typically erratic release schedule of singles and splits before their début LP 'Walk among us' dropped in '82 in what turned out to be the later stages of their initial period of activity - the band would release only one more long player the following year before splitting to leave a legacy that went from strength to strength as metal bands like Metallica and Mötley Crüe celebrated them as inspirations and their instantly recognisable skull T-shirt became an across the board fashion staple in much the same way as the Motörhead logo did in the late 90s. 

'Walk among us' mainlines the sweat 'n' sugar formula of classic US hardcore for its main source of energy, throwing down a pumped-up hybrid of rock'n'roll and brutal punk to get pits blazing from the first note onwards. Unlike the grimier take on the formula pedalled in the UK at the time which conjures up an aura of spilt ale and industrial grime, Yank hardcore always captured a sweeter buzz of violent energy, a gum-chewing fizz-bomb of slam-heavy riot rock that suited the low-culture rampage of East coast lunks like the Misfits (nobody does big and dumb like the Garden State, just check out 'Jersey Shore' for modern proof) and was also much bigger in South America than the British bands ever were. Danzig and co were only too happy to keep it swift, brutal and trashy both on stage and on the record, bowling strikes from opener '20 Eyes' with catchy gang vocals, rampaging hardcore delivery and massive choruses about martians, zombies and vampires - they didn't waste time on solos or musically complex passages (most likely because such tangents were beyond their repertoire) but this just ensured that proceedings remained short, to the point and endearingly scuzzy with a rough-edged production rivalling the boozy R'n'R stampede of Motörhead's 'No sleep 'til Hammersmith' which landed the previous year. Tracks clock in firmly under two minutes for the most part and the tone is lighthearted without descending into total parody - though the lyrics on tracks like closer 'Braineaters' raise a smile (a choir of zombies complaining about 'Brains for dinner, brains for lunch, brains for breakfast.....why can't we have some fucking guts?') you neverthless fear the band would probably beat you up for suggesting that their music not be taken entirely seriously. Like Joey Ramone before him, Glen Danzig succeeds in channelling the old school character of his vocal influences to fill out the band's sound, his echoic baritone hitting the back wall much like the King did in his '68 Special period - Danzig would even go on to cover 'Trouble' with his eponymous post-Misfits outfit ten years later and his R'n'R croon perfectly reproduces the dark menace of Elvis' murkier moments. 'Walk among us' holds its own with 'Rocket to Russia' and the début cuts from Social Distortion and Stray Cats as an infectious revisit of classic Yank culture channelled via the restless energy of second wave US punk and packs the same rush of instant gratification as the lurid comic books and B-move shlock horror that provide the lyrical inspiration for longstanding favourites like the savage 'All Hell breaks loose', the proto-Rancid grot punk of 'Astro Zombies' and the smash and grab live cut 'Mommy can I go out and kill tonight?'. Though their spell in the public eye was only a brief one, The Misfits managed to sew their seed across a massive chunk of the rock landscape and would go on to prove a major influence on everyone from White Zombie to Guns 'n' Roses as their legacy touched newer generations of punters and performers. Glen Danzig carried his dark R'n'R fixation through to post-Misfits projects Samhaim and later Danzig to greater commercial dividends, becoming an MTV star in his own right in the early 1990s - the rest of the band reconvened without him in the late 90s fronted by new vocalist Michael Graves and stunned doubters with a rejuvenated take on their classic formula for some stonking new material. In this light we should consider 'Walk among us' to be an entry point rather than a be-all and end-all for the band - their initial period doesn't really do them justice so the wide-lens reappraisal made possible by a series of re-issued rarities (including their 1977 début 'Static Age' which didn't even surface until the late 90s) and readily available versions of their official output should become the default position for appreciating one of punk's most easily accessible reference points. There's a little something for everybody in the band's discography and the 25 minutes you'll need to set aside to take in all of 'Walk among us' should prove a sound investment for what could be a major horror punk love affair lying in wait.

Check out : 'Astro Zombies', gum-chewing Halloween punk surfing on a wave of green vomit.

8. Bad Brains - s/t
Punk can be either the most musically narrow-minded genre out there or a widely-accessible filter through which any combination of music, message and mentality can be passed to create something of value. Once the groundwork had been laid by the Pistols and the Ramones there was scope for everyone to join the party and feed in their own set of influences and ideas no matter how far removed they may have appeared from 'Never Mind the Bollocks' - London saw a relocated Shane Magowan pair up Celtic folk with punk for an instantly accessible mix of old and new whilst Joe Strummer continued to draw on every influence hanging in the air as the Clash's repertoire continued to expand. Stateside there were similar innovations with bands like Social Distortion and the Cramps bringing in rockabilly influences whilst other groups cross-pollenated with old school R'n'R (X), hip-hop (a nascent Beastie Boys) or skate culture (Suicidal Tendencies). Each time a new cocktail was discovered it was more by chance than anything else, bands simply bringing their own ingredients depending on their background and chucking them into the mix to see what came out, and one of the more unlikely successes of the era was the début of NYC's Bad Brains, a bunch of reggae-trained rastas who gravitated towards the US hardcore explosion of the early 1980s to create a hybrid that would prove massively influential across future genre shifts in American alternative music. The splicing of laidback bass-heavy reggae and frantic hardcore punk wasn't a logical step by any measure but looking back it all sort of makes sense - as much as revisionist rock historians parp about the omnipresent influence of early Clash and Pistols, we all tend to forget that a LOT of people in the late 70s and early 80s were hooked on Bob Marley and the Wailers and you would have been just as likely to hear 'Exodus' and 'Babylon by Bus' pumping out from the windows of urban America as any of the country's musical contributions to the punk and new wave movements. Bad Brains simply fed the philosophy and musical momentum of Rastafari reggae into the emergent formula of hardcore punk and took it to the punters, who in turn lapped it up and fed the energy into their own myriad takes on the recipe as the ball continued to roll over subsequent trends.

One of the most noteworthy thing about Bad Brains is that they had an idea of how music should sound outside of ragged-ass hardcore punk rock, having cut their teeth as a jazz-fusion ensemble in the mid 70s before becoming drawn towards the rough energy of heavy metal and later the unbridled intensity of early punk rock. The band changed their approach but didn't dumb down their style, they simply distilled the dynamic of their reggae output into shorter, faster snippets without sacrificing finesse or focus. And when they played fast they didn't fuck around - raging cuts like 'Don't need it' and 'Supertouch and Shitfit' fizz and crackle like a tank of piranhas attacking a sheep carcass whilst pissed-off cathartic episodes like 'Attitude' and 'Banned in D.C.' (the latter referencing a venue ban in their hometown that prompted their move to N.Y.C.) brought the insurgent energy of their reggae material into sharper, harsher focus. But when they needed to tone in back down a notch they were in familiar territory and low-end reggae interludes like 'Jah Calling' and 'Leaving Babylon' temper the mix without seeming out of place - the band showcased a common mindset between the genres that allowed them to ebb and flow between them without losing their thread. The trick would be copied by numerous bands in later years as the diverse make-up of urban America spawned a series of tattooed skate punks mixing reggae and punk rock to varying returns, in some cases capturing the spirit and energy of both (Sublime, Fishbone) but in many cases resulting in an inoffensive dilution of genres retaining none of their original appeal (311, RHCP and a legion of other honky trust fund monstrosities popular in pot-addled frathouses). But if there's one label that should be kept separate from Bad Brains it's that of a gimmick band - the fact that they were four black guys in a sea of white faces on the punk scene meant that they ran the risk of being regarded as a novelty but any such stigma overlooks their role as one of the pillars of Yank hardcore in the early 80s the band's close relationship with many of their scene peers. Their dynamic, deft approach to visceral hardcore punk went on to influence numerous other innovative groups drawing on their venomous delivery (Cro-Mags, Converge) or their stylistic diversity (Rancid, Godflesh) to forge something devastating and immediate of their own. 'Bad Brains' is perhaps an unlikely score draw of competing influences but the potency of the mix merely leaves us wondering, much like Shane Magowan when the Pogues' Celtic punk blew up globally, why nobody had though of trying it before. The band would go on to be universally revered and admired in punk circles and stand as testament to the notion that audiences down in the moshpit are as broad-minded as any other music fans out there - bring 'em anything new with enough conviction and they'll carry it right to the top for you.

Check out : their entire set live at CBGBs in 1982 for a glimpse of the rasta blaster in full effect.

9. Yazoo - Upstairs at Eric's
I've heard this album's place in popular culture described as follows; if you find a dusty copy of 'Upstairs at Eric's' on cassette in your car, it's been WAY too long since you last cleaned it. Indeed, 'Upstairs' is the sort of album that doesn't belong on some deluxe re-mastered digipack CD, it belongs in a cracked tape box with a bright yellow label stained with coffee (or better still, as side one to a killer D90 with 'Lexicon of Love' on side two). The coolest thing about the early 80s is that synth nerds like Vince Clarke could toss these albums off in the time it took the kettle to boil, filling the singles charts with an endless supply of cracking singles backed up by albums that, whilst never gaining the classic status attributed to their rock counterparts, nevertheless featured some stonking songwriting and played an undeniable role in shaping pop music on both sides of the Atlantic for the coming decade.

'Upstairs' is most significant as Vince Clarke's project between his role as principal songwriter for two of the 80s biggest electropop acts (Depeche Mode prior to this and Erasure afterwards), coupled with Alison Moyet as vocalist. Having made his trade writing stuff for theatrical male vocalists, Clarke decided to cater his material to a proper singer - Moyet was stacked like a real soul sister and could hit the back wall of any venue in a way Dave Gahan's puny diaphragm was never gonna equal. The depth provided by her vocals took the project out of rainy British electropop and placed it closer to the chart R'n'B packing dancefloors over in the US at the time, pairing soul and electro in a style that was widely plagiarised as the decade wore on by the likes of Jimmy Somerville and Annie Lennox to great reward on the singles chart. Clarke didn't need to labour the point for too long to prove he knew what he was doing though - singles 'Don't Go' and 'Only You' were massive hits and remain instantly recognisable to this day, the latter's place in pop folklore only cemented when the Flying Picketts reprised it for Xmas number one in 1983. By then, Yazoo had already gone their seperate ways - Clarke's refusal to get too comfortable was proven yet again when he penned a follow-up in '83 and then decided to torpedo the project as the album shot to the top of the charts, leaving Moyet to carve out a successful solo career whilst he shacked up with Andy Bell and racked up a relentless string of camp electro hit singles as Erasure. That's the secret of a true pop genius - get in there, make your point, crank out a few hits and then move on before it gets stale. If a few more people followed that lead nowadays, there'd be travellers clearing out their space pods in 20 years time and uncovering dusty I-pods containing some genuine classic albums ripe for reappraisal. We'll have to wait and see I suppose.

Check out - 'Only You' live in Berlin, 2008. Big Al nails it, as always.

10. FEAR - The Record
Punk was sometimes done better by the Yanks, particularly in the case of slobbering gutter hardcore and FEAR were a prime example of that. Muscle-strapped, beer-swilling misanthropes with a fine line in utterly non-PC lyrics and violent live shows, these guys were a much more satisfying alternative to the po-faced political lefty shit doing the round at the time - Slash says they were the only punk band in LA he listened to during GNR's formative years, and the lads duly massacred 'I don't care about you' on 'The Spaghetti Incident' years later to remind everyone.

The band are probably best appreciated via Penelope Spheeris' infamous punk documentary 'The Decline of Western Civilisation' (check out the link below for a look), where they make even the likes of The Germs and Circlejerks look polite and civilized. Musically inept and pumped full of bile, their set stands out as the best of the film for me - punk could be high culture at times but sometimes it's more satisfying to drag it down to its lowest common denominator : alcohol, violence, hatred and a hearty dose of toilet humour. Their imaginatively titled debut has 'em all in abundance - hipster baiting such as 'Let's start a war ' and the marvellous 'New York's alright if you like saxophones' rubs shoulders with sexist sleazefests like 'Beef Baloney' and 'Fresh Flesh', whilst there's even a bona fide punk classic there in the shape of 'I love livin' in the city'. Capped off with festive classic 'Fuck Christmas', this is one loud, nasty listen from start to finish.

Check out : their 'Western Civilisation' set with its unique brand of audience participation.

Tune of the Year

Afrika Bambaataa/Soul Sonic Force - 'Planet Rock'

Take a pinch of Kraftwerk, a dollop of George Clinton funk, some killer MC skills and a sliver of Ennio Morricone and stick it all in a blender with a promo vid full of body popping, graffiti and ludicrous customes - what do you get? A veritable avalanche of WIN, that's what! Bambaataa was arguably the first dude in hip hop to acknowledge electronic influences from outside black culture, taking inspiration from Gary Numan and Kraftwerk (reproducing a recognisable chunk of the latter's 'Trans Europe Express' in the process) to craft this memorable slab of dancefloor genius. Credited with giving birth to the electro scene, Bambaataa brought the frosty electronics of early 80s European pop to the dancefloors of urban America, laying the groundwork for pretty much everything else that happened in dance music over the next ten years. Hip hop, house, electro and breakbeat all owe this tune a debt of gratitude and anyone who's ever shaken their booty to any of the above on the world's dancefloors should tip their hat to the guy who provided one of clubland's most influential moments. Reeeeeeeeespect. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

New : Wild Nothing - 'Nocturne'

Ding ding! It's officially round two for the cluster of dream-pop outfits who dropped their débuts back in 2010 during the heady days of the slightly irritatingly-named 'chillwave' phenomenon. This should be good news for a man like myself who creamed himself over Beach House, Best Coast and School of Seven Bells back then but I had to admit that I've been slightly worried about the follow-up releases from all these bands - shimmering guitars and lysergic vocals were all in vogue back when shoegaze originally peaked twenty years ago but it didn't take long for the original crop of bands to start sounding like they'd run out of ideas. Line up the 1991 débuts of scene stalwarts like Curve and Chapterhouse with their lukewarm follow-ups from two years later and you'll see what I'm getting at. My Beachbest Coasthouse double-header from earlier this year voiced my relief that neither band had worn out their welcome and so I was hoping the follow-up release from Wild Nothing would match the mellow sleeper-hit charm of their début 'Gemini' which was one of my highlights of 2010. As it turns out they've actually bettered it, filling out to a full band of hipster session dudes and bringing the bedroom atmospherics of their first album into a more visceral, full-bodied end product ready to be taken on the road. Band mastermind Jack Tatum has made the wise decision to draft in reinforcements to flesh out his sound a bit which gives the record a bit more balance - if 'Gemini' was the sound of one dude floating on a lilo in a sea of pink clouds and reverb, 'Nocturne' sees him now facing the crowd flanked by a bunch of like-minded souls ready to deliver one serious chill pill. He keeps it retro here without becoming fetishist, channelling the stick microphone and hoop earring vibe of British pop circa 1985 - this stuff reminds me of the 'Hits' compilation tapes my mum bought for me when I was a kid, it brings back memories of A-ha and Eurythmics on Top of the Pops, moody synths humming in the air as raincoat-clad romantics worked their mystique in a cloud of dry ice. Tatum's penchant for period revivalism stays the right side of tokenism though, he's obviously more attached to the era's enchanting song structures and wide-angle atmospherics than its fancy dress elements of retro chic and he busts out the marimbas and drum echo to craft tunes that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Dream Academy or Thompson Twins record back in the day. 'Nocturne' benefits not only from a fuller sound but also from a more consistent track listing than his début, filling each of its eleven cuts with enough subtle hooks and echoic melodies to bring you back for repeated listens - as good as 'Gemini' was I always found myself cherry picking tracks from its stronger segments rather than running through the record as a whole, whereas 'Nocturne' is better suited to one uninterrupted soak. Tatum and his cohorts may not be the beefiest bunch out there in terms of frontal delivery - indeed, you could say they should have called themselves 'Mild Nothing' instead (Hahahahaha!!! Oh I crack myself up sometimes, I really do) but they mellow it up better than anyone else I can think of right now and they can perhaps count themselves somewhat unfortunate that their gorgeous daydream indie hasn't been picked up on by the mainstream to the same extent as the equally accessible Beach House who cracked the top ten earlier this year with 'Bloom'. Gliding under the radar probably suits them better for now in any case and 'Nocturne' is one big snuggly duvet looking for an owner so if you're stoked on the prospect of a Tears for Fears reunion then bag this one in the meantime and let the boys take you off somewhere reeeeeeeeally nice.

Check out : 'Disappear Always', but drop the needle in anywhere and you'll hit mellow gold.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New : TOY - s/t

Captain! Come quick, we've found a live one!! I'd pretty much given up on hearing any bombastic indie guitar stuff this year and resigned myself to spending the autumn squirrelled away in the flat reading books and listening to metal but it appears that all is not in fact lost, there's still some life in the beast that is British indie in 2012. TOY (I'm not sure they do lower case) have been touring as support for the Horrors and at first glance are coming from a similar place that their benefactors reached on 'Primary Colours' three years ago but give their début a few spins and you'll see that there's a lot more on show here than mere repackaging of the same ideas. The two bands do have certain things in common beyond their sound, namely the fact that TOY feature three members of defunct skinny jean collective Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong who surfaced around the same time as the Horrors in their pre-krautrock phase back in 2007 when they were still flinging out forgettable garage goth punk. 'Primary Colours' rebranded the boys as savvy masters of effects pedals and droning guitar pop with a badass production job by Portishead's Geoff Barrow and 'TOY' is a good companion piece to that album but in many ways it's totally different, less reliant on massive swathes of guitar fuzz and imbued with steadier rhythms and mellower soundscapes. The enthusiastic press reaction to their début features several references to early Pink Floyd and I can kinda see what they mean - there's a Syd Barret pop edge to this stuff that reminds me of 'Relics' (ie the stuff Floyd put out as singles in the 60s rather than their longer, weirder album cuts). You'll remember the tunes after one listen too - 'Lose my way' is classic House of Love-esque shoegaze pop and the lush string-laden 'My heart skips a beat' could almost pass off as a Burt Bacharach number. They move into more epic territory halfway through the record on the aptly-named instrumental 'Drifting Deeper' and the breezy 'Motoring', probably a krautrock reference but I don't know enough about German psychedelia to comment, let's just say it sounds like a poppier version of Swervedriver when they're in cruise control. The best thing about TOY is that they don't just go for the throat on every track, they infuse their music with enough energy to keep it moving but never overload the boat and maintain a perfect balance between lysergic pop and psychedelic indie without scorching your eardrums or wearing out their ideas. I don't know who produced this but they've done a good job keeping tabs on the band, no one instrument dominates the proceedings and it doesn't hurt that they probably have a better vocalist than the Horrors (I always felt those guys got stuck with the good looking tall bloke early on and had to carry his lanky ass on their later stuff). When TOY do finally let rip on the ten minute closing track 'Kopter' you get an idea of what they're capable of in a live setting and it's pretty promising stuff, starting off as trippy pop in line with the rest of the record before picking a riff and bashing the fuck out of it for several minutes as the album hurtles towards its vastly satisfying finale. I already know that I'm going to wear this shit out if I don't discipline myself to not over-playing it - every time I go back for another listen I pick a new favourite and you'll find yourself walking away grinning like a starstruck lover after the first few dates with a new girlfriend. TOY are poised to creep through into this year's indie best of lists without getting ruined by media over-exposure which is definitely a good thing - that Alt-J record is great and all but how long do you think it'll take before you're sick of hearing the fucker? I therefore advise you to bag this one discretely and feast on the sonic delights on offer without making too much of a big deal about it cos these guys (and girl) are onto something really special and this may only be a taste of what they're capable of producing once they get into their stride. 'TOY' is one stoooopendous listen from start to finish and if anyone tops this shit in the indie guitar stakes before the year's out then I will be immensely surprised. 

Check out : 'My heart skips a beat' - I could just fucking take off and fly listening to this.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Retroactive : 1981

The year in music : 1981

If 1980 had been all about the riffs and denim, 1981 represented an abrupt about-turn towards synths and eyeliner. Pop flourished on both sides of the Atlantic, the Brits boasting a new crop of dynamic pop acts grouped under the banner of the 'New Romantic' movement whilst the Yanks fought back against the lumpen FM radio domination of Journey and REO Speedwagon with some retro R'n'R of their own as the likes of Blondie, The Go-Gos and Joan Jett all topped the charts. Gender-bending theatre was in again and Adam Ant emerged as the UK's biggest selling artist of the year whilst Smash Hits magazine reached an early sales peak and something called MTV finally hit the airwaves Stateside. The likes of Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and The Human League all got off the blocks into careers that would go on to dominate the decade as pop's new guard took over - my choices reflect this with a fairly heavy focus on synths over guitars, though there are a couple of ugly interjections from the underground to level things out. Let's re-run the fun from back in '81!

Albums of the year

1. Soft Cell - Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
It took me a while to decide whether I was going to put this or 'Dare' at #1, but after much reflection I decided that I was going to plump for the Cell's debut for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Marc Almond is much more of an interesting frontman than Phil Oakey - whilst the latter struck an impressive figure prancing around onstage with a stupid haircut, Marc acted the role of a mischevious pop pixie let loose in porn shop and had the tunes to fill out the image. Every song on this album is seeped in the lifestyle he was living at the time - sleazy, nocturnal and darkly fascinating. If you could open a door and walk inside 'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret', your shoes would stick to the floor, the drinks would be overpriced and there would be suspicious stains on the seats. Plus, it has 'Sex Dwarf on it. That's the other reason.

But it was a fucking close call - 'Dare' is probably a more sonically inventive record and took synths to a higher level but 'Non-Stop' gets the edge because it's more enjoyable. Perhaps unwittingly, the duo set the format for electropop duos that would soundtrack the 80s : two gay dudes, one on singing/mincing duties front of stage and the other stood still at the back behind a stack of keyboards. The tunes are there too - opener 'Frustration' sets the scene of a random nobody desperate to break out of his bog-tedious life before the rest of the record descends into the underbelly of society via nightclubs, porn parlours and minging bedsits. The subject matter didn't stop the guys racking up a string of massive hit singles either - the unholy trinity of 'Bedsitter', 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye' and 'Tainted Love' are all included here, the latter ranking as 1981's best-seller. They flung out a follow-up EP in '82 entitled 'Non-Stop Erotic Dancing' which Almond later admitted was recorded and mixed ripped to the tits on MDMA (so it's not just a clever title then?), notched up two more massive hits with 'Torch' and 'What?' and then promptly killed off their chart success with career torpedo 'The Art of Falling Apart' before splitting in '84. Marc went solo and was back at #1 before the end of the decade whilst Dave formed The Grid and smashed out some killer banjo-techno in the early 90s, proving that both could write hits if they felt like it. 'Non-Stop' remains their crowning moment though - the ultimate musical STD, it's a thrilling soundtrack to a life of cum-guzzling disco abandon packed with infectious tunes that still pack playlists on daytime radio. Except 'Sex Dwarf' obviously.

Check out : 'Sex Dwarf' - the promo video for this was so kinky that the fucking cops confiscated it so you'll have to settle for the audio version (is that someone being spanked in the background?)

2. The Human League - Dare
The North of England is peppered with urban metrpoles within spitting distance of each other, each with their own musical, sporting and cultural identity. This is what makes it such a rich, cosmpolitan location on planet pop, a veritable place of pilgrimage for all those who love their music. You can stick London up your arse as far as I'm concerned (OK, that's not totally fair but there'll be plenty of time to bang on about the Clash later). If Liverpool had Merseybeat and Manchester had the drizzly genius of Morrissey and Ian Curtis, Steel City had its own unique brand of electronics that shook the world in the early 80s. Sheffield, the jewel in the heart of South Yorkshire, threw forth Heaven 17, ABC and the mighty Human League in the space of a few short years and they went on to soundtrack the times back in '81. Plus they had Jarvis Cocker, who was knocking around in a very early incarnation of Pulp back then long before he dominated British pop in his own right years later. And they had Sean Bean. And Def Leppard. OK, we're going off piste here a little. I'm sure those guys loved electropop too, they were just way too rugged to admit it.

Knowing how to conquer planet pop is a question of balancing the image with the music to create the perfect product. Phil Oakey had been happy enough to avoid the spotlight in the sterile, nerdy incarnation of early period H-League whilst they honed their considerable synth skills, but his recorded output was lacking a dramatic frontline to get noticed. His solution was worthy of any genuine pop svengali - go straight for the fans and bag a couple of teenage birds from the local nightclub, promising them stardom if they'd flank him onstage. It worked like a charm, although Oakey narrowly avoided a kicking from both girls' fathers when he hijacked them for their Top of the Pops debut with 'Sound of the Crowd'. A string of hits followed, many of which are included here ('Open your Heart', 'Love Action' and the ubiquitous 'Don't you want me'), built on a foundation of catchy synth hooks augmented with girl/boy vocal trade offs between Phil and the girls. Compared to the numerous all-bloke electro acts around at the time, the League had an edge through the diversity of their line-up - tunes like 'Don't you want me' (Xmas #1 in 1981 and a wedding disco classic ever since) work because guys and girls can switch verses on the dancefloor as they square up to each other, playing out roles in combat rather than one-way emotional traffic. You could participate in the Human League rather than just spectate. Although for once, 'Dare' isn't just about the singles - the album tracks feature gorgeous synthscapes full of gleaming hooks and infectious melodies. As a complete product, the album managed the rare feat of competing with rock LPs in the 'best album' lists and set the standard for electronic music in album format - it also gave a few clues about where dance music would be headed over the next few years (check out the trancetastic 'Seconds' and compare it with today's floorfillers). Unlike most of the electro LPs on this list, I don't need to justify the status of 'Dare' as a classic album, but it still gets overlooked by guitar nerds and Dylan-worshipping acoustic types. It's their loss - this is Steel City's finest predicting the future and soundtracking their present.

Check out - 'Seconds'. Imagine you're surfing on synth waves. It's that good.

3. The Go-Go's - Beauty and the Beat
The UK singles charts of the early 1980s were a pretty healthy place where ska and new wave could rub shoulders with the androgynous likes of Duran Duran and Adam and the Ants heralding the start of the New Romantic phenomenon that would dominate the decade's early years. Synth dorks like Ultravox and a baby-faced Depeche Mode could score massive chart hits and even the grizzly likes of Motörhead could gatecrash the top ten. We Brits tend to pat ourselves on the back for having such a diverse musical landscape back then whilst the Yanks were wearing sleeveless T-shirts and tube socks whilst they watched Toto perform half a mile away at some drive-in AOR festival. But such snobbery risks overlooking some of the gems of Stateside pop at the dawn of MTV, a channel that first started broadcasting back in August 1981 when New Wave was hitting its commercial peak with the likes of The Cars, Talking Heads and the tail end of Blondie. Whilst all those bands managed to successfully export themselves to Europe at some point, the Yanks' best kept secret was a sassy bunch of ladies weaned on prime-era punk rock who'd sharpened their image to go pop - enter The Go-Go's, New Wave's chart-friendly scene leaders and unwitting grandmothers of every half decent girl band you've ever seen in your life. FACT. 

The girls had cut their teeth in the LA punk scene but were clearly cut out for the more hygienic confines of New Wave when it broke at the end of the 70s, signalling an overnight surge in skinny ties, retro rock stylings and snappy pop punk tailor-made for the charts. Other bands simply drifted into the genre but the Go-Go's grabbed it by the throat and laid down the genre's first classic with their sublime début 'Beauty and the Beat', a sugar-coated blend of pop punk energy, girl group harmonies and fiendishly catchy choruses. What's more, their chops from playing punk set them up as a pretty devastating live band to silence any macho onlookers sneering at the idea of a girl band trying to keep up with the lads. The ladies didn't just keep up, they excelled - 'Beauty' gradually infiltrated the Stateside musical landscape before finally topping the US charts for six weeks straight, comfortably outselling any of their New Wave competitors and turning the band into short-lived superstars. The pop perfection of singles 'Our lips are sealed' and 'We got the beat' conquered US airwaves, the latter also making it onto the soundtrack of 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High', surely the era's finest cinematic tribute to the youth culture of America at the time. Elsewhere upbeat stompers 'How much more' and album closer 'Can't stop the world' provide fuel for the live show, rampaging girls night out anthems 'Tonight' and 'This town' set the tone for a wild evening on the tiles and break-up gems 'Fading Fast' and the unfortunately-named 'Skidmarks on my heart' are the sonic equivalent of tear-strained mascara and spilt cocktails. There's not a weak track on here and you can't help but think that had the album come a couple of years later when MTV-pedalled pop was turning into a massive industry, a good half a dozen singles could have been lifted from 'Beauty and the Beat' without wringing the life out of it. As it stands it's a fitting tribute to the band's songwriting chops and remains one of the best-selling début albums of all time as well as the only record written by an all-female band to top the US charts. Whether they'll acknowledge it as an influence or not, 'Beauty' laid the blueprint not only for prime-era New Wave but also for every chart-friendly girl band to follow in their footsteps, from The Bangles to Shampoo, from Kenickie to The Donnas, there's a debt to these ladies from every cocktail of lipstick, high heels and punk pop to have graced a stage since its release. They couldn't follow it up but Jane Wieldin went on to pen the almighty 'Rush Hour' in 1988 (as well as playing Joan of Arc in the first Bill and Ted film!) whilst Belinda Carlisle cemented herself as pop's greatest pin-up when the even mightier 'Heaven is a place on Earth' kickstarted a run of flawless European hit singles. It may have been largely ignored in the UK and suffered the typical disregard for female rock groups when it comes to compiling 'best album' lists since its release but for my money 'Beauty and the Beat' trumps anything else from the New Wave era and remains the perfect soundtrack to an evening shaving your legs and singing into your hairbrush (erm, metaphorically speaking I mean....).

Check out : it's a tough choice but let's go for 'Our lips are sealed' just for the promo clip.

4. Duran Duran - s/t
The New Romantic explosion of the early 1980s went on to dominate the charts and massively influence fashion back in the UK and also prompted the second 'British Invasion' of the US charts which saw Limey bands outstrip the sales of homegrown acts for the first time since the Beatles. The band at the epicentre of all this? Duran Duran - and boy did they know it. Based on fairly solid pop foundations but configured to offer maximum appeal to radio DJs, Smash Hits magazine and the newly identified force of MTV, the lads made no secret of their desire to become the biggest thing since sliced bread and picked up on every trick that would help them get there. They had the songs to back them up and their 1981 self-titled is full of memorable pop moments but their placing on this list reflects their nous for the machinations of showbiz as much as their contribution to musical history. After all, who would have even heard the songs if they didn't have the image to get people's attention in the first place? Their legacy may include a host of shitty pop fetishists like Mika and Alphabeat, a whole generation of 80s and 90s boybands aiming to reproduce their 'pick your favourite' mass appeal and a bizarre affection amongst legions of American emo bands but Duran Duran still win because they did it all on their own terms and sold astrofuckingnomical amounts of records in the process whilst simultaneously changing the way pop music was marketed for the remainder of the decade. They were even Lady Di's favourite band back in the day! How much more of a recommendation do you need?

One of the main elements of Duran's success was a fairly simple one - although they were ripping off the faceless electronics of Kraftwerk via the paired-down keyboard and vocal configurations of folks like Soft Cell and Yazoo, the boys saw the commercial potential of filling out a full band of well-dressed dandies to ply their trade as a rock ensemble. The five-way attack worked like a charm in terms of pop appeal and sparked frenzied debate amongst teenage girls about who their favourite was that hadn't been seen since the days of the Bay City Rollers. However their wide-ranging approach also allowed multiple personalities to rise to the surface within the group : the androgynous poise of keyboardist Nick Rhodes, the pin-up pout of bassist John Taylor and the flamboyant star quality of vocalist Simon Le Bon (alongside the more workmanlike guitarist and drummer whose names I forget....they were both called Taylor as well I think....). Flanked by such diverse characters often pulling in different directions all at once, they quickly became the ultimate cartoon band, propelled by infectious pop tunes into the digital age of the 1980s as cultural ambassadors for the new decade. Their ascent was perfecting timed with the rise of MTV in the States which quickly became the conduit for their increasingly cinematic promo clips, some of the highest budget productions of the time, as well as with peak-popularity Top of the Pops on British TV and the rising force of Smash Hits magazine in the newsagents, making them almost inescapable by the end of the promotion cycle of their début. Their recorded output would arguably improve but their début sets the tone nicely for what would come later - the cosmic pop androgyny of 'Planet Earth' gave them a signature sound and coined the term 'New Romantic' in its lyrics to become one of their most recognisable hits whilst the racy promo clip for 'Girls on Film' (apparently aimed at nightclub audiences before MTV fully hit its stride) ensured that they had visual thrills to match those on the record. Elsewhere synth soundscapes like 'The Night Boat' and 'Anyone out there' provide the sonic backdrop to a trip across the Barbarella universe from which the band took their name and Giorgio Moroder-style dancefloor thumpers like the bass-heavy 'Sound of Thunder' show their capacity to lock into a tight groove and flesh out their sound to that of a proper live act. They'd go on to better it and make more impressive forays into sound and vision as the decade wore on but Duran Duran's début gets my nod for this selection for its role in launching what was perhaps the biggest pop act of the entire 1980s - their survival long beyond the end of that decade and the longstanding appeal of their material only stands as proof that these boys were tooled up to make a major impact from the very beginning.

Check out : the uncensored promo clip for 'Girls on Film' which would make even Madonna blush.

5. Venom - Welcome to Hell
Set against the pristine synth records that make up the rest of this year's list, Venom's debut stands out like a turd on your spotless silk bedsheets. Musically neanderthal, crammed with clumsy Satanic references and recorded for an apparent budget of about 10 pence, 'Welcome to Hell' nevertheless sent shockwaves through the music community when it landed back in '81 and unwittingly spawned an entire genre that would go on to terrify parents and priests worldwide a decade later. Pretty much the only guitar album on this list, it stands out above its peers as an ugly classic.

Not bad for a bunch of grizzled Geordie dockers who sounded like they were covering Motörhead songs after an all-day brown ale bender. The sonic scuzz that ended up on the record was probably unintentional but it certainly shocked enough people into paying attention - music journalists at the time claim that it sounded terrifying on first listen, dirtier and darker than anything they'd heard before. The band were certainly hellbent on creating a nasty lyrical atmosphere to match their sonic stew - their aim was to freak people out in the same way Black Sabbath did with their sinister debut a decade earlier, but they dispensed with mystery and subtlety and opted instead to rub the listener's face into their compost heap of crude Satanism and clumsy musicianship. It worked, although there was never any substance behind the occult references in their lyrics - the lads were taking the piss throughout, a reality ignored (perhaps deliberately) by the legions of Nordic adolescents who founded a musical movement named after 1982's follow-up 'Black Metal', hellbent on making the darkest, most unsettling music possible. Once the churches started burning a decade later, the lads were quick to point out that none of them were actually Satanists but by then it didn't matter - a global cult was born, ironically started by the descendants of the Viking marauders who rampaged through the North East centuries ago shagging everything in sight. Seeing as the Norwegian BM crew are therefore practically related to Cronos, Mantas and company, you'd expect them to have a better understanding of Geordie humour. Oh well.

Check out : 'In League with Satan'. I dare you to listen to this while staring at the goat on the cover. Yikes!

6. Joan Jett - Bad Reputation
By the start of the 1980s the New Wave explosion had given way to a revival in old school rock 'n' roll and saw many golden oldies revisited with a touch of lipstick and hairspray for the new MTV generation. There's no mistaking the commercial appeal of a good bit of R'n'R and even the punks had come to realise this as the new decade dawned to the sound of 'London Calling', leaving the path clear for some new zest to be injected into a genre that had become re-appropriated by fat sweaty blokes with sideburns by the mid 70s in the USA, awash with razor-dodging 'serious musicians' like Steely Dan, Ram Jam and Kansas. Joan Jett had emerged amidst this swamp of testosterone and bass solos in the mid 70s with The Runaways, the slightly opportunistic yet undeniably influential all-female rock troupe that set the standard for girl groups for years to come. Though their material had a devilishly catchy pop edge to it, their sound was weighed down with too much fluff to ever really connect as a satisfying guitar hit but by the time they split at the end of the 70s the girls were out of their teens and ready to do some serious damage. 'Bad Reputation' saw Joan Jett launch her solo career with a surprisingly beefy mix of old and new, throwing together a bunch of old school R'n'R covers with some of her own new material tapping a similar vein and backed up by a star-studded band of industry chums from Blondie, The Ramones and Sex Pistols for maximum four-to-the-floor delivery. Even with such a line-up the results are surprisingly effective - Jett basically mainlines the sound the Ramones were aiming for on the 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' soundtrack but nails it better than they ever did, blasting Spector-style Motown through a Marshall stack on cuts like 'Make Believe' and 'You don't own me' and delivering K.O. cuts of straightforward R'n'R on the title track and the closing cover of early 80s club favourite 'Wooly Bully'. Joey Ramone may have been a pop lover at heart but his band where anchored to the punk club circuit whereas Jett had the potential to go truly stellar in commercial terms, a point she proved when her follow-up release 'I love Rock 'n' Roll' yielded one of radio's biggest ever hits with its title track in early '82. As well as the debt to classic R'n'R, 'Bad Reputation' is steeped in the sonic heritage of 70s British Glam, a genre that soundtracked the post-60s period by repackaging old school rock 'n' roll with a new touch of fun-loving theatrics and stompalong choruses that decimated the singles charts of the era. Though most of those bands tanked Stateside, they nevertheless made a mark with the likes of Kiss (who cite Slade as one of their main influences) and Mötley Crüe (who tapped up The Sweet's Brian Connolly for a plug in their pre-fame days. He told them to bugger off). Even The Ramones admitted that the Bay City Rollers' US #1 'Saturday Night' had shaped their early sound (the Rollers were the only band from the glam era to really coin it Stateside). On 'Bad Reputation' Joan cocks a respectful nod to Gary Glitter with her rehash of 'Do you wanna touch me there?' whilst simultaneously making its lyrics sound slightly less rapey than the original (those were more innocent times after all) and her blitzkrieg vocal recalls Suzi Quatro at her commercial peak (the only Yank to bag UK success in the glam scene and, perhaps not coincidentally, the only chick to gatecrash the party). Dwelling too long on its lineage risks missing the point of 'Bad Reputation' though - this is an album that ranks alongside the delirious rock stompathons of Slade, Twisted Sister and Andrew WK as the sort of stuff where the opening chords of every song will bring a Cheshire cat grin to your face and send your straight for the volume dial to crank it loud as possible. There's all the devilish satisfaction of classic glam, singalong pop so catchy that you'll have to force yourself not to wear it out by playing it non-stop and frantic runs through classic wedding band staples like 'Shout' that'll have you dancing round the bedroom with your headphones in. She'd coin it in worldwide with 'I love Rock 'n' Roll' the following year but 'Bad Reputation' is where Joan Jett cements her position as the decade's first real rock star, packing enough riffs and R'n'R bombast to usher in a new era of fist in the air rock action. Mötley's début 'Too Fast for Love' dropped the same year but this wipes the fucking floor with it - she may not have remained in the spotlight as long as them but all the glam turkeys that filled 80s MTV owe Joan a fat debt for nailing the genre blueprint before they even got close. 'Bad Reputation' suffers from not having one at all in the modern era but don't let that put you off - this is a real treasure trove waiting to be unearthed. Next time I wake up with a hangover and my headphones turned up way too loud from the night before, chances are this is the record I'll have been listening to on the way home.

Check out : 'Wooly Bully' live with the Blackhearts in tow. Play that shit LOUD!

7. Black Flag - Damaged
Punk's second wave in the early 80s saw the waning spirit of the original mid-70s explosion revived and repackaged in Europe as D-beat and political punk (more on that in 1982 folks!) and as 'hardcore' in the States, basically everything stripped back to basics and ramped up to the max with speed and aggression. The Yanks had initially absorbed the influence of the early British punk bands but by the early 1980s there was a generation of angry kiddies that weren't interested in looking back to a bygone glory era and wanted something nastier to soundtrack a brutal new decade - bands like Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and X emerged from the California punk scene as a grimy splashback to the sun-soaked party culture of their home state but there was no band that embodied the pissed-the-fuck-off aesthetic than Black Flag, themselves perhaps the very personification of Yank hardcore. Whilst their peers were often more cerebral, the Flag succeeded in reproducing the balled-up rage and frustration boiling over in every fan that came to their shows hellbent on finding a release. The band were only too happy to oblige and provided the ideal setting for things to get rowdy, mastermind guitarist Greg Ginn throwing down frantic yet danceable riffs and newly recruited vocalist Henry Rollins providing the perfect unhinged frontman to whip the crowd into a frenzy, frequently through onstage rucks and acts of demented provocation. Rollins was ideal for the role - a childhood diet of Ritalin and military school had sent him roaring out of the traps looking for an outlet for his restless energy when he encountered the Flag boys and he became the embodiment of their sound, a volatile cocktail of caffeine, testosterone and self-loathing that you could simply wind up and let rip when showtime came around. The band's live shows were so balls out brutal that they simply wore out their welcome in most of the local venues in Southern California and had to go further afield to find places to play, although this in turn resulted in them becoming the unlikely mentors for the nascent DIY punk scene in the States, an underground network of contacts that bands could use to locate places to play, flats to crash at and like-minded souls across the nations that would support their gig when they were in town. Rollins' book 'Get in the van' chronicles the scene in warts 'n' all detail and Black Flag's stock is still high in punk rock circles for their early efforts in developing the scene numerous bands became part of over the course of the 1980s. Of course their legend status would be ill-merited if they didn't have the tunes to back it up but 'Damaged' hits all the targets straight from the word go, opener 'Rise Above' nailing a defiant gang chant your modern Hatebreed types would give their right nut for and from there on in it's a thrilling rush of rage, self-hatred and amped-up aggression all the way through. Rollins apparently used to glug coffee by the fucking pot while he was on tour which probably explains a lot, the likes of 'Padded Cell' and 'Thirsty and Miserable' practically bouncing off the walls in directionless fury whilst the nihilist introversion of 'Depression' and 'What I see' depict a more fragile character with too much time left to think. It's not all downbeat through, live staple 'Six Pack' celebrating the joys of having too much to drink and too little to do whilst the goofy 'TV Party' ushers in an impromptu bro-down on another night in, although it's perhaps noteworthy that even in their lighter moments the Flag sound restless and jittery, always only a step away from flying off the handle. If you're familiar with Rollins' metal-tinged solo stuff or his erratic stand-up material then you'll know that he hasn't mellowed that much over the years but in truth we'd be disappointed if he did as he's become one of punk's more endearing icons, a dude who never forgot why he got into the scene to begin with. 'Damaged' still sounds face-meltingly ferocious 30 years later and can go toe to toe with any of today's tattooed skate troupes, laying down a brutal marker that has yet to be truly bettered. They may embody the bovine aggression that many feel blighted punk rock in the 80s but the genre needed someone to mainline the antisocial red mist looming around Cali in the early Reagen years and the Flag were the only ones to suck it up and spit it back out stronger.

Check out : 'Rise Above', whilst trying not to destroy your bedroom. Difficult, I know.

8. Oingo Boingo - Only a Lad
Incursions of comedy into music are often met with considerable hostility, especially amongst artists or fans who feel their chosen field is being parodied and who often ask somewhat frostily why those taking the piss don't just come up with something better themselves if they're so bloody clever. I can sort of understand that viewpoint but at the same time I've always appreciated a dose of humour in my music, whether it's the black lyrical humour of Morrissey or Therapy's Andy Cairns or the straightforward musical parody of Frank Zappa, Spike Jones or Weird Al Yankovic. The punk and new wave period provided for its own kookier outfits like Dead Kennedys and Devo but nobody really made a point of poking fun to quite the same extent as Oingo Boingo, a reformed cabaret act on the comedy circuit who pounced on the new wave movement as a means to bring their nutjob compositions into the mainstream. Led by the multi-talented Danny Elfman who'd later move into film/TV composition (his most famous contribution to popular culture being the theme music from 'The Simpsons'), the band tapped up the tight rhythms of New Wave pop and augmented them with a brass section for added scope, turning their not inconsiderable musical chops to the trends of the early MTV era to great effect. Nippy guitar riffs, horn blasts, elastic bass and sparkling synth lines soundtrack Boingo's début which provided an uncomfortable mirror for many of their peers when it dropped in 1981 proving that, much like similarly-minded virtuoso agitator Frank Zappa, they could pump out potential hit singles at will but were determined to add a bit of snot to them in the shape of their own biting social commentary. Boingo's stance is similar to the guys behind 'South Park', they're a left wing bunch by default but get no satisfaction from picking on conservatives and instead direct their ire at the contradictory tenets of lazy liberalism - whilst I wouldn't necessarily want to listen to a full album of 'Blame Canada', 'Only a Lad' hangs together as a catchy album of savage satire pop in the same way as Zappa's best work and could pass of as a straight-faced take on the genre for anyone who doesn't understand the lyrics. Whether they're sticking the boot in on hipsters on pop-culture alienation anthem 'On the outside' or snide journalists on 'Imposter', Boingo's judgements are both cripplingly accurate and viciously funny - best of all is the leftie-baiting anthem 'Capitalism' which makes the Dead Kennedy's 'Holiday in Cambodia' look positively complimentary by comparison and deserves to be played back louder at every time you hear disgruntled teenagers pumping out 'Killing in the name' for the umpteenth time. Elsewhere their rehash of the Kinks' 'You really got me' makes Van Halen's version from the same period sound lumpen and conservative and the rollicking title track is perhaps their most chart-worthy material, matching anything Buggles or Blondie could manage at the time but ultimately ending up too clever for its own good. They lower the tone enough to keep their humour at comedy club level on the Zappa-esque 'Nasty Habits' and opener 'Little Girls' (remaining deliberately evasive over how little the girls they're singing about actually are) which accentuates the fun but again keeps them another step away from mainstream acceptance. Elfman and co knew enough about pop to stay in the business as writers, producers or performers but they'd already developed enough cynicism for the music world by the time their début landed that their future forays veered closer to film and TV, initially notching various high-profile soundtrack appearances (Fast Time at Ridgemont High, Back to School and Weird Science for which they wrote the theme music) before Danny Elfman became a full-time film score composer and went on to pen the music for zillions of high profile flicks over the years (Batman, Men in Black, Spiderman, Edward Scissorhands....). You'll almost certainly be familiar with his work on those grounds alone but it's worth tracing Elfman's musical career back to square one for a glimpse of what New Wave culture was like below the surface. Musical comedy requires an attention to detail that often surpasses that of the era's most successful artists and Elftman's take on 1981's musical landscape is relentlessly savage and wincingly accurate so for a snapshot of the times you could do a lot worse.

Check out : 'Capitalism', possibly the most vicious kicking ever dealt out to the liberal mindset.

9. Spandau Ballet - Journeys to Glory
I am bound to come in for a bit of stick for this one but fuck it - Spandau are overdue some props and I'm stepping up to give 'em. Long regarded as the stockbrokers of 80s pop embodying the worst characteristics of the decade's excess and overblown plastic pomp, the boys began life as a credible art school project busting out top drawer electro pop before they morphed into the wine-bar double-breasted suit monstrosity that most people remember circa 'True' and even that seems endearing when placed alongside the succession of whiteboy soul flops, acrimonious break-ups and lawsuits, Eastenders cameos and Tony Hadley tripling his bodyweight that came afterwards. Whilst their 80s rivals Duran Duran have enjoyed various periods of revivalist attention, Spandau seem doomed to the crap nostaglia circuit alongside the likes of Shakin' Stevens. They may have brought much of it on themselves but let's cut the boys some slack and put aside our preconceptions for an overdue reappraisal of their début 'Journeys to Glory' that landed smack bang in the middle of the British electropop boom and saw them instantly elevated to the top of the stack. 

Spandau were the first of the New Romantic bands I got into during a period of reappraisal prompted by a late 90s Channel Four documentary on the era (which you can check out here if you're interested) based on tunes alone, and they had plenty to go around. It's easy to forget the boys' art house leanings in view of their relentlessly commercial faux soul direction later in the decade but their decision to name themselves after the death throes of hanged prisoners in a German jail tends to suggest that they weren't aiming for Smash Hits from the very beginning. Their overnight success upon release of stonking début hit 'To cut a long story short' saw them put in a ludicrous Top of the Pops appearance clad in tartan with Tony Hadley blaring out the lyrics like he was busting out King Lear at the Barbican, a preposterous mix of straight-faced art house pomp and dynamic electro pop commercialism. Whilst their peers leaned towards androgynous pin-up charm, Spandau were a pillar of humourless heterosexuality and the barrel-chested delivery of Hadley set them apart as the straight boys in a sea of camp cabaret and gender-bending performance art. Their delivery might have come across as slightly stilted but they certainly knew their way around a catchy synth line and the rudimentary elements of funk, mixing the two decent effect on mid-album instrumental 'Age of Blows' and their surprisingly avant garde second single 'The Freeze' which chops together an infectious mix of synth, bass and guitar riffs to rival anything their electropop peers could throw down at the time. Better still is the closing couplet of 'Confusion' and 'Toys', the former looping a jangly guitar riff over Hadley's soaring vocals and a melody most indie bands would sell their soul for and the latter laying down an epic electro set-closer that should have ranked alongside 'Vienna' and 'Say Hello, wave Goodbye' as the New Romantic era's bring the house down moments. Their insistence on blowing everything up one notch and playing it straight didn't match the mood of the times but they still had the tunes to match any of their rivals and would maintain a steady hit rate of memorable singles throughout the early 1980s until 'True' nailed their colours to the mast as a vanilla soul outfit in mid-1983, by which time the electropop bubble was close to bursting in any case. Their later output has seen to it that their initial avant garde material is perceived as little more than a passing phase but that shouldn't prevent later listeners from enjoying it - you can rank Spandau alongside the likes of Whitesnake and Razorlight, bands lacking any kind of self awareness who went for the money and came to embody the best or worst elements of their commercial era depending on your viewpoint. I'm always tempted to be sympathetic in these cases, there's nothing wrong with soundtracking the times and then fading into anachronism and if that's the price they paid for the Thatchersite soul pop years then so be it. 'Journeys' nevertheless stands as one of the era's best LPs, a solid slab of catchy synth pop and proof that they had the chops to survive on the larger stage - set aside your cynicism and give this one a cursory spin, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Check out : 'To cut a long story short' live on TOTP, rocking the 'Braveheart goes electro' look.

10. OMD - Architecture and Morality
It's always the quiet ones isn't it? Compared to their electropop peers, the two dorks from OMD looked like junior banking executuives that had accidentally walked through the wrong door in the Top of the Pops studio and found themselves onstage. Though their sound was not a million miles away from the other guys on this list, their image was the total anthithesis to the theatrical pracing of Oakey, Almond, Gahan et al. Andy Mclusky had fucking CURLY HAIR and they came from the Wirral, which is almost as bad as being from Liverpool but not quite. But they succeeded despite the odds being stacked against them - like the specky computer nerds who sit at the back of the class not talking to anyone and beavering away industriously on their own pet projects, they came out on top once everyone heard the results.

'Architecture' is their third album of sober, frosty electronics and was released smack bang in the middle of a faultless run of massive hits, three of which are included here ('Joan of Arc, 'Maid of Orleans' and 'Souvenir'). The tunes aren't exactly floor-fillers but they channel the same vibe as Kraftwerk with a sexually-repressed British tilt - the video clip for 'Souvenir' is a good example, it's got all the sensuality of a cold dick in the ear. On the Kraftwerk note, it's perhaps significant that the Germans lapped this shit up more than anyone else - 'Maid of Orleans' was the best-selling single over there in '82. I guess David Hasselhoff wasn't releasing records back then. Aside from the hits, the rest of the album is devoted to ethereal synthscapes that hit middle ground between Vangelis and the Human League - which should suck, but somehow doesn't. They probably got tired of writing hit singles after this though, seeing as their next release (1983's 'Dazzle Ships') was way too wacked-out to threaten the pop charts. Mclusky later surfaced as main songwriter for Atomic Kitten, cementing his place in the Scouse musical hierachy, and as I write this the duo are back together getting their synth on for a new generation of fans. Another triumph of dorkdom - good work guys!

Check out : that promo clip for 'Souvenir'. It's like the backing video for a gay Japanese kareoke song.

Tune of the Year

Blondie - 'Rapture'

Who was the first artist to rap on a #1 single on the US charts? Debbie fucking Harry baby!! 'Rapture' had been released on the previous year's 'Autoamerican' LP but didn't come out as a single until 1981 and proceeded to give the band their last significant hit on either side of the Atlantic, though in typical fashion they went out on a high note. A horny hybrid of disco, rock and the nascent sounds of hip hop, the track was the first taste of rap culture that the distinctly white bread MTV broadcast to a nation of unsuspecting viewers, mixing in video cameos for Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab Five Freddy alongside lyrical nods to Grandmaster Flash over clanging bells, Harry's dreamy vocals and that wicked little guitar line on the way out. It might have been a case of a pop band nailing the zeitgeist rather than a true example of musical innovation but that hasn't stopped it being sampled to fuck by the likes of Jay-Z, Destiny's Child, KRS-One and Grandmaster Flash himself on 'Adventures on the Wheels of Steel' so its hip hop pedigree is firmly intact. Blondie's best LPs were before my time so I haven't included any on here but they deserve a nod for this distinctly unique slab of boogie magic.