Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Alternative anthems for Halloween!

Hi folks!

It's that time of year again - the nights are drawing in, there's a chill in the air and the fancy dress shops are running out of Freddy gloves and fake blood so you know Halloween is just around the corner. In anticipation of the same old playlists being trotted out for the umpteenth time I've taken it upon myself to knock up a selection of alternative anthems for the annual celebration of all that is dark and spooky - I've nothing against 'Thriller', 'Ghostbusters' and anything involving Alice Cooper but for the sake of variety I thought I'd offer some different choices for the soundtrack to the debauchery of all Hallow's Eve. So why not light a candle, pour yourself a nice tall glass of virgin's blood and crank up these devilish delights to mark the moment?

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath (1970)

A bit of a classic to kick off with from the guys who were the first to marry heavy rock with the lurid imagery of classic horror flicks and invent heavy metal as we know it in the process. Sabbath's début LP opens with this shit-yer-pants scary signature tune that the band apparently penned after bassist Geezer Butler convinced himself that he'd inadvertently summoned Satan to his Birmingham bedsit through an evening's dabbling in the occult and inspired them to write a song about it (Geezer later admitted it was probably the drugs talking). Ozzy's wretched howls combine with guitarist Tony Iommi's devilish tritones and the rhythm section's lurching thunderstorm to form a genuinely terrifying cocktail that would lay down a marker for dark, occult rock for years to come. Ozzy may be a reality TV acid casualty these days but back in the early 70s he was heading up arguably the most important band in metal and anyone who's dabbled in heavy rock since then owes these dudes a debt of gratitude.

The Misfits - Dig up her bones (1997)

No Halloween playlist would be complete without The Misfits, the horrorpunk sceneleaders having basically devoted their entire career to writing the musical equivalent of B-movie horror schlock. They originally emerged during the punk explosion of the late 1970s but 'Dig up her bones' comes from their 1990s revival following a 15 year absence during which original vocalist Glen Danzig went on to form the similarly spooky Samhaim and later Danzig - his replacement was velvet-throated crooner Michael Graves, a marked improvement in my book and the two records he laid down with them as Misfits mark 2 are pretty essential Halloween listening. They split again in the early 2000s but have since reformed AGAIN which would probably make the original members about as old as the zombies and ghouls they sing about. At least it'll mean less time in the make-up room before they hit the stage.

Salem - King Night (2010)

Hipsters back in 2010 were getting all gooey about 'Witch House', supposedly the next big thing in alternative dance music - it didn't really amount to much more than a cluster of reclusive tech-heads making a series of tweaked-out rave tunes augmented with chamber music, horror samples and the kind of nosebleed synth noises that made you want to jump out of the window. There were a couple of decent records in the mix though and Salem's 'King Night' LP is well worth a listen if you're partial to this sort of high-pitched brainrape - as if the audio isn't disconcerting enough, some kind soul out there has put together a series of similarly gnarly clips from horror films and nature documentaries to soundtrack the sheer hell coming out of the speakers. If you end up in therapy after listening to this then don't say I didn't warn you.

Gorerotted - Can't fit her limbs in the fridge (2003)

We all love a good old bit of senseless violence don't we? OK, perhaps just me then. Amiable cockney splatterfiends Gorerotted developed the perfect soundtrack to grizzly video nasties in the early noughties with their relentless gore metal onslaught and the marvellous 'Can't fit her limbs in the fridge' chronicles not only the heady pleasures of bloodthirsty violence but also the logistical complications inherent in such a pastime. Their marvellously titled parent album 'Only Tools and Corpses' contains many more jaunty tales of murder, mischief and throttling people with their own intestines, although the casual observer will probably pick up on the fact that the whole thing isn't intended to be taken entirely seriously. The band have cleaned up their act since then and morphed into the slightly more amenable crust punk band The Rotted but I for one will always prefer their cheeky beginnings as the most disgusting band in metal.

Gravediggaz - Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide (1994)

Lurid subject matter and hip-hop have always been a fairly reliable combination and it was only a matter of time before rappers started mixing horror into their music. Gravediggaz were a relatively short-lived 'horrorcore' rap outfit comprised of Wu Tang mastermind RZA plus a few other luminaries from the mid 90s rap scene - whilst early Wu Tang Clan material was heavily inspired by martial arts flicks, Gravediggaz based their lyrics on gory horror movies and 'Nowhere to run' was the breakthrough hit from their corking début 'Niggamortis' back in '94. Their career was relatively short-lived (literally in the case of founding member Poetic who died from cancer in 2001) but they do have the dubious distinction of having unwittingly spawned a series of witless imitators in the shape of Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid and the legions of face-painted knuckleheads who flock to 'Gathering of the Juggalos' every year in the States. Great.

Theme to 'Groovie Goolies' (1970)

Like most 80s kids I was raised on a steady diet of cartoons and one of my favourites back in the day was the oft-overlooked hippy-era horror show 'Groovy Goolies', an off the wall series in the vein of old skool Scooby Doo but with a heavier focus on vampires, monsters and ghosts along with various references to late 60s pop culture that pretty much passed me by at the time. However the show's crowning moment was surely its Monkees-esque theme music which reduced me and my next door neighbour Robert to fits of giggles every time we heard it thanks to the unintentional double entendres in the lyrics (I'm fairly sure the word 'Goolies' did not have quite the same resonance in late 60s America as it did in late 80s England). I should have grown out of finding this sort of thing funny by now but I will admit to succumbing to a bout of schoolboy sniggers when I found this tune online. 'Groovie Goolies' indeed! Hur hur hur.

King Diamond - The 7th day of July 1777 (1987)

There'll always be room for a bit of King Diamond in my house at Halloween. King first rose to fame as the theatrical shrieker for Danish metal trailblazers Mercyful Fate in the early 1980s and laid down a couple of stonking LPs before going solo in the mid 80s and devoting his career to making story albums much along the same lines as the paperback horror fiction pedalled by Dean Koontz and Steven King at the time. Each record came with a new horror narrative that ran through all the songs over a soundtrack of some great twiddly 80s metal augmented by King's evil shrieks and cackles. 'The 7th day of July 1777' is the centrepiece to 'Abigail', probably his spookiest long player of all and details the curse passed on through generations of residents in a haunted house that provides the story's backdrop - I'm not gonna lie to you, this stuff shits me up pretty bad and I dare you to take in this album or the follow-up 'Them' in the wee small hours without nervously looking at the shadows on the wall. 

Kristin Hersh - Your Ghost (1994)

Let's mellow things out a little bit with a woman's touch - Kristin Hersh was half of US indie babe-off Throwing Muses back in the late 80s and early 90s but she decided to go solo on that ass in 1994 with the killer 'Hips and Maker's LP, from which 'Your Ghost' was the first single. Stripped back to acoustic guitar, cello and echoic vocals, this sounds like it was recorded in one of those old American houses with oak floors and very little furniture - stark stuff indeed but devilishly intoxicating all the same. Throw in a vocal cameo from REM's Michael Stipe and you've got a potential crossover hit on your hands, although the dark vibe of the track probably prevented it from tapping into the mainstream and it remains a hidden gem from her post-Muses solo period. 

Backstreet Boys - Everybody (Backstreet's Back) (1997)

The last thing you'd expect on a Halloween playlist would be anything by Persil-washed teeny pop dorks the Backstreet Boys but I thought this deserved a mention due to the impressive 'Thriller'-esque promo video that depicts the boys marooned in a haunted house overnight with some fairly outlandish consequences. I suppose one of the benefits of being in a shitty boyband is that your record company is generally prepared to splash the cash on some decent looking videos to make you look cool and so the neutrals among us were treated to the visual delight of seeing the band morph into werewolves, mummies and vampires over a soundtrack of Max Martin synth belches and lacklustre rapping. My mate Tristan's band did a pretty good metal cover of this tune back in the day, retooling it in a style more suited to nights like Halloween. 

Iron Maiden - Fear of the Dark (live 2001)

And to finish off with, how's about a spot of May-dun to send us on our way? Having shared a stage with an eight foot zombie for the last thirty years, the boys surely merit their place on any Halloween playlist and lyrical mastermind Steve Harris has plucked liberally from horror films and novels over the years crafting numerous metal anthems for the band to bust out to ravenous audiences. 'Fear of the Dark' is one of their classic eight minute jobs, spooking it up to begin with before letting rip for a full-blown arena metal anthem - this live cut was filmed during their gargantuan 'Rock in Rio' set back in 2001 just after Bruce rejoined the band and provided them with a much needed shot in the arm after several years treading water. If the subject matter of the song doesn't scare you then try imagining what it must have been like down the front of that crowd surrounded by half naked Brazilian men about to go batshit crazy when the main riff kicks in. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

New : Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang - 'En Yay Sah'

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know anything about Afrobeat, having perhaps unfairly considered it synonymous with stuffed olive chomping North London guilty post-colonialists who've renounced modern rock 'n' roll in favour of something more earthy and wholesome. But as per usual you've got to ignore the fans and concentrate on the music to get to the good stuff and there's some pretty bitchin' records out there if you can be bothered to look - I could never be arsed in the past but this album knocked me off my perch and made me realise I've probably missed out on loads of other corkers. Janka Nabay had apparently been pedalling his brand of 'Bubu' choons in his native Sierra Leone to considerable success prior to his emigration to the States a decade ago, a move that didn't go totally according to plan in that he hit the skids and ended up working in fast food outlets for several years before eventually snagging a record deal that allowed him to release his music to a wider audience. You'd expect someone who's gone from relative stardom to flipping burgers to come across a trifle jaded by the experience but this is surprisingly upbeat listen - the title apparently translates as 'I'm scared' in reference to his difficulties settling in the US but the music reflects a clear-headed celebratory attitude rather than introspective grumping. He's arguably benefited from the long wait before releasing anything too, having had time to lock down with a homegrown backing band and filter his old continent material through modern Brooklynite production and club performance chops. Syrian American vocalist Saadi joins him upfront to fill out the high end whilst honky hipsters the Skeletons deal with guitar, bass and drums giving this a nice crossover sound and probably going some way to ensuring that clueless punks like myself have something to grab onto even if they don't know anything about African music. Each track builds up a nice head of steam with tight rhythms and high end string riffs whilst Nabay half narrates and half chants his vocals in a mixture of English and African dialect and Saadi tops off the mix with some sweet chorus lines - they put the format through the mix on each of the eight tracks on show here and it's surprisingly infectious, kicking off each song with a catchy tagline that they proceed to twist and turn into new shapes as the piece progresses. I don't know if there's a breakthrough hit on here to take this stuff from the World Music sessions and into the mainstream charts but I have a sneaky suspicion that Nabay and co can bust this stuff out live to pretty awesome results so a decent run of festival slots could see them gaining wider coverage and landing a few lucrative exposure spots - they've obviously got an eye for the wider market already, 2010's 'Bubu King' EP featuring a fiendishly catchy unofficial anthem to the London Olympics which could have been their meal ticket for some time had it caught on. There will be more opportunities though and in the meantime 'En Yay Sah' will get asses shaking on every spin and sits surprisingly well next to your whiteboy guitar records so go grab a copy and give yourself a break from punk 'n' shoegaze to throw some tribal shapes back at the flat.

Check out : the promo for 'Eh Mane Ah' which should brighten your day up no end.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New : The Raveonettes - 'Observator'

There's enough decent music flying about out there for the discerning listener to enjoy without wasting their time listening to bands that they long ago decided weren't worth the bother. Or so I thought anyway. Having taken in The Raveonettes circa 'Pretty in Black' as the support act to The Cure a few years back I had initially written them off as soundalike Nordic hipsters singing about Route 66 and pimping low-rent garage rock off the back of the then fading garage rock boom of the early noughties. I listened to their first couple of albums again recently and remain steadfast in my belief that they're crap but the experience did prompt me to revisit all the stuff they've put out since 2007's 'Lust Lust Lust', itself a revitalised slice of nu-gaze that would pre-date the 'chick with fuzz pedals' faze that peaked a year or two later - they've dropped a couple more since then and honed their chops on each release to explore new pockets of dark, echoic rock 'n' roll. 'Observator' continues the upward trajectory and is perhaps their strongest suite yet, a nine-track all killer no filler selection of sweet bursts of reverb, blissed-out vocals and yummylicious pop hooks all the way through. The desolate yowl of opener 'Young and Cold' prompts fears that they're about to go all Johnny Cash on us but it proves to be merely a warm-up for the stylistic slalom to come as they go on to bowl strikes for the rest of the album. The chunky piano riffs on 'Observations' draw on mid-noughties BRMC, the warm indie haze of 'Curse the Night' taps into the moodier end of Madder Rose, the gorgeous indie twang of 'The Enemy' apes The Sundays at their prime and the rampant bloodrush of 'Sinking with the Sun' could slot neatly alongside anything by early 90s Yank proto-shoegazers Black Tambourine. But wait kids, there's more! Mid-paced jangler 'She owns the Streets' packs as much anthemic pop punch as Ultra Vivid Scene back in the day, the throwaway yet fiendishly addictive gimmick track 'Downtown' is basically Jane Wiedlin's 'Rush Hour' soaked in reverb,  drawn-out downer 'You hit me (I'm down)' could rival Dum Dum Girls in the kohl eyeliner and surf guitar stakes and the closing kiss-off 'Til the End' is Teenage Fan Club's 'Star Sign' channelled through twenty years of better production. This shit is so good I'm halfway convinced the band have hacked my I-Cloud, cherrypicked the best bits of my shoegaze collection and thrown them all into one big pot to brew up a record with pretty much no weak points - none of it is entirely original but they manage to touch on so many sounds that are dear to my heart that it's really quite hard not to just loop this album all bloody day. They may have started off in sucktastic territory but The Raveonettes sound like they've hit their stride and in all likelihood we'll probably be in for another stonking update from them before too long - previous effort 'Raven in the Grave' was only 18 months old by the time 'Observator' hit the shelves, suggesting that they're back in the artistic fertility period that bands typically hit at the beginning of their careers. Turns out they've grown into themselves nicely while I wasn't looking and the future looks rosy for all things Raveonettish so keep your eyes on this lot and bag 'Observator' for half an hour of instantly loveable indie rock 'n' roll and a potent string of potential dancefloor diamonds.

Check out : 'Downtown'. Not exactly rocket science but who cares when it sounds this sweet?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Retroactive : 1983

1983 : The Year in Music

'Pop' as a term can be a slur or a compliment depending on the definition attached to it - bands looking to connect with popular culture were typically seen as a good thing and calling their output 'pop' seemed appropriate but by 1983 the financial rewards of crossing over to a massive audience had begun to eclipse the creative impulse behind the music itself as the decade lurched towards more prosperous times. Whilst the androgynous synth pop of the New Romantic movement had sprung forth from the club scene into the charts, its biggest successes paled in comparison with the global domination of Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna whose celebrity took on new dimensions as MTV brought them into every American household and universally recognisable stars like Boy George, Billy Idol and Kajagoogoo's Limahl rose to the forefront of British culture. The hits were bigger than ever before, 'Thriller' smashing sales records worldwide whilst mass appeal singles like 'Uptown Girl', 'Karma Chameleon' and 'Too Shy' dispensed with subtlety in favour of all-out commercialism to huge rewards. The future probably seemed rosy at the time and whilst 1983 represents pop's healthiest year of the decade it also saw the emergence of many of the pernicious influences that would lead pop away from boundary-pushing innovation towards conservative commercialism and cynical sales-based attitudes across the music business. Record company bigwigs in the States begun to rub their hands with glee as Quiet Riot's 'Metal Health' became the first metal LP of the decade to hit #1 and sparked a feeding frenzy on Sunset Strip that led to 'hair metal' taking over the mainstream for the rest of the 80s (dropping a few decent records amidst a whole heap of soundalike crap) and the breakthrough success of boybands Menudo (featuring a young Ricky Martin) and New Edition (piloted by future New Kids on the Block manager Maurice Starr and boasting a line-up of future R'n'B stars) laid the foundation for the shopping mall pop geared to the pre-adolescent market that would come to dominate the singles charts later in the decade. Pop also began its dubious relationship with the high concept blockbuster movie as the soundtracks to Simpson and Bruckheimer vehicles like 'Flashdance' filled the charts with the musical equivalent of the charmless formulaic shlock on the cinema screens, leading to the most artistically vapid period of film/music crossover since Elvis' string of shitty 1960s cinema vehicles. But let's not be too cynical - back in 1983 all this was new, pop music ruled the world and artists were reaching huger audiences than could ever have been imagined a few years previously. With that in mind let's place our cynicism aside and revisit 1983 in all its lurid technicolor charm and enjoy the halcyon days of pop at its commercial peak.

Albums of the year

1. Cyndi Lauper - She's so unusual
1983 was a good year for pop, especially in the States where sprightly young artists were reclaiming the throne from mullet-sporting AOR creeps like REO Speedwagon and Journey who'd topped sales charts earlier in the decade. Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' LP saw him crowned undisputed king of the genre with Prince running a close second, but what of the ladies? It's hard to argue with Madonna's status as queen of 80s pop but she wasn't alone at the top - Madge's solo début dropped in '83 on the back of radio hits 'Lucky Star' and 'Holiday' but the aerobic pop of her early work had yet to accommodate the provocative persona she adopted on 'Like a Virgin' the following year. Her début would ultimately play second fiddle to the first female monarch of the Stateside pop landscape, Ms Cyndi Lauper, whose début LP became one of the year's biggest sellers on the back of a string of massive hit singles. At first glance there's an ocean between the two ladies, although you have to remember that the wild eyed vixen seen living out her Catholic guilt fantasies and humping a black Jesus in 1989 was still in leg warmers back in '83. Pop princesses like Kim Wilde and Toyah were pedalling tuneful yet relatively safe radio-friendly music to mass appeal and it was into this market that 'She's so unusual' and 'Madonna' landed - Madge's début appears with hindsight to be merely a lightweight step up before she started doing anything truly interesting whereas 'She's so unusual' provided a fully-formed album of classic pop ready to do the rounds which it duly did, outselling 'Madonna' by a fair stretch and producing four US top five singles in the process. 

What makes Cyndi Lauper so special is that she's the sort of pop star who probably wouldn't get a look in these days - she had the voice to carry a decent pop song but didn't really fit into the established bracket for female pop stars, pushing thirty when 'She's so unusual' was released and sporting an oddball image that was a far cry from the flat-bellied supermodels now synonymous with pop music (that's not to say she wasn't attractive, I'd have done her back then no questions asked and probably still would today for that matter). It'd be easy to take her rise as an indication that the music business has become more mercenary as the years have gone by but the truth is there simply wasn't much competition to muscle her out of the limelight, the music industry having not yet backed itself into the coked-up marketing frenzy that saw the likes of Samantha Fox and Sinitta bagging records deals. Back in '83 you could still shift units doing your own thing and Cyndi fit into the same category as Kate Bush and Björk, weird chicks with their own bizarre dress sense and the vocal ability to sooth nerves or crack windowpanes depending on their mood. I've always had a soft spot for ladies like Cyndi and 'She's so unusual' is stacked to the rafters with top 80s pop classics : 'All through the night' is twinkly lullaby pop shrouded in dry ice, 'She Bop' is the boisterous 80s cousin of Shampoo's 'Trouble', 'Time after time' is a soft focus ballad on a par with 'Every breath you take' and hen night classic 'Girls just wanna have fun' is a vastly preferable alternative to another Abba marathon when the Reef starts flowing and the high heels come off. She even finds time to tackle Prince's 'When you were mine' and somehow makes the smutty lyrics sound playfully innocent and the music hall interlude 'He's so unusual' hams up her Noo Yoik accent like she's guesting on Sesame Street. Most of the tracks on here would fit right into your playlist for a killer 80s party and we often forget how massive this album was back in the poptastic realm of pre-Band Aid chart music - Cyndi would go on to hold her own on 'We are the World' a month or two later up against the biggest vocal show-offs in the business but the advent of Whitney Houston's melisma-drenched soul pop and Madonna's market saturation saw her take a back seat for the remainder of the decade, still dropping great albums but finding herself struggling for air time against increasingly predictable opposition in the field of female pop. A massive-selling greatest hits album followed in the mid 90s before she abandoned pop and pursued various other routes into jazz and blues, Xmas music, acoustic revisits of her pop material and even a half-decent dance record (2008's 'Bring ya to the brink' if you're interested). Cyndi's always been out there in a field of her own and I for one wouldn't have her any other way and 'She's so unusual' remains your best introduction to one of modern music's hippest ladies.

Check out : the balls-out bizarre promo clip for 'She Bop'. Weren't the 80s wonderful?

2. Michael Jackson - Thriller
There's regular mainstream success, there's era-defining chart supremacy and then there's omnipresent planet-humping cultural domination. MJ always wanted 'Thriller' to fall into the latter category and he got his wish, the album breaking every sales record known to man and laying down a marker for mega-stardom that has yet to be truly equalled. He may have sewn the seeds of his own destruction in the process but it was arguably worth it - once you've reached such heights the only way to go is hurtling back to the ground but he would hang around for at least another decade as the world's biggest pop star before he started to slide commercially. Jacko was a star before he released 'Thriller', having grown up through classic pop with the Jacksons and then flinging out some memorable solo material culminating in 1979's disco-era classic 'Off the Wall' but the 80s brought new challenges with the rise of MTV (still a predominantly white channel) and the hit single focus of the pop market - MJ saw the opportunity to take his star quality several steps further, graduating from his background in what was perceived as black music (soul, funk, disco) into mainstream American pop rock, broadening his appeal whilst retaining his roots to create the perfect album, a record packed with potential singles offering something for everybody. Quincy Jones returned on production duties to help craft the masterpiece but MJ's own contribution shouldn't be under-estimated, roping in various mainstream luminaries (Paul McCartney, Eddie Van Halen, Vincent Price, Toto) and tailoring his image and dance steps for the MTV market to ensure the music reached the widest audience possible. And it worked. It ALL worked. 'Thriller' surpassed everybody's expectations, making even its nearest rivals look insignificant in comparison and cementing Jacko as a bona-fide superstar for the rest of the decade. Critics compared his success to that of the Beatles but to my mind his only real equal in the superstar category is Elvis - even the Fab Four can't hold a candle to the celestial star quality radiating from Jacko's performances, ever move emulated across dancefloors the world over and every vocal tic and flick of the hair a fundamental part of his universal appeal. Jacko was hypnotic on 'Thriller', every move he made was iconic, every element of his music was devastatingly addictive and punters the world over were powerless to resist the charm of his material. He was peerless, visionary, the perfect pop performer and the album broke down barriers in what was considered possible for a pop record, producing an unprecedented tally of seven hit singles augmented by some memorable video clips to keep the album in the limelight for two solid years as MJ's relentless promotional work brought him into every home the world over. The album remains the world's best seller of all time and became the benchmark for pop success that subsequent hit-straddled platinum records strove to emulate later in the decade (Def Leppard's 'Hysteria', George Michael's 'Faith' plus his own 'Bad' and his sister's 'Rhythm Nation') but has never been equalled. With the physical purchase of recorded music becoming an increasingly outdated concept, it's unlikely anyone will be challenging its supremacy any time soon.

The gargantuan commercial success of the record often leads to its music being overlooked so let's get down to the nitty gritty without wasting any more time. 'Thriller' builds on the dynamic dancefloor strut of 'Off the Wall' with nimbled-footed opener 'Wanna be startin' something' and the revisionist funk of 'Baby be mine' but the rest of the record showed that Jones and Jackson had widened their arsenal in the intervening years. Cynics accused them of bleaching Jacko's sound to tap into the lucrative white middle America market and the choice of 'The Girl is mine' as lead-off single didn't do much to counter such assertions, the duet with Paul McCartney depicting MJ at his most anaemic and subdued - Macca seemed to have been determined to endear himself to black culture at the time, having dragged Stevie Wonder into the gutter on 'Ebony and Ivory' a year earlier and his collaboration with Jacko is an equally diluted mix that satisfies fans of neither camp. Things do improve though, with the whiteboy cameo of Eddie Van Halen on the riff-driven 'Beat It' providing the necessary punch to propel the track to mainstream success (although the track's synergy is somewhat undermined by the persistent rumour that Eddie fucked up his solo on the track leaving some dorkus from Toto to record the final version on tape). The track's promo clip also proved key to its success, portraying a quintessentially 80s depiction of multi-racial street gangs facing off in a warehouse only for MJ to arrive in his iconic red leather jacket and white socks combo to pacify them into a communal dance routine - the clip emulated the big budget action films of the time and became instantly iconic, prompting numerous imitations and parodies before MJ himself reprised the idea in the clip for the title track from 1987's 'Bad'. Better still was the title track, a throbbing slab of horror-themed disco boasting a Vincent Price vocal cameo and an equally memorable video lining MJ up against a cast of zombies, werewolves and vampires in a 14-minute clip that would go on to prompt dance-offs at Halloween parties worldwide and frequently top viewer polls for best music video of all time. And to top it all there was 'Billie Jean', a Jacko-penned paen to pop star paranoia chronicling his fears of the downside to superstardom as an obsessive fan claims to be carrying his child - again the video and its pannel-lit dancefloor would reach iconic status and propel the track to massive success across the world. Such a trio of superhits would be enough to forge a career from for other artists but they merely represent the crowded mid-section of 'Thriller' before the closing stage groups together the shimmering 'Human Nature' (whose synth riff went on to be heavily sampled on SWV's 'Right here' as well as Nas' 'It ain't hard to tell a decade later), the thumping disco stomper 'P.Y.T' and the R'n'B kiss-off of closer 'The lady in my life'. The material was pop gold from start to finish but what set 'Thriller' apart from MJ's earlier work was the thematic and stylistic variety on offer - whilst 'Off the wall' was essentially a string of dancefloor tracks with the odd ballad thrown in for good measure, 'Thriller' employed a more colourful palette of sonic delivery (funk, rock, R'n'B, pop) along with lyrical focus on the more adult themes of urban unrest, pop star paternity suits and even a foray into the supernatural, all the while transforming MJ from the fresh-faced prince of the dancefloor to the globally recognisable emperor of pop music we came to know in years to come. There was no way back after this and MJ would undergo a radical image transformation even before his next record hit the shelves, entering a spiral of plastic surgery disasters (which he blamed for a discernible change is his skin pigment) and oxygen tent monkey episodes as he descended into pop star babylon. He'd pick up where he left off with 'Bad' and to a lesser extent with 1991's 'Dangerous' but from there on in his career hit a tailspin that would ultimately end with his all too predictable early death in 2010, but don't let that detract from your enjoyment of what is arguably pop's crowning achievement. Even hermits that have spent the last thirty years holed up in a Saharan desert cavern know the words to 'Billie Jean' and the global outpouring of grief at Jacko's early demise is probably linked to the fact that most households with stereo equipment in the 80s had a copy of 'Thriller' knocking around somewhere. The world of pop would never been quite the same after this album changed the landscape for everybody else, so in a sense we've all grown up in Jacko's slipstream and it's impossible to imagine popular culture without the imprint he left with this record. 

Check out : that video for 'Beat it' - makes you want to get the popcorn and Pepsi in.

3. Mötley Crüe - Shout at the Devil

Despite coming across as one of rock's less cerebral groups, Motley Crue succeeded in shaping trends more than virtually any of their peers both in the glam revival of the early 1980s and even more so twenty years later when the chronicles of their heyday came out in the form of quintessential rock biography The Dirt. Let me explain that last one in more detail - back in 2001 when the book first emerged, we were still living under the influence of pre-millennial attitudes towards hair metal and 80s nostalgia in general, one which saw the distance between early MTV poodle metal and the modern era as a good thing, a sign that we'd evolved and matured and left behind the withered 40-somethings that now made up what was left of the first wave of glam. Rock clubs only played modern stuff and nu-metal had yet to wear thin either musically or aesthetically, the likes of System of a Down and Limp Bizkit  were topping charts worldwide and sneering at their 80s predecessors who'd let time pass them by. The Dirt didn't change any of that musically - the band freely admit that much of their output during their mid 80s commercial zenith was pretty crap and the fact that their most recent release (2000's 'New Tattoo') had completely tanked didn't change the perception that they were artistically irrelevant as the noughties began. No, it was the portrayal of their ludicrous excess during the 80s and cumbersome fall from grace in the 90s that lit a fire under the idea that rock used to be a whole lot more fun. Though they offer fairly unconvincing apologies for the less prurient aspects of their behaviour (such as vehicular manslaughter, domestic violence and gang rape for starters), their overall evaluation is that they'd do it all over again if they had the chance. The concept kickstarted a wave of metal nostalgia that would blossom as the decade advanced and The Darkness, Guitar Hero and anything involving Jack Black reaped the rewards of encroaching nostalgia for the bygone age of aquanet and spandex and every single band from back then reformed and toured like it was still 1983. 

Back when it was still 1983, 'Shout at the Devil' failed to make a dent in the UK but caught a wave Stateside that would taken the band further and further into the upper echelons of rock as the decade went on. Built around the muscular punk/metal hybrid of their erratic debut 'Too Fast for Love', 'Shout' crafted the basic elements of Kiss' anthemic metal, Misfit's horror punk and Cheap Trick's glam rock into an attractive package of radio-catered rock anthems which would conquer the airwaves whilst their equally head-turning promo videos laid waste to the early years of MTV. Their premise was no more complicated than 'violence + make-up + sluts + guitars = success!' but the early run of Crüe videos managed to match the visual thrills of 80s action flicks like The Road Warrior and Big Trouble in Little China with the anthemic rock that would soon became the spine of their soundtrack albums. The potency of their imagery shouldn't be underestimated in the Reaganite middle America of the early 80s either - four dudes dressed up in high heels and body armour flashing pentagrams everywhere were an unsettling sight for conservative parents at the time, particularly when you knew that their tour would be rolling through town sometime soon to prey on your teenage daughters. 'Shout' represents the point where Motley became a national institution for better or worse, the band that embodied everything you either loved or hated about heavy metal - snotty, narcissistic, vulgar and hellbent on shagging and snorting their way through every city their visited, the band were poster boys for what was seen in the 90s as the shameful excess of the previous decade but in the 00s came to represent the halcyon days of rock prior to AIDS, rehab and responsible behaviour. Musically it still holds up quite well - the anthemic singles 'Looks that Kill', 'Too Young to fall in love' and the stonking title track can still get heads banging and fists pumping whilst the shorter, snottier blasts of hairspray and testosterone like 'Bastard' and 'Red Hot' preserve enough menace to bridge the gap between glam and punk. Their live set at day two of the US festival in the summer of 1983 captures them at the point where the shirtless, flailing masses of middle America fell in love with them and is worth a look if only for a backdrop to the band's own account of it in the book - I'll leave them to reveal the full details of that little escapade. Whether you buy into all the metal folklore or not, 'Shout at the Devil' remains a potent dose of early 80s glam punk and an aesthetic blueprint for global notoriety which saw its creators rise to unassailable heights as the decade progressed. They'd changed their sound and image completely by the time tame follow-up 'Theater of Pain' emerged two years later but 'Shout ' catches the Crüe at their loudest, leeriest best.

Check out : the entire US festival set or the action packed promo for 'Looks that Kill'.

4. Def Leppard - Pyromania
The acid test for British bands aiming for true success is the tricky issue of 'breaking America', the final hurdle between parochial success in the introverted UK market and global megastardom boosting by a Stateside hit. How to overcome that particular obstacle has often been the subject of media discussion and industry plotting, though the answer is painfully obvious : US audiences like British bands that sound like American bands. 'British Invasion' mainstays like the Rolling Stones and the Animals were selling the Yanks' heritage back to them with a new twist to the recipe and even the Beatles' ascent to world domination is difficult to imagine without Shea Stadium and the Ed Sullivan show. The 1970s saw the same trends re-emerge with the likes of Peter Frampton and Wings topping Stateside sales charts with their British take on American radio rock and the massive arena shows that Led Zeppelin played across the States were what propelled their mystical take on hard rock into the global mainstream. True to form, the 80s followed largely the same pattern - Iron Maiden and Judas Priest took their parochial pub metal into the US mainstream via a series of massive concerts but the British band that sold the most in the early 1980s were Def Leppard, a gaggle of Sheffield knuckleheads who nailed the US radio rock format with 1983's 'Pyromania' to massive commercial kickback, finishing the year as one of the USA's best sellers alongside 'Thriller' and the soundtrack to 'Flashdance' and turning the band themselves into Stateside celebrities in the process.

What's perhaps ironic about the enormous success of 'Pyromania' is that the band's fans back home in Britain almost completely ignored the record when it was released - it actually charted lower than their rougher NWOBHM era début 'On through the night' in the UK and didn't receive any measure of media attention until the follow-up 'Hysteria' finally broke them on the British market later in the decade. The homeland snub is perhaps down to the production job of AOR svengali Mutt Lange who smoothed away virtually all traces of their provincial British pub rock beginnings and replaced it with a laser-guided studio sound configured to dominate middle American radio and turn every track into a potential single - the album's failure to dent the British market seemed like a fair price to pay when polished FM nuggets like 'Rock of Ages' and 'Photograph' became mainstays on Stateside radio whilst their promo clips enjoyed heavy rotation on early era MTV. The band were all too happy to lap up the attention they got from being the only British band to break the American pop charts, appearing in their trademark Union Jack shorts and T-shirts wherever possible and grinning whilst the cash rolled in. 'Pyromania' spent a month at #2 in the US charts stuck behind 'Thriller' and boasts a similar hit rate to MJ's global smash, trimming off any excess weight until all that's left is a string of potential singles - it may lack the balance and range of other rock classics of the era but the sugar-coated pop metal on show is fiendishly catchy and refreshingly lightweight, making the band a more accessible proposition than the sweaty barrage of riffs and rivets pedalled by their British peers. It's also arguably aged better than the nauseating Yank metal that charted alongside it at the time such as Quiet Riot's turgid glam rock and Van Halen's forays into synthesizer metal, retaining a quaint period charm of the gum-chewing, Pepsi-quaffing cartoon buzz of 80s Americana. The market they laid down wouldn't be bettered until Bon Jovi's 'Slippery When Wet' landed in 1986, though Def Leppard always benefited from being a distinctly less punchable bunch of blokes than JBJ and company and they retained their everyman Yorkshire charm even in the face of adversity, losing first their drummer's arm and then guitarist Steve Clark's liver to rock 'n' roll's merciless killing machine only to emerge stronger on the rebound. 'Pyromania' may lack balls when you rack it up against period Priest and Motörhead but that's no reason to ignore it - the mid-Atlantic pop metal on display here is as deftly crafted as anything their more rugged countrymen laid down back in the early 80s and deserves its own place amongst the era's rock staples as the polished gem in a sea of rough diamonds.

Check out : 'Stagefright', their perennial set opener performed live on the 'Hysteria' tour.

5. New Order - Power, Corruption and Lies
It's easy to understate the importance of New Order in the context of bands around them that have notched bigger success over shorter timescales, and I suppose there's nothing too surprising about that. They may not have risen to national prominence like civic brethren The Smiths and The Stone Roses but New Order were arguably more important for British music in the 1980s than either of them - compare the learning curve between 'Unknown Pleasures' and 1989's Acid House indebted 'Technique' with any other British band over the same time scale and it's difficult to argue with the idea that New Order were leaders rather than followers. Modern critical perception may favour the output of their previous incarnation as Joy Division but I stand by the argument I presented in my piece on 'Closer' in the 1980 listing that JD had plenty more in the tank when Ian Curtis cashed in his chips and New Order were merely a logical evolution from that point onwards. Despite its nihilistic connotations, farewell single 'Love will tear us apart' pointed upwards rather than downwards and the band followed the same current in their new line-up, drafting in much-needed woman's touch in the shape of keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and switching to Bernard Sumner's chirpier vocal delivery for their first material as New Order on 1981's 'Movement'. The formula didn't stick immediately but two years and some killer singles later they'd nailed it on 'Power, Corruption and Lies' which remains their first classic and arguably their strongest long player of all. The band's policy of not including stand-alone singles on their LPs means that the most noteworthy aspect of 'PCL' will always be that 'Blue Monday' isn't on it but you can see the logic behind their decision - elements of the track creep into '586' halfway through the album but 'Blue Monday' belongs on a 12" and sticking it in here would just fuck up the flow of what is a remarkably consistent track listing. Unlike their electropop peers who used synths like a weapon to batter the listener round the head with, New Order factored them into their music in a much more organic way to augment their studio sound and allow them to construct electronic music from the roots upwards. They remain arguably the only band of the era to have fully understood the inner dynamics of dance music and it wouldn't be until the advent of the extrovert likes of The Stone Roses and The Charlatans years later that anyone else would come close to mastering the overlap of indie guitar music and club culture. In the meantime New Order simply kept their heads down and carried on penning classics, matching club-catered synth pop on 'Ecstasy' and the aforementioned '586' with guitar-led indie anthems on 'The Village' and opener 'Age of Consent'. Elsewhere the spectre of Ian Curtis looms large over darker cuts 'We all stand' and 'Ultraviolence' but New Order prove that they have their own blueprint for melancholy with set closer 'Leave me alone' and the superb 'Your Silent Face', Bernard Sumner signing off in typically morose Manc fashion, 'You've caught me at a bad time/So why don't you....piss off'. 'Power, Corruption and Lies' was proof that electronic music could be the foundation of a solid indie guitar album as opposed to merely fuel for the chart-catered likes of Duran Duran and Ultravox who were dominating Top of the Pops at the time, and just in case that wasn't enough the band went on to outsell them all with 'Blue Monday', still ranked as the best-selling 12" single of all time in the UK. The band would further explore the electronic angle of their music on 1985's 'Low Life' and from then on you know the rest : 'Bizarre Love Triangle', 'True Faith', 'Fine Time', 'World in Motion', 'Regret'....Their legacy remains intact despite a couple of lacklustre late-period releases and some unfortunate interpersonal disputes and New Order fully deserve their place as one of the most important groups in the history of British music. If you're looking for a clue to how they got there then don't stop with Joy Division, take a trip back to 1982's 'Temptation' single and the full 'Power...' set and enjoy the ride from there on in.

Check out : 'Your Silent Face', six minutes in a very lovely place indeed.

6. REM - Murmur
I had to argue out with myself whether I was going to include any REM in these lists - though their easily loveable radio indie has proved massively influential and they pretty much acted as the flagship band to break US college rock into the mainstream, I wanted these selections to give a true reflection of the bands I listen to and the inclusion of a group I have come to regard as a bunch of whiny corporate indie pussweeds seemed to go against my better judgement. In the end I caved in and decided to let them in - after all, it would be somewhat unfair to dismiss the band entirely based on 'Everybody Hurts', a series of weak-spirited late period releases and the eminently punchable figure that is Michael Stipe. Though I'd rather drink bleach then listen to any of their post 'Out of Time' material, these dudes put in a good decade of hard graft on their way to becoming the band to bring US indie onto daytime MTV and into the charts, beating even Kurt Cobain to the target and opening the doors for zillions of bands that I've included elsewhere in these listings. Stipe even hung out with Kurt and Henry Rollins back in the day when he still had a perm and was touring the same toilet venues across underground America alongside bands like the Butthole Surfers, Husker Du and Minor Threat. Michael Azerrad's all-encompassing guide to the US indie scene of the 80s 'Our band could be your life' omits REM from its choice of bands primarily because you know about them already - their material may have been less subversive than that of their peers but they followed the same touring circuit for several years in the wilderness before 1987's 'Document' gave them a leg up into the mainstream where they would remain until finally deciding to call it quits over twenty years later. Their demise was mourned by some fans but many of their longstanding supporters freely admitted that it was probably long overdue as their late period release schedule had tapered off into nondescript stadium indie dishwater and was beginning to tarnish the creative sheen of their earlier recordings - trace that thread back to its origin and you have 'Murmur', their lively début released back in 1983 which laid down a format they'd develop over later years but probably remains the strongest example of what the band do best.

Whilst the maudlin likes of The Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen embodied 'student music' across the pond, REM rose to the foreground as sceneleaders of the emergent vein of American 'college rock', a style better suited to the literary, liberal confines of academia than the frantic pugilism of hardcore or the sweaty xenophobia of mainstream hard rock. They laced their music with hints of country and folk to deliver a softer, mellower hit than the riff heavy sound of their underground peers and Stipe's honey-smooth vocal delivery was a welcome change to the atonal yowling of most other bands touring the toilet circuit. Peter Buck's nimble guitar twang on cuts like 'Sitting still' would be widely plagiarised by numerous Stateside indie bands later in the decade and the band's incorporation of piano and mandolin into their laidback indie rock set the blueprint for every plaid-clad folk crossover act of the 'alternative' era of early 90s MTV, though again we shouldn't judge the band based on the fallout of their inroads into daytime radio (much as I'd like to be able to blame Counting Crows and Toad the Wet Sprocket on them, it's hardly fair). They lean further into folk on 'We wait', an infectious gem of campfire rock that reminds me of Fleetwood Mac's forays into the same area on 'Rumours' (think 'I don't wanna know' or 'Never going back again') and even manage to nail a lighers-in-the-air classic with low-key ballad 'Perfect Circle', no doubt providing the soundtrack to many a dorm-room snogathon across 80s America in the process. Mellow cuts provide the album's backbone but the band already knew how to pen indie radio classics back in their formative period and single cuts 'Radio Free Europe' and 'Talk about the Passion' are as instantly memorable as they are satisfyingly melodic and toe-tapping upbeat numbers like 'Catapult' and infectious closer 'West of the Fields' will creep under the skin of even the most reluctant fan. That the band rose to nationwide success in the States is no great surprise when you consider how quintessentially American their music is, from its at times weighty humourlessness to the band's incorporation of every comforting melodic influence embedded in the walls of American homes ranging from Glen Campbell to Neil Young, Dylan to CCR, they drink in their homegrown influences and succeed in concocting their own brew to soundtrack another chapter in Yank musical history. The band succeeded in channelling the communal music culture of the States like no band since Aerosmith and whilst Tyler and co's odes to priapic seduction provided an apt soundtrack to the stadium rock hedonism of the 70s, REM's reflective, politicised take on indie rock proved an equally appropriate soundtrack to the intellectual counterculture of Reagan-era America. Like much of their early work, 'Murmur' has been subjected to a good deal of nostalgic re-appraisal and lined up against the radio-saturated material of their Grunge-era commercial peak it has retained much of its understated charm - even if you hate REM with a passion (and there are plenty of reasons to, believe me), this album is well worth a pop for a dose of mellow indie Americana from a band that had yet to wear out their welcome. 

Check out : their breakthrough hit 'Radio Free Europe', every bit as anthemic as 'This Charming Man'.

7. Merciful Fate - Melissa
The urge to avoid repetition in this series has led me to dump many of my fave LPs from certain years' lists on the grounds that the band in question has done better, going some way to justify the absence of Metallica's grizzly début 'Kill 'em all' from 1983's countdown as they have both 'Ride the Lightning' and 'Master of Puppets' in the bank for later plaudits. There is also the not inconsiderable fact that one of their prime influences dropped a better metal début back in '83, one that 'tallica themselves would pay extensive tribute to many years later when they cropped various highlights into a ten-minute homage on their 'Garage Inc' stopgap LP. Denmark's Mercyful Fate, hailing from the same country as Metallica's verbose drummer Lars Ulrich, emerged from the European metal scene of the early 80s alongside Sweden's Bathory and Switzerland's Celtic Frost to bridge the gap between the sweat 'n' rivets chug of NWOBHM at the start of the decade and the increasingly chaotic genre shifts towards its end incorporating thrash, death metal, black metal and a host of other splunderous delights. Frost and Bathory went some way to laying the groundwork for the global black metal movement that would gain momentum in later years but the Fate had more potential to tap into a wider audience - less sonically extreme than their peers, they nevertheless tapped into the cinematic potential of heavy metal and combined their Maiden-esque twin lead delivery with a lyrical focus on the occult and the eerie vocals of frontman King Diamond to create a sonic cocktail that satisfied the melodic highs provided by Priest and Maiden yet retained a sinister underground charm and the power to shock and scare. 

I remember borrowing 'Melissa' and their equally stonking follow-up 'Don't break the Oath' from a mate's older brother back in the late 90s and was initially underwhelmed - Diamond's singing style sounded a bit silly to me and I wrote the band off as risible metal showboating in the same vein as Manowar. What's striking then is how good 'Melissa' sounds today, the leads fair fly out of your speakers and Diamond's operatic shrieking feels more like an integral part of their music, like an extra instrument than the theatrical front end of an empty product. And the labyrinthine fretwork doesn't blunt their delivery either - the riff fiends amongst you will be glad to hear that the Fate pack just as much of a punch in the guts as any of their NWOBHM forebearers, the likes of 'Black Funeral' and 'Curse of the Pharoahs' slamming home just as satisfyingly as anything AC/DC ever came up with. Even the 11-minute horror epic 'Satan's Fall' manages to weave in enough weighty moments to keep your attention whilst the King weaves a complex tale of devilish domination - Maiden would come close to this kind of stuff on 'Revelations' and 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' but even their most sinister moments were anchored to a cartoonish Eddie-fronted metal entertainment spectacle, whereas the Fate kept one foot in the shadows at all times and denied listeners the comfort of knowing that they weren't really serious about all this Satanism malarkey. Mercyful Fate's take on metal conquers your imagination much like a good horror film or ghost story, leaving no gaps in the atmosphere and surrounding you with sinister theatre and intricate solos that twist and turn off into the darkness, all compounded by the King's unique vocal delivery alternating between spooky narrative and banshee wailing - the jaw-dropping title track that closes the album showcases him at his best, weaving a dark romantic tale of tragedy as the album's namesake is condemned as a witch and leaves him mourning her loss as the guitars fade into nothing; 'Nothing is left outside at the stake/They've taken her away from me'. 'Melissa' is an intoxicating listen from start to finish, boasting seven devastating tracks of sinister genius and not a second of time wasting and the band would maintain their hit rate throughout their early period before splitting in 1985, leaving a brief but brilliant legacy that even their subdued re-emergence in the 1990s couldn't taint. Diamond would go on to develop the horror narrative style to more single-minded yet equally enjoyable ends as a solo artist but his best days will remain the inaugural Fate period in the eyes of many - metal maniacs in days gone by would have joyfully crafted a killer D90 from 'Melissa', 84's 'Don't break the Oath' and their stonking début EP from '82 but these days you can just cue them all up on Spotify and disappear into a dark reverie for a couple of hours. If that sounds like a thrilling prospect then don't let me stop you - 'Melissa' remains the ideal gateway into their world and is well worth falling in love with.

Check out : 'Into the Coven', a delectable mix of riffs, melody and spooky storytelling.

8. The Police - Synchronicity
I have a higher Sting threshold than most people. Despite his history of ill thought out rock star flights of fancy that I would usually pour scorn upon (world music, tantric sex, duets with Mary J.Blige), I still have time for the guy. I think perhaps I identify with him as an articulate blond Northerner, much in the same way I feel an affinity with Daniel Craig now he's playing James Bond - they are classic Englishmen, folks I feel I'd get along with. I came out to defend Sting at a comedy show some time ago when the MC derided him for singing in a fake Jamaican accent (a not entirely unfounded accusation it has to be said) and would happily do so again - much of his musical output is not quite to my personal taste but I'll put that to one side in favour of his gentle, pleasant demeanour and the bits of his stuff I actually like, namely a couple of his solo albums and the Police's schizophrenic swansong from 1983. The title 'Synchronicity' is perhaps ironic as the band were at each others throats' by this point and reputedly recorded their individual parts in separate rooms to avoid it all kicking off every time they turned the tape on - the cover art shows splits them into three individual streams and it wouldn't be long before they unofficially disbanded to pursue separate interests, although not before going out on a career high in both commercial and critical terms. The album topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and managed a staggering 17 weeks at #1 in the States, an achievement that would have made them the year's biggest success story had they not had 'Thriller' to contend with - they did emerge triumphant over Jacko in the singles listings though and 'Every breath you take' was the Billboard #1 of the year ahead of 'Billie Jean' and 'Beat it'. Sting apparently made the decision to call time on the band whilst onstage at Shea Stadium during the  album's gargantuan promotional tour on the grounds that they couldn't take things any further - perhaps an arrogant take on business but ultimately a wise one, allowing the band to retire at their peak before they started to get on people's tits (a feat later achieved by Sting's solo work depending on who you talk to). Their appeal thus preserved, they were later able to reform and post the highest earnings in music for the year 2008 following a massive reunion tour. Whatever you think about Sting, his keen sense for business is difficult to argue with.

But that's what made The Police a different proposal - these guys weren't straight out of school when they became famous, they'd all been around the block a few times by the time they formed in the late 70s and were savvy enough to know that the post-punk slipstream wouldn't provide them with a steady career in the long term so adapted their approach to take in pop, funk and a persil-washed take on reggae that put certain people off but ultimately endeared them to a much wider audience. Stewart Copeland was an expatriate Yank with a background in prog rock, Sting was a school teacher dabbling in jazz and Andy Summers was in his mid 30s by the time the band recorded their first single - these dudes had enough wisdom and experience to stay one step ahead of their peers and ultimately went on to outsell them all. Their earlier material matched some of the era's strongest singles with album tracks that often veered off into self-indulgent freeform bollocks and 'Synchronicity' doesn't shake off that curse entirely, beginning with a series of erratic tangents into world music and electronica before they settle into a faultless run of singles on side two. Opener 'Synchronicity I' sets things in motion nicely with an athletic keyboard loop before the slightly naff world music of 'Walking in your footsteps' ushers in the directionless jazz funk of 'Oh my God' and the atonal pyschobabble of 'Mother' - by this point you'd be forgiven for turning the record off and frisbeeing it across the room. But perseverance pays off - the nimbly rhythmic 'Miss Gradenko' proves the turning point before things improve dramatically and the album second suite provides enough peaks to more than make up for the meandering first side. 'Synchronicity II' is one of my favourite things to have ever been done with a pop song, juxtaposing another mundane chug through suburban routine with the slow emergence of the Loch Ness monster poised to destroy humanity. It was a ballsy choice for a single but they pulled it off and then took things up several notches on the planetary radio classic 'Every breath you take', surely the best proof of Sting's immense talent as a songwriter. I don't need to bore you with a description of the song, you've known it ever since you first turned on the radio - aside from being one of the most universally loved hits of all time it's also a fine example of how few people pay close attention to the lyrics of pop music, the majority of listeners still considering the track a simple ballad when closer inspection reveals a darker narrative of stalking and unrequited love. And that's no bad thing - the track can be taken as either without losing any of its potency and the relatively simple musical backing is infused with such a recognisable sense of melancholy that even a ham-fisted rehash at the hands of Puff Daddy years later couldn't detract from its potency. That riff tightens throats all over the world whenever we hear it - some achievement you've gotta admit. They keep the strike rate up with 'King of Pain' tapping the same composed drivetime radio vibe of the Carrs' 'Drive' before 'Wrapped around your finger' shows Sting's nerve is steady enough to tell a slow-release story without losing your attention and closer 'Tea in the Sahara' leads into a surreal sense of numbness as the record fades into the distance. As if that weren't enough, modern revamps include 'Murder by Numbers' which prompted televangelist Jimmy Swaggart to declare that the band were acting as emissaries of the devil, much to the amusement of Sting who affirmed onstage that 'I wrote the fucking song, not Satan'. 

'Synchronicity' is a bizarre beast, at times a patience-testing trainwreck of rock star pretentiousness but elsewhere acts as a faultless showcase of 80s hit writing. If the band over step the mark at times they're more than forgiven for the untouchable elegance of their songwriting on the album's familiar cuts and in many ways it's encouraging that both elements can jostle for position on a record without reducing it to a directionless clusterfuck. The album packed enough punch to keep it on the charts for yonks and proved that artists didn't need to live in fear of public disapproval when putting together a long player - Kate Bush employed the same technique two years later on her career-peak 'Hounds of Love' to similar effect, splitting the radio hits from a less-accessible foray into the depths of her psyche that ultimately proved equally rewarding. If you're part of the short attention span brigade then a mash-up of side one of 'Hounds' and side two of 'Synchronicity' should give you everything you need but the more adventurous among you should bag the full versions of both to fully appreciate the King and Queen of English songwriting at their peerless career zenith. 

Check out : 'Synchronicity II' live in Oakland, with Sting entering his 'Dune' era fashion period.

9. Minor Threat - Out of Step
Hardcore punk was more than just a musical style to many of its more faithful acolytes, it represented an uncompromising stance that defined itself against the perceived norm of not only mainstream radio rock but also against aspects of the punk scene it viewed as ignorant or blindly hedonistic. No band embodied this slightly puritanical take on affairs better than Washington DC's Minor Threat, a well-read bunch of idealistic young hoods whose take on hardcore combined a lyrical manifesto of sobriety, abstinence and social awareness with some of the most concentrated aggression ever laid down on record. We've all had that schoolfriend who at some point during adolescence abruptly undergoes a political road to Damascus experience and suddenly renounces all the vices of mainstream society in favour of reading Marxist philosophy in their bedroom, hanging round the local vegan foodstore and probably engaging in a couple of half-hearted suicide attempts - if Minor Threat themselves weren't on their stereo at the time then it was probably one of the various OMG SO HARDCORE type bands to have formed in their idealogical slipstream. And I'm not saying that just to be patronising - the confrontational outward-facing stance of the puritanical middle class teenager is something to be admired, it's that fierce urge to hold a mirror up to society and call out anyone you feel is being lazy or cowardly and MT didn't just reproduce the mindset on wax, they succeeded in founding a movement within punk that continues prosper to this day. The band had unwittingly launched the 'Straight Edge' movement on the back of the song of the same title featured on their first EP and expounded on the mindset on the title track on 'Out of Step', publicly renouncing tobacco, alcohol and promiscuous sex in favour of a stern, clear-headed assessment of society over a relentless barrage of riffs and volume. They may have inadvertently opened the floodgates on a deluge of self-righteous nerdcore bands pedalling borderline fascistic takes on lifestyle, gender and dietary choice over the next thirty years but you have to credit MT with laying down a marker for idealogical extremism and relentless delivery over the course of one album and a couple of EPs during their short time together.

It was easy enough for critics of hardcore to dismiss the majority of the bands as drunken buffoons pedalling an atonal racket that merely highlighted their own musical limitations but MT stood up to the scorn of any observers and weren't afraid to live out their philosophy outlined in their song lyrics. Their musical chops were tight enough to handle the white knuckle assault of their compositions (must have been all those early nights and wholesome meals) and there's not a second on 'Out of Step' that doesn't sound entirely committed and ramped up to breaking point. Vocalist Ian MacKaye was a shaven-headed intellectual with a tireless dedication to breaking down barriers and questioning authority, whether it was inside the cosy confines of punk rock or out in the world of politics that provided the backdrop of their hometown. The band's name was chosen to reflect the antipathy shown to younger music fans by club owners at the time who barred underage fans from attending the band's shows on the often incorrect assumption that they'd be drinking in the venue and the X-mark typically drawn onto the hands of underage punters at such shows has gone on to become an iconic symbol of the genre. Ditto  for the cover of their first EP which went on to be respectfully reproduced on Rancid's '...And out come the Wolves' LP and considerably less so when Nike hijacked it without approval for their 'Major Threat' sales campaign. The band's continued influence is easy to appreciate - we'll always need an outlet for the no compromise ideological fury of young punks and there are much, MUCH worse role models for them than MT (or MacKaye's equally visionary post-MT project Fugazi) to light the torch paper for them. If you hear your thirteen year old kid spinning this on repeat then don't worry, no need to hide the razor blades but you'd better prepare for your every grocery purchase to be ideologically scrutinised and for the world to be put to rights every time you ask them how their day went. Look on the bright side, at least they'll end up reading a few books and you won't have to scrub puke out of the carpet every time they have a party.

Check out : their entire set live in LA in 1983, clocking in at a whopping 22 minutes!

10. 'Weird Al' Yankovic - s/t
Does humour belong in music? Frank Zappa asked the question rhetorically in the mid 80s as the title to another of his albums of lurid jokes and upbeat stabs at deserving targets across society - ultimately many listeners will always come down on the 'no' side and any injections of light-hearted zest into their music will just make them pull faces. And that's fine by me, it's all a question of personal taste after all. I'm firmly in the 'yes' category, although it does depend on the circumstances - nothing makes me turn the stereo off quicker than Jack Black's painfully unfunny 'comedy metal' because deep down it represents little more than contempt for the genre as opposed to being able to deconstruct the music and reassemble it as an informed, clever parody of the style. Artists who I feel have succeeded in this endeavour include Zappa, Spike Jones and They Might be Giants who have all crossed over to considerable success over the years but the one to divide audiences more than Marmite remains 'Weird Al' Yankovic whose début dropped in 1983 to establish him as a long-standing counterweight to the musical trends of the times. He's little more than an irritant to many and in truth it's not particularly hard to see why - the endless polka reworkings, the goofy hair and glasses, the recycling of the same jokes about obesity and daytime television and even the self-consciously zany name have all curled toes and soured faces over the years but let's lay our cynicism aside for a second and appreciate the man for his observational accuracy and tireless dissection of popular culture. 

Yankovic's début lays down a template that he would never stray too far from over the course of numerous subsequent releases, a mixture of period radio hits rewritten in lyrical parody and his own ludicrous polka pop compositions taking on the stranger aspects of everyday life. The reworked originals here include Toni Basil's 'Mickey' (as the 'I love Lucy' themed 'Ricky'), Queen's 'Another one bites the dust' (tackling the perils of public transport on 'Another one rides the bus') and a manic accordion take on The Knack's 'My Sharona' (the first of his numerous food-based compositions 'My Bologna') and whilst they lack the comic punch of later classics 'Amish Paradise' and 'Pretty Fly for a Rabbi' there's still enough to raise a smile (the robust belch halfway through 'My Bologna' still makes me giggle every time I hear it). Though the musical parodies may seem like easy laughs that basically allow Yankovic to indulge in wanton plagiarism without getting sued, they frequently puncture the pomposity of the originals and undercut the inflated self-image of the writers whose perspective had become altered by the success brought on by penning a smash hit (the indignant reaction of some artists parodied by Yankovic is often even funnier than the parody itself). The remainder of the album tracks tackle intellectual topics such as picking your nose ('My Boogie'), embezzlement ('The check's in the mail') and raging hedonism ('I'll be mellow when I'm dead') whilst the slightly darker side of his humour takes over on the bleak existentialism of 'Happy Birthday' and the downright sinister album-closer 'Mr Frump in the Iron Lung' - though his gonzoid humour may put off the more straight-faced listeners out there, his own compositions are just as catchy as the originals he pokes fun at and prove that the guy could write straightforward pop hits sat on the toilet if he were that way inclined. As someone who's been actively interested in pop music since time immemorial I will fight Weird Al's corner as a valid deconstruction of mainstream music over the ages - he's not just an irritating dork in a Hawaiian shirt, he's a veritable professor of pop whose parodies serve as valuable sociocultural analysis of popular music and act as a timely reminder of how fine a line there is between creating transcendent pop art and disappearing up your own bumhole. Every twist in pop culture over the last thirty years has been put through the Weird Al filter from 'Like a Surgeon' to 'I think I'm a clone now', from 'Smells like Nirvana' to 'Canadian Idiot' passing through gems such as this and this - he may not be to everyone's taste but I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Al and he shows no signs of going away thirty years into his career so let's give the guy a bit of credit where it's due for a lifetime's dedication to informed satire and poking fun at deserving targets. 

Check out : 'Happy Birthday', the perfect soundtrack for shuffling one year closer to death.

Tune of the year

New Order - Blue Monday

You know it as well as the voice of your own mother. You can recognise it from the very first note, you know every synth riff and every drum countdown, every bass bubble and fizzing rush of electronic energy that forms the landscape of the track, you could carry on busting moves on the dancefloor to it note for note even if they chopped the sound out. Best selling 12" of all time, a statistic that proved infamously ironic as Factory records actually lost four pence for every copy sold due to the cost of reproducing Peter Saville's modern art packaging. But New Order always did things their way, right down to their steadfast decision to leave 'Blue Monday' off parent album 'Power, Corruption and Lies' (which rather conveniently gives me an excuse to include both in this list) and their refusal to play corporate shindigs like Top of the Pops if they were forced to lip-synch (they did a rough as fuck live version instead). The track charted on three separate occasions over the course of twelve years, each time finding favour with a new generation of clubbers and indie kids, a cycle that looks set to continue as more and more bands cite New Order as a huge influence. 'Blue Monday' is up there with 'You really got me', 'Life on Mars', 'Anarchy in the UK' and the band's own 'Love will tear us apart' as universally recognisable British pop music - it's that good. For a bunch of moody Mancs who seemed to try and do everything to scupper its success, that's not such a bad result.