Talking Heads Part One (1980/1981): Reagan, Ghosts & Listening Winds

For many Americans, 1980 hoped to offer a break from the recent past: the Watergate scandal, defeat in Vietnam, the Iran hostage crisis, a major recession. Disco.

A Presidential Election was also pending in November. At the beginning of the year, Jimmy Carter stood at 62% in the polls, Ronald Reagan at 33.

Reagan promised to return America to a pre-countercultural era, prioritising family values and social order. He courted the Fundamentalist vote; evangelists and motivational speakers suddenly popped up all over the radio.

Something pinged in David Byrne’s head, and he later outlined the febrile atmosphere of early 1980 in Simon Reynolds’ book ‘Totally Wired’: ‘The text was saying “Thou shalt not” but the preacher’s performance was this completely sensual, sexual thing. I thought, “This is great – the whole conflict is embodied right there…”’

Byrne and Brian Eno explored some of these themes on their groundbreaking My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (named after the 1954 book by Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola) with a particular emphasis on Islam and its contrasts with Christianity.

The project was originally supposed to be a three-way collaboration between Jon Hassell, Eno and Byrne, a fake ‘field work’ complete with ethnography, liner notes and photos, but Hassell dropped out at the eleventh hour. The album is strikingly original, still relevant and sometimes terrifying.

A month before the Presidential Election, on 8 October 1980, Talking Heads released their masterpiece Remain In Light, also a collaboration with Eno. The album’s key tracks, ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and ‘Listening Wind’, went even further than Bush Of Ghosts: the former showed that Byrne had completely assimilated the ‘sensual preacher’ persona, while the latter outlined a young Arab’s act of terror.

Mojique resents the rich ‘foreigners in fancy houses’ turning up in his country, makes a bomb ‘with quivering hands’ and dispatches it to his American enemy. It’s a unique, powerful piece of work, and one wonders whether its inclusion on Remain In Light contributed to the album being their worst-ever seller in the USA.

Reagan was elected on 4 November 1980 with 50.7% of the national vote. His famous Election Eve speech mentioned ‘that shining city on the hill’, invoking both Jesus’s Sermon On The Mount and noted Puritan John Winthrop. But Byrne’s New York had been under the cosh: more murders, robberies, burglaries and subway breakdowns were reported in 1980 than in any other year since records began 49 years earlier.

Reagan was inaugurated on 20 January 1981. My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts was finally released – after several postponements – almost exactly a month later.

Further reading: ‘Life And Death On The New York Dancefloor’ by Tim Lawrence

The Yacht Rock Revolution (1980-1983)

Say ‘fusion’ to most music fans and it’s the classic early-‘70s jazz/rock of Miles or The Mahavishnu Orchestra that would probably come to mind.

But a decade later another kind of fusion was taking place, a mainly-American sound that drew on influences from R’n’B, jazz, pop, funk, AOR and MOR.

Yacht Rock was upwardly-mobile, multi-layered, widescreen, moneyed, beautifully-produced music, usually involving a string section and/or horns, generally West Coast-originated, driven by the lush production style of the time and effortless brilliance of the musicians involved.

The Yacht House Band generally centred around a few key members of the band Toto: Jeff Porcaro on drums, David Paich on keyboards and Steve Lukather on guitar. You’d also have to factor in guitarists Jay Graydon, Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton, keyboard players David Foster, Michael Omartian, Robbie Buchanan and Greg Phillinganes, drummers John ‘JR’ Robinson and Steve Gadd, bassists Louis Johnson and Abe Laboriel, percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, horn arranger Jerry Hey, string arranger Johnny Mandel and a whole host more.

These were the greatest ‘rock’ musicians in the world, brought up on The Beatles, Beach Boys, Hendrix, Miles, McLaughlin and James Brown, making up their parts on the spot with the studio meter running, embellishing the basic chord changes with their own unique feel and voicings and bringing to life jazz-influenced compositions by some of the great songwriters of that or any other era: Kenny Loggins, Burt Bacharach, Michael McDonald, Carole Bayer Sager, Rod Temperton, Fagen and Becker, David Foster, Jay Graydon et al.

All kinds of singers got sucked in to this vibe, dialling down the operatics and dialling up the melody and behind-the-beat phrasing: George Benson, Patti Labelle, Michael Franks, Randy Crawford, The Four Tops, Michael Jackson, Manhattan Transfer, Leon Ware, Lionel Richie. Even a few Brits got onboard – George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘Carrie’ are great stabs at the sound.

With a few notable exceptions, it was all over by 1984. The technology started running the show. Everyone was looking for the right drum machine, budgets were slashed and the great session musicians moved into production and songwriting. Stanley Clarke/George Duke’s heroic ‘Atlanta’ was somewhat of a finale for this kind of music; it’s quite affecting in a way.

Of course this stuff is way too laidback for some, the sound of clock-watching session musicians producing aural cotton candy, too close to muzak for comfort. It would be totally understandable to reach for the Throbbing Gristle after a while. But if it’s your bag you can really get lost in it – it’s pure comfort music, and brilliant for headphones.

Here’s a selection of the finest 1980s Yacht Rock artefacts for your listening pleasure. Ahoy there mateys, and wishing you a smooth sail.

Dedicated to James Broad.

Brett Anderson’s ‘Track Seven’ Theory: A Special movingtheriver.com Report

Brett, yesterday

All music fans love a theory.

And what with all this talk of Q’s sad demise, movingtheriver has been ruminating on the magazine’s great articles past, including an interview with Brett Anderson in which the Suede head honcho posited his theory that track seven of an album is always the best track.

This was red rag to a bull for movingtheriver. But was Brett on to something? Or does he just have some kind of weird, ritualistic interest in the number seven? In a world exclusive, we investigate some movingtheriver-approved, ‘critic-proof’ albums of the 1980s to test his theory.

In the words of Ian Dury, this is what we find…

1980: Talking Heads’ Remain In Light
Track seven: ‘Listening Wind’

1981: Human League’s Dare
Track seven: ‘I Am The Law’

1982: Roxy Music’s Avalon
Track seven: ‘Take A Chance With Me’

1983: Michael Jackson’s Thriller
Track seven: ‘Human Nature’

1984: Prince’s Purple Rain
Track seven: ‘I Would Die 4 U’

1985: Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love
Track seven: ‘Under Ice’

1986: Paul Simon’s Graceland
Track seven: ‘Under African Skies’

1987: David Sylvian’s Secrets Of The Beehive
Track seven: ‘Mother And Child’

1988: Prefab Sprout’s From Langley Park To Memphis
Track seven: ‘Knock On Wood’

1989: The Blue Nile: Hats
Track seven: ‘Saturday Night’

So how do the track sevens stack up? It has to be said, most do seem to have something ‘Suede-like’ about them, something wistful, melancholic, or, in the case of the Talking Heads, Human League and Kate Bush tracks, positively menacing. Brett would probably approve.

But are they the ‘best’ tracks from their respective albums? No. You could possibly make a case for ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Saturday Night’* but you’d certainly be going out on a limb.

So there you have it. Obviously Mr A was talking out of his a*se. Next time: Peter Andrex’s ‘track four’ theory. B*llshit or not? YOU be the judge…

*Er… Wait. Wasn’t one of Suede’s best singles also entitled ‘Saturday Night’? Whoa, daddy…

(Other examples/alternative theories always welcome…)

RIP Q Magazine (October 1986-September 2020)

The first issue – October 1986

Another one bites the dust: a succinct tweet from editor Ted Kessler spawning many emotional replies from scribes of all stripes, and it’s au revoir to one of the most respected music mags of the last 40 years.

Yes, the September issue will be the very last edition of Q. I was surprised how peturbed I was by this news. Without Q in the world, something is amiss.

I guess my dad, broad-minded and well-read music fan that he was, would have bought the very first Macca-adorned edition in October 1986, but I took the baton from there and got every issue (unless Robbie Williams or Noel Gallagher were on the cover) until the late 1990s.

There was a major cull in the early 2000s when I chucked quite a few out, and I have about 30 left. Of course now I wish I had kept them all.

Why did I stop buying Q every month? It was probably the general state of the late-1990s music scene rather than the writing, though I also missed the humour of the David Hepworth/Mark Ellen/Tom Hibbert troika which was the driving force in the early years. But I kept my hand in right until the end, recalling a brilliant recent issue featuring Suggs, Suede, Status Quo and Mark E Smith.

The final issue – August 2020

Q was initially a perfect alternative to the NME and Melody Maker, a post-Live Aid, CD-age rag designed to cater to the ‘older’ rock/pop fan but actually delivering something subtly subversive. It foregrounded extended interviews without any PR puffery, and added some much-needed humour and p*ss-taking of the burgeoning celebrity culture.

If you were a bit of a ‘muso’ like me, you got used to ‘your’ band generally getting a critical mauling, but I also discovered some great music via the mag’s review section (David Torn, Bireli Lagrene, Lewis Taylor, Spacek, Love And Money, Danny Wilson, John Abercrombie).

Lots of features stick in the mind – of course Tom Hibbert’s Who The Hell? and the much-imitated Cash For Questions. And there were loads of memorable interviews: a post-toiletgate George Michael, Bob Geldof jostling with Sting, Macca talking candidly about drugs and Lennon for the first time, Jonathan Richman, Shirley Manson, Madonna in her ‘Blond Ambition’ pomp, Prince during the ‘Slave’ era, Joni Mitchell circa Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm, the Television reunion, JJ Cale, Bowie’s Cash For Questions, Green Gartside in his local East End boozer. And there were also the brilliant 10th anniversary and 100th issues.

So RIP Q. Who knows which esteemed music mags are next on the chopping block? Please buy ’em while they’re still around. We’ll miss them when they’re gone. And there won’t be anything to read on plane/train journeys, if they’re still around too.

Gonna Party Like It’s 1989

So farewell then, 1989.

I mean 2019, of course…

But enough about 2019.

Here’s Nick Hornby’s diary entry for 22nd August 1989, taken from his classic book ‘Fever Pitch’:

‘I have stopped buying NME and the Face, and, inexplicably, have started keeping copies of Q magazine under a shelf in my living room; I have bought a CD player; I have registered with an accountant; I have noticed that certain types of music – hip-hop, indie guitar pop, thrash, metal – all sound the same and have no tune; I have come to prefer restaurants to clubs; and dinners with friends to parties…’

Stump bassist Kev Hopper also had an interesting take on the era:

Organised raves were happening up and down the country and and the UK was awash with mockney DJs. You were made to feel like some sort of soulless, asexual blob if you didn’t like/want to move to their incredibly unfunky, over-quantised, four-to-the-floor marching music. Most of it had about as much rhythmic interest as a dripping tap. Remix DJs and “keyboard wizards” were calling all the shots, idolized by huge crowds of spazzed-out zombie youth. One thing was for sure: rock bands were out…’

And yet 1989 was one of the best music years of the ’80s, and one of the most contradictory. Happy Mondays and Stone Roses had famously gatecrashed a November edition of ‘Top Of The Pops’, but hadn’t upset the status quo quite yet (and guitars wouldn’t properly make a comeback until the Blur/Oasis era of the mid-’90s, at least in the UK). The ‘yuppie’ consumer still had a stronghold on the charts, driven by the CD boom and a renewed focus on the home and car (which of course became convulsive).

But there was also the sinking feeling that pop music was no longer ruling mainstream culture. Stock, Aitken & Waterman (via Brother Beyond, Big Fun, Sonia, Sinitta, Jason Donovan and Kylie) and the bizarre Jive Bunny were ever-present in the charts, with TV tie-ins and ’40s/’50s nostalgia particularly prevalent, evidenced by this list of UK number one singles during 1989:

Kylie/Jason: ‘Especially For You’

Marc Almond/Gene Pitney: ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’

Simple Minds: ‘Belfast Child’

Jason Donovan: ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’

Madonna: ‘Like A Prayer’

The Bangles: ‘Eternal Flame’

Kylie Minogue: ‘Hand On Your Heart’

Gerry Marsden/Paul McCartney/Holly Johnson/The Christians: ‘Ferry Across The Mersey’

Jason Donovan: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’

Soul II Soul ft. Caron Wheeler: ‘Back To Life’

Sonia: ‘You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You’

Jive Bunny: ‘Swing The Mood’

Black Box: ‘Ride On Time’

Jive Bunny: ‘That’s What I Like’

Lisa Stansfield: ‘All Around The World’

New Kids On The Block: ‘You’ve Got The Right Stuff’

Jive Bunny: ‘Let’s Party’

Band Aid II: ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’

And the fact is that era-defining albums by De La Soul, Pixies, Beastie Boys, Soul II Soul, Neneh Cherry and NWA were crushed in sales terms by the Bunny, Tina Turner, Gloria Estefan, Kylie, Jason, Sonia, Simply Red, Bros, Phil Collins and Chris Rea. And though Tiffany and Debbie Gibson had pretty much been snuffed out, crap teen pop was making a comeback in the shape of New Kids On The Block.

But there was still much to celebrate.  The second ’80s pop boom was well underway. ‘Smash Hits’ mag was selling a million copies a week. Prog-pop was alive and well courtesy of Marillion, It Bites, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and Trevor Rabin. There was a serious CD ‘sophisti-pop’ thing going on via Tanita Tikaram, Blue Nile, Black, Julia Fordham, Prefab, Deacon Blue, Toni Childs etc. ‘Going Live’ was a must-watch on Saturday mornings.

Hip-hop was commercial and vital, highlighted by great albums from De La Soul, Young MC, Schoolly D, Tone Loc, NWA and Beastie Boys. The ’60s generation were in fine fettle, evidenced by era-defining rock albums from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jeff Beck and Lou Reed. Jazz and fusion were in good nick. And don’t forget the post-aceeeed dance scene via Bomb The Bass, S’Express, Yazz, Beatmasters, Betty Boo, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, the Mondays and Roses.

Here’s just a smattering of 1989 album releases. Looks like a pretty damn good year, whether you were into pop, dance, hip-hop, indie, goth, soul, metal or jazz.

Neneh Cherry: Raw Like Sushi

Danny Wilson: Bebop Moptop

China Crisis: Diary Of A Hollow Horse

Lil Louis: From The Mind Of Lil Louis

XTC: Oranges & Lemons

Tone Loc: Loc’ed After Dark

Joe Satriani: Flying In A Blue Dream

Nik Kershaw: The Works

Fine Young Cannibals: The Raw & The Cooked

Madonna: Like A Prayer

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Mother’s Milk

Allan Holdsworth: Secrets

John Lee Hooker: The Healer

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

Lou Reed: New York

Tin Machine

Lenny Kravitz: Let Love Rule

Pixies: Doolittle

Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique

Soul II Soul: Club Classics Vol 1

Young MC: Stone Cold Rhymin’

Mike Stern: Jigsaw

John Patitucci: On The Corner

Miles Davis: Aura

All About Eve: Scarlet And Other Stories

Marillion: Seasons End

Kate Bush: The Sensual World

Janet Jackson: Rhythm Nation 1814

Julia Fordham: Porcelain

Neville Brothers: Yellow Moon

Bob Dylan: Oh Mercy

Miles Davis: Amandla

Schoolly D: Am I Black Enough For You

Neil Young: Freedom

Blue Nile: Hats

Curiosity Killed The Cat: Getahead

The Beautiful South: Welcome To The Beautiful South

Trevor Rabin: Can’t Look Away

24-7 Spyz: Harder Than You

Jane Siberry: Bound By The Beauty

Rickie Lee Jones: Flying Cowboys

The Stone Roses

It Bites: Eat Me In St Louis

David Murray: I Want To Talk About You

Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop

NWA: Straight Outta Compton

Young MC: Stone Cold Rhymin’

De La Soul: Three Feet High & Rising

The Sugarcubes: Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week

Regina Belle: Stay With Me

Kirsty MacColl: Kite

David Byrne: Rei Momo 

Belinda Carlisle: Runaway Horses

Terry Hall: Ultra Modern Nursery Rhymes

Prefab Sprout: Protest Songs

Neville Brothers: Yellow Moon

Prince: Batman

Wendy & Lisa: Fruit At The Bottom

Paul McCartney: Flowers In The Dirt

 

 

Great Drumming Albums Of The 1980s (Part Two)

So here’s the second instalment of essential drum albums from the 1980s (check out part one here), a selection of the decade’s movers and shakers who either pushed the boundaries, flew somewhat under the radar or simply made the music sound better.

19. Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers: Live ’87
Drummer: Ricky Wellman

Alongside Keith LeBlanc, Jonathan Moffett and Dennis Chambers, Wellman played some of the scariest single bass drum of the decade, laying down the go-go template that would influence everyone from Trevor Horn to Miles Davis (who headhunted Wellman in late 1987).

18. Nik Kershaw: The Riddle (1984)
Drummer: Charlie Morgan

Another somewhat underrated Brit sessionman, Morgan does exactly what’s right for the songs with a lot of panache. His ghost-note-inflected grooves on ‘City Of Angels’ and ‘Easy’ are treats for the eardrums.

17. Tackhead: Friendly As A Hand Grenade (1989)
Drummer/programming: Keith LeBlanc

Included because of the sheer variety of grooves, both human and machine-generated. Some beats bring to mind the sounds of electro and early hip-hop, but Keith also provides precise, tight, funky grooves on the kit.

16. XTC: English Settlement (1982)
Drummer: Terry Chambers

He was not subtle but the unreconstructed Swindon powerhouse could mix it with the best of ’em when it came to rock. Strongly aided by the dream Lillywhite/Padgham production/engineering team, his cavernous grooves always hit the spot. Currently residing in the ‘where are they now’ file (Or is he? Check out the comments section below… Ed.).

15. Power Tools: Strange Meeting (1987)
Drummer: Ronald Shannon Jackson

Ex-Ornette/Ayler collaborator and serious Buddhist Shannon Jackson cut a swathe through ’80s drumming with his striking solo albums and occasional projects like this frenetic trio alongside Bill Frisell and future Rollins Band bassist Melvin Gibbs. Free jazz with balls and humour. Play LOUD.

14. Roxy Music: Avalon (1982)
Drummer: Andy Newmark

Hard to bet against this masterpiece of tasteful, empathetic song-accompaniment. Even more impressive is the revelation that Newmark was usually the last musician to overdub, replacing a skeletal drum machine part.

13. Nile Rodgers: B Movie Matinee (1985)
Programming: Jimmy Bralower

Much-in-demand NYC programmer Bralower wasn’t every drummer’s cup of tea but he came up with many memorable, catchy beats on Nile’s forgotten second solo album. Even classy ballad ‘Wavelength’ chugs along to what can only be described as an electro groove.

12. Yes: Big Generator (1987)
Drummer: Alan White

Possessing one of the crispest snare sounds of the decade, White played 4/4 rock with lots of surprises – both listener and band alike have to be on their toes – and conversely also made the most complex arrangements sound completely natural.

11. Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982)
Drummer: Sly Dunbar

Sly came up with not one but two classic, much-imitated beats on this album (‘My Jamaican Guy’, ‘Nipple To The Bottle’) and also proved he could play rock with the best of them. Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan were definitely listening.

10. Mark King: Influences (1984)

We knew he’d started his musical life as a drummer but finally hearing the results of his misspent youth was well worth the wait. He gives his heroes Billy Cobham and Lenny White a serious run for their money on this varied collection, from Level-style funk to Latin-tinged jazz/rock.

9. King Crimson: Discipline (1981)
Drummer: Bill Bruford

Impossible to leave out. Aided by Robert Fripp’s ‘rules’, the Surrey sticksman redefined rock drumming for the new decade, adding unusual timbres and taking the emphasis off the hi-hat. He also delivered one of the great over-the-top performances on ‘Indiscipline’.

8. Weather Report: Sportin’ Life (1985)
Drummer: Omar Hakim

The fusion supergroup’s penultimate studio album is also one of their best, and Omar is a big reason why. His touch on the hi-hats and ride cymbal is instantly recognisable, and he swings hard on the inspired cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’.

7. Stewart Copeland: Rumble Fish (1983)

Not for nothing was the ex-Police man calling himself The Rhythmatist around this time: he hits anything and everything (xylophone, drum kit, marimba, piano, typewriter) to create a colourful, unique soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s black-and-white curio.

6. Sadao Watanabe: Maisha (1985)
Drummers: Harvey Mason, John Robinson

A superior example of big-budget ‘smooth jazz’ before it became a cliché, Mason and Robinson split the drum duties and perfectly compliment each other. The latter particularly lets his hair down a bit more than usual, particularly on ‘Paysages’.

5. Simple Minds: Sparkle In The Rain (1984)
Drummer: Mel Gaynor

Slinky, powerful grooves from South London’s answer to Omar Hakim. He has the walls of Shepherds Bush’s Townhouse studios shaking with his uber-beats on ‘Up On The Catwalk’, ‘Waterfront’ and ‘C Moon Cry Like A Baby’.

4. Level 42: A Physical Presence (1985)
Drummer: Phil Gould

An exciting live performance from one of the great British drummers. His top-of-the-beat feel and crisp sound suggest a mix of Billy Cobham and Bill Bruford, and he could also lay down explosive multi-tom fills to match both of them.

3. Chick Corea Elektric Band: Eye Of The Beholder (1988)
Drummer: Dave Weckl

Love or hate Corea’s Scientology-infused, neo-classical jazz/rock, Weckl’s stellar performance on this album was beyond question. He delivered a gorgeous sound, a total mastery of the drum kit and stunning chops when required.

2. Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989)
Drummer: Terry Bozzio

One of the loudest drummers this writer has ever heard in concert (Hammersmith Odeon, December 1989), Bozzio delivered some of the fastest double-bass playing on record (‘Sling Shot’) and also unique takes on reggae (‘Behind The Veil’) and funk (‘Day In The House’).

1. The Clash: Sandinista! (1980)
Drummer: Topper Headon

The rebel rockers embraced rockabilly, reggae, dub, calypso, punk and even funk on this ambitious triple album, but they wouldn’t have been able to go there without the versatile London sticksman.

Any albums missing? Of course. Post your suggestions below.