1980s Albums That Always Appear In Charity/Secondhand Shops

So it’s official: old music is hugely outselling new music. And vinyl is the most popular physical format again.

Go into a record shop and likely you’ll be stunned at the price of secondhand vinyl, not to mention new catalogue LPs that can cost up to 25 quid for a posh reissue.

All of which might amuse/surprise music fans of my vintage who kept hold of their record players through the years and spent the noughties digging around the vinyl discount stores, often picking up ‘esteemed’ albums for anything between 10p and a quid (the price of a postage stamp, for readers outside the UK).

So what were those 1980s vinyls that were/are ALWAYS in secondhand shops and, by extension, still ever-present in charity shops? And why were they always there?

Most smack of the impulse buy by people who get one album a year, or the ‘difficult’ follow-ups to a smash. Some are tainted by an almost ineffable naffness. Most were deemed surplus on vinyl once CD became the format of choice, and most are weirdly genre-less.

Stacked high/sold cheap, you’d think they’d be reissue-proof, never to be seen again. But not so fast: ‘deluxe’ editions of these are probably on their way to a shop/streaming service near you, or have already arrived…

The Beautiful South: Welcome To The Beautiful South

U2: Rattle And Hum

Del Amitri: Waking Hours

Bros: Push

Hothouse Flowers: People

Michael McDonald: Sweet Freedom (The Best Of Michael McDonald)

T’Pau: Bridge Of Spies

Foreigner: Agent Provocateur

Michael Bolton: Soul Provider

Meat Loaf: Dead Ringer

John Cougar Mellencamp: The Lonesome Jubilee

Enya: Watermark

Five Star: Silk And Steel

Arcadia: So Red The Rose

Sade: Diamond Life

Chris Rea: The Road To Hell

Phil Collins: No Jacket Required

Bryan Ferry: Boys And Girls

Genesis: Invisible Touch

George Michael: Faith

Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman

Fleetwood Mac: Tango In The Night

Wet Wet Wet: Popped In, Souled Out

Fairground Attraction: The First Of A Million Kisses

Paul Young: No Parlez

Tom Petty: Full Moon Fever

Michael Jackson: Bad

Tina Turner: Private Dancer

Lionel Richie: Can’t Slow Down

Alison Moyet: Alf

Patti Labelle: Winner In You

Howard Jones: Human’s Lib

Simply Red: A New Flame

Whitney Houston: Whitney

Paula Abdul: Forever Your Girl

Bon Jovi: Slippery When Wet

Madonna: True Blue

Tears For Fears: Songs From The Big Chair

How Not To Follow Up A Hit Album #2: Tears For Fears’ The Seeds Of Love

courtney pineFontana Records, released 25th September 1989

Bought: Oxfam, Notting Hill Gate

4/10

Tears For Fears’ second album Songs From The Big Chair did the business. A relatively cheap record to make, it sold millions and elevated the Bath boys into the big league.

Early ‘80s technology, boy-band looks and some great hooks had carried TFF through the first two albums but now they felt they had to deliver a polished, ‘musicians’ album’ to match their heroes. Big mistake…

The Seeds Of Love was the result, and with it they tragically o’erreached themselves in the search to emulate their heroes Gabriel, Ferry and Sylvian. Four producers. Nine studios. Over a million pounds in studio costs. Broken marriages. Dozens of session musicians.

A famous Q article outlined the painful, sometimes embarrassing lengths the two protagonists Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith went to to complete Seeds.

Orzabal has said he wanted to make something musicians would love, something ‘world-class’. This over-egged curio shows what happened when pop stars tried to buy credibility in the late-‘80s, undeniably under a fair amount of record company pressure to follow up a monster.

The intro of ‘Woman In Chains’ still retains some Blue Nile-ish power before being obliterated by Phil Collins’ sledgehammer drums and overblown AOR guitars; Gabriel/Joni/Sting drummer Manu Katche plays a blinder on ‘Badman’s Song’ but the melodies barely register.

‘Sowing The Seeds Of Love’ still stands up though as a decent Beatles tribute complete with some lovely woozy drums from Big Chair producer and ex-Ant Chris Hughes and a very cool chord sequence.

‘Standing On The Corner Of The Third World’ is initially very attractive complete with Jon Hassell’s ethno-trumpet and some typically slinky fretless playing from Pino Palladino, but its grand atmosphere and ambience can’t obscure the lack of structure and good ideas.

Swords And Knives’ starts with an interesting piano/voice melody but quickly gets mired in a succession of annoying guitar solos and grandiloquent key changes.

‘Year Of The Knife’ (these boys are really interested in knives…) is a pretty ugly collision of gospel vocals and a sub-‘Broken Wings’ groove. Again, the song runs out of stream after two minutes and tries to cover it up with a fiddly string arrangement and weird avant-metal guitars. Even uber-drummer Simon Phillips sounds uninspired.

The Q article, September 1989

The Q article, September 1989

Orzabal almost achieves a Sylvian-ish level of sophistication on the closing ‘Famous Last Words’ but once again blows it, neglecting to supply a B section or cogent lyrics. Quiet/loud dynamics alone do not a good song make.

The album was a hit, going straight to number one in the UK and selling well in Europe and the States, but was it worth all the effort? Orzabal and Smith were barely on speaking terms and didn’t record together for over a decade after Seeds‘ completion. It was certainly a big and bold farewell to the ’80s from one of the decade’s success stories.

How Not To Follow Up A Hit Album #1: ABC’s Beauty Stab

abcMercury Records, released 14th November 1983

Bought: Notting Hill Record and Tape Exchange, 2006?

6/10

The ’80s were positively dripping with fine debut albums but equally cursed with a lot of substandard sophomore efforts.

As the music biz cliché goes, you have your whole life to come up with your first album – but only six months to make the followup.

ABC could hardly have got it more right with their 1982 debut Lexicon Of Love, a ravishing collection of string-drenched, post-disco torch songs, but they came seriously unstuck with Beauty Stab a year later.

martin fry

Martin Fry in 1983

Seen as ‘ABC go heavy metal’ by much of the music press at the time of release, these days Beauty Stab just sounds like a pretty tuneless but beautifully-produced rock/pop album with the odd ‘political’ lyric and barmy moment thrown in (the jazz-waltz interludes in ‘Love’s A Dangerous Language’, cacophonous finale to ‘That Was Then’, atonal strings that kidnap ‘Bite The Hand’ and Martin Fry’s astonishing rhyming couplets throughout…).

Though not exactly heavy metal, the guitar playing is pretty unreconstructed throughout and seems to be searching in vain for some Robert Frippery.

But the album is thankfully graced with Roxy/Lennon/Sly drummer Andy Newmark, whose playing is lovely, especially on the very Avalonesque ‘If I Ever Thought You’d Be Lonely’.

Co-producer and future Art Of Noise member Gary Langan does a great job too, in the main eschewing ‘80s production values in favour of a dry, ballsy mix and some strikingly original touches.

The problem is, for all its undoubted craftsmanship, amusing lyrics and faux grittiness, the album is short on memorable choruses. ‘Hey Citizen’, ‘King Money’ and ‘Power Of Persuasion’ have classic ABC hooks but fail to deliver catchy B-sections.

A quick survey of the track titles and it’s almost impossible to remember a chorus, save the opening ‘That Was Then…’, and that spells trouble. Unsurprisingly the album works best when the guitars simmer down a bit and Fry’s vocals take centre stage, as on ‘By Default By Design’ and fine state-of-the-nation closer ‘United Kingdom’ – you’ve got to hear Fry crooning the words ‘Barratt Homes’…

Commercially, Beauty Stab was not an outright disaster, reaching number 12 in the UK album chart and selling over 100,000 copies, but it was a big disappointment after such a successful debut. Acclaimed music writer Simon Reynolds even went as far as to call it ‘one of the great career-sabotage LPs in pop history’.

In late-1983, Britain was turning its back on back on guitars and kitchen-sink lyrics; glamour and fun were back in, typified by Wham!, Howard Jones, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, all of whom cashed in on the vibe and musical exuberance of Lexicon Of Love.

At the end of ’83, Fry famously burnt his gold suit in protest. Maybe that wasn’t such a great idea. But, happily, the decline wasn’t terminal – he returned with some big hits later in the decade.