Good Names/Bad Names

Are band names important? Discuss. Arguably, a good (or at least memorable) name has never been as important as now, if only to catch the eye amongst endless streaming lists.

Faces and names/I wish they were the same‘ sang John Cale in the guise of Andy Warhol. Maybe Andy would have been more content if there had been some better names around during the 1980s (no wonder he liked Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot so much…).

Many excellent acts certainly had very bad names (I’ve lost count of the times people have asked: ‘Why are they called Prefab Sprout?’), but a lot hit the jackpot too. So, in the spirit of the original Face magazine (which launched 40 years ago last month and, intriguingly, has recently been relaunched online) and with a big tip of the hat to the excellent WORD too, we round up the good, bad and ugly ’80s monikers.

Good Things with Good Names: Scritti Politti, Talking Heads, Jamaladeen Tacuma, Half Man Half Biscuit, Stump, Fields Of The Nephilim, Virgin Prunes, The Screaming Blue Messiahs, Magnus Pyke, Los Lobos, De La Soul, Arvo Part, Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar, Valentin Silvestrov, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Tone Loc, Derek B, Monie Love, Betty Boo, They Might Be Giants, ‘The Citadel Of Chaos’, ‘The Forest Of Doom’, ‘Codename Icarus’, Chevy Chase, Kim Basinger, Adrian Belew, Trevor Horn, Mike Patton, We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It, The Slits, Tackhead, Boo Hewerdine, ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, Robbie Shakespeare, Green Gartside, Paddy McAloon, Donna Summer, Terence Trent D’Arby, Echo And The Bunnymen, 808 State, All About Eve, Killing Joke, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot, Skylarking, Cleo Rocos, ‘Variations On The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression’, Hipsway, Loose Tubes, Cocteau Twins, ‘In-A-Gadda-Stravinsky’

Good Things with Bad Names: Prefab Sprout, The The, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dire Straits, Adam Ant, Boy George, Bow Wow Wow, Talk Talk, The Thompson Twins, A Guy Called Gerald, Herb Alpert, Faith No More, Dan Aykroyd, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Throbbing Gristle, It Bites, The Bible, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Danny Wilson, Tears For Fears, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour, 24-7 Spyz, Bucks Fizz, Wham!, The Dream Of The Blue Turtles, Anvil, A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo, Deacon Blue, Curiosity Killed The Cat, The Hooters, John Cougar Mellencamp, Bryan Adams, Luther Vandross, Steve Stevens, Ozric Tentacles

Bad Things with Good Names: Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction, Butthole Surfers, New Model Army, Twisted Sister

Bad Things with Bad Names: Jane’s Addiction, Then Jerico, The Blow Monkeys, Cactus World News, Pee-Wee Herman, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Pop Will Eat Itself, Jesus Jones, Yazz And The Plastic Population, Diesel Park West, Insane Clown Posse, Milli Vanilli, Vanilla Ice, Kajagoogoo, Enuff Z’Nuff, Kenny G, Dr And The Medics, Del Amitri, Bruce Hornsby And The Range, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Megadeth, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, U2, Mike And The Mechanics, Inspiral Carpets, James

Frank Zappa: ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted’ 40 Years On

Recently, I was pleased and very surprised to hear a youngish (30s?) sales assistant playing Zappa’s Apostrophe while guarding the till at a local charity bookshop.

A quick and enjoyable conversation led us to agree that of all the major music figures who emerged during the ’60s and ’70s, FZ may be the least respected/understood these days.

You’ll seldom see a major piece about him in the heritage rock magazines (and the family estate keep a close eye on such, as I discovered when writing this piece), but if you do, it’ll probably focus on the ‘golden’ era – i.e. the late 1960s.

Maybe Ian Penman’s famous hatchet piece had more power than he anticipated, and he certainly wasn’t the only naysayer – many were turned off by Zappa’s unapologetic, un-PC lyrical stance as the ’70s turned into the ’80s. But his musical intelligence is beyond question and pretty much unprecedented in the ‘rock’ era.

Frank kicked off the 1980s with the release of the stand-alone ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted’ single, recorded on 16th and 17th February 1980 at Ocean Way studios in Los Angeles and released 40 years ago this month. A satirical comment on the draft policy of the Carter administration, it was the first product issued on his own Barking Pumpkin label – and reached #3 in the Swedish singles chart!

It kicked off an incredibly busy decade for FZ. Two albums – Francesco Zappa and Thing-Fish were released on the same day in 1984. There were two albums of guitar solos (one triple and one double), three major orchestral works and hundreds of instrumental pieces for the Synclavier. Not forgetting many other studio/live albums, compilations, and two books, ‘Them Or Us’ and ‘The Real Frank Zappa Book’, though both contained some previously-published material.

In the live arena, Zappa embarked on major tours in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1988. Now that he, Miles Davis and Joe Zawinul are gone, it’s hard to imagine that any other major artist will ever again play such virtuosic, challenging music in front of large crowds, whilst also blooding young musicians in the process.

Author Ben Watson memorably described FZ’s final 1988 tour as ‘the wildest and most speculative music…heard in rock arenas since the days of Cream, Hendrix and the Mothers Of Invention’.

One of the pleasures of lockdown has been discovering some ’80s FZ works I hadn’t heard (Francesco Zappa, London Symphony Orchestra Vols. 1 and 2) via Charles Ulrich’s excellent book ‘The Big Note’. What struck me again is the lack of sentimentality in his music (off the top of my head, only three ’80s tracks feature those ‘bittersweet’ major-seventh chords: ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted’, ‘Jumbo Go Away’ and ‘Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk’), something that also seems to drive ‘rock’ critics crazy.

It ain’t all good, but the best of Zappa’s ’80s output is absolutely superb, and it really pays to have a root around in his discography. I’ve tried to separate the wheat from the chaff here. There’ll never be anyone like FZ again.

London Lockdown Circa 1980: ‘Babylon’ & ‘Breaking Glass’

One of the few positives of this lockdown may be investigating your local area more than usual.

And if London is your manor, the mostly-silent, near-empty streets may just take you back to the city of your youth, when car ownership was relatively rare and there was plenty of room to kick a football or swing a cricket bat – mainly for sporting purposes, you understand…

Joking aside, London felt pretty edgy at the turn of the ’80s. Youth subcultures fought each other, and the police fought them. Some parts of the city had barely moved on from the Victorian era. There were great swathes of wasteland, still reeling from World War 2 bombs. Tube trains and stations were often deserted and you might even get a slap (there didn’t seem to be many knives around) if you wandered into the ‘wrong’ neighbourhood (hello Gary Bates…).

It was a world accurately captured by feature films like ‘Babylon’, ‘Rude Boy‘, ‘DOA‘, ‘The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle‘ and ‘Breaking Glass’, all released 40 years ago. ‘Babylon’ was illuminated by sumptuous photography by legendary Brit cinematographer Chris Menges (‘Kes’, ‘The Mission’, ‘The Killing Fields’), capturing rundown, turn-of-the-decade Lewisham, south-east London, site of a notorious August 1977 battle between the National Front and 10,000 protestors.

All of these films accurately capture the energy of inner-city life during the late-’70s and early-’80s, and the pressures of young people living at the sharp end of recession, racism and unemployment. Also ever-present is the constant theme of music-business skullduggery and police brutality. But it’s all shot through with healthy doses of humour and humanity, particularly throughout ‘Babylon’.

For all the benefits of ‘gentrification’ and the corporate restructuring of the capital, true Londoners of a certain age probably feel a tinge of nostalgia about the time when they seemed to own the streets, when there were many secrets to be found in the city’s nooks and crannies – for better or worse.

Jeff Beck @ The Royal Albert Hall: 1983 v. 2004

Legendary producer/engineer Glyn Johns has worked with many of the biggies (The Beatles, Led Zep, The Stones, The Who), but arguably his most important task was putting together the Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) concerts on Ronnie Lane’s behalf.

For the London iteration – taking place at the Royal Albert Hall on 20th September 1983 – Johns opened his address book and assembled a tremendous lineup of Brit greats: Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, John Paul Jones, Andy Fairweather-Low, Bill Wyman, Kenney Jones, Charlie Watts.

The whole concert is worth watching and occasionally superb (check out Clapton’s versions of ‘Lay Down Sally’ and ‘Cocaine’), but Beck’s set is particularly fascinating. It was three years since his (superb) last studio album There And Back and he hadn’t played a major gig for almost that long. A clearly under-rehearsed band did their best with the RAH’s famously dodgy ‘rock’ sound (despite Beck’s gorgeous stereo delay, if you’re listening on headphones/speakers), not helped by drummer Simon Phillips being set up about 20 yards behind the rest of the group!

But it’s a great success, mainly through the musicians’ sheer force of will and Beck’s outrageous playing (check out his solo on ‘Led Boots’). The Tony Hymas/Fernando Sanders/Phillips rhythm section is terrific, and there’s even a funny version of ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ featuring Beck’s reluctant vocals alongside Winwood and Fairthweather-Low.

Just over 20 years later, on 24th June 2004, Beck was back at the Albert Hall for his 60th birthday gig, and I had a good seat. His live outings were much more common at this point; recently he’d played Hyde Park and also celebrated 40 years in the music biz at the Royal Festival Hall with John McLaughlin and The White Stripes.

But this concert was particularly notable for featuring enigmatic keyboard genius Jan Hammer, one-time Mahavishnu member and chief collaborator with Beck on Wired and There And Back. Making up the numbers were the phenomenal Mondesir brothers: Mike on bass, Mark on drums.

Beck hardly seemed to have aged. Wearing black jeans and black vest, he stalked the stage like a born showman, exchanging grins and winks with Hammer, occasionally punching the air to emphasise a musical flourish. However, things started a little uncertainly; ‘Freeway Jam’ and ‘Star Cycle seemed leaden. But by the time Beck roared into ‘Big Block’, the energy level of the band had gone up two or three notches.

Old favourites ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Blue Wind’ seemed to mean little to the Albert Hall audience but the long-hairs reacted more positively to Beck’s most recent work from albums like You Had It Coming and Who Else?. There were some unintentionally amusing Tap-esque moments too, like the big-screen footage of Jeff’s souped-up hot rods during ‘Big Block’ and the cloud of dry ice which almost engulfed him during ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’.

For the encore, Ronnie Wood sauntered on to play a charmingly ramshackle version of The Meters’ ‘Cissy Strut‘. Two old rockers from Surrey playing a funky New Orleans anthem? That’s the majesty of fusion!

So, while they’re still around, let’s cherish El Becko and the best of British. (And I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve featured Jeff – one of my all-time musical heroes – on this website. Better late than never, I suppose…)

Story Of A Song: Prefab Sprout’s ‘Nightingales’

Prefab Sprout’s 1988 album From Langley Park To Memphis was their pop breakthrough, reaching #5 in the UK charts, and is probably most casual fans’ favourite.

But let’s take a close look at the fifth track, the epic ‘Nightingales’. Featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica and released as the fourth single from From Langley Park in November 1988, it remains one of Prefab’s most beguiling songs.

Written by Paddy McAloon under the influence of Barbra Streisand’s Broadway Album, it’s a stellar piece of work by any standards; melody, harmony and lyric are inextricably linked, as if the song had always existed and was just plucked out of the air.

Thought follows thought, musical idea follows musical idea completely naturally, without any songwriter ‘tricks’ such as looped chord sequences or vamps.

It’s fair to say that by the time of From Langley Park’s recording, McAloon was becoming a proficient pianist; eight of ten songs on the album were written on keyboards, including ‘Nightingales’. Its harmonic concept, with an emphasis on major-seventh chords (including an audacious jump from F#m7 to Cmaj7 in bars four and five of the chorus) and triads superimposed over apparently unrelated root notes, possibly reveals a Brian Wilson influence, but the final effect is more Stephen Sondheim than ‘Surf’s Up’.

‘Nightingales’ also has no apparent antecedents in the 1980s pop firmament, though, at a stretch, approaches one of Green Gartside and David Gamson’s gossamer Scritti Politti ballads. In a year when Acid House and the ‘Madchester’ sound were gestating and Stock Aitken Waterman ruled the charts, McAloon delivered something unabashedly romantic and somewhat old-fashioned; the opening line (‘Tell me do, something true‘) and general tenor of the lyric are more akin to ‘Daisy Bell’ than anything by the Stone Roses (and Paddy made no secret of his general distaste for late-’80s pop).

The song’s protagonist analyses his love affair, asking his paramour whether their love is fleeting like a ‘firework show’ or whether it’s a lasting, valuable entity. They agree that such questions are unhelpful and/or irrelevant – the key is to live in the moment.

‘Nightingales’ was co-produced by Jon Kelly and McAloon. By 1987, London-born Kelly was an experienced, highly-regarded producer and engineer, probably best known as one of Kate Bush’s key early collaborators on the classic 1980 album Never For Ever. He had also worked on successful albums by Chris Rea (Dancing With Strangers) and Paul McCartney (Ram) and just produced Deacon Blue’s debut album Raintown, the latter definitely influenced by Prefab.

Double and triple-tracked keyboard parts dominate ‘Nightingales’, played by McAloon and legendary British session player Wix, AKA Paul Wickens. They closely follow the chord voicings of McAloon’s original acoustic piano demo, echoed on this lovely live version from 2000:

By the time of the first chorus, sampled sleigh bells and silky Synclavier drums are added to the mix alongside McAloon’s rather incongruous but effective (sampled?) banjo. Robin Smith’s widescreen string arrangement becomes increasingly prominent throughout the track; particularly notable is a flurry of ascending, almost celestial notes in three distinct phases beginning at 2:14 (and check out the rustle of fake locusts at 4:26!).

Stevie Wonder had long been a hero of McAloon’s, the album Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants being a particular favourite. Mentioning as much to Prefab manager Keith Armstrong one day, Paddy half-joked that a Stevie harmonica solo on ‘Nightingales’ would really bring the track to life.

Armstrong stunned McAloon by informing him that he was a good friend of Wonder’s operations manager Keith Harris and would put in a good word for the band (it’s also worth noting that Wonder played some sublime harmonica on Thomas Dolby’s ‘Don’t Turn Away’ a year before the recording of ‘Nightingales’ – perhaps Thomas gave the band a good reference…).

Wonder’s harmonica solo was recorded in a very rushed session during September 1987 at Westside Studios in Notting Hill, West London. He apparently learnt the song quickly, disappearing into a corner of the studio with a rough mix on his Walkman, and then recorded two takes in the lower octave and two in the higher. The released solo is a composite of the four.

Richard Moakes was the young engineer tasked with capturing Wonder’s solo on tape. According to McAloon:

He (Moakes) looked at me and said, ‘Oh God, I’m a bit worried I won’t know how to get his sound’. I said, ‘Well, look, we’ll just see what happens’. And of course you put the microphone on him and you turn the fader up and he sounds like Stevie Wonder. You don’t do anything. Unless you’re doing something really silly, you’ll get it and it will be identifiable. So I thought, OK, when you play a guitar, don’t blame an engineer if you don’t know what you’re doing…

New York mix engineer Michael Brauer cooked up the 12” version of ‘Nightingales’. He made some drastic changes from the 7” single, placing the sleigh bells right at the front of the mix, reinstating some of Wendy Smith’s stacked backing vocals originally left on the cutting room floor, stripping McAloon’s lead vocal of its reverb (though adding a lot more to the snare drum) and leaving more space for Smith’s string arrangement and McAloon’s banjo.

A video was also made, though it’s almost impossible to track down these days – never a sure sign of quality…

15 Great Goals From The 1980s

So it looks like the football season is ending with barely a whimper, and we may not see any tennis or cricket at all this summer. So there’s time to indulge in a little nostalgia.

Here are some memorable goals of the 1980s, in no particular order, a decade during which this writer cared passionately about the game, unlike now… (Favourite players: Glenn Hoddle, Bryan Robson, Ray Houghton, Matt Le Tissier, Gordon Davies, Steve ‘Headband’ Foster.)

Ray Wilkins and Jimmy Case’s strikes have special significance, as I was present at the games, and I certainly would have been watching Ricky Villa, Steve MacKenzie and Norman Whiteside’s wondergoals live on the TV. But all of the below still deliver a frisson of excitement.

(And for those who can’t stand football – and I kind of sympathise – normal service will be resumed shortly…)

15. Jan Molby: Liverpool v Manchester United, 26th November 1985

14. Ray Wilkins: Manchester United v Brighton, 21st May 1983

13. John Barnes: England v Brazil, 10th June 1984

12. George Best: San Jose Earthquakes v Fort Lauderdale Strikers, June 1981

11. Norman Whiteside: Manchester United v Everton, 18th May 1985

10. Jimmy Case: Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday, 16th April 1983 (at 1:40 below)

9. Diego Maradona: Argentina v England, 22nd June 1986

8. Marco Van Basten: Holland v Soviet Union, 25th June 1988

7. Ricky Villa: Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City, 14th May 1981

6. Glenn Hoddle: Tottenham Hotspur v Watford, 24th September 1983

5. Justin Fashanu: Norwich City v Liverpool, 9th February 1980

4. Cyrille Regis: West Bromwich Albion v Norwich, 13th February 1982

3. Graeme Sharp: Everton v Liverpool, 20th October 1984

2. Steve MacKenzie: Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur, 14th May 1981

1. Kenny Dalglish: Scotland v Belgium, 15th December 1982

Any great 1980s goals missing from the list? Get in touch below.