Associates: Fourth Drawer Down 40 Years On

The Associates gave good title: ‘Tell Me It’s Easter On Friday’, ‘Kitchen Person’, ‘White Car In Germany’, ‘Q Quarters’, ‘No’, ‘Those First Impressions’, ’18 Carat Love Affair’, ‘Nude Spoons’, ‘Party Fears Two’ etc. etc.

The first four appeared on Fourth Drawer Down, released 40 years ago this weekend.

Mostly co-produced by 19-year-old Flood (Depeche Mode, U2), it was a collection of the increasingly bizarre singles released by the ‘band’ during 1981, all of which featured strongly on the Independent charts.

The Associates were yet another impressive 1980s pop duo, at least in their early incarnation. Billy Mackenzie was arguably the greatest singer of the post-punk era, while Alan Rankine was a key guitarist (and talented multi-instrumentalist) alongside John McGeoch, Charlie Burchill, Will Sergeant et al.

They were also arch music-biz pranksters, years before The KLF, good-looking, talented lads milking the record companies for all they were worth.

Newly departed from Fiction Records, with ex-Cure bassist Michael Dempsey in tow, the three spent 1981 holed up in their St John’s Wood flat by day and Willesden’s Morgan (later Battery) Studios by night.

If taken in an amount just over their recommended dose, Quiet Life (also an ‘influence’ on David Sylvian/Japan?) health tablets would give a nice buzz, found in the ‘fourth drawer down’ of their bedroom cabinet.

It was a hedonistic, musically expansive period. Experimentation was king. It wasn’t unusual to see Billy singing down a vacuum tube or through tracing paper, while Rankine occasionally applied a water-filled balloon to his guitar strings.

Vintage synths were layered with dulcimer, xylophone, early drum machines, ‘funky’ bass and mad fuzz-toned guitar. It was a brittle, lo-fi sound, influenced by Bowie, Roxy, Sparks, Ennio Morricone and John Barry, quite insane in places.

The scary, majestic ‘White Car In Germany’ was the logical conclusion to all of that icy, post-Heroes Euro-grandeur, but is it a pastiche? ‘Lisp your way through Zurich/Walk on eggs in Munich’, croons Billy. It’s impossible to say, but that’s part of the fun.

The brilliant ‘Q Quarters’ is strongly reminiscent of Scott Walker’s ‘70s/’80s soundworld, and comes complete with Billy’s coughing solo. Superbly chaotic ‘The Associate’ is invaded by a screaming fit and what sounds like a major vacuum-cleaner malfunction.

Some of it may remind one of early Cocteau Twins (particularly Mackenzie’s strident vocals and oblique lyrics), early Suede and the work of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Propaganda from later in the decade (Trevor Horn apparently almost produced a solo Mackenzie album around 1987, sadly yet another what-if in this gifted artist’s short life).

Less than a year later, aided by some more streamlined material, Warners money and the excellent producer Mike Hedges (who also worked on ‘White Car In Germany’ and ‘The Associate’), they spent nine months as bona fide pop stars in the UK.

But nothing ever sounded as singular as Fourth Drawer Down. And don’t miss out on the wacky B-sides, newly added to the remastered 2-CD version. Also worth checking out is their extraordinary Peel Session from April 1981.

Further reading: ‘The Glamour Chase’ by Tom Doyle

‘Rip It Up’ by Simon Reynolds

Good Lyrics Of The 1980s

Joni_Mitchell_2004It has to be said, it was a bit easier coming up with good ’80s lyrics than it was to come up with crap ones.

I could probably have chosen three or four crackers from many of the artists featured below, but space permits only one.

Maybe it’s not surprising that it was a great decade for lyricists when it was surely one of the most ‘literary’ musical decades to date – it would have to be with people like Bob Dylan, Morrissey, Paddy McAloon, Andy Partridge, Green Gartside, Tracey Thorn, Lloyd Cole, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel and Springsteen around.

So here’s just a sprinkling of my favourites from the ’80s. Let me know yours.

I love you/You pay my rent

PET SHOP BOYS: ‘Rent’

 

‘If you ever feel the time/To drop me a loving line/Maybe you should just think twice/I don’t wait around on your advice’

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL: ‘Each And Every One’

 

Brother in the codpiece/I’ve seen him on the TVI think he likes his ladies all sweet and sugary/I’m partial to a pudding/But that’s for second course/The main meal and the hors d’oeuvres must be smothered in hot sauce’

THOMAS DOLBY: ‘Hot Sauce’ (lyrics by George Clinton)

 

I believe in love/I’ll believe in anything/That’s gonna get me what I want/And get me off my knees’

LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS: ‘Forest Fire’

 

I want you/It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for/It’s the way your shoulders shake and what they’re shaking for’

ELVIS COSTELLO: ‘I Want You’

 

Hey Mikey/Whatever happened to the f***in’ “Duke Of Earl”?’

RANDY NEWMAN: ‘Mikey’s’

 

If you had that house, car, bottle, jar/Your lovers would look like movie stars’

JONI MITCHELL: ‘The Reoccurring Dream’

 

‘Lost my shape/Trying to act casual/Can’t stop/I might end up in the hospital’

TALKING HEADS: ‘Crosseyed And Painless’

 

‘Once there was an angel/An angel and some friends/Who flew around from song to song/Making up the ends’

DANNY WILSON: ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’

 

Burn down the disco/Hang the blessed DJ’

THE SMITHS: ‘Panic’

 

‘Now the moon’s gone to hell/And the sun’s riding high/I must bid you farewell/Every man has to die/
But it’s written in the starlight/And every line in your palm/We are fools to make war/On our brothers in arms’

DIRE STRAITS: ‘Brothers In Arms’

 

Out on the road today/I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac/A little voice inside my head said/
Don’t look back, you can never look back…’

DON HENLEY: ‘Boys Of Summer’

 

‘Hello Johnson/Your mother once gave me a lift back from school/There’s no reason to get so excited/
I’d been playing football with the youngsters/Johnson says don’t dramatise/And you can’t even spell salacious’

PREFAB SPROUT: ‘Horsechimes’

 

‘I repeat myself when under stress/I repeat myself when under stress/I repeat…’

KING CRIMSON: ‘Indiscipline’

 

‘Come back Mum and Dad/You’re growing apart/You know that I’m growing up sad/I need some attention/I shoot into the light’

PETER GABRIEL: ‘Family Snapshot’

 

‘People say that I’m no good/Painting pictures and carving wood/Be a rich man if I could/But the only job I do well is here on the farm/And it’s breaking my back’

XTC: ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’

 

So long, child/It’s awful dark’

DAVID BOWIE: ‘When The Wind Blows’

 

I could have been someone/Well so could anyone’

THE POGUES/KIRSTY MACCOLL: ‘Fairytale Of New York’

 

‘It’s an 18 carat love affair/I don’t know which side I’m on/But my best friend John said not to care’

ASSOCIATES: ’18 CARAT LOVE AFFAIR’

The Tube: The Best ’80s Music Show?

Paula and Jools

Paula and Jools

My favourite music show still is and probably always will be ‘The Tube’, which ran on Friday nights between 1982 and 1987 and was presented mainly by Jools Holland and Paula Yates.

Though Jools has found his niche presenting the very successful ‘Later…’ series for BBC1, I preferred the more youthful, risky, ‘uncut’ Holland (who was given a hefty slap on the wrist when he famously trailed the show one week by saying people who watched it were ‘groovy f***ers’!) and he had a great chemistry with the intelligent, funny and sexy Paula.

From week to week, you could never guess what you were going to see. There were live bands, star interviews, specially-filmed videos, on-location featurettes and weird bits of alternative comedy usually involving Rik Mayall in various degrees of drunkenness.

Some of it was great, some of it was OK and some of it was crap, but you couldn’t take your eyes off it. It helped launch some careers (Twisted Sister, Fine Young Cannibals, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Terence Trent D’Arby) and relaunch others, and you could see every type of music on the show – Metal, Goth, Funk, Fusion, Indie, Pop, Soul – all in the spirit of discovery without any pandering reverence or bourgeois pretension.

And though the show featured many huge names, it also embraced up-and-comers: if your band was any good, had some fans and a decent plugger, you were on. And there was a bar on the set too. Here are a few clips from ‘The Tube’ that have stuck in the memory:

5. The Bangles – ‘Manic Monday’

Check out the creepy guy at the front staring straight at Susanna Hoffs throughout, almost blocking the camera. Full marks to the girls for giving the (Prince-penned) song their all despite a dumbstruck Newcastle crowd. Tight harmonies.

4. Billy Mackenzie interview, 1985

One of those great, weird, un-PR’d interviews that popped up now and again. A post-‘Party Fears Two’ Billy is clearly taking the piss throughout, in the nicest possible way, and it also shows how The Tube wasn’t scared of going out into the ‘provinces’ (Dundee in this case).

3. Cocteau Twins – ‘Pink Orange And Red’

Great haircuts, great voice, great guitar sound and underwater bass. The golden age of goth/pop.

2. Blancmange – ‘Living On The Ceiling’

Good hair again, and someone or something is making singer Neil Arthur struggle to keep a straight face throughout.

1. Prefab Sprout – ‘Cruel’

This little Bacharach-influenced bossa nova was my first glimpse of the marvellous Prefab.

Gary Clark talks ‘Mary’s Prayer’ and classic debut ‘Meet Danny Wilson’

danny wilson

Ah, yes, summer 1987. I remember it well.

I came across a review of Meet Danny Wilson in Q magazine which drew comparisons between Gary Clark’s voice and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan’s (spot-on).

That was enough incentive for a massive Steely fan like me to check it out.

I wasn’t disappointed. Meet Danny is one of the most arresting, original debut albums of the ’80s, and it stands up extremely well today.

I would annoy my school friends bigging up the album and trying to get it played during art lessons – to no avail. U2, Simple Minds, The The, Fleetwood Mac and INXS couldn’t be usurped.

But my enthusiasm was slightly justified when the gorgeous ‘Mary’s Prayer’ was finally a big hit at the third attempt (UK number 3, US number 23).

Danny Wilson shared a love of jazz, the Great American Songbook and Steely Dan with contemporaries Hue and Cry, Swing Out Sister, Sade and various other late-’80s acts, but (fortunately?) Meet Danny Wilson doesn’t sound remotely like any of them.

Gary graciously answered my questions in the middle of a very busy period of travelling, writing and recording. We talked about the inspiration behind the timeless ‘Mary’s Prayer’ single, hanging out with Billy Mackenzie, the golden age of Virgin Records and busking on transatlantic flights…

MP: Could you give a quick summary of how you started making music as Danny Wilson with your brother Kit (keyboards) and Ged Grimes (bass)?

GC: Ged was at school with me and clearly one of the most talented kids so we naturally gravitated towards each other and stayed together from the school band stage all the way through to Danny Wilson. Kit is my younger brother. When Ged and I returned from London we wanted to re-think the band and Kit, in our absence, had grown into a formidable musician, writer and singer so he was a natural choice to bring onboard.

What were the musical influences that went into the pot for Meet Danny Wilson? Any contemporary mid-’80s artists?

Well, I really found my voice as a writer when I stopped trying to sound contemporary. Ged and I spent three years in London living in a squat, gigging and trying to get a record deal and it seemed like the labels wanted us to sound like what was already on the radio at that time. If you can remember radio in 1984/85, everything was super- polished, super-quantised and very synthesised. Even guitars all tended to be layered in multi-effects. I very consciously decided to go in the opposite direction and return to my musical roots; all the music I loved was devastatingly unfashionable at the time. Off the top of my head, the main influences for that album were not contemporary at all: Sinatra, Bacharach and David, Jimmy Webb, Becker and Fagen, Tom Waits, a little bit of Hall and Oates, heavy dollops of the Great American Songbook and a ton of soundtrack records.

Danny Wilson Mary's Prayer vinyl

How did Danny write songs? Were all the tracks co-written or did you provide the blueprints?

I wrote all of the songs on that album and they were all written and mostly demoed prior to recording. The only exception I recall is finishing ‘Five Friendly Aliens’ at the piano in Puk studios after we’d started recording the rest of the album.

How did you come to be signed to Virgin? Were you fans of the label beforehand?

We played a gig in a bar in Edinburgh and a music journalist called Bob Flynn was there. He wrote a review in NME that literally changed our lives. The review was so good and the band were so unknown that the record labels who had systematically rejected us only months before were calling Bob asking how they could get in touch with the band. We had really served our time in the trenches live and in the studio so we were really ready for it when it came. The next gig we did in Edinburgh was packed and half of the audience were A&R and publishers from London. We literally had the choice of every major label and almost signed to Warners. In the end, a mixture of Virgin’s reputation as an artistic label, their sheer passion for the music and their willingness to give us complete artistic control won the day.

Can you remember your inspiration for ‘Mary’s Prayer’ and where you wrote it?

Yes, I wrote it in the squat in London quite a few years before it was released. My friend, the songwriter Ali Thomson, loaned me a Roland Juno 60 synth and I just switched on the first preset and immediately played the verse chords without thinking (they’re all white notes!). The melody and a large chunk of the first verse lyric came to me instantly. I liked it but couldn’t get a chorus that did the verse justice and it took about another year of me coming back to it until I finally hit on the chorus.

How did you come to include Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy on the album? Definitely not an obvious choice of special guests! Weren’t they signed to Virgin at the time?

They were signed to ECM. The Virgin connection came later through us. Howard Gray (later of Apollo 440) was producing the first half of our album at Puk. They had an incredible system in there and we liked to blast records on the big speakers at the start of the day and at the end of the night with some fine Elephant beers for refreshment. Digital was in its infancy and ECM were making some of the first records that could be legally labelled ‘DDD’ which meant ‘recorded, mixed and mastered without leaving the digital domain’. Howard played us Lester’s ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ one of those nights as an example of how great this process could sound and we all fell instantly head over heels in love. By sheer mind-bending coincidence, we saw that Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy were playing Copenhagen when we were still in Denmark. We went to the gig, one of the greatest live shows I have ever seen, and accosted Lester afterwards. It’s a little-known fact that because of budget restrictions, Ged, Kit and I busked our fare on a very early Virgin Atlantic flight to New York so we could be there for the sessions! Pre-9/11, of course… But we actually got free flights for entertaining the passengers in mid-air.

Your amazing vocal on ‘You Remain An Angel’ always reminded me of The Associates’ Billy Mackenzie – were you a fan and did you know him at all?

Well, thank you. I’m a huge fan of Billy’s work but I can honestly say that The Associates were nowhere near my mind when we did that song. There is a B-side called ‘Living To Learn‘ that has a huge Associates influence. Billy and I are from the same home town, Dundee in Scotland, and I got to know him a little. We would all hang out at a place called Fat Sam’s cocktail bar where they played great music and had great live acts passing through. We saw some amazing bands in their infancy back then. Billy was always so wonderful, charming and encouraging to me.

Meet Danny Wilson has a really pleasing mix of acoustic instrumentation and late-’80s technology – was there any pressure to be ‘produced’ and make a very modern-sounding record? I have a B-side version of ‘Aberdeen’ that was subtitled something like ‘The Way It Should Have Been‘…

No. Virgin were great like that. I think they understood that we had just as much chance commercially by being true to ourselves as we would have had conforming to some blueprint of what radio sounds like. I wish that vision was more prevalent in the music business today. I will say that although we used the most up-to-date technology available at the time, we didn’t use it to sound modern but to get what was in our heads onto the recording. On ‘Aberdeen’, for instance, we used a Fairlight to get the trumpet and string sounds but the production is probably more ’60s in tone than ’80s. That B-side was an interesting one; we had made a very early stripped back Portastudio demo of that song before the album and it had a certain beatboxy charm that we all kind of harked back to. The tape was lost so that B-side was our attempt to recreate that vibe. Never a great idea!

How do you feel about Meet Danny Wilson and its place in the 1980s musical landscape now?

I feel pretty much the same as at the time. It’s very me, very honest, very heartfelt and, just like me, doesn’t fit in anywhere. Exactly what we were going for, I suppose.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m always writing and recording with other artists. That’s what I do these days and have a whole heap of stuff in the pipeline but aside from that I’ve just written the music with John Carney (Once, Begin Again) for his next movie (‘Sing Street’) which I’m very, very excited about. As it happens, he got in touch with me because Meet Danny Wilson was a record his brother had turned him onto as a young kid growing up in Dublin in the ’80s. That neatly brings this interview to a lovely, rounded conclusion so I’d better shut up now!

Many thanks for your time, Gary.