Is there some sort of secret visual formula for successful albums, a design format that almost forces people to part with their moolah, encouraging buyers of all generations, all social demographics?
Can a terrible album have brilliant artwork? Can a brilliant album have terrible artwork (how about the Love And Money entry below? Ed…)?
So many questions, so little time. Someone somewhere must have researched which colours and designs have proved the most successful in terms of sales. But hell, it’s hard to believe that any of the below would have been cooked up in any kind of corporate brainstorming or focus-group session.
Here’s a motley selection of the 1980s’ most ill-advised album covers, in no particular order. Some are crushingly sexist, some boring, some ugly, some shocking, some just plain weird. And OK, a few are so bad they’re almost good…
18. Wishbone Ash: Raw To The Bone (1985)
17. Ratt: Out Of The Cellar (1984)
16. Poison: Open Up And Say…Ahh! (1984)
15. Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)
14. Paul McCartney: McCartney II (1980)
13. Millie Jackson: Back To The S**t! (1985)
12. The Go-Betweens: 16 Lovers Lane (1988)
11. Ted Nugent: Scream Dream (1980)
10. Everything But The Girl: Eden (1984)
9. Loverboy: Get Lucky (1981)
8. OMD: Architecture & Morality (1981)
7. Snatch: If The Party’s In Your Mouth, We’re Comin’ (1985)
6. Jeff Beck: There And Back (1980)
5. Scorpions: Animal Magnetism (1980)
4. David Hasselhoff: Night Rocker (1985)
3. Love And Money: Strange Kind Of Love (1988)
2. The The: Infected (1985)
1. Dexys Midnight Runners: Don’t Stand Me Down (1985)
Can’t see your worst album cover of the ’80s? If so, pile in below…
We’ve briefly looked at crap cover versions before (though doubtless there’ll be more to come), but how about good ones from the 1980s?
It was quite easy coming up with a fairly long list. I guess the ultimate test is that at the time most people (including me) didn’t know – or didn’t care – that they were cover versions.
There wasn’t a great deal of looking back in this golden period for pop.
But it did seem as if a lot of ’80s acts had the magic touch, or at least a total lack of fear, making almost everything sound like their own. Punk probably had quite a lot to do with that.
Some of the following choices get in for sheer weirdness but most are genuine artistic achievements. Recurring themes? The Beatles, Motown, Otis Redding. Probably not too much of a surprise there. And 1981 seems a particularly good year for covers.
Anyway, enough of my yakkin’. Let the countdown commence…
33. Bow Wow Wow: ‘I Want Candy’ (1982)
32. David Bowie: ‘Criminal World’ (1983)
31. Ry Cooder: ’13 Question Method’ (1987)
Ry’s brilliant solo take on Chuck Berry from the Get Rhythm album.
30. Propaganda: ‘Sorry For Laughing’ (1985)
The Dusseldorf pop mavericks take on Josef K’s post-punk curio (apparently at Paul Morley’s urging) to produce a sweeping, majestic synth-pop classic.
29. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: ‘Little Drummer Boy’ (1981)
28. Living Colour: ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ (1988)
27. Sting: ‘Little Wing’ (1987)
26. Randy Crawford/Yellowjackets: ‘Imagine’ (1981)
Who knew this would work? Sensitive and imaginative reading of the Lennon classic, with a classic Robben Ford guitar solo.
25. Lee Ritenour: ‘(You Caught Me) Smilin” (1981)
Gorgeous West-Coast version of Sly Stone’s pop/funk opus. Surely one of the most unlikely covers of the decade, but it works a treat.
24. Luther Vandross: ‘A House Is Not A Home’ (1982)
23. John Martyn: ‘Johnny Too Bad’ (1980)
Originally a reggae track by The Slickers and first released on ‘The Harder They Come’ soundtrack in 1972, Martyn and drummer Phil Collins rearranged it and added some lyrics. It featured on John’s fantastic Grace And Danger album.
22. Soft Cell: ‘Tainted Love’ (1981)
Cracking version of Gloria Jones’ ’60s Northern Soul classic (written by Ed Cobb). A hit all over the world, with pleasingly remedial synth arrangement, instantly recognisable soundworld and classic intro.
21. Grace Jones: ‘Use Me’ (1981)
The Nightclubbing album featured a veritable smorgasbord of good cover versions, but this take on Bill Withers scores particularly highly for originality.
20. The Flying Lizards: ‘Sex Machine’ (1981)
19. The Replacements: ‘Cruela De Vil’ (1988)
From the brilliant Hal Willner-helmed Disney tribute album Stay Awake, you’d have been a brave punter to bet a dime on this one working, but work it does.
18. Quincy Jones: ‘Ai No Corrida’ (1981)
17. Donald Fagen: ‘Ruby Baby’ (1982)
16. Stanley Clarke: ‘Born In The USA’ (1985)
Who knows, maybe this could have provided Stanley with a novelty hit if CBS had been quicker off the mark. He references John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ in the intro while Rayford Griffin lays down seismic grooves and a funny old-school rap.
15. The Power Station: ‘Get It On’ (1985)
‘If cocaine was a sound…’, as a YouTube wag described it. This near-hysterical rave-up is mainly the sound of a fun late-night jam (Tony Thompson’s drumming being particularly notable). Also check out guitarist Andy Taylor’s little ode to Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down The House’ throughout.
14. Deborah And The Puerto Ricans: ‘Respect’ (1981)
A one-off solo single from The Flying Lizards’ singer, this Dennis Bovell-produced curio missed the charts but remains a fascinating post-punk artefact.
13. Roxy Music: ‘In The Midnight Hour’ (1980)
Roxy’s first cover version presumably raised some eyebrows but the lads pull it off with some aplomb, aided by Allan Schwartzberg’s tough NYC drum groove – and the fact that Bryan Ferry can’t resist adding some typical weirdness in the first 20 seconds.
12. Ringo Starr & Herb Alpert: ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ (1988)
Another once-heard-never-forgotten cracker from the aforementioned Stay Awake collection, the album version is preceded by a very menacing Ken Nordine spoken-word intro.
11. Japan: ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ (1980)
David Sylvian probably hates this but no matter. It’s hard to think of another band pulling it off. Ominous synthscapes from Richard Barbieri, a nice recorder solo by Mick Karn and brilliant ‘where’s-one?’ beat from Steve Jansen.
10. Everything But The Girl: ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (1988)
It definitely divides opinion, but certainly fits the ‘sounds like they wrote it’ criterion.
9. Bananarama & Fun Boy Three: ‘Really Saying Something’ (1982)
Penned by Motown songsmiths Norman Whitfield, Micky Stevenson and Edward Holland Jr and first performed by The Velvelettes in 1964, it’s hard not to smile when this comes on the radio. I love the way the ladies pronounce ‘strutting’.
8. David Bowie: ‘Kingdom Come’ (1980)
The Dame’s magnificent take on a little-known track from Tom Verlaine’s 1978 debut album.
7. UB40: ‘Red Red Wine’ (1983)
No apologies for including this Neil Diamond-penned perennial. Great bassline, nice groove, lovely Ali Campbell vocal performance.
6. Phil Collins: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (1981)
Phil closed his Face Value album with this oft-forgotten corker, featuring a classic John Giblin bassline (later cribbed by Pearl Jam for the opening of their ‘Once’) and cool Shankar violin.
5. Robert Palmer: ‘Not A Second Time’ (1980)
Robert adds some New Wave grit to this Lennon-penned rocker, and his singing has rarely been better.
4. Siouxsie And The Banshees: ‘Dear Prudence’ (1983)
3. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: ‘I Love Rock And Roll’ (1982)
First recorded by The Arrows in 1975, this is simply one of the great singles of the 1980s and a huge hit to boot.
2. Hue & Cry: ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ (1988)
It shouldn’t work but it does, courtesy of singer Pat Kane’s excellent tone and phrasing. His trademark ‘na-na-na-na’s help too. I wonder what Kate thought of it.
1. Blondie: ‘The Tide Is High’ (1980)
Written by reggae legend John Holt and first performed by The Paragons in 1966, this was an inspired – if somewhat cheesy – choice for the band. It’s mainly included here for Debbie Harry’s delightfully off-the-cuff vocal, sounding like her first crack at the song.
The 1980s produced some fine lyricists. You couldn’t move for decent wordsmithery. But interesting lyrics came from the damndest places.
What was that Trevor Horn maxim? A good pop song should be like a good story, such that the listener is always asking: what’s going to happen next?
And, like a good story, pretty much every good song starts with an intriguing opening line or two. As the proverbial cigar-munching music-biz mogul might say: ‘You gotta grab ’em from the first bar, kid…’ So here are some great opening lines from 1980s songs, lines that hopefully satisfy Horn’s requirements.
Everything But The Girl: ‘Each And Every One’
‘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’
Associates: ‘Club Country’
‘The fault is/I can find no fault in you’
Wet Wet Wet: ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’
‘I was living in a land of make believe/ When my best friend wrote and told me that there may be a job in the city’
Lou Reed: ‘How Do You Speak To An Angel’
‘A son who is cursed with a harridan mother or a weak simpering father at best/ Is raised to play out the timeless classical motives of filial love and incest’
Steely Dan: ‘Babylon Sisters’
‘Drive west on Sunset to the sea/ Turn that jungle music down/ Just until we’re out of town’
Associates: ‘Party Fears Two’
‘I’ll have a shower then call my brother up/ Within the hour I’ll smash another cup’
Joni Mitchell: ‘Chinese Cafe’
‘Caught in the middle/ Carol, we’re middle-class/
We’re middle-aged/ We were wild in the old days/ Birth of rock’n’roll days’
The Smiths: ‘Reel Around The Fountain’
‘It’s time the tale were told/ Of how you took a child and you made him old’
Thomas Dolby: ‘Screen Kiss’
‘Miller Time in the bar where all the English meet/ She used to drink in the hills/ Only now she drinks in the valleys’
Love And Money: ‘Hallejulah Man’
‘On the blind side and down the back ways/ The roots of sadness crawl/ When you can’t get what you need/ You feel like taking a torch to it all’
Joy Division: ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’
‘When routine bites hard and ambitions are low/ And resentment rides high but emotions won’t grow’
The Teardrop Explodes: ‘Reward’
‘Bless my cotton socks/I’m in the news’
Tom Waits: ‘Swordfishtrombones’
‘Well, he came home from the war with a party in his head/ And a modified Brougham DeVille and a pair of legs that opened up like butterfly wings’
Prefab Sprout: ‘Moving The River’
‘You surely are a truly gifted kid/ But you’re only as good as the last great thing you did’
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions: ‘Brand New Friend’
‘Walking in the pouring rain/ Walking with Jesus and Jane/ Jane was in a turtleneck/ I was much happier then’
Siouxsie & The Banshees: ‘Cascade’
‘Oh the air was shining/ Shining like a wedding ring’
Bob Dylan: ‘Jokerman’
‘Standing on the waters casting your bread/ While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing/ Distant ships sailing into the mist/ You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing’
Robert Palmer: ‘Johnny And Mary’
‘Johnny’s always running around trying to find certainty/ He needs all the world to confirm that he ain’t lonely’
Prefab Sprout: Talking Scarlet
‘You hide under the eiderdown/ All you can’t sweep underneath the carpet’
The Human League: ‘Don’t You Want Me’
‘I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar/When I met you’
Talking Heads: ‘Crosseyed And Painless’
‘Lost my shape/ Trying to act casual/ Can’t stop/ Might end up in the hospital’
Scritti Politti: ‘A Little Knowledge’
‘Now I know to love you/Is not to know you’
The Smiths: ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’
‘Sweetness, I was only joking/ When I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head’
It 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’
‘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…’
‘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’
The 1980s are littered with Brit pop bands going ‘across the pond’ to work with US producers and musicians.
It was almost a rite of passage, or – according to some music critics of the slightly more cynical persuasion – a desperate attempt at credibility.
You could hardly level that accusation at Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, AKA Everything but the Girl. They were headhunted by legendary producer Tommy LiPuma, who had just put the finishing touches to Miles Davis’s Amandla, and their ‘Driving’ single (released in early 1990 but recorded spring 1989) seems a near-perfect marriage of US and UK sensibilities.
I confess I hardly knew anything about EBTG when my brother first played me ‘Driving’. I just heard something extremely classy, with intriguing chord changes, a great singer and strong jazz flavour.
I didn’t know Tracey and Ben had spent much of the ’80s building up a considerable rep as ‘indie jazz/folk’ darlings of the music press and enjoying not inconsiderable commercial success too, but I was possibly vaguely familiar with Tracey’s gorgeous vocals on The Style Council’s ‘Paris Match’.
Taken from The Language Of Life album, the song was recorded in LA at the famous Ocean Way and Sunset Sound studios with pretty much the finest session players money can buy (Omar Hakim on drums, John Patitucci on bass, Larry Williams on keys/arrangements, Michael Brecker on tenor).
But, according to Tracey’s superb memoir ‘Bedsit Disco Queen’, the American musicians were totally ignorant of the fiercely independent English scene from which Tracey and Ben had emerged.
When Larry Williams found out that EBTG had recently recorded at Abbey Road, he blurted out: ‘Wow! Abbey Road! The home of the Beatles!’ Tracey’s reply: ‘God, I HATE the Beatles.’ There was a pregnant pause. Eventually Williams spluttered out: ‘You h-h-hate the Beatles?’
But such musical differences were all in a day’s work for EBTG.
‘Driving’ obviously sounds more like Anita Baker than, say, The Smiths. It’s sophisticated but still has bite, with rich chords and a glorious Brecker solo (inexplicably with a different, inferior take on my 7” vinyl version).
‘Driving’ became somewhat of an airplay hit in the States (though surprisingly only reached #54 in the UK), and led to several high-profile US gigs which unfortunately seemed to precipitate a crisis of confidence for Tracey.
The EBTG live band, which included future smooth jazz star Kirk Whalum on sax, whipped the crowds into a frenzy night after night, but there wasn’t much space for her subtle, low-key vocals any more.
Cue a few years of soul-searching and a distinct change of direction, exemplified by 1994’s Amplified Heart.