It was surely only a matter of time before arguably the most important producer of the last 50 years put pen to paper, but Trevor Horn’s memoir ‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ was still one of the nicest surprises of 2022.
The opening section outlines his upbringing in the tough, industrial North East of England, and then each chapter is centred around one key track that made his name as a producer, from The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ to Seal’s ‘Crazy’.
We trace Horn’s early days as a Beatles and Dylan fanatic, self-taught guitarist (his musician father buys him a knackered old four-string which gets broken and is never replaced) and upright bass player in the school orchestra.
There’s the constant fear of going down the mines, a fate that had befallen most of his relatives. Young Trevor eventually has to move in with his grandparents (sharing a bed with Uncle John), though they are supportive of his musical talent.
Horn moves to Leicester and starts playing double bass with big bands whose repertoire includes pop covers and light jazz. By this time, he has become an ace sight-reader, something that he values throughout his career.
He relocates to Blackpool to take up a residency with the band, his dad dropping him off with the words: ‘Well, you’re on your own now, son. You just watch it.’ Horn then hits London to play with a band called Canterbury Tales and pick up various function gigs.
As disco takes hold, Horn finds himself on the studio scene, getting a regular gig with Tina Charles and ‘fixing’ a lot of duff songs, including Leicester City’s ‘This Is The Season For Us’. The penny drops – he suddenly realises he’s a record producer.
This becomes his driving force as he moves away from the bass and meets Jill Sinclair, studio manager of SARM West (formerly Island’s Basing Street studio) and soon to be both his manager and wife. We get the fascinating story of Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, Horn literally having to construct a hit out of various disparate elements.
We learn that Horn sacks ABC’s bass player Mark Lickley just before the recording of Lexicon Of Love (Horn reports that U2 later got wind of this and refused to work with him!) – he is fairly ruthless as a young producer, always with Jill in his corner, but is now repentant.
There’s a very funny chapter on working with Malcolm McLaren and The Supreme Team on Duck Rock and a toe-curling account of cooking up Yes’s US #1 single ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’.
We get the inside story on making Frankie’s ‘Relax’ and Holly Johnson’s court case plus Horn’s involvement with the 12” version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. Horn reports that when he first meets Bob Geldof, the Boomtown Rats frontman immediately tells him he preferred Bruce Woolley’s version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ to the Buggles’. Horn reacts thus: ‘What a twat. After filing him under “Rude Fucker”, I moved on…’ (They later made up.)
There are tales of painstakingly piecing together ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, Seal turning up for his 2004 Wembley charity gig (see below) at the last minute, and a trained Special Branch dog making an immediate bee-line for his bag in the dressing room. You can read the book for the funny punchline.
‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ is the very definition of the muso page-turner. Full of interesting titbits and amusing gossip, you need it if you have even the slightest interest in 1980s and 1990s pop.
Nightclubbing, which turns 40 this week, would be iconic even if it was only half as good, thanks to Jean-Paul Goude’s fantastic cover painting.
But drop the needle anywhere and it’s an all-time classic, one of the jewels in Island Records’ crown and hugely influential.
Arguably its mashup of new wave, reggae, synth pop, disco and Caribbean flavours blueprinted the sound all the key New Pop acts of 1982/1983 (Talking Heads, Kid Creole, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, ABC, The Associates, Simple Minds, Thompson Twins et al) sought.
Some, of course, went route one and employed Nightclubbing co-producer and movingtheriver.com favourite Alex Sadkin.
But you might also call Nightclubbing Grace’s covers album – it features not one but six classics, if you count ‘Libertango’ and the Marianne Faithfull’s previously-co-written-but-never-recorded ‘I’ve Done It Again’ (Sting lent her ‘Demolition Man’ before laying it down with The Police).
She revolutionises Flash & The Pan’s ‘Walking In The Rain’ (her androgynous alto freaked me out when I first heard it as kid, there was just no reference point…) and compare her funky, succinct ‘DM’ to The Police’s ponderous, overblown version.
On a good system Nightclubbing‘s sonic details delight: the tambourine commentary throughout ‘Use Me’, Sly Dunbar’s dub-delay cross-sticks on ‘Walking In The Rain’, Grace’s whispered chorus on ‘Art Groupie’.
The Compass Point All Stars, particularly man-of-the-match Wally Badarou on keys, are perfectly poised to provide such moments.
But there is a weird quirk – the mastering. The album seems to get quieter as it goes along, at least on the original CD version. ‘Demolition Man’ requires some serious crankage. I’m not sure if subsequent reissues have rectified that.
Nightclubbing was NME’s album of the year for 1981 and it got to #32 on the US Billboard chart, a certified crossover hit. You might even say that the 1980s Proper started here, and it helped make 1981 one of the greatest ever pop years.
And we haven’t even mentioned Grace’s electrifying One-Man-Show that accompanied the album, directed by Goude, taking place at London’s Drury Lane Theatre and New York City’s Savoy. It was surely a huge influence on everyone from Laurie Anderson to Annie Lennox.
To some, the advent of the 12” single in the early ’80s was musical sacrilege; but others it was a new dawn, a chance to hear your favourite song in widescreen format, expanded into an epic and not bound by radio conventions.
The 12” came about at an exciting time in music when a few things were colliding: the cult of the ‘star’ producer, club culture, sampling, dub techniques, electronic music moving into the mainstream and an ‘anything goes’ post-punk ethos.
Talented sound designers such as Trevor Horn, Gary Langan, Shep Pettibone, John Potoker, Francois Kevorkian, Alex Sadkin and Steven Stanley were in the right place at the right time. And it probably helped that sales of 12” singles contributed to weekly chart positions, so the stakes were high.
So let’s have a look at some key artefacts of the 12” revolution, a great time in music when anything – well, almost anything – went. A few of these I now prefer to the originals.
21. Paul Young: ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ (1985)
Laurie Latham’s completely mad mix seems entirely designed to annoy the neighbours. A cacophony of metal guitars, Pino Palladino’s floor-shaking, P-funk-influenced bass and bizarre samples. And is that a jazzy riveted cymbal slinking into the mix from time to time?
20. A Guy Called Gerald: ‘Voodoo Ray’ (1989)
A timeless collection of house music tropes which doesn’t ever seem to date. Simplicity is the key, with subtly-shifting riffs.
This one seems impossible to find on the internet or any other compilation album apart from the marvellous Slipstream 2-LP set which came out on Beggars Banquet in 1982. It’s a feast for the eardrums with gorgeous, spacey delays and twinkling Moog lines sprinkled into the mix.
18. Yes: ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ (1983)
Remixer Gary Langan skillfully juggles of all this classic track’s trademark features: Trevor Rabin’s chiming guitar figure, the ethereal backing vocals and those crazy samples. Plus you can really hear Alan White’s drums here – never a chore.
17. Joni Mitchell: ‘Shiny Toys’ (1985)
Joni’s a name you probably wouldn’t expect to see here but remixer Francois Kevorkian had great raw materials to play with – Thomas Dolby’s dub-style treatments, Mike Landau’s lush rhythm guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta’s killer drums and all the silly vocal overdubs.
16. ABC: ‘Poison Arrow’ (1982)
Trevor Horn ups the ante with a cool, extended lounge-jazz intro and lots of little musical motifs, a new bass part and some new guitar solos.
15. Michael Jackson: ‘PYT’ (2017)
I can’t resist including this recent discovery – someone has somehow got hold of the Thriller masters and put together a real classic. It’s even funkier than the original, if that’s possible.
14. Madonna: ‘Open Your Heart (Maxi Extended Version)’ (1986)
Steve Thompson And Michael Barbiero’s exciting mash-up of Motorik sequencers, Jonathan Moffett’s sick drums and Madonna’s strident vocals, all adding up to an ‘I Feel Love’ for the 1980s.
13. Phil Collins/Philip Bailey: ‘Easy Lover’ (1985)
Mixing engineer John Potoker cut his teeth working with Miles Davis and Steely Dan, and his sonic mastery shows through with this stunning reimagining of a somewhat corny single, bringing the originally-submerged drum machine right to the fore and adding loads of top-end. His nickname wasn’t ‘Tokes’ for nothing…
12. Scritti Politti: ‘Hypnotize’ (1985)
Gary Langan was at the controls again for this stunning collision of ’50s B-Movie voices, swooning synths, rhythm guitars and bangin’ machine beats. The only thing missing is some serious low-end.
11. Grandmaster Flash/Melle Mel: ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ (1984)
Sylvia Robinson arguably laid down the groundwork for all future 12” singles with this 1984 classic.
10. Prince & The Revolution: ‘Mountains’ (1986)
If you – like me – are always frustrated when this track fades out on the album/single version, have no fear because this remix carries on for another six minutes in the same vein, and turns into one of the sickest grooves Prince ever committed to vinyl.
9. Peter Gabriel: ‘Sledgehammer’ (1986)
Another entry helmed by John ‘Tokes’ Potoker, this one boosts the top-end again, adds some scary reverbs and focuses on David Rhodes’ guitar, Gabriel’s piano/vocal ad-libs and Manu Katche’s drums to superb effect. I now prefer this version…
8. Eric B & Rakim: ‘Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness Mix)’ (1988)
Coldcut put together this sonic feast, one of the most sampled 12”s of all time. You’ve probably heard almost everything on this remix 100 times on other tracks.
7. Thompson Twins: ‘Lies’ (1983)
Alex Sadkin brings his Compass Point mastery to this remix, adding a real drummer (Sly Dunbar?) and bass player, and pushing the sequencers and percussion right to the fore.
6. Grace Jones: ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ (1985)
‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ is possibly the more artful Grace remix, but this is included for its irresistible groove, and the fact that I always want the original single to go on for twice as long as it does. Also I love the ‘false’ ending and off-stage shout (Horn?) at 3:40.
5. Donna Summer: ‘Love Is In Control (Dance Version)’ (1982)
You could hardly go wrong with Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien at the controls, but this remix just brings out the sheer luxurious beauty of this single, and various sections are repeated and amplified to superb effect.
4. Will Powers: ‘Adventures In Success (Dub)’ (1983)
Chris Blackwell’s protegé Steven Stanley was in charge of this fascinating dub, completely dispensing with Lynn Goldsmith’s vocals and delaying the reveal of Sting’s bass for as long as possible.
3. Propaganda: ‘Duel’ (1985)
Included mainly for Steve Lipson’s beatific long guitar solo during the outro, and the fact that it sounds like it could go on forever…
2. Paul Hardcastle: ’19 (Destruction Mix)’ (1985)
A chilling remix which brings out a little more detail of the single version, adding more spoken-word excerpts from the ‘Vietnam Requiem’ documentary and lengthening the funky drum breakdowns.
1. Frankie Goes To Hollywood: ‘Rage Hard’ (1986)
Stephen Lipson and Paul Morley created this insane confection, a kind of Young Person’s Guide To The 12”, featuring Pamela Stephenson introducing all the clichés of the genre, Viv Stanshall-style. Only ZTT can do this. (It seems sacrilege to leave Frankie’s ‘Two Tribes (Annihilation)’ out, but this gets the nod for sheer balls).
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.
It would be tempting to call Kevin Armstrong the ultimate ‘nearly man’ of 1980s pop – he nearly joined a post-Johnny-Marr Smiths, was nearly a founder member of David Bowie’s Tin Machine, nearly joined Level 42 Mark II, and nearly became Paul McCartney’s right-hand man during the ex-Beatle’s late-decade renaissance.
But that would be unfair on the guitarist; as well as stellar work with Bowie (Live Aid, ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘Dancing In The Streets’) and Iggy Pop (Blah-Blah-Blah, countless world tours), he has also contributed to classic albums by Prefab Sprout, Thomas Dolby and Morrissey and performed live with Roy Orbison, Sinead O’Connor, Grace Jones, Propaganda and PiL.
This entertaining Pizza Express show was half wonderfully-indiscreet spoken-word memoir and half gig. Decked out in all-black rock-star garb, Armstrong described his initiation into the music world via an obsession with Zappa’s ‘Black Napkins’ and postal-order guitar handbooks, and lamented the current pop scene as ‘just another part of consumer culture’.
He spoke of one life-changing morning in early 1985 when he received the call from legendary EMI A&R man Hugh Stanley-Clarke: an invitation to Abbey Road to record with ‘Mr X’.
Arriving at the famous address, Armstrong was shown upstairs to a tiny demo studio (not the big Beatles-frequenting Studio 1 downstairs) to find a bunch of session players and a smiling, suited Bowie holding an omnichord and uttering the totally superfluous ‘Hi, I’m David!’.
Bowie then proceeded to teach the band a song called ‘That’s Motivation’ (from the ‘Absolute Beginners’ soundtrack) two bars at a time – and they then recorded it that way too.
A few days later, Bowie summoned Armstrong to Westside Studios near Ladbroke Grove for the ‘Absolute Beginners’ and ‘Dancing In The Street’ recordings (the former with vocals by Armstrong’s sister, then working behind the till at Dorothy Perkins, responding to Bowie’s request for a ‘shopgirl’ to sing duet with him!).
The latter session was of course graced by an absurdly perky Mick Jagger. Apparently Bowie and Jagger spent most of the vocal sessions shouting ‘Let’s ring Maureen!’, their nickname for Elton John.
Armstrong then told great tales of Live Aid, mainly highlighting Bowie’s incredible generosity: fluffing the names of backing vocalists Helena Springs and Tessa Niles during his onstage band introductions (no other solo artist introduced his/her band on the day), according to Armstrong he immediately apologised profusely to the singers as soon as they were offstage.
There were further funny tales of Gil Evans, Iggy and McCartney (who apparently once smoked some unbelievably strong grass with Armstrong, said ‘That’s you stoned!’ to the erstwhile guitarist, then promptly disappeared) and an exceptionally eccentric Grace Jones who allegedly took a distinct liking to Armstrong at a party, taking him by the hand and leading him away for some sexual shenanigans.
Who should intervene but Bowie, grabbing Armstrong’s other hand and whispering in the guitarist’s ear: ‘No you don’t. She’ll have you for breakfast, sunshine…’
In the second half, Armstrong was joined by Iggy bandmates Ben Ellis on bass and Matt Hector on drums to perform songs that he’d played live with all the aforementioned stars.
Efficiently sung and superbly played, it was nevertheless a somewhat humourless set of music that only served to emphasise the difference between a perennial sessionman and born headliner.
But this was still a hugely enjoyable evening, foregrounding a time when music really was transformative. We await Armstrong’s forthcoming memoir with great anticipation.
Even the most ’80s-phobic pop fan would have to concede that it was a great decade for singles.
The first 7″ I asked for was either Nick Lowe’s ‘I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass’, Elvis Costello’s ‘Less Than Zero’ or 10CC’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, all from the late ’70s, but the first single I distinctly remember buying was Scritti Politti’s ‘The Word Girl’.
But many others have stayed in the head and heart. Here are a bunch of them in no particular order (apart from the #1), but I’m barely scratching the surface.
The rules: one artist per slot, and a simple ‘quality’ criterion applies: when any of these songs comes on the radio or onto a playlist, they demand to be listened to. They stand alone, retaining a magic ‘buzz’, wow-factor, presence, mood (and, pop pickers, there’s nothing from 1986…). Nothing grates, and nothing – or at least not much – could be improved upon…
85. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’
84: UB40: ‘Food For Thought’ (1980)
83. Special AKA: ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ (1984)
82. Kid Creole And The Coconuts: ‘Annie I’m Not Your Daddy’ (1982)
81: The Clash: ‘Rock The Casbah’ (1982)
80. The Commodores: Night Shift (1985)
79. Janet Jackson: What Have You Done For Me Lately? (1986)
78. Lionel Richie: All Night Long (1983)
77. Cliff Richard: Carrie (1980)
76. James Brown: Living In America (1985)
75. Tom Tom Club: Wordy Rappinghood (1981)
74. Rolling Stones: ‘Undercover Of The Night’ (1983)
73. David Bowie: ‘Ashes To Ashes’ (1980)
72. Dire Straits: ‘Private Investigations’ (1982)
71. Afrika Bambaataa & The SoulSonic Force: ‘Planet Rock’ (1982)
70. Belinda Carlisle: ‘I Get Weak’ (1988)
Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ kept it off the US number one spot in early ’88. Almost-perfect pop/rock from the pen of Dianne Warren.
69. The Jam: ‘Town Called Malice’ (1982)
68. Michael Jackson: ‘Billie Jean’ (1982)
Always the loudest song on any playlist.
67. Robert Wyatt: ‘Shipbuilding’ (1982)
66. The Flying Lizards: ‘Sex Machine’ (1984)
65. Joy Division: ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (1980)
64. Carly Simon: ‘Why’ (1982)
63. Bros: ‘I Owe You Nothing’ (1988)
62. Dollar: ‘Videotheque’ (1982)
61. Yazoo: ‘Don’t Go’ (1982)
Difficult now to disassociate it from Alan Partridge’s early morning show, but still a brilliant slice of Basildon techno-funk.
60. Bronski Beat: ‘Smalltown Boy’ (1984)
Touching meditation on the travails of youth. Even an appallingly-played synth in the intro cannot wither it.
59. Phil Collins: ‘In The Air Tonight’ (1981)
The first showing for that ’80s staple, the Roland CR-78 rhythm box, on a single that legendary Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertegun adored…
58. Fine Young Cannibals: ‘Johnny Come Home’ (1985)
57. Robert Palmer: ‘Addicted To Love’ (1985)
No apologies for including this US number one. Imagine waking up with this buzzing around your head. Palmer apparently bumped into Chaka Khan on a New York street during the vocal sessions and asked her to harmonize the lead line – a great pairing (but was she removed from some versions? Doesn’t really sound like her… Ed.).
56. Alexander O’Neal ft. Cherelle: ‘Never Knew Love Like This’ (1987)
Producers/songwriters Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis did a damn good job of creating a Marvin/Tammi or Marvin/Diana for the ’80s. Gorgeous harmonies and vocals.
55. Salt-N-Pepa: ‘Push It’ (1988)
The ‘Smoke On The Water’ of ’80s rap. But, according to the ladies, it’s not about sex – it’s about ‘pushing it’ on the dancefloor.
54. Talking Heads: ‘Once In A Lifetime’ (1981)
53. Don Henley: ‘Boys Of Summer’ (1984)
52. Yes: ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ (1983)
51. Billy Joel: ‘Uptown Girl’ (1983)
Billy’s tribute to The Four Seasons works a treat, with a slammin’ rhythm section and melodic curveballs to make even Macca jealous.
50. Musical Youth: ‘Pass The Dutchie’ (1982)
The joyful sound of late summer 1982 and the first song by a black artist to be played on MTV.
49. Junior: ‘Mama Used To Say’ (1982)
48. Genesis: ‘Mama’ (1982)
The first ‘event’ single in their career. Epic/menacing.
47. Donna Summer: ‘Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)’ (1982)
Quincy assembles his dream team (Ndugu, Swedien, Hey, Temperton, Phillinganes) to produce an underrated cracker.
46. The Police: ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’ (1981)
Sting wrote the band’s fourth UK number one in 1976. Apparently Summers and Copeland hated Jean Roussel’s keyboard playing on this – but they were wrong.
45. Japan: ‘I Second That Emotion’ (1981)
Most original cover version of the ’80s?
44. Bananarama: ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ (1983)
Apparently about sexual abuse…
43. The Bangles: ‘Eternal Flame’ (1989)
42. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: ‘The Message’ (1982)
41. Blondie: ‘Atomic’ (1980)
Minor/major splendour. Debbie’s voice always sends a shiver down the spine and there’s that Roland CR-78 again.
40. The Specials: ‘Ghost Town’ (1981)
39. Frankie Goes To Hollywood: ‘Two Tribes’ (1984)
No expense was spared for the all-important follow-up to ‘Relax’ – according to arranger Anne Dudley, a 60-piece orchestra featured on the intro.
38. Ultravox: ‘Vienna’ (1981)
Kept off the UK top spot by Joe Dolce’s Music Theatre’s brilliant ‘Shaddap You Face’ (which nearly made this list…).
37. OMD: ‘Souvenir’ (1981)
More like a dream than a pop song.
36. Adam And The Ants: ‘Ant Rap’ (1981)
35. Bucks Fizz: ‘Land Of Make Believe’ (1982)
34. Madonna: ‘Crazy For You’ (1985)
Featuring Rob Mounsey’s sumptuous arrangement and a winning vocal from La Ciccone.
33. The Associates: ‘Party Fears Two’ (1982)
32. Thompson Twins: ‘Hold Me Now’ (1984)
31. Young MC: ‘Know How’ (1989)
By way of tribute to Cooking Vinyl founder Matt Dike who died recently.
30. S’Express: ‘Theme From S’Express’ (1988)
29. Nik Kershaw: Wouldn’t It Be Good (1984)
28. The Passions: ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’ (1981)
A quintessential ’80s one-hit wonder, still beguiling after all these years, with a classic guitar performance from Clive Temperley.
27. Wham!: ‘Freedom’ (1984)
26. ZZ Top: ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ (1983)
25. George Michael: ‘Careless Whisper’ (1984)
24. Art Of Noise: ‘Close (To The Edit)’ (1984)
Allegedly built on an unused Alan White drum track recorded during Yes’s 90125 sessions.
23. Blancmange: ‘Living On The Ceiling’ (1982)
22. Paul Hardcastle: ’19’ (1985)
21. Soft Cell: ‘Tainted Love’ (1981)
20. Rick Astley: ‘Whenever You Need Somebody’ (1987)
Wacky song construction; try playing along on guitar. So many key changes. Arguably Stock/Aitken/Waterman’s best and vastly superior to ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.
19. Hall And Oates: ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ (1982)
18. Freeez: ‘Southern Freeez’ (1981)
17. Kim Carnes: ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ (1981)
A classic lyric, and musically rich too.
16. MARRS: ‘Pump Up The Volume’ (1989)
15. Eric B & Rakim: ‘I Know You Got Soul’ (1988)
14. Human League: ‘Don’t You Want Me’ (1982)
13. Christopher Cross: ‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)’ (1981)
Hard to resist the gorgeous Bacharach-penned melody and superb drum performance from Jeff Porcaro.
12. Will Powers: ‘Kissing With Confidence’ (1983)
11. The Jones Girls: ‘Nights Over Egypt’ (1981)
10. Roxy Music: ‘Same Old Scene’ (1980)
9. ABC: ‘Poison Arrow’ (1982)
8. Joe Jackson: ‘Stepping Out’ (1982)
7. Neneh Cherry: ‘Buffalo Stance’ (1989)
You may mock…but slap on this Tim Simenon-produced corker and watch the dancefloor fill up…
6. Prince: ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ (1987)
5. Simple Minds: ‘Belfast Child’ (1989)
Steve Lipson and Trevor Horn cooked up this epic UK No.1, adapted from the traditional Irish song ‘She Moved Through The Fair’. Here’s an interesting live version I’d never seen before.
4. Van Halen: ‘Jump’ (1984)
3. Madness: ‘Baggy Trousers’ (1980)
It is London school life in 1980 – simple as.
2. Scritti Politti: ‘Absolute’ (1985) And – drum roll – the single I would save if my flat was on fire…
1. Grace Jones: ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ (1985)
Check out the full list, with some other classics, on Spotify:
‘We’re not worthy!’ It was Wayne and Garth’s catchphrase but it could just as easily have been uttered by Thompson Twins’ frontman Tom Bailey in response to the band’s worldwide fame during 1983 and 1984.
He told Channel Four in 2001 (see below) that, at the peak of their success, he always felt on the verge of being ‘found out’ – an intruder at the 1980s Pop High Table.
And then there was the ignominy of being christened ‘The Thompson Twats’ by that naughty Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
They were being a tad harsh; The Thompson Twats made some great pop in the early ’80s. But Quick Step – released 35 years ago this week – is fiendishly difficult to ‘place’, representing a kind of musical Year Zero.
The only real antecedents seem to be Bowie, Gary Numan and Thomas Dolby (who I can’t believe is not a guest keyboard player on the album – if he is, he’s not credited).
After the Twins’ first two records – when they were a kind of Grebo/agitprop/post-punk outfit – Bailey sacked half the band (including bass ace Matthew Seligman) and formed a lean, mean three-piece (Bailey took care of the music, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway the image and stage show, though all got songwriting credits).
The final masterstroke was recruiting star Grace Jones/Talking Heads/Robert Palmer producer Alex Sadkin.
The formula worked a treat on Quick Step, recorded at Compass Point Studios on the Bahamas and one of the first albums I loved all the way through. Sadkin plays a blinder, adding loads of percussion, perambulating synths and those much-imitated, elastic bass sounds.
There are so many classic early ’80s pop tunes that it’s almost indecent. Just hearing the intros to ‘Lies’ and ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ makes me want to jump up and down like my 12-year-old self.
‘Watching’ – featuring Grace Jones’ hysterical vocals – and ‘We Are Detective’ are also good clean pop fun. The latter even throws in some Piazzolla-style fake accordion for good measure.
Quick Step & Side Kick was a big hit in the UK, hitting #2. Those anti-capitalist ideals were quickly waylaid.
US sales were helped no end when the ever-prescient John Hughes chose ‘If You Were Here’ for a key moment in his 1984 movie ‘Sixteen Candles’, but the Twins didn’t really hit the jackpot in the States until the follow-up album Into The Gap. They even played at Live Aid – in Philadelphia, not London.
N.B. Michael White wrote a really nice, little-known memoir about life in the Twins called ‘Thompson Twin’. He played live keyboards with the band during their pop peak. Spoiler alert: it was not a bed of roses…