The classic It Bites lineup (Francis Dunnery, John Beck, Richard Nolan, Bob Dalton) produced three excellent studio albums and of course snared one huge UK hit in the shape of ‘Calling All The Heroes’.
Then, after the band split in 1990, there was the middling live collection Thankyou And Goodnight, and now a limited-edition 2018 box set called Live In London. I must have missed a memo because I only heard about it a year or so ago.
It was well worth the wait. It collects three unedited London gigs (I was at two of them) over five CDs, including their very last major show in the capital.
Whilst these are essentially desk recordings, the sound quality ranges from good to excellent. The box set also features nice, previously unseen photos and some good liner notes including a long interview with Dalton, telling of their London history and details of each gig.
The Marquee concert from 21 July 1986 (at less than 40 minutes, presumably a support?) catches the band in their full-on, zingy, poppy/funky early pomp. Everything sounds a little fast and they haven’t quite settled into their groove yet but it’s still a good listen.
There’s a rather shrill early version of ‘Black December’ and a great, rare outing for ‘Whole New World’ with Dunnery playing the horn lines on lead guitar with some aplomb.
Next is the very tangible peak of the band, a Once Around The World tour gig from 13 May 1988 at the much-missed Astoria. The sound is beefy, the tempos locked in, the backing vocals excellent and this really is the dog’s bollocks. There’s so much evidence of craft, with an extra note here and lick there, always slightly modifying the album versions.
‘Plastic Dreamer’ is a revelation, ‘Black December’ is huge, and ‘Old Man & The Angel’ ambitious and exciting. We finally get to hear what Dunnery sings in ‘Hunting The Whale’. The ‘Midnight/Wanna Shout’ medley is a knockout, complete with ‘Purple Haze’ coda, and Once Around The World’s title track is brilliant, complete with excerpt from ‘New York, New York’ which chimes rather cleverly with Dunnery and Beck’s Lamb Lies Down On Broadway fixation.
The third gig is the band’s final London show, from the Hammersmith Odeon on 7 April 1990. The intro sounds like something from Prince’s Lovesexy. The new songs sound great, ‘Let Us All Go’ is superb but Dunnery’s voice is pretty shot throughout, and some of the backing vocals are also showing signs of strain. In truth you can hear the schisms in the band developing, though there are many, many great moments.
Barely two months later Dunnery had left the group. Not long after that, this correspondent would see him skulking around the King’s Head pub in Fulham (he was rehearsing upstairs with Robert Plant, I was gigging there), not looking a particularly well or happy man. Thankfully he’s on a far more even keel now.
Live In London is a really exciting release, a must-have collection for anyone who owns any of the studio albums, and arguably a much better package than Thankyou And Goodnight.
Further reading: I’ve written about the second It Bites studio album Once Around The World in the current edition of Classic Pop magazine.
Adolescence: a period of chaos and confusion. There’s little rhyme or reason to one’s heightened sensibilities, and it didn’t help that 1980s pop songs had such bloody weird lyrics.
Initially, maybe it was a crap hi-fi/radio signal that sent you down the wrong track, or maybe some jackass got in your ear.
Either way, a song’s lyrics were often lost in translation, the meaning – such that it was – got skewed and from that moment on you couldn’t hear it without factoring in your messed-up version. And it didn’t matter if it was a tune you loved or hated.
Sad to report, to this day, when I hear these songs/lines, I get the lyrics ‘wrong’. And yes, it has to be said, you don’t have to be Dr Freud to see that sex was usually the driver. That’s adolescence for you…
Blondie: ‘Island Of Lost Souls’
Misheard line: ‘I’m f*ckin’ near/Can you help me put my truck in gear’
(Correct line: ‘Oh buccaneer/Can you help me put my truck in gear’)
Irene Cara: ‘Flashdance (What A Feeling)’
Misheard line #1: ‘Take your pants down/And make it happen’
(Correct line: ‘Take your passion/And make it happen’)
Misheard line #2: ‘I can have it off/Now I’m dancing for my life’
(Correct line: ‘I can have it all/Now I’m dancing for my life’)
Michael Jackson: ‘Thriller’
Misheard line: ‘And though you f*ck to stay alive/Your body starts to quiver’
(Correct line: ‘And though you fight to stay alive/Your body starts to quiver’)
Prince: ‘Strange Relationship’
Misheard line: ‘But I’ve seen you get a kick out of doing coke’
(Correct line: ‘But I seem to get a kick out of doing you cold’)
UB40: ‘Food For Thought’
Misheard line: ‘I’m a prima donna’
(Correct line: ‘Ivory madonna’)
Bryan Adams: ‘Heaven’
Misheard line: ‘Love is all that I need/And I found it there in your shirt’
(Correct line: ‘Love is all that I need/And I found it there in your heart’)
Billy Joel: ‘An Innocent Man’
Misheard line: ‘Some people live with the fear of a touch/And the anger of having dinner poo’
(Correct line: ‘Some people live with the fear of a touch/And the anger of having been a fool’)
Donald Fagen: ‘Ruby Baby’
Misheard line: ‘From the sunny day I met you/Made a bed where I will get you’
(Correct lilne: ‘From the sunny day I met you/Made a bet that I would get you’)
The Blue Nile: ‘The Downtown Lights’
Misheard line: ‘I’m tired of crying on the city’
(Correct line: ‘I’m tired of crying on the stairs’)
Lionel Richie: ‘All Night Long’
Misheard line: ‘Everybody’s seen everybody dance’
(Correct line: ‘Everybody sing/Everybody dance’)
Steely Dan: ‘Glamour Profession’
Misheard line: ‘When it’s all over/We’ll make some colds from my cough’
(Correct line: ‘When it’s all over/We’ll make some calls from my car’)
Boomtown Rats: ‘Banana Republic’
Misheard line: ‘Banana republic/Set to climb’ (To be honest, I didn’t have the faintest idea what Sir Bob was singing… Ed.)
(Correct line: ‘Banana republic/Septic isle’)
It Bites: ‘Calling All The Heroes’
Misheard line: ‘High on a mountain the men looked below/Cucumber pineapple something and Poe’
(Correct line: ‘High on a mountain the men looked below/Cooked up a plan that would outwit their foe’)
The Police: ‘So Lonely’
Misheard line: ‘Simone/Simone’ (There was an Italian bloke at school called Simone…)
(Correct line: ‘So lonely/So lonely’)
There’s a secret history of bands/artists disowning their own albums before they’ve even been released.
Lee Mavers’ La’s, Prince and Chrissie Hynde’s Pretenders come to mind, and the brilliant Cumbrian four-piece It Bites can also be added to that list.
They even sent out a ‘please don’t buy our new album’ letter to their fan club. I still have it. Quote: ‘They feel Thankyou And Goodnight to be a complete rip-off on the part of Virgin Records…’ It didn’t work, of course. I bought it during its first week of release.
By summer 1991, a year after guitarist/lead vocalist Francis Dunnery had done a runner from the band (this interview gives intriguing hints as to his state of mind during spring 1990) while they were recording their never-to-be-released fourth studio album in Los Angeles, remaining members John Beck (keyboards), Dick Nolan (bass) and drummer Bob Dalton (then trying to make a go of it as Navajo Kiss, and later Sister Sarah) were less than thrilled to hear that Virgin intended to release an It Bites live album.
But it was out of their hands. They reluctantly helped with track selection/sequencing, approved the artwork and title and Thankyou And Goodnight summarily became the official au revoir to one of the finest British bands of the 1980s.
One top 40 single (‘Calling All The Heroes’) was a pretty dire return for one of the most melodic acts of the era. Virgin should get some blame for that (were they generally better cheerleaders for their solo acts, apart from Genesis, Simple Minds and Culture Club?).
But you hear ‘Still Too Young To Remember’, ‘Underneath Your Pillow’, ‘Kiss Like Judas’ and ‘Midnight’ today and it’s inexplicable that they didn’t crack the charts.
In particular, their singular lack of mainstream success throughout 1988 seems to have been a huge shock for the band, especially off the back of an extraordinary sophomore album Once Around The World, sold-out UK tour and well-received Robert Plant support slot.
But back to Thank You And Goodnight. Visually, it’s a pretty shoddy package. The cover looks like it was knocked off by a reluctant Virgin designer after a long liquid lunch. There are no recording dates or technical personnel, save for mixing engineer Nick Davis (XTC, Marillion, Genesis, Phil Collins), whose surname is misspelt.
Then there are some cursory ‘history of the band’ liner notes, with an annoying addendum by a Virgin staffer: ‘We owe you a drink, Ian!’. Yeah, right…
And then there’s the track choice – it’s basically the audio from the televised June 1989 gig at London’s Town & Country Club, plus a few ringers: ‘Yellow Christian’ (recording date/venue unknown) and ‘You’ll Never Go To Heaven’ from London’s Marquee in 1987 (anyone know the date?), previously the B-side of ‘Midnight’.
A better bet for a live album would surely have been the whole T&C show, plus the whole Marquee 1987 show. It’s also surprising that both of their Hammersmith Odeon headliners (in December 1989 and April 1990) were not available for release (but both are allegedly audible on the privately-released Live In Londonbox set, in which I’m yet to invest…watch this space…).
But it’s no surprise to report that most of the music on Thankyou And Goodnight is fantastic. Under Davis’s jurisdiction, Nolan’s bass and Dalton’s drums sound like a million dollars, at least on the T&C tracks. ‘Underneath Your Pillow’ is the standout, emerging as a superb pop song augmented by the extended, proggy ending, with Dunnery quoting from Holst’s Planet Suite (Venus, the Bringer of Peace).
‘The Ice Melts Into The Water’ and ‘Still Too Young To Remember’ (with its clever ‘Old Man & The Angel’ tag) are also superb, fitting reversions.
From memory, I saw It Bites live five times (Brunel University/Astoria 1988, T&C/Hammersmith 1989, Hammersmith 1990) and they were never less than sensational. Thankyou And Goodnight is not a great package but a decent-enough document of their late-career pomp.
What a shame they couldn’t have recorded one more studio album after 1989’s Eat Me In St Louis though and basked in some long-overdue success.
And one further mystery – Dunnery has obviously added some post-production vocals to ‘Ice Melts Into The Water’ – when and where? Maybe he was secretly in on the project after all…
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, Gaye Bikers On Acid, 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’, Desperately Seeking Fusion, Shelleyan Orphan
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, The Teardrop Explodes
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, Johnny Hates Jazz, 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
A sense of contour, of line, a bit of colour, a good tone and maybe a touch of – that horrible word – narrative. A bit of flash never heart anyone either, but mostly we’re probably listening for emotion and ‘storytelling’.
Luckily for us, the 1980s featured an embarrassment of riches on the guitar soloing front, a decade when you could hear everything from glorious cameos of post-punk insanity, slabs of avant-garde weirdness, shock-and-awe widdlefests and sometimes perfect little compositions in themselves.
Sometimes great solos came from the guitarist in the band, but more often than not they came from the ‘ringer’, the session player. Truly great players of all stripes could find themselves blowing on a top 10 single. Their job was to add the pizzazz, the zing, the memorable bit that all the kids wanted to learn.
So here’s a selection of goodies from the guitar-shaped chocolate box, featuring some rock, some blues, some fusion, some soul, some new-wave, some pop, some metal, some funk, some jazz:
27. Lloyd Cole And The Commotions: ‘Forest Fire’ (Guitarist: Neil Clark)
26. Tears For Fears: ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ (Guitarist: Neil Taylor)
25. Marillion: ‘Easter’ (Guitarist: Steve Rothery)
24. Michael Hedges: ‘Aerial Boundaries’
The whole thing is a solo, of course, but it’s one of the most astonishing examples of solo guitar in recording history, a mixture of tapping, strumming, thumping and hammering. There are no overdubs and a very strange tuning on the classic title track to Hedges’ 1984 album.
23. Tribal Tech: ‘Tunnel Vision’ (Guitarist: Scott Henderson)
An almost perfect solo from the jazz/rock master’s album Nomad. It’s so complete it sounds almost pre-composed (apparently only the first eight bars were hummed to him by the tune’s writer Gary Willis), each interesting idea following completely logically from the last. Starts at 1:13:
This one taken from the classic album The Colour Of Spring can be filed in the ‘minimalist’ category, but it’s brilliant. The way the veteran Pretenders/McCartney guitarist bends into his last note, perfectly fitting with the key change, is sublime. Starts at 2:52:
21. Johnny Guitar Watson: ‘Telephone Bill’
Johnny G pulled out all the stops for this barnstorming bebop-meets-blues breakdown, from the Love Jones album, closing out his funny proto-rap in some style. He also gets extra points for quoting Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Salt Peanuts’. Starts around 3:30:
From Booty’s now forgotten 1988 album What’s Bootsy Doin’, a brief but flamboyant classic from one of the great unhinged metal guitarists of the decade, used as a ringer by George Clinton, Bill Laswell and Shakespear’s Sister to good effect. Starts around 2:44:
19. Thomas Dolby: ‘Budapest By Blimp’ (Guitarist: Larry Treadwell)
The LA-based guitarist was part of a Christian duo backing the Pope on his infamous ‘Popemobile’ tour of American stadiums when he answered Dolby’s magazine ad, and he excelled himself on this epic track from Aliens Ate My Buick, coming up with a strong melody over the funky break and even throwing in a little Dave Gilmour homage. Starts around the 5:30 mark:
18. Trevor Rabin: ‘I Can’t Look Away’
The title track of the Yes guitarist’s 1989 solo album was a song of two brilliant solos, but I’m going for the opening salvo, a brutal, flashy classic that features all the notes he knows and more.
17. Robert Cray: ‘Waiting For The Tide To Turn’
You could choose almost any solo from Mr Cray’s Bad Influence album, but this one seems to be best encapsulate his classy string-bending, snappy rhythmic sense and ice-cold Strat tone. Starts at 1:33:
16. Nile Rodgers: ‘Stay Out Of The Light’
A brilliant player not necessarily known for his solos, but this closing track from his forgotten second solo album B Movie Matinee opened the floodgates – a fantastic mixture of Charlie Christian and Jimmy Nolen. Starts at 3:37:
15. John McLaughlin: ‘The Wait’
McLaughlin plugs in the Les Paul and unleashes one of the most vicious solos of his career, gradually developing in intensity, with even a touch of his old mucker Carlos Santana at times. Unfortunately it mostly fell on deaf ears, coming from a nearly-forgotten 1987 album Adventures In Radioland. Starts around 1:43:
14. Defunkt: ‘Eraserhead’ (Guitarist: Ronnie Drayton)
One of those unhinged solos that starts at ’11’ and then just carries on in the same vein. The underrated session great is given his head and goes for it. From the punk/funk legends’ forgotten, excellent 1988 comeback album In America.
13. Yngwie J. Malmsteen: ‘Black Star’
This piece, kicking off the Swede’s Rising Force opus, is a guitar masterclass from top to tail, but the first few minutes demonstrate some extraordinary touches like a legato section that you’d swear was achieved with a delay pedal.
12. Stanley Clarke: ‘Straight To The Top’ (Guitarist: Carlos Santana)
The song – which kicked off Stanley’s 1981 career nadir Let Me Know You – may be a disco cheesefest but Carlos’s solo is a stonker, an emotive showstopper with a luscious, creamy tone and lots of emotional moments. It was a good period for Santana – see also Herbie Hancock’s ‘Saturday Night’ and Carlos’s own ‘Stay Beside Me’ and ‘Song For Devadip’.
11. It Bites: ‘You’ll Never Go To Heaven’ (Guitarist: Francis Dunnery)
The Cumbrian gunslingers wrote a great ballad here and Dunnery laid his claim as one of the great Brit guitarists of the ’80s with this extreme solo, a sometimes lyrical, sometimes demented mixture of flash and panache. From the lads’ debut album The Big Lad In The Windmill. Starts at 5:09:
10. Billy Idol: ‘Rebel Yell’ (Guitarist: Steve Stevens)
He produced several memorable moments alongside the 6’2” blond bombsite born William Broad, but Stevens excelled himself here with a memorable, well-organised solo full of flashy bits and unexpected ‘outside’ notes.
9. Joe Satriani: ‘Ice 9’
Satch’s sophomore album Surfing With The Alien of course produced some guitar highlights but this track featured one of his most distinctive solos ever, Allan Holdsworth meets Eddie Van Halen.
8. Randy Crawford: ‘You Might Need Somebody’ (Guitarist: Steve Lukather)
This gets in for superb tone and admirable restraint, apart from that fantastic flurry of notes in the middle. Luke could hardly do any wrong around this time. Just around the corner was Quincy’s The Dude, ‘Rosanna’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Love’ and Jacko’s Thriller.
7. Red Hot Chili Peppers: ‘Sex Rap’ (Guitarist: Hillel Slovak)
One of those great solos that sounds like it could fall apart any second, and frequently does. From the lads’ uneven but sometimes thrilling George Clinton-produced Freaky Styley album. Starts at 1:14:
6. Yellowjackets: ‘Monmouth College Fight Song’ (Guitarist: Robben Ford)
In the days when Robben’s trump card was playing bebop/blues with a distorted guitar, and when he loved blowing over interesting chord changes, this track from 1981’s Casino Lights is a classic. A super-sophisticated mixture of Charlie Parker and Albert King. Starts at 1:35:
Hiram could be relied upon to produce classic solos in the late 1980s, as he did with Steps Ahead, Terri Lyne Carrington and on his solo records, and this from Sting’s …Nothing Like The Sun was sublime. Starts at 1:27:
4. Pink Floyd: ‘Comfortably Numb’ (Guitarist: David Gilmour)
Take your pick between two fantastic solos from The Wall album, but I’m going for the first one, a beautiful feature with a killer tone and great use of whammy bar. Starts at 2:38:
3. XTC: ‘That’s Really Super, Supergirl’ (Guitarist: Dave Gregory)
He apparently rehearsed it alone for hours in a little room stinking of rat poison in Todd Rundgren’s rundown studio complex in Woodstock, upstate New York, but it paid off, a memorable, melodic classic. Starts at 2:08:
2. Mike Stern: ‘Time In Place’
The title track of Mike’s second solo album demonstrated definitely one of the slowest solos of his career, and also one of the most lyrical. Starts at 1:35:
1. John Martyn: ‘Johnny Too Bad’
This was one of the more memorable solos of Martyn’s career, during a decade when he was more interested in songwriting than making extreme guitar statements. But he sure found his Les Paul’s sweet spot on a classic cover version from Grace And Danger. Starts at around 1:28:
Nobody knows anything: that was the late screenwriter William Goldman’s famous maxim for determining the likely commercial viability of a movie.
But it could also apply to the pop landscape of the 1980s. While the essential ingredients for a chart smash – great melodies, interesting sounds, emotional material – were intact, there were also novelty hits by the dozen. Soap-opera actors, kids and comedians were all over the shop.
But then there were the really striking, original one-time deals. Indeed the question hanging over most of the following is: why only the one hit?
Yet maybe there is something singular about these songs. Even this writer, a big It Bites fan, can – almost grudgingly – hear only too well why ‘Calling All The Heroes’ was a hit when all of their other perfectly-worthy singles stalled just outside the top 40.
But if one hit single doesn’t make for a lasting career, with a bit of luck it can still be a cash cow. So here’s a trawl through some of the best one-hit wonders (all made the UK top 40) of the 1980s…
27. PHD: ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ (1982)
26. Anita Baker: ‘Sweet Love’ (1986)
25. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: ‘I Love Rock And Roll’ (1982)
24. The Pinkees: ‘Danger Games’ (1982)
23. Robbie Robertson: ‘Somewhere Down The Crazy River’ (1987)
22. Ollie & Jerry: ‘Breakin’ (There’s No Stopping Us)’ (1984)
21. Champaign: ‘How ‘Bout Us’ (1981)
20. Orange Juice: ‘Rip It Up’ (1983)
It’s mystifying why Edwyn Collins and the gang only managed one hit, but they did. And what a beauty. Reached #8 in February 1983.
19. Joe Dolce Music Theatre: ‘Shaddap You Face’ (1981)
It’s just the audacity of it, I guess – an American/Australian comes over ‘ere and makes a random, totally un-PC, comedy record. Kept Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ off #1 in February 1981.
18. The Passions: ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’ (1981)
Clive Temperley’s gorgeous Echoplex-laden guitar, a great blanked-out vocal from Barbara Gogan and the early-’80s penchant for all things European ushered this into the top 30.
17. Re-Flex: ‘The Politics Of Dancing’ (1984)
Included mainly for a great vocal by lead singer John Baxter.
16. Yarbrough & Peoples: ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ (1981)
15. Fern Kinney: ‘Together We Are Beautiful’ (1980)
14. Breathe: ‘Hands To Heaven’ (1988)
A love or hate song depending on your proclivity for soppy tearjerkers, but a pretty damn committed piece of work either way.
13. Fiction Factory: ‘(Feels Like) Heaven’ (1984)
Produced by Police-helmer Nigel Gray, this Perth (in Scotland) band produced a memorable piece of sophisti-pop with a great vocal by Kevin Patterson.
12. Ashford & Simpson: ‘Solid’ (1984)
They had of course written dozens of hits for others, and Valerie Simpson had sung back-up with everyone from Steely Dan to Quincy Jones, but this was the couple’s only UK hit.
11. Furniture: ‘Brilliant Mind’ (1986)
Fronted by future MOJO music writer Jim Irvin, this was a smart, intriguing single. Will also be familiar to fans of ‘Trigger Happy TV’. And Pulp may have checked it out too…
10. It Bites: ‘Calling All The Heroes’ (1986)
9. Kim Carnes: ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ (1981)
Apparently originally written as a loping country and western tune, it was given an icy synth-rock makeover and great John Bettis lyric, and eventually reached #10 (#1 in the USA) and earned Carnes a Grammy.
8. Martha And The Muffins: ‘Echo Beach’ (1980)
7. Rosie Vela: ‘Magic Smile’ (1986)
6. The Icicle Works: ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ (1984)
How did this end up being the only top 40 hit for Ian McNabb’s talented Merseysiders? When the likes of contemporaries Pete Wylie and Pete Burns were raking in the hits?
5. Will Powers: ‘Kissing With Confidence’ (1983)
Co-written by Steve Winwood, Todd Rundgren, Nile Rodgers and Jacob Brackman and featuring an uncredited Carly Simon on vocals and some brilliant stacked backups by…who? Of course Will Powers was a pseudonym for star-snapper Lynn Goldsmith.
4. Hipsway: ‘The Honeythief’ (1986)
The Glaswegians’ funky pop gem showed the way forward for Curiosity and Love & Money, but sadly they failed to follow it up.
3. Nena: ’99 Red Balloons’ (1984)
A rather excellent lyric and musically rich #1 single. The closing 30 seconds can still send a shiver down the spine.
2. Boy Meets Girl: ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ (1989)
Yes yes yes, it’s shiny and toothless, but anyone who loves ’80s pop surely has to like this.
1. The Lotus Eaters: ‘The First Picture Of You’ (1983)
Another Merseyside pop gem, this slow-building classic can immediately send one into the reverie of a sun-kissed, first-love British summer.
The critical consensus: 1986 was the worst music year of the decade, perhaps of any decade. But is that true?
There was certainly a vacuum between the end of New Pop/New Romanticism and the Rock Revival of ’87, exploited by one-hit-wonder merchants, TV soap actors, Europop poseurs, musical-theatre prima donnas, jazz puritans and Stock Aitken & Waterman puppets.
Also most pop records just didn’t sound good. The drums were too loud, the synths were garish, ‘slickness’ was the order of the day.
Perhaps nothing emphasised these factors as much as The Police’s disastrous comeback version of ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’.
But listen a little harder and 1986 seems like a watershed year for soul, house, go-go, art-metal, John Peel-endorsed indie and hip-hop. Synth-pop duos were back on the map, the NME C86 compilation was a lo-fi classic and there were a handful of groundbreaking jazz/rock albums too.
So here’s a case for the opposition: a selection of classic singles and albums from 1986. Not a bad old year after all.
Paul Simon: Graceland
Stump: Quirk Out
David Bowie: ‘Absolute Beginners’
Mantronix: Music Madness
Rosie Vela: ‘Magic Smile’
George Michael: ‘A Different Corner’
Eurythmics: ‘Thorn In My Side’
Al Jarreau: L Is For Lover
Duran Duran: ‘Skin Trade’
George Benson: ‘Shiver’
Chris Rea: On The Beach
Europe: ‘The Final Countdown’
David Sylvian: Gone To Earth
OMD: ‘Forever Live And Die’
The Real Roxanne: ‘Bang Zoom’
The The: Infected
Half Man Half Biscuit: ‘Dickie Davies Eyes’
Anita Baker: Rapture
Michael McDonald: ‘Sweet Freedom’
Talk Talk: The Colour Of Spring
Luther Vandross: Give Me The Reason
Pet Shop Boys: ‘Suburbia’
Chaka Khan: ‘Love Of A Lifetime’
Gabriel Yared: Betty Blue Original Soundtrack
The Pretenders: ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’
Janet Jackson: Control
Run DMC: Raising Hell
Beastie Boys: Licensed To Ill
Miles Davis: Tutu
Iggy Pop: Blah Blah Blah
Courtney Pine: Journey To The Urge Within
George Clinton: ‘Do Fries Go With That Shake’
Talking Heads: ‘Wild Wild Life’
Kurtis Blow/Trouble Funk: ‘I’m Chillin”
The Source ft. Candi Staton: ‘You Got The Love’
Gwen Guthrie: ‘Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent’