Simple Minds: Sparkle In The Rain

After ‘82’s critically acclaimed New Gold Dream, the logical step for Simple Minds would seem to have been to go even further away from their art-rock roots and rush headlong towards some funky ‘sophisti-pop’.

After all, head honcho Jim Kerr is on record as saying that his favourites from the era were Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing, Donna Summer’s two classic 1982 singles and Carly Simon’s ‘Why’.

To that end, Nightclubbing co-helmer Alex Sadkin was eagerly approached to produce Sparkle In The Rain, but he declined, busy with Duran Duran and Thompson Twins work.

Instead, inspired by premiering the pile-driving, Pink Floyd-meets-Doors ‘Waterfront’ at Dublin’s Phoenix Park gig (supporting U2) on 14 August 1983, they turned to producer Steve Lillywhite, chief architect of the Return to Rock that was eclipsing New Pop during summer 1983, courtesy of his work with Big Country and U2.

Lillywhite hastily took them into Shepherds Bush’s legendary Townhouse Studios 2, with Howard Gray engineering. Guitarist Charlie Burchill wrote ‘Herzog’ on the back of Lillywhite’s chair, inspired by his and Kerr’s newfound love of the German director’s ‘Fitzcarraldo’ and its theme of dreams moving mountains. A photo of Nastassja Kinski took pride of place on the control-room wall.

There were regular games of table tennis, Kerr using them to psych himself up for the very adrenalized vocal takes, especially on the hysterial ‘Kick Inside Of Me’.

After previous drummer problems to match Spinal Tap, the excellent Mel Gaynor was a real find for the band. Though quiet in the studio, he was a monster on the kit and also apparently contributed effective keyboard and guitar ideas.

Bassist Derek Forbes was more in the background, spending a lot of time drawing his ‘Dan Yer Man’ cartoons. Burchill allegedly gave him a bollocking about his lack of ‘commitment’; the writing was on the wall for the talented player. He’d soon join fellow ex-Mind Brian McGee in a superb iteration of Propaganda’s touring band.

Tellingly, Sparkle’s songwriting royalties are split five ways, except for a truncated cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Street Hassle’ which jettisons some of the more ‘unsavoury’ statements of the original (shades of Bowie’s ‘Tonight’, recorded a few months later?).

But it’s Gaynor, Kerr and McNeil’s album. The latter provides epic textures, very high in the mix. Kirsty MacColl provides a very welcome ‘girl’s voice’. ‘Shake Off The Ghosts’ was certainly noted by U2. ‘Waterfront’ is brilliant. How many other hits use guitar harmonics for their main riff? (only The Hooters’ ‘Satellite’ comes to mind).

Alongside Empires And Dance, Sparkle remains my favourite Minds album. Yes it’s a sonic ‘experiment’ and most tracks go on for a minute too long, but it’s rooted in strong band playing and delicious ambient textures. And it’s bloody loud.

Released on 6 February 1984, it became their first of four straight UK #1 albums. But they weren’t delivering on the singles front: ‘Waterfront’ only got to #13, ‘Speed Your Love’ #20 and ‘Up On The Catwalk’ #27. With hindsight, their reluctant November 1984 recording of Keith Forsey/Steve Schiff’s ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ was a vital career move.

Minds hit the gig circuit for a very busy summer 1984 tour including a record-breaking (at the time) eight nights at Hammersmith Odeon. This was a very different group to a year earlier. It’s fascinating to compare two ‘Oxford Road Show’ gigs from early 1983 and early 1984:

Gone was the skinny, neurotic Euro art-funk. Kerr was a far more wholesome, energised, welcoming character than before, screaming ‘Charlie Burchill!’ before the regular guitar breaks. He even started the Hammersmith gigs up a pole, Julian Cope-style!

But Kerr quickly disowned this period, citing exhaustion on the part of the band. Stateside success seemed so near yet so far. But then came ‘Don’t You’, Kerr’s marriage to Chrissie Hynde, ‘The Breakfast Club’ and Live Aid. The world was theirs.

Further reading: ‘Simple Minds’ by Adam Sweeting

The 17 Weirdest Record Company Freebies Of The 1980s

Pity the poor marketing manager of a 1980s major record label.

Everyone was telling you the future was in PR. The musicians were no longer running the music industry – the suits were. Millions of pounds were sloshing around but a dodgy decision could cost you your job.

Label MDs had read their Dale Carnegies or at least their Peter Yorks. Everyone wanted to hobnob with Branson. And for every proverbial ‘fifth member of the band’ manager like Paul McGuinness or Ed Bicknell, there was a PR like Magenta Devine.

And, as James Grant of Love And Money (more from them below) once told movingtheriver.com, people had breakdowns over this stuff. But is it any wonder when staffers were sending radio programmers and promoters gifts like the following? (All are 100% authentic, and based on extensive research*.)

17. Doobie Brothers dope kit
It included a Doobies logo’d stash pouch, rolling machine and ‘skins’…

16. INXS pyjamas
These sartorial delights were embroidered with the time-honoured phrase ‘I Need You Tonight’. Groan…

15. Prefab Sprout snow globe
This cute little number featured some mini skyscrapers and bore the legend ‘Hey Manhattan!’ Unfortunately it couldn’t hype this Paddy classic into the top 40…

14. 10,000 Maniacs ceramic elephant teapot
A useful mammalian kitchen implement that was sent around to promote the Blind Man’s Zoo album.

13. Simply Red dressing gown
A his’n’hers, terry-towelling dressing gown to promote the Men And Women album. See what they did there?

12. Bob Seger windcheater
It was sleevless, quilted and defiantly macho, as befitting the proletarian singer/songwriter. And it was sent to promote…you guessed it… ‘Against The Wind’!

11. Brothers Johnson zippo cigarette lighter
The funk legends’ PR machine came up with this curio for fans to hoist aloft during ‘Light Up The Night’.

10. WASP bottle of ‘house red’
This disgusting blood-coloured beverage was sent around to promote the Live…In The Raw live album.

9. Billy Bragg teabag
As befitting the socialist icon, a marvellously utilitarian artefact to celebrate the release of the Brewing Up With… album.

8. Kirsty MacColl kite
Yeah?

7. Love And Money road atlas
This hand-bound tome failed to hype ‘Jocelyn Square’ into the top 40, though it remains a great single.

6. Madness pacamac
It was advertising their downbeat single ‘The Sun And The Rain’. And why not?

5. Eurythmics umbrella
To promote…you guessed it…’Here Comes The Rain Again’. Obviously did a pretty good job, to be fair – the single reached #8 in the UK charts.

4. ZZ Top frozen meal
Those naughty boys from Texas sent this around to promote – of course – ‘TV Dinners’.

3. Frankie Goes To Hollywood condom
One of Paul Morley’s better ideas, actually…

2. PiL jigsaw puzzle
A very strange object sent around to promote Johnny and the boys’ 9 album.

1. Kane Gang walkman
No, me neither…

*Copied from a Q magazine listicle circa 1989

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’

Six 1980s Christmas Songs Not Just For Christmas

3175516482_2745396c60_bCrimbo, eh, readers?

The ’80s certainly has its fair share of duff Christmas tracks, maybe more than most decades, but at least there was a lot of variety.

The Christmas number one suddenly had prestige. Consequently a huge variety of artists tried their luck from Sting, The Eurythmics and U2 to Siouxsie And The Banshees, Jethro Tull and Depeche Mode.

Here are six Christmas singles from the 1980s that I could just about tolerate hearing any time of the year.

6. The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping (1981)

The New York new-wavers’ charmingly-ramshackle little number has only grown in stature as a seasonal favourite despite not even making the UK top 100 on its December 1981 release.

5. The Three Wise Men: Thanks For Christmas (1983)

XTC in disguise. Andy Partridge came up with this very pleasant but almost totally ignored singalong, unfortunately released smack-bang in the middle of a period when the Swindon three-piece couldn’t get arrested. But what’s really cool about ‘Thanks For Christmas’ is THAT chord change…

4. David Bowie/Bing Crosby: Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (1982)

Just two days on from taping a superb performance of ‘Heroes’ and a duet with Marc Bolan on the ‘Marc’ TV show, Bowie was invited onto Bing’s ‘Merrie Olde Christmas’ to film this great and genuinely surreal clip on 11th September 1977. Apparently the ‘Peace On Earth’ segment of the song was composed on the day of filming (by the show’s music consultants Ian Fraser and Larry Grossman) and rehearsed for only an hour before the cameras rolled – pretty impressive. When finally released as a single in 1982, ‘Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy’ peaked at number three in the chart. Was it a subconscious influence on the wistful ‘Fantastic Voyage’ released just over a year later?

3. Jona Lewie: Stop The Cavalry (1980)

Nothing says 1980 to me like this strange little Christmas song (though, according to Lewie, it wasn’t intended as such) which peaked at UK number three, only kept off the top spot by two posthumous John Lennon singles.

2. Band Aid: Do They Know It’s Christmas (1984)

Yes, it’s as over-familiar as an uncle’s Boxing Day bear hug, but it retains some power due to its musical-chairs approach, great Boy George vocals and the lack of a proper chorus. I think it was the first 7” single I actually went out and bought.

1. The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Only the hardest heart could deny the poignancy of this all-time classic. Written, arranged, played and sung with consummate care, this tale of doomed love in the Big Apple reached number two in December 1987.

Happy Christmas to one and all.