‘Conspiracy theories’: you can’t move for ’em these days, and things aren’t much different here at movingtheriver.com.
The 1980s: a decade when uncredited ‘guest’ performances were many, producers demanded rip-offs of other musicians (a popular drummer joke* of the 1980s, with many variations: how many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb? Ten. One to change the bulb, nine to talk about how Steve Gadd would have done it…), hits came with writs and things were never quite what they seemed.
So it’s not surprising that conspiracy theories flourished during the 1980s. Here are some good ones (swearing alert). Bullsh*t or not? YOU decide. (Maybe none are as famous as the ‘Paul Is Dead’ saga, but wtf…):
8. Kirsty MacColl sings backup vocals on Dire Straits’ ‘Walk Of Life’
Uncredited of course, but these pre-chorus stacks, first heard at 1:19, sound very much like the much-missed vocalist.
7. Donna Summer performed all of Irene Cara’s vocals
Come on, they are interchangeable. Apologies to anyone in Cara’s family or Cara herself but she sounds freakily like Summer on ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance (What A Feeling)’.
6. George Michael wrote ‘Round And Round’ for Jaki Graham
In exchange for what? The classic single is just so in George’s ballpark, of course helped by Derek Bramble’s sparkly state-of-1985 production (he gets the songwriting credit too).
5. Adrian Edmondson of ‘The Young Ones’/The Comic Strip/’Bottom’ fame made the spoof 1984 jazz/funk classic ‘F*cking C*unt/Awkward Bastard’
Rumours abound that it’s Ade, or a few members of The Damned. No one is quite sure and no one has ever owned up, but it’s still brilliant.
4. The Dukes Of Stratosphear’s ‘Brainiac’s Daughter’ is actually a Paul McCartney joint
No one has done ‘Happy Macca’ circa 1968 as well as the Dukes, AKA XTC. But was this ACTUALLY a lost Beatles track?
3. John Bonham stuck around long enough to drum on Survivor’s 1982 hit ‘Eye Of The Tiger’
It’s just sounds so much like the Led Zep sticksman, who died in 1980. It’s the feel, and the sound of his kick and snare drums.
2. Level 42’s Mark King played bass on David Bowie’s ‘Tumble And Twirl’
Actually this one is probably ‘true’. He doesn’t get a credit on the album liners but King himself mentioned (in this podcast) doing a few sessions at the Townhouse Studios in Shepherds Bush around spring 1984 with producer/engineer Hugh Padgham so it’s quite probable. In any case it’s certainly right in his ‘Lopsy Lu’/’Heathrow’ comfort zone, and brilliant slap playing.
1. Bob Carolgees played the famous sax melody on George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’(That’s enough ‘conspiracy theories’, Ed…)
*Here’s a bonus drummer joke, because I’ve just read and loved it: What does a drummer use for contraception? His/her personality.
One of the legacies of the wretched last few years is that everyone and their little brother has started a podcast.
Of course there’s a lot of flim-flam but the good news for fans of 1980s music and movies is that many of the decade’s big names are getting involved. They are in bullish, talkative mood, still full of ideas and enthusiasm.
Elsewhere podcasters of all stripes are revisiting key (and not-so-key) works of the 1980s and beyond, offering fresh perspectives. Here’s a selection of podcasts that have held movingtheriver’s attention over the last few years.
Electronically Yours is helmed by Human League/Heaven 17 co-founder and producer/synth pioneer Martyn Ware. He opens his formidable address book to speak to some big names as well as influential but less well-known figures who helped shape 1980s music. Ware seems an amiable fellow and he extracts some intriguing revelations from his guests, sometimes even getting closure on issues that affected his career 40 years ago (see the Bob Last and Simon Draper interviews).
Though he occasionally sounds a bit like Gareth Keenan of ‘The Office’ during one of his Health & Safety seminars, Edward Russell’s podcast Inside the Groove takes an indepth, entertaining look at Madonna’s music and career. There are intriguing bits of studio gossip and great chances to hear exposed multi-tracks of the hits – ‘Borderline’ and ‘Open Your Heart’ are doozies.
Smersh Pod is a look at the Bond films and their connections, expanding out to discuss notoriously cruddy cult movies such as ‘Bullseye’ and ‘Death Wish II’. John Brain presents with vigour and chats with a lot of amusing guests mainly from the comedy world.
Breakfast With Vinnie is the unique podcast of drum hero Vinnie Colaiuta. He generally eschews celeb interviews (though John McLaughlin makes a lovely appearance) in favour of philosophical musings about music, society and culture.
Rockonteurs, co-helmed by Spandau man Gary Kemp and Floyd/Bryan Ferry bassist Guy Pratt, is a series of informal chats with friends and colleagues. Their repartee is sometimes a little grating but interviews with Level 42’s Mark King, Boy George, Trevor Horn and key Madonna/Ferry collaborator Patrick Leonard are particularly memorable.
Word in Your Ear is the brainchild of ‘Whistle Test’ presenters and founders of Q/The Word magazines Mark Ellen and David Hepworth. It won’t surprise anyone that it’s witty, entertaining, opinionated and always worth a listen.
Bass Culture UK is a valuable portrait of the movers and shakers of British reggae and soundsystem culture, featuring excellent interviews with key figures like Don Letts and Dennis Bovell.
But – drum roll – the movingtheriver.com Podcast of the Year is… 80sography. It’s mostly a series of extended interviews with key producers of the decade and a must for anyone who wants to know what went on in studios during the 1980s. It also serves as a good ‘making of’ many classic albums. The Stephen Hague, Langer/Winstanley, Hugh Padgham and Stephen Lipson interviews are all entertaining and comprehensive.
Any other cool related podcasts? Leave a comment below.
‘Level 42: Every Album, Every Song’ has been available in the UK since April and just been published in the USA, Europe, Australia and Japan.
The book has just been reprinted and is onto its second edition, so if you can’t find it in your favourite local bookstore, demand it! (Or check out the links below.)
Praise for ‘Level 42: Every Album, Every Song’:
“Phillips’ concise, forensic analyses opened my eyes and ears to new facets of the band’s music.”
George Cole, Jazzwise magazine
Jem Godfrey, *Frost/Joe Satriani keyboardist, songwriter and podcaster
“It’s excellent, it really is.”
Paul Waller, Level 42 expert and author of ‘Level 42: The Worldwide Visual Discography’
John Hannam, Isle Of Wight County Press
“To me, Level 42 are not the answer to the ultimate questions of life, yet Phillips’ engaging narrative certainly makes a strong case for it. It’s filled with knowledgeable wisdom, and he speaks his affection for the band brilliantly.”
Jan Buddenburg, DPRP
“This book is enhanced by contributions from both Mark King and Lindup whilst Phillips also provides a musician’s insight to the track by track breakdown. A worthy and welcome re-assessment. ****
David Randall, getreadytorock.uk
Thanks to Bass Player Magazine who ran an excerpt in their June 2021 edition:
Thanks to Level 42 mega-fan and friend of the band Julian Hall for his endorsement.
And I was interviewed by Giles Brown on Talk Radio Europe – listen here.
Get ‘Level 42: Every Album, Every Song’ here:
Matt Phillips will return in 2022 with the complete guide to the music of John McLaughlin.
‘Level 42 – Every Album, Every Song (on track)’ is my first book and the first in-depth study of the band’s illustrious catalogue.
It features recording information, musical analysis, studio gossip, full credits, stories from the road and contributions from head honcho Mark King and previous members Gary Husband and Phil Gould. The book also places their output within the wider musical landscape of the 1980s and 1990s.
‘Level 42 – Every Album, Every Song’ is available via the links below:
(and soon to be available elsewhere – watch this space…)
Every group needs a Boon Gould.
The George Harrison of Level 42, intelligent, erudite but naturally shy, he came up with consistently memorable guitar parts and the occasional exciting solo, whilst never overshadowing his more naturally exuberant bandmates.
His guitar playing probably peaked in the original band’s middle years, and he also wrote the words to many of their biggest hits including ‘Lessons In Love’, ‘It’s Over’, ‘To Be With You Again’ and ‘Heaven In My Hands’.
So Boon contributed much to one of the great bands of the ’80s. When I heard of his sad death this week, I first thought of his raunchy Jeff Beck-meets-Bill Connors solos on their jazz/funk opuses ‘Foundation And Empire’ and ‘Return Of The Handsome Rugged Man’, but then remembered how much his rhythm guitar parts added to the band’s key mid-’80s tracks such as ‘Micro Kid’, ‘Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind’ and ‘The Chinese Way’.
Guitar-wise, his peak was probably the 1984 Level 42 album True Colours, playing some fantastic stuff on ‘A Floating Life’, ‘True Believers’, ‘Hot Water’ and ‘Chant Has Begun’. The former features his heaviest riffs in a Level shirt. He also contributed lyrics to Mark King’s solo album Influences around this time.
Boon was the most reluctant live performer in the band, often afflicted with stage fright and frequently laid low by the bad food and bad sleep that are part and parcel of regular touring.
He jumped ship in 1987, his drummer brother Phil following soon after, and also who knows what kinds of pressures were involved with their elder sibling John managing the band too.
After officially leaving Level 42, Boon kept in touch and provided lyrics for 1988’s Staring At The Sun. He recorded a solo album, 1995’s Tin Man, which showed off his decent singing voice, and also came out of live retirement to guest with the reformed band during a Bristol gig in 2012.
By all accounts, Boon was a great guy, a gentle, self-effacing soul who just happened to be an excellent guitarist and intelligent lyricist.
RIP to one of 1980s pop’s unsung heroes. There’s part of my childhood gone.
Rowland Charles ‘Boon’ Gould (4 March 1955 – 30th April 2019)
Which ‘rock’ artists are the most likely to be subjects of not one but a series of biographies? The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan?
Japan are possibly unlikely recipients of such a legacy, but Anthony Reynolds’ superb new ‘Cries And Whispers’ – carrying on from where ‘A Foreign Place’ left off – holds the attention with ease.
His luxuriously-appointed new book takes an indepth look at all the protagonists’ (Sylvian, Steve Jansen, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri) careers between 1983 and 1991, a mouth-watering prospect when you realise how scant the serious coverage of these groundbreaking musicians really is, Martin Power’s half-decent 1998 biography of Sylvian aside.
Here you get rigorous research, rare photos and unexpectedly candid interviews from producers, engineers, designers, record company execs, hangers-on and of course the musicians themselves.
There are fascinating glimpses under the ’80s pop bonnet, with details of record company correspondence, press releases, tour itineraries/diaries and testimonies from session players.
There’s the odd unqualified muso revelation (did Mark King really get asked to play bass on ‘Pulling Punches’?!) and tasty gossip a-plenty, hardly surprising when you consider that the book covers the troubled Rain Tree Crow project.
In the main, Reynolds wisely keeps musical analysis to a minimum, letting the facts and musicians speak for themselves, and he also – admirably – is as interested in the murkier corners of Sylvian’s ’80s work (the one-off ‘Pop Song’ single, his involvement with Propaganda’s A Secret Wish album) as he is with the better-known stuff.
Indeed, all the chapters on Sylvian’s solo work are terrific, particularly the lengthy portrait of his punishing ‘In Praise Of Shamans’ 1988 world tour. The Rain Tree Crow section is also gripping.
There are minor gripes here and there: some quotes from relatively peripheral figures – clearly cut and pasted from email correspondence – could do with trimming, and does anyone really want such a lengthy analysis of Dalis Car or The Dolphin Brothers? But even these longeurs have their fascinating moments.
This writer almost read ‘Cries And Whispers’ in one sitting, passing it from desk to sofa to dinner table to bath to bed, and you may well do the same. It’s another fine achievement by Reynolds and another classic music book to boot. We eagerly await the next instalment.
‘Cries And Whispers’ is published by Burning Shed.
What’s it like seeing ‘your’ band play at a big festival, when only a small proportion of the crowd are fans and most would rather have a chin-wag and quaff cider than listen to the music?
Will your band win them over, or at least give a good account of themselves?
It was an interesting experience watching Level 42 under those circumstances last weekend. The Love Supreme Festival was celebrating its fifth birthday, no mean feat for an outdoor ‘jazz’ festival, thriving in a niche marketplace by focusing on the improvising musicians of tomorrow, established genre names and crossover artists whose presence no doubt raises some eyebrows (the other main-stage headliners this year were Earth Wind & Fire, George Clinton and Elvis Costello).
A big festival gig should, on the face of it, be a doddle for a band with as many hits and as much musical credibility as Mark King and his muckers – you knock off a lean, mean hour and get the crowd saying: ‘I’d forgotten about this one!’.
But they did it the hard way this time, kicking off with nobody’s favourite Level 42 song ‘Heaven In My Hands’ then segueing speedily into ‘Dream Crazy’, ‘To Be With You Again’ and ‘It’s Over’.
A superb ‘Children Say’, complete with a reference to Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, got things back on track musically but also seemed lost on the crowd.
King was unsettled. Had he blown it? No. He soldiered on, making some cracks about the World Cup and the Alan Shearer lookalike on trumpet, before ‘Running In The Family’ prompted an outbreak of interpretative dancing from the Brighton teenagers.
Secret weapon Mike Lindup sounded in superb voice during ‘Lessons In Love’, ‘Something About You’ and ‘Hot Water’, but, predictably, it was the classic jazz/funk/fusion-era material that gained most traction: ‘Starchild’, ‘Love Games’ and a never-groovier ‘Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)’.
Suddenly the crowd and gig came to life. There could have been much more in that vein. Where was ‘Almost There’, ‘Micro Kid’, ‘Turn It On’, ‘The Chinese Way’, even ’43’, ‘Mr Pink’ or ‘Heathrow’?
But when the material was right, the band sounded superb. King’s voice may be past its best but his bass skills have reached new heights. The slapping sometimes lacked precision but his fingerstyle playing goes from strength to strength. He embellished ‘Children Say’, ‘Starchild’ and ‘Sun Goes Down’ with some outstanding modal moves. There’s life in the Isle Of Wight lad yet.
So here’s the second instalment of essential drum albums from the 1980s (check out part one here), a selection of the decade’s movers and shakers who either pushed the boundaries, flew somewhat under the radar or simply made the music sound better.
19. Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers: Live ’87
Drummer: Ricky Wellman
Alongside Keith LeBlanc, Jonathan Moffett and Dennis Chambers, Wellman played some of the scariest single bass drum of the decade, laying down the go-go template that would influence everyone from Trevor Horn to Miles Davis (who headhunted Wellman in late 1987).
18. Nik Kershaw: The Riddle (1984)
Drummer: Charlie Morgan
Another somewhat underrated Brit sessionman, Morgan does exactly what’s right for the songs with a lot of panache. His ghost-note-inflected grooves on ‘City Of Angels’ and ‘Easy’ are treats for the eardrums.
17. Tackhead: Friendly As A Hand Grenade (1989)
Drummer/programming: Keith LeBlanc
Included because of the sheer variety of grooves, both human and machine-generated. Some beats bring to mind the sounds of electro and early hip-hop, but Keith also provides precise, tight, funky grooves on the kit.
16. XTC: English Settlement (1982)
Drummer: Terry Chambers
He was not subtle but the unreconstructed Swindon powerhouse could mix it with the best of ’em when it came to rock. Strongly aided by the dream Lillywhite/Padgham production/engineering team, his cavernous grooves always hit the spot. Currently residing in the ‘where are they now’ file (Or is he? Check out the comments section below… Ed.).
15. Power Tools: Strange Meeting (1987)
Drummer: Ronald Shannon Jackson
Ex-Ornette/Ayler collaborator and serious Buddhist Shannon Jackson cut a swathe through ’80s drumming with his striking solo albums and occasional projects like this frenetic trio alongside Bill Frisell and future Rollins Band bassist Melvin Gibbs. Free jazz with balls and humour. Play LOUD.
14. Roxy Music: Avalon (1982)
Drummer: Andy Newmark
Hard to bet against this masterpiece of tasteful, empathetic song-accompaniment. Even more impressive is the revelation that Newmark was usually the last musician to overdub, replacing a skeletal drum machine part.
13. Nile Rodgers: B Movie Matinee (1985)
Programming: Jimmy Bralower
Much-in-demand NYC programmer Bralower wasn’t every drummer’s cup of tea but he came up with many memorable, catchy beats on Nile’s forgotten second solo album. Even classy ballad ‘Wavelength’ chugs along to what can only be described as an electro groove.
12. Yes: Big Generator (1987)
Drummer: Alan White
Possessing one of the crispest snare sounds of the decade, White played 4/4 rock with lots of surprises – both listener and band alike have to be on their toes – and conversely also made the most complex arrangements sound completely natural.
11. Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982)
Drummer: Sly Dunbar
Sly came up with not one but two classic, much-imitated beats on this album (‘My Jamaican Guy’, ‘Nipple To The Bottle’) and also proved he could play rock with the best of them. Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan were definitely listening.
10. Mark King: Influences (1984)
We knew he’d started his musical life as a drummer but finally hearing the results of his misspent youth was well worth the wait. He gives his heroes Billy Cobham and Lenny White a serious run for their money on this varied collection, from Level-style funk to Latin-tinged jazz/rock.
9. King Crimson: Discipline (1981)
Drummer: Bill Bruford
Impossible to leave out. Aided by Robert Fripp’s ‘rules’, the Surrey sticksman redefined rock drumming for the new decade, adding unusual timbres and taking the emphasis off the hi-hat. He also delivered one of the great over-the-top performances on ‘Indiscipline’.
8. Weather Report: Sportin’ Life (1985)
Drummer: Omar Hakim
The fusion supergroup’s penultimate studio album is also one of their best, and Omar is a big reason why. His touch on the hi-hats and ride cymbal is instantly recognisable, and he swings hard on the inspired cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’.
7. Stewart Copeland: Rumble Fish (1983)
Not for nothing was the ex-Police man calling himself The Rhythmatist around this time: he hits anything and everything (xylophone, drum kit, marimba, piano, typewriter) to create a colourful, unique soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s black-and-white curio.
6. Sadao Watanabe: Maisha (1985)
Drummers: Harvey Mason, John Robinson
A superior example of big-budget ‘smooth jazz’ before it became a cliché, Mason and Robinson split the drum duties and perfectly compliment each other. The latter particularly lets his hair down a bit more than usual, particularly on ‘Paysages’.
5. Simple Minds: Sparkle In The Rain (1984)
Drummer: Mel Gaynor
Slinky, powerful grooves from South London’s answer to Omar Hakim. He has the walls of Shepherds Bush’s Townhouse studios shaking with his uber-beats on ‘Up On The Catwalk’, ‘Waterfront’ and ‘C Moon Cry Like A Baby’.
4. Level 42: A Physical Presence (1985)
Drummer: Phil Gould
An exciting live performance from one of the great British drummers. His top-of-the-beat feel and crisp sound suggest a mix of Billy Cobham and Bill Bruford, and he could also lay down explosive multi-tom fills to match both of them.
3. Chick Corea Elektric Band: Eye Of The Beholder (1988)
Drummer: Dave Weckl
Love or hate Corea’s Scientology-infused, neo-classical jazz/rock, Weckl’s stellar performance on this album was beyond question. He delivered a gorgeous sound, a total mastery of the drum kit and stunning chops when required.
2. Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989)
Drummer: Terry Bozzio
One of the loudest drummers this writer has ever heard in concert (Hammersmith Odeon, December 1989), Bozzio delivered some of the fastest double-bass playing on record (‘Sling Shot’) and also unique takes on reggae (‘Behind The Veil’) and funk (‘Day In The House’).
1. The Clash: Sandinista! (1980)
Drummer: Topper Headon
The rebel rockers embraced rockabilly, reggae, dub, calypso, punk and even funk on this ambitious triple album, but they wouldn’t have been able to go there without the versatile London sticksman.