Guilty pleasures – favourite pop albums of the 80s: Consolation list

Well, the thing with making lists is that there’s always room for afterthought! While compiling my 5-part list of 16 albums which represented my favourite releases from the 80s, there were a few high-profile artists that I considered and eventually excluded from the list. I did this because I could not pick a single album which had at least 50% of songs that were outstanding. But several of these artists did produce great work in the 80s across a series of 2 or 3 consecutive albums, so I felt that I had to recognize them as well. So here is (I think) the final entry in this series, which is the (poorly named) “consolation list”.

220px-HowardJonesDreamIntoActionHoward Jones – Human’s Lib (1983), Dream Into Action (1985): All four singles released from Howard Jones’ debut album Human’s Lib are outstanding. He is one of the few “British new wave” artists who had memorable lyrics as well as synth riffs. Who hasn’t sung along to that chorus from New Song – “don’t crack up, bend your brain, see both sides, throw off your mental chains!”. And the eerie synth intro and the thought-provoking lyrics of Hide and Seek still give me goose bumps. The mysterious lyrics and the scifi atmospherics (to me, at least) of Pearl in the Shell. What is Love? is catchy although the chorus becomes a bit repetitive for me. Then two years later, he was back with Dream Into Action which featured 4 singles out of which two are my all-time favourite Howard Jones songs. One is Things Can Only Get Better; I love the opening lines of the chorus – “And do you feel scared, (I do), But I won’t stop and falter”. The other is No One is to Blame, a song about unfulfilled desires which has a melancholy beauty not often found in songs of that era; the single version of this song incidentally was re-arranged and re-recorded by Phil Collins. And then of course, there is the cheeky Look Mama which I’m sure a lot of angst-ridden teenagers strongly identified with.

220px-David-bowie-lets-danceDavid Bowie – Let’s Dance (1983): After re-defining rock in the 70’s and arguably creating the basis for the punk rock movement, David Bowie released Let’s Dance in 1983 which contained probably three of his biggest hit singles – Let’s Dance, Modern Love and China Girl. None of the other songs in the album are in the same league and that’s why I didn’t include this album in my original listing. Critics actually considered this album to be a bit of a sellout, commercially and “poppy”, not having the same artistic merit as his seminal 70’s music. But regular folks just loved these three tracks and in my case, it eventually introduced me to the rest of his awesome body of work. The album is produced by the legendary Nile Rodgers and features Stevie Ray Vaughan on the guitar. This fact and David Bowie’s own rock pedigree is the reason I’m kind of conflicted whether this is a rock album that technically should not feature in a pop album list!

Huey_Lewis_and_the_News_-_SportsHuey Lewis and the News – Huey Lewis and the News (1980), Picture This (1982), Sports (1983), Fore! (1986): I can’t really listen to a full album from this group, because the songs start sounding pretty similar. Having said that, their first four albums yielded a wonderful collection of memorable pop-rock love songs, which are perfect for radio airplay and song dedications, ensuring that the group will earn royalties for years to come! Their first big hit was Trouble in Paradise from their self-titled 1980 debut album. Do You Believe in Love from the 1982 album Picture This is a wonderful example of harmony vocals in a chorus. The two songs I really like from their 3rd album Sports are The Heart of Rock and Roll and Heart and Soul; the latter track is now probably my favourite song of theirs and in fact it’s a cover of a little-known 1981 track by another band called The Exiles. In 1985, the group’s globally popularity was further boosted by the hit single The Power of Love, from the Back to the Future soundtrack. I think this song really represents their “aw shucks” all-American sound the best. All this goodwill meant that their 4th album Fore! in 1986 had a bunch of hit singles including two number 1’s, but it was clear that the hooks and riffs were starting to get pretty repetitive, especially songs like Hip to be Square and Forest For the Trees, which are great, but leave you with that nagging feeling that they sound like some other Huey Lewis song that you’ve heard before!

220px-Phil_Collins_-_No_Jacket_RequiredPhil Collins – Face Value (1981), Hello I Must Be Going! (1982), No Jacket Required (1985), …But Seriously (1989): Wow, I so wanted to feature a Phil Collins album in my original list. Given how much I love his music, whether it be as a solo artist or as a part of Genesis, it seemed inevitable that I would do so. When I started scanning through his albums however, I found that all my favourite songs were actually spread out across a bunch of albums, with No Jacket Required almost making the cut for inclusion into my original list. Eventually, I’ve named his first 4 solo albums here. Starting with his debut album Face Value, the standout track here is In the Air Tonight, mesmerizing with just that simple (almost primal) back beat sitting under the hypnotic vocals before it launches into that amazing drum break at the end; my hair stands on end every time I play it. You Can’t Hurry Love was the big hit from his 2nd solo album Hello, I Must Be Going!. And if that song doesn’t sound like a typical Phil Collins song, it’s because it’s a cover of a Motown soul hit for the Supremes in the 1960’s. Eight out of the ten songs in the album were released as singles but I don’t really care for most of them. Strangely the song I really like is one that didn’t make the cut – It Don’t Matter to Me. In 1984, Phil Collins partnered with Philip Bailey for the global hit Easy Lover. This is the quintessential pop song, driving rhythm guitar and beautifully harmonized vocals. On the back of this success, came Phil Collins’ big one, No Jacket Required. The first single, Sussudio propelled it to superhit status (it went on to win the Album of the Year Grammy in 1988); it’s signature upbeat sound featuring a horn section and drum machine combo, is simplistic but oh so catchy! At the other end of the spectrum is the meditative One More Night, which was the first single from the album. Phil Collins has this way of singing that can make a song sound so poignant. Case in point is Take Me Home with backing vocals from Sting and Peter Gabriel, which was the last of the 4 singles from the album. And finally, at the end of the decade, he had one of the best selling albums in history with …But Seriously; it garnered a lot of buzz for it’s “homeless song” Another Day in Paradise (which won him a Grammy). I didn’t care for most of the songs in this album, except for one which really gets me every time I listen to it – I Wish It Would Rain Down; a good song to listen to when you’re feeling down and want to wallow in it for a bit! Do You Remember? and Father and Son are similarly introspective songs which I like a lot. All are good listening for a mellow evening. The final track in the album is Find a Way to My Heart, is a lovely upbeat song with that signature horn section that brings to an end an amazing decade of hits from one of the most commercially successful pop/rock artists in history.

So there you go! I’ve sneakily added 4 more artists (via 11 albums) to my list. I think that does it. To conclude, here is a list of everything I covered in over 6 posts.

Favourite albums:

  1. Men at Work – Business as Usual (1981)
  2. Leo Sayer – World Radio (1982)
  3. Kid Creole and the Coconuts – Tropical Gangsters (1982)
  4. Joe Jackson – Night and Day (1982)
  5. Duran Duran – Rio (1982)
  6. Duran Duran – Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983)
  7. The Police – Synchronicity (1983)
  8. Genesis – Genesis (1983)
  9. Nik Kershaw – The Riddle (1984)
  10. Peter Gabriel – So (1986)
  11. Madonna – True Blue (1986)
  12. Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)
  13. T’Pau – Bridge of Spies (1987)
  14. George Michael – Faith (1987)
  15. Level 42 – Running in the Family (1987)
  16. R.E.M. – Green (1988)

Favourite artists with great songs across multiple albums:

  • Huey Lewis and the News
    • Huey Lewis and the News (1980)
    • Picture This (1982)
    • Sports (1983)
    • Fore! (1986)
  • Phil Collins
    • Face Value (1981)
    • Hello I Must Be Going! (1982)
    • No Jacket Required (1985)
    • …But Seriously (1989)
  • David Bowie
    • Let’s Dance (1983)
  • Howard Jones
    • Human’s Lib (1983)
    • Dream Into Action (1985)

Guilty pleasures – favourite pop albums of the 80s: Part 5

And so I come to the final part (I think) of my rewind through my favourite albums of the 80s. I’m going to squeeze 4 albums into this post, all of which were released during 1987-88. I can’t seem to find any pure pop albums I really like after this period, as it pretty much coincides with the rising popularity of rock/metal in the popular music charts, as well as R&B and electronic/dance music. And one can hear these musical influences in a couple of the albums featured here.

T’Pau – Bridge of Spies (1987): T’Pau is a character from the original Star Trek series which Carol Decker used as the name for the band that she fronted as lead singer and co-songwriter. Their debut album Bridge of Spies was a huge hit after which the band unfortunately faded away. I think all their creativity got poured into this album, evidenced by the fact that 7 out of the 12 songs were released as singles. The group’s sound is differentiated by Decker’s distinctive high pitched vocals and a tenor sax that features prominently on songs like Friends Like These. The best tracks are the mid-tempo singles Heart and Soul, China in Your Hand and the title track Bridge of Spies (love that chorus, even though it gets a bit awkward when she hits the high note on the last line!). The best song for me is Valentine, the fifth single from the album, an anthemic song built around Decker’s soaring vocals (feels epic when she goes “Hey hey hey, Sunny Valentine”); make sure your speakers can handle the treble when you turn up the volume on to this one! Even an average song like Thank You for Goodbye are elevated by Decker’s vocals. The album went all the way to No.1 on the UK album chart for a week and was eventually certified 4xPlatinum.

George Michael – Faith (1987): I had become big fan of Wham! and their bubblegum pop sound from the early 80s. But I certainly wasn’t prepared for how different George Michael sounded on his debut solo album Faith (this was the same reaction I had when Sting went solo after the break-up of The Police). Incorporating elements of R&B and electronica, the album broke new ground for him and still ranks up there as one of the best pop albums of all time. It won Album of the Year at the 1989 Grammy Awards and more significantly, became the first album by a white solo artist to top the US R&B Charts. With its overt (and covert) mixing of sexuality and religious imagery, George Michael (like Madonna) was making a political statement through his music. I love upbeat tempo and playful lyrics of the title track, FaithFather Figure is, I think, one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded; it has absolutely everything – opening with an oriental synth riff followed by a “smacky” drum beat and throbbing bass line, one already knows that this is going to be an intense song…and then comes Michael’s breathless vocals enhanced with echo effects. Don’t you love it when the vocals skip a beat in the chorus between “I will be the one who loves you” and “‘Til the end of time”. And the variation on the final chorus. I could write a whole section on just this one song. Electronica makes its intro into mainstream pop with the synth riff interspersing the chorus on I Wan’t Your Sex. The electronica/dance sound gets dialed up even more with Monkey. There are two songs with a very different pace – one is Hand to Mouth with its poignant lyrics and minimalist musical arrangement. And the other at the end of the album, is the old-fashioned pop ballad sound of Kissing a Fool, which sounds like it could have been sung by Michael Buble.

Level 42 – Running in the Family (1987): I’ve loved this group ever since I heard their early singles hits The Chinese Way (1982) and The Sun Goes Down (1983). They had a unique sound – Mark King’s bass slapping style, his vocal delivery and just the whole modern jazz infused pop sound of the band. They had a couple of indifferent albums in ’84 and ’85, then it all came together in their 1987 record Running in the Family. Kicking off with the single Lessons in Love (released some months before the album), there were a total of 4 hit singles including the title track, the heartbreak song To Be with You Again and the contemplative/poignant It’s Over. Mark King’s singing style made the lyrics easy to decipher and sing along with. Even the so-called ‘filler songs’ are good enough to play in the background and make for easy listening, although they can be considered a bit formulaic. But I love their formula, so am happy to listen to songs like Sleepwalkers (a bit reggae-infused) and Freedom Someday (opening sounds a bit like The Chinese Way).

R.E.M. – Green (1988): Before they became world famous with Losing My Religion (and that music video directed by Tarsem Singh!) and its 1991 album Out of Time, R.E.M. spent many years as an underground indie band whose popularity was limited to the college circuit in the US. The album they released before Out of Time was Green in 1988, a wake-up call to the world showcasing their immense talent, quirky sound and deep (not always meaningful) lyrics. Virtually every song in this album is worthy of inclusion in a retrospective or “best of” album. Although I love the four bubblegum pop songs which were released as singles, over time my favourite song has become You Are the Everything, a wonderful, meditative love song, which would not have been radio-friendly enough to release as a single. Hairshirt sounds very similar, but somehow doesn’t have the same appeal for me. Another song which usually brings tears to my eyes is World Leader Pretend; this bleak song was not released as a single, but appeared on a compilation album (I think supporting Greanpeace); it is apparently the only song on the album to have its lyrics printed, which means the band felt that the lyrics were worth reading, as it is a political song about hollow/ shallow world leaders. At the other end of the spectrum, you have Stand, a song whose meaningless lyrics exist only as filler for the groovy 60’s-style “bubblegum pop” tune. In the same league are the other three songs released as singles Pop Song 89, Get Up and Orange Crush – all very catchy. For those interested, check out this amazing blog written in 2007/ 08, analyzing a number of R.E.M. songs

Well, that pretty much wraps up my list of favourite 80s albums, but not quite. There are a few consolation prizes to be handed for artists who couldn’t quite get all their best songs into a single album, but did put together 2 consecutive albums that together would account for most of their “best of” compilation. Stay tuned!

Guilty pleasures – favourite pop albums of the 80s: Part 4

I have to take a bit of a step back in this fourth post of favourite albums of the 80s. I was listing them out in chronological order and should have been getting into the 1987-88 period next, but then realized that I had suffered some strange amnesia and missed out talking about 3 albums that I listened to pretty much non-stop during the 80s. Terrible oversight! So, I’ve had to make amends and go back a few years to the early 80s again. Here they are:

Men at Work – Business as Usual (1981): “Travelin’ in a fried out Combi, on a hippy trail head full of zombie” – I had no idea what those words meant, but with Colin Hay’s gravelly voice and that distinctive flute intro, they took Down Under all the way to the top of the UK charts. The Australian pop-rock band became a global sensation and stayed that way for a couple of years, then broke up after a recording just 2 more albums; this debut album would easily feature in any list of all-time great pop albums. As much as I love Down Under, my favourite song is actually the first single released, the cheeky Who Can It Be Now? with that beautiful sax intro and the signature “tat-tat-tat” on the snare drum. Underground also has a great sax intro which then leads to a propulsive bass and drums sound; I love the high harmonics on the vocals at “we’ll be alright in the morning time”. I Can See It in Your Eyes has the entire package – unusually insightful lyrics for a pop song, that cool lead guitar passage in the middle of the song and again, Colin Hay hitting impossibly high notes. Touching the Untouchables is a strangely arranged song that shouldn’t be appealing but somehow is, mainly because of the chorus! And the album ends with awesome Down by the Sea; great guitar work in the intro over a sparse background beat, then Colin Hay’s voice kicks in with lots of echo, and every now and then there’s a short sax or trumpet riff to highlight the end of a verse. Truly, one of the all-time great albums.

Leo Sayer – World Radio (1982): I was captivated by the song Heart (Stop Beating in Time), which was being played on high rotation in mid-1982. I didn’t know until I started writing this post that the song was written by the Bee Gees. I loved it so much that I bought the album and fell in love with most of the songs and his voice. Strangely, I’ve not been a big fan of any of his other songs, except his 1975 hit Moonlighting. Something about the songs in World Radio really clicked with me. Most of them deal with one topic – Paris Dies in the Morning, Have You Ever Been in Love, We’ve Got Ourselves in Love – you get the picture, but in those days I didn’t really care too much about lyrics. What hooked me to songs was the vocal delivery and music arrangement and I loved Sayer’s soulful voice and the poignancy that they evoked on these songs. The last track in the album, World Radio is a beautiful song about humanity and love, with a quiet and measured piano intro that later surges and soars with strings and horns.

Kid Creole and the Coconuts – Tropical Gangsters (1982): I was thinking earlier that the title of these posts, i.e. “Guilty pleasures” was a bit unfair to myself as there is no need at all to feel guilty about loving albums by Michael Jackson, Madonna, Duran Duran and Peter Gabriel! This album – Tropical Gangsters – on the other hand, probably does deserve that epithet. August Darnell, the leader of the group Kid Creole and the Coconuts, didn’t like the album, feeling that the record label had interfered too much and the final product was a “cop-out” compared to his original vision. Many critics didn’t think very highly of it either, when compared to the group’s previous album Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places. But incredibly, it became their best-selling album ever, a bit hit across Europe, UK and Australia. I heard Annie I’m Not Your Daddy when it broke into the UK Top 20 and fell in love with the foot-tapping, calypso-tinged Big Band/R&B sound, as well as the tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“See, if I was in your blood then you wouldn’t be so ugly”). The same sound runs throughout the album (I guess critics weren’t too impressed with the lack of variety); it wasn’t Grammy winning material, but listening to it would just get my feet tapping and put a smile on my face. Stool Pigeon was another big hit, a song about a hoodlum who snitches on his buddies to the FBI and then is put on a witness protection program. I’m a Wonderful Thing Baby was the actually the first single released from the album, a song about an egocentric character (“Take a look at me/ See, I couldn’t look no better/ Girl, I’m at my peak/ And that’s a fact, that’s a fact”). There are other ridiculously titled but catchy tracks such as Loving You Made a Fool Out of Me and No Fish Today. For anyone who wants to give it a try, listen to Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy, which hit #2 on the UK singles chart in late 1982.

Guilty pleasures – favourite pop albums of the 80s: Part 3

Continuing my series of posts about favourite albums from the 80s, I’ve now entered the second half of the decade, with 2 of the 3 albums featured here being amongst the biggest sellers of all time.

Peter Gabriel – So (1986): I had a cassette recording of this album that I played again and again during the late 80’s. It had a who’s who of musicians on various tracks, including L. Shankar on violin, the Police’s Stewart Copeland on drums and Nile Rodgers on guitar. Given how much I loved it, it’s surprising that I never bothered to listen to any other Peter Gabriel album! Sledgehammer was a huge international hit on the back of its eye-popping Claymation music video and along with Big Time (which also had Claymation in its video), these are the two overtly commercial dance-rock songs from the album. The rest of the songs in So are very different from these two, their pacing and mood reflecting the somber political, social and environmental subject matter. Red Rain, which opens the album has a driving percussive intro which always sets my heart racing; Gabriel starts off with the chorus in a low smoky, gravelly voice painting a visual of a grim and desolate landscape; he then switches to a higher register for the verse and switches up further into a falsetto for a couple of phrases. Absolutely beautiful combination of vocals and dense, textured music really packs a punch. At the other end of the spectrum, Don’t Give Up is a poignant duet with Kate Bush (one of my favourite female pop voices) that plays out like a conversation between the two singers; Gabriel expressing his hopelessness while Bush encourages him not to give up; the song is so beautiful, it could be a hymn. That Voice Again opens with a sing-along chorus before abruptly throwing the listener off balance by switching down to verse delivered in a spoken voice. And the album ends with the love song, In Your Eyes with the fantastic combination of pre-chorus (“All my instincts, they return; And the grand façade, so soon will burn…”) and chorus (“…In your eyes, I see the doorway to a thousand churches…”); and Senegalese singer Youssou N’dour fades out the final chorus with magical backing vocals sung in his native language Wolof.

Madonna – True Blue (1986): Madonna’s 3rd album arguably catapulted her to 80s pop superstar status, although her previous album Like a Virgin actually sold more copies. I would argue that Like a Virgin success was on the back of mainly the title track and Material Girl (which became her signature song). But in my view, True Blue has greater depth and range of material; all 5 singles released from the album would easily feature in her lifetime Best Of collection. It’s probably her happiest album produced at a time when she was enjoying her new-found fame and had just got married to Sean Penn. The title track is strongly derivative of the 60’s girl group pop sound (with synthesizers added on). The other song from the album with a similar retro vibe is Jimmy Jimmy, with bubble gum lyrics like “Why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh whyyyyy do fools fall in love with fools like you”. I could imagine Doris Day singing this song! The real change of pace for Madonna on this album is Live to Tell (the first single released), a surprisingly introspective and mellow ballad. Madonna’s vocals go lower than usual and I love how the song goes quiet in the middle, after which she starts the bridge “If I ran away, I’d never have the strength to go very far…”. The other change of pace comes from the Hispanic styled La Isla Bonita. Sounds like a Gloria Estefan song! The song White Heat is named after the 1949 James Cagney film noir classic and starts off with dialogue from the film; I actually don’t like the opening verse/chorus because I feel that the lyrics have been shoehorned into the music structure; the really appealing part of the song is the way Madonna launches into four-line build-up to the chorus “I don’t want to live out your fantasy…”. Open Your Heart similarly has lovely delivery of the one-off line “One is such a lonely number” inserted after the 2nd chorus. These are both examples of how the singer can bring alive a line just through the way it’s sung. Incidentally, Richard Marx and Siedah Garret both sang background vocals on this album; one year later, both had become well known as lead singers.

Michael Jackson – Bad (1987): Even more so than Madonna’s True Blue, little or no explanation needs to be given for why this album should be in my or any pop lover’s hit list. The only discussion may be why Bad why not Thriller. I guess I just feel that the songs in Bad are more sophisticated and hit me at a more visceral level than the Thriller songs. The album has 10 songs (with a 11th song Leave Me Alone subsequently added to the CD issue) and incredibly 9 of them were released as singles. The album kicks off with the title track (which was actually the 2nd single released) and music video directed by none other than Martin Scorsese. In fact, this is my least favourite song from the album. There’s no point in listing each song and saying that I love it! I’ll just say that every time I listen to the love ballad/duet I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (with Siedah Garrett) and Man in the Mirror, I just shake my head and wonder what kind of magic conjured up such incredibly beautiful songs, from the lyrics to the arrangement to the production. Many of the songs were featured in the film Moonwalker which was released a year after the album came out, and watching the movie is an essential part of the album experience, in my view.

Guilty pleasures – favourite pop albums of the 80s: Part 2

Continuing to reminisce about my favourite pop albums of the 80s, here are the next three in chronological order:-

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The Police – Synchronicity (1983): I discovered The Police just as they were breaking up. After four successful albums in as many years, Synchronicity was recorded in an atmosphere of interpersonal tension, which would eventually lead to the breakup of the band. But they sure went out on a high with their most commercially and critically successful album. I can’t remember why, but I really disliked the lead single Every Breath You Take when it first came out and not having heard any of their earlier work, I didn’t understand why the radio DJs were so excited about this band. A couple of months later, when Wrapped Around Your Finger was released, I fell in love with the song and realized there was something special about this band (and of course, Sting’s voice); I loved the mystical lyrics (“You consider me the young apprentice, Caught between the Scylla and Charibdes”). And some months later, when Synchronicity II was released and I listened to the brooding and disturbing lyrics (“Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door, Of a cottage on the shore, Of a dark Scottish lake”) and saw the dystopian music video, I was hooked! My favourite song from the album is the final single, King of Pain; the lyrics spoke to me (“There’s a fossil that’s trapped in a high cliff wall, that’s my soul up there”), as I’m sure it did to many an angsty adolescent, each of whom thought it was his destiny to be the King of Pain! I also really liked Miss Gradenko, both for its humorous take on Cold War paranoia and for the groovy mix of piano and drums. The meditative Tea in the Sahara was a welcome change of pace (indicative of what was to come in Sting’s solo career, I think).

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Genesis – Genesis (1983): The self-titled 12th album from the group kicked off a new phase in the evolution of their music; for most of the 70s, Genesis were known as an avant garde prog rock band and now they were moving to a very commercial pop-rock sound. In what now appears to be a trend, I didn’t really like the lead single Mama – it was too experimental and harsh for me, but subsequently once I developed a taste for hard rock (the song has been covered by Brazilian metal band Angra), this song grew on me and I love listening to it now. My other top songs from the album are 3rd, 4th and 5th singles – Home by the Sea (which has a largely instrumental companion piece called Second Home by the Sea), the controversial Illegal Alien (“But I’ve got a sister who’d be willing to oblige, She will do anything now to help me get to the outside”) and Taking it All Too Hard. I love the simple, catchy pop hooks and Phil Collins’ everyman voice. While the easy-going That’s All is one of the popular songs from this album, it’s not one that I really enjoy listening to (too “happy” to be part of this album, I think). I do like the slow, groovy vibe of the last song in the album, It’s Gonna Get Better. The two ‘filler’ songs I don’t much care for are Just a Job to Do and the repetitive Silver Rainbow.

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Nik Kershaw – The Riddle (1984): The album is best known for the title track and lead single (and good luck trying to figure out what the lyrics mean). I picked up the album because I loved this song and also because I loved Wouldn’t It be Good from his debut album Human Racing. I was obviously looking for songs with a similar sound and was initially disappointed. But after listening to it a few times the songs grew on me and eventually became one of my favourite discs that I can listen to and sing along with any time. Many of the songs have a strong guitar driven sound that combines well with the synthesizer. The wistful lyrics and vocal delivery of Don Quixote (the third and final single from the album) contrast with the driven and propulsive nature of the music. The philosophical and deep lyrics of Wild Horses, refer to a man caught in the corporate rat race – “He got indecision and indigestion, and he wonders where the last ten million went”. Easy has a funky sound underlined by a wonderful synthesizer line that makes it as easy to listen to as the song title implies! Other fun songs are the foot-tapping Wide Boy and the fast-paced You Might, with intriguing lyrics (You might be an oil tycoon, You might be a Cobb cartoon..You might be but you’re not!”). And finally, a real change of pace, but a suitable end to the album is the plaintive and sombre Save the Whale is as relevant today as it was 34 years ago!

Guilty pleasures – favourite pop albums of the 80s: Part 1

For the past few weeks, I’ve been catching up with some of my favourite albums from the 80s. This was a time when I was listening exclusively to pop (specifically songs that featured on the UK Top 20 and later, the US Billboard Top 10), before I was introduced to classic rock and heavy metal. As I listened to these albums, feelings and memories came flooding back, as well as a deeper appreciation of why I liked the songs in these albums. So I decided to list out my top albums from this period, the ones where I liked a significant % of the songs, not just the hit singles. In time, other beloved albums that I hadn’t listened to in some time came bubbling up to the surface of my memory and I finally ended up with about 15 albums, listed in chronological order, which I’ll break it up into 5 separate blog posts. Here’s part 1:-

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Joe Jackson – Night and Day (1982): Joe Jackson’s 5th album is I think still the most commercially successful of his career. The big hit from this album was Steppin’ Out, which I didn’t care for at the time, but over the years has really grown on me and I love the steady, simple rhythm track in the background and the piano hooks in the foreground. The song that I really fell in love with at that time was Breaking Us In Two, a poignant narrative of a relationship that isn’t working. I remember recording this song off the radio onto a cassette tape and listening to it regularly for many years until I couldn’t play the tape any more. It wasn’t until the internet came along that I was able to listen to it again! These two songs and Real Men were the three singles from the album; Real Men is a thought provoking commentary on gender stereotypes which seems more relevant today than ever before. Among the other songs in the album, I love the Latin jazz sound of Cancer with it’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics and the jazz-funk sound of Another World.

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Duran Duran – Rio (1982): If you asked me which my #1 group was from the 80s, I would answer Duran Duran without hesitation. This was their breakout album and the title track can be considered their signature song. For some reason, I thought that this was the lead single from the album. In fact, the first song to be released from the album was My Own Way, which gets almost no airplay today (it has a catchy chorus, but otherwise is pretty repetitive). This was followed in quick succession by Hungry Like the Wolf (with the eminently hummable “do do do” and some strong guitar licks, which made the song sound much ‘harder’ compared to their previous synth-based singles) and Save a Prayer (love that synth riff it begins with) before Rio was released in August 1982. Although not released as a single, New Religion is a track I love, although I have to admit that I zone out during most of the song and it’s really the chorus that I wait for! The rest of the songs are pretty much filler material (although Lonely in Your Nightmare isn’t too bad and I really dig the bass line on Last Chance on the Stairway), but 5 great songs out of 9 is a fantastic strike rate.

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Duran Duran – Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983): When I first heard the opening lines of New Moon on Monday, I thought I was listening to a new single from David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album which had been released earlier in the year; I was so fooled by Simon LeBon’s ‘deep voice’ (which then swung all the way to a falsetto just before the chorus). Compared to Rio, this album had a more grown up sound, more complex arrangements and of course very ambitious movie-type music videos. Every song sounded like it was the soundtrack to an adventure movie and what better way to showcase this than with the epic sound of the lead-off single Union of the Snake. All the big hits from the album, including The Reflex had very mysterious lyrics (and I spent many an hour pondering their meaning with my school mates). Among the ‘non-singles’, I love the super-catchy choruses of Cracks in the Pavement (“Something on my miiiiiind, breaking open doors I’ve sealed up before…”) and I Take the Dice. Crime and Passion experiments with an unconventional song structure (by Duran Duran standards, no catchy hooks) and manages to pull it off. And of course, who can forget the wonderful atmospheric sound in the instrumental Tiger Tiger and the ballad The Seventh Stranger (love the way the synth follows Le Bon’s voice at the end of the second line in the chorus).

And because of Spotify, all these albums are literally at my fingertips today!

Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone” is a “Dallas” for the 21st century

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There’s no doubt that actor turned screenwriter and director, Taylor Sheridan has become one of the most exciting new voices in American cinema in the past 2-3 years, albeit in a very specific niche that he seems to have carved out for himself.

For about 20 years, Sheridan had been a journeyman actor appearing in small parts on American TV shows, punctuated by recurring roles in Veronica Mars (2005-07) and Sons of Anarchy (2008-10). Then suddenly, in his 40s, he decided to find a different form of creative expression and switched to writing.

He wrote the screenplay for the Mexican drug-cartel thriller Sicario, a big hit at Cannes and a sleeper hit at the box office in the Fall of 2015 for acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve. The following year, his brothers-on-the-run story Hell or High Water was directed by David Mackenzie and garnered four Oscar nominations including Best Original Screenplay for Sheridan. One year later, he directed his own script for the murder-investigation thriller Wind River, effectively his directorial debut (although officially he is credited as director for a student film he helped a friend make in 2011). And now in 2018, his screenplay for the sequel to Sicario, called Day of the Soldado, has just hit the big screen filmed by Italian director Stefano Sollima.

All four films are set in contemporary times but have the sparse and lonely feel of the early frontier Western films of John Ford. Wind River also deals with an aspect of American history that most people don’t want to dwell on, the emasculation and slow neglect of Native Americans. In January last year, I wrote about how the traditional Western genre has seen a bit of resurgence in recent years and I included Hell or High Water in that post as an example of a modern Western. It’s clear now that Mr. Sheridan has started to stake out a sub-genre that can be called the modern or neo-Western as his personal playground. His latest project, a TV series called Yellowstone that has just launched on the small Paramount network, further strengthens his credentials in this field.

Think of Yellowstone as a modern-day Dallas, the story of the super-wealthy but dysfunctional Ewing family that created so many ‘water-cooler moments’ in the late 70’s and early 80’s with its weekly servings of feuding, family politics and back-stabbing. Sheridan has taken a similar premise and placed it in a sprawling ranch in Montana, run with an iron hand by family patriarch John Dutton. The character is played appropriately by Kevin Costner, who has made his own name in the past as a ‘Western revivalist’ filmmaker and now makes his first proper foray into TV. As the world changes around him, John Dutton ruthlessly fights to maintain the status quo, to protect his power and everything that he has built up over the decades on his Yellowstone ranch. As the largest landowner in Montana, he is in constant conflict with Native American activists who live on the adjacent reservation, ambitious land developers who want a piece of his land and politicians who just want whatever works for them.

Dutton has four grown-up children; Lee (Dave Annable) is the simple-living oldest son, who has chosen to work on the ranch with his father; Beth (British actress Kelly Reilly) is a cut-throat, ambitious (and slightly psychotic) banker, who is as ruthless as her father; Jamie (Wes Bentley) is a corporate lawyer who steps in whenever the ranch requires his legal skills to fight off external threats; Kayce (Luke Grimes) is the youngest sibling, an ex-Navy SEAL who has married a Native American girl and moved with her into the reservation, thereby putting himself in potential conflict with his father. Also, in the mix is Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), the loyal ranch foreman who does all the dirty work for John Dutton. For those familiar with Dallas, it’s easy to pigeonhole the Dutton family into the standard personality types.

On the Native American Brocken Rock Reservation, there are a couple of familiar faces who acted in Sheridan’s Wind River – Kelsey Asbille plays Monica, who is married to Kayce Dutton, and Gil Birmingham plays the Chief of the reservation, Thomas Rainwater, a man who wants to establish his own power equation in this region.

When compared with Sheridan’s big screen work, which has featured interesting characters and unusual situations, Yellowstone does not live up to the same standards. From what I’ve seen in the first two episodes, it comes across as a standard big budget soap opera with stereotypical characters and a predictable over-arching plot. While I can watch Wind River and Sicario again and again (and I have), Yellowstone will fall, I think, into the ‘watch-enjoy-and-forget’ category of TV shows. Nevertheless, with charismatic and heavyweight actors on board, I know I will be hooked on to this show for mindless entertainment, while I will continue to turn to Sheridan’s big screen work for the really stimulating stuff.