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.

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