Book Review: Rock Stars Stole My Life! – Mark Ellen (2014)

Rock Stars Stole My LifeEarly on in this very breezy look back on his 40 years in writing and broadcasting in the music industry, Mark Ellen laments that he was born too late for The Beatles and too early for punk, Well, judged on what he was born in time for, he ain’t getting any sympathy from me. Continue reading

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S ‘Xpress – Hey Music Lover (Spatial Expansion Mix) (1989)

Hey Music Lover Spatial Expansion MixYou know when you think you are the only one who knows or loves a particular record or band and then all of a sudden you find out someone else feels the same? And that’s sort of a good thing for a while until there’s someone else. And then another person. And another… And all of a sudden it’s not yours any more

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The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (1986)

Received wisdom was that The Queen is Dead is The Smith’s greatest album. It’s a great album. But not their greatest. That would be Strangeways Here We Come. It’s true. Morrissey and Marr agree with me. But I only have that on CD and cassette so it’s excluded (at least for now) from this blog.
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Nevertheless, this is still an “all killer no filler” kind of record. I played this copy the other day when some friends visited, and provided a talking point while the kids ran about the rest of the house. It struck all of us that there just isn’t a duff track on here. Even the one person who didn’t really like The Smiths grudgingly agreed.

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Peter Gabriel – Big Time (1987)

“…I’ve had enough, I’m getting out. To the city, the big big city. I’ll be a big noise, with all the big boys. So much stuff I will own

Peter Gabriel Big Time

12″ single

“What happens to you when you become a little too successful” was Peter Gabriel’s explanation for Big Time. Or, I suppose, a comment on unchecked capitalism, consumerism and greed which is as potent today as it was 26 years ago.

This cartoonish, brash song, always brings to mind ABC’s How to be a Zillionnaire (“I’ve seen the future. I can’t afford it.”). It’s the aural equivalent of the films such as Wall Street, Working Girl, Trading Places, Brewsters Millions and Secret of My Success. I can almost see the braces, filofaxes, shoulder pads and red rimmed specs every time I hear this record.

Alongside Sledgehammer this is the other thumping, high tempo, overtly eighties style production on Peter Gabriel’s hugely successful So and the third single to be taken from the album (the wonderful Don’t Give Up preceded it).

To many ears, Big Time hasn’t dated well but I disagree. I love the sound of the fretless bass, which was achieved by one musician fretting the notes while another hit the strings with drumsticks. Another highlight is the funky whacky-wah guitar (well you describe it then!) which gives it an almost seedy feel. The whole song sounds like a competition between the session musicians to see who can get heard the most. When you look at the list of contributors (Stewart Copeland, Producer Daniel Lanois, Tony Levin, PP Arnold on backing vocals) it’s a hell of contest.

Not to be outdone by Sledghammer, the video for Big Time is another stop motion spectacular with a very similar visual style, albeit far more literal, to its predecessor. It’s fair to say that without Sledgehammer’s MTV (or in my case Chart Show) friendly video, So would never have reached the audience it did.

My copy is (of course) the 12″ version, which has the standard extended mix on side A that is par for the course for the 1980’s, i.e. extend the intro, extend the middle eight, inclusion of the still-a-novelty-somehow n-n-n-n-ninetneen style vocal (“big big big ti-i-i-i-i-me”), etc.

Big Time was followed by two further singles from So. In Your Eyes will be familiar to anyone who has seen Cameron Crowe’s fantastic teen rom-com Say Anything, while the distinctively radio-unfriendly but haunting Red Rain tackled acid rain, nuclear fall-out or weird dreams depending on how you interpret it. Neither were to repeat the success of their predecessors.

Danny Wilson – The Second Summer of Love (1989)

“Acid on the radio, acid on the brain, acid everywhere you go, acid in the rain…”

Danny Wilson Second Summer of Love

Whatever happened to Danny Wilson (I’ll ignore any answers involving the current Sheffield United manager who took Barnsley FC to the Premier League in 1996)?

Named after a Frank Sinatra character and saddled with the label “sophisticated pop” (see also ABC, Pet Shop Boys, etc) Danny Wilson’s short career can be remembered for, well not this record apparently. And I think it’s their best.

The band came to the attention of UK (sophisticated) pop fans after the umpteenth re-release of Mary’s Prayer, a charming song which surprised everybody by troubling the US Billboard Top 30 in 1988. Thanks to that success it became a big hit in the UK, no doubt confusing Smashy & Nicey when Danny Wilson turned out to be three people (Gary Clark, Kit Clark and Ged Grimes) and not a journeyman footballer who’d just won the League Cup with Luton Town (see – I really do my research – they beat Arsenal 3-2).

Second Summer of Love, released the following year and leading their second album (Bebop Moptop), has that Del Amitri/Hothouse Flowers thing going on that was so popular at the time. Plenty of acoustic guitars and mandolin high in the mix, a harmonica in the middle eight. All earthy. Organic even.

And all of which is in stark contrast to the actual Second Summer of Love (copyright NME, Melody Maker, etc, etc), a time marked by the rise of acid house, warehouse raves, beats, bleeps, squeaks and other E-fuelled revelry. Acid on the brain indeed.

I can never quite work out whether Danny Wilson are taking the piss or celebrating the Second Summer of Love with this song. I think it’s possibly the former – pointing out that The first summer of love was clearly just a summer long is perhaps a “they’ll never learn” shrug of shoulders and we’d all be back to normal next year. We were (sort of).

And all those references to acid. Well, there was a fair bit of it about and it’s widely acknowledged there wouldn’t have been the scene without it.

Meanwhile, fellow sophisto-pop (copyright me, just now) band ABC had a different take on the whole thing. Ditching the suits and donning the love beads they embraced it whole heartedly, devoting a whole album to the loved-up vibe with Up. Massive fan as I am of ABC, this era never sat comfortably with me, with Martin Fry coming across as an uncomfortable trendy Dad in the video to One Better World.

Nevertheless, I love this Second Summer of Love. I still play it a lot. It makes me smile. I love the mandolin, which beat REM to the punch by 3 years. And I’m a sucker for a harmonica solo (wait til I find my copy of There Must Be an Angel).

My copy is a limited edition 10″ gatefold sleeve (what is it with me and gatefolds?). It’s limited edition no.1669. I know that because it’s “individually numbered” (written in biro) on the top left hand corner where it looks a like a sticker or pressing should be.

So what did happen to Danny Wilson? They were to release one further album but did not enjoy anywhere near the success, splitting up in 1991 and becoming US based writers-for-hire or playing bass for Simple Minds.