#541 ‘(How To Be A) Millionaire’ by ABC (4 June)

Album: single, 1984; How To Be A… Zillionaire!, 1985

 

Justification: Dammit, I can’t get this out of my head at the moment.

Zillionaire was ABC’s third and least successful album, although it did give them a US hit with ‘Stay With Me’. That was basically the only other song on this album – seriously, it’s a remarkably slapdash disc – which was made more or less entirely by singer Martin Fry and keyboardist Mark White after the original line up of the band disintegrated.

And look, the artwork's pretty amazingly garish too.

And look, the artwork’s pretty brilliantly garish too.

Ostensibly there were two other members of ABC at this point: US photographer David Yarritu and Eden (aka UK style journalist Fiona Scott-Morgan). They were both musicians, but that wasn’t why they were there: they were recruited purely because they looked hip and stylish, especially in the cartoon form that was to be the look of this project. Indeed, there’s some doubt as to whether either actually appeared on the album at all: most if not all of the album was completed before they were on the payroll and their supposed vocal appearances on ‘A to Z’ sound to me suspiciously like Fry’s voice sped up.

Their involvement was also to be very short-lived since Fry was diagnosed with Hodgins’ disease while on the promotional trail for this album, forcing the band into hiatus while he underwent treatment before he and White returned with Alphabet City two years later.

ABC still exist, sort of: it’s now just Fry and occasionally original drummer David Palmer doing the nostalgia circuit, with White having apparently left the music biz to concentrate on reiki: the well-known science of pretending to have magical energy healing powers.

I’m not even entirely sure this album was released in Australia – I certainly looked for it at the time without success, which might say more about the stocking priorities of suburban Adelaide record stores in 1985 than it does about Mercury’s hopes for the disc locally – and only stumbled across it in a secondhand place down the road a few months ago.

I was near-pathetically excited since I’d built it up in my head as being Their Lost Masterpiece rather than, as it turned out, ABC’s Learning-To-Use-A Fairlight Album For Which They Forgot To Write Any Proper Songs.

It’s frustrating that …Zillionaire is so patchy because its lead single single is utterly glorious: Fry and White’s over-the-top 80s production perfectly suits the song’s simultaneous celebration of and disgust in the artificiality of wealth, and Fry’s wryly distracted delivery works beautifully on couplets like ‘Larger than life and twice as ugly / If we have to live there, you’ll have to drug me”.

And let’s face it: living in Sydney and being in the demographic that obsesses over whether or not ever owning a house is even remotely possible, the opening and closing line “I’ve seen the future / I can’t afford it” does have a certain frustrating resonance.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2012: Goth went briefly mainstream with Siouxsie & the Banshees’ ‘Kiss them for Me’.

AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…

536. Arcadia: Election Day (7 March)

537. Ride: Like A Daydream (23 May)

538. Shivaree: Goodnight Moon (15 Aug)

539. France Gall: Laisse Tomber les Filles (22 Aug)

540. The Apples in Stereo: Energy (24 Oct)

#516 ‘Hand in Glove’ by Sandie Shaw & the Smiths (2 Oct)

Album: single, 1984; Hello Angel, 1988

Justification: Well, as the annual Smiths reunion rumours fly about the internet…

Title on the FRONT of the sleeve? I’m amazed Morrissey allowed it.

How many bands have covered their own song? It’s surprisingly few, although you’ll get the odd band like Buzzcocks deciding that they do their old material better these days and doing a completely-necessary remake without the stuff that made you love them, or Def Leppard declaring they’re re-recording their first few albums because they can’t be arsed negotiating with their former record company. But generally speaking bands know that doing their old material again is a good way of scaring off existing fans while giving newcomers no reason to come on board.

So, with that in mind, I wonder whether this single actually seduced anyone not already on board with the Smiths?

Morrissey had been vocal about his adoration for the sixties pop star in interviews, and one can’t help but suspect that she saw in him a late-career lifeline rather than a kindred spirit (look, I love ‘Puppet on a String’ as much as any fan of Eurovision kitsch, but it takes a very determined effort to make it look like a powerful artistic statement rather than chart fluff from an ambitious starlet). He was to subsequently write what was hoped to be her comeback single, ‘Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness’ with Stephen Street during the sessions for what became Viva Hate, which is a pretty superb song.

And while I still prefer the original, she sure does look like she’s enjoying herself up there.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: None, so let’s go with the entry from 30 Sept 2010: Sleeper’s Britpoppy classic ‘Sale of the Century’.

AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…

511. Kate Bush: Cloudbusting (4 Sep)

512. Sounds Like Sunset: Each Time You Smile (5 Sep)

513. Marcy Playground: Comin’ Up From Behind (10 Sep)

514. Cibo Matto: Sugar Water (14 Sep)

515: Jonathan Richman: Since She Started To Ride (24 Sep)

#407 ‘One Night in Bangkok’ by Murray Head (9 Jan)

Album: Chess, 1984

Justification: Look, I like showtunes. I was forced into too many Gilbert & Sullivan plays in primary schools and dammit, that stuff takes hold early. And the thing about songs from musicals is that the lyrics are generally gloriously specific and playful, since they have to a) progress the plot and b) be sung night after hellish night. So if you’re a person that likes lyrics, songs from musicals are always going to stick a little more easily in the ear than you’d necessarily like. Which is just one of the reasons why I own this single, and also why I’ll burst into ‘You Gotta Have a Gimmick’ from Gypsy at the drop of a hat.

Anyway: Chess was a musical written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA about the cut’n’thrust world of, um, international chess. The album came first, acting as a proof-of-concept, and this single topped the charts in several countries including Australia. When it was eventually staged 18 months later Chess did very well in the UK, playing for over three years in the West End, before dying a swift and unmourned death on Broadway.

This song was sung by the character of a former chess grandmaster, come to Bangkok to commentate on the action in a world championship game, and the lyrics are fucking genius. I defy anyone, let alone someone for whom English is their third or fourth language, to come up with a better lyrical non-sequiter than “the crème de la crème of the chess world in a / Show with everything but Yul Brynner.” Although, now I think about it, it’s probably referring to Yul as the King of Siam in The King and I, which means it’s not actually a non sequiter but a brilliant intertextual reference to another musical. Jesus, lads, you’re even better than I thought. And that’s not even mentioning “T-girls, warm and sweet / Some are set up in the Somerset Maugham suite.” Genius.

The singer was Murray Head in the character of Frederick “Freddie” Trumper – who went on to play Freddie in the original London run of the musical. There are two interesting things about Head for lovers of pop culture:

1. A still of him in the 1966 film The Family Way is the cover of the Smiths compilation Stop Me, and
2. He’s the elder brother of Anthony Head, as in Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So there you go. Hell of a song.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED IN 2011: Weekend, so it’s off to the 1984 archives with you.

AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…

402. The Damned: Smash It Up (19 Dec)

403. Echo & the Bunnymen: Bring on the Dancing Horses (21 Dec) 

404. Not From There: Frisco Disco (23 Dec)

405. The Flamin’ Groovies: Shake Some Action (4 Jan)

406. Blur: Popscene (6 Jan) 

#339 ‘Taking the Town’ by Icehouse (8 Sep)

Album: Sidewalk, 1984

Justification: Yeah, I know we had Icehouse not all that long ago, but this’ll be the last of theirs for a while, honest. It’s partially because I recently interviewed Iva Davies and partially because there’s a new best of out that is currently taking up a lot of my iPhone playlists, but mainly because I adore this song: the chanted chorus, the transparent Bowie-isms, the pouting expression of bassist-turned-comedian Guy Pratt (who I opened for, incidentally – my first and to date only comedy support gig), and partially because it’s a masterclass in how to make a video in the 80s: “OK crowd, synchronise your adoration – and cue the multicoloured blonde mummies on motorcycles! I’m just popping off to the toilet for a second – anyone have a credit card I can borrow?”

It’s from Sidewalk, the album that marked the transition point between Davies-and-computers and Icehouse-as-a-rock-band, and for a long time I loved the song without being entirely aware of who it was. Ah, the innocence of the pre-Internet years…

It’s also one of the last Icehouse clips before Davies became more mullet than man.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME LAST YEAR: In a blazing bit of synchronicity, it’s Gary Numan and ‘Cars’! Wow, this is like an 80s hits mixtape!

#313 ‘Eternally Yours’ by Laughing Clowns (3 Aug)

Album: Eternally Yours EP, 1984

Justification: You can’t accuse Ed Kuepper of not making the most of a title. Eternally Yours was the name of the second Saints album, the band of which Kuepper had been a founding member and which he had left in 1979, but after he formed the more jazz-influenced Laughing Clowns the name was reactivated for this mighty 1984 disc which suggested that Ed’s love of chugging rock and free-jazz might be reconciled in the one band. Instead the band broke up and Ed began his mighty solo career (with a Saints reconciliation, a Clowns reformation and eventually a berth on the Bad Seeds some time down the track).

This was, in my opinion, the Clowns’ first best single and second best song, as demonstrated when Kuepper kinda-sorta reunited the Clowns in the early 90s: an attempt at re-recording some of the old songs ground to a halt, with the few completed tracks going on Kuepper’s 1993 odds-and-sods collection The Butterfly Net. Among them is the far superior, pounding, confident re-recording of the Clowns’ shaky ‘Ghost of an Ideal Wife’ and, had that new version been a proper single, it would be right here instead.

Anyway: seeing the Clowns play ‘Eternally Yours’ at Cockatoo Island during the ill-starred All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in early 2009 was a dream come true, not least because a couple of hours later the Saints were playing ‘Know Your Product’. Oh, friends, that was one glorious day.

THIS TIME IN 2010: Still travelling back from Woodfordia – probably somewhere near Port Macquarie by now – so here’s the 1984 archive.

#296 ‘Out of Touch’ by Hall & Oates (6 July)

Album: Big Bam Boom, 1984

Justification: Oh, how I loved this song when I was a kid, and I’m sure that both Daryl Hall and John Oates would be delighted by this fact. “Oh great, Andrew,” they’d probably say, “you enjoyed celebrating our final #1, the end of our tenure as a commercial force, the abandonment of our definitive white-boy soul that had served us so well in favour of this mess of sequencers and Fairlights, where we desperately grasped at contemporary sounds in a frantic attempt to remain relevant instead of trusting in our rich knowledge of soul and doo-wop to create smooth, effortless pop. We fucking hired Arthur Baker to show us what the young people were calling dance music, Andrew, for fuck’s sake. And we called the disc ‘Big Bam Boom’? What the fuck? But hey, we’re delighted that the 12-year-old-you thought that the clattering sound of our proud edifice crumbling into dust was ‘heaps cool’. You tasteless little shit.”

That’s what I imagine they’d say, anyway.

THIS TIME IN 2010: Carter USM unleashed their classic ‘The Only Living Boy In New Cross’.

#274 ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat (31 May)

Album: The Age of Consent, 1984

Justification: Well, for one thing that keyboard riff has become one of the most ripped-off pieces of electronic music on the damn planet – on the rare occasion that I’m listening to a trance track there’s about a one-in-three chance that a variation on it will pop up. For another thing, it’s an amazing debut single for any band. It also threw all the publicly-closeted pop stars of the era into sharp relief: while Boy George and Pete Burns and Marilyn were all being very flamboyantly drag queeny and yet publicly coy about their sexuality, these three utterly regular-looking guys with synths appeared and made their open homosexuality the central tenant of their music (this single was followed by the massive dancefloor hit ‘Why?’, which addressed violence against gays) and, in doing so, made being gay seem completely normal. Genius.

It was also an amazingly successful single, hitting #3 in the UK and going top ten in Australia. The album was also a huge success everywhere but the US (where, incidentally, their nervous record company removed all the pro-gay information in the sleeve, such as the different ages of consent for male-to-male action and gay helpline details. Presumably because, you know, Jesus).

This line-up didn’t last long: singer Jimmy Somerville quit the following year to form The Communards with Richard Coles (who is, oddly enough, now a vicar with the Church of England) and the remaining duo of Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek worked with other vocalists for a few years (most notably John Foster for the awesome ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’), making records on and off until officially disbanding in 2007. And while I realise that things like “having loving parents who weren’t insane bigots” had a bit more to do with the person I became than pop music did, this was a genuinely significant song for me. As a primary school age kid mainly seeing the world through the filter of Smash Hits at that time, Bronski Beat made me aware that gay people were, y’know, regular folks rather than some weird, gender-blending Other (again, Boy George, Pete Burns, Marilyn…). Which was good, because I also saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show around this time, and it scared the hell out of me.

THIS TIME IN 2010: The Church were enjoying their first hit with ‘The Unguarded Moment’.

#263 ‘Big in Japan’ by Alphaville (16 May)

Album: Forever Young, 1984

Justification: With my post-Eurovision hangover ready to kick into gear, what better time could there be to celebrate 80s European electro?

As with Falco, and almost all German bands, Alphaville weren’t German at all: they’re from Austria and are, somewhat amazingly, still active (with long periods of not doing very much), and this was their “other” hit. Their signature tune is ‘Forever Young’ – you know, the one that Youth Group did a cover of which is effectively just whacking lyrics over Pachabel’s Canon? That one.

This was their debut single and I, having just discovered the existence of sequencers, thought this song was The Future. That said, I’m pretty sure I’d have thought differently had I seen the video before this morning.

For at least a decade I used to tell people that this was the first single I ever bought when it was actually the third. For the record, and in the spirit of unburdening among friends, I shall confess that this was actually beaten by ‘Someone’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell and my true debut 7” purchase: ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy’ by Deniese Williams, from the Footloose soundtrack. Yeah, how I turned out heterosexual a mystery to me too.

Fun fact: the video was directed by Dieter Meier from Yello.

THIS TIME IN 2010: Weekend. So again, why not dance merrily through the archive for 1984?

#225 ‘When Love Breaks Down’ by Prefab Sprout (8 Mar)

Album: single 1984, Steve McQueen 1985

Justification: Paddy McAloon was often lumped in with the rest of the early 80s literate singer-songwriter types – Morrissey, Lloyd Cole, Edwyn Collins, Andy Partridge and so on – but his band never quite rose to the heights of his contemporaries. Part of it was because his band wouldn’t tour (which, to be fair, was also true of XTC after Partridge developing crippling stage fright), and part of it was the group’s godawful name which, for a while, McAloon attempted to pass off as him having misheard a line in the classic Nancy & Lee/Johnny & June Cash duet ‘Jackson’ (“we got married in a fever, hotter than a peppered sprout”) before admitting that he was just whacking words together.

In any case, this was the first hint that maybe they could have been properly big: it went without notice on initial release, but when reissued in 1985 after Steve McQueen became the cool album for critics and students (and was produced by Thomas Dolby, incidentally). It gave the band their first top 30 single, and more recently it turned up on the Vice City radio channel in the GTA IV spinoff ‘The Ballad of Gay Tony’, which contains a surprising number of the songs in this list.

Prefab Sprout still technically exist, reduced to Paddy and his brother Martin, though anyone hoping for a tour is out of luck: Paddy’s sight and hearing are both degenerating (thanks to a retinal disease and Meniere’s disease, respectively), although – somewhat oddly – he’s reported to be helping recreate a lost musical instrument: a version of the recently-reconstructed Lituus (a two metre long horn, described as having “a limited tonal range” and last composed for by Bach) which he hopes will have the lowest frequency of any human instrument. So, you know, keeping busy then.

Oh, and this wasn’t the band’s biggest hit: that honour went to ‘The King of Rock’n’Roll’, which reached #7 in 1988 and was key to a particularly awesome episode of Spaced in which Daisy kept playing it during a party.

#175 ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’ by Dead or Alive (2 Dec)

Album: single, 1984; Youthquake, 1985

Justification: Oh Pete Burns, you’re an enigma. On the one hand, you’ve enjoyed a late-career renaissance in the UK due to your car-crash watchability on Celebrity Big Brother which led to a new life as a professional fame whore smearing your freakish, catlike, surgically-altered face across reality show after reality show. And yet you were (admittedly briefly) good showbiz pals with Morrissey in the mid-80s and emerged from the same Liverpool scene which spawned Echo & The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, The Mighty Wah! and OMD (in fact, Burns’ first proper band was the shortlived Mystery Girls which also featured future Teardrop Julian Cope and Pete “Wah!” Wylie). Burns aside, Dead or Alive had more influence on music than you’d think: it was the first serious project for Wayne Hussey prior to his joining the Sisters of Mercy and forming the Mission, and Tim Lever and Mike Percy have become producers and remixers for the likes of Robbie Williams and S Club 7. That’s a genuinely impressive pedigree for any group.

However, the most important thing that the band ever did was this enduring hi-energy classic, written by the band but recorded by the nascent superstar production team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman. It was their first number one single for the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Stock Aitken Waterman team, and therefore can be seen as directly responsible for what was to come through the rest of the 80s. Without the success of ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’ there would have been no Kylie Minogue, no Rick Astley, no Mel & Kim, and only the first few singles for Bananarama. Look into your heart, dear reader, and judge for yourself whether that would have been a bargain worth making.