#535 ‘Getting Away With It’ by Electronic (20 Dec)

Album: single, 1989; Electronic (reissue), 1994

Justification: I still remember the first time I heard this – the dream supergroup of Johnny Marr from the Smiths, Bernard Sumner from New Order, with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys (and, as it turned out, drums by David Palmer of ABC and strings arranged by the Art of Noise’s breakthrough genius Anne Dudley). I mean, it was basically like a bunch of my record collection had melted together.

And yes, I could absolutely go a nice whiskey right now.

And yes, I could absolutely go a nice whiskey right now.

It’s also the best thing they did. Most of the first album’s pretty great, but the drop off is abysmal after that (1994’s Raise the Pressure is notable for Sumner writing the lyrics while dosing himself on Prozac, which made them even more godawful than usual) – and I didn’t know this at the time, but the lyrics to ‘Getting Away With It’ were Tennant and Sumner taking the piss out of Marr by writing as Morrissey-like stanzas as they could (“I’m walking in the rain just to get wet on purpose”, ‘However I look it’s clear to see / I love you more than you love me” – genius!).

The initial band didn’t last long – proper duties interfered, with Marr joining The The and Sumner with New Order, and Tennant never returned after the first album. They did two more discs, but all the important stuff’s on the first one.

I kinda wish this was the only thing they did. Then they would have been perfect.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: The weird, sad story of Phil Judd and the coulda-been-huge Schnell Fenster, via their magnificent ‘Whisper’.

AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…

530. The Lightning Seeds: Ready or Not (11 July)

531. The Shangri-Las: Give Him A Great Big Kiss (23 Aug)

532. Guided by Voices: Teenage FBI (27 Aug)

533. The Cowboy Junkies: Sweet Jane (1 Nov)

534. Belle & Sebastian: Sleep the Clock Around (8 Nov)

 

 

#518 ‘Hey Ladies’ by the Beastie Boys (26 Oct)

Album: Paul’s Boutique, 1989

Justification: Yes, it’s been a while. Look, I’ve been busy.

What, Beastie Boys? Got a problem with Lee’s Sportswear?

One of the reasons I’ve been so busy was what reminded me of this song, actually: it was the Time Out Sydney Bar Awards last Sunday and I was roped into DJing for the entire freakin’ day. Which was amazingly fun, since it meant I could basically play whatever I liked since it was just good choons in the background rather than keeping people on the dancefloor (‘No Parachute’ by April March went down a freakin’ treat, though, as did the mighty ‘Mary Joanna’ by the Stairs, of course, because it’s A PERFECT SONG).

This, however, was the track where people started dancing, and that’s because it’s unstoppable. And keep in mind that this came a few scant years after the Beastie Boys released the jock-rap bollocks of Ill Communication: the jump between albums one and two is downright extraordinary. It helps that they had the Dust Brothers on board, who were one of the first production teams to realise the creative possibilities of sampling (which others were also doing of course, such as Pop Will Eat Itself), building layered tracks over which the Beasties could drop bratty rhymes. And they get extra points for the use of the “she thinks SHE’S the passionate one!” sample from the Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ – which remained the most unexpected sample I’d ever heard until Kanye dropped some King Crimson in ‘Power’. That floored me.

But this, friends, is an amazing song – and is never the wrong thing to play if you want to get the place moving. MCA, you’re missed.

Amazingly sweet video too.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: The second coming of Suede was starting to pall with ‘Trash’.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: The last truly magnificent Pixies single: the underrated and genius ‘Alex Eiffel’.

AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…

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)

516: Sandie Shaw & the Smiths: Hand in Glove (2 Oct)

517. The Fauves: Self Abuser (8 Oct)

#418 ‘Eardrum Buzz’ by Wire (27 Jan)

Album: It’s Beginning To and Back Again, 1989

Justification: This was Wire’s biggest hit, a smash single that took them all the way to… um, #68 on the UK singles charts.

Wire’s legacy really rests on their first three albums: 1977’s Pink Flag and their two 1979 albums, Chairs Missing and 154. And while I’d hardly be able to call myself a music journalist if I didn’t say something about how those three albums charted the band’s extraordinary development from capable and wry punk act to to one of the most relentlessly inventive UK acts of the time, celebrating the freedom that punk granted without being constricted by its tropes and fashions, I’ve latterly developed a great fondness for this album.

It was their sorta-kinda comeback after five years of solo projects and intra-band enmity, and this song (and video) was pretty much their one sop to the record company to at least be seen to pretend to try to make a proper single that radio could play. The version on the album is damn near unlistenable, but this one is cleaned up, sped up and gated-snare-enhanced. And it’s also great. There’s something weird and wrong and brilliant about bands that are clearly too peculiar to be chart acts still being savvy enough to tart their stuff up to a point where you don’t realise what an odd song you’re listening to until well after the second chorus, which is one of the reasons why XTC singles collections are so damn much fun.

Anyway: after this, the band never tried again and got increasingly industrial. I loved their last album, Red Barked Tree, and then seeing them live at Sydney Festival (for which I interviewed Colin Newman, incidentally) I cooled on them considerably. I was expecting them to be indulgent, just maybe not quite that indulgent.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: There wasn’t one – clearly I was on a post-Australia Day high and was too busy being fiercely patriotic, or sleeping off an hangover, but on the 28th there was T-Rex’s magnificent ‘Telegram Sam’. So let’s go with that.

AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…

413. Garbage: Queer (19 Jan)

414. PJ Harvey: A Perfect Day Elise (20 Jan)

415. Carter USM: After the Watershed (Early Learning the Hard Way)

416. De La Soul: Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey) (24 Jan)

417. Grant McLennan: Easy Come, Easy Go (25 Jan)

#397 ‘No Myth’ by Michael Penn (7 Dec)

Album: March, 1989

Justification: This was Penn’s biggest success, his debut single, and the albatross he was to have around his neck for the rest of his life. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song – it’s not – but that he would go on to make incredible music that no-one bought while this still gets the odd spin on daytime radio. His Mr Hollywood Jr, 1947 album is one of my favourites, due largely to one bit of one song: the lilting, yearning ‘You Know How’ contains the genius couplet “He lavished praise upon you, and fetched umbrella drinks / When you think he likes you, then you like the way he thinks.” Amazing.

Anyway, this is reason two of the three reasons you’ve ever heard of him. Reason three is that he’s the husband of similarly-amazing singer/songwriter Aimee Mann; reason one is that he’s the brother of Sean and the late Chris Penn.

SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Franz Ferdinand were making their presence felt with ‘Take Me Out’.

AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…

392. Jona Lewie: You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties (30 Nov)

393. Sugar: If I Can’t Change Your Mind (1 Dec) 

394. The Sugarcubes: Hit (2 Dec)

395. Soft Cell: Sex Dwarf (5 Dec)

396. Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders: Cold Feet (6 Dec)

#234 ‘Personal Jesus’ by Depeche Mode (23 Mar)

Album: single 1989, Violator 1990

Justification: Violator is not my favourite Depeche Mode album, but I’d argue that it’s probably the most realised one. Martin Gore was writing some of his best material, the addition of guitar and live drums (played by Gore and Alan Wilder, respectively) had opened up the band’s sound and Dave Gahan’s voice was right at that sweet spot between pop innocence and rock’n’roll experience (and, on a more practical point, his addictions were yet to get to a tearing-the-band-apart level). ‘Personal Jesus’ was the first single and followed in Gore’s obsession with/disgust about religion that had already inspired songs like ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ and was later to span over the entire Songs of Faith and Devotion album.

The song was also later covered – to wonderful effect – by Johnny Cash.

The wheels started to fall off on the tour for this album, with Gahan getting more and more into the exciting world of heroin, Wilder getting antsy (and leaving one album later), Gore’s friendship with Gahan falling to bits and Andy Fletcher getting a bit bored with the whole music thing and becoming far more interested in management and business – but this was the band at their imperial peak. And I still have this 7″ in a box somewhere – but really, this is 22 years old? Really?

THIS TIME IN 2010: Guided by Voices and the glorious ‘Motor Away’.

#223 ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ by Camper Van Beethoven (4 Mar)

Album: Key Lime Pie, 1989

Justification: I’m slightly hamstrung by the paucity of Camper Van Beethoven videos that exist, much less are accessible, but this – their breakthrough cover of Status Quo’s ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’, released just in time for them to split up – is still pretty damn good. In fact, the whole parent album’s great (‘Jack Ruby’, ‘(I Was Born In A Laundromat’ and ‘Borderline’ are all much loved in the APS brain, and ‘When I Win The Lottery’ is, in my humble opinion, the best song they ever created), and it gives me a chance to mention that David Lowery’s new solo album is also brilliant, which I went on about in this review.

A few years prior to Key Lime Pie CVB were less streamlined and more of a scrappy Californian indie country-punk band with a penchant for peppering their albums with Middle-Eastern-sounding instrumentals amid jokey songs like ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’ and ‘Where The Hell Is Bill?’, but by the time of 1988’s Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart they were signed with Virgin and had traded the wacky for a solid dose of black humour and well-developed songwriting.

After the band split Lowery found some degree of alt.rock success with Cracker (‘Low’ was a minor hit, and ‘Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)’ also got some play) before entering academia. CVB reunited a few years ago for the surprisingly excellent New Roman Times and are still fitfully active.

#194 ‘Sit Down’ by James (14 Jan)

Album: single, 1989; Gold Mother (reissue) 1991

Justification: Well, who doesn’t like sitting down? And who doesn’t have a soft spot in their heart for this song and, by extension, James? That jaunty rhythm, that inclusive lyric, the sheer joy in Tim Booth’s delivery, the wonderful period before it got appropriated as a soccer chant – it couldn’t even be destroyed by terrible covers (Voice of the Beehive, I’m looking at you) and should have you going “Oh, I love this! I haven’t listened to James in ages – man, ‘Laid’ is a great song too. And so’s ‘Sometimes’! And ‘She’s A Star’! Whoa!” And you are right.

Odd, then, that it only got to number 77 in the UK charts on its first release. It did get to #2 with its 1991 re-make, and then had a horrible Apollo 440 remix – sorry, that’s a tautology, I just mean “an Apollo 44 remix” – in 1998. Fun fact #1: it’s apparently about Patti Smith and Doris Lessing, although damned if I can see any specific references. Fun fact #2: the band had to sell the rights to the song to Mercury Records when they were trying to get out of their contract.

This video is from the original release, which cuts the song down from its seven-plus minutes by pulling a very ”Heroes”-style edit which those in the music production game call “cutting the first verse out”. And the lyrics are a bit difference too. I guess what I’m saying is that the 1991 version is better.

#189 ‘Onion Skin’ by Boom Crash Opera (7 Jan)

Album: These Here Are Crazy Times!, 1989

Justification: I’m not really sure why Boom Crash Opera have such a special place in my heart. They were unashamedly careerist – something which made me uncomfortable even in my early teens, before the notion of “sell-out” was even clearly formed in my head – and they were also the first Australian band where I actually knew people who’d slept with them (which, like selling-out, wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow from me now). I think it might be that they were one of the few bands that my eldest sisters and I could agree upon: our blended family was coming together in the late 80s and we were just getting to the age where gigs were becoming a regular part of our lives, so the shows that we could attend together were pretty rare and special. Also, I totally pashed this chick at a BCO gig at the Old Lion, which was the first (and, now I think about it, only) time I’ve picked up at a show.

The thing about Boom Crash Opera that they just wrote some really, really good songs. Once guitarist/songwriter Richard Pleasance’s tinnitus forced him to leave, the band’s engine started to idle down – but for two albums there, the bass-and-guitar-swapping songwriting team of Pleasance and Peter Farnan churned out single after great single: ‘Great Wall’, ‘Hands Up In The Air’, ‘City Flat’, ‘Her Charity’ (which remains one of my favourite songs to this day), ‘Dancing In The Storm’*, ‘Get Out Of The House’ and, of course, this much-mocked track which was also their biggest hit.

This was the first single from their second album These Here Are Crazy Times! and, in my opinion, it pretty much showed the band at their kick-ass peak. Dale Ryder gets to purr and belt, Pete Maslen thumps the toms, and Pleasance and Farnan’s gang vocals bolster the song’s masculinity lest it be threatened by Greg O’Connor’s oh-so-80s synth brass stabs. And that chorus has an indelible schoolyard-taunt memorability, which is why it’s totally stuck in your head right now (if you’re Australian, at least: despite WEA’s best efforts to break them in the ‘States, they were a distinctly local phenomenon).

Still one of the worst names of any band ever, though.

*Which had been an even better song almost a decade earlier when it was called ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ and was by Lloyd Cole.

#181 ‘Info Freako’ by Jesus Jones (14 Dec)

Album: Liquidizer, 1989

Justification: This was the sound of the future for a while there – electronic beats with guitars over the top – and it seemed like Jesus Jones had beamed in from decades hence rather than exploring what was to be a bit of a musical cul-de-sac littered with the corpses of Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter USM. Still, their candle burned brightly if not long and this was the song that broke them: a pounding collection of drum machines, samples and punk guitars with Mike Edwards getting declamatory over the top with a lyric that praises the information age around a decade before most people even got internet in their office.

It was the next album, 1991’s Doubt, that was to break them internationally (briefly) primarily on the back of ‘Right Here, Right Now’ – but by that point Edwards was getting a bit to damn Bono in his interviews and the twin suns of grunge and Britpop burnt up any act with a guitar who wasn’t wearing either flannel or Fred Perry.

They’re still active, you know, and apparently have the same line-up.

#155 ‘Here Comes Your Man’ by Pixies (3 Nov)

Album: Doolittle, 1989

Justification: “Andrew,” you may justifiably ask, ‘do people need to rediscover songs like this, considering that it’s probably the band’s best known single?” Yes. Yes they do. Because it’s awesome.

There are amazing videos, and there are inventive videos, and there are videos where the band clearly just don’t give a fuck. Pixies were never a band that seemed to give much of a shit about their visual impact which might explain why the handful of extant videos include such classic themes as “dressing in leather and being driven to a stadium gig” (‘Dig for Fire’), “out-of-synch rehearsal footage” (‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’) and ‘ten seconds of footage of the band running towards the camera slowed down to fill a four minute song” (‘Velouria’). It’s odd since Frank Black’s solo singles generally had pretty interesting videos (many directed by They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh, as it happens) and the Breeders at least made a bit of an effort. But this, one of the first songs Black Francis ever wrote, was the only one that really got a proper, grown-up video with an actual concept, even if that concept was basically the band pretending to play and giving creepy looks to camera. And the best lip synch, obviously.

Despite the song being obviously awesome, the band were clearly less enamoured of it. It appears on their first demo tape but wasn’t included on Come On Pilgrim, and it was re-recorded around the time of Surfer Rosa as a possible single before being nixed by the band (and if you happen to have this version somewhere, Pixies completists, feel free to let me know…). In fact, Pixies reportedly pretty much refused to play it live during their lifetime, but damned if I’ve been to a gig since their reformation where it hasn’t been included. Which is good.