Nick Lowe: Lowe Constellation 1976-1985

Nick Lowe is an English songwriter, producer, bassist, and vocalist. His musical career started in the late 60s and in the first half of the 70s he saw some success as a member of the beloved pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz. Over the years, Lowe has evolved into a silver haired introspective crooner. He has a devoted fan base and continues to tour and record (he is, in fact, on tour as I write this). In this essay and its accompanying music mix, I am focusing specifically on the decade between 1976 and 1985, an astonishingly productive and artistically vibrant period in Lowe’s career. I will also bring attention to the array of talent that Lowe tapped into consistently, a constellation of talent that made possible his accomplishments during this decade.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Nick Lowe was astonishingly productive during this decade. Between 1976 and 1985, Lowe released six albums under his own name, contributed significantly to three Dave Edmunds albums and the Rockpile album, produced two albums for Carlene Carter, one for Paul Carrack, as well as five Elvis Costello albums. He also produced recordings (singles or albums) for 12 other artists during this decade.

As a producer, Lowe has what I think is an undeserved reputation for just bashing recordings out quickly (“Basher” is his nickname). To my ears, his production is often keenly tuned to the specifics of the song and the artist. Listen to Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ “Radio Radio”, where Lowe pushes the guitar back in the mix and brings a surgical focus to the extraordinary performances of keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas, and drummer Pete Thomas. Contrast that with a song like Dr. Feelgood’s “That’s It, I Quit”, where Lowe brings you into the bar with the band (I can smell the spilled beer), or Lowe’s own “Cruel to Be Kind”, a glowing example of pristine guitar pop (“pure pop for now people”). Another example of focused production is The Pretenders’ “Stop Your Sobbing”, which puts the spotlight on Chrissie Hynde’s distinctive voice. Far from being a “basher”, Nick Lowe’s production work showed careful attention to the artists and material he was working with.

Lowe’s own recordings during this decade were made with three different bands. The first, Rockpile, worked together between 1976 and 1981. Rockpile were Dave Edmunds (guitar, vocals), Nick Lowe (bass, vocals), Billy Bremner (guitar, vocals), and Terry Williams (drums). Edmunds is, like Lowe, a multi-talented musician; guitarist, singer, songwriter, and producer. As a member of the band Love Sculpture, he had a #5 single in the UK (“Sabre Dance”). In 1970 his solo recording of “I Hear You Knocking” was a #1 single in the UK and a #4 single in the US. As a successful artist in his own right, Edmunds had very much a co-equal role in Rockpile. Like Lowe, Edmunds has a deep affinity with American rock, R&B, and rockabilly. This is reflected in the work they did together.

Rockpile released only one album under their own name (Seconds of Pleasure, 1980) because until 1980 Lowe and Edmunds had contracts with different record labels. However, the Dave Edmunds albums Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary, and Nick Lowe’s album Labour of Lust were all essentially Rockpile albums. Repeat When Necessary and Labour of Lust were even recorded and released concurrently. Rockpile were also the band on Mickey Jupp’s album Juppanese and Carlene Carter’s album Musical Shapes. Reportedly, tensions between Lowe and Edmunds were responsible for Rockpile’s break-up in 1981. In the liner notes for a Seconds of Pleasure reissue, Lowe stated “We got together for fun and when the fun had all been had we packed it in.” Billy Bremner and Terry Williams both appear on Nick Lowe records through the 80s, but Lowe and Edmunds wouldn’t work together again until 1988.

Paul Carrack is a keyboardist and vocalist, best known for his “blue-eyed soul” singing voice. He saw early success in his career as a member of Ace, whose 1975 single “How Long” hit #20 in the UK and #3 in the US. In 1981 he joined Squeeze where he sang one of the band’s most enduring hits, “Tempted”. Carrack left Squeeze in 1982, having joined Nick Lowe’s band Noise to Go. Like Dave Edmunds, Carrack was a peer and partner to Lowe. The other members of Noise to Go were Martin Belmont (guitar), James Eller (bass) and Bobby Irwin (drums). Like Rockpile, Noise to Go served as the “house band” for a number of Nick Lowe-produced recordings: Carlene Carter’s Blue Nun, Carrack’s Suburban Voodoo, and Lowe’s Nick the Knife and The Abominable Showman.

“Tempted” is the one song I’ve included in my mix that has no direct involvement from Nick Lowe. However, Elvis Costello’s production and Paul Carrack’s vocals bring it firmly into my Lowe Constellation. Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook also sang on Costello’s “From a Whisper To a Scream”. Interestingly, the original plan for Squeeze’s East Side Story was to make it a double album, with sides produced by Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and (supposedly) Paul McCartney. In reality, Dave Edmunds produced one track on the album, with Elvis Costello (with Roger Bechirian) producing most of the rest of the record. The 1997 reissue of East Side Story includes “Lookin’ For a Love”, an outtake produced by Nick Lowe.

Nick Lowe was married to Carlene Carter in 1979. They partnered in songwriting and recording. Lowe produced two Carlene Carter albums, and Carter added vocals to several Lowe solo recordings. Their union also brought Nick Lowe into the Royal Family of American music, the Cash Carter family. Johnny Cash recorded Lowe’s “Without Love” in 1980 with Lowe producing and members of Rockpile and The Attractions playing on the recording. In 1994 Cash would record a powerful song that Lowe wrote specifically for him, “The Beast in Me”.  

Late in 1982 James Eller left Noise to Go. Nick Lowe picked up the bass and the group continued as a four-piece band with a new name: Cowboy Outfit. In English slang, a “cowboy outfit” is an organization that does shoddy work and exhibits dubious business practices. Cowboy Outfit, active until 1985, would record two albums, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit and The Rose of England. They also played on the tracks Lowe produced for John Hiatt’s album Riding With the King. Hiatt and Lowe would work together again as members of the “supergroup” Little Village in the early 90s.

I believe that the first time I became aware of Nick Lowe was when I noticed that he had written “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?”, the last song on the US version of Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces album. Soon after I figured out that Lowe had not only written this song, but he had produced Armed Forces… and all the other (at that time) Elvis Costello records I loved. It is difficult for me to imagine how Elvis Costello’s career would have evolved without Nick Lowe’s involvement.

Even though they had been working together since 1976, Costello and Lowe did not record a song together until 1984’s “Baby It’s You.” In his liner notes for the Rykodisc reissue of Goodbye Cruel World, Costello provided some background for this recording. “As Nick and his Cowboy Outfit were to join us on the US leg of our ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ tour Columbia Records suggested that we cut something ‘extra’ for a joint twelve-inch promo record featuring each of our latest single releases. Despite all our studio work together this was our first duet on record. Unfortunately the record company deemed the track ‘too good’, fearing that it would draw airplay from the ‘real’ singles.” Because of the label’s reservations, this track would remain obscure until it was released on a Costello compilation in 1987.

In 1985 the professional relationship between Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe would come full circle when Costello produced the track “L.A.F.S.” on Lowe’s album Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit.

Looking back on this remarkable decade in Nick Lowe’s career, what stands out to me, besides the number and quality of the records he was involved in, is just how successful he was at developing (often enduring) relationships with top-tier artists, many of them legends: Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Paul Carrack, Carlene Carter, Billy Bremner, Terry Williams, Martin Belmont, James Eller, and Bobby Irwin. A truly amazing constellation of talent.

Part 1: 1976-1979

“So It Goes” – Nick Lowe
Nick Lowe’s first single as a solo artist, released in 1976.
The first single released by Stiff Records, catalog number BUY 1.
Musicians: Steve Goulding (drums), Nick Lowe (vocals, bass, guitar).
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“New Rose” – The Damned
The Damned’s first single, released in 1976 (Stiff Records BUY 6).
The first single by a British punk rock group.
Musicians: Dave Vanian (vocals), Brian James (guitar), Captain Sensible (bass), Rat Scabies (drums).
Written by Brian James.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Don’t Ask Me Questions” – Graham Parker & The Rum-our
Released on the album Howlin Wind in 1976.
The debut album by Graham Parker & The Rumour.
Musicians: Graham Parker (guitar, vocals), Bob Andrews (keyboards), Brinsley Schwarz (guitar), Martin Belmont (guitar), Andrew Bodnar (bass), Steve Goulding (drums).
Written by Graham Parker.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Less Than Zero” – Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello’s first single, released in 1977 (Stiff Records BUY 11).
Musicians: Elvis Costello (guitar, vocals), John McFee (guitar), Johnny Ciambotti (bass), Mickey Shine (drums), Stan Shaw (organ).
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Whole Wide World” – Wreckless Eric
Wreckless Eric’s first single, released in 1977 (Stiff Records BUY 16).
Musicians: Wreckless Eric (guitar, vocals), Nick Lowe (guitar, bass), Steve Goulding (drums).
Written by Wreckless Eric.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“That’s It, I Quit” – Dr. Feelgood
Released in 1977 on the album Be Seeing You (United Artists Records UAS 30123).
Musicians: John B. Sparks (bass, vocals), The Big Figure (drums, vocals), John Mayo (guitar), Lee Brilleaux (vocals, guitar).
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1978 (Radar Records ADA 1).
Reached number 7 on the UK singles chart.
Musicians: Uncredited.
Written by Andrew Bodnar, Nick Lowe, and Steve Goulding.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“You’ll Never Get Me Up in One of Those” – Mickey Jupp
Released in 1978 on the album Juppanese (Stiff Records SEEZ 10).
Musicians: Mickey Jupp (vocals, piano) and Rockpile.
Written by Mickey Jump.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Radio Radio” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1978 (Radar Records ADA 24).
Musicians: Elvis Costello (guitar, vocals) and The Attractions (Steve Nieve (keyboards), Bruce Thomas (bass), and Pete Thomas (drums)).
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Television” – Dave Edmunds
Released in 1978 on the album Tracks on Wax 4 (Swan Song SSK 59407).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Dave Edmunds.

“Cruel to be Kind” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1978 (Radar Records ADA 43).
Reached number 12 in the UK and US singles charts.
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Ian Gomm and Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Girls Talk” – Dave Edmunds
Released in 1979 on the album Repeat When Necessary (Swan Song SSK 59409).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Dave Edmunds.

“Stop Your Sobbing” – The Pretenders
The Pretenders’ first single (Real Records ARE 6).
Musicians: Crissie Hynde (guitar, vocals), James Honeyman-Scott (guitar), Pete Farndon (bass), Martin Chambers (drums).
Written by Ray Davies.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1979 on the US version of Armed Forces (Columbia 35709).
Musicians: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“Without Love” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1979 on the album Labour of Lust (Radar Records RAD 21).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

Part 2: 1980-1985

“Without Love” – Johnny Cash
Released in 1980 on the album Rockabilly Blues (Columbia JC 36779).
Musicians: Pete Thomas (drums), Nick Lowe (bass), Bob Wootton (guitar), Dave Edmunds (guitar), Martin Belmont (guitar).
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“Too Bad About Sandy” – Carlene Carter
Released in 1980 on the album Musical Shapes (Warner Bros. Records BSK 3465).
Musicians: Carlene Carter (guitar, vocals), Rockpile.
Written by Carlene Carter.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Riot Act” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1980 on the album Get Happy!! (F-Beat XXLP 1).
Musicians: Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“When I Write the Book” – Rockpile
Released in 1980 on the album Seconds of Pleasure (F-Beat XXLP 7).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Nick Lowe and Rockpile.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Rockpile.

“Crying In the Rain” – Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds
Released in 1980 on the EP Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds Sing The Everly Brothers.
The EP was included with US copies of Seconds of Pleasure.
Musicians: Nick Lowe (guitar, vocals) and Dave Edmunds (guitar, vocals).
Written by Howard Greenfield and Carole King.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds.

“Do Me Lover” – Carlene Carter
Released in 1981 on the album Blue Nun (F-Beat XXLP 12).
Musicians: Carlene Carter (vocals), Noise to Go, Billy Bremner (guitar), Huw Gower (guitar).
Written by Carlene Carter, James Eller, and Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“From a Whisper To a Scream” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1981 (F-Beat XX 14).
Musicians: Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Martin Belmont (guitar), Glenn Tilbrook (vocals).
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Tempted” – Squeeze
Released in 1981 on the album East Side Story (A&M Records AMLH 64854).
Musicians: John Bentley (bass), Gilson Lavis (drums), Chris Difford (guitar, vocals), Glenn Tilbrook (guitar, vocals), Paul Carrack (keyboards, vocals), Elvis Costello (vocals).
Written by Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford.
Produced by Elvis Costello and Roger Bechirian.

“Raining Raining” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1982 on the album Nick The Knife (F-Beat XXLP 14).
Musicians: Noise to Go.
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“I’m In Love” – Paul Carrack
Released in 1982 on the album Suburban Voodoo (Epic ARE 38161).
Musicians: Noise to Go.
Written by Nick Lowe and Carlene Carter.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Ragin’ Eyes” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1983 on the album The Abominable Showman (F-Beat Records XXLP 18).
Musicians: Noise to Go.
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Roger Bechirian.

“Time Wounds All Heels” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1983 on the album The Abominable Showman (F-Beat Records XXLP 18).
Musicians: Noise to Go, Carlene Carter (vocals), Simon Climie (vocals).
Written by Nick Lowe, Carlene Carter, and Simon Climie.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Roger Bechirian.

“Riding With The King” – John Hiatt
Released in 1983 on the album Riding With The King (Geffen Records GHS 4017).
Musicians: John Hiatt (guitar, vocals) and Cowboy Outfit.
Written by John Hiatt.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Baby It’s You” – Elvis Costello & Nick Lowe
Released in 1984 on the single “The Only Flame in Town” (Columbia 44 05081).
Musicians: Elvis Costello (guitar, vocals) and Nick Lowe (bass, vocals).
Written by Burt Bacharach, Mack David, and Barney Williams (Luther Dixon).
Produced by Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.

“L.A.F.S.” – Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit
Released in 1985 on the album Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (F-Beat ZL 70338).
Musicians: Cowboy Outfit, Jeff Blythe (saxophone), Paul Speare (saxophone), Jim Paterson (trombone), Dave Plews (trumpet).
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Elvis Costello and Colin Fairley.

“The Rose of England” – Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit
Released in 1985 on the album The Rose of England (F-Beat ZL 70765).
Musicians: Cowboy Outfit.
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Colin Fairley.

Photo: Star from the Lizard Constellation, NASA

Posted by Paul in Mix, Music

1984 Mix

I had the great fortune to be a music nerd living in Minneapolis in 1984. It was one of those times when you could tell, in real time, that great things were happening around you. The Replacements, a band up until then known as much for their shambling drunken live performances as for their music, released the album Let it Be, which was a huge leap forward in musical sophistication and ambition. Hardcore punk band Hüsker Dü released Zen Arcade, a double album with a narrative through-line (aka a “rock opera”) that explored themes and musical styles far from the band’s punk origins. I still have the copy of Zen Arcade I bought at Oar Folkjokeopus in Minneapolis on the day it was released. The release of these albums would have made 1984 a major year for music in the Twin Cities, but but they were not the biggest thing to come out of Minnesota music that year, not by a long shot.

I saw the movie Purple Rain in a Minneapolis theater shortly after it was released. The audience was rapturous, delirious, totally captivated. In retrospect, it wasn’t a very good movie, except for the concert scenes. The soundtrack album was a sensation, in both an artistic and commercial sense. Purple Rain, the album, has sold more than 25 million copies and spun off two #1 singles. Prince was also a busy and successful producer in 1984. The Time’s “Jungle Love”, produced by Prince was a #20 single. Another song he produced, Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life”, was a #7 single that also spent two weeks at the top of the dance chart. 1999 had been a successful album, but 1984 was the year that Prince vaulted to super-stardom.

By the way, the full name of the Prince song included in this mix is: “17 Days (the rain will come down, then U will have 2 choose, if U believe, look 2 the dawn and U shall never lose)”.

1984 was also the year that rap-rock was born. Rock bands had incorporated aspects of rap into their work for several years (“Ring ring, it’s seven A.M./Move yourself to go again”). Rap-rock involved rap artists incorporating rock sounds explicitly into their music and/or collaborating with rock artists. Run-D.M.C.’s “Rock Box” is generally acknowledged to be the first rap-rock track, incorporating a heavy rock guitar riff played by session musician Eddie Martinez. “World Destruction”, another pioneering rap-rock track, was a collaboration between Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon, perhaps the oddest duo since David Bowie and Bing Crosby.

Note: The song “88 Lines About 44 Women” is delightfully filthy. I recommend you not play it for your Sunday school class.

Part 1: I What’s Going On Inside My Head?

  1. Unsatisfied – The Replacements
  2. Rock Box – Run-D.M.C.
  3. Strut – Sheena Easton
  4. 88 Lines About 44 Women – The Nails
  5. Why? – Bronski Beat
  6. How Soon is Now? – The Smiths
  7. Blasphemous Rumours – Depeche Mode
  8. Fala – Robert Quine/Fred Maher
  9. I Feel for You – Chaka Khan
  10. Everything She Wants – Wham!
  11. One Night in Bangkok – Murray Head
  12. Dark Streets of London – The Pogues
  13. Eighties – Killing Joke
  14. The Kick Inside of Me – Simple Minds
  15. What’s Going On – Hüsker Dü

Part 2: Our Band is Scientist Rock

  1. 17 Days – Prince & The Revolution
  2. Jungle Love – The Time
  3. The Glamorous Life – Sheila E.
  4. World Destruction – Time Zone
  5. Wire – U2
  6. Bag Lady (I Wonder) – Ebn-Ozn
  7. Talk to Me (I Can Hear You Now) – Iam Siam
  8. You’re the Best Thing – The Style Council
  9. Tenderness – General Public
  10. Dress You Up – Madonna
  11. All the Things She Gave Me – The Waterboys
  12. So. Central Rain – R.E.M.
  13. Sounds Great When You’re Dead – Robyn Hitchcock
  14. Will the Wolf Survive? – Los Lobos
  15. Such a Shame – Talk Talk
  16. Sharkey’s Day – Laurie Anderson
  17. History Lesson-Part II – Minutemen
Posted by Paul in Mix, Music

1983 Mix

Thirty-five years later, it is easy to forget that 1983 was an awful year. In the UK the far-right Thatcher government won re-election. Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and then invaded Grenada seven months later. A suicide bomber in Beirut killed more than 300 people, including 241 US troops. Saddam Hussein deployed chemical weapons in Iraq’s ongoing war with Iran. A Soviet fighter shot down a Korean Airlines jet, causing the death of all 269 passengers and crew. The possibility of nuclear war was a real concern; when ABC broadcast a TV film, The Day After, about the aftermath of Soviet nuclear strikes in Kansas and Missouri, more than 100 million people watched.

Given this atmosphere, it is no surprise that a lot of the music from 1983 reflects anger, tension, and dread. In a song like “My City Was Gone” or “Pills and Soap” the anger is unmistakable, but “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” is just as angry, just more subtle and cloaked in pastoral music. “In a Big Country” sounds anthemic and gains energy from guitars manipulated to sound like bagpipes, but the lyrics portray a narrator looking desperately for something to hold onto in the face of disappointment and betrayal. “Making Flippy Floppy” has a goofy title, but the lyrics are about as dark and cynical as Talking Heads ever got: “Business and pleasure lie right to your face.” A cruel summer, for sure.

Even in a lousy year, bands continue to grow and evolve. Some performers seem to emerge fully formed from the beginning of their career. Examples of this include Ramones, Billy Bragg, and, to a degree, R.E.M. Others struggle early in their career to find their own voice, perhaps copying their heroes or experimenting with different styles until they find something that clicks for them. In retrospect, I see three important bands that fully came into their own in 1983. New Order had an amazing 1983, releasing their finest album, Power Corruption & Lies as well as two iconic singles, “Blue Monday” and “Confusion”. U2 released their third album, War (note the title!), which first exhibited the combination of political activism and stadium-ready sound that would make them superstars. Finally Hüsker Dü released the Metal Circus EP, which solidified their identity, both from a songwriting and sonic perspective. 

Part 1: I’m Not Expecting to Grow Flowers in a Desert

  1. My City Was Gone – The Pretenders
  2. In a Big Country – Big Country
  3. Racist Friend – The Special AKA
  4. Pills and Soap – The Imposter (Elvis Costello)
  5. Love on a Farmboy’s Wages – XTC
  6. This is Not a Love Song – Public Image Ltd.
  7. 25 Reasons – Red House
  8. A New England – Billy Bragg
  9. Time Wounds All Heels – Nick Lowe
  10. Cruel Summer – Bananarama
  11. Bedward the Flying Preacher – Prince Far I
  12. Your Silent Face – New Order
  13. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs – Minutemen
  14. Institutionalized – Suicidal Tendencies
  15. Real World – Hüsker Dü
  16. Color Me Impressed – The Replacements
  17. She’s in Parties – Bauhaus
  18. Talk About the Passion – R.E.M.
  19. Genetic Engineering – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  20. Going Home – Mark Knopfler

Part 2: We Sing in the Darkness

  1. Making Flippy Floppy – Talking Heads
  2. Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
  3. Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  4. (Keep Feeling) Fascination – The Human League
  5. Borderline – Madonna
  6. New York, New York – Nina Hagen
  7. Tour De France – Kraftwerk
  8. Two Hearts Beat as One – U2
  9. Rockit – Herbie Hancock
  10. Here Comes the Rain Again – Eurythmics
  11. Moody (Spaced Out) – ESG
  12. 99 Luftballons – Nena
  13. Living My Life – Grace Jones
  14. An Ending (Ascent) – Brian Eno

Posted by Paul in Mix, Music

1982 Mix

MTV (Music Television, youngsters) first went on the air in August 1981. Hungry for “content”, MTV would show videos from bands that had no chance of getting play on mainstream radio. My impression is that beginning in 1982, MTV helped to begin the process of mainstreaming “underground” or “alternative” music. 

1982 was also the year when several significant groups called it quits. The Jam, The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, and Richard & Linda Thompson all released their final albums in 1982. Shoot Out the Lights, the final Richard & Linda Thompson album, is a stunning snapshot of a dissolving relationship and probably their best album. The Jam’s last album, The Gift,  shows that the band was exiting at the top of their game, but also shows how far Paul Weller’s musical interests had drifted. Stiff Little Fingers’ last releases moved away from their punk sound, alienating many fans. The Clash’s Combat Rock seemed at first like a bit of a disappointment, but my appreciation for it has grown over the years.

At least we still had Bowie. And of course, new groups rose to prominence in 1982 even as old favorites were calling it quits. Culture Club had a huge hit with their first album. Groups like Bow Wow Wow and Missing Persons emerged from relative obscurity and scored big hits (both of these bands, by the way, were highly telegenic). The album 1999 helped Prince move from being a well regarded niche act to an international superstar. Go watch the video for “Little Red Corvette” and you’ll understand why.

Huang Chung were not yet a big name in 1982. In 1983 they would switch record labels, change the spelling of their name and re-record “Dance Hall Days”. The re-recorded version became a big hit, but I think I prefer this earlier, looser version.

Meanwhile, punk rock continued to thrive in its own world, and middle American rock acts (like Marshall Crenshaw, Tommy Keene, and most notably, R.E.M.) continued to make earnest guitar-focused music. 

The Gang of Four song “To Hell with Poverty!” has always been a favorite. In my college years it became something of a personal anthem. That was when I was young and stupid enough to confuse actual poverty with not having a lot of cash (but always being just a phone call away from Mom and Dad’s help).

Part 1: I’m Probably Not the Kind of Girl You Think You Want

  1. Always Unknowing – Roxy Music
  2. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club
  3. Hurt – New Order
  4. Dance Hall Days – Huang Chung
  5. Blue Hotel – Lene Lovich
  6. Destination Unknown – Missing Persons
  7. From the Air – Laurie Anderson
  8. I Fell in Love – The Roches
  9. I Melt With You – Modern English
  10. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) – David Bowie
  11. Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst) – Peter Schilling
  12. Delirious – Prince
  13. Black Coffee in Bed – Squeeze
  14. Go – The Replacements
  15. I Have the Touch – Peter Gabriel
  16. Did She Jump or Was She Pushed? – Richard & Linda Thompson

Part 2: You Tasted Mustard When She Painted Your Face

  1. Know Your Rights – The Clash
  2. I Want Candy – Bow Wow Wow
  3. Talking to a Stranger – Hunters & Collectors
  4. Read About It – Midnight Oil
  5. Shabby Doll – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  6. Save it for Later – The English Beat
  7. Back to Zero Now – Tommy Keene
  8. You’re My Favorite Waste of Time – Marshall Crenshaw
  9. Lesson in Love – Paul Carrack
  10. The Hanging Garden – The Cure
  11. 1,000,000 – R.E.M.
  12. Talkback – Stiff Little Fingers
  13. Raining Raining – Nick Lowe
  14. Tears in Rain – Vangelis
  15. Ghosts – The Jam
  16. Situation – Yazoo
  17. T.V. Party – Black Flag
  18. Reason for Existence – Subhumans
  19. To Hell with Poverty – Gang of Four
  20. Mad World – Tears for Fears
  21. True Romance at the World’s Fair – Algebra Suicide
  22. Looking for the Next Best Thing – Warren Zevon
Posted by Paul in Mix, Music

1981 Mix

My self-indulgent tour of the music of the early 80s continues.

1981 saw “rock” fully embracing new technologies: synthesizers, sampling and rap. Check out, for instance, the rapping Austrian…

These new technologies played a role in many transformational and evolutionary changes. Pete Shelley, lead singer for pioneering punk band The Buzzcocks, surprised everyone with the synth-led, danceable, transcendent “Homosapien”. The Human League evolved from a quirky experimental synth band to a pop band prominently featuring female vocalists. Track down “Circus of Death” on YouTube sometime if you want to hear how much a band can change in two years. The evolution of The Human League also spun off Heaven 17. New Order arose from the ashes of Joy Division like a Phoenix brandishing a sequencer. Robert Fripp decided, for Robert Fripp reasons, to start a new version of King Crimson after almost seven years of dormancy.

Then there’s Talking Heads, which spawned three separate projects in 1981. What I hear in these records is that David Byrne wanted to be Brian Eno, Jerry Harrison wanted to be David Byrne, and Tina Weymouth is an under-appreciated genius. 

Meanwhile, back in the USA, good old guitar/bass/drums rock ’n’ roll was alive and well. 1981 saw the first single from R.E.M. and first albums from Go-Go’s and The Replacements. In addition, Mission of Burma released the EP that would make them college radio station staples.

Part 1: Pull Up to the Bumper, Baby

  1. You Can’t be Funky – Bush Tetras
  2. Bustin’ Out – Material with Nona Hendryx
  3. (We Don’t Need this) Fascist Groove Thang – Heaven 17
  4. Der Mussolini – D.A.F.
  5. Der Kommissar – Falco
  6. The Jezebel Spirit – Brian Eno & David Byrne
  7. Genius of Love – Tom Tom Club
  8. Worlds in Collision – Jerry Harrison
  9. This is Radio Clash – The Clash
  10. Pull Up to the Bumper – Grace Jones
  11. Don’t You Want Me – The Human League
  12. Controversy – Prince
  13. Everything’s Gone Green – New Order
  14. Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go – Soft Cell
  15. The Art of Parties – Japan

Part 2: We are on Our Own and the Only Thing Known is Our Love

  1. Takin’ a Ride – The Replacements
  2. Our Lips are Sealed – Go-Go’s
  3. That’s When I Reach for My Revolver – Mission of Burma
  4. Absolute Beginners – The Jam
  5. Message of Love – The Pretenders
  6. Homosapien – Pete Shelley
  7. Discipline – King Crimson
  8. Radio Free Europe – R.E.M.
  9. Afterimage – Afterimage
  10. We’re Desperate – X
  11. Cheeseburger – Gang of Four
  12. The Punch Line – Minutemen
  13. Raindance – The Past Seven Days
  14. Tickets are Free – Norman Salant
  15. Tempted – Squeeze
  16. Do Me Lover – Carlene Carter with Paul Carrack
  17. From a Whisper to a Scream – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  18. Torchlight – Ellen Foley
  19. Respectable Street – XTC
  20. Safe as Houses – Stiff Little Fingers
  21. Re – Dif Juz
Posted by Paul in Mix, Music

1980 Mix

For me, the early 1980s was one of the greatest eras in popular “rock” music. It was as if the great tidal wave that was punk rock swept away all the rules about who could make music and what that music had to sound like. Once the flood waters receded a million flowers bloomed.

I write this with full awareness that everyone probably thinks that the music of their college-age era is the best. In spite of this obvious bias, I think I can make the case that the early 80s were pretty special. My intention is to create song mixes for each year of the early 80s to hopefully convince myself that the music was as good as I remember.

This first mix (in two parts) includes music released in 1980, which was by any measure an exceptional year. For example, this mix includes tracks from eight bands that released their debut albums in 1980: U2, The Suburbs, Rockpile, The English Beat, Bauhaus, The Pretenders, UB40, and X (as well as the debut singles from Hüsker Dü and Minutemen). Several veterans released music in 1980 that was as good as anything they ever put out, including David Bowie (Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)), Peter Gabriel (Peter Gabriel 3 aka “Melt”), Pete Townshend (Empty Glass), Joy Division (Closer), Rush (Permanent Waves), Tonio K (Amerika), and Talking Heads (Remain in Light).

And maybe best of all are the wonderful tracks from bands that never really hit it big, or lingered in obscurity for all of their (often short) careers. The Petticoats released one single. Manicured Noise released two singles. Stiff Little Fingers were a terrific band that never achieved anything like the prominence of their peers (especially in the US). 

Part 1: All Them Tiny Insects Look Like You

  1. Gotta Gettaway – Stiff Little Fingers
  2. Fashion – David Bowie
  3. Double Dare – Bauhaus
  4. A Forest – The Cure
  5. Delta Rain Dream – Jon Hassell & Brian Eno
  6. Final Day – Young Marble Giants
  7. When I Write the Book – Rockpile
  8. If I Didn’t Love You – Squeeze
  9. Kingdom of Love – The Soft Boys
  10. High Fidelity – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  11. Girl Crazy – Tonio K
  12. Mirror in the Bathroom – The English Beat
  13. Cig Machine – The Suburbs
  14. Ace of Spades – Motörhead
  15. The Wait – The Pretenders
  16. Private Life – Grace Jones
  17. King – UB40
  18. Paranoid Chant – Minute Men
  19. Wardance – Killing Joke
  20. Komakino – Joy Division
  21. Crosseyed and Painless – Talking Heads

Part 2: Someday You’ll Meet Your Rocking Chair

  1. Are You Glad to be in America? – James “Blood” Ulmer
  2. The Man in the Dark Sedan – Snakefinger
  3. Lawnchairs – My Daughters Wedding
  4. Statues – Hüsker Dü
  5. Going Underground – The Jam
  6. I Don’t Remember – Peter Gabriel
  7. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – Ramones
  8. Bad Reputation – Joan Jett
  9. Johny Hit and Run Paulene – X
  10. Interlude No. 2/Bill Lee – Warren Zevon
  11. It’s Her Factory – Gang of Four
  12. Dub – Pylon
  13. Bandrobber – The Clash
  14. Towers of London – XTC
  15. Another Day – U2
  16. When You Were Mine – Prince
  17. Power of Love – T-Bone Burnett
  18. Faith – Manicured Noise
  19. Dancing in the Street/My Enemy is a Bad Man – Fred Frith
  20. Normal – The Petticoats
Posted by Paul in Mix, Music