Not had any Prefabs here for far too long. Pardon the pun but this song makes me swoon.
The Cure’s 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys has what is probably my favourite Post-Punk album cover. I like it even more than Unknown Pleasures which might be design heresy but its candy-coloured surrealism is more my cup of tea than the cold minimalism of the latter. It’s enigmatic and avant-garde but in a very droll, suburban English way which pretty much sums up The Cure themselves at the time. I think I bought it back then just because of the sleeve.
Before Robert Smith became a lipsticked Goth icon the band were thought to be deliberately anti-image to the point of dull anonymity. The design takes that idea to the extreme of not having any photos of the band on the cover and having them be represented by boring household appliances. Apparently Robert Smith is the lamp, drummer Lol Tolhurst is the fridge, and bassist Michael Dempsey the Hoover.
Taking this wilful obscurity to another level, not only are there no band photos but there aren’t any song titles anywhere on the sleeve either. Instead, on the back are a series of pictures representing each track. You have to work out which is which, not easy when you don’t know the song titles in the first place and have to listen to the album to figure even that out. No Wiki or Discogs in those days.
Some of them were obvious (“Meathook”, “Fire in Cairo”) while others took a bit more working out (the split bags of sugar is “So What”). The puzzle is repeated on the record label with the pictures reduced to simple little icons.
I can’t remember if I found this clever or annoying when I was 17. Probably the former because an album cover that’s an exercise in semiotics is just the sort of thing to appeal to a teenager with pretensions. If nothing else it did make you listen to the album more closely.
The sleeve was designed by Bill Smith whose portfolio also includes nearly all The Jam’s albums and singles and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. I think it’s heavily influenced by the idiosyncratic work Barney Bubbles was doing for Elvis Costello at the time (like this and this) and has some very Bubbles-esque lines and squiggles on the inner sleeve.
Smith called Three Imaginary Boys the most memorable cover out of all the ones he’s designed over the years, but The Cure apparently weren’t too keen on it or the album itself. Robert Smith has complained that he had no control over the tracklisting or the design, and I suppose I’d be pissed off too if someone implied I had the personality of a lamp.
Though this made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1970 I still think it’s something of an unknown gem. Written and produced by Smokey Robinson and Frank Wilson, it’s more laid back than The Tops’ usual shouty passion and is utterly gorgeous.
Download: Still Water (Love) – The Four Tops (mp3)
This record is 18 years old now (18!), but it still makes me stop what I’m doing and listen to it, hypnotized, all the way through.
Bonus: Fell down an EBTG hole on YouTube after watching the above and thought this was too good not to post too.
It didn’t take Spandau Ballet long to ditch the hard electronic stomp of their early singles for a sound that better reflected their roots as Soul Boys. Their musical evolution also reflected the trajectory of the 1980s, a bit heavy and intense at first then becoming more glitzy and aspirational. They started out with the style and sound of underground London clubs but later provided the soundtrack for wine bars, double-breasted suits, and Club 18-30 holidays in Magaluf.
I liked their early stuff but Tony Hadley’s big voice made them sound a bit Teutonic at times and he was better in lighter musical surroundings. One of my favourites of their later singles was “I’ll Fly For You” from 1984 which wasn’t a huge hit like some others of theirs — you know, the one we all slow danced to at cheesy discos — but it’s cut from the same expensive cloth with a smooth, gliding surface and crisp, ringing guitar. And of course it has a creamy saxophone on it, the instrument that Spandau (and “Careless Whisper”) helped make synonymous with 80s pop.
Download: I’ll Fly For You (12″ mix) – Spandau Ballet (mp3)
I like to think I have pretty wide-ranging taste in music and the older I get the less I care if something is “cool” or not. But I don’t think I’ll ever get old enough to completely lose the feeling there’s something wrong with liking anything that’s Hippie, Proggy, Folky, Soft-Rocky, or just generally made by people with beards and long hair. It’s like my teenage self is still lurking in my brain telling me I that didn’t live through the Punk wars to grow up with an appreciation of Fleetwood Mac.
This is partly due to reading the 1978 book The Boy Looked At Johnny by rock-journalism enfant terribles Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons at an impressionable age. Subtitled The Obituary of Rock and Roll, it had the same scorched-earth approach to Rock history they were famous for in the NME every week: demolishing it’s legends as self-indulgent wankers and posers, with particular ire directed at American bands and the Woodstock generation. In their world, almost everything that wasn’t Motown or the first two Sex Pistols singles was worthless. If Punk was a revolution, Burchill and Parsons were the loyal soldiers putting people up against the wall.
Written at the height of Punk and with the righteousness of young people (Burchill was only 19), the book opens with the line “Bob Dylan broke his neck — close, but no cigar” and goes on from there in an amphetamine-fueled rush of bile. The 1960s were “a decade of iron-lung dinosaurs washing their hands in the blood of teen idealism”, Jimi Hendrix was the hippies’ “Token Tom”, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop “closet cases fronting amateur-hour wimp bands”, Elton John a “fat old Tin Pan Alley tunesmith” — you get the drift.
But it wasn’t just the old guard that got knifed, the new bands they called the “pretenders to The Pistols inviolate throne” fared no better. Siouxsie Sioux was a “white girl high on fascist flirtation”, The Damned “a shoddy mob of burlesque queens”, Paul Weller “the Barry McGuire of Punk”, The Clash “pious mannequins”, and like all good British radicals at the time they really, really, really hated America, declaring “English Punk bands want to be the best — American punk bands want to be the richest”.
They also spent a whole chapter extolling the superiority of amphetamines over heroin, marijuana, and cocaine, because it is “the only drug that makes you sit up and ask questions rather than lie down and lap up answers”.
These days we’re used to this kind of provocative attitude-striking on the Internet. Some kid will proudly declare he thinks The Beatles are overrated — always ending with the smug flourish “There. I said it” — as if he’s committing a revolutionary act. But that kind of rhetoric bomb-throwing was fairly new back then, and matched the passions the music stirred up. It might seem very childish and reductive now, but was thrilling stuff when you’re 16 and I ate it up. They gave me the language to take the piss out of my Dad for liking The Eagles, and the attitude to sneer at the kids at school who were into Genesis and Led Zep. Most importantly, they gave me a finely-tuned bullshit detector when it comes to rock stars, and I still believe it’s the duty of the young to be skeptical about the idols of the previous generation, not revere them.
One of the few people to come out of the book with any praise is Poly Styrene who they say “was blessed with the finest imagination of her generation” — an opinion that is still true today.
Download: Oh Bondage Up Yours! – X-Ray Spex (mp3)
Very happy to welcome back Scottish indie-rock duo Honeyblood whose debut album was one of my favourites of 2014.
This new track is from their second album Babes Never Die (out late October) and is another terrific burst of big punky guitar riffing and spiky pop hooks.
By far the hottest, sweatiest concert I’ve ever been to was Tito Puente and Celia Cruz at the Hammersmith Palais in 1990. It was a hot summer night and the place was packed to the rafters, a steaming mass of bodies dancing to the caliente Latin rhythms. By the end I must have lost a stone in sweat.
A lot of the crowd were Cuban expats and they were waving flags in patriotic solidarity with Celia who, like them, was exiled from home — it was probably the most passionate and celebratory atmosphere I’ve ever been in at a gig. The epic “Bemba Colora” is my favourite track of hers and I was so happy she encored with it.
I was there because I went through a phase of loving Latin music in the late 80s-early 90s, kicked off by the We Got Latin Soul! comps that Charly put out. I especially liked the Boogaloo and Cuban Son styles, and spent many evenings dancing at London clubs like Sol y Sombra and Pachanga. Not only was the music fabulous, but so were all the lovely South American girls we met in them.