November 9th, 2010
Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of the group Spelt Like This before, they were a male trio who released two singles back in the mid-80s neither of which troubled the charts with their presence and then they broke up never to be seen again. It wasn’t through lack of effort by their record company either, they were given a massive promo push with lots of big ads in all the music weeklies for their 1985 debut single “Contract of The Heart” which I noticed at the time because they were very “designery” with the same sophisticated and enigmatic minimalism used by Pet Shop Boys and New Order in their marketing.
The ads must have worked on me though because when I saw a copy of the 12″ going cheap in a sale at Our Price I bought it without having heard it before. Being a designer (or design student as I was at the time) makes me far more likely to buy a record (or book) if it has a good-looking sleeve and it almost physically pains me to buy one that looks ugly. Call me superficial but I’d walk a million miles for some good typography and nice paper stock and the sleeve of “Contract of The Heart” really lays on the designer effects with a trowel: yards of white space, obscure icons, trendily spaced-out lettering, a tiny duotone photo of the band on the back, and on the inner sleeve some arty photos of pubes, a man on one side and a woman on the other.
They must have spent quite a few bob on this (the 7″ had an even more expensive die-cut), and with such sophisticated packaging you might expect the record to be another “West End Girls” or “Temptation” but “Contract of The Heart” isn’t much more than half-decent Scritti-esque pop that probably should have done better that the lowly #91 it struggled to reach but doesn’t really live up to the promise of its sleeve and marketing. When I first listened to it I felt as if I had been lied to by the graphics, rather than being another Pet Shop Boys, Spelt Like This were in reality basically a boy band managed by pop svengali Tom Watkins (who was actually also managing PSB too at the time) who later gave the world Bros and East 17. So I’ve always seen this record as a 1980s “designer decade” triumph of style over substance and the belief (which was rampant back then) that trendy design could sell anything from a beer to a bank to a pop group no matter what the actual product was like.
The most interesting thing about “Contract of The Heart” now is that it’s an early Stock, Aitken and Waterman production done before they became the producers that ate the pop world and they do quite nice job with this, it’s a whole lot better and more inventive than the tinny Hi-NRG beats of their later work.
So, did it flop because the marketing was all wrong or because the record wasn’t good enough? You decide.
Download: Contract of The Heart (12″) – Spelt Like This
August 3rd, 2010
May 17th, 2010
You may have noticed that I’ve added tags to every post now, all 384 of them going back over three years which took bloody ages but was worth it as the site now has an index of sorts (which you’ll find at the bottom of the column at right) so it will be easier to find the good stuff from back when I actually posted new and interesting writing on this blog. Some of the tags, like Pauline Murray and Phwoooaaaarrr!, should be fairly obvious, but others like Nice Lungs! and The Discount of Our Winter Tents are a little more obscure but I’m sure clever people like you can figure out the theme.
Been wanting to post this track for a while and this seems as good a place as any, some blazingly funky Hip-Hop from 1989.
Download: Know How – Young MC (mp3)
February 22nd, 2010
This got to number one 20 years ago.
Download: Killer (12″ version) – Adamski (mp3)
Well all know that Seal went on to fame and fortune and supermodels after singing on this, but what happened to Adamski?
December 14th, 2009
When Bananarama first ambled onto the scene in 1981 with their backcombed hair and second-hand clothes even Nostradamus couldn’t have predicted that they’d go on to become one of the most successful British girl groups of all time and have more hits than The Supremes, mostly because that didn’t seem to be the sort of ambition that entered their heads. Like Joanne and Susan in The Human League (who were Top Shop to Bananarama’s Camden Market), they came across like ordinary girls who were pop stars by accident and thought making records was just a bit of a laugh.
Their first single “Aie A Mwana” was basically just a demo they made for fun with former Sex Pistol Paul Cook (with him producing and playing drums) who they’d met in a club one night and ended up crashing at his flat. It became an underground club hit which got them their picture in The Face where it was seen by Terry Hall who liked the way they looked and asked them to sing backing vocals on Fun Boy Three’s “Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It)”. In return they appeared on the girl’s next single, a cover of The Velvelettes “Really Saying Something” and it’s b-side “Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares” a rather strange instrumental co-written by the girls and Vaughan Toulouse of Department S (in case you didn’t know the title is a reference to this.)
Download: Really Saying Something (12″ version) – Bananarama & Fun Boy Three (mp3)
Download: Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares (12″ version) – Bananarama & Fun Boy Three (mp3)
That was a big hit as was the follow-up “Shy Boy” which even though it was more polished they still managed to sound like the three scatty girls living in the flat above you who were always running out of milk instead of proper pop stars. They didn’t lose that easy-going, slightly scruffy charm until they started making glossy Eurodisco with Stock, Aitken & Waterman in 1986 which sold by the ton but could have been sung by anybody really. Shame, but I guess they couldn’t stay those three girls forever. The b-side “Don’t Call Us” was their own composition and is just as good as the hit side, proof that they weren’t quite the amateurs they seemed and were getting the hang of this pop music lark.
Download: Shy Boy (12″ version) – Bananarama (mp3)
Download: Don’t Call Us (12″ version) – Bananarama (mp3)
To their credit they never used their looks or flashed any flesh to sell a few more records even though they were obviously rather fetching young ladies and most right-thinking blokes had a thing for one of other of them. With me it was a toss-up between Siobhan and Keren though if you put a gun to my head I would have gone with the latter. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say they were sort of girls you could actually imagine going out with either, at least in the early days. I did know a lot of girls who dressed like them back then, pretty indie girls in baggy vintage clothes and deck shoes who were into Orange Juice but also loved dancing. I even went out with one of them — a pretty dancing indie girl that is, not one of Bananarama, though on a good day I reckon I could have been in with a shout with Keren. OK, on a really good day and if she’d had a lot to drink.
December 9th, 2009
Lucky me! A pair of Acid Jazz beauties that take me back to clubbing in London in the early 90s before I split the scene for America. One of these you’ll probably know, the other is a bit more obscure but another belter (and produced by Mick Talbot).
Download: Apparently Nothin’ – Young Disciples (mp3)
Download: Jus’ Reach – Galliano (mp3)
December 8th, 2009
Two boxes full of them in fact (ha!) which I was rummaging through the other day digging out some long-unplayed beauties like this one. I’m up to my tits at work this week so I can’t finish off the meatier posts I’m writing at the moment (all two of them), but I hope this will do for now. Another tomorrow maybe.
Download: Too Nice To Talk To (Dubweiser) – The Beat (mp3)
October 28th, 2009
Download: Justify My Love (William Orbit remix) – Madonna (mp3)
Yes, Daddy is being lazy and letting you do all the work today.