Music can come from the most unlikely places. Take that gawky-looking white guy on the far left who looks like he should be selling dodgy used cars. That’s the great Rod Temperton who died of cancer last week and wrote some of the best dance records ever made.
Temperton grew up in the northern English seaside resort of Cleethorpes which is hardly ranked with Memphis or Detroit as a breeding ground of great black music, but as a member of the Anglo-American band Heatwave he was responsible for such classics as “Boogie Nights”, “Always and Forever”, “The Groove Line”, and “Gangsters Of The Groove” which would be almost enough for anyone to earn a place in the songwriters Hall of Fame. But he also wrote songs for other artists which included Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and “Off The Wall”, The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp”, and George Benson’s “Give Me The Night” among many, many, many others. The list is quite ridiculous.
I imagine nearly everyone reading this blog knows who Temperton is, but he always kept a low profile and the average punter wouldn’t know his name from Adam. But you can bet if you’re a certain age you know all the words to several of his songs and he provided the soundtrack to your Saturday nights. For that he will always be remembered and loved.
I could have sworn I’d posted this track before but it appears I haven’t so here it is, one of the best singles of the 1980s. A lot of you will know this well but lots won’t as it wasn’t a chart hit.
Working Week were part of a whole wave of early 80s bands influenced by Jazz and Bossa like the Style Council, Sade, and Everything But The Girl — a trend they helped start as former members of Weekend. For a time Jazz was the trendy thing among London scenesters, centered on the Jazz Room at the Electric Ballroom in Camden whose dancers are featured in the video of this track. I remember clubs back then playing Art Blakey and Astrud Gilberto while girls were dressing like they just stepped out of a French New Wave film, but I don’t know how much of a big deal it was outside of London.
Usually the “Jazz” influence on these bands went no deeper than a smoky saxophone and shuffling beat, but Working Week were more serious about the genre than the rest as shown on their 1984 debut single “Venceremos (We Will Win)” which was made to raise money for the Chile Solidarity campaign protesting the regime of Pinochet in that country.
There was a lovely 7″ “Bossa” version of the song but the real action was in this 10-minute “Jazz Dance” edition. Starting with melancholy vocals by Robert Wyatt and Tracey Thorn it segues into a passionate turn in Spanish by Claudia Figueroa (who doesn’t appear to have done anything else), then it’s off to the races with fiery solos by Larry Stabbings and Harry Beckett. It still sounds dazzling today.
I don’t know if it was because things were so grim that people needed cheering up more, but there were a lot of novelty hits in the 1970s. 99.9% of them were terrible, but this one was marvelous and “My chiffon is wet, darling!” is still one of my favourite lines in pop.
“Disco Tex” was a fellow called Sir Monti Rock III and the group was the brainchild of The Four Seasons’ producer/writer Bob Crewe. This was a hit in 1974 before Disco went overground and became a cultural juggernaut so it was ahead of that curve, and its camp flamboyance was ahead of Sylvester and The Village People in being a hit that came out of gay club culture — both Rock and Crewe were gay and the record was made to sound like a live performance in a gay disco. Which just shows that even the silliest novelty record can have some sociological significance.
I don’t know if the alternative culture program Twentieth Century Box was ever shown outside of London but it was essential viewing. Produced by Janet Street-Porter, it gave a very young Danny Baker his first TV gig and was on the air in the early 1980s during a golden age for British youth culture (and had a theme tune by John Foxx). It devoted episodes to the Rockabilly scene, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the Blitz Kids, often providing their first coverage on television.
At the time Danny Baker was at the NME where he’d been a champion of soul and dance music before it was trendy so he may have been the instigator behind this terrific episode about the British Jazz-Funk scene as he had just written a cover story about it for the paper.
As Danny says at the start of the program the scene wasn’t covered properly by the music press and even today it remains a mostly unknown story. The histories of Mods, Skins, and Punks have been chronicled down to the last shirt collar detail, but Soul Boys (and girls) have never received the same attention beyond the occasional joke about Essex boys and Escort XR3is with fluffy dice. Northern Soul gets far more respect despite being conservative and reactionary at heart — we don’t want now’t to do with that soft southern funk rubbish. Brit-Funk was a multi-racial, working class scene full of kids creating their own original styles but it was never as cool. Maybe it was too genuinely working class and non-elitist, you didn’t need the right trousers to join in. It really was all about the music which didn’t give music writers much of a hook.
The thing that strikes me the most watching the wonderful club footage in this show (which starts around the 13-minute mark) is how damn happy and joyous the atmosphere is. I’d forgotten all about that, and it brought a little lump to my throat. This was an era of violence between Punks and Teds, Mods and Rockers, and tense rock concerts where you had to be worried about being crushed by a pogoing mob or nutted by some skinhead, so the kids all saying “there’s no trouble” meant a lot more than it seems now.
My musical tastes were too varied to be 100% part of any scene back then (I liked Earth, Wind & Fire and Joy Division) but I often went to the Lyceum Ballroom on Friday and Saturday nights when Steve Walsh, and Greg Edwards were DJ-ing. The place was always packed to the rafters with kids wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the names of their Tribes from different parts of London — Brixton Front Line, Dalston Soul Patrol — all blowing whistles and chanting along with the records.
The highpoint of the evening was usually the massive communal line-dance to the funky Latin groove of “Jingo” by Candido. Other big tunes from this time were the glittery “Casanova” and the anthemic “Love Has Come Around”. All these are the extended 12″ mixes so get ready for some big downloads, and some dancing.
For a few years in the early 90s U2 forgot about being the saviours of rock and roll and remembered that they had once been a scrappy Post-Punk band. Trying to get that spirit back led them to make probably their best album in Achtung Baby and push their own envelope further with 12″ dance remixes of some of its singles.
These came out around the same time Primal Scream and Happy Mondays were mixing Rock with club beats so U2 were maybe bandwagon jumping a bit. The Perfecto mix of “Mysterious Ways” wouldn’t sound too out of place on Pills, Thrills, and Bellyaches which isn’t surprising as Mondays’ producer Paul Oakenfold was involved in it. The Solar Plexus mix is along the same lines but is even better I think — sounds like the drum roll from Steve Miller’s “Take The Money & Run” at the start of it.
Oakenfold also did the knob-twiddling honors on “Even Better Than The Real Thing” which is a more thorough deconstruction of the song, adding a big Rave beat and bringing the backing vocals forward into a euphoric wave-your-hands-in-the-air chorus. This version was a bigger hit in the UK than the original. The Sexy Dub mix is longer and more Rave-y and doesn’t feature Bono at all which may be a bonus for some people.
I know it’s the uncoolest thing in the world to say nice things about U2 these days, but I think they deserve some kudos for being more adventurous through this and the next couple of albums. Better than sticking their heads in the sand and just making another Joshua Tree which, being the biggest band in the world, they could easily have done and still made shed-loads of money.
Disco didn’t produce many great bands because that’s not what it was all about, but Chic must be one of the greatest in any genre — certainly one of the best rhythm sections ever — and they produced some marvelous records for other people too. Not that I give a shit about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but the fact that they’ve been nominated 10 times and failed to get in is a sad indictment of those rockist wankers.
Producer Arthur Baker made quite the splash in 1982. First he unleashed the revolutionary “Planet Rock” on the world and changed dance music forever — I still remember the first time I heard it — and had his first big popular hit with this classic cover of an Eddy Grant song which took over dance floors all over the land that year.
After that double whammy Baker became one of the hottest knob-twiddlers around, in demand as a remixer, and producing other megahits like Freeez’s “I.O.U”. Even those gloomy buggers New Order flew over to New York to touch the hem of his garment and work with him on “Confusion” — which, to be frank, was a bit of a let-down and nowhere near as good as this track.
I’ve always thought of this as a perfect 12″ single, even though it lasts an epic 9.5 minutes it never feels too long (unlike some extended mixes). In fact, I think I’d be happy if this went on forever.