Nov 08

MASH – “Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)”

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#459, 30th May 1980

I have to admit that if my 14-year-old son wrote these lyrics my first reaction might not be, “Hey! That’s my new film theme!”, though I’m sure little bolsters the will to live more than an endless series of royalty checks. Snark aside, this track, and its appearance here and now, are somewhat rum – a theme from an import TV show which had been running for 8 years and which had another three to go. I know transatlantic cultural transmission used to be on the slow side, but really – why?

Nov 08

JOHNNY LOGAN – “What’s Another Year?”

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#458, 17th May 1980

You can see why he won it even before you hear him sing: his side-saddle lounging on the Eurovision stage signalled a more intimate, warmer performance than the Contest had been used to, particularly after the ABBA insurgence. Ballads had always been big; upbeat songs had got even bigger – Logan’s mournful poking at crushed hopes was a smart, competitive move.

Nov 08


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#457, 2nd May 1980

The insight that took Kevin Rowland from punker to star was that the DIY aesthetic which formed some part of punk’s appeal – the idea that inspiration could and should trump technical ability – could as easily be applied to soul. If soul was a passion that emerged from within, why filter it through technique? Love, belief and respect for the past would surely be enough.

Nov 08

BLONDIE – “Call Me”

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#456, 26th April 1980

After a sequence of poised hits in which Debbie Harry defined glamour for a generation, it’s almost a relief to hear Blondie sound so dishevelled here. “Call Me” is a romp, a gloriously chaotic collision of twenty different ideas – multilingual bridges, boogie riffs, glam shout-out backing vocals and more. The pile-up might have been expected given the nature of the song – a collaboration between a band on a trajectory out of new wave and into everywhere, and a producer who’d made his name in disco but had a clear and enduring fascination with the trashy end of rock.

Not all the ideas are good – that horrible synth-guitar solo certainly isn’t – and the clutter initially threatens to overwhelm the song, but everyone sounds like they’re happily throwing decorum to the wind, and the record’s energy is thoroughly infectious. By the end, with Harry’s wicked glee over “your lover’s lover’s alibis”, you’re sad the party has to stop.

Nov 08

THE DETROIT SPINNERS – “Working My Way Back To You”

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#455, 12th April 1980

This is one of those Number Ones that feels like a long-service medal: certainly you wouldn’t begrudge the band who made “Ghetto Child” and “Mighty Love” a hit this size, but “Working” isn’t quite up to that standard. It is what it is: a song out of time, wrenched out of an earlier era and brushed unsympathetically up to conform to current best practice.

Oct 08

THE JAM – “Going Underground”/”Dreams Of Children”

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#454, 22nd March 1980

Straight in at number one: the public gets what the public wants. “Going Underground”’s arrival at the top is an example of the charts acting justly for once – steady and remarkable improvement from the scrappy punk hand-me-downs of “The Modern World” rewarded. The Jam’s first number one was their best record to date, a distillation of wrath and excitement so potent that it single-handedly justifies the attention paid to Weller ever since. If someone could – even once – produce a record so thrill-powered, it would be irresponsible to take your eye off him, even when his gifts seemed to have calcified forever.

Oct 08

FERN KINNEY – “Together We Are Beautiful”

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#453, 15th March 1980

After “Atomic”, this is something of a let-down: a record about modesty that succeeds, modestly. I’m fond of “Together”, actually: there’s something refreshing about the candour of “I’ve been with better looking guys / You’ve been with prettier looking women”, and I like its rather tidy, bubbly take on disco. It’s a song that sets out to be sweet, and despite a somewhat cloying chorus it gets there. But ‘sweet’, in the middle of a landmark era for pop, isn’t really enough.

Oct 08

BLONDIE – “Atomic”

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#452, 1st March 1980

At some point in the early 1980s – after this, but not long after – I realised we were all going to die, rather horribly and rather soon. I acquired the conviction before I picked up the geopolitical knowledge to put names to it – Reagan, Afghanistan, Cruise. Maybe I picked up the information at school, or watched the wrong five minutes of the news. Once I became aware of the imminent nuclear doomsday, I avoided fresh information on it, but when some did break through my filter it was like overproof liquor for the imagination. How bad would it be? Infinitely. How would we know the hour of its coming? You wouldn’t. What on Earth would you do when they dropped the bomb?

Oct 08

KENNY ROGERS – “Coward Of The County”

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#451, 16th February 1980

There’s a term in comics criticism, “Women in Refrigerators Syndrome”. It’s applied when the murder, rape, torture or otherwise abuse of a female supporting character provides the impetus for a male hero’s character development. This being superhero comics, “character development” and “whuppin’ the villain’s ass” are generally synonymous. “Coward Of The County” is women-in-refrigerator pop: the hero may have the best of motivations for being yellow, but yellow is what he is, until his girlfriend is gang-raped and he discovers his inner man.

Oct 08

THE SPECIALS – The Special AKA Live! (EP)

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#450, 2nd February 1980

The Specials are a nexus point in British pop, and it’s easy to see why they were so important to so many. They pick up on the thread of Britain’s love for Jamaican dance music and the skinhead culture of the early 70s. They’re another incarnation of Britpop’s Hamburg Ideal – bright, straight-talking lads honing their pop to an awesome no-bullshit sharpness. Their working model of collective, cross-racial collaboration has been an indirect blueprint for almost every mutation in the UK’s urban music scenes since. And by giving that concept a label – Two Tone – and tying their creativity so closely to the ferment of British street politics, the band moved from blueprint to inspiration. Like all bands, they were a roil of individual egos; like many, they fell apart too soon, but it would be tough to argue that the Specials were anything other than a Good Thing.