Songwriting in the 1980s

80s

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since we’ve been doing the Picks of the Years thing. What got me really started on this was the way that the 1980s divides people. For some, it is the Decade That Taste Forgot and for others it is Pop Heaven. Personally, I reckon that the 80s were like all the other decades, there was good and bad.

One thing that is very 1980s is a kind of glossy slickness, perfect production and a big, wide-screen sound, but never fear, you won’t be hearing anything from the artists in the picture above.

Of course, there are other sides to ’80s music but it is the songwriting, production and general “bigness” of the whole thing that I have been thinking about. Even the intimate and emotionally-charged songs seem to have a sense of epic scale about them. OK, so sometimes it ends up being a musical equivalent of Top Gun, but that just screams out “1980s” anyway.

So, here is a playlist that showcases the glossy sound, the production, the soulful flourishes (without being soul music) and the all-round epic qualities. All of the artists are British, some are bigger names than others, one or two are probably not as well-known as they should be but all of the tracks I’ve picked show up at least one facet of what I’ve been rambling on about.

 

Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time

In the latest Rolling Stone there is a piece listing what the magazine thinks are the best 50 Prog albums ever.

Now, I am always wary of anything from Rolling Stone and this list includes things that simply have nothing at all to do with Prog (ELO?), acts that are more like stadium rock (I really hate Rush with a passion) and a fair amount of prog-metal crossover, but it does have some bona fide Prog classics.

I’d argue that Frank Zappa was never Prog and I’m sure that he would have agreed with me, and Mike Oldfield? Only by default, I think. I am also certain that Pink Floyd would never describe their music as Prog either, but if they did, would Animals qualify as a top Prog album? I doubt it.

There is too much real Prog missing from this list. I mean, where are Hatfield And The North, Nektar or Aphrodite’s Child? And what about Steve Hillage or, stretching the definition of Prog slightly, Hawkwind? You could make a case for Queensrÿche’s Operation Mindcrime instead of yet another Rush album and why ignore Opeth’s genuinely prog Heritage?

Personally, I’ve like to have seen Steve Hackett on the list as a solo artist, ideally with Voyage of the Acolyte, which is utterly Prog from start to finish and I am confused as to why Van der Graaf Generator only have one album on the list. Seriously? What about Godbluff?

Comus – a band I had completely forgotten until I read something that reminded me.

I knew about Comus back in the early 1970s. They tended to get lumped in with people like the Third Ear Band, because of their general weirdness, and also with the Incredible String Band.

Anyway, I knew about them and my cousin liked them a lot, but he was weird. He liked the Holy Modal Rounders as well.

I was reminded of them yesterday because I was looking up Opeth on Wikipedia and that led me on to look at the article about Storm Corrosion, the Steven Wilson/Mikael Åkerfeldt collaboration from a couple of years ago. That article mentioned Comus as an inspiration for the Storm Corrosion album. I made a mental note to check on YouTube to see if their first album was there and, lo and behold, here it is.

I think that some people here might like it, certainly I think it will strike a chord with Beth and maybe Chris too.

 

Summertime Soul

I dunno why, but Summer always seems to mean soul to me. I think it is the heat, the sun, it has a languid lazy feel that makes me want to listen to some mellow grooves.

Anyway, here are a dozen tunes that seem to say SUMMER to me, mostly stuff from the 1970s, which was the heyday of blissed out summer soul and lazy funk grooves.

Notes from the underground

Nothing to do with Dostoevsky here, just me musing on the split between chart music and all the underground stuff that was such a big part of the musical landscape in the late 1960s and early-to-mid 70s.

Hoshino Sakura’s Slade post was the inspiration for this ramble through the past and it will be a ramble, because I am not really going to advance a grand theory here.

The 60s really was the golden age of chart music, probably only really equalled by the first part of the 1980s, times when the charts actually reflected what the young, the fashionable and the alternative communities were listening to and buying. I can remember when the charts mattered, because you would hear bands like The Who, The Stones, The Kinks etc, people who were making the thing up as they went along, following in the wake of The Beatles. You also heard a lot of black music courtesy of Tamla Motown. This was when the charts mattered, back when the Sixties were Swinging, or, to paraphrase George Harrison, back When We Were Fab.

I think it all changed after 1967, that was when the music changed, when it all got weird, when things got longer, be they hair, hemlines or pieces of music. You really couldn’t imagine something like Interstellar Overdrive getting much airplay and once people like King Crimson got going, you knew that there were things that wouldn’t be on Top of the Pops ever.

Of course, there were people like John Peel, Annie Nightingale and Bob Harris flying the flag for underground music on late night BBC Radio 1 and, for some of us, those shows were massively important. Where else, I ask, would we have heard Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Gnidrolog, Gentle Giant, Kevin Coyne, Gong or Kevin Ayers, to name just a few.

There was a huge amount of music coming out, music that was too varied, too long, too experimental or just too weird for the charts and for daytime radio. You just had to be in the know.

Being in the know generally meant having older friends, maybe elder siblings, who listened to The Grateful Dead or The Groundhogs or The Pink Fairies. It was a kind of rite of passage, an initiation, to be admitted to the world of the underground. It was also a kind of admission that you were consciously being different. You had nailed your colours to the groovy, psychedelic mast of the Good Ship Freaky. You were almost duty bound to dismiss the charts as uncool or a sell out.

There were exceptions, a few brave souls who would venture out from the patchouli-scented, dimly-lit fug of the clubs and the souks of Portobello Rd to release a single occasionally, maybe people like Atomic Rooster;

Now, I really like that one, but it is definitely at the poppier end of the Rooster’s output. There are plenty of other bands who wouldn’t have got on daytime Radio One, maybe like The Edgar Broughton Band?

Very Captain Beefheart in places there, I’m sure you’ll agree, and a long way away from Ballroom Blitz or Telegram Sam.

Anyway, not only did you listen to different music, you looked different, you tried, as best as you could, to look alternate. Of course, your Mum and Dad didn’t like it, mine even threatened to burn my Afghan coat because it smelt of goats. It was a sign of who you were, the music, the clothes and certain other things that all basically said Not Mainstream, Not Trendy.

I think that occasionally we all listened to stuff that we didn’t really like, nor understood, but it was part of being apart. If Peel played it, we listened, if TotP played it, mostly we sneered.