Monday, August 4, 2008

August 2008

The 80's Edition !!!

Lets face it. We all secretly love 80s music. It had a joyous childhood innocence and a complete lack of self-consciousness. Music was infectious and fun again. So what better than an entire edition of the Nevstar Music Guide dedicated to that particularly unique musical era.

Album of the Month

CSS : Donkey

Music is art. It can be very serious, introspective and discerning. But sometimes it can be fun. The aural equivalent of throwing paint at the wall and admiring the artisitic outcome. This was the 80s and it is surprising how much of the music has endured, mainly because the pop sensibilities of making songs people sing along to means those songs never really go out of fashion.

So our album of the month is an album which shares many hallmarks of the best of the 80s. CSS is an Brazilian pop band whose name derives from the Portugese phrase Cansei der Ser Sexy which roughly translates as "tired of being sexy". They formed in 2003 and their self-titled debut albumwas a worldwide hit as listeners around the world grooved to their derivative brand of energetic dance-pop. Tracks such as Off The Hook, Music Is My Hot Hot Sex and Lets Make Love And Listen To Death From Above walked a tight line between sexy and silly. The Nevstar was lucky enough to be at both their 2007 concerts at the Kings Arms in Auckland and was blown away by the incredible energy and verve with which they played their effervescent set.

They have returned in 2008 with their second effort Donkey which is straight out of 1982. There are the infectious danceable grooves, heavy use of synth rhythms and pop hooks big enough to land sharks. Its music to dance to while singing out loud, just like you did to Tainted Love

Two tracks midway through the album are the best examples. How I Became Paranoid is a slice of pop genuis with sardonic electronic synthesiser runs reminiscent of Talk Talk or ABC while Move is a long lost Talking Heads offcut with sharp lyrics and jaunty rhythm.

One commentator remarked that the band should be on perpetual rotation on Friday afternoons which eloquently captures the mood of the music. Donkey is a throwback album with the 80s in its genes. It really should only be available in cassette and vinyl.

Check it out here :

Best Track: Move

Listen To It If You Like:
80s era Blondie
ABC / Talk Talk / Soft Cell etc

If You Like This Try:
Hot Hot Heat..................Make Up The Breakdown
Scissor Sisters................Scissor Sisters
The Hoosiers..................The Trick To Life

Essential Classic Album From the 80's

Human League : Dare!

There were undoubtedly some great albums in the 80s. London Calling by The Clash; The Unforgettable Fire from U2; Purple Rain by Prince; Thriller by Michael Jackson; and Closer from Joy Division to name but a few. Yet the eighties are remembered more immediately for the repeated string of unforgettable pop songs, the majority of which were one-hit wonders. What we are looking for is an album which represented the dynamic pop singles of the 80s but also was strong enough as an entire album to warrant coveted Essential Classic status.

There were a few contenders. Soft Cell are known for their brilliant single Tainted Loveand 80s aficionados will find the album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaretis not without merit. Similarly, the album Talk Talk Talkfrom The Psychedelic Furs, featuring the gorgeous single Pretty In Pinkis well worth picking out of bargain bins at your local record store. But to my tin ear, the essential classic album from the 1980s is Dare! by The Human League.

The Human League were pioneers of the electronic synthesizer sound that came to epitomise singles throughout the 80s. Following on from the work of German pioneers Kraftwerk, they married this technological competence with a set of harmonic, melodic songs that were uplifting yet also maintained a sense of intrigue even eerieness. Those following on from their work included such 80s staples as A-ha, Pet Shop Boys, ABC and Duran Duran.

The album is bookended by two fabulous pop songs. The first is the lesser known but quite hypnotic The Things That Dreams Are Made Ofwhich is an appetising pop gem featuring a giant hook bounding up neatly a story of yearning for simple pleasures. The last track is the monster smash Don't You Want Me,the hit that made them pop stars around the world. Featuring dual male and female vocals singing both sides of a love song, the tension builds during a notable pre-chorus, to its spectacular, memorable anthemic chorus followed by the inevitable synthensizer instrumental bridge. It still sounds absolute great today. In fact, I heard it on the radio today!

Both songs, utilise this brilliant technique of a pre-chorus (lacking a better description) linking the story telling of the verse to the sing-along anthemic chorus. It serves to ramp up the energy of the song before the chorus explodes around the listener. It is a technique that Bon Jovi would later employ to devasting effect (listen to Livin' On A Prayer).

Amidst this sunny pop album though are sections of outright darkness and despair. Devotees of the nu-wave icons like Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys are encouraged to check out tracks like Darknessor Do Or Diewhich contain some quite morbid musings albeit to the same soundtrack of robotic electronic beats. Similarly, the track Love Actioncould've found a place easily in New Order's first few albums if they had been formed at this point. Its jumpy rhythms somehow complement the world-weary vocals. Brilliant stuff.

So there you have it. A beguiling and riveting album that was so much more than the brilliant single for which it is best known. In my view, a worthy candidate as an Essential Classic Album. But lets leave the final word to a more discerning voice. My favourite anecdote about this album features the legendary rock critic, Lester Bangs, editor of Creem magazine (profiled memorably by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous). Lester Bangs unfortunately died at an early age from a nasty drug interaction. Still on his turntable when his body was discovered was Human League's Dare! making it the last album he ever listened to. A more fitting epitaph is hard to write.

If you like this try :

Kraftwerk...................Computer World
Depeche Mode..............Violator
Gary Numan................Cars
ABC..........................The Look of Love

Top Ten List

This whole edition of the Nevstar Music Guide featuring the 80s came about as I compiled an 80's collection Mix CD for a friend. It made me ponder the peculiar qualities of that age in music. It was an era of one hit wonders, MTV, big hair, flashy videos and nu-wave synthesisers. It started me thinking about what song really immediately says The Eighties like no other. Not necessarily the best tracks of the 80's but the ones which most closely encapsulate the uniqueness of the era. So here is my attempt at :

The Top Ten Iconic Songs From The 80's

10) The Reflex - Duran Duran

Really, no band says the 80's more than Duran Duran. Scholars may one day hence argue their importance in music (although they probably wont), but there can be no argument that they changed the face of music videos. A band born for MTV, they produced a number of great pop songs, none better than The Reflex.
See video here.

9) Take On Me- A-ha

No other band had "The Look" like A-ha did. Hailing from Sweden, there were responsible for one huge hit, Take On Me, which is still instantly recognisable today as an essential part of 80s heritage. Its video would surely rank amongst the finest of all time.
See video here.

8) Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go - Wham!

What can you say about Wham! except nothing fills the dance floor quicker than the singular spoken line "Jitterbugs". A riotously infectious song from this dynamic duo who had the look and sound that could only be from one decade. Choose Life!
See video here.

PS: And Ive just made one regular reader very happy by mentioning Wham in this serious music column. You know who you are!

7) West End Girls- Pet Shop Boys

An immensely talented band, the Pet Shop Boys were inarguably 80s icons with a brand uniquely their own. This was their best track and came complete with a terrific video as per the requirements of the age.
See video here.

6) Girls Just Wanna Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper

Madonna may have had more hits but she had far too much staying power to be considered on this list. So its Cyndi who makes it, her gigantic smash hit being a regular on 80s playlists then, now and forever. Listen out for the brilliant keyboard run to start it. Sounds dynamic with speakers up loud.
See video here.

5) Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick Astley

Unfortunately, the 80s will also be remembered for the disgusting trend of manufactured pop stars which culminated almost inevitably with Milli Vanilli. Just as the initial age of television gave rise to teen idols like Frankie Avalon and Ricky Nelson, MTV spawned the need for pop stars that looked the part. No one demonstrated this better than the likeably defective Rick Astley. A horrendous trend which somehow gave us this lasting song. Be sure to watch the video; its absolutely terrible. Further evidence (if needed) that white men really can't dance.
See video here.

4) Venus - Bananarama

Surely, an element of 80s iconocism is a complete lack of any other songs. Name me another Bananarama song please! But if you are going to have your 15 minutes of fame, make it memorable.
See video here.

3) The Final Countdown- Europe
What Eighties countdown would be complete without The Final Countdown! A massive one-hit wonder, The Final Countdown was emblematic of the deluge of pretty hair-metal acts which hit the airwaves in the late eighties. MTV again mainly responsible for the rise of these 'pretty' metallers. Its not metal. But its a lot of fun. Again the video is tremendous.
See video here.

2) Tainted Love - Soft Cell

The 80s were populated with numerous cover songs and so would be churlish not to have one in the top ten. Soft Cell do a terrific job with this 60s pop song and it remains one of the high points of 80s pop. Not number one only by virtue of fact that was actually off a half decent album, the aforementioned Non Stop Erotic Cabaret.
See video here.

And the No. 1 iconic song of the 80s is..............

1) I Ran (So Far Away) - A Flock Of Seagulls

As Austin Powers says, you didnt miss much in the 80's. "There was a Flock Of Seagulls and thats about it!" The perfect 80's song. It has the requisite cheesy 80's era video (see here) featuring horrible fashion, embarrasingly large sunglasses, promiment electric organ, questionable sexuality, and even more questionable hair. The song features a brilliant intro, bouncy rhythms, sensational electric organ and terrific song writing. Furthermore, the band didn't record anything else being anonymous immediately before and soon after it. But I Ran was a huge, huge hit and is still incredibly popular 30 years later. Just simply, I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls is THE quintessential 80's song.

And there you have it. Agree, disagree, or cant believe I missed your favourite 80s track. Leave a comment or send me an email. Love to hear your feedback on what song you consider the iconic song of the 80s.

Thats it for another month. Hope you liked this 80s edition of the Nevstar Music Guide. Until next month.


1 comment:

Amanda K said...

Hey there, had a listen to the samples of Donkey - really like it!! Slight touches of B52's in there too :)