Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Best Of 1985 - part 3

JUMP TO: 40-31 II 30-21 II 20-11 II 10-1

As Doc Brown once kind of said: "We have to go back... back to 1985." That's right, we're midway through my countdown of my favourite songs from 1985 - and Back To The Future will play a part in this batch of songs. In fact, half of the songs in this post featured in movies at the time.

Madonna was everywhere in 1985 - especially on film soundtracks

Movie soundtracks had been providing the charts with massive hits for many years, and 1985 was no different, with songs from films like The Jewel Of The Nile, White Nights, The Breakfast Club, The Goonies, Desperately Seeking Susan and A View To A Kill all selling by the truckload.

The age of the soundtrack hit would continue into the 1990s and early 2000s, but hit songs from movies are few and far between these days. Funnily enough, it's the ubiquitous Pitbull who's had the biggest hit from a film in recent months - and his song, "Back In Time" (from Men In Black 3), shares a title with a song from... Back To The Future. Spooky.

Before we get to our first movie songs, at number 20 is "Don't Go" by Pseudo Echo, which became another hit for the Aussie synthpop exponents. In fact, its number 4 peak matched the position achieved by their debut single, "Listening". "Don't Go" was the first single from the group's second album, Love An Adventure - an era which saw the band undergoing a major transformation, with the Leigh brothers (Vince and James) replacing former members Tony Lugton and Anthony Argiro.

At number 19 is "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston, the second in her record-breaking string of seven consecutive number 1 hits in the US, following her first chart-topper, "Saving All My Love For You". Her debut single, at least in the US, was "You Give Good Love", which had "only" managed a position of number 3. In other parts of the world, different tracks ("All At Once" and "Thinking About You") from her self-titled album had been chosen to be the lead single. Although, just to confuse matters, the first single on which Whitney received a credit was "Hold Me", a duet with soul star Teddy Pendergrass in 1984 - and that track prevented her from being eligible for the Best New Artist Grammy for 1985.

Next up at number 18 is "Dare Me" by The Pointer Sisters, who had a soundtrack hit of their own earlier in 1985 with "Neutron Dance" from Beverly Hills Cop. "Dare Me" was the first single from the sisters' Contact album and would be their last significant hit. Nearly two decades later, the hook from the song was used in Junior Jack's "Stupidisco" single in 2004.

Here it is - the song from Back To The Future: at number 17 is "The Power Of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News. The track would reach number 1 in Australia for two weeks in 1985 - as would an identically named song by Jennifer Rush later in the year. In fact, the two singles ended up as the 23rd and 24th biggest selling releases for the year (with Jennifer taking the higher position). In Australia, the song would also appear on the band's next album, Fore!, which would be phenomenonally successful around the world and feature prominently in the Bret Easton Ellis novel, American Psycho, a few years later.

Another song from a film is at number 16 - it's "Rhythm Of The Night" by DeBarge, which featured on the soundtrack to The Last Dragon, a long-forgotten martial arts film starring Vanity 6 lead singer Vanity. The movie was produced by Motown and DeBarge was a group of siblings signed to the legendary record label. Until "Rhythm Of The Night", DeBarge had only had midling success, but this track gave them a top 10 hit around the world, including in Australia, where it reached number 5. It's also one of the earliest hits written by legendary songwriter Diane Warren, who's been responsible for one or two big soundtrack hits you might have heard of.

Speaking of things that are long-forgotten - at number 15 is "Gambler" by Madonna, which was taken from the film, Vision Quest, and reached number 10 in Australia, but is rarely remembered these days. 1985 was an incredibly busy year for Madonna. Besides the slew of singles from Like A Virgin, she also released singles from two movies, Vision Quest and Desperately Seeking Susan, and in some parts of the world, re-released tracks from Madonna also charted. In Australia, Madonna had six top 10 singles in 1985, including "Like A Virgin" which started the year at number 1. "Gambler" was my third favourite track of hers that year and was one she wrote without any of her regular co-writers.

Making their debut in 1985 was this British duo - at number 14 is "Don't Look Down" by Go West. Comprised of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie, Go West had a handful of big UK and Australian hits (and much more modest US hits) from 1985 to 1987 before things petered out. Then, out of nowhere, they returned in 1990 to enjoy renewed success in the UK and Australia (and, this time, considerable success in the States) thanks to their inclusion on, you guessed it, a movie soundtrack (Pretty Woman). "Don't Look Down" was the final single released from the group's self-titled debut album, which featured another song we'll see in Part 4.

Rivalling Madonna for the amount of hits achieved in 1985, at number 13 is "Don't Lose My Number" by Phil Collins, one of many singles from the No Jacket Required album. As well as this track and the likes of "One More Night", "Take Me Home" and "Sussudio", the Genesis singer/drummer also appeared on "Easy Lover" with Philip Bailey (surprisingly a flop in Australia) and soundtrack hit "Separate Lives" with Marilyn Martin (from White Nights) - meaning he was all but inescapable for the entire year. "Don't Lose My Number" reached number 10 in Australia and featured a video which showed that at least Phil didn't take himself too seriously.

Here she is again - at number 12 it's "Crazy For You" by Madonna, which was the first single released from Vision Quest. In some countries, Australia included, the film's title was changed to Crazy For You in an attempt to cash in on the runaway success of this single, but the movie, which starred Matthew Modine, was still a box office failure. "Crazy For You" was Madonna's third Australian number 1 for 1985, spending four weeks at the top of the chart and ending the year as the third highest selling single.

At number 11"Out Of Mind Out Of Sight" by Models, who had a massive year in 1985. They reached number 2 earlier in the year with "Barbados" before going all the way to number 1 for two weeks with this track. It wasn't to last, however, with the group never scoring a top 20 hit again, despite releasing the likes of "Let's Kiss" and "Hold On". "Out Of Mind Out Of Sight", which features backing vocals from I'm Talking's Zan and Kate Ceberano, also became an American top 40 hit, reaching number 37 there.

In Part 4, we'll find my favourite soundtrack songs for the year, as well as a couple of landmark number 1s.

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Monday, 24 September 2012

The Best Of 1985 - part 2

JUMP TO: 40-31 II 30-21 II 20-11 II 10-1

Band Aid got the ball rolling in 1984, and in 1985, the music industry's charitable efforts to raise money for the famine in Africa culminated in the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia. What Woodstock must have been for kids in the 1960s, Live Aid was for children of the 1980s - a heap of the music world's biggest acts all on the same bill (with Phil Collins twice for good measure).

Anything the UK can do... America chimed in with their charity record, "We Are The World", in 1985

Australia even contributed to proceedings with the Oz For Africa concert, which I remember watching on TV while I waited for Live Aid to start. On the Sydney stage was a pretty impressive line-up: Mental As Anything, Australian Crawl, Dragon, Models, Mondo Rock, Little River Band and headliners INXS, to name just a few.

But first, at number 30: "The Sun Always Shines On TV" by a-ha, the follow-up to one of 1985's biggest worldwide hits - a song we'll get to eventually. I'll talk more about the Norwegian trio then, but as far as "The Sun Always..." is concerned, it's actually their only UK chart-topper, since "Take On Me" was held off the top spot there by "The Power Of Love" by Jennifer Rush, another of 1985's big hits. The clip for "The Sun Always..." also carries on the storyline of the landmark "Take On Me" video.

At number 29 is "And We Danced" by The Hooters, an American band who were a two-hit wonder in Australia. This song was the follow-up to "All You Zombies" and is, in my opinion, the far superior of the two. In the pre-iTunes era, I actually bought a best of CD by The Hooters just for those two songs - and I'm not convinced I've ever listened to any of the other tracks on it.

A band that played during the UK half of Live Aid is at number 28 - it's "Walls Come Tumbling Down!" by The Style Council, which, like many of their songs, received a good airing in my house. As a 10-year-old, the political meaning behind Style Council tunes like this passed me by - even with lyrics as blatant as "the public enemies No. 10". These days, you'd be arrested under suspicion of terrorism for anti-governmental sentiments like that.

There are few '80s tracks as feel-good as the one at number 27: "Walking On Sunshine" by Katrina & The Waves. Fronted by Katrina Leskanich, the band would never have another hit in Australia and the band seemed doomed to be one-hit wonders forever until a strange thing happened in 1997: the American group represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest with "Love Shine A Light" - and won!

At number 26: "We Are The World" by USA For Africa, which topped charts around the world, including in Australia for a massive nine weeks. Featuring a who's who of the US music industry at the time (except for Madonna and Prince), it was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones - a dream team if ever there was one. The best bit, though, is when Cyndi Lauper lets loose just before the three-minute mark.

A soundtrack hit at number 25, it's "St Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)" by John Parr from the movie of the same name. Well, the St Elmo's Fire part of the name, anyway. The Man In Motion part of the title is because of the fact that the song originally had nothing to do with the film, being written about wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen. One thing I didn't know until now: John is British.

At number 24: "Love & Pride" by King, the debut single by the group named after singer Paul King, a man with an impressive head of hair. "Love & Pride" reached number 8 in Australia, and that was pretty much that for the group here, despite a few more hits in the UK. Nevertheless, by 1987, Paul had gone solo, but with less success than he had with the group. A Top Of The Pops performance is below.

A song that wasn't a big hit: at number 23 it's "They Say It's Gonna Rain" by Hazell Dean, who was having trouble following up the success of earlier singles "Searchin' (I Gotta Find A Man)" and "Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)". From 1985 to 1987, Hazell released a string of songs that were good enough to be hits but failed to connect. This song ended up in an extended version on her 1988 album, Always, and was always one of my favourites of hers.

From a flop produced by Stock Aitken Waterman to one of their most successful songs, at number 22 is "Say I'm Your Number One" by Princess, which went top 10 in the UK and Australia. But like Hazell, Princess would struggle to score another hit despite some decent tunes. Unlike the high-energy sound of Hazell, Dead Or Alive and Divine, "Say I'm Your Number One" showcased SAW's more soulful sound, which they would all but abandon in subsequent years.

And at number 21 is "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds, which appeared in the aforementioned John Hughes classic, The Breakfast Club. In many countries, including Australia, the track is the band's biggest hit - but they didn't actually write it themselves. They weren't even the first act to be offered the song, with Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry having previously turned it down

There we go - halfway through my favourite 40 songs from 1985. We'll take a short break on Thursday for my regular ARIA chart recap and carry on in Part 3 with the top 20 and more soundtrack hits on the weekend.

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Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Best Of 1985 - part 1

JUMP TO: 40-31 II 30-21 II 20-11 II 10-1

I've always loved British music - and there was no better time for it than the mid '80s. As my journey through my favourite songs of years past reaches 1985, we come to the tail end of what became known as the Second British Invasion (the first one happening back in the 1960s led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones).

Tears For Fears were part of the mid '80s British Invasion

The phrase British Invasion relates to the success of UK acts in the US chart, but Australia was also treated to an influx of music from the motherland - and as we count down my list of favourite songs from 1985, we'll see that a healthy 65% of this first batch are tracks by British artists.

Our first British performer is one half of the duo at number 40 - "Goodbye Bad Times" by Giorgio Moroder and Philip Oakey, who, if you recall, teamed up on my favourite song from 1984. This second single didn't do anywhere near as well as "Together In Electric Dreams", but was another catchy little ditty from their album collaboration. Yep, I just wrote "ditty".

At number 39: "Raspberry Beret" by Prince & The Revolution, who was well and truly a mainstream superstar by now. In the US, this song was the first single from his post-Purple Rain album, Around The World In A Day, which also contained "Pop Life" and "Paisley Park" (the lead single in Australia). Paisley Park was also the name of Prince's record label that launched that year and his recording studio. The period from 1984 to 1992 was really the peak of Prince's commercial success, with a new album coming out every year (including soundtrack releases like Batman and Graffiti Bridge) and scaling charts around the world.

With their last substantial hit, at number 38 is "King For A Day" by Thompson Twins, who carried on recording for some years but stopped seeing the type of success they'd enjoyed in the previous couple of years. In the UK, the slump had already begun, with this track failing to hit the top 20 there but it did well enough in Australia and the US.

A band that had no trouble making it to the upper reaches of charts around the globe in 1985 is at number 37: "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" by Tears For Fears, from the all-conquering Songs From The Big Chair album. Between this song, previous single "Shout" and next release "Head Over Heels", there were few more successful artists in 1985. So popular was this song that it reached the UK top 5 twice - once on its original release and again in 1986 as "Everybody Wants To Run The World", a re-recorded version to raise money for famine relief in Africa.

With my favourite song of theirs, at number 36 is "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)" by Eurythmics. It was also their biggest hit in the UK, where it reached number 1, while in Australia, previous single "Would I Lie To You?" takes that honour. I like a lot of Eurythmics songs - but there are only a few that I'd say I love and some, like "Missionary Man" and "Beethoven (I Love To Listen To)", that I just can't stand. This, however, is one of the good ones - and is one of two big hits from 1985 to feature Stevie Wonder on harmonica (the other being "That's What Friends Are For", which Stevie also sang on).

Making her first appearance in my top 40 for 1985, at number 35 it's "Material Girl" by Madonna, the second single released from Like A Virgin and by this point another guaranteed hit for the world's biggest music icon. My most enduring memory of this song is it being played on a school excursion to Warragamba Dam and as it blasted out of the bus' stereo, I bounced along in my seat to it despite universal ridicule from the other guys in my class. It wouldn't be the first time I'd be laughed at for liking pop.

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I also have a love-hate relationship with the band at number 34: "You're So Strong" by Mental As Anything. 1985 was, of course, the year of their biggest hit, "Live It Up" - but I can't abide that track. There's something a bit too nursery rhyme about it for my taste (and this from a fan of Steps). But "You're So Strong" was the right mix of catchy and cool for me.

One of the 1980s' most underrated groups is at number 33 - it's "Perfect Way" by Scritti Politti, who were led by the Princess Di hairdo-sporting Green Gartside. I actually served Green (real name Paul Strohmeyer) when I was working at HMV on Oxford Street in London in 1999 - but, since he looked nothing at all like he did in the '80s, I didn't realise it was him until I glanced at the name on his credit card as I handed it back to him. From memory, he was buying some R&B 12" singles. "Perfect Way" was actually a big hit in the States, while the group's only top 50 single in Australia had been 1984's "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)". But my fandom of Scritti Politti was only just getting started.

Another British act having fleeting success in the US is at number 32: "Something About You" by Level 42, which was from the band's sixth album, World Machine, and was their biggest hit to date in the UK as well. As we saw in my 1987 ARIA chart recaps, Level 42's only top 50 hit in Australia was "Running In The Family", but being such an Anglophile, I liked a lot of their music. And there was plenty to choose from, with the band led by vocalist/bass player Mark King releasing music in every year of the decade.

From a song with serious lyrical content to one whose words are at times absurd, at number 31 is "We Built This City" by Starship. Like many songs that are absolutely massive, "We Built This City" has not been treated kindly in the years that have since passed. A regular entry in "Worst Songs of the '80s" lists, "We Built This City" was the first single the band released with their shortened moniker of Starship and a new ultra-commercial sound. In Australia, the song would reach number 1 in early 1986 and stay there for four weeks - and I, for one, still like it.

In Part 2, some more British acts are joined by a bunch of American hits - including an all-star charity record. Plus, back-to-back singles produced by an up-and-coming hit factory. See you in a few days.

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Monday, 10 September 2012

The Best Of Pet Shop Boys - part 2: the albums

It's a big week for Pet Shop Boys, with the release of their latest studio album, Elysium. And so after counting down my 25 favourite PSB songs in Part 1, it's time to rank my favourite albums by the duo - and there's a nice even 10 to go through.

10. Elysium

Released: 2012
Singles: "Winner", "Leaving"
Best album track: "A Face Like That"
Rating: 6.83/10

Not very many things excite me more than news a new Pet Shop Boys album is on the way, and with it being three years since their last, Yes, I was more than ready for the arrival of Elysium. But when "Invisible" was released as a teaser track and "Winner" was unveiled as the first single, I was underwhelmed. I'm fine with downbeat PSB tracks, but something about those songs just didn't connect with me. I've been listening to Elysium for a couple of weeks now, and I'm hoping it'll grow on me a bit more, but so far only "A Face Like That", "Leaving" and "Memory Of The Future" have grabbed my attention. Hopefully, rumours of a more pop-oriented album coming from the same recording sessions are true and I'll be looking forward to another new album in the near future.

9. Release

Released: 2002
Singles: "Home And Dry", "I Get Along", "London"
Best album track: "Here"
Rating: 7.2/10

Until Elysium, I'd always assumed this would be the Pet Shop Boys album I'd like the least. And really, they were asking for it by going all acoustic and "real" on us. Thankfully, the new musical direction was a brief side-step and Disco 3 and the new tracks from Pop Art put them firmly back in synthpop territory. Having said all that, I did quite like first single "Home And Dry", which is something I can't say about the first releases from Bilingual, Fundamental, Yes or Elysium. 

8. Yes

Released: 2009

Singles: "Love etc.", "Did You See Me Coming", "Beautiful People"
Best album track: "Pandemonium"
Rating: 8/10

I was actually expecting this album to be higher up my list - especially since, at the time of its release, I was thrilled Pet Shop Boys were collaborating with the brains behind Girls Aloud, Xenomania. But, I think I'd forgotten that for every pop gem like "Pandemonium" or "The Way It Used To Be", there's a "King Of Rome" or "Legacy" that just doesn't do it for me. And that's why Yes lands all the way down here - it has great highs, but too many average songs dragging it down.

7. Fundamental

Released: 2006
Singles: "I'm With Stupid", "Minimal", "Numb"
Best album track: "Twentieth Century"
Rating: 8/10

Firmly back in classic PSB territory after the extra-curricular excursion that was Release, Fundamental again featured some great additions to their oeuvre (like "Integral" and "Minimal") and other songs I didn't really care for (like "Luna Park" and "Indefinite Leave To Remain").

6. Nightlife

Released: 1999
Singles: "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Anymore", "New York City Boy", "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk"
Best album track: "In Denial"
Rating: 8.25/10

None of the three singles from Nightlife featured in my top 25 Pet Shop Boys singles of all time, but as an album there was more consistency than anything they've since released. Boasting a more club-oriented feel than any of their other studio albums from the '90s, Nightlife only really flags on tracks like "Footsteps" and "Boy Strange", which both sound more suited to Release.

5. Bilingual

Released: 1996
Singles: "Before", "Se A Vida E (That's The Way Life Is)", "Single-Bilingual", "A Red Letter Day"
Best album track: "Up Against It"
Rating: 8.58/10

Following up Very was no small task, and while Bilingual was possibly the last thing I expected, it did the job pretty well. All that drumming got a bit much after a while, and I would have picked a quite different set of singles ("Saturday Night Forever", anyone?), but there were enough flashes of brilliance for this to land a place as one of my top 5 Pet Shop Boys albums of all time.

4. Behaviour

Released: 1990
Singles: "So Hard", "Being Boring", "How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?", "Jealousy"
Best album track: "The End Of The World"
Rating: 8.8/10

Widely regarded by many as the best Pet Shop Boys album of all time, Behaviour probably has the most consistent feel of any of their releases, with only "So Hard" sounding a little out of place amongst the electro ballads and mid tempo synthscapes. There is something beautiful about the album, with the likes of "Only The Wind", "Nervously" and "This Must Be The Place I've Waited Years To Leave" really conjuring up a sentimental feeling whenever I hear them. But, given my top 3 albums, the lack of breakout pop hits means this can only ever be my fourth favourite PSB album.

3. Please

Released: 1986
Singles: "West End Girls", "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money", "Love Comes Quickly", "Suburbia"
Best album track: "Tonight Is Forever"
Rating: 9.2/10

As debut albums go, Please is among the best. Featuring classic songs like "Tonight Is Forever", "I Want A Lover" and "Why Don't We Live Together", not to mention the actual singles released, it's one pop smash after another. But there's an edge to proceedings - a dark undertone to the catchy melodies that established Pet Shop Boys as a pop group with substance. They'd perfect their craft on subsequent releases, but as an initial statement of intent, there's not much they could have done better.

2. Very

Released: 1993
Singles: "Can You Forgive Her?", "Go West", "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing", "Liberation", "Yesterday, When I Was Mad"
Best album track: "One In A Million"

I long assumed that Very was my favourite Pet Shop Boys album, but then I forget about "Dreaming Of The Queen". Aside from that downer and, to a lesser extent, "To Speak Is A Sin", Neil and Chris don't really set a foot wrong on Very. Besides the songs listed above, there's "The Theatre", "A Different Point Of View" and "Young Offender" - all big, bold pop tunes. And that was Very's appeal for me - it was an unashamedly pop album with everything from the bright orange packaging to the shiny CGI music videos reinforcing that point.

1. Actually

Released: 1987
Singles: "It's A Sin", "What Have I Done To Deserve This?", "Rent", "Heart"
Best album track: "One More Chance"
Rating: 9.5/10

So Actually is, er, actually my favourite Pet Shop Boys album of all time. What they started with Please, they perfected on Actually with album tracks "One More Chance", "Hit Music", "Shopping" and "I Want To Wake Up" to rival some of their finest singles of all time. The weak link is "It Couldn't Happen Here", but I'll take that any day over most of Elysium.

The others

What about Introspective? Well, I know it's officially a studio album, but with only six tracks, it hardly seems fair to compare it against all the 10 and 12-track albums above. So, here are my five favourite "other" albums - remix projects, EPs, bonus discs and the like.

5. Christmas EP: I wasn't so crazy about "It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas", but the cover of Madness' "My Girl" and the "Viva La Vida/Domino Dancing" mash-up were nice gifts.

4. Fundamentalism: Without this bonus disc released with Fundamental, there would be no "Fugitive", one of Pet Shop Boys' best songs from the new millennium.

3. Relentless: The dance mini-album which came with the limited edition of Very contains amazing club tracks like "Forever In Love", "KDX 125" and "One Thing Leads To Another".

2. Disco 3: The light to Release's shade, the third instalment of the regular dance series featured highlights like "Try It (I'm In Love With A Married Man)" and "Positive Role Model".

1. Introspective: There's not a bad track on this 1988 release - from singles "Domino Dancing", "It's Alright" and "Left To My Own Devices" to PSB's own version of "I'm Not Scared", this proves that sometimes less is more.

Pet Shop Boys are one of those groups you could listen to for hours and only scratch the surface of their impressive body of work. Between the singles, B-sides, album tracks, remixes, bonus tracks and the work they've written and/or produced for other artists, there's a lot to take in - and thankfully it's mostly been a pleasure listening to their music since their 1985 breakthrough.