I'm not entirely sure how I found out about this record, I suspect I had heard it on college radio but I know for a fact that my copy came from a U.K. pen pal (Debbie Jones phone home!), even more amusing as my copy is in American pressing. Regardless of how or where I first heard it "Is Vic There?" is unique and unlike anything else that was in the air (Spandau Ballet's "Chant No.1", Adam & The Ants etc). With a catchy beat backed by reverberating, jangling, feedbacking guitars, atmospheric organ, disinterested lead vocals by one Vaughn Toulouse and a haunting/hypnotic guitar lick "Is Vic There?" is not easily forgotten and entirely difficult to remove from one's head.
Music can be a time capsule and for me "Ghost Town" will always bring me back to my first trip to the U.K. in August of 1981 when this was just bumped off the #1 slot by Spandau Ballet. The nation wide riots were only days previously and things were still tense and everywhere I looked (in the Tube especially) there were packs of skinheads with the ominous tramp of boots and all the cops looked tired and freaked out. And along came the Specials with a Tchaikovsky "Swan Lake" style intro and the powerful horns playing off the flute and with the powerful lyrics painting a bleak picture of the then deplorable conditions in the U.K., not remotely ska it's the best thing they've ever done to this man's ears and will never be bettered.
I can't recall whether it was "Rolling Stone" or "Creem" magazine that sang praises of these guys and gave some background to this track for my impressionable young mind to absorb (the same article explained the phenomena of "Northern Soul" as well). "Geno" is a tribute to the American born 60's British soul legend Geno Washington, who with his Ram Jam Band wowed audiences all over the British Isles with their no holds barred r&b/soul music show. The power behind "Geno" is not it's powerful brass section (which interestingly sounds more like a marching band then a Stax horn section) but lead singer Kevin Rowland's impassioned delivery and lyrics. It speaks volumes of a personal conviction and the epiphany that was seeing Geno Washington play:
"Back in '68 in a sweaty club (Oh Geno) before Jimmy's Machine and the rocksteady rub (Ohhhh Geno) on a night when flowers didn't suit my shoes after a week of flunkin' and bunkin' school, the lowest head in the crowd that night just practicing steps and keepin' out of the fights.
Academic inspiration you gave me none, you were Michael The Lover, the fighter that won, and now just look at me as I'm looking down on you, though I'm not being flash it's what I'm built to do".
David Bowie has often been accused of being sharp enough to anticipate a trend and stealing from it before it became mainstream, but he has also been credited with fostering lots of them. The bleak/nihilism of the so called "New Romantic/Blitz/Futurist" musical and fashion movement applied to Bowie in both of those situations. He was canny enough to get in on the ground floor with the movement and used some of it's movers and shakers in the promo video for the track and yet without him one doubts the whole thing would have ever existed and therefore he played both parent and love child to movement. "Ashes to Ashes" is bleak, spooky and full of some positively eerie synthesizer parts whilst musically defiling the memory of dear old Major Tom from his first hit "Space Oddity".
One time Television Personalities member Ed Ball started his own neo-60's influenced band The Times in 1981 where they burst onto the scene with this debut 45 on Dan Treacy of the TVP's brilliant Whaam label. Taking it's name from a description that the 60's band The Creation gave their music, "Red With Purple Flashes" is less 60's influenced than you would expect and at times suffers because of it's absolute shit production and recording but it's Ed Ball's clever lyrics and their attempts to make a very 60's record (fuzz guitar, phlanged drums and plenty of "doo doo doo's" in the chorus) that win the struggle, but only just barely.
Bad Manners were a different kind of ska band. They were pickled eggs and cream pies in the face to Madness pints of bitter or The Specials razor across the cheek. "Walking in The Sunshine" seemed like their first record that was "serious" after songs that almost sounded geared to appearances on "Tis Was" (a British children's TV program) like "Can Can" or their debut "Ne-Ne Na-Na-Na Na-Nu-Nu". It's powerful brass section and moody Hammond trills sound almost positively sinister alongside it's slightly funky rhythm that at times brings to mind UB40, all punctuated by lead singer Buster Bloodvessel's bellowing vocals.
One of the earliest releases on Biff Bang Pow leader Alan McGee's Creation label "Flowers In The Sky" is probably one of the most psychedelic records of the 80's, certainly at least in Britain, outside The Dukes of Stratosphear of course (see below). The "Tomorrow Never Knows" drum beat, backing vocals and buzzing/backwards guitars evoke 60's British psychedelia at it's best while the wall of noise, airy vocals and production show where Ride and My Bloody Valentine AND Brit pop came from.
8. THE JAMES TAYLOR QUARTET-"Blow Up" UK RE-Elect The President FORD 1 1987
The James Taylor Quartet were formed from the ashes of Medway 60's influenced/garage legends The Prisoners with their keyboardist James Taylor and bassist Allan Crockford. The JTQ did a multitude of things, first off they introduced something that was distinctly non-80's sounding and (most importantly) they gave lots of mods an introduction to Hammond jazz (myself included). Their Booker T. styled reworking of the theme for the film "Blow Up" led one mod to pump coins into a jukebox one Friday night at Maxwell's so that punters would have to hear it endlessly as he sipped his pint of Double Diamond. Taylor's Hammond and twangy guitars care of his younger brother David give it a distinct Stax feel, something that was positively lacking anywhere in the 80's, especially in the land of Jesus and the Mary Chain and The Smiths
The most psychedelic record of the 80's came from the three remaining members of XTC and bassist Colin Moulding's brother on drums who decided to play 1967 dress up and created a fake psychedelic band that topped anything and everything that was aping the era. While bands from the Groovy Cellar like The Mood Six were dressing like The Move and making records that sounded like Talk Talk or A Flock Of Seagulls The Dukes were a full on legit 60's act with zero traces of 80's recording techniques or effects. "The Mole From The Ministry" is every bit as much as The Rutle's "Piggy in The Middle" as it is the Fab's "I Am The Walrus" but there's snippets of Pink Floyd '67 vintage as well as a host of other British psychedelic gems thanks to Mellotron, varispeed effects on singing and speaking, Lennon-esque vocals , backwards bits, hidden dialogue and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure! Recorded on a lark it spurned and mini LP and a full length LP two years later.
This number will always remind me of the last day of school in 1982 heading to the beach with a bunch of friends in the back of a pick up truck blasting this on a boom box on the way there. With their 60's American West Coast sound the Barracudas added something interesting to new wave and in a classic case of "Coals to Newcastle" (or in this case "Steel to Pittsburgh") their poppy surf beat and high Beach Boys harmonies towards the end of this number perfectly encapsulated an era long gone by while still sounding "modern". The Plymouth Barracuda commercial at the beginning is a gas and the "ba ba bap ba ba ba ba" chorus is totally infectious and those fucking harmonies man......wow!