In which Severed Heads remind us that there’s joy in repetition, or maybe just madness; and truth in the notion that many of the so-called Industrial artists of the 1980s only got worse as they got better at figuring out their instruments and related technology, got to sounding more and more like normal musicians. In Severed Heads case, that means they’d peaked long before I ever heard them via any number of cassette only releases. But fortunately, that truth eventually found me via Clifford Darling, Please Don’t Live In The Past, a double vinyl compilation full of delightfully strange and, if needs be, antagonistic excursions.
In which first wave American punk band X (straight out of LA) rein in the intensity of their attack a touch and rather brilliantly nail down the zeitgeist circa 1983. Which was that, come year three of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, humanoid reptiles were in full ascendancy. Look no further than the radio dial. Where was any band that mattered? Nothing left to do but tell the truth.
“Green on Red are yet another of those bands that never got the notice they deserved. Folk, rock, country, maybe a little psychedelic – they had a sound that was hard to get tired of, and, every now and then, a song like 1983’s Brave Generation (found on their first album) that just cut through all the cocaine banality of the time. At least, it did for me, probably because I’d never really thought much about my particular generation – the ones who were little kids when all the bigger kids (aka the hippies) were running wild, storming heaven, doing more than just talk about revolution. But that was all pretty much over by the time our puberty hit. The Beatles had broken up, Flower Power had wilted, Richard Nixon was getting re-elected, the Vietnam War still wasn’t over. I guess that made us brave more or less by default.” (Philip Random)
In which Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) and the ever revolving crowd at Public Image Ltd remind us that the very idea of a love song was problematic come the 1980s, Ian Curtis having slain the beast with Love Will Tear Us Apart (and then he hung himself to emphasize his point). Which didn’t mean that love didn’t exist anymore. It had just become a heavier, more complex and dangerous thing. And take note. This is the original single version, vastly superior to overproduced mess that eventually showed up on album.
“Bauhaus were one of those rare bands who were so confident in the songwriting and performing categories that they could casually release something as raw and nasty and good as Lagartija Nick and not even bother to include it on an album. Which isn’t to say it didn’t make it onto my obligatory Bauhaus mixtape, essential soundtrack to many an mid-early 80s trip to the fun part of the dark side (or was it the dark part of the fun side).” (Philip Random)
1983’s Dazzle Ships was the last Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark album that felt necessary. Smart pop that wasn’t afraid to get experimental, and it worked (for the most part anyway – it actually rated as a commercial disaster at the time). “Radio Waves stood out because I was just getting started on my own radio adventures at the time. From the transmitter to the receiver. Sounds simple until you get profoundly high and suddenly you realize, it’s not just the machines that are transmitting and receiving, it’s human beings, human hearts, human souls. It’s all one big cosmic pop extravaganza, and you can dance to it.” (Philip Random)
“Birdsongs of the Mesozoic had a simple enough formula. Turn on a drum machine and then get serious with various keyboards, horns, other devices. And man, did it work on their debut EP! Five genuinely deep and wild yet coherent improvisations that were exactly what the world seemed to need at the moment. My world anyway, particularly when driving crosstown so late it was getting early, trying to get home before rush hour hit.” (Philip Random)
“JJ Cale speaks the truth. JJ Cale who’s cooler than I’ll ever be, or Eric Clapton for that matter. In fact, I’m cooler than Eric Clapton, because no one ever confused with me God, except myself, of course, but that didn’t survive my twenty-seventh birthday. But enough about me. How cool was JJ Cale? He was mucking around with drum machines as early as 1971, yet so deep into his dirt poor sort of lazy rolling boogie, blues, country stylings that nobody bothered to take note. But Money Talks came twelve years later, sounding like it may have been thirty years earlier. Nothing cooler than fooling time.” (Philip Random)
If the summer of 1983 had an official soundtrack album, New Order were on it. Or perhaps Power Corruption + Lies (and the non album monster single that preceded it, Blue Monday) was that soundtrack. Because power, corruption and lies were all the rage that summer – Ronald Raygun in the White House, the wicked witch of the west Maggie Thatcher running things in the UK, the Cold War in full acceleration mode, nuclear winter in all the forecasts even if the sun was shining. Your Silent Face seemed to be a love song, except if you actually listened to the lyrics, you realized it was packing as much bile as anything else. It was that kind of summer.