31 July 1998

All aboard: Eighties bandwagon now boarding

Yep. The eighties are back. And where is this more evident than in the music world, where now people like Billy Idol, Gary Numan, Duran Duran and Culture Club were being hailed as musical visionaries. Culture Club? Please.

So I went back through my music collection, as you do, to find out what I was listening to in the eighties.

I was kinda lucky, in that when I was growing up, all my friends had started listening to Triple J when it was a Sydney only radio station. Triple J did the same job then that Triple R and PBS are doing in Melbourne now (and then too, I might add) and also Triple Z in Brisbane, amongst others. As a result, I missed out on Bros, Bon Jovi and a myriad of fly-by-nights that sold in big numbers in those days.

Now don't get me wrong, I think that teenybopper music is healthy. For every Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys of the nineties, there was an eighties equivalent that we can all remember. For example, Wa Wa Nee. Haircut 100. Does anyone remember the Jo Boxers? You get the idea.

But teenybop is good. We all need to be able to go back and see something like this in our collections to say, "What was I thinking?" and have a good cringe before hiding the offending item so that no one will see it. The same thing will happen when the kids of today grow up and look at their K-Ci & JoJo CD.

The first tape I ever bought was the INXS album The Swing. I loved it. Actually, I don't cringe when I look at this, primarily because INXS didn't suck at this stage. That came two albums later when they released Kick. I was dudded good and proper when I bought this one.

Anyway, today I'm going to present you with 20 Records That Mattered From The Eighties. You'll notice that I haven't gone for the completely predictable, and even surprised myself at leaving out some absolute gems that others may have included, for example, The Unforgettable Fire (U2), Darklands (The Jesus and Mary Chain), Do Re Mi's first album, Once We Were Scum, Now We are God (No), The Queen is Dead (The Smiths) and others. I left out the greatest band ever, Devo, because their best efforts were done in the late seventies, and also Blondie and Talking Heads for the same reason. In fact, getting it down to 20 was hard enough. And even then, I had to segregate the Australian stuff from the others, primarily because there was sooooooo much of it that was good.

So here goes…

The Top Ten International Eighties Chart

1. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

My second favourite CD ever. This was great, combining dissonance with rock and an all pervading mood of hopelessness and despair. 'Teen Age Riot' was a pop classic, 'The Sprawl' was a glorious, sprawling mess and Lee Ranaldo's 'Eric's Trip' just went mental. These days Sonic Youth just play art wank, but this was when they were at their best.

2. The Pixies - Doolittle

Most people will agree that Doolittle was the best thing that the Pixies ever did, mind you, the rest of their work was not so shabby either. Hearing Black Francis (as Frank Black was known back then) hollering his way through 'Debaser' and 'Dead' and then hearing Kim Deal's groovy bassline to 'Here Comes Your Man' sends the wobblies down your spine. Whatever happened to Joey Santiago? His guitar sound made the Pixies.

3. REM - Green

I still think that was the weirdest album I ever bought. Stipe, Mills, Buck and Berry will never equal this moment, although I know REM fans who much prefer Document or Automatic for the People. 'Orange Crush' rocked, 'World Leader Pretend' was a fine pop moment, and so too was 'Stand'. 'Pop Song '89' just had this insanely catchy Peter Buck riff that could get anyone at home grooving along.

4. The Cure - Standing on a Beach

A lot of people think that The Cure had 2 good albums (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration) and a string of fine singles. I'm no different, and here's the singles collection that predated the two meisterwerks. You have to love 'The Walk', 'Primary', 'A Forest', and much as Cure fans hate it, 'Let's go to bed'. Although missing some choice tracks from earlier albums, it hits the spot.

5. New Order - Substance

A little bit harsher, New Order only had good singles. This was a particularly good compilation of that eighties phenomenon - the 12" mix. Funnily enough, each of these songs only sound complete in the 12" format, which probably says a lot more about the remixes rather than the songs themselves, but each of these songs is good. 'Blue Monday', 'Bizarre Love Triangle', they're all here. I only wish that they'd do a Substance, Part 2 with their later stuff, but they'd probably be more inclined to subject it to modern remix rendering which, IMHO, has a tendency to date faster.

6. Metallica - Master of Puppets

Metallica took their brand of thrash metal one step further on this one and invented 'mood metal' on this, their third album, and last one featuring bassplayer Cliff Burton. 'Welcome Home (Sanitarium)' and 'Orion' out-mood most things, and then really thrash along at a frightening pace, as the title track will testify. Metallica went on to suck, two albums later, when their 'Black' album was released, proving yet again that once you have been identified as a "genre" band, you cannot break out of the pigeonhole you've created for yourself.

7. Jean-Michel Jarre - Zoolook

Jarre made a welcome return to form on this album, doing exactly what Enigma and Deep Forest did and are doing ten years later. Sampled vocals and rhythms from all around the globe met with, for the first time in Jarre's recording career, other musicians. Featured on this album was the guitarwork of King Crimson's Adrian Belew, as well as the vocal 'talents' of Laurie Anderson on 'Diva'. The tribal funk of 'Ethnicolor' was mindblowing.

8. Husker Du - Candy Apple Grey

A band with two certifiable genii - Bob Mould and Grant Hart - went on to redefine power pop with this, perhaps their least thrashy album. Guitarist Mould would, though, be identified as 'that guy from Husker Du' and go on to success with Sugar and a solo career, while Hart the Drummer would go on to alcoholism and drug abuse, even though he wrote their biggest hit 'Don't Want to Know if You are Lonely' which is on this.

9. Soundgarden - Louder than Love

Soundgarden were always a grunge band to the music media. To me, they were always proto-grunge, the type of band that Sub Pop records must have got their name from. They weren't very metal, yet, being more of a power-rock band than anything else, but the latent power in their music was becoming more apparent, as evidenced by 'Loud Love'. The next album for them was to be their schizoid breakthrough album, Badmotorfinger.

10. Dead Kennedys - Give me Convenience, or Give me Death

Just for East Bay Ray's guitar work on 'Holiday in Cambodia'. Jello Biafra was starting to get more openly political at this stage, and Biafra's cynicism was turning, slowly, from happy irony into rebellious sarcasm. Out of any band ever, only this band was subversive enough to have accomplished what the punk era tried (and failed) to do - full scale revolution. And just like the punk bands, they failed.

So. On to the Australians.

The Australian Top Ten from the eighties

1. Hoodoo Gurus - Stoneage Romeos

Following on from a reputation as putting on the most feral live show in Australia, the Hoodoo Gurus first album was an amazing work that was always going to be hard to top. You cannot beat 'My Girl' and 'I Want You Back for sheer pop thrills, and if you combine this with songs about kamekaze pilots and necrophilia, all delivered with completely straight faces, you had the odd mix that the Hoodoos delivered.

2. The Church - Starfish

The Church had the mood thing down pat. In spite of Steve Kilbey's somewhat fey vocal delivery, they mixed this with a trademark jangle that owed as much to the Byrds as it did to Marty Willson-Piper's twelve string Rickenbacker. 'Under the Milky Way' was just a beautiful little ballad, and tunes like 'Reptile' and 'North and South and East and West' rocked in a way that they never could do live. Live, they rocked something amazing.

3. The Triffids - Born Sandy Devotional

The most Australian sounding music? Either The Triffids or Gang Gajang had it, which was something sorely needed in the Eighties. Still, the Triffids came out on top in this one, and when you're out in your Mazda in the New South Wales outback, heading west from Menindee to Broken Hill, the sound of 'Wide Open Road' is virtually guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.

4. Sunnyboys - Sunnyboys

In the early part of the eighties, Jeremy Oxley was regarded, for a short time anyway, as a bit of a genius. Such adulation was deserved in this case, as the Sunnyboys first album was nothing short of a pop masterpiece. When you think of this band, you think of 'Alone With You' and 'Happy Man'. They're both on this classic album. The Sunnyboys reformed in the early nineties for a few gigs, their lineup featuring one Tim Freedman, who would go on to form The Whitlams. Oxley disappeared, seemingly, without trace.

5. V.Spy V.Spy - Harry's Reasons?

This band had three classic albums, the other ones being AO Mod. TV Vers. and Xenophobia(Why?). Their first, Harry's Reasons? was an absolute cracker. You had this intensely claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere that started with 'All Over the World' and didn't let up until 'Injustice'. Very political, yet they didn't beat you over the head with it. The cover of the theme from 'Dangerman' was a cack.

6. Midnight Oil - Species Deceases (EP)

Why this EP ahead of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and Diesel and Dust? This was the Oils at their absolute finest, showing a raw intensity that had waned a little after their over-ambitious Red Sails in the Sunset album. You have to get this one on vinyl, as the CD version has been mastered most disrespectfully.

7. The Go-Betweens - Before Hollywood

Proving once again that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts, The Go-Betweens excelled in this awesome piece of work. Although Forster, McLennan and Morrison went on to produce crap after the GBs broke up, this one serves to remind just how vital a listen to the Go-Betweens is. Another very Australian sounding band, it's a mystery to me how the patronising British press got behind this. Oh I forgot, 'Cattle and Cane'. 'Nuff said.

8. TISM - Great Trucking Songs of the Renaissance

Those who know me know that I am an unrepentant TISM fan. Sorry. This album was probably good because TISM just went through their back catalogue at the time and culled the best tracks, including 'Defecate on my Face' (the disco version), 'I'm Interested in Apathy', 'Martin Scorsese…', 'Saturday Night Palsy' etc. TISM still had some charm at this point and hadn't completely ditched the silliness. I kinda miss the silliness.

9. Divinyls - Desperate

Mark McEntee was the coolest guitarist in Australian rock music. We all wanted to be him when we grew up, and try to look as cool as he did in the background when Chrissie Amphlett was doing the virgin/nympho thing out the front. Still he knew how to write a good hook, and this album was loaded with them, as evidenced by 'All The Boys in Town', 'Only Lonely', and 'Science Fiction'. Fantastic.

10. Hunters & Collectors - The Jaws of Life

Last but not least, the Hunnas. This was before percussionist Greg Perano left the band, and some would say took their heart with it. They had one almighty sound back then, owing mainly to the rhythm section of Perano, Jack Archer and Doug Falconer, as well as the incredibly screwy guitar sound of Mark Seymour. The songs grooved like there was no tomorrow, and with songs like '42 Wheels' and 'Betty's Worry or The Slab', who needed it?

So there goes. I'm glad to have got that out of my system.