- The Blue Nile – A Walk across the Rooftops
- Prefab Sprout – Green Isaac
- Julian Cope – An Elegant Chaos
- The Smiths – Reel around the Fountain
- Aztec Camera – We could send letters
- The Psychedelic Furs – The Ghost in You
- Fiat Lux – Secrets
- The Style Council – Spring, Summer, Autumn
- Nick Heyward – The day it rained forever
- Julian Cope – Head Hang Low
- Seona Dancing – More to Lose
- Marine Girls – On my Mind
- Tracey Thorn – Plain Sailing
- Everything but the Girl – Night & Day
- Everything but the Girl – Each and Every One
- Fantastic Something – If she doesn’t smile
- Sade – Your love is King
It was 1984. Two teachers at Worthing High School were in love. One of them was me. The other, Lindy, would a year later become my wife. I created a C90 compilation which consisted of seventeen songs, some of which would become famous. Others would disappear. It contained a young singer-songwriter who would later go on to become one of this Country’s biggest comic exports.
That year a band formed two years earlier by a student at UCL, Ricky Gervais and his friend Bill Macrae – Seona Dancing – broke up dispirited after the disappointing performance of two single releases. On London Records, More to Lose and Bitter Heart charted at 117 and 70 respectively. I was never a great fan of Bitter Heart, but More to Lose was different. At 6:01 in length, it was a 12” single I couldn’t get out of my head. Critics claimed it sounded like Bowie – a claim that Gervais never disputed, but it had an elegance, a longing and a majestic intro and outro that marked it apart. It wasn’t comic and Gervais at that stage was a serious musician who had put several bands on at UCL as an Entertainments Officer for the Student Union watching from the sidelines and dreaming.
This was his big break – you can tell from the serious money spent on the promotional shots that were given out to Radio 1 and other stations at the time. There was no cynical sneer on the face. He was sincere – and so was I.
I created a cassette with all my favourite love songs from 1984/5 to give to Lindy – to make it clear that I was no ordinary music lover. The tracks listed above were exclusive and special – even though some of the bands went on to become household names. In 1984 The Smiths were just breaking through and Reel around the Fountain was just a track on their debut, ‘The Smiths’ in February that year. Hand in Glove had flagged up their potential to the nation but not many people were listening yet. I was. The track went on the tape.
In March 1984, Paddy McAloon and his band Prefab Sprout released ‘Swoon’. It was a revelation with this County Durham based band sounding like they had flown in from Marin County, California singing in beautiful harmonies about subjects no-one else would touch. Green Isaac captured my imagination as it played on rotation in my car and in my head. The world domination of Steve McQueen would come later. At this stage, Prefab Sprout was an undiscovered treasure. I shared it on my tape.
Fiat Lux formed in 1982 with Steve Wright (vocals) and David P Crickmore (guitars, bass, keyboards). Ian Nelson (sax, keyboards), younger brother of Be-Bop Deluxe guitarist and lead vocalist Bill Nelson, joined shortly afterwards, creating the classic line-up of the band until the mid 1980s, when Crickmore departed.
Wright and Crickmore attended Bretton Hall College, Wakefield, where they studied drama, meeting after the first joined the latter’s New Wave band, Juveniles (whose two songs were released in a various artists compilation called Household Shocks). After graduating, Wright joined a theatre company called the Yorkshire Actors where he met musician Bill Nelson, the former guitarist of Be-Bop Deluxe. Wright gave Nelson a demo tape he and Crickmore had recorded. Impressed with their music, Nelson produced and arranged one of the demo’s tracks, “Feels Like Winter Again,” b/w “This Illness” and released it on his label Cocteau Records. In April 1982, Bill Nelson’s brother Ian Nelson was added to Fiat Lux’s lineup. They named themselves Fiat Lux, which is the Latin translation for the Biblical quotation “Let There Be Light.” “Feels Like Winter Again” was the first of Fiat Lux’s radio successes. This led to them signing a record deal with major label Polydor. At this point Hugh Jones was brought in as their record producer.
In 1984, the haunting ballad ‘Secrets’ drew comparisons to Depeche Mode’s synth-pop; it became Fiat Lux’s most well-known song. Fiat Lux’s utilisation of cello in “Secrets” broadened synth-pop’s stylistic range. However, Fiat Lux’s debut album was never released. The group’s output was limited to several singles for Polydor and a series of TV appearances including Old Grey Whistle Test. There was also a long format video release “Commercial Breakdown”, which included live versions of the shelved Polydor album tracks.
Crickmore departed after the chart failure of their fifth Polydor single release and the band continued recording some songs with a colourful array of top session musicians, before disbanding in 1985.
Wright joined Camera Obscura, replacing Nigel James, and formed Hoi Poloi, another short-lived pop group. He then abandoned the pop world to become a TV director. Nelson continued to work with his brother Bill, joining the line-up of Be-Bop Deluxe, in the early 1990s. Sadly, Ian died in his sleep on 23 April 2006.
Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera first UK 7″ single was released by Glasgow based Postcard Records in March 1981, and contained the songs “Just Like Gold” and “We Could Send Letters”. An acoustic version of the latter song appeared on the influential C81 compilation cassette, released by NME in early 1981. A second single, “Mattress Of Wire”, was also the last Postcard Records release before the group signed for Rough Trade. Aztec Camera’s debut album, High Land, Hard Rain, was released in April 1983. The album was successful, gathering significant critical acclaim for its well-crafted, multi-layered pop. We could send letters was a wonderful paean to long distance love – I thought that might be our destiny in 1984, but things took a different path.
Guitarist/vocalist Paul Weller broke up the Jam, the most popular British band of the early ’80s, at the height of their success in 1982 because he was dissatisfied with their musical direction. Weller wanted to incorporate more elements of soul, R&B, and jazz into his songwriting, which is something he felt his punk-oriented bandmates were incapable of performing. In order to pursue this musical direction, he teamed up in 1983 with keyboardist Mick Talbot, a former member of the mod revival band the Merton Parkas. Together, Weller and Talbot became the Style Council – other musicians were added according to what kind of music the duo were performing. With the Style Council, the underlying intellectual pretensions that ran throughout Weller’s music came to the forefront.
Although the music was rooted in American R&B, it was performed slickly — complete with layers of synthesizers and drum machines – and filtered through European styles and attitudes. Weller’s lyrics were typically earnest, yet his leftist political leanings became more pronounced. His scathing criticisms of racism, unemployment, Margaret Thatcher, and sexism sat uneasily beside his burgeoning obsession with high culture. As his pretensions increased, the number of hits the Style Council had decreased; by the end of the decade, the group was barely able to crack the British Top 40 and Weller had turned from a hero into a has-been.
Released in March of 1983, the Style Council’s first single “Speak Like a Child” became an immediate hit, reaching number four on the British charts. Three months later, “The Money-Go-Round” peaked at number 11 on the charts as the group was recording an EP, Paris, which appeared in August; the EP reached number three. “Solid Bond in Your Heart” became another hit in November, peaking at number 11.
The Style Council released their first full-length album, Cafe Bleu, in March of 1984; two months later, a resequenced version of the record, retitled ‘My Ever Changing Moods’, was released in America. Cafe Bleu was Weller’s most stylistically ambitious album to date, drawing from jazz, soul, rap, and pop. While it was musically all over the map, it was their most successful album, peaking at number five in the U.K. and number 56 in the U.S.
“My Ever Changing Moods” became their first U.S. hit, peaking at number 29. In the summer of 1985, the Style Council had another U.K. Top Ten hit with “The Walls Come Tumbling Down.” The single was taken from Our Favourite Shop, which reached number one on the U.K. charts; the record was released as Internationalists in the U.S. The live album, Home and Abroad, was released in the spring of 1986; it peaked at number eight.
The Style Council had its last Top Ten single with “It Didn’t Matter” in January of 1987. The Cost of Loving, an album that featured a heavy emphasis on jazz-inspired soul, followed in February. Although it received unfavorable reviews, the record peaked at number two in the U.K. That spring, “Waiting” became the group’s first single not to crack the British Top 40, signalling that their popularity was rapidly declining. In July of 1988, the Style Council released their last album, Confessions of a Pop Group, which featured Weller’s most self-important and pompous music – the second side featured a ten-minute orchestral suite called “The Gardener of Eden.” The record charted fairly well, reaching number 15 in the U.K., but it received terrible reviews. In March of 1989, the Style Council released a compilation, The Singular Adventures of the Style Council, which reached number three on the charts.
Later that year, Weller delivered a new Style Council album, which reflected his infatuation with house and club music, to the band’s record label Polydor. Polydor rejected the album and dropped both the Style Council and Weller from the label.
Paul Weller and Mick Talbot officially broke up the Style Council in 1990. In 1991, Weller launched a solo career which would return him to popular and critical favor in the mid-’90s, while Talbot continued to play, both with Weller and as a solo musician.
This song, ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn’ remains an enduring soundtrack to the Summer of 1984, reminiscent of some of the classic French writing and a romantic salute to Paul Weller’s then wife Dee C Lee. It was simply too good not to commandeer as part of my own Summer of Love compilation.
Nick Heyward, formerly of Haircut 100 went solo in 1983 and released his first album, ‘North of a Miracle’ from which The Day it rained forever is taken. After the fairly slight pop of Haircut 100 this was a mature, well crafted album with mature orchestration and well structured songs. Reaching Number 10 in the UK album chart, Nick probably thought he was on his way to a substantial solo career along the lines of a latterday Scott Walker, but it was not to be. This song remains amongst the best of his work and although sad, it projects loneliness in a gloriously romantic, cinematic way.
Tracey Thorn began her musical career in the group Marine Girls (1980-3) playing guitar and sharing vocals. The band released two albums (Beach Party in 1981 and Lazy Ways in 1982) and several singles. The group disbanded when Thorn decided to concentrate on her studies at Hull, and on Everything but the Girl (1982-2003). Thorn met Ben Watt at the University of Hull where they were both students, and both signed as solo artists to Cherry Red Records.
Their first album together was ‘Eden’, released in 1984. Everything but the Girl released a body of work that spanned two decades. Everything But The Girl have been on extended hiatus since 2002. Ben Watt has concentrated on his DJ work, and Thorn has been a full-time parent and, most recently, writing and recording her solo material.
Thorn’s first solo work was a mini-album entitled A Distant Shore (1982). A re-recorded version of the track “Plain Sailing” was released as a single, and was included on the Pillows & Prayers Cherry Red records compilation album.
Thorn has one of the most distinctive and plaintive voices in the British music scene and I make no apologies for including four of her pieces here. She practically defines the UK Indie love song oeuvre. Her voice sounds like the end of the world – or the beginning..
Fantastic Something started in 1980 when brothers Constantis and Alexandros Veis move to London to study the arts and joined Mike Alway’s Cherry Red stable. Inspired by the alluring sounds and aesthetics of Postcard Recordings, they sent Alway a demo and the legendary Fantastic Something and their “If She Doesn’t Smile” 7” is born (Cherry Red, 1983). Then they move to Blanco Y Negro, record a LP and they disappear into oblivion. Shame – but this song kept me warm through 1984 into 1985.
After The Teardrop Explodes disbanded in late 1982 following the completion of three albums, Julian Cope returned to live close to his hometown of Tamworth, settling in the nearby village of Drayton Bassett with his new American wife Dorian Beslity. In 1983 he recorded some introspective works for his first solo album, World Shut Your Mouth, released on Mercury Records in March 1984. This record was followed just six months later by Fried, which featured a sleeve with Cope clad only in a turtle shell. The failure of this record caused Polygram to drop Cope, but he signed a deal with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. The two songs included here represented Cope at his romantic best – and he would never record anything as personal and engaging again.
The Psychedelic Furs’ 1984 release ‘Mirror Moves’ was produced by Keith Forsey, and featured the songs “The Ghost in You” and “Heaven”. Both charted in the UK, and “Heaven” became the band’s highest charting UK hit at the time, peaking at #29. Columbia Records opted for “Here Come Cowboys” for the corresponding US release but it failed to chart, but “The Ghost In You” was a hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
By the mid 1980s, the band had become a staple on both US college and modern rock radio stations. Simultaneously, they were experiencing consistent mainstream success, placing several singles in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, Still, according to biographer Dave Thompson they would “have more impact on future musicians than they ever did in the marketplace”.
The Ghost in You remains one of my all time favourite songs – with something magical in its wistful attempt to capture an elusive kernel of love from someone who has gone.
Sade was born in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. Her middle name, Folasade, means honour confers your crown. Her parents, Bisi Adu, a Nigerian lecturer in economics of Yoruba background, and Anne Hayes, an English district nurse, met in London, married in 1955 and moved to Nigeria. Later, when the marriage ran into difficulties, Anne Hayes returned to England, taking four-year-old Sade and her older brother Banji to live with her parents. When Sade was 11, she moved to live at Clacton-on-Sea with her mother, and after completing school at 18 she moved to London and studied at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
While at college, she joined a soul band, Pride, in which she sang backing vocals. Her solo performances of the song Smooth Operator attracted the attention of record companies and in 1983, she signed a solo deal with Epic Records taking three members of the band, Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale and Paul Denman, with her. Sade and her band produced the first of a string of hit albums, the debut album Diamond Life, in 1984, and have subsequently sold over 50 million albums. She is the most successful solo female artist in British history.
In 1984 and throughout 1985 we swooned to her honeyed voice. It defined an era then. It recalls it now.