Wham! “Make It Big” released 35 years ago today, October 23rd, 1984. Wham!’s second album was a massive smash and I absolutely loved it (this is my original copy from ‘84) – it went to #1 all over the world, including in the US and the UK. Fantastically crafted 80′s pop in the spirit of 60′s Motown (see the girl-group, wall-of-sound inspired “Heartbeat” in particular), Make It Big spawned four hit singles including the infectious dance track “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (#1 UK and US), “Careless Whisper” (#1 UK and US) whose sad 80′s sax still brings up the ugly heartbreak of 13 year-old puppy love (long-story short, I got ditched at a junior high school dance and this song came on and it was ugly), “Freedom” (#1 UK, #3 US) which is notable for its video recorded while Wham! was on tour in China (1984/85 height of Cold War tensions), and “Everything She Wants” (#2 UK, #1 US), which Wham! released as a double-A side along with “Last Christmas” which, while not on Make It Big, can also count as a hit single, reaching #2 in the UK and #25 in the US (#5 on the US Holiday 100 chart, which I didn’t know existed until now).
Echo & The Bunnymen “People Are Strange” from The Lost Boys soundtrack, 1987. 12″ single, UK import, 1988/1991 release. “People Are Strange” is, of course, a Doors cover that Echo & The Bunnymen recreated rather faithfully (and Ray Manzarek produced) for the opening sequence to one of my favorite 80′s movies. (Back in the day rumor had it that one of the punks filmed on the Santa Cruz streets was one of our friends who had run away to California, but I’ve never been able to spot him in any of the scenes). The B-side has three more covers, recorded live, that are slightly less faithful to their originals though still quite respectful, all great and Echo’d up: “Paint It Black” (Rolling Stones), “Run, Run, Run” (Velvet Underground) and “Friction” (Television). That last song in particular is notable because I’m not a big Television fan but Echo & The Bunnymen’s cover is hard-driving (well, to be fair, the original is as well), melodic and a bit Talking Head-ish with notes of neo-psychedelia thrown in. These three tracks, along with “People Are Strange” also appear on Echo & The Bunnymen’s 1988 EP New Live and Rare; the live songs were recorded in Sweden for a radio show in April 1985.
U2 “The Unforgettable Fire” released 35 years ago today, October 1st, 1984. Island Records. U2′s fourth studio LP, the Brian Eno-produced The Unforgettable Fire went to #1 in the US and to #12 in the US. For many, me included, The Unforgettable Fire was the band’s turning point: it was mind-blowing with its heartfelt social commentary, soaring Edge-jangle guitar and Bono’s distinctive anthemic voice on the singles that went big like “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (#3 UK, #33 US) and “The Unforgettable Fire” (#6 UK). But as good – or better – are some of the other tracks like “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Wire,” “Indian Summer Sky” (love the chugga-chugga guitar on that one) and most especially “Bad” which is one of my favorite U2 songs ever – U2′s performance of “Bad” at Live Aid was my personal unforgettable moment of 1984.
Wham! “Freedom” released in the UK 35 years ago today, October 1st, 1984. This 12″ single has Long Mix of “Freedom” on Side A; the single version went to #1 in the UK and upon its 1985 release in the US, went to #3 there. From what I can tell, the difference between the Long Mix and the single version is a longer intro and a lot more prominent horns. I remember seeing the video for “Freedom” on MTV a lot during the summer of ‘85 and hearing that it was a really. big. deal. as Wham! had toured China and the video contains a montage of footage shot there. China was still a pretty closed country in the mid-80′s during the height of the Cold War and a Western pop group being allowed to perform to its citizens was, as weird as it seems now, pretty monumental. The B-side to this 12″ single has the track “Heartbeat,” which is a kind of 60′s girl-group inspired pop song, complete with a faux wall of sound musical backdrop. Also on Side B is an instrumental version of “Freedom” which is OK I suppose but really one of the best parts of Wham! was George Michael’s voice (though he does come in toward the end of the song on the chorus for a bit).
David Bowie “Tonight” released 35 years ago today, September 24th, 1984. (There are a few different dates given for this release, including September 1st and 29th but the website bowiebible.com cites the 24th and who am I to argue with a bible?) Tonight was Bowie’s 16th studio LP; it went to #1 in the UK and #11 in the US, mostly on the heels of success from Let’s Dance and his Serious Moonlight tour because Tonight is not one of his better albums. It has been much maligned over the years by critics and even Bowie himself admitted it was far from his best. He only wrote two new tracks for the LP: “Loving the Alien” and the single “Blue Jean” which hit #6 in the UK and #8 in the US. (I actually really love that song – fond ‘84 MTV memories and all that) The songs “Tumble and Twirl” and “Dancing With the Big Boys” were new Iggy Pop/Bowie collaborations. “Neighborhood Threat” was another Pop/Bowie (along with Ricky Gardiner) effort but it was originally recorded by Pop in 1977 for his Lust for Life LP and “Don’t Look Down” was a Pop cover (Iggy recorded it for his ‘79 New Values album). Also from Lust For Life on Tonight is Bowie’s version of the title track “Tonight,” a duet with Tina Turner. Bowie explained all of this to NME in September 1984 by saying, “I didn’t really [have] enough new things of my own because of the tour [Serious Moonlight]. I can’t write on tour, and there wasn’t really enough preparation afterwards to write anything that I felt was really worth putting down, and I didn’t want to put out things that ‘would do’ so there are two or three that I felt were good things to do and the other stuff…What I suppose I really wanted to do was to work with Iggy again, that’s something I’ve not done for a long time. And Iggy wanted us to do something together.” Bowie also covers the Beach Boys with “God Only Knows” (I really dislike that song and knowing it’s a Beach Boys cover doesn’t help) and the Lieber and Stoller song “I Keep Forgetting” originally released by Chuck Jackson. Overall Tonight is a fairly bland album: it has the big 80′s production polish but lacks the groove – supplied by Nile Rodgers on his previous smash LP Let’s Dance (Rodgers is quoted saying about Bowie’s decision to use producers Derek Bramble and Hugh Padgham rather than Rodgers that “Journalists would start asking David questions like ‘How much did Nile have to do with this?’ and this is very difficult for any artist, especially someone of David’s stature…It seemed to be a conscious effort to distance himself from me.”)
Depeche Mode “Some Great Reward” released on this date, September 24th, 1984. Mute Records. I bought this album in either late ‘84 or early ‘85 during the height of my Brit new wave/synth pop obsession and while not my favorite Depeche Mode album, it certainly still gives me all the feels with its dark industrial beats, minor chords and borderline sinister content.
Some Great Reward was Depeche Mode’s fourth album and it reached #5 in the UK and #54 in the US. The first single, “People are People,” was released about six months prior, in March of ‘84, and became DM’s breakthrough in the US market where it hit #13 (and #4 in UK) with the support of its video on heavy rotation on MTV – where I saw it and was instantly in love. The sado-maschocistic industrial dance track “Master and Servant” was the second single from Some Great Reward and, despite the controversy surrounding its material and ban on many US radio stations (I guess the synthesized whips and chains were a bit too over the top for our tender ears), it made it to #87 on the US charts and #9 in the UK. The last two singles were actually a double A-side of “Blasphemous Rumors” and “Somebody.” “Blasphemous Rumors” is, to me, their most disturbing song and one that I often find unlistenable, not because it’s bad but because it’s ridiculously painful. “Somebody” – notable for being the first DM single sung by Martin Gore (reportedly recorded nude) is also painful, but in a completely different way – it’s the desperate agony and ache of love vs. the devastation of depression, sickness, death and loss of faith.
Allmusic says about Some Great Reward “The peak of the band’s industrial-gone-mainstream fusion, and still one of the best electronic music albums yet recorded, Some Great Reward still sounds great, with the band’s ever-evolving musical and production skills matching even more ambitious songwriting from Martin Gore. “People Are People” appears here, but finds itself outclassed by some of Depeche Mode’s undisputed classics, most especially the moody, beautiful “Somebody,” a Gore-sung piano ballad that mixes its wit and emotion skillfully; “Master and Servant,” an amped-up, slamming dance track that conflates sexual and economic politics to sharp effect; and the closing “Blasphemous Rumors,” a slow-building anthemic number supporting one of Gore’s most cynical lyrics, addressing a suicidal teen who finds God only to die soon afterward. Even lesser-known tracks like the low-key pulse of “Lie to Me” and the weirdly dreamy “It Doesn’t Matter” showcase an increasingly confident band. Alan Wilder’s arrangements veer from the big to the stripped down, but always with just the right touch, such as the crowd samples bubbling beneath “Somebody” or the call/response a cappella start to “Master and Servant.” With Reward, David Gahan’s singing style found the métier it was going to stick with for the next ten years, and while it’s never gone down well with some ears, it still has a compelling edge to it that suits the material well.”
Re-blogging myself – Depeche Mode “Some Great Reward” released 35 years ago today, September 24th, 1984.
The Cars “Shake It Up” 1981. I’m spinning The Cars’ fourth LP in honor of Ric Ocasek who died yesterday at age 75 (b. Richard Otcasek 1944, d. September 15th, 2019). Ocasek wrote almost all of the tracks on Shake It Up (he shares writing credits with Cars’ keyboardist Greg Hawkes on “This Could Be Love”) and was the lead vocalist on six of the nine tracks on the album. Those tracks include all of the US-released singles (Benjamin Orr sings lead on the UK-only single “Think It Over”): “Shake It Up” was the first single and became their first US Top 10 hit (#4 on Billboard’s Hot 100, also charting at #2 on the Top Tracks chart and #14 on the Disco Top 80 chart) and its B-side, “Cruiser” (sung by Orr) also charted, going to #37 on the Top Tracks chart.Other singles from Shake It Up included “Since You’re Gone” (#41 US, #37 UK) and “Victim of Love” (#39 on the US Mainstream Rock chart). Those singles are my favorite songs from Shake It Up – it’s a pretty decent album overall: I also like the non-single, Tubeway Army-ish track “A Dream Away” and the swirling, almost Cure-like post-punkish (never thought I’d compare The Cars and The Cure) “Maybe Baby,” but I’m not crazy about the ballad “I’m Not the One,” which is a somewhat sappy simplistic synth light pop track.
The dB’s “Like This” released 35 years ago today, September 12th, 1984. Bearsville Records. Jangly power pop in the vein of Alex Chilton (who founder/bassist Chris Stamey performed with in the late 70′s; Stamey departed the dB’s just prior to Like This) and R.E.M. Though The dB’s pre-date R.E.M. by a bit (1978 vs. 1980) there is a southern connection – The dB’s are from North Carolina, R.E.M. from Georgia and dB’s guitarist Peter Holsapple sat in with R.E.M. in the late 80′s and early 90′s. I suspect he may be partially responsible for the predominance of mandolin on R.E.M.’s recordings as he also plays mandolin on Like This. (I’m not anti-mandolin but R.E.M. got a bit mandolin-heavy there for awhile.) Like This was The dB’s third album and includes a revamp of the stomping, somewhat quirky single “Amplifier” which originally appeared on Repercussion from ‘82. It’s a pretty good track, and I also like Elvis Costello-ish “Love is For Lovers,” the rocker “Rendezvous” and the beautiful “Lonely Is (As Lonely Does)” which Allmusic raves is “their most beautiful song to date.”
Depeche Mode “Everything Counts and Live Tracks” 1983. Vogue Records/Mute Records, French import mini album. Today, August 22nd, is the release anniversary of Depeche Mode’s third album Construction Time Again (1983) and “Everything Counts” was the lead single, hitting #6 in the UK and #17 on the US Hot Dance chart. Side A, or the Studio Side, has two versions of “Everything Counts” – the 7″ original single mix and the 12″ single mix. The B-side, or the Live Side, has four live tracks (recorded at Hammersmith Odeon in October ‘82) including two Vince Clarke songs, one of my absolute favorites, “New Life,” as well as “Boys Say Go!” – both from their 1981 debut LP Speak and Spell. Also appearing are live versions of the Martin Gore-penned “Nothing to Fear” and “The Meaning of Love,” both from Depeche Mode’s 1982 album A Broken Frame. I left the price tag on the Mini Album because this is an acquisition from my friend Jason who bought it and literally imported it from France in early ‘86.