I have a book. Well, actually I have loads of books. But there is one in particular that triggers various nostalgic sensations throughout my body, which is not an altogether unpleasant feeling. It’s probably classed as a coffee table book, the irony being that I don’t have a coffee table, and I’ve never looked at it whilst drinking coffee. Maybe I should? I’ll get back to you on this, but for now, the book is called Film Posters of the 70s. And when I flick through it, it holds several retrospective clues and indicators as to what shaped my craving for escapism. Not only the post-modern graphic artwork generally used at that time, but also the boom in sci-fi spectaculars.
Now, personally I think this important, because although you may be wondering what this has got to do with a music blog and 1979 specifically, the fusion of becoming more aware at that time of music around me and the preceding couple of years is absolutely vital as to who I am. I think?! This is quite fun really, it’s like a self-analysis session, which wasn’t the plan at all. But I’ll go with it and see what happens.
So, of course the film posters highlight the two big ones for me. I feel privileged that I happened to be of the age where I saw Star Wars in the cinema when it came out in 1977. In the days before video, we also subsequently had this rather bizarre edited down cine-film version that we would watch at home, so the magic of the silver screen was sort of retained, watching the film being loaded onto the projector, the bright image thrust onto the wall in our house, the lights being switched off. It’s actually hard to equal that even now. And looking at the first Star Wars posters, particularly the illustrated artwork, which is also what happens to form on the back of the classic bubblegum cards at the time, combined with remembering the toy figures, well, the music starts in my mind and then that’s it, it all takes over. So whenever I watch it now, I have to almost clear my mind, and I make myself believe I am 5 years old again and it enhances the viewing experience considerably. I think I would find it strange if I were young now and watched it without having the memory of the all-encompassing hype at the time. And the music element is very key, and of course John Williams is a genius, which brings us to the following year, and probably a poster that actually has even more sentimental worth to me…Superman The Movie. There are several different promotional images but the one I love just has a silver Superman badge with a swish through it and the words “You’ll believe a man can fly”. This is perhaps the single strongest memory of my childhood. And again, it just so happens I was that age when these combinations of films came out but the need for escapism had set in. Although I couldn’t possibly have quantified at the time, I think I started living in a parallel universe from that moment, I would see things and imagine an alternative, and as I got older, if things were not going well in any way, it didn’t matter, because I had my other world. Another world, another time.
The thing that bridges this with pop music of the late 70s is an altogether more ridiculous and tacky affair. In 1978, the other film that I saw more than once at the cinema and for my sins loved as a child, was Grease. Now, later in life I grew to hate it, and now when I watch it I’m back to finding it enjoyable in parts, but the songs are quite irritating, apart from…the main title theme by Frankie Valli, which is actually one of the best tracks for a film opening you will see. Of course the film is set in the 50s but that one song is of its time, late 70s disco, and if you listen to it now, try and remove yourself from the film, it’s quite something. And it makes you realise that when you’re young, music in films is the first real introduction to that whole medium. And the songwriting is very different in a film like that, it’s more of a musical really, and it’s very clever, the structure and melodies are designed to be catchy, subliminally attacking your senses. Of course the songs from Grease happened to then be chart hits, but when it works in that order, it’s not the same as contemporary pop songs being released, you’re already hooked on them. The one thing though that Grease can unwittingly do to a child is put the idea of clichéd love into their head. The film is not only about the central two characters but everyone pairs off in the end in that horrible happily ever after way. For a long time I had this notion that an Olivia Newton-John-esque girl was going to magically appear at my primary school and save the day. Needless to say, it never happened, but the waiting for the perfect girl, in a parallel universe, went on for a very long time, where no one in the real world would suffice. I have no idea if it was normal to think like that at the time, but there you go. What can you do? Not much, obviously.
So throw all these things together as we hit the beginning of 1979 and it all fused more and more with real pop music, the crazy merger of post-punk, soul, disco and the glorious rise of electronica. Really you just absorb everything at that age, I was 7 when 1979 started. My main problem in life was the state of my hair. The subject of my hair will become more evident in later blogs, as the ongoing battle with my mother gathers pace as to the credibility of her views on the subject. But essentially, for the early part of my life, I looked like a complete dick. And yes, it was the 70s and all that, but even so. I had almost black, very straight hair in an unfortunate confused bowl kind of design that was quite long. I scan a lot of old photos, but from this era I really have to be more stringent with what slips through the net into the public domain. Even our Tom Selleck look-a-like milkman once called me darling. And not as a joke. (I’ve never told anyone that before). It wasn’t helped by my dad being the only white man in the whole of London with an afro. I take great comfort in knowing he looked even more ridiculous than I did. The single biggest gripe actually, which I’ve never been able to get over is my brother and I were always dressed identically. He’s two years younger than me, so as a child it was even worse for me being the eldest. Every single bloody photo that exists depicts the two of us forced into smiles that belie our true feelings, me being about twice his height at that time, but dressed like a couple of flared-trousered, bowl-haircutted penises.
But yet again I am straying from the task in hand. You want to hear about my thoughts on the music of each year. Well, maybe you don’t, but that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. When I decided I was going to write these blogs, year by year, I thought the best approach was to listen to the playlists I already have to put me in the mood, and just let the memories naturally come flooding back. And as you can imagine, all my playlists are singles, placed strategically in chronological order. It takes some doing I can tell you, and is a sight (or sound) to behold, but I couldn’t have done it without the true bible, The Guinness Book Of Hit Singles, the essential reference point for any true Pop Anorak. And I’ve decided that at the end of each blog I will list what’s in my playlist for that year. Can’t be arsed with links to songs though, that will just put people off.
So that’s what I’m doing as we speak, and to be honest, it’s a rip-roaring flurry of hits. We’re talking Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, almost an unbeatable song to start with already. But then when I tell you we move swiftly onto Heart Of Glass by Blondie, you can appreciate the standard we are talking about. I’m just thinking out loud here basically, but I imagined I would get sidetracked as I went through the songs, and that is about to happen already, because 1979 is really a year synonymous with Blondie. And from I can tell and remember, you can have divided opinion on female popstars, quite often other women are jealous, and then men can have mixed views, usually based on shallow thoughts (as most men are shallow) but let’s face it, everyone loved Debbie Harry, didn’t they? She was I guess the first fanciable singer I can remember. She was cool too, and it also helps if the music is right on the money, new wave, with rock and disco thrown in. I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t like Blondie.
So really my very first favourite bands alongside them were ELO, The Police, Roxy Music and the glory that was The Jam. But there were also standout, standalone classic songs around like the anthemic Pop Muzik by M, which could even be the official theme to this blockbuster of a blog? Now, at such an early age you’re still just taking in what you see the most, and it’s only singles you get to hear. And the funny thing is I’ve remained a singles-centred person ever since. Even now, I obviously listen to albums and have favourite album tracks, but all my playlists really are singles. Even to the point where I want a band to release a certain a song so I know I can put it in that year’s folder. Is that Playlist OCD? Maybe it is. But this whole area will be addressed later, probably around 1985 when we delve into cassette compilations.
Whilst I’m writing this by the way, I’m stopping just to enjoy the music. I very rarely dance, certainly not in public, that would be unacceptable, but here in this time, in a sitting position I’m currently moving my body in certain flamboyant style to Off The Wall by Michael Jackson. But we must wait before we get to him. Actually no, sod it, let’s do it now. This needs to be addressed. I find it weird listening to this phase of Michael Jackson. It really is like a different person. Obviously there is the album Off The Wall, but the single of the same name (there you go, single-talk again), is possibly my favourite ever song of his. I’m still yet to be convinced that at some stage in his life, he wasn’t replaced by an alternative Michael Jackson, hell-bent on being an idiot. This album and then Thriller, notably assisted by the production of Quincy Jones are pretty much flawless. And he looked like a normal human being. And he danced like a demon. But it does bring us back to something I touched on in my previous introductory blog, the presence of soul and disco at home and at my dad’s menswear shop, the epicentre of fashion in London…Ericsons. As you can probably tell from the name, the staff were mainly sons of Eric?! Apart from my dad, he was the son-in-law. And I can honestly say I don’t think he enjoyed a single moment of working with my mum’s family. But he can write his own blog about that, if he so chooses. Maybe he secretly does already. Actually I can’t get my head around the concept of him doing that. But Ericsons will play a part later in this series, it will resurface at certain times where necessary. And believe me, it does become necessary.
But there is an interesting backdrop to the shop, in Balham, in 1979, always an undercurrent of violence around, and it’s not controversial of me to say there was racial tension, that is a fact really. And then we had the shift in political climate, with Margaret Thatcher coming into power. Now obviously I was too young to understand that kind of thing but I remember it happening, and I think it’s important with these blogs to know what was happening at the time. Of course it was really across the 80s where some of the great independent music started, with a very anti-Tory theme, and that will also be addressed when the time cometh. And for some reason, all of this gives me a bizarre collage of an image in my head, added to by thinking of bands such as The Specials and Madness, who made their breakthrough that year as well. It’s funny how a memory can trigger another one, although in themselves they have no connection other than happening to be from the same era. Not even sure that line makes sense, but I can’t think of another way of saying it. It’s a thought pattern, words don’t always describe what happens in my head. But Ska is interesting because listening to it now, I still like it, and yet I’ve never been a massive fan of reggae. I think it’s the particularly edgy British slant to it that did, and still does the trick. But you have to appreciate how it evolved. In the same way you can trace almost all music (apart from Kraftwerk) back to The Beatles or James Brown. I remember once reading an article that claimed this fact. I’ve never sat down and tries to prove or disprove this theory, maybe one rainy day I’ll do it. But my point is, what was the point again?…oh yes, the point is, I don’t really ever listen to The Beatles that much, and certainly never James Brown, and yet I will love some things that are clearly a direct inspiration from them. And that my friends, is how music works. In fact I could end the blogs now on that. Should have saved it for the last one. Maybe I’ll write it again later when everyone’s forgotten that I’ve just written it.
But we’ve now reached the stage of the blog that welcomes perhaps the single biggest factor in the whole maelstrom of musical exploration…Top Of The Pops. Or TOTP, seeing as it’s one of the few acronyms I will accept into my life. I would say #TOTP, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There will be a lot of young people now that would probably struggle to comprehend that in those days, and part of starting in 1979 is because my memory of this show is clearer, it was the only way really you could visually see bands. There was no MTV, although don’t get me started on what MTV has become, and there was only three terrestrial channels anyway. In my case, it was a genuine family event, despite the fact you knew what the charts were from the previous Sunday, waiting until the Thursday seemed acceptable for some reason. Now, the world is too instant, you couldn’t do it. And of course the charts themselves meant something then. And of course you had to sell more to have a hit. And for a new band to get on TOTP, it was a big deal. A very big deal. TOTP would actually really kick in for me even more around 1982 time when the theme tune changed to Phil Lynott, the opening titles still gives me goosebumps now. And it’s things like that which make me realised what I am. I am a pop anorak. And that’s the way it is.
So despite the glory of seeing bands mime in the studio (and for the record, as much as I love live music, I personally have never had a problem with miming on TOTP, it’s a promotional exercise, not to try and catch people out), despite that, the three songs that I think of first from 1979 from watching the show are bit synonymous with the videos. And I think this also helped shaped my love of the full pop package. A video doesn’t necessarily have to be that great, but it’s the moment, it’s that subliminal stamping of the images you’re seeing into your subconscious. All that garbage I prattled on about in the introduction.
Which songs am I talking about, I hear you cry? Well, the first is I Don’t Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats. Of course, in itself, a majestic piece of pop history, partly because it’s disposable by its catchiness and musical nature, yet indispensable due to the subject matter being about a girl massacring people at a school. The video is quite cheaply made, but highly effective, it literally has left a lasting impression. And we were one of those families that most would be filled by horror to know that used to watch TV whilst we had dinner. And TOTP was always on at that time. So that’s part of my memory really, eating some horrendously over cooked frozen vegetables and listening to my dad slurping at a bowl of salad. Which incidentally is where my current intolerance of eating noise can be attributed to.
The second song synonymous with the power of its video is the quite seminal Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles, or just ‘Buggles’ as they seem to be remembered as. Now, at that age I didn’t really know much about Trevor Horn until later on when he produced ABC and then Frankie Goes To Hollywood. But the guy was quite clearly a genius, if you listen to anything he’s ever worked on, he manages to produce what I would describe as a cinematic pop sound, it’s so polished it’s true perfection really. And in the case of this particular song, it’s a great reflection on the rise of pop videos and how the sound was changing as a new decade was about to start.
Now, someone told me recently there was an optimum length for a blog, because people will just get bored and not have read as far as this. So, if you are still reading, there’s no point me just listing all the other songs necessarily in a willy-nilly kind of way, I think the Playlist at the bottom covers that, but the final song that must get mentioned because not only is it also really about the video, but also because it was the last Number One of the decade and kicked off the splendour of the 1980s, is Pink Floyd, Another Brick In The Wall. Not forgetting the (Part 2) at the end for the single version!
I think because part of the video has school children in it, I associated with it even more. But the animated sections taken from the film The Wall itself are visually stunning. Pink Floyd were a band more synonymous with albums but it’s their one true pop single moment, and the video alone would never be enough, it’s the combination of that and the fact it’s just a fantastic song, with the ingredient that all greatness requires…attitude.
And it brings us nicely to the start of the decade that truly shaped me into whatever it is I’ve become…hold on, hold on, what am I thinking?! I haven’t even mentioned the rise of electronic music here, erm, well I supposed I could dovetail it into 1980, suffice to say that in the wake of Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, via disco, we have electronica. And by 1979, in terms of mainstream acts, we’re talking Tubeway Army/Gary Numan and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark as key exponents. I think I will leave this as a teaser for next time, because otherwise this will just get out of hand, and I’ll be here all day, which no one wants to see…
1979 Anorak Playlist
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Ian Dury and The Blockheads
Heart Of Glass. Blondie
Tragedy. Bee Gees
Oliver’s Army. Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Can You Feel The Force? The Real Thing
I Want Your Love. Chic
Hold The Line. Toto
Strange Town. The Jam
Cool For Cats. Squeeze
Wow. Kate Bush
He’s The Greatest Dancer. Sister Sledge
Pop Muzik. M
Knock On Wood. Amii Stewart
Dance Away. Roxy Music
The Number One Song In Heaven. Sparks
Are You Ready For Love? Elton John
Are ‘Friends’ Electric? Tubeway Army
Shine A Little Love. ELO
We Are Family. Sister Sledge
Sunday Girl. Blondie
I Fought The Law. The Clash
Ring My Bell. Anita Ward
Silly Games. Janet Kay
The Diary Of Horace Wimp. ELO
Can’t Stand Losing You. The Police
I Don’t Like Mondays. Boomtown Rats
After The Love Has Gone. Earth Wind & Fire
Reasons To Be Cheerful. Ian Dury and The Blockheads
Is She Really Going Out With Him? Joe Jackson
Angel Eyes. Roxy Music
Money. Flying Lizards
Lost In Music. Sister Sledge
Cars. Gary Numan
The Prince. Madness
Message In A Bottle. The Police
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. Michael Jackson
Video Killed The Radio Star. The Buggles
Making Plans For Nigel. XTC
A Message To You Rudy. The Specials
Eton Rifles. The Jam
One Step Beyond. Madness
I Only Want To Be With You. The Tourists
Union City Blue. Blondie
Walking On The Moon. The Police
Last Train To London. ELO
Off The Wall. Michael Jackson
Complex. Gary Numan
Rapper’s Delight. Sugarhill Gang
Spacer. Sheila B. Devotion
I’m In The Mood For Dancing. The Nolans
Another Brick In The Wall. Pink Floyd
SYIC (See You In Cyberspace)