Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Three essential '80s albums

Three albums fans of 1980s synth pop should own:

1. Penthouse and Pavement, Heaven 17 (1981)
Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh split with fellow Human Leaguer Philip Oakey following albums Reproduction (1979) and Travelogue (1980) and formed Heaven 17 - named after a band in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange - with friend Glenn Gregory. The trio's first album was pitched as a corporate takeover (see cover), the music a high-tempo, soul-funk synth mix, headed up by opener (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang ('Reagan's president elect... we don't need no fascist groove thing'); other highlights include Geisha Boys and Temple Girls, Let's All Make a Bomb and The Height of the Fighting. Heaven 17's biggest hit, Temptation, came from follow-up album The Luxury Gap (1983), though things declined after How Men Are (1984).
Bonus curio: check out Being Boiled (the Human League, 1978)

2. Upstairs at Eric's, Yazoo (1982)
Pop Mozart Vince Clark had already concocted some of Depeche Mode's finest moments, including Just Can't Get Enough, when he teamed up with Alison Moyet for Yazoo, forging singles Don't Go, Situation and Only You. The album's quieter, bluesy numbers - Midnight, In My Room, Tuesday, Winter Kills - are haunting declarations of defiance. The duo's unique collaboration ended after a second album, You and Me Both (1983), with Clarke going onto, first, The Assembly and then Erasure, and Moyet ploughing a solo furrow, unfortunately largely ditching the memorable contrast between her gutsy vocals and synth sounds, much as The Blue Nile did for their third album, Peace at Last (1996).
Bonus curio: I Before E Except After C (In Your Room boxset, 2008)

3. Cupid & Psyche 85, Scritti Politti (1985)
Emerging from the punk scene, Green Gartside was the possessor of Britain's best male white soul voice after The Associates' Billy Mackenzie, who I'll no doubt write about at some point. Over a series of albums, Gartside imbued his lyrics with an unprecedented level of sophistication, notably of a philosophical bent, from Jacques Derrida (on debut album Songs to Remember, 1982: 'I'm in love with Jacques Derrida/ Read a page and know what I need to/ Take apart my baby's heart'), through The Word Girl (Cupid & Psyche 85: 'I got a reason girl, was Immanuel Kant's') to Philosophy Now (Provision, 1988: 'I don't want apothecary girl'). Gartside's high-pitched vocals mixed with a reggae beat and those big drums sounds favoured in the 1980s; by 1999 he was collaborating with hip-hop stars for Anomie & Bonhomie and then he went all folky for homebrewed White Bread Black Beer (2006). Greatest hits compilation Absolute is due out Monday.
Bonus curio: She's a Woman, with Shabba Ranks (produced by Heaven 17's side project BEF, 1991)


  1. I also love the B.E.F. Walkman-only forerunner to 'Penthouse and Pavement', 'Music for Stowaways', which I only discovered last year. It needs a rerelease.

  2. Hi James, great to hear from you. I had that on cassette and see that someone has one up on Amazon for £300. A few of the tracks were included in the various recent rereleases of Penthouse and Pavement. Hope all very well with you!