There's a nice eclectic mix to this lot... But it's still all tunes that really resonate with me and seriously define the decade and how it was a big happy mess.
"Boredom Is The Reason"
MISSION OF BURMA
"Academy Fight Song"
Of all the Burma biggies (especially "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" and the definitive hardcore rush, "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate") this one feels the most universal. And to some degree it is their most standard sounding rock song. But that doesn't detract from it. It's a hook to die for; the "not not not not"s echoed for years until I tracked this tune down (being a lone single in the pre-CD reissue years made it scarce).
Even though this is where the band is produced within an inch of losing their identity, it never gets away from what is the essence of the band, which is the muse of Mark Burgess. A gorgeous surge of a tune and some brief quick shutter glimpse of a moment.
At some point in the early '80s Todd Rundgren decided to take one last crack at writing a great power pop song a la "Couldn't I Just Tell You." One of them ("Heaven's Falling") he gave to Cheap Trick for the LP he produced, Next Position Please. The other was this gem which ended up on Utopia's 1984 LP, Oblivion.
This is one of those out of the blue strokes of pop magic that proves you should never under estimate anyone. Elliot's lone solo outing (much like Ace Frehley's solo debut) was far more impressive than the big shots in The Cars (Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr). Secret weapon was Jules Shear, who co-wrote the tunes with Elliot.
"Da-a- a-a nce"
With very few exceptions (The Vapors), most mod bands paled in comparison to The Jam. But most had at least one or two fleeting moments of pop genius. For The Lambrettas, it was this short and to the point nugget. Punchy (and a bit dated), it still holds up due its momentary style and innocence. Not to be repeated.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL
"Heaven Help Me"
For me this is the unofficial spiritual connector to the Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey." For us Stateside they appeared from an odd distant (UK) label, Blanco Y Negro. Both tunes evoke some distant Phil Spector vibe but respectively create some modern middle '80s template; one drenched in reverb and distant feedback, the other (this tune) more traditional with piano and Tracey Thorn's torch singer delivery. This moment predates the Reid Brothers' by only a few months.
In retrospect I find it silly to see people divided about this band and their early synth pop beginnings. A lot of it has enough depth to compete with anyone's fave early '80s UK import a la Soft Cell, Gang Of Four, Heaven 17. And that's how I prefer to remember them, even though the groundbreaking scream of "Stigmata" was indeed a big deal. This is the sound of walking into alternative dance clubs and not knowing what the fuck you were listening to.
It's still an odd and slightly tragic reality to know that this band's godhead and genius debut (1984's Limping For A Generation) is virtually unknown whilst their lone legacy is a so-so pop hit called "Digging Your Scene." What's missed is a brilliant concoction that mixed Marc Bolan along with pre-Acid Jazz Jazz swing and some sense of early '80s New Romantic verve that equaled Martin Fry in its smashing sense of outward aplomb.
"Uncertain Smile" (12" version)
There's still something so very "other" about this record. And it hit at a point when there was an anything goes mentality. So why not 10 minutes of something hypnotic and unique? Matt Johnson would go on and become a pretty well known '80s alternative musical figure but this entry point still remains his most audacious. Very deeply intriguing.
Even though 1985's "Repulsion" really felt like a harbinger of what would become the slacker and indie aesthetic, it is 1988's "Freak Scene" that holds up as the stunning classic. And seriously, they never improved upon it despite exploring heavier and weirder spaces and getting tagged in the grunge scene.
"Ode To A Koala Bear"
McCartney's lowest point musically was 1981-1985. Sure he was creative and could come up with a tune... And despite the well-intentioned Tug Of War the sense of the magic and spark that was Macca seemed hard to find. After Back To The Egg the cherry picking became a lot harder. It wasn't until he aligned himself with 10cc's Eric Stewart by mid decade, that he began to blossom again, and his late '80s collaboration with Elvis Costello ended things on a high note.
This is the moment where everything seemed up for grabs with unabated youthful pop vision.
"Brush Me Back"
"In Green Fields"
"Build A House"
"From Blenheim Crescent To Cheyne Walk"
"New York, New York"
"Ace Of Spades"