Tuesday, 11 February 2020

How the World Cup Changed the World (2013)


Hello, so this is a piece I wrote 7 years ago about the World Cup. I still happen to think it was one of the bests I've written, but the copy online was...badly formatted, so here it is, in full, in a hopefully readable style.  I was planning to write a sequel, How the World Changed the World Cup, and I still do, but parenthood has as yet delayed it...




How the World Cup Changed the World
Michael S. Collins




The World Cup.

It only happens every four years.


Thursday, 21 November 2019

2019 Election Seat by Seat


2019 Election Projection


So in 2017 Andrew Marr told us that, for those of us who liked election nights, this could be our year. And merely 30 months later… Of course, lots have changed since then. Not Brexit, that’s still happening. Not Corbyn, he’s still a thing.

Anyhow, back in 2015, I tried to do a seat by seat projection of the election. I pointed out many (accurate) trends and curves and then… completely got the wrong seat projection from it. In 2017, I didn’t bother as I was sure of a Tory landslide. But here we are in an unpredictable environment so here is the seat-by-seat projection again.  

Some seats have more to say than others. There really is not much to say about Liverpool Walton, a seat in which Labour could suffer a 38.4% swing against them and still hold onto. But with the best will and intentions, onwards…

Friday, 9 August 2019

Top 40 Chart Singles (1981)

Well, people ask for something and eventually...

NOTE
It seems like a week cant go by without some musician of the past being revealed to be an utter fuckwit in their personal life. While I cannot look at art without context, sometimes one has to separate art from its creator. The Wagner Test, if you will. So while he is not involved in this article, one cannot look at the charts in 1983 without mentioning Billie Jean. This will not be an issue shouldd we reach the 1990s with a Mr Kelly, as his music was all shite anyway. Hope this clears up any future elephants in yonder room.


The Top 40 Chart Hits of 1981

Explanation from last year:

"
Recently BBC4 were showing Top of the Pops from 1984. I wasn’t alive in 1984, so it was interesting to see a lot of the music in a historical context for the first time. Especially when you see some 1980s bubble-pop, and then John Peel or someone announces “and new in at number 25, a new song by Stevie Wonder, I Just Called to Say I love you” (!) or something along those lines. The charts are usually filled to the brim with shit. This is not a nostalgia thing. I look back at 1993-4, the era I grew up in for pop, and spot so much bloody rubbish in the top ten. That’s not a surprise. What was a surprise was that, if you looked beyond the tosh, there was a lot of really good songs in there too. 
Hell, there was at least 40 of them. So I thought, hey, why not do a Top 40 of 1984? So here it is!"
And here is the 1981 variation, a shortlist of 90 charting singles limited to the best 40 of that year.  Singles which just missed out include: It’s My Party (Stewart and Gaskin), Start Me Up (Rolling Stones), Is That Love (Squeeze), Being With you (Smokey Robinson), Young Turks (Rod Stewart), It Must Be Love (Madness), Happy Birthday (Altered Images), Prince Charming (Adam Ant), Wired for Sound (Cliff), Love Action (Human League), Girls on Film (Duran Duran), Rapture (Blondie).
For a song to qualify for contention, it had to be in the UK top 40 at some point in 1984. 
And without further do, on to 40th place…
 
40.       Pretenders – Message of Love


It’s rare to see The Pretenders in such a jovial mood.  Here they are in mellow party mood, before the disasters to follow. Given the messages of despair and hope so intertwined with Chrissie Hynde’s writing, it is perhaps unusual to see her write a fairly normal pop song! And how can you hate on a song that quotes Oscar Wilde?




39.       Dépêche Mode – Just Cant Get Enough

I knew Depeche Mode through their later classics. Personal Jesus, Enjoy the Silence.  So going back to their far more mainstream poppy origins is quite a discovery, akin to the difference between Frasier in Cheers and Frasier by ten series of Frasier. Written by Vince Clarke, this made the top ten in the UK and Australian charts.




38.       Abba – Lay all Your Love on Me

Listen to Benny go, with those deep keyboard notes and synth. By this point both couples in ABBA had divorced, and their music had taken a trip to the dark side. Now, I dislike the concept of misery breeding art, but the music the group produced in the midst of heartbreak and turmoil is some of their greatest work! Here, we have a brooding, hymn like tune. Don’t go wasting your emotion, indeed. Hearing the hymnal talk of post-divorce relationship collapse makes quite an eerie effect. 




37.       OMD – Joan of Arc

OMD are one of the revelations of this type of project. Some great hits in their back catalogue. Joan of Arc’s key is the mournful instrumental reprise before any lyrics are sung. Phil Oakey once said that people can be snobby about the synth due to the number of low quality users of the instrument in the 80s. Well, surely Andy McCluskey and co of the “forgotten band” are the antidote to that. Here the lyrics, obliquely comparing someone to Joan of Arc, are distinct secondary to the music itself, which sways and flows like a paddle steamer in rough seas. Ethereal, threnodic and many other phrases Melvyn Bragg would use, Joan of Arc is also worth a listen.


“Big ambitions were a hallmark of the era - and OMD made a big splash in the US, along with contemporaries like Duran Duran and Eurythmics.. OMD were always more intellectual, however, writing songs about atomic weapons (Enola Gay), public telephone boxes (Red Frame/White Light) and genetic engineering (Um... genetic engineering)."We were fascinated by weird German music and writing songs about aeroplanes and oil refineries," McCluskey says. "Nobody was more surprised than we were when we actually started to sell records. I wanted to be an archaeologist - how did I end up on the front cover of Smash Hits?”
Andy McCluskey to the BBC, OMG its OMD!, 20 September 2010

(Song was also called Maid of Orleans.)






36.       Shakin Stevens – Green Door

Goddamnit, Shakey, what are you doing here?

Shakin Stevens songs follow the same general feel. You see it coming up, and groan. You watch his Elvis shtick, and groan. You immediately dismiss his dated be-bop, and groan.

Then, later that week, you find yourself still trying to get the damned song out of your head, and groan! Shakin Stevens hits sneak into your brain like a Trojan Horse, until you find yourself humming “there’s an old piano and they play it hot behind the green door” while you are doing the dishes.





35.       Police – Invisible Sun

Underrated Sting song. Another of his songs based around the cold war getting a lot warmer.




34.       Pretenders – I go to sleep

The Pretenders cover a 1960s Ray Davies song, suggested by Ray, whom Chrissie Hynde was dating at the time. After discussing 2000 Miles for the 1984 charts, and how it’s a memorial for James Honeyman-Scott, it’s a bit eerie to drop a mere 3 years back to this track, and hear Honeyman-Scott as lead guitarist! Not only that, but Pete Farndon, who died in 1983, is the bass guitarist and provides backing vocals. “To die, to sleep…perchance to dream” as a wise man once wrote. Anyhow that context of dead men playing guitars adds an unexpected duality to moments where Hynde sings “I go to sleep and imagine that you’re there” only to acknowledge that the person she dreams of it is far away and unreachable now.  




33.       Godley and Crème – Under your Thumb

Retelling of an old ghost story by the former 10CC men. It’s about a man who witnesses a suicide on a train, only to realise the woman is already dead and he saw a re-enactment.  Surprisingly little on it online, barring lyrics sites.




32.       Kim Wilde – Chequered Love

Not as famous as her other big 1981 hits, but catchy enough to stick in the mind. This got to number one in South Africa (!) and was a top seller across Europe, but couldn’t make headway on Stand and Deliver or Stars on 45. The latter continuing a trend of Kim Wilde being defeated in her quest for the number one by subpar singles. 


Yes, I hate Stars on 45 yet like Weird Al, I contain multitudes…






 
31.       Bucks Fizz – Making Your Mind Up

Annoyingly catch tune that won Eurovision. That I can find room for this but not Rapture is the biggest hint I am turning into a dull middle aged type person. In the end we all fade to grey. Spoiler for later on, that is…



30.       Teardrop Explodes – Reward

Made by the guitar work. A top ten hit by Julian Cope and Alan Gill. The latter formerly of Dalek I Love You, a synthpop band whose name fits effortlessly into the chorus of Diamond Lights by classic one hit wonders Shahoddlewaddle.




29.       Madness – Shut Up

A song about buck passing, either in the form of gas lighting or from the voice of a gangsters heavy. One of Madness’s lesser recalled hits.  “A popular ska band” as the Official Charts understate Suggs men, the early 80s were a time period it seemed like the Madness boys could write a top ten hit in their sleep, with songwriting shared among Suggs, Chris Foreman and Mike Barson. This one was written by Foreman with lyrics by Suggs.








28.       Altered Images- I Could Be Happy

See, this song is oft considered fluffy and throwaway, which is to do it a great disservice. Beyond the non-charting visceral shakedown of Dead Pop Stars, Altered Images were the kings of Train in Vain Trope – a song whose darker tones are ignored due to the jauntiness of the tune.  Their second top ten hit’s most heard lyric is that title, I Could Be Happy, but the clue is in that “could”.  “How do I escape from you?” sings Clare Grogan, suddenly flipping the whole meaning of the song. The singer could be happy, if she can escape from the toxic relationship she is in.  But in the question itself, lies the nub – she doesn’t escape, so all those happy images conjured disappear, like tears in rain.





27.       Soft Cell – Tainted Love

Famous cover of the Gloria Jones song.





26.       ELO – Hold on Tight

It’s the return of Jon Arnold’s least favourite band! Jeff Lynne may never have been The Beatle he wanted to be, but he was still adept at writing catchy hit singles.  A song which sounds like a duet between a 60s Roy Orbison and an 80s George Harrison, Lynne was perhaps already having premonitions of The Traveling Wilburys.




25.       The Jam – That’s Entertainment

The only Jam hit on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list, and a song that got to 21 in the UK Charts on imports alone! Overshadowed by a far better attempt to do the same type of song (see later).




24.       Dépêche Mode – New Life

Catchy top ten hit.





23.       Vangelis – chariots of fire

Instantly recognisable and great instrumental piece by the Greek avant garde rock god.



22.       Adam Ant – Stand and Deliver

The best of Adam Ants 80s hits, Stand and Deliver gallops along as a bit of performance rock, before walloping you with “whats the point of robbery if nothing is worth taking?” The inner Thatcher critic was never far from the 8-80s chart.





21.       Dire Straits – Romeo and Juliet

Mark Knopfler makes it look ridiculously easy, the guitar playing lark. In a way, it is the epitome of the smug rock that puts off Mandy, an  intertextual song playing back to other arts in the same theme, from Will Shakespeare to Bruce Springsteen. But that guitar work, flipping from melody  to rock so easily, is beautiful and lamentful, and brings the song well above its usual contemporaries in the rock genre of Singer Whinges About His Ex Leaving Him. 





20.       Tenpole Tudor – Swords of a Thousand Men

Long before being the Colin Baker of The Crystal Maze and Vindaloo, Ed Tudor-Pole led his own punk band. As can be expected from a man who went from punk to Game of Thrones via game shows, Tudor-Pole marches to his own internal drum, which is probably why his punk band are raving about Arthurian legends! A bit like having Dick Dale cover Mo-town, and yet it works. 




19.       Ennio Morricone – Chi Mai

A somber instrumental by the man who made Clint Eastwood films cool.


18.       Jon and Vangelis – 
I'll Find My Way Home 


The combination 
of Yes frontman Anderson and Greek avant garde prog rock god Vangelis seemed odd on paper. Especially for a ballad. And yet it works.

(And no, I have no idea why this bit formats so...)


17.       Kraftwerk – The Model

Catchy German rock song, with just a dose of darkness.


16.       Abba – One of Us

A less heralded but still great Abba tune.




15.       Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime

Talking Heads, for me, are one of those background band barely paid attention to in youth that you only appreciate for their talent as you get older. Once in a Lifetime may lack the more frenzied pace Tina Weymouth and co get on, say, Psycho Killer, but its not easy to see why the public took it to their hearts. It feels feel good and hopeful, after all. Even though, same as it ever was,  I feel that sense is as big a mirage as one you might find in Train in Vain. 






14.       Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight

Famous for the drum solo, and the urban legend as laid out in Eminem’s Stan. An urban legend (Collins saw a man let another drown, but turned into a song instead of phoning the cops) that relies on a somewhat face value reading of the lyrics! This was Collins’s first solo hit, and arguably, his best, held off the UK top spot only by Lennon Trauma buys. [A phenomenum that gave Brian Ferry a truly abysmal number one hit!] Like a certain song by The Police, this is a dark look at the ugly side of divorce and lost love. Which you know, to me makes the whole “if you told me you were drowning,  I would not lend a hand” bit even grimmer than an urban legend could possibly be!

But if you don’t want to take my word for it, here’s Ozzy Osbourne:

“The 60-year-old drove his wife Sharon, the television personality, mad by repeatedly playing the track at their home. The former X Factor judge said: "He played it so often that I would get the CD and throw it away but he went out and bought another one." Her husband added: "We're the reason he sold so many albums. That drum fill is the best ever – it still sounds awesome. We love Phil Collins."”
Murray Wardrop (to Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne), Ozzy Osbourne: I  love Phil Collins, Telegraph 8 May 2009








13.       Meatloaf/cher – Dead Ringer for Love



You know, genius is a rare quality. William Shakespeare had it, Teddy Roosevelt had it, Jim Steinman had it. Ahem. Because while Meatloaf’s rock opera style had already won him fans that’d still flock to the arenas to see him if his health holds up, Bat out of Hell was more of an album hit than one that made much of a dent in the singles charts. It does however, in Paradise by the Dashboard Light, produce the sort of operatic duet turned modern rock that Meatloaf made his name on, with the debate between young lovers. So when Dead Ringer for Love was on the cards, the genius idea that somebody had was to replace the female singer with an actual mega star.


Let’s get Cher! The result was not only by far the biggest hit of Meatloafs career to date, but Cher’s biggest singles success in the UK for over a decade! As it is one of Loaf’s more breathless performances, it gives him chance to catch his breath – well, on the music video. Cher has apparently never sang the song live. Oh, and top marks to guitarist Davey Johnstone (who worked on some of Elton Johns greatest 70s songs like Daniel and Rocket Man) who not only keeps up but challenges the threnetic energy of the monster himself. An underrated 80s gem.



“However, the true attraction of this recording is the inspired duet between Meat Loaf and Cher, both of whom belt out the song with rock and roll abandon (indeed, this song seems like a dry run for Cher’s late 1980's hard rock phase). This unique blend of vocal and instrumental firepower makes "Dead Ringer For Love" feel like a long-lost outtake from the Grease soundtrack on steroids.”
Donald A Guarisco, All Music Review (retrieved 8 August 2019)








12.       Kim Wilde – Cambodia

Haunting follow up to Kids in America, about love lost around war, that didn’t make it to number one. But Joe fn Dolce did. Perhaps it seemed strange next to Wildes usual oeuvre at the time, but since it has become one of her staple classics. 





11.       Queen/Bowie – Under Pressure

A riff so simplistically great, it got bastardised in some horrid rap song. Which is an insult to Vanilla Ice, not rap. Bowie had a curious 80s, didn’t he? Let’s Dance was a pop album by a rock god which shamelessly chased the money and outsold most of the actual pop stars. He did his dad dancing with his old flame Mick Jagger. He did China Girl, and Labyrinth, and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. The latter being one of mums favourite ever films. Here he teams up with one of the greatest bands of the 80s, and effortlessly they combine to produce another Number One hit. It was as if in the 1970s, Bowie shifted between personas, looking for a personal identity to share with the world, and then in the 1980s, he decided that that persona was David fucking Bowie, who was the personification of cool anyway. Even when dancing in the street, or dressed as a gremlin. So perhaps it is apt that his duet here is with a man who, from moment of pop culture conception until his untimely death, appeared to know exactly what his persona was, and flaunted it.



And it should go without saying, any song keeping this out of the top ten is gold. But not Spandau Ballet. Ahem.




10.       Grover Washington/Bill Withers – Just the Two of Us

Just one of those catchy tunes bv a highly underrated singer/songwriter. 



9.       George Harrison – All Those Years Ago

It’s difficult to mention Harrison in this house without getting a full CV, being as he is Mandy’s favourite artist. A well kept secret of mine is, like R.E.M. and a certain other soul, I actually quite liked them before meeting that fan! 


One of several John Lennon tributes by his former band mates,  this was a rare UK hit by Harrison, who was more of a curates egg and musicians favourite than as commercially successful as other solo Beatles, yet who has this century earned a reappraisal. Almost as if he were a dark horse…
With Ringo on drummers, and Macca, Lina and Denny Laine performing, All Those Years Ago is nearly more of a Beatles track than some of the new stuff released in the 90s. 




8.       Kirsty McColl – There’s a Guy Works Down the
Chip Shop Swears he’s Elvis


A song lampshading a popular Scottish urban legend, wonderfully performed by a much loved and missed singer, that got to the top 15 in the UK Charts. What’s not to love? MacColl’s effortless reach of notes is well documented: listen to Tracy Ullmans cover of They Don’t Know About Us, they keep Kirsty’s high notes in as others couldn’t reach them! She was also fairly notorious for black humoured reactions to heartbreak. Later on, shortly before the senseless criminality that ended her life at the age  of only 41, she released an album full of these sorts of songs. England 2 Colombia 0 being particularly recommended. But there the man in question is eviscerated for being a two timing sod who badly hurts the singer.  Here, by comparing the chancer with the age old Elvis in the chip shop myth, she immediately portrays him as someone  the singer can easily spot and denounce.  There is a direct connecting line between the two, however, an interconnected greatness. Chip Shop is so much better than being a female Chas and Dave novelty effort as MacColl’s Guardian obit claimed. The only downside is that we ought to have had another two decades of her songs since Colombia 2 England 0.
















7.       Human League – Don’t you want Me

This song is beautiful framed as an argument in duet between Phil Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley. But what really sells the song is the opening keyboard work by Ian Burden, grabbing attention much like the sullen male singer. Phil Oakey wrote the song inspired by A Star is Born, but became increasingly frustrated by its production and tried to block the songs release as a single, preferring 3 other tunes.  



“Delighted but not completely surprised by the success of Dare, Simon Draper told Phil that he wanted to lift a fourth single from Dare believing that the track Don't You Want Me would be a sure fire Christmas Number 1. Phil and the girls were less than impressed by the suggestion feeling it would ‘end their career' and the prospect of releasing a fourth single from the same album was previously something never done by the League. During the recording of Dare, the track had not been a favourite with Phil believing that it wasn't as strong as the rest of the album hence the reason why it ended up as the final track. Simon Draper however, was adamant that the single would be released and Phil demanded that the single should be sold with a free poster, as the band believed the track wouldn't sell on its own.”
Robert Windle, 2001, Human League Online biography (via the Wayback Machine)


Wouldn’t sell? It had 5 weeks as number one!







6.       Visage – Fade to Grey


Steve Strange was a bit of a trailblazer. In the 1980s, he set the tone for all kinds of synth and slightly emo music that was to follow. In 2015, he set the tone for every music act you’ve ever heard of dying in the last few years. With lyrics interchanging between English and French, the song also stands out from its contemporaries at the time,  and seemed to inspire not only the snyth pop to follow, but U2 and New Order too. Steve may have been trying to ape his hero Bowie, but in doing so created something new, and then when Adam Clayton tried to ape Fade to Grey, he wound up creating New Years Day and the traditional U2 sound instead. The circle of musical life there, each song building on the songs that inspired the previous. There’s probably a direct family tree leading through these songs from Robert Johnson to Arcade Fire.


Also, Fade to Grey. What an inspired title. Anyone can self-destruct and fade to black. Visage don’t allow the comfort of oblivion to their narrative, but a slow reversion to dull normality. Loneliness doesn’t breed art but conformity. Perhaps more astute an observation than a thousand emo rock cries?





5.       Kim Carnes – Bette Davies Eyes

Written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon in 1974, this song became a huge Grammy award winning hit for Kim Carnes. The song was Carnes only UK hit. That the song is still well regarded is shown by the fact The Sun have clickbait articles about it even now. A karaoke favourite, it was also a big favourite for Bette Davis herself, who sent the trio congratulations after the Grammy win.
 








4.       Yoko Ono – Walking on Thin Ice



Sometimes you write a song about visiting Lake Michigan, and it takes on a life of its own.

Sometimes a song earns its subtext, and other times a subtext is thrust upon it. As one hears the mournful and requiem undertones to this song, the casual listener can’t help but connect it to the murder of John Lennon. “Why must we learn the hard way, and play the game of life with your heart?” Yoko sings, as though her voice will break its limited composure at any second.

Of course, Thin Ice was recorded when Lennon was alive. Indeed, it was recorded on the day he was murdered. So that context is very much after the fact, rather than intended. The ghost like guitar intro (performed by John Lennon) can’t help but add to that. In interviews with the New York Times in 1980, it was noted that while John was reverting to melodies, Yoko Ono’s music was taking on a more abrasive and cutting style. And by 1980, she was finally starting to get some acclaim in her own right as a songwriter rather than the mythical Beatles breaker-upper. She got so much disdain, she became one of the great underrated artists of the 20th Century, and I speak as someone who isn’t massively fond of her stuff. She should be seen for what she is, as a sort of female Peter Maxwell Davies who took the formats and boundaries of music genre and pushed them to their limits with a sort of avant-garde smirk. Perhaps it would help to remember her as a 1940s Japanese feminist (the past, remember, it is a foreign country), or as one of the most astute financial planners around. Rather than the one who broke up a band of hotheaded geniuses, of whom the biggest surprise is they managed to last together for a decade without murdering each other in the maelstrom. No, to think of Yoko Ono solely as Mrs Lennon, as society often threatens to do so, is to sanitise her. And that’s the one thing you can surely never do for a woman still campaigning against social injustice even in her mid-80s and not in the best of health.

As Tony Benn once put it, when the Telegraph called him a national treasure, something had gone wrong somewhere!


“It will be difficult for anyone to listen to ''Walking on Thin Ice'' or ''It Happened'' without thinking about last December's tragedy, but in the long run the record can and should be seen as an important step in Miss Ono's fascinating evolution as a rock songwriter and singer. In the late 60's and early 70's, her music was almost universally condemned by pop and rock fans. But today's rock audience is more open to unusual vocal techniques and other innovations than the fans of 10 years ago, and Miss Ono has moved closer to the rock mainstream by choosing to do more of her work within relatively conventional song forms.”
Robert Palmer, The Pop Life; Yoko Ono on Her own Walking on Thin Ice, New York Times 4th February 1981


As for that subtext? Well, in 2010, even Yoko Ono herself admitted she can’t help but see it herself, and notes that for some reason the line referred to the singular “I” crying instead of “we”. Yoko wrote hauntingly of Lennon’s love of the song, playing it constantly the weekend before his death, and how she now seems to view it as a sort of premonition neither could avoid. Is it really Death of the Author, when the Author backs it?

And beyond subtext, do you know what we have here? A bloody good song. That intro, it lingers, like the prelude to a storm, before Yoko’s lyrics smash in, like the storm surges over a levee. Even without any context, this stands out as one of the top songs of 1981. 







3.       Kim Wilde – Kids in America

For those of you keeping score at home, Joe fn Dolce, the Gombay Dance Band, and Happy Talk all have UK number ones, and Kim Wilde has none. 


This is a miscarriage of justice we can still fix. Quick, get her a duet with Drake or Ed Sheeran or some other star down with the kids. 



Synchronicity, I guess, as her dad Marty also never had a number 1 hit, despite many close shaves in the 1950s and 60s. Marty and son Ricky (also no UK Number 1s) co-wrote this tune in an afternoon after RAK Records honcho Mickie Most wanted to work with Kim. It sold like hot cakes. As Kim Wilde and the BBC later revealed, the song by a newcomer was selling so shockingly well (circa sixty thousand a day in its first week) that the Official Charts lot actually DQ’d it from the charts that week suspecting something dodgy was up. It wasn’t, but that’s why a single which sold half a million in the UK alone didn’t make it to the top of the charts. Perhaps she’s just cursed?

“Almost 40 years on, the song has become a cultural touchstone in its own right. “It still has the same potency that it had back in 1981,” says Kim when we ask her about the song’s enduring appeal. “Of course, if everyone knew what the equation was, what the magic formula was, it’d be worth a lot of money and everyone would be buying it. There’s a lot of magic that happens: Ricky was very young, he had passion, we’d been brought up on rock’n’roll, all the experience on the road with my dad, it all came together in a perfect storm. That energy was so massive it’s lasted even ‘til now.”
Kim Wilde, to Briony Edwards, Louder, 20 February 2018

It sold because its catchy. It remains popular because its catchy. 







2.       The Specials – Ghost Town



The Irish national anthem, a Father Ted gag so grand they nicked it for The Dish.

The haunting opening (including some great work by John Bradbury and Rico Rodriguez, both sadly no longer with us), barely whispered lyrics, an ethereal howling bass and backing vocals: few songs so well fit their title before they even get down into context. Focusing on the effects of early Thatcherite policy on post-industrial towns, the song has as much a claim to being one of the great social commentary songs as the great protest rock of Dylan or Public Enemy.


"When I think about Ghost Town I think about Coventry. I saw it develop from a boom town, my family doing very well, through to the collapse of the industry and the bottom falling out of family life. Your economy is destroyed and, to me, that's what Ghost Town is about."
John Bradbury, BBC 2011

“Ghost Town is a prophecy that sounds like an aftermath. The ghost town it describes, gutted by recession, is the terrain before a riot ("people getting angry") but you sense it will be as bad or worse after the anger has erupted. Hence the song's circularity: it begins as it ends, with a spectral wail that could be either a cold wind or distant sirens. When the riots did break out, the Specials found the experience frightening rather than vindicating. Let's not forget that the violence had pernicious unintended consequences: Thatcher ignored many of the recommendations in Lord Scarman's report and instead invested in state-of-the-art riot gear that came in handy during the miners' strike three years later.”
Dorian Lynskey, Why the Specials Ghost Town is still the sound of a country in crisis, Guardian 9 Aug 2011

One might say it continues to speak as the issues are yet to be addressed. 





1.       Ultravox – Vienna


Dad was celebrating his wedding anniversary in Vienna recently. I sent him a text saying “Congrates Midge!” and he replied “I’m sorry, that references means nothing to me”. And now you know where I inherited my sense of humour.

Midge Ure was playing Scrabble and was down to his final four tiles. “This means nothing to me, O V N R.”

To be honest, between guitar and songwriting for Visage, Ultravox, and his later solo run, as well as writing for other performers, Midge Ure is rather an underrated figure in 80s pop, with 15 Top 20  hits to his name. (That includes Band Aid but let’s not discount a career for one bad turn…) Despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, despite being regarded as one of the great 80s songs, sweeping a vast number of European charts, and having one of the most recognisable intros in music… Vienna didn’t make it to number one in the charts in the UK.

Because it was held off the top by Joe Dolce.

Joe f’n Dolce FFS.

So yes, we’re redressing that imbalance here.

This is a beautiful song, which also works as a bizarre juxtaposition of 80s music and the past. Here we have a piano, and a violin solo, seated in harmony next to big 80s synthesisers. Phil Oakey once noted that, if there was a post-80s backlash against the synthesiser, it was because so many of the bands at the time couldn’t use them properly. Like OMD before, Ultravox also show us the flipside of that argument, by how well it can work as an instrument. Through 300 years of instruments (the intro is drum machine), we rarely get such a grand example of the evolution of music. And through that, Ure manages to pay homage to his own roots and lampshade the post-modern element. The song is one of those age old tunes about lost love, hence the classical overtones. That the love was had and lost in the great historical city of Vienna adds to this. However, as the loss cements itself in his mind, the classical elements are drowned out by the synth, as our singer bemoans “this means nothing”. The classic is the love, the love is dead, and the soulless modernity remains. In creating the masterpiece, Midge Ure speaks to the past and the present and frames his own discourse within that history of music. Unsurpassable.

And now I’ve made my claim for Pseuds Corner…  cracking tune, it really is.