Punk and New Wave

Gogo’s “Beauty and the Beat” (1981)

The Go-Go’s’ 1981 debut LP Beauty and the Beat is as aptly titled as it is underrated. Few shiny power pop records are as dark as this one. The record is known primarily for its two big-beat hits “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat,” two of the early 1980s’ greatest songs. The rest of the album, though, with few exceptions, is much different. After the Shangri-Las’ sounding “How Much More,” Side One takes a darker turn, focusing on the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles nightlife. As such, “Tonite,” “Lust to Love,” and “This Town” succinctly capture the exhaustion of being a scenester and the psychological toll it can take, especially in the superficial world of Hollywood. This tone is maintained on Side Two with “Fading Fast” and “Automatic,” probably the two most morose tracks on the record. From there on out, they return to catchy, bubbly pop in the form of “You Can’t Walk in Your Sleep” and the irresistible closer “Can’t Stop the World.” The reputation of Beauty and the Beat is dampened to a certain extent by outside forces, like the decline in the quality of the Go-Go’s’ music after this album, Belinda Carlisle’s weak solo career, and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, which articulates these themes in a far more gritty, blunt manner. Nevertheless, Beauty and the Beat should not be slept on, and is a great early 80s’ power pop record. —Yerblues

Irmin Schmidt & Bruno Spoerri “Toy Planet” (1981)

A great forgotten 1981 album from the Can keyboardist, Irmin Schmidt. Delicate synth passages a few sudden astonishing gypsy disco stomps. Slightly camp, but in a good way. Sometimes sci-fi creepy, like watching Tron after eating Nutmeg. Irmin’s album does not overstate itself or outstay its welcome. It cheers me up with happy tunes. —TheGreatCurve

David J “Crocodile Tears & the Velvet Cosh” (1985)

David J played bass, wrote songs, and occasionally sang for both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets. He also worked briefly with Jazz Butcher. Since most of his early solo work was recorded more than twenty years ago for the long-defunct Glass label, it is no surprise that it tends to be both unknown and underestimated.

Unlike his uneven debut, “Etiquette of Violence”, which sounded a lot like the final Bauhaus album, “Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh” is a back-to-basics, acoustic set with thoughtful lyrics and graceful songs that fit together cohesively. Particular selections reminds me of the tracks he would contribute to Love and Rockets’ “Earth Sun Moon” a few years later, but–believe it or not–this material is even stronger. Bottom line: if you own just one album by David J, this should be it. —Thomas

The Clash “The Clash” (1977)

It’s remarkable how well this music holds up for me. Decades after “punk” happened this is still relevant, exciting, and simply a joy to listen to. Must have something to do with the excellent songwriting throughout – it took years for it to sink in just how great a song “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” is because I was so enamored of the rush and roar of the rest of the record (plus the ace cover of “Police and Thieves”) and if that rush still holds strong, the songs that didn’t grab me initially have only gotten better over time. But really there are hardly any songs here that didn’t grab me by the throat right from the get-go – the spit out vocal and jagged guitar riff of “Clash City Rockers,” the great lyric on “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.,” the amazing less-than-two-minutes of “White Riot,” their other ace cover (“I Fought the Law”) – this record just don’t let up. Every substitution from the U.K. version constitutes an improvement even if the two versions of “White Riot” are equally convincing. This is as good as that thing called “punk” ever gets, got, or will get. A masterpiece – and with a great, iconic cover to boot. —Patrick

Eyeless in Gaza “ Pale Hands I Loved So Well” (1982)

Eyeless In Gaza created one of the best ambient albums of the time with “Pale Hands I Loved So Well”, though it wouldn’t do it justice to call it just an ambient album. Their instrumental vignettes were plunged in a spiritual fervor, and had the quality of fragile bitterwseet contemplations or of metaphysical longing.

“Tall And White Nettles” combines gentle guitar strumming, found sounds and eerie female vocals to great effect. The chamber music of “Blue Distance” is built around mysterious organ-drones, piano ripples, and imperceptible chanting. The mystical dance “Sheer Cliffs”, which is half-gypsy and half-Indian, is truly a magical moment. “Falling Leaf/ Fading Flower” is a concerto for brass wails and gentle tones, part free-jazz and part electronic-experiment. “Lies Of Love” is another numinous dance, eventually expanding in a mist of metallic percussion, longing voices and Middle-Eastern brass. Beautiful. “To Ellen” is possibly the most transcendental moment here; a spectral hymn of haunted organs and sublime vocals by a siren. “Pale Saints” is a fusion of free-jazz and musique concrete. “Letters To She” is an ecclesiastical chant combined with subsonic drones and unsettling electronic effects, culminating in hysterical celestial voices and orchestral ultrasonic frequencies, before finally settling for a pensive tone. This is the soundtrack to man’s reincarnation as pure energy in outer space. In comparison, “Light Sliding” sounds timid and shy, though still deployed like a philosophical reminiscence. Then “Big Clipper Ship” is yet another stunning eclectic moment, partly kosmische, partly European-folk, partly chamber, partly ethereal, partly exotica percussion, partly militant march, and played in their usual recondite way. A fantastic ending to a fantastic album. —Ily

Gary Numan “Dance” (1981, Beggars Banquet)

Dance is the first of Gary’s albums to divide his fanbase. Several other Numan LPs had a similar effect, including the jazz-inspired Warriors and the cinematic and over-the-top Berserker. Dance is an album that’s easy to hate on first listen due to its radical differences from earlier efforts Telekon and The Pleasure Principle; however, that is its biggest merit in my eyes. If an artist can consciously change their style and still produce an excellent album, that artist is good. And Gary Numan proved that to me with Dance.

The album immediately rejects typical album track sequence, kicking off with a nine-minute minimalist masterpiece that feels a fraction of its length, Slowcar to China. Japan’s Mick Karn features heavily on this track, his liquid-like fretless bass flowing free and easy over the drum machine backing and airy synths. The best is yet to come though, as a quiet drum machine signals the beginning of Cry, the Clock Said, a sublime minimalist ballad that clocks around at ten minutes long. I would even go so far as to call this masterpiece Gary Numan’s best ballad, perhaps matched only by The Pleasure Principle’s Complex. It builds up atmosphere at a leisurely pace, introducing airy, twinkly synths that whisper over the beat. Gary finally begins to sing five minutes in. The song is ambient, atmospheric and beautiful. The lyrics here are some of Gary’s best. They’re extremely different from the machine/sci-fi themes of loneliness and isolation seen in Gary’s earlier work, and it’s a welcome change. They’re by no means jollier though, Gary still sounds miserable. He creates an effective image of black-and-white streets, cafes, prostitutes, rustling newspapers and devious women. This provokes some of his most romantic lyrical moments (Cry, the Clock Said), along with his most cynical, tongue-in-cheek and misogynistic (She’s Got Claws).

Dance, simply put, is an essential purchase, a brilliant piece of avant-garde experimentation. It might not be conventional, it might not be immediate, it might have been commercially less successful due to its experimental style, but it’s possibly the most indispensable of all of Gary’s album, the one that proved that he was not just a one trick pony. Truly exquisite. —Dylan

Kate Bush “The Dreaming” (1982)

Here Kate Bush graduates from quirky teenage musical prodigy to full-fledged artiste. I think it speaks volumes about this strange and wonderful album that the lead-off single was the wonderfully un-commercial “Sat in Your Lap,” a heady stew of thundering Burundi drums, horn punctuations, and Kate wailing away like a madwoman on the nature of knowledge. EMI Records execs probably wet their pants when they heard it! In fact, I’m surprised this album got a major-label release at all, at least in this form!

Even the more “normal” songs on this release (“There Goes a Tenner,” the jaunty “Suspended in Gaffa,” the Celtic folk-lilting of “Night of the Swallow”) have a certain something that renders them deeply “odd.” Or perhaps its just the proximity of the other songs that’s colouring my perception: witness “Leave It Open” with its Chipmunk backing vocals or “Get Out of My House” with its angry ranting and donkey braying. This is almost Kate’s version of John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, her own personal primal-scream therapy swathed in digital electronics as a sort of purging of her early precocious piano-maiden persona. This is the next step beyond Nina Hagen’s West German albums, and is one of the most eye-popping musical statements [of all-time]. A vital release. —Progbear

Fugazi “Fugazi” (1988)

Including members of DC-hardcore originators Minor Threat and Rites of Spring, Fugazi achieve an inspired blend of punk fury, hard rock riffs, and deft instrumental interplay coupled to righteous lyrical content on this, their seven song debut EP. The songs’ big, chant-along choruses (see fan favorite “Waiting Room”) are infectious, the bobbing rhythms of bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty pointed and propulsive, while providing a fluid center around which guitarist Ian MacKaye unleashes razor sharp scrapes and howls from his SG. On this release, MacKaye swaps vocals with Guy Picciotto (not yet playing guitar), giving the band two distinctly different yet equally passionate frontmen. Favorites here include the aforementioned “Waiting Room,” reggae inspired “Suggestion,” and driving “Bulldog Front.” —Ben

Jerry Harrison “The Red and the Black” (1981)

This album provides irrefutable proof of Jerry Harrison’s contribution to arguably Talking Heads finest moment; ‘Remain in Light’ …1980-81 was a creatively productive time for ‘Head’s front-man David Byrne and his partner-in-experimentation, producer Brian Eno – the pair famously teamed up to make ground-breaking album ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ in 1980 (it wasn’t released until 1981 however) before enlisting the rest of the ‘Heads to enact their Afro-funk blueprint for the release of ‘Remain in Light’ later that year. As 1981 rolled around, Byrne went off to record his first solo effort, ‘the Catherine Wheel’, which mined similar ground covered on ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ and ‘Remain In Light’ with excellent results – both Eno and Harrison were recruited for assistance on some tracks for Byrne’s album.

The busy arrangements and psychedelic flourishes on Jerry Harrison’s first solo effort show that he was in-synch with this progressive-funk vibe, and spotlight the talents of the most overlooked member of the celebrated New York quartet. Jerry Harrison’s effort tends to adopt a more melodic sensibility than any of the other three Talking Heads-related releases from that ’80-’81 period mentioned earlier – the backing singers are given free reign and the results echo and equal the layered-vocal cleverness present on ‘Remain in Light’ – also, Harrison’s own keyboard talents are more obvious here than his often-subtle contributions with Talking Heads; ‘the New Adventure’ revolves around Harrison’s sinewy, convoluted synthesizer melody, ‘Worlds in Collision’ is soaked in dramatic, shimmering keyboard washes before breaking into a highly-funky clav riff which somehow manages to sound both progressive and retro. ‘the Red Nights’ is more ambient than anything Talking Heads ever attempted, a lush instrumental soundscape where Harrison’s own playing and melodic-leanings are once again brought to the fore.

Overall this is easily the most interesting of Jerry Harrison’s 3 albums. By virtue of it’s release date and his association with Talking Heads, it’s hard to avoid comparing the results of ‘The Red and the Black’ with those of ‘Remain in Light’, ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ or ‘the Catherine Wheel’. And whilst it never quite attains the transcendent power that those albums achieved, there are moments on ‘the Red and the Black’ every bit as compelling as anything on the aforementioned trinity. —Denny

Game Theory “Lolita Nation” (1987)

Power Pop Eden indeed. Being so extremely tough to come by and, since indeed it is sprawling as can get, Lolita Nation has been gaining a reputation of being a lost masterpiece of sorts, kinda in the same way that Big Star’s third record took forever to see the light of day. Well, it might not be as “where have you been all of my life” impactant as Alex Chilton’s notoriously damaged “Third/Sister Lovers” but across its 27 tracks there’s plenty for power pop fans to rejoice with. Relatively to their previous albums this one posesses a harder edge, with tunes like “Dripping with Looks” beginning to show a toughening process that clearly anticipates Scott’s future work with Loud Family. The two records Game Theory released leading up to “Lolita Nation” are surely much easier to approach but there’s an undeniable charm and an endearing quality to Miller’s craft, having a wispy voice at best he comes up trumps with immensely imaginative arrangements and oddly hummable tunes (The World’s Easiest Job, the fabulous Chardonnay) to form a colossal, irregular yet ultimately wholly appealing piece of music. —Johnny

Teardrop Explodes “Wilder” (1981)

Teardrop Explodes’ second and last album is a lovely descendancy on Syd Barrett with a post-punk energy. It gave a new domain to psychedelia, extending it to new boundaries at different levels: political, psychological and even eschatological. The tearful “Tiny Children” and the scary “The Great Dominions” give an aura of mysticism to a very joyful album (the amazing trio of openers and “Passionate Friend” belongs to the wittiest 80’s psychedelia), and thankfully everything aged quite well. Even “Like Leila Khaled Said”, the roughest of all tracks, stands agreeably like the bad boy of the family. “…And the Fighting Takes Over” is pure melancholy drenched by the most beautiful keyboard ever heard. With such remarkable collection of songs, “Wilder” is surely a masterpiece. —António

Stranglers “Dreamtime” (1986)

The last album with The Stranglers original line-up, Dreamtime is an excellent collection of smooth pop. Referring to an Australian aboriginal term for the drug-induced trance when the elders walk with the spirits, this is no studious examination of primitive cultural beliefs but rather an aural travelogue.

“Big In America”, “Mayan Skies” and “Nice In Nice” are written more for effect than any real interest in the subjects but it is the calibre of both music and overall sound which lifts the whole album above the norm. Each song is imbued with its own sense of place and perception as if written to create the perfect mood. In the main it works perfectly and is an excellent companion piece to their previous album Aural Sculpture. The Stranglers continue with their fondness for horns and Was It You? is particularly effective. Dreamtime was also good from a singles perspective for the band. Besides “Shakin’ Like A Leaf”, The Stranglers found differing shades of chart success with “Nice In Nice”, “Big In America” and “Always The Sun”. But, in truth, it would have been just as easy for the record company to choose the likes of “Ghost Train”, “Was It You?” or “Too Precious” as alternatives. —Ian