To round off my series of articles about the post-punk era I thought I’d offer a list of my favourite post-punk and ‘new pop’ records. This is in no way an attempt at a ‘best of’ or definitive list of the period, but rather a personal reflection on the albums that made an impact on me at the time.
I’ve used Simon Reynolds’ book, Rip It Up And Start Again as a general guide in defining the post-punk/new pop period as 1978-1984, but (like Reynolds) I’ve strayed into 1985 so that I can include Scritti Politti’s second lp.
The B52s – The B52s
The first B52s album made its appearance in late 1979 when there was still a section in the local record store called ‘new wave’. The bright yellow cover still stood out among all the other retro, day-glo colours adorning the sleeves of the time. Attracted by the silliness of titles such as Planet Claire and Rock Lobster my best friend and I stood in the store and giggled over the lyric sheet.
Inspired verse: ‘Why won’t you dance with me, I ain’t no limburger?’
Recommended listening: 52 Girls
The Cure – Seventeen Seconds
This reminds me of the winter in 1980, my last year of high school. Walking the cold, wet streets at night when I should have been at home studying. I loved the watery guitar and the blurred, wintry cover. I liked the record so much that I designed a special Seventeen Seconds record label (cringe) and stuck it over the horrible Stunn Records logo.
Inspired verse: ‘I’m running towards nothing, again and again and again.’
Recommended listening: Play For Today
Joy Division – Closer
The Joy Division albums weren’t released locally until 1981, but we’d seen them in the city’s import record stores and fondled the beautiful covers lovingly. When I finally got to hear Closer I didn’t know what to make of it. The sounds were strange and unearthly, not like pop music at all.
Inspired verse: ‘Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders.’
Recommended listening: Twenty Four Hours
Talking Heads – Remain In Light
My friends and I were fans of the minimalist Talking Heads guitar pop, and reacted with horror at the news the band had expanded to include additional musicians, and was playing disco music. I remember the mix of dread and excitement when I put Remain in Light for the first time. I rang my friend in a state of confusion ‘all I can hear is bass guitars’. Of course, I grew to love the record, even if it isn’t my favourite Heads record.
Echo & The Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here
We were a little behind the times here in Australia and missed a lot of stuff the first time around. I bought Wilder before Kilimanjaro, October before Boy, and Heaven Up Here before Crocodiles. Again, I’m sure the cover had something to do with me buying this album – a deep blue panorama of sea and sky. Luckily, the music was just as good. Like the cover, it was dark and moody, yet there was also a subtle optimism.
Inspired verse: ‘Set sail in those turquoise days.’
Recommended listening: Show Of Strength
The Birthday Party – Prayers On Fire
I was attracted by the band’s dark sense of humour and the chaotic music, which always sounded on the verge of collapse. Songs like Zoo Music Girl and Nick The Stripper were also great for scaring the neighbours. But I was far too cowardly to go and see The Birthday Party play live. I imagined Nick Cave leaping off the stage and kicking me in the head.
Inspired verse: ‘My heart is a fish toasted by flames.’
Recommended listening: King Ink
ABC – The Lexicon Of Love
My friends and I were still listening to dark guitar bands (Public Image, Comsat Angels, Psychedelic Furs, the Bunnymen, Siouxsie) when ‘new pop’ first appeared, so listening to the Human League, Depeche Mode and ABC was something of a ‘guilty pleasure’. Dare was great, but Lexicon was even better, with its inspired meld of Roxy Music and Chic. At heart we were all ‘pop kids’.
Inspired verse: ‘What I thought was fire was only the spark.’
Recommended listening: Tears Are Not Enough
Associates – Sulk
I’d liked The Affectionate Punch and, in particular Fourth Drawer Down, but Sulk was a revelation. The shimmering pop of Side Two (Party Fears Two, Club Country) was wonderful, but it was the more ‘difficult’ Side One I really loved. Songs like Bap De La Bap and Nude Spoons sounded like they came from another planet, or some strange sub-aquatic wonderland.
Inspired verse: ‘The alcohol loves you while turning you blue.’
Recommended listening: No
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream
When Simple Minds toured in 1981 they attracted interest but not crowds. When they visited a year later, after the success of Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize, they played to a packed house. Filled with images of summer, gold and glitter, the album seemed to radiate warmth and wonderment.
Inspired verse: ‘Everything is possible.’
Recommended listening: Hunter And The Hunted
The Smiths – The Smiths
The Smiths’ second single, This Charming Man, made an immediate impression on me. The music itself was pleasant enough, a sort of jangly rockabilly, but it was the voice that grabbed my attention. And what were words like ‘handsome’, ‘charming’ and ‘miserable’ doing in a pop song? My mother was in the UK at the time, so I got her to bring back a copy of the new Smiths album, to the amusement of my relatives (‘He’s the one with the flowers!’)
Inspired verse: ‘Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.’
Recommended listening: I Don’t Owe You Anything
Scritti Politti – Cupid And Psyche 85
By 1985, my friends and I were making our own music using synthesizers and drum machines. Cupid And Psyche was the ultimate electronic pop album, filled with bubbling sequenced keyboards and imaginative rhythm tracks. We must have played it continuously for months.
Inspired verse: ‘Each time I go to bed I pray like Aretha Franklin.’
Recommended listening: Perfect Way