For new readers – about a year ago I tried to do a search like that myself, and found out that there was no one place where you could find track lists and other details for the full series of cassettes you could purchase, via mail order, from the NME back in the eighties. Indeed, some of them didn’t have any presence on the internet at all.
So I set out to change that, and what you’ll find below gives you full information (title, catalogue number, release date, full track list and a picture of the artwork) for all the cassettes from C81 in, err, 1981 to Indie City 1 & 2 in 1988 – plus the same for the two CDs which continued the catalogue number sequence, and a batch of vinyl albums you could buy via the same process (collect coupons from the paper for a month, send them off with payment, and wait a month for the postman). And, because they were there, five cover-mounted vinyl EPs that came free with NME between 1985 and 1987.
You also get my opinions and observations about each item, but hey, that’s the price you pay for all the scholarship.
This isn’t a particularly easy site to navigate – basically, you just have to scroll around till you find what you’re looking for – so there’s a list below, itemising what’s covered, to make the search a little bit easier. The notes and “reviews” were added in the following sequence – cassettes first, in the batches they were released, from oldest to newest – then vinyl albums – then CDs – then vinyl EPs. So, in other words, if you’re interested in C81, you need to go right to the bottom.
So: what you get as you read down the page is:
Poll Winners 84 / Drastic Plastic / Big Four / Fourplay / Hat Trick
The Last Temptation of Elvis / Ruby Trax
Good To Go / Blow The House Down / Sgt Pepper Knew My Father / I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die
Mixed Peel / The Tape With No Name / The World At One
Hi-Voltage / I Dreamt I Was Elvis / Blow-Up
We Have Come For Your Children / The Latin Kick / Low Lights And Trick Mirrors / What’s Happening Stateside
Feet Start Dancin’ / Pogo A Go Go / C86 /
Tape Worm / Straight No Chaser / All
Raging Spool / Little Imp / Neon West
Department of Enjoyment / Chess Checkmate / Night People
Mad Mix II / Ace Case / Smile
Racket Packet / Stompin’ At The
Mighty Reel / Pocket Jukebox
Jive Wire / Hit The Road Stax
And with that, my work here is done.
This blog is dedicated to Roy Carr, and Ablex Audio Video of Telford,
The last batch of music provided by the NME in the eighties came free with the paper itself – a series of cover-mounted vinyl EPs, presumably aimed at generating impulse purchases from new or irregular readers (I don’t remember them ever being announced in advance, so presumably they assumed we regulars would stump up our weekly payment regardless – though memory may be at fault here).
I’m aware of five such EPs but there may be other, later ones, as my regular NME reading pretty much came to an end in 1987. If you know, please add a comment to this post.
No pictures of the packaging for these babies, by the way, as they came in plain, and rather flimsy, white paper sleeves. And I couldn’t be arsed to play them on my ancient and unreliable turntable, so the comments below are based on what I remember from more than twenty years ago. Or, in a lot of cases, on what I can’t remember.
NME Poll Winners ‘84
Catalogue Number: GIV 1
Released: May 1985
Bronski Beat Hard Rain / Cocteau Twins Ivo / The Smiths What She Said / U2 Wire (Dub Mix)
Catalogue Number: GIV 2
Released: September 1985
The Style Council My Ever Changing Moods (Live) / Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Forest Fire (Live) / Robert Cray Band Bad Influence (Live) / Prefab Sprout Real Life (Just Around The Corner)
NME’s Big Four
Catalogue Number: GIV 3
Released: February 1986
Tom Waits Downtown Train (NME Version) / The Jesus and Mary Chain Some Candy Talking / Husker Du Ticket To Ride / Trouble Funk Let’s Get Small
Catalogue Number: GIV 4
Released: September 1986
Elvis Costello and the Attractions Uncomplicated / Billy Bragg Honey I’m A Big Boy Now / Mantronix Hardcore Hip Hop (NME Version) / Miles Davis Splatch
NME’s Hat Trick
Catalogue Number: GIV 5
Released: February 1987
Sly and Robbie – The Taxi Connection When You’re Hot You’re Hot / Steinski and the Mass Media The Motorcade Sped On / Sonic Youth White Kross
What’s interesting about these EPs is that, as point-of-sale, giveaway items intended to generate impulse buying, you’d expect them to be much more targeted at obvious reader tastes than the more esoteric cassettes.
And they certainly start out that way. After all, an EP made up of Poll Winners is, by definition, going to contain some of the readers’ favourites. But by the time of Hat Trick, the grand old NME tradition of improving the readers with stuff they really ought to like is firmly in place.
To be honest, I can’t remember much about Poll Winners at all, as the only band out of the four I had any time for back then were The Smiths, and even then, What She Said eludes me. I’ve warmed to the Cocteaus but not the extent of finding room for Ivo on CD, so I’d guess that if you like them generally, you’ll probably like this. As for Bronski Beat, well, they were always a group you had to pretend to like, because they were admirable and worthy, but the music never did it for me, and while I’d love to hear a Wire song called U2, the same cannot be said of the reverse.
The first two tracks on Drastic Plastic continue the trend of appealing to NME readers’ lowest common denominator, but on the second side they start trying to educate us – Prefab Sprout hadn’t broken through at this point, and for about ten minutes in 1985 Robert Cray was going to make blues the hippest and most popular music on earth, if you’d believed his admirers in the press. Clearly that didn’t happen, but Bad Influence, the only blues song I know that owes more to I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself than Robert
Big Four is the best of the batch; all killer, no filler, and a perfect balance between the crowd-pleasers (side 1) and the this-is-good-for-you (side 2). There’s nothing on there that’s not a classic, and, hey, there’s the NME trying to break go-go music again! A special word for Husker Du’s Ticket To Ride, which single-handedly made me realise that The Beatles were okay after all, and it was time to drop the post-punk posturing about how much I hated them.
Fourplay tries to repeat the Big Four formula, but doesn’t quite achieve the same quality. No problems with the opening track from Blood And Chocolate, Elvis Costello’s last really good album, but Billy Bragg’s track is a minor work (a country song, and quite charming, but not one of his really great songs). It was almost mandatory to pretend to like Mantronix in 1986, to the extent I used to buy their singles at reduced prices in the ex-chart bargain bins, but at this distance I can’t remember anything by them at all. And the Miles track is fine enough, in his latterday, more-funk-than-jazz style, but it’s no Kind of Blue. The whole thing says 1986 even more than Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Maradona performing a song about
And finally, Esther, NME’s Hat Trick tests the listeners’ patience by consisting of nothing but “improving” works. Sly and Robbie were great in the late ‘70s but by this time they were churning out tepid funk-reggae by the yard, and Sonic Youth, as was usually the case, are conceptually brilliant and totally dull at the same time. Steinski, doing what he did (collages of samples, found noises and TV and film clips over hip-hop beats), provides the best track, though as songs about the Kennedy assassination go it’s not as good as efforts by the Human League and Magazine. Steinski was amazingly hip for about three weeks in 1987, and pointed to a fascinating direction hip-hop has lost track of over the years, i.e. interesting.
The cassette catalogue number sequence continued with a couple of CD releases in the early '90s. But you know, it just wasn't like the old neighbourhood...
The Last Temptation of Elvis
Catalogue Number: NME 038/039 (available on CD and vinyl)
Disc 1: Elvis Presley Dialogue / Bruce Springsteen Viva Las Vegas / Sydney Youngblood (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear / Tanita Tikaram Loving You / Robert Plant Let
The Pogues Got a Lot O
Disc 2: Hall & Oates Can
Not just Elvis songs, but songs from Elvis movies.
I can’t comment on this one – I wasn’t excited enough by the track list to buy it, so I’ve never heard it. I likes me some Elvis, but for reasons I can’t remember this didn’t float my boat.
Catalogue Number: NME 040 (available on CD and cassette)
Disc 1: The Wonder Stuff Coz I Luv You / Billy Bragg When Will I See You Again? / The Jesus and Mary Chain Little Red Rooster / The Mission Atomic / The Fatima Mansions (Everything I Do) I Do It For You / St Etienne Stranger In Paradise / The Wedding Present Cumberland Gap / Aztec Camera with Andy Fairweather-Low (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice / Dannii Minogue Show You The Way To Go / Welfare Heroine Where Do You Go To My Lovely? / The Blue Aeroplanes Bad Moon Rising / Senseless Things Apache / Teenage Fanclub Mr Tambourine Man
Disc 2: Carter USM Another Brick In The Wall / Blur Maggie May / Tears For Fears Ashes To Ashes / The House of Love Rock Your Baby / The Frank And Walters I
Disc 3: Jesus Jones Voodoo Chile / Bob Geldof Sunny Afternoon / Johnny Marr and Billy Duffy The Good, The Bad And The Ugly / Cud Down Down / The Fall Legend Of Xanadu / Sinead O'Connor Secret Love / World Party World Without Love / Inspiral Carpets Tainted Love / Elektic Music Baby Come Back / Ridede The Model / Vic Reeves Vienna / Tin Machine Go Now / Curve I Feel Love / Manic Street Preachersreachers Suicide Is Painless
NME wished itself a happy 40th birthday by compiling specially recorded (for the most part – they found the Tin Machine track down the back of a sofa, or something) covers of various UK number ones from 1952-1992, a period which stretches from Secret Love (Sinead O’Connor, understated and charming) to (Everything I Do) I Do It For You (The Fatima Mansions, over-doing the irony and charmless).
Inevitably, it’s a curate’s egg, and looking at the track list, the first thing that strikes me is that I don’t remember much of it at all. The next thing is that I’ve forgotten who some of the bands are, if indeed I ever knew (Welfare Heroine? Senseless Things? Cud? Elektric Music?). And of those I can remember with any degree of clarity, some (The Fall, Marr & Duffy) are desperately disappointing, some don’t even meet your already minimal expectations (Geldof) and a tiny, tiny handful are good – O’Connor, as noted, plus Blur’s charmingly laid-back Maggie May, Aztec Camera’s If Paradise… (similarly charming and laid-back) and, best of all, a titanically erotic Ring My Bell from Tori Amos, which replaces the original’s girlish teasing with a head-on sexual onslaught. Oh, and Vic Reeves thinks
And Jesus, weren't the Blue Aeroplanes a dull bunch?
Good To Go
Catalogue Number: NME Bomb 1
Side 1: Trouble Funk Good To Go / Hot Cold Sweat Meet Me At The Go Go / Trouble Funk Still Smokin’ / Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare Make
Side 2: Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers We Need Money / Donald Banks Status Quo (Little Beat
Side 3: Osiris War On The Bullshit / E.U. Sho
Side 4: Trouble Funk In The Mix (Don
As noted somewhere below, go-go was a short-lived, highly percussive, rough and ready funk genre that gripped Washington DC for a couple of years but never really took off anywhere else. It’s probably a bit harsh to say it was a white eighties NME reader’s dream of “If only modern black music were like…” come true, but it’s probably correct, too. I certainly enjoyed it, and even bought a Redds and the Boys 12" single, though it did come from the bargain bin in Woolies in Durham, so I wasn't exactly at the cutting edge of the go-go scene.
The NME bust its collective balls trying to break go-go in the
This differs from the “official” soundtrack by throwing in a second album of long tracks which was only available through the NME offer. It’s a hefty bonus, because too much of the first album is taken up by generic soundtrack music. On the second record, you get four genuine classics of the style at the ten-plus minutes they’re supposed to last. Taken in conjunction with the first album, you basically get the greatest hits of the entire genre, and probably all the go-go you’d ever need apart from Chuck Brown’s majestic live album from 1987.
Blow The House Down
Catalogue Number: NME HOUSE 1
Side 1: Adonis and the Endless Poker The Poke (Your Turn To Work Me Mix) / Joe Smooth & Anthony Thomas Goin’ Down (Dub Mix) / C-Quince featuring Professor Funk I Can’t Wait (Coming Mix) / F.X Faith, Hope and Charity (More Fun Mix)
Side 2: Patrick Adams & Jack In The Bush Underwater Jack / Masters At Work Alright Alright (Heart Mix) / Chip E If You Only Knew (Subway Whop) / Mr Lee & Kompany Can You Feel It (House Trax Mix) / Fingers Inc. You’re Mine (Mine Remix)
I was losing touch with popular music by the time this House compilation, released in conjunction with Westside Records, emerged in 1987. This may be to do with the fact that I finally had a proper job, or more generally because I was getting a little older, but for me it’s a reminder of that strangely liberating moment when you realise that (a) you don’t know who the NME is going on about, (b) you don’t care, and (c) if you do choose to read about them, you care even less.
So I remember very little about this other than that it seemed to be towards the Acid end of the House spectrum, and – vaguely – the hooks from the Joe Smooth, F.X., and Chip E tracks.
But, you ask, is it any good? I haven’t got a clue. I just don’t know how to evaluate this kind of thing.
The Sugarhill Groove: Roots of Rap (Rare & Original US Mixes)
Cat No: NME FUNK 1
Side One: Grandmaster Flash It's Nasty / Sequence Funky Sounds (Tear The Roof Off) /Trouble Funk Hey Fellas
Side Two: Treacherous Three Whip It / West Street Mob Let's Dance / Grandmaster Flash Wheels Of Steel
Side Three: Adventure What Is Your Fantasy (Eyeland Mix) / Mean Machine Disco Dreams / Sequence And You Know That
Side Four: Funky Four + One That's The Joint / Treacherous Three Yes, We Can Can / Sugarhill Gang Sugarhill Groove
I must confess to not even knowing this existed till Eddie posted his comments below - many thanks sir. It's a set of early hip hop and the grooves that inspired it. I've never heard it, but the track list sounds excellent. In keeping with the slightly obsessive nature of this site, I'll point out that the final track also appears on the 1981 cassette Dancin' Master.
Sgt Pepper Knew My Father
Catalogue Number: NME PEP LP 100
Side 1: Three Wize Men Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / Wet Wet Wet With A Little Help From My Friends / The Christians Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds / The Wedding Present with Amelia Fletcher Getting Better / Hue and Cry Fixing A Hole / Billy Bragg with Cara Tivey She’s Leaving Home / Frank Sidebottom Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite
Side 2: Sonic Youth Within You Without You / Courtney Pine When I’m Sixty-Four / Michelle Shocked Lovely Rita / The Triffids Good Morning Good Morning / Three Wize Men Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) / The Fall A Day In The Life
NME celebrated the 20th anniversary of Sgt Pepper by producing – a few months late - an all-star remake, the proceeds from which went to the newly-founded Childline. It’s most famous for leading to a number one single, Wet Wet Wet’s bland covers-band verson of With A Little Help From My Friends. Technically, it was a double A-side, but Billy Bragg does himself no favours by claiming he’s had a number one single as a result. It could have had a blank b-side, Billy, and the Wets would still have got to number one; they were the teenage girls’ band of the hour.
Anyhoo, the original often used to be called the best album ever made. It’s not even the best album by the Beatles, but if you can offset that daft “I hate the Beatles” prejudice many of us wore with pride in the eighties, and to which a few diehards still rally, you can accept that it’s a colourful entertainment and a record of massive historical and cultural resonance.
The remake, however, is rubbish, from the Three Wize Men’s trying-too-hard-to-be-clever start to The Fall’s going-through-the-motions finish. In fact, trying-too-hard-to-be-clever and going-through-the-motions cover pretty much every track, with the exception of Frank Sidebottom, who is by far the best thing here, just by virtue of being himself, i.e. a man with a papier-mache head singing childish nonsense in a daft voice. The rest is desperately forgettable.
Still, all in a good cause, mate.
Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die
Catalogue Number: NME
Side 1: Country
Side 2: Phil Ochs I Ain
The best by far of NME’s vinyl albums, this is an endlessly fascinating mix of songs about the Vietnam war that came out while it was being fought. It’s fantastically eclectic, covering folk-rock, psychedelia, country, blues, and, magnificently, soul. To say nothing of insane monologues and singalongs from right-wing nutjobs, one of which – Sadler’s The Ballad of The Green Berets – was a
Most of it is musically great and all of it’s historically fascinating. The soul tracks are the best, though, especially
The soul tracks may be best because
Catalogue Numbers: NME 036 (
Released: Autumn 1988
Side 1:Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Tupelo/Depeche Mode People Are People (Different Mix)/Sonic Youth Death Valley ‘69/Cabaret Voltaire Nag Nag Nag/Josef K Radio Drill Time/Motorhead Motorhead/Orange Juice Blue Boy/The Fire Engines Candy Skin/The Mekons Never Been In A Riot/Gang of Four Armalite Rifle
Side 2: The Freshies I’m In Love With The Girl On The Virgin Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk/Aztec Camera We Could Send Letters/The Damned Smash It Up/The Three Johns Death Of The European/Newtown Neurotics Mindless Violence/The Red Skins Lean On Me/Colourbox Official World Cup Theme/Joy Division Transmission/Cocteau Twins The Spangle Maker/The Normal Warm Leatherette
Side 1: The House of Love Shine On/The Loft Up The Hill And Down The Slope/The Pogues Dark Streets Of London/The Triffids Wide Open Road/The Smiths Hand In Glove/Robert Wyatt Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’/…And The Native Hipsters There Goes Concorde Again/The Cramps Human Fly/R.E.M. Radio Free Europe/Special AKA Gangsters
Side 2: Dead Kennedys Holiday In Cambodia/The Southern Death Cult Fat Man/The Cult Spiritwalker/The Primitives Really Stupid/Jonathan Richman Roadrunner (Twice)/James Hymn From The Village/The Fall Roche Rumble/Pop Will Eat Itself Black Country Chain Saw Massacre/This Mortal Coil Song To The Siren/New Order Murder
Indie City is what you’d come up with if you were asked to guess what NME cassette compilations from eighties were like, if you’d never actually read it at the time or come across said cassettes. In other words, it’s a set of (mainly) student disco classics. This is both fun, as it’s hugely enjoyable, and saddening. Saddening, because it may well be what most of the readers listened to most of the time, but it doesn’t reflect the admirable scope of the NME - and its readers - at their most ambitious.
As such, it reflects where the NME itself was by the late eighties, which is to say its third distinct phase of the decade. At the start, with writers like Morley and Penman, it was close to being an avant-garde art magazine, full of theorising on the nature of pop, which is reflected in both the brown rice quirkiness of the C81 and the semiotic irony of Dancin’ Master. Then, through the broader cultural tensions of the mid-eighties, it was at war with itself as to how music could ally itself to social change (no one, on either side, doubted this was either desirable or possible). You had your Right But Repulsive roundheads on one side – the volubly politicised Soul fans (biggest error: their belief that hip-hop was inherently left-wing, rather than, for the most part, brutally and rapaciously capitalist). On the other, you had the Wrong But Romantic cavaliers, who still believed in Rock as profound and redemptive and allied to something like the counter-cultures of previous rock eras (biggest error: thinking that The Long Ryders were the future of anything). The audible evidence for this is the occasionally baffling, but usually thrilling, eclecticism of the mid-eighties tapes. Then, the soul boys all got the boot in 1987, when their blatant support for Kinnock in the general election (he was on the cover, with an order to vote for him) upset the Tory board of IPC. So, by the time Indie City appeared, NME – though still on the left – was entirely in the hands of the Rockers, whose worldview was probably closest to most readers anyhow. And so it finally became what most people had always assumed it was – a fanzine for just-a-bit-left-of-mainstream rock bands whose main constituency was students. It lost the intellectual excitements of the previous two eras, but it stabilised the decade-long sales decline, and it was undoubtedly a funnier read than it had been since the pre-punk era. And how not, with writers like Kelly, Quantick, and (a bit later) Collins and Maconie on board?
There is some continuity with previous tapes, notably the tradition of starting with weaker tracks (Nick Cave’s Tupelo is a fine and mighty thing, but too much of a “builder” to grab you as an opener, and as for Depeche Mode, well, dear oh dear; likewise, on the second tape, Shine On is a miserable opener, and The Loft and the Triffids are also a bit flat), and New Order’s Murder is hardly a big finish. But as for the rest, if you’re going to compile 40 Great Crowd-Pleasing Indie Bits From 1976 (Richman) to 1988 (PWEI), Incorporating Key Acts, Key Trends And Mandatory Classics, there’s probably no better way to do it. Put another way; you may not agree with the brief, but there’s no denying they’ve fulfilled it.
And, as it’s the last “pure” NME eighties cassette, let’s have a few of these to finish on.
There At The Outset On C81, And Here At Close Of Play: Cabaret Voltaire, Robert Wyatt, Josef K, Special AKA
Really There At The Outset, Etc: Orange Juice’s Blue Boy and Aztec Camera’s We Could Send Letters
Most Persistent Manager: And The Winner Is… Cabaret Voltaire, with six appearances on NME cassettes: runner-up, Robert Wyatt, with five
Surprisingly, Putting In Their First Appearance On An NME Cassette: Sonic Youth, The Cramps, R.E.M, and, above all, Joy Division
Least Likely Lyric: Motorhead, Motorhead, for: We're moving like a parallelogram. Like a what?
Catalogue Numbers: NME 033 (Mixed Peel), NME 034 (The Tape With No Name) and NME035 (The World At One)
Released: Autumn 1987
Side 1:The Undertones Here Comes The Summer/Wire I Am The Fly/Robert Wyatt I'm A Believer/Madness Bed & Breakfast Man/Gang of Four At Home He's A Tourist/New Order5-8-6/The Slits Love And Romance/Billy Bragg Love Gets Dangerous/The Adverts
Gary Gilmore's Eyes
Side 2: The Birthday Party Release The Bats/Culture Two Sevens Clash/The Ruts SUS/The Folk Devils Ink Runs Dry/T Rex Ride A White Swan/The Fall Put Away/Wah! Basement Blues - The Story Of The Blues/The Electro Hippies Mega Armageddon Death/Chickens /The Damned New Rose/That Petrol Emotion Can't Stop
The Tape With No Name
Side 1: Steve Earle Guitar Town/Dwight Yoakam Please, Please Baby/Patty Loveless Wicked Ways/Sweethearts of the Rodeo Midnight Girl, Sunset Town/Randy Travis What’ll You Do About Me/Reba McEntire Have I Got A Deal For You/Johnny Cash The Night Hank Williams Came To Town/Kathy Mattea Train Of Memories/Rosanne Cash The Way We Make A Broken Heart/John Hiatt Memphis In The Meantime/Dave Alvin Border Radio/Highway 101 featuring Paulette Carlson Good Goodbye
Side 2: kd lang and the reclines Got The Bull By The Horns/Lyle Lovett Cowboy Man/Ricky Skaggs A Hard Row To Hoe/The O’Kanes Oh Lonesome You/Georgia Brown George Jones On The Jukebox/The Forester Sisters 100% Chance Of Blue/Joe Ely Silver City/George Strait All My Ex’s Live In Texas/Rattlesnake Annie Funky Country Livin’/Emmylou Harris Sweetheart Of The Pines/Nanci Griffith Ford Econoline/John Prine Paradise
The World At One
Side 1: Salif Keita Sina/Najma Akhtar Dil Laga Ya Tha/Yanka Rupkina with Trakiistra Troika & Kostadim Varimezov Ot Kak Se Mara Rodila/Kass Kass Mister Oh!/Yiorgos Mangas Choreptse Tsifteleli/Sidiki Diabete & Ensemble Ba Togoma/Ketama No Se Si Vivo O Sueno/Zouk Time Guetho A Liso/Abdul Aziz Mubarak Ah’Laa Jarah
Side 2: Ofra Haza Galbi/Hukwe Zawose, Dickson Mkwana & Lubeleje Chiute Nhongolo/Shirati Jazz Dr. Binol/Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Ya Mohammed Bula Lo/The Real Sounds Of Africa Murume Wangu/Jali Musa Jawara Fote Mogoban/Dilika Amazimuzimu/Sadik Diko & Reshit Shehu Valle e Gajdes/Jorge Cabera A Fuego Lento/Sasono Mulyo Gamelan Gon Kebyar
This is a much more entertaining outing than the previous batch of cassettes, but it’s abundantly clear that, by this stage, the thrill has gone. The tapes through 1985 were eclectic in the best way: jamming stuff you’d probably never hear up against stuff you really wanted, thus ensuring you the listener were exposed to new sounds and new ideas in a way you couldn’t help but enjoy (well, mostly). It was didactic, and it was –arguably - arrogant, but it was painless, fascinating and frequently thrilling. It also summed up what was good about the early-to-mid eighties – that you could, as it were, have your starter, your main course and your dessert on the same plate, at the same time. The trouble was, the accompanying archive sets (fun as they were) gradually took over, for whatever reasons, and this went hand-in-hand with one of the bad things about music in the eighties – the rise of niche marketing. And that keeps genres and styles apart from each other. It’s much easier for the industry to work this way, but it doesn’t favour creativity, because if all you hear is what you’ve always heard, that’s what you’ll get in future.
The John Peel show had always been eclectic, of course, and continued to be so long after the industry wised up to niche marketing. Mixed Peel is a sampler of the hundreds of sessions recorded for the shows up to 1987 (there were clearly hundreds more to follow). Although Peel sessions dated back to the late sixties, the only ones here to predate punk are from T. Rex and Robert Wyatt (his fourth appearance on an NME cassette), and the whole thing is weighted towards what would be considered typical “NME music”. That’s fair enough – the rag needed to make some money, and of the three tapes in this set, it’s the one with the highest obvious NME reader appeal. However, sitting as it does in the comfortable middleground, it doesn’t really reflect the great man’s breadth of taste, though it’s all fairly invigorating, as is obvious from the track list: tidy, mostly on-the-spot versions of some very good songs. If I have to single out a “best track”, I’ll go for The Damned, if only because I heard that entire session recently and it’s magnificent. Quibbles: if you’re going to have a largely forgotten, undistinguished band like The Folk Devils, why not include their best song, Hank Turns Blue, instead of this one? And, apart from an attempt to seem contemporary, why include dullards like The Electro Hippies (thrash metal novelty act - you know, songs that last about five seconds and a vocalist who sounds like a drunk being sick) and That Petrol Emotion? Still and all, the whole thing makes for a better listen than pretty much anything else that came out in 1987, which may well be the all-time nadir year for pop music. But it’s a shame it went for entry-level Peel, because there’s so much more that would have reflected his ethos more accurately (June Tabor, Ivor Cutler, Misty In Roots, Can, The Nightingales, some of the visiting bluesmen who he gave air to throughout the early seventies… to say nothing of slightly more accessible but legendary sessions from Siouxsie and the Banshees), and more courageously. Still, at least they got The Fall, and a sampler of the epochal Slits sessions, without which it would have made no sense whatsoever.
The Tape With No Name is the successor to the 1984 Neon West, being a more up-to-date sampler of the less cheesy, less conservative end of country. It’s not as durable as Neon West, because the earlier taped cherry-picked from a decade of music to select undeniable classics, whereas this looks at the then-recent mid-eighties and lacks the gift of hindsight. Consequently, there are quite a few forgettable items, even from some of the more familiar names. On the upside: it’s even more down-to-earth and cheese-free than its predecessor, it’s got some serious star names on it (most of them in good-to-very-good form), and, at twenty-four tracks, the VFM concerns which arise on NME cassettes in their latter years are well absent. There’s nothing here that will have you stamping on your Stetson in disgust, and though, as noted, there’s quite a bit of forgettable filler, there’s very fine stuff indeed from Steve Earle, The Sweethearts of the Rodeo (as good a take on small-town ennui as you’ll ever hear), Johnny Cash and his l’il gal Rosanne, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and George Strait. And in the finest track, Nanci Griffith’s Ford Econoline, you get all of Thelma and Louise but better in a tad over two minutes. Nanci has become a big favourite round at
The World At One is, as you might have guessed, a compilation of World Music, a notion which encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the Niche Marketing approach to music, as – with the best of intentions – where else exactly does music come from but the world? And, as many before me have noted, what exactly does the classical music of Bali (Sasono Mulyo) have in common with folk-dance music from
Anyhoo, grumbles apart, this is splendidly diverse and illuminating, though as with the earlier All-Africa Radio I’m hampered by not quite knowing what to listen out for to really make it come to life. But even a confused listener like me can’t deny the genius of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one of the greatest voices ever recorded, in any style or genre, anywhere; and one of his rival great voices is of course Bulgaria’s Yanka Rupkina, caught here doing that spine-chilling Bulgarian thing. And I loves me some Yiorgos Mangas, of whom the largely too-sketchy liner notes claim that he “sound(s) like the lost link between Albert Ayler and a Muezzin chant”. It’s even better than that promises.
And that, apart from the following year’s valedictory
Catalogue Numbers: NME 028 (Hi Voltage), NME 029 (I Dreamt I Was Elvis), NME030 (Blow-Up
Released: Spring 1987
Side 1: Suicide Ghost Rider/Soft Cell Memorabilia/Matt Johnson Red Cinders In The Sand/Holger Hiller Jonny (Du Lump)/ Erasure Senseless/Thomas Leer Letter From America/DAF Kebab Traume (Live)/Cabaret Voltaire Baader Meinhof
Side 2: Holger Czukay Hey Baba Rebop/Depeche Mode Black Celebration/Neu! Hallogallo/Can I Want More/Colourbox Breakdown/Yello Homer Hossa
I Dreamt I Was Elvis
Side 1: Elvis Presley Good Rockin' Tonight (Live - Short Excerpt)/Billy Lee Riley Red Hot/Jack Earls Let’s Bop/Ray Harris Where’d You Stay Last Night/Carl Perkins Put Your Cat Clothes On/Sonny Burgess We Wanna Boogie/Jerry Lee Lewis Hillbilly Music/Rudy Grayzell Judy/Hayden Thompson Love My Baby/Ray Smith Break Up/Glenn Honeycut All Night Rock
Side 2: Hal Harris Jitterbop Baby/Pat Cupp That Girl Of Mine/Johnny Todd Pink Cadillac/Glenn Barber Atom Bomb/Benny Joy Spin The Bottle/Truitt Forse Chicken Bop/Dick Bush Hollywood Party/Rock Rogers That Ain’t It/Danny Reeves I’m A Hobo/Danny Boy Don’t Go Pretty Baby
Side 1: Loose Tubes Hermeto's Big Breakfast/Stan Tracey & Peter King In Walked Bud/Clark Tracey New World/Human Chain Jolobe/The Jazz Renegades A Sack Full Of Soul/Sphere featuring Andy Shepherd For C.C.
Side 2: Courtney Pine Big Nick/Jamie Talbot Mornin'/Steve Williamson Splutain And Scenic/Tommy Chase Quartet Double Secret/Joe Harriott Shepherd's Serenade/Tim Whitehead's BorderlineYellow Hill/Working Week Soul Train/Loose Tubes Arriving
Side 1: Jacob Miller Keep On Knocking/Doctor Alimantado Best Dressed Chicken In Town/Freddie McGregor Big Ship/Augustus Pablo Up Warrika Hill/The Wailing Souls War/Black Uhuru Natural Mystic/Clint Eastwood and General Saint Tribute To General Echo/Half Pint One In A Million/Eek-A-Mouse Terrorists In The City
Side 2: Frankie Paul War Is In The Dance/Yellowman Zungguzungguzungguzeng/Barrington Levy Prison Oval Rock/Keith Hudson Felt We The Strain/The Heptones Love Won’t Come Easy/Johnny Osbourne Water Pumping/Lone Ranger Johnny Make You Bad So/Coco Tea Coco Tea Medley/Nitty Gritty Hog In A Minty
Pocket Jukebox 2
Side 1: Earl Bostic Flamingo/Hank Ballard & The Midnighters The Twist/Christine Kittrell I'm A Woman/ C.L. Blast Somebody Shot My Eagle/The Impressions Talking About My Baby/Ann Sexton I Want To Be Loved/Aaron Neville Struttin' On Sunday/ Robert Cray That's What I'll Do
Side 2: The Shangri-Las Give Him A Great Big Kiss/John Lee Hooker Big Legs, Tight Skirt/Jimmy Reed Shame, Shame, Shame/Albert King We All Wanna Boogie/Wynonie Harris Good Mornin' Judge/Nina Simone Love Me Or Leave Me/The Dells Don't Tell Nobody/Don Thomas Come On Train/Earl Gaines Turn On Your Lovelight
Five tapes in one batch looked like a bargain, but less was more: collectively, this was the most disappointing set of tapes offered in the whole eight years between C81 and
Hi-Voltage is very mixed bag of what now gets called electronica but was then called… well, not very much at all, as 1987 saw less overall interest in electronic music than at any time before or since. Acid House and Detroit Techno were about to become massive, but no-one really saw that coming at the time. So quite what a cassette full of synth-twiddlers was supposed to tell us in 1987 is unclear. It covers quite a wide time frame (the earliest track, Neu!’s Hallogallo, is from 1972), but fails as a history (there’s no Kraftwerk, for Hoggoth’s sake, and no Pet Shop Boys, who were probably the biggest pop group in the country at that point). The selections are quite diverse, which in theory is good, but it gives the tape an almost incoherent feeling, as it lurches from one thing to another without any obvious plan. And the best track, the titanic Hallogallo, isn’t really electronica at all (and it’s let down by a really flat sound quality – on the original Neu! album, this comes across as one of the greatest things ever made, but it seems curiously noodling here). And watch as pop does indeed eat itself – the DAF track has been recycled directly from C81. That’s unforgivably lazy. That’s a rip-off.
Electronic music does seem to attract a certain kind of tosser – the type of people who seem to think that just playing electronic instruments makes them a mad genius. Step forward, Holger Hiller and Yello, both of whose tracks are maddening when they’re on and completely forgettable when they’ve finished. Falling into the Just Plain Forgettable camp: Matt Johnson, Erasure, Thomas Leer, Colourbox. I played this tape just the other night and can’t remember anything about any of the tracks mentioned in this paragraph, and hell, in general, I like Colourbox a lot, to this very day.
Electronic people also like to think of themselves as “transgressive”, which is usually as tedious and unconvincing as the “admire my mad genius” tendency just noted. Step forward, then, Depeche Mode, surely the least convincing bad boys in pop history. Heroin addiction and clinical death notwithstanding, they never looked anything but comical, and while some of their tunes are quite enjoyable, many of them – and Black Celebration is one of them – are let down by lyrics which even 14-year-olds would cringe at.
This leaves some genuinely great tracks by Suicide (ironically, one of the weakest NME tapes is one of the few that starts with an absolute work of genius), Soft Cell, Neu! and Can (both the latter two, from the 1970s, still sound like they’re beaming in from several decades in the future), and decent ones from Holger Czukay and Cabaret Voltaire, putting in a fifth appearance on an NME cassette. So the total is: four good tracks, two decent ones, one laughable one, one disqualified due to being recycled, and six completely forgettable ones. Those statistical grounds, plus the fact that the purpose of the cassette is completely unclear, lead to the inevitable conclusion that this tape is a bit of a turkey.
I Dreamt I Was Elvis, however, is the last turkey in the shop – probably the worst NME tape of the lot. It’s a rockabilly compilation. That’s not the problem. Rhino Records brought out a 4-CD set of rockabilly last year, which mixes classics and obscurities, and it’s a gem. The problem with this is, it’s a crap rockabilly complilation. Continuing the Hi-Voltage irony, it starts (after a teasing bit of Elvis) with a classic from Billy Lee Riley (who can resist him singing “My gal is red hot!” followed by the immediate backing singer response “Your gal ain’t doodly squat!”). However, after that the big names (Perkins, Lewis) are distinctly underpowered, the songs are mostly forgettable, and the performances more creepy than anything.
Side one was licensed from Charly, who in turn took all tracks from the Sun/(Sam) Philips archives. At least four of these items weren’t issued at the time, and you can see why Sam Philips made that decision. They’re dull.
Side two comes from Ace, via - originally - a wide spread of labels. This tips the overall trend from dull to irksome. I have a soft spot for Rock Rogers That Ain’t It, which is so primitive it sounds like it was made by DC Comics’ swamp-monster Solomon Grundy, but the rest is like nails down a blackboard. This is mainly because of an audible gulf between the self-belief and actual talent on display. These guys are so cocky, and so crap, you just want to slap them. The worst offender is Hollywood Party by Dick Bush (nice name, mind though but), a puerile attempt at credibility by association – the “Hollywood” stars name-checked in the song are in fact characters from big rock and roll hits (Be-Bop-A-Lula, Long Tall Sally, etc). It will have you pulling your hair out, it’s so unjustifiably pleased with itself. Of course, the combination of arrogance and ineptitude can be charming – it’s a large part of the appeal of sixties garage band music – but for some reason (probably the sparse arrangements - garage bands could always turn the amps up to eleven and buy a fuzztone pedal) it doesn’t click at all here.
This tape is quite interesting as psychopathology overlaid with sociology. On track after track, you hear inbred, barely-literate hillbillies oozing excessive amounts of testosterone but trying to express it verbally in the clichés of mainstream fifties teen-speak. This attempt at pretending to be nice guys while they’ve really got rape on their minds is very, very creepy. You get the impression that their idea of the ultimate seduction line is “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll pull out before I shoot”. Essentially, this is the sound of white
Thankfully, things pick up quite a bit on the remaining three; the reviews are shorter, but that’s only because there’s less to complain about, and hell, it’s fun to rant. Blow-Up UK celebrates the British jazz scene, which was undergoing one of its occasional high profile periods at the time, and the tape certainly captures the driversity of the moment. Most of the tracks are good, though the downside of diversity kicks in as the tape as a whole lacks focus. There’s not a whole lot in common between the Post-Bop Revival of Courtney Pine, the original British Bop of Stan Tracey, the Hard Case Hard Bop of Tommy Chase, and the more European sensibilities of the Loose Tubes gang. The
Bush Fire is the gem amongst this group. It celebrates ten years of Greensleeves Records, then as now the
Finally, there’s Pocket Jukebox 2. As with the original, it’s an eclectic mix of old blues, R&B and soul, but it fails to meet the expectations raised by the original. There are various reasons for that, the most important being simple precedent. For the NME readers of 1982, there’d been nothing like the original Pocket Jukebox before it came along, so its impact was immense. We all wanted a sequel that was as good, but this could never happen, simply because it was a sequel. Also, many of us had been investigating the Charly and Ace catalogues as a direct consequence of the original tape, and this also raised the level of expectation, as we were much better informed. Crucially, though, the compilers missed a couple of tricks. It gets off to a blazing start with Earl Bostic (of whom we are obliged to ask: did he come to a sticky end?) and Hank Ballard, and there are other classics herein (notably from Wynonie Harris and the myrmidons of melodrama themselves, the Shangri-Las, with the atypically hilarious Give Him A Great Big Kiss). But the songs, overall, lack the humour that ran through the original, and some great artists are on less than great form (Aaron Neville, Albert King). And by including more contemporary recordings such as C.L. Blast’s overlong, somewhat generic Somebody Shot My Eagle, the mood is disrupted. All that said, it’s still a pretty damn fine way to spend fifty minutes, and there’s no better way at all to spend three minutes than listening to The Dells’ Don’t Tell Nobody. If you'd never heard the original Pocket Jukebox, you'd love this thing to bits.
Oh, and – for those of you paying attention – here’s the fourth reason this set of tapes was so disappointing. The graphics. Many of the earlier cassettes had fantastic packaging, so it was a real let-down to see these five in identical, cheap-looking livery, with only a change in the colour scheme differentiating each tape. The eighties were rubbish in so many ways, but they were a golden era for graphic design, so the paucity of ideas here felt almost insulting – as though the NME themselves didn’t care any more. The sensitive among you should look away now:
Catalogue Numbers: NME 024 (We Have Come For Your Children), NME 025 (The Latin Kick), NME026 (Low Lights And Trick Mirrors) and NME 027 (What’s Happening Stateside)
Released: Autumn 1986
We Have Come For Your Children
Side 1: Count Five Psychotic Reaction/The Mojo Men Dance With Me/The Knight Riders I/The Novas The Crusher/The Barbarians Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl/Circus Bad Seed (You’re A Bad Seed)/The Shapes Of Things So Mystifying/The Swingin’ Medallions Double Shot Of My Baby’s Love/The Premiers Farmer John/The Stereo Shoestrings On The Road South
Side 2: The Kingsmen Louie Louie/The Castaways Liar Liar/The Lollipop Shoppe You Must Be A Witch/Merrell Fankhauser Gone To Pot/The Bad Roads Blue Girl/The Balloon Farm A Question Of Temperature/The Jades of Forth Worth Little Girl/The Knickerbockers Lies/The Moving Sidewalks Need Me/She Outta Reach
The Latin Kick
Side 1: Tania Maria Yatra-Ta/Charlie Palmieri Bugalu/The Jazz Crusaders The Latin Bit/Ray Barretto El Watusi/The Super All Stars Ban-Con-Tim/The Jazz Renegades Manteca/The Fania All Stars
Side 2: Tito Puente Para Los Rumberos/War Cisco Kid/Willie
Low Lights And Trick Mirrors
Side 1: Billy May Main Theme From ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’/Chet Baker But Not For Me/Cannonball Adderley Sambop/Mark Murphy Honeysuckle Rose/Stan Kenton The Peanut Vendor/Jeri Southern It’s Bad For Me/Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes That Healin’ Feelin’/Peggy Lee Whisper Not/Elmer Bernstein Pursuit
Side 2: Lord Buckley Excerpt From The Nazz/Lambert Hendricks & Ross Jackie/Johnny Dankworth Orchestra African Waltz/Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers Sam’s Tune/Billie Holiday Be Fair To Me Baby/Gil Evans Joy Spring/Jon Hendricks I’ll Die Happy/Lou Busch Orchestra Street Scene/Lynn Hope Blues For Anna Bacoa/Dakota Staton The Late Late Show
What’s Happening Stateside
Side 1: The O’Jays Working On Your Case/Bobby Womack Lookin’ For A Love/Jimmy Lewis The Girls From Texas/Garnett Mimms As Long As I Have You/Jimmy Holiday and Clydie King Ready, Willing And Able/Lou Rawls Dead End Street/Aaron Neville I’m Waiting At The Station/Jimmy McGriff All About My Girl
Side 2: Ike & Tina Turner Nutbush City Limits/Little Anthony And The Imperials Better Use Your Head/Charlie & Inez Foxx Mockingbird/Irma Thomas Wish Someone Would Care/The Isley Brothers Who’s That Lady?/Professor Longhair Mardi Gras In New Orleans/Z.Z. Hill Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do/Homer Banks A Lot Of Love/Bettye Swann Tell It Like It Is
From this point on, the NME tapes were solely devoted to archive sets. The reasons for this aren’t known. Was it just cheaper to licence tracks for archival tapes? Had the tension between the Rock camp and the Soul camp at the NME offices reached such extremes they couldn’t agree on what to put on contemporary sets? Or did they just anticipate that 1987 was going to be the worst year for pop music ever (Hip Hop aside, which peaked then), and couldn’t see the point of doing anything up-to-the-minute? Well, I’m guessing it’s the money, but whatever the cause, it means you’re spared my musings on the state of music and the state of the NME as the eighties progressed. It seems right for a slight change in format too: the one-liners that end all of the previous reviews just don’t seem to fit with wholly archival sets. On with the motley, then.
We Have Come For Your Children is a sampler of American garage bands of the sixties, one of my absolute favourite corners of musical history since first acquiring the original Nuggets set late in 1979 when under the strange impression that there wasn’t much going on at the time (The Fall’s Dragnet soon put me right). Thirty-five years on Nuggets is still unsurpassed as the definitive text for garage-punk (which thankfully failed to go overground when it threatened to do so a few years back), but We Have Come For Your Children is a very good challenger. This is because – like Nuggets – it reflects the diversity of the era, taking in everything from pre-Beatles party bands (The Premiers) through British invasion imitators (The Knickerbockers, The Shapes Of Things) to uber-garage classics (The Count Five, The Castaways) to I’m-having-a-bad-trip-man psychedelia (The Stereo Shoestrings), imminent hard rock (The Moving Sidewalks, who turned into Z.Z. Top) and a raft of obscurities. And it actually trumps Nuggets in getting hold of Louie Louie. Other points of interest include The Lollipop Shoppe inventing The Damned and my favourite track that was new to me at the time, The Balloon Farm’s awesomely crummy A Question Of Temperature, a brilliant example of punks-pretending-to-be-psychedelic by making lyrics about having the hump with their object of desire sound a bit mystical and that. It also features the least funky bass player you’ve ever heard. Which is perfect.
The Latin Kick is a Cook’s tour of Latin music, one of my blind (or perhaps deaf) spots. It’s All Africa Radio all over again, I’m afraid, as for the most part I just don’t get it. In fact, it’s worse than All Africa Radio. With that, I liked what I heard, I just didn’t remember it the second it stopped. Here, not only don’t I remember it, I don’t much like it when it’s playing. For a start, there’s something about hearing a Latin rhythm start that depresses me to my soul. Too much Latin music makes me think someone is ordering me to enjoy myself. Nothing is guaranteed to make me enjoy myself less. It’s shouting too loud that “We’re having a party!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and implying that if you don’t join in, you are a Bad Person. The minute you put Latin music on, it’s a New Year’s Eve party. And all right-thinking folk hate those. Oh, and there’s all that shouting. Too attention-seeking by half. I speak, of course, as a cold, repressed Northern European who can’t express himself through dance. So what? If dancing was the ultimate mode of expression available to us, we’d be bees.
Anyway, rant over. The tape itself isn’t quite that bad, though as NME tapes tended too, it starts badly. The Tania Maria track is everything I hate most about Latin music, as it’s a jazz trio (so there’s no instrumental colour) indulging in way too much soloing of the worst kind – all technique but no feeling, no story. And there’s way too much shouting. And “Ariba!”-ing. The only time I want to hear the word “Ariba!” is when it’s uttered by a cartoon mouse in a sombrero. Still, that’s the only track that’s actively offensive. Most of the rest are just forgettable, though there are some good moments. Cannonball Adderley was such a naturally joyous musician that it’s impossible to feel anything but happy when listening to him, and the more poppy stuff – War, and the sixties Bugalu tracks (Charlie Palmieri, Ray Barretto and Joe Bataan) – is absolutely fine. In fact, there used to be a series of compilations on Charly called We Got Latin Soul which explored Bugalu in depth and they were fantastic, so I’m not a total grouch on this front. But for me, this is one of the least rewarding NME cassettes.
Low Lights And Trick Mirrors, by contrast, is a hidden gem. It makes no real sense, but it’s lovely. It covers the poppier end of fifties and early sixties jazz but the theme, if there is one, is elusive. It may be a failed attempt to cash in on the film Absolute Beginners - ‘failed’ because the movie was such a flop there was nowt to cash in on. This really seems like an attempt to create the soundtrack for a Cool Jazz World that never actually existed. It certainly has as much to do with Big Boys’ Hairy-Chested Jazz than all those bars and hairdressers that used to put glossy black and white photos of Charlie Parker on the wall without any idea who he was. But it’s considerably more charming than those places ever were, because they were just about Jazz as Signifier while the tape is full of jazz people playing pop music that sounds like jazz but isn’t. The most hardcore participant is Art Blakey, but even his track is only three and a half minutes long, and usually with him that’s not even enough time for the drum solo, so there’s nothing to be scared of. So you get big band stuff (you’ll never hear anything cooler-sounding than The Theme From The Man With The Golden Arm), lots of vocalists (Billie Holiday is in relatively early, and good, form, but it’s the long-forgotten voices like Jeri Southern and Dakota Staton that are most enticing), and lots of catchy stuff, including yet more ridiculously charming work from Cannonball Adderley. You also get about twenty seconds of the ‘legendary’ jazz comedian Lord Buckley. And that’s all the Lord Buckley anyone will ever need.
What’s Happening Stateside doesn’t so much celebrate the ‘60s Stateside label (an EMI imprint which released pretty much whatever soul records A&R man Guy Stevens liked the sound of) but its eighties revival, covering a broader range of soul which had come to be owned by EMI over the years. That’s all to its benefit, as the diversity is one of the key reasons this is so ridiculously good; 60s Stateside didn’t have, for example, Lou Rawls (Capitol had that honour) or early 70s classics like the tracks from Ike and Tina Turner and Bobby Womack. So this is an eclectic and hugely enjoyable mix of soul that encompasses both downhome southern and sophisticated northern styles without any problems at all. Side one is merely great, but side two will make your head spin, it’s so good. The best tracks come from Irma Thomas (Wish Someone Would Care is one of the greatest spasms of glorious loneliness and regret in any form of music), Little Anthony and The Imperials (virtually psychedelic in its intensity and complexity), and Bettye Swann, who may have had the most naturally sad voice ever recorded. So another old soul compilation from the NME, and another classic. I wonder if the modern NME knows this stuff even exists?
Catalogue Numbers: NME 020 (Feet Start Dancin’), NME 021 (Pogo A Go Go), NME 022 (C86) and NME 023 (
Released: Late spring 1986
Feet Start Dancin’
Side 1: The Sapphires Slow Fizz/Carl Carlton Competition Ain’t Nothin’/Patrice Holloway Love And Desire/The Sons Of Moses Soul Symphony/Jackie Wilson Nothing But Blue Skies/Little Anthony and the Imperials Gonna Fix You Good/Thelma Houston Baby Mine/Chuck Jackson These Chains Of Love (Are Breaking Me Down)/Mary Love Lay This Burden Down/Erma Franklin I Get The Sweetest Feeling/Hoagy Lands The Next In Line
Side 2: Earl Grant Hide Nor Hair/Patti Austin Take Away The Pain Stain/The Marvelows Your Little Sister/The Steinways You’ve Been Leading Me On/Maxine Brown One In A Million/Marie Knight You Lie So Well/The Shirelles Last Minute Miracle/The Cooperettes Shing-A-Ling/Eddie Bishop Call Me/Garnett Mimms Looking For You/Jimmy Radcliffe Long After Tonight Is All Over
Pogo A Go Go
Side 1: Sex Pistols Satellite (Suburban Kid) (Demo)/The Undertones True Confessions/Nipple Erectors King Of The Bop/Television Personalities Part Time Punks/Sham 69 Borstal Breakout/The Damned Stretcher Case Baby/Elvis Costello and The Attractions Watching The Detectives (Demo)/The Stranglers Choosey Susie/Victim Strange Thing By Night
Side 2: The Clash 1977 (Demo)/Johnny Moped Incendiary Device/The Slits Typical Girls/Alternative TV Love Lies Limp/Swell Maps Read About Seymour/The Jam In The City/The Fall Bingo Master’s Breakout/Subway Sect Ambition/Wire Dot Dash/Buzzcocks Orgasm Addict
Side 1: Primal Scream Velocity Girl/The Mighty Lemon Drops Happy Head/The Soup Dragons Pleasantly Surprised/The Wolfhounds Feeling So Strange Again/The Bodines Therese/Mighty Mighty Law/Stump Buffalo/Bogshed Run To The Temple/A Witness Sharpened Sticks/The Pastels Breaking Lines/The Age of Chance From Now On This Will Be Your God
Side 2: Shop Assistants It’s Up To You/Close Lobsters Firestation Towers/Miaow Sport Most Royal/Half Man Half Biscuit I Hate Nerys Hughes/The Servants Transparent/MacKenzies Big Jim (There’s No Pubs In Heaven)/Big Flame New Way (Quick Wash and Brush Up With Liberation Theology)/We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Going To Use It Console Me/McCarthy Celestial City/The Shrubs Bullfighter’s Bones/The Wedding Present This Boy Can Wait (A Bit Longer)
All tracks by Billie Holiday
Side 1: Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone/Say It Isn’t So/Comes Love/Strange Fruit/God Bless The Child/Good Morning Heartache/East of The Sun, West Of The Moon/Blue Moon/I Cried For You/What A Little Moonlight Can Do
Side 2: Love Me Or Leave Me/Too Marvellous For Words/I Get A Kick Out Of You/I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm/Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me/Ain’t Misbehavin’/One For My Baby And One More For The Road/There Is No Greater Love
1986 was the best year for pop since 1982, but you wouldn’t know much about it from this set of tapes. Three of them are archival sets; the remaining one, the last NME ‘contemporary’ set, is a curious thing indeed, bearing very little resemblance to any of its predecessors. Nevertheless, C86 is, with the debatable exception of C81, the most famous of all the NME cassettes. It’s the only one that has any substantial presence on the web (probably because its content is most attuned to the nerdishness that powers the internet), and it’s the only one whose title came to define a genre of music. It’s also the only one to inspire a double-CD retrospective (called, reasonably enough, CD86, and featuring many of the same bands – though only a couple of the same tracks – and a lot more in the same vein). So let’s skip our self-imposed rule of looking at them in catalogue number order, and try to make some sense of this curious item.
A little historical context first. The dominant voice on this tape, even though not actually present, belongs to The Jesus and Mary Chain, who were the catalyst for a revival in guitar-based bands on independent record labels, which is of course what you get here. C86 marks a very particular moment in British pop history – it’s the point when “indie” becomes a genre rather than an alternative distribution network, the point at which you can have a pretty confident guess what a band described as “indie” will sound like. There’s nothing wrong with guitar bands, despite what a number of NME writers had been saying since 1981 or so, but there’s a problem with this scene as a whole, even though a number of the bands involved made some fine music. After all, Half Man Half Biscuit have remained a strong position among the nation’s leading social commentators for 20 years, Primal Scream’s equally long career has never been less than entertaining and has had magnificent moments, the much maligned (unjustly) Wedding Present became a symbol for a certain kind of bloody-mindedness, and who could not love Fuzzbox or Alex from the Shop Assistants?
The problem isn’t the “twee” accusation often hurled at this music. “Twee” in pop discourse normally means the person hurling the accusation is worried their dick is too small, and so they feel threatened by anything that doesn’t allow them to hide behind macho bravado. Check out heavy metal or gangsta rap for music that’s not “twee”. See how appealing this genre suddenly becomes? One of the most admirable things about this stuff is the determined refusal of all involved to hide behind macho stereotypes.
Nor is the problem the “amateurishness”. You don’t have to be a virtuoso to make great pop, nor do you need that most over-valued musical attribute, slick production. The reddest of herrings, these.
The problem is how inward looking it all is. A faction of NME hacks tried to say these bands were the most important thing to happen to music since punk, ten years earlier, but it’s simply not true. Punk bands had a wealth of musical interests – reggae, krautrock, funk, free jazz, and the odd corners of music in general – that made punk and post-punk bands experimental, adventurous and eclectic. The musical reference points here are much narrower – a bit of genre punk, a bit of the Television Personalities (quite a large bit, actually), a bit of Beefheart-lite, Postcard Records, and the Chain. And that’s about it. It’s among the whitest music ever made. Again, that’s not a criticism of any of the bands or tracks in particular – they were all too aware of how bad the faux soul movement of the time had become. Some of these pieces are lovely, and none are bad, but there’s a troubling lack of ambition. None of these bands could have gone on to make the equivalent of Unknown Pleasures, Entertainment!, The Correct Use Of Soap, Metal Box, A Kiss In The Dreamhouse, Sound Affects, London Calling or any of the other great things that came out of the post-punk environment.
But it goes further than that. Timing is all. Most of these bands were about my age, and the dispiriting experience of an entire generation hangs over this tape. Born in the sixties, our earliest memories were framed in the colour, optimism, egalitarianism and utopianism of that decade, but by the eighties, all we could do was choke on the ashes of those ideals. We’d welcomed punk, but been distraught as it proved once and for all that pop music is never going to bring about utopia. And we’d just seen the miners’ strike collapse, and with it the last chance for this country not to be sold down the river to modern consumer capitalism, which continues to brutalise and crush the human soul to this day. Yes, these bands lacked the nerve of their immediate predecessors, but who can fucking blame them? In a way, there was nothing they could do but say “no” to the dominant values of the time. They did so, and that’s admirable. But it’s all they did, and that’s sad.
This was the first generation of musicians to realise, even if subconsciously, that pop music as a whole could no longer really be anything other than a branch of light entertainment, though individuals could still produce work of great value. That’s certainly proved to be the case. Rave and Baggy proved little more than that hedonism in itself, even when powered by empathogenic drugs, is just a night out. Britpop had its moments, but it was arch and gutless for the most part, and the shelf-life was very limited. Most modern bands are utterly empty careerists. And elsewhere, the promise of Hip Hop and reggae has been thwarted by one of consumer capitalism’s greatest triumphs; it’s sold empty machismo to young black men so effectively the threat they might once have posed to the system has been sublimated so they’re only a threat to each other.
In light of this realisation that Pop In Itself could achieve nothing, the fact that the C86 bands still tried to work as though it could is worthy of affection and respect – sadly, more so than most of the music they made. But it probably explains why a listen to this tape is a slightly dispiriting, hollow experience, even though some of what’s on it is great. It was dispiriting at the time, too, for the same reasons. And don’t expect to learn anything much about 1986 – the year of records as diversely brilliant as The Queen Is Dead, Word Up, Raising Hell, Graceland, Lifes Rich Pageant, Candy Apple Grey, Tutu and Blood And Chocolate – from listening to it. A “conventional” NME contemporary tape might have given some clues, but not this strange, hermetically sealed thing.
Compare and contrast, if you will, with Pogo A Go Go, released to mark the 10th anniversary of punk. It’s not especially diverse, in the way post-punk would come to be, but its sheer spiritedness still leaves you breathless. Unlike the C86, it leaves you smiling, and with a feeling that better will come. And it will, eventually. Anyway, the canny thing about Pogo A Go Go is the way the tracks mix obvious classics (In The City, Orgasm Addict), rarities by leading bands (demos from the Pistols and Clash, a Damned song that was only ever available on a ‘free’ single with the first few thousand copies of their second album), and obscurities you’d almost forgotten. It does this so well it has the extraordinary effect of making Sham 69 seem lovable. And hats off to them for including the Stranglers, who were sneered at by both other bands and the press, but who did more than anyone else to ensure punk got to an audience beyond zones 1 and 2 of the Tube map. If you’re not a great soul, jazz or R&B fan, you’ll enjoy this more than any other NME cassette.
Feet Start Dancin’ raids the vaults of Kent Records – which is to say, Ace Records, who already delighted us with the 1983 Ace Case tape – for a selection of Northern Soul classics. The NME scrupulously avoided even mentioning Northern Soul till the scene had ended, but let’s forgive them. This tape proves that Northern Soul isn’t just about people trying to sound like Motown but failing (usually through going too fast, and being slightly too hysterical), though a large part of it is. It also proves that if you had nothing to listen to for the rest of your life but Northern Soul records, the rest of your life would be just fine. I could single out the tracks I like best, but what’s the point? Even the ones I don’t like so much are brilliant in comparison with most other things, ever. And when you’re dealing with stuff like this, such distinctions reflect nothing more than how certain sounds affect your own physical make-up (it’s what the King of the Back Flips, Roland Barthes, called ‘the grain of the voice’), and no amount of theorising can deal with that. As they were e’er wont to say at the Wigan Casino.
Holiday Romance, a set of Billie Holiday tracks made for Verve Records in the 1950s, is an anomaly as it’s the only NME cassette devoted to a single artist. If only they’d picked another one. Jazz is more than fine by me, but I struggle with Billie Holiday. She made some magnificent records in the 1930s, before anyone knew she existed, but went on to become a legend of sorts with over-rated self-dramatising hackwork like Strange Fruit, God Bless The Child and Good Morning Heartache in the 1940s. Remakes of all three are on here, and they’re as bad as ever – Strange Fruit in particular, a song whose corniness is always overlooked because of its laudable sentiments. By the 1950s, years of alcohol and heroin addiction, and a string of abusive relationships, had taken their toll, and
Sad to say, it’s
Best Tracks: On C86, Half Man Half Biscuit - Half Fall, Half Grumbleweeds – tower over the rest, though Stump (a kind of Captain naGopaleen and the Magic Band), The Bodines, and The Wedding Present are all strong. And on Velocity Girl, Primal Scream not only invent the Stone Roses but give you all that’s best on the first Stone Roses album in less than a minute and a half. On Pogo A Go Go, side one and side two are the best bits. Conversely, there’s nothing that stands out as great on Holiday Romance, though as a rule of thumb, the faster songs are better, and the accompaniment will ensure there’s at least a splendid second or two on each track. As for Feet Start Dancin’, every one’s a winner, but I’ve always cared for Mary Love, The Shirelles, Jimmy Radcliffe, Patrice Holloway, Hoagy Lands and the Steinways.
Worst Tracks: Much of Holiday Romance is hard going, and some of the more grim Marxists on C86 (A Witness, Age of Chance, McCarthy, Big Flame) are a bit wearing.
Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: See previous answer.
Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: The Wolfhounds, Mighty Mighty, The Shrubs, The Servants.
I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: See previous answer.
How Of Its Time Is It? C86 is entirely of its time, though it has nothing to do with the 1986 most people lived through at all.
Memories: I took Feet Start Dancin’ to a very knit-your-own-tofu lefty party, knowing it would be the only music all night worth hearing. I danced to it, which led to a gay bloke chatting me up. Thankfully, this didn’t lead to anything else.
Still At The Coalface: Primal Scream, Half Man Half Biscuit, John Lydon, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks. And I saw Captain Sensible not long back, and I’m off to see The Fall in a couple of days. Who woulda thunk it?
No Longer With Us: Joe Strummer
Best Line:Stump: “How much is the fish? How much is the chips? Does the fish have chips? How much is the chips?”