Frankie Goes To Hollywood – “Two Tribes (Annihilation Mix)”

Beware the savage jaw…

They got us right worked up about it, they did.  Big Brother, Winston Smith, Oceania, Room 101, dystopian future, Orwellian nightmare, under Thatcher it seemed ever so likely that at the chime of the Hogmanay bells, 1984 would tick in, jackboots would break down the doors and we’d all descend into the totalitarian state of erased and altered histories.  It was going to be hard.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Two Tribes (Annihilation)

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes (Annihilation)

Oh yeah.  Well ‘ard.

Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t.  The clocks were striking thirteen and we got the film and we got the Eurythmics single.  We also got a triptych of singles, a series of T-shirts and more 12″ vinyl than you could have ever imagined.  Sex, war and religion.  It summed up the mood of the year whilst slapping you in the face with the arrogance of it all.

Frankie Says….

Fear.  The big disease with the little name, there was that for a start.  We were sold the “gay plague” as an easy way of directing the fear into anger, anger against a scared minority, yet here were these two, this scally singer, this clone dancer, being gay right there in your face.  Or they would have been if the video hadn’t been conveniently banned, behind Mike Read’s po-faced pronouncements on Radio One.  Don’t do it.

Then there was the mad US president with his finger on the red button and that suspicious new Soviet premier.  We’re all going to die.  Nuclear annihilation.  Mutually assured destruction.  Proliferation.  The real weapons of mass destruction.  Four minute warning.  Dancing With Tears in my Eyes.  The (post) apocalyptic drama Threads was broadcast in 1984 and scared us all into drink and drugs: let me be under that bomb when – not if – it comes, let me die quickly and not survive.  No future, once more.

Meanwhile Thatcher, renewed confidence from re-election, started her own war with the miners, a crippling war which destroyed more lives than our imaginary nuclear destruction.  The north started a long bite back against this new totalitarian regime.  The Brighton Grand hotel was bombed by the IRA with her inside: she arose from the ashes even more determined to crush us all.

It was a big year, but the summer would always belong to Frankie.  Nine weeks at number one, endless Horn remixes with the chilling words of Adolf Hitler signing off his treason trial (“for she acquits us”) nuzzling alongside Patrick Allen’s “Protect and Survive” narration.

If your grandmother or any other member of the family should die whilst in the shelter, put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes.

Light hearted fun: even Big Brother was scared off.

Frankie Says….

Relax, it’s only a nuclear war.

Jan & Adam

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Public Enemy – “Night Of The Living Baseheads”

Popular music did not have much impact on me as a child. I attribute this to the fact that 1970s pop was universally dreadful. Moreover, my limited exposure to it was either via light-entertainment programmes such as the Two Ronnies, or through children’s TV such as Crackerjack. The former would feature the likes of Dana and Elaine Page; the latter, pop groups featuring terrifying, heavy-set, middle-aged men in drag. Men who looked like they had just set down their shovels and hods before applying make-up – the legion cohorts of Jimmy Savile. As for the Bay City Rollers, well, they looked like the kind of yobs I saw in the streets, throwing bricks at the police.

Public Enemy - Night Of The Living Baseheads

Public Enemy – Night Of The Living Baseheads

My youthful conservative disapproval extended to the music which I found universally maudlin and inane. I remember with particular clarity vomiting blood to Save Your Kisses For Me. OK, I was in hospital at the time and had just had my tonsils removed, but I recall the grim satisfaction and sense of catharthis.

It was business as usual in 1977 with one of my most hated songs of all time – Rock Bottom by Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran. There was no escape from this song. It was on the radio, on the television; my father would sing it incessantly and get the words slightly wrong. In researching this piece and playing the song again it immediately reminded me of the boredom and powerlessness of being a child. Worse, I realised that my misanthropy had begun much earlier than I imagined – aged 8, I wanted to destroy the world. Rock Bottom is music for people who don’t like music; who think that music should be jolly and fun; people who would never entertain the idea that vomiting blood to Brotherhood Of Man could be pleasurable.

But it was also 1977 when I finally realised there was an alternative. However, it was not the Sex Pistols or the Clash – the system was completely and utterly effective at censoring such music and it was not until the early-mid 1980s that people in Northern Ireland first heard about punk. No, my road to Damascus moment was, of all things, Black Betty by Ram Jam. I saw this very performance on the television at the time. I vividly recall my hot confusion at the band’s thrusting impudence; it felt immoral and dirty; even blasphemous. I felt ashamed that someone might learn that I had unknowingly seen the clip. The riff scythed around and around in my head.

On or around the same time I also saw Elvis Costello playing Watching The Detectives on Top Of The Pops. I was watching it with my babysitter and I recall asking her who the silly sweaty man was with his silly glasses and why was he silly and did he know he was silly? He was so silly – was he an idiot? But something about the performance made an impression nevertheless; I remember realising that he was telling an important story and that better still, neither he nor the music was in any way jolly.

Ten years later I was stepping out of the lift when I heard a dreadful noise. Was it a car alarm? I walked along the hall and looked into the bedroom. A bloke was sitting on the bed. ‘Alright man?’ he said. ‘What IS this?’ I said. He smiled. ‘Public Enemy, bruv’. He turned it up further. It was Rebel Without A Pause. It was a godawful racket. It sounded like the end of the world. With car alarms. It was the least jolly and most impudent music I had ever heard.

Figure 1: A Bodhran

Figure 1: A Bodhran

Until that point I thought I was cool. I had always liked hip hop (or ‘rap’ as I thought it was called), from The Message onwards. Only days previously I had been playing Mantronix’s superlative Who Is It? in my bedroom when a fellow countryman of mine had wandered in. ‘Dats not music,’ he opined. ‘Dats just a computer’. In my memory he is actually holding a bodhran as he says this. Maybe that is just an embellishment added by my brain that reflects my own prejudices, but whenever I see someone with a bodhran, I feel the urge to play Mantronix at them really loudly.

Later that afternoon I went into town with my new friend – Dan. We walked around Affleck’s Palace and I recall buying a white vinyl copy of the Damned’s Phantasmagoria. Perhaps if one put were to put a CD of Rebel Without A Pause into an Opposite-Making Machine, a white vinyl copy of Phantasmagoria might come out the other end. I recall Dan’s genuine and polite interest in, and complete ignorance of, the Damned, and my faint embarrassment and dawning realisation that my music was anachronistic, as was its format and the very concept of record collecting.

Nevertheless I had the wit to buy It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back when it was released. It’s hard to imagine now the outrage this record created; I think white America would gladly have lynched all of Public Enemy – the USA’s standard response to creativity, intelligence and honesty in art. It’s also hard to imagine a record being so noble; individuals being so willing to stand in the eye of the storm, or a band so on top of its media game.

Night Of The Living Baseheads is my favourite track from the album. Aside from being sonically brilliant from beginning to end and honest and righteous in its subject matter, Public Enemy also produced this astounding video which subverts every stereotype going and even mocks the band.

Chuck D - Discusses and Debates

Figure 2: Chuck D and a pint of T

14 years later I found myself sitting with 499 other white guys in their early 30s awaiting enlightenment at ‘an evening with Chuck D’ during which, we were promised, Chuck would ‘discuss and debate’. Eventually Chuck ambled onstage, holding a beer. I guess I had been expecting Louis Farrakhan. Instead we got someone a bit like your mate Dave who has come round with a 6 pack to watch Top Gear and unexpectedly found himself on Parkinson. Chuck was incredibly lacking in opinions; down to earth; bemused even. So much so that I cannot remember one goddamn thing that he said. Perversely this made me warm to him all the more.

All I can remember of the evening is some bloke from Peterhead continually asked Chuck questions in thick Doric, much to the annoyance of the crowd who a) wanted him to shut up and b) kept having to translate for him. At one point he asked Chuck if he would bring Public Enemy to Aberdeen. ‘I’ll see what I can do man.’ said Chuck.’ ‘Nae you willnae,’ replied the heckler, ‘you all say that’. ‘OK man,’ said Chuck, ‘I promise you the next time we come to the UK we will play Aberdeen. That’s a promise, man.’

The show finished. We trooped out, unenlightened.

A year later at breakfast I opened the NME with my usual theatrical weary sigh. On page 3, under the rubric ‘Public Enemy Announce UK Tour’ was the date for 13th April – Aberdeen Music Hall.


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Irene Cara – “Fame”

We were running down the road, partly in panic and fear, partly in some idiotic joy. The two of us did a lot of running in those days, mostly out of bars and through the streets. They didn’t like our type and I had a smart mouth, smart enough to attract trouble: maybe not so smart, then. But I was a lover, not a fighter, which in practice meant I was going to get laid with a broken nose, and not for the first time.

Irene Cara - Fame

Irene Cara – Fame

Down the hill and into the park, arms and legs spidering everywhere, coat billowing behind me, checking over our shoulders that they weren’t following us any more, stumbling on uneven ground, past the swings and over the brow of the hill where we then hid, stretched out flat as snipers and looking back to where we’d come from.

We were safe, at least for the moment.

Blood was still running from my nose. It hurt badly, but it would pass. I sat up and tried to stem the bleeding. “You should just shut up sometimes” and laughter was all the sympathy I got. I noticed brilliant red spots peppered over my brand new white shirt. Damn.

They had been big guys, big bruisers straight out of the pages of stereotype. Beer guts hanging over straining belts, tabs hanging from yellowed fingers, pints of bitter and a bitter attitude to match. No-one could pass them without their commentary; lecherous, lewd, libidinous to some, damning, disrespectful and downright disgusting to others. I was a good bit taller than them all which, as we passed, somehow attracted foul comment. I ignored it, as it was relatively mild and only directed at me. I’d heard far worse from my own father.

We joined our friends for a drink and Mark ordered a gin and tonic, which was where the trouble started. Real men don’t drink gin. There were six of us and three bruisers, which they obviously saw as a challenge. We ignored them, which was the next challenge. So far, so usual. Some jostling, some ignorant comments.

It was summer, and I was at the height of happiness, that blissful time following finals when the study is over, the reward achieved and you’re just waiting around for the rest of your life to start. No deadlines, no responsibilities, no rules. I had a great job lined up to start at the end of the summer. My relationship was loving and stable. I had a future. I ruled the world. I didn’t need this aggravation.

I’m going to live forever, I’m going to learn how to fly – high.

We sang along, in mild mockery of the sentiment and the TV programme which we all openly despised but secretly watched. The one the teenage girls had adopted, along with the songs and the fashion sense and the impossibly beautiful and talented teens.

I can catch the moon in my hands. Don’t you know who I am?

A bridge too far. Real men don’t sing along in bars. More jostling, more comments. Threats, veiled, then unveiled. The mood moved from restraint to aggression, with an overt threat, not towards me, but to him. My smart mouth and then the blinding pain across my eyes, which still didn’t stop my mouth from going into overdrive. And then we were running.

Remember my name.

I wouldn’t be running much longer.


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Faith No More – “We Care A Lot”

He’d played this often when I first got to know him, a few months earlier. Sprung from a sheltered upbringing impossibly innocent, and with a yearning for excitement, I suppose I was something of a mark.

Faith No More - We Care A Lot

Faith No More – We Care A Lot

I was so beguiled (and inebriated) I can’t actually remember what, if anything, was on the turntable, but I regret (amongst other things) that it wasn’t Breakfast or Song to the Siren.

Like a remnant of shrapnel, buried and forgotten, until years later, on an early train south, watching from the window a storm offshore and listening for the first time to You Are The Quarry. Morrissey sang Come Back to Camden as if he really meant it, against that big fake string arrangement, and I wondered if I’d ever wanted anyone so acutely. Admiring the great thunderclouds far out at sea, I remembered.

At the cinema that evening, I saw 2046, which spoke to me about the impossibility of substitution. In the days afterward, I realised that I’d spent years trying (and failing, of course) to recapture something of that intensity. In the days after that, I realised that I should have been alerted by his bloody awful taste in music.


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Depeche Mode – “Never Let Me Down Again”

Depeche Mode started as a bit of a side attraction in Smash Hits to the more straightforward girl-fodder of Duran and Spandau, with tinkly electro hits like Just Can’t Get Enough and New Life.  Dave Gahan, at that time, seemed so much younger than Le Bon or Hadley (2 years younger than Tony, fact fans).   But yet for me there was something about the songs of Depeche Mode that didn’t quite sit in the same way as the decadence of Rio or Gold (always believe in your sooooo-ul).   Something I could relate to, or grab on to, that attracted me more than the pretty boy pop, although Alan Wilder was plenty pretty enough for me to be getting on with.

Depeche Mode - Never Let Me Down Again

Depeche Mode – Never Let Me Down Again

Then there was that Martin L. Gore.  Your mum warned you about people like that, he didn’t look “quite right”, took to wearing leather dresses and black lipstick, and we all know about people like that thank you very much.  My mum actually took down a poster of Gore from my room, and she’d never done that before*.  Soon he was luring those young girls who hadn’t fallen for the manly charms of George Michael into the sub-Einsturzende of People are People, then, to the horror of all right thinking parents across the country, “Master and Servant”, bringing S&M overtly into homes that had only just recovered from Relax.

The album from whence it came, Some Great Reward, was argued by Simon Reynolds as one of the most truly subversive records to hit the top 40, because it took industrial-esque, electronic music about S&M, suicide and OTHER DARK STUFF to the largest audience without quite generating the FGTH mock horror of the moral guardians.  Because I quite liked DARK STUFF I devoured this album, from the urgency of Something to Do through the frailty of MLG singing Somebody (naked, don’t you know) and finally to breaking my heart (and God’s) with Blasphemous Rumours.

This era launched them into the Championship, if not yet quite the Premiership, and they started to sell out stadia, particularly in the US.  Black Celebration continued in the same path (though BLACKER, obviously), and then the album Music for the Masses came along, dared to be not quite so successful, and containing the beguiling single that was Never Let Me Down Again.   When it comes on I still want to stand up, for no explicable reason other than it commands my subconscious to do so.  It invites you softly in, then donk!, the emptying-out-the-garden-shed synths arrive, with the straight counterpoint of a more traditional electro-piano sound.   Much of the early part is eerily fronted by a near monotone of a vocal which drags you inexorably along.  It also contains one of the most criticised “naive” MLG lines: “promises me I’ll be safe as houses, as long as I remember who’s wearing the trousers”.  Personally when I hear that line I always have a mental picture of Gore with a smirk.   It’s pop music, dahling, not Shakespeare.

Finally, the sound expands and throws you out into the arid wilds of Nevada, riding in a black convertible towards Reno, just because it’s far seedier than Vegas.   I’m taking a ride with my best friend.   I hope he’s left the leather dress at home this time.


*(well there was the AC/DC incident of 1981, but that was a T-shirt, to be fair)

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The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”

When I fell, I fell hard. Call me Lucifer; everyone else did. I strutted into that bar, all attitude, all skinny jeans, smokes and sexuality. Love was the drug and I needed to score. That’s when I fell. There’s that moment in Jaws when the shark eats the kid, and there’s a dolly zoom on Brody’s face. It felt like that, albeit without the shark and the blood, though to be fair I wouldn’t have noticed.

The Human League - Don't You Want Me

The Human League – Don’t You Want Me

Usually loquacious, especially after a drink or three, I suddenly had no words. I muttered, stammered and apologised. We ended up talking about vodka, a somewhat limited topic and not exactly leading to where I wanted to be led, and yes, for the first time I wanted to be led.

As the heavenly chorus sang and the stars shone down in celestial approval, as my life perceptibly changed, as I fell hard, the soundtrack echoing around the bar told of a love story which was far more cynical. A band I’d followed from their “trendy hippy” (copyright Lydon) Sheffield roots told a tale of a power struggle, the “you needed me” – “no you needed me” argument. Apparently she was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when they met. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that she’d met success and then dumped him. But that damnable yet perfect pop song followed us around, through the Christmas of that year, and sent us on our way.

I fell in love twice in the 80s, and never again.


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Love And Rockets – “No New Tale To Tell”

And do you remember? When too much time was mine…

When I was a teenager, I liked nothing better of a Friday evening than lying on my bed, listening to Bauhaus. Periodically my father would fling open the bedroom door and – his oft-professed atheism notwithstanding – forcefully instruct me to ‘turn that bloody racket down, for Jesus Christ’s sake’. When I had lowered the volume sufficiently, he would then berate me for my sullen, ‘hang-dog’ expression, lack of brio and the fact that I wasn’t out fighting, drinking and shagging like my peers/like he had in his youth/like every man in Ulster has done since the dawn of time, except me.

Love And Rockets - No New Tale To Tell

Love And Rockets – No New Tale To Tell

Once he had departed I would lie back down. A silent black wraith would glide downward from the ceiling and pin me to the bed with its claws. Thus immobilised, the dark, urgent pretension of Bauhaus became the perfect accompaniment to my teenage despair.

Eventually I escaped all that. I became determined to never look back. Freedom was like a drug. As if sensing this change in me, my favourite band had also undergone a transformation: the blind pupa of Bauhaus, crawling around wretchedly in the shadows had emerged into the light as a butterfly.

A beautiful, selfish butterfly called Love And Rockets.

The relationship of Love And Rockets to Bauhaus can be challenging for the uninitiated, so I have prepared this Venn diagram to help explain:


Figure 1: The relationship of Bauhaus to Love And Rockets

There is a famous clip of Bauhaus, in their final days, on Top Of The Pops, playing Ziggy Stardust. Towards the end of the song, the bastards from Love And Rockets move inexorably forward and push the hapless lead singer, Peter Murphy, off the stage; a clear statement of intent.

I viewed this as a direct signal from the band that it was time for me to cast off my self-pitying teenage temperament and move forward into a new era of unrestricted selfishness and hedonism.

Love And Rockets concurred. In their almost entirely meaningless and superficial lyrical canon, they espoused a vaguely Eastern philosophy. Unlike most Eastern philosophies, however, theirs was wholly selfish. Every other song deployed the word ‘Heaven’. They perpetually demanded nirvana, paradise, white light, beauty, transcendence; but it was quite clear that they were not prepared to suffer for it.

For example:

  • If there’s a heaven above, let it be near to me
  • Give me what I’ve always missed, give me a good time
  • Give me heaven, because heaven should be mine
  • I’m only interested in paradise; I’m only interested in pure white light

And my personal favourite:

  • Beauty can only ever be skin deep. But if I’m honest, that’s all I ever really need

At that time, British music journalists hated any band that wasn’t political. As you can imagine, they particularly despised Love And Rockets’ lazy cod-mysticism and the band was vilified on a weekly basis in the press. Doubtless this impacted upon the bands domestic success. Upon my arrival in England I saw them in concert. There were about 19 other people in attendance.

Love And Rockets’ response was the album Earth, Sun, Moon. Although their third LP, it was the definitive break from their origins. Visually and sonically the ghost of their former band was completely exorcised; the clean, white cover a salutary erased de Kooning to the frantic dark scribblings of Bauhaus. Predictably, it was a complete and utter flop in the UK. It was quite clear that the British did not want the type of enlightenment Love And Rockets were offering. Seemingly it was quite clear to Love And Rockets too – they left the country, never to return.

I was also seeking a definitive break at that time. Like Love And Rockets, I wanted a life absolutely free from responsibility and The Man. The UK was too oppressive and parochial. I wanted comfort and convenience. I wanted more of everything. I wanted it all, and I wanted it with fries to go. I wanted the American Dream.

As summer approached, the stars aligned. I managed to fail my degree course; I came into some money; some Americans invited me to visit them. My exit from the UK was assured.

I followed Love And Rockets to the USA in June 1988 with a bin bag of clothes and my copy of Earth, Sun, Moon. The USA immediately exceeded my expectations in every possible way. The taxi I got from the airport was an air-conditioned Cadillac; fags were 80¢ a packet; you could get fresh coffee in the middle of the night; gigantic cop cars were everywhere; it was just like being on the telly all the time.

I stayed with a friend and her flatmates in an apartment with a balcony on an interestingly busy road and spent the entire summer indulging in the hitherto unknown American concept of ‘hanging out’. Hanging out involved a lot of lying around, smoking fags, tripping around town at night, lying on the sofa, playing records, lying on the floor, sleeping in, lying in the park, contemplating beauty, watching the dawn come up and feeling the sun on my face.

Earth, Sun, Moon was the soundtrack to this hive of activity. Lyrically it was inane as ever, but nevertheless it all seemed profoundly significant. Every song encapsulates a moment:

  • Sparking a fag to my reflection as the dark rush of Mirror People heralded the start of another evening’s activity.
  • The languorous of swirl of The Light, coiling around a room full of the smoke from 100 joss sticks.
  • Night time visual and sonic disorientation to The Telephone Is Empty, chewing my acidic tongue.
  • Rainbird, a melancholy aubade: lying on the floor as dawn filtered into the room, my head on a girl’s lap, looking upwards. Above me, another girl in an armchair blew bubbles into the air, her face hidden from view. The iridescent stream flowed over smooth curve of her calf and foot; bubbles would rise briefly into the light for a moment before falling wetly onto my face.

Fate decreed that I didn’t stay in the US after all, but Earth, Sun, Moon and its experiences catapulted me into a decade of inactivity and under-achievement, not all of which was entirely regrettable. Not so for Love And Rockets who, with their warm-molasses, chart killing monster So Alive, went on to straddle the world like skinny colossi. Give me some money, you bastards, I occasionally thought during the 1990s and then for many years I never thought of them at all. When I finally heard them again they were still singing about heaven, but by that stage I had a job.

No New Tale To Tell is the catchy, poppy, strum-along-on-your-air-acoustic centrepiece of Earth, Sun, Moon. The lyrics describe how the individual seeks recognition and significance, either through acceptance or contrariness, but finds ultimately that the cosmos is uncaring; he is just a tiny cog in a greater whole. Whether stuck in one’s bedroom in Belfast or playing to 40,000 adoring fans at Lollapalooza for 100 grand, it’s all the same thing – no new tale to tell.

Or so I console myself anyway.


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