The Replacements: Tim. Purchased December 1984
We forget that before the CD pushed “albums” to 72 minutes in length, single albums were typically 35-45 minutes in length. Many a great record, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s for example, was a little over 39 minutes. Quality over quantity.
The Replacement’s September 1985 LP, Tim, was one of those records. Clocking in at 36 minutes, it’s a masterpiece of American garage rock.
The album introduced me to the brilliance of singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg. From Minneapolis, the band was known for their drinking primarily, and their sloppy songs, and in the early days of 1981 they had songs that would just end mid bar.
This was the last album with guitar player Bob Stinson. The older brother of bass player Tommy Stinson, Bob, like Westerberg, was an alcoholic and a drug user, and as time went on he struggled to hold his demons at bay. By their next album, Pleased to Meet Me, released in 1987, Bob was out of the band and working as a short order cook when he wasn’t in rehab. Bob sadly passed away from organ failure caused by years of hard living 10 years after Tim was released. Tommy, who is exactly two months older than me, has been in the music business since joining the Replacements after dropping out of 10th grade. His high school classmate? Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. Tommy also went on to have a long career in a little band known as Guns N’ Roses during the Chinese Democracy era.
Westerberg cleaned himself up and has had a long, lo-fi solo career. Tim captures The Replacements at the height of their albeit drunken, but impressive musical powers. There is no substitute for passion.
Simple Minds: New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84. Purchased 1986
This list was in no order. If it was in an order, this album would have been first, alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end for me, Simple Minds New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84.
It may have seemed to many people that Simple Minds just dropped out of the sky when 1985’s The Breakfast Club arrived and Don’t You Forget About Me was on every radio station thereafter. Six albums. That’s how many albums Simple Minds already had released before that song made them an overnight sensation. Their first album was in 1979. 700. That’s the number of concerts they performed between ‘78 and ‘84. They were an absolute beast as a band, tight beyond belief, and album after album they progressed their sound and craft forward. By the time New Gold Dream was released in late 1982 they found themselves fully mastering the sound they strived for: a melodic and muscular bass line that the songs were built around, an ambient guitar sound intended to sound like anything but guitar, and keyboards and piano that gave the music depth, weight and emotion. The drums complimented the songs, not overpowered them. Danceable. Mysterious, European. Singer Jim Kerr, like many of his contemporaries cared little if the words made sense and more about how they sounded together and the mood they struck.
I could talk about this album for hours. The nuance that each song demonstrates fascinates me. I personally became aware of Simple Minds in the early summer of 1984. Their Sparkle in the Rain album was out and the single Waterfront was a staple on CFNY-102.1. It led me to New Gold Dream which I bought on vinyl Christmas 1984 at Record Town or Cavages in the Summit Park Mall.
I’m still hypnotized by Hunter and the Hunted and King is White and in the Crowd. I still find my thoughts drifting to a time long ago when Big Sleep or Someone Up There Likes You starts playing.
Derek Forbes bass playing to me is truly special. He tweeted at me not too long ago and I had to pinch myself that my favorite musician ever tweeted at me. Crazy world.
The band was never the same after Don’t You Forget About Me. Derek Forbes was sacked, for what or why that is still murky 35 years later. Their biggest commercial success was in front of them but what made them special artistically was gone, replaced by puffed up political and social justice themes, pompous excess and just plain boring song writing. They are nothing more than a nostalgia band today, but for a brief time, 1981-1985, they were the best band in the world in this reviewers humble opinion.
The Beatles: Past Masters Vol.1 and 2. Purchased early 1988
The Beatles Past Masters Volume 1 and 2 came out in early 1988. I bought them at Tower Records on Sports Arena Boulevard in San Diego. They were the first Beatles CD’s, as the Beatles were slow to move onto CD just as they were slow to join the iTunes Store.
While they may have been the first Beatles I bought, I reckon when I was 21, this was not my first Beatles. In 1971 at the age of five my beloved Aunt Rosie gave me some of her records. One was the LP of Help and the other was Tom Jones It’s Not Unusual (which will make a good story on its own- Tom Jones, early 2000’s, Melody Fair. The bras were flying!) I digress.
After playing that Help LP into the ground, my mother bought me the Red and the Blue Greatest Hits albums around 1977. Paul McCartney’s Wings at the Speed of Sound was on tour the year before and it reawakened The Beatles in me. This was followed by front row seats at Shea’s for Beatlemania around 1979, and from that moment on the Beatles have been the mother ship that I come back to from time to time.
Past Masters in 1988 was the first time I circled back to the Beatles following my music awaking of 7th grade that began with classic rock (Rush/Styx/Zeppelin and AC/DC) before transitioning in 9th grade (Journey/Triumph/Yes) before mid 10th Grade (U2/Duran Duran) and then on to new wave. Rediscovering them in 1988 was like a fresh new day. The recordings themselves were crisp and clear and the tracks included went deeper than anything that was on the greatest hits albums. It spurred me to buy the rest of the catalog and go into the rabbit hole like so many others.
I couldn’t even tell you what my favorite Beatles record is. It’s sort of like Beatlemania actually, I like the early group with fresh faces, I like the experimental group through Sgt Pepper’s and I like the long haired band that finished out the ‘60s. Three separate bands. I’ll add my top five Beatles songs in the comments below.
Depeche Mode: Black Celebration. Purchased March 1986
Day 15 of the Albums that Shaped Me Blog.
Brian Wilson once said that he “…played the studio”. It was an admission that the acoustics and the sound that a room made influenced his creative work product. There are many famous studios where many of the albums on my list were recorded but I’d like to talk about Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin for the next two or three nights. The first album I will highlight from Hansa, which literally sat in the shadow of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War is 1986’s Black Celebration by Depeche Mode.
Bowie and Iggy Pop put Hansa on the map, with Bowie’s Heroes and Pop’s Lust for Life being recorded there in 1977. The first Depeche Mode album I ever purchased, Construction Time Again, which included their US breakout hit People are People, was recorded at Hansa in 1984. I was attending Navy Nuclear Power School in Orlando Florida and I bought Black Celebration on the day it was released from Strawberry Records on Colonial Drive in March 1986.
To hear people talk about recording at Hansa is fascinating. In 2018, a documentary called Hansa Studios: By the Wall 1976-1990 was released. Nick Cave says the building “…has darkness in the dust.” Producer Flood says that “…the building is as much an instrument as any guitar, drum or synth.” Depeche Mode’s producer Gareth Jones said “…they could throw beats around the building.” Bowie’s Heroes was inspired by a day of staring at the bleakness of the Wall. The bleakness often allowed bands who were suffering writers block to work it out there, primarily because there was nothing else to do. U2 arrived after the draining Joshua Tree period without a thought of what to do and left after reinventing themselves with Achtung Baby. REM recorded Collapse into Now there, and recorded a live show there, with lead singer Michael Stipe questioning what was “…imbued into the wood, in the grain of the fabric of the place (Hansa)…”
You’ll love or hate Black Celebration. It’s the Depeche Mode before Violator, their enormous 1990 album, that is dark in the music, with the increasingly influential Alan Wilder providing the sonic palate for song writer Martin Gore’s angst, isolation, longing and despair. Singer David Gahan was as much an instrument as the band’s increasingly complex organic synth sound. Tracks like Fly on the Windscreen and Stripped were standouts and are included in the comments below.
The music is sharp, the songwriting top shelf and the aesthetic oh so 1986. It’s not an album I find myself listening to regularly in my early fifties, but Depeche Mode played a very important part in my formative years, adding their darkness to the darkness I felt as I finished school and spent long weeks and months at sea. I reckon Hansa did have something special about it. A darkness that inspired these artists to explore and audibly visualize it is on display here and a few more albums I will highlight.
Thanks to Emine Sander of The Guardian for some of the quotes about Hansa.
Siouxsie and the Banshees: Tinderbox. Purchased April 1986
A quick recap of the first 14 albums:
U2: Unforgettable Fire
Joy Division: Still
Chicago: Chicago Transit Authority
Waterboys: Fisherman Blues
Duran Duran: Rio
Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
New Order: Low Life
The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow
Talk Talk: Colour of Spring
REM: Fables of the Reconstruction
The Replacements: Tim
Simple Minds: New Gold Dream
The Beatles: Past Masters Vol 1 and 2
Depeche Mode: Black Celebration
Released in April 1986, Siouxsie and the Banshees 7th studio album, Tinderbox, was both a reinvention and a new beginning for this goth inspired post punk band.
Recorded at Hansa Studio, featured in my last post regarding Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration, bands went to Hansa by the Wall, literally in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, for inspiration, dark inspiration. The Banshee’s found theirs.
The Banshee’s were not on my radar before late 1985. I had heard of them, as with many bands of this era, a punk mystique preceded them, with an outer worldly name and a mesmerizingly different lead singer in Siouxsie Sioux.
My first exposure came with their cover of the Lennon White Album masterpiece Dear Prudence, from their 1984 album Hyena. It was the moment they went from being foreign and inaccessible to having a relatable sound. Real Banshee fans are laughing at me right now because the bands pre 1984 catalog is beloved, especially the classic lineup with new wave guitar legend, sadly gone before his time, the great John McGeoch. That said, those weren’t my Banshee’s. 1986-1989 were my Banshee’s and this album was the beginning.
Dark. Exotic. Textured. Driven by Bassist Steve Severin and Sioux’s lover and future husband, Budgie, on drums, the album assaults you subtly. Rhythmic like a train driving down the tracks from the opening song. The music can simultaneously haunt you (Sweetest Chill, This Unrest, 92 Degrees) and shake you to your core (Cities in Dust Candyman and Song from the Edge of the World).
No longer tied to the standard formula of guitar driven song structure, the Banshees added multi instrumentalist John Valentine Carruthers and the music shimmers and finds balance, giving Sioux space to be who she was at this point, a pioneering non archetype female voice in music.
I had the pleasure of seeing this version of the Banshees live in Boston at a Concert on the Commons in August 1987. A friend of mine from High School was working the concert and got me into the VIP Tent before the show and I’ll admit to having weak knees after Siouxsie said hello to me. Beautiful in a way people didn’t think of her.
I would never have guessed how powerful they would be live, but they were incredibly tight and energetic. Sioux commanded the stage and the band was muscular and less nuanced. I had opportunity to see them again with my friend Jim in San Diego on the Peepshow Tour in 1988.
An acquired taste, not for everyone, dense, foreboding and intimate.
Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen/Two Wheel Good. Purchased November 1985
In 1985 I was living on my own for the first time, and I was hanging around laundry-mats like any single guy, usually on Wednesday Nights (creature of habit). I was living in Orlando off of East Colonial Drive (Route 50) near Baldwin Lake. I would go to the Strawberry Records on the N. Bumby and Colonial and buy British Music Magazines to pass the time while my clothes were washed and dried. The buzz record in ‘Smash Hits’ around this time was by a band called Prefab Sprout, and the album was called Two Wheel Good in the US, but in England the Album was called Steve McQueen. The bands management, for this their second record, didn’t want the recently deceased Steve McQueen’s estate to sue them.
In case I wasn’t clear, today’s featured record is Prefab Sprout’s 1985 masterpiece Steve McQueen.
Have you ever just wanted to try something new but after popping it into your tape deck you just didn’t know what to do with it? That was Steve McQueen to me. I didn’t understand it, didn’t appreciate the themes, it wasn’t very danceable, and soon this tape went to the storage wall, the death sentence for my music. I did have a very hip girlfriend a short while later who adored this album but even that wasn’t enough to get me to listen again.
Perhaps a record for elapsed time, this album didn’t get a second chance with me until 2007, 22 years after I purchased it. By this time I was traveling quite a bit for work and the enigmatic lead singer and song writer, Paddy McAloon, released a legacy edition of this album, remastered and including a full acoustic re-recording of the album. I was intrigued. It was apparent to me after listening that In 1985 I wasn’t mature enough for the themes, which vary from love, death, marriage, infidelity, success and failure.
The lyrics pulled me in. The music, far more clever than I remembered it, impressed me. Thomas Dolby’s (Blinded me with Science) production was spot on.
“….I spend the days with my vanity
I’m lost in heaven and I’m lost to earth
Didn’t give you minutes not even moments…. I count the hours since you slipped away,
I count the hours that I lie awake,
I count the minutes and the seconds too,
All I stole and I took from you, but Bonny don’t live at home…”
From When Love Breaks Down…
“…When love breaks down
The things you do
To stop the truth from hurting you
When love breaks down
The lies we tell,
They only serve to fool ourselves…”
“… So if you take – Then put back good
If you steal – be Robin Hood
If your eyes are wanting all you see
Then I think I’ll name you after me
I think I’ll call you appetite…”
These snippets don’t do Paddy McAloon justice. From Durham in the Northeast of England, Paddy and his brother started writing songs at the age of 15. After the success of their cheaply produced debut album Swoon in 1984, the band gave Producer Thomas Dolby access to McAloon’s growing collection of songs, and out of 50 unrecorded songs Dolby picked his favorites.
The album in retrospect, when I returned to it in 2007, Is now considered flawless by me. The song writing is literate and a level up in intelligence and depth. I can only conclude I wasn’t ready for this album at age 18. It’s a mature record, a record for a serious man that addresses the serious issues a man must confront in his life.
It truly is an album, made to be listened to straight through, the tracks forming 45 minutes of pop bliss. It’s an album of details, with the vocals in front of the mix, the multi octave and multi tracked ethereal voice of Wendy Smith combined with the plaintive, blue collared and mid ranged Paddy. The rhythm section is organic and the keyboards are dated in this era but still effective. The guitars and the chord changes ever fascinating.
For such a long career, Prefab Sprout never toured America. They barely toured at all. Content to write music in his bedroom and share it irregularly, Paddy is a unique man, caring little for the music business and the soul selling activities required to make it big.
A series of highly intelligent and pop gems followed this, which I’m still exploring 35 years after buying this album on a whim after reading about them in Smash Hits. Life is funny like this.
Echo and the Bunnymen: Songs to Learn and Sing. December 1985
When I was younger and not swimming in disposable income, greatest hits and live albums gave me an opportunity to really dive into a new band on a budget. One such band, the the subject of today’s post is Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen, and the album in question is Songs to Learn and Sing, released for Christmas season 1985.
In December 1985 I was attending Navy Nuclear Power School in Orlando Florida. I was raised to join the military. My dad was in the US Army and the Air Force Reserve. From an early age he encouraged me to join the military. He promised me that if I went in the Military and served our country, like him and his father before him, that he would pay for my college and room and board after I got out. I was very conflicted in 10th grade. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and go in the Army because I was afraid I would let him down if I didn’t. As much as I liked the idea of the Army, I questioned if I was physically up to that sort of duty. My father was built like a fire hydrant, not tall, thick with arms like tree trucks and a grip that could break your hand. Me at 15? Skinny and Scrawny. I went through the motions and visited the Army recruiter office. I almost enlisted. I finally had a heart to heart with Pops and told him I wasn’t sure about the Army. He told me that he didn’t care what I joined, and opened the newspaper and asked me how many job openings there were for tank drivers or infantry men? None I said. Exactly he said, go and learn a trade with your hands. I met the Navy recruiter the next week and he suggested I take the test for Navy Nuclear Power School, a demanding 26 week school with a high drop out rate. The idea of submarines came from a summer vacation when I walked to the mall in Troy, Michigan and saw Das Boot, the German WW2 submarine classic. I gambled on myself and the rest is history.
Room and Board? I didn’t need it. My Uncle Jim Dinieri opened the door of opportunity when I got home and I walked through it. I served my country for 6 years and one war and within a month of getting out I started working where I still am 29 years later.
I digress. Echo and the Bunnymen recorded four albums between 1979 and 1985 and they were burned out and needed a break. In mid 1985 they recorded a single new track to include on a greatest hits record. The song was called Bring on the Dancing Horses, and the song shimmered from a production standpoint, grandiose thematically. It was a new wave hit. The album cover, a photo by the then not well known Anton Corbijn captured a sense of silent procession, a new wave version of The Beatles Abby Road album cover. I was intrigued.
My plane ride home at Christmas time that year cemented this album with me, and the band dominated musical conversation with me and my friends. Powerful but eccentric guitars, a groovy bass and muscular drums were punctuated with solid lyrics and a charismatic singer in Ian Mccullogh. Spanning all four albums, the band sounded like a more modern version of the Doors, helped by the fact that Ray Manzarek was on record praising them in the music press. The band thought the Velvet Underground and Bowie were their true influences, but no matter.
This album led to my exploration of their remaining catalog. It wasn’t just the music. The hair, the clothes, the swagger, this was me in 1985. My personal favorites include A Promise and Silver.
The band was never the same. They felt pressure to be more like break out new wave bands The Cure, U2, New Order and Simple Minds, four bands they were arguably bigger than in 1984. By the time they reconvened in 1987 to record their last album with the classic original lineup, Simple Minds and U2 rocketed to international stardom following Live Aid performances and The Cure and New Order found huge commercial success. The band lost their momentum, produced a weak album, albeit their biggest selling US album producing the mega hit Lips Like Sugar, but the magic was gone. Drummer Pete De Freitas, the human drummer who replaced the electronic drum machine named Echo, died in a motorcycle accident in June 1989. The band reformed in the 90’s and actually recorded some very good music before descending into a derivative of themselves.
The Psychedelic Furs: Mirror Moves. Purchased January 1985.
The Psychedelic Furs released their fourth album, Mirror Moves, in August 1984. The summer between 11th and 12th grade was one of an explosion of personal growth for me. Life was changing. I was enlisted and the clock was ticking until I left for the Navy in February 1985. I had access to a car, a big car, every night, I had a laughably bad fake ID that worked every time, an affinity for vodka, cigarettes and the company of my friends. It was mostly a boys club, but we had a few girls who fit in with us. One of those friends was away on vacation most of July and when she returned back home she was sporting a small button affixed to her jean jacket. No fancy graphics, a simple message, The Psychedelic Furs. I had no idea who they were but I was in.
Heaven and The Ghost in You started to get heavy airplay on Toronto radio station CFNY 102.1. For a kid who was listening to Styx, Journey and Triumph a year earlier, this was growth. The name was art punk, they wore sunglasses day and night, smoked incessantly and dripped cool.
The album was produced by Keith Forsey. Forsey was a drummer in the 70’s, played on Donna Summer’s hit Bad Boys, wrote the Simple Minds commercial breakout hit Don’t You Forget About Me, and his eccentric career included co-writing Flashdance- What a Feeling and producing Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. Diverse.
The band found more commercial success following the movie Pretty in Pink, in which their 1981 song of the same name was featured. Feeling pressure from their label, they went into the studio, Hansa by the Wall, featured in this series with Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration and Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Tinderbox. While the band was marketed differently for this album, like some Disney version of punk rock complete with S&M like leathers, the album aged well and contains some excellent tracks including the title track Midnight to Midnight.
Two “return to your roots” records in the early 1990’s followed, and then a long hiatus. The first Furs new album since 1991 comes out next week.
One of the most iconic vocalists of the era. The Furs.
The Cure: Staring at the Sea/Standing on the Beach. Purchased April 1986
I bought my first Cure Album, 1985’s The Head on the Door, in April 1986. I bought 10 new cassette tapes for my road trip which I was making from Orlando back to Niagara Falls. I had limited time at home before I had to head to Saratoga Springs and find a place to live, so I gave myself 24 hours to make a 19 hour ride. With 10 new tapes, plus the almost 60 I already owned, I would have plenty of tunes to keep my beautiful 1984 Mazda RX-7 powered up.
Not that it matters but I bought those ten tapes the night that Geraldo Rivera opened up Capone’s underground hangout on live national TV only to find nothing, so Wikipedia keeps track of this date for me, April 21, 1986. (See link in comments). If you were alive around this time you’d know this was a big pop culture moment of that year and still a pretty good Geraldo put down. I digress.
I can’t say I became a Cure fan based on the Head of the Door. Yes there were some very catchy tunes, with the dance standout In Between Days, as well as Night Like This, but Robert Smith is an acquired taste. It was the release of Staring at the Sea that made me a Cure Fan. For a band that had no visibility on my radar before late 1985, they had been together since 1976 and making albums since 1978. Staring at the Sea was eclectic because early Cure records were all very eclectic and different from each other. From the early Pop Sensibility of Killing an Arab and Boy’s Don’t Cry, to the harder, darker and gothier (new word) material that followed like A Forest and Charlotte Sometimes, to a return of Pop with Love Cats. Quite eclectic.
The Cure feature a certain guitar and bass sound that is unmistakably theirs, with six string basses and heavily flanged and phased guitar, with all parts mirroring each other, The Cure were a highly competent rock band wrapped in a different perspective than say, The Rolling Stones. They looked inward, downward, seldom outward.
An absolutely amazing career that still sees them creating new music and putting on massive 3 hour concerts. Robert Smith still looks like Robert Smith, just older, more ragged. It’s with this passage of time that you realize the man is authentic, no act, no illusion, no concern about appearance or vanity. He’s living his art and I appreciate that about him.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me followed in early 1987 and it dominated that year, a rather dark year musically with The Smiths breaking up, The Bunnymen putting out a shite record and New Order content to release greatest hits. 1989’s Disintegration was an absolute masterpiece as was 1991’s Wish. Both records took full advantage of the longer running time of CDs and pushed the envelope musically.
A brilliant guitar player, a brilliant band leader and a brilliant song writer. Robert Smith is one of the greats of the New Wave era, able to do it all without looking like he’s even trying.