Madonna – Bedtime Story

Madonna’s Bedtime Story is probably my favourite single from her, only rivalled by Justify My Love. The song was written by Bjork, and you can definitely feel her influence on the track and its easy to imagine her singing this song. The song is the penultimate track on Madonna’s sorely overlooked album Bedtime Stories, and does have a very different sound to the other tracks. The album is a soft R+B kind of sound, but bizzarely this experimental electronic track seems to fit in! It foreshadows the work that Madonna would do on her next album, Ray of Light I think. Its a hybrid of ambient/house beats that sound totally different to anything Madonna has done before or since. The song has been cited by critics as one with a lot of unfulfiled potential and I would have to agree! The song has hardly ever been performed live, only serving as an interlude in the Reinvention Tour. It also seems to be slightly more forgotten about in comparision to her classic singles like Vogue etc, which is absolutely criminally as this is Madonna at her experimental best.


Erasure – Abba-esque (EP)

Despite being a massive fan of Pet Shop Boys (and I do mean massive), I’ve always felt that Erasure, consisting of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke (Formely of Depeche Mode and Yazoo) have always been overlooked in favour of bands such as Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode. For me, this is little EP is one of my most favourite things they’ve done. As you can tell, it consists of four Abba covers. Erasure are big fans of Abba, preforming various songs live during the course of their career and  a cover of Abba’s Gimme Gimme was used as a B-side to Oh Lamour, their third ever single. The EP was originally going to be a full album, and I wish it was in ways, because Erasure do brilliant covers of Abba! For me Erasure’s sound seems to bring out the best in these tracks, to the point were I have to be honest and say I prefer these tracks to the originals! The EP was also the groups first number one on the UK single’s chart, after peaking at #2 with Sometimes and the Cracker’s International EP (this was when EP’s were still eligible to chart in UK). The EP has been credited as being a major factoring in instigating a revival in Abba’s work in the 90s. For me, my top two tracks on the EP would have to be SOS and Take A Chance On Me, but all four of the songs are brilliant tracks. My only slight critcism (and it is small) is that they should have put Gimme Gimme on the album, because that is another brilliant Abba cover they’ve done, but that was released on the remastered version of Wonderland anyhow. A brilliant covers EP!

Michael Jackson – The Lady In My Life

The final track on Thriller (and one of only two tracks on the album not to be released as a single) this is a strong contender for my favourite Michael Jackson song ever. It seems to be largely forgotten about, and generally regarded as one of the albums weakest songs. I can’t understand why, I adore the song and how romantic it sounds without ever sounding corny. It was actually a hard song to record, as Quincy Jones wanted to create a song similar to She’s Out Of My Life from Michael’s previous album Off The Wall in the sense that it would feature a particularly impassioned vocal from Michael. He wanted Michael to beg on the track to achieve this, and I think he does particularly on the ad-libs towards the end of the song. Michael (a shy and quiet person by nature in contrast to his stage persona) was embarrassed about this to the point were he didn’t even want to be seen during the recording of his vocal track, so he asked the curtains to be pulled over him in the studio so he would be able to convey his emotion during the recording process better. As a consequence I think this is probably his most impassioned vocal performance, and for me it shows off his voice beautifully. The way it changes halfway through the track, when Michael sings “Stay with me….” is absolutely glorious and just makes the song! Criminally overlooked!

Soft Cell – Tainted Love

This is a classic song for me. It is one of the first songs of the 80s I ever liked. I had this song on an old compilation when I was about 13, and I played it to absolute death. Its definitely become the song Soft Cell are remembered most for, which I do feel is a bit of a shame because they’ve got some other brilliant songs that surpass it. This was Soft Cells second single release, and it was made very clear to the duo that if this song didn’t sell, it would be their last release, as previous single Memorabilia failed to chart. The group decided to produce a cover of an obscure Northern Soul track by Gloria Jones called Tainted Love. You’ve got to admire a risk like that, as the obscurity of the song probably meant the chances of it being a hit were small. Amazingly though, the song quickly became #1 in the UK and in another 17 territories worldwide. It also became the best selling single of 1981. In the US it peaked at #8 (taking 19 weeks to do so) but then held the Guinness World Record (at the time) for most consecutive weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 chart (43 weeks). I think those are extremely impressive stats for a supposed one hit wonder group (Personally I would say they’re not, they did have other hit singles) It was released on 12″ as an extended dance medley with another cover, this time of The Supremes Where Did Our Love Go. Marc Almond’s only musical contribution to the song itself was deciding it should start with a “bink bink” noise that would feature periodically throughout the track. I love how they’ve made the song sound just like an original Soft Cell song (It was a few years until I found out it was a cover and I was shocked). A great song that’s become an 80s classic, just remember to check out their other material!

The Killers – Hot Fuss (Album)

You know how everyone has those albums that just seem to bring them right back to childhood? For me, The Killers debut album is one of those albums. I had just turned 10 years old two months prior to the release of this album, which was released on June 7th 2004 here in the UK, and June 15th in the USA. At the time, it seemed everyone was in love with Mr Brightside. I was more into Somebody Told Me if I’m honest, and truth be told what I really adored was The Killers lead singer, Brandon Flowers. But enough of the sentimental nostalgia value, is it actually any good? Well in my opinion, its a blinder.

Given how much their sound has developed in subsequent albums (especially Brandons lyrics) it could be said that you’d easily forget the fact that The Killers were very 80s sounding when they first started out. Yes, they do still have 80s influences in their sound since that, but for me this is the where the influences are most felt. Highly influenced by 80s bands such as The Cure, New Order Duran Duran, The Smiths… you get the idea, the album itself was actually pretty integral to my own musical development. I guess this was the album that showed me that 80s music was actually pretty damn good, as up until this point I was under the illusion 80s music was cheap and tacky frothy nonsense. This album made me love the 80s, as you can definitely hear the influences on it. Just look at the synth intro to On Top for instance. On that note, I think Brandon’s voice here sounds a bit like Morrissey in his earlier days, but again that changes in their later albums.

One of the things that I’ve read about this album countless times over the years though, is the first half vs second half. Many feel the second half of the record looses steam in comparison to the first. I’m going to be dead awkward here and say I disagree. I mean, Mr Brightside, Somebody Told Me have become somewhat indie classics of the last decade. I mean, over here at least the four singles (All These Things That I’ve Done, Smile Like You Mean It, Mr Brightside, Somebody Told Me) were played loads, and they were also very popular. I feel it would be hard for the second half of the album to live up to that. I think in a way I actually prefer the second half however, On Top and Midnight Show are brilliant songs, and Believe Me Natalie whilst being rather bizarre is also a great song. The album closer Everything Will Be Alright is generally seen as the worst track but I really like it, its refreshing after the very anthemic tracks that preceed it.

In terms of lyrics, the album did get quite a bit of ridicule, particularly Somebody Told Me and Glamourous Indie Rock and Roll. Whilst there is no lyrical masterpieces here, Brandon does develop leaps and bounds in subsequent albums. Also, despite the album appearing to be, on the surface at least, very glamorous indie pop with some synths here and there for good measure, the album has a murder theme on two of the songs. Midnight Show, and Jenny Was A Friend of Mine are actually parts two and three respectively of a murder trilogy, with the first part, Leave The Bourbon on The Shelf found on B-sides album Sawdust.

The album may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I personally love it, and not just for nostalgic reasons! Its anthemic, synthy in places, and just generally good fun to listen too. Whilst it may not be the most experimental thing they’ve ever done, its still an exceptionally strong debut!

Electronic – Getting Away With It (Updated 31st October 2012)

Electronic were a duo comprising of Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Bernard Sumner of New Order/Joy Division. They’re easily my favourite of the many New Order side bands too! Here though we’ve got an extra guess: Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys makes an appearance on backing vocals. He also had a hand in producing the track, but its uncredited. Anyhow, this is Electronic’s debut and biggest selling single worldwide (Although Disappointed actually charted higher in the UK). It was released on Factory Records (with it’s catalogue number being FAC257) Lyrically, its actually a satire of Johnny Marr’s bandmate Morrissey, mocking his masochistic public persona by means of being written from his perspective (Pet Shop Boys would later write a further song influenced by Morrissey; Their B-side  to Was It Worth It, called Miserablism). Musically speaking, Bernard Sumner wrote the verse and Johnny Marr wrote the chorus with both Bernard and Neil co-writing the lyrics. I do really love this song, and in particular the guitar solo, it’s got this summery, relaxing quality to it that I really like. Another thing I love about it is the outro. Having said though, the 7″ doesn’t do it justice. It has a beautiful string solo at the very end which the 7″ completely misses because it fades out before it kicks you. You can hear the string solo on the Extended Mix and also on the album version though. The chorus is also ridiculously infectious and Bernard and Neil’s voices go together so well I think.Despite being released 18 months before their self titled debut album I think it fits into that album brilliantly, as I think Getting Away With It sounded rather ahead of its time. On that note though, the album didn’t contain Getting Away With It on it’s original release, it was added on subsequent re-releases. Even though I do prefer Disappointed, its worth noting that this song is more of a proper collaboration as Neil sings all the vocals to Disappointed. Never the less, Getting Away With It is still a great song that is also rather overlooked!

New Order – Fine Time (Updated 22nd March 2012)

Fine Time is the lead single off New Order’s 1989 album Technique and was originally released in 1988. It is number FAC223 in the Factory Records label catalogue. I’d have to say this is my favourite New Order song, but also one of my favourite songs ever in general! The song was recorded in Ibiza and was inspired by a night in Amnesia (Internationally reknowned club in Ibiza that New Order went to several times during the Technique recording sessions) The Ibiza recording sessions weren’t fruitful however, Fine Time was one of only two songs they recorded when they were out there. The title of the song originated in a slightly strange way, band member Stephen Morris’ car had been towed away and he needed something to remind himself to pay the fine. He wrote fine time on a piece of paper in order to do this, and thought to himself that it seemed a good idea for a title. I would say it rivals Blue Monday in terms of being the bands most dance oriented track.The song is acid-house influenced and signifies the influence that the legendary Hacienda nightclub was having on the musical direction of New Order, who actually had a massive part in financing the club. To this day, bassist Peter Hook owns the Hacienda name and trademark.Interestingly, on the US 12″ vinyl, the way beats are structured within the song actually creates a swirl effect in the vinyl. This doesn’t occur with the albums B-sides though, which is particularly interesting I think given that one of the B-sides, Fine Line, is actually the A-side except Bernard Sumners vocals have been removed. The second B-side, Don’t Do It is a completely different song however. Although I love the beat I do feel that Bernards vocals just add to the song, they’ve got this brilliant scornful sound in the track that I love.  I seriously love this song and think its the perfect opening to Technique, which is a great album. It only reached 11 in the UK Charts which I feel is criminal, for me this is one of the best songs of the 80s!

Go West

One of their biggest hits, Go West has become somewhat of a classic. It has a long back story though. Its a cover of a song by Village People, that actually came about as the result of a charity concert. Derek Jarman asked the duo to preform at the legendary Hacienda nightclub in Manchester as part of an AIDS charity event. Originally, they were to perform The Fool On The Hill by The Beatles, but as Chris is a big fan of the Village People he decided to show Go West to Neil, thinking that it would suit his voice. Neil didn’t even learn the lyrics properly for the Hacienda performance and still thinks he may have got some of the lyrics that were originally sang wrong. The part that begins “There, were the air is free…” The song is a very idealistic song about San Francisco being a utopia for the Gay Liberation movement in the 70s. Its probably one of the most relentlessly upbeat songs that the boys have recorded I think. It also has similarities musically with the former Soviet Anthem, but that was coincidental. Interestingly, It was originally planned for release 1992 to ensure that the duo kept their run of top ten singles every year since they became popular.  It was originally going to be a one off single and its planned B-side was going to be Forever In Love, eventually though that idea was scrapped and a different version of it was released on Very (and Shameless became the B-side when it became Very’s second single) Forever in Love also appeared in an edited version on Relentless. Both the extended mix of the original Go West single and the original version of Forever in Love appeared on the 2001 Very Further Listening disc Personally, I really like the song although I don’t listen to it as much as I should, I think it’s such an anthemic feel it only really reaches its potentional live, but I adore the outro of the song, I always wish it continued just a little bit longer. I’m glad also that they saved it for Very, for me it fits on the album absolutely brilliantly! Hardly their most experimental track but its hard not to like Go West!

Double Manchester?!

Fresh rumors are circulating today that the original lineup of seminal Manchester group Happy Mondays have reformed. This is something I hope and pray happens and the timing couldn’t have been better with the Stone Roses making their comeback in a matter of months. I’m wondering that if the Happy Mondays do make their comeback (and honestly, I think they will) if they maybe will support Stone Roses on tour. The two biggest groups in Madchester touring together… please let this happen!

Actually (Updated March 3rd 2012)

Actually is the Pet Shop Boys second album, released in 1987. Usually in music reviews I often hear the term “sophomore slump”, a term that describes how an artist can have successful debut album campaign that generates hype but when the second album comes along, for various reasons the album doesn’t match the predecessor’s success. This definitely wasn’t the case with Actually though, as it has become their third best selling album overall, but has now earned its place along with the likes of  The Human League – Dare as an essential album in synthpop music. The era has now been called the bands “imperial phase”, a term which Petheads have also coined, to describe the success experienced by the band.

In terms of sound, the album is fairly similar to their debut album Please, but it sounds more polished. Its the only time in their whole back catalogue were I feel that two back to back albums have a similar sort of sound. After Actually they change their sound very much so with Introspective, then with Behaviour and so forth. It also definitely sees the band growing as musicians, they’re slightly more adventurous on Actually and Neil Tennant’s lyrics are going from strength to strength. The final track on Actually, the majestic Kings Cross, still is one of the bands finest moments from a lyrical point of view, and that track along with Loves Come Quickly from Please, are probably the first two tracks that show off how good Neil’s lyrics are. Having said that, the album does contain one of my least favourite Pet Shop Boys lyrics, the track Hit Music. The song’s lyrics are totally fine, until I read that they’re supposed to be about AIDS, which still baffles me to this day.

Its by far my favourite of their trio of 80’s studio albums, and I think one of the reasons has to be the singles that were released from the album. Its very rarely that I say this (I’m struggling to think of any other album to be honest), but I think they got the single choices for this album spot on. The public seemed to agree too, half of the singles from Actually (Its a Sin and Heart) reached number one, and Always On My Mind also reached number one during the era, despite it not being released on Actually itself (Which fans were furious about, such was the popularity of their cover). Actually was therefore rereleased with a copy of the single. Since Actually, the duo have never had another number one single in the UK, but its interesting to note that their only number one UK album was actually Very, released in 1993.

Despite the singles being very popular, its worth noting that Heart and Rent didn’t appear on the album in the same versions that were released as singles. Heart in particular, which was a little bit slower on the album and not just as disco sounding. Personally, I prefer the album mix of Heart and don’t really have a strong preference in which version of Rent I like better. I like both mixes.

The album was originally going to be titled Jealousy, with the track of the same name included on the album. For reasons that haven’t been stated by the group themselves, Jealousy was dropped from the tracklisting and the name of the album thus changed.

Originally, this used to be my favourite album along with Very but I would be lying if I said if my love for the album has decreased a little. When I originally got into Pet Shop Boys I overplayed the four singles of the album to absolute death, and It Couldn’t Happen Here and I Want to Wake Up have just never grown on me. Although it is worth noting that the album only has 10 tracks, so weaker tracks do stick out for me more, plus I tend to find I review my favourite artists much tougher than I would review others. 8/10 tracks are winners for me so it is still very, very good. Truth be told, It Couldn’t Happen Here is a really well made song, but I’ve never fully got into it. That’s all.

I know the penultimate paragraph was a bit more negative but this is still a brilliant album that I do often neglect. Whilst they don’t hit their musical zenith for me until Behaviour, this is still one of their best albums!

 Top Tracks

  • Heart
  • King’s Cross
  • One More Chance