Monday, 22 October 2012

What Was The Best Year in Music?

If you were to ask anyone (specifically someone with a keen interest in music) "What was the best year for music?", the answers would probably be:
  • Now - nothing like living in the present
  • A random year between the ages of 12 and 20 - these are the (arbitary) ages when people are buying their first records (usually by the barrow full), going to their first gigs, developing their musical likes & dislikes and mixing with like-minded friends
  • A couple of years before their first record buying experience
Me, I fall firmly in the last category.
Prior to 1979 I was a football obsessive - more interested in Football Focus than Top Of The Pops
And then (to nick a phrase from Jarvis Cocker) Something Changed.
As previously stated, 1979 was the year I got my first tape recorder so I now had choice of what music to own and listen to.  I started to take proper notice of the music coming out of the radio and TV, rather than just accepting the odd novelty song and the Abba & Carpenters albums coming out of my parents car stereo.

The football obsession continued, but a realisation that having 2 left feet and an inability to kick a ball straight was never going to enhance my chances of being a professional footballer, so I thought I'd give Rock & Roll a go.  I discovered a couple of years later that a distinct lack of talent in this chosen field may also hamper my options.  (Maybe that's why I'm a Project Manager?)

And this was the song seen on Top Of The Pops that made me say: "this being in a band lark looks like a good career"
Similarly (not that I'm comparing myself to him), John Lennon stated in an interview with Tom Snyder in 1975: "I saw Elvis on the movie screen with all these girls screaming and I thought, that’s a good job!")

Dave Edmunds - Girls Talk

The song was written by Elvis Costello, and performed by Dave Edmunds with assistance from Nick Lowe, Terry Williams and Billy Bremner - collectively known as Rockpile.
Rockpile are perhaps one of the most under-rated and undiscovered bands to come from this period (or indeed any period).  A top notch live band (see 2011s Live At Montreux 1980 for proof of how powerful and tight a band can be), their solitary album (released in 1980 due to contractual difficulties with each member being tied to different companies) did not truly do the band justice.  There were 3 other albums recorded by the band, but these were released as Dave Edmunds solo albums (Trax On Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary) and a Nick Lowe solo album (Labour Of Lust).  All are worth a listen if you get the chance.
The Nick Lowe solo single "Cruel To Be Kind" entered the charts as "Girls Talk" was on it's way down.  It was recorded by the same personnel, and if you can find the video on YouTube, it looks like it was filmed at the around the same location and time as "Girls Talk").
Not content with having a couple of singles and an album in his own name, the collaboration above, other production work (notably Elvis Costello), and becoming Johnny Cash's son-in-law he also found time to co-write and produce "Milk & Alcohol" for Doctor Feelgood.

So was 1979 the best year?  In the style of Lloyd Grossman "lets look at the evidence":

  • Blondie, The Police and Squeeze at the peak of their popularity and releasing some of their best singles
  • Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick at Number 1
  • Gary Numan
  • The first Top 10 single for the Jam ("Eton Rifles")
  • The Rock n Roll/Rockabilly Revival (featuring Racey, Darts, Rocky Sharpe & The Replays and Matchbox.  Showaddywaddy were still releasing singles too)
  • The Mod Revival (featuring Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords)
  • The first Specials album, and the birth of 2 Tone
  • The Disco of The Bee Gees
  • The Funk of Chic and Earth, Wind & Fire
  • The sheer diversity in the charts - not only did Gary Numan, Boomtown Rats & Blondie have Number 1 singles, but Art Garfunkel, Cliff Richard and Lena Martell also achieved the top position.
  • The song that signifies start of the 80s (Buggles - "Video Killed The Radio Star")
  • And the year was finished with a Pink Floyd single at number one.  The song that will forever be used by lazy TV & Radio researchers to show teenage rebellion against schooling

The evidence is compelling, and it is certainly a more interesting musical landscape than the Simon Cowell influenced homogeny clogging up the airwaves.
The FA Cup Final of 1979 wasn't too bad either (actually it was quite a boring game until the last 5 minutes when Man United scored two goals to equalise before Alan Sunderland (complete with 1970s perm and tache) scored the winner in the 89th minute).

This was the year I first became consumed by music - a passion which has never abated., and (much to the annoyance of my wife and my bank manager) probably never will.
OK, I'll never score in a Cup Final or play on stage in Ringo Starr's All-Star Band, but it will never diminish the enjoyment of hearing some random notes thrown together against a catchy melody with some added words.
And so, its back to the Gantt Charts and Earned Value Analysis, but this will be performed with a constant soundtrack around me and in my head.  You can take our lives, you can take our pride but you can never take away the music.

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