Dire Straits - Communiqué (1979)
Though long considered by critics one of the daggiest groups of all time, Dire Straits produced a kind of post-Dylan soft-cock-rock that is still uniquely their own. (I suspect the tennis sweatbands had as much to do with that cynical designation, than just Mark Knopfler’s proclivity for solos). Despite the success of their first single, “Sultans of Swing”, I always felt they were more a mood band than a chart-storming hit machine. Almost prog-esque in some songs (“Telegraph Road”/”Private Investigations”), it’s not surprising they were embraced by the same audience as admirers of late 70s Pink Floyd. Sure, they made some overblown, over-extended guitar-driven songs that can seem over-indulgent and a few hours too long for most modern listeners. And I’m sure their audience was/is 99% white males. But they carved out a corner of the commercial music world for themselves with some great guitar work and top-notch production that was clean and smooth and hard to hate, completely. And I’m not afraid to admit that I still have a soft spot for the Knopf-meister and his bouncy white-sneaker brigade. And for my money, Communique is one of their best. Not as HUGE as Brothers In Arms or Love Over Gold, songs like “News”, “Where Do You Think You're Going?” and “Lady Writer” enable Communique to stand as a totem for the bands’ charm in a more subtle way. And I hold that “Once Upon A Time In The West” deserves some major reassessment as one of the great reggae infused rockers of all time. We can’t let The Police get all the white-reggae glory. Dig it.
Band Aid - Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984)
Before Live 8, before Live Earth, and (more importantly,) before USA For Africa, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure came together to create Band Aid - an ensemble of popular UK musicians - to record the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to raise money for and awareness of the famine in Ethiopia. The song, penned by Geldof and Ure, is a classic slice of 80s pop, rich with the sonic stylings of the time and as catchy as, I dunno, the common cold. The single, and the accompanying video proved to be a massive success (staying at #1 for five weeks and selling more than 3 million copies in the UK alone) and was a who’s who of 80s pop royalty: Paul Young, Boy George, Bono, Sting, George Michael, Phil Collins, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Paul Weller, Bananarama, you name it. If they were pale, and they were popular, it was a good bet they were in the mix somewhere. The following year America jumped on the righteous bandwagon with USA for Africa and the song “We Are The World”, which I’m sure raised loads of cash for a good cause, and sported another star-studded cast including: Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Lionel Ritchie, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper and many others. But the song just wasn’t as good. It was 50 choruses too long for starters, and not half as 80s as the UK pioneer. “We Are The World” came off as heavy-handed and over-cooked, and it sounds more like USA for USA. (And poor old Springsteen would be parodied as the constipated crooner for the next ten years.) Anyway, start singing all you 80s kids…don’t pretend you don’t know the words.
Watch the video here:
and at 1:30 ask yourself: Who let in Bobcat Goldthwait???
USA for Africa - We Are The World
Amy Winehouse - Back To Black (2006)
Much has been said about this album, simply because it’s so damn good. Much has been said about Amy Winehouse too, simply because she’s so damn wild. But you need to put that stuff out of your head and dig this album for what it is, which is one of the best damn soul albums of the modern era, by one of the greatest damn soul singers (and songwriters) of the modern era. Anyone who can come up with lines like: “What kind of fuckery is this?” or “It’s got me addicted/Does more than any dick did” or “Love is a fate resigned/Over futile odds/And laughed at by the Gods/And now the final frame/Love is a losing game”, is a gritty gutter poet that should be celebrated alongside Bukowski in my book. But there are many reasons to love this album. Every song is a winner. It sweeps through the full spectrum of the bittersweet human condition and makes great art out of the paradoxical struggle. It’s sad, yet sweet. It’s tough, yet fragile. It’s dark, yet the vocal melodies are pure sunshine. By taking cues from the legendary jazz sirens like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday; the Phil Spector girl groups like The Ronettes and The Crystals, then filtering it all through the modern genres of Trip-Hop and R&B and Reggae/Dub/Ska, Amy and her band (The Dap Kings, check out also Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings albums) have conjured up a super seductive fresh brand of post-post-modern old-school cool. So ignore the media’s headlines and gossip and callous dogging of this promising young artist, and get yourself addicted.
By Decoy Spoon