Credible pop music has always been on the agenda, although it seems more so in 2013 than ever before. Claims of credibility on behalf of Lorde, Haim, Sky Ferreira, Miley Cyrus, etc. have led Pop to take the critical high ground this year. This is nothing new of course. Back in the early 1980’s, influential NME scribe Paul Morley ushered in The New Pop to British sensibilities.
Inspired by ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love album, Morley along with producer Trevor Horn would start zeitgeist record label ZTT. This ushered a high point in pop-propaganda with Frankie Goes to Hollywood who would epitomize The New Pop along with a host of other left leaning bands.
Check this for a roll call of The New Pop supremacy: Scritti Politti, ABC, The Human League, Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Orange Juice, Prefab Sprout, Associates, Bronski Beat, The The, New Order, Madness, The Cure, Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, Fun Boy Three, Depeche Mode, Thompson Twins, Tears For Fears, Culture Club, Haircut 100 to name but a few, these all would become top 30 bands.
The 2013 New Pop model at it’s best looks safe in comparison. The New Pop influence produced a response from the indie sector of the early 1980’s, fresh from post-punk inventive leap from punk. Indie pop at this time often previewed Morley’s ideals before they became popaganda. Indie bands were being signed by majors like never before. Some of those bands at least acknowledged The New Pop mainstream and dared to dream. Out in the wilderness New Pop aesthetics had already being appropriated in the barren Northern suburbs.
Here, I present you five classic indie-pop obscurities from the 1980’s. None of these were hits, but could have been, maybe should have been. From another time when pop held the critical mass.
#1 Win – Super Popoid Groove (1987)
Davey Henderson had thrilled the indie faithful with the Beefheart vs Postcard thrills of the Fire Engines. He went even more angular with his later band Nectarine #9. In between he formed Win from the ashes of the Fire Engines. Win were a purpose built, pop monster, who even had a semi hit when You’ve Got The Power was used in a beer commercial. Still, an album title like Uh! Tears Baby (A Trash Icon) was too arch and clever for the major public to really take a shine to Win, and the band were relegated to the ’should have been massive’ ranks. Super Popoid Groove gives you a good example of what the band were about.
#2 APB – Palace Filled With Love (1982)
Another Scottish band who slowly moved away from their post punk roots to create something far more hummable were APB. It took an age for APB to release an album, the almost Phoenix like soft rock of Something To Believe In came out in 1985. Prior to that, the band released a series of cutting post-punk/funk singles, the first displaying a real New Pop sensibility being Palace Filled With Love, a song good enough to conquer any chart or dance floor. Somewhere in the future, The Rapture were taking notes….
#3 Scars – All About You (1981)
There must have been something in the Scottish waters for Scars were another band that tried to hit the New Pop trail after earlier angular releases. All About You is one of the great Duran Duran like hits of the day that never happened. Unfortunately the album that followed (Author Author) was generally a mess – something the critical community soon jumped on and the album was re-christened in some cynical quarters as ’Awful Awful’. That still does little to dilute the pristine pop of All About You, a classic in an alternative universe.
#4 The Wild Swans – The Revolutionary Spirit (1982)
The story of Post-punk Liverpool could have gone from The Crucial Three (McCulloch, Cope, Wylie) to the Crucial Four, if only a bit of luck had befallen The Wild Swans and band mainstay Paul Simpson. The Wild Swans were surrounded by the Liverpool post punk royalty, yet none of that rubbed off on the band’s chances of commercial success. The Revolutionary Spirit has the distinction of being the last release on the Zoo label. It’s also the only thing the original version of the band released. It’s no surprise that Revolutionary Spirit best sums up the post-punk big sound of bands such as The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen (it’s the Bunnymen’s late great drummer Pete De Freitas on production and drums duty). Out of the embers of the original Wild Swans would emerge the chart friendly twee of The Lotus Eaters, but the power of Revolutionary Spirit increases with each passing fad and year.
#5 The Bodines – Therese (1986)
The floppy fringed jangle of The Bodines was initially a secret byword that the relatively young Creation label might have a hit band on their hands. Lead singer Michael Ryan certainly had the Ian McCulloch pout and second single Therese (included on the era-defining C86 compilation) was bursting with pop thrills and energy. The major man came calling and after that initial Creation promise, The Bodines debut album flopped and obscurity beckoned. The first couple of Creation releases by The Bodines still shine, and Therese the brightest.