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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Twenty Best Songs From The Golden Age Of Synth Pop (1978-83)

Twenty Best Songs From The Golden Age Of Synth Pop (1978-83)

1.       TheHuman League – “Don’t You Want Me?




And here it is: the Holy Grail of synth pop hits!  That turned the genre from a bunch of guys pretending to be robots or something into, not just a Global Phenomenon, but into everything that the 80s would stand for.  When somebody today says something like “that sounds totally 80s” what they are really saying is that “that sounds like that don’t you want me baby song.”




2.       Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”



Marc Almond was the perfect pop star.  A boy who liked to flounce (there’s really no better word to describe it) around like a girl, sing songs about being the kind of boy who liked to flounce around like a girl and just generally sound like a pertinent brat.

And “Tainted Love” was the perfect pop song, with lots of “da-dink-dink” bits and Marc pouting as he begs you not to touch him, sounding as if he’s scared of your girl germs.
Brilliant.

3.       GaryNuman“Cars”




Eerie science fiction noises sung by the ultimate pop star android as he sings paranoid nonsense lyrics that sounded totally out-of-place in a “Car” song (car songs traditionally being amongst the macho-est songs on Earth) before launching into the rather courageous choice of simply holding down one note for most of the solo… all to a jaunty beat.

4.       DepecheMode – “Just Can’t Get Enough




Depeche Mode may have made better singles later – they certainly made more serious and arty singles later – but they never made anything quite as irresistible chipper.  Listening the more po-faced stuff they’d become famous for, it’s mind-boggling that it’s the same guys: it’s almost as though are declaring that after chanting “I just can’t get enough” for the hundredth time all the happiness burst out of them like a rainbow making them free.

5.       Yazoo“Only You”

Having written Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” and a bunch of other jaunty tunes for the boys, probable musical genius Vince Clarke says “bye!” finds the world butchest blues singer and writes a tune of timeless beauty, and the sound of a synthesizer crying.



Even spookier sci-fi sounds than anything Gary Numan had ever come up with, a French girl sounding all exotic, and the rather disturbing sound of kids singing about growing old.  A sublime piece of synth-pop by itself, “Fade To Grey” is also the song that sprouted a whole second genre: the New Romantics, who would pick up where synth-pop left off, only with better haircut and sillier outfits. 


Like a synth pop Nostradamus, “Video Killed the Radio Star” predicts both the coming of synthesizer and the world domination of the music video, the sound and the vision of the 80s. Listen carefully, over –analyse the lyrics: I’m sure we can find references to PacMan, the Rubiks Cube and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in there somewhere. 




Glen Gregory’s ironic douchebag businessman vocal technique always sounded ridiculous, and understandably so, since the band’s whole image and fascist disco sound were pretty much a complex joke.  And “Temptation” was the glorious punch line: for most songs a disco diva chorus like this -“adorable creatures… with unacceptable features” – would be the highlight, but for Heaven 17 this is just the first step as they build up to a great big “LEAD US NOT INTO TEMP-TAT-TION OOOOH!”

9.       Kraftwerk – The Model (or Da Model for the purests)

Originally appearing on “The Man Machine” album of 1978, a song this catchy, this deadpan sarcastic, this full of awkward English (“consumer products” is not a phrase that anyone not German would ever think of as potential pop song lyrics), this unintentionally hilarious with the perfect beat to strike poses to couldn’t remain in the shadows forever… and so it went to Number One in the UK three years later, at the beginning of 1982, right at the point when synth-pop was actually doing what it had always threatened to do: take over the world.

10.   OMD – “Enola Gay” 

Ah OMD. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.  What a pretentious name for a band.  No surprises then that they liked to write songs that showed off all of the obscure facts they knew:  like the exact time the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Or what the plane was called. They were like a singing encyclopaedia with a knack for writing some of synth-pops catchiest hooks.


11.   YMO – “Technopolis”

Synth-pop was not only about Brits and Germans… it’s also all about Japan! Where the Yellow Magic Orchestra called home. But of course, it was only the most futuristic land on Earth.  And “Technopolis”, their greatest moment, it appropriately about all about Tokyo, the most futurist city on Earth!  So how could this not be one of the greatest slices of synth-pop history?




Before there was “Cars”, there was Gary’s old ground, Tubeway Army, who liked to sing songs about some demented apocalyptic future, when the world is taken over by raping robots. Specifically “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” is all about those times when you hire a robot friend (read: prostitute, probably) and you find that they’ve run out of batteries when they arrive.  


13.   JohnFoxx – “No One’s Driving”

So Mr Gary Numan… you’ve got a song called “Cars” do you?  Well that’s not very futuristic.  How about a car that … no one’s driving!! 

Freaky!

14.   The Human League – “Love Action (I Believe In Love)”

The Human League’s “Dare” album is the unquestioned peak of the synth pop wave, full of perfect pop from beginning to end (“Seconds”! “Open Your Heart”!!!  “Things That Dreams Are Made Of” oh yes they are!!!) and  “Don’t You Want Me?” might be the undeniable classic, but “Love Action (I Believe In Love)” – two songs smashed together, one a story of Phil’s dysfunctional love life and the other about watching porn – is simply the breeziest piece of fun, from the “mew…. Mew…mew” intro, to the “I believe what the old man” said four-on-the-floor breakdown, to quite possibly the catchiest damn hook of them all.

15.   Mi-Sex – Computer Games

Synth-pop was also occurred right on the other side of the world, in faraway New Zealand.  Sure, singing a synth-pop song about “Computer Games” wasn’t the most original idea in the world (over in Japan, Yellow Magic Orchestra did exactly the same thing) but with vocal ticks and keyboard hooks as quirky as these it’s no surprise that this song is something of a retro anthem down under

16.   Soft Cell – Sex Dwarf

“Isn’t it nice? Sugar & spice, luring disco dollies to a life of vice.”  So begins the kinkiest, smuttiest piece of naughty fun to come out of Soft Cell’s kinky, smutty, naughty album “Non Stop Erotic Cabaret.” Probably would have been a huge hit if there was any chance of any radio station ever playing it.


OMD were most notable at this stage for being total nerds who only ever wrote songs about technology, gadgetry, and being obsessed by various historical figures.  They were, in other words, the kind of band who knew stuff.  But they also had fluffy, lovey dovey feelings, and here they are gloriously on display, all buried in the cloud of sensitive fog.   In terms of sensitive synth-pop, only Yazoo’s “Only You” beats it. 

18.Heaven 17 - “We Don’t Need That Fascist Groove Thing” 

Just in case you thought that the whole dystopian world view of synth-pop was a little bit paranoid, a little bit conspiracy theory, here were a bunch of guys recently thrown out of The Human League for looking too normal, cutting the headlines out the newspaper and the song titles out of the disco charts before throwing them all up in air and creating probably the most fun protest song of the era.


19.   Telex – Moscow Discow 

A Kraftwerky disco tune that rhymes “super chic” and “fantastic”, through a Vocoder , with a Eurochic accent,  with the sound effect of a train tooting for good measure. 
 
20.   Gina X Performance – No GDM

Gina X was a German lesbian cabaret with a passion for singing cold disco anthems about British homosexuals (she sang another song about Oscar Wilde) and how the “rouge on my face hides my beard.”  This one is about Quentin Crisp.  But of course.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs Of 1956! NUMBER ONE!



Elvis Presley and "Heartbreak Hotel!!!!!" 


Otherwise known as the moment when rock’n’roll lost its virginity.


I like to think that Bill Haley never had sex.  That he was a virgin all his life.  Simply so that I don’t have to think about him doing it, and I’m pretty sure his wife would agree.


Elvis on the other hand.  He was a guy who had sex.  He was a guy who had a lot of sex.  He was a guy so sure about his sex-supply that even whilst he’s singing a song of heartbreak, he’s letting the girls know where he’s going to be staying tonight.  


Lock up your daughters… Elvis aint going to be lonely for long.







Also, I'd just like to say, that the dude on double bass, might just be my favorite standing-around-in-the-background dude of all time!


 No. 20 - 16

No. 15-13


 No.9!

No.8!

No.7!

No.6!

No.5!

No.4!

No.3!

No.2!

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs Of 1956! No.2!


The Platters and “The Great Pretender!”

Despite the presence of the short dude, who had the sad fortune to find himself wearing a suit several sizes too big for him, so that they could get a bulk discount (probably) there were few things in the world more sophisticated and stylish than The Platters.  


And even the oversized and baggy tuxedo is made up for by the glamorous dressed that Zola got to wear.  No other doo-wop group at the time got to wear glamorous dresses, although that might be because they were usually all men.  Clearly The Platters were different.


They had poise.  The kind of poise that white folks go to finishing school for.  They had expensive sounding orchestras behind them.  They had an incredible sense of loud-soft dynamics.  The bit where Tony is going “what my Heart Can’t CONCEEEEAAAAAL!!!!!!”- and there’s great passion and “who-e-ohs” – and then suddenly it all falls to the ground, and Tony finds himself in the awkward position of admitting – “yes” – the unfortunate situation that he finds himself in, and that life truly sucks.  These kinds of sudden and sometimes subtle shifts in mood happen frequently throughout “The Great Pretender” making it a true emotional rollercoaster ride of a tune.





 No. 20 - 16

No. 15-13

 No.9!
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No.8!

No.7!

No.6!

No.5!

No.4!

No.3!



NUMBER ONE!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs Of 1956! No.3!


Les Baxter and “The Poor People Of Paris!”

I think it’s time to get a bit cultural, don’t you?

As mentioned for our No.18 song, “The 1950s were a dreamy instrumental kind of decade.  Dreamy instrumentals that pretended to be travel brochures from exotic lands across the sea… Europe.  Asia.  Africa.”

And Les Baxter was the undisputed king of this stuff.  His albums – given such exciting B-grade movie titles as “Ritual Of The Savage”, “Tamboo!” and the rather sexual “Ports Of Pleasure” - traversed those corners of the Earth where you wouldn’t be surprised to find that you are drinking out of Dr Livingstone’s skull.
On two of his albums, he even travelled through space!

But nothing he did ever was ever quite as delightful, or managed to cram in so many ideas into far less than 3.20 seconds, than this tribute to the city of love.  Whether whistling Casanovas, or mademoiselles skipping along the Seine with a baguette under their arm, there’s always something happening in “The People Of Paris”.   Even a choir of ghosts turn up at one stage to sing “la la la”.

All of which makes “The Poor People Of Paris” the most delightfully quirky Number One of 1956.

Meanwhile in Britain, bless their cotton socks, they decided that they preferred this version, and sent this to Number One instead.  Which just goes to show just how addictive that little tune is!




 No. 20 - 16

No. 15-13

 No.9!

No.8!

No.7!

No.6!

No.5!

No.4!

No.2!

NUMBER ONE!

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs Of 1956! No.4!


“Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino!

Here is a song full of pure joy!


It’s the joy of a horny fat man who doesn’t get much action, remembering a time when he got some action, and putting it in his spank bank!  And as you might therefore expect, the song feels one part romantic, to two parts a bit like Fats is being a little too over eager to fumble with the bra hooks and try to figure out how exactly people do apparently actually manage to have sex in a car.  


Meanwhile the boppiest little boogie-woogie bass line boogie-woogies away, in an excitably nervous manner, and jittery hi-hat hisses, making the record sound far more energetic than a record so slow should probably sound.


It might not be the sound of rock’n’roll losing its virginity (that’s still to come), but it’s certainly the sound of it getting to second base (possibly even third!).




 No. 20 - 16

No. 15-13

 No.9!

No.8!

No.7!

No.6!

No.5!



No.3!

No.2!

NUMBER ONE!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs Of 1956! No.5!

The Number Five … not song exactly, but Number Five record … in The OzHitztory Blog’s Top 20 Best Hit Songs Of 1956 is…

Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis Presley, with “Hound Dog” on the B-side!

That’s two of Elvis’ biggest classics on the one piece of wax!  What a bargain!
First, here’s “Don’t Be Cruel”
Elvis had had girls screaming at him for a couple of years by now, and obviously he knows what they like and how to make them scream.  Elvis goes “mmmmm” and they scream.  Elvis stands frozen still for a second, and they scream.  There’s a bit there where Elvis is doing nothing identifiably special, but still they scream then too.
Behind the scenes it appears that they’d figured out exactly how to create the perfect Elvis record to make girls scream as well.  Not only is it full of the kind of “thankyouverymuch” styled low notes that made the women go wide, but it features the best looking man alive down on his feet and groveling.  How could a girl resist?

“Hound Dog” on the other hand, is a completely different matter.  It is the biggest full-frontal sexual assault of his career, so much so that even sans pelvic gyrations, it’s difficult to believe that it is actually just about a useless dog.  Surely there must be some smutty innuendo.  Perhaps, in Big Mama Thornton’s version she was singing about a good-for-nothing boyfriend, but dudes don’t sing songs like that.  Elvis is truly just singing about a useless dog.
Quite why he felt the need to dry hump a microphone whilst singing about such a dog,  I’m not entirely sure, but who am I to question the King?

 No.9!

No.8!


No.7!

No.6!


No.4!

No.3!

No.2!

NUMBER ONE!

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs Of 1956! No.6!


“Just Walking In The Rain” by Johnnie Ray!

About half a decade after Johnnie initially exploded as the biggest and most confusing enigma in pop – a gay man who cried whilst he sung, in a 1950s America where ever second man on television was a tough guy cowboy – and at a time when the whole crying shtick was getting a little old, Johnnie came back with a piece of pop, perfectly balanced between heartache and happiness.

It was a happy sounding tune – the whistling is almost jaunty! - from the depths of despair.  It was a song written by two murderers and a serial rapist, which, after being recorded with all the wholesome cheesy good vibes that Columbia Records could throw at it, had been rendered into perfect whistling material for the busy little housewife at home.  Pain, suffering and alienation - he’s walking in the cold and unpleasant rain, whilst people/society, in their warm dry comfy houses, looking out at him disapprovingly, judging him, condemning him, whilst he continues to walk alone in the never ending rain - all disguised as a radio jingle.

If this is not the perfect metaphor for angsty gay boy “nobody understands me” syndrome, I don’t know what is.
Frankie Laine really went on with his intros didn’t he?  And why did he have to be so serious?  Gosh!


 No. 20 - 16

No. 15-13


No.10!

 No.9!

No.8!

No.7!



No.5!

No.4!

No.3!

No.2!

NUMBER ONE!