Category: Lost 80’s

Bono loves Billy…

I wonder sometimes how it feels for Ian McCulloch, of Echo & the Bunnymen seeing Coldplay soar to global domination using the Echo sound blueprint so flagrantly. Chris Martin has always openly acknowledged his worship, and the two have worked together,  struck up a friendship, and so on, but as Ian spoke so often back in the day of being the “greatest band in the world”, I’ve always wondered if it secretly irked him seeing Coldplay rise to such extreme heights, serving up their more palatable version of the Echo sound.

That scenario always brings to mind for me, the creative connection between 80’s weirdo pop maestros, the Associates and the the universal behemoth that is U2. Billy MacKenzie was the eccentric, outrageously gifted singer in the aforementioned Associates, and with the exception of the geekier music fans of a certain age, it’s pretty unlikely that the average U2 fan has heard of him, or his band…yet there is a pretty distinct, and clear influence of Billy onto Bono, which the latter has spoken about in the most reverential and loving terms, going so far as to provide the foreward to Billy’s posthumous biography, The Glamour Chase”, by Tom Doyle from 1999.

No one sounded like Billy. It’s generally acknowledged that “Sulk”, from 1982, the third Associates album, was the peak of their artistic achievement, and it is without a doubt their most consistently pleasing record. It’s plastic operatic pop, all over the top yearning, and crooning, and chorus’s.

Billy was a victim of his own gift. His voice was so otherworldly, and transcendent, that providing a suitable, and ideal background for it to shine, was a challenge. Fact is, once he began his solo career post-Associates, the quality of the songs on offer were not equal to the quality of the voice, making for some spotty releases ( which is a tribute to how great the Associates were of course). This is not to say there weren’t moments of  true jaw-dropping beauty along the way ( check out “Baby” above), just that the standard established with the Associates , proved impossible to maintain as his career, post band, moved forward.

Check out the links above to hear Bono read his foreward to Billy’s book aloud, and listen to Billy do his thing with the Associates, and on his own ( his live rendition of “God Bless the Child from ’84 is ridiculous), and listen to them rubbing up against U2 ( just 1 quick example). There’s a lot of love in what Bono is saying, and no matter what you think of him ( Self righteous ? Pompous? Insufferable?), his reverence for this glorious boy is pretty beautiful…and you can still hear it to this day, every time he opens his mouth to sing to the enormous crowds at these U2 shows, which is the coolest thing of all.

It’s I, Smiley Culture…

Damn, these are so great. David Emmanuel was better known as Smiley Culture, and was responsible for couple of absolutely classic singles, in 1984 and ’85  : “Police Officer”, and “Cockney Translation”. Both are brilliantly infectious, and feature some truly clever, and pointed social criticism in their colorful, candy Reggae wrappers. They managed to hit #’s 12, and 71, in the UK charts, respectively, but falling short of # 1 is no reflection on their enduring wonderfulness: they are just pop, pop, pop, both of their time, and timeless. Smiley died under mysterious circumstances in 2011 ( lots of info around regarding this , so encourage you to take a look)…but right now, want to look up, and pay tribute to these amazing confections.


Colourbox “The Moon is Blue” ( 1985)

Colourbox were an unusual, esoteric pop band that were on the 4ad label, and put out a grand total of 1 full length album, in 1985. It was a absolutely a pop record, with proper songs, and ear candy, but it also had an electronic tinge, and featured some nascent sampling experiments. It was unquestionably different, and sounded nothing like the other stuff that was big at the time ( that being Duran Duran, Culture Club and the like). The band consisted of Martyn, and Steven Young, who later went onto to fame, as part of M/A/A/R/S, creators of the massive “Pump up the Volume”, and a vocalist by the name of Lorita Grahame.

I stumbled upon them after reading a review of this song back in the day, their new single from summer of ’85, and bought it solely based on the positive review, without hearing it. When I did, I just fell in love, and couldn’t stop playing it. It sounds like the Ronettes in outer space, a big lush, melodic, and desperate waltz. And so here’s to it, 32 years later, and still a gorgeous thing.

Colenso Parade “Fontana Eyes”(1986)

Colenso Parade were a post-punk band from Ireland, who only ever released 1 album,”Glentoran” (1986). And from that they culled one of the most glorious, and not as famous as it should’ve been, singles of the 80’s, “Fontana Eyes”.

The song is built around references to “Pan & Fontana”,  a still beloved, paperback horror anthology book series, that was extremely popular in the UK, in the early sixties, and has apparently become a real cult thing over the years.

And so, this song. Lush piano, stuttering drums, sinewy vocalizing : it’s just one big, fat, epic beauty.

And in case you were curious about the line,”God put my eyes in with smoky fingers”, that is repeated throughout the song, and what it means, well, I remember reading an interview a million years ago, where the singer was saying, that the line refers to that classic horror creature/ghost/ zombie look, of having big, black circles around the eyes, you know, like the kind you’d read about in those books. “Smoky fingers”. Perfect.