Shakespears Sister: Cosmic Dancer

 

shakespears_cosmicdancer1

Format: CD

Label: SF Records

Country: US

Year: 2011

Price paid: $11.98

Purchased at: Amazon

 

‘When you think the night has seen your mind… that inside you’re twisted and unkind…’

There are certain artists who’s voices transcend their context. Crooning warbles so luscious that I’d listen to them read the ingredients off the back of a cereal box or sing about paint drying for hours of end. Enya and Siouxsie are two that spring to mind. Siobhan Fahey certainly makes it onto this short but sweet list; her rich seductive voice evokes images of dark city streets shiny with rain, cold dark ocean depths, and brooding forests thick with moss.

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I must admit I prefer my Shakespears Sister (not a misspelling, look it up) with Marcella Detroit, as I felt she was the perfect lilting counterpoint to Siobhan’s sulky nature, but its been twenty-one years since the split so I should really just get over it and move on. ‘Cosmic Dancer’ is their fifth studio album (the third sans-Detroit), a glorious expression of what the evolved face of New Wave looks like in the 21st century.

 

shakespears_cosmicdancer2It’s primarily a cover album, but so precise were the decisions for song inclusion and subtle the mastery of their execution that the experience is truly unique. It festers and bubbles with leisurely acoustic grace. Songs include ‘Baby It’s You’ (the Shirelles, the Beatles), ‘Dancing Barefoot’ (Patti Smith), ‘Wish You Were Here’ (Pink Floyd), ‘My World Is Empty Without You’ (the Supremes), and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ (the Velvet Underground, also covered masterfully by the Primitives back in 1989.)

 

The CD art is basically a showcase for Fahey’s sultry pouty beauty; no objections here. What a long winding road from the ditant perky BananaramaWorld she has traveled…

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Like, Omigod!: The Totally 80s Pop Culture Box

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Format: CD (7) boxed set
Label: Rhino
Country: US
Year: 2002
Price paid: $20
Purchased at: The Sound Garden, Syracuse NY

 

I have this theory, one amongst many, that when it came to American popular music the eighties were a decade of opposites. One could argue that a line could be drawn in the sand in any decade and the tea leaves unearthed easily read with multiple interpretations, but just go with me on this…
NW1The 80s had two faces. On the one hand you had the valleygirl-filled wonderland with shopping malls on every corner, pink Izod-clad preppies roaming the halls of shiny high schools fighting competitive clique warfare, and moms in Day-Glo leg warmers sweating to a Jane Fonda workout record. This was perhaps maybe two percent of America. It existed… I saw it on a trip to Los Angeles in 1986 and it was full-on rad. But for the vast majority of us it was a rather dire grey time with no cell phones or internet. Hell, growing up my house didn’t even have a microwave, VCR, and cable TV until halfway through the decade. This compilation clearly fits into the former, distilling the decade down to a hot pink Mohawk.

 
NW2Now that I think about it there’s another level of eighties stratification. On the one hand you had the glistening pop sphere that dominated the charts. Bubblegum and other generally squeaky-clean genres that said little… but said it loudly. And then there was that subterranean world that flowed darkly and deeply below the surface, a nameless entity that pop plundered periodically for its style. So vast, it had no name, no cohesive single style that one could hang a hat on. Towards the end of the eighties this undercurrent became more codified… more marketable… and began to be known by names such as ‘Indie’ and ‘Alternative.’ This compilation without question fits into that first camp, the likes of Siouxsie and Concrete Blonde need not apply. Although Robert Smith managed to sneak in somehow.

 
NW3And then there’s the whole early eighties/late eighties thing. Stylistically there’s a sharp difference between the two, and that division can be drawn pretty much at the half-decade mark. Early eighties was dominated by New Wave (capital ‘N’ capital ‘W’) with its fondness for synthesizers and neon, but by 1985 that style was swiftly falling out of favor, to be replaced by a leaner and far less fifties-style kitsch aesthetic. The gulf between Devo and New Kids on the Block (both appear here) is vast; they have nothing in common save for appearing on the head and ass ends of the decade, respectively. This compilation (thankfully) spends a vast majority of its time in the pre-1985 big hair period, with only a spattering of crap like Bobby McFerrin and later-day B-52’s.

 
And then there’s, well don’t get me started on the heavy US bias on display here. I guess that’s to be expected since this IS an American product meant for consumption by Americans, but it paints a weird and highly exclusive picture. Suffice it to say you won’t be finding any Toyah or Kate Bush in this collection, while artists like Bananrama and Thomas Dolby are pegged as One-Hit Wonders at best…

 
The packaging is exactly what you’d expect, sizzling like a radioactive avocado and nail polish. So many eighties’ design clichés are packed per square inch that the whole affair threatens to collapse in on itself in a riot of neon at any moment. At this point in the game, some 30 years on, even a blind chimp knows enough of the decade’s style to throw together a passable design. Where the package really shines though is in its excess- hefty gatefold multi-chambered case, seven garish CDs, and a colorful (if not remedial) square-bound booklet that sizzles with style over substance.

 

 

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The tunes themselves are a mixed bag, but at 142 tracks there’s more than enough to go around. They range from predictable yet good (‘Whip It’, ‘Mickey’, ‘867-5309’), to the slightly surprising (‘Pac-Man Fever’, ‘Genius of Love’, ‘Voices Scary’) to the downright crappy (‘Sister Christian’, ‘Keep Your Hands to Yourself’, ‘Let’s Hear it For the Boy’.) There’s also more than a few soundtrack/TV show themes thrown in to spice up the mix a little, but with ditties like ‘9 to 5’ and ‘Theme from the Greatest American Hero’ I would have been happier with a few more B-list songs.

 
Overall I’d have to call this a great little set for what it is. There’s more than enough good stuff on here to entertain for hours on a long car trip and I think ultimately I think that’s what Rhino were after- a disposable glimpse into a disposable decade. Totally.

 

 

The massive track list:

Disc 1 (21 tracks)
1. “Whip It” — Devo 2:39 (1980)
2. “Video Killed the Radio Star” — The Buggles 3:27 (1979)
3. “Empire Strikes Back (Medley)” — Meco 3:03 (1980)
4. “Another One Bites the Dust” — Queen 3:34 (1980)
5. “Celebration” — Kool & the Gang 3:43 (1981)
6. “The Breaks (Pt. 1)” — Kurtis Blow 4:09 (1980)
7. “Let My Love Open the Door” — Pete Townshend 2:44 (1980)
8. “Call Me” — Blondie 3:32 (1980)
9. “Keep on Loving You” — REO Speedwagon 3:22 (1981)
10. “Turning Japanese” — The Vapors 3:44 (1980)
11. “Lost in Love” — Air Supply 3:54 (1980)
12. “9 to 5” — Dolly Parton 2:46 (1980)
13. “I Love a Rainy Night” — Eddie Rabbitt 3:10 (1980)
14. “Sailing” — Christopher Cross 4:16 (1980)
15. “Just the Two of Us” — Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers 3:58 (1981)
16. “Cars” — Gary Numan 3:57 (1980)
17. “Ah! Leah!” — Donnie Iris 3:43 (1980)
18. “Sweetheart” — Franke and the Knockouts 3:49 (1981)
19. “Shake It Up” — The Cars 3:34 (1981)
20. “General Hospi-Tale” — The Afternoon Delights 4:01 (1981)
21. “The Stroke” — Billy Squier 3:37 (1981)

Disc 2 (20 tracks)
1. “Dancing with Myself” — Billy Idol 3:19 (1981)
2. “Working for the Weekend” — Loverboy 3:41 (1981)
3. “Jessie’s Girl” — Rick Springfield 3:15 (1981)
4. “Genius of Love” — Tom Tom Club 3:30 (1981)
5. “Centerfold” — The J. Geils Band 3:38 (1982)
6. “At This Moment” — Billy Vera & the Beaters 4:14 (1986)
7. “Harden My Heart” — Quarterflash 3:37 (1982)
8. “Hold on Loosely” — .38 Special 3:55 (1981)
9. “Theme from ‘Greatest American Hero’ (Believe It or Not)” — Joey Scarbury 3:14 (1981)
10. “Take Off” — Bob and Doug McKenzie 2:43 (1981)
11. “Super Freak (Pt. 1)” — Rick James 3:20 (1981)
12. “867-5309/Jenny” — Tommy Tutone 3:47 (1982)
13. “Bette Davis Eyes” — Kim Carnes 3:45 (1981)
14. “Time” — The Alan Parsons Project 4:32 (1981)
15. “Gloria” — Laura Branigan 4:52 (1982)
16. “Maneater” — Hall & Oates 4:32 (1982)
17. “The Theme from Hill Street Blues” — Mike Post 3:14 (1981)
18. “Valley Girl” — Frank Zappa with Moon Unit 3:48 (1982)
19. “Da Da Da (I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha)” — Trio 3:25 (1981)
20. “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” — The Gap Band 4:03 (1982)

Disc 3 (21 tracks)
1. “Hungry Like the Wolf” — Duran Duran 4:05 (1982)
2. “The Look of Love (Pt. 1)” — ABC 3:31 (1982)
3. “Tainted Love” — Soft Cell 2:42 (1981)
4. “Rock This Town” — Stray Cats 2:40 (1982)
5. “Lies” — Thompson Twins 3:14 (1983)
6. “Words” — Missing Persons 4:24 (1982)
7. “Don’t You Want Me” — The Human League 3:58 (1981)
8. “Love Plus One” — Haircut 100 3:37 (1982)
9. “Down Under” — Men at Work 3:43 (1982)
10. “Steppin’ Out” — Joe Jackson 3:47 (1982)
11. “I Want Candy” — Bow Wow Wow 2:46 (1982)
12. “Come On Eileen” — Dexys Midnight Runners 4:14 (1983)
13. “Mickey” — Toni Basil 3:27 (1982)
14. “Twilight Zone” — Golden Earring 4:51 (1982)
15. “You Should Hear How She Talks About You” — Melissa Manchester 3:58 (1982)
16. “Key Largo” — Bertie Higgins 3:07 (1982)
17. “Pac-Man Fever” — Buckner & Garcia 3:55 (1982)
18. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” — Bonnie Tyler 5:35 (1983)
19. “Africa” — Toto 4:19 (1983)
20. “Goodbye to You” — Scandal 3:47 (1982)
21. “Puttin’ on the Ritz” — Taco 3:25 (1982)

Disc 4 (20 tracks)
1. “Jeopardy” — The Greg Kihn Band 3:47 (1983)
2. “She Blinded Me with Science” — Thomas Dolby 3:42 (1982)
3. “Electric Avenue” — Eddy Grant 3:49 (1982)
4. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — Eurythmics 3:36 (1983)
5. “Our House” — Madness 3:23 (1982)
6. “The Salt in My Tears” — Martin Briley 3:30 (1983)
7. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” — Cyndi Lauper 3:53 (1983)
8. “Talking in Your Sleep” — The Romantics 3:57 (1983)
9. “Major Tom (Coming Home)” — Peter Schilling 4:12 (1983)
10. “Always Something There to Remind Me” — Naked Eyes 3:41 (1983)
11. “In a Big Country” — Big Country 3:55 (1983)
12. “One Thing Leads to Another” — The Fixx 3:24 (1983)
13. “Der Kommisar” — After the Fire 4:08 (1983)
14. “Suddenly Last Summer” — The Motels 3:42 (1983)
15. “Karma Chameleon” — Culture Club 4:08 (1984)
16. “Let’s Go to Bed” — The Cure 3:34 (1982)
17. “Too Shy” — Kajagoogoo 3:36 (1983)
18. “Maniac” — Michael Sembello 4:11 (1983)
19. “Sister Christian” — Night Ranger 4:21 (1984)
20. “Cum on Feel the Noize” — Quiet Riot 3:27 (1984)

Disc 5 (20 tracks)
1. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” — Yes 3:51 (1983)
2. “Mr. Roboto” — Styx 4:49 (1983)
3. “I’m So Excited” — The Pointer Sisters 3:50 (1984)
4. “Back on the Chain Gang” — The Pretenders 3:53 (1982)
5. “I Want to Know What Love Is” — Foreigner 5:00 (1984)
6. “Sunglasses at Night” — Corey Hart 3:54 (1984)
7. “Missing You” — John Waite 4:02 (1984)
8. “99 Luftballons” — Nena 3:53 (1983)
9. “Tenderness” — General Public 3:31 (1984)
10. “They Don’t Know” — Tracey Ullman 3:01 (1983)
11. “Heaven” — Bryan Adams 3:58 (1985)
12. “White Horse” — Laid Back 3:53 (1983)
13. “Let the Music Play” — Shannon 4:31 (1983)
14. “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” — Deniece Williams 4:10 (1984)
15. “Cool It Now” — New Edition 4:09 (1984)
16. “Ghostbusters” — Ray Parker, Jr. 4:00 (1984)
17. “Footloose” — Kenny Loggins 3:44 (1984)
18. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” — Twisted Sister 3:39 (1984)
19. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” — Scorpions 4:12 (1984)
20. “The Glamorous Life” — Sheila E. 3:42 (1984)

Disc 6 (20 tracks)
1. “Obsession” — Animotion 3:58 (1985)
2. “Shout” — Tears for Fears 4:06 (1985)
3. “Take on Me” — a-ha 3:47 (1985)
4. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” — Simple Minds 4:20 (1985)
5. “Walking on Sunshine” — Katrina and the Waves 3:59 (1985)
6. “Voices Carry” — ‘Til Tuesday 4:23 (1985)
7. “Weird Science” — Oingo Boingo 3:49 (1985)
8. “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” — Dead or Alive 3:17 (1985)
9. “Miami Vice Theme” — Jan Hammer 2:27 (1985)
10. “Life in a Northern Town” — The Dream Academy 4:17 (1986)
11. “Kyrie” — Mr. Mister 4:15 (1985)
12. “Everytime You Go Away” — Paul Young 4:16 (1985)
13. “We Built This City” — Starship 4:56 (1985)
14. “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” — John Parr 4:10 (1985)
15. “Addicted to Love” — Robert Palmer 4:01 (1986)
16. “Axel F” — Harold Faltermeyer 3:01 (1985)
17. “Rhythm of the Night” — DeBarge 3:54 (1985)
18. “You Look Marvelous” — Billy Crystal 3:58 (1985)
19. “Heartbeat” — Don Johnson 4:17 (1986)
20. “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” — Wang Chung 4:11 (1986)

Disc 7 (20 tracks)
1. “Venus” — Bananarama 3:50 (1986)
2. “Walk Like an Egyptian” — The Bangles 3:23 (1986)
3. “Paranoimia” — Art of Noise and Max Headroom 3:18 (1986)
4. “If You Leave” — Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 4:26 (1986)
5. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” — The Georgia Satellites 3:24 (1986)
6. “What You Need” — INXS 3:35 (1986)
7. “Walk This Way” — Run-D.M.C. 3:39 (1986)
8. “Rumors” — Timex Social Club 3:33 (1986)
9. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” — Crowded House 3:57 (1987)
10. “Holding Back the Years” — Simply Red 4:12 (1986)
11. “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” — New Kids on the Block 3:57 (1989)
12. “Tuff Enuff” — The Fabulous Thunderbirds 3:23 (1986)
13. “Since You’ve Been Gone” — The Outfield 4:13 (1987)
14. “Only in My Dreams” — Debbie Gibson 3:52 (1987)
15. “Never Gonna Give You Up” — Rick Astley 3:32 (1988)
16. “La Bamba” — Los Lobos 2:54 (1987)
17. “Wild, Wild West” — The Escape Club 4:06 (1988)
18. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” — Bobby McFerrin 3:55 (1988)
19. “Right Here Waiting” — Richard Marx 4:25 (1989)
20. “Roam” — The B-52’s 4:04 (1989)

Ferry Aid: Let It Be

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Format: 7″

Label: Profile

Country: US

Year: 1987

Price paid: $3

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

The was a time back in the 80s when any world problem or disaster could be dealt with by simply throwing a bunch of A and B-list musical celebrities in a room and letting them work their magic. Today’s musicians are a bunch of narcissistic pussies in comparison.

Band Aid and Farm Aid are probably two of the best known of these ‘charity supergroup’ ventures, but they’re far from the only such arrangements. Most if not all are typified by a bevy of bloated egos hamming it up in a way that often comes across as little more than self-serving grandstanding. I’m sure a vast majority have their hearts in the right place, but the output of these creative endeavors is lackluster- and usually so laughably cheesy- that odds are they would have seen no sales at all had big names not been involved.

And so we come to Ferry Aid’s cover of the Beatles’ ‘Let it Be’, a waterlogged bloated mess as disastrous as the tragedy it was born to mend*. In March of 1987 the ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise capsized, killing 193 passengers and crew in what became known as the ‘Zeebrugge Disaster.’ British newspaper The Sun (who may have been feeling guilty about the whole affair, as many of those on board had purchased cheap trips through that publication) worked with producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman to assemble artists for the cause, the result was this single which was recorded over a three day period mere weeks after the incident.

To its credit it did reach #1 in both the UK (for three weeks straight), Norwegian, and Swiss charts- and selling over half a million copies worldwide.

It should come as no surprise at all that the song itself is a dire affair. The unintentionally humorous video really drives home the pompous bloated self-importance of many involved. Notable New Wave artists appearing on the disc include Boy George, Bananarama, Kate Bush, and Steve Strange (of Visage.)

The sleeve is serviceable. It certainly won’t win any design awards (at least yet- who knows?), but gets the job done and is certainly not lacking in information. Although ugly, fairly common, and inexpensive (hell, they made 500,000 of them!) a nice little pickup if you’re a Kate Bush or Boy George completest… or would like a slice of history from the early days of the charity record phenomenon.

*It’s been like 27 years now so I think a little levity is acceptable?

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Bananarama: The Greatest Hits Collection (LaserDisc)

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Format: LaserDisc
Label: Polygram Music Video
Country: US
Year: 1988
Price paid: $10 (including ship.)
Purchased at: eBay

 

It seems like everyone is back into collecting vinyl these days, it’s hot and rising prices reflect its new-found trendy status. But what about the lowly crap that nobody cares about? Especially that stuff that’s unique to the format? Say you’re a Bowie fan. If you’re a collector you may have all his albums on vinyl, and if a competist you might go for all the singles, magazines he’s on the cover of, etc. But would you think to track down his LaserDiscs?

Sure, they’re pretty much useless. But they’re nice looking objects, large (the same size as a 12” vinyl), and have artwork unique to the format. Many were released in Japan too, as the format really took off there… and is still big with videophiles. Very few people bought them in the US compared to VHS, but man, the companies sure did try… and marketed the hell out of them. Consumers that did invest in the format have either thrown them in the trash or dropped them off at the Goodwill long ago. Only a matter of time until the relative rarity of the format begins to turn the heads of the music accumulator…

One of the rare acts to not only survive the great mid-80’s New Wave die-off, but thrive as a slick pop vocal act. Under the wing of their masters Stock Aitken Waterman they tore up the late 80’s charts around the world. The ‘Greatest Hits‘ collection alone went gold in the US and Canada, triple platinum in the UK. This was due in no small part I’d wager due to their videos, which got heavy rotation on the video stations at the time.

Not too surprising then that collections of their videos would be made available for purchase. The straight-up audio ‘Greatest Hits’ has many track variations depending on format and location released; I was unable to research track variations in the video releases, but I’m sure those exist as well. This US Laser Disc contains the following tracks, with a total running time of 38:48:

  • Multimix consisting of ‘Cruel Summer’, ‘Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)’, ‘Shy Boy’, ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’, and ‘Really Saying Something’
  • Venus
  • More Than Physical
  • I Heard a Rumour
  • Love in the First Degree
  • Mr. Sleaze
  • I Can’t Help It
  • I Want You Back
  • Love, Truth, and Honesty

The sleeve design is uninspired to say the least. I know they wanted it to differ from the standard vinyl issue to avoid confusion, as both are roughly the same size, but they didn’t even try.

Bananarama: The Essential Ian Levine Dance Pack

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 Format: 12″

Label: London

Country: UK

Year: 1986

Price paid: $2.50

 

‘Captain Scarlett speaking

On a secret mission

I aim for thrills and I shoot to kill

Got no competition’

All tracks on this dance-mix 12” are from Bananarama’s third album ‘True Confessions’:

  • More Than Physical (Musclebound Mix)
  • Venus (Hellfire Mix)
  • Scarlett

It’s sometimes hard for me to listen to these older ‘remixes.’ Most are little more than the standard song stretched three times their original length with huge barren patches of acoustic sameness punctuated by an added (usually cheesy) drum kit track. A great concept if you’re dancing in a club, but it hardly makes for riveting home listening. Sadly this extended (aka-‘padded’) experience is what’s in store on this disc.

Ian Levine was a pretty big deal back in the day. Writer, producer, manager, and credited with developing the Hi-NRG sound (four-on-the-floor electronic disco), he was a true impresario of 80’s dance.

In no way connected to 80’s music or Bananarama… but interesting nonetheless…. Levine is known as a major Doctor Who fan/activist (so much so that the episode ‘Love and Monsters’ is supposedly a tribute to him) and has one of the largest collections of US comic books in the world.

Bananarama: The Greatest Hits Collection

Format: LP

Label: London/PolyGram

Country: US

Year: 1988

Price paid: $2.50

 

Most people roll their eyes at the mere mention of Bananarama, but stick with me on this one. I used to be one of those ‘too cool’ music snobs, but I softened to the group when I found out that my then girlfriend, who was a hard-as-nails scene goth, liked them. I think a lot of the bias comes from the fact that they aren’t a ‘band’ as such, merely vocalists, akin to the girl groups of the 60s. And I’m fine with that. They have a long history; check out this early song that shows a different face before the the Venus-era scrubbed-clean Stock Aitken Waterman period:

 

For me the real fun started when Siobhan Fahey (the blonde as pictured below) left the group. She formed Shakespears Sister, which certainly took the weird up a notch, while still retaining the pop attitude.

The true retail value on this one is a bit of a mystery. Logic dictates that, being such a huge chart-topper in the US, a greatest hits collection wouldn’t have much value. But in doing research it appears that the US release is fairly rare. UK/European versions (with the same artwork) can be found on eBay and Gemm for under ten bucks, but it appears that the LP didn’t get wide release here in America.

Why? Well my guess is that, 1988 being the beginning of the Golden Age of the CD, the push was really towards selling little shiny discs; perhaps since the group were so mainstream the label did think that a vinyl release was merited? Vinyl sales in Europe and the UK remained strong up until the 90s; this would explain the relative commonness of those versions. Just a guess. My example is one of those ‘gold stamp on the label’ promo copies as well, which only strengthens the ‘did not get wide release’ theory. Included is a photo glossy of the group!