These are the show notes that go with the Podcast episode “Losing The Layers, But Not The Shades Of Black.”
Hard Corps – To Breathe (1985)
There are 2 versions of this song, the other one is called “Respirer” and is a tiny bit different. Sung fully in French. However: Hard Corps were not French, they were from Brixton, South London. Three sound engineers: Hugh, Robert and Clive, were introduced to singer Regine Fetet, who had never sung before, but had an enigmatic, fragile voice which, coincidentally matched perfectly with the sound the three were creating. Working in unison with a heavily accentuated French vocal, the result was magnificent and unique.
A 12″ was released soon after, containing this track (To Breathe). The record was circulated around London’s dance floors. And in no time a wave of attention hit them and they dominated the independent pop charts in 1984 and 85.
John Peel championed them on his infamous late night “Radio One” show and they headlined at his ICA Rock Week in the Mall, London.
Hard Corps eventually signed with major label Polydor records. This enabled the band to work with a couple of their favoured and respected producers like Martin Rushent (known for his great work with the Human League) and Depeche Mode producer Daniel Miller. However, these sessions provided the public with just one single due to the labels non-promotion. We’ve heard this before about Polydor..
The band also went on a major tour with The Cure in 85 and Depeche Mode in 88, before finally disintegrating. Their live shows were notorious, also because of Regine’s provocative performances. She tended to take off her top on stage regularly. The thing was: She was an exotic dancer before connecting with Hard Corps. That’s also the reason that many of their songs incorporate a lot of erotic references In fact, that may have been the reason for the band not supporting Depeche Mode in the USA.
The last track they made is from 1990, and sadly: Regine died of breast cancer in 2003.
The Honeythief (Galus Mix) – Hipsway (1986)
Now here is a Scottish band that everyone outside of Scotland has completely forgotten about. But for a year, from 1986 to 1987, Hipsway from Glasgow seemed to have reached breakthrough success at home in Britain and the United States. ‘The Honeythief’ went into the Top 20 in the UK Singles Chart, got to #33 in The Netherlands, and even made #19 in the US Billboard Hot 100. Hipsway toured successfully, selling out venues as headliners and supporting shows to Simple Minds at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow and with the Eurythmics on a European tour.
This smooth spring soundtrack song, The Honeythief, is a guilty pleasure of mine, and it also was their best-selling single. I’ll play a remix version for you, the Galus mix, because I just love the 80’s production tricks on this track. Play it loud and check that sound!
So what happened to Hipsway? Just as they seemed to forge an international breakthrough, bassist and co-founder John McElhone left in late 1986. He formed the top-selling act Texas, taking the group’s manager, his brother Gerry, with him. The other members kept working on a second album ‘Scratch the Surface’ in New York but midway through the lengthy sessions, drummer Harry Travers also quit. Due to record company politics, ‘Scratch the Surface’ emerged a year late in 1989 when Hipsway had effectively already broken up. Apart from John McElhone, who had also been in Altered Images before, successes with Texas, none of the other members were successful with their efforts after Hipsway.
The Psychedelic Furs – Another Edge
I think this band does not need an introduction, but I can’t make the mistake to assume everyone of our listeners knows of them. So here we go: The Psychedelic Furs are a British new wave band founded in London in 1977. The band is formed around singer Richard Butler and his brother Tim Butler on bass guitar. They are one of the many acts spawned from the British post-punk scene. Over the years, their music went through several phases, from an initially art rock sound, to later touching on new wave and even hard rock.
The band had several hits in their early career like “Love My Way” and “Heaven”. Another well known one is “Pretty in Pink” from 1986. This song served as inspiration for the 1986 John Hughes film of the same name and was re-recorded for the platinum-selling soundtrack – though Richard Butler was later adamant that the cinematic interpretation had very little to do with the song’s original intent. But he admits that it was a blessing and curse. The song, originally from the 1981 album Talk, Talk, Talk, first came to Hughes’s attention through his muse, teen actress Molly Ringwald. She says: “Music was incredibly important to John, and he had an amazing, amazing record collection and made me the most incredible mixtapes. A lot of those songs that ended up on his soundtracks — Echo & the Bunnymen, the Smiths… we made a lot of mixtapes for each other. I don’t think he had heard ‘Pretty in Pink’ until I played it for him.”
The reason Butler felt this hit was a double-edged sword, is because the song deserved a better interpretation than the movie offered. The song wasn’t about somebody in a pink dress. It was a lot darker than that!” explains Butler. “And a lot sadder than that. It did bring us a whole new audience, which as I said, was a double-edged sword.”
True Faith – New Order (1987)
“True Faith” is a song that always lifts my spirits. It was written by the band together with their producer, Steven Hague. It was the first time they collaborated with Hague in 1986, a year where they were so busy on a heavy tour schedule that they only had time to record one new song. The money from New Order’s Blue Monday had disappeared into Tony Wilsons’ Factory club money pit, and on top of that, in 1987, they were hit with a rather large tax bill.
Bernard Sumners later admitted that they sat down with Stephen Hague with the specific goal of writing a Top 40 hit to ease their financial troubles. This song would become “True Faith.”
Bernard had an idea for the bassline, keyboard player Gillian Gilbert had some string ideas, Stephen got some drums down, and once they got the track going, Sumner was sent off to the flat they had in London with a bottle of Pernod. He was told not to show his face again until he’d written the lyrics.
He returned with a song about drug dependency. Bernard Sumner later said in an interview, “I don’t touch heroin, but when I wrote that song, I tried to imagine what it’s like to be a smackhead and nothing else matters to you except that day’s hit.” It wasn’t typical subject matter for Top of the Pops.
At the last moment, while recording in the studio, Producer Stephen Hague made them change True Faith’s lyrics. He said if they didn’t, it would never become the hit they needed. The original lyrics were:
When I was a very small boy, very small boys talked to me
Now that we’ve grown up together, they’re all taking drugs with me
That last line was then changed to
Now that we’ve grown up together, they’re afraid of what they see
And Stephen Hague was right; in the end, it was a huge hit, maybe even because they chickened out. Bernard, however, is known to change the lyric back in sometimes when they play live.
The song’s surrealistic video clip was a staple of MTV programming in 1987, opening with two red and blue-skinned characters slapping each other in the face to the rhythm of the beat and then gradually becoming ever weirder.
The Big Picture
There’s a bar scene with True Faith playing loudly in the background. It’s been a while that I heard the track and it immediately made me think about the movie American Psycho.
The movie adaptation of the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, released in the year 2000. It’s a story about yuppie culture, the melding of identity, and the craving to stand out from a superficial society of the 80’s. Within the homogenized upper-class elite identities blur as everyone strives for a generic but highly specific image of success. Everyone we see in Bateman’s company appears to be the same person. It’s no wonder that identity is mistaken continuously and swapped throughout the film. A classic Hitchcock technique. Also the name of our lead character, Patrick Bateman is an obvious reference to Norman Bates from the Hitchcock classic: Psycho.
A final fun fact: Christian Bale found his inspiration for Patrick Bateman in a Tom Cruise appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Bale saw in Cruise “a very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes.”
The movie has a great soundtrack with David Bowie, The Cure, Tom Tom Club, Depeche Mod
e and much more. Very worthy of your time I think.
Bill Nelson – When Your Dreams of Perfect Beauty Comes True (1982 Album: The Love That Whirls))
How do you like that 808 beat? It immediately brings me onboard this track.
Bill Nelson is a bit of an enigma, but quite well known at the same time. He’s a multi-talented musician and artist from the town of Wakefield in England. Bill showed a talent for art and design and had passion for science fiction. His father, saxophonist Walter Nelson, was the leader of a dance band, and his mother, had once performed as part of a dance group, so music filled the household.
Bill never learned to read music, and was relatively late coming to guitar. He was well into his teens before his father bought him the Gibson ES345 that eventually became his trademark instrument. But as you hear in this track, he also mastered his skills in electronic gear.
I’m taking a leap from his youth into his career in the 80’s as an established musician: He was hired by Gary Numan to produce his 1983 album Warriors, with Numan saying that Bill Nelson was his “favourite guitar player, bar none.” However, the two musicians failed to maintain a working relationship, and ultimately Nelson chose not to be credited for his production role on the album. Nelson also contributed towards several tracks on David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth (1986, and A Flock of Seagulls). So apart from his own career, Bill was a regular session musician for other great artists.
As the decade ended, Nelson suffered a series of personal setbacks, including a divorce, tax problems and an dispute with his manager over his back catalogue rights. Nelson discovered that his manager had been selling copies of records via mail order without Nelson’s authorisation or knowledge; Nelson never received any royalties from these sales.
The Guns Of Brixton – The Clash (1979)
A few episodes ago, we played a song about South London, and I mentioned we would have to play The Guns of Brixton some time. And with its laid-back, Paul Simenon bass-driven groove, it fits right into this spring episode of The Infected. Mind you, although this track sounds light and summery, the lyrics tell a different story. Brixton, South London, was an impoverished neighborhood in the late ’70s, high unemployment, high crime, poor housing. Since it was home to a large community of Afro-Caribbean descent, it was also known as the “Jamaican Capital” of London. This track tells the tale of how resistance was building in Brixton. The lyrics originally are about Brixton gangsters but gained relevance at the Brixton uprising a year after its release, when the London Police began “Operation Swamp 81”.
The goal was to reduce Brixton street crime through London plainclothes police officers stopping and searching people in Brixton on the grounds of just suspicion of possible wrongdoing. Within five days in April ’81, almost 1,000 people were stopped and searched, the vast majority of those being young black men. The people of Brixton rioted, resulting in nearly 279 injuries to police, 56 police vehicles were burned, and 30 buildings burned. Up to 5,000 people were involved in the riots, while the London police used excessive force during arrests of black protesters. The guns of Brixton became the soundtrack to these riots. Listen to the lyrics, and you’ll understand why… The guns of Brixto
You know, there is another movie reference in here, Goof? “He feels like Ivan” refers to the Jamaican crime film “The Harder They Come” from 1972. The lead character is “Ivan,” played by reggae musician Jimmy Cliff. He plays a Jamaican musician who is forced to turn criminal and dies under a hail of police gunfire at the film’s end.
You can see the entire, legendary movie right here on Yourtube, in HD:
The parallel with the movie being the youth of Brixton trying to survive in a harsh 1970s Brixton of high youth unemployment, and forced to criminality, to be gunned down by police just like “Ivan eventually.” By the way, The Black Maria was what Londoners called the police arrest wagon. You hear Simenon sing, “They caught him with a gun, no need for the Black Maria, goodbye to the Brixton sun.” No need for the Black Maria since he’s already dead.
The Paul Simenon bass line is obviously a tribute to the Caribbean background of Brixton. Unusual for The Clash, Simenon also sings the lead vocals on this track. Joe Strummer said, “they’re your lyrics, you sing them,” and the rest of the band agreed. Even though the song was never a single, it has been hugely influential; The bassline was famously sampled in Dub be Good to Me by Beats international, AKA Fatboy Slim, and artists have covered the song from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Arcade Fire.
Anyway, still, a happy song by its sound and the warm reggae feel made me think it would be a good fit to celebrate the spring sun’s return.