THE PERFECT POP SOUNDS OF THE MID-80s

Songs To Remember, the 1982 album from Scritti Politti, is and always will be one of my all-time favourites. I’ve written about it a couple of times previously, on both this and the old blog that was so brutally and callously murdered by google.

I haven’t ever focussed on the follow-up, Cupid and Psyche 85 but am intending to rectify that today.

It’s not that I didn’t like the album when it was released in June 1985, which was exactly as I was putting my student days behind me and getting set to start my first job that involved a salary rather than a wage. It’s an album that seemed to have a long gestation given that it hit the shops after four hit singles in a row, and when it did, it caused a bit of consternation as it only had nine tracks, and of these, only five were new tunes as all the singles had been included. Songs To Remember had seemed the perfect fit to how I imagined I was living my student life and the songs didn’t sound out of place on compilation tapes alongside tunes by The Smiths, The Bunnymen, The The, Talking Heads, New Order or countless other post-punk/new wave acts that made up the majority of the record collection.

The singles that had brought fame and fortune to Scritti Politti didn’t fit in comfortably with such sounds, although they didn’t sound out of place with the big new, brash pop sounds that were beginning to dominate the charts in the middle of the decade, and I’ve never been ashamed to admit of having a love for such music, albeit a lot of it has dated badly.

Cupid & Psyche 85 somehow manages to pull off something akin to a magic trick. One listen, even if you didn’t know the title of the album and you wouldn’t fail to notice it dates from the 80s given its production in which the latest technology of the day is harnessed to full effect. It has big synths and it has big drums (often of a synthetic nature). It has bass lines slapped over the tunes and the vocals are often multi-tracked. Sparse it most certainly is not. Low budget it most certainly is not. It’s an album that would likely have bankrupted Rough Trade if Scritti Politti hadn’t been allowed to take up the offer dangled in front of them by Virgin Records.  T

It’s an album that most certainly was aimed at the mass-market rather than bedsit land. It’s an album of pop at its purest and its finest…..but it was hard for this particular to admit a pure love for at the time of release.

In saying that, hearing the first new song post-Songs To Remember was a real joy.

Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) still sounds astonishingly good all these years later. Released in February 1984, it was accompanied by a stunning and glossy video that featured Michael Clark, the new superstar of modern ballet who had previously worked with The Fall. It sounded immense coming out of crackly radios and beyond belief when played over the sound system in the student union. It deservedly went Top 10 and enabled Green Gartside, with his new haircut that seemed to pay equal tribute to George Michael and Princess Diana, onto Top of The Pops.

The follow-up, released while Wood Beez was still hanging around the lower reached of the Top 75 some four months on, was Absolute. It didn’t do quite as well as Wood Beez, but still went Top 20 which was perhaps a reflection that while it was a more than decent enough sounding record and had the occasional moment of magic, especially around Green’s vocal harmonies with the backing singers, it didn’t have the same immediate or lasting impact.

The third single in a year was issued in November 1984. To be honest, until the following year and the eventual release of the album, I hadn’t realised that Hypnotize had been given a release as I couldn’t ever recall hearing it or indeed seeing it on sale in any record shops. It was a flop, only reaching #68 which was less than had been managed by any of the three singles from Songs To Remember. Maybe there was some thought that the Scritti Politti bubble had burst already.

It was a full six months before anything else was heard and this time around, Green & co. managed to again silence the doubters thanks to The Word Girl. It had been the slow, meandering and stylish sound of The ‘Sweetest’ Girl that had led many people to fall for charms of Scritti Politti back in 1981, myself included, and here it was four years on that history was repeating with a lovers-rock effort that was nigh on perfect for the times. The record-buying public loved it and bought enough copies to take it to #6 in mid-June 1985, providing the final building block for the release of the parent album which itself went top 5 on the week of its release where it stayed for a month.

And, if you want to look at the exalted company who were also near the top of the album charts that month, you’ll find Bryan Ferry, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Sting, and Tears for Fears. It was payola time and the album would eventually be certified as Gold with at least 500,000 sales in the UK.

The fact that there were only five new songs on the album did restrict the opportunities to further promote it through another single, but Perfect Way was issued in that format in August 1985. It did scrape into the Top 50 but given it didn’t prove to be a smash, any further thoughts to perhaps give Hypnotize the re-release treatment were put to one side.

As the years have passed, I’ve mellowed out a bit on Cupid & Psyche 85 and am not quite as hostile as I was back in the day. It did help that I’ve long had a love for Wood Beez and The Word Girl, but it remains an album, a bit like Our Favourite Shop by The Style Council (which came out around the same time), that I enjoy listening in full only every now and again, but have a lot of time for a number of the component parts.

I normally break up my longs posts with bits of music but there’s a reason I’ve not done so today. I’ve mentioned how the songs all have that big production and, as such they need to be played on a decent turntable with a good amp and speakers to get the best effect – which is why I have hunted down in recent weeks, as pristine a copy as I could of all the 12″ singles lifted from the album. And here they are:-

mp3: Scritti Politti – Wood Beez (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Absolute (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Hypnotize (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – The Word Girl/Flesh & Blood (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Perfect Way (version – extended mix)

Finally, it was brought to my attention that Green Gartside had, earlier this year released a 7″ single, on Rough Trade, the first under his own name. The two tracks on the release are both covers of songs originally recorded by Anne Briggs, regarded by many who follow the genre as one of the great British folk singers. It was a new name to and all I can say, having picked up the single, Ms. Briggs was a very fine writer.

JC

13 thoughts on “THE PERFECT POP SOUNDS OF THE MID-80s

  1. Despite the slight dated production – soooo 80s both this and the less immediate Provision if anything I like more with age. I also about a year ago stumbled across a massive 2nd hand record shop in a mega garden centre near my mums in deepest darkest fens and bought all the 12 inch singles from Cupid (also forgotten how gorgeous the covers were) . However the track of his that is my fav of all time came later with Tinseltown – Real shame it kind of sank without trace

  2. I still hold both Cupid & Psyche ’85 and Provision very high, perfectly polished pop for sunny days.
    In Tracey Thorn’s “Naked At The Albert Hall” I read the trick for Green to achieve his voice is to always smile while singing…

  3. I have a great love for all things Green Gartside and Scritti Politti and I enjoy all of the albums, albeit for different reasons. Cupid and Psyche 85 is perfect 80s pop and I liked the non-single tracks just as much, particularly A Little Knowledge. I had the 4-track bonus 12″ with the album and I think “versions” top the originals, especially “Absolute”, which never quite takes off in it’s shorter form. The Word Girl / Flesh + Blood is one of their best, and directed me to Ranking Ann’s albums, worth checking out too.

    Agree with your comments about the recent Anne Briggs’ covers. I’ve done numerous Scritti/Green mixtapes over the years and what strikes me is, despite the variety of styles and production, how well everything sits together. I guess it’s all down to the voice, music and lyrics. You’ve now got me scanning to the right to see if an ICA has been done yet… 🙂

  4. Khayem….from memory, I don’t think there has been a Scritti Politti ICA, so feel free. And even if there has already been an ICA, there’s nothing to stop anyone coming up with a subsequent volume.

  5. “Songs To Remember” was a complete obscurity in America. It never crossed my path at all. In fact even Rough Trade US never bothered releasing it here. The US got a A/AA sided 12″ of the astonishing “Wood Beez” b/w “Absolute” and when we saw the viddy for “Wood Beez” on “London Calling” the monthly MTV UK video magazine during the height of the 2nd British Invasion, we fell HARD. Bought all of the UK/US 12″ singles form this period. In The States,”Perfect Way” climbed to #11 with its trendy Kagan + Greif video but mostly down to the precision tooled sound of the music. Green facility with a lyric was always stellar and I have the UK 12″, the US 12″ [different mixes], the promo only US 12″ [longer, different mix], and the US 7″ [different, shorter mixes]. And I still want the UK 7″ for even more different, shorter mixes! Amazingly enough, France only got a 6th single from this one. A John Potoker remix of “Lover Yo Fall.” Wow. I sort of get the exploitation of this album as it was all single caliber material, and with Green so influenced by Michael Jackson [while being a very creative musician – nothing that could ever be laid at MJ’s feet] it’s no wonder that Virgin milked this like “Thriller.” I’m amazed that Virgin hasn’t produced a massive boxed set version of C+P85 with the dozens of remixes.

  6. Saw scritti politti support tears for fears last year at Blenheim Palace. As per usual Green ambles on and most punters don’t know who he is. Was with a friend who sees this mid 60’s Welshman go up to the mike and doesn’t expect much..then he starts singing! The look on her face! The guy is a true legend…

  7. Very Astute comment by @PostPunkMonk. Scritti Politti would have been considered and alternative band in the US. (Journos didn’t begin saying “indie” until years later. Closest label was “college” rock.) But SP sounded absolutely mainstream and those of us listening could easily imagine a Green/MJ duet. Cupid sounds a bit dated now because of the production but it’s easy to remember how immediate it was on release. Glad to hear GG still sounds good in concert. Never had the opportunity to see him in the day.

  8. “Wood Beez” was bleeding edge sounds for the time. Couldn’t be more current! I loved Green’s solo single and the last SP album eons ago. His best ever. I’m so besotted now I even want a copy of the “divisive” “Anomie + Bonhomie.” I did not appreciate Green letting rappers take over the mic in the late 90s, to put it mildly. I was not buying a Mos Def album, I thought, and yet…

  9. It is so very, very gratifying to see all the love for Scritti Politti and the amazing Cupid and Psyche ’85 !! When Wood Beez/Absolute came out it knocked my socks off! Green and his studio cohorts had taken full advantage of Virgin (in a way that I think only Heaven 17 had done previously with The Luxury Gap) and ordered in all of the latest Fairlight CMI and Emulator equipment they could find to basically define the RIGHT WAY to use these new sampling and processing musical tools. The results were shimmering pieces of Pop perfection that still dripped with rhythm and soul.
    I have always known Green to be a musical chameleon. From SP’s earliest dabbling in the world of Situationists International to their rebirth promoting Pop romanticism on Songs To Remember, to the Pop sheen of C+P ’85 and Provision and then the scattershot of ideas on Anomie + Bonhomie, Green could not be accused of ever sitting still.
    When he returned in 2006 with White Bread Black Beer, a matured Green brought thoughts on life, politics and society to his unique take on Pop. He has supplied me with 40 years of musical enjoyment and I know he still has more to offer.

  10. my hairdresser of all people pushed songs to remember on me and I fell in love. It was decades later I finally saw Green live, I am not ashamed to say I sobbed when I heard ‘the sweetest girl’ live then fan girled hard when he came out and talked to people. I am scathing when it comes to live music demanding heart when I see a band but this reduced me to mush. One of those acts that ingrained deep in my psyche and I agree perfect pop.

  11. What a delight to read a blog with multiple posts about Scritti Politti! No, it didn’t make much play in the states but I had the distinct honor of airing Songs to Remember on the original Rough Trade label on WRBA, a commercial AM radio station in a town called Normal Illinois in the early 1980s. Heavy rotation and well deserved. I’m still in love with Jacques Derrida.

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