While over in Toronto recently, I had the good fortune to pick a near-mint copy of Music of Quality and Distinction for the equivalent of £2.50. I’ve long had a cassette-copy of the album but this would be the first time for me on vinyl.
The album was attributed to British Electric Foundation (B.E.F.) who, in effect, were Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, the two blokes who had been booted out of The Human League but would go on to enjoy huge success with Heaven 17.
Penthouse and Pavement had been a hit album for their band in 1981 and their label Virgin Records afforded them the luxury of a vanity project that was recorded and released in 1982. The idea was to bring in a series of guest artists to perform cover versions in a style that would be mainly akin to the Heaven 17 style. The choice of guests raised a few eyebrows.
1. Tina Turner – Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)
Back in 1982, Tina Turner was considered a washed-up, 40-something singer whose best days were long behind her; indeed she was without a record deal at the time. The B.E.F. boys knew differently and brought her in to provide the lung power for a tremendous version of a song that had originally been a hit for The Temptations in 1970. It was a blend of the B.E.F. synth sound and the pop/funk/jazz contributions of Beggar & Co (whose members contributed greatly to the recording of many songs on the album). Record bosses sat up and took notice and Tina was soon on the roster of Capitol Records for whom she became a top-selling pop artist for much of the decade during which she never came near to recording anything as great as the B.E.F. track
2. Billy Mackenzie – The Secret Life of Arabia
It was the inclusion of Billy Mackenzie that got me to buy the cassette back in 1982. This was his typically OTT take on the closing track of Heroes, the David Bowie album released in 1977 and it is driven along by a great contribution from Beggar & Co guitarist Nevil ‘Breeze’ McKreith. A real highlight of Side One which is just as well given what follows….
3. Paul Jones – There’s A Ghost In My House
The former lead singer of Manfred Mann was better known as an actor back in 1982, although many of his appearances were in stage musicals, and he hadn’t bothered the charts in over a decade. This cover version of the R.Dean Taylor hit single is flat and uninspiring but it may well have given Mark E Smith an idea or two as the instrumentation isn’t a million miles away from the version we could release five years later.
4. Paula Yates – These Boots Were Made For Walking
The album was released just a matter of months before Paula Yates became a household name thanks to her being one of the main presenters of the music show The Tube which aired on the newly launched Channel 4 in the UK. At the point she had gone into the recording studio, she was best known as the girlfriend of Bob Geldof and as a columnist for the weekly rock/pop paper Record Mirror. This infectiously camp cover of the Nancy Sinatra smash from 1966 sounds as if it was great fun to make but Yates’s talents don’t stretch to lead vocals.
5. Gary Glitter – Suspicious Minds
Given how the glam-rock king’s life has turned out, this has the look and feel of a sick in-joke. But of course, the seedy revelations about Glitter wouldn’t be revealed for many more years and so it made commercial sense in 1982 to bring him and his band into the studio and have a go at an Elvis Presley classic given that The Glitter Band were making a great living at the time performing in student unions up and down the country.
1. Bernie Nolan – You Keep Me Hanging On
The B.E.F. boys were thumbing their noses at the critics with this one. The singer was known for being the lead vocalist with the sickly sweet Nolan Sisters whose inoffensive but deadly dreary brand of vocal pop had been part of the mainstay of variety television in the UK while punk/new wave was gaining a foothold and yet freed from the shackles of her sisters and the moguls who managed them, she delivers a decent take on The Supremes #1 hit from 1966.
2. Glenn Gregory – Witchita Lineman
Maybe they ran out of guests or maybe they felt that their mate from Heaven 17 was as good as anyone for the electronic take on the country song made famous by Glen Campbell in 1968. To be fair, he nails it.
3. Sandie Shaw – Anyone Who Had A Heart
I’m guessing the boys were desperate to have a go at what had been the biggest selling single by a female singer in the UK in the 60s and thought there would be more than a hint of irony by having it covered a ‘rival’ of the singer who had enjoyed the hit. The song had been a smash for Cilla Black in 1964 and all these years later, she was a huge television personality and presenter in the UK while Sandie Shaw, considered by the vast majority to have been the better singer of the two languished in almost complete obscurity. In doing so, they ‘re-discovered’ Sandie a full two years before Morrissey and The Smiths persuaded her to cover Hand In Glove……
4. Glenn Gregory – Perfect Day
In years to come, there would be many more cover versions of this Lou Reed number. It doesn’t deviate too much from the sombre and slow pace of the original and indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that karaoke hadn’t really taken off in the UK back 1982, you’d be tempted to think Glenn was singing over a high-quality karaoke type instrumentation. I still, more than thirty years on, haven’t made up my mind if this is a cover is genius or ghastly. But it’s probably somewhere in between.
5. Billy Mackenzie – It’s Over
Forget anything else that went before now. This track on its own made the album worthy of release. Billy with the backing of great keyboards and all sorts of instrumentation including violins, cellos, french horns, harps and timpani drums. Oh and there’s a little bit of guitar work from the legendary Hank Marvin mixed in as well….Roy Orbison himself gave the big thumbs-up to this incredible recording.
mp3 : Tina Turner – Ball Of Confusion
mp3 : Billy Mackenzie – The Secret Life Of Arabia
mp3 : Paul Jones – There’s A Ghost In My House
mp3 : Paula Yates – These Boots Are Made For Walking
mp3 : Gary Glitter – Suspicious Minds
mp3 : Bernie Nolan – You Keep Me Hanging On
mp3 : Glenn Gregory – Witchita Lineman
mp3 : Sandie Shaw – Anyone Who Had A Heart
mp3 : Glenn Gregory – Perfect Day
mp3 : Billy Mackenzie – It’s Over
The album made #25 in the UK charts so it more than washed its face.