BONUS POST : HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 5)

It was Friend of Rachel Worth who made the suggestion via the comments, and it’s one I agree with, but I’m sure many of you will think they were awful from the off. In fact I know of at least one regular reader who will be swearing loudly as he reads these words.

I really like like Journeys to Glory, the debut album from Spandau Ballet, and reckon that some of the follow-up, Diamond, is still listenable. The next four albums, from True through to Heart Like A Sky are horrendous, not withstanding how entirely understandable it is that Gary Kemp would be so obsessed by Clare Grogan that he would write something as soppy as True.

The songwriter is very much at the heart of the story of the band.

He had always longed for career in the music business and had spent a few years jumping on various bandwagons in an effort to get him and his mates noticed, including new wave and power pop. The move to a more electronic sound came as a result of him latching onto the sort of music that was being played in various nightclubs in London in the late 70s around which a scene was being created, primarily by the media, to counteract the rough and ready elements of the post-punk scene.

Those in the scene were christened as ‘New Romantics’ and before long, record label bosses were out there looking to sign bands associated with the scene, although it is interesting that a number of those, perhaps already established bands whom the press put in this particular limelight, such as Japan, Ultravox, Adam & The Ants and Soft Cell, were very quick to disassociate themselves from it. Not so, however, a number of new acts, three of whom – Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Visage – became core.

A lot of the criticism of this movement was based on how much of it was down to looks, image and style rather than musical substance. But the best part of 40 years on and I’d argue that all too often the music was overlooked.

The debut single from Spandau Ballet was released in November 1980. It’s up there with some of the best synth-pop of that or indeed any era, with a fabulous futuristic sounding production allied to as stomping a backbeat as you could ask for. Oh and the lead singer showed he had a fair set of pipes on him:-

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short

The debut album would follow in March 1981 and although it only contained eight tracks, it yielded two more hits courtesy of The Freeze and Musclebound.  There was also one othrer excellent example of electro-pop that surely would have been a hit if released as a single:-

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Reformation

Just four months later, a new song was unleashed which heralded a brave change of direction, almost as if Gary Kemp was determined to show he was no one-trick pony aligned to an increasingly synth-pop scene:-

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)

This piece of horn-driven funk climbed all the way to the Top 3 in the UK, spending months hanging around the charts and becoming a staple of every club and discotheque in the country. If a black band, say from NYC or Philadelphia, had written and recorded Chant No.1, it would have been held up as an instant classic, but instead this group of young, fashionable Londoners were accused by their critics of music by numbers. It was, and remains, a nailed-on classic that the band never ever bettered.

The next single, Paint Me Down, was a hybrid of the funk and earlier synth sounds, completed by a slapping bass sound and heavy reliance on intricate percussion to drive it onwards. It was an overly complex and ambitious piece of music but one that I’m happy to count myself as a fan of, albeit I was in a minority at the time as it was their first not to go Top 20.

The release of the next single – She Loved Like Diamond – and the band’s second album – Diamond – were the first indications that the musical path that lay ahead wasn’t one I’d find favour with. Like the debut, it contained just eight songs, but where there had been a consistency on Journeys to Glory, the follow-up seemed disjointed, not helped by the fact that Chant No.1 stood head and shoulders above everything else. There were some experimental moments in among some bland pop which on occasion clashed messily within one tune, with the album version of Instinction being the most guilty; the production skills of Trevor Horn did later rescue the song, and in doing so got the band some attention again:-

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Instinction (single remix)

You could therefore technically argue that Trevor Horn is to blame for all that happened afterwards. There’s a possibility that if his remix of Instinction hadn’t charted that bthe band could have imploded thanks to a lack of success, with the possibility that the record label may have torn up the contract and gone down the route of Tony Hadley being a pop singer for hire to aspiring songwriters.

As it was, the following year saw True unleashed on the general public who took the band to its collectively bland bosom and into staples of arena tours in the UK. Each of the ten singles released after Instinction charted in the Top 20. I still have a bit of love for Communication as a pop song, thanks to the handclaps and whoo-hoos in the background, but I could happily go the rest of my life without ever hearing Gold, Only When You Leave, I’ll Fly For You, Fight For Ourselves and Through The Barricades ever again.

I know the band broke up in the early 90s, primarily to let the Kemp brothers pursue other interests around acting, and then reformed back in 2009 for a world tour that sold a lot of tickets. They may even have made some new songs since but quite honestly, I don’t care. But I do hope that I have shown that for a short while, Spandau Ballet did indeed have it.

JC

EMBARRASSED BY A LOVE OF THIS ONE? NOT ME….

My mission in life, via this blog at least, is to share with you those songs and bands that have stood the test of time – the sort of stuff that doesn’t lead to ridicule. But I reckon, every now and again, its worth throwing out the musical equivalent of the curve ball – something that is rather unexpected in comparison to what you normally read about and listen to in here.

So here’s probably the best bit of bass slapping by anyone who ever appeared in Eastenders.

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Paint Me Down (12″ mix)

This was the follow-up to Chant No.1 and was expected to maintain the sort of momentum that comes from having a radio-friendly single that goes Top 3 and which dominated the airwaves in the summer of 1981. But Paint Me Down didn’t do the business, stalling at #30, and as such indirectly led to the band taking the MOR journey to glory and its accompanying fame and fortune.

JC

STEALING CAKE TO EAT THE MOON

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Another week of delving into the archives of the lost blog and reposting some things I think read okay. This was back in July 2009:-

History hasn’t really been all that kind to Spandau Ballet, and that really all stems from 1983 onwards when the single and LP True gave them enormous crossover appeal, success, fame and fortune. And I’m not going to sir here typing away any real defence of the band, for it was a very clear and distinct career move to shift away from the sort of music that had dominated the first two LPs into the bland, radio-friendly wine-bar shite that was incredibly popular in UK plc when Thatcher was at her most frightening.

But I’ll take issue with anyone who simply dismisses the early work just because it was a Spandau Ballet song.

Their debut single is one of the great synth-pop singles in an era where acts like Soft Cell, Human League, OMD and Depeche Mode were churning them out.

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short

This was a huge hit, reaching #5 in the UK singles chart, and I don’t mind admitting that I did lots of dancing to this, as well as their great follow-up The Freeze, in Glasgow discos in the early 80s. In fact, their debut LP Journeys To Glory, released in October 1981, along with Non Stop Erotic Cabaret and Dare by the afore-mantioned Soft Cell and The Human League, are about the only synth-dominated LPs from that era that I’m still happy to listen to all the way through almost 30 years later.

Not long after the LP appeared, we had the single that many of us will say was the high point of the band’s output, the Top 3 smash Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) . The band followed this up with Paint Me Down, another classy bit of pop-funk, but rather worryingly, the other tracks on the parent LP, Diamond, released in May 1982, were quite disappointing.

Looking back, it’s worth remembering that the two albums were released only 8 months apart, so there’s a case to be made that some of the material on Diamond was a bit rushed in an effort to stay in the public eye, and maybe if the band had been given another six or nine months, the LP would have been a lot stronger.

Paint Me Down only reached #30, which must have been a shock to the band and everyone associated with them given all previous four singles had been big hits, but that was nothing compared to the follow-up She Loved Like Diamond which only just made the Top 50. Something needed fixing…..

And so the record label sent for uber-producer Trevor Horn and he sprinkled his magic dust over the underwhelming album track Instinction and produced a brashy and bold bit of pop that soon had the boys back in the Top 10, on Top Of The Pops and in the pages of Smash Hits:-

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Instinction (single version)

I finally picked up a copy of this bit of vinyl on e-bay the other day (along with a few other classics of the era), and I’m delighted to share it with y’all. Normally, I would also put the b-side up as well, but it really is a dreadful bit of pap called Gently, a self-produced number that really does put the band firmly on the road to the sort of stuff that was shoved on in the background so as not to interfere with the important chit-chat and gossip at the dinner parties…you know the sort of thing…..’Tristan just picked up his half-a-million bonus from the bank the other day after he persuaded the plebs to buy shares in the the Telecoms/Electricity/Gas companies they already owned. Tee-hee. Crack open another case of bolly…..”

Oh and I havent a fucking clue what Gary Kemp meant with the words Stealing Cake To Eat The Moon.

Enjoy

TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT….

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…. this is a cracking bit of pop music.

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – The Freeze

While making my way through Mad World (see yesterday’s posting),  I got to the chapter on Spandau Ballet which sadly concentrated on the slushy hit single True as it is the song they are best known for over in the States.  But reading it did lead me to dig out my copy of the band’s debut LP Journeys to Glory and give it a spin for the first time in gawd knows how many years. Which is where I realised just how great a song The Freeze is.

It was the second single lifted from the LP, reaching #17 back in early 1981.

The band did of course go onto to become one of the most dull and bland outfits of the 80s and a song like The Freeze is a long way removed from the sort of sounds they are more associated with.  I reckon that if they had broken up on the back of the debut LP then many a modern day hipster would be proclaiming it, and especially this track, as one of the great influencing records of the era.

I can recall a remix version of this song getting played a lot in the sorts of Glasgow discos that I frequented among other great electronic-pop tracks of the day by the likes of OMD, Soft Cell, Simple Minds, Heaven 17, Yazoo, Associates, Human League and Magazine. Turns out it was the b-side of the 12″ and I’ve managed to procure a copy via fishing around on t’internet:-

mp3 : Spandau Ballet – The Freeze (version)

Enjoy.