Archive for 80s

Mahout

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 16 October 2010 by eT

Mahout: noun (in South and SE Asia) a person who works with and rides an elephant (from Hindi)

Drop the pilot
Try my balloon
Drop the monkey
Smell my perfume
Drop the mahout
I’m the easy rider
Don’t use your army
To fight a losing battle

– Joan Armatrading, ‘Drop the Pilot’, 1983

The first and best-selling single from Joan Armatrading‘s 1983 album The Key, ‘Drop the Pilot‘ contains the catchy but lyrically opaque chorus quoted above, which includes finishes up its trifecta of things that should be dropped by appending ‘drop the mahout / I’m the easy rider’.  It’s lucky that ‘Drop the Pilot’ is a supremely catchy track, because it doesn’t make a great deal of sense otherwise.  It was the last of Armatrading’s three UK top 40 singles (the other two being ‘Love and Affection’ in 1976 and ‘Me Myself I’ from 1980), and it was her only single to crack the Billboard Top 100 in the US, reaching number 78 in June 1983.

The original music video is sweet but takes a bit too literal an approach to the lyrics, featuring as it does a pilot dropping in by parachute.  While the live performance from Glastonbury in 2008 featured below may lack the tautness of the studio recording and perhaps a little of the zing in the suspense-building bridge, it’s great to see that Armatrading is still playing and that the song is still popular after 25 years.


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Incomprehensible

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 24 January 2010 by eT

Incomprehensible: adjective not able to be understood.

I’ve had a few little love affairs
They didn’t last very long and they’ve been pretty scarce
I used to think that was sensible
It makes the truth even more incomprehensible
‘Cause everything is new
And everything is you
And all I’ve learned has overturned
What can I do…

– Abba, ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, 1981 (recorded 1980)

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ peerless songwriting ability rightfully dominated the pop scene from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.  ‘Lay All Your Love On Me‘ is another example of the seemingly effortless process by which they created expertly-crafted pop lyrics.  The fact that they were writing in a second language of which they had a strong command assisted them to pare down the lyrical content of their songs to deceptively simple structures, but the gift of many of Abba’s lyrics is the fertile emotion contained within.  The song has a fairly traditional theme: a jealous woman’s plea to a partner with a wandering eye, but the trick lies in the establishment of the narrator’s surprise at the speed with which her romantic guard has been circumvented: as Agnetha sings, ‘I still don’t know what you’ve done with me / A grown-up woman should never fall so easily’.  The taut, sparse synths propel the beat without overpowering the lyrics, and the innovative vocal fades at the end of each verse add a pleasing sci-fi excitement and dramatism.  It must’ve been a surefire floor-filler in the discos.

The song featured on the 1980 album Super Trouper, but was never intended to be released as a single.  It was eventually issued in 12-inch format in several countries to considerable acclaim.  In the UK it reached number 7 in the pop charts in July 1981, breaking a run of two previous chart-topping Abba singles from the previous year, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘Super Trouper’.  The specialised 12-inch format reduced sales somewhat, and in the end this was the first Abba single not to reach the UK top 5 since 1975’s ‘S.O.S.’ (and that only just missed, at number 6).

There was no official Abba video shot for the track, but one was cobbled together at the time from other Abba performances.  I’m not 100% sure the video below is the same as the 1981 issue, but it illustrates the song fairly well.

Satiate

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 31 July 2009 by eT

Satiateverb another term for SATE — DERIVATIVES satiation noun — ORIGIN Latin satiare, from satis ‘enough’.

Best of ! Most of !
Satiate the need
Slip them into different sleeves !
Buy both, and feel deceived.

(The Smiths, ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’)

From the final Smiths studio album, 1987’s Strangeways, Here We Come, Paint A Vulgar Picture is a bitter assault on the fickle venality of the music industry, with Morrissey railing against the ‘sickening greed’ and ‘sycophantic slags’.  The album reached no.2 in the UK charts, but Paint A Vulgar Picture was not released as a single – Girlfriend In A Coma, I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish and Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me being preferred.  Here’s a solo Morrissey performance of the track in question, recorded at a Swedish concert in 1997, ten years after Strangeways’ release.

[Lyric tip-off courtesy of Will]

Wingding

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 10 July 2009 by eT

Wingding: noun a party.

Yes we’re gonna have a wingding
A summer smoker underground
It’s just a dugout that my dad built
In case the Reds decide to push the button down
We’ve got provisions and lots of beer
The key word is survival on the new frontier

(Donald Fagen, ‘New Frontier’)

Donald Fagen‘s classic 1982 debut solo album, The Nightfly, allowed the performer to indulge his fascination with the rose-tinted view of the future that dominated his own early years.  In tracks like ‘I.G.Y.’ (named for the International Geophysical Year) he sung of the technological wonders that were reputed to be just around the corner, like lightning-fast train journeys from New York to Paris via undersea railways and ‘Spandex jackets for everyone’, while in the album’s title track he romanticised the dying breed of late-night radio DJs he idolised as a kid.

In ‘New Frontier’, Fagen conjures a world of sophistication far from the suburban youth he spent in New Jersey, leading with the description of a fine ‘wingding’ in an old nuclear fallout shelter, echoing the preoccupations of 1950s American suburbia that jarred with the glowing optimism of the modern age: how were the kids going to enjoy their flying cars and trips to the Moon if a nuclear war destroyed humanity?  The track is a winning example of Fagen’s keen observation and his command of the swinging jazz-rock style that made Steely Dan, his group with fellow talented musician Walter Becker, such stalwarts of FM radio in the 1970s.

Here’s a dodgy concert recording of Steely Dan performing the track at a Colorado festival in July 2008:

Rehabilitate

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 3 July 2009 by eT

Rehabilitate: verb 1 restore to health or normal life by training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness. 2 restore the standing or reputation of. 3 restore to a former condition — ORIGIN Latin rehabilitare, from habilitare ‘make able’.

No sense thinking I could rehabilitate her
When she’s fine, fine, fine
She’s got so many ideas travelling around in her head
She doesn’t need nothing from mine

(The Bangles, ‘If She Knew What She Wants’)

Jules Shear‘s skilled song-writing is displayed to full effect in this 1986 single by The Bangles, from their second album, Different Light.  (Shear also wrote All Through The Night from Cyndi Lauper’s breakthrough album).  The Bangles often found it difficult to operate in a heavily male-dominated music industry, and tensions rose within the band as image-conscious media coverage focused on Susanna Hoffs’ good looks to the exclusion of the other talented performers in the band.

The video for If She Knew What She Wants was revised after the band apparently didn’t like the original one produced in England (well, according to the person who posted it on Youtube, anyway), presumably disliking the elaborate set design and the lack of emphasis on the band’s playing.  The revised, simpler version of the video that screened on American TV was directed by Susanna’s mother, Tamar Hoffs.  In it, the Bangles get more ‘band time’ with plenty of shots illustrating their playing ability, plus a few shots of snogging random boys thrown in for good measure:

Amoeba

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 28 June 2009 by eT

Amoeba: noun (pl. amoebas or amoebae) a microscopic single-celled animal which is able to change shape — ORIGIN from Greek amoibe ‘change, alternation’.

Don’t have to humble yourself to me
I ain’t your judge or your king
And baby, you know you ain’t no Queen of Sheba
And we may not even have our dignity, no
This could be just a prideful thing
But baby, we can choose – you know,
We ain’t no amoebas

(John Hiatt, ‘Thing Called Love’)

Veteran blues rocker John Hiatt has been cranking out songs for decades now, seldom achieving a level of fame and fortune commensurate with his considerable talent.  I first started listening to Hiatt after hearing his 1993 album Perfectly Good Guitar, which had been produced with a rawer, grungier sound to appeal to a youthful market, but the core of his songwriting ability drew me on to his more conventional recordings.  At last count he’s released 18 albums, and his career hasn’t taken off for want of recognition in all the right places.  His songs have been covered by multitudes of singers, including Bob Dylan (Hiatt says the royalties from Bonnie Raitt’s cover of Thing Called Love have put two of his children through college) and his 1987 song Have A Little Faith In Me is rightly regarded as a modern classic.

Hiatt’s songs often display his wry sense of humour, as in this performance of Thing Called Love, a track from the seminal Bring The Family album that also featured Have A Little Faith In Me.  You have to hand it to a writer who can fit the word ‘amoeba’ into a song, particularly when it’s rhymed with ‘Queen of Sheba’!  Here he is performing the track with Lyle Lovett on Saturday Night Live in February 2009:

Subjugate

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 23 June 2009 by eT

Subjugate: verb bring under domination or control, especially by conquest — ORIGIN Latin subjugare ‘bring under a yoke’, from jugum ‘yoke’.

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it’s the rhetoric of failure

(The Police, ‘Spirits In The Material World’)

Good old Gordon Sumner (a.k.a. Sting).  His background as an ex-teacher obviously prepared him well for the role of world-straddling pop sex symbol and rock philosopher.  The underlying message of this song?  Well, alongside the general suspicion of political elites, consumerism is bad, kids… except when you happen to be buying our single.  (Cheap shot, agreed.  I withdraw and apologise).  He earns extra marks for using ‘rhetoric’ in there too.  Spirits In The Material World, from the Police’s fourth studio album, 1981’s Ghost In The Machine, reached number 11 in the US charts and number 12 in the UK.  Here’s Sting being manhandled by a randy Kenny Everett before a performance of the track on a 1981 Christmas special: