Awesome Mixtapes #1 – Propaganda and “Duel”

If it seems I have been largely absent of late, don’t worry, I’m not giving you all the cold shoulder, instead I have a cold shoulder as a result of the ice pack currently attached to it. I don’t know about the rest of you, but too many hours spent in front of a computer really goes for my neck and shoulders. On top of it being gardening season, being busy with changeovers at the holiday hideaway, and a spot of sewing, I am currently in agony. Here is one that was largely already written however, so I’ll try and finish it off before the ice pack melts!

I recently wrote about one of the songs that featured in the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It formed part of the excellent soundtrack which became known as, and was released under the moniker, Awesome Mix Vol. 2. It certainly was an awesome mix of lesser-known 1970s pop hits, all carefully chosen by James Gunn, who directed and wrote the screenplay for the film.

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If like me you were born right at the start of the ’60s, you would have been just the right age for mixtapes, as we became teenagers right at the time those newfangled cassette recorder machines came into our lives. Right through the ’70s, I created many, many mixtapes by recording songs from TOTP and Sunday night’s Official Chart Show, where just before 7pm, we discovered who now held the top spot in the UK Singles Chart.

In time however, as our equipment became more sophisticated, mixtapes were made by selecting our favourite album tracks and tailoring them for specific people. Over the years many mixtapes were exchanged between friends, lovers, or more likely, potential lovers – Of all the ones I received, this one was probably the best. There was also an IC1, an IC3 and an IC4, but IC2 was my favourite, which is why I still own it all these years later despite no longer having anything to play it on. I’m not going to say who IC was, but suffice to say he was a friend with a fantastic record collection who was also a born entertainer. He was one of my first friends to own his own house, and being an excellent cook, many dinner parties were held. This mixtape was made in the autumn of 1986, when for a brief nano-second I think I became part of the city’s “cool” set. It was fun for a short time, but as a naturally “uncool” person, the pressure was on to always wear the right clothes, read the right publications and generally be on point at all times. Luckily, I got a job in another town soon afterwards, so could extricate myself quite easily from this group, clocking it up to a short-lived, but exciting time in my life when I think I did fake it by trying to be someone I was not (wouldn’t ever recommend it).

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Anyway, I am in need of a new series I think as I seem to be jumping all over the place at the moment. As a nod to the GOTG soundtrack, I am going to use this mixtape of my own, and work my way through the tracks from IC’s awesome collection. When I first started seeing Mr WIAA he picked out this tape as one of his favourites and it accompanied us on holidays, on car trips and the like. It was very much from his era as an art student and the tracks reminded him of those days. He has a great fondness for the song Duel by Propaganda, partly because it reminds him so much of how the girls at art school looked in the mid ’80s – The hair, clothes and make-up was on point (unlike when I tried to recreate the look to fit in with my new “cool” friends). So, time to find out a bit more about this band and the song.

Duel by Propaganda:

What I wouldn’t have known back then was that Propaganda are German and were signed to Trevor Horn’s ZTT label between 1984 and 1986, which is when the song Duel was released. It was their highest-charting single in the UK reaching No. 21 in April 1985. Recording music of a synthpop nature they would naturally have found favour with the art school set of the mid ’80s. Lead singer Susanne Freytag certainly did have quite a distinctive look. (If like me however you had poker-straight fine hair back then, the voluminous spikey look was a challenge indeed that required much “product”).

As for the song Duel, the reason I’ve started off with it, is because it is often played in football stadiums ahead of kick-off, where two adversaries are about to challenge each other. It is the song played at the Heart Of Midlothian stadium during home matches and only last weekend they made it to the final of the Scottish Cup at Hampden. Perhaps because they didn’t have the adrenaline rush of coming out to the sound of Duel in familiar surroundings they lost 2-1 to Celtic, after initially being ahead. Earlier this week we had the Europa League final in Baku where Chelsea won the big prize and later on today, we are to have the Champions League final in Madrid. Jez over at Dubious Towers has already written about that match earlier today and will no doubt hope his beloved Spurs will take the crown.

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Propaganda

In news closer to home, it seems DD’s boyfriend is off to join one of the country’s biggest football teams for the new season – We wish him all the best, but as DD (who knows nothing about football) seems to be going with him, it will be a big wrench for our little family. Big changes round the corner but after years of having little interest in all things football-related, suddenly it’s become a pretty big deal.

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So, “What’s It All About?”. I seem to have pulled this one off, despite my sore neck and shoulders. I will be cheering on Spurs tonight in support of Jez who has had a tough time of late and could be doing with a bit of good fortune coming his way. I doubt if we will hear the song Duel as they enter the pitch in Madrid, but good for me to have found out a bit more of the backstory, which just wouldn’t have been possible back in the day. As for the DD footballing story, there will no doubt be more on that over the next few months. Football is not coming home for her, it’s taking her away, but perhaps time to fly the nest – We hope she will soar.

Until next time….

Duel Lyrics
(Song by Claudia Brücken/Ralf Dörper/Michael Mertens)

Eye to eye stand winners and losers
Hurt by envy, cut by greed
Face to face with their own disillusion
The scars of old romances still on their cheeks

And when blow by blow the passion dies
Sweet little death just have been lies
The memories of gone by time
Would still recall the lie

The first cut won’t hurt at all
The second only makes you wonder
The third will have you on your knees
You start bleeding I start screaming

It’s too late the decision is made by fate
Time to prove what forever should last
Whose feelings are so true as to stand the test
Whose demands are so strong as to parry all attempts

And when blow by blow the passion dies
Sweet little death just have been lies
The memories of gone by time
Would still recall the lie

The first cut won’t hurt at all
The second only makes you wonder
The third will have you on your knees
You start bleeding I start screaming

Poetry Assignments, Steve Strange and “Fade to Grey”

Well, I have been largely absent from these pages this month and largely absent from the comments boxes of the blogs I follow, but on the home stretch now of a particulary busy time for me. Today I have decided to timetable my day into four sections in order to fit everything in, and these sections reflect the very diverse strands to how my life has turned out since giving up my sensible, secure job a year and a half ago.

The final assignment for my college course is due in on Wednesday, so I decided to tackle it first thing this morning. The course was meant to be my main focus this year but of course regular visitors will know all that changed when my elderly mum had a fall, and instead of becoming a full-time student last September, I became a full-time carer for a time. As it turns out, the shift to part-time was probably a wise one, and for some time I managed to kill two birds with one stone so to speak, as my Saturday blog post (when I was still sticking to that regime) often inspired the “homework” I endeavoured to complete for the course on a Sunday. I am still amused by the fact my tutor gave me most praise for a poem I dashed off after writing about the song Shades of Gray by the Monkees, following the  death of Peter Tork (link here).

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The Monkees

I didn’t have much time, and the song had formed a bit of an earworm over the course of the weekend, so a hybrid list/concrete poem developed after referring to a paint chart courtesy of either Mr Crown or Mr Dulux (can’t remember which now). There is much talk of plagiarism in academia nowadays as there is great scope for cutting and pasting from the work of others online. I made no pretence however of saying I’d come up with these shades of grey myself, I purely selected them and rearranged them, but my lecturer complimented me on them and I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. Oh well, not for a marked assignment this one, and it was my take on the Brexit shenanigans going on at the time, so no harm done.

Shades of Grey

But hey, there are plenty of other songs about the colour grey, and the first that comes to mind is Fade to Grey by Visage. I see this song is attributed to the genre new wave, but in my mind it can only be classed as New Romantic where Steve Strange, the man who almost single-handedly started that movement, performed lead vocals.

Fade to Grey by Visage:

The whole New Romanticism movement came along half way through my four years as a full-time student first time around, and I probably embraced it more than any other in terms of how I dressed at the time. It was a long time since I’d had to court the approval of my parents in such matters and I was still nowhere near entering the “real world”, where sensible suits rather than flamboyant frills and falderals would have to be adopted.

Many trips to both the local Oxfam and fabric/haberdashery shop were all that was needed to acquire the necessary apparel. Ribbons, tassels, hats and big coats were the order of the day, as were shirts with ruffles and simply made but colourful skirts. Two metres of fabric and a roll of flat sewing elastic was all that was needed. I still had my granny’s old Singer sewing machine in my student room but it needed an upgrade, so I asked for a new sewing machine for my 21st birthday later on that year. Back in those days clothes were still relatively expensive compared to income, especially a paltry student income, so my evenings were split between leaning over the books, and leaning over the sewing machine.

Also in my student room was my beloved black and white portable telly, which in those far less technologically saturated times, was the only one in our flat shared by six people. Come 7.30pm on a Thursday we of course all piled in to watch TOTP, and in 1980-81 this was the kind of music that pretty much filled each show. Fade to Grey was released in 1980, on the same day as the band’s debut album. It reached No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart and made the No. 1 spot in Germany and Switzerland. The song is sung in English and spoken in French. The music video became one of the first directed by Messers Godley and Creme after leaving the world of 10cc behind and becoming masters of that new medium.

Steve Strange formed Visage with Rusty Egan and Midge Ure from Rich Kids, Billy Currie from Ultravox, and Barry Adamson, John McGeoch and Dave Formula from Magazine, so a veritable supergroup. Steve had appeared in the video for David Bowie’s No. 1 hit Ashes to Ashes (first spotted at 0:30), a song which helped propel the burgeoning New Romantic fashion movement into the mainstream. Both he and Rusty Egan worked at Blitz, the influential New Romantic nightclub in London, from 1979 until 1981. They famously only allowed entry to the weird and the wonderful and apparently Mick Jagger was once refused admittance. Egan and Strange later opened up the Camden Palace nightclub, also in London, where they continued to spread and influence the development of electronica music in the UK.

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Sadly Steve died at the age of only 55 back in 2015. He had frequently appeared on those talking head shows in the years prior to that, and it didn’t seem as if the years had been kind to him. He certainly left his mark however in that he was responsible for a whole cultural phenomenon right there at the cusp of the ’70s/’80s. He was also responsible for the honing of my sewing skills, which I have to say have come in very handy over the years.

So, that’s the blog post written, which was the second item on today’s timetable. Now it’s time to get Mr WIAA’s latest batch of beautiful things dispatched to their new owners, and then, later on today, I welcome the next set of guests to my holiday hideaway. No time to write any stories about that new venture in this post, but they will definitely follow.

Until next time….

Fade To Grey Lyrics
(Song by Billy Currie/Chris Payne/Midge Ure)

Devenir gris
Devenir gris

One man on a lonely platform
One case sitting by his side
Two eyes staring cold and silent
Show fear as he turns to hide

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Un homme dans une gare désolée
Une valise à ses cotés
Des yeux fixes et froids
Montrent de la peur lorsqu’il
Se tourne pour se cacher

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Sens la pluie comme un été anglais
Entends les notes d’une chanson lointaine
Sortant de derrière un poster
Espérant que la vie ne fut aussi longue

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Feel the rain like an English summer
Hear the notes from a distant song
Stepping out from a backdrop poster
Wishing life wouldn’t be so long

Devenir gris

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)
Devenir gris

Postscript:

Ashes to Ashes was a fantasy police drama series set in the 1980s and the sequel to Life on Mars which has been written about around here before. Needless to say music from the era played a big part in the show, and what better song to include but Fade to Grey. Here is a clip from the show which features the man himself, Steve Strange.

The Human League, “Louise” and Songs About Lost Love

I don’t know if anyone has ever conducted a study on this, but looking at any long list of songs, they do in an awful lot of cases include the word love in the title. Even if the word is not in the title it’s included in the lyrics and I would guess that about 80 per cent of songs are either about new-found love, unrequited love or lost love. The rest will be dance tracks, novelty songs or ones that deal with meatier topics, but where would we be without the love song?

Writing last time about Carole King’s It’s Too Late made me think about “songs about lost love“. Until you go through an emotionally draining parting of the ways, as I did in the autumn of 1984, you don’t realise just how many songs out there are about this very subject. Lyrics, hitherto not really listened to, suddenly play out exactly what you are going through and cut like a knife whenever they come on the radio. I don’t know if I was unlucky but during that period the charts seemed to be full of such songs. It all started off with John Waite and his heart-wrenching song Missing You and then led on to Jim Diamond‘s I Should Have Known Better.

For me however, the one that caused the most distress was Louise by The Human League. I have always loved The Human League, not least because of their sheer “Northern-ness”. Phil Oakey, their lead singer, sported the androgynous look favoured by the synthpop bands of the day and his asymmetrical hairstyle must have cut a dash in the nightclubs of Sheffield before he joined the band, but when you heard him speak he came across as a “reight” good northern bloke and not the artsy model you would expect. When the girls, Joanne and Susan, were “emergency-recruited” to fulfill the band’s touring commitments, the line-up we are most familiar with was complete. (Of course it has become part of pop folklore that the girls were at the time still at school and on a night out when they were spotted by Phil. After having a discussion with their parents they were allowed to join the band and go on tour, but had to return to school afterwards!)

Louise by The Human League:

But back to the song Louise – It was the third and last single to be released from their 1984 album “Hysteria” and only reached No. 13 in the UK Singles Chart but trust me, it received blanket airplay at the time I was at my most vulnerable, and I will always associate it with that period. It turns out that the lyrics had a darker subtext but most people would have taken them at face value and for someone like myself, going through a break-up, the song made for painful listening – Hard to reconcile that the person who had been your closest friend for years, would in the future be someone you might have a chance encounter with whilst getting off a bus. As it turned out I moved to another town soon after and didn’t tend to use buses very often but it still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it. Thanks Phil for a beautiful song.

Louise Lyrics
(Song by Phil Oakey/Jo Callis/Philip Adrian Wright)

When he saw her getting off the bus
It seemed to wipe away the years
Her face was older just a little rough
But her eyes were still so clear
He drank his coffee and he hurried out
Across, before she walked away
Then he approached her like a little child
Too scared for what he had to say

“Hello Louise
Remember me?
Now should we part
Or stay awhile
As if we were still lovers?”

She took a moment just to recognise the man she’d known so well before
And as he started to apologise
Lose any bitterness she bore
She gently put her finger on his lips
To let him know she understood
And, with her suitcase standing on the floor
Embraced him like a lover would

He told Louise
“You look so good
It’s just you see
You make me feel
As if we were still lovers”

It’s not always true that time heals all wounds
There are wounds that you don’t wanna heal
The memories of something really good
Something truly real, that you never found again

And though they talked for just a little time
Before she said she had to go
He saw the meeting as a tiny sign
That told him all he had to know

And so Louise
Waved from the bus
And as she left
She gave that smile
As if they were still lovers

Postscript:

I feel I can’t quite move on until I mention that The Human League were by no means the only successful act to emerge from Sheffield in the early ’80s – At around the same time Heaven 17 and ABC were also producing excellent albums and doing really well in the charts.

Since then there have been numerous other success stories including Pulp, Babybird, Moloko and currently The Arctic Monkeys. There are apparently twice the percentage of people in Sheffield engaged in the creative industries compared to the national average and I know I will want to investigate this further down the line. The city suffered the collapse of the steel and coal industries in the 70s and 80s and there does seem to be a correlation here – When work is no longer plentiful, young people have the time and energy to exercise their creativity and for Sheffield it has led to an economy now very much on the up.

This of course can be said of many other cities with a similar industrial background such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester all of whom, have at some point in the last 50 years, been at the epicentre of a music revolution. Interesting stuff and a real piece of luck if you happened to be in the right place at the right time. In the early 80s, if you weren’t one of the Blitz Kids from London’s Covent Garden, the next best place to emerge from was obviously, Sheffield.