Category Archives: music

Take it or leave it (1981)

Tricky, a British musical treasure in his own right, summed up the early 80’s musical landscape perfectly, when he stated that The Specials & Madness were his generations Beatles & The Stones. They were also mine, as a pre-pubescent just getting the first rush from music. His comparison does not hold up to too much scrutiny (The Beatles & The Rolling Stones worldwide success and cultural impact are unmatched and never likely to be equalled). But in an era where there were other bands loosely affiliated post-punk, it is arguably Madness & The Specials who have the edge, having that star power, the presence, the tunes, over The Beat or The Selector or many of the other 2-Tone / sort-of-mod-sort-of-skinhead bands that emerged in their wake.
Following the success of their first 2 albums and a string of singles that, while never getting to number 1, regularly made the top 10, plus a strong visual identity boosted by their effective use of music videos, Madness did something that many great bands had done before – they made the band movie.

The Specials had their own movie (of sorts) out in 1981, called ‘Dance Craze’ (a celebration of the 2-Tone / Ska revival scene, the film was largely concert footage, including Madness). Madness were going to do a film that was more personal and all about Madness. Self-funding to the tune of 20,000 quid per band member, plus cash from their label, Stiff, they were unencumbered by expectations from movie studios or financiers. ‘Take it or leave it’ is a film about the origins of Madness, how they came to be, covering a relatively short period of time (1976 to the then present 1981).

The film covers the difficult early beginnings of the band, as wannabe pub band ‘The Invaders’, with their out of tune and out of sync takes on rock n roll standards. As the band comes together you get a feel for the trials and tribulations of bands as they search for the right configuration of players and personalities until the ‘chemistry’ is achieved. As far as the acting goes, it is safe to say that if you are uncomfortable with naturalistic performances this is one you need to miss. Or go in with an open mind.

There are varying degrees of nasally London accents, some of the time mumbling into their chests, and one or two of the actors are clearly embarrassed at the whole process. But i think this adds to the charm. Mike Barson (aka Monsieur Barso), the keyboard player and de facto leader and driving force comes across as belligerent and hard work. Apparently his characteristics were exaggerated for the film but it’s to his credit that he is willing to portray himself in an unflattering light. Suggs comes across as a bit cheeky, Lee as a bit of a loose cannon and a bit dodgy, Bedders looks and sounds about 12 and you are rooting for Chrissy, if only for the fact that he has a wife and baby in a flat to look after (in another bit of artistic licence, there was actually no baby, only a wife in Chrissy’s life at the time.)

There is some footage of the Dublin Castle venue, a crap fight with some skins (probably to put to bed any discusion that they were a band for bonehead-type skins), and some great scenes that are a validation of the fashion of that subculture and era (Harrington Jackets, Ben Sherman, Doc Marten Boots, that green bomber jacket that Woody loved to wear).

Personally, the big pay off is the footage of them playing live, when you get to see Madness at their jittery, bouncing best. All that pent-up, awkward energy, channelled into 3 minute mash-ups of ska and new wave and jerky, jumping bodies, it’s a reminder of why Madness were such a potent visual and audio force over 30 years ago. Their early years are where their potential was still being brought out, their youth and energy undimmed, and ‘Take it or leave it’ (thankfully) captures them before they started maturing into a better songwriting band, but with that maturity went some of the early teeth bared, fist clenched punk attitude.

As a document of how a thousand bands try to strive and evolve, it captures the frustrations and funny moments well. As a British social document, it gives some insight into a subculture in early 80s britain, as well as brief glimpses into life on the dole and the struggle of working class young men trying to achieve something more, something better. As a British film it has that early 80’s glom and greyness about it, that captures a mood and a time. As a portrayal of a well loved British band, it’s an honest and entertaining 90 minutes. When they finally emerge as Madness, and you hear ‘Bed and Breakfast Man’ or ‘One Step Beyond’ you will be reminded of why you loved them first time around.


Flexipop was a unique contributor to the 80’s glossy music press. A magazine competitor to Smash Hits, it had interviews, photo stories, full page pictures etc – but they also had a cover mounted flexidisc for each issue. Issue 1 came with The Selector on the disc, issue 2 had The Jam and issue 3 had The Boomtown Rats. As you can see, they aimed high, and the fact they managed to attract so much talent to record special one-off tracks ensures it has a special place in British Pop History. By issue 4, they had Adam & The Ants,  approaching the peak of their massive commercial success, recording a special version of Village People’s ‘Y.M.C.A’, entitled ‘A.N.T.S’.

Here is a selection of covers – and for complete scans of issues of flexipop, try here;

(all following images courtesy of


The Best Summer Singles part II – Madonna, ‘Borderline’ (1984)

Whatever you may think of Madonna, there can be no disputing that some of her songs are pretty good, and in my opinion this is the best one of all. ‘Borderline’ was originally released in the UK in June 1984 – but failed to make the Top 40 on that occasion, it got to no.2 in January of 1986. Here is the video;


Borderline, By Madonna, at Wikipedia

POWERPOP! Selection 1 – The Jags, ‘Back Of My Hand’

The Jags were an English group formed in the Seventies. On 8 September 1979, the powerpop single “Back of My Hand”, written by Nick Watkinson (Singer) and John Alder (Guitar), entered the UK Singles Chart. A classic piece of powerpop, with a vocal that was reminiscent of Elvis Costello in his pomp, it stayed in the chart for a respectable 10 weeks, peaking at Number 17. The clip (above) is from their Top Of The Pops appearance promoting the single. “Back of My Hand” was included on their debut album “Evening Standards”, which was released the following year.

Their follow-up single “Woman’s World” did not match the success of “Back Of My Hand”, as it just got into the UK charts, reaching 75 in February 1980 before promptly dropping out again. They disbanded after a second album in 1982.


Judgment Night OST – its a rap/rock collision!!! (1993)

The film ‘Judgment Night’ was rather a dull action film starring Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr, Jeremy Piven and Stephen Dorff who, on a night out, take a wrong turn and end up in a bad part of town and have to fight for their survival. Stephen Hopkins, who also directed Predator 2, the Terrorist thriller ‘Blown Away’ (where Tommy Lee Jones drinks a ‘Guinness’) and a film version of ‘Lost in Space’, directs a movie that never really engages and is memorable for having a soundtrack that is more original, more inspiring and probably better and more fondly remembered than the film that it was commissioned to showcase.

The Judgment Night soundtrack has a fantastic premise – take some of the best ‘alternative’ rock bands of the early 1990s (and make the ‘alternative’ tag a broad enough church to encompass the likes of Living Colour, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr, Biohazard, Slayer and Helmet) and put them in a studio with commercially and/or critically successful hip hop stars (including rap royalty like Ice-T, Cypress Hill (who get 2 tracks on the album), De La Soul and Run DMC and lesser known talents like Sir Mix-a-lot and Fatal). The results are never less than good, and in a few cases the results are outstanding. The rap/metal crossover is very well represented, and 5 tracks in particular rate as some of the most fearsome, aggressive and / or perfect collisions of hip hop and rock / metal you are ever likely to encounter;

Helmet and House of Pain – Just Another Victim

House of Pain were not strangers to a few angry guitars – a mix of ‘Shamrocks & Shenanigans’ had a fantastic heavy riff to compliment the boorish/boisterous Everlast & co. When they met up with Helmet, the hardcore riffing and beats were equally matched by an angry, threatening vocal courtesy of the Helmet singer, and then about halfway through the track it breaks into a rap from the House of Pain, its throwaway ‘Just Another Victim’ tagline adding a world weariness to the violent world they present to the listener. Everlast comes up with some pretty memorable lines;

Holy Godiva, I’m a survivor
Feeling like DeNiro in Taxi Driver
With Jodie Foster, and Harvey Keitel
Looks like I’m walkin through a livin Hell
So spark that L, and I’ll get lifted
feelin the effects of what my spliff did
Cause I’m gifted, I read Sun Tzu
I brought a gun too so you’ll never come to
The weight of the world ridin on my shoulders
Cause I’m a soldier, I thought I told ya
You’re just another victim
You’re just another victim, kid

Biohazard and Onyx – Judgment Night

Onyx, a breakthrough act that year with the exuberant and faintly menacing ‘Slam’, provide the flag waving title track for the film – a crunchy, stomping MACHO track, its chorus of ‘Judgment Night’ a portent of doom, a herald of heart stopping danger!!! The raps sound like they are coming from crackheads on helium with a blood lust. The guitars sound like they agree with the crackheads on helium. It is THAT good;

Faith No More and Boo-Yaa Tribe – Another Body Murdered

This is nearly the best of the bunch; a rollicking, violent, thunderous collision between Faith No More (at the height of their success) and the formidable Californian / Samoan gang known as the Boo-Yaa Tribe. Starting off with a neat piano riff and a bit of ominous deep throated ‘ohhhhh-oh-ohhhhhhs’ that all sound like signature Faith No More, and then it ramps up and in come the Boo-Yaa Tribe. Sounding like a super aggressive bunch of Biggie Smalls in a hardcore hell, the Boo-Yaa Tribes lyrical nonchalance on death and killing add extra hell points to this musical inferno.

Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill – Real Thing

Sublime. Who would have thought that these 2 outfits would have produced something as good as this? A slow burner with real menace courtesy of that deadly sing song voice of B-Real, this finishes off the whole album on a high (excuse the Cypress Hill pun).

Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul – Fallin’

Finally, the best thing on the album of so many great things. ‘Falling’ is where the pairing of Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul is so perfect it seems so obvious that they should have just carried on as a supergroup for ever after that point. With hints of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, Teenage Fanclub serenade De La Soul, who reciprocate with the lyrical gold they were hitting at the time, that was also evident on their elevate-them-to-legendary-status album ‘Bulhoone Mindstate‘, also released in 1993.

Judgment Night OST was released on September 14, 1993 through Epic Records and was produced by many of the album’s performers. The album peaked at #17 on the Billboard 200 and spawned three singles, the aforementioned “Fallin'” by Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul, “Another Body Murdered” by Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. and “Judgment Night” by Biohazard and Onyx.

Track listing

Number Title Artists Length
1. “Just Another Victim” Helmet and House of Pain 4:23
2. “Fallin'” Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul 4:28
3. “Me, Myself, & My Microphone” Living Colour and Run DMC 3:10
4. “Judgment Night” Biohazard and Onyx 4:35
5. “Disorder” (Medley of 3 Exploited songs: “War”, “UK ’82”, and “Disorder”) Slayer and Ice-T 4:58
6. “Another Body Murdered” Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. 4:24
7. “I Love You Mary Jane” Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill 3:52
8. “Freak Momma” Mudhoney and Sir Mix-A-Lot 4:00
9. “Missing Link” Dinosaur Jr and Del tha Funkee Homosapien 3:59
10. “Come and Die” Therapy? and Fatal 4:27
11. “Real Thing” Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill 3:33

The UK music monthly, Q Magazine, in their November 1993 issue summarised that “[Judgment Night] suggests that the future for both metal and rap as a kind of agit prop soapbox style is secure.” (Page 122, Q Magazine, Nov 1993).

The film grossed around 12 million dollars at the box office, indicating that it was not a box office success. Alan Silvestri produced the film score but throughout the film the tracks from the Judgment Night Soundtrack appear (from what I remember some tracks are on for literally seconds before disappearing again). Also, I have no information on where it got to in the UK album chart. If anyone can enlighten me – please do. Judgment Night OST is a brilliant, brilliant album that sounds as lively, angry and fresh today, and just as good. It is more than 15 years old and it sounds fresh and angry and contemporary. That is testament to its greatness. It is back on my ipod and compliments my other favourite album of the moment ‘The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol I’ by The Prodigy. If you haven’t discovered it yet, I envy you, but rectify the situation!


Reviews of the album

Wiki links to the film and OST

Wiki links to the artists who appear on the OST (except for Fatal)

Neon Neon and the best mixtape ever (2007)

Only chanced across this the other night but it is a thing of beauty – a mix tape by Neon Neon, the collaboration between Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys and DJ Boom Bip. The mix is fantastic and there is not one bad track on it. It puts the work of Debbie Gibson into a whole new perspective, it is really that good.

There are so many good tracks on here, not least the Neon Neon stuff, the incredible Goblin with the theme to the Dario Argento shocker Tenebrae and the bombastic brilliance of Tears for Fears with ‘Mothers Talk’, taken from the hugely successful (and very 80’s ‘Songs From The Big Chair‘)

Here is the tracklisting – marvel at it!!!

Neon Neon: “Theme Song”
Goblin: “Tenebre”
Neil Young: “Sample and Hold”
Paul McCartney: “Temporary Secretary”
Kraftwerk: “Numbers (Wicked Mix)”
Tears for Fears: “Mother’s Talk”
Neon Neon: “Raquel (Extended Mix)”
Debbie Gibson: “Only In My Dreams (Extended Club Mix)”
Janet Jackson: “Pleasure Pricipal (Eli Edit)”
Prince: “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”
Neon Neon: “Fuckin’ Off Cover (Outtake)”

and you can click to get the mix to download for free here from pitchfork

Neon Neon have a thing about the DeLorean DMC-12. It’s the car pictured at the top of the post with it’s ceator, John DeLorean. To find out more about the car that was featured in the Back To The Future films, see here

Psychedelic Soul – The Dramatics ‘The Devil is Dope’ (1973)

Listen to it here;

taken from the album ‘A Dramatic Experience’

It is just the greatest damn mess of fuzz guitar and orchestra with soul singers and shouters ever recorded on the planet. It even kicks off with some mini-drama of someone scoring dope. It came out on the Stax label no less (which makes it even more fantastic because by default if you were on Stax you were probably pretty brilliant anyway). It has a social message (don’t do drugs) and although it is around 5 and a half minutes long it never outstays its welcome. Although commonly associated with the likes of The Temptations during the time when the recently deceased Norman Whitfield was producing the likes of Cloud Nine, I believe that this is the epitome of the sub-genre. Unless someone can come up with something even better. Can someone come up with something even better?? Maybe some Funkadelic? Undisputed Truth?

Check out more about The Dramatics here

Brave, boys – O.M.D & their ‘Dazzle Ships’ (1983)

An album ahead of its time? After listening to the thing several times, I have got to say that OMD probably were preceding the likes of Boards of Canada, amongst others, by at least 15 years. While some of the tracks are not songs, but random snatches of radio broadcasts (like the eerie opener, Radio Prague, which, though melodic, still feels like it is being dredged from the depths of a bad dream), others are sugarsweet pop melodies with bouncy electro. Sugarsweet melodies, bouncy electro – and lyrical themes that tackle subjects such as Genetic Engineering (on ‘Genetic Engineering’, obviously). The lyrics, in typical OMD style, do not deal with the usual themes like boy-mmets-girl. In previous years, for example, they had sung about the US Air Force B-29 bomber that dropped the first nuclear bomb during wartime (‘Enola Gay’). The lead single of this album, ‘Telegraph’, is a blissful hymn to maybe not understanding, but embracing new ideas anyway (in this case, mass communication). The confusion in the lyrics seems to encapsulate the initial reaction to the album, which was not favourably reviewed on its initial release, and not met with mass approval by listeners.

1. Radio Prague
2. Genetic Engineering
3. ABC Auto Indistry
4. Telegraph
5. This Is Helena
6. International
7. Romance Of The Telescope
8. Silent Running
9. Radio Waves
10. Time Zones
11. Of All The Things We’ve Made
12. Dazzle Ships

‘Dazzle Ships’ was borne out of the frustration of writers block that affected Andy McCluskey, and there are signs of this, such as the inclusion of reworked B-Sides (like ‘Romance of the Telescope’), but the overall composition of the album, with its snatches of Eastern Bloc radio broadcasts, robotic voices, upbeat melodies and musique concrete making sense in todays musical framework, where the likes of Kraftwerk (an obvious influence here) have long been feted.

The whole point of this post, as well as stressing that the album is really worth your time and money, is to direct you towards an article that gives you an appreciation of how brave OMD were in releasing this album, that appeared in the Guardian a while back;

‘How to lose 3 million fans in one easy step’ in the Guardian Online

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (to use their full name) produced some fantastic electro/futurist pop in the eighties, with gems such as ‘Electricity’ and ‘Enola Gay’ still sounding great today. ‘Dazzle Ships’ can be viewed as their great leap forward, and their creative highpoint. Brave to the point of risking their fanbase, this album is a fitting tribute to those artists willing to challenge the expectations of the listener without being wilfully obtuse. They were never this challenging again – in 1984 they released the album ‘Junk Culture’, a more upbeat collection including top 5 UK hit ‘Locomotion’.

Further links;

OMD fan site talks about the album
BBC review of ‘Dazzle Ships’
Wiki entry for ‘Dazzle Ships’
All about the album at Sid Smiths blog

What is a dazzle ship? Want to know? Find out here