We’ve sifted through the cultural residue of the Noughties and 90s, so now it’s time to jog memories of the 80s, starting with hugely influential Washington Go Go crew Trouble Funk. Their 1982 track ‘Pump Me Up’ that really lives on, sampled by M/A/R/R/S, Public Enemy, George Clinton, EPMD, Kurtis Blow, Squarepusher, Run-DMC, Will Smith, Vanilla Ice…
The Woodentops. Named after a 1950s TV puppet series, The Woodentops were (indeed still are) a London ramshackle rock band with a sliver of potential. They were championed by Morrissey and looked the band most likely to, but it never came off. “We’ve always been optimistic,” singer Rolo McGinty told NME nevertheless. “We’ve never been but wholly optimistic, crazily optimistic.”
The Replacements. Totally not forgotten but somehow utterly excised from the cultural narrative (man), unless you’re American. They were semi-huge in America, always popping up in Rolling Stone polls and looking for all the world like rivals for REM, but none of that gave The Replacements any kind of profile over here. Now they’re back! Back! BACK! and you still don’t know.
The Trash Can Sinatras. To give them their due, Scotland’s Trash Can Sinatras were forgotten in both the 80s and the 90s – and are still around, knocking about under the radar today. Signed to Go! Discs in 1987, they went for chirpy, post-Housemartins indie-pop and resolutely failed to match their forebears’ success. Here’s to you, Ol’ Blue Eyeses.
James Taylor Quartet. And where’s acid jazz now? Washed away with the goatee shavings of history. James Taylor (not the hokey Laurel Canyon crooner of the 1970s) and the other three (and often more) are still hauling their version of ‘Starsky And Hutch’ around, but it’s all strictly for the heads. Presumably. Someone must be going.
The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The Men They Couldn’t Hang are still here. Their heyday though was in 1985 when their raucous folk-punk went all the way to No.3 in John Peel’s Festive 50 with first single ‘The Green Fields Of France’, and Sean O’Hagan in NME described them as “blissfully anarchic”.
Rip Rig + Panic. “We feel we’re totally happening just now,” guitarist Gareth Sager told NME in 1982. “We can lay it down harder than the rest.” Bristol post-punk-fun-jazzateers Rip Rig + Panic had to settle in the long-run for being one of those names to drop and not much else, but singer Neneh Cherry survived to forge a decent career. You’ll have heard of her.
The Sound. Fronted by the “brilliant, troubled” (according to Uncut) Adrian Borland, The Sound emerged from South London in 1979 toting the kind of widescreen rock taken into the mainstream by contemporaries like U2 and Echo & The Bunnymen, but never received their due. Borland committed suicide in 1999, 11 years after the band split.
Tackhead. Not entirely defunct yet, Tackhead’s fame was still pretty much confined to the 80s, when US rhythm kings Skip McDonald, Doug Wimbish and Keith Leblanc hooked up with London mixmaster Adrian Sherwood to create a fearsome soundsystem. There was a flash of commercial success at the turn of the 90s but Tackhead have retreated behind shuddering beats.
Smith & Mighty. Rob Smith and Ray Mighty are rarely mentioned catalysts of the Bristol trip-hop scene that wormed its tendrils everywhere in the 90s. They’d got going earlier, releasing ‘Anyone…’ (a cover of Dionne Warwick’s ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’) in 1988 and producing Massive Attack’s first single ‘Any Love’ into the bargain.
Spear Of Destiny. A former Blitz kid and member of Theatre Of Hate, Kirk Brandon found his own vehicle in Spear Of Destiny but he never quite got to grips with the pop thing. “It’s just a diversion for young people, isn’t it? It’s just cannon fodder,” Brandon told Melody Maker in 1984. Still, the chest-beating ‘Never Take Me Alive’ was a bona fide hit in 1987.
The Pale Fountains. The brilliant thing about including the Pale Fountains here is the fact they pretty much appeared in our 90s list in their Shack guise. Brothers Mick and John Head are the doyens of unjust obscurity and they honed their skills with the Fountains’ soulful, weathered pop alongside producer Ian Broudie – a Lightning Seed in the making.
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees. Kitchenware labelmates of Prefab Sprout – not included here; everyone remembers Prefab Sprout, especially Destroyer – Sunderland’s Martin Stephenson & The Daintees peddled a pure but sophisticated folk-rock on treasured albums like ‘Boat To Bolivia’ and ‘Gladsome, Humour & Blue’ and Stephenson still wheels out the “hits” on the road today.
Lisa Lisa, Cult Jam & Full Force. Readers of a certain age may find titles like ‘Let The Beat Hit ‘Em’ and ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home’ ring a bell, because 80s hipsters managed to nudge this freestyle/hip-hop amalgam of a band into the charts. In the States though, they were huge. Actual No.1 singles and platinum albums. Bet they don’t remember them either though.
Win. Formed from the embers of DIY legends The Fire Engines and later to morph into T. Rex/Television fanboys The Nectarine No.9, Scotland’s Win released two lurid but wonderful bubblegum pop albums, ‘Uh! Tears Baby (A Trash Icon)’ and ‘Freaky Trigger’, and punted out unspeakably catchy single ‘You’ve Got The Power’ about a dozen times to criminally little effect.
23 Skidoo. If anyone’s thinking about industrial funk crew 23 Skidoo these days, it’s because their ‘Coup’ was sampled by The Chemical Brothers for 1997 No.1 ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’. Even that’s ancient now. “It would be hard to come up with something commercially feasible,” they told NME in 1982, but in a way they did.
Gene Loves Jezebel. If you picked up any of the inkies around 1986, you’d have been guaranteed to see luscious, pouting twin brothers Jay and Michael Aston staring back at you. The indie-goths never quite made it (best known song ‘Sweetest Thing’ made No.75) but they’ve carried on, now split into two versions, each led by a twin.
Front 242. Sometimes you can influence everyone under the sun, change the course of a continent’s music, and still no one knows who the blazes you are. Belgian electro-industrialists Front 242 have been working their uncompromising niche since 1981, just out of scope, a profound presence in the music of Nine Inch Nails, the Prodigy and other hard-edged technicians.
We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It!!. It’s OK, they shortened their name to Fuzzbox when commercial success came beckoning. Yet another 80s band that’s reappeared recently to milk those nostalgia quids, the Brummie ladies were a (vaguely) slick precursor to Riot Grrrl and enjoyed four whole top 40 hits.
Les Negresses Vertes. French pop in the 1980s wasn’t all Johnny Hallyday and inexplicably long stays at the top of the charts for Supertramp. No, there was room too for crazy baroque rockers Les Negresses Vertes, one of the few Gallic exports at the time to make any kind of impact over here. Debut album ‘Mlah’ flirted with the top 100 before we lost interest again.
The Frank Chickens. Music press and John Peel Festive 50 mainstays in the mid-80s, Japanese duo The Frank Chickens (Kazuko Hohki and Kazumi Taguchi) actually had some sort of mainstream breakthrough at the end of the decade when they hosted short-lived karaoke show Kazuko’s Karaoke Klub on Channel 4. Of course you remember it.
Diesel Park West. Another band who’ve somehow contrived to carry on in the face of nigh-on zero interest, Leicester’s Diesel Park West can still be pegged to 1989, when debut album ‘Shakespeare Alabama’ was released. A robust collection of heartfelt Big Music that also drew heavily on The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, it disappeared beneath the Madchester wave.
Linx. The apparently immortal David Grant – who now spends his time trying to teach everyone to sing on the BBC – first cropped up as frontman of Brit funk duo Linx, taking a pioneering sound right into the UK top 10 with ‘Intuition’ in 1981. The lure of a drab solo career turned Grant’s head but for a while he was at the fearless vanguard of British black music.
Colourbox. Electro bros Martyn and Steve Young were better known when they went off-piste. There was ‘The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme’ – the totally unofficial theme to Mexico ’86 – and then of course there was ‘Pump Up The Volume’. Martyn and Steve were the M and S of M/A/R/R/S with A.R. Kane. Massive hit, but the ensuing legal scrap put the mockers on any more Colourbox records.
Dolly Mixture. Cambridge indie-poppers Dolly Mixture had big ambitions. “We just wanna write classic songs,” singer Debsey Wykes told Sounds in 1981 and although the jury’s out on whether they succeeded, they did sing backing vocals on, um, Captain Sensible’s ‘Wot’ and Wykes later duetted with Sarah Cracknell on Saint Etienne’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’.
The Blue Aeroplanes. Bristol’s answer to REM. You can imagine REM endured a long, lonely wait for that. The Blue Aeroplanes, led, perennially, by Gerard Langley made a scuzzed-up but robust rock, in hock to 60s ancestors like The Velvet Underground but attuned like their Atlanta peers to the late 80s. Still around, it’s never quite slotted together.
Wee Papa Girl Rappers. London’s answer to the Cookie Crew were twin sisters Sandra and Samantha Lawrence, who started out as backing singers to ex-Undertones warbler (and future UK live music tsar) Feargal Sharkey before shaping a short, appealing career with hip-pop gems like ‘Wee Rule’ in 1988.
The Railway Children. Not Jenny Agutter, no, but the equally dreamy Gary Newby and fellow trainspotters. They reached for the moon, this lot, starting off as a sweet jangly proposition on Factory then going for the Virgin Records big bucks and enjoying brief success with ‘Every Beat Of The Heart’ before being inevitably dropped. A tale as old as the hills.
The Sandkings. You might not be hugely familiar with the Wolverhampton grebo-psychers, but you’ll have indelible memories of lead singer Jas Mann who left in the early 90s to pull stupid acid casualty faces as Babylon Zoo. The Sandkings’ loss was truly our pain.
Working Week. The 1980s were wedged with hepcats – soul boys and jazzateers with nothing to do but flick their hair, slip on moccasins and wear trousers at half-mast. Working Week, like Swing Out Sister and, to an extent, Paul Weller’s Style Council were in this mould, sipping capuccinos and keeping it nice, particularly with ‘Venceremos’.
The Shop Assistants. Edinburgh’s Shop Assistants were one of this publication’s C86 bands with a less than representative track – ‘It’s Up To You’ – that didn’t quite capture their shambling semi-aesthetic. Heavily entwined with Scots indie godfathers The Pastels, their debut single was produced by Stephen Pastel and Assistant David Keegan eventually joined his band.
The Three Johns. No indie chart of the mid-80s was complete without a track from left-wing Leeds icons The Three Johns. Jon Langford, John Hyatt and Phillip “John” (you guessed it) Brennan were “probably the best band in the world right now” according to, um, them. “The social workers of rock.”
The Nightingales. Post-punk purists The Nightingales were formed from the wreckage of The Prefects at the fag-end of the 70s, with Robert Lloyd (who would go on to form the excellently named Robert Lloyd And The New Four Seasons) as lead man and main constant over a stop-start 35-year career. They’re back now. Obviously.
The Jeremy Days. The German Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. Presumably there was a need for one of those. Their self-titled 1988 debut album was actually produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, the men in the chair for the Commotions’ 1985 set ‘Easy Pieces’, and picked up coverage over here – if not any genuine sales.
The Brilliant Corners. The Brilliant Corners took their name from a Thelonious Monk album and put in respectable hours in the indie charts without taking their off-kilter pop to the big time. A late foray into shoegaze put the kybosh on any lingering hopes and they split in 1993.
The Adventures. They coulda been contenders. Or, at least, they coulda been The Feeling. Belfast’s Adventures specialised in grand, sweeping pop, their 1988 single ‘Broken Land’ becoming a hit all over the world without ever quite breaking them. Trouble was, they sounded more like the end of an era than a new beginning.
Stump Microdisney founder members Rob McKahey and Mick Lynch slipped off when the band moved to London and formed Stump, a dazzling opportunity to release some truly ridiculous records. ‘Quirk Out’ is the indie chart legend but ‘Charlton Heston’ featured the line “Charlton Heston put his vest on” which is inspired pop gold.
Roman Holiday. Spurred by a minor trad rock’n’roll revival in the early 80s, Roman Holiday went all the way and brought back swing. With about a thousand members, all in diddy sailor caps, they managed a top 20 summer belter in 1983 with ‘Don’t Try To Stop It’, but within three years singer Steve Lambert was playing guitar for Page 3 model Sam Fox.
Pale Saints. Sneaking in at the tail end of the decade, Leeds’ Pale Saints lit up the indie charts with 1989 EP ‘Barging Into The Presence Of God’, their fuzzy dream-pop sitting comfortably alongside fare from Cocteau Twins and A.R. Kane, two (at least occasional) 4AD stablemates. Singer Ian Masters left in 1993, ringing the death knell for the band.
The Monochrome Set. Oh for the heady days when ubiquitous indie faves The Monochrome Set climbed to the dizzy heights of No.62 in the album chart with their debut ‘Strange Boutique’. The arty Hornsey fourpiece have stuck around in various formations (with the odd 10-year gap) ever since, but never troubled the scorers again.
Microdisney. The cruelly undersung brainchild of Cathal Coughlan and Sean O’Hagan. They called out South African “bastards” and Russian despots to the sound of sweet rhythm ‘n’ blues, and ended up brilliantly wasting thousands of Virgin Records pounds.
Hipsway. Despite having matinee idol Grahame “Skin” Skinner on vocals and alt-pop mastermind Johnny McElhone (once of Altered Images, later the driving force behind Texas) on bass, Hipsway never quite exceeded the sum of their promising parts. Still, ‘The Honeythief’ – a clipped slice of Scots disco funk – made the UK top 20 and, well, that’s about it.
Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. Impassioned Scots rockers Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie are “famous” for two things: minor hit ‘The Rattler’ that sounds so much bigger than it ever was, and being the launchpad for Garbage singer Shirley Manson. They’ve never reformed since their 1995 split. Maybe Manson has better things to do.
Crazyhead. We could fill this list with grebo bands alone, but there are pretty firm Health and Safety regulations around that so let’s settle on another Leicester band who made the No.65 position in the singles chart their own, wallowed in classic names like Vom, Fast Dick and Porkbeast and watched The Wonder Stuff claim all the “glory”.
Eyeless In Gaza. Nuneaton’s finest, Eyeless In Gaza were named after an Aldous Huxley novel that was named after a John Milton line, because that’s what people did in the early 80s. Occupying the more experimental end of the indie spectrum, they drew on influences like Berlin-era Bowie and Kraftwerk to really nail down that slot on the John Peel Show.
Floy Joy. Everyone knows Floy Joy, of course. Classic Supremes single. But what about the sweet Sheffield soul sounds of the band of the same name? Nada. And that’s no shock – the trio couldn’t buy a hit. Then along comes Alison Moyet, swipes their signature song ‘Weak In The Presence Of Beauty’ and takes it into the Top 10.
Close Lobsters. Paisley shamblers Close Lobsters never quite threatened a-ha’s mid-80s chart hegemony, but their crisp psychedelia found common ground with other Byrdsian acolytes of the age and there was enough residual affection for the band to justify a reunion 25 years on.
Chakk. There was a lot of this stuff about at the start of the 80s. Cold, industrial funk played by skinny white boys, in the mould of Manchester’s A Certain Ratio. Chakk got together in Sheffield, pulled there by The Human League and Cabaret Voltaire, and ground themselves to dust trying to make an album for MCA. Mark Brydon resurfaced a few years later, forming Moloko with Roisin Murphy.
Band Of Susans. “We’re trying to focus on very specific things,” singer Robert Poss told Melody Maker’s Simon Reynolds. “It’s the difference between intelligence and cleverness.” It’s the “intelligent” tag that stuck with New York’s Band Of Susans even as they carved audiences up with sheer noise power over 10 clever years.
Age Of Chance. Long before – OK, two years before – Tom Jones bellowed all over the top of it, Leeds agit-poppers Age Of Chance were putting their own electro spin on Prince’s ‘Kiss’. That minor 1986 hit was the highpoint of a promising career. By 1988, singer Steven-E was out the door and the rest of the band were blowing their potential on sludgy R&B.