As I suggested last week, I have amassed a large collection of Eighties albums that I could share with you, so today I’m giving you another selection. This week I’m featuring three bands and the epitome of singer-songwriters: a bit of a mixed bag, but I hope you’ll find something in here to enjoy. All of them released more than one album in this decade, so I have a fair bit to choose from.
I always like to start with something rousing, and I think this fits the bill:
Probably one of the best known guitar intros in rock music, and one of those which has the distinction of being banned from many guitar shops as so many have used it to test the merchandise. Much though I love it, I can see the shopowners’ point! This was on Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, Appetite For Destruction, which was released in July 1987: the album was a massive hit, reaching #1 in the US and #5 here in the UK, and has to date sold more than 30m copies. Quite the beginning for a new band! This song was the third single taken from the album, released in June 1988, and also got to #1 in the US. It reached #6 here, possibly not doing better because we’d had a year to buy the album by then. There were only another five months after Sweet Child‘s release as a single before the band’s follow up album, G N’R Lies, was released in November 1988. This was a bit of a hybrid, one side being a re-release of an EP from 1986, the other being four new acoustic-based songs. It was a short album, too, just eight tracks and 33 minutes long, but amongst the new ones was this little gem:
It looks like they made the video before Axl Rose had had time to learn the lyrics, but I’ve always loved this track. The album reached #2 in the US and #22 here in the UK and, compared with its predecessor it was a complete flop, only selling 10m copies! This was the only single taken from the album, released in April 1989, and peaked at #4 in the US and #10 in the UK. It’s quite a change from their first album, and I think all the better for that, as it showed the band to be more than a one trick pony.
It’s almost as if I planned these, isn’t it? By total coincidence (or is it?) One-Trick Pony was the title of Paul Simon’s first album of the Eighties, released in August 1980. That album and its follow up, Hearts And Bones (November 1983) were nowhere near as successful as his three previous releases, and neither features anything I regard as a stand out track, so I’m concentrating today on his final Eighties album, a little thing of which you may have heard: it was called Graceland. This is my first choice from it:
That was probably the obvious one to pick, as it was by far the most successful of the five singles taken off the album. Graceland was released in September 1986 and has become Paul Simon’s best performer to date, having sold more than 16m copies. It was a hugely controversial album, though, as he was accused of having broken anti-apartheid rules in making the record in South Africa, and for including Linda Ronstadt on one of the tracks, after she had generated much criticism three years previously for playing a show at Sun City, the rich white man’s leisure paradise. On balance, I prefer to think that Simon was politically naive, and certainly didn’t believe that he was taking a pro-apartheid stance: his concern was making music and bringing artists that he respected to the attention of a wider audience. And going back to the music, I have always loved this song, and the clever video made with Chevy Chase: the song only reached #23 in the US, but was a much bigger hit in the UK, reaching #4, and in Australia, where it got to #2.
My second choice from the album is the one which did what he was hoping for, in getting wide attention for local South African musicians. In this case, that was the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who take a major part in this song and video:
This was written by Simon in collaboration with Joseph Shabalala, the musical director of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It wasn’t originally intended for inclusion on the album, but was recorded when the singers came to the States to appear on Saturday Night Live, when Simon was hosting the show, and they decided it was too good to leave out. The session also produced the track Homeless, which was written by the same pairing and is beautiful. If you don’t know it, it is well worth following up – here is a link. As a single, Diamonds wasn’t a huge success, only reaching #77 in the UK and #69 in Australia, and failing to chart in the US, but I still like it – there is so much joy in this video!
The next band I’m featuring this week may well be unknown to many of you, especially those of you in the US, where they have had next to nothing by way of chart success in their almost forty years together. The band is The Waterboys, who have long been a favourite of mine. They released their self-titled debut album in July 1983, and followed up with three more in the Eighties: A Pagan Place (June 1984), This Is The Sea (September 1985), and Fisherman’s Blues (October 1988). I’m giving you a track from each of the last two of those. The first one, from This Is The Sea, has become the band’s signature tune:
That wasn’t a huge success when it was first released as a single: the band has enjoyed a steady following over the years but has only had a few big hits. It reached #26 on the UK singles chart, but did better in Australia, where it peaked at #12. It was re-released in 1991, and did much better, getting to #3 here in the UK and earning the band a gold disc for sales. They have never had a singles chart entry in the US. The album reached #37 in the UK, but has sold over a long period and has earned a silver disc. On original release it was most successful in the Netherlands (#6) and New Zealand (#4).
My offering from Fisherman’s Blues is the title track (audio only, sorry):
The fiddle on that gets me every time: it is just a joyous sound. Mike Scott, the band leader and principal songwriter, was entering a period where his songs were becoming more folk-based, in keeping with his roots (he is Scottish, with Irish connections). This album, and its follow up, Room To Roam, released in 1990, were very much folk albums. This one reached #13 in the UK and was their first US success, getting to #76 in their albums chart. As a single, this was a modest UK hit, reaching #32. Room To Roam is their best chart performer to date, reaching #5 in the UK, and is notable for containing the original version of Mike Scott’s lovely little song How Long Will I Love You? It was featured in the movie About Time, when two of the band Bellowhead played as tube station buskers performing it. Bellowhead have also done a cover version – just as lovely as the original – but I strongly advise you against assaulting your ears with Ellie Goulding’s anaemic, execrable version, which somehow got to #3 in the UK singles chart. Sadly, the album was released a year too late for me to include it here.
I know I said I was giving you two songs per band this week, but I just can’t resist giving you another from Fisherman’s Blues. This is the track that started side two of the original release (audio only, again):
That is simply fantastic, and as a catalogue of failed love affairs it takes some beating! And somehow, it is all built into a wonderfully happy-sounding, jaunty tune: a masterpiece of songwriting. It was released as a single, reaching the dizzy heights of #51 in the UK, but was a #1 in Ireland – and so it should have been! If you’re puzzled about what the title means, the Urban Dictionary describes it as being of Celtic origin, a phrase meaning an affectionate kiss or pat on the ear or cheek. They then add that “it was popularised by the Scottish band The Waterboys in their song of the same name” – so there you have it. Anyone else wondering if the writers of NCIS were Waterboys fans?
My final band for today is Dire Straits. Their first two albums were released towards the end of the Seventies, but three of their remaining four were Eighties releases: Making Movies (October 1980), Love Over Gold (September 1982) and Brothers in Arms (May 1985). The last named of those was an absolute behemoth of an album, reaching #1 in the UK, the US, and just about every other country you can think of. So, of course, I’m being my usual perverse self and featuring tracks from the other two albums, which may be less familiar to you. And to compound that, I’m not giving you the huge UK hit singles that those two albums included, either. This may be the point where I give you some more songs you haven’t heard before!
Making Movies included the hit single Romeo And Juliet, which peaked at #8 in the UK but wasn’t a US hit. This was the album’s opening track, and was also released as a single, getting to #54 in the UK and charting across a lot of Europe:
Having grown up in a seaside town, and having worked in an amusement arcade, that song is very relatable to me. But I was never one of the rough types who ran the waltzers, leaping around from carriage to carriage taking the cash, with an oily rag tucked in their back pocket: my role was much more sedate, and was useless for picking up the girls! The album was a big hit here in the UK, reaching #4, and also got to #19 in the US, #6 in Australia and #3 in New Zealand.
Love Over Gold also featured a big UK hit single, Private Investigations, which was #2 here and made the top twenty in several other countries but not the US. Again. Like its predecessor, it also started with an epic – this one:
Inspired by a bus trip taken by Mark Knopfler, the lyrics narrate a tale of changing land development over a span of many decades along Telegraph Road in suburban Detroit, Michigan, which becomes a metaphor for life and a relationship. For me, it is a brilliant song, beautifully written and performed. The album version is here if you want it in its pristine glory. In keeping with their being cast as an albums band, Love Over Gold performed better than its lead single, becoming their first UK #1 album, also topping the charts in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and peaking at #2 in France, #4 in Germany, #6 in Canada and #19 (again) in the US.
That’s all for this week. As I said at the outset, they are a mixed bag of genres, the only thing they have in common is that I like them all and bought all of these albums. I hope you have enjoyed them too. I’ll see you again next week for a further selection – there is still plenty of great Eighties music to come, so stick around! Until then, have a good week and I hope you have more to look forward to than I do, with just a hospital appointment on my calendar! Take care 😊