1989: “Like A Prayer”- Madonna


1989. Big year. Time for moving from primary to secondary school. I think I was quite looking forward to it. My only concern was making sure i got a place in the same school that most of my friends were going to which was not the school i was in the catchment area for. This is something I’m not looking forward to with my daughter because it seems like such a massive job just deciding which schools to apply for, let alone doing the actual applications. Anyway it worked out ok in the end and I got into the one I wanted. The irony is, that the primary school friends which affected which school I wanted to go to, I drifted apart from in the space of about a year, as I was in classes with mainly kids I’d never met before.

There was another big event this year which although not as important to my future, still seemed like a big deal to my eleven year old self. The arrival of a new Madonna album.

On March 2nd 1989, Pepsi released a new advert which contained the first airing of “Like A Prayer” a song which would feature on the upcoming album of the same name. This was one of those commercial break events where they actually advertise the specific ad break prior to the date.

I was already a Madonna fan.Kids my age were into Michael Jackson and Madonna almost by default. I’m sure it was disconcerting to parents to hear their seven year olds singing along to “Like A Virgin” with no idea what the words meant. My friend from over the road had given me a tape copy of “Like A Virgin” and “True Blue” a couple of years earlier and of course i knew all the singles from radio anyway. I was excited for the new one and watching the Pepsi advert piled more excitement onto this. When “Like A Prayer” was released a couple of weeks later, we got a tape copied from my auntie and uncle’s record. There was not a lot of spare money flying around at that point in time to be spent on music. My mum played it a lot. I loved it. I still do. I would make the sweeping statement that I think it’s the best pop album released in the 80′s.

It’s is  a very varied album but the quality is undeniable. Where it’s meant to be catchy, it’s incredibly catchy. The ballads hit hard without being cheesy.( “Dear Jessie” aside!) My favourite song was always “Til Death Do Us Part” mainly for that amazing intro and chorus to be honest.

I was on board with all of Madonna’s music until the release of “Music” in 1999. It just felt like something was missing from the songs and that she was trying to do what she thought she should be doing to stay relevent rather than just ignoring that and doing what she does. It seems like the least Madonna-like Madonna album to me. “Ray of Light” didn’t feel like that even though it was a very different album for her.

The song I now consider to be the best song on “Like A Prayer” by far is this one. Just an absolute classic pop song. I could hear it every day and still not get tired of it. And i fancied the hell out of her in the video just as an aside.

1988: “Surfer Rosa”- Pixies



Belinda Carlisle was number one with “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”. The British charts were full of Australian soap stars assisted by the production of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and the first boy band of my childhood, Bros. These were the sounds I was hearing in my primary school disco.

I had started to record the Top 40 Countdown on a Sunday evening on cassette, but my ears were becoming a bit more discerning. I wouldn’t just tape the whole thing. I sat poised with Record and Play depressed while my fingers hovered over the Pause button, waiting for the first sound of anything good. Kylie Minogue no. Belinda Carlisle and The Bangles yes.

But I’m sure I was not yet ready for what is now my favourite album of 1988, “Surfer Rosa” by the Pixies. Like many, I didn’t even hear the Pixies’ name mentioned until I discovered Nirvana in 1992, and I didn’t actually hear their music until a friend at university lent me a tape 6 years later. That tape bizarrely had half of “Surfer Rosa” and half of “Recovering The Satellites” by Counting Crows on it. I liked “Surfer Rosa” immediately. It sounded so weird but so listenable. It was at the same time brilliantly melodic and catchy but loud, angry and chaotic.

I bought the CD in Newcastle while visiting a friend, and got a lift back home with another friend’s mum. We played “Surfer Rosa” in the car and during the instrumental break in “Vamos” where the guitar squalls like a seagull, the friend’s mum turned to me and said, “Martin,what on Earth have you bought?!”.

That’s precisely what you want to hear at that time in your life and I was in both barrels with the Pixies from then on. As is usually the case, once I started listening to the entire back catalogue, I began hearing their songs all over the place. Waiting for bands to come on at gigs/festivals, in the background on tv programmes, on film soundtracks.

All the albums are great but I disagree with most and prefer “Surfer Rosa” to “Doolittle”. It just edges it.

Here’s “Bone Machine”. The song which kickstarted my Pixies love.

1987: “Sister” – Sonic Youth


When you’re 9 years old, the music you listen to is the music you’re exposed to. Simple as that. Either by your parents playing it, songs on the radio or TV, or the stuff you already have on cassette or records. (Well, CD now i suppose.)

So surprisingly enough, in 1987 I wasn’t trawling independent record shops for the latest American lo-fi no wave indie rock. No. I was listening to “Bad” by Michael Jackson and “True Blue” by Madonna. Over and over again.Like most other kids my age. And I was also watching Top of the Pops on BBC 1 every Thursday night without fail. In fact this programme is where I would get my first listen of a lot of bands and artists well into my teens.

I heard Sonic Youth for the first time in 1993. A year after my ears had been opened to the tidal wave of alternative rock coming from America. Sugar Kane was the first song I was played. It was the single on 7 inch pinched by my friend from his older sister’s bedroom. We heard a lot of music this way. The song was an easy road in and I liked it. Little did I know it was pretty much unrecognisable from their early material.

Anyway in April ’93 the legendary video “1991:The Year Punk Broke” was released which documented Sonic Youth’s ’91 European Tour and included performances by them plus many support bands including Nirvana. A friend of mine had taken the audio from the video and put it onto a cassette which he played one saturday on a portable stereo while a group of us hung out in  a local park. A live version of “Schizophrenia” is the first track and it caught my interest straight away. “This is the Sugar Kane band?!”, I remember thinking.

I didn’t dive straight into their back catalogue, which was probably a good thing because I don’t think my aural taste buds would’ve been ready for that yet. But I did watch the documentary and get a copy of “Dirty”, which I loved and I followed them from that point forward. It took a while for my palette to appreciate the more abrasive and experimental songs on each album but I got there eventually. Probably around the time of “A Thousand Leaves” in 1998, which is weird because that is my least favourite album.

“Sister” though is my joint favourite along with “Daydream Nation” and “Dirty” (It might be their most commercial, but come on it’s bloody good). And it’s definitely my favourite album of 1987.

This opening tom tom beat and chiming chord intro will always get my hairs standing on end. It sounds like discovery and a world of musical investigation opening up to me. Here’s “Schizophrenia”

1986: “The Queen Is Dead”- The Smiths



Wow. 3 months since the last post. It turns out having a baby keeps you pretty busy.

Early 1986…

“Did you know that the president of America has got a big button on his desk, and if he presses it the whole world will blow itself up”. So said some 7 year old in my year 3 class (2nd Grade to anybody in America), thus plunging me into a blind panic for the first of many times based on what some kid at school said to me.

This is now one of my worries about having children. You can decide to raise them the way you want but you have absolutely no control over what other kids at school say to them. I was a worrying kind of oversensitive kid who would dwell on upsetting scary stuff I was told rather than just forgetting about it and getting on with playing football or whatever else might be going on. It’s probably a good thing that I was only young in the mid 80’s because had I been a teenager I would’ve probably been a nervous wreck.

The music of the time was obviously affected by tension being felt around the world but I was too young to realise it. But I was getting to an age where I was actually trying to find out stuff about music that was playing rather than it being just something that was on the radio.

My first memory of The Smiths is the song “Panic”. One of my cousins is 3 years older than me and used to bring Smash Hits magazine round to my house when she came over. I used to flick through it and mainly focus on the section which printed song lyrics. It seems weird now with the internet in existence, but that was the main attraction of the magazine to me at that time. I liked the song “Panic” and the fact that it mentioned Humberside which is where I’m from.

It was much later that I appreciated full albums by The Smiths. In my teens i was only a singles collection man. I’m by no means an ardent fan now really. In all honesty I find Morrissey to be a complete self righteous tit most of the time.But as the voice of The Smiths he makes sense.

“The Queen Is Dead” is easily my favourite Smiths album and contains all my favourite Smiths songs. The title track, “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and my pick for this year by year playlist, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. From its opening chords (And what chords!) to the fade out, it’s a blast of pop perfection. The bassline is amazing too.


1985: “Songs From The Big Chair” – Tears For Fears


In 1985 I was obsessed with America. My interest in films had exploded to correspond with the height of video rental and it was the year I first saw Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Gremlins, The Neverending Story et al. America just seemed like where all the best stuff happened because of my exposure to it via tv and film. They had all the best stuff too in my opinion. The Muppets, Twinkies (What the Hell are they?! I bet they’re amazing!). How come my house doesn’t have a massive porch round it that overlooks a coastal rock formation like in The Goonies? I bet I never get to go on a beach at night with a bonfire and a boombox and do kick ups.

Going along with this was the phenomenon of the 80’s film soundtrack. Songs lived and died bywhat scene in the latest hollywood blockbuster/teen movie they appeared in, and thus contained clips from in their accompanying video. It’s no coincidence that the first record I bought with saved up pocket money was “Fore!” by Huey Lewis and the News, which contained “The Power of Love” from Back To The Future.

You’d think that would mean I would include that album in the 1985 slot but I’m not going to. In fact it’s not even an album by an American band.

I was fairly recently reintroduced to “Songs From The Big Chair” by a friend who had stumbled across a vinyl copy and it reminded me how great it is.

Tears for fears get a bit swept under the carpet when it comes to 80’s pop. Although they went on a long hiatus and had line up chaos, and subsequent releases were much lower in quality following this album, “Songs From The Big Chair” will stand up against any of your Duran Durans, Depeche Modes and Spandau Ballets.

It’s a pretty short album in terms of tracks as it only has 8 but you simply cannot argue with the quality of the songwriting. Hit singles, “Shout”, “Head Over Heels” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” are all present but non singles “The Working Hour” and “Listen” are just as good songs. In fact only “I Believe” is a bit of a duffer in that its a meandering ballad that’s a bit too cheeseball and doesn’t really go anywhere.

This song though just IS 1985 for me. It instantly transports me back there.

Also I just remembered, that although I banged on about my love of films at the start of this post, I didn’t actually see my first film at the cinema until December 1985. Santa Claus: The Movie. I think I was scared of cinemas til that point. Strange kid.

1984: “Let It Be” – The Replacements


I think my favourite song of 1984 when it was 1984 was “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper. I didn’t  hear “Like A Virgin” by Madonna until the end of the year and the album would then pretty much rule my ears for most of the following year. I was definitely becoming more aware of music actually being released by now and I remember looking at record sleeves in shops whether we were in there for music buying or not. A trip to the defunct chain Woolworths that year resulted in the Father’s day present of “Born In The U.S.A” for my dad. On vinyl of course. Back before people said “on vinyl” and just said “records”.

This point in time really sticks in my mind as a time when music became less incidental and more something I actively sought out to listen to. I mentioned in the introductory post that there were regular record listening sessions of an evening with my parents, and they must have started to mean something to me around this year because listening to “Born In The U.S.A” in the living room really sticks vividly in my memory. Alongside the ’82 compilation album “The John Lennon Collection”, my mum’s Paul Simon albums (including “Graceland” when that came along.)

My taste wasn’t quite developed enough however to know anything about the album which I now consider to be the best album of 1984. I mentioned the replacements a couple of posts back and how I first discovered them by reading about them in “Our Band Could Be Your Life”. Like so many bands that are highly acclaimed, I had heard of them but never heard them. Reading about them made me think that they would be the kind of band who would be right up my street. I was correct. I started with “Let It Be” and never looked back.

I was surprised that I didn’t actually recognise any of the songs on it, with it being so highly regarded but I think that’s just because they were far more known in America than here in the U.K. I was a fan straight away though. Even the songs that on first listen sounded like throwaway muck arounds like ” Gary’s Got A Boner” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”, I soon stopped thinking of that way.

They had just the right blend of shambolic raucousness and well organised well written songs. Stylistically it’s a bit all over the place and nowadays bands get slagged off for that because critics say it means they “can’t decide on their sound”. But although there’s loads of different song types it doesn’t sound confused. I have almost as much love for the 2 albums which followed ,”Tim” and “Pleased To Meet Me” but this one has got to be the gold standard.

It’s up there in my top ten albums ever made list. “Seen Your Video”, the best almost instrumental ever written makes me want to live permanently in 1984. When “Unsatisfied” kicks in it makes all of my internal organs go “Yes!” “Androgynous”, “I Will Dare” and “Answering Machine” are all stone cold classics

Im going to include “Unsatisfied ” for the playlist but to be honest it could be nearly every track.

1983: “Murmur” – R.E.M


I first got into R.E.M in 1991 around the release of Out Of Time. I used to watch the Saturday morning TV programme The Chart Show every week, and this is where I first saw the music videos to “Losing My Religion”, “Shiny Happy People” and “Near Wild Heaven”. At the time, this programme seemed like just another music show, but looking back it was really eclectic. As well as the usual pop videos of the time, it would feature stuff they thought was up and coming in all genres and once every week there would be a specialist chart of either indie, rock, or dance. I think I had my first exposure to a lot of indie bands from watching it.
My parents got a copy of “Out Of Time” on tape from another family member but I think I played it more than them.

It took me a while to go backwards with R.E.M , although I got on the forward train from that point onwards. Obviously the following year’s “Automatic For The People” was the album where they exploded in the UK but I (and I’m sure many other fans of that album ) knew nothing of their long indie career up ’til that point. I dipped a toe into the back catalogue with the odd older song but It took me until about 1996 and “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” coming out to fully investigate the first 6 albums.
When I did I wondered what the Hell I’d been playing at as they were clearly amazing.

“Murmur” is getting featured in this list because it’s the album I keep going back to. Along with “Life’s Rich Pageant”. I like that you can hear the freshness and naivety in them at the time before the superstardom kicked in and Stipe went icon eccentric. It’s just great songs.
It’s a shame that they carried on after New adventures when Bill Berry left because as much as I tried to like each subsequent record it was pretty clear that it was downhill from that point on. I think Berry must have had a lot to do with quality control.

I could pick any track for singling out from Murmur but I’m selecting “Radio Free Europe”. It opens the album and I think it’s a good track to represent it. I can’t believe this was actually going on in ’83 when i was just starting my first year of proper school and listening to “My Naughty Little Sister” stories in Mr’s Yallop’s class. I think I still only had ears for “Thriller” at the time.