Tag Archives: the 1980s

R.I.P. Chris Squire (1948 – 2015)

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I was very sad to learn of the passing of Yes bassist, Chris Squire, who had been fighting leukemia. He was only 67 years old.

Squire was often called the ‘linchpin’ of the band and is the only band member to appear on every album that Yes released. He began his life in music much the same as a lot of British rockers – playing in R&B cover bands, with a few Beatles tunes thrown in for good measure. He joined The Syndicate, which shortened their name to The Syn and released two psychedelic 45s in 1967 called “Created By Clive” and “Flowerman” (which was backed with their hommage to the counter-culture event at Alexandria Palace in 1967, called “The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream“). The band split shortly after and Squire joined another psychedelic outfit, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, in 1968. He soon met Jon Anderson and the two decided to form a new group – which was called Yes, after a suggestion from original guitarist, Peter Banks.

Yes released their first LP in 1969 and showcased a longer-song format, with flourishes of classical music and jazz – what eventually became known as ‘progressive rock’. Squire’s bass-playing was unique in that he played it almost as a lead guitar, with fluid lines and hitting notes in the upper register of the instrument. After a second LP, “Time And A Word“, released in 1970 – Peter Banks was asked to leave, as the sessions for the second LP were frought with tension. Steve Howe, formerly of Tomorrow and Bodast, stepped in for the third album (and the one considered to be the first ‘classic’ Yes record), called “The Yes Album“. It was released in 1971 and placed the band at the forefront of prog rock groups. Jon Anderson managed to poach our Rick from The Strawbs (abandoning Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) for the fourth Yes LP, “Fragile“, which made them one of the top bands in the UK and even got them attention in the U.S., due to the radio-friendly tune, “Roundabout“.

Close To The Edge“, considered to be the best Yes album in the band’s catalogue, was released in 1972. Original drummer Bill Bruford left during the tour for the album and was replaced by former drummer in John Lennon‘s backing band, Alan White. A live album of the tour was released, called “Yessongs” (along with a film of the same name, directed by Peter Neal, shot at a Yes show in London). Back in the studio, they started recording what they considered to be their magnum opus, “Tales From Topographic Oceans“, based on Shastric scriptures that Anderson and Howe were reading. The final album was a sprwaling two-record set and even longtime fans thought it was too self-indulgent. Rick left after the tour and was replaced by Patrick Moraz, for the follow-up, “Relayer“.

The band took a break in 1975 and a lot of the members released solo albums. Squire’s was “Fish Out Of Water“, referring to his nick-name and to his ‘solo’ piece on “Fragile”, “The Fish (schindleria praematurus)“. It sold well and is reckoned to be one of the better solo outings from members of the group. Yes reconvened in 1976 when Rick re-joined. “Going For The One” was released in 1977 and the band enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, even during the punk explosion. “Tormato” followed in 1978, but was not received as well and Anderson and Wakeman both left the band in 1979. A stop-gap live set, “Yesshows“, was released in late 1979. The band, with Squire, Howe and White soldiered on, adding Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, from new-wavers The Buggles. They released one album together, “Drama“, before a disastrous tour in 1980. It looked like Yes, like many prog-rock bands of the 1970s, wouldn’t make it into the new decade.

Jon Anderson started to work on some new demos in 1981 with Trevor Horn, original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and eventually Chris Squire and a new guitarist, Trevor Rabin. They were brought in to help fill out the sound. The new project was to be called Cinema – but was changed to Yes, as it seemed a more sound commercial appeal. This version of the band released the “90125” (after the Atlantic Records catalogue number assigned to it) and had a few hit singles. They toured again, playing some of the ‘classic’ songs alongside the new ones. Another studio LP, “Big Generator“, was released in 1987. The band split once again. Anderson reunited with Steve Howe, Rick and Bill Bruford (who had left the 1980s King Crimson line-up after Robert Fripp split that band once again). Squire owned part of the rights to the “Yes” name, so the collaboration was called “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe” and released one album in 1989. A year later, it was decided to record an album with both of the 1970s and 1980s line-ups. The result, “Union“, was a bit too much of a mish-mash and contained too many tracks. I did get to see them live in Hartford, Connecticut on that tour in 1991 and I enjoyed the show. I preferred the 70s tunes more, but the ‘in the round’ set-up of the show and the revolving stage were pretty cool, too.

Yes continued to release albums and tour up to now – with the line-ups ever-changing. Anderson finally left in the early 2000s, for what seems to be permanent. Squire was the one main-stay and now that he’s passed on, it seems to me that Yes has as well. They are going to tour with Billy Sherwood on bass duties – but to me, it’s just won’t be the same (it wasn’t the same without Anderson, either). Perhaps the remaining ‘classic’ 1970s line-up will re-form one last time and then call it a day. Rest in peace, Chris – thanks for all the music!

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The Baysiders: Cults Within Cults

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A while ago, I was trying to explain the Bayside movement to a couple of friends. My mother was quite involved with the group for most of the 1980s and even in the first half of the 1990s. I think she still considers herself part of it, though she’s not actively involved to the extent she was.

For those not in the know, The ‘Baysiders’ came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s, based around the ‘visions’ of Veronica Leuken, a housewife based in Bayside, a neighbourhood of New York City. Leuken claimed to start having visions of Mary, Jesus’s mother, in 1968, just before the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. After that, the visions came thick and fast and soon, according to Leuken, she was speaking with Mary and a host of Catholic saints. They gave her messages about the state of the world and future predictions (none of which ever happened within the time predicted). She had her ‘ecstacies’ recorded on tape and transcribed, which were then distributed as flyers or newsletters by her rapidly growing group of followers.

The followers gathered at Leuken’s local parish in Bayside, until the crowds started to disturb the neighbourhood and were moved on by the local government. Eventually, they were granted a site which was part of the 1964 World’s Fair pavilion in Flushing Meadows. Leuken and her followers would gather for ‘Rosary Vigils’, in which they would say the rosary for the duration of the night, while Leuken would “channel” Mary or whichever saint chose to speak to the crowd.

That’s the basic gist of what they’re about. Ideologically, they were (and possibly still are) very conservative and were committed to oppose the ‘modern’ changes to the Catholic Church, specifically the Vatican II Council, held in 1962. According to Leuken, Mary and the others were very disappointed with the changes. In fact, if you read even a smattering of the ‘prophecies‘, Mary and the other celestial, omniscient beings sound a lot like garden-variety John Birch Society members. They’re obsessed with Communism, with ‘Satanic’ infiltration in the Church, the U.N., homosexuality, the wayward youth and the minutae of how to say the Mass (“No communion in the hand”, deacons can’t have priestly powers). It also seems that Mary & Co. aren’t that big on equal rights for women, or allowing women to wear trousers, in another ‘traditionalist’ bent. Add to all that a lot of apocalyptic warnings about comets and wars and natural disasters wiping out large swathes of the planet’s populations and you’re left scratching your head about Leuken’s “God” and his benevolence and loving nature. To me, ‘God’ sounds batshit crazy and conspiracy-theory prone: he warns about the Illuminati and the Freemasons, a conspiracy to replace the ‘Pope’ with an ‘anti-Pope’, about record companies being under control of Wicca (???!!) and a ‘one-world government’.

Bear in mind that the Baysiders never separated themselves from Catholicism, prefering to protest from within. They would wear their blue berets to Mass and, instead of having the communion wafer handed to them, would kneel down in front of the priest and have the wafer placed on their tongues (as allegedly instructed by the ‘Virgin Mary’, via Leuken). They were also notable by their conservative dress, with ankle-length skirts and formal trousers (trousers only for the men, though – women were forbidden to wear trousers).

I don’t remember how my mother became part of this cult – I was still really young and in the haze of childhood. I didn’t really pay much attention to the ‘grown-ups’ and their doings. Suddenly, it seemed, she was spending time with a few Baysiders and adopting their views and mannerisms. She be-friended a strange old woman, who would bring over photo albums full of Polaroid photos with different coloured squiggles on them which contained ‘messages’, according to this woman. You see, they were taken at the World’s Fair site during these rosary vigils and ‘God’ had caused the shapes to appear on the film. It is interesting to note that Polaroid attorneys never really released a statement saying the photos were faked. The ‘zines printed by the group starting appearing in the house and my mother began to stock up on ‘holy water’ (water blessed by a priest).

My mother would tell my older sister and I (our other siblings were deemed too young, at that time, to understand) about prophecies like the “Plague Of Children” and “The Warning” and “The Chastisement”. It sounded scary as shit, but for some reason, it didn’t really bother me that much. My sister was really frightened and, it seems to me, carried around that fright for a long time. When I was 11, my mother asked if I wanted to go to a vigil. I agreed, mainly as an excuse to stay up late. We got on a coach in Hartford and on the two-hour trip to Flushing Meadows, I was sat with my mother and surrounded by Baysiders. At one point, someone shouted “Look at the sun! It’s spinning!”, everyone immediately looked over to the setting sun and agreed that it was indeed spinning. I didn’t see it spinning, but it did seem to change from a orange-ish to green colour for a few seconds. That may have been my eyesight, though. I didn’t count it as a ‘miracle’.

At the pavilion – there were hundreds of people setting up deck chairs and blankets and clutching rosary beads. There was a statue of the Virgin Mary at one end of the pavilion and that end was already crowded with believers. Then, they started saying the rosary…and saying the rosary…and saying the rosary. This went on until midnight or maybe 1 a.m. I can’t quite remember because I grew bored and fell asleep. It definitely wasn’t worth getting to stay up late for. I can’t remember if my mother had brought our Polaroid to take ‘miraculous photos’. I was woken by my mother and wearily got back on the coach to go home.

I think I may have gone one other time about a year later, but after that, I eschewed any involvement with the gatherings. I couldn’t see the point in saying prayers over and over and nothing seemed to happen. The problem was, I still couldn’t escape their influence on my mother. I went to a Catholic middle-school and in my sixth-grade year, my mother kept me out of sex education class (in a Catholic school!!!) – which was pretty humiliating at the time. She used to hector my sister and brother and I about listening to rock music (which she claimed was ‘the devil’s music’). She tried to keep me from hanging out with a friend who lived down the street because his family were a bit too secular and liberal for her liking (at least, that’s what I suspected back then).

Eventually, as I grew into my late teens, I was finally able to shuck off any trappings of Bayside. My mother continued to see her ‘Sider buddies and go to the vigils – but I stopped taking any of it seriously (not that I had taken it that seriously in the first place). While I still considered myself a Catholic, I was a liberal Catholic and getting moreso all the time. In my mid-twenties, I gave up on the Church altogether, having decided that I really didn’t believe in it’s teachings anymore. I chose agnosticism as my path and have strived to keep to it as much as possible – getting rid of any long-held dogma.

Leuken passed away in 1995, which led to a schism in the Bayside movement. Her husband continued the vigils, but ousted one of his wife’s assistants – who promptly formed a rival Baysider sect. Mr Leuken passed away in 2002 and another woman has stepped up to lead the ‘original’ group. The Catholic Church still denies any authenticity to the prophecies…and the beat goes on. The strangest thing about the Baysiders, it seems to me, is that they’re more conservative than the main religious organisation they branch off from. Unlike certain sects of Sufism, which branches from Islam and Zen, which parts ways some from Buddhism – the Baysiders seem to want to turn back the clock with Catholicism and return it to a perceived earlier, ‘better’ period. They’re sincere, but ultimately misguided, as the world is passing them by. I suspect they’re all up in arms about the recent gay marriage vote in Ireland and still predicting that ‘great comet of fire’ is just around the corner. But hey, at least they probably agree with the current ‘Pope’ regarding the matter.

The ‘Iron Lady’ finally rusts away

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It was announced earlier today that Margaret Thatcher has passed away from a stroke. I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, given her health decline in recent years. Another nail gets hammered into the coffin of the ‘Decade Of Greed’. She was the last of the big-name 1980s politicians to leave the planet.

I don’t want to re-hash her entire career – her main achievement was being elected Britain’s first female Prime Minister. If only it wasn’t her – but she seized her moment and ran with it. It’s true that Britain seemed in a pretty dire spot in 1979, due to inflation and some union leaders being in it for themselves and not for the good of the union members. Still, her changes cut far too deep and her closure of the mines and other industries caused widespread unemployment and disillusion.

She remains divisive to this day and a symbol of the greed and corruption of the 1980s. Now, I was living in the U.S. at the time and while I didn’t experience Thatcher’s policies directly – her counterpart in the U.S., Ronald Reagan, was playing funny games with the economy – deregulating the banks, sky-high spending on the military and other not-so-legal adventures. His theory was that by giving the very wealthy tax cuts, they would create more wealth and it would ‘trickle down’ to everyone. Of course, it didn’t work like that – the wealthy made more money and hoarded it – so nothing ever trickled down.

Thatcher also staved off negative criticism by going ahead with the Falkland Islands conflict, which, when the British forces were victors, boosted her popularity. Reagan did the same with the Grenada action (he needed it after the killing of 240 U.S. Marines in Beirut, following an attack on the U.S. compound in that city). It’s said both Thatcher and Reagan brought the Soviet Union down – but I’ll tell you, I was never more frightened of nuclear war than in the early 80s. Of course, films like The Day After didn’t help my paranoia.

I suspect that for all Reagan and Thatcher’s rhetoric, it was more of the relaxing of the Soviet leadership that allowed the break-up of “The Iron Curtain” and the Berlin Wall to collapse. Yes, the U.S.S.R. was bankrupt, but the UK and U.S. were heavily in debt from their own weapons programs.

In the end, Thatcher was ousted by her own party over the Poll Tax and for not regarding opinions of her cabinet. She became a feeble and withered old woman and it seems likely she would not have lasted long in the 1990s, even if she hadn’t been booted from Downing Street. Of course, her legacy lived on as the Labour Party practically adopted her policies in an effort to win elections. They were successful in 1997 with their leader, Tony Blair, who brought the party further to the right, ideologically and dubbing the party “New Labour”. Blair also followed Thatcher’s way of getting into conflict and partnering up with the U.S., committing UK troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Reagan served two terms, but his image was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal and despite claims to the contrary, never fully recovered from it. It was revealed that he had Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1990s and he passed away in the late 1990s.

We all know what happened in 2000/2001, after George W. Bush was elected. He’s the son of George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice-president and was elected to the presidency in 1988. G.W.B. and Blair engineered the invasion of Iraq (Bush’s father had forces invade in 1990, after Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait) and allegedly, Bush’s advisors were impressed with the way Thatcher handled the Falklands campaign. They modelled their action, which happened in 2003, on the Falklands conflict.

Maggie Thatcher remains a divisive figure – despised and pronounced a failure by one contingent and lionised and canonised by another. I must admit I’m far more in the ‘despised’ camp – the 1980s, to me, was a dismal time and I am glad they’re over. Now with Thatcher’s death, I hope we can all say goodbye to that decade. Not forget, mind – but lay it to rest.

“Die Hard”: A libertarian slant?

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I was watching Die Hard the other night – it’s one of Pixie’s favourite films. She owns the “Die Hard: Quadrilogy” DVD box set. I noticed, as if for the first time, that the subtext to the film seems to affirm differing viewpoints. I know, I know – it’s only a goofy action film, though a very good one at that. I’d say that it re-wrote the action film template for much of the 90s and even Noughties genre output.

Now, I suspect director John McTiernan and the scriptwriters (adapting the story from a novel called “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp) never intended any political subtext for the film – they were looking for a “fun” thrill-ride for the audience. As always, though, the viewer may end up adding their own “gloss” or reality-tunnel onto the finished work.

The most common view is that “Die Hard” is an affirmation of the conservative ideology of 1980s America. Nakatomi Plaza is symbolic of the dominant Japanese economy ‘invading’ the U.S. through financial methods. The “terrorists” are German, representing America’s old World War II foes. The F.B.I., represents the Federal Government, mucking up the situation and over-extending their authority….and on and on. There’s a blog which sums up the conservative subtext deftly – it can be found here.

I even found a blog post from a Christian viewpoint, which claims the film affirms a few gospel messages!!???!!! Granted, the post is mostly about the marital strife between John McClane and his estranged wife, Holly. You can read that post here.

Into this mix, I (only half-seriously) posit that there’s even a leftie/libertarian subtext to be gleaned in between the gunshots and blood-soaked feet. Firstly, the African-American characters are the calmest and most rational, even Argyle, the limo driver, pegs McClane’s situation within a few minutes. Al Powell, the beat cop who stays in contact with McClane while he’s trapped in the upper floors of the tower, provides good advice and encouragement. They’re also intergral to the ‘sides’ they’re on. Theo, the geeky hacker-whiz working for the terrorists, is the only one who can unlock the computerised vault to get at the cash bonds the gang wants. Also, it should be pointed out, none of these characters fall into the dreaded “Magic Negro” category (O.K., maybe Powell is a little bit). Sure, they may be a bit cliched – but they’re important to the story. That seems pretty libertarian to me.

The terrorists are meant to ‘the baddies’ and yes, they do some pretty reprehensible things (did the security guard at the reception desk really need to be shot? Couldn’t they just knock him out?) – but many of the American characters aren’t much better. The two F.B.I. agents, Johnson and Johnson (a sly dig at the corporation?…O.K., probably not), come off as arrogant know-it-alls. Dwayne Robinson, the LA. police chief, does his bureaucratic by-the-book schtick and attempts to keep McClane sidelined. The film wouldn’t be complete without the 80s slime-ball and “Die Hard”s is “Harry Ellis”, played to coked-up, lounge-lizard perfection by Hart Bochner. There’s a subtle hint that Harry’s trying to get into Holly’s pants, which makes him even more of a conniving twat. William Atherton’s reporter is unscrupulous and even threatens Holly’s housekeeper with deportation, so he can interview the McClane children. Against that crew of fuck-ups and cut-throats, does Hans Grueber and his co-horts seem to be really “evil”? It’s never mentioned how Nakatomi Corporation made it’s millions – maybe they’re weapons manufacturers? Now, I’m not a fan of theft, especially when it comes to the ordinary rank-and-file, but if Nakatomi got the cash from shady deals, well…it’s all a bit relative.

That’s about where I’ve got to in my perspective. To be honest, there’s not much more to the film other than explosions, smart-arse quips and lots of gunfire. Holly’s cop-out at the end, when she takes her husband’s surname again definitely leans in a conservative subtext – but I think that some of the other subtexts can be taken a number of ways. Or maybe I’m just daft?

Kate Bush’s “The Dreaming” album is 30 years old

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The Quietus music site has posted an article about Kate Bush‘s The Dreaming record being released thirty years ago this month. Thirty years! Sheesh, the 1980s really are starting to become the distant past, or at least that’s the way it seems.

“The Dreaming” seems to be the most overlooked of her continuously pored-over canon. She went out on a limb, buoyed by watching Peter Gabriel‘s far-reaching experiments with his third solo album. Recorded over the space of a year in four different studios, the songs would almost give her nervous exhaustion, trying to perfect the sounds she heard in her mind.

The resulting melange was avoided by the punters and the singles from the record didn’t disturb the charts much. Like The Beatles before her, when “Strawberry Fields Forever” didn’t hit the top of the charts, there was doubt as to where Kate was going with her latest long-player. EMI bigwigs also expressed their doubts and called her in for a dressing-down about the budget for the LP. She was just too progressive and strong-willed in 1982. If “The Dreaming” had been released ten years earlier on EMI’s Harvest label, home to her influences Pink Floyd and Roy Harper, among others, I suspect it would have fared much better and original-press copies of the LP would no doubt be going for £100 on eBay.

In my view, “The Dreaming” continues on from the path set in Kate’s third LP, “Never For Ever”, released in 1980. She yearned to move on from the ‘girl with the piano’ image and exploit the possibilities of more rhythm and technology in her music. “The Dreaming” just gets more overtly psychedelic (albeit a kind of dark, claustrophobic psychedelia) and multi-faceted. As the article points out, between Kate’s record, Siouxsie & The Banshees’ A Kiss In The Dreamhouse and Danielle Dax‘s Pop Eyes and The Jesus Egg That Wept, formed an almost alternate dark psychedelic early 1980s, at least in the UK. It seemed a world away from the pomp and frills of the New Romantic scene and the robotic glam of techno-pop like the newly souped-up Human League and Gary Numan.

After the album’s cooled reception, Kate high-tailed it out of the city and set up a home studio at her parents’ place in Kent. She was able to work at her own pace and keep recording costs down. By the time she returned in 1985 with arguably her finest record, Hounds Of Love, the musical landscape had shifted again. This time, though, possibly because the songs were more radio-friendly, the punters were more receptive. While “The Dreaming” remains her ‘difficult’ album – surely without it, “Hounds Of Love” wouldn’t be quite the masterpiece that it seems.

You can read the Quietus article here.

Forward…Into The Past? …Or I Got Them 1980s Blues Again, Mama

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While the world (or most of it) was morning the loss of Neil Armstrong, an original space pioneer, and the futurist spirit of the late 1960s – other events suggested a leap backward to the dim and not-so-distant 1980s.

Exhibit A: A group of young women in Russia were given two-year jail sentences for singing an anti-Putin song in a cathedral. Two years in prison…for a song!! So much for glasnost and the ‘New Dawn’ of 1989–looks like ol’ Pooty-Poot wants to return to the days of czardom, or at the very least, Stalin. Now, whether or not you think the cathedral was an inappropriate place for a protest song, those sentences are pretty disproportionate to the “crime”. During the trial, the women were placed in a glass cage in the courtroom. Allegedly, there was a fire alarm one day – the courtroom was cleared, apart from the women, who were left in the cage. The Russian Orthodox Church helped to convict them as well, but then, after the sentences were handed down – pleaded for mercy for the women. Too little, too late, you hypocrites. Another sad day for free speech and another step toward police states. Kudos to the women, for standing their ground and not softening their stance in the face of authoritarians.

Exhibit B: Miners who were striking in South Africa were shot by police in a pay dispute protest, which also involved rival worker unions. Another deja vu, although things never got quite that bad in the UK, it seems unbelievable that this would happen. Then again, negligent owners are everywhere and still exploiting their work forces. Yes, there’s probably much more to the story than that – but heavy-handed tactics by the police never help. In a bizarre twist to the story – the miners have been charged with murder for the deaths of some of their colleagues (!!!). No mention of whether any police officers will be charged with murder or brutality. Their claim is that they were “defending themselves”…or course, of course.

Exhibit C: “Dallas” returns. You read that right…that show with those people…something about oil. A guy was shot, or something. You know, that soap opera show….with the ranch and it was in Texas. That one. Yes, they’ve made a new series.

Ah well, at least Madonna’s called it a day. She hasn’t!! Oh no. Next you’ll tell me that shoulder-pads are back….please don’t…

Right, I’m off to listen to Kajagoogoo and Huey Lewis & The News, while trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. It’s gonna be rad, man.

Cultural Vampirism, Genuine World Fusion, or Both? 25 Years of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”

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I was half-asleep the other night, when the teevee blared out an ad for a deluxe edition of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album – celebrating twenty-five years since it’s release. Though, if I may be Sgt. Pedantic for a minute, it’s actually 26 years old now – having been first released in 1986. The ad got me thinking about that time. I used to own the cassette of “Graceland” and listened to it quite a bit back then.

Growing up where I did, you were pretty much stuck with the local radio stations for your musical discoveries. Unless you had a cool older brother or sister, which I didn’t. The local radio stations consisted of a couple of “Top 40” ones…and then further down the FM dial, the AOR/MOR ones. That was it – not counting the local college stations, which I hadn’t started listening to that year. From what I remembered (initially), 1986 seemed pretty dire, at least from a ‘mainstream’ U.S radio perspective. The Billboard List of ‘Top 100 songs’ shows I’m not too far off. Sure, there were some decent records – Peter Gabriel‘s So showed he could make the charts and be intelligent at the same time. “Sledgehammer“, surprisingly, for a tune about bonking, was played everywhere – very sneaky, Pete! Yuppie prog? Maybe, but at least he made clever videos.

Elsewhere on the list, though, it’s all Madonna and her various clones, 70s R&B singers still hangin’ on with watered-down soul and ‘rock’ bands that don’t really rock much. Yes, I did buy Genesis‘s “Invisible Touch” LP and Stevie Nicks‘s “Rock A Little” – both pretty much nadirs of their respective catalogues. In fact, I disliked “Rock A Little” so much that I didn’t buy any of Nicks’s records after that…sadly, I did buy the follow-up to “Invisible Touch”, hoping with a new decade that they’d have ditched some of the 1980s gloss. Nope. “Invisible Touch” does have one cool moment – the closing instrumental, “The Brazilian“. It’s never been verified if the title refers to a native of the country, or a waxing technique.

I digress – Simon was having problems of his own in the 80s. His cache as “singer-songwriter” seemed to have been usurped by James Taylor and a thousand other ex-folkies, brandishing acoustic git-tars and singin’ about women and stuff. His 1980 film, One Trick Pony, was largely a flop – as was his 1983 album, Hearts And Bones, which in part chronicled his (ultimately doomed) marriage to Carrie Fisher.

He hears a South African instrumental – builds a song around that…then decides to de-camp to South Africa and record with local musicians. So far, so good, right? Well, not so much. The apartheid regime was being scrutinised and there were calls, particularly among musicians, to boycott the country. Simon picked the wrong time to do his musical exploring. Was it his fault? Maybe and maybe not. Surely, he could have been aware of what was happening there. Soon after the album was released, the charges of exploitation were being levelled and while I strongly suspect that wasn’t Simon’s intent, his position didn’t look good. Particularly as Queen had caught a lot of flak for playing the Sun City resort in 1984.

The album itself ? Well, I must admit that the South African crew that Simon gathered around him were top-notch. Some pretty tasty bass-lines and guitar licks. Lyrically, he could still catch a phrase here and there, like “cartoon in a cartoon graveyard“, from the earworm single, “You Can Call Me Al“. The video for that song featured Simon and Chevy Chase (still sorta fresh from his “Fletch” and “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” success) goofing around in a single small room. Chase mimes the lyrics, leaving Simon to try and grab attention from Chase. Amazing – no phalanx of dancers or costumes or crowds of people jumping around.

The album opener, “The Boy In The Bubble“, begins with a lone accordian riff – it then mutates into a kind-of slowed-down, psychedelic zydeco tune. There’s some funky fretless bass lines and a drum beat that should be more up-front in the mix. Simon sings in a somewhat wary tone about technology, but somehow when he gets to the line “these are the days of miracle and wonder“, you almost believe him. I dunno, perhaps he was trying to reassure himself, along with his listeners, that despite the Reagan/Thatcher axis of trickle-down bullshit, things were getting better. It also had a pretty nifty, stop-motion animated video – though, it must be said, not as cool as Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” one.

“The Boy In the Bubble”, to me, seems one of the best tunes on the record – I’ll hand it to him, he knew how to sequence the album. The rest varies. While the title track has a lovely melody and some nice guitar work, Simon’s forlorn baby-boomer-discovering-time-has-passed-him-by lyrics seem forced and desparate. He’s taking his kid to Elvis’s mansion, see….everything’s gonna be alright, after all! It’s all about everyone taking a journey and at the end of it, you feel like you’ve done something, dammit! Some great turns of phrase again, like “The Mississippi delta was shining like a National guitar…” and “She said “losing love is like a window in your heart”…‘ For all that, though, Simon feels sadly out of touch, especially when, a couple of years later, Public Enemy would proclaim “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me, a straight-up racist that sucker was, motherfuck him and John Wayne.

This sentiment also informs some of the other songs, like “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes“. The music’s nice and breezy and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s acapella intro is pretty impressive. The lyrics, again, let it down a bit. They center on a “rich girl” who “don’t try to hide” that she’s rich. This chick’s so loaded that, dig this, she has actual fucking diamonds on the soles of her shoes – y’know, to “beat those walking blues”. That’s madness! It occurs to me, though, that if she’s that rich, perhaps she’d be in a chauffeur-driven vehicle? Sometimes I think Morrissey wrote “Panic” for just this kind of tune – it definitely says nothing to me about my life. “I Know What I Know” seems in a similar vein – Simon meets dazzling women at various parties and such. We get it, Paul, you’re famous….you get to converse (and maybe more) with hawt chicks wherever you go. I realise he may have been writing fictional accounts, but the man did marry Carrie Fisher, so I suspect the lyrics aren’t that fictional. Again, the music’s infectious and so catchy that you can almost overlook the lyrics.

He gets a bit more reflective on the album’s second side, apart from “That Was Your Mother“, an up-tempo zydeco stomp. “Homeless” has another Ladysmith Black Mambazo acapella performance that seems even better than their intro to “Diamonds….”. “Under African Skies” is another contender for best song on the record. The closer, “All Around The World, Or The Myth Of Fingerprints” closes ‘Graceland’ on a somewhat low-key note – though I never realised there was a dispute by Los Lobos, the L.A. band who appear on the track, over a co-writing credit. They claim Simon never bothered to ask if they wanted one and that he outright stole one of their songs for the album. That, coupled with the exploitation charges, didn’t do him any favours.

Twenty-six years later, how does it stack up? To me, comparing it with other American mainstream music of the time – it definitely seems bold, considering the ‘roots-rock’ efforts of Springsteen, Mellencamp and even Bob Seger (who had a radio hit with the title track to his Like A Rock album). “Graceland” also defies the dance-y pop of the time and the last gasps of new wave. Some of it holds up pretty well – some of it not-so-much, especially when removed from the context of the 1980s.

For all of Simon’s conceits and fumbles with crediting – he did make audiences more aware of South African music. Well, at least American audiences – dragging them a step closer to the ‘global village’. That not really a bad thing, in my view. He even made some of us Nawthenahs aware of zydeco – no small feat. It’s still arguably the man’s best solo album (for me, he has yet to top the 1968 Simon & Garfunkel LP, “Bookends“). Tellingly, he tried to repeat the process in 1991, swapping South Africa for Brazil, for “The Rhythm Of The Saints“, with diminished results.

It’s made a lot of “Best Albums Of The 80s” lists and the inevitable position on Rolling Stone’s “Best Albums Of All-Time….Ever…Ever” list. Deserving? I suppose so. There are, to me, better albums from that time – namely The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead“, Gabriel’s “So” and Cocteau Twins‘ “Victorialand”. Even Kate Bush‘s “best-of” collection, “The Whole Story“, delivers far more brilliant moments. He does get points for staging an amazing comeback, which carried him well into the 1990s. He duly turned up with his old sparring chum Art Garfunkel for some shows and the less said about that Capeman project, probably the better. Undeniably, “Graceland” was Simon’s high-water mark – he was at the right place at the right time.

Will I buy the new edition? Not so sure – maybe when the price bounces down a bit, eh “Human Trampoline”?