Old Music Sacred Days

The Sacred Days You Gave Me – The Human League

(#7 in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)

Punk didn’t really hit the English northern industrial city of Sheffield as hard as it did elsewhere. “Rebel? What against? I’ve been doing it all my life, mate, every day. I work hard, I play hard and I’m nobody’s fool. There’s only one person in this world who looks after me.. and that’s me. Spotty London w*nkers with cheap guitars? What do I have to listen to that racket for? I want something a bit more glamorous, mate, something that takes me away from grey skies and the noise and heat of the steel furnace, takes me to a different place. Get away from it all, like. Dream a bit.”

1980 – The Human League had come to a grinding halt. A couple of albums of austere arty electronic noise, some critical acclaim but also a fair amount of ridicule from the mainstream, they stalled, unsure of a direction. At a time when virtually anybody with a synthesiser could get a hit (Numan, Foxx, OMD, Ultravox, Visage..) the League couldn’t get past first base.

The major players split. Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware (perceived as the creative core of the League) went to pursue their electronic music ideal. Singer Phil Oakey, and director of visuals Philip Adrian Wright wanted to move in a purer pop direction, but how? Less than half a band, a tour looming, promoters insistent..

Down the Crazy Daisy one night, Oakey saw what he thought might be the League’s salvation. Two teenage girls on a night out, happy, dancing, they looked good together.. Phil took a deep breath and invited them to join the band and tour. Complemented by local musician Ian Burden covering on a variety of keyboards, the second line up of the League took its first few faltering steps.

1981 – New boy Jo Callis knew the value of a good tune, veteran producer Martin Rushent knew how to arrange. The League were a band. The accent was on songs, not style, and finding their soul, they produced one of the most extraordinary albums of the 80s in Dare. Rushent pulled all the strands together: listen to the album today, pick on any stray squiggle or bleep from the electronics, and it works in isolation as a hook, as music. As pop.

Three UK top 20 singles released before the album. The totally bonkers weeping and wailing of ‘Sound Of The Crowd’, the insistent miaow of the opening bars of ‘Love Action’. A semi-autobiographical song about relationships with an irresistible pulse beat? Made for the charts, just made for them. And the teaser for ‘Dare’ in the dreamboat chorus of ‘Open Your Heart’ – a ‘Blue’ song, for Abba fans (according to Phil – ‘Red’ songs were for Spandau Ballet fans).

Then the album, plus a massive hit and Christmas #1, no less, in the days when that actually meant something. ‘Don’t You Want Me’ racked up sales of more than a million, with its classic noir promo. Everyday girls, Joanne and Suzanne, not superstars. Top Shop and Woolworths. Roxy Music and Donna Summer. Dance round your handbag, get off your face on Southern Comfort and lemonade, and have a major hit record.

You can’t ignore the power of popular music. Not when it’s as completely lovable as this.

P.S. Part 8 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: 1984

Old Music Sacred Days

The Sacred Days You Gave Me – Slade

(#1 in a series – 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)

1973 – I was a bookish kid. Music brought me a little bit more out in to the world, I guess.. everyone wants to be a part of something, and we had our little cliques at school, kids who were allowed to have trendy haircuts and wider flappier bottoms to their school uniform trousers. I might have been a bit shy but I knew what I liked and when I had some money of my own to spend, a small collection of singles accumulated, piled on the BSR autochanger in the family radiogram. Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, Wizzard, Bowie.. the charts, Top Of The Pops and Radio One was the daily diet. Tony Blackburn at breakfast and the wonderful Alan Freeman, interpersing hits du jour with blasts of classical music. “Greetings, pop pickers.. awright, stay bright!”.

But it was a tough task, in the early 70s, staying bright. Big smiles, mirrorballs, flares and lunatic disco partying every night, right? Nope. Football hooliganism, racism, militant trade unions, strikes, power cuts, the Irish ‘problem’, the Three Day Week, a clueless Conservative government. I may not have understood it too well at the time, but I felt what my family and friends were going through, and it was tough. But it wasn’t all bad: there was a ray of light piercing the gloom.

The light reflected from a mirrored top hat..

A touch of glam was what we, and Slade, needed. They’d pounded the UK circuit for years, as soul boys the N’Betweens and skinheads Ambrose Slade, before Chas Chandler rounded them up and pointed them in the right direction. A touch of flash, Noddy Holder’s astonishing razor-blade gargle, idiosyncratic bassist Jim Lea’s proficiency in adding colourful flourishes of violin and piano to Dave Hill’s sledgehammer guitar madness, and Don Powell’s gum-chewing metronome rat-a-tat propelled them to superstardom.

‘Sladest’ was my first proper album, save for those sketchy Pickwick Top Of The Pops records. My mate Jez Thomas and I rushed into Halifax on release day and I splurged.. at least I would have, had I not underestimated the price of the fancy gatefold-sleeved multi-pictured wonder that was ‘Sladest’ (it was £3.29, a horrendous price. All was not lost, a quick dash back to Jez’s dad in the car, begging an additional 30p from Big Jimmy. There are rumours he wants his 30p back, 36 years on).

It’s a truly terrific ‘Best Of’: fourteen tracks, eight of which entered the UK top twenty, five of which hit #1, mis-spelled titles and all. It contains the very essence of what Slade means to me: sharp hooks, belting choruses, rabble-rousing good-time rock music, with no frills (save those worn by the exotically coiffed, perma-tinfoil-clad Dave Hill). It doesn’t include any Christmas songs. It is still, pretty much, the most fun my ears can have.

It’s where I began. Play loud.

P.S. Part 2 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: 1976