Write Here, Write Now: 7.24 – Every Little Counts

New Order – Every Little Counts.

I love this song, from its warm, enveloping, confidently laid back opening bass line, through the giggles and the synths to the record-skidding crash at the end. It sounds like a band completely at ease with itself, doing exactly what it wants with measured and even-tempered control.

Brotherhood was a Christmas present, that I think I got in 1986, when I was already strongly into New Order and eagerly awaiting every new release. Living in Brussels, I scoured the record shops for previously-released product, but having already got Lowlife, I fully expected the next album to be as full of great songs as Perfect Kiss and Subculture. This was a band growing and improving with every fabulous new record.

Bizarre Love Triangle lived up to that expectation, but there were many other tracks of the album that weren’t quite the full-on dance barnstormers that that song was. As It Is When It Was, All Day Long and this track are more subdued, reflective pieces.

But when I played the record to a friend, it was this track with the pig/zoo line which won her over to the band. A touch of self-aware silliness, and all the better for being left in, as is the speeding up instrument crash at the end – a tribute to a Day in A Life?

And in more than just the ending there are similarities. That the song breaks neatly into two, with the vocals and resonant bass dominating the first section switching to glorious synths at the 2.44 mark. By rights, a New Order song should progress to a triumphant climax, all instruments blaring out their unique melody. Here that is a wasted dream as the whole song folds in on itself., disappearing into a black hole and figuratively crashing your turntable.

But the song cycles round again to the resonant bass, the jolly vocals, the recorder notes, the gently tapping percussion, the cello bow strokes, the guitar/ bass duelling, the warping tones and for a while, the world is a happy, friendly place.

A song with far more soul in it than the sneering sound of Everything Counts.

Cupcakes

180°C (350°F), 17 mins

115g butter

115g sugar

2 eggs

115g sr flour

2 tbsp milk

Vanilla, lemon zest, 2tbsp cocoa powder

Butter and sugar, eggs, flour, milk

 

Write Here, Write Now: 7.23 – Everything Counts

Depeche Mode – Everything Counts. Just a little, not a lot.

Now, when I listen to this song. I have in the back of my mind the version done by DMK, the Colombian band of a dad and his two kids on toy instruments, which captures something of the naive joy of this song which to me retains the silly, adenoidal charm of New Life and See You.

There seemed to be a strain of political pop  in the early 80s – Culture Club – War, Frankie – Two Tribes, Heaven 17  – Crushed by the Wheels – songs that were light on their feet, but with a mild point to make. the observational lyrics in this song are not quite Pet Shop Boy sharp, but do make wry comment on the emergent yuppie culture.

I didn’t realize until looking at the Wiki page, that Dave Gahan sings the verse, Martin Gore sings the chorus, but then Depeche Mode for me were so ubiquitous in the 80s that I never stopped to really listen to them or indeed pay them that much attention. For me their path crossed with OMD – as that band got less arty and more mainstream, Depeche Mode got darker and more interesting. But, prisoner of the NME that I was, I never took them that seriously, even when they approached the gothic intensity of Black Celebration.

This song is a case in point. Like many of their songs. it slips through the ears very easily, leaving little traces behind.,Though some of the lyrics never fail to entertain – “a career in Korea, being insincere” will stay with me for life. I was happy to listen to it tonight, but won’t feel sad if I don’t hear it again for another year.

Write Here, Write Now: 7.22 – King of Spain

Galaxie 500 – King of Spain. Minor royal, dressed down but softly shining.

Not quite a doubling up, but too good an opportunity to write about one of my favourite bands and on e of my favourite songs by them.

In some ways this might be considered a lesser song than King of Pain. Possibly less fluid instrument playing, simpler, more basic lyrics, it doesn’t score particularly highly on ‘musicianship’, and yet for me, it’s precisely that artlessness which makes it a far more affecting song.

Like a lot of Galaxie 500 songs, it starts off in a deceptively pedestrian style, with basic rhythm guitar chords and repetitive, half sung lyrics about being the King of Spain. So far, so unremarkable. But then, Naomi’s subtle bass line starts making its presence felt and that, coupled with the rhythm guitar, bed down a foundation for Dean’s lead guitar to fly from about 3 minutes in, sounding as if he’s getting the chance to lay down two lead guitar tracks side by side.  Then it woozes out in a little snail’s trail of feedback.

The curlicues and understated asides of that lead guitar are there almost from the beginning of the track, interrupted only when Dean has to focus on the small demands of the verse.

It’s a song that rewards close attention to its bonsai treasures – not showy, but offering miniature sound clippings pleasing to the ear.

Write Here, Write Now: 7.21 – King of Pain

The Police – King of Pain. Inflicting royalty. “Watery circles running round my brain

A song I only really know from the opening chords and the repeated title line. Listening to the song now,I am not sure I missed anything the first time around. I remember being younger than 14 and enjoying Don’t Stand So Close To me and De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da – both fun throwaway pop. This, by comparison,  doesn’t seem to have any life to it – just a series of random images and comparisons. And where the gap for the catchy melody is, is just the repeated chords and Sting wearily listing.  He does seem to be the King of Pain, but not in the way he intended.

Yes I can sympathise with somebody mourning a lost relationship, but the mooning on this track seems to reach Billy “We didn’t start the fire” Joel  levels of abstracted pretension and disconnection.

Musically, it chugs along uneventfully.  There are instruments playing – guitar, drums and of course bass, but I don’t really notice anything standing out. The repetitive piano at the start seems to set the style for the whole song and indeed for music generally in 1983.

As my fourteeenth year continued, looking back it seems that the music scene slowly developed from innovative synth pop towards blanded-out mainstream corporate drivel. Albums from Madonna, Elton John, Wham, George Benson and the afore-mentioned Billy Joel were released that summer.

There’s a needle somewhere in that haystack, (as Sting didn’t write), and I’m going to have to hunt hard for those sharp-penned treats among the musical chaff to complete this month’s thematic blogs.

Here’s Sting channeling Danny Blue from Hustle:

 

Write Here, Write Now: 7.20 – Temptation

New Order – Temptation

The single before Blue Monday, and released in 1982, a few months before I turned 14, so not eligible for the  1982-3 grouping for this month. There are, not untypically for this group, many versions of this song. I’m going with the longest, the one with Barney yelping in the intro about having a snowball put down the back of his neck.

It’s the version I remember, as varying most from a conventional pop song, and doing what the great New Order songs (Bizarre Love Triangle, Sub Culture, True Faith, Perfect Kiss) do – give space for the instruments to take off and interweave a sublime music of synergy, energy and joy.

A minute and a half of introduction, then the song text starts. Before the next minute is out, the synth takes centre stage. Gillian’s synth does it most for me. On its own, it marks out the inescapable dance element in the song. Three minutes later, it is exposed again. its insistent jabbing rhythm forming a taut backdrop for Hooky’s expressive lead bass. The relationship between those two instruments is the delight at the heart of the song. Not often at the forefront in pop, when there is a guitar and lead singer also available, the bass and synth form a more tacit force, felt rather than heard.

More than that, the synth also mimics the pent-up emotion of Barney’s lyrics. And then Barney’s rhythm guitar comes into and fades from focus for just the right length of time, adding highlighter pencil to the melodies that are there, but that benefit from the extra definition or reverberation.

And the joy of the climax is all of those different voices coming together to serenade the song, and then dropping out for a series of ooh ooooh ooh ooh oohs accompanied by Stephen Morris’s drumming, which was always there but accentuating rather than forcing the rhythm.

The first New Order song I think I loved. Others that came later had more wow to them, but this was the one I tried to use to convince my mum, who is in thrall to the music of Beethoven, that pop musicians could compose complex and ecstatic building thematic pieces as much as their classical forebears. I’m not sure I made much headway in that argument.

I wonder how the two songs would fare in a mash up. I suspect Carol Kenyon would have been an interesting and powerful addition to this song, though she might have upset the balance achieved.