Party peopleAfrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force
Can y’all get funky?
Remix! Megamix! Dance mix! Extended mix! Instrumental mix! Dub mix! (Dub) mix! Dub (mix)! Accapella! Extra tracks …! All these things, and more, have characterised the 12” single. For good, for brilliant, and occasionally for the downright goddamn awful. In the early 80s there were plenty of the latter category: (a) the format was finding its niche, and (b) record companies thought they were mining gold.
In my last blog I spoke about the seminal Psycho Killer. Unfortunately, at that time, the record companies also seemed to realise they could double their income by simply papping eight bars of synthetic horns into the middle of a song or, even worse, mixing the vocals out altogether to create a, ahem, B-side “instrumental version”. There are any number of terrible fan rip-offs around this time even if – a big “if” – the actual underlying tune is alright.
Of course, there were exceptions, and this blog is about a few of these from 1981-1985. I love lists (what d’ya mean, callin’ me a nerd!) and to my horror found that my long-list came in at about 25 records. You’d be bored just thinking about it. So on the basis a really good 12″ knows when to stop, in the same spirit I’ll highlight just six 12” singles in my collection that I covet more than most from that era. Along with the obligatory autobiographical memories, of course. In no particular order:
- Donna Summer: “I Feel Love (Patrick Cowley megamix)” (1982). Apparently Giorgio Moroder wasn’t happy with this 15:43 minute version but when I bought it in 1982 it took one of my favourite ever songs to a completely bonkers level. At the same time it created a trend where DJ-only mixes started to find their way to the mainstream. When I ran a mobile disco in the early ’00s with my mate Ian (a story for another day), I’d love nothing better than playing the shorter six minute version and going all Roxy-era Eno and warping the high- and mid-frequencies on the mixer. Folk seemed to enjoy it.
- Hard Corps “Dirty / Respirer” (1984). This was probably my first introduction to both white labels and electro. The record disappeared without trace until an excellent compilation called The Minimal Wave Tapes included it about 10 years ago. Nowadays, on Discogs, a decent copy fetches £50. With lyrics sung in French it was only fairly recently that I discovered the band were from Brixton! 35 years later the aptly-named dirty electro of Dirty still sounds leading edge.
Note: During my research I noticed that Hard Corps did several radio sessions, including one for Janice Long in May 1985. It would be remiss if me not to mention that Janice recently passed a 40-year milestone in broadcasting. That’s a superb achievement, and even better that she has never stopped championing new talent, playing Deadtime’s Babylon Workin’ on 27 March.
- The Smiths “William, It Was Really Nothing” (1984). At just 2.10 minutes, is this the shortest 12” single A-side ever? It also has a 1:50 minute B-side track! But of course, as good as the A-side is, the stand out “what the fuck is that” moment is the other track on the B-side, How Soon Is Now? Not available on the 7” of William.. the presence of How Soon Is Now? pretty much made it essential to purchase the 12” version. Rough Trade then re-released an edited version as a 7” to make a mockery of everything, and show that indie record labels were equally adept at fleecing fans as the majors at that time.
- D.A.F. “Der Mussolini” (1982). Apart from being a barnstorming electronic classic I have two very strong memories of this song. Firstly, I recall giving a couple of German hitchhikers a lift from Skye and asking them to translate the lyrics when I played my car mixtape. They replied “Dance the Mussolini. Dance the Adolf Hitler. Dance the Jesus Christ.” Oh!! Secondly, my favourite club in Glasgow was Night Moves – an indie club and concert venue with an attitude (and a bit of an altitude too, being situated three floors above a Chinese restaurant on Sauchiehall Street). With a capacity of about 400 I saw bands such as Gang of Four, Fad Gadget, Rezillos and Aztec Camera play there, but it was the “indie disco” that was the standout. The trend for a while, before Madonna got in on the act, was for girls to wear string vests; well, this song reminds me of string vests.
- Soft Cell “Bedsitter” (1981). I mentioned earlier that many 12″s at that time lazily stuck a few bars in the middle and called itself an “extended version”. Soft Cell’s records were different in that they were created as longer songs and edited back for 7″ radio play. So they tended to be more cohesive and told great stories, Bedsitter being a personal favourite. The Night Moves DJ played the video on a – looking back at it – tiny telly on a balcony overlooking the dancefloor, my first experience of a “VJ”. Sounds a bit pathetic now but pretty exciting nearly 40 years ago.
- Afika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force “Planet Rock” (1982). Both this record and Grandmaster Flash’s The Message were my introduction to hip-hop – I loved the New York edginess of them. Apart from the fact Planet Rock sampled not one but two Kraftwerk songs for melody and bassline (before the days of actually crediting the original artist), the song featured Arthur Baker’s trademark Roland TR-808 drum patterns. Baker also produced Freeez’s I.O.U., and New Order and, during a holiday to London and a trip to Camden Palace (now KOKO) in 1984, I was introduced to DJs’ continuous mixing. I danced all night to what I thought was a single song, including Planet Rock, I.O.U. and New Order’s Confusion meshing seamlessly. My other memory of that holiday is missing industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten destroy the Institute of Contemporary Arts’ stage with a pneumatic drill and a cement mixer in favour of going for a McDonalds.
There are many more 12″ singles – too many to mention just now so maybe for another time. What are your favourites? – I’d love to hear! The early 80s was a mixed (pardon the pun) blessing for 12″s but, when they were good, they were groundbreaking.
Just don’t mention string vests.
Image: Now That What I Call Remix (c) https://www.nowmusic.com/album/now-remix/
Image: Hard Corps Dirty / Respirer (c) https://www.discogs.com/Hard-Corps-Dirty-Respirer/release/6106760
Image: Camden Palace (c) http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/CamdenTheatre.htm