Continuing his long-running and highly respected series for Ace, spanning year by year since the germination of his 1966 volume for both Ace and Faber Books, Jon Savage serves us up another of his spectacular insights into popular culture, this time for the years 1983 to 1985.
Born out of the ashes of post-punk, there were plenty of experimental singles during the early part of this period: Siouxsie’s ‘Swimming Horses’, Shriekback’s ‘Lined Up’, Soft Cell’s ‘Heat’, Echo & The Bunnymen’s ‘Gods Will Be Gods’, and the Smiths’ ‘Girl Afraid’ – a perfect kitchen sink scenario. Pete Shelley and Scritti Politti went the electronic route to great effect, while the Special AKA delivered the perfect riposte to ‘Hard Times’ (all those ripped jeans) and having fun on the dole with the under-appreciated ‘Bright Lights’.
But by the end of 1984, the true action throughout this period was to be found in electronic, black American and club music: whether the metal beat of Section 25’s ‘Looking From A Hilltop’, Trans-X’s daffy hi-NRG Eurobelter ‘Living On Video’, Shalamar’s pure electro ‘Disappearing Act’, or the new music coming out of Sugarhill and Tommy Boy – Grandmaster Flash, Double Dee and Steinski, and the sampled Malcolm X.
This compilation begins in the mainstream and ends in the underground. It was the classic high 80s, before the full downside of the New Right political project was revealed – although the signs were all there – but the pop fizz cloaked a nostalgia that masked the beginnings of social and subcultural breakdown. The tribes were at war, wearing clothes from pop’s past, a dizzying phenomenon that looted the 50s and 60s in a costume drama of confrontation and dislocation.
As ever, Jon reports from the thick of the action and provides both front line reportage and academic insight. Play loud and enjoy the trip.