Tag Archives: eighties

Retview #44 – Predator (1987)

Title: Predator

Year of Release: 1987

Director: John McTiernan

Length: 107 mins

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves

The story goes that after Rocky IV came out, a joke circulated around Hollywood that since Sly Stallone had levelled all earthly opponents, he would have to fight an alien if a fifth film were to be made. In the event, he fought Tommy Morrison instead, but screenwriters Jim and John Thomas took some inspiration from the joke and wrote a screenplay around it. When the latest instalment in the franchise, unimaginatively called THE Predator, dropped in 2018, it did so to a chorus of disapproval and a slew of negative reviews. Much like the first instalment, which was labelled “Grisly and dull” by the New York Times. Ouch. Not to be outdone, the LA Times wrote that it was, “Arguably one of the emptiest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie.” Double ouch. Also like the first instalment THE Predator was still a… wait for it… monster hit. The main criticism of the franchise as a whole are the thin plots, papered over with explosions and witty one-liners. Therefore, you might be wondering why Predator merits inclusion in this series. Well, because it’s fucking brilliant. That’s why.

Admittedly the plot, what there is of one, is as weak as wet tissue paper. Dutch, a US Army Special Forces Major Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team, which includes Dillon (Weathers who, ironically, had just played Apollo Creed in Rocky IV), a former CIA agent who has a lot to hide, are charged with the task of rescuing an official being held hostage by some insurgents in some generic Central American setting. However, when they arrive they find a crashed helicopter and a bunch of skinned corpses, which kinda sets alarm bells rining. After a textbook firefight with some bad guys, the mission is revealed to be a set-up and Dillon’s deception is laid bare. But that’s just the start of their problems. Before they can make it to their extraction point, they realize that something in the jungle is stalking them. Yep, it’s the predator, a vicious, war-mongering alien entity with dreads that hunts people (and, apparently, other species of alien) for sport.

The first Predator movie not only laid the foundations for three sequels, but also a spin-off franchise (Alien v Predator) and a torrent of comics, novels, videogames, action figures and even theme park attractions creating a multi-billion dollar cottage industry. That’s something most movie franchises can only aspire to. Though they flatter to deceive at times and benefit from bigger budgets and better tech, the truth is none of the other entries in the Predator franchise ever reached the dizzy heights of the 1987 original. Arriving just as Schwarzenegger was riding high on show-stealing performances in the likes of Terminator, Commando and Raw Deal, Predator was very much a feather in his cap. He got to run around in the jungle with some mates covered in mud sporting unfeasibly large weapons and even larger biceps. What was not to like?

One thing I found interesting about Predator is the way it gives the alien interlopers some depth of character, whereas most movies of this type are content to just paint them as bad guys and be done with it. We even get a glimpse of their motivations. Granted, these motivations don’t amount to much, they hunt for ‘sport,’ but it’s a start. No doubt all the eighties bombast was a recipe for success, as Predator raked in almost $100 million at the Box Office against a modest $15 million budget. It also made a lasting impression, earning an 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to a score of just 34% for the 2018 instalment, and as recently as 2015 it was named fourth in a Rolling Stone reader’s poll to ascertain the best action movies of all time. All of which is worthy acclaim.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner:

Action star Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator, the idea being to match his martial arts skills with Schwarzenegger’s muscle, but he wasn’t happy being crammed into the suit all the time and constantly complained about it. The part eventually went to Kevin Peter Hall who stood over seven feet tall. He died of AIDS in 1991 at the age of just 35.


Brothers in Arms at 35

“Carefully crafted instead of raucous, pretty rather than booming, and occasionally affecting, the record is beautifully produced, with Mark Knopfler’s terrific guitar work catching the best light.”

Rolling Stone

F

Brothers in Arms, the fifth studio album by English rock royalty Dire Straits was released 35 years ago this week, which probably makes it older than most of the people reading this. If you do remember it, you are no doubt feeling old as fuck right now.

You’re welcome.

Brothers in Arms was an instant phenomena, hitting number one in 12 countries (though weirdly, it didn’t even crack the top 100 in France) and holding the top slot in the UK for an incredible 14 consecutive weeks, where it became the first album to ever be certified 10 x platinum. It also became the first CD to sell over a million copies, and is still the eighth best-selling album in British chart history. Even considering how the music industry has evolved, you just don’t get numbers like that these days. The album not only represented the pinnacle of the band’s career, but is now recognized as one of the defining albums of the era.

For his guest appearance on the single Money for Nothing, Sting recycled the vocal harmony from The Police’s hit Don’t Stand so Close to Me. Despite containing what is often referred to as homophobic lyrics (based primarily around the use of the wrd ‘faggot’) the song became the band’s signature tune and biggest ever hit, reaching the top 40 in 15 countries, even France. Money for Nothing was one of five singles released from the album in the UK, along with the title track, So Far Away, Your Latest Trick, and the disco-enthused Walk of Life, which peaked at number two and became the band’s fourth gold single. While the singles were strong, and carried Brothers in Arms a long way, it has to be said that the rest of the album is filler at best. Only the melancholy Why Worry is worth repeated listens. It’s a mystery to me that with so many great songs in their arsenal, Dire Straits chose to start most of the gigs on that tour with Ride Across the River, a nondescript mid-tempo plodder buried on side two. This suggests that far from being a truly classic album, Brothers in Arms was more a happy coincidence, benefiting enormously from a convergence of outside factors like the emergence of MTV, the arrival of the compact disc, and the implementation of CGI technology. In my opinion, previous albums Making Movies (1980) and Love Over Gold (1982) outstrip Brothers in Arms both in terms of songwriting and musicianship, if not commercial success.

Many of the songs on Brothers in Arms had to be edited to enable them to fit on vinyl, which can only comfortably accommodate 23-minutes or so per side before the sound quality is severely compromised. Hence the total running time of the original vinyl version is 47:21, while the full length of the album as heard on CD, cassette and later double-vinyl versions, was a much more indulgent 55:07. When I heard the album again on MP3 years later, it was like discovering a whole new set of songs.

However, despite the album’s epic achievements which will forever guarantee it a place in rock history, there was a considerable downside.

Not only was its runaway success impossible to replicate, but it transformed Dire Straits into a different beast. No longer were they considered the rootsy, innovative, blues-based outfit that gave us Sultans of Swing, Lady Writer and Private Investigations. Despite being suddenly elevated to Springsteen and Madonna-esque heights of megastardom, after ’85, the very name Dire Straits became a by-word for boring, middle-of-the-road dad rock, epitomized by Mark Knopfler himself. Never really what you would call a looker, the reluctant frontman was nudging forty by then, and trying desperately to keep abreast of the fast-moving MTV generation by literally rolling up his sleeves and sporting a wacky neon headband. Cringe. Still, it was the eighties, and the whole decade was one big fashion crime.

There were also other, less obvious difficulties during the recording process which suggest that all was not well within the camp even before mainstream success came knocking. According to a later interview with producer Neil Dorfsman, the performance of drummer Terry Williams was deemed unsuitable, and his parts later re-recorded by a session musician though Williams retains a credit on the album liner notes and played on the resulting world tour. Interestingly, the recording process was carried out against a backdrop of conflict in a wider context with many of the lyrics influenced by the Falklands War. The emotive title itself came from something Knopfler’s father said about Russian and Argentinian soldiers having similar ideologies and hence being, “brothers in arms.”

Yeah, Dire Straits were never the same after Brothers in Arms. Apart from the customary slew of compilations, they didn’t release anything of note until 1991’s sub-par On Every Street, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin. That particular opus is now only talked about in hushed tones.

Maybe they were never really cut out for superstardom.

B


RetView #31 – Christine (1982)

Title: Christine

Year of Release: 1983

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 110 mins

Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Prosky, Kelly Preston

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A major reason behind this series of posts is to look at movies that had an impact on my childhood and adolescence not just from a whimsical, rose-tinted view, but through the cold, hard, unimpressed eyes of an adult to ascertain how the films stand up and how my perceptions have changed. From that perspective Christine, the second Stephen King adaptation I have looked at following Thinner, is perfect fodder. I was in my early teens when I first read the book, which was released the same year as the film (unusual in itself, as the journey from publication to silver screen is usually a lot longer) and I think I saw the movie around the same time. Both are shot-through with nostalgia, and though set in the late 1970’s, feel as if they could have been placed in a much earlier time. This is perhaps a result of Christine’s radio being permanently tuned into 1950’s, the era she was manufactured (or ‘born’) rock n’ roll. In many ways, both the book and the movie also capture the angst and confusion of being a teenager, which often goes hand-in-hand with the thrills and naked optimism. All of which is testament to King’s sublime storytelling. Something else that comes through loud and clear is how intrinsic cars and driving is to American teen culture. It’s probably important to most teenagers, wherever they are from. Obviously, cars represent freedom. But they mean so much more in America.

It’s unlikely that any of this would be so prevalent had it not been for the direction of John Carpenter, who had been exploring the horror/suspense genre ever since 1978’s classic Halloween, most impressively on The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981) and the Thing (1982), a run he continued with Christine. His trademark sinister musical score, on this occasion cut with rock n’ roll classics, is a permanent reminder of his involvement, but his influence is immediately apparent during the opening credits, which roll over the sound of a throbbing engine. Overall, Carpenter brings a kind of savage warmth to proceedings, which is surprising as in later interviews he said the film was more of a ‘job’ than a personal project.

The plot is simple enough, but when you think about it most great plots are. Things are usually only complicated by sprawling, convoluted storylines which you have to concentrate so hard on following, everything else falls by the wayside. Arnold ‘Arnie’ Cunningham (Gordon) is an unpopular and socially awkward teenager living in the (fictional) town of Rockbridge, California. He has only one friend, Dennis (Stockwell). However, things begin to change when he purchases a beaten-up 1958 Plymouth convertible named ‘Christine’ from a used car dealer. He invests all his time and money in the car, and slowly develops a new image, that of a 1950’s greaser, to go with it. He even lands his first girlfriend, Leigh Cabot (Paul). But then things turn ugly. Arnie isn’t the boy he used to be. These days he’s an arrogant dickhead, and when Leigh almost chokes on a hamburger whilst sitting in his prized car, his friend Dennis does some investigating. He discovers that Christine has a long history of death and tragedy tied her. But that can’t be right. It’s only a car. Isn’t it? Dennis’ worst fears are confirmed when, after an altercation, Christine begins to hint down a group of local bullies. As the violence escalates, Arnie is sucked further and further into his now-murderous alter-ego. Is there any way back for him?

As ever, the thing that stands out most in both the book and the film version of Christine is the characterization. You actually feel for the characters, and despite many of the film cast being novices (an attempt, you feel, to portray the fresh innocence of youth) the acting is impressive right across the board. Word is that the role of Arnie was originally offered to Kevin Bacon, who declined it to take his career-defining role in Footloose, which came out the following year. The exception to the novice rule is the casting of grizzled veterans Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky, who are superb as Detective Junkins and Darnell respectively. Producer Richard Kobritz had first been introduced to the work of Stephen King through his involvement on the ‘Salem’s Lot TV mini-series, and in the aftermath of that project was presented with several other novels King wanted to adapt for the screen. Among these novels were Cujo and, of course, Christine.

Trivia Corner

Because only 5,303 1958 Plymouth Furys were ever made, by the time filming began in April 1983 they were in short supply. Carpenter decided to place ads seeking two other Plymouth models, the Belvedere and the Savoy, and eventually got hold of 24 of them in various states of disrepair. These were then used to build a total of 17 versions of the Fury.


Retview #16 – The Howling (1981)

Title: The Howling

Year of Release: 1981

Director: Joe Dante

Length: 89 minutes

Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Elisabeth Brooks

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I’ve already covered several werewolf movies in this series (An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers). However, previous entries tend to verge on horror/comedy. I don’t know why, but someone way back in movie history must have decided there was something knee-slappingly funny about people transforming into humungous wolf-like creatures and ripping innocent bystanders into bloody pieces. Not so the Howling. Despite a script dripping with satire (“You were raised in LA, the wildest thing you ever heard was Wolfman Jack.”) adapted from Gary Brandner’s novel by screenwriter John Sayles, who had previously worked with director Joe Dante on tongue-in-cheek classic Piranha, there are precious few chuckles here. Except right at the very end, which we’ll get to in good time. Even now, almost four decades after it was first released, The Howling is still a brutal, terrifying, and deeply disturbing journey into the dark heart of the lycanthrope legend which has long been considered a metaphor for the beast lurking inside all of us, something which is hinted at several times throughout the movie. If you’ve never seen it, that’s something you need to rectify post haste.

Karen White (Scream Queen Dee Wallace, star of horror staples Cujo, the original Hills Have Eyes and Critters, but probably best known for her role in E.T.) is a television news anchor in LA who is being stalked by a serial killer. In conjunction with the police and TV crews, she takes part in a sting operation, agreeing to meet the murderer in a sleazy porno cinema. In the ensuing kerfuffle, the serial killer is shot dead by cops, but Karen is left severely traumatized by it all and suffering from amnesia. Her therapist (Macnee, that bloke off the Avengers) suggests she and her husband (Stone) should spend some time at an exclusive retreat in the countryside to aid her recovery, something they are only too happy to do. Big mistake. The Colony, as they call it, is full of colourful characters, one of them being a nymphomaniac called Marsha (Brooks) who tried to bed Karen’s husband. When he rejects her advances, she follows him into the woods one night and scratches his arm, thereby ‘turning’ him. They later do it next to a bonfire (snigger) in one of those scenes that you probably rewound way too much as a horny teenager, before getting creeped out by the fact that by the end you are essentially watching a couple of Furries getting some. Anyway, Karen soon begins to suspect that something sketchy is going on not just with her husband, but at the retreat as a whole, and calls in a little help from her friends. That’s when things get interesting, if they weren’t interesting enough before.

There’s no getting around it, by today’s standards The Howling does seem awfully dated in parts. But the script is extremely well-written, the cast is a who’s who of the era’s acting talent and, though Rick Baker deservedly won an Oscar for his creature effects on An American Werewolf in London a year later, Rob Bottin’s work here is just as impressive. You can achieve quite a lot with tiny inflatable air bags under latex skin. He lets the side down somewhat in the final scene where Karen morphs into something resembling a cross between a Spaniel and a Golden Retriever live on air, but we’ll let that one slide. I prefer to think that particular scene (a late addition tagged on to the end while Wallace was filming Cujo) is meant as one of those tongue-in-cheek moments. An earlier section where the werewolf attacks Karen’s friend at a secluded cabin in the woods is utterly terrifying, as is the part where our heroine comes face to face with the monster for the first time and watches transfixed as he changes in front of her. The suspense is maintained throughout, and the action rarely lets up. There’s also a fair bit of sex and nudity which led to some reviewers, somewhat unfairly, dubbing it erotic horror. Dante (who also directed Gremlins, Innerspace and Burying the Ex, amongst others) fits all the pieces together nicely, and shows neat little touches like having Little Red Riding Hood playing in the background.

Unsurprisingly, due to its success, the Howling spawned a sequel (Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf) in 1985. What is surprising, however, is that despite the sequel being a total flop it then led to a bunch more, none of which were very good. The most recent was the eighth installment released in 2011. Word is that a ninth is in pre-production, a remake of the first, which you would think would round things off nicely. Just as long as they don’t decide to remake the other seven.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner:

Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone were married in RL, having met on an episode of CHiPs before filming started on The Howling. They were together until his death from a werewolf bite (not really. It was a heart attack) in 1995.


Gary Holton, RIP

Gary Holton  22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

Gary Holton
22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

His name might be unfamiliar, but today marks the 30th anniversary of Gary Holton’s death. The English entertainer’s list of achievements is considerable. He lived life to the fullest and did things most of us can only dream about. For starters, he once toured as lead singer with the Damned in place of Dave Vanian, he had a number one single in Norway where he was a massive star, appeared on Top of the Pops and the Tube, was the subject of articles in NME and Melody Maker, and fronted the glam rock band Heavy Metal Kids and later Casino Steel, who were signed to Polydor records. A year to the day after Bon Scott’s death, Holton auditioned to join AC/DC, turning up at the venue with a crate of whisky. Rumour has it that the sole reason he didn’t get the job was that the band didn’t want another alcoholic singer.

Despite his love of rock n’ roll, it was Holton’s acting endeavours that really made his name. He had minor roles in Quadrophenia, Minder and Shoestring, before finding fame as flash cockney carpenter Wayne in the classic comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, about a group of British builders working abroad. His character displayed a penchant for wine, women and song, something which by all accounts mirrored his off-screen persona. At the peak of his career he was offered the part of ‘Nasty’ Nick Cotton in the long-running soap Eastenders, but declined for reasons unknown. By some weird twist of fate, the part eventually went to one of Holton’s best mates, John Altman. By some even weirder twist of fate, in 2010 Altman took Holton’s place in a revamped version of Heavy Metal kids.

Gary Holton died from an overdose of alcohol and morphine in his flat in London before finishing the second series of the show that made him famous, his parts being completed by clever use of body doubles and sound editing. The cast all went to his funeral, and resisted attempts to make a third season for 15 years despite increasingly-lucrative offers. A recovering heroin addict, the inquest into Holton’s death revealed his blood contained almost twice the lethal level of morphine (o.8 mg per litre). Poignantly, the last single he released shortly before he died was a song called ‘Catch a Falling Star,’ and when the grim reaper came knocking he had been declared bankrupt twice. A tragic, sad end to a life that promised so much. Still, he probably packed more into his 33 years than most of us could in several lifetimes. His ashes were laid to rest next to his grandparent’s grave in Welshpool, Powys.

Since his death, Holton has achieved cult status. A hard-living, hard-loving rocker with a prodigious talent who loved the pub, when he wasn’t off being famous, he could often be found pulling pints at the establishments his parents ran, or playing dominoes with the regulars. Apparently, his records still outsell the Beatles in Norway. What a legend. RIP, Gary Holton. I hope you caught that falling star.


Top 10 Rock Albums of the 1980’s

This list is going to be divisive. It’s unavoidable. Some choices you will agree with, some you won’t. Some might even prompt you to dust off those old CD’s, or nip over to Spotify to see what you missed. The fact of the matter is that for a decade more famous for it’s fashion crimes than anything else, there was a lot of great music produced in the eighties. This list barely scratches the surface. I’ve chosen the albums that were especially meaningful to me, or played a significant role in my life. If you think you can do better, make your own list. Now, let’s rock.

1: U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)

Before Bono disappeared up his own arse, U2 were probably the best band in the world. They hit their creative and commercial peak with this collection of America-centric songs released in March 1987. In fact, legend has it that it’s working title was ‘The Two Americas,’ to signify what Bono saw as the mythic America and the ‘real’ America. Paradoxically, at the time it was the fastest selling album in British chart history, shifting 300,000 copies in just two days. Universally well-received, it topped the charts in over 20 countries. In his liner notes for the album’s 20th anniversary edition, American writer Bill Flanagan stated, “The Joshua Tree made U2 into international rock stars and established both a standard they would always have to live up to and an image they would forever try to live down.”

Random Fact: The Joshua Tree was the first new release to be made available on CD, vinyl and cassette on the same day.

2: INXS – Kick (1987)

Inxs-Kick-Fixed

Apart from AC/DC and the Bee Gees, Australia had never been known for producing international rock stars. That changed with INXS, who found worldwide fame with their fifth opus. Impeccably produced by Chris Thomas, who had previously worked with the likes of Queen, the Beatles and Pink Floyd, Kick was loaded with huge, anthemic choruses set to a rock/funk backdrop, with a liberal smattering of heart string-pulling ballads. Michael Hutchence was the archetypal front man, oozing mystique and sex appeal like a modern-day Jim Morrison. Unfortunately, the parallels didn’t end there. New Sensation still gives you chills.

Random Fact: At the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards, the band took home no less than five awards for the Need You Tonight video.

3: Bryan Adams – Reckless (1984)

BA’s fourth album probably ranks as his best. At least, his most successful. No fewer than six singles were released from the 10-track album, including the classics ‘Run to You’ and ‘Summer of ’69’. Adams ‘came’ clean afterwards and publicly admitted the latter was about a sexual position, rather than a reference to a year. In November 2014, Adams embarked on the Reckless 30th anniversary tour comprising 23 dates in Europe, during which he played the entire album in sequence. Around the same time, Reckless was re-released as a double set with live tracks and studio out-takes. It still sounds fresh as a daisy.

Random Fact: Reckless was the first Canadian album to sell a million copies in Canada.

4: Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA (1984)

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To some, the Boss’s macho posturing and fist pumping, never more prevalent than in the mid-eighties, is tedious and contrived. To others, it is passionate and life-affirming. There can be no argument that this album struck a chord not just in the American psyche, but on the international stage as it remains Springsteen’s biggest commercial hit. The follow-up to 1982’s starkly acoustic offering Nebraska, the album took a more pop-oriented approach, mainly at the behest of producer/manager Jon Landau. Seven singles were released, all making the top 10 in America, catapulting the Boss to a whole new level of stardom. The production lets the album down a little as the keyboards are too high in the mix and it hasn’t aged well but still, great stuff.

Random Fact: Born in the USA spent a total of 84 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top 10, the longest period in American chart history.

5: Prince & the Revolution – Purple Rain (1984)

The Grammy award-winning soundtrack to the movie of the same name is universally regarded as one of the best albums of all time. And rightly so. Love him or hate him, the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince ticked all the boxes on this one. Featuring a host of his best-loved singles including When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy and the sweeping title track, Purple Rain spent an incredible 24 consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard album charts, before being ousted by Springsteen’s Born in the USA.

Fun Fact: Purple Rain was the first album recorded with and credited to Prince’s backing group, the Revolution.

6: The Alarm – Strength (1985)

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A well-deserved entry on this list by a band often labelled ‘The Welsh U2.’ Released by IRS in October 1985, Strength, their second album, features such cult classics as Knife Edge and Spirit of ’76, which made the UK Top 40. Many of the lyrics concerning poverty, social deprivation and working class struggles strike a chord with British people who grew up during this era. Strength represented the band’s peak, during which they toured with the likes of Bob Dylan, Queen and, of course, U2, and are still active today, albeit with a vastly altered line-up. 2015 has been dubbed ‘The Year of Strength’ by original member Mike Peters, who is undertaking a full tour to mark the album’s 30th anniversary and releasing a re-imagined and re-recorded version.

Random Fact: The band’s live show in front of 26,000 fans at UCLA on April 12th 1986 was one of the first concerts to be broadcast live via satellite.

7: Marillion – Misplaced Childhood (1985)

Misplaced

The eighties saw the return of the concept album, with the third opus by prog rock staples Marillion standing up as one of the best of all time. Mid-way through shows of this era, then-front man and lyricist Fish would announce to the crowd, “Now there is time for one more track. The name of track is Misplaced Childhood,” before performing the 41-minute album in its entirety. The story has many thematic elements mainly based around love, the passage of time, and the loss of innocence, and legend has it that Fish conceived the idea during a particularly fraught acid trip. The result is a deep, emotive piece of work that has stood the test of time.

Random Fact: The boy depicted on the cover in military garb lived next door to sleeve artist Mark Wilkinson.

8: Genesis – Invisible Touch (1986)

English band Genesis had released no fewer than twelve albums before Invisible Touch, though it was their first in three years. Despite some mixed reviews, it quickly became the fourth consecutive release to top the UK album charts, and spawned a total of five singles, all of which made the UK Top 40. It’s worldwide success was largely attributed to Phil Collins’ burgeoning solo career, who had released the insanely successful No Jacket Required album the year before. Music from the album has been featured in such TV classics as Magnum PI, Miami Vice and, er, American Dad .

Random Fact: In the movie version of American psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, Patrick Bateman calls the album the group’s ‘undisputed masterpiece.’

9: Simple Minds – Once Upon a Time (1985)

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Their seventh album marked a transition from the group’s experimental early years to the pantheon of stadium rock, bridged by 1983’s classic Sparkle in the Rain. Recorded at Richard Branson’s London studio the Townhouse in May 1985, Once Upon a Time was released five months later, hot on the heels of the massive single Alive and Kicking. Don’t You Forget About Me, from the soundtrack to the John Hughes movie the Breakfast Club, was left off the album because of their initial reluctance to record it. It would be four long years until the band released any more studio material, and Once Upon a Time remains their biggest seller.

Random Fact: The single All the Things she Said was featured on Grand theft Auto V, which went on to become the highest selling videogame ever.

10: Dire Straits – Alchemy Live (1984)

Yeah, I could have gone for the commercial juggernaut Brothers in Arms, but that would have been too easy. This double live set, recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo over two nights in July 1983 at the very end of the Love over Gold Tour, is where it’s at. From the moody opening strains of Once Upon a Time in the West all the way through to the instrumental set closer Going Home (Theme from Local Hero) every whispered lyric, every plucked chord, is perfection personified. When I first discovered this album a couple of years after it’s release, I had been thoroughly brainwashed by the three-minute pop song. I could barely comprehend the fact that an entire double album could accommodate just ten Dire Straits tracks, one of which, Telegraph Road, is an epic 14-minutes long.

Fun Fact: This is the lowest selling entry on this list, with less than a million combined sales in the UK and US. That doesn’t make it a bad record.

Honourable Mentions:

Heart – Animals (1987), The Smith’s – The Queen is Dead (1986), Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands (1987), Peter Gabriel – So (1986), Stone Roses – Stone Roses (1989).

This list was first published by the Huff Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

Check out the companion piece:

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/top-10-greatest-80s-movies/


Book Review – Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus & Mary Chain Story by Zoe Howe

Barbed-Wire-Kisses-The-Jesus-and-Mary-Chain-biography

In the summer of 1986 I was twelve years old, and just getting into music. For my sins I used to buy the now sadly departed Smash Hits magazine religiously. One week, in amongst glossy, colourful images of the Pet Shop Boys, Madonna And Spandau Ballet, I came across a spread featuring two of the most miserable looking bastards I had ever seen. Black clothes, dyed black hair, eyeliner, drainpipe jeans, boots. Just looking at them you got the impression they were dangerous. Not to be fucked with. It was almost like they were the antidote to the preening pop glossiness that littered the musical landscape at the time. Looking back, they obviously spent a lot of time and effort trying to look like they didn’t give a shit. Whatever. In a time when image was everything (not so different to 2014, then) they stuck out like a sore thumb. It was the Jesus and Mary Chain, and I was hooked instantly, before I’d even heard any of their songs.

A few days or weeks later I was listening to the Radio 1 chart show on a Sunday afternoon, and one song stood out. It was called Some Candy Talking. Yep, It was the Mary Chain again. Some people say that particular song its about heroin. The band deny it, but they would, wouldn’t they? At the time I didn’t care. I didn’t even know what heroin was. All I knew was that single was fucking epic, and unlike anything else around at the time. I knew they had an album out, which would have been Psychocandy, and rushed out to buy it. But the single wasn’t on the album. Not on the cassette, anyway (it was on the CD, but I don’t think I had a CD player). What the fuck? Who doesn’t put their hit singles on their albums? After a while I realized that Psychocandy had been released the year before, and Some Candy Talking was from an EP of new material. No problem, I thought, it’ll be on the next album. But it wasn’t. That next album was Darklands, and I bought it anyway, because by that time April Skies had been released, which is truly one of the best songs ever written. I didn’t get to own Some Candy Talking until the 21 Singles compilation came out in 2002, still an essential album. Anyway, enough about the music. What about the book?

Zoe Howe is a dedicated music writer, and does a fantastic job of bringing the Mary Chain story to life, charting their rise from a council estate in East Kilbride to their creative and commercial peak, and then back down again. She writes in a sympathetic, accessible style, and while she is obviously a fan, she doesn’t allow this to colour her opinions too much. It’s painstakingly researched, with input from many of the main players in the story, including Jim Reid (the nice one). Also included are a comprehensive discography and a timeline, which helps you put everything in context in the grand scheme of things.

At its core, Barbed Wire Kisses is an archetypal rock n’ roll story of love and success, debauchery and violence, of two waster brothers being given the keys to the world and throwing them away in a drunken rage. The Mary Chain had the spiky attitude of the Sex Pistols, and the unabashed creativity of the Velvet Underground. Predictably, the story effectively ends in an acrimonious split whilst on an American tour in 1999, with William and Jim Reid both paying a heavy price for years of substance abuse. Like a shooting star, they were never meant to last. Happily, though, after years of avoiding each other they briefly reunited in 2007 to record a song for the Heroes soundtrack. It was called All Things Must Pass, which is weirdly prophetic when you think about it. A new album was rumoured to be in the works, but we are still waiting for that. They are, however, back on the road this winter to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Psychocandy, the album that should have had Some Candy talking on it but didn’t. Unless you bought the CD.

(Polygon, £12.99)


Top 10 Greatest 80’s Movies

 

They were cheesy and full of bright colours, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads, but the 80’s were a seminal decade for movies. I know there are some notables that haven’t made the cut, but I can’t include everything. That is the nature of lists. They start and they end. Kinda like films.

If you want to nominate your own, you can do so in the comments. And if feel that strongly about it, make your own list. So, in no particular order, here is my list of the Greatest 80s Movies EVER!

10. Rambo: First Blood part 2 (1985)

Our hero John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) gets sprung from jail and sent back to ‘Nam, where he falls in love, takes on a Vietcong army on his own (and wins), but not before getting captured, escaping, releasing a bunch of American POWs, nicking a gunship, and flying it back to a US camp in Thailand to take revenge on the evil pen-pushers that betrayed him. All in a day’s work.

Fun fact: the entire film was actually shot in Mexico.

9. Rocky IV (1985)

Rocky IV Poster

Rocky IV Poster

Only with the benefit of hindsight can you see Rocky IV as the blatant cold war propaganda it was with the callous, cheating Ruskie versus the honest, down-to-earth, all-American hero. Even for an 80’s actioner, Apollo Creed’s death scene is one of the most brutal and harrowing ever committed to celluloid, made even more powerful by all that glitter.

Fun fact: For added effect, Stallone decided he and Dolph Ludgren, who played Ivan Drago, should exchange punches for real when filming the films climactic fight scenes. He changed his mind after Lundgren hit him so hard in the chest his heart swelled up and he had a stint in intensive care. Oops.

8. Less Than Zero (1987)

One of the darker entries on this list sees Robert Downey Jr steal the show as Julian in pre-American Psycho Bret Easton-Ellis’ realisation and destruction of the American dream.

Fun fact: Easton-Ellis has written a sequel called Imperial Bedrooms, in which he claims all the characters are alive and well in the present day. That must have taken some doing, as Julian dies in the end of the first one.

7. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Like a lot of other teenaged boys in the 80s, I had a Molly Ringwald fetish. And like a lot of other teenaged boys, now I find it all a bit mystifying. She wasn’t even hot. She was more like that ropey plump ginger girl that went to every class completely unnoticed.

Fun fact: Who else thought Andie should have ended up with Duckie? That would have made total sense. So thought writer John Hughes, and the original ending was filmed that way. But test audiences disapproved, and the ending was re-made.

6. The Breakfast Club (1985)

How could a film about a bunch of kids stuck detention possibly work? Nobody knows, but it does. Helped no end by the classic theme song, Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds, teen angst never looked so cool. This is the archetypal Brat Pack film.

Fun fact: John Hughes made the Breakfast Club on a shoestring budget of $1 million. It went on to gross over fifty times that amount worldwide in cinemas alone.

5. The Karate Kid (1984)

Karate Kid poster

Karate Kid poster

Wax on, wax off. Who knew being treated like a slave could turn you into a double hard bastard? Another classic underdog movie from John G. Avildsen, director of Rocky. Hands up if after watching this film you subsequently tried taking somebody out with a crane kick, only to fall flat on your ass in the middle of the playground.

Fun fact: Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in his role as Mr Miyagi. He lost out to some dude who was in the Killing Fields.

4. Back to the Future (1985)

The first and by far the best in the BTTF trilogy. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Michael J Fox in his pomp, this entry had star quality sprinkled all over it. And so it proved when it raked in over $383 million at the Box Office, becoming the biggest movie of the year in the process.

Fun fact: When filming started Fox was busy making Family Ties, so the makers decided to cast Eric Stolz as Marty McFly instead. Four weeks and $3 million later, all agreed the move was an epic failure, even Stolz. From then on a schedule was devised whereby Fox would work on Family Ties during the day and BTTF at night.

3. The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator

The Terminator

Arnie at his irrepressible best. As wooden and unemotional as its possible to get, just what a machine from the future should be like. The idea for the film came to writer/director James Cameron when he was taken ill in Rome after the release of Piranha II, and he dreamed about a mechanical torso dragging itself from the wreckage of an explosion. His agent hated the idea, and told Cameron to work on something else instead. Cameron fired him.

Fun fact: The studio originally wanted to cast O.J. Simpson as the Terminator, and Schwarzenegger as Reese. This plan fell through because Cameron thought Simpson wasn’t believable enough as a killer. Um, right.

2. Aliens (1986)

This isn’t so much a sequel, as a whole new direction for the Alien franchise. Ridley Scott made the first one, and James Cameron was drafted in for the follow-up, which must surely qualify as one of the best action movies of all time. Watch the Special Edition. It kicks all kinds of extra ass.

Fun fact: Though filmed entirely at Pinewood Studios, England, Cameron wanted only actors who could accurately imitate American accents. As a result, over 3000 auditions by British actors were binned and American actors cast in their places, including three from The Terminator (Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton)

1. The Lost Boys (1987)

Lost Boys poster

Lost Boys poster

Sleep all day, party all night. It’s fun being a vampire. Everything about the Lost Boys is just cool from the loaded soundtrack to the witty one-liners and slick production. As an added bonus, Jami Gertz is smoking hot throughout. One of the few films to actually make you want to be a supernatural entity.

Fun fact: The Frog brothers, Edgar and Allen, were named after the writer Edgar Allen Poe, and the reason Kiefer Sutherland doesn’t explode in the end like the other vamps is that he didn’t really die. This was to be addressed in a sequel called Lost Girls, which never got made.

This post was originally published by Huff Post UK:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

 

 


A Musical Odyssey Part 2: The Metal Years

heavy metal

Something every teenager needs in his life is heavy metal. As soon as I hit my teens I started buying Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and other rock magazines. The first that struck me was the imagery. All that leather and make-up, fake blood and bad attitude. There was something alluringly dangerous about it all. And it also fit nicely with my budding horror fascination.

In the mid-late late eighties there was an explosion of cock rock. Acts like Bon Jovi, WASP, Skid Row, Poison, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Whitesnake, and many others became regular fixtures in the UK Top 40. Rock stalwarts like Alice Cooper and Kiss re-emerged, and even the Scorpions and Winger’s of the world were having hits. For a few years it was like living in heavy metal heaven.

Some of my favourite albums of the time were Who Made Who (AC/DC, 1986), Slippery When Wet (Bon Jovi, 1986), So Far, So Good, So What (Megadeth, 1988), Appetite for Destruction (Guns n Roses, 1987), Hysteria (Def Leppard, 1987), Girls, Girls, Girls (Motley Crue, 1987), Justice For All (Metallica, 1988), Permanent Vacation (Aerosmith, 1987), and 5150 (Van Halen, 1986).

If you’ve read this far, I’m pretty sure I just named at least two of your all-time favourite albums. Heady days, indeed.

Even if Justice For All sounded like it was produced by an eleven-year old, it mattered little as even that was soon eclipsed by the awesome beast that was Metallica, Black Album, or strictly-speaking, the album that had no name. This was the album that defined the era, though it really shouldn’t have been a hit. It was released in 1991, after metal’s heyday, had no title, limited PR, and no cover art, save for a small barely-visible coiled snake on the front. What it did have, though, was power.

Around this time I developed a penchant for limited edition collectors items. Picture discs, coloured vinyl, poster-sleeves, that kind of thing. Like millions of others, I fell right into the record company’s trap. You see, some of these ‘collectors items’ had extra b-sides or remixes and stuff, making them must-have’s for every self-respecting fan, so often you bought multiple formats just to get the extras. Or even just because they looked pretty. Style beat substance every time.

You didn’t even mind spending the money, safe in the knowledge that your limited collector’s edition Rush Prime Mover 7-inch white vinyl would only increase in value over time. You came to think of your record collection, bloated with all its fancily-packaged collector’s items, as some kind of investment for the future. A kind of nest egg. The big record labels tricked you into believing that you were actually being responsible by going out and spending all your disposable income on records every weekend.

But how many people have actually gone to the trouble of painstakingly valuing their record collection, item by item? I have. And I can tell you it was a truly depressing experience. Because what the record companies didn’t tell you at the time was that they produced these ‘limited collector’s editions’ in such bulk, and distributed them so well, that everybody had them. If you happen to have any of these half-forgotten gems gathering dust in your attic, my advice is to leave them there for another couple of decades. Apart from the odd exception (Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast 7-inch red vinyl, anyone?) they are probably worth less now in monetary terms than what you paid for them all those years ago.

Metal is one of those intriguing musical genres made up of dozens of different sub-genres. Apart from the aforementioned cock rock, there was (or has been) black metal, speed metal, thrash metal, death metal, nu metal, rap metal, funk rock, Christian rock, Adult Oriented Rock, progressive rock, glam rock, and industrial rock, to name but a few. The tragedy is that after a certain amount of time has passed, regardless of previous genre, all these bands get lumped together in the all-encompassing ‘classic rock’ category. There’s a line in a Bowling For Soup song… “When did Motley Crue become classic rock?”

That’s a damn good question.

I remember buying Guns n Roses’ Appetite For Destruction as if it was yesterday. I can’t believe it must have been the summer of 1988, which would make it almost 25 years ago. I bought the vinyl LP, in the sleeve featuring the robot rape scene that was later banned. I got the record on holiday in a Welsh seaside town called Porthcawl. We were staying in a caravan. That meant there was no record player, so all I could do for a solid week was stare at that sleeve, read the lyrics, and lovingly caress the record trying to imagine what it would sound like when I was finally in a position to play it.

Interesting sidenote on collectibles… I was one of the lucky few who got the album in its original sleeve featuring the infamous robot rape scene, just before Sweet Child O’Mine turned G N’ R into global megastars, Axl Rose disappeared up his own ass, and the original sleeve was withdrawn due to a public outcry.

In those days, if you were going to be a metalhead, you had to dress accordingly. My uniform during my teens comprised of a pair of black cowboy boots, ripped jeans, and heavily ‘customized’ t-shirt. One of my favourites was a black Madonna t-shirt, which I ripped down the middle and held together with safety pins. I would like to say it was a statement against the evils of pop music, but I wasn’t that deep back then. I just liked the image. The look was topped off with a black leather jacket complete with tassels on the sleeves (yep, tassels), a string tie featuring a stag’s skull, and a single, black, fingerless leather glove, which I wore everywhere. Oh, and before I started having real tattoos, I used to draw them on with a biro. I must have looked like a complete prick. But I thought I looked cool, and maybe that was all that mattered at the time.

I never had long hair. The furthest I ever got to having long hair was maintaining a mullet for a while. This was the eighties, and mullets were still socially acceptable. Having long, flowing, blonde locks never really appealed to me. It would require a lot of maintenance, and I’d probably wake up most mornings with a mouth full of my own hair. Not something I aspired to!

But then, as the eighties gave way to the nineties, something called grunge happened, having the same effect on hair metal as that massive blazing meteorite had on the dinosaurs. Almost overnight, rock and metal virtually ceased to exist.

Well, that isn’t strictly true. Most bands struggled gamely on for a while. Some even lasted long enough to make comebacks years later. But in the immediate aftermath of grunge, most rock and metal bands just looked confused by it all and walked around in a daze struggling to understand how they had gone from playing football stadiums to grimy rock clubs in the space of a few short months and nobody bought their records any more. It was painful to watch, and it also meant the end of the heavy metal clobber. Kurt Cobain has (had?) a lot to answer for.

Coming soon: A Musical Odyssey Part 3!


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