Pink Jackets are Not Cool

Christmas 1981.

When asked what I want for Christmas, by now, despite (or perhaps because of) my ill-fated public display of musical knowledge, I have decided that what I want more than anything else is more records. There can be no more embarrassing moments. I need to get my shit together.

But……I remain torn. I know Shakin’ Stevens will not earn me any cool points in either this or the next life, yet still there’s a hankering, a soft spot. I want his new album. I have seen him resplendent in a pink jacket. I have witnessed him attacking Richard Madeley, and this is how I want to live.

And yet…there’s this other band I’d become vaguely been aware of. They had first crossed my radar when they were mentioned on Nationwide for having a song the chorus of which sounds like they’re singing “Sue Lawley” over and over again (They’re not). I’ve seen their new stuff on Top of the Pops. But in a video, not in the studio. Remember: this is pre-MTV, so pop videos were still a rarity. Usually if an artiste wasn’t able to appear in person on the show, we’d be treated to Legs & Co’s often far too literal dance interpretation of the hit record in question. They seem, if you’ll allow me to slip into American colloquialism for a moment, pretty cool.

They are The Police.

At this point I am blissfully unaware that The Police are the biggest band on the planet. All I know is I’ve heard “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and think it’s one of the most amazing things I ever heard. Steel Drums!!! Sting in a trilby hat in the video, in a place where it’s sunny!!!! (I remember sun. I lived through 1976. I remember that, but do I remember punk? Nosireebob. No recollection. Life sucks sometimes.) And, ironically, there’s “Invisible Sun”, which is the polar opposite to “Every Little Thing…”; it’s dark and moody, and seems to be about a political situation in Ireland that I don’t understand (still don’t, truth be told). But it’s music with a message, something above the “Ooh Baby I Lurve You” that constituted 99% of the charts. And even though I didn’t understand it, this piqued my interest.

So when I am asked what I want for Christmas, I imagine my parents were expecting I’d give some Dr Who related answer, as I had for several years previously. But no. I am clear and distinct in my request. I want either (always best to give a choice, I think – it makes the buyer feel like they’ve had some input in the process other than simply purchasing): “Ghost in the Machine” by The Police or “Shaky” by Shakin’ Stevens. One of these would have the distinction of being the first proper album I ever owned.

On Christmas Eve, I spy under the tree a present that is clearly a record. It’s square. It’s about 12″ in diameter. It has a gift tag with my name written on it. Oh yes. that’s an album alright. And soon, it will be mine.

I am confident by now. Yes, I’ve asked for either album, but I’ve dropped enough hints since the question was asked. I no longer care for the Welsh rock’n’roller. I have grown up. I’ve wandered round the house whistling “Every Little Thing…”. I’ve turned Top of the Pops up and told people to “Shush!” when they came on. It is The Police that I crave.

Christmas Day. Presents are distributed. I have in my hands the present. This is the moment when I don’t have to pretend to be excited about my gift, my adrenaline rush will be genuine, unforced, real, and will see me over the line.

It’s worth noting at this point that both album sleeves have something in common. They are both predominantly black. This has not occurred to me. So I tear open the wrapping paper, exposing a jet black (back) sleeve (Oh, alright I’ll do it, Spinal Tap aficionados: How much more black could it be? None more black, that’s how much). Black. It’s black. Black!!! It must be… I hear myself squeal with delight: “The Police! Brilliant! ” only to be met by an “Err…no….” from my parents, as I stripped the last of the wrapping paper away, flipped it over to view the front cover, only to be confronted by Shaky. That’s him in the spotlight, that’s him dressed all in black bar his pink jacket, doing his weird Elvis-pastiche pointing dance, his Brylcreemed hair flicked into something approaching a quiff (but is actually an over-elaborate side parting).

This is not how it was supposed to be. This was Christmas ruined. This was me learning how to do that “just what I always wanted” face you have to perfect at some time in your life. And at that moment I knew that the Shaky bubble had been burst. My musical coming of age had happened. I would have to unpick his badge from my parka (well, not just yet, but it definitely has to go before term starts again). I was ready for proper music. Cheerio Shaky.

Here’s one of the oh-so many singles from that album:


Shakin’ Stevens – You Drive Me Crazy

Buy it here: Shaky

NB – It’s pronounced “Crazy” not “Cwazy”, you mad Ely Elvis-lite.

More soon.

Early 80s Pop Perfection (kinda)

Ok, so perhaps I should have warned you that things would get worse before they got better. Perhaps I should rename this blog “The Austerity Measures”.

Anyway, it is now 1981. In the three years since the purchase of Darts, whilst I haven’t bought any more records, I’ve immersed myself in my Father’s record collection (predominantly Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson albums), as well as borrowing albums from my relatives (The Beatles Red and Blue albums and The Life of Brian soundtrack. Read into that what you will). I’d also developed a taste for recording songs from the radio, and used to prepare a new tape each week, which I’d force the family to listen to in the car as we drove to visit my grandparents on a Saturday afternoon.

But in 1981 I found my first two obsessions with pop music. The first: Shakin’ Stevens. With the benefit of hindsight, I can probably look back at my love for the snake-hipped Welshman as a continuation of my interest in those doo-woppy records a la Darts from the first post. But this was an obsession alright. I perfected the dance. I sat perched in front of the TV every Thursday waiting to hear his latest song on Top of the Pops (and, like it or not, he was always on there). I even had a Shaky patch sewn into my Parka coat (but under the hood, so nobody could see it, until I stupidly hung it up by the hood and had the piss mercilessly ripped out of me by my mates at school).

The second: Bucks Fizz. I adored Making Your Mind Up, their Eurovision winner, so much that I sat hunched over my tape recorder, ready to pounce, until I’d filled up one entire side of a C90 cassette with it just on repeat, over and over again, for 45 minutes. I must have driven my parents to distraction playing that. I think this was probably my first real awakening of “those” kind of thoughts, teenage boy hormones which had been bubbling below the surface since I first clapped eyes on Debbie Harry a couple of years earlier. And here were two blow-dried guys whipping the skirts off two blonde girls, to reveal much shorter skirts and a whole lot more leg. Frankly, you could keep Cheryl Baker, it was all about Jay Aston for me. That’s her in the rather fetching white blouse on the record cover down there. Phewwww-ee, yes please mama.

These two songs feature in the same post as I bought them at the same time, from the same store, and were the first records I ever bought. Again, as with Darts, not a record store, but rather the record section of a supermarket my mother dragged me round a couple of times a month, called Rainbow, just outside Peterborough. Me wandering off to browse through the racks either here or in the newsagent nearby in the shopping arcade, John Menzies, if memory serves my correctly, became a regular occurrence from now on.

On this particular Saturday morning, I was desperate to buy something rather than just window shop as there was to be a disco, as they were still called back then, to be held that evening in the local village hall. Thrillingly, the disco was called “Jungle Boogie”; even more thrillingly it had been made known that the DJ would play any records that solitary groovers such as I cared to bring with them, and I was desperate for a piece of that action (see what I did there?). The two singles in today’s post were my weapons of choice.

Bear in mind 1981 was a time when great things were happening in the world of pop. Adam and the Ants were at the height of their powers. Human League’s “Dare” was about to hit the shops. The Specials had just had “Ghost Town” at Number One. There were so many records I could have bought that would have made me appear impossibly cool. Instead what do I buy? Bucks Fizz and Shakin’ Fuckin’ Stevens, that’s what.

The night was memorable for two reasons: Natalie, an older girl from the secondary school I had just begun to attend, told me I was a pretty good dancer, and my heart swelled with pride, only to be punctured again moments later when I had to leave the village hall, unplayed 7″ singles tucked under my arm, after the DJ had refused to play them since they were “fucking shit, mate”.

See if you agree:

Green Door

Shakin’ Stevens – Green Door

andBucks Fizz

Bucks Fizz – Piece of the Action

PS  (1) – I’ll admit it: I still think Piece of the Action is a cracking piece of early 80s pop, and it always brings a smile to my face when I hear it. Partly because of Natalie; mostly because of Jay. Oh Jay. Sigh.

PS (2) – Shaky, not so much.

More soon.