Let me make something perfectly clear: whilst 1985 was definitely a transitional year for me in terms of the sort of records I was buying, I certainly hadn’t yet cracked this thing called “cool” yet. This will become self-evident when you consider the next batch of 45s and 33s that found their way into my life and onto my turntable.
That said, given the idea behind this blog stems from the book and film “High Fidelity” it seems apt to start this section off with a single I bought which later popped up on the soundtrack to the latter.
Katrina & The Waves – Walking on Sunshine
How I wish I could say that I bought this identically-titled and much cooler tune from a couple of years earlier. But I didn’t. Ho hum. Forget I ever mentioned it.
In one of my earlier posts here, I talked about Andy’s Records, a semi-independent record store (there was a chain of about four shops dotted around East Anglia/East Midlands) which had a basement dedicated to second hand vinyl, and I find myself being drawn downstairs more and more often, sometimes spending hours flicking through the racks in the desperate search for some hidden nugget that some other poor fool had castaway.
Putting aside the term “hidden nugget” and its connotation of being linked to an unearthed gem for a moment, it was here that I picked up the next (non-Quo) album to be added to my growing collection, an album my brother had owned (yeh, that’s right: I know you’re reading this and if I’m going down I’m taking you with me!) and which I inexplicably decided I wanted a copy of too. And who can blame me? Oh yes, anyone else who ever heard “An Innocent Man” by Billy Joel could. For that’s what it was. In 1983, “An Innocent Man” was huge, spawning hit after hit after hit. Buying it at the time might be just about excusable, but two years later? I’m not so sure.
Anyway, rules is rules, so here’s a single from “An Innocent Man” which I have to admit I do still have a bit of a soft spot for:
Billy Joel – Tell Her About It
Actually, I’m being a bit disingenuous here: there are plenty of songs by Joel which I have a soft spot for, not least this, a song I hated at the time, but which became a firm favourite of the Friday Night Music Club, Hel and I often collapsing in fits of giggles after drunkenly squawking the line “children of thalidomide” into each other’s face (if we missed it, we would start the song again) – not that kids born with disabilities is in any way funny just…y’know, props to the guy for weaving that lyric into a hit record.
Andy’s Records also provided me with another album which I bought purely to fill in some gaps in my “classic rock” compendium, a compilation album called “Formula 30”. Check out the track listing here. If anyone can explain to me the concept behind the title of this album, I’d be delighted. The “30” clearly refers to the number of tracks, but the “Formula”? And the band names scrawled on a classroom blackboard? Are we equating classic rock with scientific theories…?
*Shrugs* I dunno…
Anyway, “Formula 30” gave me my first taste of a band that I would soon become moderately obsessed with, further proof (if proof were needed) that I definitely had not got the hang of this thing called “cool” yet:
Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing
I’m putting my love (there, I said it) of this record down to my burgeoning desire to better my guitar playing. By this point, I had become relatively competent (even if I do say so myself), and would spend hours upstairs trying to master every little lick, with varying degrees of success. My parents tell me that the moment I got home from school every day, I would race upstairs to get my fix, plug my guitar in, put a record on and play along at maximum volume. The record was my backing band, and I was the lead singer and guitarist, practicing my rock star foot-on-monitor poses for all I was worth. My apologies to the neighbours.
(Of course, any mention of “Sultans of Swing” starts the synapses in my brain sparking, and leads me inevitably to mention this lot. Glorious.)
But for every song on “Formula 30” by Dire Straits, Free or The Moody Blues that decreased my cool rating, there was one which added a gold star, and if you’ve taken the time to check out the album’s track-listing, you will have spotted which band who feature twice on it I can attribute two stars to:
Seriously, in the canon of great debut singles, that must rate pretty highly.
And of course, noting the 11th track on the album (or Side Two, Track Three as vinyl-heads may prefer) I can’t let the chance to post this slide.
And the horror of some of the records I picked up in Andy’s Records doesn’t end with “Formula 30”. Oh no. Around this time, my mother commented that money seemed to burn a hole in my pocket: no sooner did I have some, than I was pleading for a lift into town so I could go browsing in Andy’s Records second hand emporium. What other explanation, apart from a rush of blood to the head, or temporary insanity, can there be for the purchase of this album:
Yes, not content with having bought Phil Collins & Philip Bailey’s “Easy Lover” a year earlier, I found myself parting with my hard-earned for this abomination. The only solace I can glean from this purchase is that at least I picked it up second-hand and so I wasn’t further lining the pocket of Mr Collins. (In 1992, Phil Collins was attributed with a quote that he would leave the country if Labour won the election. Questioned on this later, whilst neither confirming or denying he said it, Collins admitted that he certainly did not want most of his income taken. He said this from his home in the tax haven country of Switzerland. This album contains a song called “Illegal Alien”. Go figure. And let’s not forget him faxing his soon to be ex-wife over their impending divorce. What a guy.)
Think anything I’ve posted so far qualifies as the most embarrassing record I bought in this chunk of 1985? You’re wrong. Much worse was still to come.
But not just yet.
On to slightly more contemporary (for the time) records. Next up, less controversially titled than “Black Man Ray”, but no less baffling lyrically:
China Crisis – King in a Catholic Style
When writing this post, I did some research into what this record is actually about. All I managed to find was this post on one of those song lyric websites:
“The song has such strong political overtones, although not as well executed as some bands for making political statements.
Still, fairly insightful lyrics, a catchy beat, what more can you ask?”
Yeh, thanks for that.
And just what is going on in that record sleeve? *Shrugs* I dunno…. (Have I got a new catchphrase here…?)
Next up, an album which came out in early 1985 but which I held off buying until now: “Songs From The Big Chair” by Tears for Fears. A couple of years earlier, they had been one of the bands that the cool kids were into. Of course, me being me, I arrived to the party late. Better known for huge singles “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, “Shout” and the frankly rather wonderful “Head Over Heels”, the next song was released at the arse-end of 1984, the first single to be lifted from the album, and is somewhat overlooked when compared with that list of smasheroos from the album:
Tears for Fears – Mother’s Talk
All funky bass and synth-stabs, I’m not sure it’s possible for a song to sound any more 80s than that.
Seriously, you don’t need me to tell you about this record do you? Thought not.
The next one takes some explaining. Drum roll…for it is time for the award for the “Undisputed Worst Record of This Post”, which hands down goes to:
Jimmy Nail – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
I know. What the fuck was I thinking? Well, I’m afraid I have no justification for this whatsoever. At the time I did, and it’s time for the obligatory Quo mention. At the time, I was under the impression that Rick Parfitt played guitar on the record. Now, as I am forced to admit I actually paid money for this soulless slaying of the Rose Royce classic, I can find no evidence to support this. Roger Taylor from Queen? He’s certainly there. But Parfitt? Well he’s in the video …soo…
Anyway, this is indicative of just how all-consuming my obsession with the Quo had become. If only there had been such things as Quo-patches (and not the sort I had sewn into my denim jacket) to help wean me off all things heads-down-no-nonsense-boogie-esque. Don’t worry, I snap out of it soon enough.
Now. An apology. The original intention of this blog was to a) chronicle every record I bought in the order that I bought them, and b) provide an anecdote related to the purchase of said record, where possible. Regular, patient readers (patients…?) will have noticed that this latter point has rather fallen by the wayside somewhat recently. Truth be told, much as I’d like to believe that everything I do will be of endless fascination to everyone else (I’m hoping you sense the tongue-firmly-in-cheek tone of that last statement), as I’ve worked my way through all of the records, I’ve realised that there simply aren’t as many funny things to tell you about as I had hoped. So, sorry that this has become a bit “and then I bought this…” recently.
1985, however, gives me plenty to tell you about. Or So Much Thing To Say, as Lenny Henry would quip. Not necessarily linked directly to record purchases, but still snapshots of where I was at at the time. Sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.
See, 1985 sees the start and equally swift end to my career as a petty criminal. (I say end, but in fact I had two further run-ins with “the law”, once for riding pillion on a motorbike without a helmet, the other for singing as I walked down the fast lane of the A470 at 3am in the morning singing.)
First, some back info. In 1984, some of my mates from school had gone on a fortnight’s trip to Sweden with the school’s Canoe Club. (Every school had a Canoe Club, right…?). They had returned with tales of high jinx and hot girls, so when the Canoe Club announced they were going to do a similar trip to Norway in 1985, I signed up.
Shortly before the trip, a friend (who had best stay anonymous for legal reasons – let’s call him Pete) and I went into town to pick up a few provisions for our holiday. At this point, we had every intention of paying for them, but once in Boots the Chemist looking to purchase a battery for my pocket torch, Pete whispered in my ear “Nick it! Nick it!“. The next thing I knew, the battery was safely deposited in my pocket and we were skedaddling from the scene of the crime sharpish.
I know. Crime of the century, right? Eat your heart out Ronnie Biggs!
Flush from our successful pilfering debut, next on the shopping list was socks. Not just any socks, for this was the 1980s. Oh no. White socks were the order of the day. In fact, they were probably already unfashionable by 1985, but that was me, late again. And so to Littlewoods, an online vendor these days, but back then a reputable high street chain-store. Littlewoods was situated over two floors in Peterborough’s Queensgate arcade, the first floor of which offered several vantage points from which you could look down (and throw things) onto the shoppers below. One such spot was immediately outside Littlewoods.
Pete and I entered on the ground floor, collected the bounty that was a four-pack of gleaming white socks, before making our way upstairs, me via the escalator, Pete by way of the adjacent staircase. It was here, where I thought I could not be spotted, that the socks got dropped into my bag.
On exiting the shop, we stopped to lean nonchalantly against the railing, and it was then that over Pete’s shoulder I spotted a bloke who seemed to be trying to draw my attention to something without making it obvious he was doing so. Turning, I was confronted with two security guards, who launched into the “we have reason to believe you have items in your bag which you have not paid for” speech, and I was invited to accompany them to their office. They turned to Pete and told him that as he wasn’t actually with me at the point of theft, he was free to go, unless he wanted to come too, an offer which he politely declined before fucking right off. Cheers, mate.
Pete and I were actually supposed to meet his parents for lunch that day, about half an hour after I was nicked. He went, and had to spend the entire time pretending that we had got separated in the sprawling metropolis that is Peterborough, and he had no idea where I was. Had it happened now, of course, they would have just called my mobile (which would have been confiscated, and the police would assume that all the calls were from disappointed punters trying to work out where the stolen goods they’d ordered were).
Back in the store, meanwhile, I found myself standing like a naughty school boy (which of course was exactly what I was) in front of the manager. After a brief interrogation, wherein I apologised profusely for my moment of madness (copyright Richard Madeley, Winona Ryder et al) and offered to pay for the contraband (he declined), he instructed the security guards to call the police. He then left, leaving me sitting with my head in my hands, pretending to cry whilst peeking through my fingers to see if the security guard’s heart would melt at my histrionics. It didn’t of course: he remained with his hand on the door handle, as if I was likely to try and make a run for it.
The police duly arrived, about six of them – clearly they considered me to be a major catch – and proceeded to escort me through Queensgate, me surrounded by coppers, like a celebrity with his entourage and security. I was then bundled into the back of a police van and driven off to the local police station. Clearly they were making an example of me, and at the same time, scaring enough shit out of me to make sure I never went shop-lifting again. (It worked).
Once at the station, you have to be interviewed, booked in and read your rights by the Duty Sergeant. However, on arrival I found there was a queue of similarly arrested teenage (or younger) shoplifters, and I was instructed to take my place against the wall at the back of the line.
As we all stood there in shameful silence, a policeman walked by, and asked each of us why we were here.
“Nicking” said the first lad.
“What?” asked PC Plod.
“A personal stereo” came the budding Oliver Twist’s response.
The same question was asked of the other two in the queue; I can’t remember what their answers were, but they were definitely cooler and harder things to steal than my meagre haul.
And then it was my turn.
“What about you, sonny?”
“Four pairs of socks” I replied, eliciting smirks from my new found fellow thieves.
“Yes sir. White ones.”
There was a pause for dramatic effect. I’ll give him something, this guy’s comic timing was impeccable.
“Bet you feel a bit of a twat now, don’t you?” said the copper, looking back down the line and proffering a “Hark at him!” gesture at my fellow convicts. I couldn’t disagree.
Finally I got to the desk, where my particulars were taken down, and my pockets emptied, at which point the shocking presence of the battery was exposed.
“What’s this?” my interrogator asked.
“A battery” I replied, matter-of-factly.
“Nick this as well did you?”
“No, I bought that”.
“Oh? Where’s the receipt then? And the bag?”
“I didn’t keep the receipt and I didn’t ask for a bag.”
“Where did you buy it?”
“The photography department” I answered, the first thing to come into my head.
“Well, we’ve got you there Sonny Jim. My wife works on the photography counter in Boots on a Saturday. I can give her a ring and see if she remembers you.”
I may only have been a kid, but even I could spot such an obvious bluff.
“Okay. Feel free to ask her” I replied, looking him straight in the eye. I wanted to add “Though I don’t think they’re allowed to take personal calls during opening hours”, but thought better of it.
I was then led to a cell, where I was to be held until my parents had arrived. Before entering the cell, they make you remove your shoes and belt, and anything else you might potentially use to top yourself whilst in custody. (The shoes have a dual suicide purpose: firstly, the laces could be used to hang myself, secondly, as a teenage boy, one whiff of the insoles would have induced a catatonic state at the very least).
I handed these over, and went into the cell, to find I was sharing with the youngest of the three other kids I had been lined up with. He was displaying considerably less bravado than he had when in the queue, sitting on the bench, knees up against his chest, arms clasped round them, sniffing in an effort to stop himself from crying.
The door slammed behind me, and I decided that as my cellmate was about to blub, I needed to show I was top dog, that I wasn’t bothered, that I was the Norman Stanley Fletcher and he was the Lenny Godber of this cell. I lay down on what was left of the bench, and proceeded to have a kip.
I was woken some time later by the sound of the flap in the door clanging open, and the words “Oi! You! Get up, your parents are here” being barked through. I assumed, as did my cellmate, that as he had been here longer than me, it was his parents, and he got up to leave. However, it turned out his folks gave less of a fuck about him than mine did about me.
“Not you” shouted the kindly policeman, “you!” It was directed at me.
I mentioned earlier that they had taken my shoes and my belt; the reason I was wearing a belt that day was because I was wearing a pair of grey canvas trousers with a popper button (I know, cool, right?) which had a nasty habit of unpopping at inopportune moments. This, of course, transpired to be one such moment.
As I stood up, I failed to notice the popper had performed its usual trick, leading me to literally fall over my trousers which had, in true slap-stick style, plummeted to around my ankles. Lord only knows what the police must have thought I was doing with my cellmate….
Into the interview room, where I was met with understandably frosty glares from my parents. I was released with a caution, the only thing my mother saying on the drive home was “Well, you’ll never get a job now”. The subject was never mentioned again, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be the first time my brother has ever found about this (although I might have told him during a drinking session sometime).
It was not until several years later that I ever discussed the events of that day with my parents. Luckily we can laugh about it now, although I am always disappointed that, bearing in mind the identity of store from which I had stolen, this old, slightly adapted, joke didn’t happen on that day:
I had a phone call yesterday.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hello. This is Dominic from Littlewoods”
“Littlewoods? Oh God thank you thank you thank you! I’ve won the football pools!! I’m rich! Rich! Rich!!!!”
“Er…no….we’ve just caught your son shoplifting.”
We’ll save the trip to Norway for next time. To finish off with, a song which perhaps goes some way to explaining the reason I stole that day, a jealousy of those who seemed to get everything they wanted with minimum effort, and the last of the singles I bought (yes, bought) in this chunk of 1985:
Dire Straits -Money For Nothing
Or I could just blame Pete.