Frustrated by the narrowing of the Eighties pop canon to the Wham - Spands - Duran triumvirate, Nottingham writer Nick Parkhouse has written 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s - an attempt to restore the reputations of those less remembered from the last great era of pure Pop...
What inspired you to put this book together?
I was out in London with a fellow who I’d never met. We were chatting about pop music, we got onto the eighties, I’d had a few drinks, and I was eulogising. He called me ‘the Louis Theroux of eighties pop’ and said that I should write a book. I’d did a couple of chapters, but it was all a bit “what does Wikipedia say?” Then I came upon an e-mail address for Nathan Moore of Brother Beyond. Within a couple of hours, I got an e-mail back, saying: brilliant, happy to help, here’s my phone number. So I thought: OK, we’re a 101th of the way there. I just started pinging e-mails to people. I could almost count on one hand the people who said no, but maybe three or four people got slightly haughty. There were a couple of, as Buzzcocks would say, ‘still very much in the music industry today’ replies. I got two or three very stroppy e-mails back saying; “Our song’s not forgotten! It gets lots of airplay, so we don’t want to participate in this.”
I might press you to name a name.
I tell you what – I am going to name a name, because they were really rude in their e-mail: The Bangles. And Shakin’ Stevens, of all people. I thought he would be nice! He was very dismissive.
The term ‘forgotten’ is a relative concept. How would you define it?
When I’ve done radio, I love playing a record where people will go “oh, I haven’t heard this for ages”. But there’s a fine line between that and playing a record that people have no recollection of whatsoever. So it’s trying to walk that tightrope between stuff that if you give people a nudge, they’ll think “ah yeah, I think I vaguely remember that”, but not something that got to Number 38 in 1981 for a week. There are only a couple of records which never made the Top Ten, and there are twelve Number Ones, so it’s not totally obscure.
With the cycle of revivalism, things go through a period of being completely uncool and “why did we ever like that?” Then they get revered again as classics. The first half of the eighties is now home and dry, but anything beyond that is still regarded as being beyond the pale...
The revivalist stuff that has been on the telly is all early eighties, and the early eighties are probably over-represented at an eighties night. Everyone from Lady Gaga to Friendly Fires namechecks the early eighties, but I don’t think there’s anybody out there saying “Oh yeah, we’re influenced by Danny Wilson and Johnny Hates Jazz”.
The early eighties acts all had manifestos and a complete image. You can’t really say the same for Climie Fisher and Living in a Box, because you haven’t got that hook…
If you said ‘Nik Kershaw’ to somebody, they’ll talk about his hair, his fingerless gloves, his snood, and his daft videos. But if you said ‘Living in a Box’, you couldn’t pick them out at an identity parade. That’s a real shame; the records are as good, but perhaps they don’t have that kind of peripheral influence.
Of all the people you interviewed, who was the best value?
I owe quite a bit to Johnny Hates Jazz. They were some of the first people that I interviewed, when they were playing the They got us backstage at the Here And Now arena tour in Nottingham and Birmingham, so I got to meet Paul Young and Bananarama. From a personal point of view, it was interviewing Pål from A-ha about their Bond theme, The Living Daylights. The whole idea of chatting to one of A-ha about James Bond: there was something a little bit magical about that.
Who was the hardest to nail down?
With Edelweiss, I was really struggling. They basically had the one record, and I couldn’t find anything about them. I eventually found this Austrian fellow called Walter Wezowa; It turns out that he wrote the Intel ‘bong’, which is played once in the world every five seconds or something ludicrous like that. Hisroyalty cheques must beimmense. For five notes! It’s mad! And then there was Glenn Medeiros: how lost in showbiz must he have been when he called his kids Chord and Lyric?
Did you manage to unearth much in the way of local connections?
Just one: Su Pollard. I had to write to her in the old fashioned way, because there was no e-mail on her website. She left an answerphone message, which I’ve kept to this day. It sounds like she’s auditioning to do the Tannoy at Maplins. It goes on for hours, God love her. I eventually did a phone interview. The nicest woman in the world, but you do end up with the phone sort of… over here. She’s been a very staunch supporter, our Su. I won’t hear a bad word. Oh, and there’s Spagna. The video for Call Me was filmed partly in Belvoir Castle, and the rest is at Ritzy’s in Nottingham, which is now Oceana. I’ve absolutely no idea why. It had already been a huge hit in Europe, so why they had to make another video for the UK market, I’m not really sure.
If you had to consign all but one of these forgotten pop hits to The Dumper, which would you keep?
If it was for the human race, I’d keep Gold by Spandau Ballet. It’s the least forgotten, but I love Spandau Ballet and I’ve been very lucky to meet Tony Hadley a couple of times, so I thought I’d better put one in. And it is one of the greatest records ever, isn’t it? For me personally, I’d probably keep Climie Fisher’s Love Changes Everything. It was intended for Robert Palmer, who passed it over, so they decided to record it themselves. The sound is maybe a little bit dated, and I don’t think it’s got the greatest vocal in the world, but had they handed that record to a big star, maybe it would have been a gigantic hit. But it got to Number Two, so it didn’t do badly.
Were you firmly a pop kid back then? You weren’t going off and scouring the indie charts or the dance charts?
No. I fell out of love with music a little bit when Stock Aitken and Waterman disappeared, and along came the Happy Mondays and The Farm and the Stone Roses, which I absolutely hated. The early nineties was a real nadir, because there was no decent music.
So there would be no mileage for you in doing 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1990s?
I’ve thought about that, but it’s more difficult to define what was pop in the nineties. Do you include Oasis? Britpop: is that pop? Maybe pop then was that horrible Outhere Brothers shouty sort of thing. You could make some mileage from the late nineties, because you’ve got the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls and quite a lot of what you could call pop. The other thing with the nineties, because of the way that charts evolved, is that you’d probably end up including a large amount of No.1s that came in for a week, and then disappeared. But it’s whether I care enough about the nineties, which I’m not sure I do.
101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s, AuthorHouse, £9.99