Sunday, 11 September 2016

Indie Top 20 Volume 3 Side 3 - Cookie Crew, Hotline, Erasure, Ghost Dance

1. Cookie Crew - Females (Get On Up) (Rhythm King)

"Females" followed hot on the heels of the initial non-success of "Rok Da House", and climbed to number 78 on the national charts - a fairly big deal for a British rap act at that time. Seemingly focused on the slicker dressed female rappers with snobbier attitudes on the circuit, the pair put them on the straight and narrow: "Females, they wear a lot of gold/ be careful of them homeboys, because they're ten years old". Mmmm.

This is slick, sassy and smart, though sadly some of the sampled elements in it - most especially the "Yeah Woo!" sample - do datestamp it rather firmly in 1987. In the pair's defence, though, they weren't directly responsible for the fact that absolutely everyone, including Timmy Mallett, ended up using it.

After the success of "Rok Da House", The Cookie Crew became a steady mainstream presence for awhile, until it became clear that a pop life within the belly of the beast simply wasn't for them.

2. Hotline - Hellhouse (Rhythm King)

(Guess who just had to upload a YouTube video for this himself, as nothing seemed to be available?)

House music was huge news in both the national charts and the indie charts at this point, and Beechwood Music would have been fools to ignore the fact. It was seen as a vibrant and underground music form which was starting to change the way the music industry operated - pressed up by independent labels and distributed by either Rough Trade or Pinnacle, it succeeded and sold seemingly whether it picked up airplay or critical praise or not, with clubland dictating the end result. In fact, it usually sold in much greater quantities than your average Mighty Lemon Drops release, and sounded considerably less retro.

Did the kind of kids buying Indie Top 20 albums really care, though? That's a good question, and one Beechwood would have to grapple with in interesting ways by the time Volume 4 of the series rolled around. For now, though, "Hellhouse" sits slightly awkwardly between Erasure and The Cookie Crew here, and while it's a sturdy enough example of the genre, I doubt there are many people who would regard it as being an important or pivotal release - you get the impression that all involved with Volume 3 would have preferred the eternal 1987 indie number one "Pump Up The Volume" to occupy this space instead, but they couldn't afford the rights to it.

Having said that, listening to it again through good headphones for the first time in years, there's a corking groove to this one, sitting neatly between House music and mid-eighties funk. I didn't remember it being quite as good as this, and it's aged like a fine wine.  This is the kind of bass-heavy, complex, slowly evolving groove the retro-kids in the old school clubs are into now more than they were at the time, and while it might have sounded like neither fish nor fowl to me in 1987, now it seems like an incredibly effective piece of work. Or, to put it into context - it made me dance around my living room and I've got a bad knee. That's high praise at my age.

3. Erasure - Victim of Love (Mute)

Whether they could afford "Pump Up The Volume" or not, they clearly could afford the rights to Erasure again, although "Victim of Love" was a mere number 7 national hit for the pair. Falling back on one of Vince Clarke's subtle-as-a-sledgehammer choruses and an almost unfeasibly vibrant melody, it's strangely uplifting given the fact that its lyrics are about giving up on the idea of relationships. "I'm building a wall, every day it's getting higher" sings Bell happily. Please yourself, mate.

Erasure do not appear on the Indie Top 20 series again, which seems like an act of total denial, as the indie hits kept on coming. The reality seemed to be that their favour among indie kids had almost entirely waned by this point and they steadily became regarded as being "merely" a pop group. But, lest we forget, "merely" a pop group who produced "Drama", an overloaded piece of electro-gospel featuring The Jesus and Mary Chain shouting "Guilty!" in the background, the indie chart number one "Ship Of Fools", the Wheatus-covered "A Little Respect"... and even then, when they were truly, undeniably pop, they did it far better than most during their imperial phase. "Stop!" proved that without a doubt.

It's a shame, but not surprising, that we won't have the chance to discuss them again. Their absence from the series makes it feel as if they produced nothing else of note, when their ideas became much taller and mightier than this one. It's proof that when studying these LPs, we can't really treat them as being wholly reliable documents of what was or wasn't happening on the indie chart at any particular point.

4. Ghost Dance - Fools Gold (Karbon)

And no, this isn't an early version of the Stone Roses classic. Rather, "Fools Gold" is an epic Goth Rock tune which has been strangely overlooked by most people in the years that have followed. Discarding the basic strum and stomp of "Grip of Love" from volume one, it instead goes overboard and unveils something that sounds like classic rock - and genuinely so.

"Fools Gold" is a truly soaring anthem, whose exposure suffered slightly from being the second track on side one of an EP the band released. Track one "When I Call" may have felt more likely to pick up airplay, but "Fools Gold" gave a much stronger impression of the scope of the group's songwriting abilities. Chunky Goth Rock basslines meet with chiming guitars and the track gradually builds into an almighty chorus. Intricately produced and arranged, and with some killer guitar riffs at the tail end meeting with ex-Skeletal Family member Anne-Marie Hurst's powerful vocals, it really isn't terribly alternative or indie, to be truthful. Rather, it sounds like a band declaring to the world, and perhaps major labels in particular, that they have the skills in place to take things further.

Chrysalis raced forward to sign them, and another single "Down To The Wire" emerged in 1989, followed by an LP... but neither really delivered commercially on their promise. Internal tensions within the group ensured that far from realising their potential, they all but disappeared shortly afterwards.

Hurst occasionally performs with The Skeletal Family these days, but Ghost Dance seem to have been completely consigned to the past.

1 comment:

  1. The presence of Erasure was somewhat unusual even then.