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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

The Songs That Saved My Life #12: Life's What You Make It by Talk Talk

Updated: Mar 12

On the 30th January 1986, I must have been home (I was 15). It was a Thursday and at 7.00 pm, I would have been sat in my parents' living room, in front of the TV. And if it was Thursday, and it was 7.00 pm, it must have been Top Of The Pops! If you were in the UK at least...

I know I wasn't watching it in the kitchen as my memory is of a colour TV performance that has stuck with me for 38 years. I can't have been in the kitchen as we only had a black & white portable TV there (Gen Z peeps must now be baffled by such crap technology). And I definitely didn't have my own TV then. I had to get a job to pay for that later.

The performance that evening that I remember startlingly clearly was Talk Talk, playing/miming their new "smasheroonie", or whatever the (mostly) terrible DJs would call it. The single in question was Life's What You Make It and the DJ, mercifully, was the late Janice Long, who I rather admired and was a pretty decent DJ and all round good egg.

I was probably watching it because I knew Simple Minds would be on and I was a bit obsessed by them then. I used to scrawl their (let's be honest) daft logo onto my GNB (general note book). The logo in question was the one where the letters all segued into each other. More about my Simple Minds obsession can be read here - Simple Minds – Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call. To be honest though I always watched TOTP back then. EVERYONE did. There were only 4 TV channels and there wasn't much else to do. But it was essential viewing then.

TOTP that night did indeed include Simple Minds playing their Sanctify Yourself single, but disappointingly it was just a video clip. There were videos by Madonna, James Brown (the excellent Living In America), Grace Jones (and her re-issued Pull Up To The Bumper single), and A-ha who were number 1 with The Sun Always Shines On TV.

There were three mimed, in the studio performances -  Billy Ocean playing the quite dreadful When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going (if only he had...), Fine Young Cannibals and their cover of Suspicious Minds (great band, pointless cover) and Talk Talk.

Janice introduced Talk Talk even more enthusiastically than usual - she was genuinely blown away by watching the drummer in rehearsals and was raving about him. I remember this, because I was 15, and therefore, unimpressed by anything (miserable little bastard period of my life). However, Janice was right. The drummer, Lee Harris, was incredible. He was the Muppets' Animal brought to life. This was very different to the Talk Talk of previous records.

Their early records were all sucked-in cheeks and Duran-esque pop. They had morphed into something more measured by 1984's It's My Life, but were still playing the pop band game (check out the video below of some mimed performance on Italian TV - there's some quite dreadful dancing....).

But on this performance, the terrible pop star dancing is gone. Paul Webb is miming along on bass, even though there is no bass guitar on the record, the only compromise. It's a straight forward, no frills, mimed performance, bar the drummer losing his shit. It's brilliant. I was hooked. It was probably the last time they would really be playing this sort of mainstream TV.

I went out that Saturday and bought the 7 inch single - in my memory, this was a double pack, with two 7 inch singles, in a gatefold sleeve. I can find absolutely no evidence that this exists anywhere so, it's likely that I have imagined this. How strange...

I loved the song. It would appear on numerous compilation tapes that I used to churn out (largely for myself and my Walkman). It was insanely catchy and very cool. The song was added to the album at the last minute when the record company couldn't hear any hits. Producer Tim Friese-Greene had been playing around with a drumbeat similar to Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love (or was it Running Up That Hill?)), and Mark had been playing a Green Onions style piano riff over this, This soon morphed into the song we now know and love, with guitar added by long time Peter Gabriel sideman, David Rhodes. They knew they had the hit that the record company demanded. Phew.

I can't remember buying its parent album later, but at that stage I think I copied the album, The Colour Of Spring onto a cassette, borrowing the original from a school friend. But I do remember listening to the album and thinking it was stunning - big pop tunes like Living In Another World sat comfortably alongside more subdued, subtle, even jazzy tracks like April 5th.

Alongside David Sylvian and Mick Karn (see The Songs That Saved My Life #2: Buoy - Mick Karn (featuring David Sylvian)), buying this single got me to start checking out other, more arty, cool, music. It took me to The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout and more. And away from the dodgier pop music I liked in 1985 (goodbye Go West!). That performance also persuaded me that I needed a cool denim jacket like Mark's, which I wore with the collar permanently up and some snazzy shades. Oh dear...

Talk Talk's next album, Spirit Of Eden, was another leap forward, and influenced numerous bands I love, such as Elbow, Lo Moon, Radiohead. After that, I didn't quite get Laughing Stock or Mark Hollis' solo album. They were too minimalist, too stripped down to the point of sometimes you didn't know when songs ended - but I respect them and will give them another go after this.

But Life's What You Make It is another song that helped me make a musical leap. And it's a cracking tune. You'd have to be made of stone not to love it.

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x


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