In 2024, it's 40 years since I first started buying records properly, so it seems as good a time as any to look back at the records that really shaped my tastes, such as they are. And as Moz said, "don't forget the songs that made you cry and the songs that saved your life..".
By 1985/86, I was very much on the look out for new music - not just the mainstream pop rock and high profile indie bands that I loved so far (Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, New Order, The Smiths, etc.). I wanted something different.
Record labels then would put out cheap sampler albums and in 1985, Beggars Banquet put out a compilation called A Music Sampler Of The State Of Things - One Pound Ninety Nine. Dodgy record shops would try and charge more for these albums, so including the price in the title in this rather blunt way would scupper miscreant shop owners.
I don’t think I bought this when it came out, I think I picked it up in a bargain bin for a pound - result! 12 tracks by bands I had heard of but didn’t know their music, or bands I had never heard of at all (forgive me but The Velvet Underground’s John Cale and Nico were not on my 15 year old radar).
I had wanted to check out The Icicle Works, The Cult and Bauhaus. I giggled a lot at the name Hank Wangford (I was 15, though I am giggling now as I write his name and I am 53 - some things don’t change). I was nonplussed about The Bolshoi and I knew Gene Loves Jezebel were terrible (an assessment that still stands true). But The Fall I was unaware of.
I played side one and it was much as I expected, a bit gothy (I liked Pete Murphy’s cover of Magazine’s The Light Pours Out Of Me). I was a little unsure of John Cale’s The Sleeper but I didn’t hate it. The Ramones were The Ramones.
Discordant, disjointed, quirky, complex, simple, lopsided, wavering, repetitive, tight. It had a rockabilly guitar riff that seemed to be hammered into the song. It was twangy, loud, and infectious. I loved the music, but the vocals and the weird, incoherent, incomprehensible lyrics made me stop, lift the needle up to check it didn’t need cleaning and then play the song again.
Once I was satisfied that the record was meant to sound like this, I must have played it several times before continuing with the rest of the album.
The remaining songs were inconsequential - I never really liked Bauhaus, The Bolshoi were not worth my time and Hank Wangford’s name was better than the music he made. Nico’s Win A Few made me feel a little sick listening to it. I am playing now as I write this and its weird synths and awful vocals are making me feel a little nauseous on the train into work. Good to know my 15 year old assessment was spot on.
I moved on to other records, did indeed buy Love by The Cult and that was that. But every now and then, I would go back and play Spoilt Victorian Child. I would listen out for other songs by them, recording onto my many VHS compilation videos future singles such as Hey Luciani and Mr. Pharmacist.
The Fall frightened me because they were like nothing else. However “alternative” the other bands I liked were heralded as, they were really quite mainstream, with broadly standard song structures, hooks, clear vocals, good production.
The Fall were none of those things, though they did have hooks. The classic line up of Brix Smith, Craig Scanlon, Steve Hanley and Simon Wolstencroft made some catchy as fuck music.
It wasn’t until I was 17 and Hit The North came out that I actually bought a single. Then an album. Then several albums. I even agreed when I was General Secretary of my student union in 1994 that we should book them to play. Exeter was a posh, Oxford rejects, public school dominated University. The Fall were never going to sell out. We plastered the campus with posters espousing their seminal status in indie/punk music…and sold about 300 tickets. We needed at least 400 to break even (we made up the loss with Van Morrison, it was all good). Mark E Smith insisted on being paid in "readies" (cash) and as he pocketed the money, the biggest bag of coke fell to the floor...I doubt the band saw much, if any of the cash...
I stuck with them until the late 90s, but lost sight of them, picking up again in the mid-2000s, when my friend Cal burnt me a copy of their latest album, Fall Heads Roll, which was magnificent, the best thing they had done in years. I missed a gig in 2014, as I was at a drinks reception for work, and was on the cusp of selling £35,000 in sponsorship to a drunk lawyer. I made the sale but it wasn't worth the money - I shouldn't have let my friend Paul down and definitely should have seen The Fall. Regrets, etc.
I did make it into the video of a single by a band of ex-Fall members, Brix & The Extricated (see We're Gonna Make You A Star...Filming the video for "Damned For Eternity" by Brix & The Extricated).
All this came from taking a punt on a cheap compilation that opened my mind to something different, something outside the narrow conformity I knew so far at 15. Some of it was awful (hello Nico!), but The Fall have stayed with me. Like dogs sniffing each other's backsides, music snobs will ask each other if they like The Fall. I have been friends with Nick and Stevey for nearly 34 years,, and that at least in part, started with knowing we all liked The Fall. Pretty good value for a pound!
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