The Starship Boney M

There are albums I always associate with working in the record dept of WH Smith in the late 70s-early 80s, mostly because we sold a shit-load of them at Christmas like the Grease soundtrack and Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer (which I sold a copy of to Sue Lawley!) Another was Boney M’s 1978 album Nightflight To Venus which we shifted piles of that year. 

Boney M were incredibly popular but they were also terrible. A manufactured group from Germany who made really awful dance pop with ridiculous songs like “Ma Baker” and “Rasputin”. 

Most of the people buying it were older, probably parents getting it as a Christmas present for their kid or for themselves. I don’t remember any teenagers buying a copy, this being 1978 when there were lots of other things going on musically that were more appealing.

Normally we could play what music we wanted at work, but at Christmas we had to play records that were popular and seasonal. As a result I got to hear Nightflight To Venus several times and I have to say I thought the title track was surprisingly good. Being 16 at the time I kept such embarrassing thoughts to myself but I am beyond such things now. Though even now liking a Boney M record still strains the concept of a guilty pleasure to it’s extremes.

I still like it despite (or maybe because of) it being a total, lawsuit-worthy rip-off of “Dancing With The Devil” by Cozy Powell. With its pounding tribal drums and vocoder effects it probably sounds cooler now than it did in 1978.

Download: Night Flight To Venus – Boney M (mp3)


Long Live The Queen

Siouxsie Sioux turned 60 at the weekend which freaked me out until it hit me that I’m 54 myself so why wouldn’t she be 60. But she’s one of those people you can’t imagine being old enough for a pensioner’s bus pass. Unlike me.

This is a cover of a Ben E. King track that the Banshees did for the b-side of “Arabian Nights” in 1981. It’s about as funky as they ever got.

Download: Supernatural Thing – Siouxsie & The Banshees (mp3)

Leather Girl

The idea of Glam Queen Suzi Quatro covering cult synth-pop classic “Warm Leatherette” is like some What If? game that music geeks play in the pub. What if The Sweet did “Shot By Both Sides”? Hot Chocolate covered “Transmission”? Chicory Tip did “Being Boiled”? It’s a fun game to play and the sort of thing that sounds amazing on paper, but you know in real life they would probably be terrible.

The difference is that this is real and very good indeed (better than Grace Jones’ version). While the original is cold and robotic, Suzi’s version is dripping with steamy sex. She even ups the ante by changing the original line “Let’s make love before you die” to “Let’s fuck before you die”.

Recorded during the sessions for her 1980 album Rock Hard it wasn’t released until it appeared on her retrospective boxset The Girl From Detroit City in 2014. I think they made a big mistake not putting this out back then. It’s way more interesting than the bog-standard stomping rock that did make the album and, given that Suzi’s career was past it’s peak by 1980, would have been the perfect record to make her cool again.

Download: Warm Leatherette – Suzi Quatro (mp3)

New Monday

Wilsen are a three-piece band fronted by singer Tamsin Wilson, a Londoner living in Brooklyn. The music they make has been described as Dream-Folk for the way it blends soft acoustic licks with atmospheric synths and whispery vocals. The end result is beautifully hypnotic and their album I Go Missing In My Sleep is wonderful so check it out.

Numanoids Dream of Electric Sheep

There’s a Blade Runner sequel coming out later this year which you may or may not be wetting your pants about. Though the original is regarded by many as a classic now it wasn’t when it came out in 1982. It got mixed reviews and wasn’t a big hit either. Even the cast were a bit dubious about it. I saw it at the pictures back then and remember being a bit underwhelmed by it too. Obviously it was a visual knockout but I thought the script was clunky, Harrison Ford was dull, and his voice-over narration like something out of a bad “hard-boiled” detective novel.

A lot of great films are underappreciated at first, but Ridley Scott must have thought it had problems too otherwise he wouldn’t have kept tinkering with it over the years. I have a DVD set with three different versions of the film and apparently there are seven in all. I do like it more now than I did in 1982 and watch it whenever I want to inhale some pure cinematic eye candy, but I still don’t love it as much as some people or take it as seriously as it does itself.

The film might have been a flop but I’m sure Scott made a few quid out of these ads he did for Barclays Bank.

As any fule knos, Blade Runner was based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which differs from the movie in several ways. In the book Deckard takes the job of killing the androids because he wants the money to buy a real animal to replace his robot sheep. The terms “Blade Runner” and “Replicant” aren’t in it either. I still have no idea why a cop who kills androids would be called a Blade Runner which always sounded like a generically meaningless Hollywood title to me (in fact it comes from a completely different science fiction story).

Philip K. Dick was one of those cult authors often name-dropped by Post-Punk musicians in their NME interviews along with William Burroughs and JG Ballard. Their dystopian visions of alienation, drugs, violence, and tower blocks made them perfect for the bleak late-70s mood, and a well-thumbed paperback of one of their books was a lifestyle accessory as essential to the moody young man as a copy of Unknown Pleasures. Joy Division’s “Atrocity Exhibition” was named after a Ballard novel, and The Human League called their first demo The Taverner Tape after a character in Dick’s novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

But Dick’s biggest influence was on young Gary Numan. With its songs about androids (Machmen) who murder humans, and characters with false memories (“Little white lies like ‘I was there'”), Tubeway Army’s 1979 album Replicas is basically Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? set to music. Just the title alone of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” shows the influence of the novel. On top of that, Numan often acted like a robot pretending to be human himself. I wonder if he would pass the Voight-Kampff Test.

I sometimes think that Replicas might have been an influence on Ridley Scott and the movie. Numan’s dark synth music and vision of shadowy figures in long coats and grey hats smoking cigarettes certainly evokes the noir atmosphere of Blade Runner more than the trippy and paranoid discombobulation of the book. I even wondered if the scriptwriter got the word “Replicant” from the album title, but apparently not. That’s another great theory ruined by internet research.

Download: Me! I Disconnect From You – Tubeway Army (mp3)

New Monday

Niia is a jazzy-soul chanteuse whose debut album I is a gorgeous blend of smooth Sade-esque grooves and Trip-Hop chill that has been really hitting the spot for me this past week.

On the single version of album track “Sideline” she’s joined by R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan who almost takes over the song but Niia has some pretty good pipes herself and the two engage in a powerful duet about some bastard man.  

Fantastic record, one of my favourites of the year so far.