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sexta-feira, janeiro 20, 2006

Now That's What I Call New Pop!



Está aqui um excelente artigo daPitchfork Media sobre a música dos anos 80 - New Pop: the UK post-post-punk movement.
O artigo passa pela história do movimento dos 80s e pela história de 40 músicas. Desde Depeche Mode, a Visage, de New Order a The Human League, sem esquecer Gary Numan nem Soft Cell.

O artigo extenso ;)


Now That's What I Call New Pop!
Story by Jess Harvell

New pop, the UK post-post-punk movement, is too porous to be rigidly defined. It contains everything from ABC's Arcadian soul-disco, to Orange Juice's Byrds/Buzzcocks jangle, to the Human League's supersonic Abba update. Much of it could also be called post-punk or synth-pop or leftover glam. There was no shared manifesto; many of the bands couldn't be more different.

If anything defined it, it was a strange mix of DIY (spurred by punk) and ambition-- to make the charts, make TV appearances, make newspaper headlines. Sometimes this was for money; sometimes just to see if it could be done; sometimes simply to reach as many people as possible. But clearly, for many bands, merely selling a few 7"s was no longer an option.

If new pop had an architect, it was Paul Morley. A writer for the weekly New Musical Express at a time when the UK music press mattered more than ever, Morley championed post-punk over Oi!, a conservative, proto-hardcore version of punk. But by late 1980-- with his beloved Joy Division no more, post-punk having reached an insurmountable peak with PiL's Metal Box, and more three-chord punk chancers than ever-- Morley was getting exhausted. In the NME's 1980 year-end issue, he recoiled from the cassette-trader feebleness post-punk had arrived at with a call to "bring life back to the radio, to make the single count" and a push towards "overground brightness."

It seemed Morley wasn't alone. In spring 1981, the NME, along with Rough Trade Records, issued C81, a cassette compilation celebrating the last three years of musical adventure. It also seemed like a capstone. Pere Ubu, the Raincoats-- these bands would have never, for better or worse, been let near the "Top of the Pops" studio. The new bands wanted nothing but. Except this wasn't just a lunge at the brass ring. If punk meant anyone could be in a band, then that band could be a pop band, right? And if you had interesting ideas, why not shoot for the widest possible audience?

It was also the era when the term "rockist" entered into the public lexicon. Though now being flogged within an inch of its usefulness in an alt-weekly near you, you can't really discuss new pop without it. Bands espoused the "healthiness" of pop, rather than the squat conditions of post-punk. They reacted not only against 60s rock baggage, but a revitalized rock industry in the face of punk. There was all this stuff around-- dub, Kraftwerk, disco-- just begging to be used. The tormented specter of Chuck Berry became even more demonized.

This makes new pop sound utopian, and it was. But like most utopias, it went unrealized for a reason. "Entryism" was up there with "ambition" and "desire" as the era's big buzzwords. This wasn't alt-rock with its imagery of bands being thrust into the spotlight in spite of themselves, of one-hit wonders affecting an image of indie purity. These bands wanted to make it, and they weren't shy about it. And it's a very small step from entryism to conspicuous consumption, from Scritti Politti to the Thompson Twins, from Glenn Gregory to Gordon Gecko.

That may be off-putting to some, but new pop essentially sowed the seeds of its own demise. All this activity took place in a moment where punk had sent the industry spiraling. It knew it had something-- something it could sell-- but wasn't quite sure how. So a whole bunch of activity was allowed to slip through to the pop charts unmolested. But capitalism, which so many of these bands embraced on a scale from conflicted to wholehearted, is more powerful than any band. It didn't take long for the industry to right itself, and for bands who played the game with no art school poses to surpass those who did.

In 1984 came New Pop's ultimate prank, as well as its ultimate undoing. Frankie Goes To Hollywood-- an apocalyptic queer disco army masterminded by Morley and producer Trevor Horn-- was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Their shtick-- videos that begged for censure, sleeves that crossed gay porn with hardcore philosophy, infamous interviews-- was pure Morley, pure post-punk. But their singles were brazenly sexual, a chromium Panzer division, new pop crossed with punk priapism. When the album stiffed, however, the public increasingly felt insulted by the pomo antics of Horn and Morley's ZTT label. Howard Jones seemed like a safer bet.

New pop is likely never to repeat itself. MTV changed the dissemination of popular music-- ironically boosting the music's profile in the U.S. initially. The corporatization of pop only grew worse in the following decades. As the pop/indie divide grew, it became much easier for bands with interesting ideas to keep them to themselves rather than try to slip them past corporate paymasters. When "indie" exploded back into the mainstream in the 90s, Britpop almost seemed like a reaction against a "pop of ideas"; it retained the go-for-broke ambition but with a Beatles/Stones comfort that assured it would indeed make it big.

It was also set against the other music making pop interesting at the time, at least by the music press: rave, rap, and r&b. And that, perhaps, is the biggest reason why new pop will never repeat itself. Pop music in the early 1980s was still segregated in a way that may be impossible for someone born after 1990 to ever fully understand. Throughout the 1980s, many commercial soul and r&b stations refused to play hip-hop during daytime hours. In 2005, with r&b ruling the charts and the hardest-core rap getting into the top 10, the industry probably doesn't see the need for white interpretations of black music, art school or not.

New pop was all about the present, the impermanence of the charts, living directly in the here-and-now of week-to-week. Which makes a tribute to it feel even more museum-like than usual. But despite all the rhetoric about cheap confections and destroying the canon, great music remains great music two decades later, whatever the creator's intentions. So this Top 40 (what else could it be?) is a celebration of a four-year window where rock felt like it could absorb anything, where non-stars became supernovas (if only for a minute), where "experimentation" went down with a gulp of sugar, where all the old babies were out with the bathwater. They are often, if not always, the band's biggest hit. If that seems obvious, well, obviousness was kind of the point.

If my canonical but still highly subjective overview whets your appetite, you can read 500 more pages of new pop (and post-punk) history in Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up and Start Again.

40. Dollar: "Give Me Back My Heart"
Released: March 1982
Chart peak: UK #4, U.S. N/A

Dollar were an impossibly daft pop duo comprised of David Paul Van Day, who went on to run a hot dog truck, and Thereza Lorraine Bazar, who looked like Leeza Gibbons in a shag haircut and marching band outfit. In the spirit of most impossibly daft pop duos, Dollar sold a stupid amount of records and bothered the charts for a few years before failure to penetrate the top 100 suggested they were going the way of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. By 1981, Trevor Horn was, if not a laughing stock, certainly not taken very seriously, a prog refugee who had briefly attempted to "go new wave" with the Buggles before just giving up the ghost entirely and joining Yes. (Yes, that Yes.)

After leaving Yes, Horn chose to go into production full-time. (His Buggles partner, Geoff Downes, went on to join Asia.) Though a washed-up Europop duo and a washed up prog boffin aren't the most likely pairing to spark a revolution, it was pretty much what happened. Ironically, it was probably Horn's prog know-how which enabled his "superhuman" studio sound, but instead of scoring epic, orchestral compositions, he funnelled his knowledge into three-minute pop singles and became the biggest producer in England almost overnight.

39. OMD: "Enola Gay"
Released: October 1980
Chart peak: UK #8, U.S. #34 (Club Play)

OMD would go on to swallow middle-American teens whole with stuff like "If You Leave", but this was their first top 10 hit in the UK and Europe, at a time when they were still trading in political statements and arty album packaging. Written and recorded in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher's election and the policies that would essentially make the UK a beachhead for nuclear hostilities between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, "Enola Gay" is a strange mix of the subtle and overblown. The band makes no explicit anti-nuclear, anti-Thatcher references. Instead it throws the history of Hiroshima over incredibly tarty synthpop, chilling and thrilling and utterly daft, the kind of mutant the era demanded.

38. Culture Club: "Time (The Clock of the Heart)"
Released: November 1982
Chart peak: UK #3, U.S. #2

Boy George started out as a new romantic scenster, a sort of early '80s Warhol superstar, more known for being than doing. After being hired and then summarily fired from Bow Wow Wow by Malcom McLaren, he vowed revenge. And of course he succeeded, becoming far bigger than BWW ever were, smiling impishly from the cover of Rolling Stone. "Time" may not be their best single. If it never trawls the cutie pie depths of "I'll Tumble 4 Ya", then perhaps it's a little too unerringly tasteful, from the non-stick production values to the sax solo. Still, it does illustrate how perilous the veneration of surface was in new pop. Waiting on the other side of the looking glass was Spandau Ballet's "True", and everything that followed in its wake-- when slick curdles to schlock.

37. Simple Minds: "Promised You a Miracle"
Released: April 1982
Chart peak: UK #13, U.S. #65 (Club Play)

Simple Minds were another band who would pump up their new pop sound on a regimen of stadium heavy lifting and an Atkins diet of classic rock maneuvers to conquer the charts of America in the late '80s. They were possibly the most art-rock of them all at the outset, skipping nodes between knowing Roxy Eurodisco and dramarama chest-thumping boy's own adventure. Eventually, however, they decided to shift to writing songs for the radio rather than sporting arenas of the mind. "Promised You a Miracle" is one of the first results and, yes, it's exultant, triumphant, shimmering clouds of guitar, sunshafts through mountain passes, all that. But there's also a song in there, and that makes all the difference. These guys had absolute no taste though: Can you believe Jim Kerr actually doesn't like "Don't You (Forget About Me)"?

36. U2: "I Will Follow"
Released: October 1980
Chart peak: UK N/A, U.S. #20 (Mainstream Rock)

Of course, no one followed the OMD/Simple Minds route to bigger success than Macphisto & co. For those under 30 it's next to impossible to remember a time when they weren't the biggest rock band in the world. But-- before Brian Eno, Bo Diddley, and Bono's mullet-- there was actually some competition between U2 and Simple Minds, the Bunnymen, et al. for the stadium hearts of the UK. Even then, though, you could probably suss out who was going to come out on top. Mostly it was that ringing, choppy guitar riff on "I Will Follow", their fourth single. And the chorus is pretty good, too.

35. Wham!: "Wham! Rap"
Released: January 1983
Chart peak: UK #8, U.S. N/A

Of all the bands on this list, Wham! were the least punk. New pop let a lot of former indie bands in through the back door, but it was also when the crass, bottle-tanned barbarians stormed the "Top of the Pops" studios and kicked the leftover '70s dinosaurs out the door with a big cartoon boot. "Wham! Rap" is exactly what it says on the tin and almost as ghastly (George Michael is not exactly Rakim), kind of like Bow Wow Wow buffed to a hi-gloss shine. But its ghastliness is what gives it a slight edge of rebellion-- how dare they?-- and what elevates it beyond the neon short-shorted horrors they would soon be responsible for.

34. John Foxx: "Burning Car"
Released: July 1980
Chart peak: UK #35, U.S. N/A

As lead singer for Bowie impersonators Ultravox before they blew up with the execrable "Vienna", Foxx is a true synth-pop pioneer, namechecked now by everyone from Adult. to the Junior Boys. If anything, was responsible for the disenchanted Euro-vox of electroclash (Y chromosome division), it was Foxx and his solo albums like 1980s classic Metamatic. Over a grinding vision of Kraftwerk, Foxx drones on about the titular object, a feature of urban wastelands everywhere by that time, something left out of Kwerk's autobahn utopia. The anti-Marc Almond, Foxx makes The Man Who Fell to Earth sound like Charles Nelson Reilly, though it's a contest to see which sounds more disinterested, Foxx or his machines. Critics are quick to distance electronic music from the "emotionless" epithet, but Foxx made an art out of it.

33. Depeche Mode: "Just Can't Get Enough"
Released: September 1981
Chart peak: UK #8, U.S. #26 (Club Play)

Though they went to become the biggest stadium goth band of the '80s (well, tied with the Cure, anyway), the early Depeche Mode singles were pure synth-pop. Though I love plenty they did after discovering the joys of heavy handed bible references, there's a definite charm to their first records, like if Sabbath had power-pop singles hiding in their closet. The secret weapon is Vince Clarke-- soon to leave to form Yazoo and then Erasure, more or less dominating "that English queer shit" for the rest of the decade-- who constructs synth melodies so bouncy they might as well be Superballs.

32. Echo & The Bunnymen: "A Promise"
Released: July 1981
Chart peak: UK #49, U.S. N/A

The Bunnymen grew out of the Crucial Three, an aptly named group that contained Ian McCulloch and two other key Liverpudlian figures in new pop/new rock, Pete Wylie of Wah! Heat and Julian Cope of the Teardrop Explodes. The Bunnymen were stars in the UK, but they were roundly destroyed in the U.S. by the band the British music press frequently threw them up against, U2. McCulloch was never going to have the charisma of a Bono (or the shamelessness to pull all of the asinine American rock moves Bono did to become a star), but early Echo trumps early U2 nearly every time. "A Promise" is not exactly pop-- too dark, too dense-- but it's definitely not rock.

31. The Teardrop Explodes: "Reward"
Released: January 1981
Chart peak: UK #6, U.S. N/A

Though he's best known (and beloved) now as music's resident druid archivist of esoterica, there was a point and time when Julian Cope was actually concerned with making the pop charts. "[Post-punk] is getting to be like the early seventies again where you had the hippies into all their weird music," he told the NME at the time, a statement rife with irony now. And he was pulling it off to boot. "Bless my cotton socks, I'm in the news," he sings on the opening of "Reward", possibly the most ridiculous pop couplet ever written. But "Reward" is actually a snippy commentary on pop stardom in the great post-punk tradition. The sound though: over thundering bass and drums, "Reward" has a brass section tooting out blasts of golden light. Like Dexys Midnight Runners, the Teardrop Explodes had brass that sounded, well, brassy, reintroducing the kind of horns to pop that hadn't been fashionable for years.

30. Visage: "Fade To Grey"
Released: December 1980
Chart peak: UK #8, U.S. N/A

Visage formed around Billy's, a club which in 1978 worshipped everything punk had supposedly destroyed: artifice, pomp, synthesizers, eyeliner. It was one of the key new romantic shrines, with all the angular haircuts and leather jackets with shoulder pads you'll still see slinking around the less hip corners of Willamsburg. In 1979, Visage (Steve Strange, Rusty Egan, and Midge Ure) swallowed three-fifths of Magazine (Barry Adamson, John McGeoch, and Dave Formula) and one Ultravoxian (Billy Currie). The result was a kind of nascent synth-pop supergroup, which managed a major hit with the same stilted, Teutonic materials Magazine faffed about with to no avail. It's essentially a krautish synth line with some Eurodisco drums plus Strange and an unidentified French woman murmuring and that's it. But the chorus was enough to make it a hit.

29. The Art of Noise: "Moments in Love"
Released: March 1984
Chart peak: UK #51, U.S. # 34(Dance Music)

The ultimate chill-out track, "Moments in Love" is one of the most aptly titled records of all time. The Art of Noise was formed around non-musician Paul Morley, super-producer Trevor Horn, and a team of musicians who would later argue, rightly more or less, that they were never fully credited for their fair share in his hits. They made experimental, instrumental music that was nonetheless very accessible, very pop, and, in the case of "Moments in Love", very beautiful. Essentially the same string sample played in a four-note sequence on the Fairlight CMI sampler, the motif modulates for over 10 minutes, a cross between a quiet storm instrumental and a Harold Budd composition. File under the very slimly populated space marked "ambient make-out music."

28. New Order: "Confusion"
Released: September 1983
Chart peak: UK #12, U.S. #5 (Club Play)

Nothing quite washes the taste of death out of your mouth like dancing; from early 20th century jazz to your local Baptist funeral reception, revelry and dancing are a pretty good way of both honoring the dead and celebrating life. So, though I risk earnest ridiculousness by saying it, it's tempting to think New Order followed that dictum for the bulk of their career. If you can't hear the disco in those double-time snare in Joy Division songs like "Transmission", then you're deaf, but it's undeniable that New Order only became a "dance band" after they shed the last bits of Ian Curtis on Movement. "Confusion", produced with electro pioneer Arthur Baker, is exemplary: all zinging, proto-freestyle synths, beetling bass, robot vocals, and crashing drum machines.

27. Josef K: "It's Kinda Funny"
Released: December 1980
Chart peak: UK N/A, U.S. N/A

Alan Horne's Postcard label exists on the fringes of new pop. Many of its bands definitely wrote pop songs (or wanted to), and groups like Orange Juice were key in shifting the music press towards a "pop" mindset. But Postcard's sound-- all slash'n'jangle, a dozen reinterpretations of the Talking Heads and Television songbooks-- was still rooted in post-punk's spiral scratchings and would have a much bigger impact on the first wave of self-consciously "indie" bands to come. Outside of Orange Juice, Josef K were the best Postcard band: stiff, uptight puritans who made bloodless funk that nonetheless had a catchy center. "It's Kinda Funny" is pop for caffeine addicts and broken-hearted speed freaks, all itchy guitars and tumbling drums.

26. Frankie Goes To Hollywood: "Relax"
Released: November 1983
Chart peak: UK #1, U.S. #10

New pop's biggest moment, culturally. (No one throws an "ASSOCIATES FEAR TWO" t-shirt into a movie to shorthand the '80s.) With "disco sucks" still fresh in the mind-- only five years before!-- it's actually kind of amazing that America took a torrid, synth-heavy, unapologetically Queer-with-a-capital-Q disco band and made them superstars. With a song about how to keep from prematurely ejaculating during anal sex. And a greasy, sweaty, orgiastic, and (lest we forget) banned video. In America, Frankie was a one-hit-wonder with excitingly mod production and Reagan-era conservative baiting. In the UK-- where they know how to do one-hit-wonders right-- they terrorized the public for a year in the music papers, through their single sleeves and videos, before nearly killing the careers of all involved. (And definitely killing the career of Frankie itself.) But what a ride.

25. The Human League: "Love Action (I Believe In Love)"
Released: August 1981
Chart peak: UK #3, U.S. #37 (Club Play)

Starting out as Sheffield industrialists under the name Dead Daughters (ooh, scary) and then (prophetically) the Future, the Human League released two albums worth of synth-punk alternating between almost-pop singles like "Being Boiled" and "The Black Hit of Space" and pieces of extended whimsy like "Circus of Death", Just as they were (very slowly) achieving some kind of success, they split. The remaining members-- Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright-- hooked up with a bass player named Ian Burden and two schoolgirls, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall, promptly becoming one of the biggest pop bands in the world.

A large chunk of this success must be attributed to Martin Rushent, the producer who took the bands raw materials (hooks, choruses, the weedy vocals, synth, and basslines) and made them pop records. The Human League are the essence of new pop: strikingly modern at the time, bright and tuneful beyond belief. And yet, after all these years, with the production now a period curio, songs like "Love Action (I Believe in Love)" have become classics-- wedding songs, even-- which makes them the same sort of dinosaurs new pop was expressly against. Some cycles just can't be overthrown or avoided.

24. Associates: "Club Country"
Released: May 1982
Chart peak: #13, U.S. N/A

The Associates were the ultimate new pop band in that punk gave them a context to exist in and a network to work through, yet they wanted nothing to do with punk as music, almost nothing to do with rock at all. Their rock inputs were the usual ones for a non-rock band of the time-- Bowie, Roxy-- along with Kraftwerk, Moroder, show tunes, disco divas, Scott Walker, and basically anything else two fruity boys from Scotland would be into circa the late '70s.

Throughout 1981 they released a string of singles that rival anyone's for inventiveness, breadth, and depth. But they weren't really "pop" and failed to make the charts. So in 1982, they went for it. The results still weren't really "pop," yet somehow for a year or so the Associates became an actual pop band, scoring hits and playing "Top of the Pops". The singles from Sulk-- like the torrid "Club Country"-- sounded, well, wrong...like pop played too fast, too overwrought, too much, a mixture of off-putting and irresistible. "Club Country" is garden party music for vampires, as stilted and seething as an old money luncheon.

23. Scritti Politti: "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)"
Released: March 1984
Chart peak: UK #10, U.S. #91

No new popper traveled as far from his roots as Green Gartside. In the U.S., Scritti were vaguely known as yet another British band with a million pound synthesizer rig who made grit-free dance pop in the middle of the decade. In the UK, they were the archetypal new pop band. Green's squat aesthetics, amphetamine use, and general control-freak attitude contributed to him breaking down on stage with the Gang of Four in 1979, leading him to completely disown post-punk and its methods as "unhealthy," writing books of justification for why pop was the way forward.

The relative "health" of this depended on where you stood. If you were against it, they were a bunch of sell-outs in leg warmers. If you were for it, they made a helluva couple pop singles and one masterpiece of an album. From their scrawny, all-too-human early singles, Scritti went on to make some of the most heavily processed, synthetic sounding music of all time. Nothing on "Wood Beez" sounds as if human sweat was involved in its making, which makes it one of the most ironic tributes to the queen of soul ever. But Green was keenly aware of this; in a sense, all his pop singles were a meta-critique of his relationship with black music (or pop music) (or love) (or the love song) (or something). And even an ultra-slick tune like "Wood Beez" has the faint, sour aftertaste of "Skank Bloc Bologna". Plus, aping Michael Jackson or not, he was a helluva singer.

22. Altered Images: "Happy Birthday"
Released: September 1981
Chart peak: UK #2, U.S. N/A

Hard to believe the band responsible for this slice of proto-twee synth-pop had released a single called "Dead Pop Stars" a year earlier, but these were clearly interesting times. Altered Images got their start making dark, loping post-punk topped off with Clare Grogan's kiddy chirp, kind of like Cranes a decade early. Their demo got them the attention of Siouxsie & the Banshees, and their first two singles were produced by Steve Severin with mixed results.

Then, for whatever reason, they hooked up with Martin Rushent, then riding high with the Human League, and released "Happy Birthday". The base of "Happy Birthday" isn't too dissimilar from their earlier singles: low-slung, bass-forward, kind of like a cross between the Young Marble Giants and New Order circa-Movement. But Rushent adds a single, champagne effervescent synth line which, combined with Grogan's squeak, makes it akin to the Sugarcubes' "Birthday", the same sidle and shimmer. Electronic music wouldn't get this twee again until all those Sarah records bands discovered acid house at the end of the decade.

21. Propaganda: "Dr. Mabuse"
Released: March 1984
Chart peak: UK #27, U.S. N/A

Propaganda, like most ZTT artists, represented the tail end of new pop as any sort of cultural force. They actually scored their biggest UK chart success, "Duel" at number 21, in 1985, a year outside our purview and a moment when "the new British invasion" had become business as usual for the world pop market. But they were actually German, which sort of closes a circuit started by Kraftwerk, picked up by UK synth pioneers, and brought to its apex by Trevor Horn. "Dr. Mabuse" is "just" more prime Horn melodrama-- swooning synths, overblown orchestral stabs, stupidly portentous lyrics-- but that's like saying a song is "just" prime Holland-Dozier-Holland.

20. Duran Duran: "Rio"
Released: November 1982
Chart peak: UK #9, U.S. #14

Everyone grasps at the band's self-described Pistols-meet-Chic manifesto for some retroactive cred, but no band as readily, and unironically, embraced the dawn of the go-go 80s as the Duranies. There was none of the self-loathing of John Lydon or the ambivalent embrace of the high life of Rodgers/Edwards. Everyone knows what this sounds like, so it's not as if I need to describe it. It's also an amazing pop single and needs no apologies. But, as much as anything, the Crockett & Tubbs suits and yachts represented new pop's final destination: an embrace of the moneyed pleasures the pop charts could provide.

19. Malcom McLaren & the World's Famous Supreme Team: "Buffalo Gals"
Released: December 1982
Chart peak: UK #9, U.S. #33 (Club Play)

In which a Jewish-Scottish huckster without a musical bone (or even much talent) in his body becomes the most unlikely hip-hop hero ever. When Bow Wow Wow crash landed NYC in the early 80s, McLaren had a kind of Damascus moment when he witnessed early rap. Why it was black punk, of course! And the whole cut-and-scratch thing fed right into the "destroy the music industry" trip he had concocted for Bow Wow Wow. So he would make his own rap record, fusing it with Appalachian square dancing. Of course. Trevor Horn glued the whole thing-- beats, pieces, McLaren's wack-ass raps, scratches, and sound FX-- into something resembling music, and it sold a half a million copies.

18. Madness: "Our House"
Released: November 1982
Chart peak: UK #5, U.S. #7

Madness were probably the only neo-ska band to transcend 2-Tone as a cultural movement. They are beloved in the UK, even today, as just a great pop band. Which is the essence of new pop, even as their classicist streak sets them apart from your Trevor Horns and Heaven 17s. They were the nutty boys, the baggy trousered music hall heroes who pratfalled into your heart. And yet happy-sadness was always a part of their appeal, and nowhere else so much as here, their biggest U.S. single and probably their best. So familiar that its nearly had all of the bitter bled out of the sweet, but the moment where Suggs tries to convince himself that "nothing can come between us" always chokes me up, mostly because anyone over the age of 16 fucking well knows better. But I'm a sentimental fool who often thinks of where he grew up, too.

17. Dexys Midnight Runners: "Geno"
Released: March 1980
Chart peak: UK #1, U.S. N/A

Another stripped, classicist #1. It was like disco never happened. And in many ways that's just what Dexys wanted. The whole band, at least in its Mk. I configuration, was a tribute to northern soul, a fad where leftover mods would do lots of speed (hence the band name) and dance all night to sub-Motown singles. The whole scene started to crumble when DJ's started playing current disco. Which probably pissed frontman Kevin Rowland off. As did the new punk and pop hegemony. Just about everything pissed him off, including the putative subject of this tribute, pub singer Geno Washington, who Rowland admits "sounded so tame." So he fought back with ragged Stax vibes and his own swaggering, raw vocals. He would hit even bigger with "Come On Eileen"-- where the angry young man finds love-- but his meta passion-for-passion and sheer willpower (no great singer, he) are almost incandescent here.

16. ABC: "Poison Arrow"
Released: February 1982
Chart peak: UK #6, U.S. #25

ABC had been an experimental group called Vice Versa, not too dissimilar from the early Human League. At some point, possibly after watching their former Sheffield neighbors go stratospheric, they decided on their new vision: Roxy Music crossed with post-Moroder disco and a withering critique of love and romance. Their first single, "Tears Are Not Enough", got into the top 20, but failed to fully express the noises they were making in the press. So they turned to Trevor Horn and set out to make "superhuman" records.

"Poison Arrow", the first result of their Horn collaboration, was as superhuman as any record had probably been to that point: lounge lizard piano chords pumped up to Triumph of the Will scale, drums that seemed to burst the fabric on your speakers, and synth strings and horns that sounded as shiny as singer Martin Fry's gold lame suit. Almost overnight, ABC became the embodiment of new pop. In many ways, no one did it better.

15. Bow Wow Wow: "C30 C60 C90 Go!"
Released: July 1980
Chart peak: UK #34, U.S. N/A

When Adam Ant came to Malcom McLaren for advice on how to be a good pop star, McLaren did what any good evil svengali would do: He stole his band, paired them with a 14-year-old Burmese laundress named Annabella Lwin, and gave them a song about home taping destroying the music industry. Duh. Though they got progressively sleazier (Lwin being coerced into posing nude for an album cover, McLaren mooting what amounted to a glossy kiddie porn mag) and scored their biggest hit with the bouncy but mostly harmless "I Want Candy", the early Bow Wow Wow was pure pop for now people. It was McLaren's first strike against post-punk blandness, all speedy Burundi drums and thrashing guitar to exhort the kids to stop buying records. For a contempo example, try to imagine Jojo being paired with Bloc Party for a single about the joys of illegal P2P file sharing. On a major label.

14. Heaven 17: "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thing"
Released: January 1981
Chart peak: UK #45 (#40 on a 1996 re-release), U.S. #29 (Club Play)

The members of the Human League who didn't go on to be hugely famous, though lord knows they tried. And, to be fair, they did get pretty damn big. Another bunch of old leftists embracing really sketchy imagery (the cover of their Penthouse and Pavement LP looks like a page from Wall Street: The Comic Book), they called themselves a corporation and recorded stupidly catchy MOR disco with a patina of electronics. True to their roots, "Fascist Groove Thing" is a protest song, recorded as Reagan was nearing inauguration, whose lyrics kept it from its rightful place in the top 10. Like Prince, Heaven 17 abused the Linn drum machine in such creative ways that it became the rhythm of the early 80s, and their basslines were stiff-yet-rubbery, like a hotel band playing Chic. But again, they were eclipsed by bands who boasted no art school roots or conceptualist games. And by their former bandmates, though we cant really hold that against them.

13. Adam & the Ants: "Dog Eat Dog"
Released: October 1980
Chart peak: UK #4, U.S. #15 (Mainstream Rock)

What to do when no one takes your punk band seriously? Dress up like the gayest pirate-cum-Revolutionary War hero ever and become one of your country's biggest pop stars. Which is essentially what Stuart Price did. Which is pretty freakin weird when you think about it. Especially when you consider he did it with a sound that combined an astonishing tribal/Burundi/Bo Diddley beat, twangy Duane Eddy guitars, incongruous spaghetti western flourishes, and disco whistles. Plus, your frontman being the anti-John Lydon and bigging up the PLUR-ness of his audience, nattering on about "smiles" and "innocence." Some may prefer "Stand & Deliver" ("I'm the dandy highwayman, so sick of indie fashion"-- a new pop manifesto if ever there was one), "Kings of the Wild Frontier", or "Ant Music", but for me "Dog Eat Dog" is where it all came together.

12. Soft Cell: "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye"
Released: February 1982
Chart peak: UK #3, U.S. N/A

After he was the sleaziest northern soul singer ever and before he became the sex dwarf and all those spunk-drinking rumors began to hover around him like vampire bats, Marc Almond wrote and sang the most straightforward, moving, and gorgeous song of his career. Even if it was all about the ironic and yet utterly pained distance of a closeted gay man not being able to acknowledge his lover. "I tried to make it work/ You in a cocktail skirt/ And me in a suit/ Well, it just wasn't me." It just wasn't a lot people, but Almond was too clever a stylist and too disdainful of mainstream gay pride to pen a Tom Robinson Band-esque "glad to be gay" anthem. "A nice little housewife/ Who'll give me a steady life/ And won't keep going off the rails." Which he then proceeded to do for the next decade or so.

11. Gary Numan: "Cars"
Released: September 1979
Chart peak: UK #1, U.S. #9

Numan's roots were in punk and rock, not Kraftwerk and disco, and you can feel the difference whenever you listen to one of his records. Numan's riffs hit with a near heavy metal force, be it the grinding oomph of "Are 'Friends' Electric?" or the nasty smear of "This Wreckage", which Basement Jaxx later sampled for their own disco-oi! anthem "Where's Your Head At?" Everyone knows "Cars", one of those records from the era that impacted everyone from Bronx hip-hoppers to future Detroit techno producers to the guys who now program VH1 Classic. But if you want a taste of what it must have sounded like back then, put it on a mix of contemporaneous stuff and listen to how it leaps out from its surroundings, the volume and heft of that signature riff grabbing you by the throat.

10. Orange Juice: "Blue Boy"
Released: August 1980
Chart peak: UK N/A, U.S. N/A

And then they came, bounding from the north, with bouncy fake disco and a love of the Velvets that seemingly treated their lyrics as a foreign language. Edwyn Collins sounded like a forty-year-old doing "Most Happy Fella" at a Glasgow dinner theater and looked like a twelve-year-old in his church clothes. This, their second single, sold 20,000 copies, not half what it should have. Orange Juice, for better or worse, perfected the template of alienated-and-loving-it indie boy success-- all bad hair, broken hearts, and big grins. ("Falling & Laughing" as their first single put it.) Put this between Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" and the Big Tymers' "Oh Yeah" on your next mixtape for the ebullience hat trick. Amazingly it took Collins 14 years to score an honest-to-goodness pop hit.

09. Japan: "Ghosts"
Released: March 1982
Chart peak: UK #5, U.S. N/A

Japan were lost boys when punk broke, heavily pancaked glam throwbacks who perhaps realized they had to wait for the pendulum to swing back to pomp. By the time it had, they had also done the impossible and reinvented themselves as artists, with a lowercase "a," as opposed to most of the era's Artistes. "Ghosts" is probably the most amazing top 10 single in this list. David Sylvian sings like an over-polite concierge. There is no rhythm track, barely any hint of "music," just flickers of electronics like dying embers. Surely the only band to influence both Goldie and David Gray.

08. The Art of Noise: "Beat Box"
Released: March 1984
Chart peak: UK #51, U.S. #1 (Dance Music/Club Play)

Built on a drum loop from when producer Trevor Horn was briefly aligned with Yes (surely the antithesis of new pop), "Beat Box" is, in essence, the first hip-hop record to use a sampled breakbeat. A few years before cheap samplers found their way into the hands of people like Marley Marl, Horn's exorbitantly priced Fairlight CMI Series II made a bunch of middle-aged white British dudes the hottest thing in Black American pop. Everything is rendered as a stab, from voices to horns to unidentifiable blurts of noise. It's influence on people like Mantronix and the Latin Rascals is undeniable. Amazingly, this can still be heard on "classic r&b" stations. I heard it two Christmases ago while driving my mother home, sandwiched between Average White Band and Rick James, sounding as alien and awesome as ever.

07. New Order: "Blue Monday"
Released: March 1983
Chart peak: UK #9, U.S. #1 (Dance Music/Club Play)

And speaking of British dance records that reinvented the wheel: Do I even need to talk about this? Still played, in clubs, to this day. Probably somewhere right now. It's like fucking "Gilligan's Island". That staccato bass drum at the beginning will send any crowd into hysterics. "It takes ecstasy to make a white man dance," New Order drummer Stephen Morris has said. But Jesus, you'd never know it.

06. The Specials: "Ghost Town"
Released: June 1981
Chart peak: UK #1, U.S. N/A

2-Tone wasn't exactly new pop. For one thing it was brazenly throwback, flying in the face of new pop's almost maniacal focus on the present. For another, it felt much closer to punk, all choppy, straight-ahead rhythms and anti-fascist politics. But coming at roughly the same time as Metal Box, the Specials and the other bands on 2-Tone were obviously aiming their bouncy and, well, fun music at the charts.

Two years later they spent three weeks at number one with their masterpiece, a not very pop record in the classical sense, and yet once you hear it, its appeal is immediately obvious. Over a cartoon version (and I don't remotely mean that as an insult) of dub dread, the band laments the creeping discontent following Thatcher's election, as contemporaneous riots raged over the UK. The B-sides are very nearly as good. Lynval Golding's "Why?" finds him pleading for racial tolerance even as he was beaten into the intensive care unit by racist skins as the single hit number one. From his hospital bed, he was still calling for peace. Terry Hall's "Friday Night & Saturday Morning" captures the gentle, heartbreaking futility of the single person's club hopping so effortlessly that even that Nouvelle Vague bullshit from this year couldn't tarnish it.

05. The Human League: "Don't You Want Me"
Released: December 1981
Chart peak: UK #1, U.S. #1

Though perhaps now inextricable from nostalgia and kitsch, this remains one of the greatest pop singles ever made. It has everything one could possibly want: strikingly modernist production that's moved back from camp to classic, Abba-ready harmonies, glamour mixed up with the utterly mundane, and a former experimental collective briefly becoming the world's biggest pop band with only the singer and projectionist (!) remaining from the original line-up. The fact that it was the UK Christmas #1 is just gravy.

04. Frankie Goes To Hollywood: "Two Tribes"
Released: June 1984
Chart peak: UK #1, U.S. #43

The flipside to all this tanned hedonism in early 80s British pop was "apocalypse rock." I'm barely old enough to remember the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation myself, though just old enough to have been traumatized by it, like an eight year old trying to get his head around the concept of "cancer." The epitome of apocalypse rock is, artistically if not commercially, the Young Marble Giants' "Final Day". Over a hissing drum machine and pokey, turtle-shy bass, Alison Stratton mewls about the final shrug as the "nation of shopkeepers" is vaporized in an instant. Frankie Goes To Hollywood's drum machines and bass didn't hiss or hide. They thundered like disco orchestrated by Wagner. They were certainly "against" nuclear war. But they sure did make it sound excited, all those phallic warheads messily exploding.

03. Scritt Politti: "The 'Sweetest' Girl"
Released: August 1981
Chart peak: UK N/A, U.S. N/A

By now, with the release of the Early comp, anyone who wants to can hear those first Scritti Politti singles that were little more than rumor pre-mp3. The genius stroke of that collection was including "The 'Sweetest' Girl"/"Lions After Slumber" single. This, the first "pop" Scritti record, still sounds shocking against those formative, sketchy post-punk singles. Green Gartside embraces the femininity of his voice, and swathes his lover's discourse ("politics is prior to the vagaries of science" love, love me do) in a nimbus of pop-reggae phasing. The whole thing sways like trees seen across a parking lot on a July day. It's still not exactly "pop," but it's a step towards it. And, if new pop taught us anything, it's that the journey can be far more interesting than the ignominious arrival.

02. Associates: "Party Fears Two"
Released: February 1982
Chart peak: UK #9, U.S. N/A

No new pop band stretched the definition of "pop" further. And no new pop band's success was ever so unexpected or deserved at the same time. At a time when drama was increasingly being delivered from behind a mascara'd wink, The Associates amped up everything fey and hysterical in pop culture (disco, Bowie, Roxy, Las Vegas show tunes) to an uncomfortable degree. Billy Mackenzie sounded, as one writer said, like a tranny in a wind tunnel. The production-- imagine Temptations producer Norman Whitfield's "psychedelic soul" being applied to Bowie's teutonic chic-- goes multi-track crazy, massing Mackenzie's harmonies into the queerest bunch of choirboys to ever trouble a chart. This is fruity psychedelia shoehorned into a new romantic straightjacket.

01. ABC: "All of My Heart"
Released: September 1982
Chart peak: UK #5, U.S. N/A

In the end, what else could it be? ABC's slickest and most gorgeous single, and yet also possibly their most bitter. ("No I won't be told/ There's a crock of gold/ At the end of the rainbow." "Skip the hearts and flowers/ Skip the ivory towers.") Martin Fry sketches the story of a friendship that wants-- no, Needs-- to be more but can never be. "No happy ever after/ Now we're friends." He alternates between open hearted and suspicious, warm and resentful with the turn of a phrase. This is the main tension driving of all of ABC's best work, which is to say The Lexicon of Love and its singles: Fry the wounded romantic vs. Fry the detached observer of human folly.

The very real heartbreak animating the album-- Fry had been unceremoniously dumped before recording began-- would have been as naked as an emo record if not tempered by his ironist's artifice. Horn buffets Fry in a down of strings and woodwinds, rising in pitch as he delivers his final summation ("the kindest cut's the cruelest part") before everything drops out as he mewls the title. The outro-- a swirl of soundtrack strings, plucked bass, and cascading piano-- is the most purely beautiful music of the era. Sure, it's cheesy, gaudy, overblown. Who ever said cheesy, beautiful, profound, and cynical couldn't coexist in one song? Hell, it's all I really want from music.