After serving as a central figure in the transformation of punk rock into new wave, thanks to his position as chief songwriter of the Jam, Paul Weller was looking for something a little different the early nineteen-eighties. Following the dissolution of the band that made him famous (at least in the U.K.), Weller joined with keyboardist Mick Talbot to form the Style Council. Weller took the name of the new group to heart, expounding on the richness of all aspects of European culture, saying of the erudite continent, “There’s some great things coming out of Europe. We think the clothes are great and so’s the style.” (Weller’s evaluation of the specific nation that birthed him was a little less kind, identifying the cloistered mindset that led straight to Brexit, doing so some thirty years ahead of the vote and the resulting chaos: “Every country has its own sense of arrogance, but in England some people can’t be bothered to look further than their own pub.”) “My Ever Changing Moods,” released in 1984, was officially the Style Council’s fifth single overall and was the only song released by the band that managed to crack the United States Top 40. The original version of the song is spare and somber, featuring a tender piano accompaniment. That’s how it appears on the band’s debut album, Café Bleu. By the time it was released as a single, it had been reworked into something fuller and more sprightly. According to Style Council drummer Steve White, that was a direct result of a live performance with another iconic U.K. musician. White explained, “It was very melancholy. Then they performed it with Elvis Costello on a TV show, and had the idea to make it more lively. I suggested we make it feel more like War or Curtis Mayfield. Suddenly this song – very dark, lyrically – became very positive sounding and upbeat, more like an old soul record.” Though Weller has plenty of memorable songs to his credit, “My Ever Changing Moods” arguably gets invoked more than any other, if only because it makes for a quick, glib reference in any discussion of his notoriously prickly personality.
177. The Feelies, “Away”
At the time the Feelies released their third full-length album, Only Life, they were understated college rock legends. Certainly part of the reason for the reverence was the scarcity of their much-vaunted 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms, which fell out of print almost immediately after its release. Even across subsequent reissues, its availability was always peskily short-lived. It also probably didn’t hurt that they expertly carried a Velvet Underground vibe at precisely the time the earlier act’s reputation was solidifying as the band that sold barely any albums, but every person who bought one was inspired to start a band of their own. Transferred cool is still cool. The Feelies were also championed by all the right people, including film director Jonathan Demme, whose advocacy went all the way back to near the beginning, when he was central to the band getting prime placement on the soundtrack to Susan Seidelman’s 1982 film, Smithereens. Pointing his camera where his mouth was at, he also cast the Feelies as the Willies in his fantastic film Something Wild, released in 1986. And when it came time for the Feelies to step up and join the ranks of music video artists, with “Away,” the lead single from Only Life, Demme handled directorial duties. For all these handy, fortuitous turns, the appeal the Feelies held when Only Life was released, in 1988, was ultimately pretty straightforward. As Demme explained at the time, “The Feelies are group of intense musical scientists. At the heart of rock ‘n’ roll is the twin guitar attack. Nobody does it better than they do. Maybe because they’re so studiously uncareerist, there is no better band.”
David Bowie bought Iggy Pop some time. Compatriots for several years, Bowie made a point of recording several of Pop’s songs in the nineteen-eighties, releasing “China Girl” as a single and filling the 1984 album Tonight with tracks that offered Pop at least a co-writing credit. Bowie was partially motivated by the knowledge the resulting royalties would give Pop an income, freeing him up to get his life in order. When Pop reemerged with a batch of demos, mostly songs he’d worked on with former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, Bowie was taken enough with the new material to offer to produce a new record, suggesting they zip off to the Switzerland, far from any capital of the music industry. Pop was between labels, and Bowie reasoned presented a fully-formed product would increase the likelihood of landing a worthwhile deal. That strategy worked out. A&M Records signed Pop and gave an aggressive push to the resulting album, Blah Blah Blah, released in 1986. The A&M record executives were especially high on “Cry for Love,” one of those compositions from the original demo (Jones’s original guitar solo from the demo was edited into the final recording), probably seeing it as a commercially promising departure. They weren’t the only ones who took that viewpoint. Jim McLaughlin, who was bandmates with Pop all the way back when he was teenager Jim Osterberg, drumming in the Ann Arbor, Michigan group the Iguanas, evaluated the song thusly: “He’s saying he’s got a soul and a heart that is easily bruised, and that he lets himself be used because he needs somebody so bad. That’s revealing him in a way I never knew, and I became a complete believer in his music after that.” Much as the A&M personnel liked “Cry for Love,” it was another, perhaps more typical Pop recording that really earned favor. Reportedly, the recurring highlight of the label’s Christmas party for several years was a clip taken from Pop’s performance on a Saturday morning show aimed at tween kids, called No. 73. It involved the ribald rock ‘n’ roller having his way with a large teddy bear.
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.