Fair-weather indie pop fan Ged Babey assembles some experts to decide on the Definitive Top 20 UK Indie-Pop Albums as a prelude to the release of the Scared To Get Happy 5 CD Box-set on Cherry Red.
The distinguished panel are:
Dan O’ Farrell: singer/guitarist/songwriter with Accrington Stanley.
Mark Pearson: formerly “the Gnome”, Southampton DJ and founder of Ambition Records.
Dave Todd: former bassist with Bubblegum Splash and Jane From Occupied Europe.
Rich Levene: STE punk collective & Indiepop DJ “The Sun Always Shines Here”
Ian Canty: Part Time Punk fanzine. Oi! Poet & wrestler.
Whilst in no particular order the first choice was picked by three of us and the next four chosen by two people. Music is not a competition and they are all great Independent Label UK Pop albums.
Not all of the videos are of songs which appear on the Cherry Red box set.
The June Brides: There Are Eight Million Stories (Pink 1985)
Perfect pop thrill. Spiky guitars mixing Buzzcocks and Josef K with the wistfulness of TV Personalities (Dave)
An absolutely perfect album. personifying the Indie-Pop as the bastard malnourished son of punk rock theory. Set apart from its peers by the trumpet playing of Jon Hunter. He was about 6 foot 5 and sang Blitzkreig Bop when they encored I seem to remember. Probably the first band my sister “discovered” before I did, but I don’t hold that against them. (Ged)
It was either this or Jasmine Minks that I would pick as my all-time favourite indiepop album (Rich)
The Wedding Present: George Best (Reception 1987)
Quite simply the best album ever, ever, ever. Nothing more to say. I still listen to it regularly after over 25 years and the jangling guitar sound at the beginning of Anyone Can Make a Mistake sends shivers down my spine. That unmistakable jangling guitar manages to make you feel awesome in spite of Gedge’s despairing of lyrics. (Gnome).
Orange Juice: You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (Polydor 1982)
The first indie pop album? Possibly but a lot more besides. Edwyn Collins’ clever lyrics and unique voice. Jangly guitars that bristle with punk rock spirit. Still as fresh 30+ years on. (Dave)
Should be disqualified for being on Polydor but I’ll let it go. No OJ on the box set I’m afraid.
Shop Assistants: Shop Assistants (Blue Guitar 1986)
The 7 inch single was always the format of choice (in indie-pop) and for many bands an album was a big step too far. The Shoppies (as we called them) album works as it was basically their live set transferred to vinyl. The blueprint for countless girl fronted bands. (Dave Todd of girl-fronted Bubblegum Splash!)
Half-Man, Half Biscuit: Back in the DHSS (Probe Plus 1985)
Indie-music got incredibly serious for a time in the early to mid 80s, and its devotees could often tend to a kind of humourless Stalinism, where friends were written out of history for admitting an unsanctioned, un-ironic enjoyment of say, Wee-rule by the Wee Papa Girl Rappers. It was a liberating joy, then, to hear Trumpton Riots and God Gave Us Life and realise that music was still allowed to make you smile. There’s probably a thesis to be written about how Nigel Blackwells lyrics in songs like All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla-Prague Away Kit, with its tortured references to setting up your Scalextric, paved the way for the wave of nostalgic, observational comedians in the 90s. (Dan)
Half Man Half Biscuit do not appear on the box-set sadly. Not cool enough? Shame. (GB)
Prefab Sprout: Swoon (Kitchenware 1984)
Another pure treasure. Paddy McAloon later said he wished he could steal every copy back and burn them, which is proof if ever needed that artists should be the last people to judge their own work. This is quirky, clever, quicksilver stuff that somehow still manages to seep into your daily life in a way that, for me at least, their post-Steve McQueen material never did. Kind of clunky, but in a really good way, and preferable to my ears than the Thomas Dolby sheen that soon descended. Cruel is still the best expression I’ve heard of adolescent longing and religious confusion. Maybe the only expression… (Dan)
(Scared to Get Happy includes this 1982 Kitchenware release by Prefab Sprout Lions in My Own Garden (Exit Someone) which is not on Swoon. (GB)
McCarthy: I am a Wallet (September 1987)
Whenever I amuse myself by reviewing my top ten list of first songs on albums (Gloria by Patti Smith has been number 1 for ages. Must get a life soon), An MP Speaks is always there. It’s a beautifully perfect song, from Tim Gane’s intricate picking to Malcolm Eden’s clever, satirical lyric, where he sings as an angry MP, determined to stop the tide of filth engulfing the country. The rest of the album could never live up to this song, but it comes perilously close on so many occasions. Sometimes a whispered protest is more powerful than a shouted one. (Dan)
Josef K: The Only Fun In Town (Postcard 1981)
This was the LP that seemed to satisfy nobody it seemed except me. I can remember the music paper reviews at the time mostly me summed up in one word “disappointment”. I couldn’t see it, because for me this is still one of the most thrilling records I’ve ever heard. It has been described as a dark, “Punk Rock” style collection and clocking in about half an hour it hurtles by. Josef K seemed like they were itching to finish it and split up and sped for the finish line. From the sleeve illustration of a cartoon town to its cut n paste inner sleeve, Punk is written though this like Blackpool on a stick of rock but this was far more the Velvets wound up to extraordinary speed in the hands of Paul Haig than the Stooges or anything UK82.
“Fun And Frenzy” sets the tone. Frantic doesn’t get near it; words flash by, guitars are skittering in and out and the drums furiously chase the song to its conclusion. Though other songs are slower like “Sorry For Laughing” the intensity never really lets up. It’s not easy listening by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a spirit and feeling all of its own and is stuffed full of great songs. It resonates down the years and bands like the Close Lobsters picked up on Josef K later in the decade, but no-one got near this kind of energy. (Ian)
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Psychocandy (Blanco Y Negro 1985)
Though I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music, there was a time in the early to mid Eighties I was in danger of becoming a Goth. The vinyl on my HMV turntable was Bauhaus, Gene Loves Jezebel, Wasted Youth, Marc and the Mambas… But in 1985, on a tip from a review in the NME, I purchased a 7” copy of Never Understand by the Jesus and Mary Chain. My life was never to be the same again. “The Jesus and Mary Chain do not do encores,” was the sign outside the Portsmouth Guildhall. It didn’t matter. Live they were not much to listen to and not much to look at. All that mattered was that (fellow Southampton DJ and cult hero) Hammy and I were getting to see a band that had become a soundtrack to our youth. I learned to drive while listening to Psychocandy. I crashed my first car (Austin Allegro) to the screeching chords of Taste The Floor. I had shuffled around Gary Weirdo’s living room at 5 am to the noisepop of Some Candy Talking. A Goth girl called Jackie broke my heart when she run off with my 12” copy of You Trip Me Up. The Jesus and Mary Chain didn’t do encores, but that didn’t matter because I still listen to that album to this day. (Mark)
All words by Ged Babey except where indicated otherwise. Thanks to my friends for contributing.