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Top 10 – 1987

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Top 10 – 1987

Posted on 02 December 2017 by Dorian

This year is the 30th anniversary of 1987. This isn’t a year that typically gets identified as being a particularly important one for music, but it was an important one for this young indie fan. Aged 15 I’d just started to develop my own taste and, for the first time, had some income that I could use to buy records with.

One year after NME’s legendary C86 cassette we were starting to see bands from that “scene” bringing out albums and breaking (to some extent) into the mainstream. For me it was a wonderful time to discover music and I still own most of the records I purchased at that age.

This top 10 may not be the definitive best songs of 1987, brilliant records by The Smiths, Prince, Hüsker Dü, Julian Cope, Big Black, Sonic Youth, The Go-Betweens, Dinosaur Jr, New Order, The Pixies and more came out that year, but it is a reflection of my experience of music at the time.

10.  The Soup Dragons – Can’t Take No More

The Soup Dragons aren’t well-remembered, and when they are it is seldom for this song, but I have a great fondness for this record. The mix of British guitar jangle pop, and a fast paced fuzziness, is what defines this era for me and I think this is a bit of a lost classic.

9.  Pailhead – I Will Refuse

The partnership of former Minor Threat Ian MacKaye and Revolting Cock Al Jourgensen seems a bit of an odd one in retrospect, but together they produced a pretty amazing noise for a couple of EPs. This song is the best of the bunch. Play loud.

8.  The Dukes of the Stratosphere – You’re My Drug

I don’t know if it is true or apocryphal but the story goes that XTC were so out of fashion by the late 80s that even their records as a fictional 60s psychedelia band sold better than their “real” records. This song is so authentically produced that you could forgive someone for thinking they were a genuine lost act of the flower-power era.

7.  Age of Chance – Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Noise

A sound they called “sonic metal disco” and a penchant for cycling gear wasn’t enough to give the Age of Chance much of a career. However, their debut album was pretty unique and spawned some genuinely excellent singles. This is one of them.

 6.  Voice of the Beehive – I Say Nothing

This list is a bit of an (unintentional) “where are they now?” and Voice of the Beehive are another forgotten act. I think that this single was brilliant but I admit that them being my first ever gig may be a factor in this choice.

5.  The Sugarcubes – Birthday

I loved the Chart Show. I loved it most when the indie chart was the specialist chart for the week (oh, the disappointment of heavy metal or dance) and seeing this song in that chart was an eye opener. Even now I still have no idea exactly how the song is constructed as a variety of clashing melodies compete for attention behind Bjork’s unmistakable vocal performance.

4.  They Might Be Giants – Don’t Let’s Start

They Might Be Giants are too often dismissed as a comedy or novelty act. This assessment misses just what a creative and unique pop band they are. This is great and kick-started a long time love for the band.

3.  The Wedding Present – My Favourite Dress

The Wedding Present would be number 1 in an album chart for 1987, the album George Best is still a treasured part of my vinyl collection. There are so many great tracks that I could pick, but this single from the album just about takes pride of place.

2.  That Petrol Emotion – Genius Move

That Petrol Emotion are a band that deserve more of a place in musical history. Formed by The Undertones’ O’Neill brothers they released five excellent albums in a seven-year career. This single is among my favourites of their many excellent songs and gets the nod here as it is not available (to my knowledge) in any format. Spotify has a version on the band’s posthumous live album,  but nothing beats the original single which lives on via YouTube.

1. Faith No More – We Care A Lot

This song would have always been in this chart, but the recent sad death of Chuck Mosley and a nostalgia filled revisiting of the video may have pushed it up a place or two. It is a great single, completely unique, and worthy of a number 1 spot. RIP Chuck.

What songs would you pick as your best of 1987? If you are apoplectic that I haven’t selected ‘True Faith’, or have a love for something from Sinitta’s debut album, please post your choices below.

Compiled by Dorian Rogers

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They Might Be Giants – Glean

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They Might Be Giants – Glean

Posted on 24 April 2015 by Joe

The last They Might Be Giants album in my home wasn’t for me, it was a present for my first child when he was born.  Called Here Come the ABCs it was an album that proved that the eclectic TMBG pair of John Flansburgh and John Linnell were masters of producing cool, catchy, educational kids songs as well as grown up pop.

We know full well here at Neonfiller.com how during the 1980s and 1990s they produced some of the best and unusual pop music of the era, especially one of our Top 100 Albums of all time  Lincoln from 1988 and the absurdly catchy singles Ana-Ng and Birdhouse in Your Soul.

TMBG

There’s more though, they have one two Gammys and back in 1983 trailblazed a new way of listening to music, offering there tracks through a dial-a-song phone service. More than 30 years later they have revisited and updated the  dial up idea and throughout 2015 have been offering a song a week every Tuesday through smartphones, as well as online via www.dialasong.com and their Youtube Channel.

To promote it a bit more and show what those of us who prefer to have a CD or record in our hand are missing out on they have pulled together 16 of these dial-a-song tracks so far for their latest album Glean.

What is clear is that they have lost none of their charm and ability to defy genre, with songs about romance and prison all  with instruments ranging from crunchy power pop guitars to squelchy synths and 1920s jazz.

Is there another Ana-ng here? Well not quite, but the track Answer comes as darn close as its possible to be. So too does lead single Erase, which has a chorus that shows just how they have lost none of their keen sense of melody.

Another highlight is Unpronounceable and the growers include the violin focused Music Jail Pt 1 & 2 and the excellent fun take on blues Underwater Woman. Special mention also goes to the surely Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band influenced psychedelic jazz of Let Me Tell You About My Operation.

For this They Might Be Giants fan it feels good to welcome their grown up music back into my home.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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They Might Be Giants – Join Us

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They Might Be Giants – Join Us

Posted on 16 August 2011 by Dorian

Join Us is They Might be Giant’s 17th album, and their first album not aimed at kids since 2007’s The Else. They have spent the bulk of the last ten years producing child friendly fair, with Here Comes Science from 2009 being the best of the bunch (I advise anyone with toddler age children to pick up the CD/DVD of this, it is inspired). I’ve been a big fan of the duo since I first heard ‘Don’t Let’s Start’ in 1987 (2nd album Lincoln made our Top 100 chart) so I was excited to see that they were back with a “proper” album.

They Might Be Giants - Join Us

Opening track ‘Can’t Keep Johnny Down’ is They Might Be Giant by numbers, but in a good way. It is all accordion, catchy melody, clever puns and the sound of one John’s drawling vocals whilst the other John belts out fuzzy power chords. To a new listener it may not have a huge impact, but to an old fan it is very refreshing to have the band back on the stereo again.

The album is played with a full band, a concept that still seems novel to me despite being something that has been the norm since John Henry was released back in 1994. In all other respects the band hasn’t moved along a lot since the mid-1990s, and that is something to be thankful for. This is a resolutely They Might Be Giants album, more mature maybe than their first few releases, but not so much as to lose what it is that makes the band so much fun.

The usual typical mixture of styles is here, quirky pop, folky acoustic numbers, electronic ditties, songs that defy classification and the nerdy disco funk of ‘Celebration’ (possibly my favourite song on the album – and no doubt one that many listeners will want to skip).

They Might be Giants aren’t just masters of catchy melody, they know how to write interesting, witty and irreverent lyrics. ‘When You Die’ is all high tempo bouncy beats, chirpy horn sounds and some of the most ill-willed songs on the album. It also sounds like a song that could have appeared on any one of their late 1980s albums. Something about returning to producing a “proper” album seems to have made the two Johns want to celebrate what it is to be They Might Be Giants and embrace the sounds from throughout their career.

The fascinating thing in listening to an album like this is marvelling at how much musical ground it covers without ever stopping sounding just like They Might Be Giants. There are few bands that have a sound as identifiable, as uniquely singular and yet so erratic and all over the musical map.

There are going to be a lot of people who will be put off by just that, they’ll see the band as being too quirky, too much of a novelty. Humour and clever touches are often seen as weaknesses in music when pseudo-intellectual lyrics and faux-emotions are lapped up by people swaying their arms in fields. To me it is refreshing to hear a band, however many years they’ve been together, producing genuinely intelligent good humoured inventive pop music.

There isn’t a huge single like ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ (which is, after all, one of the best singles of all time) and the album isn’t quite up there with Lincoln and Flood, but it is one of the best pop albums I’ve listened to this year. It is time to welcome back They Might Be Giants, a band that aren’t just there for the kids.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (70 – 61)

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Top 100 Albums (70 – 61)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Dorian

Everyone has their own Top 100 Albums list, but this is ours based on our love of alternative and independent music over the years. There are some albums here that you will have seen on many lists before but we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this fourth instalment. Here’s our previous instalments (80 – 7190 -81 , 100-91).  See you next week for 60-51.

Also, for  more great albums visit our  Classic Albums section

70. Smog – Knock Knock

Smog - Knock Knock

Bill Callahan, AKA Smog, has been releasing melancholic dead pan songs since 1992.  Knock Knock, his seventh album, added instrumental texture and a new sense of optimism to the Smog palette, it even included a bona fide pop single in the shape of ‘Cold Blooded Old Times’. The move towards more uptempo numbers is only part of the story, the quite introspective side is still in evidence, and the children’s choir on ‘Hit The Ground Running’ is a surprising touch. Knock Knock sits pretty much smack in the middle of the Smog discography and is the best place to start.

69. Billy Bragg – Talking With The Tax Man About Poetry


The cover bares the self deprecating message about this being Bragg’s  “difficult third album.” The reality is that it may just be his best. Expanding the musicianship markedly compared to earlier work the songs retain Bragg’s passionate, political and emotional lyrics but musically this is a far broader album. From standout single ‘Levi Stubbs Tears’, to the folk blues influenced ‘Train Train’, the jaunty ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’, the gorgeous horn section on ‘The Marriage’ to the traditional ‘There Is A Power in a Union’, this 1986 album  is packed with fine tracks from one of the UK’s most accomplished folk artists.

68. Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Stereolab

Stereolab’s take on art-pop, synth-pop and 60s lounge music made them popular with other bands and critics alike, but never lead to a mainstream breakthrough. Their music can seem cold and clinical, their experimental side often overshadowing the quality of the songs. Emperor Tomato Ketchup is the album where all their elements came together perfectly. Opening number ‘Metronomic Underground’ exemplifies why this album works so well, the bleeps, squelches and monotonous repetition offset my smooth organic sounding bass, guitar and organ. This is followed by ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ Anglo-French art pop softened with Sean O’Hagan’s lush string arrangements and mid-way through the album they drop ‘The Noise of Carpet’, a perfect fuzzy guitar pop single. Their most varied and satisfying release.

67. Portishead – Dummy

Portishead - Dummy

Back in 1994 this debut by Bristol band Portishead was just about everywhere. Massive in the US, massive in the UK, its mix of trip hop, experimental rock and jazz made it a staple album of rich, poor, young and old alike.  Through its standouts such as ‘Sour Times’ and ‘Numb’ it perfectly encapsulates a sense of doom within the UK at the time. It was a time when the economy was still reeling from Black Wednesday and the greyest PM of all time John Major was in charge.  We can’t listen to this without thinking of an ’80s rich stock broker contemplating the millions he’s lost from his balcony in 1994 and dreading the nightmare to come.  This was rightly seen as a critical success as well at the time, winning the 1995 Mercury Music Prize. Their self titled follow up failed to replicate this stunning debut and it was not until 2008 with the release of Third that they would reach such dizzy heights of industrial melancholy again.

66. Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen

Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen

Paddy McAloon is a songwriter on a par with anyone that came out of the 1980s and Steve McQueen (renamed Two Wheels Good for its US release) is as good as any romantic pop record to come out of the era. ‘When Love Breaks Down’ gave the band their first big hit, and it is a special record, but it is just one of many classic pop gems on the album. ‘Faron Young’, ‘Appetite’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Goodbye Lucille #1’ and pretty much anything from the record could be picked for a “Best of the 80s” compilation. It is a sophisticated record, McAloon was aiming to be Cole Porter as much as Paul McCartney, but it is an accessible and fun record as well. Thomas Dolby’s excellent production does firmly date it in the mid 1980s, but that is no bad thing, it stands as a pretty perfect artifact of that era.

65. The Wedding Present – Bizarro

The Wedding Present - Bizarro

When The Wedding Present signed to RCA in 1989, two years after their stunning debut George Best, there were accusations in the music press that they had sold out. What was ignored by some critics was that their contract ensured they retained control over single releases and producer. Their RCA debut, a mini-album in Ukranian, and this, their second album proper, prove their major label owners were true to their word, allowing the band’s independent zeal and credibility to grow. While retaining George Best’s trademark fast paced guitars and the melancholy lyrics of frontman David Gedge the tracks on Bizarro are somehow bolder and bigger, with singles like ‘Brassneck’ signaling a career peak for a band that continue to produce fine music to this day.

64. Hefner – We Love The City

Hefner - We Love The City

Darren Hayman is a firm favourite here at Neon Filler and our love for his songs started in the late 19990s when he was the front man of Hefner. Hefner wisely called it a day after just four albums, not because they weren’t still producing good music, but because it means that they stand as a rare example of an act that never released a bad album. We Love The City just about shades the top spot thanks to having the usual range of witty, soul searching melodic tracks and having two classic singles in the mix as well. ‘Good Fruit’ and ‘The Greedy Ugly People’ are as good as anything that came out of British indie pop in the era, genuinely stirring and touching. The whole album has a great feel to it and the instrumentation feels fuller and clearer than on their earlier albums. The expanded 2009 edition added b-sides, alternate versions and session tracks and is well worth seeking out.

63.  Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway

Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway

This 2003 debut  features some of former Red House Painter Mark Kozelek’s best work under the Sun Kil Moon name.  Here Kozelek uses the music as much as lyrics to tell the stories of a variety of tragic characters, most notably boxers . The Neil Young-esque guitar on ‘ Salvador Sanchez’ perfectly matches the story of boxer Sanchez, who died in a car accident aged just 25. Another of boxing’s great tragic figures ‘Duk-Koo Kim’, who died following a fight, gets a whopping 14 minute track to himself. The time floats by though. Other highlights include the beautifully layered guitar instrumental ‘Si, paloma’.

62. They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

They Might Be Giants - Lincoln

New York performance art pop duo They Might Be Giants will probably always be known in this country as a novelty act due to the hit success of ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’. Anyone prepared to delve deeper will find much to love on any of their first three albums released between 1986 and 1990. Lincoln, the second LP, is the best of all finding the perfect balance between their quirkier side and their ability to write great catchy pop records. Read more on this excellent album in our Classic Albums section here.

61. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures

Martin Hannett, who produced 1979’s Unknown Pleasure, was the fifth member of Joy division in all but name. On this debut by the Salford band he stripped back the energy of their live shows to create space and atmosphere. It was a risky move that left bassist Peter Hook gobsmacked at the time. But it was a risk worth taking with tracks such as ‘Shadowplay’ and’ She’s Lost Control’ transformed through Hannett’s cleaner, stripped back sound.  One of the best debut albums of all time with even Hook  now conceding that Hannett “did a good job on it.”

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

Top 100 (80 – 71), Top 100 (90-81)Top 100 (100-91)

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They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

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They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Joe

They Might Be Giants (TMBG) are unlikely to ever escape their reputation as over-clever novelty hit makers. And given their primary career these days is writing music for children, I doubt they care too much what the mainstream musical audience thinks of them.

I first became aware of them when I saw the video to ‘Don’t Let’s Start’ on the Chart Show back in 1987. To me they were a revelation, guitar pop played, with a sense of humour, by a pair of New York geeks. This was exactly the music that a indie guitar pop obsessed geek was looking for.

My first TMBG purchase was their second album, Lincoln, in 1988. It is a record that stands as the greatest artefact of a truly unique band.

The opening track, ‘Ana Ng’, is worth the price alone. Jerky, stomping and melodic, it is a brilliant 3 and a half minute pop song, and the first single released from the album. The basic elements of the TMBG sound are all there, fuzzy guitar, accordion, drum machine and the New York geek vocals of the two John’s (Flansburgh and Linnel).

Lincoln

Lincoln

The albums other single, ‘They’ll Need A Crane’ is another near perfect pop gem, and showcases the sweeter less flippant side to the band’s song writing. Whilst most of the songs on the album are more lyrically playful this song deals with the painful collapsed of a relationship, all set to an infectious bouncy melody.

There are plenty of more superficially throwaway tracks on the album, ‘Santas Beard’ and ‘Piece of Dirt’ are unlikely to win the band any new fans, but the songs have humour, sophistication and inventiveness. Any music fan who comes to this album with an open mind will soon find plenty to love. Style-wise alone it covers an impressive breadth, from pop to jazz to rock to music hall.

In many ways the perfection the album is the way it balances quirky instrumentation and nonsensical lyrics with an expert command of melody and an understanding of pathos and wordplay. To the listeners who could see nothing more than a wacky novelty act these characteristics were lost, and the Dave Lee Travis endorsed smash hit ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ would pretty well cement the reputation.

Looking at the band as a pop act is a mistake. They started off as a performance art act, and in many ways that is the best way to approach them. They Might Be Giants are witty, inventive, masters of melody and truly unique; never more so than on Lincoln.

By Dorian Rogers,  May 2010

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