Wowser. It’s my 100th article for PearShaped and, there’s only five instalments of this column to go! Buckle up – these are the blinders…
1. Hideaway – Erasure
Though Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy is far more famous, this, the second track from Erasure’s sophomore LP, The Circus, is perhaps the saddest moment in post-disco synth-pop. Detailing the troubling story of a gay son, rejected from his home by disappointed parents, Vince Clarke’s shimmering arrangement is complimented by a soaring vocal from Andy Bell and whilst both of these performances seem initially at odds with the downcast homophobia of the setting, they’ve a fiercely danceable message of resistance that shines through. From the off, Hideaway is a camp, buoyant arrangement, bounding with melancholy joy through its lyrical troubles and into a kaleidoscopic coda, whose minor-chord meander leads the song into a moody fade. For fans of Clarke’s synthesiser programming, this is an extremely tight composition from arguably the peak period of his recording output – the production is punchy and the tracks are riddled with his distinctive, faux-brass melodies.
2. In Private – Dusty Springfield
Dusty Springfield’s private life was never really all that private. Various defensive interviews regarding her sexuality, as well as very public reports of her admittance to hospital for alcoholism and drug dependency made her a troubled figure – one at extreme odds with the gentle confidence of her recorded voice. After the 1960s and the realisation that her behaviour was more than just youthfully noisy, Springfield’s career nosedived. Northern Soul was forgotten, and superseded in the popular vein by rock music – later punk. After post-punk and the ensuing new romantic fad, a fascination with electronic dance music arrived in England. By the mid-1980s, Pet Shop Boys (pictured with Springfield) were a mainstay act in the genre – after 30 years in the business they are, today, considered national treasures. In 1987, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, both long-time Springfield fans, resurrected their hero’s career, with the hit feature, What Have I Done to Deserve This? Two years later, the pair contributed several original songs to Springfield’s new LP, Reputation. One of then was In Private. Like Hideaway, In Private has its hand caught in a secret affair; later, the pressing need to confess. Pet Shop Boys, themselves gay icons and brilliantly familiar with the gender-blending dynamics of their art, pen the perfect disco renaissance record with this song – the synths are exceptionally programmed, and the lyric is heart-breaking (“What you gonna say, ay / When you run back to your wife? / I guess it’s just the story of my life”). For her part, Springfield’s voice is ageless, and the songstress sounds as though she’s stepped fresh out of the ‘60s. It’s a truly timeless tune, and a fantastic tribute to liberal, 80s sexuality and the troubling legacy of wrongly closeted celebrity.
3. Here With Me – The Killers
Battle Born, the fourth album from Las Vegas rockers The Killers, didn’t have much in the way of good music on it. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it the band’s weakest outing yet. In places though, there was magic – proof that Brandon Flowers, disciple of Morrissey, Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant, still has it. Here With Me is a very simple ‘I miss you’ song – a ‘stick to the blueprint’ love-song (save for its bizarre, Tim Burton-directed video with that kid from Submarine in). Musically though, from its broad vocal inflexions to snaking bass and twinkling synthesiser arpeggios, Here With Me is quintessentially Killers wherever you listen. Flowers’ melancholy recollection of his lover in a restaurant recalls the “house that we grew up in” from the band’s own Smile Like You Mean It; “falling in love filled […] with fright”, he sounds like the escapist Bruce Springsteen records he’s so clearly indebted to. I don’t know – it’s a controversial choice maybe, but I really do like this late-period Killers track… even if it is just an epitaph to former glories.