The eighties are an oddly venerated decade, one which started in Britain with post-punk and the New Romantic movement and ended in the lysergic chaos of acid house. In the provinces though most of the time these felt like abstractions; for most people life was still taking place not in London but down at your local Tiffany's, bubbly pint pot in hand and white suit and skinny tie wrapped around the body. These "Normal" lads and lasses had a different soundtrack to their existence, one in part provided by the acts that populate this, the latest in the Late Night Tales series, mixed by Tom Findlay of Groove Armada.
Chronicled expertly at the time by Morgan Khan's ground breaking Street Sounds compilations, musically this was a combination of soul's pristine, honeyed gospel vocals and the studio trickery of seminal Minneapolis producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the duo that would go on to help make Janet Jackson's Control one of the biggest selling albums of all decade. Khan's series brought together a wealth of releases into a single place where otherwise collectors might have spent a small fortune on imports, mixing obscurity and bombast with an assured ear, along the way making disciples out of soul and b-boys alike.
Sometimes rare grooves then, but equally, you can raid your parents collection of Now That's What I Call Music vinyl and you'll find that this was equally one of the pre-eminent chart "Sounds" of the time. The formula was typically straightforward: male or female diva, fret less bass, occasional frostings of incidental guitar and some padded synths, courtesy of the near ubiquitous Nord Electro keyboard. Rapidly gaining Transatlantic appeal, the end product counted as what at the time was classed as sophistication, an airbrushed sort of aphrodisiac for the Soul Glo generation.
Not the sort of cheese-iceberged territory then which the normally higher brow LNT series strays into, but Findlay's selection is a veritable party in a bag. He's helped by the fact that the passing of time has neatly separated the goods from the duds, hence the likes of Mtume's sinuous Juicy Fruit and the programmed clatter of Timex Social Club's Rumours are no brainers, although Royalle Delite's I'll Be A Freak For You won't admittedly win many awards for feminism.
As a contest between the straight up hits and the slightly less well known bangers of the era, the latter gets it's fair crack of the whip through the disco orientated I Specialize In Love by Sharon Brown, Thelma Houston's You Used To Hold Me So Tight and Aurra's breezy You And Me Tonight, complete with its ludicrously icky in song conversation piece and vocoder chintz. The real reminders of a blinder here though are anthemic enough to cause a ruckus even now: Donna Allen's Serious contains a face slap of a beat and a brilliant, finger popping chorus, Italians Change almost defined the era with the floor-dominating Change of Heart, Rene & Angela's I'll Be Good did likewise, whilst Alexander O' Neal's What's Missing came mighty close to seeing him trump George Benson and Luther Vandross for the title of MOR royalty supreme.
There are some notable exceptions - there's no Atlantic Starr, for instance, and the Mary Jane Girls ubiquitous All Night Long must surely have been on the list somewhere - and it's worth noting that the UK also produced some fine work of its own via our own Princess, Loose Ends and latterly of course Romford's briefly wonderful Five Star.
In many ways this was soul's last golden period - house music and techno were by 1986 already starting to rumble in Chicago and Detroit respectively. It hasn't all aged particularly well either, nor will many of the artists be regarded as particularly innovative. There is however something oddly compelling about a barrel of guilty pleasures like this, it's combined lack of pretence and self-awareness suddenly endearing qualities in our overly ironic modern day. This is the stuff of course which Morrissey urged us in the Provinces to string up the DJ to, but time's a healer, and life's too short to wander round with a hearing aid stuck in your back pocket all the time. It's time to get down.
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