Stowaway Heroes – Shep Pettibone

One of the most important names of the 1980s is Shep Pettibone. You’ll know him from multiple remixes and production credits, but there’s a good chance that you don’t actually know anything about him. Me neither, frankly, so let’s start with something we can all agree on – the brilliance of his 1986 remix of Love Comes Quickly, by Pet Shop Boys:

The New York-based DJ would work with Pet Shop Boys a number of times between 1986 and 1988, working on ten tracks in total. But by 1986, Pettibone was already half a decade into his career, having cut his teeth on Afrika Bambaataa‘s Jazzy Sensation in 1981:

His CV for the late 1980s is impressive to say the least, including remixes and production work for Art of NoiseThe B-52sBee GeesBrosDavid BowieDepeche ModeDuran DuranDusty SpringfieldElton JohnErasure, FalcoGeorge MichaelJanet JacksonNew OrderRun DMCWhitney Houston and many others. But his most prolific collaborator seems to have been Madonna, who used his services no less than sixteen times between 1985 and 1993. Here’s Into the Groove:

His mixes were undeniably of their time, with huge drum fills and solos, and a lot of orchestral hits – so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his remix work dried up somewhat in the 1980s. But if you’re looking for someone who heavily impacted the sound of a particular era, Shep Pettibone should be very high on your list.


The Beloved – Single File

In spite of their short, one-decade chart career, The Beloved made a good impact in their day, and there’s a good chance you might still be aware of some of their hits. If not, now would be a good time to find out about them, because their singles collection Single File celebrates its twentieth birthday this week.

It skips straight to their 1989 breakthrough hit The Sun Rising, presented here in its album version. Beautifully relaxed and chilled out, and yet at the same time full of energetic beats and an uplifting vocal, this has to be one of the finest singles of the late 1980s. Although it only peaked at number 26, it’s still one of The Beloved‘s best known songs.

The other is next, the brilliant Sweet Harmony, a top ten hit from the start of 1993. Now a husband-and-wife duo, they were briefly to be found everywhere when this was released, and the accompanying album Conscience, although perhaps not as distinguished as its predecessor Happiness, was a huge chart hit.

Some of the lesser-known hits come next – Your Love Takes Me Higher first, which came out twice as a single and never managed to make much of a dent on the charts. It’s a big, beatsy affair, which if it weren’t for the energy – and the acid bass line that turns up from time to time – might almost sound as cheesy as most of the other things that were on the chart in 1989 when it first came out. But it doesn’t – it’s easy to tell that there was something special about The Beloved.

By the late 1990s, they had evolved into a solid house-pop crossover act, so Satellite, from 1996’s exceptional X, gives us our first taste of their then-contemporary sound. It’s a strange mixture in a way, with its clearly accomplished melody and songwriting alongside some very silly lyrics and slightly naff backing vocals. It almost certainly would have sounded better in a club than it did on the radio – but by no means is it bad, and its energy is definitely not in dispute.

Outerspace Girl is next, the house-piano-driven minor hit that closed out the singles for Conscience. It was actually released as the preceding single, but it’s a good fit alongside Satellite, although more laid back than its neighbour.

Next comes the fantastic Time After Time, another minor hit from 1990. Driven primarily by a huge rhythmic bass line, with just a couple of string and pad lines, this is truly pop music at its best. So it’s a natural transition to the third of the big hits, Hello, a memorable hit that lists a lot of famous people, also from 1990.

The Beloved‘s penultimate hit single Ease the Pressure is next, falling just short of the Top 40 in mid-1996. It’s a deeper, more soulful hit than Satellite, with huge house beats and rippling bass lines and countermelodies alongside backing vocals from a male gospel choir. If there had been any justice, this would have been an enormous hit.

Representing the 1990 remix album Blissed Out is the longer, more melancholic, Back to Basics version of It’s Alright Now, a truly wonderful song. It isn’t the single version, and while it’s a shame that that never saw the light of day on an album, this is definitely the more appropriate recording of the track to have on here. After about five minutes or so, you’ll catch yourself wondering if it’s ever going to end. Sadly it does, but it’s a welcome excursion into the softer side of The Beloved.

You’ve Got Me Thinking is next, sweet, acoustic, and summery. The follow-up to Sweet Harmony, it peaked just outside the top 20 in the UK, thanks to some creative repackaging with remixes of Celebrate Your Life and the previous single.

Then comes Deliver Me, the single that never was (it was pulled shortly prior to release, although seems to be widely available anyway). Quite why it was never released is a mystery to me – it’s one of the duo’s finest moments – possibly even their finest – and even though it might not have sold millions, it still would have been a respectable hit.

But by 1996, the writing must have been on the wall for The Beloved‘s time on a major label. Shortly before (or perhaps after) being dropped, EastWest gave us this parting gift, with another fantastic Bob Linney sleeve, just like their early works, and finally a second release of The Sun Rising, packed with excellent new and old remixes. Closing Single File is Mark Pritchard‘s fantastic twelve-minute deep house odyssey. That might sound long – it really doesn’t seem that way when you listen.

Single File is not without its failings – in particular I think it would have benefitted from some more material that wasn’t on the major albums, so perhaps the single version of It’s Alright Now, or an early rarity such as Acid Love might have been nice. But in general, it’s a great introduction to a great group, who really need to get back together and release some new material.

The CD version of Single File no longer seems to be widely available, but you can still find copies or download it from places like this.

Chart for stowaways – 22 July 2017

Here’s the latest album chart:

  1. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  2. Erasure – World Be Gone
  3. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  4. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  5. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  7. New Order – Music Complete
  8. New Order – Lost Sirens
  9. Saint Etienne – Good Humor
  10. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon

Stowaway Heroes – Ian Levine

This is the first, and potentially also last, mention here for an unlikely Stowaway HeroIan Levine is a divisive personality, who has been involved in three main spheres that are relevant to this blog: first and least relevant is northern soul. If you’re not familiar with what that means… well, frankly, you are:

Yes, Fatboy Slim joins the ranks of Soft Cell and many others who have appeared on this blog previously as acts who have been influenced by northern soul, the gentle black American pop music that surprisingly took the north of England by storm in the late 1960s.

By the mid-1970s, Levine was one of the better known DJs who was bringing northern soul to Blackpool, and in more recent years, he has put his name to several compilation albums covering the era.

Over the decade or so that followed, he also made his name in the world of television show Doctor Who, writing the theme for the 1981 spin-off K-9 and Company, and also being responsible for this awful and rather tasteless charity single to try to persuade the BBC to bring the main series back in 1985:

Astonishingly, Hans Zimmer helped out on fairlight for that recording, along with a lot of people for whom this hopefully wasn’t the highlight of their career.

More specifically though, for this blog, Levine was the man who produced this hit single for Evelyn Thomas, later also covered by Erasure:

While the electronic parts of the song are almost depressingly simple, there’s a lot to be said for the vocal performance. His subsequent remixes for Pet Shop Boys (of Paninaro and It’s a Sin) definitely deserve to be forgotten, as does this (subsequently deleted) shockingly misogynistic tweet about the casting of a female Doctor Who:

CHRIS CHIBNALL MAKES ME WANNA VOMIT He has put the final nail into Doctor Who. RIP

But for all of that, I think we can agree that Ian Levine has influenced this blog in his own way, and for that we should be grateful!

Yazoo – Upstairs at Eric’s

After his shock departure from Depeche Mode just a matter of months earlier, the young Vince Clarke wasted no time by partnering with the incredible vocalist Alison Moyet to form Yazoo (or Yaz, if you were in the US). Their debut release Upstairs at Eric’s first appeared an incredible thirty-five years ago this week.

It opens with the glorious single Don’t Go. Could anything really be better than this? Where Depeche Mode‘s debut Speak and Spell was naïve and at times a bit silly, this has all the confidence of a group that might have been around for decades. They hadn’t – Clarke and Moyet were still barely in their twenties.

This isn’t a perfect album, by any means – Too Pieces, for example, is nice but doesn’t quite sound fully formed. But at worst, everything on here is pleasant – and a lot of the time, as with Bad Connection, it’s actually pretty good. Taking heavy influence from the soul and Motown tracks of the preceding decade or so, there’s a lot to enjoy about it.

Curiously, the longest track on here is the experimental instrumental I Before E Except After C. Understandably omitted from the early CD versions (it was replaced with a couple of non-album tracks), it’s a bit of an oddity. As a minimum, it does include the famous Alison Moyet laugh that would be sampled by the Spice Girls a decade and a half later. You can appreciate this a lot more if you try to remember just how young sampling technology was at this point.

Midnight is the first of four Moyet-penned tracks, and does show a very different songwriting style. It’s a brilliant combination, actually – maybe Clarke found it difficult initially to work his synthesiser sounds around someone else’s song, but he seems to have taken to it extremely well.

Side A closes with the brilliantly experimental In My Room, which could easily have been a catchy pop song, but is instead haunting and eerie, punctuated by Vince’s sampled vocals and essentially only one or two instrumental sounds at any given time.

Then Side B opens with the fantastic debut single Only You, a song which Clarke had famously offered to Depeche Mode as a leaving present. It goes without saying that this is a fantastic song, far and away the best thing on here, although it’s difficult to imagine what it might have sounded like on A Broken Frame.

Goodbye 70’s is a rather brilliant period piece, in which Moyet tells us she’s tired of fighting in their fashion war. Ironic, to say the least, given the many best-forgotten looks that the 1980s would give us. Great song though.

Tuesday is a fantastic template for modern pop music, but Winter Kills might actually be the best thing on here. There’s so little to it – much of it is just a rippling piano, a single soaring synth line, and a bit of low percussion, of course alongside Moyet’s evocative vocal – but somehow it’s delivered quite beautifully.

The first album closes with Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I), which might lack the strength of its predecessor, but it’s still pretty catchy. There’s a lot to enjoy on this album, and at its worst it’s at least an interesting listen. A lot may have happened in the thirty-five years that have followed, but it’s still a great debut release.

You can find the 2008 remastered version of Upstairs at Eric’s at all major retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 15 July 2017

Summer is the time when the charts go quiet, but here are the singles:

  1. Saint Etienne – Sweet Arcadia
  2. Erasure – Love You To The Sky
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  4. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  6. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  8. Erasure – Be Careful What You Wish For!
  9. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Undertow