Erasure – Pop! The First 20 Hits

Pop! With a simple synth chord, Who Needs Love (Like That) begins. A very minor hit in 1985, Erasure‘s career definitely launched with a slightly uneven start. This collection, released an astonishing quarter of a century ago this week, would enter the charts at number 1 just seven years after that debut single, but it did take them a bit of time to get going.

In the four years since leaving Depeche ModeVince Clarke had founded the hugely successful but turbulent Yazoo, and released two albums as part of that project before attempting a multi-vocalist collaboration called The Assembly which faltered after just one (admittedly substantial) hit. One flop collaboration with Paul Quinn left him scraping around for a new vocalist. Andy Bell replied to the advert, performed amazingly, and so Erasure began.

Debut album Wonderland was, bluntly, a bit of a mess, and the second single Heavenly Action, which flopped in late 1985, is pretty representative of that album. It’s definitely catchy, but it’s far from their best. Oh l’Amour, on the other hand, is one of the best tracks that Erasure ever recorded, and it really is a shame that it charted so low, peaking at number 85 in early 1986.

Fortunately, rather than splitting up immediately, Erasure went back to the drawing board, and reappeared in late 1986 with the astonishing Sometimes, peaking at number 2. The subsequent album The Circus yielded a further three huge hits, It Doesn’t Have to BeVictim of Love, and finally my favourite, title track The CircusErasure‘s legacy was sealed.

By the time The Innocents was released in 1988, they were really at the top of their game, and lead single Ship of Fools, while perhaps not as catchy a lead single as Sometimes, is a beautiful, melancholic, piece of synthpop music. The uptempo follow-up Chains of Love, after some initial signs of potentially being very cheesy, grows into another brilliant song. But I suspect what you remember from this album is A Little Respect, the biggest single from this album, released in September 1988.

I could probably live without the snappy Christmas hit Stop!, but it appears to have become a live favourite in recent years, so I might be alone in that regard. Then we’re on to the 1989 album Wild! (also spelt with an exclamation mark), which launched with the single Drama! (there’s another one) in September 1989.

By 1989, Erasure were pretty much guaranteed a top twenty hit – actually, they had an unbroken run between 1986 and 1997, but more impressive was their string of five consecutive number one albums, of which Wild! was the second. To say that the public loved them would be an understatement, as even their slower tracks such as You Surround Me, a beautiful piece released as their Christmas hit for 1989, still managed a very respectable number 15 at a traditionally very competitive time of year.

Now in the 1990s, the hits continue to fly, with Blue Savannah and Star, before the deeply analogue and beautiful Chorus album opens with its brilliant title track, a number 3 hit in mid-1991. Then, of course, comes Love to Hate You, with its injected crowed noises and middle section borrowed from I Will Survive. Pure pop perfection.

Seasons continue to pass, with the deliciously autumnal Am I Right?, followed by the bubbly spring hit Breath of Life, before the unexpected summer 1992 hit Take a Chance on Me, from the Abba-esque EP, which held onto the number 1 spot for five weeks. This was the most popular of the four Abba covers that made up the EP, and much as I like the others, the decision on their next singles compilation Hits! The Very Best of Erasure (2003) to include no fewer than three of the tracks was clearly misguided.

On the US edition of the album, that’s your lot, but the rest of the world fares better, with the brilliantly punchy Hamburg mix of debut hit Who Needs Love (Like That). This version finally took the song to its rightful place in the top ten, and bookends the album perfectly.

So there’s really no doubt about it – after a slightly uncertain start, Pop! The First 20 Hits builds into a fantastic collection, compiling the first seven years of Erasure‘s career. While they did have some very worthy hits over the next seven years, they slowed down and their consistency finally started to falter. But that’s another story, for another time.

The original Pop! is still widely available, but why not be brave and go with the slightly cheaper double-disc Total Pop!?. Sorry, the punctuation got a bit confusing there.

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Retro chart for stowaways – 13 November 2004

Just for a bit of variety, let’s take a look at the albums chart from thirteen years ago this week!

  1. Depeche Mode – Remixes 81-04
  2. Client – City
  3. Dirty Vegas – One
  4. Delerium – The Best of Delerium
  5. Bent – Ariels
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Aero
  7. Groove Armada – The Best of
  8. Air – Talkie Walkie
  9. Client – Client
  10. Duran Duran – Astronaut

NME Poll Winners – The 1970s

In 1972, NME celebrated its twentieth birthday, with the same anniversary of its poll winners awards ceremony the following year. Their readership seems to have been fascinatingly obsessed with Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley during the first half of the decade, and then in 1976 seem to have been very dismissive of the early Sex Pistols, before falling very deeply in love with them the following year.

1970

The NME website (and consequently Wikipedia, which definitely doesn’t include material copied from other websites) includes the 1971 results here by mistake, so I’ve tried to transcribe what I can read on the article scan. Apologies for the omissions:

  • British Male Singer: Tom Jones
  • World Vocal Group: The Beatles
  • British Vocal Group: The Beatles
  • World Musical Personality: Elvis Presley
  • World Female Singer: Dusty Springfield
  • British Female Singer: Lulu
  • Best TV/Radio Show: Top of the Pops, followed in second place by Top Gear
  • Top Disc Jockey: Jimmy Savile
  • Best Instrumental Unit: [illegible]
  • British Vocal Personality: Cliff Richard
  • Best New Group: Jethro Tull
  • World Male Singer: Elvis Presley
  • New Disc Singer: [illegible]
  • British Blues Group: Fleetwood Mac

Due to the public’s obsession with Elvis and Cliff not entirely matching the contents of the magazine, this was the last of the live shows until 1994.

1971

There was no ceremony show from 1971 onwards, but there was still a poll, with the following winners:

  • World Male Singer: Elvis Presley
  • World Female Singer: Diana Ross
  • World Musical Personality: Elvis Presley
  • World Vocal Group: Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • British Male Singer: Cliff Richard
  • British Female Singer: Cilla Black
  • Best British Single: Mungo Jerry, for In the Summertime
  • Best TV/Radio Show: Top of the Pops
  • British Vocal Personality: Cliff Richard
  • New Disc Singer: Elton John
  • Best New Group: McGuinness Flint
  • Top British Group: The Beatles
  • British Instrumental Unit: The Shadows
  • Top Disc Jockey: Jimmy Savile
  • Best British LP: The Beatles, for Let It Be

1972

  • World Male Singer: Elvis Presley
  • World Female Singer: Diana Ross
  • World Musical Personality: Elvis Presley
  • World Vocal Group: T. Rex
  • British Male Singer: Cliff Richard
  • British Female Singer: Cilla Black
  • British Vocal Group: T. Rex
  • British Vocal Personality: Cliff Richard
  • British New Group: New Seekers
  • British Instrumental Unit: Collective Consciousness Society
  • TV or Radio Show: Top of the Pops
  • Disc Jockey: Jimmy Savile
  • New Disc Singer: Rod Stewart
  • Best 1971 Single Disc: George Harrison, for My Sweet Lord
  • Best 1971 Album: tied between T. Rex, for Electric Warrior and John Lennon, for Imagine

1973

  • British Male Singer: David Bowie
  • British Female Singer: Maggie Bell
  • British Group: Yes
  • British Stage Band: Genesis
  • Most Promising New Name (British): Leo Sayer
  • Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • TV Show: Old Grey Whistle Test
  • British Single: The Who, for 5.15
  • British Album: Pink Floyd, for The Dark Side of the Moon
  • Best Guitarist: Eric Clapton
  • Best Keyboardist: Rick Wakeman
  • Best Bass Guitarist: Paul McCartney
  • Best Drummer: Carl Palmer
  • Best Producer: David Bowie
  • Best Instrumentalist: Roy Wood
  • Best Songwriters: Elton John / Bernie Taupin
  • Best Soul Act: Stevie Wonder
  • Best Dressed Album: Yes, for Yessongs
  • World Singer: David Bowie
  • World Female Singer: Diana Ross
  • World Group: Yes
  • World Stage Band: Alice Cooper
  • World Album: Pink Floyd, for The Dark Side of the Moon
  • World Single: Golden Earring, for Radar Love
  • World’s Most Promising New Name: Golden Earring

1974

Again, the NME website and Wikipedia have repeated the 1973 results here by mistake, but this time unfortunately there is no alternative source for the results.

1975

  • British Male Singer: Paul Rodgers
  • British Female Singer: Kiki Dee
  • British Group: Roxy Music
  • British Stage Band: Genesis
  • British Disc Jockey: Noel Edmonds
  • British Music TV Show: The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • Most Promising New Name: Bad Company
  • Music Radio Show: Alan Freeman Show
  • World Male Singer: Robert Plant
  • World Female Singer: Joni Mitchell
  • Drummer: Carl Palmer
  • Misc. Instrument: Mike Oldfield
  • Producer: Eddie Offord
  • Album: Rod Stewart, for Smiler
  • Single: Bad Company, for Can’t Get Enough
  • Best Dressed LP: Yes, for Relayer
  • Soul Act: Stevie Wonder
  • Klutz of the Year: Steve Harley

1976

  • Best Group: Led Zeppelin
  • Best Female Singer: Linda Ronstadt
  • Turkey of the Year: Sex Pistols, with Johnny Rotten in second place, and “punk rock” in third
  • Best Male Singer: Robert Plant
  • Most Promising Emergent Act: Eddie and the Hot Rods
  • Best Keyboardist: Rick Wakeman
  • Best Drummer: John Bonham
  • Best Songwriter/Composer: Bob Dylan
  • Best Television Show: The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • Best Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • Most Missed Dead Act: Jimi Hendrix
  • Best Guitarist: Jimmy Page
  • Best Single: Thin Lizzy, for The Boys Are Back In Town
  • Best Album: Led Zeppelin, for The Song Remains The Same
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Johnny Rotten
  • Best Miscellaneous Instrumentalist: Mike Oldfield
  • Best Radio Show: Alan Freeman‘s Saturday Show
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: Led Zeppelin, for The Song Remains The Same
  • Best Bassist: Paul McCartney

1977

  • Best Group: Sex Pistols
  • Best New Group/Act: Tom Robinson
  • Male Singer: David Bowie
  • Female Singer: Julie Covington
  • Best Album: Sex Pistols, for Never Mind the Bollocks
  • Best Single: Sex Pistols, for God Save the Queen
  • Keyboards: Rick Wakeman
  • Drummer: Paul Cook
  • Misc. Instrument: Mike Oldfield
  • Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • Radio Show: John Peel Show
  • TV Show: The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • Event of the Year: Elvis dying
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Johnny Rotten
  • Prat of the Year: Freddie Mercury

1978

  • Best Male Singer: David Bowie
  • Best Female Singer: Debbie Harry
  • Best Album: The Jam, for All Mod Cons
  • Best Single: The Clash, for (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
  • Best Songwriter: Elvis Costello
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: The Rolling Stones, for Some Girls
  • Best Group: The Clash
  • Best New Group: Public Image Ltd.
  • Best Guitarist: Mick Jones
  • Best Bassist: Jean Jacques Burnel
  • Best Keyboardist: Dave Greenfield
  • Best Drummer: Keith Moon
  • Best DJ: John Peel
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel Show
  • Best TV Show: Revolver
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Sid Vicious
  • Pin-Up of the Year: Debbie Harry
  • Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Creep of the Year: John Travolta

1979

  • Male Singer: Sting
  • Songwriter: Paul Weller
  • Best Group: The Jam
  • Guitarist: Paul Weller
  • Bassist: Bruce Foxton
  • Keyboards: Dave Greenfield
  • Drums: Rick Buckler
  • Female Singer: Kate Bush
  • Best New Act: The Specials
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: John Peel
  • Image of the Year: Gary Numan
  • Creep of the Year: Gary Numan
  • Single: The Specials, for Gangsters
  • Album: The Jam, for Setting Sons
  • TV Programme: Fawlty Towers
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: Public Image Ltd., for Metal Box
  • Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • Radio Show: John Peel Show
  • Face of the Decade: Johnny Rotten
  • Farce of the Decade: Mod Revival
  • Film of the Year: Quadrophenia

See also

Jean-Michel Jarre – Sessions 2000

In 2000, Jean-Michel Jarre should have been on a high – already long-regarded as a legend, and a quarter of a century into his career, he had just celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his defining album Oxygène with its follow-up Oxygène 7-13, helped bring in the new millennium with an enormous concert at the pyramids in Giza, and was about to release his most commercial album to date, Metamorphoses.

It’s the “commercial” part that seems to have been where it all went wrong. While not badly received, Metamorphoses largely passed unnoticed, and Jarre’s longstanding record company Disques Dreyfus showed indifference. So Jarre did what we would all do in this situation: made an album of deep, electronic jazz music.

The feud with the record company would continue for several more years, and in the meantime we would see low-key releases of both Sessions 2000 (2002) and Geometry of Love (2003), although sadly Experimental 2001, which was long-rumoured, never appeared. Or maybe it’s not that sad – if it’s really as experimental as all that, maybe we don’t need to hear it.

If you aren’t expecting it, the warping bass, gentle pads, rippling piano, and occasional percussive drums of January 24 will come as something of a surprise – possibly enough of one that you might turn the album off in disgust without giving it a chance. But this is an album that rewards repeated listening, and this opening track is no exception.

Better though, is the beautiful March 23. One of the longer tracks on the album, it uses the bass line as a key part of its melody, and is full of elegance and subtle form. The brass lead helps of course, but somehow it feels as though it’s playing second fiddle to the bass, so to speak.

This is not, however, an album to be enjoyed solely as individual tracks – its forty minute playing time is best digested as a single piece of music, as it floats past you, and the more dub-inspired May 1 drifts along with its deep pads and piano.

Much as I liked the Jarre of the late 1990s, as he made the most of his legendary status and tried to sell some records, in many ways this is what he should have been doing at the turn of the millennium: retreating into his studio and making beautiful electronic music.

June 21 is one of the most jazz-inspired pieces, but you also can’t help but wonder whether perhaps it owes something to 1983’s Zoolook album, with its odd samples. There’s something rather beautiful about it, in spite of it ostensibly being jazz music.

The longest track of all here is September 14, clocking in at nine-and-a-half minutes precisely. It’s probably the least interesting track too, sounding almost plodding, as it steps along with its ride cymbals. Pretty much everything on here has been heard somewhere else on the album, including the bizarre vocal samples and the dub effects. Then again, enjoyed as a constituent part of the album, it does fit pretty well.

Finally, Christmas draws on with the wintry December 17. Far dreamier and softer than any of the tracks that came before it, it’s a perfect closing track to what may have been, assuming the dates are actual recording dates, an unintentionally well structured album. Or maybe they’re just titles, based on the mood of the pieces.

Either way, Sessions 2000 is a surprisingly good, understated album, and it’s definitely tempting to wish that Jarre had released a few more like this in the (largely quiet) fifteen years that have followed.

The CD version of Sessions 2000 has long since fallen out of print, but you may be able to find a second-hand copy floating around somewhere.

Preview – Europe

It would definitely be remiss of me not to mention the comeback of Europe, the Swedish rock band who – let’s be fair here – are only known outside of Sweden for The Final Countdown. Somehow they have racked up eleven studio albums when the rest of the world wasn’t looking, and here’s the title track from the new one, which came out last week: