Chart for stowaways – 19 August 2017

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Release
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  3. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  4. Erasure – World Be Gone
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental
  6. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  7. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  8. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Format
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Chart for stowaways – 12 August 2017

A top ten full of electronic legends!

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

Chart for stowaways – 29 July 2017

These are the week’s top singles:

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

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.

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

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.