16/10/2019: “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits

This song was banned at one point from receiving airplay on Canadian radio stations, due to its homophobic language.

However, the song was written based on comments that Mark Knopfler overheard from delivery men who were complaining that rock stars had it too easy and it was just “money for nothing”. So the song reflects the less than enlightened attitude that was prevalent at that time.

At the same time, the protagonist of the song claims: “that’s the way to do it”, admitting that its a good lifestyle.

The song itself is incredibly groovy, with a killer guitar riff. The way the riff is used to kick the song off is one of those matchless musical moments which is instantly recognisable.

The bassline is simple, but adds a lot to the song through its driving force.

“Money For Nothing” features Sting, right at the start, who says “I want my MTV”. Sting’s record label naturally made sure that he was included as a songwriter for the track, even if he didn’t want that himself!

The song was released in 1985, a single from Brothers In Arms, and became the band’s most famous song, staying at number one in the U.S. for 3 weeks.

14/10/2019: “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Prince

This song has an interesting history. Although Prince did record the song himself in 1984, he didn’t release the song himself. Technically, the song was released in 1985 as part of Prince’s ‘The Family’ project, although this didn’t make much of an impact.

The song was initially popularised by Sinead O’Connor, who released a version in 1990 which became a hit.

Her cover is alright, but doesn’t have the same ‘Prince-ness’ as the original.

The Prince version is a slow jam, driven by guitar riffs and some particularly emphatic vocals.

As with all good slow jams, there’s a classy horns part – with the attendant guitar noodling excellence.

The backing vocals also add an extra layer of lushness, which is sorely missing in the 1990 cover.

After Prince’s death, his estate released his recording. This means that this gem was only officially released in 2018, 34 years after it was recorded.

06/10/2019: “Hope” by Descendents

The Descendents aren’t exactly pop punk as such. This is still too fast and too aggressive for that. The sound is closer to what has been described as “melodic hardcore”, or in other words, hardcore punk that isn’t just angry noise!

Nonetheless, their music was very influential in the california punk scene, which went on to spawn the pop punk genre. For better or worse.

The elements are all here – the song has a simple, catchy guitar riff, boundless energy, lyrics about a girl.

It’s true though, that the lyrics of this song are somewhat darker than you would expect from pop punk. The subject is about a guy who sees the object of his affection with another guy and is railing angrily against it.

Plus, the song is still furiously fast. But for teenage angst and fury, you can’t beat it!

The track was released on Milo Goes To College, an album written as a cheeky reaction to Milo Aukerman, the singer, leaving the band to go to college. The album was their first proper album, and came out in 1982.

05/10/2019: “Hunter” by Jah Shaka

Jah Shaka’s 3rd Commandments Of Dub album, Lion’s Share Of Dub (1984) is easily one of his best. The songs are all exquisite, melding catchy hooks to thunderous basslines while arranging a symphony of percussion and effects.

The album’s theme is a take on Selassie I’s title of “The Conquering Lion of Judah” within Rastafarianism.

“Hunter” is an echoey slice of vibes, with a twinkley, electronic piano sound providing the main riff. The bassline largely plays second fiddle to the hook, but naturally remains a central part of the song.

As with many dub songs, the percussion has a hefty part in the track, augmented with various reverb and delay effects.

The song has nailed the uncanny ability of certain dub and reggae tracks to create a bouncy, lively energy without losing the unflappable chilled out feeling.

02/10/2019: “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (12″ Extended Mix)” by Soft Cell

Soft Cell might not be to everyone’s taste. It depends on what you think of Marc Almond and his often outrageous lyrics, for the most part.

I personally think his singing style suits Dave Ball’s magnificent production very well – and would probably struggle to imagine their songs any other way.

I only knew Soft Cell from their big hit, “Tainted Love”, which captures some of the duo’s spirit, but by no means truly represents them.

This song is most glorious in its extended form. The first three minutes consist of the instrumental with a clarinet over the top, which sets the majestic scene for the later parts of the song.

The synth strings in this song are some of the most moving sounds I’ve heard in a while, and are a key reason why this song is so brilliant. The choruses are so wistful, the verses wry and slightly dejected.

“Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” was released in 1981 on the debut album from Soft Cell, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. But this more resplendent version was released a year later in ’82.

24/09/2019: “Lay All Your Love On Me” by ABBA

I’d find it hard to choose my favourite ABBA song. However, I could safely place this in the top five, and would be quite confident of putting it in the top three!

The song just has a transcendent quality to it, particularly on the choruses. Interestingly, the chorus reminded Bjorn and Benny of a church hymn – so they added a discordant chorus effect to amplify that feeling!

The song has a natural groove to it; although the vibe is different from the verse to the pre-chorus, there’s a fundamental funkiness. I particularly like the drums, which are a masterclass in understated disco tightness.

The keyboard strings are luscious, adding a charming grandeur to the song.

The main hook from the backing track is the deftly plucked guitar, which both echoes and embellishes the bassline.

“Lay All Your Love On Me” was released in 1980 on Super Trouper. It was also a hugely successful single!

19/09/2019: “You Sexy Thing” by Johnny Osbourne

The original Hot Chocolate version is undoubtedly more famous. However, I definitely prefer Johnny Osbourne’s dancehall cover.

It has so much more fullness, and a lot more cheeky joy.

Johnny Osbourne was a very popular dancehall artist, for good reason. Nearly everything he touched turned to gold!

This song suits the reggae bounce anyway. The rhythm section has such a natural swing to it, from the piano skank, buoyant drums and the heavy bassline. There’s just a hint of the originally fuzzy guitar lick still present.

The “I believe in miracles” section sounds almost strangled on the original compared to this. Osbourne’s rich voice rings out very warmly, much more clearly than the original.

The Hot Chocolate version came out in 1975. I actually can’t find out exactly when this reggae cover came out, but it seems to have been 1988 or 1989.

10/09/2019: “Gorilla Man” by Condry Ziqubu

A lot of amazing musical styles have emanated from South Africa, but I’m inclined to think that the electronic genres are the best, and usually the most unique.

But even mainstream funk/disco can benefit from the diverse touch of South African music!

“Gorilla Man” is so funky it seems set to explode. I have no idea what the song is about; neither am I particularly worried about that. It is, as far as I’m concerned, a masterpiece.

The track is driven along by a smorgasbord of synths, from the delicious bassline to the captivating hook. The melody is actually ripped off from the fantastic Italo-Disco hit “Dance For Denise”, which was released the year before around Europe.

But this version has more of the South African Bubblegum vibe, and is accordingly much cooler!

The track was released in 1986, on an eponymous E.P.

08/09/2019: “Man’s Best Friend (Instrumental)” by George Clinton

George Clinton is known for good times funk, but this surely one of the most feel good tunes ever recorded.

It’s worth noting that although there’s nothing really wrong with the vocal version, this is just better. The instruments are so brilliant, especially the guitar, that they deserve more space to shine.

It’s a real party tune, using a stadium filling snare to pin the beat down. The bassline is a shimmying, saucy synth. But it really is the guitar which adds that special touch.

The song is also divided into about 4 sections, which loop round each other flawlessly. My favourite is the hands in the air bit at the start, but it helps to have some more chill sections because it provides a bit of contrast and keeps the song interesting.

The instrumental version of the tune came out in 1983, as a B-Side to “Dog Talk” by K-9 Corp – most likely another George Clinton moniker of some sort. It’s hard to tell because it appears exclusively in connection with “Dog Talk”.

04/09/2019: “Invitation Highlife” by Victor Olaiya

Victor Olaiya is one of those incredibly funky musicians from the height of Highlife. There’s quite a lot of them really!

Nonetheless, he stands out as a rare talent, both playing his own trumpet and as a bandleader.

As far as I can tell, this song is the same as “All Star Invitation”. Even though that name is more common, it’s easier to find music under the “Invitation Highlife” name.

The song leads with a stupendously relaxing groove, as a slow bassline and chilled out guitar throw out a warm and welcoming jig.

The piercing trumpet cuts through the mix, adding to the Latin/Cuban feeling of the song.

The song came out in 1982 on Highlife Re-Incarnation, under the “All Star Invitation” title. The All-Stars were his main band, variously called “His All Stars” or “International All Stars”.