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Too Bland, Too Soft

No, not the Malcolm X sample “too black… too strong” that Public Enemy used as intro of “Bring the Noise”. This is not about noise. This is the first chapter of a series about some music styles that are usually underrated in many critic lists for being soft, bland or uncool. Hope I could interest some of you on these styles, allowing some recognition in this fantastic forum.


I didn’t remember the exact quote from an interview to Joe Jackson in 1981 but it was something like that: “I was watching last night The Human League playing live in a NYC club. But when I got home I needed to put in the stereo Duke Ellington to listen some real brass”. Well, it’s maybe inexact but of course it’s significant. After the synth pop drunkenness it came the sophisti-pop hangover. Suddenly pre-rock styles like vocal jazz or bossa-nova were hip again. The influence of David Bowie and Roxy Music (shared with synth-pop and new romantics) was still there, but Astrud Gilberto or Chet Baker were not forbidden names anymore. It wasn’t strange seeing the musicians in the (then new) video-clips playing a grand piano dressed with dinner jackets and bow ties (sacrilege!). Trumpets, saxes, grand pianos, acoustic guitars and Latin percussion were not so rare to listen. And fuzzy guitars or synthesizers were not longer necessary (odd when most of the musicians came from techno-pop or even punk). Motown soul, funk, jazz, French pop or African beats were added to the mix creating a refreshing sound. In fact every non-rock style was good enough to alienate the metal and punk fans.
But, why this style never got the complete approval of critics and only the least interesting bands (Simply Red, Level 42, Matt Bianco, Swing Out Sisters) reached mainstream audiences? Some reasons that come to my mind:
a) It was a purely European style (99% British really) with that touch of qualité that repels the Americans immediately (as a British butler or a French maître).
b) It was a “whitey” style, in fact it was the umpteenth time of white people stealing black people styles. Well, not everyone was white. There was the beautiful Sade Adu too.
c) Maybe it was the fact that any band was able to release an undisputed masterpiece (except maybe the album that I’ve put on number one).
d) Maybe the retro approach labelled the style (undeservedly) as unimaginative.
e) Or maybe it was the lack of aggressiveness. Maybe it was too bland, too soft…

My Top 20 albums of Sophisti-Pop

Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen
01. PREFAB SPROUT “Steve McQueen” (1985)
Not the most representative album of the style but surely the best. And that’s not only because of the polished arrangements courtesy of Thomas Dolby, but mainly for the superb song-writing of Paddy McAloon. Opaque and clever but sensitive lyrics and complex but brilliant melodies filled an album that never fails to fascinate me every time I listen to it no matter the many years passed since I discover it.
Song highlights: Faron Young, Appetite, Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny)

Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain
02. AZTEC CAMERA “High Land Hard Rain” (1983)
Talking about song-writing here it’s Roddy Frame, a gifted musician that was able to release this brilliant album when he was only nineteen. When you listen the beautifully crafted melodies, the inspired chords progressions, the interesting wordplay of the lyrics and the mastery with the acoustic guitar you realize for sure that experience is not so important. Talent is what really matters.
Song highlights: Oblivious, Walk Out to Winter, Release

Weekend - La Varieté
03. WEEKEND “La Varieté” (1982)
The quintessential example of the style with a perfect way of integrating influences like vocal jazz or bossa-nova. Although probably it’s not the most perfect about performing skills it is for sure the most delicate one. Alison Statton, ex-singer of pioneering band Young Marble Giants teamed with Simon Booth and Spike and together they created an exciting and sensitive style showcased in this widely underrated gem.
Song highlights: The End of the Affair, Summer Days, A Life in the Day of…

Joe Jackson - Body and Soul
04. JOE JACKSON “Body and Soul” (1984)
Joe Jackson moved away from the new wave pop-rock of his beginnings with an astonishing trilogy of albums from 1981 to 1984. The first one (“Jumpin’ Jive” was an orthodox approach to Louis Jordan jump style, the second one (“Night and Day” expanded his music palette approaching to the most varied styles. And the third one was the sum of his skills with some of the best song of his repertoire.
Song highlights: Not Here, Not Now, You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want), Happy Ending

Elvis Costello - Imperial Bedroom
05. ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS “Imperial Bedroom” (1982)
Elvis Costello was a mature singer and song-writer from his very beginnings, but the sophistication of his music increased with every work. Although “Trust” already gave clear indications of the new ambitions of Costello, not everyone was ready for this album produced by Geoff Emerick (engineer of “Sgt. Peppers” and songs like “Almost Blue” that raised comparisons with Cole Porter or George Gershwin.
Song highlights: Man Out of Time, Almost Blue, You Little Fool

The Style Council - Café Bleu
06. THE STYLE COUNCIL “Café Bleu” (1984)
Paul Weller, another ex-hero of the new wave, formed The Style Council, probably the best band of sophisti-pop. They were not well regarded maybe because they never released a consistently strong album, being often criticized as too ambitious and disperse. But (admitting some failures like the hip-hop exercise “A Gospel” give me dispersion and ambition every day instead boring uniformity and lack or risk.
Song highlights: The Whole Point of No Return, The Paris Match, My Ever Changing Moods

The Colourfield - Virgins and Philistines
07. THE COLOURFIELD “Virgins and Philistines” (1985)
Another underrated album and band, The Colourfield, the vehicle for ex-Specials and ex-Fun Boy Three singer Terry Hall. Some quotes from the Michael Sutton review for AMG: “Plucking sounds from the late '60s and early '70s, the Colourfield created an album that will never be dated because it cannot be attached to a specific era … Although the album looks to the past for inspiration, it's never retro; the music is frozen in suspended animation, always fresh whenever it's heard”.
Song highlights: Thinking of You, Castles in the Air, Hammond Song

Dexys Midnight Runners - Too-Rye-Ay
08. DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS “Too-Rye-Ay” (1982)
Surely they can’t be filed under “sophisticated” with those ridiculous clothes but they deserve the inclusion for being the pioneers of bringing back the classic 60s American soul sounds into the modern 80s British pop sounds. For the second album Kevin Rowland introduced strings with Celtic flavours, approaching even more to his beloved Van Morrison. Probably not sophisticated but for sure exciting an irresistible.
Song highlights: Let’s Make This Precious, Jackie Wilson Said, Come On Eileen

David Sylvian - Brilliant Trees
09. DAVID SYLVIAN “Brilliant Trees” (1984)
If we talk about sophistication, Sylvian is the top. The ex-leader of Japan created suggestive soundscapes in his first album, with a dream team of jazz, synth pop and avant-garde musicians, including Danny Thompson, Holger Czukay, Ryuichi Sakamoto, John Hassell, Mark Isham and Steve Jansen. We had to wait till Radiohead’s “Amnesiac” to find such tight and brilliant interaction of jazz and avant-garde pop.
Song highlights: The Ink in the Well, Red Guitar, Weathered Wall

The Blue Nile - A Walk Across the Rooftops
10. THE BLUE NILE “A Walk Across the Rooftops” (1984)
The Blue Nile were hired for Linn Hi-Fi to record a demo song to showcase the clarity of their new high fidelity equipment. They recorded purposely a spacious song (the title theme) with all the elements floating separately in empty spaces. But the song was so good that the sound company financed the entire album. High quality.
Song highlights: A Walk Across the Rooftops, Tinseltown in the Rain, Stay

Culture Club - Colour by Numbers
11. CULTURE CLUB “Colour By Numbers” (1983)
After two solemn albums like the two previous, we need some hedonism and banality now. I’m aware of how uncool it is to vindicate Culture Club, but the second album from the band is one of the best examples of well done mainstream, well played (soul and soft R&B backing of a soulful voice) and well conceived (a bizarre and provocative look enveloped by music apt for all kinds of people).
Song highlights: The Church of the Poison Mind, Miss Me Blind, Victims

The Pale Fountains - Pacific Street
12. PALE FOUNTAINS “Pacific Street” (1984)
Michael Head has been one of the most underrated pop wizards, popular success and critical acclaim has been always elusive with him in his successive incarnations as front-man of Pale Fountains or Shack. The first Pale Fountains album should have gained more recognition, the bright melodies and elaborate arrangements deserved it, but instead it only obtained indifference. Maybe they should have included the (fabulous) previous singles.
Song highlights: Reach, Something on My Mind, You’ll Start a War

Everything but the Girl - Eden
EBTG is (was?) the most enduring band of the style, lasting for almost two decades of sumptuous and elegant sounds. In posterior albums they approached to styles like college-pop, folk-pop and even electronica, but in their first album they displayed a sweet mixture of pop, jazz and Brazilian rhythms. Soft touch.
Song highlights: Each and Every One, Another Bridge, Soft Touch

Scritti Politti - Cupid & Psyche 85
14. SCRITTI POLITTI “Cupid & Psyche 85” (1985)
This album wasn’t retro at all, this was an album completely contemporary, with powerful funky drum beats, glossy guitars and keyboards and brilliant melodies, not hiding influences as cross-over black pop (Jackson’s “Thriller” style). Despite its modernity it fits perfectly in this list, it wore the word “sophistication” in every note, in every beat.
Song highlights: The Word Girl (Flesh and Blood), Perfect Way, Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)

Sade - Diamond Life
15. SADE “Diamond Life” (1984)
I was playing in a band called Sade then. My parents found this album during a trip to Germany and bought it. When I saw that attractive face on the cover, when I heard that silky throat whispering such sensual songs, when I listened to those classy jazzy arrangements I though: “Oh, shit, our days as a band are numbered”. And that was what exactly happened.
Song highlights: Smooth Operator, Hang On to Your Love, Cherry Pie

Haircut One Hundred - Pelican West
16. HAIRCUT ONE HUNDRED “Pelican West” (1982)
In 1981, when the magazine covers exhibited proudly flashy and weird looks (Adam Ant, Steve Strange from Visage or Annabella Lwin from Bow Ow Ow), a troupe of amiable and polite-looking boys dressed as Oxford students burst into the scene with the irresistible “Favourite Shirt”. Pose or not, their first album was refreshing and sweet as a strawberry ice-cream.
Song highlights: Favourite Shirt (Boy Meets Girl), Love Plus One, Milk Film

Spandau Ballet - True
17. SPANDAU BALLET “True” (1983)
With their third album, Spandau Ballet moved away from the synth-pop sounds and new-romantic aesthetics of their debut and returned to their first music love: the blue-eyed soul. But this wasn’t really a bold move, the overtly commercial (but impeccable) sound and the inspired set of songs made them even more popular, achieving simultaneously their artistic and commercial zenith.
Song highlights: Communication, Gold, True

Matt Bianco - Whose Side Are You On
18. MATT BIANCO “Whose Side Are You On?” (1984)
Defending this album I’m probably wasting my last credit of coolness in this “ice cold” forum. But it doesn’t matter to me, the first album of Matt Bianco, with Basia still in the line-up, had enough reasons to give it a chance. The band and album of this subgenre with stronger presence of Latin-influenced sounds.
Song highlights: Half a Minute, Matt’s Mood, Get Out of Your Lazy Bed

Working Week - Working Nights
19. WORKING WEEK “Working Nights” (1985)
After the disbanding of Weekend, Simon Booth aptly named his new project Working Week. The music basis was quite similar, but while the first project had the dreamy and lazy sound of a happy weekend, this second project sounded professional and controlled, just like a productive working week. Anyway it included enough good songs to make this a pleasant listen.
Song highlights: Inner City Blues, Though I’d Never See You Again, Venceremos

Roxy Music - Avalon
20. ROXY MUSIC “Avalon” (1982)
And, last but not least, the absolute pioneers of the style. Brian Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy McKay closed the second part of their career with a stylish and lush album that opened the door to the younger artists of the list. Anyway none of them could surpass the elegance of this one.
Song highlights: More Than This, Avalon, Take a Chance with Me

My Top 35 songs of Sophisti-Pop

It includes only youtubeable songs, letting outside some of my favourites as “Not Here, Not Now” by Joe Jackson or “Sensitive” by Mick Karn.

35. DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS “The Way You Look Tonight” (1985)
A peculiar Dexys take on this beautiful standard during the sessions of “Don’t Stand Me Down”. It runs smoothly until the last half minute in which Rowland explodes with his trademark histrionic singing.

34. WEEKEND “Summer Days” (1982)
The lovely Alison Statton with Weekend singing two songs of “La Varieté”, surely she was not the best singer ever but, no doubt, she was the sweetest one.

33. AZTEC CAMERA “Release” (1983)
Brazilian bossa-nova was one of the many influences of the style (in fact of every sophisticated style of the last 50 years). Roddy Frame shows a complete command of the Jobim harmonies despite being only 18 years-old.
Warning: truncate ending.

32. MATT BIANCO “Matt’s Mood” (1984)
Latin jazz sounds, cool cats and cool chicks. Vamos, princesa, dance with me, I’m in the mood…

31. THE STYLE COUNCIL “Paris Match” (1983)
Bossa-nova and smooth latin jazz. It lacks a third element for the formula of sophisti-pop. Yes, you guessed, French-pop.

30. WORKING WEEK “Venceremos” (1984)
Maybe the influences were retro, but these bands were not conservative. I mean politically. Working Week used the title of the Victor Jara’s penned hymn of Chile’s Unidad Popular, Salvador Allende’s party, for a combative yet danceable anthem. With collaborations of Tracey Thorn and Robert Wyatt.

29. SADE “Cherry Pie” (1984)
Don’t fear to immerse yourself in this ocean of wah-wahs and whispered vocals. For sure this is sweet as cherry pie, wild as Friday night.

28. FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS “Johnny Come Home” (1985)
They came from Two-Tone ska (they were ex-members of The Beat) and the name came from a 1960 movie starring Natalie Wood. And they released irresistible angular yet soulful pieces like this one.

27. CULTURE CLUB “Victims” (1983)
The guiltiest of the pleasures. A torch ballad if there’s one.

26. DAVID SYLVIAN “The Ink in the Well” (1984)
And after the excess and bombast, here it come the sobriety and the contention. Just listen to this superb upright bass (played by ex-Fairport Convention Danny Thompson) and to the great flugel-horn solo.

25. DAVID BOWIE & PAT METHENY GROUP “This Is Not America” (1985)
The father of this style was in his best (commercial) moment during the short life of the style (1982-1985). And he manufactured filigrees like this one. This is not America, sha-la-la-la-la.

24. SCRITTI POLITTI “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)” (1984)
Surely wearing pyjamas on the video clip is not very sophisticated, but listen to that glossy sound. Useful to show to an extraterrestrial the sound of the 80s.

23. SPANDAU BALLET “True” (1983)
Maybe mainstream, maybe soft, maybe pretentious. But listen without prejudice. This is the sound of their soul. And I know that much is true.

22. THE COLOURFIELD “Windmills of Your Mind” (1985)
A delicate cover of a song best known for the Dusty Springfield version. Love Terry Hall’s voice in this one.
Warning: the images of the video are home made and not related with the creators of the music (well, as the numbers 35, 33-31, 29, 25, 18, 14, 6, 4 and 1, it’s an usual feature in youtube).

21. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL “Each and Everyone” (1984)
The sweet bossa beat, the outstanding brass arrangement and, of course, the sum of talents of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watts. And their shyness.

My Top 35 songs of Sophisti-Pop (numbers 20 to 1)

20. JOE JACKSON “Steppin’ Out” (1982)
I can imagine the smile of satisfaction on Jackson’s face when he found that beautiful phrase in his piano (C# A#, G# A# D# C#, E F# G# F#, A B C# B). If I could only find something half as good…

19. ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS “Everyday I Write the Book” (1983)
The biggest glasses of pop music world. And one of the biggest talents too.

18. CULTURE CLUB “Miss Me Blind” (1983)
Smooth funk-soul number. He knew that we were going to miss him. Blindly.

17. THE STYLE COUNCIL “Shout to the Top” (1984)
Energetic performance from one of the most underrated bands ever. Maybe it’s not too late for a deserved vindication.

16. THE COLOURFIELD “Castles in the Air” (1985)
The Latin influences were a capital part of the genre. But not always were exact, in this one we can see a Spanish flamenco dancer in the video clip but the rhythm was an Argentinian tango. No problem, the song was wonderful anyway.
Warning: this you tube version is heavily edited (particularly the great guitar solo), I recommend the complete original version (sorry, not in songza too).

15. SADE “Hang On to Your Love” (1984)
Beautiful voice, beautiful song, beautiful face, beautiful look. I remember a trip to Paris in the spring of 1985, all the black girls wear that stylish look with the hair tied back in a long plait. I tried my chances with a pretty one (but not as beautiful as Sade Adu) in a party against racism. Unsuccessfully, I must admit.

14. WEEKEND “A View From Her Room (12” Mix)” (1982)
An exquisite song not included in “La Varieté”, including all the characteristic sounds of the style.
Warning: it takes a lot to load but please be patient, it worth the wait.

13. PREFAB SPROUT “Appetite” (1985)
Dreamy sounds from the pen of Paddy McAloon. From the great “Steve McQueen” album. If you steal, be Robin Hood.

12. JOE JACKSON “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” (1984)
Funk for white people, jazz for pop fans. But I’ll get this for sure, I know what I want.

11. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL “When All’s Well” (1985)
Pure pop delights, volume 7. Hey, Dumbangel, if this one doesn’t change your opinion about the 80s, nothing will. Well, maybe “Palm of My Hand” later.
Warning: bad quality video (but high quality song).

10. DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS “Come On Eileen” (1982)
I’ve been listening again “Too-Rye-Ay” trying to avoid the obvious choice. There are many great songs in this album, “Let’s Make This Precious” for instance. But every time I come to the last song of the album the choice is obvious again to me. Poor old Johnny Ray…

09. HAIRCUT 100 “Favourite Shirt (Boy Meets Girl)” (1981)
Maybe soft but not slow. A rhythmic bomb. An uptempo number with their trademark clean and dry guitars, Latin and funky beats and brilliant sax and trumpet solos. And a few lines or rap. In 1981!

08. ROXY MUSIC “More Than This” (1982)
I’ve put “Avalon” last in the best albums list (although it was more like the last author on a scientific publication, the forerunner or the alma mater of the project) but this song belongs for sure to the Top 10. There are the restrained and sober arrangements, but mainly here is that seductive croon and elegant look of Brian Ferry. More than this there is nothing…

07. THE BLUE NILE “Tinseltown in the Rain” (1984)
Dreamy and suggestive soundscapes, the perfect evocation of a city under the rain, with exquisite string arrangements and subtle electronic backing, with that ultracool but passionate vocal deliverance above all. Here we are, caught up in this big rhythm.

06. THE STYLE COUNCIL “My Ever Changing Moods” (1984)
I haven’t awarded them with the best album or the best song, but Paul Weller’s Style Council was for me the best band of the genre. The first three albums (including the debut mini-LP) were filled with great songs that displayed a “healthy” eclecticism. They usually released different versions of their songs. The album version of this one, only piano and voice, was excellent.

05. DAVID SYLVIAN & RYUICHI SAKAMOTO “Forbidden Colours” (1983)
The second collaboration between Sylvian and Sakamoto (the first one was the equally recommendable “Bamboo Houses” was an absolute piece of art. It was of the soundtrack of the movie “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”, starring David Bowie and… Ryuichi Sakamoto. Founded on another of these “lucky” music phrases (D E D A D, D E D E G E D E D A C, C B G E) with a pentatonic scale immediately evocative of the Far East, moreover there’s the awesome vocal deliverance of Sylvian and the sublime orchestral arrangements.
Also recommended the 1987 version from “Secrets of the Beehive”, you can listen to it here with beautiful images from Lost in Translation

04. THE PALE FOUNTAINS “Palm of My Hand” (1983)
They just weren’t made for their times. The trumpets Bacharach-style and the sunshine-pop influences were hip ten years later, and their sensitive style had much more in common with 90s bands like Belle and Sebastian or Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci than with their contemporaries. This song is a hidden gem if there’s one.
Warning: I’ve only found in you tube a homemade video with a rawer live version (that, being good, slightly ruins their trademark delicateness). Unfortunately there’s no songza for this one.

03. AZTEC CAMERA “Walk Out to Winter (12” Mix)” (1983)
I don’t’ know if this song deserves the #3, maybe is magnified on my mind for youth sweet memories. The perfect summer pop song to me, with those crystalline sounds of the guitars that supposed a deep breath of fresh air after years of kingdom of synthesizers.
Warning: the clip shows a morning performance of the band in a TV show doing a play-back of the album version. But the best version is the extended 12” version (not available in youtube nor songza), and not for the first reiterative minutes but for the astonishing guitar solo at the end.

02. PREFAB SPROUT “Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny, Johnny)” (1985)
And another favourite for personal reasons. A true (and quite common) story: I was drunk, driving home under the rain after a loving disappointment (do you know that feeling of waiting so long that finally you arrive too late? Well, I do). I parked my car and then that voice on the radio: “Ooh, Johnny, Johnny, ooh / Life’s not complete till your heart’s missed a beat / And you’ll never make it up / Or turn back the clock / No, you won’t”. I just stayed there looking to the soaked windscreen, nodding like an idiot and waiting to hear the name of the band. Next day I bought the “Steve McQueen” album, and I loved it. But changing a girl for a song is a bad deal. Or not. Now I forgot the name of that girl but I still remember the name of the girl of the song. So, goodbye Lucille.

An instant classic. Elvis Costello speeded down a bit and looked in the rear-view mirror to see the craft of composers like Cole Porter or George Gershwin and the vocal style of crooners like Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby (but with his own raspy vocal register). Superbly backed by The Attractions playing drums with brushes and upright bass, with special mention to the piano part played by Steve Nieve, that gave perfectly the ambiance of a smoky jazz club. But the most outstanding thing here was the song-writing. That angry young man coming from new wave (but with an almost punk attitude) finally found his place among the big names.

Well, hope you liked it…

Coming soon:
70s Soft-Rock
60s Sunshine-Pop
90s Indie-Pop

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

I love that Prefab Sprout album (Steve McQueen), but I've had a hard time convincing others that it is worthy.

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

Very good work Honorio !
But I'm not into '80s at all, even for sophisticated pop (a style I use to like) because I really have a problem with the '80s sound and production. Too weak, too flat, all the instruments can't be heard correctly, like in a The Smiths song.
From all the crap, some good things have emerged like the fanstatic song "Walk out for winter" of Aztec Camera.
Prefab Sprout is OK, but I prefer the album "Andromeda Heights" released in the '90s.
Same thing for Elvis Costello, I enjoy some songs from his 3 albums of the late '70s but I don't like his '80s works.
I'm really looking forward to your 3 next threads, where I'll certainly find more personal satisfying music.

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

I've never really been able to get into Sophisti-Pop. Well, I like a lot of songs but I don't think I can name one album or band that I really love.

60's sunshine pop however... I was listening to Keith's 98.6 on the way to work today and was thinking that it might be one of the most underrated songs ever. Do folk revival bands fall under the sunshine pop category? Because there are so many great hits that came out of that movement... and then there's sunshine country which is a whole other can of greatness!

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

This is great, Honorio. Steve McQueen is in my top 20 of all time, and its nice to see it getting the respect it deserves. Imperial Bedroom is probably my favorite Costello album, so that was a pleasant surprise as well.
I wondered why you didn't include The Blue Nile's "Hats," though. Is that not sophiti-pop in your opinion, or do you prefer "A Walk Across the Rooftops"?
Anyway, great list and commentary and I'm looking forward to seeing your next installations.

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

awesome, honorio. great stuff. totally looking forward to soft rock

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

first of all: do me a little favour, honorio, and place a Michael Franks or Rickie Lee Jones record (Objects Of Desire, Passion Fruit, whatever..) among this otherwise tremendous collection.
second: at a first glance I initially thought you just were quoting a book, but damn, all that detailwork actually has happened on your behalf realized by... well, yourself.
now let me put it this way:
left alone the pushing of the Pale Fountains back uphill to where they still belong...

can't wait for your future projects,

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

and...shhh ... gau-cho...! off..

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

Great work, Honorio. Takes me back.

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

Very well thought-out presentation. In particular I’m a big fan of the Aztec Camera, Colourfield (not as good as Fun Boy Three, but still very fine) and Blue Nile albums.

Martin Stephenson has recorded some very fine albums in this style as well.

Re: Too Bland, Too Soft

Thanks a lot, boys. I really appreciate a lot all your compliments, this encourages me to write the next chapters. I will try to answer your comments:
- Paul, I share your feelings about “Steve McQueen”, I played that album to my friends when I discovered it and their reactions were not enthusiastic at all. Well, it was not the first time and, of course, it was not the last. I’m used to find incomprehension about my music tastes (no problem, I don’t share their tastes too ).
- Dumbangel, I know that you dislike the 80s because of the “sound” and this is one question difficult to solve. I mean, if you hear a keyboard or a drum sound that displeases you deeply, this fact prevents you to enjoy a particular song. I only wanted to suggest with this thread that many times we don’t enjoy great songs because some particular sounds that are considered uncool or with bad taste, or simply we don't find it appealing. That’s why I purposely put “Victims”, a good song suffering of bombastic (but charming) arrangements. Anyway I’m sure that you will enjoy the next chapters.
- John, hope this thread could raise some curiosity in you to investigate more this style. If you like sunshine pop (and obviously you like the Fab Four), The Pale Fountains or The Colourfield could be a good place to start. Or, of course, The Style Council. Hope you enjoy the sunshine pop chapter anyway.
- rendler, so you are another of the many fans of the “Steve McQueen” album in the forum (let’s push it to the Top 10 of 1985 then!). Respect to “Hats” I admit that maybe it’s a better album than “Rooftops”, but I self-imposed a rule of only including songs and albums of the “golden” period of the style, I mean 1982-1985 (except the Haircut 100 one), so I left outside “Hats” only for being released in 1989. Many many thanks for your compliments.
- Greg, many thanks. Hope you enjoy the soft-rock chapter, this is particularly difficult, I mean if I include well-respected names like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac or Todd Rundgren I suppose that everyone could agree. But what about The Eagles? Or Supertramp?
- netjade, many many many thanks for your comments, although I admit that I needed to do a research on the web for “spegged” to find among other definitions in the urban dictionary: “To get spit in the face by the feminine genitalia”. Anyway I think I get the idea… I definitely will check some Michael Franks material (I haven’t listened to him never, or so I think). About Rickie Lee Jones I like a lot “Pirates” and I voted for it in the 1981 poll, but never though to include her in the list (but she fits so well, that’s true). And about Steely Dan I didn’t include “Gaucho” for the same reason of “Hats” (it’s 1980) and I thought a lot about including “The Nightfly” by Donald Fagen, but I finally decided not including it for “geographical” reasons (it could have ruined my theory of the 100% European style). nj, thanks again especially for your “second” comment, I’m really grateful.
- schleuse, this music takes me back too. In fact for the other chapters I would need external information (AMG and obviously the fantastic acclaimedmusic.net) but making this list I basically needed my (sweet) memories.
- mark, glad to find other fan of Colourfield (I’m the only who voted so far for them in the 1985 poll). Never listened to Martin Stephenson, but definitely I’ll check. Any song or album suggestion?

And, for ending this loooong answer, I’ll tell you something about the genesis of this thread, although I’m aware that it could sound quite bizarre. I told you in a previous post that I work as an ophthalmologist in a hospital and, as you could guess, I simply can’t live without music. So while I’m performing surgery I usually listen to some music (not that strange, it helps to relax and concentrate more). But the Spanish radio stations programs unlimited crap and the usually considered relaxing music (you know, that new age and “yoga” shit) has the opposite effect in me. Moreover the surgery is usually under local anaesthesia, so the patients can listen to the music too. The 90% of the patients are 70 or 80 years-old, so Sex Pistols or Motörhead maybe are not good choices. And, due to the effects of sedative drugs, some music too doom or somber (Tindersticks for instance) may cause the patient to think: “Am I still here, or this is the afterwards yet?”. So I needed music soft enough for not bother the patients but cheerful enough for not make the patients afraid. So some years ago I made 4 compilations (2 double CDs) with the 4 style mentioned above, and I’ve “used” it a lot during my surgeries (with the assumed risk that in the future these songs could remind me of knives and blood and not smiles and sunrises). I told that the story was quite bizarre…

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Very nice list Honorio. It got me to check out Prefab Sprout, who will now be making an appearance on my list for 1985.

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It got me to check out Prefab Sprout, who will now be making an appearance on my list for 1985.

If you liked that, check out the 1990 release Jordan: The Comeback. It's a masterpiece.

Wonderful countdown ("Steppin' Out"! "Goodbye Lucille #1"!) Really looking forward to the sunshine pop list.

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Great list Honorio!

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Thanks a lot, Stephan, Vgrd and sonofsamiam (agree with you about “Jordan”, and the Prefab Sprout 1988 album was very good too), it encourages me a lot to continue. But later, there’s a lot of work now, the Beatles Survivor, the 1962 HOA, the 2001 AYCOADB, the 1986 poll, the artists poll and a thing about the Fab Four that I’m preparing from long ago. Phew… it’s hard to participate in AM Forum!!
Just cheating, it’s an absolute pleasure…

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Yes, Honorio, please go on with your honoriesque music !!

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Thanks, Nicolas

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just don't forget terry melcher and john phillips!

Re: My Top 20 albums of Sophisti-Pop

I somehow owe AMers like Moonbeam quite a lot for their devotedly executd fanchises (sic), so I have to emphasize - after debauched listenings - that Eden does deliver these cloudburst blows as well... so..thanks for the insistence, Honorio, that album is terrific

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Great thread! You've highlighted some great music here and I am eager to listen to what I don't know.

Scritti Politti was already on my radar thanks to an ancient post by netjade saying that Songs to Remember was better than anything else from 1982.

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interesting... my latest comment did slip under Honorio's first posting, somewhat doomed I assume..

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don't dare to ask whether I've been proven right, Moonbeam..

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Well, nj, you know that I've got MAJOR love for 1982, so that statement holds a lot of meaning!

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most definitely... a task that big-mouthed yet that fruitful..

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This is the genre I think of as synth-pop.

The best synth-pop is excellent, but it unfortunately came right at the start of the MTV era where albums became two good songs and a lot of filler, and music became inextricably associated with it's visual images.

Stuff that didn't get videos was disregarded by mainstream listeners and stuff that did was trivialized by the video, or worse, graded based more on the quality of the video than the sound. In a way the good synth-pop got buried both by the bad, and the superficial crap attached to the good.

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I missed this entire thread at the time because I was on vacation back to the mother land. But just let me say, Honorio, well done, sir.

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Interesting list! I cannot say that I would put Spandau Ballet there, but apart from that there are some excellent albums on the list. And some that I don't know. What's your nick at RYM Honorario?

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This is fantastic - smart, cogent analysis on your part. I eagerly await your next update.

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Wow, boys, many thanks for all your compliments. This morning I’ve decided to have a look at the Forum before start working, and you really made my day! And yes, Moonbeam, Scritti Politti deserves recognition if only for their first two (excellent) albums. About Spandau Ballet I do believe that they belong to the list, although I admit that they were the mainstream wing of the style.
Sadly I realize that a lot of the youtube links doesn’t work anymore (numbers 33, 32, 30, 29, 21, 15, 10 and 6) mostly for the (damn) copyright claims. I consider obscene that a song released by an independent label at the time (for instance Aztec Camera with Rough Trade) was now banned for listening in youtube for Warner Music Group, probably due to a trick from the executives of the companies without involvement of the artists.
Precisely these copyright claims are delaying the post of the next chapter. Some songs (including the #1!) don’t have youtube video so I’m uploading myself. I’m quite thick with the video making programs and that’s the main reason of the delay. But thank to your comments I think I’m going to post now the introduction of the soft-rock chapter that should serve also as an appetizer. Hope you enjoy it…

PS: My nick in RYM is Barranco (Spanish for ravine or precipice). It’s my real surname, and Honorio is my real first name, I’m not quite imaginative for the nicknames. But I’m not an active member of RYM (only got three lists and 100 ratings taken for my votes for the AM Forum polls).

Chapter 2: 70s Soft Rock

Time for Chapter 2. Are you ready? Well, please see this before reading:

(it wasn’t in youtube, I needed to upload it myself)


That was the beginning of my addiction to 70s soft-rock. That scene near the end of the awesome Sofia Coppola movie “The Virgin Suicides”, one of my favourite movies from the 90s (or should I say 70s?). The Lisbon sisters weren’t allowed to get out of the house and the only contact with the boys was by phone. So the boys used some songs to reach to the girls. Don’t know why that scene moved me so much, but I began to see the dreamy and evocative properties of the despised soft-rock.
Yes, despised. In fact the very name of the style is pejorative. No band or artist can be comfortable being filed under “soft”, in the same way that a 60-years-old woman can’t be happy being tagged as old. The words “rock & roll”, “punk”, “funk” or “jazz” are worn proudly by his practitioners, but no one claims to be a soft rocker. No one sings: “I’m a soft rocker, baby, I’m a soft rocker” (like the Springsteen song). Someone invented “soft-rock” as a funny contraposition to “hard-rock” to design bands like Bread or America that mainly sang simple sweet ballads.
Yes, simple. The sound of the soft-rock was designed to please anyone’s ear, avoiding music dissonances and complicated lyrics. Graham Nash wrote the (involuntary) anthem of the style: “I am a simple man / so I sing a simple song”. So there was no place for genius here? Well, almost all of the soft-rockers had a real gift for writing and singing excellent melodies, and moreover some real geniuses (we will see them later) approached to such a successful style.
Yes, successful. It isn’t strange that such ear candy captured the heart (and the cash) of so many people. You can expect to discover some hidden gems in other chapters (especially in the sunshine-pop one), but surely not in this one. These bands and artists released big hits, and many of the songs on the list reached the number one on charts all over the world.
But, what’s exactly soft-rock? Soon you will see the wide variety of the list, but trying to narrow it I can say that if soft-rock was a country, it could be bordered by:
- The Singer-Songwriter territory to the North, the evolution of the 60s folk singers that avoided the explicit political content and directed to confessional lyrics, sweetly enveloped by finger-picking acoustic guitars and three-part vocal harmonies (you know, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). Some of these artists were so personal that I couldn’t include them on the list (Van Morrison or Nick Drake for instance).
- Post-Beatles Pop to the East, I mean bands that tried to follow the path that the Fab Four opened. Some were directly related with The Beatles, as Badfinger or Harry Nilsson, and some not, like ELO, Bread or Supertramp. We can even include here the solo works by the ex-Beatles too!
- Country-Rock to the South, the style that Gram Parsons ignited with his Flying Burrito Brothers evolved within a few years to a soft style led by Eagles.
- Easy Listening and sophisticated styles to the West. Inside the soft-rock style we can find from easy listening (the Bacharach-influenced sound of The Carpenters) to complicate listening (the virtuoso jazz-influenced sound of Steely Dan).
So welcome to the Soft Parade. Only one advice before we begin. If you enjoy the following albums and songs as much as I do, you don’t need to see a doctor. I got your diagnosis yet. You got the same disease as me. We’re too bland. Too soft. But there’s no need to worry. Just say it loud, I’m bland and I’m proud!!

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I am bland and I am loud..

Go Seals & Croft!!

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thanks honorario! I wanted to "favorite" your list on RYM, but since it's not there, it cannot be done. (but I found another interesting list).

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What a beautiful tribute to the late, great Koko Goldstein.

This is sure to be the smoothest thread in the history of the forum!

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Great program !!!