These bands all started their careers between the second half of the 1970s and the early 1980s, and to at least some extent fit in with a back to basics aesthetic:
Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation – The B-52’s
Despite ubiquitous songs like ‘Love Shack’ and ‘Roam’, The B-52’s are an acquired taste. I blame it on Aqua; the Swedish pop band had their five minutes of fame by mimicking The B-52’s distinctive style of contrasting shrill female vocals with a campy semi-spoken male voice, and desecrated it with heinous novelty compositions such as ‘Barbie’. In contrast, Time Capsule presents a respectable case for musical legitimacy. As legend has it, The B-52’s went out to dinner, got drunk and vowed to pool their limited musical expertise to form a band. Keith Strickland and Ricky Wilson, who only appears on the early tracks as he passed away from AIDS in 1985, backed the flamboyant vocals of Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson, and Kate Pierson. While their material is quirky, they rarely resort to novelty songs; the only offender on Time Capsule is the inane ‘Song for a Future Generation’.
‘Private Idaho’, from 1980’s Wild Planet, stands out as the highlight of The B-52s career, but generally their early material is weird and often jarring. I prefer their later singles, which are more straightforward but still too offbeat to be dismissed as commercial pap for the masses. The sweetly harmonised ‘Deadbeat Club’ and ‘Roam’ are particularly enjoyable. Although The B-52’s embody a lot of qualities that I find difficult to like, including kitsch, camp, and lyrical inanity, I still enjoy Time Capsule. It’s probably all The B-52’s I’ll even need, although their debut, Wild Planet, and 1989’s comeback Cosmic Thing are generally their most highly regarded efforts.
Singles Going Steady – Buzzcocks
1979 (2001 edition), 10/10
It’s difficult to find a compilation that has a better critical reputation than the Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady. There are mixed opinions about the quality of the Buzzcock’s studio albums, but it is virtually unanimous that the collection of singles and b-sides that was originally assembled for their 1979 US tour is one of the most important albums to come out of the punk movement. I have the remastered edition, which bookends the material from the group’s 1980 singles. Although the Buzzcock’s playing is aggressive and energetic, placing them solidly within the English punk spectrum, their songs also have a poppy sheen and romantic themes that feel like throwbacks to the sixties. However, the Buzzcocks’ romantic themes are far from nauseating; surely no rock star has been jilted as constantly as Pete Shelley, as the irony laced ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ and ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?’ demonstrate. The Buzzcocks created a wonderful mixture of punk aggression, catchy melodies and appealingly underdog lyrics, and injected it into a fantastic series of singles.
The most controversial songs are arguably the most memorable; the hilarious ‘Orgasm Addict’ is actually surprisingly moralistic, but ‘Oh Shit!’ is possibly the definitive song for the curse word. The catchy b-side ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ rides an infectious groove, the only song on the compilation that noticeably extends past the three minute barrier. The Buzzcocks’ 1980 singles aren’t quite of the same calibre as their earlier work; they retain the energy, but expanding their sound palette from the simple guitar, bass, and drums formula doesn’t necessarily help this band. It’s difficult, however, to penalise Singles Going Steady when the 1980 material is listed as bonus tracks, while ‘Are Everything’ and the synth-laced ‘Running Free’ are appealing regardless. In any case, it’s difficult to view Singles Going Steady as anything other than a virtually indispensable blast of pure musical adrenaline.
Greatest Hits – The Cars
Boston’s The Cars are arguably the quintessential New Wave band, combining the back-to-basics approach of punk, forward thinking synthesiser textures, and bright power pop melodies. It’s not difficult to see influences from art rockers David Bowie and Roxy Music in the detached presence of front-man Ric Ocazek and in the sleek, futuristic textures, but The Cars were able to package these ideas to the mainstream. The group’s initial tenure lasted from 1978’s self-titled debut until 1987’s Door To Door, although this 13 song compilation only covers the period until 1984’s mega-selling Heartbeat City. Ocazek is joined by keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who provides the futuristic synth sounds, while Elliot Easton provides the snappy guitar breaks. Drummer David Robinson previously played with the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison in Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers, while bassist Ben Orr steps up to the microphone when the group need a more sincere vocal; while Ocazek wrote all the songs, he graciously and judiciously allowed Orr to front the big hits ‘Just What I Needed’ and ‘Drive’.
The selections from the first two albums are mostly high energy rock and roll, with particular highlights in ‘Just What I Needed’ and ‘Let’s Go’ from 1979’s Candy-O. The experimental ‘Touch And Go’ from 1980’s Panorama feels out of place on a hits compilation, but the selections from 1981’s Shake It Up are more accessible, with the hooky ‘Since You’re Gone’ and the pretty ‘I’m Not The One’. 1984’s Heartbeat City provides the mega ballad ‘Drive’ and the synth-driven power pop of ‘Magic’, while there’s one strong new song in ‘Tonight She Comes’. Greatest Hits is an excellent one stop shopping solution for a clever band.