Back in the early- to mid-80s, a second wave of British artists brought their music across the Atlantic Ocean, 20 years after the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Who invaded America. At its height in the summer of 1983, 20 of the top 40 singles (including 7 of the top 10 singles) were by British artists, breaking the previous record of 14 set in 1965.
Unfortunately, many of these acts, who could have relied solely on their music, stressed their style in the new frontier of MTV. Wearing makeup and futuristic hairstyles and clothes, they were a New Wave of artists that made their mark with one hit song, only to fall by the wayside as another act replaced them. Most disappeared as quickly as they came across the sea. They’re now relegated to 80s nights on mainstream radio, and the songwriting and craftsmanship are taken for granted.
That’s what makes Andrew Curry’s newest compilation, Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion, so memorable. For all that’s said about the 1980s – John Hughes movies, leg warmers, Wham!, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood – several talented unknowns from the UK released some amazing music. Some were hits, some barely skipped across the bottom of the Hot 100. And like today’s underground pop, it doesn’t get its due props. Songs such as General Public’s “Tenderness.” The Blow Monkeys’ “Digging Your Scene.” Madness’ “Our House” – all one-hit wonders, some with such talent that the public only heard one or two of their songs.
Curry and his cadre of indie-pop artists appreciate those artists and the contributions they made to music, with a stunning tribute that spans 27 cuts. His success with his first album, Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock, was so successful that he’s been able to entice more mainstream musicians – Freedy Johnston, Rachael Yamagata and Chris Collingwood – to contribute songs.
Here Comes The Reign Again: Different takes on many classics
Many of the songs remain true to the original, with enough variations in instrumentation and vocals that it doesn’t sound like the song that you heard ad nauseam in 1984. Linus of Hollywood takes most of the R&B out of Paul Young’s “Everytime You Go Away,” making it sound like a pop jewel. The Davenports perform a similar operation with Wham!’s “Freedom,” taking the bubble gum from the song and juicing it with some testosterone to transform it into a power pop record. Minky Starshine knows not to mess with True; it’s one of the most faithful interpretations, but without Tony Hadley’s mellow vocals it sounds more modern.
Others take a 180-degree turn on their interpretation. Yamagata somehow makes Culture Club’s’ “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” even more haunting, slowing it down and using only a piano as an accompaniment. Corin Ashley strips Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “If You Leave” of its synthesizers, using only a ukelele, and the result is even more charming than the original. And Graham Alexander turns Tracy Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” on its head, slowing it down, changing the point of view to the man’s, and it’s not the same song anymore. It’s like listening to a new song entirely – like Ken Stringfellow’s spooky rendition of “Digging Your Scene.”
Curry does give us a few lesser-known gifts. Yaz barely made their mark in the US, but the Wellingtons perform a beautiful rendition of “Only You.” And Steve Eggers of the Nines wasn’t satisfied with doing Talk Talk’s hit “It’s My Life”; instead, he has unearthed their little known single, “Life’s What You Make It,” and reminds us that the group was not a one-trick pony.
There’s just enough mixture of true interpretations and fresh takes on these songs that make Here Comes the Reign Again so intriguing. Curry has chosen his songs and artists carefully, and it’s clear that each artist respects the era – seeing through the AquaNet and “Frankie Say Relax” shirts and finding melody and meaning in the songs of my childhood. And I do not take that for granted.
- Chris Collingwood – Life In A Northern Town 04:12
- Jim Boggia & Pete Donnelly – Goody Two Shoes
- Mike Viola – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
- Big-Box Store – Kids In America
- Secret Friend – West End Girls
- Minky Starshine – True
- People On Vacation – Cruel Summer
- Linus Of Hollywood – Everytime You Go Away
- Kelly Jones – Something About You
- The Wellingtons – Only You
- TeamMate – Tenderness
- Chris Price – Don’t You Want Me
- Tracy Bonham – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
- Cliff Hillis – Wouldn’t It Be Good
- Eric Barao – Tainted Love
- Freedy Johnston – Promises, Promises
- Rachael Yamagata – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
- David Mead – Save A Prayer
- Mike Doughty – Relax
- Taylor Locke – Dancing With Myself
- Ken Stringfellow – Digging Your Scene
- The Davenports – Freedom
- Graham Alexander – They Don’t Know
- Eytan Mirsky & Alyson Greenfield – No One Is To Blame
- The Corner Laughers – Our House
- The Nines – Life’s What You Make It
- Bleu – Don’t You (Forget About Me)