Some of the older students among our readership might remember this feature from the original Aural Wes. I think that there was an essay written about the power of some particular area and its resulting scene. I think one of our old editors wrote it in their junior or senior year, and you’re welcome to dig through the archives on the old site to try and find it if you want. I always thought that that feature was a really cool idea, and I tried to resurrect it to the best of my ability.
I think that everyone who has really been into music wishes that they had been “there.” In the cities, in the bars, at the shows when they were happening. For me, that place is West England, specifically in the towns Bath and Bristol and the nearby villages and towns that haven’t been touched since World War II.
A lot of this comes from my dad, who admittedly had a MUCH cooler coming-of-age than I have, growing up in this exact area at this exact time. While this was definitely how I was exposed to it, as I began to dig through it for myself, I realized how unbelievably interesting, complex, and groundbreaking this music was. I chose three of my favorite albums to talk about, and I hope that at the very least, this gets you thinking about your favorite times and places in music, too.
The first of these albums chronologically was Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love in 1985. Kate Bush had just built her own 24-track studio behind her house to cut the costs that followed her previous album, The Dreaming. For me, the most interesting aspect of this album is the extensive use of the Fairlight CMI, which was the first commercially available sampler. Granted, the fucking thing cost nearly £20,000 and ran on gigantic floppy drives, the fact that this thing existed in anyone’s private instrument collection is an objectively incredible thing. Kate Bush was one of the first people to adopt this instrument after the company went belly-up, writing nearly every song and sketching out the backbone of the song to be filled in later during the recording and production of the album.
Despite a heavy reliance on the Fairlight for the songwriting process, the album uses almost entirely live percussion. This was also some truly innovative shit–in order to preserve the mechanical feel of the original percussion as written by Bush and add the swing of a live drummer, she asked that her session drummer Del Palmer remove his hi-hats from his drum kit and play over a LinnDrum, another early drum synth that had just begun to enter popular music production.
This album eventually entered the UK charts at number one, unseating Madonna’s Like a Virgin. This album is an incredible testament to Kate Bush’s unbelievable talent, as a songwriter, singer, and producer. There’s a documentary on this album that was floating around the internet for a while, but I can’t seem to find it. It’s really cool, and covers the whole album, song by song, frighteningly well. [Edit: I found that shit.]
The next album is also very, very good. After breaking with Genesis in 1977, Peter Gabriel went on to record a steady stream of impressive solo material. So was recorded from May 1985 through March 1986 outside of Bath in a building that Peter Gabriel bought, gutted, and converted into his own private ”Real World Studios.” While Kate Bush started toying with the Fairlight through the production of Hounds of Love, she also gusted on Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” both as a guest vocalist and as a co-star in what might be one of the most bizarre music videos I have ever seen.
The first hit on this album was definitely “Sledgehammer.” Huge funky bass line, huge backing vocals, and horns = commercial success. The album also included “Big Time,” “Red Rain,” and two other songs that I am going to go into extreme detail on. The first is “In Your Eyes.” You might recognize this song from that scene in Say Anything. It wasn’t that song, though. It was this one. This song has a truly astounding quantity of separate and distinct tracks, ranging from layered vocals from Youssou N’Dour to minor scratches and claps very low in the mix. This entire album was produced by Daniel Lanois, who has a very impressive resume himself. In the interest of full disclosure, this was my parents’ wedding song, which was timely and appropriate then, but very funny for me to look back at now.
The other song that I wanted to talk about a whole lot was “Mercy Street.” This song is straight terrifying. It features sampled percussion on the Fairlight, as well as an eerie octave vocal harmony that carries throughout the whole track. It’s an extremely long and layered production, with heavy reliance on some incredible bass playing and a ton of reverb-soaked keyboards underscoring the ominous nature of the song as a whole. This song was covered pretty recently by Fever Ray, and it definitely maintains the original vibe and generally scary atmosphere of the original. Here’s the studio version if you’d prefer that.
The last album I wanted to talk about was Tears for Fears’ Seeds of Love. My dad spent the great deal of his childhood on the same street as Roland Orzabal, who later fronted the band. This album is really cool because it is literally the sound of a band falling apart. Not to say this negatively, though–this album is some of the best work that Tears for Fears ever did, and is demonstrative of some exceptional songwriting. While most people immediately jump to “Mad World” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” as their standout tracks, this album includes songs like “Woman in Chains,” and my personal favorite, 80s slow-ish jam “Advice for the Young at Heart.”
This is probably my guiltier pleasure of the three, but this is some of the cleanest, most diligent production of this decade, and there is a lot to be said for that as it is. These guys are phenomenal talents and often get overlooked as serious contributors to popular music over the last thirty years or so. I implore you all to take a non-judgmental listen to this album in its entirety before you laugh it off.
So that sums up my love affair with the region and time period that I never saw. Each of these albums rank somewhere in my top 10 favorites of all time, and definitely act as the backbone of my musical experience. I’d love to hear about some of yours, or even some suggestions for other time periods to cover in a similar fashion, if you want.