Early 2017. Donald Trump has been elected, and from nuclear war my Twitter timeline is turning to thoughts of revolution. My Youtube playlist is now branching from synthpop into punk. I’ve already got a few songs like ‘Breakout’ and ‘Different Morning’ which feel like they need a context to place them in.
And then I discovered ‘Solid State Logic’ and everything just clicked and I had to make a third playlist because all the pieces were there and I had a through-line.
I like this playlist as much or more than the last one. There are some songs I’d forgotten for years which have deep resonance for me.
01. Helicopters – Solid State Logic (1981, New Zealand)
The song: Let’s just move past the truly awful photo. I love this song immensely because it’s 1981 and it’s already captured the cyberpunk zeitgeist of ‘literally stick your head into a computer’. And it’s from New Zealand. I don’t know if anyone at the time realised what they’d done – Neuromancer was three years in the future and even Blade Runner a year away, and here’s like a mission statement for The Matrix. I want to shout at everyone: here! here is where it started. You can literally hear a new science fiction paradigm being born, and it’s the musicians, plugging jacks into logic modules, who were exploring it. It’s the perfect front credits album opener: ‘You ask me where I’ve been, somewhere inside a dream, connections made, I fade away… the only thing you need is an extension lead, all your tomorrows come today’
Memories: Once again, I have a ghost memory of hearing this in the 1980s, and no sense of how. Once again I’m going to suggest ‘radio’. It might have been only once. Loved it then, love it now.
02. Depeche Mode – New Life (1981, England)
The song: One of the few songs I’m not *sure* works, but it’s the best I could find. I really don’t go for Depeche Mode at all, and I can’t parse the lyrics, but the synth riff is incredible and as a song it carries just the right overtones of ‘waking up in a new world, disoriented and alone, spies, sex, intrigue and danger’. In the imaginary movie this is where our simulated protagonists appear. But is it the real world, or yet another simulation?
Memories: Just barely heard it before, I think.
03. Propaganda – p:Machinery (1985, Germany)
The song: If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was written as a Bond theme, and specifically for the 1985 ‘A View To A Kill’, a competitor to Duran Duran’s, but it’s two years too early. It certainly has a Bond chord structure to it. I love the poetry: “Machines call out for followers, far out into the night”. A German band, but it’s another Trevor Horn production obsessed with the media, which both links it forward to ‘Elstree’ and calls back to ‘Videotheque’.
Memories: The song itself doesn’t quite resonate from my 80s but the name does: that ridiculously confusing ‘p:Machinery’, colon and case shift and all.
04. Fay Ray – Different Morning (1982, Wales)
The song: The punk pretty much cuts in here, but it’s still melodic. I love the directness of this song and the heartfelt emotion at the 1980s political situation – which is now back in fashion. “Warning, warning, can’t you hear it? Leave your dreaming yesterdays. This is a different morning. Watch the future slip away.” It captures the desperation, rebellion and also the sense of abrupt change.
Memories: I don’t remember this one, though it’s now my favourite by this band. What I do remember is their other single, ‘Heatwave’, a straight-up anti-nuclear song.
05. Modern English – Someone’s Calling (1982, England)
The song: More Modern English! From the same album as ‘After The Snow’, this one’s darker and less synthy. A political rally, or is it a concert? Fear and anger on the streets. The tension builds. “And as our bridges burn to dust, a useless feeling was quite enough”
Memories: No memory of this one before 2010.
06. Anthony Moore – World Service (1981, England)
The song: The ‘riot’ theme continues into a full-scale Third World revolution. Both the music and lyrics grab me with this one. So much going on at all levels. Layers of jungle drums and guitars; the incongruity of “Waiting for the monsoon, no lighting in the ballroom”. High tech vs low tech; radio is the information technology here, but when the power grid fails, even that goes offline.
Memories: Yes, I remember this one. I have no idea how. But it’s hard to forget.
07. Ann Steel, Roberto Cacciapaglia – Media (1980, Italy)
The song: We slide on the linking theme of radio back to the media we touched on earlier in ‘p:Machinery’. “A thousand bands record in greying studios, while you relax and tune them in on radio”. The artists sing of rebellion but they’re part of the media conglomerate themselves. The Ann Steel Album is intriguing in its sense of being future-forward even for 1980, but this song, like Trevor Horn’s work of the time, is also anchored deeply in 1950s silver screen nostalgia.
Memories: Radio, I think. I don’t recall the rest of the Ann Steel album, at least not until its reissue in the early 00s.
08. Strange Cargo – Have A Nice Day (1982, England)
The song: I wanted something to bring back the synthetic tones, and the reminder of a world of espionage to reinforce the cyberpunk themes. This fitted nicely.
Memories: Pretty sure I heard it at least in passing in the 1980s. “We are the agents who are tapping your phone…” I suspect either radio, or a compilation cassette.
09. This Final Frame – Take No Prisoners (1985)
The song: And this kicks the ‘rebellion’ theme into full gear. I like it for its positivity, combined with its poppy, but slightly detuned sound which gives it a disturbing edge.
Memories: Early 90s, I think. That “rose on barbed wire” artwork on the cover rings bells.
10. The Sound – Resistance (1980, England)
The song: Finally something from The Sound that I can stand to listen to! The half-toned keyboard riffs connect to ‘Take No Prisoners’ while the guitars push the urgency to a crisis point. “Half dead, but I hope it’s not too late, to take some action and change my fate”.
It’s an 80s playlist, but here in this track is the raw emotion of 2017 coming to the surface. _Resistance_ is the word of the year. Can we change the systems that have brought us to this point?
Memories: I don’t think I’ve met this one before. Was very pleased to find it to complete this arc.
11. Drinking Electricity – Breakout (1982, Scotland)
The song: One of the early inspirations for this whole playlist, I was startled to find such a neat summary of both the punk ethos and the cyber- framework. Once again, that magic year, 1982, and from Scotland, the home of so much rebellious socialist-tinged cyberpunk in decades to come. “No sedation, no corruption, no restriction”. “Keep on shouting in the heat of the silence. Keep on laughing in the face of the night.”
Memories: None before 2010.
12. Crown of Thorns – World Radio (1984, England)
The song: The intensity of the rhythm builds the energy from the last three songs into the sense of a riot, but the lyrics point back to radio and echo the broken radio in ‘World Service’. “Turning on world radio, watch the budding flower grow. Don’t wait for tomorrow”. Whatever revolution has started is now spreading.
Memories: That cover picture, though! It’s burned into my memory. I have a flash to the early 90s – I place it beside ‘Take No Prisoners’ for some reason. What IS it? It looks like a scene from a science fiction comic, not obviously related to the song itself; psychic teenagers facing down for a fight? A hand raised as papers swirl.
13. B-Movie – Remembrance Day (1981, England)
The song: A war song: calling back to World War 2, looking to the present. The simplicity of the lyrics and the deliberate repetition echoes the nursery-rhyme stylings of ‘All Fall Down’. It underlies the stakes of an actual revolution: this is not a game. The punks fought with Nazis; in 2017 Nazis are back again. But real people die in war. And for what? Is this actually what we want? “In the forest, in the snow, all those many years ago… A generation underground, wrinkled faces gathered round. Songs will never bring them back, never bring them back.”
Memories: Early 90s again, I’m sure. Now that I rediscover it, I’m pretty sure these lyrics haunted my mid-90s attempts at poetry writing.
14. The Terminals – Chinatown (1982, USA)
The song: And this is where I redirect again. The riot has burned into a war; whether this is a simulation or a war, I don’t want to go there, and our synthetic protagonists can’t or don’t want to either. I was delighted to find this song because it has everything I needed: a female voice to counterbalance the strongly male, streak of the last few; undertones of mystique, intrigue, desperate personal struggles, romance. The possibility of escape from an impossible situation and redemption. And Chinatown is in San Francisco, heart of the information revolution. “And if the moon don’t shine tonight, everything will be alright.”
Memories: Definitely sure I’ve heard this one in the 80s. Again, on a compilation cassette, I think, but who knows what it was! Remember loving it but being confused as to whether the drama in the song was real and what had happened to the singer.
15. The Buggles – Elstree (1980, England)
The song: Trevor Horn is back again, but as actual Buggles at last! I needed a widescreen, zoom out, ‘jacking out of the matrix’ song to counterbalance ‘Solid State Logic’, and while this is about movies (as so many of the other ‘VR’ songs I’ve repurposed are) it still fits, I think. Again echoes of simulated war. Was it real? Has any of it been real? And ‘B-movie’ links so nicely with Remembrance Day “They made a field into a war zone. I beat the enemy on my own. All the bulle’s just went over my head. There’s no reality and no one’s dead. Elstree, remember me? I played a man from history…”
Memories: Radio, I’m sure. Didn’t see the video until the Youtube era.
16. Hi-Techs – Pompeii (1979, USA)
The song: A little coda to try to sell the ‘walking away from a riot before it turns into an actual war’. This one was so perfect, though; “It seemed so real, it seemed so nice… Madame Curie may have discovered radium, but we were there in the midst of delirium… I thought that I was in Pompeii, but it was just to play. In the middle of its heyday I threw it all away”. Just such a wonderful encapsulation of the Punk / New Wave era, and so early: the fear of the end of the world, the anything-goes attitude, wrapped in a little ironic distance and still nostalgic appreciation. And so prescient: written before it had stopped happening. How this never became a mega-hit is one of the mysteries of the world.
Memories: I was almost sure I hadn’t heard it before 2010, but, I kinda think I have?