Around the World in 20 Plays
Music and travel have run like imaginary rails throughout my life and I imagine a lot of my readers lives too. This list is the tip of the iceberg but I hope it proves useful in educating some of you to albums you may not know or might have missed alongside more familiar releases like RIO below. Finally in order to fund my writing and the blog, this one includes affiliate links.
1 RIO (ALBUM) – DURAN DURAN
Tel Aviv (the closer on their début), signalled things to come. The RIO album would in time become iconic of the 80s and it’s no secret the band at that point were heavily influenced by fellow British band Japan; check out John Taylor’s fretless bass on the hugely underrated Lonely in Your Nightmare (but not their best video even if it is Russell Mulcahy directing).
Elsewhere the infamous videos for the singles (notably Save a Prayer) from this record also personify the travel imagery the band strove for also evident in ‘that’ sleeve design. A dash of South American beauty, a hint of James Bond in the sixties EMI, and for that matter band, logo. It was the right move at the right time, new romance didn’t get much better.
2 PARIS – MALCOLM MCLAREN
From the outset, this feels authentic and its release coincided with my first sojourn there. Some of it doesn’t quite gel but most does, the opening Mon Dié Sénié and the closing Anthem being two.
3 BLUE PACIFIC – MICHAEL FRANKS
I grew up partially in New Zealand and while Wellington doesn’t lie on the Pacific, the pastel shades and hues of this soft jazz song imbue it with some memories of the land of the long white cloud, more so Napier and Gisborne which do face the sprawling blue ocean. Hear it here.
4 TIN DRUM – JAPAN
I could probably do a list solely using Japan and their varying off-shoot projects. It seems David Sylvian and co were a perfect match for me as they blur geography with music a number of times in their short career and a number of times since.
Life Without Buildings (only available on the 2003 reissue), Canton, Still Life in Mobile Homes, Visions of China, Sons of Pioneers and Cantonese Boy all kiss western ears with enough panache to make this an enduring ride. Hear it.
5 MINNEAPOLIS – ABC
Who would have thought the purveyors of English cinematic romance (Lexicon of Love) would pull off a saccharine sweet techno track (and homage to Prince’s stomping ground Minneapolis). In turning their attention to romantic America they not only gave us a glimpse of an evening drive around town but also gives the city a subliminal chic good enough to be utilised as the soundtrack to a L’Oreal advert. *as it’s a b-side there is no official video.
6 HEARTBEAT – RYUICHI SAKAMOTO
No list would be complete without something from Japan’s truly international star. On Heartbeat Sakamoto blends Russian, French, African and of course Asian textures and vibes to create a masterful global vision. The most staggering fact of all is why, after 30+ years, has no other Japanese musician followed him?
7 ZIMBABWAE – TONI CHILDS
Now a taste of Africa, also big in the 80s albeit in Australia, American Childs’ 1988 album Union was and still is an intoxicating blend of African rhythms from this (recorded in Swaziland) to the Pacific tinged Stop Your Fussin’. No official video for Zimbabwe but you can at least hear it here.
8 STORIES ACROSS BORDERS – STEVE JANSEN & RICHARD BARBIERI
From the opening tones of Long Tales, Tall Shadows we (the listener) are smothered by a heavy dosage of the night (pretty much its own character) and particularly of Italy (the record was recorded there). Those two features co-exist to bring us one of their strongest albums.
As mentioned in my All Music Guide review, Stories Across Borders is perfect for a nocturnal promenade around Venice. The musky alcoves, the shadows beneath bridges, church bell chimes, it’s all here to be explored.
9 WORDS OF A MOUNTAIN – WALLY BADAROU
A magical album from 1988, save the slightly insipid baroque theme of central Europe which drenches Dachstein Angels almost unlistenable, the rest is pretty much plain sailing or climbing. Released via a unique deal with Island Visual Arts the strongest pieces are Mt Fuji and the Mime – an endearing trot through a Japanese soundscape which shifts pace mid way unfolding a cinematic splendour.
It’s difficult to know or understand why Badarou wasn’t besieged by music supervisors following this release. Other highlights include the dramatic Wolves in the Urals, breezy Stevie Wonder tinged Afro-jazz of Feet of Fouta and Australia’s arid interior shimmers to life via Ayers Rock: Bubble Eyes.
10 TEA IN THE SAHARA – THE POLICE
Seeing the seemingly never ending dunes of Arabia from the plane that carried me home was a perfect precursor to this released soon after in 1983 and its remained an enduring favourite ever since. Tea in the Sahara is centred on a rather dark tale inspired by the book The Sheltering Sky, which as Sting himself confessed is as atmospheric as they got.
A near perfectly executed piece of work (Stewart Copeland says it’s played too fast and he may have a point, but even so that fact doesn’t harm it) both the brilliant blue sky and searing heat of the Saharan daylight as well as the night which all but ends the sisters quest are present here.
11 ANDEAN – MICHAEL BROOK
Andean, from his Cobalt Blue record, is built up via a guitar fed through a computer. In other words it doesn’t sound anything like a guitar until toward the end when it breaks through – eventually pinned down by a bass. Like Wally Badarou’s Feet of Fouta above, this is a bouncy airy affair and a lovely skip through an otherwise otherworldly terrain.
12 SUNRISE – 808 STATE
By the time 808 State’s 90 album appeared the eastern flourishes of the 80s were old hat, however Manchester’s dance romantics, who had already captivated us with their signature tune Pacific (on the same album), provide us with this stunner. Its dark undercurrent could well suit a film score along the lines of an idyllic paradise becoming something of a nightmare, but Sunrise is no less an intoxicating listen for it.
13 VENTURA HIGHWAY – AMERICA
The sparkling Ventura Highway conjures up the perfect vista in that it feels as if we are there in a California convertible with the guys from America without a care in the world under the bright blue sky, the warm sunshine and perhaps a gentle breeze on our faces. If you’re drawn to all things Americana; such as Jack Kerouac’s On The Road this song would be a worthy companion.
14 JAVA – ICEHOUSE
In much the same way as Tea in the Sahara above was an atmospheric masterpiece for the Police this is so for Icehouse. The eighties were huge for things of an Oriental nature (Japan, Wang Chung, China Crisis) and while those three bands were English, Australia had never seen a local act embrace synths or atmospheres the way Iva Davies did; especially graceful on this beauty.
15 AFRICA – TOTO
Can a band of west coast rockers really deliver something so deft and so hauntingly beautiful that it appealed to the masses? Well yes they can and here’s the evidence. Not only that, but it transcends time too; three decades after its unleashing on the world, it’s still a winner. If you’re young and don’t know this song, hurry.. it’s waiting there for you.
16 OUR LIVES: LOST/BOLIVIA/NEW YORK – THE BLUE NILE
Throughout the eighties and early nineties Scotland’s finest seemed fixated with north America. Danny Wilson, Deacon Blue, Del Amitri – the list goes on all rode on the crest of a Steely Dan wave. Here the enigmatic trio The Blue Nile compose a triptych that seems an ode to a character who has chosen to follow a nomadic lifestyle.
Each part bathes in its own atmosphere; Lost is a meandering piano sonata, Bolivia is as intriguing and quixotic as the trio themselves while the headlights of New York’s taxis and traffic in the dying embers of eventide bring us back into the city. Here at the western world, all was pretty subliminal with Scottish artistry. (no official video).
17 THE VALLEY ROAD – BRUCE HORNSBY & THE RANGE
Bruce Hornsby is a master at making picture postcards of American life and he did it best with Scenes from the Southside. Look Out Any Window, Valley and The Road Not Taken all present a panoramic vista of the Appalachian mountains and Virginia plantations. He sees the colour of the fields turning and he paints it perfectly.
18 TRANS EUROPE EXPRESS – KRAFTWERK
Back to Europe with an emphatic bang or rather ‘kling klang’ here. Germany’s premier exponents of the computer create their own take of the TEE experience. Clearly they’d run out of road on the Autobahn but no matter, they had plenty more juice in the creative glove-box.
Meeting in Paris we are soon whisked away toward Switzerland for a dramatic grey skied Alpine adventure. Toward its climax I can see the rain relentlessly pounding the train as its lights search through the mountains and downpour. Almost as exciting as the trip itself. Here it here (not an official channel but it is an original video).
19 ASTURIAS – ROBERT FRIPP & THE LEAGUE OF CRAFTY GUITARISTS
I have a couple of different versions of this, each one as spellbinding as the other. As with a few of my other choices this is best suited to dusk. Watch out for the tingling sensation of the guitars in the middle section. The rest is pretty good too and if you happen to be in Asturias or Spain I dare say it would prove a memorable backdrop to your evening.
20 CORCOVADO – STAN GETZ/JOAO & ASTRID GILBERTO
Quiet nights of quiet stars, the gentle imagery of Brazil in the 60s. I listened to this just the other night and it needs no more than one verse, 2 minutes and 20 seconds to make its point. Wonderful stuff, rekindling a world we may never see again.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please visit the MEDIA and UNIVERSITY pages. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. This blog was originally published on November 26 2013.
Photo Credits: discogs.com