Nigel Ridpath's Blog


A musical history

Filed under: Music — nigelridpath @ 10:09 pm
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[Note that there is a Spotify playlist to accompany this post. Click here to access it.]

I have wanted, for some time, to write a post about music, because it has always been such a huge part of my life. Those of you who know me well will know that I have always loved to dance and this has had an effect on my musical taste. I’m not saying that I don’t like the odd atmospheric or slow track, but ‘music that you can dance to’ has often been a pretty good starting point for me.

So let’s get started.

When I think to my first musical memories, they are usually of the music that my Mum liked and bought. There was some real cheese floating around in her mid-70’s record collection and whilst choosing the perfect track, I reminded myself of the delights of Demis Roussos and Manhattan Transfer’s ‘Chanson D’Amour’. But in the end, I chose a great Abba album track – “The Eagle”. We don’t really think of Abba as a synth-led band, but listen to the great pads and trills on this track. It is pure class.

We then have to move on to the obligatory ‘first single I ever bought’. I have to say, I’m quite proud of mine, because to me it is another brilliant song, that has turned into a bit of a classic. It’s The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”. I have plenty of friends of my age that have to own up to The Wombles, The Baron Knights or The Bay City Rollers, so I think at the age of 11 or so, I was already starting to display some good taste!

My musical taste then took a slight swerve – straight into the arms of ska and two-tone. Madness, by the time I discovered them in 1981, were in the throes of releasing their 3rd album – 7 – and it was one of my first LP purchases. “Cardiac Arrest” – my choice from this period, sums up their sound and their naturally witty lyrics. It remains one of my favourite opening tracks on any album. I loved The Specials’ “Ghost Town” from this period and Bad Manners’ maniacal version of the “Can Can”.

My favourite band - Depeche Mode

But then my true musical passion started. My schoolmate, Fenner Pearson, (his blog is always a great and thought-provoking read) introduced me to Depeche Mode (as well as The Human League and myriad other ‘futurist’ bands of the early 80’s). I was hooked and having just caught the end of the ‘A Broken Frame’ period, I had to wait until “Get the Balance Right” came out to experience for the first time the excitement of a new Depeche release. I’ve included the 12″ version on the Spotify playlist, as this was the version I bought. It still sends shivers ….

Depeche Mode were the first band that I saw live (1983) and they have endured as my favourite band for nearly 30 years (eek!!).


But in the 80’s, they were not the best band I saw live – nor were the likes of the other futurist and new romantic bands (Duran Duran, Howard Jones, Blancmange, Spandau Ballet etc.) that dominated my record collection. I have always had a love of funky dance music and without doubt the best band that I saw live in the 80’s was Imagination. Many of you will unquestionably be incredulous at that, but I’m absolutely serious. Fantastic musicians, great stagecraft and the most incredible connection with their audience. I’ve included their biggest hit “Just an Illusion” on the playlist and it still brings a big grin to my face.

So where next? Well, I mentioned my love of dancing and in 1985 I hit one of my two dance highlights – getting through to the regional finals of the Malibu World Disco Dancing Championship! Egged on by a big crowd at Cinderella Rockerfella’s in Kingston (classy, I know!), I strutted my stuff to Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”. You should have heard the girls scream!

And so we move on to my University years (1986-1990) which were generally poor years for great bands. Most of my favourite bands had broken up and there is not much that is memorable to me from that period. But I had broken into the university ballroom and latin american dance team, where my partner, Sue, and I travelled the length and breadth of the country representing Cardiff. We were the jive pairing and always rehearsed to Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, which brings back a load of good memories.

When Vince Clarke left Depeche Mode in 1981, he continued to write amazing synth-based pop songs – first with Yazoo, then The Assembly and then for over 25 years with Andy Bell as Erasure. Vince’s work has always been close to my heart and I’ve included one of his most beautifully-crafted  creations – “All Through the Years” – from the I Say, I Say, I Say album in 1994.

The incomparable Bjork


The 1990’s, in my opinion, were not a stand-out decade in musical history. From acid house through Brit Pop and then into the Take That and Spice Girls phenomena – none of them really resonated in the same way that the music from the early 80’s had done. The exception to me was the utterly unique Bjork. Her debut album, entitled, err, ‘Debut’ was a complete revelation and her next few albums continued to impress me.

I saw Bjork live in Dublin in 1995, where she blew away the audience. I’ve included the Nellee Hooper-produced “Big Time Sensuality” here.

The next track will probably be a surprise. But the BBC’s Fame Academy was a huge hit with my then young daughters and I think remains the high-water mark of reality talent shows – not least because the artists had talent!! “Lullaby” was written and recorded by three of the contestants (one being the now multi-platinum Lemar) in one week. It’s a beautiful song and was the highlight when I took my daughters to the follow-up tour – their first concert.

And so we’re pretty much up to date. But I have one more track. I discovered Spotify about 3 years ago and it opened up the amazing ability for me to get suggestions and discover new artists. One of those has been Marina & The Diamonds – the gorgeous Welsh/Greek singer/songwriter whose album – The Family Jewels – is a real winner. Her track “Mowgli’s Road” is my favourite and included on the playlist. Through Spotify, I have discovered some fantastic new bands, that I wouldn’t have discovered any other way.

Let me know which tracks have inspired you over the years!



  1. Takes me back to my dancing days… ‘Clothes Off’ – a track that really deserves resurrection! Thanks Nige.

    Comment by Fliss — 27/01/2012 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

    • Hmmm … it was a bit of a one hit wonder! But a great one to dance to. I still get slight butterflies when I hear it, because of the association with performing! Actually we went to that nightclub (called something different by then, I think), when we were doing our course together.

      Comment by nigelridpath — 29/01/2012 @ 7:44 am | Reply

  2. I agree that the early 1980’s were the best time for bands and from the mid-80’s things weren’t as good. One of my favourites from that era was Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen. Never knew the words, but I so loved the song! Michael Jackson was also doing very well back then – before the face transplants etc. Loved REO Speedwagon too. Plus, “The Rose” (Bette Midler) and of course “Jack and Diane” – John Cougar. Then of course… David Bowie … Let’s Dance.

    Yes! The 1980’s were great years for bands. So sad that the 1990’s petered out and the 2000’s were a fraction of that time. So many re-mixes from that time. I think the 2000’s became a lot of “rap” and that American “yo brother” stuff never appealed.

    Comment by Kay — 30/01/2012 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

  3. Everyone loves to knock 80s music, yet so many advancements were made in terms of the reinvention pop music. I read ‘Talking to Girls About Duran Duran’ by Rob Sheffield, and he takes you through his life in terms of the music he listened to growing up. So as well as an autobiography, it is also a history of 80s music — I highly recommend it!

    I have a lot of Depeche Mode albums and singles on vinyl, and my collection is only growing every day! I just wish more people appreciated their innovation for the pop music realm (ie, the use of musique concrete made from industrial sounds, as seen on ‘Construction Time Again’). My favourite songs are ‘Blasphemous Rumours’, ‘Everything Counts’, ‘Never Let Me Down Again’, and ‘Shake the Disease.’

    Depeche Mode are brilliant and will always be my favourite 80s industrial new wave group, but I also love OMD, Duran Duran, and Howard Jones.

    Grunge was to the 90s what electronic was to the 80s; something new and different that changed and expanded what we consider to be music. I’m not too sure what’s up with music nowadays, but it seems indie bands have become very popular (contrary to what the name entails!) I’ve also noticed that a lot of pop stars have been re-mixing 80s classics, infusing them with rap lyrics, such as that Africa song by Toto! Funny how it all comes back around to the 80s …

    Great post! (:

    Comment by virtualsarah — 14/02/2012 @ 7:29 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah. Have you seen DM live yet? It’s a very important part of the experience. You never feel closer to the band and their music than when everybody waves their hands with Dave to Never Let Me Down Again. You just take a look around you to see the whole venue doing it and the energy is amazing.

      The DM film – 101 – was on British TV last weekend, and although I’ve owned it on tape, then DVD, it was great to see it broadcast. If you haven’y seen it, you really need to check it out.

      Happy to talk all things Mode any time!

      Comment by nigelridpath — 14/02/2012 @ 7:54 am | Reply

  4. My first single was ‘metal guru’ by T Rex and proud as punch to have it as my first.

    I think you need to go back and check the 90’s out.
    That decade was equally as good as the 80’s if not better.

    We had; Nirvana and later the Foo Fighter, 10 000 maniacs and then Natalie sergeant solo, U2 before they were shit, The Cranberries, REM, S O Conner, Counting Crows, the best of Oasis and the Goo Dolls, the best years of the Poges and the Saw Doctors, J Cash produced his finest albums during this decade as did Radiohead, Fat Boy slim, New Order, electronic and suede and many many other, That is just off the top of my head.

    Don’t get fixated with ‘old music’ was the best. It was just those were your ‘salad days’ and those were the best times.
    I am 50 and still listen to radio one but more often radio 6 and XFM and music is as good today as the 80’s and the 90’s.

    Comment by Billy Catchpole — 02/04/2012 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

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