Issue #178: Rip It Up by Orange Juice
September 9, 2019
Released On November 1, 1982
Released By Polydor Records
Some couples don’t talk about work after a certain time of day. People who spend their days in the same type of profession, or even at the same place, find themselves letting it overcome their lives if it can bleed into every part of their lives, if it can seep into the cracks between professional and personal, public and private. Never stopping, talking, or even arguing about professional differences means they stop being a husband or wife and instead stay a teacher, a doctor, a cashier in every room of their house. There has to be a bubble, a little grey area where that strips away to just who you are again, not what you do. My husband and I don’t work together, but we both have a serious love of music in our own ways, me as a writer, him as a bass player, and we need that grey area. Late nights are for wine in our book, or maybe whiskey, and bare feet on the concrete patio, little beads of sweat on lower backs, laughing quietly to not wake up neighbors, shining lights to try and see the possum that lives in the woods behind the house. It’s not, in our world, a place for introducing new music. In our grey area, The Gin Blossoms play, a never-ending loop of Queen, A Perfect Circle, Talking Heads, Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, and our favorite Tears For Fears. It’s not a space for new music, inevitably boring the other person who, in that moment, just wants to sing and sway a little and be in love without any distractions.
I broke the rule, though, with Rip It Up.
Of all the things YouTube is good for, suggesting new music is not one of them. The generated playlists from songs I already like are just more songs I already knew I liked or similar songs I already knew I didn’t like. That’s why, sitting at work one day and just letting whatever stream into my headphones, too caught up in what I was writing to care, I was taken off guard at the first wet, bouncy notes of “Rip It Up,” the titular track from Orange Juice’s 1982 album. What the hell, I thought, hands still now, listening. What the actual hell?! I thought, searching for the album, sure that something this good was super well-known and I just somehow missed this growing up. This banger of a dance jam, springy with a disco-type beat that demands a little hip shake, heads up an album of synthy pop that, mellow or upbeat, feels classically ’80s despite its relative lack of popularity. Despondent Elvis Costello vocals layer over the tracks, pulling from Peter Gabriel and Morrissey in a hypnotic fashion, dreamy and sad despite the party happening behind them. I know the rule, I know the bubble, but armed with that first track and their cover of “I Can’t Help Myself” from one of my absolute favorite bands ever, I broke into the grey.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Scottish post-punk band doubling down on guitar-pop with a funk sound sharpened by disco & the dancefloor explosion.
Simon Frith, circa 1981: “The only American music that still sounds through Britain, still dominates the British charts, is dance music, and the only way interesting or unusual or challenging music can get into the American charts in through disco clubs, disco radio, disco sales. This was the success route, for example, of Blondie’s ‘Tide Is High’ and Devo’s ‘Whip It,’ and is the only way Americans can hear experiments – Pig Bag’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pig Bag,’ superb anarcho-funk, Heaven 17’s ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang,’ passionate electronic funk, ESG’s ‘You’re No Good,’ eager sparse-funk. There are ironies in this. For years rock fans have despised disco for its tight formulas, its rhythmic restraints, its ‘mindless’ calls to dance floor action. For years, in fact, disco music has been more imaginative, more open, more intelligent than anything produced in the rock mainstream.” Had Frith been writing this a year or two later, he might have mentioned 1982’s Rip It Up, the title track of Orange Juice’s second album, which propelled them into the UK Top 10 in 1983 and had us dancing in the US as well. And it is a goddamned classic, with a relentless groove, a fantastic chorus, and a better argument for Nile Rodger’s right hand than the man himself was perpetrating after the demise of Chic. Even so, it must have been quite a shock for the anorak-wearing fans of Orange Juice’s first album, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, which came out earlier the same year and was mostly jangle-pop. But there had been a major personnel change shortly after that first album, with half the band — the other songwriter, James Kirk, and drummer Steven Daly — leaving and being replaced by Malcolm Ross on guitar and Zeke Manyika on drums. The mainstay, of course, was the great Edwyn Collins, in the first flight of his remarkable career, which continues to this day with Badbea, one of 2019’s best albums. Manyika became a huge part of their sound, not only contributing rock-solid drums throughout but adding to the songwriting of not only “Rip It Up” but “A Million Pleading Faces” and “Hokoyo,” which draw on his Zimbabwean heritage and approach a fusion of Afrobeat and synth-pop. While the album cover, showing the four guys in a studio setting, reflected the change in membership, it also belied the fact that Orange Juice had now become a big pop band, with a glossy production (by Martin Hayles, who also added layers of keyboards) and a raft of helping hands including string players, prominent UK-jazzer Dick Morrissey on sax, Simple Minds drummer Mel Gaynor on percussion, and brass player Martin Drover, responsible for the sublime flugelhorn solo on the breezy “Flesh Of My Flesh.” Just as this review is on the verge of becoming overstuffed, so it goes with the album, which is always at its best when it focuses on Collins’ deeply informed pop songcraft — such as “Louise Louise,” pure bittersweet delight. Then again, I also can’t deny the cheeky fun of “Breakfast Time“‘s reggae-lite, which may have given Scritti Politti the impetus they needed to go full-on with the shiny pop-funk-reggae of Cupid & Psyche ’85. Cutting through the babble, let me end by saying that just as Orange Juice helped Scotland recover from their gray ’70s, when “a sea of brown and denim” threatened to overtake the country, let them bring a little color into your life. And if you aren’t already a devoted Collins fan (what, you missed this?), start here and keep going — just like he has.
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
When I was in high school, there was a radio station about an hour from me that only sometimes came in at my house. For the most part, they played some of everything, a Top 40 of the previous three decades sort of station. But on Saturday nights, a few guys came in for a four-hour show that I listened to every week. They played pretty much whatever they wanted, and what they wanted was an eclectic mix of music that meshed almost perfectly with my own taste. I remember one night, one of the DJs (who I later ended up dating for a few years) had a request for Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You,” which had just been on the Empire Records soundtrack, and was at the height of its popularity. He laughed and said he wasn’t going to play that cause it could be heard on that station during the rest of the week, and instead played an Edwyn Collins song he did like, Orange Juice’s “Rip It Up.” Which I only just remembered happened when Laura picked this album, but I’m positive this memory is legit because I recorded that whole show (minus the ad breaks) every week, and then made myself mixes of my favourite songs from each show, as well as taking notes of the best stuff that I wanted to remember to look for the next time I went album shopping. I never actually bought this album for myself, but it did get played quite a bit around his house while we were dating. I don’t miss the guy, but I do miss his record collection.
50 Foot Pop Queenie
What do you do about your musical biases? I’m not asking hypothetically because I have an answer lined up — I would really love to know. Do you embrace the way they guide your listening? Do you rage against them in hopes that your musical map will continue to get bigger? I do know that it feels good when you can look backward at bias after leaving it behind. A former bandmate’s family hosted the Jones crew for dinner on Saturday evening, and after dessert (and a few adult drinks), we all ended up around his piano. I surprised myself by blurting out “I love this song” as my bandmate played and sang The National’s “Fake Empire.” There was a time when I wanted nothing to do with The National because of Matt Berninger’s baritone. I’d never been a fan of voices like his, but his Sleep Well Beast album was exactly what I needed when it came out in 2017, and it helped me through a difficult moment. It also helped me get over this silly vocal aversion, leaving me significantly more likely to enjoy an album like Rip It Up, in which the singing mines serious tonal depths. Had Sleep Well Beast not come out when it did, I might have been too distracted to enjoy the rich gifts that Rip It Up has in store. There’s tremendous variety; Orange Juice sounds like a completely different band from track to track. There’s a playful sense of humor; “I Can’t Help Myself” turns a musical reference point into the point of a whole song. And I even experienced some spooky serendipity when the title track’s chorus hit for the first time while I was psyching myself up to tear a whole bunch of chickweed out of my front lawn. That may sound silly, but serendipity is the active ingredient in so many meaningful musical moments, including the banishment of my baritone bias. Gives credence to the old expression: It’s better to be lucky than good.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
Despite it’s ’80s schtick, there’s no denying: cool is cool here.
If it could be said that the ’80s, and arguably some of the early ’90s had a signature sound, a large part of that, at least within the world of clubs and dance music, would be the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. Though it was originally intended as an automated replacement for regular bass guitar, it was a complete failure at that. Let’s face it, there is simply no replacement for the laid-back attitude of that 4th or 5th member of your band standing off to the right looking like they’re phoning it in, absent-mindedly trying to make it through the set so they can enjoy the afterparty. The 303 did, however, become a hit in its own right largely due to the way it could be twisted and warped into the sound that would later become known as “acid bass.” One of the first top 10 chart hits to feature this sound was Orange Juice’s 1982 top-10 single “Rip It Up.” Indeed, both the single and the album by the same name open up with the sound of an acid bassline played slowly, almost out of place. When you listen to it now, without context, you almost await the moment when it turns into house music but instead, that other era staple, the jangly disco guitar line creeps in. The vocals of Malcolm Ross sound theatrical and overwrought, like a futuristic lounge singer somewhere between David Bowie and David Byrne — perhaps a hybrid of both.
Truth be told, I never knew this band. I would have been 8 years old when it came out and at that time basically exposed to whatever my parents or my older sister exposed me to, which, unfortunately for me, were the burgeoning glam and pop-rock scene. Bands I would consider similar, like Aztec Camera, Thomas Dolby, and maybe even Simple Minds, fell outside my purview at the time. As I listen to this record, I am transported back mainly because the aesthetics used here are very familiar to me even if the songs are not. “Louise Louise” in particular strikes me because while, at first listen, the style of the vocals might seem hokey, it’s only because the ’80s have been parodied so many times in the years since. I have every confidence that this was performed with sincerity, the band taking their style seriously and meaningfully. “Tenterhook” again sounds like it’s sung by Count Dracula, but yet somehow, I’ll accept it — something I’d guess that a millennial wouldn’t until I saw them recently embrace Freddie Mercury, who was arguably influenced by this dramatic performance style. The heart is in the melody, the upbeat hopeful nature of the track. The band would later be fraught with upheaval, changing members frequently and never quite achieving the success of “Rip It Up.” But the album is a great snapshot of an era of transition and, more specifically, a style which was prominent at the time and I think later gave rise to bands such as The Police, Pulp, Muse, and possible even Radiohead. This is what it sounded like to experiment and cross genre lines.
Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage
Short-lived like many an ’80s band, the influence of Orange Juice, as well as Edwyn Collins, remains incalculable.
On my initial pass of Rip It Up, I had a few thoughts. First, Orange Juice is an instance where I’d heard of the band (the title track specifically) only because of Pitchfork‘s 200 Best Songs Of The 1980s list. Second, the line “And there were times I’d take my pen / And feel obliged to start again” is how I feel about writing most of the time. Third, there’s a moment in the second half of “Breakfast Time” where I thought my microwave was telling me it was done cooking, despite the fact that I hadn’t turned it on. This happened every time I listened to the song. On the second listen, I tried to imagine explaining the band to someone. I came up with this: What if The Smiths and the Talking Heads had a child and that child made a record with Peter Gabriel as the producer? That may be a bit reductive, but I think it works as an elevator pitch. I also had the passing thought that “Rip it up and start again” is probably what a not insignificant chunk of Trump voters thought would be the end result of his election. On the third listen, I noted the sax solos. I’ve always liked sax solos in rock songs. It may be a bit uncool, but it’s a nice change of pace from guitar and keyboard solos. This, by the way, is coming from a huge fan of guitar heroics. It’s just a different texture, that’s all. I also noted the mixing and production of the record. It’s big and clear (and has a bit of that ’80s brittleness) without being overbearing. I much prefer it to modern mixing and mastering, and albums like Rip It Up demonstrate the obvious superiority. I think that’s enough thought-dumping for now.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
The ’80s have grown on me, as of late. And when I say ’80s, I mean ’80s music. And when I say ’80s music, I should specify and say some ’80s music. It’s hard to call yourself any sort of legitimate music listener if you hate an entire decade of music. Imagine if someone said they hated music from the 2010s? Well… what music did you hate? My point here is that Orange Juice stands as a strong example of how solid acts within a decade can stay out of the mainstream while still producing quality music. Rip It Up definitely sounds like an ’80s record, but it’s no Journey or Prince album. There’s definitely a more alternative/indie rock — The Smiths, The Cure, kind of thing going on. It seems as though, with a lot of these underappreciated acts, there’s some parallel contemporary act that holds a lot in common and ended up being a lot more popular. I would say that Orange Juice’s rival in that category would be Talking Heads. The song “Rip It Up” gives me a very strong Talking Heads vibe, with the combination of funk, indie, new wave, and punk. I really enjoyed this album, and I’m definitely going to check it out again. I might just have to sit down with a guitar tomorrow and learn “Rip It Up.” That tune might be in my head all night, hell, maybe even all week.
Joel Worford (@joel_worford)
Confused & Confusing Since 1965
What strikes me here is how ingrained into the ’80s musical tapestry this record is, while also still being somewhat ahead of its time. Let’s back up first though. Despite me being a lover of ’80s bands with a few minor hits to their name — mostly from curiosity, but also because I ran a music trivia event for over almost eight years and bands like this made great questions — I knew absolutely nothing about Orange Juice before this week. At first, they seemed to be on the tip of my tongue though. The New Wave jangle of the title track drove me nuts because I was sure I’d heard it before, a feeling only intensified by the music video which I swear I’ve seen before. But if I had heard of this band even in passing, like in a convenience store, I would have Shazam’d it (or Siri’d now), found out what it was, and added it to my digital music collection as well as entered into my rotation for music trivia. And I checked both places — my iTunes library and music trivia record — and Orange Juice does not exist in either. So yeah, I don’t know them. As I dived deeper into the record, that “tip of my tongue” feeling washed away because music this divergent, this dynamic, this snappy would not be tip of my tongue — it would be at the forefront of my brain. With forlorn lounge-like vocals guiding the jangle dance sound along by its collar, this is stuff that clearly rises to the top. Disjointed vocals overtop some dance-rock guitar lines wasn’t exactly cutting-edge when this came out in 1982, but Collins’ voice really stands-out as existing both in and away from the music, as if written for other songs but still matching the composition at hand, by dumb luck. And I absolutely love it, especially with it giving the moving groove of the record some pathos, which brings up the “ahead of our time” piece. Decades — plural — before Robyn perfected the art of crying on the dance floor, here was Collins having near-emotional breakdowns on the dance floor, though obviously to different results. It’s impossible to calculate the influence of bands like this, with their DNA imprinted subtly on the whole UK scene that followed as well as random alt-rock bands in the ’90s, like American Music Club who we covered back in Issue #158. Back to back, they sound like polar opposites, with AMC embracing the forlorn aspect and shying away from the dance, but just the divergence that exists within each record, especially as the two were rooted in the preeminent, yet splintering sound at the time (Orange Juice to New Wave, AMC to alt-rock), points to the two bands being cut from the same cloth. Still, even if you don’t pick up on the little special things that wouldn’t become wildly popular until the ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s, this record is still one that any fan of the ’80s would be lucky to listen to… and one that would maybe draw their ears to newer bands doing something just like this on a larger scale.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Moon Hooch by Moon Hooch
Chosen By SJ Lebowski