Pop! – The First 20 Hits – Erasure (Mute 1992)
UK Chart Position – 1
A new entry at number 10 in the current UK Top 40 albums is “Always- The Very Best Of Erasure” This has been released a staggering 3o years after their first hit single “Who Needs Love Like That” peaked at number 55. “Always” is a three CD collection- some 43 tracks – but buyer beware- 23 of these are remixes of tracks from the first CD. There have been other greatest hits collections through the years (including Total Pop – which contained their First 40 hits and was released to celebrate this achievement in 2009). I, however, would always opt for this collection (it does form the first CD of “Total Pop”) which became their fourth chart-topping album in a row when released in 1992.
Ex-Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke, who had enjoyed subsequent chart success by pairing up with Alison Moyet for Yazoo and The Assembly with Feargal Sharkey found himself without a recording partner and placed an advert in UK Music paper “Melody Maker”. From those who replied singer Andy Bell was chosen to front the new project and Erasure came into being. After over 25 million worldwide sales this duo are still going strong and intend to be back touring in 2016. These guys are national treasures yet I can’t help feel they have been eclipsed by another synth-pop duo, Pet Shop Boys, and that we do not give Andy and Vince the credit that their vast tally of hit singles and albums deserve. So to celebrate Erasure and thirty years in the business I am suggesting this Essential CD to add to the collection.
It wasn’t exactly overnight success for the duo and in fact, in today’s very different climate it would be unlikely that a record company would have supported their initial less than spectacular sales – especially as Vince had enjoyed five top 20 hits with Alison (three Top 3) and a number 4 hit as The Assembly. I would imagine that Mute Records would have become slightly anxious as the first three singles underachieved, despite being highly commercial propositions. These were tracks the public missed out on at the time rather than poor quality as two of them “Who Needs Love Like That” and “Oh L’Amour” made the charts in remixed versions (#10 in 1992 and #13 in 2003). In fact, both the original and Hamburg mix of this first track make it onto the CD as the first and last tracks. “Oh L’Amour” also became a comeback hit for another duo, Dollar, whose version made #7 in 1987.
The track which changed everything for the group was “Sometimes”, released a year after the first single it reached number 2. From then on there was an unbroken run of 24 Top 20 hits until 1997 and another 6 since then. All in all there has been 35 UK Top 40 hits. Three of these have been US Top 20 hits. This success has all been achieved on an independent record label, Mute.
I had always enjoyed Erasure’s singles but the track that was the turning point for me was from 1988, their 8th hit and the track that marks the half-way point on the CD – “A Little Respect” . This reached #4 in the UK and became the second of their three hits in the US reaching #14. (Their first American hit was “Chains of Love” a#12 hit earlier that year . Their third was 1994’s “Always” #20, released after this CD ). This is a track crammed full of hooks and has great singalongability. Flamboyant Andy (who like Freddie Mercury could have only been a stage performer but unlike Freddie never played down his sexuality) sings this plea for compassion to a lover, but with lyrics such as; “What religion or reason/Could drive a man to forsake his lover” it’s probable that there is a wider context here. This was released in the Dark Days of the AIDS virus, where there was a lot of blame being placed on the gay community by the popular press. I like to think that this is Andy fighting back. Those early days came with a considerable struggle, there were few out gay men in the music business- some saw Erasure as a novelty act. Andy may very well have been playing to that when he wore a tutu live on stage, but in an interview with The Guardian in this was his take on that;
“I’d had enough of being bullied so I thought I’d put myself out there, as outrageous as I could be, so there was nothing more that people could say.”
It is no surprise that “A Little Respect” became something of a turning point for the band. For me it was the beginning of a golden period which takes us up to the end of this CD and beyond. The song is so good that is has returned to the UK charts by two very different artists: American rock band Wheatus (#3 in 2001) and a tongue in cheek yet affectionate (respectful!) version by Abba tribute band Bjorn Again (#25 in 1992) (more of the Abba connection later…..)
My favourite track is “Love To Hate You” a high energy dancer with great lyrics. Who could not be enamoured by such couplets as “Ooh I like to read a murder mystery/I like to know the killer isn’t me” followed by the truly poetic;
Love and hate, what a beautiful combination
Make Me quiver
Feel it sliver up and down my spine.
Sublime! These two are highly under-rated songwriters. In an interview for Private Ear Vince has described how this process works;
“Andy and I get together with a guitar and a tape recorder, I’ll strum some chords, he’ll sing a melody and we work in little sections, four or eight bars long. Then we’ll try stringing the sections together. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. I find it very hard to relate songwriting to synthesisers, actually – we write songs in a very traditional way. The electronic side of things is just to create the atmosphere. It’s mostly just messing about..!
Their greatest success came with a stroke of genius, the decision to cover four songs by Abba on an EP. This was in 1992 and really spearheaded the Abba revival which led to the musical “Mamma Mia!” in 1999. After a few years in the musical bargain bin it became cool to like Abba once again and this was led by a perhaps not-so-cool extravaganza, a reworking of four of the Swede’s hits, which upped the gay club appeal (if Abba ever needed that upping) with the lead track “Take A Chance On Me” helped by a genius video where Andy and the normally more deadpan keyboard wizard Vince dragged up as Agnetha and Frida to recreate the original promotional film. This is one of the most joyful pop videos of all time and showed you didn’t need to spend a complete fortune to achieve classic status. A rap by female rapper MC Kinky gave it a modern edge, but actually listening to that now it dates it. The “Abba-esque” EP became their only number 1 hit in the UK and also reached the summit in among other places, Austria, Ireland and Abba’s birthplace Sweden. It also resulted in the “answer” hit by Bjorn Again – delightfully titled with that great sense of British understatement “Erasure-ish”.
That was twenty three years ago and since then there have been considerable ups and downs for the group. Andy has had to publicly announce his HIV+ status before the gutter press did so, reveal a cocaine addiction, lost his long term partner and had two hip replacements. (Vince, unsurprisingly has led a much quieter life- although his wife is co-founder of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn!). Both Andy and Vince have carried out other projects but the Erasure days are far from over and the success of their latest greatest hits compilations show the public are still eager for more.
At time of writing this CD can be purchased new from Amazon.co.uk used for £4.95 and used from £1.23. American listeners can buy new from $6.78 and used from $0.01. In the UK it is available to stream from Spotify as part of the “Total Pop” release.