New Wave was always heavily anthologized, even early in the day. This was primarily because few commercial radio stations in the States were playing all of that weird new stuff that record labels were nonetheless issuing. So back in the day, low price compilation albums were all over the place. By the time that “New Music” was finally getting on the charts, concurrent with the rise of MTV and rock videos by these new British groups, the trend began to finally fade. But a decade later, New Wave nostalgia for all of those singles of the pre-CD era began to manifest and labels began anthologizing New Wave again. Today we’ll look at one particular series of note from North of the Border.
Various Artists: The Hardest Hits Vol. 1 – CD – Canada – 1991
- The Puppets: The Way Of Life (Dance Mix)
- Scary Thieves: The Waiting Game (Extended Version)
- Kirsty MacColl: A New England (Extended Version)
- Jon St. James: The Girl Who Seduced The World
- The Mood: I Don’t Need Your Love Now (Remix)
- Passion Puppets: Like Dust (Extended Version)
- Uropa Lula: Our Love Has Just Begun (Extended Remix)
- B-Movie: Nowhere Girl (Extended Version)
- Thomas Leer: Heartbeat (Extended Mix)
- The Puppets: The Way Of Life (Edit ’91)
This Canadian series popped up in 1991, 10 years after New Wave peaked with a program with a few gems overall, but nothing that rang any big bells with me. The heavy hitters are the synthpop classics “Nowhere Girl” and “Heartbeat” and I already had those in house. I’d never heard The Puppets or Uropa Lula. Am I missing anything? I took a pass on this first issue.
Various Artists: The Hardest Hits Vol. 2 – CD – Canada – 1992
- Johnny Warman [+ Peter Gabriel]: Screaming Jets
- Scary Thieves – Tell Me Girl [ext.]
- Boys Brigade – The Passion Of Love
- Jona Lewie: [You’ll Always Find Me In The] Kitchen At Parties
- Re-Flex: The Politics Of Dancing [ext.]
- Trio: Da Da Da
- Cetu Javu: Situations 5:30
- Naked Eyes: Always Something There To Remind Me [ext.]
- Pigbag: Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag [ext.]
- The Big Supreme: Don’t Walk [ext.]
- The West End Dance Project: 92 In The Shade [remix]
- Abecedarians: Smiling Monarchs
- The Normal: Warm Leatherette
- Sharpe + Numan: Change Your Mind [UK ext.]
This second release made me a believer. The Sharpe + Numan remix sold me immediately. The Jona Lewie classic had not made it to digital in my collection yet, so I appreciated that cut. I could say the same for Trio, as well. Ditto for the Pigbag classic! I’d never heard the extended version before! I already had The Normal’s single on 3″ CD, but no home should be without the song that defines “minimal synth” to a “T.”
The Naked Eyes cut was something of a drag, as was the Re-Flex song. These cuts typified MOR synthpop to me. The program was salted with a few Canuck obscurities this time [The West End Dance Project, Boys Brigade] and they are milquetoast Canadian New Wave of the Parachute Club variety. In other words, it didn’t deserve to be sitting on the same shelf as, let’s say, Martha + The Muffins or Spoons. Cetu Javu was nondescript 3rd wave synthpop and of no consequence to me. Abcedarians were an obscure Factory group, and all such groups deserved to have their big single on CD somewhere. Overall, this was a decent comp that made me bite.
Various Artists: The Hardest Hits Vol. 3 – CD – Canada – 1993
- Voice Of America: Story Of Love [ext.]
- The Chameleons: Swamp Thing
- The Lotus Eaters: The First Picture Of You [ext.]
- The Comsat Angels: You Move Me [One Good Reason]
- Jackie Leven: Love Is Shining Down On Me [ext.]
- Fiction Factory: Feels Like Heaven
- Nick Heyward: Goodbye Yesterday [ext.]
- Steve Harley: Heartbeat Like Thunder [ext.]
- Lords Of The New Church: Dance With Me [ext.]
- Glamor Cult: Tokyo Streets
- The Hawaiian Pups: Baby Judy
- Vicious Pink: Cccan’t You See [ext.]
- MCL [Micro Chip League]: New York [Dance Floor Cut]
- Night Moves: Transdance
The next years bought another collection, this time it was a no-thinker because dear favorites Vicious Pink got one of their 12″ mixes on a CD for once! The rest of the program is a balance of wimpy indifference [Nick Hayward, Lotus Eaters, Steve Harley], honorable post-punk [Lords of the New Church, Comsat Angels, Chameleons], and flat out disasters [Glamour Cult, Night Moves]. MCL is more 3rd gen synthpop of the Cetu Javu ilk. Music like all of the stuff you have never heard before on Razormaid albums [and for good reason].
And then there’s “Baby Judy.” I’d not previously heard the Hawaiian Pups biggest [non] hit, but afterward I was sure glad that I had! What a gloriously bent tune this is! Just the thing to liven up any mix tape.
Various Artists: The Hardest Hits Vol. 4 – CD – Canada – 1993
- The Assembly: Never, Never [ext.]
- Sal Solo: San Damiano [Heart And Soul] [ext.]
- The Flying Lizards: Money [LP cut]
- Vicious Pink: Take Me Now [ext.]
- The Nails: 88 Lines About 44 Women [ext.]
- Robert Hazard: Escalator Of Life
- The Lotus Eaters: You Don’t Need Someone New [Charleston Mix]
- The Call: Everywhere I Go
- Furniture: Brilliant Mind [ext.]
- Japan: Life In Tokyo [Disco Mix]
- Duran Duran: Planet Earth [Night Version]
- Hitlist: Into The Fire
- Heaven 17: Let Me Go [ext.]
These puppies must have been selling since volume four didn’t wait until the next year to appear. If I was happy to see “Ccccan’t You See [ext.]” by Vicious Pink on the last volume, I was positively ecstatic to see the 12″ version of “Take Me Now” on the latest edition! The stuttered, Moroder pulse of the song reaches for a kind of perfection and Gary Moberly’s production is the mid-eighties at its zenith. But there were other reasons to buy this disc, for sure.
Is it possible to ever hear The Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women” without your mood lightening? The lyrics and delivery never fail to amaze. This is an extended edit that I still can’t track down where it originally came from! I have the 1981 Jimboco indie 12″ before they signed to RCA and this is not it. The RCS US promo 12″ is the LP cut; censored and uncensored. Any clues?
When I listen now to the exquisite Furniture [damn, I really need their reissued CD of “The Wrong People” on Cherry Red!] on “Brilliant Mind” I can hear nothing except the template for classic period Pulp, with the exception that Jim Irvin can sing better than Jarvis Cocker. I mean, seriously, can anyone hear “Brilliant Mind” without hearing Pulp as well? I’ve heard early Pulp; it’s nothing to write home about. Can the influence of Furniture on Pulp be discounted? I think not!
The Flying Lizards classic is accounted for in its LP length cut with some truly eccentric dub effects that make even the familiar 7″ edit sound downright staid in comparison. The final surprise on this disc was Robert Hazard’s US synthpop near-classic “Escalator of Life.” He had the Eurosynth sound down pat, but his vocals are comically overwrought as only a Yank can commit to tape. Still, his heart was in the right place, and it’s fun to hear this also-ran level of technopop decades later.
Various Artists: The Hardest Hits Vol. 5 – CD – Canada – 1994
- Endgames: First, Last For Everything [Club Version]
- Nick Heyward: Whistle Down The Wind
- Boys Brigade: Melody
- China Crisis – Working With Fire & Steel [Mix]
- Peter Godwin – Baby’s In The Mountains [New York Mix]
- The Comsat Angels: Day One
- Visage: Pleasure Boys [Dance Mix]
- The Flying Pickets: Only You
- Freur: Doot Doot [ext.]
- Sigue Sigue Sputnik: Love Missile F1-11 [ext.]
- Secession: Simon Says [ext.]
- Thomas Leer: International [Global Mix]
- SSQ: Jet Town
- Elton Motello: Jet Boy, Jet Girl [Club Mix]
More extreme goodies were on this final chapter in the Hardest Hits saga. The cuts by Peter Godwin, Freur, China Crisis and Visage were the first digital copies I’d gotten of these cuts by these core collection artists. As far as I know, the China Crisis and Visage cuts still only appear on this disc! Thomas Leer and Sigue Sigue Sputnik were icing on the cake. With such strengths, it’s easy to overlook the wimpy Nick Hayward and Boys Brigade cuts.
I remember hearing about The Flying Pickets and wondering at the time if their hit was a cover of the Yaz[oo] hit if the same name. It certainly was, and it’s really fine arranged for a cappella vocals. I shouldn’t nitpick, but it’s a shame that the “Working With Fire + Steel [Mix]” has its first note truncated. Minus 20 points to whomever mastered this, but plus 50 for the song selection. Only the repugnant Elton Motello track mars this selection of tunes sufficiently. Unfortunately, it appears here in an extended version that hurts twice as long.
SPG had other, similar issues, but this marked the end of the Hardest Hits series. It’s telling that copies of these CDs have increased in value on the aftersale market after they become OOP. The person[s] who curated these, for the most part, picked real winners that were lost in the digital domain. Even some of the lesser tracks are by obscure enough artists who will never risk boring the listener through over exposure on other comps.
– 30 –
Never even heard of this comp series, but it certainly has an interesting bunch of bands included. Big fat bonus points for including Vicious Pink and Secession, two acts I have long sought out on CD. As usual, I’m gonna come to the defense of some artists I like. You call Nick Heyward wimpy (twice!), and it doesn’t sound like you mean it very complimentary. OK, he’s no Trent Reznor, but wee Nick has an ear for big pop hooks and sings many an appealingly hummable tune.
In addition, you think Re-Flex’s “Politics of Dancing” is “a drag” and “MOR” Really? Really?? Wow. I love that stonking beat and vaguely sinister lyrics. Yeah, I’ve got to agree to disagree with you on this one.
Taffy – “The Politics of Dancing” is one of those New Wave tunes that is banished from my personal sphere due to club overplay, much like Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?” “Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” or “Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me ‘Round [Like A Record].” With Re-Flex it’s far worse because I’ve never heard a single cut of theirs except for “The Politics Of Dancing!” Nick Hayward, yeah he’s wimpy. Sometimes I love wimpy! Give me “Wishful Thinking” by China Crisis and it stirs my heart every time! That’s boldly, passionately wimpy music. “Fiction Factory’s “Just Like Heaven” is another outstandingly bold, yet wimpy song I adore. Nick just drifts into the ether like helium gas for me; the worst sort of wimpy. But hell, I’d rather listen to Nick than Trent Reznor any day, for what’s it’s worth!
You should get some of these Hardest HIts volumes – if you can find and afford them. They generally sell @ >$40 at minimum. I got #2 and #3 in local Orlando stores when released, but I bought the all important volumes #4 & #5 while in Toronto seven years after they came out!
That Trent Reznor comment was just meant to be a humorous comparison…for the record, I am not a Nine Inch Nails fan (but congrats to him on winning an Oscar last night).
Of course I am right with you regarding the negative effects of overplaying on one’s enjoyment of a song; I just don’t have a history of too many listens of “Politics of Dancing.” Plus, I do own and quite enjoy their one album, particularly the second single “Hurt” (a Re-Flex original, not the Nine Inch Nails hit!).
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Taffy – Kudos on the NIN reference – that was really professional!
The Big Supreme track on Volume 2 is a classic sophisti-pop. Excellent series and great overview.
nlgbbbblth – The Hardest Hits series is the New Wave comp series that I have the most volumes of… By far! Our Canadian friends really outdid themselves.
Agree, they licensed some real gems. That early to mid 90s period was brilliant for compilations.
Nearly 12 years on but just discovering your page. I had Volume 4 forever (originally picked it up for 88 Lines About 44 Women), but just recently scooped up the other four volumes, and in researching and cataloging which mixes were represented, I came across this post. Great work!
In case you never got an answer re: the 88 Lines mix, The Nails have a great website with a ton of historical background info, downloads, etc. Recently got all of their music, too. They had some expanded reissues of their albums around 2007/2009. A lot of gems in their discography. Anyway, they refer to the mix on this Hardest Hits comp as the “RCA Dance Mix.” One of a half dozen or so versions floating around, including the general “RCA Version” on the Living In Oblivion comp (volume 2) and the original version on Just Can’t Get Enough comp (volume 3).
Definitely worth checking out their site… (https://the-nails.com/disco.html)
thischarmingben – Welcome to the comments! I had not seen The Nails website in a few years, and you’ve got to love the caliber of the curation there on the discography page! I was honored by a Marc Campbell comment on the first  run on my “Mood Swing” review!
Re-Flex was a band I fell in love immediately upon hearing The Politics of Dancing when it first came out. I had the LP and it was many of my floor records (records I listened to while sitting on the floor following along to the lyric sheet, or scrutinizing every inch of the cover. I remember waiting forever for the second album which never appeared (’til many many years later). Oddly enough, I was sure they were Australian until the 2000s when I found their second album Humanication, and of course, the internet. Certainly The Politics album doesn’t stand a chance against the best of it’s day, but it’s far far away from the bottom.
secretrivals – What flummoxed me, back in the day was the credit for bass playing on “That Certain Smile” and “She Cried” from Midge Ure’s 1985 album “The Gift.”
“Bass Guitar: Nigel Ross-Scott of Reflexive Communications.”
It was decades later when I twigged that “Reflexive Commmunications” was perhaps a legalistic code-word for the band Re-Flex, who were under contract to EMI at the time. Ross-Scott had been in perennial Ultravox opening act Gloria Mundi prior to Re-Flex forming. I still have not heard a song other than “The Politics Of Dancing” by Re-Flex to this day.
Good to know this about NR-S and Gloria Mundi. It makes me wonder if word got out and their second album never happened back then either due to record company pressure or him being too busy. In any case, time permitting, find some time to sample some of the other album tracks. If you like Politics, but airplay was overdone, you may find something of interest. A side note, they had a track “Cut It” on the “Breakin'” soundtrack, but you probably already knew that. Thanks Monk.
secretrivals – Re-Flex on the “Breakin'” OST?!!? That was news to me! I ignored “Breakin'” when it happened …but I couldn’t ignore the sequel… The iconic “Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo” with a moniker like that, and mostly because it seemed to appear within months of the first film!