Sophistication + pop = sophisti-pop


Alfred and I go way back with sophisti-pop, though he writes about it with more frequency than I, which I assume has to do with the genre stalwarts’s hair. Now he’s taken another swing at the subgenre, this time adding a playlist. And it’s fine, but doesn’t go deep enough for my taste.

Along with exposure to MuchMusic in the late ’80s, one of the other strong, and random, musical influencers of the decade for me was Rock Over London. As I wrote in 2004, it was “a nationally syndicated Westwood One program in the ’80s which brought U.K. imports to American audiences months before they reached these shores. From The Alarm to UB40 and Smiths singles, they covered it all – even Enya!” And that’s where I first learned of the likes of the Christians, and Hue and Cry, and Curiosity Killed the Cat, who I feel like really give this playlist some spice. Oh, that’s right: I put together a Spotify playlist to accompany this, though sadly it’s missing the Christians and Kane Gang selections, and the version of Hue and Cry’s “I Refuse” here is a slightly faster take than the single version I cherish.

To my ears, sophisti-pop has to include some soul/jazz elements to work; it’s kinda-sorta akin to a later, British take on yacht rock (which is not just ’70s soft rock, people; do your homework, please), defiantly ’80s in sound and nature. That’s why, for example, I eschewed “Perfect Way” in favor of “Best Thing Ever” (and seriously considered “Oh Patti” for Scritti’s slot), as “Way” is just too clattering and busy to truly be considered sophisti-pop. It’s also gotta be shiny and gleaming. I seriously considered Deacon Blue’s “Real Gone Kid” for this list — it’s from the right era, and they were from the UK and (mostly) pretty, and popular too, and even dressed right — but it just feels the slightest bit too earnest and folky-ish to click amidst the high-gloss likes of Curiosity Killed the Cat and ABC.

Oh, one more thing: while ’84-’88 is largely the tight timeline for this stuff, there are a (precious) few exceptions, particularly one of its progenitors, Spandau Ballet’s “True.” As opposed to most of their work, “True” is just barely soulful enough to get ’em in, and in fact, is kinda one of the templates for all of it, albeit without the jazziness that most of these songs feature in one way or another.

  1. “Appetite,” Prefab Sprout (1985)
  2. “Best Thing Ever,” Scritti Politti (1987)
  3. “The Captain of Her Heart,” Double (1985)
  4. “Cruising for Bruising,” Basia (1989)
  5. “Digging Your Scene,” the Blow Monkeys (1986)
  6. “Down to Earth,” Curiosity Killed the Cat (1987)
  7. “Each and Every One,” Eveything but the Girl (1984)
  8. “Harvest for the World,” the Christians (1988)
  9. “I Don’t Want To Be A Hero,” Johnny Hates Jazz (1987)
  10. “I Refuse,” Hue and Cry (1986)
  11. “It’s Only Love,” Simply Red (1989)
  12. “Kiss and Tell,” Bryan Ferry (1988)
  13. “Mary’s Prayer,” Danny Wilson (1987)
  14. “Motortown,” the Kane Gang (1987)
  15. “My Ever Changing Moods,” the Style Council (1984)
  16. “The Night You Murdered Love,” ABC (1987)
  17. “The Sweetest Taboo,” Sade (1985)
  18. “To Be With You Again,” Level 42 (1987)
  19. “True,” Spandau Ballet (1983)
  20. “Twilight World,” Swing Out Sister (1987)
  21. “Wishing I Was Lucky,” Wet Wet Wet (1987)

About thomasinskeep

I write about music.
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