Reviews

Phil Harding / Club Mixes of the 80s

Phil Harding / Club Mixes of the 80s / 2CD ReviewFans of pop music from the 1980s, and in particular students of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman ‘hit factory’ era of 1985-1990 will be excited by the release of a new compilation from Cherry Red called Phil Harding Club Mixes of the 80s.

For those not familiar with the man, Phil Harding, along with partner Ian Curnow, is an engineer, remixer and sometime producer whose close association with PWL (Pete Waterman Limited) in the 1980s lead to mixing and remixing work for artists such as Rick Astley and Kylie Minogue, co-producing with the Pet Shop Boys and being let loose on the multi-tracks to update classics such as I Want You Back by Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five.

This compilation is a reasonably eclectic mix of work Harding and Curnow were involved in, to one extent or another, and contains some genuine rarities, with a handful of tracks being previously unreleased on CD and some unheard altogether.

Highlights include the new-to-CD 10″ Remix of Eight Wonder’s I’m Not Scared, co-produced with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, the 12″ “Murder Mix” of Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) – newly remastered from a recently discovered first generation master tape – and another new-to-CD 10″ remix, this time of The Blow Monkey’s Digging Your Scene.

Rick Astley (a Harding favourite) crops a few times, with previously unheard tracks pre-dating his breakthrough single Never Gonna Give You Up (also present and correct with a previously unreleased 12″ mix). Remixes of The Four Tops, Diana Ross, and ABC are included along with tracks from less well-remembered acts such as Blue Mercedes (I Want To Be Your Property) and FE FI FO FUM (Beat Your Body).

Kylie Minogue is one of a few PWL artists notable by their absence, and another absentee is Sweet Little Mystery (PWL Remix) by Wet Wet Wet. This last track is referred to in the booklet as ‘the one that got away’. A full PWL House Mix of what was being proposed as the Scottish quartet’s first single (it ended up being Wishing I Was Lucky) this version totally dispensed with the band leaving Marti Pellow’s vocals as the only group performance left on the track. Not surprisingly, it was originally rejected and permission was refused to include it 25 years later on this compilation.

Although not everything on this compilation is brilliant, most tracks have something interesting about them. I don’t particularly remember the Sinitta single Body Shopping, but the previously unreleased period remix – the “New Vogue Version” – turns out to be a highly enjoyable fusion with the beats and sound of Madonna’s Vogue single. The reason it didn’t come out was that Pete Waterman and then A&R man Simon Cowell rejected it (an early example of “it’s a no from me”) from the X-factor creator.

Phil Harding Club Mixes of the 80s can be regarded as a step up from the usual 12″ compilation fare. Although the tracks are being selected from smaller pool of talent (than is the case with many ‘best 12inches of the 80s’-type compilations), the time spent on research, remastering and clearance has reaped dividends, with a genuinely interesting and rare selection for the connoisseur. This CD is actually a complimentary release to the expanded edition of Phil Harding’s book PWL From The Factory Floor and if the excellent, detailed sleeve notes and interviews on this release are anything to go by that book should be a treat..

Excellent though the sleeve notes are, the presentation is terrible. All the great information about each track (very detailed) is spoiled by some of the worst typography I’ve ever seen in a music release. The typeface is TINY and compressed to headache-inducing level. It’s really very bad.

Bad, but not bad enough to spoil a highly recommended compilation. It’s always a pleasure to see frothy pop music taken seriously, and that is exactly the case here. Phil Harding is an excellent curator of his own material, and has got me interested in PWL and the 1980s all over again. His book is now firmly in place on my Christmas present list “want” list.

Phil Harding Club Mixes of the 80s is out now from Cherry Red and can be ordered here.

His book PWL From The Factory Floor can be ordered here.

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15 responses to Phil Harding / Club Mixes of the 80s

  1. John Palmer says:

    Thanks for the review. Some clarification on the booklet…

    Most CD booklets have 1,000 – 2,000 words of sleeve notes at the most. This has 30,000 words! It includes interviews with 12 different people.

    Our budget unfortunately only allowed for a 14-page booklet. A lot of thought and work went into maximising the text size and readibility, given this limitation. The result is smaller text that many booklets, but certainly not smaller than all. (‘Ultimate Kylie’, for example, has pages of smaller text in it).

    The alternative would have been cutting out significant content for the sake of a couple of font sizes. This would have been a huge shame for fans and interview contributors, given the overall extra value and scale of what we’ve ultimately been able to provide here.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Hi John – thanks for your comments. I can understand your dilemma because you had some great content to include. However, I do think however great the copy, you have to draw the line somewhere. For me your enthusiasm to include all the 30,000 words has got in the way of common sense. The text is simply too small to read comfortably or enjoy. Less text as a ‘teaser’ for the book might have been a better idea. Cheers, Paul

      • John Palmer says:

        I do take on board your point-of-view – it is smaller than ideal – but text size comfort is different for different people. It’s quite an extreme reaction to say categorically that it’s “terrible” – and it hasn’t been the overall response to date at all that it’s impractically small (nor with previous CDs done with even smaller text [Haywoode, Sinitta], where content has appeared to be the hands-down priority with the fans of this genre over text size). Scope for larger booklet sizes is hopefully something that could be addressed in future.

        Thanks for doing such a thorough review, though – much appreciated – and glad you enjoyed it overall and hope you enjoy the book too.

        • Paul Sinclair says:

          Hi John – I don’t know if you are familiar with the Pet Shop Boys reissues of 2001, but they had the normal CD jewel case within a slightly thicker slipcase, allowing a 36 page thick booklet to slide in front of the actual CD case. This meant that you didn’t have to worry about the thickness of the booklet preventing it sliding into place inside the jewel case it and allowed you to have a wider booklet than normal. Although it doesn’t sound like you had the budget, that solution could have worked well here.

  2. Steve Marine says:

    This collection is a great idea. Remixes were so much better in the 80’s, when they expanded and enhanced the original track…rather than the radical, nonsensical mixes made today that often have nothing to do with the original track.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Hey Steve – agreed. There a loads of these 12″ compilations around now, especially in the UK and Europe. But I like this one because there is a consistent theme and proper thought has been given to the selections, thanks to the direct involvement of Phil Harding. Some compilations can be sloppy in terms of vinyl rips, incorrect or misleading labelling of tracks etc. Not the case here.

  3. g man says:

    When i first saw this i was a little curious and then as i read about some of the tracks included my interest grew little by little until im now very keen to get hold of this. In particular the eight wonder, wet wet wet and dead or alive tracks strike all the right notes as well as many others
    cheers for the review Paul.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Definitely worth picking up… The companion book PWL from the Factory Floor is also very good. I’ve got a book feature coming up shortly which includes it.

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  5. John Palmer says:

    Thanks for doing the book review as well, Paul. Great stuff.

    Brand new Promo-only MEGAMIX just put out of the first 7 tracks of the CD in order to give people an idea of it…

    http://www.youtube.com/embed/JkeZGrYiDJU

  6. Paul Sinclair says:

    Cheers John. Still enjoying the CDs and LOVED the book!

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  9. Holger Piepkorn says:

    Phil Harding And Ian Curnow had done much better work as for PWL. They worked and mixed for Pet Shop Boys, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Dina Carroll… So where are the real interesting mixed from both ? I will also do buy this one…

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