entertainment

Review: The Associates' 'Perhaps' and Hazel Dean's 'Heart First' are underrated queer classics

'The Associates' 1985 album 'Perhaps' and Hazel Dean's 1983 record 'Heart First' have been reissued today (31 January).

2020-01-31

Words: Simon Button

Had Billy MacKenzie lived longer or been more prolific he’d certainly be more feted amongst LGBTQ icons.

The breathtakingly beautiful Associates singer with the razor-sharp cheekbones, astonishing four-and-a-half octave vocal range and by all accounts most mercurial of tempers produced some of the most daring 1980s pop music, yet he’s never really been given his due.

The 2CD reissue of the Associates’ 1985 album Perhaps should help to redress that.

 

Its lead singles ‘Those First Impressions’ and ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’ seemed to signal a more slick, commercial sound after the bonkers brilliance of ‘Party Fears Two’ and ‘Club Country’ from their previous long-player ‘Sulk’. But other tracks like ‘Schampout’ and ‘Helicopter Helicopter’ proved just as bonkers.

MacKenzie was pretty much flying solo at this point, having parted company with bandmate Alan Rankine three years earlier, and his first stab at the album was deemed unreleasable by the record company for being too weird.

The retooled and re-recorded album is all over the place musically, so you have to wonder just how much weirder it might have been. But, from the swooning strings on ‘Breakfast’ to the ditzy disco of the title track, it’s as wonderful as it is batshit crazy.

The deluxe edition features extended mixes and forgotten flop single ‘Take Me To The Girl’. The album was also a flop and MacKenzie’s subsequent albums, both as the Associates and as a solo singer, did nothing to rehabilitate his career.

Suffering from clinical depression, he took his own life at age 39 - a tragic end for a true one-off.

His sexuality was well-known in music circles, although he wasn’t one to shout about it himself. He preferred to tease with an androgynous image and often wilfully obscure lyrics, making him one of the most fascinating and daring artists of the 80s.

Hazell Dean was another '80s icon with a huge gay following and the reissue of her 1983 Heart First album is a big reason why.

Mostly penned and produced by Stock Aitken Waterman at the height of their songwriting powers, it features Hi-NRG classics ‘Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)’, ‘Back In My Arms (Once Again)’ and ‘Searchin’ (I Gotta Find A Man)’ - the latter being one of the biggest, campest gay anthems ever.

As with Perhaps, the reissue contains extra tracks and bonus material, including an absolutely fabulous disco redo of the Barbra Streisand ballad ‘Evergreen’.

Dean, who later came out as gay, continues to record and perform. She has a fantastic voice, as proven on the album’s mid-tempo title track, but I wonder if she, like MacKenzie, has ever really been given her due.

Give Heart First a listen and you’ll hear one of the finest vocalists ever to grace the SAW studios delivering one joyous pop song after another.

Rating: 'Perhaps' 5*/'Heart First' 5*

Perhaps and Heart First are out now on Cherry Red Records.