Readers recommend playlist: the best of your 1980s 12-inch singles

A reader takes a journey of discovery through your favourite 12-inch singles and remixes. Classics from Grace Jones, New Order and Happy Mondays make the cut

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from your suggestions after last week’s callout. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly Readers recommend series works at the end of the piece.

Legendary US record producer Tom Moulton was the prime mover in developing 12-inch releases, and it was he who produced the first disco albums from the artist who begins our list, Grace Jones. In 1980 Jones embraced reggae – a genre whose dub effects had been eagerly co-opted into the post-punk sound. Hence, we start with a song where those genres converge, her cover of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control.

But back to Moulton: he had discovered that the 12-inch had vastly superior sound quality, producing grooves perfect for the discotheque. It was music for hedonistic dancers – for metronomic beats, fewer vocals, stripped back instrumentation, slow-fading echo effects, sustains, slow builds in pace and intensity to maximum peaks. Many would claim that style reached an apogee with Patrick Cowley’s remix of Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, which is up next.

The playlist in YouTube videos

Hedonistic dancing was a feature of northern soul and at Blackpool Mecca, Dave Ball and Marc Almond of Soft Cell could’ve danced to discs spun by soul boy Ian Levine. So, it seems entirely fitting that the glorious synth-pop meets 60s soul of Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go is included here. It’s not a coincidence Levine became a purveyor of Hi-NRG releases and throughout the 1980s remixed dance pop artists such as Bronski Beat. For me, their Smalltown Boy – next on this list – highlights how the 12-inch gave a song more depth, making the 7-inch seem limited.

The 12-inch allowed for uncompromising experiments in sound and technique. Blue Monday by New Order combined a post-punk attitude with beats perfect for the emerging hip-hop and electro scenes. Elsewhere the format was being used creatively by heavy-on-the-percussion-and-bass funksters and left-field musicians alike, Pigbag (with Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag) and the The (Uncertain Smile) produced extended versions that still amaze despite being 35 years old.

However, to be an indie rocker and fill a 12-inch you needed personality and flair. Step forward Wah! and Story of the Blues Part One and Two (Talkin’ Blues) – an anthem for the downtrodden of early 1980s Britain with a proud, defiant and hopeful monologue.

In New York, Hashim was listening to the likes of Newcleus and Depeche Mode and creating Al Naafiyish (The Soul) – a track that has been sampled a hundred times over but which perhaps owes something to Duran Duran’s New Religion. Those harder electro beats were also entering 1980s funk’n’soul, as Let the Music Play, by Shannon, exemplifies.

Elsewhere, house music’s uncluttered sound was developing in Chicago; Dub Can’t Turn Around (by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk & Jessie Saunders) uses disco techniques to keep you dancing throughout 10 minutes. Compare its sparseness to the track it’s based on, Isaac Hayes’s I Can’t Turn Around.

Embracing house remixes led to the Happy Mondays hitting the sweet spot between rock and dance. W.F.L. as remixed by Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, The Assembly, Yazoo, Erasure) makes the original clattering tune a hypnotic dancer. The acid house spirit of W.F.L. (it stands for “wrote for luck”) is also found in the sleek rhythm of That’s the Way Love Is (Acieed Mix) by Ten City. I once watched a couple dance with abandon to this but then the woman started singing along, suddenly understood the lyrics, and turned her back on her dumbfounded man – they had had their Moments in Love (Beaten). Yes, I couldn’t do 1980s remixes and not include Trevor Horn or ZTT. They understood that, to quote Otto Flake, as they do: “The past is an immense heap of materials to use at will,” and mixed beats and sound to forever alter the music industry – the Art of Noise, indeed.

Finally, the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Sidewalking is perfect 12-inch rock music, i.e. a growling bass, dirty guitars and big drums – and why would you want to diminish such a beast? I would love to hear a dub version of it though.

Unfortunately, there’s no Spotify playlist this week because the selections are unavailable on that platform, but please enjoy it on YouTube. Here’s the full list:

1. Grace Jones: She’s Lost Control (Long Version)
2. Donna Summer: I Feel Love (Patrick Cowley Remix)
3. Soft Cell: Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go
4. Bronski Beat: Smalltown Boy 12”
5. New Order: Blue Monday
6. Pigbag: Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag 12”
7. The The: Uncertain Smile – 12” Remix
8. Wah!: The Story Of The Blues Part One And Part Two (Talkin’ Blues)
9. Hashim: Al Naafiysh (The Soul)
10. Shannon: Let The Music Play 12”
11. Farley “Jackmaster” Funk & Jessie Saunders: Dub Can’t Turn Around
12. Happy Mondays: W.F.L. (The Vince Clarke Remix)
13. Ten City: That’s The Way Love Is (Acieed Mix)
14. Art of Noise: Moments in Love (Beaten)
15. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Sidewalking (Extended Version)

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (GMT) on Thursday 19 January. You have until 11pm on Monday 23 January [not Monday 24 January as we previously said] to submit nominations.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for RR:

  • If you have a good theme idea, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email

  • There is a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.

  • Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.

Paul Hayes

The GuardianTramp

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