Fantasy Deluxe #19: Radio Musicola


As outlined in A Love Deluxe, the past year or so has seen me become just a little bit addicted to creating “fantasy” deluxe editions. You take an album, and use whatever extra material is available (B-sides, Single Edits, 12″ Remixes, Demos, Out-takes, non-album 45s) to piece together a multi-disc celebration of it. 

Oh 1986, you were so cruel. Not just to me personally, but to all my favourite pop acts of the day. By the end of that year they were headed inexorably towards the dumper, either temporarily or (for the most part) permanently. Pop Music, you mean little minx, how could you?!

Among the many casualties, Nik Kershaw was perhaps the biggest of all. Nobody really expected Frankie Goes To Hollywood to maintain the extraordinary grip on the charts, and the public in general, for very long. The Human League had already wobbled with Hysteria, so when Crash crashed and burned, we could not truly feign surprise. Paul Young briefly fell into the tender trap of believing his own hype and thinking his skills as a songwriter were the equal of those whose work he had so brilliantly covered. He would return in due course, doing what he did best.

But for Nik, there was no such folly involved with his 3rd album. Unless sticking to a trusted formula and being a bit grumpy and cynical could be considered a mistake in the none-more-aspirational era of plastic pop and escapism.


Nik in 1986….perhaps not mixing it up as much as he could have….

The “miserable lyrics couched in bouncy pop hooks” approach had served him well on his debut LP Human Racing, and again with the rather-rushed follow-up later in 1984, The Riddle. (I say rushed, but purely from a strategic perspective, as the actual record was arguably even better). Songs about corrupt old blokes in government planning our Armageddon, 9-to-5 desk zombies having fantasies about girls dancing in front of them, yet more corrupt governments laying waste to the ecology…and so on. The closing, epic track on The Riddle was a mournful plea to Save The Whale. I mean, what is he like? The guy’s a hippie, man!

I say this in jest, because the songs were clearly the work of someone who could see beyond the coloured socks, spiky hair and regrettable snoods of the Smash Hits universe, but someone who could also keep churning out Top 20 hits seemingly on demand. Both Human Racing and The Riddle went platinum, and spent a combined total of 97 weeks on the UK album chart. “Everything’s coming up Roses. Or so they say.”

Yet, upon release just two years later in October 1986, Radio Musicola bombed. Big time. A “one week at #47 and then out” kind of bomb. MCA had lavished oodles of time and money on the project, and “industry bible” Music Week magazine had predicted a successful campaign of at least 4 singles. The inner sleeve of the album alone (see below) must have taken an incredible amount of effort (and shows the misplaced inspiration coursing through team Kershaw at the time; if only they’d known what the British Public really wanted was bad hair metal, a Levi’s model famous for taking his trousers off, and Jackie Wilson as a plasticine head).


Every song had a clever spoof retro advertisement created for it….all this for 1 week in the Top 100!

It wasn’t an album lacking in effort, or a victim of an artist taking liberties with his audience or even taking them for granted. Nik had beavered away on another excellent batch of tunes, crafted and performed with the same quality and attention to detail as before. Of course, that in itself was part of the problem.

The success of The Riddle‘s trio of singles between November 1984 and July 1985 had masked a flaw in MCA’s release strategy which seemed to come back to bite them. The speed at which they pushed the second album out into the market reduced its chances of an elongated campaign through 1985, even when Wide Boy and Don Quixote were generously spaced apart (surely a 4th single was possible…Roses being a strong contender, or something like City Of Angels or Wild Horses).  Anyhow, Nik found himself at the end of 1985 needing a brand new track to keep the momentum going, which was slightly ridiculous but that’s the pop machine for you.

And that’s where the alarm bells began to go off, as When A Heart Beats stalled at #27. It was one of his finer efforts, a brilliant lyric and another bouncy pop hook, yet as Go West could have told him a year later themselves, that brand of pop in the post-Live Aid world didn’t seem to be cutting it anymore. It also didn’t help that, musically, it was a bit too similar to Wide Boy.

You can see where this is headed, when the nominated lead single for the album in September 1986 was Nobody Knows. A brilliant lyric, and another bouncy pop hook, with the jerky guitars and clipped synths. But….erm…it sounds like When A Heart Beats again. What made them think the very sound which underperformed a year earlier would be the ideal launchpad for the album?

(At this juncture I will simply point everyone in the direction of the magnificent title track to Radio Musicola and let it speak for itself).


Ladies and Gentlemen, we present the 90th single to top my personal charts….

Okay, so it’s easy to be wise after the event. MCA/Nik obviously had a plan and the plan seemed to be to hold back the title song for the big second single, the one to cement the project in people’s minds and usher in a further brace of 45s in the first half of 1987. If that was Plan A, then the “in at #43 and then gone within a fortnight” chart performance of Radio Musicola as a single put paid to that. There was no Plan B. Or C.

WEA soldiered on with Howard Jones’ flop 1986 album One To One, allowing him to release the low-key Little Bit Of Snow as a final single from the era in March 1987. CBS ignored the failure of Some People, the second 45 from Paul Young’s Between Two Fires, and tried again with Why Does A Man Have To Be Strong around the same time. For some reason (maybe because it had been far more of a flop), Radio Musicola wasn’t granted a third UK single. James Cagney appeared in some European territories, with a sleeve that conjures up a vision of some parallel world where Nik Kershaw teamed up with Stock Aitken & Waterman and was promoted like some kind of Rick Astley….


The album mix of James Cagney would have been a pointless attempt to turn Nik’s fortunes around, but a version/remix of the track appeared on 2022’s digital-only collection of B-sides and Rarities which, with its almost comically OTT array of sonic embellishments just might have fitted into the Top 40 landscape. Beyond that, only the rockabilly bop of Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage showed any sign of suitability for what the UK chart had become.

Ah yes, those digital-only releases, now a common replacement for the expanded CD reissues we had gotten so accustomed to. Human Racing got a decent enough 2-disc edition from Universal, as did The Riddle (albeit with some added controversy over re-recorded vocals on some Live Recordings from 1984 that were originally B-sides).

Radio Musicola has always been scarce on CD, owing to its year of release and chronic lack of popularity at the time. No repress, or reissue, has ever been forthcoming. Its trio of singles regularly appear on the succession of Nik compilations that get released every so often, but until last year there was very little else from the project available on CD. There was only the one non-album flipside, an instrumental called One Of Our Fruit Machines Is Missing.

I’d wanted to “deluxe” it for years, and hoped that a companion release to the first two albums would eventually see the light of day. The inclusion of some rarer Radio Musicola material on the two digital-only releases suggests otherwise; this is probably the best we are going to get. So, naturally…..SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE.

Disc One: The Original Album

1. Radio Musicola
2. Nobody Knows
3. L.A.B.A.T.Y.D.
4. What The Papers Say
5. Life Goes On
6. Running Scared
7. James Cagney
8. Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage
9. When A Heart Beats
10. Violet To Blue

Initially, I wanted to recreate the 9-track version that was issued on vinyl, with When A Heart Beats kept as the bonus track it was on the cassette and CD formats. However, the glut of mixes I eventually accrued of the track meant that it made sense to leave it on Disc One, otherwise we’d have 4 versions of the thing on Disc Two.

Disc Two: Bonus Material

1. When A Heart Beats (Then & Now edit)
2. Nobody Knows (7″ mix)
3. Radio Musicola (7″ mix)
4. James Cagney (edit)
5. When A Heart Beats (12″ mix)
6. Nobody Knows (12″ mix)
7. Radio Musicola (12″ mix)
8. James Cagney (Extended remix)
9. Nobody Knows (DJ edit)
10. Radio Musicola (Acetate Room mix)
11. Nobody Knows (Extended version)
12. One Of Our Fruit Machines Is Missing

Gosh, what a variety of tracks we have here. This is pretty much everything we have to work with, though. At least there are 7″/single/DJ edits of all the singles, and 12″/extended mixes of them too. There was a brief moment of excitement when the possibility of When A Heart Beats on Now That’s What I Call Music! 6 might be another variant to include, but alas.

Some fun was to be had with designing the new artwork, using the source material in mildly diverging ways. The customised “radio” which was featured on the LP sleeve and, in a very cropped fashion on the cassette format, became the focal point of my own front cover. The art deco text was also easy to appropriate in various colours and positions. I stayed away from the multiple-Niks effect of the original, and found a great shot of him attempting to cover his face from (one presumes) the evil paparazzi of Nobody Knows and What The Papers Say to use on the rear.

Now, once again, Radio Musicola is on the air!



    • I reckon Musicola would have been a classic if Nik had left What The Papers Say and Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage off it (and maybe Nobody Knows…). And When A Heart Beats probably doesn’t belong on it either – MCA should have just said ‘write another hit’! But I read an interview with Nik where he said MCA were much more interested in heavy metal and soul by 1986…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, MCA couldn’t even make Kim Wilde’s Another Step album a hit, despite back-to-back Top 10 singles and a complete repackaging. Wendy James has spoken about the overall uselessness of MCA when it came to pop music at the end of the 80s, and it seems the rot was setting in already by 1986.


    • That’s true…once I’d heard All In Red and another track or two off the debut album, I realised they weren’t always so annoying. I ended up buying the first 3 albums (albeit after the event, second-hand).

      Liked by 1 person

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