‘Pillows & Prayers’ is Cherry Red’s landmark compilation album, and was originally released on Christmas Day 1982. Masterminded by the label’s Mike Alway, the album bore tracks by many of his new signings to the label. Cherry Red was not a huge record company in 1982, and because the LP retailed for just 99p, there was a risk that unless it sold in huge quantities it was likely to cost more to produce than it was ever going to recoup. For a collection predominately consisting of almost unknown bands interspersed with obscurities, it was a plucky and stylish move on Alway’s part.
The album, with its vintage photograph of a bubble-blowing girl on the cover, quickly became a totem for a new folk influenced sound. It was easy to imagine Alway as something of a dashing John Steed figure; able to both create perfect pop, and dislodge the corks from champagne bottles via a deft whip of a fencing foil at the same time.
Probably more than any other compilation, ‘Pillows and Prayers’ managed to simultaneously introduce contemporary bands; The Passage, EBTG, and The Monochrome Set, alongside some choice scene setting rarities from a previous age such as Californian psychedelics The Misunderstood, and the final disparaging word from Quentin Crisp. From 2020, the track list now reads like a who’s who of early Indie, with a single track from every artist … all except one that is. Tracey Thorn features on three tracks. Tracey was in Tracey Thorn obviously, but she was also one of the Marine Girls, and with Ben Watt in Everything But The Girl. Tracey’s tracks still stand the test of time, not just because of the quality of her voice, but because of her unashamed embrace of melody, melancholy and an intelligent Indie dourness that would become her trademark.
By 1982 Punk, in its first incarnation, had seemingly tired itself out musically. The scene had become splintered; from the more hard-core leather jacket and spikes of bands like the Exploited, to pop electronica through to the guitar heavy twangs of the Scottish Postcard bands. ‘Pillows and Prayers’ alerted us to further possibilities, and still armed with our three punk chords, that had become 5 or 6 by then we tried the same chords as minors and sevenths, and even this far up the neck! Woo..jazzaay!
Released at the time when the briefly new wave friendly charts, who had until recently happily hosted Blondie, The Jam and The Specials, had begun to revert to type, and Thatcherism had given way to an over-arching cultural shift which favoured the emerging Yuppies, new clothes with bold shoulder pads and….Wham!
‘Pillows and Prayers’ on the other hand, had a 99p price tag which made the album affordable, even on a pocket money budget, and because of this it felt egalitarian and fitted in with that lasting post-punk ethos.
It was an album that became our friend, and in the months that followed, instead of doomy overcoats, we returned from the jumble sales loaded up with arran jumpers, plaid shirts, surplus store walking socks and black plimsolls… just like we thought our new friend would like. If memory serves, we looked a bit like a Tim Burton directed Haircut 100.
‘Pillows & Prayers’ peaked and remained at number 1 on the UK Indie Chart for five weeks selling in excess of over 120,000 copies, and became 1983’s soundtrack to bedsits and bedrooms up and down the UK.