The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sometimes premonitions really do occur. Last night I dreamed that Alan Freeman had just died, and when I opened this morning’s Times I found that that was exactly what had happened. I also thought of him while listening lazily (there is no other way of doing so) yesterday evening to Humphrey Lyttelton’s Best Of Jazz programme, since Lyttelton seems to be one of the few remaining radio music presenters capable of drawing the listener into his world by means of that rare brew of personality and passion. Who else remains in post-Peel British broadcasting? Desmond Carrington, who this year turned eighty; Tim Westwood, as rampantly brilliant as ever but closer to fifty than me; Jonny Trunk with his obscure film soundtracks on Resonance FM; Norman Jay on BBC Radio London; Annie Nightingale still clinging on at Radio 1, if you’re still awake to catch her. All with their own, self-defined but fluid and flexible worlds; all capable of provoking me to spending untoward amounts of time and money to find the music they play.

Alan Freeman was one of that number, and the earliest to come to my attention. He was by the some distance the finest Top 40 DJ I have ever heard, in terms of announcing and analysing that week’s new chart. Although in my extreme youth the chart was announced on a Tuesday, and Freeman’s Pick Of The Pops show did not air until the following Sunday – such that he was delineating a chart already nearly a week old – I only listened to the Sunday rundown at that stage, and was spellbound by the tangible sense of drama he put into every list he broadcast. Of course, those were the days when chart movements remained unpredictable, when your favourites (unless they were the Beatles or similar) took weeks to find their peak (thus the suspense of whether they might make number one and who their likely rivals might be), and Freeman exploited that inbuilt tension with actorly mastery; his pauses growing ever longer as the Top Ten narrowed down to its apex, teasing the listener and keeping them hanging on until the last survivable second. When later he revived the format for Capital Radio, doing parallel rundowns of a previous Top 20 and that week’s new Top 20, he was apt to put in his own lovable bias; thus if his beloved Iron Maiden or Def Leppard had had a new entry, cue the Hallelujah Chorus blast – usually accompanied by Freeman solemnly intoning “The miracle has occurred” - and if there were some dreadful MoR or novelty tack at number one we would get Reg Presley’s “Awww NOOOO!” from “I Can’t Control Myself.”

His Saturday Rock Show which ran on Radio 1 for most of the seventies was a seamless mix of classical tropes and a range of rock which spanned Stomu Yamash’ta and Vangelis all the way to the Slits and Devo. Even in his later years, when he returned to the BBC, he was still capable of being moved by magic; I remember a 1989 New Year’s Eve rundown of the 100 best-selling singles of the eighties and the palpable wonder he expressed at the genius of “Blue Monday” and “West End Girls” alike.

He remained bound to music; in his final years at a nursing home in Twickenham, nurses became accustomed to asking him to turn his loud heavy rock metal/classical CDs down. He never grew old; such a contrast to the pallid premature old DJs of today who can only shout or advertise. Fluff never talked down to his audience, rather talked them into his world. Value his gift and preserve it.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Monday, November 27, 2006

Time of the schism.

20. Eric Burdon & the Animals – San Franciscan Nights
Not played. Burdon’s voice is half paean, half leer, but the record works almost despite itself and its Dragnet intro. However! “Trans-Love Airways!” A concept so cool that Don Cherry named a tune after it (it’s on Relativity Suite, and is a gorgeous feature for Charlie Haden’s bass, supported by Moki Cherry’s fluent tamboura)!

19. Monkees – Daydream Believer
Bookended by the twin puncta of studio chatter (“SEVEN! A!!”) and querulous soprano sax, John Stewart’s song beseeches love of the common people (funnily enough, in the New Releases section, Dale unveiled an original Everly Brothers version of the song murdered by Paul Young last week, which I’d never heard before) and Davy Jones’ wavering, quavering lead vocal wraps itself around the song’s textures and emotions with amateur care.

18. The Who – I Can See For Miles
It took Petra Haden’s startling acappella reading from last year to remind me of the underlying enormous power of perhaps the greatest number one single to peak at number ten. The Who’s absolute apex – and its parent album, The Who Sell Out!, knocks a colony of zebras’ spots off Tommy – its vision lies in the fact that structurally the record is all tension and no release; Moon’s drums keep hammering towards a build-up which never actually explodes, Townshend’s guitar teeth are permanently on edge, and Daltrey proclaism his miraculous ability to see all and through all, but how sure is his sneer? In tantric tantalisation terms the record has no precedents; its most notable heirs are My Bloody Valentine – Townshend’s unattributable howls and ruptues foresee the glorious groundlessness of Loveless; only the Merman Hendrix, and Derek Bailey, in his similarly body-free contribution to Tony Oxley’s quintet recording of “Stone Garden” were doing anything remotely comparable at the time.

17. Kinks – Autumn Almanac
You can sense from this that Ray Davies is ready to leave pop, and perhaps us, behind; he grins as sneakily as ever, but he’s already halfway to the Village Green, to secretive whimsy, to the greenest-looking escape route.

16. Bee Gees - Massachusetts
15. Bee Gees – World

The first on the way down, the second on the way up (and therefore only the second one was played). And “World” certainly bears the more serrated edge; the mood is stranger, more psychedelic, with an astringent lead guitar and a lead vocal from a Barry Gibb drowning in his Leslie cabinet.

14. Donovan – There Is A Mountain
Irretrievably silly acoustic knockabout with a preposterous cod-Jamaican lead vocal and the general air of a very early Tyrannosaurus Rex parody.

13. Tom Jones – I’m Coming Home
One year after “Green, Green Grass Of Home,” the single which assassinated pop, he’s on his way back home again, but not this time in a coffin; he’s hurt her, but his world is now falling apart, and the obligatory huge orchestra and choir (along with an unnecessarily hyperactive conga player) do their best to light his dingy, dodgy way. This time, however, he’d be the one who had to settle for number two.

12. Felice Taylor – I Feel Love Comin’ On
The first bona fide Northern Soul crossover hit? Certainly it was the first hit single to involve Barry White (as co-writer and producer). Of course it’s a Motown pastiche to its JC Penney boots (think Diana Ross singing “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” transposed to a major key) but a fine record nonetheless.

11. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – Zabadak!
One of the lads’ numerous Dave Clark Five meets World Music hits (and one of the better ones) but Dale did not spin it.

10. Des O’Connor – Careless Hands
Curious how Des sounds so much plumier and harsher of voice in his early hits, and unattractively so; the song was already a venerable chestnut and his reading sounds a generation out of its time, as though it should have been a musical interlude midway through Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh.

9. Beatles – Hello Goodbye
Is the Love album Margo Integer’s revenge on John Oswald? Those familiar with Plunderphonics – which year by year reveals itself to be one of the key texts in post-war music – will know that the “btls” track combines the final chord of “A Day In The Life” with the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night.” As Love warms up we hear the final chord of “A Day In The Life” played backwards and segueing into the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Key people had clearly been listening clearly.

There are moments early on in Love when you momentarily think that they might actually pull it off – the discordant Gothic whirlpool in which “Eleanor Rigby” floats, the inspired and apt transition from the radio static of “Walrus” to the white noise of screaming teenagers at the Hollywood Bowl heralding “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Ultimately, though, the concept cops out. The obvious comparisons with “Stars On 45” have already been made, and I think the latter to be the more successful piece of work, since it concentrates on the Moptop days which are largely, and I think determinedly, left off Love, is admirably non-obvious in its song selections (“I’ll Be Back Again,” “No Reply”) and, very crucially, reminded the Lennon mourners of spring 1981 that the Beatles had not all been about sorrow, regret or ceremony.

Love, in contrast, suffocates itself with its own worthiness and caution. Compare the quite beautiful “Blackbird” bootleg credited to Beatlejuice – briefly available as a seven-inch single two winters ago – with the timidity of the “Blackbird” guitar motif serving only to introduce a largely untouched and unnecessary “Yesterday.” Similarly, while the “Strawberry Fields Forever” track is a useful evolutionary précis of the song’s development, it does not equal or surpass the hypnotic wonder of listening to all twenty-seven takes in sequence, and its overblown ending – eventually emerging as the mock-Hawaiian chant which concludes “Hello Goodbye” – is crass and thoughtless.

The much-trumpeted “Within You, Without You”/”Tomorrow Never Knows” mash-up has to be judged conservative, a decade after “Setting Sun” (and imagine if that had been the “new” Beatles single rather than “Free As A Bird”) and at times the juxtaposition (e.g. “Octopus’s Garden” vocal with “Good Night” strings) is shockingly clumsy. And things like “Lucy In The Sky” and “Come Together” are interfered with so little that the only argument for their inclusion would be as a useful pointer to someone actually doing a proper CD remastering/reissue programme of the Beatles’ work. Possibly the most pointless moment of all is Martin senior’s syrupy strings over the Anthology 3 solo George demo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” arguably a greater aural and moral offence (in light of considerable hindsight) than the strings and choir on “The Long And Winding Road.” And, bearing in mind the origins of the project (Cirque du Soleil – along with John Oswald, it’s enough to make one wish that the Fab Four had come from Canada), Apple have missed a golden opportunity to give “Carnival Of Light” its first legal release.

But then again, the latter, as with any bolder tinkering, might have alienated the ill-defined “international” audience who just want a Radio 2 Beatles-lite, platitudinous and unthreatening; the kind who get played on Sunday afternoon radio nostalgia programmes in order to remind us all of the days when everyone knew their place and they would never have dreamed of giving “I Am The Walrus” double A-side status.

8. Cliff Richard – All My Love
See Des O’Connor above; one can just see him crooning this straight-jawed saccharine weepie on the Billy Cotton Band Show, in his frilly shirt and pre-Jarvis hornrims.

7. Gene Pitney – Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart
One of the greatest Cook and Greenaway songs; Pitney wonders in (mostly) quiet awe about this love which has turned his world upside down and made it worth abiding in. The trouble of course is that the original now sounds like a necessarily jejeune demo for the version Pitney recorded with Marc Almond in 1988, which latter is one of the most perfect of all number ones.

6. Troggs – Love Is All Around
Bearing in mind that the Troggs Tapes were based on the group’s hapless and hopeless attempts to record a song called “Tranquility,” the idea of the Troggs doing ballads might still appear far-fetched. However, there is a nicely sensual humility about both this and “Any Way That You Want Me” with their apricot hazes of fading psychedelia, still tripping – Spiritualized understood them instinctively with their cover of the latter, whereas Wet Wet Wet’s cheery yet cheerless cover of the former demonstrates that they, or Richard Curtis, just weren’t listening.

5. Engelbert Humperdinck – The Last Waltz
And meanwhile our parents struggled not to disintegrate.

4. Foundations – Baby, Now That I’ve Found You
Treble-heavy, energetic pop-soul seemingly done in one take (which turns out to have been the case) and still superb, including co-writer John MacLeod’s jangling Russ Conway piano.

3. Val Doonican – If The Whole World Stopped Loving
Same tempo and key as “The Last Waltz,” but with Engelbert’s dissolute echoes replaced by workaday strings and Home Service choir (which, as you may already have noticed, are present in abundance in this list). Like Westlife, hugely popular at the time; and like Westlife, unlikely to be recalled a decade hence – today was the first time I’d heard the Doonican record on radio for maybe quarter of a century.

2. Dave Clark Five – Everybody Knows
What a strange hybrid of a record this is – the Les Reed/Barry Mason writing credit predicts the sickly opulent MoR mood, but then there’s that “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera” cymbalom-like piano and Mike Smith’s frankly stoned-sounding lead vocal. Probably the worst record the DC5 ever made – and at their best, be it “Glad All Over” or “Everybody Get Together,” they were a very fine and hugely underrated group indeed – and, couldn’t you guess it, one of their biggest.

1. Long John Baldry – Let The Heartaches Begin
Four out of the top five all following the same epic studium weepie formula; was this how we commemorated the Winter of Love? Strange and sad how both of the musicians from whom Reg Dwight derived his stage name have passed away this year. With Baldry it was very much a case of there but for his grace go Elton and Rod (at the very least) and he deserved much, much more than to be remembered for this dull, hammy ballad which even its singer couldn’t abide. One tends to think that, in joining Soft Machine, Elton Dean got the better deal.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ah yes, I remember this very well. Although New Pop had more or less washed itself out, or been washed out, there were a few rays of hope emerging (ZTT and the Smiths being not the least of them, and the Cocteaus fluttering into full flower). Nevertheless this chart, though not an out-and-out dire one, is very much a ground-holding effort; everyone seemingly waiting for the next revolution to thunder its way in.

20. Status Quo – A Mess Of Blues
Not played; Ver Quo do Elvis the way you’d expect. The second of a bizarre run of three singles released in three consecutive months. Did Quo invent the Wedding Present?

19. Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
Currently I’m threading my way through David Peace’s Red Riding tetralogy, which are clearly as much crime novels as Jude The Obscure is a Mills and Boon romance, and at the time of writing I have just launched into the third novel in the series, Nineteen Eighty. Set in the December of that year, Lennon’s death is still hot news but the words and motions of Ian Curtis and his Joy Division rage in quiet torrents through the disturbed head of Peter Hunter, Assistant Chief Constable of Manchester, seconded, or condemned, to the other side of the Moors to solve the Yorkshire Ripper murders.

Perhaps it’s all a question of age and context, but although I was undoubtedly shaken by the Lennon shooting, Curtis’ suicide seemed to my sixteen-year-old mind to signify the end of music in the present tense…and I know from contemporary accounts that I was far from the only one affected in such a way. Joy Division’s music was so perfect – and by default, theirs is the most perfect body of work in all of pop and rock – and yet the very act of creating it seems to have shortened Curtis’ life incrementally, because it was so bloody personal, because he had to bleed, or make himself bleed, to make his words and art real.

And still there is such calmness, even if it is of the Stygian variety, in those two posthumous singles; the “don’t walk away” of “Atmosphere” is neither roared nor pleaded (except when he sings it for the last time), and as for “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – such control, such damaged fuckable grace, he just can’t push it no more and that “again” coming back and back just as it did on Escalator; his voice so peaceful in its precise insecurity that you barely notice the frenetic rush of the music. Finally, the “Then I Kissed Her” riff murmured underneath that unavoidable full stop of a final synthesiser note, as though lodged, or locked, down to play for as long as eternity allows.

It was on the indie chart for more or less the entire decade, but its unexpected return to the mainstream Top 20 was partly due to the interest generated by “Blue Monday” and partly to the lamentably bold, but huge-selling, cover version by Paul Young. As now, as then, as ever, as with “The Look Of Love” in that Channel 4 Bond list the other evening, it sounds above any chart, as though imperious Olympus had descended into the fast-tract checkout at KwikSave.

18. Rock Steady Crew – Hey You (The Rock Steady Crew)
As I recall they actually appeared on TOTP to demonstrate this new-fangled breakdancing business. A bit Kids From Fame to 2006 ears but it sounded pretty bright at the time. Not played.

17. Paul Young – Love Of The Common People
It’s probably not Paul Young’s fault (though appearing at Tory election rallies definitely was) that No Parlez continues its reign as the undefeated champion of the charity shop racks. The thought to re-interpret Joy Division or Nicky Thomas was probably at least semi-noble, but the execution…blame lies in great part with producer Laurie Latham, who unbelievably once did work with Martin Hannett (they co-produced the first Durutti Column album, and in the sleevenote to the CD reissue of same, Anthony H Wilson hails Latham as a “genius”), but whose idea of pop in 1983 was to smother everything in bottom-free, suffocating clouds of Fairlight, pointlessly bouncing Linn drums and PINO SODDING PALLADINO AND HIS SOD OFF FRETLESS FLANGING BASTARD BASS

…anyway, this is a gruesome traduction of the old pop-reggae classic (oh for Johnny Arthey and his Willesden Sound strings here!) – Rico ‘phones in his trombone solo from another planet, everything is mixed BACK and bathed in STUPID echo; but the worst offender by a country mile are the beyond-dreadful backing vocals – the Fabulous Wealthy Tarts, I believe they called themselves – which (as with Young’s previous single “Come Back And Stay”) just keep elbowing to the front and getting in everybody’s, including Young’s, way. I presume that the “Wealthy” prophecy has not been fulfilled in the intervening twenty-three years.

16. Limahl – Only For Love
15. UB40 – Please Don’t Make Me Cry
Neither played, and both so forgettable that I had to dig out my ancient Now That’s What I Call Music Volume One Special Value Double Cassette cassettes to remind myself of how they went. I needn’t have bothered. In the Limahl record there appears a huge gaping hole where a song should have been – one of the flimsiest records ever to make the Top 20, surely – whereas the combination of UB40 wafting from my speakers and Vernon Kay’s All-Star Family Fortunes on my TV actually sent me to brief sleep. I am given to understand that this is not an uncommon phenomenon.

14. Donna Summer – Unconditional Love
With Musical Youth. You wouldn’t get away with this now, nor would anyone particularly want to. As I remember this was more or less the time when Donna decided to become a God(dess)head and start blurting out all that nonsense about Aids being God’s punishment, and certainly there is the horrid stench of Sunday school sanctimoniousness about “Unconditional Love,” not to mention its appalling 1983 production. No wonder House became so big; someone had to bring back the bass.

13. Duran Duran – Union Of The Snake
Not played – “not one of their better records” said Dale directly after he’d said that “every song in this chart is great”; well, it’s all relative, isn’t it, since the terms “Duran Duran” and “better records” are in my misguided world thoroughly incompatible.

12. Style Council – A Solid Bond In Your Heart
It was nearly going to be the last Jam single, but “Beat Surrender” won through, and I wish Weller had left it as a Jam outtake; rhythmically this is quite interesting (mainly due to Zeke Manyika’s enterprising drumming) but again the production and delivery are so bloodless and gut-free that there’s no way through to the song; tellingly, this was the week’s highest new entry, but only climbed one place higher. Strictly one for the fan club (but pause for a moment’s thought for poor benighted Bruce Foxton, marooned at #56 that month with his second solo outing, the memorable “This Is The Way,” which unaccountably I do actually remember).

11. Rolling Stones – Undercover Of The Night
Showing more life than they’d done for over a decade, the Stones’ last great single shows exactly how to get to grips with and adapt contemporary production techniques; in direct contrast to nearly everything else in this list, it doesn’t sound landlocked in (November) 1983. The thundering drum explosions and exploding FX betray at least some familiarity with Arthur Baker and John Robie’s work, and although Jagger’s social concern, as ever, sounds as though he’s delivering it from a fifty-fifth floor penthouse balcony, there is at least an attempt to be relevant (“lost in the jails of South America”) and the record still sounds agreeably angry.

(Incidentally, apropos John Robie in particular, he was responsible for the second best single released in November 1983; Jenny Burton’s fantastically bonkers “Remember What You Like”)

10. The Assembly – Never, Never
Such a small, intimate song which sounds as if it is hardly willing to be sung, but Feargal Sharkey does a fantastic job of coaxing it out – “It never happens to me.” I’ve always felt it a pity that Vince Clarke’s Assembly project – one-off singles all sung by different vocalists – never really got going since “Never, Never” suggests a delicate direction for electropop which more or less became lost until Stephin Merritt gave it his attention. One gem sorely in need of reclaiming is the following year’s “One Day,” a magical little song credited to Clarke and the great lost (and now sadly very ill) Glasgow singer Paul Quinn, which regrettably went nowhere.

9. Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
Sold more than any other single in 1983 but I still can’t get with it, nor to the point of it, despite “I’m a man without convictions” and “how to sell the contradiction.” They had this week’s number one album with Colour By Numbers, and “Miss Me Blind” (which Dale played), complete with Roy Hay’s nice little Ernie Isley tribute, demonstrates just how good they could be when they pushed themselves; whereas “KC” is, whatever its intended subtexts, essentially harm-free and punctum-free bubblegum, mechanically constructed to Be A Number One (that hands in the air climax chorus! that harmonica!!), and is so depressingly polite in its production that…well, I couldn’t work out why Paul M bracketed it with “Blue Monday” and “This Charming Man” in his NME singles column of that month, or more accurately I could, but even so; the other two records bristle and wink with life, but “KC” just sits there, beaming, daring you to throw stones if you notice.

8. Men Without Hats – The Safety Dance
Cute concept for a video (though if you listen to the song’s construction, you could hear the medieval thing coming) but I have never been able to stand that sullen bullroarer style of post-New Pop singing (cf. Wang Chung), and yes they were Can-Con, but then so was Rita MacNeill. If not her miners.

7. The Cure – The Lovecats
6. Adam Ant – Puss N’ Boots

Two feline singles by two temporarily stranded post-punks treading the water surrounding their self-constructed desert islands. Admittedly “The Lovecats” has over the years remained a student disco staple to file alongside “Silver Machine,” “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and “Where’s Me Jumper?,” but I’ve never really had much time for the Cure as pop group, much preferred them as miserabilists; true, you couldn’t particularly have gone any further out beyond Pornography and still be breathing, but they have perpetually seemed to trail one fatal step behind New Order (as demonstrated by “The Walk” and “In Between Days” alike) and the mock-jazz mock-acid hijinx of “Lovecats” have served more often to sink than to float my boat.

Meanwhile, Adam wasn’t at all sure where to go but still manages to summon up a facsimile of the Wild Frontier gusto for this Phil Collins-produced oddity; Collins plays drums on the record as well as producing it, though his drum track sounds remarkably similar to the one which he laid down for Frida’s “I Know There’s Something Going On” 12 months previously.

5. Madness – The Sun And The Rain
It was maybe already too late; Madness had seen too much to enjoy uncomplicated happiness ever again, and despite this song’s attempted happy ending, the clouds grow ever heavier rather than disperse. It was the last top ten hit they had in their original incarnation; thereafter, more complex affairs such as “Michael Caine” proved increasingly difficult for their increasingly bemused fans to digest.

4. Lionel Richie – All Night Long (All Night)
Seemed that everybody, from Terry Wogan to the NME and back again, loved this record except me. I appreciate the considerable skill involved in its construction and how deftly Richie appropriates various elements of then-contemporary black music, from “Sexual Healing” shuffle through Grace Jones spaces and Marley emulation to Afro-chants. And yet it is studium through and through; nothing ever breaks through its protective shrinkwrap to penetrate me, such that, yes, it’s reasonably pleasant, as long as you interpret that as the deadliest of insults.

3. Shakin’ Stevens – Cry Just A Little Bit
Bob Heatlie’s a strange one, a Glaswegian songwriter inclined towards odd MoR electropop. He was responsible for Aneka’s asinine “Japanese Boy,” one of the worst of all number ones, a record which eloquently inverts the Saint Etienne remark to read “Pop – it could be so good, but we make it so rubbish.” More interesting was his work for the venerable Shaky, including “Cry Just A Little Bit” which is part “Rock ‘N’ Roll Part 2” and part “9 To 5” (the Sheena Easton one; Chris Neil returns as producer) and which in its own unassuming way isn’t half bad.

2. Paul McCartney with Michael Jackson – Say, Say, Say
The record was going nowhere fast – well, as far as number ten, then down again with a 60 TONS weight around its scrawny neck – until the video was unveiled. Bizarrely it features Macca and Jacko as a couple of travelling Old West quacks and has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SONG (usually No Bad Thing, but not in this instance), but that hardly stopped – indeed, restarted – people buying it. It’s a sight better than “This Girl Of Mine,” to be sure, and quite lively in its contained fury, but finally, as with so much else in this Top 20, what’s its point, exactly?

1. Billy Joel – Uptown Girl
Whereas the video for this got straight to the point; ornery short guy wins tall leggy model. I guess Christie Brinkley absolutely sold the Four Seasons pastiche before anything or anyone else, but to be fair it’s done with good humour and doesn’t pretend to be anything beyond the tribute which it actually is.

It’s just that we would rather have had “This Charming Man” at number one. Wouldn’t we?

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Monday, November 13, 2006

Does Radio 2 deliberately keep picking these bland, uneventful charts for Sunday afternoon audiences? Is that the most pointless question ever asked? Of course, from a Robbie Williams point of view this is an all-time classic chart, full of "iconic" records, but does this make the Radio 2 Music Club demographic anything other than weary 55-year-old flower arrangers from Southsea?

In the meantime, naturally; when Harry met Nancy last week, it might turn out to be the salvation of all of us...

20. Band of the Black Watch - Scotch On The Rocks
19. Dee Clark - Ride A Wild Horse
A jaunty, novelty bagpipe tune (not a patch on Roy Wood's "Going Down The Road") and one of many attempts to emulate "Rock Your Baby" made by the bizarre and shortlived Polydor soul subsidiary Chelsea, this one from a fifties soul veteran ("Just Keep It Up," etc.) who perhaps should have known better. Neither was played.

18. John Miles - Highfly
One of several anxious-sounding MoR pop derivatives of Pilot's "January" complete with lamppost-scraping lead guitar; he still had the feathercut and didn't go for the short back and quiff until music was his first love, cont. p. 94...

17. Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
Best viewed as a six-minute advert for the band - look! We do heartfelt ballads! Light opera pastiches! Loud heavy rock metal! Also, "nothing really matters," but that hasn't stopped generations from weeping at its altar for the sake of its mere existence, despite its admission of utterable meaninglessness compensated for by its total camp in the light of a sort of Valhalla farewell to all glam-pop.

16. Maxine Nightingale - Right Back Where We Started From
One of those Ian Levine-style modern reworkings of the Northern Soul template; decent enough (and an American number one!) but hardly floor-shattering.

15. Morris Albert - Feelings
Tropicalia goes truly MoR; did he ever do anything other than this song, and did he ever need to, considering that every cornball MoR entertainment star of the period, from Val Doonican down to Des O'Connor, bombarded our TV screens at the time with lacklustre covers? In compensation, perhaps, Dale did not play it.

14. Jigsaw - Sky High
A shift away from "Highfly" but a crucial one; the swirling intro invents ABC, the pop is elegant and harmonically misleading (always a good thing). Scott and Dyer were also responsible for "Who Do You Think You Are?" (Candlewick Green or Saint Etienne; either will do) and really should have been far more prominent on the charts. Much beloved of Radio Luxembourg.

13. Art Garfunkel - I Only Have Eyes For You
12. George McCrae - I Ain't Lyin'
11. Esther Phillips - What A Difference A Day Makes
Clearly the "Bo Rap" effect meant that none of these was played; two radical reshapings of standards, Art's placid, blurred and blissful, Esther's Pigbag-anticipating upbeat shuffle (though her voice is problematic for me in an R&B Joanna Newsom sense). "I Ain't Lyin'," I regret to say, I couldn't remember at all, though I could make a reasonable guess.

10. Hot Chocolate - You Sexy Thing
Up from 38, and it would have spent three weeks at the top had it not been leapfrogged by "Bo Rap." Ruined by over-exposure and the unfortunate juvenile mishearing of the song's first line as "I've been needing Milko." Unfortunate, since the song chugs along with purpose and passion, and Errol's heartrending "Yesterday, I was one of the lonely people" is always moving in the best (positive) way.

9. Hello - New York Groove
Possibly the strangest glam-pop hit of them all; a Bo Diddley/Hamilton Bohannon electro-shuffle penned by Russ Ballard and sung by a breathless but enthusiastic Bob Bradbury - check out his median howl of "Who cares about tomorrow?" Again, a shame they didn't have more hits here, since the likes of "You Move Me," "Game's Up" and "Star Studded Sham" are in urgent need of rediscovery.

8. Justin Hayward & John Lodge - Blue Guitar
Typical Moody Blues swirling but quiet epic which did bring back the spectre of dark evenings and anticipations of Christmas, especially that downward diagonal bass slide in the song's seventh and eighth bars. Take out Justin and you'd have Sigur Ros.

7. Trammps - Hold Back The Night
Perfectly decent soul-pop which doesn't stimulate me in any realistic or mythical way; studium disco even then - I liked it as an eleven-year-old, but the URGE to go out and own a copy was hardly present.

6. John Lennon - Imagine
On its first chart run, four years after it was recorded, to promote the Shaved Fish compilation, and perhaps the subtlest of all Trojan horse pop records; Lennon beams at you with a pleasing MoR ambience, starts to ask us to imagine scenarios which he then methodically piles on in intensity and radicalism, all the time maintaining his smile - no religion, no countries, no possessions, are you up for this? he challenges, and maybe that first verse is a challenge in itself; is "living for today" actually what we want? If not, wait for the next quiet demand...and on the B-side, to ensure that we finally did get the message, "Working Class Hero" - "You're still fucking peasants as far as I can see." Thus is the dream already doomed.

5. Jim Capaldi - Love Hurts
Rather unattractive discofied AoR Orbison update which pinpoints grief and loss on the same scale as losing one's shaving brush.

4. Glen Campbell - Rhinestone Cowboy
A brief comeback to complain about the crap songs he'd been given to sing in the intervening four years since he'd last had a hit in Britain, including, presumably, that entire 1974 album of Jimmy Webb songs including "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress."

3. Roxy Music - Love Is The Drug
Now long since de-weirded, but Ferry is the ideal funnel through which to filter his quiet disgust at fast love, vapid parties, dimming the lights, and as for his future career, you could easily have guessed the rest.

2. Billy Connolly - D.I.V.O.R.C.E.
The folkies-turned-comedians were one of the major chart breakthroughs of 1975 - this week, Max Boyce had the number one album with We All Had Doctors' Papers, from which Dale, with gritted teeth, spun the "Sospan Bach" audience intro. Meanwhile, the Big Yin starts to solidify with an unfunny Tammy Wynette variant which puts wives on the same level as dogs.

1. David Bowie - Space Oddity/Changes/Velvet Goldmine
One of the RCA Maximillion series of three-track 45 reissues to circumvent the E.P.-banning chart rule, and sounding far more lost and dislocated than it did in '69; here the drug trip as space trip allegory becomes painfully apparent, as Bowie (or Barrett, or whoever) drifts out of contact, into unreachable black holes, and stays there, astute enough to know that distance, if handled adroitly, means a long and successful career. And then it segues into the opening radiowaves of "Station To Station"...

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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Monday, November 06, 2006

I recall posting at length on ILM (though I cannot pinpoint the exact thread) about a very similar chart just over a year ago. This indicates the necessarily limited timescale of an exercise such as this, since inevitably by the time we get to May 2007 everything will start to repeat itself. Nonetheless, here we find the Light Programme/Radio Caroline war at its height; a decidedly schizophrenic list of up-to-the-second rock and quaint MoR comforts.

20. Four Pennies - Until It's Time For You To Go
19. Sandie Shaw - Message Understood
Neither played; neither a great loss.

18. Wilson Pickett - In The Midnight Hour
I always gravitated towards the Motown rather than the Atlantic/Stax axis, and this "classic" illustrates exactly why; not merely the horrendous 1985 Real Music jihad, and not simply The Commitments (though neither exactly helped), but a decidedly unsexy belch of sweat and brandy warning about what's going to happen once he unbuckles his belt and unzips his fly upon staggering in from the pub at 11:55. So male; so smelly; so Tom Jones-allowing; so essentially bleurgh.

17. Sonny & Cher - But You're Mine
"I Got You Babe" soundalike at double speed.

16. Dusty Springfield - Some Of Your Lovin'
Reputedly Dusty's favourite of her own recordings since, according to her, it was the one where she managed to stay most in tune throughout; stately and grand as a ballad, even though it's the weary old I-don't-care-how-many-other-women-you-fuck-just-give-me-the-best-stuff meme. How many subjects are there for a pop song anyway? Do they exceed seven?

15. Bob Dylan - Positively Fourth Street
Never at his best when settling scores with old girlfriends; haven't you got anything better to write about?

14. Everly Brothers - Love Is Strange
Their last UK Top 20 entry, where they manfully try to surf the Beat Boom and update their template. Not bad but hardly Mickey and Sylvia.

13. Seekers - The Carnival Is Over
Dusty's brother finds an old Russian melody, updates it with war-related lyric, folky Australians take it to number one.

12. Manfred Mann - If You Gotta Go, Go Now
Yet another demonstration of how Dylan is rarely the best conduit for his own material; Paul Jones' enthusiastic yet cynical lead vocal gives the song the pop bounce it deserves.

11. McCoys - Hang On Sloopy
Garage rock unexpectedly crosses back over the Atlantic; young Rick Derringer howls and thrashes with immense gusto. The first hit single on the Immediate label.

10. Animals - It's My Life
Never mind the Doors; Eric Burdon was already beating them at their own game in '65. The sinister undercarriage of the Animals is rarely noted; but this performance verges on the quietly demonic - listen to how Burdon hisses the word "sable." Still sorely underrated.

9. Barry McGuire - Eve Of Destruction
A cash-in by a knowing old-timer, possibly ("One Wheel On My Wagon," anyone?), but still one hell (literally) of a pop record, even if you note the sweaty attempts to keep the rhyming scheme afloat to maintain the tension with each new verse.

8. Matt Monro - Yesterday
A mournful intimate meditation on loss is turned into a serenely lush orchestral ballad with Mantovani-esque nullifications and wholly inappropriate bendings and ad-libbing from the singer. Arranged and produced by George Martin. How much did he really understand the Beatles?

7. Andy Williams - Almost There
That bathroom echo sonority you get in "stereo" MoR hits of the mid- and late sixties - just a hint of bossa nova, plus distant hotel lobby cocktail piano - is personified in this smooth expectation of orgasm.

6. Fortunes - Here It Comes Again
Cook and Greenaway trying to be Carter and Lewis from this evidence; layered harmonies, plentiful orchestration and pregnant tubular bells, but there's something throaty and loveless about the group's coarse vocal delivery.

5. Hedgehoppers Anonymous - It's Good News Week
Of course the kneejerk response has always been: "It was meant as a satire, a send-up of meaningful Dylan-type lyrics." But something about this record - its references to "blackening the sky" and "the rotting dead" stand out even in this company - makes me feel that the composer really meant it. The composer, I might add, whose name was determinedly omitted by Dale when fulsomely discussing the record. Elephant, living room, etc....

4. Chris Andrews - Yesterday Man
Principally a writer rather than a performer (including the troubled perkiness of Sandie Shaw's run of hits: see "Message Understood" above), Andrews nevertheless scored a few successes which what can only be described as proto-bluebeat pop transposed into mainstream British pop, complete with blurting brass section. This was the most famous - its surface jauntiness disguising a rather bitter lyric of betrayal and abandonment - though I've always preferred Robert Wyatt's 1975 reading, the proposed follow-up to his hit version of "I'm A Believer" until Virgin heard it, got cold feet and buried it in an obscure various artists sampler album.

3. Yardbirds - Evil Hearted You/Still I'm Sad
Explosive in this company; usually the Gregorian pop lament of "Still I'm Sad" is played , but today Dale gave "Evil Hearted You" an airing; a sinuous creep through a fairly standard pop song, continuously disrupted by long silences, abrupt commentary from Beck's lead guitar and general rearranging of the pop furniture. As with the Animals, they're still awaiting their proper dues.

2. Ken Dodd - Tears
1. Rolling Stones - Get Off Of My Cloud
Nothing much to add to Ewing's fine dual commentary on
Popular; the clash reaches its peak - the parents against the kids, syrup against sinew, strings against guitars, two different ways of dealing with loneliness ("Let's forgive and forget" versus "HEY! YOU!"), two different examples of exhibitionist comedians, both of whom know far, far more than they're letting on.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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