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

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?

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