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

Sunday, April 29, 2007

There were too many accidental discoveries for Easter to have been an accident. Things which I had been unsuccessfully seeking since August turned up as soon as she turned up – so maybe there’s a lesson here. And I have to say that since she had to fly back, I haven’t gone off the habit of browsing for music but I no longer feel it a solitary pursuit – or, for that matter, writing about it. In truth I haven’t felt that way since last August but Easter helped to accentuate the necessity of such activities being done as a pair, a couple (as with life).

One thing I have decidedly gone off doing, however, is looking in “new” record shops. The prepackaged DVD-dominant glare of the entrance lobby is enough to give me a headache, never mind the increasingly unappetising menu of “new releases” one has to scan, with their desperate, jumbled bazaar look, their cursory Photoshop cover designs, the knowledge gleaned from four years of writing for the printed media of how much of this critically feted stuff is hyped from the PR word go, rather than arising naturally – so much of what passes as new music in 2007 is constructed on such a fragile Meccano basis that all you would have to do would be to pull one screw loose and the entire, boneless edifice would collapse.

Add to that the fact that, since the print writing career dwindled to a barely noticeable zero last year, I have inevitably fallen off a good many PR/record company mailing lists, such that I have to return to the ancient habit of buying CDs with my own hard-earned cash, a lot of 2007 things simply don’t get sent to me any more, and I am loath to expend large sums on new, untested things, and you may wish to resign me to an early Hornby Retirement Home (by the railway). Unlike my former salad days, when you only had to pay £4.49 or at the very most £5.49 for a new release – and thus could afford to take frequent gambles – the random investment of thirteen or fourteen, or even ten, pounds is getting harder and harder to justify. Witness (as Lena did) my dawdling in the Portobello Rough Trade over whether to buy the Besnard Lakes album (only £9.99) which has had more than good notices elsewhere (and they’re Canadian!) but which I myself haven’t yet heard – and truthfully I was mightily put off by the RT cover blurb which compared them to Pet Sounds, Roy Orbison and Julee Cruise; I’ve fallen for too many of these lines in the past, with the counters of sundry MVEs inevitably filling up with bog-standard indie fare. So I’m ending up as the Simon Cowell of music writers – ranks of stuttering CDs lining up in front of my desk, as I sternly observe them with an unavoidable air of “come on, then, impress me.” Not like the 1981/2 days, when I was happy to be impressed by everything!

So increasingly I have returned to the dusty haunts of used record shops, car boot sales and charity shops with a clear mandate not to look for any specific record; just to flick through what’s there and prepare to be surprised by what, if anything, I find. That’s one of the good things about the “mid-price” racks you get at the Berwick Street and Camden MVEs; with relatively recent CDs priced at £4-6 (or less) you are more likely, as a punter, to take risks. Much as in the former salad days, indeed. I would tell record companies to take note, except since everything is going to end up as virtual music, downloadable but uncherishable, there’s no real point.

But getting back to this article’s point, much of what I discovered on our joint record (and book) shopping trawls in the capital over Easter was done so in this way, accidentally. Nearly all of the CDs listed here are old, and many of them I still possess on vinyl, in another country – but at the moment, no music sounds fresher, and it was her presence that enabled this freshness to happen.

I will begin, however, with the two records Lena brought over from Canada as a present for me:

Their first album, from 2004, and a considerably darker and more enclosed affair than National Anthem Of Nowhere; the long and winding, and largely instrumental, title track sets out its dim path. Songs like “Baby, You’re In Luck” and “Kings & Queens” are pop, but played deep within an inaccessible bunker. Highlight: the closing Tinderstickian undulation of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (not the old Racing Cars hit) with Leslie Feist suitably unearthly on “vocal ghosts.”

DO MAKE SAY THINK: You, You’re A History In Rust
Their fifth album in ten years of existence; over Easter we listened to their third, & Yet & Yet, and while that contained frequently sublime work in the post-Godspeed/Mogwai tradition (already a tradition!! Lena had never heard Mogwai, so I played her “New Paths To Helicon” as an introduction to Hamilton’s finest and she was suitably astonished), Rust takes things considerably forward. Persisting with their barnyard operation (which in turn may also be exercising a subtle influence on what is now called post-rock; see Grizzly Bear especially) the stateliness of tracks like “A With Living” reminds me somewhat of Arthur Russell’s mid-seventies group work; urbane pastoralism, Sunday mornings in smoky, closed cities while simultaneously reaching out to the countryside; their long, languid spins take the music in continually unexpected directions, including the two shocking blast-offs into riffing noise – “The Universe!” and the stunning “Executioner Blues” which latter climaxes the album as it free-ascends into stardust. “When you keep that in mind, you’ll find a love as big as the sky.” Quite.

southpacific: constance
Tuesday in Greenwich, cold and blowsily windy; without the sun and heat a rather withered-looking tourist trap. SE London in general I tend to visit seldom; although this is “our city,” some parts of it are more “ours” than others – especially the further west we go (Hampton Court – QED). The bus journey to Greenwich is long and unfulfilling, involving attractive changes at Elephant and Castle – just the place to be waiting for a bus or standing around passing the time of day in full receipt of unending and unrelenting four-cornered gusts – circuitous trips to bus terminals named Canada Water, grey, metallic trudges through loveless industrial estates doing their damnedest to look like a “community,” with their Frankie & Benny’s psuedo-Italian diners (there’s another one at Gatwick Village, so it’s a name guaranteed to engender depression in me). I travelled down to Greenwich again yesterday, in 28 degrees of sun and heat, just to check that the route was as joyless with added summer, and indeed it was.

But Greenwich also has an MVE, and it was while browsing through the take-it-off-our-hands-PLEASE racks that the southpacific album suddenly emerged, without my even especially looking for it, and I remembered that miracles can still occur. This was one of two CDs that Lena brought with her in August, borrowed from Toronto’s public library, and we listened to it then and marvelled at its scope and depth (particularly its bass response) and I kicked myself for not picking up on it first time around in 2000 (I recalled seeing it in the racks seven years ago, and it may even have come out on the Poptones label here). In the intervening eight months ago I’d kept an eye out for it in the usual places, since inevitably it was out of print…but here it was, suddenly, without any apparent effort from me…it was priced at £3, and I mused on how long it must have been sitting in this shop, starting off at an over-hopeful £12 or £13, then gradually winding its way down the price scale over many months, or perhaps even years, now just two steps away from the pound-a-piece basement…all the time waiting for its ideal buyer…waiting for us to find it and I am absolutely sure, or as sure as one can be about such apparent supernatural occurrences, that it had been sitting there all of this time specifically for us to go down to Greenwich on a freezing and windy weekday and meet it. One of many, many signs…

southpacific themselves were an instrumental trio (though ghostly vocals appear on “Built To Last”) comprising Graeme Fleming on drums, guitars and samples, Joachim Toelke, also on guitars, and Phil Stewart-Bowes on bass. Not really in the post-rock tradition, but reaching back to an older one; that of the Cocteau Twins and Dif Juz (constance would have been a sensation had it come out on 4AD in 1989). The thrust of the opening “Blue Lotus” is reminiscent of the similarly neglected New Zealand trio Bailter Space (find, if you can, the latter’s great 1993 album Robot World on Flying Nun Records for confirmation of this) but there are no vocals and the guitar work is as hand-free as anything I can recall this side of Loveless. As the album progresses, the music becomes steadily grander and more detached (though note the simplicity of the acoustic interlude “A Better Life Since”), diving headlong into untraceable abstractions on “Automata” before climaxing on the noble, bleeding beauty of “Telegraph Hill” and signing off with “Aria” with a small but telling demonstration of how it all connects to GYBE!, DMST and others; haunting and poignant, and not a little sad to listen to on one’s own – but it is a gorgeous record, and if Turnbuckle Records of 163 Third Avenue, NYC, are still in business, then they should be gently persuaded to reintroduce it into circulation.

The MEMBRANES: Wrong Place At The Wrong Time
John OTWAY: Greatest Hits
The GUESS WHO: The Best Of The Guess Who
Three of my four fruits from an epic (three hours plus) trawl through the MVE multiplex which dominates the north side of Notting Hill Gate (together we are nothing if not thorough and persistent in our searching) on Wednesday afternoon (thankfully far sunnier and warmer than Tuesday had been). The Membranes one is a compilation of the highlights of Blackpool’s premier punk band, though at £3 I really only wanted it for the immense “Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder,” a fearless rampage through what John Robb describes in the sleevenote as “media muddling and nuke out threats, local politicians and greed eyed howl scamsters” which made the Mary Chain sound timid; hitherto a 7” single only, I first heard it when it finished in the top ten of Peel’s 1984 Festive Fifty, but when I rushed out the next day to buy it, it had long since gone (out of print) and it’s taken me until now to find it again. It still sounds amazing.

John Otway is Britain’s Jonathan Richman, and possibly also Britain’s Daniel Johnston; a brazen hussy of a nitwitty genius who has littered the last thirty years with one-off classics; this compilation (which, though released only in 2002, is now likewise out of print -–poor old John!) collects everything the beginner (and possibly the finisher) would want to hear, from ‘77’s heady “Cor Baby That’s Really Free” and “Beware Of The Flowers” through ‘78’s tremulous, 100-piece orchestra-backed five-and-a-half-minute ballad “Geneve” (it wasn’t a hit, either in the charts or with the girl about whom Otway wrote it), 1980’s fearsome backwards electrochant “DK 50/80” which nearly gave him a second Top 40 hit, 1981’s hilarious, minimalist “Headbutts,” a “Delilah” which nearly cuts Alex Harvey’s, and onwards until 2002’s triumphant 50th birthday top ten smash “Bunsen Burner” (shamefully never heard at Club Poptimism) and its flipside “House Of The Rising Sun” recorded live at Abbey Road with a thousand-piece fan club choir, including at least one ILxor. How can any record collection not have a John Otway greatest hits lurking within its shelves?

One CD I did need, however, was a decent Guess Who compilation, and this was it (I was complimented for my purchase by the MVE checkout girl – “Hey! Canadian music!” Ah, if only she knew but we didn’t push it…knowing only “American Woman” (because that’s all we got in Britain) my interest was sparked by the inclusion of the shattering ballad “Sour Suite” – as unlike “American Woman” as any song or record could be – on Scott Woods’ Can-Con compilation, and indeed they visited strange, new corners of the musical universe. “These Eyes” is one of the great white soul sides, Burton Cummings’ agonised voice climbing higher and higher up the scale as the song refuses not to modulate until his throat is on the point of expiring (that being the song’s emotional point), while tracks like “Hand Me Down World” and especially “Grey Day” (emphatically not the Madness song) with their diversions into cocktail jazz and freeform minimalism demonstrate the forming of something new, the clear forefather to the determined discontinuity of Broken Social Scene and all who sail within and without them. The Guess Who really were my big musical discovery of Easter.

MATCHING MOLE: Matching Mole
Now here’s a record I know well, but I hadn’t seen it on CD until Good Friday – a magical and near-faultless day which, as Lena has already mentioned, took in the National Portrait Gallery, the Beach Burrito Café in Berwick Street (the best place to eat in London on a summer’s afternoon, complete with an agreeably unpredictable indie playlist; if only there were a beach to go with it), a trek around Portobello Road and then to Clerkenwell for Club Poptimism. In the Portobello stretch I passed on Besnard Lakes in Rough Trade (but am still open to persuasion, as those two great JA ladies, Jane Austen and Joan Armatrading, would put it) but jumped at seeing this in the racks of Straight Ahead, the power pop/’60s specialist shop which shares premises with Minus Zero, also for £9.99. Its peak is the opening “O Caroline” with one of Robert Wyatt’s most touching vocal performances, which deconstructs as profoundly as it mourns; thereafter the band float through fragments of songs, whispering ghosts of scat, textural modulations – all very Arts & Crafts (2006) and a precursor, in Haines terms, to both Soft Skeleton and Metric.

Their debut mini-LP, and still by far the best thing they’ve ever released; wearing out of the grooves meant that my vinyl original sadly went west some while ago but I was glad to find it again at Flashback, in Islington, on Saturday (where I also found Jeff Buckley’s Live At Sin-E for Lena, and she found much else besides). Strongly reminiscent, for me, of those late spring/early summer weekday afternoons in 1993 when I used to get on the (long defunct) hopper bus from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital back home to Pimlico after a day’s work, venturing down Chelsea Embankment and the back end of Churchill Gardens, feeling good about the world and those flamenco guitars/police sirens (“Daughters Of The Kaos”) and sinister Moog/indie/closer-than-the-ear-can-hear rap interfaces (“Life Of Leisure”) warming a moment of immortal memory.

VARIOUS: Hard Workin’ Man: The Jack Nitzsche Story Volume 2
Stan FREBERG: Presents The United States Of America: Vol. 1 (The Early Years) and Vol. 2 (The Middle Years)
TRANQUILITY BASS: Let The Freak Flag Fly
The PRETTY THINGS: SF Sorrow Plus Resurrection (SF Sorrow Live At Abbey Road)
All discovered on our last Tuesday, way out west in Ealing. I didn’t even know that Ace had put out a second volume of Nitzsche stuff but there it was, already in Oxfam (at a steep £4.99, but you don’t see it every day) and full of wonders like Beefheart’s “Hard Workin’ Man,” which would have been worth the fiver in itself (first time on CD?), Timi Yuro’s “Teardrops ‘Till Dawn,” Karen Verros’ astonishing proto-psych/girl group freakout “You Just Gotta Know My Mind,” the Tubes’ “Don’t Touch Me There,” “Porpoise Song” with the full coda and everyone else from Frankie Laine to the Neville Brothers and back.

Though ideally I’d like a proper 2CD retrospective of Freberg’s work, preferably one which includes his brilliantly pedantic take on “Ol’ Man River” (“He must know something…but doesn’t say ANYTHING!”), this will more than do - £3.99, out of another branch of Oxfam, which is about a eighth of what you’d pay for it new in HMV; lots of very droll and telling satire on Our Shared History, one volume recorded in ’61 and the other in ’96 (though he sounds no different, and the second volume, including things like “Stephen Foster, Beloved Songwriter,” is arguably funnier and sharper than the first).

Tranquility Bass – not to be confused with Canada’s Tranquility Base of “If You’re Looking” fame – billed on the woozy, multicoloured inner sleeve as “The Insatiably Eclectic Hippy Free Freakout Band” – were essentially one man, Chicagoan Michael Kandel, who as far as I can tell only ever released the one album, in 1997. Indeed I used to own a copy, can’t remember why I got rid of it and am still kicking myself for doing so since, like nearly everything else on this list, you can’t exactly go down to your local emporium, or even a national one, and pick up a copy (moral: hang on to things because you never know when you’ll need them again). Anyway, if not quite “free” or “freakout,” Let The Freak Flag Fly is certainly unclassifiable; utilising samples, dance beats and Jimmie Rodgers covers with equal abandon, but with absolute political commitment, tracks like “Five Miles High” and “The Bird” are oddly similar to the way DMST or Broken Social Scene go about their music – long, discontinuous, but still strangely, or magically, unified – except here Kandel deploys trip hop and even Madchester memes to make his point. The highlight may well be the marathon, 22-minute medley “I’ll Be Here”/”Let The Freak Flag Fly” which is akin to the Steve Miller Band of Sailor wandering through a lost land, trying to find answers, attempting to get back home.

Getting back home, I found the 2CD SF Sorrow package new, for a fiver, in the dark and cheerless Ealing Broadway HMV. A long-cherished classic which again I do still have on vinyl somewhere, but here on one CD is the original “rock opera” complete with contemporary non-album single releases such as the magisterial, mouth-opening “Defecting Grey” (was 1967 really the greatest year ever? The evidence in its favour re-gathers by the day). The second CD sees them reunited thirty-one years later at Abbey Road to perform the same material live, complete with Arthur Brown as narrator, and they make a pretty damn good job of it.

Yes, trying to find answers, attempting to get back home – and the awful Wednesday morning when she did have to get “back home.” When she left for the departure lounge (passengers only) I felt a sudden and horrible emptiness in the sense that now it was just me standing there, and there was nothing else to do but get on the train back to Clapham Junction and thereafter the bus(es) back home, the terrible business of having to re-adjust to “real life” – especially as the ten days we spent together WERE our real life.

But even then, on that gloomy, overcast Wednesday lunchtime, one more sign that she hadn’t really left; in the Scope charity shop at Clapham Junction, another classic Canadian album, Snow’s 12 Inches Of Snow, for a pound, and Lena had mentioned that had she found it used she would have bought it. So I bought it for her, and I’m keeping it safe for her, awaiting her permanent return. These next five months can’t pass by quickly enough.

But wait a minute - what about the fourth unspoiled spoil we found in MVE that first Wednesday?

Glenn GOULD: Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Some records, conversely, you can will to appear if your will is strong enough. This was the other CD Lena borrowed from the library in August, and again it has vanished from circulation, and again I spent eight fruitless months searching for a copy - until we were both back here, and well, it HAD to be there, in the Stage and Screen branch of Notting Hill MVE. We stared at it for a few, long-seeming moments, as though frozen, and then it was my purest pleasure to convey the sleeve to the counter for CD and payment.

This album documents the life of a mind as few other "compilations" can; Bach, Hindemith, Wagner (with Toscanini and full orchestra), Beethoven ("Practice"? Many pianists would envy this as an end) and on through Scriabin, Schoenberg and Hindemith ("Personal Ad," "Forty-Nine" - the subtitles tell their own remorseful story; fifty years as Glenn Gould or a hundred years as anybody else?), a piano which sounds stroked by angel wings, even if it were stoked with prescription drugs. It emphasises, as though it needed emphasis (but so often it does!) that there is never a true end to all good things, and all good people.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Monday, April 16, 2007

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you; this is about as far into the future as POTP has ever dared to travel – I recall some early ‘90s visitations in the Alan Freeman/Saturday afternoon era but prior to yesterday’s show 1986 was the limit. Perhaps Radio 2 do pay some attention to my prolonged whingeing after all. However, the underlying history-rewriting programme remains firmly intact; although every effort was made to turn 1989 into another worthy, Radio 2 Music Club-friendly demonstration of Quality Music – you’d have been naïve to think that with the expanded two-hour slot, they would actually be prepared to play the full Top 20, history as it actually happened, rather than waste valuable time with deadbeat “climbers” and unheard “new releases” - some precious jewels still shone through the studium.

Beginning with the climbers, and one of the best records on today’s list:

38. The LONDON BOYS: Requiem
Gloriously crass midtempo Hi-NRG with a very effective contrast between guttural Euro “rapping” and hysterical speeded-up 1969 ballad chorus, making it the missing link between Joe Dolan and Yello. In the first of many regrettable researching errors, Dale stated that this was their biggest hit, reaching #4, whereas in fact that was the follow-up, “London Nights,” which made #2. Never mind – their album The Ten Commandments Of Dance remains fabulous, and the Boys are sadly missed.

33. MIDNIGHT OIL: Beds Are Burning
Well, if you’re going to have worthy stadium rock, best that it should have a coherent message as per this passionately pro-Aborigine anthem, the band’s only major UK hit single. “Let’s give it back,” hisses frontman Peter Garrett menacingly – and eighteen years later, they’re still waiting.

31. ASWAD: Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
Having gained their thirty pieces of silver for selling out with “Don’t Turn Around,” Aswad seemed to have washed off any remote trace of reggae in this dully sparkling Temptations remake. The pulsatile memory of “African Children” at the 1983 Notting Hill Carnival seemed to emanate from an increasingly distant galaxy.

Then an odd trio of new releases:

Bonnie RAITT: Nick Of Time
One of those tracks you’ve heard a million times until it’s back announced and you think: “oh right, that’s what it was.” For some reason I always thought this to be a Womack and Womack B-side.

Plundering Sly Fox’s immortal “Let’s Go All The Way,” the Swedish duo whom I wish I liked more than I do (how can you hate a group who calls their greatest hits compilation Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus?) began their long run of successes. Yes, “It Must Have Been Love” and maybe “Listen To Your Heart” approximate Abba…but Abba they most certainly were not.

1927: That’s When I Think About You
According to Dale, a massive turntable hit from 1989, although I’d never heard it before. Then again I didn’t listen to much daytime radio in 1989. More Australians, and another bombastically bland AoR offering. Clearly I missed nothing.

Onward to the album top ten:
10. The STYLE COUNCIL: My Ever Changing Moods
As featured on their Singular Adventures Of… greatest hits collection, and a fine soundtrack to a sublime early summer Sunday afternoon roving around the greener parts of South London with exceptional drumming from Steve White, particularly when he goes berserk at the end. Even though it’s basically the Isleys’ “If You Were There” with added soulcialism, it was one of the increasingly rare highlights of the dimming charts of 1984.

8. W.A.S.P.: For Whom The Bell Tolls
Then again, this was rather a bold choice for POTP (even though they had two chances to play Guns N’ Roses and didn’t). Two years after their controversial Top 40 hit forever known in the corridors of the BBC as “Animal – Folk Like A Beast!” this metal romp stemmed from their album The Headless Children. I waited in breathless anticipation for some Front Line Assembly or My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult but sadly neither came to pass.

7. Bobby BROWN: Every Little Step
“I think it’s safe to call him Whitney’s ex now – it’s on, it’s off, it’s on again” quipped Dale of Mr Brown as though preparing to perform a cover of Status Quo’s “Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again).” Blimey, whatever happened to New Jack Swing then? Though Our Bobby was strictly swingbeat-lite, there is a beneficent spring in every little step of “Every Little Step” which has ensured the record’s durability. Good pop, this.

5. Paula ABDUL: Cold Hearted
From her debut album Forever Your Girl (can you name her second without looking it up?). More thoughts on Paula below, but this is strictly album track territory – the elements of New Pop are all present, but as hollow signifiers rather than to excite or provoke anything other than weary boredom.

3. SIMPLY RED: A New Flame
Title track of their third album, and beautifully sung as ever (“I’m STUNNED by you!”) though the tango verse is far more interesting than the boring chorus. Despite the occasional flicker of genius, the hint of Tim Buckley otherness in Hucknall’s voice has always made me regret that he hasn’t gone Starsailor mad, not even once (incidentally I saw Buckley’s Starsailor on CD on sale for £40 in Camden MVE on Saturday, sitting next to a similarly-priced CD of Scott Walker’s ‘Til The Band Comes In, both labelled “MARKED.” There for them as wants them, but for that kind of cash I’m sticking to my ancient vinyl for now, at least until Herb Cohen and the Zappa estate sort things out and Starsailor, Lick My Decals Off Baby, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer etc. get a proper remastered reissue).

2. MADONNA: Express Yourself
The one really dud track from Like A Prayer was inevitably the one played yesterday; horrid Reaganite jerks of private enterprise full of clichés and empty of heart. Couldn’t they have taken a chance on the Prince duet “Love Song” instead?

1. DEACON BLUE: One Hundred Things
Oho! Straight in at number one as well, burst the long-awaited second album When The World Knows Your Name from the band formerly known as Chewy Raccoon, allegedly in tribute to the hairstyle favoured by eager backing singer Bez. Of course Ricky “Chewy Raccoon” Ross was still revelling in the multiple plaudits he’d received for Deacon Blue’s award-winning debut, Dignity, Always Dignity, a soulful, passionate and honest concept album about a retired postman who sails a boat around the Firth of Clyde and gets into all sorts of passionate, soulful and honest scrapes. Who could forget such classic honest, soulful and passionate songs as “I Love To Go Swimmin’ With Wimmin,” “Make ‘Em Laugh Fergus” and “Moses Supposes”? True, they sounded like Roddy Frame fronting Prefab Sprout from a distance, and then as you move closer in the whole chimera evaporated into yuppie-friendly Quality Q Magazine Rock-Pop-Rock (Chewy Raccoon, by the way), but they were just what Canary Wharf needed in 1989, and they should surely be applauded for their bold musical advances when, in 1993, they appointed 1990’s hottest producers Paul Oakenfold and Curtis Mantronik for their fourth album Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Irn-Bru, with its groundbreaking bootleg mix of the Go-Betweens’ “Streets Of Your Town” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love”? “We don’t hear these guys on the radio anywhere near enough,” sighed Dale, and do you know what? He’s right! Campaign for more Chewy Raccoon melodic pop rock pop on all radio stations now! When will you make Ricky Ross’ telephone ring?

And then it was time for selected highlights of the week’s Top 20:

Swiftly bypassing “Fire Woman” by the Cult at #20, 1989 rep reliables FYC won many Filofaxed hearts with their anxious update on “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” as the Newbeats might have recorded it. Sadly Jools Holland ruins the otherwise reasonable song with some needless boogie woogie piano magic. They were never the same again.

16. INXS: Mystify
Before we get to Mad Mike, a note about the two singles in between; dear Mr Swern, some of us were actually looking forward to listening to “International Rescue” by Fuzzbox (18) – the mighty Brummie foursome retooling themselves for the post-Bananarama market rather brilliantly (go forth to your local charity shop and rescue that copy of the Big Bang album now!), and if Girls Aloud came out with this now we’d touch the hems of their garments even more fervently. Haven’t heard anything from the Fuzzbox lasses since then but I hope they’re doing OK.

No surprises, however, in the non-playing of that week’s #17, “I’d Rather Jack” by the Reynolds Girls. An explicit protest penned by Pete Waterman against the domination of the 1989 BBC Radio airwaves by dinosaur rock, with little or no room for the pop which kids actually loved (see also the runaway success of Deacon “Chewy Raccoon” Blue’s “Real Gone Kid” as Single Of The Year at the infamous 1989 Brit Awards, not voted for by the public), it’s hardly shocking that the BBC Radio of 2007 should continue to dig in their heels. A nearly great single – that “nearly” would have been unnecessary if Mel Appleby had won her fight against cancer, for “I’d Rather Jack” was originally intended as a Mel and Kim record – marred only by the rather timid lead vocals of the teenage Scouse sisters who eventually did record the single, and who, much to Waterman’s consternation, said in interviews that they rather liked Fleetwood Mac, like.

Anyway, to INXS, who also recorded some fantastic singles when they felt capable of doing so, and “Mystify” is a Madness backing track which Hutchence somehow makes into something far better than any Madness singles (yes, I know, I used to like them, but that Tory bash still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth). Tremendous.

12. U2 with B.B. KING: When Love Comes To Town
Death where is thy Sting? The three singles overlapped on the way to yet more Rattle And Hum life-squashing studium pabulum were Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” at 15 (well, he’d already been played, but unlike the very white Madonna and partially white Paula Abdul he didn’t warrant a second spin), Pat and Mick’s revival of “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” at 14 (for non-British, non-London dwelling readers, they were happy-go-lucky Capital Radio DJs Pat Sharp and Mick Brown with their second consecutive fundraising single for the Help A London Child charity – another SAW production, and not one of their classics) and Guns N’ Roses with “Paradise City” at 13 (no idea why they didn’t play that when they spun W.A.S.P. of all people).

But “When Love Comes To Town”? Christ, this was the death of music, the purist dagger in its fun-loving belly, everything dragged down to a John Knox rock of piety, righteousness, dirt and Honest Toil And Effort, King trying manfully to conceal his roars of laughter at the hapless Dublin boys trying to present themselves as Soiled Sons Of The Parish. Mercifully Eno boxed their ears not long afterwards and got them to listen to music made in the twentieth century, so that’s yet another reason why we should pray to him every day, in order to unlearn dignity.

11. COLDCUT featuring Lisa STANSFIELD: People Hold On
A beautiful vocal performance from Lisa – one of her best – and a softly subversive production from Coldcut. As with “The Only Way Is Up,” I know the history behind this but I will save talking about it for my, er, private correspondence.

10. SOUL II SOUL featuring Caron WHEELER: Keep On Movin’
Not actually a number one as Dale eagerly announced it – this peaked at number five and it was the next one which went to the top – but the beginning of a time, nonetheless; like an elegant London bus perambulating down less fortunate streets – such patience, such real fortitude, such gentle versatility in Wheeler’s voice, such compassion, the memory of Chic embedded in those Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra string lines. Yes, ‘tis pity that Jazzie B turned out to be an enthusiastic Thatcher cheerleader and that the first Soul II Soul album was chock full of adverts for his clothes shop and club; but he did leave us two nearly perfect singles, and a future for other, bolder souls – notably Massive Attack – to pursue. Near unreal in its gorgeousness, “Keep On Movin’” remains a dream of a pop record.

9. Holly JOHNSON: Americanos
I was never particularly smitten by solo Holly, although many were (at least for one album); “Americanos” is another exercise in sneaking subversion, starting out with cries about “the land of the free” before becoming progressively darker, even though the tune remains cheery throughout. But that “Queen of Soul invented rock and roll” line, answered predictably by the abominable caterwauling of the backing singer, pinpoints everything that was so wrong about late eighties pop. Stop the “soul” already!

8. Donna SUMMER: This Time I Know It’s For Real
QED. Donna has never had to shout or squeal to demonstrate her soul (though we could have done without the sorely ill-advised Aids comments earlier on that decade). Returning to Stock, Aitken and Waterman sixteen years after Pete Waterman had started her career off by getting her into an early line-up of the disco girl group Silver Convention, “This Time I Know It’s For Real” is a glorious pop single, jacking serenely down the Cromwell Road as we did in the fine spring of 1989; yearning, crying with the revelation of experience (“I’ve been around for long enough to know”), pleading and unutterably loving. Anyone who derides SAW productions for being free of emotion or passion, with or without inverted commas, should be made to listen to the intensely moving cadences of “This Time I Know It’s For Real.” No human being bereft of a soul could have made a record as great as this. So gorgeous you want to cry at its beauty – “Shout it out with a megaphone.”

7. TRANSVISION VAMP: Baby I Don’t Care
Neither did I for the Lily Allen of her day, atonally squalling and wailing like an overgrown infant over yet another “Louie Louie” retread as though we should applaud her for breathing – which, if memory of her numerous music press interviews serves, seemed to be her intent.

6. Jason DONOVAN: Too Many Broken Hearts
Recorded with much evident electronic manipulation of Jason’s pitch-imperfect voice, but the girls didn’t care as they viewed him manfully swinging his unstrummed guitar atop a remote Australian mountain over a routine SAW number which suggests that they’d found new uses for those proposed Rick Astley second album backing tracks.

5. KON KAN: I Beg Your Pardon
Oh glory, GLORY, at the gleeful impurity and artificial surrealism of this endlessly fantastic record – go Canada go (and indeed, if the stories are correct, go notable Toronto-based ILxor go!)! One of two big hits to follow the KLF’s Manual to the letter, “I Beg Your Pardon” fearlessly and sublimely fuses New Order passim with Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden” with added fragments from Spagna’s “Call Me” and the theme from The Big Country; and yet, even with all the Cubist japery, there is a strong song at its centre. Should have been number one all spring.

4. Paula ABDUL: Straight Up
The Marie Osmond to Janet’s Michael, Abdul’s flimsy voice – as though she were still energetically dancing in the studio while recording the song – helps to make this a particularly feeble bowdlerisation of the unanswerable punctum of Janet’s Control. To use Laura’s favourite pejorative, “Straight Up” is ploddy.

3. MADONNA: Like A Prayer
Oh silly Swern and dopey Dale – you played the rubbish Immaculate Collection remix when the immaculate original, one of several important reasons to keep believing in the hidden magic of the singles chart in 1989, should have been spun in its full six-minute-plus glory. And, probably because of its essential rubbish nature, it seemed to drone on for at least twelve minutes.

2. SIMPLY RED: If You Don’t Know Me By Now
Immaculately sung cover, but where’s the Pendergrass rage, where are the Gamble and Huff dips and bends which made the original such a devastating emotional seesaw of a record? As I said above, Hucknall is capable of so much better. But note the chart position; it had risen from the previous week’s 19, and was only kept off number one by:

1. The BANGLES: Eternal Flame
A “sellout” of sorts, if you want to look at it that way, but actually fuck that (it’s the rotten Atomic Kitten retooling that deserves your condemnation), this is a beautiful pop record with lyrical relevance to us two fortysomething kids of 2007 (“Close your eyes, give me your hand, darlin’” – does anyone in music understand the word “darling” better than Susanna Hoffs?)…”I watch you when you are sleeping” (sigh)…and an unworldly dynamic in which the world gradually arises at song’s end to give way to symphonic beauty worthy of Brian Wilson. A thoroughly deserved number one.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Rebirth from Streatham to Hampton Court, Sunday 8 April 2007

It helped that this time I did not walk there, and that this time I was not alone. It was a beautiful, nowhere near freezing early spring morning, which always makes the task of rebirth much easier. We took two buses to get there; the white-topped 57, like a swirling summery haze in the distance (that string synthesiser line on Heatwave’s “Mind Blowing Decisions” usually comes to mind) taking the previously noted route to Kingston, and then a quick hike across town, past the imposing frame of Tony Roma’s WORLD FAMOUS Ribshack, to wait patiently for the 411 to take us to the gates the straighter way.

Inevitably, as soon as we entered the grounds I melted; that beaming, beckoning riverside incline, the almost perfect outhouses leading to the palace itself, so utterly peerless in its benign stasis that it appears nearly unreal, green and blue and redbrick blending in a perfect combined dream, and I had to gather myself emotionally, but this time she was there to gather me into her loving embrace. I had to come here – we were going to visit last August, but due to lack of time we never quite managed it on that occasion – to exorcise what had gone before, in my continuing fight to banish the ghosts so that I – we – can go places without my feeling scared of them. After all, the last time I saw these towers I had come here to die. Now I was here, on Easter Day, to be resurrected. The swans were in the water but only one came ashore and none approached me; of course, this time they didn’t have to…the message from last time was evident; however painful, you must carry on; and so it proved to be a circle, and I knew I was being brought back through the gates of sufferance to the welcoming palace of life.

The in-house tea rooms I remember being a rip-off back in 2000, and indeed my memory did not disappoint me as inedible sandwiches and cakes presented themselves at competitive “captive audience” prices. So we settled for a couple of bottles of apple juice, for which we paid twice what we’d paid for two very similar (but better) bottles in Sterns the previous afternoon, found a remote corner outside with stacked chairs, settled ourselves down and took out the Walkman and one pair of headphones – she took the left, I the right – to listen to that afternoon’s edition of Pick Of The Pops.

Regular readers will have noted that I let go of the weekly POTP summaries some time ago; this isn’t because of indolence, but because of the numbing nature of the charts which kept getting selected; it was as if producer Phil Swern was determined to find the blandest, most neutral lists he could uncover and play the most inoffensive shots of anaesthetic contained within them, in order to placate the ageing, hearth-bound audience who were once Radio 2’s main demographic but were now confined to Sundays, on strictly best behaviour terms. The previous Sunday had featured a chart from March 1976 which broke the land crawl record for indifference, so we weren’t expecting anything particularly overwhelming. Indeed, when we switched on slightly late – always a good idea, because then you miss the introduction, where Dale carefully lists the bigger names you are likely to hear over the coming two hours, when surely the joy (if any joy is to be had) is to be surprised at what he’s going to play, even when (like me) you can second guess any given Top 20 with fair accuracy; ah, the fear of the radio programmer who has to hold onto his or her listeners as tightly as possible, even if everyone ends up getting suffocated as a result – we were somewhat perturbed to hear the O’Jays’ 1976 hit “I Love Music” getting a play, and wondered whether a mix-up in the archives had ensured that last week’s show was getting a premature (and wholly unnecessary) rerun. But no; the record had resurfaced in 1978 for reasons I have long forgotten (was it something to do with its being the full 12-inch version?) and we cheered up somewhat since the chart for the week ending 8 April 1978 was, by memory alone, rather a good one. I somehow managed to scribble all of the relevant details on the rear of my “Daily programme” leaflet (“Sir Thomas More: As Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Thomas has maybe the greatest intellect in the realm, but will this help him solve the King’s mounting debt problems?” I would hazard the guess that “mounting debt problems” might be a precipitating factor in all those underemployed Equity members wandering around the grounds pretending to be historical celebrities, but then we all have to make a living somehow). But as the programme continued, our mouths and souls continued to open, progressively more aghast, as the music appeared to talk directly to us, echoing our thoughts and emotions and broadcasting them back at us. It was as though this programme was specifically meant for us, and maybe all the other listeners got April 1961 or some similarly ravishing period of pop history last Sunday. Fanciful? Wait and see…beginning with the Top 40 climbers…

38. The O’JAYS: I Love Music
And we could hardly have had a more apposite overture; the first of three songs in the programme specifically about music, what it does to a person and how it can change the way that person walks through their world. The sublime serenity of Philly at its late period best; its rhythms perfect for a warm early afternoon. “So sweet, so mell-OW, mell-OW”…

34. The JAM: News Of The World
Dear old Dale and Phil and their shaky (Stevens) grasp on pop history. “The Jam were used to having chart toppers” quipped Dale, just under two years before they actually had a number one. He attributed the relatively mediocre chart performance of “News Of The World” to the fact that at the time of its release the Jam were touring the States as an unlikely support act to Blue Öyster Cült, though most credited it to the fact that “News Of The World” was the only Jam A-side to be written and sung by Bruce “I’m A Freak” Foxton. Actually, listening to it on Sunday, that’s unfair; the record is agreeably visceral and I remember it grabbing me very firmly when it was new. Were I Steve Harley I’d drone on about its being Honest and True Unlike Those Klaxon Kaiser Horror Boys you get today, but then again were I Steve Harley I would have made a fortune out of “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)” and not give a shit about what anyone thought. And that isn’t healthy.

33. CHIC: Everybody Dance
Oh God, we gasped simultaneously, another celebration of music as a force in and of itself. Listened to in this context “Everybody Dance” sounds more futuristic than ever, bursting out into neon fields, dazzling, elegant and cherishable. Those handclaps!

23. DR HOOK: More Like The Movies
But then every action has by definition to have a reaction, or at least something to react against, and in 1978 it was the bloated balladry of things like post-Shel Silverstein Dr Hook which needed to be put in the stocks. Never offensive, as such, “More Like The Movies” merely bores, like a steady trepanning drill. I have a vague and horrific recollection of Pan’s People (or was it Zoo by then?) doing a routine to the song on TOTP dressed as cinema ushers and wielding violins (as per “You never got to hear those violins – did ya girl?”) but really this just trudges through trampled scones of the purest treacle.

And then it was time for that week’s new releases:

TAVARES: More Than A Woman
The show’s only nod to Saturday Night Fever, which wouldn’t quite break through into everybody’s consciousness in Britain for about a month or so, and certainly the only Gibb Brothers song aired, but it remains fabulous, and in our present situation completely and sunnily apt – “Say you’ll always be my baby/We can make it shine/We can take forever/Just one minute at a time”…

The RUTLES: I Must Be In Love
Dismissed by Dale as “a novelty record, really” but the genius of Neil Innes is that he can make comedy records sound like the greatest pop you’ve never heard, so that yes, “I Must Be In Love” is a slapstick Merseybeat parody with its deadpan “I feel good/I feel bad/I feel happy/I feel sad” schtick, but it also works as a great power pop song in itself; try listening to the original Rutles album without any conscious foreknowledge of the Beatles if that is at all possible and you’d swear it was a masterpiece. Again, absolutely relevant subject matter.

Billy PAUL: Don’t Give Up On Us
We’d never heard this David Soul soul cover before, and after hearing it we realised that really we never needed to.

Dee D JACKSON: Automatic Lover
Whereas Lena had never heard this before, and she was unsurprisingly gobsmacked. A huge proto-Hi-NRG dance smash, it provides yet more premature but uncanny futurism but also a decided nod and farewell to the past in the Tommy references (“See me feel me hear me touch me love me”) and Jackson’s near-hysterical lead vocal worthy of the Shocking Blue of “Send Me A Postcard” combining with the deadly and rather frightening way in which the mechanical “I. Am. Your. Automatic. Lover” loop repeats, unvarying, throughout the entire song, even after Jackson has departed and the whole production which opens the floodgates for the Pet Shop Boys – it is very difficult not to add that “ZERO!” to the abrupt ending – and all other things good and noble which were to follow. Incredibly, this got to number four.

It was then time to look at the album chart:

9. The DOVES: Could This Be Magic
Taken from the Warwick Records compilation Fonzie’s Favourites (as advertised on TV, complete with obligatory mugshot of Henry Winkler grinning with thumbs up on the cover) this was a scintillating piece of angelic fifties doowop (and obviously nothing to do with the definite article-free Mancunian indie plodders) at which Dale promptly sneered for being “rather inappropriate for 1978,” not realising that the word “inappropriate” is perhaps the most evil and destructive word in the English language. Inappropriate? Bring it on!

8. The Dave CLARK FIVE: Do You Love Me?
Taken from their 25 Thumping Great Hits compilation (I own the 1993 26-track equivalent CD Glad All Over Again and am rather glad I do, and not just because the title track, as such, was at number one the day I was born) and the DC5’s reading of the Contours perennial micturates all over Brian Poole and the Polite Tremeloes, largely because they ignore the spoken intro altogether and bulldoze into the song with a ferocity which nearly equals the Beatles’ “Twist And Shout.” And it never stops; every time it appears to be finishing, in storm those drums again as Mike Smith’s voice is tested at increasing levels of intensity – you can imagine them onstage, thrashing their collective way through ten or more minutes of this. How can you not love the Dave Clark Five?

7. Gerry RAFFERTY: Right Down The Line
While recently considering possible precedents for or influences on Green Gartside’s vocal style, the unlikely figure of Gerry Rafferty came to my mind, as indeed it has done periodically in the past. Perhaps that “unlikely” should be qualified by a “seemingly” since not only does there appear to me to be something of a stylistic link – that same near-asexual guilelessness, set off in Rafferty’s case with a certain amount of Paisley folkie grit – but also identifiable similarities in song structures. Lena quite rightly pointed out that the most striking factor in “Right Down The Line” is the patient, static, suspended organ at the song’s centre; seen from a different perspective it could almost be a Robert Wyatt tune, but there is also a “Sweetest Girl”-type skank-lite feel to the song – listen especially to the way Rafferty sings “woman” in the chorus line “it was you, woman.” Yet again the subject matter was joyfully relevant; having gone through infinite sadness and betrayal, Rafferty clears the fog from his eyes and realises the right person had been there all along – “It was you, woman, right down the line” – and so he has no fear in “telling you everything.” City To City was as important an album to me in 1978 as The Image Has Cracked or Real Life; the likes of the Feeling are invited to consider the likes of “Home And Dry” and try to come up with something at least approximating that magic.

6. NAT “KING” COLE: Ramblin’ Rose
From 20 Golden Greats, one of a hugely successful running series of compilations designed to maximise EMI back catalogue revenue – other beneficiaries included the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, Neil Diamond, the Hollies, Cliff (who got a double, 40 Golden Greats), Diana Ross and the Supremes and, er, the Black and White Minstrels (who managed to cram 30 Golden Greats onto a single LP – the album cover is omitted from Amazon with good reason) – Lena had never heard “Ramblin’ Rose” before, but it was a top five hit in Britain in 1962 and sees Nat clearly trying to jump on the Modern Sounds In Country And Western bandwagon, down to the “come on let me hear you” exhortation, though it does remain modestly endearing.

5. Elvis COSTELLO and The ATTRACTIONS: Pump It Up
Sod the Brodsky Quartet and Diana Krall tributes; this is what we loved EC for (much to his ongoing chagrin, I have no doubt) – “Subterranean Homesick Blues” run through an empowered punk-pop filter, Bruce Thomas’ pole-vaulting bass, the fizzy Tizer of Steve Nieve’s organ, anger, spit and rumble. From This Year’s Model, which still sounds like this year’s model.

4. Bob MARLEY and The WAILERS: Crisis
The echoing haze of the music was perfect for Sunday afternoon’s shimmering weather, and it was a commendably seldom-played choice from Kaya, but really Marley was well on the way to Claptonism by now – dragging and plodding where it should elevate. I note the appearance of “Ku Klux Klan” by Steel Pulse at #41 in that week’s singles chart, which in turn is the gateway to Dr Alimantado, Culture, Joe Gibbs, Burning Spear, Scratch Perry, Augustus Pablo, Keith Hudson, Poet and the Roots, and even unto Althea and Donna; all the reggae which actually sounded urgent and cutting in 1978, with or without spliff input.

3. Kate BUSH: Kite
From The Kick Inside; and once again, you hardly ever hear it on the radio, but a staggering performance with Bush effortlessly flying through three octaves, a beautifully disjointed song structure and in 1978 terms (maybe specifically British 1978 terms) the beginning of a time. We sat there in the corner with our Walkman, becoming more amazed by the second.

2. ABBA: Thank You For The Music
What was the term? Ambushed by unexpected emotion? Having generally nodded respectfully to “Thank You For The Music” for the best part of the previous 30 years – it was not released as a single in Britain within the group’s lifetime – on Sunday afternoon its fragile worship of every good thing that the art of music can do to a person and his or her world (the third song about music and overwhelmingly the cherry on the cake) suddenly came through loud and true and punctumised the pair of us, as if with a friendly shake of the head it told us that we had to wait until now to understand the song’s greatness. Imagine two fortysomething kids, huddled in a corner with one Walkman, the rest of the crowd oblivious to, or simply uncomprehending, what we were doing, breaking down, embracing and weeping. Where John Miles fumbled around the point of “my music pulls me through” Abba simply escort it through the gates of redemption towards the brighter and better world it has done so much to help create. “So I say thank you for the music…for giving it to me.” In this case, you’d really have to be us to understand the importance of that forgiving blessing.

1. Buddy HOLLY and The CRICKETS: Well All Right
The week’s best-selling album was another in the 20 Golden Greats series, with a strange graffiti wall cover, the centrepoint of which was “BUDDY HOLLY LIVES!” (“We seemed to be in a reflective mood,” Dale noted – but then the film of Grease had yet to be released). “Well All Right” is a carefully controlled, slow-burning acoustic rocker, and yes you can clearly start to see elements of Beatles forming within its confident stride.

And finally it was time for the week’s Top 20 singles:
20. Johnny MATHIS and Deniece WILLIAMS: Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
Then as now, one of those perfectly serviceable ballads which you can’t wait to finish so that you can listen to something more exciting; in any case, Deniece owns the song and perhaps should have performed it on her own, since Mathis does little other than tag onto her lead gamely, like an MoR John Mills or Buddy Ebsen.

19. ABBA: Take A Chance On Me
Oh bliss – a near-perfect motorik pop record with its crafty tempo/barline overlaps, the missing link between The Sound Of Music and Trans-Europe Express, its little keyboard filigrees inventing New Gold Dream as they fly by, and Agnetha and Frida’s smiling growls of “Soon I’m gonna get ya” and “I ain’t gonna let ya” still do indescribable things to my, um, deeper senses…

18. Dan HILL: Sometimes When We Touch
One of several entries in the Top 20 where we had to switch the radio off for its duration in order to escape the torture; Canada’s very own Demis Roussos has subsequently made a very good living writing hits for Celine and others but this interminable ballad drips so intently that I nearly had to ring for a plumber. Sung by every two-bit MoR entertainer on British TV that year (even Cleo Laine couldn’t make much out of it) the song is as baffling as it is irksome. “The honesty’s too much,” whinges Hill in the manner of a sheet metal worker who has only just noticed the girder settling on his second left metatarsal. Excuse my French but WHAT THE BASTARD FUCK DOES “THE HONESTY’S TOO MUCH” ACTUALLY MEAN AS A DISCRETE STATEMENT?

14. Bob MARLEY and The WAILERS: Is This Love?
Nimbly skipping a few singles I wouldn’t have minded hearing in preference – they were, in ascending order, “Come Back My Love” by Darts, “Walk In Love” by Manhattan Transfer (gorgeous) and “Emotions” by Samantha Sang (ditto) – I can do no better than cite the comments made on “Is This Love?” in Phil DeLillo and Scott Woods’ indispensable history I Wanna Be Sedated: Pop Music In The Seventies, namely that it was “West Coast enough to suggest that he was listening to Doobies as well as smoking them.” Enough plods here to form a BBC sitcom about the wry goings-on at a rural police station.

12. WINGS: With A Little Luck
To his credit, McCartney admitted at the time that he would have looked extremely sad trying to go punk, so simply tootled on as only he knew how (or in the case of the title track of the parent album London Town, rhyming “flute” with “toot toot toot toot”). Despite stepping up his rockist snarl in the song’s latter stages, there is a lack of urgency about “With A Little Luck” which makes it agreeable enough, but then again it simply stands there like a Chelsea Pensioner, challenging you to argue against its existence (the missing number 13 was Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s A Winner” which literally is everything “With A Little Luck” can’t be).

11. Andrew GOLD: Never Let Her Slip Away
I was rather surprised to hear from Lena that “Lonely Boy” was the only major hit Gold had in the States. This was another UK top five hit which she’d never heard before and she loved it, as indeed do I; ebullient and now once again relevant, Ernie Watts’ sax expressing the inexpressible (see also number 4 below). Even if guest handclappers the Eagles came out with the suspiciously similar “Heartache Tonight” a couple of months later.

10. Nick LOWE: I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass
Lowe’s biggest UK hit as a performer was his affectionate Berlin Bowie tribute/spoof, but because he’s so great it transcends the satire level (see also Neil Innes above) and becomes an energising, WTF pop single with the most audacious piano playing heard on any 45 since King Crimson’s “Cat Food” (stand up and take a bow Bob Andrews Out Of Graham Parker And The Rumour) and fantastic bass (Saint Nick himself). The Radar label really was a guarantee of quality in itself.

At number nine was Andy Cameron’s “Ally’s Tartan Army” which Winton DISGRACEFULLY omitted; having exposed Lena to the rich and fulsome history of Scottish football songs (including “Easy Easy,” “Ole Ola” – the best single Rod Stewart ever made – and “We Have A Dream,” unarguably the greatest football song ever, including “World In Motion”) she is well aware of the much-loved Scots comedian’s encouraging anthem (“He’s our Muhammad Ali! He’s Alistair McLeod!”) complete with its cheeky sideways jibe (“For England cannae dae it ‘cos they DIDNAE QUALIFY!”). And we haven’t even got to its immortal B-side: “I want tae be a punk rocker but my Mammy won’t let me!”

8. GENESIS: Follow You, Follow Me
Another one we had to switch off; drippy and clinging in all the wrong ways, sounding very much like a rancid prog-rock leftover attempting to disguise itself as pop. And then a couple of years later they suddenly learned how to do pop and unleashed the mighty “Turn It On Again”!

7. ERUPTION: I Can’t Stand The Rain
Anyone attempting to better the Ann Peebles original is on a hiding to nothing (or Nuneaton, whichever is nearer) and if even Tina Turner couldn’t top it, then what chance for “the gorgeous Precious Wilson” and her anonymous Eurodisco backdrop?

6. Suzi QUATRO: If You Can’t Give Me Love
Sounding like a Smokie cast-off, if this was the standard of material Suzi was being offered in 1978 then no wonder she went off to do Happy Days. A very flat acoustic meander of a song complete with references to “that discotheque man.” Oh dear, oh dear, and – especially just six months prior to “Heart Of Glass” with its common denominator of Mike Chapman – oh dear.

So did Lena. She found it impossible to believe that this determinedly bland Dion cover (as in “shroud”) could get all the way to number two, and further that Showaddywaddy had such sustained success. So polite you could pass a chainsaw over it and it would apologise for thinking it was a feather duster. MoR “rock and roll” whose entire point seemed to be nullification. Whereas Darts (who should have been played, for balance) were genuinely hip and cool, Showaddywaddy came on like a Butlins version of Sha Na Na. A genuinely painful listen, although rumour has it that the record did inspire the Stones’ 1986 cover of “Harlem Shuffle.” “We’ll show those Showaddywaddy who’s boss” chirped a hard-of-reading Jagger.

4. Gerry RAFFERTY: Baker Street
One of the many facets of genius about this song is how, although it is actually about the first person (i.e. autobiographical, looking back at Rafferty’s early days busking on the Tube) its perspectives constantly shift; the first verse is written in the second person (“Winding your way down Baker Street”), and the second verse in the third person (“He’s got this dream about buying some land”) although they are all about the same man, as though he’s trying to escape responsibility for facing himself. There is an undercurrent of melancholy despair whose emotional poles are adroitly balanced by Raphael Ravenscroft’s noble, defeated alto and Hugh Burns’ raging guitar.

3. Kate BUSH: Wuthering Heights
Coming down from the number one position, and one of the most startling of all number ones in that, despite her antecedents, it really did seem to spring from nowhere…that voice! that passion! that vitality which maybe for the first time in mainstream British pop – as opposed to British folk or British jazz - represented a woman singing her own words and music specifically to and for other women…arguably far more “other” than any punk or new wave to emerge in 1978 and with far more radical long-term effects. I’m saving my thoughts on Kate for an upcoming article in Stylus…but with “Wuthering Heights” it’s worth remembering the paraphrase of Cathy Come Home; the social misfit cast out by society now hammering her way back into the world.

2. BLONDIE: Denis
Now THIS is how you revive a song; make it MATTER in the world in which you are currently living, and even better, sing a verse in French. Debbie Harry was everything in 1978 and although Dale dubbed “Denis” with his stock catchphrase “Good single, though,” it is a GREAT and MOMENTOUS single ushering in an era of fab pop punctum – possibly the fabbest – and moreover a single so great that Clem Burke’s twin triple thuds (“BAM BAM BAM, BAM BAM BAM!”) on the fade inspired at least two songs; “Accept Yourself” by the Smiths and “Bouncing Babies” by the Teardrop Explodes, not to mention the "bam bam bam bam" sequences on Scott Walker's "Cue."

1. BRIAN and MICHAEL: Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs
The second number one hit about an artist, but unlike “Vincent” the “they” are clearly defined here; the snooty London art critics and dealers as opposed to the salt-of-the-earth Salford folk whom Lowry painted (“I’m sure he once walked down our street” – thus an “us” is defined to counter the “them”) and the song simply exists to commemorate and celebrate a great artist, though anyone who’s seen the shattering red-eyed self-portrait from 1938, painted just after his mother died, will know there was rather more to Lowry than the matchstalks. Also featuring St Winifred’s School Choir – good choir, that.

We arose. We had spent two hours sitting here, seeing this sunny and harmless landscape. We would not mind if this were the first thing we saw. We had achieved the resurrection. We accepted all of it. The purpose of the journey was to set me free from harsh memory, to let me live again.

Blessed love. That’s all it forever is. It will let us live in peace.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Our Club Poptimism playlist from Last Night (Friday 6 April 2007 for the benefit of future Channel 4 documentary researchers)

There are few spectacles capable of stirring one's heart with such deft aplomb as providing a highly listenable soundtrack to accompany the playing of sundry board games - is 'Allo 'Allo The Board Game the croquet de nos jours, and if so are Lena and I supposed to be the prematurely defiant Anne Elliot of this tarnished age? - as we did in the Dickensian surroundings (think Barnaby Rudge, just after the riot sequence) of happening Clerkenwell gin joint The Union Tavern on a pinky blue Friday evening. Many thanks to the regulars who greeted Lena and I with such friendliness and goodness of heart, and in particular to those who ambled up to the decks to compliment us on our expert eighties retrosalad yeah selection of golden grooves (particularly Messrs Brennan and Hester). Sadly there was insufficient darkness and surfeit of comfortable tables to provoke any dancing, as such, but we hope that even as a listening experience the music licked its way into the more pulsatile of your veins like a stray drop of Bailey's Irish Cream seeping into a field of near-ripe raspberries. Our playlist - Lena-led, but MC-mixed - was as follows:

James Brown - Soul Power Pts 1 & 2
The real precursor to "Boom, Shake The Room."

Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force - Planet Rock
Germans listen to JB, Harlem listens to Germans, the world is a circle and nobody hopes that it really ends.

New Order - Everything's Gone Green
For private reasons, the greatest pop single ever made. That's private as in "none of your flipping business" rather than in the Wandsworth/Brighton PRIVATE SHOP sense.

Altered Images - Bring Me Closer
The tequila-free crossroads where glam, New Pop and true lushness encounter and merge with each other: "If I could achieve" resonates with so much more real a passion than the "I ACHIEVE" bullroarer which obliterated most 1983-89 pop almost before the songs were even written.

Associates - Love Hangover
The superior Peel Sessions version where MacKenzie plays both torch tempter and torched tempted with Martha Ladly before springing out of himself, asserting "That's it!" like pop's stout Cortez and UNDERSTANDING Motown as Soulful, Passionate and Honest post-New Pop pop could never hope to do.

AR Kane - A Love From Outer Space
If you wanted a memorial to New Pop by the eighties' end, all you had to do was look around; two years ahead of Screamadelica, "i" summed both past and future up and "A Love From Outer Space" should now be part of the rolling schedule of shopping mall sound systems on this and all other planets. But the 1989 public preferred Jive Bunny, looking back, the war; Gil Scott-Heron's "they wanna look back, even if it's only last week - not to face NOW or TOMORROW but to face BACKWARDS." A society gets the inevitable, consequent anal facsimile of pop it deserves.

Janet Jackson - You Can Be Mine
Jam & Lewis learn from Art of Noise and Scritti, push it forward as a less arthritic Motown would once have done, and make love and sex an invitation rather than a final demand (i.e. "you can be mine if The Price Is Right"). Janet breathes, tenses, teases and whispers like an immediately pre-coital 1965 Steve Reich sample: "" and we explode in creative carnality, turning us on all the more because of the utterly friendly nature of its enclosure.

Scritti Politti - Absolute (Version)
The lesson of course being is that there is no "absolute"; Green's voice plays hide and seek with both us and the Fairlight, wafting into side view like John Piper's clouds - some pink, with orange and purple flashes, others the purest white if only because they are embellished by the underlying black - and the song never quite unifies into Reithian rationalist "focus," but then where's the song, and more importantly WHY's the song? The benign cascading avalanche of "To LO-HUH-UH-OVE (me?)" acts as a diving board into a plentiful pool of dazzling fragments of gold, but you can still float with ease on its welcoming (and not at all sterile) surface. Horn stops here, and Xenomania may yet start from here. "I Never Loved A Man"? Arif Mardin understood all right(s).

K-Os - Sunday Morning
I noticed the agreeable "what the fuck is this?" sedentary toe-tapping of several passers-by within our "audience"; a beat which may start with "Hey Ya" but a bluer, and perhaps a more vulnerable, meditation on what happens after the fun is over - is further fun/life denied or do we decide to live it in a way which doesn't involve PRESS-GANGING for PARTY TIME but rather prefers working and growing together in order to create something which actually might be new and maybe unprecedented? He doesn't bark about fallen women, armature or jewellery and we should de-padlock the customs gates again, and conveniently lose the keys in the swirling Stygian waters consuming all cynicism.

Farley "Jackmaster" Funk with Darryl Pandy - Love Can't Turn Around
Immediate silence greeted Pandy's opening acappella vocal, a voice so naturally imperious that there really is no alternative but to shut the fuck up and listen (and preferably also stand the fuck up, but as Frankie Howerd correctly noted, you can't have everything). An upwards drum stutter and ascending, backwards waterfalls of piano like the reconstituting of Tristan and Isolde from selected forests and fields heralds a record whose appearance in the charts of the summer of 1986 was the most notable and least avoidable of several bombs exploding at that time. Over the contrasting counterparts of high (the marauding synth) and low (the barber's chair lowering of bass trombone), Pandy screams like the Buckley of Starsailor over a backing track possessing a memory of an Isaac Hayes song Farley might once have listened to but bounds with garrulous grace into Our Future with such unanswerable power that all deadened spirits have no option save that of resurrection.

Good record, too.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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