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

Monday, January 08, 2007

They’ve done this chart before, or one very near to it, since I remember listening to it on the way back down the post-festive motorway to London four winters ago, and I briefly referred to it
at the time, but to paraphrase Dolly Parton (or, more disturbingly, Julia Bradbury and Tony Christie on last week’s Just The Two Of Us), here “you” come again.

20. Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
Valuable for its panther-stroking twin-bass intro and Carly’s “son of a gun” whisper, but it sold on the back of Jagger’s uncredited cameo and the song’s mystery subject, and while agreeably splenetic, its aura of privileged intracelebrity bitching is one of the factors which would eventually make punk necessary.

19. The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – Little Drummer Boy
Not played, but I’m sure you can make an accurate guess at what this sounds like.

18. Lynsey de Paul – Getting A Drag
Still a luscious lush of a song about tranvestitism, and I still think Elastica missed a crucial trick by not covering it.

17. Elton John – Crocodile Rock
The number one album of the period was a Ronco TV-advertised compilation with the oxymoronic title 20 All-Time Greats Of The Fifties – and by “The Fifties” they meant the pre-rock fifties of Johnnie Ray, Guy Mitchell, Frankie Laine and other members of my mum’s record collection – and this symbolised a general rash of unwarranted nostalgia; although glam was creeping up to its peak, there is hardly anything in this list which doesn’t double-bold/underline its debts to the fifties and sixties. “Crocodile Rock” does sum up “American Pie” in a rather more concise and lively manner; here the music dies for no other reason than Suzy leaving Elton for “some foreign guy” but he seems to be enjoying himself sufficiently with his pub-rock retread of “Speedy Gonzales.”

16. Donny Osmond – Why?
Not played, since there were two other Osmonds records higher up. And “Why?” did Dale not even mention the title of the single?

15. Wizzard – Ball Park Incident
Their first hit, and a slightly rawer prototype of “See My Baby Jive” with Wood’s rather less friendly growl telling its woeful tale of murder and his sax verging on the unhinged towards the end. Note the first appearance of the “dada dada dada” bridge later to become famous in “Waterloo.”

14. Gladys Knight and The Pips – Help Me Make It Through The Night
Not played! But Dale did play it back in 2003 so clearly there’s an obscure rota in operation. Nevertheless it is still one of the greatest female vocal performances (no Pips are evident at all) of the last fifty years; it could so easily have descended into cabaret tack from its intro onwards, but Knight underplays the desperation, is quietly generous in her passion (note the subtle “Little Drummer Boy” quotation in the muted trumpet line before the final chorus) and the record becomes one of the most moving of prayers for salvation in all of pop. We are indeed the lucky ones.

13. Elvis Presley – Always On My Mind
As seems to have become the case with Johnny Cash, critics and listeners tend to side with the Elvis in decline rather than the vibrant and beyond-sexy Elvis in his peak; perhaps in their middle age they find it easier to identify with the former. Thus the coded messages and pleas in Elvis’ endless cabaret ballad interpretations of his later years are mistaken for nobility in the face of defeat; but it has to be said that of the three famous recordings of “Always On My Mind,” Presley’s is the least interesting – the Pet Shop Boys beat the Pogues (rightly) to the Christmas number one spot in 1987 with their slyly ambiguous reading which may even stand as a final epitaph to New Pop, but my personal preference is for the quiet and genuinely noble reading done by Willie Nelson in 1982.

12. Michael Jackson – Ben
As with Donny, not played, but although the song was written for a film about a rat, it’s difficult to escape the notion that, even at thirteen, Michael is singing to himself (“Most people would turn you away”); that having been said, in its grace and willingness to pick up and embrace the discarded and rejected, this comes very near to Gladys’ “Help Me Make It” in terms of emotional impact – note how Michael’s emotions bend as the second verse unexpectedly begins in a minor key before returning reluctantly to the major.

11. Judge Dread – Big Seven
Inevitably, this was not played, but here’s the rub (ooer); having had all of his hits banned from TV and radio during his career – and even after his death, they have remained outlawed from the airwaves – most people simply do not know whether Judge Dread’s records were actually any good or not. In fact “Big Seven”’s musical setting will be immediately familiar to most readers since it deploys the same bluebeat backing track subsequently, and rather more creatively, used by the Dream Warriors for “Ludi.” Atop the music the good (?) Judge declaims and deconstructs nursery rhymes with a Benny Hill level of wit (“Great balls of fire” indeed!) and the obligatory cod-Jamaican accent. Not long afterwards he reverted to Cockney and the hits became progressively more vulgar but no less successful. Perhaps the real reason why you never hear Judge Dread on 2006 radio is the same reason why Love Thy Neighbour is never rerun on 2006 terrestrial TV.

10. Wings – Hi Hi Hi/C Moon
“Hi Hi Hi” was also banned by the BBC for some time (suspected drug references, shock and, as it were, horror) but Dale gave it a rare spin; as with “Girls’ School” etc., post-Beatles Macca “rocking out” is something of an embarrassment.

9. Moody Blues – Nights In White Satin
Like “My Way” or “Blue Monday” it has never really stopped selling (and during his lifetime also provided a more-than-adequate supplementary income to the owner of the publishing rights, Lonnie Donegan); this was the second of the record’s three distinct Top 40 chart runs. It also represents a bend in the river of psychedelia; now, instead of experimenting and going as far out with musical and lyrical structures, and often further out, than anyone would hitherto have dared, the lushness and big-budget (by 1967 standards) production of Sgt Pepper, rather than its contents, were taken as the yardstick – note the parallels with post-New Pop 1983 – and thus enter “symphonic” rock with meaningfully meaningless lyrics and endless swathes of purposeless instrumental dexterity. As with Justin Hayward’s solo “Forever Autumn” from Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, “Nights In White Satin” works better in the context of its parent album, Days Of Future Passed (too painfully relevant a title) amid its forest of portentous orchestral pronouncements, arranged and conducted by Peter Knight, who clearly failed to find this material as challenging or stimulating as that of Scott Walker’s. Strip the song of its mellotrons and choral bombast and we uncover a beat group ballad such as the Four Pennies might have crooned in 1965, if they’d been inclined to have a go at sub-Dylan jumbled analogies.

8. Roy C – Shotgun Wedding
Another revived oldie, and another record banned by the BBC at the time of its original 1966 chart run (“You, me, the baby makes three”). A slightly rawer take on the Sam Cooke template whose off-beat rhythm and lugubrious horns suggest an early bluebeat influence, and although Roy C (full name: Roy Charles Hammond) at times appears to be making the lyric up as he goes along, but the ramshackle nature does lend the record an even greater, more sinister undertone.

7. Chuck Berry – My Ding-A-Ling
As with “Living In America,” the man who started everything has his biggest hit with a tiresome novelty barely one notch on the aesthetic ladder above Judge Dread, though at least there’s a bludgeoning good humour about Berry’s baiting of his adoring Loughborough University student audience. Was there actually “a future Parliament out there” (this would have been the Blair-rearing era) or should he have tried the Oxford May Ball instead?

6. John and Yoko and The Plastic Ono Band with The Harlem Community Choir – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
A record which is rather better than its reputation suggests; platitudinous to the point of perversion, perhaps, but it’s a far more humane variant on “Hey Jude” with an infinitely more subversive message – as Lennon did with “Imagine,” presenting the audience with a cosy fireside singalong and making increasingly radical demands within its framework – and also is sorely underrated from the point of view of being one of Spector’s finest and least heralded productions; a clear transition towards the slowly-drifting epics he concocted for the 1975 Dion and the 1977 Cher, and one of the best uses of sleighbells on any pop record (see also “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” “Tiny Children”).

5. Slade – Gudbuy T’Jane
The most remarkable thing about Slade at their commercial and artistic peak was how naturally they swung as a group; “swing” is a quantity rarely applicable to ‘70s British rock but Slade manage it with Don Powell’s masterly, Meters-derived shuffle, Jim Lea’s endlessly inventive bass and Dave Hill’s lead guitar which never relents in its improvised commentary, and that’s before we get to Noddy Holder’s magisterial red-raw ringmaster of a post-Lennon voice, even though for several years I wondered why he was singing about Steve McQueen…

4. David Bowie – The Jean Genie
Next to Slade, Bowie’s Spiders sound incredibly lumpen and Bluesbreaker-ish. Famously appropriating the same Yardbirds/Sonny Boy Williamson riff as the Sweet’s “Blockbuster,” it doesn’t work nearly as well as a pop record – the cartoon-like artificiality of “Blockbuster” works in its glossy glammy favour. Despite “Jean Genie”’s plod and fifth-form word association, however, and its underlying air of 1965 revivalism (that harmonica!), in the context of 20 All-Time Greats Of The Fifties it is still possible to see how radical this seemed to people in attendance at the time, and how it somehow set everybody, from McLaren to Morrissey, off on a journey to begin time.

3. Osmonds – Crazy Horses
Despite the attendant irony of staunch Republicans putting in an early ozone layer protest, “Crazy Horses” still works to a degree. Although slightly overrated, I enjoy the stabbing horns and the general junior-pop-apocalypse environment, both borrowed from the Doors’ “Touch Me” but with a similar amount of residual energy, and the easy noise of the neighing Moogs.

2. T Rex – Solid Gold Easy Action
A faster and far harsher variation on “Jeepster” which veers schizophrenically between jittery epilepsy and slow, booming string-laden choruses. Bolan sounds as if he’s being pressed into a spiky corner; certainly and sorely the sheer fun and sex of his 1971 hits are missing, and this is the first step on his descent into the self-mythologising commonplace.

1. Little Jimmy Osmond – Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool
One of two number one hits from 1972 which involved the Mike Curb Congregation on glutinous backing vocals; the other was Sammy Davis Jr’s cheery not-about-drugs-honest song “The Candy Man,” a chart-topper in America but not a hit here, whereas Little Jimmy did not register at all on the Billboard lists. The latest in an increasing line of novelty Xmas number ones (how the Beatles were missed, even though two of them had singles out – with that “Liverpool” the residual memory remained) and essentially harmless tack, although it caused domestic consternation since Little Jimmy was only a year older than me; cue the agonised parent cries of “why haven’t you written a best seller yet, child prodigy?” Happily, though, in Scotland it was comfortably outsold by Billy Connolly’s “Short-Haired Police Cadet From Maryhill” which latter, thanks to lines such as “If ah catch ye smokin’ hashish up a close” and “short-arsed Shuggy,” didn’t get much play on the radio.

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