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

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.

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