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

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.

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