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

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Phil Swern seems to have an uncanny knack for selecting weeks or times in pop when we’re all impatiently waiting for something to happen, or, as with this week’s edition, it’s all started to go a little wrong. Had he picked the chart of the week ending 29 May a month ago it would have been the reiteration and reinforcement of a glorious story to be passed down through multiple, wonder-filled generations. But now, 28 days later, the golden bough had passed into a not-quite-touchable distance and contented mediocrity was starting to make itself known once more. Did Swern purposely pick this week because of its possession of one of the most terrible of all number ones; is there a sense of nullified masochism at work here?

There was, nearly needless to say, still plenty of great music to be played and heard – the week ending 26 June 1982 represented a fascinating crossroads between the final initial hand of New Pop and a welcome resurgence in imaginative black pop – but it was all in a bit of a mess and the tone was systematically being lowered.

Top 40 New Entries/Climbers
39. Dollar – Videotheque (peak: 17)
And we begin with the final chapter of the Horn/Dollar tetralogy, something of a knowing farewell to the first phase of New Pop, and still one of the most frightening of pop records. All four episodes dealt in different ways with the dilemma and tragedy of humanity always at one reach – they meet in photographs (“Hand Held In Black And White”), consummate while staring at themselves (“Mirror Mirror (Mon Amour)”), lose touch with the desperation of humanity altogether (“Give Me Back My Heart”) and finally die a big death, visible to each other only as features of a video screen, both perhaps now only existing in memory, absorbed into the system, trapped, suffocated. Thereza Bazar’s final snake of descendence “Only ghosts are lovers on the screen” is Mingus’ chill of death turned to even starker ice.

37. Bucks Fizz – Now Those Days Are Gone (peak: 8)
Andy Hill’s Bucks Fizz were the classicists to Horn’s Dollar romantics, but either could break into different forms of Cubism when the mood took them, or even (“Give Me Back My Heart”/”My Camera Never Lies”) change places. Their “Give Me Back My Heart” deploys no special effects, no sudden revelations of gasp-inducing sonic marvels; it is a delicately elegant and straightforward song about a love which can never be retrieved, beginning with acappella harmonies, the strings and rhythm only gradually easing themselves in, underneath the voices, when the record is already a third of the way through…Mike Nolan’s “I just can’t face the thought of life without you,” for which the song and the whole world pause, doesn’t seem that far (emotionally) from late period Joy Division. “And we couldn’t see where we were going wrong,” the song concludes, with a final, quietly shivering “Now those days are gone.” “An absolutely immaculate pop record,” murmured Tommy Vance when he played it as a new entry back in 1982, after a pause of some few seconds. He wasn’t wrong.

31. Imagination – Music And Lights (peak: 5)
They were grottily glamorous and cautiously camp, yet even when at their “happiest,” as with this single, the carnivorously bending bass, Leee John’s inescapable yearning and the permanently unresolved minor chords make their celebration of “tonight” all the more poignant because they know full well that it’s not forever. Demand a reissue of their 1982 album In The Heat Of The Night if you want a great lost Brit-soul-funk-New Pop classic (“All I Want To Know” is one of the most affecting ballads of its year).

25. Shalamar – A Night To Remember (peak: 5)
And here was the “tonight” traffic coming the other way; American soul-pop reliables, some still in imperturbable wet perms and leather flares, singing a slightly old-fashioned but still welcome ode to the grace of disco, climbing the chart with patient politeness; the following week it went up to 17, whereupon Jeffrey Daniel appeared solo on TOTP with New Pop fringe and Covent Garden stuck-in-a-‘phone-booth body popping. The week after that it leapt up to number six, and its parent album Friends into a year-long residency in the album charts. The traffic was learning from each other.

New Releases
Hot Chocolate – It Started With A Kiss (peak: 5)
Lost love is one thing, and it is easy to romanticise someone who has gone from this world for good who can never come back. But perhaps the hardest thing to take on board into one’s mind, or indeed write about in the context of a pop song, is the humiliation which occurs when you meet someone you haven’t seen for years, for whom your feelings have never faltered one iota, someone with whom you were once as close as close could be – and they don’t recognise you, or, as in the case of the object of Errol Brown’s passion in “It Started With A Kiss,” they are not even inclined to stop (“She looked…and looked away,” Errol sings as though he’s just been pushed off the edge of the Grand Canyon). How life-destroying it must be to know that you have been so thoroughly erased from that person’s memory, from their life; it would literally be as though you had never been born. “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Errol sings of how inseparable they were all the way through school, but there are signs that this adoration was not entirely, or even at all, one-way; after getting the worst of a punch-up with a youthful rival suitor, he notices “that new distant look in your eye,” and then by the time they have to enter the world, “I couldn’t hold on to our love, I couldn’t hold on to our dreams” – and note those “I”s. Perhaps she does recognise him but chooses to blank him because, for whatever innocent or malevolent reason, she has never forgiven him. The song is one of Hot Chocolate’s finest; a superbly drawn picture of the stranded hopelessness which more often than not accompanies the transition from child into adult.

Irene Cara – Fame (peak: 1)
Actually a reissue of a two-year-old film theme, prompted by the BBC’s then recent purchase of the spinoff TV series, which they ingeniously scheduled at eight o’clock on Thursdays, directly out of TOTP; it was the biggest thing to hit the playground since Grease and in 1982 the single was outsold only by “Come On Eileen,” while the Kids From Fame soundtrack album eventually put a down payment on the number one album slot.

But “Fame” also signifies the dire fruition of Reagan’s New (Right) Morning In America; from now on it was all about grabbing what you could, focusing on me-me-me, becoming famous and rich, and not necessarily in that order, at whatever cost, about cheerfully complying with and congealing into the monetarist nightmare. The message of “Fame” is: I’m great because I say I am, applaud me for breathing…and we have still to recover from that grotesque misconception.

The Jam – Just Who Is The 5 O’Clock Hero? (peak: 8)
As with Sound Affects and “That’s Entertainment,” Weller was disinclined to release a second single from the same album (The Gift) and so Dutch import copies had to suffice; still, for an import-only single to make it into the top ten was a considerable achievement in itself and demonstrates just how big the Jam remained in that otherwise New Pop summer (the Jam were of course becoming New Pop despite themselves, but Weller would always make sure he was the last to admit it). “Carnation” might have made a better single, but “5 O’Clock Hero?,” another of Weller’s periodic analyses of the soul-destroying dourness of suburban life being further squashed by Thatcherism, found its mirror image in the otherwise unavailable B-side “The Great Depression,” the latter of which was the single’s real selling point, and one of Weller’s most powerful anti-Thatcher tirades, spelling out the loss of love for oneself and one’s society.

(Note, incidentally, how nearly all of these records so far, despite the squalling criticism at the time of New Pop being all smiling and colourful and Thatcher-compliant, make it their business to stare life squarely in the face.)

9. Randy Crawford – Look Who’s Lonely Now (album: Windsong)
A different world? Secret Combination, her previous album, is the only one which most readers would remember without prompting, and this from the sound of it (since I don’t even remember its existence at the time) was more of the same; well-behaved, well-dressed R&B-lite, technically impeccable but totally and absolutely interval fodder for that week’s special musical guest on The Two Ronnies (which, on several occasions, turned out to be Ms Crawford). I forgot how the song went while it was still playing.

7. Soft Cell – What? (album: Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing)
5. Rolling Stones – Shattered (album: Still Life – American Concerts 1981)
Now here’s an interesting comparison; the different ways in which singers facing the loss of love deploy repetition with a view to either winning that love back or ending it altogether. Because the original Judy Street version of “What?” – another Northern Soul standard which had taken Soft Cell’s fancy, exactly a year after “Tainted Love” (and the latter was at this time still skulking around the lower end of the Top 100) – was so brief (but so perfect, in Street’s fulsomely light proto-psychedelic delivery), the duo had no option but to extend it somehow; but Almond takes the elements of its chorus – “What can I do? What can I say? Won’t you come back?” etc. – and reinforces his desperation by repeating them in variously rotating rotas over and over, sounding more and more dislodged with every cycle (especially when set against Dave Ball’s characteristically deadpan musical accompaniment) until it exceeds itself and becomes something of a mantra, an invocation for his lover to come back, a trance (and with the album’s reworking of debut single “Memorabilia,” the word “Ecstasy,” with a capital “E,” made its first large-scale entry into pop music).

But Jagger has been around somewhat longer, knows better than to accept anything more than resignation. His voice at a rather low key, he runs through the song per se but then snags himself on the word “shattered,” again repeating it ad infinitum (and Keith’s guitar latches onto this, and him, immediately). Gradually this too begins to drift into something which is not quite reality; he is chanting to himself, as though trying to prolong his own, fading life, as if trying to convince himself that he’s still wholly together. Those who think that the Stones of 1981 had nothing to teach the Primal Scream of 1991 need a major rethink after listening to this slowly astonishing performance.

4. Kid Creole and the Coconuts – Imitation (album: Tropical Gangsters)
Having virtually become the official August Darnell Fan Club magazine throughout 1981, the NME unsurprisingly began to turn on Kid and his Coconuts once they actually started selling records; oh no, they whined, he’s gone commercial, sold out, even though the whole concept of Tropical Gangsters was that, while marooned on a distant island, they were compelled to make a “commercial album.” In truth Darnell was merely returning to and revitalising his Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band concept; and though “Imitation” is not one of the album’s strongest tracks, it offers a clear rebuttal of any sense that, despite the humour and clothes, Darnell somehow didn’t mean it. Or perhaps it’s the old affliction of critics viewing humour and clothes as pejoratives.

3. Madness – It Must Be Love (album: Complete Madness)
Though long since superseded by the Divine Madness compilation, which collected all of their 1979-86 singles, Complete Madness was in 1982 a dazzling revelation of just how consistently great a singles band they were at their peak; endlessly inventive, each single sounding nothing like the last but exactly like the next. “It Must Be Love,” their Labi Siffre cover, really belongs to the glowing New Pop Christmas of 1981 alongside “Don’t You Want Me?,” “Bedsitter” and all the rest, but it has remained lovely and crucially stinging (Lee Thompson’s squeaking sax set against David Bedford’s courtly strings). And Siffre wrote it, way back in the early seventies, in a dingy flat above a car showroom in the Clapham Road which can still be seen on the 88 bus route. See how everything eventually, and gladly, falls into place?

2. Genesis – Follow You Follow Me (album: Three Sides Live)
Some songs, though, you just want to fall off the edge of a cliff. The second airing this wretchedly bland dirge has had on POTP in two months, except that this was a “live” reading which sounded exactly like the original, including an identical keyboard solo. Is this what playing live is supposed to be about – not improvising or interacting or developing, but providing a wan xerox of something their audience already has, because they cannot bear to hear it any differently? What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? Why didn’t Dale play “Paperlate” (at #20 in the singles chart as lead track of their 3 x 3 E.P.) since it was certainly one of the best things they ever did? Do I even need to ask?

1. Roxy Music – Avalon (album: Avalon)
It is, in contrast, more than fitting that the avatars of New Pop should be sitting so serenely at number one, having invented and/or anticipated practically all of it; yes, I suppose Avalon was Bryan Ferry coming back to show those ABC and Japan who’s New Pop boss, but watching his stunning performance of “More Than This” on TOTP – cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth with careful carelessness, poised over his keyboard at a slight right angle, dripping with natural elegance – it was impossible to deny that he had, and was, “it.”

It remains sunningly strange how, after a decade of divergence, Ferry (with Avalon) and Eno (with Ambient 4: On Land) had, in the same month, somehow ended up at exactly the same place – the edge of the lake of eternity – and defined their own common peace. “Avalon” the song, with its slowly diminishing chord changes, its opulent but never selfish environment, its quietly concealed doubt, defies anyone to dirty it; some think the album more radical than early works like For Your Pleasure, since by its end Roxy Music somehow seem to be not of this world at all, floating majestically and unsinkably into the ether (like Bell Orchestre?)…when Avalon was replaced as number one album by The Lexicon Of Love two weeks later, it really did feel like the candle of the eternal flame being passed on.

Singles chart
19. Midge Ure – No Regrets (peak: 9)
A one-off solo project undertaken while taking a break from recording Ultravox’s Quartet, Ure revisits a song which was in the top ten in early 1976 at the same time that he was at number one with Slik, and pays an important debt; to his credit, he has always been the first to acknowledge the enormous influence that “The Electrician” had on “Vienna,” and here he takes on Scott himself; not that Walker would have taken a great deal of notice.

While Ure’s vocal is carefully graceful, he cannot of course access the vast reservoirs of doubt which Walker held within himself; in the Walker Brothers recording, Scott himself inclines towards the abrupt vocal cadences of Tom Rush’s 1968 original, hiding the tears, as always. So Ure tries to turn it into an epic of defeated nobility with a far more dynamic guitar solo and a more forward production, including plenty of “Poison Arrow” drum rolls; but it doesn’t really work since, despite his goodness of character and purpose, he simply isn’t Scott.

18. The Beatles – The Beatles Movie Medley (peak: 10)
And now, for perhaps the first time ever – certainly the first time I’ve ever heard him do it – Dale criticises (gasp!) a record. “I have to apologise in advance for playing this record,” he announced, “since it was put together, seemingly with the aid of a razorblade.” One wonders why he didn’t simply skip it and play “Mama Used To Say” one place higher, but enquiries to Mr Swern I guess.

Anyway, it remains a mystery as to who would possibly want to buy, own and play this beyond-ramshackle assemblage of random bits and pieces of Beatles songs. Thousands must have done so, since it made the top ten – but why, in consideration of everything else that was on offer in pop at that time? It was essentially a plug for Reel Music (see what they did there?), a compilation of their film songs, and yet another gaudy attempt by EMI/Apple to flog a dying horse, and no doubt the success of “Stars On 45” was in somebody’s mind, but so clumsy and discontinuous is this wreck that it is impossible to imagine sitting down and listening to it for pleasure. “I didn’t like that at all,” concluded Dale. “Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Beatles, but how could THEY do that to them?” – whoever the “THEY” was; probably some 22-year-old trainee marketing nitwit who more than likely did cut and paste it together with gaffa tape in about ten minutes (and that’s being generous) – before the modified punchline: “It was a hit, though.” But, as Gilbert O’Sullivan so aptly put it in that mortified winter of 1973, why oh why oh why?

16. Natasha – Iko Iko (peak: 10)
Nothing to do with the divine Ms Bedingfield (in fact, as I recall, this particular Natasha hailed from Hamilton, just up the road from where I grew up) and a pretty stinking take on the Dixie Cups’ original with lots of sub-Mick Karn bass, toytown Antmusic percussion and the general air of a cheap cash-in (which is what it was; in direct competition with the Belle Stars, it made the top ten while the hapless erstwhile Bodysnatchers got stuck at #35 – still, they would get their revenge).

12. Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra (peak: 2)
Why was it so big in Britain? There wasn’t even a video to promote it (this was the occasion for the legendary TOTP closing sequence where the producers hired a magician to perform some primary school tricks – “Abracadabra,” you see; this was the flipside of Jeffrey Daniel’s up-to-the-hip-minute body popping). It is a fairly morose song which sounds like a particularly pissed off Squeeze and eventually drifts into random ultra-lite psychedelic noodles (“My head keeps spinning round and round”). At least “The Joker” getting to number one here sixteen years after doing so in the States had the Levi’s ad as an excuse.

10. Stevie Wonder – Do I Do (peak: 10)
“A marvellous trumpet solo by jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie,” marvelled Dale, and indeed it would have been had he played the whole ten-minute album version, which includes said solo, rather than the 45 cut and fade it halfway through before it blasts off into orgasmic liberation. Sunny, embracing, sexy and a record which says YES YES and THRICE YES to life. Note that this is the first soul/R&B entry to be played within the Top 20.

9. Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy (peak: 9)
Originally done by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, according to Dale, and while they certainly had the first British hit version, the original recording was done, as every schoolboy knows, by the Strangeloves. Anyway, divested of McLaren punctum (since by now he had become bored with Bow Wow Wow and trotted off with Trevor Horn to assemble Duck Rock), their “I Want Candy” is a rather lacklustre performance, its energy only audible on the surface, Annabella doing her best to sound enthusiastic but in fact coming across as very tired indeed. This was, as I recall, a one-sided single. Possibly one side too many. Compare with the mighty roar of “Go Wild In The Country” just a few months previously, and consider what had been lost.

8. Diana Ross – Work That Body (peak: 7)
The genesis of the Beyonce/Christina school of WORK and WORK and STRIVE and um WORK pseudo-ethics, and with Jane Fonda’s Workout Record doubtless very much in mind, here was Diana, no longer paralysed by ghosts of love now gone, or reflections of the way life used to be, or even still particularly waiting, but trimmed and READY for the EIGHTIES, the no-nonsense, don’t-look-back, work-until-you-bleed eighties.

Even if its drum introduction invariably makes me think of Max Wall.

7. Odyssey – Inside Out (peak: 3)
Ah, delightful, enticing, different; written by sometime Scot Jesse Rae, and a big turntable hit at Wild Bunch nights in Bristol, Odyssey’s finest record implores “don’t give up” and winks “like the words here in this song, you’ll go on and on and on and on without her.” The song’s bounce is elegant, its keyboards twinkling like naughty satellites – “As you feel her tightening grip, like a genie I will slip in your heart,” and similar couplets (not to mention the tumultuous quiver lent to the words “turning me” in the second chorus) suggest the hint of a panting threat; “Buffalo Stance” and “Karmacoma” not all that far away.

6. ABC – The Look Of Love (peak: 4)
the blue skies of May those blue sunny academic mornings, the rivers glistening, the trees glinting, the redness of the cover, the sincerity of Fry’s sleevenotes, P Morley and Edwyn C in the video dancing in mutual celebration over what they had helped to bring about, Fry bursting through the façade of façade, the bust of Baudrillard, and soaring into that sky, everybody from Trevor Horn upwards and downwards and backwards and sideways working to achieve that deliverance, Frankie Laine LIVES, the silver jackets, the courtly bows “and sometimes they say to me, they say Martin” close to Levi Stubbs but also close to the desperate Jagger of “Fool To Cry” or “Miss You” (“you know, sometimes they say, they say…”) and it’s so dazzlingly real you can’t believe it’s not fantasy and Lexicon Of Love the whole story about to go to number one and you know that New Pop was worth it if only for this if only for Sulk and New Gold Dream and this but there was so much more and it was all blue skies and it can happen again

5. Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf (peak: 5)
I’m full up.

4. Kid Creole and the Coconuts – (I’m A) Wonderful Thing (Baby) (peak: 4)
and all dismissing or crucifying Ze Records as an expensive joke had to swallow the wrong lexicons when they started having hits and how wonderful and noble it was to have this genuinely elegant music – none of your Randy Crawford fake furs here – that something with this level of humour and generosity and clothes (“Let’s just talk about the As!”) could blossom into an actual hit and help invent (that ululatory androgyny!) Prince and OutKast and, well, the sun shone despite Thatcher and the Falklands and not because of her because we know better

3. Soft Cell – Torch (peak: 2)
and oh yes he watches this woman sing about her life, tear herself apart, and maybe it’s the Jimmy Nail of “Ain’t No Doubt” before the doubt set in, when everyone was still young and happy, and Almond comments on what she’s singing and how she’s singing it, all the time aching to penetrate her grief (“Hold me hold me hold me hold me HOLD ME!”), the trumpet reaching the emotions that the words can’t…the bits of chat business midway through the 12-inch (and “Torch” is a song which really only truly exists in its full 12-inch form) and then you hear her singing and it’s a small voice not Winehouse self-assured rasping small and vulnerable and offkey and you realise it’s all in the grain and what the active listener derives from it and can give back to it and they sing together at the end as though singing along while listening to each other’s records yes two people in two continents with similar records and by art and truthfulness they connect that’s good

2. Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes (peak: 1)
Adam thinks Kevin Rowland thinks he’s Al Green but he’s wise enough to know that he’s really singing about himself – “because you don’t drink, don’t smoke…what do you do?” Don’t need it (or at least he didn’t at that stage) because the art is enough. TOTP gave him three stages to perform the complex routine for the song; whatever angle you see him from, it’s always him, and really do you think I’d be able to do any of this if I got pissed and stoned all the time, but it’s not “Work That Body,” not yet, anyway.

1. Charlene – I’ve Never Been To Me
Eventually you cross that lake of eternity, look back over all of this unbelievably popular music, even as the shiny yellow was melting into nocturnal liquidity, and you find that even the worst piece of trash sitting at number one can’t put you off loving everything that was good and improper about pop music in the late spring and early summer of 1982; even this three-year-old piece of dysfunctional misogyny (she’s travelled places, done things, but no she can’t get a fuck and doesn’t have a bestial lout of a husband to slap her about and treat her like shit and worst and most unforgivable of all she doesn’t have any KIDS so she’s NOT REALLY A PROPER WOMAN IS SHE?). At least Sandy Posey’s “Born A Woman” had irony thrust through its guts like the deadliest of daggers. But Charlene (and on Motown? WHY??) simply whimpers her gross guilt (“I’ve been to crying for unborn children that might have made me complete”). Just because it is one of the few hit singles to incorporate the word “whoring” into its lyric does not elevate it, since its central message appears to be: women, know your place, follow the Moral Majority, be grateful for the crumbs you are offered and don’t get indigestion eating them either. Was this 1982 or 1952? And what business does POTP, on a Sunday afternoon, have in climaxing (ha!) a programme with this disgrace as a supposed crowning achievement? Or was it simply that things had started to go a little wrong in pop music again?

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