Trentbeat: The Nottingham Sound! Part One: 1974 to 1993.

The Troubled Diva Can’t Be Arsed To Do Any Proper Research And Anyway It’s Just A Blog So Why Bother? Unauthorised, Unreliable, Slapped-Together-In-Five-Minutes Guide To The Fabulous Sound Of Trentbeat, In Which We Salute Nottingham’s Major Contribution To The International Music Scene Through The Years.

tb01place

Paper Lace. Godfathers of the Nottingham Sound. With Billy Don’t Be A Hero, the raging anti-war polemic which took the whole country by storm in March 1974, The Lace placed the city of Nottingham firmly on the musical map, whilst simultaneously kick-starting the musical revolution that came to be known (admittedly not until thirty years on, but hey, who’s counting?) as Trentbeat.

tb02alvin

Alvin Stardust. From Mansfield. Which, admittedly, isn’t Nottingham. But it’s almost Nottingham, right?

Besides which, Trentbeat is a little short on founding fathers – so Alvin will have to do.

I bought his album, you know.

Medium Medium. Early 80s indie/funk crossover act, who recorded for the Cherry Red label. Their best known track, Hungry, So Angry, made Billboard magazine’s Alternative Top 50. Eventually morphed into…

C Cat Trance. …who took things in a funkier direction, with “Islamic” influences.

tb03fatalFatal Charm. “Futurist” synth-pop act who got on Channel 4’s The Tube a couple of times. Midge Ure produced their debut single.

Split up in 1989 and re-formed as State Of Grace (see below).

Sense. Another synth-pop act, whose first three UK singles were produced by Dave Ball from Soft Cell. Supported Depeche Mode and Kim Wilde on tours of Europe, and had a Top 40 hit in France with Jamie. An ill-fated excursion into Hi-NRG (the Ian Levine produced You Cry) spelt curtains for the band.

See also: Pinky & Perky (below); Bob The Builder (Part 2).

tb04supollSu Pollard. No, it’s not Kathy Burke in Gimme Gimme Gimme – it’s Su “can I do yer chalet?” Pollard, the reigning “First Lady of Trentbeat”.

The saucy siren from Stapleford reached Number Two in 1986 with Starting Together, which was taken from some naff TV documentary about a pair of young marrieds. This was particularly memorable for its video, in which Our Su, looking fetching in a furry white winter cap with matching pom-poms, indulged in a playful snowball fight in the woods with said young marrieds.

Su’s entire debut album has since been “deconstructed” by a bunch of “radical sonic terrorists”, whose alarming re-workings of her oeuvre can be found here. (Click on Deconstructions.) I particularly recommend the V/Vm remix of the aforementioned Starting Together, which treats the song with the respect it deserves.

Clint Bestwood & the Mescal Marauders. Popular local live act from the late 1980s, who released at least one single (Sourmash).

People in the know called them “The Bestwoods”. Not being in the know, I didn’t quite like to; it smacked of a certain over-familiarity. The one time I did catch them live – at a warehouse party near the railway station – I was too busy necking Pils and posing in my ripped 501s to pay much attention. However, Demian describes them as a “boozy bounce along band”, which sounds about right.

Asphalt Ribbons. Late-80s-early 90s indie band of some reknown. Split up and re-formed as Tindersticks (see Part 2).

tb05tulipsFat Tulips. Part of the so-called “twee” indie movement, the Fat Tulips have been described as “making Talulah Gosh look like an Oi band.”

Recorded a single called Where’s Clare Grogan Now?, which probably tells you all you need to know.

State Of Grace. Formed from the ashes of Fatal Charm (see above), State Of Grace swiftly became Trentbeat’s premier shoegazing act, with singles such as Camden and Hello (not the Lionel Richie song). Actually – and I speak as someone who was never that big on the whole shoegazing thing – they were bloody great, with plenty of droney, trippy “freakout” sections, and pleasingly copious usage of effects pedals.

Unfortunately, having been knocking around for a fair old while by then, the band weren’t judged sufficiently hip to be ranked alongside the Slowdives and Chapterhouses of this world, the NME once sneeringly referring to them as “looking like a bunch of supply teachers”. A freak US dance hit, with a wildly unrepresentative remix, proved to be the final nail in their coffin.

tb06stereoStereo MC’s. Splitters! Although two-thirds of the band originally hailed from Ruddington, Trentbeat traitors the Stereo MCs cleared off to London before enjoying any commercial success.

However, this act of monumental civic betrayal came with a hefty price tag: after four hit singles in just six months, the band had to wait a full eight years for a fifth.

Let the fate of the Stereo MCs serve as an Awful Warning. You desert this city at your peril.

KWS. Recorded in a bid to persuade star footballer Des Walker to stay with Nottingham Forest, the KWS cover of KC & The Sunshine Band’s Please Don’t Go became the second Trentbeat Number One in April 1992. This earnt the band an entirely justifiable nomination as Best New Act at the 1993 Brit Awards, alongside such musical heavweights as Undercover (Never Let Her Slip Away; Baker Street) and eventual winner Tasmin “voice of an era” Archer.

KWS made regular appearances at Nottingham’s top nitespot The Black Orchid, if memory serves. As The Cavern was to Merseybeat, so The Black Orchid was to Trentbeat: crucible of a revolution. (I could turn this into a book, you know. Any offers?)

tb07pinkperkPinky & Perky. The lovable singing piglets enjoyed something of a comeback in 1993: regular guest slots on a kids’ TV show called The Pig Attraction, a by-the-skin-of-its-teeth Top 50 single, (Reet Petite / It Only Takes A Minute Girl) and a whole album (yes, they really did cover Technotronic’s Pump Up The Jam).

What you might not have known is that the piglets “laid down” their “vocal tracks” at my mate’s home recording studio in Sherwood. Indeed, if you slow down their voices… no, perhaps I’ve said enough. He doesn’t talk about it much.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (10/10) – 2004 edition.

Finally, after a long and arduous slog, our musical journey reaches its summit, as we prepare to stroll amidst the very peaks of popular song from the past five decades. And what peaks we have in store! There’s menace, there’s war, there’s death, there’s destruction… and, to complete the horror, there are novelty euro-dance crazes. I did warn you these were going to be a bit weird, didn’t I? Buckle up tight! It’s the Number Ones!

1964: Little Children – Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas.
1974: Billy Don’t Be A Hero – Paper Lace.
1984: 99 Red Balloons – Nena.
1994: Doop – Doop.
2004: Cha Cha Slide – DJ Caspar.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

For the past forty years, one song above all others has given my beloved K The Fear, to the point where he is physically incapable of listening to it. Not because it’s a particuarly bad record – if pressed, he would admit that it has considerable merit – but because, quite simply, it creeps the living f**k out of him. That record, ladies and gentleman, is Little Children by Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas – the fourth Liverpudlian act in 1964’s top ten, and also the sixth “beat group” to feature in it.

So why should a seemingly harmless Merseybeat ballad have caused K such sustained mental anguish? Listening closely for the first time last week, I began to understand why. The track fairly oozes menace, with unspoken threats hanging heavy in the air. You can almost see the bag of sweeties outstretched in one hand, the switchblade concealed in the other. To the tender ears of a four-going-on-five year old such as K, I can well imagine this sounding quite terrifying.

With Paper Lace (still the most successful Nottingham band ever, which tells you all you need to know about our local music scene), the nightmare continues, as our second singing drummer tells the terrible tale of heroic, tragic, foolish young Billy and his poor, unheeded, heartbroken fiancée. Once again, we are in ambivalent territory. Is this chicken-in-a-basket variety-club cheese, or a bleak noir masterpiece? An innocuous campfire singalong, or a seething anti-war polemic? What would it sound like if Billy Bragg had recorded it? More to the point: what would it sound like if Nick Cave had recorded it?

With Nena‘s 99 Red Balloons, our terror scales new heights. Again, that ambivalence: is this the nadir of fake plastic schlager-punk, or the apotheosis of cold war paranoia? And more importantly, how ever did that atrocious English language translation slip under the net?

In its original German version (99 Luftballons), the words sound great: spiky, crunchy, memorable, even vaguely credible. So why – in the name of God, why – go and make the sodding balloons red? And where the Hell is “99 Decision Street” when it’s at home? (Apart from being a place to “worry, worry, super-scurry“, of course.) And was “there’s something here, from somewhere else” really the best description you could come up with? And couldn’t you have at least bothered to make the thing rhyme properly?

As a student in West Berlin during much of 1983 and 1984, I came to regard the ubiquitous, inescapable 99 Luftballons with great fondness. As for 99 Red Balloons, I successfully managed to avoid hearing it more than a couple of times at most. The process of assembling this project, and having to stare this appalling version in the face, has trampled over my cherished memories, and has almost succeeded in killing off my affection for the original. Quick, I need cheering up! Let’s have some Doop!

The first and only instrumental track in this year’s selection, Doop is a one-hit-wonder novelty track that has actually worn rather well. It’s frisky, it’s fun, it’s a little bit different, and it conjures up cartoonish images of gurning 1920s flappers doing the Charleston on E – which is no bad thing, right?

Would that we could say the same thing about DJ Caspar‘s one-dimensional, hectoring, Cha Cha Slide. Is he a DJ or a drill instructor?

“Criss Cross! Criss Cross! I said f***ing Criss Cross, OKAY? Pay attention, you slackers at the back! Five hops this time! No, five hops, you useless f***ers!

So there we have it: the most sinister of this year’s songs, the two daftest and most meaningless, and the only two which describe some sort of narrative. Tough choices, huh?

My votes: 1 – Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas. 2 – Doop. 3 – Paper Lace. 4 – Nena. 5 – DJ Caspar.

Over to you. With the 1960s now seven points clear at the top, the real race is now between the remaining four decades, who are bunched up together with only a single point separating them. Like last year, it’s going to be another photo finish…

Please leave your votes in the comments box. VOTING REMAINS OPEN UNTIL THURSDAY NIGHT FOR ALL TEN SELECTIONS. I’ll be announcing the final results on Friday.

Running totals so far – Number 2s.
1984: 99 Red Balloons – Nena. (111)
1974: Billy Don’t Be A Hero – Paper Lace. (88)
1964: Little Children – Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas. (81)
1994: Doop – Doop. (80)
2004: Cha Cha Slide – DJ Caspar. (40)
Decade scores so far (after 9 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (33) — Congratulations, and celebrations!
2= (4) The 1990s (26) — You’re gorgeous! I’d do anything for you!
2= (2) The 1970s (26) — I was defeated! You won the war!
4= (5) The 2000s (25) — Where is the love?
4= (2) The 1980s (25) — The only way is up!

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (9/10) – 2004 edition.

Maybe it’s the effect of dealing with the astronomic levels of sustained vitriol that have been directed, on a daily basis, towards the fine ladies and gentlemen of our popular music industry – but over the past couple of days, both online and off, I’ve become quite the sneery, snidey, little git. Time, therefore, for some corrective therapy. When commenting on today’s selection of tunes, I shall endeavour to say nothing but positive things about them. Even if it kills me.

Seconds away, Round Nine. Here come the Number Twos. Feel the love, people!

1964: Bits & Pieces – The Dave Clark Five.
1974: Jealous Mind – Alvin Stardust.
1984: Joanna – Kool & The Gang.
1994: Without You – Mariah Carey.
2004: Toxic – Britney Spears.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Barely a year into the Beatles-driven beat group explosion, and the genre is already splitting and mutating: witness the Searchers with their proto-West Coast jingle-jangles, the Stones with their grubby, rebellious blues, and the Dave Clark Five with this thrillingly brutal, gonzoid, dumb-as-f**k stompathon. If you wish, you can trace a line from Bits And Pieces through to The Kinks’ You Really Got Me (a hit five months later), The Troggs, US garage punk (Louie Louie, 96 Tears), Iggy & The Stooges, The Ramones… and, um, the Radio One Roadshow in the 70s and 80s, where it was used to introduce a daily “guess the artist” music quiz. (It won’t surprise you to learn that I used to sit eagerly by the radio waiting for the “Bits & Pieces” slot, biro and notebook to hand, ready to score myself against that day’s contestants.)

And best of all, the band had a singing drummer. Let’s hear it for singing drummers!
(Although I might be eating my words on Monday. A little clue for you there.)

When those of us of a certain age remember Alvin Stardust, the one track that immediately springs to mind is his debut hit, the immortal My Coo-Ca-Choo – a record which, like so many of its glam-rock contemporaries, somehow managed to be both cool and ridiculous at the same time. (“Cool” being defined strictly within the sensibilities of an eleven year old, I hasten to add.) However, it was Stardust’s largely forgotten follow-up that proved to be his biggest hit, and his only Number One.

As most of Alvin’s target audience were far too young to have heard anything by Buddy Holly, we perceived the “ah-huh-huh haa-huh” hiccupping on Jealous Mind as something fresh, new and fun. Indeed, our tender young minds perceived the whole notion of Alvin as something fresh, new and fun – which partly explains why this otherwise slight song fared so well. At this early stage of his new career (he had already enjoyed modest success in the early 1960s as a Brit-rocker called Shane Fenton), we weren’t buying the song so much as we were buying the idea of Alvin. As the idea grew more familiar, and the songs ever more slight, so the novelty quickly faded: Alvin’s last Top 20 hit came less than a year later, before his miraculous third re-invention as a hit maker in the early 1980s.

Bit of an old trouper, our Alvin. You’ve got to admire him for it. (And I’ve got to stick to my pledge.)

Before leaving 1974 for today, perhaps a brief postscript on 1950s revivalism is in order. Like Devil Gate Drive, You’re Sixteen and Remember (Sha La La La) in the same Top 10, there’s an unmistakeable streak of Fifties nostalgia in Jealous Mind – further evidence of a trend which was continued during Spring/Summer 1974 by the likes of The Rubettes, The Drifters and Showaddywaddy. Up until this point, chart pop had been resolutely contemporary, “now”, of the moment. Now, nearly twenty years on from Bill Haley & Elvis, it was old enough to have a history, with many of its adult songwriters and producers having come of musical age during the 1950s. A new rule of pop was duly born: the “twenty year revival” rule. This rule – which continues to this day, with early 80s influences clearly detectable in many chart hits of the 2000s – can also usefully provide pop kiddies and their parents with some measure of common ground. Even if this amounts to not much more than the whole family bopping around the living room carpet to Westlife’s Uptown Girl, or Dad fetching his old AC/DC and Def Leppard albums down from the attic to show his Darkness-loving son, in a well-intentioned if slightly embarrassing attempt at familial bonding. After all, let’s not pretend that all worthwhile pop music has always been about generational rebellion. It has always been just as much about light entertainment, and only the most dedicated rockists would seek to pretend otherwise.

Now then. What kind words can I find to say about Kool & The Gang‘s Joanna?

Well.

Um.

Okay.

It’s a simple, happy tune, expressly designed to provoke gentle finger-tapping on the steering wheel, soft-shoe shuffling at the “smart dress only” disco, smiles in the saloon bar, la-la-las on the factory floor. A little taste of early spring sunshine, to lighten up our cold war/miner’s strike gloom. These are far from ignoble aspirations for a pop song, and there are far more deserving records than this to hate.

Which brings us to Mariah “The Singing Kettle” Carey, with her fantabulous multi-octave range, her astonishing improvisational skill (why sing just one note when you can squeeze in twelve?), and her intuitive talent for sensitive, empathetic interpretations of much-loved classics such as Harry Nilsson’s Without You. Can’t you just feel the pain in this record? Doesn’t it leave you emotionally battered and spiritually drained? Mariah: yours is indeed a special, special gift.

Bidding an emotional farewell to our favourite “troubled” diva (and, lest we forget, a major inspiration for this site), we descend, with loud shrieks of untrammelled glee, upon the best Britney Spears single for years. Toxic is C21st pop at its best: energetic, inventive and bold; smart, sexy and thrilling. Who but the dourest of indie-snob purists could fail to succumb to its heady delights?

My votes: 1 – Britney Spears. 2 – Dave Clark Five. 3 – Alvin Stardust. 4 – Kool & The Gang. 5 – Mariah Carey.

Over to you. With just one more set of songs to come, the 1960s have increased their lead to a seemingly unassailable five points – although last-minute voting further down the charts could still theoretically change all that. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the pack, I’m hoping that a strong showing for Britney Spears will raise the 2000s from the ignominy of defeat. Please leave your votes in the comments box – then come back on Monday for what I promise you is an utterly bizarre final round of Number Ones. (Death! War! Horror! Menace! Novelty dance crazes!)

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (9/10) – 2004 edition.”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (8/10) – 2004 edition.

Slowly but surely, this year’s contest is turning into a walkover for the 1960s, who are now four points ahead of their nearest rivals. Looking at today’s selection, I think they have every reason to continue feeling confident. Jeez, I’ve started anthropomorphising whole decades now. Nurse – the screens! Bring on the Number Threes!

1964: Anyone Who Had A Heart – Cilla Black.
1974: The Air That I Breathe – The Hollies.
1984: Street Dance – Break Machine.
1994: The Sign – Ace Of Base.
2004: Baby I Love U – Jennifer Lopez featuring R.Kelly.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Time for the customary pretentious-music-journo waffle, then. I’ve been searching high and low for my copy of Semiological Signs & Signifiers In The Work Of Cilla Black, but I think our cleaning lady must have made off with it. In which case, I shall have to wing it. (Note to newer readers: he gets like this when he’s been out on the piss the night before. Just smile and nod.)

Anyone Who Had A Heart: undeniably great song, one of Bacharach & David’s finest, and Dionne Warwick’s impeccable original version is a much-loved classic. So what are we to make of Cilla’s cover version, which reached Number One and prevented Miss Warwick from getting any higher than Number 42? Tatty cash-in cover version? Pale imitation of the real thing? (There’s a whole thesis waiting to written here about ethnicity issues, but let’s save that for another day.) And, c’mon – bleedin’ Cilla “light entertainment” Black? I can hear the cries of “travesty” from here.

But let’s try and be fair. Let’s strip away all the naffness which followed – the Blind Dates, the Surprise Surprises, the Moments of Truth – and remember Cilla as she was in March 1964: the 20 year old former coat check girl from the Cavern in Liverpool, as breezy, optimistic, youthful and fresh as the rapidly emerging new pop culture that surrounded her, enjoying her first major hit and patently loving the whole experience. Let’s credit her – or at least her “people” – with the good taste to spot a hot US import of the day, and to cover it with love and respect for the song’s essence. Where Warwick is all elegant restraint, our Cilla chooses instead to belt the song out like the Mersey girl she is, with a screech on the chorus like an oxyacetalene blow torch. Technically speaking – even, dare I say it, aesthetically speaking – she’s not a great singer, the kindest word possibly being “eccentric”. But there’s an undeniable passion at the heart of the record, which saves it – by a whisker, mind, but a significant whisker – from being superfluous trash.

You’re My World, however, was bloody awful. Meanwhile, Dionne didn’t need to sulk for long; a month later, she entered the charts with her first UK hit, Walk On By, which went onto reach the Top 10. So everyone went home happy.

Wow, look everyone! The Hollies are back! So soon! Thirty years ago, I loathed The Air That I Breathe, viewing it as a dismal, never-ending dirge. With the wisdom of adulthood, hem hem, I am inclined to view it more favourably. Much more favourably. The song takes its time to work through its various sections (making it a bugger to edit down for the MP3), all of which are heading inexorably in the same direction, towards that epic, soaring chorus. The simplicity of the song’s lyrical theme, as the singer strips his existence down to the bare essentials, is juxtaposed wonderfully well with the full-on, everything-but-the-kitchen sink orchestration in the chorus. Lovely stuff, and – along with He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – one of the only two moments in The Hollies’ long but somewhat second division career that approached greatness.

In the case of Break Machine, the passage of time has produced the reverse effect. Twenty years ago, boom-box electro boy that I was, I fairly lapped up Street Dance – especially as it appeared on one of my favourite labels of the time, Record Shack (home of cult Hi-NRG divas such as Miquel Brown, Earlene Bentley and Evelyn Thomas). Indeed, I remember standing in the Record Shack store in Berwick Street the week before this very chart appeared, flicking through the import racks while the shop and label people discussed where Street Dance was going to end up (and correctly predicting its rise from #5 to #3). A moment later, Miquel “So Many Men, So Little Time” Brown casually strolled in with her shopping, and the whole shop went into a star-struck swoon. No, really, it did. Heady days!

However, the essential fakeness behind Break Machine has meant that Street Dance hasn’t worn at all well. Portrayed as beat-of-the-street b-boys, they were in fact the latest confection from Jacques Morali, former svengali to the Village People. Yes – it’s a little known fact, but Street Dance was written by the same team who brought you YMCA, and Eartha Kitt’s über-camp Where Is My Man. And as James Hamilton waspishly remarked in Record Mirror at the time, the vocals were distinctly more Santa Monica Boulevard than the Bronx. Miaow!

Faced with the prospect of writing anything at all about the irredeemably dreary Ace Of Base, I feel the will to live draining from my body. Did you know that they made the 1994 Guinness Book Of World Records for the biggest selling debut album of all time? It beggars belief, doesn’t it? Instead of trying to invent new ways of saying “pants”, I shall offer you the following little exchange from earlier this evening, when K did his voting.

K: “She’s got some sort of speech impediment, hasn’t she?”
M: “Actually, she’s Swedish.”

Laugh? We nearly drowned out the rest of the track.

At this stage of the game, I find myself desperately wanting to defend contemporary R&B from all you h8erz out there who are slagging it off for being unmelodic. As I see it, the essence of R&B isn’t melodic at all, or even particularly song-based. The emphasis here is on rhythm – on the intricate syncopated interplays between the various elements in the music, both vocal and instrumental. You might just as well slag Cilla Black off for not being funky enough; the criticism would be equally wide of the mark.

Unfortunately, I only have Jennifer Lopez and R. Kelly as today’s evidence for the defence, with this ropey old pile of toss. No doubt stunned by the somewhat freakish success of last year’s staggeringly good Ignition (remix) – my favourite single of last year, and a record which worked so well partly because it sounded so casual and accidental – R. Kelly is doggedly, and all too self-consciously, trying to repeat the formula here. It doesn’t work. At all. In fact, it sucks a big one. Meanwhile, J-lo continues to betray her utter disinterest in music as anything other than a means to an end, with her useless, indifferent, can-we-get-a-move-on-my-driver’s-waiting warbling. The track reaches its absolute nadir during what I suppose we must call the “chorus”, which sounds like the work of, ooh, about 3 seconds’ creative effort. If that. Plus there’s this awful percussive klatsch noise about once every bar, which sounds horribly intrusive on headphones. Pah. A pox on all your houses!

Mv votes: 1 – The Hollies. 2 – Cilla Black. 3 – Break Machine. 4 – Ace Of Base. 5 – Jennifer Lopez featuring Our Shelleh.

Over to you. Except that you’ve already started, haven’t you? (A skeleton version of this post first appeared three hours ago.) Naturally, I’m expecting a Cilla/Hollies two-horse race. But I’ve been wrong before. Come on, surprise me.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (8/10) – 2004 edition.”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (7/10) – 2004 edition.

For the first time in this year’s survey, all of today’s vocalists are male. Prepare for a pretty-boy pop / classic rock / country & western soundclash, as we hold our noses and plunge headlong into the testosterone stew of the Number Fours:

1964: Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones.
1974: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – Charlie Rich.
1984: Wouldn’t It Be Good – Nik Kershaw.
1994: Streets Of Philadelphia – Bruce Springsteen.
2004: Mysterious Girl – Peter Andre.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

As with Needles & Pins at Number 10, the first top ten hit for The Rolling Stones is, by the standards of its day, a progressive and prescient record, which – in common with much of the best pop music – simply could not have existed a year earlier. With its gritty, driving, loose-limbed physicality, Not Fade Away reveals its faux-Beatles contemporaries as woefully derivative and buttoned-up by comparison, their feet still planted in Tin Pan Alley hacksmithery. Forty years on, and you can still catch a whiff of the incendiary impact that this must have had.

Expecting some sort of toupeed & cummerbunded, rhinestone-encrusted & candelbra-bedecked cabaret nightmare, I was pleasantly surprised by Charlie Rich. Hokey yet heartfelt, there’s a deft emotional sway to The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – particularly in the latter stages of its chorus – which reels me right in. Amplified beautifully by the song’s arrangement, Charlie’s regret sounds genuine to me – and ultimately, that’s what counts.

With Nik “re-appropriating the snood as a fashion accessory” Kershaw, the situation is more problematic. Namely, that the whole stiff, lumpen, clod-hopping sound of Wouldn’t It Be Good is so deeply unappealing from an aesthetic point of view (to say nothing of the awful rock-lite guitar sound) that I find it almost impossible to concentrate on the actual song for any sustained amount of time. But, mindful of my duties, concentrate I must – and what do I find lurking behind the clueless A&R-approved AOR bluster but the thinnest, most pitiful, whiniest excuse for a song ever? For real, gloriously transcendent self-pity in 1984, you needed to look no further than The Smiths. Compared to the majesty of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, this primped and pouting little pipsqueak doesn’t even register as a blip on the map. Begone, Kershaw, and take your snood with you!

With Bruce Springsteen – an artist whose appeal has always been lost on me – the situation grows still more problematic. From the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning Big AIDS Movie of the same year, Streets Of Philadelphia is – for all of its understated, stripped-down, bluster-free qualities – Springsteen’s Big AIDS Song. And that’s where, for me, the problem lies. As with the film, there’s a confusion between symbolic gesture and emotional truth, which clouds objective judgement of the work’s intrinsic merits. The tragedy of AIDS is, per se, an emotionally upsetting subject – hence the film made me bawl my eyes out in the cinema like no other film before or since, and the song made me go out and buy a Springsteen record for the first and last time. However, it didn’t take long before the film stood revealed as a shallow, manipulative, resolutely minor piece of work, expressly calculated to extract as many tears as possible from its audience – the cinematic equivalent of a piece of red ribbon. Similarly, Springsteen’s song doesn’t stand up too well, either. Somehow, it revels in the suffering it describes, in a manner which I find slightly distasteful (“and my clothes don’t fit me no more“, indeed). Unlike Charlie Rich’s record – sentimental and yet somehow sincere – I simply don’t believe in Springsteen’s undoubtedly well-intentioned, yet strangely impersonal performance. It’s not a bad record – there’s an eerie, haunting quality which is undeniably effective – but it falls a long way short of the great record which it was self-consciously trying to be.

All of which makes the sudden lurch into Peter Andre‘s exhumed pop-reggae confection from 1996 all the more difficult to bear. Doesn’t the false jollity on offer simply make you want to retchMysterious Girl was bad enough the first time round; as a re-release on the back of Andre’s recent exposure on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here, new and even more irritating factors come into play.

The myth that we have been sold here is that Mysterious Girl was re-released due to “overwhelming public demand”, as whipped up by a “campaign” by DJ Chris Moyles on Radio One’s breakfast show. Do we believe that? Or do is it considerably more likely that the single was already earmarked for re-release before Andre even went into the “jungle” alongside John Lydon, Jordan, Jennie Bond et al? The essence of the Moyles campaign was that Andre’s record is “so bad that it’s good”, and that re-releasing it would be, groan, ironic. By buying it, we would somehow be in on the joke – and not only that, but we would be granting a formerly washed-up pop star an escape route from the dumper. The second myth, therefore, is that Andre is back in the charts at our behest – that we have gifted him a form of redemption (witness the slightly bemused, pathetically grateful smile with which the admittedly simple-minded Andre now performs the song on TV). The success of Mysterious Girl thus represents a triumph for the sort of ubiquitous OK/Heat-magazine celeb-culture which was once an amusement, but which has now become a suffocating force upon popular culture.

Or am I reading too much into a daft little pop song? Oh, quite possibly. I’ll shut up now, shall I?

My votes: 1 – Rolling Stones. 2 – Charlie Rich. 3 – Bruce Springsteen. 4 – Peter Andre (because K & I once got pissed and danced to it at chucking-out time at the Admiral Duncan 8 years ago, so at least there’s one happy memory associated with it). 5 – Nik Kershaw.

Over to you. A walkover for the Stones, do we think? The 1960s are already leading the pack; maybe today’s selection will increase that lead. Meanwhile, after a disastrous last couple of days, support for the 2000s is collapsing. With a reminder that voting is still open for all the other selections… please leave your votes in the comments box.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (7/10) – 2004 edition.”

“Oh, how vile!”

pracatan

Margarita Pracatan – Hello (wand’s mini-drama mix)
(right-click to download)

Spring/Summer 1996. About once a month, we would pile out of Trade on a Sunday lunchtime, then head down to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to catch Adrella’s weekly drag show. Well before the Dame Edna Experience made the RVT what it is today, Adrella was packing the place out with her own loyal troupe, complete with their own set call-and-response phrases. (“Good afternoon Adrella, and how are you today?” “Oh, how vile!”)

Adrella’s top turns at the time included a coke-addled Liza, stumbling her way through Losing My Mind, a bouncy Gina G, flicking her tresses to Ooh Aah…Just A Little Bit, and best of all, her take on the emergent starlet of the moment, the one and only Margarita Pracatan. Replacing Margarita’s keyboard with an ironing board, if you please, you had to peel the queens from the ceiling by the time Adrella had worked her way through There’s-a Nooo! Business Like-a Shooow! Business.

Imagine our delight, therefore, when this extraordinary handbag house cover version of Lionel Richie’s Hello appeared on promo. And imagine our disappointment when at the last moment, with a tiny handful of copies of the CD single already pressed, Margarita’s record company pulled the single from the release schedules, never to see the light of day. Tipped off by my DJ mate from Central Station in King’s Cross, I quickly grabbed a copy from probably the only shop in the UK which had copies for sale (Trax Records on Greek Street).

Rare as rocking-horse poop, this is. You lucky, lucky people. Prepare to be amazed and astounded by the genius that is… Margarita “Hello! I Love You!” Pracatan.

Hey – after making you suffer through Lionel Richie’s original version (see below), it was the least I could do.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (6/10) – 2004 edition.

Goodness, are we halfway through already? Into the Top Five we lurch, then – with one much-loved classic, and four songs which are, well, slightly less than classics. (Oh, come on – you’ve heard worse.)

For yesterday’s vote, K admitted to actually liking – yes, liking – all five records. Today, I suspect he might revert to type. Quick – hide the crockery! It’s the Number Fives!

1964: Just One Look – The Hollies.
1974: You’re Sixteen – Ringo Starr.
1984: Hello – Lionel Richie.
1994: Girls And Boys – Blur.
2004: Not In Love – Enrique Iglesias featuring Kelis.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Another day, another bunch of cut-price Beatles imitators. Merseybeat was the flavour du jour, and “beat groups” were springing up faster than a dose of acne on the face of a Liverpudlian teenager. Manchester’s Hollies hung around longer than most, with a run of 21 consecutive Top 20 hits between 1963 and 1970 – and yet how many people under the age of 50 could hum more than a couple of them? Here I Go Again? (#4) Look Through Any Window? (#4) I Can’t Let Go? (#2) Stop Stop Stop? (#2) Sorry Suzanne? (#3) No, thought not.

And so it is with the sweet, but ultimately forgettable, Just One Look, which climbed as high as #2. Do you think that maybe – just maybe – The Hollies were at all familiar with the works of Lennon & McCartney? Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad record – as with The Merseybeats at #7, there’s an untutored freshness and spirit which appeals considerably.

Round about this time thirty years ago, my sister (aged 9) and I (aged 12) devised a game which amused us greatly. Using the current edition of Disco 45 magazine as a guide, one of would choose a song, and – without revealing its title – would ask the other to supply a series of words. (noun – adjective – somebody’s name – item of clothing…etc.) Substituting those words in the appropriate places in the song, we would then sing the new version out loud – with hilarious consequences.

Why am I telling you this? Because the one song that sticks in my memory from these days is today’s 1974 selection: Ringo Starr‘s You’re Sixteen. “Lips like dandelion & burdock, tee hee hee“, we would trill, on car journeys to Sainsburys in the Doncaster Arndale Centre.

Earlier today, in a bid to re-create this cherished childhood memory, I asked you to supply eight words in my comments box:

You come on like a dream, peaches and cream
Lips like strawberry wine
You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine.
You come on like a NOUN, FOOD and FOOD
PART OF THE BODY like DRINK
You’re NUMBER, you’re ADJECTIVE and you’re ADJECTIVE.

Before revealing the hilarious consequences, I should warn you: they are going to be hilarious. So hilarious, that you might want to go to the toilet before reading any further.

Yes, I think it’s probably best if we all go to the toilet now. See you back here in two minutes.

OK, has everyone been to the toilet? Good. I think we’re ready.

Now, I want you to promise me one thing. When you listen to today’s MP3, will you be sure to sing the hilarious new words, out loud if you please, in time to the music?

You would? Splendid! OK: on the count of three, let’s have a quick practice. One – two – three!

You come on like a BANANA, BROCCOLI and TOAST
LEGS like GLENMORANGIE
You’re 666, you’re SMOOTH and you’re SHORT.

Very good. Give yourselves a nice big round of applause. I did tell you it would be hilarious, didn’t I?

And so the mood darkens. Hopefully, you will now have stored up sufficient hilarity to tide you over the minute-and-a-bit of Sheer Bloody Hell that is Lionel Richie‘s Hello. Have you ever noticed that time actually slows down when this is playing? It’s probably something to do with quantum physics. And, look, is anyone going to admit to liking this?

Anyone at all?

Nobody?

I’m not seeing any hands.

Look, if the people responsible for buying this execrable pile of toss don’t own up, I might have to keep the whole group back.

Oh, do stop snivelling. At least I haven’t made you watch the video.

Ah, here come Blur. Smiles all round!

Girls And Boys was, firstly, Blur’s comeback hit, almost exactly three years after their last Top 10 single (There’s No Other Way). Secondly, it could arguably be credited with being the first of the big Britpop hits; I’ve certainly always thought of it that way. Pulp, Oasis, Wake Up, Yes, You’re Gorgeous… for the next three years or so, the UK singles charts would be stuffed full with all manner of goodness. And, er, Cast and Ocean Colour Scene. But you can’t have everything.

And finally: Mister Potty Strain meets Ms. Potty Mouth in a dodgy Benidorm disco. I hold Enrique Iglesias personally responsible for the most annoying trend in pop vocals in living memory: the “potty strain” form of emoting, as demonstrated in the deathless Hero.

“….wwwwwrrrrrggggghhhhhhACHG-KN-be your hero….”

Bastard. On the strength of this, every other contestant in shows like Pop Idol now feels duty bound to demonstrate their “emotion” by pulling the same trick. Thanks, Enrique – thanks for giving birth to a whole nation of aspirant potty-strainers with ironed hair and tiger-striped “extreme boot-cut” jeans. Oh yeah, and thanks too for fooling a whole generation of otherwise attractive young men into thinking that they will somehow look cool with one of those bloody stupid woollen tea-cosy thingies on their heads. You’ve been a great help to society, haven’t you?

As if this wasn’t enough, Julio’s little boy has seen fit to:

a) Drag the otherwise impeccable Kelis – fresh from bringing us all to the yard with her Milkshake – into an ill-advised “boundary crossing” collaboration. For such a usually mouthy gal, I’d say that Kelis was keeping pretty quiet on this one. Is she even in the studio? Is she phoning her part in on Enrique’s mobile? For shame, Kelis. For shame.

b) Re-contextualise the key line from 10cc’s sublime I’m Not In Love, whilst robbing it of all its multiple levels of meaning. While 10cc were – movingly – trying to pretend to themselves that they weren’t in love, Potty Man actually isn’t in love; like “Fiddy” Cent before him (on In Da Club), all he wants is a sodding shag. Tsk, youth of today. Ten years ago, Blur were being ironic about it; in 2004, Enrique is living it, entirely without irony.

Ooh, I’ve got quite steamed up. Shall we move onto the votes?

My votes: 1 – Blur. 2 – Ringo Starr (by a whisker). 3 – The Hollies. 4 – Enrique & Kelis (at least it’s got a catchy tune). 5 – Lionel Richie.

Over to you. Yesterday, Relax became the most popular record in the series so far, thrusting the 1980s into the lead. Will it be an even cleaner sweep for Blur? God knows, the 1990s need some urgent help. Please leave your votes in the comments box.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (6/10) – 2004 edition.”