There may still be stinkers ahead. In fact, I know that there are stinkers ahead. But for now, our extended streak of comparatively good luck continues, with another eminently reasonable selection of decent pop moments.
With all five songs featuring male lead vocals, it’s also our butchest selection yet. Send the disco divas packing, and bring on the MEN – it’s the Number Sixes!
1965: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – The Animals
1975: Goodbye My Love – The Glitter Band
1985: Things Can Only Get Better – Howard Jones
1995: Here Comes The Hotstepper – Ini Kamoze
2005: Black And White Town – Doves
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
So, yeah: with all girlie frivolity banished, the manly virtues of Authenticity, Meaning and Realness are the order of the day. Starting with The Animals, whom I have never quite been able to forgive for foisting that godawful dirge House Of The Rising Sun upon the world. Still, we’ll try not to let that come between us.
Raw, unadorned, bluesy and passionate, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood is clearly a cut above the usual beat group fodder of the day. (With the instruments sounding as if they were picked up for 17/6d a piece at Woolworths, there is also primitive quality which appeals greatly. In this respect, John Peel has taught me well.) If this record were a drink, it would be Newcastle Brown. If it were a food, it would be sausages and mash. If it were an item of clothing, it would be a plain white cap-sleeved T-shirt, gone slightly grey from repeated washes.
And if it were your boyfriend, then I would seriously think about changing the locks – for simmering beneath the “I’m really sensitive” bluster is a barely concealed malevolence, which hints at misdeeds past and yet to come. Take this from the third verse, which didn’t make the MP3 medley:
If I seem edgy I want you to know, that I never mean to take it out on you. Life has its problems and I get my share, and that’s one thing I never meant to do, because I love you.
Yeah, they all say that afterwards. Run! Run for the hills and don’t look back!
By 1975, The Glitter Band were already struggling to put their increasingly stale and tired glam-rock associations behind them, and to carve out a new musical niche. This is difficult to achieve when the word “Glitter” is actually embedded in the name of your band.
(Aside: just over a year later, the word “Glitter” was finally dropped altogether, as the act mutated into The G Band. At which point, the hits immediately dried up. Fame is indeed a fickle mistress.)
I therefore came to Goodbye My Love expecting turgid, re-heated slop; a limp fist half-heartedly punching the air; a reluctant, resentful “Hey!” forced out yet again. But my goodness me, what do I find but a plucky, spirited little pop-rock gem, with a particular cadence and a certain dynamic which now sounds astonishingly ahead of its time?
Spot question: Which major British rock act of the last fifteen years does Goodbye My Love remind you of? Come on: it can’t be just me who thinks this. This act has always worn its influences on its sleeve; curious that it should be so coy about admitting its debt to Gary Glitter’s backing band.
Second spot question, for trainspotters: There’s a major musical connection between The Glitter Band and one of the other acts in this year’s selection, upon whom you have already passed judgement. What’s the act, and what’s the connection?
My, but I’m yakking on this evening… and I haven’t even begun my learned treatise on Howard Jones, and my theories as to why he was so bitterly reviled at the time by all right-thinking Persons Of Taste And Discernment. Strewth, we’ll be here all night!
As quickly as I can, then. We hated Howard because he thought he was, like, really really deep and philosophical and stuff, and ooh I’m not like those shallow haircut bands, my stuff is about LIFE, whereas he was actually a peddler of embarassingly earnest greetings-card platitudes for stupid people in bad clothes who weren’t cool enough to appreciate, er, Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera and Everything But The Girl, probably. Not that there was anything wrong per se with being deep and earnest and non-trivial and About Real Stuff: after all, this was a time when the Style Council, The Redskins and Billy Bragg could do no wrong. It was just the wrong kind of earnestness, that’s all. Oh, and he had a f***ing stupid hairdo like a cockatoo, smiled too much on kids’ telly programmes, named his album Humans Lib AARGH SPEW and performed with his own “interpretive dancer” HA HA HA PRAT PRAT PRAT.
…and exhale. So wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all take a fresh listen to poor old well-meaning Howard – who was only trying to do his best, and wasn’t there a virtue in his resolute normalcy, and almost wilful unhipness, and refusal to play the silly cool games of the day – and conclude that, just as with the Glitter Band, history had been jolly unfair and that actually his stuff was really rather good, and…
Nope. Tried to. Really tried to. But nope. I mean, cop a listen to this:
We’re not scared to lose it all
Security throw through the wall
Future dreams we have to realize
A thousand sceptic hands
Won’t keep us from the things we plan
Unless we’re clinging to the things we prize
Sorry Howard, but there’s just no excuse, is there? Look, I know you must have spent weeks of expensive studio time working on that tricksy jazz-funk instrumentation, obsessively fiddling around until every last little element shimmered and sparkled just so, with that Rock School/Hi-Fi Shop Demonstration CD sort of pristine cleanliness. But you can’t polish a turd, Howard. You just can’t. No hard feelings. I hope life is treating you well. Shall we move on?
The lone non-British performer in today’s selection, Ini Kamoze scored a US Number One with this track, before more or less disappearing without trace. People forget this, but in the early 1990s, there were quite a lot of commercial reggae hits in the UK charts: Inner Circle, Bitty McLean, Pato Banton, Snow, Chaka Demus & Pliers, and that’s just off the top of my head. Some of them (Informer, Tease Me) were great. This isn’t. It plods on and on, and it never gets anywhere in particular, and it always makes me feel restless and impatient for it to end, and it’s not even as if you could really call it “reggae” in the first place, and there’s all this stuff about being a “murderer”, which hardly sets a good example now does it, slippery slopes and all that, although it’s probably some patois term for “awfully good reggae singer” and I’m completely revealing my ignorance, and if you’ve been reading this while listening to the track on the MP3 then congratulations, it’s over now.
All of which leaves my favourite track in today’s selection, by the Doves. (Or is it just “Doves”? Doesn’t sound right either way.)
While I usually run a mile from Big And Important Standing On A Windswept Cliff In A Long Overcoat While Gazing Profoundly Into The Middle Distance Rock (hence my distaste for the second Interpol album and most of the recorded works of U2, but we’ll come back to them later), there has long been a place in my affections for (the?) Doves – especially for the glorious There Goes The Fear from a couple of years ago. Black And White Town is well up to scratch, and I bought their new album this lunchtime, and that’s all I have to say about it.
My votes: 1 – Doves. 2 – The Glitter Band. 3 – The Animals. 4 – Howard Jones. 5 – Ini Kamoze. As I managed to strap a reluctant K to a chair for six minutes this evening, his votes are in the comments box.
Over to you. The 1980s maintain their lead, the 1990s take a nasty tumble, the 2000s soar to unprecedented heights for this contest, and the 1960s fall even further behind. Could the Doves push the 2000s into the lead for the first time EVER in the three-year history of the contest? It’s all up to YOU…
Running totals so far – Number 6s.
1965: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – The Animals (143)
- Best beat track so far, but the competition has raised its game too. (Adrian)
- Always loved this song, but then I was a teenager in Newcastle in the 60s. This was recorded when Eric Burdon was still a fairly unsopisticated Geordie belter with a great voice, before he became a hippy and moved to LA, where he still is according to the recently issued Q magazine ultimate guide to Psychedelia. (Tina)
- (2nd place)Not for The Animals (whose blues-meets-pop appeal I’ve never quite got), but simply because it’s a great song, even though Ms Simone gave us the definitive rendition. I also love the dark psycho-killer element you pointed out, and which I’d never spotted before. (Nigel)
- Good point re. Nina Simone – I was going to mention the other versions of the song (Elvis Costello had a hit with it; Santa Esmerelda did a 70s disco version), but I guess you’ve got to edit yourself somewhere along the line. To be honest, The Animals’ version is probably the version with which I’m least familiar. (mike)
- I think of the lyric as more Nina Simone’s, which makes the aggression less male and scary. And all songs with a VIm – V- IV – III (or whatever it is) are good. Good Vibrations! Ice Cream Man! One More Cup Of Coffee! Greensleeves! And so the Nina/noise-associations nexus wins. (Alan Connor)
- You bastard. You are getting into my head and trying to control my mind. This was my earworm yesterday. From nowhere. You’re sending messages to my head. (Gert)
- Is this really a song about an abuser rationalizing his violent behaviour– or just a guy saying look I’m moody and hard to live with? I’ll opt for the latter because it makes it easier to like the song this way. (asta)
- Maybe saying it’s actually about a violent abuser is going a tad too far, but I do think there’s a dark undertow to the song which comes out in a particular way with The Animals version – partly because (lead singer) Eric Burdon himself isn’t quite aware of it? It was the same with Billy J Kramer’s Little Children last year – it’s the not quite knowing which makes it all the more sinister. (mike)
- Might I defend ‘House of the Rising Sun’? It’s one of those tracks that one immediately puts up the barriers against – too many bad buskers. But it’s a hell of a buildup all the way through making a terrifically exciting song. (JonnyB)
- Even if the song weren’t as good as it is, I’d have been tempted to put it at #1 just to get back at Mike for that “House of the Rising Sun” comment. Fortunately, it never came to that. (Barry)
- …the tempo seems a bit wobbly at times, ad I far prefer the Santa Esmeralda version, as used in Kill Bill. (David)
- This is rotten – the organ sounds totally out of tune, really difficult to listen to and his bluesy vocal schtick is tiresome. (Tom)
2005: Black And White Town – Doves (132)
- Yes, it’s definitely ‘Doves’, because The Doves already existed when Sub Sub became Doves. Not to be confused with Dove (a Dublin pop trio from 3 or 4 years ago), One Dove or the Thrashing Doves. (Chig)
- i bought “cedar room” after finally decoding the NME single review and realizing that i’d probably like it. it’s been a very pleasant ride since then. (hedgerow)
- Eight or nine plays in, and Black And White Town just gets better and better. This is a great 2005 top ten. Er… so far, at least. (mike)
- I haven’t particularly liked what I’ve heard of them before but this is good.. love that dirty piano sound (David)
- It certainly rouses me. The new millenial Ghost Town, apparently. (djg)
- New to me, has a Joe Jackson quality to it. (timothy)
- Joe Jackson’s Stepping Out – good observation, now you mention it. It also puts me in mind of the intro to Bowie’s Modern Love – it’s those two piano chords, I think. (mike)
- I’d like this a whole heck of lot more if they replaced the lead singer. The band seems to agree since his voice gets almost completely drowned out by the end of this clip. (asta)
- Likeable, forgettable retro exercise. (Tom)
- Sounds as if it could have been written anytime in the past thirty years. My immediate reaction was “atonal music for an atonal generation”, but there are a couple of harmonies and layers hidden away in there which might cause me to listen to the whole thing and dramatically revise my opinion… (Nigel)
- I’ve liked odd bits in the past (although they only ever seemed to have one drum rhythm) but despite it’s Wall of Sound thing, I just find this track a bit…dull. (Will)
- I might be missing out on something here, but this has absolutely zero appeal to me. (Simon
- How did Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” end up on this poll. Oh wait, it’s Doves. (Barry)
1995: Here Comes The Hotstepper – Ini Kamoze (99)
- Just really, really great. Now that’s a rhythm track. Lazy handclaps, bassline happily bobbing away. Not so sure if I’d call him a lyrical gangsta, but ‘nanananana’ is good enough for me. (KoenS)
- Marvellous, I’m downloading this tonight and playing it out at Club FT tomorrow. Nananana! (Tom)
- I can’t believe I’m rating this so highly, but my judgement is clouded by all the nights out where this got everyone dancing. Also love it for “I know what Bo don’t know’ which I thought was a great reply to an annoying ad campaign of the time. It’s shallow. It’s fun. Yes, please. (asta)
- Well, it’s got “nanananana” in it, hasn’t it? Songs with “nanananana” are great and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (Nigel)
- It’s those 90s disco associations again I think. It got played to death at the time, but these days I’m quite a fan of the occasional listen. (Adrian)
- Is this a cover or derivative of something, because the actual – rather catchy – tune is v. familiar but neither title nor artist ring a bell. Maybe it was big in the ‘hood? (Gert)
- Regarding Gert’s question, the “na na na na na” part is from the song “Land of a 1000 Dances” (preferably as performed by Wilson Pickett, rather than Tina Turner). This is a song for sunny day head-bobbing in cars with their windows down, and it’s a great song at that. (Simon)
- I feel depressed at how low I’m having to rate 1995 tracks since in the past I’ve called it the best year for music ever. We need some Britpop/indie contributions urgently. (Will)
- I remember hearing that Ini Kamoze was an excellent lyricist, although you wouldn’t know it from this song. Since he didn’t have any other megahits, I guess that’s one mystery I never got a chance to solve. (Barry)
- I do secretly quite like this, but I’m not going to reward a song which mentions ‘murderer’ so frequently, on moral grounds. (Chig)
1975: Goodbye My Love – The Glitter Band (91)
- “Goodbye my Love” was the Glitter Bands finest hour I think with the possible exception of “Let’s Get Together again” (and I still have their first two albums). (NiC)
- (1st place) Because I can just about imagine myself dancing with my arms in the air at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern to an Almighty-anthem remix of this. But only just, you understand? And I’d have to be, rather, – er, how shall we say? – rather *happy* to do it. (Nigel)
- I don’t think this was intended to be played through the crappy speakers on my PC. (Gert)
- Lots of urgency about it, but the singing is strained and lame. (Tom)
- Not a fan then. Not a fan now. (asta)
- Goodbye indeed, just don’t call me your love. (Adrian)
1985: Things Can Only Get Better – Howard Jones (75)
- I like this. I’ve even contemplated buying a greatest hits album from time to time, although have settled for trying to get the three tracks that I’d actually want on 80s compilations. (Adrian)
- Erm… this was the first single I ever bought. Pop law therefore states that even if the other four records were “Satisfaction”, “SOS”, “Common People” and “Negotiate With Love”. I’d have to put it first. But I do think the falsetto bit is OK. (Tom)
- i so wanted to be howard jones twenty years ago. not drinking didn’t seem that bad to me (easy to make that choice when all you’ve sampled is american macrobrews), the meatless thing was tougher, but mitigated when he admitted to enjoying a cheeseburger. to be honest, i’m not sure how he got away with it: having painfully earnest lyrics, a mime, worse hair than bananarama ever had, but still having hits on both sides of the atlantic. needless to say the casios are gathering dust at my parents’, but his optimism twenty years on still has something to say for it. (hedgerow)
- I never really got Howie. Never disliked him, but I felt he was as much the product of hype as anything else. Still, I know it…A bit too similar to Like To Get To Know You Well. (Gert)
- I have a theory that he might have done so much better if music videos weren’t around when he was recording. The hair lost him so many sales. Then again, he’d have probably found another way to turn off his audience. It’s a bad sign when the best part of your song doesn’t have any real words in it. ( wa wa whoa….) (asta)
- If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have had time to stop and have a sip of my drink while out dancing. (timothy)
- I don’t need a lecture. I need to dance. (djg)
- No no no no no. Back in the Nineties, when people were saying the eighties were crap? This is what they were referring to. (KoenS)
- Things Can Only Get Better. Never was a truer word squawked. Pompous sub-Duran Duran piffle. (Nigel)
- can I add to the weight of evidence re. Howard Jones the fact that he called a B-Side “You Jazzy Nork”? (This may actually be evidence in his favour) (Tom)
- Please God, don’t tell me we’ll have Nik Chuffing Kershaw by the end of this too… (Lyle)
- I never noticed he was doing anything different musically to Nik, but there was a lovely girl who was into like animal rights and stuff, and she liked Howard Jones, so I bought the albums. Well, taped them. Is it my ailing memory, or were some of the others better? “No-One Is To Blame?” Maybe? (Alan Connor)
- Quite honestly, the biggest load of crappy, clang-a-lang claptrap I’ve ever encountered in my life. (Nigel)
Decade scores so far (after 4 days).
1 (1) The 1980s (15) — Wow wow wow oh, wow wow wow oh oh oh oh!
2= (3) The 2000s (13) — Here comes the action, here it comes at last! Lord give me a reaction, Lord give me a chance!
2= (4) The 1970s (13) — A million miles is just a breath away! A million miles is just some words we say!
4 (2) The 1990s (12) — Extra ordinary! Juice like a strawberry!
5 (5) The 1960s (7) — I’m just a decade whose intentions are good! Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood!