Today, we’re extending a special welcome to temporarily displaced Freaky Trigger‘s Comments Crew refugees, all of whom should be well-versed in this sort of collaborative caper. They join us for a hearteningly strong selection, which offers ample scope for some enjoyably Tough Decisions. So please be upstanding! It’s the Number Eights!.
1969: You Got Soul – Johnny Nash. (video)
1979: Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – Ian Dury & the Blockheads. (video)
1989: Last Of The Famous International Playboys – Morrissey. (video)
1999: When You’re Gone – Bryan Adams featuring Melanie C. (video)
2009: Omen – The Prodigy. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
Although his output has been overshadowed by more significant talents, Johnny Nash was by all accounts a crucial figure in the development of reggae music. Not a Jamaican resident himself, a chance visit to the island in 1968 led to Nash discovering the almost unknown genre, and forming an immediate affection for it. Links were forged with Bob Marley and the Wailers, whose early recordings were financed and distributed by Nash – albeit with limited success. As for his own recordings, Nash’s first excursions into the genre proved more successful, “You Got Soul” providing him with his second UK hit.
For all its plesant period charm, “You Got Soul” strikes me as a much weaker record than its predecessor “Hold Me Tight” and its early 1970s successors “Stir It Up”, “I Can See Clearly Now” and “There Are More Questions Than Answers”. It was more difficult to source than any other track in this year’s Which Decade, and perhaps there’s some significance in that.
I’ve blogged before, and at some length, about this towering masterpiece from Ian Dury and the Blockheads – both here, and in the Freaky Trigger comments box. This time around, suffice it to say that “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” – which had topped the charts a few weeks earlier – is one of my favourites of all UK Number Ones. Perhaps it’s even my absolute favourite.
In December 1978, as “Rhythm Stick” was still climbing the charts, The Blockheads played the third gig I ever attended, and the first gig I ever loved, setting an almost unfairly high standard for all the hundreds of the gigs that followed in its wake. The second album Do It Yourself came out in May 1979 – a fine piece of work, but one which could never hope to equal the impact of their classic debut, New Boots and Panties!! “Rhythm Stick” therefore remained their commercial and artistic high water mark: a deceptively subtle and intricate piece, whose bawdy titular hook was always its least interesting feature.
And so to Morrissey, scoring his third solo hit with a devotional love song to the Kray Twins, if you please. Moz’s fetishisation of the butch and the brutal would become increasingly apparent over time – to the detriment of his artistic vision, many would argue – but “Playboys” is a third-person narrative, which establishes clear distance between protagonist and performer.
Twenty years on, the performer appears to have been consumed by his self-invented mythology, rendering him incapable of representing any viewpoint other than his own bunker mentality. There have been partial returns to form along the way – 1994’s Vauxhall And I, 2004’s You Are The Quarry – but hearing “Playboys” again reminds me of how much ground has been lost, and of how diminished these returns have become.
The enduring affection in which Bryan Adams is held by vast, silent swathes of the population serves as a salutary reminder: that there are some facets of popular culture which will always be closed off to me, no matter how hard I try to understand them.
That said, I find the appeal of “When You’re Gone” easier to identify than most. It’s a feisty little drivetime FM rocker, whose easy-going, thumbs-in-belt-loops swagger suggests that fun was had in its making. A matey rapport prevails between Adams and Melanie Chisolm, as emphasised by the unison of the duo’s delivery: no harmonies, no solos, no counterpoints, no call-and-response. It’s more open-mike night than lover’s duet, with Adams cast as the experienced host and Mel C as the humble, slightly starstruck auditionee.
For this marked Mel’s first leave of absence from the Spice Girls, who were still very much seen as a going concern. Before “When You’re Gone”, only Melanie B had broken ranks (with “I Want You Back”), and even the departed Geri Halliwell had yet to launch her solo career. It marked the moment when people begain to remark – with no small degree of surprise (and condescension?) – upon Mel C’s vocal proficiency (not bad for a manufactured pop act, who’d have thought it, etc.) In our eagerness to confer legitimacy upon her, we might have over-estimated her interpretive powers – but this felt at the time like a brave step forwards, and it holds up none too shoddily today.
It’s been four and a half years since The Prodigy last had a new single in the charts, and nearly seven years since they had a Top Ten hit. And with only two albums to their name since 1997’s massive-selling The Fat Of The Land, The Prodge come close to rivalling that lonely old stoner George Michael as the ultimate laurel-resting slackers of their generation. (Oasis might have been crap for years, but at least they’ve kept churning out the product.)
I’ve not lived with “Omen” for long enough to be able to plonk one of my “Stunning Return To Form!” stickers on it just yet – but based on my first few listens, I’m liking what I’m hearing. Blokes in their forties making an almighty, unholy racket should always be encouraged; that’s my default position. Shall we move to the voting?
My votes: Ian Dury & the Blockheads – 5 points. Morrissey – 4 points. The Prodigy – 3 points. Bryan Adams featuring Melanie C – 2 points. Johnny Nash – 1 point.
Over to you. A string of Perfect Fives for Ian and the Blockheads? Oh, I do hope so. As I said several hundred words ago: it’s Tough Decision time. Off you go, then…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 7 – the Number 8s.”