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…
Running totals so far – Number Eights.
1979: Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – Ian Dury & the Blockheads. (188)
This would get five points against just about anything, there is absolute nothing about this song that isn’t great. A brilliant fusion of pub rock and punk rock, Tom Waits-ish lyrical dexterity over a bass-line that could kill from fifty paces. (Alan)
A classic. Their best song. (Geoff Mild Peril)
This is one of the greatest songs ever written. (Sue Bailey)
I’m glad this has been in my life the last 30 years. A Classic. (Hedgie)
The only one of the 5 which you can really get lost in. (Billy Smart)
The only tune on the list that half of Britain can sing. (diamond geezer)
It’s a classic. I know we are not supposed to let nostalgia cloud our objective judgement, but honestly, who could record a song like this now, what market research focus group boxes would it tick? (Gert)
Superb record. I was lucky enough to see Dury live with the Blockheads shortly before he died, and they were aces, of course. A real one-off. Lily Allen, Kate Nash and the Streets can all try to inject as much character into their songs as they like, but none of them are within a million miles of Dury. So, so talented. (SwissToni)
Just a fantastic record (as we all discussed at great length on Popular), and the Blockheads are still a great live act without their late leader. (Erithian)
Singularly excellent song. Interestingly, I first heard it as covered by Nina Hagen & Freaky Fukin Weirdoz, and while the laid back style of the original has something to it, I do think it deserves a slightly harder treatment. More staccato and tighter. My dream cover version would be by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, produced by Rick Rubin for the Suck My Kiss sound. Then I could die happy. (Simon C)
Uber-suggestive as was “I Wanna be Straight”, but it was just double entendres I think… he has a famous son? Stunning disco/funk record and one of the best no 1s ever. 1979 was such a banner year, please let there be some Chic! (John)
Much as I would love to mark this down (everybody else will vote it top; much of his other stuff isn’t actually very good; it is obligatory to cite him as a genius; I was born and grew up in Billericay), let’s face it – killer hook, one of the best pop songs ever recorded. (JonnyB)
In my old vinyl singles collection which is in the back of a cupboard, this is the one I know the best. I’m kind of tempted to give the top position to Morrissey which I don’t know so well and therefore has got more ability to surprise me. In the end sense prevails. (Amanda)
The actual chorus is the weakest part of this otherwise fantabulous song. (asta)
Musically mesmerising, but slim lyrical pickings. I suspect that I don’t “get” it. (Hg)
Energetic and fun, but I find Dury’s vocals a bit, er, annoying. (Will)
I’m actually programmed not to like this, as one of my school so-called friends sat behind me during lessons hitting me with something hard, singing it (surely I should have been hitting him – why did I only think of this now?). (Stereoboard)
1989: Last Of The Famous International Playboys – Morrissey. (127)
Inventive and twisted, which has got to be the hallmark of greatness. (diamond geezer)
The tune might not be that astonishing, but the cautionary tale lyrics are still diverting, even after twenty years of familiarity. 2 good B-sides, too. (Billy Smart)
Musically it’s a decent Moz single, nothing special – lyrically it’s actually quite important if yr a Mozologist (and there’s no reason you should be! Lord knows I am reluctantly). It’s the single where his fascination with rough boys and the dynamics of crime first crystallised, which became an ever-increasing part of his lyrical makeup. (Tom)
His 3rd best single and the ultimate karaoke Moz “ooh, I can’t help quoting you”. (John)
I like this better than when it came out. We do take Mozzer for granted, don’t we? (Dymbel)
If only he was this good all the time. Heck, I bought the album at the time because of this! (Lena)
One of the good ones. Rollicks along quite nicely, even without Johnny Marr’s contribution. The first danger signs of the Morrissey obsession with gangsters and east end n’er do wells though, but at least the song is good, unlike some of his later work. It’s Moz though, innit? He changed my life, and if it wasn’t for the genius of Dury, this would be top. (SwissToni)
I am a Morrissey fan, but this was never his best (Every Day is Like Sunday) then and it doesn’t benefit from the passage of time. (Gert)
Thought I’d have rated it higher. But at the end of the day it’s half of a good chorus and an average song. (JonnyB)
Thought this a bit limp at the time – he should have tried harder to hang onto Vini Reilly, really – and it’s remained as such; Morrissey-by-numbers, as with most of his stand-alone singles of this period. (Marcello Carlin)
I loved The Smiths, but I’ve never been able to take his solo career seriously. (Hg)
I probably haven’t given him enough of a chance; I loved the Smiths but have been pretty non-plussed by any of his solo stuff. (Sarah)
“Ronnie Kray do you know my name?” Probably not, and if he did he probably wanted to punch you in the face as much as I usually do. The Krays would have hated a pompous pretentious prat like Morrissey, and he’d have wet his pants if he’d ever actually met them. Never bought into the Morrissey hype, never will. (Alan)
2009: Omen – The Prodigy. (123)
Inventive and twisted, which in this case is the hallmark of near-greatness. (diamond geezer)
Against anyone other than Ian Dury this would have been one of the few times I’d given top marks to the current track. Undoubtedly one of the most exciting live bands in the world, Prodigy are one of the few that manage to transmit that excitement to their studio output. Not quite up to Firestarter or Charlie standards, but not far off. (Alan)
A rather wonderful unholy racket. If not a return to top form it’s still obviously the Prodigy which, is a good thing. (NiC)
“Stunning return to form.” (Sue Bailey)
Irresistible rhythm. Bass, Bass, BAASSS. (Stereoboard)
No longer innovative, but still unique. This sounds like the band that made “Charly”. (Hg)
I may tire of this one day, but not yet. (Lena)
I surprised myself by liking a lot of “The Fat Of The Land”, though this is a little too similar considering it’s 12 years on. An unholy racket in a good way, and a memorable riff. (Erithian)
This no doubt is nowhere near Johnny Nash and I don’t subscribe the reggae (especially dub like King Tubby) is vile theory – and nor does Moz if you check Under The Influence, but I love how they’e gone back to their rave roots and the amazing title and Kubrick(?)/Addams Family referencing video. (John)
They’re good, int they? Only not really my cup of tea. It’s a bit more old school for them, isn’t it? I love all that shouting though. (SwissToni)
Certainly wouldn’t have given it four points had I not just listened to it, but seconded what both Nic and your good self said. It just rollicks along, and I quite like the karaoke element of it. (JonnyB)
There’s quite a bit of retro-early-rave stuff around at the minute, but I’m not it’s right for a band to do retro-stuff that references their own work… but I was a Prodigy fan back then, and this is still a likeable track. (Adrian)
I was so ready to dump Prodigy at the bottom of the list – scary/aggressive music scares me these days – but it sort of dug in. (Andy)
They’ve been reasonably enertaining since Keith turned into a funnier version of Ade Edmondson. Punk’s not dead! (Geoff Mild Peril)
I have to be in the right mood to really enjoy this kind of thing these days. But anyway some seriously bleepy goodness here. (Amanda)
Not really my sort of thing, but it’s bloody exciting, isn’t it? (JonnyB)
I was never a fan in the old days, but this has the merit of being relatively original compared to much of modern pop music. (Gert)
It does sound a bit dated, but it works. (Simon C)
It is a bit Prodigy-by-numbers and perhaps more than a little Prodigy-do-Pendulum by numbers – my recommendation/response is: check out the Qemists album – but, as you say, good to hear middle-aged chaps making a racket and not being all Jeremy Clarkson about it. (Marcello Carlin)
Well, its okay, but it does sound like one of Jeremy’s demos in Peepshow. (Billy Smart)
1999: When You’re Gone – Bryan Adams featuring Melanie C. (82)
Under-rated rock-pop hybrid. I’ve had a soft spot for this ever since I first heard it. (Hg)
Mel C had always been known as “Talented Spice” and this is real feelgood territory for me. I saw her play live to one of the happiest crowds you’re ever likely to see… mainly because it was in Trafalgar Square on 6 July 2005 and we’d just found out London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics. (Erithian)
Ahem. I quite like this. Adams is like the musical embodiment of Canada – he’s rocking in a nice, polite kind of way. He’s like vanilla ice cream. Nice enough, but nothing exciting. (SwissToni)
Not sure it’s true to say there are no harmonies, Mike? Anyhoo, it’s infuriatingly likeable. (Will)
I’m definitely not in the large camp of Bryan Adams fans out there but this has three things going for it. Mel C, a rather catchy rocking romp and most importantly it’s not that bleeding Robin Hood song that was number one for ever. (NiC)
BA doesn’t take his music very seriously, he just churns out acceptable easy listening. Little known fact: he’s a big friend of my heroine Aimee Mann. (Dymbel)
Sporty Spice tries to position herself as a bone-fide rock chick but sadly chooses to do it by duetting with a guy who has built an entire stadium rock career on having once recorded a half-way decent album and then riding the coattails of Kevin Costner back when he was popular. As AOR goes, it isn’t bad. (Alan)
I wouldn’t so much as cross the street for Bryan Adams, the person, but he knew what he was doing with this song. Mel C is a welcome addition. Redoing it years later with Pam Anderson only reinforces the point. (asta)
My love of Ryan Adams and the need to clarify whenever i say his name, “without the B” causes me to wish his existence were relegated to his one hit and then a quiet disappearance. Quiet being the operative word. (jo)
I could think of better ways to spend my time, like watching paint dry, but collectively this is one of the most monstrous duets this side of Tom Jones meets Lulu or Heather Small. At least 1984-era scarface was good, but as for fierecely heterosexual Melanie – oh dear, voice of an angle indeed. Still one of her better songs though. (John)
Bryan “Bryan” Adams is a much better photographer than singer, and he drags poor Mel C in with him, though she as usual shines in comparison with him. But then who doesn’t? (Lena)
Qualitatively this should probably have gone in the 2 points category, largely for Mel C waking the song up towards its end, but Bryan “Real Talents Don’t Need Can Con/Buy The Local Pub And Close It So I Can Hear Myself Rock/Vote Stephen Harper” Adams is a sucker of Satan’s cock of the lowest order and gets the wooden spoon by default. With an axe attached. Good electric rock track. (Marcello Carlin)
Rock by numbers. In this case the number is rather low. (diamond geezer)
Music for people who only like music because it’s better than silence. Seal for the working classes. (Simon C)
Utter, utter crap. That is all. (Sue Bailey)
1969: You Got Soul – Johnny Nash. (80)
Surprisingly it’s less reggae-lite than his later bigger hits, a nice groove and full sound. (Erithian)
I’ve never heard, or heard of, this before. I am surprised. Or maybe that’s a statement on the inherent racism of 80s Golden Oldies Radio. It’s a good song and he has a nice voice. (Gert)
This might not be the strongest example of either Johnny Nash or reggae in general, but it’s pure. (Hg)
Not a memorable record, but pleasant enough as it goes along. (Alan)
Even though I expect Cupid to draw back his bow at any second, the smooth sound still reels me in. (jo)
Beautifully sung but very slight. (Hedgie)
Nothing wrong with it. Nothing that specially right with it either. (Sue Bailey)
Good if slightly boring. He’s got soul for sure, shines through in the delivery of the verses. (Simon C)
Alarmingly, I remembered every word, though I didn’t own the record even at the time. Nostalgia still has its pull, but it’s the weakest of the five by some way. (Z)
The first ten seconds promised more than the next few minutes delivered. (diamond geezer)
Dated awfully. Shit recording and weedy sounding vocals. I wonder what this would be like if it had been recorded better? It’s not irredeemable, I don’t think. (SwissToni)
Had to strain to remember this one and the strain wasn’t worth it; Johnny Nash-by-numbers. Spotted the theme here yet? (Marcello Carlin)
There’s something about the production on this that lets it down. The song’s OK. The main vocal and the interplay with the backing vocals is good. It’s just not very memorable. (Amanda)
If Eric B. and Rakim knew this then I’m surprised they got into music. I don’t know it and am quite glad. (Adrian)
Did he do a bad Kylie cover? (John)