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…
Continue reading “Which Decade is Tops for Pops? (5/10) – 2005 edition.”