It’s not every day that you pop out for lunch and bump into the Prime Minister – but that’s exactly what happened to me today, in my endlessly exciting little life. Well, maybe “exactly” is the wrong word, as Tony Blair (for it was he) was safely behind a fairly sizeable security cordon, as he stepped out of Nottingham’s Albert Hall (no relation) and into a big black car, before speeding off up the Derby Road – passing a titchy clump of protesters with just the one banner between them.
(“Shame On You!”, it screeched, in big black marker pen, but it failed to be any more specific than that. Well, there’s so much to choose from.)
Down at my end of the patch, there were just a few mildly curious sandwich-munchers from Cast Deli at the Nottingham Playhouse, plus a few of the Playhouse staff. “Alright Tone!”, bellowed one wag, just as Blair came into view.
(Apparently, the wag has a blog – but he was coyly refusing to divulge its URL to his friends. Blog anonymity, how quaint!)
Being one of the respected elders of my community, I refrained from such puerile attention-grabbing. Instead, I inched a teensy bit closer to the crash barrier, and called out to the Dear Leader in my most authoritative yet respectful tone.
“Mr. Blair: as a keen musician yourself, would you care to give us your opinion on Day Three of the Troubled Diva Which Decade Is Tops For Pops Project? I have a medley of today’s tracks right here…”
As the Prime Minister turned to greet me, his teeth bared in a manner that bore the closest approximation to “welcoming” that a decade and a half of on-the-job media training would allow, I stretched out my hand and offered him my iPod, already queued up at the relevant MP3.
Blair’s grasp of digital media technology was little short of masterful. Why, he knew which buttons to press, and everything! Who says that today’s politicians are out of touch? Six minutes later, he removed the headphones and passed the device back to me, quickly patting his hair back into position with his free hand.
“Thanks Mike, that was great stuff. You know, the robust good health of the British popular music industry is one of our greatest success stories as a nation, and I want to pay tribute to that, here today in Nottingham…”
Tony Blair’s votes are in the comments box. And now it’s your turn! Because that’s Democracy! So pray be upstanding for… the Number Eights.
Keep On Running – Spencer Davis Group.
Love Machine – The Miracles.
Burning Heart – Survivor.
Children – Robert Miles.
Sugar We’re Goin’ Down – Fall Out Boy.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
Picture this: North Nottinghamshire, August 1973. An 11 year old boy called Michael, and his 9 year old sister, are home for the holidays. It is the Golden Summer of Glam Rock. Slade, T.Rex, The Sweet, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter, Wizzard and Mott The Hoople reign supreme. The children’s father has enlisted a “home help” called Ruby, to assist around the house now that their mother has left to re-marry. (She walked out at the end of July, and the children are still raw and numb from the shock.)
Ruby is 24, and jolly, and good fun to have around. She is also well into her music – but lacks some of the children’s enthusiasm for all things glittery. “This stuff is all very well,” she smiles, “but you need to hear some proper music. Have you ever heard the Spencer Davis Group? No? Really? OK, I’ll bring something in with me tomorrow.”
The next day, Ruby places her 45rpm copy of “Keep On Running” on the family stereo system. “I used to love this when it came out”, she enthuses. “Isn’t it great?”
Being a well brought-up little boy, Michael manages a polite response – but inwardly, he isn’t too impressed. To his ears, there is something dour, lumpy and colourless about “Keep On Running”. Despite its driving dance beat, it all sounds a bit too earnest, a bit too blokey, a bit too lacking in fun.
Thirty-three years later, Michael does not see much reason to change his opinion.
Compare and contrast with the zing and verve of the only UK hit which The Miracles enjoyed after splitting with Smokey Robinson. I am particularly struck with the way that the group aren’t shy of connecting with their feminine side, with gleeful falsetto punchlines such as “…and my indicator starts to glow, WOO!” Camp as hell – but playfully so, and without that any of that tediously heavy-handed nudge-and-a-wink mugging to camera that has become so prevalent in more recent times.
(Here, I must put in a quick word for another mid-1970s Miracles track which I have only just discovered, on a fascinating compilation assembled by the writer Jon Savage called Queer Noises 1961-1978: from the Closet to the Charts. The track is called “Ain’t Nobody Straight In L.A.”, and contains such breezily delivered lines as “Homosexuality, it’s a part of society; I guess that they need some more variety; freedom of expression, is really, the thing!” What a markedly different approach from the US R&B stars of today. It’s not all been progress, you know.)
There will be no such dangerous “touching base with our feminine side” malarky for the resolutely macho Survivor, hoping to reprise the massive success of “Eye Of The Tiger” (the theme tune from Rocky III) with the similarly anthemic hair-metal bombast of “Burning Heart” (the theme tune from, erm, Rocky IV). This is the one where Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky comes up against the might of the Soviet Union’s champ fighter Ivan Drago, played by blonde lunkhead Dolph “Not My Type” Lundgren. Yes, it’s a thinly veiled metaphor for the final days of the Cold War – a fact which is suitably reinforced in Survivor’s lyrics, should we somehow have failed to get the point.
Back then, at the height of my impeccably right-on phase, I hated “Burning Heart”. Listening to it again now, I find it almost quaint – indeed, almost camp in its overblown ludicrousness. Now, there’s a thing.
I have nothing but fondness for “Children” by Robert Miles: Italy’s trance/techno answer to Richard Clayderman. Sure, it inspired a thousand and one deeply rubbish “ambient trance” monstrosities (ATB’s “9pm (Till I Come)” springs immediately to mind) – but this was genuinely ground-breaking stuff for its day. I love the atmosphere which the track conjures up: of sweaty ravers emerging into the misty dawn, and sharing a “spiritual” moment as the sun rises over the fields. Or something.
Which isn’t so far from the truth, actually. A story went round at the time that “Children” had been specifically composed in order to ease over-excited (cough) Italian clubbers “down” at the end of the night, so that they would then drive safely home. Indeed, it was reported that Miles was the recipient of dozens of tear-streaked letters from grateful Italian mothers, thanking him for saving their children’s lives with his unique and innovative style of melodic trance music. And you wonder who were the ones taking drugs?
And finally, Fall Out Boy give it some NME-approved, MySpace-friendly, generic indie welly, with a song that bore the rare distinction of steadily climbing the singles chart week on week, just like proper hit singles used to do in the Olden Days. I’ve slowly been warming to his, having managed to overcome my initial antipathy to their chosen genre. For if nothing else, “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” has a good deal more youthful spirit, and many more twists, turns and general points of interest, than that stodgy old “classic track” from the Spencer Davis Group. So there.
Bonus points also for the couplet “I’ll be your number one with a bullet/A loaded God complex, cock it and pull it.” Because it sounds a bit rude. (Cock! Pull! Arf!)
My votes: Robert Miles – 5 points. The Miracles – 4 points. Fall Out Boy – 3 points. Spencer Davis Group – 2 points. Survivor – 1 point.
So. Will Spencer Davis get you stomping, or will the Miracles get you swishing? Will you be beating your chest with Survivor, or taking a well-earned rest with Robert Miles? Or are you a Young Person, who thinks that Fall Out Boy represent the total artistic pinnacle of fifty accumulated years of rock history?
Over to you. The comments box is now open.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Eights.”