Monday, 31 January 2011

OMD - Souvenir (1981/ No. 3/ 14 weeks/ DinDisc)

The crucial thing that it takes you years to notice is that its really a song without a chorus. Or rather, that the chorus is the chipped and distant keyboard melody, the one specific detail in the single that everyone remembers first.

Note also that the title occurs nowhere in the song, acting as a suggestion for the listener as to how they might approach this piece.

Its a song that works with a palette of emotions rarely evoked in pop; resignation, bewilderment and dislocation. There's nothing angry, or satirical, or horny about these moods. Instead we get loss and uncertainty as a quiet, meditative - and deeply personal - state of feeling.

It starts with a hovering choral drone, which doesn't go away for the next three and a half minutes. It sounds like the hum of machinery, and places the listener in an unfamiliar and solitary place. The vocals come from Paul Humphries, rather than the more excitable usual voice of OMD, Andy McCluskey;

It's my direction
It's my proposal
It's so hard
It's leading me astraaaaaaaaaaaay

(That 'astray' seems to go on forever, and become a part of the choral drone)

My obsession
It's my creation
You'll understand
It's not -
important -

("It's not important now" on a falling inflection. No rhetoric, no grand emotion, just something gone adrift)

And then the melody again, an inexpressible, imprecise feeling. The wordless chorus.

An odd bridge of the drone, and a pat-a-cake drum rhythm that seems to be playing in another studio. So many echoes, so little happening in the foreground.

The second verse tails off into fractured interior monologue;

All I need is -

I can't imagine...
My destination

My intention?
Ask my opinion?

No excuse

Its the thoughts and feelings of a man who has no idea what he's doing anymore, or why he's doing it. The last line is repeated twice, and again seems to last forever.

My feelings still remaaaaa-ain

My feelings still remaaaaa-ain

The feelings might remain, but the context is gone. The feelings have become souvenirs, a flickering guiding light, meaning everything, but something inexpressible to others and feelings that can no longer have any practical application.

It sounds like the reverie of somebody locked alone in an electricity generating plant.

All this in a top three pop smash! One of the most quietly unsettling songs I know.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The random tabloid headline generator

A few years ago I read the headline "TOP SOCCER BOSS' KINKY ROMPS WITH MYSTERY BLONDE" and thought "That carries a lot of narrative in a few words". Since then, I've tried to reduce the tabloid headline lexicon to 132 essential words, suggested below - You could market them as a fridge magnet set!

What have I missed out and which are becoming obsolete? (linking words - IT'S, IN - have been left out. At any time, there are a few dozen names that can automatically generate a headine - CHERYL, WAYNE, JORDAN, etc)



Saturday, 29 January 2011

Rattles - The Witch (1970/ No. 8/ 15 weeks/ Decca)

I often think that 1970 and 1971 might be the most interesting of all years in chart history - Most of the big 1960s names had run out of steam as consistent commercial hitmakers, but glam hadn't yet really taken hold as the dominant style of the day. The result of this gap is that anything seemed to have an equal opportunity of catching the public's imagination at the time.

One of the most fun things about this period is the predominance of heavy rock techniques in things which are still recognisable as catchy pop singles. Think Black Sabbath, Family, Atomic Rooster, 'The Witch Queen Of New Orleans'...

So, three weeks in the top ten for a West German song about being chased through a forest by a witch;

"Can't you see me runnin'?
I am really runnin' for MA LIFE!
Guess from where I'm comin'!
Guess why I'm runnin' for MY LIFE!

Can't you see the witch?
Can't you see the witch?
Can't you see the WITCH BY MA SIDE?!"

In itself, this would make for an arresting song, but its augmented by all sorts of hooks, licks and tricks; Demented witch cackles, Hendrix wah-wah, a string section doing a Bernard Hermann Psycho thing. People have built entire careers on doing this "horror rock" thing with much less skill and playfulness.

Friday, 28 January 2011

A-Ha - Stay On These Roads (1988/ No. 5/ 6 weeks/ Warners)

"The cold has a voice
It talks to me"

A-Ha had a lot more depth than most - more ostensibly serious - acts. This is a wholly non-gimmicky song about mortality. The old man is dying of the cold. A voice, which may be either the cold or the remembered loved other implores him to stay alive, to keep hope, before it "trails off again".

"Stay on these roads
We shall meet I know
Stay on my love
You feel so weak
Be strong
Stay on stay on"

For once an eighties production actually compliments the song, the drums echoing icily rather than booming, the synth melodies sounding ethereal rather than artificially imposed. At no point does the song overstretch itself lyrically.

This is a lot closer to the Ibsen of Brand than Curiosity Killed the Cat or Bros.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Marshall Hain - Dancing In The City (1978/ No. 3/ 15 weeks/ Harvest)

It starts with a thunderclap. Some tappy drums pitter patter like rain. Synthi-percussion goes BUING! like the raindrops splashing in puddles.

It is a song that is constructed to precisely evoke sultry summer evenings, and which could only be a hit between June and August.

After a while a languid and well-spoken female voice greets us through this quiet storm;

If you’re a stranger here
And you need some action
We have a remedy
That could really catch on
Pleased to see another face
At light up time
If you’re feeling dull and run down
We can reeeally make you shine.

So many enticing promises. Note how the vocal opens out on "reeeally make you shine", an audible smile. How great it would be to actually meet someone like Kit Hain coming home from work, on a Friday evening in July...

The overwhelming quality of this song is it's palpable sense of intimacy. It's slooow, taking its time to uncurl and unwind - Its not especially suggestive, but it is so tinglingly sensuous;

Can you feel the darkness call?
Let the streets have their way...
They’ll carry you on ‘til morning -
And steeeal your soul away!

I can't imagine that there was ever a more quiet hit of the disco era. This may in part be due to the odd provenance of Marshall Hain, an experimental journey into pop from an avant-jazzrock keyboardist (Julian Marshall), giving the song a kind of grown-up feel, although obviously striking at the very heart of teenage desires and hopes. The single was released on the unlikely label of Harvest, EMI's stage for progressive rock. This is a definitive one-hit wonder, though the album, Free Ride is also very good.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch - The Wreck Of The Antoinette (1968/ No. 14/ 9 weeks/ Fontana)

Always playful, always strange and surprising, the sadly neglected DD, D, B, M & T encapsulate the greatest virtues of sixties pop. And this combination of fearless boldness and kinky funniness invariably make them a great pleasure to listen to.

It starts with an astonishing introduction of musique concrete keyboards and scraping improv guitars under which Dee solemnly intones “Full fathom five, on the seabed she lies, the Antoinettttt-te!” – it sounds more like Peter Grimes than Herman's Hermits.

And then it leaps into supa-sprightly bubblegum. But it's all over the place, too. What on earth is going on here? An organ that either does blippitty-bloppity foam effects, or a subtle drone. Meanwhile the piano break invents 'Oliver's Army'. A lot of keyboards and drums, that keep on spurting and spasming into unexpected new gushes of melody.

It's a ostensibly a song about drowning on a shipwreck;

“Ride on baby don't you let me down! - Ocean’s big and you don’t wanna see me drown!”

"See the rain come lashing
There's a sudden flash of lightning on the foam
(Hold on Antoinette!)
The ocean pounds in fury
On a man who fights against it all alone
(Keep on Antoinette!)
She goes down with a sigh
And with her hear that cry

"Deep she lies!
Deep she lies!

But Dave Dee sounds remarkably cheery about the prospect of being smashed and engulfed.

Perhaps he's actually singing about something else.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Top of the Pops - The presenters

If you’re like me, it might be a question that has always laid at the back of your mind…

“So who did present the most editions of Top of the Pops, then?”

Thanks to 'The Kaleidoscope British Television Music & Variety Guide Volume II’ we have the data at hand to find out!;

1. Jimmy Savile 261 (1964-1984, 2006)

2. Tony Blackburn 147 (1967, 1969-1979, 1983, 2006)

3. Gary Davies 114 (1983-1991)

4. Peter Powell 107 (1977-1988)

5. Fearne Cotton 105 (2003-2006)
6. Dave Lee Travis 101 (1973-1984, 2006)

7. Jamie Theakston 98 (1997-2003)
8. Pete Murray 90 (1964-1969, 1981)
9. Alan Freeman 88 (1964-1969, 1981)
10. Simon Bates 74 (1979-1988)

11. Noel Edmonds 72 (1972-1978)

12. Reggie Yates 68 (2003-2006)
13. Mike Smith 66 (1982-1988)
14. David Jensen 64 (1976-1984)

15. Mike Read 61 (1978-1986, 1988-1989)

16. Mark Franklin 59 (1991-1994)
=. Janice Long 59 (1983-1987, 2006)

18. Tony Dortie 57 (1991-1994)
19. Jayne Middlemass 56 (1997-2001)
20. Simon Mayo 55 (1987-1991, 1994-1996)
21. Steve Wright 52 (1980-1989)

22. Bruno Brookes 48 (1984-1986, 1989-1991, 1994-1995)
23. John Peel 47 (1968, 1982-1987, 1995)

24. Mark Goodier 46 (1988-1991, 1994-1996)
25. Nicky Campbell 41 (1988-1991, 1994-1996)
26. Tim Kash 37 (2003-2004)
27. David Jacobs 35 (1964-1966)
=. Richard Skinner 35 (1980-1985, 1988-1989)

29. Gail Porter 31 (1999-2001, 2003)
30. Ed Stewart 30 (1968, 1971-1972, 1975-1977)
31. Sarah Cawood 25 (1997, 2002-2003)
32. Jo Whiley 24 (1995-1998, 2006)
33. Richard Bacon 23 (2003, 2005-2006)
=. Anthea Turner 23 (1988-1991)
35. Tommy Vance 21 (1980-1984)

36. Richard Blackwood 19 (2000-2001)
37. Jakki Brambles 18 (1989-1991)
=. Stuart Henry 18 (1967-1969)
39. Claudia Simon 17 (1991-1992)
40. Rufus Hound 16 (2005-2006)
41. Adrian Rose 15 (1991-1992)
=. Lisa Snowdon 15 (2002-2003)
43. Liz Bonnin 14 (2002-2003)
44. David Hamilton 11 (1976-1977)
=. Andy Peebles 11 (1979, 1983-1984)
46. Edith Bowman 10 (2003, 2006)
=. Andy Crane 10 (1988-1989)
=. Femi Oke 10 (1992)
=. Dixie Peach 10 (1985-1986)
=. Kate Thornton 10 (1998-1999)
51. Zoe Ball 7 (1997-1998, 2001)
=. Paul Burnett 7 (1975, 1977-1979)
=. Simon Dee 7 (1966-1967)
=. Samantha Juste 7 (1965-1966)
=. Sybil Ruscoe 7 (1988-1989)
56. Kenny Everett 6 (1967, 1973)
=. Paul Jordan 6 (1985-1986)
=. Colin Murray 6 (2003)
=. Margherita Taylor 6 (2003, 2005)
60. Steve Anderson 5 (1991-1992)
=. Dave Cash 5 (1968)
=. Jack Dee 5 (1994-1996)
=. Phil Jupitas 5 (1995,1997, 2005)
=. Lisa L’anson 5 (1995-1996)
=. Scott Mills 5 (1999)
=. Chris Moyles 5 (2004-2006)
=. Bear Van Beers 5 (1996)
68. Josie D’arby 4 (2000-2001)
=. Steve Lamaq 4 (1995-1996)
=. Jenny Powell 4 (1989)
=. Pat Sharp 4 (1983, 2006)
72. Mel B 3 (1996-1997, 2002)
=. Sara Cox 3 (2000-2001)
=. Greg Edwards 3 (1974)
=. Michelle Gayle 3 (1994-1996)
=. Gary Glitter 3 (1994-1996)
=. Geri Halliwell 3 (1996-1997, 2001)
=. Lenny Henry 3 (1984, 1989, 1995)
=. Konnie Huq 3 (2003)
=. Ronan Keating 3 (1995-1996, 2003)
=. Mark Lamarr 3 (1997)
=. Lulu 3 (1968, 1996, 2005)
=. Kylie Minogue 3 (1994-1995,1997)
=. Trevor Nelson 3 (2006)
=. Mark Owen 3 (1994, 1996-1997)
=. Emperor Rosko 3 (1967, 1974-1975)
=. Robbie Williams 3 (1994-1995)
=. Dale Winton 3 (1995-1996)
89. Keith Allen 2 (1995-1996)
=. Peter Andre 2 (1996-1997)
=. Ant & Dec 2 (1995, 1997)
=. Jo Brand 2 (1995, 2006)
=. Ian Broudie 2 (1996-1997)
=. Julia Carling 2 (1996)
=. Julian Clary 2 (1994, 1996)
=. Jarvis Cocker 2 (1994-1995)
=. Chris Denning 2 (1967-1968)
=. Eternal 2 (1995)
=. Lee Evans 2 (1995)
=. Steven Gateley 2 (1995-1996)
=. Mary Ann Hobbs 2 (1997)
=. Noddy Holder 2 (1997, 2005)
=. Adrian John 2 (1983, 1988)
=. Elton John 2 (1977, 1980)
=. Vernon Kay 2 (2001, 2006)
=. Caron Keating 2 (1988)
=. Lee & Herring 2 (1995)
=. Wendy Lloyd 2 (1995)
=. Louise 2 (1995, 1997)
=. Annie Mac 2 (2006)
=. Susie Mathis 2 (1988-1989)
=. Danni Minogue 2 (1997)
=. Tony Mortimer 2 (1994, 1996)
=. Dermot O’Leary 2 (2001-2002)
=. The Osmonds 2 (1975)
=. Simon Parkin 2 (1989)
=. Andi Peters 2 (1994, 1996)
=. Mark Radcliffe & Mark Riley 1 (1997)
=. The Spice Girls 2 (1996-1997)
=. Claire Sturgess 2 (1994)
=. Suggs 2 (1995, 2005)
=. David Symonds 2 (1968)
=. Johnnie Walker 2 (1974)
=. Ian Wright 2 (1996-1997)
125. Russ Abbott 1 (1980)
=. Damon Albarn 1 (1994)
=. Anastasia 1 (2005)
=. Adam Ant 1 (1981)
=. Matt Allwright 1 (2006)
=. Sue Barker 1 (2006)
=. Colin Berry 1 (1980)
=. Bjork 1 (1995)
=. Jocelyn Brown 1 (2006)
=. Rhona Cameron 1 (1997)
=. Nenah Cherry 1 (1994)
=. Jeremy Clarkson 1 (2005)
=. Justin Lee Collins 1 (2005)
=. Julian Cope 1 (1996)
=. Garth Crooks 1 (1982)
=. Pete Cunnah 1 (1995)
=. Roger Daltry 1 (1980)
=. Phil Daniels 1 (1997)
=. Alan Davies 1 (1996)
=. Angus Deayton 1 (1994)
=. Cathy Dennis 1 (1997)
=. Frankie Dettori 1 (1996)
=. Micky Dolenz 1 (1968)
=. Tom Edwards 1 (1968)
=. Joe Elliott 1 (1994)
=. Sophie Ellis-Bextor 1 (2001)
=. Ben Elton 1 (2003)
=. Chris Eubank 1 (1996)
=. Chris Evans 1 (1995)
=. The Fast Show 1 (1996)
=. Justine Frischman 1 (1996)
=. Gina G 1 (1996)
=. Diamuid Gavin 1 (2006)
=. Bob Geldof 1 (1992)
=. Hale & Pace 1 (1989)
=. Richard Hammond 1 (2005)
=. Jeremy Hardy 1 (1996)
=. Brian Harvey 1 (1994)
=. Harry Hill 1 (1996)
=. Katy Hill 1 (1998)
=. Colin Jackson 1 (2006)
=. Jed & Dave 1 (1995)
=. Davy Jones 1 (1968)
=. Peter Kay 1 (2006)
=. Kevin Keegan 1 (1980)
=. Nigel Kennedy 1 (1996)
=. Liz Kershaw 1 (1988)
=. Jonathan King 1 (1985)
=. Cyndi Lauper 1 (2006)
=. Emma Ledden 1 (1999)
=. Mike Lennox 1 (1967)
=. Rod McKenzie 1 (1989)
=. Craig MacLachlan 1 (1995)
=. Malcolm Maclaren 1 (1994)
=. Jas Mann 1 (1996)
=. James May 1 (2006)
=. Meatloaf 1 (1994)
=. MN8 1 (1996)
=. Mark Morrisson 1 (1996)
=. Brittany Murphy 1 (2004)
=. Ardal O’Hanlan 1 (1997)
=. Gary Olsen 1 (1995)
=. Jack Osborne 1 (2003)
=. Sharon Osborne 1 (2005)
=. Dennis Pennis 1 (1996)
=. Preston 1 (2006)
=. Alan Price 1 (1968)
=. Punt & Dennis 1 (1994)
=. Mike Raven 1 (1967)
=. Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer 1 (1994)
=. Cliff Richard 1 (1980)
=. Shane Ritchie 1 (2005)
=. Jonathan Ross 1 (2003)
=. Shaun Ryder 1 (1996)
=. Lilly Savage 1 (1994)
=. Skin 1 (1996)
=. Dave Smash & Mick Nice 1 (1992)
=. Elayne Smith 1 (1991)
=. Spoony 1 (2006)
=. Keith Stukes 1 (1967)
=. Take That 1 (1994)
=. Peter Tork 1 (1968)
=. Gayle Tuesday 1 (1995)
=. Phil Tufnel 1 (2005)
=. Denise Van Outen (1997)
=. Elfi Von Kalchrueth 1 (1969)
=. Louise Wenner 1 (1996)
=. Whigfield 1 (1995)
=. Tony Wright 1 (1996)

Excluding Samantha “The Disc Girl” Juste in the late sixties, whom I suspect may have been employed for decorative purposes, it took 19 years until Top of the Pops had its first female presenter, Janice Long.

Odd how – even though I must have seen Mark Franklin many times between 1991 and 1994, the golden age of anonymous presenters – I have no memory of him, yet I could tell you who David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton was, even though he was before my time.

Also odd that, although his was the heyday of joint presenters, “Oooh!” Gary Davies usually did the show on his own. I wonder why that should have been?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Mel & Kim - F.L.M. (1987/ No. 7/ 10 weeks/ Supreme)

"If you're in confusion
Here's the solution;
Fun! Love! Money!"

A problematic song. Certainly not musically - Stock, Aitken and Waterman at their absolute best; creating a structure that locks the listener into a fizzy cage of innumerable brilliant hooks; plinky keyboards, a bouncing bass, trapped vocal sounds, crazy sounding samples.

But Billy at 14 found the 'money' part of the trinity troubling. Is this a Thatcherite anthem, saying that love (or even fun) needs to be fed with money? Is that a happy thought? Or is this pragmatic? Ironic?

I didn't notice the spoken word bridge enough at the time;

"I love money!
I love money!
Boyfriends are boring
I love money!
I love money!
Wait till the right one comes along
I love money!
I love money!

Something very interesting is going on here.

Friday, 21 January 2011

How's about that, then?

While leafing through the BBC TV Audience Research Reports for 1964, a consistent theme starts to emerge...

VR/64/11 Top of the Pops 1 January 1964

"But the greatest number of objections was aimed at Jimmy Savile, mainly because of his appearance. 'What an odd looking individual' said a Solicitor; and others expanded this to call him 'a cross between a Beatle and an Aldwych farce curate', 'like a Presbyterian minister', 'like something from Doctor Who', 'mutton dressed as lamb', 'Really horrific. It ought to have an X certificate. And there was Mr. Savile presiding over the orgy like a Puritan clergyman resurrected from his own churchyard' (Retired Naval Officer)."

VR/64/63 Top of the Pops 29 January 1964

"It is clear, too, that many found Jimmy Savile's manner and appearance (in introducing the programme) disconcerting to a degree. 'Is this Jimmy Savile sane? I must say his most peculiar appearance and manner suggest otherwise. I couldn't understand a word of his "gabble', either.', 'a real nit', 'a proper twerp', 'a big idiotic nothing'."

VR/64/661 Top of the Pops 10 December 1964

"Jimmy Savile, who introduced the programme on this occasion, was obviously disliked by a large number of the sample audience. Many indicated their aversion to this artist by remarking that anything they had to say about him would be 'quite unprintable', whilst comment by those who freely expressed their feelings was liberally larded with such terms as 'this nutcase'; 'this obnoxious "thing"'; and 'this revolting spectacle'. True, a small number admired and liked him - 'Of course he is utterly zany but he puts life and laughter into the programme and he is clearly "with it" as regards pop music' - but even some of those considered his hair style 'a bit too much'. 'As a disc jockey he is great but I think he ought to get his hair cut because as it is it looks ridiculous'. Many more, however, clearly found him 'an abomination' in every respect."

The Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band - The Floral Dance (1977/ No. 2/ 13 weeks/ Transatlantic)

For a single that sold half a million copies, The Floral Dance has left remarkably little trace in British cultural history. Nobody even makes jokes about it. Part of the reason for this neglect is that it didn't get to number one, so isn't a record that you'd recognise the title of without having heard. Instead, it was kept at number two for six weeks over Christmas 1977, behind Paul McCartney's Mull Of Kintyre.

Both singles are records that look backwards to a rural life and its (perhaps) simpler and more immediate pleasures, capturing a certain national mood amongst British people who weren't habitual pop consumers at the time, a sense of exhaustion at present day worries of inflation, strikes, Northern Ireland, etc, but also a desire for a sense of national cohesion and harmony, a mood carried on from the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations of that summer.

The Floral Dance wins out over Mull of Kintyre to these ears, because its an infinitely better tune than McCartney's dirge, and although an instrumental, derives from a better source song. 'The Floral Dance' was only written in 1912, but which describes attending a rite of spring that goes back to the middle ages.

The Floral Dance, more correctly known as the Furry Dance takes place in Helston in Cornwall and is one of the oldest British customs still practiced today. The dance is very well attended every year and people travel from all over the world to see it: The Helston Town band play all the music for the dances. The Furry Dance takes place every year on May 8, and is a celebration of the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring. Of the various dances, the midday dance is perhaps the best known: it was traditionally the dance of the gentry in the town, and today the men wear top hats and tails while the women dance in their finest frocks.

Traditionally, the dancers wear lily of the valley, which is Helston's symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right.

The band play from memory, as the music for the dance has never been written down. In 1890 Cornish antiquarian M.A. Courtney wrote that the tune was sometimes known as "John the Bone", the following rhyme often being attached to the tune by local children, "John the Bone was walking home, / When he met with Sally Dover, / He kissed her once, / He kissed her twice, / And kissed her three times over".

In 1911 Katie Moss, a London composer visiting Helston, observed the Furry Dance and joined in the dancing herself in the evening. On the train home she wrote words and music of a song about her experience, calling the song `The Floral Dance', leading listeners to expect that her song is the actual dance tune ever since. 80% of this composition is her own work, but she quotes the furry dance tune in the piano accompaniment to the chorus - though altering the melody in two bars. The song tells a simple and timeless story of dancefloor hope;

As I walked home on a Summer night
When stars in Heav'n were shining bright
Far away from the footlights's glare
Into the sweet and scented air
Of a quaint old Cornish town

Borne from afar on the gentle breeze
Joining the murmur of the summer seas
Distant tones of an old world dance
Played by the village band perchance
On the calm air came floating down

I thought I could hear the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, 'cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Far away, as in a trance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance

And soon I heard such a bustling and prancing
And then I saw the whole village was dancing
In and out of the houses they came
Old folk, young folk, all the same
In that quaint old Cornish town

Every boy took a girl 'round the waist
And hurried her off in tremendous haste
Whether they knew one another I care not
Whether they cared at all, I know not
But they kissed as they danced along.

And there was the band with that curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, 'cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Each one making the most of his chance
All together in the Floral Dance

I felt so lonely standing there
And I could only stand and stare
For I had no boy with me
Lonely I should have to be
In that quaint old Cornish town.

When suddenly hast'ning down the lane
A figure I knew I saw quite plain
With outstretched hands he came along
And carried me into that merry throng
And fiddle and all went dancing down.

We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, 'cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.

Dancing here, prancing there
Jigging, jogging ev'rywhere
Up and down, and round the town
Hurrah! For the Cornish Floral Dance

The Brighouse & Rastrick Band wisely avoid giving the tune a 1977 jazzing-up, their straight reading meaning that the single stands up today as well as it did then. The only concession to pop arrangement is the addition of a drumbeat, which craftily draws the listener's attention to the inherent rhythm of the piece, rather than imposing one upon the song. There's also a neat piece of production, where the trumpets appear to be treated to sound as though heard at a distance just before the chorus, this drawing-back emphasising the warmth and surge of the tune. The piece as a whole seems to swell and overflow from the precise chassis of structure set by the drums, evoking and creating a real, tactile, sense of delight.

The band might have looked a bit severe on Top Of The Pops, but all of their concentration was spent on making the song glorious. The addictive experience of playing it is best undergone through hearing it on a seven inch single, lifting the needle back to the start for just one more time. Play it again! Play it again!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Rolling Stones - Dandelion (1967/ No. 8/ 8 weeks/ Decca)

"Tinker-tailor-soldier-sailors' liiives
Rich-man-poor-man-beautiful-daughters' liiives
Dandelion don't tell you lies
Dandelion will make you wise
Tell me if she laughs or cries
Blow awaaay dandeliiion
Blow awaaay dandeliiion"

Officially a double A-side with 'We Love You', but posterity has certainly not remembered it as such. The two do work very well as a pairing though. Remember that The Stones really were seen as a seditious menace to the body politic at the time, the drug bust trials are happening, and that this is their public response to the situation. All of the great bands treated the release of successive singles as a kind of proto-blogging ongoing project, I think.

'We Love You' is the insouciance and swagger in the face of adversity, winding up your detractors by blowing kisses, and a far better single than The Beatles' concurrent 'All You Need Is Love'. But 'Dandelion' is just as significant, an attempt to convey the LSD experience - the midway point between 'Strawberry Fields' and 'See Emily Play'. The drug creates a childlike idyll that provides the opportunity to play - a state of being and feeling that adults shouldn't forget.

"Though-you're-older-now its just the saaame
You-can-play-this-dande-li-on gaaame
When-you've-fin-ished-with-your-child-like praaayers
Well-you-know-you-should weaaar it"

Psychedelia didn't come easily to the Stones, but they still manage it well here; helium and cannabis harmonies, a glockenspielish thing, drums that suddenly crash in resonantly.

Few great singles have been as absolutely necessary to the performers as this one was.

Oran Juice Jones - The Rain (1986/ No. 4/ 14 weeks/ Def Jam)

Of the top of my head, for such an inherently romantic and dramatic form of precipitation, songs about rain are a bit thin on the ground; Gene Kelly, poor old Johnny Ray walking in the rain while passers by ask each other "Who can that fool be?", Barry White's Love Unlimited walking in the rain with the one they love, the great grey clouds of rain drizzling spectral unrequited love in 'Well I Wonder' - perhaps The Smiths' greatest moment. There may be others.

'The Rain' is two brilliant songs in one single. For the first three minutes we get the most dynamic and rhythmically subtle song of discovered infidelity;

"I saw you

(and him! and him!)

walking in the raaaaaaaaain"

There's an insistent cowbelly sort of pulse, then there's a recurring chime on top of it, a plangent riff - At one point of horrified revelation most of this drops out, and a synth line creaks uneasily. It feels quiet on the surface, but so much is going on underneath, as would be your state of mind if you saw such a scene.

And then, unexpectedly, the spoken word section jumps in over this, and the listener understands that the restraint of the previous section has been leading up to the confrontation;

Hey hey baby how ya doin'?
Come on in here.
Got some hot chocolate on the stove waiting for you.
Listen first things first let me hang up the coat.
Yeah, how was your day today?
Did you miss me?
You did? Yeah? I missed you too...
I missed you so much I FOLLOWED you today!"

Note the coat and the hot chocolate - such attention to detail! The listener is genuinely uncertain where this is going. We're also already aware that the girlfriend isn't going to be given a chance to respond in this song;

"You know my first impulse was to run up on you
And do a Rambo -
I was about to jam you and flat blast both of you"

I'm relieved that we aren't going to get this response, but even more uneasy as to what this pop Othello is going to do next;

"But I didn't wanna mess up this thirty-seven hundred dollar lynx coat
So instead I chilled -- That's right chilled"

This calmness is yet more menacing than violence;

"I called up the bank and took out every dime.
Than I canceled all your credit cards...
I stuck you up for every piece of jewelery I ever bought you!
Don't go lookin' in that closet 'cause everything you came here with is packed up and waiting for you in the guest room. What were you thinking?"

As with many break-ups, it all comes down to property in the end;

"You don't mess with The Juice!
I gave you silk suits, blue diamonds and Gucci handbags.
I gave you things you couldn't even pronounce!"

The unfaithful woman is then brushed off remarkably quickly;

"You gotta get on outta here with that alley-cat-coat-wearing, punch-bucket-shoe-wearing crumb-cake I saw you with. Cause you dismissed!

That's right, Silly rabbit, tricks are made for kids, don't you know that. You without me is like corn flakes without the milk! This is my world. You're just a squirrel trying to get a nut! Now get on outta here. Scat!"

That's told her. One doesn't care much for The Juice's priorities, but this is undeniably utterly thrilling. And then note the skill in which this dramatist returns the audience's attention to the crucial prop for the curtain line;

"Don't touch that coat..."

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Hot Chocolate - Don't Stop It Now (1976/ No. 11/ 8 weeks/ RAK)

Don't remember this one? Then you should get a decent Hot Chocolate Greatest Hits. I'm sure that you'd enjoy it. Ideally 1979's 20 Hottest Hits on vinyl, the one with the enormous lipgloss female mouth provocatively balancing a Malteezer on her tongue on the sleeve. Hearing all of the hits - major and minor - in chronological order makes you realise what an underrated songwriter Erroll Brown was, and what a crafty pop brain he always had.

A lot of the appeal - and instantly recognisible Hot Chocolate sound - of Don't Stop It Now comes from the group trying out elements that had worked before, or that they would go on to use again. Specifically the bassline of 'You Sexy Thing' - both tense and playful, the joyous riff of 'Every 1's A Winner' and the stateliness of the strings from 'Love Is Life'. What worked in other songs goes on to work here, but in a way that's just different enough to stop you from thinking about other Hot Chocolate songs when you hear it.

What was unique to Hot Chocolate was Erroll Brown's voice, of course, one of the most convincing expressions of stuck-his-wet-fingers-in-the-electricity-socket sexual restlessness in pop. There's an odd simultaneous reading that happens when I hear him sing, in that he conveys both a jolly suaveness and absolute sensual excitation. This excitement can go either way in a song: in bad times, frustration, and in good times, tremulous relief. Occasionally, a rather odd gloating element breaks through; Sexy thing's "Now you're lyin' next to me, GIVIN' IT TO MEEEE!" always sounds self-satisfied to me, and 'Are You Gettin' Enough Happiness?' must be the single worst record in the world to listen to if you're feeling lonely.

'Don't Stop It Now' is a textbook example of these concerns in action

Your lips -
are warmer than a fire
Just on burnin' kiss
fills me - with desire!
And it would drive me maaad!
if you should stop it now
'Cause I never ever had
a love like this before.

The double-edged sword of having it and being anxious not to lose it. The much-repeated chorus encapsulates this feeling;

Keeeep on givin' it to meee!
'Cause I'm madda' boutchya' darlin' -
Don't stop it now!

Some rather pleasant bongos underscore this, keeping the mood sensual rather than desperate. This song does go somewhere, though. Something remarkable happens in the last 20 seconds, as the combined pleasure and anxiety reaches a climax;

Waaah haaa-aaah!
Waaah haaa-aaah!
Waaah haaa-aaAH!
Waaah haaah-aaagh!

It's a fun and cordial song, but that holler of release would fit brilliantly into any classic metal track.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Miracles - Come 'Round Here I'm The One You Need (1966/ No. 13/ 11 weeks/ Motown)

This song is an interesting case study in the merits of casting against type. When you think of Smokey Robinson you imagine the sound of of a honeyed voice - an instrument of tremendous power that sometimes conveys great pain, its true - but always with the essential lightness of an equitable temperament. In this single though, he often sounds ragged, squirming in anguish, nakedly pleading, fed up with the situation that he finds himself in. Perhaps its because this one was written by Lamont-Dozier-Holland, but this sounds like the sort of song which you'd expect to have been be offered to The Four Tops; a powerhouse lead vocal, with great blocks of forceful harmonies behind it, a la 'Reach Out I'll Be There'.

The Funk Brothers' instrumentation is rather martial, flutes and a big trebley drum. Underneath this, very tense strings stab, and a piano line pokes the listener's ears, creating a mood of panic. The vocals start with a wordless cry;


It is a song sung by someone whose been in unrequited love for a very long time, and knows very well the mistakes that the other will keep on making;

Now YOU SAY! - every time you neeeed some affection
The one you love! goes in another direction...
You just sit-there! in a daaayze reminiscin'
'cause you KNOW! some other lips he's been kissin'

Note how the rising inflection in the middle of each line denotes a criticism of the actions of the woman who he's singing to. You get the impression that what he's saying is demonstrably true, but that he's not doing a very good job of providing consoling wisdom, with a querulousness and sense of entitlement continually breaking though. He's been in this position before, and can no longer mask his impatience with her;

Now when you need the love he's never SHOWN ya - COME ROUND HERE!
And when you need some lovin' arms to hold ya - COME ROUND HERE!

When he sings of need a loving, redemptive, tone is momentarily there, but then the instruction to come round gets spoken more as a command than a suggestion. This guy's not doing it very well. Behind this, remarkably loudly, The Miracles shout out what's really going on inside him when he's speaking, excitable, ecstatic;


The desperation is naked in the chorus. Smokey's voice lightens up here. Now he's certain of what he's saying, The Miracles' resonant backing provides a counterpoint by giving voice to the singer's id;

Now I - may not be - the one you waant...
Oh But I knooow I'm the one you neeeed!
Saaiid III maaay not be the one you waant...
Ooh but I knooow I'm the one you neeeed...

Another two verses and choruses of this follow, but pass by in superquick time - just two and a half minutes - which replicates the way that life tends to get experientially weird at points of high and long-suppressed emotion. The crucial shift is in the alternating tone of Robinson's voice - between the compassionate, but dangerously excited, lightness when he tells the woman about her unsatisfactory boyfriends ("Your life stands still - the minute he goes/ You count the hours - just hopin' he shows ... While you're loongin'! - for his embrace/You're all alone there! - with tears on your face") and delirious, unfortunately aggressive, conviction in positing himself as the solution ("Girl can't you see? while you're longing for his touch/ That I'M THE ONE! who loves you so much!")

It's an oddly balanced song, in that although its ultimately about male hubris, he has also been paying close attention to her. He fully understands what she does, if not, perhaps, who she is.

I do wonder whether the strategy deployed by the singer of 'Come Round Here' would ever be effective with any women. I suppose that you could say that he's displaying some mastery, but probably the best time to have done that was several unsatisfactory boyfriends ago, possibly years before by this stage. Getting cross with her now is unlikely to make things any better between them.

In my mind, I imagine a new coda hidden in the song, where the inner Miracles voice in Smokey's head present him with a moment of illumination in the fade-out - "OOOH-HOOO! SHE'LL ALWAYS DO THIS TO YOU! OOOH-HOOO! SHE'S NEVER GOING TO CHANGE!" - and he can start to move on.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Alex Party - Don't Give Me Your Life (1995/ No. 2/ 13 weeks/ Systematic)

Looking back at the charts of between about 1993 and 1995, one trend stands head and shoulders above anything else going on: This was the absolute golden age of Europop. Every week some delightful new diversion would arrive, be it from Holland, Sweden, Germany, Italy or Denmark; 2 Unlimited, Haddaway, Culture Beat, Urban Cookie Collective, Doop, Corona, Whigfield, Livin' Joy... Fresh, amusing, instantly memorable, fun - like pop oughtta be!

It couldn't last, of course. Two things eventually derailed it - the rise of trance music, and of dance reworkings of seventies choons designed to irritate pop swots such as myself. Neither genre could provide the sense of imaginative personality or the pleasurable potential of the classic Europop form.

Alex Party were Livin' Joy under another name; Italian brothers Paolo and Gianni Visnadi, DJ Alex Natale, plus singer-for-hire Shanie Campbell. Don't Give Me Your Life is a commendably functional record, in that it really serves its primary function of making you want to head to the dancefloor and start things going. This is achieved through the combination of two factors; pleasingly generic diva vocals, and - crucially - a spacious and uncluttered production, built around a few brilliant synthesised effects that any listener will automatically register and respond to;

Bloop! - Bloopabloopa - Bloop! - Bloopabloopa
Bloop! - Bloopabloopa - Bloop! - Bloopabloopa

You treated me baahad!
Now what can I say?

(miasmic) Wwuuwwuuwwuuwwuu!

Bloop! - Bloopabloopa - Bloop! - Bloopabloopa
Bloop! - Bloopabloopa - Bloop! - Bloopabloopa

You told me you loved me -
but it neverfeltthatway!


The best synth effect of all is saved for the unambiguous chorus;

But don't you know?
I don't need -
I don't need your life!
Don't give me your life! Your life! Give me your life!

Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup! - Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup!

Don't give me your life! Your life! Give me your life!

Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup! - Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup!

Don't give me your life! Your life! Give me your life!

Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup! - Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup!

Don't give me your life! Your life! Give me your life!

Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup! - Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup!


Don't gimme - Don't gimme - Don't gimme - Don't gimme - Don't gimme your life!

There's something exceptionally pleasing about the Morse code "Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup! - Bup bop! Bup bop! Bup!" bit, in a way that triggers a childlike, instinctive, part of the brain. To be heard in optimum conditions, even better than on a transistor or in a disco, this would work brilliantly at the fairground.

It's not a song that demands lyrical close reading, but it is clear that the heartache of the singer is gonna get exorcised through the act of dancing; "I can't be doing with this anymore! Let's just drop this! Okay? Don't give me your life!" She hears the siren call of the Bloop! - Bloopabloopa - Bloop! - Bloopabloopa and rushes to the dancefloor to be done with this boyfriend complication, reaching out for a higher and more reliable form of affirmation, only to be found in the rhythms of the club.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Internal, Ontroerend Goed, Traverse at Mercure Point Hotel, Edinburgh, Saturday 15 August 2009.

I knew a little about the show in advance: it was a sight specific work for an audience of five interacting with five performers, roughly based around the idea of speed dating. Obviously, with such a small audience, tickets were hard to come by. Ontoerend Goed's previous Traverse show, about riotous teenagers, had been the best thing that I'd seen in the previous year's festival, and the balance between the incredibly precise and choreographed and the seemingly chaotic spontaneity of what the teenagers were doing was a thing of wonder.

The publicity asked us to "surrender to an intimate individual experience". I had heard reports that a man might show you photos of his penis, and that a woman would show you her breasts. I knew that the tits woman was called 'Aurelie', and had seen a picture of her in the Scotsman, a strikingly attractive model. David had been to see it earlier and advised me that I ought to enter into the spirit of the thing to get the most out of it, and that I probably would learn something about myself through the process. I was very much wanting not to be paired with one of the men, and rather hoping that I'd get Aurelie.

A Traverse usher lets me into a locked conference centre foyer and asks me to wait at a table. One woman is already here, who looks quite shy and normal. If I were to guess her profession it would be a teacher, probably about my age. A younger Chinese woman appears. then a group of three slightly laddish types turns up, not the sort of men whom I'd get on with. They have three tickets for last Saturday. The usher tells them to hang on in case the other ticket holders don't turn up. They don't, so two of the lads join us, one of them in Ben Sherman-type casual clothes, the other looking a bit new age, unkempt long hair and cut-off jeans, but whom most women would clearly find to be buff.

We stand in a row on five crosses and are told to look ahead of us. A curtain rises and I'm pleased to be presented with the sight of Aurelie, who is my height. But then the performers shuffle around - there's a spare sixth male one who then goes away, and Aurelie swaps with another woman, a bit shorter than me, darkish hair tied back, black dress. We look at each other for a long time. I try to keep my face looking open and friendly.

The woman takes my hand, tells me her name is Sophie, asks mine and leads me to a darkened booth, chairs either side of a small table, a bottle of red wine and two glasses. Muzak plays. She tells me that I know how to stare at a woman, I tell her that it was a bit odd and that she has a small flake of glitter on her cheek. She asks me if I'm alright and when I ask her back says that last week was odd, but that she feels more at home now.

She offers me a drink and I tell her that I don't. When I'm asked why I tell her the old story of how I was sick on my thirtieth birthday and realised that I never really liked drinking. Just a taste she says, okay I say, like being in church. Red wine certainly tastes potent if you haven't drunk it for about ten years.

Oh, they're playing Send In The Clowns, I observe, that's a sad song. No, yes it is strange Sophie replies, laughing slightly.

What follows happens very quickly. Am I a happy person? God no, a sad one, I say. Me too says Sophie. I'm sorry to hear that.

What is your job? I'm a PhD student and a University teacher. I find work quite stressful, some people are more calm and rational about it, but I still get that feeling of fear before I teach and relief afterwards, perhaps like you do before you act... I really want to be liked by my students.

How about relationships? asks this very attractive and solicitous Belgian woman, looking sympathetically into my eyes. Oh, nothing, I do things wrong, I explain, in fact I'm feeling particularly sad this week because of a rejection from a woman I love, I'm not like other people, most people base their lives around desire, flirtation, the thrill of strangers, I don't, I only really fancy women who I love and love women who I know, which is the wrong way to go about things. So these women? asks Sophie. They seem rather disappointed in me when I do express a romantic interest I explain, this being my preoccupying doomy thought of the last few days.

I'm aware that this conversation is rather one-sided. I feel that normally I'd be asking Sophie questions about herself, and feel a bit sheepish and guilty about this, but time seems so compressed and accelerated in this situation.

I can't remember how Sophie phrases the question, but she asks me something about women in the past. I tell her my feeling that I had when I was at University that this was clearly the point that my life was leading towards and away from, and how when I got the minibus home from the department for the last time after the final party having failed to make any final connection with the two women there who I wanted to be close to, this overwhelming feeling of "That's it, I've lost then" and that being twelve years ago and the numb sensation that I had for years after that...

(That sensation that I get when I'm talking intimately about myself, of the words coming out in a rush and slightly wrong, and that I must be revealing something else about myself other than what the words are saying.)

This is an odd conversation to be having with a stranger, especially a partially fictitious one.

Sophie holds my hands, looks into my face, and tells me to close my eyes. She wants me to take her somewhere, will I do that? Eventually my imagination starts to form a picture. We're in Greenwich Park, which I explain to Sophie is in London ("Do you live in London?"). We're on the very steep pathway on the hill with the Royal Observatory and the statue of Admiral Woolf at the top.

(The feel of the tendons in Sophie's hands, flexing and supple.)

What are we doing? We're walking down the hill, holding hands.

How do you feel, being with me? I feel a bit uneasy at first, but because the gradient of the path is so steep, and we both find walking down it difficult that makes us less self conscious in each others company

Do you like being with me? Do you think that we might have something together? Yes. Yes, I do.

Okay Billy, open your eyes, I want you to meet some friends of mine. And so Sophie leads me by the hand to a circle of chairs, with the other performers and audience members. Apart from Sophie and Aurelie - who paired up with Ben Sherman lad - the other actors are a blonde woman in a white dress with Mr Buff New Age, a tall darkish man with crazy wiry hair with the Chinese woman, and a rather suave and arch looking blonde Russian man with the teacher woman.

This second half of the show is a lot less interesting to me, largely because, apart from the teacher woman, the other audience members don't strike me as being very interesting people, and partly because my major interest is now in what Sophie is going to say about me and I'll be asked to say, with the subsidiary question of whether we'll get to see Aurelie's tits also an interesting proposition.

We report back. Mr Buff New Age took his date to a beach, and has an interesting job as an animator, but he already has a girlfriend. 'Oliver' tells us that the teacher woman is quite a shy person. At one point the funny-haired performer tells the Chinese woman to leave the circle while he tells us a secret about her, but all he does say is that she comes from Singapore and he thinks that they might have something because he likes girls who come from there.

Aurelie and Ben Sherman answer the same questions differently; We hung out together, he was okay, he's quite hot, etc. I slightly suspect that Ben Sherman might be a plant.

At one point Sophie calls Oliver 'Yuri' by mistake, and the spell is broken a bit, though we are all playing such a game with artifice that it doesn't matter much.

Sophie tells the group that Billy took me to the park. I think that we might have something she says, do you think so too, Billy? Yes.

What are Billy's good points, Sophie? "He has an artistic imagination, he is very open and he has a steady income". What do you think about Sophie, Billy?

"I think that she is very imaginative and empathetic, as well as being pret- beautiful, actually". I look into her face. She looks encouragingly back at me.

Was there anything less good about Billy, Sophie? "He has very little confidence, and should have more"

"Yes" I reply, still looking into Sophie's face, with an expression that I imagine might have looked humble.

I am asked to give Sophie a mark out of ten. I say that I'm not sure that I believe in giving marks. Come on, we can take it, you're a teacher, says Sophie. Well, then nine. And what mark would you give Billy, Sophie? Eight. I feel slightly flattered, but mostly relieved.

Aurelie looks into Ben Sherman's eyes. "Is this what you want?" and drops the top of her dress. Her breasts are more pendulous than you might have expected without having a droop, with rosy nipples, not much darker than the rest of her skin, and quite puffy aureolae. Aurelie's face has an expression that isn't quite a pout, defiant, amused by everyone's discomfort.

"Yes. No. Maybe!" answers Ben Sherman, which is a pretty good line.

(Later on, David tells me that what happens if you get Aurelie is that she doesn't speak to you, but rubs her legs against you and gets you to stroke her. When he got the tits thing his reply was rather defensive and graceless and he instantly regretted saying it. I imagine that if I had got Aurelie I would have found the experience quite upsetting and it might have make me cry, although the prospect of touching up a really attractive Belgian girl is also obviously, on the face of it, a very appealing one as well.)

The circle disperses. "Billy, I think that we might have something. I would like you to give me your address. Is that okay?" Sophie asks me. Yes, of course. She fetches a note card. When I've written it down, she reads it out and asks me if she's got it right. This really answers some need in me to be wanted, although the effect is a bit diluted when I see that everybody else is giving their addresses, too.

Sophie asks me to dance. I accept willingly, but apologise for my clumsiness. "Oh me, too" she says laughing in a kindly fashion.

The performers are dancing us towards the curtain. it's time for us to say goodbye, Billy. Give me three kisses. Her right cheek, her left and then the right again. Stand on the cross.

Goodbye Billy.

Goodbye Sophie.

The curtain slowly descends. No more face. No more body. No more feet.

No more Sophie.

We all reel away a bit. "Oh man, that was awesome!" Ben Sherman tells Mr Buff New Age. The Traverse usher shows us a wall of letters that have been written to the characters, and asks us not to give the game away to the next group waiting in the foyer.

Four days later I get a letter from 'Sophie'. It's set out like a school report card. My eight out of ten is because I failed on Weakness and Adventurousness. That is undeniably true. However, I passed Appearance, Artistic Interest, Profession/ hobby, Honest/ open, Income, Creativity, Trustworthy and Interested in me. I think that of that list, I least deserve Income, am most surprised to get Appearance and am most relieved to pass Interested in me.

Funnily enough, discovering that Sophie's conversation was evaluating me so systematically makes the event feel more intrusive than it did when it was actually happening.

'Sophie' also writes;

"Dear Billy,

I just wanted to thank you for the nice conversation we've had in my cabine and also for our time together in Greenwich Park London. I really enjoyed your company... Hope to see you again some day.

Nice greetings,


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Laura Branigan - Self Control (1984/ No. 5/ 17 weeks/ Atlantic)

If you're a friend or acquaintance of mine, then you will know me well enough to understand that I might well be the least hedonistic man in Britain. Yet I'm continually drawn back towards 'Self Control', a shining document of a nocturnal life of kicks and thrills. I don't know whether its just the evocativeness of the song that wins me over, or if its teasing out some darker, unfulfilled, urge in me.

What this song emphatically is not - although it ostensibly seems to be - is a lust song about a man who nightly strips away Laura's sense of propriety and self-preservation. Apart from being addressed to a "you", the object of the song fails to function as an individual and instead is seen in terms of the night itself, the city and the artificial light, a vast entity that swallows up the singer until she has no real sense of individuality left.

Oh the night
Is my world
City light
Painted girl
In the day
Nothing matters
It's the night time
That flatters
In the night
No control

Wearing white
As you're walking
Down the street
Of my soul

The lack of self control ought to mean that Laura is finding her true essence, but its easier to find an inner blankness;

I - I live among the creatures of the night
I haven't got the will to try and fight

There are occasionally hints of self-knowledge of the illusory nature of this life;

I'm living in the forest of my dream
I know the night is not as it would seem
I must believe in something so I'll make myself believe it
That this night will never go

- but the pull of the hedonistic world of the music is a lot stronger than the sense of its transience. It's too early for rave but this record easily holds its own alongside 'Weekender' by Flowered Up or The Streets' Blinded By The Lights, say.

This is one of those welcome cases of an eighties production making the song, rather than ruining it. It has fumpingly loud drums, of course, but crucially this is a record full of space. where the sounds are really separated. You don't feel that you're hearing an organic or integrated instrumentation when you listen to Self Control, but that you're getting sounds instead, sounds arranged in Mondrian blocks, supported by a disco framework. All of these separate sounds are thrilling and enticing - big riffs, bubbling keyboards, coked-up Ah Ah Ah backing vocals - sirens to the nocturnal world that the singer lives for.

This sense of the single being a document of a life going off the rails, seeking oblivion, comes across in a detail that only struck me after I'd been listening to this for twenty years. The thing is supposed to be propulsive, "rocky disco" you could describe it as, but it is very very slightly too slow. You sense that this is the precise point where things start to break down, the sensation of a synapse in the brain - addled by drugs and lights - snapping and collapsing reality as you listen.

Self Control presents the listener with a pornographic experience; The aesthetic is over-lit, you get the impression that the performers are on drugs, you're slightly upset to find it exciting you, and the whole thing feels strangely and compellingly impersonal.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Wombles - Remember You're A Womble (1974/ No. 3/ 21 weeks/ CBS)

The Wombles phenomenon is a pleasing example of a project that got better and better with each new person that contributed to it;

Firstly, Elizabeth Beresford invented a new breed of reclusive mammal, the Womble. They live, unseen by human beings, in discreet burrows all over the world, the London branch under Wimbledon Common. These helpful creatures sometimes come out into the open to collect and take away litter, recycling it into useful devices. They have an interest in the human world, taking their names at random from an atlas.

Then, in 1973, a series of 60 five minute stop-motion animation films were made for BBC television by FilmFare, to the delight of small children such as myself. The design aesthetic of these films was a labour of great craft and good judgment, especially in the realisation of the creatures themselves, sympathetic characters with an ambling gait, white fur, wrinkling orange snouts and round eyes. It was always a shock for seventies children such as myself to come across older editions of the books, and discover that the pre-TV Wombles were rodents with crisp short black curly hairs and claws. Ugh! You wouldn't want to stroke one of them!

Also crucial to the success of the TV version was the note-perfect vocal work of Bernard Cribbins, one of those kindly and grandfatherly voices that don't seem to be so much of a feature of the more excitable 21st century childrens' television. I now realise that he imbued each Womble with the register and mannerisms of a recognisable London type of the earlier twentieth century, hence Tobermory is a city & guilds trained handyman, Great Uncle Bulgaria an elderly Hampstead Jewish intellectual, Madame Cholet a French house parlourmaid, and so on. For a series of miniatures for small children there's a real and tender characterisation in these programmes.

The Wombles also had a brilliant theme tune by Mike Batt - a brass and strings-led explanation of Womble philosophy;

Underground, overground, Wombling Free!
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we!
Making good use of the things that we find -
Things that the everyday folks leave behind!

So popular is this song with children and their parents that it is released as a single. Extended from twenty seconds to two and a half minutes, it's seriously good - the additional verses all contributing something and with lovely middle eight harmonies ("Oh Uncle Bulgaria, he can remember the days when he wasn't behind the times...")

To promote the single a series of Womble costumes are made, and the decision is made to continue releasing records under the name of The Wombles. 'Remember You're A Womble' is the follow-up single, and is anything but a meretricious cash-in.

A brilliant cheer-up song for children and grown-ups;

"When the sun doesn't shine and it's cloudy and grey
And it's only the beginning of the Wombling day
And you've got to do the washing up for Madame Cholet..."

'Remember' is structured around an ambling drumbeat and propulsive bassline. Over this we get a fiddle, brass, happy crowd noises, and occasional lovely harmonies. And most of all, a lot of call and response;

"Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
What a Womba-Womba-Womble you are!"

This is so agreeable that I think it would work even if you were unfamiliar with who The Wombles are. It would take a very stony spirit not to be enticed into the good-nature of this jolly exercise.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Chuck Berry - Nadine (1964/ No. 27/ 7 weeks/ Pye)

A study in lust and motion.

The lust is all on the part of the singer, an unvarnished portrayal in eye-popping, tongue lolling salivation, the silly things which it makes him do and the sense of adrenalinised excitement which it induces in him. In most songs about feeling aroused, singers normally make themselves out to appear confident, suave, assured - Songs about being a priapic idiot are much more compelling and make for much more engaging narratives.

The story is entirely told in terms of motion, not just the competing rhythms and motifs of the arrangement, but in the lyrics. Its a tale of pursuit and chase, on foot and and on various forms of transport. First line;

I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat
I thought I saw my future bride walking up the street!
I shouted to the driver 'Hey conductor! you must slow down!
I think I see her! Please - Let me off this bus!'

Naaaydiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine! Honey is that you!?

Back on the street, Chuck thinks he saw her but "she turned and doubled back" (perhaps not without reason). He pushes through the crowd "to get to where she's at" (which turns out to be walking towards a "coffee-coloured Cadillac"), again shouting "like a Southern diplomat" (eh?) As is so often the way in such situations, Nadine fleetingly reappears;

Downtown searchin' for her - Lookin' all around
Saw her gettin' in a yellow cab headin' up town!
I caught a loaded taxi - paid up everybody's tab
With a twenty dollar bill told him 'Catch that yellow cab'

We don't get any real impression of what Nadine is like. In certain sorts of songs that can really irritate me, but here it would rather spoil the point of the song. All we really need to know is that Nadine is clearly strikingly attractive. Note that the one description of her is in terms of movement;

She move around like a wave of summer breeze
Go! Driver! Go go! Catch her for me please!
Moving thru the traffic like a mounted cavalier.
Leaning out the taxi window trying to make her hear

and again that pleading;

Naaaydiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine! Honey is that you!?

We don't know if he does meet her in the end, though I imagine that his persistence would be rather off-putting and slightly scary. The sense of constant motion in the lyrics is supported by three competing instrumental motifs; a duckwalking guitar that jerks back and forth, running from striking excitement to thwarted frustration and with lewder implications that act like the id of the recording, a horn fanfare that only strikes up when Nadine is sighted, and a glistening, ticklish piano line that itches with mischief and anticipation.

Chuck Berry has been ill served by fifty years of lumpen pub rock interpretations of his songs (and, it must be said, his own scarily repellent personality). Go back to the original songs, though, and wiping away this accretion of dust and muck reveals pleasures of tremendous wit and finesse.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Haddaway - What Is Love? (1993/ No. 2/ 15 weeks/ Logic)

"What is love?
Baby don't hurt me
Don't hurt me
No more
Baby don't hurt me
Don't hurt me
No more"

Here's a record that transcends its function. Its commercial purpose is to act as a suitable soundtrack for couples to hook up to on dance floors, but - even while its the definitive disc to achieve that noble purpose - the wealth of longing in the record gives it a striking emotional depth.

Why? Because it gives us the most vulnerable moment of the glory days of Europop. It allows for the existence of doubt and pain, making the stakes almost unbearably high. The rhythm stops stone dead at points. Haddaway's yearnings are partially responded to by a spectral wail from the loved other. The prospect of failure and rejection is all over the minimal lyrics - "I would die"!

I can't think of any other single that would make the encounter with the loved other seem so triumphant, or its failure to occur seem so crushing.

Perhaps I just haven't moved on very much since 1993...

Billy's Taste Test - Nestle Quality Street Vs Cadbury Roses

All the way from Halloween through to Christmas, Tesco have been selling tins of Quality Street and Roses at about half price, at one stage for as little as £4. So throughout the last three months I've been consuming them, a cornucopian tin of chocolates seemingly promising an everlasting supply, this plenitude paradoxically working to discourage me from eating too many at a time.

As my supply is now nearing its end, and my mother has bought me a box of Roses for Christmas every year since the late eighties, it might be of value to set down my thoughts - of which I have many - about the relative merits of these two leading brands of relatively inexpensive wrapped chocolates.

How best to collate this data? Well, lets try and compare like with like in so far as its possible to, and award every chocolate a mark out of ten. Think of it as like The Ashes or a series of football fixtures.

The Purple One (Milk Chocolate Hazelnut with Caramel) Vs Hazel in Caramel

(Quality Street 4 Roses 8)

An emphatic early victory for Cadbury's with what should be an identical confection. The much-vaunted Quality Street "Purple One" suffers from very bland caramel and flavourless chocolate. Its also the worst shaped chocolate in this competition, with a ridged structure that doesn't fit well in the mouth. Older readers will realise that the reason for this is because the Purple One used to contain a Brazil nut, which meant that the shape - and the sweet's historical reputation for superiority - made sense.

The Roses version is better in every aspect; The shape is satisfying to both eye and mouth, the caramel has a buttery, runny, texture, the chocolate is marginally superior, and even the hazelnut works better here, often shriveling slightly in this recipe and retaining more nutlike astringency. An extra point is gained by the sweet's attractive molding with its bluebell motif, the most aesthetically pleasing design detail to be found in either selection.

The Green One (Chocolate Noisette Pate) Vs Hazel Whirl

(Quality Street 9 Roses 9)

Kudos to Quality Street for retaining a praline - amongst the most subtle and pleasant of all chocs owing to the mixing together of chocolate and nut pastes, although the unavoidably claggy texture puts many off. Okay, so you could find better versions of praline elsewhere, but even done cheaply, its a connoisseur taste.

Hazel Whirl is also a classic of its kind. Although it isn't technically a hard centre, it feels much tougher than the other Roses in the box and the aforementioned nuttiness (not especially sweet and retaining hints of bitterness) of Cadbury hazelnuts works particularly well in this setting. Hazel Whirl feels like a more serious undertaking than its companions, and therefore the consumer notices the pleasure of eating it to a greater extent.

Chocolate Toffee Finger Vs Caramel

(Quality Street 6 Roses 2)

We'll be encountering an awful lot of toffee in this exercise, and the finger format of this variety makes it the most successful toffee in the tin. The ratio of chocolate to centre is the most generous, while the elongated melt-in-the-mouth shape means that it rests across the centre of the tongue, instead of requiring endless laborious mastication to swallow the thing.

The Cadbury "Caramel" is a terrible misnomer, toffee in all but name, and unpleasant toffee at that.
Its certainly the only "Caramel" that I've ever come across with a hard centre. What a swizz, and there always seem to be about twice as many of these as there are of anything else in the box. Also, like the Woody Allen joke "The food here is terrible. And such small portions!" I observe that these tedious chocs have shrunk in the last few years, adding to the impression that they are makeweights of the second division.

Whenever I get a tin of Roses, I work on the principle of deferred gratification and always pick all of these out and eat them first. The flaw in this plan is that after a few days getting through dozens of these, I'm ill-disposed towards the entire concept of Roses, and even the nicer ones strike me as unappetising.

Vanilla Fudge Vs Country Fudge

(Quality Street 7 Roses 5)

This might not be the result that you were expecting, but its all down to the texture. Quality Street fudge is relatively rough and grainy, reminding you of the fudge you made as a child, while the Cadbury stuff is waxy and processed in comparison. You'd have to be concentrating really very hard indeed to taste any vanilla in the Quality Street, mind you.

Strawberry Delight Vs Strawberry Dream

(Quality Street 8 Roses 7)

Unlike most people, fruit chocolates are my favourites, and have been since childhood. (That and marzipan, too divisive a taste to get into either of these mainstream collections). We get two different approaches to the idea of strawberry here. The Cadbury Dream is generic lipsmaking strawberry goo, but - hurray for Quality Street! - Nestle use a filling with the texture of proper fondant and - crucially - plain chocolate coating, giving their strawberry offering a superior flavour and texture through its boldness.

Coconut Eclair Vs Brazilian Darkness

(Quality Street 3 Roses 7)

Cor! Coconut! I remember this being a staple of any box of chocolates in the 1970s and 1980s, much appreciated by the boy Billy, but its become much rarer since then. Sadly, the Quality Street effort is a pretty horrible coconut chocolate. The taste of syrup completely overpowers that of coconut, and its hard and chewy in a slightly stale way. Eating this is more like chewing a Roses "Caramel" while simultaneously downing a shot of Malibu than a taste of paradise.

Brazillian Darkness is the most eccentric choc in either box by a wide margin. For a start, since the sad withdrawl of the Bourneville Miniature many years ago, its the lone remaining plain chocolate in the Cadbury selection. I can't imagine that plain chocolate is very popular with the majority of Roses consumers, but its actually something that Cadbury do rather better than milk. And then it is the hardest of hard centres that you're ever going to come across in such a collection. Nobody I know who's lost more than about six teeth will even consider putting one in their mouths. Really, the effect is perhaps more striking than scrumptious but I'm always glad that these peculiar chocolates survive each Roses makeover. Like "Caramel" I note that these ones have also shrunk lately, though.

Caramel Swirl Vs Golden Barrel

(Quality Street 4 Roses 8)

This is another incidence where Roses have the clear advantage over Quality Street. As has been seen in Hazel in Caramel, Cadbury are very good at making caramels, most famously in the bar memorably advertised by an orgasmic cooing rabbit in the eighties (an effect that became less seductive as soon as you learned that the voice artist was Miriam Margolies). I think that its a lot to do with a texture that's soft and runny while also feeling a bit adhesive. Cadbury caramel always seems to feel slightly hot in my mouth. The Quality Street Swirl is pallid, frigid, stuff in comparison.

One thing, though. Why did Golden Barrel stop being the more evocative Caramel Keg? I'm pleased that it's still kept the attractive Yo Ho Ho barrel molding, anyway - an attractive piece of craftsmanship of a type never attempted by Quality Street.

Milk Choc Block Vs Cadbury Dairy Milk

(Quality Street 4 Roses 5)

Oh dear. Both of these serve the primary process of reminding the taster that neither Nestle or Cadbury make very good milk chocolate in the first place. Nestle really got it wrong in the nineties when it relaunched Yorkie as smoother and creamier, in more direct competition with its closest rivals, Dairy Milk and Galaxy. For some of us, it was its concentration upon coconess, rather than milkiness, that was its great original strength. Milk Choc Block feels greasy and tastes of very little. Dairy Milk is slightly superior by virtue of its familiarity, but - as always - tastes like a combination of icing sugar and saturated fat to me.

Orange Creme Vs Tangy Orange Creme

(Quality Street 9 Roses 7)

This is a repeat performance of the strawberry match, with the sole difference being that the rectangular Orange Creme - which I calculate has a higher plain chocolate to fondant ratio - is the most cocoey of all the chocolates on offer.

Toffee Deluxe Vs Caramel Velvet

(Quality Street 5 Roses 6)

Its very hard to see what's Deluxe about this toffee - Toffee Routine would be a more honest - if less commercial - name. Acceptable.

The peculiar combination of bubbles and Caramel in Velvet always gives me an odd sense memory of the summer of 1996 and the limited-edition Wispa Gold. Indeed a
particular highlight of my fanzine music writer career was describing ‘Trash’ by Suede as being “as gooey and sweet as a Wispa Gold”. I doubt if anybody else associates the taste of Caramel Velvet with Brett Anderson squealling about nothing places and cellophane sounds. Wispa and Caramel are two things that Cadbury does well, though nothing much is gained by their combination, I maintain.

So - if this was a series of sporting events, the series would be drawn 5 - 5 between Quality Street and Roses. Unfortunately this neat conclusion cannot be, as there are 13 different confections in Quality Street, but only 11 Roses. The two unpartnered Quality Street confections are -

Toffee Penny


This one is a cheat. There was already more than enough toffee in the Quality Street tin without a third variety that isn't even a chocolate. As toffee per se it's perfectly acceptable, but it doesn't belong here.

Orange Crunch


This is as eccentric as Quality Street gets. For one thing, it isn't remotely crunchy. In fact it has a yielding softness that's a bit disconcerting. If this wasn't for the pervasive orange taste, this peculiar chocolate wouldn't work at all. As it is, it goes to show that I will always like orange chocolates.

So, in order to adjudicate the actual winner between the two brands, we have to calculate the average mark out of ten - but before we get to the results, a word about the packaging.

In addition to chocolate, Cadbury's Roses often remind me of two other things; The rose logo of the romance publisher Mills & Boon, in particular processing new editions of their books with date and spine labels in my days as a librarian, and the Neil Kinnock Labour party of the late eighties, when they replaced their voter-frighteningly Bolshevist red flag motif with a red rose of very similar design to the Cadbury box.

Quality Street these days have a dreary design of a constellation of chocolates and stars that always makes me reflect the world of design has vertiginously declined since I first became aware of the brand in the late seventies.
In those days, a tin of Quality Street used to have an amazing line drawing of romantic Georgian troops and maidens, with a dashing officer and elegant lady in a bustle dress in the foreground. The packaging depicted Major Valentine and Miss Phoebe, the lead characters in J.M. Barrie's 1901 hit play Quality Street, after which the chocolates were named. Top that for marketing and lasting cultural influence, David Greig!

Its the same feeling that I get whenever I pass a 2011 National Theatre poster, or look at the present day Radio Times or NME. When did people loose the confidence to use illustrations? Come to think of it, I'd much rather they were still made in Britain by Macintosh's, rather than by a malevolent multinational, but not so much as to prevent me from eating them.

Anyway - The results are as follows;

Quality Street 5.23 Roses 5.82

That's pretty close! It was the toffees that swung it... Roses have rather been let down by their consistent habit of discontinuing the nicest ones; Bournville, Almond Charm, the coffees, truffles and pralines.

Looking at the history of Quality Street, I see an awful lot of discontinued lines that I either dimly remember or would like to have been around to sample; Hazelnut Cracknell, Coffee Cream, Chocolate Truffle, Montelimar Nougat, little boxes of Smarties... and, most intriguingly of all, the exotic Apricot Delight and Gooseberry Cream. I think that a Billy selected, toffee-light synergised Quality Street & Roses Heritage Selection would be my ideal fantasy choc tin.