Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Primitives - Crash (1988/ No. 5/ 10 weeks/ Lazy)

Was there ever a more made-up music scene than Blondism? The fevered invention of one romantic Melody Maker journalist, Chris Roberts, the blondist scene only ever consisted of three bands, none of whom recognised themselves as belonging to it. They were; The Primitives, from Coventry, who even went so far as to have a proper hit, the ludicrous all-male Birdland, also from Coventry, and the much-derided Darling Buds, a kind of slightly superior Welsh Primitives with a less convincingly glamorous singer.

As a philosophy, blondism had an essential truth behind it, though: that some of the best pop is created through reinvention of the self. The act of dying your hair works as a public significant gesture of re-imagining yourself as a figure of mystique. Crucially though, this means dying your hair a proper no-turning-back peroxide blonde and doing something with it - not some bland off-yellow shoulder length thing. Its a strategy that almost always works for young women, too. (Not so well for men, though! When I was a teenager, I always daydreamed about doing it, but I knew that it wouldn't transform me into David Sylvian)

This act of blonde reinvention works as a signifier of the wider imaginative process of an interesting adolescence. The process of wishing yourself to become someone, trying on different attitudes, and discovering that eventually people recognise yourself as that person who you've been pretending to be. So Crash works because it takes an pop scenario as old as the hills - telling an unsatisfactory boyfriend to fuck off - but has a redoubled force to it, in being sung by a recognisably ordinary girl who's been around the block, but also one who happens to be a glamorous pop star - the wonderfully named Tracy Tracy!

Crash is also a rare example of bombastic eighties production assisting a song, rather than battering it. Jangling guitars can often sound a bit weedy and indie, but here every tickle and curlicue is loud and clear, able to delight even the least attentive listener. It doesn't outstay its welcome, either - two and a half minutes is the proper length for most pop ideas, a lesson that was becoming increasingly forgotten by 1988. Handclaps are almost invariably a good idea, too.

Tracy delivers each line with a bored sigh of exasperation;

Here you go! Way too fast!
Don't slow down - Ya gonna cra-a-sh!
You should watch! Watch your step!
Don't look out - Gonna break your neck!
So shut! Shut ya mouth!
Coz I'm not listening anyhow
I've had enuff! Nuff of you!
Enough to last a lifetime through...
So what? Do? You want of me?
Got no words of sympathy!

The boyfriend has, inevitably, "been runnin' all over town", Tracy having rightly decided that staying with him offers "no cure for misery". The chorus is, once heard, never forgotten;

Na na na na na!
Na na na na naaa!
Slow down ya gonna cra-a-ash!
Na na na na na!
Na na na na naaa!
Slow down ya gonna cra-a-ash!

"Na na na na na!" should ideally be delivered sticking out your tongue and thumbing your nose, Tracy deriving obvious pleasure from the idea of the boyfriend in a horrific crash.

The brash brilliance of this chorus has given the song an extended afterlife forevermore for unimaginative British television researchers, for whom it shall always accompany amusing footage of bad driving for the rest of eternity.

Crash was sadly not the start of a long and illustrious career for The Primitives. Three minor hits followed, two of which - 'I'm Gonna Leave You Way Behind Me' and 'I'm Sick Of It' - bear certain formal similarities with Crash. 'Way Behind Me' also suffered the ignominious fate of having some sales rescinded for chart-rigging, because those copies came with a free sachet of shampoo, hair forming an essential component of the Primitives package. Perhaps their fate was sealed in the 1989 promotion for Sick Of It when Tracy returned as a redhead. It just wasn't what we expected of her.

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