Wednesday, 6 January 2010

YET MORE PICK OF THE POPS TO USHER IN THIS BRIGHT NEW YEAR


Well, it was Boxing Day, the Lanarkshire Christmas was agreeably white and dense and Dale was doing 1962 and 1981. How could we not listen? I don’t plan to prattle on at length about what was played and what wasn’t – although I KNEW he wasn’t going to unleash “Ant Rap” on the sedate Radio 2 audience – but both charts were very fine listens indeed. Yes, they would have been even better listens if played in full but I’ve said that enough times previously.

The more surprising chart (unsurprising actually, since the 1981 one I can still recite from memory) was the 1962 one; yes, “Love Me Do” was there, sitting grumpily at #17, but that wasn’t the only future hinted at in the list – everything seemed to be in flux, hordes of different futures being offered up, not least the long-term ones laid out by (nicely placed side by side) “Telstar” and “Sun Arise.” But there was also bossa nova (“Desafinado”), two completely differing perspectives on Hank Williams (“Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Lovesick Blues,” like the difference between Paul Robeson and Jim Dale), other nascent nods to what was about to happen with the Beat of Britain – “It Only Took A Minute” switches abruptly from cheesy is-it-still-the-fifties pop, complete with absurd Ray’s A Laugh backing vocals, to a driving guitar solo which hurtles unafraid into tomorrow. Garage punk (that Farfisa) gets predicated in “Let’s Dance.” “Swiss Maid” is an extraordinary oddity whose echoes and dimly lit organ seem to set the stage for Lee “Scratch” Perry. Duane Eddy and the Shadows both continued to work their way forward. Cliff wondered whether tomorrow would ever come; Elvis urges tomorrow to come, but his letter turns out to be a Moebius strip. With Frank and Sammy gagging their way through “Me And My Shadow” complete with JFK references, there’s even a glimpse of the Rat Pack and Camelot before it all boiled off.

Then there was 1981, a beautiful experience however you look at it; a chart equally in thrall to Joy Division (Foreigner, the Police, Abba, Jon and Vangelis) and to Trevor Horn and Yes (Dollar, Godley and Crème, Jon and Vangelis). Even Status Quo, finally putting out a single entitled “Rock ‘N’ Roll,” made it a pensive synth ballad complete with whistling, virtually no guitar and serious consideration given to whether rock(ism) had had its day (“It’s up to you to find a reason to ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in every song”). With a lovely symmetry, Cliff Richard was the key link, a non-mover at number two in both charts, “Daddy’s Home” taking him back home to 1958 doowop. But where Elvis is desperately trying to win his lover back, Phil Oakey, in the same position a generation later, is somewhat outraged, perhaps not that sorry at the prospect of losing her – but then, unlike “Return To Sender,” she gets to state her side of things. A nearly faultless chart, even with the Snowmen’s “Hokey Cokey” – given that this was on Stiff (even though by now they had left for Polydor) was this really an old basement tape from Ian Dury and the Blockheads?

Seven days later and we are travelling back to London somewhat laboriously, cruising patiently through the snowy mountains of the Borders and the Lake District; 1972 and 1992 were the years on offer, and what a strange chart 1972’s was – quite a morbid listen at times, what with “Banks Of The Ohio” where Australia-raised Olivia (aided by some mildly deranged backing vocals from the Mike Sammes Singers) takes her lover out into the country and stabs him to death. No doubt the teenage Nick Cave, listening in Melbourne, admired this role reversal. Then John Kongos’ furious “Tokoloshe Man” (a number four hit! A “big club record” according to Dale!!) virtually sentences the listener to a brutal, percussive death. There’s “Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves,” the beginning of Snuff Garrett’s procedural of aural snuff movies, while at the top of the chart Benny Hill’s milkman cops a rock cake and exits this planet.

Where it isn’t morbid, it’s downright unusual. Avant-MoR doesn’t even begin to cover it. Consider Val Doonican’s “Morning,” a seriously out-there meditation on adultery complete with blockable metaphors (“I can feel your fingers running through my mind”) and the bizarre prospect of Mr Hello Dere “dangling there.” Or the Congregation’s hysterical “Softly Whispering I Love You” whereupon a Songs Of Praise choir appears to be hijacked by someone with an eye to being Levi Stubbs (stand up, Brian Keith of Port Glasgow and formerly frontman of Plastic Penny!). Somewhere in this melee, Labi Siffre softly predicates Madness (“It Must Be Love”), Elvis just can’t help believing and can’t help not stopping the song…

…and television. A chart absolutely dominated by the influence of the small screen. Val and Olivia were already Saturday evening TV light entertainment regulars. Neil Reid’s “Mother Of Mine” (not played) is reality TV made manifest early, and the uncle about whom Joe McElderry had forgotten, or never remembered. Johnny Pearson’s heart-tugging “Sleepy Shores” (anything that makes me feel like a kid again is by definition heart-tugging) was the theme from the soap Owen MD, starring Nigel Stock, the man who once stood in for Patrick McGoohan as star of The Prisoner. From the big screen, Isaac Hayes invents the future with Shaft. Then there was the power of advertising (“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” up from 32 to 4 on its way to a month’s residency at the top), and yet more light entertainment; “Something Tells Me” – the prospect of a sexy Cilla? – was her TV show theme, and Benny Hill, who became so outraged at the cover of “Ernie” done for one of the bargain basement Top Of The Pops compilations that he resolved never to release another single in his lifetime, a promise which he kept. The only record in the top five not owing anything directly to TV or cinema was “Jeepster,” but who could have watched Bolan twirling miraculously on TOTP, the universe reclining in his hair, and not have been turned on, any way they wanted?

Finally there was January 1992. We missed half of this since the Lake District mountains tend to block out/fuzz up radio signals (yes, I know, go digital, slacker) and it was predictable that Dale would miss out both Digital Orgasm and “Dominator” – a pity, of course, particularly given the major influence of the latter on current key records such as “Bad Romance” and “Take That” – but it was fun to hear “Martika’s Kitchen” again. I think we probably missed “Roobarb And Custard” (from the future Global Communications) but as far as “Addams Groove” and “Live And Let Die” were concerned we didn’t miss not hearing those at all. Not so lucky with the wretched “Joseph Mega-Remix” and we can only breathe a sigh of relief that Dale didn’t opt to give us the “Bare Necessities Megamix” by “UK Mixmasters” – still chasing the Jive Bunny ambulance two years too late. Was anyone who wasn’t a club/mobile DJ buying these records? Still, we did get to hear “Justified And Ancient” and it was nice that “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” got a spin rather than “Bo Rap”; a sister (or brother?) song to “Being Boring” which grows more profound and moving every time I hear it.

(If you’re wondering about the progress with our lists, I can tell you that there will be two 2009 lists to look forward to; one of tracks/singles (which Lena is currently putting together) and one of albums (which will primarily be assembled by myself). Typically they won’t be your average/standard lists but should provide a useful corrective to the bizarre fulminations about the year elsewhere. The last time I remember music writers getting a year so wrong was 1982. QED.)