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Perfect Pop – Vol. 8

May 9th, 2008 4 comments

Here are a few more perfect pop records which brings the number of featured songs up up to 100 (by my rough count).

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.mp3
This song has been covered a zillion times and by some of the finest singers ever to commit their voices to record (Sinatra, Fitzgerald). And every one of these covers has failed to translate the sweet vitality of the original. It is a shame that this gem of a song has become a muzak staple; few major songs have been as poorly understood at this one. Written when Stevie was just 20, this mid-tempo samba number seems unassuming, until you listen to Stevie’s vocal inflections and, even more carefully, the deceptively simple arrangement. This song needs no big orchestration to fix its simplicity; indeed, strings or a big band treatment poison its sweet intimacy. And this is the key: it is a loveletter, not an epic declaration. Give it an orchestra, and the sentiment is varnished with cliché. All Stevie needs is keyboard, bass, drums and percussions. And the joyous exuberance of his voice (with the help of Jim Gilstrap and Lani Groves, who sing the first verse; listen to it over earphones). Stevie sounds like he is in love, because he is: with Gloria Barley, who sings backing vocals here. And isn’t that lovely?
Best bit: “Mmm-mmm-hmmm-mmm (2:22)

Frankie Valli – Can’t Take My Eyes Of You.mp3
The Four Seasons had a number of great pop songs, but Valli’s finest moment came as a solo performer, albeit with the help of his old pals Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, who wrote this song. Can’t Take My Eyes Of You begins as a mid-tempo ballad, unremarkable except for Valli’s beautiful phrasing, frequently lagging half a note behind the beat, enunciating some vowels as if to provide an off-beat percussion. Suddenly staccato notes signal a change in tempo; jolly strings (not unlike those used on many disco records a decade later) suggest that Frankie is going to get quite excited now. And then Valli launches into a giddy chorus. He’s in love all right, but our fears that it may not be reciprocal, hinted at in the first verse (“but if you feel like I feel…”, “You’d be like heaven to touch”) are realised as the chorus tails off, and Frankie gently, anxiously asks: “let me love you”. We return to the mid-tempo verse, and are quite aware of Frankie’s doubts and that the giddiness (thanking God he’s alive) may just be the oxytocin talking.
Best bit: The way Frankie chews the final vowel in touch (2:17)

Jens Lekman – Your Are The Light.mp3
Among indie-pop fans, the Swede Jens Lekman is a semi-deity. He writes catchy, quirky tunes. His lyrics are invariably hugely entertaining, sometimes touching, sometimes off-beat. You Are The Light has a great tune, introduced by a Earth, Wind & Fire-ish clarion call and supported by a beat that seems just a little too fast for the song. The chorus is proper singalong stuff. The melody and arrangement, with its occasional blasts of horn now and harmonica there, are hugely attractive. But it is the lyrics that captivate. In the opening verse, he uses his one phone call from jail to dedicate a song to his girl (who landed him in this predicament in first place) on the radio. Later the cops are “sad” because they can’t prove his act of delinquency. This song has much by way of completely likable charm — which sets it apart from much of contemporary pop.
Best bit: The horn intro (0:01)

Matt Monro – We’re Gonna Change The World.mp3
If Barack Obama was into the British crooners of the ’60s and ’70s, he might well have adopted this as his campaign anthem. Monro, whom Sinatra described as the only British singer, might have been an easy listening merchant, but this song has a socially conscious edge which was not usually reflected in the genre, even in the late ’60s (the song itself was released in 1970). The song tells of three women, two of them going on a protest march, presumably for peace, while another sees the demonstration but doesn’t join. In the punchline, the non-joiner is a war widow, crying in her office over her dead husband. Monro’s chorus suggests that her option is the wrong one as he calls, as if from within the throng of marchers: “So, come with us, run with us! We’re gonna change the world. You’ll be amazed, so full of praise, when we’ve rearranged your world. We’re gonna change your world.” And don’t these words sum up the message Obama has been trying to sell? Add to that a wonderfully jaunty tune – try not be lifted by it – and Monro’s enthusiastic vocals, and you have a perfect campaign pop song.
Best bit: Monro nearly shouts the word “run” in his call to action (2:54)

Elvis Presley – Hound Dog.mp3
Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog.mp3
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote Hound Dog as teenagers for Big Mama Thornton, apparently in ten minutes. Meditate on that for a minute. A couple of teenagers write what will become a timeless classic for an intimidating blues singer, and do the job in ten minutes. The way Thornton sings it is the way the composers conceived it. Hound Dog became a local hit, and inspired a plagiarised response song, which turned out to be the first ever record released by Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ label which would go on to produce Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and, of course, Elvis Presley. It took Elvis a few years to get around to Hound Dog, which had been brutalised in a series of covers which dismantled the original lyrics and added doggerel to it (such as the rabbit line) to become the nonsense we know today. In the 31rd take we know today, Elvis made no attempt to sing the lyrics, symbolised by the way he chews up the pronunciation of the title. He shouts and sneers through the song with his band rocking to the beat of the handclaps, while the Jordannaires gamely try to instill some civility over the raucous guitar solo. Guitarist Scotty Moore’s final chords are a breath of post-orgasmic release. It seems clear while Hound Dog threatened the USA’s repressed sexual morality: Elvis is fingering America’s daughters right there.
Best bit: Drum roll, Elvis groans something, and a guitar chord closes the song (2:09)

Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant.mp3
The Sex Pistols were the poster boys for the British punk revolution; more than their music, it was their exploits and, more to the point, their image that made Middle England nervous. They swore on TV; they insulted Her Majesty with a song that was banned from radio and yet reached #2 on the UK charts (some have smelled a conspiracy to keep the Pistols off #1, to the benefit of Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It); they used a naughty word in their album title (it was later established in court that “bollocks” is a non-vulgar Olde English word) . And now hear how Johnny Rotten supposedly pronounces the second syllable of the title’s second word. Ooooh, the threat. Ooooh, the publicity! The Sex Pistols invented punk as much as Elvis invented rock & roll. In many ways, they were the Spice Girls of their day: a phenomenon managed by a clever svengali, whose music was secondary to the image. That’s why Glenn Matlock, the really talented one, could be replaced by a disorientated thug who’d become the most pathetic junkie in rock history. It was all about presentation. But that also glosses over the music. While the primary sales pitch was the image, the product – the music – was very good too. For all the punk posturing, the Sex Pistols had some fine pop tunes. Other than John Lydon’s hysterically sneering delivery and the nature of the lyrics he sneered, there was little revolutionary about the Pisxtols’ music. Never Mind The Bollocks, a very well produced LP, was a harder-edged, faster version of glam rock, with an additional debt to the likes of the Kinks. Of the handful of hits, Pretty Vacant has was the best pop song. Shook your head at the glam reference? Matlock said the riff was based on Abba’s S.O.S.
Best bit: “And we don’t caaaaaaaahre” (1:44)

Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination.mp3
The Human League’s Dare probably was the most perfect pop album of its era. But when I pondered which Human League song to feature, I kept coming back to Fascination, which was a single release only. An EP featuring to mixes of Fascination came out later (it also included the excellent preceding single, Mirror Man). Fascination kicks off proper with the swirling, horn-like synth hook which runs through the song and, in the intro, instructs the listeners to get on their feet and dance. The band members take turns singing lines, including even guitarist/keyoardist Jo Callis.
Best bit: “…and so the conversation turned, until the sun went down” (1:00)

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3
Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3*
Cobain’s Pixies moment (he admitted consciously copying them) sounds as much as the uncles of grunge as it sounds like an angry glam rock song. Cobain tried to write a pop song, and succeeded. Tori Amos might have fucked it up, but when Paul Anka covered it as a big band swing number in 2005, the pop sensibilities of Teen Spirit revealed themselves from beneath the grime of discontent. The anthem of non-conformity had, by dint of its over-exposure on MTV and radio, acquired the status of conformity; much of what came after – all the “feel my pain” emo gubbins – was no more non-conformist than the industry and its hit machines Teen Spirit was railing against. Anka stripped the song of its suburban rebellion sheen, turned it into a swing song, and perpetrated an act of subversion one hopes Cobain would have approved of: turning on its head the conformity of Nirvana’s own followers. It may not be the best Nirvana song, but it certainly is their best pop song.
Best bit: Apologies for being boring, but it’s the “yay” bits (1:31)

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Perfect Pop – Vol. 7 (more '60s)

May 1st, 2008 5 comments

Here is the second part of the Perfect Pop ’60s Special. I think there are still enough songs for two or three more instalments in this series, with the ’70s now having run a backlog.

Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City.mp3
This may be the quintessental summer song, at least as far as inner city life is concerned. It captures the claustrophic energy of a baking city; the song harries you, disorientates you. You feel the city dust in your nose, the steam rising from asphalt. Nobody is chilling on the beach or over a barbecue, because regardless of the heat, life goes on: cars are hooting, construction workers are pressure drilling (you can hear both in the song). There is something ominous yet utterly attractive in the air, creating a delicious tension as the stress of surviving the oppressive urban heat gives way to the warm nights when girls are lightly dressed and guys go on the prowl for summer sex.
Best bit: Possibly the first use of a pneumatic drill in pop (1:16)

The 5th Dimension – Up-Up And Away.mp3
I first became aware of this Jimmy Webb-penned song through Sesame Street in the early ’70s, and loved its mellow, almost comforting melody. It is a lot like a Bacharach songs, in structure and arrangement. It also sounds a bit like the advertising jingle it subsequently became; but if all commercial jingles would be as lovely as this, maybe ad breaks would not be such an imposition (to wit, I really like the Jeep ad with the Stephen Poltz song, You Remind Me). The 5th Dimension were a bit of a hippie outfit, so when this track was released in 1967 I imagine that a lot of people interpreted it as an invitation to get high. In fact, I like to imagine that it was a drug song, only for it to be played on Sesame Street and to flog airline tickets. The boring truth seems to be that the song was just about balloon travel. The familiar story that it was written to celebrate the wedding of band members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davies Jr in a hot air balloon is rubbish: the song came out in 1967; McCoo and Davies were married in 1969. But either they or fellow member Florence LaRue did marry in a balloon as a tribute to their first big hit.
Best bit: A flute in the background! (1:43)

The Hollies – Carrie Anne.mp3
From grey and rainy Manchester, the Hollies produced a song that is as California sunshiney as anything the Beach Boys ever delivered. The Everley Brothers influence is most evident in this1967 song, on which Stephen Nash (who later hooked up with Crosby and Stills) at the end harmonises with himself. There has been much speculation about who the eponymous girl was. Carrie Fisher has claimed its about her (just as I claim that Steely Dan wrote their song about this blog), some say that it was about Marianne Faithfull or Jagger’s future sister-in-law Karri-Ann Moller. I think it might be about my pal’s Kevin’s daughter, even though she was not yet born. The most likely explanation is this: the song’s working title was “Hey Mr Man”, and Carrie-Anne rhymes with that.
Best bit: The steel drums (1:37)

B.J. Thomas – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.mp3
I cannot imagine what exactly a Bacharach pop song was doing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I never did “get” that movie. The scene it scored — Paul Newman monkeying around on one of those newfangled “bicycles” — was memorable, though. Thanks to Raindrops… The lyrics don’t make sense either. On the one hand, B.J. (did he ever get teased for that?) says that the rain doesn’t bother him; on the other he has a supervisory word with the sun which doesn’t get things done properly. Which suggests that the lyricist Hal David flunked science in school, because it is in the sun’s job description to facilitate evaporation which will lead to rain. So it bloody well did its job. (Of course, I flunked science too, so what do I know?). Ray Stevens was initially tapped to sing the song, but he turned it down; a real Decca moment for a singer I cannot immediately associate any song with. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss at length why Raindrops is a perfect pop song. It most self-evidently is.
Best bit: The half-minute trumpet coda (2:26)

Dion – Runaround Sue.mp3
Runaround Sue seems a bit like the early ’60s equivalent of losers posting nude pictures of their ex-girlfiends on the Internet for revenge. Dion, who was brought up a good Catholic boy, clearly is pissed that Sue has not been exclusive, alleging that she has been sleeping with all the boys in town. If she was such a nympho, then Dion must have had massive blinkers on; if she really shagged all the boys in town, at least after boy-in-town number 17 reports of Sue’s conduct should have come to Dion’s attention before she could notch up the rest of the local boys. And how many girls-in-town did you shag, DeMucci? The real background story to “Sue” is rather less dramatic, by Dion’s own account: “It was about, you know, some girl who loved to be worshipped, but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she’s gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.” And where is the rich legacy in pop music exercising its critical muscle in relation to vain, commitment-shy men? Whatever the ethical merits of Dion’s character assassination, the song is great, even if it rips off Pat Boone’s Speedy Gonzales. A cracking melody, totally assured vocals, superb handclaps, and tremendous doo wop backing. Wonderful.
Best bit: “Aaaaaaaaaaarh” (0:45)

Gary Puckett & The Union Gap – Young Girl.mp3
Fuck it, Mr Puckett, but you’re right: a statutory rape charge is too high a price to pay for the consummation of love, no matter how hot the hottie, and the law would not accept ignorance of her age as a defence, no matter how mature she seemed. We don’t know how old Gazza is in the song, nor how old this “baby in disguise” is. Puckett in an interview once suggested that the ages of the protagonists were 20 and 14. In four years time, that age difference would be quite acceptable, so we’re not having a dirty old man scenario here, thank goodness. Having said that, if it’s a Californication type of deal, the storyline where Duchnovy’s Hank is getting banged (in more ways than one) by the 16-year-old girl, then maybe it doesn’t seem quite so sick.
Best bit: “Get out of here…” (2:18)


Udo Jürgens – Es wird Nacht, Señorita.mp3*
Udo Jürgens is in many ways the Frank Sinatra of the German Schlager, with the added dimension of also being a talented songwriter. In the early ’60s he wrote big hits for Shirley Bassey and Matt Monro, and he even wrote a song for Sinatra (If I Never Sing Another Song, subsequently a signature song for Sammy Davis Jr). An institution in Germany, the now 73-year-old Austrian-born singer has been around for decades, producing music that at times was excellent (within the confines of Schlager), often pushing the boundaries. He was among the first Schlager singers to address the taboo subject of divorce, and even addressed German xenophobia in his 1975 hit Griechischer Wein, which was at once daring and patronisingly hackneyed. At the same time, he was responsible for some abominations against music (German readers of my generation will rightly recoil at the thought of Aber bitte mit Sahne). Es Wird Nacht, Señorita, from 1968, is hackneyed in as far as it creates the whole faux-Spanish vibe, and yet it is an absolute corker of a song. The lyrics are pretty explicit for its time and place within a very conservative genre. In the song, Udo seduces a “Señorita” — whom I like to picture as looking like Whistler’s girlfriend in the third season of Prison Break — by asking for accommodation, seeing as he’s apparently itinerant (“I’m tired from hiking”). “I want nothing from you”, he assures her. Except “perhaps a little love”. Ultimately the tired hiker asks Señorita to take him to bed, because there he is “not as bad as the others”. When the song ends with Udo triumphantly shouting “Olé”, you know he has scored.
Best bit: Udo has scored (2:10)

The Rolling Stones – 19th Nervous Breakdown.mp3
The Stones are another act with a wide treasury of perfect pop songs. Satisfaction might have been the obvious choice; Let’s Spend The Night Together or Get Off My Cloud would have been excellent choices as well (though my favourite Stones song, She’s A Rainbow, probably not). So it became a contest between one of the greatest riffs in pop music, a great use of the word “Ba-ba-ba-ba-bababababa”, a fantastic shouted chorus, and a track on which everything comes together. Listen to Watt’s drumming (those cymbals!) and Wyman’s bass complementing Keef’s guitar line, the insistent rhythm guitar, and Jagger’s vocals which are still relatively free of some of the affectations they would assume later.
Best bit: Wyman’s shuddering bass (3:31)

The Supremes – You Keep Me Hangin’ On.mp3
Early in this series I featured the Temptations’ My Girl as a proxy for all the perfect pop manufactured on the conveyor belt of hits at Tamla-Motown. I have since toyed with the idea of doing a Perfect Pop Motown special. That idea will need to wait until I have exhausted my shortlists of remaining perfect pop songs (which, rather annoyingly, keeps growing). In the interim, having a male Motown group as a proxy cannot suffice. The Supremes may not have performed on the most perfect Perfect Pop single by women on Motown (that would be Martha & the Vandellas), but their body of work represents the greatest number of perfect pop records by females on Motown, hence their proxy status. And among so many great songs (Baby Love; Stop In The Name Of Love; The Happening; You Can’t Hurry Love; Where Did Our Love Go; Reflections etc), You Keep Me Hangin’ On stands out. Diana Ross and Florence Ballard (who was so royally and tragically stitched up by the Motown machinery) are almost breathless as they demand a resolution to what clearly is not a happy relationship, and the arrangement, especially the rock guitar, add to the urgency.
Best bit: “And there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it” (1:30)

The Beatles – I Feel Fine.mp3
Tracking back a little, the reader may recall that the Perfect Pop series was inspired by a comment in an article by Jim Irvin in The Word. Irvin identified three songs as examples of perfect pop: Take That’s Back For Good, Britney Spears’ Toxic, and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine. I have featured the Take That and Britney songs, so it is only right to include his third pick as well. And from the Beatles’ incredible repertoire of perfect pop, I Feel Fine may indeed the most perfect, exuding an overdose of joyfulness. It was issued as a single only before the release of Help, which I regard as possibly the best pop album of all time, but strangely seems more accomplished and mature than anything on Help, with the possible exceptions of the album’s title track and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. I Feel Fine also signalled the beginning of the Beatles’ experimental phase, with the inclusion of an accidentally discovered sound, the feedback that starts the song. It may be unnecessary to mention that this came about when John Lennon parked his still switched on electric guitar against an amp et cetera.
Best bit: The feedback intro, of course (0:01)


The Chiffons – He’s So Fine.mp3
The song George Harrison never heard before writing My Sweet Lord. In this series, the Chiffons represent all those great girl-bands from the early ’60s. He’s So Fine may not be the best of the lot (I like the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, for example, or even the Chiffons’ One Fine Day better), but I think it has all the ingredients which made girl-band pop so perfect. The wonderful backing harmonies which are almost bell-like, the always slightly sad undercurrent in the melody and vocals even when the song is about happiness, the dense production (often by Phil Spector, though not here), and the killer chorus — which, in this case, must have wormed itself so deeply into Harrison’s subconscience that he took plagiaristic ownership of the melody. After losing his 1976 plagiarism case, Harrison bought the rights to He’s So Fine so he would not be sued again.
Best bit: “Doo-lang-doo-lang-doo-lang” (0:01)

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Perfect Pop – Vol. 6 ('60s special)

April 28th, 2008 6 comments

Looking over my shortlist for the Perfect Pop series, I realised that the ’60s column was much longer than that of other decades. I guess that pop might have been more perfect in the 1960s than in other decades because it had developed from the raw sounds of early rock & roll, but had not yet acquired that body of experience with which to complicate pop through technical innovation. That’s why Sgt Pepper’s, with all its inventive experimentations, was seen as such a revolutionary milestone in 1967: nobody had heard anything like it before. Today it sounds rather ordinary. Of course, it’s all good to have complex pop, but for the purpose of this series, complexity tends to be an obstacle to pop perfection (though not all songs featured are lacking in innovation or technical complexity). So to even out the shortlist, here is the first of two special 1960s editions of Perfect Pop.

The Animals – The House Of The Rising Sun.mp3
This song has one of the must recognisable intros in pop history, and from there on barely lets up on its brilliance. Apart from Hilton Valentine’s iconic guitar, Alan Price drives his organ like a Ferrari through the desert, and Eric Burdon moans and groans in best white blues-singer fashion, thereby helping to set a trend which would bring mixed blessings to popular music. Amazingly, the whole thing took just 15 minutes to record. The House Of The Rising Sun (which was a new Orleans brothel) was an old song going back at least to the 1920s, possibly much earlier. Based on an English folk-song, it had become an African-American folk song and was later recorded by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan (on his debut) before the Animals virtually appropriated it in 1964, changing the lyrics slightly.
Best bit: Price’s organ solo really kicks in (1:54)

Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over.mp3
Listen to this as part of a non-chronological ’60s compilations, and you might not realise that this song was released in 1960. In sound and look, Johnny Kidd and his timber-shivering pals were prophetic, helping to provide the template for ’60s pop at the birth of the decade in which rock & roll and pop, all still very young, defined themselves. This is the sound on which the Searchers, the Dave Clark Five, even the Beatles, would build. It is quite likely that Johnny Kidd would have faded into obscurity. In the event, we do not know, because Johnny died in a 1966 car crash, two years after the Swinging Blue Jeans scored a hit with it in Britain, and a year after the Guess Who did likewise in the US — and two years after his last Top 40 hit in Britain. Shakin’ All Over later became something of a signature rune for the Who.
Best bit: The drum flourish preceding the guitar solo (1:21)

Amen Corner – (If Paradise Was) Half As Nice.mp3
If in paradise they play music only half as nice as this, I’d be more or less okay, I think. I first heard this song covered by a ’70s group called the Rosetta Stone, led by former Bay City Rollers member Ian Mitchell (whose stint was turbulent and brief) and an enthusiastic exponents of ’60s covers. I loved their version, but have no idea whether it was any good when held up against the Amen Corner’s version, which itself was a cover of an Italian song written by Lucio Battisti for popstress Patty Pravo. The arrangement of the Welsh group’s rendition is just lovely though (if you can handle your music with more than one spoonful of sugar, I suppose). Especially the horn (French? Flugel?).
Best bit: “Oh yes I’d rather have you” (1:26)

Robert Knight – Love On A Mountain Top.mp3
Some readers might raise two pertinent questions about the inclusion of Love On A Mountain in a ’60s special of Perfect Pop; neither should relate to the indisputable perfection of this fine tune. Firstly, why didn’t I choose Knight’s original of Everlasting Love? Secondly, what is a hit from 1973/74 doing here? I would have chosen Knight’s Everlasting Love (and I won’t feature the unsatisfactory cover by the Love Affair), but my MP3 of the song is damaged. Yes, my selections hang on such arbitrary threads. In fact, I like Love On A Mountain Top better; it is such a happy, sunshiney song. The song was a hit in Britain and Europe in the mid-’70s, but its first single release was in 1968.
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:29)

Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3*
Another ’60s release which found UK chart success in the ’70s. Sweet Caroline was released in the US in September 1969. According to Neil Diamond, it was inspired by a photo of Caroline Kennedy, who was 11 at the time. Which strikes me as slightly creepy. Nonetheless, it is a great ytackby a great songwriter. The distinctive intro and verse are pretty good, but it is the build-up to the roaring, rousing chorus which really elevates this song. One cannot help but sing along to it, which is a sign of its pop perfection.
Best bit: Neil’s hard Ts when he sings:” “Warm touching warm, reaching out, touching me, touching you” (1:56)

Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).mp3
Everything that was sweet and engaging in Everett’s version became horrible and cynical in Cher’s awful and tragically now better known cover from that abominable Mermaids movie. Cher’s cover (and Cher in general) pissed me off so much, I cannot even bring myself to include Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe in this series, even though it probably is a perfect pop record. Betty’s 1963 version, in the vein of the girl groups so popular at the time (Chiffons, Shirelles, Ronettes et al), became a hit in the US in 1964. It flopped in Britain, where Cher’s cover topped the charts almost three decades later. Conversely, in the US, Cher’s version was only a minor hit.
Best bit: The instrumental bridge (1:17)

The Kinks – You Really Got Me.mp3
Those who think that punk in the late ’70s offered anything original musically, or indeed culturally, might like to revisit some of the sneering, middle-finger raising acts of the ’60s. As Paul Weller, who hooked his mod ways on the punk star, surely knew, the Kinks were a lot more punk than the Sex Pistols. Don’t misunderstand, I love Never Mind The Bollocks as much as any amateur anarchist, but the Sex Pistols really were just as manufactured an act as were the Spice Girls. On You Really Got Me, Ray Davies sneers as much as Johnny Rotten ever did. The distorted rhythm guitar (an effect produced by slicing the amp) is pure punk. Contrary to persistent rumour, Jimmy Page definitely did not play on Your Really Got Me, but a random session musician by the name of Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, tinkled the ivories.
Best bit: Ray shouts in Dave’s guitar solo (1:17)

Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual.mp3
I don’t like Tom Jones much, and that Sex Bomb song was a disgrace to all that is good about music. But, my goodness, It’s Not Unusual is just perfect. Even Jones’ vocals. Especially Jones’ vocals. I submit that the ad libbing in the fade out represents one of the great yodels in pop music. Ever. I have heard that on this song, Jimmy Page does play the guitar, coming in at 1:19. Regular viewers of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air (well, somebody must have watched it!) will recall that It’s Not Unusual was Carlton’s favourite dance number.
Best bit: “…to find that I’m in love with you, wow-oh-wow etc” (1:44)

Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice.mp3
Selecting a Beach Boys song for this series was problematic. While I see why, say, Surfin’ USA or Help Me Rhonda might be more qualified choices, I don’t like them much. It’s the Mike Love factor. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, like Good Vibration and God Only Knows (both considered), has those innovative Brian Wilson touches which ought to have elevated Pet Sounds in reputation above Revolver or Sgt Pepper’s. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is sung by Brian Wilson, with the hateful Love performing vocal duties only on the bridge. Mike Love apparently sought to take legal action against Brian Wilson over the latter’s wonderful Smile album for bringing the Beach Boys’ legacy into disrepute. The last song performed by the Love-led Beach Boys? Santa Goes To Kokomo (thanks to Mr Parkes for that bit of info).
Best bit: I might have picked the bridge, but, you know, fuck Mike Love. The intro (0:01)

Dionne Warwick – Do You Know The Way To San José.mp3
The body of Dionne Warwick’s interpretations of Burt Bacharach’s music is rich in absolute delights. Among so many highpoints, two songs stand out: Walk On By and San José. The latter makes you feel good, from the brief bass notes that introduce the song to bosa nova sound to the wow-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wowowos that accompany Dionne’s insistence that she does have a large circle of sidekicks in San José. It’s a song for driving along a deserted coastal road with the roof down. As so often, the singer didn’t like the song when asked to record it. Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered it 16 years later, at a time when Bacharach was widely dismissed as a passé easy listening merchant. Whether or not that cover was supposed to be “ironic”, it introduced a whole new generation to the genius of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Best bit: The way Dionne accentuates the word back (2:33)


Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
*
Yes, I know. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. Or even Pretty Flamingo. Contenders they were, but this lesser remembered song is absolutely flawless. And it has flutes in it, which the really attentive and loyal reader of this blog will know seals a deal for me automatically. This track has a even greater energythan Doo Wah Diddy Diddy. The drumming is quite outstanding, and the punchline at the end of the song is just great. On top of that, my mother had the single of this, and as a small boy I played it very often. So Ha! Ha! Said The Clown is one of the songs responsible for turning me on to pop music. Hell, without it, you might not be reading this post right now.
Best bit: The whistling bit (1:17)

Drafi Deutscher – Marmor Stein und Eisen.mp3
Much as I enjoy submerging myself in the nostalgia for my childhood, I must insist that the German Schlager was a horrible musical genre; deeply conservative music for deeply conservative people dressed up in just so much supposed cool as to make it acceptable to the youth. Part of that faux-cool was a tendency of Schlager singers to assume an Anglo-sounding name. So Gerd Höllerich became Roy Black, Christian Klusacek (perhaps understandably) became Chris Roberts, Jutta and Norbert became Cindy & Bert (who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest which Abba won), Franz Eugen Helmuth Manfred Nidl-Petz became Freddy Quinn, and so on. Drafi Deutscher admirably didn’t anglicise his name, but went by his real surname, which means German. Oddly then, he sang with a heavy foreign accent, perhaps owing to his Hungarian background. His big hit, in 1965, was Marmor, Stein und Eisen (marble, rock and iron), which can all break, but not the love he and the addressee of the song shared, as the catchy chorus informs us. The song is more beat than Schlager.
Best bit: Drafi goes heavy metal rockabilly (1:15)

Elvis Presley – (You’re The) Devil In Disguise.mp3
Last time I posted Perfect Pop, I had a brief lapse in judgment when I forgot that there are four Elvises: pre-GI Elvis, movie-Elvis, post-comeback Elvis, and the drug-addled bloaterino we need not concern ourselves with much. From Elvis middle-period, Devil In Disguise seems to me an obvious choice for inclusion. This 1963 track saw the first two Elvis phases coalesce. On the verses, we have Elvis in beach trunks contemplating the script for his 17th movie in which he’ll be a racing driver/cowboy/trapeze artist/big-hearted hooker. He’s in well-behavedly in crooner mode, and very good at it. But when the chorus comes in, our boy remembers his pink shirted, pelvis-swivelling ways, and lets go a bit. Add to that the sharp guitar solo with those rapid quick handclaps, and you have true pop perfection.
Best Bit: The devil speaks! (2:07)

Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
I considered I Am A Rock. Mrs Robinson (a song I don’t like much) and The Boxer (if only to mention that the banging sound was created by recording a filing cabinet thrown down an elevator shaft). What clinches it for A Hazy Shade Of Winter as a perfect pop song is its sense of urgency. Mostly the erstwhile Tom & Jerry did the languid folk-pop thing, but this song drives quite hard. The Bangles covered it in 1989 and scored a hit with it. I cannot say that I particularly liked that cover, but it shows that the song has a certain timelessness. The 1966 single release was backed with For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, one of S&G’s most beautiful songs. Strangely, A Hazy Shade Of Winter appeared on an LP only a year and a half later, on Bookends.
Best bit: The song ends abruptly with an exhalation of breath (2:16)

Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.mp3
Few people are going to feature twice in this series, but Bill Medley does. Thanks to Ghost, Unchained Melody has become the Righteous Brothers signature song, but You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (itself revived in a movie of that era, Top Gun) has all the drama and soulfulness which Unchained Melody lacks. Intitially singing so low as to raise questions about whether the single was being played at 33rpm, at some points Medley almost sounds like Levi Stubbs (indeed, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was supposedly inspired by the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Lovin’), while Bobby Hatfield has little to do. The story goes that Hatfield was rather annoyed about that, asking producer Phil Spector what he was supposed to do until he came into the song. Spector reportedly replied: “You can take the money to the bank:”
Best bit: Medley and Hatfield’s interplay: “Baby!” “Baby!” (2:34)

More Perfect Pop

Perfect Pop – Vol. 5

April 23rd, 2008 7 comments

Thank you for all the comments. I really, really appreciate them. It’s great just to hear somebody say that they are happy to have found a long-forgotten song or discovered a favourite new artist through this blog. The many kind words and encouragement are a most welcome bonus.

It’s also great to see people still getting to read older posts. One comment came in yesterday responding to a Carpenters post I wrote in September, arguing that, contrary to my contention, the Carpenters are great to shag to. I’m afraid my libido would sink lower than Dick Cheney’s reputation among all sane people if in mid-shag the children’s choir of “Sing” came on. Or “Jambalaya”! My correspondent was quite right in pointing out though that Steely Dan is not particularly suitable for erotic exploits either (the Dan are named, after all, after a dildo). So my question today is — oh, you know what’s coming already, don’t you? — what songs make for perfect background music to sex. It’s only fair that I should reveal my current favourite in that department, and in the process spoiling it for everybody by creating a disturbing connotation: Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky album (it sounds like I’m bragging by nominating a whole album and not just a song, don’t I?).

While we ponder perfect sex music, here’s some more perfect pop, with a couple of highly subjective choices.

Love Unlimited – Under The Influence Of Love.mp3
Hmmmm, a contender for the great sex songs category. Barry White had a knack of turning on the laydees as the walrus of luuurve (a talent which spawned such jealousy that at some point it mystifyingly became uncool to like Bazza, and then ironic). With Love Unlimited he found a way for men to discover the sexiness in his music without posing any threat to their heterosexuality. Under The Influence hits every spot, from the glorious vocals to the lush arrangement. You can dance to it, and you can smooch to it. How perfect is that? Genius.
Best bit: “So many guys have tried…” (3:32)

Box Tops – The Letter.mp3
I don’t know if all that is attributed to Lester Bangs in the wonderful Almost Famous is authentic, but this quote makes the point for the Box Tops’ pop perfection: “Did you know that The Letter by the Box Tops is a minute and 58 seconds long? It means nothing. But it takes them less than two minutes to accomplish what it takes Jethro Tull hours to not accomplish!” It’s difficult to believe that singer Alex Chilton was only 17 when the Box Tops’ recorded The Letter. Chilton went on to front Big Star, whose Ballad Of El Goodo is one of my all-time favourite songs.
Best bit: The jet noise (1:32)

Natalie Imbruglia – Torn.mp3
Ednaswap – Torn.mp3
I expect this choice to be controversial (so somebody alert CNN, quick). But the idea of Natalie Imbruglia lying naked on the…er, I think Imbruglia’s vocals, the rich production, and the melody are impeccable. Before Imbruglia scored big with this internationally in 1998, the song had been a hit for one Lis Sørensen in Denmark in 1994, and for Trine Rein in Norway in 1996. For this reason it is generally thought that Torn was a Norwegian effort. It was, in fact, written by members of the LA grunge outfit Ednaswap, whose crap name presumably precluded superstardom. I rather like their acoustic version of Torn, too, as it goes (and I’ll post it here, while I’m at it).
Best bit: The guitar solo (3:28)

T. Rex – Children Of The Revolution.mp3
I’ve said it before: glam rock had a high quotient of pop perfection because it really is amplified bubblegum pop – and bubblegum pop had all the ingredients for great pop singles. Marc Bolan and chums created several contenders for this series. Some may say that Get It On might have been the better representative, or perhaps Hot Love, or 20th Century Boy. My favourite T. Rex song is Jeepster. All valid choices. But Children Of The Revolution is the one T. Rex song I can’t imagine any reasonable pop fan not loving. It’s the complete package: the gut-punching intro, Bolan’s voice as sexy as it ever was, it wastes no time getting from intro and verse to the chorus. In fact, the chorus tends to kick in and out very suddenly, which might be due to poor editing. Whether by accident or intent, the effect keeps the listeners on their toes. And isn’t perfect pop also about holding the listener’s attention? And how exactly did driving a Rolls Royce help Bolan’s voice (though it migh haver helped him had he driven in one on September 16, 1977).
Best bit: Drums and Bolan shouts: “Yea-errrh” (1:11)

Big Sound Authority – This House (Is Where Our Love Stands).mp3*
The Songs That People Sing blog recently featured a post with video clips from Big Sound Authority’s gig at Camden Town, London, in early 1985 (go here; don’t forget to right-click and open in a new tab or window). I was at that concert, and BSA were magnificent. It is an injustice that they did not become bigger — as I said the first time I posted this, “it’s almost perverse”. It isn’t easy to pull off constant changes in tempo throughout a song while retaining a cohesion and, in this case, a rich energy which virtually embraces the listener. This song succeeds in doing so. Playing it to identify a best bit, I noted down five separate moments: another indicator of quality.
Best bit: All instruments stop to let Julie Hadwen roar in the final chorus (3:08)

Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds.mp3
Fine Young Cannibals – Suspicious Minds.mp3
The British music writer Paul Morley posited that a pop song can be thought of as great only if you can imagine Elvis singing it. Well, I think an Elvis song can be thought of as great only if you can imagine Roland Gift of the Fine Young Cannibals singing it, without messing it up. Gift managed just that with Suspicious Minds. Elvis’ version has great drums, which seemed to energise the big guy in his live performances. I don’t really need to justify the inclusion of Suspicious Minds in the perfect pop category. The question is whether other Elvis songs are more perfect. I plan to use only one song per artist, but for Elvis there will have to be two. A pre-GI Elvis number will follow in the next installment.
Best bit: Elvis gets urgent: “Don’t you know-ah…” (2:46)

Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – I’ve Had The Time Of My Life.mp3*
I’ll repeat what I wrote about this song last July: You can dance to it (dirty or otherwise), you can sing along to it very loudly, it has lots of great little moments, like that bang as the saxophone solo begins (3:27), and the dramatically cascading notes which build up to a crescendo before Medley summarises softly just how good a time he has had, leading to the celebratory climax. The song structure in fact captures the rhythm of sexual intercourse, with the subtle changes of pace and two separate orgasms. Now put Baby in the corner.
Best bit: The celebratory climax kicks in (4:03)

Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town.mp3*
To me, Phil Lynott epitomised cool. Until he became a junkie, which isn’t at all cool. And rarely was Lynott cooler than on The Boys Are Back In Town. And those duelling guitars are cool as fuck. According to the sleeve notes, the song was written about a Manchester street gang. It is the delinquent’s version of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, with somebody being updated on all the news after a long separation from the gang. What would be today’s equivalent of that? A message on Facebook saying: “Gld ur bak frm jayl LOL Mwah xx oh yr frend ded, soz”?
Best bit: Lynott whispers: “The boys are back, the boys are back” (3:19)

Spider Murphy Gang – Skandal im Sperrbezirk.mp3
In the early ’80s, German pop experienced a revolution akin to the effect of punk on British music a couple of years earlier. But where punk was essentially a rejuvenating movement, the Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave) introduced a whole new sound to a musical scene which had been dominated by impeccably-behaved Schlager singers, socially conscious Liedermacher (songwriters) and the occasional iconoclastic rocker, such as Udo Lindenberg. NDW acts sang about subject matter which was rarely heard in German on radio, producing sounds like nothing the fatherland had heard accompanying the mother tongue — and scored big hits. Some NDW exponents were dance orientated, some drew from English New Wave and NYC punk, and many produced hyper pop. The Spider Murphy Gang fell within the latter camp. Skandal im Sperrbezirk — a song about a prostitute whose classified ads are so successful as to leave her competitors on the streets and in the Hotel l’Amour underemployed — was their big hit in early 1982.
Best bit: The “police siren” (2:17)

Spandau Ballet – Gold.mp3
There may be many good reason to hate Spandau Ballet. The name. The jackets. Steve Norman’s mullet. Tory Hadley. Through The Barricades. But, by jove, didn’t they produce some fantastic pop! Hadley had a great voice and knew how to use it (in contrast to his contemporary on ’80s teenage walls, Simon le Bon); Steve ‘Plonker’ Norman played a mean saxophone and percussions (the latter are particularly good on Gold); and Gary Kemp, the weedier of the two brothers, knew how to write a catchy tune. There were other Spandau Ballet contenders for this series: True, Only When You Leave, To Cut A Long Story Short, Round And Round, Lifeline… but none quite approach the drama of Gold.
Best bit: Tony Hadley’s little pause before singing “GOLD” (3:09)

Cece Peniston – Finally.mp3
This 1991 dance track is now most commonly associated with the film Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, which produced an excellent soundtrack. I associate it with a meeting in December 1991 during which I was stabbed in the back by erstwhile friends. After the meeting, Finally played at a party, and it lifted my spirits entirely. Peniston’s chart career was not prolific, and “Keep On Walking” was perhaps the better of her hits. But perfect pop is not necessarily about the “better” song. In few dance tracks of the ’90s did things come together so perfectly while retaining a pop sensibility as it did on Finally, from the House piano hook to Peniston’s vocals which alternately narrate and roar, and to the killer chorus.
Best bit: The gibberish ad libbing which caused the drag queens in Priscilla to do that thing with their tongues (2:52)

Andy Gibb – I Just Wanna Be Your Everything.mp3
Somewhere in this series, a Barry Gibb-penned song had to feature. I was thinking of Guilty, his duet with Barbra Streisand, and naturally several Bee Gees songs. But surely this swinging, sweet and yet dramatic track, which Barry wrote with his little brother (though Andy isn’t credited), represents the pinnacle of his post-’60s songwriting. The cute lyrics, in which Andy pledges everlasting love to his bride, are emphasised by a gentle disco arrangement. The Gibb family falsetto is in evidence, but it isn’t as ridiculously pitched as Barry’s. In fact, even though this song is recognisably a Barry Gibb composition, it doesn’t sound much like a Bee Gees song. This was the first of a hat-trick of US #1s for Andy Gibb (Love Is Thicker Than Water and the very Bee Gees-ish Shadow Dancing followed), the first time a male solo artist accomplished that feat.
Best bit: “To be your eeeev’rythiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing” (2:48)

Four Tops – Reach Out I’ll Be There.mp3
One cannot pick a best Levi Stubbs moment. The singer had so many moments of genius (that cry for Bernadette in the song of that name!), but I’d say that on Reach Out I’ll Be There Stubbs delivers his best sustained performance, practically barking the words, out of breath from being chased by the relentless drums. The urgency of this song is exhilarating and exhausting. As so often, nobody involved in the production thought of the song as a hit; in the event, Motown boss Berry Gordy quietly put it out as a single. Cue a US and UK #1. Diana Ross’ rather different version is worth hearing. And then that horrid rapist of fine soul music, Michael Bolton, covered the song, investing it with as much pus a he could summon from his landlord Beelzebub.
Best bit: No contest, it’s the supercharged intro (0:01)

Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over.mp3
This could be a Beatles song. But consider that this was a hit in 1963: Dave Clark and his four subordinates and the Fab Four shared the influences (listen to the backing vocals in particular). So it’s great fun that when English football club Crystal Palace reached the 1990 FA Cup final (which they went on to lose to Manchester United in a replay), they recorded Glad All Over with a group called…the Fab Four. Many people mistakenly think that the fantastic vocals, which exude so much energy by way of complementing the thumping sound, were performed by the man after whom the band was named. Clark was in fact the drummer (echoes of Conan O’Brien’s houseband here); the singer was Mike Smith who sadly died of pneumonia earlier this year, at the age of 64.
Best bit: “Aw-aw-aw stay” (1:10)

More Perfect Pop

Perfect Pop – Vol. 4

April 10th, 2008 5 comments

And on to the fourth part in our quest for Perfect Pop. I am very grateful for the many comments; I really appreciate the views, ideas, nominations and feedback (and feel greatly encouraged by the many kind words). So, here are ten more perfect pop songs, presented with the usual caveat that this exercise is entirely subjective.

The Monkees – Daydream Believer.mp3
It took me four posts in this series to decide which of three Monkees songs was the most perfect. To be truthful, I still don’t really know. But after discounting Last Train To Clarksville (which is on my Teen Dreams mix), it was between Daydream Believer and I’m A Believer. The attentive reader will have picked up which one I have gone for. It’s Davy Jones’ slightly nasal vocals, the joyous chorus and all the unexpected little touches in the arrangement — especially the ringing alarm clock before the first chorus and the piccolo before the fade out. John Stewart, who wrote this song, died of a stroke in January this year. A fascinating character in his own right, the former member of the Kingston Trio and early collaborator with John Denver was the US Democratic Party’s official songwriter during the Robert Kennedy campaign. He continued making music right up to his death.
Best bit: “…what can it mean-eh…” (0:51)

Donna Summer – Last Dance.mp3
Among the comments to the last Perfect Pop post was a nomination for Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. With its brain-poking synth line and Donna’s sexually charged vocals, it is indeed a contender. But my preference would be for the similar Love To Love You Baby or to the rather different Last Dance. I’ll opt for the latter on strength of its more complete pop sensibility. It starts off as a ballad as Donna announces sadly that this might be the end. It may well be so, but, you know, screw this, if this should really be the last dance, let’s party. 1:20 minutes into the song, the song picks up its glorious vibe. A fantastic track written for the 1978 disco film Thank God It’s Friday, we must forgive its reception of an Oscar for Best Song, often an accolade for crap.
Best bit: “So let’s dance that last dance…” (4:32)

Take That – Back For Good.mp3
The critics agree, Back For Good flies the flag for pop perfection. They are right, of course, though I wonder whether they would still rate the song so highly if the unjustly vilified Wet Wet Wet has released it. Listen to it, Back For Good sounds like it comes straight off Popped In, Souled Out, right down to Gary Barlow doing a perfect simulation of Marti Pellow’s phrasing. Within a year of this reaching number 1 in Britain, Take That took off, with Robbie Williams becoming an international icon of gurning (except in the US), while Barlow released at least one other song that pisses over anything Williams has ever done, titled Wondering.
Best bit: You can’t hear Robbie Williams. Oh, OK, Barlow and the other guys harmonise (2:36)

Wet Wet Wet – Angel Eyes.mp3
If the critics can have Back For Good, then I’ll have Angel Eyes. Listen to Popped In, Souled Out, the Clydebank foursome’s 1987 debut album. It’s two sides of excellent pop music, borrowing from soul without the conceit of actually them actually being soul men (that came with their release of a Memphis sessions album soon after, which was not really bad but entirely redundant). Popped In had a few tracks nearing perfection. I really like Temptation, a very underrated song. But the highpoint comes towards the end of the first side. Angel Eyes makes some of the best use of strings in pop, while Marti Pellow’s vocal gymnastics underscore the utter joyousness of the song (here’s a link to the lyrics, you might need it).
Best bit: Marti Pellow burps (0:23)

Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood.mp3*
If disco ever created anything like Phil Spector’s fabled Wall of Sound, then it reached its defining moment with Amii Stewart’s explosive cover of Eddie Floyd’s 1966 hit (covered also by David Bowie during his mid-70s soul period). The sleeve of the single hinted at this version’s gay disco influence — remember that disco was a broad church which brought together the dance music of gay clubs, Euro synth and the funk, with the former two in particular often coalescing. Released in late 1978, at the peak of disco fever, Knock On Wood dispensed with the customary 4/4 disco beat. The brief HiNRG craze set in five years later, but Knock On Wood set the template. Action-packed with sound effects such as thunder and lightning, plus old-style soul horns, an insistent synth line, brutal drumming and Amii’s aerobatic vocals, Knock On Wood leaves you exhausted.
Best bit: Amii hits a high note to the backdrop of thundering drums and the backing vocals contemplating DIY (2:04)

Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger.mp3
It is fashionable to take a diminishing view of Oasis (not for too much longer, however: the ’90s revival is about to go into full swing); when it comes critical acceptance, it seems Blur and Pulp have won the Britpop war agaginst the monobrowed oafs. But, my goodness, neither Blur nor Pulp ever created so persuasive a trio of pop masterpieces as Don’t Look Back In Anger, Champagne Supernova and Wonderwall. I’ve often wondered why the rousing chorus for the former has never been used on English football terraces. It seems perfect.
Best bit: The drum bit (3:36)

OMD – If You Leave.mp3*
A couple of years ago my nephews became enthused by Nada Surf’s creditable cover version of If You Leave, which appeared on The O.C. (during one of the series’ best scenes: Seth and the gorgeous Anna at the airport). I don’t think it is possible to mess this song up. Andrew McCluskey might not have been a great singer (and certainly not a good dancer!), but his performance here is quite lovely, gently manic. By the time If You Leave came out in early 1986, OMD’s stock in Britain was very low, and the single flopped (my purchase of the 12″ single notwithstanding). In the US, however, it was a big hit, largely on strength of its appearance in Pretty In Pink.
Best bit: “Don’t look baaaack” (4:06)

Hues Corporation – Rock The Boat.mp3*
One of the proto-disco hits, Rock The Boat was a chart topper in the US in 1974. It is an infectiously joyous song, and a tune which can turn your low mood when you hear. Alone for that, it qualifies for the perfect pop label. If that fantastic piano does not do so anyway. The story behind the group’s name should make you want to champion the Hues Corporation. The band originally wanted to be called The Children of Howard Hughes, with a strong dose of irony since Howard was not known for his enlightened views on race relations. The record company, mindful of the billionaire’s ire, vetoed the name but could not rightfully object to the group’s alternative: the punning Hues Corporation. Reportedly old Howard was rather pissed off at that, though his absence from New York City’s disco nightlife has been attributed to alternative reasons.
Best bit: “We’ll be sailing with a cargo full of…love and devotion” (0:55)

Slade – Cum On Feel The Noize.mp3
A good argument can be made that the richest mine of perfection in pop can be located in glam rock and its non-identical twin, bubblegum pop (glam is really amplified bubblegum, with louder guitars and faster drums. And funnier clothes). If that is so — and I’m not inclined to demolish a theory which I have just constructed myself — then Cum On Feel The Noize is in close proximity of pop’s absolute peak by dint of it being one of the best glam rock tunes. This track makes you want to shout along, punch the air and, indeed, feel the noize, no matter how old you are. And isn’t that ability to engage the listener a sign of pop perfection?
Best bit: Obviously, “Baby, baby, baybeah” (0:01)

The Foundations – Baby Now That I’ve Found You.mp3
This Motown-ish track by the interracial and intergenerational British soul outfit just shades the more famous Build Me Up Buttercup. Great vocals by Clem Curtis (which are reminiscent of the Temptations’ David Ruffin), great backing vocals, fine drumming, and a melancholy in the tune which complements beautifully the anxiety of the lyrics. Note how, after the intro, the song launches straight into the anxious chorus: the mood lifts when the singer remembers their first meeting, but soon we feel the fear brought on by his realisation that she doesn’t need him. In sound, delivery, mood and structure, this is the greatest Temptations song the Temps never sang.
Best bit: The “ba-da-ba-da” backing vocals (0:26)

More Perfect Pop

Perfect Pop – Vol. 3

April 4th, 2008 9 comments

The inquiry into what makes perfect pop perfect continues. My pal Andy thinks: “I think ‘perfect pop’ can’t be too alternative. It has to be very mainstream, on top of everything else. And probably fairly breezy. Populist and lightweight.” Somebody else suggested: “Perfect pop should feel timeless yet completely of its time as well, creating a wonderful paradox.” Another Andy also considered the question of timelessness: “Timelessness shouldn’t be consciously striven for. One of the qualities of great pop music is its ephemerality, and I think that pop music that doesn’t embrace that is lacking in a certain something. Of course, timelessness is what allows us to relate to music of different eras, and we do so very strongly, but it’s best when it’s an accident or a result of the quality of the song or performance, rather than a conscious striving for posterity by the creator.” And this suggestion pretty much sums it up: “The definition of a perfect pop song is simply a song which nothing could be added or taken away to improve it.”

Or consider this: there once was a review which praised a single along the lines of “great lyrics, great chords, two fine singers, great musicianship and the best production money can buy”. Of course, even with all these ingredients, the result can still be imperfect. But that is why perfection in pop is a relatively rare thing. Incidentally, the single thus reviewed was “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” by Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams.

And then there is the Paul Morley theory, mentioned in comments last time by Planet Mondo, that a good pop song is truly great when you can imagine Elvis singing it.

Dusty Springfield – I Only Want To Be With You.mp3
If I had to compile a shortlist for a top 10 of Perfect Pop, I Only Want To Be With You would be an automatic choice. It has been covered several times (Jackie DeShannon’s version was the first song ever to be performed on Top Of The Pops), and it is nearly impossible to mess it up. The Bay City Rollers did a particularly good version of it in the mid-70s, but Dusty’s rendition hits perfection on every single level. It is so good, I cannot decide what to choose as the “best bit”.
Best bit: The strings first come in, almost unnoticed (0:50)

The Style Council – Speak Like A Child.mp3*
It may not be an indispensable ingredient in perfect pop, but it helps when a song can communicate pure joy, as does Speak Like A Child. Try to feel miserable when listening to it. Unless you have genuine cause for unhappiness, it must cheer you up. Paul Weller has written quite a few great pop songs, but none reach the pop perfection of this.
Best bit: Talbot’s keyboard solo kicks in (1:38)

Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore.mp3
I am a magnanimous observer of music. I never liked Cliff Richard (not unlike Whiteray, whom I’ll mention again later), and I particularly despised this song when it was on never-ending rotation on German radio in 1979 — and yet I acknowledge the perfection of this track. Not too long ago, I played the song to see whether it could still induce the same reaction of physical illness it did when I was 13. The memories it invoked did indeed do so, but I also had to accept what, deep down, I knew even then: this is a brilliant pop song.
Best bit: “Taaaalk anymore, anymooooore” (3:14)

Johnny Cash – Ring Of Fire (live).mp3
This is what you get when three forces of inspiration collide. June Carter’s beautiful lyrics, Merle Kilgore melody, and Johnny Cash’s mariachi treatment. This song is a good example of the “add nothing, take nothing away” theory of perfect pop. Apparently a haemorrhoid ointment manufacturer wanted to use Ring Of Fire for a commercial. Regretably, Roseanne Cash refused to give permission. This version is from the Live In St Quentin album, where it resides as a previously unreleased bonus track on the re-released CD.
Best bit: “…oooh, but the fire went wild.”

Bay City Rollers – Saturday Night.mp3
Thanks to ’70s nostalgia, the Bay City Rollers are not judged by their too short, tartaned trousers, but by the often wonderful pop they produced (or was produced in their name). So giddy retrospectives of ’70s pop will dig out Bye Bye Baby as representative of BCR’s musical contribution to the era, with the more forensic compiler opting for I Only Wanna Be With You (both cover versions). It is unfortunate that those songs when BCR achieved did actually pop perfection, or at least came close to it, tend to be ignored. Of these, Yesterday’s Hero and the superb You Made Me Believe In Magic (download link here) were released at the arse-end of BCR’s career, and made no impact on the charts and thus on he public’s consciousness. Saturday Night was a hit before BCR really hit their stride in the mid-70s, and so somehow tends to slip through the cracks too, which is entirely regrettable.
Best Bit: S-S-S-Saturday Naa-aaaight (0:57)

Hanson – Mmm Bop.mp3
I suspect that most people were like me: they hated the song because of the performers (and, possibly, its title). And just look at the Hanson brothers: precocious kids whose mugs would qualify for plastering all over pre-pubescent girls’ bedroom walls regardless of their musical merits. The same reasons why few people then proclaimed the Osmonds’ Crazy Horse the work of genius it really is, and the same reason why BCR were laughed at despite headlining some great pop. With the passage of time, knowing that the pre-pubescent girls are now young adults and that even the drummer’s balls will have dropped by now, Mmm Bop has been critically rehabilitated, to the point of a consensus that it really is a brilliant pop tune.
Best bit: The insistent chorus throughout the song.

Nena – 99 Luftballons.mp3*
When I posted this last July, I actually used the words “perfect pop” to describe 99 Luftballons. In fact, it is so perfect, that the German original topped the US charts (whereas in Britain the less satisfactory English version was a hit. Here German actually sounds better than English in a pop song). The US is not generally known for its expanding worldview which embraces different cultures. For most Americans, communication with non-English speakers tends to take the form of raising one’s voice and speaking slower (American readers of this blog excluded, of course). So the US pop consumers of 1984 bought into Nena’s hit purely on strength of it being a great pop tune.
Best bit: The song kicks in with a machine gun guitar after the slow rhythmic build-up.

Blondie – Denis.mp3*
Any number of Blondie songs might qualify for inclusion in this series, but Denis has that extra bit of brevity, energy and lots of likable little touches. Still unaffected by the disco wave, when Denis came out in early 1978, Blondie were still a band audibly rooted in NYC’s new wave scene, albeit with a distinctive pop bend. Denis still had the edginess of the wonderful debut single, X-Offender (download link here). Soon Blondie would pander to the Top 10 with faux-disco (Heart If Glass; Atomic) and cod-reggae (The Tide Is High). It wasn’t bad, but Blondie were never better than they were on those first two albums.
Best bit: Debby does Dalles, in French.

Britney Spears – Toxic (Clap Ya Hands remix).mp3
Jim Irvin, whose reference to “perfect pop” in The Word magazine inspired this series, used Toxic as one of three examples to illustrate what is perfect pop. He is entirely correct; this is a catchy bastard of a song. Forget all about the hype, degrees of undress and the scandals which have made Britney Spears more famous for being famous than for her artistry. Spears is just the vehicle by which the rich, inspired arrangement of a fine song reach us. I might be unfair on Spears, who delivers a good vocal performance, but Toxic could have been recorded by any number of female singers with no detriment to the final product — even if it was written specifically for Britney. The star of Toxic is really the production team, Bloodshy & Advant. Can’t imagine Elvis singing it, though.
Best bit: The intermittent guitar riff.

The Undertones – Teenage Kicks.mp3
The point when bubblegum pop met punk. And yet, its spiritual heart really resides in the ’60s. Strip down the loud guitars, maybe slow it down just a little, amplify the handclaps, and you have a chart-topper ca. 1965. Teenage Kicks was played at the funeral of John Peel, who had championed the song, and the line “teenage dreams so hard to beat” is engraved on his tombstone. How utterly appropriate.
Best bit: Two drum beats, and the guitar hits (0:01)

Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.mp3
This was #1 in Britain on 6 April, 42 years years ago (I remember that because I was born that day; I think my German #1 is a Stones song). That is why I’ve held back its inclusion for this installment of the series until today. And, my oh my, what a fantastic pop song this is! The tune is exquisite, the production mighty, the vocals are…oh, use whatever hyperbole does it for you. But the drumming tops it. Listen to it. The drums and percussions are totally bossing the song.
Best bit: The drums set up and emphasise the line “When you’re without love…” (2:18)

The Association – Cherish.mp3
This 1966 hit is a nomination by Whiteray, proprietor of the excellent Echoes in the Wind blog, who rates it has perhaps his favourite pop single of all time. It is indeed an astonishing song (with fantastic lyrics), but I’m not convinced it is perfect pop. Which demonstrates the bleedin’ obvious: perfection in pop is an entirely subjective thing. We may agree in great numbers that a song is perfect, even achieve near-consensus. We may even share our reasons as to why it is perfect. But play the next song, and I might rave about it and you’ll shrug your shoulders (or, later, come around to my way of thinking). And that is why talking about music is so great.
Best bit: “And I do…” (2:56)

Perfect Pop – Vol.1
Hall & Oates, Sweet, Jesus & Mary Chain, Turtles, Guildo Horn, Big Bopper, Buggles, Kylie Minogue, Abba, Pet Shop Boys, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Temptations, ABC, Smiths, Kingsmen, Strawberry Switchblade, David Essex, Rainbow, Wham!, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

More Perfect Pop

Perfect Pop – Vol.2

March 26th, 2008 7 comments

Here is the second installment of Perfect Pop. For the criteria, look up the introduction to the first part of the series. One commenter rightly suggested the inclusion of The La’s, which I happily already had on my shortlist. Tell us which songs you think constitute perfect pop.

The Troggs – Wild Thing.mp3
A bit like “Louie Louie”, featured in the first part of this series, there is something gloriously shambolic going on here, understandably so if one knows that it was recorded in 20 minutes as an afterthought to a recording session. Singer Reg Presley not just sounds lewd, he is fucking the listener none too gently. Which is quite a contrast to later, milder Troggs hits (Love Is All Around; With A Girl Like You), but quite in keeping with the famous recording of the Troggs’ having an animated discussion in the studio.
Best bit: The ocarina solo (1:11)

The La’s – There She Goes.mp3
Had the Troggs been 20 years younger, they might well have sounded like the La’s (a name I’ve always hated). Allegedly about heroin, this song has a catchy tune and beautifully jangling guitars which surely helped influence dozens of US Indie groups in the ’90s. And it was only in the ’90s that this song, originally released in 1988, became a hit.
Best bit: After the slow bridge, “She calls my name” (1:46)

Roy Orbison – Only The Lonely.mp3
My mother had the single of this: it was the song she and her teenage sweetheart shared. It’s a good “our song” if your love is being split up by disapproving parents, I think (he was working class, my mother the rebellious princess of upper middle-class parents; you know the deal). On many songs, Orbison’s voice annoys me (hence my utter hatred for the Travelling Wilburys), on a few it is perfect. Only The Lonely, where he sounds a lot like Elvis at times, is one of those.
Best bit: Orbison hits the falsetto (2:08)

Pilot – Magic.mp3
Unjustly never a hit in Britain, this is one of the finest bubble gum pop songs of the ’70s. It’s so full of lovely little touches. Listen to the quirks of the guitar, the sporadic handclaps, the intermittent strings, the soft backing la-la-la-las. And then there is the rich chorus; it’s all rather brilliant.
Best bit: The handclaps during the guitar solo (2:16)

The Cure – In Between Days.mp3
The Cure have a surprising number of straight pop songs; easy to forget if one listens too much to the weird or depressing stuff Robert Smith and pals have produced. This, the first of two outstanding singles from 1985’s The Head On The Door, is a quick, bubbly burst of perfect pop. New Order might have taken notes about the value of brevity in pop.
Best bit: Bob laments over the outro: “Without you!” (2:35)

Van McCoy – The Hustle.mp3*
Tune! Disco guitars, strings, flute, horns, a killer bassline, while friendly ladies and commanding gentlemen invite us to do The Hustle. Do it!
Best bit: The guitar demands to be heard (1:02)

Plastic Bertrand – Ça Plane Pour Moi.mp3*
Belgian punk, thankfully in French and not Flemish. It’s all very audacious, probably borrowing less from the Sex Pistols and more from the Small Faces, whose Sha-la-la-la-lee Plastic Bertrand covered on his debut album) than Sex Pistols. I have never bothered to establish what the man is singing about. I don’t think I want to. As long as I can sing the title and the ou-ooou-eeooou, I’m happy.
Best bit: Whatever he sings after being the king of the divan (1:12)

Mel & Kim – Respectable.mp3
Take them or leave them, but the much reviled Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory of the ’80s created some respectable pop. This song found SAW more or less at a crossroad: their formula was starting to take hold (with Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up becoming a hit just six months later), but there remains enough of the Hi-NRG-cum-pop sound which propelled songs such as Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” to pop classicdom. The “tay-tay-tay-tay” intro is an iconic ’80s moment. Sadly Mel Appleby died of cancerin 1990, just three years after Respectable (and the equally fine Showing Out).
Best bit: The House break (2:07)

ELO – Shine A Little Love.mp3
Jeff Lynne’s pop orchestra could get a little too prog, but 1979’s Discovery album was a jewel of great pop. I might as well have chosen Don’t Let Me Down (with its power chords and the bwoosh sound) or Confusion (with its lovely keyboard riff), but it always seems to me that Shine A Little Love tends to be overlooked. The urgent, swirling opening passage and the chorus with the strings and the woooo’s qualify this as a piece of perfect pop.
Best bit: “Ooh, ooh…ooh-ba-ooh-ba-ooh-ba” (1:37)

Georgie Fame – Yeh Yeh.mp3
2:47 minutes of pure joy. I think this is perfect kitchen pop: try not to dance to it while doing the dishes. Or while you sail a boat. The famous British pirate broadcaster Radio Caroline was launched because no other station wanted to play Yeh Yeh, on account of it sounding “too black”, according to its founder, Ronan O’Rahilly. Read the full story of that here.
Best bit: The slow build-up to the chorus: “We play a melody…” (0:49)

Soft Cell – Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.mp3
Oh man, that opening line: “Standing in the door of the Pink Flamingo, crying in the rain”! The lyrics, the lament of a gay man who can’t pull through a relationship because he is shackled in the closet, are incredibly sad, scored by a gorgeous melody, Marc Almond’s luscious vocals and some of the best synth pop lines we’re ever likely to hear. And, please, never listen to David Gray’s excruciatingly poor cover (or never do that again)!
Best bit: “We’re strangers meeting for the first time, okay? Just smile and say hello…” (3:40)

Perfect Pop – Vol.1

March 17th, 2008 7 comments

Jim Irvin in the latest issue of that fine British music magazine The Word makes the point that when his fellow critics describe something as perfect pop, it probably is neither. “It’ll be the work of a tone-deaf beanpole with a great haircut who sings like a rusty hinge while his mates commit acts upon musical instruments that the Spanish Inquisition would have thought twice about,” he writes, exaggerating for effect only marginally. Irvin mentions three songs as examples of what does constitute perfect pop: Britney’s Toxic, Take That’s Back For Good, and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine. I think these are excellent choices. But perfect pop is not a rarity, as I and a few Internet buddies found.

So, what are the ingredients in a perfect pop record? One pal suggested that pursuing a recipe is like “unweaving a rainbow” (a reasoning which might recall Stephen Fry’s immortal line, “Don’t analyse comedy; it’s beautiful as it is”). Unlike my pal, I prefer to approach such things scientifically, so here are some criteria I’d employ:

1. Great tune (obviously)
2. A killer chorus
3. Relative brevity (six-minute epics really must justify their time)
4. Instant recognisability
5. A certain timelessness (it should sound fresh three decades later)
6. Singalongabillity (or humalongability)
7. something undefinable; let’s call it aural fairydust (probably the one essential ingredient)

With all that in mind, and acknowledging that discerning perfection in pop is intrinsically subjective, let’s dip into the first bumper lot of 20 perfect pop records (enough to make a mix-tape, so take your time):

Hall & Oates – Private Eyes.mp3
It is easy to make fun of Hall’s mullet and of Oates in general, but Daryl and John were purveyors of many a perfect pop record. ‘She’s Gone’, ‘Kiss On My List’, ‘Rich Girl’, ‘Everytime You Go Away’, ‘One On One’, perhaps also ‘Out Of Touch’ (were it not for the horrible ’80s production) are all contenders. ‘Private Eyes’, however, towers above all of these in capturing a flawless pop sensibility: you sing along with it involuntarily, you do the drum thingy, your foot taps, you remember the lyrics even when you haven’t heard the song in years…
Best bit: The whipping drum thingy (0:42)

The Sweet – Teenage Rampage.mp3
It could have been any number of Sweet hits. ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Blockbuster’, ‘The Six Teens’ or ‘Fox On The Run’ have no deficiency in the pop perfection stakes. When the verses are almost good enough to be the chorus, and the chorus tops it, and you have to sing along, then it has the main ingredients for perfect pop.
Best Bit: When the chorus kicks in (0:54)

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Just Like Honey.mp3
Can a record with excess feedback be perfect? In this case, I think it can be. Indeed, had the Reid brothers dispensed with the feedback for ‘Just Like Honey’, the song might have been just another Phil Spektor pastiche.
Best bit: The guitar solo gets even louder (1:42)

The Turtles – Happy Together.mp3
The sound of 1966, a great year in pop. A judiciously employed backing vocal of ba-ba-ba-bah and a martial beat can make a difference between a good pop song and a perfect one.
Best bit: “How is the weather?” (2:21)

Guildo Horn – Guildo hat euch lieb.mp3
Germany’s quite brilliant Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1998 seemed to at once embrace the contest and give it the finger (hence his relatively poor showing in seventh place). The name alone suggests some ribbing at the German Schlager (Guildo is phonetically identical to the surname of the late Schlager icon Rex Gildo, whose ‘Fiesta Mexicana’ can be found here). On ‘Guildo hat euch lieb’ (Guildo loves you [plural]), Horn accomplishes the impossible: he makes German sound good in a pop song.
Best bit: “Tief, tief, tief, ich hab’ dich lieb” (1:00)

Big Bopper – Chantilly Lace.mp3
This might have aged a bit since it was a hit 50 years ago, but if you have to listen to somebody speak on record, wouldn’t you rather it was the Big Bopper instead of bloody Fabolous?
Best bit: “Helllooooo baaaaaaybee” (0:01)

The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star.mp3*
Not quite three-and-a-half minutes packed with so many endearing touches, from the piano intro to the sing-along fade out. It’s impossible, surely, not to love this song.
Best bit: The drum comes in (0:31)

Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.mp3
Would one say this song was perfect pop if it wasn’t for that video? “Spinning Around” is perhaps the bouncier pop song, but this creeps into your head without you even noticing and squats there like a hippie commune. Where do I apply for the job as Kylie’s gold shorts?
Best bit: “La la la, la-la-lala-la…” (0:15)

Abba – Dancing Queen.mp3
Some would say that this is the most perfect pop song ever. If one takes the view that there can be such a thing as a single “most perfect pop song” ever, then ‘Dancing Queen’ would be as good a choice as any (but there can’t be, of course). Indeed, there are a number of worthy challengers in the Abba canon: there is only a sliver of difference in the perfection of ‘Dancing Queen’ and, say, ‘S.O.S.’ or ‘Mamma Mia’.
Best bit: “You can dance, you can jive…” (0:20)

Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This.mp3*
The Pet Shop Boys are another outfit who could churn out some wonderful pop. The 1986 debut album, Please, in particular boasted four singles which accomplished or neared perfection, especially ‘Suburbia’. But it was in tandem with another purveyor of great pop that they conjured indisputable perfection.
Best bit: Dusty’s voice goes higher as she sings “make me feel better” (2:48)

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Come Up And See Me.mp3*
Steve Harley’s periodically stuttering, spluttering and sneering delivery are complemented by a great tune, infectious hooks and an exciting arrangement, with sudden stops and those “oowooh-la-la-la” backing vocals.
Best bit: The two second pause between the acoustic guitar solo and Steve Harley resuming (2:19)

The Temptations – My Girl.mp3
One could fill a whole 2GB iPod with perfect pop from Hitsville, and still regret leaving out great songs. So we’ll settle for “My Girl” as a representative for Motown, appropriately so not only because it is a mindbogglingly great song, but also because it combines two agents of serial pop perfection: it was written by Smokey Robinson, and performed by the Temptations.
Best bit: “Hey hey hey” (1:42)

The Smiths – This Charming Man (Peel session).mp3*
There are people who have bought into the foolish notion that The Smiths were in any way depressing. Who created that idea? The Smiths were a great pop combo, and ‘This Charming Man’ is the best example of that.
Best bit: Marr’s closing chords (2:39)

The Kingsmen – Louie Louie.mp3
If you have the right hi-fi equipment and good hearing, apparently you can hear the drummer say “fuck” when he screws up as he comes into song. Which would be the first instance of the f-word word being released on record. Everything about this song is shambolic, which adds to its attraction. It makes even the untalented among us believe that anyone could do this rock ‘n roll lark. So it’s probably more punk than the Sex Pistols ever were.
Best bit: “OK, let’s give it to them, right now” (1:25)

Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3*
My son’s 13-year-old friend Thabo was going through my iPod, and attracted by this duo’s name (mmm, strawberries) discovered ‘Since Yesterday’, a piece of pop heaven from 1984/85. Thabo was so enchanted by it, he recorded it on to his cellphone (when all he needed to do was visit this blog to get the MP3. Or just ask me for it).
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:32)

David Essex – Gonna Make You A Star.mp3
Is this glam rock or bubblegum pop? Either way, it is faultless pop with loads of little touches which reveal themselves the more familiar one becomes with this1974 hit.
Best bit: “I’ gonna make you a stah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-ee-yah-ee-ye-yay-yeaaaa-ur (2:39)

Rainbow – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3*
Great opening chords, some of the best handclaps outside a Motown studio, a catchy chorus, and fantastic pop-rock vocals of the kind that would come to influence every big hair rocker (by a dude with short hair).
Best bit: Things picking up again after the bridge (2:15)

Wham! – Club Tropicana.mp3
Wham! had their share of great pop tunes: ‘I’m Your Man’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, ‘Freedom’. But this trumps any of these. It’s a total joy from the first few seconds when the crickets chirp to the final “coooo-ooool”. Only a curmudgeon could not derive pleasure out of this.
Best bit: The duelling saxophones (2:45)

DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince – Summertime.mp3
It is indeed the sound of a lazy summer’s day. If this is going to be Will Smith’s sole legacy worth preserving (as seems likely), then we nonetheless owe him a debt of gratitude for adding to the pop canon this most evocative seasonal anthem. Props to DJ Jazzy Jeff who presumably was responsible for sampling so well from Kool & the Gangs ‘Summer Madness’ (download that as well).
Best bit: The Kool & the Gang sample throughout.

* previously posted