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Step back to 1980 – Part 1

September 28th, 2011 9 comments

The series now hits 1980, which was a pretty good year for pop music. Good enough to warrant four instalments, I think. It was the year in which I turned 14.

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Cheap Trick – Dream Police.mp3
This was the first record I bought in 1980. Cheap Trick probably were the first hair metal band. I didn’t really dig them very much, but I did like Dream Police, even if I had no idea what the song was about. It had a good guitar riff, a catchy chorus and some amusing sound effects. The term “dream police” has been used to describe a state on an LSD trip when the brain figures out that it’s not in charge anymore (or something like it; what the hell do I know about LSD trips?). But I think the lyrics are far better applied to describe a state of schizophrenia, with its paranoia and controlling inner voices.  The half-minute interlude at 2:50 certainly sounds like mental illness. Or, indeed, an alarming drugs trip.

Electric Light Orchestra – Confusion
And this was my second record of 1980. As with Cheap Trick, I’d never been much of an ELO fan. Don’t Bring Me Down changed that, and I liked Confusion even better (and perhaps still do; I prefer whichever of the two I’m presently hearing). Strangely, I didn’t buy the LP the songs were from. Later I discovered, as it were, that it’s a pretty good album. The purists don’t like it, I believe, because they thought that Jeff Lynne had sold ELO out to disco. Funny enough, disco often incorporated strings, which Lynne mostly dropped for the Discovery album. I’ll grant that Shine A Little Love and Last Train To London are a nod to disco, but for the most part it’s a wonderful pop album (Horace Wimple excepted).

Cherie & Marie Currie – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3
In later 1979 and early 1980 there were two versions of the Russ Ballard-penned Since You Been Gone (or Since You’ve Been Gone, as some have rendered it. You can get Ballard’s original here). The excellent Rainbow version was the more successful, and apparently South African popsters Clout had a single of it out as well. I bought this single, by former Runaways singer Cherie Currie with her sister Marie (whom you will remember if you saw the recent biopic of the Runaways). I think the Curries’ cover can just about compete with the Rainbow record. I’m not sure why I bought this single though. In the face of compertition by Rainbow, who were huge in West Germany, it wasn’t a big hit. Perhaps I saw it on the Musikladen TV show on which the sisters appeared in December 1979; but if I liked it, I’d have bought it right then, not in January (somehow I always had money for a single). Perhaps I bought it on strength of Cherie Currie, seeing as I liked The Runaways back in the day. Maybe I just like the cover…

AC/DC – Touch Too Much.mp3
Bon Scott was my first rock death as a fan. Of course, people whose music I had known had died before. Elvis, of course. Marc Bolan of T. Rex. Keith Moon of The Who. I had known their music, but I wasn’t a fan at the time. However, when Bon Scott died on 19 February 1980, I was something of an AC/DC fan. When the others died, I had no interest in their next record, but I was very much looking forward to the next AC/DC record, with Bon Scott on vocals, maybe featuring as great a song as Ride On from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. When the next album came out, with undue haste later that year, I had mixed emotions. The songs – Hells Bells, title track Back In Black, and especially You Shook Me All Night Long – were great, but to my mind new singer Brian Johnson was a pale imitation of the great Scott. I still think he is. So I started 1980 mourning the death of a favourite singer. I’d end the year in mourning an even more favourite singer.

Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.mp3
Like Since You Been Gone, The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan was a cover version, in this case of Dr Hook and the Medicine Show’s original penned by Shel Silverstein. Marianne Faithfull’s version is beautifully arranged, and the melody is lovely, but it was, of course, that broken voice which raised the song to another level. At the time I hadn’t heard of Faithfull’s history with the Stones. When I did, I went off Mars chocolate bars for a bit. Faithfull insists that the story is an untruth spreads by the London narcs after they raided Keef’s Redlands mansion. The singer says she is far too prudish to do that. In her biography she wrote: “It’s a dirty old man’s fantasy… a cop’s idea of what people do on acid!” Anyway, at the age of 13, Faithfull seemed to me so ancient as probably being close to death’s door from natural causes (of course, her drug use might have killed her). She was only 33, four years younger than Lucy Jordan…

Kenny Rogers – Coward Of The County.mp3
I never bought the single, though the chorus was pretty catchy. But buying a country record? Not very likely. It’s a jaunty little number that rather cloaks the disturbing lyrics. You don’t get many pop hits about gang rape. And that’s what happens in the song to poor Becky at the hands of the ghastly Gatlin boys. Trouble is, Coward of the County’s dad was a bit of a troublemaker in his time and on his deathbed extracted from CotC an oath of rigorous pacifism, with Uncle Ken serving as a witness to the pledge. So what does a pacifist do when the Gatlin boys violate his girl? Ah, I shall not spoil the ending for you, but it does not involve a visit to the local police station followed by a judicial process. We are not told whether Coward ensured that Becky would receive appropriate counselling.

Georg Danzer – Zehn kleine Fixer.mp3
I was a year late with this one, but what a good song it is. Danzer was an Austrian singer-songwriter – or Liedermacher (song-maker), as they say in German – who had a good reputation for producing accessible songs with sophisticated, sometimes funny and often socially conscious lyrics. He died of lung cancer in 2007 at the age of 50, having been a heavy smoker for years. In Zehn kleiner Fixer he sings about “ten little junkies” who die one by one. His tone is sardonic: while he shows little compassion for the junkies, but blames the ills of society for their condition.

Here’s my clumsy translation of the lyrics:

Ten little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death.One of them jumped overboard and sank like a stone. “Shit” was his final word; then there were only nine.

Nine little junkies; among them were girls. One was just 13, couldn’t break free.Went out on the corner, froze to death, then there were only eight.

Eight little junkies, one just out of jail. Parole officer let him down, no money for rehab, parents written off; he saw no other way out, then there were only seven.

Seven little junkies were so fed up with their lonely desert in the high-rise ghetto. One, they say, suffocated on wine and biscuits and indifference; then there were only six.

Six little junkies, one ended it with a golden fixall on the station toilet. Some tramp who found him took his shoes and socks, then there were only five.

Five little junkies, left all on their own, had neither hope nor money. One walked into a bank and “asked” the cashier who didn’t hesitate; then there were only four.

Four little junkies sat in a boat. Ocean Desperation, homeport Death. One reported a dealer to the police; when he was released again there were only three.

Three little junkies on the final tour; among them they had just one more fix. Oh, the heroin ran out and they capsized the boat.
Love was never their home, and now they were all dead.

Ten little junkies were now gone. Clearance sale, urban garbage, just lowly filth. But how long do we want to sweep them under the carpet? One day, when they rise again, they will strike back.

The Nolan Sisters – I’m In The Mood For Dancing.mp3
Now here’s a record I most definitely didn’t buy. I didn’t particularly like or dislike the song it was a hymn to my indifference. And yet the song stuck in my head for years. It was one of those earworms I found myself inexplicably singing at random moments. That kind of song. Some 11 years after this was a hit, I met my future wife. One day she randomly sang I’m In The Mood For Dancing. Then, a while later, she did so again. As it turned out, we had a shared permanent earworm of the random-singing variety (I don’t know the technical Greco-Latin terms for the phenomenon, I’m afraid). I’d like to say that I knew at that point that we would grow old together, but there were other, much better clues which did not involve the Nolan Sisters. Truth be told, I quite like the song now, in as far as inoffensive pop music from that era goes.

Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers.mp3
Peter Gabriel – Spiel ohne Grenzen.mp3

This was my 100th single. Now, that doesn’t mean it was the 100th single I had ever owned or bought. But when I bought it, it was the 100th single in my possession. Before that I had frequently swapped singles with friends (who exploited me; I gave away some really good records. So after that, I stopped trading). Others I had discarded for being too embarrassing to own, such as my Bay City Rollers records. But when I bought Games Without Frontiers in March 1980, it was single #100, a milestone. Within a year I would almost stop buying singles in favour of albums (though I’d rediscover the joy of the single when I lived in London in the mid-’80s).

Games Without Frontiers refers to an game show that was popular throughout Europe at the time in which village teams representing different countries were pitched against one another in bizarre action games, usually dressed in silly costumes. In French the show was called Jeux sans Frontiers and in German Spiele ohne Grenzen (both mean Games Without Frontiers); in England it was It’s A Knock-Out. Gabriel re-recorded his entire 1980 album, which also included the anti-apartheid song Biko, entirely in German. Hence the second file: the German version of Games Without Frontiers.

Tim Curry – I Do The Rock.mp3
When I bought this, I was blissfully unaware of that overhyped cult twaddle that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Indeed, I remained so until the late ’80s. So when Tim Curry visited a restaurant in London where I worked as a waiter in 1985, my excitement was based on my love for I Do The Rock. The 80-year-old owner of the restaurant, an old Australian whom we had nicknamed Mr Magoo, was dining on Table 15 at the same time, and somebody advised him that a celebrity was at Table 8. Mr Magoo moseyed over, stood before Mr Curry and his lovely companion, stared at them for a bit while pushing his rolled-up tongue back and forth through his fleshy and disconcertingly moist lips, as he habitually did, and then blurted out in an accusatory manner: “So, you’re famous!” Mr Curry responded gracefully that he was an indeed an ac-tor. Thus informed, Mr Magoo grunted, turned and waddled back to Table 15 to complete his meal.

The song itself was one of thise that referenced the celebs of the day – from Solzhenitzin and Sadat to O.J. Simpson and Virginia Wade to Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Liza Minelli and Charlie’s Angels – and a few characters from the past, including Joe DiMaggio and former English cricket captain Colin Cowdrey. I Do The Rock also acquainted me with The Dakota as the New York residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a piece of information that would become relevant later in the year.

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More Stepping Back

Step back to 1979 – Part 2

July 21st, 2011 9 comments

In the second part of three in which I revisit songs from 1979 that have the power to transport me back to the day, we’ll go back to the summer of that year. We had just moved into a new house which my mother, a woman of excellent taste and artistic flair, turned into a place that exuded both sophistication and warmth. And my younger brother and I attended the last of three summer camps run by the local church parish. As always, I take no responsibility for the quality of the songs featured.

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Lene Lovich  – Lucky Number.mp3
This was quite unlike anything I had heard before. Lene Lovich was a bit like an anglophone Nina Hagen, without all that which makes Hagen so unattractive (and, looking it up, I’ve just learned that Hagen covered Lucky Number). I remember hearing a radio interview with John Lennon around that time in which the semi-retired pop master mentioned a few acts he found interesting. Among them was “Lene Loverich”. I thought Lennon was a bit of a senile git for not knowing her proper name. But he was very old by then, almost 39. My stepfather, four years younger, didn’t even know any of the acts I liked (except for Bob Seger, whose music I introduced stepfather to). Lovich eventually gave rise to Toyah and Hazel O’Connor. You decide whether that was a good thing or not.

Art Garfunkel – Bright Eyes (Video)
This was the theme from the animated film that made everyone cry but me, Watership Down. The reason I didn’t cry is that I have never seen it, deterred from doing so by tales of people crying. The song sounds appropriately sad but tinged with a surge of hopefulness, which I understand ties in with the scene in the film it scores. At the time I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Actually, I still think it is beautiful, though I have heard a great many contenders for the title since. Bright Eyes and I Don’t Like Mondays (which I won’t feature as the Boomtown Rats will be included in the third part) were my anthems for the summer of 1979. [Link removed by Mediafire]

Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood.mp3
What did I know of the old soul masters then? This is one of the great cover versions, an explosion of disco joy, co-produced by Simon May, who wrote the theme of the BBC soapie Eastenders. And then there was the cover. I had seen exotic before, but Amii Stewart was something quite beyond that; she was flamboyantly beautiful while wearing silly headgear which only the spawn of royal bottom feeders would not reject as too daft. Knock On Wood was a massive hit almost everywhere, but strangely not in West Germany, where it stalled at #13. Amii Stewart is the step-sister of HiNRG queen Miquel Brown (whose Close To Perfection is an old favourite of mine) and thereby aunt of 1980s disco starlet Sinitta, she of much cuteness and modest artistry.

Kiss – I Was Made For Loving You.mp3
By 1979 everybody seemed to buy into that disco thing. In retrospect it shouldn’t be surprising that a rock group whose members liked to wear chest-hair revealing leather outfits and wore far too much make-up should have dabbled in a genre that owed much to its evolution to the gay scene. But those were the days when fans of Freddie Mercury would be glad to resort to violence in defence of their hero’s honour should one have questioned the Queen singer’s uncompromising heterosexuality. Anyway, so in 1979 Kiss went disco in a bid to revive their flagging career. And it provided them their first UK chart entry (albeit peaking at only #50) and for me a birthday present for my little brother.

Gibson Brothers – Cuba.mp3
Cuba provides a specific if slightly hazy memory involving a fair we visited after a boring afternoon at an old man’s garden allotment. I remember being bored at the fair, and how the Gibson Brother’s epic disco number lifted my flagging spirits. It is, of course, a most banal memory, as the reader will have noted already with a zeal that is almost rude. The point though is that sometimes music sticks with us not because of a significant event or constant exposure over a period of time, but because it just does. And Cuba still has the capacity to lift my spirits, though not as much as their next hit single, the brilliant Que Sera Mi Vida.

Kevin Keegan – Head Over Heels In Love.mp3
American readers won’t know what to do with this, but German and British readers will luv it, just luv it. Kevin Keegan was a famous English football player (the football played with feet, not the one with the shoulderpads) who in 1977 transferred from Liverpool to the German club SV Hamburg. In 1979, he helped Hamburg win the German championship and was the country’s biggest football star. So Mighty Mouse, as he was known, crowned his sporting accomplishment by recording a single with Smokie, and it sounds just like the horrors that group used to perpetrate at the time. To Keegan’s credit, he could hold a tune better than he could hold a lead, as fans of Newcastle United would later discover. Here is a video of King Kev violating a poor woman as he sings his song in the Saturday night sports show Das Aktuelle Sportstudio, having been flown in from Bielefeld after Hamburg’s game there on 2 June 1979.

Donna Summer – Hot Stuff.mp3
If Kiss could go disco, then Donna Summer could go rock. And I’d say that Donna rocked harder on Hot Stuff than Kiss ever did. The song reminds me in particular of the summer camp that my brother and I went on. The previous one we went had been a great experience. It had a wonderful group and I had my slow-dance with my first love, having shoulder-charged my beastly rival out of the way on the dancefloor (see the entry for Sailing in Step Back to 1977  Part 1). This time, the crowd was less lovely and some were absolute assholes. I had taken some records along for the “dance evening”; when I discovered that some had been stolen from my suitcase, the camp leaders took no interest in the violation of the seventh Commandment, perhaps being too busy worshipping craven images. We never went on another camp again.

Umberto Tozzi – Gloria.mp3
When Laura Branigan had a huge hit with her English version of Gloria in 1984, I was quite annoyed. It’s Umberto Tozzi’s song. It has been covered many times in many languages, but in Tozzi’s synth-driven original it smells of sunshine and Pizza Margharita. Gloria was huge in the German summer of 1979; I didn’t buy the record, but welcomed hearing it in the background to provide the soundtrack for that rather dull summer. Where Branigan’s lyrics observe someone alled Gloria, Tozzi sings a love song to the eponymous woman. “Monkey to malaria,” as Tozzi so memorably sings.

Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore.mp3
The song German radio played to death. Apart from the fact that I have always resented the stardom of that feckless Cliff Richard, this was an insidious tune. Where some songs are earworms, this was an eartumor. But if I listen to the song with as much detachment and objectivity as I can muster, I must admit that it is a very good pop song. I must concede that the “Taaaalk anymore, anymooooore” bit at 3:14 is fantastic. It seems at least 5 million people worldwide agreed: that’s how many copies the single sold. In West Germany it topped the charts for five weeks, but it felt like it did for half a year.

The Knack – My Sharona.mp3
Incredibly, the Knack were hyped as “The New Beatles” (part 85) when this came out. They had a couple of decent songs, but their quick return to obscurity cannot be described as an injustice. Still, “My Sharona” totally rocks, from the staccato guitar riff and vocal delivery to the “woooooo”s. And the cover of the single rocked even more, at least for a 13-year-old lad, depicting a gorgeous brunette in a vest with protruding nipples (gasp!). And, I didn’t know at the time, it was the Sharona of the title herself. Sharona Alperin was at the time Knack frontman Doug Fieger’s 17-year-old girlfriend. To German ears, the band’s name was a cause for mirth. Knack means pop (as in a popping sound), with the best variant being the adjective beknackt, which loosely translated means “off his rocker”, or Knackwurst, the sausage named after the popping sound it makes when you bite into it.

ELO – Don’t Bring Me Down.mp3
I know that opinion is deeply divided about this song. ELO purists tend to disown it, normal pop fans love it. Don’t Bring Me Down has that great guitar, the drum loop, and that strange word that Lynne sings which sounds like “Bruce” (it is, if you listen carefully or read the LP linernotes, grooooss, which means nothing). Trivia fans will be interested to note that this was the first ELO single not to feature strings, apparently. Don’t Bring Me Down also reminds me of marshmallow mice I liked eating at the time, 20 Pfennig from the kiosk down the road.

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More Stepping Back

In Memoriam – September 2010

October 7th, 2010 3 comments

The Grim Reaper evidently took it easy in September, at least by the standards of the last few months. One notable non-musician death last month was that on September 20 of one Leonard Skinner, the Florida gym coach whose insistence on cut hair inspired a group of future rock stars to name their group in ironic fashion after him — Lynyrd Skynyrd. As before, all songs listed are compiled in one mix (and I’m afraid that the quality on some tracks isn’t great).

Mike Edwards, 62, cellist with the Electric Light Orchestra from 1972-75, on September 3
Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado (1973)

Noah Howard, 67, free jazz saxophonist, on September 3

Rich Cronin, 36, member of pop/rap group LFO, on September 8
LFO – Summer Girls (1999)

Hadley Caliman, 78, jazz saxophonist and flautist who recorded with the likes of Santana, Freddie Hubbard and Patrice Rushen, on September 8
Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles – Them Changes (Live, 1972).mp3

King Coleman, 78, R&B singer, on September 11
King Coleman – Down In The Basement (1960)

‘Big’ John Russell, 67, Dutch soul singer, on September 12
Big John Russell – Oh Mabel (1990)

Gus Williams, 73, Australian Aboriginal leader and country singer, on September 13.

Matt Upsher, 31, guitarist of English rock group Grey Dog, on September 13

Jorge Vidal, 86, Argentine tango singer, on September 14
Jorge Vidal – El Metejon

Arrow, 60, Montserratian soca musician, on September 15
Arrow – Hot Hot Hot (1982)

Ahmad Salaheldeen, 79, American jazz saxophone player, on September 15

Roy ‘Whitey’ Grant, 94, half of the long-running country duo Whitey & Hogan, on September 17

Buddy Collette, 89, jazz saxophonist and mentor to Charlie Mingus, on September 19
Herbie Mann & Buddy Collette – Give A Little Whistle (1957)

Fud Leclerc, 86, Belgian singer and the first person to score ‘nul points’ at the Eurovision Song Contest (with the song Ton nom in 1962, his fourth and last appearance in the competition), on September 20
Fud Leclerc – Ton nom (1962)

Don Partridge, 68, British über-busker, on September 21
Don Partridge – Blue Eyes (1968)

Eddie Fisher, 82, crooner, all-round entertainer and ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds, on September 22
Eddie Fisher – How Do You Speak To An Angel? (1953 )

Richard Griffey, 71, founder of soul label Solar, musician and songwriter, on September 24
The Whispers – And The Beat Goes On (1979) (as co-writer)

Ed Wiley Jr., 80, American R&B saxophonist and singer who played a pivotal role in the development of early rock ‘n’ roll, on September 27
Ed WileyJr – Cry Cry Baby (1950)

Buddy Morrow (or Moe Zudekoff), 91, jazz bandleader and trombonist, on September 27
Sharkey Bonano – High Society (1936) (as trombonist)

Tomáš Dask, 25, frontman of UK-based Slovak group The Bridgeheads, on September 27
The Bridgeheads – Fire (2010)

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Step back to 1977 – Part 1

June 4th, 2010 8 comments

1977, the year I turned 11, was a pivotal year in my life, perhaps more than any other. My family was torn apart by my father’s sudden death, I discovered love and became a serious fan of pop music. We’ll deal with the first two in part 1. As always, I must stress that all songs are included here because they have the power to beam me back to the time under discussion. Some I like, and some I most certainly do not endorse. Don’t despair, things will get better as I get older…
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Electric Light Orchestra – Livin’ Thing.mp3
Until this point, the Electric Light Orchestra had passed me by, and they would again do so until 1979/80, when I really liked their hits Don’t Bring Me Down, Confusion and Shine A Light from the Discovery album. There were other songs in between, and every friend’s long-haired, bumfluff-moustached older brother had a few ELO albums, alongside the ubiquitous Heart LP (the one with Barracuda, which to this day remains Annoying Older Brother music to me). But I didn’t dig ELO. Except Livin’ Thing. Perhaps not coincidentally, it sounds much like the Discovery era ELO. The production is brilliant, of course (the strings especially), but it’s the chorus that must have grabbed me then. For all values that I have come to appreciate about ELO since then, I don’t think they were that great with choruses.

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Bay City Rollers – Yesterday’s Hero.mp3
In West Germany, the little girls maintained a rivalry between the Bay City Rollers and Sweet. If churning out the better hits in 1977 is the yardstick by which we shall measure victory, BCR won, even as the song’s title was becoming increasingly apt. Yesterday’s Hero is a bit of a stomper in the Saturday Night vein. Written by Harry Vanda and George Young, it was originally recorded in 1975 by John Paul Young, who’d score a couple of worldwide hits in 1977/78 with Love Is In The Air and Standing In The Rain (an Italian cardinal was such a great fan, he adopted the singer’s name upon becoming pope in August 1978). George Young, incidentally is AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young’s older brother. With Vanda, George had been a member of the Easybeats. They then recorded as Flash and the Pan. They also produced AC/DC’s Powerage and High Voltage albums.

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Bonnie Tyler – Lost In France.mp3
If any record my mother bought was going to excite me, then it had to be one that included the timeless lyrics: “Hoolay-hoolay hoolay-hoolay-dance”. It might have supposed to sound like ooh-la-la ooh-la-la dance, but Mrs Tyler (no doubt she was married, because she looked like a Hausfrau) gave the French phrase her own Welsh twist. Lost In France, which sounds like a Smokie song, was recorded before Tyler had an operation on her vocal chords, which gave her already smoky voice that distinctive rasp. Within a year Tyler had an even bigger hit, with It’s a Heartache, and in 1983 with the magnificent Jim Steinman production Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

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Frank Zander – Oh Susie (Der zensierte Song).mp3
While my interest in German Schlager had diminished by 1977, I couldn’t escape the likes of Peter Alexander, Roberto Blanco, Costa Cordalis and Howard Carpendale on the radio or TV. Compared to those ingratiating chumps, Frank Zander was fairly cool. With his almost tuneless voice and faintly amusing lyrics (well, up to a point), he certainly stood apart from the chumps. He had first come to general notice in 1975 with Ich trink auf dein Wohl Marie, the supposed humour of which resided in his supposed drunkenness (hell, at nine years of age, I was amused). Two years later, he had moved from the adult Marie to jalbait Susie, of the “uncensored song” which through the medium of country-pop operates on the fun to be had with bleeped out double entendres. Oh, how we almost laughed. An “uncensored version” was also released, with Zander voicing over the supposed words that were bleeped out, but those were not really objectionable either; a comedic double bluff, in other words. Zander later became a full-time practitioner of the novelty song, doing unhilarious spoof covers of Trio’s Da Da Da and, under the pseudonym Fred Sonnenschein released particularly inane Scheiße.

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Lynsey De Paul & Mike Moran – Rock Bottom.mp3
Ah, the days when Britain still had a shot at winning the Eurovision Song Contest; before bitter regional enemies in the Balkans would divvy up the highest numbers of points between one another (except this year, when Germany won). Rock Bottom was the runner-up in the 1977 contest. France won that year, with Marie Myriam’s L’oiseau et l’enfant, a song I would not even pretend to recognise if it stuck its tongue down my throat while humming itself. And while Croatia is happy to give Serbia 12 points, Ireland gave Rock Bottom nil points. Austria’s entry, Eurovision cliché watchers will be pleased to know, was titled Boom Boom Boomerang. Mike Moran went on to produce David Bowie and write the theme for crime TV series Taggard. De Paul had already enjoyed a career as a singer and songwriter (including Barry Blue’s hit Dancin’ On a Saturday Night). At around the time that Moran co-wrote Kenny Everett’s not entirely welcome Snot Rap, De Paul was singing songs for the Conservative Party.

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Space – Magic Fly.mp3
This was a bit of an instrumental novelty hit in the way that there always was at least one every year in the German charts. Unlike some of the others, however, Magic Fly is rather good. Space were a pretty cool French disco act whose music might well be sought out by aficionados of the genre. I had the single of this. It got stolen at the last church youth camp I bothered attending, in 1979. The youth leaders didn’t even bother to investigate the theft of my records (the violation of the commandments about theft and coveting thy neighbour’s goods notwithstanding). That annoyed me, because in 1976 they had a whole scene from The Shield going when some hapless goon stole a popular guy’s pocketknife. Nobody asked what the cool guy was doing with a knife in a church camp in the first place. But to the religious church camp regime, rightful ownership of weapon clearly was more important than pop music. So, you know, fuck them.

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Oliver Onions – Orzowei.mp3
I actually didn’t like this song that much; my younger brother was a great fan of it (and, yeah, the chorus is quite catchy, in the way choruses with the phrase “nananana-nananana-nananana-na-na” often are). Little bro’ was also a great Bud Spencer and Terence Hill fan, so he had an Italian obsession already which would only later incorporate the finer aspects of that country’s rich cultural heritage. Oliver Onions (named after the British writer) were Italian film writers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis, who wrote for Bud Spencer & Terence Hill movies. Orzowei was the theme song for what I think was an Italian mini-series titled in Germany Weißer Sohn des kleinen Königs, a story about a white boy brought up in an African tribe. It was a German #1 in late May and early June, which was, as we will see in the next entry, a rather significant point in my young life.

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Julie Covington – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.mp3
In early June, my mother bought the single of this. One night she played it for my father, a theatre and opera buff who probably would have liked any of the crap inflicted upon us by that revolting grease-head Andrew Lloyd-Webber. And, indeed, Mom and Dad, sitting together on the green suede lounge suite, really enjoyed that song together. A couple of nights later (the anniversary of which is on Saturday), a shrill scream echoed through our house, alerting me to the notion I was now fatherless. My father had collapsed with a heart attack at work; we had been notified that he had been taken to hospital, but didn’t know that he made his final, apparently artificial breath in the ambulance.

In the subsequent weeks, my mother was totally obsessed by Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, playing it over and over and over, her loud sobs disregarding Evita’s injunction not to shed tears for her or, by extension, my father. I cannot have an objective opinion of that song’s merits. I love that song because it evokes such intense emotions. And I hate it for the same reason. Catch me on the right day, and you’ll find that the strings that open Don’t Cry For Me Argentina can still produce a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, or a tear in my eye.

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Smokie – It’s Your Life.mp3
Readers who are familiar with the oeuvre of Smokie will rightly question my good judgment in including this song, and, if there had to be Smokie, not one their bigger hits of 1977, Living Next Door To Alice (and you may very well ask politely who is Alice) or Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone, both far less rubbish tunes than this. But the point of the series is to include songs that have the power to transport me back to a particular time. It’s Your Life, a tempo-changing mish-mash of cod-reggae, bubblegum pop and Beatles-homage, does just that. It evokes the summer of 1977. When it comes to the bridge, and the backing singers start singing: “How does it feel…” I am inclined to continue “…one of the beautiful people”. The fleeting similarity to the Beatles’ Baby You’re A Rich Man is not subtle. And the chorus borrows more than a bit from George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord (or, indeed, The Chiffons’ He’s So Fine).

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Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Yes, I know, it was a hit in 1975. Yet it belongs here. In August 1977, my brothers and I went on a church camp. The regular reader may recall from the 1976 installment that the previous year’s camp (the one with the pocketknife incident) had been intolerable due to my older brother’s Gauleiter complex, bullying me mercilessly. This year, he was totally cool. The whole group of about 40 kids from 9-15 was great and grew close over two weeks. It was one of the best fortnights of my life. And I fell in love with the lovely Antje, with her dark hair and little freckles on her nose. Of course I was too shy to do much about it, other than carving her name on my bed’s headboard (and anywhere else I found suitable). A night or two before our departure — the day we received news of Elvis’ death — we had a disco evening. I was intent on asking Antje for a slow dance, and practised with one of the youth leaders, the generously bosomed Doris, to Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London. The next ballad would be my cue.

After loads of Sweet and T Rex songs, played by my DJing older brother, the opening notes of Rod Stewart’s Sailing sounded. Being totally sexy in my tight white jeans and navy T-shirt, I got up and made a beeline across the dancefloor for the lovely Antje. Halfway down, approaching from the right flank, came a chap called Roland. I had not known that he too had taken a fancy to the lovely Antje. For all I knew, he might have had his sights on any number of girls cliqued together in the lovely Antje’s vicinity. Still, somehow I sensed his intended target right at that moment.

It was like High Noon; tumbleweed blowing as nervous eyes darted here and there. Little me and big Roland, both after the same girl, with the entire crowd watching from the sidelines. Our paths met. Instinctively, I shoulder-charged my rival out of the way. As he tumbled away I reached the lovely Antje, stood in front of her and boldly asked her to dance to Rod Stewart’s Sailing. She looked inquiringly at her best friend, who nodded her consent. So Antje and I had our awkward first — and, alas, last — dance, with all my pals giving me the thumbs up, and Roland plotting a revenge which never came. After the camp, I never saw Antje again. But not a year goes by when I don’t think of her, of the feeling of my hands on the back of her slightly clammy T-shirt and her soft breath brushing against my neck.

So when I think of 1977, the shock and grief caused by my father’s death comes to mind, but also the intensity of my puppy love and the comfort of my holiday with a great group of people. The year had awoken in me an intense consciousness of life, and I would soon direct that intensity towards the fanatical acquisition of music.

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More Stepping Back

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)