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Dust, Crackle and Pop: Vinyl cuts

August 12th, 2009 5 comments

Today, August 12, is International Vinyl Record Day. To mark the event, here are a few songs I’ve ripped from my LPs lately. I have old LPs stashed all over the house. Most of them – almost all of them – have not been played in more than a decade, some in more than two decades. None was played after my son, then three or four years old, broke the stylus on my Technics turntable. It has been great playing some of these old records again, and in some cases painful as I realise that the music wasn’t as great as my memory had deceived me to think. These songs here did not disappoint. Happy Vinyl Record Day.

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Tony Schilder – Madeleine.mp3
tony_schilder Tony Schilder is now retired, but in his day he was a keyboard maestro in the field of South African jazz-fusion. His trio regularly featured guest artists, of whom the internationally best known is Jonathan Butler. Schilder’s trio was the houseband of the Montreal nightclub in Cape Town’s Manenberg (which lent its name, inaccurately spelt, to Dollar Brand’s jazz opus), an impoverished, gang-riddled township established by the apartheid regime for South Africans classified as “Coloured” (that is, people of mixed race). In that community’s vibrant nightclub scene, Montreal was the place to be in the 1980s. It had style and Cape Town’s great artists would regularly appear there, such as frequent Schilder collaborator Robbie Jansen (a gifted saxophonist and vocalists, whose unrecorded version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is the best I’ve heard) or Dougie Schrikker, “the Frank Sinatra of the Cape Flats”.

The cheerful Madeleine (such a beautiful name) was the highlight in Schilder’s sets; it’s opening keyboard bar alerting the serious jazz dancers (and by this I mean Cape Town jazz-dancing, which is a sexier version of ballroom styles) to take to the dancefloor. Strangely Madeleine didn’t appear on his CD of re-recorded classics released in 1995. The 1985 LP it came from, Introducing the Music of Tony Schilder, has never been released on CD, to my knowledge. The song features Danny Butler on vocals, and his brother Jonathan on guitar (and check out his great solo).

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The Four Tops & The Supremes – Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand).mp3
four_tops_supremes The famous version, of course, is that by Diana Ross, her first solo single after splitting from the Supremes. Shortly after La Ross recorded the Ashford & Simpson composition in 1970, the Supremes (now fronted by Jean Terrell) recorded it with the Four Tops, creating a more joyous version than Diana’s, which was lovely but not particularly soulful in arrangement or vocal delivery. I will be honest and admit that I had forgotten I even had this until last weekend, when I ripped most of the tracks featured here. It’s on a collection of soul tracks released in 1974 which I picked up cheaply some 20 years ago in a second-hand shop. Whatever I paid for it, this song alone made it a bargain.

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The Mystics – Hushabye.mp3
MYSTICS American readers of a certain age may well remember this: Hushabye was the song with which the legendary DJ Alan Freed closed his televised Big Beat Show. Written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, it was released in 1959 by the New York doo wop group The Mystics, Italian-Americans from Bensonhurst. A year after Hushabye was released, a young Paul Simon (then calling himself Jerry Landis) joined as lead singer, albeit only very briefly.

The Mystics were supposed to be given Pomus/Shuman’s A Teenager In Love, which in the event was recorded to great commercial success by Dion & the Belmonts. The record label, Laurie Records, were not too pleased, it seems, and ordered the songwriters to come up with a new tune for The Mystics. The next day, Hushabye was ready. It became a #20 hit in summer 1959. Five years later, the Beach Boys recorded a cover for their All Summer Long album.

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The Crusaders – So Far Away (live).mp3
crusaders Jazz legends The Crusaders covered Carole King’s So Far Away twice. The studio version is nice; the live take, from 1974’s Scratch: Live At The Roxy, is brilliant. It’s warm and cool, exciting and relaxing. And it sounds barely like the original tune. At 1:54 trombonist Wayne Henderson begins a note which he holds continuously for a minute, driving the crowd mad with concern for his safety (one member shouts “stop!”) before Sample, Hooper, Felder, Carlton and Popwell resume to finish the song off in a rhapsodic orgasm.

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Mungo Jerry – Have A Whiff On Me.mp3
mungo_jerry A typically exuberant Mungo Jerry number with its boogie woogie piano, improvised instrument, percussive oral noises and Ray Dorset’s obligatory scat and exclamation of “all right, all right, all right”. Most of Mungo Jerry’s tracks sounded like they were remakes of old songs, but few actually were. Have A Whiff On Me is an exception; it was an old blues song which the folk/blues historians John and Alan Lomax picked up from James “Ironhead” Baker (he of Black Betty original obscurity) and Lead Belly, then titled Take A Whiff On Me. It was recorded subsequently by folk singers such as Woody Gutrie, Cisco Houston and, in 1970, by the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. A “whiff” is slang for cocaine, and the song is alternatively known as Cocaine Habit Blues.

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Misty In Roots – Own Them Control Them.mp3
misty_in_roots The regular reader will have noticed that this blog features very little by way of reggae (one Peter Tosh track, and one by Freddie McGregor in 321 posts). For a brief time in the mid-‘80s I was into reggae, absorbed a lot of it, and then got bored with it. During that fleeting flirtation, I bought the 12” of Own Them Control Them by the London band Misty In Roots. It was not a hit – none of the group’s single bothered the UK Top 75 – and I hadn’t heard it for a very long time. When I did, it did remind me why I bought the record in first place: it’s very good indeed.

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Christopher Plummer & Phillip Glasser – Never Say Never.mp3
american_tail Before Disney had their massive resurgence following 1989’s A Little Mermaid, the studio had lost its mojo It took Universal with the Steven Spielberg produced An American Tail in 1986 to show Disney the way to make great animated films again (even if some of them were too saccharine for my taste). The adventures of the immigrant mouse Fievel were charming, certainly in the first film. Children in film can be very endearing or very annoying. Phillip Glasser, barely eight-years-old at the time, voiced Fievel beautifully. His reprimand to Plummer’s French Statue-of-Liberty-building pidgeon for using the word “never” is very cute without being too sugary.

The song, an old-style production number by James Horner which classic Disney would have been proud of, was set early in the movie. Fievel has arrived in America but had lost his family, with whom he was immigrating from Russia (on the false premise that there are no cats there). Henri the pidgeon encourages Fievel not to give up. And, — ***SPOILER ALERT*** — you’d never guess it, but Fievel actually does find his family. Phew!

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George Fenton – The Funeral (Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika).mp3
cry_freedom We started with a bit of South African music, and here we wrap up with the greatest ever South African song which in a truncated form and combined in a medley with the old apartheid-era anthem Die Stem is part of South Africa’s current national anthem. To this day, I refuse to sing the apartheid-anthem portion, an act of recalcitrance which many South Africans with much greater grievances than I can lay claim to evidently do not share, for they sing it with gusto.

This recording is from the 1987 film Cry Freedom, in which Denzil Washington played the murdered anti-apartheid leader Steve Biko. Biko represented the radical Black Consciousness Movement, which held that liberation must come from black people and not through the mediation of whites. This placed him closer to the Pan African Congress, a breakaway from the African National Congress of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela. That’s why this version of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika includes parts of the anthem which the ANC (and, in the ‘80s, its internal federation, the United Democratic Front) excluded. Written by a Methodist school teacher named Enoch Sontonga in 1897, it was originally a Christian hymn – the title means God Save Africa – before in 1927 one Samuel Mqhayi added further verses to it.

The version here, scoring Biko’s funeral on 25 September 1977, is dramatically orchestrated by George Fenton, starting off with a solo by Thuli Dumakude, with the choir directed by the great Jonas Gwangwa. It is real goosepimple stuff.

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On International Vinyl Record Day, don’t forget to visit those blogs which heroically keep the memory of crackling, dusty vinyl alive. These include AM Then FM, The Hits Just Keep On Coming, The Vinyl District, Great Vinyl Meltdown, Dusty Sevens, Funky16Corners, Dust And Grooves, and Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory for the truly weird stuff (apologies to the fine vinyl blogs that I have neglected to mention).

The Originals Vol. 10

October 20th, 2008 No comments

Left Banke – Walk Away Renee.mp3
Four Tops – Walk Away Renee.mp3
A good time to post this, in tribute to the very great Levi Stubbs, who passed away last week. I have no idea how Levi pictured the heartbreaking Renee, but the beautiful woman who allegedly inspired the original by the Left Banke was a platinum blonde, teenager Renee Fladen, then the object of affection of 16-year-old co-writer Michael Brown and the bass player’s girfriend. Follow-up single Pretty Ballerina was also inspired by Renee. But Tony Sansone, who co-wrote the lyrics, claimed that the titular name was just a random riff on French names in the aftermath of the Beatles’ Michelle, which had come out a year before Renee was released in 1966.

It reached #5 on the US charts, but it was the Four Tops’ 1968 cover by which the song is better remembered (depending, perhaps, on where you live). And with good reason. Though the Left Banke’s version does feature the flute (which to me is always a recommendation), Levi Stubbs’ uses all his experience to capture the resigned heartbreak of the lyrics. Though how fair is it to compare a bunch of youngsters to the great man? The Four Tops’ cover reached only #14 in the US, but was a Top 5 hit in Britain, where the Left Banke’s version failed to chart.
Also recorded by: Gabor Szabo (1969), The Cowsills (1969), Franki Valli (1975), John O’Banion (1981), Alvin Stardust (1983), Rickie Lee Jones (1985), Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (1986), Rick Price (1992), Jimmy LaFave (1992), Lotion (1995), Peppino D’Agostino (1995), Vonda Shepard (1998), Angie Heaton (1999), Marshall Crenshaw (2001), David Cassidy (2003), Lowen & Navarro (2006), Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy (2006)
Best version: Well, the Four Tops’, of course.

Barry McGuire – California Dreamin’.mp3
The Mamas and the Papas – California Dreamin’.mp3
John and Michelle Phillips wrote California Dreamin’ in 1963, suitably while living in New York, before forming the Mamas and the Papas and while John was still with a group called The New Journeymen. Fellow folkie Barry McGuire helped John and Michelle land a recording contract. In gratitude, they gave McGuire a song for his next album: California Dreamin’, which was recorded (with the now formed Mamas & Papas on backing vocals) in 1965, but was released only in 1966. It was supposed to be McGuire’s follow-up to Eve Of Destruction, but the Mamas and the Papas recorded the song themselves and released it as a single in 1965, initially to widespread indifference. Only when it started getting airplay on a Boston radio station did the song become a hit in early 1966. And quite right, too, because it includes a flute solo (and yes, I’m working on a series of flute in pop). McGuire insists that the Mamas & Papas didn’t so much re-record the song as replace his voice with Denny Doherty’s and the harmonica solo with the flute. Listen to the two versions and judge for yourself. And if you want more versions of California Dreamin’ (including Baby Huey’s), check out this quite brilliant post from The Gentlebear.
Also recorded by: Johnny Rivers (1966), The Seekers (1966), Wes Montgomery (1966), Dik Dik (as Sognando la California, 1966), Richard Anthony (as La terre promise, 1966), The Ventures (1966), Jormas (1966), The Carpenters (demo 1967, released in 2001), Bobby Womack (1968), José Feliciano (1968), The Free Design (1968), The Lettermen (1969), The Four Tops (1969), Winston Francis (1970), Nancy Sinatra (1970), Baby Huey (1971), George Benson (1971), Mike Auldridge (1976), Eddie Hazel (1977), Melanie (1978), Tapani Kansa (as Kalajoen hiekat, 1978), The Beach Boys (1983 & 1986), M.I.A. (1985), River City People (1990), American Music Club (1994), Henry Kaiser (1995), West Coast All Stars (1997), Fleming & John (1998), 386 DX (2000), Jack Frost (2000), John Phillips (2001), DJ Sammy (2002), Ace Andres (2002), Clare Teal (2003), Lana Lane (2003), Queen Latifah (2004), Royal Gigolos (2004), Benny Benassi (2004), David Hasselhoff (2004), Barry Manilow (2006), Mower (2006), Jann Arden (2007), Shaw Blades (2007), Cristian Nemescu (2007)
Best version: The one with the flute. Or, of course, The Hoff’s!


Babatunde Olatunji – Jin-Go-Lo-Ba.mp3

Santana – Jingo.mp3
The Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji became one of the first African music stars in the US with his 1959 Drums of Passion album, which included Jin-Go-La-Ba. Apart from the African sound, Olatunji was at home with jazz (Gillespie and Coltrane rated him highly; the latter played gig final gig at a Olatunji’s Centre for African Culture in Harlem) and Latin music, especially the Cuban variety. Olatunji, who died in 2003 at 76, recorded with the likes of Quincy Jones, Cannonball Adderley and Stevie Wonder, and is namechecked on Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Free. A decade later, Carlos Santana appeared on the scene with his fusion of rock, blues, jazz, Latin and African. He featured in the first volume of this series, having borrowed from then-blues band Fleetwood Mac (and Hungarian jazz master Gabor Szabo), and reappears here lifting the rhythm of Africa in a version that nonetheless sounds strongly Latin for the first Santana single, released in 1969.
Also recorded by: Jellybean (1988), FKW (1994), Fatboy Slim (2004)
Best version: Who can rightly decide? Rocking to either is going to psyche you up, though the Santana version might induce a heart attack among the dancing unfit.

Prince – I Feel For You.mp3
Chaka Khan – I Feel For You.mp3
It has never been much of a secret that Chaka Khan’s big 1984 hit I Feel For You was written by Prince, but the composer’s version is not very well known. And, frankly, it isn’t quite as good as Chaka’s (which coincidentally was a hit at the height of Prince’s fame and success on the back of Purple Rain). Prince, on his eponymous sophomore album, sings it with his falsetto, backed by a synth which in 1979 must have seemed cutting edge but now sounds terribly dated. It’s not bad, but the Arif Mardin arrangement for Chaka, with Melle Mel’s rap – which surely did a lot to popularise rap in the mainstream, and which Chaka did not like – is richer, funkier, more fun. Stevie Wonder played the harmonica on it, apparently recorded on the day he attended Marvin Gaye’s funeral. Fifteen years later, Prince and Chaka performed the song together while on tour.
Also recorded by: Pointer Sisters (1982), Mary Wells (1983), Rebbie Jackson (1984), Flying Pickets (1991),
Best version: Chaka Khan’s. Chaka Khan’s.

Eleventh Hour – Lady Marmalade.mp3
Labelle – Lady Marmalade.mp3
This is the sort of song this series was made for. When Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Pink and Mya created their version, produced by Missy Elliott, for the film Moulin Rouge in 2001, the buffs knowingly told their kids about its inferiority with reference to the original by Labelle. I know I did. Using the word “original”. In fact, I had no idea that LaBelle’s take wasn’t an original until our friend RH sent me the Eleventh Hour version. Lady Marmalade was written by Bob Crewe (a recurring name in this series for his association with the Four Seasons) and Kenny Nolan (who may be remembered for his 1977 ballad I Like Dreaming). Nolan was a member of the Eleventh Hour, who included the song on their rather grandly titled 1974 LP Eleventh Hour’s Greatest Hits (the number of actual hits were restricted to none, and the title was doubtless ironic).

The same year Labelle, led by Histrionic Patti, recorded it, produced by the legendary Alain Toussaint. It became a US #1, replacing another Crewe & Nolan composition, Frankie Valli’s My Eyes Adored You. In fact, Lady Marmalade was a #1 hit twice in both US and UK, albeit in different combinations: by Labelle and Missy Elliott’s gang in the US, and in the UK by All Saints and Elliott.
Also recorded by: Nanette Workman (1975), Amii Stewart (1979), Sheila E. (1991), Boogie Knights (1995), All Saints (1998), The BB Band (1999), Lords Of Acid (1999), Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya & Pink (2001), Andy Hallett (2005)
Best version: I quite like the original – it’s a fine mid-70s funk work-out. But Patti LaBelle is not doing the scream-queen thing, and Toussaint – a New Orleans icon producing a song about a Louisiana prostitute – knew what he was doing. Its greatness is compromised only by its ubiquity. The Moulin Rouge version has been unjustly hammered by many, but it isn’t nearly as good as it thinks it is.

More Originals

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