Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Kajagoogoo 'Big Apple'

Chart Peak:


Well, I suppose you can't accuse the compilers here of taking sides. We've already had Limahl on his own after he was fired, so here are the rest of the band without him - bassist Nick Beggs took over lead vocals for the remainder of their career.

This is another one I'd never heard before, and I don't feel I can disagree with the YouTube commenters who say this was better than 'Too Shy'. Beggs doesn't seem any worse a singer than Limahl, and the song is mildly less ridiculous than their other hit, although still somewhat trite: I don't know that we really needed a song to tell us that the pace of life in New York City is fast, thanks. Whilst the music is competent (maybe they'd got a bit more practiced since 'Too Shy'?) it doesn't seem to me to capture much of an NYC atmosphere - but then again I've never been there, so I can only assume that. Although there isn't really anything wrong with this, it's not hard to tell why it's not been much remembered by posterity.

Either way, though, this does make Kajagoogoo the first act to appear twice on a Now album, unless you consider Limahl to have done so already. They're definitely the first to appear twice on one and then never make it to another.

Available on: Islands

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

New Edition 'Candy Girl'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


And so Side Three starts, like the previous two, with a Number One single. What's possibly more remarkable is that this is first encounter with a boy band. New Edition were, of course, a fairly obvious attempt to reinvent the Jackson 5 for the 1980s, and Bobby Brown seems to have followed the blueprint a little to literally in his transition to adulthood. In these more innocent times, their biggest hit is a distant cousin of the family group's 'ABC', with the Motown backbeat replaced by squelchy synths, everything seemingly pitched quite high to avoid clashes with the pre-pubescent vocals. The one other concession to the era are some brief rap segments, which help to break some of the monotony built up by the almost identical verses and chorus.
Oh yeah, and there's a middle eight where they seem to be talking about how great their girlfriends are. Or something like that - dogs might be able to hear the words a bit better. Much as I try to avoid being prejudiced about music, I do find it very difficult to find much to say about this. I suppose the best thing about it is that it's not the Babybird song of the same title.

Available on:Candy Girl

Monday, 29 December 2008

Paul Young 'Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)


And by a coincidence of running order, this follows the track it deposed from the top of the chart. I worry sometimes that I might be writing too much about myself in these entries, but the first thing I remember about this song is that I failed to understand the metaphor and wondered what he was doing with all those hats. Now I've grown up a bit and realised that it's about a man leaving a trail of one-night-stands behind him, it seems like there are several different ways to play the lyric: shamefully, boastfully, fearfully (as if you've just found the consequences coming back to haunt you) or perhaps most tantalisingly in a kind of "Aw shucks," way , employing confession as a pretext for boasting - I can imagine Sinatra doing quite a good job of it. Paul Young, however, doesn't seem to attempt any of these approaches, or if he does he's not very persuasive, and that's a double problem with a song whose protagonist has to be quite a persuader in order to, ahem, lay his hat that often.

The obvious thing to do was to turn to Marvin Gaye's version, which doesn't completely work either, although Gaye is the more convincing vocalist. Or maybe I just think that because of what I know about his life. It does heighten how different this arrangement is though: I'd remembered it as being very heavy and overdone, but actually there's not very much to it. It's just that Pino Palladino's fretless bass is so dominant that it makes the record feel sort of muddy and overwrought. Young's scat-singing on the way to the last chorus is in retrospect reminiscent of Gaye, which suggests that he was a fan, but he doesn't measure up to the man here. What he did do was to establish himself as a star, going on to apply this formula to various other songs for many a year to come.

This is the last track on the first disc of the album, so it represents a sort of half-way mark for me.

Also appearing on: Now 5, Now 20
Available on: Wherever I Lay My Hat: the Best of Paul Young

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Rod Stewart 'Baby Jane'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)


This one, I remember. And I remember that even then I knew who Rod Stewart was; at any rate I had an idea who he was, which was obviously based on the sort of person he seemed to be at that time, and I probably thought he was American too. I thought all rock stars were American unless I knew they weren't.
In retrospect, Stewart's last Number One single plays a bit like an attempt to recapture his first ones; like 'Maggie May' and 'You Wear It Well' it's a second-person monologue, in which Rod is nominally addressing some sort of femme fatale character, although in no case do you really believe that he'd say any of this out loud to her, if he even could. Our "Jane" here seems reminiscent of the social-climbing characters from 'Out Of Time' or '(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone', at least in the minds of their respective narrators. But for perhaps the last time in his career, Rod Stewart appears to acknowledge the passage of time, his protagonist here coming over as somewhat more mature than Maggie's toyboy. He's "said goodbye so many times the situation ain't all that new," and he can probably afford his own pool cue too. Thus the tone is more rueful than mortally wounded - yes, he reminds Jane that he knows secrets about her, but he doesn't seem to be rushing to divulge them in any way, just taking a deep breath and (in the chorus) hoping for better luck next time. The material's interesting enough to inspire one of his better vocal performances too, although it can't stop him doing that odd look left-look right dance in the video.
It's unfortunate that the rest of the song doesn't seem to deliver on the promise of the singing, with its muddy post-disco production and that awful sax solo. It's interested me enough to want to hear Belle & Sebastian's version, which I'm guessing isn't delivered in quite the same style. This doesn't add up to one of his best records, but I don't think he's done anything better since.

And in case anybody asks, I did assume this song was named after the film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? but I've never seen it.

Also appearing on: Now 38 [N-Trance featuring Rod Stewart]
Available on:Some Guys Have All The Luck [2CD + DVD]

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Rocksteady Crew '(Hey You) The Rocksteady Crew'

Chart Peak:


This being 1983, there was nothing new about rap music but, as we've already seen on this album, it had yet to gain very much traction in the mainstream as more than a novelty. By now, we'd obviously moved on from "Oh wow, it's like he's talking instead of singing!" and instead the focus seemed to be on breakdancing, something I can dimly recall a big craze for in the middle of the decade, accompanied by the usual warnings not to try it at home. Funnily enough, I don't recall hearing this track at the time, but with hindsight I probably did: it's just that there's not much to it other than as a vehicle for the video, the Crew themselves being dancers rather than singers. And if the imagery of the video wasn't cliched then, it became so fast enough not to have stuck specifically in my mind.
Of course, this is another record that really begs to be judged on its own terms. Anyone looking for any more positive musical endorsement than "catchy" is barking up the wrong tree, and even after three minutes of listening in front of a computer it's threatening to outstay its welcome - but I'm sure it'd work much better dropped into a well-constructed DJ mix. Really it only exists as a way to cash in the fame they'd accrued by appearing in Flashdance and they were too good at what they did for me to begrudge them that. In fact, I find myself warming to this more than the Malcolm McLaren track, even though by any sober analysis that one's probably better.

On a less cheerful note, I believe this track represents the first posthumous appearance on this blog, since Frosty Freeze died earlier this year.

Available on: Fantastic Day One of the most random compilations ever?

Friday, 26 December 2008

Men At Work 'Down Under'

Chart peak: 1 (3 weeks)


"Very good at sending themselves up, the Australians," said my mum when we saw this video on the telly. And that, whatever else you might say about this record, is certainly beyond dispute. Perhaps this is why they were able to produce a parody of their own stereotypes that not only conquered the world, but was embraced by their compatriots too; it seems to have become something of an anthem to the Aussies in Britain.
To my four-year-old self, there wasn't a lot here except a bunch of Australian guys doing a silly dance and singing about coming from "Down Under" - I suppose it shows how broad the humour is that I could get it even at that age - and I don't think I really understood any of the words in the verses, or even noticed that there were any (Colin Hay does seem to run out and just start bellowing over the fade-out). I didn't decipher until we went there years later what a Kombi was (a VW camper van, in case anyone hasn't caught up yet) and not until later still why he'd have a "head full of zombie". Listening back now, it's pretty much a shaggy dog story as the protagonist travels around the world (including Belgium, for some reason) and is constantly greeted with the same images from everyone he meets. By all accounts, this turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy for many a year thereafter, because Australian tourists and ex-pats got this sung back at them. Of course, the very idea that they're wandering around the world without any obvious intent is itself another stereotype.
As a child, I don't think I had any idea what Australian music would sound like, but with hindsight there isn't much local colour beyond the lyrics. There are hints of reggae in the rhythms and in Hay's vocal, but with no pretence at any sort of authenticity - it's almost a good-time version of The Police. The most notable feature of all is that infectious flute riff that would surely have made this song a single even had it not had such instantly marketable subject matter. It also distracts Greg Ham from the sax he seems to have ladled over every other track on the Business As Usual album.

Of course, the trouble with having this kind of novelty hit is that the only way is down, because people who bought this wouldn't all appreciate the (slightly) more serious tone of their other material: and if they had tried to persist with this direction buyers would have got tired of it anyway. Thus Men At Work won't trouble us again here, although whilst few people remember it they did notch up a couple more Top 40 singles in Britain. Strangely enough, their other US Number One, 'Who Can It Be Now?' is not among them.

Funny thing is, Colin Hay's actually Scottish...

Available on: Business As Usual

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Mike Oldfield 'Moonlight Shadow'

Chart peak: 4


Let's get the obvious thing out of the way first, shall we? "4am in the morning." Of course it's in the morning! That sort of phrasing has always annoyed me, and it's worse than usual in this case because it's not even necessary for scansion. "Four O'clock in the morning" would be less jarring and is anything a little bit folkier.

Anyway, now I've got that out of the way, I can write about the rest of the song. When this was a current record (I have some memory of hearing it in the end-of-year chart for 1983) I had no idea who Mike Oldfield actually was, or what sort of music he might ordinarily be expected to make. Anyway, this was the first single from his album Crises, possibly his most successful one without the word "Tubular" in the title, and (I now know) much more conventional a pop song than the sort of epic multi-layered pieces with which he first made his name. Indeed, the video seems to present it as a sort of wintertime, folksy singalong around the fire, and perhaps that's how Oldfield himself perceived it; in reality, of course, it's still a very produced-sounding record, clearly the result of a lot of studio time which can make it sound a little bit heavy-handed to these ears. On the positive side though, Maggie Reilly's vocal adds some humanity to the process and I've got to concede that even though Mike Oldfield is the sort of musician I tend to dislike (and by some accounts not a particularly appealing person either) he's managed to create a decent record, though nowhere near as important a one as I suspect he thinks this is.

Incidentally, I'd never thought of this until I read it on Wikipedia, but apparently at the time some people thought the lyrics were somehow alluding to the death of John Lennon, presumably because they contain the word "gun". Of course, this comparison falls apart after even the most cursory examination: Lennon wasn't shot six times by a man on the run, it wasn't a Saturday night, and it certainly wasn't 4 am in the morning...

Available on:Crises [MP3 download]

Monday, 22 December 2008

Kajagoogoo 'Too Shy'

Chart peak: 1 (2 weeks)


I was going to say this couldn't be more 80s if it tried. Except that it probably was trying. They've got everything there, from the odd synths and the electric drumkit to the slap bass. And that's even before you see the video, or before I found out it was co-produced by a member of Duran Duran. I did remember hearing this at the time, particularly on the end-of-year chart countdown, but it's not one I've heard very often since, still less paid much attention to. I recalled it as having a certain goofy charm, and perhaps it does still have that, but it's less likeable than I thought nowadays, as if it's a little too eager to please. Also, like a lot of music from this time it's very flabby, with a lot of uneventful sections so that even the usual version sounds longer than it really is - I didn't brave the 12" mix. Ironically, the video rather exacerbates this by showing the band packing up and heading home before the song even finishes.
Lyrically, there's not a lot to this song (not that people would be expecting much) although it's possibly the only Number One single to include the word "dilate" - and in a verse which associates this with "modern medicine" suggesting a rather dirtier song than I'd previously spotted. Not entirely sure I wanted to know that. Undoubtedly the most impressive part of this is Nick Beggs' bassline - fancy having a crack yourself? Slight as it is, though, you could hardly conjure a better package for overnight success in 1983, and this duly did the basis, romping to the top of the UK chart (before any of Duran Duran's own records had done so) and going Top 5 in the US. But as we now know, it wasn't going to last and by the time this Now album arrived, Limahl and the instrumental fabric of the band had gone their seperate ways, not to work together again until 2007. But more of that later.

Available on: White Feathers

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Men Without Hats 'The Safety Dance'

Chart Peak: 6


Ever watched a video and found yourself wondering whether the people who made it thought it was good? That's sort of the feeling I get from these Canadians - it's very hard to tell whether they're being really self-important (Ivan Doroschuk's doomy vocal, the fact that he's written a whole song about dancing instead of just, y'know, dancing) or being consciously silly in an attempt to write a hit.
Oddly enough, I have no memory of hearing this song at the time, but I've come to know it since, although I still don't really understand it. In fact, I don't even know whether there's anything to understand.
What I can tell, though, is that this wasn't just a huge international hit, but one that caught the public imagination sufficiently to continue being alluded to and parodied to this day, which seems like a nice nest-egg for them. Of course, to some extent that was at the expense of anybody taking them seriously enough to sustain major long-term success, although they did have another hit in some places ('Pop Goes The World' - but not this part of it, evidently). It's catchy enough though, I'll give them that. It seems to fall a bit between two stools for me, though, and certainly seems like the sort of hit that would become annoying if you heard it a lot at any given time.

I wonder whether Ace Of Base had heard this before they wrote 'All That She Wants'?

Available on: The Edge of the Eighties [compilation]

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Culture Club 'Karma Chameleon'

Chart peak: 1 (6 weeks)


When I was five, I didn't know what karma was. I probably didn't know what a chameleon was. I had no idea what was so important about red, gold and green, apart from the fact that they were pretty colours. I certainly had no inkling of what this song was really about. Even then, though, I could tell there was something a bit unusual about Boy George.
With hindsight in particular, it's very obvious just how much their career seemed to be based around the persona of Boy George ("He's called Boy because he dresses like a girl," I'm sure someone explained to me the time), which is presumably why he's still in his usual regalia in the video, despite that not really fitting the period setting. And this is one song that's difficult to think of without the video, because I don't really recall hearing it without the video, at least until much later - I was slightly surprised to discover that there even was a Top Of The Pops performance of it, since they wouldn't show a video if they could help it. The two are almost indivisible in my mind, particularly that chanted section at the end which accompanies the card shark being made to walk the plank. But if I do watch TotP's version, what do I notice, other than somebody dropping a camera at about 1:40? Well, there really isn't a lot to this song, but Steve Levine did his best to make an interesting record out of it, with a promising intro and that infectious harmonica hook (played by Judd Lander, says Wikipedia). Levine's commercial instincts were well-placed since this became the UK's biggest-selling single of 1983, and topped charts in a huge number of other countries. Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine this being as big a hit as it was without George's presence. And harder still to imagine how they ever thought it would be a good idea to reform without him.

Obvious joke alert: "I'm a man without convictions". Not any more you're not, George.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 4, 41 and 43
Available on: The Best of Culture Club

Friday, 19 December 2008

Bonnie Tyler 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart'

Chart peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Turn around
This was the first ever US Number One by a Welsh artist
Turn around
It was the first single by a British woman to top the UK and US charts
Turn around
She was the first woman to spend her first ever album chart week at Number One...

If ever a record could claim what I might now call the KC defence this is it, with bells on - literally in fact. One of the many songs I couldn't understand at the time and am oddly reassured to note that I can't now either, because it doesn't really make any sense. It is of course a Jim Steinman production and composition, and seems almost the ultimate product of this approach (perhaps alongside 'Bat Out Of Hell') with no room left for simplicity, understatement or indeed comprehensibility. It's a song that hints at desperation, but expressed in such an over-the-top bombastic way as to make that almost seem like a strength. Well, perhaps that's not quite the phrase, but it's obvious that this was no place for half-measures - Westlife's version fails for exactly this reason, because they just can't go far enough. Unlike some songs that are crushed by overproduction, the song really is in the overproduction and in Tyler's sincerely excessive vocal. It's only logical that the compilers placed this at the end of a side, because it almost demands a moment's respite afterwards. Particularly if they used the lengthier video edit rather than the slightly shorter version that tends to appear on compilations.

Does all that mean I like it? Well not really. But I can sort of respect it as a piece of work, and as something that does exactly what it intended to.

By the way, I can't confirm this, but I'm sure I remember a Top Of The Pops performance where she actually started the song facing away from the audience, so she could do the "Turn around" bit. She certainly did appear on the show - there's a different version on YouTube - and that's just as well because the video was probably a little bit too scary for that time of day.

Available on:
Total Eclipse - The Bonnie Tyler Anthology

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Malcom McLaren 'Double Dutch'

Chart peak: 3


The trouble with McLaren is that he sets himself up as a hate figure so assiduously that it's difficult not to feel that you're playing into his hands by criticising him.
However, there's no getting away from the fact that his vocals are pretty much the worst thing about this record, which otherwise manages the unlikely feat of being a big hit about skipping. Well, I think it's about skipping anyway - being a boy I was never wholly initiated into all that stuff at school, so I don't really know what any of it means.

There's no question that this was an important record for its time, one of the first major hits to combine hip-hop, world music and an annoying bloke who sounds like a bingo caller, becoming an influential crossover success. The disadvantage of this is for my present-day self is that this record seems so carefully suited for its time that it can't really have any of the same impact a quarter of a century later when all these ideas have become commonplace and the Trevor Horn production sounds a bit dated - in fairness, maybe it would be better if I had a mint 12" copy and really cranked it up to get all the bass, rather than just listening online.
Of course, this tune got a second (at least) lease of life in 1999 thanks to 'Double Double Dutch by Dope Smugglaz, which I actually bought for some reason. Years later I discovered that some people I was at school with had mimed the string section to that on Top Of The Pops.

Also appearing on:
Now 4
Available on: Duck Rock [MP3 only]

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

KC & The Sunshine Band 'Give It Up'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)


That's one weird video (a longer, but almost inaudible copy is here).

If you want to judge a record in terms of its own intentions, then you'd be hard-pressed to beat this one. It's pretty self-evident that Harry Wayne Casey (aka KC) was hoping to create a sort of non-club dancefloor anthem - I'm sure this wasn't considered any hipper at the time than it is now, but it's the sort of thing that's always being played at wedding discos, office parties, pubs and so on. Even though it's nominally a song about sex, it covers the subject in such safe, U-certificate terms that it could safely be played to school kids, although I presume it isn't now. It certainly was in my day and it's one we all remember, even if we can't remember which ones are KC & The Sunshine Band and which ones are Kool & The Gang.
In fact, suggesting that this song is about anything is a bit of an exaggeration; this being one of the more familiar tracks in the list, I thought I should pay more attention to the lyrics when re-listening, but quite aside from the distractions of that video, there isn't really much to them. The vocal is just another part of the track, like the call-and-response horn arrangement and the whooshing synth intro, all intended to build up to that "Na-na na-na..." chorus. KC (and co-writer Richard Finch) certainly knew what they were doing. They wrote 'Rock Your Baby' too.

Strangely enough, despite topping the UK chart, this wasn't among the group's many US Number One singles. Perhaps even more suprisingly, it turned out to be their last Top 40 hit here, which means they're the first act ever to make their last Now album appearance.

Available on: Get Down Tonight

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Heaven 17 'Temptation'

Chart peak: 2


Our second consecutive track to result from a band schism, Heaven 17 being of course ex-members of the Human League.
I'm not totally sure whether I can remember this song from 1983, but it's certainly a song I know well; the only one of theirs I really can claim to know, actually, but then they did only have one other really big hit.
It's easy to see why it would stick in a child's mind, anyway - there's certainly not much room for confusion about what this one is called, and the combination of the incanted title and the excitable female vocal makes a strong instant impression. That female singer, though not given full chart credit, was one Carole Kenyon, who strangely also has a presence in my record collection as a backing singer on Gene's 'We Could Be Kings'.

As I grew up and started to establish a musical taste, I really began to detest this sort of thing, that rather portentious tone and the sense that they're trying to make some very important point that they haven't really thought through. And the whole way that records of this time sound, with those very clean booming production values, was utterly anathema to me. However, coming back to it on this occasion I find that I've actually warmed to it somewhat. Maybe it's a sign of ageing, maybe it's because I've heard how much worse people like The Killers do this sort of thing nowadays, or maybe my sense of musical appreciation has got a bit more complex. It still doesn't mean anything to me, but I no longer care about that so much.
However, it's still nowhere near as good as the New Order song of the same title. And it's only better than the Everly Brothers song because of the awful backing vocals on that. And the stupid 1992 remix is still beyond the pale, but an interesting sign of what an albatross this song became for them.

A couple of video-related notes: the Limahl vid I linked to in the previous post might very well have been encoded from the VHS version of Now, as it gives you a slight spoiler of this song at the end. Also, I'm sure he's a nice bloke but if you watch too much Glenn Gregory in one sitting he starts to creep you out a bit. Or maybe that's just me.

Also appearing on: Now 4 and 23 (with that remix!).
Available on: The Luxury Gap

Monday, 15 December 2008

Limahl 'Only For Love'

Chart peak: 16


Four tracks in and we get the first song I hadn't heard before. Of course I know that Chris Hamill adopted an anagram of his surname for professional purposes. And I remember his other solo hit 'Never Ending Story' (which was from 1984, so obviously not to appear here). It's a somewhat smaller hit than you might expect; but then as it reached its peak position in mid-November perhaps the compilers were expecting a further climb.

Sometimes when you look up an unfamiliar song you find out it's one you've always known. That's not the case this time though - I really really didn't recognise this one, so I might have to watch it again to get a fair impression...
I realise this video is supposed to be be funny, but it's still impressive that Limahl's haircut isn't the most Eighties thing about it. You don't get the impression they were working with quite the same budget as Duran Duran, although they still managed a spy-related plot that doesn't make sense. Actually, on closer inspection it looks like he might be supposed to be an alien.

On repeated plays, this does prove itself to be quite catchy. But there's so little substance to it that it's difficult to care about it, or even to dislike it properly. Curious voice he has there.

Even though he only managed one more hit here, there's something oddly admirable about his tenacity in continuing to work, particularly in other parts of Europe.

Also appearing on: Now 4.
Available on: Very Best of Kajagoogoo and Limahl

Sunday, 14 December 2008

UB40 'Red Red Wine'

Chart peak: 1 (three weeks)


I don't think it ever occured to me to wonder why they're all drinking beer in the video back then. Neither did it ever occur to me that this song wasn't really new: I think the whole concept of cover versions was beyond my ken at that point. To this day I don't think I've ever heard the Neil Diamond version and I'm really quite happy with that.
I've never owned a UB40 record (although I think my Dad had the Greatest Hits for a while) and at the risk of falling in line with critical consensus, I quite like what I've heard of the really early stuff ('Food For Thought', 'Tyler' etc) but once they get to this point all bets are off. I was struggling to define exactly what was so bad about it until we had a domestic discussion about it - I concluded that even though this is in the venerable tradition of reggae acts covering non-reggae material, it almost sounds like the opposite, a band who don't understand reggae trying to cover a reggae song.
But of course we know that UB40, whatever else you say about them, did know their reggae. So it's slightly difficult to understand quite what went wrong - Greed? Complaceny? Tinny early-80s production values? Was it just a hostage to fortune recording a song with the word "w(h)ine" in the title?

Either way, I don't think they ever quite recovered from it artistically, although that obviously wasn't a universal view as this was the song that really made them stars, ultimately topping the US charts and launching them in that market too.
It's not that you never hear this one, but it was also brought back to mind by Sean Kingston's minor follow-up hit 'Me Love' last year. Thanks a bundle Sean.

Also appearing on:
Now 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, 17, 18, 26, 41, 56

Available on: The Best Of UB40, Volumes 1 & 2 [2CD]

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Duran Duran 'Is There Something I Should Know?'

Chart peak: 1 (2 weeks)


This video doesn't look even remotely familiar to me, beyond the fact that it's pretty typical of the era's style. Split-screen effects! People standing on big boxy sets! Mullets! It must have been very expensive for the time though, and that might hint at how Duran Duran got to be one of the first really big MTV acts.
I knew the song well, enough of course. Despite only two Number One singles, they really did seem to dominate pop music of the time, to an extent which seems to have rankled with them as they've tried to sell records in the subsequent decades.
Perhaps it's partly because of this air of neediness that I've never been able to warm to them, but it's not only that - there always seems to be an uncomfortable blend of self-importantce and stupidity about them; Simon Le Bon's vocals aren't exactly a strong point either. I can, if feeling generous, admire some of the craftmanship here, especially the way it hits you straight off with that pre-chorus ("Please please tell me now") that effectively became the main hook of the song. But the verses could easily be interchangeable with many another Duran song, which is fine if you like them, but unconvincing to the unconvinced.

Maybe if I'd been a bit older at the time, I'd have been keen enough on it then to find it valuable now. Or maybe I'd have dismissed them even earlier than I did, because I don't get the impression it was ever cool to like them, at least not until the last ten years or so.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 24, 25, 31.
Available on: Greatest

Friday, 12 December 2008

Phil Collins 'You Can't Hurry Love'

Chart peak: 1 (2 weeks)


A logical start for the album, as the first new Number One single of 1983. And an interesting start for me, in that it's a track I (sort of) remember from the the time but hadn't heard recently. Once this ceased to be current, radio unsurprisingly tended to play the Supremes version.
What I remembered most was the video, introduced on Top Of The Pops as "Phil Collins, Phil Collins... and Phil Collins!" thanks to what my five-year old self saw as the incredible technological marvel of superimposing three of him in the same picture: of course, he's doing that because there were three Supremes but such subtleties were lost on me back then.

Hearing the track again, it's clear why I don't have strong musical recollections of it. Tempting as it might be to dismiss Phil Collins as the enemy of pop music "we" all know him as, or indeed to go revisionist and explain that he's really brilliant, there really isn't much going on here. He competently performs an approximation of the original backing track, and sings over the top of it in his not-especially-likeable voice and, er, that's it. There's no sense of why he wanted to do this, other than possibly the desire to have a big hit; if that was hit his instincts were right, as it turned out to be the only Top 40 single from his Hello I Must Be Going album.
Perhaps this is why he seems one of the major acts of this era who've had the least benefit of reassessment, save for some grudging recognition of his drumming skills, and those are barely relevant in a solo career dominated by programmed drums and click tracks. Even the advert-led revival of 'In The Air Tonight' doesn't seem to have made him much more respected, for all the records he sold off the back of it.

Oddly enough, shortly after I wrote the above I heard somebody on the radio trying to do exactly that. He made the expected references to Collins as a drummer but also trotted out the typical line that the 1980s were a flamboyant time in pop. Which is fine, but surely that's exactly the point: there's nothing flamboyant about this. He doesn't even drag up as the Supremes in the video. Perhaps you could argue that a straight cover of a sixties pop song was a surprising thing for a member of a progressive rock band to be be doing, but outwith that context it's nothing.

One other odd reminiscence - a food-based Top Of The Pops parody in The Beano where a character called Filled Colin sang "You can't curry gloves/No, you'll just lose some weight..."

Also appearing on: Now 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68.
Available on: Phil Collins : Hits


I'm not quite sure where I got the idea from, but somewhere a few weeks ago in the midst of all the excitement about the 25th anniversary of the first Now That's What I Call Music album, I became very conscious of the fact that I seem like the only pop fan under 35 in the country who's never bought any of the 71 volumes in the series to date (these are the UK Now albums, not the US series that began a few years ago). They seem like quite a touchstone for a lot of people, and I've always been aware of them (I remember those TV commercials with the pig and stuff) but my fundamental attitude to compilation albums has always been that they're some songs you've already got, some you don't want and just a handful that would justify the purchase. Even when I do buy them I hardly ever play the things.

On the other hand, I've developed a fascination with the idea of examining music in arbitrary ways. The daddy of this approach is of course Popular, which is making its way through the complete history of Number One singles, and Sweeping The Nation's occasional series of The Only Chart That Counted posts. I've tried to create may own spin on the idea with The Hit Parade, juxtaposing songs by chart position: and I'll be back to that once I've decided what Number 20 is going to be. The difference with this setup is that I'm using somebody else's choice entirely, and I'm not concentrating on music I like at all - rather the reverse in fact, as I've long considered the early 1980s one of my least favourite periods of pop music.

So what am I actually doing then? I've found the tracklisting for the first ever Now album [retrospectively known as Now 1] online, and I'm going to work through the tracks in order, listening to them (mostly through YouTube) and trying to write quickly (for a change) some sort of response to it. Or to put it another way, I'll be listening to music I don't necessarily like for fun. All these records have, by definition, been hits during my lifetime so many I'll remember, but some I won't. My opinions are unlikely to have remained static in any case, so I shall allow myself the indulgence of commenting on any old memories I have of them. What I'll try not to overdo is simply laying into the records - I want to try and understand them, if possible.

One final thing I should probably make clear is that this isn't some sort of astroturfing promotion for the forthcoming CD re-release of the album. That'll be obvious enough after the first few posts anyway, but always best to make sure. This link is provided purely out of personal greed.