Thursday, 30 September 2010

Jaki Graham 'Round And Around'

Chart Peak: 9


Gaah! Again with the fake-recording-session videos. And how come she's got a microphone but the backing singers haven't?

We're staying in the clubs with this one, although it was an obvious crossover pop hit as well. Jaki Graham notched up a decent number of hits at the time, but despite her heroically massive hair seems a slightly forgotten act now, perhaps because she falls between the stools of one-hit-wonder and big star, so there's no one song that everybody remembers her for. This first hit is maybe the closest she comes to a signature hit on her own, one that broke no new ground even 25 years ago but is eminently pleasant to hear. My favourite part is the subtle downward shift of the meldy leading into the chorus, which seems to give a slight flavour of trepidation about the possibly unrequited love she's confessing here.

Also appearing on: Now 6 [with David Grant], 7, 8
Available on: Original Hits - The Girls

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Steve Arrington 'Feel So Real'

Chart Peak: 5


Another one for the list of songs I don't really recall from the time but have become familiar with since. Arrington had previously been the singer and drummer in the funk band Slave, whom I don't remember at all even now, but apparently they had a Number 64 hit in 1980. His biggest UK hit as a solo artist came with this track which sounds quite typical of groove-oriented music of the time. It's actually rather good, but doesn't provide a lot of fodder for discussion.

Of course, talk of "feeling real" sounded like pure disco-speak at the time. However, Arrington had apparently experienced a religious awakening around this time and soon quit secular music for almost twenty years. Only in recent months has be resumed recording, evidently. So perhaps this song can be read another way too.

Available on: Smash Hits 1985

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Simply Red 'Money'$ Too Tight (To Mention)'

Chart Peak: 13


It feels strangely topical to be writing this post now. Not only for economic reasons, but because the seemingly endless Simply Red retirement, which seems to have been going on for longer than some bands' entire careers, is finally winding to a close, with a Greatest Hits album back in the midweek Top 10 thanks to ITV. Back in 1985, though, I don't think many people could have guessed from this successful debut single how enduring an institution Mick Hucknall and his employees would become. Admittedly, this hit didn't launch them on the fast-track to stardom:
their next three singles peaked at 66, 51 and 53.

Although I'd gleaned somewhere down the line that this was a cover version, I hadn't actually heard the Valentine Brothers' original until today - indeed, until fairly recently I'd assumed it was a much older song than it actually is. Actually, aside from dropping a verse, this version hasn't really reinvented the song all that much; the most notable shift of emphasis is that Hucknall seems to downplay the reference to the "almighty father", reading that line as if it's his literal parent. That and the "ad lib" at the end of "Did the earth move for you, Nancy?" which of course I didn't understand at the time. Still, he was in pretty fine voice back then and the record is a good pop track, even if it's too smoothly done to sound realistic.

Also appearing on: Now 7, 9, 20, 21, 23, 24, 32, 33
Available on: Picture Book (Collectors Edition)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Mai Tai 'History'

Chart Peak: 8


It's difficult to agree with the YouTube commenter who says of this "I love these simple eighties' videos as they concentrated on the talent of the singer(s) more than the glitz and glamor of the visuals." There's even a computer in the first shot, and a bloke who, intentionally or not, looks a bit like a low-budget version of Prince in his 18th-century costume.

The record itself is clearly aiming for the same territory as Sister Sledge sometimes were, but despite the lack of big names involved it's much more effective - even if it carries no more wait, it's a much more convincing production and danceable enough to move you physically if not emotionally. The lyric may be acidic "Our love is history/Gonna burn the letters you been sending me" but the emphasis is clearly on the freedom of finally kicking the guy to the curb. Every bit of footage I've found of them performing this shows them having a whale of a time, and I'm not at all surprised.

Also appearing on: Now 6
Available on: Ultimate Woman

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Sister Sledge 'Frankie'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)


After the numerous US Number Ones (by British acts) that cropped up on the first disc of this album, we have to wait until the top of the second disc to find the first and only track that topped the UK chart. Ironically, it's by an American group, but it's a single that was unsuccessful in their homeland, peaking only at 75.

Sister Sledge claim their place in pop history largely thanks to a series of hits from their 1979 album We Are Family, written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic fame. Some of this material was revived over here in 1984 with such success that it seemingly helped pave the way for them to chart with new material the following year. It's probably also the reason why I keep getting them mixed up with the Pointer Sisters, but that's another story. Remarkably, Rodgers is back in the producer's chair for this track (which makes him the third ex-member of Chic to fall from grace on this album, after the contributions of Edwards and Tony Thompson to the Power Station track). The song could hardly be more different from the lush, hedonistic disco of their earlier collaborations though; instead it's a rather childish song, which doesn't get away with it even by admitting that it harks back to a teen romance, because the melody is just too facile. In fact, I think I even liked it when I was seven, which just proves the point, really. And the arrangment and performance is quite astonishingly stolid and one-dimensional; it might just about make sense as the work of children but the whole premise of the song is an adult woman meeting Frankie (a name that doesn't lend itself well to singing, by the way, but I suppose it's gender-neutral enough for the songwriter to have been hedging her bets). Perhaps you could compare the storyline to Hot Chocolate's 'It Started With A Kiss', but with none of the depth.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 24
Available on: Definitive Groove: Sister Sledge

Friday, 24 September 2010

Phil Collins 'One More Night'

Chart Peak: 4


After what feels like a very long time we finally - finally - get to the end of the first disc with another US chart-topping single. Over there this was the first single from his most successful album, No Jacket Required, whilst it was held back for the second single in this country, presumably because it was so slow.

I admit that the subject matter of this song makes the slowness seem logical. Like a lot of his work from this era it's about romantic abandonment, although I'm not entirely sure whether the lyric "Give me one more night, cause I can't wait forever" actually makes sense. It's painfully obvious that he wrote this song to a drum machine, as he often did, because it gives a rather stately effect that completely undermines the desparation he's trying to portray. By the time the obligatory sax solo shows up things have got so dull that in the video even Collins himself walks out during it.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 3, 6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68
Available on: No Jacket Required

Thursday, 23 September 2010

China Crisis 'Black Man Ray'

Chart Peak: 14


Most of the songs on this album so far seem to fall into one of two categories: either they're painfully overfamiliar, or I've never knowingly heard them before. This one certainly falls into the latter category, although I had at least vaguely heard of it. After this and 'Wishful Thinking' I'm rather getting the impression that China Crisis were one of those bands where you had to be there.

There seem to be all sorts of theories about who or what Black Man Ray might have been (see here for the most interesting treatment of the issue I've found) but there's a vagueness about the whole thing, musically and lyricially, that makes the question fairly uninteresting to me. Producer Walter Becker (the one from Steely Dan who wasn't selling solo albums) polishes this to a fine sheen but leaves it too smooth to grab onto; the result is pretty but ineffectual. And just like their biggest hit, it seems to doze off and fade out at the end, without leaving much trace in my memory.

Also appearing on: Now 2
Available on: Flaunt the Imperfection

Power Station 'Get It On (Bang A Gong)'

Chart Peak: 22


A couple of albums ago, a commenter suggested that the All Saints version of 'Under The Bridge' was the worst cover of all time. Would that we could be so sure. Power Station were, you may have the misfortune to remember, a supergroup formed by some of the hundreds of people called Taylor who were members of Duran Duran during a lull in group activity (I presume it was a lull in the lull that produced 'View To A Kill'). The brought in ex-Chic drummer Tony Thompson, who probably should have known better and Robert Palmer, who might not have. Their self-penned hit 'Some Like It Hot' seems to have eluded the Now series, which instead finds itself representing them with the rather less successful follow-up.

Perhaps aptly, given the transatlantic origins of the group, their title seems to split the difference between the UK and US releases of the T-Rex hit, which were called 'Get It On' and 'Bang A Gong' respectively. And that's about the only aspect of this rather constipated cover version that I can call appropriate. Even in this heavily edited single version there's room for excesses of guitar and bass solos, and Palmer's rather earnest delivery sheds exactly the wrong sort of spotlight on Marc Bolan's playfully nonsensical lyric, and the overall effect is that they seem to have emphasised precisely the wrong elements of the song. Somehow, this version is more obviously about sex than the original, but it's not even a fraction as sexy.

Available on: The Power Station

Monday, 20 September 2010

Simple Minds 'Don't You (Forget About Me)'

Chart Peak: 7


Another film I've never seen, and if you feel like making connections even further back, a song that Bryan Ferry apparently refused to record. In fact, even Simple Minds themselves reportedly turned it down at first, but were ultimately persuaded by their record company. And it seems to have been something of a decisive moment too: it gave them a US Number One single (and a long-running UK hit, despite its surprisingly low peak here) but at the expense of a certain amount of their reputation. To be sure, they'd already set off on the path of stadium rock, as can be heard on the very first Now! album with 'Waterfront', but recording an off-the-peg song for a film soundtrack seemed like the point of no return down that road. Of course, they made a fortune in the ensuing years, but when in later decades they tried to return to their art-rock origins, the genie wasn't going back into the bottle.

As for the record itself, I find again that listened to with a critical ear, it's not quite as bad as I thought, but I still wouldn't say it was actually good. The bombast that comes as standard with Jim Kerr seems particularly out of place with such light material, and he sounds utterly punchable by the closing la-la-la-la's. There are some mildly interesting bass parts, but all the rest sounds exactly what it is: part of the dressing for a mid-80s teen movie, and not really comprehensible without that context, or at least the memory of it.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 6, 7, 14, 15, 23, 30
Available on: EMI Presents 'The Great Big Scottish Songbook'

Saturday, 18 September 2010

David Bowie (with the Pat Metheny Group) 'This Is Not America'

Chart Peak: 14


Yes, this track is from The Falcon And The Snowman, which I've never really heard of outside the context of this song. Somehow I'd always assumed it would be a cartoon or something, but I learn now it's actually about a couple of men spying for the USSR. I suppose that explains why they got an experimental jazz fusion band to do the soundtrack, and why they'd have conjured such a bleak atmosphere. It also gives me a hint of what Bowie's lyric might actually be about, although I presume it'd make more sense over the closing credits.

Be that as it may, on the single, or on the Best Of Bowie album where I first heard it, the song has to stand on its own merit and in that context it's still rather good. Not the sort of thing I'd have been able to get my head around when I was seven (if I ever did hear it then, I didn't notice) but it seems most effective to me now as a sort of soundscape. That synthesised horn sound that decorates some of the choruses seems very lonely and Bowie's singing is well-judged, if a little stagey. Perhaps that artificial element is even a help, because it helps add to the mood of isolation; in fact, I might almost go so far as to say that this saves me the effort of seeing the film, because I think I can understand the central character's motivation. Perhaps that wasn't the desired effect, but never mind.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 7
Available on: Platinum Collection

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Bryan Ferry 'Slave To Love'

Chart Peak: 10


Perhaps Ferry's most popular solo song, and despite my general dislike for his music I admit I don't really mind this one. It helps, perhaps, that this is his own song rather than one of the many awful covers he tends to inflict on us, although it does seem a little similar to the late Roxy Music hit 'Avalon'. As there, he seems to rein in the most affected parts of his crooning and set up a mellow, slightly jazzy mood. In fact, the major flaw of this track is that it's so laid back it's easy to overlook it, even when you're trying to pay attention so you can write a blog post about it. Sorry Bryan.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 24
Available on: Best Of

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Marillion 'Kayleigh'

Chart Peak: 2


I've long had the impression that Marillion fans have some resentment of them being identified with this song, although I'm not sure how much of that is to do with the song itself and how much with the extent to which it overshadows the rest of their career. As an outsider I can call it as I see it (well, as I hear it, although the video does seem to prove my point somewhat about fake recording studio scenes).

Actually, this isn't quite as bad as I thought I remembered it being, although I haven't radically changed my opinion. It is notable for its slightly unconventional structure, but even though they are apparently autobiographical Fish's lyrical snapshots don't entirely seem convincing. Maybe his voice just isn't right for the mood, or I was distracted by the thought of him dancing in stilettos. Any other emotion is pretty much beaten out of it by the heavy-handed rock anthem production, complete with screechy guitars, massed keyboards and that big drumbeat to tell us where the chorus is. And the dramatic ending is always spoilt for me by the fact that he has to change the stress on the titular name the very last time he sings it for the sake of scansion. Still, it got enough attention that women of that age are apparently disproportionately under 25...

Also appearing on: Now 6, 10
Available on: The Singles: 1982-1988

Monday, 13 September 2010

Paul Young 'Every Time You Go Away'

Chart Peak: 4


Is he really shouting "dick!" 12 seconds into this track? Perhaps it's aimed at the video director who seems to have spent a good deal of the budget trying to remake Casablanca or something and then drenched PY with the least convincing rain effect in history.

This cover of a little-known Hall & Oates album track became his only US Number One, deposing the aforementioned Duran Duran Bond them and being knocked off in turn by Tears For Fears. No wonder they called it the Second British Invasion; ironically none of those songs made it to the top of the UK chart. Whilst the combination of singer and writers sounds to modern ears almost like a parody of mid-80s MOR-ism, I have to admit that for what it is this is fairly well screwed together; at least the arrangement has just enough spookiness from the electric sitar and the odd tinkles of piano to dispel at least for a moment the sense that this isn't ideal for his voice.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 20
Available on: The Essential

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Kool & The Gang 'Cherish'

Chart Peak: 4


And now onto a song I just wish I didn't remember. I've never had that high a tolerance for sentimentality in pop, or falsetto, and the combination here threatens to drown us all in slush. In fact even listening to this was something I put off, let alone actually trying to find anything interesting to say about it.

In some ways I feel slightly ashamed of myself for being so negative, when I find it easier to forgive records that express less noble sentiments. Perhaps I'm flattering myself to think that positive ideas are too obvious, or maybe it's some sense that these things are too easy to say and harder to live up to. Possibly my head was turned by a documentary that I vaguely recall seeing years ago where somebody explained how they kept being surprised by how many lowest common denominators Kool & The Gang managed to find to lower themselves to. Fairly or unfairly it's hard to feel convinced by this.

Also appearing on: Now 57 (with Blue)
Available on: Music For Romancing

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Stephen "Tintin" Duffy 'Icing On The Cake'

Chart Peak: 14

Another Number 14 single I'd never heard before! Mind you, my ignorance was a little more targetted in the sense that I do actually own an album by him, albeit one from over a decade after this when he was a slightly bitter-sounding Britpopper. Over a long career under various names he's been a folk rocker and even an early member of Duran Duran, but this is during the most commercially successful times when he was a sort of synthpopper. 'Kiss Me' had been released three times (initially credited to Tintin until Hergé's estate complained) before finally becoming his biggest hit. This is the follow-up that seems less remembered now, even though it did OK at the time: mind you, even Roland Rat couldn't get the title right.

It's certainly a good deal less stupid than his more famous success, but there's still something a little bit sneery about it, as if he's patronising the audience a little bit; perhaps that impression comes more from the video than the record itself though. Anyway, if you can forgive that it's pretty and harmless piece of fluff, and certainly better than the Dead Or Alive number. But maybe it's not a surprise that this proved to be his last taste of the Top 40, at least if you forget 'Hanging Around' by Me Me Me - and I'd strongly advise that you did.

Available on: They Called Him Tin Tin

Dead Or Alive 'In Too Deep'

Chart Peak: 14


It's not the first time I've had to write about a song called 'In Too Deep' and it probably won't be the last either, but it'll be the only time I'll have to do it from scratch: like many people I'm sure, I only really knew one DoA song (and you can probably guess which one, too) and aside from that I really knew of Pete Burns as an annoying person who kept showing up on the telly and wore a coat made out of endangered monkeys.

Well, I have heard this song now and I have no idea what the fuss was ever about. It's a very dull song, with none of the drama of Stock Aitken Waterman's most interesting work. It's obviously meant to be about a disfunctional relationship, but somehow that becomes the most boring subject in the workd here. Maybe the video was good or something, because I can't imagine anyone caring about this at all otherwise.

I doubt I've encouraged anyone to buy this track, but just in case, it'd seem only fair to donate a few bob to a primate conservation charity as well.

Also appearing on: Now 63
Available on: Rip It Up

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Fine Young Cannibals 'Johnny Come Home'

Chart Peak: 8


It's pretty much irrational of me I know, but I've always hated videos set in recording studios. Seriously guys, unless you've got some clever twist going on you're fooling nobody: we know you don't all stand about wearing make up with your back to the drummer (and shouldn't you be singing into a microphone?). I'm prepared to forgive them a little because they probably weren't given much of a location budget for their first single, and they do at least add a little silliness with their dance moves.

It's an interesting metaphor, in a way, because the finished record has a certain lightness of touch and a jolly oomph in the rhythm track. That and Roland Gift's distinctive (if somewhat unintelligible) vocal go some way to sugar-coating the dark subject matter of this song. Johnny is a kid (of not entirely specified age) who's run off to the big city and found it's not all it was cracked up to be. A protagonist implores him to come call his mum and come home - but then also repeats in every chorus that "we're sorry". And somebody's asking "What is wrong with my life that I must get drunk every night?" Perhaps that's Johnny himself reflecting on his troubles, or maybe the narrator of the rest of the song has been driven to drink by his absence... but the more obvious conclusion is that drink has made him(?) do what he's sorry for and occasioned Johnny's departure in the first place. It's to the song's credit though that it doesn't hammer you over the head with this, preferring to let you wonder as you listen to that excellent muted trumpet.

Also appearing on: Now 6, 14, 16 (CD only)
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Monday, 6 September 2010

Harold Faltermeyer 'Axel F'

Chart Peak: 2


Needless to say, I wasn't allowed to see Beverley Hills Cop until much later than this, but this instrumental was very familiar to me long before I knew what it was called (and even longer before I knew why). I don't particularly remember it as a hit they way I do with something like 'Crockett's Theme' but I suppose it was used as background music on the telly and stuff like that.

It's an obvious point that I'm sure I've made before, but there's little in the field of human endeavour that seems to stand the test of time less well than mid-eighties synthesiser instrumentals. Such was the march of techology that even by the time this record was ten years old (maybe even five) what was state-of-the art sounded like the sort of thing kids would do at school. Fifteen more years down the line and this sounds almost primitive, the sort of thing that even the smallest portable electronic devices should be able to outdo. In some ways that's a little unfortunate, because melodically it's simple but remarkably effective - one might even say annoyingly effective, so difficult is it to forget. Trouble is, it doesn't really make that much sense when you can't see Judge Reinhold running along during it.

Available on: True Disco (3 CD Set)

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Scritti Politti 'The Word Girl'

Chart Peak: 6


Apologies for the break in transmission, I wasn't feeling too well and thought I should be in full command of my faculties to give this track a sporting chance.

It's a slighty oddity that Scritti's biggest UK hit seems to be about the only one not on YouTube at time of writing (should you be reading this in the future, you can always try your own search).

I'm sure I've said this before, but I never really know what to make of most of Green's work, which it's often easier to be impressed than moved by. There's some clever tricksiness in this song, with the pseudo-Biblical "How your flesh and blood became the word" - this title is apparently to be parsed as "the word 'girl'" rather than being about a word-girl - and the production is so spotless you could eat your dinner off it. But for all the influence of soul and reggae music, the finished article comes over as a bit more of an essay than a pop song. Even though I can appreciate it more fully than I did when I was only seven, I find myself enjoying it less, today at least.

Also appearing on: Now 12, 19
Available on: Cupid and Psyche '85

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Duran Duran 'A View To A Kill'

Chart Peak: 2


Second time lucky, I'm finally going to tackle Now 5 this time. And maybe that was the right verb, because the very first track made a bit of a dent in my enthusiasm, as I seem to have exhausted my current allocation of Duran Duran tolerance.

'A View To A Kill' has a place in history as the highest-charting James Bond theme in the UK (and indeed in the US, where it got to the very top of the chart), but for all that it doesn't seem the most remembered of them. Nor indeed does the film, which is why I'm not entirely sure whether I've actually seen it: the clips in the video look familiar, but that might just be from seeing the video itself at the time. To be fair, the ridiculousness of the Bond films is a good fit for the band, who I can never take seriously for all the huffing and puffing and earnest psuedo-funk of this track. And to their credit, they seem to have entered into the spirit of things in the aforemented promo video, although I'm not sure whether that beret is supposed to be funny or not. It still feels a bit of a throwaway, but in Duran terms I don't always consider that a bad thing.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3, 8, 13, 24, 25, 31
Available on: Best of Bond...James Bond