Thursday, 14 October 2010

Jimmy Nail 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore'

Chart Peak: 3


Regular readers, if any, may recall that the first time Jimmy Nail cropped up on here (on Now 32) I was fairly positive about him. Perhaps I was in too good a mood then but I do somewhat stand by it: he was never one of the world's greatest singers but on a good day he could come up with something that worked through force of personality.

Ten years earlier, things were a bit different. This cover version was the only hit single from his debut album Take It Or Leave It (most people seem to have preferred the latter option, as the record never made the Top 100). And successful as it was its own right, it didn't eastablish him as anything more than a dilettante in music. In fact he didn't manage another hit for seven years, and I'm not sure he even tried. It has every hallmark of a famous actor cashing in and trying his luck at pop, and in that context it's harder to forgive the poor singing, especially on such a slow song. The really scary part is, I can remember Roger Taylor (yes, he of Queen) explaining that it took him a long time as producer to get the vocal right. What can the outtakes have been like?

It seems to stop quite abruptly too, at least on the versions I've found online,as if everyone involved just can't go on any more. It seems almost apt as a finale to Now 5, which as I've probably made fairly clear, isn't one of the ones I actually have my own copy of to work from; thus I can neither confirm nor deny that it's the first album in the series to use a swear word ("crap" in the Style Council song)> I can confirm that it's been a bit of a disappointment to me, both as listening and as writing fodder. I might take a few weeks off to recover while I work on other blogging projects, but I hope to arrive refreshed in the 1990s again.

Also appearing on: Now 22, 30, 32
Available on: Pure Love

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Howard Jones 'Life In One Day'

Chart Peak: 14


You don't often see Howard Jones compared to the Damned, it's fair to say, but the one thing they do seem to have in common is that they were approaching the end of their hitmaking careers (in the UK at least) by 1985, and yet both remain very much in the business. Musically, though, this is a bit of a swerve from the rock-oriented sound of the Side 4 so far. Howard Jones is one of the hardest people to write about on here, not least because a fellow blogger whom I respect is a big fan and has been known to read here. Moreover, though, he's somebody where I find it very hard to shake off the eightiesness and hear the music as it was presumably originally intended; even though I always want to like him. He certainly seems more admirable than many of a star of this or indeed any pop era.

This time around I actually have a slight head start, because I have no memory of hearing the record at the time, let alone since. Even without external evidence, I wouldn't have mistaken it for any other time, but at least it arrives without baggage. It also arrives with that remarkable video which, especially for the time is a tour de force of imagination and technology - the only problem being that it's hard to imagine any TV channel actually daring to show it. For once, it's true to say that a video is truly ahead of its time: it only really made sense 20 years later when somebody invented YouTube. Anyway, it's worth a look if you've never seen it, but it can be a bit of a distraction from the song itself - you can find a sound-only version (without Tony Blackburn!) here.

The title lyric, repeating an "old man"'s warning not to try and live your life in one day seems almost the diametric opposite of stereotypical 80s values, although on more detailed inspection it seems that this is more a matter of trying to enjoy the present days and resist worrying about the future than a call to indolence. It's a good idea, even if not a very deep one, and I have to admit that in the few days since I first looked this song up I can't get that chorus out of my head. 1-0 to Mr Jones there, then.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3
Available on: The Best of Howard Jones

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Metapost: dear record industry, bite me (again)

I don't normally post here on Sundays, but last night I logged into the Blogger Dashboard to discover that, for the first time in almost two years of this blog (and over five years of blogging in total) I've been served with a DMCA takedown notice, for a post several months ago about a well-known musician who is famously vegetarian. And it's not Paul McCartney.

As I don't post downloadable files of any kind here, and never have, I can only presume that the objection related to my usual practice of linking to a YouTube video of the track discussed; although as I didn't upload the video (it was put up there by the record company that originally released the track and, indeed, have recently re-released it) I have no personal responsibility for it. The post itself was, ironically, one of my more positive ones and in line with my usual practice also included a direct link for readers to purchase the track from legitimate outlets; needless to say, that's no longer there, although as a veggie myself I resisted the temptation to replace it with a link to buy some meat.

I realise that this isn't anything personally against me and I intend to continue with the blog as normal from tomorrow. However, I can't promise that this won't affect my judgement should the artist in question ever crop up on this blog again. Nor can I dispute that there might be a reason why the record companies find it so hard to attract public sympathy these days.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Damned 'The Shadow Of Love'

Chart Peak: 25


One of the slight curiosities of the Now albums is acts who make their only appearance early in the series when they're already veterans of a sort. And whilst they're probably not the most obvious example of this (not least because a version of the band is still going even now), the Damned seem to qualify in terms of their chart career, as their hit singles span 1978-87. That said, this inclusion is a slight reversal of the frequent tendency of this album to cover follow-ups to big hits: the highest-charting Damned single was of course their version of 'Eloise' in early 1986.

That didn't make the cut though, so the only time they crop up on here is during their goth phase. Of course, they have a good name for the genre and for all I know this might actually sound good to goth fans. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them and this doesn't seem to be one of the few genre hits that can break through to the wider public. In fact, I spent most of the four minutes trying to work out what that bassline reminded me of. Any ideas, anyone?

Available on: Phantasmagoria

Gary Moore & Phil Lynott 'Out In The Fields'

Chart Peak: 5


Moore & Lynott's first collaboration outside Thin Lizzy, 'Parisenne Walkways' was a bit of a laid-back classic. 'Out In The Fields' is rather the opposite, a loud, angry rock track of the sort that only really seemed to exist in the eighties. It rails against war and racism in a way that I'm not inclined to disagree with - but I can't really take this sort of thing seriously, not even Moore's widdly guitar solo, which was apparently once voted among the Top 100 of all time.

And there's some more fake-studio footage in the video, where Moore inexplicably reminds me of Cliff Richard. Lynott is already looking somewhat the worse for wear, and in fact this was his last known recording before he died. Still, he could have ended his career in a worse way than this.

Gary Moore also appears on: Now 6, 9
Available on: Out in the Fields: the Very Best of Gary Moore

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Katrina And The Waves 'Walking On Sunshine'

Chart Peak: 8


It must have been the irony department of my subconscious that caused me to wake up with this song in my head a couple of days ago on one of the least sunny mornings of the year today. I mention that because the most surprising part of the experience was that I actually kind of enjoyed it. Like many people, I suspect, I'd got used to thinking of this song as an ubiquitous irritant, and the band reportedly earn a substantial amount of money from synchronisation rights every year, so it clearly is getting used plenty; it's for this reason that I'm not going to bother trying to describe the record at all, as I can't imagine anyone who cares enough to read this post not already being familiar with it.

And yet on that morning, it somehow clicked for me for the first time in about twenty years and I got a sense that I was being unnecessarily harsh to such a joyful piece of music. That doesn't mean I'm a complete convert, and it's obvious that a little goes a long way, which is why I don't feel the urge to own a copy of it. But I guess I've grown up enough to be able to like this when I hear it now.

Oddly enough, in all the hundreds of times I must have heard this song I'd never seen the video before. It's not very good but there are good supporting performances by some ducks between about 2:34 and 2:45.

Available on: Top Of The Pops - Eighties

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Style Council 'Walls Come Tumbling Down!'

Chart Peak: 6


In some ways, this song seems a bit like a sequel to 'Shout To The Top'. The lyrical message is similar, but slightly more explicit - and perhaps not coincidentally, the result is a bit less good. The churchy organ intro seems like a warning that Paul Weller is going to be more Father than Mod here, delivering what sounds rather more like a sermon than a song, and is often awkwardly unmetrical in its phrasing. I don't know whether this was an intentional movement on Weller's part because he didn't think enough people had got the point before, but even that doesn't excuse the notorious rhyme of "those who have and who have not" with "dangle jobs like a donkey's carrot".

If nothing else, though, Weller gets credit for the conviction with which he delivers these words. Indeed, in another universe where he'd acquired a different set of convictions, he could have been quite the gospel singer. And the music does do a lot to make up for, or at least distract from, the words, punching hard in the chorus and building up tension in the verses. Still, I do find myself in the unusual position of saying this is more preachy than the U2 track.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 5, 10, 14
Available on: Sweet Loving Ways - The Collection

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

U2 'The Unforgettable Fire'

Chart Peak: 6


Side 4 starts here. Which isn't very surprising, because this would be an amazingly difficult segue from the previous track, even by the broad-church standards of the Now albums. It's a struggle to believe that these two tracks even existed in the same universe, let alone that they were briefly in the chart together.

In fact, this track doesn't entirely seem to belong anywhere, although the very fact that it went straight into the Top 10 (albeit for a relatively short run) seems a sure sign that U2 had arrived at true stardom and now had a big enough fanbase who'd rush out to grab the limited double-7" single. That's not to say that it's anything other than brilliant, but it's by no means an obvious pop hit. It made so little impression on my seven-year-old self that I don't remember hearing it at all until I started listening to Radio 2 a couple of decades later, and even then I struggled to remember which one it was. Once I had my own copy of the album, it was a different story and this swiftly became one of my favourite ever U2 tracks, instantly engaging with its rock-solid rhythm section but also admirably resisting the big obvious chorus it always seems so close to. And one of Bono's best vocal performances too, for my money: entirely committed but without the huffing and puffing that mar so much of his work in the Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum eras. Around this Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois have built a soundscape that defies detailed description; and that's not just a cop-out on my part, it seems like it'd ruin the mystique a bit. It's for the same reason that I've tried to avoid thinking too hard about what the lyrics are supposed to mean: I know the song and album title were influenced by an exhibition of photos of Hiroshima, but the actual content doesn't seem to be that linear, and the mood is as uplifting as it is gloomy in the end.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 20, 22, 32, 36, 37, 41, 47, 48, 49, 53, 57 [LMC vs U2], 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 72
Available on: The Best Of: 1980-1990

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Commentators 'N-n-Nineteen Not Out'

Chart Peak: 13


Despite what I said in the previous post, we don't quite get a whole side of R&B, because we take a slight detour here. We do still get a slight convergence with some of the other stuff on the album though - Paul Hardcastle's '19' was yet another big hit of 1985 that eluded the compilers, and whilst he did appear with some of his later hits, his first representation was in the form of this parody. It's rumoured that Hardcastle produced this version himself under a pseudonym, which could account for the speed with which it was released, only a couple of weeks after the original had dropped from the top of the chart.

Anyway, this is the first intentional comedy record ever to show up on a Now album, and, I think we can safely say, the only cricket-themed novelty single ever to reach the Top 19. It was also the first most of us would have heard of Rory Bremner, a few years before he began starring in his own TV shows (though I think he may already have been working on Spitting Image by this time). I have to wonder how he must regard this now that he's better known as a satirist, as this is much closer to the broad showbiz comedy he first made his name with. It's probably also funnier if you understand more about cricket, although I do get the central premise that David Gower's batting average in the 1984 West Indies series was only 19 - apparently that's actually true, whereas Hardcastle's numbers are somewhat disputed. Some people might question the taste implications of the parody as well, especially the "side-on" line, although for my money it's silly enough to get away with it. Not that you'd want to listen to it too many times, I suspect.

Even if you did, as far as I can tell the track's never been released on CD. But the wonders of the Internet enable you to hear it, and indeed the 'Second Innings' B-side, which is largely more of the same but slightly less good. It does at least clarify that the voice that sounded a bit like Zippy is supposed to be the late John Arlott. Also thanks to the net, we can see what might be the oldest extant image of monkeys playing cricket.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Loose Ends 'Magic Touch'

Chart Peak: 16


OK, so I had at least heard of Loose Ends. They were so famous, they even got namechecked in a Richard Blackwood song, and I thought I did recall them having hits. But I realised that I didn't actually remember any of the songs, and even after listening back to this track now I can't be terribly sure whether I'd heard it before. It seems like there's an inadvertant theme on a lot of this album of the series missing out on somebody's biggest hit ('You Spin Me Round', 'Some Like It Hot', 'Kiss Me') and then ending up with the slightly less successful follow-up, and that's sort of what's happened here too, although in fairness this wasn't much less of a hit here than 'Hanging On A String'; it failed to match up to the same success in America though.

In fact, we're staying with the same sort of post-disco soul as we've had on the rest of Side 3, which I think is the longest sustained sweep of stylistically similar music yet on a Now album, though it seems to have acted as a template for the long runs of indie and dance on some of the Nineties releases. Like those, it rather taxes my ability to find fresh ideas for each post, since I so often find mysef thinking "This'd probably sound good in a club". But you know, it probably would, it just isn't doing a lot for me. There are rumours of a reunion tour, but I don't think I'll be going.

Available on: The Best of Loose Ends

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Conway Brothers 'Turn It Up'

Chart Peak: 11


This'll be another of the tracks that occasionally show up on here that I've never heard of at all. Not even the (admittedly less than memorable) name of the Conway Brothers rang any bells.

As it transpires, we're staying on the dancefloor for this number, even if the Conways themselves seemed to have a little bit of difficulty dancing to it on Top Of The Pops. It's a very solid funk production, if a little dated-sounding now, but it's a little too clubby to make sense to me in my living room. The gag about people asking them to turn it *up* wears thin over the full length of the track, but I expect I'd like this a lot more on a night out.

Available on: 100 Hits - 80s Dance