Thursday, 31 October 2013

Dominoe 'Keep The Fire Burning'

Chart Peak: none in the UK

Only by the penultimate track do we finally encounter an act I'd never heard of before. I did assume Dominoe were a local South African act, but it turns out that they were actually German - and FAO connection fans, the album this comes from was produced by Harold Faltermeyer, who also produced the Pet Shop Boys track on this album.

'Keep The Fire Burning', not the only song of that title, is the sort of turgid rock ballad that was already sounding dated in the early 1990s, and if it was even released over here at the time nobody cared - it might actually have fared better in 2001 than 1991. It reminds me especially of Chicago at their dullest. Perhaps the title particularly caught the attention of people in the changing SA, or maybe they were just a bit behind the times. Either way it has little to offer us now.

Available on: The Key

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dusty Springfield 'In Private'

Chart Peak: 14

Back to the Pet Shop Boys again since this song was of course written and co-produced by Tennant/Lowe. It's faintly topical now because the Profumo affair is the subject of a forthcoming Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I'd always assumed this song was from the soundtrack of the film Scandal, an earlier take on those events (as her previous single 'Nothing Has Been Proved' certainly was) although I've never actually seen it. It certainly would fit the story, as it's from the perspective of one party to a relationship that's about to be denied by the other party. That would also fit neatly with the sixties pastiche sound of the track, which has aged better than most such attempts, though you couldn't mistake it for the real thing. Dusty of course really is the real thing, a genuine Sixties pop star who'd struggled to keep her career going in later decades; indeed her PSB-assisted run of success at the end of the Eighties was has longest run of hits in twenty years. Though 'In Private' proved to be her last Top 20 hit (and her penultimate Top 40) she was at least held in higher esteem for the last decade of her life. She was even awarded the unique honour of a posthumous tribute appearance on Now 42.

The Pet Shop Boys later re-recorded the song as a duet with Elton John, which obviously shifts the emphasis from political intrigue to sexuality (though for all I know, it may originally have been written about a gay affair and just repurposed for Dusty). Either way though, her version is the definitive one.

Available on: Reputation & Rarities

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Duran Duran 'Serious'

Chart Peak: UK 48

Another of the major British acts of the 80s struggling into the 90s. In commercial terms, they were closer to the Human League than the Pet Shop Boys - this was their lowest-charting single in the UK at the time, though they were soon able to do even worse.

I hadn't heard 'Serious' before to be honest. I was somewhat surprised at how un-80s it sounded; it was recorded in 1989 and early 1990 so they were quite quick off the mark. Instead they've come up with a jangly little thing, rather more to my liking than their typical sound. Nice punchy drumming too. Even more surprisingly, Simon Le Bon sings the chorus "It doesn't have to be serious", which is rather the opposite of the sentiment I usually associate with them. Mostly they seem quite self-important, which makes this lighter moment one of their most pleasant.

Available on: Greatest

Monday, 28 October 2013

Pet Shop Boys 'Being Boring'

Chart Peak: UK 20
You kind of imagine that the Pet Shop Boys would have liked to be on more Now albums than they actually are. 'Being Boring' isn't among their ten UK appearances in their own right - I'd be tempted to mention that it was because it only got to 20 (unusually low at that point in their career) but then again three of their Number Ones didn't make it either.

The song is very much a fan favourite though, beloved enough to have its own website. Lyrically, it's Neil Tennant on excellent form and unusually emotionally open: he tells part of his life story and refers obliquely but unmistakably to the AIDS crisis. Indeed the song is about a friend of his who died young although I'm not sure that was public knowledge at the time. Of course being the PSBs they can't do the song without some trace of in-jokes, hence the song title which mocks their own reputation. Unfortunately, the music threatens to come a bit close for comfort once or twice - it's a little too slow, a little too polished, a bit too long (the version here is six minutes, which is shorter than the album version but longer than the 7" edit) but it's just about emotional enough (in a very British, guarded way) to get away with it.

Available on: Behaviour

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Malcolm McLaren and the World Famous Supreme Team Show 'Aria On Air'

Chart Peak: Did not chart in the UK

As far as I can tell, this track was never released as an A-side in the UK, but was a popular B-side to his not-very successful single 'Operaa House'. Though this title meant nothing to me, I recognised the track instantly as the theme song of a 1989 British Airways commercial - it's an updated mix of the Flower duet, a more conventional recording of which had charted in 1985 from another advert.

Although it's questionable how much he personally contributed to them, McLaren had made rather a name for himself as a solo artist by bringing together disparate forms and turning them into a pop hits. But this point his commercial appeal had waned somewhat and to be honest the idea was starting to seem a little tired. It seems even more so now and in all honesty this isn't really that entertaining without the visuals. At least he doesn't do any vocals I suppose.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

MC Hammer 'Pray'

Chart Peak: UK 8


Another important populariser of rap and perhaps a more likeable one than Vanilla Ice, although there's still something a bit odd about the fact that he's rapping over the beat of 'When Doves Cry' (the first time Prince gave clearance for a sample apparently, and the first time he managed to appear on a UK Now album) about God. Even more remarkable, though I didn't realise it at the time, is that the chorus is borrowed from 'We Care A Lot' by Faith No More, whose very name would seem to mark them out as unlikely source material for gospel music. And yet, whilst it's possibly a mistake to put the verse about how prayer made him a star before the one about how it helps suffering children, something in his enthusiasm and sincerity oddly wins you over as the track progresses. It'd be an easy song to sneer at but I strangely don't really want to.

Available on: U Can't Touch This - The Collection

Friday, 25 October 2013

Human League 'Soundtrack To A Generation'

Chart Peak: UK 77

Apologies for the break in transmission, but somehow this track failed to inspire me greatly. Still, I want to get his album finished so I can go on to the next one. Obviously this is another example of a single that failed in the UK (and lost them their record deal) but must have made more of an impact in SA. Possibly the sound of this single, which feels rather a pastiche of what they'd been doing since they became pop stars about a decade earlier, seemed fresher over there.

As much as the song title is evidently ironic, there's always a lot of baggage around the League, the sense that they're far too pleased with themselves and think writing a very inane song is actually very clever. It isn't really, especially when it's not even all that catchy and 1990-1 was about the only time since 1989 when 80s nostalgia wasn't a marketable concept.

Available on: All the Best