[1] Rod Stewart, ‘You Wear It Well’

Rod Stewart

Or, ‘Maggie May (Pt II)’. That shouldn’t sound uncharitable – Lord knows there was plenty of mileage left in Rod’s 1971 No.1 even after its six minutes had passed, its pace picking up as it faded, the Faces still sieving gold dust. Here once more, acoustic and electric guitars combine with mandolin to create a rough-hewn folk ambience that, along with Rod’s ever-lived-in voice, basks in an autumn sun. It possesses none of ‘Maggie May”s mean spirits, instead delivering love and cheek – “You wear it well/A little old-fashioned, but that’s all right” – and warm, swinging violin. If anything, it’s more relaxed than its ancestor, breezy and affectionate.

Junior is mildly intrigued that Rod is Nanny’s favourite singer, until she points out, “No one’s singing.” This is the extended intro version from a greatest hits set, bizarrely including ‘Interludings’, the brief pluckings that precede ‘You Wear It Well’ on Never A Dull Moment. They fit, of course, drawing out the stop-starts before the song kicks off all in a rush, as if Rod’s suddenly weary of the shilly-shallying. Junior’s too moody to say anything more, but on a better day she’d bounce with the bonhomie. You could never get bored with this. Tire of ‘You Wear It Well’ and you tire of, well, The Black Crowes. I know, just imagine.

So that was a mere 38 years ago. Next up, a mere no years ago. Now. 2010. THE Top 20 Singles of This Year, coming your way on 29 November (or slightly earlier, and we may republish the 1991 Top 20 first because it’s stuck on the old blog). Clear?

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[2] Elton John, ‘Rocket Man’

Elton John

“This is for boys,” is the reaction from Junior. I think she’s speaking about astronauts being a young lad’s preoccupation, which means she’s forgetting the half-hour’s footage of space shuttles taking off she made me play her on YouTube a few months ago. And the increasingly complex questions she asked me, questions I then increasingly met with outlandish cod-science dressed up as wisdom – parenthood in a nutshell.

Space is mainly for boys. Actually, I’m trying to write a comic novel about space travel. Think Red Dwarf, with laughs. Kate Bush covered ‘Rocket Man’, of course, and she’s for boys. Come on, you know it’s true. Elton’s ‘Rocket Man’ is all about space, but not just space – it’s also about… space. The missing line after, “Burning out his fuse up here alone…” Listen, there’s a missing line. With or without it, it’s gorgeous, stately and lonely.

[3] Al Green, ‘Let’s Stay Together’

Al Green

I thought we were tearing through 1972 too fast, and soon it would be 1973 and we’d be faced with ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree’ before you can say, ‘Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?’ Yes, I thought that. In any case, you can’t just steam in to talking about Reverend Green. You need to take it easy, kick back into the smooth groove, feel the warm embrace of the horn section, take your top off then put it back on when you realise you don’t share Al’s physique.

Things took a jarring turn when I played this, because Junior slapped her hands over her ears and refused to listen. She wanted Lady Gaga. “But,” I protested, “Al Green’s one of the greatest soul singers.” “No, he’s not,” came the smackdown.

Perhaps he’s not. I rather think he is, though; he sounds like he means it and can make you believe it, believe anything. Whether that’s the sign of a trickster, I don’t know, but his performance on ‘Let’s Stay Together’ is imbued with a conviction its lyric doesn’t quite share – if everything’s so tickety-boo in this relationship, why make a promise to keep it going? It should mosey on regardless.

[4] The Staple Singers, ‘I’ll Take You There’

The Staple Singers

“Let’s talk about sex…” Actually, let’s not. Let’s try and leave that for the best part of a decade, if we can. Instead, let’s turn to more spiritual matters with The Staple Singers’ largely lyric-free shout-out to – what? Heaven? Mavis is a great testifier, delivering a message of hope and faith in as few words as possible. Apparently, the Staples’ church booted them out for going all R&B on them – here lifting the bassline from the Harry J Allstars’ ‘The Liquidator’ – but while this may be the devil’s music, it’s the Lord’s prayer.

Now I think this is a pretty cool idea, a dad making records with his daughters. I put the plan to Junior, who shoots it out of the water: “I don’t know how to make records.” Reckon I could give it a whirl, through found-knowledge from reading, I dunno, Revolution In The Head and watching documentaries. I hear you can do it all on new-fangled laptops these days, anyway. While I dream, Junior dances.

[5] Mott The Hoople, ‘All The Young Dudes’

Mott The Hoople

Anyone would think David Bowie was some sort of big noise in 1972, poking his otherworldly beak into all areas of the pop scene, spreading his message of galactic destruction. And of course he was. He was freaking the kids out with his proto-Kiki Dee hairstyle and doomy fantasies of Earth’s imminent demise, from ‘Five Years’ to ‘All The Young Dudes’. Yes, ‘All The Young Dudes’ – it might feel like the coolest record on the block, a rallying call for hip youth, but it’s really more baloney about dudes bearing bad planetary tidings. Downer.

We shouldn’t ignore Mott The Hoople, although let’s face it, they lucked out here with a giveaway that Bowie himself could have taken to No.1. Not No.3. Ian Hunter knows he’s on a winner with a sterling Dame impression and generally the Hoople carry off the swagger with skill, but you’d have to be some dog to muck it up.

Junior thinks she’s heard it before. Maybe she has or maybe, being one of those young dudes, she’s carried the message over from ‘Starman’. Or something. I fail to pursue the matter, because she’s soon breathlessly telling me all about Jurassic Park and Laura Dern putting her hand in some dinosaur poo.

[6] The Carpenters, ‘Goodbye To Love’

The Carpenters

The Guilty Pleasures movement is a flawed model; it requires you to be ashamed to like pop music, to sneer at any artist who favours melody over image or ludicrous image over workaday melody, to disparage anything that doesn’t satisfy the consensus of stifled peers. It’s no pleasure, it’s the tiniest loosening of your credibility belt. To take only furtive enjoyment from the music of ELO, Toto, Hot Chocolate, Wham!, Dolly Parton, Chicago, New Radicals, 10cc, even Take That – purveyors of open, carefree pop or heart-on-sleeve romantic rock patronised by GP playlists and compilations – is to find no joy at all. It only belittles. Hate all that stuff by all means, turn your nose up at Girls Aloud, but for pity’s sake don’t slope off home and play it behind closed doors. Love what you love, abhor what you abhor. Send an SAE for more sermons.

The Carpenters are the perfect candidate for backhanded veneration, with their hook-laden songs, smooth arrangements, celebrations of love, that old brother-sister closeness and cutesy presentation. That’s why I mentioned it. Take them as a novelty and you’re ignoring the power of glorious tunes like ‘Goodbye To Love’ which sounds like the 70s in miniature. Well, there’s no punk here, granted, but the soaring fuzz guitar solo against massed voices certainly points rock in one direction – to Glee, probably; to the elevation of the power ballad to pop-rock’s purest art form. Who’s arguing?

Junior? No, not arguing, even though she thinks that fuzzy solo sounds like a trumpet. She adds her “ahhh” to the heavenly chorus and is intrigued by the possibility of a family band, asking two-year-old sister, “Would you like us to make records together?” “No.”

[7] David Bowie, ‘Starman’

David Bowie

Speaking of Bowie snogging Mick Ronson, here’s Bowie snogging Mick Ronson. To the plotline of a “Starman waiting in the sky,” Junior says, “I’m scared.” The rest of us know she should be boogieing, but instead there’s a look of wide-eyed wonder (I think it’s wonder) as I explain how great Bowie is – or was – and wheel out my best Bard Of Bromley shaky croon.

Contemporary reports suggest this was a last-ditch addition to the Ziggy Stardust album, but it feels older, more organic, closer in intimate pitch to Hunky Dory or The Man Who Sold The World. Perhaps its delicacy is timeless, although – come on – Dave would never be tethered to any point in history. He’s a chronological chameleon, the Dame of Dates, a Time Lawd.

[8] Roxy Music, ‘Virginia Plain’

Roxy Music

They say there was playground uproar when Bowie appeared on Top Of The Pops, singing ‘Starman’ and snogging Mick Ronson. And obviously our nation was cramped with confusion at Boy George a decade later. So how did the public react when presented with preening peacock Bryan Ferry? Without bothering to research it, we can only guess: “Why’s Mike Yarwood doing Prince Charles doing Liberace?”

Obviously they all looked so staggering on TOTP that I’m thinking of dressing like Phil Manzanera right now, but the music was something else too. A runaway stallion of glam wrecks’n’effects, with a tune you can never quite nail because it’s always one second in the future.

Junior rolled the words “Roxy Music” around her tongue, trying them for size, then asked if she could dance. The dance involved a stiff-backed march around the room. You can just see those boys in the military, can’t you?

[9] Bill Withers, ‘Lean On Me’

Bill Withers

As regular readers of Jukebox Junior know, I often find myself wondering, “What would Green Gartside say?” Today, I was listening to ‘Lean On Me’ and noticing how Withers’ vocal melody slavishly follows each note of the verse, and it reminded me of the Scritti Politti brainiac’s criticism of Arcade Fire: “The melodies stick too closely to the chord changes.”* Now, I know this isn’t exactly the same, but, well, what would Green Gartside say, I wonder?

I find those verses tentative, as if Bill’s shy about offering his shoulder. It’s sweet. This could get bogged down in sentimentality, but over all ‘Lean On Me’ feels sincere. It’s anthemic without showiness.

What would Junior say? “10 out of 10. And 10 out of 10 for the Cheerios too.” She’s seen too many Come Dine With Mes.

*From this Guardian piece.

[10] Gladys Knight & The Pips, ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’

Gladys Knight And The Pips

“So, what do you think is good about this song?” “It’s slow.” And I reckon Junior’s found the essence there – Gladys lingers with seductive pain, drawing out every word. She’s never rushed, she cherishes those a cappella high points, teetering over the edge of each verse before being joined by sparse, warm instrumentation; the subtle tinkling of Rhodes piano underscoring her fragility.

Few singers match Knight for emotional heft while she manages to marry cracked and lush tones, forming a stark contrast with Kris Kristofferson’s almost jaunty original. When Kristofferson sings, “It’s sad to be alone,” he’s winking, persuading his paramour with a practised line. When Knight wails it, she invests it with an age of hurt. Right now, I’m happy Junior only hears “slow”.