The NME should revive their singles column, shouldn’t they?
Anyway, here’s the least successful pop sensation of the year, an artist stymied by her record label’s extraordinary, foot-shooting release policy. It’s a moot point whether Carly Rae Jepsen would have done better over here if her album hadn’t already been out across the world six months earlier, but it couldn’t have done any harm. ‘Run Away With Me’ has 1989 confidence and appeal, and all for nothing.
The last couple of minutes of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ gave us a clue, ‘Fools Gold’ rammed it home with wah-wah to spare. British rock had found the funk, and we tripped over our unfeasible trousers to show that we’d had it all along. The beat is still aggressive enough to startle Junior into involuntary bouncing, and she’s right into it in seconds. A bit of rock, a bit of groove, mix them together and it’s a nine-month-old’s nirvana.
Heaven knows what Ian Brown’s on about, mind. Something about his mate shopping at Mr Pyrite. Soz. It didn’t matter, it was all about the Funky Drummer and John Squire putting his guitar to good, economical use – possibly for the last time. Everyone was waiting for this single – me, I bought it on the day it came out, in Replay in Bristol. I was there on a university open day, clearly more concerned about red hot new tunes than whether the Classics department was the place for me.
1990 went rock-dance crossover crazy, but nothing had this record’s brass balls, and Northside never blew The Late Show’s sound system. Fookin’ amateurs. The Stone Roses, of course, hoovered up Colombia’s gross national product and went on to release records that actually sounded like expanding paunches.
I ditched Smash Hits for Record Mirror in 1986, and had it delivered until its demise in 1991-ish. Nothing ever lived up to it, nothing seemed to cater for me after that. In the late 80s it hooked itself onto the new rock/dance crossovers in its superlative BPM section alongside the usual house and r&b reviews, ahead of the game with early warnings about unexpected remixes and bewildering new directions. ‘Personal Jesus’ was one of these blindside dancefloor monsters.
I’d been buying their singles for years – a dubious inheritance for Junior – but ‘Personal Jesus’ was the first one that I thought was really great. The tight, pulsating Violator album was pretty special too. They peaked here, I reckon, before Dave Gahan started on all that dying and being resurrected caper. Junior hasn’t got time for all that showing off; she’s only here for the music, and the glam stomp grabbed her right from the off. A leather-skirted hit for the Basildon boys.
OK, viewers, your turn: guess the Number One, choose the next year, suggest a new theme, throw in some bad puns on Martin Gore’s name, slag off the songs so far and gnash teeth at the absence of Technotronic.
I could juggle the Top Three all day and still be unsure. This is the best euphoric house record ever, No.2 is a beast and No.1 the defining record of the year. Whatever that means.
Byron Stingily (WHAT a name) and the other shoulder-padded chaps deliver a beautiful happy sad song, that tells us everything might get messed up but it’s no big deal, don’t get hung up, it happens to everyone, now let’s get lost in the sweeping strings and thumping piano and skyscraping vocals and floor-eating beat. Nothing more convincing.
The message probably doesn’t reach Junior, who thinks everything is pretty much spot-on anyway, but the jumping tune kickstarts her limbs. She grooves, Dad irons. See? Oblivious to life’s hardships.
Before we get to the big two, a shout out to a few records I was troubled to see miss out on the 20:
NWA, ‘Express Yourself’
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, ‘What I Am’
Digital Underground, ‘Doowutchyalike’
Roy Orbison, ‘She’s A Mystery To Me’
Black Box, Starlight, all that Italo House fun
Look at the video for this, the Vince Clarke mix. With his floppy hair, tatty hoody and pissholes-in-the-snow eyes, Shaun Ryder set a template for a generation of teenagers who wanted to achieve that blissed-out E’d-up look. Trouble was, we were buzzing off our nuts on a combination of Woodpecker cider and Fisherman’s Friends. We had breath that could cut dry ice, and our love for our fellow man bordered on the surly.
You had to get the correct hoodies too. Hanes had the best texture and weight, but they cost 20 quid and the cider was soaking up most of the cash. Top Man did some thin versions with self-consciously trippy patterns. These would ride up to make you look like a bellydancing Bez. Who’d defected to Candy Flip.
So we were never quite right, but the music was. Until this point, I’d always felt as if I was catching up, picking up on bands and movements as their time was passing. Whatever you want to call it – baggy, Madchester, indie dance – we were watching it unfold this time. Strands of house, techno, Balearic, acid, rock and pop mixed into a heady potion that could even make white schoolboys dance.
As a girl, Junior’s not afraid to dance, and this had her rocking. She threw in a maniacal cackle at the start. Maybe she’s seen pictures of that purple Aztec-design hooded top.
Junior greeted the first few bars of this with a well-timed Godfather of Soul-style “Owww”. Totally unprovoked; she just felt the music, man. She went on to applaud the snappy use of Hall & Oates, clock De La’s message and assure me that she’d rather know a shover than a pusher ‘cos a pusher’s a jerk.
Now, here was a ludicrously over-long album that just about held it together. Even the skits weren’t quite aural torture – but that’s not to say we can’t blame them for abominations that followed; indeed they got the “crap skit” ball rolling themselves on De La Soul Is Dead, as they set off on their resolute path to have no more hits. For a summer, though, the world was De-La-Cratic.
When I hear this song, I see black and white dusty ghetto streets. Was that the video? Or were they the Home Counties mean streets where I kicked around, shocking passing pensioners with my modishly wide school trousers and billowing hair?
I went to Junior’s parents’ evening last night at the nursery. Tried to recoup some of the mind-boggling fees by flinging down as much of their rosé as possible, and heard about the nipper’s progress from the one semi-articulate carer. Anyway, she told me that Junior loves music. Sits there, rapt, while they all sing, and bounces and cocks her head when particularly taken. You see? This isn’t just a selfish, inhumane experiment. She LOVES it.
And she’s learning to compare and quantify. She reassured me this morning that ‘Keep On Movin” is indeed streets ahead of ‘Back To Life’, and that anyone who said otherwise only did so because they were slow to catch on. Got quite strident opinions, this one.
Somehow lush in its sparse arrangement, this record still oozes warmth and class, which is a bugger to get out of the carpet. Luckily, we have bare floorboards in the new gaff, so there’s now a nice 80s soul varnish.
We had The Beatles in 65/66, ABBA in 76/77 and Blondie in 79/80. Top singles bands captured at the very peak of their powers. Erasure were showing this kind of form at the back end of the 80s, unable to stem the flow of startlingly good pop songs. ‘Drama!’ doesn’t even have a CHORUS, not really, but it’s no-sweat Top 10 gold dust.
And I’m nothing if not a sucker for sparkly pop music with killer hooks, squelchy noises, shouts of “GUILTY!” at various pitches and legions of battling synths – always have been. Junior’s going to go this way too, if I have to frogmarch her. She looked pretty sanguine about the whole thing, anyway, her arms propelling her ceilingwards on Vince Clarke’s 303 skyrocket.
Ol’ Vince, eh? 80s pop’s ubiquitous eminence grise. His dread hand will appear twice more in this chart, actual and implied. Oooooo.
The Sundays take the coveted award for Highest Placed Indie Single (that’s neither Madchester-related, nor on Mute). I would say it’s been closely fought, but you could never imagine this gossamer band in a scrap.
Not to say there isn’t an iron fist here somewhere. The song’s pretty, and the vocal childlike, but the lyric is wry. What’s wrong with wanting something? Harriet Wheeler will chase her desires, even if she’s not quite sure what she’s after. It doesn’t amount to much, but there’s wit and bite, and her voice swoops and soars around guitar that’s both jangly and choppy. It’s a beautiful keepsake of a debut single.
The album came out the following year, to eventually tedious Smiths comparisons. You can see it, but the music’s brighter and sweeter. It’s one hell of a record. One of those pithy, 10-track gems we’ve been looking for.
Junior listened carefully, lying on the new rug, teasing us with crawling poses. She showed off with a fierce Wheeler impression – a bit harsh almost – and slapped the floor as the drums burst into the middle eight. She’s not settled on an instrument yet. It’ll come to her later.
Now, this wasn’t strictly originally released in 1989, but then techno stuff took so bally long to get from Detroit to London that it’s a moot point. Not to mention the final leg up the A41 to some Hemel Hempstead garage. That’s a garage with tools and half-used pots of paint, not a genre-forming hotbed of soul-infused house music.
It says 1989 on the label of the 12” slapped down on the right-hand wheel of steel this morning, for Junior’s listening pleasure and hardnosed assessment. The vinyl’s a bit worn now, so she hardly noticed the subtle piano washes before the beat made her jump. Then she sat and chewed the kangaroo that looks worryingly like one of those soluble bath soaps. Ah well. She wouldn’t be the first person to foam at the mouth while dancing to impeccable acid-tinged techno.
This record’s a sacred cow, Derrick May a revered pioneer. Which is why it’s so obvious that a bunch of troglodytes called Soul Central should decide a year or so back that what the song needed was to be beaten to death with bland, and then desecrated with a pointless vocal track. Cool.
Today’s digression: Virgin Radio just played Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ for at least the second time this week. It was one of the first couple of dozen singles I bought, so I’m warm towards it, but it’s hardly some canonical classic that deserves frequent airplay 23 years later, is it? I’ve noticed this trend on stations like Heart and Magic. They’ve decided, say, that Atlantic Starr’s ‘Secret Lovers’ is one of the all-time greats – kind of an alternative to the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the Greatest Single Of All Time universe. Dunno who’s right; I suspect it’s neither, but at least ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has some kind of sales/polling pedigree, usually lacking in the Heart and Magic faves.
Jukebox Junior FM coming soon, playing wall-to-wall Prefab Sprout. It’s What The Public Wants.