[7] Robyn, ‘Hang With Me’

Robyn

‘Hang With Me’ heralds a new era at Jukebox Junior, with Junior writing down her own comments for the very first time. Hold on to your hats: “She sounds like a princes. Sounds fast.” Let’s make this clear, being compared to a princess (or “princes”) is near enough the shiniest accolade Junior can bestow. Hit!

Or not. Peaking just outside the Top 50, ‘Hang With Me’ is another sorry example of Robyn failing to nail down a UK chart career, even while she releases stone-cold nugget after stone-cold nugget of peerless sad-pop wonder. Is it too clever? Klas Åhlund’s “recklessly, headlessly” is an evocation of abandonment beyond your common-or-garden Pixie Lott, but the fluttering synth-pop is surely irresistible, accessible, mass-appealing – and the heartbreaking rush of the chorus, remembering ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’ while Robyn kisses off in weary style, could bring down governments. Well, hope springs.

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[5] A-ha, ‘I’ve Been Losing You’

“Who’s this?”
“A-ha.”
“What’s the song called?”
“I’ve Been Losing You.”
“Then is it, ‘A-ha! I’ve found you!’?”

It should have been. In the A-ha singles chronology the next output was actually ‘Cry Wolf’, which is rubbish. For the first single off a new album (the still awesome Scoundrel Days), people didn’t like ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ either and it’s easy to see why – it doesn’t have the hooks of ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’ or ‘Take On Me’, nor the charm. But it’s tougher, slinkier and in possession of an outrageous false ending. After the eventual fade, Junior kept asking if it had finished, not wishing to be caught out again.

Hissing your esses:

[10] Keane, ‘The Lovers Are Losing’

Keane

Yes, KEANE.

Now, I’ve never paid them much mind, let alone bought any of their guitarless records, but every bedwetter has its day and Keane’s arrived when they decided to beef up a bit, tighten up the songs and listen to a shedload of A-ha records. Because that’s what the best bits of Perfect Symmetry are – Scoundrel Days ‘08. ‘Spiralling’ was the eye-opener, the rather too eager Bowie-aper that put down an emphatic marker saying, “We’ve changed! We’re still pop, only more so, and look – guitar!” (seriously, it said that), but ‘The Lovers Are Losing’ has one of the most startlingly great choruses of the year so here it is.

Still, some things they’ll never shake off. Junior’s response is a flurry of air-piano and a general look of guileless choir-girl benevolence. Satire, that.

[3] Robyn with Kleerup, ‘With Every Heartbeat’

Robyn with Kleerup, ‘With Every Heartbeat’

The Swedish popstress graced the charts before, back in the ‘90s, with ‘Show Me Love’. No, not that one. It did nothing to prepare us for this swooning beauty. What did prepare us was the fact that ‘With Every Heartbeat’ had been hanging around for a good year or two, but let’s gloss over that. It hit No.1 this year, so that’ll sway the arbitrary rules.
 
Sad techno is an occasionally populated genre, yet rarely is it rendered as gorgeously as this. Kleerup provides the synth washes and electric strings, while Robyn drops her standard tough-girl shtick to bare all – emotionally, dirty fans. The building melody is off-the-peg, but delivered with a lump in the throat and when Robyn punctuates every word of the chorus with a caught breath it would be a hard soul to resist. ‘With Every Heartbeat’ is a stunning marker, a genuine sign of a woman who can make the pop world her own. Good old Scandinavia – first Annie, now Robyn… well, first ABBA, then A-ha… then The Cardigans… um, there’s a point here.
 
Well, Junior was delighted to have it on the turntable, and graced the baby doll with a waltz. She likes the shinier side of pop – a weakness of mine too – perhaps she’s been brainwashed. Anyway, that’s two heart-rending tunes in a row. Time for unfettered joy!

[9] Britney Spears, ‘…Baby One More Time’

Britney Spears

Odd to think that this is the first time Junior’s heard this, when the rest of us could probably sing it in our sleep. That’s almost the case for her too – I have to wake her up, and we grab our jukebox moment in the five minutes before we need to scoot off to nursery. Junior greets the song with a blend of crying, laughing, dancing and squawking. She’s obviously been watching Britters’ recent videos.

With this record, teeny pop took a swerve for the better, beefing up its sound and realising that the kids wanted something more than saccharine ballads. Which was hardly rocket science. The 8-12 year olds used to buy Blondie, Duran Duran, Frankie, A-ha, all of whom had a bit of muscle behind the velvet. Surely the 90s kids could cope? OK, I suppose some of this record’s success was down to the school uniform – no accounting for dubious taste – but it’s still top-drawer power pop.

Of course, Britney’s second single was ‘Sometimes’, a sugarsweet ballad.

[13] Duran Duran, ‘Skin Trade’

Like a typical Duranie of the period, Junior was indifferent to this. There was a brief slapping of the thighs at the start, yet attention soon turned to the socks. So, what made the fans desert in their droves? I don’t think it’s a bad record even now, but it was the first to miss the Top 10 in years. Maybe it’s because it had an almost intelligible lyric.

Arcadia and the Power Station diluted the fanbase and the preceding single ‘Notorious’ scraped to No.7 on comeback power alone. A-ha had nicked the girls and the CD age had come and populated the chart’s upper reaches with the more ‘serious’ artists. The biggest bands in the country were now Dire Straits and U2. Duran Duran’s fabled mix of the Sex Pistols and Chic – without the Sex Pistols and the disco joy – wasn’t cutting the ice.

So, Simon, we’ve explained the reason for this strange behaviour. Perhaps you shouldn’t have allowed all those Taylors to jump ship, and then replaced them with AMERICANS.

[16] Aerosmith, ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’

Hilarious stuff – “Lord, imagine my surprise!” – and a raucous, headlong assault on the heart of the rawk. I still think it’s a bit of a gem, and Junior looked like she was having a ball as well. There were squeals to accompany the now standard claps, and she grinned like she could see herself in the mirror. 

When we were 15, most of my friends were into heavy metal or rock at the very least. I didn’t really catch the bug, but I always reckoned this was because I’d been a record buyer for years. For many of them, this was the first time that music was twitching their synapses, and a teenage boy can hardly start with an A-ha single. I no longer had this kind of shame, but I liked a bit of Aerosmith and AC/DC. The rest could go hang.

It’s a mixed bag, this 1987 set. That was the identity I seemed to be forging, and it’s stayed with me – anything goes as long as it’s good. A formative year, then, that’ll do for my novel.