The Saturdays, ‘Notorious’

The Saturdays

In the leading pack of life’s crushing disappointments is the discovery that the default hottest girl group in the land’s new single is not a cover of Duran Duran’s brilliantly lumpenly funky quasi-career-killer. Mollie could’ve done a “No-“, then Rochelle could’ve done a “No-“, then Frankie, Una and the other one could’ve joined reedy forces on “NOTORIOUS”, and it could’ve all descended into Chic meets the Sex Pistols meets Red Hot Chili Peppers chaos. Just look at what you could’ve won.

Instead, “My résumé says I’m a bad girl”. It’s no “Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?”, is it? Where it pulls it out of the fire though is with the fruity electro pulse and vocals put through the ringer – it’s mechanised. The Saturdays are only bad girls, notorious, because they’ve been programmed to be so. It’s svengali’d by computer, a Space Odyssey Malcolm McLaren. Not a terribly wholesome, erm, whole but a functional thrill.

It’s brought here by mistake, the lucky conjunction of the girls appearing on So You Think You Can Dance? and Junior and I happening to be watching it. While I continued my ongoing study of career trajectories of girl groups, Junior copied every single dance move they made. One beat behind, but accurately. Recent clips from Rihanna and Lady Gaga have got me in a panic about just how knowing young girls can get. They sponge it up. Normally – to the odd sulky “awww” – I’d switch over, but there’s little overtly sexualised about The Saturdays’ robotic choreography. Thin end of the wedge though.

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[10] Duran Duran, ‘Notorious’

Our budding Lester Bangs in the backseat admits, “I liked David Bowie better.” And, well, that’s the sane response, isn’t it? She does clap along to the first few bars, but interest soon wanes as if we’re acting out Duran Duran’s career in microcosm. Five minutes later they’re releasing Public Enemy covers and Junior is into Suede.

This is where Duran Duran put their “We want to sound like Chic crossed with the Sex Pistols” money where their mouth was, and came out sounding like, erm, Hipsway. But credit where it’s due, it has some funk and a nicely rearranged ‘Union Of The Snake’ chorus, and full marks for actually trying. With Andy Taylor jettisoned, they no longer needed to pull shoddy rock shapes and could get on with working that groove.

It’s just a pity no one cared anymore.

Don’t monkey with my business:

[12] Hipsway, ‘The Honeythief’

Hipsway

Ah, the soul boys of the 80s. Even the NME, in 1985, was ranking What’s Going On as the best album of all time, before they decided old albums didn’t mean shit unless they directly influenced The Stone Roses. This edict has topped the commandments for 20 years and counting. Anyway, the soul boys of the 80s. Hipsway, sporting towering piles of Brylcreem, were formed by ex-Altered Image and future Texan Johnny McElhone but were all about gorgeous, pouting singer Skin. Well, Skin and – on ‘The Honeythief’ – a Chic riff that could carry a song alone. The 12” extended mix which, unusually for an 80s version, doesn’t rely (exclusively) on an elongated drum fill to pad it out, shows the riff in all its clipped glory and can be frugged to below.

Junior liked “the tune and the singing”, which has to be a ringing, riffing endorsement. But it wasn’t all gravy – the word “honeythief” sparked gales of laughter. Not so cool now, Skin.

Sleek, big cat:

[17] Chic, ‘Good Times’

In some music-writerly way, ‘Good Times’ is the crossover point between disco and hip-hop. Well, it emerged at the fag-end of disco and has been sampled within an inch of its sharp-creased strides by every hip-hop cut this side of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ (and ‘Ice Ice Baby’). That’ll do for a theory.

With a bassline you could write books about – someone page Simon Reynolds – Nile Rodgers and B’nard Edwards fashioned a typically lush setting and got down to moving feet to a happier tomorrow. Forget all the bad stuff, “don’t be a drag – participate/Clams on the half-shell and rollerskates, rollerskates”. Junior was quick to pick out the salient point: “Are the rollerskates pink, white or blue?” I went for the populist answer and assured her they were pink. “Can I have pink rollerskates?” See how an idle query swiftly turns into a dive for the jugular? I think these are feminine wiles.

Watch out for that bassline.

[13] Sister Sledge, ‘Thinking Of You’

And this is a genuine Chic knock-off; a re-release from 1979, but I suppose I didn’t know at the time. Junior doesn’t pay it the blindest bit of attention, and who can blame her? It’s a frothy irrelevance that sounds sparky at a wedding, or squeezed between ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Going Back To My Roots’ at Studio 54. I know, I was there.

It had another revival in the early ’90s when every record company was giving its new singles to Joey Negro to turn into disco house monsters. He managed to make the Brand New Heavies sound exciting and everything.

[14] Pointer Sisters, ‘Automatic’

I’d seen enough of Boy George and Marilyn by 1984 to recognise a man in drag. Imagine my surprise when this lot turned out to be genuine sisters, albeit with fierce looks and a vocal range to embarrass Rula Lenska.

The song has dated but it’s still a stirring mix of Chic, electro and Jam & Lewis, as if it passes the baton from disco to modern r’n’b. The delivery is robotic, the lyrics listing the mechanics of lust; if they’d kept the fourth member, they could’ve been the Barbies to Kraftwerk’s Kens.

There’d been a Valentine’s Day airing of Will Young’s ‘All Time Love’, but this was the first record today that had Junior beating the sides of the inflatable. She likes a faster tempo, and she can empathise with pushing “a stream of absurdities” from one’s lips. She’s definitely saying “Dada”, though.

[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.