[16] Nicola Roberts, ‘Beat Of My Drum’

Nicola Roberts

From the steampunk intro (“I like the start”) to the little synth wiggle (“I like that bit”) to full recognition at the bridge (“Oh, I LOVE this song”), ‘Beat Of My Drum’ pushes Junior’s buttons. She has hand signals (polite ones) for each letter of the chorus and even past the point of attention she’s still mouthing the words as she sketches a picture of Ben and Holly.

So we’re pleased with Nicola’s ‘Freedom 90’. Sure, there’s a scent of ‘We Are Your Friends’ but I’m in no mood to give Simian Mobile Disco any credit after those run-of-the-boring-mill albums and James Ford’s stewardship of those crappy Arctic Monkeys records. So there. It’s unfair, yeah, but so is life. That’s why this squiggling flash of pop magnificence got to No.27 in a land where Taio Cruz has had two – count ’em, TWO – No.1 singles. Doubleyou. Tee. Eff. Questionmark.

George Michael, ‘True Faith’

George Michael

Junior greeted this with what can most fairly be described as ‘interpretive dance’, expressing emotion – or “eeemwwwohhhshun” as Robo-George might have it – via complex hand signals and wafty Kate Bush arm movements. It was apt, really. ‘True Faith’ sounds like some kind of I Am Kurious Oranj re-imagining of the New Order original, built to soundtrack a ballet conceptualised around Barney Sumner’s clunky rhymes. It might just work. Get me Louis Spence.

Poor George. Opprobrium’s been heaped on this version. “I have a fucking question,” he drones. So does everyone else, George. A few, in fact. Why slow it down to funereal pace? Why in Hades do you want to be Jason Derulo? Why defile a song with a video everyone loves [I paraphrase]?

I’m not so precious. First up, I think I’m a topsy-turvy New Order fan, who’s never been that fussed about ‘True Faith’ but loves the apparently awful ‘Confusion’. Secondly, yep, most of you love the original because of a video so 80s Stuart Maconie can appraise it to camera in his sleep.

And thirdly, bit by bit, cell by cell, arm hair by arm hair, this is creeping up on me. It’s starting to work.

[48] Robbie Williams, ‘Rock DJ’


Top of the world, ma. Williams was at that point where he could release a fart and it’d waft merrily to No.1; somewhat like ‘Faith’-era George Michael, except ‘Faith’ stalled at No.2. But you get the drift. ‘Rock DJ’ is no mere emission – it’s a cocky summing-up of our man’s place in the world at the turn of the century, and yes, that place is somewhere beneath a heap of writhing groupies. A punishing bassline, lyrics that sound as if they were thrown together while he was at the bottom of that pile, rapping that would make even the great John Barnes wince – it all adds up to a will-this-do? that certainly does.

Junior says: Of the single sleeve, “It looks like sausages.” OK. No real comment on the song, but she and her sister danced around in circles, like Robbie but without the tiger pants.

Best bit: Yes. All a bit downhill for the lad after this.

[4] Haircut 100, ‘Love Plus One’

When people talk about “perfect pop” they usually mean clever-clever, arch stuff that doesn’t appeal to The Kids. Like most of my favourite records. ‘Love Plus One’ was a huge hit, not too clever but with a stylish conceit, and is pristine perfect pop in practically every way.

They were clearly a bunch of talented lads, possibly backed up by a little too much jazz education, and for a year had the punters eating out of their hands. Four singles, four Top Ten hits – this, ‘Favourite Shirts’, ‘Fantastic Day’ and ‘Nobody’s Fool’ (No.21 on this chart, made-up-fact fans) – and *puff* they were gone. Well, not so much “puff” as, “Here, Mr Heyward, have this large sum of money to embark on a pleasant but hardly George Michael-troubling solo career”. Pity.

I won a Haircut 100 poster at Great Yarmouth Fair – I think I managed to shoot a teddy bear or something – but only three of the band were on it. Portentous, I’m sure. Just a minute ago I did a Google search for their names and found that the band have reformed, or are at least thinking of it, Heyward reckoning the old “magic” would still be there…

Junior will watch with interest, anyway. She was swept off her grubby feet by this one, throwing shapes, even singing along with the “ai, ai, ai, ai”s. Maybe her favourite since ZZ Top. What an odd demographic she inhabits.

[1] Wham!, ‘Freedom’

We’ve established that I was a low-key Duranie. Revisionist history always has it that pop from ’82 to ’84 was all about Duran Duran vs Spandau Ballet*. Rubbish. The world was fought over by Duran Duran and Culture Club. As a consequence I hated Culture Club, even though these days I can listen to one or two singles and always enjoy a crass and bitchy Boy George innuendo.

‘Freedom’ killed Culture Club. There was a blaze of publicity for CC’s return, but ‘The War Song’, released the same week as ‘Freedom’, just couldn’t cope with Wham!’s sales juggernaut and was pulverised**. A swift fall down the chart was assured, and next single ‘The Medal Song’ peaked at No.32. Disastrous.

This is No.1 for other reasons, naturally. It’s a perfect pop Motown pastiche, for one, and the guitars and horns go mad at the end, for another. It was all very easy for George. Time after time, he was releasing vinyl joy.

Junior got into the record by standing on her dad’s lap, clapping and trying to eat his hands. By the last chorus, she was trying to eat her own feet. We’d reached the edge of elevenses.

*Spandau Ballet were irredeemably awful. No exception. Ok, except maybe that winningly hackneyed saxophone solo in ‘True’, weirdly.

**It’s incidental that ‘The War Song’ was useless anyway.

[12] Wham!, ‘Last Christmas’/’Everything She Wants’

‘Everything She Wants’ is the song on the tape. Still a stuff-strutter now, it had Junior beaming and doing the David Gray head-wobble, even though George doesn’t sound sold on the whole baby thing himself.

Continues a theme, this: George’s fear of commitment. He ridiculed it in ‘Young Guns’ and clung on to the lads-together life in ‘Bad Boys’, now he thinks he’s stuck and, hey, maybe he’s wrestling with his sexuality too. Anyway, here’s a boy trying to break free. He claimed he wasn’t “planning on going solo” on an earlier 1984 song, then promptly released ‘Careless Whisper’. After this single, Wham! were on the way out, their next single put out with a simultaneous announcement that the following single would be the last. Now he’s spent the last decade wrangling with the record industry. George doesn’t like to feel restricted.

1984 was a bumper year for sales. This was one of SIX million-selling singles in the calendar year, second only to Band Aid. The others were ‘Careless Whisper’, ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ and, erm, two records still to come.

[18] Wham!, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’

A sunny blast of springtime euphoria or annoying drivel from a couple of over-coiffed chancers in Choose Life t-shirts? It’s a quandary that has vexed musicologists for decades. Wham!’s first No.1 reminds me of the days when my parents’ old RAF colleagues used to visit with their children, and my big sister would choreograph a routine for the kids to perform.

I wonder whether Junior will be the winningly bossy older sister. She could do worse. God knows I needed a kick up the backside from time to time, even if it meant doing cringing George Michael impressions. I’ll be forever in big sis’s debt for giving me the opportunity to mime as Simon Le Bon while my younger sister danced on the sand.

From the first “jitterbug”, Junior was firmly on the side of springtime euphoria. She bounced up and down and whacked the sides of the inflatable, and grinned like a life chooser. The record’s an insubstantial piece of fluff but it has a kinetic drive that will never allow you to stay still, with or without your sister’s coercion.

[2] Take That, ‘Back For Good’

Well I never. There are two types of people: those who understand that this is a pop classic and those who reckon that Robbie Williams’ wrongheaded, legacy-pissing, smug “punk” cover is somehow better. That kind of thing narks me right off. They’re the same earnest Mojo readers who dislike ‘.. Baby One More Time’ and ‘Independent Women’ but fawn over Travis’ and Elbow’s respective versions. Bands who do this believe that they’re legitimising the song by stripping the pop nous and adding dreary rock chords. They’re not. It’s an in-joke that reveals their fear of what the boys might think.

You can possibly tell which side of the fence I occupy. I never had a problem with Take That, a blessed relief after New Kids On The Block. The songs were ordinary, inoffensive, with the odd one or two rising above the parapet. Then I saw them perform this on the Brits and was bowled over by the hooks and its near perfect form. The middle eight is weak, but nothing else is, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Hindsight shows it was a one-off for Gary Barlow, the awkward, rotund George Michael that never was.

Junior and I didn’t have time to discuss the record. She sat in the ring and chewed her foam pig while I puzzled over why the mixer was making everything sound fuzzy. I should dust more often. A flawed performance then, an ill-fitting tribute to this soppy dazzler.

Spice Girls, ‘Wannabe’

Slam your body down and zig-a-zig-ahh. Euan, Paddy, OP and I did some impromptu street theatre on the Edinburgh Fringe the best part of 10 years ago, trying to show how the Spice Girls’ orders could be carried out. We decided that you couldn’t really slam your own body down, assuming that you had to land with said body horizontal to the floor for full slamming effect. You couldn’t get the full force behind you; it would be mere falling.

I didn’t ask Junior to replicate the slam but, like many little girls before her, she found the Spices’ song and message beguiling – although the fact that she was managing to do the zig-a-zig move as demonstrated in the video was more down to maternal manipulation than free will. 

So, whatever happened to the Spice Girls? One minute it was world domination with infectious tunes and sketchy empowerment poses, the next it was, well, we know what it was. Eye-wateringly bad solo careers, babies with silly names (Junior’s a very sensible name) and desperately misguided attempts to bed George Michael.

In our very first entry we mused on who would win a fight out of the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud. It’s time for you to decide. These are the bouts:

Mel B vs Sarah
Mel C vs Nicola
Baby vs Kimberley
Geri vs Nadine
Posh vs Cheryl

Band Aid/Band Aid 20, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

As a globally conscious 12-year-old, I spent my hard-won cash on the single like millions of others. I was struck by how much one of the Ethiopian children on the cover looked like Bob Geldof. Yesterday morning, Junior was subjected to the original and the recent remake – she was lucky that I couldn’t find the awful Stock Aitken Waterman version, or I would’ve carried out my threat to play one a day ‘til Christmas.

I’m one of the few who admits to liking the 1984 song. I’m one of the even fewer who can see value in 2004’s edition. I like Thom Yorke’s piano. The Darkness guitars are dreadful, though, and it goes on way too long. Also, don’t we get proper heavyweight pop stars any more? There’s hardly anyone on the later record to compete in terms of fame, glamour, ego and interest with the likes of Simon Le Bon, George Michael, Boy George, even Sting. I bet Status Quo weren’t plying Will Young and Jamelia with Class A drugs.

Junior can’t see what any of the fuss is about. She manages to laugh near the Dizzee Rascal bit, and I can see her wondering who Glenn Gregory is. Or was.