[20] The Smiths, ‘Panic’

The Smiths © Tom Sheehan

TIME TO TACKLE 1986 AT LAST and we start with Moz, j’en ai mar and litigious chums. But first, a final word on The Beatles. Enjoyed this little exchange in the Past Masters sleevenotes, Brian Matthew interviewing the chaps in 1964 on the release of Beatles For Sale:

BM: I’ve heard it said that a lot of these would make good singles. Do you think there’s any likelihood at all of them being released?
John: You can’t release singles off an LP after the LP’s been out.
BM: A Lot of people do.
Paul: Well, in America they do…
John: Well, they’re different over there, aren’t they?
Paul: In America they do that, but it’s a bit of a drag.

The Beatles were, of course, er, past masters at dishing out the quality singles without recourse (on the whole) to plundering their albums, but it’s become a rare practice. In this sense, The Smiths were one of their last natural heirs, hurling out singles and albums at breakneck speed without repetition – until the record company squeezed everything they could out of Strangeways, Here We Come. ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’, indeed.

’Panic’ was one of those bonuses. Christ, it was released one month after The Queen Is Dead and doesn’t even appear on it. Throwaway downloads aside, I can’t imagine that happening now. Remind me if I’m forgetting something. Anyway, ‘Panic’ has a taste of will-this-do? about it, but it clangs and saunters amiably and is suitably apocalyptic, if on a provincial scale. Its signature line, “hang the DJ” smells a bit of sniffiness towards burgeoning club culture, but you can prefer to hear it as an early blood-on-the-carpet attack on Simes and DLT. Junior prefers to hear it as “gingerbread man, gingerbread man, gingerbread man”.

Gingerbread or not, she loves it, identifying with the title – “I do that sometimes, don’t I?” – and puzzling over the band members not actually being related. Like half the world, I’m in a Beatles moment right now, but she later makes me switch off Abbey Road to “play The Smiths again”. God, Dad, you’re so square.

The music they constantly play:

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The Rolling Stones, ‘Tumbling Dice’

The Rolling Stones

As Beatlemania strikes for the fourth time – yes, fourth: there was that first one, then the chronological single releases in the 80s, then Anthology, now these rather comely remasters – it seems only fitting to gad about playing Stones records.

But what would The Beatles be like if they were still around today? Notwithstanding some high profile deaths, would we be dismissing them for not having had a Top 10 hit since ‘Got My Mind Set On You’? Would we be saying, “Oh, but you have to see them live to understand. Not that they’ve performed since that rooftop gig in ‘69”? Would we be suggesting their last great peak was when Linda supported an addled Lennon on guitar duties in the early 70s?

Mick Taylor was the Stones’ unsung hero as 60s turned to 70s, initially stepping in when Brian Jones was seemingly not fit for the job, and then way too dead for the job. But the man on Exile On Main Street’s ‘Tumbling Dice’ is still Keef, a trademark riff boogie-ing the song along. It’s an easy, devastated rocker, bang-on cool in its barely glued swagger, and the touchstone for all those would-be Stones. Just pick up Primal Scream’s Give Out But Don’t Be Give Up and jump to ‘Call On Me’. “Carbon-copy” implies a laborious step between the two.

Charlie Watts would be pleased in his dotage to hear Junior praising the drums. She goes on to join the gospel backing for the “baaayyy-beh”s, and she and her sister give it the full lungs for the fading “got to roll me”s, swept up in the ecstatic cyclone of soul-soaked seedy rawk.

Partners in crime:

[7] Kylie Minogue, ‘I Believe In You’

Kylie Minogue

All things considered, at the end of the day, when all’s said and done, in the final analysis, weighing up the pros and cons, when it all comes down to it, if I’m pushed, I’d say ‘I Believe In You’ is my favourite Kylie single. Not ‘Shocked’, not ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, not ‘I Should be So Lucky’, not ‘Love At First Sight’ – no, I believe in ‘I Believe In You’.

So does Junior. And, if pushed, if asked if she likes Kylie’s singing, she says, “Yes.” And what else does she like? I meant what else does she like about the song, but… “Mermaids. And Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.”

From top to toe, this record’s gorgeous. Lush and dreamy. I like to think it’s the Kylester’s answer to John Lennon’s ‘God’, but it is, of course, the work of 2004’s main chart sales flava – Scissor Sisters. Who’d have thought Scissor Sisters had it in them?

But I-i-i believe in… me, Yoko and me:

[12] John Lennon, ‘Watching The Wheels’

John Lennon and Mark Chapman

Have you seen those Beatles t-shirts for Comic Relief? Is this what it’s come to? Is this what they fought and di…

Let’s not spoil the ending. Junior has one of the shirts, and loves it. She’s now working through The Beatles’ catalogue, always intrigued to know which of them is singing and trying to match her fresh-faced Ringo with the more louche version on her dad’s old t-shirt. When I told her this song was by one of them, she yelled, “Beatles!” and waltzed along to its easy rhythm.

‘Watching The Wheels’ was the third and final single from Double Fantasy, and the second posthumous release. It’s unbearably poignant in hindsight, and perhaps too much for a world that had done its mourning, reaching No.30 in the UK chart. He’s relaxed, singing of his comfort in semi-retirement (and bemusement at those who would call him “lazy”), “no longer riding on the merry-go-round” – and, so wastefully, he certainly wasn’t. It’s a very pretty, very Lennon tune, drifting along on his favourite chords; a far cry from the angst of Plastic Ono Band, which I listened to on the way in to work this morning, yet just as defiant.

Aged eight, I took his death badly. Lennon was an integral piece of my pop jigsaw, which began and ended with the back cover of Help!, and it felt as if a pivotal figure had gone just as I was getting to know him. It’s almost too trite, but as he signs off here with “I just had to let it go” it feels like a goodbye.

[20] The Beatles, ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’

“Beatles!” Junior exclaimed, as I introduced her to the sleeve. “I like Beatles.” She may have meant “beetles”, but managed some booty-swinging to the last verse, a small nod of appreciation for the rock’n’roll version. She spent the rest of the time squeezing between the sofas to fetch the baby doll, complaining about getting stuck. The band themselves were in a bit of a fix, although this sunny record has its head firmly in the sand.
 
The ditty itself – a tale of John Lennon and Yoko Ono hopping around the continent acting the halfwit – is a solipsistic frippery, but I’m soft on it. My warm feelings extend from its timing: April 1969, and The Beatles are limping to a conclusion, hamstrung by legal divisions and poisonous in-fighting. Yet, amid all this, the two most obviously at loggerheads are working hard together – Paul McCartney indulging Lennon, Lennon enlisting his help with the writing, and the pair of them playing every note of the song, nary another Beatle in sight. It feels like the last true collaboration, two against the world.

[4] Primal Scream, ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’

Don't Fight It, Feel It

We’d already had single-of-the-90s ‘Loaded’, the astonishing eight- and ten-minute versions of ‘Come Together’ and the dubby psychedelia of ‘Higher Than The Sun’. Now there was the acid techno of ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’. Should be quite an album, we thought.

A chorus of tuned-up cicadas kept this loopy floorfiller crashing along. Must be a first for popular music, that. Hooked up to the more conventional, soulful testifying from Denise Johnson and the bluesy piano, it made for a sweaty classic. I might just be thinking of the uniquely moist walls of Bristol’s Tube club, mind you.

Still a bangin’ choon (hey!), it had Junior wriggling over the edges of the inflatable, rocking to the pumping beat.

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste at the time, though, I admit. Steve Wright played it on his afternoon show while I was painting my parents’ window frames, and said that everyone was raving about it but he couldn’t understand why. A man sporting that moustache and those sub-Lennon specs was never going to be down with us hepcats.

[All my vinyl rips seem to have corrupted; Top 11 mp3s to follow… later]