Rolf Harris, ‘Jake The Peg’

Rolf Harris

A renaissance man – painter, singer, writer, comedian, TV presenter, wobble board pioneer – Rolf bestrides post-war culture like a bearded colossus, the Ayers Rock of the art world, the panting Rolfaroo of blocky strokes and sad/absurd songs. See what I did there? I anointed Rolf the antipodean Zelig of modern artistic advance. Always twinkling in the fabric, twitching the curtains of the global stage.

Rolf’s way is to find the poignant in the ridiculous – or vice versa – from Jake’s God-given travails to Miss Given’s usually ignored presence in ‘Stairway To Heaven’. He walks a fine line, but he has Kate Bush’s trust (I can just hear him against a backdrop of falling snowflakes, can’t you?) and can still make a grown man cry with ‘Two Little Boys’, a pair of facts that buys him a pass to mess about all he likes and remain a respected figure even as he emotes over a poorly chinchilla on a vet’s operating table.

His wily reach spans generations, with ‘Jake The Peg’ enjoying a canonical place in our home decades after it was recorded. It’s the first track on Hello Children Everywhere!, a 3-CD compendium of Children’s Hour classics that pulls in moth-eared but magnificent turns from Pinky and Perky, Flanders and Swann, Morecambe and Wise and other non-duo based acts. Such sustained quality, and kids today get Mr Tumble. Or, just as often in my house, Rihanna.

‘Jake The Peg’ prompts enthusiastic singing and dancing – surely another skill Rolf can master – and, from Junior alone, a lot of awkward walking about using a child-sized broom as an extra leg. “Can I touch your leg?” asks Junior 2, in a rather forward manner. Her comic timing’s great but it doesn’t quite match Rolf’s delayed pay-offs, the rhymes you can see a mile off yet they still slay you when they drop. I’m laughing; Junior’s now tap dancing, her peg leg an Astairesque cane.

…2, 3, 4…8, 9, 10…14…19, 20, 21… … to twenty-five!”

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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.

[2] Elton John, ‘Rocket Man’

Elton John

“This is for boys,” is the reaction from Junior. I think she’s speaking about astronauts being a young lad’s preoccupation, which means she’s forgetting the half-hour’s footage of space shuttles taking off she made me play her on YouTube a few months ago. And the increasingly complex questions she asked me, questions I then increasingly met with outlandish cod-science dressed up as wisdom – parenthood in a nutshell.

Space is mainly for boys. Actually, I’m trying to write a comic novel about space travel. Think Red Dwarf, with laughs. Kate Bush covered ‘Rocket Man’, of course, and she’s for boys. Come on, you know it’s true. Elton’s ‘Rocket Man’ is all about space, but not just space – it’s also about… space. The missing line after, “Burning out his fuse up here alone…” Listen, there’s a missing line. With or without it, it’s gorgeous, stately and lonely.

[16] Siobhan Donaghy, ‘So You Say’

One of an unending line of “new Kate Bush”es – Tori Amos, Bat For Lashes, erm, Patrick Wolf, Florence + The Machine, Marina and the bloody Diamonds, for all I know – Siobhan Donaghy fits the bill with a pop music that’s free, experimental, ostensibly commercial (albeit without the essential hits) and miles away from her unhappy work with Sugababes. ‘So You Say’ is forensically beautiful in every detail, and for that it’s quite remarkable.

Junior says: “It’s very quiet,” before the huge chorus swells forth, demonstrating a rather flowery take on the Pixies’ quiet-loud-quiet ethos. “I like the singing.”

Best bit: The da-da-ing and doo-doo-ing of the dizzily drifting middle section.

[3] Kate Bush, ‘Hounds Of Love’

This one looks familiar. There was still life in the album of the same name; bags of it, in fact, because this single teems with it – the vital surge that is love when it overcomes. You know what I mean. Kate resists at first but then rolls with it, and the effect is glorious. A decadent rush.

Junior said, “It’s funny, isn’t it?”

It’s in the trees! It’s coming!

[4] Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush, ‘Don’t Give Up’

Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush

I think we can all surmise Peter Gabriel has fantastic personal hygiene if someone as fragrant, pure and delectable as Kate Bush is prepared to spend five minutes (at LEAST – who knows how many takes there were? Perhaps Pete kept getting his lip synchs wrong on purpose) rammed into his armpit. Either that, or she’s more heroic than we ever dreamed.

The song’s beautiful, believable and stark, Pete and Kate playing their parts with poignancy and soul. Strikes a chord with Junior too, who is matching Kate word for word long before the end.

You’re not beaten yet:

[20] Bat For Lashes, ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’

Bat For Lashes, ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’

WE BEGIN with the witchy, ethereal, Bjorkish, any other tired adjectives that might have been applied this year, Natasha Khan – runaway Mercury favourite on the night and Kate Bush for the Noughties. The ramshackle Klaxons snagged the award, but Fur And Gold was the most enticing album on the list, all horses and wizards.
 
This comes on like ‘Be My Baby’ with its thumping drum intro – let’s be clear here, it is the ‘Be My Baby’ intro – before it gets all, erm, witchy and ethereal with Natasha whispering her vexing situation as if she’s floating around right next to your ear. The chorus steals the drums again, but provides no answers, just that question. It takes you into a dark, unsettling world – pure pop drama.
 
Junior took the CD off me, popped it in the tray and pressed play, unprompted. We may have been doing this too long. She then held out her ra-ra skirt and curtseyed throughout, which was a new one on me, but I can quite imagine that Khan is a curtseying sort of girl.

[1] Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx, ‘Gold Digger’

It’s funny, clever, catchy, singalong and groovy. It has chutzpah in bags. I mean, it kicks off with a Ray Charles sample and then has the bloke who played him in the film repeating the sample throughout the track. That must show chutzpah. Or it’s a legal issue.

We can’t stop ourselves dancing to this. Junior is having a go at the move that Kanye’s so pleased with in the video. You know, the one where he jerks back and to the side, elbow leading, as if a particularly appealing lady has just gone by at speed. You can tell that he’s practised it in the mirror countless times and has come to the conclusion that he looks pretty fly doing it. Junior looks fairly fresh too. Mum and Dad give it a whirl as well, and we become quite the coolest family on the block.

The album’s not as good as his debut, despite what the latecomer critics might tell you, but the peaks are loftier. ‘Gold Digger’ is the highest of these, and “we want pre-nup!” is the winning shout. I mean, it’s so romantic. Yet Kanye does still love her, faults and all, not caring a jot how jiggy she’s got with Usher and Busta. They’re fine upstanding chaps, after all.

That’s it, then. In the albums, Kate Bush edges out the Arcade Fire, but you knew that already. Junior’s looking forward to 2006 now, choosing a new theme for January and maybe getting a few of those requests out of the way. She’ll buy the Belle & Sebastian and Strokes albums, expecting nothing too exciting, and will continue pestering the Avalanches for new material.

Merry Christmas.

[11] The Futureheads, ‘Hounds Of Love’

There’s been room for a lot of Kate Bush in Ciara’s year. The album’s probably top of the pile, and a cute cover of her ‘Hounds Of Love’ is kicking at the door of the top ten singles. The “oh ah oh”s are talking Junior’s language too, and the legs are whirling again. She either had a particularly good night’s sleep or guitar bands are turning out to be her bag. If it’s the latter, the next 10 will be rich with disappointment. Apart from No.10. Ooh, the anticipation.

The Verve, ‘Lucky Man’/Kate Bush, ‘Wuthering Heights’

These were on the radio this morning while I shaved (bit of gritty bathroom sink real life drama for you there), so perhaps it’s a cheat. Junior was in her bouncy chair, singing along to ‘Lucky Man’. I’ve decided that it’s the song where it went wrong for Ashcroft, inspiration finally giving way to pomposity, after the poised and considered highs of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. Those two may have had a tinge of the overblown, but they carried it off by being totemic. We’ll hear arguments for earlier Verve, from the kind of hipster who’ll dismiss a band when they nuzzle against the bosom of the hit parade. I’m going to ignore them. ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ gets to be the totem. It had bells and whistles. Well, not whistles as such. Whistles and flutes. Suits. Lawsuits. It had a couple of them. Lawsuits that with one hand gave them a “The”, and with the other took away all their royalties.

By happy chance, Ashcroft’s new single was a Video Exclusive on Channel 4 last night. I’d had a couple of Hoegaardens, but it sounded to me as if it started off with some low-fi electronic burbling. “Hello,” I thought, “Richard’s had enough of self-parody, he’s branching out, pushing that envelope, cutting through the Blunts and Powters of our years to reconnect.” Don’t remember the rest of it.

Looking back, I think Junior was droning, not singing. The blossoming satirist was taking the mick.

‘Wuthering Heights’ had her transfixed. Sounds about right.