[18] Roberta Flack, ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’

Roberta Flack

Speaking of Dexys Midnight Runners, good old Kev half-inched the intro from this for their ‘Reminisce (Part Two)’, didn’t he? Either he’s wracked with guilt about it and fessed up in the sleevenotes of the most recent Don’t Stand Me Down reissue, or, erm, I’m about to get sued.

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s original version of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ is a bit fairy fey, but it has a certain mystery. Roberta Flack draws that out, then draws the whole song out until it’s almost completely still, a beautiful ambient drone.

Junior’s mum says it makes her sad, but Junior herself thinks it’s about rolling your eyes. As opposed to “rose in your eyes”. So, while the rest of us feel an ache – or a creepy memory of Play Misty For Me – Junior hears Flack sounding exasperated.

[19] Van Morrison, ‘Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)’

Van Morrison

It’d be difficult to talk about this without mentioning Dexys Midnight Runners. So let’s make this about Dexys Midnight Runners. Their version of ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ was the first single I ever bought, and hence a landmark in the History of Pop. As a callow child, I didn’t get the joke of the Jocky Wilson photo on Top Of The Pops, and also failed to knowingly snigger at Kevin Rowland singing, “real you see” instead of “Reet Petite”. And besides, maybe Jackie Wilson did once say it was “real, you see” or “real”, you see. We’ll never actually know.

What we can say with confidence is Kev says he doesn’t need “no tea” in his cup, while Van doesn’t need coffee. From this, we can extrapolate that it takes a whole lot less to get Kev “wired up”, but I guess we knew that anyway. The DMR version is a tight affair – no surprise with that crazily drilled band – while Morrison and co take it headlong and ramshackle. I’ve a sentimental attachment to the DMR take, obviously, but Van is out on a limb, giving it that extra lick of flame.

Junior flung herself around the room with celtic abandon from first “dup” to last. When I asked her for a more considered view afterwards, her mouth was too full of Rice Krispies to offer a clear assessment. It could’ve been “real you see” or “Reet Petite”.

[17] Dexys Midnight Runners, ‘Show Me’

Dexys Midnight Runners

The great lost Dexys Mk II are greeted with a beam from Junior, and she really couldn’t have done anything else: ‘Show Me’ hares in on a brass-boosted dragster, all off-beat claps and parping trombones, crazed yelps and underpinning organ. It brims with adrenaline – and some under-the-counter stuff – and is tighter than your current mortgage lender.

Mk II then. Mild-mannered, democratic frontman Kevin Rowland had kicked half of the peerless Soul Rebels line-up into touch, returning a year later as boxers not dockers. This is the collective that never made an album, but could have been the best. Some of their singles had a gypsy-fiddle makeover to reappear on Too-Rye-Ay, although ‘Show Me’ only survived in counterpoint as ‘I’ll Show You’ – the point where that second album really begins to fly.

This benefits from its one-off single status – it emphasises its economy, conciseness, tightness. The brass is irresistible, reflected in Junior’s trombone mime, and the whole giddy rush keeps us smiling as we skid over the thaw.

[3] Jackie Wilson, ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher’

Junior greets Jackie Wilson’s warm hug of a record the way everyone should – with finger clicks. Few love songs swing like this. It’s not long before she returns to trying to negotiate her scooter out the back door, but she has time to ask “Who’s singing?” “Jackie Wilson. Can you say ‘Jackie Wilson’?” “I can’t say it.” Jackie wouldn’t be impressed by her lack of application; he’s put his heart, soul and carefully teased quiff into this.

Most of my generation’s radars picked Wilson up as a plasticine hollerer on the revived ‘Reet Petite’, or perhaps on (the first single I ever bought) Dexys Midnight Runners’ Van Morrison cover ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ (“it was real, you see” – nearly, Kev) – but this and ‘I Get The Sweetest Feeling’ seem to have been in my back pocket forever.

The barely contained freneticism of the opening guitar strum is just about kept in check as Wilson gets ever more fervent. ‘…Higher And Higher’ is about the one “in a million girls”, but it’s just as easily a big walloping thank you to the man upstairs. Wilson bursts with passion, voice cracking as he sings with wonder that he never saw disappointment’s face again. It’s so infectious, you can believe it.

[1] Dexys Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express, ‘Come On Eileen’

It’s the last song of the night, the bride and groom are long gone and we’ve kicked our legs to ‘New York, New York’ and swayed to ‘The Power Of Love’. A familiar, skipping bassline starts up, with the fiddles in close attendance. The dancefloor is flooded with hardy revellers, linking arms in the auld tradition. One lad stands scowling at the side, he’s had a good night but this strikes a sour note yet again. Doesn’t he like the song? He bloody LOVES it.

How did it come to this? A visionary work struck an unexpected note with the public, sold way over a million and became the wedding/school disco standard, danced along to by a pissed-up crowd who’d normally claim to dislike it but find it a “laugh” in a champagne haze. It cheapens it, steals its wit, strips its pathos.

How did it come to this? Kevin Rowland was no callow youth; Dexys had already had one Number One, had already released the best album of the decade and had already tried a couple of styles and line-ups. 20 years later, apparently free of his cocaine mania, Rowland was in full confessional mode, claiming culpability for all manner of sins. He said he stole the raggle-taggle gypsy style of ‘Come On Eileen’ and beyond from former bandmate Kevin Archer, who’d formed the Blue Ox Babes and played Rowland some demos. Whatever, Archer didn’t have the extra spark to turn ideas into tunes. Rowland ran with it and the rest is history. Blue Ox Babes were painted as Dexys copyists in the press and the rest is, er, history.

‘Come On Eileen’ is hugely ambitious. Strings, tin whistles, banjos, pipes, and pianos should make a folk song, but end up with a rousing piece of power pop. Sheer bombast allows Kev to sneak in some racy lines, while at the same time hiding some beauties, “moved a million hearts in mono”, “beaten down eyes sunk in smoke-dried faces”. It was a revelation until it was a cliché. I guess that’s the way things go.

Of course I’d like my daughter to love my favourite single. She stood in front of the stereo, palms face down on the coffee table in “let’s see if this is all you’ve cracked it up to be” style. I could handle her snubbing Bowie, The Jam, Scritti Politti, even Girls Aloud, but this, this is different. She dances. All the way through. And she doesn’t link arms with anyone.

[13] Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, ‘The Message’

Let’s say hip hop began when Kool Herc took a couple of copies of the Incredible Bongo Band’s ‘Apache’ and played the same bit of breakbeat over and over again. That was around 1973 or something. So how come people still refer to ‘The Message’ as “early” hip hop? I reckon it’s because you’re NUFFINK until you’re on Top Of The Pops. And now TOTP is no longer, nothing will be anything ever again. Bands will be stuck on myspace until they’re yesterday’s news, mum and dad won’t be able to say “Is that a boy or a girl? You can’t even understand what they’re saying,” and Michael Parkinson will shape the mainstream, unchallenged. Is that what you want? IS THIS WHAT MADE BRITAIN GREAT?

The impending apocalypse hasn’t registered with Junior, who stares wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the immaculate black vinyl falling onto the turntable. She knows the medium of great tunes, and grips the coffee table, ready to dance. Seven minutes, this, and the proto-critic loves every second.

It was my first real brush with hip hop – ‘Wham! Rap’ was still a few months away – and I was impressed. Their clothes were madder than Kevin Rowland’s and we could all chant along at boarding school without indulging in girlie singing. That was important.