[20] Regina Spektor, ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’

Regina Spektor

Junior is 7. When we started our year-end countdowns on 7 December 2005 she was five months old and our No.20 single of the year was Gorillaz and De La Soul’s ‘Feel Good Inc.’.

In 2006 it was Secret Machines’ ‘Lightning Blue Eyes’
In 2007 it was Bat For Lashes’ ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’
In 2008 it was Hot Chip’s ‘Ready For The Floor’
In 2009 it was LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Bye Bye Bayou’
In 2010 it was Lykke Li’s ‘Get Some’
In 2011 it was Surkin’s ‘Ultra Light’

And now it’s Regina Spektor, exhuming a song from a decade ago and slapping on a bouncing, pop reggae rhythm track that you’d have expected to see Rockmelons fail to have a hit with in 1993. So it’s all about history today.

“I know this song,” says Junior, turning sharply to the stereo and draping her hair in her apple strudel and custard. “This is the best song ever,” projects Junior 2 (aged 4), hearing it for the first time. By the second chorus she knows all the words because she’s got a brain like that. Junior 3 (aged 2) just wants to get down and dance with her sisters. With every daughter we produce, this blog gets more complicated. That’s why I take six-month breaks – not laziness. No.

Spektor’s never been more than a kooky distant blip on my radar but What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is a deep-pile, affecting album and this is its shining pop moment. It also makes me want to hang out on Lexington and claim, “I love Paris in the rain”. I just love Paris when I’m not throwing up the previous night’s dinner from that place near Sacré Coeur. So that’s nice.

Talking Heads, ‘Life During Wartime’

David Byrne and Brian Eno

For all Talking Heads’ – and Brian Eno’s – clean lines, ‘Life During Wartime’ has a touch of the melodramatic. Equating living in Manhattan with enduring life in a city under siege is extending a metaphor until it’s stretched enough to believe in itself, but David Byrne is a panic-eyed master of the paranoid, and here he and the rest of the ‘Heads scratch and jerk until they’re a twitching bug of insecurity.

Maybe New York felt like that in 1979 if you were strung out enough. After all, they were CHANGING THE FACE OF POPULAR MUSIC. “You oughta know not to stand by the window,” not while the style mag snipers are perched on the rooftops.

But how does it feel, coming to Talking Heads cold in 2012? “My head is talking right now,” is Junior’s literal response. More abstractly she and her sisters dissolve into a mess of muso faces and electroshock shimmies – a reasonable reaction to ‘Life During Wartime”s troublefunk.

After it fades there’s a moment of reflection before Junior decides the track is “in the middle”. But they were at the vanguard! They were pushing rock forward! “It sounds like a song from the olden days.”

[2] Kylie Minogue, ‘All The Lovers’

Kylie Minogue

Dance. A cosy embrace melding euphoric 80s New York garage and bright-eyed synth pop, Kylie’s best single – or near as dammit – lowers her gently back onto the dancefloor, where she can get you into the groove without being tricksy or slavishly following trend. There are shimmering parallels with ‘I Believe In You’, another overlooked Minogue masterpiece that brims with generosity and unclothed feeling, and both prove how Kylie soars when she relaxes.

It hurts. I think a part of ‘All The Lovers” broad appeal is our heartfelt wish for Kylie to be happy. Yes, this was written for her, yes, pop is a fiction, but take it at face value and this is a sweeping away of disappointment, betrayal and simple not-up-to-scratchness that leaves her with a tip-top man.

Feel. Well, Junior likes it. She knows the chorus already and has some fairly muddled ideas about Kylie’s place in her narrow pop hierarchy. To the selling point that Uncle Tom reckons Kylie the finest thing since sliced shrimp, she offers this: “I think she’s the best too. But the most is Lady Gaga and Girls Aloud. My Number 3 is Kylie, second is Girls Aloud, but the best is Lady Gaga.” I think we can all get behind that.

Breathe. A sigh of relief that Kylie still has the chops to compete with those youngish pretenders – she’s an old dear, after all. Will she be able to carry off a leotard in 10 years’ time? Do we want to know? Hell yeah.

[11] Here We Go Magic, ‘Collector’

Here We Go Magic

“It’s got fast and slow singing and I give it 7/10,” confirms Junior. I might as well not turn up. Still, while I’ve got a moment – this is the sort of sunshine West Coast pop that makes you sound like The Thrills if you’re rubbish. Happily, Here We Go Magic are a bit different, giving ‘Collector’ a lick of pace and some tremendous wordless flutter at the end that’s unspeakably beautiful, but I’ve just tried anyway.

On their debut last year, singer Luke Temple sounded a lot more like Paul Simon. What changed? I suspect the arrival on the New York scene of son Harper Simon, drastically cramping the space for “people who sound like Paul Simon”. Perhaps there was some litigation. One to ponder.

[9] Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys, ‘Empire State Of Mind’

New York reminds me of Christmas anyway, possibly through seeing When Harry Met Sally a dozen too many times, so it feels right to eulogise this love letter right now. But is it a no-holds-barred tribute? Alicia Keys’ commanding, spine-tingling holler sounds like a throaty homage, but The Hov swings between wallowing in the neighbourhood and caution-poem acknowledgement of those who have fallen by the wayside. It adds bite – “Mommy took a bus trip/Now she got her bust out” – and intrigue – “Good girls gone bad/The city’s filled with them” – to a big, ballsy anthem.

As I cue ‘Empire…’ up, Junior asks, “Will it make my shoulders go funky?” Built around samples from The Moments and Isaac Hayes, I should say so. She bounds about, dangerously overexcited, and seems to know every word of Keys’ contribution – until she starts singing her Nativity song over the top, sampling anew. Anyway, this one couldn’t fail to move her; it’s a tune as massive as Alicia’s champion asset.

Don’t bite the apple, Eve:

[17] Madonna, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’


1985 was Madonna’s annus mirabilis, barely a week passing without a saucy New York dance-pop nugget brightening up the UK charts. She bagged eight Top 5 hits, including bona fide breakthrough ‘Like A Virgin’, ‘Holiday’ recharting 18 months after its initial Top 10 appearance, first No.1 ‘Into The Groove’ and the utterly forgotten ‘Angel’. Try and sing it, go on. So the slutty Material Girl angle was all sewn up; now it was time for the serious artiste.

We’d already had the ever-so-earnest ‘Live To Tell’, but ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ was the big one. A rather less trashy tackling of her Catholic guilt than ‘Like A Virgin’, it was real, honest and oddly – paradoxically – innocent. Dramatic too. ‘Like A Prayer’ would scare the horses, but ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ is the raw truth. Madonna was still fresh and unpredictable and winningly rounded too, not the skin-smeared Terminator we blanch at today.

Taken purely at face value, ‘Papa…’ is an easy singalong, but Junior might just have seen it as an oblique way of telling me to shut up. We can salute creativity like that. We also found the song good for call and response – “Papa preach?” “Papa DON’T preach!”

Pressed on the actual quality of the record, Junior declared it “good.” A future in music journalism awaits.

Some good advice:

[13] M People, ‘How Can I Love You More?’

How Can I Love You More

No, wait, don’t go. Obviously, M People committed legion aural crimes with 99% of their output. Even long after their split, we’re force-fed an annual re-release of Heather Small’s gut-clearing, pious, schoolma’amish ‘Proud’ dirge. Well, Heather, I’ve sat on my arse at work all day, surfing the internet and slagging off my colleagues. Nothing to be proud of, but what’s it to you?

They made one good single – and I don’t care who knows it – with a restrained vocal performance from Small, before she rammed her histrionics down our throats, before we’d had a chance to wonder at the pineapple on her bonce. It sounds like a New York Garage track, quite different to the wailing dross that followed and the clumsy hit remix of this track itself a few years later.

Junior spends the five minutes laughing at me, of course.