The NME should revive their singles column, shouldn’t they?
Anyway, here’s the least successful pop sensation of the year, an artist stymied by her record label’s extraordinary, foot-shooting release policy. It’s a moot point whether Carly Rae Jepsen would have done better over here if her album hadn’t already been out across the world six months earlier, but it couldn’t have done any harm. ‘Run Away With Me’ has 1989 confidence and appeal, and all for nothing.
Now it’s 2015, we can truly appreciate how this was the single of 2014. That’s my justification for the delay. It has nothing to do with the fact I fancied a pale ale on the 24th and everything went to the dogs.
It’s a bit dreary putting this here – what with NME, Guardian, everyone else doing the same – and indeed when I submitted my list to NME in, what, August or something, I had it at 2 and Miracle Fortress at 1, but… wait for it… SEASONS CHANGE. This cuts to the heart like a particularly ferocious chest-beat on the Letterman show.
My wife would tell me my preference is all about the synths sounding a bit 80s, and she’s got a point, that’s my Kryptonite. But it’s also the sadness and acceptance wrapped into a couple of warming hooks, and the little crack in Samuel T Herring’s voice that’s so much better than a pantomime roar. I do have reservations – and maybe it’s a sign of a non-vintage year that I’ve got a slight nag about the supposed best single. It’s that chorus. Too muddy, too Killers. The rest of the song props it up.
So do we have consensus?
Junior 3 immediately says, “Good!”
Junior: “It’s calm, it’s nice, I like it.”
Junior 2 knows the words because she has absorbed all of pop music.
My notes say Junior 3 is now making my hair “look cool”.
The last word, once more, to Junior: “I want No.2 to be No.1.”
Junior reckons she’s heard this 30 times. Generously, she still likes it. Junior 2 sings along as she plays a game on her multimedia camera thing and Junior 3 joins in too, dancing and raising her eyebrows on the high notes. As for me, I think I can just post the original draft of my Track of the Year piece for NME, weaving a cunning web of deceit that makes this entry look chunky rather than lazy:
On 12 July 1979, Chicago’s Comiskey Park hosted its very own disco inferno. Prompted by shock jock Steve Dahl, thousands of baseball fans brought disco records to a game between Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers that would climax with a bonfire of this abominable vinyl. The prank did terrible damage to the pitch of course, but it also cemented a notion of disco as the enemy of rock, even tracing an unwanted line in the sand between white and black pop music, as hundreds of twerps tried to consign it to the incinerator of history.
But, like the legend of the phoenix, something was stirring in the ashes. The next decade would see disco cede to hip-hop, then electro, Detroit techno and the rebirth of soul as the salient expression of black culture, but you can’t keep a good rhythm down. And Nile Rodgers, the king of Studio 54, never really went away.
It was Rodgers who first alerted us to ‘Get Lucky’, airily announcing he was working with Daft Punk and then sitting back and watching the internet explode. Chic meets Daft Punk? Have you ever imagined something so ineffably right? Helmets on billboards and teased seconds of the track in a Saturday Night Live ad break were enough to get juices flowing, but it was the sudden arrival of images on the Coachella screens that beckoned meltdown. Suddenly we had confirmation that Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Pharrell Williams and Rodgers were all united over the same clipped riff, decades of perfect dance music and R&B distilled into one luscious brew. And when the real deal supplanted all those loops and fake tracks that had swamped YouTube and Soundcloud, the excitement could have powered cities. No one was listening to anything else.
Why would you? This was a liquid groove, a silky vocal – punctuated by the sort of Jacko hiccups Benjamin Diamond had attempted on an earlier Bangalter production, Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ – robotic breakdowns, cut-glass guitar and a randy hook that insinuated itself into every cell of the brain. Disco was reborn and remembering its primary function – making people dance, making people happy. Burn, baby, burn.
There’s been an awful lot written about David Bowie this year – I alone am responsible for an album review, reviews of all the new tracks on the deluxe reissue, a couple of celebratory pieces about his return, a 1200-word timeline of his triumphant year and a small insert or two in year-end pieces – so why bother with any more? Maybe just to relive the moment this wistful, hopeful track turned up on 8 January. I was working at home in my cold garden office and turned on the computer to find the internet alight. It had only been a year or so since NME had published my blog about it being right and timely that Bowie had “retired” because, simply, he hadn’t seemed capable of the really good stuff for a couple of decades or more. I was thrilled to be wrong. ‘Where Are We Now?’ was knowing but genuine, and wrenched at the heart for reasons hard to place. Just because he was alive? That he seemed as if he was being swallowed up by rolling tides of personal history? That he appeared nervous and frail in that brief cutaway? That he looked like a pasty teddy bear?
“Is it the two faces?” asks Junior, just listening to the audio. “The boy and the girl? Is he old?” She doesn’t like it, unmoved by those old Potsdamer Platz haunts. Junior 2’s a fan, Junior 3 shakes her head. That’s two out of three refusing to toe 2013’s party line. Mavericks.
“This is just noise.” “It’s exciting.” “It’s echoing, it feels loud.” M.I.A. is used to eliciting mixed responses, and all of these come from the same five-year-old. A five-year-old who’s just taken nearly five years to realise I’m making a note of her reactions, and so gets a whole lot more vocal about them.
It is just noise too, but I’m still blinded by hype – perhaps it’s not just hype after all? – and lap it up over and over. M.I.A. takes Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’, turns it up until it creaks at the edges, then bombasts over the top of it, ever-relevant, ever-empty. With M.I.A., What seems uncompromising on the surface is always firmly anchored by a pure pop sensibility. It was the same, really, with Suicide, whose name fascinated me when I saw it for the first time in NME’s All Time 100 Albums, published in late 1985. I’d bought the paper as a taster, a candidate to replace Smash Hits which I felt I’d outgrown (ha!) – in the end, I went for Record Mirror because Mum thought NME was a bit rude, but that list burrowed into me, a primer for a new education.
Ah, the soul boys of the 80s. Even the NME, in 1985, was ranking What’s Going On as the best album of all time, before they decided old albums didn’t mean shit unless they directly influenced The Stone Roses. This edict has topped the commandments for 20 years and counting. Anyway, the soul boys of the 80s. Hipsway, sporting towering piles of Brylcreem, were formed by ex-Altered Image and future Texan Johnny McElhone but were all about gorgeous, pouting singer Skin. Well, Skin and – on ‘The Honeythief’ – a Chic riff that could carry a song alone. The 12” extended mix which, unusually for an 80s version, doesn’t rely (exclusively) on an elongated drum fill to pad it out, shows the riff in all its clipped glory and can be frugged to below.
Junior liked “the tune and the singing”, which has to be a ringing, riffing endorsement. But it wasn’t all gravy – the word “honeythief” sparked gales of laughter. Not so cool now, Skin.
I think we’re meant to laugh at Fisherspooner. The thing is, there’s a touch of the thrilling about ‘Emerge’, tinky-tonky synths and headlong bounce-around looking for a tune notwithstanding. It sounds like it might be wincingly cutting edge while looking fantastically naff at the same time, and – hey – that’s something we all aspire to, right?
Anyway, they burned brightly for a picosecond then suddenly everyone – yes, even the NME – realised they didn’t care a stuff about them after all. Casey Spooner changed his image with the weather, but all to no avail; the world decided that speed-freak Human League cast-offs were no longer the thing. Electroclash, we called it. Or they called it. Someone called it. Now it’s bleedin’ everywhere, only without a name. That ‘80s revival happened long after we gave up trying.
Junior did a spacey sway to the chopstick synths and lost interest by the time the vocal crept in. Satire? It’s in the rudest of health.
Not the crazee Norman Cook remix and its forced jollity and helium vocals. This is the real deal, one of the cutest 45s in years. No other record has so successfully married a tribute to Asha Bhosle and a paean to the 7” single. God knows many have tried.
Junior takes the opportunity, as Marc Bolan – an obvious Cornershop influence – once sang, to “ride a green, blue and red snail like the people of the Beltane”. It’s a rocking horse, in the form of a snail. You know the sort of thing. Before saddling up, she was boogieing along and wondering if this really could be the same band that got caught up in all that Riot Grrl nonsense. Damn the NME. They know how to brand a band.
I was surprised to clock that this is five minutes long. It’s so concise and trim, with just enough embellishment in the strings and handclaps, that you think it’s the classic three-minute pop song. Tjinder Singh also ticks another of my favourite boxes by trying the ‘Young Americans’ trick of fitting too many words in each line. He succeeds where many a Manic Street Preacher has failed.
God. It should be No.1. It’s just that the next song ate rock music, spat it out and ruined its own makers.
“The way that we TALK, the way that we WALK”. Junior finds this frustrating. Are they teasing her? She’s still laughing at me standing by the stereo, but it’s a CD so I’m not even trying to be the superfly DJ. Those new-fangled CD decks are just cheating anyway. You don’t get the chance to hit the stylus arm by mistake, and you never need to balance a 20p coin anywhere to stop it jumping.
I could be the muso about this song’s unusual structure. Girls Aloud and Xenomania eschew your standard verse-chorus arrangement to fling in a load of highs and “can you see the join?” splicing. It shows ambition that a lot of modern pop lazily avoids, whether you like the record or not, and it’s a gamble. They don’t get the Number Ones you might expect, and perhaps they don’t appeal to “the kids” as much as they do to the pop scholars.
Pop scholars: Paul Morley, Paul Gambaccini, writers at Stylus and Pitchfork, the NME to satisfy the occasional whim, and hey, me. And Junior. Will she be defending this sort of stuff when all her friends are into the 2018 equivalents of Sum 41, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Killers and 50 Cent? Don’t fail me now.