[19] Prefab Sprout, ‘Billy’


“We had this song at home,” points out Junior 3 as we try this out in the car. She’s right. Prefab Sprout have been part of my staple musical diet for nearly 30 years so the girls are never going to get away with it. ‘Billy’ – probably the most immediately lovable track on surprise Paddy McAloon comeback Crimson/Red – does all the right Sprout things: a fanciful story, a succession of shivering catches (if not hooks, which might explain the lack of hits) and a woollen warmth.

There’s a song on the album (‘The Songs Of Danny Galway’) that plays out a meeting between McAloon and Jimmy Webb, but ‘Billy’ is where Webb really looms. A melody of tear-choked comfort, imagined wide vistas, harmonica taking us to the prairies – it just needs McAloon to leave the house for once and go and find a string section. “I like the harmonica,” says Junior, which would please Paddy. He’s letting his feelings show.

[8] Kylie Minogue, ‘Confide In Me’

So Kylie fled the suffocating grip of Stock Aitken Waterman to find credibility, dance chops and, ultimately, zero record sales with then ultra-cool label Deconstruction. Everything looked rosy with ‘Confide In Me’ – all melodrama, crunchy beats and Top 3 success – and a decent album followed, only with diminishing returns. I worked at Deconstruction for one whole day as the album was being released, and made off with tons of promo material including a semi-lifesize (well, you can never tell with the Kylester) cardboard cut-out that my brother now owns. It was small recompense for spending eight hours sending out M People 12”s.

My own diminutive pop star claimed to “like Kylie” and admired the glossy CD booklet. At first she had it confused with the Saint Etienne CD also on the desk, which is quite the coincidence – ‘Confide In Me’’s B-side was a cover of the Ets’ ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’. Even more thrilling, the, er, other B-side was a cover of Prefab Sprout’s ‘If You Don’t Love Me’. Truly a potted history of pristine pop.

Lightspeed Champion, ‘Galaxy Of The Lost’

This month, or for as long as I can muster the will, we’ll be reappraising the records that didn’t make the 2007 Top 20 either because a) I didn’t deem them up to scratch at the time, b) I forgot about them, c) I hadn’t actually heard them or d) I was plain wrong. Messing up the categories straight away, Lightspeed Champion gets the first shout because I didn’t listen to this properly until mid-December.

Dev Hynes comes hot from Test Icicles – the charmingly named nu-rave, shouty-punk, whatever-label-you-can-rustle-up outfit who never quite made it big. He’s taken a long, hard look at himself, declared himself happy with the outlandish hair and threads but changed tack completely for the music. Ticking personal boxes for me, he now sounds as if he’s transmitting direct from Postcard records in the early ‘80s, with some first-album Prefab Sprout chucked in for winning measure. It’s fiddly, beguiling, inventive, sensitive pop… about drinking gin and throwing up.

Now Junior thought this was pretty special and waltzed around with the smallest of the many toy babies filling up our living room. I could tell from her beam that she was delighted Dad had finally seen sense and given Dev his props; she promised to take a more integral role on Jukebox Junior’s steering committee in future, to avoid similar mishaps. As for Lightspeed Champion’s future, he’s our hot tip for 2008. Watch him plummet.

[9] Rhythim Is Rhythim, ‘Strings Of Life’

Derrick May

Now, this wasn’t strictly originally released in 1989, but then techno stuff took so bally long to get from Detroit to London that it’s a moot point. Not to mention the final leg up the A41 to some Hemel Hempstead garage. That’s a garage with tools and half-used pots of paint, not a genre-forming hotbed of soul-infused house music.

It says 1989 on the label of the 12” slapped down on the right-hand wheel of steel this morning, for Junior’s listening pleasure and hardnosed assessment. The vinyl’s a bit worn now, so she hardly noticed the subtle piano washes before the beat made her jump. Then she sat and chewed the kangaroo that looks worryingly like one of those soluble bath soaps. Ah well. She wouldn’t be the first person to foam at the mouth while dancing to impeccable acid-tinged techno.

This record’s a sacred cow, Derrick May a revered pioneer. Which is why it’s so obvious that a bunch of troglodytes called Soul Central should decide a year or so back that what the song needed was to be beaten to death with bland, and then desecrated with a pointless vocal track. Cool.

Today’s digression: Virgin Radio just played Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ for at least the second time this week. It was one of the first couple of dozen singles I bought, so I’m warm towards it, but it’s hardly some canonical classic that deserves frequent airplay 23 years later, is it? I’ve noticed this trend on stations like Heart and Magic. They’ve decided, say, that Atlantic Starr’s ‘Secret Lovers’ is one of the all-time greats – kind of an alternative to the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the Greatest Single Of All Time universe. Dunno who’s right; I suspect it’s neither, but at least ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has some kind of sales/polling pedigree, usually lacking in the Heart and Magic faves.

Jukebox Junior FM coming soon, playing wall-to-wall Prefab Sprout. It’s What The Public Wants.

Prefab Sprout, ‘The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’

Junior first heard this in Cyprus, an unexpected treat on an otherwise bewildering Greek music channel. She was three months old and learning how to laugh. Dad singing along to the chorus, bouncing her up and down was particularly amusing. I don’t know whether her fits of giggles were directed at her father’s ability to hold a note, or whether she was ridiculing the lyrical pearls “hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque”. Either way, she shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions.

Dad has a cold, so the singing this morning was cracked and the high notes were just that little bit beyond his grasp. Junior found some faint hilarity in this, but lightning didn’t strike twice. Paddy McAloon’s gifts for gentle ribbing and pop catchiness were no match for a growing girl’s hunger pangs.

Perhaps it’s a shame that Prefab Sprout will linger in the memory of most for this track alone. Yes, there’s a quirkiness to many of their songs, but it’s most obvious here and it muddies the more thoughtful message beneath. Rock ‘n’ roll posturing, its bombast is being pricked, with no little affection.

Affection runs through McAloon’s work, but his words could be caustic. Nonetheless, as the albums have become less frequent and he has quietly slipped into his 40s, the tone has softened. It makes Prefab Sprout more suited to Radio 2 these days, although there are flickers of beauty that reach beyond pigeonholing. So, they were never kings of rock ‘n’ roll, but you may as well be remembered for something.