[14] M.I.A., ‘Born Free’

M.I.A.

“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.

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[2] Depeche Mode, ‘Personal Jesus’

Depeche Mode

I ditched Smash Hits for Record Mirror in 1986, and had it delivered until its demise in 1991-ish. Nothing ever lived up to it, nothing seemed to cater for me after that. In the late 80s it hooked itself onto the new rock/dance crossovers in its superlative BPM section alongside the usual house and r&b reviews, ahead of the game with early warnings about unexpected remixes and bewildering new directions. ‘Personal Jesus’ was one of these blindside dancefloor monsters.

The pervtastic ‘Mode (© Smash Hits) were big but somehow still niche. I reckon this single – with its swampy swagger, twanging groove and stomping beat – made it “OK” to like them. It topped Record Mirror’s Cool Cuts chart on its white label release, and went on to storm the clubs and excite indie kids and pop kids alike. ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ didn’t quite have the same broad appeal.

I’d been buying their singles for years – a dubious inheritance for Junior – but ‘Personal Jesus’ was the first one that I thought was really great. The tight, pulsating Violator album was pretty special too. They peaked here, I reckon, before Dave Gahan started on all that dying and being resurrected caper. Junior hasn’t got time for all that showing off; she’s only here for the music, and the glam stomp grabbed her right from the off. A leather-skirted hit for the Basildon boys.

OK, viewers, your turn: guess the Number One, choose the next year, suggest a new theme, throw in some bad puns on Martin Gore’s name, slag off the songs so far and gnash teeth at the absence of Technotronic.

[2] The Sugarcubes, ‘Birthday’

Junior thought this was coming from the light fittings and, let’s face it, that probably isn’t far off. When not staring at the ceiling, she spent the rest of the song craning to look around the room, determined to find that Icelandic pixie. We’re no wiser than we were back then.

Back then, I first heard about The Sugarcubes in Record Mirror, then saw a snatch of video on the Chart Show. You had to take notice. In Oxford Street’s Virgin Megastore, I saw 18 year old gothic indie chicks carrying the 12” of the Icelandic version, and felt intimidated. The shop was very different in the ’80s, not the shiny identikit middle-aged-50-quid-man haven it is today. It was dirty and seedy, and you were sneered on like a fish-out-of-water dad in a small, independent record store. Jelly-legged, I’d take my Microdisney tapes up to the listening booths, knowing I’d feel compelled to buy them however they sounded.

‘Birthday’ was alien and exciting. My big sister – by now a national luminary of youth music theatre – said that Björk would ruin her vocal chords screaming like that. I thought that this was beside the point. Now I’m hoping that Junior didn’t pick up any ideas.