Rolf Harris, ‘Jake The Peg’

Rolf Harris

A renaissance man – painter, singer, writer, comedian, TV presenter, wobble board pioneer – Rolf bestrides post-war culture like a bearded colossus, the Ayers Rock of the art world, the panting Rolfaroo of blocky strokes and sad/absurd songs. See what I did there? I anointed Rolf the antipodean Zelig of modern artistic advance. Always twinkling in the fabric, twitching the curtains of the global stage.

Rolf’s way is to find the poignant in the ridiculous – or vice versa – from Jake’s God-given travails to Miss Given’s usually ignored presence in ‘Stairway To Heaven’. He walks a fine line, but he has Kate Bush’s trust (I can just hear him against a backdrop of falling snowflakes, can’t you?) and can still make a grown man cry with ‘Two Little Boys’, a pair of facts that buys him a pass to mess about all he likes and remain a respected figure even as he emotes over a poorly chinchilla on a vet’s operating table.

His wily reach spans generations, with ‘Jake The Peg’ enjoying a canonical place in our home decades after it was recorded. It’s the first track on Hello Children Everywhere!, a 3-CD compendium of Children’s Hour classics that pulls in moth-eared but magnificent turns from Pinky and Perky, Flanders and Swann, Morecambe and Wise and other non-duo based acts. Such sustained quality, and kids today get Mr Tumble. Or, just as often in my house, Rihanna.

‘Jake The Peg’ prompts enthusiastic singing and dancing – surely another skill Rolf can master – and, from Junior alone, a lot of awkward walking about using a child-sized broom as an extra leg. “Can I touch your leg?” asks Junior 2, in a rather forward manner. Her comic timing’s great but it doesn’t quite match Rolf’s delayed pay-offs, the rhymes you can see a mile off yet they still slay you when they drop. I’m laughing; Junior’s now tap dancing, her peg leg an Astairesque cane.

…2, 3, 4…8, 9, 10…14…19, 20, 21… … to twenty-five!”

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[16] Derek And The Dominos, ‘Layla’

Layla. Need those shoes.

Its critical standing has stumbled a bit in recent years, but when I was a kid ‘Layla’ was painted as pretty much the greatest record ever. Haughtily disregarding stiff competition from ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Hotel California’ (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was still held in some suspicion), ‘Layla’ had a little bit of manliness about it, and rock critics love that musky whiff. Or whiffy musk. It’s a frightful indulgence, of course, but come on – that’s one deathless riff and a bucket of tasty drum fills. Its swashbuckling energy must’ve taken it out of Eric too, because he never really poked himself out of his slumber again.

I was excited to hear Junior’s thoughts on such a tiresome (yet great) macho rock standard, and she didn’t disappoint. “It sounds like a party,” which is fair on the clatter. I told her that Clapton was once regarded as the best guitarist around and wondered if she agreed. “I don’t know. I know who the best singer is.” Go on… “Lady Gaga.” She and her sister then sang ‘Bad Romance’ over ‘Layla”s endless coda.

[12] Coldplay, ‘Viva La Vida’

When the Pet Shop Boys covered this in their Pandemonium show – Neil Tennant in crown and gown, natch – it fostered the biggest singalong of the night. I’d swear, somewhat insultingly (for whoever), half the audience assumed the song was Tennant and Lowe’s – and wised up too late. Otherwise, I’m not sure there’s a natural overlap between the bands, but the point for me is ‘Viva La Vida’ has fast become an anthem and, I’ll wager, the Noughties hit that will last. At least in the sort of Absolute Radio pantheon that will forever rate Bohemian Rhapsody and Stairway To Heaven the standout peaks of our popular culture.

Obviously I think this is a great record, and while much of that is down to its immediacy and bursting pride, there’s also the question of its surprising birth. After all, X&Y had pretty much clawhammered the joy out of the soul of anyone who listened. It was a flatulent album, stretching its reserves of hot air over a dozen lifeless rhyming-dictionary clods of half-songs. They barely deserved their Brian Eno moment. However, he turned up anyway and has to take a hefty slice of credit for the alert Coldplay that emerged. But credit to Martin and co for actually bothering their arses this time.

Like Doctor Who, this is a family favourite. Actually, Doctor Who’s too scary for Junior. Let’s call this a mainstay of our automobile glee club.

Junior says: “WOAH-OH-OHH-OH-OHHH-OHHH. That’s the best bit.” And probably the only bit not pilfered from Joe Satriani, Cat Stevens, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’… – ah, we’re all the sum of our influences, aren’t we? Whatever cobbles this together, it gets Junior smiling every time. Maybe she’s got some publishing rights too.

Best bit: Well, what she said.