[13] Faces, ‘Stay With Me’

Faces

There’s never been a satisfactory rule about singles which pop up over the festive period. Look at The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’ – No.1 for five weeks over December 1981/January 1982, shifter of a million-plus copies, and where is it in the Official Top 40 Bestselling Singles of 1981? Nowhere. OK, where is it in the Official Top 40 Bestselling Singles of 1982? Er, nowhere. It certainly moved enough units in either year to make an appearance, even if not at the very top, so it must’ve fallen foul of arbitrary cut-off dates.

So here’s our rule in action: ‘Stay With Me’ entered the charts in December 1971, but peaked in January. It goes in the year of its peak. Not that that helps The Human League. Moving on…

Junior likes the guitars, and who wouldn’t? They’re so louche. At about the age of 19, I decided this kind of vagabond rock was the pinnacle of human achievement in the field of cool, and started wearing vintage threads and growing hair and beard like The Black Crowes at almost the exact moment The Black Crowes decided this kind of vagabond rock was the pinnacle of human achievement in the field of cool. Synergy, man.

Today we talked about Rod Stewart’s generosity in keeping his band alive when he was doing nicely enough by himself – but he always was one for gangs – and Junior was pleased to hear that Little Nanny remains his biggest fan. I’m pretty keen on Rod myself. Like Kelly Jones, I’d sacrifice all artistic integrity to have a third of his ruined voice. Anyway, thumb-rating is the theme of this week, and the Faces got two, aloft.

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[32] Kylie Minogue, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’

Can't Get You Out Of My Head

Seems lazy to give props to this track with a mere blog post, when Paul Morley managed to devote an entire BOOK to it, but obviously everything about it sitting in a room with Alvin Lucier while – in its techno dreams – it sweeps down an autobahn with Kraftwerk has, erm, already been said. For some reason.

In its real-life context, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ was the sleek, pulsating sonic seduction that made it actually matter that Kylie had come back. The slight ‘Spinning Around’ made us say, “Isn’t it nice to have Kylie back in pop?”, but this one prompted a “Thank God.”

Junior says: Nothing, but a broad grin spreads across her face. “Do you know who this is?” I ask. “Kylie!” She’s come through her pop education.

Best bit: Where it breaks down and the synths go a bit ‘Love Action’.

[2] The Human League, ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’

The Human League

Not a chart-topper like Oakey and Sulley’s “No, I’M in the driving seat” cocktail bar drama, but easily the most dense, intricate and balls-out inspired of Dare’s mega-hits, ‘Love Action’ is arguably (I’m arguing) the shimmering pinnacle of ‘80s synth-pop. How come? It’s packed to the rafters with electronic effects, boasts half a dozen different keyboard riffs – each digression as thrilling as the last – and there’s that beam-me-up ‘meoww’ sound at the start. All this, and it glories in a towering Big Phil rap that casts Lou Reed forever as “the old man”. And Susanne yelps “HARD times”, without sounding awkward for once.

Echoing her confusion at The Man Machine’s cover, Junior sees Phil’s slapped-up face on the front of Dare and asks, “Why’s he a she?” Lord knows what she’d have made of Boy George in autumn 1982. She and my old man could’ve exchanged unhip daddio jokes. The next puzzle is “Why’s he looking through a rectangle?”, and perhaps we’ll never know. Still, these obstacles negotiated, she pops her feet into her dad’s Converse and winds her body to the sci-fi disco.

This is Phil talking:

[3] The Human League, ‘Don’t You Want Me’

The Human League

As a chart statistician (hobby), I always felt a bit sorry for ‘Don’t You Want Me’, which comfortably outsold the bestselling singles of both 1981 and 1982 but – because it did its business over the turn of the year – appeared in neither year-end sales chart.

Maybe that’s just me.

It’s an exciting record for other reasons too, of course: a whopping great hit that everyone knows the (possibly vaguely real-life?) words to; that forboding synth riff with the rubbish arpeggio at the end; a rare meeting of flat vocals from both protagonists; being the most obvious hit yet the fourth single to be released from the stupendous Dare. Oh, and my two piano party pieces are the refrains from this and Depeche Mode’s ‘Love In Itself.2’. I imagine they’re yours too.

Juniors 1 and 2 didn’t give two hoots about the music this morning, preferring to play with their baby dolls. Hmmm. Junior 2 wanted 1’s baby. Hmmm. So she did “want her baby”. Hmmm.

Ohhhhh-oh-oh-oh:

[9] Alphabeat, ‘Fascination’

Alphabeat

When The Human League sang ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ they weren’t just introducing us to a whole new blaring synth noise or releasing their final true electro-pop single (ok, there was ‘Louise’ a couple of years later, but that was the red herring of the macho Hysteria) – no, they were telling us to stay wide-eyed, drop that cynicism, remember your youth, feel wonder, carry on loving fiercely catchy and shrill Scandinavian pop records…

And whaddya know? Here’s one of them now, with nearly the same name. The story’s the same too. You won’t like this if girl-boy vocal-exchange giddiness and relentlessly upbeat powerpop makes you come out in hives, but if you’re prepared to let a little melodic light into your blackened soul, you might just be able to stave off the nausea for a few minutes. Junior and I love this because a) we’re essentially the same musical mental age and b) we’re both brilliant at singing the “woah-oh woah-oh-oh”s. Here’s your guilty pleasure for 2008.

[6] Kylie Minogue, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’

Yes – shock and awe – the Greatest Pop Single of the Century is only the 2001 No.6. It’s a fine record, but it’s as if the critiscenti were simply waiting for a Kylie track to hang the accolade on. The pumped beats, hopping synths, “la la la”s, the non-singing, the ‘Love Action’ “wowowowow”s, they all add up to an addictive confection – it’s just I’d have liked a proper hook and a whiff of soul before propping it up as a paragon of the art. Even Paul Morley, in the Kylie shrine that is his essay Words And Music, is essentially hung up on the video, not the song.

So there you are. I’m a semi-believer.

But we don’t care what I think. Junior was entranced – although, like Morley, she wasn’t fussing about the song, more about the airbrushed loveliness of Kylie on the single sleeve. She wanted to hold it, and spent most of the playback opening the case and saying, “Where’s Kylie gone?” If X is anything to go by, she’s gone on to diminishing pop returns.

[16] Fischerspooner, ‘Emerge’

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.

[4] LCD Soundsystem, ‘Someone Great’

LCD Soundsystem, ‘Someone Great’

Met with gentle swaying from Junior, James Murphy’s song of profound loss is warm in its stark simplicity. It’s the aching heart of a quite brilliant album – Sound Of Silver – an album that engages the feet and the emotions, a remarkable forward step from the admittedly fine new-waveisms and punk funk of their debut.
 
Built on burbling, prodded keyboards reminiscent of early exercises by Depeche Mode and The Human League and propelled by a hopscotching beat, ‘Someone Great’ tells an unadorned tale of the death – we assume – of a beloved friend. It is powerful in its lack of histrionics, but anguish seeps through in the final chorus. Tough but beautiful.
 
The sentiments won’t reach Junior, but she dances with care and sticks around for most of its six-plus minutes. As it fades, she asks me to “put the girl on”. And so to No.3.

[18] The Human League, ‘Mirror Man’

Kicking off with the please-God-make-them-STOP ooo-ooo-ooo-OOO harmonies from The Girls, this is a Sheffield-hued Motownesque synth pop bounder, blessed with one of Phil Oakey’s more soulful vocals. Well, he lets his flat robotone crack in one place. That’s as close as the West Yorks Veronica Lake will ever get to letting rip and breaking down.

And it’s one of those singles that doesn’t appear on an album, so extra points there. The Human League weren’t strangers to that – the next single, ‘Fascination’ was the same. Rather than a sop to the fans, I think they were struggling to follow up the peerless Dare, so would bung out a single whenever a song passed muster. The patchy in the extreme Hysteria was the album that finally rolled up, heralded by the bewildering ‘The Lebanon’. The goose was cooked.

So, is it better than ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’? Junior looked puzzled at first; soon she was clapping along. “A bit derivative,” she said, “but it has a certain Steeltown infectiousness that transcends its reference points.”