Glee Cast, ‘Don’t Stop Believin”

Rachel off of Glee

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing callow record buyers that those Top of The Pops compilations were the real deal. I was duped once – but only once – when I sifted the sales racks in WHSmith and found an LP of glittering pop hits by (and the memory might be fuzzy here) the likes of “The Jam”, “Soft Cell” and “XTC”, for just two quid! A bargain even before you factor in the laughing lady with the Farrah Fawcett hairdo, pulling a t-shirt down over a bare bottom half. I already had a sharp ear back then and it took me one intro to realise there was something fishy about this album. A bit of further investigation, and I never played it again.

I’m sure a relisten now would reveal ample competence on the part of the session players, but no bite, no star quality. Like I say, you fall for it once.

Or we all fall for it all over again. At least Glee’s brazen about it, but still their covers – despite extraordinary production values and belting performances – lack the edge of the originals; after all, they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. The thing about ‘Don’t Stop Believin” though, is, for once, it sounds like a different song from Journey’s teasing anthem. The a cappella ‘pianos’, the girl/boy exchange, even the relative brevity make a successful pure pop transformation.

Why talk about it now? Junior requested it: “This is my favourite.” “I like it too,” piped three-year-old sister, and they do both have an alarming handle on the lyrics. And a routine. Sometimes I question the wisdom of working full-time and leaving my daughters at the mercy of a mum who’s determined to indoctrinate them in all manner of apple pie pop culture. Then I realise it’s ace.

But again, why talk about it now? The Music Diary Project revealed that I don’t share music enough. A good 90% of my listening is through earphones on a commute, and while that’s great for wallowing in my favourites and discovering new stuff without distracting input, half the fun of music is communal experience – talking about it, listening together, arguing, preaching and, yeah, dancing like loons. That’s why I started Jukebox Junior. I need to find more time.

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[16] The Jam, ‘That’s Entertainment’

The Jam

By now firmly settled in the pantheon of Britain’s great sub-/urban chroniclers – a line stretching from Ray Davies through Tilbrook, Le Bon, Ryder and Doherty (in his Arcadian dreams), right down to Lily Allen – Paul Weller was knocking out the sure-eyed classics with spittled ease. ‘That’s Entertainment’ makes you feel awfully jolly about your lot as you watch the telly and think about your holidays, as it pisses down with rain on a boring Wednesday, as you decide – Jesus – let’s get right out of Dodge. Controlled aggression slips its moorings and soon a ditty turns into an anthem.

Junior strums her imaginary acoustic, bearing a look of fierce Wellerian concentration. She tells me that she doesn’t like it, but that’s difficult to believe and soon she breaks into a smile: “I was only joking!” Just like our Paul? Some chance.

[2] Michael Jackson, ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’

It’s well-established that Junior’s a bit of a dancer, shaking down to everything from The Jam to Prince to Girls Aloud and all the way round to entire LCD Soundsystem albums – so why does Jacko draw a blank? Does she find it difficult to listen with complete abandon in light of all the allegations against him this past decade or so? Can any of us listen now without the music passing through the prism of approbation?

In this case, Junior’s annoyed that her nursery rhyme CD isn’t playing; Dad’s “Just one song and then I’ll put it on” is cutting no ice. As for the rest of us, I think it’d be a pity if we couldn’t enjoy the music at its base, uncomplicated level, but it’s tricky to forget the freak the dazzling young Michael would become.

It’s a pity because this is easily one of the most exciting records ever made. Inspired, presumably, by Star Wars, Michael lets rip with dog-whistle nonsense about “the Force” over planet-circling strings and bombastic brass to create a vertiginous dancefloor ride that, by rights, will have you blowing chunks. That’s a good thing, incidentally. As an example of what the adolescent Jacko and mighty producer Quincy Jones could achieve together, it’s a thrilling signpost to Off The Wall and, er, Thriller; a line in the sand, leaving disco over there and, over here, hyper-tooled ‘80s gold-bar soul.

[20] Squeeze, ‘Cool For Cats’

Ah, 1979. I started paying attention to Top Of The Pops, Arsenal, all life’s sweetest joys. Moved to Hertfordshire in January and stayed there for 17 years (minus a dozen terms in Bristol). Pop baffled me, but that may have been down to assuming that everything Terry Wogan played was current. In that world, the Supremes were going strong and Cliff Richard was still a chart-topper. Hmmm.

Marrying new wave and pub rock, Squeeze had a boisterous appeal that worked well in the playground; to seven-year-olds a band to file alongside The Specials, The Jam and the rising Madness – stuff it was ok to like and bowl along to as if you were something else, something a stretch more streetwise than a kid with a fringe and grey shorts. If it was cool for cats, we wanted a bit of it. In essence, the single isn’t typical Squeeze, more a part within a part for Chris Difford to play, but he sounds smart and the band bounce in broad-shouldered style. The drifting middle eight’s useless though.

For all I know, Junior’s already at the age when she wants to impress her peers, and she’s got all the moves to do so. A jerky dance matched the sproinging bass and she gave an airing to this week’s trick – humming along to the tune. At the end she asked whether Junior 2 (Juniest? Minima?) liked the song now there’s scope for a blog within a blog – and then requested the next track on the Best Of. Give it a week or so, missy.

[1] Dexys Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express, ‘Come On Eileen’

It’s the last song of the night, the bride and groom are long gone and we’ve kicked our legs to ‘New York, New York’ and swayed to ‘The Power Of Love’. A familiar, skipping bassline starts up, with the fiddles in close attendance. The dancefloor is flooded with hardy revellers, linking arms in the auld tradition. One lad stands scowling at the side, he’s had a good night but this strikes a sour note yet again. Doesn’t he like the song? He bloody LOVES it.

How did it come to this? A visionary work struck an unexpected note with the public, sold way over a million and became the wedding/school disco standard, danced along to by a pissed-up crowd who’d normally claim to dislike it but find it a “laugh” in a champagne haze. It cheapens it, steals its wit, strips its pathos.

How did it come to this? Kevin Rowland was no callow youth; Dexys had already had one Number One, had already released the best album of the decade and had already tried a couple of styles and line-ups. 20 years later, apparently free of his cocaine mania, Rowland was in full confessional mode, claiming culpability for all manner of sins. He said he stole the raggle-taggle gypsy style of ‘Come On Eileen’ and beyond from former bandmate Kevin Archer, who’d formed the Blue Ox Babes and played Rowland some demos. Whatever, Archer didn’t have the extra spark to turn ideas into tunes. Rowland ran with it and the rest is history. Blue Ox Babes were painted as Dexys copyists in the press and the rest is, er, history.

‘Come On Eileen’ is hugely ambitious. Strings, tin whistles, banjos, pipes, and pianos should make a folk song, but end up with a rousing piece of power pop. Sheer bombast allows Kev to sneak in some racy lines, while at the same time hiding some beauties, “moved a million hearts in mono”, “beaten down eyes sunk in smoke-dried faces”. It was a revelation until it was a cliché. I guess that’s the way things go.

Of course I’d like my daughter to love my favourite single. She stood in front of the stereo, palms face down on the coffee table in “let’s see if this is all you’ve cracked it up to be” style. I could handle her snubbing Bowie, The Jam, Scritti Politti, even Girls Aloud, but this, this is different. She dances. All the way through. And she doesn’t link arms with anyone.

[5] The Jam, ‘Town Called Malice’

Please feel free to write your own piece, tackling the following issues:

– Yes, ANOTHER Jam single, but I promise it’s the last one
– Doesn’t particularly hint at the Style Council
– Did Ocean Colour Scene ruin Weller or was it the other way around?
– It’s like Motown on amphetamines
– I had to buy it secretly because my mum disapproved
– ‘The Bitterest Pill’ IS possibly better
– She bounced a bit, but soon asked to be rescued from the playpen
– (Not my mum)
– Actually, Jesus, what a record
– Still to come: Charlene, Fat Larry’s Band, Toto Coelo and the Kids from Fame.

[12] The Jam, ‘Beat Surrender’

The last Jam single foreshadowed the Style Council again. ‘Speak Like A Child’-style horns, backing vocals sounding suspiciously like Tracie – hell, it was probably Mick Talbot on piano too. But still the purists thought Weller sold out.

This came straight in at No.1 back when that meant something. The Jam had a habit of doing that – four times, I think – and I remember hearing that it was because Polydor released singles at the beginning of the “chart week” for maximum sales exposure. Blimey. Hardly rocket science.

I know you love your chart facts, dear readers, but what of the song? What of Junior’s opinion? I think it’s a life-affirming, foot-stomping, air-punching cracker, but largely overlooked; Junior spent most of its three and a half minutes on her toy phone. Girls.

[17] Japan, ‘Ghosts’

At the time, I thought this went to Number One. To be honest, until I started taking a keen interest in the chart during the summer of ‘82,I thought everything that appeared on Top Of The Pops was a No.1 single. Happy, uncomplicated days, before my first Guinness Book of British Hit Singles destroyed these reveries. I felt crushed for Sylvian and the lads, and their No.5 hit.

They were probably ecstatic, or as ecstatic as a bunch of in-fighting, studiedly glacial, new romantic poseurs were ever going to get. Maybe they flared a nostril.

‘Ghosts’ is thuddingly pretentious, a glorious mood piece of mannered vocals and blandly eerie effects. It’s certainly no better than ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘Mirror Man’, but it thinks it is, and that’s half the battle. Like The Jam, Japan were gone by the end of the year, with a frontman indulging his whimsies. He plods along still, still able to bore you to death at a hundred paces, but at least he does it without Ocean Colour Scene.

I bloody loved Japan, really. Junior tried to look enthused herself, dancing with unsuitable vigour to the first few bars of tuneless electronic dabbling. After a couple of minutes she was thinking of forming the Style Council.

[20] The Jam, ‘The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)’

1982. ‘A Little Peace’ taking the Eurovision crown, The Falklands “Conflict”, a harrowing single term at boarding school, the Kids from Fame, the Goombay Dance Band, the lion sleeps tonight, dropping out of the Cubs to practise being Zico in the back garden, spending £1.25 on my first 7” single. They’re cheaper NOW.

The Jam’s penultimate single, then. I felt the pain of their break-up keenly, I didn’t understand why they’d stop. Perhaps it was some kind of law. A law that should be enforced more often, come to think. ‘The Bitterest Pill’ has a beautifully succinct lyric, a string-soaked, white-boy soul tune and rousing choruses. Hindsight shows us the tension that was pulling Weller towards the more mannered stylings of his Council.

I’m worried that Junior’s dancing doesn’t discriminate. She rocked out to an arrhythmic beat I was tapping on her toy drum at the weekend, unable to help herself. For what it’s worth, she cut some rug to this song like she hasn’t for a while.

She thought it should be higher up this chart, but I said I had to put some space between the Jam singles.

The Jam, ‘Going Underground’

As a kid, I thought this was the start of some kind of Jules Verne adventure. Weller was standing proudly on the lip of a pit, a yawning chasm leading underground to the centre of the earth. A brass band was playing, the boys’ brigade was there, adding up to a fitting send-off for the brave mod explorer. I was a lad brimming with insight.

Jam lyrics continued to cause me problems. The reams of gibberish I must’ve sung along to ‘A Town Called Malice’, the dodgy copy I’d recorded off the Top 40. My mum had her own take on it, because she told me she didn’t like me playing the nasty record, but I had the last laugh when I secretly bought the 7”. In fact, I stuck it on a tape she asked me to make for her a year or two later. That’s a last, last laugh.

Junior dances to ‘Going Underground’, and laughs and points at her dad standing by the stereo again. She’s heard bad things about DJs somewhere. Might’ve overheard me slagging off Chris Moyles. Without pictures, she’s unperturbed by Bruce Foxton’s haircut and seems happy with the whole experience. She’s now braced to discover the Style Council.