[20] The Smiths, ‘Panic’

The Smiths © Tom Sheehan

TIME TO TACKLE 1986 AT LAST and we start with Moz, j’en ai mar and litigious chums. But first, a final word on The Beatles. Enjoyed this little exchange in the Past Masters sleevenotes, Brian Matthew interviewing the chaps in 1964 on the release of Beatles For Sale:

BM: I’ve heard it said that a lot of these would make good singles. Do you think there’s any likelihood at all of them being released?
John: You can’t release singles off an LP after the LP’s been out.
BM: A Lot of people do.
Paul: Well, in America they do…
John: Well, they’re different over there, aren’t they?
Paul: In America they do that, but it’s a bit of a drag.

The Beatles were, of course, er, past masters at dishing out the quality singles without recourse (on the whole) to plundering their albums, but it’s become a rare practice. In this sense, The Smiths were one of their last natural heirs, hurling out singles and albums at breakneck speed without repetition – until the record company squeezed everything they could out of Strangeways, Here We Come. ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’, indeed.

’Panic’ was one of those bonuses. Christ, it was released one month after The Queen Is Dead and doesn’t even appear on it. Throwaway downloads aside, I can’t imagine that happening now. Remind me if I’m forgetting something. Anyway, ‘Panic’ has a taste of will-this-do? about it, but it clangs and saunters amiably and is suitably apocalyptic, if on a provincial scale. Its signature line, “hang the DJ” smells a bit of sniffiness towards burgeoning club culture, but you can prefer to hear it as an early blood-on-the-carpet attack on Simes and DLT. Junior prefers to hear it as “gingerbread man, gingerbread man, gingerbread man”.

Gingerbread or not, she loves it, identifying with the title – “I do that sometimes, don’t I?” – and puzzling over the band members not actually being related. Like half the world, I’m in a Beatles moment right now, but she later makes me switch off Abbey Road to “play The Smiths again”. God, Dad, you’re so square.

The music they constantly play:

[6] Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse, ‘Valerie’

Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse, ‘Valerie’

Mark Ronson’s lounge-pop interpretations on Version are a queasy hornfest, not bearing many repeat plays for fear of unstoppable waves of nausea. It’s not a bad collection, but it’s heavy with woozy playing and overfacing joie de vivre. Certain quarters considered his cover of The Smiths’ ‘Stop Me’ sacrilege – we’re not so precious here. A cover doesn’t denigrate the original and often it can improve on it. That’s what Ronson and Amy Winehouse achieve with The Zutons’ wheezing bludgeon.
Winehouse is of course the Woman of the Year. And an idiot. Back To Black has effortlessly outstripped the pack in album sales, but suffers from inevitable ubiquity, and you can say the same of the girl herself. Cutting to the music, ‘Valerie’ here comes on all ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ yet mainly recalls an earlier, earthier girl group sound. It’s unfussy and tight, inspired and believable, and topped off with a terrific vocal performance – “aaarrr-are you busy?”, “did you get a good lawyer-er-er-ER” are catches you can hang your pop hat on. It would be nice if she could sustain this sort of quality, but at the moment she’s a wretched tabloid darling whose music is just staying ahead of the tawdry game swallowing the rest of her life.
A pushed, skipping beat has Junior rocking in front of the speakers from apology to Charlie Murphy to final gurgled “Vaaa-aaaleriee-eee”. Stay focused, Ames.

[8] The Sundays, ‘Can’t Be Sure’

The Sundays

The Sundays take the coveted award for Highest Placed Indie Single (that’s neither Madchester-related, nor on Mute). I would say it’s been closely fought, but you could never imagine this gossamer band in a scrap.

Not to say there isn’t an iron fist here somewhere. The song’s pretty, and the vocal childlike, but the lyric is wry. What’s wrong with wanting something? Harriet Wheeler will chase her desires, even if she’s not quite sure what she’s after. It doesn’t amount to much, but there’s wit and bite, and her voice swoops and soars around guitar that’s both jangly and choppy. It’s a beautiful keepsake of a debut single.

The album came out the following year, to eventually tedious Smiths comparisons. You can see it, but the music’s brighter and sweeter. It’s one hell of a record. One of those pithy, 10-track gems we’ve been looking for.

Junior listened carefully, lying on the new rug, teasing us with crawling poses. She showed off with a fierce Wheeler impression – a bit harsh almost – and slapped the floor as the drums burst into the middle eight. She’s not settled on an instrument yet. It’ll come to her later.

[20] Kirsty MacColl, ‘Free World’

Kirsty MacColl

Sorry, Kirst, for demeaning your memory by playing this song through the iDog. The decorators are coming in to paint our new living room today, so all the stereo components are in a pile next to my bed, and I just couldn’t wait to get started with ’89. You can only go so long without hearing Glen Medeiros’ honeyed tones.

Right, what’s she on about here? Well, it’s a protest song, anti-Thatcherite and bristling with the righteous fury of the masses, man. It’s driven by rattling, chiming guitar, very Smithsy – as I recall, Johnny Marr was all over the Kite album so this is no spooky coincidence. Then we have the familiar, multi-tracked MacColl vocals. I think they’re multi-tracked, she always sounded like that. Or maybe she had more than one larynx.

Anyway, it’s a great record and it gets better every year.

The iDog gave it the full red and yellow lightshow and shook its head around. Junior copied it. The head-shaking bit, I mean. She’s not mastered projecting coloured lights from her forehead yet. God knows what they do at that nursery all day.