[19] Sigrid, ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’

Sigrid-2017

“It’s strong,” says Junior 1, contrasting it with ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’. “I can tell the purpose.” Junior 3 praises “the beat” but Junior 2 doesn’t like it “that much”.

I thought they’d lap Sigrid, barely their senior, right up. A week later they’re among the half-dozen viewers watching her on Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC’s latest why-in-Hades-don’t-they-just-bring-back-Top-Of-The-Pops flagship music show, and seem more into her, but by then the Blu Tack’s stuck fast. Still, it’s a powerful, defiant anthem delivering a boot to the teeth of any rockists underestimating a young pop star. Assuming her red/white colour scheme’s an ironic dig at Jack White, that is.

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[12] Maria Usbeck ‘Moai Y Yo’

maria-usbeck-2016

I’m only fluent in Spanish when I’m in Portugal, so Maria Usbeck’s lovely album Amparo passes me by, at least in meaning, but you know, I’ve always been hopeless with lyrics. I still haven’t nailed ‘Come On Eileen’ and I’ve played it 4,772 times since it blew my tiny mind on Top Of The Pops in the early summer of 1982. Those BBC4 repeats of the last few weeks have been a Proustian madeleine in so many ways, a synaptic assault of conflicting memories that have brought back seething recollections of my mum drawing the curtains while I was trying to record ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, and sadder ones of boarding school conjured by Chicago’s ‘Hard To Say I’m Sorry’. But let’s stick to the point.

‘Moai Y Yo’ flutters gorgeously, dreaming itself alive. Junior 3 says, “I don’t like it at all,’ but J2 has time for it, picking out the “smooth voice, nice tune”. In stark contrast, Junior herself is throwing a strop about tidying up, which doesn’t fit the mood in the slightest.

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.

Scritti Politti, ‘Day Late And A Dollar Short’

Green Gartside

Absolute, the new Scritti Politti best of, begins with the hits, modest on both sides of the Atlantic but big enough, for Green Gartside, to constitute a harrowing commercial breakthrough that meant Top Of The Pops appearances, attention fit for a popstar and – rather more welcome – acceptance from the sort of R&B legends he was loosely trying to ape. These first five songs came from Cupid & Psyche 85, an impossibly precise marriage of perfect pop and blue-eyed soul which opened unexpected doors: notably, the chance to write for Chaka Khan and the odd sensation of seeing Miles Davis first cover one of your songs then, gloriously, guest on one.

My early acquaintance with Scritti was intertwined with the law. I bought Cupid & Psyche 85 with the five pounds (five pounds!) I was given as a reward for clocking the numberplate of a thief making off with a local lady’s handbag. Three years later, I was loudly anticipating Provision at a party – quite the conversationalist, me – as the police turned up to suggest the houses nearby might not enjoy us having a bonfire, draining the EEC cider lake and smoking freight-loads of cigarettes in the field right behind them. They might have softened if they’d known how excited I was about Provision.

Moving on, the 90s dawned with ‘She’s A Woman’, an unexpected collaboration with Shabba Ranks that dumped all Green’s philosophical lexicographical automatic hydromatic games with the word “girl” (i.e. ‘The Word ‘Girl”, ‘The ‘Sweetest Girl”) to go distinctly non-meta with a Beatles cover. It was a blip, in design and chronology, as the man decamped to Wales and hunkered down in beer and darts for a decade before popping up with the candy-pop-meets-hip-hop semi-success of Anomie & Bonhomie, where Green sparred sweetly with Mos Def, Lee Majors et al and generally affirmed some B-Boy credentials. Here it’s reprazented by three of the form plus the gorgeous ‘Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder’ that harks back to perfect pop and shines a light on the harmonic dreaminess to come – again – many years later.

That return was White Bread, Black Beer, a curveball Mercury nomination that emerged slowly and shyly in 2006 as Green stepped onto a stage for the first time in quarter of a century under the playful Double G & The Traitorous 3 (Plus 2) sobriquet, to focus group the songs first in a Brixton pub, then in a quasi-residence at The Luminaire. The law butted in again, rather closer to home this time, as I was told I couldn’t abandon my baby daughter to go to Brixton, but I made it to the Luminaire a couple of times to watch these songs jump off the page – truly, from Green’s own music stand. None of WBBB makes it here, likely because of its Rough Trade release; but from before my time, we do get three from Songs To Remember (but no ‘Faithless’…) and the fidgety, complex and in this company surly ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’.

And that’s it – apart from two new songs, the ballad ‘A Place We Both Belong’ and this. I’m not sure how new they are, but for Scrittologists they’re exciting enough for being hook-ups with long-time/occasional SP man David Gamson, not seen since 1999’s Anomie & Bonhomie. ‘Day Late And A Dollar Short’ bounces on squelchy bass, teasing a funk from somewhere on the Scritti timeline between 99 and 06, and a chorus that rises and falls with customary pizzazz and – let’s remember what this blog is meant to be about – makes Junior do the hand jive. According to her, it’s “fun”, Which is a bit of a bloody relief because I haven’t half wasted enough time and text on it.

[17] Mark Ronson & The Business Intl, ‘Bang Bang Bang’

Mark Ronson & The Business Intl

The first song to make a meal of ‘Alouette’ this year does it with every bleeding idea that occurs to it. Cheryl Cole’s ultra-mannered take is bewildered, this is just bewildering. Ronson has gone back to the 80s, but rather than plunder plinky-plonk synths like every other La Roux under the sun, he turns to that decade’s forgotten everything-goes ethos and finds something cogent in a mix of squirty electro, Prince soul, teeny bop and bouncy hip hop nursery rhymes. If this doesn’t prove the man has mad skillz then nothing does.

In fact, these are just the latest in a long line of ‘Alouette’ bastardisations. Junior’s reminded of another she learned on holiday in Corfu with frankly manic dance actions to go with it. She then adds some more jerky steps, seemingly filched off Go-Jos routines from early Top Of The Popses. We have a right old ball. And that’s Ronson’s bag.

[8] Roxy Music, ‘Virginia Plain’

Roxy Music

They say there was playground uproar when Bowie appeared on Top Of The Pops, singing ‘Starman’ and snogging Mick Ronson. And obviously our nation was cramped with confusion at Boy George a decade later. So how did the public react when presented with preening peacock Bryan Ferry? Without bothering to research it, we can only guess: “Why’s Mike Yarwood doing Prince Charles doing Liberace?”

Obviously they all looked so staggering on TOTP that I’m thinking of dressing like Phil Manzanera right now, but the music was something else too. A runaway stallion of glam wrecks’n’effects, with a tune you can never quite nail because it’s always one second in the future.

Junior rolled the words “Roxy Music” around her tongue, trying them for size, then asked if she could dance. The dance involved a stiff-backed march around the room. You can just see those boys in the military, can’t you?

[19] Van Morrison, ‘Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)’

Van Morrison

It’d be difficult to talk about this without mentioning Dexys Midnight Runners. So let’s make this about Dexys Midnight Runners. Their version of ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ was the first single I ever bought, and hence a landmark in the History of Pop. As a callow child, I didn’t get the joke of the Jocky Wilson photo on Top Of The Pops, and also failed to knowingly snigger at Kevin Rowland singing, “real you see” instead of “Reet Petite”. And besides, maybe Jackie Wilson did once say it was “real, you see” or “real”, you see. We’ll never actually know.

What we can say with confidence is Kev says he doesn’t need “no tea” in his cup, while Van doesn’t need coffee. From this, we can extrapolate that it takes a whole lot less to get Kev “wired up”, but I guess we knew that anyway. The DMR version is a tight affair – no surprise with that crazily drilled band – while Morrison and co take it headlong and ramshackle. I’ve a sentimental attachment to the DMR take, obviously, but Van is out on a limb, giving it that extra lick of flame.

Junior flung herself around the room with celtic abandon from first “dup” to last. When I asked her for a more considered view afterwards, her mouth was too full of Rice Krispies to offer a clear assessment. It could’ve been “real you see” or “Reet Petite”.

[1] Blur, ‘Girls & Boys’

Oh. Seems they did stand a chance after all.

From baggy also-rans via Kinksian chroniclers of rubbish modern life to standard-bearers of a New England, Blur came back an unexpected success in ’94. The game had seemed up, but ‘Girls & Boys’ was shot through with a new lease of life. For me, the trick wasn’t sustained over the whole Parklife album – although legions will disagree – with nothing repeating the pure pop bounce and sneering conviction of this curtain-raiser. It sounds like early Duran Duran (yeah, that is a good thing), yet bolstered further by its punk-funk credibility and cheery dismissal of Club 18-30 culture.

A dunderheaded chorus, too, which has stick-on appeal for the younger listener. Junior’s up to speed by the second airing, and shows off an interesting dance where the legs stand stock-straight and still while the upper body wigs out. It’s all a bit mid-‘60s Top Of The Pops.

News just in: The 2008 Top 20 Singles countdown will start tomorrow, one-a-weekday until Christmas Eve. It has an extra feature too. Gosh, I’m all a-flutter.

[12] Ian Dury & The Blockheads, ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’

It’s a song to be enjoyed on many levels, from enjoyment of high-falutin’ place names and cockney-sparrered franglais/deutschglish via a hard-nailed groove right down to – if you’re a three-year-old – a rasped exhortation to “hit me!” Hang on, Junior’s eyes gleamed, is this cast-iron permission to hit something without being told off? Nirvana!

So funky is this tune, played as it is by a band as tight as this month’s budget, you can get your freak on to it at seven in the morning. Back in ’79, as a Stanmore cub scout, Kilburn seemed like it was just down the road. Dury was our urban counterpart and we adopted his edge, even if he was the sort of chap we’d stop and stare at it in the street in our primary school gaucheness. Struck by polio, swarthy and impish, he made a lasting impression on Top Of The Pops, but he wasn’t a poor unfortunate to be laughed at in our playground huddle. This was grown-up rock, slightly intimidating and so out of its time that it’s as fresh now as it ever was.

[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.