[6] The Carpenters, ‘Goodbye To Love’

The Carpenters

The Guilty Pleasures movement is a flawed model; it requires you to be ashamed to like pop music, to sneer at any artist who favours melody over image or ludicrous image over workaday melody, to disparage anything that doesn’t satisfy the consensus of stifled peers. It’s no pleasure, it’s the tiniest loosening of your credibility belt. To take only furtive enjoyment from the music of ELO, Toto, Hot Chocolate, Wham!, Dolly Parton, Chicago, New Radicals, 10cc, even Take That – purveyors of open, carefree pop or heart-on-sleeve romantic rock patronised by GP playlists and compilations – is to find no joy at all. It only belittles. Hate all that stuff by all means, turn your nose up at Girls Aloud, but for pity’s sake don’t slope off home and play it behind closed doors. Love what you love, abhor what you abhor. Send an SAE for more sermons.

The Carpenters are the perfect candidate for backhanded veneration, with their hook-laden songs, smooth arrangements, celebrations of love, that old brother-sister closeness and cutesy presentation. That’s why I mentioned it. Take them as a novelty and you’re ignoring the power of glorious tunes like ‘Goodbye To Love’ which sounds like the 70s in miniature. Well, there’s no punk here, granted, but the soaring fuzz guitar solo against massed voices certainly points rock in one direction – to Glee, probably; to the elevation of the power ballad to pop-rock’s purest art form. Who’s arguing?

Junior? No, not arguing, even though she thinks that fuzzy solo sounds like a trumpet. She adds her “ahhh” to the heavenly chorus and is intrigued by the possibility of a family band, asking two-year-old sister, “Would you like us to make records together?” “No.”

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[13] Oasis, ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’

For all his habitual recourse to magnetic poetry set gobbledigook, Noel did once have a knack for connecting with the nail. To start off a song called ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ with the line “Is it my imagination, or have we finally found something worth living for?” takes a special kind of understanding of a mindset most of us have found ourselves in at some point or other. That the whole concept is pulled off with massive T. Rex riff steals and a vocal of absolute dunderheaded belief from the mighty Liam only underlines its gauche brilliance.

Junior misheard the title: “Are they in a hole?” Well, yes, usually – ha ha ha. It nearly works. She pulled a few snarly faces to match the raucous rock’n’roll but mainly busied herself with choosing the next records to play. “Put on the pink one [an odd special edition cover for Wham!’s The Final] first, then Girls Aloud.” I left that to Mum.

[14] Blondie, ‘Sunday Girl’

Light as air, carefree and – what? – hard to get? Junior’s mum pointed out that Junior and Juniorer are both Sunday Girls (“You were born on a Sunday, J” “I was very born on a Sunday”) but perhaps not in the way Debbie Harry is hinting. We all love the song, know the words – even the French ones on this Best Of version – and Junior sways in front of her sister, hips in time to the gossamer rhythms.

Blondie were bang into their flow by this point, succeeding ABBA as the singles band du jour, knocking the classics out at a rate to make Paul Weller jealous; not that he was far behind. I’m always seduced by a band that respects the single, that can put so much care in for so sustained a period. You know the suspects: Wham!, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Girls Aloud… hmmm. I feel like I’m coming out.

I shared a bed with Debbie Harry last year. Well, she draped herself across it, while I perched at the end, asking questions she’d answered a thousand times before. In all the excitement, my tape recorder broke, but she let me have an extra five minutes once I’d taught myself shorthand. Lovely. Anyway, that’s one for the After Dinner circuit.

[20] The KLF featuring The Children Of The Revolution, ‘3 A.M. Eternal (Live At The S.S.L.)’

The KLF

Another slab of ludicrous brilliance from Rockman Rock and King Boy D. “Basic face kick, elemental”. You had to laugh, but they were so good at what they did, and they built up their own mythology with every single they released. Then, within a year, they were gone, leaving rumour and apocrypha in their wake. Now there are people – mentioning no names – who look out for KLF-in-disguise records in each crop of new singles.

‘3 A.M. Eternal’ is meaningless, of course – “down with the crew crew” – but we’ve heard as much tosh from serious emcees. It’s the flow that matters, man. Junior was down with the mayhem, shaking the head and shoulders from side to side. Rocking the Stevie, if you will.

Someone nicked my copy of The White Room days after I bought it. I’d hazard that it’s not as good as I think it is, so I’ll continue not replacing it.

Author’s note: There is no Wham! in this chart. I repeat, there is NO Wham! in this chart. However, there is – as Kiss AMC might put it – a little bit of U2.

[1] Wham!, ‘Freedom’

We’ve established that I was a low-key Duranie. Revisionist history always has it that pop from ’82 to ’84 was all about Duran Duran vs Spandau Ballet*. Rubbish. The world was fought over by Duran Duran and Culture Club. As a consequence I hated Culture Club, even though these days I can listen to one or two singles and always enjoy a crass and bitchy Boy George innuendo.

‘Freedom’ killed Culture Club. There was a blaze of publicity for CC’s return, but ‘The War Song’, released the same week as ‘Freedom’, just couldn’t cope with Wham!’s sales juggernaut and was pulverised**. A swift fall down the chart was assured, and next single ‘The Medal Song’ peaked at No.32. Disastrous.

This is No.1 for other reasons, naturally. It’s a perfect pop Motown pastiche, for one, and the guitars and horns go mad at the end, for another. It was all very easy for George. Time after time, he was releasing vinyl joy.

Junior got into the record by standing on her dad’s lap, clapping and trying to eat his hands. By the last chorus, she was trying to eat her own feet. We’d reached the edge of elevenses.

*Spandau Ballet were irredeemably awful. No exception. Ok, except maybe that winningly hackneyed saxophone solo in ‘True’, weirdly.

**It’s incidental that ‘The War Song’ was useless anyway.

[9] Duran Duran, ‘The Reflex’

While Frankie and Wham! were carving up the UK, Duran Duran were perfumed, whacked-out, be-mulleted Kings of the World. Cash and supermodels dripping off them like sweat from Le Bon’s podgy face. Total UK chart domination seemed to elude them, this being only their second and last No.1 single, but of course they provoked scenes of hysteria not seen since you-know-who.

I was one of those quieter, male Duranies. Bought this single on poster bag 7”, admired by the boys on the lift home from school. It was only when you hit 13 that Duran Duran became hopelessly naff. I stayed bewilderingly faithful, achingly cool though I was, until they slipped off my radar ten years ago.

The best bit of this song is obviously Andy Taylor’s processed burps in the middle section. It’s the only part that makes sense in the lyrical sea of nonsense. They tried to convince us that Taylor was saying “yeah”, but where’s the fun in that?

Junior is an aficionado of the belch, a burping connoisseur. None were forthcoming this morning as she’d obstinately foregone breakfast, so she contented herself with leaning forwards over the side of the inflatable, trying to give her parents the fear. The only time she paid attention was when the “ta la la la”s came in at the start. The moment Le Bon opened his mouth, she dived for cover.

That’s your lot, Duranies. God knows what happened to ‘Wild Boys’.

[10] Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ‘Two Tribes’

I haven’t listened to the Welcome To The Pleasuredome LP in 20 years. I’m suddenly thinking that it might be quite good. Can anyone endorse this?

We were rushed this morning, as it was Junior’s first full day at nursery. I did notice she was sitting there shaking her head, so I wonder whether she suspected this was all hype over substance. But what hype. We’ve noted how big Wham! were in 1984; Frankie were bigger. Not since Gerry & the Pacemakers blah blah blah. Jive Bunny rather cheapened the feat by matching it a few years later.

The Hamnett/Morley t-shirts, the bribing of Mike Read, the naughty sleeves, the big sledgehammer-subtle messages, not to mention the massive Trevor Horn production – you couldn’t miss them. This record still sounds huge, empty though it is. Even “The air attack warning sounds like…” made Junior jump.

Must say, though: I couldn’t see what was special about modelling shirts by van Heusen. I used to wear my dad’s ones for painting.

[12] Wham!, ‘Last Christmas’/’Everything She Wants’

‘Everything She Wants’ is the song on the tape. Still a stuff-strutter now, it had Junior beaming and doing the David Gray head-wobble, even though George doesn’t sound sold on the whole baby thing himself.

Continues a theme, this: George’s fear of commitment. He ridiculed it in ‘Young Guns’ and clung on to the lads-together life in ‘Bad Boys’, now he thinks he’s stuck and, hey, maybe he’s wrestling with his sexuality too. Anyway, here’s a boy trying to break free. He claimed he wasn’t “planning on going solo” on an earlier 1984 song, then promptly released ‘Careless Whisper’. After this single, Wham! were on the way out, their next single put out with a simultaneous announcement that the following single would be the last. Now he’s spent the last decade wrangling with the record industry. George doesn’t like to feel restricted.

1984 was a bumper year for sales. This was one of SIX million-selling singles in the calendar year, second only to Band Aid. The others were ‘Careless Whisper’, ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ and, erm, two records still to come.

[18] Wham!, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’

A sunny blast of springtime euphoria or annoying drivel from a couple of over-coiffed chancers in Choose Life t-shirts? It’s a quandary that has vexed musicologists for decades. Wham!’s first No.1 reminds me of the days when my parents’ old RAF colleagues used to visit with their children, and my big sister would choreograph a routine for the kids to perform.

I wonder whether Junior will be the winningly bossy older sister. She could do worse. God knows I needed a kick up the backside from time to time, even if it meant doing cringing George Michael impressions. I’ll be forever in big sis’s debt for giving me the opportunity to mime as Simon Le Bon while my younger sister danced on the sand.

From the first “jitterbug”, Junior was firmly on the side of springtime euphoria. She bounced up and down and whacked the sides of the inflatable, and grinned like a life chooser. The record’s an insubstantial piece of fluff but it has a kinetic drive that will never allow you to stay still, with or without your sister’s coercion.

Wham!, ‘Last Christmas’

“Why get to work at 9.30 when you can get there at 10.30?” Dumbfounding myself with this unshakeable logic, I realised it was time for another Christmas tune.

So, I’ve spent 20-odd years thinking it’s “hiding from you and you’re so revised” and now it turns out be “your soul of ice”. Ok, I haven’t spent the entire 20 years thinking it – that would be frivolous – but I have wondered how she/he could be “so revised”. It’s still worth considering, because it’s a better lyric than “soul of ice”.

George knew how to write a tune, though. Well, Barry Manilow did, in this case. Junior loves it. She’s smiling to the point of laughter, and her arms and legs are swinging all over the place, in the manner of Pepsi and Shirlie trying to ski* in the video. Her mum had her office Christmas party last night, so she’s less than festive, but she seems keen to indoctrinate Junior into the ways of the Wham!, making it a hit all round.

*They may have just sat by the fire for the whole song, but I’m projecting. I know that the edit that goes to MTV is just a snapshot of the artist’s life at that point. I’m still wondering how Take That are managing to reform after being pushed off that cliff.