Hey! Hey!

Congratulations to Dr Phil, as one to another! I started my first permanent academic job the other day – only four and a half years after I graduated, although it sometimes felt like longer; it’s a career I can warmly recommend to anyone who’s motivated enough to seek it out.

Phil’s also been on the memes again, as indeed has Splinty. I quite like this one:

Since leaving my teeny bopper past behind me my musical tastes have evolved in a shamelessly snobby direction – first electronica/dance, followed by indie, then a detour into heavy rock, and for the last seven years or so back to the bleepy beaty side of things. It’s the sound of the future, man. At all times I’ve dismissed the mainstream with a derisive snort, and quite rightly so – most of it is pap. But now and then one song stands out among the dross and gets its hooks into you. You can’t get the bloody thing out of your head and to your eternal shame, you really like it. This post is dedicated to three such songs from the 80s, 90s and 00s.

I quite like this one, apart from the ‘shamelessly snobby’ part. I mean, I used to listen to Mixing It – in fact I used to tape Mixing It and dub the good tracks onto another tape; I’ve still got six of them, including everyone from Astor Piazzola to People Like Us by way of DJ Spooky, Bill Frisell and FSOL (who recorded a 25-minute piece, including samples from their interview on the programme). I put it to the honourable blogger that some of us were listening to the Faust Tapes at the age of 13, found our first Beefheart album a letdown (all a bit, y’know, conventional) and were for a long time baffled by the very concept of music to cop off by, since most of our favourite music induced sensations of alienation, disorientation and Angst. I’m not particularly proud of that last part – but then, I’m not proud of any of it; I just did have rather spiky and esoteric musical tastes in my 20s and 30s. (Then I discovered folk – but that’s another story.) It’s not better or worse than “the mainstream”, it’s just different. I’m not saying that everything is equally valuable – as musicians, FSOL were a much more interesting proposition than JLS. I am saying that “mainstream” is no guarantee of mediocrity – and obscurity certainly isn’t a guarantee of quality.

So here are some songs of which (as Jake Thackray said about a religious song of his) I’m not very… ashamed.

2000s
No, not Fireflies. Unlike Andy, I like Fireflies, but I don’t think it’s anything to get embarrassed about. For one thing, I think there’s a bit more going on there than Laurie says. Yes, it’s a sweetly pretty reverie set to sweetly pretty music and given a sweetly pretty video (and yes, that kind of thing does slip down very easily in hard times). But isn’t it also a song (and video) about loneliness, and the kind of isolation from which we seek relief in fantasy? (A fantasy whose inevitable come-down, bringing with it a renewed awareness of the underlying need for human contact, is all the harder to bear for being unassuaged by reality – since we live, as we dream, alone.) On the other hand, I may be reading too much into it.

More importantly, it’s hard to be embarrassed by anything that wet. Anything I’m going to admit to being ashamed of liking is going to be brash, emphatic, big. So let’s start as we mean to go on, with a big arrangement, a big sentimental tune and a big voice. Actually five big voices. Five big Latvian voices, singing in Italian. One of the few great flaws of the Eurovision Song Contest is Italy’s longstanding refusal to take part, but these guys made up for it handily.

I don’t think the Italian is perfect – “Ora e poi” should be “D’ora in poi”, shouldn’t it? – but the singing is lovely. I was slightly disappointed when the last singer came on – I was hoping they’d carry on wandering on throughout the song and the stage would end up packed with them, rather like Colin Newman’s contribution to People in a room. (Although on second thoughts Eurovision have a limit of six people on stage, so that would never have worked.)

Moving swiftly along…

1990s

No, listen. Seriously, click the Play arrow and listen.

God knows I can’t be bothered with anything she’s done since this song, and I really hate the influence she’s had on music (or I suppose the influence her influence on Simon Cowell has had on music); there’s a right place and a wrong place for going crazy with the melismatic grace-notes, and the wrong place is almost everywhere. But this song is a marvellous bit of deep soul. (Way better than Faithless, anyway. Back on the current song, is that a hat-tip to Green in the second verse? You decide.) Play it, anyway – listen all the way through, and if something doesn’t happen to you when she hits “sweet destiny” the second time, I despair of you.

1980s
Speaking of Scritti Politti, have you heard this? Doesn’t belong in this post, because it’s fantastic and not remotely embarrassing. “My fragility, my discre-e-e-tion”… (Better than the album version, too.)

Moving on… I am quite genuinely slightly embarrassed to say I own a Donna Summer single, and that it’s not I feel love. But this is extraordinary:

Zeke Manyika raved about this single in the NME – said he liked the drumming, and the singing reminded him of Zimbabwean choral singing & made his hair tingle. I’d agree with all of that, and put in a word for (a) the bass and (b) Donna’s singing, both of which are pretty fine too. This came out just after the invasion of Grenada; I remember thinking that with new verses it would have made a terrific protest song. (Better than “Amber and the Amberines“, anyway.)

1970s
It was the Desperate Bicycles’ second single, “The medium was tedium“, that enabled me to “get” punk. I liked the Desperate Bicycles because of their attitude and because they sounded a bit like Stackridge. They didn’t sound particularly punk, but that wasn’t really the point – as a band they were very punk.

None of which is embarrassing as such, but this is. As far as I was concerned, this was the “Medium was tedium” of disco – the single that enabled me to Get It. (And indeed Dance to It.) I still think it’s pretty good of its type, although I admit I haven’t played the video all the way through.

1960s
I was a young man way back in the 1960s… Actually I was at primary school way back in the 1960s, but music was already making a pretty deep impression on me. I remember hearing “Days” for the first time (and “Plastic Man”), I remember the Tremeloes and Marmalade and Amen Corner, I remember all kinds of stuff by the Beatles, and I have very fond memories of this:

No, shut up, that’s lovely. No, it is. Oh all right, it isn’t, but it sounded pretty damn good when I was eight. Nice intro, too. (Did John Lennon rip it off for Dear Prudence? Probably not.)

And I tag… you, dear reader. Go to it.

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