Tag Archives: Mainstream pop

The original Scandi noir

From 1980’s Super Trouper, by which time ABBA were getting into the bleak stuff, comes this magnificently pessimistic new year song. Oddly enough, although there’s plenty of writing out there about all the dark stuff that found its way into Abba songs, this particular track always seems to get overlooked. Sod “Auld Lang Syne”, these people know that birth is a curse and existence is a prison, and every new year is just the prelude to another twelve months of disappointment and misery.

Sometimes I see
How the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives
In the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool…

And then there’s the desperate emptiness of the chorus, an ode not to optimism but to denial as a coping mechanism…

May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die

This is why ABBA were effing brilliant. I mean, I fully expect the “reunion” songs to be a you-can’t-go-back disaster of Carry On Columbus proportions, and I have no interest in going to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!, though I did quite like the first film, but sometimes they just totally got it…

Link: “Happy New Year” by ABBA

Bring on the bagpipes

I suppose you could call Cicero a one hit wonder; while he did make a few other pretty good pop singles, none had the impact that this one did (his only top 40 hit, it climbed to #19 just in time for Valentine’s Day, which is damn good timing). Though US-born, David Cicero (for it is he) was raised in Livingston in Scotland’s central belt, so his Scottish accent – one of the most striking things about this record – is genuine. The other striking elements are of course the bagpipes (again, the real thing) and the whole Pet Shop Boys production, complete with unmistakable Neil Tennant backing vocals.

For me, the extended mix is the winner here.

Link: Cicero – Love Is Everywhere (password: salad)

1. Love Is Everywhere
2. Love Is Everywhere (Extended mix)
3. Mind Gap (Extended mix)

The Name Game – 4

I haven’t milked this particular gimmick in over a month, so it’s high time I posted some more songs that share their names with musical acts and vice versa.

Dusty Springfield was a popular target for tributes from the indiepop community in the 1980s/90s… well, I say popular, but that’s based on the fact that I can think of a whopping two examples off the top of my head. Of course one is the ace Chicago indiepop band The Springfields, named after Dusty’s original band, The Springfields. Kind of like how the Chemical Brothers started out as the Dust Brothers, named after the Dust Brothers. Except I think the Springfields managed to avoid any legal threats. In contrast, equally ace janglepopsters The Haywains managed to sidestep any potential confusion by not naming themselves Buddy Holly And The Crickets or anything like that, and simply stuck to singing about Dusty Springfield.

Link: “Breakfast In Bed” by Dusty Springfield
Link: “Dusty Springfield” by The Haywains

I think everyone knows I like Stereolab. Texan experimental rockers Transona Five clearly like Stereolab too. I’ll be honest, I did deliberately pick their most Stereolab-like track for this, but I think it proves my point.

Link: “Estrogen Blaster” by Transona Five
Link: “Transona Five” by Stereolab

And finally, a very clear reference to a well-known performer, but what’s this Scissor Sisters song actually got to do with Paul McCartney? Well, nothing really. But apparently Jake Shears had a dream in which he chatted with Paul McCartney about songwriting, and it would appear that the inspiration he got from this was to name a song after Paul McCartney. You’d kind of hope Macca would have given him better advice than that, I mean, not even Paul McCartney ever named a song “Paul McCartney”. Macca’s own song here is from his 1980 album McCartney II, the one that sold a trillion copies off the back of the rocking single “Coming Up” only for buyers to find the rest was weird synth noodlings which most people only played once. “Temporary Secretary” was a single. It flopped.

Link: “Temporary Secretary” by Paul McCartney
Link: “Paul McCartney” by Scissor Sisters

Over the top with P. J. Proby and friends

Here’s another single that was released for the christmas market, but isn’t actually very christmassy at all.  From 1996, P. J. Proby teams up with Marc Almond (who also co-produces with regular collaborator Neal Whitmore) and the musicians from orchestral pop outfit My Life Story for a cover of the 1967 Little Anthony And The Imperials US hit “Yesterday Has Gone”, and it’s as insanely overblown as you would expect from that line-up.

The B-sides are both new songs written specially for Proby: Almond and Whitmore contribute “Devil In Red Velvet”, while “Pain in Your Heart” is written and produced by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne.

Link: P. J. Proby and Marc Almond – Yesterday Has Gone (password: salad)

1. P. J. Proby & Marc Almond ft the My Life Story Orchestra – Yesterday Has Gone
2. P. J. Proby – Pain in Your Heart
3. P. J. Proby – Devil In Red Velvet
4. P. J. Proby & Marc Almond – Yesterday Has Gone (Balearico Mix) [supposedly featuring the My Life Story Orchestra, but they seem to have been mixed out of it]

Three Sides #3

It’s the series where I post three songs on a common theme. Today’s theme is finding out your childhood sweetheart who you’ve lost touch with has become famous when you see their picture in a magazine. Yeah, it’s a bit mundane but I guess it had to come up sometime.

So here we have three songs telling very much the same story, but each one taking their creators’ signature approach. So Kraftwerk are disapassionately robotic about it…

Link: Kraftwerk – The Model

While The J. Geils Band give it the bombastic American rock treatment…

Link: J. Geils Band – Centerfold

And Thomas Dolby makes it into something about the cold war because… y’know, it’s Thomas Dolby…

Link: Thomas Dolby – Europa And The Pirate Twins (12″ mix)

And all of these songs became popular in 1981-2. Kraftwerk’s is older (it’s from their 1978 album The Man-Machine) but became a hit in 1981 after it was used as the throwaway B side to “Computer Love”, only to be picked up by Wonderful Radio One and become much better known. Although interestingly, when BBC Four did a documentary about Kraftwerk a couple of years ago, it didn’t mention “The Model” at all… yet we got “Talk” by Coldplay pretty much in full because it copied the riff from “Computer Love”. Interesting editorial decisions there…

Three Sides #2

Once again, three songs on a relatively specific subject. Today: three songs about looking for love through newspaper ads.

Let’s do the obvious (though also the most tenuous) one first. Soul classic “Want Ads” by The Honey Cone was a US number one in 1971 and has inevitably been covered by a whole load of other people since. But here’s the original, which according to Wikipedia features a young Ray Parker Jr on rhythm guitar. And I know what a huge selling point that is.

Link: The Honey Cone – Want Ads

The second song was also an American number one, the last of the 1970s in fact. But this time I haven’t gone for the hit version (by Rupert Holmes), but instead for a more recent cover by Jack Johnson, who actually pronounces the ñ in piña colada. So one for the linguistic pedants out there.

Link: Jack Johnson – Escape (The Piña Colada Song)

I suppose writing about personal ads does rather lend itself to the set up – punchline approach heard in “Escape”, and that’s used even more blatantly in my final song of the day. “Two For The Price Of One” is the token Björn-sung track on Abba‘s final studio album The Visitors, and is quite a departure from the notoriously gloomy mood of much of that album. That may be why a lot of people seem to interpret this as much darker than it really is. Also, a lot of people seem to take the title literally and assume it’s about prostitutes, which I’m pretty sure is not actually the implication.

Link: Abba – Two For The Price Of One

 

 

Weekend Long Player: The Madness

The Madness album that isn’t really a Madness album…

After making a big deal of their 1986 breakup, four out of the seven original members of Madness (Graham McPherson, Cathal Smyth, Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman) promptly got back together, made a tiny change to their name, and released this self-titled 1988 album. It pretty much carries on from where “Mad Not Mad” left off, which may not be considered a good thing, considering that MNM is generally disliked for its over-reliance on synths and drum machines. Those remain very much in evidence here, and the trend away from the “nuttiness” that made them famous is also marked. Lead vocals are split almost equally between McPherson and Smyth.

Link: The Madness – The Madness (password: salad)

1. Nail Down The Days
2. What’s That
3. I Pronounce You
4. Oh
5. In Wonder
6. Song In Red
7. Nightmare Nightmare
8. Thunder And Lightning
9. Beat The Bride
10. Gabriel’s Horn
11. Eleventh Hour
12. Be Good Boy
13. Flashings
14. 4BF

No, it really WAS a cracking debut single

Jez at A History of Dubious Taste maintains there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure, but here’s one to severely test that hypothesis.

After Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark splintered at the end of the 80s, Andy McCluskey kept the name and carried on with new collaborators. And for a while he did rather well, with 1990’s Sugar Tax selling squillions and yielding top ten hits in “Sailing On The Seven Seas” and “Pandora’s Box”. But diminishing returns led to him retiring the name after 1996’s guitar-led Universal, and seeking new ventures.  Together with 90s OMD member Stuart Kershaw, he wrote a bunch of songs and assembled a girl group to be the vehicle for them. And thus Atomic Kitten was born.

I won’t make any claims for Atomic Kitten’s subsequent releases (later McCluskey/Kershaw songs proved disappointing, and I stopped paying attention altogether after they left the project) but the first single was a properly corking glam disco stomper. Honestly.

Link: Atomic Kitten – Right Now (password: salad)

1. Right Now
2. Something Spooky: Theme To BBC “Belfry Witches”
3. Right Now (demo)

 

Three sides #1

According to Boston funk-metal outfit Extreme, there are III Sides To Every Story. But who cares what they think? However, it does give me an idea for another gimmick series: posting three songs on the same relatively specific subject. Today: Three songs about robberies gone wrong, though the last two words may be redundant since I can’t actually think of any songs about robberies that didn’t go wrong.

Actually, at one stage I was thinking of doing a series called “Criminal Records” about crime and criminals, but I figured it would have to just be about petty theft, otherwise I’d be having to write something lighthearted about murder and stuff, and that seemed a bit dodgy for some reason.

So here are three songs written from the point of view of robbers who’ve been nicked. First is Madness, still in their full-on nutty phase from 1981…

Link: Madness – Shut Up  (album version)

Then from 1982, one of the “lost” Kate Bush singles. It’s from The Dreaming, an album which baffled people at the time and seemed to signal the terminal decline of a promising career, though it’s since risen in stature to be generally viewed as one of her most creative and just plain best albums – right up there with Hounds Of Love. Some people dislike Kate’s accent on this one, though it’s nowhere near as jarring as the broad Australian accent she affects on the album’s title track:

Link: Kate Bush – There Goes A Tenner

And finally, the biggest commercial success for acclaimed dubmeisters Renegade Soundwave. Much like the Kate Bush song, this is rather an outlier in their catalogue, but a lot of fun…

Link: Renegade Soundwave – Probably A Robbery (7″ mix)

 

 

 

 

Old waves of new wave

Here’s a little something by Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe, alias Blancmange, and for once it’s not “Living On The Ceiling”, which is a good record but seriously overplayed. Instead, here’s the follow-up single “Waves”, a sort-of ballad which was fairly heavily reworked for the single release, with sometime Real Thing and Billy Ocean collaborator Lynton Naiff providing a lush string arrangement. Also here is the original stringless album version, and the B-side “Business Steps” which is a rather throwaway instrumental commisioned by a dance company.

Link: Blancmange – Waves (single version)
Link: Blancmange – Business Steps
Link: Blancmange – Waves (album version)

And here’s a bonus track. This was the new song recorded for their 2012 “Very Best Of” collection. Not sure if they’re trying to be The Streets (it doesn’t work if they are), but it’s quite a fun song…

Link: Blancmange – Making Aeroplanes (Without Victoria)

EDIT: A week after I posted this, DJ Paul T put up a high-quality rip of the “Waves” 12″ on his Burning The Ground blog. For the best version of these tracks (and a rare 12″ bonus track!), I recommend you visit that. And actually, just go visit that blog anyway, it’s ace.