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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

http://the-other-ones.blogspot.com

a companion piece to http://www.freakytrigger.co.uk/popular.html - 49 years of non-Guinness-approved chart-toppers. one of the reasons why i fear things might remain rather quiet on this blog for a while yet ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

http://colm2004ie.blogspot.com

good friend of mine, he is. great conversationist, as well - when we're speaking over the phone, ideas and understandings flow more naturally than they ever could with most. even when he calls me a wanker (which he does with good reason, sometimes, at least from his personal position) I instinctively know that the antipathy won't last for long. welcome to the blogosphere, my friend ...
Back to the old landed gentry for a moment: the suggestion in a Times letter about unpublished books in Antonia Forest's Marlow series was false and unfounded. A friend of mine is overseeing her estate and she confirms that, although Antonia *was* planning and working on another book over many years from 1983 to about 1997, no manuscript or typescript has been found and she presumably destroyed it. More to the point, the theme of this book was nothing to do with the theme mentioned in the Times letter, and Faber would have published anything Antonia submitted to them well into the 90s.

Ah well then ... "say goodbye to auld lang syne" ...
Oxford resident Henry Miller (the erstwhile "Enrique" of ILX) comments on the wall I mentioned in my Dorchester musings:

"The Cutteslowe Wall: council houses were being built a little distance from a main road circa 1934. A private developer jumped in and built some houses between the council development and the road. Obviously the council house dwellers used to walk through the 'private' area to get to the main road, rather than take a 15 minute round trip. So the developer in cahoots with his tenants put up two walls to cut them off. By 1938 the wall was being turn down - by the Council - before the developer got an injunction, and, yeah, it was '59 when finally it came down."

I think I first heard about the Cutteslowe Wall in the magisterial BBC2 series of a few years back "Middle Classes: Their Rise And Sprawl", which concluded with a position that will be familiar to readers of this blog - ie that Thatcherism and the 80s weren't the success for old-school middle-class values that they were initially assumed to be because the process actually led to both proletarianisation of the younger middle classes' cultural tastes and increased job insecurity - and could be said to have influenced me (although I think Martin Jacques' extraordinary and prophetic Sunday Times essay of 12th June 1994 has been a greater influence).

Monday, April 12, 2004

I've always had a soft spot for Cilla Black's "If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind", one of the nicest and most enjoyably inconsequential pop songs from the pivotal winter of 1969/70. Agnetha Faltskog's new version of it doesn't really have the magic - it sounds like one of the new records that would have been playable on Radio 2 ten years ago, and while they used to play some excellent old records back then (cf, well, Cilla's version of the song) practically every new song they played in the Frances Line era was dire. Still, nice that somebody of her standing shares one of my whimsical minor fascinations that I thought absolutely nobody else did. We'll get a new version of Arrival's "Friends" next ...
Of course, Weymouth and Portland are to Dorset what Swindon is to Wiltshire - the only parts of their respective counties to have ever gone Labour, at profound odds with the traditional shire areas beyond ... maybe that's why I feel such an affinity with XTC; like me, they don't quite come from the deep country, however much they may dream of it, but they're frustratingly, elusively close to it. It's not the relationship of the native, but the relationship of the half-envious, half-doubtful just-outsider. To see every day but know you will never be able to own.

Also, my mum's family moved from London to rural Oxfordshire in 1960, which might be significant for those who remember what XTC said to me three years back(http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/skylarking.htm)
I'm always nervous when in Dorset's county town of Dorchester, a short distance but a spiritual planet away from World's End. I always get embarrassed when I have to give my postcode and what would once have been called my STD code, both for the Dorchester area (DT and 01305 respectively), such little allegiance does this area owe to that town.

I'm nervous when I'm in Dorchester because I always feel that, if the British culture wars do ever genuinely turn violent (I mean organised, consistent violence, rather than just a few random attacks), it isn't the inner cities where the guns will start firing - the old guard have long since abandoned those areas as a lost cause, left them to the new breed to fight their own black-on-black wars in their own place and time. And it won't be Weymouth and Portland - round here, with our much greater affinity with the south-east and its more flexible, internationalist idea of society, the varying generations and tribes seem to get on reasonably well with each other. Nobody seems to take the playing of certain music, or speaking in a certain accent, or walking in a certain way, as a declaration of war against their very idea of Britain.

Not so in Dorchester. There everyone seems to be in the front line. None of the older, conservative-minded people round here seem to see any real threat when they hear 50 Cent pumping from someone's sound system - they just shrug their shoulders and get on with life - but in Dorchester they genuinely seem to see it as a challenge to their territory, an attack on their very existence, an attack from the enemy camp in the undeclared British civil war (conspiratorial thought: were NuLab in '97 so keen to pass the tough gun laws planned by the Tories post-Dunblane partially because, conscious of the sort of thing that had happened in the mid-70s, they knew the foxhunting set might launch an armed rebellion against them if they were as radical as they falsely promised to be at the time, and they wanted to make it harder for such a rebellion - maybe even an attempted coup to occur?). At times, Dorchester feels like our own genteel West Bank, and if that sounds like an outrageous comparison to you it would have done to me until very, very recently. But when I see a business there which spells "Center" the American way I feel differently to how I would feel in Weymouth - such things aren't an established, unchallenged part of the culture in the market towns in the way they now seem to be round here (and in Bournemouth, Poole, Southampton, Portsmouth, all that). When I bought "Wu-Tang Forever" and the Prodigy's "Breathe" and the Brotherhood singles in Dorchester I felt like a cultural warrior in a way I've never done anywhere else, and that at a time when the idea that We Can All Get Along In This Country had rather more adherents than it does today.

When I first went there I saw it as an aspirational wannabe Canterbury, much smaller and with utterly false grandeur by comparison. By 1997 I'd realised that people there would give you a certain look - not so much contempt or anger, just suspicion and fear - if I said certain things to myself, if they could tell it was hip-hop coming from my Walkman, if I made. The young people seemed alienated from the atmosphere of the place in a way they never, ever do in Weymouth and Portland (many of them go to college in Weymouth; conversely the daughter of a notoriously snobby Tory who worked at my old school on Portland went to a school in Dorchester in the sixth form rather than to Weymouth College like everybody else here does; say no more). So obvious were the overriding politics of the place that it was no surprise to me when I learned that the Conservative Democratic Alliance - the sort of Tories who actually still care about the cultural details which the 51st Staters of the New Right in the M25 corridor have long since stopped having any objections to whatsoever - were particularly strong there. When I discovered that they were forming their first local branch in Dorchester and that they were planning to bring down the local Tory MP Oliver Letwin by fielding a "Real Conservative" candidate at the next election who would split the vote (which would let in a Liberal Democrat, but perhaps they are so obsessed with the "purity" of "their own" party that they'd actually rather have a "leftie" who doesn't pretend to be anything else than a "traitor" from "their own" party), I had the satisfying feeling that comes when your gut instincts about a place/person/thing/idea are confirmed.

Letwin is, after all, the epitome of the changes the old Right despise - he is Jewish (and, worse, an "alien" influence in two institutions these anti-Semites wish to preserve in aspic, having attended Eton and Cambridge - of course the awfulness of Bush and Sharon have given the CDA an advantage they wouldn't have had otherwise, the neocons having inadvertently resurrected a type of British conservatism which seemed permanently dead five years ago), he has embraced multiculturalism (notably being photographed last year wearing a turban), is neoliberal, consumerist, sees no problem with an Americanised society and comes from the south-east. His predecessor Sir James Spicer couldn't have been more different, and couldn't have been closer to the old Right idea of what Tories should be - a gentleman farmer who was nearly 50 before he entered Parliament, somewhat Israeli/Americosceptic at times, somewhat distant from the ethos of consumerism and definitively a man of old Dorset, amenable to those like Gregory Lauder-Frost who talk of "knights of the Shires" while claiming that the monarchy should regain most of the powers now held by Parliament. Spicer's predecessor, who I think was one of the landowning Wingfield Digby family (I neither remember nor care who), was even more so. All my friends in the West Dorset constituency - mostly of the Left, and always significantly liking the place whenever they come to Portland - have agreed with me that the difference between Spicer and Letwin is as profound as the difference there would have been between Spicer and his successor had that successor been a Lib Dem. There are many other areas where Letwin clones have succeeded Spicer clones as Tory MPs, but they don't have the residual basis of CDA types for a Canutish "regain our party!" counter-movement to really take shape. Dorchester and much of West Dorset is different, it is one of the places where reaction and determination to maintain the old order will always be centred, and I knew it years before the CDA even existed. No wonder the "Blackshirt farmer" Bob Saunders farmed in the area in the 1930s, when not making rabble-rousing Mosleyite speeches on Weymouth beach.

Needless to say Auberon Waugh took succour from the place; his Private Eye diary entry for 18th December 1976 reads:

"A beautiful day for my brother Septimus's wedding in Dorchester. The bride is serene and lovely and there is an excellent sermon by Dom Philip Jebb, brother of the notorious Julian. He compares human love to a snowball which accumulates further snow as it proceeds.
Afterwards we gather in the beautiful magnolia-clad home of a Dorset farmer and writer. The guests are all distinguished by their beauty, their birth, or their artistic ability. After a luncheon of delicious food we wave off the radiant couple to their honeymoon in Cerne Abbas and repair to Taunton School for a special performance of the Messiah.
On days like this one realises that England still survives. Beneath the notice of television or colour supplements there exists a whole world of quiet, intelligent people going about their daily lives pretty well as they always have done, untroubled by trade unionists or transistor radios or comprehensive schools. The secret is to take no interest in what people say is happening, and disbelieve everything you read in the newspapers."

Despite the obvious culture-war relevance of these words, they still seem distant from the contemporary debate. They're less bound up in fantasy than most of Bron's Eye diaries (which I find staggeringly overrated, boring when he's pretending to know the Queen or to have been at school with people he'd never even met, and often quite offensive in their blitheness when discussing other issues; I prefer my Waugh when he's more serious, more humble, more reflective, less devil-may-care, as in his later Telegraph columns). But there's also the fact that they were written at a time when everything seemed so linear, so clear; there were the Socialists in government and influencing the government, there was the Establishment plotting to bring that government down, and that was it. The battle for Britain was bitter, divisive in a brutally straightforward way, and above all else far more universally-understood than it is today because it was so simple.

Now it's so complicated and multi-faceted that few can fully understand and hardly anyone (least of all me) know where we stand. In perhaps the most extreme example ever seen of the "be careful what you wish for - you might get it" syndrome, we've got orthodox conservatives in the CDA who think we should go back to the very same industrial protectionism and trade barriers designed to keep union members in work, which in the 1970s they considered to be such a serious threat to national security that they thought it acceptable to use the security services to plot the demise of an elected government (in March 1974, Peregrine Worsthorne wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that if "a minority socialist government" - an obvious reference to Wilson's recent return - ever tried to bring about radical reforms, the army should launch a coup to bring it down modelled directly on the coup which brought Pinochet to power in Chile). We've got those same orthodox conservatives agreeing with the people they still call "Reds under the bed" over US policy in Iraq, and despising the mainstream Right's views on that issue. We've got an anti-globalisation consensus between the radical Left and the old Right which would have caused any political compass of 30 years ago to combust and implode instantly.

To his credit, Auberon Waugh understood this in his later years. On 26th March 1985 he correctly observed in the Eye that "nobody is interested in conservatives and socialists any more" - while his following remark "I think the country should divide into those who support Princess Anne and those who support the Princess of Wales. Then we can fight a civil war on that basis" was obviously meant flippantly, it anticipated the culture war of today - between the stereotypically "British" and the showbiz-internationalist - better than most serious writers were doing at the time. By 30th June 1993 he was absolutely unequivocal and correct, stating "the proletarian mass culture finally triumphed in about 1979", with absolutely no doubt intended that he was referring to the change of government that year. And by 1995 - in an alignment utterly inconceivable twenty years earlier when it was all conservatives vs all pop music / popular culture, and that was it - he was part of a left-right alliance with Jarvis Cocker and, at a pinch, Noel Gallagher, both saying that the middle classes should keep out of "the proletarian mass culture" (Waugh because he believed strongly that they should aspire to something "higher" and avoid the culture of "the mass", Jarvis et al because they saw it as an opportunity for "the mass" to create something and make something of their lives, and that their opportunities were being taken away by the radicalised post-Wiener middle classes invading "their territory"). I don't care what anyone says; in the essential implications - utter contempt for the Wienerisation of the middle classes, and particularly for Blur and especially for Damon Albarn - there were many Waugh columns in '94/'95 whose essential message was practically indistinguishable from that of "Common People". The scale of the cultural and political transformation which had taken place in twenty years to make this possible - from a world of straightforward battle lines to an unknowable world of endlessly changing allegiances, not the same thing as post-modernism at all although inexorably connected to it - must not be understated.

Auberon Waugh's final Telegraph column on 16th December 2000 may have used similar phraseology to his Dorchester dreaming almost exactly 24 years earlier - "there is an intelligent, sceptical England surviving amid all the rubbish we see on television" - but it resonates as a shot in the culture wars in a way his '76 column can't; if nothing else, the fact that the earlier column was written at a time when many of such a trad-Tory, landed-classes bent genuinely believed that a Thatcher government would *make everything normal again* - for them, their world, their culture, their market towns, their farms etc etc - makes it seem less like a document of contemporary relevance than a historical relic, a statement carved in stone and found in a Somerset cave. Now the measures from that end have to be more desperate, more death-or-glory than ever.

But back to Dorchester. Of course if you mention the town to most people in Britain right now they might think of Letwin but they're more likely to think of Poundbury, Prince Charles' dream of an eternally rural England, distant from the ethos and imagery of modern Western capitalism, and as such part of an intercinine war with NuLab which splits the establishment from top to toe (his closeness to Arab regimes and his failure to ever visit Israel should be noted with great interest). Building up on the edge of the town over the last decade-and-a-bit, growing ever bigger to the point where it's almost more a town than a village and has outgrown most of the more modern-looking areas that surrounds it, a certain tension is inevitably building up. On 4th April the Observer devoted most of page 3 to a report on the area, with everything I would have expected, just as I'd known was coming for years - residents of the nearby housing estates complaining that "the landed elite have it all their own way", reports that Charles' overgrown model village was full of snobs and mostly over-50 ones at that, people from the estates retaliating with the claim that Poundbury seems horribly dull and repressive, and generally a sense that Class Is Not Dead, it just got a fuck of a lot more complicated, and that Dorchester is as close as you can get in modern Britain to that area of Oxford (I think) where there was a wall separating the "middle-class" and "working-class" areas which wasn't demolished until (from memory) 1959.

And now at Easter weekend, *travellers* - those great folk devils of Middle England - are camping on a field at Poundbury earmarked for development, the battles of 1992-94 defiantly reprised. As is so often the case, the Incredible String Band are the one link that can possibly be made - soundtrack to the traveller culture which has evolved to create the current one, hiding out in West Wales when Charles was studying in Aberystwyth and had to be protected from radical Welsh nationalist groups who had modelled their tactics on the IRA, appreciated by the man who may well officiate at his second wedding, or coronation, or both - but that does not facilitate any kind of middle ground or compromise. As with foxhunting, whether or not one wants travellers in a place like Poundbury is an all-or-nothing issue, and its polarisations are almost identical to those created by the hunting debate.

I often wonder why even the Rowan Williams factor can't end this eternal culture war - an ancient block on which a key part of the current battle for Britain has been built - and conclude that the whole issue has been stirred up too often and too viciously in recent times for the tribal hatred to show any signs of dying out yet; ten years ago there was the one genuinely neo-Nazi British legislation, Michael Howard's Criminal Justice Act, which effectively criminalised the very existence of travellers by repealing some excellent, sensible legislation in support of their rights passed by the Wilson government in 1968. More recently of course there was the whole tribal warfare that Tony Martin vs Fred Barras disintegrated into; whose side you were on became a defining sign of one's class, cultural and social allegiances, whether one supported The Guardians Of The Land or The Travellers' Rights, with no space for ambivalence in between. Now that Martin is planning to stand in the next election, the whole issue is ever more clearly a political one, and it is there, right now, being fought at Poundbury, a far greater frontline of the British culture wars than many other more violent places.

Round here I can keep a relative distance from the battle for Britain, write about it as a deeply uncertain, always-in-two-minds observer, but just a few miles away I'd be right in the thick of it, and sitting on the fence would be far more difficult, maybe even impossible. The battle for Britain - the culture war (there is no longer any reason not to apply that American term in this country) - may not be as easily-understandable by the mass of the population as it was in the 1970s, nor can its existence be conveyed as easily (pop culture and pure consumerism are far more dominant now, and we don't get the brutal reminder of the identity of this country being contested that used to come from the removal or reduction of our access to such things as a result of strikes, power shortages, etc), but it is if anything far more profound, and far more multi-faceted, however much the contentment of consumers might sometimes make us believe otherwise. What happens in West Dorset, and especially in Dorchester, and above all else in Poundbury, is part of a shoot-out to the finish, not between the Left and Right, but between the Libertarians/Internationalists and the Authoritarians/Nationalists. Those of us who fall between two stools - a hell of a lot of the population, but then "culture wars" like this always have a knack of alienating people like me who hate the very concept of war, that's why I fucking hate them - should keep our distance, but that won't reduce our fascination, even if sometimes it's a depressed fascination, wondering how we got from the relative global enlightenment of the mid-late 1990s to *this*. Still trapped, still uncertain, still denied the future we dreamed of. The Phoenix Generation that never got the chance to fly.

No wonder the British Culture Wars seem like the only way out - they shouldn't, and I fucking hate myself for saying this, but sometimes they seem like the only way out *even to me*. At any rate, protests over who exactly should be allowed access to a field in Poundbury mean a hell of a lot more than whether Eamon outsells McFly this week. If everything else is unknowable, we can at least know that.
inspired by Marcello Carlin's semi-urgent request to me more than two years ago:

BARRY RYAN SONGS THAT AREN'T CALLED "ELOISE"

"Don't Bring Me Your Heartaches" - a 17-year-old Barry's first hit, duetted with his late brother Paul (who actually wrote "Eloise"). The journey from this to the breakdown in "Love Is Love" could be analogised for the transition from mid-60s anything-is-possible-ism to the resigned depression at the end of the decade, because this is a great late '65 offshore radio time capsule (#13 in the Record Retailer charts, though only #14 in the BBC charts of the time), everyone terribly excited about pop but nobody sure at all where to take it next, a fine halfway point 'twixt Gene Pitney and the Fortunes.

"Have Pity On The Boy" - their second hit, #18 (in Record Retailer at least), Feb '66. Brighter, more upbeat, more Swinging Britain, nowhere near as good, fatally brought down by an orchestration which (deliberately?) detracts from the lyrics, whereas the arrangement of "Don't Bring Me Your Heartaches" enhances the words behind it. Some might think otherwise, it's probably closer to Neil Christian (ever heard "That's Nice"? What a horrible cringing, grinning piece of shit it is, to such an extent as to eliminate any possible period charm) than either Pitney or the Fortunes, sad to say. Far too definitively Swinging Radio England, and not in the good sense.

"I Love Her" - third hit for the brothers, #17 in Record Retailer, May '66. Much better than its predecessor, a kind of happier flipside of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". All surface no feeling and there's nothing wrong with that sometimes. Great bell chimes. The fire of youthful optimism, 1966 model.

"Keep It Out Of Sight" - by late '66 pop was on the turn and orchestral melodrama seemed hopelessly unhip (ironically it was the reversal of this, at least in pop chart terms, which followed the transition from offshore radio to Radio 1 which allowed "Eloise" to be as huge as it was). After two previous singles peaked at #49 in #43 in Record Retailer, the harder sound of this song brought their sound up to date (the guitar undercurrent hints at The Who's "Happy Jack") and took it to #30 in March '67. The brothers' voices sound much more mature than before; now they're determined, razor-edged. They know what they think and who they are, completely independent of mother Marion's 50s stardom. This is the great side of the offshore radio era as much as "Have Pity On The Boy" is the earlier, weaker side.

"Heartbreaker" - not sure when this came out, but it sounds like it was after "Claire" (their last Record Retailer chart entry at #47 in June 1967). It has the inexorable feel of something designed in the autumn of '67 specifically to fit in with the nasty, grinning blandout of Radio 1 (it might predate "Don't Bring Me Your Heartaches", but I very much doubt it - apart from dying Merseybeat nothing in British music was this lame and cliched in '65, but by late '67 this sort of mundanity was all too common). An awful travelogue-style arrangement, a light-as-fuck song, an absolutely terrible record.

Thankfully Barry was rescued by "Eloise", and then ...

"Love Is Love" - the immediate follow-up to "Eloise", which only peaked at #25 here (he was never to see the UK Top 20 again), but went Top 5 in Germany. Unlike Tony Christie, he didn't become bigger there because he appealed to Schlagerfans; conversely, his music was psychotic in the most Germanic sense imaginable. "Love Is Love" is really a far more extreme record than "Eloise"; whereas on his megahit Barry sounded *polite*, his yearnings hidden behind the required mannerisms of this sort of big, orchestral pop, on "Love Is Love" he sounds like he *really fucking means it*; at 3'48" when he barks "listen love to what I'm saying / when I leave here he will carry on / the things I've left undone" he leaves the technical side of singing, indeed the very idea of singing, behind. He sounds like he's swigging from meths in the arches outside Waterloo station; he sounds, unequivocally, like a rapist. Perhaps that's why it did better in other European countries than here; the better pop audiences of 1969 knew the meaning of those words, the less palatable they found them sung in such a voice. Serious shit.

"The Hunt" - #34 in the UK in October 1969, month of Monica Edwards' "A Wind Is Blowing" and any number of other hints of a culture on the turn. The intro is pretty unequivocal; choral chants of "tally-ho!" before horns straight out of the Black Beauty theme lead us into an eccentric, shuffling piece of baroque pop. Not entirely a success, but an interesting departure - you'd never have got Tom Jones hollering "tally-ho!" and "go go go!" like this, or indeed taking any meaningful risks with form and context at all. I mean, would the phrase "red coats firing through the Harewood Estate" have meant anything to Jones at all?

"I'm Sorry Susan" - no idea when BR recorded this. The first line is "when I see that girl go walking by", bringing on tantalising memories of the awesome epic tragedy of the Fortunes' "Here It Comes Again", but sadly this is unmemorable nothingness by comparison, with a rather testcard-esque arrangement. I suspect an album track circa '71.

"Zeit macht nur vor dem Teufel halt" - early 1972 here, I think, and the definitive moment when Barry realised how much bigger he was in Germany; he actually recorded in German. A middling record, somewhat brought down by the fact that I don't understand the words (although I would probably have done ten years ago); BR's voice is as fervent as ever, but the swing-paced arrangement and singalong chorus bring it down somewhat. Still emotionally a world away from Peter Alexander, though, and I like the electric guitar sound hidden cleverly within, as if to say that, however much it may have pretended it could, the Schlager mainstream could never completely claim Barry Ryan. Any implied American influence in the electric guitar is surely unintentional, though; Barry's success in Germany was ultimately down to his affinity with an older, less transient, less cheese-cliched Central European tradition. Save the scream at 3'48" on "Love Is Love" and, in your darkest and most fearful moments, *cling* to it.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

You want a really shocking confession (of sorts)? OK then: the things I said here in late February were driven mainly by a desire to distance myself definitively from ILM, and I thought the best way to do this would be to say make such determined, virulent statements that I could never really be accepted there again (even in the very unlikely event that I would want to be).

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Final word (hopefully) on the whole "Republic of Mancunia" thing; last December when I was wondering which lyric would best epitomise that worldview (as Lennon's bitter "standing in the English rain" and Jarvis's "take your year in Provence and shove it up your ARSE" do for the Liverpool and Sheffield equivalents), why the fuck did I forget "England's Irie"????. I know Joe Strummer and Keith Allen were also involved, but you can tell "alternative" Euro '96 single was a Black Grape song (and henceforth touched by the hand of fervent Mancunian Red Shaun Ryder) when it goes "We live in a land of class hypocrisy / We're gonna win the National Lottery / Ee-i-adio I don't think so". And then there's that sardonic, mocking sampled voice, no idea who or when, intoning "England. Well, it's the best kept village in Europe, innit?"

Dunno why I forgot that all this time, especially because I was really struck by it at the time and it certainly fitted my politics of June 1996 much better than "Three Lions".
OLDCHARTBLOGGING

For those who don't know, we have a radio show in the UK called "Pick of the Pops", descended from Alan Freeman's celebrated chart rundowns of the 60s, now presented by mildly irritating minor celeb Dale Winton and featuring charts from the past - this week 1967 and 1979. In the vein of the "personalise a chart" thread on ILM of old, here goes: every song featured on the show this week (he doesn't play every song in the respective Top 20s, though, but I've never even heard some of the songs he left out and anyway I don't think I could ever motivate myself to write even a syllable about Val Doonican's mercifully-excluded version of "Memories Are Made Of This").

JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE - "Purple Haze"

Thing about Jimi is that you don't have to be a fan to get him; I scarcely know anything bar the obvious yet every time I do hear him I get blown away. That being said, he got more *immense* later; the fury of '68 lent the context to his greatest recordings, and in the upbeat mood of early '67 he wasn't yet fully formed, hadn't yet been imbued with the anger to burn. So it's not a bad song by any means, but you feel his true moment had to wait until the retrenchment of the autumn. Some of the upbeat pop songs in this chart are wonderful, but some are rather forgettable, cf ...

GEORGIE FAME - "Because I Love You"

... not the best or most memorable time capsule of Swinging Britain. Alan Price was better, I think (he gets left out later on, with "Simon Smith And His Amazing Dancing Bear" - a song which inspired the sort of Today programme report Lord H*tt*n must yearn for, when reporter Tim Matthews took a real dancing bear round London's hotels to see whether he'd actually be "well accepted everywhere". That's the reason Jack de Manio was put out to grass ...)

THE FOUR TOPS - "Bernadette"

Momentarily I imagine puritan socialists at the time dissing this, cf a certain West Dorset resident's "Levi Stubbs' Tears", which never cried more powerfully than on this desperate, stained-beautiful, near-perfect song, even in '67 one of Motown's finest moments.

DAVE DEE, DOZY, BEAKY, MICK AND TICH - "Touch Me Touch Me"

Ah, the days when a successful band not coming from the West Coast Main Line corridor was news in itself. Not a patch on "Hold Tight" or "Zabadak!" as far as the Wiltshire farmhands-made-good were concerned.

THE HOLLIES - "On A Carousel"

I knew *that* excursion wouldn't last. Back to the familiar terrain of the WCML and Manchester's finest of the 60s - well before one could even have envisaged the term "Republic of Mancunia" becoming commonplace. The Hollies were, essentially, what the Beatles would have been had McCartney been correct when he called them simply "a great little band". Out of their depth aping Sgt Pepper, of course (though embarrassment over that stuff doesn't excuse "Jennifer Eccles", which is an absolutely shit song, the most horrible of all '68 retrenchments), but they came up with a run of great singles which took longer than you'd think to run out of steam, and this is one of their best. "Nearer nearer by changing horses" is an unintentionally classic line, of course - its unknowing anticipation of the Incredible String Band (in the spring of '67 not yet to fully emerge from the trad-folk mire) makes me think inevitably of what was to follow from the collapse of the offshore-radio-based consensus after August.

MANFRED MANN - "Ha Ha Said The Clown"

"Has the king lost his crown?" - hideously linked in my mind with Sarah Kennedy making a great thing of playing it when it looked like Prince Charles might leave the succession to William. Still a great piece of energy-pop, though, making me think of the sheer *excitement* of offshore radio *just* before it brought on all those political conundrums. Oddly a number one practically everywhere in northern/central Europe apart from the UK, where it only peaked at number 4.

THE MONKEES - "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You"

Long and tortuous would be the task of fully describing what this record evokes in my mind, taking in a Peterborough teenage bedroom, holidays on the Kent coast, an agonisingly close election, offshore radio, an old Armada paperback and the farms and smallholdings of South West Surrey. It deserves far better than cheap jokes about the fact that the Monkees didn't sing on their records (when in fact they usually did) just because it includes the line "girl, you know that it's true", Milli Vanilli, ha ha ha!!! (spare us)

Always odd to think Neil Diamond wrote this song, but it fits well with his own "Solitary Man", a far better record than his reputation might make you think.

THE BEATLES - "Penny Lane"

Did someone mention McCartney? Yes, yes, *of course* it was a double-A with "Strawberry Fields Forever", but Dale doesn't play that, so we have the song that gave rise to one of Ian MacDonald's most moving pieces of writing ever (yes, I understand what Marcello was getting at in his obit, but just because he seemed constantly brought down by echoes of the past doesn't mean we have to feel the same way just because we appreciate such writing, and the contrast with the coming chaos of '79 is too poignant to avoid).

CLIFF RICHARD - "It's All Over"

As I may have observed before (I think it was on benighted ILM), the man is a universal curse, feted to turn up, somewhere, in all such surveys. By this time he'd completely lost whatever pop relevance he may have had and was singing ballads like this, songs nobody would ever remember yet still somehow went Top 10 - oh, the unkillable mediocrity of England.

SANDIE SHAW - "Puppet On A String"

Britain Finds Its Pop Place In Europe etc etc. Sounds slicker and more "modern" than I remembered it - probably some kind of remastering. Not quite as Schlagerish as "Boom-Bang-A-Bang" or the sadly nowhere-near-as-good-as-it-should-have-been "Knock Knock Who's There", but nowhere near as good as, oooh, "Girl Don't Come". I don't think this was the basis of Morrissey's fandom, though it probably did have something to do with Harold Wilson inviting her to his reception for German chancellor Willi Brandt in February 1970 (though she also had the first new number one of his premiership with the glorious "Always Something There To Remind Me").

HARRY SECOMBE - "This Is My Song"

ITV, every Sunday evening for eternity, while Radio 1 was counting up to number one, warbling about climbing every mountain and the like. Say no more.

FRANK AND NANCY SINATRA - "Somethin' Stupid"

Always hated this. Always. I'ts not just because Williams and Kidman did it, honest. Nothing I hear today convinces me to re-evaluate it.

ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK - "Release Me"

With a Top 3 like this you'd think the Marine Offences Act had already been passed - although in reality this sort of MOR has always been around and is basically unkillable, even if these days it only really sells on albums. The transition from Radio London et al to Radio 1 led to a blanding-out of mainstream chartpop (The Herd, Love Affair etc) and a marginalisation of some great records (Marmalade's "I See The Rain", Gladys Knight's original "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"), but it didn't start this kind of MOR - it did lead to this kind of music taking up a higher percentage of chart positions, but that was mainly by default. A residual culture beating out an emergent one, said Tom Ewing (after Raymond Williams) analysing this song keeping the Beatles off the top, and you don't need to say anything more than that.

THE CARS - "Just What I Needed"

Before they went unspeakable-AOR of course. I like the half-flash, half-desperation of "My Best Friend's Girl", but this is an uninteresting pale imitation which of course went far bigger in America, but thankfully here stopped at number 17 (their previous song had freaked a top 3 spot mainly because of being the first UK picture disc, even hitting the top 10 in its first week back when no new artists ever did that).

SISTER SLEDGE - "He's The Greatest Dancer"

Don't remember Will Smith dribbling all over it. Remember the Chic Organisation at their luscious, heavenly peak. Dance forever like Carter never lost the presidency. Just do it ...

THE JAM - "Strange Town"

My uncle bought this record while staying with his relatives in London because it was, erm, a strange town. Thoughts of the desperate last-gaspery of British Transport Films' "Omnibus 150" come inexorably to mind - this was the week after the vote of no confidence which ended the Callaghan government. I mean, "dreadful snow" phrased sarcastically, how much more early 1979 can you get? The reality behind those extraordinary, self-deluding scenes of Victorian costumes and the ludicrous statement "What has changed - apart from the fashions?" ("I work in London ... and I can only go where the London traffic goes"). Nowhere near as tied to its era lyrically as "Eton Rifles", though.

RACEY - "Some Girls"

Their previous hit "Lay Your Love On Me" was a classic example of the Accidental Masterpiece; no great shakes in itself, the sheer death-or-glory desperation of its chord sequence inadvertently caught the mood of the winter of '78/'79 - no way out, no way back, just a fight to the finish, trapped in freezing claustrophobia (Bowie's "Sound and Vision" had anticipated it best). Like few other records before or since, "Lay Your Love On Me" was elevated by context from indifference to genius. Unfortunately "Some Girls" has one of the flattest and most boring chord sequences imaginable. Not even the fact that it was mentioned as a 1976 record in series 2 of "The League of Gentlemen", which I always took as an obtuse tribute to Dennis Potter (cf "Lipstick On Your Collar" being set in '56 even though that song came out in '59) can save it, although like the entire Mud/Rubettes/Smokie/Showaddywaddy/Shaky lineage it was indecently huge in Germany.

ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS - "Oliver's Army"

Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God. "Strange Town" times a fucking million. *The* Winter of Discontent record. What it sounds like when you know one era is at its end and you're grim, unsmiling, wondering what's going to happen next. The validation for Costello's whole career which has, let's be honest, been tedious at least 90% of the time. But I'm not thinking of that. I'm thinking of Malcolm Saville and James Mettyear and poignancy imploding into anger - but not just trivia like that, I'm also thinking of the sheer injuistice and rage of Blair Peach's death - and half-crying.

Mind you, would anyone play this now if Tim Westwood had actually been killed in July 1999? Even if they did, they'd surely edit out the "one less white nigger" line, which I always take to be a spot-on dissection of the way the National Front of the time (along with all other far-Right groups) despise people of "their own kind" who "ape" "the blacks" more than they ever hate "the blacks" themselves.

DIRE STRAITS - "Sultans of Swing"

Thinking of the '79 election campaign inevitably gets one thinking of the reinvention of the British middle classes and the systematic stripping away of their wariness of popular culture, the destruction of Betjeman Culture in favour of all things mid-Atlantic (possible analogy here: March / April '79 also saw the first transmission of "Flambards", with its extraordinary anticipation of the battles between the Wienerised new middle classes and the foxhunting fraternity which have marked out the following quarter-century). Aptly enough the election period saw the emergence of Dire Straits, in the wake of huge American success after their debut single and album had initially flopped their previous year. More predictive of the era to come than anyone, at the time, could have fully imagined (if the '79 Tories could have been any style of music, most people at the time would still have equated them to English-pastoral classical or light orchestral).

SQUEEZE - "Cool For Cats"

Used on one of those C4 nostalgia marathons a couple of years ago over clips of "Minder" (which didn't actually start until the autumn of '79, the week ITV returned following the biggest strike in broadcasting history). An obvious choice; they both evoke the same era of London, the final era when you could instantly tell what colour someone's skin was based purely on a recording of their speech.

While mentioning though not playing "Something Else" / "Friggin' In The Riggin'", Dale refers to the Sex Pistols with the emphasis on the second word. Very strange.

CHIC - "I Want Your Love"

See the Sister Sledge record, only even more so (those chimes!). Very nearly the finest pop music ever, ever made.

ART GARFUNKEL - "Bright Eyes"

Easy to hate, of course, especially in the wake of Mike Batt's obvious Tory wankerdom (starting his fan letters with the phrase "Dear World", honestly!) and his return via the Katie Melua "phenomenon". When Tony Blackburn said "congratulations to Mike Batt" when he announced it as 1979's biggest-selling single, it was hard not to think he was actually congratulating Batt for having voted for Maggie like he did and put those nasty socialists back where they belong. But I am convinced that in BBC2's 1995 series about the history of the British welfare state, title now sadly forgotten, this song was played over footage of Jim Callaghan leaving Number 10 for the last time (along with the Movietone newsreel of Thatcher's arrival - yep, they only finished at the end of May '79!) and, in that context, it sounded like the saddest, most poignant, most *tragic* thing ever. And then of course the Manics, the one band of their generation who genuinely understand the ideas and values killed as an influence of government in the spring of '79, possibly forever - did it; surely, surely that redeems it from any Tory implications? Conversely, "Bright Eyes" now sounds like a lament for *enlightenment*, a song hiding deep, repressed anger against the unenlightened ones, those who believe in fighting fire with fire and only think in terms of perpetual war.

"How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale"? Some of us ask that question every day.

VILLAGE PEOPLE - "In The Navy"

Don't get it, sorry, and don't get them. Pointless (unless it was Billy Connolly doing it).

GLORIA GAYNOR - "I Will Survive"

See above. One of the most overrated and overexposed songs imaginable. I can't even bring myself to be repulsed by it (in the context of April '79 marking the start of the whole gruesome mid-Atlantic political continuum which still cannot seem to end, however much hope one may sometimes have) when thinking of the way Newsnight used it as Blair's post-H*tt*n anthem. That was vile. This is just mediocre and indifferent.

What a show, though. What a way to go.

Mind you, then Richard Allinson comes on and plays Bryan Adams' "duet" with Mel C. Over to Five Live pretty fucking sharpish, then.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Seemingly US forces in Baghdad today were blasting Guns 'N Roses as their intimidation music; it gives an ever greater resonance to the dynamics of the Manics' "Generation Terrorists", doesn't it?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Seems that some thought I'd given up blogging (hiya Undercurrent!). Actually I never intended the lengthy gap between postings to develop at all - just a combination of my own writer's block with general exhaustion (on all fronts). But never did the idea of giving up go through my mind (although it did around late January / early February, in the despairing aftermath of H*tt*n); indeed, the more I see of the world outside, the more convinced I become that I *need* to go on writing here.

Just a few comments to restart things:

- About a week ago I'd been listening to Paul Anka's "Lonely Boy" (I think I was inspired by Tom Ewing's Popular postings on 1959's high summer of teenpop - the Anka song is certainly far better than any of the songs in that style he's reviewed, but unfortunately it only peaked at #3 in the UK) and thinking of it very much in a socio-aesthetic sense, as part of the New Britain envisaged by the Eisenhower visit that summer, paving the way for the Beeching report and all it brought about. Then I saw the Monty Python "Fish Licence" sketch for the first time, and there was John Cleese's ultimate pedantic archetype: "There you are: 'Kemal Ataturk, the Man' by E.W. Swanton, with a foreword by Paul Anka, page 91, please". Swanton, for those who don't know, was the archetypal Test Match Special snob, a cricket lover of a bygone age who never accepted that the divide between gentlemen and players had faded into history and that Britain had been usurped by its former colonies as much in cricket as in any other walk of life (he was the sort who'd refuse to give people his autograph unless he'd invited them to speak to him first, and while summing up the day's play on the pre-Carleton-Greene BBC circa '59 he turned round and said to somebody off camera "would you mind keeping quiet? I can't concentrate!" in a voice which fully reflected his rude, petulant character). The Python team, mostly public school / Oxbridge as they were, would have had a full grounding in the Swanton idea of Englishness; *they knew* what Anka meant in that context.

- Do I sound arrogant? *Am* I arrogant? I genuinely don't think so; it's more that it seems I've been proven right more often than not recently, whether in something as trivial as the idea of Paul Anka as opposition to Test Match Special England, or something as medium-sized as the idea of the Incredible String Band as the ultimate meeting point of hippiedom and old conservative institutions (Prince Charles briefly went to university at Aberystwyth, which is where Rose Simpson became mayor, and if he marries Camilla and/or becomes king in the coming years, we know who'll be officiating the ceremony, don't we?), or something as serious as my predictions last year that Iraq wouldn't work out as the neocons envisaged (understatement). In such circumstances, I might be forgiven a certain belief that my instincts tend to lean whichever way the wind is blowing. I still hope I don't fall for it, though.

- Alan Bennett surely, surely understands Asperger's Syndrome, even if nobody else in his position does.

- If you don't yet know what Popular is, it can be read at http://www.freakytrigger.co.uk/popular.html - basically, Tom Ewing writes about every UK number one. Ever. Since November 1952. In the charts used by British Hit Singles and other Guinness publications (so sadly no "Stranger On The Shore" or "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown", but thankfully we will get "Shakin' All Over"). Thus far he's reached September 1959 and Craig Douglas, the Singing Milkman from the Isle of Wight who would have just about fitted into Uncle Mac's wet dreams, gracelessly trampling all over Sam Cooke's elegance and poise. If I was doing something like this it would have drowned by now in ramblings about the Eisenhower visit, the Macmillan landslide, whoever it was who wrote "As I write this I am sleeping" on a summer '59 Radio Times in Westminster library, but I think it's better with Tom's stripped-down approach; the sort of thing I'd stuff it with is fine and all that, but the sheer conceptual appropriateness of this project - a Winchester and Oxford graduate writing about records specifically because the masses liked them, when in the late 50s everyone dreamed that educating the masses would move them away from pop music and towards the cultural elite of Winchester and Oxford, yet more proof of Wiener's victory - would be undermined if he took the sociological approach. Maybe with his background, there's an inherent desire to concentrate purely on the music to escape what he sees as overt academic justification-of-pop-through-wider-history which someone like me (no qualifications of any sort - oh, I'll explain one day) doesn't feel.

But beyond all this amateur psychology on my part, Tom's approach is simply masterly; uncluttered, precise, clear, he allows the chart-toppers of yesteryear to breathe for themselves again. I don't think I could do it half as well, even though I probably *do* know most of the records better than he does ... all that being said, half of me is hoping he'll finally get tired of it about halfway through 2005 so that there's a use for at least some of these mp3s of past number ones, by no means all of them the sort of thing I'd ever choose to listen to, which I'm downloading in hope that I might eventually get a crack at it :).

Anyone think he'll get through Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife" (which will follow after Jerry Keller's only hit) *without* mentioning the professional wanker Williams and/or the professional down-the-dumper wanker Gates?

- referring back to somedisco's most recent post (at least that I've read) on the subject, I think I realise what irritates me about the "Republic of Mancunia" lot; it's the forty-years-out-of-date idea that cultural slavishness to America is somehow a means of challenging the values and assumptions of the ruling classes Down South. They depend for their self-belief on this idea they have that the stuffed shirts and striped trousers of Whitehall still put their fingers in their ears whenever they hear rock'n'roll, and they remind me of nothing so much as Fidel Castro still calling his radio station "Rebel Radio" after decades as the unchallenged elite (I wrote a piece on the outmoded immaturity of NuLab's Atlanticism - constantly asserting the existence of a now-defunct elite to oppose, and not realising that they themselves are the new elite - last year). It's the Atlanticists who run EVERY FUCKING INSTITUTION in Britain these days - OK maybe the older ideas still survive in the ever more marginal monarchy and church, but the institutions that still matter, that still affect our lives, are dominated by the Blair generation; if the "Republic of Mancunia" gang *really* want to challenge the values of the British establishment tribe, they should abandon the imagery of US capitalism and revert to Hoggartism, now both more rebellious *and* more conservative than ever (yes, hard to believe, isn't it?), not culturally cringe and genuflect in the sad posturing way they do.

For fuck's sake, even on the occasions when the old establishment idea of Institutions Obeying The State Or Else reasserts itself, cf H*tt*n, it's invariably as a means of weasellishly defending the Good Name and power of the US elite. If you want to fully immerse yourself with Global Kapital or start calling your supposed good omens "Elvis" (cf Man City fans, at least according to ITV), fine, as long as you don't pretend to be anything else. That's why I'm not really offended by the rampant consumerism of Arsenal and Chelsea fans; they don't make themselves out to be *above all that*. Too many at Man Utd do, I fear.

- Michael Grade is easily the best chairman the BBC could have had in the circumstances. Had he been allowed to succeed Alasdair Milne as Director-General, as would surely have been his destiny under a sane and rational government, he'd have been a very similar type of DG to Greg Dyke, loved (by the staff of the BBC and the public) and hated (by New Rightists in government) for most of the same reasons. No wonder it was never allowed to happen, then.

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