Late Night Stargazing

1986, and Norwegian pop dreamboats a-ha released a remixed version of the title track and fourth (or fifth if you count Take On Me twice, since it flopped on its first release) and final single from their debut album, Hunting High and Low.

I had bought the re-released Take on Me on 7″ single (partly, admittedly, swept up by the magnificence of the ground-breaking video), didn’t buy but loved their only UK #1, The Sun Always Shines on TV, wasn’t particularly fussed about Train of Thought, but on hearing Hunting High… I was inspired to go and buy the album.

It’s a song which is all too often over-looked in favour of Take on Me (because of that video) and The Sun Always Shines… (because it was #1), which is a shame, I think, because, as I will say at least another two times before the end of this post, it’s just lovely.

Locked away in a part of my brain I have yet to recall the security code for, there is a memory of me – briefly – wearing, or at the very least considering wearing, leather laces as bangles, in the somewhat desperate hope it might make me look a bit like lead singer, Morten Harket, and therefore irresistible to members of the opposite sex. I don’t think I actually went through with it, but there’s enough doubt in my mind, and enough recognition of the daft lengths I would go to (try to) achieve the same goal when I was a teenager, to make me think I may well have done.

A case in point: at around the same time as a-ha were becoming famous, I went on a camping and canoeing trip to Norway, organised by my school. (To be clear, we did not canoe to Norway.) I knew very little about Norway, except I’d heard it was largely inhabited by blonde, blue-eyed beauties. And so I decided that what I needed to do was dye my hair blond, because that was clearly what Norwegian girls wanted from their overseas visitors: more of the same.

A friend and I duly purchased a bottle of Sun-In hair dye; we read the instructions, applied the lotion, rinsed and then…decided it hadn’t worked and did it again. And again. And then once more for good measure. So that by the time we boarded the ferry taking us to Norway, I was not the mousy brown-haired teenager I normally was, but neither was I the blonde sex god I had hoped for. No, my hair was a kind of muddy orangey red, and I looked as gorgeous as that sounds.

The female half of Norway was not in the slightest bit interested, needles to say.

Anyway, despite this traumatic memory, whenever I hear this song, it still makes me go “Ahhhh….” in the same way as it did when I first heard it, because it’s just lovely:

a-ha – Hunting High And Low (7′ Remix)

See? Just lovely.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Back when I was a kid, attending the school disco was a big event, although it would always, inevitably, end in disappointment.

For after several hours of bopping around to the latest pop sensations, suddenly things became very serious when things got slowed down for the last couple of records. For this was the moment where you were supposed to ask a girl to dance, but I never did.

No, I was one of those wallflowers, pressed terrified against the wall, unable to pluck up the courage to go and ask someone to dance for fear of rejection; forced to stand and watch as all of my mates grabbed a girl, led them onto the dancefloor and spent the next three and a half minutes trying to thrust their tongue down their throats whilst grinding their groin in a misplaced display of attraction.

At the time, this – purely because of its tempo, I think – was an often played song which graced what we called dismissively/jealously referred to as “The Erection Section”, although listening to it now the lyrics don’t seem to be on an entirely appropriate topic.

But Elkie’s voice…although she doesn’t properly let her vocal chords rip here (check out some of the records she made with Robert Palmer of all people under the moniker Vinegar Joe; she was the UK’s Janice Joplin, except she missed out the bit where she accidentally took too much heroin and was elevated to superstar status), anyone who can make we voluntarily listen to a Chris Rea composition (which this is) more than once must have something about them, which Elkie surely did:

Elkie Brooks – Fool If You Think It’s Over

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

There will be a more involved post appearing about her soonish, but I couldn’t resist posting this bit of…well I guess you’d call it Dream Pop, by the gorgeous, sassy, funny, and all-round brilliant Charlotte Church.

Lifted from her 2013 EP “Two” – g’wan, guess how many EP’s she’d released before this – this starts off all Cocteau Twins before descending into what I like to call a glorious cacophony of noise:

Charlotte Church – Lasts, or Eschaton

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

I’m sure, like me, you’ve been following with great admiration Jim and The Robster’s collaborative effort going over all of the R.E.M. singles in chronological order over at The Vinyl Villain.

It’s been a really interesting and honest read, especially seeing the point where patience began to where patience began to wear thin (the Up album), where it finally ran out (the godawful Around The Sun album) but it’s also been heartening to read many people in the comments who also gave up on them at around the same time, now giving the Accelerate album a listen for the first time and very much liking what they heard – the R.E.M. of old.

The series is fast approaching the end, with just the singles from the farewell album, Collapse Into You to go (I think…The Robster knows best), but I thought I’d duck in with this little beauty which features as an extra track on the career spanning Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage compilation album. This was released as a single elsewhere in the world but not in the UK, so I hope I’m not treading on their toes by posting it.

As a rule, I’m not a fan of bonus tracks on Best Of… albums, viewing them as manipulative way to get us fans to part with our hard-earned cash once more for songs which we mostly already own.

The other two bonus songs on the album – A Month of Saturdays and Hallelujah – are, to put it kindly, nothing special.

But We All Go Back To Where We Belong is just gorgeous, all parping horns, beautiful strings and Stipe’s restrained breathy vocals; it practically twinkles as it come out of your speakers. It’s a thing of such beauty that when I first heard it I remember thinking: “There you go, see: you can still do it.”

R.E.M. – We All Go Back To Where We Belong

There would have been a few more tears shed when the band split if more of their late-period records had sounded like that, I think.

Had it been released as a single in the UK, it would have been a fitting swansong to a glorious career. But instead we got…ah, no. I’ll leave it to Jim and Rob.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Lockdown does funny things to you.

Were you to ask pretty much any family member or friend of mine, after you’ve explained who I am and where they know me from, I’m pretty sure that they would confirm Jack Daniels and Coke with a slice of lime to be my drink of choice.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before on these pages the night when my brother retired from the RAF; we spent the night in the subsidised bar, drinking nothing but the stuff. Two reactions from the night remain in my mind: firstly, one of my brother’s friends offered to buy me a drink and when I told him what I wanted, he muttered “Oh Christ, not you as well. I hope you don’t drink as fast as your brother.” Challenge accepted. Secondly, the next morning, my father commented that I was drinking a double every fifteen minutes or so, and he had seen them change the bottle six or seven times in the space of about four hours.

Anyway, during lockdown my drinking habit has moved temporarily, from Jack Daniels to Jim Beam. I know, sacrilege, right?

But not any Jim Beam though, I hasten to add. Their normal brew still pales in comparison with Uncle Jack. But they do an off-shoot called Red Stag, which is infused with black cherry liqueur. It’s yummy, and comes highly recommended.

So here’s this:

Goldfrapp – Black Cherry

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

In case you were wondering about the somewhat erratic nature of my recent posts, I’m in the middle (hopefully) of a bout of insomnia.

I simply cannot sleep at night, but as soon as I’ve finished work and my arse has hit the settee, I’m out for a couple of hours, which of course means I can’t sleep that night, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

What this means is that I end up laying on the sofa at ouch o’clock, trying to find something mind-numbingly dull enough to send me to sleep.

It hasn’t worked yet.

What has evolved is a routine of programmes I end up watching: Premiership Years on Sky Sports (“I’ll go back to bed as soon as Spurs are mentioned…wait, which year is this? Who was managing us then…?”), any episode of Police Interceptors, or something of it’s ilk, hopefully one of the episodes set in rural Wales where PC Paddy Duwayne is the hero, snuffling out bail absconders from underneath beds or behind doors; and if I’m still awake at 4:30 (which I am) then The £100K Drop with squawking Davina (“I love these guys!”) kills an hour, and then it’s time for a repeat of Countdown followed by a couple of episodes of Cheers (which is just as brilliantly written and acted as I remember; I imagine you can stream them on All4 and if you can I’d heartily recommend you do) and then…oh, time for work,

But the other night, I caught a large chunk of a Manic Street Preachers gig, filmed in Manchester to promote the launch of their Everything Must Go album. Billed as their “comeback concert”, it was the first time they had performed since guitarist, lyricist and cheese salad sharer Richey Edward had gone missing several months earlier.

I flicked on to the channel just as they were launching into a rousing version of Motown Junk, my favourite Manics tune, much posted on these pages before. What I don’t know if they played – but given it features a harp, I somewhat doubt it – is this absolute beauty from the same album, one of those rare moments when lead singer James Dean Bradfield actually sings, rather than shouts (not a criticism, by the way – just my way of saying he’s actually got rather a nice singing voice which doesn’t get trotted out enough):

Manic Street Preachers – Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

For the record, there was no post yesterday not out of any respect for the dead Royal, but because I couldn’t be arsed with writing one.

And here we are and I feel I’m expected to say something controversial.

Well, ok.

I like Miley Cyrus.

She’s a popstar who really seems to be flourishing on her own terms to me: when she isn’t appearing in particularly brilliant episodes of the already-brilliant Black Mirror, she’s making albums with The Flaming Lips, performing blindingly great sets at Glastonbury (remember Glastonbury?) – ok, she loses several million credibility points by getting her Dad up on stage too and thereby reminding us of the line-dancing monstrosity he was responsible for – she’s releasing really quite wonderful stuff like this:

Miley Cyrus – Angels Like You

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

In my efforts to get back on the horse with writing here, an easy one, a soul classic, which deserves to have it’s moment in the Late Night Stargazing canon.

Here’s Billy Paul telling the story of his canoodling with Mrs Jones.

I mean just look at him in that picture, cool as feck. I mean, I would, if he left his hat on.

Wait, have we inadvertently stumbled upon the greatest bit of pop gossip ever?

Mr Jones is apparently in the dark about the affair – or is he? Surely when Tom Jones sang “You Can Leave Your Hat On” he was referring to a desire to be physically involved with a fedora wearing Mr Paul and/or his missus. No….?

Billy Paul – Me and Mrs Jones

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

This week, I have been mildly obsessed with Billy Bragg. For three reasons.

Firstly, apropos of nothing, I had this, an extra track on his You Woke Up My Neighbourhood CD single, as an earworm for a few days:

Secondly, because as long-term readers may recall, a load of my vinyl inexplicably vanished a few years ago, stolen either by an ex-flatmate who did a runner, or by some unsavoury types invited back from a ropey local pub and left unsupervised by later flatmates, and amongst the records lost was my entire collection of Billy’s records.

This week, all for the princely sum of £15.00 + P&P (a bargain!), I (re)purchased Brewing Up With…, Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, and a 12″ single of this, :

…which of course includes this on the B-side, guitar courtesy of Mr Johnny Marr:

Billy Bragg – Walk Away Renee

Thirdly, because, to cheer myself up, I bought this bad boy:

No offence to Mr Bragg, but I bet you can guess which of the three tunes I still cannot play.

Nobody plays guitar like Johnny Marr.

More soon.