Ok, so it’s 10 years today since John Peel died. I don’t think I can let that pass without comment.
It’s rare when I hear about someone famous passing on that I feel anything other than indifference. But when Peelie shuffled off this mortal coil, I felt cold. A veritable shiver. The light that would never go out, had.
I’d love to be able to relate some story now about how I met the Great Man and how it changed my life, but I don’t have one, because I never did. But here’s two things:
Once, not long before he died, he asked on his show who it was that did a song that mentioned Brian Rix’s trousers. In his usual slightly befuddled manner, he’d forgotten, and when you have as many tunes rattling around in your head as he did, one’s bound to fall out every now and then. I emailed him (as did many others) and he thanked me (and many others) on air for doing so. This is the song:
Ok so that’s not a great claim to fame. I don’t have anything better than that. But in 1989 I went to the Reading Festival, and on the Saturday John was acting as compere. I remember him reading the football scores out, but insisting on starting with the Scottish results, because they usually get left till the end and nobody really pays attention to them. And this strikes me as being a metaphor for his life’s work: bringing the previously unheard to the attention of the masses.
Yes he played a lot of tosh I wasn’t interested in (I’m looking at you, Bhundu Boys) but for every 10 songs he played, you got at least 2 or 3 that you’d never heard before and wanted to hear some more of.
I could make a really long list of the bands I first heard via Mr Peel. I won’t, but here’s some of them. My life is richer for having them, and the stuff I consequently checked out, in there. Cheers, John!
Colorblind James Experience – Considering a Move to Memphis Go buy it here: Memphis
And any Peel tribute wouldn’t be complete without this:
Links all repaired. Or done properly, if you prefer.
It is early 1982 and a major musical epiphany is on the horizon. But before that (and I have no specific stories to relate about it), scalded by my Jungle Boogie experience (which sounds like a fecking great name for a band by the way), I shrunk backwards.
The Beatles were popular, right? Let’s buy something by them. And then, just to make sure I didn’t try to get it played at a local cultural event let’s buy it on cassette. At the risk of coming over all Peter Kay: cassettes! Remember them?? ( I hope so. The word Cassingles will soon feature prominently. I say soon. I mean in about 15 years time. Bear with me.)
I’d borrowed the Red and Blue Greatest Hits from my aunt earlier, and loved every moment of them, so, desperate for recognition, I guess I regressed into my tortoise shell.
This is what I ended up with. Oh how I wish I could say the first album I bought was “Revolver” or “Sgt Pepper”. But no. It’s a mish-mash compilation at best, but the song I loved most of all was from “Revolver” so I guess I kinda win, right? Anyway, it’s this obviously McCartney penned- belter:
The spelling is deliberately wrong by the way, I’m just starting and don’t want any DMCA notices.
At this point, I would normally give you a link so you can go buy it, but, incredibly nobody seems to be selling it (this compilation, that is. You can buy Revolver very easily. You don’t need a link. In fact, don’t buy it, go buy Ella Fitzgerald’s version instead.)
A few years ago, a very good friend of mine (Hi Colin!) made his feelings about The Beatles known to me. Since they’re unlikely to feature much more here, this seems an appropriate moment to share this. He hated them. No, he REALLY hated them.
What he hated was not the music itself, but the very idea of The Beatles. To Colin, they were institutionalised music taste. He was being told what to do. “These are The Beatles and you must like them”. You were just supposed to like The Beatles without ever questioning it, because of who it was and what they represented. As a result, he bloody hated them. I very much admire his stance.
Actually, he’d REALLY hate the fact I’ve mentioned him in a blog post about how much I love The Beatles, which frankly just adds to the appeal of writing this.,
I’ve seen him, in a bar with a band playing a Beatles cover, standing on the dance floor, fists up, challenging anyone who wanted to dance to just give it a try. Which seems a tad extreme, but I get his point.
There is no reason in liking something just because it’s popular and en vogue. Why like something else because everyone else does? Right??? I’d have to like One Direction if that were the case and that ain’t gonna happen. They murdered “One Way or Another” for a start.
If only I’d met him 20 odd years earlier, you (and I) would have been spared a lot of pain.
When asked what I want for Christmas, by now, despite (or perhaps because of) my ill-fated public display of musical knowledge, I have decided that what I want more than anything else is more records. There can be no more embarrassing moments. I need to get my shit together.
But……I remain torn. I know Shakin’ Stevens will not earn me any cool points in either this or the next life, yet still there’s a hankering, a soft spot. I want his new album. I have seen him resplendent in a pink jacket. I have witnessed him attacking Richard Madeley, and this is how I want to live.
And yet…there’s this other band I’d become vaguely been aware of. They had first crossed my radar when they were mentioned on Nationwide for having a song the chorus of which sounds like they’re singing “Sue Lawley” over and over again (They’re not). I’ve seen their new stuff on Top of the Pops. But in a video, not in the studio. Remember: this is pre-MTV, so pop videos were still a rarity. Usually if an artiste wasn’t able to appear in person on the show, we’d be treated to Legs & Co’s often far too literal dance interpretation of the hit record in question. They seem, if you’ll allow me to slip into American colloquialism for a moment, pretty cool.
They are The Police.
At this point I am blissfully unaware that The Police are the biggest band on the planet. All I know is I’ve heard “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and think it’s one of the most amazing things I ever heard. Steel Drums!!! Sting in a trilby hat in the video, in a place where it’s sunny!!!! (I remember sun. I lived through 1976. I remember that, but do I remember punk? Nosireebob. No recollection. Life sucks sometimes.) And, ironically, there’s “Invisible Sun”, which is the polar opposite to “Every Little Thing…”; it’s dark and moody, and seems to be about a political situation in Ireland that I don’t understand (still don’t, truth be told). But it’s music with a message, something above the “Ooh Baby I Lurve You” that constituted 99% of the charts. And even though I didn’t understand it, this piqued my interest.
So when I am asked what I want for Christmas, I imagine my parents were expecting I’d give some Dr Who related answer, as I had for several years previously. But no. I am clear and distinct in my request. I want either (always best to give a choice, I think – it makes the buyer feel like they’ve had some input in the process other than simply purchasing): “Ghost in the Machine” by The Police or “Shaky” by Shakin’ Stevens. One of these would have the distinction of being the first proper album I ever owned.
On Christmas Eve, I spy under the tree a present that is clearly a record. It’s square. It’s about 12″ in diameter. It has a gift tag with my name written on it. Oh yes. that’s an album alright. And soon, it will be mine.
I am confident by now. Yes, I’ve asked for either album, but I’ve dropped enough hints since the question was asked. I no longer care for the Welsh rock’n’roller. I have grown up. I’ve wandered round the house whistling “Every Little Thing…”. I’ve turned Top of the Pops up and told people to “Shush!” when they came on. It is The Police that I crave.
Christmas Day. Presents are distributed. I have in my hands the present. This is the moment when I don’t have to pretend to be excited about my gift, my adrenaline rush will be genuine, unforced, real, and will see me over the line.
It’s worth noting at this point that both album sleeves have something in common. They are both predominantly black. This has not occurred to me. So I tear open the wrapping paper, exposing a jet black (back) sleeve (Oh, alright I’ll do it, Spinal Tap aficionados: How much more black could it be? None more black, that’s how much). Black. It’s black. Black!!! It must be… I hear myself squeal with delight: “The Police! Brilliant! ” only to be met by an “Err…no….” from my parents, as I stripped the last of the wrapping paper away, flipped it over to view the front cover, only to be confronted by Shaky. That’s him in the spotlight, that’s him dressed all in black bar his pink jacket, doing his weird Elvis-pastiche pointing dance, his Brylcreemed hair flicked into something approaching a quiff (but is actually an over-elaborate side parting).
This is not how it was supposed to be. This was Christmas ruined. This was me learning how to do that “just what I always wanted” face you have to perfect at some time in your life. And at that moment I knew that the Shaky bubble had been burst. My musical coming of age had happened. I would have to unpick his badge from my parka (well, not just yet, but it definitely has to go before term starts again). I was ready for proper music. Cheerio Shaky.
Here’s one of the oh-so many singles from that album:
Buy it here: Shaky
NB – It’s pronounced “Crazy” not “Cwazy”, you mad Ely Elvis-lite.
Ok, so perhaps I should have warned you that things would get worse before they got better. Perhaps I should rename this blog “The Austerity Measures”.
Anyway, it is now 1981. In the three years since the purchase of Darts, whilst I haven’t bought any more records, I’ve immersed myself in my Father’s record collection (predominantly Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson albums), as well as borrowing albums from my relatives (The Beatles). I’d also developed a taste for recording songs from the radio, and used to prepare a new tape each week, which I’d force the family to listen to in the car as we drove to visit my grandparents on a Saturday afternoon.
But in 1981 I found my first two obsessions with pop music. The first: Shakin’ Stevens. With the benefit of hindsight, I can probably look back at my love for the snake-hipped Welshman as a continuation of my interest in those doo-woppy records a la Darts from the first post. But this was an obsession alright. I perfected the dance. I sat perched in front of the TV every Thursday waiting to hear his latest song on Top of the Pops (and, like it or not, he was always on there). I even had a Shaky patch sewn into my Parka coat (but under the hood, so nobody could see it, until I stupidly hung it up by the hood and had the piss mercilessly ripped out of me by my mates at school).
The second: Bucks Fizz. I adored “Making Your Mind Up”, their Eurovision winner, so much that I sat hunched over my tape recorder, ready to pounce, until I’d filled up one entire side of a C90 cassette with it just on repeat, over and over again, for 45 minutes. I must have driven my parents to distraction playing that. I think this was probably my first real awakening of “those” kind of thoughts, teenage boy hormones which had been bubbling below the surface since I first clapped eyes on Debbie Harry a couple of years earlier. And here were two blow-dried guys whipping the skirts off two blonde girls, to reveal much shorter skirts and a whole lot more leg. Frankly, you could keep Cheryl Baker, it was all about Jay Aston for me. That’s her in the rather fetching white blouse on the record cover down there. Phewwww-ee, yes please mama.
These two songs feature in the same post as I bought them at the same time, from the same store, and were the first records I ever bought. Again, as with Darts, not a record store, but rather the record section of a supermarket my mother dragged me round a couple of times a month, called Rainbow, just outside Peterborough. Me wandering off to browse through the racks either here or in the newsagent nearby in the shopping arcade, John Menzies, if memory serves my correctly, became a regular occurrence from now on.
On this particular Saturday morning, I was desperate to buy something rather than just window shop as there was to be a disco, as they were still called back then, to be held that evening in the local village hall. Thrillingly, the disco was called “Jungle Boogie”; even more thrillingly it had been made known that the DJ would play any records that solitary groovers such as I cared to bring with them, and I was desperate for a piece of that action (see what I did there?). The two singles in today’s post were my weapons of choice.
Bear in mind 1981 was a time when great things were happening in the world of pop. Adam and the Ants were at the height of their powers. Human League’s “Dare” was about to hit the shops. The Specials had just had “Ghost Town” at Number One. There were so many records I could have bought that would have made me appear impossibly cool. Instead what do I buy? Bucks Fizz and Shakin’ Fuckin’ Stevens, that’s what.
The night was memorable for two reasons: Natalie, an older girl from the secondary school I had just begun to attend, told me I was a pretty good dancer, and my heart swelled with pride, only to be punctured again moments later when I had to leave the village hall, unplayed 7″ singles tucked under my arm, after the DJ had refused to play them since they were “fucking shit, mate”.
See if you agree:
PS (1) – I’ll admit it: I still think Piece of the Action is a cracking piece of early 80s pop, and it always brings a smile to my face when I hear it. Partly because of Natalie; mostly because of Jay. Oh Jay. Sigh.
PS (2) – Shaky, not so much.
No, don’t go. Really, this is just the start!
Picture the scene: It’s 1978 and me, my older brother and mother are visiting the sprawling metropolis that is Kettering. I am 8, maybe 9. We are in the record section of WH Smiths. My brother (and he won’t thank me for announcing this to the world) has persuaded my mother to buy him the single which is Number One: “Rivers of Babylon” by Boney M. Being a precocious little brat, I insist that she also buys me a single, and announce that I too want a copy of the same record. Mother, quite rightly, refuses, and asks me to choose another one smartish. My bottom lip thrust out in a massive gib, I decide I’ll have the next best thing: the Number Two single. And that, my friends, was “The Boy From New York City” by Darts.
And lo, my addiction to records began.
Ok, this doesn’t exactly fall into the stone cold classic category. Firstly, it’s a cover version. Not always a bad thing, and at least I can cling to the knowledge that the original, by The Ad Libs was produced by Lieber and Stoller, of whom I’m assuming you need no further introduction. Secondly, 50s-esque doo-woppy bands were ten a penny in the late 1970s and early 1980s (see Showaddywaddy, Manhatten Transfer, Rocky Sharpe and the Replays). But there’s something about this song that even now, 36 years later still makes me want to pop on a zoot suit, click my fingers and start pleading harmonically to “Cool Cool Kitty” to tell me ’bout the Boy From New York City”.
Go on, give it a go: Darts – The Boy From New York City
Buy it here: Doo-wop
PS – a couple of weeks ago, I bought me and my brother tickets to see Jesus and the Mary Chain on the “Psychocandy Revisited” tour. I mentioned to him that I was writing this blog, and recounted the above story. I mention this now for three reasons; firstly, because he insisted that “Rivers of Babylon” wasn’t the first record he ever owned (I rather feel he missed the point of me writing this) and that that particular triumph went to “Mull Of Kintyre” by Paul McCartney and Wings (Yeh, like that’s any better!), and secondly, so you can see I’m a nice guy who treats his older, much better off, brother every now and then, and thirdly (and most importantly) so you realise there is some good stuff coming soon, just not in the terribly near future. Stick with me!