This Is Pop #7

Over the years, Sugababes, with their ever-changing line-up, which now consists of precisely none of the original members, have become the source of many a joke for precisely that reason. Since the line up has changed, Sugababes should no longer be called Sugababes, goes the argument.

I think that’s rather unfair. Nobody says Arsenal shouldn’t be called Arsenal anymore, just because it hasn’t got the same players as it had in 1886, do they? They might win more games if they did, mind (I know, I know: unwise words when the North London derby is on the horizon). No, any right minded football fan insists they should be called Woolwich, where the club was formed.

Anyway, formed in 1998, founder members Siobhan Donaghy and Mutya Buena – both aged 13 – had been signed by All Saints manager Ron Tom as solo acts, but met at a showcase and decided to work together. Buena invited her friend Keisha Buchanan to watch them rehearse one day, and Tom invited her to join the band, comparing the three of them to the United Colours of Benetton advertising campaign which was causing as much controversy as it could at the time.

Originally named the Sugarbabies, this was changed to Sugababes when they signed to London Records, to give them a more mature image. They had their first hit in 2000. Which makes them 15. I wonder: is it appropriate to foist the moniker “babes” on 15 year old girls?

I’m reminded of a routine by comedian Ed Byrne, who, believe it or not, has done jokes which are not about Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”:

In 2001, Donaghy quit the band, and was replaced by former member of Atomic Kitten, Heidi Range. Of course, when looking for a new band member, your first port of call would naturally be someone who used to work with Kerry Katona.

To be fair, it seemed to work, for in 2002 the band enjoyed their first Number One single in the UK with the Gary Numan/Tubeway Army sampling cover of American R&B singer Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me”, and their second with the follow-up “Round, Round”. There’s a cracking Soulwax remix of that which I posted some time last year, so the link’s probably dead by now. I’ll dig it out again sometime.

The next single was “Stronger”, written by the band along with a chap called Jony Rockstar. I suspect this may not be his real name.

A year later, they were back, with their third album, entitled “Three” (see what they did there…?), but not before they had released “Shape”, which sampled Sting’s “Shape of My Heart”. Critics were sneery about the sample, yet I don’t recall anyone complaining that 1994 classic movie Léon was spoiled by having the Sting song played in its entirety over the closing credits.

Buena left the band in 2005 and was replaced by Amelle Berrabah (you are keeping up with all of this, aren’t you?) leaving just Buchanan as the sole original member. Four years later, and with the band’s selling powers on the wane, she followed suit, being replaced by Jade Ewen who had represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest earlier that year (we’ve been here before, I think…). She performed the Andrew Lloyd Webber penned “It’s My Time”, which it clearly wasn’t as she came fifth.

Sugababes, I’m surprised to learn, have not officially split up, although they haven’t released anything new since 2010. For some time the remaining members occasionally announced that they were either in the studio or working on new material, as if it were the sort of announcement that should be immediately followed by a ticker-tape parade and the announcement of a public holiday.

But band members old and new have kept themselves busy: Mutya Buena appeared in, and walked out of, Celebrity Big Brother 6. She now owns the rights to use the Sugababes name on paper, cardboard, stationery and gift wrapping products, but crucially, not on any records. But you can’t move for Sugababes embossed paper, cardboard, stationery and gift wrapping products can you, so it sounds to me like she got a pretty sweet deal.

Keisha Buchanan recorded 50 songs for a solo album which never saw the light of day; in an interview she explained “there is no particular musical direction” which might explain why she wrote that many songs. Either that or she mistakenly thought she had joined The Magnetic Fields.

In 2012, it was reported that Range was going to join the Spice Girls, replacing Victoria Beckham, a rumour quickly scotched by Emma Bunton. Instead, she turned her attention to television, where she was to be a team captain on ITV1’s “Totally Senseless”, along with Brian Dowling and host Steve Jones. Ever heard of it? Me neither. Probably because ITV ultimately declined to pick the show up.

Just let that sink in for a moment: a show so bad that even ITV won’t air it.

I’m shocked – how could a show with such a glittering line-up of talent fail?

In 2013, she was first to be eliminated from the 8th series of Celebrity Masterchef, when she presented Greg Wallace with a Pop Tart.

In 2013, Jade Ewen was one of the celebrity contestants on ITV1’s godawful diving show “Splash!”; she was the first to leave the show and revealed afterwards that she only did the show for the money. No shit, really?

Just let that sink in for a moment: “Totally Senseless” was considered by the powers that be at ITV to be worse than “Splash!”

In November 2015 Ewen announced that she had won the coveted role of Princess Jasmine in “Aladdin”, which is definitely a musical and definitely not a pantomime.

In 2006, British Hit Singles & Albums named the Sugababes as the most successful female act of the 21st century. Yes, you read that correctly: the most successful female act in a century that was a whole six years old.

But enough of this sniping. Sugababes genuinely did make some bloody great pop records, and today’s choice is where it all began, back in 2000,with this, which has the greasy paw-prints of one Mr Rockstar all over, it if I’m not mistaken:

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Sugababes – Overload

More soon.

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Friday Night Music Club

Evening all.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it can’t have escaped your attention that the Olympics start officially later tonight (if you count the opening ceremony as it starting) or tomorrow (if you count it as starting when the competitions actually do).

Of course, whichever opinion you subscribe to, you’re wrong, for the Olympic football tournament started two days ago, but since this is generally being ignored here in the UK as Team GB didn’t qualify (did we even try…? Couldn’t have been a more humiliating experience than Euro 2016 was, I guess), you can be forgiven for that.

Anyway, pack me a lunchbox and call me Linford, I’ve only gone and done us a Friday Night Olympic playlist. Try to contain your joy.

So here goes, 12 songs which are (very) (tenuously) linked to the Olympics. And no sign of that bloody Spandau Ballet record anywhere.

First up, no surprise that I’ve managed to crowbar this lot in:

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355. Super Furry Animals – (Drawing) Rings Around The World

Of course, the opening ceremony climaxes and the Games truly commence when the Olympic flame arrives at the stadium, transported in one of these (the song title, not the band):

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356. Soft Cell – Torch

The majority of the games involve a race of sorts (I think. I dunno. I haven’t checked). So here’s this lot:

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357. The Flaming Lips – Race For The Prize

Next, a song which is actually about a motor race, which means it isn’t a race that appears in the Olympics (I think. I dunno. I haven’t checked), but the theme is roughly the same. Plus, I’ve not heard it for ages:

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358. Cake – The Distance

The objective of any of the sports hosted at the Olympics is to win a medal, preferably a gold one, which is given to the winner:

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359. Shed Seven – Going For Gold

…or failing that, make do with second place, which earns you…

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360. Echo & The Bunnymen – Silver

…which is another way of saying….

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361. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Almost Gold

…which is still one better than coming third, and getting:

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362. Queens of the Stone Age – The Bronze

Mention the name “Queen” and one other band springs to mind, a band who famously had a song which actually mentions an actual Olympic sport, albeit somewhat colloquially, in the title. But I’m not playing Queen tonight; instead this rowdy lot:

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363. Be Your Own Pet – Bicycle Race

Straight on to the next one, which surely needs no explanation:

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364. Sugababes – Push The Button

Okay, maybe a little explanation.

In 2012, on the night of the opening ceremony, I was at a works party. The party had nothing to do with the Olympics, and was held in the beer garden of a local pub, whilst TV screens in the bar showed the opening proceedings. I have to admit, in the run up to the games, I was firmly in the “We’re going to make a right pig’s ear of this” camp, and had little to no intention of watching any of the games. However, the appointment of Danny Boyle, he of Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and Slumdog Millionaire fame, to direct the opening ceremony piqued my interest, and every time I went to the bar – which was often – I found myself watching the television, bordering on the entranced.

I got home later that night, found it on the BBC iPlayer, and watched it right through.

Sort of.

The next morning, I woke up on the sofa, my television on stand-by, and watched it again/properly. I hadn’t been mistaken. It was bloody amazing.

Soon after the Games finished, I bought a copy of the DVD box-set. The first disc contains the opening ceremony, the other two the highlights of the games. The first is possibly the most watched DVD that I own. The other two haven’t even been out of the box.

Why is this relevant? Well, the other night I had a text from Hel, asking if I’d watched the BBC documentary about the making of the ceremony. I hadn’t, and sat down to watch it the following night.

For the next couple of hours, I was transfixed, in exactly the same way as when I first watched the actual opening ceremony. The documentary, part of Alan Yentob’s “Imagine” series, contains behind the scenes footage, including the teaching of all the thousands of volunteers, some of whom had to learn to dance, others to drum; it has interviews not just with all the main creative players (Boyle himself, Underworld’s Rick Smith who was the musical director, etc. etc.) but also with several of the volunteers, some of whom have moving stories to tell about why they were there, and what happened to them on the night and as they trained for it. For example, in the “Saturday Night/Music” sequence, which tells the story of a boy and a girl meeting on a night out: I had assumed that both of them were trained actors/dancers. But no: both just normal kids, who’d volunteered to take part, and had been picked from the masses to play a major role in the event.

But there was one scene which stuck in my mind, filmed in the tunnel where the volunteers involved in the aforementioned sequence were waiting to enter the stadium. Out there, the Sugababes’ “Push The Button” is playing; in the tunnel, they are going mental, all bouncing up and down with excitement, singing along and cheering…it’s wonderful to behold. If you have chance to watch it, I urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.

So, that’s why the Sugababes are here. They’ve probably changed line-up about seven times since I started writing that, mind (obligatory Sugababes revolving line-up joke, there).

Back to a song which I don’t really think can be criticised for being included in a playlist on an Olympics theme:

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365. Gene – Olympian (Single Version)

That is just majestic.

And so to round things off, a song from my favourite album by this band (a controversial choice, I believe), which I dedicate to every athlete from every nation taking part. May you hear yours many times over the next few weeks.

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366. Radiohead – The National Anthem

More soon.

Friday Night Music Club

On “Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards”, the closing track of his “Worker’s Playtime” album, Billy Bragg muses:

“Mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses”

The question is one which is often brought when musicians make a political record, the inference being that there is no point in doing so, it will have no effect, they are preaching to the converted.

Politicians, however, seem to have a slightly different viewpoint, and try to bandwagon-jump onto whatever seems to be the current musical zeitgeist in an effort to curry favour.

For example: 1984 America. Ronald Reagan attempted to ride on the shirt-tails of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in The USA”, blissfully unaware that the song is in part a tribute to Springsteen’s friends who had fought in the Vietnam War, some of whom did not return, and also protests about the hardships Vietnam veterans faced when returning home – hardly topics the Republican Reagan would want highlighting, you would think.

More recently, Adele requested that current candidate Donald Trump stop using her songs in his campaign. Trump’s had a bit of a tough week of it, as it goes, with the Pope wading in to tell him some of his suggestions were not particularly Christian. Which is actually one of the kinder things one could say about the weirdly-bouffanted madman.

Our politicians on this side of the pond are no better: remember Gordon Brown trying to claim he was a big fan of Artic Monkeys? Or Johnny Marr telling David Cameron that he isn’t allowed to like The Smiths?

But why do I mention this? Because several of these examples are about permission, or rather permission not being given.

This week’s selection of songs includes several which fall very firmly into what many people would describe as “Guilty Pleasures”, and regular readers will know that this is a term I very much disagree with. Part of my mission statement for this place is to reclaim these songs back, in the same way that the gay community have recaptured the term “Queer”. There should be nothing Guilty about gaining Pleasure from music, much less so from something so inoffensive and transient as pop songs.

So, I give you permission to like all that I post tonight. There. No need for you to feel bad now, okay?

But first, some housekeeping. We need to link last week’s loud choices to this week’s, so first a couple of tracks to bridge the weeks together.

In other words, some more loudness first:

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117. Wolfmother – Woman

Wolfmother are Australian and…er…well that’s literally all that you need to know about them, as after that track they won’t be troubling us any further.

Moving swiftly on, in comparison, here is one of the greatest post-punk/new wave/call-it-what-you-like-it’s-bloody-great singles ever committed to vinyl:

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118. The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet

And I’m not alone in my love of this song; in the millennium edition of his Festive Fifty, where John Peel, rather than cataloguing the best fifty records of the year, widened the scope to best fifty records ever, “Another Girl….” came in at Number 18. Can’t all be wrong, can we?

We’re not into “this is not a Guilty Pleasure” territory yet, by the way. Almost, but not quite.

And have you spotted a theme yet, dear listeners?

This will do it for you if you haven’t. The opening track from their second album, “Hypnotized”, a tongue in cheek opener if ever I heard one, given the lyrical content of much of their eponymous debut album:

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119. The Undertones – More Songs About Chocolate and Girls

The Undertones are touring again, minus Feargal Sharkey unfortunately.

Right. Here we go. The moment when my credibility and musical taste will get called into question. Let me make something very clear: I like all of the records I am about to post. I recognise that many of them are kitsch or cheesy, and almost all of them are not, or have never been, fashionable or cool. I’m with Danny Baker on the concept of cool:

So, yes I like these records, and I’m neither embarrassed nor do I feel guilty to admit it. I am out and I’m proud.

Ready? Prejudices left at the door? Good. Here we go then:

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120. Sailor – Girls, Girls, Girls

I mean, for a start, look at the state of that lot! What’s not to like?

This dates back to 1975 (it reached Number 7 in the UK charts) which explains the…er…somewhat dated view of women.

Think that’s bad? You’re wrong. It’s ace. Cheesy, yes; cringe-worthy, definitely; but ace nonetheless. You will need a mantra such as this to get you through the rest of this post.

So. Get yer laughing gear round this then:

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121. Racey – Some Girls

Relax ladies, they’re married. Actually, since this came out in 1979, they’re probably not anymore.

This reached the giddy heights of Number 2 in the UK, and Number 1 in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, all countries renowned for their good taste and modern views on feminism and equality.

Racey’s “Some Girls” actually comes from good stock: it was written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, a song-writing/production due who reigned supreme in the 1970s and early 1980s, clocking up over fifty Top 40 hits, such as The Sweet’s “Blockbuster!”, “Teenage Rampage” and “Ballroom Blitz”; Suzi Quatro’s “Can The Can”, “48 Drive” and “Devil Gate Drive”; Mud’s “Tiger Feet” and “Lonely This Christmas”; Smokie’s “Living Next Door to Alice”; Toni Basil’s “Mickey”…the list is…well, not endless, but lengthy.

Something slightly, but only ever so, more contemporary now:

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122. Rachel Stevens – Some Girls

Phwwoooaaaar!! That’s more like it, eh, lads? Eh?

Get a grip. No not like that, put it away, you dirty boy.

Okay, part of the reason this is here is because the song title is the same as the Racey tune; but it’s here on its own merits too. This is from 2004, was produced by Richard X (more famous for that Sugababes “Freak Like Me”, Liberty X’s “Being Nobody” and Kelis “Finest Dreams” which all could easily have featured here tonight, and at least two of which will definitely appear on these pages in the future. You have been warned.), but cannot really be considered Miss Stevens’ finest moment.

If not this, then what would that be? Her founder membership of S Club 7? Nope. Her finishing 2nd on “Strictly Come Dancing” in 2008? Nope. Her involvement as a coach on “The Voice of Ireland”, the originally titled Irish version of “The Voice”? Nope. Her appearance in Series 5, Episode 1 of “Dick and Dom in da Bungalow”? Nope. The use of her 2004 version of porn star Andrea True’s “More More More” in a series of television adverts for SCS Sofas? Could be!

Is it just me that suddenly has this going through my mind now?:

Anyway. Back to the pop.

Some Girls has always reminded me of this, also from 2004:

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123. Goldfrapp – Strict Machine (Single Mix)

Released at more or less the same time (I think the Goldfrapp single was marginally earlier), or at least close enough to “Some Girls” to negate any allegations of plagiarism anyway, I wonder what it is that makes Alison Goldfrapp be held up as a much-revered, credible artiste (which she is, and rightly-so) whilst Rachel Stevens is considered…well…less so. I can only think it is because of her earlier S Club career, which doesn’t exactly seem fair to me. Pop snobbery, is the phrase that springs to mind.

But whilst we’re back in what many will consider more acceptable waters (not me, all are equal), I give you this:

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124. Ladytron – Seventeen (Soulwax Mix)

Glacier cool lady kraut-rock-esque vocals? Check. Uber-cool remix by Soulwax? Check. I love this, picking it up on a promo CD single in D’Vinyl Records, an absolute treasure trove of a second hand record store in the Roath area of Cardiff. If ever you’re down that way, pop in. I say pop in – you’ll be there for hours, I guarantee it. And you’ll come out financially poorer but culturally enriched by all of the goodies you’ll have unearthed.

And while we’re on Soulwax remixes, and since I mentioned them in passing earlier, have a go on this:

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125. Sugababes – Round Round (Soulwax Remix)

Another one I picked up in D’Vinyl. They do sell records that Soulwax haven’t got their greasy mitts on, I promise.

When Andy Warhol made that famous quote about everyone being famous for fifteen minutes, I very much doubt he realised that around 70% of them would be famous for being in Sugababes for fifteen minutes.

You may have noticed we’ve gone a bit girly. So, here is one hell of an all girl band, who in their early days were more about having a good time than being particularly proficient on their instruments:

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126. We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It – Rules & Regulations

This is one of those records that my brother and I both bought; he owned it first, of course, I went and got it after seeing them pop up on the Indie Chart section of The Chart Show, when it used to be on Channel 4 on a Friday evening, before it moved to Saturday lunchtimes on ITV. Now, like most music on British TV, it’s nowhere.

Anyway, what I love most about my version of this record is the fact it’s a 12″ and all 5 tracks are crammed onto one side. On the other side, this:

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Not sure if that comes across well, but those are etched drawings of each of the girls in the band, or as eil.com call it a “1986 UK limited edition autographed and picture etched 5-track 12” ‘.

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It resurfaced a few years later, with a truncated name (“Fuzzbox”) and a more glossy, polished sound and image, and frankly the appeal was gone for me by then. As Billy Bragg (yes, him again) said on his version of “Walk Away Renee” that I posted a while ago: “Then one day she cut her hair, and I stopped loving her”.

Moving on to 1991, and to the short-lived riot grrrl scene, and another all-girl band, named after the transport of choice for the heroine in Pedro Almodovar’s movie “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”:

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127. Mambo Taxi – Do You Always Dress Like That In Front Of Other People’s Boyfriends?

That’s one of the greatest song titles ever, and quite why I haven’t kept my powder dry and posted it in my “The One and Only” thread instead of here is beyond me.

Now, I have absolutely now idea how I came into possession of this next track. It wasn’t a single, it featured on the artistes only solo album, and even then only as a bonus track on the Japanese release of it.

It is, however, one of my favourite ever out-and-out pop songs, wittily skewing that revolting old sexist comment blokes make about shagging an ugly girl with a paper bag over her head. Here though, the roles are reversed; the singer is in a club having recently split with her ex, and to quote The Suit You salesmen from the Fast Show, she “wants it” – so much so that she pulls a guy with roughly the same build as her former beau, and takes him home on the condition that when they sleep together he wears a paper bag over his head:

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128. Lene – Paper Bag

Thinking about it, I probably like that so much because the lyrics give hope to us painfully ugly dudes.

And yes, that is Lene from Euro-pop act “Aqua”, but that doesn’t make it any less ace. You like Annie (the Norwegian recording artist , not the musical) don’t you? DON’T YOU????

It’s just pop music. Go with it.

Back into so-called more credible territory again now, and here’s Queen of the 6music airwaves Lauren Laverne from back when she was a pop star:

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129. Kenickie – In Your Car

Go on, just you try and listen to that without bouncing round the room and joining in the “Yeh Yeh”s in the chorus. You can’t can you?

Another Brit-poppy tune next, from a band who found their most commercial success around the same time, having previously flirted with the idea of fame and fortune in their shoe-gazey, ethereal phase a few years earlier:

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130. Lush – Ladykillers

Lush announced they would be reforming and playing some dates and releasing some new material in 2016; if they play this live, as they surely must, I’ll be regretting not getting tickets.

Okay, time to wrap things up for another week, and this one’s an absolute doozy. Released in 1983, co-written by Todd Rundgren and Stevie Winwood and featuring Carly Simon on vocals at the chorus, but mostly the brainchild of photographer-turned-singer/performer Lynn Goldsmith, this is a “How To” guide to ensuring your first date ends well:

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131. Will Powers – Kissing With Confidence

And we’re done. See? That wasn’t too painful, now was it?

I will try to restore your faith in my musical tastes over the weekend.

Maybe.

In other words: More Soon.

Oh, and you have spinach in your teeth.