I was genuinely pleased to see the return for a second series this week of BBC drama The A Word.
I really enjoyed the first series which I had watched for one simple reason: Christopher Eccleston.
Eccleston is an actor I could watch endlessly; I’ve never seen him be in anything bad, and I’ve never seen him be bad in anything.
And before you ask, my admiration for him pre-dates his brief stint as Dr Who. It even pre-dates his appearances in Danny Boyle directed movies like Shallow Grave and 28 Days Later.
Although actually, the source of my admiration for Eccleston comes from the same year as Shallow Grave, 1994, but I didn’t watch that until after I’d seen – and because I had seen – Cracker.
Cracker was a rarity in my book: a compelling, well-acted, well-scripted drama on ITV; I can’t think of a single drama they have shown which comes anywhere close to how good that show was in it’s first and second series. Much of that was down to the writing, by Jimmy McGovern; as with Eccleston, to this day, I try to watch anything which has his name attached to it.
The show also introduced me to a couple of other actors that I still try to catch as often as possible: John Simm, Samantha Morton and Robert Carlyle.
In fact, Carlyle plays a large part in the reason I loved this show.
One of the reasons Cracker left a massive impression on me was the shocking, death of Eccleston’s character, DCI David Bilborough, at the hands of Carlyle’s Albie Kinsella, in the first story of the second series, “To Be a Somebody”.
This was something I had never seen before: a main character brutally, unexpectedly, killed off. Other TV shows have since followed suit (although I’ve never watched it, Spooks springs to mind). And if you think about it, that’s drama reflecting real life; when people die young, or in the line of duty, you generally don’t expect it, so the loss is a bolt from the blue, an absolute shock.
But I digress. When I saw that Eccleston was going to be in the first series of The A Word, I knew I was going to have to watch it.
The A Word is about Joe, a young boy on the autistic spectrum, and the effect that his condition (and other things) has on his extended family.
Joe finds it difficult to engage with people, but he finds it very easy to engage with music; he has a pair of headphones permanently attached to him, can quote the year each song he listens to was released, who it was by, etc, and often the bulk of his conversation is focused on song titles and lyrics of his favourite songs.
And joy of joys, he has bloody great taste in music. Here’s three songs which featured heavily in the first series:
I don’t really want my 2016 posts to end the way they started, with an obituary, but it’s starting to look more and more likely, isn’t it? Especially as I haven’t finished writing the one you’re all waiting for (me to get out of the way).
I’ve tried to be selective with the folks I’ve written about, picked people that meant something to me, but 2016 has been such an utter relentless bastard of a year, I know I’ve missed some, most glaringly Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne.
And probably lots more; I was channel surfing the other day, wound up on the BBC News channel watching a half hour programme about famous people who had died this year. It was Part Two of the show. I can’t remember another year where the summing up of the nation’s favourites that we lost in the previous twelve months takes an hour.
Anyway, there’s very little I can say about Carrie Fisher that hasn’t been said in the last few days. She seemed to be going through a bit of a renaissance recently this side of the pond, appearing in the excellent Channel 4 sitcom “Catastrophe” and popping up on panel shows like “QI”, and making me fall in love with her all over again.
Just as I did back in 1977 when I went to see “Star Wars”, (it hadn’t been subtitled “IV: A New Hope” back then) leaving the cinema a changed boy, aspiring to be as cool and wise-cracking as Han Solo (mission accomplished, obvs) and get to know the gun-toting sassy Princess Leia in ways that I didn’t really understand yet. Turns out Leia and Han got pretty close in real life too…
Make no bones about it, Carrie Fisher as Leia was something fairly new in cinema back then: a strong, smart, sexy woman who took no shit, fearlessly stood up to enemies, wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, even if it was in a garbage crushing room, and knew how to use a blaster to boot, your actual bone fide role model, no less.
When I heard the terribly, terribly sad news of her passing – all the more sad because just a day earlier, her mother (now also passed) had given us New Hope that she’d pull through – two songs sprang to mind; one because of the title (though she was so much more than just “another girl”), the other because…well, I don’t know of any other songs to name- check Leia’s Death Star blasted home planet:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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”:
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:
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:
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: