Posts from 1st September 2003

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Sep 03

The UK Number 1s

Popular9 comments • 41,849 views

We put together this list as part of our Popular project, which sees Tom Ewing review all these number ones in chronological order.

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Ah, that’s what I like to see.

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 230 views

Ah, that’s what I like to see. A fellow publogger so entraptured by the venue that he still seems inebriated. Walthamstow Dog Track is the UK’s largest licenced establishment (strike one for those of you who thought it was Waxy O’Cuntin’Connors). Y’see when they built it and applied for a licence they were asked what part of the building could potentially be used for drinking? Like anyone who has answered a MENSA test they replied ‘absolutely every fucking part of it’. Who knows when you might want a pint in the dog traps. Or the ladies lavs.

On its own of course this would be enough to place Walthamstow Dogs into history (or at least into Schott’s Original Miscillany), but this den of dog doping* continued with its joy pumping program. Not only does it actively participate in the class war by having a working class and middle class section (difference being the plate vs the basket as food servery choice) but it realises that Monday afternoon is the best possible time to appeal to the alkie. Why? Well on Sundays pubs close half an hour early. So your dedicated social alkie (as opposed to homestylee intrevenous Famous Grouse Drinkers) will be that little bit more refreshed on a Monday morning. Ready for a:

FULL CARD OF RACING AND HALF PRICE BEER – FREE IN!

You read that right. The beer is half price, there is betting at 10p a pop and it is free in. Last time I did it we staggered out at 3:30 banging on the doors of Charlie Chans for one more tune. That’s 3:30 pm. Stow Dogs : Publog pub of the year.

*Secret to dog racing, when they dope the dogs they do it with amphetimines. Hence any dog that seems a little bit hyper has been doped. Dogs on speed over run themeselves round the first bend. You heard it hear first.

We’ve all gone to the dogs

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 339 views

We’ve all gone to the dogs I’m not entirley sure this should be up here, but there’s something incredibly conducive about drinking at a dog track (in my case Walthamstow dogs). There’s the gambling (not entireley clever when drinking but at our stakes, none too bad). There’s the cheering, drinking is a fantastic aid here, we got progressively more voluble as the night went on, as did all the other punters. And there’s the fact that, it’s one of the few sporting occasions in England where you can still drink and watch the event, this is to be applauded, especially as the atmosphere is great. As for the booze, well, it’s bog standard fare, John Smiths smooth is the only bitter but it isn’t bad, the kronnenbourg is cold and tasy, what more do you want? A small white wine for the lady? yup, no problem, hell they’ll even serve you a half and black (if you’re mad enough to want one like my sister did)

They do scampi and chips too, and it smells fantastic.

When you think of computer games

Do You SeePost a comment • 2,288 views

When you think of computer games you think of action, violence, kinesis – or perhaps concentration and strategy, or competition and excitement, or accuracy and reward. The reason I enjoy football management games, I realised yesterday, is that they are computer games which aspire to the status not of football itself (which involves all the above) but of fishing. Yesterday I spent a good deal of the afternoon playing LMA Manager 2001. When I loaded the game I was 13th in Division Two. When I put the controller down at the end of the season, 30 games and several hours later, I was 11th. I had achieved almost nothing, even within the game’s parameters, but I felt relaxed and satisfied.

Fishing seems to me a solitary, sedentary, slow activity – with bursts of adrenalin and the occasional triumph, but even without that a way to recharge one’s batteries, to simply switch off and drop into a luxurious limbo of meaningless activity. Football management sims work like that too. They have to, they would be intolerable otherwise, since it’s horribly easy for a mediocre team to find itself with nothing to play or even struggle for halfway through a season, and the choice for the player is either to start all over again or to endure several hours in purgatory. So purgatory must be bearable, even pleasant, or the continued play value is nil. Well designed sims (and LMA Manager is one, despite its lack of depth in comparison to the PC-based Championship Manager series) keep the player busy enough on the surface while letting the gentle rhythms of the computerised season play out.

ITV1 is having a bit of a week for new series with fantastically awful names. Thursday night’s 9pm slot (RIP Bad Girls) will be filled by

Do You SeePost a comment • 411 views

ITV1 is having a bit of a week for new series with fantastically awful names. Thursday night’s 9pm slot (RIP Bad Girls) will be filled by Sweet Medicine. This is a drama about a doctor called Nick Sweet. No really. Unfortunately I will be out of the country on Thursday so it’s up to the other DYSers to update you on this one.

Be good to the pub and the pub will be good to you

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 223 views

Be good to the pub and the pub will be good to you: on Friday we were drinking in the Enterprise up by Chalk Farm tube, a boozer I did not immediately take to, in fact it’s fair to say one I took agin. It’s a cousin of the Endurance on Berwick Street, which in a former life was low-rent karaoke hang-out the King Of Corsica and a pub I was warily fond of. The Endurance refit leeched the KoC of its appropriately sleazy character and turned it into a place for loud Soho types who will in later life, perhaps even now, use the phrase ‘watering hole’. It has that nasty combination of spaciousness and crowdedness that blights so many West End pubs. Anyway the Enterprise is more of the same: too wide wooden tables, too few crannies, music that was too loud and too tasteful.

Nonetheless we stuck it out. And we reached that point where the weight of drink inside you generates some sort of gravity field which is only lifted at half eleven. And so things started to improve. The music got better (i.e. the DJ started playing tunes corny old soaks like us would recognise), we learned to match its volume, and the evening culminated in a marvellous piece of pub serendipity. Some drinkers at the bar had ordered a pizza and were scoffing it to our ravening envy. It was my round, as well as the usual late doors halves and rum and cokes Pete demanded some of the pizza, cue laughter, but when I went to the bar what should happen but the guy offered me half a (very nice) (seafood) pizza, which I took back to our table to gasps of awe and delight.

His girlfriend was berating him when I went back for the drinks, ‘You can’t just go giving our food to strangers!’. ‘What’s your name, mate?’, he said to me. ‘Tom’, I replied. ‘He’s not a stranger,’ he said to her, ‘He’s Tom.’ God bless the pub.

BASEMENT JAXX — “Plug It In”

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 404 views

BASEMENT JAXX — “Plug It In”

Heh heh heh.

And believe it or not, despite my own initial comment on this thread, it’s not just about the personal satisfaction of finding JC Chavez can work a solo thing better than A Certain Someone Else…though obviously that’s part of it. But it’s also how Basement Jaxx can trump the Neptunes, or at least Pharell. Chad I’m finally warming to, not merely because he’s been ignored (hey, underdog and all that) but because the Kenna album was so great and all. But to the subject at hand — I’ve always preferred Timbaland to the Neptunes and the last few years haven’t changed my take on it. They both have signature sounds, they both tweak them as needed, they both try different things to keep themselves fresh and more power to them, but Timbaland just always works for me where the Neptunes don’t as much — the occasional song, yes, but I prefer those mysterious spaces and absences in Timbaland’s work to the flatness of the Neptunes, the suggestion that there’s something else there but not present that you fill in with your mind.

Basement Jaxx prefer to operate on a completely different level to Timbaland, equal but opposite — for space, filling in all blanks, reworking Motorhead to say ‘every track more noticeable than every other one.’ Kish Kash deserves all the praise it’s been getting because even if it’s ultimately exhausting — like their other albums, somewhere around the halfway mark it becomes an artificial high that really means one should turn it off and come back to it later — it’s exhausting not merely at full speed but in full colour and several tongues at once. So it starts off with that low bass crawl and crisp drum bits and it could almost just be something from Wax Trax circa 1988 if you squint, then there’s that squirrelly synth bit and Chasez screams and suddenly sashays in and darn it’s all very pleasant. And then all of a sudden Chasez busts out the Prince falsetto and:

“SNARPlug it IN!RLLL SNARPlug it IN, baby!RLLL BAM BAM BAM”

Hell, I can’t describe the chorus, it’s one of those ‘2 + 2 = 4, no it REALLY does!’ moments. Have robots been so funky in years? All I can think of is a remake of Krush Groove or something.

Vocoder voices and wails take over the quieter break like a whispering spirit, though every second or so you can hear the arrangement poking through, it all flings back into That Insane Chorus, it suddenly reverses and flings itself forward, then Chasez disappears into swirls of echo or goes and snorts some coke or whatever while the backing singer dispenses with him, and THEN the next synth melody starts. Followed by at least two more. The beat, of course, continues.

And yes, that “Lucky Star” number is good too and all.

On Number Ones

FT16 comments • 5,535 views

Why No.1s? asked Steve M when I started Popular. ‘They’ve lost their power’. He suggested I write about all the records that had got to No.2 instead – a less familiar and, maybe, better selection of songs.

It’s a common and odd perception, this, that the UK charts regularly cheat brilliant songs of their rightful pop-topping due. The same examples tend to be given. First up is ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane’, the Beatles’ era-defining double A-Side that was kept off No.1 by Englebert Humperdinck. Earlier and later Beatles singles hit the top with thumping regularity, so this unfortunate quirk should be seen as bad luck: the UK charts have always been the broadest of churches, and ‘Release Me’ spoke to its audience quite as clearly as the Beatles did to theirs.

In fact this is one of the ways in which a project like Popular can provide a ‘truer’ story of pop music than a more analytical history might. Most pop books see the history of pop as one of fairly smooth progress (and then often a bumpy decline): looking at chart-topping singles gives a different perspective. Raymond Williams’ theory of cultural change labels trends as emergent, dominant, or residual. The emergent trend is the new, marginal, or innovative; a dominant trend is accepted and expected as part of the mainstream; a residual trend is one that has mostly fallen from mainstream favour and now exists as a declining, minor tradition.

You might expect the pop charts to reflect the dominant trends entirely: in fact they are a mix of all three. The charts, antennae trained always on sales, are a testbed for wildfire novelty that then often becomes the dominant part of the mix – ‘Rock Around The Clock’ for instance. But what you also realise, as you look more closely at a list of number 1s, is that once a trend has emerged it very rarely vanishes entirely. Fifties-style orchestrated hits spluttered into chart life in the 00s courtesy of Pop Idol; rock and roll re-emerges continually through the 70s and 80s; the pop-art sixties find a conscious echo in Britpop; and these are only the most obvious examples. Englebert vs Beatles was an instance of a residual culture beating out an emergent one, but this is not at all a general rule.

The second example of ‘lost’ No.2 records is ‘God Save The Queen’, selling like crazy in Jubilee Week but kept off the top by a Rod Stewart song. The consensus view now is that the Top 40 was rigged that week – somebody, at researchers BMRB or at the BBC or even higher up the establishment ladder, tweaked the charts to avoid Royal embarrassment. Nobody has ever admitted to this, as far as I know: it’s not impossible that the Rod song just sold more copies. But assuming the story is true it’s an argument in favour of the idea that the No.1 slot is important, is a reflection of something in pop, or national, consciousness.

(The Sex Pistols incident is also held up as proof that the charts in general have lost their importance and bite. It’s impossible to imagine a record being prevented from getting to No.1 in 2003. But it’s also impossible to imagine it happening in 1978, or 1976, or 1966, or ever apart from that one remarkable week. As for the importance of the chart, I switched on daytime TV in January 2003 to find people calling for the No.1 single to be banned. ‘Number One’ has only ever been a metaphor for the general value and state of pop music in British life; it remains so.)

A third example of pop injustice is more typical and more recent: Pulp’s ‘Common People’ hit number two in Summer 1995, prevented from climbing higher by two TV actors singing old ballads. A symbol of the chart’s failings? Possibly, but it works just as well as a symbol of Britpop’s failings that its keynote moment was Oasis vs Blur, not Pulp at the top of the charts. Jarvis Cocker’s class-revenge anthem would have made for a happier climax to the flash and play-acting of Britpop, but ‘Country House’ is somehow more appropriate. And besides, if we’re consistent in looking at those nearly-made-its, a couple of months later we’d have to throw over ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ in favour of Meat Loaf’s ‘I’d Lie To You (And That’s The Truth)’.

Only the truly vast-selling No.1 hits have been bought by more than a tiny fraction – a percentile or two at most – of the British population. Summer holidays and Christmasses aside, it’s only in freak instances that the No.1 record has had any relation to a ‘national mood’ or to events outside pop’s preposterous fiefdoms. But as a mirror to the way pop music has developed, the list of No.1s seems to me more revealing than a lot of rock historians would admit or like.