Posts from December 2014
In that other great Irish exploration of the experience of death, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, the protagonist endures an afterlife built on the principle of recursion. Having murdered a man to fund a quixotic and obscure self-published project – I can only sympathise – he finds himself subject to a string of comical and terrifying events which, the novel implies, he will repeat in minor variation for eternity.
Just a last reminder – we are running two exciting POLLS this year, for the best tracks and best comics of 2014. You can still vote in them both! And, indeed, you should, if you have any interest in those things.
For each of them, the deadline is midnight tomorrow night, and you should send up to 20 nominations, ranked in order*, to:
email@example.com (for the POP POLL)
firstname.lastname@example.org (for the COMICS POLL)
*as was pointed out at the pub crawl yesterday, I failed to mention this when I started the comics poll. A Rigelian Hotshot for me, I fear.
The intro: 00’00 – 00’39
In December 1987 the Pet Shop Boys released “Always On My Mind”, a cover of the song made famous by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson. It became the Christmas Number One that year. Almost a year later, they released Introspective, their third album, whose fifth track is a nine-minute version of “Always On My Mind”, including an acid house inspired breakdown that features Neil Tennant rapping. Introspective marks, in Tennant’s words, the end of the band’s “imperial phase”, where virtually anything they tried came off and was commercially successful. It charted at number two, behind U2’s Rattle And Hum.
Sixteen years later, at the end of a Freaky Trigger pub crawl, someone said that “Always On My Mind/In My House” was the best record of all time, and around a dozen of us agreed, or at least did not disagree, and that installed it at number one on our list, a list, we promised, that we would write up for the website over the course of 2005. And so we all went home the merrier for it.
And ten years after that, here we are.
How do you mark a millennium? British pop culture has its rituals to accompany a change of the date: fireworks, lists, and Jools Holland feature prominently. They’re geared for a shift in year. They can be scaled up, just about, to a decade. But a century? A millennium? We were, with hindsight, hopelessly and inevitably unequal to the event, however arbitrary it was. Schedulers flailed, putting together “best of the millennium” shows in which – and how could it have been otherwise? – 900 years went begging. In a milieu where “of all time” means a lifetime at best, a millennium is a preposterous span. Imagining people could think about it seriously was always folly. But in the gap between people’s sense of what the occasion ought to merit, and what was actually on offer, strange things could thrive. This is one of them.
A disco track is second on this list because – Rock Hall of Fame shenanigans notwithstanding – disco is almost universally beloved. If you’re a wedding DJ in a tricky spot, the late 70s will not let you down. Perhaps that was truer in 2004, when we compiled the list, than 2014, but even so a Whig History of Pop – one in which the aim is to create a sense of progress to the present day – might as well start with disco. This stuff is foundational. The intuition of disco’s discontents – like the Comiskey Park crowd who took the Trammps’ chorus on “Disco Inferno” as an order – was that disco was a break point, the end of something they had loved and the beginning of something they would not. This intuition was not entirely wrong.
A question that haunts a project like Popular is how you review things that have a very specific context – no, more than a context, a specific use – when you have never put them to that use. We’re now shifting out of the time when I was going, even occasionally, to clubs that played mainstream dance music, and a record like “King Of My Castle” is plainly built for those clubs. Not just in an “it’s good to dance to” sense. While the Wamdue Project obviously bring a hook or two, this is still one of the track-iest of number ones, built from the crunchy house beat out.
And so the 90s drain away, with a plughole gurgle of third and fourth singles from hit albums, marking time before the Christmas and Millennium big guns are fired. “She’s The One” is the first in a minor subgenre of hit, Robbie Williams Ballads That Want To Be Angels. The success of “Angels” established one mould for Robbie, something he might be uniquely good for, and naturally he tried to hit that target again a few times. Just as he’d begun by jumping tracks between boyband high life and post-Britpop lairiness, so “Angels” stood as a chimeric blend of 90s ballads, an arms-on-shoulders lads night out belter crossed with heartthrob devotion, “Wonderwall” with just enough Westlife spliced into its DNA.
Christmas traditions are funny things – some of the most fixed turn out to have relatively recent roots, and new ones are manufactured all the time. Witness much hand-wringing this year about the import into the UK of Black Friday, a notoriously busy shopping day that makes sense after Thanksgiving in the USA (people have the day off) but far less over here. Still, it worked, and having successfully taken culturally will surely stick around.
Part of the British Christmas has been a canon of Christmas pop songs – Slade, Wizzard, Shakey, Jona Lewie, Greg Lake, Kirsty and the Pogues, Wham! Et al. The Christmas Canon has been a part of Christmas since I was a kid in the 80s, it feels as firmly set a tradition as you might find. But I suspect that’s an illusion: it’s changing, and the canon as we know it is on the way out.
On Facebook I mentioned that we’d know a generation had fallen from cultural influence when Jona Lewie got booted off the Christmas Canon. This was met with much sadness and shaking of heads from fans of “Stop The Cavalry”, but the point wasn’t that I dislike the song. I was 7 in 1980, disliking the song would be like disliking Christmas itself. It was put on the office playlist last week, though, and it struck me how odd it must seem to somebody who hadn’t been around then – this lugubrious, kinda-sorta new-wavey thing that bobs along all about “nuclear fallout zones” and cavalry. It’s like that one ugly bauble you always hang on the tree because you bought it as a kid: the time will come when you aren’t decorating the tree any more, and the bauble might be quietly pushed to the back, then forgotten entirely.
The 15th Annual Freaky Trigger Between Christmas And New Year Pub Crawl : The Kentish Town Ducks Arse
Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, it’s FTBCANYPC time!
This year for our 15th crawl we will be having a little saunter around Kentish Town. or at least down the hill from Gospel Oak to Kentish Town West, taking in Vines, pineapples and Tapping An Admiral or two…
Every year, on the 29th (except when it wasn’t) we go an a merry trail around a list of pubs, many of which may be closed, to appreciate the architecture, and, you know, maybe drink. This year’s route takes us from the foot of Parliament Hill to the heart of Kentish Town in our bid to never actually do a crawl in Camden.
The Route is as follows:
3pm Bull and Last (why not get a scotch egg?)
4pm The Southampton Arms
4.45pm The Vine
5.30pm The Pineapple
6.30pm The Oxford
7.30pm The Grafton
8.30pm Tapping The Admiral
There is a Handy Google Map here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zYR9Ng15Ymbs.kfOdKF4nYYvI
Look forward to seeing you!
Geri Halliwell may have broken away from her former band, but she knew a good release schedule when she saw one: the singles from Schizophonic form a rough parallel to the singles from Spice. The in-your-face pop manifesto; the upbeat follow-up; a smoocher as the nights draw in, and then a bit of disco. But just because she could retrace her steps didn’t mean she should – that master plan held one obvious flaw. When the Spice Girls did their big ballads, Geri was kept firmly away from the vocal limelight. On “Lift Me Up”, she gets a slowie all to herself. It doesn’t go well.