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Jan 09

DAVE STEWART AND BARBARA GASKIN – “It’s My Party”

FT + Popular70 comments • 4,686 views

#487, 17th October 1981

If the Number Ones of 1981 had been scripted, this is where the editors would have stepped in. “Sorry, darling, you’ve gone too far. War Canoe? Great twist. The leather boys doing that old soul tune – brilliant stuff, really edgy. But two prog refugees with an experimental version of a girl group era classic? Nobody will believe it! You’ll lose our credibility. One of them used to be in Gong, for pity’s sake!”

I’m not honestly sure I believe it myself. You see, until a very short time ago I believed – like many others, I’m sure – that the Dave Stewart responsible for this record was, you know, Dave Stewart. Beard. Sweet dreams. Candy Dulfer. Bit of a plonker. And therefore the way I parsed this record was, well, Dave Stewart pissing about and getting lucky. It sounded to me like someone listening to some Flying Lizards records and thinking “yeah, why not?” and doing a self-consciously cracked cover version for a bit of a giggle.

But of course it wasn’t like that at all – it was a pair of progressive musicians with top Canterbury Scene pedigree who’ve continued making “pop music for grown-ups” until this day, and as such it’s in quite a different lineage, to be bracketed with Robert Wyatt’s remarkable series of 1980-81 EPs, perhaps. Hmmmmm. Already I’m backing down from my dislike of the track, see? Reassessing it, according it due respect. Pernicious stuff, context.

At any rate, whichever version of history I believed I thought it was interesting that the public had gone for this awkward little record. But the question I have to ask is, does it work? Do Stewart’s twisted treatment and Gaskin’s lost-girl vocals enhance “It’s My Party” or get in its way? To me the track still sounds like a mess, an update that’s trying to drag the Lesley Gore original into spookier, darker places but also can’t resist adding a dose of mockery – those simpering “ooh woo woo” faux-sobs behind the chorus, for instance, though the none-more-’81 video suggests that the synthpop scene is just as much an object of satire here as innocent pop is. The distortions, drumbeats and time dilations don’t dramatise the song’s abjection at all for me, and the note of emotional violence they introduce just distracts me.

Here’s another bit of context, though: at the time, I liked this. It wasn’t a massive favourite like Adam, but I’d been to enough fraught birthday parties to dig the sentiment at least, and the tune stuck with me. It didn’t sound weird at all – having only just started paying attention, I expected pop records to have odd noises on them; why wouldn’t they? It was only going back and hearing it again that made me think, hold on, what was all that about? My self-consciousness, my accreted understanding of pop’s limits, infected the song. So “It’s My Party” should rightly stand as a testimony to what a kaleidoscopic, fabulously arbitrary year 1981 was for pop music. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a great record.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    David Belbin on 1 Feb 2009 #

    An awful lot of us bought ‘O Superman’ on import (an expensive, badly pressed copy) otherwise it would have been a number one on UK release I suspect. And it was all over some radio one shows long before UK release – not sure which now, but I wasn’t an avid Peel listener at the time. Only thing of hers I’ve ever liked.

    Dave Stewart had a very respectable prog career before he sold out, first with Egg and then with the still highly credible (thanks partly to Jonathan Coe) Hatfield and the North, then he formed the less interesting National Health before selling out with this shit. Don’t think he was involved in the H and the N reunion but there’s a full biog at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Stewart_(musician).

  2. 52
    lonepilgrim on 1 Feb 2009 #

    …and it came as some comfort for me to realise that Laurie Anderson was to participate in a Number 1 success a good few years later….

  3. 53
    Mike Todd on 2 Feb 2009 #

    I remember buying O Superman from an Ex-Jukebox display stand in our Newsagents (the only place to buy records in our town) for either 39p or 49p. The surprising fact about this was it was still at Number 2 at the time. It must have lasted one play in a pub before some landlord prised it out of the machine and put it on the pile to go to the second hand carousel. I was delighted with my bargain which I still have.

  4. 54
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Feb 2009 #

    i just realised “o superman” = invention of techno!

  5. 55
    mike on 3 Feb 2009 #

    Well, I liked this a lot at the time. Admittedly, some of this was down to the sheer “ha ha WTF” factor of a Canterbury progger getting to Number One – but I think in those days I was a lot less snotty about cover versions in general, particularly covers of great songs that had been hits before my time. If the song was strong and the performance enjoyable, then I couldn’t have cared less about the attribution.

    This particularly holds true of Dave Stewart and Colin Blunstone’s cover of “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” from earlier in the year. I was already familiar with the Ruffin original, but it was the DS/CB cover which first connected with me emotionally (probably a case of right time, right place – I can vaguely remember the emotional context, but let’s not go there).

    But in both cases, the synthy reworkings sounded fresh, clean, modern, relevant, clever, inventive, cool. Even though they were done by Old People. And come to think of it, Gaskin’s arch, knowing age-inappropriateness in the face of the lyric’s original teenage petulance was all part of the charm.

    Oh lawks, we’ve entered The Age Of Post-Modern Irony, haven’t we? Well, I might as well say it now: the 19-year old me lapped all of that stuff up. I hadn’t yet divested myself of that teenage know-it-all cynicism, and on one level I was hyper-sensitive to, and hence hyper-critical of, anything resembling stock sentiment, unless it was approached through a prism of kitsch (I *loved* the Nolans, for instance). Predictability was the enemy, and conceptual innovation – mucking around with the very forms of pop itself – was highly prized. This was a time when practically my every spoken utterance came wrapped in implicit inverted commas and ironic mid-sentence capitalisations… so with that in mind, “It’s My Party” was well nigh perfect for my purposes.

    Hope this all makes sense. I was thinking aloud…

  6. 56
    Conrad on 3 Feb 2009 #

    I originally intended to comment on this on the day of Tom’s posting – which aptly enough was my birthday (impeccable timing as usual, Tom)…

    However my vast abriged history of the Canterbury scene disappeared into a void after I pressed “submit comment” so you are all spared!

    Always liked this very much – it does sound a bit disjointed now, but it is very evocative of a time and place for me. It reminds me of a wet football pitch, watery sunlight and muddy football boots clip-clopping to the changing room at Fields (our school sports pitches), indulging in general pop-related banter with some of my (pop-appreciating) team mates.

    Oh, and Dave Stewart struck me as a thoroughly likeable chap who played his keyboard standing up on TOTP, with a broad grin on his face. Nothing remotely pompous or po-faced, just a grizzled old progger enjoying himself in a series of collaborations/covers of his favourite songs.

    I had no idea who he was at the time, of course, but have since come to love his work on “Fish Rising”.

  7. 57
    Conrad on 3 Feb 2009 #

    #43 – Billy, that was David ‘Kid’ Jensen’s first TOTP since returning to radio 1 from his stint in the States.

    He also started his weekday Evening programme at around this time, which became the central part of a compulsive listening triumvirate for me – Peter Powell, Jensen and John Peel, the latter two linked by John Walters, who regularly guested on Jensen’s show, doing some thing called “Walters Week”.

  8. 58
    mike on 3 Feb 2009 #

    Ah, Fish Rising. Now we’re talking! There’s a 1975 interview with Steve Hillage on Rock’s Back Pages, in which he burbles on at length about the whole cosmology of angling:

    “The fish really get off on it, man. It’s their whole trip…But playing a fish is like some archetypal cosmic joust…”

  9. 59
    Conrad on 3 Feb 2009 #

    It’s my favourite Hillage album Mike. I loved some of the more trance-like grooves on Gong’s “You”, which Hillage really dominated, and then he just took it all a stage further on “Fish Rising”.

    None-more-hippy but still thoroughly enjoyable.

  10. 60
    MikeMCSG on 16 Jul 2009 #

    57 – Conrad, I remember at the time that a lot of people were upset that Richard Skinner was unceremoniously axed to make way for Jensen (and spent the rest of his R1 career as an understudy). Although Jensen played pretty much the same stuff it left a bad taste in the mouth and it served them right when Jensen walked out on them 4 years later.

  11. 61
    Conrad on 16 Jul 2009 #

    Mike, I liked Richard Skinner – and he did get the Top 40 in 1984 didn’t he? – but I think Jensen and Peel had a chemistry which worked well in linking the evening programming. Though I am sure you are right that Skinner was poorly treated.

  12. 62
    The Leveller on 29 Sep 2009 #

    kitschy pop mini opera / melodrama and all the better for it

  13. 63
    Conrad on 29 Oct 2009 #

    Top of the Pops watch update

    the magnificent 29 October 1981 edition featured the first airing of the video for “It’s My Party” – I guess they had just filmed it.

    New Pop celeb spot – the Johnny who walks through the door with Judy (Gaskin with blond wig) is Thomas Dolby, struggling to contain his amusement.

    Stewart and Gaskin covered Dolby’s Liepzig as well I believe, so with Hillage producing Simple Minds around this time, there’s an interesting Canterbury-Futurist thing going on there

  14. 64
    garax on 11 Feb 2010 #

    I love the talky bit in it – I mean it sounds like it was recorded under water – by some deaf people – but still – there is something so pure and I suppose its a kind of Junior Choice punk sound in a way – I wouldn’t listen to it a lot but I’m happy to hear it when I do.

  15. 65
    swanstep on 27 Feb 2012 #

    I like but don’t love the Gore original (she has many other tracks that are much much better), and I like but don’t love this cover. I recently got hold of a DS and BG compilation and it’s full of immaculate, so-very-’80s stuff (albeit with some tasty ‘off’, proggy chords livening things up). Compared to that, DS&BG’s It’s My Party is just OK. Others here have mentioned their Leipzig, which I tend to think is more just OK stuff, but things like ‘Henry and James’ and ‘I’m In a Different World’ are flat-out great (and to my ears at least they’ve been strip-mined by many others from the PSBs up to and including Mark Ronson recently).

    Agree that it’s a pain that IMP kept O Superman (which I recall topping a ‘record most likely to clear the dancefloor’ poll in the NME) and Altered Images (Clare Grogan – oh my) off the top of the charts. Oh well:
    5 (it’s tricksy though, so could easily go a 6)

  16. 66
    enitharmon on 20 Feb 2013 #

    The best place, I think, to say goodbye to Kevin Ayers.

    RIP Kev. You should have kept still. Or maybe there was something about the brown rice and fish. Either way you’ve reached heaven, whether on earth or otherwise.

    (I’m assuming Marcello at least will understand this).

  17. 67
    weej on 21 Feb 2013 #

    A shame there’s no better place – listening to Shooting At The Moon and Whatevershebringswesing, what a talent.

  18. 68
    Colin on 22 Jun 2013 #

    The B side of O Superman is the even more bizarre Walk The Dog, in which at one point Laurie Anderson lampoons Dolly Parton!

  19. 69
    enitharmon on 16 Feb 2015 #

    So it’s goodbye Lesley Gore.

  20. 70
    swanstep on 17 Feb 2015 #

    @69. Yikes, that’s terrible (too young and was giving well-received concerts only very recently…). I imagine that lots of people who don’t know much about Gore will now try to check her out on Spotify. Unfortunate, however, she’s poorly served there: no original albums and none of the standard anthologies. In general it’s a slightly confusing situation with Gore – she often recorded different versions of songs for the single and for the associated album, and sometimes there are distinct mono and stereo variants on top of that. E.g., Spotify only has the more ornate (to my ears, sickly) single version of ‘Look Of Love’ not the album version (which I much prefer): http://youtu.be/F5vgWxmEanE. In sum, I’d recommend youtube as a lot better for Gore discovery, whatever your level of interest, at this point than Spotify (people will disagree over the best versions of things and they’re all there on youtube).

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