28
Jan 09

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

FT + Popular70 comments • 6,061 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. 1
    pink champale on 28 Jan 2009 #

    yep, until two minutes ago.

  2. 2
    rosie on 28 Jan 2009 #

    It’s hard to like this one when you grew up with the Lesley Gore original, which is a classic of sorts so I don’t very much.

    I have, without shame, enjoyed a lot of the stuff that this Dave Stewart did previously and have a very fond memory of an extraordinary gig at Liverpool Uni in which Hatfield & the North supported Stomu Yamash’ta, the Japanese percussionist who seems to have sunk without trace. Popularwise I much preferred the bunny-embargoed fare of the other Dave Stewart but then I would, wouldn’t I?

    And in a disturbing departure, the man with the electronic noise-making machine gets himself billed ahead of the singer. A sign of things to come (although I am aware that Ike Turner had pulled this stunt a generation earlier)

  3. 3
    SteveM on 28 Jan 2009 #

    I don’t see why the person actually making the music shouldn’t have their name listed first – especially if that’s the stronger part of the work (I’m not sure this applies here tho granted).

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jan 2009 #

    the prog lineage is about the only thing of interest about this. I always got a sense that they were slumming it and got lucky – which probably confirmed their sense of superiority to ‘pop music’ without understanding its richness and potential, something that Soft Cell, who were slumming it in a different sense, understood completely.

  5. 5
    Tom on 28 Jan 2009 #

    #2 – don’t imagine that my description of him as “a bit of a plonker” doesn’t mean I think the real other Dave Stewart made worse records!

  6. 6
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 28 Jan 2009 #

    in the swing era and before, danceband leaders actually often got pre-eminence over singers, who were after all generally their employees (and didn’t get to sing on all numbers: instrumentals had not at that time been purged from the top of the “charts”, insofaras they existed) — this isn’t totally cut-and-dried, the heirarchy somewhat dependent on genre, but the switch TO singer-as-top-of-bill had been a departure in its turn

    (in classical and light classical, the composer is still placed above the performer: i think this back-and-forth tension is highly interesting, because it really is an acknowledgment of a struggle for control, artistic or box-office-derived — there’s a similar power-tussle in film-making, between the big-name actors you need to get the project made, who are billed in big names as “executive producers”, and the “director”, who may end up not getting final cut, and almost never gets his/her FACE on the billboards, or name in large letters…)

  7. 7
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 28 Jan 2009 #

    i mean singer-as-top-of-the-billing — and that post is a bit all over the place, sorry; this is a complex evolving story that i have been muddling around in for years and need to write something extensive about…

  8. 8
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 28 Jan 2009 #

    incidentally: sleevewatch!! eep!! kate bush in “not equivalent to aneka” shenanigans called!

  9. 9
    Kat but logged out innit on 28 Jan 2009 #

    I like her Mystic Meg hairdo & crescent earrings. Otherwise, it’s a bit boring? Not as mental as eg Propaganda, anyway.

    Actually, it perks up a bit in the last minute or so. Why didn’t they do that for most of the track?

  10. 10
    Erithian on 28 Jan 2009 #

    This is a classic example of a simple song that is better off being kept simple, and doesn’t respond very well to being fannied about with (see also: every version of “Over the Rainbow” since Eva Cassidy’s). The Lesley Gore version says it all about teenage parties (of the 60s at any rate) and the fact that it’s not the end of the world anyhow; this one gives it what we might call the emo treatment and it doesn’t work!

    Number 2 Watch – imagine what we would have been saying about pop records with odd noises on them if Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” had gone one place higher. Followed by three weeks at two for the delightful “Happy Birthday” from Altered Images. Two different songs with the same title stopping at 2 inside three months.

  11. 11
    SteveM on 28 Jan 2009 #

    ‘O Superman’s rise from 18 to 2 in just two weeks – quite a big deal? I’m still struck by it’s success but then I was completely unaware of this record until only a few years ago. It just never seemed to come up anywhere when I was growing up.

  12. 12
    Tom on 28 Jan 2009 #

    I have zero memory of “O Superman” from the time, unlike of this. Or of Black Lace’s “Superman” for that matter.

  13. 13
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 28 Jan 2009 #

    i recall one of the less edgy radio one djs joking about charabancs full of pensioners in the year 2025 singing along to “o superman” — sadly this prospect has gone the way of the personal jetpack :(

  14. 14
    SteveM on 28 Jan 2009 #

    O Supermanchiros

  15. 15
    LondonLee on 28 Jan 2009 #

    You mean this isn’t that Dave Stewart? Well, bang goes 28 years of assumption on my part.

    Though at the time the real one was still in The Tourists was he not* so he would hardly have been a “name” then would he?

    *I’ve no idea, my mental timelines of third-rate New Wave groups is incomplete.

  16. 16
    LondonLee on 28 Jan 2009 #

    This is a lot weirder than I remembered and that opening is another contender for the “most atonal #1” slot. Not a patch on The Flying Lizards and I sort of admire its random cut-and-paste quality without actually liking it much.

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Looking back at the enthusiastic Brooklands Primary School playground embrace of this single, what it really demonstrates to me is the robust indestructiblity of the original song, which we responded to the narrative and memorability of as must have children in 1963. (I consult my rather splendid Lesley Gore Greatest Hits – Gold, Gluck & Wiener – Who were they? Did they write anything else so good?) We weren’t aware that this was an old tune being torn apart and remodeled.

    I find this striking to listen to these days, and it does hold my interest, but I couldn’t really call it very good. For a grand example of this sort of cover being done really well though, I’d recommend John Cale’s disemboweled ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

  18. 18
    wichita lineman on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Re-evaluating this (released within a year of Robert Wyatt’s exquisite cover of At Last I Am Free) in a Canterbury context is rather like furrowing your brow over late period Freddie Garrity (Little Big Time, anyone?) because he sprung from the same scene as The Beatles.

    In any case, weren’t Hatfield & The North lame Wyatt copyists rather than comparable contemporaries?

    The Original Dave Stewart, as I like to think of him, had form – his cover of What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted (with Colin Blunstone also receiving second billing, so no sexism at work here) had been Top 20 at the beginning of the year. It was interesting, earnest, and not that good. Whereas It’s My Party was (bracing intro aside) po-mo piffle, spoil-sporty in the way it audibly sticks its tongue out at both electropop and Girl Group melodrama. Most scenes die on their feet when a cash-in/comedy record scores big, and this surely sounded the death knell for New Romantics/Futurists.

    As for the Lesley Gore version, got no idea on Gold, Gluck and Wiener but a lot of its impact is down to the crisp, punchy arrangement/production by Quincy Jones, who will crop up again in a year or so…

    O Superman’s Top 20 stats (18-2-3-15) would explain why people don’t remember it any more than they’d remember most mid-ranking chart hits. I don’t recall ever hearing it on daytime radio (I was at school, I suppose) but Peel and Skinner and/or Jensen played it every night in the splendid autumn of ’81, along with Orange Juice’s LOVE and New Order’s Procession/Everything’s Gone Green. Ahhhh!

  19. 19
    Tom on 28 Jan 2009 #

    #18 My “Hmmmmmm” was meant to telegraph that my re-evaluation wasn’t to be taken entirely seriously!

    #17 Yeah, that’s true – the quality in this is almost all the original song’s doing.

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jan 2009 #

    It adds insult to injury that this kept ‘O superman’ off the top slot. I think the big jump may have been down to Noel Edmunds (again) who started plugging it on his weekend show – although I believe it was John Peel who initially gave it airplay. It still sounds great (and relevant) today.
    Years later I bumped into Laurie Anderson at Tate Modern where she was trying to get a light for her fag before heading off to give a talk. Great looking woman.

  21. 21
    wichita lineman on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Re 19: Sorry, listening to this had worn out my irony antennae!

  22. 22
    Erithian on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Great double bills that never were – Hatfield and The North and Kilburn and the High Roads.

    Bloody hell, I just about remember “Little Big Time” – I feel ancient.

    The Tourists’ “Loneliest Man In The World” shoulda been a monster. Nothing third-rate about that one.

  23. 23
    Billy Smart on 28 Jan 2009 #

    The Bryan Ferry version on ‘These Foolish Things’ is okay, but not exactly the highlight of that album.

    I’ve just been listening to Gore’s sequel disc, ‘Judy’s Turn To Cry’. To win back Johnny she kisses another boy at the next party, inflaming the jealousy of a still-infatuated Johnny who steps in to punch the fellow. Cue the gleeful chorus of “Now it’s JUDY’S TURN TO CRY! JUDY’S TURN TO CRY!”. I can’t help but think that the real victim in this situation is the anonymous boy who she uses. It’s a fun song, though.

  24. 24
    LondonLee on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Was it Noel Edmonds who plugged ‘O Superman’? In my mind it was Dave Lee Travis, but that could be because he did a similar thing with Talking Heads’ ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and liked to take credit for it’s chart success.

    ‘O Superman’ popped up on my iTunes Party Shuffle yesterday and it sounded wonderful. Better than I liked it at the time.

  25. 25
    wichita lineman on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Re 22: The Tourists – who definitely seemed third-rate at the time – have dated pretty well. So Good To Be Back Home Again sounds simultaneously melancholic and bouncy – had it come out in the mid-90s it would still be on heavy rotation.

    K-Tel watch: It’s My Party is the opening track on Chart Hits 81. Side One, the usual magical mix of the sublime and the gorblimey, in full:

    It’s My Party – Stewart/Gaskin
    Open Your Heart – Human League
    Pretend – Alvin Stardust
    Lay All Your Love On Me – Abba
    You’ll Never Know – Hi Gloss
    Si Si Je Suis Un Rock Star – Bill Wyman
    Kids In America – Kim Wilde
    Prisoner – Sheila B Devotion
    Everlasting Love – Rachel Sweet & Rex Smith
    Birdie Song – The Tweets

  26. 26
    mike on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Point of order! Dave Stewart was never really IN Gong. He did a tour with them in 1975, and he played with other Gong members on Steve Hillage’s Fish Rising album, but he never joined the official line-up.

    (I knew something would drag me back into the commenting fray – how predictable that it turned out to be a matter of prog pedentary.)

  27. 27
    Tom on 28 Jan 2009 #

    MY GONGBAIT WORKED! Though I thought Mark S would be the one ensnared.

    We’ve missed you Mike!

  28. 28
    adam on 28 Jan 2009 #

    I’m with the other surprisees on the Dave Stewart point. Wouldn’t this song have been more interesting if the much more likely Mari Wilson had covered it? I quite like this anyway, it’s interesting even if it isn’t wonderful, and that’s no bad thing.

  29. 29
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 28 Jan 2009 #

    ha! REAL gongheads know their pixies from their trolls

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 28 Jan 2009 #

    Re 23: Yes, Ferry’s version is a bit Austin Powers (ie killing the thing you supposedly love), and could be a dry run for Gaskin/Stewart. River Of Salt was my favourite track on These Foolish Things, mainly because I was unfamiliar with Ketty Lester’s original at the time.

    Judy’s Turn To Cry was a distaff Hats Off To Larry. Nasty!

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