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Mar 10

STARSHIP – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”

FT + Popular109 comments • 5,014 views

#590, 9th May 1987, video

Listening to this song you realise that at some point the idea that a rock record should sound like a bunch of people in the same place playing the same music at the same time was completely abandoned by record producers. Not in the name of experimentation, or expanding a record’s sound, but I guess just because that kind of verisimilitude didn’t seem relevant any more. In its way this even seems a more radical shift than genres like dub reggae or techno which were clearly studio constructs from the off.

This is a long way of saying that there’s something quite off about a song like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”: built for a movie, it has the same oddly flat, perspective-warping quality as a studio set, like it only really exists in the context of the action, when it’s soundtracking something. That eerie dead space is created pretty much entirely by the echo on the percussion: I guess it could also be filled by crowds of people singing along, which is why arena rockers took to this kind of song.

Listened to alone there’s a discrepancy between the size and effort of the sound (colossal) and the emotional take-out from it (pea-sized) that tips me into laughter when Starship try and go up a gear leading into the guitar solo. Maybe if I’d put more hours in with Grace Slick’s earlier work I’d find it in me to despise Starship but for all its vacuous, leaden bigitude, deep in its tiny heart this is affable enough to be harmless.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    Conrad on 11 Mar 2010 #

    You’re obsessed with ELP!

  2. 77
    punctum on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Response round-ups:

    #67 and #68: no, and no.

    Just because canons are canons and by their nature can seem oppressive and annoying doesn’t necessarily make their contents automatically wrong.

    #69: The best way is to forget the school classroom shoving-down-throat approach that critics sometimes apply. As with most great literature, these records’ real pleasures are to be derived if you come across them by yourself, spontaneously, make up your own mind about them and try to forget the weeds of forlorn authority that have grown around them. Or, as I try to do on my albums blog, try to grow new flowers in the same place.

    I first heard TMR when I was five (my dad bought it and played it to me) and thought it was great – colourful, wacky, crazy, noisy, totally in keeping with the cartoons I was watching on TV. Ditto Ornette, Stockhausen etc. In all cases I started early without knowing about their “legacy” or “importance” and that’s always healthy – encourages a fresher perspective.

    #66: Four Sail love seconded.

    #75: iii (my dad in 1977): if you listen closely you can hear that they’ve been listening obsessively to CORNELIUS CARDEW PEOPLE’S MUSIC

  3. 78
    thefatgit on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Ok, so let me get this straight…I might have a better handle on TMR if I watch some Bugs Bunny and Sylvester & Tweety?

  4. 79
    Rory on 11 Mar 2010 #

    @77 Same for me with Nick Drake. I didn’t know there was all this critical argy-bargy going on, or that his UK revival in the 2000s was driven by adverts, or that his premature death meant that liking his music somehow made one a bandwagon jumper; I just read a passing positive mention online, borrowed Five Leaves Left from the library, and fell hard for “River Man”.

  5. 80
    lonepilgrim on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #77 Good points – I continue to be in awe of Then Play Long. You almost persuaded me to listen to a Val Doonican album! I was pleasantly surprised to see the man was still with us when he appeared at the memorial for Johnnie Dankworth recently

  6. 81
    punctum on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #78: Definitely – I’ve got a CD somewhere of the incidental music Carl Stalling did for the Warners cartoons and if you find it and give it a listen you’d be surprised at the stylistic overlap, even though Stalling was using the studio orchestra rather than the furiously-schooled Magic Band.

  7. 82
    punctum on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #80: Thanks LP!

    Another really good Val Doonican album is his 1972 Morning In The Country; we heard the single “Morning” on Pick Of The Pops while travelling back down to London after the New Year and were struck by how downright unusual a record it was, in both structure and subject matter. Not long after that we stumbled across the album in the charity shop for a quid and it was a wise buy, including as it does Val’s quite mesmerising reading of Kermit’s “Bein’ Green.”

  8. 83
    thefatgit on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #81…the story about how DVV and Zappa created this oppressive creative climate, was what drew me to listen to the album in the first place. Then upon hearing TMR, I suppose through the fog of critical opinion, somewhere in my late teens, I found no way in. I guess to a 5 year old, it would sound just as anarchic as Stalling’s and Franklyn’s Looney Tunes scores. You might just persuade me yet, Marcello!

  9. 84
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    As for my own canonical album I am, shall we say, ‘yet to appreciate’: Astral Weeks.

  10. 85
    wichita lineman on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Re 83 – Frank Zappa pioneered self-hating pop, a breakthrough of sorts.

    Re 84 – this may be the only case of my trying to ‘get into’ an album on a twice yearly basis and, eventually, it worked! It’s all about the mossy romantic atmosphere, in production and lyrics, for me – “between the viaducts of your dreams” being one of the more elliptically wonderful lines, the strings arriving at the end of Madame George, and the baby-baby-baby coda to Cypress Avenue being two other magical moments. I’m still waiting for my entry point to Steely Dan/Talking Heads/Incredible String Band/Radiohead/Joanna Newsom.

    Punctum – I was hoping to draw out your thoughts on After Bathing At Baxters – or post Surrealistic Pillow Airplane in general – but I’m glad you love Four Sail. I’ve always been intrigued by the overlooked albums of canonic artists, a hobby which has led me to buy Yes Please by Happy Mondays (thumbs down) and Wings’ Red Rose Speedway (thumbs aloft)?

    Those ‘essential’ lists are guaranteed downers if they parrot the same line. The Swedish magazine Pop did their 100 best lps in the late 90s and the top 3 included Plastic Ono Band (above any Beatles album) with There’s A Riot Goin’ On at no.1. Shame I couldn’t read their attempts to justify this but I admired their gall.

    I remember when Forever Changes and Pet Sounds were marginals on these lists (turn of the eighties) rather than boring perennials. I loved the Beach Boys, so getting into Pet Sounds was a no brainer, but Forever Changes drew me in with the beauty of its song titles – Alone Again Or, Andmoreagain, Between Clark And Hilldale, The Red Telephone – alone, and I bought it at Bonaparte’s in Croydon in 1981 without having heard a note by Love or Arthur Lee.

  11. 86
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    What’s fascinating to me is the historiography of the canon – as Wichita says there was a time back in the late 70s, early 80s, when Forever Changes wasn’t a given and had to be fought for, but once on it, it stuck. Once you’re in the canon the question becomes “can we justify leaving it off” not “should we put it in”. And back during the formation period there were simply far fewer records everyone had heard.

    So you get records like Odessey and Oracle (say) which everyone now seems to like but which obviously missed a few crucial votes.

  12. 87
    wichita lineman on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Sergeant Pepper is a weird exception – it suffers for having been the undisputed best album for so many years. Now almost no one seems to claim it’s even the best Beatles album.

    Tom Hibbert’s The Perfect Collection from 1983, from memory, ended up with a standard set of results but the breakdowns of individual writers’ lists was fascinating. One writer included Big Star’s Sister Lovers (all of 5 years after it was released!), Five Leaves Left, Starsailor, Soft Machine 2, Astral Weeks, Odessey & Oracle, with his 1 & 2 being Pet Sounds and Forever Changes. American bloke, never heard of him before or since, but he was way ahead of the nineties consensus on most of them. Hibbert himself was always going to buck the trend, voting for Paul Revere & The Raiders’ Midnite Ride and claiming PJ Proby’s I Can’t Make It Alone as the best single ever made. I can dig that!

  13. 88
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    It hasn’t dropped out of the canon though has it?

    I think Sgt Pepper’s suffered because the people who lived through its impact became more and more diluted in the voting pool. It’s much harder now – even though far more has been written about it – to grasp the event-ness of SP’s release, you just have to accept it, and it becomes something that people resent slightly.

  14. 89
    rosie on 11 Mar 2010 #

    wichita @ 87: I’d dispute that Sergeant Pepper has been undisputed ‘best album’ – I know I’m far from alone in regarding Revolver as superior and it’s certainly topped ‘best-of’ lists in the past. I may be alone perhaps in regarding Rubber Soul as better than Pepper too.

    I’ve never had any problems getting Steely Dan. My arm needed twisting a little (but only a little) to get into Talking Heads. Radiohead goes Whoosh! right past my head and Joanna Newsom gives me toothache.

    I suppose if I give enthusiastic support for the canonical statuses of Tapestry and Ziggy Stardust I’m showing my age.

  15. 90
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Sgt Pepper last topped a list in the late 80s, so I think that’s what WL is talking about by “suffered” since.

    Is Newsom canon? Blimey :)

  16. 91

    The first big massive public canonwork I recall looking at in bookshops was a late 70s book called the HUNDRED [something something] ROCK ALBUMS: Gambaccini was involved, and it was scorned by the kind of writer I was then impressed by because Nick Kent and John Peel declined to take part. (Will hunt around and see if I can find it…)

  17. 92

    I assume this is the list in question, from 1978…

  18. 93

    I think the book in question was called “Rock Critics’ Choice: the Top 100 Albums” — later editions expanding this to 200? Be interesting to see who was on the list of critics. Xgau features his own 1978 list for the project on his own website, and discusses his choices.

  19. 94

    And here’s a blogpost (by Steven Rubio) which discusses the book, names some of its contributors (inc.Forever Changes fan Mark P, cited by me above!), and makes me wonder if Astral Weeks’s appearance at No.4 in this list wasn’t a bit of a surprise result at the time — not that it wasn’t liked, just that stoners er i mean voters didn’t expect their pref.would coalesce to put AW so high…

  20. 95
    thefatgit on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #89 Rosie, far be it from me to sway you regarding Radiohead, but they are a fascinating band for me. My way in to them came around the time “Fake Plastic Trees” was released as a single. I then went about buying up their albums each time a new one came along. I’m not surprised they are regarded as canonical now, and if I was asked what their appeal was, I guess it’s watching how they have progressed as a band from humble grungey rock beginnings (Creep) to sonic experimentalists today (These Are My Twisted Words), underpinned by a social conscience that is more restrained than that of Bono or Springsteen.

  21. 96
    swanstep on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Wow, this thread has blasted off (!) hasn’t it?

    Canon formation is interesting and tricky. Consdier the recent fortunes of country/alt-country/bluegrass. Soome of my favorite records of the last ten years have been from this area, esp. Loretta Lynn’s Van lear Rose and Jenny Lewis’s Rabbit Fur Coat. I fricking loved and still love those records…. and I *thought* everyone else did too (they got *record of the year*-type reviews when they were first released), and I thought they were well on the way to being canon. I was very surprised then when end-of-decade lists came out late last year to see them hardly mentioned.

    What’s happened? I conjecture that over the same period, as part of the same increased general interest in country/bluegrass, the Carter family and Johnny Cash are now much more canonical for general/rock/pop music fans than they used to be. Everyone listens to and likes and really *gets* that stuff now whereas even in the ’90s only a much narrower group really listened to or knew about any of it. This new deep enthusiasm and canonization may have, somewhat perversely, drained away much of the original enthusiasm that attended Jenny Lewis, et al..

    I *think* something similar may have happened with Prince in the ’80s etc.: stuff that seemed evidently canonical at the time ended up undermining its own status over the next ten years or so because it inspired lots of people to dig deeper into james brown and p-funk etc., and then,for a lot of people ‘who needs prince?’ became a very good question. My strong sense is that Pet Sounds, Forever Changes, and Odyssey and Oracle has similar trajectories: for a decade or two after their initial semi-successes they were relatively obscure records that musicians freely strip-mined, then they got great cd releases in the 90s at which point they became truly canonical and all the strip-miners (everyone from lloyd cole to kravitz to weezer) suffered a serious downgrade. Or something.

    @89 Rosie. (i) I think a *lot* of people prefer Rubber Soul to Sgt Pepper (I do). I fact, I think it’s pretty hard not to end up rating Rubber Soul over revolver. RS is pure joy, and if one rejects SP for its pretension etc. then almost inevitably R starts to get tarred with the same brush. RS, however, is complete paydirt and is at the bottom of the slippery slope away from SP’s alleged pompousness and calculation. (ii) I played the first 5 songs or so from Tapestry at a party recently and it almost drove people completely mad! Everyone knew the songs, but had no idea who it was, and indeed couldn’t remember why the songs sounded so familiar…. So, I gather Tapestry isn’t at all on the radar of anyone born after, say, the mid ’70s. The Bacharach and Carpenters waves of appreciation of the last decade or so haven’t helped that record at all apparently. Maybe Glee will resurrect it.

  22. 97
    LondonLee on 11 Mar 2010 #

    a hobby which has led me to buy Yes Please by Happy Mondays (thumbs down) and Wings’ Red Rose Speedway (thumbs aloft)?

    I do this with writers, I read all of Orwell’s other novels before I got to 1984. I think this goes with the music fans dread of wanting to seem obvious – like picking Sgt. Pepper for greatest album ever made (Rosie, for years it pretty much topped every single list I ever saw – it was the Citizen Kane of albums. It was the aftermath of punk that knocked it off it’s perched as people’s perspective on intricate concept albums changed and they switched to the more pure-pop pleasures of ‘Revolver’)

    Double thumbs up for ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’ from me too. I bought it on red vinyl the other week (already had the CD too)

  23. 98
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    I’d say Rubber Soul’s “pretensions” (soul musicians! comedians! French people!) are as glaring as Pepper’s, probably carried off less well, but I like both records a great deal. Revolver’s my favourite I’d guess.

    Prince’s canonicity mostly not helped by, er, Prince. But he’s still very much in there I’d say.

    I have that 200 albums book, it’s in France though.

  24. 99
    lonepilgrim on 11 Mar 2010 #

    I’d recommend Marcello’s reappraisal of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ over at his blog; it made me warm to an album I thought I’d never want to hear again.
    I haven’t listened to ‘Rubber Soul’ for a while but ‘What goes on’ and ‘Run for your life’ are a bit weak in comparison to the rest of the tracks (against stiff competition).
    It may reflect the effect of iTunes shuffle that the Beatles albums I enjoy most these days are the more varied ones such as the White Album, ‘Past Masters 2’ and ‘Magical Mystery Tour’.
    I used to be totally obsessed with Van Morrison and ‘Astral Weeks’ back in the 80s but now don’t have a single track by him on iTunes. That may be because I’d rather listen to a complete album by him (as I would choose to listen to Dark Side of the Moon or, er, Space Ritual) rather than isolated tracks mixed in with other stuff.
    I’ve never understood why Ziggy Stardust gets SO much love for the music (although I appreciate its significance for other reasons). ‘Blonde on Blonde’ and ‘Sign of the Times’ aren’t my favourite albums by those artists – although I rate them highly.
    Is one of the problems with a canon of popular music is that each album is a unique artefact whereas connoisseurs of orchestral music and jazz can split hairs over different interpretations of the same work?
    Having said that the appetite for alternate takes and remastered versions may appeal to a similar impulse.

    I think another reason for my aversion to ‘classic albums’ is that if I buy ‘Kind of Blue’ and say I like it, the response will be ‘Well, Duh!’ I want to think my tastes are more discerning and individual than they really are.

    Oh, and I loved ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’ as well

  25. 100
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Ziggy S is great but it’s something like my (counts fingers) 7th? 8th? favourite Bowie album.

  26. 101
    LondonLee on 11 Mar 2010 #

    I’ve always thought that Hunky Dory>>>Ziggy Stardust and Highway 61>>> Blonde on Blonde.

    Sign O’The Times is still tops though.

  27. 102
    Tom on 12 Mar 2010 #

    A post to allow further comment posse canon talk:

    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2010/03/the-friday-fun-canon-discussion-and-monster-poll/

  28. 103
    Rory on 12 Mar 2010 #

    @85 It wasn’t my way in (that was “Creep”, way back when it came out), but probably my favourite Radiohead moment was hearing “The Pyramid Song” over the radio for the first time, just as I got home; I sat in my parked car to hear it all the way through, and thought it sounded impossibly beautiful. Maybe it would to a newcomer, too. My other favourite moment was listening to Kid A while driving into Melbourne after dark, watching the rear headlights of the car in front nudging left and right in time to it as the city lights gradually built around us.

    @97 I remembered the Sgt Peppers turning point being 1987, coincidentally enough, when all the 20th anniversary CD release hype (with accompanying TV documentaries) sent a whole new generation scurrying to hear it and left many thinking sure, it’s good, but it’s not BEST ALBUM EVER good. It had “A Day in the Life”, but even Magical Mystery Tour had an “I am the Walrus”. That was around the time Revolver became my firm favourite, after initial infatuations with Abbey Road and the White Album – possibly because it felt like the fulcrum on which early Beatles and late Beatles turned, bringing together the best of both.

    Hunky Dory>>>Ziggy Stardust, for sure.

  29. 104
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Mar 2010 #

    “#49: Please avoid casual misogyny, Jimmy.”

    Sorry, MC, I can’t let this one go. “Misogyny” indicates a “hatred or contempt of women or girls”. My comments at 49 (“old gal”) comes nowhere near this. Ageist, perhaps. But Grace’s gender, I assure you, was not my target. I am equally as scathing at “old lags” doing likewise.

  30. 105
    punctum on 12 Mar 2010 #

    Ageism is also not on, young Jim.

  31. 106
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Mar 2010 #

    The Swede on the cusp of 50 can accept this.

  32. 107
    punctum on 12 Mar 2010 #

    #85 – After Bathing At Baxter’s reminds me of Spandau Ballet.

    What am I on about? The notion that the group are trying so damn hard to go out there; they don’t quite achieve what I assume they were aiming for but somehow arrive at something or somewhere else. More endearing than envelope-pushing a record, I think – “How Suite It Is,” indeed – but “rejoyce” is better than John Huston’s The Dead and it’s a very entertaining mess of a listen. Having just done Dylan’s Self Portrait for TPL I’m quite warmly inclined towards ambitious albums that don’t quite hold together or reach their target.

    #89 – Joanna Newsom induces a moderate, dull ache in my left shoulder.

  33. 108
    wichita lineman on 12 Mar 2010 #

    Good Spandau call. Likewise, Happy Mondays were apparently trying to sound like the Rolling Stones, which is almost impossible for me to hear; only the slide guitar on songs like The Egg hints that they were aiming at a Beggars Banquet/Let It Bleed sound and gloriously missing the mark.

    Number one in the canon of bad albums*, Self Portrait was one of the first albums I listened to on Spotify – always intrigued but never enough to splash out a tenner or more – and I was shocked by its forays into what is unashamedly sweet, straight pop: strings, femme backing vocals, Dylan’s vocals lost entirely for the opening titles beauty All The Tired Horses. Again, not a lost classic, but an intriguing left turn, and 3 or 4 songs are strong enough to suggest Dylan’s later suggestion that he only released it to piss off all the Clinton Heylins is (for once) him bowing to (blinkered) critical opinion. Now, I’ll see what Punctum made of it…

    *surely it should be The Beat Goes On by Vanilla Fudge. Or Neither Fish Nor Flesh.

  34. 109
    hectorthebat on 2 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 94
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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