“Yew dreem-boat! Yew luv-abble dreem-boat!” – it’s like Alma is reaching out of the record to pinch all of our cheeks individually. The Girl With A Laugh In Her Voice as her box set calls her – a laugh, yes, and a hop and a skip and a bubble and squeak too, the very dream of enthusiasm. “Dreamboat” is very short – under two minutes – but a little exhausting nonetheless, a pacy swing number jollied up by piano trills and perky backing.
Alma Cogan is a name I knew only from Gordon Burn’s novel Alma Cogan, which I’ve never read but whose cover I became annoyingly familiar with during my time working in a second-hand bookshop. The book takes its cue from a macabre bit of coincidental gossip – Cogan’s music is playing in the background of the tapes Ian Brady and Myra Hindley made of their victims dying. A writer who was taking the obvious route would use that fact to excavate all sorts of symbolic and supposed lurking horrors below the starchy, innocent surfaces of the 1950s. I have no idea, of course, if Gordon Burn is that writer. The coincidence seems to me just that, but the idea that squeaky-clean pop must have a ‘dark side’ recurs endlessly in rock lit, and the idea that buttoned-down respectability hides a morass of wickedness is another perennial. Neither idea has much relevance to 50s pop, I think, whose chirpiness is often enjoyably one-dimensional. Of course by mentioning the Cogan story here I may have spoiled her breeziness for all of you, too: my apologies.