16
Nov 09

GEORGE MICHAEL – “A Different Corner”

FT + Popular137 comments • 13,126 views

#568, 19th April 1986, video

At first brush “A Different Corner” sounds too diffuse and tentative to count for much – the kind of single that gets to #1 when its maker is a big enough star that anything will. But this is misleading – “Corner” is wispy and cloudy because it’s an attempt to capture a particular kind of confusion and despair in a pop song. Listen more closely and its politeness – all those nouvelle cuisine dabs of keyboard and guitar – is revealed as paralysis. Michael is impotent: he’s worse off for falling in love, he would go back if he could, he’s terrified of the rejection that might follow if he goes further. A strange fear grips him: in its sketch of sensitive abjection, “A Different Corner” touches the same nerves and explores the same pitiable ground that mid-eighties indie was making its own. “I don’t understand it, to you it’s a breeze / Little by little you’ve brought me to my knees” – you could imagine David Gedge writing that!

You couldn’t imagine him singing it like this, mind you. “A Different Corner”‘s kind of wandering, choked-up slow soul would end up being a key part of George Michael’s repertoire, the style he deployed when he wanted people to know he was getting personal. It’s been the source of his worst performances as well as his best, but “A Different Corner” avoids self-indulgence by its relative concision – just two short, tightly written verses given plenty of space in a simple arrangement. The delicacy of that arrangement is fragile – even a touch like the acoustic guitar between verses on the album and video version seems to overload it. But the single mix keeps its balance between comfort and sparseness, its broken-up piano lines halfway between the wine bar’s consoling ambience and ABBA’s icy, grown-up pain. This song of disillusionment and ruined hopes is remembered as a minor single, if at all: for me it’s the best number one George Michael’s been involved with.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 16 Nov 2009 #

    ha the sleeve makes it a bit harder to love, as does the video (in fact I suggest you avoid the video ENTIRELY)

  2. 2
    punctum on 16 Nov 2009 #

    “Dedicated to a memory” it says on the reverse sleeve, and on the sleeve’s front there is a black-and-white photograph of a man with his back turned to the camera, some distance away, walking into a huge park, unutterably alone. Although Michael was still officially one half of Wham!, the record drips with pungent tears of reluctant farewells, although its subtext is more elusive.

    A far more complex and satisfying record than “Careless Whisper” – and yet also a far simpler one – “A Different Corner” can fairly be said to be the first entirely solo UK number one single, in that it was entirely composed, sung, played and produced by the same person. It could with equal fairness be described to the most radical of 1986’s number ones; there is no chorus, and the song’s reflective cycle wafts by in placid echoes of repetition. Comparisons were made at the time with Eno’s Another Green World – that refractory Harold Budd treated piano, the same steady, unobtrusive flow of electronics, the distended vocal drones in the background (though the latter may also owe something to the intro and outro of McLaren’s “Madam Butterfly”) – and through its snow-white sleeve and aura of finality, Laura saw a kinship with “Atmosphere.” This latter was not far-fetched, since George Michael had recently appeared on a BBC2 arts programme where he reviewed, among other things, Mark Johnson’s book An Ideal For Living: A History of Joy Division, and spoke warmly of their music.

    “A Different Corner” is indeed a remarkable piece of music in that here, after four years, we finally see the real George Michael emerging, out of the shuttlecocked shorts and faux-machismo, with a finely-judged and emotionally open vocal performance worthy of an older and sadder Cassidy or Donny, and it’s a George Michael we could learn to love. And yet, although he sounds more open than on any of his previous records, the real meaning of the song had to remain buried for a dozen more years.

    The giveaway comes in the lines, “I would promise you all of my life/But to lose you would cut like a knife/So I don’t dare.” In other words, he loves his best friend (“‘Cos I’ve never come close in all of these years/You are the only one to stop my tears”) but he loves him that way also, and he is tortured because he cannot bring himself to tell him (his “I’m so scared” is the reddest of excoriating wounds) – the same subtext compelled to remain within the shadows of “Johnny Remember Me” and “Have I The Right?” The music’s careful placidity is a striking counterpart to his agonised voice – and where does that “And if all that there is, is this feeling of being used” come in, when really it’s the paralysing fear of rejection that prevents him from getting close to his desired Other but also stops him from moving away; the torture of lifelong compromise – “I should go back to being lonely and confused/If I could…I would…I swear.” Then his unheard pledge also echoes into the far horizon, just as the man retreats into the greenery, walking away…in silence.

  3. 3
    Steve Mannion on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Have come to love this but still not quite sure how/why. Just think GM’s voice suits this vast warm space particularly well, like an angst-ridden archipelago in breezy Med waters. Popular ballads don’t actually tend to sound this empty yet huge (do they?) but I suppose at this point he felt he could do anything (fair enough really). 8 and his best #1 too yes.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Its also the only one of George’s eighties number ones not to be an overt pastiche of any other sort of music. Which is why I think that my peers found it a bit watery and tuneless at the time (also that ‘arty’, black and white video would make any song seem more boring than it actually is). The lack of a chorus also means that is doesn’t hammer its meaning into you.

    These ambiguities are all of the reasons why I now like this so much as a sometimes lovelorn adult of course!

    For a contrast, try the live version from a 1998 Parkinson appearance on the B-side of As. This is a lot more defined both vocally and musically, with a chiming acoustic guitar and “Oooh-Oooh”ing female backing vocals. I would guess that this more overtly soulful interpretation would chime better with most present-day listeners.

  5. 5
    Rory on 16 Nov 2009 #

    As far as I know, I’ve listened to this exactly once, earlier today. On a first listen it doesn’t seem his best, although it’s okay, but there are hints of deeper things that could reveal themselves on further acquaintance. I’ll let others give it a score.

    Time to bow out for a while. I’ll be too busy to comment for a couple of months, and the roster of 1986 hits doesn’t contain many that I could add to: some I know, some I don’t, but none that I own, and only two that were also number one in Australia. See you all again sometime in 1987.

  6. 6
    Tom on 16 Nov 2009 #

    #5 Hurry back Rory – I really like your comments (and I’m always keen to read the takes from people who WEREN’T ‘there’, as much as those who were)

  7. 7
    Rory on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Thanks, Tom, will do – it’s an impending marathon-trek-to-homeland-for-Christmas-and-New-Year that will be keeping me busy, but once I’m back I’ll be back! (I was glad we reached a-ha and the Young Ones in time… next significant personal target is a safe distance away.)

  8. 8
    Andrew Hickey on 16 Nov 2009 #

    punctum – I Just Called To Say I Love You came first as an entirely-solo number one…

  9. 9
    MikeMCSG on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Great review Tom though ultimately I didn’t like the song at the time because its emotions were completely alien to me and don’t care for it now because as you (in kindly terms)identify he’s been regularly re-wrting it ever since (eg his penultimate no 1 in 96).Although I don’t doubt Michael’s sincerity there’s also too much self-conscious “tastefulness” in the arrangement that reminds me of Bryan Ferry’s dreary post-Roxy output.

    #2 Punctum, I remember the show (Eight Days A Week) and I was watching that edition in our hall of residence with a diehard NME reader who started abusing Michael (perhaps for the hair and Katherine Hamnett T-shirt) before he’d opened his mouth and then shutting up when GM revealed tastes similar to his own. I seem to think Tom Robinson was one of the other guests which is an interesting coincidence. A good programme which has been resurrected in disguise as The Late Review perhaps because presenter Robin Denselow went on to work on Newsnight.

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 16 Nov 2009 #

    My friends and I would sit next to the jukebox in our local. We had a kind of “ownership” of it. So each of us in turn would put the 50p in and pick 3 tracks (3 tracks for 50p seemed a bargain at the time). Then one of our group got a girlfriend, not a normal occurrence amongst those who clung on to adolescence in the face of inexorable adulthood and it’s associated responsibilites. She joined our group at the table and also got her 50p’s worth from the Jukebox. She always picked “Careless Whisper”, “A different Corner” and “Freedom”. Without fail. We used to tease her slightly over her obvious Wham! devotion and her “schoolgirl crush” on George Michael. She played along and took all the teasing on the chin, but I always associate the “If I could…I would…I swear” line with us lads filling the pauses with “Bum Andrew”. Chortle, chortle.

    We really never realised how close to the mark we were, but of course the object of his affection was not Ridgeley, but someone else.

  11. 11
    punctum on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Andrew #8: I did say “first entirely solo UK number one single”…

  12. 12
    punctum on 16 Nov 2009 #

    (i.e. first entirely solo UK number one single done by a UK artist – sorry if I didn’t make that clear)

  13. 13
    Jungman Jansson on 16 Nov 2009 #

    1986 still seems to be hit-and-miss as far as my personal memories go, as I only recognise about half the songs featured – and this isn’t one of them.

    I started out with the video, as I usually do, and it really doesn’t do the song any favours. I then listened to it on its own and still didn’t appreciate it very much, but when I came back to it a day or two later, it was a lot better.

    Still it doesn’t really resonate with me. I have been a lovelorn (young) adult at times, but – happily enough – not for a good few years now. And it’s not a state of mind that you want to enter again unless absolutely necessary; maybe that’s part of the explanation. I’ve been trying to pick apart what else could be amiss, and the best thing I can come up with is that George’s somewhat mannered singing is slightly off-putting. I don’t actually think that’s the real problem, but for whatever reasons, I can’t really connect with this.

    It is different to what we’ve had here lately, and most likely carefully crafted – and I can appreciate that in a way, but there’s just something sterile about the whole thing. I’ll do like Rory and leave it at that; I also have a feeling that the song might grow on me if I let it.

    SwedenWatch: #18 for a single week. It fared better on the Tracks chart, reaching #5 eventually.

  14. 14
    AndyPandy on 16 Nov 2009 #

    One of my favourite tracks of all time but it took me until I was well and truly converted to George after “Listen Without Prejudice” to realise just how good this is…

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Honesty is a weasel word in pop, but there has to be a good reason why I thought this was something quite special while pretty much all of GM’s oeuvre to date had made me feel like I was being sprayed with fake tan against my will. It’s a rare love song that runs with a chorus of “I’m so scared”. Tom, that’s a great write-up, and the David Gedge line is apt as – from memory – the C86 weekend at the ICA happened in April ’86 (can anyone confirm this?), possibly when this was no.1.

    And yes, David Gedge and Abba. It’s all true.

    Punctum – the sleeve is surely ‘based’ on Atmosphere, isn’t it? The wordless bv’s also remind me of Eyeless In Gaza… which may be a little less likely as an influence, but you never know. And while the piano is thin and ugly (DX7?) I love that knackered fairground organ sound, a kind of candied hurdy gurdy; pretty unusual to find such a warm sound on a mid 80s hit (compare the rattling ballbearing-in-a tin-can sounds of Freedom or I’m Your Man).

    I can’t think of anything GM’s done since to rival A Different Corner for precise emotional impact; interesting how his similar but crucially out-of-the-closet Popular entry a decade later struck me as rambling at the time, and hasn’t stuck at all. An 8 (would’ve been 9 without the Latin guitar and with a real piano).

  16. 16
    LondonLee on 16 Nov 2009 #

    I had to watch the video as I couldn’t remember this at all, and even listening to I had no sudden “oh, that song!” reaction. I pretty much always like hearing George’s voice but this one seemed just a little too wispy, and the video made me think of David Brent which didn’t help.

    If I hadn’t know it got to #1 (well, I’d forgotten it did until a few minutes ago!) I would have reckoned it was a b-side. A bold choice, I’ll give him that.

  17. 17
    Mark M on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Re 15: the main C86 gigs were in July – was there something before that?

    It took a long, long time for this song to grow on me, years I’m guessing. But it’s terrific. Agree that it’s George’s indiest moment – apart from Joy Division, thinking maybe Cherry Red-era Felt, and it also is something of a precursor to Morrissey’s Last Night On Maudlin Street, to again revisit Moz’s mistaken Yog-baiting.

  18. 18
    Izzy on 16 Nov 2009 #

    No drums! That must be an unusual thing for a number one. Having said that, we have another percussionless one later in the year, plus one other which might as well be – a bare few seconds of the strangest drums I’ve ever heard, if indeed that’s what they are. We’ll get to those soon enough.

    It’s not in the nature of popular to throw up too many hidden delights, but I’d never heard this before and it’s a lovely thing. It’s very hard to get a grip on, but there’s a strong song in there. It’s a nice performance by George, he pulls off the trick of being simultaneously full-on and restrained, possibly achieved by simple use of the volume control on the mixing desk. The arrangement is nebulous to say the least. It’s a bold choice alright, he must’ve felt confident indeed to even suggest this to the record company as a single.

  19. 19
    lonepilgrim on 16 Nov 2009 #

    I don’t really care for this too much although I don’t hate it – the production is too pristine and controlled and the lyrics too unspecific for my tastes.
    For livelier use of sparse production I was happier grooving to Kiss by Prince in 1986.

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 16 Nov 2009 #

    The more time passes, the weirder it seems that Prince’s UK chart positions were so low. EVERYBODY loved Kiss from where I was standing – and age has hardly dimmed its charms compared to 1986’s other hits – yet it only made no.6; Sign O The Times – no.10; Raspberry Beret – no.25! But his Popular moment will arrive, eventually.

    Yes, C86, July. Spoils a happy coincidence but there you go.

  21. 21
    swanstep on 17 Nov 2009 #

    At the time, the instrumentation and general,’bellowing from a mountaintop’ of this track felt nicked from a range of better, more interesting songs including Howards Jones’s Hide and seek (which was one of the few things to go down a surprising treat at live aid – which George M. surely noticed) and Gabriel’s Family snapshot and (vaguely) Bush’s magnificent Cloudbursting, which was in the charts at the time (Gabriel and Bush’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ and Gabriel’s Mercy Street would be out in a couple of months on _So_). So all ‘A different corner’ had to recommend it was Michael’s great voice… It’s not enough. This is barely half a song in my view. (I’m staggered that Tom could give this an 8 and the fully realized standard/near-standard ‘careless whisper’ a 7, but I am consistency’s fool, or something, I guess.)

    My popular-induced perspective now is a little different. ‘A different corner’ now specifically looks like another carriage on the pity-party/charity ward pop train that’s carried a range of unpromising tracks to UK #1’s since ‘If I was’:

    If I was a stronger man
    Carrying the weight of popular demand
    Tell me would that alarm her
    We’re heading for something
    Somewhere I’ve never been
    Sometimes I am frightened
    But I’m ready to learn
    ‘Bout the power of love
    But please be gentle with my good heart
    which is so very hard to find
    And Please don’t ask me to defend
    The shameful lowlands
    Of the way I’m drifting
    Gloomily through time

    Take it away, George!

    Or don’t:
    4

  22. 22
    taDOW on 17 Nov 2009 #

    to go from ‘everything she wants’ to mid-period sting – YECH! most egregious popular overrating since ‘lady madonna’; praying to jesus ‘praying for time’ or ‘jesus to a child’ didn’t top the charts over there. concurrent comics equiv.

    3 for me

  23. 23
    Jungman Jansson on 17 Nov 2009 #

    Wichita Lineman @20 – I recently put together a playlist featuring all songs from the 1986 Tracks charts (Popular’s fault, obviously) – just to get a grip on the year in pop, or something like that.

    “Kiss” really stands out among them, it’s a true head-turner that sounds very different to its contemporary peers. I’ve been listening to said playlist off and on while doing other things and that’s the only song so far that’s almost jolted me when it comes on. “A Different Corner” features as well, but apparently I haven’t even noticed it.

  24. 24
    swanstep on 17 Nov 2009 #

    Another better, roughly contemporary thing this track reminded me of *a lot* at the time: Blue Nile’s easter parade.

  25. 25
    anto on 17 Nov 2009 #

    ” A Different Corner. ” is notable for being one of the few eighties number ones by a major name that hasn’t been over-played.
    It’s easy enough to find a slot for “Freedom” or “Wake Me Up….” on compilations and “Careless Whisper” is no doubt still deployed towards the end of the night at a particular type of dance, but I don’t even remember hearing ” A Different Corner” until a solo appearance by Mr. Michael on ” Parkinson ” in about 1998/99. It seemed very low-key by Georges usual standards. When I heard the original single version I was somewhat thrown by how spacious and sparing the chours-less arrangement was – As bare (and lonesome) as the minimalist decor of the flat in the video.
    By the time of the third listen I was struck by how open-hearted the lyrics are. Yes he over-sings it a bit, but it was a brave diversion in amongst the stubble-chinned confidence of his other singles around this time (1985-87). At one point I took it to be a song about the difficulty of coming out. A blank reading on my part as I’ve since found out he wrote it about a love affair with a female singer.
    It appearss ” A Different Corner ” was not so much George Michaels
    ” Losing My Religion “. It would be more accurate to identify it as George Michaels ” Help! ” like Lennon in 1965 this is a young superstar saying ” no! I’m not alright”.
    Whatever the subject it’s a touching and remarkable track by a singer whose records I can generally live without.
    I think Toms review describes it very well.

  26. 26
    swanstep on 17 Nov 2009 #

    @JJ 23. Do you have lots of Smiths on your playlist (they were in their singles pomp in 1986)? And doesn’t Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ jump out just as much as ‘Kiss’? I certainly remember both tracks making dancefloors *explode* in part because their basic sounds were novel.

  27. 27
    TomLane on 17 Nov 2009 #

    A #7 peak in the U.S. Kind of a forgotten Michael hit, but this set the stage for “One More Try” and “Father Figure”. So delicate it almost floats right out of the speakers. A solid 7.

  28. 28
    Jungman Jansson on 17 Nov 2009 #

    Swanstep – just “Panic”, it’s actually the only Smiths song to ever have charted on Tracks – which was, and still is, a mainstream-friendly, listener voted chart show on Swedish public service radio (the national P3 channel which more or less corresponds to BBC Radio 1). But it’s THE standard for pop charts here – it’s the one which made people have heated schoolyard discussions, compile statistics and draw diagrams. The actual sales charts are also presented on national radio every week, but they never had the same cultural impact.

    An arcane selection process governs which songs are eligible for voting, but it’s basically based on P3’s general rotation playlists. This, and the fact that the chart is listener voted, inevitably means it’s biased in some ways that the sales charts are not (and vice versa), but the one clear and unambiguous trend that I’ve been able to spot so far by pouring over the late 80’s and early 90’s charts lately is that Tracks was very slow on the uptake when it comes to house and hip hop. There is a good amount of italo/euro-disco though, for far longer than I would have expected. I would’ve guessed the Smiths to be more popular than they actually were, but apparently they were too indie.

    (If you’re really interested, you can find the Tracks chart archive here: http://www.sr.se/p3/topplistor/tracks/?listID=1&getListY=1986&showyear=1986 )

    “Sledgehammer” does feature, but I think I’ve listened enough to it before for it to be so familiar that it doesn’t provoke any kind of reaction. Bear in mind that I’ve just had this playlist puttering about in the background while doing other things, I haven’t examined the songs in any particular detail or with an analytical frame of mind. “Kiss” on the other hand is a song that I certainly recognise but have never really listened to actively before – as for why, I have no clue.

  29. 29
    swanstep on 17 Nov 2009 #

    The vid.: Wolfman meets Barry Gibb 1138.

  30. 30
    Izzy on 17 Nov 2009 #

    This section of Popular has caused me to have another look at The Smiths. They started off with some very nice hooky tunes, up to around ‘William It Was Really Nothing’, but their releases over this period are some very poor pop singles – very poor choices actually, they could’ve done with halving the number of releases and using different tracks instead.

    I’d be surprised if any of them got much airplay*. Certainly it’s hard to imagine anyone being suddenly turned onto the band by, say, ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’. ‘Panic’ feels very much like the exception, and even then sabotages itself with the horrible phrase Morrissey picked for the coda. It all smacks too much of band-as-cosy-cult.

    I guess I’m writing about this here because ‘A Different Corner’ is about as uncommercial a big hit as I can imagine, but there’s still more immediacy to it and a more intuitive understanding of entertainment. Partly it’s just that George is a better singer, but he’s also desperate to convince the listener, to draw you in, in a way that Morrissey (on the singles anyway) never does.

    * Actually, here’s a quote from Geoff Travis: “I can’t understand why ‘How Soon Is Now?” wasn’t a top 10 single, but perhaps I’m being naive. If only their singles had been played on the radio”.

  31. 31
    Conrad on 17 Nov 2009 #

    I can Geoff.

    Give me “I Started Something” (t-Rextastic) over the monotony of “How Soon” any day of the week.

  32. 32
    swanstep on 17 Nov 2009 #

    @Izzy. Well, I dunno. I reckon Panic, Ask, and Shoplifters are some of the perkiest/most accessible Smiths tracks ever (the latter even has a bit of glam guitar swagger about it for goodness sake – Suede took copious notes!) – the rough equivalents of, say, Olivers Army and Everyday I write the Book for Elvis Costello. The Smiths had had a bit of a misery-guts reputation before this, whereas these tracks’ sparkling, irresistible melodies and high flail-around-ability gave the lie to that, and surely did earn them a second look from lots of people… just not by enough to get far into the top 10 in a consensus/non-revolutionary period for music.

  33. 33
    Billy Smart on 17 Nov 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: George Michael performed A Different Corner on the April 17th 1986 edition of Top Of The Pops. Also in the studio were; Big Country, A-ha and It’s Immaterial. Gary Davies was the host.

  34. 34
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Nov 2009 #

    Thing is The Smiths (and Rough Trade) cheerled an ethic of unalloyed sulky retreat as their response to what they considered — utterly wrongly — a consensus* period of music: and what they offered was actively reactionary, a return to lost values. Some of their songs are pretty (courtesy Marr); some of them have melodies (courtesy Morrissey) (though a lot don’t); a few of them are actually strong of course — Morrissey has a genuine sensibility, even if it’s largely animated by his contempt for every other kid on the playground.

    *I was increasingly involved at The Wire at this time: this was a period of quite unusual richness of battling genres even before hiphop got its second wind… this is the year I interviewed Youssou N’Dour and Salif Keita; also year of Courtney Pine’s largescale emergence. Collision Harmolodics was — it turned out — peaking. The MM aesthetic had not yet, I think, begun properly to emerge.

  35. 35
    punctum on 17 Nov 2009 #

    #30: So Geoff can’t understand why “How Soon Is Now?” wasn’t a Top 10 hit? Well, hiding it away on the B-side of the 12-inch of “William, It Was Really Nothing” and THEN releasing it on Hatful Of Hollow before releasing it as a “single” five months later might have had something to do with it.

    Rough Trade in the eighties were totally useless in terms of marketing and their uselessness was compounded by the fact that they thought they knew better. No wonder Green Gartside and Roddy Frame got out of there as soon as they could. Hopefully with the Libertines, Antony and the Johnsons, Arcade Fire etc. they’ve got their act together now but back then they were incapable of selling a lump of coal to Arthur Scargill. Thus all these Smiths singles cherished throughout the subsequent two decades peaked at #14 or #26 or wherever – but the fact that they’re still remembered and celebrated whereas so many of the records which superseded them in the lists at the time have been forgotten may raise some bigger questions about the overall value of the charts in the longer term.

  36. 36
    LondonLee on 17 Nov 2009 #

    I’ve never really understood the worship of ‘How Soon Is Now?’ I like it well enough but it’s rather a dirge and not at good as it’s a-side, and I’ve always found the famous lyrics a bit mundane and leaden, Morrisey tackled that subject with far more wit and invention elsewhere. I think one reason it was so hailed at the time was the guitar sound which wasn’t like anything The Smiths had done at that point – the first time this jangly little indie band had gone sonically epic.

    What was the name of the Jeans brand that used it in their ads back then? I remember that ruffled the feathers of a few indie kids.

  37. 37
    thefatgit on 17 Nov 2009 #

    Wasn’t it always, with The Smiths around the mid-80’s, Johnny Marr’s trademark to create this uplifting, lively “perky” backdrop to Morrissey’s long, dark night-time of the soul-type lyrics? There must be exceptions, but even “How Soon Is Now” has those little shining cartouches of guitar beside the heavy text of bass and drums.

  38. 38
    MikeMCSG on 17 Nov 2009 #

    #33 That was a good line-up.”Driving Away From Home” was record of the year for me and I realised 86 wasn’t going to be a golden year when it peaked at 18.

  39. 39
    Billy Smart on 17 Nov 2009 #

    It was Pepe Jeans. Something of a misrepresentation of the song: All Marr, no Morrissey, boy gets girl!

  40. 40
    Izzy on 17 Nov 2009 #

    Some good points there. Seeing as how if Popular is going to get a Smiths discussion, this is probably it, I’ll take the liberty of prolonging it a little more. And I am trying to understand why some things get popular and others don’t, so not entirely off topic!

    #32 – ‘perky’ isn’t necessarily what people want to hear. Indie bands have always made this mistake, of assuming that the unwashed masses want sunshine and jauntiness and vacuity, and aiming their commercial efforts in that direction. ‘Sheila Take A Bow’ is the sort of thing that results, but also ‘You’re In A Bad Way’, ‘Did It Again’, ‘Electric Man’ and any number of bewildering failures.

    Were it needed, any glance at Popular should dispel that myth. ‘A Different Corner’ is about as far from that idea as you can get, but it caught on, an achievement I find more remarkable the more I hear it.

    #34 and #35 – ‘sulky’ and ‘thought they knew better’. Yes, most unattractive, and you can see it in that quote from Geoff Travis, blaming the radio for the failures. I wonder if he ever considered why the radio didn’t take to them? No doubt there are quotes a-plenty castigating the general public for their awful taste.

    The pity is that I’m sure the Smiths could’ve been handled so much better. A little more care and a discography that read: ‘William’; ‘How Soon Is Now?’; ‘Nowhere Fast’; ‘Well I Wonder’; ‘Panic’; ‘Ask’; ‘There Is A Light’; ‘I Know It’s Over’; ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’, and maybe they’d have got somewhere.

    Or not, who knows? But it might have been worth thinking beforehand about what might hit, rather than just blaming others when it didn’t. It’s the biggest curse of indie, that it takes away reasons to try, where repeatedly making #1 on the indie chart becomes success in itself. I suppose it’s success of a kind, but it shouldn’t be the kind of success that makes people climb on a stage in the first place. Maybe Andrew Ridgeley could’ve been happy enough on Rough Trade.

    #36 – I was disappointed to learn that the ‘How Soon Is Now?’ lyrics were cobbled together overnight from a couple of notebook scraps. It shows and I suspect it’s how he worked through the period I’m talking about. It can be a fine way to work if it throws up unexpected juxtapositions – but if it doesn’t it’s no better than any other throwaway method. I’m not sure that it ever does without a lot of follow-up work.

    ‘Panic’ is actually the biggest disappointment on this score for me – he really touches on something through the verses and builds up an emotional tension, only to spend it all on a bit of fluff. It’s entirely characteristic, I’m afraid. I know the story about its genesis, Gary Davies and Chernobyl (and Wham!), and it’s a good one – but that doesn’t mean it had to stay on the record.

    A catchy tune, something interesting to hang onto, and a universal – that’s as close as I can get to defining a winning pop combination. ‘Panic’ is so close and even lands on a universal of sorts – but it’s a whimsical, meaningless one. ‘Contempt for every other kid in the playground’ (#34) is a nice line, and it certainly has a purpose for a certain kind of teenager, but ultimately that’s only so much of a constituency. You have to venture into real feeling at some point.

    It struck me, looking at The Smiths’ discography, how many of those songs are second person. The effect, to my ears, is advice rather than empathy. It’s little wonder they didn’t catch on – a preachy Morrissey may or may not be an attractive character, but I’d say he has little to offer an adult audience.

    George doesn’t make that mistake. In ‘A Different Corner’ he lays his feelings out in a way that Morrissey does only intermittently after The Smiths’ first burst of songwriting. It may or may not tend towards trite – I think probably not, the recognition of having been changed forever is quite interesting. I don’t think he quite arrives at a universal, but he at least describes a real experience and it’s very much a relationship of equals – I can see what it offers the general audience.

  41. 41
    tim davidge on 17 Nov 2009 #

    A beautiful, poignant piece-and hats off to Tom for having recognised the qualities of this one-to my mind, it’s one of mid-Eighties pop’s finer moments. It describes an emotional space that an awful lot of people will find familiar, does so sensitively and never sounds cliche’d or hackneyed. It’s tuneful, pretty and well-judged and I still enjoy it even now, at a different stage in life. I got my copy out and played it before writing this, just to confirm my impressions. And actually, I like the sleeve too – it’s like the record – memorable – but looking at it, the figure is walking towards the camera, not away from it (#2).

    Anything not to like? Not really-we’re well into the ‘electronic’ era by now, so plinky-plonky noises are pretty much a given though I’m not that keen on them. On the other hand, the woodwind and choir bit (at least it sounds like woodwind and choir) in the instrumental break is marvellous. An 8 from me.

  42. 42
    Alfred Soto on 17 Nov 2009 #

    This is indeed one of Michael’s forgotten American hits; I never heard it on the radio at the time, and haven’t yet. It hit the top ten on career momentum alone.

  43. 43
    lonepilgrim on 18 Nov 2009 #

    re ♯20 I was a Prince zealot by this time – having fallen for his music while working in the US in 1985 – but I think there were several reasons he didn’t do as well as he might have done:
    – it was a reaction to his public persona after the Brits awards where he turned up with a huge bouncer and mumbled something incomprehensible- he was subsequently presented in the mainstream media as the weird one compared to Michael Jackson’s wholesome image.
    – He did very little to promote the record(s) – having foresworn public performance in 1985 (something he quickly went back on thank goodness – I saw him play live in 1986 and he was awesome). I remember a pretty lightweight (if enjoyable) video for Kiss which TOTP played once or twice – but that was it.
    – Under the Cherry Moon – his second movie(which featured Kiss) – was dire and didn’t win the audience that Purple Rain had done.

  44. 44
    swanstep on 18 Nov 2009 #

    @izzy. How about ‘Please please please, let me get what I want’ as being in ‘A Different Corner”s ballpark? It too feels like only half a song, but what a great half! It’s fairly emotionally direct (although I don’t myself regard that as an especially important value), and although it started as b-side (to ‘William’), Rough Trade/The Smiths themselves/whomever certainly did market it through film/tv soundtracks etc.. As a result, it’s been very widely covered and was from the beginning. And even if it’s not *quite* a standard at this point, it’s closer to that status than ADC is. ADC’s vocal show-boating may, however, make it an attractive Glee-target (do people do ADC on Idol etc.?), so maybe it’s due for a second wind. But I also wouldn’t bet against Glee eventually getting around to PPPLMGWIW (those guitar parts would make for wicked backing harmonies).

  45. 45
    Mark M on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 34/35 etc… While the levels of personal and organisational dysfuction at Rough Trade have been throughly explored in both Dave Cav’s Creation book (which, as I may have said before, is only notionally about Creation) and the terrific BBC4 documentary about Rough Trade, it seems unfair to blame them for the lack of popular traction for effete guitar rock in the mid-80s. Who else was doing a better job of selling this stuff at the time? Aztec Camera fled RT and got to 18 with Oblivious – the Smiths (on RT) bettered that chart position many times. Miles Copeland’s IRS couldn’t get REM within a country mile of the UK top 40. 4AD’s Cocteau Twins’ biggest hit was Pearly Dewdrops’ Drop, a 29. R1’s Mike Read did his level best to sell the listening public on the charms of The Icicle Works, and they managed one hit (Love Is A Wonderful Colour, no 15 in 1983, on Beggars). Even the Bunnymen couldn’t make the Top Ten after Killing Moon at the start of 1984. And so on, and so forth…

  46. 46
    wichita lineman on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re low Smiths chart positions jeopardising “the overall value of the charts in the longer term”. Rough Trade could have done better, no question – it was effectively a hipy commune, so you wouldn’t expect too much – but EMI and Sire respectively hardly gave Buzzcocks and the Undertones the chart positions their unquestionable classics deserved. Also, who picked the A-sides? Geoff Travis or Morrissey? I don’t know the answer but I know where I’m laying down my entire wage packet.

    Re 43: That makes sense. I’d forgotten that mumbling, which was also perceived as arrogant, I think – it felt like that was his breakthrough moment and he blew it. On the other hand, the Kiss vid wasn’t an event like Thriller but I still thought it was seen as something pretty special – clean, monochrome, a certain frisson – at the time. I can’t remember how much airplay he got.

    More than the Smiths, though, which even allowing for their chart placings (never higher than 10) was embarrassing – nothing at all outside the evening shows. Their only daytime exposure came via Steve Wright’s Morrissey impressions. No wonder he wanted to hang the c***.

  47. 47
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    15 Top 30 hits (according to EveryHit) is nothing to sniff at though is it? They weren’t exactly a cult band, even my soul boy mates knew who they were. My mum probably did too.

  48. 48
    swanstep on 18 Nov 2009 #

    The ‘Kiss’ remarks made me go away and compare the UK and US #1s for 1986. As with 1985, the US #1’s seem much more representative of what was genuinely popular worldwide. How odd, for example, that Sledgehammer, Venus, and Simply Red’s Holding back the Years couldn’t crack the top spot in the UK? Let alone Kiss, Live to Tell, Human, The way it is, etc..

    @47 Londonlee. Exactly. The Smiths sold millions of records all over the world just not the 100 million or whatever Wham/Michael moved.

  49. 49
    nick s on 18 Nov 2009 #

    It’s a gorgeous record, and definitely one that has escaped over-play. My suspicion is that the tempo makes it tricky to slot into the lineup on Generic 80s Station. It’s one of those songs, for me, where I’m actually uncomfortable listening to it, because I know it in my head and hear it so rarely.

    (I also have a fondness for ‘Father Figure’, though it’s clearly derivative — of what, exactly, I’m uncertain, perhaps a little bit Terence Trent D’Arby, ‘Sign Your Name’, though I’m not sure if GM heard it during the Faith recording sessions.)

  50. 50
    AndyPandy on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Lee at 47: very true this was still in the days when most hits were “real hits” (slow climbs,hardly any on fanbase sales alone)and this applied to the whole Top 40 and a far,far greater number of people would have knowledge of even small indie-guitar type Top40 hits.
    Now how many people even know the Number One? yet alone tracks that peak at 20 or 30.
    In these days didnt you even need to sell 40,000 (and many that hung around obviously sold even more) to make positions 40-50 in the charts.

  51. 51
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #46: no, WL, that wasn’t what I said, read my post again; I said “raise some bigger questions” not “jeopardise” and I think that’s still a very valid point. Ask someone now who isn’t a chart geek like our good selves about “Ever Fallen In Love” or “Teenage Kicks” and they’re not particularly going to know or care that they only got to #12 and #31, kept out by garbage from the likes of the Barron Knights or Smokie. They might be a bit surprised but that would be it. They’ve endured as records and I guess symbols of their time irrespective of where they got to in the charts. Same with the Smiths, except that RT could and should have got their marketing shit together. You’re in the business of selling records? Well, sell them!

    By “bigger questions” I mean the function of the charts in the long rather than short term as an accurate marker of history rather than a passive recorder of whatever marketing strategies triumphed in any given week (which sadly is largely going to be the case from around this point), whatever transient novelty took the temporary fancy of the public. Projects like this help to put everything in a certain context but of course number ones, however you look at them, are hardly the whole story. 1986 was a fantastic year for music but looking at its number ones only about three or four of them would tell you that that was the case. See also 1967, 1982 etc.

  52. 52
    wichita lineman on 18 Nov 2009 #

    I agree, Lee and Swan, so doesn’t The Smiths’ ubiquity make it surprising none of their singles climbed higher than 10? They weren’t seen as mainstream by the media, in as much as Morrissey would never have been on Wogan or Breakfast Time, nor would the group have been invited to MTV awards, Montreux etc.

    Andy, there were – from memory – virtually no “small indie-guitar type Top40 hits” apart from The Smiths in this period. Jesus & Mary Chain aside, I can’t think of one. It felt at the time as if the famous Stone Roses/Happy Mondays TOTP three years later was a victory over state controlled pop.

    On the other hand, maybe my memory is being too selective. Does anyone recall hearing the Smiths on Radio 1, Capitol, or local radio in ’86?

  53. 53
    wichita lineman on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Punctum – you’re right, chart positions are absolutely not what counts in the end, sorry I misunderstood you. They’re still a decent marker of social history. I’ll lay good money on several posters writing their own charts as teenagers, to erase transient novelties and shape the world to their own desires. Pop history has been re-written so many times (wot, Nick Drake never had a hit??) that reading it via the number one singles is surprising, baffling and absorbing. Hey, that’s why we’re all here!

  54. 54
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Oh, I was no exception to that – I scrupulously compiled and wrote up my own charts in the mid-seventies, assiduously righting wrongs and everything else that I did instead of going out, playing football etc., until around mid-’77 when the charts began to agree with me a bit more… ;-) I’m sure mine was the only chart which had “Daybreak” by Survival Kit at number one (autumn ’75, came out on Island, great track, surprised it hasn’t been sampled profusely)!

  55. 55
    Izzy on 18 Nov 2009 #

    ♯44: ‘Please Please Please’ is a terrific example of what might have been. It’s a nice tune, it’s emotionally direct, and its soundscape is far more immediate than ‘A Different Corner’. But Morrissey seemed to give up on that style of writing after the first album – it’s notable how many of the songs there are similarly-direct first-person – in favour of instruction and allusion. I think that type of simple bond can be an important factor in reaching a mass audience, and I wonder if the howls at ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ not being a single are due to the recognition that here it was, at last.

    ♯45: Who else did a better job of selling that type of stuff at the time? Well, there’s a ♯1 coming up later in the year that did just that, and by the band that were possibly most like the Smiths of all. Admittedly it’s quite an unusual record, but it’s worth noting that they’d already had an almost-as-big hit earlier in the year too. Probably by such simple methods as making videos and (if I’m honest) stronger tunes too.

    ♯47 and ♯50: That’s true, they certainly had a presence and they did better as an albums act (though maybe not quite as well as we like to think). But it’d be too much of a stretch to go beyond that to grant them the type of national significance that you get from having a ♯1. It could’ve been done and what you say suggests that maybe they were most of the way there – but they didn’t make it. The fact that we’re comparing them with Aztec Camera and Echo and the Bunnymen, rather than U2, is a dead giveaway.

    I have to be harsh and put it down to a lack of serious effort all round. Contrast again with George Michael, who seems to have been utterly determined to be huge even before Wham! were born.

  56. 56
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Come to think of it, U2 haven’t made their Popular debut yet…

  57. 57
    Izzy on 18 Nov 2009 #

    ♯51: the big difference, and the one that damns Rough Trade, is that Undertones and Buzzcocks only had a handful of proper singles after their almost-hits – The Smiths reached the top ten with their fourth single, then had a proper career and a dozen more hits without ever managing to build on that initial success.

    Certainly they’ve endured, but if pop is about anything it’s about now – and Popular is about being popular now.

  58. 58
    Tim on 18 Nov 2009 #

    My mates and I were fairly indie-purist and we were OK with the Housemartins up to and including the first LP, after that I think we became a bit sniffier about them. This sniffiness may well have been our 15/16 year-old selves plugging into a world of fanzines not easily accessible or obvious in rural Devon, and finding that a number of the things that we had thought were Cool were, in fact, Not Cool. Shocker. But anyway they had some indie-guitar type hits that year.

    And Fuzzbox got to #41 in ’86, bless their hearts.

  59. 59
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #57: Well, no it isn’t, it’s about being popular at the time things were popular, how that looks from the perspective of our “now” – what do we think of these records a generation or more down the line, what do they mean to us denuded of their initial context? – and how this particular measure of popularity measures up to what might more rightly (or wrongly) be termed as having proved “popular” in the realer sense (i.e. it has endured, passed into folklore etc.).

  60. 60
    pink champale on 18 Nov 2009 #

    much as indie’s sulky isolationism and crap marketing can’t have helped, it does seem to me in retrospect that at that time there really was a media hostility to (or at least a firm disninsterest in) anything a bit marginal, or just new. now, I’ll get into this a bit more later, but as a music loving teenager growing up in the eighties i simply had no idea that indie music existed. no one had ever told me. i was aware of the smiths and the mary chain, but not that there was any context to what they were doing or that they were part of some kind of larger scene. i knew all about the velvet underground and iggy pop and stuff (from being a bowie fan) but it didn’t for a moment occur to me that there might also be contemporary stuff that had the same sort of qualities. looking back (from a time where any new band a hundreth as good as the smiths is given their own tv series and ten brit awards by the time they’ve released their second single) this hardly seems possible, but there just was not anywhere in the media to get this information. (okay, there was nme, mm, etc, but i did not know to read them, no one had ever told me what they were for). so for a good while yet i beat on with my ‘raintown’ and my ‘street fighting years’, knowing that something wasn’t quite right, but not knowing there was a whole parallel world that might suit me much better (for a little while at least).
    agree that “a different corner” is superb, btw.

  61. 61
    Izzy on 18 Nov 2009 #

    ♯59: I don’t see it that way. For me, it’s more about reinterpreting that ‘now’, to see what I was missing*. I find myself empathising with and vindicating the past more often than condemning it. I think it’s fair to say that the 80s got it right in selecting George Michael and Bono as its icons, and not Morrissey.

    Which isn’t to say that I don’t despair at ‘I Got You Babe’ outselling ‘Running Up That Hill’. However, that was a battle within the top five. If I were annoyed at a string of ♯31s being kept off the top, well maybe then the problem would be me!

    * NB that we’re only just beginning to reach the time when ‘that now’ was also ‘my now’, so hitherto I’ve mostly been comparing my secondhand knowledge of the era (gleaned mainly from a musical education in the 90s, and in the context of at least some of which The Smiths were the colossus that bestrode the 80s) to the firsthand/thirdhand knowledge I’m getting from Popular (i.e. actually sitting down and listening to the records, and thereby thinking twice about them)

  62. 62
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    re 60: i’d say at this point the “alt media”* had not yet brought pressure to bear on the “mainstream media” — or rather, the pressure had only borne very slight fruit as yet… within a couple of years the situation had greatly shifted

    *defining this to cover the totality of the music papers and the style mags; peel; the alt.listings mags — and what else? grown-up newspapers were beginning to hire exiles and aspirants from these various sources, but at this stage they rather ended to be disgruntled older voices — jazzniks for example, forced to flee the MM cull — and the sun was just beginning to grasp that pop gossip was a endless source of readership

  63. 63
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    It wasn’t until I was 14, that I picked up an inkie in the newsagents, and started reading it. It was the NME and by ’86 I was 5 years in to buying it every week. I can understand that without it, (and The Face and i-D) my exposure to new music; pop, dance, indie, rock or even Bulgarian folk music, would have been nearly impossible. I suppose John Peel may have given me some pointers, but daytime Radio 1 was pretty much mainstream as you could get. Granted, if I wanted to seek out certain stuff, my local Our Price wasn’t well stocked, but Reading, Basingstoke, Guildford and London were never really far away by bus or train and I could seek out stuff there. Many people out in the sticks might not have got the opportunity to expand their personal music experience, beyond JP’s show.
    The towns above also had good venues, so I could go see live music at any given opportunity. My reliance on the charts alone as a reference point for new music had all but disappeared by 86.

  64. 64
    Conrad on 18 Nov 2009 #

    The charts were only ever part of the popularity picture. They were undoubtedly the biggest part, but music press and national press coverage also play(ed) a part in cementing an act’s popularity, or notoriety.

    The Smiths sold a lot of papers – Morrissey was a funny and entertaining interviewee. He and Marr looked fantastic – so their presence was very firmly felt in the firmament of mid 80s popular culture.

    The reasons their records didn’t chart higher in the singles chart were down to a combination of factors

    – They never came close to ‘crossing over’. As their chart positions indicate (highest position first or second week usually), they were bought by their fanbase only

    – They lacked quality control, and put out too many singles with too few long breaks to re-establish public demand

    – They rarely (arguably never) released anything with a big enough hook/crossover potential to break the Top 5.

    I don’t think incidentally that the alternative music scene came to be more embraced by the mainstream media. Quite the opposite, the alternative music scene started producing more accessible and commercial music, thereby increasingly putting it in the position of setting the agenda

  65. 65
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Conrad, I’d also argue that a generation of writers who’d grown up reading the alt press in the early 80s increasingly made up a significant critical mass culturally within the mainstream press by the 90s: so the agenda got set almost unconsciously; “our kind of music” almost established as a given (rather than something consciously fashioned or worked for).

  66. 66
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    “Our kind of music” – where’s David Jacobs when you need him? Or maybe Steve Lamacq will take over his R2 slot in the fullness of time: “Hello thaar! Let’s be together until midnight to share that which many still call Our Kind Of Music. All derived from within – The Steve Lamacq Crap Indie Collection” (cue lugubrious intro from Carter USM’s 30Something). Three in a row from Thousand Yard Stare and no mistake!

    #61: trouble with this is the usual “either/or” death trap which insists that the Eighties Symbol* MUST have been George/Bono OR Morrissey. Why not both – and, if not both at the time, whose fault is that? Nobody gets anything right; it’s all to do with perception, infiltration and the frequent inverse proportion in which the latter divulges from the former, given time and luck.

    *no offence Izzy but in general I think there needs to be a moratorium on the terms “ic*n” and “ic*n*c” – this being pop music and not early Russian painting – or maybe institute a global spambot subsitution for both words of “sausage.” George Michael and Bono as top sausages of the eighties! Now who could argue with that?

  67. 67
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #65, I agree. You have the likes of Danny Baker, Danny Kelly, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons and many others firmly part of the Meeja Establishment from the mid ’90s onward. The very same people I used to read in the NME.

  68. 68
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    I don’t just mean those who actually fought the wars at the time though — I mean those who wanted to be fighting the wars but weren’t yet. The former are often more complicatedly pragmatic with respect to their “foes” than the latter…

  69. 69
    Mark M on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re assorted: the fact remains that in the mid-80s it was UNCOMMONLY hard to be a big star with rubbishly produced guitar music. You may or may not regard this as a good thing, but it is interesting in so far as by 1988 C86-second wavers The Primitives (the poor man’s Shop Assistants with a psych-goth wardrobe) were in the top five, and shortly REM (a very much marginal taste in the UK in 86) would be in a position to bore us senseless for years to come and Nirvana would turn up with their warmed-over rock dreariness and Vaselines T-shirts and eat the world… Eventually Pete Doherty would ridiculously be hailed as a genius for songs that would’ve made low quality Wedding Present b-sides and Dave Eggers would celebrate the June Brides over acres of press space. And in that context, it’s interesting to consider what was happening (or not) in the mid 80s.

  70. 70
    Mark M on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 67/68:
    Not least, consider that this year two semi-mainstream Hollywood comedies – 500 Days of Summer and Adventureland – came out considering the romantic prospects of a Smiths fan in the first instance and a Replacements/Velvets fan in the second instance.

  71. 71
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    As a sideline, it’s interesting to remember the reasons for the swooning before How Soon Is Now, when it appeared on the B side of William. IIRC, there was a perception outside the very heartlands of Smiths loving (NME, really, at this point) that they were a busted flush – that Morrissey had said everything he had to say, and that while Jphnny Marr played a nice jangle, so what. I remember reviews of William that barely mentioned the A side, concentrating instead on the Incredible New Direction that might save them from descending into self-parody. How Soon Is Now is not a favourite of mine, but I think it is the track that allowed the Smiths to jump a level in terms of their critical ranking. Does anyone else remember it this way?

  72. 72
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #70 Both quite good films too, especially Adventureland which I enjoyed a lot, though that may have been down to the presence of lovely Kirsten Stewart. Though it is odd to see the cult acts of my youth become cultural signifiers in American romantic comedies (though obviously not Julia Roberts type ones)

    Edit: Though I just remembered that ‘Please Please Please Let Me etc..’ was used in ‘Pretty In Pink’ in 1986.

  73. 73
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    “How Soon Is Now?” features prominently in NME’s top 50 of ’84. Also tops Peel’s festive 50 of the same year. “William” does not.

  74. 74
    Tom on 18 Nov 2009 #

    “William” seems to be a bit of a fan favourite.

  75. 75
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    I think there was a sense that The Smiths’ aesthetic of jangly guitars and mopey lyrics might have a limited shelf life which I don’t think was helped by the release of ‘Hatful of Hollow’ – a compilation of outtakes, singles and b-sides when they’d only put out one proper album. Far as I remember ‘Meat Is Murder’ got mixed reviews too and I don’t think they became THE SMITHS! until ‘The Queen Is Dead’

    I say this as sort of an “outsider” at the time, I was listening to a lot of Northern Soul at this point and The Smiths in my mind were too “studenty” – an impression not helped by the fact that I was at art college and they were loved by the pasty and shy brigade who didn’t dance at parties.

  76. 76
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 75 Yes, that’s right: Queen Is Dead was the launching pad for “The Smiths”. Amazing that it came as much as two years after How Soon Is Now. I think Hatful of Hollow, though, was recognised at the time as the best Smiths album till QID – first album was a botched job, Meat Is Murder’s songs weren’t as strong.

  77. 77
    Conrad on 18 Nov 2009 #

    I’m not sure “Queen is Dead” was their launching pad – I think it was probably their most critically acclaimed album, but “Meat is Murder” was the only one to top the charts, and “Hatful of Hollow” their most consistent seller – it stayed on the chart a lot longer than any of their other releases.

  78. 78
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #64/65 I think you’re crediting the writers with too much influence; only a small proportion of the record buying public ever bought the music press and only a proportion of those would buy a record purely on what had been written about it (as occasionally I did pre youtube) before hearing it for themselves.Love them or hate them Simon Bates and Steve Wright were far more influential tastemakers than Baker or Burchill.
    Indie came into its own eventually because it had a roster of bands ready to fill the vacuum when the A & R guys at the majors bewildered by anonymous house acts and the SAW blitzkrieg stopped looking for new British talent or signed utter cak like T’Pau and Transvision Vamp. I’m not sure it needed to become more accessible; just being there at the right time was enough.

  79. 79
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #75: Well, not really – part of the reason for the relative critical coolness towards the Smiths pre-QID in the music press (and their converse worship in the fanzines of the time) was that they didn’t fit in at all with the soulboy aesthetic which absolutely ruled the NME and the Face. In addition Melody Maker was heading more in a Goth direction and despite the Monitor inflow their covers in the mid-late eighties were by and large an endless procession of Cure/Sisters/Mission with the occasional Reynolds/Stubbs/Roberts curveball (is it true that the ’87 AR Kane cover was the worst-selling MM ever?).

    But yes, in an era where the NME interview essentially consisted of interviewees being hectored endlessly about whether or not they supported Red Wedge, and if not, why not, then it’s no surprise that they held the Smiths at relative arm’s length.

    Set against all this was the unquestioned worship of the group and the singer by their fans – this was the resistance (to what? See Popular entries ’83-6 passim) to what New Pop had become, and of course the Smiths couldn’t have been more New Pop if they’d tried. The only critic really to get them in ’84-5 was the late lamented RD Cook who commented in his review of their first album that the songs and the approach to the “rock group” both seemed to come from another planet.

  80. 80
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    my memory is QiD is when the critical consensus came together to declare themselves and describe the shape of their identity: so it’s not so much the launching point as the moment of self-recognition as a force

    i had really liked the first LP and hatful (and still do) but was at the time really quite underwhelmed by queen, where i think the limitations of their mannerisms were already being touted as an obviously added value — which to outsiders they never were

  81. 81
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    78: to reiterate for a second time what i actually SAID, people who DID read the music mags and the style press in the early 80s — who were by definition in tune with what they chose to enjoy reading — went on to have a significant cultural presence within the mainstream press in the 90s…

    i didn’t say anything about influence, a word i (somewhat notoriously) regard as more or less meaningless

  82. 82
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #79 Good point about the NME and The Face, I was gravitating well away from the former and to the latter (and ID) at this point — being a fancy pants design student with dreams of being the next Neville Brody — so my only view of the music wars at that time took place on the dancefloor at student parties. And the annoying kid I shared a house with who insisted on playing and singing along to ‘This Charming Man’ very loudly in his bedroom. I actually passed up the chance to see them at Canterbury art college back then. Silly me, I like them a lot now that I’m removed from that world.

  83. 83
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #79 “The only critic really to get them in ’84-5 was the late lamented RD Cook who commented in his review of their first album that the songs and the approach to the “rock group” both seemed to come from another planet.”

    That may be true of the inkies punctum but all the early albums got good reviews in Record Mirror and Smash Hits where Eleanor Levy, Andy Strickland and Johnny Black were all big fans. RM’s token HM fan Robin Smith was never allowed near a Smiths record.

  84. 84
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #81 OK I’ll give you that

  85. 85
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    actually this is something about marr’s guitar which i think is worth stressing: that he simultaneously demonstrated he had a gifted ear for the tremendous breadth of sound-colour the electric guitar can deliver, at the same time as steering it singelmindedly clear of its staples up till then — including all of those that allowed the guitar to be coded “black”: viz no hint that he was aware that blues or jazz or metal had ever been part of its palette

    which is in a sense a figure for the problem of the indie ethic — and to some extent the MM proto-goth ethic, tho it hadn’t yet hardened: that it presented itself as a Kind of expansion, but was actually a contraction…

  86. 86
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Cook was always good on the power of lack: that focus is always also a kind of mutilation :(

  87. 87
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #83: yes I should have mentioned that Smash Hits were pretty sympathetic to them, even later on in the eighties when Morrissey became the kneejerk joke answer in every multiple choice quiz they did. IIRC from the letters pages at the time Morrissey discussing his vegetarianism (front cover, cat and red pullover, Feb ’85?) had quite an impact on Ver Kids (maybe not the hardcore Durannies, mind).

    Ah, Record Mirror, totally forgot about them – blimey, Eleanor Levy, Andy Strickland and Johnny Black; what became of all of them (not to mention token Tory and HM lover Robin Smith)? I do recall a young chap doing the singles reviews at the time using words like “MEGA-DAMMERAMA” about the nineteenth single off In The Studio by the Special AKA. His name was Dylan Jones – no idea what became of him…

  88. 88
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 79 … I don’t remember coldness towards them in the NME, certainly … Remember there was a strong indie faction having their battle with the soul boys – we tend to remember the soul/hip-hop/politics covers, but forget the reams of copy about indie bands in between those features. Though it may be that the unrelenting and incessant patronage of Peel was the big thing for them.

  89. 89
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    As someone right smack in the miggle of the internal editorial battles — and thus probably uniquely poorly placed to remark on how it all came across to outsiders! — I’d say the problem was less to do with balance of forces pro, con and otherwise within the office, as to who held the rhetorical whiphand: the soulboy faction were better certainly organised and better focused and, initially, better led; indie-ism didn’t really coalesce as an activist (and in fact reactive) faction till C86…

    What’s interesting with hindsght is that I think — until Public Enemy — the soulboys were dealt the tougher hand, in terms of music that lends itself well to be written about: and that what came to be obnoxious about how they tackled this was a LOT of rather brittle over-compensation, rhetorically… indie-ism inadvertently nay haplessly played the long game, and — as dweebs tend to — found itself the master of the archives in the end, with the Keys to History

    there were people on both sides i am personally fond of, but i am full of sourness and bile about the grown-ups allowed the actual office politics to play out: it was horrible to work within, esp.if you were trying to push other things entirely, and had thus endlessly to manoeuvre between factions

    Cook had grabbed the chance to move to the Wire: belatedly I followed him.

  90. 90
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    # 87 Johnny Black was Smash Hits but that wasn’t clear in my orig post soz. Eleanor Levy and Andy Strickland went on to 90 Minutes which bit the dust in 1997 so they unfortunately have two sinkings on their cvs, don’t know where they went after that.

    You had a lot of pocket money punctum to be buying every one of them :-)

  91. 91
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    After 90 Minutes, Andy went to be editor at yahoo music, which became dotmusic. I used to see him at the football mag events in the mid-90s. Remember once hectoring some young underling of his: “Your boss used to be in The Loft,” to the embarrassment of both of them.

    Re 89 and the line about soulboys being dealt the tougher hand. Yes, I remember the desperate attempts to interest us in dull homegrown soul hero Paul Johnson, who is still plugging away, I learn from MySpace.

  92. 92
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Cripes, I still have Paul Johnson’s first album.

  93. 93
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Haha poor old Paul Johnson, yes — though actually I meant stuff that really really was worth writing about and important, like the arrival of House. Dealt with, dealt early and knowledgably — and yet somehow not dealt with well, especially after the initial story. Partly because the music and the subculture didn’t fit with the narratives the readers in question favoured; but partly I think because the way those narratives were challenged was badly bodged…

  94. 94
    Conrad on 18 Nov 2009 #

    This discussion led me to take a peek a what the NME is up to now, so I have just stumbled across the NME’s list of best albums of the past decade.

    This has probably been debated elsewhere already and – apologies Tom as it bears absolutely no relation to George Michael or the state of pop in 1986 – but what a mind-numbingly awful list. The Top 20 contains not one hip hop (unless you count the streets), pop or r&b album! whhhhhaaaattt?….has the NME become completely irrelevant in the past 10 years?

  95. 95
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    heh, it has spent a VERY long time narrowcasting, shall we say?

  96. 96
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #93 I vaguely remember reading the NME’s piece on House music in Chicago around ’86. I can’t remember who wrote the piece, but I remember the way it had been written with painstaking attention to detail, I felt the whole piece was bogged down. I wasn’t totally sure of it’s relevance, by reading the article.
    With House, if you had read about Ron Hardy or Jesse Saunders, who were essentially studio-based, there was little to identify with, image-wise. Then you hear the music and it all makes sense. I found without the necessary frame of reference, it didn’t truly sink in. Upon hearing “On and On”, I returned to that piece in the NME and things became clearer.

  97. 97
    wichita lineman on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 94: Had to guess that list in a quiz last night and got three, having thought Kanye, Girls Aloud (could’ve been one of two) and Dizzee Rascal were shoe-ins alongside Strokes, White Stripes… Up The Bracket at no.2? I like it, but Wedding Present b-sides (upthread) is pretty accurate.

    Re 96: Snap. I was baffled by Go Go, and this new House Music sounded no more interesting. Heard Raze’s Jack The Groove a while later and realised it was the future, after all.

    Agree that QID was the consensus album, a proper classic (hailed as such, from memory, fairly soon after its release though not immediately), which even staunch supporters couldn’t claim for the debut or super-patchy Meat Is Murder. Sukrat, the title track of QID is/was pretty astonishing and sounds like nothing else on earth to me, though I can see what you mean about a certain relaxing into their role (self-referencing on Cemetery Gates). To me it just seemed like they’d hit their stride, lyrically, melodically and production-wise.

    Post QID, they also acquired a new set of fans, more laddish. I remember Smash Hits interviewing Pete Townshend before a Who gig in Brighton in 1979. He teasingly stopped to ask a young mod when the Who were on stage and was told to fuck off. Similarly I get the feeling that second-wave Smiths fans would have called Morrissey a weirdo if they’d been standing at the same bus stop.

    Johnny Black – still at Mojo. Andy Strickland not well last I heard. Were The Loft the only group to contain two writers for the weeklies?

  98. 98
    swanstep on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Just in case anyone hasn’t seen it, here’s an instrumental cover of ‘Please, Please, Please, let me…’ soundtracking one of the best scenes in _Ferris Bueller_.

  99. 99
    Gavin Wright on 19 Nov 2009 #

    As someone who started regularly reading the music press in 1995 (and stopped in about 2003), it’s always interesting to read perspectives on the NME/MM of the ’80s from people who were actually there. In ’95, in the midst of britpop’s commercial peak, very little from the that decade was given much credence – The Smiths were celebrated as precursors to/influences on Blur/Oasis et al although certainly not to the extent that Morrissey’s solo work of that year was given an easy ride. The Stone Roses too, even given the lukewarm reception for The Second Coming. (Interestingly, both groups had Best Of compilations out in 1995, as did The Happy Mondays, presumably to cash in on the success of Black Grape). That’s about it though, bar the Melody Maker’s Romo faction… So, yes, I only became aware of the soulboy/indie split much later, having assumed they had been die-hard guitar-centric all along.

    In terms of how these papers dealt with things like house music, while both magazines had their dance sections (I forget what these were called) and favourably reviewed Goldie, Leftfield and so on I don’t remember them ever trying to retrospectively assimilate any house/techno into their canon of influential greats the way they did with classic rock/guitar pop.

    Re: ‘How Soon Is Now’, for what it’s worth this has, in my experience, always seemed to be the one Smiths song that non-fans often have time for – presumably because it’s a bit more rocking, less fey and jangly than something like ‘William…’ or ‘Heaven Knows…’. It’s also more Marr than Morrissey with all those long instrumental passages which is no doubt another factor.

    As for ‘A Different Corner’, well this is the first entry in a while that I had no recollection of and upon watching the video nothing rang any bells – a surprisingly likeable and atmospheric song though. A 7 for me.

  100. 100
    Billy Smart on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Re: 97. Didn’t Furniture supply two MM journalists in the 1990s?

  101. 101
    Izzy on 19 Nov 2009 #

    In these 80s music press wars, who exactly were the soulboys who got championed? I remember seeing a retrospective of ‘awful NME covers’ where the likes of Curiosity Killed The Cat, Hue & Cry and Hipsway featured prominently – was that it?

    I suppose it’s too much to hope that George Michael was feted by the music press at the time?

  102. 102
    punctum on 19 Nov 2009 #

    “How Soon Is Now?” from the Johnny Marr perspective is the exact missing link between the Stones’ “Mona” and Simple Minds’ “Seeing Out The Angel.”

  103. 103
    Conrad on 19 Nov 2009 #

    100, presumably taken on by MM because they had brilliant minds?

  104. 104
    Jungman Jansson on 19 Nov 2009 #

    From an outsider’s perspective – both regarding the British music press and the UK as a whole – the British music scene(s)/business/press/etc seems like a frightening vortex of almost pure chaos.

    There are fractions and factions pushing this and that. New genres are invented overnight and then rapidly splinter into a myriad of sub-genres and micro-sub-sub-genres, and before you know it, everything is abandonded as a fad. Only to pop up again in a tweaked form with a new name and a new hype a few years later.

    Couple this with a penchant for the continual rewriting of musical history (if you can even use that as a monolithical term) and you have something that is fearsome to observe, let alone try to follow or understand. Blink and you’ll miss an entire movement, or scene, or hype. Which, of course, is what makes it interesting.

    It’s not that a rapid turnover, or evolution, or whatever you’d like to call it of music seems uniquely British, but the insistence on trying to label, classify and compartmentalise everything does. As does the ever ongoing quest to find and/or create the next Big Thing.

  105. 105
    thefatgit on 19 Nov 2009 #

    As a reader, during The Hip Hop wars, it was difficult to avoid the internal schism that permeated the NME at the time. Despite this, however, I found those writers from either side of the divide fiercely protective of the music they chose to champion.

    In a way, the neutral reader like me, could cherry pick from either side of the divide. What I did find odd, was when thrash metal came on the scene around this time, NME’s coverage of the Big 4 (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer) had anyone left to write intelligently about them at all.

  106. 106
    LondonLee on 19 Nov 2009 #

    #101 “In these 80s music press wars, who exactly were the soulboys who got championed?”

    Um… Animal Nightlife? Working Week? Will Downing?

  107. 107
    punctum on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Anybody and everybody from the Redskins to Terence Trent d’Arby via Bobby Womack and the Pogues as long as they had Soul, Passion and Honesty, Performed with Real Instruments and batted for the right, i.e. the Left, side. NME totally flopped with their House coverage because most of their soulboy intake was obsessed with Rare Groove. They didn’t have the equivalent of an expert like Frank Tope on MM who knew the scene inside out and could write about it intelligently and perceptively, nor (because they turned them all down and they went to work for MM instead) did they have the benefit of the Monitor people who were able to place it in a wider (if sometimes still imaginary) context.

    The generational consequence of this of course is that the soulboys’ preferred way of singing (i.e. melismatic screeching to display how much the singer is suffering*) has now become compulsory in our Cowell-driven sub-pop age.

    *this is a go at Mariah wannabes and not Mariah herself so hold fire Lex.

  108. 108
    MichaelH on 19 Nov 2009 #

    I dunno how much the prevalence of melisma has to do with NME’s coverage of soul in the mid-80s.

  109. 109
    Tom on 19 Nov 2009 #

    #107 this might be why the NME’s dance coverage got a lot better after the soulboys had lost the hip-hop wars – Jack Barron, Helen Mead et al writing about it in 88-90 from the perspective of passionate raver converts rather than people who knew the history. (you could draw a parallel with todays divisions over the ‘hardcore continuum’, but I’m a fence-sitter on that really)

  110. 110
    LondonLee on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Most of the kids doing sub-Mariah wailing these days were still in nappies (or, crikey, not even born) when the NME was doing the soul beat.

    Maybe because I was also reading The Face back then but I saw the soul trend as partly a lifestyle thing about clubbing and nice clothes as much as it was about sweat and honesty and it was easy to go from Rare Groove and embrace House and Techno.

  111. 111
    punctum on 19 Nov 2009 #

    A sharper, hipper and braver NME would be tackling the ‘nuum now for sure. Does someone who’s outside the centre of a movement (cf. Gould/Latecomers) have a better understanding of it, and perhaps a deeper love of it, than someone who’s been in there from year zero and maybe can’t quite get the whole picture?

  112. 112
    AndyPandy on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Mark M at 69: yes but even as early as 1988/89 fragmentation of the music scene was already effecting the charts and sales were beginning to fall enough that (an often transitory) fanbase/this month’s music press hype alone could put something in the Top 10.

    I’ve just about heard of the Primitives but never knowingly heard one of their songs and I doubt a large part of this fragmentation ie the vast majority of those who were by 1988/89 buying house records/diehard soulboys knew anything about such bands unlike the Smiths who as Lee implies had by the mid-80s become part of the general pop consciousness (which was just about to disappear forever)enough to at least be known by soul/funk/mainstream pop/whatever else fans (even if it was because they were loathed so much by many such people).

  113. 113
    Mark M on 19 Nov 2009 #

    Re 112… Possibly – I’d need to see the maths on an act needed for a top ten hit in spring 88 versus spring 86 to know more. Incidentally, almost all the Smiths fans I knew at school took to rave in a big way…

  114. 114
    Andy Pandy on 20 Nov 2009 #

    that really surprises me as there was such a feeling of antipathy to contemporary guitar music back then on the dance scene (and possibly because of what was seen as their whining self-pity the Smiths were held as its nadir). Of course this antipathy was only true to a certain extent as for swathes of the acid/house then rave scene the “rock world” existed almost in another musical universe which aside from the already touched upon kneejerk dislike of the Smiths very rarely imipnged on each other.

    And the idea of loads of Smiths fans on the M25 at South Mimms in 1989 waiting for “the phone call” sounds as surreal as a group of 1976 punks waiting in the queue at the 100 club discussing the “finer merits” of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s latest album.

  115. 115
    Mark M on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Re 114: I’m not sure whether that last bit is a joke, but I’m sure lørd sükråt wötsît would tell you that there were lots of punks dying to lovingly discuss ELP if they thought they could get away with it. Anyway, plenty of time to talk about rave in three/four years’ Popular time.

  116. 116
    Mark M on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Re 114/5: but while I’m at it – the reason Che Guevara was an idiot is that he failed to realise that almost all revolutions are made possible by large and temporary coalitions of people who for a brief potent moment believe (almost certainly mistakenly) that they have a common goal.

  117. 117
    Glue Factory on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Re:114 – although, given that in ’78 Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s latest album would have been Love Beach, maybe not some many merits to discuss.

  118. 118
    lonepilgrim on 20 Nov 2009 #

    this thread has been a revelation for me – I realise I’ve never much been overwhelmed with enthusiasm for jangly indie bands (although if you’d asked me at the time I think I would have thought i did – if that makes any sense) and when I do I like ’em it’s usually with a girl singer. I bought ‘This Charming Man’ as a single but I preferred Sandie Shaw’s version of ‘Hand in Glove’ – the only Smiths album I owned was ‘Hatful of Hollow’ on vinyl and I’ve never bothered replacing it or adding to it.
    I think the reason may be the bands/singers personas remind me too much of myself – I prefer my pop stars larger than life – and I prefer pop music to sound exotic, syncopated and/or more intense than real life. There was a leaden sense of kitchen sink realism about The Smiths which just doesn’t excite me.

    Like Lee my musical tastes were shaped by The Face at the time – particularly David Toop who was a champion for Prince, Luther Vandross and Hip-Hop and a wide range of other stuff.

  119. 119
    LondonLee on 20 Nov 2009 #

    I hate to say it, but Robert Elms’ ‘Hard Times’ piece in The Face opened up a lot of music to me as well. And, yes, I wore old ripped 501s with a studded belt for a while too.

  120. 120
    AndyPandy on 20 Nov 2009 #

    re 114/115: I picked ELP because aren’t they still supposed to be pretty much irredeemable unlike most other groups that the punks were supposedly rebelling against which have since been rehabilitated.

  121. 121
    Mark M on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Re 120 You may find that if you read the word Sukrat backwards you’ll discover something…

    Also: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/old-ft/essays/2002/07/tarkus1/

    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/old-ft/nylpm/2005/10/tarkus-watch/

  122. 122
    AndyPandy on 22 Nov 2009 #

    Interesting,I never realised that!

  123. 123
    Lena on 23 Nov 2009 #

    I now feel a bit less strange for having loved New Pop and then being totally taken (hmm, interesting verb, but the only accurate one) by The Smiths; once I went to the WHSmith at the mall just to look at a picture of them in Newsweek in ’85 in total awe. A year later I began to really pay attention to the UK music papers (I was already buying Star Hits, the US version of Smash Hits) when I could find it.)

  124. 124
    Lena on 23 Nov 2009 #

    When I began to realize the mixture of voices in the UK music media I was charmed and baffled and a little overwhelmed – I could barely understand how so many people could exist in what my guts told me was a very small space and have such different opinions. That The Smiths were great was pretty much agreed upon by everyone (save the Soulboys, who must have at least admired Morrissey’s flair for clothes) and beyond that it was out-and-out head-desking despair – the indie crowd vs. the goths vs. those who enjoyed strangeness (not long after I began reading the UK media I discovered The Fall) and those who solidly believed that if it was popular it was good, and vice versa. What kept me reading was the sheer enthusiasm I could find from various writers, and a depth of feeling unimaginable at, say, Rolling Stone.

    By the way, I went all the way to Toronto to get the first Smiths album on cassette and stayed faithfully with them as they negotiated their highwire way through the decade. And Johnny Marr remains one of my favorite guitarists; to me he seemed androgynous on the guitar, if that makes any sense.

  125. 125
    Lena on 24 Nov 2009 #

    I also have to add that The Queen Is Dead remains (for me) their best album; Strangeways Here We Come I always associate with my father’s deterioration and eventual death. I watched him go and I watched The Smiths go and it was a very sad time indeed. But I feel I’m getting ahead of myself here – “Panic” was THE song of the year and I got the NME with him on the cover and nothing else, of course!

  126. 126
    anto on 24 Nov 2009 #

    Hi Lena. Your comment about Johnny Marr makes a lot of sense.
    I think a lot of people who don’t generally go in for ” gutiar heroes ” admire Johnny Marr. In The Smiths he always seemed to be expressing himself through the gutiar whereas too many other gutiarists are merely expressing what their gutiar/amp/fx pedals are capable of.

  127. 127
    rosie on 25 Nov 2009 #

    For the record, this was number one when Chernobyl went critical: perhaps the single most significant event of the 1980s.

    Me, I was travelling around Wales at the time. It rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. There was, allegedly, lots of fallout in the rain, enough to make the local sheep suspect for many years afterwards.

    I’m doomed, doomed I tell you! Although 26 years on I show no ill-effects that can’t be accounted for by aging.

  128. 128
    Jimmy the Swede on 26 Nov 2009 #

    I actually had a package trip planned to what was still called the Soviet Union when Chernobyl came along and knackered it. I think my lost holiday was probably fairly low down on the list of that terrible disaster’s victims.

  129. 129
    Erithian on 26 Nov 2009 #

    Rosie – so you survived being rained on in the days of fallout, which is good. Then you moved just down the road from Sellafield, which is pushing your luck a bit!

    Back to poor old George Michael, since about two of the last hundred posts have been about him and this record – a beautiful piece of music, a fine vocal and yes, sadly underrated. It seems to have fallen into the void that Marcello often refers to where there’s only room for one song of any given type by any given artist on oldies radio – and since this isn’t “Careless Whisper” (and maybe because of its sparse production) this one loses out. Certainly one of the more unjustly obscure 80s number ones.

    Anyway, back to the Smiths, the rest of you. I didn’t follow them avidly at the time aside from enjoying their singles (my girlfriend and I used to sing at each other in mocking Morrissey tones “but I’m still fond of yeeeewwww, whoa-hooooo”) and I’ve come to enjoy their albums since, but I’ll leave this discussion to the experts. (Tom, someone should compile a guide to the unlikely tangents we go off on…)

  130. 130
    Steve Mannion on 26 Nov 2009 #

    I’d mistakenly thought ‘Faith’ had been his big comeback single after this and am a bit baffled that ‘I Want Your Sex’ actually preceded it (tho I do vaguely recall the controversy surrounding it that Summer), because it seems that ‘Faith’ would’ve stood a much better chance of being Michael’s third consecutive #1 and put him up there with Gerry and Frankie on that record (Wham! efforts notwithstanding).

    Would say the two singles after those are actually stronger (‘One More Try’ is not one I remembered at all when I saw its title but as soon as I heard it I was ‘oh its THAT one’) which also seems unusual.

  131. 131
    Mark M on 30 Nov 2009 #

    Re 114 etc, in this month’s Mojo, Alicia Keys says that YouTube clips of Keith Emerson circa 1971 are her favourite musical discovery of the year.

  132. 132
    lonepilgrim on 30 Nov 2009 #

    re 131 bizarrely there was a picture in one of the antique roadshow music mags recently of Keith Emerson all smiles with John Lydon

    blimey, this thread has got off topic…er George Michael what was with the mullet and where had it gone by the time of the next Wham video?

  133. 133
    Tom on 30 Nov 2009 #

    This is now the most commented on FT post of 2009. Well done all!

  134. 134
    LondonLee on 1 Dec 2009 #

    Looking forward to Alicia Keys’ triple concept album!

  135. 135
    Hofmeister Bear on 7 Jul 2010 #

    The guitarist Issac Guillory (Al Stewart, Elkie Brooks and err Barbara Dickson) blamed the previously mentioned Chernobyl-influenced rainstorms which lashed Wales for the cancer which killed him in 2000.

  136. 136
    Billy Smart on 13 Nov 2010 #

    Ultra-rare clip of George Michael and Morrissey together!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCZkVrpYupY&feature=related

  137. 137
    flahr on 26 Dec 2016 #

    Farewell to George Michael. 53, which isn’t much of an age, but you can’t say he didn’t live it.

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