Jan 11


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#650, 15th September 1990

“The Joker”‘s quick run at Number One is best known for one of the chart’s notorious injustices – it tied in sales with Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” and took the honours owing to a greater sales increase. Cue a certain amount of outrage and a hurried rewriting of the rules, which naturally have never been needed since. No conspiracy, just rotten luck, and “Groove”‘s status as a nailed-on wedding floorfiller means it’s as inescapable as any early 90s #1 anyway.

Even so it looks like a win for tedious old rock over playful frothy pop. But hold on, because the two songs have more in common than it might appear. At heart, both take a unit-shifting genre and inject it with some likeable silliness: Deee-Lite turned clubbing into a kitschadelic hip-hop party, Steve Miller turned easy 70s AOR into a goofball slacker stroll. And back in ’73, Miller’s silliness might have been the more striking – here’s a seven-album chops-heavy veteran of the psychedelic jam scene making up words and going “Maw-REECE” and digging into nudge-wink 50s innuendo about peaches and trees.

But in 1990? It was just, you know, 70s rock. The Levis ad – of course it was a Levis ad – which brought the song back to consciousness uses the song as a marker of preposterous cool and is hard to work out. It seems pregnant with 90s knowingness, teetering on the point of laughing at itself but not quite willing to play that card when it knows that a hot biker riding rings round the squares will still – just about – sell as that. And the thing about the song is how Miller is having his laidback cake and eating it in a similar way – drawling out the words, wandering round the melody, then rolling into a self-mythologising chorus he must have known was a winner. He’s not taking himself entirely seriously, but seriously enough to sell the song to guys who want to be the joker even if they don’t know what a pompetus is.

At the time, of course I hated it – it was the past and communicated nothing about the now or the future. And it’s part of a wave of covers and revivals that will drown the next year or so. But 90s pop wasn’t going to be as straightforwardly futuristic as I might have liked, and “The Joker” fits into other strands. If Levi’s hadn’t raked it up, it might have ended up on a Tarantino soundtrack. It might even have found a place in The Dude’s 1991 LA. It’s that rarity, a revival that happened too soon.



  1. 1
    Matt DC on 24 Jan 2011 #

    I’d never heard that Groove Is In The Heart story before! I quite like this, although it’s tied in with its time as one of the few songs it was socially acceptable to sing in the playground. The word ‘smoker’ might have helped.

  2. 2
    Tom on 24 Jan 2011 #

    I should have said “is best known AMONG THE NERDS” I think.

    http://www.everyhit.com/number1quirks.html “Eager to deflect the flack which flew when this came to light, the chart compilers subsequently announced that “The Joker” had, in fact, on review of the figures, sold eight more copies than “Groove Is In The Heart.”

    So there you go.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 24 Jan 2011 #

    when I heard this again recently I was reminded what an odd song this is to get to number one in the UK. It lurches along amiably while ‘Steve’ apparently makes up a lyric in his sleep. If he wasn’t such a diehard Creedence fan I can imagine The Dude listening to this in the bath – pre-marmot visitation.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I have to report that this was hugely popular in Crown Woods School sixth form circles, more so than anything contemporary. Eltham kids considered it to be ‘proper geezer music’ – i.e. non-weird melodic rock, while Lewisham kids heard the lines “I’m a smoker – I’m a mignight toker!” with tremendous approval, frequently singing them when toking themselves (“Skin oop!”)

    I absolutely *despised* this single at the time, Steve Miller seeming to be the embodiment of every winking-“Chill out mate”-unfunny-‘laidback’-although-actually-very-manipulative-unthinking-inconsiderate-lad-geezer-JackDaniels-stoner-wanker that I’d ever met.

    I’ve just heard it again. Jesus God, that bit where he makes the guitar wolf whistle is grotesque.


  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I quite like ‘Abracadabra’, though.

  6. 6
    JonnyB on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Wow. I am gobsmacked that this made number one. Being, as I was, in my ZX Spectrum is better than pop music phase at the time.

    I just assumed that this was one of the tracks that had sort of fallen into Radio 2. Ummmm – it’s reasonably amiable. The wolf whistle is – erm – well, it’s probably nothing that a million other male guitar player led bands hadn’t done.

    I have nothing against this particular song. But nothing for it either. Taking a step back, it’s memorable – choosing it for an ad was a good move, probably. But give me the Bellamy Brothers any time.

  7. 7
    flahr on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I was worried the Groove effect was going to lead to you going unduly harsh on it, but I reckon 5 is a fair summation – I bought it off The Internet recently and it got dull quickly but I enjoy humming it to myself.

    How delightful incidentally to note that your last.fm profile currently reads “Steve Miller Band – Deee-Lite – Half Man Half Biscuit”.

    EDIT: Oh! Speaking of Spectra and video game consoles and whatnot, Wiki tells the story of how Lady Miss Kier sued Sega because she thought they’d stolen her likeness for Ulula in Space Channel 5. A pleasing intersection.

  8. 8
    Billy Hicks on 25 Jan 2011 #

    So, erm, what happened in the second half of 1990 to make the number 1s suddenly go back in time? We’ve had a Stock/Aitken/Waterman throwback cover from Mr Mallett, now a re-issue, and it’s not the only one to come this year. Just a few months earlier we had the likes of Snap, Adamski and Madonna with tracks as up-to-date as you could imagine for 1990, but they’re not bothering the top spot anymore.

    I like The Joker. It’s ridiculous in a good way, especially the ever-welcome “WAHP-WOAWW” bits (including the one right just before the fade out, which catches you off guard and is hilarious). But it sounds as out of place in 1990 as if, say, New Kids On The Block suddenly got to number 1 again now, it’s almost the same time length away as 1973 was then.

    Dee-Lite would have been a much more deserving #1 had the UK 7″/radio edit not ridiculously edited out Q-Tip’s rap, which is my favourite part of the song. God knows why, probably same reasons as 2 Unlmited…

  9. 9
    Seb Patrick on 25 Jan 2011 #

    There is one thing, and one thing only, that saves this record’s reputation: and that’s its use on The Simpsons.

  10. 10
    Steve Mannion on 25 Jan 2011 #

    That’s odd because Q-Tip is present in the video version as played on TOTP). I give GIITH a 9 (tho it is surely one of the five most beloved floor-fillers of the decade)), The Joker a dismal 3 – always found it way too corny.

    For me the next chart-topper is worse tho so am torn between wanting it out of the way ASAP or delaying the pain as much as possible (fortunately not my decision…). The second half of 1990 really did feel like a retro relapse and the revenge of the “golden” oldies (Bobby Vinton, er, one or two others…that said I do prefer these to ‘The Joker’).

  11. 11
    JLucas on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I am utterly incapable of being objective with this one. I HATE IT.

    Seriously, seriously hate it with every fibre of my being.

    Nothing to do with the ‘Groove’ injustice, though that was an infinitely more deserving #1.

    I just find every second of this hideous, hideous record completely unbearable.

    Glad to get that out of my system. *exhales*

  12. 12
    anto on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I don’t love Groove is in the Heart as much as a lot of other people seem to. It’s good and fun and everything but it’s one of those records that contributed to the overbearing haughtiness of a lot of the dance scene in the nineties. Not that Dee-Lite can be held accountable. The actual vibe of their record made for an endearing fantasy.
    No such fantasy is discernable on The Joker. An unwanted arm around the shoulder and a dodgy chat-up line at the Grafton on a Saturday evening. It’s a smarmy record and the sound effects/double entendes just make it twice as tacky.

  13. 13
    weej on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I can’t find it in myself to hate The Joker, as much as I’d prefer GIITH to have got there instead. If I had a time machine I’d probably pop back to 1990 and buy 10 copies anyway though.

  14. 14
    Jonathan Bogart on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I love both songs equally, though given my historical fetish for keeping everything in its place I would have vastly preferred to read about Deee-Lite in this spot.

    Very odd to think of “The Joker” having any traction in the UK at all; its arrhythmic Deep-South-by-way-of-San-Francisco vibe is I would have thought one of the more quintessentially American sounds, a genial album-rock goof that became an unexpected (but by my lights deserving) sleeper hit thanks to a clever combination of old blues tropes and Miller recycling the least sensical bits of his own old songs, and that wolf-whistle guitar scratch standing in for a hook until they thought of something better. Lazy is right, and all the more lovable for it.

  15. 15
    Hectorthebat on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Can I be the first in with the “fact” that Steve Miller Band is in fact the father of David and Ed, notable Labour politicians?

  16. 16
    vinylscot on 25 Jan 2011 #

    This was number one in the States in January 1974, and it got a fair amount of airplay over here around that time, especially on Radio Luxembourg.

    Although it certainly doesn’t sound like it now, it was probably originally a little ahead of its time, as far as the UK was concerned. Songs like this and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue” would probably have been hits if they had been released in 75 or 76, once the wider public had been more exposed to the likes of the Eagles et al.

    I enjoyed it the first time round, and I still like it now, but I too was surprise it did quite so well in 1990, even with the help of the Levi’s ad.

  17. 17
    Mark G on 25 Jan 2011 #

    #15, vg

  18. 18
    Cumbrian on 25 Jan 2011 #

    #2 Isn’t the “sold 8 more copies” justification likely to be a load of rubbish though? My understanding of how the chart worked is that, effectively, it was a survey. A sample of record stores around the country – the chart return stores – would have their sales data collected and run through a data entry processor and the chart would be complied from that – this seems to be supported by the pages in England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage dealing with the GSTQ issue. As such, the data is dependent on the sample used and is not a full scale audit of all the sales in any given week from all the shops selling singles. Unless the sample was absolutely huge, 8 copies must easily be within the margin of error, surely? (And, yes, I won’t call you Shirley – that joke works so much better out loud than on the page). And if within the margin of error, you can’t really say that it definitely sold 8 more copies.

    Does anyone know better and can correct me? Logisitics of the compliation of the chart not necessarily being my strong suit.

    On chart return stores as well, I heard a few tales of people finding out where the chart return stores were (which should have been kept a secret to stop chart rigging) and going and buying masses of copies from them (although not necessarily in this case). Is this true?

    The song. Meh. Dad liked it and it was on in the car a lot. Can’t say I hate it but it’s hardly outstanding. 5 seems about right – though from the comments above it seems, that for the people who have replied thus far at least, it’s a lot more polarising than I would have thought.

  19. 19
    the pinefox on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I would tend to agree with the last poster that it is hard to believe that the difference between the top 2 records was really 8 sales.

    I don’t think it makes much sense to talk of a ‘notorious injustice’. Would you say it was a notorious injustice if the chart positions had been reversed? I think that this mixes up two things: your feelings about a track, and its commercial performance – which in most cases are understood to be unrelated. If you mix them up then you have to start granting statements like “it’s a notorious injustice that 69 Love Songs wasn’t the biggest selling LP of 1999-2000”.

    But I then agree with most of what the article says about the record – the observation of tone is finely judged.

    I didn’t like the record, really – not because it wasn’t futuristic but because it was bland, creepy, insidious. I think the two little things I slightly like about it are the rising acoustic guitars and harmonies in the chorus.

  20. 20
    Tom on 25 Jan 2011 #

    #18 Well I guess the chart return shop system meant the charts were full of statistically insignificant differences which nonetheless determined position. The 8 sales thing still smells like bullshit – we did a recount and look! our rule got the right answer after all. And it was unnecessary: if you’re going to disallow ties, highest climber seems a fair way to do it. They were fools not to have gone for the extra column inches a tied number one would have generated.

    As for chart return shops, their identity certainly wasn’t a secret, even if it was meant to be. I was talking last year to a guy who was running a record shop in the late 70s, and one week he suddenly started getting a load of pluggers in offering him free stock, displays, posters etc. He asked one of them what was going on and the plugger said oh, you’re chart return mate. He said, no I’m not, and the guy said, well you’re about to be. And he got the letter a few days later saying do you want to be part of our sample etc etc. So the PR people had the information before the actual shops! That said I think full-scale buy-ups of singles was relatively rare (but not unknown) – part of the data cleaning process was to check for unnatural clumps of sales. Certainly though as a chart return shop you would get a ton more attention from the record companies.

  21. 21
    Tom on 25 Jan 2011 #

    #19 Mea culpa Pinefox, I originally wrote “notorious perceived injustice” but didn’t like the pile-up of polysyllables.

    Tho the injustice isn’t “The Joker” getting to #1, it’s “Groove Is In The Heart” NOT getting there – since in the Steve Miller Band’s second week it outsold “Groove”, it’s the difference between 2 weeks for this and 1 week each: “Joker” would have been a #1 whichever.

  22. 22
    enitharmon on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Well, for what it’s worth I like it. I seem to catch a taste of sour grapes in this thread. It’s a very acceptable piece of country rock (you couldn’t imagine a British band doing it at any time). 5 is harsh. 6 from me, 7 on a good day. I’ve been called reactionary lately – well if this is reactionary so be it.

  23. 23
    the pinefox on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I never liked ‘groove is in the heart’ myself (so would never be troubled to see it failing to achieve something) – though over time, somehow, I think I softened towards it and started to think it had *something*. That thing might well be the melody of the line ‘I couldn’t dance with another’.

    I also may have been a bit swayed by Billy Bragg’s band’s surprisingly competent live cover of it, at least after I’d taped it off the radio and heard it a few times.

    I think you were on quite a good point in saying that the two records’ japey moods might be quite similar.

  24. 24
    wichita lineman on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Re 20: Agreed, Tom, that highest climber seemed the fairest tie-breaker rather than “greater sales increase” – I’m still not entirely sure what that means. More shop orders is a given – it was the number one record in the bleedin’ country! Seeing as The Joker had already been number one, you think they’d give the new kid in town the benefit of the doubt. Also, GiitH must surely have had more sales in specialist shops than The Joker?

    Re: chart return shops. By the mid 80s they had a little black box on the counter into which the sales were fed, so no great secret there. Even though I worked in the Peterborough branch of Virgin in 1985 I can’t remember how we fed the the info in – barcode, I imagine.

    Having seen (and done) it, large-scale buy-ups of singles – ten in one hit, anyway – did happen!

  25. 25
    flahr on 25 Jan 2011 #

    #21 Isn’t there the possibility that “Groove” being named #1 in the first week would have given it enough momentum and publicity to outsell “Joker” in the second week?

    I agree that your fantasy of one week for each of them would have been a nice one however.

    #15 afraid not given we first had it back in the Soul II Soul thread!

  26. 26
    Erithian on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Indeed, the gag was rather played out back then, when the Labour leadership campaign was in full swing. Sadly, no mention for the even more neglected fourth Miliband brother, Glenn, who’s been missing for some time now.

    I liked “The Joker” a lot when it first came out, although wouldn’t die in a ditch as to its merits (prefer “Rock’n Me” or “Fly Like An Eagle”, the latter of which was to be purloined by a certain white rapper we’re going to meet shortly). “Joker” was a feelgood song, none too serious, and of its time. Would have loved it to be a big hit in 1973, but here it did seem out of place and indicative of the power of the ad campaign rather than the music when, as many here have said, people wanted to get on with the 90s.

    Wouldn’t have begrudged GIITH a turn at the top, either. I think DJ Punctum of this parish was well aware of his local chart return shop, if memory serves…

  27. 27
    Billy Smart on 25 Jan 2011 #

    If ‘The Joker’ had come out in 1973, nobody would have noticed!

  28. 28
    swanstep on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Much prefer The Joker to GIITH but agree with the general anti-revivalist sentiment many have expressed. The record’ is a 7 in the ’70s but presumably less than that in the ’90s (looking ahead there are some *ace* record revivals coming up that are going to be painful to have to score relatively lowly for lack of timeliness, oh well).

    Somewhat related to Tom’s Tarantino point: there was a (rather Apatow-ish/bromantic) 1996 rom com called The Pompatus of Love which featured endless sub-Reservoir Dogs dialogue about The Joker and its famous, silly line.

  29. 29
    Erithian on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Well it was the US number one in January 1974, replacing Jim Croce’s gorgeous “Time in a Bottle”, so someone noticed! Whether it had a UK single release in ‘73 I’m not sure.

    Wiki notes that the 1990 reissue also reached number one in the Netherlands, New Zealand and Ireland (where it was deposed by the Saw Doctors!)

  30. 30
    the pinefox on 25 Jan 2011 #

    From reading these pages I get the impression that Mr Billy Smart went to school very near me. The names of the schools clang like old bells in my head.

    Some people were into ‘smoking’, but you never heard about ‘toking’.

  31. 31
    enitharmon on 25 Jan 2011 #

    erithian @ 26

    Indeed, the gag was rather played out back then, when the Labour leadership campaign was in full swing. Sadly, no mention for the even more neglected fourth Miliband brother, Glenn, who’s been missing for some time now.

    I don’t think lex has caught up yet.

    A further thought on retro. Tom is on record as saying he dislikes The Doors (though I don’t recall him saying why). In less than a year from this point in Popular time we’ll be reaching the twentienth anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death, marked by Oliver Stone’s tribute film. It isn’t a very good film, but through it many of the young North Kensingtonians I knew at the time, who admittedly may not have been representative of young people in general, discovered the old West Coast sound and saw that it was good, at least the equal of much contemporary music.

  32. 32
    Billy Smart on 25 Jan 2011 #

    There was a lot more of a drug culture in my school than (almost) any group that I’ve known since. Cannabis everywhere and the focal interest of Lewisham kids, some E, but oddly acid still had quite a following at the time (“Ya tripping? Ya tripping?”), which you don’t really think of as being a 1990 London concern. I don’t remember there being any speed, though there was some experimentation with amyl nitrate.

    I didn’t really feel a part of any of this, though I was coerced into toking on occasions, always with the abrasive effect of the tobacco far outweighing any mellowing power that the cannabis might contain.

    It was a difficult time.

    Oddly, my generation weren’t very interested in drinking though, the presence of alcohol being taken as a given, and its effects being seen as much less interesting than drugs.

  33. 33
    Billy Smart on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Re 31. Yes the 1991 revival of ‘Light My Fire’ was also big in sixth form circles, Morrison’s “We couldn’t get much HIGHER!” frequently being sung alongside “I’m a midnight toker”, much to my irritation. “Chill out mate!”

  34. 34
    the pinefox on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I’m with Ewing on that one – don’t know the Doors that well but they strike me as the worst of the major 1960s bands – if they were indeed a major 1960s band.

    This makes me think that I sort of like all 1960s bands except when they’re really psychedelic / prog or something (eg I don’t think I like J Airplane, or Pink Floyd bar the very early songs that everyone knows). Doors had other bad things going on though – vocally, lyrically, bathos, bad in lots of ways, I would think, and not that much to redeem them.

  35. 35
    wichita lineman on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Doors – first successful rock group to have a logo, ergo the beginning of corporate rock.

    Lillian Roxon puts up a convincing contemporary love/hate argument for them in her 1969 Rock Encyclopedia.

  36. 36
    Cumbrian on 25 Jan 2011 #

    #18 I imagine you’re right – a lot of “close run things” would have had to be sorted out this way. Speaking as someone who works in data analysis for a media company though, if I turfed up data that was that close my conclusion would not be “this one is higher than that one” but “these are, on the balance of probability the same”. Agreed that basically that this was a failure of imagination on behalf of the charts – they could have run with the story if it were a tie.

    Interesting stories on the chart return stores – the leaking of their location must have been people at the relevant research companies taking a back hander to let people know where they were going to be. The PR companies knowing before the shops involved is pretty funny.

  37. 37
    Tom on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Yeah I don’t think I have any very interesting reasons for not liking The Doors – I know almost nobody who likes them and so have perversely tried to get into them but there are still huge barriers. Decent band, TERRIBLE frontman is my not specially original view on them! On something like “The End”, with the “Father I want to kill you / Mother I want to RARURUAURURURR!” bit, I just end up laughing, and I can put my historical hat on and think – yes, this was groundbreaking, nobody had been doing stuff like this before but it’s an innovation that seems immediately clumsy and stupid as soon as it happens.

    I do have a kind of guilty pleasure soft spot at the moment for really declarative, yearning rock but I think it’s more likely to end up with me finally liking Van Morrison than finally getting into The Doors.

  38. 38
    Tom on 25 Jan 2011 #

    #28 at least one upcoming revival is a song I couldn’t stand anyway.

  39. 39
    Chelovek na lune on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Boring, in short. And I am happy to be described, not inaccurately, as a reactionary. “Abracadabra” is miles better…But compared with “The Joker”, Deee-Lite would easily have been the more worthy chart-topper, even if they were a bit overhyped.

    (Sure there was a stripped-down dance version of Fly Like An Eagle out around the summer of ’90 – or possibly ’91, but can’t recall who the artiste responsible was)

  40. 40
    Mark G on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Funny really, at the time it made No1 in the USA, it was held up as an example of how inferior the UK charts were compared to the US.

    I believe it did get released over here. As did a whole bunch of his singles from this point onwards, with plenty of airplay, to no effect until “Rock’n’me” finally crept into the lower reaches…

  41. 41
    wichita lineman on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Do you think “Maurice” refers to the character in Northern Exposure with the unfeasibly young wife? It might explain the wolf whistle, which was put to even better effect on Go Kart Mozart’s Here Is A Song .

  42. 42
    Conrad on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I loved Groove is in the Heart and still do, especially its cheeky purloining of that great bass line from, if memory serves, Herbie Hancock’s soundtrack to Blow Up?

    And talking of bass lines, The Doors would have benefitted from a bit of bass guitar on their first few albums. Very tinny sounding they are. And not very good really. Part of the problem is they are so precious as musicians, without any of the verve of contempories like Hendrix, the Stones, Zep etc

    Quite like bits of Morrison Hotel and LA Woman though – Love Her Madly, Peace Frog, Queen of the Highway

    As for The Joker, it bored me. But then I hated the whole Levis ad tie-in thing.

  43. 43
    thefatgit on 25 Jan 2011 #

    One way of reconciling the two records is “Groove…” for the beans, “The Joker” for the bong. There’s not much more to add really.

  44. 44
    Tom on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Just listened to the next ten songs we have coming up, btw – if there’s a more stylistically diverse (tho hardly always good) run of ten in Popular I dunno where I’d look for it.

  45. 45
    MikeMCSG on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I was quite happy for Dee-Lite to fail as I thought they were over-hyped but compared to some of the crap to come “GITH” was brilliant.

    You do wonder why people without the slightest interest in 70s stoner rock would nevertheless buy this because it was on a commercial. Was this the high tide of Levis revivals ? – I remember the following year a glam fan at work getting very excited that Marc Bolan was going to get another number one when they used “20th Century Boy” and it didn’t happen. Mind you given the contemporary crap they hoisted to the top we might have been better off with the oldies.

    #41 Northern Exposure wasn’t running in 1973. “Maurice” actually refers back to one of his earlier songs.

  46. 46
    Matthew H on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I think Smash Hits must have run a report on chart return shops, showing a picture of a Dataport (possibly) machine, because we kept trying to lean over the counter in WH Smiths to see if they had one.

    They probably didn’t, or Duran Duran would’ve had way more No.1s.

    The Joker? I didn’t like it, but I remembered a mid-80s Spandau Ballet interview where Gary Kemp said they had a special dance for it at school.

  47. 47
    punctum on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Miller’s men were played endlessly on the daytime Radio 1 of my youth, in silent reproach at the record buying public for repeatedly, and thoughtlessly, neglecting to put them in the charts where they belonged. 1968’s Sailor was their masterpiece, and one of the first and firmest of stumblings towards that end-of-sixties doped/can’t-find-our-way-home roundelay with its “Song For My Ancestors” and “Dear Mary” and “Quicksilver Girl”…and Miller never quite seems to have found his way out of that particular cloud of smoke.

    The Steve Miller Band’s seventies and early eighties output was pretty adventurous in its own ways; in other words, those strange, alien winds at the elongated end of “Swingtown” or the flurries of synth crenellating the beached rock whales of “Fly Like An Eagle” or the fourteen vacant minutes of “Macho City” (the Eagles do Tago Mago?) are residual layers of psychedelia pasted onto formalist seventies stoner AoR, and in their manner antecedents of World Of Twist (whose “The Storm” should perhaps have gone to number one in 1990 rather than “The Joker”).

    And what exactly was “The Joker” doing at number one in 1990? Prior to this, the SMB had only racked up two UK Top 40 hits; “Rock ‘N Me” (#11 in 1976) and Squeeze-gone-wrong tribute “Abracadabra,” which rather surprisingly made number two in the declining New Pop midsummer of 1982 despite being represented on TOTP by a magician, clearly recruited from the long-term classified section of The Stage, performing excerpts from The Boys’ Book Of Basic Tricks. So “The Joker,” despite being an American number one and being played to death on 1974 Radio 1 by Noel Edmonds and Johnnie Walker, had not previously been a hit in Britain; but, as ever, the introduction of the word “Levi’s” will explain everything.

    By 1990 the Levi’s ad campaign had moved away from Classic Soul towards Classic Rock, and despite the “Joker” ad featuring an intent biker, totally at odds with the song’s subject matter and delivery, it did the trick. It’s still not very clear how it got to number one, however; every atom of “The Joker” seeps stoned 1974 denim from its furtive smoke. The band play the song as slowly and meanderingly as possible such that it distorts into a slight unreality – the original dope beat – while a clearly out-of-his-tree Miller burbles in a Van Morrison “Sweet Thing” fashion (“Lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time”) and allows the occasional wolf whistle to escape from his lead guitar. Starting with a quick precis of his works to (1974) date, citing “Space Cowboy,” “Gangster Of Love” and “Little Maurice” (in which latter the phrase “pompitous of love” makes its first appearance in Miller’s work), it then slackens into a rapture of non-committal love (“I’m a midnight toker,” “I’m right here at home”) and slovenly winking double entendres (“Really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree”). On the 45 mix the song fades out with gradual slowness and you are left with the impression that it could drawl on forever. Was this a sideways acknowledgement on the part of an astute music consultant of the E’d-out Second Summer Of Love? An odd and rather baffling number one for this age, and in this case not necessarily No Bad Thing. It doesn’t sound much like Glenn Miller either.

  48. 48
    Erithian on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Here’s Steve and the latest incarnation of his band playing “The Joker” on Later with Jools last October, with 2010 Poptimist favourites Cee-Lo Green and Janelle Monae appearing to rather enjoy it:
    I do love that bass line and the drum sound, though, even if the song isn’t all that great.

  49. 49
    23 Daves on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Oddly, I can remember exactly what I was doing and where I was the first time I heard The Steve Miller Band. I was eight years old, and listening to the Tuesday afternoon chart run-down on Radio One (I adored that as a kid, and would rush home from school at lunchtimes just to catch it and get the news ahead of Thursday’s “Top of the Pops”). As a treat, my mum had given me a jam doughnut and a plate (“just to catch the mess, you know what you’re like”). Then “Abracadabra” came on the radio, the first I’d ever heard of this mysterious Steve Miller Band who so far hadn’t really been beamed into my boyish world.

    My response was immediate and reflexive. I bloody hated it, and remember saying so. “Oh God Mum, this song is boooring”, I whined. The main reason my memory of hearing them is so picture-perfect in my mind is because I couldn’t comprehend why this dirge was so high in the charts and what anyone was getting out of it. It baffled me more than “O Superman”. It was rock, but it was lifeless rock, a lazy, repetitive approximation of what I was used to, and I found its pace and the vocals somehow simultaneously odd and dreary. I suppose I expected some kind of edge and found that there was none there.

    A lot of water has passed under the bridge since, but some things remain the same, and I have to confess that even as a grown man, The Steve Miller Band are a total blind spot for me, one of the few bands who genuinely cause me to physically yawn when I hear them (although The Doors would be another, interestingly enough). Both “The Joker” and “Abracadabra” in particular are over-familiar enough to be duller to my ears than any of their other output would seem. I know what they’re driving towards and I suppose I can see the appeal this kind of stoner-rock might have to some, but to me it just sounds bone-idle and smug about its effortlessness. The best stoner music is frequently sonically rich, but SMB just seem to capture the lethargy and tongue-lolling stupidity of that state of mind and nothing else here. Sometimes when I hear “The Joker”, all I can see in my mind’s eye is Dylan off “The Magic Roundabout”.

    For all that, I remember a lot of my school friends buying “The Joker” at the time and going on about how great it was. It was definitely one of those rare singles which got a lot of love from the Classic Rock brigade and also a much younger generation, making it a natural number one. Some of this was down to the “toker” line, but clearly others were getting plenty more from it than I ever managed.

  50. 50
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Jan 2011 #

    I never really noticed this before, but SM sounds VERY like Elvis Costello. Or I guess vice versa.

  51. 51
    Jonathan Bogart on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Just one note to add for the record that the phrase “the pompatous of love,” which most people know from this song, is a direct quote from a very strange 1954 doo-wop single by the Medallions, “The Letter.” (Yes, I know you all know, but for the Googlers.)

  52. 52
    swanstep on 25 Jan 2011 #

    All these ads are new to me (thanks youtube). The T-Rex one that #45 mentions appears to be this one with Brad Pitt (in his Thelma and Louise prime). It’s the best ad in the bunch by a mile I think.

    And while we’re reviewing Steve Miller generally, I’d like to put in a good word for ‘Take the Money and Run’. Many a tedious car-trip in the US has been enlivened by trying to nail its nifty hand-clap sequences that come in somewhat irregularly.

  53. 53
    ace inhibitor on 25 Jan 2011 #

    pinefox@30 – I went to the same school as Billy S, though 10 years previously (before drugs were invented). It was at that time the biggest single-site school in the country, so perhaps not surprising there’s one or two or us around. later became newsworthy when it successfully challenged the very very evill chris woodhead in the courts to be taken out of OFSTED special measures. The joker was a quintessential late-night capitol radio song circa 1976. its re-emergence in the 90s was slightly unfathomable.

  54. 54
    wichita lineman on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Beyond the ad The Joker’s belated success was, I imagine, partly due to

    1) the popularity of 98bpm.

    2) the rise of Teenage Fanclub, which signalled an appetite for carpet-walled 70s rock that had been off the menu for well over a decade.

    Re 45: Sorry Mike, it was a lame gag. But I do love the idea of someone writing a song about a character in Northern Exposure (or Dream On, or Quantum Leap. Definitive 1990 TV, along with Twin Peaks natch).

  55. 55
    Elsa on 25 Jan 2011 #

    Getting back to the digression on the Doors to correct a couple of errors, the band did use a bass player on all of their records except for a few songs on the first album. Larry Knechtel played on the debut. Douglass Lubahn was used a lot. Harvey Brooks and Jerry Scheff were also used and so were others. And, if it needs to be said, we’re coming upon the fortieth anniversary of Morrison’s death, not the twentieth (the twentieth of the Oliver Stone film).

    Look at the band Love’s first three albums. There’s a logo that predates the Doors’. Could’ve inspired it even.

  56. 56
    Steve Mannion on 25 Jan 2011 #

    WL “1) the popularity of 98bpm.”

    also highlighted by Paul Oakenfold’s short-lived Movement 98 project (‘Joy And Heartbreak’).

  57. 57
    Mark M on 26 Jan 2011 #

    Re 54: the compilation tape I put together to remember my first year flat at university certainly suggests we had tuned into a connection between 1990 and early ’70s burnout – it features Big Star’s I’m In Love With A Girl, Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down, the Stones’ Happy (from Exile) and then – as anticipated – Teenage Fanclub’s Everybody’s Fool…

    For all that, we all loved Groove Is In The Heart and definitely would’ve favoured it over The Joker.

  58. 58
    crag on 26 Jan 2011 #

    RE;55-The Beatles and the Monkees both had “logos” before the Doors or Love.
    Speaking of which, weren’t Deelite on Elektra?
    The only Levi’s song I bought at the time was Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” which sadly got nowhere…
    Re#54- I’d blame the Fannies for the Joker’s success-at this they’d just released a debut album that would have had little impact on non-Melody Maker readers or Peel listeners. As Tom says the proper 70s revival didnt really begin for another year or so..

  59. 59
    wichita lineman on 26 Jan 2011 #

    Re 55: You’re right, I’m sure they pinched the idea, but that’s why I said “successful” rock group – Love’s one Top 40 hit doesn’t really compare to the Doors’ record, even though their rep is probably higher than the Doors’ these days.

    Re 58: the first Love album predates the Monkees’ debut by almost a year. The Beatles’ “logo” was on a drumskin and only used as corporate identity by Apple from 1982 onwards.

    Sorry if I was unclear Crag but I wasn’t implying Teenage Fanclub themselves helped The Joker to no.1 – I meant there was a new appreciation of 70s rock in the air, backed up by Mark M at 57 (and I was also discovering a lot of hitherto forbidden fruit in 1990 – Rod Stewart’s early albums, Neil Young’s Zuma) which predated but probably inspired Bandwagonesque.

    Alan Betrock reckoned the first pop act to use a logo was Dee Dee Sharp and he may well be right.

  60. 60
    Ed on 26 Jan 2011 #

    Re 37 But why should laughing at the Doors stop you liking them? The feeling of “this is a bit silly but actually really cool as well” is surely one of the natural emotions of pop fandom. On a thread where there has (rightly) been so much love for Deee-Lite, I shouldn’t have to argue that.

    IIRC, the Doors were despised as a bubblegum teen pop band by Sixties hipsters. (Partly because of Morrison’s looks, obv) The real heads were into – what? Dylan? The Floyd? The Dead? Something a lot more serious and less obviously laughable, anyway.

    Would it help to think of them as the Pet Shop Boys of the Sixties? With the Doors it is straight camp, of course, but it’s still camp.

  61. 61
    swanstep on 26 Jan 2011 #

    I think anyone whose formative musical experiences were at the end of the ’70s/beginning of the ’80s has a serious soft spot for the Doors. They were all over the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now and were an essential ingredient of Joy Division’s and the Bunnymen’s sounds. Siouxsie used to cover Riders on the Storm, the Cure often did Hello I Love You, the lyrics Thom Yorke most wishes he could take back are: “Growwww my hair, Grow my hair I am Jim Morrison
    Growwww my hair, I wannabe wannabe wannabe Jim Morrison”
    And so on. Music’s full of people like Morrison and Nico and Robert Smith who are inconsistent and also kind of embarrassing when you are in certain moods, but who are great when they’re on their games.

  62. 62
    Mark G on 26 Jan 2011 #

    I remember thinking “Abra” must have taken him 10 mins to write, tops.

    At least “The joker” by default doesn’t, purely as it references a bunch of his older songs.

  63. 63
    Tom on 26 Jan 2011 #

    #60-61 – This is interesting, not because it will help me like The Doors, but the division between laughable-but-awesome and laughable-yet-not-awesome is a very hard one to nail down and good to think about. Obviously wrt The Doors my problem with “The End” isn’t the “Father/Mother” bit but the fact that aside from the intro it’s the only thing I can remember in the 13? 17? 20?? minutes of it. So in that sense it’s one of the best bits as well as being terrible. I really love the sensation of someone pushing through idiocy into greatness and the question of why the Doors’ DON’T have that effect for me is an intriguing one. (Maybe I will give them ONE MORE SPIN)

    Good point about the Doors as bubblegum – tho I’m pretty sure this element of them wasn’t what my contemporaries who liked them were picking up on. Also, even their bubblegummy stuff feels pretty lead-lined and weighty to me – they don’t seem particularly GOOD bubblegum.

    Swanstep’s post-Doors lineage is interesting too because – Siouxsie aside – it’s full of people I think I like a great deal less than most rock critics. Joy Division I respect more than enjoy. Echo And The Bunnymen are fine but I couldn’t tell you when I last played an LP by them. Nico, Radiohead, The Cure… I like individual tracks but my tolerance for them all is pretty low. So maybe there is a Morrison Taint at work!

  64. 64
    Billy Smart on 26 Jan 2011 #

    D’you like Julian Cope, Tom? Things like ‘Reynard The Fox’ owe quite a bit to Jim Morrison I think, but – crucially – with an element of playfulness and awareness of irony/humour that I can never detect in The Doors.

  65. 65
    Rory on 26 Jan 2011 #

    Funny how that single sleeve anticipates one of the iconic movie images of 1991:


    “I’ll be… Maurice.”

  66. 66
    wichita lineman on 26 Jan 2011 #

    The Lillian Roxon piece (which made me re-assess them, a little) suggests the Doors were an awesome underground LA act, with a ferocious first single Break On Through (imagine it as a one-shot group on Nuggets) that “defined their sound and image perfectly but got nowhere. The album, on the other hand, scored up the biggest local following any group had ever had.” The End “was straight out of In Cold Blood”, which I like as a contemporary map ref. With their next single Light My Fire “Morrison was lost to the underground forever… the underground drew back first in dismay, then in disgust” at their lame second album and teen mag appearances. The Doors were in it for the money, Morrison was nothing but a teeny idol. Then came the “big beautiful bust in New Haven” where Jimbo did his Lenny Bruce bit about police harrassment on stage (in front of teenyboppers I imagine), then the arrest for simulated wanking, another arrest in Miami for lewd behaviour on stage, and by 1969 “things are looking up for the Doors. One more bust and they’ll be back in favour with the underground.”

    Looking at NMEs from ’79/’80, the Doors are mentioned frequently, treated with exactly the same weight (an influence, untouchable canon) as the Velvet Underground. Being 14/15 at the time I “knew” they were very important but didn’t like LA Woman (played a lot in the sixth form common room) one bit. But I REALLY liked Joy Div, Echo/Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes. Always assumed Ian Curtis was doing a Jim Morrison impression.

  67. 67
    Tom on 26 Jan 2011 #

    #64 I was a HUGE Cope fan! Though with pronounced and inconsistent opinions on which of his records were actually any good – never had much time for Peggy Suicide, adored the (frankly quite similar) Jehovahkill. I remember being 18 and playing “Reynard” for some new friends in an introduce-each-other-to-music session. They really liked it but said, “this is prog”. As an upstanding NME reader I was duly horrified. Prog! But no! “Just listen to it, it could be Peter Gabriel”. An important scales-from-eyes moment for the young Tom.

    The Morrison connection wasn’t discused but it’s totally there.

  68. 68
    the pinefox on 26 Jan 2011 #

    I’ve never been involved in an introduce-each-other-to-music session. Certainly not when I was 18. I wish I had been.

  69. 69
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 26 Jan 2011 #

    I am still trying to get my head round the idea of you as a schoolboy, PF!

  70. 70
    LondonLee on 26 Jan 2011 #

    My sister was a big Steve Miller fan in between growing out of The Bay City Rollers and discovering The Clash so I knew both the ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ and ‘Book of Dreams’ albums really well (very good they are too) but neither of us liked this much. Maybe it was because we didn’t really understand what he was on about but even then I think we twigged it was all some old hippy joke. Seeing it become a hit over a decade later was a surprise but I still didn’t like it much.

  71. 71
    chelovek na lune on 26 Jan 2011 #

    Answering my own q at @39- the house version of “Fly Like An Eagle” was by Habit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKAc2NTz2iA
    It singly failed to set the charts alight, with one week on the top 100 at no 89 in April 1990.

    No-one else remember this? I still think it sounds good, and is a respectful cover of the song too!

  72. 72
    Ed on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 66: Good point about the Doors’ untouchable status in the Post-Punk Ages. That was when I got hooked. As you say, they were up there with the VU, and well ahead of now-cooler reference points like Love and the Stooges.

    Has any band ever suffered wilder swings in credibility than the Doors? From scene heroes, to pop sell-outs, to cult classics, to the pariahs they are today.

    And is there any less hip record in the world than a Fatboy Slim track feat. Jim Morrison?

    The fact that Britain’s opinion of the Doors has swung about so much suggests we don’t quite know what to make of them. Maybe there is something about them that doesn’t quite translate properly in the UK. Like the way that Americans loved Depeche Mode so much partly because they never saw ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ on TOTP, and had never heard of Basildon.

    Anyway, bands that allow multiple readings in that way are more interesting, aren’t they?

    Re 63: Other contenders for laughable-but-awesome: “I am Iron Maaan”; ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’; Nicki Minaj starting to feel like a dungeon dragon, ruh, ruh!

    Sorry to wander off the jeans commercial again…

  73. 73
    Elsa on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Speaking from the disadvantage of being an American, I think the Doors were good because they were good and not because the NME mentioned them a lot or because Echo & the Bunnymen liked them. I wonder if Jim Morrison was the first pop singer to turn his back to the audience. Perhaps that kind of confrontation was another innovation that seems “immediately clumsy and stupid as soon as it happens,” as Tom puts it, but other bands have been doing similar and derivative things ever since – so it was some kind of milestone. But beyond the theatrics, in my opinion the Doors had six albums of interesting, at least, sometimes great material that bolsters their status among the big ’60s bands. I’d say their output compares favorably to that of the Jefferson Airplane and very favorably to that of the Grateful Dead. Or to Love, who are responsible for one and a half to two albums worth of memorable material (does anyone disagree?). Sometimes I think the posthumous hype surrounding the Doors, from Rolling Stone magazine (“He’s hot, he’s sexy, he’s dead”) to the Oliver Stone film, hasn’t done the group any favors.

  74. 74
    enitharmon on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Ed @ 72

    What is this “Britain’s opinion of The Doors” of which you speak? I liked them at the time and I like them now, the content of their albums hasn’t changed any more than my view of them, and they hold up well after forty-odd years as far as I can see. Maybe some people change their opinion according to what they read in NME but those opinions that swing with the fashion hardly matter.

    It’s not compulsory to like them of course, any more than it’s compulsory to like Abba (another outfit whose star has risen and fallen and risen again over the years), but the fact that opinion is so divided surely makes them interesting. Does anybody love or hate the Steve Miller Band with such virulence?

  75. 75
    Mark M on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 72/73: I wrote a (not entirely successful) essay for my MA examining various theories of whether meaning lies with the author(s), the work of art or the audience in reference to the fact that I found Oliver Stone’s The Doors one of the funniest films I have ever seen (I was properly howling with laughter, to the probably reasonable annoyance of most of the other people in the Hyde Park Picture House that evening).

  76. 76
    the pinefox on 27 Jan 2011 #

    @69: this is a very comforting thought and encourages me as I start another day in the challenging world of adults.

  77. 77
    Mark G on 27 Jan 2011 #

    The Doors managed two hit singles and three hit albums in the UK before Jim left.

    None of which made top ten. (LA Woman only got to 28)

  78. 78
    Mark M on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 74: I think the significance of a changing critical consensus is not so much that existing listeners felt compelled to hide their albums at the back of the pile or haul them down to Record & Tape Exchange, as that the next batch of 15-year-olds trying to decide which supposedly seminal band they’ve heard OF but heard little BY to take a punt on would in 1985/6 have gone for (say) Marquee Moon or the third Velvets album over Strange Days (and about five of their friends would have taped it off them, spreading the word).

    Re 77 & others: The Doors always seemed vastly more popular in every other country I’ve spent time than in the UK. Morrison is second only to the inevitable Marley as a stencil on cars and scooters of the young(ish) all over Europe. They were huge in Mexico in the early ’80s on the back of the 1980 Greatest Hits and 1983’s Alive She Cried. And they were huge in Italy, where – as I’ve mentioned before – they take rock VERY VERY SERIOUSLY, and the idea that Jim Morrison was in any way funny would be considered truly bizarre (re 72, Italians also really like Depeche Mode, of course).

  79. 79
    chelovek na lune on 27 Jan 2011 #

    I remember a bit of graffiti in the lift in the tower block I lived in for a month in 1994, on what was then the final street in St Petersburg (the family I was staying with joked that they live in Finland). It read (in English) “DEPECHE MODE ARE GOOD”.

    Who can argue with that? They were very popular indeed in Russia – perhaps the similarities in living conditions (in cetain regards) and “civic ethos” (ditto) between the dystopia of Basildon (parts of which today frankly verge on resembling a shanty town) and the dystopia of high-rise Soviet suburbs goes some part of the way towards explaining this.

    That, and DM being really bloody good, of course.

  80. 80
    DietMondrian on 27 Jan 2011 #

    The RARURUAURURURR bit on The End was a necessary fudge to avoid the record being banned for obscenity, was it not? Risible though it is to modern ears.

  81. 81
    Elsa on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 78: The Doors actually performed in Mexico City in June 1969. They did several shows and these were considered the first ever rock concerts in Mexico. This engagement came amid student demonstrations and probably cemented the band with a reputation for being important in that country.

  82. 82
    Tom on 27 Jan 2011 #

    #78 on my (so far only) visit to an Amsterdam coffee shop I was awed and delighted to encounter a shirtless man with a full back tattoo of Jim Morrison’s head.

    #80 I think it’s (marginally) *more* effective for censoring the punchline!

  83. 83
    wichita lineman on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 79: An amateur architectural historian notes: Basildon was built on the site of various shanty towns – Laindon, Langdon Hills and Dunton Hills were all plotlands developments with no connection to the national grid or sewage systems, bulldozed postwar to make way for the new town. There’s a small but excellent museum in the one remaining plotlands house.

    Re D Mode (seeing as they won’t be bothering Popular) – I love the opening to Jeremy Deller’s doc on their fans in which he asks some Russians to describe how they imagine Basildon: “It has castles…”

  84. 84
    Tom on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Also, mention of N Minaj upthread (who I think is awesome but sometimes frustrating, as opposed to being particularly awesome-through-idiocy) made me imagine the Kanye album as a Doors record which feels right somehow.

  85. 85
    Ed on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 80, 82: I loved ‘The End’ for years in my teenage innocence without having any idea what he wanted to do to his mother. Get $5 off her so he could go to the shops? Have her find his missing shirt? Ask her if there was anything good on TV that evening?

    I agree it is much better if it is not explicit

  86. 86
    Ed on 27 Jan 2011 #

    82: OK, you said “marginally”… It is just me who thinks it is “much” better

  87. 87
    Tom on 27 Jan 2011 #

    I think if I had first heard it in innocence I would agree! But I heard it after learning about Freud so the set-up line “Father I want to kill you” kind of telegraphed it. :(

  88. 88

    It says the killers puts his boots on — but nothing more. Is he fully dressed in the non-censored version?
    And what happens in his brother’s and sister’s rooms? I glumly assume more of the same, but Oedipus didn’t have siblings (at least not before arriving in his mums room).

  89. 89
    lonepilgrim on 27 Jan 2011 #

    re 75: my experience of ‘The Doors’ movie will be forever associated with one of the other audience members becoming noisily confused over the separation between cinematic and actual reality – due, I suspect, to some over indulgence in various substances – and attempting to converse with ‘Jim’. He was eventually removed from the cinema by staff, just as ‘Jim’ was being dragged from the stage in the film, which seemed to reinforce his perceived relationship with his idol.

    ‘The End’ does get silly at..um..the end – but I remain fairly well disposed towards it because of its use in ‘Apocalypse Now’ where it’s mix of dread and bombast seems as appropriate as the ‘Ride of the Valkryies’ later in the movie.

  90. 90
    Tom on 27 Jan 2011 #

    It also works very well when it turns up in Osymyso’s “Intro-Inspection”

  91. 91
    Ed on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 87: Freud = anti-fun. He has some of the same effect on Sophocles, too.

    On the Doors as pop, and comedy: by far the most electrifying music I have ever seen on TV was Fun Boy Three performing ‘The End’ on, IIRC, The Tube, just as they were splitting up. They played it absolutely straight, with Annie Whitehead going wild on the trombone during the freak-out bits, and burned an American flag. At the end Terry Hall leaned in to the microphone and said: “Does anybody get the joke?”

    I was astounded by it at the time, and I still I am today.

    It’s on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIuAUJ2VyP4

    Sorry I can’t do the fancy linking

  92. 92
    Mark M on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 91: Blimey! Somewhat appropriately, Hall looks more like Julian Cope than himself there.

  93. 93
    Izzy on 27 Jan 2011 #

    That was pretty great, well done Fun Boy Three.

    I love The Doors, I think they deserve a much better critical legacy. What I hear is an excellent blend of pop tunes, interesting image and persona, ambition that mostly doesn’t go up-its-own-ass, unusual mellow singing and great playing especially some of the drumming. There’re recurring lyrical howlers of course, but not as many as you think, and no way do they stop something like ‘Riders On The Storm’ being perfect.

  94. 94
    Andy M on 28 Jan 2011 #


    The teenager awoke at mid-day,
    He walked into the back garden,
    Everything was peaceful except for the complaining note of a woodcrest dying in the leafy thickness.
    He walked up to the patio chair where his father sat,
    “Yes son?”
    “I want to borrow your golf clubs.”

  95. 95
    23 Daves on 28 Jan 2011 #

    @83 – This is the thing, I doubt anyone outside of Britain knows or cares what Basildon looks like. I spent my teenage years living in a town only three miles from the border of Bas, and knew people who lived near the houses of parents of members of the band. Apparently the odd tourist did drop by asking why there wasn’t a plaque to say where they were all born. They really didn’t seem to understand that nobody in Britain cared all that much about them (although the band did seem to have a much more pronounced popularity locally, as you’d expect).

    As for the town’s image, that’s something I’ve always found very peculiar about Britain – it was always perfectly acceptable for the media to sneer at working class southern towns, but God help them if they looked further north. Working class southerners outside of London = naff, whereas working class northerners = gritty and authentic. So Depeche Mode were seen as twee boys from Essex, whereas Joy Division/ New Order were somehow portrayed as good working class boys (despite the fact that Ian Curtis was a Tory voter from Macclesfield). Truly perplexing.

    Anyway, I’ve sometimes wondered if the similar environments of Basildon and Eastern Bloc and Russian towns did somehow filter through to the band’s music and make them popular in those countries, or if it had more to do with the band picking up on a lot of left-leaning politics early in their careers (“And Then” off “Construction Time Again” is a good example) and being influenced by a lot of German electronic and industrial music. Part of me would love to think it had something to do with psychogeography, but it seems rather unlikely.

  96. 96
    flahr on 29 Jan 2011 #

    Blimey. I must admit I wasn’t aware that Depeche Mode were unpopular/seen as a bit naff. Clearly “Just Can’t Get Enough” has travelled through time and addled my brain.

  97. 97
    Chelovek na lune on 29 Jan 2011 #

    @95 I suspect in large measure the different treatment meted out to places like Bas/Dagenham/Harlow/Jaywick compared with northern working class towns derives from a combination of a romanticisation of the north (largely from the scribes of the NME offices in London, etc, but with the propagandistic help of Tony Wilson et al) and the greater sense of history and tradition often linked with the principal industries of those places that was present (or, in many cases, present up until Thatcher) in those places (I guess the Manic Street Preachers played upon this in a Welsh context too).

    I think the naffness of Basildon (and anyone who doubts it is naff…well google for the video of the notorious and offensive number 66 single on the recent Christmas chart, filmed in the town’s main square and shopping center, “Use My Ars*h*l* As A C*nt” by K*nt and the Gang. Oh my, I now think, when I walk through that square where all those people were dancing and miming the actions associated with the words of that song. Oh dear.) is not so much its working-class-ness as its status as a “new town”; i.e. a place more or less devoid of history or tradition or “rootedness” beyond (now slightly more than) a couple of generations; and a place filled, still, with mostly hideously unattractive buildings (the glass bell-tower apart).

    Unlike northern industrial towns, there is no, or only a limited, proud industrial or labour history that can be idealised: the town was built, essentially, as suburbs for people effectively economically “cleansed” from the supposedly more real and authentic – or at any rate organic and historically validated – environments of London – and the process of making such a place a real home, town and community essentially had to start from scratch. And the fact that, like the Soviet suburbs, it didn’t, at least initially, grow organically, but by central dictat, arranged in discrete estates with streets with strange, unconventional names (Mellow Purgess is one that springs straight to my mind, or Ghyllgrove, Wickhay, or The Fremnells) also creates a peculiar atmosphere – seemingly detached from history. A brave new world indeed.

    Though I also suspect that the working class population of Essex are decidedly, on average, more right-wing than those elsewhere, is also a factor.

    I wonder if places like Bas will have attained some greater “credibility” in the eyes of the media by the time they have “matured” a little more, so they have had the chance to develop a more extensive history.

    (And to my mind any naffness or tweeness associated with early DM – which frankly the lyrics and twiddly tunes of some of their early singles like “See You” or “Meaning of Love” make a fair description – was well and truly shed by the time that they were releasing really killer singles like “Shake The Disease”, or the albums from “Black Celebration” onwards. Though I suspect some would say the naffness ended earlier. And I reckon the German/Berlin electronic music thing was of greater significance to their popularity in the Eastern Bloc than anything to do with politics. Though the psychogeography thesis is also an interesting one…

  98. 98
    Ed on 29 Jan 2011 #

    @94: Excellent!

    Freudians would have something to say about him wanting to “borrow” his father’s “golf clubs”, of course….

  99. 99
    Izzy on 29 Jan 2011 #

    Depeche Mode’s joke status (if they do indeed still have it) is as unfair as it gets. I think it’s down to them doing it almost entirely outside the music press’s orbit – the heinous double crime of acquiring an enormous unendorsed cult following, plus genuine megastar status in unfashionable places like Spain or Russia. Doesn’t reflect well on our music culture at all.

    Certainly their output in terms of both music and (sometimes grotesque) narrative since I really became aware of them circa 92 is up there with anyone imo. Sniggering at them while fawning over, say, Oasis or Radiohead and giving U2 a fair hearing really isn’t on.

  100. 100
    23 Daves on 29 Jan 2011 #

    @97 – Yes, unfortunately Essex is a more right-wing region of Britain than almost all northern areas, which probably has caused it to have a massive image problem over the years (although I’ve witnessed casual racism in small northern towns which would give the average Essex man or woman a run for his or her money). And in all honesty, if I liked the place that much I’d probably still live there… although I have an odd soft spot for Harlow which was born out of some well-meaning socialist ideals.

    As for Depeche Mode, I’d argue – perhaps controversially -that you can really hear signs of forward movement from the moment Vince Clarke left. I don’t have an issue with the man’s output generally, but a lot of “Speak and Spell” sounded naive to say the least, whereas “A Broken Frame” is a disjointed album, but rubbing up against the likes of “See You” (a likable pop song) and “Meaning of Love” (a bit of an embarrassing adolescent pop song) are atmospheric pieces like “Satellite”, “The Sun and the Rainfall” and “My Secret Garden”. In those, you can actually hear the “Black Celebration” era soundscapes developing already, and an eerie form of electronica which wasn’t a hundred miles away from OMD’s recently reappraised “Dazzle Ships”. Then “Construction Time Again”, another admittedly uneven album, introduced sampled and found sounds, and the template was pretty much in place, although “BC” was the first consistent album to successfully utilise everything they’d absorbed.

    For the first four albums, I think Depeche Mode’s age counted against them. They did write a lot of appallingly clunky lyrics which were supposed to have been profound or politically astute – something I’m sure some of us here did in private or to a very select public during our teens and early twenties – and they do sometimes detract from the songs. “Blasphemous Rumours”, for example, does sound even sillier to me than the worst of the Doors’ excesses. It took them awhile to learn the benefits of subtlety.

    As you can probably tell, I find it deeply irritating that we’re not able to discuss any of their tracks on here, because they’ve never had a number one in this country and I now highly doubt they ever will do. It’s a bit of an injustice.

  101. 101
    heather on 29 Jan 2011 #

    This is harmless enough as old-trouser songs go. I don’t like the wolf-whistle, but I like the bassline, so it evens out. A score of 5 seems about right. I’d consider 6 if the advert had been one of the better ones. (I think my favourite trouser-song-advert is one that didn’t chart very highly and had a very atonal techno song underlying a story about condoms and the littlest pocket).

    And the Steve Miller Band have been in people’s consciousness again in the last year for the oddest reason – jokes about how they were entering the Labour leadership race.

  102. 102
    Tom on 29 Jan 2011 #

    Re. Depeche – IMO they only BECAME naff around “Songs Of Faith And Devotion”, before that they were unjustly maligned, as everyone here is saying. “Black Celebration” is their best album, with vaguely diminishing returns either side of that (Violator not all that much cop beyond Enjoy The Silence, which would have been a terrific #1).

    But the Dave Gahan: Rock Star phase was excruciating.

    They may have improved since, I think I’ve only heard one of their singles in the last 10 years, and maybe a remix or two.

    EDIT: Shocked actually that they’ve never even gone Top 3!

  103. 103
    Tom on 29 Jan 2011 #

    I remember getting the Singles 81-85 album (with their faces on the cover, not a neon sign) in 87 or so and being really impressed that they’d printed all their reviews, good and bad, in the sleeves. I suspect it was meant to be a “we don’t care about the critics” move but I thought it was very candid and interesting.

  104. 104
    thefatgit on 30 Jan 2011 #

    I think it upset a lot of people in the music press, that Depeche Mode broke the USA in a way that The Clash never could. Although their success over there was short-lived, it must have riled some that UK rock/pop was being repped Stateside by Daniel Miller’s pet teenpop project.

  105. 105
    swanstep on 30 Jan 2011 #

    Dave Gahan’s solo single, Kingdom, from a couple of years back was pretty solid. It’s quite Violator-ish. I like Violator more than Tom does it seems, with great opening and closing tracks and Policy of Truth as my highlights. (I’m less enthusiastic about Enjoy the Silence than most people are – too much of a New Order knock-off to my ears.) Someone above mentioned an early DM song, The Sun and the Rainfall: its lovely long fade out ending is v. similar to the last 20 bars or so of Wonderwall. Probably Oasis arrived at it independently (the perils of living too long – e.g. 2, the intro to Eminem’s Lose Yourself always just sounds to me like warmed over Cure, 10.15 on a saturday night).

  106. 106
    Rory on 30 Jan 2011 #

    I feel like a Bateman cartoon: “The Man Who Liked Songs of Faith & Devotion.” Possibly because it’s the only DM album I own, and I have no other context apart from dim memories of “Just Can’t Get Enough”.

  107. 107
    wichita lineman on 31 Jan 2011 #

    Ice Machine, on the flip of Dreaming Of Me, is possibly my favourite Vince Clarke song, with an unusually elliptical lyric, minor OMD-ish chords and some nice harmonies.

    After Clarkey left I struggled with their heavier direction, enjoying the odd single, and Violator quite a lot. But their move into R+O+C+K rather than techno/electronica in the early 90s was where I said goodbye for good.

    Having said THAT, I’ve just been offered a run of all their 7″s in mint condition. Should I be tempted?

  108. 108
    Conrad on 31 Jan 2011 #

    My favourite Depeche Mode period is 81-82. I love See You and Meaning of Love, and the early Vince Clarke tracks. Bubblegum synth pop at its finest.

  109. 109
    23 Daves on 31 Jan 2011 #

    @ 107 – you’ve just been offered a run of their mint 7″ singles for free?! Take for God’s sake, take take! I probably bid too much on ebay for just five of them last year (and not in mint condition, either).

    Their run of singles from 1981-1989 is pretty much without fault (“Meaning of Love” is the only slightly clunky effort to my ears). After that, there are definitely diminishing returns and the misfires become more frequent, but it’s a set worth owning. And if you don’t want it, somebody on ebay will probably bid handsomely for it.

    Still, most Depeche B-sides tend to be a bit ropey, but you can’t have everything.

  110. 110
    swanstep on 31 Jan 2011 #

    @wichita. Yeah, Ice machine (on youtube in lots of places e.g. here if anyone’s interested) is fun. To me now it sounds quite a lot like stuff from Muse’s second album, Origin of Symmetry (except for not having massed guitars gallumphing in about the 3 minute mark of course!). Now I think about it, there’s definitely a bit of DM’s dna in Muse overall (somewhat similar regional uncoolness to begin with I gather, and there’s something about them both that makes it easy to keep one’s distance so that *they* always have to win you over afresh, which they often manage to do, and surprisingly DM’s live rep. although not at Muse’s levels has always been very good).

  111. 111
    hardtogethits on 31 Jan 2011 #

    re # 36’s point over the closeness of the sales, and the general discontent with the charts tie breaker. It would be a reasonable conclusion that neither record sold significantly higher than the other. However, there were rules there to determine how the winner would be decided, and the rules were applied. This happens all the time in sport, and all manner of other competitions and contests. I think we are stopping ourselves from having fun if we suggest that there is no meaning to be extracted from close-run chart contests of the past.

  112. 112
    Chelovek na lune on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Hmm, I like “…Faith and Devotion” too; not their best album by any means, but some very fine songs on it.

    (I don’t think “Black Celebration” is the very best either – more the first one that threw off the kind of self-consciousness “seriousness” that had made some really embarassing lyrics in the transitional phase before that). My battle for number one DM album would be fought out between Music For The Masses and the penultimate one up to now (the name of which I forget, but it has “Lilian”, and “John the Liberator” on, that one)

    But what went wrong after that (mostly) wasn’t the music (for all that Ultra is a patchy and unsatisfactory album); it was the image/lifestyle/drugs/taking themselves too seriously in the media (as opposed to in their lyric-writing, as in 1984/5) thing. Yes there were hits and misses, but, for all that general public interest died, DM continued to deliver the goods – I think there is even a case to be made that their output during the 2000s (if not the 1990s) is better than that of the 1980s. Ah, if only that were true of the Pet Shop Boys…

    ANyway I’m glad we’re discussing the Mode here. (Who would rule out a posthumous/post-final split number 1 tied in to some advertising campaign or unanticpated revival/remake though? Not I) Much more worthy of discussion than the Steve Miller Band

  113. 113
    Mark G on 1 Feb 2011 #

    “Meaning of Love” is very dancey.

  114. 114
    DanielW on 3 Feb 2011 #

    “Abracadabra” was a brilliant single, whilst this is merely average. Would’ve much preferred the former to have been re-released than the latter.

  115. 115
    lonepilgrim on 15 Feb 2011 #

    A couple of things have occurred to me regarding this entry.

    First, prompted by
    a) discussion of Joni Mitchell on the Unchained Melody thread
    b) Billy Smart’s review of Steely Dan’s ‘Haitian Divorce’ over at his blog
    c) the recent repeat of the BBC Fleetwood Mac documentary
    is how relatively little impact the US West Coast acts had on the UK single charts. This may have been that they were largely album acts who weren’t able to appear on TOTP but I’m surprised that The Eagles for one didn’t have more single success.

    Secondly, I’m curious to know to what extent Quentin Tarantino altered the perception and use of older recordings a couple of years after this. I can imagine this tune being used instead of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ for example and wonder how much that would change its reputation.

  116. 116
    Mark G on 15 Feb 2011 #

    Well, the Eagles and FMac did alright, but for a while that kind of “rock” was inescapable thanks to Commercial Radio preferring to play that rather than the UK / new wave.

    Then again, why buy “Hotel California” if you know you can hear it within 16 minutes of turning the radio on?

  117. 118
    DV on 29 Nov 2011 #

    sorry if this has already been mentioned, but my recollection is that Mr Abusing really nailed this one.

  118. 119
    lonepilgrim on 8 Dec 2011 #

    Putting Steve Miller in his place:


  119. 120
    Mark G on 8 Dec 2011 #

    Nobody ever smoked, toked, picked and grinned? Apart from Stevie?

  120. 121
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 8 Dec 2011 #


  121. 122
    malmo58 on 13 Jan 2012 #

    As a student in 1990 I just enjoyed this as a fun party tune. A year later I won a karaoke competition in the students’ union bar singing this – never saw hide or hair of the promised £25 prize though.

  122. 123
    Chelovek na lune on 12 Jan 2013 #

    Some interesting (and, to me, at least, new) suggestions about the source of some of the lyrics of this number – including the Pompatus of Love


    and “Another line from “The Joker” goes “I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree. / Lovey dovey, lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time.” A similar line may be found in the Clovers’ 1953 hit “Lovey Dovey”: “I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree / Lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time.”


  123. 124
    Patrick Mexico on 19 Feb 2014 #

    Groove is in the Heart was undoubtedly brilliant but I can see why that drove some people up the wall, what with the Trunchbull-esque intro of “We’re going to dance / and have some fun” – and that video with its naff psychedelic horseshit that was Austin Powers at best and at worst, a fucking Skips advert.

    Maybe that’s just because I see the sixties revivalism of the 80s arse-end – everybody from Tiffany to the Stone Roses – as some kind of faux-innocent time compared to the current brutal materialism – as the predecessor to the (mostly Eurodance and hip-hop based, plus the least interesting Britpop) nineties’ current vice-like grip – i.e. “Hey! I know all the words to the Fresh Prince theme even though I was born in 2000!” Amusing for someone born in 1985.

    I’d be interested to know if any people here who were old enough in 87-91 were extremely cynical about acid house and rave culture, despite all the documentaries making me think it was an all-conquering religion that saved everyone from those Horrible Mean Nasty Gordon Gekko Eighties. I’ve heard Mark E Smith say “[Salford brickies trying to hug me].. preferred it when they used to threaten me… [Ecstasy is] State Control: Brave New World”, Alan McGee say “well, you’re saying “maaan”, which for someone who was a teenage punk rocker was [uncomfortable]” and an over-discussed Welsh Bunny act sing “Everybody’s taking drugs because it makes governing easier” but not much more. Any good first-hand anecdotes?

  124. 125
    hectorthebat on 18 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Ultimate Classic Rock (USA) – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs (2013) 58
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 730
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 3
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 10

  125. 126
    Girl with Curious Hair on 29 Mar 2016 #

    Oh man, I’d never heard that story about GIITH being denied top spot before. If I ever get hold of a time machine, going back to 1990 and buying 9 extra copies is going on my list of things to do, right after assassinating Hitler and buying myself a copy of Grey’s Sports Almanac.

    As for The Joker, it’s okay as 70s throwbacks go. I’d never play it for myself but I can’t really say I dislike it either. It seems like a sort-of strange thing to have a strong opinion about either way, like parsley or Ealing.

  126. 127
    Pink champale on 30 Mar 2016 #

    Wow, this is a great thread. Not just the expected Dee Lite diversion, but also Teenage Fanclub; why the Doors are or not laughable and Depeche Mode are or are not naff; whether Basildon has castles; and the drug habits of 1990 sixth formers in South London. What more could you want?

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