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Feb 14

WHITE TOWN – “Your Woman”

Popular120 comments • 8,009 views

#757, 25th January 1997

yrwoman In 1997, talking about music on the Internet means USENET, a Gormenghast of diverging and reconnecting fora whose goblin tribes gleefully rampage through each other’s chosen lairs: a thread will start on alt.music.prodigy, then careen into alt.music.spice-girls via alt.music.misc, while Discordians and trolls plot to spread it still further. Still, there are hierarchies in this cheerful froth of just-unleashed opinion – top level domains rarely bump uglies. Rec.music.misc keeps a snooty distance from the alt.music rabble, and despite sharing a suffix, alt.music.alternative and uk.music.alternative only occasionally meet. The former talks about Mercury Rev, Pavement, and Spiritualized, but seems increasingly fond of chart pop, a tendency I do my best to foster once it becomes my late-night home. The latter has divergent interests: I glance at it now and then but the closest it gets to the fields I know is Stereolab. Urusei Yatsura, Long Fin Killie, The Yummy Fur, some bunch of Scots named after a kids’ TV show… these are what uk.music.alternative goes for. It is almost my kind of place: I keep it as a subscribed group on my newsreader but let the messages pile up unwanted.

UKMA was one answer to a difficult question: what happens to British independent music after Britpop? The music press were struggling with it. Britpop had finally given NME bands, Select Bands, Evening Session bands some proper stardom, but this meant the waves coming through were groups who wanted to be rock stars, and sounded like it too. As American alternative music had discovered a few years before, success can be toxic.

A reaction against Britpop was natural – raggedy, difficult, geeky bands with proud local followings and an ambivalence about fame on any terms but theirs. The fame question was not completely moot: the music press, trying to reconnect with an audience it had dumped for Britpop, would occasionally announce that Tiger, or someone, were the Next Big Thing. One affable and confused centre-spread later and they’d be banished again.

But, as it turned out, there was something to all this desperate panning for gold. Independent music had useful friends at Radio 1, and at the start of a year, with a restless audience hot for novelty, who knows what might happen? One-hit wonders have to come from somewhere – why not from down in the indie grassroots?

What I would never have expected is that a novelty hit – and for all that it’s a sly and marvellous pop song, “Your Woman” is a novelty hit – would have come not from a band liked by uk.music.alternative, but from ukma itself. Jyoti Mishra, AKA White Town, AKA a prominent ukma regular.

Being a novelty hit doesn’t mean being a joke, or a prank. Unlike some one-offs which seem to mock the chart they’re on, once “Your Woman” became a hit it sounded naturally like one. There was even a fairly recent precedent. From across an Our Price counter, the soundscape of White Town’s hit – breathy, slightly enervated vocals; haunted, static-wreathed samples of old-world tunes – wasn’t too far off Scouse second-wave Britpoppers Space. Except where Tommy from Space capered around his songs acting the goat, Mishra burrows into the heart of “Your Woman” and destabilises its apparent jauntiness. His lyrics are built to make a basic question – who is singing what to whom? – deliberately obtuse. The contempt in his voice – and its angry momentum – is rather less mistakable. The situation is hard to read: the hurt easy. Another comparison point – bubbling up from the programming of “Your Woman” – is Soft Cell: rough technology rubbing up against unhealthy, captivating venom.

The see-sawing Al Bowlly sample that animates “Your Woman” is at once its biggest earworm – the reason we get to cover it at all – and something that never quite fits itself to the rest of the song. Instead it frames Mishra’s singing, and the wrath of his narrator, as something quaint themselves – it feels like the whole record is coming from some forgotten side-past of pop, where Noel Coward wrote songs about doomed Marxist love affairs.

“Forgotten side-past” is a good, sad epitaph for much of USENET itself, long fallen into disrepair, maintained somewhere on Google’s vast servers as a hard-to-navigate footnote. I think of “Your Woman” as the first “Internet” number one, when in fact it’s nothing of the kind. The direct audience-building tactics that can give someone like Alex Day a Top 10 hit via YouTube were years off. “Your Woman” built its audience the same way one-offs had for decades – patronage by a Radio 1 DJ who made it a cause (in this case the Mark and Lard team, just before their stint on the Breakfast Show, which will soundtrack much of this strangest of chart years). Jyoti Mishra’s residency on uk.music.alternative was, essentially, coincidence, however much my own bedroom-bound memories of 1997 protest otherwise, and however much this record matches those memories. But it matters on some level all the same – as he himself said, in one of the very rare interviews this site has run, “for that brief period, the spirit of ukma was at number one”.

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Comments

  1. 1
    admin on 5 Feb 2014 #

    (Why on earth doesn’t that interview doesn’t come up in related posts. grr)

  2. 2
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Related posts is a fickle jade. “Your Woman”‘s appearance in the Top 100 Records Of ALL TIIIIIIME also doesn’t appear.

  3. 3
    @PhasersClub on 5 Feb 2014 #

    One for @edwardiansnow

    “@tomewing: When USENET got to No.1 http://t.co/gGmRmmJ5Ez – Popular entry.”

  4. 4
    admin on 5 Feb 2014 #

    wonder if there’s a way to get it to key on unusual words (jyoti would link them all undoubtedly)

    edit: i’ve found a setting that was limiting the linked articles to within less than a year and cut that loose, so now the top100 is linked, but not the interview still :-(

  5. 5
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    BTW – to continue this excellent admin-based comments thread – the lack of header pic is I believe intentional, reflecting the vaguely cryptic non-marketing of White Town at the time.

  6. 6
    TriffidFarm on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I particularly liked White Town for the anonymity of Jyoti Mishra, which I initially presumed to be psuedish, and then became a kind of usurping move – he was a geek, and probably would have been rejected as the wrong kind of geek had his identity been known.

    Instead this slight-of-hand wrong-footed plenty of people, and upon revealing who he was – was it a Saturday morning show? That’s what I remember – my feeling was that there was a sense of embarrassment amongst pop deciders: that all of these techno emblems were not abstracted icons for t-shirts etc, but were there because this was the universe that this Star Trek fan inhabited.

    This felt like a victory to me, and is pretty much why I bought it. That, and it has a pretty tune.

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I love this! It’s catchy, mysterious and quirky. There’s something almost nursery-rhyme like about the melody which appeals to me – Reading about it’s lineage on wiki I see that the Al Bowlly version of ‘Your Woman’ which it samples was featured on the Pennies from Heaven soundtrack. I’d been fairly obsessed by the TV series as a teenager and had the soundtrack on cassette so the tune must have lodged in my brain somewhere.

  8. 8
    katherine morayati (@morayati) on 5 Feb 2014 #

    fascinating bit on Usenet, White Town and one of the earlier “Internet hits,” by @tomewing: http://t.co/cpfm8ShzDA

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 5 Feb 2014 #

    It all begins in a bedroom doesn’t it? The same could be said for any of the artists featured on Popular so far. I’ll wager a young Diana Ross practised with a hairbrush in front of her bedroom mirror, or a young John Lennon glancing from Bert Weedon’s book to the neck of his acoustic guitar, making sure his fingers were forming the right chords. Or a nerdy-looking lad tapping away on the keyboard of his computer, getting to grips with some nifty music-making software. And “Your Woman” was quite the head-turner, when it cropped up on the radio. A killer hook and a pre-rock sample. Nothing like “Doop” and nothing like anything else, really. Well, slightly reminiscent of The Divine Comedy, but grittier and much less raised-eyebrow-sideways-glance than Neil Hannon and all the more refreshing for it. The gender-ambiguity just enhanced “Your Woman’s” appeal, as well as not really knowing who this artist was, slap-bang in the middle of the 90s, when image was everything.

    To this day I have no idea what Jyoti Mishra looks like, or have any clue if there was an album. Here and gone in a matter of a few weeks. But that didn’t matter either. Jyoti emerged from a bedroom, claimed a #1 single and slunk back there, succeeding where armies of potential bedroom superstars had failed.

  10. 10
    Mark M on 5 Feb 2014 #

    So a couple of quick thoughts: White Town is (possibly inevitably) the only act that will trouble Popular who I have seen play in the top room of a pub.

    Secondly, I had no idea about the source of the sample until about three weeks ago, when (because she had recently died) I was watching a bunch of Joan Fontaine movies. One of which was A Damsel In Distress, in which her hapless but musical suitor is played by Ray Noble, who I didn’t know then but know now wrote most of Al Bowlly’s hits (although not My Woman, where the sample comes from).

    Bowlly was an interesting character, too, probably Britain’s biggest male singing star of the 1930s, he was Greek/Lebanese born in Mozambique, one of those facts – like the career of Edmundo Ros – that reminds us that London was never monocultural.

  11. 11
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    This gets a 2nd-life in the 2010 cover (it got to #8) which was effectively the debut for a later chart-topping act.

  12. 12
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    @8 There’s a couple of grainy glimpses of him in the video

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Fabulous record, natural, apparently singalong pop but that doesn’t quite reveal itself fully, makes play with references all over the place, looking way, decades, back and well outside the 1997 mainstream. , And a lyric mentioning ‘your highbrow Marxist ways’, too…

    In terms of overall feel, the record I know that this most closely resembles is probably Bongwater’s early 90s album ‘The Power of Pussy’: part pop, part character-play, part nerd, combining off-beat intelligence and melody, and astutely-chosen samples. No chance ever of that getting anywhere near no 1: that this did so is a rare treat.

  14. 14
    Mark M on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Re12: Not a comparison I’d ever made, but one to ponder. (Ah, Bongwater – ‘They have Nick Cave dolls now? I want one!’)

  15. 15
    wichitalineman on 5 Feb 2014 #

    This confused me more than possibly any Popular entry up to this point.

    Your Woman (wasn’t the single given an EP name to add to the air of strangeness?) felt closer to the early 80s DIY electropop scene than anything, the singles put out by acts like Thomas Leer (Private Plane) or Blancmange (Irene And Mavis) before they got a deal – if it reminds me of Soft Cell, then, it’s of Mutant Moments rather than Bedsitter.

    As with previous radio-play Popular entries (Theme from MASH), I’m confused as to why THIS one stuck, and not the Icicle Works’ Hollow Horse (a Mike Read favourite) or Willie Nelson’s City Of New Orleans (Wogan), or dozens of others.

    The Al Bowlly sample always sounded to me like the Darth Vader theme played on a weedy gramophone, which meant it sounded silly, and that was something I couldn’t shake out of my head whenever I heard it.

    So this was the equivalent of Another Sunny Day or the Versatile Newts (not even Felt!) getting to number one. That element of White Town’s success made me happy, but… the vocal is so weak and uninvolved*, the artwork pug-ugly, the “obtuse” gender-play of the lyric pitiful when lined up against If I Was Your Girlfriend or Boys Keep Swinging.

    (Nice to see Tiger get a mention! I was defending them against a “history’s worst band” call just the other day)

    *though I like the idea of a “forgotten side-past of pop”, I think this has more to do with Jyoti Mishra’s primitive bedroom recording equipment (inability to sing out without distorting the vocal, or waking his parents) than a desire to sound Coward-like.

  16. 16
    Ed on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Like Wichita, I don’t really love this one, but I do love the idea of it.

    The fact that a record this defiantly odd could get to be a UK number one single is what makes the charts – our charts – so appealing.

  17. 17
    mapman132 on 5 Feb 2014 #

    TEN! My first official one on this board since “Stay” five years prior and probably my last of the 90′s unless there’s a hidden treasure I don’t know about (I would have given a 10 to a #2 hit from later in ’97 – I’ll mention it when we get there).

    As usual for me, it’s hard to say exactly why I like this record so much. The quaint sounding sample combined with the modern electronica and distorted vocals was pretty much irresistible to me. The lyrical conundrum is rather amusing: Is he a gay man singing to a straight? A straight man singing to a lesbian? Is there a political interpretation? Am I reading into it too much? Does it really matter?

    Loved the video too, especially the adorkably cute protagonist (the “k” is not a typo – look it up if you need a definition).

    I hadn’t known there was a Usenet connection, although it doesn’t surprise me. The Abort Retry Fail reference was a clear geek giveaway in the 90′s. Unfortunately White Town proved to be a one-hit wonder in pretty much the strongest sense of the term. I remember listening to either Abort Retry Fail or Women In Technology in a record store back in 1997 and being unexpectedly underwhelmed. Oh well.

    I was secretly hoping this would be Tom’s next 10, but I’m glad it at least got a 7. For the record, “Your Woman” reached #23 on the Hot 100, not bad for a record of this type at the time.

    In case it wasn’t already clear, 10/10 from me :)

  18. 18
    Billy Hicks on 5 Feb 2014 #

    1997 began as 1992 should have done. While five years earlier two of the best tracks of the era, KLF’s ‘Justified & Ancient’ and The Prodigy’s ‘Everybody In The Place’ had both frustratingly fell short at #2, here we have two of the best tracks of early ’97 hit the top.

    Had certain others followed in its wake – Sash’s ‘Encore Une Fois’, DJ Quicksilver’s ‘Bellissima’, Blueboy’s ‘Remember Me’, James’s ‘She’s A Star’ and the best ever version of The Source’s ‘You Got The Love’ amongst others, we’d be in the midst of the greatest run of #1s since that glorious spring and summer of 1990. Sadly after the next one it’s much more hit and miss and continues as so for the rest of the year.

    This one at least is a well deserved 8. Amongst all the boybands and a certain girlband around (and we hadn’t even seen the start of this yet) defining the start of late 1990s pop, this sounds wonderfully refreshingly different. I have the EP and Jyoti even puts his personal website and email address on the backside of the cover, surely a Popular first?

  19. 19
    taDOW on 5 Feb 2014 #

    80s nostalgia began in america before the 80s were even over w/ mtv bringing martha quinn back to host a heymanrememberthe80s show in 1989. “80s hour” became a common radio phenomenon (esp on altrock radio which was able to trot out a bloc of new wave classics as a method of demonstrating hipness while not straying from the familiar) and by the late 90s “all 80s” stations had started to emerge (the format never really took off but provided enough competition that oldies stations began to leave the 60s largely behind and incorporate more 80s and it largely provided the template for the ‘variety hits’ format of recent years). the 80s had come to assume the central reference point that the 60s had held for so long (the 70s moment in the nostalgia spotlight generally limited to dazed and confused and pulp fiction soundtracks). when depeche mode had their demi-comeback in 1997 “the 80s” was part of the narrative, despite depeche mode having had their greatest success during the early 90s (stateside at least) – they were synthpop + synthpop was “80s” -> they were “80s”. it was inevitable that some “80s” song would emerge to capture and it was a miracle that well before electroclash and alphabeat that hit would be “your woman”, a song that played w/ “80s” but managed so much more. esp rare for a song that trades in nostalgia it’s strengthened by the wisdom and experience its audience has acquired since the era under focus, the distance in time proves to be an advantage instead of an uncanny valley the artist must somehow cross or hope the listener doesn’t notice. in america the 80s were a period of virulent homophobia culturally and politically and yet in the music an era of profound queerness and androgyny. gay culture had been sufficiently underground to this point that the mainstream’s gaydar was nonexistent nevermind finely calibrated and so there could be actual debate about whether boy george was gay and the queerness of a pet shop boys could pass by largely unnoticed and unremarked upon by the larger culture. it was an era of non-gender specific pronouns and subjects in songs. by the late 90s the culture had shifted considerably – a president that made token gestures toward the lgbt community (if not much in terms of policy) could be reelected president (albeit w/ the triangulation of doma – america still had a ways to go) , you could have an out gay female character as the protagonist of a sitcom (albeit briefly), and the ‘gay best friend’ had become a cliche in romcoms (albeit by remaining celibate as far the plots were concerned). in this context “your woman” was like encountering a friend at a high school reunion who had come out during college and you could be happy for their journey and maybe congratulate yourself for having “always known”. nostalgia waves can have something specific to say about the cultural environment – the ’50s’ nostalgia of the 70s reflected a kind of reactionary conservatism that would eventually seize power at the end of the decade, the bonnie and clyde “30s” nostalgia of the late 60s probably does a better job of demonstrating radical chic than tom wolfe managed – but it’s rare that what it has to say is positive, it’s rare that the message of a nostalgia novelty hit is “things changed. for the better.” 8.

  20. 20

    This is the greatest article about White Town’s “Your Woman” and USENET you will ever read. #alt.pop.hyperbole http://t.co/mmpmVC8BjF

  21. 21
    swanstep on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Strange how the pop charts work: this track can ride its nice sample to the top whereas other broadly appealing, sample-heavy oddities, e.g., ‘Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand’, barely scrape into the UK Top 75. Maybe it’s the ghost of ‘West End Girls’ that I detect somewhere in YW’s sound palette that makes the difference, that explains why this hit the spot. YW also reminds me, in some strange subterranean way, of Mayfield’s ‘Give Me Your Love’ (from the Superfly s/track). Anyhow, points off for the strictly amateur-hour synth piano and drum track, but there’s still enough good here for a:
    6

  22. 22
    @biondino on 5 Feb 2014 #

    The most People Like Us no. 1 ever? RT @tomewing: When USENET got to No.1 http://t.co/H6OUU9dCVJ – Popular entry.

  23. 23
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #18 – if it’s the same website as on the interview, I’m even more impressed that it still works (and is being updated regularly by the artist – there can’t be too many of those bothering the top of the charts).

  24. 24
    Mark M on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Re15: That hint of the Darth Vader theme probably didn’t hurt – it was around this time, the 20th anniversary year, that it became clear how big Star Wars would remain. The generation for whom it had been the monster event of their childhood were (mostly) emerging from the early ’90s slump into grown-up jobs and had (pre-kids) disposable income; and in some cases were arriving into influential media jobs…

  25. 25
    Steve Williams on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I remember Select reviewing the follow-up to this single with the line “Remember the name of this song so in three years’ time you can get a point when your pub quiz asks ‘What was the name of the follow-up to Your Woman that got to number 37?’”. Didn’t even get that far, though.

    This record got quite a lot of Radio 1 exposure. Mark and Lard championed it first of course, but did so during one of their stints on the breakfast show while standing in for Evans – the week before Evans quit in fact. It was then taken up by Simon Mayo who played it loads and indeed the week this was number one coincides with the week Mayo was parachuted back onto the breakfast show to fill in for a month.

    It’s only after reading the review I noticed its similarity to Space, in fact the middle eight of the following year’s Avenging Angels sounds virtually the same. Always had a bit of a soft spot for Space though it’s probably right to say Tommy Scott’s vocals – and lyrics – were always a bit of an acquired taste.

  26. 26
    Weej on 5 Feb 2014 #

    “Stereolab. Urusei Yatsura, Long Fin Killie, The Yummy Fur, some bunch of Scots named after a kids’ TV show…” – aside from Long Fin Killie (who I believe I’ve never even heard) this is a pretty accurate list of my listening in 1996/1997. I wasn’t on usenet, though – didn’t even have an internet connection until 1998, by which point things had moved on to mailing lists, and while I did manage to join in at that point (at least one FT person might remember me making an arse of myself) these bands remind me of an earlier time – Mark & Lard / John Peel / fanzines – much more than UKMA.

    The story of Your Woman as I experienced it was like this: Mark & Lard’s graveyard shift was essential listening throughout 1995 and 1996 – aside from the comedy (just ok by my reckoning, others were huge fans), the live sessions (too many favourites to list here), the poetry (!) and the general air of friendly discovery, they seemed to hit that magic sweet-spot of always introducing new, interesting music, picking a new favourite song every few weeks and playing it every night until everyone heard what they heard. My favourite of these was Belle & Sebastian’s ‘The State I Am In’ – didn’t get it on first listen, but can’t imagine a world without it now. NB: this approach didn’t work AT ALL when they made Teen Anthems’ “I Hate Oasis (And I Hate The Beatles)” their single of the week on the breakfast show (why did they think that would be a good idea?).

    Your Woman seemed to be played on every M&L show from mid-November ’96 onwards, and once again I went from disinterest to (this time mild) enthusiasm. This time the other DJs started playing it, and by January it had moved onto the Radio 1 ‘A’ playlist. My astonishment was complete when I saw the video at #1 on The Chart Show as (a) there was a video? and (b) it was at number one!?!? It remains, as it was, a nice enough indie-electronica track with a cleverly used sample and a pleasantly strange rumbling synth bassline. The vocals are slight, the lyrics willfully ambiguous (I remember Jyoti saying “I think it’s very clear what it’s about” when asked by Radcliffe, utterly deadpan) but I’m willing to overlook its flaws as it represents something I felt part of becoming at least briefly successful, and that’s rare enough.

    A couple of other points. First it’s true that this did look like an EP, though the varying tracklisting and lack of attention to the other tracks means that there’s no real need to include them here. For the record, though, ‘Give Me Some Pain’ is an Associates-style stripped-down electro ballad, and quite good for it, ‘Theme For A Mid-Afternoon Game Show’ sounds like a Denim b-side, and ‘Theme For A Late-Night Documentary About The Dangers Of Drug Abuse’ sounds exactly how you’d imagine it to sound.

    Also, as Jon Savage pointed out in an article about Britpop (can’t find it, sorry), this is the second of a trilogy of British Asian indie #1 singles at the starts of ’96, ’97 and ’98 – if I recall correctly he suggested that the interest of the music press in creating scenes / buzz seemed to be limited to groups that were ‘four white blokes with guitars’ and that this was fairly telling about the what was included and excluded from Britpop. TBH I’m not 100% in agreement with this idea (and may have oversold it) – there were black and Asian members of The Boo Radleys, Black Grape, Echobelly and even Ocean Colour Scene – but I think he does have a point of sorts.

  27. 27
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Also as someone on the (still largely silent) internet at this point, interested in music but still in the island to the left, this was all very confusing – this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve heard it ever, and I remember the first time sitting down to intentionally hear it, assuming that it’d be something that I’d heard in passing but never twigged what it was – nope, nothing.

  28. 28
    wichitalineman on 5 Feb 2014 #

    The indier-than-thou local scene stuff of the mid/late 90s didn’t really strike me until I was introduced to Slamt in 1996, a north-east label that had already released what seemed like dozens of singles that were completely off my radar. They had a tie-up with some Scottish bands/labels but that seemed to be as far as their network, or their ambition, extended.

    I’m intrigued to know how YW ended up distributed by Chrysalis and whether there were any repercussions in the fierce indie world for Jyoti.

    Re the USENET stuff: We had an office funded by EMI when this came out and didn’t even have email – just an EMI intranet thing (which enabled me to ‘legally’ get CDRs of unreleased Bobbie Gentry and Billy Fury recordings in the EMI vaults). I didn’t have an email address for another year at least, and didn’t buy anything (a record, of course) from the internet until 1999.

  29. 29
    flahr on 5 Feb 2014 #

    It’s actually Popular which brought me to the >Abort, Retry, Fail?_ EP – or, rather, it was via Popular I found out about ChartStats (as it was then) and browsed their list of number one singles looking for something to listen to. And, since I was at the time a computer science student, its name and its stark, simple cover couldn’t fail to appeal to me.

    At the time I was madly crushing on a girl who tended towards the fatalistic in her prognostications – “we’re not meant for each other”, “it couldn’t work between us”, those sorts of universal statements. And indeed those sorts of statements recur on Women in Technology, the album from which “Your Woman” is taken (though it doesn’t feature the rest of the songs on the EP – briefly, the heavy drum melancholia of “Give Me Some Pain” and two perfunctory but jolly “Theme”s), and indeed “Your Woman” itself is heavy with that topic – no wonder I liked it so much, then.

    But I also liked it so much – and like it so much – because it is the greatest song of all time.

    Its charmingly off-kilter video must have helped its sales, I imagine, with its evocation of silent film pointing up the ‘nostalgia’ of the sampled trumpet line (though with the rest of the record the way it is only a fool could think this some necrophiliac exercise in empty reference), and its heroine lost and confused and taken advantage of in this bizarre expressionist world – recalling the song’s lyrics and the way its hero(ine)(?) seems equally lost in all the loops and cycles that the music consists of (but in both song and video (s)he breaks free in the end! – spoilers). Scanning the YouTube comments (or indeed Jyoti’s invaluable FAQ) will reveal another possible source of success, the number of people who associate this song with Star Wars (geek chic: born in 1997?).

    Everything about it feels slightly off-centre, slightly unstable – Mishra’s voice, semi-processed as if it’s coming through a radio (or, indeed as it was in the video, a TV); the sampled trumpet line, cut free of context and plaintive and seesawing; the way the guitar phases and wobbles and, towards the end, seems to second-guess and anticipate itself in its timing. I had an idea for an alternative video in which the woman protagonist is pursued by the lyrics coming through radios, televisions, computers and (in the bridge) washing machines (something about the descending beeps makes me think of them, something about the way the song decelerates to halt at the end makes me think of a drum spinning down) – it is a very mechanical song, but they’re mechanics that don’t quite work, valves and mercury delay lines instead of Kraftwerk’s transistors, and something about that makes it feel fraught with fear, uncertainty, that central sense of not belonging which is reflected in the lyric.

    It is a song with as much wealth of detail, as much denseness as any Hitchcock film – only just now have I noticed the way one of the beats of each bar sounds different to the others, squelchy, lopsided. It alludes to the alienation and division suggested by the name “White Town” (a reference to segregationist practises in British India as well as the difficulties of growing up Indian in predominately white Derby). It is the fundamental song of the modern era, the song that best encapsulates the terror and loneliness of being unable to forge a connection in a world full of noise and machinery and people, the truest musical version of “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”. It is a chiming, mocking, dizzy labyrinth, and it is a ten ten ten ten ten. [10]

  30. 30
    flahr on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Other remarks:

    I would have been three at the time so I have no memory of this hitting #1, and thus I don’t know if it was as “Your Woman” the single or >Abort, Retry, Fail?_ the EP – personally I prefer the latter because it’s a cool name, but my copy of the CD has both names on it so honestly it’s anyone’s guess. The other tracks on the EP are all pleasant but not particuarly impressive, but what with “Your Woman” being the greatest song of all time (see above) they don’t affect the mark at all.

    I am listening on someone else’s laptop at the moment, and the speakers keep varying in volume more-or-less randomly, which adds an extra dimension of pleasing wooziness to the track.

    Wiley’s “Never Be Your Woman” is not entirely pish, although having the line “I could never be your woman” actually sung by a woman is a bit pointless. I haven’t seen the alleged romantic comedy named for the song.

    Still over a decade until the first chiptune number one, but at least the countdown starts here.

    It’s been a long time since I read my copy of The Blue in the Air but I recall I was disappointed to find no mention of this song in its entry on “My Woman”, the song from which the trumpet is taken.

  31. 31
    Rory on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Very pleased to have a “hey, I know this!” reaction to this track when I played it yesterday, because the band and track names weren’t burned into my memory as they would have been for ukma veterans (I used to investigate rec.music and alt.music, but I’m not sure if the local Usenet servers gave us uk.music – they were picky about newsgroups associated with specific countries other than Oz). This reached number 2 in Australia, so its olde timey vibe travelled well; maybe it was that hint of the Imperial March, as everyone is noting. Listening to it now, I can hear the Space similarities (I liked Space), but the sample and vibe also anticipate Moby’s Play, which would dominate the airwaves in a couple of Popular years’ time, though won’t bother us here. I wouldn’t stretch to a stratospheric mark for “Your Woman” (but am enjoying the comments from those of you who have), but I do like it. 6.

  32. 32
    Weej on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Re: Wichita @28 – Slampt was Rachel & Pete – AKA Avocado Baby / Red Monkey / Milky Wimpshake (these names will mean nothing to most people, even here, but I have releases by all of them, though I’m not really a huge fan – they just released a lot of stuff and it was hard not to pick any up.) They did release some early Yummy Fur / Kenickie (Elastic Jet Mission is a decent compilation), some good zines and singles by Golden Startlet / International Strikeforce, but were seen (rightly or wrongly) as taking themselves a bit too seriously. Vesuvius and Guided Missile were more reliable labels on the whole.

  33. 33
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #29 Interesting take! There was a wave of technological alienation records around this time, none of which we’ll have to deal with directly (in fact I think the next time I’ll have to talk specifically about the Internet will involve the ethics of dissing someone on it) – what did you make of OK Computer, which seems thematically to align with what you’re proposing for “Your Woman” – or that Grandaddy LP with the scrabble tiles on the cover?

  34. 34
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #32 – is that the label bashed in passing in Punka?

  35. 35
    Weej on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #34 – Yeah, Punka is generally seen as a diss to Slampt.

  36. 36
    Lex on 5 Feb 2014 #

    This isn’t a bad song, but I always hated it – the weediness of the vocals and delivery encapsulated a kind of performance I’ve always been repelled by, and in retrospect I don’t especially appreciate the kind of songs that make “ooh, naughty” nods towards queering the text while retaining their heterosexuality. Wiley’s “Never Be Your Woman” is terrific though, the way it turns the song into a club culture dialogue and the way Emeli Sandé actually sings the hook properly.

  37. 37
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I’ve already mentioned elsewhere on FT that UKMA was my home on the internet at this time and it was VERY exciting to see the trajectory this took. Jyoti was a massive nerd and a friendly presence along with all the more active participants.

    I’d like to add that if the unseen (by me) neighbours in AMA were distinguished by a fondness for chart pop, UKMA were not averse either. I’m pretty sure we talked about loving Spice Girls stuff at this time, and later the S*g*b*b*s were practically, not patronisingly, honorary indie.

    I regret never doing an IRL-meet with UKMA, though it got very close near the end of my time there when we all independently went to see The Magnetic Fields (~99/00 for 69 Love Songs).

    I stopped visting UKMA because I’d found an erratic web-based board hosted by Philip Greenspun. And this time I found I WAS able to meet those guys IRL. Thanks to Tom for the invention of the FAP, and for Sarah and Ricky for that first welcome. shucks

  38. 38
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #37 TBH AMA wasn’t really “distinguished by a fondness for chart pop”, it was “distinguished by being fun to troll for indie kids who also liked pop”. A long-running theme alas.

  39. 39
    ciaran on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Pitchfork named this as one of their ‘Top 200 songs of the 1990s’ in 2010.

    Good choice and like Professional Widow a ’7′ seems too low a mark for this. This is a ’9′ for me.

    As astounding now as it was then. Lovely synth-sound and very well performed. This wasn’t as common as say Spice Girls or Oasis on the radio and just seemed to catch everyone by surprise post christmas. Not to dismiss it in any way but a glance through the top 10 didnt have anything of the charm Your Woman had.

    The mystery surrounding white town added more intrigue to it all.The only image I would have seen back in the day was in Now 36 which had a resemblance to a sunglasses and shaven headed Shaun Ryder of all people!

    Given all the talk of bedroom act and technology here, this in many ways sounds like an influence on the theme to ‘The I.T Crowd’.This point in time was when I bought Sensible World of Soccer 96/97 for the Amiga which was also a last hurrah for that machine.

    I read a one hit wonders book in nearby Leicester in late 2004 and White Town were included, with Jyoti Mishra saying that he knew he would be a one-hit-wonder. As I mentioned in Breakfast At Tiffanys this was also used in a one hit wonders heavy superhits of the 90s compilation album in 1999 so it was clear then of its future status.

    Aside from another indie monster we’ll get to soon it’s somewhat surprising that given the high population of Asian descent there doesnt seem to be much Asian themed music or acts in the UK charts.Other than Panjabi MC it’s hard to think of that many other successes.

  40. 40
    To Mewing! (@tomewing) on 5 Feb 2014 #

    A morning repost for the “Your Woman” entry http://t.co/yRjq4928Vt – comments crew broadly positive on this one.

  41. 41
    anto on 5 Feb 2014 #

    This doesn’t really remind me of anyone and maybe the lack of comparison points is part of what made it such a striking number 1. There seems to be a mixed response but I think it sounds fine. I particularly like the crude beats, the vocals are rough and amateur but add to the inchoate feel of the track and the sample is wisely spared for the chours which stops it becoming annoying.
    Main association with Space – my first summer job in a second hand clothes shop often frequented by cross-dressers – Wrexham Radio constanly playing four songs – ‘Ghetto Superstar’, ‘I Wasn’t Built To Get Up’ by The Supernaturals (remember it?, well you shouldn’t), the Des’ree song where she states her preference for toast over supernatural encounters and something by Space where he sang about being a ‘phoney Valentino’ – I’ve never heard it since.

  42. 42
    fivelongdays on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Oh, this!

    I was 14 years old in 1996, I liked Britpop, and I loved Chris Evans on the Breakfast Show. Then, one summer’s morning, things changed.

    Rather than a self-aggrandising northern bloke and his sycophantic (although I did not realise that at the time) mates, my clock-alarm woke me up to two shambling, self-deprecating northerners who – crucially – made me laugh more than anything on the radio had done in years.

    They made Evans and his laddish clique utterly redundant and, armed with a radio walkman, I vowed to find out more about them.

    And, so, I made sure I was in bed nice and early each night (my teenage depression – which would see me wake up at stupidly early hours every night between about now and the end of my GCSE’s in 1998 – was kicking in, more about which later. Possibly.) to listen to the brilliance of Mark and Lard.

    There were movie reviews, poetry, comedy, ‘**** my hat! I never knew that!’, hilarious parodies of songs, and there was music. So much music that I would never have never otherwise heard…like this.

    Hearing this for the first time was one of those ‘bloody hell! What was that?’ moments. It sounded like nothing on earth. It was weird, funky, and clever. I thought it might be the sort of thing that they would have sold in Chalky’s, the likeable little independent record shop in George Street in Oxford. However, they didn’t have it…and then I learned it would be coming out early in 1997.

    In the mean time, two things happened. First, Mark and Lard started to appear on the Breakfast show more often, and so did this record.

    Secondly, I fell in love with a girl who had just moved to my school. She was funny, intelligent, had great taste in music…and she didn’t feel the same (this is the same woman – whose name shall not be mentioned – who I referred to in my Stiltskin post).

    I told my friends that the only way I’d ask her out would be if this got to number one, which I thought was highly unlikely. Let’s face it, a sexually ambiguous song based around a sample from the 1930s is not what a Big Hit sounded like in the mid/late 90s.

    But I was wrong! This got to number one, and I had to ask **** ********** out. She said no.

    The song itself? It’s a masterpiece, and kudos to #26 for bringing up the British Asian trilogy.

    10.

  43. 43
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    The category is “Space’s singles”, you said “Begin Again”… that IS a pointless answer, well done if you got that at home

    (edit: that was for Anto’s “phony Valentino” song)

  44. 44
    enitharmon on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Can’t really say anything about the song but I do want to put in a word for Usenet, which is still alive other than in Google’s servers (with Google showing every sign of wanting to get shot of it) for a stalwart band of ageing early-adopters. Indeed, one of my favourite online hangouts (other than Popular of course) is a usenet group: uk.media.radio.archers, which occasionally discusses The Archers, mainly to say how unbearable it is these days, but is more at home discussing literature, music, films, fish-puns, troll- and spammer-baiting and anything else that comes to mind. A kind of middle-aged FreakyTrigger in fact, for a generation that still things email is cool and doesn’t feel the need for pictures with everything. UMRA pre-dates the rest of the uk. hierarchy and was the despair of the consortium for its wayward eclecticism. It remains lively although there is concern that regular umrats are dying faster than new folk are joining.

    And in a characteristically umratic swerve, it also seems appropriate to mention that my non-resident partner, as a quid pro quo for introducing her to the delights of Marcus Didius Falco, has given me a box set of The Big Bang Theory which she thinks I will enjoy. Assuming I can get past the laughter track, the bane of US sitcoms since forever, I haven’t yet decided whether its more than mildly amusing or even if it isn’t gratuitously cruel, but I have quite a way to go after three episodes. I’m assured it gets better.

  45. 45
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    That’s heartening news about USENET – I originally wrote it all off, then remembered that the alt.binaries groups still thrive, but of course those aren’t discussion groups at all really. It’s good that at least one newsgroup is thriving (and how marvellous that it’s an Archers one).

  46. 46
    Will on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I’d never even heard of Usenet until today. What is it/ was it?

  47. 47
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Surely “a Gormenghast of diverging and reconnecting fora whose goblin tribes gleefully rampage through each other’s chosen lairs” is clear enough ;)

    It’s slightly hard to describe. It was kind of like a huge load of interlocking mailing lists, seething with discussion. You would get a bit of software called a “News Reader”, which could access all the various public newsgroups, choose which you wanted to subscribe to. Then when you went online your newsreader would download all the latest messages, and upload any you’d replied to. (It was optimised for dial-up, but unfortunately the power of ARGUING ON THE INTERNETS meant I ran up fucking colossal phone bills thanks to never actually logging off.)

  48. 48
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Feb 2014 #

    (remembers when my email client of choice, or necessity, was PINE. Also the text-only browsing offered by Lynx. Ah, long ago….)

  49. 49
    Garry on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I was on Usenet at this time thanks to free Uni internet. But I was over at alt.music.progressive. Or was it rec.music.prog? Anyway they were more interested in whether OK Computer was progressive rock and also playing Music’s 6 Degrees of Separation with the Kevin Bacon figure being Bill Bruford. This challenge went on for months.

    And with my head stuck in the musical era just prior to my birth I completely missed this track.

  50. 50
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    “UMRA pre-dates the rest of the uk. hierarchy and was the despair of the consortium for its wayward eclecticism”

    This will be interesting news to at least 50 groups!

  51. 51
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Prog sounds like a rec. to me. Of ‘note’ re. the previous entry – Tori Amos is the only 90s act who I can think of who had a rec.music rather than an alt.music newsgroup (for non-USENETTERS: a swankier postcode, basically).

    USENET’s most significant contribution to mainstream British pop culture – an awful lot of later Doctor Who writers met there.

  52. 52
    Garry on 5 Feb 2014 #

    PINE. Marcus Didius Falco. Usenet. Space. I can’t believe howuch this thread is very much me in 1997.

  53. 53
    iconoclast on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I remember USENET very well; I once got told off for accidentally saying something unkind on it about one member of a then very popular US act.

    Anyway, there’s much to like about “Your Woman”; to start with, there’s the slightly strange olden-times atmosphere, the ambiguous setting of the lyrics, the ear-catching chord change at the start of the bridge, the equally ear-catching breakdown, and the interesting production generally. It’s a shame it has to be spoiled, as so often, by the rhythm track being monotonous and too loud. SEVEN.

  54. 54
    enitharmon on 5 Feb 2014 #

    @50 What will be a surprise? Predates (unarguable) or bane of the consortium (more plausible)? http://umra.wikispaces.com/

    @48 Having suffered a graphics card failure I can’t underestimate the value of lynx, which is still going strong. Also essential for those geeky enough to want to install Gentoo.

  55. 55
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Surely uk.media.radio.archers was not literally the first group in uk.* hierarchy – though it would easily have been established very early, perhaps even before the parent uk.media.radio? The uk.comp.* groups have some prior claim at a guess.

  56. 56
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Feb 2014 #

    @54 what a splendid website. From the linked list of commonly used acronyms and abbreviations I particularly like “SSAAA – what on earth does this acronym mean?” and ROFLWMGWITA – Rolling on floor laughing, waving my green wellies in the air , even if “CLASP – Castrate Lying A***hole Sid Perks” is a bit harsh. (and also: now, impossible and unnecessary)

    (I think I may have just have seen a vision of the Future of Popular: in 20 years time…..)

  57. 57
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Predates is inarguable, in that it’s inarguably wrong – the link you presented only claims that it “was one of the earliest groups created within the uk.* usenet hierarchy” (like I said, there’s 50-odd before it) which is a long chalk from claiming that it stood like a 2001 monolith before the rest of the hieararchy appeared.

  58. 58
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #56 – It’s a common sort of wall-erecting once a community gets large enough, and marks the shift to where new people are less rather than more welcome – as with that FAQ there’s generally an air of protesting too much regarding “Cliquey? Us?”. I think it’s a considerable credit to Popular that after ten years, the spoiler bunny is the only injoke.

  59. 59
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #51 – If I remember correctly, alt.fan.pratchett (in whose world we now arguably live) refused the transfer to rec.books.pratchett.

  60. 60
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #55 – Yeah, it’s the first uk.media.radio as far as I know – the timeline I found goes:

    16 Mar 1993 uk.media
    5 Mar 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.babylon5
    5 Mar 1995 uk.media.mags.net
    12 Apr 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.x-files
    13 Apr 1995 uk.media.tv.misc
    1 May 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.startrek
    8 Aug 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.misc
    8 Aug 1995 uk.media.radio.archers

    Which, as you can imagine, has sent me into something of a nostalgia headspin.

  61. 61
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I should, in fairness, stick an “In my experience” before #58, and note that what I’m describing has annoyed me several times about different online spaces, but that projecting it onto one which brings Enitharmon joy is really very rude of me – sorry!

  62. 62
    anto on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #42 – Completely agree about the 10-midnight show, one of the best things that was ever on Radio 1.

    #43 – It was that very nineties thing – third or fourth single off an album in and out of the top 40 as though it were a corner shop. Definitely a pointless answer.

  63. 63
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Mark And Lard’s Breakfast Show run is (of course) one of the things covered in Simon Garfield’s The Nation’s Favourite, essential reading for all Popularites I’d say. They come across as decent men handed a nightmare brief – replacing the man who’d defined the Bannister-era breakfast show. I loved them as presenters, never cared for their taste, which should have made them better suited for the breakfast slot than the evening one, but it wasn’t to be. That said, 1997 is a very odd, transitional year.

  64. 64
    Kat but logged out innit on 5 Feb 2014 #

    As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, I only listened to Radio 1 for the Top 40, so I missed all the John Peels and Mark & Lards. I guess I didn’t mind adverts so much as a teenager? Anyway, I was already familiar with this when it got to #1, so either “Your Woman” must have got airplay on Capital FM (!) or Xfm had finally beefed up its transmitter enough to reach Zone 6 by this point (didn’t it finally get its permanent license in 1997?). Firm favourite, obv. Though I would have called the EP “Insert Workbench 3.1 Disk”.

  65. 65
    TriffidFarm on 5 Feb 2014 #

    The EP/single marketing did affect the song for me. By 1996, CDs had framed my listening to be ‘by the album’, and evenings were broken into planned, fifty minutes chunks – singles were just too much work. So White Town’s EP hat meant that it felt like having 20 minutes rather than 3 – but even that was a fib: I wanted to listen to this song, and the rest was filler that stopped me having to go back to the CD player for a while.

  66. 66
    punctum on 5 Feb 2014 #

    “Potter announced he would start the series in a bleak suburban bedroom with a man bursting into early morning song. He would be miming to a fuzzy 78 and the record was by a woman. He told me the song and I said there were good versions of men singing it. NO, he said, I want the audience to be as disoriented as possible.”(Kenith Trodd, from his notes for the 1990 CD reissue of the Pennies From Heaven soundtrack)

    “Something in Italy/Is keeping us all alive.”
    (Scritti Politti, “Skank Bloc Bologna”)

    Some records cannot escape their association with time and place. Thus when I think of White Town I think of a white town, or a white countryside within a town; specifically, walking through Christ Church Meadow in Oxford on the first Friday morning of 1997. It was not a sunny day, but the frost had frozen everywhere and its sheet of whiteness had made the world luminous. The place was deserted; the student population still absent, just about recovering from their hangovers. You could have skated under Magdalen Bridge if it had taken your fancy. But the luminosity was glorious; a haven of a barely buried incipient spring, a world private and untouchable. When I emerged into St Clements I did not quite feel of this earth.

    The record inescapable on the radio at the time was “Your Woman”; an indie single seemingly from nowhere (or, as it turned out, Derby) received, grasped and played in the first instance by the early afternoon DJ on Radio 1. It then rapidly spread to become potentially the next “O Superman,” a seemingly unchartable leftfield record which had suddenly, but with surprising naturalness, become popular. When first we heard it we assumed that it was the new single by Space, the Liverpudlian post-Britpop group whose useful hits (“Neighbourhood,” “Female Of The Species,” “The Ballad Of Tom Jones” etc.) were the real antecedents to the Kaiser Chiefs and Hard-Fis of their day; but there was something else, something unscheduled, going on. And what would Space be doing sampling Al Bowlly?

    Of course it was the Al Bowlly sample which captured us. It is a sped-up sample of the opening trumpet and reed figures to the recording of the song “Your Woman” with Lew Stone and his Monseigneur Band, cut in Chelsea nine days before my mother was born (29 November 1932) and eventually used in Pennies From Heaven, that epic, seedy meditation on the fatal distance between the warm lies of popular song and the cold truth of everyday life. The arrangement is downbeat and grim, over which Bowlly enters with a gargantuan gust of a world-weary sigh to lament his love for his woman who cheats on him, makes fun of him, lies to him…but still he loves her. If that subject matter sounds familiar, then consider Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” from 27 years later, and then go forward a further 21 years to the version of that latter song recorded by Green Gartside with the B.E.F. for their Music Of Quality And Distinction Vol 2 project; he transplants the naked passion of Stevie’s confusion and transposes it into the upright, polite but secretly sneaky heart of Bowlly.

    Jyoti Mishra, the man behind White Town, more or less squares the circle with “Your Woman.” It is the missing link between thirties danceband emotional ambiguity and New Pop stylistic reshuffling; it is no accident that Mishra’s vocal is sonically very close to Trevor Horn, not to mention the Dave Edmunds of “I Hear You Knocking” – as with the latter, “Your Woman” sounds like the first broadcast following a terrible apocalypse, a tentative resurfacing of an old spirit…

    …or the start of something genuinely new. It is impossible for me not to have a profound degree of affection towards “Your Woman,” not just because it is the next in the unfolding series of visionary number ones by British-based Asian artists, but also because the premature online DIY music man and pre-emptive blogger Mishra, past whom I once inched in the old Sister Ray record shop in Berwick Street, was the first one of “us” to make it – apart from some guitar overdubs by his mate Rob Fleay, it is more or less the first number one of the internet age, a production unimaginable even two years previously (although Mishra had already been putting out his music in varying forms for six years by then) – and it opened the floodgates for everyone else, effectively, even (or especially) those of us who sought to write; ask Robin Carmody, for instance, about the importance of White Town to and for him.

    It is a superbly perambulating post-New Pop record, Mishra provocatively singing the song from the point of view of the female who doesn’t know why “he” doesn’t know why he loves her; caught out with another, he is systematically derided (“So much for all your highbrow Marxist ways”) but in a manner much more regretful than bitter, such that she questions her own initial attraction to him (“Now I think I finally understand/Is it in your genes? I don’t know/But we’ll soon find out – that’s for sure”). The emotional upshot, and the chorus itself, are purposely ambiguous emotionally: “Well I guess what you say is true/I could never be the right kind of girl for you/I could never be your woman.” The sadness, the burden, epitomised by the closing, funereal 16 rpm “My Woman” sample, drags the song down to an exceptionally morose end.

    But the record itself is the beginning of a new time; I can imagine John Leyton in a parallel 1961 being given the song by Meek to sing, and even if Meek had survived into the Portastudio/ProTools age he may not have sounded much different and certainly no less visionary. His work done, Mishra released a major label album, Women In Technology, a smart and supple Brit equivalent of the Magnetic Fields filtered through the lyrical thrust of the Au Pairs which sold disappointingly, and then retreated into his world of strictly indie, and eventually online-only, musings of and on music where he has remained to this day. Though musically far more conservative than “O Superman,” philosophically it is, in its sublime Peak District way, as radical even as it glances back and acknowledges the original British pop music (and also the most important singer in the history British pop music – why Bowlly? Because, put very simply, he never sounded as though he needed to try in order to express and convey emotion; you can tell from the very breaths which he takes between lines that he’s thinking ahead, anticipating the listener’s reaction, setting us up for the climax, or the comedown, or the euphoria. He has an authority which never masquerades underneath the cloak of bombast. He is spotless, even when the song demands that he be ecstatic or destroyed); it stands as nobly alone as “Telstar” and “God Save The Queen” did before it, and all of us with an interest, vested or otherwise, in promulgating the cause of music on the World Wide Web, owe him. And for that Friday morning in frosty Oxford. And for what the internet and music eventually did for me, but that’s another story. 11

  67. 67
    Ed on 5 Feb 2014 #

    @63 “A very odd, transitional year”

    It is often said about Punk that the souped-up trad rock of the Pistols and the Damned opened up a space for a lot more interesting music to come through.

    Britpop – and especially Oasis – seem to have had a similar effect. It’s hard to imagine White Town getting to number one without the mood of “youth style revolution now!” that Britpop engendered.

  68. 68
    punctum on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Self-correction: the Stevie Wonder song was 37 years after “Your Woman,” not 27. And I meant “the most important singer in the history OF British pop music.”

  69. 69
    Rory on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #46: Usenet basically invented Internet culture before there was even an Internet. It was invented in 1979, and used a different set of protocols than the networks that joined together to become the Internet in 1982. But Usenet is where terms like “FAQ” and “spam” originated, and the discussions there were basically the precursor to every web discussion we see today.

    One feature of Usenet was that posting a message to a news group pushed it out to all the news servers carrying that group, and ultimately to all the users downloading the latest messages of that group, which on home dial-up could involve a lot of time and expense. Quite a different model from the web, where users decide what links we will follow and roughly how much data we retrieve.

    So when a moderator suggested in December 1992, after I had emailed him my annotated list for a survey of favourite albums of the year, that I post it to rec.arts.music itself, it seemed only polite to respond: “I don’t usually post things on the net as it’ll end up costing someone a lot of money, and seems a bit frivolous when it’s just my personal opinion (although surveys and general info etc such as yours are a different matter). But I’ll have a think about it and perhaps give it a try.”

    Such diffidence! The web would change all that. But it explains why my archive of personal Usenet postings is so much thinner than my memories of it all.

  70. 70
    23 Daves on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Has anyone mentioned “Video Killed The Radio Star” yet? The vocal stylings on this reminded me of a nerdier version of Trevor Horn on that record the first time I heard it, and it’s an impression I never really lost. And I agree with previous posters who suggest that there are elements of “West End Girls” in here as well.

    I’ve always liked this record, but I think my over-keenness at the time stemmed from the fact that it seemed like a peculiar single to get to number one, that it was an example of one of the outsiders winning. I could list a swathe of other bedroom acts who have produced much more interesting or impressive work than this, even if they only sold a fraction of the amount Your Woman did – as a song in its own right, its brilliantly constructed and hugely catchy, but it didn’t stay on my stereo for long and the praise it received seemed somewhat overboard. Simon Mayo raved on air that Myoti was going to be “a huge STAR!” which seems astonishing in retrospect.

    You can, however, chalk me up as being one of the few people who bought and enjoyed the follow-up single “Undressed”, which I thought was a lovely synth-pop ballad. The album, on the other hand, was a let-down. Hey ho.

  71. 71
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #70 I think they’re both signifying similar things – a voice mediated, off the radio or in Your Woman’s case peeling off the gramophone of the 30s sample. I only saw the video for the first time today, but would have been surprised if Myoti had been seen to be singing ‘live’ (rather than from a TV).

  72. 72
    @weejay on 5 Feb 2014 #

    White Town’s “Your Woman”, UKMA, Al Bowlly and Mark & Lard’s graveyard shift (in the comments) – http://t.co/ytU2iYU1uR

  73. 73
    leveret on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Mark and Lard were also early champions of another bedroom music-maker briefly turned Top 5 chart star, Stephen Jones a.k.a. Baby Bird.

    At the time, following BB’s success a few months earlier, it seemed like the boom times of the mid-90s UK music scene had opened up the way for some fairly esoteric acts to mount stealth attacks on the charts. Mark & Lard were representatives of this slightly oddball world where the alternative had infiltrated its way firmly into the mainstream, helping White Town to this very welcome and surprising Number One. A (9) for me, although others have already summed up its appeal better than I could.

    Fast forward a couple of years, however, and it seemed as though the likes of Travis and Coldplay were trying to mainstream-ise the world of (nominally) indie music rather than the other way round, and the most startling hit songs were coming from the new glitchy R&B styles rather than British blokes hiding out in their bedrooms.

  74. 74
    flahr on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #33 OK Computer was one of the first albums I ever bought (in broadly similar circumstances, though earlier – I had seen it cropping up time and again in lists of good albums so it seemed like a good place to start) – thus part of my affection for it is because it was sort of the first time I had heard pop at all, so obviously it made a big impression on me. “Your Woman” and “No Surprises” seem two sides of the same coin musically if not lyrically to me, both based around these very tight (and, now I come to think of it, reasonably similar – though I am tone-deaf so this might not be the case) melodic loops. The only Granddaddy I have heard is “A.M. 180″ because it was the theme tune to something.

    Good spots on the “Video Killed the Radio Star” thing – it’s very much the similarity there that points up the technology aspect of this, voices coming through the radio.

    I thought that Bunnyful had been an August hit – apparently not.

    Re “My Woman” again, Tom Lehrer, from the preamble to “She’s My Girl” : “But as far as I know there has never been a popular song from the analogous male point of view, that is to say, of a man who finds himself in love with, or in this case married to, a girl who has nothing whatsoever to recommend her.” An unusual lapse of knowledge from the man there.

  75. 75
    Jo C. on 5 Feb 2014 #

    This record was so important to 19-year-old me that for once I’m breaking my Popular silence! I was a very indie teen (I bought stuff on Slampt too!) and was completely blown away by the fact that a song sung by a soft-voiced man calling himself a woman and playing a cheap-sounding keyboard with funny beep noises could be played on Viking FM in Hull. When this got to number one and Mark & Lard were given the Radio 1 breakfast show, I thought that the world of pop music had changed forever! It hadn’t, but that’s OK.

  76. 76
    Steve Williams on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #26 Brilliantly, Channel Five used Theme From A Mid-Afternoon Game Show on trailers for Whittle, their mid-afternoon game show, so well done to their promotions department.

  77. 77
    AMZ1981 on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Pedants note – a commenter on Forever Love noted that Gary Barlow was the first act whose first chart week was at number one but whose second wasn’t. Obviously Barlow had prior chart success as a member of Take That and the next act along to do it were Dunblane who a) weren’t an act in the conventional sense and b) featured Mark Knopler. Therefore White Town was the first act to do this who was completely new to the chart, however their second week was at number two. We’ve got some way to go before this gets bettered.

  78. 78
    Alan not logged in on 5 Feb 2014 #

    For all your Mark&Lard/Graveyard Shift/PalaceOGlitteringDelights nostalgia http://www.youtube.com/user/GlitteringDelights/
    I don’t remember this, their version of French Disko on the joanna:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qD3dvu0p-C0

  79. 79
    Another Pete on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #76 I knew someone that appeared on Whittle. I found it laughable that if you got a question wrong you had to cover your face with a paper plate style mask, bear in mind you were barely recognisable beforehand given how poor the signal for Channel 5 was back then.

  80. 80
    Query on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I understand the affection for this record for its cultural significance – triumph of the bedroom act, USENET makes it big, the internet goes mainstream, etc., etc., – but musically-speaking I’m simply not understanding the 10s being liberally handed out here. I admit it’s catchy, and that Bowlly sample is quite the earworm, but the reedy, detached vocals and the repetition are grating (I find). In comparison, “Video Killed the Radio Star” – which others have rightly cited as a sort of precursor – seems a veritable symphony. It’s an 8 at best, for me.

  81. 81
    hardtogethits on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #77. And pedants may also note this begat another record: The least successful follow up to a record which entered the UK singles chart at no.1.

    FWIW I am going to nail my colours to the mast. 10.

  82. 82
    Garry on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #51 I remember the Dr Who group we’ll but rarely visited. I was annoyed enough at the fanwank continuity the books to jump into the arguments online. But I remember the great DW Space ship race thread as the very enjoyable silliness which attracted me to USENET in the first place. Which shop from who was fastest. Every obscure painted cereal packet with fins were remembered and judged.

    As for White Town – I just heard it and it is a “oh THIS track” moment. I never knew the name of song or band. It was everywhere in Oz. But like several years before when Urge Overkill etc hitched up briefly to a Pulp Fiction noir feel which all get jumbled in my mind, there was a second track in 1997 with a very similar sound to this track. I can’t remember what it was. This track for me doesn’t exist without the other song.

  83. 83
    Jeremy on 5 Feb 2014 #

    You can search 1981-1991 usenet at http://www.dejadejadeja.com/ which is an attempt at a usenet search engine to compete with Google Groups. The goal is full body-text and header searches. Noting that most usenet search engines only have binary searches (eg, filenames, not message text content). There’s a tiny bit of oddness (like dates saying 1970), but these can be fixed and don’t detract from the fun of it.

    I’m hoping to add years 2003-2013. Unfortunately, only Google has years 1992-2003.

    The 2003-2013 period is literally 1.2TB so it’ll take some time to index it all. In the meantime, enjoy 1981-1991!

  84. 84
    23 Daves on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Apologies, I just noticed that Punctum got in there with the Trevor Horn comparison way before I did.

    Punctum has also made me want to dig out “Women In Technology” again, but sadly I lost my copy many moons ago. I’ll check to see if it’s on Spotify at the weekend, though it might have fallen through the cracks.

  85. 85
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #83 thanks Jeremy – looks like a really useful resource. I know I’ve lost a few hours at the Google archive looking at how (eg) Watchmen was received on the comics newsgroups when it came out.

  86. 86
    Mark M on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Looking for something else entirely, I found I had a copy of this (cellophane-bagged CD), which I guess I must’ve been sent by a PR at the time. Will give the other tracks a listen – if I did check them out back then, don’t remember it.

  87. 87
    James BC on 6 Feb 2014 #

    The sample grabs attention but I think the secret of the song’s success lies in the groove. It has a great groove, which people seem to be overlooking.

  88. 88
    Tommy Mack on 6 Feb 2014 #

    I remember hearing this and that he had sent a demo into Radio 1 and got a #1 hit. I immediately sang and played a mediocre, sub-Oasis indie ballad I had written into a tape-recorder and sent it into Radio 1. I didn’t get to #1.

  89. 89
    punctum on 6 Feb 2014 #

    #87: This isn’t the old Record Mirror disco page. What do you want – BPMs with every entry?

  90. 90
    Mark G on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Actually, I do remember Jyoti saying about that ‘groove’, that it was purposefully ‘wobbly’ to create that ‘ear-catch’ that makes the brain try to make sense of it.

    So, yes.

  91. 91
    Matt DC on 6 Feb 2014 #

    It *does* have a great groove, it’s bouncy and funky in this kind of slightly self-conscious way that I enjoy a lot.

  92. 92
    enitharmon on 6 Feb 2014 #

    @84 if we’re comparing with VKTRS why not go the whole hog and look back to the Temperance Seven?

  93. 93
    Rory on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Nudging my 6 up to a 7. Its earworm qualities are asserting themselves.

  94. 94
    enitharmon on 6 Feb 2014 #

    By the way, I’d never heard it before but I sought it out on YouTube. It’s a very pleasant, very enjoyable little ditty and I’d give it a 7 but as the affective element is lost on me I can’t get excited about it.

  95. 95
    23 Daves on 6 Feb 2014 #

    On the topic of this period spewing up unlikely minor stars in the form of Jyoti and Stephen Jones (and another bunny coming up)… what’s interesting is that nobody seems to talk positively of the experience afterwards. Jyoti certainly complained about his period with Chrysalis/EMI, I’m sure having described it as a trying time. A friend of mine also caught Babybird live at around the point of the release of “There’s Something Going On”, and Jones apparently shouted at one point: “My latest album has only sold 5,000 copies! This is brilliant! This is how things SHOULD be!”

    Whenever an unlikely, independent outsider worms their way into the heart of the music industry and shifts a lot of units, it always seems to backfire horribly and they often seem to regret the entire experience. Though admittedly Jarvis Cocker managed OK in the long-term.

  96. 96
    thefatgit on 6 Feb 2014 #

    It’s not called an industry for nothing. It’s not only the likes of Jyoti Mishra or Stephen Jones with axes to grind, as we have already seen on Prince’s and George Michael’s threads.

  97. 97
    iconoclast on 6 Feb 2014 #

    #87: I remember, sometime around 1987, buying a copy of “Record Mirror” (I think), and wondering why there were BPMs everywhere. Since they can hardly have been of interest to the general readership, what were they for?

  98. 98
    punctum on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Does anybody actually call it an “industry” anymore, apart from Cliff Richard, Matt Goss and assorted music business doughnuts?

  99. 99
    Tom on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Britney on “Piece Of Me”! That was a few years ago now I guess.

  100. 100
    punctum on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Indeed; six-and-a-bit years ago, when she was still making good records.

  101. 101
    Chelovek na lune on 6 Feb 2014 #

    #97 In Record Mirror, as I recall, it was just James Hamilton who put BPMs everywhere (alongside his very distinctive, inventive, even inimitable use of the English language to describe the tracks), in the dance section: I think it was to aid DJs in segueing/mixing tracks together, rather than for the general audience….

  102. 102
    glue_factory on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Re: 97, 101, Record Mirror always seemed to have half a foot in the specialist-DJ-magazine camp, publishing more clubbing-based charts than any of the other normal music magazines, adverts for shops called things like “Morden Disco Centre”, etc.

  103. 103
    James BC on 6 Feb 2014 #

    #98 It’s (still, I think) quite common in hip hop to talk about ‘the industry’.

  104. 104
    @matatatatat on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Can’t believe White Town-Your Woman only got 7 on Popular, given it is, like, the best single of the 90s, if not ever http://t.co/56IHouv2Gq

  105. 105
    wichitalineman on 6 Feb 2014 #

    I get the ‘industry’ precis Record Of The Day every morning. And Music Week still exists. So there is still an industry, just a failing industry.

    I said this once already, but it was about 80 comments back… EMI employees didn’t even have email addresses back in early 1997 unless they were communicating with each other. Given all the talk of USENET (and a lot of internet-related things which look like logarithms to my poor old brain) I think it’s really quite interesting that White Town ended up on EMI/Chrysalis.

    What was the major label’s appeal for him? He’d made it quite clear he didn’t want to be famous. And did anyone at the time – Slampt types, for instance – think he was a sell-out?

  106. 106
    Mark G on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Surely it was always only going to be a short-time thing? All you can hope for is to get what you can out of it (experience,fun, money, or none of the above) and not regret it when it’s over.

    Would like to know Jyoti’s full story, obviously

  107. 107
    nixon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    IIRC the chronology saw this picked up by Radio 1 as a hot unsigned band type thing, drawing phenomenal amounts of attention – Bannister (I think) used to tell the story of Your Woman getting more calls than Live Forever – and Chrysalis won whatever bidding war ensued. I hope Jyoti made some money out of it, I like the idea of Robbie Williams indirectly funding future Bzangy Groink projects.

    The label fucked up by second guessing themselves – the slated follow up was “Wanted”, a claustrophobic sinister sibling to Your Woman featuring a female singer who very effectively sounded even less convinced than Jyoti, and which I played in DJ sets for about five years afterwards. They changed tack at the last minute and switched to the pretty but wispy-sounding Undressed, which failed to crack the top 50.

    Your Woman is responsible for one of the few unlikely times I’ve been the coolest person in a group; 17, I essentially bullied three hesitant ex-schoolmates I met in Asda in town in the week of release into buying it because I wouldn’t shut up about it (and I was the gap year indie weirdo who’d by now got the most records out of anyone we knew, which somehow made me the voice of authority, and so three copies were duly sold, along with Nas’ It Was Written). 8.

  108. 108
    JyotiMishra on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Oh wow – I just found this via ego-surfing on Tumblr and it’s very bizarre to read all these comments about myself and my music. But enjoyably bizarre because I am an egomaniac.

    I miss USENET dreadfully. Something of the anarchy of those days sometimes appears on Tumblr but only through a blizzard of scene girl pics and cat gifs (and that’s not to say I dislike either of those).

    ‘Your Woman’ was, obviously, an enormous blip. The music I made before sold one or two thousand copies, the music since three or four thousand. To this day, I am immensely proud of it being a hit as I sweated blood over that track. It was released by Parasol in mid ’96 and I remember working on it for soooo long before I sent the DAT to them. I had the concept of a multi-linear, multi-perspective narrative. I had the Gonella sample from one of my fave Bowlly songs (itself from Potter’s ‘Pennies From Heaven’ soundtrack). I knew I wanted to rip-off Horn’s vocal from ‘Video Killed,’ it was just a matter of getting it all to work. I had the beats, I knew the VL-1 had to make a cameo. The day I got the chromatic shift into the bridge was when it clicked. And I’m proud that it was recorded on an 8-track cassette multitrack (Tascam 688) and I only used five of those eight tracks. :-P

    As a musician, it can be strange to have been so briefly, widely famous and know that nothing new you will create will be that popular again. But I’m pretty sanguine as I would have carried on regardless, hit or no hit ~ it was fun just having even the one! So many musicians vastly more talented than me never have even one hit, how could I feel cheated?

    It’s also very sweet when I’m out clubbing and someone comes up to me and they were two or three when the song came out but they remember it from their Mum/Dad loving it. :-P

    There are a lot of great questions on here and I’ve rambled on enough already but if you want answers, hit me up on:

    Twitter – http://twitter.com/JyotiMishra
    Tumblr – http://bzangy.tumblr.com
    Or my normal email: bzangy@gmail.com

    love and kisses,
    Jyoti

  109. 109
    Speedwell54 on 7 Feb 2014 #

    108 -Oh wow! – I love it when this happens. Most interesting and very cool of you.

  110. 110
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Yay Jyoti! Good stuff..

    I’m still guessing the Maj label thing was more “Wish it had been a better experience” than out and out regret, reading between the lines like.

  111. 111
    JyotiMishra on 7 Feb 2014 #

    @speedwell54 ~ well, I couldn’t not reply as this is the most interesting me-centred discussion I’ve found in years! :-D

  112. 112
    JyotiMishra on 7 Feb 2014 #

    @mark g ~ Well, my first release was on Graduate Records back in ’83 so by Dec ’96, when I signed to EMI, I’d been releasing records on indies and myself for quite a while. I did actually phone Parasol and tell them the record had blown up here and was going to be huge, giving them the option of putting shitloads of money in it and going with it but I think Geoff thought I was delusional and gave me his blessing to take it to a major. So, I went with EMI as they seemed like the least bad major option at that time. The people who worked at EMI were actually all lovely: bright, enthusiastic and pretty damn sexy. But the institutional structure in which they were trapped was very silly sooo… It was great as an indie kid being on a major, if only to see, first-hand just how terrible they are at capitalism. They are *hopeless.* And don’t even start me on the uselessness of publishers!

    Post-EMI, I released a single with Parasol and a couple of things with other indies but no-one was desperate to work with me so I started self-releasing, exactly the same as the first ever White Town single in 1990.

    Also, I’m something of a control freak. With my last album, I wrote it, performed it, recorded it, mastered it, did the graphics, am the label and also made a video for each of the eleven tracks. Obviously, I love it and think they’re some of the best songs I’ve ever written but the world disagrees, by and large. :-P

    I gig more now, did NYC Popfest in 2012, Paris last Jan, Indietracks quite a few times and I love doing shit like that. No gigs last year as I was finishing the degree that I had to drop out of in ’97, finally. My IS was on Alternative, Punk and Greb Clubbing Culture and I got a first, naturally. My middle name is ethnomethodology. :-P

    Here’s a few vids from my latest album:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sswK93W1Qsg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gjCRdzEoQw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIDXfZIdGEM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mtWOYDkdg8

    And the others are all up there if you fancy a gleg.

  113. 113
    enitharmon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Welcome Jyoti! I love it when these things happen.

  114. 114
    enitharmon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    By the way, Jyoti, you don’t happen to run an excellent restaurant in Hall Green, Birmingham, by any chance? ;)

  115. 115
    pootle on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I liked the video, as seen (of course) on the Chart Show on Saturday morning. I had the show on repeat with my VCR so I could skip through the adverts. The video for this was a sepia -tinted and rather self-consciously twee relationship thing, much straighter than the song, which worked cleverly with punctuation.
    I always think of 1997 as an album year, because I was in college and working hard on the film society. The most famous album of the year only got a song to number 3, sadly.

  116. 116
    Nixon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #115 Re: year of the album. Dept. of Hindsight: the Melody Maker’s pronouncement that “come the end of 1997, you’ll either be an ‘OK Computer’ person or a ‘Stupid Stupid Stupid’ person”

  117. 117
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I think if you remove the quote marks, it’s more true than if you don’t.

  118. 118
    nixon on 8 Feb 2014 #

    It just reminds me of that bit in Dogma. “This from the man who still owes me $10 over which was going to be the more successful movie, ET or Krush Groove”

    Back to White Town. I’ve just listened to Women In Technology again and it holds up better than I’d remembered – I had filed it away as some great moments with plenty of filler (unlike the more consistent Peek & Poke) but I really enjoyed hearing it all the way through again. So, um, yeah.

  119. 119
    JyotiMishra on 10 Feb 2014 #

    @enitharmon – ta and nope!

    @nixon – Ahh, that’s okay, I’m used to people only liking one (or no!) tracks from my albums. Obviously, I love them all or I wouldn’t have made/released them. And, like every musician ever, I think my best one is the latest one. But when I listen to WIT now, it’s quite special to me and I’m still proud of it. :-)

  120. 120
    Fivelongdays on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Nice to see The Man Himself on here!

    Forgot to add – more than any number one since ‘Some Might Say’, I felt like I’d helped get this song to the top. Just the way it felt, like there was this slightly bizarre, quasi-grass roots ‘blimey, we can get this to number one!’ feel that I had when I got it (and also when I bored everyone at school by going on about it). Maybe only three (and I’m sure you can guess what one of them is, although ’tis a long way off) number one’s after this made me feel the same.

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