Popular

24
Jul 08

KATE BUSH – “Wuthering Heights”

FT + Popular107 comments • 6,829 views

#420, 11th March 1978

I’ve never read Wuthering Heights, though I like to imagine its heroine does a pushy-arm dance at some point. Looking it up on Wikipedia, however, I was shocked to realise that Kate Bush is singing this song as a ghost, but really that’s just another oddness on a teetering pile of them: in a really excellent article on Bush for the late Stylus magazine, Marcello Carlin (hi dere!) points out that she is “the last musician to be allowed to do what she likes, as and when she likes”, and the precocious, precious “Wuthering Heights” is both evidence and justification for this indulgence.

23
Jul 08

ABBA – “Take A Chance On Me”

FT + Popular53 comments • 3,115 views

#419, 18th February 1978

“Take A Chance On Me” couldn’t be more different from “The Name Of The Game”: here it’s the beloved who’s shy and afraid, and the singer who radiates confidence and amused self-security. “You don’t want to hurt me? Baby don’t worry, I ain’t gonna let you.”  The song is a typically ABBA-ish twist on a well-worn romantic situation: a rejected suitor pleading their case. Many writers would assume a hurt or hangdog perspective – instead “Take A Chance” is absurdly buoyant. Come on, it says, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s one of ABBA’s most straight-up joyous hits, brimful of an inspirational strength.

It’s also a step back from “The Name Of The Game”‘s complexity – the rhythm is “Dancing Queen” redux (though with a little more pep), and like that song it leads with its steamroller chorus. The simplicity here’s a little deceptive, though – that wonderful a capella rhythm line is as bold a stroke as you’ll find on any of their records, and the flashing, bubbling keyboards show that Benny and Bjorn had been paying attention to Moroder’s advances. But that’s really all secondary to the song’s effervescence, with the girls’ hammy semi-spoken bits summing the whole thing up: this is a band having casually brilliant fun.

22
Jul 08

Popular Demographic Survey

FT + Popular124 comments • 2,378 views

Since there isn’t a great deal more to say about the last entry, time to scratch an itch I’ve had for a while about who exactly is reading this. I’ve kept the questions vague so as to avoid spoilers for records we’ve not covered yet.

Basically, I’d like you to answer these questions in the comments:

1. When were you born?
2. What was the year you were first regularly interested in what was at #1?
3. Do you still listen to music in the Top 40 on a regular basis (and if the answer’s “no”, when did you stop)? more »

BROTHERHOOD OF MAN – “Figaro”

FT + Popular66 comments • 2,751 views

#418, 11th February 1978

When pop’s weather changes, sometimes it’s the mediocre songs that tell you – left beached, suddenly seeming not just below-par but a bit ridiculous. Some records are the sound of a game being up. The hoofy hornsome jauntiness of “Figaro” wouldn’t have sounded good whenever it was released, but not so long before it would at least have fitted in better, just another bad mid-70s pop side, and why expect more? But in the context of 1978 it sounds risible in its complete paucity of ambition (those bastard horns especially). I like this a lot less than the much-despised “Angelo”: a pastiche that runs out of steam beats this horrid evocation of the holiday hustle. “Figaro” – well, “Figaro”‘s brass section - is like being woken at dawn, with a hangover, from an itchy bed by a Butlins Redcoat and made to party till your feet bleed. A single too far for the Brotherhood and their whole aesthetic.

21
Jul 08

ALTHEA AND DONNA – “Uptown Top Ranking”

FT + Popular68 comments • 1 views

#417, 4th February 1978

Even a dilettante like me is aware that the late 70s were a storied age for Jamaican music. The flow of talent and money between Kingston and London was starting to open up world markets to reggae, with Marley a superstar and punk drawing social (and increasingly musical) inspiration from roots and dub. In London, the sweeter sound of Lovers Rock was scoring occasional, deathless pop hits. In Jamaica, a fresh generation of MCs and singjays were starting to make waves, men who would become the stars of early dancehall. And in New York, techniques imported by reggae DJs were setting trends in motion that would transform pop’s vocabulary.

So far, so historical. And then sneaking past the Kintyre titan for a week in the wintry sun was this, the most wondrous of one-hit wonders. If you want proof of the appeal of “Uptown Top Ranking”, try this: I have never once, that I can remember, seen anyone decry it as inauthentic, or sold-out, or frivolous or unrepresentative of Jamaican music. Nobody resents it, in other words. How could they?

18
Jul 08

Popular ’77

FT + Popular/660 comments • 13,714 views

I give a mark out of 10 to every single featured on Popular. This is your chance to indicate which YOU would have given 6 or more to, by whatever standard you wish to impose. And if you have any ‘closing remarks’ on the year to make, the comments box is your place!

Number One Hits Of 1977: Which would you have given 6 or more to?

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Poll closes: No Expiry

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WINGS – “Mull Of Kintyre”/”Girls School”

FT + Popular99 comments • 4,025 views

#416, 4th December 1977

This has the slightly dubious distinction of being the first record I ever disliked. I barely knew about records at all, I was four and three quarters: so my cynicism started early, if you like. This one was inescapable – number one for nine weeks, two million sold, flattening the opposition through Christmas ’77 and then on into ’78. I didn’t know what number ones were but I guess I just got bored of “Mull” being around, its comforting lullaby sway pushing into even our pop-free household*. I remember not being able to figure out what a Mull was, or a Kintyre: I’d been reading the Hobbit, and the Narnia books, so I reckoned it was an honorific, like King, or Tarkaan. And this dark haired guy singing it, he’d be the Mull, then?

17
Jul 08

ABBA – “The Name Of The Game”

FT + Popular55 comments • 3,079 views

#415, 5th November 1977

A young – or maybe not so young – woman, settled in her own mind to unhappy but unruffled spinsterhood, finds her hopes unexpectedly awakened. Can she trust her instincts? Can she even read them? Can this really be happening? “The Name Of The Game”‘s scenario is romance-novel standard, and its emotional territory is ABBA heartland, the twilit world as a relationship shifts between ‘on’ and ‘off’. ABBA regularly find unease where most pop strides boldly forward: “Name”, in its ambition as well as its mood, anticipates “The Day Before You Came” (which could be its narrative prequel).

13
Jul 08

BACCARA – “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”

FT + Popular80 comments • 4,309 views

#414, 29th October 1977

“Already told you in the first werse…”: I’m not sure whether “Yes Sir” is deceptively dumb or deceptively clever. On the one hand you can see why Goldfrapp, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and a generation of raised-eyebrow indie fans have been drawn to it. The arch and chilly fourth-wall breaking which inverts the song, recasting it as the hustle it always was, is smart stuff. On the other hand it’s not just pretending to be a low-rent “Love To Love You Baby”.

7
Jul 08

DAVID SOUL – “Silver Lady”

FT + Popular31 comments • 3,003 views

#413, 8th October 1977

I can’t help but wish this had been Elvis’ last single, though David Soul does a more than satisfactory job by himself. Where “Don’t Give Up On Us Baby” was a singer playing a role refracted through a TV character, “Silver Lady” drops the hearthrob palaver and sounds more like Soul’s just having a good time, singing the pop he wants to sing while his star’s bright enough to allow it. In that sense it’s closer to a lot of modern sleb-goes-pop material – chuck a saleable song the celebrity’s way, let them have a bash at it.