Apr 09


FT + Popular82 comments • 8,648 views

#506, 7th August 1982

(This entry is an edited version of this piece – it’s my favourite thing I’ve ever written for FT, about possibly my favourite Number One, and I felt I couldn’t improve on it.)

There is pop, and there is popular, and then there’s popular. And there’s also “timeless”. Sometimes when people say that a record is “timeless” – let’s pick on, oh, a Radiohead album – they mean it will be listened to and loved say twenty years from now. What they secretly mean is that it will be listened to in just the same reverent way as now: taste to them is a stock market, and they’re keen to invest emotionally in records which promise steady long-term growth.

You can caricature the pop fan, too – their expenditure is without hope or desire of return, their passions are spent on mayfly records, and this hopelessly compromises their judgement in the eyes of their more sober peers. Particularly if, like me, they’re fool enough to try and write about those records. As I say, though, there’s pop, and popular, and popular – records which fool both the investors and the wastrels, freak mutant pop records which survive the chart that spawned them and then some, which simply keep on getting played. Eternal pop. “Celebration”. “Dancing Queen”. “Come On Eileen”.

Apr 09


FT + Popular27 comments • 2,520 views

#505, 17th July 1982

The lust for fame has always been a crucial pop motivation, but there are periods when that flame seems to burn more nakedly than others. In his classic book on the New Pop and, Like Punk Never Happened, Dave Rimmer is quite candid about the primary motivations for the crop of stars breaking through in ’82: they wanted money. And the way to money was celebrity.

But the concept of celebrity – much like the individual slebs themselves – requires an occasional trip to rehab. The very idea of fame needs to refresh itself periodically, put on a bit of slap, remind the unfamous why they admire the ambition and hunger even as they’re laughing at the hubris and folly. And in the early 80s the Fame film and TV show was a vehicle for doing this.

Apr 09


FT + Popular36 comments • 3,547 views

#504, 3rd July 1982

So here’s one destination for punk: a jokey cover version of an old show tune, knocked out at the record company’s request and pushing Captain Sensible firmly down the woeful career path of the professional eccentric. Look more closely and there’s a little bit more going on: backing trio Dolly Mixture are as much a part of the record as the Captain is, and what could be more DIY than giving some mates the chance to be on a number one hit? And I’ll forgive “Happy Talk” a lot for inspiring Dizzee Rascal’s delightfully goofy “Dream”.

But honestly, this isn’t very good. Dolly Mixture lend it some charm, Sensible attacks it with his usual honking gusto, but the record never feels like more than a jolly piss-up – hip-hop pastiche “Wot” (“Well, HELLO ADAM…”) meshes these qualities a great deal better, and shows that the Captain could seem invested in his material when it suited him.

Apr 09

CHARLENE – “I’ve Never Been To Me”

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#503, 26th June 1982

One of my favourite old threads on ILX was a compendium of right-wing American cartoons, in which politics I found highly disagreeable were counterbalanced by craft and chutzpah. In fact my reactions were murkier than that – my horror at the opinions was part of the thrill. I certainly wouldn’t have had this reaction to right-wing columnists or talk shows so I assume the medium gave the material a – possibly dangerous – air of safety.

I have a similar reaction to conservative pop, especially country and country-tinged records like “I’ve Never Been To Me”, which Charlene kicks off in a laid-back Carly Simon mode before waxing increasingly rabid over the futility of female independence.

Mar 09

ADAM ANT – “Goody Two Shoes”

FT + Popular57 comments • 4,298 views

#502, 12th June 1982

Ants largely jettisoned, Adam cast around for a new angle. It was a moment in pop history when sudden changes of image and sound were respectable – even expected for some stars. Compared to today’s performers who tend to cover bandwagon-jumping with a figleaf of artistic intent, there was a refreshing honesty about this pursuit of a new look for a new season: pop and fashion were merging in a blare of colour.

Mar 09

MADNESS – “House Of Fun”

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#501, 29th May 1982

“House Of Fun” finds Madness – one of the most consistent and successful singles acts in Britain – on a cusp. They’d made their name with busy, high-impact ska-derived records whose bristling arrangements and comical touches often hid more pointed subject matter. They were heading towards an incarnation as traders in pop art melancholy, an inheritor of the Kinks and prototype for Britpop.

But this record is the band biting off almost more than it can chew. It’s Madness’ skankin’ nutty-boys incarnation pushed to the limits of cohesion, Suggs trying to squeeze a complex sitcom sketch – in which he acts every part! – into under three minutes, jostling for space with a beat and a load of fairground-music instrumental lines.

Mar 09

NICOLE – “A Little Peace”

FT + Popular71 comments • 4,074 views

#500, 15th May 1982

In the world of Marvel and DC Comics, the 100th, 200th (etc) issues of a title were considered real milestones. To maximise sales of these anniversary specials, the companies would often use them to launch particularly big storylines: deaths, marriages, epic battles. But often this meant that the run of issues immediately before the anniversary were especially poor – the title would be in a holding pattern, putting out meaningless and unmemorable issues to kill numbers before the big one, and following it would become a chore. If the long-awaited 500th issue also turned out to suck – well, you can imagine how frustrating that was.

Mar 09


FT + Popular51 comments • 3,900 views

#499, 24th April 1982

An awful suspicion lingers that Paul McCartney wouldn’t have tried something like this if it hadn’t been for “Imagine” doing so well the year before. Some partnerships and rivalries create reflexes that run way deeper than conscious decision can account for, and anyhow Lennon was – naturally – on the man’s mind as he put the Tug Of War material together. A piano ballad whose simple truth can bring the world together as one? What could possibly go wrong?

Mar 09

BUCKS FIZZ – “My Camera Never Lies”

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#498, 17th April 1982

“The Land Of Make Believe” was a good song made mysterious by its muffled production; “My Camera Never Lies” is an ordinary song with an arrangement that bristles and shines like a Swiss Army Knife. Unusually, it’s a record almost entirely carried by its backing vocals – all that jittery “ma-ca-muh-ruh-ruh” stuff which gradually takes over the whole track (to be replaced with more conventional harmonies, and children’s voices considerably creepier than the one at the end of “Make Believe”).

The result is jumpy, slightly desperate, annoying in repeated doses, but surprisingly effective. It’s like Bucks Fizz, aware their fame is running out, are trying to cram all of new wave and new pop into a single supercompressed hybrid, halfway between Devo and Dollar.

Mar 09


FT + Popular39 comments • 3,488 views

#497, 27th March 1982

“Seven Tears” is a platonic ideal of rubbish European pop: if it came out today you could half believe it was some kind of plot by the UK Independence Party. In its three and a bit minutes the poor man’s Boney M hit an impressive number of touchpoints: