Popular

7
Oct 08

DR HOOK – “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman”

FT + Popular38 comments • 4,656 views

#446, 17th November 1979

The song may be a standard of sorts, but Dr Hook were one of the acts I came to Popular with very little idea about – kind of bluesy? Rootsy? Definitely rockers – the name summoned vague associations of bike grease and whisky… but then I remembered. I was getting them confused with Dr Feelgood. Of course! How silly of me – I should have known that the smoothies behind “…Beautiful Woman” weren’t some kind of gnarly bar band outfit!

And then I saw the video. Oh well.

2
Oct 08

LENA MARTELL – “One Day At A Time”

FT + Popular72 comments • 4,188 views

#445, 27th October 1979

Like so many of 1979′s chart-toppers, Lena Martell was a new face: but this time trailing no stylistic or cultural shift. In fact “One Day At A Time” is one of those occasional Ronseal hits you got back when the buying base for singles used to be huge – a plain sentiment, quite plainly expressed. If it struck something true in you, you might buy it; otherwise just hunker down and wait for it to pass. Relatively unbowed by life’s trials, and with no great interest in Jesus, I’m in the second camp. In fact after a year so stuffed with delights – or at least interesting failures – this sticks in the craw, feeling like a refugee from grimmer times: it would have fitted into the more erratic, unlucky-dip lists of the mid-70s.

1
Oct 08

BUGGLES – “Video Killed The Radio Star”

FT + Popular110 comments • 4,446 views

#444, 29th October 1979

A self-fulfilling prophecy: Buggles’ MTV-launching promo clip for “Video Killed The Radio Star” is as extraordinary is it had to be. Had to be not because of that particular historical coincidence, but because if they’d got it wrong they’d have turned the track into the novelty it almost sounds like. Instead the film – unlike a lot of music videos – enhances the song, stays true to its contradictions and tensions, threats and regrets. So, for once but I hope aptly, this is a review of a video not so much a record.

29
Sep 08

THE POLICE – “Message In A Bottle”

FT + Popular85 comments • 3,306 views

#443, 29th September 1979

The number ones of 1979 look from one angle like a beauty parade – a line-up of ambitious talents sniffing a chance at genuine, lasting superstardom. Whether punk rock had actually cleared any decks, or whether disco had changed the market, or whether simply the enormous surges in singles sales led smart operators to look again at the medium’s potential for making names, there’s a feeling in the air of a brass ring up for grabs – for the first time maybe since Bowie and Elton’s early-decade breakthroughs.

26
Sep 08

GARY NUMAN – “Cars”

FT + Popular68 comments • 3,626 views

#442, 22nd September 1979

“Here in my car I feel safest of all” – this is what marketers, bless us, refer to as a ‘consumer insight’ – one of the unspoken reasons people buy what they buy, do what they do, crystallised in a one-liner that seems obvious as soon as you’ve heard it. It’s no wonder this track enjoyed such a prosperous second life via advertising: the message is barely even subliminal. Okay, Numan is going out of his way to sound chilly about the prospect of Cartopia, but the gleeful clunk-click of the synths gives him away: compared to the messy, shabby confusion “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” left him in, “Cars” is pure liberation.

24
Sep 08

CLIFF RICHARD – “We Don’t Talk Anymore”

FT + Popular75 comments • 3,530 views

#441, 25th August 1979

The strictures of the Popular project give Cliff’s career a sort of cometary aspect: he shows up around the end of a decade just to check on how British pop is doing. But of course he rarely stopped having hits – look at the Everyhit stats and his late 70s comeback doesn’t seem like a revival so much as a realignment, helping an established hitmaker get his bearings back at a time of unusual turbulence in the pop market.

23
Sep 08

THE BOOMTOWN RATS – “I Don’t Like Mondays”

FT + Popular67 comments • 3,852 views

#440, 28th July 1979

So, you’ve got a theatrical #1 record about teen alienation under your belt – how do you follow that? Why, more histrionics, greater alienation, and – the trump card – this time it’s all true! This wouldn’t be the last time Bob Geldof’s gut reaction to a news story made a mark on pop, but there’s no good cause associated with “I Don’t Like Mondays” and no good comes of it.

22
Sep 08

TUBEWAY ARMY – “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”

FT + Popular108 comments • 314 views

#439, 30th June 1979

“I don’t think I mean anything to you.”: it’s a sulky break-up song in android drag. But what drag! There’s a muscley, unpleasantly compelling crunch to the synthesisers on “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” – the song is built on awkward, thrilling mechanical lurches rather than Kraftwerkian glide or Moroderish thrust. It’s futuristic, but this future setting is audibly shabby, an exhausting and dispiriting time to live: you suspect it rains a lot there. Numan himself shifts from distanced scene-setter to hurt suburban boy – the everyday whine of his voice cutting through the future he’s trying to establish, its baffled pique reminding you what these robot worlds get built to cover up.

18
Sep 08

ANITA WARD – “Ring My Bell”

FT + Popular84 comments • 3,831 views

#438, 16th June 1979

“Ring My Bell” is a disco masterclass in how to use the treble – the bell itself (sounds like it’s off a bicycle!), the laserbeam bleeps, Anita Ward’s impishly breathy voice, and the skritch-skratch guitar in the middle of the stereo pan, halfway between a mouse and a typewriter.

15
Sep 08

BLONDIE – “Sunday Girl”

FT + Popular42 comments • 1,967 views

#437, 26th May 1979

I prefer Blondie when they’re poking their noses where they didn’t seem to belong, applying their touch of devastating cool to disco or rap or reggae and getting clean away with it. “Sunday Girl”, delightfully frilly though it is, doesn’t floor me in the same way. In a way its weirdly reminiscent of the Grease singles, a pastiche of something I can’t quite put my finger one – except this doesn’t come alive for me until the last twenty seconds or so, when Debbie Harry suddenly gets some snarl in her voice and the handclaps and guitars start to surge… and then it’s over. Pretty, thoroughly pleasant, beautifully crafted, but too pert to excite.