The baton passes from one manufactured disco band to another, but “Y.M.C.A.” is superior to “Mary’s Boy Child” in absolutely every respect – well, the dancing in the video is just as awful, but in “Y.M.C.A.”‘s case the wisdom of crowds soon provided a better alternative. A big part of this song’s success is Victor Willis, who gives his broad-chested lead vocal absolutely everything, starting stentorian and then going steadily more berserk (“PUT YOUR PRIDE ON THE SHELF!”) – gutbucket shouting put to the service of disco goodwill.
I give each record reviewed on Popular a mark out of 10. This is a poll where you can indicate which ones you would have given 6 or more to – pick as many as you like, and discuss the year in general in the comments box if you want.
My highest mark for 78 went to Kate Bush (10) – my lowest to the Brotherhood of Man (2).
Christmas is a time for the kiddies, but I can’t say Boney M made much impression on this five-year-old: “Mary’s Boy Child” was never quite a first-division carol for me, and as for Frank Farian’s unique contribution to the mythology of Christmas, “Oh My Lord” just didn’t register.
Much though I’d love to be writing a hearty defence of Boney M here, this second No.1 shows them at their worst: self-editing doesn’t seem to be a Farian skill and at almost six minutes this is cripplingly long. It’s a frothy bubblebath at first – the girls’ creamy vocals and the rippling steel drums ushering you into a grotto festooned with Christmas tack – but by the end the water’s getting cold and your toes are looking horribly crinkly. The problem is that the group do the entire of “Mary’s Boy Child” – not in itself a short song – and then go into the “oh my lord” routine. Everyone seems to be on autopilot, and the vim which makes their good songs good is mostly absent (Poor old Bobby Farrell looks unimaginably bored in the video). Go back and listen to “Rasputin” instead.
HAHAHA “Do ya think I’m sexy?” heh heh well the answer to that Rod is…..
It’s the gag no pop show talking head can resist, but the title line doesn’t actually show up in this admittedly odd record, and Rod isn’t singing about himself.
“Rat Trap” is billed – in the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles, no less – as the first punk No.1. I couldn’t recall it – my memories of the Rats themselves were vague; Geldof I knew for later good works. So I approached “Rat Trap” cold but with a frisson of definite expectation. Geldof tore up a picture of John’n’Liv on Top Of The Pops, didn’t he? So “Rat Trap” – great title, Sir B – was surely something tight and angry, a sliver of nimble menace in the shadows of 1978′s poptopian monsterhits.
Five minutes later my expectation had turned to shock and laughter.
“Summer Nights” brings into focus the differences between pop on stage and pop on single: its structure, building and building and getting more cacophonous and then peaking into a languid fade, is a really unusual one for a pop single, but immediately recognisable as a musical ensemble number. That’s what it was bought as, anyhow – another massive Grease hit, from the other end of the story, and this one a survivor of the original stage version. As such it’s trying to channel the 50s more directly than “You’re The One That I Want”, nodding especially to the call-and-response minidramas of classic Shangri-La’s.
On one level the ‘plot’ of “Dreadlock Holiday” is hugely important to any judgement of it. On another, not at all, but let’s recap anyway. The narrator is a tourist in Jamaica – he gets mugged for his silver chain and returns to the comfort of his hotel where a woman tries to sell him weed.
Nobody comes out of the story well: the song’s parent album was called Bloody Tourists, and the narrator is a simp, trying and failing to fit in (“concentrating on truckin’ right”) and then fleeing to the hotel at the first sign of trouble. But the island isn’t exactly a welcoming place either,
Lionel Richie pens a heartfelt tribute to the Celtic triple Goddess – maiden, mother and crone. Well, I assume that’s what it’s about. Before I got into soul music, this is pretty much what I assumed all soul music sounded like: insipid gloop for grown-ups, to be drowsed through in the hope something better might show up. Now, of course, not only do I know that soul is a broader church than I once imagined, I also know that a lot of the stuff that does sound like “Three Times A Lady” is terrific. The great soul ballads deliver a double payload – the comfort that comes from letting a thick wave of sentiment carry you up, and the pleasure of listening more closely to hear the nuance and twist in the singer’s delivery.
“Three Times” also holds these attractions to some degree - Richie is a fine singer and commendably restrained here, and there’s some attractive swells and surges in the arrangement towards the end. But I still can’t enjoy it. Maybe I’ve just heard it too often, maybe I like my balladry more situationally grounded and “Three Times” is too abstract. Maybe I’m just cold-hearted.
I have never seen Grease. My cultural ignorance is becoming a bit of a theme in these entries, but here at least I had a reason: I hated it. I can’t remember when I started hating Grease, or why exactly – incomprehension and resentment, I’d imagine; it was very much music for kids a few years older than me, and in 1978 it was everywhere. I’m sure some of the five and six year olds of today will have an inchoate loathing of High School Musical, its obvious modern comparison point.
I didn’t know about genre in 1978 but that didn’t mean I couldn’t recognise it, and this fitted into a very particular and not wholly liked one: music you might sing in school assembly. I didn’t need to have read a single Psalm to know that somehow this fitted next to “When I Needed A Neighbour” and “Kum-By-Ya” and “The Ink Is Black” – i.e. “earnest singalong” not “fun singalong” like the soon-to-be-A-side “Brown Girl In The Ring” (which I did like).