23 November 2007
Versions of “Annie’s Song”, in order of preference:
1/ The “Greasy Chip Butty” song, which effortlessly out-poetries Denver in the content-meets-form sensory hit of its images and hence taps directly into the spirit of the song. Not that I’ve actually heard it in a terrace setting, but it’s a thing of wonder anyhow. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 23 Comments
22 November 2007
Lightning-fast moves, uncanny tricks, kids picking up on a craze hip-first and sparking a frisson of establishment fear – no surprise that the song cashing in on the Kung Fu fad was a disco one. Of course Carl Douglas in his headband looks like a big jolly bear, and the track’s been long embraced as a beloved novelty, but it wouldn’t have got that far if there hadn’t been a genuine sense of wonder – and kinship – in the famous chorus. You could argue that “Kung Fu Fighting”, more than the Kung Fu series itself, set a long-term tone for Western reception of martial arts – less a mix of spirituality and violence, more the wide-eyed (though still enormously impressive) foolery of Jackie Chan. “It’s an ancient Chinese art”, handwaves Douglas before getting down to boogie-ing business. The balance has recently tipped back, of course – for my tastes there is not enough disco in the beauty-soaked Crouching Tiger school of Serious Fu, though as long as Stephen Chow films are finding an audience here the spirit of Carl Douglas lives on.
Tom in FT /Popular • 22 Comments
15 November 2007
One of many drunken nights ago in a University bar I got into a vicious competition over Boyzone’s version of this song. My table would put the Boyzone song on the jukebox. Another bunch of drinkers at the next table would reply with Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”. This went through six or seven cycles before we were all threatened with eviction – remarkable patience by the bar staff, considering. Now I’ll admit our first play of the track was probably a tiny bit “ironic”. But as we played it again and again, evolving a complex series of arm-dances to accompany it, and as the drink fogged our brains, irony dissolved into territorial love. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 68 Comments
12 November 2007
The danger of using orchestration to suggest luxury is that it can turn a record inert, putting up a discreet rope between the audience and the opulence: the effect is like a crowd barrier in a stately home, protecting the rooms from gawkers but also reminding you that they’re for admiring, not living in. The reason the Philly soul of Gamble and Huff is so gorgeous is that they never put that rope out: their productions are palaces, but ones you can play around in, fully inhabit. Or, like the Three Degrees, you can just wander through them, awestruck into rapturous ooohs and aaahs. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 33 Comments
7 November 2007
The high tide of glam goes out and soul music fills the gap, but soul is changing. Disco is heavenly music – it rests on a belief in the eternal (the groove), and decrees that such an eternity must be filled with sweetness… and if you weren’t a believer, its rewards might well have seemed like life-sapping monotony, the false paradise of a sinister cult. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 67 Comments
1 November 2007
People remembering the 1970s as a grim decade must surely be forgetting records like this, which prove that it was also a time of romance and sophistication. Romance of course meaning “French”. And sophistication meaning….”French”. And they don’t come much more romantic and sophisticated than Charles Aznavour. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 48 Comments
29 October 2007
Gary Glitter is a liability on his own record: “Always Yours” sparks to life each and every time the backing boys yell the title hook, and then the momentum gradually putters away as weak-lunged Garry oohs and aahs and cheeky-boys through the verses. One foot in light entertainment and one in rock’n'roll, the single has pace and punch but ultimately never manages to successfully marry its bovver and brylcreem sides.
Tom in FT /Popular • 44 Comments
23 October 2007
“The Streak” isn’t awful as comedy records go, in fact musically it slips down very easily, a perky country number with a few good rhymes for “streak” as its highlight. But not only does Stevens succumb to the blight of the comedy song and shove a laugh track on his record, he also insists on using it for his least funny gag, the laboured hick voice he puts on for the streak-witnesser. Goodwill in shortish supply here.
But anyway, streaking. I was nine years old when Erica Roe streaked and…. actually, I don’t remember it at all. Sorry! But I do remember streaking being a “thing”, though somehow I assumed it was specifically British – there’s something a bit Donald McGill about it, especially as it seems to happen a lot at cricket matches. A little Wikipedia research reveals that not only was I completely wrong but that Ray Stevens was highly topical – Time Magazine had only brought the word to light the year before and by ’74 the craze was full-blown. Wikipedia also confirms that streaking is with us still though these days the streakers tend to have the names of insurance websites painted on their backs. Poor show – in the metaphorical sense.
Tom in FT /Popular • 76 Comments
22 October 2007
“Sugar Baby Love” has been ruined for me – actually, no, I don’t know if ruined is the right word – it’s been colonised by The Auteurs’ 1999 single “The Rubettes”, which hollows it out from the inside like some evil necrotising virus, reducing the original to a malicious husk. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 54 Comments
19 October 2007
One of the odd things about ABBA is that they didn’t really change pop. They are still widely loved and more widely bought, but nobody now sounds much like them, or tries to. They are the giant pandas of pop, world-famous symbols viewed with immense affection, but incredibly bad at actually breeding.
ABBA’s lack of impact beyond themselves is no reflection on their quality, or even their craftsmanship – we don’t build pyramids much these days either, but Cheops is still a wonder. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 85 Comments