Feb 09

QUEEN AND DAVID BOWIE – “Under Pressure”

FT + Popular86 comments • 1 views

#489, 21st November 1981

Here’s a type of record which really came into its own in the 80s: rock or pop songs which were terrifically likeable despite having little or no emotional grip. “Under Pressure” is a good example of this because there’s a colossal gap between what the song is notionally about – “People on streets”, as the working title had it – and the actual sensation of listening to it. The video – a badly-synched montage of collapse, depression and hardship – adds to the disconnect. “Under Pressure” simply has nothing whatsoever to do with its purported subject: all you really need to know is in the artist credit, not the title. This is a tag-team bout between two of Britain’s stagiest acts, who go for broke in an attempt to outdo one another. Who wins? (Aside from us.)

Feb 09

Bunny Through The Looking Glass

FT + Popular21 comments • 949 views

Popular is on a brief hiatus while I play in the snow.

But here’s something to have fun with in the meantime (if you live in the UK, and are on Spotify!)

Bunny Through The Looking Glass is a collaborative playlist in which you can upload cover versions and remixes of No.1 hits. There are only two rules:

1. Only versions of songs that I’ve already written about on Popular. (I’ll delete later ones)
2. As far as possible try to move them to the right chronological bit of the playlist.

That’s all! Have fun with it!

Jan 09

THE POLICE – “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”

FT + Popular37 comments • 2,324 views

#488, 14th November 1981

Gratifyingly throwaway by the increasingly intense standards of The Police, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” is the band at their most blithely enjoyable. A lot of that’s down to the arrangement – steelband percussion, Jean Roussel’s delightfully rolling piano, and the uplifting synthesiser chords coming out of the middle eight and colouring the fade out. The whole thing has an off-kilter charm to it slightly reminiscent of XTC, though more straightforward than anything that band did (which is why this is as close as we’ll come to discussing XTC on Popular!). The only downside is – yet again – Sting’s singing, a closed-in growl in the middle of all this splashy colour.

Jan 09


FT + Popular70 comments • 3,846 views

#487, 17th October 1981

If the Number Ones of 1981 had been scripted, this is where the editors would have stepped in. “Sorry, darling, you’ve gone too far. War Canoe? Great twist. The leather boys doing that old soul tune – brilliant stuff, really edgy. But two prog refugees with an experimental version of a girl group era classic? Nobody will believe it! You’ll lose our credibility. One of them used to be in Gong, for pity’s sake!”

Jan 09

ADAM AND THE ANTS – “Prince Charming”

FT + Popular73 comments • 5,595 views

#486, 19th September 1981

“Prince Charming” is the ultimate Adam Ant record, but also weirdly redundant. It’s his manifesto – a series of commandments building up to a credo that’s come to envelop Adam’s whole era: ridicule is nothing to be scared of. But almost every one of Adam’s hit singles had worked like this: the man was a walking manifesto, in slogans and looks and actions and sheer presence. There’s something too harsh, too stark about “Prince Charming”, this undiluted concentrate of Ant-iness.

Jan 09

SOFT CELL – “Tainted Love”

FT + Popular71 comments • 5,009 views

#485, 5th September 1981

Soft Cell’s reinvention of “Tainted Love” is based on a simple shift in emphasis. In the Gloria Jones recording, the point of the record is the love – it’s troubled, besmirched, but Gloria is strong enough to fight her way past that – or carry through her intention to quit. Either way the decision’s hers. For Marc Almond, the point is the taint. Without the taint, there is no love. “Once I ran to you, now I’ll run from you” – but he’s not running yet.

Jan 09

ANEKA – “Japanese Boy”

FT + Popular100 comments • 4,063 views

#484, 29th August 1981

Inscrutable indeed is the train of thought that led Mary Sandeman to get up in a kimono and transform into the mysterious and bewitching Aneka. It was to prove an unrepeatable flash of inspiration – the dress-up box wouldn’t stretch to a second hit. And to be fair, nothing much about “Japanese Boy” suggests ‘career artist’ – the public’s appetite for syndrums and chinoiserie was briefly immense but always likely to be finite.

Jan 09

The Bunny’s Lair

FT + Popular7 comments • 906 views

For people on Spotify, I’ve created a playlist of all the 50s Popular entries*.

Further playlists to follow for the 60s, 70s and 80s (which will of course be regularly updated).

*except Andy Williams’ “Butterfly” – of all things! – which is not-ify on Spotify.

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – “Green Door”

FT + Popular44 comments • 3,118 views

#483, 1st August 1981

“I don’t know what they’re doing but they laugh a lot”. As a kid I had no great knowledge of speakeasies and after-hours clubs, so I projected a different – perhaps more glamorous – meaning onto the song, drawn from a childhood reading Tolkein, Nesbit and endless books of fairytales. The Green Door, quite clearly set into a hillside, or visible only on Beltane Eve, or found on an old street not marked on any map, led into the Otherworld, and the mocking laughter was obviously that of elves or boggarts. With this reading firm in my mind I could sympathise greatly with Shakey’s frustration – though I thought he was probably too old for this kind of adventure.

Jan 09

THE SPECIALS – “Ghost Town”

FT + Popular108 comments • 6,799 views

#482, 11th July 1981

When Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews picked “Ghost Town” for an unforgettable appearance in Father Ted, they apparently wanted the worst record imaginable to play at a disco. But there’s actually a lot of dancing in the song, which knots its competing jostle of ideas together with an incisive – and wholly struttable – mid-tempo groove. The reason you wouldn’t dance to “Ghost Town” is that the floor’s already full – of fighting, but also of spectres. The record is full of crescendos and horn vamps that beckon you to dance and then break off, plunging the song back into shadow. And when the dance does kick off you’d rather not be part of it – those horrible shrieking backing vocals are the sound of a danse macabre, a skeleton skank conducted by the sleeve’s bony pianist.