Posts from 5th January 2005

Jan 05

ROY ORBISON – “It’s Over”

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#171, 27th June 1964

The last few number ones have often seemed like throwbacks – records not as sharply of their time as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or “Glad All Over”, records that would have fitted contentedly into 1959 or ’60. That this is a meaningful distinction and not hair-splitting is down to the pace of change: the run of chart-toppers in the spring of ’64 is an Indian Summer for the gentler, kinder, less carnal pop of the early 60s. (Though of course not much in pop music ever really ends.)

Roy Orbison, who had his first hit in 1960, is an authentic figure from those swept-away times. Even then he seemed older than his peers, here he carries himself like an ancient and tragic king. “It’s Over” is his masterpiece.

It’s a study in dignity and its limits. The music is slick but preposterous – a torrent of strings, finger-clicks, intrusive backing singers and Latin drum flourishes. A less controlled singer would surrender to the bombast and the record would be a slightly laughable bit of period kitsch. A less assured singer would hold themselves back too much on the chorus and the record would end up a mismatch, interesting but hardly moving.

Orbison gets it exactly and frighteningly right. The opening ten seconds of “It’s Over” are chilling, stunning: a hesitant, low guitar and a simple statement of fact, “Your baby doesn’t love you any more.” Then a pause, and the rattle of funeral drums. There is no question – he’s singing to himself. Roy Orbison does not sound here like a young man, shipwrecked by a sudden passion: he sounds like a man who has discovered a void where his life used to be, forced to face the reality that his efforts and happiness were a waste. The lyrics bring this home – seemingly ridiculous couplets followed by lines of awful cruelty. “Setting suns before they fall / Echo to you ‘that’s all, that’s all’ / But you’ll see lonely sunsets after all.” That double rhyme, that flat “after all”, that’s the sound of the knife twisting.

Orbison is utterly defeated, resigned, broken. But not numb. The chorus howls – “It’s over, it’s over, it’s OVER” – sound close to breaking down. It’s theatre, but what theatre! The greatness of this performance lies in the way it takes an arrangement and song that could, almost should be absurd and turns that florid, horrid melodrama into the accomplice to a man’s private armageddon.

Nose, Spite, Face

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Nose, Spite, Face

The theme of Blog Seven this month is resolutions. Making them, breaking them, keeping them, blogging them.

Unfortunately one of my main resolutions this month is to get Popular back on a one-track-per day average. This would mean writing about 31 tracks in January, which would take me up to the 198th #1 hit. I’m going to aim though at the 200th, which is “Help!” by Beatles Band.

Naturally there’s a problem with this as far as Blog Seven goes, which is that if I’m fulfilling the resolution there, I’m not going to be writing about it here. So I’ll try and find something else to talk about instead. But this post is serving notice that after the explosion of festive interest last month, January might be a ‘quiet one’ on the Seven.

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 99. Madonna – “Papa Don’t Preach”

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99. Madonna – “Papa Don’t Preach”

Pete says

On the day this list was made I was kindly given Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection, which means that I finally own a copy of “Papa Don’t Preach”. It also means that nearly eighteen years since this song was released, I finally know all the words. The line “You’ll give us your blessing right now”, had always escaped me, and I often paraphrased it into something to do with laughing. The importance of this, past a column filler in the Guardian magazine, is in the degree you need to know a song to love it. Certainly I have heard “Papa Don’t Preach” hundreds of times on the radio. Equally I approve of the songs underlying pro-choice philosophy (it is clearly Madonna’s choice that she is keeping her baby, and other options are certainly also available). But basically it is a great sing-a-long song. And as such I have sung along lustily to it.

Knowing the words has never really bothered me. Possibly because the words themselves do not seem to dwell on their importance (the pairing “I’m in trouble deep/ I’ve been losing sleep” is a perfect piece of dodgy phrasing to provide the rhyme). Kelly Osbourne’s version is totally superfluous, memorable only for the inconsistent spectre of Ozzy Osbourne preaching. Perhaps this castigation of hypocrisy lies at the heart of Madge’s version too, but frankly the song does not need another layer to justify its brilliance.

Alan adds

The older I get the more trite this song seems and the better In To The Groove sounds. Only a fluke of (late) puberty and intellectual snobbery makes this still my favourite Madonna song.

You see, what stands out about this track at first is not the clever AA rhyme scheme, but the bit in the video where it seems possible that her tits will pop out. Pop legend says several out-takes prove the possibility, but that’s surely a legend probably borne of the wishful-thinking adolescents with those smash-hits posters of her on their wall. Or possibly in the 80s no tit-tape was strong enough to hold back those puppies.

I had this on my taped top-40 countdowns throughout the summer of 86 (the one between 6th form years, so you know), and being more high-minded (i.e. too embarrassed to have aforementioned posters) I would say it was the lengthy (synth) string intro that hooked me into this song. I liked synth strings. They were the mark of serious music. And Poppadom Preach (© Simon Mayo) seemed like Madonna’s first attempt at serious. The “mature” nature of the story; the music that was still danceable without being the out-and-out pop of In To The Groove, or the sillyness of Holiday (both much higher in the FT list I trust). And I’m sure I told this to myself and to others, while I listened on the walkman and imagined those pups on the loose.

On lyrics, I still sing “Maybe we’ll be alright, from 9 to 5” instead of “It’s a sacrifice”. Also, I wanted Kelly O to pronounce “papa” more foppishly as “pah-par” instead of the cutesy-kiddie “popper”. That way I might have cared.


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1: The Renoir

A lovely little art-house joint in the middle of a concrete canyon, namely the Brunswick Centre nr Russell Square. Two well situated, cool auditoriums showing almost exclusively non-English language films, the Renoir is a dream venue for many London cineastes.

It is, unfortunately, a dream venue for me for other reasons. I always fall asleep in there. Perhaps it is due to the architecture. The slight sloping floor means I rarely have my feet on the ground which gives it a bed style feeling to me. It is a very dark, very quiet cinema where everything happens in sleepy hush. But it is probably due to Artifical Eye, the distributors who also own the cinema, who distribute some of the dullest films to be seen on British screens. I have been burned so many times by them that I stay away. Even films of theirs I have liked (say Koktebel), have put me to sleep in the Renoir more often than not. So my dislike of Abbas Kiarostami, and much modern French output is down to the sleepy old Renoir.

Its not cheap either. But it is very close to the Hare & Tortoise noodle bar.

45 RPM

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45 RPM

As in, 45 resolutions per minute. That’s roughly the number of them I seem to come up with every sixty seconds. Now the hangover has worn off it’s time to put one’s money where one’s booze-guzzling mouth is and actually start acting on them.

Diet-related ones tend to be among the more popular and practiced. The scary thing being that age seems to have forced me into thinking about doing the same. I’m not planning on an entirely alcohol-free month though. Resolutions should really be fun and about adding something not taking it away.

So rather than become a fully fledged alcoholic I am excited by the idea of trying to watch a lot more films this year. Inspired by many things including Pete’s list of films from 2003, many of which I still haven’t seen. So MY Resolution #1 is to watch at least three films in the cinema every month. The cheapest place I have found to do this is Peckham Multiplex (only ‘3!) so expect to find me there a lot more regularly from now on. I also only recently discovered the mysterious Renoir cinema in the equally mysterious Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury which in turn leads me to wonder if there shouldn’t be some sort of Publog-esque review of all French-sounding cinemas in London to accompany my challenge. The answer is, of course, no. But I will away and think of more interesting proposals for this month’s theme while you chatter away about your own resoultions in the comments box (please?)…

The Jeremy Bentham

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The Jeremy Bentham

Who is this handsome chappie then? Is it
a) Tim Rice
b) Jeremy Bentham
c) A bizarre look into a parallel dimension where Peter Davidson had remained as Doctor Who for twenty years?

The clue is in the name of the pub, though Tim Rice has a strong claim too. This wax bust sits upstairs in the Jeremy Bentham, a room which when discovered spelt ruin for the Star Of David Pub Crawl. The room was empty and accommodated the thirty odd people who had tagged along. With the later pubs being notoriously poky (The Angel) or often already full (The Lousy) a decision was made to remain in the Bentham. And, on balance, it was probably the right decision. The pub had easily exploited jukebox, some very nice beers on tap and – as previously mention – we had dominion.

As the pub crawl designer and spiritual leader, it lay incumbent upon me to complete the crawl, with three other stalwarts. Our adventures will be listed later. But from six to eleven, this is where most of the crawlers relaxed, and then bellowed when the FT Top 100 Songs list was devised.

It has a great dumb waiter in addition to the waxwork bust, for all fans of architectural merit.

Blade III should be rubbish.

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Blade III should be rubbish. Frankly that Blade or Blade II were any good beggared much belief and was basically due to rather flashy direction and surprising conviction in the casts. You can dress up the vampire mythos in as much flashy clothing as you like (or ugly clothing a la the Blade films) but in the end it does boil down to group X killing group Y because of some perceived difference.

Blade: Trinity (to give it its improper title), raises the stakes (ahem) by giving Blade the means to wipe out all vampires. This genocide gives the Blade absolutely no pause for thought, not that anything really seems to make him think. Nor does it concern his new mates, who perhaps should consider the moral implications more since one pf their number is a “cured” vampire. If vampires can be cured and turned back into humans, then isn’t wiping them all out potentially mass murder of a huge scale*? The film again does not think about this, instead resurrecting the worst version of Dracula since, well Van Helsing.

To consider the Blade franchise one should only consider Kris Kristofferson’s mentor character Whistler. Killed in the first film to provide Wesley Snipes with extra motivation, he came back in the second film having been turned into a vampire and then cured. After pulling out all the non-logical stops to resurrect him, Blade III discards him after ten minutes, to provide Blade with motivation again (and a reason to hook up with the characterless but purty “Whistler’s daughter” a hitherto never referred to plot device). Noisy, silly and hinging on a plot twist which suggests that Dracula himself is a bigger threat to vampires than Blade is (he finds the modern breed as personified by Parker Posey a bit too kooky and indie film friendly). Nothing makes sense, and makes no sense in a rather dull way. Blade III should have been rubbish. It succeeds beyond all expectations.

* The big problem inherent in Buffy when it became clear that some vampires were nice and sappy, and led to the actually villains being demons in the end.

2005 is the Einstein Year

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2005 is the Einstein Year

And what better way to celebrate the life and achievements of one of the greatest physicists than: The Einstein Flip. A revolutionary way of putting many of his theories on space-time convergence to the test, the Einstein Flip is a way of rapidly discharging semi-conductors to effect quantum states to the extent that the energy discharged from mass is almost loss-less.

Oops. Sorry. The Einstein Flip is actually a stunt on a BMX. Apparently them high ups involved at the Science Musuem thought that the International Year Of The Physics was not the kind of name that would attract the hard to market (physics) to 11-14 year old group. Whereas the Einstein Flip will be shown over and over on RAD on Five and help ensure more 11-14 year olds are interested in BMX’s. I mean physics.

Other stunts for Einstein Year will include Bam Margera grinding round a black hole, Britney Spears demonstrating wave/particle duality via the medium of marriage and Ashton Kutchner inventing a way to transport himself to parallel universes, each time mucking his life up in more and more entertaining ways.