Posts from May 2011

May 11

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops 2011: the Number 9s

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops56 comments • 2,321 views

1961: African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth (video)
1971: Something Old Something New – The Fantastics (video) (lyrics)
1981: Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape (video) (lyrics)
1991: Get The Message – Electronic (video) (lyrics)
2001: Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz (video) (lyrics)
2011: Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce (video) (lyrics)

Spotify playlist (all 6 tracks)

If Johnny Dankworth‘s aim was to conjure up some sort of recognisably “African” flavour with this track (better known to American audiences in its Grammy Award-winning cover version by Cannonball Adderley), then fifty years of shifting cultural signifiers have made it hard to divine his intentions. There’s barely anything here which suggests “Africa” to contemporary ears, barring a certain skulking-through-the-souk “imaginary soundtrack” quality (with attendant premonitions of Barry Adamson) which might conceivably place it on the continent’s northern shores. But then again, its Canadian composer (Galt MacDermot, who went on to write the music for Hair six years later) was a scholar of African music who graduated from Cape Town university, so what do I know?

Having traded as The Velours since 1956 – with some decent doo-wop releases to their name – this presumably down-on-their-luck vocal harmony group made a decision to move from Brooklyn to the UK in 1968, in order to capitalise on the new British soul boom. Thus did The Velours become The Fantastics, who by 1971 had been driven into the arms of the then-ubiquitous Cook/Greenaway songwriting partnership, resulting in this, their sole chart entry.

As you might expect from the duo who brought us “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”, the “soul” on offer here is more Batley Variety Club than Muscle Shoals – but considering this is also the same duo who brought us “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart”, you might expect a better standard of songcraft than this routine boom-thwacker, which presaged Greenway’s later compositions (There Goes My First Love, You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book) for the similarly rehoused Drifters.

Having first become vaguely aware of Landscape as a jazz-rock outfit, I nursed a certain generational suspicion regarding their conversion to synth-pop (“pah, old men trying to be trendy” – oh, the cruelty of the young!) – but equally, I could hardly ignore band leader Richard James Burgess’s production work on all of Spandau Ballet’s early releases (still properly trendy in May 1981, at a time when I ascribed rather too high a value to such concerns). So the slightness of “Einstein A Go-Go” quickly palled for me (despite its arch references to IMPENDING NUCLEAR DOOM, but this was small beer next to Crass’s “Nagasaki Nightmare”), eventually to be eclipsed by Thomas Dolby’s similarly boffin-centric “She Blinded Me With Science” a couple of years later.

Johnny Marr once called Electronic’s “Get The Message “the best song I’ve written“. If he’d only added “since leaving The Smiths”, I might have been persuadable (not that I’m exactly au fait with the back catalogues of The Healers, Modest Mouse or The Cribs, but I’d be happy to take his word on the matter).

As it stands, this is a striking case of selective amnesia from someone who once collaborated with one of the finest lyricists of the Eighties, only to fetch up in a songwriting partnership with someone who seemingly strings his lyrics together from fridge magnets. And that’s with all due respect to Bernard Sumner – without whom the line from post-punk to New Pop to pre-house to post-house to Madchester baggy would be a good deal harder to trace – but, let’s face it, he’s hardly the most quotable of lyricists, and “Get The Message” is no exception.

So perhaps the strengths of “Get The Message” lie more in its arrangment (does its bassline carry a faint echo of Magazine’s “A Song From Under The Floorboards”, or have I just got Barry Adamson stuck in my brain today?), its mood, and the cultural weight which has been attached to it – for this is as good a representation of 1991 indie-dance as you’ll find.

My initial reaction on hearing this, the debut single from Gorillaz, was baffled disappointment; I thought that a cartoon band would sound jollier than this, and I couldn’t match the subdued mood with the sparky graphics. It wasn’t until the second album, 2005’s Demon Days, that the penny dropped and I began to grasp the point of the project, and so “Clint Eastwood” appeals to me more now than it ever did ten years ago. That said, there has always been a certain Late Review/Front Row/Sunday-broadsheet-culture-supplement dryness attached to Gorilla, which prevents them fully working as proper pop, and I’m already hearing it here.

In place of 2011’s real Number Nine (it’s a reissue of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, and I make it a rule to exclude reissues), I’ve substituted the track at Number Eleven. My jury’s still out on Beyonce‘s latest female-empowerment anthem; it doesn’t immediately bowl me over, but neither did “Single Ladies” for the first few weeks, and the two tracks do share a certain elemental, schoolyard-chant quality.

Not being previously familiar with the track on which this is heavily based – Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” – I shall deftly sidestep any discussions of their relative merits, save to say that my first thoughts on hearing “Run The World (Girls)” was “Ooh, she’s doing a MIA on us” – an impression which its provenance rather confirms.

And so to the voting. Goodness me, has it really been a whole week since I unveiled the Number Tens? I shall endeavour to whiz through the remaining eight rounds a little more efficiently, but – to be frank – I’ve found this a rather uninspiring round to blurb about, despite the weightiness of some of the names involved. Perhaps you’ll find more to cheer or to carp about than I have; I shall wait with baited breath!


Stand by The Man

FT + The Brown Wedge10 comments • 1,010 views

In January HMV announced that, due to it and Waterstones collectively flailing around in a mire of doom, it’s going to close 60 stores this year. Gossiping with a bookseller last weekend I discovered Waterstones have had their ordering near-frozen -I’m not surprised, it was close to that when I worked for them nearly three years ago and it’s a bad sign. And now it transpires Waterstones might be sold to a Russian millionaire for less than a premiership striker.

Well good riddance then- corporate bookselling and corporate record chains that squeezed out the independents being killed off by even bigger corporate things. Awesome, now we can all ponce around pretending to buy things in idiot vanity projects like Lutyen and Rubenstein’s shop or whatever’s left of the independent record stores, whilst actually shuffling them all off Amazon. Brilliant, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing everyone can look forward to.

I can’t even avoid being sarcastic in the above three sentences of course. You know what’s going to really suck? Not having any bookshops in most small towns. Not having any record shops most likely, either. “Oh but it is all online, look at my oogly Kindle thing” you say- well, maybe, maybe, in ten years time but realistically it’s only now that physical music product is going and that’s a lot less tactile in its consumption anyway. Not to mention Amazon and Apple’s iBooks are hardly bastions of ethics for either the offer they extend to writers whose work they sell or the care they take for the books or their content.

Besides (and this is the big point) you might say “oh yes but this will lead to a rise of independent book/record sellers, The Man has fallen” but guys, no it won’t. If a big chain with big corporate credit can’t afford to keep a store open in your town, how is someone going to do it alone? The existing ones may stay open but there isn’t going to suddenly be a big surge towards them, anymore than there was when Borders closed. Even more fundamentally, if Waterstones/HMV group goes under then publishers will have to stop printing a great number of books; whether that number will be big enough that they have to stop entirely is a scary question and one I don’t want to see the grand experimental answer to. Kindle is coming but not that fast.


May 11

U2 – “The Fly”

Popular107 comments • 9,154 views

#668, 2nd November 1991

The Wikipedia article on Achtung Baby is illuminating in unexpected and glum ways. For a start, the demands of Wiki-style are never kind to projects which centre on ambiguity and every last bit of knowingness gets flatly ironed out. But more, the behind-the-scenes material – a boil-down of dozens of books, articles, and retrospectives – suggests what a ghastly and drawn-out process Not Being U2 was for U2. (My favourite factoid: how one proposed album title was Man – as opposed to Boy, you understand – before someone noticed this would squarely poleaxe the whole ‘not pompous any more’ look)

This points to one of the big questions about New U2 – the extent to which this music was impressive, or just impressive because of who was making it. When we watch a film about an ex-con, for instance, we often cheer them on when they reject a life of crime or violence while expecting the drama to hinge on their return to it. In our everyday lives, of course, we don’t find it much of a struggle not to commit armed robbery. Similarly, many bands find it surprisingly easy not to make tedious and overblown rock records, so how much of the interest in U2’s early 90s material comes from them fighting these deadly urges, rather than the fact (or otherwise) of their success?


May 11


FT8 comments • 3,152 views

To read the story, click here; to read about our ‘hauntography’ project, click here.

There are female visitations aplenty, of course, and female servants and relatives and bystanders, and a wife or two, and of course the witch in The Ash Tree: but Mrs Anstruther is very close to the only time in 30-odd in M. R. James stories that a woman is protagonist-victim; and when it’s not what he considers manstuff that gets the demon’s motor running. The other — that I’m aware of — is a rarely anthologised fragment called The Experiment: and we never actually meet the woman character in that.

But we very much do meet Mrs Anstruther — she’s the one strong character, and everyone else (such as her husband) we only really recognise in terms of their relationship with her. At its simplest, the story is this: Mrs A wants to convert a neglected corner of her small estate into a rose garden; orders the gardener to remove the decayed garden seat and uproot an old post attached to it; something is disturbed, which brings unpleasantness…


May 11

Welcome To Violence: Motorpsycho

Do You See + FT/1 comment • 3,002 views

Recently Al Ewing and Sarah Peploe came into possession of a box set containing “18 uplifting classics” (end quote) from the cinematic oeuvre of Russ Meyer. Heedless of the consequences, they have taken it upon themselves to watch and review each of these in turn on an irregular basis. This is part six.

DISCLAIMER DEPT: This is very definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK. Also, the plot of the film contains rape, so consider this a trigger warning.


May 11

BRYAN ADAMS – “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”

Popular151 comments • 15,617 views

#667, 13th July 1991

Sixteen Listens For Sixteen Weeks: An Everything I Do Liveblog

This song got to number one for 16 weeks, so I decided to play it 16 times in a row, writing as I went.

Play 1: And we’re off. I’ve honestly hardly heard this in the last twenty years so I don’t anticipate the full horror will strike me for a few plays. In case anyone doesn’t know why I’m doing this, “Everything I Do” – a soundtrack hit from Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves – holds the record for the longest consecutive run at Number One in the UK singles chart. At least one other record has come close, a few have threatened to, but this is still the champ. Sixteen weeks. Almost four months.

The record is – oh look, you know this, but anyway – it’s a power ballad, slower in fact than I remember. Very weighty. It levels up repeatedly, reaches a climax about two-thirds of the way through, then we have a lingering solo (which I didn’t remember at all and have really no desire to hear another fifteen times), a reprise of the pre-chorus and chorus, and that’s your lot.

Play 2: So on first go that wasn’t so bad! I was 18 when this song was around and I dare say a great deal less amenable to ballads in general and romantic ballads in particular. The song got to number one just after I’d left school – I was spending the summer listening to Bob Dylan and picking fruit for a pittance. “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” – now there, I thought, was a love song. I suspect “Everything I Do” might have a rather wider appeal. (Ah – the solo again – now I’m noticing little moans from Bry on it, dear me.) Anyway I hardly noticed this being number one for its first few weeks and certainly bore it no ill will.


May 11

Film 2Oh!!: Thor Is Just Birther and OBL Conspiracy Theory Propaganda

Do You See1 comment • 345 views

18. Thor (Cinema)

This may contain hints at spoilers. And below the break actual spoilers.

Some films get lucky with their release date, others are unfortunately pre-empted by real events. Imagine if you will what would have happened if next weekend was the release date of Morgan Spurlock’s “Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden”. But such is the risk when making topical films like Spurlock did there, or indeed Kenneth Brannagh has done here with Thor.

Now hold, you say. What can be topical about a film made of a 45 year old comic based on thousand year old Norse myths. Everything and nothing. Now I am not saying that Thor has been made to specifically stoke up conspiracy theories around Osama Bin Laden’s death or to throw additional fuel to the fire of the birthers in the US. Its just one of the many readings that can be teased from this dense narrative (you may also read dense how you would like). For the record let it state that as a blockbuster Thor is lots of fun (especially in 2D), having the right level of comedy leavens what might otherwise be a stodgy brew. But you may also need to consider that the best character in it is also one which has no origin in the original material at all (take a bow Kat Dennings and your snarky one liners). Spoilers from here on:


May 11

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops 2011: the Number 10s.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops52 comments • 2,039 views

If you were here twelve months ago, then you’ll know exactly what this is all about. If you weren’t here twelve months ago, then you’ll soon figure out what’s going on; just watch, absorb and imitate, and you should be fine.

But if you do need a quick summary: over the next two or three weeks, we’ll be collectively appraising the Top 10 UK singles charts from this week in 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011. Today, we’ll be looking at the records at Number Ten in each chart; in the next post, we’ll look at the Number Nines, and so on until we reach the top. There will be voting, there will be scoring, and there will be cumulative, decade-against-decade ranking, all of which will be explained in due course.

OK. Ready? Let’s do it!

1961: Where The Boys Are – Connie Francis (video) (lyrics)
1971: Bridget The Midget (The Queen Of The Blues) – Ray Stevens (video) (lyrics)
1981: Lately – Stevie Wonder (video) (lyrics)
1991: Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey) – De La Soul (video) (lyrics)
2001: Star 69 – Fatboy Slim (video) (lyrics)
2011: Buzzin (Remix) – Mann ft 50 Cent (video) (lyrics)

Spotify playlist (minus De La Soul)


IPA Tasting Science 2011

FT + Pumpkin Publog13 comments • 688 views

Some of the 40-odd IPAs ready to be tasted.Friday 29th April – an auspicious date for many British residents up and down the land, as we celebrate and berate an age-old tradition harking back to a time when our empire spread across the globe from the Falklands to Falkirk. Yes, your perma-sozzled FT correspondents were undertaking an IPA Tasting.

After the success of last year’s Imperial Stout Orgabooze, we thought that this year we’d try out a different style of beer. India Pale Ale (ha! And you thought we were talking about the International Phonetic Alphabet) traditionally had a bunch of hops shoved in it to help it survive the voyage to India in the 19th century. For the purposes of this tasting a beer counts as an IPA if:

1) It says ‘IPA’ or ‘India Pale Ale’ on the bottle


2) It’s a pale ale with a name that has something to do with India, e.g. Proper Job, which apparently is named after the ‘proper job’ a Cornish regiment did in putting down the Indian Mutiny (despite the the queasiness that such associations may induce).


JASON DONOVAN – “Any Dream Will Do”

Popular60 comments • 5,053 views

#666, 29th June 1991

Like – I suspect – an awful lot of kids born in the 70s or 80s, I have taken part in a production of Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I did not play the lead – the Hamlet of pre-teen stage roles – instead I was Potiphar, the Egyptian merchant who catches Joe in the clutches of his lustful wife. He gets one line in the show, as follows:

“Joseph, I’ll see you ROT IN JAIL.
The things you have done are BEYOND THE PALE.”

I had to put on a tea-towel Arabian get-up and a deep voice, and then fidget around backstage for the entire rest of the performance. It was great!