Jan 11


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#650, 15th September 1990

“The Joker”‘s quick run at Number One is best known for one of the chart’s notorious injustices – it tied in sales with Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” and took the honours owing to a greater sales increase. Cue a certain amount of outrage and a hurried rewriting of the rules, which naturally have never been needed since. No conspiracy, just rotten luck, and “Groove”‘s status as a nailed-on wedding floorfiller means it’s as inescapable as any early 90s #1 anyway.

Even so it looks like a win for tedious old rock over playful frothy pop. But hold on, because the two songs have more in common than it might appear. At heart, both take a unit-shifting genre and inject it with some likeable silliness: Deee-Lite turned clubbing into a kitschadelic hip-hop party, Steve Miller turned easy 70s AOR into a goofball slacker stroll. And back in ’73, Miller’s silliness might have been the more striking – here’s a seven-album chops-heavy veteran of the psychedelic jam scene making up words and going “Maw-REECE” and digging into nudge-wink 50s innuendo about peaches and trees.

But in 1990? It was just, you know, 70s rock. The Levis ad – of course it was a Levis ad – which brought the song back to consciousness uses the song as a marker of preposterous cool and is hard to work out. It seems pregnant with 90s knowingness, teetering on the point of laughing at itself but not quite willing to play that card when it knows that a hot biker riding rings round the squares will still – just about – sell as that. And the thing about the song is how Miller is having his laidback cake and eating it in a similar way – drawling out the words, wandering round the melody, then rolling into a self-mythologising chorus he must have known was a winner. He’s not taking himself entirely seriously, but seriously enough to sell the song to guys who want to be the joker even if they don’t know what a pompetus is.

At the time, of course I hated it – it was the past and communicated nothing about the now or the future. And it’s part of a wave of covers and revivals that will drown the next year or so. But 90s pop wasn’t going to be as straightforwardly futuristic as I might have liked, and “The Joker” fits into other strands. If Levi’s hadn’t raked it up, it might have ended up on a Tarantino soundtrack. It might even have found a place in The Dude’s 1991 LA. It’s that rarity, a revival that happened too soon.



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  1. 91
    Ed on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 87: Freud = anti-fun. He has some of the same effect on Sophocles, too.

    On the Doors as pop, and comedy: by far the most electrifying music I have ever seen on TV was Fun Boy Three performing ‘The End’ on, IIRC, The Tube, just as they were splitting up. They played it absolutely straight, with Annie Whitehead going wild on the trombone during the freak-out bits, and burned an American flag. At the end Terry Hall leaned in to the microphone and said: “Does anybody get the joke?”

    I was astounded by it at the time, and I still I am today.

    It’s on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIuAUJ2VyP4

    Sorry I can’t do the fancy linking

  2. 92
    Mark M on 27 Jan 2011 #

    Re 91: Blimey! Somewhat appropriately, Hall looks more like Julian Cope than himself there.

  3. 93
    Izzy on 27 Jan 2011 #

    That was pretty great, well done Fun Boy Three.

    I love The Doors, I think they deserve a much better critical legacy. What I hear is an excellent blend of pop tunes, interesting image and persona, ambition that mostly doesn’t go up-its-own-ass, unusual mellow singing and great playing especially some of the drumming. There’re recurring lyrical howlers of course, but not as many as you think, and no way do they stop something like ‘Riders On The Storm’ being perfect.

  4. 94
    Andy M on 28 Jan 2011 #


    The teenager awoke at mid-day,
    He walked into the back garden,
    Everything was peaceful except for the complaining note of a woodcrest dying in the leafy thickness.
    He walked up to the patio chair where his father sat,
    “Yes son?”
    “I want to borrow your golf clubs.”

  5. 95
    23 Daves on 28 Jan 2011 #

    @83 – This is the thing, I doubt anyone outside of Britain knows or cares what Basildon looks like. I spent my teenage years living in a town only three miles from the border of Bas, and knew people who lived near the houses of parents of members of the band. Apparently the odd tourist did drop by asking why there wasn’t a plaque to say where they were all born. They really didn’t seem to understand that nobody in Britain cared all that much about them (although the band did seem to have a much more pronounced popularity locally, as you’d expect).

    As for the town’s image, that’s something I’ve always found very peculiar about Britain – it was always perfectly acceptable for the media to sneer at working class southern towns, but God help them if they looked further north. Working class southerners outside of London = naff, whereas working class northerners = gritty and authentic. So Depeche Mode were seen as twee boys from Essex, whereas Joy Division/ New Order were somehow portrayed as good working class boys (despite the fact that Ian Curtis was a Tory voter from Macclesfield). Truly perplexing.

    Anyway, I’ve sometimes wondered if the similar environments of Basildon and Eastern Bloc and Russian towns did somehow filter through to the band’s music and make them popular in those countries, or if it had more to do with the band picking up on a lot of left-leaning politics early in their careers (“And Then” off “Construction Time Again” is a good example) and being influenced by a lot of German electronic and industrial music. Part of me would love to think it had something to do with psychogeography, but it seems rather unlikely.

  6. 96
    flahr on 29 Jan 2011 #

    Blimey. I must admit I wasn’t aware that Depeche Mode were unpopular/seen as a bit naff. Clearly “Just Can’t Get Enough” has travelled through time and addled my brain.

  7. 97
    Chelovek na lune on 29 Jan 2011 #

    @95 I suspect in large measure the different treatment meted out to places like Bas/Dagenham/Harlow/Jaywick compared with northern working class towns derives from a combination of a romanticisation of the north (largely from the scribes of the NME offices in London, etc, but with the propagandistic help of Tony Wilson et al) and the greater sense of history and tradition often linked with the principal industries of those places that was present (or, in many cases, present up until Thatcher) in those places (I guess the Manic Street Preachers played upon this in a Welsh context too).

    I think the naffness of Basildon (and anyone who doubts it is naff…well google for the video of the notorious and offensive number 66 single on the recent Christmas chart, filmed in the town’s main square and shopping center, “Use My Ars*h*l* As A C*nt” by K*nt and the Gang. Oh my, I now think, when I walk through that square where all those people were dancing and miming the actions associated with the words of that song. Oh dear.) is not so much its working-class-ness as its status as a “new town”; i.e. a place more or less devoid of history or tradition or “rootedness” beyond (now slightly more than) a couple of generations; and a place filled, still, with mostly hideously unattractive buildings (the glass bell-tower apart).

    Unlike northern industrial towns, there is no, or only a limited, proud industrial or labour history that can be idealised: the town was built, essentially, as suburbs for people effectively economically “cleansed” from the supposedly more real and authentic – or at any rate organic and historically validated – environments of London – and the process of making such a place a real home, town and community essentially had to start from scratch. And the fact that, like the Soviet suburbs, it didn’t, at least initially, grow organically, but by central dictat, arranged in discrete estates with streets with strange, unconventional names (Mellow Purgess is one that springs straight to my mind, or Ghyllgrove, Wickhay, or The Fremnells) also creates a peculiar atmosphere – seemingly detached from history. A brave new world indeed.

    Though I also suspect that the working class population of Essex are decidedly, on average, more right-wing than those elsewhere, is also a factor.

    I wonder if places like Bas will have attained some greater “credibility” in the eyes of the media by the time they have “matured” a little more, so they have had the chance to develop a more extensive history.

    (And to my mind any naffness or tweeness associated with early DM – which frankly the lyrics and twiddly tunes of some of their early singles like “See You” or “Meaning of Love” make a fair description – was well and truly shed by the time that they were releasing really killer singles like “Shake The Disease”, or the albums from “Black Celebration” onwards. Though I suspect some would say the naffness ended earlier. And I reckon the German/Berlin electronic music thing was of greater significance to their popularity in the Eastern Bloc than anything to do with politics. Though the psychogeography thesis is also an interesting one…

  8. 98
    Ed on 29 Jan 2011 #

    @94: Excellent!

    Freudians would have something to say about him wanting to “borrow” his father’s “golf clubs”, of course….

  9. 99
    Izzy on 29 Jan 2011 #

    Depeche Mode’s joke status (if they do indeed still have it) is as unfair as it gets. I think it’s down to them doing it almost entirely outside the music press’s orbit – the heinous double crime of acquiring an enormous unendorsed cult following, plus genuine megastar status in unfashionable places like Spain or Russia. Doesn’t reflect well on our music culture at all.

    Certainly their output in terms of both music and (sometimes grotesque) narrative since I really became aware of them circa 92 is up there with anyone imo. Sniggering at them while fawning over, say, Oasis or Radiohead and giving U2 a fair hearing really isn’t on.

  10. 100
    23 Daves on 29 Jan 2011 #

    @97 – Yes, unfortunately Essex is a more right-wing region of Britain than almost all northern areas, which probably has caused it to have a massive image problem over the years (although I’ve witnessed casual racism in small northern towns which would give the average Essex man or woman a run for his or her money). And in all honesty, if I liked the place that much I’d probably still live there… although I have an odd soft spot for Harlow which was born out of some well-meaning socialist ideals.

    As for Depeche Mode, I’d argue – perhaps controversially -that you can really hear signs of forward movement from the moment Vince Clarke left. I don’t have an issue with the man’s output generally, but a lot of “Speak and Spell” sounded naive to say the least, whereas “A Broken Frame” is a disjointed album, but rubbing up against the likes of “See You” (a likable pop song) and “Meaning of Love” (a bit of an embarrassing adolescent pop song) are atmospheric pieces like “Satellite”, “The Sun and the Rainfall” and “My Secret Garden”. In those, you can actually hear the “Black Celebration” era soundscapes developing already, and an eerie form of electronica which wasn’t a hundred miles away from OMD’s recently reappraised “Dazzle Ships”. Then “Construction Time Again”, another admittedly uneven album, introduced sampled and found sounds, and the template was pretty much in place, although “BC” was the first consistent album to successfully utilise everything they’d absorbed.

    For the first four albums, I think Depeche Mode’s age counted against them. They did write a lot of appallingly clunky lyrics which were supposed to have been profound or politically astute – something I’m sure some of us here did in private or to a very select public during our teens and early twenties – and they do sometimes detract from the songs. “Blasphemous Rumours”, for example, does sound even sillier to me than the worst of the Doors’ excesses. It took them awhile to learn the benefits of subtlety.

    As you can probably tell, I find it deeply irritating that we’re not able to discuss any of their tracks on here, because they’ve never had a number one in this country and I now highly doubt they ever will do. It’s a bit of an injustice.

  11. 101
    heather on 29 Jan 2011 #

    This is harmless enough as old-trouser songs go. I don’t like the wolf-whistle, but I like the bassline, so it evens out. A score of 5 seems about right. I’d consider 6 if the advert had been one of the better ones. (I think my favourite trouser-song-advert is one that didn’t chart very highly and had a very atonal techno song underlying a story about condoms and the littlest pocket).

    And the Steve Miller Band have been in people’s consciousness again in the last year for the oddest reason – jokes about how they were entering the Labour leadership race.

  12. 102
    Tom on 29 Jan 2011 #

    Re. Depeche – IMO they only BECAME naff around “Songs Of Faith And Devotion”, before that they were unjustly maligned, as everyone here is saying. “Black Celebration” is their best album, with vaguely diminishing returns either side of that (Violator not all that much cop beyond Enjoy The Silence, which would have been a terrific #1).

    But the Dave Gahan: Rock Star phase was excruciating.

    They may have improved since, I think I’ve only heard one of their singles in the last 10 years, and maybe a remix or two.

    EDIT: Shocked actually that they’ve never even gone Top 3!

  13. 103
    Tom on 29 Jan 2011 #

    I remember getting the Singles 81-85 album (with their faces on the cover, not a neon sign) in 87 or so and being really impressed that they’d printed all their reviews, good and bad, in the sleeves. I suspect it was meant to be a “we don’t care about the critics” move but I thought it was very candid and interesting.

  14. 104
    thefatgit on 30 Jan 2011 #

    I think it upset a lot of people in the music press, that Depeche Mode broke the USA in a way that The Clash never could. Although their success over there was short-lived, it must have riled some that UK rock/pop was being repped Stateside by Daniel Miller’s pet teenpop project.

  15. 105
    swanstep on 30 Jan 2011 #

    Dave Gahan’s solo single, Kingdom, from a couple of years back was pretty solid. It’s quite Violator-ish. I like Violator more than Tom does it seems, with great opening and closing tracks and Policy of Truth as my highlights. (I’m less enthusiastic about Enjoy the Silence than most people are – too much of a New Order knock-off to my ears.) Someone above mentioned an early DM song, The Sun and the Rainfall: its lovely long fade out ending is v. similar to the last 20 bars or so of Wonderwall. Probably Oasis arrived at it independently (the perils of living too long – e.g. 2, the intro to Eminem’s Lose Yourself always just sounds to me like warmed over Cure, 10.15 on a saturday night).

  16. 106
    Rory on 30 Jan 2011 #

    I feel like a Bateman cartoon: “The Man Who Liked Songs of Faith & Devotion.” Possibly because it’s the only DM album I own, and I have no other context apart from dim memories of “Just Can’t Get Enough”.

  17. 107
    wichita lineman on 31 Jan 2011 #

    Ice Machine, on the flip of Dreaming Of Me, is possibly my favourite Vince Clarke song, with an unusually elliptical lyric, minor OMD-ish chords and some nice harmonies.

    After Clarkey left I struggled with their heavier direction, enjoying the odd single, and Violator quite a lot. But their move into R+O+C+K rather than techno/electronica in the early 90s was where I said goodbye for good.

    Having said THAT, I’ve just been offered a run of all their 7″s in mint condition. Should I be tempted?

  18. 108
    Conrad on 31 Jan 2011 #

    My favourite Depeche Mode period is 81-82. I love See You and Meaning of Love, and the early Vince Clarke tracks. Bubblegum synth pop at its finest.

  19. 109
    23 Daves on 31 Jan 2011 #

    @ 107 – you’ve just been offered a run of their mint 7″ singles for free?! Take for God’s sake, take take! I probably bid too much on ebay for just five of them last year (and not in mint condition, either).

    Their run of singles from 1981-1989 is pretty much without fault (“Meaning of Love” is the only slightly clunky effort to my ears). After that, there are definitely diminishing returns and the misfires become more frequent, but it’s a set worth owning. And if you don’t want it, somebody on ebay will probably bid handsomely for it.

    Still, most Depeche B-sides tend to be a bit ropey, but you can’t have everything.

  20. 110
    swanstep on 31 Jan 2011 #

    @wichita. Yeah, Ice machine (on youtube in lots of places e.g. here if anyone’s interested) is fun. To me now it sounds quite a lot like stuff from Muse’s second album, Origin of Symmetry (except for not having massed guitars gallumphing in about the 3 minute mark of course!). Now I think about it, there’s definitely a bit of DM’s dna in Muse overall (somewhat similar regional uncoolness to begin with I gather, and there’s something about them both that makes it easy to keep one’s distance so that *they* always have to win you over afresh, which they often manage to do, and surprisingly DM’s live rep. although not at Muse’s levels has always been very good).

  21. 111
    hardtogethits on 31 Jan 2011 #

    re # 36’s point over the closeness of the sales, and the general discontent with the charts tie breaker. It would be a reasonable conclusion that neither record sold significantly higher than the other. However, there were rules there to determine how the winner would be decided, and the rules were applied. This happens all the time in sport, and all manner of other competitions and contests. I think we are stopping ourselves from having fun if we suggest that there is no meaning to be extracted from close-run chart contests of the past.

  22. 112
    Chelovek na lune on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Hmm, I like “…Faith and Devotion” too; not their best album by any means, but some very fine songs on it.

    (I don’t think “Black Celebration” is the very best either – more the first one that threw off the kind of self-consciousness “seriousness” that had made some really embarassing lyrics in the transitional phase before that). My battle for number one DM album would be fought out between Music For The Masses and the penultimate one up to now (the name of which I forget, but it has “Lilian”, and “John the Liberator” on, that one)

    But what went wrong after that (mostly) wasn’t the music (for all that Ultra is a patchy and unsatisfactory album); it was the image/lifestyle/drugs/taking themselves too seriously in the media (as opposed to in their lyric-writing, as in 1984/5) thing. Yes there were hits and misses, but, for all that general public interest died, DM continued to deliver the goods – I think there is even a case to be made that their output during the 2000s (if not the 1990s) is better than that of the 1980s. Ah, if only that were true of the Pet Shop Boys…

    ANyway I’m glad we’re discussing the Mode here. (Who would rule out a posthumous/post-final split number 1 tied in to some advertising campaign or unanticpated revival/remake though? Not I) Much more worthy of discussion than the Steve Miller Band

  23. 113
    Mark G on 1 Feb 2011 #

    “Meaning of Love” is very dancey.

  24. 114
    DanielW on 3 Feb 2011 #

    “Abracadabra” was a brilliant single, whilst this is merely average. Would’ve much preferred the former to have been re-released than the latter.

  25. 115
    lonepilgrim on 15 Feb 2011 #

    A couple of things have occurred to me regarding this entry.

    First, prompted by
    a) discussion of Joni Mitchell on the Unchained Melody thread
    b) Billy Smart’s review of Steely Dan’s ‘Haitian Divorce’ over at his blog
    c) the recent repeat of the BBC Fleetwood Mac documentary
    is how relatively little impact the US West Coast acts had on the UK single charts. This may have been that they were largely album acts who weren’t able to appear on TOTP but I’m surprised that The Eagles for one didn’t have more single success.

    Secondly, I’m curious to know to what extent Quentin Tarantino altered the perception and use of older recordings a couple of years after this. I can imagine this tune being used instead of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ for example and wonder how much that would change its reputation.

  26. 116
    Mark G on 15 Feb 2011 #

    Well, the Eagles and FMac did alright, but for a while that kind of “rock” was inescapable thanks to Commercial Radio preferring to play that rather than the UK / new wave.

    Then again, why buy “Hotel California” if you know you can hear it within 16 minutes of turning the radio on?

  27. 118
    DV on 29 Nov 2011 #

    sorry if this has already been mentioned, but my recollection is that Mr Abusing really nailed this one.

  28. 119
    lonepilgrim on 8 Dec 2011 #

    Putting Steve Miller in his place:


  29. 120
    Mark G on 8 Dec 2011 #

    Nobody ever smoked, toked, picked and grinned? Apart from Stevie?

  30. 121
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 8 Dec 2011 #


  31. 122
    malmo58 on 13 Jan 2012 #

    As a student in 1990 I just enjoyed this as a fun party tune. A year later I won a karaoke competition in the students’ union bar singing this – never saw hide or hair of the promised £25 prize though.

  32. 123
    Chelovek na lune on 12 Jan 2013 #

    Some interesting (and, to me, at least, new) suggestions about the source of some of the lyrics of this number – including the Pompatus of Love


    and “Another line from “The Joker” goes “I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree. / Lovey dovey, lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time.” A similar line may be found in the Clovers’ 1953 hit “Lovey Dovey”: “I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree / Lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time.”


  33. 124
    Patrick Mexico on 19 Feb 2014 #

    Groove is in the Heart was undoubtedly brilliant but I can see why that drove some people up the wall, what with the Trunchbull-esque intro of “We’re going to dance / and have some fun” – and that video with its naff psychedelic horseshit that was Austin Powers at best and at worst, a fucking Skips advert.

    Maybe that’s just because I see the sixties revivalism of the 80s arse-end – everybody from Tiffany to the Stone Roses – as some kind of faux-innocent time compared to the current brutal materialism – as the predecessor to the (mostly Eurodance and hip-hop based, plus the least interesting Britpop) nineties’ current vice-like grip – i.e. “Hey! I know all the words to the Fresh Prince theme even though I was born in 2000!” Amusing for someone born in 1985.

    I’d be interested to know if any people here who were old enough in 87-91 were extremely cynical about acid house and rave culture, despite all the documentaries making me think it was an all-conquering religion that saved everyone from those Horrible Mean Nasty Gordon Gekko Eighties. I’ve heard Mark E Smith say “[Salford brickies trying to hug me].. preferred it when they used to threaten me… [Ecstasy is] State Control: Brave New World”, Alan McGee say “well, you’re saying “maaan”, which for someone who was a teenage punk rocker was [uncomfortable]” and an over-discussed Welsh Bunny act sing “Everybody’s taking drugs because it makes governing easier” but not much more. Any good first-hand anecdotes?

  34. 125
    hectorthebat on 18 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Ultimate Classic Rock (USA) – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs (2013) 58
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 730
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 3
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 10

  35. 126
    Girl with Curious Hair on 29 Mar 2016 #

    Oh man, I’d never heard that story about GIITH being denied top spot before. If I ever get hold of a time machine, going back to 1990 and buying 9 extra copies is going on my list of things to do, right after assassinating Hitler and buying myself a copy of Grey’s Sports Almanac.

    As for The Joker, it’s okay as 70s throwbacks go. I’d never play it for myself but I can’t really say I dislike it either. It seems like a sort-of strange thing to have a strong opinion about either way, like parsley or Ealing.

  36. 127
    Pink champale on 30 Mar 2016 #

    Wow, this is a great thread. Not just the expected Dee Lite diversion, but also Teenage Fanclub; why the Doors are or not laughable and Depeche Mode are or are not naff; whether Basildon has castles; and the drug habits of 1990 sixth formers in South London. What more could you want?

  37. 128
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    I must admit I have warmed to this one over the years. I’ll be generous and go with a 7.

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