There’s a brilliance and a genius at the heart of the Pet Shop Boys that for whatever reason some people didn’t like to acknowledge. In the music, the art and artifice, the act (or apparent lack of it). To be witty and articulate while at the same time come across like some musical Buster Keaton. To release a single called “Being Boring”, having already recorded songs called “Rent” and “Shopping”, and to offer up titles of such benign understatement as “I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing”, and “Left to my own devices” – with its payoff “…I probably would”. To somehow cover Village People, U2, and Elvis (and take them all into the top 5), and get away with it all, every single time.
Always On My Mind was a christmas number one in 1987, spending four weeks at the top before being displaced by Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth.
So there I was, trying to figure out how to segue from The King of Rock “n” Roll, and at the same time thinking it was about time we had some female vocals. I was chalking up Kirsty MacColl’s “A New England” for later in the month when it dawned on me that there was one pretty obvious next step to take.
So here’s Kirsty, singing her 1981 hit “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis”, while wearing what we might now consider to be perhaps a little too much denim.
Another mondegreen for a name, or so some sources would have you believe, with singer-songrwiter Paddy McAloon supposedly mishearing a line from the song “Jackson” (“We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout”). It’s a nice story, but seemingly as invented as the name itself, which McAloon liked for its air of mystery, not giving anything away about the band or the music. And because it was less awful than Chrysalis Cognosci, another contender.
The King of Rock “n” Roll is a straightforward account of a former one-hit-wonder, accompanied by a somewhat strange video, in which the band lounge around by a pool, and which takes the nicely literal approach of featuring a frog and some hot dogs. It’s a frothy piece of nothing, mercilessly featured in Spaced as the first song that plays when Daisy Steiner, looking to bring add a bit of spice to a housewarming, brings out the “Party Mix” tape. Daisy, completing the mondegreen circle, replaces “Albuquerque” in the lyric with ‘I’m a cookie’, and as the episode continues, the tape rolls mercilessly on, through “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis, “Centerfold” by J Geils Band, and that Don McLean song, until Tim is finally broken by Time Warp. We’ve all been there.
I still quite like it, though. The King of Rock “n” Roll, that is. Not Time Warp. God I hate Time Warp.
August 1989: Shakespear’s Sister are breaking into the top 10 with their debut single “You’re History”. At the same time, a man better known for his production work has overcome his shy reluctance to pen and sing his own material, and his debut single is riding high in the top 20. Pure is a perfect melodic and lyrical distillation of the entire Lightning Seeds canon, all perfect rainbows, bubbles, and shiny dreams, over simple arpeggios.
It’s too easy, really, to connect Joy Division to The Smiths. You could start in Salford, home of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and the Salford Lads Club, which The Smiths posed rather iconically in front of for the sleeve of The Queen is Dead. From Salford, you could head about three miles south-east to The Hacienda, which for years was practically bankrolled by the profits from New Order’s Blue Monday – the band having been born out of the ashes of Joy Division after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis – and which saw a triumphant homecoming gig in November 1983 by The Smiths, who earlier in the day had confused the hell out of pretty much everyone in the Top of the Pops studio, gatecrashing the cosy, cheesy atmosphere with their performance of This Charming Man.
There is another connection I’d like to make, however. This one’s for anyone who remembers Ted Rogers and 3-2-1. Earlier, Joy Division played Love Will Tear Us Apart. You’ll remember I told you that Paul Young covered Joy Division, and that he also covered Crowded House. Well, in March 1992, Crowded House reached their highest UK singles chart placing when Weather With You reached number 7. What was number one that week? It was, of course, Stay, by Shakespear’s Sister, who, that’s right, took their name from a song by The Smiths. The Smiths, you know, had a single called Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, which is how you’ll be feeling in a moment when I tell you, yes, you’ve worked it out now, haven’t you?. Bring him on. Here he is – I’m afraid you’ve won Paul Young.
And if that’s not enough cosmic linkage, consider this. When The Smiths performed This Charming Man on TOTP, Morrissey with his gladioli, and drummer Mike Joyce being asked before the band’s appearance when he was going to get changed (His answer: “I’m not. This is it” – the response: “But you’re going to be on TV!”), the opening song on that evening’s show was… Love of the Common People. By Paul Young.
It’s a pretty small jump from Crowded House to Joy Division. You just need to take a diversion via Paul Young, obviously. Not only did Young cover Don’t Dream It’s Over, his three times platinum selling debut album No Parlez included a dreadful cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart.
Young’s is by no means the only cover version, with everyone from Nouvelle Vague to Broken Social Scene giving it a go. Frankly, they can keep churning out versions until the end of time, but you’ll still be better off just listening to the original. In 2002, NME readers voted it the best single of all time, and in 2012, it topped the NME writers list of the greatest songs of the NME’s lifetime. NME readers meanwhile, were busy relegating it from the top spot it held 10 years earlier, placing it third, behind Amy Winehouse’s Rehab at number one, and Mr Brightside by The Killers in second place.
Having hinted at it yesterday, I did think I’d hold out for longer before pulling this one out, but perhaps I can use it as the start of a series of tenuous or gratuitous links from one day to the next. I’ll try to be more imaginative than questionable geographical links in future, I promise.
Don’t Dream It’s Over, from the self-titled debut by Crowded House is the second best New Zealand song of all time. Confusingly, it’s also the seventh best Australian song of all time. It was number one in New Zealand and Canada, and a top ten hit in Germany, Netherlands, Norway, US, and Australia. So let’s hear it for the refined taste of the UK singles chart buying public, who refused to let it rise higher than 27. It stayed at this peak for two weeks, in the first of which The Firm were top of the charts with Star Trekkin’. As I say, refined taste.
The song turned up again in Europe in November 1991 as the B-side to the gorgeous Fall at Your Feet. At the same time, Paul Young was in the top 40 with his cover of Don’t Dream It’s Over, and, for a couple of weeks at least, Young won the battle for sales. Refined taste…
In a world that fully embraces Crowded House (who might just crop up later this month, you never know…), it’s mystifying that a band like the Go-Betweens should pass by almost unnoticed during a 12-year career that spanned six albums, but which spawned almost zero chart time. 1988’s Streets of Your Town bothered the compilers in their native Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, but that was about as good as it got, and scant reward for Robert Forster and Grant McLennan’s songcraft.
In 2001, Cattle and Cane, from their second album Before Hollywood (1983), was selected by the Australasian Performing Right Association in its list of the top 30 Australian songs of all time (in a diverse selection, taking in Powderfinger, Savage Garden, Nick Cave and Men at Work). I was tempted to post that here instead of Spring Rain, but the sound quality is a bit iffy on the versions I could find.
Having split in 1989, the band reformed at the start of the 20th century for three more albums. Sadly, shortly after the last of these (Oceans Apart, 2005), McLennan suffered a fatal heart attack, and Forster announced that it was the end of the line for the band.
I wouldn’t normally be so Alan as to recommend a “Best of” as an introduction to a band, but if you want a tidy summation of the first six albums, Bellavista Terrace fits the bill. Better still, head straight for Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, from which Spring Rain is taken.
I’ve decided November is to be 80s month, and although I’m a day late with the first video, this gives me a chance to dedicate the first track to office drones everywhere. It’s a cheeky northern classic that reached #3 in the UK singles chart. The video features a very young-looking Fatboy Slim, and a brief appearance from Phil Jupitus, during his “Porky the Poet”, Housemartins press officer, and runner for Go! Discs period.
Paul Heaton, along with drummer Dave Hemingway, went on to form The Beautiful South, who sold one or two copies of their greatest hits album Carry on up the Charts. Enough, in fact, to make it the second-best selling album in the UK in 1994, behind Bon Jovi’s Cross Road, but (hurrah!) ahead of Music Box by Mariah Carey. Well done P.d. Heaton!
Ah, the 80s: that most magically neon of decades, that shiniest, glitteriest, poppiest of times. The decade in which, musically speaking at least, I was born, and found my ears, and found the dial, and used it to listen to Modern Romance and Wax. How much I had yet to learn!