Tuesday, 31 March 2015

500 Singles - Numbers 1,2 and 3 - ABBA - Knowing me, knowing you, Summer night city, The name of the game

It’s more than fitting that the first single I ever bought should appear on page 1 of the 500 Singles list.

From what now seems like a dangerously young age I used to walk one mile from our house close to Sunderland General Hospital (now known as Sunderland Royal Hospital) into Sunderland town centre, to meet up with friends and spend Saturday looking around the shops of the fine metropolis of Sunderland.
Sometimes I even had money to spend, and of course as everyone knows that was the only way to ensure admittance to Josephs’ toy shop. If you didn’t have any money to spend you simply weren’t allowed to idly browse the wonders on the first floor (it was boring sportswear on the ground floor) regardless of the amount you’d spent last week on a new Subbuteo team or a John Player Special in black and gold for your small oval of Scalextric track.
Then, one particular Saturday in 1977, something significant happened. We wandered down windswept Walworth Way (the bleakest environment outside the Arctic Circle) and instead of spending my pocket money on sweets or toys I made a bee-line for that most independent and cutting edge of music retailers, WH Smith and handed over my hard-earned for a copy of ABBA’s ‘The Name Of The Game’. My first single. Orange Epic label, orange paper sleeve. My second single was ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, but there are no prizes for second place. By the time I bought ‘Summer night city’ in 1978 I’d already shifted my musical affections in the direction of The Boomtown Rats. I guess that’s just the way life goes.
Thanks for reading and, don't forget, my Kindle book is still available by clicking on this nifty little link;

The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

500 Singles - Number 189 - Havana Let's Go!! - Spanish Cabaret

Some of the most interesting tales to emerge from the artists on this list come from those that merit little more than a footnote in other accounts and the story of Havana Let’s Go is one such tale.

In 1981 they released two singles, which turned out to be the sum total of their recorded output. One was one of the greatest forgotten pop singles of the early 1980s, the catchy and quirky ‘Torpedoes’, and the other was the much less impressive ‘Spanish Cabaret’, reviewed by Smash Hits Magazine’s Dave Rimmer in less than glowing terms as follows ‘This does indeed sound like something you might hear in a cabaret while on a package holiday in Benidorm Nice sax, but this is really just another plastic salsa record with nothing to recommend it’. Ouch. To provide some context, Dave also reviewed Bucks Fizz’s ‘The land of make believe’ and Imagination’s ‘Flashback’ in the same edition, commenting on the former (which subsequently became a Number One single) with ‘The rot starts here’ and the latter, surprisingly, as ‘a slick slice of strutting, soulful disco pitched somewhere between Smokey Robinson and The Bee Gees’.

Some reports have Havana Let’s Go’s potential for world domination as being scuppered by a BBC ban on ‘Torpedoes’ as a result of the Falklands conflict and, while it’s difficult to prove this either way after over 30 years, it seems unlikely as a year had passed between the release of the single and the UK Government’s desire to protect a few islands (and associated Islanders) on the other side of the planet.

There’s very little in the way of solid facts to be found about Havana Let’s Go, except to say that their lead singer was called Joanna Havana, drummer Mark Tanner had been a member of Punk group of legend, Bazooka Joe, who numbered Stuart Goddard (or Adam Ant if you prefer) within their ranks and were the group that The Sex Pistols supported at their first public appearance. And guitarist Andrew Morahan went on to become an award winning director of music videos for Wham, George Michael (including the banned video for ‘I Want Your Sex’) and Guns ‘n’ Roses and the film ‘Highlander III: The Sorcerer’. More recently Morahan directed the video for Band Aid 30. He does have pedigree though; his Dad, Christopher Morahan, Directed episodes of the 1980s TV classic ‘The Jewel in The Crown’ and cult comedy film ‘Clockwise’.
Thanks for reading and, don't forget, my Kindle book is still available by clicking on this nifty little link;

The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

Monday, 9 March 2015

500 Singles - Numbers 4 and 5 - Adam & The Ants - Stand and deliver, Young Parisians

You have to have some sympathy for Adam Ant, the punk upstart who sought guidance from punk’s best known svengali, Malcolm McClaren, who promptly conspired with his group, The Ants, to sack their lead singer and become, essentially, Bow Wow Wow. Adam and his new Ants came out fighting though and for a brief period during the early 1980s became an act that were simultaneously mainstream and potentially disturbing at the same time. (Imagine 1 Direction being painfully open about their love of S&M and including tracks like ‘Mile High Club’ and ‘S.E.X.’ on their albums and you’ve got some idea of the balance of acceptability and danger that Adam had at the time). Adam’s rise was stratospheric, but his time at the top of pop’s tree was reasonably brief with not much to write home about outside his releases (and re-releases) in 1980 and 1981; Adam and the boys’ Christmas single in 1981 is one of the most excruciating ‘white people rapping’ songs you’re ever likely to hear, but if you were around at the time you’re highly unlikely to forget, courtesy of this single, that the group at the time consisted of ‘Marco, Merrick, Terry Lee, Gary Tibbs and Yours Truly’.

Andrew and I saw the ‘Prince Charming Revue’ at Newcastle City Hall and it was a memorable spectacle, walking the plank between punk, glam rock, theatre and pantomime. Sometimes it fell off.
Thanks for reading and, don't forget, my Kindle book is still available by clicking on this nifty little link;

The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

Saturday, 7 March 2015

500 Singles - Number 320 - Otway & Barrett – DK 50/80

John and Wild Willy are perhaps best known for their 1977 hit single ‘Really Free’, popular at a time when Punk principles were as important as Punk musical styles. It’s a unique piece of hippy folk rock (influenced by: Dylan from ‘The Magic Roundabout’ / Influence on: Neil from ‘The Young Ones’). Three years later the boys came very close top having a second hit single with a ‘tune’ only similar to ‘Really Free’ in its absolute uniqueness. ‘DK 50/80’ combines bits of another record played backwards with repeated lyrics sung at breakneck speed and rendered almost completely unintelligible by two artists whose only regard for mainstream music seems to have been as a boundary to steer firmly clear of. In short, it’s a lost masterpiece that never fails to cheer the heart of anyone lucky enough to hear it.

Just at the point at which it was about to storm into the popular music charts (on the back of a series of gigs targeting towns and cities with chart return shops where admission could only be gained with a copy of the single) the much sought out invitation arrived to be on next week’s Top Of The Pops. So far so good. Until The Musician’s Union called a strike and the filming of Britain’s best loved weekly chart music show was cancelled leaving ‘DK 50/80’ stranded at the heady heights of Number 45.

Both men continue to work in music, Otway’s own website describes him, rather harshly I think as there are many more qualified candidates, as ‘Rock and Roll’s greatest failure’ and pictures him recumbent in a Sinclair C5. In 2002 John graced the charts again with ‘Bunsen Burner’ which reached all the way to Number 9 and therefore becoming his ‘Greatest Hit. It’s almost certainly the only song ever written with lyrics designed to help the singer’s daughter with her chemistry homework.

Barrett is also a talented woodworker. You can see some of his pieces, many with a musical theme, at wildwillybarrett.com, a website which comes with the veiled warning that ‘The novelty and sheer ebullience of his work cannot fail to provoke a reaction’. I'm the first in a long line of talented joiners and woodworkers to have absolutely no talent whatsoever in that department, but they look pretty good to me. Although it’s probably fair to say that if you bought one and popped it in your living room or kitchenette it would be unlikely to go unnoticed by visitors.

Otway and Barrett’s ‘Best of’ glories in the appropriate title of ’40 Odd Years: 1971-2011’ and if you’ve got nothing to do this afternoon can I respectfully suggest that you rummage within this wonderful collection to check out the equally magnificently titled (and downright magnificent) cold war themed ‘Natasha You’re a Smasha (But You’re Working For Russia)’. I’d steer away from their version of the American Civil War tune ‘Two Little Boys’, made equally famous by those unlikely bedfellows of Scottish Music Hall star Harry Lauder and shamed antipodean dauber Rolf Harris for a few good reasons though.

Thanks for reading and, don't forget, my Kindle book is still available if only you're brave enough to follow this clever little link;

The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

Friday, 6 March 2015

500 Singles - Numbers 53 to 57 - The Boomtown Rats – I don’t like Mondays, Like Clockwork, Mary of the 4th form, Rat Trap, Someone's looking at you

As we’ve already established, the first single I ever bought was ABBA’s ‘The name of the game’, but pretty soon, like most spotty boys at the time I fell prey to the lure of Punk. My first punk obsession were The Boomtown Rats and pretty soon I’d turned to the dark side, purchasing in swift succession the powerful anthem to schoolroom obsession ‘Mary of the 4th form’, the staccato delivery classic ‘Like clockwork’. Soon to follow was the claustrophobic ‘Rat trap’, the number one single that delivered the UK from the monotony of endless weeks of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Summer nights’ (and eventually gave way to the potentially worse chart-topping prospect of Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya think I’m sexy’) and then ‘I don’t like Mondays’, to the best of my knowledge the only single ever to reach the top of the charts to take a school massacre as its subject matter. Eventually, an inexplicably German copy of ‘Someone’s looking at you’ was added to the collection.

At some point along the line, The Rats stopped being punk. In fact I even have some nagging doubts now that they were ever musically a punk band, but they certainly had a Punk attitude – Johnnie Fingers always wore his Pyjamas for goodness sake, it doesn’t get much more punk than that. And of course Bob Geldof could always strip the paint from a whole houseful of doors with one cutting phrase. Great chunks of the first three albums now sound like they were made by a tight band with a Bruce Springsteen and Shangri-Las obsession (if you can’t see the Springsteen comparisons (and now that I’ve made it I find it difficult to see anything else!) then just have a nifty listen to ‘Joey’s on the streets again’ from the first album (it’s even got exactly the right saxophone solo) or ‘When the night comes’ from ‘The fine art of surfacing’ you may be a little more convinced). The Rats fell out of fashion as rapidly as they’d somehow found themselves in it but as my Punk first love they’ll always have a little piece of my heart.

As a footnote, ‘Tonic for the troops’ was one of the first albums that I owned, ordered from the Amazon of 1978, my Mam’s Grattans catalogue along with Jean Michel Jarre’s ‘Equinoxe’ and Darts’ ‘Everyone plays Darts’. What a bizarre mixture of musical tastes I had.
Thanks for reading and, don't forget, you can still bag a copy of my Kindle book by following this handy little link;

The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

Thursday, 5 March 2015

500 Singles - Number 137 - Ian Dury & The Blockheads – Reasons to be cheerful pt. 3

‘The more I listen to ‘Reasons to be cheerful’, the more it sounds like the best kind of national anthem, one capable of inspiring pride in those of us who spend too much time feeling embarrassed by our country’. Not my words, obviously (they’re too poetic to be me for a start), but the words of Nick Hornby, hero of list makers across the globe, from Highbury to Hollywood.

I can see where Nick is coming from as Mr Dury can swell even the least patriotic of chests, although if you’ve read my book, the excellent ‘The Great Cassette Experiment – The Joy Of Cassettes’  (gratuitous link at the foot of this post!) you’ll know that my own colours are very firmly nailed to the mast of The Lilac Time’s ‘Let Our Land Be The One’ alternative national anthem-wise.

Ian’s famously chirpy list song, sees him in typically playful mood. Too often lazily categorised as ‘Punk’ (listen to the sleazy Spyro Gyra Saxophone section here and you’ll soon realise that there was much more to Ian and The Blockheads than that), Ian was really an uncategorisable trailblazer, a musical John the Baptist if you like, without whom much of the quirkier side of the music of the late 1970s and early 1980s would never have found an audience. Unfortunately he may also have paved the way for the awful ‘Toast’ by The Street Band, but you can’t have everything.

‘Reasons to be cheerful pt. 3’ (don’t go looking for pts. 1 and 2, because like the films Oceans 1 to 10, they don’t exist) is, as the title suggests, a list of reasons to be cheerful, and includes, but is not limited to, Buddy Holly, nanny goats, yellow socks, cheddar cheese and pickle, and actor, circus boy and contortionist’s son, Bonar Colleano.

It also features, at one point, a naughty Ian ‘being in his nuddy’, but, luckily, there’s no reference to his ‘rhythm stick’.

Thanks for reading and, don't forget, my Kindle book is still available by clicking on this nifty little link;

The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

500 Singles - Numbers 243 & 244 - Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Annie, I’m not your daddy & Dear Addy

In 1982, The Face magazine called Ze Records “The most fashionable label in the world” and it was largely due to the likes of Kid Creole and the Coconuts and label-mates as diverse and unusual as Suicide, Material, Nona Hendryx, Alan Vega and Was (not Was) that the reputation of this record label, founded by Frenchman Michel Esteban and Brit Michael Zilka was held in such high regard. That and the fact that they weren’t frightened to take chances.

In common with many other bands of the era, Kid Creole and The Coconuts seemed to be as pre-occupied with style as they did with music, but their style was that of the dance band era, brightly coloured suits, big hats, risqué lyrics in a Cab Calloway meets Disco-Tex and The Sex-O-Lettes style.

In later years Kid went through quite a few Coconuts, but in their glory years, the lineup included August Darnell (as Kid was really known), his wife Adriana Kaegi (aka ‘Addy’) and musical director and collaborator Andy Hernandez (aka ‘Coati Mundi’ and they were a bright and cheerful diversion. ‘Dear Addy’ is actually the lead track on their 1982 ‘Christmas in B’Dilli Bay’ EP, entertaining in a low-key ‘out-take from South Pacific’ kind of way. ‘Annie, I’m not your Daddy’ was more successful, and, of the two is the one you’re more likely to catch on the radio from time to time, with its controversial tale of a disputed paternity suit (this is still 1982, remember!)
Thanks for reading and, don't forget, my Kindle book is still available if only you're brave enough to follow this clever little link;

Sunday, 1 March 2015

500 singles - Number 297 - Anthony Newley – Lifetime of happiness

Like many of the singles on the 500 singles list, how I happen to be in possession of this particular gem by actor, songwriter, crooner, raconteur, former husband of Joan Collins and role model for the young David Bowie is an absolute and total mystery. But here it is.

Now better known as an actor (he was the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s definitive film version of Oliver Twist and Matthew Mugg in Richard Fleischer’s equally definitive film version of Doctor Dolittle) and songwriter (writing the theme from the James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’ with John Barry and the soundtrack to the film ‘Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory’ with co-writer Leslie Bricusse, which proved to have a life far beyond the garishly coloured film). Most surprisingly, in a revelation as shocking as the news that Michael Nesmith’s mother invented Tipp-Ex or that Hedy Lamarr invented the fore-runner to Bluetooth, Newley and Bricusse also penned the Nina Simone classic ‘Feeling good’. Although if you have a listen to Newley’s own version you’ll hear it has none of Nina’s balls.

Released by Decca in 1960, hot on the heels of two consecutive Number 1 hit singles for the 28 year old from Hackney with the cheeky smile (‘Why’ in January 1960 and ‘Do you mind’ in March 1960) the single, whose actual A side is ‘If she should come to you (La Montana)’ is a double sided croony gem of the kind that was damned to imminent extinction by the looming sounds coming out of Detroit and, ultimately, Liverpool.

If you have any doubts about the Newley/Bowie comparisons can I suggest that you listen to Anthony’s ‘Pop goes the weasel’ and David’s ‘The laughing gnome’ back to back if you can manage it.

Thanks for reading and, don't forget, my Kindle book is still available if only you're brave enough to follow this clever little link;

The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes