Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Six Singles Your iPod Can't Do Without

This is what's hoped to be the first in an occasional, recurring, series in which Keith Telly Topping, the Guv'nor of the Goggle Box, will attempt to educate the dull-witted transient masses as to why his musical taste is so much better than that of his dear blog readers. Or something. It's the purpose for which the Information Superhighway was invented, trust me on this. Every so often I shall be highlighting five or six stunning bits of yer actual maverick pop genius housed within the grooves of seven inches of dusty black plastic. Believe me when I inform you that it's entirely for your own good that you accept these records into your life.

1. The Regents - '7 teen' (Rialto TREB 111-A). 'Seventeen/And not yet a woman...' One-hit wonders simply do not come any better than this piece of observational sexual politics-pop which stormed into the UK Top Twenty around Christmas 1979. A clinical pocket novel about teenage frustrations, sexual awareness and schoolgirl bitchiness in just three minutes and twenty four seconds driven by Martin Sheller's naggingly insistent guitar lines. And, of course, the record's key-note, the gorgeous, sixties-style 'la-la-la-la-laaaa' backing vocals from Kath Best and Bic Brack for which the song became probably best know. A pitch-perfect example of a truly glorious period in British guitar music (the month it was in the charts it was sharing Radio1 air-time with The Jam's 'Going Underground', The Clash's 'London Calling', The Specials' 'Too Much Too Young', The Pretenders' 'Brass in Pocket' et al). Much praised by writers like Tony Parsons at the time, sadly The Regents were never able to follow up the success of this 24-carat gem - one other single ('See You Later') made the lower reaches of the chart in 1980 and they split up a couple of years later. One of The Regents' performances of '7 teen' on Top of the Pops can be found of YouTube

2. Goldfrapp - 'Oooh La La' (Mute 342-A). An electro-pop masterpiece, Goldfrapp first began work on 'Ooh La La' in late 2004 in a rented house near Bath where they were demoing songs for their third CD, Supernature. The song came out of a jam between Alison and Will Gregory, Ms Goldfrapp herself contributing the majority of the lyrics. She's described the song as being 'sulky, sexual and a bit ambiguous.' Actually, it's not ambiguous at all, it's about Big Dirty Sex basically and, as such, it conveys its message with almost epiphanic clarity. 'Don't want it Baudelaire/Just glitterlust.' Alison's voice on this record is astonishing. It's almost like she's had her throat kissed by Satan. 'Ooh La La' was also interesting in that it was Goldfrapp's first song to feature electric guitar, an instrument they'd avoided to date due. When they recorded the song, Will played a keyboard bass (as you can see in the video). Alison's microphone picked up the 'clattering' of Gregory pressing the keys, which they added to the chorus as a percussion track. With its allusions to the French symbolist poet Claude Baudelaire and to ancient mythology ('Child of Venus/You're just made for love'), 'Ooh La La' also had an extraordinary seventies-glam-rock influenced video which can be seen here. Sexy!

3. Chairmen of the Board - 'Give Me Just a Little More Time' (Invictus 9074). What we used to call at Northern Soul all-nighters, 'a reet-good stomper!' Written and produced by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland but, because of a still pending lawsuit against their former employers at Motown, the trio were required to credit themselves under the pseudonym 'Ron Dunbar & Edyth Wayne.' Like many of H-D-H's best songs, the vocals were written half-an-octave higher than the singer, General Johnson's, usual range (it was a trick that the writers often pulled with the likes of Levi Stubbs and Marvin Gaye at Motown). Not only does this give the General's voice an appealingly pleading quality as he asks his girlfriend to allow their relationship to flourish but it also led to a happy accident that was to make the record truly memorable. As the song was coming to a close in the studio Johnson, in his own words 'desperate to get out of this damn song', produced a vocal trick to take in some much-needed breath, a tongue-waggling 'brrrrrrrr' in the style of Geno Washington. Entranced, Brian Holland clipped the piece, brought it forward into the main bulk of the song and, in so doing, gave Dexy's Kevin Rowland something to base an entire career upon! Dominated by Bob Babbitt's walking bassline and the in-your-face tambourine of another Funk Brother veteran Jack Ashford, 'Give Me Just a Little More Time' is a little piece of art masquerading as a love song. 'Life is too short to make a mistake/Let's think of each other and hesitate.' It's an impossible song to screw up, frankly - I even quite like Kylie's version. But the original is the daddy. There's a few different videos knocking around online for this one, including an extended version.

4. The Chameleons - 'In Shreds' (Epic EPC A 2210). Manchester's The Chameleon's debut single, from early 1982, is quite simply one of rock and roll's greatest undiscovered treasures. Four minutes and ten seconds of truly desperate raw emotions on plastic - conveyed by Martin Burgess's haunted voice (and agonised lyrics) and Reg Smithies' guitar lines which resemble a chill wind catching a loose tooth-filling on a warm summer day. The brightness and sheen of the record's production juxtaposed harshly with the deep, dark helplessness at the core of the song. Opening lines don't come much better, much more authentic than 'I grasp at life's fading light/I need you tonight.' In the song, Burgess's character sounds like a man on the absolute edge. 'It seems/to me/to be so contradictory/it seems/you become/a part of the machinery.' A hard song for a hard times, 'In Shreds' has got me through some very dark nights of the soul over the years. Tragically, The Chameleons - though beloved and plugged to death by dear old John Peel - never achieved anything like the success that their music deserved. Watch this, and you'll wonder why.

5. The Jesus & Mary Chain - 'Just Like Honey' (Blanco Y Negro NEG17-A). It's hard, now, to remember just how alien, how strange The Jesus and Mary Chain sounded in 1985. How life-changing. Long before they became the British national treasure that they are today, J&MC felt and sounded like nothing else you'd ever heard in your life. Those feedback-drenched early singles - 'Never Understand', 'You Trip Me Up' - the gigs (fifteen minutes of sustained bad-noise that usually ended in a full scale riot), that appearance on Whistle Test playing 'In a Hole'. The entire concept of the band as reported, weekly, in the NME ('like The Velvet Underground, singing Brian Wilson songs, produced by Phil Spector') and the constant claims that they were the most dangerous thing to come out of the music business since The Pistols. There was something about this bunch of East Kilbride scallys that simultaneously suggested 'beware, nutters!' and 'take this lot very seriously indeed' from day one. It all came together late in the year when they released 'Just Like Honey', their fourth single, just days before their debut LP - Psychocandy - came out. It summed up the band in three minutes. Bobbie Gillespie's tub-thumping drum patterns (taken, wholesale, from The Ronettes' 'Be My Baby'), William Reid's buzzsaw guitar and Jim Reid's echoy Lou-Reed-down-a-coalmine vocals, especially on that extraordinary opening verse ('Listen to the girl/As she takes on half the world'). And, to prove what really contrary and gloomy buggers they were, even in a love song as tender and beautiful as this, a line about 'eating up the scum'! And, here they are playing it on The Tube presentedby the late PaulaYates. This blogger was in the audience that night, incidentally! But, you can't see me - believe me, I've checked.

6. The Passions - I'm in Love With A German Filmstar (Polydor POSP 222-A). I've always loved the trademark echo-laden arpeggioed guitars at the start of this trance-like song, The Passions only hit. The record itself can - if you're being uncharitable - be an easy one to file away as rather pretentious early 1980s New Romantic crap. (I've always thought it was one of the specific templates for Not the 9 o'Clock News' 'Nice Video, Shame About the Song', for example - especially as the opening line of the latter is 'Let's take a honeymoon in East Berlin'.) But The Passions themselves were a fantastic - and very under-rated - band. I saw them supporting The Clash in 1980 a few months before this was a hit (Clive Timperley, their guitarist and the song's author, was one of Joe Strummer's best mates from his days in The 101ers) and they were brilliant. Their singer, Barbara Gogan had a beautiful - marblesque - voice, best exemplified by the chorus and the repeated 'I'm in love' refrain towards the end. Cool, cynical, a perfect mataphor for the early years of that particular decade where style was in danger of suffocating substance. The song, often said to concern the actor Klaus Kinski, was actually written about Steve Connelly, also known as Roadent, who was a one-time roadie for both The Sex Pistols and The Clash. After a memorable interview appearance in Wolfgang Büld's documentary Punk in London (1977), Connelly became something of a minor celebrity in West Germany and secured roles in several German art-house movies. The single was produced by Pete Wilson (who, before the year was out would have replaced Vic Coppersmith-Heaven as The Jam's producer). According to Wilson 'It was a song that almost seemed to write itself.' It's undergone something of a renaissance in the last year after its use in a memorable scene in the first episode of the BBC's Ashes to Ashes. Watch it, in all its 1981 glory here.

Next time, I'll be telling you, dear blog reader, that your iPod is incomplete without particular singles by some or all of The Casuals, Mighty Mighty, The Red Guitars, Frank Wilson, Altered Images, The Natural-Ites, Paris Angels and The Wild Swans. What can I say? It's my job!


Mark said...

Tsk, typical!

I discovered The Regents only a fortnight ago thanks to BBC4's repeats of Top of the Pops from 1980 and was instantly hooked on 7-Teen that I went out and downloaded the album from Amazon (it was waaay cheaper than buying the CD!)

Since then I've been trying to find anything on the band, specifically the delightfully quirky backing singers. One site called them Bric Brak (!) I should have know that yer actual you would have the real deal info!

I've since learnt that Bic went on to form The Bic with Regents lead singer/writer Martin Sheller, but that Martin died in a car crash in '99. Guitarist Brian Gaylor has also passed away. Nothing found conclusively on Kath Best though there is an actress of that name. Meanwhile Damien Pew re-released The Regents song London to coincide with the 2012 Olympics with video artwork from his wife Jules.

ROOKSBY said...

A (belated) confirmation: the actress Kath Best is indeed an ex-Regent.