Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Greetings

A couple of days late, perhaps, but salutations of the season to all dear blog readers and their families, friends, pets, et cetera.

Personally, yer actual Keith Telly Topping had a very nice Christmas Day. However, probably as a combination of too much rich food, half-a-bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream and some germs, he then spent most of Boxing Day either in bed or on the Stately Telly Topping Manor lavatory shatting up his innards.

It really wasn't very pleasant.

This blogger is still feeling rather fragile and a touch poorly today as a consequence.

Still, The Runaway Bride was good!

Have a safe and gastro-enteritis-free New Year, kids.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Everywhere I Go, Kids Wanna ... Pop

Here's yet another article from The Files. This article - based on a non-specific request from a fanzine editor to yer actual Keith Telly Topping to 'write something about your ten favourite LPs of all time' was first published in a British magazine in the mid-1990s: Some of it still stands up quite well, I think. Some of it, however, is pseudo music-journo crap of the worst kind, so be warned in advance.
New York, London, Paris, Munich...

Rock and Roll (or "pop music", to give it it's proper name) is the saxophone intro to Van Morrison's 'Moondance'. It's Steve Craddock's chiming jingle-jangle-morning guitars on Ocean Colour Scene's 'Yesterday Today'. It's the BIFF!-BANG!-POW! drumming of John Maher on a slew of Buzzcocks Forty Fives. It's the strut of The Clash, the menace of Killing Joke, the theatre of The Rolling Stones, the sweaty power of James Brown, the scream of (mid-period) Siouxsie &The Banshess. It's Julian Cope slitting his stomach open on stage at The Hammersmith Odean. It's the charm of 'This Ol' Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)' or 'Heatwave' or 'Nowhere To Run ' or 'Back In My Arms Again'.

Pop music is Motown. Stax. Decca. Parlophone. Rough Trade. Polydor.

You know what they say - "if you want to know what it's all about, just read the label..."

Pop music is Keith Richards' dramatic intro to 'Gimme Shelter', the lyrics of 'Belsen Was A Gas', the vocals on 'Ball & Chain', the bassline on 'Release The Bats', the drums on 'Won't Get Fooled Again.'

What pop music is not is bloody Knoffler or Collins or Mercury or Sting or any of those other mortgage sensible, middle-aged, middle-class, middle-bloody-everything going-bald bastards who prostitute their youth in the name of being "the acceptable face of rock and roll". They are whores to their art and should be shafted up the arse with a big loud guitar until they cry for their mummy.

Pop music is the deftness of The Trash Can Sinatra's 'White Horses', the rockabilly-skank of The Motorcycle Boy's 'Big Rock Candy Mountain', Mick Ronson's guitar on Bowie's Seventies work, the word-play of Edwyn Collins or Smokey Robinson or Elvis Costello. If pop music has a manifesto, it's the lyrics of Noel Gallagher's 'Rock & Roll Star.' Pop music is The Undertones and The Ramones, Slade and Oasis, music that is loud, young, daft, spotty and stupid. The stuff that fourteen year olds play very loud in their bedrooms and their mothers have to tell them to turn down.

Pop music survives by constantly re-inventing itself. This has always been so, since a young, white country singer, Elvis Presley used a coffee-break at Sun Studios in Memphis to sing 'That's Alright Mama', a song he had been taught by a old black man, inventing rock and roll in the process.

When David Quantick in the NME in 1986, wrote a seminal piece of rock and roll journalism on the rise of do-it-yourself indieism, he called it Pop Will Eat Itself. The title not only gave a bunch of Black Country Grebo's a fantastic band name, it also served to define the self-references of the latest generation of hungry offspring.

When I talk about the music that inspires me, it is usually singles. Many of the most important music statements in the history of modern culture were originally designed to inhabit the grooves of seven inches of black vinyl. And it's this outmoded format that still gives rise to many of those moments that you want to live and die for. Unfortunately singles are an uneconomic way to listen to music and so, the entire Motown single-collection and the work of noted singles bands such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Clash, Buzzcocks, New Order, The Ruts, The Fall and David Bowie will not find a place in those records that I would chose to take with me into exile.

The LP - not, and never 'the album' - is the purist listening experience. Between thirty and forty five (or, in the case of the Grateful Dead, two hundred and forty) minutes of one sound. It makes a mockery of the single by exposing all of the glaring possibilities of judging a band by one song only (how many people love 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye' or 'Don't Talk To Me About Love', but have nothing else by Soft Cell or Altered Images in their collection?) The LP survives (as the CD), because it presents value for money, a collective experience and the presentation of images and content under one banner.

I am not, and never have been, a great lover of people who pigeon-hole music. I was born in 1963 and grew up listening to what my two, older, brothers were listening too. Some of this has stuck with me (The Byrds, The Beatles, Bob Dylan), whilst some of the more outrageous excesses of the era (ELP), make me a lifelong appreciation of death-by-hippy. When I was ten I discovered Glam Rock (I'm not ashamed to admit I wore a Star Jumper and Oxford Bags). When I was fourteen, I became a punk, had my nose broken at a Clash concert, queued for hours for tickets to see Buzzcocks and fell in love for the first time listening to 'Pretty Vacant' at The John Boste Youth Club in 1978. Yet I still listened to Motown and Stax, was aware of folk-rock and The Velvet Underground and The Doors,spent Christmas 1979 discovering the Led Zeppelin, The Pink Floyd and Hawkwind were, actually, not all bad and when asked, stated that my favourite band was The Jam, a group that straddled the images and sounds of 1960s beat and 970s aggression.

The Jam were a band who relied for their impact upon an implicit anger in the socio-political enviroment of England. From 'Sounds From The Streets' and 'I Got By in Time' on their debut LP, through the shaky This is the Modern World period, to the triumphant return to form of All Mod Cons, Paul Weller's songs raged against a system that simultaneously patronised him (as an 'angry young man') and yet refused to allow him a lighter, more introspective side ('Fly' on All Mods Cons comes closest to understanding the mellower side of Weller's dichotomy). In 1979, fresh from a trio of outstanding singles ('Down In The Tube Station At Midnight', 'Strange Town'/'The Butterfly Collector' and 'When You're Young') they produced Setting Sons - the last great LP of the 1970s (it came out two weeks after London Calling, calm down traditionalists).

Setting Sons has a - more-or-less - continuous narrative. Put simply, the LP contains a number of songs written around a single theme; the effect of the passage of time, and of changing attitudes, on relationships. This was something that Weller had always been interested in ('I Got By in Time', written as an eighteen year old proves this), but on songs such as 'Thick As Thieves', 'The Eton Rifles' and, especially, 'Burning Sky', the singer honed his world-view from out of the straight-jacket of realpolitik and into another field altogether. Other songs like the caustic 'Saturday's Kids' ('Saturday's kids live in council houses/wear v-necked shirts and baggy trousers'), the harrowing 'Private Hell' and the bitter anti-war tirade 'Little Boy Soldiers' (written three years before The Falklands conflict which it, with horrible irony, seemed to predict), are fragments, snapshots of life in 1979. Although Weller later expressed reservations about Setting Sons, the LP's elegance under the microscope remains. In many ways it was the culmination of the first part of The Jam's career. After their next single, 'Going Underground', made number one they were, though frequently brilliant, never quite the same band again.

Weller, when he was preparing The Jam's next LP (Sound Affects), was quoted as saying that he had been listening a great deal to The Beatles 1966 masterpiece Revolver for inspiration and even cheekily pinched the bass-riff from George Harrison's Taxman for Start. Revolver is a remarkable work. It is easily the best, most coherent and most well-aged of all of The Beatles canon (though Rubber Soul pushes it close). It pisses on the horrendously overblown Sgt Peppers' from a great height. Revolver is swingin' London personified. It was probably the last time that democracy, of any sort, existed within the Abbey Road set-up and is a record that everyone in the world should own.

Revolver exists in its own, unique, twilight demi-monde world of evocative memories and kitsch nostalgia. Like watching an episode of The War Machines or The Avengers, it instantly transports you, without specific references, to another, better, time. One in which England were the World Cup holders and all the girls were beautiful and had long hair and mini-skirts. Wistful and melancholy ballads like 'Eleanor Rigby', 'For No One' and 'Here There And Everywhere' (three of the most perfect songs ever written and penned when their author, Paul McCartney, was just twenty three years of age) battle for prominence alongside some of The Fabs most brilliant power-pop songs ('And You Bird Can Sing', 'She Said, She Said', 'Got To Get You Into My Life') and, amid the mood trappings and the period charm, the first signs of Lennon's emergent weirdness with the psychedelic flirtations of 'I'm Only Sleeping' and 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. And just to prove that it shouldn't be taken too seriously, there's 'Yellow Submarine' as well.

If the 1960s were represented, on the one hand, by the growing-up-in-public development of the English rock scene, and on the other by the West Coast freedom and experimentation (fuelled by an overdose of happy sugar), that Monterey and Woodstock stand for, then off at some tangent, and completely divorced from the aesthetics of the age was The Velvet Underground, a group of New York art students who, thanks to their attachment to Andy Warhol's Factory gained a huge notoriety late in the decade. They never played live outside America (we'll ignore the Lou-less 1972 UK tour, pedants) and never had a hit record worthy of the name, and yet The Velvet Undergroud would become the biggest single influence of two entirely different youth movements a decade and a half later.

Most who seek inspiration (notably the punks) went straight to the bands début LP (recorded with the German singer Nico), but for the purist it is The Velvet Underground, their eponymous third LP, and the first without the talent of John Cale, that is the definitive product. The Velvet Underground is the point at which the then twenty four year-old Lou Reed, suddenly discovered the beauty of love. For The Velvet Underground is an LP of love songs the like of which nobody has ever equalled, or probably ever will. 'Pale Blue Eyes', 'Jesus', 'Beginning To See The Light' and the extraordinary early funk experiments of 'What Goes On', breath life into a tired and cynical genre and highlight the darkness and frustration of bondage to convention, and, significantly, offer no solution. The Velvet Underground mocks its imitators with breath-taking verve. It is fifteen years ahead of its time and, recently seems to have been accepted as the final text on the first band to wear black. Without The Velvet Underground there would have been no Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Primal Scream, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Sex Pistols or, possibly, no David Bowie. Think about it.

When The Jesus & Mary Chain arrived like a gang of rabid dogs in 1985 they were described as 'The Velvet Underground if they'd been produced by Phil Spector.' They were loud and spotty, wore leather, sang songs about drugs and sex and lied hideously about their age. Their first LP, Psychocandy, followed a string of extraordinary singles, and, like them, was dominated by feedback, wailing siren guitars, droned vocals and lyrics which, frankly, beggared belief. 'In a Hole' states, 'How can something crawl within/My rubber-holy baked-bean tin?' It is audacious and, at the same time, laughable. At times it sounds like an advert for dental drills and yet, amid the chaos, there are also tunes. Beautiful tunes. 'My Little Underground', 'Never Understand' or the fragile 'Just Like Honey'. If you have a reality-disorder then this is the LP for you. It resotres your faith in 'Cash From Chaos' and works, largely, on the strength of its hype. Don't buy it, steal it.
The mythical link between The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Sex Pistols is tenuous at best. While the brothers Reid hummed and harred about their anti-everythingness, The Pistols actually meant it (mannn). At least that is what Malcolm MacLaren would have everyone believe. The Sex Pistols were, in fact, pure theatre. In another age, they would have been underclass rabble rousers, stirring up the crowds and then nipping off into the night before the bother started. MacLaren's trick was to use the media to create a climate in which four loud-mouthed youths actually could cause outrage. This was the 1970s, after all, an era when mainstream television was dominated by sex and violence. With 'Anarchy In The UK', Rotten, Matlock, Jones and Cook, basically, ripped-off The New Yorks Dolls sound,with a healthy side order of Hawkwind. They did it very well, and the song remains what it always was, a piece of classic rock and roll with a cynical sneer on its face. But what they achieved with one 'what a fuckin' rotter' on live television was much, much more important. They became the first band since The Rolling Stones to actually divide an entire nation.

Never Mind The Bollocks ... Here's The Sex Pistols is a great LP, although, if you're looking for the definitive Pistols' product, you'd be better advised to get the Kiss This! CD which includes all of the songs from Bollocks plus several b-sides and out-takes and Sid doing what only Sid could to 'My Way'. All of the good stuff is there; the Johnny Thunders-baiting 'New York', the great Pistols pop single 'Pretty Vacant', the one-note bass on 'Submission', the powerhouse introduction to 'God Save The Queen', the sick-funny antics of 'Bodies'. This is remarkable music, made all the more so by the means with which it was presented to the public. The medium is the message. Rite on. Never trust a hippy.

If pop music continues by re-inventing itself, then there is no finer example of this than eponymous début by Manchester's The Smiths. The Smiths, in 1984, took the musical backdrop of The Byrds and The Velvet Underground, with the dexterous guitar work of Johnny Marr, as a form over which Stephen Morrissey could paint his - vulgar - poetic images. In 'Still Ill', Marr's jingle-jangle-morning guitar lines run into words which mean nothing and yet everything, highlighting Morrissey's twin obsessions: outrageous existentialism and wistful nostalgia for a loss of innocence. Yet 'Still Ill' represents only the merest fraction of the sweeping visions on offer on The Smiths. 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle' is a Byron poem with a Rickenbacker soundtrack, 'Reel Around The Fountain' a tortured plea for self-fulfilment, 'Suffer Little Children' a chilling and angry evocation of abuse and death and 'Hand In Glove' one of the last great love songs in an age of crass and cosmetic emotions.

Retrospectively, after Meat is Murder and The Queen is Dead had cemented The Smiths' standing as articulate, intelligent and above all funny readers of 1980s aesthetics, doubts began to surface about The Smiths as an LP. It was badly produced, the naysayers claimed. The piano frills on 'Reel Around The Fountain' and 'I Don't Owe You Anything' were needless, the singing was flat and emotionless. Marr was having an off-day. There's no bass. And so on. Sometimes, to know genius, you have to have it rammed down your throat until your in danger of choking on it. Okay, so the American version includes 'This Charming Man' as a bonus. Buy that if it makes you happy. It probably will.

The first great movement post-punk (aside from the somewhat esoteric Sheffield 'industrial' scene) came via third generation Merseybeat. 1980 was the year and Echo & The Bunnymen, Wah! Heat and The Teardrop Explodes were the bands. Interestingly, as with many movements, the Liverpool sound of the era was produced in an atmosphere of apparent incest. It was the same fifteen or so names that kept on cropping up in bands across the next few years. The Teardrops begat The Wild Swans (producers of the best single of 1982, 'Revolutionary Spirit') who begat The Lotus Eaters, who were blood-related to China Crisis, who had former members of Wah! and The Bunnymen and The Teardrops, blah, blah, blah...

Julian Cope, Ian McCulloch and Peter Wylie all began in the same band; The Crucial Three, who then became A Shallow Madness after Wylie left to form Wah! and then The Teardrop Explodes when McCulloch zoomed off with Will Sergeant to The Bunnymen. This left Julian Cope as the sole inheritor of The Teardrops curious mixture of influences (The Doors, The Pink Floyd, The Monkees, The Clash, Pere Ubu, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, 1960s bubblegum et cetera). The Teardrop Explodes (named after a line in an issue of Daredevil), recorded four stunning singles for the Liverpool label Zoo before being snapped up by Mercury and recording the, almost, perfect pop LP, Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro is how all pop music ought to sound. Joyously displaying its influences openly: rebellious, irreverent and just a touch insane. It is the sound of youth, alive and being pop stars. Once Alan Gill left to reform Dalek I, The Teardrops had a hit single ( the glorious 'Reward', available on the latest reissues of Kilimanjaro), then fell apart under the strain of the tension between Cope and keyboard player David Balfe. Their second LP, Wilder is really the work of a different band altogether and, although its weird brilliance is still beloved by many, myself included, The Teardrop Explodes lost their pop audience almost overnight. This is not to suggest that Kilimanjaro does not feature moments of extreme nonsense; Cope's aping of Syd Barrett on 'Went Crazy', the sly re-working of psychedelia of 'Poppies (In The Fields)', the over-the-top lunacy of 'Sleeping Gas', Cope's first tentative steps towards his Jesus Christ obsessions which remain with the writer to this day, on 'Bouncing Babies' and the extraordinary sensual love song 'The Thief Of Bagdhad' mark out the LP as something to be treasured.

Having split up during the making of a third LP (posthumously released as the brilliantly titled Everybody Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes; which proved that, among their other achievements, Cope, Balfe and Gary Dwyer invented acid-house eight years before S-Express), Cope took his 'floored genius' off to an eccentric, sometimes erratic, but often brilliant solo career of remarkable recordings (Fried, Skellington, Saint Julian, Peggy Suicide, jehovahkill - the latter managing to get the singer sacked by Island records). Cope remains a great, if unhinged, talent and the world is a better place for having him around.

The link between Cope and The Monkees might, at first, appear to be slim. Both were mocked and derided in their time, only to emerge years later from the madness with their triumphs intact. Both suffered from a plethora of serious doubters who chose to ignore innovation and cry 'Emperor's New Clothes'.

The Monkees were The Stone Roses of their era. Over-hyped, over-paid and over-here. Everyone knows that they were a manufactured copy of The Beatles, put together by American television. All of that is irrelevant. The Monkees produced in three years (1966-68) some of the most outstanding pop music of the era. The fact that their first two LP's had precious little to do with the band, having been put together by musical advisor Don Kirshner (later responsible for the, even more suspect, The Archies) and songwriters like Boyce and Hart, Goffin and King and Neil Diamond doesn't enter into it. Serious musicians Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith were, obviously, somewhat pissed off by their relegation to roles as dogs who would be occasionally thrown a scrap of meat that hadn't been gobbled up by The Monkees more photogenic stars Jones and Dolenz. So they rebelled and, after a heated meeting at which Nesmith punched a hole in the wall of Kirshner's office with the comment 'that could have been your head', the band were given sole control of their recordings. And here is where the story really begins.

The Monkees third and fourth LPs Headquarters (April 1967) and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Jones Ltd (August 1967) are remarkable, quasi-garage-band thrash LP's, not a million miles removed from the early effects of punk rock ten years later. Pisces especially, offers, housed within it's Revolver-influenced cover, much that is surprising. The hit single 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' (a remarkably cheerless Gerry Goffin and Carole King song about small town suburban conformity) should have told the listener what to expect, but this only scratches the surface of the wit and punning social comment on songs like Nesmith's 'Salesman', 'The Door Into Summer' and 'Don't Call On Me', which mixed with the perfect pop of 'She Hangs Out', 'What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?' and Harry Neilson's 'Cuddly Toy'. But it is for its extrodinary climax, 'Star Collector' that Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Jones Ltd will be most remembered. A Goffin and King song about groupies - sung by Davy Jones - that was a decade ahead of its time and didn't wish to hide its misanthropy, 'Star Collector' is also one of the first songs to use the moog synthasizer (Mike Dolenz owned the third moog ever made). The effects and trickery that producer Chip Douglas had deliberately kept off Headquarters bursts forth here in a flowering of studio technique that puts much of Sgt. Pepper's to shame. After this madness, it's only a short step to the Bob Raefelson/Jack Nicholoson collaberation on Head and the resulting spiral into (in Tork's case) bankruptcy and jail. That's rock and roll for you.

The great live LP is something that bands have tried for years to perfect. The Rolling Stones Get Yer Ya Ya's Out is satanically good in places but is ruined by a suspicion that some of the guitars have been overdubbed in the studio (and by that whiny-voiced bird shouting 'Paint It Black, you devils!'). Other albatros-like gigantic messes of live presentation like Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same, remind us of 1970s excess and should be avoided like the plague. I remember once listening to Queen's Live Killers. For all of the horrible pompous pretension of the recording the band remain, pointlessly, tuneful. There's even a drum solo. If I'd been there on the night, I'd have thrown things at them.

The 'great' live LP is rare and, to date that has only been one that has eclipsed a bands studio output. This is One Man Clapping by james, recorded at The Moles Club in Bath in front of an audience of around six hundred. This is the only way to capture a band, and especially this band, live. There is something about the electricity between james and the audience that is difficult to describe to the uninitiated. To cut a long story very short, Manchester's james gained a small, but vocal cult following during the mid-80s with their series of remarkable singles on Factory ('What's The World', 'Hymn From A Village') and Sire ('Chain Mail', 'What For?'). Their first LP, Stutter gained critical acclaim although today it sounds a mite hurried and frustrating, as though the band knew what they wanted to do but couldn't quite summon up the energy or the bottle to try. After a second LP, the enigmatic Strip Mine was held up for almost a year by Sire's reluctance to release it, the band found themselves living on thirty quid a week, unable to tour by Sire's financial restrictions (placed on them and other recent signings, allegedly, because the company had poured all of their money into Madonna's True Blue tour and couldn't afford anything else). Having managed to extract themselves from Sire, james staged what was at the time, designed as a farewell concert at Moles with drummer Gavan Whelan leaving because, in his own words 'I'd be better off on the dole'. Hence One Man Clapping, an LP full of definitive versions of the bands best material ('Chain Mail', 'Sandman', 'Why So Close?', 'Johnny Yen', 'Are You Ready?', 'Scarecrow') together with three new songs. 'Whoops' took the bands manic energy to an extraordinary level, as did the set closer 'Stutter', a heavy-metal nightmare of a song in which Jim Glennie and Larry Gott, basically race to see who is going to get finished first.

If Tim Booth's intention was, as stated to finished like The Singing Detective and go whistling off into the sunset with a classic 'fuck you' to the music biz, then 'Stutter' was the perfect vehicle. However it was the second-to-last song of the set, 'Burned' which caused the most attention. 'Burned' is a (not-even-thinly) veiled attack on Sire: as bitter and vicious as any song ever written by anyone about anything: 'If you don't look cool/they won't look at you' sang Booth on the opening line. There are those who were at Moles that night who cried openly. It was the end of an era but, just as is often the case, the story didn't end there. One Man Clapping was designed to make james some money to pay off their debts but, typically, Sire claimed three quarters of the royalties in lieu of monies owed to the company from the band's days with them. james carried on, found a new home at Fontana, and, suddenly with the Gold Mother LP and an expanded line-up, found themselves actually selling records. 'How Was It For You?' and 'Come Home' were small hits, the anthemic 'Sit Down' a vast hit and, suddenly, they were pop stars. Now it has become unfashionable to like them since the recent LP Seven showed a disturbing trend towards stadium rock. Me, I will love them until the day I die. Great bands don't become bad bands overnight. Well, except possibly in the case of The POlice.

The development of REM's following through ten years of superb LP's and singles is, like james, the tale of triumph over adversity. Coming from the unfashionable deep south of the states, initially pigeon-holed as leaders of some mythical 'stateside invasion' of US guitar bands, raised on a diet of 1960s beat and 1970s punk (whose number also included Green On Red, Wall Of Voodoo and The Long Ryders), Stipe, Buck, Berry and Mills were in reality the most original and most intelligent band of their time.

The early Chronic Town ( notably 'Carnival of Sorts'), Murmer and Reckoning display a band whose discovery of the Rickenbacker sound is tangible and whose joy in confusing their audience with semi-inaudible vocals and murmered lyrics spoke volume's for where their priorities lay. They had a shaky spell mid-1980s when they seemed in danger of turning into an AMERICAN ROCK band (and all of the shite that entails), but by 1989's Green they had rediscovered their weirdness and, in the process, found themselves a huge US college rock audience who were looking for something vaguely 'alternative' or 'indie' (and all of the shite that entails). A similar case could be given for the reason why The Smiths, five years after their demise are suddenly the biggest-selling English band in America.

In 1991 REM released Out of Time, their most coherent and consciously pop LP to date. Staggeringly, given the bands understanding of their audience's pivotal role in their legend, they chose not to tour with the LP and, instead, spent the year doing low-key acoustic gigs and secret appearances, dragging back some mystique from the pop-star glam that their sudden, new-found fame had created for them. Out Of Time is close to being the greatest LP ever released by anyone. Certainly it is an audacious, lyrically breath-taking, stylistically daring LP. The rumour that REM had done a dance-track (cos, like, 'we've always had this dance element to our music'), brought groans from many sections of their audience in 1990, but 'Radio Song', with input from rapper KRS-1, became an hymn of dissatisfaction that, in some ways, predicted the LA riots. Songs about radio conformity from Elvis Costello's 'Radio, Radio' to The Smiths' 'Panic' have used the idea that radio is in control of people's lives. Here Stipe takes the opposite route. Radio is out of control, dive-bombing helplessly without any motivation.

'Losing My Religion' has many champions as the song of the 90s; a howl of fear from the singer that he is in danger of following the listeners of 'Radio Song' into the abyss. If, as has been suggested, the song is about Mark Chapman, then this makes the decent into personal madness and the solutionless end to the song even more poignant. After this, and the anguish of 'Low' (one of REM's most important and understated songs) it comes as a positive relief when the next songs deliver to the listener the feeling that life can be worth living (notably the ludicrously jangly 'Shiny Happy People'). Then it starts to get morbid again, through 'Texarkana' and the downright weird 'Country Feedback', songs which seem to wish to say 'NO' to life, but, again, the effect is destroyed by the closing song, 'Me In Honey', a thing of poetry and beauty.

If Out of Time had in companion-piece when released it was the eponymous debut LP by Liverpool's The La's. The La's four-years in the making and, upon release, disowned by its creator singer/guitarist Lee Mayers, is nevertheless the great lost Beatles LP (recorded somewhere between Help! and Rubber Soul), with all the cynicism one could imagine and more besides. The La's had already scored notable hits with 'Timeless Melody' and the classic 'There She Goes' when they took their live set into the studio. The La's sounds like it is, raw, brutal, funny, sexy, dangerous. From the opening rocker 'Son Of A Gun' to the closing chimes of the eight minute epic 'Looking Glass', The La's, like another of its contemporaries The Stone Roses (another LP with an eight minute closer), revels in discovery. The punning 'Doledrum', the cynical wordplay of 'Way Out', and the simple rock and roll love song 'Feelin'', are just three of the twelve perfect slabs of Merseybeat, 1990s style. The La's, the LP to fall in love to that summer.

So far, most of the material that I'd take with me has been pop music played by young white men on electric guitars. That's to be expected, firstly because dance music works at its best in the club and on a seven inch single. However, since I'm planning on taking a multi-deck stereo with me that will allow me to use tapes, I intend to cheat and slip into my life-jacket pocket that oh so important c120 tape featuring selected Temptations, Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Otis Redding and other gems from the Motown back catalogue on one side and twenty of my favourite disco, funk, house and rave singles mixed into a continuous sixty minute loop on the other.

Actually, since I'm taking something to dance to, I'd better include The Shamen's In Gorbachev We Trust. Here, Colin and Will, after they'd given up wanting to be Pink Floyd and before Will went and died (in a bizarre and very Spinal Tap 'drowning accident') and Colin turned himself into a comic-strip parody of himself, managed to produce their perfect synthasis of style and content. 'Synergy' is a song to die for. An absolute gem of a song, mixing drug-speak with Star Trek samples and thrashy guitars. Everybody in the western world should be made to listen to this song at least once a day (possibly twice). After that, even the funky-wibbling of 'Raspberry Infundibulum', 'Jesus Loves Amerika', and 'Transcendental' sound tame. Also, In Gorbachev We Trust includes a new twist on that old standby, the drug song, 'Adam Strange'.

And so we come to the finale: One last LP to take. Well, since I'm taking my favourite LP's of 'all time' and since 'all time' is 'any time' and there being no time like the present, there is nothing that excites, amuses or pleases me more than Denim. For those who don't know, Denim are the bastard offspring of the 1970s, formed by Lawrence Felt with various ex-members of The Glitter Band. Denim sing songs about the Seventies in a way you've never heard before. Back In Denim is a seriously funny record. I mean, any band who can have the nerve to record 'Theme From Robin's Nest' as a b-side have got to be worth a laugh, right? The opening song, 'Back In Denim' informs us that 'Denim put the soul in your rock and roll', which is the greatest piece of self deification since 'Hey, Bo Diddley'. In 'Middle Of The Road', Lawrence produces a literary of all of the music he hates before telling the listener that, if they are looking for him, he'll be found 'in the middle of the road.' There is better to come as the LP progresses through its centre piece, 'The Osmonds'.

'The Osmonds' is the most important song ever written about the 1970s. Whether tongue in cheek or completely serious, 'The Osmonds' tells it how it is, or rather was. The song name-checks every facet of the era, from Love thy Neighbour and Chopper bikes to Derby County and Oxford bags. 'American Rock' is the best Lou Reed song that Lou Reed never wrote, concerning two guys called Jake and Bill and a girl called Jane. It's affectionate and witty and also rockin'. Back In Denim ends with Lawrence's most personal song, 'I'm Against The Eighties' in which the singer tells us why he's hated the last ten years so much. It's interesting that from the nostalgic distance of two decades away, even The Osmonds can look pretty groovy. Let all the children boogie.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Right Bastard

I see that naughty old rapscallion Augusto Pinochet has finally kicked the bucket. At the age of ninety one in his own bed of 'old age.'

What a real shame it wasn't, you know, 'at fifty one, with a bullet in the skull in The Santiago Stadium after having suffered unbelievable torture from his Goon Squads like so many of the desaparecidos in the sick and venal climate of the Chile he ruled.'

Genuinely sad, that.

Still, hopefully the despicable old shit is currently roasting in Hell for eternity.

That's for Victor Jara and Salvador Allende and all of the other people you had murdered, Augusto.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Winter's Tale

Quick round-up of recent activities, dear blog reader.
Firstly just a note that the 4 December Book Club show is now available on Radio Newcastle's Listen Again feature:
The books featured on the show are:
1. John Fisher - Tommy Cooper: Always Leave Them Laughing (HarperCollins)
2. Carol Clerk - Pogue Mahone: The Story Of The Pogues (Omnibus)
3. Rodney Hinds - Black Lions (Sports Books)
4. Elizabeth Chadwick - The Scarlet Lion (Little/Brown)
5. Brian May, Patrick Moore & Chris Lintott - Bang! The Complete History Of The Universe (Carlton Books)
The original plan was also to feature David Freemantle's Rats, Bats & Strange Toilets (Zymurgy Publishing). But, sadly it had to be dropped at the last moment due to time restrictions (I talked too much about Tommy Cooper and The Pogues, basically!).

Next month, I'll include a full list of the various other books I've received recently along with the January Book Club details - the programme will be on 8 January as the previous Monday is a Bank Holiday.

I've also been very busy doing a lot of work for Visual Imagination recently:
I particularly draw readers attentions to TV Zone issues 209 and 210 and Xposé issue 100 and Special 31 all of which feature loads of me. But, you know, don't let that put you off.

I'm currently covering Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, Torchwood and The State Within for TV Zone and there's yet another "no-honestly-this-is the-last-Buffy-article-I'm-ever-writing" coming up in a forthcoming issue. As somebody noted recently, "I keep trying to get out and they keep pulling me back in!"

Oh, and finally, an answer to one of the questions I posed in an earlier posting - "whatever happened to Arthur Two-Stroke and the Chart Commandos"? My good mate Malcolm Holt, author of the excellent Magpies Memories and More Magpie Memories (Breedon Books) rang me this morning to note that he'd recently attended the opening night of a rather excellent looking Thirtieth Anniversary Of Punk retrospective, PUNK76!, at Newcastle's Discovery Museum which runs from early December to late January 2007 (I'm going to have to get along to that myself at some stage). Anyway, Malcolm mentioned that at the event he'd bumped into not only Old Stroke-y himsen but, also, one of his Commandos. I was really pleased to hear that. Reminded me of seeing the band at the Allendale Community Centre in about 1979. Until you've heard their version of 'The Theme From Hawaii 5-0', you have never lived.
Next week on "whatever the hell happened too...?", whatever the hell happened to David Baird, singer of the mighty 'Friday Neet (Gannin T'The Toon)'? And, where the hell can I find a copy on CD? I really want to put in on my MP3 Player!
And is there anyone out there who has a copy of 'Is There Anyone Out There?' by Mighty Mighty on CD? Another one from my vinyl collection that deserves a place being digitised!

Recently viewed:
Casino Royale - excellent but half-an-hour too long.

Recently Read:
James Owen - A Serpent In Eden (Abacus)
Catrine Clay - King, Kaiser, Tsar (John Murray Publishing)
Brian Southall & Rupert Perry - Northern Songs: The True Story Of The Beatles' Song Publishing Empire (Omnibus Press)
At least a couple of which will be featured in the January Book Club.

Keep your Mincers Peeled For...:
A good next couple of months on TV both in the UK (Waking The Dead, Life On Mars, Steven Moffat's Jekyll) and the US (24, Lost, Veronica Mars, BSG).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Craig Hinton

On Sunday evening, just before Torchwood, Keith Telly Topping heard the horrible news that an old colleague and friend from the Virgin New/Missing Adventures days, Craig Hinton, had died at the appallingly young age of just forty two.

This stunned me in a way that even the death of a close relative hasn’t always in the past. Possibly it was the completely unexpected nature of the news that so upset me. He was a lovely, lovely man and if there was one person that one could never in a million years imagine dying young, it was Craig Hinton. Not when he had so much humour, passion, energy and fun left in him. I knew Craig for nearly twenty years off and on and in all that time, I don't think that there was anybody who better represented all of the genuinely good things about Doctor Who fandom.

The deaths of people I know, even if only casually, always leave me feeling sad - I'd like to think that's true of anyone with a heart beating in their chest. It's seldom that the death of someone I knew has left me both sad and angry at the seemingly arbitrary nature of life and death. I'm still finding it incredibly difficult to form a coherent sentence on the subject.

But, here goes…

I first met Craig at the initial Fictionmeet (basically a house party held by Ian Atkins over a long weekend in Wimbledon in 1986 and attended by twenty or twenty five fan-fiction writers). I didn't know him as well as some of his contemporaries in fandom (Andy Lane and Justin Richards, for example, went to Warwick University with Craig in the early 1980s – they must, along with many others, be feeling like they’ve lost a brother at the moment) but he was someone whom I used to see quite often during trips to London for Fitzroy Tavern nights, or to Virgin writers events or conventions. He was always someone that I looked forward to catching up with.

We shared a fair few pints and daft jokes at the Fitzroy over the years and I will, at least, be able to cherish spending quite a bit of time with Craig at the two Gallifrey One Conventions he attended in Los Angeles in 2001 and 2005. In particular, I can recall a wonderful evening with him and Tony and Jane Kenealy and a bunch of other conventioneers at a Sizzler's restaurant in Van Nuys when he kept us all effortlessly entertained for three hours or more.

Shortly after getting back from the event this year, I e-mailed Craig and told him about the new hotel and how he'd love the little Thai place we’d found round the corner. His reply, as his replies always were, was swift, witty and genuine. Craig had been really enthusiastic in 2005 about a new direction in his life – he was just about to start teacher-training. We’d had quite a bit of online contact during the couple of years previous to that but this year, as both of us started on new paths in our life, we sadly fell out of touch and I last spoke to him by e-mail in May 2006. That’s something I now bitterly regret.

Craig was one of the most articulate, instantly likeable, witty, gregarious, violently - and endearingly - bitchy(!) and genuinely warm people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. He wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination and he could hold a grudge for a long time if he felt it was warrented. But there wasn't so much as an ounce of maliciousness in the guy. He was a proudly “out” gay man who championed openness and freedom of expression for the individual and he was a very good and very under-rated writer.

He wrote several Virgin novels and a couple for the BBC as well as – something he was always very keen to mention in conversation with strangers! – three erotica novels for Virgin’s “Black Lace” imprint. He was also a regular contributor to a number of the genre magaziness and it was in his role as the columnist of Shelf Life, the book review section in the Doctor Who Magazine (or the Doctor Who Monthly as it still was then back) that he first used the word 'Fanwank' in a critique.

Whether Craig actually 'invented' this word or not is still the subject of some debate. But, he was certainly one of the first to popularise its use - and use it in print - and it has now become a very widespread term, particularly in the online communities of in both SF and general TV fandoms. The irony is that many uses of the word these days are in a wholly negative context – it's become a stick to beat individual writers with if a reader or viewer doesn't like a particular continuity reference in the text. However Craig initial meaning of the term was much warmer and more quirky - “a continuity reference thrown into a story and having little relevance to the plot, but there purely as a device to please fans.” Afterall, as Craig noted "who doesn't enjoy a wank every now and then?!" Craig, himself, often used exactly those kinds of references in his own stories (particularly in 2001’s Quantum Archangel – a sequel to the Jon Pertwee story The Time Monster which was a particular favourite of his) and he even celebrated his status in this regard among fandom by wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed him FANWANK GOD! at the 2005 Gallifrey One convention.

Craig's most recent published work was as one of my fellow reviewers for Shaun Lyon's Second-Flight - - and, as with most of his work, his passion for the subject of Doctor Who is there for all to see. The audience for The Runaway Bride at Christmas will be a poorer one without Craig's raucous laughter and perceptive commentary of the episode's highs and lows.

Daniel Blythe, another Virgin colleague of ours, noted that there's something delightful in the Memorial Thread to Craig currently running on Outpost Gallifrey. Something that actually gives both of us a bit of hope for fandom - that out of this occasionally seething cauldron of poison, spitefulness and bitter divisionism we can, collectively, have the capacity for acts of great compassion. Much of the thread - often comments from people who had never met Craig personally but whose lives had been touched by his work or by his online presence - terrifically moved me and, I hope, will give some comfort to Craig’s family and his many, many friends. Particularly, I have to say, I was touched by my friend Martin Day's posting which managed to articulate so many of the things that I myself wanted to say but couldn't, quite, find a way of saying without them sounding crass or obvious.

Craig was, as I've said above, a good bloke and a good mate. He was talented, he was sympathetic, he was genuine. But, most of all, he was ONE OF US and I still can't believe he's gone. But, the beat goes on and we, however reluctantly, have to go on with it. Besides, Craig, of all people, probably wouldn’t have wanted all this fuss. As my mate Jon Arnold noted, he’d quite probably have made a number of really tasteless (but VERY funny) jokes about the subject instead. So, as a final tribute to Craig, I’ll hopefully leave you with a quick chortle by retelling my favourite story concerning him. There's a few different versions of this floating around, but this is the one he told me:

In the mid-1980s during the "let's make something up and see if we can get DWB to print it"-era, Craig along with, I believe, Andy Lane, Justin Richard and Peter Anghelides decided to write a fake script which was, supposedly, one of several that Terry Nation had written for a proposed Dalek spin-off series in the USA. They wrote it as a Nation script so, it included all of the stock traits like a character called Tarrent et cetera. Then, when they’d finished, they photocopied it several times, stained it with coffee cups and generally aged up the document so that it looked like something that had been written in 1967.

When writing it, however, they started putting in-jokes into the thing so that, if you knew what you were looking for it was obviously a hoax: Like three characters called John, Scott and Martin, for example. They also decided that they wanted to include the title of every Doctor Who (and, I think Blakes Seven) episode that Nation had written somewhere in the dialogue and divvied them up between them. Craig, inevitably, got lumbered with the hardest of the lot, The Keys Of Marinus.

So, he wrote a scene in which someone describes how there is a vicious creature on Skaro called the Keysof. There are, it turns out, two types of this creature, a land-based version (the Keysof Landus) and the one that lives in water (the Keysof Marinus)! It was, apparently, only when he got to that point in reading the script that Jeremy Bentham realised this was a huge con!

We lost a star these last few days.

Craig, I’ll miss ya, fellah.