AGES ago, years in fact, Mr John Eden who does Uncarved suggested I try writing about ten records at the back of my collection that no man should own. I’ve only just got it together. I lay the blame for my lamentable work-rate squarely at the feet of Margaret Thatcher.
It’s all her fault. Everything.
Without being too much of a ponce about it, there aren’t really many records in my collection that don’t belong there. A lot of the supposedly embarrassing stuff I’ve bought or been given over the years – ELO, Bananarama, Dexy’s, Spyro Gyra and what have you – got lost along the way and was never replaced (unlike the stuff in the Hip Replacement bit of this blog).
And are those bands mentioned above even that embarrassing? I’m not sure they are. I’m probably not the best person to ask. If I ever really knew what ‘cool’ was, you can rest assured that I absolutely do not know now. But I know what I like.
Everything that’s still in my collection is there for a reason, even if it’s just because it has nice cover art. It’s a finely-honed machine. I stand by every single record. Even the ones on K-Tel and Positiva.
Especially the ones on K-Tel and Positiva.
There are few of my tunes however – five, in fact – which would probably need a bit more explanation than others. It is of course purely coincidental that writing about these five records is precisely half as much work as the original meme would have been.
Myself, I see no contradiction between owning Breakout by Swing Out Sister (Phonogram)and being a ruggedly heterosexual, hairy-arsed Yorkshireman (form a queue people). Others might disagree.
All I know is, I once worked in a record shop in a particularly grim northern town and one Saturday morning, dozens of very glam and very hot northern princesses came in asking for a record by this band called Swing Out Sister – I think they’d been on the Tube or something the previous evening. Dozens of them. Literally.
Clearly, this was an act I needed to get onboard with very quickly.
Singer Corinne Drewery, channeling equal parts Louise Brooks and Tiger from the Double Deckers, simply smolders on Breakout’s striking cover and happily, the music Swing Out Sister produced was every bit as stylish.
A hugely enjoyable slice of soulful, jazzy pop suffused with a big, brassy sense of joie de vive, Breakout finds Drewery coolly affirming that sometimes you’re better off being on your own than settling for second best. It’s a great big girly anthem and even now is 100 per cent-guaranteed dancefloor catnip for women of a certain age.
Some days I actually prefer the dirty, bass-heavy machine funk of Dirty Money on Breakout’s B-side. It’s a genuine forgotten classic from a decade supposedly short on musical quality.
I always wanted the Shreddies to cover Dirty Money but the deadheads doing the music for me at the time couldn’t handle it (probably couldn’t play it either) and insisted on doing Tapioca Sunrise by Flux of Pink Indians instead.
I’ve still got my original copy of the Breakout 12-inch though. Should it be in a grown man’s record collection? I think it should, definitely.
I think I must’ve bought a Japanese import maxi-single of Like A Virgin by Madonna (Sire) with my not particularly generous staff discount from the same shop around the same time. I was an absolutely non-ironic Madonna fan. In fact, I was moved to write in my zine towards the end of the same year:
“I don’t care what anybody else says, for my money Madonna wiped the floor with the opposition in 85, at least as far as singles went. The closest contenders were a bunch of pimply youths from East Kilbride ..”
Needless to say, pretty much all of my Jesus & Mary Chain records went west years ago. But I still have the Madonna single, which also includes Holiday, Lucky Star and one of the best pop songs ever, by anyone, anywhere: Borderline.
This is still my favourite Madonna period. She was working with some of the hottest producers in New York and she looked like she was still having fun, like the young, uninhibited kid from Michigan that she was, getting sweaty on the dancefloor.
I get that she’s still about reinvention. She still works with great producers. She’s moulded and shaped herself into the consummate entertainment professional, who combines a bit of talent with enormous drive and ambition and the kind of single-minded ruthlessness that would shame a mako shark.
On some levels, there’s a lot to admire. And I still like odd bits of her music, such as the stuff she did with Mirwais a few years ago. I just don’t like Madonna very much. The bad movies, terrible pop-trance and spectacularly ill-advised class war rhetoric spoiled it all for me. I’m sure she is inconsolable.
Moving on from what was at the time music for young girls, we seamlessly segue into music for old girls. Smooth.
I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I do the vast majority of my record shopping in charity shops these days. This is partly because it’s cheap and I’m usually skint, partly because I’m downloading a lot of stuff, and partly because I’m a miserable old twat who thinks that a lot of contemporary music is a bit shit.
And of course, I love the buzz of digging through random old vinyl to find a half-forgotten classic or some mind-blowing piece of music that sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
I love, adore and delight in all that stuff. In fact, I’m actually writing this in an attempt to stave off the vinyl hunger pangs, now that I finally have a bit of money in my pocket and Oxfam, Barnardo’s and the PDSA are open. How’s that for creative therapy?
While I haven’t done it for a while, I used to DJ at an ‘early doors easy listening’ do on Friday evenings, playing dusty old bossa nova and easy listening joints rescued from charity shop oblivion to a whole new generation of hipsters, swingers, movers and shakers.
To the casual observer, A Latin Happening by the Tony Hatch Orchestra (Golden Hour), which I found for 50 new pence in the British Red Cross shop round the corner, probably seems like a good example of the depths to which I have plunged.
“Top names, some of the most durable songs in the Latin American catalogue and an orchestra to perform them in just the way right way,” trills the album’s sleeve blurb. “If this is the way you like to be entertained, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”
The library stock shot of some Andean wedding band on the cover isn’t exactly promising, although it does have a super-smart embossed Golden Hour logo on the front. All things considered, it looks like one of those records where hack session musicians resist gouching out for just long enough to go through the motions of laying down a few lacklustre covers of contemporary hits.
But Hatch, best known at the time for being the nasty judge on the New Faces TV talent show and later writing the Neighbours theme tune with his wife Jackie Trent, was also a great pianist, a terrific arranger and an accomplished producer.
A Latin Happening is actually a fucking great record, with one of the prettiest versions of Light My Fire I’ve ever heard, and equally quirky but groovy interpretations of Sunny, Mas Que Nada, Sole Bossa Nova and How Insensitive.
So what if it is a bit crackly?
Around The World with Sooty, Harry Corbett and Sweep (Music For Pleasure) caught my eye through the big plate glass window of the Oldham Street Oxfam when I passed by one day.
A concept album of sorts, it follows the inaudible pretend bear, his squeaky-voiced dog glove puppet-pal Sweep and their tank-topped humanoid handler Mr Corbett as they travel around the world in a spaceship. Every time they land in a different place, there’s a musical pastiche based on a series of idiotic, half-remembered cliches about that particular continent.
The trio “fly to Paris on their way to Africa. Flying south, they find themselves in Italy, the land of opera, where Sooty sings a duet with the famous Signor Sprago. Then across – and under – the Mediterranean to Egypt before a quick flip to the Far East where they arrive in China in the Year of the Dragon”.
It’s gripping stuff.
However, the back cover blurb also mentions a stop-over in “the Land of the Incas for a startling adventure” and one of the songs is called Chicca Chicca, so I’m thinking there could be the possibility of some interesting latin action. I could not have been more right. It’s a gift. If only I could find a way of using my powers for good.
Chicca Chicca is a truly lovely piece of faux-latin nonsense and a veritable easy listening bomb. And we all know why those Incas were so industrious, right?
I also bought Albert Decap’s 16 Super Hits – Dancing De Blauwe Engel (A. Decap-Sound) from the Oxfam in town, purely on the strength of the cover. Look at the state of it. Of course, I never seriously imagined the music on it would be any good. Not in a million years.
I simply didn’t appreciate the full enormity of it.
It is every bit as unhinged as you’d imagine an album of barrel organ oompah music played by a robot band, live and direct from a truckers’ rest-stop bar somewhere near Belgian-German border in the late Sixties would be – and then some.
Establishing their hardcore credentials from the outset, de Robot-Orkest kick out the jams on a truly mind-bending take on De Vogeltjesdans, which will be familiar to readers of a certain age through its later incarnation of The Birdy Song, an utterly banal and vacuous and enormously irritating novelty No.1 in the UK in the early Eighties.
The versions of Ryders In The Sky and Coward Of The County really do have to be heard to be believed. There’s a weird, forced jollity and perkiness to them that simply appalls even the casual listener. If you actually tune into it, it’s insane. INSANE.
Clearly, our robotic renegades of random wrong aren’t messing about here. They are, to quote the esteemed Turbo B, as serious as cancer. And about as danceable. In fact, the whole thing is pretty much unlistenable all round, like the soundtrack to some ghastly David Lynch seaside nightmare.
God only knows the surreal, hellish depths of amphetamine psychosis to which those lorry drivers must have sunk in order to actually listen to this shit, never mind dance to it, the sick, twisted fucks. The comedowns off that industrial-strength Czech paste must have been ridiculous.
The weird-looking kids conceived in snatched, ugly liaisons with local working girls round the back of de Blauwe Engel (“Parking voor 200 autos, verlichte dansvloer ..”) are now running the European Union. Inevitably perhaps, the mighty Fall documented the English leg of this squalid scene in Container Drivers in 1980.
There’s an old record-nerd dictum that, if you see a record with a robot or a spaceship on the front, you should buy it immediately – because whoever created it was, most likely, thinking about the future on some kind of level. And, if it happens to be crap, well, at least you’ve still got a record with a picture of a robot or a spaceship on the cover.
I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of hellish dystopian future de Robot-Orkest were thinking of, but I do know I don’t want any part of it.
It’s bad and it’s wrong and it scares the shit out of me.