I’m long past caring about what records I’m “supposed” to like and think the whole concept of the guilty pleasure is a bit silly, you like what you like and damn what anyone else thinks. But it wasn’t always that way, back in 1981 I was only 19 with all the serious pretensions of that age, I listened to John Peel every night, I bought records on Factory and Rough Trade, I wore a big overcoat with Siouxsie and The Banshees badges on it, I read Camus novels – I had an image to maintain. So I was faintly embarrassed to admit (even to myself) that I thought the single “Hand Held In Black and White” by fluffy pop duo Dollar was actually pretty damn good. So much so that, no matter how much I liked it, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a copy lest the bloke in the record shop laughed at me. I could have sneaked into somewhere completely un-trendy like Woolworth’s and secretly bought it but you never knew if the gum-chewing saturday girl behind the record counter would give you a sneering, disdainful look too, and I couldn’t live with the thought that there were strangers out there thinking I had bad taste in music. Even worse, what if one of my mates discovered I’d bought it — oh, the shame.
And I still don’t have a copy of it, so here they are doing it on Top of The Pops, with the added bonus of a Peter Powell intro. It still sounds great too, and I can now say that without a smidgen of embarrassment.
This was the first production job Trevor Horn did after leaving Buggles and Yes, and it was because of it’s big, bright sound that ABC asked him to produce their “Lexicon of Love” album which of course is regarded as a classic and Horn went on to work with Malcolm McLaren, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Art of Noise and be hailed as a production genius. So in many ways this little record changed the face of 80s pop music and now every hipster on the planet is wise to the greatness of manufactured pop. I just like to think I was ahead of the curve.
Mention the name Jenny Agutter to an Englishman of a certain age and he’s likely to go a little soft at the knees and get a faraway look in his eyes, wistfully recalling the night he saw “Walkabout” on BBC2 and felt his adolescent hormones blow a gasket.
In the league table of British totty of the 1970s Jenny was the champion, Manchester United to everyone else’s Tranmere Rovers. She had the plummy voice and well-bred poise of the Head Girl of an expensive upper class girl’s school but while she sounded frightfully proper she also had a very free-spirited attitude toward the idea of clothes and got them off in almost every movie she was in — she even took her knickers off in “The Railway Children.” The fact that she did so while playing a schoolgirl in “Walkabout” and a nurse in “An American Werewolf in London” fulfilled several Englishman’s fantasies all at once: the posh bird in a uniform who is a bit saucy underneath the prim exterior. On the one hand you could picture her doing all sorts of nice, outdoorsy girl things like playing netball, riding horses and being terribly jolly hockey sticks, but also imagine her having an illicit fag behind the school gym, flirting with the rough boys from the local comprehensive, zooming off to London on the back of her long-haired boyfriend’s motorbike, and getting suave Uncle Roger all hot under the cravat when she stretched out her long legs in the passenger seat of his Jag.
I’m surprised some soppy indie boy hasn’t written a song about her but far as I know no one has so these will have to do. Two sides of the Jenny Agutter coin, at least in my head.
One of the best things about the Glam Rock era is that bands didn’t just go on Top of The Pops in tatty old jeans and t-shirts, they had to dress up and have a distinct image of some kind, especially the ones further down the talent food chain from the big guns of Bowie, Roxy, Bolan and Slade. Mud and Showaddywaddy wore rainbow-coloured Teddy Boy outfits, The Bay City Rollers got decked out in tartan, The Rubettes had their white suits and floppy hats, Leo Sayer dressed like a clown, Alvin Stardust squeezed into a leather jumpsuit, and Sailor… well, have a guess what they dressed as.
Another gimmick they had was a bizarre musical contraption called the Nickleodeon they built themselves which was several musical intruments banged together into what looked like a synthesizer designed by Heath Robinson. But all the gimmicks in the world couldn’t help them have more than two hits (though apparently they were very big in Germany) of which “A Glass of Champagne” was the biggest in 1975. This sounds an awful lot like a bubblegummy Roxy Music, I’m surprised Bryan Ferry didn’t sue the lead singer for infringement of vocal style copyright. Still a top tune though.
Bryan Ferry recently got into a spot of bother for saying that he thought Nazi iconography was “really beautiful” and found himself having to deny that he was a closet goose-stepper. Quite ridiculous really, Bryan may be a bit of a Tory these days but I don’t think any man who names his first son after Otis Redding could be considered a Nazi.
The thing is, he was right. On a purely aesthetic level the films of Leni Riefenstahl and the buildings of Albert Speerare beautiful, as are the posters, the rallies, and the suave uniforms — the Nazis were masters of staging and presentation, selling something terrible by making it look sexy.
The Skids flirted with similar controversy when their 1979 album “Days In Europa” appeared with a sleeve image of a noble, God-like athlete and an Aryan beauty that looked lifted straight from a poster for the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics complete with very Germanic Gothic lettering (in fact it’s a pastiche by illustrator Mick Brownfield.) I don’t remember anyone seriously suggesting that the band were Nazis, they were just being very naive in their plundering of art history, but the sleeve (and song titles like “The Olympian” and “Dulce et Decorum Est (Pro Patria Mori)” which translates as “It is a sweet and glorious thing (to die for one’s country)”) did bring up the same unfortunate associations that Joy Division were also dogged with, and the late 1970s weren’t a good time to be mucking about with fascist imagery when there were real neo-Nazis marching on the streets of England. So when the album was remixed a year later (the record company wanted to put a more commercial gloss on Bill Nelson’s original production) it was issued in a completely different sleeve. Though the band put their foots in it again when their next album came with a bonus record called “Strength Through Joy.” You think they’d have been studying their history books a bit closer by then.
But let’s face it, a lot of post-punk did sound like fascist music. The thundering dynamics, martial drumming and violent guitars (not to mention the severe haircuts) of The Skids (and Joy Division, Killing Joke, Theatre of Hate) had all the aggressive Wagnerian Sturm und Drang of a stormtrooper blitzkrieg. With his hearty singing over their big, anthemic songs like “Working For The Yankee Dollar” lead singer Richard Jobson came across like a General leading troops into battle, and the slower “Animation” marches along like the Wehrmacht rolling over Poland. Still tremendous bloody records though, U2 stole a lot of their sound but they were such nice Catholic boys they made it sound wholesome.
(I met Richard Jobson a couple of times, he was friends with a bloke I used to work for. Very nice chap I must say and surprisingly unpretentious, more interested in talking about football than art — or Hitler.)
The old excuse again I’m afraid, too busy to finish any new posts. I could quit my job and blog full-time but then the wife would have to go on the game to support me and the little one which wouldn’t do really.
To keep things ticking over here’s the brilliant 1980 debut single from the wonderful Girls At Our Best, the title of which pretty much sums up how I feel about the mountain of work and the looming deadline I’m under at the moment. They only released four singles and one album before splitting up but they were all poptastic, sadly none of them are available on CD which is a shocking state of affairs.
There were only three kids in my school Sixth Form who were into Metal and dressed like the above picture. You didn’t have to wear a uniform by that age so they’d come in denim jackets with “Zojo” embroidered on the back, I don’t think you were allowed to have your hair longer than shoulder length so they were limited in that area. There may have been other, younger headbangers at school hiding beneath their uniforms with “Deep Purple 4 Ever” scrawled on their sports bags but I never knew them. To us, Heavy Metal was something liked by either your out-of-date older brother or kids unlucky enough to live in backward towns north of London where they still wore flares and smoked Woodbines. Motorhead and Thin Lizzy were about the only socially acceptable metal/hard rock acts (early, Bon Scott-era AC/DC were good fun too), but to declare a love for Saxon or Judas Priest and dress like that was like announcing you had no interest in ever having sex with a girl.
But there were times when a bit of big, dumb riffage with loud guitars did sound really good, like this headbanger which hit the charts in 1977. This should clear the Bay City Rollers out of your head.