Producer Arthur Baker made quite the splash in 1982. First he unleashed the revolutionary “Planet Rock” on the world and changed dance music forever — I still remember the first time I heard it — and had his first big popular hit with this classic cover of an Eddy Grant song which took over dance floors all over the land that year.
After that double whammy Baker became one of the hottest knob-twiddlers around, in demand as a remixer, and producing other megahits like Freeez’s “I.O.U”. Even those gloomy buggers New Order flew over to New York to touch the hem of his garment and work with him on “Confusion” — which, to be frank, was a bit of a let-down and nowhere near as good as this track.
I’ve always thought of this as a perfect 12″ single, even though it lasts an epic 9.5 minutes it never feels too long (unlike some extended mixes). In fact, I think I’d be happy if this went on forever.
I saw Wolf Alice again last week, that’s the second time this year. Don’t think I’ve seen the same band twice in one year since my early 20s, next I’ll be putting their posters on my bedroom wall and taping their live sessions off the radio. The kids still do that, right?
In the five months since the previous gig the London foursome have put out an album and done a shitload of touring, and as a result seem to be gaining an audience here in the States. Back in March I saw them in a small room in front of about 100 people, but this time the space was bigger and packed with, I guess, about 500 punters — not exactly a football stadium crowd but the vibe was very different too. Instead of merely curious onlookers, most of the crowd seemed to be partisan fans judging by the way they cheered and sang along to the songs. Nice to see that the band’s old-fashioned graft is paying off – as long as they don’t get too big, I don’t actually want to see them in a football stadium.
Having a bigger, enthusiastic crowd really helped the performance and they were even better than the first time. Good though they are at more gentle songs like “Swallowtail” (which they played live for the first time in the States), it’s on big riff monsters like “You’re A Germ” that they can really blow the roof off. If I was the sort of person who used the word “rock” as a verb I would do so. I left with the kind of happily satisfied buzz you only get from booze, sex, and great concerts.
Here’s some dodgy-quality video what I shot myself. I don’t think Jonathan Demme has anything to worry about.
The Gilbert O’Sullivan video last week also got me thinking about Leo Sayer (as you do). Both of them were decent singer-songwriters who didn’t have any hits until they dressed up in silly costumes. O’Sullivan like a 1930s Yorkshire schoolboy, and Sayer in a ridiculous Pierrot outfit with all the make-up. I imagined them both going to a record label and being told “Your songs are great, kid. But what you need these days is a gimmick!” but the disappointing truth is that they came up with those looks themselves — maybe out of desperation for success, but they certainly worked. The modern equivalent would be Ed Sheerhan going on stage dressed as as Hobbit — which wouldn’t take much effort, he’s halfway there anyway.
Pop stars reinventing themselves with new images is nothing new of course, but it was especially popular in the early 70s when every week’s Top of The Pops was like a contest to see who could wear the most outlandish outfit.
Both O’Sullivan and Sayer eventually dropped their fancy-dress looks for more ordinary outfits and carried on being successful, but without that initial visual splash they might not have been noticed in the first place. Another thing they have in common is that they both recorded some right old rubbish, but I always liked this song — I just wouldn’t admit it in company.
Well this was a shock. I doubt if Cilla Black means much to anyone outside of Britain but there she didn’t fade away with her 60s pop hits. When those dried up she parlayed her Scouse charm and gift of the gab into a long and successful television career — at one point she was the highest-paid woman on British television – becoming, in that overused phrase, something of a national institution.
The TV shows she fronted were mostly awful (though Blind Date could be fun) but a lot of her records were terrific and I hope she is remembered more for them. As a singer she wasn’t as great as peers Dusty Springfield, Lulu, and Sandie Shaw, but it was her lack of polish that could make her so affecting: That shaky, off-key quiver she had, the way her Liverpool accent often shone through, and when she had to go big on a song like “Alfie” she sounded emotionally overwhelmed.
I wrote about this song here many, many years ago, and about how my mother used to sing the opening lines to me. It still tears me up a bit because of that, but it’s Cilla’s kitchen-sink realness that makes such a soppily sentimental song so touching.