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Who have you been a victim of? An introduction to The Stranglers.

13 Aug

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The Stranglers…what can I say about them? One of my first favourite bands, and although I rarely buy their new material they’re still a considerable live draw.

I first heard their music I was 13, which was a very formative age to hear them. At the time they were a little too ‘adult’ to my kiddie ears and compared to the other chart hits of 1986, I found “Always the Sun” plodding and boring. Now I hear it as a wonderful song which rewards far more than the average S/A/W record. Continue reading

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and love ABBA.

30 Jul

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As a child, although I didn’t fully realise it at the time, music was a contentious subject in my family. At an age where I didn’t think of such things, my parents had already pitched their flag in the cultural landscape of conservative (in a political as well as musical sense). In this middle of the road, anything from the mid ‘60s onwards was often viewed with an element of suspicion. If a music artist was male and had a good classic voice, they were acceptable to my mother’s ears (Tom Jones was about as radical as she got). The Beatles, incidentally, where shunned, and still are, no matter how many accolades they get. My Dad’s taste was broader, but his nostalgic affinity with the ‘40s Big Band sound eclipsed any possible awareness of then current sounds. The counter cultural revolution of the late ‘60s was the epitome of everything wrong with the younger crowd. Older than the average parents for my generation, Mum and Dad’s entertainment tastes were firmly rooted in the 1950s and early ‘60s.

There was an exception, however; a contemporary music act who my parents happily tolerated, even if they rarely bought their music. I speak of a band with a name I could remember mainly as it was a simple and potentially meaningless moniker:  ABBA. Through some act of immunity, this artist’s music escaped the culture filter that parents often unknowingly surround their young children with. So this band came to my attention at a very young age, and became my first musical love. In honesty, their place in my affections has not dimmed in over thirty years, no matter how seriously or fervently I’ve pursued other musical attractions. They also rose above any other sounds I was hearing at that time, by pure virtue of their unique qualities; qualities that at such an impressionable age are likely to cause a second listen. They sounded harmonious, catchy and oddly different. I didn’t really know what the female voices were singing about either, except it sounded vaguely glamorous and grown up, sometimes slightly forbidden. Only now, do I appreciate how adult ABBA are. They didn’t concern themselves much with the usual deviant topics of rock n’ roll, but rather the more mature themes of marriage, divorce and sometimes (let’s be frank) sex. However, by ‘sex’ I mean the grown up responsible kind, not usually the kind the likes of AC/DC may have been screaming enthusiastically about. Still, ABBA could do frisky. ABBA aren’t obviously the most sexual group out there, but listen to the Glam rock stomp of “Rock me”. They’re not singing about ordering pizza. Elsewhere, the group could actually be downright silly. Whereas “Summer Night City” positively reeks of beer and sex, the likes of “Bang-A-Boomerang” tread a bold lyrical path on the edge of the ludicrous. Continue reading

You can’t sing, you can’t dance, you look awful…you’ll go a long way! (Childhood memories of early ’80s pop).

18 Oct

The early 1980s were an odd time for pop music. There’s a common train of thought that it normally chugs its way through the station marked “Craptown”. But, I have to argue, it isn’t all true. Now, before I continue, I have to say nothing with regard to music winds me up more than ‘80s revisionists. What was embarrassing and without worth in 1981 is going to be pretty much the same thirty years later, perhaps more so. Then again, some things have a kind of period charm (as they often do), like Toyah’s haircuts and dress sense, for example. Alright, so you’re not with me on that one, but you get the idea.

Now, there was some very innovative stuff going on in the post-punk era, no doubt about that. However, that’s not to say a lot of commercial pop music in the early ‘80s was bloody awful; synthetic, irony free and badly written. Oddly these are some of the reasons why some of it is actually quite good, almost deserving respect due to its brash sense of the audacious. Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” couldn’t be anymore crap if it called itself “Kids in Milton Keynes”, but somehow it works. But some producers knew how to take cheese and add it to a really good omelette, so to speak. Giorgio Moroder springs to mind straight away. When he produced Blondie’s “Call me” he had a good group and a good song to work with, so perhaps he was usually just lucky. It’s also telling that there was something of a ‘60s revival in the early ‘80s, as well as this era being the aftermath of Punk. So what you got, quite often, was a bizarre combination of classic pop sensibility, to get clichéd, with often shockingly inappropriate and experimental electronics. Continue reading

The forgotten pop of Susan Fassbender

2 Mar

The rubbish dump of pop’s past is littered with almost countless lost artistes, forgotten careers and one hit wonders. There are as many fascinating stories to be found behind these perceived failures as there is behind the great chart successes. One such story that came to my attention recently is the tale of Susan Fassbender,  who I believe warrants a second look and listen if only because for British TV viewers of a certain age, she’ll be remembered for several appearances on Chegger’s Plays Pop and The Multi-coloured Swap Shop. That at least gives some of us a nostalgic glow, but the sad irony is that despite this association with an innocent childhood past, a little digging reveals that Fassbender’s life later took a darker path.

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