‘IT’D NEVER HAPPEN NOW’ pop thrills galore as uncompromising ‘indie-gospel’ duo top the charts for weeks on end with an iconoclastic soul cover and accompanying video positively bursting at the seams with unashamedly blatant left-leaning iconography and gay allegory, without a single tabloid newspaper campaign to stop this evil filth from being ‘peddled’ to impressionable youngsters. Arresting vocal zig-zaggery between the high-voiced man and the deep-voiced woman invited much playground comment and imitation, as indeed did the TOTP-miming japesmithery of ‘The Piano One’, but that was par for the pop course in the bizarre level playing field that was the singles chart of 1986. Extra marks for the uber-swizztastic 12″ Extended Version, which more or less beefed itself up by several minutes with a looped sample of Jimmy Somerville going ‘E’.
TAILOR-MADE three-button side-vent sharkskin ‘Mod Revival’ anthem with added Cheggers Plays Pop friendliness for those blokes who wore long green coats to school to do that neck-jerking staring-eyed ‘dance’ to. Ambitious lyrical conceit had something to do with being the anthropomorphic embodient of the concept of ‘beat’, how this made one in ‘demond’, and using your rhythmic capabilities to entertain martians, cause complete mental collapse in teenage girls, convince mariners to commit acquatic suicide, and raise the dead – all of it sung about with a Phil Daniels Meets Grange Hill – They Early Years vocal braggadocio that suggested the above were somehow considered very much a Good Thing. The Look didn’t stick around much longer, unlike this single itself, which concluded with one of those ‘permanent grooves’ which went on and on repeating ‘BEAT! BEAT! BEAT! BEAT!’ to increasing amounts of surface noise.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'TOM HARK' BY THE PIRANHAS, 'TIME FOR ACTION' BY SECRET AFFAIR
They say there’ll be no singles by prog rock bands this Christmas? Try telling that to pop’s premier firecely-guarded-persian-carpet-mounted bass guitarist, who took time out from conceptualising impenetrable album-length instrumental suites about that iguana that fought Captain Kirk or something to craft a three minute ode to Remembering The Real Meaning Of Christmas, in cahoots with his ‘please don’t use our names’ bandmates Lake and Palmer, and somewhat incongruously, colour-coded fa-la-la-ing TV variety show favourites The Kings Singers. Quite what he’s actually going on about is roughly as decipherable as the average ELP concept album concept, hardly surprising as the lyrics were written in cahoots with King Crimson’s Pete Sinfield (lest we forget, the man who gave the world “CAT’S FOOT! IRON CLAW! NEUROSURGEONS SCREAM FOR MORE AT PARANOIA’S POISON DOOR… 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN!!”) but it apparently has something to do with rumbling Santa as a false-bearded ‘phoney’ and asking us all to remember the Nativity instead of our ace presents. And yes, its catchy singalong nature is still tempered by ELP’s trademark ransacking of the ‘classics’, in this case a hefty instrumental quotation from the Troika section of Lieutenant Kije, fondly remembered by Cream Era viewers for its appearance in Music Time’s puppet adaptation of said ballet, complete with oily ‘Chancellor’ being hilariously booted down the stairs. Sadly, however, Greg forsook the use of puppet footage for the video, in favour of grainy film of him being all ‘progressive’ in the Holy Land.
FUZZED-UP sideburned sparky pop fun from a trio of hyperactive youngsters who seemed to have worked out everything that was great about Cream-era pop and bashed it out in a collection of rapid-fire punky pop-splurge Buzzcocks-meet-Pistols-meet-Madness-meet-Syd’s-Floyd-meet-Bowie-meet-Beach-Boys-meet-Eurotrash-theme thrills. Seemingly beamed in from a universe where ‘quallidy pop’ never happened, Gaz, Danny and Mickey were the toast of 1995 and rightly so; not only were they immeasurably better than any of their Britpop peers (yes, including Oasis and – at least in their circa-The Great Escape incarnation – Blur) and therefore by association enormously more exciting than anything else around at the time, they also made a rather corking album to boot. There’s the surprisingly large hit singles quotient (Caught By The Fuzz, Mansize Rooster, Lenny, Alright, and we’re counting Time and Lose It as well round here thank you very much), the manic singalongs (I’d Like To Know, Strange Ones, She’s So Loose), the are-they-for-real? jokiness (Sitting Up Straight, Time To Go), the lovelorn epic (Sofa (Of My Lethargy)), and the downright oddness (We’re Not Supposed To, and all that “Igor! I can’t find you…” business) that suggested they’d spent a little too long poking around the more unhinged corners of their local independent record shop. For so many reasons it couldn’t last, of course, but even then Supergrass defied all logic and expectation by getting better and better as their star steadily but very very slowly faded.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'NUISANCE' BY MENSWE@R; 'PARKLIFE' BY BLUR
“Ha ha ha… roll the tape!”. Over-fringed Indiepop Christmas Fun as Pete, Bob and Sarah celebrate a year of minor success with retro-futuristic pop songs laced with proto-Cream reference points by teaming up with the beleagured Charlatans frontman, hardly likely to want to celebrate a year of dwindling record sales, band members being arrested for accidentally taking part in armed robberies, and Andrew Collins being mean about him in Select. The result? A sparkling ode to ‘getting groovy after halloween’, full of upbeat Christmassy sentiments quite at odds with the titular implication of Jesus-style ‘combined present’ woe, and complete with video-bound excursion into Quality Street/BBC Globe ‘Victorian = Christmas’ iconographic inexplicableness (and we’ve not even got started on the huge quantity of not-particularly-Yuletide-worthy cats lurking around the sleeve of the ostenible ‘Xmas 93 EP’, in other words a listenable-ish Billy Fury cover and a couple of ponderous instrumentals). Within months, The Charlatans were back where they belonged and that pesky ‘indie’ was getting nearer and nearer to the top ten.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'THE WASSAILING SONG' BY BLUR, 'CHRISTMAS IN SUBURBIA' BY MARTIN NEWELL
‘RAP-METAL’ arrives in a shower of shaken-up Budweiser and causes untold offence to tabloid columnists, rentaquote MPs, riot-fearing headmasters and people who owned big flashy cars that were too big to park in their street anyway. Yes indeed, long before rappers started getting shot in ‘turf wars’ preciptated by someone dissing someone else’s sneakers, The Beastie Boys were seen as the single biggest threat to Western civilisation in the entire history of forever, and if the above disgruntled parties were to be believed, Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA were plotting to murder us all in our beds the second No Sleep Till Brooklyn started slipping down the charts. With the benefit of hindsight nobody’s quite sure what they did to warrant this reputation, other than being a bit gung-ho for beer and sex, making an admittedly slightly-shocking-for-1986 video with much couch-bound snog-centric comedy, and falling over while saying ‘Cold Medina’ on the Montreux Pop Festival, but all the same Licensed To Ill became almost impossible to get hold of in the first place, due to over-zealous power-crazed Saturday boys at WH Smiths, and even if you did manage to get hold of a copy it would invariably be snatched quickly away by concerned parents or confiscation-happy schoolteachers (doubtless ending up in a cupboard next to huge piles of the Spitting Image book). The ultimate ‘tape to tape’-d album, then, and listened to fervently by a whole generation of wannabe-VW-badge-purloiners who may have long since pretended their embarrassing attempts at wearing a backwards baseball cap never happened, but can still do a pitch-perfect impression of ‘sheeeeeeee’s craftyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy’ if circumstances call for one.
AGIT-PROP indie-gospel Thatcher-baiting that wasn’t afraid to fall over on Wacaday. For the briefest of pop moments, a bunch of overgrown students in shabby jumpers somehow emerged through the radio twilight zone of John Peel/Janice Long endorsement to become the nation’s favourite chart-toppers, perplexingly acquiring a zany cuddly image despite singing Blue Peter-baiting songs about shooting bankers, monarch-instigated throttling, and, erm, turning pigs upside down. All the unexpectedly-Wogan-appearance-generating hits were present and correct on the Fourth Best Band In Hull’s ‘Quite Good’ debut (although – completists take note – Flag Day and Think For A Minute! both appeared in ‘different’ versions) alongside loads more piano-pounding jangly guitar leftism and a couple of Comedy Bit In Jossy’s Giants-friendly instrumentals, which defied its Red Wedge-rabble-rousing origins to become the must-have for those AntiApartheid badge-sporting youngsters who were wont to, well, think for a minute, and eventually to sit alongside Graceland in the swankiest of habitat-furnished chrome-and-black pads in ‘the city’, doubtless helped on its way by the mock-vintage stylings of the tastefully tinted sleeve.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'THIS IS THE STORY' BY THE PROCLAIMERS; 'NEITHER WASHINGTON NOR MOSCOW' BY THE REDSKINS
Thus it was that with 1973’s trial run for the Winter Of Discontent hovering on the horizon, the man in the mirrored top hat decided he was having non of yer namby pamby glumness and with the aid of an old unfinished Slade song, an Harmonium borrowed from John Lennon, and some raucous shouting from the corridor outside the recording studio, crafted TV Cream’s Official Favourite Christmas Single Of All Time. With its you’re-going-to-Church-instead-of-playing-with-Stop-Boris opening, Glam Rock-refracted take on time-honoured Christmas preparations, droll Peter Kay-trouncing observations on having your relatives round for dinner, and ludicrously crowbarred-in pun on the band’s name, it’s more or less a three minute musical encapsulation of Christmas Like It Used To Be In The Cream Era, when cheap-and-cheerful crackers jostled for emblematic status with garish Glam-esque decorations, ITV sitcom specials, and Rowntree Macintosh selection boxes with those big chunky stylised snowmen and spiral-eyed reindeer on the front. As Cream-era clarion calls go, they don’t come much more iconic – or indeed much louder – than Noddy Holder bellowing “IT’S CHRIIIIIIIIST-MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS”. And, frankly, it never really is Christmas until you’ve heard it.
Thumping Eurotechno anthem urging all and sundry to ‘get your booty on the floor tonight, make my day’ – not too difficult to achieve in the face of scary new-fangled non-stop drum machine and subsonic bass chicanery – and more or less single-handedly responsible for ushering in a short-lived new era in which everything went a bit energy drink and Global Hypercolour. Originally lip-synched on TV by blue-lipsticked model ‘Felly’, before it emerged that her unconvincing miming concealed the fact that it had actually been performed by twangy-voiced rapper Ya Kid K, who in cahoots with her real-life beau MC Eric (whom, lest we forget ‘got lyric for ya’, and who had ‘seen’ your ‘posse’, but now it was him who was ‘bossy’) became the public face of Technotronic from theron in for a string of singles of ascending aceness – Get Up! (Before The Night Is Over), This Beat Is Technotronic and, best of all, the peerless Rockin’ Over The Beat. Or, if you’re one of those mentals who hasn’t stopped whining in the intervening twenty years, the dawn of ‘faceless Italian dance’ and therefore ruining things forever.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'TOUCH ME' BY THE 49'ERS, 'NUMERO UNO' BY STARLIGHT
We’ve all heard of success going to people’s heads, but this was just ridiculous. Never mind your Simon Cowells – back in the mid-eighties it was another Simon, a mild-mannered composer by the name of May, who set his sights on total domination of the pop music infrastructure, when a smidgeon of chart success led to the formulation of Neitzchean ambitions that even Lex Luthor, Arthur Petrelli, Davros and Hamburglar would have unanimously adjudged “too much”. A hit with the theme from Howard’s Way led to an even bigger hit with lyric-equipped rewrite of the EastEnders theme as Anyone Can Fall In Love, followed by a bigger hit still with Howard’s Way’s own vocal rework Always There, and finally a climb all the way to the top of the Hit Parade with Nick Berry’s in-character piano-tinkler Every Loser Wins, the May-composed soundtrack to Lofty sliding down his bedroom door. It was at this point that he unveiled his grand masterplan – the creation of a cross-platform multimedia ‘supergroup’ by roping the younger residents of Albert Square – Sharon (lead vocals), Kelvin (backing vocals), Wicksy (keyboards), Ian (drums) and infrequently-glimpsed pals Eddie (guitar) and legendary Billy Bragg-riffing manager Harry, who had ‘seen’ the radical polemic hidden behind pop music – into an overlong storyline about forming a band called Dog Market, later changed to The Banned (ho ho), who alarmed Roly with some feedback while rehearsing at the Queen Vic before imploding at a ‘Battle Of The Bands’ in a flurry of dashed ideological dreams. Fortunately this didn’t quite pan out as expected, and when formidable producer Julia Smith declared ‘ENOUGH!’, May’s mogul-tastic ambitions were effectively locked up in Metropolis County Penitentiary, shot through the brain by Sylar, buried alive on Skaro and forced to give their purloined hamburgers back. Still, their flagship anthem Something Outa Nothing leaked out on – where else? – BBC Records, credited solely to Letitia Dean & Paul J Medford, and managed a respectable chart showing, doubtless thanks in no small part to the primetime exposure, lipsynched performances on Saturday Superstore et al in natty matching ‘animal print’ getup, and a small army of adolescent males who bought it in some sort of vain hope that their support might bring them somehow into the ‘pulling’ orbit of the notoriously bustifically-advantaged Ms Dean. And yet, for all that, it was a pretty good effort especially for a soap tie-in single, with a weirdly dark melody, lyrics about synesthaesia, and symphonic synth-pop backing pitched somewhere between The Pet Shop Boys and the dawn of House Music. Though it never did quite manage to get Lofty sliding back up that bedroom door.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'EVERY LOSER WINS' BY NICK BERRY, 'ANYONE CAN FALL IN LOVE' BY ANITA DOBSON
ITV LUNCHTIME-ALIKE pop-soul-psych hybrid expertly bridging the gap between Glam Rock and whatever the big pop thing before Glam Rock was. All turn-of-the-decade eyes were on slinkily-large-belted and glittery-eyeshadowed lead singer Polly Browne – even despite the distracting ridiculousness of The Bloke One’s hairstyle – and despite sinking without trace not soon afterwards with only a handful of minor follow-up hits to their modishly Wiccan-tinted name, the enduring appeal of this ode to vandalising trees in the name of love and ‘doing things’ in cottages ensures they remain one of the best remembered pop acts of the entire decade; not least by Dave Lee Travis and Adrian Juste, who were forever cueing up this platter as an official start to a tear-wiping Bank Holiday personal odyssey into the popular beat depths of ‘the seventies’. And no, despite what you may have been assured by that bloke who’s always by the photocopier at work, Polly Browne did not later develop an allergy to ‘modern’ and have to live in a Travolta-esque plastic bubble.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'CHIRPY CHIRPY CHEEP CHEEP' BY MIDDLE OF THE ROAD, 'RUPERT' BY JACKIE LEE
EXORCIST-UNDERPINNING ‘symphonic rock’ side-length shenanigans courtesy of a one-man-free-festival assortment of instruments, as dryly detailed by narrator Viv Stanshall, to the undoubted consternation of many a ‘head’ who had lulled themselves into a mellowed-out sense of false security before the spoken interlude commenced. Chart-topping knocking-himself-off-the-top-spot feat of endurance, assisted by a John Peel-instigated round of panic-buying, established Virgin Records as a viable financial concern, meaning that all of that studio tomfoolery with slightly varispeeded guitars was in a roundabout way responsible for The Sex Pistols, elusive cola drinks, globetrotting hot air balloon ridiculousness and that bloke who was harrassed by British Airways for being a ‘Virgin stooge’. Reviled for many years as the ultimate totem of hippy self-indulgence, not helped by its near-inescapability in the charity shop racks, but the inclusion of flashes of humour and dangerous hints of melody, not to mention Oldfield’s publicity-suspicious DIY-ethic proto-punk credentials, have more recently assured its elevation to the status of The Prog Rock It’s OK To Like. Not least if you’re listening to Radcliffe and Maconie on any random day.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE SNOW GOOSE' BY CAMEL, 'THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY' BY PETER HOWELL AND THE BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP
HAPLESS mirror-shaded Gallic ‘soft-synth’ rumination on the difficulty of expressing emotion through the medium of, well, ‘words’. They don’t come easy, apparently. Seemingly taken a lot more seriously on the continent – witness his track-long miming on a white Stratocaster despite there being barely any guitar to speak of, and his positioning in front of a psychedelic backdrop (doubtless the result of someone, as Europeans are wont to do, declaring that it sounded ‘just like The Beatles’) – but embraced over here (via exposure on a short-lived Top Of The Pops ‘Euro’ slot) for endearing hopelessness to near-chart-topping extremes, memorably dubbed ‘The Multi-Talented FR David’ by John Peel, and equally memorably given nought out of ten in a Smash Hits album review. Follow up single, Music (which, it should be noted, he had already claimed did come easy to him), predictably flopped, but we will never forget.
LIKE THIS? TRY THIS: 'LA DOLCE VITA' BY RYAN PARIS, 'BROTHER LOUIE' BY MODERN TALKING