Do you still make up lists of your favourite records? Man, that’s so last century. These days, the done thing is to reel of a sequence of those guilty pleasures - the horrid little tunes that were never invited to the cool party. So now it’s permissible to like the Electric Light Orchestra and their symphonic twaddle. Likewise with Meatloaf and ‘Bat Out Of Hell’. Apparently it’s been given a reprieve, after years of mockery. And you thought it was just a gormless bunch of shouting and half-remembered Springsteen choruses? Apparently not.
To my mind, guilty pleasures should never be given absolution. A bad song will always stink. All this ironic stuff is just another makeshift, a temporary plug to fill the vacancy in our current music lives. I can never forgive Abba for their pop crimes, and if anyone ever wants to make a case for Nik Kershaw in my presence, be warned that I consider this fighting talk.
Yes, I do have an emotional attachment to some dodgy tunes. All that’s left of one doomed love affair is the Genesis song, ‘Follow You Follow Me’. But it would never have worked: she had a lousy record collection. I used to like Alvin Stardust, but I was 11 at the time. And yes, I will dance with abandon to Fleetwood Mac and ‘Everywhere’. But that was never a bad song to start with.
The song that troubles me most is ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’ by Neil Diamond. I find myself singing it in public. The melody gives me some pleasure. And when Shane MacGowan recorded a stumblebum version with banjos and everything, I truly appreciated how bold the song was.
But there’s a line in ‘Crackin’ Rosie’ that troubles me a lot. It’s when Neil boasts, “I had me a time with a poor man’s lady”. I find it morally appalling. Why didn’t he pick himself a rich man’s wife for his entertainment? Or maybe even a single girl? I still have an indelible picture of the poor man, coming home in his dirty overalls, only to realise that his missus is cavorting with Neil Diamond, his clanking medallion and a purple jump suit. It’s just not right.
Am I being too judgmental? Should I forget my guilty feelings and simply enjoy a decent pop song? Kind readers, how should I plead?
Tonight, on Radio Ulster, we’re gonna party like it’s 1955. We’re got a tremendous session from The Sabrejets, who play down-the-line rockabilly with little fuss and considerable style. They’ve put together some of their own songs, plus a stomping version of the Ramones record, ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’. And if you think it’s a bit peculiar to hear a punk tune played thus, then remember that the Sabrejets singer is Brian Young, who fronted one of the classic Ulster acts, Rudi.
It was Rudi that released the first single on the Good Vibrations label, back in 1978. It was called ‘Big Time’ and it roared and snarled, a put-down of some posing chancer on the local scene. And while Brian and his band never got the same recognition as The Undertones or Stiff Little Fingers, they are still dear to anyone who ever saw them.
Many players from that period have moved on to safer jobs, but Brian is still utterly into the music, and he wears it exceedingly well. So what’s the secret of his youthful demeanor? Well, when you watched him lashing out those tracks in the BBC studio, hollering about hot rods and dance crazes, you could tell that is mojo was emphatically working, that the inspiration has never left him.
Tune in at 10pm to hear the proof.
A bloke comes up to me the other week and tells me he’s cracked the secret of my radio show. I’m intrigued. There’s me on a Friday night, working alone in BBC Belfast’s Studio 8 of a Friday, from ten until midnight, playing my fave tunes in a kind of random order. Hey, I care about the records and that’s reason enough for me. But this guy understands. “It’s all about passion,” he declares, with a tremendous smile. And you know, he might be correct.
Really, what’s the point of music without passion? What would be left of Primal Scream and Willie Nelson, Nick Cave, Nina Simone and The Clash? It’s the essential juice in the engine. It gives music sense. And I guess this idea was in my bones as I staggered home a few nights ago with some mates and we broke into a spontaneous chorus of Dexys songs.
You remember Dexys Midnight Runners, surely. Fronted by Kevin Rowland, they lashed out ‘Geno’, ‘Dance Stance’ and of course ‘Come On Eileen’. Album number three was a bit odd, but Kev devotees know that ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ rules. So naturally, our singalong climaxed with a line from the song ‘Listen To This’. The one that whoops; “I was thinking about compromise, when I saw the beauty in your eyes”. We didn’t do the melody much justice, but hey, did we mean it.
And then I get the tip-off that Kevin has a myspace site, and that there’s a new tune on it. Blimey. You call it ‘It’s OK Johanna’ and it’s like a mixture of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and some delicious confessional by Marvin Gaye. Even as a demo, it’s essential Kev, and I adore it.
“I’m gonna spread beauty to the best of my ability,” he sings. “That’s my job. That’s why God put me here.”
Listen to that tune:
How can you disagree?