Thursday, 22 June 2017

Of Pranks, Pop Punk and Old Peking

Its that ham again! Yes, I had so much fun with my appearance on my friend Tim Worthington's podcast "Looks Unfamiliar" a few months ago that we did it again.

As Tim puts it: "Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim for a second time is writer, broadcaster and quizmaster Ben Baker, who shares his not-widely-shared memories of Children's ITV magazine show Toksvig, the Whizzkids' Guide book series, sophisticated yet not exactly enlightened board game Mysteries Of Old Peking short-lived pop-punk sensations Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi, drug-fuelled post-Tarantino shock-comedy Go, and the entirely sensible hobby of making your own TV listings magazines. Along the way we'll be taking some advice from a Charcoal Jeremy Beadle, finding out why Ben had to hide his secret drawings of the Yorkshire TV logo, why Sandi Toksvig was at risk of exploding at any moment, and revealing which Shane Meadows film is not as good as a hat."


I think this one is a lot more fun than the first with a lengthy attempt to untangle old television stations, work out just how racist a board game can be, wonder why the early noughties were such a joyless time for alternative music, celebrating the fantastic work of Jeremy Beadle in a genuine and unironic way, make our own listings magazines and suspect nobody remembers the follow up to "Swingers" at all.

Hear the first episode here!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Territorial Listens - The Other History Of Pop

This week in June 1970 "The Long and Winding Road" became The Beatles' final number one in America.

The song, about a road which is long and also has some winds in it, was a top ten hit around the world in countries like Australia, Switzerland, Belgium and of course, the United Kingdo..h wait, no. It says here it didn't actually come out as a single in the UK. Whilst The Fabulous Four Men's previous single "Let It Be" HAD got an official British release, reaching number 2 in March 1970 and kept off the top by Lee bloody Marvin's "Wand'rin' Star" of all things, it wasn't seen as the done thing to keep releasing songs from an already available LP. And even "Let It Be" had been rejiggered for the LP (which McCartney would later unjigger back again for the "...Naked" release decades later.)

Whilst now we're used to the charts as effectively a hollow corpse being violated by streaming services on loop with everything to hand the second its released, I lived through a (very expensive) era where owning music was physical and subject to really strange laws and record company regulations. On top of the multi-part singles that had to be a certain length or face banishment from the chart, your favourite bands would often try break other countries with completely different songs.

Back in 1995 I had only really just became a weekly music buyer and would head down to Our Price every Monday morning for the latest singles before they charted and the price bumped up instantly by two pound as if that was in any way acceptable. My big love was the burgeoning Britpop scene, not quite the sad bloated ham it would become, in an exciting time for a kid to get into alternative music. So imagine my teenaged face when I got to the record shop that September and saw a brand new Oasis single that I didn’t even know was coming out and it was...FIVE QUID? Do I look like I'm made of the cocaines money, Leon Gallaghers?!?

This was my first encounter with an import single. In this instance,"Morning Glory" had been released in Australia and to radio in the US instead of failed Blur-usurper "Roll With It" which as we all know in hindsight is fucking terrible. It even had the same B-sides as that single. The following year MTV (it used to play music videos etc) would constantly air the clips for both that and "Champagne Supernova" - another release for America that didn't come out here - just to taunt the British record purchaser.

Here's some other alternate country releases that tormented fans...

The Jam - "Thats Entertainment" (1980)

The grandaddy of the modern alternative import release. Whilst available on the band's fifth album "Sound Affects", Paul Weller and The Pals Two decided to follow The Beatle model and try not release songs already released on long players. Equally copied off Them Mop Top Types was the riff from "Taxman" which was used throughout the only officially released single "Start!", their second number one. They did however decide to put out "That’s Entertainment" in other places who they quite frankly didn’t give as much of a shit about. Fans were keen though and sent it to number 21 on import sales alone - and thats when people actually bought records! They later beat this with the No.8 placing of the Dutch "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?" Although Morrissey didn't specially ruin that one with Vic Reeves on backing vocals, did he?

Pink Floyd -"Flaming" / "The Gnome" (1967)

One of the main tracks that wrong idiots point at when they want to go "ahhh Syd Barrett was RUBBO!" and pretend early Pink Floyd was merely quaint nonsense, as if bellowing about walls is much better, the heavily Tolkien-inspired tale of "a gnome named Grimble Gromble" is actually quite a fun, pleasant listen after nine and a half minutes of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink epic "Interstellar Overdrive" on the second side of the wonderful "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn". As a single it perhaps feels a little exposed as back up to the gorgeous if fairly aimless "Flaming" - a song which pretty much invented the 1990 indie sound two decades early - released only in the US in an alternative mix to that found on the album. Neither that or its UK counterpart "Apples and Oranges" were a hit. Should've done more songs about walls, lads.

Madness – “Mrs Hutchinson” (1982)

As the official band time-line for December 8th 1981 states: “Madness perform Mrs Hutchinson on the Top Pop TV show as for some reason the Dutch record company preferred to release it as a single instead of It Must Be Love.” A baffling decision in light of the Labi Siffre cover becoming synonymous with the group and the new double A-side ultimately peaked at a disappointing 43. The song itself, found on the band's third album "7" and written by keyboardist Mike Barson, is great fun and would have been a great single although the lyrics about a dying old lady being lied to by her doctors may have been a deciding factor after the controversy over that record's "Cardiac Arrest" which recieved a daytime radio ban.

The band also received a similar switcheroo in the UK when Stiff Records boss Dave Robinson replaced “Victoria Gardens” – the original second UK single from 1984’s “Keep Moving” with “One Better Day” despite the fact the former had already been remixed for release. The single was never released, eventually appearing on essential singles box set “The Business” in 1999 and “One Better Day” became the band’s final Stiff single release. Huh huh. I said "Stiff release".

Supergrass - "Cheapskate" (1997)

I recall seeing the video for this on The Chart Show and getting very excited as its possibly my favourite track on Supergrass' second record "In It For The Money", a perfect collection of 60s and 70s influenced pop with this track in particular apparently in homage to Kool and The Gang. This would be the band's only dent in the American singles charts when it reached a whopping 35 on the US Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Prince - "Paisley Park" (1985)

As the follow up to the bajillion-selling "Purple Rain" album, nobody really talks much about Prince (and The Revolution)'s 1985 album "Around The World In A Day" despite it being full of really great sixties-tinged pop songs such as "Pop Life" and "Raspberry Beret". Less played than either of those despite being both great and the highest charting single from that record (No. 18 in May 1985) "Paisley Park" would become better known as the name of Prince's studio and home.

Pulp – “Like A Friend” (1998)

This American promo from early 1998 recorded for Gwyneth Paltrow knocker-squinter “Great Expectations” sadly didn’t do much for Pulp’s US careers, despite receiving a full video. Frustratingly kept off the UK version of “This Is Hardcore” (And yet you had time for "Seductive Barry", Jarvis?) it'd eventually appearing in longer form on the B-side of the band’s “A Little Soul” that June. The band also released that brilliant but unforgiving album's ridiculously non-commercial opening track “The Fear” as an American radio single because death of Britpop and all that shit. Remember them this way...

(Warning: slight Venture Bros spoilers if you havent seen season 4 yet. And if you haven't seen it, why not? Its magnificent!)

Culture Club - "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" (1983)

One of those you'd assume was released due to the ubiquity of the band's début album "Kissing to Be Clever" but only came out "over there", reaching the top ten in America and Canada whilst in Australia it hit number one thanks to being a double A-side with "Karma Chameleon". I reet like the 'orns on it myself.

The Smiths – “The Headmaster Ritual” (1985)

The Smiths never had much luck with UK singles releases. Partly this was down to being on the indie label Rough Trade although it was as much to do with noted pop arsehole Morrissey’s continually fickle nature. All this meant the band amazingly never managed a UK Top 10 single until the re-issue of “This Charming Man” in 1992 (and then that was on Warner who had picked up the back catalogue that year). This odd A-side choice – merely the opening track from “Meat Is Murder” here replaced the admittedly fairly grim “That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore” in the Netherlands and as a radio promo in the US. A 1988 French CD single import in the UK can cost up to £65. Its no "That's Entertainment" though, is it?

If you enjoyed this article, please do share it on Twitter (I'm on there as @ThatBenBaker), Facebook (I have a fan page here: come say hi!) or shout it into the street (your street, not mine). Now I'm off to listen to my favourite chart hits - “Glass Wadger”, "I'm In Love With A Matching Tea Towel and Oven Glove Combination", “Stick It In Us Ian”, “La La La La (Grab Knicker Grandma)” – what do you mean you don't remember them? They were all the rage in the Benelux regions...

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

New Book Is Remotely Interesting

My new book is finished!

"Remotely Interesting" is a quiz book featuring over 50 all-new quizzes, this time on the subject of television. There's something for everyone from ALF to Z Cars, Brian Cox to Brian Griffin, Good Morning Britain to Newsnight, taking in the full TV experience from the opening theme tune to closing credits.

I've spent a long time researching, writing and editing this book to make sure it has appeal to both telly obsessives and casual viewers who fancy something to liven up that boring, ill-advised family holiday to Penge.

This is the third of my "Your Starter For Ben" quiz range and fans of my work will hopefully recognise and appreciate the comic tone running throughout particularly with longer form pieces such as a round about TV shows with video game spin offs or several encounters with Donald Trump's Twitter feed spouting off on any programme he's not currently in. Its a creative, funny book unlike any on the market today.

Here's a few of the highlights:

- Look back at the best days of your life now long gone with "Great Telly Years" rounds on 1977, 1981, 1990 and 1969;

- There's Probably Definitely True Facts About... The Simpsons, Doctor Who, soap operas and series finales;

- Guess the subjects of invariably mad real letters to the Radio and TV Times;

- Donald Trump's Presidential Tweets on programmes past and present;

- Remembering when stars switched channels in When They Went To Thames At The End;

- Were these TV spin-off video games real? Hit start;

- Go beat with the many TV appearances of The Fab Four Beatles Band;

- 'Netflix and keeping our hands where I can see them' with the non-TV TV revolution;

- Preparing for the end of the world with post-apocalypse programming;

- Can you guess the show from the Eight Word TV Tango?;

- A foreword by TV Clangers Expert Tim Worthington;

AND MUCH MORE on the likes of robots, catchphrases, theme tunes, live TV, game show rounds, spin-offs, telly books, memorable bosses, foreign types, breakfast programmes, American remakes, TV mothers, kids shows, booze and a bunch of Christmas stuff for good measure at the back!

How do you get this fantastic new book? Well right now, I'm just looking for a show of support who'd like to actually pre-order a copy. I'd like to offer something a bit different with this one and handle the deliveries myself whilst adding in bonus rewards in both physical and digital form. At the moment I'm looking at badges, posters, PDFs of my entire back catalogue and access to my 15+ years of podcasting archives. Possibly some new recorded stuff too.

To entice you further, here's a 34 page preview of the book:

Interested? Please let me know on Twitter @ThatBenBaker or via my regularly updated Facebook news page here: (You could give it a like too!) Likewise, anything you'd specifically want as a bonus thing? Give me a shout. Cost should be between £5 and £10 max depending on what extras I end up selling.

Don't be silent and assume everyone else will speak up if this seems like something you'd want. I don't have the money to order stock I don't need so please understand that yes, I'm doing this to make a few quid but its not going to make me rich. Its just something I have a passion for so wanted to make and a nice unique gift that anyone with a passing interest in the telly should enjoy.

Thank you.


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Some Days In The Life: What We Did While Sgt Pepper Taught The Band To Play

On the 1st June 1967, The Beatles Band released "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".

At least I think....

There's great confusion it seems as to when exactly the album came out with the official date of 1st June in the UK (2nd in US) undercut by claims it was released a week earlier in various online places, including that stout bastion of fact, Wikipedia. This seems borne out in part by the fact the Official Charts have it entering the top 10 at number 8 before reaching the top the following week.

Back then, the charts were a very odd thing with stockists unwilling to wait and a several day delay while the results were seemingly decided upon by wherever a pigeon sat in Borehamwood. And thus it was that on two days' official sales, "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" entered a top 10 album list with Tom Jones, The Dubliners, Jimi Hendrix Experience, James Last and, bolstered by regular appearances on Saturday teatimes, two records by The Monkees at numbers 2 and 7. Add in to that the soundtracks to "The Sound Of Music" and "Fiddler On The Roof", just ahead of Herb Alpert, The Seekers, the murder-eyed "Secombe's Personal Choice" and the wonderfully titled Geno Washington record "Hand Clappin' Foot Stompin' Funky-Butt...LIVE!" and its quite an intriguing mix.

But what kind of world was it about to be unleashed upon? Was the universe holding its collective particulars in dripping anticipation at this new record? Were the sixties about to actually start anywhere outside of London? There's no doubt at all that pop fans were clamouring for it, trousers whetted by the double A-side of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" released in February 1967 but elsewhere, was it business as usual?

"Sgt Pepper" was officially given a launch by a bunch of very hairy Beatles at their manager Brian Epstein's house on Friday 19th May 1967 (tragically, Epstein would be dead barely three months later effectively triggering the slow inevitable break up of the band) and the following day was previewed on the BBC Light Programme's - no Radio 1 until September that year - "Where Its At" slot at 4pm by future sex offender Chris Denning linking to pre-recorded interviews done by the band's favourite disky jock Kenny Everett. All the tracks would be played in part, except for "A Day In The Life" which the BBC banned due to it all being about them drugs and that. Or as  the BBC’s director of sound broadcasting, Frank Gillard put it in a letter to EMI:

Naturally Lennon and McCartney were quick to disagree, stating "It’s only about a dream" but then they were whazzed out on goo goo spliffs so anything they have to say should naturally be dismissed and burnt in a giant fire made out of unsold copies of Ringo's Rotogravure.

That said, a recording of "Where Its At" made at the time by a fan features "A Day In The Life" prominently at one point so I figured I'd ask Tim Worthington, Beatles knowlege and author of the essential Radio 1 comedy book "Fun At One" why this might have been... "Fuck knows". Thanks Tim! And you can buy his book here!

Beatle fans who also liked football would have been in a quandry as simultaneous to "Where It's At" was that year's FA Cup Final featuring a London derby in which Chelsea lost 2-1 - something which feels very familiar in 2017. (What? If they will insist on playing before Doctor Who I'll learn these things!) "The" Spurs would emerge victorious with a team including Terry Venables, Jimmy Greaves and "Nice One" Cyril Knowles.

Some consolation might have come from that man Everett again, who was appearing on the episode of "Juke Box Jury" immediately after the footer, before Doctor Who learnt all about "The Evil Of The Daleks" in an episode almost entirely gone from the archives (thanks for NOTHING, Beatles!) Quite by chance, episode one of the serial featured the characters in a coffee bar where the jukebox plays...yes, you guessed it...The Seekers!!! Also: Beatles. Unsurprisingly this background blast of "Paperback Writer" was removed from audio releases of the story due to rights and replaced by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. As you do.

Outside of Beatledom, music was all over the small screen during this period with British pop dominating the world and, that year, Eurovision as Sandie Shaw grimaced through "Puppet On A String" in April 1967 to win the contest with over double the votes of its nearest rival. Plus "Grief And Glory" a BBC new folk song competition (Sunday, 6:15pm, BBC1), Southern TV's very short lived pop show "As You Like It" had Peter & Gordon, Zoot Money and Anita Harris (mostly Tuesday 7pm, ITV), "Jazz From A Swinging Era" (Thursday, 8:05pm, BBC2) and of course Top Of The Pops which on June 1st was hosted by Pete Murray and featured performances from The Kinks (Waterloo Sunset), The New Vaudeville Band (Finchley Central), P.P. Arnold (The First Cut Is The Deepest) and The Small Faces (Here Comes The Nice) along with "The Gojos" dancing along to Arthur Conley's Northern Soul classic "Sweet Soul Music".

In almost indecent speed, and a year before Joe Cocker got his mitts on it, the following week's edition (hosted by the scrawny jangling old bastard) would feature The Young Idea covering "With A Little Help From My Friends". Read more on the excellent Left and To The Back here.

Elsewhere on telly, Coronation Street, No Hiding Place, The Black and White Minstrel Show and Take Your Pick were the nation's favourites whilst at the cinema James Bond fans were caught between two releases when the spoof "Casino Royale" was still making the rounds as "You Only Live Twice", scripted by Roald Dahl, premièred in London on the 12th June 1967. Add in James Coburn's similarly Bond-baiting comedy "In Like Flynn" released around the same time and The Beatles could've had hours of spy-based fun at the pictures if they were after some respite from their recent release of one of the most genre defining recordings of a generation. And that.

Whether the Fabulous Four's influence or not, Britain was slowly changing and taking the world along with it with May 1967 seeing Harold Wilson's government apply for EEC membership moving us close to the Europe we should still be a part of. When Sir Francis Chichester returned from solo circumnavigating the globe after 226 days of sailing on May 28th 1967, you can only begin to his response to the country he left behind - he still thought the new Beatles album was "Revolver"! Oh Sir Francis, you Beatles idiot!

So ultimately, did "Sgt Pepper" change anything? Who knows? We didn’t get the sixties until about 1978 here in the North of England. But when your great great great granny who hadn't bought a record since Mantovani died can tell you all all about it, dogs across the country still go bat shit every time "A Day In The Life" finishes and magazines still openly rip off the cover every other month as if its a clever or original idea to do, there'll always be someone teaching the band to play...

Image courtesy of Darrell Maclaine-Jones, bona fide Beatlesman and genius.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Of Fiends, Fakes and Football Funnies

Considering I've been making downloadable radio shows since 2002, I have yet to make my millions from the Ricky Hervaid-approved podcast boom. Indeed I had to shut down my last pod-site as I couldn't afford to pay for the webspace any longer. This led to a bit of a depression and I didn't record anything for a while, turning instead to this here blog to scratch my talking bollocks itch. But the urge to shout that bollocks at people who were further afield than outside my window was still there and growing every day. And so it was a pleasure to get back into conversation with one of my long-time collaborators and friend Tim Worthington.

Looks Unfamiliar is Tim's own programme in which he interviews people about the things they doubt anyone else remembers or gives a stuff about. I came up with so much that its been split into two parts and you can hear the first of those episodes below.


As Tim says on his much-recommended blog: "Joining Tim in this episode is writer, broadcaster and quizmaster Ben Baker, who hopes against hope that somebody else remembers early Chris Evans vehicle TV Mayhem, football comic The Onion Bag, novelty yoghurt range Fiendish Feet, the early internet craze for misidentifying every comedy song as 'by' Weird Al Yankovic, Betsy Byars' Bingo Brown novels, and the International Youth Service penpal scheme. Along the way we'll be getting some unconventional yoghurt-related gardening tips, recalling the classic horror film 'Dracula Vs. The Skeleton', discussing whether Fangs-A-Lot is an appropriate family heirloom, and finding out how the least politically correct gag in history ended up at the end of a right-on charity fundraising joke book. And Colin Foley, if you're out there, please get in contact."

What does it all mean? Listen and find out!

And if you like it, check out the others as they're all great. Although not too much as I want to beat those jerks in the download numbers. Enjoy!