Thursday, 29 June 2017

Play The Hits (Foo Action)

I don’t know! You wait all year for the jingle jangle of tiny farmers boots and the cry of "WHY IS THIS A THING I DONT LIKE WHEN IT SHOULD BE SOMETHING I DO!" in the Twitter Fields and suddenly - bam! - Glastonbury is all over for another year. While 2016 was definitely a mixed bag on the main stage which seemed to please nobody (except for Chic obvs), I'm a huge fan of the BBC's coverage which usually had at least four stages on camera at all times with more online and on radio.

And in a direct reaction to that coverage, the Top 40 immediately after is heavily influenced by who played. Not the singles charts obviously, which are now solely based on a hairdressing salon in Widnes' Spotify account, but the album sales where the midweek chart presently shows Friday headliners Radiohead at the top with their reissue of Not-As-Good-As-The-Bends-Or-Kid-A 90's fave "Ok Computer", Ed Sheeran at 3 (although much like Queen in "Good Omens" I think all albums slowly morph to become copies of "Divide" at the moment) plus huge jumps for The Bee Gees, Oasis and Foo Fighters, whose 2009 "Greatest Hits" set has spent 223 weeks in the British charts. And dont it make my blue eyes red...

Y'see, I was a big Foo Fighters fan back in the day, specifically the nineties, where their first three records - "Foo Fighters", "The Colour And The Shape" and "There Is Nothing Left To Lose" - were very important to my teenaged constantly-priapic bum-fluff life. They combined straight forward pop rock with elements of metal, lots of harmonies and incredibly catchy choruses. And of that influential exciting period of time the aforementioned "Greatest Hits" contains just five tracks from everything released before 2002. Geh. Admittedly this was a record company decision and Grohl was quoted as saying...

"These 16 songs are what we're calling our "Greatest Hits." Not to be confused with "Our Best Songs" or "Our Favorite Songs," it is a collection of the songs that have defined our band's identity to most people over the years. Personally, I don't think we've written our greatest songs yet."

...which is probably why the inevitable new tracks are not that memorable, spearheaded by the Nickelback-ish power ballad "Wheels" and the slightly more lively "Word Forward", both of which were clearly out-takes from the previous album and definitely dont really come under the heading of "Greatest Hits", which outlines the eternal problem at the heart of almost any best of compilation put out by a still-active group. Do you keep it as just hits which works better as an introduction to new fans but offers no reason for existing fans to buy it? Or, like most compilations after 1985, shove a few new songs on and hope it shifts a few more units, even if it means a slightly more uneven listen?

Of course its rare but occasionally a band record a new song for a compilation and becomes as beloved as the rest of the tracks. Need some examples? Here's twelve...

REM - "Bad Day" 

A bouncy but equally fed up "Its The End Of The World..." esque track "Bad Day" was actually recorded before that when a version - then called "PSA" - had been originally demoed in 1986 during the "Life's Rich Pageant" sessions before being updated to further reflect the increased bombast of post 9/11 news outlets to include on "In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003", a compilation of the band's Warner Bros singles. Its such a good track I'm almost willing to look past the fact they left off "Pop Song '89" and "Tongue" although I suspect only I care about that.

Madonna - "Rescue Me"

Whilst most of the attention was on "Justify My Love" the first single (co-written by Lenny "Kravitz" Crabsticks) from the still monolithic "Immaculate Collection" with its half-whispered underpant-ruining sultry breathlessness and memorably filthy black and white video, I always preferred the follow-up "Rescue Me", a pounding house number that once again showed how well Madonna understood what was going on in nightclubs at the time. Not that I did as I was 10 when it came out but you get the idea.

Shed Seven - "Disco Down"

Yeah alright Ian Momus, not the hippest or even hardiest of the British Indie Pop boom but I've long had a soft spot for this lot who quietly recorded some great records which were collected onto 1999's "Going For Gold" compilation with new tracks the gorgeous string-led ballad "High Hopes" and 70s funk throwback "Disco Down" which is now probably their best known song thanks to their biggest fan (although you rarely hear him mention them now or wouldn’t if I actually bothered listening in) Chris Moyles hammering it on drive-time Radio 1. "She Left Me On Friday" is still fucking terrible though.

Saint Etienne - "He's On The Phone"

A remix of an English language version of a 1984 French song by an artist with a very similar name (Etienne Daho)? Straight to the top of the charts with you! (No. 11)

Madness - "(Waiting For) The Ghost Train"

By 1986, the wheels had truly come off Madness' pop locomotive with several of the band gone and recent singles releases barely scraping the top 40. The music was still great though and so the band decided to go out with a final best of ("Utter Madness") and single, bringing back ex-member Mike Barson as a last hurrah. Whilst containing the pop sound associated with Madness, there's an eeriness that moves beyond just the title as fun-house keyboard and crashing metal drums mix with stomping feet and heavy vocal percussion. Underneath all that are oblique lyrics written by Suggs about Apartheid (the video makes the subject much clearer with the band wearing newspaper suits featuring the prominent headline "SOWETO BLOODBATH".) Also of note was the B-side of the 12" single was "Seven Year Scratch", a noble attempt to make an early megamix featuring many of the band's singles that unfortunately sounds more like someone drunkenly crashing into the turntable at random points than a cohesive mix.

Kylie Minogue - "I Believe In You"

The 2001 album "Fever" saw the Pint-Sized Antipodean PopstarTM at her very peak of both success and output with her career back on top thanks to fantastic singles like "Love At First Sight", "In Your Eyes" and, of course, the worldwide smash "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" which even gave Kyles her first US hit since 1988. Sadly the follow up album was a bit rubbish so before the brakes were launched again, 2004's "Ultimate Kylie" was rushed out for Christmas headed by this gorgeous piece of simple catchy disco pop, co-written by that year's chart golden boys Jake Shears and Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters. The entire package is a smart well thought out compilation that manages to mix every era very well and required reading for all new artists wishing to become Classic Pop Classics.

Blur - "Music Is My Radar"

Because its extremely awkward, sounds like its got a child playing an out of tune melodica over the top, was recorded by four men who couldn't stand the sight of each other and still got in the top ten. FUN FACT! The same year Oasis released "Go Let It Out" and "Who Feels Love?" so y'know...yeah.

Paul Simon - "Slip Slidin' Away"

One of two new songs on Simon's first solo best of "Greatest Hits Etc.", the gentle but beautiful "Slip Slidin' Away" only got to No.36 in the UK and would be his last single to reach the Top 40 here until "You Can Call Me Five Fabulous Weeks Of The Chevy Chase Show" in 1986.

Depeche Mode - "Shake The Disease"

A natural progression from recent singles "Master and Servant" and "Blasphemous Rumours" with the slightly bleaker, more industrial sound the band would ebb into throughout the 80s (before deciding they wanted to be fucking U2 in the 90s), "Shake the Disease" features one of the band's strongest choruses but remains shaky and urgent, pleading "understand me". Its almost like they were fans of drugs or something!!!!

George Michael - "Outside"

Few celebrity deaths punched me in the soul quite as much as George Michael on Christmas Day last year. It was fair enough that he hadn’t been troubling the charts much recently but his back catalogue was always still on the radio and we'd just got round to Wham! being regulars on the BBC Four repeats of Top Of The Pops. Indeed, its seeing his journey on those old TOTPs from fresh faced white 'rapper' pretending to be a street tough to bona-fide pop megastar that reminded you how good he was and no more so when he turned his 1998 arrest for suggesting an undercover cop touch him on the wilbus into one of the biggest hits of his career, the painfully groovy faux-disco bop of "Outside" which kicked off his first solo best of "Ladies and Gentlemen".  A huge loss we're going to feel for decades to come.

David Bowie - "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"

A big old sax-filled jazzy wonder falling down some stone stairs, like the theme tune to a zany detective film starring Dave Bowie Band in pursuit of a villain that turns out to be an elaborate velveteen hat. Its confusing, not especially melodic and until you get under its skin a little bit frightening. But more importantly it screamed that Bowie was back and he was going to go out of this world in his own mad, fantastic way.

Kate Bush - "Experiment IV"

Assuming we look straight past the wholly unnecessary re-recording of the vocal to "Wuthering Heights", this is the only new track on the huge selling "The Whole Story". Far from one of the most memorable or even successful, the whole venture is worth it for the stunning horror-tinged video, starring baby-faced Dawn French and Hugh Laurie alongside the less toddler-tinged fizzogs of Peter Vaughan and Richard Vernon.

Wot? No "Once Upon A Long Ago"? Or shit remix of the first single? "Re-Recording'88 '94 2000 EXTREME"? With all that said, the two biggest selling albums ever in the UK were greatest hits sets by Queen and ABBA, neither of which contained a single new track so who bloody knows who's right? Music's bollocksed anyway and all media is dead so lets get a kebab and set fire to Our Price! Goodnight!

1 comment:

  1. Re: Blur - it wouldn't count for this post, but their limited edition single "Don't Bomb When You're The Bomb", which I think was released either shortly before or after "Music Is My Radar" (FAKE EDIT: it was actually released two years later) was far worse, and sounded more like some sort of absurdist joke to me when I first heard it. Wonder how it stands up now?

    (goes to Youtube, comes back)

    Sounds a bit like The Residents! Or a track by some weirdo German "Neue Deutsche Welle" band from 1981 who only ever put out a single cassette with a picture of a factory on it. Sadly it keeps getting interrupted by Damon Albarn's vocals and some additional drums, and at those points goes completely crap.

    I also have to post this comment from the Youtube video of it - "According to Damon, when the record was pressed one of the boxes had 'bomb' written on it. When being shipped it got picked up by customs and passed on to the police, who then carried out a controlled explosion". I like the idea that Al-Qaeda would make sure to clearly label a package containing a bomb. Reminds me of the "Suspect Device" misunderstanding that happened with Stiff Little Fingers about 25 years earlier.

    Oh, and I finally got round to pre-ordering your book! Sorry it took me so long. Plugged it on Twitter earlier.