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Cry me a river, Niles (how I pioneered the Rickroll)

Niles Rodgers caused consternation amongst the cultured readers of the Guardian this week by controversially claiming that all Top 40 records were capital compositions. “But Niles,” they chided. “What about Mr Blobby? What about Crazy Frog?” There was a clear consensus – “Have you lost your mind?” was the combined cry.

Attempts at alliteration aside, I think it’s prudent to pose the pertinent question: what if Niles is right? Pop music, as I’ve written before, holds the answers to all of life’s mysteries, and its natural home is in the Top 40. In the interests of science I’ve gone back to my childhood record collection to see if Mr Rodgers is onto something.

I’ll also, as you’ll soon discover, explain how I invented the proto-Rickroll, and how I became its first victim…

Joe Dolce – Shaddap You Face

Ah … my first record purchase. I remember going into town with my Mum and my brother and going into a small record shop to buy this for one English pound. The record came in a plastic bag rounded at one end, and my brother made a sleeve for it, which I still have. This must have been late-1980/early-1981 as the song reached Number One in February 1981 and stayed there for three weeks (infamously keeping Ultravox’s Vienna off the top spot).

Playing it today it looks like I’ve taken a belt sander to the record, such is the poor condition of the vinyl, but there are probably a lot of people who would find that to be an improvement… It’s a shameless novelty record that, until 2005, was the most successful Australian-produced single, sales-wise, in Australian music history. The B-side Ain’t In No Hurry is rather nice too.

Shaddap You Face has been covered many times, notably by KRS-One and Andrew Sachs, while Samuel L. Jackson performed a storming spoken word interpretation on The Jonathan Ross Show.

Classy composition? Exemption – it’s a novelty record.

Stephen Tintin Duffy – Kiss Me

Four years were to elapse before I ventured out to the record shop again. Stephen Duffy was an early member of Duran Duran but left before they released a record. He is best known for his work with The Lilac Time and as a songwriter for Robbie Williams, and he hit the Top 20 in 1996 with Me Me Me, a “supergroup” featuring Blur’s Alex James and Elastica’s Justin Welch.

This release was the third version of Kiss Me to be recorded, and it hit the Number Four spot in 1985. And does it still sound as good today as I obviously thought it did 32 (blimey!) years ago? Well, apart from the “bum bum-bum” intro which I never liked, I think it does. I particularly like the line “She gave me laughter and hope and a sock in the eye”. The video is rather lovely too:

I don’t think I ever bothered to listen to the b-side, In This Twilight, until today. It’s rather good. Kiss Me was co-produced by J. J. Jeczalik from the Art of Noise, and Robbie Williams did a cover in 2006 that was quite big in Scandinavia.

Classy composition? Absolutely. Can’t beat a bit of Duffy.

Double – The Captain of her Heart

Mmm, smooth! Double were a Swiss duo, originally called Ping Pong, and this was their biggest hit, reaching Number Eight in the UK chart. This was a big success internationally, and listening to it again today I remembered pretty much every second of it. I enjoyed it, although it’s very Eighties-sounding. Enjoy the rather smooth video below:

Classy composition? Yes, it’s very smooth.

Cliff Richard and The Young Ones featuring Hank Marvin – Living Doll

This song was first recorded by Cliff Richard & The Drifters (The Shadows’ former name) and released waaaaay back in July 1959, hitting the top spot and staying there for six weeks (and selling about two million copies in the process).

Fast forward 27 years, and Cliff is joined by The Young Ones (and Hank Marvin is on there too) for this single, all proceeds going to Comic Relief and all involved giving their time for free. It’s a pretty anarchic version of a rather good song, and anyone who was a fan of The Young Ones on TV should enjoy this.

This version also hit Number One, for three weeks. The B-side is a comedy sketch called (All The Little Flowers Are) Happy.

Classy composition? Exemption – it’s all for charity, mate (and it’s great).

The Matchroom Mob with Chas & Dave – Snooker Loopy

I’m a fan of Chas & Dave (because of their Tottenham Hotspur songs, and especially because of the rather wonderful 1982 hit Ain’t No Pleasing You), and … well … I liked this at the time. It was a Number Six hit in May 1986. I’m not proud of the fact that I knew the chorus in full without having to listen to the song again. The B-side, Wallop (Snookered), which I hadn’t listened to before today, is not bad.

I bought this in Boots, back when it had a great music department, and on the way home bumped into a schoolfriend who asked what was in my bag. Rather than admit to him I’d bought this, I said it was The Chicken Song by Spitting Image (not that much of an improvement, looking back). Oh the shame!

Classy composition? Exemption – a novelty record. Well, I hope it’s a novelty record.

Morris Minor & the Majors – Stutter Rap (No Sleep ‘Til Bedtime)

Until I went on YouTube to watch the video (in which John Deacon, former Queen bassist, makes an appearance in a blue wig) I had quite good memories of this song. The comments section, however, reveals it to be a rather divisive record… It parodies the Beastie Boys (the subtitle is a play on their hit No Sleep Till Brooklyn (itself a play on Motörhead’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith)). It hit Number Four in 1987 and was produced, according to the label on the record, by Grand Master Jelly Tot.

I thought it was quite an inspired creation – dropping a sample of the Neighbours theme into the mix was what Select magazine would have called “reacting to the zeitgeist like a chameleon”. It also features one of the best B-sides I’ve ever heard, Another Boring “B” Side. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Classy composition? Exemption – a novelty record.

The Firm – Star Trekkin’

This Number One smash came out in mid 1987 and was an instant favourite of mine, although listening to it again has left me wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s quite amusing still, I guess. Shortly after this came out I was involved in an accident involving my bike and someone else’s car. While recovering in hospital I got to choose a song on the hospital radio station, so I happily filled out the form and waited for my song to be played.

So what did I choose, considering this was my favourite song at the time? That’s right, Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley. I Rickrolled myself…

Classy composition? Exemption – a novelty record.

Kylie Minogue – The Loco-Motion

I have nothing good to say about this song, and really I have no idea why I bought it – or why I’m admitting to it here! My only excuse is that the head injury that made me choose Rick Astley instead of The Firm must have induced some kind of Stock Aitken & Waterman mentality in me. Why else would I have bought this?

I have to point out that this doesn’t mean I don’t like Kylie – she’s made some quality records over the years (have a listen to I Should Be So Lucky – it’s still amazing). It’s just this particular cover version has, for me, no redeemable qualities. Still, thanks to my poor purchasing decisions, and those of thousands of others (hands up who still likes it?), this reached Number Two in 1988.

Classy composition? A reluctant yes. Perhaps this version isn’t very good, but Goffin/King certainly wrote some great songs.

Kon Kan – I Beg Your Pardon

Kon Kan were a Canadian duo who hit the Number Five spot in 1988 with this apparently New Order-inspired international bestseller. It contains a number of samples, most notably an extract from Lynn Anderson’s 1971 hit (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden.

The band consisted of Barry Harris and Kevin Wynne. In the video, Barry does some really dreadful dancing (although it’s not as bad as my dancing) while Kevin just looks bored and embarrassed. That’s an unfortunate freeze frame there:

I only recently heard the follow-up, Puss ‘n Boots/These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, which sampled Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song and Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’. I recommend having a listen.

The band’s name is a parody of the Canadian content regulation (often referred to as “Can Con”), which mandates that thirty percent of songs played on commercial radio stations in Canada must be Canadian in origin. Kevin left in 1989 and, according to a Wikipedia search I made in 2007, was working as a semi-pro video golfer. Sounds like a nice job. Kon Kan reformed in 2013.

Classy composition? I’m going to say yes. It’s an interesting record.

Bananarama & Lananeeneenoonoo – Help

The second Comic Relief single in my collection, this cover of The Beatles’ Help! reached Number Three in February 1989. Lananeeneenoonoo is a mock girl group created by Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders with fellow comedienne Kathy Burke. They add comedy moments throughout the song, but it’s nowhere near as funny as it could have been.

The B-side is just Bananarama performing a straight version of the Beatles classic. According to the sleeve notes, the lovely Mariella Frostrup did the PR, along with Lynne Franks. Lynne claims to be the inspiration for Jennifer’s character Edina on the hit show Absolutely Fabulous. Perhaps this is where they first met.

Classy composition? Exemption – a charity record, but still pretty unforgivable.

Bobby Brown – On Our Own

My brother bought Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr when the first film came out. I bought this. Apart from a short rap this song appears to have nothing to do with the film. I last listened to this record around ten years ago and didn’t think much of it, but hearing it again today has made me change my mind. It was a Number Four hit around about halfway through 1989. The video, which features appearances from stars like Jane “Third Rock From The Sun” Curtin and, oh…, future President Trump, is worth a watch:

Classy composition? Yes. Not quite too hot to handle but I like it.

Double Trouble & Rebel MC – Street Tuff

I have fond memories of an earlier release, Just Keep Rockin’, with its “Ooh, yeah” backing, and this one is just as good, and reached Number Three in 1989. My first twelve inch purchase, and it has definitely stood the test of time. Amusing lyrics: “Feel the music and you wonder, ‘Is he a yankee?’ No, I’m a Londoner”! Check out the video and feel the lovely vibes:

Classy composition? Oh hell yes.

Chad Jackson – Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked)

Ah wow, this 1990 Number Three hit still sounds completely brilliant today! The video isn’t too great, but check it out to hear the song for yourself:

Real name Mark Chadwick, he was winner of the DMC World DJ Championships in 1987 before going on to produce this hit single which sampled, among others, Public Enemy and Mark The 45 King. He now teaches music production at the Academy of Contemporary Music.

Classy composition? Definitely.

They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse In Your Soul

A timeless classic, this was They Might Be Giants’ biggest hit, reaching Number Six in March 1990. It is sung, so people say, from a nightlight’s point-of-view. It remains, I’m pretty sure, one of the strangest lyrics I have ever heard. Altogether now: “I’m your only friend, I’m not your only friend, but I’m a little glowing friend, but really I’m not actually your friend, but I am”. They’re a very prolific band and are also responsible for Boss Of Me, the theme tune to Malcolm In The Middle. The video is great:

Classy composition? An exceptional record. One of my favourite singles ever.

Vic Reeves and the Roman Numerals – Born Free

Arch-surrealist Vic came to the public’s attention in 1990 with the surreal Channel 4 show Vic Reeves Big Night Out, and he was an almost permanent TV fixture for many years. This Top Ten hit was released in 1991 and is taken from his album I Will Cure You, which also features the single’s B-side Oh! Mr Songwriter. Enjoy the dog filled video:

I found this in the Woolworths bargain bin, priced at 50p. Vic has had a number of hit records, including hitting the top spot in collaboration with The Wonder Stuff on a cover of Dizzy. His genius autobiography Me: Moir volume one is highly recommended.

It’s an unintentional ending to my childhood record collection but Vienna, the song kept off Number One by my first ever record purchase, received an ultra personal and deeply moving reading by Vic. A quick Google search will reveal it in all its outstanding beauty.

Classy composition? A classy cover. I’m pretty sure Vic’s being sincere here (the amusing sleeve notes written by Paul Morley state “File under: sincerity” after all), but it’s difficult to tell.

If you’ve made it this far you must be wondering: is Niles right? I think it’s pretty clear that, given the state of the above, the answer is yes. Novelty and charity releases (which may or may not have their own merits) aside, the songs in my collection are at the very least okay. I may have terrible taste in music, perhaps, but it’s all rather subjective isn’t it. We buy the releases we like.

I don’t, however, think that the Top 40 is necessarily the place to go to find songs that will stand the test of time. This song, for example, wasn’t a hit, and I think it’s bloody marvellous:

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