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."


DOWNLOAD IT HERE - SUBSCRIBE IN ITUNES - RSS


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 d├ębut 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: https://www.facebook.com/thatbenbaker/ 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: https://www.facebook.com/thatbenbaker/ (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.