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!

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...



Monday, 12 June 2017

REMOTELY INTERESTING IS HERE!

Telly addict? Box clever? Then you need Remotely Interesting, my new quiz book featuring over 50 all-new quizzes all about television. There's something for everyone from ALF to Z CarsBrian Cox to Brian GriffinGood Morning Britain to Newsnight, taking in the full TV experience from the opening theme tune to closing credits.


This is the third of my "Your Starter For Ben" quiz range and people who liked the my other 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. 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.


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!

Here's a few preview pages...




  

Want more? Ok, well to entice you further, here's an absolutely free 30+ page preview of the book:

For more information, chat to me on Twitter @ThatBenBaker or via my regularly updated Facebook news page here: https://www.facebook.com/thatbenbaker/ (You could give it a like too!)

If you've enjoyed any of the nonsense I do, both past and present, don't sit back and hope somebody else will support this please. This is a good way to help ensure more of it happens whilst getting an excited, unique item not available anywhere else and all for less than . Pre-orders are now open and will be sent out from late July.

Thank you and happy dynamic quizzing!


 "its that taub again"