Utter, utter, utter Popular.

Diana Ross, “Chain Reaction”, 8 March 1986

Three weeks at number one in Australia, from 21 April 1986. I remember dismissing this at the time as an attempt to dress up a past-it star in contemporary chart clothing (“Upside Down” was better), but it’s actually a bit stronger than that; the chorus is certainly memorable. Can’t say the same for the lyrics, and the production sounds thin, but it all makes for a tolerable enough concoction. I’m in the middle of a tolerable concoction... 5 from me.

Cliff Richard and the Young Ones, “Living Doll”, 29 March 1986

Mike: If we want this record to make number one, we’ve gotta rig the charts ... There hasn’t been a genuine number one since the Beatles split up.
Neil: Oh, wow—have the Beatles split up?

In my first Popular comments I noted that I wasn’t a big pop music buyer or listener before the age of fifteen, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening to music. Apart from the usual parental, peer and sibling influences, I was exposed to masses of it on television—in particular, the collected works of Bill Oddie, repeated on a six-monthly cycle throughout my childhood. The Goodies, along with Doctor Who, were the backbone of many young Aussies’ TV viewing in the ’70s and early ’80s, thanks to the ABC showing them back-to-back from 6.00 to 7.00 each evening. I know most of Oddie’s songs better than the number ones of the time.

The Goodies were also an effective gateway to their influences and peers: to the Goons, repeated endlessly on Radio National every Saturday lunchtime, and eventually, around the time I started buying pop records, to Monty Python, through the medium of the LP. (They were long gone from the box, and this was a good five years before the series were released on VHS.) And then there was Dad’s old Songs for Swingin’ Sellers LP, still the gold standard of comedy albums in my book, which even has some relevance here (as in here at Popular, and this here single), with one sketch taking off the British rockers of the late ’50s and another that no fan of Lonnie Donegan should miss.

Then in my mid-teens, just as I was discovering the joys of Another Monty Python Record, along came these guys, screened somewhat belatedly on the ABC but an instant hit with me and my friends. The Young Ones felt like they were ours: our Goodies, our Python and our Goons all rolled into one. I was mad for them, flawed production values and all, and consumed anything to do with the show that I could. In a mid-80s VCR-less household, this meant: watching the show when it was screened on actual television; buying the Bachelor Boys book as soon as it came out; buying “Hole in My Shoe” on 7”; listening obsessively to a tape of Neil’s Heavy Concept Album (another of my landmark comedy albums—among other things, its lounge cover of the Sex Pistols anticipated the brief career of the Mike Flowers Pops); buying a prized copy of Neil’s Book of the Dead at Foyle’s on my visit to London; and, a few months after getting home, buying this on glorious 12” vinyl.

Neil: So here we are in the middle of the twelve-inch. Just the same as a seven-inch, really, except you get five inches of nothing in the middle.
Mike: Oh, mind you, it does cost an extra quid.
Rick: Yeah, that’s a point. So listen, listeners, we got a quid off you for nothing.
Vyvyan: It’s still boring. I was looking forward to some raunchy guitar licks.
Rick: All right, matey, lick this raunchy guitar.
Vyvyan: All right, I will. [Zzzzztttt] Oh bum, I’ve electrocuted my tongue.
Rick: Brilliant! Stick him in a coffin before he realises he’s not dead.

It would be nearly twenty years before I saw the twelve episodes of The Young Ones again on DVD, and although they had of course dated, they still made me laugh. Intervening exposure to Bottom helped keep my inner-teenage-Mayall-and-Edmondson-fan alive, but it wouldn’t have if I still hadn’t found Mayall’s shameless mugging amusing. In Rick, Mayall created one of the great sitcom characters, one whose juvenile behaviour was precisely the point (“I hate old people!”) and whose try-hard anarchism was just the right degree of unsettling for any nascent lefty viewer.

Rick, of course, was most memorable for his particular musical obsession, one that you could only assume must be leaving the target squirming—so it was a source of great delight to see the target go along with the gag. Cliff immediately became a Good Sport in the eyes of the teenage Aussie Young Ones fans who helped send this to number one for six weeks. “Devil Woman” and “Wired for Sound” were all well and good, but taking the piss out of yourself was true class. And there can’t be many piss-taking moments on record as delicious as the transition from Rick’s hysterical build-up for “the total and utter king of rock ’n’ roll, CLIFF RICHARD!” to “Got myself a cryin’, talkin’, sleepin’, walkin’, livin’ doll”. The record was worth it just for that.

The song itself was pants, of course, and not worth returning to more than once every twenty years, but I’m still finding plenty to laugh at now that I do—possibly because I’m listening to the twelve-inch version, which has lots of extra Young Ones banter to leaven the dulcet tones of Cliff, like the bits I’m quoting here. The comedy side of it doesn’t match up to the shows themselves, but I’d still rate it an affectionate 6; the music would be a 3 or 4. Logic would dictate averaging that to a five, but I didn’t buy this for the music—did anyone?—so I’m going to stick with 6.

The record has another place in my affections: that twelve-inch single was the very last I bought that helped send a song to number one. I’ve acquired other number ones since, but they were either bought after the event or as part of albums rather than as chart singles—another reason this doll is locked in my trunk of special Popular memories. As for Cliff’s trunk, I don’t want to know what kinds of dolls he keeps there.

Rick: Oh, ha ha ha, Vyvyan, how very clever, I’m sure. Oh yes, let’s end this wonderful project on a silly little meaningless innuendo.
Vyvyan: All right.

15 November 2009 · Music

I have to amend that closing claim: the last single I bought which helped send a song to number one was the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” in early 1989—but that didn’t reach the top in Britain, so this was the last where Popular is concerned. Too many views of the UK number ones list must have clouded my thinking.

Time to bow out of Popular for a while. I’ll be too busy to comment for a couple of months, and the roster of 1986 UK hits doesn’t contain many that I could add to: some I know, some I don’t, but none that I own, and only two that were also number one in Australia. I expect I’ll return to it sometime in 1987/2010.

Added by Rory on 16 November 2009.