And so to the rest of 1995 on Popular, a year that saw Coolio dominate the Australian charts for three months and top the UK’s as well, and a year remembered for a certain Battle of Britpop...

Blur, “Country House”, 26 August 1995

Somewhere among my CD singles is a copy of “Popscene” picked up in Woolworths for 10p not long after it flopped. Leisure had been one of the albums of my student year in England, but that neglected single signified something new, although I didn’t fully realise it at the time. Who put trumpets on indie songs in 1992? With Modern Life is Rubbish it became clear that Blur had legs—one each of David Bowie’s and Ray Davies’—which they used to sprint home on Parklife. By the time news of the Battle of Britpop reached Australian shores, I was doubtful whether anything could possibly top “Girls and Boys”. But Blur’s steady upward curve left me hopeful.

The clanking sound at the start of “Country House” could only be that of the band throwing the kitchen sink at the mixing desk. This had everything: a sweeping singalong chorus, an infectious descending bassline, Balzac and Prozak, Albarn’s withering “mor... talluh-tee”, Neuschwanstein on the cover, Coxon’s deliciously mad guitar solo... there was just so much to enjoy. The lyrics skewering the nouveau riche excesses of the Thatcher years (and the Blair years before they even happened) made it a counterpoint to Madness’s celebration of working-class life in “Our House”, to which its horn stabs seemed to allude. And underneath all that exuberance, hiding beneath the second chorus before moving to centre stage: I am so sad, I don’t know why.

The result felt like the summation of everything Blur were attempting in their three-album run up to The Great Escape, and even though that album is marginally my least favourite of the three, “Country House” is definitely one of my favourite tracks of their Britpop era. That it won its notorious chart battle is the antimacassar on the Chippendale. 9.

Robson and Jerome, “I Believe”/“Up On the Roof”, 11 November 1995 and Frankie Laine, “I Believe”, 24 April 1953

In all this time of studying the list of 1990s UK number ones, I’d assumed that Robson & Jerome were some R&B duo who never made it big outside the UK. No such luck. After this second encounter, I’m starting to think of their number ones as double B-sides. “Up On the Roof” is awful, while “I Believe” is just... pointless. A 2 overall, for sure.

Frankie Laine’s original of “I Believe”, though, has an earnest power that would take it to a 5 or 6 for me. Laine in fact holds a special place in my memory, but for another song. Back when I was a fifteen-year-old eagerly waiting to hear the American Top 40 one Sunday in 1983, the local AM radio station that played it each week (7HT, for any middle-aged Tasmanian Googlers out there) was behaving very strangely. The DJ would announce Chris de Burgh’s “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” or Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, and then play... “High Noon”. Again and again, all day. It was a stunt to promote the station’s “new mix” of “hits from the 50s, 60s, 70s... and today”, or whatever it was. (It looks as if 7HT’s successor has dropped the fifties from its mix. Ah well.)

Naturally, I kept checking the radio throughout the day to see if they’d come to their senses yet, and ended up with the words “do not forsake me oh my darlin’” etched forever on my brain. It’s meant I’ve avoided the song ever since, but also that all these years later I could instantly confirm that the correct recording wasn’t the one that came up first on YouTube. Did the man record an album called Frankie Laine Butchers His Old Hits? Tell me he didn’t do it to “Rawhide”.

Michael Jackson, “Earth Song”, 9 December 1995

This was obscured for me by Jarvis Cocker’s mockery of Jackson’s performance of it at the 1995 Brit Awards, but when I YouTubed it the other day (in a hidden tab so I could concentrate on the song rather than the video), it seemed one of the better Jackson tracks—a shaky beginning, but the second half saves it. As for the lyrics... well, lyrics are usually secondary for me unless they’re noticeably egregious, so I’ll forgive him his elephants. It’s not going into my iTunes library just yet, but a 6 for now.

Soft Cell, “Tainted Love”, 5 September 1981

Speaking of when I was a teenager... I was drawn back to this old Popular entry, from before my time as a commenter, by the discovery of a stunning cover of (this cover of) “Tainted Love” by Max Raabe und Palast Orchester in 1920s style.

Soft Cell’s version dominated my Grade 8 school social (what we used to call the once-a-term disco nights where all the boys would line up on one side of the gym and the girls on the other, eyeing each other warily). That and the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold”.

I would write more about that night and what the songs therefore mean to me, but that embarrassment is best left deeply buried. “Tainted Love”, though, transcends any embarrassment, in pretty much any version. 10 for Soft Cell, 7 for Gloria Jones’s 1964 original, 7 for Max Raabe, and what the hell, 7 for J. Geils.

18 August 2013 · Music