Monday, 11 April 2011

The A-Z Of All-Time Great Pop Singles: "E"

E is for "Everybody Loves Somebody" by Dean Martin

This was the first song I heard as a Married Man. It played as I walked back down the eisle hand-in-hand with my new wife, and it will forever bring back memories of that magical, snow-blesssed day in late December 2009. My & my wife chose it as the day's We Just Got Married Song because it makes sense lyrically, because it set the tone for the Wedding's evening party theme (50s cocktail party), because I'm a big Dean Martin fan, because it's a great freakin' record, and because when those drums kick in after the opening spiral of strings and Disney-esque female choir, it meant we had a cue to start walking. So yeah - I guess you could say this song is sort of a Big Deal for me.

While I am a big Dean Martin fan, I'm happy to admit that the dude didn't make hundreds of Great Records. But he did make some - and this is one of them. Mainly it just has more OOMPH than alotta his stuff. Dean couldn't have cared less about recording "serious" music, or trying to be an "important" "artist". Not like Sinatra. For Dean, the whole song & dance thing was a hustle, and anybody who thought it was anything more than that was a shmuck. Part of me really likes that. I'm a big believer in irreverence, especially when it comes to pop music (a medium I've always understood as being essentially irreverent by nature, but which babyboomers have managed to turn into something which has deified more holy saints in 50 years than the Catholic Church have managed in thousands), and nobody had less reverence for Pop Music than Dean Martin. Even here, with the benefit of having an Actually Good Song to Sing, he gives up really trying after about a minute and a half. This careless, sloppy-drunk half-assedness didn't hurt the song at the Cashbox of course - careless, sloppy-drink half-assedness is precisely what he was paid for. Irked by Beatlemania, legend has it that Martin promised his Fabs idolising 11 year old son that ELS was "gonna knock your pallies off the charts", which is exactly what happened when it went to #1 in August 1964, 10 years since his last chart topper. Again, irreverence: screw The Beatles. I'm Dean Freakin' Martin. And I can still get Number Ones the same way I always did - without even trying.

On a personal note, there is another story connected to this song which makes it a favourite of mine. My stag do was held in the wilds of the Peak District, and at some point during the Saturday night we (about a dozen middle-class lads from various parts of Yorkshire) wound up in a very dodgy Buxton pub which had Bad Idea written all over it. They were showing WWF on the widescreen TV, and Nu Metal was thundering from the sound system. The crowd was an ugly gallery of muderous, dead-eyed goths, local Straw Dogs types and tooled-up teen hooligans. Total Mos Eisley cantina vibes. We hussled our way to the darkest corner of the pub we could find, and while my friends busied themselves avoiding eye contact with the other patrons and nervously peeling strips from their beer bottle labels, I started pumping cash into the jukebox. By this point in the weekend two days of near constant low-level drinking may have thrown my intuition off somewhat, but quite frankly my ability to "sense the tone" has always been suspect; the Australian's have a word for The Guy Who Always Picks The Wrong Record To Put On At A Party - I forget what the term is now, but I definately have a tendancy in that direction. I found the first track I wanted. "Nailed it," I thought, supremely confident of the awesomeness of my selection, the song that was gonna blow everybody's tiny minds and unite the pub in some epic, spontaneous dance sequence. The harsh Nu Metal ground to a halt. A pause. The opening, saccharine strings of "Everybody Loves Somebody" drifed surreally through the musty, dead air. "Everybody....loves somebody....sometime". I span triumphantly around to my stag party, expecting to be greeted with manic Stag whoops and a sea of raised hands desperate to High Five this act of genius. Instead, I turned to greet 12 open-mouthed, ashen faces starring back at me, frozen in abject terror and nauseous disbelief, expressions which collectively stated one thing: "We're gonna die."

Fortunately, the Buxton Massive must be slightly more tolerant of mushy, campy old lounge music than my friends feared, because as it turned out we weren't actually murdered. Infact, we weren't even murdered when the next song that came on, chosen by my friend Wardy, was some Bon Jovi song nobody has ever heard before that was about 15 minutes long or something, which is probably about 12 minutes longer than any Bon Jovi record should be, I mean, I like Livin' On A Prayer as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Wardy), but seriously...that said, I guess the insanity of Wardy's choice did distract attention away from the insanity of my choice, so really I should thank him for this act of Stag Party heroism. This post, then, is for Stephen M Ward.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The A-Z of All-Time Great Pop Singles: "D"

D is for "Dance To The Music", by Sly & The Family Stone

Like Funkadelic, I guess Sly & The Family Stone act as a gateway funk band for rock orientated teenagers - they've been fulfilling that role ever since their show-stealing performance at Woodstock 40 years ago, when they got thousands of peacenik long-hairs up on their feet and grooving in the mud. The footage of the Family Stone at that concert is simply mind-boggling; a firestorm of full-throttle funk. Takes no prisoners. KICKS. ALMIGHTY. ASS.

The Family Stone were the first "cross-over" act; their music an explosive cocktail of white rock and black soul - but, unlike so much (good & bad) soul-does-psyche experiments, there is nothing remotely self-conscious, artificial or exploitative about this fusion. I love a lot of psychedelic soul, but even the very best stuff, at least the commercially successful stuff, (Norman Whitfield-era Temptations, say) has some element of "lets give this whole hippy thing a go". (To be fair, that's often a big part of it's charm.) But The Family Stone's sound works because it's totally natural, and, crucially, it was their idea first. And it wasn't just their sound that was "integrated". Consisting of men and women, white folks and black folks, The Family Stone lived the Woodstock Nation ideal of interracial, inter-gender harmony, where so many others just talked a good game.

Dance To The Music, their break-out hit, is an example of how a big single can be used by a band as a calling card, a statement of intent - everything you need to know about the Family Stone philosophy is here. The phrase "melting pot of influences" is a cliche, but it applies perfectly here - it is a bubbling gumbo of Doo-Wop, Motown pop, and fuzzed-acid rock. It has one of the all time great first lines - the exhortation to "Get up - and dance to the music!" is impossible to refuse, and I dig how it makes their music The Music, the definite article, the only music that matters. From thereon, it's just your regular arrangement of accapella doo-wop, drum solos, fuzz bass solos, about five different vocalists, introductions to the band members, and an instruction for "squares" to leave. Dance To The Music: the sound of somebody spiking King Curtis's Memphis Soul Stew with LSD.