Stuart Maconie, "Juke Box Jury"
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS, December 22/29, 1990, pp. 26-29.
"Rant! Rant! Rant! Three of the finest mouths of a generation pass judgement on 1990's most prominent platters. In the red corner, Hull Stalinist 'PAUL HEATON'. In the blue corner, Manchester's Mr Reasonable, MARK E SMITH. And in the other corner, 'Pool player PETER HOOTON. STUART MACONIE referees. Ringside pictures: PETER WALSH
"Sit down, you're acting like the bride's father." I feel like the bride's father, I respond to a nearby Beautiful Southerner. The room's booked. The drinks are on their way. All that's missing are my guests. The receptionist at the Manchester hotel offers to put my name up on the meetings board to assist latecomers. I ponder this for a moment, and then decide against it. Between the signs for the British Software Traders lunch and the dental suppliers meeting, it might look a bit odd; 'Room 205 - pop stars listen to records, get drunk and take the piss out of each other.
But I needn't have worried. Within minutes my esteemed panel are here, the tops have been taken off a few and we can begin. This was the idea. Take three voluble, informed, opinionated pop personalities not known for flannel, play them a clutch of records intended to represent crazy old 1990 and get them talking. And remarkably well it turned out too. A word about the records. Some of them were chosen simply because they were hits (Sinead, EMF), some because they had some particular significance or notoriety (2 Live Crew), others because they were indicative of particular trends or genres (Snap!, Lush).
A word of warning. Sometimes we wandered off the point, at other times we sprinted away from it at first sight. Many sections of conversation were excised, sadly, on the grounds of space or legality. So farewell then Jack Charlton, Rumania, Derek Hatton, Manchester cabbies and bands with dancers in them. And cue Sinead. .. SINEAD O'CONNOR "Nothing Compares 2 U"
SM: A good place to start. The biggest selling single of the year ...
Paul: Actually it's not. The Righteous Brothers overtook it last week.
Peter: Come on Stuart. Get your facts right before you expect us to analyse these contemporary classics.
MES: It was great when she cried in the video. That was hilarious. It's alright. She's got a great voice. It's a Prince song, isn't it?
Peter: She shouldn't have backed down to Frank Sinatra. She's got a great hairstyle, though. It's the slowie, innit? It's the smoochy they put on at the end of the night. Like me Hitmen And Her.
Paul: They don't have slowies any more in clubs. I still wait for them. I know people don't like her because they say she's over-serious.
Peter: But there's nothing much to laugh about these days, is there? She's certainly got a more manly voice than Paul Heaton. I wouldn't buy it. Well, maybe I would cos I like the way they spell '2U'.
MES: That's just bloody illiterate. Prince is over-doing it, if you ask me. And speaking as a real Batfan, Batman was crap. I wrote and complained.
HAPPY MONDAYS: 'Step On'
MES: Who's this then ? ... Oh, I thought I recognised the drumbeat.
Peter: Well, I think it's a classic. Didn't like 'Tokoloshe Man' though. A great record. It's just a pity people like you keep going on about drugs. That's the trouble with the music press. They get fascinated with anybody real or normal because most of the press are cocooned. They've got no idea how ordinary people are getting on with their lives ...
MES: Oh, here we go. Bread!
Paul: It's OK. I've heard it in clubs and liked it. I don't like it at the moment. I don't know whether the Mondays will last. Does it matter? I think they're stupid if they keep clinging on to the 'Manchester' scene. Peter: I don't think they do. That's why I like them. And The Stone Roses. They're not parochial. I study interviews ...
MES: You study interviews? You must have something wrong with you.
Peter: (laughs) I study the press in search of the definitive Fall Interview. No, the Mondays try and steer people away from the Manchester stuff.
Paul: They called a record 'Madchester'. I'd hardly call that steering away!
Peter: Errr ... apart from that!
THE STONE ROSES: 'One Love'
Paul: I accept the Mondays because they're genuine. You do meet people like that all the time. But if this lot were in this room now, they'd be acting coy, playing with their fringes ...
Peter: I like The Stone Roses ...
Paul: Is this The Stone Roses? I thought it was The Charlatans (much laughter). I did! Oh, The Stone Roses are alright. Their LP reminds me of early Status Quo. I'm into that.
MES: They're a rock band, aren't they? What more is there to say?
? Well, this time last year everyone was saying ...
Paul: No. You were saying they were going to be the most enormous band in the world. And now it's you lot who look stupid. You all put the wrong bet in. If you went into a pub in Bootie, people don't know who The Stone Roses are. Bollocks.
Paul: I'm into this. It's pretty funky.
MES: The production's good. It's the same bloke who used to do us-John Leckie ...
Paul: Course he's come on a lot since then!
MES: No, this is good. Really good. If you'd heard them three years ago when they were trying to be Bauhaus, you'd realise that this is magnificent.
BETTY BOO: 'Me So Horny'
Paul: I like Betty Boo. I know she's comy but there's something very London about her that I like.
MES: I know what you mean. She looks like the kind of girl who'd take you down The Fridge. 'Know what ah mean?' She's very good. I like the lyrics. Much better than the usual rep stuff. And she's dead popular. Plus, although she's a girl she's not always flashing at you. All that heavy sexual stuff in videos. People are getting bored to tears with that.
Peter: Being a trainspotter, I read her in the NME saying that Barnes was a good player, but that Gazza had class. That put me right off.
MES: I know what you mean. Gazza ? You know, that really fucking bugs me, this trend towards footballers and bloody boxers making records. There's too easy access. And there's musicians starving. (To Heaton). You're a great one for the Musician's Union. You should do something about it.
Paul: I know. It bugs me too.
Peter: Funnily enough this pre-empts an article I've just written for someone ...
Paul: Yeah, and I bet you're not even in the NUJ!
Peter: I know. I'II sort it out with Derek Hatton when I get home!
2 LIVE CREW: 'Me So Horny'. Chosen both as an example of US rap and as the hit record to be found obscene by a federaI judge.
Peter: Well, I think it's obscene. First record found guilty of nicking James Brown's drumbeat!
MES: They're in trouble 'cos they're black. The Americans want things whitened up. Like New Kids On The Block. Like Vanilla Ice. Kate Pierson of the B52's said 'As a woman I hate it but as an American I defend their right to be stupid'.
Paul: Oh, that's shite. I'm not a fan of censorship but they could do with a bit of Stalinism over there.
MES: (laughs) Oh bloody hell. Look, they're retarded, aren't they? But they've got a right to make the record ...
Paul: And other people have got a right to lock 'em up. Or give'em a smack. I hate these sort of people.
MES: If people are stupid enough to buy this crap, then you've gotto let 'em. Peter: If it wasn't for the controversial lyrics, no one would have paid any attention to it. The manager probably told them to put a few fucks in.
MES: That's the trouble with the music press, you see. They would pick up on it because they're all obsessed with sex ... that's 'cos none of 'em are getting their end away! (gales of laughter, natch)
CANDY FLIP: "Strawberry Fields Forever"
MES: Fucking rubbish. Get it off. It's atrocious. Just a way of fooling kids under 20 who've never heard the original.
Peter: I think everybody's heard the original that's why this was a hit
Paul: You can say it's great entrepreneurialism for these young lads to go and do it but it's not available to everybody. I'd like to see how much they spent on promoting this. And I do think there should be some limit to the amount of cover versions allowed in the chart. They're talking about doing it with compilation albums, why not with singles?
MES: Ha Ha! Get them in front of the panel! Interrogate them!
Paul: But you're a songwriter like me. Don't you think it's wrong? Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't all three of you had hits with covers...
Peter: Bastard! That's why you've brought us here isn't it? Actually the low spat of my year was when one of Candy Flip said they were in The Farm on the telly. You'll never hear of 'em again. I hated seeing 'em in all their acid gear on Top Of The Pops. Like they were big in the clubs.
MES: It wasn't big in any bloody club that I was in. Anyway (to Heaton), what was this record of yours that was a big hit cover version?
Paul: 'Caravan Of Love'.
MES: How did that go then?
Paul: Shut up!
MES: I think stuff like this is indicative of the way this generation's turning out. They're the first lot who are just like their parents. Hippy Kids of hippy parents.
Peter: All this stuff about them being a mad group. The baseball caps on sideways. It's a joke. I just can't take them seriously. I don't think it's awful. I just don't like the idea of it. All this shit about the Forest Of Dean being a mad place and we all have parties in the woods. It's so manufactured.
Paul: It sounds like The Stone Roses.
MES: It certainly sounds as if they're trying to sound like all that shit. I don't mean that it was a hippy record. But it's definitely a record by the kids of hippy parents.
Paul: If I'd made a record at 19, it wouldn't have been very good. So, if these lads are 19, I would have to say to them ...well, yours isn't any good either!
MES: I was making fucking good records at 19. But that doesn't matter. If they're 19 or 49, it's got nothing to do with how good your records are.
Paul: Well, it's a lovely name. Where are they from?
MES: (in official voice) ... And why are they doing this? The panel would like to know!
Paul: Seriously, Mark, there's nothing wrong with a bit of that.
MES; Yes, there is. It's like The Sex Pistols in 1976. Having to go before bloody councils who decide whether they can play or not. You're all the same, you socialists.
Paul: Not socialist, Stalinist. There's a difference.
Err. ...returning briefly to the Lush record, isn't this the sort of winsome indie guitar pop that the massed legions of 'Equity Culture' ravers claim to have made redundant?
Paul: Well, I don't agree with that and it would be terrible if it were true. I know some of it sounds a bit dated but this is nice. I'm not averse to this.
Peter: I can't imagine anything more horrible than having to listen to any one style of music all day. It'd be like living in Paul Heaton's Rumania! It's just stupid kids who've been to a few nightclubs claiming that everyone's got to start dancing. Good luck to Lush.
MES: Lush? That's the girls, isn't it?
Paul: Well, it's not just girls ... though I think the blokes are in a bit of a Tin Machine situation.
MES: They could do alright with a bit of money behind them. Just needs a bit of a push. Christ knows they've tried to push people like Bob Geldof enough. They'll be promoting that LP for five years 'til some silly f--er buys it.
Paul: It's a bit like pushing the Brazilian currency, innit? It's never going to work.
THE SOUP DRAGONS: 'I'm Free'
Paul: Now here's a case in point. They were fine as an indie guitar band and they're fine now. Same with you (to Hooton). There's no problem with that.
MES: I just find it embarrassing. I can't watch it. That geek with the yak haircut.
Paul: Yeah, there is a problem with the way they're presented.
Peter: The problem is they were photographers in one of their many previous existences. If there's pictures of you knocking around dressed likeVictorian doctors in 1986, then it's hard to take you seriously in your casuals on Top Of The Pops today.
MES: Good luck to them for making a few bob. It's just the way they look I find embarrassing. I'm a man of taste. It's because of twats like this I can't go to clubs any more without some f-er in flares pointing at me. I just don't like uniforms.
Paul: It makes me feel old. It makes me feel glad to be old.
Peter: Who wears flares anyway? Students?
MES: Anyway I hate it. It was a good old Stones number and they've thrashed it.
MC HAMMER: "You Can't Touch This'
MES: Terrible. A pervert. He was voted best rapper in America, wasn't he? He makes MC Tunes look good.
Paul: He's a good dancer though.
MES: Is he heck!
Paul: He is! Didn't you see him on Oprah Winfrey? He's a shit rapper, I agree.
MES: You look a bit like MC Hammer yourself, Stuart.
Peter: You see, to a lot of people, rap is their life, it's not just a trend. Not just some passing commodity that the music press is into.
MES: I like rap but not this crossover shite. It's illiterate, machine rap. Whitified. It's a shame. The sort of crap that every time you go into your hotel room and put MTV on, it's bleedin' on.
Paul: I quite like the crossover stuff. There's nothing wrong with getting through to people, and he's a great dancer, whatever Mark says.
THE CHARLATANS: "The Only One I Know'
Peter: I don't like the way they stand around in lakes for their photographs.
MES: ALL these Manchester bands, when it comes down to it, they're just a bunch of jessies. Just young businessmen into dressing up and Echo And The Bunnymen. I'm very happy for them, you know. Making a bit of money by funking up Echo And The Bunnymen.
Paul: The lead singer. He's the focal point, isn't he? He's a nice-looking lad. Nice haircut. But it's just too sixth form, you know.
MES: He's the sort of lad who's always wanted to sing in a rock band. In the music press there's a snidey joke along the line of 'The Only Song We Know'.
Peter: Now make you sure you print that. Otherwise it looks as if we're taking the piss a bit with no provocation. Hey, listen. They've nicked that bassline from The Jam!
Paul: You and your bloody Jam!
MES: They get accused of copying The Stone Roses. I wouldn't say they're doing that. They're just copying all those '60s bands. Good luck to them, they were in the right place at the right time. But all these bands ... they're bloody interchangeable. The High, Ride ...
Paul: I think they do stand out a bit, The Charlatans. Taken on its own, this is a good song.
MES: He does try, that singer. I'd give him that.
Peter: But they're not the sort of people you'd want to go to the match with. Any of you lads I'd be happy to stand by at the match.
MES:.I wouldn't go to the bloody match with you, pal!
JULIE CRUISE: 'Falling'
(Silence. Clink of glasses)
Peter: This whole scene is like something from a David Lynch movie.
Paul: Is this the Twin Peaks theme? I don't know this. I thought the Twin Peaks one was that bloke who sounds like Roy Orbison.
Peter: I don't know anything about Twin Peaks. How can I? To watch Twin Peaks, you've got to have nothing better to do. Nothing better to do than sit in the house all the time.
You could tape it.
MES: I loved Blue Velvet. That's a great film.
Peter: I thought Wild At Heart was great. We all went to see it and ten minutes from the end Keith, our guitarist, jumps up and says 'Let's go, lads. This is fuckin' rubbish'. And we was all into it. He didn't realise. We weren't moving.
MES: What, do you all hang around together like a gang? Bloody hell!
SNAP!: 'The Power'
MES: This is brilliant. I like Snap! a lot. But isn't this 'whitified' as well?
MES: No. It's completely different. More powerful. He sings deeper.
Peter: What is all this 'whitified'? What the f-- does it mean?
Paul: It's crossover again, isn't it? A bit of Public Enemy, a bit of English style Hip-House. Crossover stuff is alright if it's tasteful. But I find this distasteful. Some of the samples. They're so corny.
Peter: But at the time it came out it was the best record in months. I first heard it when Terry Farley started playing it as a German import and it was great. OK, so when it got to Number One, we'd all got a bit sick of it by then but it's a great tune.
MES: Is he German then, this bloke?
Peter: I think he was a soldier in Germany.
MES: Was he in Boney M?
Paul: I'll tell you something, though. You've got to watch your step with him. He's as hard as fuck.
All: Is he?
NEW ORDER: 'World In Motion'
Peter: I know this. It's The Fall's official World Cup theme ... The Fall or New Order ... one of them old Manchester bands! To me, this is more embarrassing than your average tacky old football shite. Last year's Tranmere Rovers song was better. They've made an effort to be serious and it sounds pathetic.
MES: (to Hooton) No, I agree with you, cocker. And more to the point, this is why we came fourth. These bastards should have been doing some training, not singing on a bleeding pop record. 'Welcome home, lads. You're all heroes', We came fucking fourth ... out of 24. It's a bloody disgrace.
Peter: The words are pathetic. I'd rather have Alan Ball singing 'Back Home'. When was the last time an England player ever expressed himself?
MES: This is the trouble with footballers. Bloody faggots. They've all got their own hairdressers and managers. And they can't beat Albania and the Cameroons! You can't get into the England team unless you're a prefect or you've played for Ipswich.
(There now follows a long, four-sided shouted debate about Jack Charlton, Paul Heaton's support for Uruguay, Pavarotti, rapping and Schillachi. This goes on for 20 minutes)
But what about the record?
MES: It's pandering to the middle classes who've just discovered football. It's smug, self-congratulatory, a yuppie football song. If they'd won the World Cup then they could have come home and made a bloody record.
Peter: It's trendy. Very European. It's our attempt to say to the Germans, 'We're really clued up about football. You lot couldn't have done this.'
Paul: I know the rap off by heart.
FLOWERED UP: 'It's On'
MES: Is This Flowered Up? ... I haven't heard this.
Peter: Sounds like The Fall. They got on the front of all the papers and they didn't have a record. We had to have a photo of Harry Cross with us to get on the cover of the NME.
MES: Oh, get the bloody violins out! This record would be alright if it had a bass and a guitar on it. What is it? It's nothing.
Peter: I like this. Turn it up.
MES: You can turn it up all you like, mate. There's nothing there. The thing about them getting on the covers ... what does that matter ? The media over-estimates its own importance. I was on the cover of everything for three years but I still only had half a bottle of milk in the fridge. Status Quo have never been on the cover of anything and it hasn't done them any harm.
STEVE MILLER BAND: 'The Joker'
MES: You know why all these records are getting into the charts ? It's because all these advertising executives are all the same age as me and they're just using their favourite records from when they was kids. When I was 16 1 thought I'd seen the last of The Steve Bloody Miller Band. It must be terrible being an A&R man these days. Boring. All your artists are dead.
Paul: None of these people are getting their royalties. That Righteous Brother, the one they can find, he's had nothing. Covers and oldies notwithstanding, what do you make of the current idea that the charts are more open these days?
MES: You should ask some people who've been in the charts. Ask these two.
Paul: We've just had a Number One and our new single isn't on the A-list or the B-list ... not on any list as far as I can see. So I don't know if much has changed.
Peter: Well it's the first time we've sold more than 2,000 records so I think things have improved, obviously!
So what, then, would be your records of the year?
MES: I think The La's are cool. That's a good record. The Farm are alright too.
Peter: I like that new Housemartins one. 'Choke' is it?...
Paul: 24-7 featuring Captain Hollywood. (Sings "I can't stand it no more.. .")
(Glasses clink. Matches struck. Bar bill arrives. Maconie faints. Fade ...)