Sunday, December 04, 2005

"She's got it. Yeah baby, she's got it..."

A couple of years back at a friend's house for a BBQ, the women of the party decided to camp out in the rec room while the men grunted and postured around the Weber in a contest to see which one of them would invent fire. After driving the kids away from their gameplayers, we ladies decided to pop in a video of The Wedding Singer, which I hadn't seen.

It kicked off with a full-on shot of Adam Sandler in a narrow lapelled blue jacket, Johnny Cash coal-black hair standing up under a can and a half of mousse, and the world's skinniest black tie.

Then he started singing You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive.

A dizzying thrill which was equal parts repulsion and the-years-drop-away attraction went right through me. I suppose you learn you've entered the long period of middle age, the first time you look back on a fashion once worn to strut and stalk the world's pleasures (day-glo fishnets, rosary beads as necklaces, acid-wash jeans, Members Only leather jackets, or, say, crushed velvet elephant loon pants) and you think "Did we wear that?"

And sometimes you think "Did we listen to that?" And with You Spin Me Round, we did. We don't need to annotate those lyrics or develop a fansite for it; we don't even think we own a copy. But we are not going whitewash our musical past by denying that the song -- during its brief moment of glory -- got the job done, just as it does in the Adam Sandler movie. You listened, you danced, you made eyes at the rest of the neon-lit crowd and you had a good time. And if the next song was Bananarama's Venus...well, you kept dancing.

Until yesterday, I had no idea that this wave of disposable pop that flooded the charts of the eighties had a backstory. But it does, and it makes for a wild read!

Right round. Like a record, baby
Right round round round

Return of the Hitmen

Initially, the trio specialised in a pop take on "hi-NRG", the electronic dance music that soundtracked early 80s gay clubs. Indeed, they were so closely associated with the gay scene that on their first meeting, Dead Or Alive frontman Pete Burns automatically assumed that Waterman was homosexual. Says Waterman: "I wore a red leather suit with a white stripe down the side, my hair was green and blue, and I had a great big golden ear stud. When Pete Burns came in, he thought Mike and Matt were my boys and I was the madam."

Despite the confusion, Dead Or Alive's spectacular You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) was Stock Aitken Waterman's first number one. The trio claim its success sparked their war with the press and the music industry. The press were horrified by their autocratic style of making records ("If you get too friendly with an artist," counsels Stock, "the next thing you know, they'll be asking to do their vocals again or change the lyrics or something") and their refusal to countenance anything other than low-budget pop aimed at an audience they proudly described in 1990 as "ordinary people with Woolworth ears". According to Waterman, the industry was "intimidated because we were independent, we had our own studios in south London, we started our own label [PWL] when no one would sign Kylie Minogue".

It's hard to tell how bothered the trio were by the constant criticism. They can quote 20-year-old reviews, deliver word-for-word accounts of conversations with record company bosses who dismissed Bananarama's 1986 hit Venus. Aitken points out that their 1989 version of Do They Know It's Christmas? has been quietly erased from Band Aid's history by Bob Geldof, Midge Ure et al: "The bastards." Waterman starts telling a story about Sonia's record label publicly disowning her first number one, You'll Never Stop Me Loving You (1989), and works himself into such a froth that he ends up comparing the chirpy scouse songbird to Jesus: "Please don't get me wrong, but it was like trying to deny you knew Christ when the cock crows."

And yet they positively ooze belligerent self-confidence. "We did a record with this band called Brilliant," remembers Waterman, "the reviews were phenomenal and it got to 58 in the charts. I remember saying to the guys, fuck that for critically-acclaimed music, you can't pay the fucking rent with that."

More at the link. And worth the read.


Count Screwloose said...

Miss T,

Will you be staying long enough to catch any of The Pogues shows?

The wife arrives this Saturday.

Count S.

Miss Templeton said...

Alas, I'll be leaving this Saturday morning. But I'm off to Dublin!

I turn the country over to your excellent wife, who is sure to enjoy it well!

Trying to talk my coworkers into a Pantomine. Twiggy is starring in the one at Brighton.

Count Screwloose said...

Ah, t'is a shame.

Enjoy that "lovely land that always sent/Her writers and artists to banishment" and say hi to J. Joyce for me, who I believe is still tending bar there, as well as darning cassocks for Jesuits.


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