Splash FM Website of the Day, 1st August 2005. Be Impressed.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Verve Pipe – The Freshmen.

Never ones to be outdone, the Americans had their own chart-topping Verve miserablists in 1997. Of course, they added their trademark sledgehammer subtlety, bleeding-heart emoting and buck-passing to the mix.

The Verve Pipe had formed in the early ‘90s in the wake of the grunge explosion which accounts for the sub-Eddie Vedder vocal stylings of front-man Brian Vander Ark. In 1992 the band independently released their debut album called I’ve Suffered A Head Injury (which would explain a few things). The album contained an early version of today’s track, The Freshmen, which was later rerecorded when they signed to RCA records.

The song itself tells the story of two freshmen who are attempting to convince themselves that they are not to blame for the suicide of a girl they both dated and ditched. It is such a depressing song that it made The Guardian’s list of the 25 most miserable tracks. Despite, or maybe because of, this the song rocketed into the US top ten and became the breakthrough smash of the summer. It also, rather incongruously, led to a support slot on tour with good-time, show-me-the-money rockers Kiss which, you have to imagine, was a bit like Joy Division supporting the Teletubbies.

If anyone can explain what the wittering bejesus the line ‘a shoe full of rice’ is supposed to mean I’m all ears.

The Verve Pipe – The Freshmen

Buy Villains

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Debbie Currie – You Can Do Magic

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I don’t have an mp3 of this unfortunately (hey, come back) but, since I covered the second strangest record of 1997 a couple of weeks ago, I have no option but to mention this too.

The song was a cover of Limmie and the Family Cookin’s You Can Do Magic sung by Debbie Currie (daughter of the Ramsey-slapping, egg bashing, prime minister shagging Edwina Currie). I use the word ‘sung’ in the Milli Vanilli sense of the word. The song was actually sung by Sinitta of So Macho and sleeping with Simon Cowell “fame”. Currie herself has the voice of an angel – albeit an angel that’s swallowed a set of bagpipes and an angry cat. Needless to say, it was bloody awful.

However, the celeb family connection together with dubious tabloid stories of six times a night, four-in-a-bed, underage romps and her willingness to pose with only a thong and two strategically placed fried eggs to cover her ‘modesty’ made sure there was plenty of publicity. Adding to the overwhelming urge to vomit out your own eyes is the fact that Debbie bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother which made photos of her look like a head shot of the Tory MP hastily photoshopped onto the body of a page three girl. See the egg picture here if you think you’ve got the stomach for it and have a reckless disregard for your mental health.

Just another day in the wonderful world of pop? Not so. It eventually transpired that the record was an attempt by ITV’s flagship investigative journalism show The Cook Report to prove how easy it was to rig the charts. They went round carefully selected record shops buying arm-loads of copies. Consequently, the single went in like a bullet at number 86.

The bulk buying had been noticed by chart compilers CIN and been discounted. But, never one to let the facts get in the way of dull story, Cook pressed ahead with the programme only to be faced with legal action which meant the programme had to be re-edited.

The Cook Report was cancelled in 1998.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Half Man Half Biscuit – Monmore Hare’s Running (Peel Session Version)

They are a national treasure… When I die I want to be buried with them. John Peel.

I had been planning to post Half Man Half Biscuit during the John Peel season but, disgracefully, they didn’t appear on the 1997 Festive Fifty. Everyone who was alive in 1997 deserves a hefty punch in the face for that one.

HMHB began the year recording their 7th Peel session featuring four songs that would eventually appear on Voyage to the Bottom of the Road: Monmore Hare’s Running, Tonight Matthew I’m Going To Be With Jesus, PRS Yearbook and He Who Would Valium Take. As you can tell, The Biscuits have a penchant for arresting titles. Their albums include Back In The DHSS and Trouble Over Bridgewater and they have songs called Look Dad No Tunes, Deep House Victims’ Minibus Appeal and Even Men With Steel Hearts Love To See A Dog On The Pitch. As Peel said, “every song a t-shirt.”

This pithy-ness is also evident in their lyrics which are occasionally caustic, occasionally amusing and occasionally banal but usually all three at once. For example, these from 99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd:

Have you ever wondered how you get triangles from a cow?
You need butter, milk and cheese, and an equilateral chainsaw.

Mary had a little lamb, the doctors were astounded,
And everywhere she went gynaecologists surrounded.

Their songs are usually packed with references to d-list celebs (useless pub trivia: the lead singer of Runrig – who are name checked on PRS Showcase - ran for parliament in 1997. He didn’t get in) and mundane observations. Monmore Hare’s Running mentions Paolo Hewitt, Neighbours and has a verse that decries the inadequacy of low quality Sellotape. You can find explanations of all the references on the record here.

1997 almost saw HMHB signing with a major label, V2. Previously, the band had done everything possible to avoid success. They had refused to appear on The Tube, despite the offer of a chopper ride, because they wanted to watch Tranmere Rovers; they had split up in 1987 because they were getting too famous; they had only formed in the first place because it was more interesting than ‘writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro’; they claim that the secret to happiness is lowering your expectations. Unsurprisingly, the deal fell through and the band trudged back to their old label, Probe Plus.

I’ve chosen to upload Monmore Hare’s Running from the session. It is, and I’m being careful not to exaggerate here, a work of genius comparable to the entire output of the Italian Renaissance.

Half Man Half Biscuit – Monmore Hare’s Running (Peel Session).

Buy Journey To The Bottom Of The Road

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Derailers – Ellen

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Ellen DeGeneres’ real life coming-out and that of the character she played in her sitcom, called Ellen, in 1997 caused a huge stir and saw a whopping 42 million people tune in to the “Puppy Episode”. Over in the UK everywhere you went absolutely everyone was talking about something else. But, I’m Ellen’s biggest English fan – I’ve seen part of one episode of one of her shows – so I can’t let it pass without comment.

The decision to have the fictional Ellen come out was precipitated by the script writers’ frustration at Ellen’s lack of love interest and DeGeneres’ relationship with Hollywood actress Anne Heche, whose lesbian credentials are undermined somewhat by the fact she’s had more men than the Grand Old Duke of York. You may be familiar with Heche’s oeuvre; she gets it out in every film.

The episode itself feature a huge array of stars (Oprah Winfrey, Demi Moore, Billy Bob Thornton, Laura Dern, Gina Gershon and, with crushing inevitability, kd lang) and inspired ‘Coming Out With Ellen’ parties from coast-to-coast (and nowhere in between). After the success of the coming-out episode the backlash was quick to come. The show was accused of being too political and viewing figures dropped rapidly. As well as receiving criticism from the Christian right, she even had the dog-eat-dog world of lesbian politics turn on her when Chastity Bono said the show was ‘too gay’. Even Elton John joined the chorus of disapproval. When Elton thinks you’re too gay you know you’re in trouble.

In actual fact, the show was killed off by an endless procession of celebs desperate to prove they loved ‘the gays’ – a fate currently befalling Will and Grace. Madonna’s “acting” on W&G was on a level with a primary school nativity play – I swear at one point I saw her pick her nose then wave to her mum. Anyhoo, stumbling guilelessly back to the point, Ellen was cancelled because it wasn’t funny anymore.

DeGeneres refused to learn her lesson. She returned with The Ellen Show in which she played a lesbian called Ellen. It was cancelled after one series. She is currently presenting her own talk show called, you’ll never guess, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and is snogging Portia de Rossi.

Today’s track comes from The Derailers’ 1997 album Reverb Deluxe. As a bunch of honky-tonkin’ rednecks it’s unlikely they wrote this tune to celebrate Ellen’s coming out.

The Derailers – Ellen

Buy Reverb Deluxe

BTW, the fact that this is post number 69 is entirely coincidental. And anyone who laughed at lesbianism being a ‘dog-eat-dog world’ needs to grow up.