Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas and the Rite of Disco

There comes a time in most people’s lives when life catches up with them and they are willingly or otherwise, exposed to the social event that is the disco and more specifically, the Christmas Disco.  Generally this occurs around the teenage years and beyond where a large number of participants are squeezed into a very small space for the purpose of dancing or shouting at each other over the din.  Schools, higher education establishments and nightclubs are all responsible for this rite of passage and whether you are the life-and-soul or wallflower, the experience does tend to alter your perception of humanity, but for better or worse?

But it is not the outcome that interests me here, but the din.  Dependent on your age, and I shan’t ask, there are always a few tunes that seem to haunt you through the years – those hits that were so prevalent at discos that the very thought of them now makes you shudder with long suppressed memories.  Of course there is always ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ but this doesn’t count as it has been a juvenile disco staple for so long that nobody bothers about it anymore.

No, it is the ones like the Eagles’ ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ that are one of my bĂȘtes noirs.  It was EVERYWHERE during my non-dancing years and didn’t I just hate it.  It put me off The Eagles for several decades.  Another season ticket holder was Steve Harley’s ‘Make Me Smile’ which even today brings back that slight eye twitch that I’d thought I’d finally got rid of.  What is it about these tunes – and I’m sure you can supply your own list - that provokes such a reaction, years after the event?  Is it the thought of your younger, gaucher and generally less assured self trying to grapple with life after one too many vodkas or is it something deeper?

For me it was certainly the above but also it was because I loved music and somehow the environment of the disco always seemed to degrade it and make it nothing more than background noise or worse, the soundtrack to someone else’s mating ritual.  Nothing will erase the memory of the isolation of the partner-less last dance and for this, 10cc has much to answer for.  I realise that this is a very esoteric stance to take as all through history, music has been specifically composed for the express purpose of dancing (Minuet anyone?) and to complain about it now is a bit churlish but nevertheless that is still how I feel about it.

Which is why you will always find me at a concert rather than a nightclub.  It became clear to me very early on that discos are for those who enjoy dancing and who need not be music lovers at all.  In fact, they were frauds.  ‘Make me Smile’ indeed.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, 9 December 2011

The End of Abba

Like most people, I do like the odd Abba song.  ‘SOS’ was the one that did it for me and I was hooked: my collection of 70s vinyl singles is the proof.  You see, even at the time, I judged that Abba were really a singles band and never bought an LP of theirs except for the singles compilation double LP ‘The First Ten Years’, released when they had thrown in the towel (probably of Ikea design).  And I think I was right.  Madness was another such band.  Great singles band but name me a killer Madness album? (On second thoughts, don’t bother – it’s probably ‘Rise and Fall’)

But unlike most people - and yet again I find myself a little off kilter with the great general public – I have two distinct Abba quirks.  First, I can’t stand ‘Dancing Queen’, by general consensus most people’s favourite.  Never have, never will.  It would not be on any Abba ‘Best Of’ that had me as a compiler and I would be more than glad if I never heard it again.  The fact that my most hated person on the planet, Bono, attempted a version of it has nothing to do with it.  When that dreadful leaden intro starts up my heart sinks, after all there are so many other decent tunes to pick, so why that one?

Second, despite the undoubted fact that they served up some corking stuff from ‘Waterloo’ onwards (although actually ‘Waterloo’ is also on my Very Iffy list…along with ‘Ring Ring’ but let’s not dwell on this), my real preference is for the material they were writing just at the very end, around the time of ‘The Visitors’.  ‘One of Us’, ‘Head Over Heels’, ‘Under Attack’ and the sublime ‘Day Before You Came’ are the songs that really get to me.  Magnificent slabs of Scandinavian melancholy without the over-extrovert backing tracks.  It’s obvious that I’m swimming against the tide here as these were the singles that sold in fewer and fewer quantities as the public deserted them and must have played a big part in the decision to pack it in.

Which is a shame.  There is something about their song writing at this point that was just coming to the boil.  Bjorn’s lyrics were darker and more literate as he mastered the obtuse English language and Benny’s music, whilst still veering towards the whimsical, had an edge to it.  The bleak Swedish railway station in the film-noir video for ‘Day Before You Came’ just about sums up where they were at that point but it is a fascinating place, artistically.  The final single, ‘Under Attack’ is one of their finest yet it sold very poorly (peaked at 26!) and suddenly they were gone.  But what a note to end on!