Lionrock, Fire Up The Shoesaw (Original Album Mix) (1996)

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Artist: Lionrock
Title: Fire Up The Shoesaw (Original Album Mix)
Description: single; album track, An Instinct For Detection
Label: Deconstruction
Release date: 1996
First heard: 1996

It is through no sense of willful obscurity or self-love that I put forward a song that I suspect few outside of the dance cognoscenti will recognise from its title. I’m no expert. I just took receipt of this single from a friendly PR, presumably at Q or just after, spotted that “Lionrock” was essentially producer and DJ of note Justin Robertson, was intrigued by the name (largely because Stuart Maconie, David Quantick and I had self-regardingly attempted to launch our own musical genre at the NME circa 1992 and christened it, without much depth, Lion Pop) and gave it a spin. I believe we are calling it Big Beat, though I didn’t really care what generic pigeonhole it went into, or who it was aimed at, or why Justin Robertson had cooked it up in the first place; I just knew that it was a preposterously infectious piece of construction work.

Built, like the more saleable 45s of Fatboy Slim (who will find his way into The 143 twice over, I suspect), from flotsam and jetsam which, if I went under the bonnet, I could probably catalogue sample for sample, right here, right now, but part of me wishes not to let light in upon magic. If you’ve never heard this wondrous tune, seek it out; in the meantime, I’ll describe it, just to see if I’ve still got the old magic, as it’s more than the sum of its Frankenstein’s monster-style parts.

The CD single contains five versions of subtle variation, but it’s the Original Album Mix that strikes the optimum note of upper-case melodrama and comes in at an executive five minutes 45 seconds in length. It begins, as these things so often do, with a disembodied, echoey sample of an American announcer, seemingly reacting to a primary election result of some kind and the establishment of “a new candidate” and, less conventionally, a “new favourite vegetable which is … asparagus” and then we’re off: into the one building block that a child could identify: the double bass intro from These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (a classic single we’ll be hearing from again, I promise). It is artfully distorted by Robertson and mixed in with the squelching sound of water, until another disembodied American voice asks, “What is rock and roll?”

A second guitar and a big beat join the looped Lee Hazelwood riff and we hit our first groove. If it just did this, it would be a serviceable slice of white man’s dance music. But there’s more. At one minute in, a guess-which-nationality voice asks, “Where’d you learn how to shake that booty?”, heralding the next movement – and I don’t think it’s overstating the case to use the terminology of classical music with a piece as intricately composed as this – in which a fuzz guitar and some brass stabs seems to conjure that Jabberwockian “shoesaw” (and that’s not nearly as pretentious a description as it sounds). Think you’ve got the measure of it? Wait until one minute 53.

One of America’s great pranksters …

Here’s the wow factor, which possesses my body and my fingers on public transport every time it explodes into brilliance in my headphones: a skyscraping brass reveille from one of John Barry’s Bond soundtracks, instantly familiar and yet ingeniously punched up with some sampled jazz drums that coolly operate at the apex of Gene Krupa/Buddy Rich levels of technical skill (hey, they could be Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich). Paradiddling across the kit, this drum fill, repeated, takes Shoesaw to another level of synchronicity. It is akin to the skin-and-timber drumming sampled so adoringly by DJ Shadow. We’re so used to drum samples that either underpin with timekeeping or punctuate with a roll; these speak.

It’s actually a sad moment when the Bond section is over, and back to the fuzz guitar section, but stick around, we’re into a cycle now and only halfway through.

A disembodied American voice pleads “What are we doing here?”, and at one stage, the squelching is back, foregrounded, as if we are marching home from the trenches, at which Boots is our trusty companion back into a welcome rerun of Bond. Can it just be the drummer in me that so takes this record to heart? I don’t care. We all have our reasons. We all have our ways in. The snarework of a jazz sticksman is my way into Fire Up The Shoesaw. The title bespeaks superheroes, comic book action, maybe even the threat of violence in a megalomaniac’s underground lair, but what cinematic drama! What spatial awareness! And what generosity of length!

I’m sure Justin Robertson does not dine out on lobster too often on the royalties of a song made from other songs that only reached number 43 in the charts in 1996 when Fatboy Slim was winning superstar status, but I hope he is still in full and enriching self-employment, and held in appropriate regard by his peers and those who dance before his decks in superclubs in Russia, as he only went and created one of the best 143 songs of all time and he may not even know it.

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Morrissey, Everyday Is Like Sunday (1988)

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Artist: Morrissey
Title: Everyday Is Like Sunday
Description: single; album track, Viva Hate
Label: HMV
Release date: 1988
First heard: 1988

I will always look upon my relationship with The Smiths as special. It was a case of good timing. Conveniently releasing their four studio albums to coincide with my four years in higher education, they really did help me get through my exams. I graduated in 1987 and so did Morrissey.

In 1988, he released – rush-released, or so it felt, just six months after Strangeways and yet so fully formed – Viva Hate, his solo debut, which heralded a new dawn with a tinted photo not of an obscure icon from Morrissey’s hall of fame but of the lad himself, his eyes obscured under the shadow of those granite brows. Although recently divorced from Johnny Marr, he’d enlisted Smiths engineer and Strangeways producer Stephen Street for continuity and Durutti Column architect Vini Reilly to fill in the spectral guitar magic. The result: sparkling lead-off single Suedehead, which may as well have been The Smiths.

More surprising delights awaited us on the album, the biggest of which was Everyday Is Like Sunday, an instantaneous new favourite on first listen and an abiding highlight from his rich solo catalogue in the years since. A great swoon of a song, it tugs my heartstrings and forces my gaze skywards, or seawards, whenever I hear it. It frames one of his most succinctly evocative lyrics, right up there with the vivid brushstrokes of Rusholme Ruffians, This Charming Man and The Headmaster Ritual, and no less economical.

That its bittersweet requiem for the spiritual vacuum of a “coastal town they forgot to close down” has its literary roots in John Betjeman and Nevil Shute is typical magpie Moz. Wet sand, pebbles, a bench, stolen clothes, the promenade, the etched postcard, “greased tea” and that glittering prize of a “cheap tray” – this is poetry by any other name, just set to a tune capable of giving even the stout-hearted the vapours. (It’s closest cousin in the Smiths’ repertoire has to be There Is A Light.) The “strange dust” that lands on Morrissey’s companion’s hand and face may well reference the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, whose radiation clouds were figurative if not actual over Europe and in recent memory in ’87 when it was recorded; the fallout certainly stops this being a snooty attack on the English seaside and takes it into a whole new dimension of existential dread.

I remember visiting Teignmouth in Devon some time in the late 90s (drawn there because a friend at Q grew up there and whose parents still, I think, ran the local cinema). It was definitively off-season, silent and grey, and I was filled to the brim with this song as I walked its promenade and leaned on its railings. I have always liked to be beside the seaside – Welsh rather than English throughout the cherished holidays of my boyhood, although some say Moz was inspired to write by a visit to Borth in Mid-Wales. Either way, I can’t call up any other song that so deftly crystallises the windswept allure of the British coast and its lost horizons.

What I find most fascinating about this particular song, which nestles among many notable achievements in this rush and a push for new territory (Late Night Maudlin Street, Margaret On The Guillotine, Dial-A-Cliché) is that it as good as eschews the dominance of the guitar. The six-part string section provides the riffs, rich and luxuriant, whipping like wind on a shelter when Morrissey sings of the “coastal town” and swelling around him as we reach the chorus. Reilly and Street sympathetically underpin with bass and guitar – and, credit where credit’s due, Andrew Paresi provides some surgically tumbling drums – but the overriding orchestral infrastructure of Sunday seems as if it could be a rebuke from Morrissey to the Rickenbacker of his once vital ex-partner. He seems to be saying:

“Look, Marr, top of the world!”

I shall, of course, be inducting a Smiths tune into The 143 presently.

Jim Bob, Cartoon Dad (2007)

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Artist: Jim Bob
Title: Cartoon Dad
Description: album track, A Humpty Dumpty Thing
Label: Cherry Red
Release date: 2007
First heard: 2007

Mighty Mouse is on his way
Here I come to save the day

Can we put aside our petty musical differences and at least agree that Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine were – and at Christmas time, still are – a pretty unique proposition in terms of fusion pop music, taking the minimalism of the Pet Shop Boys, roughing it up with punk rock electric guitars and arch pun-based social commentary, and lobbing said cocktail to the top of the charts? You don’t have to love them to appreciate them. I did love and do love them – and yes, we will be hearing from them again.

In the meantime, those among you who took Carter USM to your 100% cotton bosom in the indie boom years of the early 90s will raise no eyebrow at the inclusion in The 143 of a solo piece from the duo’s singer, who has forged a workable solo career in their wake and from whose seventh post-Carter album (fourth under his own name) this abiding kitchen-sink favourite comes.

Neither Jim Bob nor Fruitbat was the leader in Carter – each relied upon and, you might say, completed the other – and both have continued to make music, born to do so. But Jim Bob had custody of the voice, and its his voice that elevates Cartoon Dad as much as the thoughtful lyrics and the clever arrangement. To declare an interest, I consider Jim a friend. We’re not in and out of each others’ houses, in fact I’ve never been inside his house and he’s never been inside mine, but we exchange Christmas cards, and if ever I’ve been able to involve him in my random media career I have unashamedly leaped at the chance. (Luckily, he and Carter are held in sufficiently high regard for me to be able to do this without self-consciousness. Also, I was a fan before I met them and would have remained so had I not.)

In 2006, on the release of his sixth (or third) album School, I found myself filling in for Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2 and suggested Jim as an in-studio acoustic guest. It was an album with a story, and I relished the opportunity to spread the love. At the end of 2009, having that year suggested him to Robin Ince as a suitable musical turn for his mixed Lessons and Carols for Godless People bill, the Times asked me to contribute to a New Year’s spread recommending “New Faces”; I twisted the brief and nominated Luke Haines and Jim Bob, two old farts, to be frank, but hitting corresponding solo highs to my mind. (I argued that 2010 being the year Jim turned 50 made it a landmark.) I wrote:

Jim ought to be as beloved as a Costello or a Dury or a Davies, with slices of life as tuneful, arch, dramatic and unapologetic as Teenage Body Count, Cartoon Dad and The Golden Years Of Lonely Old Dears.

Of the aforementioned recommended three, Cartoon Dad tackles and humanises the vexed issue of an unnamed protest group who are clearly Fathers 4 Justice via a lilting, brass-fanfared lament to a “muggy Monday morning” spent scaling St Stephen’s Tower (the structure that houses Big Ben), and the apparent fruitlessness of the unfurling of a superhero-costumed lone parent’s “stupid protest banner”. References to Converse, Tesco Metro, the Body Shop, Lucozade and Happy Meals do Jim’s usual job of painting a picture through the joining of cultural dots, while the tale is tragicomically told with equal attention to mundane detail, whether it’s Mighty Mouse’s forlorn-sounding “supermarket bag” or the tourists taking pictures from the London Eye on their “cameraphones”, which meant something in 2007 and fixes the song in time.

On the subject of those voyeuristic snappers on “the Wheel”, we learn that they “suspected a PR stunt … But secretly they hoped I’d jump.” It’s a devastating couplet because you’re certain he’s about to rhyme “stunt” with “c—“. But it’s not his style. He prefers to channel his righteous ire through droll erudition and wordplay. Jim, a paragon of humility, might blanch at the notion of being a poet, but his literary ambition crossed over with the music on A Humpty Dumpty Thing as it came bound with a short story, Word Count. He’s always been a weaver of stories. The album is built around four unused songs he originally wrote for Mark Ravenhill’s Dick Whittington pantomime. This is one of them. Hence streets paved with gold and an arch reference to Golden Arches?

I mentioned the fine arrangement and it’s sympathetic to the song, with the brass band intro exquisitely pitched, the drama subsequently built up through a rat-a-tat-tat staccato section and a daringly literal chime before a reference to Big Ben striking. (More Dick we may assume.) I realise I’m quoting back a fair chunk of the lyric, but it would be self-defeating not to. Like so much of Jim’s solo and Carter catalogue, Cartoon Dad takes you by the hand and leads you through the streets of London, “all along the River Thames, from Westminster to Southend and into the sea.” And it boasts this perfect twist at the end. Savour it.

Dr Samuel Johnson, you were very nearly right
I was tired of London
But I would never tire of life

Mighty.

Electric Light Orchestra, Mr Blue Sky (1977)

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Artist: Electric Light Orchestra
Title: Mr Blue Sky
Description: single; album track, Out Of The Blue
Label: Jet
Release date: 1977
First heard: 1977

1977 was the year punk broke wide open: God Save The Queen, Damned Damned Damned, Sid replacing Glenn Matlock, The Clash, Oh Bondage! Up Yours, Blank Generation, Never Mind The Bollocks. I, meanwhile, could be found sitting cross-legged on the carpet of the family living room listening intently to the Concerto For A Rainy Day, which comprised Side Three of Out Of The Blue, a double LP whose generous gatefold sleeve, complete with lyrics, gave a 12-year-old something to get his head round while the lush, orchestral music flowed from the modest speakers attached to Mum and Dad’s “music centre”.

Crucially, I did not grow up with an older brother. Many of my male friends did. As a consequence, they had more “mature” taste in music, which usually meant progressive rock or heavy metal, and it meant LPs, not 45s. It’s a truism, that younger siblings get into older music, secondhand. But if you’re the eldest, you’re the canary in the mineshaft, figuring it out for yourself. (My younger brother Simon used to sneak into my bedroom and listen to my punk records when I was out, but that’s in the future.) I discovered ELO, and their classic sixth and seventh long-players A New World Record and Out Of The Blue, through my Dad. They were his band. I was being handed down my formative musical taste – hey, my first favourite band! – from a parent. (I liked my Mum’s Elvis records, too.)

ELO’s was pretty sophisticated symphonic rock – literally Dad rock, if you will – and a natural evolution from the asunder Beatles who’d enraptured Jeff Lynne’s generation so, but it wasn’t prog or metal, it wasn’t intellectual or visceral. It wasn’t cool. It was pop music played by rock musicians and a longhaired string section, wasn’t it? Nevertheless it was electrifying to my 12-year-old ears, and lit my fire.

I loved Mr Blue Sky then, when it became their seventh top 10 hit and I love it 35 years later. Can you imagine how many times I’ll have heard it in the interim? (It’s on Smooth 70s, my default kitchen radio station, at least once a day.) It does not tarnish. From the clearly faked “radio announcement” and crude thump-thump-thump intro riff, through the cloudbursting joy of its verses (“don’t you know, it’s a beautiful new day, a-hey-hey”) and the punched-up chorus, they cook with gas for a full five minutes, using Vocoder and choral effects to tip a simple pop tune into sepulchral glory. It takes a certain chutzpah to illustrate the line “running down the avenue” with a panting sound – and indeed to link the songs in the Rainy Day concerto with what sound like BBC rain sound effects but which Lynne actually recorded in Munich. It’s so uncool it becomes cool. Little wonder if stands up so well to the test of cover versions, my favourites being one by the Delgados, and of course Jim Bob’s mournful take, which he recorded for my Radio 4 sitcom of the same name, and which I will always cherish.

Having selfconsciously forsaken ELO in my teens, and found some new bands of my own, I rediscovered them in young adult life when all bets were off again, and I found that I really appreciated the craft. If you know Out Of The Blue, you’ll know The Whale, for instance, a haunting instrumental, and Birmingham Blues, a personal hymn to home: just two examples of the band’s versatility and voracity. I joined the ELO Fan Club and memorised their names and taught myself how to draw them all; that’s how much I loved them. And I knew which band member appeared where in the airbrushed inner sleeve illustration of the bridge of the logo spaceship. And Mr Blue Sky was my favourite song by my favourite band.

Until 1979, which is the year punk broke wide open in Northampton.

The Cure, One Hundred Years (1982)

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Artist: The Cure
Title: One Hundred Years
Description: album track, Pornography
Label: Fiction
Release date: 1982
First heard: 1982

It doesn’t matter if we all die …

I was 17, and on the cusp of agreeing with Robert Smith that it didn’t matter if we all die when I purchased Pornography, The Cure’s fourth studio album. Death seems entirely abstract at that age. Sex, too – or at least, it did to me, something I’m now kind of retrospectively grateful for, in the long run. Pornography, which was not even a word that meant much to me at 17, struck a chord though; a great, big, dirty, clanging cathedral chord. This was a record about sex and death, its themes heralded by an opening track to blow all other opening tracks out of the water (“Sounds like a tiger, thrashing in the water, thrashing in the water”).

Having come in with The Cure at A Forest and worked enthusiastically backwards through Seventeen Seconds and Three Imaginary Boys, I bought literally everything they put out for the next seven years (and some things that they didn’t, such as live bootleg cassettes via mail order or Camden market), after which, as a cub reporter, I was able to get them for free. When in 1989, the NME top brass identified me as a fan and allowed to me to write a full annotated discography of the band across a double-page spread – accompanied by a snapshot of me in my backcombed Goth pomp circa 1984 that Robert Smith mentioned when I finally interviewed him in 1992 – I felt I’d achieved all that I needed to achieve. The Cure had been my favourite band for a decade. I still have a lot of time for them. Work took me to Dallas in ’92 to see them play to a multitude of hyped-up plastic-beer-glass jocks in a football stadium, with Curve in support, one of the most memorable gigs of my life.

The concrete manifestations of my teenage fandom – the haystack hair; the intrepid trip to London to see them at the Hammersmith Odeon with my friend Kevin; the accumulated videotapes of every appearance they made on TV in the 80s; the wallpapered bedroom walls – strictly coalesced during the birth of their “pop” phase circa Let’s Go To Bed, when Smash Hits and Record Mirror started to provide glossy, full-colour pix. Kevin and I embraced their ascent overground, and never once flinched. Why? Because the core of their music remained true: Robert Smith was ultimately still there for the nasty things in life, however hard you tapped a toe. But Pornography had been a landmark in externalised misery. It was The Horror.

Rumbling like a God machine, some out-of-control Wacky Races juggernaut combination of the Creepy Coupe and the Army Surplus Special, One Hundred Years leads off the album in manifesto-striking style at nigh-on seven minutes, with a treated guitar riff that might be a cat wailing or a siren warning, and death-rattling electronic drums that must have pissed drummer Lol Tolhurst off, as such contraptions did to skin-and-timber drummers of the age.

We are dealing in doom and gloom, yes, but unlike the poetic, funereal pain of the previous LP Faith, Pornography replaces its shades of gravestone grey with theatrical black and red, blended to create a Grand Guignol puppet melodrama that took migraine ennui to the level of subversive art. As a boy I had been intoxicated and repelled at the same time by horror movies; and subsequently disaster movies – I was drawn to that which frightened the hell out of me. Instantly reminding me of John Carpenter’s Halloween, I can’t think of an album that sounds this much like its sleeve, or a sleeve that so accurately visualises its contents: the band, blurred and Myers-masked, seem intent on bloody murder*.

The first line we’ve already learned: “It doesn’t matter if we all die.” In Smith’s adenoidal cry, set in a permanent echo chamber, this sentiment seems sincere. But it’s when his fevered imagery takes hold that the song moves from the bedroom to the masque. “Ambition in the back of a black car … In a high building there is so much to do.” Already we are into capitalism and mystery, the selling of souls, the industrialisation of pleasure. What post-apocalyptic wasteland is this? “Going home time, a story on the radio …” each line delivered as if Smith is broadcasting from a padded cell in an institute for the all too sane.

I’m listening to it right now. Remember: this magnificent sound was created by three blokes from Sussex, exhausted, drunk, high on drugs and at each others’ throats, imagining they were making their last album, under the aegis of a new producer, Phil Thornalley, who we may assume was neither drunk, nor high, nor at anyone’s throats. If you want to be really brutal: Smith has said that it was either make this album or kill himself. We should give daily thanks for its existence.

As I said, I loved their new, post-Pornographic direction and cherish the pop singles with the comic videos that nobody would have guessed they could make: Catch, Lullaby, Why Can’t I Be You, Just Like Heaven, Inbetween Days, Close To Me … The Cure are one of Britain’s greatest singles bands, right up there with Madness and the Pet Shop Boys and Bananarama and Slade and the Beatles.

But give me their gory years any time. “Something small falls out of your mouth and we laugh … A prayer for something better … Please love me, meet my mother, the fear takes hold …” This is all of my favourite dark art, film and literature in one song: Bacon, King, Dix, Poe, Carpenter, Schwitters, Leigh, Gilliam, Rothko (come on – the colours!), McCarthy, Dickinson, Cummings, Owen, Sutherland, Nash, Steadman, Scarfe, Pinter. When I was an art student, I created a calendar whose imagery was extrapolated from Robert Smith’s lyrics; for “Ambition in the back of a black car,” I stole licks from Ralph Steadman and drew a stretched, hearse-like limousine in chalky pastels, with a pair of female legs akimbo from the passenger windows. My own interpretation may not stand up to the test of time, or taste, but the lyric abides as English literature.

If I ever do curate The 143 albums, Pornography will be one of the first admitted. From this track through to the almost atonal, grumbling title track, via as close as it dares come to a pop tune, Siamese Twins (recently used for a montage in The Americans, and performed live on some Arts Council magazine show in 1983 while two fantastic, whiteface ballet dancers violently entwined themselves to it amid dry ice) and the almost heart-stopping Strange Day (in which “the sky and the impossible explode”), it glows like a nuclear sun on the horizon. One One Hundred Years, the reason we are gathered here today, Fat Bob is “sharing the world with slaughtered pigs.” One year later? “We missed you, hissed the Lovecats.” The boy needed therapy.

*Let’s credit designer Ben Kelly and photographer Michael Kostiff while we’re singing praises.

The Temptations, It’s Growing (1965)

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Artist: The Temptations
Title: It’s Growing
Description: single
Label: Motown
Release date: 1965
First heard: circa 1997

When I say that I first heard It’s Growing, a gem-like exhibition match from the Temptations’ David Ruffin-dominated purple patch between 1964 and 1967, in 1997, it’s entirely plausible that I heard it without identifying it at any stage via the infectious medium of radio between its release in the year I was born and the year I started to really sit down and take stock of the Temptations’ vocal genius. For some reason, I hooked into a fulsome Temptations greatest-hits around that time, when I had literally given up my day job and set about researching and writing my first book, Still Suitable For Miners. (There was something about immersing myself in Billy Bragg that called for a more Catholic listening palette, from classic soul, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Phil Ochs, to militant modern folkies Leon Rosselson and Dick Gaughan, and the guvnor, Woody Guthrie.) In the acknowledgements of the book, I give thanks to the Temptations, along with Clipper tea and my asthma medication!

The music of whichever magical combination of Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, “Al” Bryant, David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards applies has remained a constant restorative balm. The two distinct phases of the Temptations’ career showcase the God-given songwriting and studio skills of Smokey Robinson, Bobby Rodgers and Ronnie White, then Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. It’s Growing – which rises to the top for me because of its audaciously clanky piano intro and a frankly ill-advised but unique production decision involving a pair of claves – comes from the first phase, written by Smokey and fellow Miracle Pete Moore and laid down by Robinson.

There are better known songs, some simply thrilling – Get Ready, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, I Know I’m Losing You – others a bit schmaltzy for my tastes – My Girl, Just My Imagination – but this one starts better than any other song that rolled off Berry Gordy’s production line during that golden era, except perhaps Baby Love. That disarmingly simple, high-pitched piano signature, not a riff but a warm-up and picked out, it seems, on a pub upright by the Funk Brothers’ Earl Van Dyke (probably), topped by a rolling drum fill of the type that was sampled forever after from the 80s on, again probably Benny Benjamin or Uriel Jones. It fills my heart with gladness each time it comes on. The plangent brass helps.

The Temps are on fine vocal form, naturally, and if the verses weren’t the greatest they were ever given to wrap their ascendingly variegated tonsils around (“Like a snowball rolling down the side of a snow-covered hill” is a bit lazy with its double use of the word “snow”; “like the size of a fish that a man claims broke his reel” doesn’t even rhyme), the plain-speaking chorus is lovely: “My love for you just grows and grows … and where it’s going to stop, nobody knows.”

As for the ridiculously intrusive “clack” of those claves towards the climax of the song, it must have seemed like a whizzo idea at the time to pitch it so high in the mix. On headphones, it’s like a really precise woodpecker tapping the side of your skull; not the effect imagined by Smokey and Moore, we must assume. I used to love it when my colleague at Q, John Aizlewood, dismissed pretty much all music from the 50s and 60s because “it wasn’t produced properly.” I concede the claves decision in It’s Growing to his case for the prosecution, and yet, I love it so, “clack” and all.

Musically, it’s of a type with Dock Of The Bay (not yet written in 1965) – and Just My Imagination, less surprisingly – and has the same lazy gait as the later Otis classic, but no less soul. The age of the singer-songwriter had yet to take hold and it was no crime against authenticity for a gifted, chemically-balanced vocal group to translate the songs of an industrial writing unit. Any snobbery about artists who don’t write their own songs can be shot down with the word “Motown.” The fleet-footed ingenuity of musicians like Robinson, and later Barrett and Strong, runs through these classic pop songs without subtracting from the deft broadcasting skills of these angelic frontmen and women. The Temps line-up may have mutated (it’s growing) in the ensuing years – indeed, I think I’m right in saying that only Otis Williams survives in the current touring incarnation – but the body of work bespeaks longevity and immortality.

If you had to strip their output down to, say, half a dozen tunes, to the more obvious My Girl, Get Ready, Just My Imagination, Papa Was A Rolling Stone and Ball Of Confusion, I’d say the missing jigsaw piece was It’s Growing.

The Fall, L.A. (1985)

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Artist: The Fall
Title: L.A.
Description: B-side, Cruiser’s Creek; album track, This Nation’s Saving Grace
Label: Beggars Banquet
Release date: 1985
First heard: 1985

To put this choice into context, here are 32 other songs by The Fall which might equally occupy this hallowed seat, and in fact, do:

Cruiser’s Creek
Muzorewi’s Daughter
Totally Wired
Living Too Long
Lucifer Over Lancashire
C.R.E.E.P.
Australians In Europe
Hit The North Pt 2
Guest Informant
The Container Drivers
Black Monk Theme Pt 1
Hilary
British People In Hot Weather
Ride Away
What About Us
I Can Hear The Grass Grow
Early Days Of Channel Fuhrer
Mere Pseud Mag Ed
Who Makes The Nazis?
New Big Prinz
Bad News Girl
Cab It Up
Glam Racket
I’m Going To Spain
A Past Gone Mad
Garden
Barmy
Spoilt Victorian Child
Couldn’t Get Ahead
Gut Of The Quantifier
My New House
There’s A Ghost In My House

And even that’s not a definitive list. I could draw up another 32 right now. I don’t think I need state which late-nite DJ introduced me to The Fall. I am certain it was in 1980, when I had just turned 15, and lived the cliché of the kid listening to a transistor radio after dark, under the bedsheets, with a single waxy earpiece in. (Within a few years, I would be listening with parental permission, with my finger hovering over the pause button on a tape recorder. I wish I still had those cassettes, with their occasional disembodied intro or outro from Peel, although the songs on them are forever burned into my brain’s own internal hard drive.)

I don’t know it if was the screeching, dual-speed Musorewi’s Daughter from 1979’s Dragnet, or the stuttering, beguiling The Container Drivers from 1980’s Grotesque, or whether it was the original or a Peel Session version, but whichever song came first floored me at once. I was Mark E Smith’s forever. The more beaty Totally Wired, in its scribbly sleeve, was my first Fall purchase, in 1980, and it led to a lifetime of future purchases. I believe my Fall collection is the largest of any artist. They must be my favourite band.

Why L.A.? Well, This Nation’s Saving Grace abides as my favourite album, maybe because it was the first one I’d purchased the week it was released, like a real fan. My friends at the time were not Fall fans. My devotion was one that defied peer pressure. Some nights I felt it was between me and John Peel. And then I arrived at the NME in 1988 and found a modest but passionate support group. When features editor James Brown whisked Mark E Smith through the art room where I worked and I was suddenly breathing his Rothmans air, I was dumbstruck. He asked, out loud, “How do you spell ‘appalling’?” and I opened my mouth and something came out. It was this: “A.P.P.A.L.L.I.N.G.”

Why L.A.? Because it’s driven by a chuffing synthesised sound and a keyboard pulse, and some of Karl Burns’ heaviest but metronomically tumbling drums, and most of it feels like an instrumental, with that dirty twanging guitar and guttural bass, the vocals more of a wash than a foregrounded detail: Mark E Smith sort of coughing along and occasionally spelling out the title: “L – L – L – L – A – A – A – A – A- A …” He squeals in the distance, then intones words and phrases that add up to little more than “Odeon … sky … canny … bushes … something something … heat”, after which Brix drawls something garbled about a “happening” that “freaks me out“. And yet, for all its confusion and smoke and blurgh, it says Los and it says Angeles. It’s certainly a long way from Salford and the dark, satanic mills on the sleeve illustration. This is a cool group.

I’ve always defined Mark E Smith as a beat poet, but with a trucker’s beat (a trucker’s beat poet), and one who knows the value of a good riff.

Why L.A., above all others? Why the fuck not? It is my happening, and it freaks me out.

 

P.S.: It has been pointed out to me that L.A. was Peel’s least favourite Fall track. That’s rather poetic.