Diana Ross, Upside Down (1980)

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Artist: Diana Ross
Title: Upside Down
Description: single; album track, Diana
Label: Motown
Release date: 1980
First heard: 1980

Respectfully I say to thee …

Because life isn’t perfect, I sold my entire vinyl record collection to a voluble sounds-trader called Rob in 2005. Hundreds of circles went in the back of his truck bound for Newcastle and what was then a shopless mail-order service (he’s since reopened the shop, which I would love one day to visit). I hope those records that have been subsequently re-sold went to happy homes. They certainly came from one.

Of course I’m tinged with sentimental hoarder’s regret, but the back-breaking collection had come with us twice when moving house and with another move on the horizon, we made the Big Decision to set the LPs and 12-inch singles free, and clear some physical and psychological space. Every significant LP had been replaced on CD in any case, and that supposedly “compact” collection in itself was arduous enough to lift. Of course I was sad to see a few items of sentimental value go, but I squared it with myself by keeping back all of my seven-inch singles. Every single one. These now occupy a hefty flight case in the eaves and act as as a musical photo album. Flick through the 600 or so singles and each produces a Proustian memory.

And so to the seven-inch of Upside Down by Diana Ross. This, I can tell you with total confidence, I purchased in St Helier in Jersey in the Channel Islands while on a family holiday in July 1980. Staying in a hotel called the Merton, it was the Collins family’s first ever catered holiday after years in North Wales farmhouses and bungalows, and our first across a body of water. The quick-witted will have already deduced that this seven-inch single in its monochrome paper sleeve was a useless item. I couldn’t play it until we got home a week later. So why did I buy it?

I bought it because I was 15 and at that enraptured time measured out my life in seven-inch singles. These were affordable with saved pocket money and fitted snugly into the handled record box we all carried. I bought Upside Down as a trophy, because even though I was on holiday, the accumulation of seven-inch singles need not be put on hold. With limited funds, the choice of a single was no quick decision made lightly. Planning was involved. The selection process was complex. You didn’t want to waste your next turn.

I suspect we had extra spending money that fortnight because we were on holiday. I asked Twitter how much a seven-inch single retailed for in 1980 and the hive mind reckons between 99p and £1.29. It would have been a chart single as it went to number 2 and I suspect the record shop I bought it in would have been a Woolies and nothing too specialist? (Residents of Jersey at that time will be able to confirm this.) So let’s assume I set aside a pound which might otherwise have gone on a paperback or a miniature bottle of spirits (which I’d convinced my parents were collectable) and spent it on a piece of black extruded polyvinyl that I could only look at.

Such was the heady power of pop music. Now, Upside Down – a fastidiously produced nugget of disco funk from the Chic Organisation used to flag up the May-released Diana album – was not my usual poison, musically speaking. In 1980 I was all about angular post-punk and way more likely to be getting a penny change from a pound note at the record shop for Totally Wired, Holiday In Cambodia or Feeling Alright With The Crew.

That said, I was going to youth club discos at the time, because that’s where the girls were at, and among my immediate circle of friends, both Craig McKenna and Andy Bonner had begun to invest in disco 12-inches, which had piqued my interest with their executive-length and predominantly beat-driven mixes. If I didn’t hear Upside Down at a disco, I’d be surprised. I fell for it instantly and for reasons visceral not intellectual or even social. That it didn’t quite fit into my handled record box, as it were, was possibly part of its appeal. And at least it had a picture sleeve, which wasn’t a prerequisite of disco singles.

But I feel I appreciate its artistry more keenly now. I gamely attempted to copy Tony Thompson’s immaculately fluid drum fills at the time with rulers on a stool without even knowing his name, or fully appreciating that the people who made Le Freak, which I was also dancing to at discos, had made Upside Down. There is much I didn’t know then that I know now; crucially, that Miss Ross got into a funk with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards as she didn’t like their final cut of the LP, going so far as to remix it herself with an in-house producer. Motown put out her version and inflamed the wrath of Chic’s learned friends. It all got a bit nasty. Which is a shame, as the album – whose subsequent hit singles the declamatory I’m Coming Out and jaunty My Old Piano are also spectacular – does not sound of acrimony or post-rationalisation.

The lyric may not be Shakespeare – “Upside down you’re turning me, you’re giving love instinctively” – but the use of “thee” in “respectfully I say to thee” is cute and in any case, Ross’s voice, high in the mix (maybe higher than intended), is light, sexy and seamlessly authoritative throughout, aware of its space and reflected off the mirrored architecture of the Chic sound: Rodgers’ much-copied masturbatory guitar (the song is counted in by a jitter), Edwards’ spare bass and Thompson’s airtight beat, while the Chic Strings punctuate skywards. The single edit runs some 30 seconds shorter than the album version and gives Rodgers the elbow room to freak out a bit, but even in the fade, Thompson’s tactile curlicues are memorable, each concentrated splash of Zildjian a graphic marker flag. I’ve attempted in adult life to “learn” the drums on this track, and the sequence is beyond my capabilities. We may never see the late Mr Thompson’s like again.

Maybe I should have saved up the extra 50p and purchased the 12-inch in St Helier, although it would only have been the four-minute album track. With singles, the selection process was complex. But I didn’t waste my next turn.

Dave Brubeck Quartet, Take Five (1959)

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Artist: Dave Brubeck Quartet
Title: Take Five
Description: single; album track, Time Out
Label: Columbia
Release date: 1959
First heard: circa 1970

How do you pinpoint when you first heard one of the most popular jazz hits of all time? Especially one recorded before your parents had even got married. It feels to me as if Take Five has always been in the background, either as the accompaniment to some TV show, laid across a montage or played over a testcard. I may have first heard it in the womb in late 1964 and early 1965, or in my cot thereafter. I usually stick a pin in 1970 as the year I first became aware of which songs I was actually hearing through the radio (the birth of a collector and archivist), although TV theme tunes lodged much earlier, as there’s a feted reel-to-reel recording of me, aged two, parroting the themes to The Monkees, Z-Cars and Dee Time into a fuzzy mic, much to my Dad’s glee.

In a way, it’s immaterial. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that Take Five is the best-selling jazz single of all time and the first to sell a million copies. But since jazz was never really a singles club (and Take Five was a five-and-a-half minute album track by birth, talked down to three for release as a 45 with Blue Rondo A La Turk by CBS boss Goddard Lieberson), it’s the wrong yardstick. What’s remarkable about it is the fact that an instrumental workout in quintuple time inspired by Turkish folk music Brubeck had heard on tour became a hit at all.

I’ve stated elsewhere that jazz entered my life in a more conscious way in the mid-80s, when the form was infusing much of the modern indie pop I was listening to (blimey, including The Cure) and sounding a lot like summer. Also, I’d met a card-carrying jazz musician and expert, fellow art student Dave Keech, whose influence on my musical outlook was as seismic as that of Frank Wilson, my first 6 Music producer, 20 years later. Both men bent my ear away from the pale-faced 4/4 rock that dominated my core. Ironic, you might say, that the first jazz entry in The 143 should come from a white pianist and composer, but the two-tone multi-ethnicity of postwar jazz is what made it so appealing to so many kids in the shadow of the Atom bomb, as likely to tap a toe to the cool jazz of Stan Getz, Chet Baker or Gerry Mulligan as Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie. (By the way, don’t be impressed by the way these names trip off my typing fingers; I had literally never heard of these people before Keech became the jazzmaster to my Grasshopper at Nene College.)

Brubeck’s writing partner, saxophonist Paul Desmond, who composed Take Five, was also white. (I just read on Wikipedia that he bequeathed his royalties to the American Red Cross, who still get a “check” every year. What a swell guy.) We have Joe Morello to bow down to for that smoky beat, and Eugene Wright for the sparing stand-up bass, although it’s the foregrounded alchemy of Brubeck’s languid ivory-tickling and Desmond’s airy sax that clinches the tune. You don’t need to be a scholar to surmise that jazz is less about the composition and more about the execution. In this, it’s closer to eternally interpretable classical than the fixed formulas of pop. It’s not dance music, and can be appreciated seated, but let’s not dismiss nodding as anything other than a valid and primal response.

It’s wordless. A play without dialogue. A tune sung by percussion and wind. In this, it’s pretty unique among the “songs” the comprise The 143. We’ve welcomed Archangel by Burial, whose voices are only fragments; I can easily see Green Onions finding a seat here; something from John Murphy’s 28 Weeks Later soundtrack is shortlisted; and distinct passages of Autobahn are instrumental, another essential tune that’s very possibly coming over the hill. But Take Five goes further than all of these contenders, because, in the collective bones of the Quartet, it doesn’t quite know where it’s going, or how it will it all turn out. In this and only this respect is it like the TV series Lost.

Recorded jazz is almost a contradiction in terms. But it’s how we preserve and the Time Out rendition is as near as dammit. Purists will tell you that it’s better on vinyl, too, where, for instance Morello’s kick drum really kicks. I will take this on advisement, for I have not the hardware to play vinyl. Certainly, the key jazz sides I taped off Keech in 1984 were flat and pre-digital, and they were my tablets of stone for a good few years.

Some detail. I will always love a tune that begins with a beat, because the drum is the only instrument I have ever been able to master, but how unintrusive the intro on Take Five, the ride cymbal almost literally tickled and the snare tapped by expertly pulled punches. And how regular and conventional the 5/4 quickly becomes. The high alto coos like a pigeon; it summons images of summer breezes, ceiling fans and open windows – jazz on a summer’s day – while that piano doggedly presses its delicate but hard-wearing underfelt into place beneath. (You may say it’s a thankless task for the bandleader with his name above the title to keep insistently looping that piano signature, but where would we all be without it?) I think I’m right in saying that only on the album version does Morello get to “go round the kit” quite as much as the full length permits. I’m latterly so hooked on the five-and-a-half-minuter I can’t even recall what the foreshortened precis sounds like. It’s unfettered at executive length and yet never reckless or indulgent.

I’m listening to it now. Background music? By definition if you take into the account the way Take Five entered my consciousness by osmosis without ever introducing itself and how snugly it provides accompaniment to imagery. But only if you treat what happens in the background with the utmost respect. True “background music” is exposed if you listen too hard to it. Not this.

Pet Shop Boys, Always On My Mind (1987)

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Artist: Pet Shop Boys
Title: Always On My Mind
Description: single
Label: Parlophone
Release date: 1987
First heard: 1987

It’s funny. I’ve been dipping randomly in and out of The 143 while on the move, trying to decide which song to enshrine next. After quite a lot of trekking between meetings and appointments one rainy London day last week, I had a handful of contenders. Then I got home, dried off, ate some dinner and watched Episode 2 of Season 2 of The Newsroom. Towards the end, as is Aaron Sorkin’s wont, they had Will McAvoy refer to a song playing in the newshounds’ local bar (it had been The Who’s You Better You Bet in Episode 1): this time, it was the whiny 1982 Willie Nelson version of Always On My Mind, which Will declared to be “the best version, even better than Elvis’s.” I like Nelson well enough, but he’s wrong. This is the best version, and it is even better than Elvis’s.

Whether or not you agree that Always On My Mind is the Pet Shop Boys’ best song is another matter. There are so many to choose from. But I believe it to be the case. And that’s not to belittle the rich catalogue of hits they’ve written for themselves. I love those, too. The Pet Shops Boys are among this country’s finest ever singles artists.

Since it is a cover – and a great song is not a great song without a great version –  I am duty bound to tell you that it was a country tune written by Johnny Christopher, Mark James and Wayne Carson, and first recorded by Brenda Lee in 1972. The torrid Elvis version came out the same year – such haste! Willie’s followed in 1982, and the imperious Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe covered it in 1987 to mark the 10th anniversary of Elvis’s death on some ITV spectacular that I never saw, on account of always being out in pubs in Tooting on Saturday nights at the time. It became their third number one, and, so I gather, their best selling UK single.

My main memory of getting into the Pet Shop Boys – and I fell instantly on hearing West End Girls during its second bite of the chart cherry in 1985, despite, or perhaps because, it didn’t quite fit into what I thought of as “my” music in those first years of college (ie. it was neither Wagnerian nor jingly-jangly, my longitude and latitude) – was admiration for the whole package. I felt the same way about Frankie Goes To Hollywood: the music, the look, the design, the philosophy, everything counted, and it was all up there on the screen, as it were. Buying Please, then Actually, via the first remix album Disco, I felt I was buying into something urbane and clever and graphic, something distillable into one-word titles. All that white space.

I don’t mind telling you, as we’re among friends: I bought a horizontal blue-and-white striped t-shirt and wore it under a reversable black/cream hooded top with a neat, canvas baseball hat in tribute. I was so Paninaro. It coincided with fancying myself as a bit of a B-boy, and the lightness of being, after the choking Goth years, was bearable.

Always On My Mind feels like it was already number one when I first heard it, which may well have been via Top Of The Pops or the Chart Show. (Joss Ackland!) The Pet Shop Boys were a big pop act. There was nothing underground or show-offy about liking the Pet Shop Boys. And yet they were an intellectual cut above the synth-driven competition (“Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat” – that was their catchphrase), aloof to the point of self-parody and JSE (Just Sleazy Enough).  Spicy hints of the illicit homosexual subculture, the power to revive a gay icon like Dusty Springfield and a song about rent boys, you could read what you liked into the essentially vanilla intentions of Always On My Mind. Its synth pulse pumps new life into what is a country song, but the sincerity of the sentiment is not lost in Tennant’s characteristically nasal delivery. Some find him detached. I find him merely semi-detached.

I illustrate with the candy-striped sleeve of third album Introspective, as that, in 1988, is where the hit single was subsequently homed, albeit remixed and conjoined with In My House. (If you know the album, you’ll be familiar with the way, at around three minutes in, Tennant trills “You were always …” and instead of “on my mind,” drops down a synthesised octave for the surprise ending “in my house,” at which the song transmutes.) This is not the definitive item, but I’m fond of it, as I listened to this album a lot, so worth mentioning.

You will find Elvis’s entry in The 143 here, and elsewhere, one or two just-as-magnificent covers.

Scott Walker, Montague Terrace (In Blue) (1967)

Scott_WalkerScott

Artist: Scott Walker
Title: Montague Terrace (In Blue)
Description: album track, Scott
Label: Philips
Release date: 1967
First heard: 1990

Yes. I, too, was hoodwinked into the Easy Listening revival of the mid-90s when Mike Flowers stalked the earth. I, too, remembered with ironic fondness my parents’ Jack Jones and Andy Williams LPs, and enjoyed revisiting them with a straight face. But some years before it was officially decreed that “loungecore” and the theme to Animal Magic were cool, in 1990, PolyGram put out Boy Child, a fine 20-track compilation of Scott Walker’s best work, and it was with 100% sincerity that I lost myself in it.

Dimly aware of his work with the Walker Brothers through the pop radio of my youth, up to that point he’d not crossed my radar as this spicy cavalier of sleazy Euro-theatricality, from Hamilton, Ohio to swinging London via Brussels and Paris. Boy Child duly pointed me at his solo work, the albums so helpfully numbered for my listening pleasure. I knew less about Jacques Brel and only belatedly discovered that Walker was instrumental in popularising Eric Blau and Mort Shuman’s English translations, including a handful on Scotts 1-3, where he was clearly feeling the Brel influence on his self-penned tracks.

I’m still captivated by his whip-cracking, high-salt-content interpretations of Brel numbers like Jackie, Amsterdam, My Death, Next and The Girls And The Dogs, with their politically incorrect talk of “queers” and “procuring young girls”. However, it’s important to note that many of my favourite Walker tracks are neither the work of Brel and his co-writers, nor covers at all, but credited to Noel Scott Engel himself.

Having thrown myself into a Scott Walker maelstrom in order to sift out my all-time favourite, I find myself almost physically unable to listen to anything else. It all seems so mechanical, faceless and fashion-led by comparison. (This is not to do a disservice to All Other Music, but to accentuate what makes the sound of Scott Walker so different, so appealing.) As well as this piece de resistance, I’m also super-fond of Engel compositions Plastic Palace People (more of a suite), The Girls From The Streets (which you’d swear was a Brel original) and Always Coming Back To You. But I am not alone, I suspect, in falling deeply in love with Montague Terrace. (Nor looking for the actual street, in vain. I read somewhere that it’s in Bromley, not the West End, although I seem to recall Stuart Maconie recording a link for a Scott Walker radio documentary in Montague Street in Bloomsbury as if that was enough.)

The orchestral arrangement by Wally Stott* (how excited was I when I discovered a link between Walker and Tony Hancock, whose theme and incidental music Stott composed?) is sublime. The expectant strings, the tinkle of the chimes, Walker crooning as if out of an open window at the moon: “The only sound to tear through the night comes from the man upstairs.” This man’s “bloated belching” and imagined propensity to “crash through the ceiling soon” evoke a similarly seedy, cheapside, harbour-lit milieu to one Brel might have painted. And then that crack of drums.

The orchestra swirls around the narrator, as if in some West End musical, Walker nudged into the background by the swell as he hits the lamenting heights with a brass-backed chorus that finally names Montague Terrace … in blue. The reveal of its colour scheme delivers us back to the limpid quiet of the intro. It’s just what grunge would do 25 years later when Walker was approved for a new generation: quiet verse, loud chorus. Or in his case, limpid verse, oompah-pah chorus.

I love the percussion. I love the shifts from foreground to background. But I love Walker’s acrobatic voice most of all. The image I conjure is of Fenella Fielding’s vamp in Carry On Screaming (released the year before), who asks Det Sgt Bung, “Do you mind if I smoke?” and then starts to literally smoulder on the chaise longue until she disappears beneath the erotic fug. There goes Scott Walker into that lively pea souper. He loves a party with a slightly threatening atmosphere. Especially if there might be some sailors. And a girl whose “thighs are full of tales to tell.”

Interestingly, as a student in the mid-80s, ahead of the curve, I’d compiled Mum and Dad’s easy listenin’ LPs onto a cassette one summer – perhaps as arch respite from the endless Goth, psychobilly and 4AD arthouse. Either way, I appreciated the potency of this expensive music. And Scott Walker’s first four solo albums – the last of which contained no covers, no Brel, the stablilisers were off – remain four of my favourites. Only Morrissey, Eno, McCartney and Peter Gabriel could make a claim for the greatness of their first four solo albums after being in a successful group.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going off to listen to Scott Walker.**

*Subsequently, after 1972, Angela Morley, whose score to Watership Down we often play on my Classic FM programme.

**I did. And I’m going to again today, having just heard the news that Scott Walker has died, aged 76, on March 25, 2019.

Adele, Rolling In The Deep (2011)

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Artist: Adele
Title: Rolling In The Deep
Description: single; album track, 21
Label: XL
Release date: 2011
First heard: 2011

The romantic, disenfranchised outsider I once fancied myself as – in my early 20s, I might add – would no doubt be horrified by a choice of song by one of the biggest artists on the planet; a song from an album that – at time of writing in 2013 – has currently sold around 26 million copies worldwide; a song that in itself has sold well over 10 million copies; a song that is surely playing somewhere right now. But what can you do in the face of such blinding preeminence? To deny a place for Rolling In The Deep would be an act of pure snobbery. Adele is brilliant. Adele, the romantic, franchised insider, is in her 20s.

To say I’ve always liked Adele – her voice, her look, her manner – implies that I was in some way ahead of the pack. I wasn’t. I heard Chasing Pavements in January 2008 when everybody else did. (I prefer Hometown Glory, which had been her debut, but I don’t recall hearing it, even though it went Top 20.) It seems immaterial now but in April 2008 I mischievously posted a picture of Adele and a picture of Duffy on my blog and asked the simple question: “Adele or Duffy?” It drew 67 comments and the debate ranged from “Adele all the way” to “I liked Mercy,” passing through “Neither … Awful cod-soul”. And many mischievously voted for Laura Marling. Ha ha. Hey, I liked Mercy, too, but it seemed like a pertinent either-or for the times.

Either or, Adele won the war. While there are comparably successful female solo artists in the world today, they all seem to have to work so much harder to maintain their position. For Adele, it’s effortless. She sings; the world listens. She’s risen to record-breaking superstar status without touring her backside off, or selling her soul, or – at the time of writing in 2013 – losing a pound in weight, or showing her cleavage, or inviting Hello into her beautiful kitchen. It’s easy to admire her. But she’s not in The 143 because I admire her. Even if she hadn’t co-written Rolling In The Deep and had just sung it, it would be similarly honoured. That she did co-write it – the lyric, as per most of 21, was inspired by a break-up – makes it all the more personal. When she sings, “We could’ve had it a-a-a-aaall“, a young woman who seemingly does have it all, it gets you right there. Where it’s supposed to get you.

To praise her pipes is hardly to go out on a limb. But I love the smokiness in her voice; the cracks; the scratches; the way she pulls back from total vocal acrobatics; always patting her heart. She’s in a fine tradition and it’s not of “cod-soul”. She means it, man. And while her intonation on the poetic Hometown Glory (“short skirts, shorts and shades”) is pure North London, here, she’s gospel, rolling in the deep South, you might say, testifying to the “depths of your despair” and the “scars of love” that make her “breathless.” She can pull this shit off. Though produced by her enabling co-writer Paul Epworth (who also seems to have played a lot of the instruments), Rolling In The Deep nestles between tracks recorded by Rick Rubin, and even though the bulk of those sessions was scrapped, I like to think some of the dirt rubbed off. Allow me that.

Let us praise the arrangement: that understated guitar strum intro; the impact of that ragged bass drum; the pure drama of the sucked hi-hat before it all kicks off. And at one minute (“We could’ve had it all”), we’re into the exquisite but again never showy vocal layering: the lines the backing choir picks out are in clipped parenthesis (“You’re gonna wish you … never had met me … tears are gonna fall … rolling in the deep”), and yet they somehow push Adele’s more drawn-out, emotional crooning side of stage, where she must suffer in isolation. It’s a clever trick. (Seven backing singers are credited on the sleeve; power to them.)

With some songs in The 143, I enjoy the challenge of selling an entry, making it sing for those who aren’t familiar with it. Rolling In The Deep is so familiar, I suspect many treat it as wallpaper. But while many more fashionable items come and go on my iPod, I have found myself returning again and again and again to 19 and 21, and regard them both as landmark albums of the early 21st century. Adele can get more and more successful if she likes. It won’t put me off. Knocking points off her for being popular would be like denying Elvis, or Vivaldi, or Spielberg, or Leonardo Da Vinci. It can’t always be about obscurity and showing off, although both have their place, believe me.

I still like Mercy, by the way.

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, as I was the eldest. Many of my friends did. To generalise wildly, my recollection is that those with older sisters had a greater affinity for soul. As a consequence of having elders to follow, these second or third children developed a more “mature” taste in music, which for 70s boys generally meant progressive rock or heavy metal, and it meant LPs, not 45s. It’s inevitable that younger siblings absorb older music. But if you’re the eldest, you’re the canary in the mineshaft, figuring it out for yourself. (In the years hence, my younger brother Simon used to sneak into my bedroom to listen to my punk records when I was out.) 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 – and 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 electrified 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 45 years later. Can you imagine how many times I’ll have heard it in the interim? (It used to be on Smooth 70s, for a while my default adult 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 self-consciously forsaken ELO in my teens, and found some new bands of my own, I rediscovered Jeff, Bev, Hugh, Kelly, Mik, Richard and Melvyn 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 for cetacean lovers, 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.

ABC, Unzip (1983)

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Artist: ABC
Title: Unzip
Description: album track, from Beauty Stab
Label: Mercury
Release date: 1983
First heard: 1984

It’s not important, by which I mean it’s not important to say that it’s important, but this was the first song I logged as an entry in The 143. Its placement is random, as each inducted song is as vital as the next. I began with ABC not because the group’s name places the song first alphabetically, although the confluence is rather pleasing.

Let’s do this. Having trained myself to love only punk and post-punk music in my early-to-mid teens, it took the more electronic/cinematic sweep of what we called New Romantic music to break my self-imposed spell circa 1980-81. Into the strict buzz of punk rock electric guitar I allowed synthetic beats and beeps, and via the “white funk” of bands like Pigbag, A Certain Ratio, and ABC, and Spandau Ballet’s Chant No. 1, bongos, brass and strings.

We all fell hard for The Lexicon Of Love didn’t we, in that summer of Smash Hits, 1982? It felt like it. To say that ABC injected some glamour back into the people’s music was an understatement. It almost felt like contraband in my record collection, which remained mostly dark and dirty with Bauhaus, B-Movie and the Bunnymen still dominant. I don’t know how I missed Beauty Stab, the gleefully arrogant follow-up, in 1983, but I must have, as it only crossed my radar when I arrived at Ralph West Halls of Residence in Battersea, London, in September 1984. My new neighbour, Stephen Clasper from Morpeth, lent me it, and it knocked me sideways.

It was big and bold, and it had guitars. And where Lexicon swooned, Beauty Stab, well, stabbed. It wasn’t as great a leap sideways as it felt – both LPs were overstated and epic – but this one had blood rushing through it. And although I was taken by the singles That Was Then And This Is Now, and the appeasing S.O.S. (neither of which went Top 10: a mark of its chilly reception), it’s this track that got under my skin and has stayed there all these years. To the point where I have chosen it over ABC’s fireside favourites.

Moving from one founder of ZTT, Trevor Horn, to another, Gary Langan, the sound on Beauty Stab is spare and graphic. Unzip opens with a guitar riff that sounds synthesised, even if it isn’t, and the drums sound triggered, even if they aren’t. It may simply be precision playing (Andy Newmark had George Benson, John Lennon and Pink Floyd under his belt), but it raises the tension for what is clearly an ode to sex. When Fry growls, “Love’s just a gimmick, a mime or a mimic,” he seems to be making a bonfire of his own recent pop past. The sax sounds predatory, the bass is around Joe Cocker bassist Alan Spenner’s knees, and the tom toms are tribal. It’s a new lexicon of lust.

Fry’s sap is certainly rising (“Why take pleasure in censorship?”) and when he delivers the killer line in the second verse, “She’s vegetarian except when it comes to sex,” I blush every time.

It’s all over in under three minutes. As well it might be. I am proud in adult life to have played this song on national radio with Martin Fry in attendance. And I remain grateful to Stephen Clasper for the tip-off. We both leapt on the stuttering cartoon-pop third album How To Be A Zillionaire the week it came out in January ’85, which was another leap again.