Ex Post Pop Facto: get it over with and confess your guilty pleasures

Get it over with and confess your Guilty Pleasures

Paul Higson

We all have one in the record collection, that A-side that time forgot, the groove that never quite did... groove. Well, if it is in the record collection then it is unlikely to qualify as what has been newly dubbed a 'guilty pleasure'. A 'guilty pleasure' is that song that you never bought, the chart topper that you chased in radio transmissions until it departed the charts thereupon only to be heard periodically when accidentally tuning into Radio 2. If it was in the record collection you likely played it to death or until it was at the very least overly familiar. There is always that comfort of proximity with the vinyl you possess. The guilty pleasures are the tracks outside the collection that pop in on the air like old friends who so rarely visit that you worry when next you will hear from them if ever. You know it is only dropping by for three and a half minutes and you savour every second. Then again you may have a Peel of a collection in a room walled-in by CDs years ago to which you have for some considerable time had no access. Having said that, when did I last play I Love You by Yello or Peekaboo by Devo, and no matter how much I played them and they became part of the aural décor of my bedroom in their day, I'm not in that bedroom now and what torrent of pleasure might they pour over me if played back now in these new rooms. The rules hitherto set down have been all too vague, but we all have a snap understanding of them. It is largely down to one's personal requirements of any piece of music, and I would catchy in both verse and chorus, and in what ever segues the two is compulsory.

Nostalgia is key, a catapult back to bygone days, in my case those of 'Dandelion and Burdock' pop, Mint Cracknel (for those out of the know this lethal sweet was a layer of mint shards of glass surrounded by a thin layer of dark chocolate) and the Saturday morning visit to the newsagent for this week's issue of Bullet. The first 10 years after childhood you chase Christmas in the same way and if the love of Christmas slips away it is because of the inevitably nine-monthly turnaround (it begins in October, admit it, something to do with the Baby Jesus' gestation, the commercial organisers will probably tell us) until that cloying, indefinable special something that is no more than a misalignment of emotion and senses, is finally bludgeoned to the back of the brain. Guilty pleasure in pop music will never suffer the same; will never be given the time for again ruinous overindulgent airplay. Lyrical and musical quirkiness and an unusual voice riding imaginative compositions, that is the essential deal here.

I was a late record purchaser and the posters on the wall didn't correspond with the music I would eventually spend pence on or would become guilty pleasures. The 1970s are the heyday of the guilty pleasures but the late 1960s were as awash with novelty hits and the New Wave movement of the turn of the 1980s was last real guaranteed ground for guilty pleasures for nearly two decades. Post-1982 was a bleak period in the history of British music when chart-toppers were all backbeat and marketing, musical creativity made way for Pete Waterman's pandering to nascent little ears, exploiting the ignorance of schoolchildren to control the charts and airwaves. It still happens today, and the resulting sounds are as ghastly as ever, but at the close of the millennium Destiny's Child and William Orbit gave us music that we had to chase like those tunes of yore and set a new creative benchmark for prefab artistes and real talent alike as they came in. Twenty years from now the current generation will have something to beat nostalgic on, which the last few generations will be forever lost on.

Oddly enough, despite the heavy practice of sampling that seems to hit many sullying their guilty pleasures, I appear luckily to have been left alone if my list is anything to go by. Obviously, the current crop of untalented magpies are listening out for sounds that have already been sampled by others, hence the umpteenth steal of every Gary Numan hit he ever had. Some artistes you would expect to be in there but are not. Adam And The Ants, for example, though the reason they don't normally qualify is because their worst was clearly awful and their best was too obscure. The Kings Of The Wild Frontier tracks had the airplay and no longer do but those hits were the soundtrack to a harsh winter and Antmusic is more likely to evoke the frozen stomp home for the next instalment of The Hammer House Of Horror and guilty pleasures are only possible as aural doorways to sunnier, happier times. A summery tune in winter and a Christmas carol on the beach simply isn't right. Adam could have been a contender and upon deserting that non-starter film career he revived Dirk Wears White Sox era numbers live again, proving he still had it, sadly at a time when no-one so much as considered taking notice. Probably for the better, success would only have led to more ego-shinola. Abba and Queen one would imagine have been great and guilty pleasure-pushers but they continue to be big, otherwise, Freddie Mercury and the boys, in particular, would be principal players on the 'guilty pleasures' play-list again.

Stars in resuscitation there should be as a result of this new old-movement. Those with individual back catalogues of sparking, tremulous, curling, swooning, soaring, conniving melodic song could be top-lined by Boney M, Supertramp and Wings, three groups with an above average ratio of the guiltily pleasurable, while Cliff Richard is notoriously naff enough to qualify a number of his 1960s, 1970s and 1980s songs from Congratulations through to Wired For Sound for an entire LP of bop bliss unto himself. ELO are burgeoning and 10cc too are on the verge of entering this top clique.

The movement's guru is DJ Sean Rowley who had the courage to play both the embarrassing and the brilliant on his Radio London show and subsequently released a compilation under that moniker, Guilty Pleasures, courtesy of Sony last August.

So let's imagine there is still such a thing as a C-90 and how one might fill it. I understand you have something called an MP3 nowadays so you might just be able to fit as many of these on one of those newfangled devices.

Yes Sir, I Can Boogie from Spanish lovelies Baccara, my first real pop-land crush, and they were a twin-set. Disco is a sure-fire environment for guilty pleasures because not only does it automatically dredge up the styles but also the moves of a best forgotten than begotten era. The sultry duo of Maria Mendiola and Mayte Mateos seduced us under strings that swan and build to a sexually aggressive chorus of assertive statement and thrusting fiddle. In their figure describing black dresses they bumped David Soul from the top slot, if only for one week, before being forced off the dance-floor themselves by Abba. In 2003 Goldfrapp included a barely discernable cover version in their live set, an unforgivable weak moment from Alison. In 2001 she did a job on Olivia Newton-John's Physicalwith the grand excuse that the original was a sexy subject not sexily sung. If reason was the same for this cover then I'm sorry, girl, but unlike Newton-John, our two Iberian brunettes were sexy deliverers. (RCA)

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - a cover of the Beathles' number from Scottish outfit Marmalade, who had a little tussle with The Scaffold for the top slot, but whose happy go lucky attitude and tune to match warranted three out of four weeks in the prime position back in 1969. It trotted and strutted, rose and dipped and soared every time into its chorus. It apparently still gets some airplay in America, though in the aftermath of 11th September was proposed for a list of unsuitable songs for radio play, apparently too happy and joyous a track. Still though, preferable to the female student who tried to raise the spirits of her compatriots at the girls school as they headed for the nearest bridge by encouraging them into a chorus of It's Raining Men. (CBS)

Dreamer by Supertramp. "Can you put your hands in your head... oh no!" was the question of 1975. The high voice of the singer would squeeze the title word out and then with a little pony trot would link it back to the chorus. Mysteriously, Supertramp would struggle until the mass clearout forced by punk and then they were suddenly acceptable again with Breakfast In America and The Logical Song(another recent sample victim by useless no-hopers), more joy by the earful. The turn of the 1980s was a time of great musical diversity, and those pop hopefuls that did not survive punk had no excuse, as Supertramp, Sad Café, ELO, Dr Hook, and disco artistes galore did make it through. If you weren't still around the charts in 1979 then it was probably because you were resolutely crap. (A&M)

Wonderful Christmastime from Paul McCartney and Wings. With McCartney you could get great tracks and here is a double bill. This again came in the pit of a cold winter, mice in the wall cavity on one side of me, a tinny radio on the other, but thematically it was at least appropriate. It had jingly bells, strategically placed, and it was the single of the week, played every hour on the hour on Radio Luxemburg and as the single of the week the week previous had been You've Got My Number by The Undertones, which I bought, you just know it had to be true. Of course, with Christmas songs you didn't have to buy the single because they were still playing Slade every year and so you could look forward to hearing Wonderful Christmastime every year also. Couldn't you? (Parlophone)

7teen by The Regents, the importantly short-lived pop punk band, yet to be given their due by David Fincher. The two girls vocal combination, an enthusiastic caterwaul taking us through a well-structured pop song with more than two stages to it; an epic in miniature, just one of the mini-wonders that took us into the 1980s with a deceptive wonder. (Rialto)

Cry Boy Cry by Blue Zoo, who sang "this distraction turns me sideways" and in a foretaste of Babylon Zoo, a future guilty pleasure to be sure, a pretty boy sings very sonorously and is repeatedly goosed into a high pitch, though I do suspect it may have been studio tweaked into that falsetto. While Tears For Fears sang despondently beautiful songs, Blue Zoo cranked it up with this delirious, rollicking, electronic opus. One of the great things about guilty pleasures is that you are never embarrassed by your choice. They got to #13 and onto Top Of The Pops with it. If only Vision had made the charts with Lucifer's Friends (and not the charts at #74 with Love Dance). If only we'd not gone to war. (Magnet)

January from Pilot is an inarguable classic of the genre despite its nigh frequent revival. 1975 was a peak year for the pert pop numbers, almost ironic as tracks come in that though launched in the month in question it actually went to #1 on February 1st and stayed there for most of the month. They were a group capable of more perfect pop. They were songwriters who knew not to sicken us like Paper Lace or ultimately wonder as to why like The Arrows. Sadly, the fourth hit from Pilot was in the following September. It was the last January their musical career was ever to see. (EMI)

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle Of The Road, again from Scotland and a clearly drunken Scotland. What on earth was it they twittering on about? There was a narrative though, bless 'em! But Glaswegians wondering where your mamma and papa and baby had gone and chirruping like lovebirds! This was incredibly cutesy and fabulous pop, fronted by Sally Carr. And if any band on the planet was to ever cover the song who could they possibly be? Lush, you might joke. No, really, Lush did cover it. (RCA)

Everyday Hurts by Sad Café, which in retrospect had some aspect of a care in the community case about it, as it mounts into the chorus going into a gibber of "every single day, every single day," like a frantic parrot during a burglary in Miles Platting. Importantly, it was melodic despite that. It was the end of 1979 and yet it could have been... oh...1975. It was a window of hope for the pleasure pop brigade. Five chart singles and then, at the end of 1980, the plug on the life support system was pulled. I blame Bill Wyman's solo career. (RCA)

Carrie by Cliff Richard, who certainly couldn't be put to blame. Yes, at this point I am supposed to bring in Wired For Sound but with so many people recently confessing an appreciation of that track, and with so many in his oeuvre that could well qualify, from Power To All Our Friends and Congratulations to Green Light and We Don't Talk Anymore, it was inevitable that with 125 chart songs and 1152 weeks in the charts there had to a couple of decent songs from his writers. On Carrieit was B.A. Robertson and Terry Britten composing, lyrics of compact narrative in a deceptively fragile but tightly held tune. Robertson's next assignments were the themes for Maggie and Woganand banishment from the kingdom of pop. (EMI)