These five songs on the Pitchfork 500 are the kind of thing you’d expect to hear on drivetime radio anywhere from California to Krakow. Mixing both European and American bands, all of these bands (aside one) were enormous in the 1970’s, making their fortunes in the great commercial explosion of popular music. Fascinating people too, from Abba’s intertwined romances, through Roxy Music’s son-of-a-coal-miner glamour, Queen’s flamboyant Zanzibari singer, to Bruce Springsteen’s Noo Joisey working class boy made good from hard, hard work.
Oh, and Journey. You just had to go and spoil it, didn’t you, Pitchfork?
ABBA – The Day Before You Came
Roxy Music – More Than This
Queen (With David Bowie) – Under Pressure
Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
Abba had reached the end of their stunning musical career in 1982. They’d had hits all over the globe, sold an eye-watering 370 million records, were feted as musical geniuses, and with their deft mix of modern pop with traditional folk and a serious ear for a tune, had brought untold happiness to millions. As their magical chemistry faded away to rancour and bitterness, they released their last single, “The Day Before You Came”. The song, a tale of the mundanity of a young woman’s life before she met her lover, has all the faded glamour and chill of Stockholm in mid-December1. The last song they ever recorded, with Agnetha recording her vocals in the dark, “The Day Before You Came” is lovely, hopeful, and sad, in equal measure. A truly unique band.
I would have picked “Does Your Mother Know” though.
Roxy Music, formed by a bunch of art students from Newcastle Upon Tyne, brought futuristic glamour to mid-’70’s England. But after losing Brian Eno to a battle of egos with singer Brian Ferry, the arty edge that had made their music so fascinating was replaced by a smoothness and opulence, mirroring their now rich lifestyles (not bad for a band led by a man whose father made his living down a coal mine).
The song itself tells the tale of ships that pass in the night, one night stands, and being carefree. Nice to know that sleeping with all those models didn’t go to Brian Ferry’s head, eh? But you can hear the loneliness in Ferry’s voice, that he’s pining for more but can’t quite express what it is.
As for interesting backgrounds, how about a man from a small island off the coast of East Africa sporting a mustache that marked him out as very, very gay (this being back in the days when this sort of thing simply didn’t exist)2, with an opera-singer voice and a sense of drama unparalleled in modern music; mixed with a guitarist who’d built his guitar out of the wood from his fireplace and a dull but worthy rhythm section. Already massive stars, they recorded this in 1982 with David Bowie, who added his usual panache and dexterity to an often overwrought band. But all you hear when you play this record is some stupid dumbass rapping over the top of it.
Ok, it’s a great song, forever ruined by Vanilla Effin’ Ice. Git. Bowie and Mercury dance round each other, complementing rather than competing, and make the sort of record you’d be happy to listen to whilst sitting in a traffic jam on the M42.
It was not cool to like Bruce Springsteen in the ’80’s in Britain. He epitomised everything that was uncool about America, with his check shirts, plain Telecaster, and big muscles, grunting away about the working man and how great America was. Hey, we had synthesisers you know! What we’d missed was how he was a genuine successor to Dylan (not that he was liked much either), and was championing the common man rather than being a patriotic Reaganite – anything but, in fact.
“Atlantic City”, lead single from his gloomy album “Nebraska”, wasn’t exactly a hit. Many people were turned off by Bruce’s refusal to churn out hits like “Born To Run” and “Hungry Heart”, but now, nearly thirty years on, you can appreciate how he was trying to dig out songs from the depths of his soul, rather than just repeating himself.
Coming to Brucey late, I must admit I didn’t quite warm to this (I’d still have chosen “Hungry Heart”), but it does show off his superb skills, both as a musician, lyricist and a singer. How about “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact\But maybe everything that dies some day comes back” for starters? And you just know it’s all going to go horribly wrong for the subject of the song. Don’t meet the man! It’ll end in tears!
My golly, is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” bad. It’s Ace Of Base bad. It’s so bad I had to listen to it twice to make sure. Holy sweet Jebus, mother of Mary, but it’s awful. It’s the song that will be playing over the PA system at the gates of Hell. Really, those hipsters at Pitchfork must be chortling over this one. “So, let’s not put “Been Caught Stealing” in the list, even though it’s a modern classic with a superb video to boot, no, let’s replace it with a bit of godawful MOR that right this very minute, is playing on a Clear Channel radio station somewhere in this great country of ours”.
Bastards. Of course, being the hipster douchebags they are3, the book states that people who don’t like this record don’t exist. Wanna bet? Ok, so it’s got a certain earworm quality to it, but the awful instrumentation and clammy feel to it just turns me off. I’d rather listen to a selection of contemporary Christian Country music than this. Or maybe Jonas Brothers.
Ok, maybe not. Still, at least the next set of songs will soothe my furrowed brow.
1 Trust me, I’ve been there, I know what I’m talking about. The sun comes up at about 11am, then pootles around on the horizon before buggering off again some time after 1pm. No wonder they drink like crazy. Nice place, though.
2 Amazingly, there were people who didn’t realise that Freddie Mercury was actually gay, just that he was a touch flamboyant. I mean, Rock Hudson, yeah, that was a bit of a surprise, but Mercury? The tache? The leather? The calling your band “Queen”? What planet are you on? And don’t even get me started on George Michael.
3 I don’t really think that Pitchfork writers are hipster douchebags – they have introduced me to some fantastic music over the years and for that they earn my undying respect.