69 Love Songs #14

by
Pet Shop Boys - drawing by Oliver Rose
Friday 9th December 2016

1. A Hundred Pounds Of Clay – Craig Douglas

craig-douglas

We’re kicking things off with an oldie on this week’s instalment of 69 Love-Songs. A modest chart-hit at number nine in 1961, this symphonic pop number is imbued with saccharin ease, from its simple, catchy lyric to its gorgeous melodies. From the off, the song is a swirling pop titan, with theatrical underlay as massive as the thick-carpeted period lounges it would’ve played in. The lyric centres on the role of God in the creation of woman as an antidote to man’s loneliness – no doubt the third wave has plenty to say about that… or, you could just enjoy it for what it is; a big bubble-gum nothing and precisely the kind of jukebox-fodder that later inspired Stephin Merritt’s original 69 Love-Songs in 1999. Elsewhere, A Hundred Pounds Of Clay features a beautiful middle-eight, built around a chromatic progression and driven by dynamic double bass. There’s nothing particularly complex to say about this kind of music; it has about it a kind of warmth – a glow. Maybe it’s the basic production, or perhaps it’s the nostalgic fact of the pop crooner. This kind of early 60s production also recalls, for me, the incidental music used in Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series, (particularly Stingray) – that’s got a lot to do with the shuffling rhythms and soaring strings. 

2. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (Extended Version) – Soft Cell

 soft-cell

Two 80s twelve-inch cuts for you now and first up, we have Soft Cell. Formed by Marc Almond and Dave Bell in the late 1970s, Soft Cell would deny any connection to the New Romantic scene (“it was just a trendy London club thing with Steve Strange”). It is however for their gentle, homoerotic synthesiser pop that the duo are best remembered; and unfortunately for them, like it or not, that was the sound at Billy’s nightclub in 1981. Whilst their biggest hit would be a cover of Gloria Jones’ 1964 hit Tainted Love, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, released soon after, achieved a number three UK chart placing in 1982. Featuring a throbbing synthesiser bass-line, echoic drum machine splatters and endearingly low-quality tape hiss on the production, the song is a beautiful indie classic from the excellent Some Bizarre label. Almond’s camp ruminations on the failed pursuit of beautiful heterosexuality are wonderful; he describes a place too seedy to facilitate this romance, taking place between characters that seem to be struggling with their sexual identities.

Around this time, it was becoming more fashionable for electronic musicians particularly to release singles on both the 7” and 12” vinyl format, the latter allowing for extended cuts to be specially mixed and released. This practice has led to a very specific culture of 12” ‘versions’ – often much longer than their 7” counterparts, these mixes can be purely elongated cuts of the album/radio version or, as was increasingly the case, externally produced dance/disco mixes. There are often very particular patterns in the mix too. Some mixes lazily glue together instrumental and vocal takes of a track (12”s of Ultravox’s Love’s Great Adventure and Spandau Ballet’s To Cut A Long Story Short). Others are more dynamic re-imagining of a mix (some of the best ever are New Order’s The Perfect Kiss and The Associates’ Those First Impressions). As one of the earlier 12” edits to hit the pop market, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’s extended version is relatively simple, copying the structure over twice to double the song’s run-time. That mightn’t be particularly interesting save for the totally gorgeous clarinet solo that takes the place of Almond’s vocal for the first few minutes. If you’re interested, there are a host of excellent 12” cuts of some of your favourite 80s songs – there’s no better place to start though, than with this roughly produced, early synthpop classic, which, despite its near-nine minute run, is, in a word, stunning.

3. Jealousy (Extended Version) – Pet Shop Boys

 pet-shop-boys

By 1991, the 12” mix was an art form, comparable with grandiloquent neo-gothic architecture. In no place is the potential scale of this format realised than on Pet Shop Boys’ utterly flawless extension of their hit single, Jealousy. Chris Lowe’s magical synthesisers, blending club edge with new wave sentimentality, are matched brilliantly by Neil Tennant’s majestic melancholy, its gentle, womanly quality recalling Almond’s more frustrated femininity on Say Hello, Wave Goodbye. Musically, Jealousy is excellent; its chorus particularly is an orchestral pop behemoth, floating beautifully downward as though it were the aural accompaniment for Marcel Duchamp’s Nu descendant un escalier №2. Tennant’s lyric and delivery are equally special. The same old existential questions are posited, yes… but, after the self-reflexive, inwardly lacerating indie age, Tennant manages maintain a very tastefully earnest drama; one without wailing or intensely sarcastic drapery. Put simply, he’s sad – and he does it very well.

This mix is the definitive version of the track. At eight-minutes on the nose, it opens with a quote from Othello and explodes into its orchestral climax not once, but twice. From a period that saw them rejuvenate the very dead career of Dusty Springfield and revitalise popular, chart interest in Liza Minnelli, Jealousy is, perhaps expectedly, a deeply theatrical thing. It manages though, from start to finish, to sound entirely convicted and sincere, and at a time when very little else did.