1. Don’t Walk Away – Electric Light Orchestra
From gated drum production to Roy Orbison-indebted chord progressions, the sound of Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra is a very particular one. Don’t Walk Away is not one of the more revered tracks from their catalogue – in fact, it’s from the soundtrack to the super-naff, box-office flop, Xanadu. For me, however, it’s one of Lynne’s finest compositions – melodically adventurous, yet catchy; electronically shimmering; enormously ‘50s. In a weird way, there’s something almost epitaph-like about its slow-marching major-key genius; like the ‘80s are waving fondly back at the now-ashen institutions of the Brill building and legendary songwriting partnerships like Goffin-King. As they moved away from their prog-pop ambitions of the 1970s, Electric Light Orchestra scored fewer and fewer hits and, finally, after 1986’s electro-popping Balance of Power, the final multi-membered incarnation of the group dissolved. Don’t Walk Away seems like an odd choice at this stage in the column; there are, arguably, better, more enduring ELO tracks to commemorate when I’m restricted to sixty-nine. Its sentiments go beyond its wonderfully hammy lyrics, though – Don’t Walk Away is a moment in recorded time just as much as it is another love-song.
2. Sexed Up – Robbie Williams
I don’t like the phrase guilty pleasure all that much – no one ought feel as though his or her taste is shameful. I will however, allow myself this exception. Robbie Williams, you see, is a diabolical and largely talentless bastard. His hit songs could have been recorded by literally anyone and succeeded in equal measure; his co-writers may even have gone on to bigger things were the process of working with the coked-up nobody not so utterly destructive. If Guy Chambers ever releases his own version of this song (or it’s finally recorded by Natalie Imbragulia, as first intended), that cut will instantly become my new favourite version… in lieu of that, I have only William’s version to enjoy… What a song it is, though. Technically, it’s a co-write with Williams, but one listen and you know that Sexed Up’s master-class in major-key folk-pop is down to the same man behind Angels, Feel and Something Beautiful – it’s all there, between the lines. A suspended fourth here; some subtly mixed strings there – the lovely Chambers seal is on all of it. Melodically, rhythmically, compositionally – I cannot flaw the construction here. The regretful lyrics avoid melodrama and even the vocal melody is good. In the ‘90s, the craft of the singer-songwriter enjoyed a proper revival – before all this, folksy I’m-so-urban Ed Sheeran shit. I just wish Chambers had been more famous in his own right.
3. Baby, You’re My Light – Richard Hawley
Baby, You’re My Light makes my list of the sixty-nine best songs about love, not because of its touching lyrics, or Morrissey-esque baritone drawl. No, the real draw here is that hypnotic guitar arpeggio driving things forward – that and the slides; the Twin Peaks-style drum brushes; the gentle meandering bass; yet more tasteful string arrangements… the list goes on… In very much the same way as Guy Chambers’ timeless pop, Hawley (pictured) constructs a gorgeous, floating tribute to the subject of his heart, one devoid of arbitrary complications, musically or in verse. Famously, concerning the sessions for this single’s parent record (Hawley’s first), he had this to say – that going into the sessions, he had only completed the riff to Baby, You’re My Light. Melting into the settling gentility of his music, it’s hardly difficult to believe that everything else came to exist and fall into place around such a pretty thing.