7 July 2010

The Dots - Helen In Your Headphones

The Dots - Helen In Your Headphones

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1982

Well, alrighty! Were it not for the wonders of the Internet, it's highly probable that I'd never have bothered placing this record on my "to buy" list. For years, "Helen In Your Headphones" existed in my brain without a title or a band name to go with it - all I could remember was a video which had both confused and vaguely scared me as a small child. One day whilst surfing on YouTube in a distracted fashion, the video popped up in one of the sidebars, banging my memory chimes very roughly. And Cliff almighty, it still disorientates me to this day. How such a brilliant and slightly unreal clip can be consigned to the dustbin of television history is a mystery, although I wouldn't bet against this going viral at some point in the next few years (and with any luck, I'll start the ball rolling with this entry - I'm still bitter that I didn't discover that Trololo sensation first, which is the most Left and to the Back-centric viral hit I've ever come across).

"Helen In Your Headphones" is an acquired taste, but it's definitely a special piece of work, wobbling on the usually awkward boundaries of parody and pop where so many an act with good intentions has fallen before. It begins with a barrage of eighties radio-speak, continues into a bouyant take on eighties synth-pop, then promptly splats headlong into a chorus so preposterously New Wave that it sounds ahead of its time, sporting the kind of punk era-referencing chorus the likes of Bis and indeed Dex Dexter were penning in the late nineties. Lyrically, it deals with the topic of an obsessed female fan of a radio DJ - "Hi Hi It's Helen... I just wanna tell you that your voice makes me go oh-oh-oh-oh" she sings insistently, out-creeping the rather oily DJ in question.

Whilst there's no doubting the record's capacity to irritate some people, I personally think it's brilliant, having a rare combination of a superb pop hook, tightness and conciseness, and a sense of humour which is delightful as well as being astute. It might be controversial to compare this to the Bonzo's "Craig Torso Show", but it does parody a certain vain, slippery element of the eighties "biz" to surprisingly strong effect, in much the same way that the Bonzos picked up on the flippant, self absorbed nature of some pirate radio jocks.

Two things stood in the way of chart success for The Dots, however - one would be the record having its own DJ intro, which may have proved difficult for DJs to work around themselves (especially if they were preposterous enough and Wayne Carr-esque enough to sound very similar). Perhaps mindful of this possible pitfall, EMI's plugging division apparently starting giving Radio One DJs expensive headphones as gifts to promote the single. Somebody got wind of the fact, thought it constituted payola, and the song was subsequently banned from the BBC's airwaves as a result. Given this fact, it actually did fairly well to climb as high as number 96 in the charts, its final resting place.

The Dots were from Leicester, and this appears to have been their only single, meaning EMI's rather rash marketing decision may have deprived us of other follow-ups. The rather scratched B-side "Come And Get It" is presented here for your pleasure as well, but doesn't really give any decent clues about where the band would have gone next. Still, with this one-off effort they really spoiled us.


Ben said...

Dear god, that's perhaps the most amazing/terrifying thing ever. I'm the host of a New Wave radio show, and there's no way I'm not gonna play that song now. Thanks!

23 Daves said...

I'm glad somebody finally commented on this - I couldn't believe that something of its nature could go for so long without a single remark!

I was considering doing an Internet radio show recently and making this the first song, completely without any greetings or explanation whatsoever. You may have plans of your own, however.

Ben said...

The song almost makes me jealous. I wish I had a moderately attractive stalker. The closest thing I have is the guy who calls every show requesting Eddie Murphy's "Party All the Time".

Anonymous said...

OMG!!!!!!!!!!! Finally, I found it! Every so often, I'd google 'Helen in your headphones' or 'The Dots'. And it would never come up! And now it has, and I've d/l'd it!!! Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Duncan said...

Isnt serendipity a wonderful thing. I found this song while looking for Joy Sarney's Naughty x 3 . Having found that song,I had a look around the other songs and to my joy I found this. I only heard this once on an episode of Tiswas on a Sat morning in the early eighties. I thought what a great song but never heard it again. All I could remember was the name of the band but until now I could never trace the song. This should have been a massive hit. It has the same bubblegum appeal as Mickey by Toni Basil and that was a number 2 hit. This should have been number 1.

23 Daves said...

It's a thing of wonder, Duncan, I'll agree. I believe it may have met with more success abroad, though I can't find any facts to prove that - but if you search, there is a YouTube clip of the band on the German version of "Top of the Pops".

Anonymous said...

I found this video looking up Population 1, a movie with Tomata from the Screamers and just came upon the music video and I've been into this song all day.

John Alist said...

Swap shop was the first and only place I watched it. But I remembered it for 35 years. That's a record I think. Who knows how it could have ended