28 July 2011
One Hit Wonders #20 - Alexei Sayle - Ullo John Gotta New Motor?
Year of Release: 1982
Even at Comic Relief time of year in Britain, you don't get terribly many comedians queueing up to make records these days, which is actually something of a relief - the very idea of a Mighty Boosh spoof glam/ psychedelic single or a knees-up Michael MacIntyre war hits medley filled with whimsical things he's noticed about Hitler thrills me not. There was a time, though, from the fifties right through to the eighties, where having your own single was your personal signal to the world at large that you had arrived as a comic force. Bruce Forsyth, Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Bob Monkhouse, Bernard Manning, Julian Clary, Lenny Henry, Larry Grayson, The Young Ones, Tracy Ullman... the list is almost endless and encompasses everything from Royal Variety Show favourites through to the alternative set. The more radical people cared not whether it made them seem as if they'd "sold out" - why should they when they were getting to become pop stars and therefore living out their bedroom mirror fantasies?
Alexei Sayle is actually probably one of the most surprising additions to the canon in that he always seemed like somebody who didn't really care about whether he could get on "Top of the Pops" as well as prime-time BBC2. Whilst the likes of Rik Mayall and Julian Clary clearly had a hunger for the spotlight, Sayle appeared much more earthy and straightforward. So what on Earth was going on here?
In his defense, "Ullo John Gotta New Motor?" isn't really a commercial proposition, being a stream-of-consciousness rant seemingly in the guise of his Cockney character John backed with some funky loops. There's no chorus, no story, and seemingly absolutely no point, which makes the popularity of the single seem startling in retrospect - it reached number 15 in 1982 at a point in history where record sales were high and the charts were staggeringly competitive. To this day, unless you count the froth-mouthed ramblings of fringe anti-folk acts like Spinmaster Plantpot, there isn't really anything you can sensibly compare the record to, and like many novelty singles before it, success seems to have arrived in its direction purely because it sounded like nothing else around rather than because it followed the rules of the day. The record was also seemingly bolstered by fans of "The Young Ones", and people who caught Sayle being anarchic on "Top of the Pops". These days, the stretched parody of cockney banter the record is attempting to mock seems rather quaint, purely because very, very few people actually talk in this manner in the city anymore.
I suspect most British people know what Sayle is up to these days, but for the benefit of people overseas I can reveal that he is now an author of several successful (and serious) novels. No, really.
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