Label: KLF Communications
Year of Release: 1987
Christmas records obviously meant a great deal more to the KLF than pop historians have perhaps given them credit for. Their collaboration with Tammy Wynette on "Justified and Ancient" contained sleigh bells and was released slap into the middle of the Christmas market, and we'll talk about the peculiar and flawed "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" next week. However, way before those ventures into tinseltown came this oddity.
Drummond and Cauty had already got themselves into trouble with lawyers around the release of their debut album "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On", which provocatively sampled large chunks of music without seeking out copyright permission. As if to prove they had learned few lessons from their experience, "Downtown" sampled Petula Clark's classic, and the pair took the strange step of quoting from the Bible in interviews of the period, citing Proverbs 26:11: "As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is a fool that repeateth his folly".
The Christian element continued with their collaborators. Recorded with the London Gospel Community Choir, this is one of their more polished and well-realised early works, combining sour, cynical and heavily accented Glaswegian rapping with a joyous, happy-clappy chorus. "Glory!" sing the choir. "What glory?" answers Bill Drummond (aka King Boy D) "In a wine bar world? In a tenement block?" Conquering the charts with a Christmas tune was clearly not on his agenda at this point, as despite the overwhelming pop and fizz of the chorus here, the tune is torn in two directions. The Community Choir are pulling towards the holiness, the preciousness and the generosity of the season, whilst Drummond points out the harsher mid-winter realities, only for a sampled and stammering Petula to chip in at irregular intervals. "Neon signs are pretty" she sings, sounding pathetic and weak in this context, before another hard-edged, shouted, Special Brew-sozzled verse barges her out of the way.
Early KLF records were often clumsy and awkward, and whilst "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On" was a groundbreaking and copyright busting album, it seldom had grace on its side, being filled with often clumsily placed distorted samples. By the time "Downtown" emerged, they sounded as if they'd finally got the hang of their direction and could no longer be criticised as being a novelty act - this (along with most of the album "Who Killed The Jams?") is pop music with a bitter underbelly, the sound of a band absorbing the sounds and culture around them and criticising and distorting it. By the end, even the choir are singing "Jesus, what can we do?"
This is probably the finest early KLF single, and whilst you can't quite hear the future they'd have as mega-selling Stadium House releasing millionaires, it's a step closer towards that. It's certainly a pivotal indie release, and it deserves to be heard a lot more often.