28 March 2018

Ten Years of Left & To The Back - Top of the Back

In the ten years "Left and to the Back" has been in existence, there's one question people have stopped me in the street to ask more often than most.

"Hey Dave," they tend to say, "of all the tracks you've uploaded to your legendary blog, which I understand was once given a twenty-five word mention in The Guardian as one of their internet picks of the week in 2010, which has been the most viewed?"

And you know what, I've never really had an answer, because I've never been bothered enough to check. Until now, that is.

The simple truth is that the most popular blog entries on here have always been about novelty records or one hit wonders rather than sixties records slowly building an underground reputation. There was a point in the blog's life when Freddie Starr's "It's You" accounted for about a tenth of all its traffic, which probably depressed me sufficiently to never want to check the stats in microscopic depth ever again.

Hopelessly obscure Christmas singles have also often held a special allure around December time, presumably from people bored of the traditional shopping centre fare and seeking something different to listen to. Oh, and if a group or artist ends up on a "Top of the Pops" repeat, it has roughly the same effect on overall public interest as it did in the good old days when people would buy the singles in Woolworths the following afternoon.

Anyway, the charts are in, and here are the top ten most-read entries.

1. The Snowmen - Nik Nak Paddywak

This one holds the pole position with remarkable ease, and not really (I suspect) on any particular merit, least of all the quality of my research at that point. BBC4 have frequently repeated a Christmas edition of TOTP2 which features these four wobbling around on stage precariously, and an on-screen info box 'fact' that "Ian Dury or Jona Lewie are rumoured to be behind the single".

Some blog readers suspect that the BBC's research team simply lifted this speculation (and it really is just speculation) from the blog entry on "Left and to the Back", but to be honest, it's boosted our readership no end every Christmas time as readers Google in from all corners of the UK, so I won't grumble.

As for who was behind the single, I'm delighted to report it was actually session musician and library music jobber Martin Kershaw, whose other works include "Music Inspired By Birds" and "The Magic of Acoustic Guitars". It's hard to imagine this fact turning up inside any BBC info-box in the near future.

I doubt my publication of the above will put anyone off believing that Ian Dury might have been behind the record, though, or cause the BBC to re-edit their show for future repeats.

2. Fun And Games - Grooviest Girl In The World

This is absolutely one of the best sixties bubblegum singles, albeit one that sold in disappointing quantities at the time, and I'm really not surprised to see it so high in the stats. Here's what we said:

"This actually just as easily sits somewhere between garage pop and glam. Filled with shouts of "Hey!", fuzzed up guitars, close vocal harmonies, thumping drums and pure joy, it's as close to pop perfection as the late sixties ever got. Placing this on your turntable is like inviting the contents of a local fairground into your living room - the hooks spin around your head and flash with neon colours until it all becomes a little bit over-exciting."

And clearly an awful lot of people agree.

 Paul Phillips, yer man behind the wheel here, was kind and generous enough to actually write to me a few years back offering me permission to host this mp3 on my blog for free, and perhaps unsurprisingly it's been a popular entry ever since. I strongly suspect that most people are going to the page to quickly grab the mp3 to download, but even so, I delivered an honest assessment of what I feel is a somewhat underrated song.

"The truth is that "Car 67" is a peculiarly innovative pop record which is loaded with gimmicks, and as a result sounds quite unlike anything else that was in the charts at that time. There's no punk spikiness here, no moonlight soul crooning, no early evening variety show-friendly chirpiness. Initially it appears to essentially be an earthily sung ballad... perched on top of a repetitive riff with spoken interjections from a switchboard operator from Birmingham. Having set out its bizarre stall quite early on, the song then weaves a narrative around the jilted cabbie, slowly revealing the source of his angst and woe in the manner a country songwriter would be proud of, taking various little musical backstreets and detours along the way. The mournful outro, in particular, is wonderful."

4. Regents - See You Later

This minor late punk hit with its terrifying minimalist B-side was unavailable for some years, leading to it gaining a slot on "Left and to the Back". Since that entry was written, the group has appeared on "Top of the Pops" repeats, the single and the group's other works have been reissued on iTunes, and order has been restored to the world, meaning a reupload of this is - unfortunately - never going to happen.

5. Darwin's Theory - Daytime/ Hosanna

The B-side of this track was featured on the "Chocolate Soup For Diabetics" series and for a brief period last decade became a popular spin in sixties garage clubs, which almost certainly accounts for its incredibly high placing here. It doesn't hurt that the A-side wasn't bad either, featuring a piece of stoned, Dylanesque early psychedelia about a girlfriend who just won't 'give out'.

This has also been reissued and compiled more times over than I can count now. As for who Darwin's Theory were, why, none other than the slightly unpredictable and madcap French group Les Cinq Gentlemen making a bid for UK success which never materialised.

6. Joy Sarney - Naughty Naughty Naughty

A minor, bouncy novelty hit about a wife-beater ("he's been in trouble with the law for grevious bodily harm/ I'm his puppet, but he won't pull my strings") being compared to Mr Punch, this was always going to attract readers who perhaps couldn't quite believe it even existed in the first place. I suspect that many people Googled this after wondering whether they were remembering some awful childhood cheese dream or an incident that actually occurred in real life.

Repeat showings on "Top of the Pops" and other clip shows highlighting awful seventies television kept it high on everyone's reading lists, and it remains jaw-droppingly weird to this day.

7. Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard - You're The One That I Want

Whereas at least in this case everyone involved was aiming for sheer awfulness. This version of the Grease classic actually sold far better at the time than subsequent reports have suggested, even after the pair's disastrous "Top of the Pops" performance.  It was lapped up by the public, some of whom might have been people who enjoyed the perverse thrashing it gave to Greasemania at the time, others (like my Dad) who just found the sound of two cumbersome old sods trying to sound raunchy hysterically funny.

Clearly the fact it's the 7th most read "Left and to the Back" entry indicates there are many others who wanted another sip at this particular fountain. Mine is not to reason why.

8. Microdisney - Everybody Is Fantastic

This is no longer available for download due to the emergence of official remasters and reissues since, but it's heartening to see it picked up so much appreciation. The band's sound hadn't quite solidified yet, and some of the production values of this LP are rather low-rent, but it nonetheless contains some wonderful material. Or, as I put it at the time:

"There are moments on here that clearly show the direction they were heading in - by far the most impressive track here (and the sole single) is "Dolly", an acoustically plucked, warped ballad referencing bitter drunkenness and poverty, featuring the fantastic kiss-off line "Send me love and peace/ two more things I can't afford". "Dreaming Drains" follows a similar pattern, the spite against eighties decadence shining through the slightly muddy production."

9. Susan Fassbender - Twilight Cafe

Damn you lot, this should be a hell of a lot higher (and I suspect would be if a free download had actually been in the offing). Susan Fassbender and her songwriting and performing partner Kay Russell just had this one minor hit in the eighties, and it remains a floor-filler to this day - a pumping great New Wave inspired ditty which is immediately recognisable despite its somewhat modest chart resting place.

The blog entry goes into enormous depth about Fassbender and Russell and their other work, a lot of which has recently been issued for the very first time.

10. Camille - White Christmas

The Christmas singles I uploaded to the blog in 2017 were unusually popular, and none more so than this one, which was a strange one-off synth-pop version of "White Christmas" produced by Mike Thorne (of Wire and Soft Cell production fame). I still have absolutely no idea who was behind it, but it's a fascinating curiosity.

Bubbling under: The Crew, Yellow Chair, Peter and Gordon's "Hot Cold & Custard", Freddie bloody Starr, and Sue Wilkinson.

1 comment:

Arthur Nibble said...

Childhood Cheese Dream would have been a great name for a prog rock band or album.

"Well played" to Driver 67 for his co-operation, very sad how things ended for Susan Fassbender, and the Georgie Fame vocalised "Town To Town" is arguably the most wondrous song Microdisney gave us.