When the conversation turns to matters musical, the phrase guilty pleasure is branded about with a fair degree of regularity. It’s as if the population has subscribed to some centralized adjudication of aural appreciation; any disc that falls outside of these strictly arbitrary parameters – but is still enjoyed on its own merits by the individual listener – automatically decamps to guilty pleasure territory.
A cynic might argue that we’re all in thrall to whatever higher power it is that dictates musical integrity. And if that record is in any way cheesy, it makes it all the easier to assimilate the adjoining guilt with an ironic shrug of the shoulders, with a shriek and some dance moves cribbed from a corny ‘80’s movie. Catholicism may not be what it once was, yet we can be surprisingly Catholic when it comes to the mechanics of our listening habits.
Of course, I’ve never understood the concept myself. As the ghost of Patrick Bateman will attest, guilt and pleasure may not be mutually exclusive in everything we humans do, but when dealing with the soundtrack to your life, enjoy whatever you like – you have my full backing. No guilt required; if I were you I’d feel far more shamed-faced about that crack habit of yours than I would about the particulars of your playlist.
Below these words: five tracks, none of which formulated by fashionable acts, and each in their own way flawed, cheesy, arguably not the greatest favour stereophonic sound ever granted, and all regular visitors to the LGM turntable – because however loud and jaded our inner-music snob professes to be, there will always be records that can’t help but lipstick a smile across your face. Especially when drunk. Just don’t call them guilty pleasures.
Blancmange / Living On The Ceiling
There’s something adorable about this record. Quintessentially British, its earnestness, the slightly amateurish tinge, the strong Lancastrian lilt to Neil Arthur’s vocal – they all bring to mind something recorded by your favourite geography teacher, or a particularly “with-it” group of trainee accountants desperate to prove that their Echo And The Bunnymen albums were just as integral to their personalities as the columns in their sale ledgers.
I’m being disingenuous of course; Blancmange are rarely mentioned at the forefront of the Brit synth-pop movement, yet theirs was an intriguing sound (I should probably use the present tense, as they reformed last year), a heightened and intelligent sense of momentum that works particularly well on the dancefloor. As with all the tracks on this post, the selected tune moonlights as my favourite by the relevant artist – and although the overall impact of this has been compromised by selling the damn thing to TV commercials, it’s still a wonderful example of bloke + bloke with synth.
The Darling Buds / Let’s Go Round There
One ramification of the social / political polarity the UK experienced under Kim Jong-il Margaret Thatcher was the increase in wariness of major record labels; sign to an RCA or an EMI and your credibility would suffer – particularly if you were lumped in with whatever indie scene it was that the music press were peddling at the time.
It was a move perceived by many as deliberately careerist, the acceptance of the corporate shilling at odds with what this strand of music was supposed to represent, and although the reality was a little less black and white than that, signing to the Epic label certainly didn’t advance the cause of The Darling Buds (neither did sharing a moniker with a contemporary TV show, nor releasing an album immediately before a Madonna long-player with exactly the same title).
Somewhat effete (as opposed to twee), with an unassuming vocal and a production that failed to focus upon the intricacies of the guitar parts, there’s was an sound I was naturally drawn to at the time. Something to do with the suggestion of energy upon which their tracks are constructed (however vague that suggestion may be), and although my appreciation these days may be focused upon nostalgia, there’s still an essence to their records (and this track in particular) that gleams, that swirls, that sparkles.
They Might Be Giants / Dead
If there’s ever been a band guilty of over-playing the geek card, then it’s They Might Be Giants. A shtick developed through flamboyant and over-eager unorthodoxy, there’s is a brand of outsider kitsch that’s never travelled well this side of the Atlantic; it’s as if Johns Linnell and Flansburgh remain forever nerdy seniors in some college-set American movie, complete with the ungainly cultural connotations and stock character appearances that this suggests.
There is a flip-side, however – that when not playing to the gallery, this seam of quirkiness helps to emphasise a surprisingly acerbic quality within the songcraft; the scene in the movie where the resident geek gets knocked back by the cheerleader, and instead of exorcising the angst through depression or a shooting spree, locks himself away to produce a significant work of art. And in the process realises that the cheerleader is way beneath him – I know, I should write screenplays.
‘Dead’ is a track from major-label début Flood; suburban nostalgia and self-awareness acted out against a vaudevillian approximation of Revolutionary France, and as such by far my favourite TMBG track.
Fleetwood Mac / Tusk
And then the rock dinosaur. Two things that interest me about this era’s Fleetwood Mac; the booze and the drugs and the inter-band bed-hopping, which must have bled across the group’s dynamic like the aftermath of a chainsaw massacre; and ‘Tusk’ – because if you do have to be an overblown rock behemoth, then at least have the decency to make your record as big, decadent, catchy and ferociously cheesy as possible, with a prominent role for the University of Southern California’s marching band. There’s a reason why most pop songs don’t utilize marching bands – it’s something to do with not wanting your record to sound ridiculous. Therefore there’s a large amount of credos up for grabs for a act prepared to dive so far beyond the ridiculous that the entity emerges on the other side, not only intact but all the stronger for it.
Clinic – a band with inordinate amounts of musical credibility – attempted to do justice to a cover version; that they failed to pull off anything as enticing as the original suggests that, despite being as naff as anything consigned to vinyl, this stands as a great record.
Betty Boo / Where Are You Baby?
Leaving aside for a moment the manifold attractions of space ladies in catsuits wielding ray guns (if you’re into that kind of thing, the video = here; I’ll maybe join you in a moment), this is a record that’s spectacularly dumb, knows that it’s spectacularly dumb, and couldn’t give a fiddler’s fuck either way.
Let’s be brutally honest here; Alison ‘Betty Boo’ Clarkson can’t rap and struggles to hold down a tune. But that isn’t the point; ‘Where Are You Baby?’, with its primary colour backing track and cardboard cut-out sentiment, is deliberately pitched at the kitsch cartoon level – and just as the original Scooby-Doo Where Are You? series stands as an iconic pop-culture statement despite being cheap and corny and formulaic, so this song nimbly sidesteps the obvious criticisms, instead revelling in the gamma-ray spotlight of joyfully disposable pop.
Plus bonus points for rhyming ‘issues’ with ’tissues’. Genius, that.