Now since I’m a bit behind with my Unguilty Pleasures I’ve decided to give you all a little monday afternoon boost in the form of Unguilty Pleasure No.13. Hopefully the unmitigated poptasticness of this one will make up for my tardiness. Enjoy….
“The Land of Make Believe” by Bucks Fizz
Despite being specifically formed for Eurovision 1981, Bucks Fizz became a rare exception to the rule as group whose popularity actually managed to transcend the competition which allowed them to enjoy a rather illustrious career for the rest of the 80’s.
First things first, you can’t mention Bucks Fizz without noting the great success of their debut single and Eurovision winner “Making Your Mind Up”, which went on to become one of the most successful songs in the competition ever and was a smash hit throughout Europe, peaking at No.1 in 8 countries and selling over 4 million copies worldwide. The part of the song where the boys in the group rip off the girls skirts has gone down as a defining moment in Eurovision history and the song’s enduring popularity meant that it was voted the best-ever British Eurovision entry by Radio 2 listeners in 2013. Still, they could have just left it there, but Bucks Fizz had other plans.
“The Land of Make Believe” was Bucks Fizz’s big, make-or-break comeback single after whirlwind success of “Making Your Mind Up”. Not many Eurovision acts get past this difficult second album, but Bucks Fizz managed to go one step further and surpass their previous success, with “The Land of Make Believe” going on to outsell “Making Your Mind Up” in their native UK. They also followed it up with another rapid fire No.1 “My Camera Never Lies” which extended their unbroken run of top 20 hits and officially solidified the group as one of the biggest acts of the 80’s.
“The Land of Make Believe” more than lives up to its title and cleverly straddles the fine line between fantastical and ridiculous. The hushed, almost whispered vocals contribute a mystical quality which entrances the listener, leaving them unable to shake the Bucks Fizz enchantment. The creepy, rhyming child voice which serves as a prologue and epilogue for the song sets the tone from the word go and contributes a whimsical quality. On the other hand, if you read into the lyrics too much apparently you can manage to glean an anti-Thatcher message if you try hard enough. I can’t really say for certain but I think the song implies that she is a kind of boogie man figure who is waiting to corrupt children with this line being quoted as evidence “something nasty in your garden, waiting, till it can steal your heart”.
Be it straightforward pop or a politically charged “The Land of Make Believe” managed to exceed all expectations when it spent two weeks at No.1 in January 1982, dethroning Human League’s now classic stalker jam “Don’ t You Want Me”. “The Land of Make Believe” also managed to finish the decade as the 41st biggest single of the 80’s in the UK. Not bad for a band put together for Eurovision.
Favourite Lyric: “Not for all the tea in china. All the corn in Carolina”
Diary of a Pop Fan warns that this video is seriously surreal and may result in trippy consequences:
To those uninitiated, the law can often be seen as an indecipherable enigma. Dusty books, dense texts and Latin terminology usually rule the roost, leaving us poor simple folk lost in translation. Only those of compos mentis (sound mind) can distinguish their mens rea from their actus reus and if you have no clue what I’m talking about that’s fine. Neither do I. Unfortunately, ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law is no excuse) but, as always, good old faithful pop is here to lend a hand.
Pop is the king of the legal metaphor and there have been legally themed chart botherers since Elvis rocked the jailhouse. We all remember the time when Bob Marley shot the sheriff or when the Clash fought the law and the law won. Who could forget when Barbra and Barry declared their innocence in a smooth, easy listening “Guilty” or when Blue got two for the lies that they denied. In the autumn of ’87 all-conquering girlband Bananarama offered their very own addition to the cannon of legal themed pop songs when they confessed to being guilty of “Love in the First Degree” wich was released as the second single from their album Wow! Wow indeed. Written and produced by pop geniuses Stock Aitken and Waterman “Love in the First Degree” became the trio’s joint biggest hit in their native UK when it peaked at No.3. Despite missing the US top 40 it did become a big dance chart smash there and has gone on to be considered one of the group’s more memorable offerings along with “Venus” and “It Ain’t What You Do”.
“Love in the First Degree” is the perfect bubblegum pop song. Smart lyrics, bouncy melody and a video set in a jail cell which features the girls throwing some extremely 80’s looking shapes in their cell. “Love in the First Degree” was actually one of the last songs released by Bananarama before Siobhan Fahey’s departure in 1988 when she formed the group Shakespeare’s Sister with American singer Marcella Detroit and went on to produce the smash hit No.1 “Stay”. A far cry from “Venus”. Siobhan may have left because she didn’t like the direction that the band was going in but really their marketing strategy was pretty spot on if they wanted to continue dominating the dancefloor. Their performance of “Love in the First Degree” at the 1988 Brit Awards featured a large entourage of male dancers dressed only in black bikini briefs which (after “Venus”) solidified the group’s status as gay icons. “Love in the First Degree” almost won the Brit Award for Best British Single but was beaten by the timeless “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. However, “Love in the First Degree” did go on to become Bananarama’s best-selling single in the UK and peaked top 5 in Australia as well. But that’s enough of me rambling on.
Really, “Love in the First Degree” just sums up the word Unguilty Pleasure and, despite the fact that it’s getting on for 30 years old, it still sounds like pop perfection to me! I rest my case.
Favourite Lyric: ‘Cause I’m guilty! Guilty as a girl can be!
Sometimes pop can make you laugh and sometimes it can make you cry. There have been pop songs written on every topic under the sun but one of the topics it deals with best is heartbreak. Here’s a playlist of some classic tearjerkers which I have selected for you lovely readers. This list is by no means exhaustive of course but instead is merely a selection of several heart-breakers which have always been able to bring me to the verge of tears:
Fergie – Big Girls Don’t Cry
In 2007 Fergie was on top of the world, having already had success with the Black Eyed Peas as well as bagging herself two Billboard No.1s with “London Bridge” and “Glamorous”. However, with “Big Girls Don’t Cry” she proved that she was fully capable of making us cry as well as shake what our mamas gave us. Softer and more heartfelt than anything we’ve heard from the Black Eyed Peas, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” became Fergie’s third consecutive single to reach No.1 in the US when it soared to the top in summer 2007 and remains her highest selling single in that territory. It also reached No.1 and top ten in like ever friggin’ country in the world! “Big Girls Don’t Cry” boasts a timeless feel with lyrics like /I’m not gonna miss you like a child misses that blanket/ which are both simple and intelligent in the way that they tap into personal experience and make the listener relate to the song.
Beverley Knight – Shoulda Woulda Coulda
British soul diva Beverley Knight might keep out of the limelight nowadays but there once was a time when she was one of the UK’s foremost female superstars and no other song in her back catalogue cements this position as much as “Shoulda Woulda Coulda”. Taken from her Mercury Award nominated third album released in 2002 Who I Am, “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” is about the breakup of Beverley’s long term relationship after choosing to concentrate on her career. Sometimes in life you have to make difficult decisions, but when they result in beautiful music like this it must make them that little bit easier.
Kate Winslet – What If
First of all, for those who didn’t know that Kate Winslet had a brief music career let’s let that sink in for a minute…Ok, moving on, “What If” is a one-off single released by the Oscar-winning actress for the soundtrack of the film Christmas Carol: The Movie which, of course, is based on the Charles Dickens classic novel with the proceeds of the single going straight to charity. Bless her, isn’t she’s lovely. The single was released as a bid to top the UK Christmas singles chart in 2001 but was beaten by that pesky Robbie Williams and, randomly, Nicole Kidman when they teamed up ad decided murder “Somethin’ Stupid” for his first jazz album Swing When You’re Winning. “What If” however did manage to top the Irish singles chart for 4 weeks, including taking that coveted Christmas No.1 title, and peaked at No.1 in Austria and Belgium. It was also a top ten hit in Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. Perhaps Kate missed her calling. It would have meant that there would have been enough space on that door for Jack after the Titanic sunk if there was there was no Rose. Think about that one…
Robbie Williams – Sexed Up
Here’s a random one. A lesser known selection from Robbie Williams’ back catalogue but a song which has stood the test of time nevertheless. “Sexed Up” was originally offered to Natalie Imbruglia who turned it down and then unceremoniously plonked as a B-Side to Robbie’s 1998 single “No Regrets”. So “Sexed Up” has always been a bit of an underdog: shunted around from artist to artist and unappreciated so much that it was thought unworthy of a single release. However, for his 2004 album “Escapology” Robbie saw something in “Sexed Up” and re-recorded it, releasing it as the fourth single from the album. It went on to peak top ten in various European countries, but achieved major success in Brazil, where it topped the charts for three weeks after featuring on the telenovela Mulheres Apaixonadas (Passionate Women). Sounds like a Brazilian precursor to Desperate Housewives doesn’t it? The thing that makes “Sexed Up” stand out is the perfect way it captures that cheap and nasty feeling that you get when you have been used and abused by someone you thought loved you back. That why it undoubtedly deserves a place on my heartbreak list.
Delta Goodrem & Brian McFadden – Almost Here
Taken from Delta Goodrem’s sophomore studio album Mistaken Identity and Brian McFadden’s debut solo album Irish Son, “Almost Here” is a yearning, sparse ballad which is credited as the song which sparked the pair’s ultimately doomed 6 year romance. To Australians Delta Goodrem is an all-conquering pop force who has been a permanent fixture in the entertainment business for the last 13 years, despite still only being 29. However, to the rest of the world she is a bit of a faded popstar whose album would most likely crop up in a bargain bin somewhere. It’s not that she’s not talented, it’s just that she doesn’t bother doing anything anywhere but Oceania anymore which is very frustrating because she was really successful while she did bother. “Almost Here” is a relic of her time in the sun which is about lamenting a lover’s absence when you most need them. Love is all about giving, but sometimes you just can’t give enough.
Dido – White Flag
I kind of got sick of this song for a while because it was so overplayed when it was released in 2003. But given time and space I have grown to adore it again for the loving, wistful ballad that it is. Mankind is stubborn. We often don’t want to admit that we love someone for fear that they won’t reciprocate and when this happens you are left with nothing but an empty shell of a person going through the motions and not really living at all. “White Flag” shows Dido at her wisest and this song is more than a simple chart-conquering ditty, it’s a pleading petition by Dido to not make the same mistake as her. It takes courage to admit that you’re not perfect but sadly, Dido’s was a story without a happy ending. She went down with the ship.
Ed Sheeran – Give Me Love
Released as the sixth and final single from Sheeran’s debut album + “Give Me Love” is a moody, atmospheric ballad with a tribal-influenced breakdown which reflects the primacy of the human need for love. Sheeran’s understated performance does just enough to underline the rich, simplistic lyrics and the repetition of the /give me love/ hook emphasises the desperation, isolation and craving for love that only the lonely can know. Sheeran has always specialised in heart-breaking ballads but he really pulls a number with “Give Me Love”, which also boasts an intriguing video featuring a winged-girl who goes around shooting people with arrows and making them fall in love.
Duffy – Warwick Avenue
2008 was undoubtedly Duffy’s year. Her debut album Rockferry shot straight to No.1 in the UK on the back of the catchy blue eyed soul-influenced “Mercy” but it was heartbreaker “Warwick Avenue” which sealed the deal. The classy video is almost entirely composed of a single shot with Duffy in a black taxi leaving Warwick Avenue station. The monochrome effect and the simplicity of the video make it all the more compelling and highlight the tears streaming down the Welsh singer’s face as she says goodbye to her lover. The song could break a heart or two as well.
Lucie Silvas – What You’re Made Of
Out of all the songs on this list this is probably the one that you’re least likely to recognise. If you do good for you. Are you French by any chance? Because “What You’re Made Of” wasn’t really that big a hit anywhere but France where Silvas collaborated on a Franglais version with singer Gregory Lemarchal. It did manage to chart in most European countries but didn’t peak very highly in any of them. Still, “What You’re Made Of” is an unappreciated diamond in the rough which is about being strong enough to admit that a relationship isn’t going to work out. We’ve all been there.
Shakespeare’s Sister – Stay
“Stay” was a monster hit in 1992 (incidentally it was No.1 in the UK when I was born) staying at No.1 for 8 consecutive weeks and becoming the fourth biggest selling single of that year. It also managed to chart highly in the US, Oceania and various European countries (not France for some reason, it only peaked at No.40 there). Sometimes songs achieve undeserved success (ahem…the Crazy Frog ) but sometimes songs are just pure class. “Stay” undoubtedly falls into the latter category. It starts slow and builds and builds into a crashing, bombastic crescendo which uses the best of singer Marcella Detroit’s vocal range. She actually uses the whistle register on this track, which, if you didn’t already know is Mariah Carey-esque screeching. The contrast between her and Siobhan Fahey’s vocal stylesis genius and the ominous piano in the background makes for an atmospheric, gothic style. Basically, it’s a masterclass in pop.
Evanescence – My Immortal
Speaking of gothic, Evanescence bring back good memories of when I first saw the video for “Bring Me to Life” in 2003. Now that was fresh and exciting. Anyway, I’m getting side tracked already. “My Immortal” was released as the third single from the group’s debut studio album Fallen at in December 2003 and managed to peak top 7 both sides of the Atlantic. The spooky, haunting piano line in “My Immortal” washes over the listener leaving a sobering resonance. Although you miss a loved one who has passed away, there comes a time you need the memory to fade in order to move on with your life and start living again. This admission is the bravest thing that you can do as it doesn’t mean that you ever forget the person, just that you have learnt to deal with the pain on a daily basis.
Corinne Bailey Rae – I’d Do It All Again
After a promising start Corinne Bailey Rae’s blossoming career seemed to have all but ended following the untimely death of her husband, saxophonist Jason Rae, in 2008 from accidental overdose. But Bailey Rae managed to pour her heartbreak and sorrow into creating her sophomore album The Sea which was released in 2010 and was met with wildly enthusiastic commercial acclaim. The first single taken from the album was “I’d Do It All Again” and saw her professing that she wouldn’t change her experience of love despite the heartache and pain which it had brought her.
The Carpenters – Goodbye to Love
When they turned a hand to melancholy, The Carpenters could shatter a thousand hearts with just one note. “Goodbye to Love” has managed to touch so many people for the sense of resignation and loneliness which is perfectly transmitted through the lyrics and Karen’s clear contralto vocals. Her voice is not showy or booming but it conveys the wisdom of a heart that has been broken one too many times. “Goodybe to Love” is credited as one of the first power ballads and one of the first to include a fuzz guitar solo, which is recognised as one of the best guitar solos ever. Fun fact: the Carpenters did receive a bit of hate mail after the release of “Goodbye to Love” complaining that they had sold out and gone “hard rock”, which probably sounded as ridiculous then as it does now. Still, it is one of the quintessential heartbreak songs and deserves its place in the hall of fame as one of the most effective tearjerkers of all time.
Whitney Houston – Didn’t We Almost Have It All
What would a heartbreak list be without Whitney Houston. Of course, I could have opted for “I Will Always Love You” but I’m a bit sick of that one so I decided on “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” as it’s not been as overplayed as some of her other mega hits. Released in 1987 as the second single from Houston’s second album Whitney, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” received a Grammy Nomination for Song of the Year and peaked at No.1 in the US for two weeks. Whitney’s performance of the song makes the lyrics come alive and convincingly depicts the pain of a failed relationship that was so nearly perfect. This is one to bellow out in your car with tears streaming down your face.
Thanks for reading and as always feel free to comment.
Ok, so one of these days I had to pick a Kylie song. She is, after all, the undeniable Queen of the Unguilty Pleasure and the all-conquering Princess of Pop. But instead of picking one of her tried and tested classics like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” or “Spinning Around”, I have decided to delve deeper into her back catalogue and select a less appreciated Kylie treat. And what could be more decadent and naughty than “Chocolate”.
Kylie Minogue – Chocolate
“Chocolate” was released as the third single from Kylie’s ninth studio album Body Language which served as the follow up to multi-platinum smash record “Fever”, which sold over 6 million records worldwide and contained the global smashes “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, “In Your Eyes”, “Love at First Sight” and “Come into My World”, all of which peaked inside the UK top 10 and went on to become some of the best-selling singles ever. It’s always difficult, nigh impossible, to maintain such a level of commercial success and in that sense Body Language was always slightly doomed to being overshadowed by its predecessor. So, instead of reproducing the style of “Fever” and trying to capitalise on its success, Kylie decided to do something completely different and transform herself into a sultry, Brigitte Bardot-inspired sex kitten with a heightened focus on mid-tempo pulsating synths. This is cited as one of Minogue’s numerous self-reinventions over the years, beginning with the girl-next-door image of “I Should Be So Lucky” and evolving through her “experimental” stage in the late nineties right through to her electronic disco baby phase, to name but a few. In fact, here’s an essay I found on Kylie’s numerous image changes. Oh some people…
The lead single taken from Body Language “Slow” did manage to peak at No.1 in the UK, Australia and on the US Billboard Hot Club Play charts but, in comparison to the wild, runaway success of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, the commercial performance of “Slow” was rather lacklustre. Follow up single, the peppery garage-influenced “Red Blooded Woman” also managed to peak top five in Australia and in the UK. Now we come to “Chocolate”. I picked this one because I believe that it stands out in Kylie’s back catalogue as something different. For one thing she doesn’t do that many ballads and it’s quite a funky ballad as ballads go. Ballad. Ballad. Ballad. Now that word sounds weird.
Upon release, “Chocolate” became Kylie’s 27th top ten hit in the UK where it peaked at No.6. It also managed to peak top 10 in Belgium and Hungary but it missed the Australian top ten altogether, peaking at No.14. It’s relatively poor chart positions notwithstanding, “Chocolate” is a glorious Kylie gem which should be lauded as one of the divas most inventive confections to date. Of course, using chocolate as a simile to describe love is not the most original of ideas but the genius of “Chocolate” is the fact that it is in itself onomatopoeic. It is the sonic equivalent of chocolate, a smooth and sensuous experience which leaves you craving more.
As always, Minogue executes the song with style and panache. That certain je ne sais quoi which Kylie has in spades helps her to bring songs like “Chocolate” to life and that’s why Kylie is one of the greats. It’s her breathy, whispered vocals which steal the show. Unlike other divas (cough…Christina Aguilera) Kylie never over eggs the pudding. There is no wild showboating here. No wailing melismas which ends up with the singer’s ego swallowing the melody of the song whole. Kylie has always been all business and, for us, that invariably equals all pleasure.
Never one to skimp on good songwriters, Kylie engaged the crème de la crème of lyricists to pen “Chocolate” and boy does it show. “Chocolate” is chock full of saucy metaphors and “tastes so good-esque” moments. When she purrs /hold me and control me and then melt me slowly down/ you can physically hear the sex oozing out of every pore. This woman is the embodiment of Aphrodite.
You can’t ignore the ridiculously sexy video either. This is classy sexy, not Rihanna or Lady Gaga leave-nothing-to-the-imagination sexy, the other kind. The better one. There are some stunning outfits and even a hilarious hat which turns out to be a dance floor somehow. This is pure class defined! She even does ballet.
I hope you like “Chocolate” as much as I do and if you have any recommendations for future Unguilty Pleasures please leave a comment below or comment on the Facebook page (the link is on the right at the top). Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it!