Saturday, June 02, 2007

More Songs To Learn And Sing #2

Second up to the plate in this run of song recommendations comes an actual reader. Who knew? Welcome, with a song after our own heart, James Waterson:

Johnny Boy - You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve

Great artists, overflowing with ideas and vast reserves of talent, come along more often that you think. They’re the ones armed with promises of world straddling success and radical reinterpretations of what music means. They’ve got the image, the genre and the timing just right.

Every so often one of these groups can create a great album, an LP so perfectly formed that a protective critical consensus forms around it and a thousand teenage bedrooms resound to its sound.

Yet no one ever fell in love with a concept, no casual listener became a 'fan' due to an album review. What converts minds is the pop single, something so pristine that even a short snippet can raise hearts and change lives. And the most overlooked, perfectly formed pop song of the past few years? Johnny Boy’s You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve.

Chances are that your anthem, the one that you feel should be blasted from the rooftops all day long, the one that seems fresher with every listen, was chosen for personal reasons. It’s a case of being heard in the right place with the right person at the right point in your life. That’s certainly true with myself and Johnny Boy’s second single; falling in love for the first time as I fell in love with its sweeping chorus, discovering illicit pleasures as this subversive track plays in the background and understanding that, for all my natural cynicism, life should be as exalting as every note of this track.

Yet Generation is more than a touchstone for my old memories. It’s the type of pop song which genuinely appeals to all, one capable of burrowing into the mainstream’s psyche and taking up residence on the nation’s radio for a long hot summer without the slightest simmer of dissatisfaction. It has a unifying identity last seen when Pulp released Common People and each listener can form a deep personal bond with these three minutes of music: it’s my song, your song, everyone’s personal anthem with a message that’s universal without being oblique.

The song itself is an amalgamation of every great pop technique of the last 40 years. It takes Ronettes-via-Mary-Chain drums, the June Brides’ brass section and St Etienne’s way with a melody without feeling forced. Its ingredients are peerless and yet it still managers to be more than the sum of its parts. It’s impossible to believe that such a song arrived so fully formed from the minds of two young musicians - it’s the sort of timeless product which, surely, could only have sprung from a collective effort of musical luminaries at Motown HQ. Every time the synths are discretely draped into the mix, every time there’s a congratulatory "yeah, yeah" and every time a new loop appears the exaltation grows. Lolly Hayes’ vocals veer between a Tracyanne Campbell whisper and a full-on soul scream while never losing control. "I just can’t help believing/though believing sees me hurt" she proffers as we rev up for another chorus line.

The stage was set for a glorious ride into the charts but it wasn’t to be: publicity campaigns stunted, radio controllers (6 Music aside) couldn’t work out if it was mainstream or destined for late night slots while Vertigo, undergoing a cleanout of their roster, chose to drop the group. The best pop single in years was dealt a cruel death by the decline of its format and lack of open minds in the music industry while the song’s passionate self-belief and tirade against apathy was met with depressingly ironic indifference by the music buying public. It’s three years since I walked into York’s Track Records and picked up a copy of this and it’s been present on every mixtape ever since and central to my realisation that a great pop song can straddle and belittle such minor matters as ‘genre’ and ‘chart success’. It’s a song that can soundtrack misanthropy and celebration, heartbreak and adoration deserves more than a footnote as a ‘great lost single’. I can’t bear to be in the generation that failed to buy enough Johnny Boy records for we will certainly get what we deserve; a hegemony of anonymous agit-pop and a lost anthem for our age.

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