Monday, December 24, 2018

“It’s the only way you’ll ever know…”

From the album “Chinese Wall”

No, really.

Welcome to THE EIGHTIES.  Thatcherism!  Sinclair Computers!  “Bridge To Your Heart”!  Generation 1 Transformers!  The SDP-Liberal Alliance!  Peter Beardsley!  Sizzlin’ Bacon Monster Munch!  That deferential little Tory royalist snotrag, Ben Elton!  Managed declines!  Keke Rosberg! Phil Cool!  The golden years of “Neighbours”!  An American president who did say ‘well’ a lot!  The constant threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction!  Quatro!

And, of course, Phil Collins by the absolute brimming-full bucketload, be it as part of a now more socially responsible Genesis, his solo offerings and Motown coverings (that would somehow go on to be a massive influence on nineties American hip-hop, because reasons?) and this, a collaboration with a second Phil, albeit one dignified enough to go full Philip but not snooty enough to adopt a second ‘L’.

Philip Bailey: who he?  He was one of the two lead singers for Earth, Wind And Fire, dabbling in solo projects during a hiatus for the band.  Phil Collins produced the album “Chinese Wall”, from which this is taken, and was also linked to EWF by the Phenix Horns (don’t blame me, that’s apparently how they spell it), EWF’s brass section, who not only played on Collins’ solo output but also some early eighties Genesis songs – although it looks like Collins wound up suing them, so I doubt they’ll be working together again.

The single was a transatlantic hit, standing at number 1 in the UK singles chart for four weeks, and hitting number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, only thwarted by a fellow leviathan in Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is”.  And why wouldn’t it be?  Without wishing to Patrick Bateman this, it is the Eighties in a single song: all sizzle and no steak, poorly-aged synth sounds and historically weak production, with a sharp-suited, annoyingly self-referential video about making the video…

So why is it good?  Why do I like it so much?  It’s unlikely to be childhood memories, as this would have been radio only – no rogue copies in the home, the only Phil Collins available was pre-“Invisible Touch” Genesis.  It doesn’t seem to have been on the soundtrack to “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” (though it’s only now I notice that “Pale Shelter” was – another missed opportunity).  And there is no one overriding memory I attribute to this.  It’s just…  Good.  I just like it.

As such, I do feel like I’ve spend more time than is reasonable in my 38 years attempting to defend this song, and always without a great deal of success.  It just does not stand up to any kind of intellectual dissection, being as it is a monolithic reminder of a period when music largely lost any semblance of soul in a slick of synths and production techniques that really, really didn’t like bass.  Yet stick it on, and it’s a tricky one to stay mad at; toes start tapping, air drumming commences, attempts at harmonies lead to tune butchery, and a good time is had by all.

Before I go, special mention must be made of a unique listening situation from earlier this year: in a rowboat, on a river in Bath, surviving numerous water-gun assaults, in celebration of a stag do.  If that’s not classic “Easy Lover” territory, I don’t know what is.

Reader, gird your loins for the final entry, where you’ll join us in our “White Van” for the latest “Messages” as we “Get Off Your Pretty Face”!...  Hang on a minute…

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