Considerably cooler than you...
Ruminations on self-worth, credibility, cover-mounted reggae CDs and Atomic Kitten

For some reason, I happened to overhear Steve Wright interviewing Will Young on his Radio 2 show last week. Is it possible to "overhear" something that's broadcast on a national radio station? Or is that just a protective way to imply that the Will Young/Steve Wright interface isn't something I'd choose to hear, that it can only enter my life as a chance sputter of background noise? Am I just attempting to maintain a level of critical credibility? Person whose opinions on music matters = person who doesn't listen to Steve Wright. In the afternoon, or whenever.

Any road up, the poshest pop star in history was discussing his new single, "The Long And Winding Road", a duet with that orally challenged Caravaggio model, Gareth Gates. Will mentioned that, until he rehearsed it for one of the live Popstars shows, he'd never even heard the song. This startled me somewhat. Whatever your opinions on the intrinsic merit of the Fabs, surely everyone with any interest in music must have picked up at least a hundred Lennon/Macca tunes by some kind of aesthetic osmosis.

Then, as if to counter any possible charges that he's a dull gimp who knows jackshit about pop history, he referred to his recent version of "Light My Fire" as "a cover of The Doors' most famous song". Which entirely misses the point. WY's version was that rare beast, a cover version of a cover version. The arrangement, the feel, the tempo were all half-inched from Jose Feliciano's bossa take on the song. Young was possibly attempting to claw some credibility from the scenario, aligning himself with a leather-trewed rock satyr, rather than a lounge-Latin crooner. More likely, he's a donkey who doesn't know what he's wittering about.

But at least he's aware that there's an original out there. Atomic Kitten's bowel-shreddingly crass version of "The Tide Is High" has provoked numerous comparisons with the Blondie "original". Oh, fuck right off. I can tolerate that kind of ignorance from the orange-faced Scouse bimbos themselves. These are, of course, the women who thought that "Eternal Flame" was written by Suzanne Vega. But when music hacks come up with lines like that, it really is time to genuflect to a shrine of Lester Bangs and neck an overdose of cough medicine.

But, hey, maybe I'm being too precious about this. Maybe I'm just slipping backwards into some kind of Hornbyesque caricature, whereby the presence of an A&M copy of "God Save The Queen" makes thirtysomething men soil their sensible chinos. Or maybe I've got something to hide.

"The Tide Is High" is crucial to this line of thought, because the original was, as I'm sure you know, written and recorded by John Holt. And John Holt is also the author of my current favourite reggae song, the weirdly wondrous "Ali Baba". And this is where all those blokey ideas of authenticity come into play, the idea that people who've never heard "The Long And Winding Road", or who think that Debbie Harry wrote "The Tide Is High" are somehow less than human. Because, if "Ali Baba" is to be my favourite reggae song, I should have picked it up while slumming in Trenchtown. Or at least got an original seven-inch from a dodgy stall in Portobello Road.

Sadly, neither of these is the case. I first heard it on a Saturday morning, when Mark Lamarr was depping for Jonathan Ross on, with sickening inevitability, Radio 2. Oops. And the only copy I possess is on a compilation CD, cover-mounted to a copy of Mojo magazine. Double oops, inna Babylon, rasclaat, etc. Surely that's like discovering Motown through Phil Collins's version of "You Can't Hurry Love". But I still maintain some kind of moral and intellectual superiority, on the basis that if I don't feel morally and intellectually superior to Will Young or Atomic Kitten, the Lester Bangs scenario becomes utterly inevitable.

So, I cling to my saggy self-belief, that my knowledge of the arcane byways of pop lore give me some kind of status. My transparent vinyl copy of In Utero and my limited edition promo of C86 (now, why didn't I ask Stephen Pastel to sign it...) make me somehow better than my sister, with her small shelf of CDs. Despite the fact that she's happy. And stable. And solvent. And a nicer person, and a more useful component of society than I'll ever be.

Then, of course, I bet she, and Will Young, and any or all of the members of Atomic Kitten don't even know who Lester Bangs was.... Cuh, some people, eh?

2002 Tim Footman