The Greatest Pop Record Ever …
I feel I should come clean about this. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 'Do You Believe In Magic?' surprisingly is not my all-time favourite song. It is, in fact, 'Hold Me Close' by the very great David Essex. It is everything pop should be. And if you catch me in the right mood I can provide a rousing rendition for your delight.

Us old timers have known for many years how wonderfully strange the David Essex LPs from the ‘70s really are. For everyone else, these old 50p charity shop staples have now been salvaged and reissued by Edsel as lovely, cheap 2-on-1 CDs, and yup they still sound strangely wonderful. David’s string of singles from 'Rock On' through to, say, 'City Lights' (that bass line should surely have been sampled by someone!) is arguably second-to-none, but I don’t think the cheeky chappy has ever got credit for his experimental edginess.

On the other hand, Mark Perry and Alternative TV have never really received recognition for their out-and-out pop creativity. Perhaps another salvaged set by Overground of the 1981 Strange Kicks collection will help rectify that. It is my own favourite ATV set, and one of the cheekiest and chirpiest of pop LPs ever. Which, conversely, makes it one of the strangest by certain standards.

Following on from the experimental out-there-ness of Vibing Up The Senile Man and the Good Missionaries sets, and the Detailed Twang Door And Window set, Mark Perry in 1981 got together with his old comrade Alex Fergusson. They determinedly set out to make a out-and-out pop record for Miles Copeland’s IRS label, with Richard Mazda (of The Fall’s Room To Live etc fame) in the production seat. The results still sound astonishing, and perhaps are up there with Black Lace and Squeeze in terms of catchiness, and perhaps pre-empt Denim and Sudden Sway’s ’76 Kids Forever in terms of studied singalong bubblegum knees-up. In fact only some parts of Vic Godard’s End of The Surrey People and Sansend do the same thing better.

There should be little doubt about the godlike genius of Mark Perry, and the pivotal role he’s played in punk and beyond. And shouldn’t someone salvage his Snappy Turns solo set? We should, however, not underestimate the contribution of Fergusson. The year before Strange Kicks he was co-opted by Postcard patron Alan Horne to produce some of the most wonderful sounds of young Scotland. Reunited with Perry he had a whale of a time coming up with the snappiest tunes since Chinn and Chapman split.

The opening track, 'The Ancient Rebels', really ought to be some sort of national anthem for all aged punks who never quite made the grade but can never ever forget the lessons that they learnt. “The ancient rebels, so they say, will live to fight another day!” My own favourite has to be Mark’s paean to Deptford, 'Fun City SE8', which it really is not possible to listen to without a whopping great grin across your chops.

There is not a weak song here, but neither then did it nor probably now will it get anything like the credit it merits. But hey ho, I’ve got mine, and it’s been really great fun bellowing and bopping along.

It’s hard to think of a record since Strange Kicks that has mined such a blatantly pop seam. Though the World of Twist’s Quality Street springs to mind, and it too is almost something of a lost classic now. No, the real tradition Strange Kicks belongs to is that whole ‘70s thing, going back through RAK and Bell, and a whole host of insanely addictive chartbusters. For some reason, I am thinking Paper Lace here, as you do.

Would you believe me if I told you that some time in the late ‘80s in the Record Mirror classifieds (I only bought it for the particularly gorgeous Laugh! photo it featured) there was an ad that appealed for tapes of Felt, Josef K, and early Paper Lace. Wow! To this day, I wonder whether the ad paid off, and exactly what that person knew that I didn’t! I do know that some early Paper Lace moments are exquisitely gorgeous, overtly sweet, close harmony gems, which in another setting would be huge favourites of connoisseurs of soft/sunshine pop. But perhaps not as bizarrely adventurous as some of the songs you could find on those David Essex records.

© 2004 John Carney