Never In A Million Years

I was reminiscing with Linn recently about watching old black and white movies on the TV on Saturday afternoons whilst everyone else was watching sports. There was always something so romantic and special about that. It made me feel like I had some wonderful secret that none of my peers knew about. When they would meet on Monday mornings and talk about the football results I would be replaying scenes from the movies in my head and walking the school corridors, collar turned up and pretending I was Bogart or Cagney. Jimmy Stewart maybe because he was kind of tall and gangly like me. I’d have loved to have been a Cary Grant or a Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday of course, but there was no point in taking the fantasy to ridiculously impossible extremes.

Then there were the late night French new wave films that BBC 2 would show. I remember coming in from a night of being bored in town and being utterly seduced by the likes of The Band of Outsiders and The 400 Blows. Those celluloid worlds seemed so much more appealing than the realities of the crass Technicolor I had to live through day to day. Later of course I discovered that those films were closely connected to a lot of the music that I was discovering and becoming obsessed by, and as the poet said, it all fitted.

There is something so special about those fledgling experiences that mould your personality; something so magical about the formation of memories and emotions that go burrowing into your heart. And whilst we continue to build on those layers of feeling as we grow older, there remains something so deliciously painful about those first foundations. They are simultaneously as solid as granite and as fragile as gossamer wings.

So what pours on those new layers these days? Well, recently I have been obsessing over Linda Scott. It’s all the fault of a mix CD that dropped into my hands a few months ago. It kicked off with Scott’s big early ‘60s hit ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ and was followed by 1000 Violins ‘If I Were A Bullet Then For Sure I’d Find A Way To Your Heart’. There were loads of other great tunes on the mix, but I could never get past the first two cuts. Now I always liked 1000 Violins. I know there were people who did not rate them, but I remember them always having a fine line in titles at the very least. ‘Locked Out Of The Love In’ was a favourite. I am not sure why I did not buy any of their records. Probably a lack of money, and of course in those days there was no Soulseek. I clearly remember ‘If I Was Bullet’ though, and it was great to hear it again. Listening to it now, I’m struck by how it sounds less jangling than I had imagined and more like The Wild Swans. I’m sure that comparison will make some quake, but there it is.

But the Linda Scott track is something else again. You may know it from Mulholland Drive of course, where it follows Connie Steven’s equally magical ‘Sixteen Reasons’. Some days I think I could just put those songs on repeat and never want to hear anything else ever again.

Didn’t Vic Godard once say something about going off the course of twenty years and out of rock and roll? And didn’t he say something about how Pop was doing very well thank you until ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On’ appeared? Something like that, anyway. It may have been a typically arch Godard quip, and personally I like a lot of that primal rock’n’roll palaver, but there’s something in what he said regardless. It ties into what El records have been doing, putting out all those great old records by the likes of The Boswell Sisters and Anita O’Day. There is a glorious sense of impossible cool about those records, and also of course in wanting to play those records instead of all the indie-rock-by-numbers that is foisted on the world these days. I like to think if I were sixteen again now I’d be listening to The Boswell Sisters, watching Band of Outsiders and dancing the Madison. And didn’t The Pines have a song called ‘Anita O’Day’? And have you heard Anito O'Day do 'You're getting To Be A Habit With Me?' It will kill you, I swear to god.

It’s a long, long time since I was sixteen of course, and no amount of playing that old Buzzcocks number is going to change that. But at least I can still skulk around the corridors at school making out like I’m Jimmy Cagney, stopping the kids and asking if they think they’re a tough guy … Well, okay, maybe not. But I am walking around singing Linda Scott songs in my head.

There is that line in the old Hoagy Carmichael standard ‘Stardust’ that goes ‘the melody haunts my reverie’. I cannot tell you how delighted I was to discover that. You see I have always adored that Lichtenstein painting and it formed the cover and therefore title of one of my fanzines from way back in the day. I’m not sure I would care to read those old fanzines now, but I like to think that the spirit of them was that which suffuses Linda Scott’s version of ‘Stardust’: Passion, desire and the exquisite ache of nervous love. The essentials of great Pop.

There is something so perfectly restrained about those Linda Scott songs. It’s the same with so much of those girl group sounds of the same era. The tension between the underlying sexual drive of the songs and the innocent, naiveté of the delivery is monumental. It is almost too much to bear, and is so much more provocative than anything I hear these days. It’s that thing about keeping the mystery caged perhaps, or like Joan Fontaine in Rebecca saying how she wishes she “were a woman of 36, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls”.

I love how Linda Scott’s Greatest Hits is so full of formula. The number of songs with the word ‘Star’ in the title is just insane. That they are all insanely great only adds to the pleasure. Of course all of the greatest Pop acts have instinctively understood the value of formula. That’s a given. It’s just always so wonderful to re-discover the core of that ideal.

So there I go, wandering around with a head in the clouds, hearing ‘Never In A Million Years’, ‘You Are My Lucky Star’ and ‘Lonely For You’ echo through my empty head as the days slip away in idle dreams of strawberry kisses by firelight and polka-dot dresses tumbling from exquisitely shaped shoulders.

Dum da da da dah da da dum dah da da indeed.

There is a great reference to Linda Scott in the press release to the Young Playthings debut set Who Invented Love?. It is very apt, for there is a similar obsession with those themes of sexual awakening in their songs. Sure, it’s difficult to imagine Linda Scott singing a song like ‘Hot Sex With A Girl I love’, but there you are. I bet she would have liked to though.

Now there is so much about this Young Playthings record that I should hate. What was I saying about indie-rock-by-numbers earlier? Well, musically, The Young Playthings often do a lot of things that drive me to distraction. It’s formula, sure, but it’s the formula of sanitised ‘punk’ pop rock, and there are fewer more despicable styles. Yet I cannot help myself. I love it to bits. It is sweet, steamy, sensual and stormy. It is also impossibly catchy, with some of the finest Pop hooks I’ve heard in a long time. Former single ‘She’s A Rebel’ is fantastic; soaring and stomping in equal measure. And ‘Tune’ is just heartbreaking. It’s an American Rock ballad that I can see the kids in my art classes making super sweet animations to, and as I say, I should hate it with a passion. But those lines about standing at the airport cheek to cheek and “kissing ‘please don’t forget me’” just floor me. I just keep thinking of that Bill Murray / Scarlett Johansson moment at the end of Lost In Translation.

Elsewhere, on the epic ‘The American West’ they sing of driving down the Pacific coast and listening to Patsy Cline. And really, you can’t not love that, can you? The song also is a kind of chronicle of the decline of American popular culture – a strange melange of contemporary rock and finger pickin’ country echoes. As it song it really sums up The Young Playthings: in love with a romantic notion of Pop culture, caught in a tension between the past, present and future.

If I say that contemporary guitar rock music doesn’t get any better than this, then you can take that any which way you want.

Now, where’s that Linda Scott record again?

© 2007 Alistair Fitchett