A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (28)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 16 APRIL 2008

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I’m no connoisseur of art and paintings. I’ll see something hanging on a wall and decide pretty quickly whether I like it or not. There will even be times when one work by an artist will appeal, while another of their paintings will appal.

One thing I can’t do however, is really explain why that happens to be the case. I’m not able to dissect a work or art, nor can I really look beyond the immediate visual images that meet the naked eye for something that is more deep and meaningful. And sometimes this happens in music.

I chanced upon a brilliant piece of writing on the LP Songs To Remember by Scritti Politti. It highlights how the record, which on first listen appears to be a hotchpotch of soul, jazz, R&B and pop at its purest, is actually a very clever and subversive piece of work full of political sentiments that almost border on the anarchic.

Now I’m not saying I was never aware of the fact that Green Gartside had a strong and almost extreme left-wing ideology, but I kind of let it drift away on the wind whenever I played what has long been one of my favourite LPs of all time. There’s a lot to admire in the essay – for instance, I’d never have cottoned-on to the fact that the sleeves of the singles were a parody of the finer things in life such as cigars and Courvoisier. I also love the analysis that this was a record full of innovative acts of homage thanks to Green’s style and approach, but the use of soul would later be stolen by ‘the hideous mid-Eighties Live Aid Brigade with their own agenda’, with many of them believing ‘big hair and big volume equals soulfulness’ .

This is all very well and true, but I just can’t help but proclaim my love of the songs is all down to finding something classy sounding in among all the guitar-dominated songs that I was immersed in at the age of 18, which for some reason was of immediate appeal to my ear. Especially this:-

mp3 : Scritti Politti – Faithless (Triple Hep’n’Blue)

I loved the vocals, both lead and backing, and I loved the instrumentation and arrangement. I could never have said back in 1981, nor indeed now in 2008 that what made it so special was:-

“Proceeding at the sombre pace of a New Orleans funeral march, heavily lacquered in gospel shrieking, it is, as the title suggests, implicitly about the modern, probably white soulboy and lover addicted to the linguistic constructs of soul, the “oohs”, the “testifies”, the “I got souls” but who is disconnected from them in his contemporary, agnostic time and place – “Faithless”, indeed.”

That’s how it’s described by David Stubbs, author of the piece I was mentioning earlier. Read it in full right here.

Scritti Politti went on to be a chart success on both sides of the Atlantic a few years later when they left the Rough Trade label and signed for Virgin Records. But these later works of art, while pleasant enough in their own right, never appealed as much as the songs to remember from 1981.

 

2 thoughts on “A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (28)

  1. Beloved by one of the two adults in this house. This single runs a very close second to the double-A side Asylums In Jerusalem/Jacques Derrida for me. On the whole, my affection for Scritti Politti has had its ups and downs, but it has mostly been ups, and the era of Songs to Remember is as high as the ups could ever go. Well deserved placing of this one, JC.

  2. You got it right JC. Subversive is what Songs To Remember is from start to finish, cover to cover. But Green has always appreciated and admired beauty and there’s no reason why subversion must only be jarring and ugly. It’s at its most effective when it rides in on the waves of mass appeal and plants itself in the minds of viewers or listeners. My favorite part of the subversion is the fact Songs To Remember is probably the most sophisticated album Rough Trade ever released.

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