HAD IT. LOST IT. (Parts 1 & 2)

It’s not easy coming up with fresh ideas for this little corner of the internet that have the ability to run’n’run. The ICAs have worked, Jonny’s charged particles are proving to be popular and I suppose the weekend features will always generate copy. This one might work…but will again likely depend on the views and opinions of the readership.

I want to look at singers or bands who, at some point in time, had ‘it’ (however you choose to define ‘it’) and then all of a sudden, and usually without warning, lost ‘it’ and never recovered ‘it’. I’m not meaning those who gave us a stellar debut album and a bum follow-up as the rock and pop worlds are littered with such acts. This is about folk who were massively popular and deservedly so only for their music to go a bit ‘meh’; sometimes their popularity remained intact and their profile remained high while others would see their sales plummet and fade quietly into obscurity. Oasis are an example of the former while most of their Britpop peers can be filed under the latter.

I’m doing parts one and two in a single sitting. Two of the biggest stars whose music once made me smile but then made me squirm.

1. ELTON JOHN

It was this incredibly imaginative advert that helped remind me of how much I enjoyed listening to Elton John songs when I was a young kid.

Rocket Man was a huge hit back in 1972, hanging around the singles charts for months when I was turning nine years of age. Like probably just about every other kid of that age and of that era, the idea of space travel was particularly exciting with tales of the exploits of astronauts all over newspapers and television, while Star Trek was a show that was watched and enjoyed my parents (whom I’ve just realised would have only been in their mid-30s at this time) as well as my five and six-year old younger brothers. Elton’s hit 45 just seemed to be part of the magic of that time.

I guess that made me something of an Elton John fan, albeit I wasn’t yet at the stage of going out and buying his, or indeed, anyone’s records. Besides, I didn’t need to as some of my older cousins, whose house I’d go and visit every two weeks or so, seemed to have all his albums and they would let me hear his stuff, whether on vinyl (with record sleeves that always seemed so vivid and colourful) or on 8-track cartridge, which one cousin told me would soon make bulky record collections a thing of the past.

Here’s a reminder of some of the 45s that I would be exposed to over the next few years:-

mp3 : Elton John – Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
mp3 : Elton John – Crocodile Rock
mp3 : Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
mp3 : Elton John – Bennie and The Jets

In 1976, after many years of trying and near misses, Elton John finally hit the #1 spot; it took a duet with Kiki Dee to hit the pinnacle but Don’t Go Breaking My Heart just left me ice-cold. The thirteen year-old me didn’t have the capacity to offer any critical analysis of the song other than to say it was fucking shite (even as a pre-pubescent teen, I already had a capacity for swearing but never in front of my parents!). My admiration for Reg had come and gone. And it’s never come back.

Some of you will recall that myself and Jacques the Kipper pulled together a Billy Joel ICA for a bit of fun on 1 April 2016. We had a bit of a chat on the way to the football one day as to how we could follow it up this year and I really wanted to do similar to Elton John’s 1980s output. You know, the classic songs that area such a part of everyday listening on the smooooooooooooth radio stations.

Nikita; I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues; Sad Songs; Kiss The Bride; I’m Still Standing.

Jacques talked me out of it. I suppose I should thank him as I would have needed to listen to the songs again if I was to have a stab at such an ICA, even for piss taking purposes.

2. STEVIE WONDER

Stevie Wonder has been making music for some 55 years so inevitably there’s going to be a variation in quality. Some of the very earliest material hasn’t stood the test of time all that well but there are some golden nuggets to be unearthed such as this from 1965:-

mp3 : Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

But it’s the period from 1968-1977 that holds up to anything anyone else has ever produced over a similar length of time. Fifteen of his singles went Top 20 in the Hot 100 in the USA; he was just as successful in the UK with thirteen Top 20 hits. Some of them were straightforward love songs, others were brilliantly conceived socio-political commentaries on the issues facing black and poor people in his home country. All of them had tunes that were just killer. Here’s four such examples:-

mp3 : Stevie Wonder – Superstition
mp3 : Stevie Wonder – Living For The City
mp3 : Stevie Wonder – I Wish
mp3 : Stevie Wonder – He’s Misstra Know It All

The first sign of decline came with the double album The Secret Life Of Plants in 1979, albeit this was more a soundtrack to a documentary than a ‘proper’ commercial release. The following year saw the release of Hotter Than July, an LP that turned out to be his most successful album in the UK, selling more than 300,000 copies and spawning four Top 10 singles.

One or two of the songs on the album are up there in quality with his 70s output but others are just awful, not least Happy Birthday, his the well-intended and heartfelt tribute to Martin Luther King that suffered immediately from being hijacked for every single celebration party of that period. But, given that the song did so much to raise the profile of the campaign to have Dr King’s birthdate declared as a national holiday in the USA, I really shouldn’t really be so curmudgeonly. The sad thing, however, is that it’s an LP that has, for the most part, dated really badly and the ballads/love songs in particular are not a patch on his earlier efforts in that genre.

But what followed afterwards in the early-mid 80s was cringeworthy. Ebony and Ivory – the toe-curling and insufferable duet with Paul McCartney; I Just Called To Say I Love You which seemed to be #1 for months on end in 1984, no matter which country you lived in; Part Time Lover, a song that sits alongside those of Phil Collins as examples of what was so wrong about the charts of the era.

In 2017, Stevie Wonder remains a hugely important and influential recording artist and social figure. Just don’t ask me to listen to his recent music.

Now. Any volunteers to come up with Part 3?

28 thoughts on “HAD IT. LOST IT. (Parts 1 & 2)

  1. Looks like an interesting serie JC
    You have nailed it with the first two. You will find no arguments from this quarter
    Four classics from each of these artists and then highlighting but mercifully not sharing the dross
    Looking forward to a Rod Stewart and the Simple Minds featuring in due course

  2. Elton john i just could nwver get even when he had it. I just dont like his voice. Spandau ballet (although i guess a lot of people never thought they had it in the first place) , new order although they found it again in their last lp.

  3. I can’t argue with you first two entries in the series and will be interested to see where you take it from here. Round these parts we call the phenomenon in question ‘Doing a Rod’, after spikey haired former gravedigger Mr Stewart. From 1969-1974 solo and with The Faces, pretty much impeccable. From 1975 to the current day, utterly devoid of artistic merit.
    See also UB40. ‘Signing Off’ – a fantastic debut, ‘Present Arms’ – a passable second album, the entire remainder of their career – completely worthless.

  4. Paul Heaton had it and lost it – somewhere around the fourth Beautiful South album “Miaow”, I think.

  5. “Rob, top five musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the ’80s and ’90s. Go. Sub-question: is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins, is it better to burn out or fade away?”

    It’s hard to disagree with either of your choices, JC, although a lot of where you draw the line comes down to your age. Being a tad (only a tad younger), I’m a little more generous towards the early part of Elton’s 80s output. I have a special fondness for Nikita, even though I know it’s naff.

    Harder to justify some of Stevie’s 80s crimes though, as the above quote from Barry in Hi Fidelity illustrates.

    I suspect this series will give me some pain as it progresses though, given my somewhat more… catholic tastes. (I still bear the scars of the Billy Joel ICA, after all.)

  6. You might as well do U2, twice – Rattle and Hum was a dud – then were good for the 1990s (although some of Pop is not so good – Staring at the sun?) and then rubbish from 2000 onwards. Mansun lost it after their first album, Thomas Dolby after the third, Depeche Mode were great despite Dave Gahan’s antics until 2001’s Exciter – ‘Dead of night’ anyone, but Delta Machine was a real return to form. Wet Wet Wet were amazing gigging in 1985 without and album and then were shit.

  7. kills me to say it but The Kinks come to mind here, so damn brilliant in everything they did from 66 to 71 and then lost themselves in a stream of bizarro concept albums and a long string of records that just begged for radio play

  8. Sadly The Fall are beginning to fit into this category. I’d also say Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and Pink Floyd – great with Syd, long decline afterwards under the stewardship of Roger Waters but I don’t know if that counts due to the changing lineup.

  9. Adam Ant following “Kings Of The Wild Frontier?” “Prince Charming” knifed the baby for me. There were a few great singles afterward but overall pretty inconsistent. Yello following “Baby” didn’t work for me; what I’ve bothered to hear. Even “Baby” releases some off gasses. Loved the Dieter Meier solo album though! Yeah, Simple Minds from ’85-’93 were diabolical. Since then a wide variety of work. Some poor [yet better than ’85-’93]. Others fine, but not excellent. I really enjoyed “Graffiti Soul” and “Big Music” though neither would displace “Empires + Dance” on its pedestal! Now they’re playing “more organic” acoustic drivel that begs for cream pies in the face for Jim Kerr. Midge Ure has not recorded any material past 1985 that I’d put in my escape pod. His 12″ mix of “Call Of the Wold” was the last thrilling work I heard. I did like his contribution to the “International Blue” album by Stephen Emmer. He needs to do more like that. I’d say that Kate Bush past “The Hounds Of Love” didn’t work for me but I’ve since gone completely sour on her… apart from “The Dreaming.” That’s the only one I want to own now. I’m selling off that Japanese “This Woman’s Work” box with a vengeance.

  10. Hi, been reading your brilliant site for a while now. we share similar musical tastes and thanks to you I have found some choice nuggets that I missed.
    For this section I would like to nominate Echo & the Bunnymen, apart from Nothing Lasts Forever (which can go down as one of the greatest comeback singles) the rest since 1985 is just meh. On a bigger scale I’ll go for Paul McCartney, The Who and Neil Young.

  11. Great idea… I concur with all of the above comments, was just thinking Roxy Music, Adam & the Ants, Spandau Ballet and UB40 too, but they’ve already been mentioned. Early Dead Or Alive seemed completely different to what I think of when I hear the name these days, as did early Ultravox… oh will be thinking about this all evening now!

  12. SA – I’ve got your back man, if you get any threatening letters. Lou Reed’s photo should accompany any definition of the phrases “loosing it” or “lost it”…

  13. The Who. Aerosmith. Even Ringo, funnily enough: Back off Boogaloo is still, for my money, the best solo Beatle single. With Jet, quite literally, in its slipstream.

    Also, as any self respecting Simpsons fan will tell you, all three have made cameo appearances in Springfield.

  14. Surprised no one has mentioned the Rolling Stones yet. Primal Scream have nosedived in recent years, that last album was as good a definition of ‘lost it’ as I can come up with. I’d also go with Arcade Fire, although their new one is better than their last one but that’s not really saying a great deal…

  15. Rod the Mod was my first thought too, think he lost his mojo during his Atlantic Crossing. I think a lot of greats from the 60s and 70s lost it in the 80s, too busy trying to fit in, shitty 80s production, and blandsville ensued, yes I’m looking at you Macca, yes,and you Mr Plant. Thankfully, as the 80s ended, they seemed to say “fuckit! Sod this, it’s time to be myself again.” David Bowie had to form a hard rock band to wipe away the memory of his turgid 80s. Possibly the worst offender though was Grace Slick, one of the coolest women in the world as singer with Jefferson Airplane, boarded the Starship, and gave us “We Built This City”, truly as an appalling example of 80s corporate rock as you will ever hear, the sort of thing that would get Donald Trump swinging his wig and jacking off to his Putin photos.

  16. I bow to none in my love of Roy Wood’s material, either solo or in a band…up to “Mustard”, after which it all went kind of pear-shaped, for reasons unknown.

    Also agree with the above nominations – Elton was the first one I thought of.

  17. Thanks Echorich- no hate mail yet though.
    I’d agree about Primal Scream. But some wold say they didn’t have it in the first place- then found it, then lost it.
    The Rolling Stones haven’t made anything worth listening to since 1972.

  18. I commented on Rod in the Imaginary Album Series (#79), but every now and then he surprises me; he’d surprise me even more if he recorded that song of mine I sent him. Made for you Rod. *Gets coat*.

  19. Had it, lost it: sounds like the last comment I made – here one minute…

    I was banging on about Rod (see also your Imaginary Album Album Series #79). Yes, he has shown Spunk Trumpet tendencies in the past, but every now and again he will surprise you. I also went on to say he’d surprise me if he ever recorded ‘Fool’ – the song I sent him which is 100% made for him.

    Also, while I’m on, and in full flow, I must take issue with Mr. Bagging. I’m sure he was just trying to get a rise, but…Angie, Heartbreaker, It’s Only Rock’n’Roll, Fool to Cry, Miss You…?

    J

  20. You are totally 100% wrong, couldn’t be wronger, about Happy Birthday. It is one of the finest pop songs ever written. Hotter than July is not a bad album at all, although I could do without Lately.
    I was going to suggest Neil Young, but then you could say he Had It, Lost It (CSNY) Had It again, Lost It (1980s) sort of Had It again.
    Has anyone suggested Genesis? Of course not, never bloody had it. Ever.
    And The Fall have never lost it! It’s just the occasional album is slightly below their usual impeccably high standards.

  21. 2 very good nominees.
    I think Elton got it back on odd occasions in the 90’s. The odd fantastic single
    Stevie though well and truly lost it, I even find songs in the key of life (whilst genius in parts) rather a chore to listen too.

    Nominees,
    John Lennon
    Erasure
    AC/DC
    ELO
    Simple Minds
    Bob Dylan

  22. arcade fire as mentioned above – everything they do now is so self indulgent with no sense of self editing – their songs and albums just get longer and longer

    the strokes – they lost it before the first album was even released – they made 3 great ep’s and then cobbled them together (albeit rerecording a few songs) to make a great album – BUT IT WAS ALL STUFF THAT YOU’D HEARD BEFORE – and every album since has been diminishing returns in a desperate attempt to capture that magic they had as they were starting out

    and talking of 3 ep’s – the beta band?? all downhill after them

    de la soul – 3 feet high and rising is a classic, the next album has a couple of great tracks and then what??

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