A DEBUT GUEST POSTING by KHAYEM
Inspired by JC’s recent post, my first attempt at an ICA is Scritti Politti, or more specifically, the wonder that is Green Gartside. Like most, it’s been a challenge to pick just ten songs but I’ve tried to avoid straightforward ‘greatest hits’ and instead capture the breadth and consistency of Green’s output over several decades. Ironically, my first exposure to Scritti Politti wasn’t the music, but the lyrics to The ‘Sweetest Girl’, printed in Smash Hits. The words alone and the accompanying striking image of Green & co. was enough for me to check out their records and I’ve been along for the ride ever since.
I think Green is one of the finest songwriters and singers and, whether DIY indie, anarcho-political, ‘perfect pop’, reggae, dancehall, electronica-acoustic or future folk, the trinity of words, music and voice is hard to beat.
1) Boom! There She Was (Sonic Property Mix ft. Roger) (UK 12” single, 1988)
Perfect pop sounds to begin. I got this 12” single before the accompanying album Provision and it’s remained the definitive version for me. There is a US edit of this song which, at 9 minutes, slightly outstays its welcome but the album and single versions feel too short. This is just the right balance of mid-80s sounds, enhanced by remix titans Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero and guest vox from talkbox champion Roger Troutman. Also, the second Scritti pop song (that I’m aware of) to reference philosopher and author Jacques Derrida.
2) A Little Knowledge (Cupid & Psyche 85, 1985)
This duet with B.J. Nelson is one of the highlights of the album and one of my favourite Scritti songs, full stop. It’s a perfect meld of sound and feeling, brimming with great lines including this one:
Got a little radio
Held to my body
I can feel your back beat boy
Moving a muscle of love
3) Petrococadollar (White Bread Black Beer, 2006)
Green often creates an unsettling mix of honeyed vocals and unsettling aural backdrops and this is a great example. It’s almost as if the music is coming through the walls from the neighbour next door whilst he’s riffing lyrics over the top. Comforting and creepy at the same time.
4) Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me (Nice Up The Area Mix ft. Sweetie Irie) (CD single, 1991)
Scritti Politti entered the 1990s with a trio of cover version singles, one with B.E.F. (see the ‘Bonus EP’ below) and two with on-the-money reggae guest vocalists. I prefer this cover of the Gladys Knight & The Pips song to The Beatles’ She’s A Woman. The latter was a bigger hit, but this is a better song and Sweetie Irie tops Shabba Ranks, no question. Of the multiple mixes on the 12” & CD this one by Green and Heaven 17/B.E.F.’s Ian Craig Marsh is the stripped-down superior.
5) Flesh & Blood (Version ft. Ranking Ann) (The Word Girl EP/Cupid & Psyche 85 bonus 12”, 1985)
Though 1999’s Anomie & Bonhomie was seen by many as a controversial departure, with Green frequently ‘guest vocalist’ on his own songs to rap artists, the seeds had been planted a decade and a half before. Limited copies of Cupid & Psyche 85 came with a bonus 4-track 12” of ‘Versions’ and this alternative take on reggae pop of The Word Girl is dominated by Ranking Ann, with an occasional snippet of Green in the background. This version also appeared on the single’s B-side, which remains Scritti Politti’s biggest UK hit to date, peaking at No. 6.
6) Confidence (4 ‘A Sides’ EP, 1979/Early, 2005)
Kicking off Side Two, this doesn’t quite go right back to the beginning but appeared on the aptly 4 ‘A Sides’ EP from 1979. I heard this for the first time on the Early compilation. As the EP title suggests, this is a shift towards pop, though as ever Green has an individual lyrical take on the relationship song:
Competence inherent in what a man must do
Facts I admit only in confidence to you
But you haven’t got the heart to tell me…
7) Tinseltown To The Boogiedown (Album Version ft. Mos Def & Lee Majors) (Anomie & Bonhomie, 1999)
I first heard and saw the video on The Chart Show and missed the opening few seconds and title, so I didn’t realise it was Scritti Politti until Green’s unmistakeable vocals appeared on the chorus. I loved this song and the Anomie & Bonhomie album and, for me, it seemed a natural evolution. The Black Keys did pretty much the same thing ten years later, with their Blackroc album, but Green was there first and this is better. And Mos Def is most definitely the rap chief.
8) Wishing Well (Tangled Man EP, 2020)
The release earlier this year of a two-song solo single of Anne Briggs cover versions was a welcome surprise. I belatedly picked up on an earlier Green Gartside cover version on a Nick Drake tribute album (Fruit Tree, on 2013’s Way To Blue) which kind of points the way to these songs. This song would also sit comfortably with the White Bread Black Beer album, and is further evidence of Green’s consummate skill as an interpreter of other people’s songs. And his voice grows ever richer with time.
9) Gettin’, Havin’ And Holdin’ (Songs To Remember, 1982)
With lyrical nods to Percy Sledge (“When a man loves a woman”) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (“It’s true like The Tractatus”), this also has the dubious distinction of allegedly inspiring Wet Wet Wet’s name. Why this song hasn’t been covered innumerable times is a mystery to me but it remains an all-time favourite and has been an essential inclusion on every Scritti Politti or ‘skewed love songs’ mix tape that I’ve done for friends over the years.
10) Forgiven (Live Acoustic Version) (Charles Hazlewood, BBC Radio 2, May 2007)
This was one of two new songs that Green premiered on the Charles Hazlewood show in 2007, both with working titles (the other being Unfrozen). Forgiven has synth-based bird tweets, broken acoustic chords and lyrical references to a shady character going to “settle scores with a man with a Nike holdall”.
The entire segment, including a short but fascinating interview with Green, is still available on the excellent Bibbly-O-Tek website (http://bibbly-o-tek.com/2007/05/17/green-gartside-in-the-charles-hazlewood-show/). I was fortunate to see Green Gartside a couple of weeks later as part of the Venn Festival in Bristol. Although billed as a solo gig, it was the full Scritti Politti touring band: Rodhri Marsden, Alyssa McDonald & Dave Ferrett. Although a relatively short set of 9 songs, 5 (including Forgiven) were brand new songs at the time and one song (Robert E. Lee) had been finished in the dressing room before coming on stage. As far as I’m aware, Forgiven has not been re-recorded or released since, but this version could appear on an album as it is and, in my opinion, is a perfect closer to this ICA.
BONUS EP “TOUCHED BY THE VOICE OF GREEN GARTSIDE”
A sampler of songs that Green has lent his voice to and which are all the better for it.
a) I Don’t Know Why I Love You (But I Love You) (Album Version) (B.E.F., Music Of Quality And Distinction Volume 2, 1991)
b) Come And Behold (Green Gartside Revoice) (King Midas Sound, Without You, 2011)
c) When It’s Over (7” Version) (Adele Bertei, UK 7” single, 1985)
d) Between The Clock And The Bed (Manic Street Preachers, Futurology, 2014)
The Adele Bertei song was also co-written and produced by David Gamson and Fred Maher and sounds entirely like a Scritti Politti backing track/outtake from the Cupid & Psyche 85 sessions.