Thursday 30 April 2009

It's gotta be jelly 'cos jam don't wobble like that

Happy birthday to the larger-than-life and slightly silly posturing frontman Turbo B of Snap!

Any excuse, really, to post these wonderful classics. First up, the song with one of the worst lyrics of all time ("I'm serious as cancer, when I say Rhythm is a Dancer"). Shame, it's a great video...

And then there is this - a huge huge favourite of mine:

Many happy returns, big boy!

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Suddenly I am interested in Rugby...

One wonders when these boys get any time to play any sport... Latest in a long line of hunky Rugby players to get his kit off for the boys is Aussie and Gateshead player Nick Youngquest, who has done a provocative photoshoot for French gay mag Tetu. Enjoy!

Read (and see) more on A Socialite Life blog

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Cara mia

On what would have been her birthday today, my research threw up a few things I never knew about the lovely Carolyn Jones, most famous for her role as Morticia in The Addams Family.

For example, she has the distinction of giving the shortest film performance ever nominated for an Academy Award, for her six-minute role in Bachelor Party (1957). She also appeared in The Tender Trap with Frank Sinatra, and The Seven Year Itch with Marilyn Monroe, and alongside Elvis Presley and Walter Matthau in King Creole.

I also never knew she was married to media mogul Aaron Spelling. They divorced in 1964.

According to press reports Carolyn Jones was one-eighth Native American, and she was a descendant of the famous Apache chief Geronimo In actual fact she was born in humble beginnings in Texas. Her parents had a troubled marriage, and her father, Julius Alfred Jones, abandoned the family in 1934. Many years later, Caroline received a telephone message from a man claiming to be him. She refused, however, to return the call.

She suffered from colon cancer, which she hid from her colleagues (as she always wore a wig to cover the fact that she was naturally blonde this probably wasn't difficult), carrying on working by day and receiving chemotherapy by night. But the cancer spread, and she died in 1983.

A remarkable woman...

Monday 27 April 2009

Thank heavens for sparkly hot-pants

Recovering from a fabulous weekend in (very) sunny Surrey, and a late night last night with Madame Acarti's niece and nephew, it is a wet and miserable Monday.

Never mind, these lovely ladies should help cheer us up - and fulfil my mission to entertain the world with tacky music... Take it away, girls!

Sunday 26 April 2009

Sleeping Bea

Words fail me when it comes to paying tribute to the late, great Bea Arthur, who died yesterday.

Suffice to say that her showbiz life, from the early days in the same drama class as Elaine Stritch and Marlon Brando, to performing with the greats - Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury, Rock Hudson, Topol, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler-Moore and Sid Caesar among them - was vast and varied, ultimately securing her the classic role of Dorothy in The Golden Girls, for which she is revered by queens and old biddies alike.

We saw her on stage in her one-woman show Just Between Friends back in 2003, and she was fabulous - warm, funny and self-deprecating, as she recounted songs and episodes from her long career.

To me, she always appeared to be a genuine, interesting and extremely witty person, the ideal "fantasy party guest", whether in character or in person.

A brilliant star - I will miss her terribly. RIP.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Oh, joy

It's the weekend, we're off to sunny Dorking to celebrate our friend Lou's first anniversary of opening her wine bar, and former Abercrombie & Fitch model-turned-actor Channing Tatum's clothes just fell off... All is right with the world!

Friday 24 April 2009

Good times and bad times, I've seen them all, and my dear...

“I've made so many movies playing a hooker that they don't pay me in the regular way anymore. They leave it on the dresser.”

As a little tribute to the very lovely multi-talented nut-job Shirley MacLaine, whose 75th birthday it is today, here is just a little sample of the lady's talents...

And she most definitely is - still here!

Shirley MacLaine website

Thursday 23 April 2009

We can rebuild him...

Somehow, discovering the fact that the "Bionic Man" Lee Majors is seventy years old today makes me feel suddenly very old indeed.

For despite the fact that everyone likes to have selective memories about the quality TV of their youth - I, Claudius, Ascent of Man, Civilisation - it was actually trash TV programmes like Kung Fu, Alias Smith & Jones and the Six Million Dollar Man that we were really watching...

Lee Majors (Steve Austin), all butch and rugged (in real life the young Harvey Lee Yeary was a US football graduate), would spot the baddies with his bleeping bionic eye, chase after them with his bionic legs, and then manage to hit people with this bionic fist that could crush steel plate - all without shedding a drop of blood or killing anyone!

Nothing in any of the plots was in the slightest bit plausible nor memorable - a bit like the A-Team a decade later - but we were hooked! Then came the spin-off Bionic Woman; and there were even a bionic boy and a bionic dog! Oh, the joy.

In "real" life, too, Lee Majors' marriage to Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett captivated our need for Hollywood royalty - the "Posh and Becks" of the mid 70s. When the marriage fell apart, and the Six Million Dollar Man was cancelled, however, his star faded - despite a hit US series called The Fall Guy in the 80s (which I never watched; I was far too busy being a young slut by then) - and now Mr Majors has reached that inevitable "cult" status, destined never to shake off his past.

But never mind, eh? We all have those denim-clad, impossible, cartoon-book memories to fall back on...

And here's the man himself singing the theme tune to The Fall Guy. A proper budding David Hasselhoff:

Wednesday 22 April 2009

The Rossdale Incident

I always thought Gwen Stefani, was, well, a little mannish...

Now things seem a bit clearer, as it appears that the rumoured relationship between Gwennie's hubbie Gavin Rossdale and 80s scene queen and "gender-bender" Marilyn was indeed true all along.

Young Mr Rossdale has always denied their romantic involvement. But now Marilyn has confirmed the existence of the relationship in an interview for "In Touch" magazine.
"We were together five years. But it felt like 40.

"Gavin and Gwen are perfect for each other, but he was the love of my life".

Now THERE's a Celebrity Bitch-Slap in the making if ever I heard one...

Read the story

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."

We trooped off to see the Kenneth Williams extravaganza Stop Messing About last night, and it was hilarious!

Taken from the scripts of his little-known 70s radio show of the same name (the first that Kenneth starred in, as opposed to being one of the players in other people's shows, like Tony Hancock and Kenneth Horne), it was everything we could have expected. Lame jokes, groansome puns, absurd sketches, wonderful characters such as "Sir Inigo Parchmutter, a ninety year old judge", "The Kingston, Surbiton, Wimbledon and District Line Trio" and "Florence McWiddlemore", and typical BBC primness belying a smutty, knowing undercurrent of double entendre.

Among the mayhem, the cast performed their film adaptation "The Dirty Half Dozen" (or "The Smutty Six"), their very own Spaghetti Western (in which much was made of the villain's six-shooter with the mother-of-pearl chasing round the butt... oo-er) and the "Lesser-known Sports Reports" featured the London to Brighton Ballroom Dancing Rally, with a thrilling cross-country Pasadoble and a Minuet up the M25...

It was all superbly acted, of course! Robin Sebastian as Kenneth captured all his mannerisms and pompousness to a "T". Nigel Harrison as Hugh Paddick veered hilariously between Cockney ruffian and Queen of the May, Emma Atkins as Joan Sims was almost exactly like the lady herself at times, and the BBC announcer Douglas Smith was carried off by Charles Armstrong with just the right level of smarm.

Once again we noticed that many in the audience were confused by exactly what they had come to see. Some even left at the interval, complaining that they thought it was going to be a biography of Kenny himself. Where do people get their tickets from? Free with a box of cornflakes? Perhaps they should try and find out about a show before booking?

Anyhow, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves - and if you like a tittersome show rather than belly-laughs, hanker for the nostalgia of old radio comedy and are a fan of Round The Horne or even The News Huddlines, then I highly recommend this one!

Stop Messing About website

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Ding Dong

Yesterday that magnificent actor Leslie Phillips CBE, serial portrayer of on-screen cads, celebrated his 85th birthday...

Having risen from his lowly Tottenham background (thanks to elocution lessons) to get into the Italia Conti acting school, the young Leslie was one of the first actors to appear at the brand new Pinewood Studios in 1936 (and is indeed the last survivor of that opening).

Throughout the war he continued to appear on stage, an eventually landed a role in radio's The Navy Lark, which became the springboard for his long and profitable career on the big and small screens.

He allegedly based much of the caddish swagger for which he became famous upon his contemporary Terry-Thomas, and indeed the two were often rivals for similar parts. Leslie appeared in three Carry On films before landing the role that made him a "national treasure" - in the Doctor film series.

He later almost parodied himself in a number of stereotypical roles, notably the 70s ITV series Casanova, but made a remarkable renaissance in the early 90s as the sinister James Xavier Blake - nemesis to the hero, played by the sexy Clive Owen - in Chancer.

I have always loved Leslie Phillips. You can immediately assume from scanning a cast list that if this man's name appears, then at least some scenes will be bearable. Many happy returns to a truly great actor!

Here are some of the great man's most memorable comedy moments:

And here he is holding his own against the formidable Peter O'Toole in his most recent film Venus in 2006:

Leslie Phillips on IMDB

Monday 20 April 2009

L'inimitable parodier

I haven't forgotten "Tacky Music Monday" - and thought I'd share with the world another new discovery. Here is the incredible Ulrika von Glott (in real life French singer and impressionist Marianne James), a diva extraordinaire. Truly bizarre...

From King Kong to "cocksucker" to Kennedy

The lovely Jessica Lange celebrates her sixtieth birthday today!

Of Finnish, German and Dutch extraction, Miss Lange was never one of the "leading ladies" of Hollywood, yet she has made a definite impact upon my sensibilities. From her debut in the dreadful remake of King Kong - which I and my sister went to see in the cinema in 1976, and hated - she went on to recover her credibility with an extremely sexy role against Jack Nicholson in the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, an Oscar nomination for her absolutely stunning portrayal of the doomed 30s starlet Frances Farmer in Frances, and parts in several award-winning films including Tootsie and the Patsy Cline bio-pic Sweet Dreams, finally winning an overdue Oscar in 2004 for her part in Blue Sky with Tommy Lee Jones.

And I look forward to seeing her in the recently released movie Grey Gardens, about the weird real-life relatives of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis...

I have a sneaking admiration for Miss Lange - if not just for her sheer determination, after appearing in some shitty movies in her early career, but also for her incredible on-screen presence (to me, she is reminiscent of Faye Dunaway). Admittedly, her latest round of plastic surgery does lend itself to the feeling that this lady's bone structure is about to crumble...

All this leads me to one of her lesser-known parts in a film, and an excuse to post this particular clip (Bye Bye Life) from All That Jazz, in which (right at the very end) she plays "The Angel Of Death"...

And here she is giving what should have been the winning Oscar performance in Frances....("Occupation? Cocksucker!")

Jessica Lange on IMDB

Sunday 19 April 2009

I was in a car crash, or was it the war? Well, I've never been quite the same

Author, fantasist and downright strange person J.G. Ballard is dead. Although he was feted for his childhood memoir (latterly produced on screen by Steven Spielberg) Empire Of the Sun, and treated with shock and awe for his other famous work that became a film (by David Cronenburg, no less) Crash, it is for the influence his surreal science fiction short stories had upon music that we should truly recognise this man.

For amongst those songs ostensibly influenced by his work are these beloved classics...

JG Ballard obituary in the Telegraph

Saturday 18 April 2009

The sad death of Gardeners' World

We just tried to watch the latest programme in the new series of BBC's Gardeners' World, and ended up having to switch off in exasperation. I have for many decades been an admirer of the calm, collected, and above all intelligent programming that this series has provided, found solace in its no-nonsense advice, and luxuriated in the sheer joy of the love of plants.

For some reason - probably not unconnected to the mass panic that ensues in broadcasters such as the BBC (who have got rid of anyone who might be experienced or indeed anyone older than Britney Spears) when anything that is beyond the grasp of an ill-educated sink estate pleb, whose entire understanding of the world extends to Jeremy Kyle and Heat magazine, is broadcast - the current producers appear to want to make the show's format into "game show" meets children's' TV banality.

I began to read the equally frustrated comments by regular viewers of the programme on the BBC Gardens blog, and felt the need to post a comment. Here it is.
Elijay wrote: "Perhaps the 'Old Fogeys' are out of their comfort zone and would like to turn back the clock to that so called 'Golden Age' when everything was perfect."

I do not consider that my desire for a programme that does not insult my intelligence makes me an "old fogey". I do not believe that change for change sake is a good mantra, and I cannot see why this ridiculous parody of a programme should continue to be broadcast under the "Gardeners' World" banner at all.

Let's customise an ice cream van and give out carrot seeds! Lets make a hanging basket against the clock! Bring in more kids! Schools! Vox-pops!

Why not call this mess "Garden Invaders"? (no - that's been done on cable), or maybe "Rhythm and Blooms"? (no that's been done also), or how about "Sod's Law"? (no - already taken).

I would go off and watch repeats of the REAL Gardeners' World on UKTV Gardens, but in the dire depths of cable-land this channel is now axed and will be merged with all those awful "makeover" programmes to form a conglomerate channel ethereally called "Home".

I despair.

Any excuse for a gratuitous men on beach video

I happened to notice that it is Sean Maguire's birthday today, and did a little Google search on him. We all remember Sean's path from child star of Grange Hill to the inevitable parts in Eastenders and The Bill to (very cute!) teeny-bop recording artist, to oblivion - a familiar story for many of our home-grown "talents".

At least he didn't end up on the cover of the tabloids for "My Drug Hell", or present any daytime makeover programmes.

But the boy obviously did something right, and he resurfaced fairly recently as the star of cult spoof film Meet The Spartans and now has a decent enough career on US TV.

However, my search also turned up this amazingly cheesy video of hunky men in very few clothes horsing around on a beach to the sounds of one of Mr Maguire's unlamented 90s choons... And why not, indeed?

Sean Maguire official website

Thursday 16 April 2009

Cleans whiter than white

Ewww! A washing-machine-and-toilet combo

Responding to the challenge laid down by MySpace legend Mrs Clayton [sadly no longer there] to write a blog about washing machines, here's my humble contribution...

Ten "Interesting" Things About The History Of Washing Machines
  • Evidence of ancient washing soap was found at Sapo Hill in Rome, where the ashes containing the fat of sacrificial animals was used as a soap.
  • In Roman times a fuller would whiten clothing by treading on it in a bucket full of fermented urine.
  • The earliest washing "machine" was the washboard, invented in 1797.
  • Lonnie Donegan became famous in the 1950s for playing skiffle (which included a washboard) with hits such as Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour and Rock Island Line.
  • The use of soap for washing increased throughout the second half of the nineteenth century after the tax on it was abolished in 1853. Washing was generally done with a "dolly", or pole with bars attached to the end for agitating the clothes in a bucket or "possing-tub".
  • The earliest hand-driven washing machines were constructed entirely from wood, later machines made of metal permitted a fire to burn below the washtub, to keep the water warm throughout the day's washing.
  • The first electric-powered washing machine was "The Thor", with a galvanized tub and an electric motor, invented by Alva J. Fisher of Chicago in 1908.
  • Hotpoint, founded in 1911, made around 800,000 washing machines in 2007 in their factory at Bodelwyddan in Clwyd, North Wales.
  • Servis, a company that provided washing machines on hire as well as to buy [I know, my mother rented her precious twin-tub from them], produced the first washing machine to be controlled by a microchip.
  • The most famous song that features a brand of washing machine in its lyrics is Greased Lightning from Grease. All Miele washing machines work on the Hydromatic system where specially designed drum ribs with fins scoop up the water and carry it to the top of the drum, before releasing it onto the laundry from above, ensuring efficient soaking.
Less well known is this fitting tribute...

The Washing Machine Museum

I'm Spinnin' Around

We had another great night at Polari "Home and Abroad" last night!

Although the title of the night gave us an idea of what to expect, the readings actually evoked some fab memories.

Aoife Mannix's extract from her novel Heritage of Secrets, set in small town Ireland at the time of the Troubles, told the tale of the tricks naughty schoolgirls got up to and how they taunted their teachers - a scenario that I remember vividly from schooldays. Of course, the relationship between the girls blossoms into "trying out kissing" (and more)...

Nick Alexander's tale of a gay couple's adventures in a Parisian darkroom - highly sexually charged, as you might imagine - also struck a familiar chord for me, though I can't speak for everyone else in the room. Certainly some of the ladies present giggled enthusiastically, but I am not sure they have experienced this sort of thing first hand... (Do heteros have bars with darkrooms? Or lesbians?)

But it was Christopher Fowler's extract from his autobiography Paperboy that set my senses reeling - evoking memories of Spirograph, Plasticene, chemistry sets and bad parenting, all immediately recognisable. Excellent stuff!

Dom Agius opened the evening with a remarkable selection of music on a "Parisian cafe/cocktail lounge theme", including, I am very pleased to say, one of my all-time faves If You Want Me To Stay by Ronny. Celine sang a couple of brilliant belting tales of cracked relationships and sleaze, in her inimitable Music Hall style. And Paul Burston completed the wonderful evening with a set of pulsating pole-dancing pieces - an opportunity I couldn't miss, of course...

John-John and I ended up in the Piano Bar again till very late, which was a wonderful way to round off a superb evening's entertainment (as my head will testify today!).


Wednesday 15 April 2009

Forget about the bad times, oh yeah

It's a beautiful day - even in Wood Green... It is four weeks till our next trip to Spain, and the theme of tonight's Polari is "Home and Abroad"...

So what better way to celebrate than with the original old broad herself?

Tuesday 14 April 2009

What's Ancient Egyptian for "Cheers"?

News that a crate of 5,000-year-old wine (undrinkable, apparently!) has been discovered in the tomb of the improbably named Pharaoh Scorpion I of Egypt prompted me to think of songs that have been inspired by this magnificent brew.

Avoiding the loathsome (Mistletoe and Wine), the banal (Summer Wine), the irritating (Red Red Wine) or the schmaltzy (Days of Wine and Roses), I came up with these two, both corkers!


Monday 13 April 2009

Dispensing fol-de-rol frivolity

Now here's a neat little way of tying up three items in one hit.

My tradition here is to publish "tacky" music every Monday (don't ask me why, but it is, and I like it).

Ninety years ago today, the booming master of baritone musical theatre numbers, the late Howard Keel was born (and in his six decade career, set many hearts-a-flutter with his manly roles in films such as Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Oklahoma, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and in his later years on TV in Dallas.)

And yesterday saw the anniversary of the birth of that ever-sparkling, tap-dancing phenomenon Ann Miller.

So what's more appropriate than this spectacularly tacky number (from Kiss Me Kate), a film that also just so happens to feature both Mr Keel and Miss Miller..? Enjoy:

Sunday 12 April 2009

God's Gift

We went on one of our safaris today, to the leafy environs of Dulwich. A fascinating place indeed - a remnant of Olde England nestling uncomfortably close to some rather less salubrious parts of South London such as Lewisham, Peckham and Brixton.

And such a history! The whole area between the high points of Crystal Palace and Herne Hill was purchased in Elizabethan times by an actor and theatrical magnate called Thomas Alleyn, under whose benevolence such esteemed institutions as Dulwich College ("The College of God's Gift"), almshouses and other religious and educational buildings were founded. He established a toll-road that still exists today, and the village itself remains to a great degree preserved as a result of his estate and its influence. Very Mapp & Lucia...

Dulwich is the birthplace of such luminaries as Enid Blyton and Anne Shelton, and currently home to a host of famous people like Jo Brand, Margaret Thatcher and James Nesbit - the place reeks of money!

We walked around the grounds of the famous Dulwich Picture Gallery, established at the end of the C18th when no permanent home could be found for a collection of paintings destined for Poland (a country that by then had been carved up by Russia, Prussia and Austria and no longer existed). Its founders are buried in a mausoleum on the site, and Sir John Soanes' innovative design for the dome was the inspiration for the later design of the top of the GPO's iconic red telephone box.

We wandered the village and passed by the College, through the lovely park and up Forest Hill past the Horniman Museum - a strange and beautiful Arts an Crafts building - stopping for lunch in Dulwich's magnificent Crown and Greyhound pub en route.

Tons of history, magnificent brickwork, and a genuine "village" feel - all within fifteen minutes of London Bridge or Victoria. A grand day out!

Dulwich local website

Saturday 11 April 2009

A pioneer

"The HIV paradigm has produced nothing of value for my life and I actually believe that treatments based on the arrogant belief that HIV has proven to be the sole and sufficient cause of AIDS has hastened the deaths of many of my friends."

An unusual one for me today - for this would have been the birthday of the late Michael Callen, one of the true heroes of AIDS activism.

Michael was one of the earliest diagnosed (in an era of real ignorance) with what was then known as "Gay-related immune deficiency syndrome", and famously outlived many of his contemporaries. In a decade of moral outrage, panic and misguided demands by the more radical members of the gay community (such as "Act-Up") to rush through the release of untested antiviral drugs onto the market, Michael's was a calm voice. He wrote books on living with "AIDS-related" symptoms, and introduced the concept of "safe sex" into the public domain.

Most radically - and from my own personal and intense study of the matter, he proved to be right - he always disputed the theory that a single virus was the cause of the illnesses people were succumbing to, and was particularly critical of the use of AZT, a dangerous and previously banned anti-cancer treatment which has subsequently been linked to more deaths of people than the "disease" ever killed.

In addition to being a wise and remarkably astute political campaigner - he was a spokesperson on behalf of the People With Aids (PWA) self-empowerment movement on several US government AIDS committees - Michael was also a talented singer and actor. My favourite of his roles was his appearance as "Miss HIV", the drag-wearing singing virus, in the fabulous "AIDS musical" Zero Patience! [I'm not making this up you know!]

RIP, a great hero of mine...

Here's Michael singing live:

And here he can be seen briefly (through the microscope) in this brilliant film:

Michael Callen

Friday 10 April 2009

I think I might be going to hell, Oh dear!

It's that time of year, when people's thoughts turn to chocolate, bunnies and baby chicks. Oh, and this, of course...

Thursday 9 April 2009

Stupid and contagious

Apparently fifteen years ago this week some drug addict in Seattle blew his head off, and a cult was born.

So much so, in fact, that many artists since have chosen to do some weird and wonderful covers of the man's greatest hit...

Big Band version:

Ukulele version:

Lullaby version:

Electro version:

And, of course, my favourite version - by Kiki and Herb...

Hello! Hello!

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Had he lived, that marvellous master of the Gallic chanson Jacques Brel would have been eighty years old today.

In fact one of those enigmatic "famous Belgians", Jacques became naturalised in Paris in the 1950s after his melancholic talents had been eagerly promoted by Maurice Chevalier and Michel Legrand. He became a sensation in France, and his darkly ironic and melodramatic tales of low-lifes and misfits were as highly regarded as anything that Brecht and Weill or Edith Piaf had produced.

He went on to work in French theatre, translating the hit Man of La Mancha for the local audience, and directing and acting in several major plays. He was diagnosed with lung cancer while on a planned round-the-world sailing adventure and died at the age of just 49 in 1978, leaving a huge legacy of classic music to the world.

An unmistakable talent, his sublime influence has inspired many of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time such as David Bowie, Scott Walker, Judy Collins and of course Marc Almond, and it is mainly through the English versions of his beautiful songs that we remember him to this day.

A remarkable talent. Here's the man himself:'s the best English version of his classic Ne Me Quitte Pas sung by the glorious Dusty Springfield:

And it seems it is not only musical artists upon whom Brel leaves a lasting legacy... Alistair Campbell on Jacques Brel

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Memories, good days, bad days. They'll be with me always

Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus were in town last night, and joined producer Judy Craymer and author Catherine Johnson on stage for the curtain call with the cast as Mamma Mia celebrates its 10th anniversary. Now I am not a huge fan of the concept of this show - like We Will Rock You and others of this ilk, it is a musical created purely to fit around a set of (albeit impressive in Abba’s case) songs, and as such leaves me cold.

But these two men are legends, nevertheless - it is 35 years since Abba's Eurovision Song Contest win with Waterloo, and since that time the Swedish super-group chalked up an impressive nine Number 1 hits in the UK - twice they hit the top with three successive releases (Mamma Mia, Fernando and Dancing Queen in 1976, and Knowing Me Knowing You, The Name Of The Game and Take A Chance On Me in ‘77 to ‘78).

It is very easy to take the piss out of Abba’s cod-English, nauseatingly chirpy lyrics and squeaky-clean image, but there are not many other artists in the history of the charts who can say that their earnings were at any stage higher than their home country’s biggest industries...

And on a purely musical level, the late Stig Anderson’s production values have often been compared to classical composition, with his application of ground-breaking multi-tracking orchestral and vocal techniques.

Despite the fact that the group’s public and personal relationships broke down at the pinnacle of their success, all the members of Abba have gone on to varying degrees of success - notably in Benny and Bjorn’s case, the world of musical theatre. In my humble opinion, Chess was a masterpiece, spawning standards worthy of earlier masters of this genre such as I Know Him So Well and One Night in Bangkok, and Elaine Paige’s show on Radio 2 on Sunday was dedicated to celebrating that show’s own 25th anniversary.

And as for the “cult of Abba” - well where would the Aussies be without them? Films such as Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert feature Abba songs and anecdotes as a mainstay of their plots, and Bjorn Again sell out huge venues much as their idols always did!

Abba is, and always will be, a unique phenomenon.

Monday 6 April 2009

Loco Mia

Heavens to Betsy! When I started posting tacky music every Monday to cheer up the prospect of going to work after the weekend [I wish, at the mo!], I never realised quite what a scrummy obsession this would become...

Here, for your delectation and entertainment is our latest discovery by a little-known 80s Spanish boy band (what else!). Oh, the shoulder pads! The fans! The hair...

Saturday 4 April 2009

Abnormally Attracted to Kate

Professional eccentric Tori Amos returns this month with a new single Welcome to England from her forthcoming album Abnormally Attracted to Sin.

Continuing her homage to a far more talented artiste, Ms Amos has decided this time not just to mould herself upon the divine Kate Bush but she appears to have nicked the song wholesale from Lionheart too.

Which do you prefer? This..?

Or this..?

Friday 3 April 2009

Happy Doris Day!

Happy 85th birthday today to the fabulous Doris Day!

Born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff in 1924 to German immigrants, she taught herself to sing by listening to Ella Fitzgerald records and began her climb to the top as a singer with Les Brown and his big band, and as an actress in numerous unmemorable romantic movies. She went on to sing with the top bandleader Harry James - most famously recording with him Young Man With a Horn (from her film about the life of Bix Beiderbecke, co-starring Kirk Douglas).

Her real breakthrough of course was the fabulous Calamity Jane in 1953, which not only made Doris Day an international movie star, but also won an Oscar for her classic (often lauded as a gay love song) Secret Love. This is one of my favourite musical soundtracks of the era - with sing-a-long tunes such as The Deadwood Stage and Black Hills of Dakota, it is guaranteed to provide the backdrop to many a party round our place...

From this stunning success she went on to star with Frank Sinatra in Young at Heart, with Jimmy Cagney in the Ruth Etting biopic Love Me Or Leave Me (both of which also provided million-selling soundtrack songs), and with James Stewart in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, from which came the magnificent Que Sera Sera - Doris Day's signature tune from then on.

But it was her partnership with Rock Hudson that provided Doris with her most lasting on-screen image. The chemistry between the two stars, as they played out their inevitably sexless romantic comedy roles, was sparkling - to the degree that she was seen by some as an archetype for wholesome post-war American womanhood, which brought a not unwarranted degree of criticism. Indeed, pianist and comic Oscar Levant famously said: "I can remember Doris Day before she was a virgin."

Despite this success, her time was rapidly coming to a close as the 60s cultural revolution began, and the taste for films such as hers began to wane. She made her last ever movie in 1968, aged only 44.

Her musical career, too, suffered. A number of her albums were commercial failures in the US (despite critical acclaim and success in the UK and Europe), and although she made a successful transfer to her own TV show in the States, she personally loathed it and never received the backing of the networks to show it across the globe.

Further disappointment hit Doris Day when she discovered that her late husband and his business partner had been misusing her income, and she was practically bankrupt as a result. She sued, but the legal wrangling carried on and on throughout the 1970s - the case was not finally settled until the mid-80s. Meanwhile Doris appeared to put more of her efforts into animal welfare rather than showbiz, despite receiving many "Lifetime Achievement" awards.

She continued an intermittent career, culminating in her own talk show on which her friend (the by then dying) Rock Hudson famously appeared, alerting the world's media to his illness and led to the feeding frenzy that followed. In spite of the fact she is adored by millions of fans as a cult legend and gay icon, today apparently Doris Day prefers to live a reclusive life away from the spotlight, leaving us with happy memories and above all those golden tunes...

Thursday 2 April 2009

I Like Plastic

The seven inch single is officially sixty years old this month, and that news set me thinking about early record purchases.

Way back in about 1973, my parents gave me a Dansette for Xmas - allegedly a portable record player, although I recall it weighed a ton (all those valves!) - covered in fetching pink and white vinyl. How trendy. I thought it was fab at the time, and you could stack all your records up to play in turn (and scratch the surface of each).

As well as the inevitable Top of the Pops albums (1974's [pictured above] came complete with free calendar of some tart in a leopardskin bikini), they bought us kids such gems as Thank You Very Much for the Aintree Iron by Pinky & Perky, and O'Malley the Alley Cat from Disney's Aristocats cartoon.

But I was determined to buy my own music with my pocket money. And what was the first single I bought? This...

Good grief. However, at the time I was in love with Donny - the teeth, the hair, the velvet jackets. I was only ten years old, so I have the perfect excuse, honest, guv!

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Elvis found on Mars

It is April Fools Day, and we wait with increasing cynicism every year for the latest attempt by the tabloids or TV producers to fool the nation. It's not like the old days, when hordes of wide-eyed viewers were apparently taken in by the deadpan reporting of the "annual spaghetti harvest" by Richard Dimbleby on Panorama in the 50s.

Maybe we British are less credulous than the Americans. After all, as recently as 1998, thousands of customers went into Burger King to order their "new left-handed burger". The company had to issue a press statement to announce the fact this was a hoax - but evidently a lucrative one for them..

Our lives were brightened in the 1980s when the cult newspaper The Sunday Sport used to publish increasingly outrageous headlines every week - "World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon!", "Lord Lucan Found - Riding Shergar!" and "Lovesick Gardener Marries Lettuce!" being among the most ludicrous... No-one could take it seriously, and books of these headlines were best-sellers. However, its other interests - tits and football - were soon eclipsed by newer media formats such as the reprehensible Loaded and Nuts, and the paper was the first national to go under in generations..

I miss it, in a way....