After an Easter weekend away, Donna and I were travelling home from Dorset in the car. I was driving and Donna, therefore, was acting as DJ for the journey. As well as the radio and music played from Donna’s phone, we always keep a plastic bag of CDs to hand. Donna had naturally chosen several of “her” CDs to listen to already when she inserted a new album and some strangely familiar yet undistinguishable chords blasted out.
“What on Earth is this?” I moaned.
“It’s Five’s Greatest Hits!” came the enthusiastic reply.
“Oh well, at least this won’t take long then…” was my riposte. And I gritted my teeth and tried to focus on the A31.
To be fair to me, the first three minutes- Five’s (I can’t bring myself to write the grammatically ridiculous ‘5ive’) ill-conceived collaboration with Queen to re-record “We Will Rock You” was painful going. But then the opening few bars of “Keep On Moving” clicked in.
All of a sudden the infectious pop beat and guitar riff had me caught. The steering wheel tap began. And then out of nowhere the lyrics just poured out of me.
“When the rainy days are dying, got to keep on keep on trying, all the bees and birds are flying… (aaaahhhhh)… Never let go, gotta hold on in, non-stop ’til the break of dawning, keep moving, don’t stop rocking… ”
Hardly Shakespeare or Wordsworth, but stuck in the brain nonetheless. Before long we were belting out hit after hit. “Everybody Get Up”. “If Ya Gettin’ Down”. “Got The Feelin’ “. “When The Lights Go Out”. An epic half an hour of sing-a-long fun which took us back nearly twenty years and was an unexpected joy.
It dawned on me that, in a way which I’ve thought about sport and other cultural things but not so much music, the days of the 1990s and early 2000s are now long ago enough that you can properly call it nostalgia now. The youth of today would look back at the outfits, the music styles, even the way we used to listen to, share and purchase music, and find it alien to how it all works today. The fabulous BBC show Peter Kay’s Car Share is built around sentimental songs from the last two decades and the reactions of the two now-nearly-middle-aged protagonists on hearing them.
The good thing with nostalgia is that, by definition, you’re looking fondly back at something from a position of being much more grown up. This means that you’re not shackled in your opinions in the same way, being free of (in this case) teenage pressures as to what music is ‘cool’ and which is not. You also have the benefit of hindsight to allow an objective look at how what went before truly influenced what came after it.
As such, and inspired by my realisation that Five were not only actually quite good but that I enjoy listening to their fare as a thirty-something, may I present some of the guilty pop pleasures from my youth. Both individual songs and artists, and including both things I secretly liked at the time but wouldn’t dare say out loud, plus things I look back on now with retrospective respect.
“Reach” by S Club 7
A very cheesy, made-for-teen-TV act they may have been, but along the way S Club 7 carved out a few classic pop anthems. “Don’t Stop Movin’ ” was perhaps their best all-round song, but I do think that in “Reach” they happened upon one of the cleanest pure pop anthems ever produced. Stick it on at any party involving 20- or 30-somethings today and you’ll fill the floor. The only rival in my eyes from this period was “Mmmbop” by Hanson, released three years earlier and equally as pleasing on the ear. “Reach” pips it purely for singability though.
MFly turned up in the early-to-mid 2000s to follow along the pathway paved by Busted. They were a little less shouty-rocky and yet were still more of a musical unit than a singing-only boy band, and I allowed myself to be a little swayed by their catchy content. Songs such as “Obviously” and “It’s All About You” were complete earworms. I particularly liked “That Girl”, which had shades of “I Saw Her Standing There” by the Beatles and others. They then released a song called “Sorry’s Not Good Enough”, which I liked so much that it was one of my earliest ever iTunes purchases. Alas the album this was from didn’t reach the heights of the two before, and it was the beginning of a downward spiral.
“Maria” by Blondie
I didn’t really know about Blondie’s past when they reformed in 1999 and released “Maria” as their first new single. The song divided opinion I seem to remember, and after this the band didn’t come up with anything else as successful. I loved it though. Great drum beat, guitar riffs, singable tune and the inclusion of bells all added up to a song I secretly enjoyed to listen to!
The Lighthouse Family
The Lighthouse Family got a bid of a bad rep in the late 90s. Inoffensive, easy-on-the-ear, smooth, Magic FM time filler fare which even your Grandma could listen to. However, they have most definitely stood the test of time and in songs such as “Ocean Drive”, “Lifted” and “High” have found a place in my heart and my playlists- I hope many others’ too. They are genuinely well-crafted songs which, ironically, do lift you up as you listen and sing along.
“Always Have, Always Will” by Ace of Base
There is no Ace of Base song which I care tuppence for, save for this random piece of pop fluffiness from 1998. We happened across it while listening to an old compilation album the other day, and I could recite it word for word- much to Donna’s surprise and concern!
Take That (the first incarnation)
The conversion here is the most stark. In the mid-1990s, as an adolescent boy with a slightly younger adolescent sister, Take That were the enemy. Of course, I loved proper bands like Oasis and Blur- not this teeny trash. My brother and I properly celebrated Robbie Williams’s departure by blue-tacking cheeky notes and messages on all my sister’s Take That posters. But this is where hindsight comes to help; together with the 21st-century reinvention of the group which has put them more into the centrist mainstream. I now see the excellent song writing involved in those early days, and how it helped to restructure pop music in that and further generations.
“Affirmation“ by Savage Garden
Much the same as with Ace of Base, this is one song by (in my opinion) an otherwise forgettable band which I just for some reason really liked. Its lyrics are relatively powerful, and even if I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment of them all, I’d still sing them out given the chance.
Donna would question me should this list not include Girls Aloud. She uncovered my covert liking for their music soon after we met, and has constantly prodded me jokingly about it ever since. I for some reason was taken by their second and third albums- “What Will The Neighbours Say?” and “Chemistry”, and might have even purchased a few of the singles from them. I’d like to say that I’ve grown out of this now, but then again I haven’t heard any of their songs for a while…
So there you have it, some of my guiltiest of guilty pop pleasures. Perhaps this has jogged your memory into some nostalgia too, possibly a digging out of the old CDs or a Youtube marathon! If so, let us know your own choices!