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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

~Kitten Wine~#11: "Ask Johnny Dee"

Okay, Pop-quiz many great songs about journalists can you name? Journal-ISTS not journal-ISM? Now, if you said 'Kevin Carter' by The Manic Street Preachers then you can have half a point as Kevin Carter was a photo-journalist not strictly a journalist. And, yes Lester Bangs is mentioned in R.E.M's 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It' but he isn't the subject of the song. I'm pretty sure there must have been songs written about Hunter S Thompson or P.J. O'Rourke at some time, but the fact I can't name any off the top of my head suggests they can't really be very well known, or indeed very good!

Which brings me to one of my favourite Indie Pop singles of all time; 'Ask Johnny Dee' by The Chesterfields. This is a truly magnificent slice of late 80s Indie Pop, not too twee and not too rockist either. A 'Hard Days Night' style chiming opening chord ushers us in and suddenly we're dragged along on a strident current of driven guitars and drums. "Well, if you’d like to know what pop stars have for tea// Ask Johnny Dee// And in which motor car it’s safe to be seen// Ask Johnny Dee".
For those who don't know, Johnny Dee was(at the time) an up and coming music journalist who wrote for the NME and Smash Hits and would eventually end up writing music columns for The Guardian. I can only imagine that Mr Dee once wrote something VERY positive about The Chesterfields to gain such a sparkling eulogy in song.

The song itself is full of my favourite things; chiming, shimmering guitars, ba-ba-ba backing vocals(always a good thing), arch lyrics, and some fine tambourine shaking. And who is shaking the tambourine? I assume it's a girl.....why? Here's why; "Why don’t you tell me, tell me Mr. Dee// Tell me who is the girl who plays the tambourine// She just wants to be// Close to Johnny Dee". See what I mean?
There's a lovely underlying melancholic poignancy about the song which on recent listenings gives the impression that the song was looking backwards to a happier time, even though the subject matter was quite clearly current. I think this is why the song has remained a perennial in my 'favourite-songs-of-all-time' list. This is a song that can't help but make me dream....

Just listening to this song, I'm transported back to time when angst and unhappiness were still strangers, when I spent every day dreaming of being a Pop-star and wondering what the next record I was going to buy would be. Of excited, huddled conflabs in dingy pubs with friends discussing this week's NME and record releases; of intricate dissections of why The Eurythmics had been shite on The Tube and why Talulah Gosh should have been on instead. When the air always stank of hair gel, roll ups and cheap deodorant.
Around this time I came up with the idea of writing a screenplay for a movie that would encapsulate the whole Indie-pop era. Every other genre of music seemed to have a film(or films) of it's own, from punk to disco, from hip-hop to Ska, it was time for our generation's movie. The film was originally to be called 'The Girl Who Runs The Beat Hotel' and would look something in tone to The Comic Strip's short 'The Beat Generation'. Bobby Gillespie would play the owner of the said hotel, Winona Ryder would play the girl who arrives to take over(Sky Saxon would play her dad!), Stephen Pastel would play a record company executive, Jim and William Reid would play bellboys, Lawrence from Felt would play a mysterious entrepreneur in no way based on Andy Warhol, The BMX Bandits would be the house band, and there would be cameos from Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, Clare Grogan, Alan McGee, Hue Poohstick, Amelia Fletcher, Dan Treacy, Julian Cope, The Field Mice, The Vaselines, The Cocteau Twins and Mark E Smith would arrive at the end to evict everyone.
After I heard this single I changed the title of the film to 'The Girl Who Plays The Tambourine' but tragically, or perhaps thankfully, never got round to completing the screenplay. In fact, never got further than writing the title on a scrap of A4 paper.
Listening to this wonderful song releases all the emotive feelings I experienced back then, and makes me feel charged, creative and incredibly happy.

The interesting thing about The Chesterfields is that this song is the only one of theirs that actually sounds like it. Most of their output sounds like they're actually not taking the whole thing very seriously at all. The vocals on nearly every other track of theirs bar this one, are a bit irritatingly childish. I don't know if this song is sung by an alternative vocalist to every other song they recorded, but it certainly sounds different. One thing I do like about them though is that they called their debut album 'Kettle' purely so that they could get free publicity from Coronation Street every time Rita Fairclough said "Put kettle on, Love"....hahaha that still makes me laugh to this day.

So, to recap, not just a brilliant song, but perhaps the only good one about a journalist; "And would you like to know who’s No. 1 in our hearts// Johnny Dee!// Yes, Mr. Pop at the top of our charts// Johnny Dee// And would you like to know where we’re staying tonight// With Johnny Dee// And so is the girl who plays the tambourine!"

.....and hopefully she still is!


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