You may have noticed that one of the main things that happens on this blog is self mythologizing. It is about to reach new lows heights.
Last week I recycled a post about Falco’s hit Rock Me Amadeus and it made me think. At first the thought was: “I wonder what the other number ones were that year?” I started trawling through the lists of New Zealand number one songs. It was fun for awhile and then I reached a point somewhere in the early 80s where I started to find number one songs that I had never ever even heard of before. How about Da, Da, Da by Trio in 1982, or Bad Habits by Billy Field in 1981? Although there were also some songs from 1981 and 1982 that I actually remember from that time even though I wasn’t really into pop music yet. For example, 1981 featured the immortal classics Greatest American Hero Theme by Joey Scarbury, and Shaddap Your Face by Joe Dolce. A good (?) year to be called Joe.
All this tapped into another thing that fascinates me (yes, by implication, that means that the first thing that fascinates me is myself): the vanished celebrity.
Perhaps if you are one of the two or three people who have read this blog for awhile you might remember me writing about Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6? This girl group were a perfect example of one type of the vanished celebrity; that type that is actually in the glare of worldwide fame, and experiences it, but is not actually famous. This artifical girl group were in the movie Purple Rain, and released albums that were almost decent. Within about a year of this ride to the top the young ladies involved in this group were experiencing the stomach dropping plunge down the other side of the rollercoaster, this is the side that involves the screaming, the vomiting and the wishing you were dead.
My next thought (it was day for simple, linear thoughts) was: “What was number one when I was born?” This was hard to find out. When I say hard what I really mean is that it wasn’t on the internet. You can get a list of number one singles in New Zealand for 1975 on the internet, but not for any year before that. I looked in the back of my copy of Stranded in Paradise and discovered that for the years I was interested in the official chart was something called the Pop-O-Meter which wasn’t really that official. The Pop-O-Meter, which began in September 1970, was replaced by the official chart in May 1975. Cruising around the internet I found that there was a book called The Complete New Zealand Chart Book, and that the Wellington Public Library had a copy.
I took Eleanor to the library. I had planned to go to the library to get The Complete New Zealand Chart Book out, but Eleanor was under the impression that I had gone to the library to play a complicated game of chase involving a toy push chair, squealing and, whenever you were caught, lying on the ground screaming “don’t hit me, don’t hit me, don’t hit me” which was pretty mortifying. I’m amazed we managed to get out of the library without me being put under citizen’s arrest and referred to CYFs. In the brief windows of opportunity I had to look for the book I wanted – generally when I was running past the spot where it was supposed to be on the shelf while I was chasing Eleanor – I found that the book was either out or lost. When I found the reference copy I realised I didn’t have a pen or any change to use the photocopier. Anyway, it was time to go before the child protection squad swooped. I bundled Eleanor under my arm and made for the nearest exit.
At home I looked around on the internet again. There are quite a few good sites about pop music in Australia, but very little about New Zealand. It was one Australian site that finally inspired me. Actually a single photo.
Sherbet were huge in Australia in the 1970s. Their biggest hit was Howzat! I don’t know anything about them beyond this song which I can sort of hum the chorus to. My question though has to be: what the hell made them think this photo shoot was a good idea? When you swallow the little bit of vomit in your mouth and look at this photo more closely all kinds of secondary questions start developing. Check out the guy on the right. Woah! Easy partner. Actually if you think about where all these limbs are going, and what was involved in setting this photo up (did they cover themselves with the bubbles, or did they help each other?) the mind boggles. I’ve read a little about Sherbet since seeing this photo and none of the biographies mention them as being Australia’s first openly gay band so I have to assume they were straight. Presumably then this photo was intended for a female audience, but I can’t help but feeling that looking at this photo would make many women feel a little, well, uncomfortable.
This photo represents one of the reasons I love pop music. The music business is like alchemy. It can turn lead into gold, and gold into lead, and it’s mostly smoke and mirrors, but at it’s core are all the corny emotions that you can find in three minute pop songs. These include the songs that make us seem mighty, and the songs that make us look like idiotic buffoons.
By now I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do. If I was giving it a fancy name I would be calling it something like a cultural history of New Zealand from 1973 to the present. What I’m going to do infact is review every number one from the day I was born (9 March, 1973) until now (ish). I’m not sure exactly how this will shape up. I have lots of ideas, but I won’t know which ones work until I give it a go. I might find the energy in the holidays to go and look at copies of The Evening Post, and The Listener for March 1973 kept on file at the National Library. I might have the enthusiasm to read rock biographies and borrow all kinds of dire CDs from the library. There will be old family photos, and pointless stories. I say that this is part of a kind of vain self mythologizing, but it is mostly about wanting to find out what the past was like, and to save a few of the funniest moments from the popular music rubbish dump.
Our starting point then is March 1973.
So what was the number one song the week of my birth? I was able to glance at the chart book in the library long enough to find that the same song dominated the charts from 23 February to 23 March, and I couldn’t think of a better choice to begin this exercise in naval gazing:
You’re So Vain, by Carly Simon.