Red Nose Day Charity Songs: A List of Five

Alright; let’s get one thing out of the way. Everyone knows that Comic Relief is neither very comedic nor, in truth, very relieving, but it’s at worst a bit of light relief with a pretty serious message, and at best as good-natured attempt to encourage people to give to charity. But it’s hard not to be a little cynical about the overreliance on celebrities in cajoling people to donate, not just because of the self-publicity and credibility cache some celebrities seem to use it as, but because I sometimes wonder if the amount of celebrities-doing-funny-things not only eclipses the cause, but in some cases diminishes the altruism of the gesture of donating to charity in the first place.

The old cliché of RND antics – the ubiquitous ‘bath of beans’ stunt, as ever sent up perfectly in this Alan Partridge clip… from Comic Relief (ignore James Corden in ‘sincere mode’ at the end… or don’t – see what I mean about character rebuilding opportunity for certain celebrities) – isn’t really something to encourage people to give money to end global hunger. And so with more real-world recent examples. Is giving money to charity a good thing to do? Unquestionably. Are celebrities to be commended for encouraging people to do so? Probably. But is giving money to African aid because Jessie J shaved her head a good thing? Or does it leave out the question of where the money is going to all together? “Pay a fiver to see Jessie J shave her head” becomes the message, and I don’t think that’s good at all.

Anyway, I didn’t watch any of Comic relief, apart from one ‘impassioned speech’ from the seemingly omnipresent James Corden where he admitted that Comic Relief was “a bit shit” but that you should give them your money anyway. And about a minute of some haircut following an African boy along a road to his hut… and having to take a break because it was too hot (having seen the music video discussed below, I’m pretty sure this was one of One Direction). So maybe I am wrong about this. But I was just thinking about some of the tie-in charity singles that have accompanied Comic Relief. I was going to listen to One Direction’s recent contribution to world poverty ten times in a row, but I realistically though that I might not be able to physically or emotionally bear that, so here are a couple of other songs as well.  

1. The Stonk – Hale and Pace (1991)

I remember buying a cassette single of Hale and Pace’s ‘Stonk’ with my pocket money from Woolworths, in a remembrance so technologically and culturally anachronistic that it feels like it doesn’t come from childhood, but rather from another epoch… kind of on a par with saying something like ‘I remember lashing my flint axe head to a deer’s antler before worshipping the sun at a stone circle’.

The Stonk has not aged well, as this blurry VHS copy of the video on Youtube will attest.

It’s all over the place, and of all the songs on this short list, it is probably the one that has the least actually musical material in it (I say that, but I haven’t actually listened to spirit in the sky yet). If you condensed this song into its constituent individual parts and ideas, it would run for all of about fifteen seconds. The lyrics sound like they were written in about five seconds… via a process of “right, without thinking about it, list the first fifteen pairs of words that rhyme that come into your head, and we’ll just fit the rest of the lyrics, irrespective of sense or message or meaning or anything, around them”. Case in point “you can microwave a pussy cat for your tea/ but it’s better little baby if you stonk with me”. Now then; even given that Comic Relief is supposed to be a “bit nutty”, and ‘zaniness’ was at a premium in the early 90s, this line is not just nonsensical, it’s kind of grotesque. Other insightful rhyming couplets include: cheese/peas, fat/hat, shop/cops  – in the most clumsy of lines “the robbers are even stonking with the cops” – etc. The only redeeming feature of interest is the run that accompanies ‘and let’s stonk’ at the end of every chorus, but that gets played so many times that it ruins it.

In fact, the only think I really remember from this song on my cassette single, leaning over the arm of the green leather sofa we used to have, repetitively rewinding and listening to it over and over again, was at the very end it said “and now a word from Jacque CouSTONK… gluglugluglgulg”, but this isn’t even on this video.

2. Who Do You Think You Are – The Spice Girls (1997)

So, when I decided to expand out this re-listening from just One Direction to include several charity singles, I had to check the Wikipedia page to see what other songs there were. I had completely forgotten about this one, but as soon as I saw it on the list, it became the only port in an otherwise shitty storm, and convinced me to continue.

Looking back, it’s hard to measure how much I loved the Spice Girls circa 1997, because I didn’t ever really allow myself to find out. I knew that I should hate them. I was 13. You’re supposed to like ‘good’ music, like Oasis and Blur (!), ‘proper music’ with guitars and men and Kangol fishing hats, not pop music with mint tunes and confusingly alluring women and positivity. So I pretended that I hated them. Then I pretended that I only knew all the words to their songs as an ironic joke, just to prove how cheesy they were. Now if I were to lie about any of my musical history, it would be about owning The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’ (god, I’ve just found the front cover of that album. Is there a more pretentious, and shitter, title for an album than ‘Urban Hymns’? Is there a picture that more accurate encapsulates who I thought I was trying to be, but failing, when I was 13?) and not about owning ‘Spice’.

Anyway – the tune. It’s class. Those synth trumpet stabs, that faux-wah guitar at the start. The energy in it, Sporty’s ‘swing it, shake, it, move it, make it’ melody in the outro. The colours of the video. It’s mesmerising to me now, and so to a 13 year old from rural County Durham, the image that begins the video of Ginger jiggling in a red dress, or Scary’s tounge piercing was kind of baffling and amazing and intimidating because again I knew that I probably shouldn’t love it so much, but I did, despite myself. Actually, I’m trying to remember how I would have ever seen this video? I really do take Youtube for granted now, but the fact that it was an uncontrolled and random occurrence to see the Spice Girls probably made it all the more magical.

Anyway – the tune speaks for itself. I want to go back in time to 1997 and hand my thirteen-year-old self a copy of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ on CD single and just say “it’s ok to love this, fuck everyone else. Britpop is going to look shit in a few years time anyway.”

3. Spirit in the Sky – Gareth Gates and the Kumars (2003)

From the sublime to the fucking horrific.

It’s sort of amazing how dated something from ten years ago can look. Actually it’s not, really. ‘Ten years ago’ is about as un-cool as anything can get before it starts getting revived. There is little chance of either Gareth Gates or ‘The Kumars’ getting revived, and we should be thankful for at least that small mercy.

Of course, I had completely forgotten about this version. There is very little of value here. The ‘bad bum day’ joke at the beginning is about as good as it gets.

From then on in, the only contributions the Kumars make are hurried, scarcely comprehensible ‘commentaries’ on Gareth Gates’ lyrics. “What? Wembley?” to the line ‘the place that’s the best’ and “or Krishna” to ‘gotta have a friend in Jesus’. These additions were, presumably, thought out in advance and recorded in a professional recording studio, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were unintentional bleeding into the mix from a remarkably unfunny producer accidentally leaving the two way communication channel on the mixing desk open.

And there is less musical material in this tune than there is in ‘The Stonk’. Even one of the Kumars admits as much at the end when she says “you keep saying the same thing” to the interminable repetitions of ‘going to the place that’s the best’, included only to push the sorry exercise over the standard three minute mark.

4. Is this the Way to Amarillo? – Peter Kay

The less said about this one the better.

I remember being a teacher at a Secondary School in South-East London, three years after this one was released, but still, inexplicably, doing your own version of the video was seen as an ingenious and hilarious thing to do. And a number of the senior staff did a version of it for the Christmas charity campaign. And I vowed then that I would leave that school, and the profession of teaching. There was nothing for me there.

Instead of the music video, remember when Kay included it in Phoenix Nights (about 16.30), and it was quite funny?

5. One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks) – One Direction (2013)

And so…

I don’t really know anything about One Direction. I don’t think I have ever knowingly heard one of their songs (probably a damning indictment for someone studying popular music). They’re like so many things that happen: Justin Bieber, Pippa Middleton, UKIP, Sex and the City, all horse races and Formula 1, Top Gear, the Daily Mail, Twitter. I know they exist, I know vaguely what they are about (and that I would hate them if I invested even a nanosecond in finding out about them) and that some people (that I have never met) must love them for them to exist. And so it is with One Direction. I don’t know anything about them, and yet I think I know everything that there is to know to do a passable impression of someone connected to the rest of humanity. One of them is called Harry, I think. They have haircuts.

It’s like with a film like ‘The Godfather’ – you never need to have seen it to do a passable impression of someone who has, Just puff out your cheeks and say “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” and any potentially embarrassing situation where the film comes up for discussion is averted. You have demonstrated that you ‘know’ The Godfather. (I watched the Godfather for the first time about a year ago).

The same is true of One Direction. Just say ‘Harry’ and ‘Haircuts’ and I think you’ll be fine.

But I do know both The Undertones and Blondie…

The first guy – I think it must be Harry – he certainly has the most conspicuous ‘hair’ – is wearing a ‘Rush’ t-shirt. This can’t possibly be a ‘retro-cool’ thing, like wearing insanely expensive Ramones t-shirts was a few years ago, can it? Are ‘Rush’ cool now?

Anyway, the reverse effect on the start kicks off what is actually quite an unsettling vocal performance throughout this song. It sounds like the ghost of troubled Joe, hung by his pretty white neck, of ‘A Rush and a Push…’ by The Smiths fame (rush again), like it’s coming from beyond the grave… not a pleasant beginning to a charity song.

Then the blonde guy singing ‘I will drive past your house…’; it’s just creepy.

Maybe it’s wrong to think this, but there is a marked difference between someone like Debbie Harry essentially saying ‘I am going to stalk you until I wear you down’ and a group of five young men saying it, isn’t there. This is emphasised in the shout-along middle section.

And then they combine this anthem to stalking with a song about wanking, and it starts getting a bit messy/silly/shit.

The Teenage Kicks bit is just so unnecessary. Why does it need to be there? OK, it adds a little more musical material than either Spirit in the Sky or the Stonk, but not enough to justify this sort of cut-and-shut song melding. It doesn’t work. It sounds crap…. But through the noise of bellowed ‘na na na’ and faux-we-will-rock-you drumming, there’s another noise… what is it? It’s a sort of humming, rotating sound. Oh. It’s John Peel. He’s turning in his grave.

… And then David Cameron comes in. And he can’t even act as himself. And suddenly Tony Blair doing the ‘am I bovvered’ bit with Catherine Tate – another nadir in the pursuit of doing something ‘funny for money’ – doesn’t seem quite so bad… or does it.

But in the end, it looks like five lads having an undeserved, entirely unrealistic, good time… or four lads at least, the blonde one who wears a kind of grubby vest in a few of the shots just has the slightest onset of the look of someone for whom the ‘living the dream’ bubble burst about six months ago, and he’s just waiting for the right time to tell everyone… ‘The Robbie Williams look’, in other words. 

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2 Responses to Red Nose Day Charity Songs: A List of Five

  1. Luke Elwick says:

    You’re saying One Direction is better than The Stonk – a song with Queen, Tony Iommi and Cozy Powell? Fuck off!

    • asto1 says:

      Absolutely certain that I’m not saying that, but I still think the stonk is bollocks! I’m not sure I really count the one direction tune as music at all.

      but cheers for the comment — gave me a little smile!

      and can we agree that the spice girls one is the best by far?

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