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Tuesday 13 March 2018

The First Time Baby That I Came To You

I was watching a recent re-run of Top Of The Pops, currently in the middle of 1985. Mainly the 1985 repeats are confirming that at the top end of the pop charts 1985 was a terrible year. Occasionally something brilliant shines through the dross. Last week it was Scritti Politti. They did the same thing to me last year when I was left broadsided by Absolute. This time it was The Word Girl, a genuine top ten hit. The Word Girl's reggae rhythm, shimmer and lighter than air vocal melody make it is mid 80s pop, there's no mistake about that, but its instrumentation, arrangement, production and Green Gartside's voice lift it way up above the songs that surrounded it in the chart. It floats, promising to go somewhere else, then drawing back. The digital reverb makes the song seem like it is constantly echoing itself.

It is also not a song to be taken at face value, not a simple song about a girl but a song about language and meaning. The title can also be read as The Word 'Girl'. What seems to be a song about a girl becomes an oblique discussion about obsession and possession, gender politics, the meaning of words, the construction of language. Green had decided to shift into making pop music holed up in Wales following several panic attacks. He listened to American r'n'b and read Marxist theory. Speaking to Sounds in 1985 he said (of The Word Girl) "I was taking stock of all the lyrics of the songs for the new album and, lo and behold, in every song there was – this girl, or that girl. It seemed a good idea to show awareness of the device being used, to take it out of neutral and show it didn't connote or denote certain things. It was important to admit a consciousness of the materiality of referring to 'girls' in songs."

The Word Girl

Scritti Politti's journey is succinctly told in this excerpt from a documentary about Rough Trade.


TheRobster said...

"at the top end of the pop charts 1985 was a terrible year."
Have you seen/heard the charts lately? Truth is, the charts have always been terrible. It's a perfect example of marketing winning out every time over integrity, quality and talent.

Unknown said...

"Boom! There She Was" and "Absolute", but definitely the 1st one. "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" is also acceptable - if only for the title.

Brian said...

Thanks for that clip, Adam. Fascinating. As much as Green flipped sound with the “Sweetest Girl”, I never would have guessed it cost 60,000 pounds to make. Still seemed relatively lo-fi compared with what was about to come. Probably not a popular stance in these parts, but I think Cupid & Psyche 85 is a masterpiece. The Mrs. would not agree.

Echorich said...

Second vote for Masterpiece here! Cupid & Psyche 85 is of the finest quality and one of a few albums that showed the Fairlight CMI in ah, ahem, good light.
The fact that the album begins with The Word Girl is a real statement. It is also a gentle entry into a new direction for those who may have been enamoured (and rightly so) of Songs To Remember and Sweetest Girl. For me, the beauty of C+P85 is that it is way deeper both musically and lyrically than its surface sheen may, at first, suggest. It may have been of it's time, but it still holds up over 30 years later.

Luca said...


JC said...

Songs To Remember is such a great record, and one that means a lot to me for personal reasons, that the follow-up was always going to have to be truly special to work for me.

Wood Beez is a superb song but the rest of the album I go hot and cold on dependig on my mood. I see where Echorich is coming from but there's other times I find it almost unlistenable because it does sound so dated.