Drawing An Obadiah Blank

Over The Moon was one of several studio-bound videotaped shows with human presenters that the BBC introduced into their schedules for younger viewers in the mid-to-late seventies. Like Playboard, Ragtime, Ring-A-Ding!, How Do You Do! and probably also one or two others that even I can't recall off the top of my head, it's not really anywhere near as well remembered as it logically should be.

Other than the possibility that some of the target audience resented anything that wasn't puppet-led, there's not really a readily obvious explanation for this. And that doesn't really work anyway as the Playboard presenter was never actually seen onscreen. Still, as you might have noticed, I tend to use Over The Moon as an example of TV That Time Forgot rather a lot; an example that is slightly undermined by the fact that a lot of people actually do remember something about it, even if they have no idea which programme it came from.

Introduced by an animated question mark/coathanger pin man rebounding off the side of various aspects of nature and industry to a squelchy synth backing, Over The Moon was to all intents and purposes a science show for the under fives. Introduced by the no-nonsense Sam Dale, who conducted very basic sub-Johnny Ball experiments in an equally basic studio set, the show also featured Play School-style filmed inserts illustrating the chosen scientific concept of the week, and a similarly illustrative quirky song set to animation by Pigeon Street designer in waiting Alan Rogers.

What was unusual in Over The Moon's case was that these songs were written and performed by actual singer-songwriters, albeit in most cases with previous links to BBC Children's programmes. As you can imagine, this meant that the songs were usually of a very high standard and indeed were remarkably memorable for such a widely-forgotten show. So much so, in fact, that it's likely that most people who remember the songs have little or no idea of what Over The Moon even was. Notable examples include Kim Goody's lament for Rat Van Winkle, who escaped from the 'Rat Race' to a land where a minute lasted a year, Jasper Carrott's salute to intrepid if unsuccessful wildlife photographer Angus McBluff, and a certain Derek Griffiths number concerning one Obadiah Blank.

This was a chirpy call-and-reseponse number about how we have our lucky stars to thank for Obadiah Blank, an indefatigable inventor whose achievements included devising the electric spoon and growing poppies on the moon; and ultimately an 'inventing machine', which could go on inventing for him while he sat back and, presumably, counted his own lucky stars. And it's very clearly the most well remembered detail about Over The Moon; any time that I mention the programme anywhere, you can guarantee that someone will ask if anyone else remembers the song, and more or less every reference to 'Obadiah Blank' on the Internet - apart from an article written by me - is someone asking what programme it came from and where they can get hold of it. It seems that a lot of people would like to see it again, in fact. But there's a slight problem with that.

Wheels And Wires, the edition of Over The Moon featuring the Obadiah Blank song, was first shown by BBC1 on 20th December 1978, and last seen 23rd June 1982. Needless to say, it was repeated countless times in the interim. Unfortunately the master tape was lost in the early nineties - if you want to know how and why this happened, then you can read more about that in this post here - and while a filmed insert from the show apparently does still exist, it's not clear as to whether this is Obadiah Blank or the live action sciencey bit. Or both, in fact, but anyway. So many people recall the song so vividly that somebody must have kept a copy of it, even if it's just a crumbly audio recording made by holding a built-in tape recorder microphone up to the television speaker.

So if you do have a recording of the Obadiah Blank song - or anything of Over The Moon in fact, as there's a few of them missing - please let me know. If we can find lost episodes of How Do You Do!, we can find this...

Streetsounds 17: Electric Boogal... No, That Doesn't Work

In 1986, I won a competition in Smash Hits. Though I'm not really quite sure of how and why I did.

Rather than the can of Citrus Spring autographed by Phil Cool that you might well be expecting, the prize in question was a copy of Streetsounds 17. As the name suggests, this was the the seventeenth instalment in the Streetsounds label's lengthy series of compilations of hot new electro, hip-hop and breakbeat tracks. Despite having more than a passing interest in the genre, and being the proud owner of K-Tel's surprisingly strong if slightly dubiously promoted Rap It Up collection, I don't recall ever being particularly desperate to get hold of this or indeed any other edition of Streetsounds. Scanning the lists of winners of other competitions in the same issue, I suspect that I may actually have been after the 12" of Rockin' With Rita by Vindaloo Summer Special, and had just entered the Streetsounds 17 one on a whim due to having a spare stamp.

In order to win a copy, you were challenged to explain, in an essay lasting no longer than five words, why Prince was so short. "The effects of Purple Rain" was my aaaaahhh-tastic pseudo-satirical response, which clearly amused Sylvia Patterson and company sufficiently for them to send me one of the fifty copies on offer. It arrived before the issue with the list of winners came out, in fact, and once it did hit the 'newsstands' I became something of a minor celebrity in school for a week or so. We had to make our own 'trending' in those days.

Anyway, I was reminded of this recently while I was scouring 1986 issues of Smash Hits as research for an article about Now - The Summer Album; which none of you actually read, clearly on account of the MSM bias against me. Sadly, I don't actually have the issue itself any more - a shame as it was the one with the brilliant feature on where the money that you spent on records actually went - but thanks to the fantastic Like Punk Never Happened, here's that list of winners in full. It's particularly interesting to see that the other winners included one 'Scott Walker'. There was such a prominent electro influence on Tilt after all.

However, while that issue of Smash Hits may have long since disappeared into the great magazine-based Bermuda Triangle of the rest of your family denying all knowledge of what might have happened to it, I do still have Streetsounds 17 itself. Not that I really remember very much about it - like all of the Streetsounds label's billions of releases, it was aimed primarily at hip DJs and people playing at being hip DJs, and intended as a way of getting hold of hot new tracks cheaply and easily rather than an actual coherent listening experience. So there's really not much of an excuse for not giving it another spin, is there?

Streetsounds 17 has an indistinct photo of an anonymous street funkateer in a long mac on the cover, and this sense of anonymity also extends to its contents. Many of the featured acts are so low-profile and little-remembered that it's virtually impossible to find an actual photo of them, and only three of the featured tracks resemble even anything approaching a hit single. Janet Jackson's oft-overlooked second hit Nasty might seem a surprising inclusion for such a radically urban and cutting edge series, but it was also a good deal harsher sounding than her usual fare; which is probably the reason why it's oft-overlooked, in fact. This is even more true of the 12" Extended Version included here, which strips it down to some suitably nasty-sounding beats that feel a lot closer to mid-eighties hardcore rap than mid-eighties Motown slickness.

Plenty of slickness can nonetheless be found on Step By Step by T.C. Curtis, the Jheri Curl-sporting synth-funk polymath who somehow failed to break through to mainstream success, despite appearing at the end of side two of every below-par Now! That's What I Call Music rip-off in existence. Step By Step may be presented here in an exlclusive 'Streetsounds Remix', but it's still true to say that if you did ever catch one of those end-of-side-two tracks, then you'll have a fair idea of what this likeable but undistinguished mid-paced hoarse-voiced workout sounds like. It's worth noting that a now somewhat unfortunate yodel starts to creep in towards the end, though.

If we're being honest about it, though, most of you will probably have no idea of who T.C. Curtis even was, and if we're positing him as the third most famous artist featured on Streetsounds 17 (we'll get to the second later) then you've got some sense of just how obscure the others actually are. Sharp-suited Oran 'Juice' Jones-alike Michael Jonzun, who throws a hefty helping of vogueish Nu Shooz-esque 'barking dog' voice samples into Can't Fool Us, and Give Me Up non-hitmaker Beau Williams, whose primary gimmick was to fool you into thinking he was singing about a girl when he was actually singing about God, do at least have something approaching a traceable career path. As do Skipworth And Turner, the duo behind the energetic 'Streetsounds Exclusive Edit' of Children's ITV Game Show-friendly-synth-festooned Can't Give Her Up, whose main contribution to musical history was giving Kenny Thomas another hit nobody asked for by writing Thinking About Your Love. Actually, apparently they're different songs, but I couldn't be bothered checking and anyway, there's no point allowing the opportunity for a good Kenny Thomas gag to go by.

Above and beyond that, though, we're adrift in a fathomless factual void of sequinned jackets and Yamaha DX7s. Colors, the unimaginatively-named outfit responsible for the Mario Kart backing music-like Pay Me Back My Love, may possibly have featured veteran session singer Vaneese Thomas but nobody seems to be quite sure about that. Given that it opens with the same sort of over-extemporising saxaphone as any given mid-eighties US TV show, and continues in a suitably mediocre sub-Al Jarreau style, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Cargo, whose Love You So (Without You) is yet another 'Streetsounds Exclusive Mix' ('featuring Dave Collins'), were as American as they came. Yet, bafflingly, the credits seem to indicate they were not just UK-based but actually led by veteran beardy jazzers Mike Carr and Dick Morrissey. Meanwhile, Sleeque have fallen so far off the factual radar that they might as well not have even existed, which is a shame as their sturdy proto-Acid Jazz stomper One For The Money, with its amusing interpolation of the lyrics from Blue Suede Shoes, is the best track on here by some considerable distance.

Former disco ensemble who'd moved with the times Zapp, whose Computer Love (Extended Version) was presumably not a tribute to Zzap!64, sit uneasily somewhere between the two as they seem to have been around for several thousand years without anyone actually noticing them. On the evidence of this 'dreamy' soundscape that clocks in at nearly ten minutes without offering a single robot voice, this is hardly surprising. It's doubtful that it would even have appealed to nominally music-averse sci-fi fans because 'space'.

Right at the end, however, comes the 'Special Extended Remix' of Set Me Free by Birmingham's own Jaki Graham. Seemingly hovering around the charts for the entirety of 1986, even the regular version of Set Me Free was already a touch overlong and repetitive, so making it even longer still seems like an act of wilful obnoxiousness verging on madness. That's how they did 'remixes' back then, though, and frankly it's exactly what we want here. Turning a likeable if lightweight spot of full-throated jazz-funk into something approaching art terrorism exemplifies both everything that was wrong and everything that was right about mid-eighties pop music at the same time, and stands out way more than any of the seemingly endless procession of seemingly endless pleasant enough in-one-ear-and-out-of-the-other exhortations for swanky types in Midnight Starr-inspired clobber to get on down on the dancefloor that you'll find elsewhere on the album.

The regular version of Set Me Free did of course appear on Now! That's What I Call Music 7, which in addition to being a hugely listenable vivid and vibrant snapshot of the diversity of the mid-eighties pop charts, is also the very best Now! album bar none. Yes it is. Stop arguing. Yet for all their wilful angularness, we should be glad that the likes of Streetsounds and the Indie Top 20 series (which you can find Dave Bryant's excellent album-by-album review of here) existed, as they're probably the only way of really accurately measuring what went on beyond the Top Forty short of inventing a time machine and posing as Eugene Wilde. A pose that no doubt involved reclining forward into the camera lens with a satin jacket and a huge grin.

So, that's how I ended up with Streetsounds 17 instead of Rockin' With Rita. But can you guess which one of them I later ended up mentioning in a book?

Higher Than The Sun (A Dub Interview In One Part)

Higher Than The Sun - The Story Of Screamdelica, Foxbase Alpha, Bandwagonesque and Loveless by Tim Worthington

Screamadelica by Primal Scream is twenty five years old, and to mark the occasion, I've done an interview with Creation Records about the album and its influence and legacy. Along the way we cover such diverse topics as Mark Goodier, swapping C60s of Big Star in school, and why Britpop retrospectives never quite seem to get the story straight. You can read it here, and there's also a Spotify playlist of some of my favourite tracks from 1991 that you can listen to while reading. This may include Cathy Dennis.

You can find out how to get Higher Than The Sun, my book about Screamadelica, Foxbase Alpha, Bandwagonesque and Loveless - currently with free postage - here. Or if you'd prefer to read an extract from it before splashing out, you can find that in my free eBook Tim Worthington's Bookshelf here. Or if you'd prefer to just read about my favourite Creation/Heavenly Records rarities, then you can find that here. You really do want to get the book though. Because that's what you're gonna do. You're gonna have a good time. You're gonna have a party. Of, erm, reading a book.