BBC Records: The EastEnders (When It Was Good) Files

RESL160 EastEnders/Julia's Theme - Simon May

 
Launched in a blaze of publicity in February 1985, the BBC's new twice-weekly soap opera EastEnders was a huge gamble and one that, initially, did not seem to be paying off. Press reception was hostile and viewing figures were low, and its brash and visually drab combination of intentionally mundane drama, multiculturalism and boisterous East End humour did not seem to be finding an audience. Arguably the one factor that it had working in its favour was Simon May's naggingly catchy - and cleverly arranged - theme music, released as a single to coincide with the series launch. Perhaps reflecting the initially muted reception, the single did not chart but within months EastEnders was on an upwards ratings trajectory and subsequent singles spun off from the show, as we shall see, would enjoy much greater success. Named after the series' formidable producer Julia Smith, the b-side was a slower alternate arrangement occasionally used for 'landmark' episodes.


RESL168 Killin' Time/Winner Takes All - Barry Blood


One early indication of how huge EastEnders was about to become was the fact that this rock ballad, heard in the background of a key scene in which early characters Oscar Carpenter and Angie Watts were revealed to be having an affair, was considered a suitable prospect for single release. Former Glam Rocker Barry Blood – whose 1975 single Poor Annie has since become a cult favourite – was a regular contributor to soundtrack and library work around this time.


RESL191 Anyone Can Fall In Love - Anita Dobson/Julia's Theme - Simon May

 
Following a shaky start, EastEnders had grown steadily in popularity during its first year on air, and to the surprise of many had quickly become one of the most popular shows on air. Such was the feverish public interest in the show and its cast that many of the stars were asked to make records, regardless of musical ability. Most of these releases were for other labels and had little chart success, but BBC Records – noting the recent success of Always There, a hit single featuring Marti Webb singing lyrics to Simon May's theme from BBC drama serial Howard's Way (which itself had recently been a sizeable hit single) – had the shrewd idea of asking May and veteran soundtrack composer Don Black to put lyrics to a new arrangement of the theme, and then enlisted Anita Dobson, who played Angie Watts in the series and had a solid background in musical theatre, to perform it. Despite being the subject of much ridicule, Anyone Can Fall In Love was a top five hit, and inspired an album REB594 Simon’s Way which collected newly-arranged suites of music from May’s work on EastEnders and Howard’s Way. Less imagination was shown in the b-side’s re-use of the b-side from the original EastEnders theme single, and even less still by the 12” which also included the original single version of the theme.


RESL203 Something Outa Nothing/Time Square - Letitia Dean & Paul J Medford

 
EastEnders' popularity soon exceeded all expectations and for a time it was the single most popular programme on UK television by some considerable distance. This encouraged the show’s producers to experiment with a number of attempts to expand its popularity into other media, including – largely at the instigation of theme composer Simon May – the formation of a pop band by some of the teenage residents of Albert Square. Varying their name between Dog Market and The Banned, the five-piece outfit were seen to enter talent contests and bicker over stage prominence across several months’ worth of storylines that failed to connect with their intended younger audience and their musical ambitions came to an abrupt end. However, enough time and money had been invested to make this single – ostensibly written by keyboard player Simon ‘Wicksy’ Wicks, though actually by May – commercially viable. Credited solely to the performers who played Sharon Watts and Kelvin Carpenter, it actually managed a quite respectable number twelve on the singles chart. The 12” featured extended versions of Something Outa Nothing and the instrumental b-side.


RESL204 Every Loser Wins/Every Loser Wins (Instrumental) - Nick Berry

 
And it doesn't end there. Partway through the storyline, 'Wicksy' left The Banned in acrimonious circumstances, venting his frustration by regularly performing his other composition – or, to be more accurate, Simon May's other composition – on the piano in the Queen Vic. The slightly mawkish ballad then became a major plot point, played endlessly on a cassette by barman George 'Lofty' Holloway as he descended into a nervous breakdown. Quite a few viewers seemed to like it without suffering any ill-effects, and the result was this rush-released single (in the shops with such haste that they had to use a photo of an unshaven Nick Berry on the cover) which ended up topping the singles chart for three weeks. Along with So Easy, the extra track on the 12", Every Loser Wins would later appear on REB618 Nick Berry.


RESL212 It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time/Too Close To Heaven - Nick Berry


Judging from the interviews he gave around this time, nobody was more surprised by the success of Every Loser Wins than Nick Berry himself, who speculated that it wouldn’t have been a hit without the relentless exposure afforded by a primetime TV show. The lack of a chart placing for this single – again taken from REB618 Nick Berry - would seem to have proved him correct. As a result, Berry became a regular sighting on lists of One Hit Wonders, though that all changed when he wound up singing in an ITV show...



Top Of The Box, the story behind every single released by BBC Records And Tapes, is available from here.

Ten Incredibly Strange Singles Released By BBC Records And Tapes

BBC Records And Tapes released some really, REALLY weird singles in their time, spanning the entire spectrum of 'popular' music all the way from from the That's Life team posing as comedy punks about ten years after punk happened, to the sound of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop hitting a phone. At least they were interesting, though; here are ten singles where you can't help but wonder who anyone in their right mind thought might actually buy them...


RESL172 Wimbledon Break Point/New Balls Please - Bass Line


Originally commissioned as backing music for the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage, this upbeat electropop track was extended and bolstered by samples of top tennis ne'er-do-well of the day John McEnroe for single release, to no particularly beneficial effect. The b-side was a remix of the a-side, as if one was in any way actually needed.


RESL185 'Heroes'/A Long Way To Go - The County Line

 
Billed as featured ‘Essex Artistes for BBC Children In Need’, this rather theme-misinterpreting cover of David Bowie’s 1977 hit was one of the less inspired contributions to the mid-eighties vogue for multi-handed charity singalongs, and featured contributions from Suzi Quatro and members of The Kinks, The Rubettes and Bronski Beat amongst many decidedly less famous others.


RESL187 Boss O'The Black/Willie Thorne, King Of The Maximum Break - Jed Ford


UK country music star Jed Ford wrote and performed this bewilderingly-targeted snooker-themed song, regularly used at the time in the BBC’s television coverage of the sport, with the b-side paying oddly specific tribute to the popular snooker player who had won the previous year’s Classic Tournament. Released, it should be noted, in direct competition with Snooker Loopy by Chas'n'Dave And The Matchroom Mob.


RESL189 It's 'Orrible Being In Love (When You're Eight And A Half)/Big Sister - Claire & Friends


In 1986, Saturday Superstore launched ‘Search For A Superstar’, a lengthy contest in which viewers voted for their favourite of a group of talented youngsters. The eventual winner, narrowly beating a band of teenaged Duran Duran wannabes, was ten-year-old Claire Usher from Stockport, who sang humorous pop songs in a broad accent. In the final, she had performed It’s ‘Orrible Being In Love (When You’re Eight And A Half), written by Mick Coleman and Kevin Parrott (who, as Brian & Michael, had a number one hit with Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs in 1979), and this became a surprise hit, reaching number 13 in the charts. The 12” also included a ‘Megaminormix’ of the a-side, though is now notorious as one of the lowest-selling 12”s of a hit single for the entire eighties. Usher went on to record REB606 Super Claire.


RESL194 The Wedding Song/Sad Movies – The True Love Orchestra

 

Issued to commemorate the wedding of HRH Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson on 23rd July 1986, this synthesiser medley of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was largely the work of BBC Radio Clyde presenter John MacCalman, who had a sideline in composing library music to order. The Wedding Song was used several times in television coverage of the event. It clearly served the happy couple well.


RESL196 Superman/Rainbow – Claire


A second single outing for a now friendless Claire Usher, with another two songs lifted from REB606 Super Claire. Perhaps predictably, it failed to repeat the success of the earlier single (though more surprisingly, given what happened that time, there was a 12” featuring an extended version of the a-side), and Claire retired from pop music to pursue a successful career in stage musicals.


RESL198 Power From Within/Power From Within (Instrumental) - International Athletes Club with Steve Menzies


A fundraising effort for the International Athletes Club, this charity singalong featured bona fide athletes Sebastian Coe, Roger Black, Phil Brown, Kriss Akabusi, Todd Bennett, Tim Hutchings, Eugene Gilkes, Myrtle Augee, Kim Hagger, Sharon McPeake, Mary Berkeley, Linda Keough, Lindford Christie, Shirley Strong, Jane Parry, Paula Dunn, Kirsty Wade, Christina Boxer and Wilbert Greaves, and was written and produced by eighties chart star Phil Fearon. You can probably start humming it as it is.


RESL205 You Know The Teacher (Smash-Head)/Don't Stop - Grange Hill Cast


While others recognised its obvious novelty status, the success of the Grange Hill cast's anti-drug anthem Just Say No convinced BBC Records And Tapes that it would be worth issuing an album by the cast of their popular school drama. REB609 Grange Hill The Album featured one side of middle-of-the-road pop covers, and one of original schoolroom-themed songs with lyrics by series creator Phil Redmond. The lead single's bafflingly titled a-side – largely performed by series regulars George 'Ziggy' Christopher and John 'Gonch' McMahon – was drawn from the latter, and the ensemble Fleetwood Mac cover on the b-side from the former, with the 12” also boasting Redmond original Girls Like To Do It Too and actor Ricky 'Ant Jones' Simmonds’ cover of I Don’t Like Mondays. Despite the show’s huge popularity, and the single being afforded the rare privilege of a specially-shot video (oddly featuring the vocalists walking about in silence rather than miming), it failed to chart.


RESL206 Soapy/Al's Way - Top Of The Box


Alan Coulthard, a remixer responsible for many a chart-topping 12” Extended Version in the mid-eighties, was the man behind this peculiar medley of soap opera themes, taking in EastEnders, Dynasty, Dallas and Howard’s Way, and doubtless issued in an attempt to capitalise on the success of certain recent soap-related singles. However, club patrons were to prove to be not quite so keen on soap themes and the record failed to find an audience, despite the presence of – what else? – an Extended Version on the 12”.


RESL226 We Wanna Be Famous - Buster Gobsmack & Eats Filth/ The Toreador From Japan - El Shaftit & The Timeshares

 
One of the most convoluted stories behind a BBC Records And Tapes single release started early in 1988, when the production team of That’s Life! received several letters from struggling Manchester-based musicians complaining about a local video producer who hadn’t captured their act to their satisfaction. As part of an investigation, the show sent presenters Adrian Mills and Grant Baynham to make a video with him posing as punk rockers ‘Eats Filth’ (an anagram, in case it wasn’t obvious, of That’s Life!), ‘parodying’ a long outdated youth cult that the show still seemed to find inexplicably hilarious; as the excellent Left And To The Back blog put it, "the shrieks of laughter from the studio audience whenever a London punk was vox popped by Mills or one of his cohorts proved a baffling noise to hear". Though the video they produced was hardly likely to win any MTV Awards, the ‘expose’ on the hapless aspirant film-maker responsible was possibly a little unfair and the story was conspicuous by its failure to progress beyond one edition. We Wanna Be Famous, however, had more staying power, performed on the show – with the instruments actually played by the That’s Life! team, led inevitably by Doc Cox and including Gavin Campbell on drums and Esther Rantzen on percussion, for an authentic ‘punk’ sound – to huge gales of audience laughter, and inspiring so much viewer correspondence that it ended up on a single, which surprisingly failed to chart. It has since become, by virtue of its sheer ineptness both as a piece of music and as a lyrical parody, something of a cult classic. And as if that wasn’t all confusing enough, the b-side related to another That’s Life! Investigation into dodgy timeshare deals, which had resulted in Mills’ strangely Japanese-sounding attempts at a Spanish accent becoming a running joke. This has not quite become as much of a cult classic.


Top Of The Box, the story behind every single released by BBC Records And Tapes, is available from here.

Ten Reasons Why Dagenham Dave Is Better Than Smells Like Teen Spirit


"Smells Like Teen Spirit - it's no Dagenham Dave, is it?", I recently mused on Twitter. And while that may have been a deliberately provocative throwaway joke, it's also actually somewhat on the true side. For while the deceptively lazy 1995 half-hit in its own bizarre way encapsulates everything I have ever liked about the ideologically-challenged quiff-led erstwhile Smith (and, in fairness, everything that a lot of other people dislike about him), it also in a similarly bizarre way nails exactly what a reasonably well-adjusted youngster from the other side of the Atlantic with a liking for expensive trainers could never quite hope to find in the shampoo-averse caterwaulings of Kurt Cobain (1967-1993) and company.

Not convinced? Well, here's ten reasons why Dagenham Dave is better than Smells Like Teen Spirit:

- Whereas Nirvana have inspired a frankly terrifying volume of column inches' worth of sub-Quietus Cultural Despairers wailing "O TEMPORA O MORES O RED HOUSE PAINTERS" and launching into diatribes about how we failed to heed the message of when Juliana Hatfield was that rubbish ghost in My So Called Life and everything that's going on in the world now is all our fault (especially if you liked Blur), Dagenham Dave only ever inspired Mark Lamarr telling an anecdote about overhearing a bloke sat on a doorstep saying "he's well out of order... I mean, I'm from Dagenham, and my name's Dave...".

- In place of a heavily compressed and distorted guitar solo that inspired million upon million of teenage boys to adopt it as their 'trying out guitars in a music shop' showstopper of choice, Dagenham Dave has an hilariously lackadaisical weedy synth solo that could only feasibly inspire anyone to try and remember how the theme from Simon And The Witch went.

- The video avoids heavy-handed 'symbolism' with cheerleaders and mop buckets in favour of TV's Gripper Stebson doing some Moz-observed comedy business.

- Saying "a denial" sixteen times may well be a profound statement about something or other, but just going "Dagenham Dave/Dagenham Dave/oh Dave from Dagenham/Dagenham Dagenham Dave" is trying to get up people's noses for the sake of it.

- "On the window screen" is a more gloriously pointless distortion of the English language than mispronouncing "albino".

- Smells Like Teen Spirit may well be a clarion call to take up arms against something or other where nobody's actually sure what it is that came from the depths of a tortured yet artistically brilliant soul, but Dagenham Dave was an aimless satire of dull blokey blokes who'd done nothing outwardly obviously wrong written at the height of worries over an impending court case relating to a petty dispute over tedious details of a contract from years earlier. One of these may be slightly more easy to relate to than the other.

- "I would say more/but you get the general idea" is quite simply the best way to end a song ever. And that includes Footloose.

- On a more serious note, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the incident (well, incidents) that actually caused it, Morrissey was ostracised by the music press at that point in a way that Kurt Cobain never, ever was - again, something that it's actually slightly easier for some people to relate to - and the flippant throwawayness of Dagenham Dave could be interpreted as a massive two fingers to certain individuals who had long since given up judging his music on its own merits. Erm, possibly.

- Oh hang on, I said ten reasons, didn't I? Well, I would say more...