You Belong In Rock'n'Roll

So why, at an all time career height of popularity, did David Bowie see fit to form his much-derided band Tin Machine? Well, if you believe the average prat writing a boxout list at the foot of an article on flop albums in The Guardian, it was 'his mid-life crisis'. Nothing more, nothing less. Four years and three albums dismissed with a bit of sneering from someone who themselves is probably no stranger to acting their shoe size rather than their age, and whom more than likely hasn't heard any of those three albums anyway, let alone Bus Stop (Country Version).

The reality of it, and indeed the it that, whatever your opinion of the album, led to Reality, is - surprise surprise - ever so slightly different. To understand why Tin Machine made their expectation-confounding appearance at the end of the eighties, you really need to look at the expectation-meeting that Bowie had been doing for the rest of the decade. Well, excepting Scary Monsters... And Super Creeps, Alabama Song, the Baal's Hymn EP and all the rest of that turn-of-the-decade post-Berlin avant-gardeness, but that's where and how it all really starts. Let's Dance, Live Aid, the launch of Now That's What I Call Music!, and so many other small but significant routes into the mass mainstream audience had conspired to push David Bowie into somewhere he probably shouldn't have been and very clearly didn't want to be, and not unreasonably he felt obliged to induldge in an extended outburst of crowd-pleasing. The Let's Dance parent album, while certainly one of his most rewardingly listenable, was not one of his more artistically challenging moments, and this fed directly into the inspiration-free void (alright, Loving The Alien aside) of the for once not unfarily maligned Tonight, and the anti-climactic Never Let Me Down, which sees a set of mostly very strong songs buried beneath ear-assaultingly overloaded eighties production that even Bowie himself now seems to regret; standout track Time Will Crawl has only ever appeared on latterday compilations in a later and vastly-improved stripped-back mix, while one song, Too Dizzy, has proved sufficiently embarrassing to be removed from the album itself.

In between those two underachieving and underinspiring albums came a handful of singles that seemed to suggest that Bowie himself was all-too-aware of his creative straitjacket. Recorded with the not exactly chart-troubling Pat Metheny Group, This Is Not America was a wifully obstuse diversion from the lighters-in-the-air mood of the time, while the lightweight but fun Dancing In The Street seemed to be taking the piss out of his current status (not least in the accompanying video), and Absolute Beginners is quite simply one of the best songs he has ever written. If it's never quite nudged into the upper echelons of the public-percepted Bowie Canon, it's largely due to its association with a film that people can't seem to look past on account of its poor reputation, despite the fact that they've probably never seen it themselves and that indeed it's actually a lot better than Halliwell's Film Guide would have you believe. And yes, there is a bit of an important theme developing there.

The idea for Bowie's subsequent career detour started to formulate during 1987's post-Never Let Me Down 'Glass Spider' tour, an expensive, technically ambitious and not entirely successful attempt at taking his avant-garde ideas to the mainstream. During the tour, Bowie was both introduced to experimental guitarist Reeves Gabrels and reacquainted with Iggy Pop's former bassist and drummer Tony and Hunt Sales; desperate to try something new, yearning for the relative anonymity of being part of a band, fascinated by the proto-grunge sounds of Screaming Blue Messiahs and The Pixies, and quite possibly indulging in a spot of Oblique Strategies-inspired lateral thinking, Bowie initiated rehearsals with the stated aim of 'making the kind of music we want to listen to'. Rather than trying to take the avant-garde to the mainstream, he was now intending to drag the mainstream, kicking and screaming, towards the avant-garde. And as we shall see, they would not like this one bit.

So, on paper, Tin Machine look like an astonishing prospect; you've got an acclaimed innovatory guitarist, the rhythm section from Lust For Life, and David Bowie. What's more, you've got a David Bowie keen to find his creative fire again, helped along in no small part by the voluble and wisecracking Sales brothers poking fun at his more overblown ideas, and Gabrels' even more influential mantra repeated whenever Bowie talked about having to do artistic or commercial things that he didn't want to - "stop doing it". What's more, they were all expecting and expected to contribute to the songwriting and even singing. As we will see, this laudably ego-deflating band democracry would ultimately prove as much of an achilles heel as it was a strength... but let's save that for later. Nobody even knows Tin Machine exist yet.

By the end of 1988, Tin Machine - naming themselves after a song they had written pretty much on the spot in rehearsals - were in the studio. Recording as live in record time, and with music and lyrics both intentionally left rough and unpolished, the band had an entire album and releaseable outtakes to spare in the can before 1989 had even really started. During the sessions, without having formally announced the project, they played a secret gig at a small club near to Nassau's Compass Point Studios, to audible audience debate over whether the mysterious bearded figure onstage was actually David Bowie or not. And when the self-titled debut album - yes, the one with the bafflingly mocked sharp-suited position-changing cover photo - appeared with astonishing speed in May, it did so to what were initially enthusiastic reviews; and, before Q started having to have endless bastard lists of the Eighteen Thousand Worst Albums Ever Made every three sodding minutes, it made their list of best albums at the end of the year. So why's it treated with such disdain now?

Well, for starters, there's the wider general public's reaction. Critics and a sizeable proportion of Bowie devotees who knew their Subterraneans from their Cat People (Putting Out Fire) might well have embraced this unexpected turn of events, but there's no escaping the fact that a damagingly large number of more recent converts from across the globe, who liked that he'd apparently now joined the long line-up of formerly innovative rock stars who had given in to the urge to coast along at a crowd-pleasing artistic standstill, would have - not unreasonably - found it disorentating and unpleasant, and probably even felt ripped off (and music snobs should accept that there's nothing wrong with that feeling, as anyone who owns Tarantula by Ride will wearily attest). Meanwhile, many critics would soon revise their opinion on finding that this 'band' genuinely were placing themselves on an equal footing even when it came to promotional duties, and it's quite likely that many of the more scathing articles that followed were written by journos who had found themselves chatting to Hunt, Tony or Reeves when they had been expecting a chance to meet David.

Even then, some actual hardcore Bowie fans weren't exactly keen, which is as good a moment as any to start talking about the album itself. In fairness, it's an incredible departure even by the tiresomely over-analysed and over-exaggerated standards of the 'chameleon of rock', and is as much the other three's album as it is his. It's rooted in influences from a genre that, even before it really had a name as such, had deliberately set itself apart from established norms, and involved the sort of sounds that in some cases listeners might actually have turned towards the likes of Bowie actively to avoid. They're also the sort of sounds that in some regards haven't aged well, based primarily around a clattering wall of noise and lacking the finesse and diversity that Nirvana would have everyone emulating a short while later. And on top of that, some simply don't like the lyrics - direct, less poetic, and often dealing with subjects (poverty and drug abuse in Crack City, violence as cheap entertainment in Video Crime, police racism in Under The God and so on and so on) that well-to-do rock stars are hardly exactly well-placed to pontificate on; in balance, however, many of these were in fact influenced by the work of Gabrels' investigative journalist wife Sara Terry, and in any case, a millionaire rock star shining a light on the uglier day to day realities of corners of the globe that had been left to decay in the name of profit was something of a welcome relief after several years of them all asking us to put our hands in our pockets rather than address the actual underlying causes of situations.

If, however, you were an impressionable youngster who liked David Bowie (and was then still unaware enough of notions of 'canon' to think Day In Day Out was a great song) every bit as much as the murky, speaker-rattling noise buzzing out of John Peel's Radio 1 show, the idea of the two colliding was about as exciting as it got, and perhaps those listeners who did accept it on face value are worth listening to. They'd probably tell you that Heaven's In Here, Prisoner Of LoveUnder The God and Baby Can Dance are easily superior to the bulk of his previous three albums, that the weary yet snarling riposte to where he had found himself I Can't Read ("I don't know a book from Countdown") is even better than that, that Bus Stop provides a brief note of comic relief with its short sharp story of a commuter finding religion, and that the more laid-back and hazy Amazing momentarily dispenses with the sonic overload to present some intriguing hints of where they might go next. True, there are also some throwaway thrashes and a jarring cover of John Lennon's Working Class Hero - not exactly the sturdiest of songs to begin with - but how many albums, and this does include most of Bowie's, have never included at least one fish out of quality-related water? And anyway, two of those throwaway thrashes were only included on the CD, back in the days when an unwritten law stated that all releases on the brand spanking new CostlyDisc format had to have additional exclusive 'content' or Jonathan Gordon-Davies would cry, so technically they can't really be held up as shortcomings anyway. Plus on top of all this, those who 'got' the band were rewarded with a top smart non-LP single in the form of a rowdy - and decidedly pointed - cover of Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm. Less than a year later, she was gone. Makes you think.

Then fast-forward eighteen months to the summer of 1991 - one of the most packed eighteen months in Bowie's entire career, with the Sound + Vision tour and box set, the arrival of his back catalogue on CD with fantastic bonus tracks (notably Bombers, I Pray, Ole and the astonishing Some Are), the superb pre-fame singles collection Early On, and, erm, the quietly forgotten 'best of' Changesbowie and accompanying remix single Fame '90 - and while the post-Live Aid contingent might well have been blissfully boring themselves senseless with Simply Red and Bryan Adams, it was a rather exciting time to be a fan of indie, alt-rock, or whatever you prefer to call it. Even aside from the onslaught of noise that was about to crashland from across the Atlantic, there was still just enough hope left that The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets might take on the mainstream and win - hope that, for three wildly differing reasons, would be dashed before the year was out - and The KLF were busy taking art terrorism into the orbit of even the most empty-headed chart-head, while Creation Records were gearing up to release four (and very nearly five) hotly tipped and eagerly anticipated albums that between them reinvented everyone's idea of what 'independent' music could achieve both creatively and commercially; a reinvention that Britpop would take its cue from but then sadly squander only a couple of years later. If you don't know what those four (and very nearly five) albums are, by the way, well, maybe somebody's written a book about them. And into the middle of all this walked Tin Machine.

No, really. Literally into the middle of it. Perhaps recognising that trying to pull their angular conceit off in the arena-playing arena had worked against them with the first album, this time around Tin Machine did everything they could to place themselves alongside the bands that were technically their musical peers, to the extent of recording a live set for Radio 1's The Evening Session, performing on hip and happening TV shows like Paramount City, and even embarking on the 'It's My Life' Tour around the sort of venues that Bowie probably hadn't even seen since about 1969; indeed, I would get to see and hear them blasting the air with noise and a set that included a cover of The Pixies' Debaser in the exact same venue where around that time I would more normally have gone to see the likes of Ride and My Bloody Valentine. Even the accompanying album, Tin Machine II, was released - thanks to Bowie's general disgruntlement with EMI - on the sort of vaugely-ish independent label Victory. Yes, alright, so it was technically bankrolled by JVC, but it was formed especially for Tin Machine and they licensed it to long-established UK indie London Records anyway, so who's counting?

Half of Tin Machine II is a vastly better album than the band's debut. And, unfortunately, half of it is much, much worse. On the plus side, there's the propulsive Baby Universal, the surprisingly melodic - if slightly overlong (and dubiously-lyriced) - One Shot, the likeable if undistinguished Roxy Music-alike You Belong In Rock'n'Roll (although the accompanying cover of Roxy's If There Is Something falls somewhat wide of the mark), and Bowie's soaring, affecting salute to the natural disaster-ravaged architectural beauty of Amlapura. The other tracks, however, veer from the OK-ish but unremarkable Betty Wrong to Hunt Sales' notorious bluesy plod Stateside, which has the dubious distinction of being the most roundly disliked song ever to appear on a David Bowie record. In its defence - which is not a sentence I had ever envisaged myself writing - as bluesy plods go it's at least on the tolerable side, the bands they sought to emulate and indeed Bowie himself as a solo artist were never averse to including listener-challenging bits of overlong ill-fittedness when it suited them (any scoffing Pixies fans are respectfully asked when the last time they listened to Silver was), and to throw things into a bit of perspective it's not like The Police's albums ever get quite so much of a battering for including Andy Summers songs.

Still, the album as a whole is characterised by a more diverse and sophisticated sound than the debut, and it also includes two of David Bowie's greatest ever songs. The admirably restrained barrage of soured Americana Goodbye Mr. Ed is the one song that even avowed Tin Machine haters will confess to really, really liking, whilst the arresting Shopping For Girls really is in a class of its own. A third-person look through the eyes of a sex-trade tourist set to a classic Bowie-style backing that cleverly references both cliched 'oriental' melodies and Prince's 1999, it combines uncomfortable yet righteously vitriolic lyrics (complete with an ambiguous reference to Michael Jackson) with an angst-ridden, despairing delivery and, at a climactic moment, Reeves Gabrels chiming in with a blast of guitar noise that sounds for all the world like Sweep from The Sooty Show is plummeting ablaze from the sky, intent on launching himself bodily at the rat-infested room that Bowie describes with such fury. It really is dispiriting to think that these two songs, and I Can't Read, are never likely to reach the popularity they deserve, purely on account of the fact that so many listeners just can't bring themselves to look past what they think it says on the, erm, tin.

Although the singles were a moderate success - leading to two appearances on Top Of The Pops, one of which saw Gabrels infamously elect to smear his guitar with a chocolate eclair and cause Bowie to crack up while the other was a belting live performance at a time when many of the other featured acts were struggling to cope with the all-new all-live format, as well as an infamous interview on Wogan which turned into an essay in tense nervousness as the host ungraciously ignored Tony Sales and made a beeline for Bowie, who indignantly responded with monosyllabic non-sequiturs  - the album underperformed badly and Bowie was already dropping hints that it was time to move on. After that, and the almost completely ignored live album Oy Vey, Baby (rendered inessential on account of containing absolutely no rarities or exclusives whatsoever; perhaps foolishly, they'd already used their live cover of Shakin' All Over as a b-side and given away their live cover of Go Now to the much-more-ropey-than-Tin-Machine-II NME compilation Ruby Trax, plus there was an eight minute version of Stateside which didn't exactly help), Bowie's solo career resumed with the electro-disco single Real Cool World (although all of the journalists who have more recently taken to referring to that as a 'return to form' require investigation under the Trade Descriptions Act), and Tin Machine were quietly decommissioned. And then even more quietly written out of David Bowie's career history. While Reeves Gabrels would stay on as a collaborator for several albums, Bowie has occasionally revived a couple of songs including Shopping For Girls and I Can't Read, and a fair selection from both albums ended up on the Sound + Vision box set, you'll be hard pushed to find any acknowledgement of Tin Machine in any official Bowie overview.

The first album is still available, albeit lacking key bonus tracks like Maggie's Farm and the alternate Bus Stop, while, staggeringly, Tin Machine II has been out of print for years. Just think about that for a second. A David Bowie album is not available to buy, even digitally, in a world where you can get the equally derided sixties and nineties output literally at the click of a button. Never mind that, you can get sodding David Live. This is usually explained away as being due to 'low demand', which is a reasonable explanation but not one that really tallies with mint condition copies of the CD routinely changing hands for silly money. The likely real explanation is that it took such a battering on release, mostly from people who had either never heard it or were being paid to be 'controversial', that even Bowie and his current back catalogue distributors have started to believe it and are preferring to quietly forget that it ever existed. Some (though not all) of the better tracks are on the recently-reissued Sound + Vision, of course, but that's hardly the same thing. Oy Vey, Baby is also currently unavailable, but... erm... um... anyone got any kettles that need descaling?

There's probably a case for saying that, even allowing for band democracy, Tin Machine maybe would have benefitted from giving a little more control and influence to the member with the proven track record in crafting globally successful albums, but then again if they'd done that, the albums might have been better but they just wouldn't have been Tin Machine. As an exercise in both artistic deck-clearing and shaking off an artistically restrictive audience, it certainly did its job admirably - like or loathe Bowie's nineties output, at least he'd started making music that surprised people again - and unlike The Divine Comedy's 'serious' album and so many other similar career missteps, at least people actually remember it. And as there isn't any more of this to read, why not try listening to I Can't Read?

All The Fun Of The Flares

If there ever was a happy medium between the ha ha ha ha look at the big telly like they used to have in school shhhhhhhh fingers on lips!! work night out lol abba are so retro banality of I Love The Seventies, and the WOOOOOOOOO MURDERS SCARECROW GIVES EXPERIMENTAL HALLUCINOGENS TO SOUTHERN TV TRANSMITTER INFORMATION CONTINUITY SLIDE tediousness of so-called 'hauntology', then it was a happy medium that fell squarely into mainstream TV sitcom-land in the late nineties.

Some time around 1991, the law that forcibly ringfenced all 'remembering' outside of wartime nostalgia to the fifties and sixties was finally overturned, and the all-pervading mish-mash of Andy Pandy, Miniskirts, 'Flower Power' and that thing where they shouted "OPEN THE BOXXXXXX!" or something gave way to an all-pervading mish-mash of Colour Andy Pandy, Hotpants, 'Punk Rockers' and that thing where they shouted "THE MONEY PROGRAMMMMMMMME" or something. It was a long and slow process getting from there to the point where seemingly every single advert for about three years used the Gallery music from Vision On, but nonetheless there were still some splendid scattered-yet-spangly platform-stomped rumblings earlier in the decade, from Denim's wittily personal debut album Back In Denim to Channel 4's hilarious Richard Allen-tastic one-off play The Token King, not to mention Richard Linklater's stoner-skewed hall pass slackery masterpiece Dazed And Confused wafting across the Atlantic on a cloud of suspicious-smelling smoke, all of which succeeded by virtue of treating the outdated reference points as something that informed the lives of real and believable characters rather than just as things held up to smirk at without even any actual tangible joke attached. It wasn't until the latter half of the decade, though, that seemingly everyone wanted to do The Hustle onto this Aztec Bar-fuelled Chopper Bike-shaped bandwagon.

When this wave of Patrick Mowermania finally took full hold, it gave rise to three very similar sitcoms making their debut at very similar times - That '70s Show, Days Like These and, of course, The Grimleys. Despite being wildly varied in terms of actual entertainment value, they all employed a markedly similar premise and indeed had suspiciously similar opening episodes. Well, not that suspicious when you consider that one was actually a direct remake of one of the others, but we have to get your attention somehow, and preferably without resorting to calling Bill Grundy 'an A Good Read goofball'. But which was best? Well, short of letting the respective lead characters battle it out with sharpened spacehoppers - which would be futile as Darren Grimley would inevitably emerge victorious - the best way is just to watch those opening episodes and compare them. So, crack open a bottle of Cresta, put down that copy of Shiver And Shake, and let's take a trip back in time...

...all the way back to 23rd August 1998, which was when That '70s Pilot, the all-too-obviously named opening episode of That '70s Show, made its first appearance on Fox. True, we would in fact have to wait a further two years to see it in the UK, but more on that in a moment. Made by sitcom heavyweights Carsey-Werner and created by 3rd Rock From The Sun maestros Bonnie and Terry Turner, if there's one thing that you can say about this pilot episode, it's that it doesn't mess about. There's a revving engine, a rattle of drums, a zooming retro logo, a caption placing us in Point Place Wisconsin on May 17 1976 (at 8:47pm, to be precise), and a belting opening scene set in Eric Forman's Basement, a den of guitars, speakers, discarded old board games and 'naughty' magazines wherein the straight-laced aforementioned Eric and his somewhat less upstanding teenage associates - wild-haired stoner conspiracy theorist Steven Hyde, gangling slacker Michael Kelso, and girl-next-door turned rad-fem Donna Pinciotti - concoct a wild scheme to 'liberate' some beer from Eric's parents' party, which is in full Captain And Tennille-soundtracked swing directly above them. Various quick-cut attempts at grabbing cans whilst avoiding vigilant parents ("Eric - don't use the 'ass' word!"), dodgy perms and predatory older female neighbours follow, before the hapless would-be beer thief is simply asked to take some surplus cans to the basement. In three minutes flat, we've been introduced to four distinctive yet likeable leads, had quick glimpses of their various parents, and enjoyed some tremendous gags about a fairly universal teenage experience. THAT's how you kick off a TV series.

You can see from those same three minutes just how and why That '70s Show captured America's imagination so quickly and decisively, and indeed how and why someone at ITV thought it would be a good idea to do an Anglicised remake rather than just buy the rights to show the original. Yes, the first that UK viewers would get to see of Eric and company was courtesy of Days Like These, an 'adaptation' that would become a notorious part of a long and inglorious tradition of transatlantic sitcom transfers, where for every All In The Family or The Upper Hand there was a Payne, a Brighton Belles, a Dear John USA, a Stand By Your Man, a Reggie, a You Again?, a What A Country!, a DC Follies, a My Guide To Becoming A Rock Star, a Married For Life, a wince-inducing Red Dwarf remount where the only good line goes to the imported Kryten, a sanity-flattening attempt at doing Dad's Army in the middle of America complete with the classic scene where Captain Rosatti says "don't tell him Henderson!", and most odiously of all, Bill Cosby playing fast and loose with the near-perfect scripts for One Foot In The Grave and replacing all the proper jokes with tedious wank about how while the women are doing the talking he will eat the cookies but the women, they have eaten all of the cookies. In fairness, rather than an outright airlift of the concept and format, Days Like These was at least co-produced by Carsey-Werner, and they had the good sense to bring in sitcom veteran Bob Spiers (whose credits, for the uninitiated, range from Fawlty Towers to Absolutely Fabulous and Press Gang) to try and make some sense of the ambitious venture, but it was a co-production with Carlton Television, which must already be setting off alarm bells for many readers, and while it probably wasn't where the problems started, it's almost certainly where the problems cemented themselves as problems. Sadly, it's also a co-production from after David Cameron's tenure at Carlton, which denies us the opportunity for a great deal of invective later on.

Batteries Not Included, the first episode of Days Like These which was originally broadcast on 12th February 1999, doesn't exactly start off in fine style, opening with an animated Spacehopper (complete with a non-copyright generic smiley in place of the usual Spacehopper 'face'), a burst of music that sounds more like Metallica than anything from the seventies, and a logo straight out of a late seventies Sunday Morning BBC children's religious show. It's still 17th May 1976, and indeed still 8.47pm, but this time we're in Luton and Eric Forman's Garage. We then see something that looks for all the world like a rubbish sketch show parody of That '70s Show, complete with an 'adapted by' credit for Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (who have kept THAT well hidden from their CVs), with the four badly-wigged leads sort of reacting-ish to 'McGuire' (read 'Kelso') boinging out a tune on that most seventies of instruments, the Jew's Harp. While one of those rotatey circle executive toys enjoys some wince-inducingly prominent positioning, there's a stilted word-for-word replay of that zingy opening scene, only with some awful added business about 'shandy makes me randy' or something. Once he ventures upstairs, again it's much the same only far more forced, and with substitutions for the more 'esoteric' reference points such as pizza sticks becoming a 'pineapple and cheese hedgehog' (not to mention "Eric, don't say the 'arse' word"). Presumably, this mild Transatlantic discrepancy between shared memories of the seventies was the primary reason that a remake was considered necessary in the first place - not that That '70s Show was exactly overflowing with references to S.W.A.T. or The Raspberries - and this imperative is somewhat undermined when you notice that the party still has The Captain And Tennille playing in the background. Also you do have to question whether whoever it was that crowbarred in that reference to The Wurzels had ever been to any actual parties ever.

Back over at That '70s Show, this is the point at which we get the opening titles. And what opening titles they are, featuring the gang (including two whom we haven't actually met yet) cruising around in Eric's Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and singing along to Big Star's In The Street, an inspired choice that both reflects what these characters might actually have been listening to, and underlines that the production team weren't just reaching for the nearest available bit of retro iconography. Days Like These, meanwhile, has them all cramped into a noticeably less sleek Ford Zephyr and singing an awful song about how 'days like these/I feel like I can change the world'. And where That '70s Show then runs into a witty bit of group commentary about an episode of The Brady Bunch - a show that, let's be honest about this, the real life equivalents of these characters doubtless resented for its patronising view of life as a 'teen' - Days Like These replaces it with some sneery and historically off-beam wank about Doctor Who (complete with a baffling reference to Sarah Jane 'jiggling up and down in a jumpsuit'). Already this is looking like it's going to be barely watchable, devoid of even the compelling 'awful sitcom' charm of something like Believe Nothing or High Stakes, and there's about eighteen more minutes of it to get through yet. So let's head back over to Wisconsin with immediate effect.

This is the point at which we meet Jackie, the hard-of-thinking rich kid who has somehow got mixed up with this dubious shower, and she invites herself along to the Todd Rundgren concert that the others are planning to attend (over at Days Like These, they're opting for Steve Harley And Cockney Rebel, which at least gets them some grudging realisticness points). Eric still needs parental permission to take the car, and there's also the first mention of 'Fez', about whom more very soon indeed. Jackie and Kelso head off, and there's some brilliantly played sexual tension between Eric and Donna, which their British counterparts replace with some arms-folded standoffishness that immediately loses them any points that they may have recently attained. Then the same 'fizzing daisy' animated interstitial shows up in both shows, and the action moves to Eric declaring his undying love for what the audience thinks is Donna, but which turns out to be the car; a joke that, you guessed it, is appallingly handled in the UK version, as are the amusements about Donna's father's perm, and then then Days Like These opts to replace a shot of a singing Farrah Fawcett with some more animated daisies playing pinball. And you know what, it's really going to be much the same from this point on, with Days Like These continually taking good and well-performed gags and ramming them into the ground like a broken bottle in a Public Information Film.

Although there's one area where they could - that's could - turn the tables a bit. The next scene of That '70s Show takes place in a hip arcade game-festooned hangout and introduces us to 'Fez', an exchange student from an unidentified subcontinent who is, at least at this early stage of the show's existence, played for some very dubious Del-and-Rodney-find-an-illegal-immigrant-style laughs. Not explicitly offensive, it should be stressed, but based on notions of language barriers and lack of cultural awareness that should really have been let go of by the nudging edge of the twenty first century. Surely, you will be thinking, surely Days Like These has to have taken the opportunity to do something a bit more enlightening? Well, this is where we meet Torbjorn, from an unidentified bit of Europe, who gets exactly the same semi-offensive gags at his own expense, which in this context somehow seem a little more acceptable but only a little. And indeed you'll still see stuff like this on TV all the time, which makes it all the more galling when people insist on having a go at sodding Rising Damp. Still, a little better is a little better, and we do get both a half-decent extra scene with Donna and Jackie doing 'girls talk' in the bathroom about their views of each other and respective interest in Eric, and the seriously on-the-money sound of The Sutherland Brothers in the background, so Days Like These isn't doing quite as badly as expected. Though it almost is.

After a smirk-friendly interstitial featuring Eric, Hyde and Kelso inhaling helium and harmonising Hooked On A Feeling (though Eric, Jones and McGuire give us You Should Be Dancing), the gang are depicted very unflinchingly post-joint and in an impressively restrained fashion, with Eric's updates on the car situation diverting into stoner paranoia about the oil shortages being faked and top secret car 'they' are supressing that runs on water, before a still-out-of-it Eric has to have a serious chat with his parents about his responsibilities as a driver whilst they subtly sway in and out of frame before his bleary eyes. As you can probably guess, Days Like These's giggle-heavy reinterpretation of this scene is straight out of the average newspaper cartoonist's view of 'drugs' and can, in short, fuck off. As can the replacement of Eric's parent-irking 'bitching!' on recieving the car keys with a much more blunt and unfunny go-on-Days-Like-These-you've-got-eight-minutes-say-something-outrageous 'shit'.

The next major scene in That '70s Show deals with the gang squabbling over who gets to sit where in the car and Eric's father issuing a concert-threatening instruction that he's not to drive it out of town, and follows much the same in its ITV translation only with less 'accomplished' acting, changed place names, and the driver on the other side; though when the car breaks down shortly afterwards, Days Like These at least has the good sense to insert a couple of lines to suggest Donna is more knowledgeable about motor vehicle maintenance than her more smug and self-assured male travelling companions. After they replace the battery and end up taking the mechanic and his non-played-for-laughs gay partner to the venue with them, Fez and Torbjorn both get the same smooth-lines-and-boogieing interstitial, before That '70s Show weighs in with an impressively realised Todd Rundgren gig complete with an actual live version of I Saw The Light threatening to drown out the dialogue. Days Like These on the other hand belches up a couple of extras in front of a blue light, two blokes in leather caps and bondage gear, and Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me), performed apparently by neither Steve Harley nor Cockney Rebel quietly in the background, and it's at this point that you want to start punching the show very hard in the DigiBeta. Thankfully there's only a couple of minutes left, yet even in that short time they manage to do unspeakable things to a sweet scene between Jackie and Kelso and to Eric and Donna's show-closing car-bonnet couple-of-inches-away-from-getting-it-on stargazing. Mercifully, That '70s Show gives us an under-the-credits glimpse of the exhausted revellers returning from the concert singing Hello It's Me, so at least we've got a halfway decent note to end on.

That '70s Show would go on to run for eight highly successful seasons up to 2006. Days Like These, on the other hand, was being shunted around the schedules within weeks ("to give the other programmes a chance", as Lee and Herring gleefully noted), and eventually Spacehopped its way offscreen with three of its thirteen episodes remaining unshown. And we can't even blame David Cameron for its failure. Shortly afterwards, Channel 5 picked up the rights to That '70s Show itself, and the attempt at remaking it for the benefit of audiences who had never so much as scoffed a Twinkie was quietly forgotten.

When it comes down to it, the biggest problem with Days Like These was that it was neither one thing nor the other. A pointedly American script nastily mangled for a British audience, gags from established old hands rewritten by up and coming highly talented youngsters, an attempt to force one strand of nostalgia into another in a manner that called to mind a seventies toddler trying to bash the wrong piece into the wrong slot of a Fisher Price shape sorter. It had no idea whether it wanted to be cosy past-remembering fun for all the family or an edgy must-see for teenagers able to relate to its timeless themes. What it definitely wasn't was That '70s Show. Or, more to the point, The Grimleys. What's that? We didn't even mention The Grimleys? Well, maybe that's yet to come...