Earlier this week I was asked to go head to head on the radio in a song war with a friend of mine Tim Hetherington. Kim Trotter, who hosts the All Things Considered show on Ipswich Community Radio runs a feature called Wheels of Steel, where by she pits two people’s song choices against each other in three categories. When Kim asked if I’d be interested, I jumped at the chance, as I’m always up for a bit of musical competitiveness.
The winner was decided by studio guests, the band Reggae Rainbows, and I think I scraped a narrow win against Tim, 2–1, through bias, as one of my choices was Ken Boothe. You can listen to the show here—the Wheels of Steel feature is about an hour in.
For those without the time, here are the tunes I picked, and their competition, plus the rationale I emailed to Kim to justify my choices.
Best punk song: Shot By Both Sides by Magazine vs Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers
This was actually my second choice, the first being Boredom by the Buzzcocks from their Spiral Scratch EP. However, as that had swearing in it and not suitable for broadcast at 11am on a Thursday morning, I went for Magazine. Howard Devoto has the best Punk voice ever, (he also sung Boredom, as he was originally in the Buzzcocks before leaving after Spiral Scratch to form Magazine). The lyrics have an outsider spirit which completely fits the original punk ethos, as well as having nihilistic undertones. The fact that Pete Shelley allowed Devoto to take a guitar riff with him when he left the band and use it for Shot By Both Sides completes the circle on this. However, the irony is that Devoto formed Magazine because he didn’t want to be confined to punks’ narrow and reductive aesthetic, so I’m sure he wouldn’t be best pleased with thinking it is thought of as a punk classic.
Best pop song: Prince Charming by Adam And The Ants vs Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode
The opening guitar strum, the primal screams, and the acoustic riff all set this song up for greatness. And then the lyrics kick in, declaring that no one should be afraid to express themselves. Raising self-esteem and personal pride lies at the heart of this song, and that, in my mind, sends an important personal/political message from the get go. Questioning who has the right to tell anyone what to do, how to dress or how to behave should be at the heart of pop, whether implicitly through dress codes or explicitly through lyrics, and pop has been doing this since Elvis first shook his legs in Memphis in July 1954. My love for this song was reaffirmed when I saw Adam Ant in Ipswich last July, and the sight of pretty much the entire audience, (except for me), do ‘that’ dance, made me smile in admiration at them all as Adam sang ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’, probably one of the best pop lyrics ever.
Best sing along song: Everything I Own by Ken Boothe vs Sweet Talking Woman by ELO
This song is sheer emotion—there is something about Boothe’s tender vocal delivery that pulls directly on the heart strings. I have always been fascinated by how he pronounces his ‘H’s on this, which I stupidly emulate when I join in wishing I had such a voice as his. I sometimes wonder whether I just HAVE to sing along to stop myself from sobbing uncontrollably, it is that powerful. It is sung directly to the listener forcing you to FEEL his heartache. And all to a gorgeous Lover’s Rock rhythm to boot. But please, don’t anyone mention the Boy George version, or I’m likely to get very angry.
Thanks Kim and Tim, this was great fun.