Saturday, April 12, 2003

The most marvelous nonfiction book I've come across of late is undoubtedly Garry Mulholland's This Is Uncool: the 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco (Cassell Illustrated, UK, 2002). Mulholland writes for and the wonderfully literate Mojo amongst other publications, and has taken it upon himself to provide a guide to the 500 greatest singles (in chronological order) in UK history, beginning with the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In the UK." His choices are ridiculously varied and nearly always interesting. And what, you ask, does Mulholland think makes a great single? Well...

A great single stands alone from and transcends an artist's usual work. It uses every prodcution trick in the book, without fear of accusations of gimmickry or novelty, to get on the radio or the club DJ's decks, to make it more than just a recording of a live performance. It must have hooklines, even when those hooklines subvert or ignore the singalong chorus norm. ... It should want to be a hit, even if it fails. ... It must speak directly to you.

Add to this my own personal Theory One of pop: Everybody has one good single in them. ... [I]t's those one-shots, ignored in the official histories of rock, that make pop the unpredictable, shocking, frighteningly stupid, and stupendously clever spectrum of communication that it is. Though it may be uncool to say so.

I couldn't fucking say it better myself, so I'm glad someone else said it for me. In addition, the book's liberally littered with full-color repros of many of the selection's original sleeves - and to give you an indication of just how deep and wide Mulholland casts his nets, those singles pictured amidst the introduction are by Josef K, Grandmaster [Flash] & Melle Mel, the Stone Roses, Adam & the Ants, the Smiths, Chaka Khan, Deee-Lite, and the Beastie Boys. Quit a tidy mix if you ask me.

And another thing, which scares and delights me equally. Not to sound big-headed, but I think that Mulholland and I seem to think a bit similarly at times. To wit: Mulholland on ABC's "Poison Arrow":

It was a marriage made in pop heaven when Trevor Horn's crashing, widescreen prodcution met Martin Fry's arch pop vision and everyman croon. ABC's The Lexicon of Love [is] the greatest post-modern pop album of the era... .

And here's what I said back in January:

horn starts with a three-note descension on the piano, introduces synth-claps, then a synth snare track (very metronomic), string fills (played on a keyboard), that signature horn motif… and just keeps piling the elements on throughout the song. of course, it’s not all about horn here; let’s not forget the brilliant presence and soulboy vocals of martin fry – he’s bryan ferry without the arched eyebrow and knowing glance. his lyrics as well nail how real people (okay, artsy real people) feel in and out of love, and much of the credit for abc’s success must rest on his shoulders. but it’s horn’s immaculate production that sends much of the lexicon of love over the top and into rarified air; abc never worked with horn again, and never made a better album.

Alarming. Lovely, but alarming. Put it this way: if you like my blog, you're gonna fucking love this book. I found it at the public library, God bless 'em.

Addendum:'s got it, US readers. UK readers shouldn't have any difficulties.

Further Addendum: The This Is Uncool website! Brill!

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