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Thursday, 8 December 2011

In praise of ugliness

One of the charming things about watching these TotP re-runs is that you can’t help but notice that you didn’t have to be all that good-looking to be a pop star in 1976. You could be riding high in the charts with average songs and below-average looks; or, in certain cases, you could get away with being plug-ugly. Take, for instance, the Kursaal Flyers. Their hit song ‘Little does she know’ was pleasant enough, but blimey, those lads had faces that only a mother could love. The singer looked like he’d come straight from running the waltzer franchise at a fairground in Skegness, sporting the peacock hairstyle and spiv moustache of a man not unfamiliar with the company of what used to be called ‘jailbait’.
His dental regime truly was a sight to behold. Imagine, if you will, that the average mouthful of teeth is something that is routinely installed by respectable construction companies, operating under licence and to strict professional guidelines. Not so, alas, for your man from the Kursaals. His gob looked like several cowboy builders, each determined to pre-empt a messy legal case over property rights, had gone ahead and started work without the necessary planning permission. In fact, each rogue firm, in its desire to get the job done and move on to the next act of civic vandalism, had gone ahead without any ‘planning’ at all. His upper east side bore no aesthetic or proportional relationship to his lower south, while his menacing lower east side could best be described as ‘untamed’. Nowadays, the only kind of pop singer who might conceivably get away with that sort of dental regime would be the kind that turned up in the early auditions for X-Factor, probably accompanied by a social worker.

The Kursaal’s bass player, who didn’t look like he had skipped many meals in pursuit of his craft, had the look of drunk rotary club member on a package holiday, invited up onto the stage at the end of the night by the house band. His dancing was every bit as good as you’d expect from a drunk 54-year old man with no sense of rhythm and an overwhelming need to visit the toilet. To be fair, the song was pretty good and any band that was willing to perform in front of a row of washing machines, as they did, must have had a sense of humour. And not many folk write lyrics like these anymore:

When she finished her laundry, she was all in a quandary, and made for the street like a hare. Her escape was so urgent, she forgot her detergent, and dropped all her clean underwear.
Little does she know that I know that she knows that I know she’s two-timing me.

In spite of having some nice, middle-of-the-road (and, frankly, a bit bland) songs, Doctor Hook took the ugliness deal to an altogether more menacing level. They had somehow mastered the art of sounding like a bunch of big girl’s blouses, but looking like a crowd of ruffians. The best way to describe them would be to imagine a film in which a young pair of city slickers on their honeymoon get into trouble somewhere in the southern states. There will be a scene in which the twenty-something, clean-shaven, city-dude husband and his pretty young schoolteacher wife will go into a bar in Ratchetsville, Missouri (population 137) to try and get help after their car has broken down. Well, the guys who will beat the husband up and abduct the pretty young wife will be Doctor Hook.

In the dual time zone 1976 /2011, a German band called Pussycat has just been removed from the number one slot after several weeks at the top with a song called ‘Mississippi’. Catching their act 35 years on, one can’t help but be impressed by the fact that they had also mastered a ‘Doctor Hook’ style image paradox. Even as they sat on the very top of the showbiz pile, Pussycat managed to look like a jaded, middle-of-the-road covers band. In their own way, they may well have been quite excited about being number one, but their enervated demeanour was illustrative of a band that was either:

a) performing their third set of the night at the Spratlington North Miners Welfare Club, or
b) under the influence of some pre-gig ‘herbal’ cigarettes.

Like the bloke in the Kursaal Flyers, the lead singer in Pussycat had a somewhat relaxed attitude to dental excellence. Had she ever been unfortunate enough to have had her jaw wired up after an accident, she would have been consoled by the fact that she sported a gap in her front teeth that would comfortably have allowed her to have been fed through a very large straw. I wouldn’t swear to it, but such was the gap that she might even have been able to cope with a bar of toblerone.

Last week’s episode also featured Legs and Co dancing to ‘Maid in Heaven’ by Be-Bop Deluxe. It’s a song I know very well and, according to Jimmy Saville, it was working its way up the charts from the rather modest position of 36, with a bullet. Well, if not quite a bullet, then maybe something fired from a pea-shooter. Given the embarrassment of riches throughout the rest of the top 40, one wonders why the dancers picked this particular song to interpret. I guess someone somewhere at the BBC must have liked Be-Bop Deluxe, because the song evidently wasn’t picked because the dance routine bore any significant relationship to the lyrical content or, indeed, the rhythm track. In fact, you might have got an equally valid interpretation of the song from watching a monkey on a bicycle, towing a fridge on wheels. The monkey would have been funnier, but perhaps not quite as pleasing on the eye.

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