For those not old enough to remember, 1976 was not just another year in pop music, but another planet entirely. As evidence to support this statement, I’d like to present exhibit A, a song by Mr JJ Barrie. JJ was a genuine one-hit wonder who hit the top spot in the charts for a single week in June that year with ‘No Charge’. Almost without parallel on the cheese continuum, ‘No Charge’ was a paean to motherhood that left mere cloying sentimentality on the starting blocks as it blazed a noxious trail to the far side of Maudlin Central. The story of the song features a little boy who asks his mother for some extra pocket money after presenting her with an itemised list of all the household chores he has successfully carried out. Mum, rather than do the proper parental thing and send the little scamp upstairs to tidy his room, decides to make up a bill for all of the things she has done for him. Her ‘bill’ constitutes the chorus of the song:
For the nine months I carried you growing inside me – no charge
For the nights I sat up with you, talked with you, prayed for you – no charge
For the time and tears that you cost though the years – no charge
And when you add it all up, the full cost of my love is – no charge
Yes, ‘No Charge’ was weapons-grade schmaltz, capable of inducing a lump in the throat and something in the eye at twenty paces, but somehow –particularly when the vocal from mum kicks in- this song still manages to elicit at least the flicker of an emotional response in me. I realise, with no little degree of shame, that this probably says more about my pitiful status as a nostalgic, easy-to-manipulate sucker than anything else.
It is remarkable to think that ‘No Charge’ got to number one in the charts; it’s not just that they don’t write songs like this anymore, it’s more that anyone who even considered trying to write a song like this in 2013 would probably be locked up, or at the very least laughed out of the early auditions of X-Factor.
There are some who would argue that pop music in 2013 is trundling along in a rather self-regarding dotage, endlessly regurgitating and repackaging everything it has done before. This view holds that pop music in 2013 is generally too calculated, too marketed, too buffed to a sheen, too soul-less, too pre-packaged to be anything other than mere ‘product’. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that, but I do suspect that, whatever else it might be, pop music now can never be less than streetwise, smart and self-aware. 1976 –by contrast- seems like a prelapsarian golden age, an age before cynicism and auto-tuning, an age before the irony cat got out of the bag.
On the theme of self-awareness, I suspect that some folk will be expecting my next sentence to read something like this:
“Ah … when I was a lad, it was all fields around here.”
And funnily enough, the song that knocked JJ Barrie from the top of the charts was ‘(I’ve got a brand new) Combine Harvester’ by The Wurzels.