Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page
The Jim Davidson Album
West Five Records WEF1
Studious music fans and professional critics alike, both seem to enjoy compiling lists in an attempt to identify the ‘best’ record of all time. They feel that they are somehow able to order all the music ever released into neat little top tens and top one hundreds, sorting and critiquing in an endless pursuit of some absolute and definitive ‘best’. Fashions and trends play their part in these ‘best of’ lists. Some bands will be flavour of the month and feature highly in one reckoning, only to disappear completely from the next tally. Other bands seem to be hardy perennials in these sorts of charts. The likes of The Beatles and The Beach Boys seem to be regular contenders for best album, while modern bands like Radiohead often hover around the upper reaches of the charts, battling away with the venerable musicians of yesteryear.
When in some future end of year poll all the arguing is done, all the votes cast and added up once again, the only certainty is that no one will be any nearer deciding what is the ‘best’ album of all time. It is a highly subjective matter. It is possible for anyone to say what their favourite album is and to back it up with some cogent and persuasive arguments. That may not satisfy some people who feel that there should be an absolutely definitive best record, backed up perhaps by complex mathematical algorithms that prove its worthiness to eight decimal places. Well, I am not sure if I will be able to help anyone seeking perfection, but I believe that I can contribute to the great rumbling debate by revealing to the world the worst record ever committed to vinyl. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Jim Davidson Album.
Again, I suppose it comes back to things such as taste and highly personal likes and dislikes. One person’s favourite record may leave someone else cold. That aside, The Jim Davidson Album is officially the worst record I have ever and will ever listen to. I am happy that I have listened to it though, and even happier that I own a copy. Everything I buy, listen to, download, overhear in a taxi, or hum along to in a department store, will, after listening to The Jim Davidson Album be enjoyable on some level. Actually possessing the album is a sort of relief, for I can buy any tatty piece of vinyl lurking in a dusty neglected bin tucked away in some grubby back street charity shop, safe in the knowledge that it will always, without fail, be an improvement on The Jim Davidson Album.
So what is it that makes The Jim Davidson Album quite so bad? What is it that makes this the definitive worst record ever, the anti-Pet Sounds for masochistic lovers of bad music. I am tempted to say everything. I wouldn’t be far wrong. Let’s start with Jimbo himself. Born in 1953 in Blackheath, South London, the wife-bothering, booze-loving, sweary, misogynistic, racist, opinionated, Thatcher-worshipping, egomaniacal stand-up comedian Jim Davidson is not to everyone’s taste. In between long periods of obscurity, usually spent making obscure foul-mouthed live videos in Dartford while drinking heavily, getting married and or divorcing, Jim occasionally enjoys short periods of mass appeal, fronting shows like The Generation Game or Big Break.
For the most part though he is a disagreeable little twonk. That aside, Jim Davidson could, I suppose, still have delivered a perfectly listenable album. Many of his equally disagreeable contemporaries managed to turn in a perfectly acceptable light entertainment album, the late great Bernard Manning for instance. But not Jim. Oh no.
Despite acting from an early age and appearing in Ralph Reader’s famous Gang Show, Jim Davidson is one of the most tuneless soporific singers I have ever heard. He drones his way through the first side of the record, singing through his adenoids in a way that only a former amateur drummer could. He sounds like an even more monotone Rex Harrison as he talks over a cheap and nasty sounding mass of tinkling keyboards and electronic drums beats. A duet with Dianne Lee of Peters and Lee fame is a rare highlight, while a maudlin acoustic performance with Richard Digance of his song Washer Woman, is inexplicably covered with a swampy mess of electronic pan pipes. Even that first side of the album isn’t enough to make it a bad record. It’s not very good, it’s awash with Jim’s horrible nasal singing but it’s almost bearable in a painful sort of way. However…
Side two of The Jim Davidson Album is where he really goes for it, this is where a record which is merely bad leaps free from the herd and scampers madly up the country lane to the village of Much Awful on the Wold, frothing and snarling and biting and kicking as it goes. We start bizarrely with an Aubrey Hopwood lullaby segueing into the ELO tracks Prologue and Twilight from their strange sci-fi concept album Time. I have no idea why. Then comes an excruciating version of Mike Sarne’s novelty hit Come Outside with Jim playing both the male and female parts. This track is a hideous exercise in self-love that will make your toes curl but more is to come. Tell Laura I Love Her is murdered in typical Davidson fashion and then murdered even further by a woefully unfunny monologue where the hero of the song (revealed to be from Smethwick for no readily apparent reason) attempts to gain entry into heaven. And then comes Jim’s finest, ie worst, moment. The song Dolly Parton.
Starting in ‘hilarious’ fashion with a gospel choir made up of Jim’s patented black voice that isn’t at all offensive, he then sings a song which struggles to even make it to single entendre. Yes it’s a hymn to the size of Dolly Parton’s breasts. If I was Dolly, I would have used the royalties from The Bodyguard soundtrack to have Jim Davidson hunted down and killed. She chose to open a theme park instead. Each to their own. After another pointless cover, this time California Man by The Move, the album comes grinding to an ear-shattering, mind-bending but more than welcome end, with a desperate to be loved Richard Digance inspired song glorifying The Sun newspaper. Tack on one last piece of nonsense with a cover of the Strawbs left-wing baiting Part of the Union and you have the perfect album for opinionated right-wing, low brow morons everywhere. It probably sold well in Woolwich but this album is a hideous waste of atoms.
So there you are, I have listened to this album so that you don’t have to. It is truly the worse album ever made, but as I said before, things can only get better after listening to it. It’s like sitting in a bat-infested cave for a month eating nothing but woodlice and dung. Afterwards, as you walk out blinking in the sun’s warm rays, everything will seem beautiful, fresh and melodious by comparison. It is only through suffering that we can appreciate the small wonderful pleasures that life can offer.
Here is Jim indulging his auto-erotic fantasies with Come Outside. If you don’t love him, the strange antagonistic old scrote can always go love himself. My betting is he frequently does:
Jim Davidson, probably playing near you in a venue you thought had closed down years ago:
I Love a Party
K-tel ONE 1313
Russ Abbot has been knocking around the world of British light entertainment for over fifty years. He seems to have weathered the vagaries and vicissitudes of fame better than most of his contemporaries during that time, and the fact that he is still omnipresent and inescapable on TV and the stage is testimony to his chameleon-like ability to adapt and evolve with changing tastes and fashions. Not for Russ becoming a bitter complaining old comic, forever reminding people of his 1980s heyday and his decade long run as a star. No, for Russ has moved on many times since then. He is an established musical star, a dramatic and comic actor and a comedian of some note. Russ Abbot is that rarest of people, the last perhaps of a select dying breed. He is, speak it softly, a true all-round entertainer.
Born in Chester in 1947, his nascent entertainment career began in a succession of local bands. Eventually as a comedian/drummer (a potential Keith Moon of Deeside in the making) the Black Abbots formed around him in the early 1960s. The big break for Russ and his band came, as so many big breaks did back then, courtesy of Opportunity Knocks. The band were a winning act back in 1969 and were rewarded with a series of record contracts on minor labels. Their subsequent string of records never really did justice to the talents of the band and by the mid-1970s their carefully constructed act was in danger of disappearing forever.
Salvation however came when the band switched emphasis from able lead vocalist Clive Jones to madcap drummer Russ Abbot. Odd pop combos and comedy novelty records were all the vogue during the 70s and Russ fitted the bill perfectly. Within a few short years his blend of tightly crafted musicianship and knockabout comedy had reversed the fortunes of the band and raised them from nowhere to become at least the equals of The Grumbleweeds and The Barron Knights. Okay, that may sound faint praise, but round these parts, praise doesn’t come much higher.
Russ had perfected his comedy routines on shows such as Who Do You Do? And for a while at least Russ Abbot the budding comedian existed alongside Russ Abbot the manic drummer of the Black Abbots. All that changed in the autumn of 1979 when Freddie Starr invited Russ to appear with him in the ITV show Freddie Starr’s Variety Madhouse. Luckily for Russ, Freddie was (and probably still is) a teensy bit restless and far too odd to stick at something as safe and conventional as a Saturday prime-time family-orientated TV show. After just six episodes Starr quit the show, leaving LWT with a large gaping hole in their shooting schedules. When the show returned in the spring it was simply entitled Russ Abbot’s Madhouse. The annals of TV history attest that Russ’s big chance had arrived and he seized it as firmly as he could.
The show was a great vehicle for Russ’s talents. The Madhouse appealed to all ages and was perfectly suited for the coveted Saturday evening slot still fought over by broadcasters today. Its manic unrelenting blend of slapstick humour played out by a vast array of broad and grotesque comic characters led to huge audiences. Reversing the disastrous trend of jumping from BBC to ITV, as pioneered by Morecambe and Wise and The Goodies, Russ moved from ITV to the BBC in 1986 and went on to even greater popularity and acclaim, making stars of Les Dennis and Michael Barrymore in the process. Oh and of course Bella Emberg!
Russ’s first solo foray into vinyl came in 1982 when he released the single A Day In The Life Of Vince Prince, a concept piece built around the popular aging Teddy Boy Madhouse character of the same name. The single crept into the nether regions of the charts but wasn’t a great hit. This slight success must have heartened and inspired Russ, for a full Madhouse inspired album was released with the backing of LWT a year later in time for Christmas 1983. Such things are addictive and as Christmas 1984 approached Russ Abbot must have been eyeing a follow-up, for that is when he launched his most successful and sustained assault on the UK hit parade.
Sadly Atmosphere was not an attempt to cover the posthumously released Ian Curtis penned Joy Division song of the same name. Which is a shame as that truly would have been one of the finest pieces of crossover music ever committed to vinyl. Instead Atmosphere was an inspired piece of nonsense disco pop composed by the triumvirate of Ben Findon, Eddie Tucker and Stephen Rodway. They were an unlikely set of songwriters who had first met as they penned hits for Billy Ocean back in the early 1970s. Ben Findon had a solid background in nonsense disco thanks to his work writing for the Nolans, while soul musician Tucker and producer Rodway brought technical skills as well as that essential ear for a hit. Rodway would go on to production and remix duties for the likes of the Spice Girls and Pulp, but Russ Abbot was his big break. Something he probably doesn’t mention too much these days.
Despite the relentless catchy nature of his potential disco hit, Russ missed out on the Christmas number one. In retrospect Christmas 1984 wasn’t the best year to attempt to top the charts. The small matter of Band Aid rattling their collecting tin for charity managed to keep even the big guns of Wham! and Paul McCartney off the top slot. Amidst that company Russ stood no chance. With great, grimly determined persistence Atmosphere loitered around the charts like a disgruntled Christmas guest who has decided he might as well hang about to see what delights Easter holds. Eventually the insanely addictive disco madness of Atmosphere prevailed and by February 1985 it climbed to number seven. Russ Abbot had a top ten hit!
The song inspired two follow-up singles, plus a follow-up album that included all three single releases in an attempt to monopolise the charts for Christmas 1985. The LP I Love a Party performed respectably, enjoying a top 20 slot over the festive season. It is a curious mixture of original Findon material alongside covers that span the generations of popular music. I wouldn’t say that any of the covers truly succeed. They are inoffensive and enjoyable, and all of them are imbued with the infectious upbeat tempo that Atmosphere established as Russ’s popular hit-making signature sound. Some are established novelty hits (YMCA and Una Paloma Blanca) while the others are a mix of easy listening classics (When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman) combined with a few contemporary hits (Uptown Girl) and various efforts by Russ to tackle the canon of popular music (the amiably pleasing Beach Boys’ Medley that ends the album).
I could have picked from any of the above tracks to close my ramblings, but I felt that my discerning readers would relish the chance to indulge in something other than the obvious de rigueur choice of Atmosphere. So here for your pleasure is Russ tackling the power-soul of Stevie Wonder with Happy Birthday. I have always thought that Stevie’s version, as good as it is, does play down the Martin Luther King inspired lyrics, hiding them behind virtuoso musicianship and a wall of heavy funk. The civil rights aspect of the song always felt like some guilty secret intent, subtly masked so that the song could be played every time a provincial travelling disco needed an unchallenging topical hit for the birthday girl for whom they were hired. So here, stripped of any form of that silly virtuoso musicianship and showing off, is Russ Abbot with his pared down and touching tribute to Martin Luther King. I am sure Dr King would approve of his efforts. Russ Abbot’s period on vinyl was brief but it was spectacular.
Further Russ Abbot hagiography at: