Saturday, March 17, 2007

Synchronicity: The Manual

Henning (HE FIXED MY BLOG TEMPLATE!!!) has occasionally loaned me some rare and wonderful CDs by KLF. While their overblown and strangely beautiful "stadium house" sound is fun to listen to, and their collaboration with Tammy Wynette ("Stand By the Jams") is outrageously funny and odd, I reserve most of my affection for one-off KLF side-project The Timelords. They produced one mega-hit single, and then -- in typical quirky style -- produced "The Manual."

Subtitled "How to Have a Number One the Easy Way," it's their tongue-in-cheek guide to constructing the ideal hit single. Amazingly, many people have read The Manual and then produced number one hits, usually before fading away into obscurity. Close to my heart were Edelweiss, who in 1988 combined ABBA and yodelling to create one of my all-time favourite "fun" songs. They credit The Manual. So does (shiver) Chumbawamba for (shiver) "Tubthumping."

Now I find out that "The Pipettes" ALSO give The Manual credit for their success.

So what the heck is IN this manual? I'd love to read it, but until I can find a copy I can only guess, based on the examples provided above. All of these songs have simple repetative beats. Excluding The Pipettes, the songs also juxtapose different song segments that are surprising and seem slightly bizarre. Most importantly, they all have a sarcastic/base/simple/ironic tone reflecting elements of popular culture: The Timelords rip off (among other things) Gary Glitter and Doctor Who, Edelweiss rips off ABBA and German ski resorts, Chumbawamba combines a drinking anthem with "Danny Boy."

From what I hear, the original Manual focused more on electronically sampling other sources, but later groups show that simply referencing those sources is enough to score a hit.


SmemanUfo said...

I freakin' love edelweiss. I was working in the clubs back then, and that song always filled the dance floors. I looked for it a while back, but could never remember how to spell the band's name.

Thank you so much for the link and the blast from the past

Adam Thornton said...

Glad to be of service! I wasn't on the dancefloors when the song came out, and I've never heard it played in any club since (except when I've played it myself, which brings no response whatsoever).

Other forgotten songs of the same era: "Beat 'Dis" & "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls." I was also sort of fond of Guru Josh, despite his intense cheesiness ("1990...time for the guru!")

Anonymous said...

It's a good point - when you play all original music, there's a certain familiarity barrier some people have. A cover or a reference can be a good "icebreaker" to get people to pay attention to what you're doing.

It's definitely a big reason for the success of mashups.

I didn't care much for "Doctorin' The Tardis" - I'm too much of a Who-theme purist, I suppose. ;) But then there was that "Dean Gray" mashup, where they threw it together with Green Day's "Holiday", and I thought the result was actually pretty cool.

Adam Thornton said...

Wow, I'd never considered that these songs were breaking the "familiarity" barrier by mixing covers/references in with original songs. HMMMM!

About being a Doctor Who theme purist, on the "In the Beginning" box set ("An Unearthly Child" / "The Daleks" / "The Edge of Destruction") there's a beautiful and sort of tragic documentary about the making of the original theme.

When I say "tragic," I mean because they interview Delia Darbyshire in 1993, and she appears to have retreated from reality quite a bit (though maybe she was always like that). Her closing words echo your comment:

"Over the years the producers would change the title sequence, and then come to me to make changes to the theme to fit the new titles; some extra bars here or there, extra effects. And I was offended. The original theme was perfect and I was offended that they kept tarting it up." (Paraphrase)

She seemed genuinely upset.

Anonymous said...

Derbyshire definitely became a recluse later on. The BBC did a radio play about her a year or two back, which portrayed her early days at the Radiophonic Workshop and the rediscovery of her music by electronic enthusiasts - to her surprise. I think I've got a copy somewhere...

I like the spareness and spookiness of the original version, but on the whole I think I prefer the revision they had her do during Troughton's era, with all the tape delay and the "spangles" at the beginning. Sorry, Delia! I just do!

Adam Thornton said...

I hope that Derbyshire DID get some pleasure when people rediscovered her?

And I agree, the Troughton era had a bit more pizazz to it. By the time it had been tarted up for Pertwee it was sounding a bit busy, though I think it matched the Tom Baker titles nicely.