Monday, December 1, 2008

A song a year: 1983, Bop Girl

I really only started taking a particular interest in music in 1983. Before that I was aware of songs on the radio, but I wasn't personally involved with any songs or bands. In 1982 for example I knew of "Ebony and Ivory", or "Physical" and "Up Where We Belong", but I wasn't living my days by the Top 8 at 8 on the local AM radio station, and I certainly didn't have any posters on my wall.

But in 1983, perhaps because I was in my final year of primary school, music started to take hold. Rather than just knowing of a few songs in the charts, I knew all the songs. And it was a great time to become involved with music - bands such as Culture Club singing "Karma Chameleon", Kenny Loggins getting "Footloose", Deneise Williams singing "Let's Hear it for the Boy", and Stevie Wonder reaching the high point of his career with "I Just Called to Say I Love You".

Ok, maybe it wasn't such a great year, but who cares? When you're young every song that you think is the best is axiomatically also the best song ever. It took me a couple years to realise the correlation between Number 1 song and quality was pretty low, but it probably wasn't until I was in my very late teens that I stopped paying full attention to the charts.

In the great music-lovers' novel, High Fidelity, the main character rearranges his LP collection autobiographically. Which, when you think about it, is the only way to think of music.

Music matters because of when you heard it, and the memories it invokes. Music that is very good but which has no connection to your biography will never be considered great. It's why The Beach Boys Pet Sounds is listed in the greatest all time albums, but Brian Wilson's Smile album which was made around the same time and is just as technically brilliant, but which was only released in 2003, will never be a truly great album - ditto Bob Dylan's Live From Albert Hall - perhaps one of the best live albums ever, but which will never hold the affection that his albums released in the 1960s have.

Now, the usual case is that a song will invoke a time or place, and thus throughout a year numerous songs will invoke numerous memories, which makes it pretty hard to limit one song to encapsulate one year. But what the heck I shall try. And bear in mind these songs encapsulate the year for me, not the year for everyone.

Why does "Bop Girl" remind me of 1983? I have to admit there were a few runners up for the title - among them Taco "Puttin on the Ritz", which sticks in my mind because my sister had a gotten the great compilation tape "1983 Summer Breaks" for Christmas, of which that was one of the songs, and it was the one that stuck in my head the most. Also close to being my song of 1983 was the fantastically bizarre number from New Zealand band Monte Video & The Cassettes, "Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop".

But as great as those songs were (geez what a year for music!), it is Pat Wilson's "Bop Girl" that takes me back to 1983. My Year 7 teacher that year had it stuck into her head that the class should do dancing for PE instead of, geee I don't know, PE! And thus instead of playing soccer or basketball or learning how to play volleyball, she choreographed some moves for the class to learn to perform. Some were horrible folk dances, but two were for modern songs. The entire class had to learn to do dance steps to The Nolans' "Gotta Pull Myself Together", and a select few girls (a favoured six, I recall) got to dance to "Bop Girl".

It was essentially a preamble into music for me. I was at the crossroads of liking music because I liked it, and liking it because my friends liked it. I can also remember watching Countdown around at a friend's house and "Bop Girl" was the Number 1 song that week. I think it was the first time I had watched the Countdown Top 10 and known all the songs and even been able to guess the Number 1. From there I never looked back.

Like a lot of songs in the early 1980s, "Bop Girl" is incredibly stupid. It makes no sense; it's beat is inane, and the video not even remotely connected with the lyrics. The video is now of note only for the fact it features a very young Nicole Kidman (no doubt coming off her win in the Dolly Covergirl competition). She was 15 and in the video she sits around smoking and looking very stuck up. It may be her best role. (Ok that is harsh. She was damn good in BMX Bandits).

But, be that as it may, the song has its hooks into me, and should I ever need to invoke the feelings of what life was like for me in Year 7, I need only hear the opening few bars, and I am right back in class, sitting down watching the girls perform some bizarre robotic type dance to this classic 80s One Hit Wonder song.

Of interest for those who were teenagers during the 80s is this absolutely fantastic blog, called The 80's Tapes which features all the compilation tapes of the era (and lots of other great stuff). It was a time when a compilation tape couldn't be called Video Hits 27, or Hit Machine 22. Nope, it had to be "1982 Up in Lights", or "1981 Over the Top".

If you ever had a mono tape player and you got a tape for Christmas that featured such classic songs as Billy Field's "You weren't in love with me", or Kajagoogoo singing "Too Shy", then check out the site and spend a hour or so looking at the covers of those tapes and shaking your head as the song lists come flooding back.

Oh and bugger it, here's "Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop", because it so perfectly captures early 1980s weird.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Believe it or not, I picked up the 12" of Taco's Puttin' on the Ritz at a Savlos shop about 3 weeks ago.

I agree, that Bop Girl is a great summer song, helped I'm sure by husband Ross. It's glorious dumb fun but not SO dumb that it's insulting