An (as always) long-overdue change to my TOTDOWOHOICBATCI; this year’s first offering is a gem from Nik Kershaw, one of only two famous musicians* to hail from my home town of Ipswich (the other being the lead vocalist of comedy metallists “Cradle of Filth”, Danni Minogue, or something.)
“The Riddle” is the title track of Kershaw’s second album, and it’s brilliant. The lyrics are frankly wacky (although to be fair, he does give us fair warning of this in the title.) In fact, oblique lyrics seemed to be the ’80s pop artist’s stock-in-trade (look up the lyrics of most tracks by Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Tears for Fears etc, and they are usually utterly impenetrable; sixth form poetry on acid) - Kershaw might well be taking the rise gently out of some of his peers. Or there may actually be a riddle… I’ve never worked it out. (Chez?)
The melody is simple and incredibly catchy; I defy you to listen to this a couple of times, and not then go around for the rest of the day humming “da-da tree by a river de-de hole in the ground, la-la dum-dum-de-dum-dum goes around and around”. By contrast the chord progression is fairly tricky-sounding, but surprisingly easy to play on a guitar - indicating which instrument it was composed on, despite its synthy production.
Kershaw is most often likened to fellow big-haired intelligent pop-purveyor Howard Jones, but there are also several likenesses to Sting; namely i) both were serious musicians who’d already been “payin’ dues” for several years before hitting paydirt slightly late with a teeny fanbase (thanks in no small part to judicious use of hair product); ii) both were liberal in the employment of a reggae lilt to lend a rhythmical hook to their early hits; and finally iii) both were known to engage in 18-hour tantric sex sessions with members of Amazonian rainforest tribes who’d had dinner plates inserted into their upper lips**.
As “pop” goes, this kicks seven shades out of the crap we endure today; never mind today’s endless highly-choreographed “Glee” routines, the processed hi-NRG guff which TM listens to whilst pumping iron, and the armies of manufactured, immediately forgettable indie-folkie-twee girlies and dishevelled posh blokes whose dads own the record company - this is a real song, composed on a real instrument by the person who ended up performing it, and repeatable by the same person 25 years later on the same instrument. I’d like to see any Cowell acolyte do a convincing solo version of one of their hits NOW, never mind in 25 years’ time.
It’s official - Nik Kershaw rocks, and Ipswich was clearly the centre of the musical universe in the 1980s.
(* - apart from i) Tommy Stupid of legendary skate punks The Stupids, and ii) the now-forgotten performer of a daring note-for-note cover version of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, which ran to an impressive 300 7″ vinyl copies in 1987.)
(** - this one might not be true.)