1 April 2009

"Our hero sits with head in hands..."

Dancing Girls by Nik Kershaw. Probably his least well-remembered single from his halcyon era and as follow-up to the groundbreaking and career-making Wouldn't It Be Good, it was very regulation, almost ordinary. But I liked it.

The video, as unpretentious as the previous one was eye-opening, still has some smart moments to it. Kershaw himself says that they had the idea for the lonely bloke living a tedious life for a while, but spent ages finding a house to film in and were knocking on people's doors for ages. Eventually, as Kershaw put it, "one nutter said yes. But we were very grateful to him."

This intrigues me. I don't know what the time process is for making a video but it must take a while to plan, shoot, edit and then dub the song on top. Two months before Dancing Girls was released, Kershaw was a total unknown, so it can't have been recognition of him as a major pop star that prompted the homeowner to agree to having a camera crew knocking about his pad for a number of days while this alleged pop musician emptied cornflakes over his kitchen table. No wonder the star himself expressed his gratitude.

So we get Kershaw in standard 80s collar pyjamas, the type which only valium males in toothpaste adverts have been spotted wearing since, getting wearily out of bed and doing a series of half-arsed stretching exercises while a ballerina lollops around outside his driveway and then appears from nowhere in his vestibule.

Note immediately that the cracking bleached Kershaw barnet is unaffected by a night's sleep in a single bed. Note also that we're expected to believe that a man with a haircut like that would wear such a dull shirt and tie combination for his day job.

So the cornflakes - shaken from the box to the beat of the initial synth riff - fly all over the table and he looks a bit pissed off. Not as pissed off as whoever had to clean them all up afterwards and replace them as the take wasn't quite right, I'll wager.

Off he goes to work, and is confronted with a lady traffic warden, a man in a bowler hat and various headscarfed neighbours choreographing his thoughts. It's insane and actually, it's still pretty funny. I love the two washerwoman-esque neighbours mouthing the backing line "and they dance for him inside his head". It's the sort of thing LAMDA prepares you for...

To the second verse, and Kershaw is in a board meeting, during which the secretary and then the canteen ladies do the dancing across the table while the suited men perorm the backing line. Again, one wonders exactly what sort of career a man with such a bizarre barnet as Kershaw's was aiming to follow when playing this character, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The two vocal effects in the song are well covered by the video plot. Kershaw's "hy-ahh" comes from his medical examination where, after having his blood pressure and his eyesight tested, he feels the need to perform the noise as a deep breath into the medic's auriscope. Then, as he returns to chorus mode, the nurse starts dancing and the ageing medic, still looking at the test results, does the back-up line before they all dance off. They really made these classically-trained actors work for their dough.

The other vocal effect was the harridan-female scolding noise (I've no idea what the words are, but you can tell she's displeased) and the ballerina following Kershaw around covers this as he idles in his chair. This seems to shock him into life and he escapes home, mouthing the chorus with his front door wide open. It's a bit of a disappointing ending, really. I was thinking back in 1984 that maybe the ballerina would drag him upstairs.

The song, underneath it all a basic plea for a life of boredom to be enhanced, was the second hit off Human Racing, the debut album panned by critics but lapped up by an audience that really took to this diminuitive, croaky-voiced bloke. Kershaw had signed to MCA in 1983 and released I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me at the end of that year which failed narrowly to chart. Wouldn't It be Good, with it's irresistible hook, new world synthesised break and chroma-key video, made him an instant start and he became a face of 1984. Dancing Girls was the comparative flop single, prior to the mega re-issue of his initial hit and then the title track, both of which came with live performance videos. He ended 1984 with The Riddle and all the guff about theories and theses that came with that.

As an unabashed Howard Jones fanatic, I felt kind of programmed to like Nik Kershaw too, and indeed I did. However, much was claimed then, as now, that they were essentially the same. Certainly both were good pop songwriters but I felt there was something more clinical and credible about Jones, while Kershaw, with his boyish features and willingness to caper about the stage rather than stand behind an array of keyboards, was more out-and-out teen pop. Also, girls would go to a Howard Jones gig but they'd listen to the music, sing along and cheer. You couldn't hear the music at a Nik Kershaw concert for the screams, something which heart-throb pop stars always felt was a double-edged sword as while it was nice to be categorised as attractive, screaming stopped people - the screamers and non-screamers - from hearing the music.

Kershaw's second album, also The Riddle, sold reasonably well in 1985 (he was described as "the thinking person's Limahl" in one magazine review) and he managed three Top 10 hits from it but he failed to shine at Live Aid and his chart career in the UK ended at the end of 1985 with the largely characterless When A Heart Beats.


Jon Peake said...

Mike Read played this on his Radio 1 breakfast show as a dedication for me and my mates once. Not that we asked for this record specifically, but he lived near my school and one afternoon we all just knocked on his door and he let us in. We asked for something to be played on the radio the next day and this was it!

Valentine Suicide said...

Sorry Matt, but if there was 'groundbreaking' music being made at this time, Kershaw wasn't making it. I'd also question 'career-making'? Does he have one?

Matthew Rudd said...

This blog entirely exists for your amusement VS, you should know that.

Career-making ... over two years he sold a couple of million albums on the back of Wouldn't It Be Good's success. Whatever he's doing now, I'd still call that a successful career. He's still doing albums, writing songs, performing to audiences ... who are we to say it isn't a career?

Hyperbole on 'groundbreaking'? Probably. I'm just taken with the noises on that song. I'd not heard anything like it. And it is a good standout song. It isn't dull.

Valentine Suicide said...

Fair point, if he's still out there. Although, I scour venues for gigs to attend, and never see these eighties solo males. Is Paul Young still about?

I think it's an age thing with me and this type of music. I'm a few years older than you, by the time this lot came around I was no longer looking to the charts for music.

I still have a huge affection for The Human League, and a little bit for Adam and the Ants, but their roots are in the late seventies...