For his BBC 4 programme Pop! What is it good for?, Paul Morley asked Simon Armitage to dissect the lyric of ‘This charming man’, one of six songs chosen as a handful to illustrate the greatness and (im)perfection of pop (the others were ‘Can’t get you out of my head’, ‘Ride a white swan’, ‘Lola’, Adam Faith’s What do you want’ and ‘Freak like me’) – a first draft for the slot on Desert island discs that he may never quite receive as due reward for years of service to the BBC.
Armitage described the line ‘this man said it’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care’ as ‘glittery and swanky and luxurious’. Sadly the lit crit stopped short of the borrowed line which gives this blog its title, so issues of quotation and allusion weren’t discussed. I chose the line because it extends the sequence of titles of fanzines I wrote in the eighties, but also for something like the same reasons PM chose ‘Ride a white swan’ – for the transformational impact it had on my life. I can’t claim that A jumped-up pantry boy is consistent with any of those three adjectives, but hey, even a writer with spartan tendencies has time for a little glittery luxury in his blogging life.
PM’s enthusiasm for his subject, spinning off from the six chosen songs into many others, made me want to catch up with Words and music: a history of pop in the shape of a city, the book in which I guess some of these ideas were first espoused: pop as ‘a sensational metaphysical adventure’; ‘all great pop songs are great because you can imagine them sung by Elvis’ (a notion backed up by a half-decent impersonator giving three of the songs a go). But he could have tried a little harder not to engineer the subject of the Art of Noise being brought up if he was going to be so bashful about it. Nevertheless the programme is well worth catching via one of the many repeats BBC 4 content gets (the next is 1.10 a.m. on Sunday 13th January) or the BBC’s iPlayer.