Friday 1 March 2013

Clandestine Classic XXXIII - Good Fortune

Slow Emotion ReplayThe thirty-third post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Picture the scene. I'm sat in my office, running down the clock on another Friday evening. All my colleagues in neighbouring offices have long since departed, so I've got the radio tuned to 6 Music and slightly cranked. The first thing I hear is the tail-end of a song that sounds for all the world like Talk Of The Town-era Chrissie Hynde backed by Berry, Buck and Mills from mid-to-late '80s R.E.M. And God, it sounded good. Just who was this, and how come I'd never heard the song before?

Thinking my DAB radio's scrolling information display would come to the rescue, I gathered that up and had a closer look but again I only caught the tail-end: "rvey". PJ Harvey then, I reckoned. Armed with that supposition and a couple of keywords from the chorus, I was able to fill in the blanks thanks to YouTube. Okay, yes, I could have just looked at the show's playlist on the 6 Music website, but where's the fun/detective work in that? Either way, that's how I discovered that the Hynde/Berry/Buck/Mills hybrid was, in fact, PJ Harvey, 2000 vintage, performing today's clandestine classic, Good Fortune.

I'll be honest, prior to this I was largely unmoved by Polly Harvey. I had one album by her, 2003's To Bring You My Love which I had bought on a "what's the worst that can happen" whim after spotting it for the princely sum of £2. As it turned out, the worst that could happen was that it would sit, mostly unplayed, on a shelf, gathering dust. But hearing Good Fortune on the radio changed that, because it was a song that I couldn't get out of my head: the Hyndesque delivery, the chugging rhythm, the memorable lyrical touches. I sang this in the car, in the shower, on the walk to work... and, once there, I watched the video on YouTube more times than the corporate Internet police would like. In short, I was hooked.

Later that week, I had a few minutes spare in which to browse in a high street record store (I know, how 1990s). On a whim, I flicked through the H's and found precisely one CD by Miss Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea from 2000. And there it was, track two: Good Fortune. Outperforming even my previous Harvey-related bargain-hunting, this set me back a ridiculous £1.99. And this time, the worst that could happen is the discovery of a consistently astounding album that has been on almost permanent rotation in the car stereo ever since. I subsequently discovered that it won the 2001 Mercury Prize, so it must have been critically acclaimed at the time - indeed, I wondered how it could have passed me by. I'm making up for lost time now though.

Good Fortune was the first single from the album, and limped to a lowly 41 in the UK single chart. I don't understand this. If you asked me to name 40 better songs from the whole of 2000, I couldn't. I doubt I could name five. Funny lot, the record-buying public. As for Polly, she's still doing her thing, and in fact became the first artist to win the Mercury Prize twice when 2011's Let England Shake took home the cheque gong. She has quite a back-catalogue, and I fully intend to explore it - you probably should too. What am I saying, you probably already have, you discerning devil.

As a minimum, I strongly suggest you scoop up today's clandestine classic by purchasing Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Yes, you'll pay a bit more than I did, but hey, you didn't go to an actual, physical record shop, did you? So stop your whining! Alternatively, you could just watch the video for Good Fortune on YouTube and, like me, have a second revelation - not only is the song fantastic, Polly herself is a bit, well, there's no other way of putting it, sexy. It's a good job I'm an old man these days, settled in life and love, otherwise PJ is exactly the kind of raven-haired indie-chick that would inspire a bit of a crush in me (see also: Louise from Sleeper, Sonya from Echobelly, Natasha from Bat For Lashes, etc). But where were we - oh yes, YouTube. Enjoy.

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