Friday, 12 July 2013

Clandestine Classic XXXV - Once Around The Block

Once Around The BlockThe thirty-fifth 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.

What comes to mind when you think about Badly Drawn Boy? Chances are it's the soundtrack to About A Boy. After all, it was Damon Gough's commercial high point, featuring the relatively successful Something To Talk About and Silent Sigh. And I won't carp about that, because it's a decent album full of music for Hugh Grant's least irritating movie performance. But this is Clandestine Classics... it doesn't deal in commercial high points, or popular ditties endorsed by Nick Hornby. Oh no. For today's classic, we have to go back, back, back, before Badly Drawn Boy were releasing albums, back to when they just had EPs to their name...

Once Around The Block was released in August 1999 and tottered to a dizzy #46 in the UK singles chart. How it didn't get higher I don't know, it's not like the pre-Millennial chart was stuffed with gems. I suppose that's the difference a film association can make... Even when re-released, and pushed harder, a year later it only got to #27... and that's surprising because in many ways, Once Around The Block is very similar to the more successful work that followed: it has the same whistle-ability, the same low-key, lo-fi rhythm, the same trick of a downbeat-yet-upbeat melody. In fact this track, a prototype for the success that was to follow, arguably set a standard that much of Gough's subsequent work struggled to live up to. For me it's the slightly phased, recurrent acoustic guitar riff, the delicate harmonies with self, the shuffling, languorous backbeat... these are the things that make this track special. Memorable, even - I bought this song fourteen years ago and, until today, hadn't played it for at least five years, if not more. And yet it feels like I heard it yesterday, that's how fresh it has remained in my mind.

Then there are the lyrics - deceptively simple, yet all the more memorable for that. The closing lines are a perfect case in point:

Take a left, a sharp left and another left.
Meet me on the corner
And we'll start again
Now that repetition of "left, left, left" shouldn't work, but it does, somehow. In fact, it may even be the reason I bought this in the first place.

Damon Gough is still going into bat for the Badly Drawn Boy first XI, though the law of diminishing returns applies, here as everywhere. I see he recently had to apologise to a gig crowd for being a bit shirty onstage (and that's not the first time either), but hey. Today's classic later appeared on The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, and so of course can be picked up there. And then there's always YouTube, which reveals an utterly charming video (even if the young lady with braces has already-perfect teeth). Here you go.

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