The next time you’re down the local boozer with your mates and there’s an uncomfortable lull in the conversation, consider striking up a discussion based on the following question – which is the best band never to have had a top forty hit? Now, obviously, this is a version of the hoary old chestnut that’s passed many a drunken hour for the sports fan down the ages – who is the best footballer never to have played in the World Cup? The answer to that is a rather obvious one, of course, George Best. The musical variation of this question may be more stimulating.
Whilst Robert Lloyd and the various re-incarnations of his Brummie post-punk combo, The Nightingales, would make any respectable critics’ short list, his guttural, sub-Beefheart squeal was aimed more squarely at the underground than at the mainstream. The same uncompromising mindset also rules out the likes of New York’s Suicide and David Thomas’ experimental avant-garage group, Pere Ubu. Rom com anime
Soon enough, however, somebody will alight upon the only truly acceptable answer, at least the only answer acceptable to me, and a good number of other men and women of a certain age, who are each the proud possessors of a pair of rose-tinted glasses. It simply has to be those doyens of guitar pop, The Go-Betweens. The inexplicable absence from the singles chart of these Australian Indie-pop pioneers remains a mystery to this day. Not once, during their illustrious lifetime 1978-2006 (allowing for a hiatus from 1989 to 2000) did their melodic epistles ever threaten to deliver them pop stardom here, or in America. Incredibly, they even failed to secure a top 40 hit in their native Australia. This, surely, constitutes the greatest miscarriage in the history of popular music since the time Al Jolson blacked up for The Jazz Singer, declared brazenly “you ain’t heard nothing yet” and shamefacedly went on to make his fortune.
Just how the Brisbane based guitar heroes, led by singer/songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan failed to achieve even one solitary week in the top 75, despite crafting a plethora of heavenly pop songs that should have made them household names on both sides of the Atlantic, is a mystery that genuinely scrambles the brain. Indeed, it prompts the group’s long time fans to ask the age old question, the one that escapes our lips every time we drunkenly stumble upon a recording of Barry Manilow’s ‘Bermuda Triangle blaring out of a pub jukebox; ‘how could you let this happen, dear Lord, how?’
Consider some of the flotsam and jetsam that has (dis)graced the charts since the advent of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In no particular order, I give you Vanilla Ice, The Bay City Rollers, Duran Duran, Milli Vanilli, Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker, Black Lace, MC Hammer and Sting. And, that’s just the tip of a very embarrassing iceberg!
Even more puzzling was the regular presence on the chart of bands that might best be described as second rate Go-Betweens. The very ordinary Deacon Blue springs to mind here, as well as the Trashcan Sinatras. And, how on earth do you explain the continued presence in the charts, throughout the eighties, of bands that made comparable music, both in terms of substance and style to The Go-Betweens themselves. Aztec Camera, for example, chalked up 12 hits and 74 weeks on the chart while Lloyd Cole, with or without his Commotions recorded 15 hits spread over 62 weeks.