To claim that an album is the worst one ever to be recorded is, I appreciate, quite a statement. The history of music, for all of its many wonderful offerings, is home, too, to an equal number of almighty clangers. I should know – in the course of researching my new book about 80s music, ‘Wired for Sound’, I listened to both an awful lot of records, and also a lot of awful records. For every golden afternoon reacquainting myself with ‘Dare’ by the Human League or ‘Sign ‘o’ the Times’ by Prince, there was a ‘Silk and Steel’ by Five Star to grit my teeth through, or a ‘Son of Albert’ by Andrew Ridgeley to endure.
These records, I discovered, were in the mere foothills of bad record making. There is an album out there to surpass such Ridgeley-esque inanities. For a long while I thought the Sergeant Pepper of bad albums was ‘Sgt Pepper Knew My Father’, an ill-conceived 1988 idea by the NME to re-record the Beatles classic for charity, a re-imagining that featured Wet Wet Wet, the Christians, Courtney Pine, and Billy Bragg’s famous massacring of ‘She’s Leaving Home’. I thought, as I forced myself to sit through Hue and Cry’s rendition of ‘Fixing a Hole’, that I had subjected my ears to as tortuous a musical experience as was allowed without involving monitoring from Amnesty International.
For then I stumbled across an album that outdoes all others in gradations of God-awfulness, an LP that is every bit as ridiculous as Joni Mitchell’s record of a similar name is sublime: the Blue Album by Black Lace.
Now, at first glance, saying that Black Lace made a terrible record might seem of the bears/woods/pope/catholic level of criticism. After all, who doesn’t remember the horrendous triple play of their mid-eighties party hits (‘Superman’, ‘Do the Conga’, The one beginning with ‘A’ that I won’t mention for fear of launching in your head). Some of you with longer memories might recall them representing Britain in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest. If you grew up in the north, you might even shudder at the ignominy of how, at the height of punk, listeners of BBC Radio Leeds voted the group ‘Yorkshire Band of the Year’.
Worse, though, was to come. For rather than retire gracefully into the sunset with their novelty record earnings – or at least a Tuesday night residency in some Torremolinos hotel bar – Black Lace had another thought: why not release an album of cover versions and greatest hits, but rewrite all the lyrics in an explicit manner? Wouldn’t that just be the funniest thing? You can always hear the cogs whirring, and their schoolboy-type giggling, as they tried to come up with something rude that sounded a bit like ‘Agadoo’.
The resulting Blue Album is, quite simply, an extraordinary listening experience. A terrible concept, executed atrociously, it should never have gone beyond the drunken pub conversation over which it no doubt began, let alone having actual studio time spent on putting it together. There’s no ‘done in a hurry’ excuse to this record: the album was released in the noughties, but some of the versions date back to the mid eighties (and some of the jokes by several centuries). Back in 1986, Black Lace had sent themselves up in the film ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’, playing a touching little ditty called ‘Gang Bang’. That’s really, where (and when) this sorry idea should have been left. Instead, like a bad curry, it finds itself repeating into the present day.
The Blue Album opens with a revised version of ‘Agadoo’, now re-christened (if you haven’t worked it out) as ‘Have A Screw’ (‘…screw screw screw, can you give my friend one too?’). While your eardrums are still reeling from this initial assault, this is followed up by the band’s take on the theme tune to ‘Neighbours’. There is a small mercy, I suppose, that this is still called ‘Neighbours’, though the lyrics are now less about becoming good friends with Stefan Dennis, and more about shagging the lady from number 32 (‘even while they’re washing dishes, you can get your end away’).
Next up is a re-imagining, if imagination has actually been involved, of ‘Superman’. You might remember ‘Superman’, as I do from early eighties school discos, with a misguided hint of affection – with its audience participation actions such as skiing, spraying (deodorant), sounding your bell and ringing your horn. I wouldn’t advise attempting any of the actions from ‘Supercock’ at a school disco near you, not unless you fancy a stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure. ‘Rub your dick, make it thick!’ the band encourage the male members of audience: ‘on your back you bitch!’ they sensitively proposition the ladies. ‘Waggle your bum, get ready to come…Supercock!’ the chorus concludes, without any discernible trace of irony.
The lyrical Viagra the band has taken shows no sign of wearing off: here’s ‘Do the Conga’, now called ‘Do the Condom’ ‘(‘Join the orgy train!’). The cover versions, meanwhile, relentlessly roll on. The album sleeve (thankfully text only) helpfully tells the listeners in brackets which classic songs have been given the Black Lace treatment. Thank goodness they cleared that up, because it’s so difficult to work out what ‘The Pokermotion’ and ‘The Hokey-Pokey’ might be based on (‘You put your finger in…’).
Back in the day, your mother would threaten to wash your mouth out with soap and water if you said something rude. Having listened to the Blue Album, my ears may need an equivalent scrubbing before they can fully recover from the experience. Yet at the same time, I do feel a strange sense of calm: nothing I listen to from hereon on will ever be quite as bad as subjecting myself to the worst album of all time. Unless, that is, anyone can top this, as the ultimate musical barrel scraper…?