I refuse to believe that my best days have passed. Surely my finest achievements are yet to come.
Still, it’s possible that I peaked too early. When I was nine I won a box of Maltesers in a dancing contest at our athletics club’s Christmas disco.
I didn’t win outright but I got into the podium places, and that’s more than I can say for my athletics career since then.
This recollection was not brought to me by a Proustian rush from a handful-mouthful of Maltesers, more’s the pity. Instead, last night while watching a Top of the Pops repeat on BBC Four I saw the video of the song I had interpreted to such prize-winning effect — ‘A Good Heart’ by Feargal Sharkey.
Given this vast emotional hinterland I suppose it’s a record that will always have a special place in my heart, but even when I block out the feels and lean solely on my critical faculties it’s a great bit of ’80s chart pop.
The song itself might be a bit lightweight and feels clever rather than heartfelt— after all, it was written by a 19-year-old, albeit the mighty Maria McKee. But it has a rollicking US country-rock melody and a hefty chorus, and these are the elements highlighted to good effect in Sharkey’s version, produced in typically bombastic style by Dave Stewart.
It’s hard to trace a line from this glittery chart bauble back to Sharkey’s previous life as the spotty, duffel-coated lead singer of punk-pop icons The Undertones. But there you are: singing on the almost-perfect ‘Teenage Kicks’, a genuine contender for the title of ‘greatest pop single ever’, was effectively Sharkey’s stepping stone into the mainstream. After his mid-’80s period of solo success he went on to be an A&R man and didn’t re-join the rest of the band when they reformed in the ‘90s.
Sharkey’s thin and tremulous voice, with his Derry accent still showing, may have added a weirdness and charm to ‘Teenage Kicks’ but it sounds a little jarring on this antiseptically shiny record. The arrangement does its best to do Sharkey a favour — that big, big chorus is sung mostly by the backing singers. In fairness, though, this is also the arrangement on another candidate for ‘greatest pop single ever’: Aretha Franklin’s version of ‘I Say A Little Prayer’. (Digression: A title that Aretha’s record can safely claim is of that old forum favourite, ‘best cover version ever’. The original by Dionne Warwick was a US number one the year before, so Aretha’s definitely counts as a cover of a well-known hit.)
If Sharkey sounds out of place on his own record, it’s nothing to how odd he looks in the video (see below). In a stylised L.A. gig venue with its own oversized spinning metal cog, backed by two grumpy drummers bashing out the same snare beat, and flanked by Central Casting’s most available cawk-rawk guitarists and bordello-madam backing singers, there he is — buttoned up and gauchely punching the air, less like a rock star and more like a sour accountant finally winning the office sweep after eight-and-a-half years of trying. Apart from Marouane Fellaini in a Man United starting line-up, has anyone ever looked so wrong?
It remains for me to point out that Sharkey’s dancing isn’t a patch on my Malteser-winning moves. Only one of these performances was captured on film, though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it — watch this one and imagine the other:
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