487. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin

More evidence that 1981 was a leap-forward for the charts. The year in which the decade truly began. Because this, this next record, it is… truly…

It’s My Party, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin (their 1st and only #1s)

4 weeks, 11th October – 8th November 1981

something? It’s a leap-forward, for certain, because we’ve heard nothing like this before at the top of the charts. Whether we ever needed to hear anything like this at the top of the charts is another question. At its most basic level, this is a cover of the Lesley Gore hit, a #9 (and US #1) in 1963. Except the original has been deconstructed, mashed, blended, twisted and fricasseed until what is being served up is almost unrecognisable.

I’m enjoying it, at first. The intro is the best bit: woozy drums, weird far-eastern sound effects, and the Cry if I want to… line chanted like a mantra. But as it goes on, the song veers in one direction then another, then another. I count three complete changes of tone and style. No, make that four. I’m starting to feel dizzy. Can I just hand over my next WTAF award now?

Is this good? Or is it terrible? I can’t think of many records that straddle the line so completely as this. There are flashes – mainly when the charm of the original manages to shine through – where it’s really fun. But there are other times when it feels like this production is being controlled by a five-year-old banging away at the settings on their toy keyboard. Perhaps you could look at this as haute-couture music: just like nobody actually wears the clothes that come down the runway in Milan; probably nobody would listen to this by choice anymore. But the sounds and techniques used here would filter on down through the decade…

Or maybe that’s generous. Acts like The Buggles, and Soft Cell (who literally just took their version of a sixties gem to the top) have shown that you can sound ridiculously modern – emphasis on the ridiculous – and still make a great pop song. This one gets very lost along the way: there’s a moment, after the wedding bell sound effects and a theatrical gasp, when the final chorus clicks, and you can see that Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin had it in them to make this a great pop record. But, hey ho, it doesn’t last. Give me the sassy, swinging original over this any day. (Actually, I’ve just realised the difference between this and Soft Cell. Soft Cell lovingly re-crafted a classic; this sounds, at times, like art school students taking the piss – see the annoying way Gaskin squeals at the end of every ‘you’, for example.)

The Dave Stewart involved in this is not, as I immediately thought, the Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. This DS was a keyboard player and composer for various prog-rock bands throughout the seventies, before he hooked up with his former backing singer, Barbara Gaskin. Soon afterwards, they scored this huge hit, by far their biggest. They still work with one another, and have released seven albums together. And I do wonder if they chose ‘It’s My Party’ because it is such a typically old-fashioned, bubblegum hit, and the re-imagining is therefore so shocking. A few years later they tried to repeat the trick with a version of ‘The Locomotion’ that only made #70.

I still don’t really know what to make of this one, even after repeat listening. It is certainly something… Is it avant-garde, or just dumb? Impressive, or unlistenable? I can’t help thinking of that quote from ‘Jurassic Park’: they were so preoccupied with whether they could, they never stopped to think if they should…

For the first time in a while… A #1 that is missing from Spotify…

10 thoughts on “487. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin

  1. Ho hum. What happens when prog rockers (formerly of Hatfield and the North, a hip name to drop during the 70s as they signally failed to sell records to the masses) decide that making novelty singles might be more lucrative. Their next biggest hit later on was ‘Busy Doing Nothing’, a jolly little tune originally sung by Bing Crosby in an early 1940s film. Like Joe Dolce, they specialised in wacky fun revivals of old songs that were OK for us to listen to a couple of times and grudgingly admire, but then decide we never wanted to hear again. A ‘Stewart and Gaskin’s 20 Golden Greats’, anyone? I thought not.

    • It was a follow up to dave stewart’s collab with The Zombies’ colin blunstone, tracks of my tears, another 60s classic. Why was it a hit? Girls had always loved latterday gay-icon Lesley Gore’s its my party, and the revamp appealed to the 60s crowd as a sheer wtf moment, audacious revamp and all, but also the song spoke to teen girls too and it sounded very 1981 unlike the original which was very dated at the time.

      I thought it was great fun, still enjoy it, and theres nowt wrong with prog rock with a poprock edge in my book. Camp as a row of tents, OTT, and sounding like nothing before. Its no Tainted Love, but hey updating Lesley Gore for a new generation is still a thing – You Dont Own Me anyone? 🙂

      • It definitely sounds very 1981, and I can understand it being a hit at the time… It’s just not aged that well, I don’t think. Plus it does have a strong sense of ‘aren’t we clever, making all these weird sounds’ to it (which is part of the prog ethos, I guess, but doesn’t do it for me). Still, weird is always, always better than boring, so it wins in that respect!

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