Saturday, February 23, 2019


Being one myself, I am only too aware that a physicians title is wholly hono(u)rific, always enjoying the wrath of PhDs over said point, especially when they labour the issue and correct the temerity of anyone calling them mister. I don't give a diddly what folk call me, well, by and large, but they usually apply me the title. At work, I mean. It is a bit creepy elsewhere. Which is where I swiftly make the aside that I thought the well-known Jackson Browne song to have a comma in the title and to be an opening consulting room gambit............

Moving swiftly on, weren't the Thompson Twins great? Well, perhaps, and briefly, for no more than a couple of years, ending, possibly, at Live Aid. I dare say their publicist would disagree, but it was a brief and bright flame they burned. Actually anything but an electro band at the time of their formation, in 1997, a standard new wave guitar band of scallywag squatters seeking the streets of gold in London. With anything up to 7 of them to begin with, live shows augmented by whomsoever in the audience they could coax up on stage for added "percussion", never were there either twins or a Thompson in their ranks.

First single, 'Squares and Triangles', an altogether spikier sound than they would later adopt, was not a success, nor the album it became part of. Nor, much, the 2nd, although a freak pick-up of one of the songs from that release, 'In the Name of Love', became a dance hit in the clubs of Chicago. This virtual solo excursion into synthesiser territory gave the impetus to ditch the bulk of the band and reinvent. Tom Bailey, the de facto leader of the larger conglomerate, brought more fully on board the services of part time singer and percussionist, Alannah Currie, and erstwhile roadie, Joe Leeway. Polishing up the sound and employing expensive video shoots became their entry to chart success, with a run of huge singles, starting with 'Love on Your Side'.  'Hold Me Now' was the most successful, but the song featured here came a close 2nd.

I was a big fan. This time, the early 80s, was a boom time for music TV and you couldn't get away from the anthemic tunes and glossy image portrayed by the band, even if it was hard to fully see the point of the already more peripheral Currie and Leeway, seemingly more to do with the videos than the music. I remember an interview with Bailey, describing how he came to write their songs, suggesting he let computer programmes initiate melody lines. Only later came the reveal he had actually trained in classical piano and been a music teacher, prior to dropping out and into full time music making. I was also intrigued to discover that, given the title of this song and piece, his father was himself a medical doctor.

Live Aid, responsible for raising the profile of many another artist, strangely seemed to start the rot. Part of the American leg of the show, they were famously joined on stage by Madonna. Much more a show-biz bash than the UK show that preceded it, earlier that same day, the sound balance was largely appalling and I sort of lost interest. Yes, they continued for a few more years and records, losing Leeway along the way, and, in an effort to ally even more strongly to the increasingly important dance scene, the now duo, also now husband and wife, changed their name to Babble, becoming almost universally unknown in a stroke. (The two of them, however, did write this for Debbie, then Deborah, Harry.)

Bailey and Currie relocated to her home of New Zealand, Bailey becoming involved in the local music scene as a producer, Currie raising their children. The marriage later broke up and Bailey has returned to the northern hemisphere. Without finding much success as a solo artist, he is mainly to be found on the nostalgia circuit of 80s package tours, as Tom Bailey's Thompson Twins. Or, in parallel, as dub trance act International Observer, something far more in tune with my current tastes. Given the renaissance many of his contemporaries have since experienced, who knows, I don't see it impossible for he/they to regain a place in the limelight, such is the collective rose-tinted taste for that decade. If A Flock of Seagulls can come back, surely so too the Thompson Twins?

A final thought. So, if no twins and no Thompsons, why the name? This derives from characters in the comic adventures of the famous Belgian, Tintin, irrepressible detectives Thomson and Thompson. Who weren't even twins.

Your prescription.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Titles And Honorifics: Two Princes

Spin Doctors: Two Princes

The Spin Doctors’ song “Two Princes” is catchy, fun and was a huge worldwide hit. It got a Grammy nomination, for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group (it lost to Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge,” ugh). It was ranked No. 41 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s. And yet, over time, a visceral hatred of the band, and this song in particular, has festered. Blender ranked it No. 21 on its 2004 list of the 50 worst songs ever. Although it appears that this assessment was based mostly on the fact that the writer didn’t like that the band looked like a bunch of “scrabbly beared [sic], questionably hatted, red-eyed stoners.”

Google “spin doctors hate,” as I did, and you will find many articles like this, or this, or this, describing the writer (or interviewee’s) hatred of the band and the song. But you will also find this article, from Popdose, defending the band, and pointing out that there has been, inevitably, a backlash to the backlash. There's this, by someone who listened to the song 100 times in a row, and loves it.  And although the band finished eighth in a 2013 Rolling Stone reader poll of the 10 worst bands of Nineties, the writer noted:  "Also, they really aren't that bad and don't belong on this list."

Interestingly, most of the complaints about “Two Princes” are based on some combination of “the song was overplayed,” “it is simplistic,” “the singer’s voice sucks,” “the lyrics are repetitive,” and “the singer does some silly scatting.” But couldn’t you say that about many, many songs that are popular, beloved and even respected?

Were Spin Doctors a great band? No, but they were pretty good for a while, and fun to see live (which I did, in 1992, I think—but that’s another story). They put out a couple of good albums and a bunch of good songs (and Pocket Full of Kryptonite, which spawned “Two Princes” was filled with a few other gems, including "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" which would also fit this theme). Is “Two Princes” a great song? Probably not, but it is certainly a very good song.

I’m going to speculate that the hate started as a reaction from the jam band community, which saw Spin Doctors’ popularity as a sell-out, and unjust, because there were “better” bands who had less success. That was picked up by more mainstream critics, who were also able to mock the band for their latter-day hippie image. And at some point, it became part of the culture, like ragging on Nickelback, or saying that “We Built This City” is the worst song ever. (Both of those, though, have merit).

At the end of the day, I have to agree with this comment from Paste: “The decline of hippie-pop three-hit wonders the Spin Doctors from Top 10 to snorting punchline was swift, brutal and not entirely just.”