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Diesel Park West – Jackie’s Still Sad

 

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Guest contributor: Pete Paphides 

In the world of record collecting, I was a bottom-feeder. Faced with the challenge of buying as many records as possible with my weekly allowance, I had to have a strategy in place. If a song I wanted was flying high in the charts, I would wait for it to drop out before pouncing on the cheap rack of the shop which was most likely to reduce it. Sometimes, if you were quick, you could get a record for next to nothing on the day of release. This was on account of the fact that local reps from the major labels would stuff copies straight into the cheap racks of chart return shops, often with a 99p sticker already on it. The shops didn’t mind. They were making 99p of pure profit on every record sold. For the record company, this outlay came under the category of “promotion” – and if the band ever broke even, this cost would be recoupable against their royalties. In the intervening years, I’ve interviewed Blur several times. It’s never occurred to me that I really should have thanked them not only for recording She’s So High, not just for writing and recording it, but also for the fact that they unwittingly stumped up most of the cash for my 12-inch of it. Cheers Blur!

But I’m not here to write about Blur today. Instead, I’d like to shine the angle poise of posterity to one of their labelmates. Food was an independent label run by Andy Ross and sometime Teardrop Explodes keyboard player David Balfe, which had subsequently been bought wholesale by Parlophone Records. Having enjoyed some international success with Jesus Jones, Parlophone clearly regarded stardom for the other bands on Food as a mere formality. And yet, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. I would imagine that if you were quite senior within Parlophone, you would have heard She’s So High and swiftly come to the conclusion that Blur were the runts of the litter. After all, look at their other new signing. This was a band that could clearly make major inroads into mainland European and American territories.

Signed to Food on the condition that they come up with a better name for their band, The Filberts duly obliged. After seven years together, they marked this new era in their story by calling themselves Diesel Park West. It’s as horrible a name now as it was then. It’s the Tennessee Fried Chicken of band names. It strives to sound American, yet somehow evokes Friday night in a small market town: four pipe-fitters in the back room of the Princess Charlotte telling everyone that it’s last orders before 1-2-3-4-ing into a spirited version of Rock & Roll Music.

Diesel Park West had already released one single on Food during its early indie years. When The Hoodoo Comes was a serviceable psych-pop workout with faint shades of Jefferson Airplane. But their debut in the post-Parlophone years was a quantum leap. Overseen by sometime Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey and inspired (although that isn’t entirely discernible from the lyric) by the life of Jackie Onassis, Jackie’s Still Sad is the sort of song you release, knowing with cast-iron, mortgage-the-house certainty that it will, at a stroke, propel you into the big league. There are no half-measures with a song like Jackie’s Still Sad. You listen to the verses thinking that they’re the hook, only to get to the chorus and realise that this bit is twice as catchy. And when you have a song like that, the pretence of being indie serves no discernible function. A song like Jackie’s Still Sad requires a proper pop production. Indeed, it’s hard not to listen to it without imagining a meter running, nudging the total recording cost ever closer to a total that would have bankrolled every single record released on, say, Creation at that point.

If there’s one thing I love more than records that blindside you with some genius lateral lightning-leap into the unknown, it records that tease you a with glimpse of what’s coming. And, after the first chorus of Jackie’s Still Sad, that’s what the brief orchestral flourishes are there to do, ramping up the dramatic tension and portending the all-out synergy of harmonies and strings that tumbles into action on an extended middle eight, which is then concluded by a beautifully yearning harmony on the line, “Jackie’s still sad about it.”

Quite why it wasn’t a hit is hard to say. Without the necessary airplay, it would have been left to indie kids like me to try and push it into the lower reaches of the chart. But one airing of the video of The Chart Show would have put paid to that. Diesel Park West were clearly older than most indie bands. The video isn’t exactly complicated. It’s mostly just the band miming along to the song in front of footage of Jackie Onassis. And yet, because this was how major labels worked in the 80s, it somehow manages to do expensively and badly what a cheap Super 8 job would have done cheaply and better. Add that to the cost of the recording and you would have been surely looking at an expense that Diesel Park West would have been fated never to recoup in their collective lifetime. And all this after just one major-label single.

But still, what a single.

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Entered chart: did not chart

Who could sing this today and have a hit? Popvoid says: debut solo Harry Styles single.

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