Kirsty MacColl – My Affair
I think a lot of people – if I’m honest I’m one of them – tend to judge pop careers on chart positions. I do realise that this logic is utterly flawed, for going by that standard, at five top 40 hits apiece Martine McCutcheon is the equal of Kirsty MacColl – and while I’m sure Martine’s lovely, she’s never written anything as good as Terry or They Don’t Know. I’m not sure she’s ever actually written anything, come to think of it.
Kirsty MacColl is probably the greatest example of a pop star who deserved to be huge but who just never quite got there. Granted, she had particularly bad luck with record companies, jumping from Stiff to Polydor to Stiff again, then on to Virgin, ZTT and finally V2. Very few of them seemed to know what to do with her – while the charts in the eighties were plastered with female artists, the most consistently successful were American – Madonna, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Belinda Carlisle etc, and they produced polished, highly marketable tunes. Their British counterparts were somehow less pliable: Kirsty was coming up with songs like There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis (miraculously a no.14 hit in 1981) and Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!, while Alison Moyet was loudly railing against the constraints of conveyor belt pop by 1988. Even the most conventional of them, Kim Wilde, had a single called Cambodia (I’d ask Kim what it meant, but she recently confessed to me that she has no idea what her own Popvoid entry It’s Here was about, so probably not much point.) We can be proud of our slightly rough around the edges pop stars, but keeping them in the charts proved to be a real challenge for their labels. As a result I always think of Kirsty MacColl as another one of pop’s Boudiccas – a constant threat to the status quo (and occasionally to Status Quo), making sporadically successful raids on the top 40.
Kirsty had just concluded one of these assaults in 1991 with the brilliant no.23 hit Walking Down Madison – a song which dipped its toe into hip-hop’s waters and demonstrated she could do anything she ruddy well liked. It heralded the album Electric Landlady, which as clever titles go is second only to Trouble Over Bridgewater by Half Man Half Biscuit. Follow-up single My Affair was even more of a curveball – the Latin explosion that is My Affair:
Starting out in pure Astrud Gilberto One Note Samba fashion, Kirsty’s soon trilling up and down all over the place with a tale of teenage rebellion and floor sex that mashes together Croydon and Cuba to quite spectacular effect. It’s far and away one of the most joyous five minutes of pop I have ever heard – a sexy confection of brass, strings and shuffling percussion. Written with Mark E. Nevin (lately of Fairground Attraction, whose Find My Love is a distant cousin of this), My Affair started Kirsty’s torrid romance with Cuban rhythms, one which would come to a glorious climax on her 2000 album Tropical Brainstorm.
This being 1991, My Affair inevitably came with a bevy of remixes, and I still know people who who are reduced to nostalgic tears the second the Olive Groove or Ladbroke Groove mixes of this come on. And rightly so, for they are things of wonder, with some brilliant extra vocals, carnival whistles and inescapable grooves that saw the song become a huge club hit. In fact I just had to get up and have bit of a shuffle round the room while writing this.
Kirsty, we will never forget you.
Entered chart: 17/08/1991
Chart peak: 56
Weeks on chart: 2
Who could sing this today and have a hit? EMMA BUNTON COMEBACK HIT.