When I was a music journalist back in the Eighties I thought nothing of casually mangling the English language. In those days it was “hip” to use in-jokes, amusing abbreviations, shorthand, wordplay and made-up words to create a vernacular of belonging for the readers.
I wince when I read some of the reviews I wrote because the way in which I expressed myself was very much of its time and seems rather affected now. But the last thing I expected – more than 30 years later – was to register on the radar of academic linguists.
This week I received an email from a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary, whose editor had asked him to check a quote from a review I wrote about the B-52s’ Mesopotamia album in Sounds back in 1982.
The line that attracted his editor’s attention was: “Since this is more like an extended dub 12-inch dancefloor spesh than your actual elpee, what’s truly noo in the groove is precious.”
He was interested in the usage of “spesh”, asking for verification and hopefully a reference copy of the original print edition (which I no longer have).
Well, “spesh” was my way of abbreviating “special” and it alarms me to think it might end up in an edition of the OED. He didn’t seem interested in my use of “elpee” (long-playing record, obviously) or “noo” (new), just “spesh” – which I doubt is used in that context by anybody anywhere any more.
As someone who is alarmed by the way in which text speak has undermined the English language, I now realise that, in my younger days, I may have been responsible for part of this dumbing-down process. I hang my head in shame.
I have just Googled “spesh” and am even more alarmed to learn that in current slang it means “retard” (from “special needs”). But that’s the thing about language: it evolves, and you can’t stop that evolution. The same word can mean different things to different generations. To my mum, the word gay still means carefree.
Anyway, going back to that review of the B-52s’ album… I gave it four-and-a-half stars, and here it is in full. See if you can spot any more “words” likely to be picked up by the OED in years to come. I’m not even sure I understand what half of it means any more, but have included some explanatory notes in square brackets:
OOOOH, C’MON, hey, wow, yeah, party, watusi, fandango, pistachio…Nuts.
It’s bloody hard to find bold new exciting statements to make about the B-52s, the hippy-hippy shakedown/pap pop pastiche/kitsch clichés all having been well exhausted. The party’s not over but everyone knows exactly what the score is, and the characters still play their parts with consummate style. All that’s left is the nitty gritty, so here goes.
After the powerdrive punch of Party Mix, the kids have finally presented an eager world with some new tunes to play with, but since this is more like an extended dub 12-inch dancefloor spesh than your actual elpee, what’s truly noo in the groove is precious. With Dave ‘Meep’ Byrne [David Byrne of Talking Heads] at the controls, a Heads-on collision could well have been in the offing, but the great man has sensibly avoided any maverick moves to dominate the essence of B-52-ism. Instead he’s kept to strictly studio-style experiments, moulding the Beefs [B-52s] into a more sophisticated dub-rection [play on direction] without the loss of any natural bounce (hair and otherwise) or charm (note distinct absence of word ‘naive’).
Loveland kicks right into extended dancefloor duberama territory, chock with lashings of gutsy, hard-driving percussion (beefed up with electro-effex) and a particularly breathy Cindy vocal wonderfully lowlighted by horny bass synth. Georgian [the band is from the Georgia in the US] fun(k), sparsely does it. Contrast time. Deep Sleep is short, dark and sweet. Kate’n’Cind [lead singers Kate and Cindy] croon moodily over mock-cabaret smoochy pianna [piano] a, conjuring up a broody late-nite menace of an atmosphere.
“Well I ain’t no student of ancient culture/Before I talk I should read a book/But there’s one thing I do know/There’s a lot of ruins in Mesopotamia.” Yeah, you know you’re home and dry when Goofy Fred [third lead vocalist] makes a welcome entry during Mesopotamia herself. Classic Schneider (you know it makes no sense). The puzzle’s completed by clear-ringing K&C sunshine [play on KC and the Sunshine Band] harmonies and that ol’ familiar one-chord guitar underpinning it all, y’all. Marvy.
Flip that vinyl [you remember records, right?]. Let them eat Cake. Horns! Rue Blondo eat your Sedsteins out! [This is an obscure reference to a long-forgotten but then super-cool Eighties band called Blue Rondo A La Turk whose single was entitled Klacto Vee Sedstein]. Electro-rhythms dance (this mess) around with ease, guitar grumbles and Byrne (for it must be he) rushes in with some distinctive rhythm breaks. The girls tease and drawl something rotten in this one: “Hey! Know what I feel like doing…I feel like makin’ a cake!…OOOOOH! What kinda cake do ya waaaan? Maybe a chocolate devil’s food cake! OOOOOWOW! That sounds good!…Let’s get this thing in the oven!” Hit me with your double-entendres.
Fred gets awful apprehensive in Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can, mussin’ up his ‘expensive’ clothes, it would seem. Heavy reverse dub effex bounce at the ears, including the very cartoon-inspired BOING that DJ Michael Campbell uses to equally fab effect, I’m told. Wacky sax breaks abound, but no sign of a single OINK! Yet. From this point they race to the finish line through Nip It In The Bud’s galloping beat and yet more superlative girly harmonies (how do they do it?) Needless to say, this abrupt and unwelcome ending leaves the heads, hands and feet (remember them?) begging for more. But the encore never comes.
Mesopotamia should be heard blaring out of club-sized mega-speakers and shimmied to on the most garish dancefloor you can find. Doesn’t really need a review to tell you that though, folks. Shock horror revelation: partymixes of the 52 kind make journalistic prose redundant [I wonder why I bothered writing this review, then?]. Take this recession-proof slice of dancemania and consume instantly.
It amuses me that much of this review needs translating now and that I often almost tripped myself up with the “clever” wordplay – but this is all part and parcel of what made the reader feel like a member of the Sounds tribe. They would have understood all of the insider references. Not only was I speaking their language, I was helping to create it. And, it seems, I was also helping to evolve the English language itself. Wowsa!