Hale and Pace and history's landfill [March 18, 1991]
Number One: Hale and Pace, “The Stonk”
As a species, we don’t agree about much when it comes to recorded music, but there is one thing on which we have reached a consensus:
Physical media good; digital media bad.
Physical media is rich, warm, personal. Digital media is cold and dead, and the artist only earns half a Lira for every billion Spotify listens.
Vinyl is of course the king of this kind of fetishism, but there are plenty of people who still buy CDs just so they can hold something in their hands while they listen to “Wonderwall”. Some Millenials even have a weird reverence for cassette tapes, despite their being objectively the worst way to listen to music.
I get understand this sentiment, mostly, but let’s not forget that physical media was an especially wasteful form of capitalism. A crap song on Spotify is a waste of electricity. A crap song on a seven-inch plastic disc is something that will sit in a landfill for centuries.
Remember, many physical records were never even purchased to be listened to. You know the way that you might still buy your elderly aunt a Michael Buble CD at Christmas? And how she might just throw it in the dresser and never think of it again?
This transaction was a substantial driver of the music economy of the 90s. Teletubbies and Bob the Builder had hit singles later in the decade, simply because these things made cheap, easy-to-wrap gifts.
And then you had the phenomenon of the charity single. Buy a song for £2 and immediately throw it into the bin.
Which is how Hale and Pace managed to have a number one.
Hale and Pace were once described as “the only comedy duo with two straight men”. It’s a harsh but not totally reasonable assessment of an act that evoke the most wonderfully English descriptive: end-of-the-pier. Among the many 90s celebs in this clip, you catch a glimpse of the original The Mary Whitehouse Experience, who seem like visitors from the comedy future.
Imagine looking less avant-garde than David Baddiel?
As a song, “The Stonk” is a fairly ordinary piece of boogie-woogie rock and roll. Brian May donates a spare riff, some celebs croon in the background. The video shows people doing a novelty dance that looks an awful lot like The Scarn from The Office. I vaguely recall that Hale and Pace used “stonking” as a catchphrase, so I guess it makes some vague sense. Plus it allows them to make the deathless rhyme: “Let’s stonk/Stick a Red Nose on your conk”.
Judged purely as an advertising jingle for Comic Relief… it works? Kind of? It’s meant to be light and fun and earn a bit of cash for charity. Mission accomplished. I can vaguely imagine it playing on the radio at 3pm, and people deciding to buy it. For charity. To help the kids. It might get played once before going to the back of the record pile, and eventually the bin.
I guess, at least, that it will allow future archaeologists to date our trash. I imagine landfills filled with layer upon layer of old charity singles. Someone in the year 10,000 is digging with a trowel finds a copy of Westlife’s “Uptown Girl” and thinks, we’re getting close. The 2004 version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. They need a pickaxe to work through a vast seam of the Princess Diana version of “Candle in the Wind”. Then, finally, they arrive upon a cache of unwrapped, unplayed, unloved copies of “The Stonk”. At last, they think, we have unearthed the bones of 1991.
“The Stonk” is actually a double A-side. The other track was the far superior “The Smile Song” by Victoria Wood.
Elsewhere in the charts
Hale & Pace/Victoria Wood usurp The Clash from the top spot, who fall to Number 2.
This means that Rod Stewart (Number 3, “Rhythm of my Heart”) is the highest-charting act that’s not selling something.
Best new song in the charts is from Pet Shop Boys, who are cool and detached and effortless for the billionth consecutive time with their “Where The Streets Have No Name/Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” mashup.
Got any strong memories of the songs of March 18, 1991? Leave a comment and tell me about it.