Monday, May 4, 2020

When Is A Song An Unsong?: Mac and Katie Kissoon: "Sugar Candy Kisses"

What is it like to listen to a song that has fundamentally been...forgotten? This song is essentially no longer part of what I (guess) is the musical “canon.” Of course this may not be a bad thing, but in a time when people seem to obsess over the past in a way which is unhealthy (look at the current album charts – how much of the music is from the past or are greatest hits from the past? A lot) it is rare.  If you are me, trying to find the new is increasingly difficult but the past seems to loom and even interrupt, making the new (and interesting) harder and harder to locate. 

Do people deliberately like bad things?  Do people deliberately like mediocre things?  These were my first thoughts upon regarding this song.  But I have had a bit more time to think these things over.  This song is neither bad nor mediocre; but it is in a unique and unenviable position of being utterly forgotten.  Finding a 70s compilation with this song on it – and there are so many 70s compilations – is nearly impossible.  It has been virtually erased from music, been turned into a non-song.  An unsong, if you will.  This is a rare feat, as so much of radio (in the UK at least) is fixated on the 70s, as the album charts to this day show.  Almost all songs from the 70s which were big hits (that can still be played, of course) are still being given airtime somewhere (if not on Radio 2 then on 6 Music or elsewhere).  The overwhelming narrative is not just on the radio but on these compilations; for a song to only be available on a Disky (Dutch) box set is saying something.  It is saying only Europe still cares; the UK has effectively turned its back on this song and Mac and Katie Kissoon, denying its existence and leading us, dear reader, straight into the void that I somehow instinctively knew was at the heart of the 70s UK single charts.  With this song we are beyond the edge; we are in the world where things disappear, and must go forth carefully.  This is not The Fog as much as what The Fog has been hiding.

Of course, there are many songs which managed to get into the charts which are, for any number of reasons, no longer played – singles are, lest we ever forget, supposed to be evanescent things, things which strike at the moment acutely, moments that reach out to the listener directly as if taking up a conversation, adding their voices to the discussion. (By the way, while I remain ambivalent about the 70s personally, I think they are far more interesting than radio generally lets on.)  They can be good or bad or indeed mediocre, but they all hope (or the songwriters and performers do) to be at least remembered and even celebrated. The music industry loves (in part because this is how it survives) to remind us of the past, even if it is just the recent past of the NOW series. 

For a song to be left out of all this is a puzzle, particularly as these two were already part of the UK  musical world – Katie Kissoon had been recording since the 60s (under the odd name Peanut) solo and with her brother Jerry (stage name Mac).  This song was their big chance for a hit in the UK, and as it was as deliberately written* as The Rubettes’ “Sugar Baby Love” and it worked, getting to #2 on Radio Luxembourg and #3 in the UK.  (That a love song is being sung by siblings was something blithely ignored at the time I am guessing, especially since Donny and Marie were also popular.) 

I can think of a few reasons this song has been...left behind.  It sounds as if they are singing the song – their voices are genuine and sweet enough, but somehow still there is no punctum. It is, even by 1975 standards, a bit square; like a music box it dutifully revolves and then fades abruptly once it’s done.  It is professional music, done by professionals; Mac and Katie Kissoon are and have been very much part of the business as in-demand backing singers** since their heyday (mostly in Europe) was over.  They are doing their best with a song that is just too rote and routine to spark any actual fervour, the sort of song done on variety shows.

Ultimately this song shows that just being a hit is not enough.  Being in the charts at all as we have seen is not really enough either. There is something amiss about the charts themselves at this time – which I will address in due course.  A whole other thing is quietly and determinedly already existing and growing, music which is not perhaps as technically good as this...but that will not, in time, matter.  Alongside this in February 1975 Margaret Thatcher becomes leader of the Conservative party.  The end of “the 1970s” is not in sight...yet.

Next up:  a different pair with a different future.


* The composer credits are Bickerton/Waddington, who also wrote "Nothing But A Heartache" by The Flirtations. 

**Katie is a favourite with Van Morrison in particular, though I should note she has also worked with the KLF and Dexy's Midnight Runners.. I should also note that as Mac and Katie they had the first crack at “Love Will Keep Us Together” before the more famous version, and had the US hit version of "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep."