It is a truth universally acknowledged that all the best pop songs sound even better with a helping of sadness on the side. Ever since Abba churned out tracks with melodies that dreams were made of but lyrics the stuff of domestic nightmares, it’s a quixotic blend that has been used to turn a good song into something more. The next GREAT FORGOTTEN POP SONG OF OUR TIMES has this Special Brew in spades.
Strictly speaking, How Did I End Up With You by The Dolly Rockers is not completely dead, buried and tucked away in the recesses of an amnesiac’s mind just yet. Despite the obligatory girl-group member shuffle, a slanging match with the sadly more successful Saturdays and a single that set the charts on fire with about as much success as an arsonist touting only a birthday candle, the Dolly Rockers continue to stumble on and could still make it big. By God, they deserve it as they already have more great unreleased tracks in their ‘No’ pile than some acts have managed in a whole career. But none come more great than How Did I End Up With You.
The Dolly Rockers are a band you instantly love or hate. With their glitzy jumble-sale style, make-up that you’re unlikely to mistake for an au naturel look and a general air of shambolic charm, you could be forgiven for thinking they were a bunch of tarted-up skanks one short skirt away from the street corner. But then their lyrics (self-penned) bitch-slap you out of such blasphemy – mocking the very people they appear to be, with talk of ‘stick-on nails and plastic hair’, ‘fake tits’ and boys ‘in love with their own reflection’ – all sung in a mesh of wildly-differing accents. It’s a madcap collision between the Spice Girls’ chemistry, Bananarama’s attitude, Lily Allen’s wit and Blur’s tunes that should end in complete chaos but somehow works. Well, for me, anyway. I bloody loved them – they were exciting, had masses of the untamed raw energy that record companies delight in processing out of their acts and were the perfect antidote to the anodyne that I’d been looking for. Basically, I was willing to give up my heart to a girl group for the first time properly since The Spice Girls.
Of course, my devotion proved to be the kiss of the death – their first and only single, Gold Digger, failed to dent the top 40 and nothing else has been released since. But How Did I End Up With You fully deserved to be the track that transcended whatever doubts you may have had about their image/singing ability/overuse of eyeliner; a platinum-plated gem tucked away on their album sampler that should have been their crowning moment, marking their ascendancy to girl group royalty. Splicing melodies and lyrics from Propaganda’s 80s hit Duel and 3OH3!’s Don’t Trust Me, together with an anthemic explosion of a chorus that sounds like Kelly Clarkson in her pomp, it’s a whooshing sherbet rush of pop excellence.
This, on its own, would have been enough. But lo and behold, enter that Special Brew I was banging on about for the whole of the first paragraph, and How Did I End Up With You becomes something more. Quite frankly, you don’t expect lyrics this bleak from a trio whose main strength lies in their self-styled brand of ‘Drunk Disco’. Nor do you expect something as overt as ‘Why do I have a thing for married men?’ to crop up in a band with their über-kohled eyes trained on the Top 40. It details a relationship gone bad, but one which you just can’t bear to get out of, with just enough hints of domestic abuse (‘The diamonds are fly/He gave me a bruiser; Blow by blow, the passion dies’) to make it knowingly uncomfortable without sounding like a charity record for a women’s refuge.
Whilst most pop songs are content to tread the same shallows over and over again for their Etch-a-Sketch observations about relationships, How Did I End Up With You tackles an unusual but very recognisable hopeless state of limbo – ‘It’s hit or miss, but should I cry/Or keep it real, and hope he stays?’ There’s an air of resigned desperation to the whole thing, as even the rallying chorus of realisation (‘How did I end up with you? How did I ever see a perfect ten?’) ends with the melancholy shrug of ‘No big surprise’.
For the tune alone, it’s already a shooting star shimmering its way across the horizon of mediocre pop songs; factor in the lyrics and it becomes a veritable meteor shower blazing up the entire sky. And all from a bunch of X-Factor rejects? Pop truly does move in mysterious ways.
UK Chart Peak: Unreleased
Key lyrics: ‘How did I end up with you? I’ll never make the same mistake again… How did I ever see a perfect ten?’; ‘The devil’s smiling at this hopeless case’
Get more girl groups with attitude: Shampoo, Kenickie, Bananarama, The Spice Girls