For all the love I have for house, techno, and all the other members of the family, I find sometimes you need something else to get you through the day. I probably never gave The Shamen quite as much attention as they deserved at the time. Like a lot of people who obsess over niche music, I was an aural snob from an early age and the official charts were a strange and disorienting territory.
But the late eighties and the early nineties were a watershed time in all sorts of ways. The influence of music coming from somewhere other than the boardroom meant for the first time in a very long time there was room at the top for the sorts of freaks and weirdoes who rarely got a look in. House music and Madchester were a double pronged assault on the status quo, and although neither had a very long stay at such lofty heights, they had a profound effect in the sort of music which would later bleed into the mainstream from outside.
I doubt whether a band like The Shamen could exist at that level nowadays. Even if we ignore the fact that the charts as we knew them are long gone, fractured into countless pieces, there still probably wouldn’t be much room for The Shamen’s full-on blend of pop, techno, house and fecund, cosmic, psycho-sexual bobbins. They – perhaps unwittingly – capitalised on the sea change which took place in those weird days, when the KLF blew the bloody doors off with art-sound terrorist shenanigans, bands like 808 State, Orbital, Altern8 and Happy Mondays were on Top Of The Pops, and – sweetest of the sweet – the Jesus and Mary Chain could get to number bloody ten with a record which opened with the line ‘I wanna die just like Jesus Christ/I wanna die on a bed of spikes’. One Direction it ain’t.
Ebeneezer Goode was a controversial number one at the time, and listening to it now it seems even more incredible that it could have got there at all. No. Not incredible: Impossible. A tune with such overt drug references – For God’s sake a tune extolling the virtues of Ecstasy no less should never have got that far. Even then that is beside the point. Yes it certainly is a ditty about pills, except that, if you listened to anything the band said, it wasn’t, except it really was, except…except….
Except it was about far more than that. It represented the simple fact that something had changed in the British psyche. Thatcher was a year gone, people could smell the end of Tory rule (even though it would be another five years until they were cleared out), and the massive explosion of acid house hadn’t so much changed us, but drawn out something which had always been there. In the same way that punk had infected British life with new ways of looking at things, so too had acid house. Its influence seeped into fashion and art and music, and it reminded us that for all the ‘make do and mend’ mentality we were supposed to represent, the actual truth was we were always a people who liked to get blasted and go dancing, and more than even that, we liked to stick two fingers up at authority, to take the piss out of constraints and conventions. Essentially, we are a nation of Ebeneezer Goodes.
There are always going to be those who remain sniffy about The Shamen. Fair enough. But in Our Thing, where we obsess over misplaced notions of the underground and authenticity it is sometimes important – and perhaps a little humbling – to remember that for all the finely constructed slices of dystopian techno you have in your stack right now, it was a number one song featuring the refrain ‘Eazer good, Eezer good – E’s Ebeneezer Goode!’, carried along in a video starring a sweary Glaswegian in a cape with a little dog which really upset the apple cart. And looking around at the state of the world just now, I think I know which one we need more. LAVELY!!