As surely as the modern Christmas pop canon contains Driving Home For Christmas, Stop The Cavalry and a drunk couple arguing in a bar – or as it’s also known: Fairytale of New York – so too is there a canon of pop songs, albeit a far smaller one, celebrating the arrival of a new year.
There’s Happy New Year by ABBA. There’s 1999 by Prince – which, amazingly, has lasted beyond its initial ‘Best Before 2000’ date, but which is also only acceptable to sing along to if the year in question scans correctly (for this reason, please ensure that you plump for “Two thousand and twelve!” and not “Twenty twelve!”, when singing along to it this new year’s eve. Otherwise, chaos – or at least mild embarrassment – will ensue).
And there’s The Perfect Year, the 1993 hit by Dina Carroll.
I’m not ashamed to say that I rather like this pop ballad. Indeed, I’m so unashamed that I’ve decided to devote this blog post to it.
Yes, The Perfect Year was written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. But give the man his due: he’s been known to come up with a few good tunes without the help of Mendelssohn. Plus, the lyrics are by Don Black (see Born Free, Diamonds Are Forever, To Sir With Love*) and Christopher Hampton (see Dangerous Liaisons. No, do: see it). The reason being: the song was written for the musical Sunset Boulevard.
For the purposes of this blog post, however, The Perfect Year will not stand as a song from a musical, but as a pop song in its own right (unlike, say, Of The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles, which was never likely to be accepted by the public outside of the context of Cats). Yes, it may have been written for a Lloyd Webber musical – but in all its twinkling, early ’90s keyboard effects and tasteful warblings by Ms Carroll, The Perfect Year is a poptastic pop recording.
And the reason it was a hit – and the reason I’m not ashamed to like it? Because, as Noel Coward said, it is extraordinary how potent cheap music can be.
Ms Carroll tells us that the ensuing year – by which I can only conclude she means 1994 – will be the perfect year. Why? Because she will be with Mr Carroll, or at least the future Mr Carroll. “I don’t need a crowded ballroom/everything I want is here,” she croons. “If you’re with me/next year will be/the perfect year”.
Now, as any sensible grown-up knows, no year can be perfect. Good, yes. Better than other years, certainly. Quite possibly, if you’re extremely lucky, or have had terrific bad luck in your life up to this point, the best year of your life so far. But perfect? Of course not. So why should any song expecting or hoping for such a thing be taken to our hearts? At least: enough to make it reach number five in the charts?
Because pop songs are there to express our greatest, stupidest, silliest hopes on our behalf. Dina Carroll sings those mushy, sentimental words and we – well, many of us – love hearing her do so because somewhere, deep inside our pragmatic, sensible hearts, we dare to believe in the possibility of a perfect year. Of the power of love to make everything alright.
It’s why the line “If you want it/come and get it/for crying out loud” was like Dyno-Rod for the heart when David Gray sang Babylon – and I firmly believe that the huge success of that song was down to that line. It’s why a generation of men are secretly eternally grateful to Luther Vandross and Barry White for expressing all the things they wanted to express to their ladies (and they were most certainly ‘ladies’, not women) but didn’t know how to. It’s why the Great American Songbook songs survive, and always will. They express in their lyrics the things that most of the population struggle to express. In rhyme.
I would like to tell my boyfriend that, if he’s with me, 2012 will be the perfect year. But I can’t. Partly because it’s not true; partly because “2012” doesn’t scan correctly. And partly because I don’t need to. Dina Carroll is doing it for me: and for that one small moment – or three minutes and 44 seconds, at least – I, for one, believe her.
*also: Anyone Can Fall In Love, the lyrically enhanced version of the EastEnders theme tune. Though I feel this rather undermines my argument.