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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Modern Girl



It looks like rain again, she takes a train again She's on her way again through London town

Where she keeps a tangerine, flicks through a magazine Until it's time to leave her dreams on the underground

Some years ago - I usually say 15 years but this must have been a bit longer than that - a friend gave me a copy of Guilty Pleasures, a CD compilation of songs that you were meant to feel a bit sheepish about liking. I thanked him (obviously, politeness has got me this far in life) but I already had most of the music - we're talking Clout "Substitute", Chas 'n' Dave "Ain't No Pleasing You, Andrew Gold "Lonely Boy", that sort of thing - and never once felt guilty about listening to it. Good to have them all in one place though.


Modern Girl by Sheena Easton wouldn't have been out of place in that collection. Born in Bellshill in 1959, Easton's initial rise to fame was thanks to Esther Rantzen who chose her as the subject of a BBC reality TV programme / documentary The Big Time in 1980. On first release Modern Girl flopped but after the The Big Time had aired it was re-released and was a top 10 hit (when a top 10 hit meant something). Her second single "9 to 5" reached number 3, then she recorded the theme tune to a James Bond film, co-wrote and sang with Prince, sold over 20 million records, won two Grammy awards and still regularly tours North America.


But for me it begins and ends with Modern Girl.

There's a video of her appearance at the Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar in Chile in 1984. It's perhaps understandable that living under a military dictatorship, people turn to music for release. The crowd is absolutely massive, someone is holding a banner that simply says "Placeres" ("Pleasures") and they're going ape shit, even with the threat of Andy Gibb appearing later that evening. After a lengthy introduction Easton takes to the stage in a glittering costume and launches in to Modern Girl (what else?). And her voice is pure dead brilliant.


However that's not the video that is of interest to me. No, it's the offical one which is at the top of this page and if I saw it at the time, I had until yesterday completely forgotten it. It's utterly superb and stands up to repeated viewings, in my case about twenty in the last day. Her cropped hair, the impossibly glamorous yellow jumpsuit, the way she plays with her toast before "she [barely] manages a smile before he walks out the door", the frankly scary closeup on her eyes, before ... Before the cut to a completely empty nightclub where she sings the chorus in a blue jumpsuit doing a manic dance which must surely have been the inspiration for the scene in Alan Partridge where he pole dances for the BBC Controller.


And then it's back to real life: Easton gets the train to work, transparent purple raincoat (standard work atire in the 1980s), nobody on the train although strangely a jam-packed train station, into the office where she answers the phone four times before knocking off to the nightclub again. Then my favourite bit, the Yellow Magic Orchestra-ish instrumental (lunch) break where we see her back in the yellow jumpsuit shopping in Carnaby Street, checking her hair in a mirror before the true meaning of being a modern girl is revealed: "Tonight I'm going to stay at home and watch my [incredibly small] TV". Back to the nightclub, one last time, everyone together now, "Na na na na na, na na na na na, na na na na na, she's a modern girl".


What to make of it all? It probably doesn't bear too much analysis; 40 years on it's still a great song and that's all that matters. Although, if there is anything to take away, if you're looking for a new hobby you can't go too far wrong with keeping a tangerine and flicking through a magazine.

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