XXXXXXX: Pop kisses

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The Independent Culture
BRIEF, uncomplicated, sometimes casual, the appetiser not the meal: kisses have a few things in common with hit singles. Take a song, switch a couple of letters round, and there you have it: a snog. If you look in the dictionary of recorded pop (The Official Music Master Tracks Catalogue, Waterlow), you find 268 numbers starting with a kiss, from 'A Kiss Made the World Begin' by Jesse Barish to 'Kiss Me for the Last Time' by Elkie Brooks. In between there's 'A Kiss to Build a Dream On' by Louis Armstrong, 'Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major' by Arthur Askey, 'Kiss the Drummer' by Adam and the Ants, 'A Kissed- Out Red Floatboat' by the Cocteau Twins, and 'Kiss that Crazy Corpse' by Loveless. None of these, nor any of the other 261, reached the top of the charts.

If there are 268 titles that start with a kiss, there must be thousands that embrace one. You can't look them up, but some stick in the mind. 'Prelude to a Kiss' by Duke Ellington. 'Don't Talk Just Kiss' by Right Said Fred. 'Dr Kiss Kiss' by 5000 Volts (the Right Said Fred of 1976, in some ways). 'It Started with a Kiss' by Hot Chocolate (previously seen more as an alternative to sex than a prelude to it). 'Baisers Rouges' by Bernard Lavilliers. 'Eso Beso' by Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.

Here, you do find a couple of No 1s: 'It's in His Kiss (the Shoop-Shoop Song)' by Cher, last year, and 'Sealed with a Kiss', by Jason Donovan, in 1989. They couldn't go wrong: they were indifferent remakes of Sixties hits (by Betty Everett and Brian Hyland respectively). Hyland's record had something special - a shimmer, a tingle; it was a kitsch kiss, but a good one. It seems to have gone to his head: he followed up with 'Warmed Over Kisses', which stopped at No 28, and led to oblivion.

Pop history is social history. The early days of it are strewn with kisses: if it wasn't all you could do, it was certainly all you could talk about. Sinatra had them with 'Laura' ('She gave your very first kiss') and in 'The Tender Trap' - 'Some starry night/When her kisses make you tingle/She'll hold you tight/And you'll hate yourself for be-ing sing-le'. Bing Crosby had dozens. One of them was 'A Little Kiss Each Morning, A Little Kiss Each Night', which, he sang with an apparently straight face, was all it took to have a happy marriage.

Elvis should have put a stop to this stuff, but the revolution came slowly. 'She even kisses me like you used to do,' he sang, nicely but a little politely, in 1962, 'she's everything a man could want, but she's not you'. Meanwhile the Beatles were laying down their first tracks. In kisses as in most things, they tell the story of their times. Dust off the early albums and the kisses come tumbling out. 'I got lips that long to kiss you' ('From Me to You'). 'And when I wanna kiss you, yeh' ('All I've Got to Do'). 'Close your eyes and I'll kiss you/Tomorrow I'll miss you' ('All My Loving'). 'The kiss my lover brings/She brings to me' ('And I Love Her'). And then it stops: suddenly, in the middle of 1964. I'm sure there's a kiss somewhere in a Beatles song in the remaining six years of the group's existence, but I couldn't find it. It's as if Larkin was right, sexual intercourse had just begun, and kissing smacked of innocence. So it joined the Dansette, the milk bar and the high-school hop in rock's back pages.

This wasn't a bad thing. There's a problem with singing about kissing. Songs are supposed to propel you towards a kiss, not make you think about it. If music be the food of love, it be not the cookery book as well. To talk about it is to be unromantic, as Will Powers (a pen-name for the rock photographer Lynn Goldsmith) showed with the 1983 novelty hit 'Kissing with Confidence'. It wasn't a novelty for long, and it wasn't an aphrodisiac for a moment.

Fairground Attraction came close to getting it right. They called their debut album First of a Million Kisses, and put Elliott Erwitt's famous picture of a kiss in a wing mirror on the cover. There was no title track, just a little song called 'Allelujah', spun around the line 'we'll kiss the first of a million kisses'. A million because that's how many a couple are reckoned to exchange in a lifetime of love. The confidence is touching. Especially as the group's nucleus - a woman and a man - promptly split.

There are other great xxxceptions to the rule, starting with 'Kiss', by Prince, or Tom Jones and the Art of Noise, depending on whether you want something light and teasing or full and throaty. Either way, you get a classic single: succinct, faintly camp, and, perhaps mercifully, too fast to slow-dance to.

Less famous, but no less winning, is 'One Kiss', by Bryan Ferry: a modest roller from 1977, with a chorus that is both dry and seductive ('One kiss, one for the road, what is more/One kiss, roughly expressing/All that lips are for'). But the best kissers in pop are the Crystals, with Phil Spector. 'Then He Kissed Me' is not so much a song as a story, a whole romance from dancefloor to altar, pulled along by a rhythm section that thinks it's a coach and four. 'He kissed me in a way that I've never been kissed before/He kissed me in a way that I wanna be kissed for evermore . . . '

Everyone knows that song. Not a lot of people know 'He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)', also by the Crystals. Written by Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin, it was recorded in June 1962, a year before 'Then He Kissed Me', and Music Master reveals that no one has touched it since. It isn't hard to see why, but the sentiment is not what it seems. 'He hit me, and I knew he loved me/If he didn't care for me, I could have never made him mad/But he hit me, and I was glad.' In a flash he's taken her in his arms 'with all the tenderness there is', and the gentle sparring of the music has built to a knockout of tinny strings. The song was not a single, but it feels like a hit.