Thursday, 30 October 2014

Living In A Box 'Blow The House Down'

Chart Peak: 10
YouTube
Their 4th Top 40 single in Britain following 'Living In A Box', 'Scales Of Justice' and 'So The Story Goes'... Had reached No. 31 by 19th February 1989
This could have been awkward, had they ended up including a minor hit from an acts whose bigger hits had missed the cut, but as it turned out their luck held and this was a decent-sized hit though it's probably the first track on Now 14 I have no contemporary memories of: though I can certainly remember the group having several hits I'd have struggled to call any to mind beyond 'Living In A Box', 'Room In Your Heart' and 'So The Story Goes'. Only when I looked this up on YouTube did I learn that this particular track also features an uncredited guitar solo by no less than Brian May.

It's an easy line, but I can't resist saying that this does sound more like huffing and puffing than actually blowing anything down. It's the same trouble I have with a lot of smooth soul from this era; the band are obviously talented but the song just seems to lack body.

Also appearing on: Now 16
Available on: The Very Best Of Living In A Box

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

S'Xpress 'Hey Music Lover'

Chart Peak:
YouTube
This is the 3rd hit from S'Xpress following 'Theme From S'Express' and 'Superfly Guy'... It had reaced No. 14 by 19th February 1989 and is a cover version of the Sly And The Family Stone original.
All spellings above are as on the original Now 14, and indeed match the image of the single sleeve: it would appear that the first letter E [no puns please] went AWOL from their name somewhere after 'Theme From S-Express', though it was back by the time of their debut album released just a few weeks after this single. And that mimed performance from ITV is the most complete 7" version I could find (to the extent that they even get to be surprised by the fade-out), although you can also find about half the promo video courtesy of German TV.

Mark Moore's second Now appearance is something of a change from the sample-based 'Theme' - indeed all the follow-ups that I can remember were more conventionally song-based than the debut hit, although some of this may I suppose just be a product of the record company's single choices from the material available. 'Hey Music Lover' is slightly closer to the debut hit in the sense that it's directly based on a classic funk track, though with the difference that they actually credited the original writers this time. It's a relatively straight cover of the original, which was issued originally as part of the long track 'Dance To The Medley' (the relevant part starts at about 6:29) and which itself is a development of their hit and album title track 'Dance To The Music', as well as quoting from other Family Stone songs like 'I Wanna Take You Higher'. Some of the more specific references are dropped but essentially this is a simple transposition into the acid house style of the time with various vocalists (including a young Billie Ray Martin) delivering parts of the lyric. You can see the point he was trying to make and it sounds OK but isn't particularly impressive. I'd rather have had 'Superfly Guy', actually.

Also appearing on: Now 12
Available on: Original Soundtrack

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Inner City 'Good Life'

Chart Peak: 4
YouTube
'Big Fun' and 'Good Life' were two of the biggest dance hits of 1988... 'Good Life' made No. 4 going into 1989 and was still in the Top 75 on 19 February 1989.
It'll be obvious to anyone who reads this blog regularly (if such people exist) but I've never really been at ease with club culture. It doesn't mean I can't like the music, but sometimes I find it hard to equate it to its original context and the way it was meant to be heard. With 'Good Life' though, I feel like I can have a go because there is something very seductive about the promise of a good life, particularly in the dark days of winter in the late 1980s, which I don't recall as an especially optimistic time.

It's a deceptively simple song, one which combines the sort of house/garage beats [see, I told you I didn't understand club culture] that Kevin Saunderson had pioneered with a genuinely soulful vocal from Paris Grey. It's a common idea in dance, but often seems to end up with just an instrumental track thudding away while a vocalist over-emotes on top of it. It's rarer to find a track where the two parts seem to fit together so neatly, and despite or because of the relative simplicity of what they're both doing (obviously, the title phrase is repeated with great insistence), it feels for once as if music and vocals are both pointing in the same direction, both conveying the same mood, both making the same invitation. It has a very warm, welcoming quality about it that's utterly lovable and makes me want to believe in it.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 15, 16
Available on: Paradise

Monday, 27 October 2014

Neneh Cherry 'Buffalo Stance'

Chart Peak: 3
YouTube
Neneh was born in Sweden and used to be in the band Rip, Rig & Panic... 'Buffalo Stance', the scratch/rap/house record produced by Bomb The Bass, became her first UK hit making No. 3 in January 1989.
Disc Two kicks off in a change of mood from Simple Minds. The internet is awash with different explanations of exactly what a Buffalo stance is, but what I do know is that this song is a reworking of
'Looking Good Diving With The Wild Bunch', itself a B-side remix of a 1986 song by Morgan McVey, a duo that included her future husband. At the time, though, to those us unfamiliar with the flipsides of singles that missed the Top 100, this arrived as something very fresh and different. Remarkably, it still rather feels that way 26 years on; it's one of a lot of tracks that I sort of rediscovered when I developed my habit of buying old compilations in charity shops. In fact the first compilation CD I got with this track on was scratched, but I was pleased to find it on another soon enough, enabling repeated listens with adult ears. Also. posterity has connected me with a cassette of her debut album Raw Like Sushi, which opens with a longer version of this track, and also adds a remix as a tape bonus track.

But enough about me, what of the song itself? I'm always reluctant to praise a record for having "attitude", because it's not only a greatly overused word but one that often seems to connote less than admirable qualities. Indeed it often feels like a euphemism for music that actually has little or nothing going for it but that has to be praised anyway. Still with this track it's hard to avoid because Ms Cherry really is all over this track, brimming with deserved confidence and seemingly trying on voices, melodies and ideas for fun. In fact it's interesting to hear the original track because this sounds so spontaneous, though in fact most of the sections are adapted from that B-side. In fact I prefer this 7" edit to the album track because the shorter running time makes it feel like they've packed as much as possible into this track and creates an energy it's hard to resist joining in with.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 16, 18, 29 [with Youssou N'Dour], 30 [with Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Eric Clapton], 35
Available on: Now That's What I Call 80s Dance

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Simple Minds 'Belfast Child'

Chart Peak: 1
YouTube
The first Scottish group to top the UK singles chart since Wet Wet Wet way back in May 1988!... Stormed in at No. 2 on February 1989, [sic] progressed to No.1 the following week.
Presumably the reference to Wet Wet Wet is intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since May to February is a gap of less than nine months and I doubt that's anything like the longest gap between Scottish acts at the top of the chart. Still, though 'Belfast Child' isn't the best-known or biggest-selling Simple Minds single, it is their only Number One over here (sometimes listed as a double A-side with 'Mandela Day' or as Ballad Of The Streets EP'). It's also the second track on this side based on a traditional tune, after Status Quo, though the source here is the relatively well-known 'She Moved Through The Fair'. The reasons for using an Irish tune in the context of a song about the Troubles in Northern Ireland are obvious, and Jim Kerr says he was inspired to do so after the atrocity of the Enniskillen bombing on Remembrance Day 1987. I've no doubt he was well-intentioned in doing so and I can imagine how a more subtle take on this idea may have worked, maybe as a brief acoustic track at the end of an album. Unfortunately, Simple Minds never really seem to have understood simplicity, and the finished article, even at the five-minute duration of the radio edit, seems to drag as it strains to carry the weight of its own pomposity; not helped at all by the super-slick production which ramps up the sentimentality at the expense of any genuine feeling, nor the airbrushed-looking video. My copy of Now 14 is scratched during this track so I've never been able to confirm exactly which edit is on there.

I will be fair and say that this might actually have sounded better at the time than it does now, and at least its heart is in the right place. What the band themselves might think of it at this point I don't know, but I suspect they might be prouder of this than 'Don't You Forget About Me'.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 5, 6, 7, 15, 23, 30
Available on: Celebrate: The Collection

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Poison 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn'

Chart Peak: 13
YouTube
An American No. 1 single that has become the group's first hit in Britain - had reached No. 20 by 19th February 1989.
I was going to suggest that Morrissey might not have felt totally comfortable with his song next to this one, although it did occur to me when I was typing the phrase "Poison every rose" into various search boxes to set up this post that I could imagine him singing those words.

Poison, who had in fact had a Number 35 hit with 'Nothin' But A Good Time' in 1988 but were new to the Top 20, of course started out as a glam metal band but like so any of their colleagues, hit paydirt with a big power ballad. I suppose maybe the idea was that people thought it was OK to like a soppy MOR song if it was sung by a hard-rock band when they wouldn't have liked it otherwise; and of course people who would have liked it anyway still did and it swiftly became their signature hit, even if it wasn't quite as big in the UK as you might think.

Either way, it is of course ghastly, poorly sung and sounds horribly dated now. It's not even among the few metal songs I can claim to like ironically. Let's move on.

Available on: Poison Love Songs

Monday, 20 October 2014

Morrissey 'The Last Of The Famous International Playboys'

Chart Peak: 6
YouTube
His 3rd solo single since leaving the Smiths... followed 'Suedehead' and 'Every Day Is Like Sunday' into the 10 making No. 6 in February 1989.
This could be interesting - last time I wrote about this chap on the blog I got my first and so far only DMCA takedown notice (for a post with no media content at all, just a link to the YouTube video). I've linked to an official EMI upload so fingers crossed.

Three Top 10 hits out of three for the solo Moz (which is more than the Smiths had managed in their entire career, though they did sneak a third Top 10 with a re-issued single in 1992), and three Now appearances out of three too - again, that's more than the Smiths but possibly explained by the fact that he was now signed to EMI. Or was it? Although he continued to add to his tally of Top 10 singles until as recently as 2006, he's never been back on a main-series Now album, perhaps he thinks he's too important for them. At least we can savour what we have though because at the risk of posting a spoiler for anything I might write about Now 11, these first three Morrissey singles represent a run of brilliance he hasn't come close to since. Continuing to write with Stephen Street, he also assembled a partial Smiths reunion for the backing group: no Johnny Marr of course, but rhythm section Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce and sometime rhythm guitarist Craig Gannon. Excellent playing of one of his most perceptive songs, which seems almost to anticipate the gangster chic trend of the 1990s, with its tale of a criminal idolising the Kray twins (both still alive in 1989 of course). Apparently not everyone at the time understood the satire (and I was ten years old when this came out, so I didn't even know what a playboy was, but I remembered the chorus) and some might find it ironic in the light of the hero-worship Morrissey himself sometimes garners, but at least his fans don't kill people.

And this is about as close as I think I've come to understanding a fan's love for the man. Obviously, it wasn't as modern as some of the rock tracks on this side, although the synthesiser solo (played by Street) is a surprise from Moz, much as it's more Ziggy Stardust than Paradise Garage. There may be a parallel universe where he carried on in this vein and at this level instead of falling out with people and descending into pointless arrogance. But like I said, let's savour what we have, at least as long as this post stays up.

Also appearing on: Now 11, 12
Available on: Brits In The 80s