Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Simple Minds 'Belfast Child'

Chart Peak: 1
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
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
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

Friday, 17 October 2014

Then Jerico 'Big Area'

Chart Peak: 13
Their 2nd British Top 20 hit following the success of 'The Motive' in September 1987... 'Big Area' made No. 13 in late January 1989.
Side 2 is obviously supposed to be the the rock side of the album, and here we find another permutation of late-80s rock with this bombastic stadium sound. Everything about this track wants to be "Big", even the title, and the production thuds along for an unnecessary five minutes.It's obviously supposed to be a big statement but it rings hollow, and placing it close to the modernity of INXS and FYC or even the good-time cameraderie of Status Quo does it no favours.

Also appearing on: Now 16
Available on: The Big Area

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Status Quo 'Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again)'

Chart Peak: 5
Reckoned to be about their 37th Top 40 single in Britain, 'Burning Bridges' turned out to be one their biggest hits in recent years - it reached No. 5 in December 1988.
After two tracks of reinvented rock music, we can turn to one act you can trust not to modernise their sound. At least, I'm sure it seemed that way at the time but the odd thing is that when you listen back to this track now it does actually seem very 1980s. More so than most of their other Now appearances, in fact, and certainly more than 'The Wanderer' four years earlier, though it's still more recogniseably Quo than 'In The Army Now'. Perhaps it's a sign that in those days an act like Status Quo could still hope to have mainstream success by applying a vaguely modern production to their typical songwriting, whereas nowadays they have to work more on a nostalgic basis. Either way, though, it's not a song I remember hearing at the time (or hearing much since, come to that) and the effect is of something written to order, going through the motions as the subtitle suggests.

The most notable thing about this song is that they later recycled it as 'Come On You Reds' by Manchester United, the only single by a football club (ie other than England) ever to top the UK charts, and a single that accounts for a majority of Quo's time at Number One as songwriters.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 8, 18, 33 (with the Beach Boys), 53
Available on: The Essential Status Quo

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

INXS 'Need You Tonight'

Chart Peak: 2 [58 in 1987]
Following semi-hits with 'New Sensation' (No. 25) and 'Never Tear Us Apart' (No. 24), INXS finally had a huge British hit with 'Need You Tonight' which made No. 2 in November 1988.
I'm the sort of person who loves the fact that the first three INXS singles to make the Top 40 in the UK all had titles that started with the letters "Ne", and indeed their fourth was 'Mystify', which would be next to them in an alphabetical list. For that matter, a Top 40 debut called 'New Sensation' is a pretty neat coincidence too. We're pretty lucky to get all these coincidences here in the UK too, since we were one of the last big Western markets to embrace the Australian rock superstars; not only big in their home market and in other European countries, they'd managed a US Top 10 hit a couple of years earlier and this song topped the Billboard chart on first time of asking, whereas over here it took a re-release after other songs had established for this to become their first (and. it turned out, last) Top 10 single.

Looking back now, it's hard to imagine a world where this wasn't a hit single, so massive did it ultimately become. It's equally hard to imagine an act better designed for late-80s success than INXS, with their MTV-friendly combination of hard rock riffs and funky rhythms, to say nothing of the obviously handsome Michael Hutchence and his onstage charisma. 'Need You Tonight' is perhaps the definitive expression of their particular style and an effective showcase for Hutchence's raw sexuality. He's in his element here, from the opening whisper of "Come over here" onwards. Of course, when I was 10 years old I didn't really understand that, nor understand the double-meaning of "I need you tonight, 'cause I'm not sleeping". But I could still tell it was catchy, thanks to the riff that Andrew Farriss apparently came up with in a taxi; it is a little bit similar to 'Another One Bites The Dust' but then again that's derived from 'Good Times' so Queen couldn't, and as far I know didn't, object. And whilst I wouldn't have thought to compare the two until I bought Now 14, this does have something of the techno-rock sound of 'She Drives Me Crazy', with a similarly focused arrangement and a brief running time that makes it seem more action-packed. This even goes one better by having a proper ending - as Hutchence repeats with ever-greater insistence "I've got to let you know", the rest of the band drop out for him to whisper into your ear "You're one of my kind". At least, that's what happens on every other copy of this song I've ever come across (including the video of course), but on Now 14 they've lopped off this punchline, which does spoil things a bit. Still, even as an INXS sceptic I can't dispute that this track is something of a classic.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 18, 19, 20, 23
Available on: Kick (Remastered)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Fine Young Cannibals 'She Drives Me Crazy'

Chart Peak: 5
Became their biggest hit to date when it made No. 5 in January 1989, following 'Johnny Come Home', 'Suspicious Minds' and 'Ever Fallen In Love' into the Top 10.
If 'You Got It' was a semi-successful attempt to recall old rock music, 'She Drives Me Crazy' is almost the opposite, a vision of a kind of futuristic rock. Of course 25 years later most of the biggest rock acts don't really sound like this, but that adds to the chart. Perhaps this is more like an alien's idea of rock music, taking recognisable elements of the sound and structure but turning them into something very different - there's a prominent riff but it's marooned in the sparse arrangement, with the bassline a distant hum and the distorted electric guitar sound dropping in from nowhere (I don't know whether it actually is a sample, but it's being used like one). They jostle for attention with Roland Gift's otherworldly, vulnerable vocal and the track's least rocky element, that insistent snare drum sound. More information is available on the internet about how they actually recorded it, but I'm more interested here in its effect as part of the track. You could see it as almost a parody of the metronomic drum beats forced on most rock in this era (as I criticised 'You Got It' for)., though it's more likely that somebody just thought it would sound cool.

Intentionally or not, the minimal arrangement concentrates the attention and sets up a slightly uncomfortable atmosphere, our protagonist sounding like he fears becoming genuinely unhinged by his obsession. A great comeback single that put the band back into the big league despite the wait since their first album; mind you , it was an even longer wait for more new material after the second album, fans having to hang on until 1996 for a few new songs on a best-of collection. This became the band's last penultimate appearance on a vinyl or cassette Now album, given the odd "bonus track" status of 'I'm Not The Man I Used To Be' on Now 16. For an act who appeared with a non-hit, not that many of their actual hits show up in the series.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 6, 15 16 [CD only]
Available on: The Raw And The Cooked