Thursday, 15 December 2016

Divine Inspiration 'The Way (Put Your Hand In My Hand)'

Chart Peak: 5
YouTube
Paul Crawley, Lee Robinson, Dave Levin and Sarah-Jane Scott are the anthemic trance producers Divine Inspiration... Sarah-Jane's uplifting vocals on 'The Way', one of the biggest club tracks of the year which crossed over to the national Top 5 in January 2003.
Another big radio record from 2003, and since it was released in early January, we would have been hearing it at the end of 2002 as well. In fact Paul Crawley commented on that YouTube video that the song was originally written (presumably in its instrumental form) as early as 1999. Funnily enough, the back cover of the single even advertises a forthcoming DJ Sammy single, which would logically have been 'Boys Of Summer'.

So I thought I remembered the song until I tried to recall it just before looking up the YouTube link and then realised I didn't. At least it sounded familiar eventually, though I still think I remember the jokes people made about the title more than the song itself, which is solid but oddly unvarying over the three minutes of the radio edit. I can see why this was appealing to genre fans but not quite enough to win me over. The act folded after a couple of less successful singles.

Available on: House Party 2011

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

DJ Sammy 'Boys Of Summer'

Chart Peak: 2
YouTube
'The Boys Of Summer' is a classic solo song from the pen of Eagles drummer/vocalist Don Henley... Given the euphoric trance treatment, it was a big No2 success for Mallorcan DJ Sammy in March 2003 as the follow-up to the multi-million selling 'Heaven'.
Well, you can't accuse him of messing with a winning formula. After the huge success of the Bryan Adams cover, he not only covered another AOR song but another one from the very same year, 1985. Coincidentally, this was one of two renditions of the song to chart in the UK that year, with US punk-poppers taking their version to the Top 50.

Interestingly, whilst the Ataris felt the need to update the lyric, replacing the "Deadhead sticker" with a "Black Flag sticker", Sammy and vocalist Loona leave it untouched; even if they knew or cared that it was a reference to the Grateful Dead, they would have guessed that their audience wouldn't. For this version isn't really about expressing the soul-searching and nostalgia of Henley's original, the lyric is there to evoke a song that's already familiar to people. Which, of course, is a means of generating nostalgia itself, but of a less specific kind, and a kind less personal to the record makers. Doubtless in due course people will be feeling nostalgia for this version, either because they heard it first or because it has an association with events in their own life. If you're one of those people and you're reading this because you searched for the song on Google or whatever the popular search engine is by the time you see this, hello.

It doesn't stimulate a lot for me, I must admit. I remember hearing it on the radio a lot in 2003 and not particularly liking it, but then I've never loved the original either. I haven't heard it a lot since but it's a serviceable version if this is what you want.

Also appearing on: Now 53, 55
Available on: Girls' Night Out

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Scooter 'Weekend!'

Chart Peak: 12
YouTube
H.T., Rick and Axel are Scooter - they are from Hamburg in Germany and broke big in the UK last year with 'The Logical Song', 'Nessaja' and 'Posse (I Need You On The Floor)'... On their new single 'Weekend!', due for release in late March 2003, we are urged to "give our respect to the man in the ice-cream van" (!!!)
Scooter had in fact had a their first UK hits as early as 1995, though alas the seminal 'How Much Is The Fish?' wasn't one of them, even though the video seemed to have been filmed here. Still, their career did identifiably go up a gear when they hit on the formula of speeding up the choruses of 70s soft-rock hits and the aforementioned 'Logical Song' became their biggest hit as well as their first Now appearance. Sequels performed well even when based on tracks that hadn't been British hits, presumably because that was irrelevant to the target audience. In this case, the source was a European hit by Dutch group Earth & Fire (not to be confused with Earth Wind & Fire) although only the chipmunk-like vocals recall the original and the remainder is typical of the group's "stadium techno" sound, obviously inspired by the KLF - and thus of course the ice-cream van reference. Scooter are an easy band to be irritated by but it helps to realise they at least know how ridiculous they are.

Also appearing on: Now 52, 53, 55, 70
Available on: The Stadium Techno Experience

Monday, 12 December 2016

Panjabi MC Mundian To Bach Ke'

Chart Peak: 5
YouTube
'Mundian To Bach Ke'apparently translates as 'Beware Of The Boys' - Panjabi MC took Indian instruments, rhythms and voices and combined them with the theme from TV's Knightrider to fuse a unique sound on this single.
To be slightly more precise, he used a song written and sung by Labh Janjua (who is in the small print of the credits) and some sources suggest that the Knight Rider sample is via the Busta Rhymes hit 'Turn It Up/Fire It Up'. In fact, what I found most remarkable was that when I first heard the record I didn't immediately think of David Hasselhof. Obviously, that's a good thing in itself but it shows this was a good use of a sample, providing familiarity - which doubtless helped this song to cross over to Western markets - and a beat without sounding too obvious.

The track is of recognisably  British origin, not only because Panjabi MC himself is from Coventry but because it has clear roots in the UK-invented Bhangra sound. Despite or because of this it was originally just an album track in 1998, and only really caught on when a German record company picked it up several years later. As the song's popularity spread around Europe it finally made its way to the UK chart in 2003 and even attracted the attention of Jay-Z who added a rap to appeal to the US market. By this time it coincided with a fashion for Asian beats in RnB music though not for the first or last time hopes of a persistent mainstream breakthrough for this style were dashed. Still, it was an enjoyable track and a deserved hit. I bought my own copy the following year in the closing-down sale at my local branch of Virgin, which turned out to be a sign of things to come.

Available on: Panjabi MC The Album

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Nelly featuring Justin Timberlake 'Work It'

Chart Peak: 7
YouTube

Back when I started this album in November 2015, you might recall that Justin Timberlake and Nelly were right next to each other as tracks 2 and 3 on Disc One, with tracks that were the Top 2 singles for a week in 2002. Here at the exact midpoint of Disc Two, they're even closer together on the same record and in a moderately entertaining coincidence, this entered at 7 in a week when Timberlake had a solo hit at 8. It was a week when we were looking to see whether Eminem would manage the rare-at-the-time feat of two simultaneous Top 10 singles: he didn't but Timberlake managed to sneak in almost unnoticed.

Funny that the subjects of "moderately entertaining" and "almost unnoticed" have cropped up because they pretty much define this track, which at best does exactly what you'd expect. It wasn't their first time together as Nelly also guested on late N-Sync hit 'Girlfriend' and he carved out a big niche for himself as a rapper either unconcerned with being credible or unaware that he wasn't, and thus willing to front pop/dance oriented tracks his peers might consider a sellout. That's probably why his career has never entirely recovered from the emergence of Flo Rida, but that's another story.

Here in 2003 both were doubtless only too happy to add to their hits with this rather by-numbers collaboration, although in the event this didn't do much in the US (it was outcharted there by the unappealingly-titled follow-up 'Pimp Juice'). They probably even enjoyed going to the Playboy Mansion to film the video, and as far as I'm concerned they're welcome to that. Some people were apparently impressed by a remix which plays the vocals over the riff from 'Back In Black' by AC/DC though this was inevitably denied commercial release. And I'm not sure it's even in time but I can't say I blame Jason Nevins for being reluctant to listen to the original track often.

Nelly also appears on: Now 47, 49 [with City Spud], 52, 59, 60 [with Tim McGraw], 61, 77, 85, 95 [with Cash Cash & Digital Farm Animals]
Justin Timberlake also appears on: Now 55, 56, 57, 65, 66, 67, 85, 94
Available on: Nellyville

Friday, 9 December 2016

Cam'ron featuring Juelz Santana, Freekey Zeekey & Toya 'Hey Ma'

Chart Peak: 8
YouTube
Cameron Giles AKA Cam'ron grew up in Harlem wanting to be a pro basketball player until, influence by legendary rap artistes such as NWA and Public Enemy he turned to hip-hop... 'Hey Ma' was a big Top 10 success for him in the UK in early 2003
In some ways it's fortunate that I already knew the song before watching the video, because it's packed with the typical distractions and cliches of a hip-hop video from this era: overly bright lighting, a scene in a jacuzzi, a bit in the middle that stops and goes into a different song, awkward mugging during the extended outro where there are no vocals to mime to and the regular confusion of edited lyrics: how do they decide that "We gon' get high tonight" has to be cut but "I'm ready to do it, ready to bone" is OK?

I heard the song aplenty long before I was aware of the video though, because it was one of the most played songs on Radio 1 at this point, seemingly out of proportion to its admittedly solid chart success. This doubtless helped to combine with the song's existing earworm qualities, thanks to that instantly recogniseable piano hook borrowed from 'Easy' by the Commodores. They played the version that leaves in the getting high references, at the time, but the song has its own distractions. Well, I was always distracted by the fact that he refers to his girlfriend as "Booby", which is of course also what John McCririck calls his wife and I don't think the horse-racing pundit and animal-killing enthusiast was the icon Cam'ron wanted to model himself on, though the lyrics here don't suggest that McCririck's reputation for casual and not-so-casual misogyny would be a deal-breaker there. In a strange though not unamusing moment in the opening verse, he brushes aside claims that he is young by offering to "tell you what the Eighties [were] like", before emphasising that he "can lay the pipe", which is unlikely to be a reference to his skills as a gas engineer. I don't even think he was CORGI registered.

It's a well-enough produced and catchy enough song to avoid being insufferable, but little of the credit is really earned by the people whose names are above the title.

Also appearing on: Now 55 [with Mariah Carey]
Available on: Urban Floorfillers

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Beenie Man 'Street Life'

Chart Peak: 13
YouTube
Born Anthony Moss Davis in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973, Beenie Man is now regarded as the Island's foremost Dancehall DJ... He has more than 60 (!) Number 1 singles at home and achieved his big UK break with 'Who Am I' in 1998 - Street Life was his latest British Top 15 success in January 2003
I remember 'Who Am I' as a big song at school - which is odd, because I'd actually left school by the time it was a hit in 1998. Perhaps it just seemed like the sort of song that would be a big hit with school kids, with the raucous "Sim-Simma, who got the keys to my Bimma?" chorus. You still see that as a sticker on cars, not all of them actually BMWs. Five years on 'Street Life' is more of a crossover proposition, a mellower track that seems to be portraying itself as a heartfelt ballad about how "sometimes you've got to apologise to a woman". How sensitive he is in real life is hard to guess, although he did get into a big feud with fellow singer Yellowman over the title "King Of The Dancehall". Few would describe his views on sexuality as enlightened though.

I didn't much care for this at the time, and I wasn't particularly inclined to like it this time either, but I have to admit it's well constructed by the usual Scandinavian artisans and it is catchy enough to distract from the very cynical intent.

Also appearing on: Now 53 [with Janet Jackson], 57 [with Ms Thing]
Available on: Tropical Storm