Sunday, 22 March 2015

Now '86 roundup

Since I've just written about the four exclusive songs on Now '86 and tagged the relevant tracks from Now 8, it seemed fitting to put up an index post to link back to the songs I wrote about on Now 7 as well. So here follows the sequence of the apostrophe album, with credit again to A Pop Fan's Dream:

  1. Queen 'A Kind Of Magic'
  2. David Bowie 'Absolute Beginners'
  3. Peter Gabriel 'Sledgehammer'
  4. Pet Shop Boys 'West End Girls'
  5. Level 42 'Lessons In Love'
  6. Communards 'Don't Leave Me This Way'
  7. Diana Ross 'Chain Reaction'
  8. Jermaine Stewart 'We Don't Have To...' [sic]
  9. Gwen Guthrie 'Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But The Rent'
  10. Sly Fox 'Let's Go All The Way'
  11. UB40 'Sing Our Own Song'
  12. Tears For Fears 'Everybody Wants To Run The World'
  13. Status Quo 'In The Army Now'
  14. Cutting Crew '(I Just Died) In Your Arms'
  15. Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald 'On My Own'
  16. Boris Gardiner 'I Want To Wake Up With You'
Whether this is a reasonable summary of pop in 1986 is a matter of opinion: it certainly differs from the retrospective double-CDs released in 1993 and 1999, and from the current downloadable Now That's What I Call 1986, but of course corporate changes in the record industry have affected what's available to them, and they were presumably constrained by the need to save some big tracks for the Now 8 CD. Still, they seem to have scraped the first four tracks of Now 7 without much thought, even though Sly Fox and UB40 seem a little out of place in retrospect, especially at the expense of 'Holding Back The Years', 'When The Going Gets Tough' and anything involving Wham! or George Michael. On the positive side, at least there's no Chris De Burgh.
Bearing in mind the relatively high retail price of a CD back then, releasing this compilation as a double CD presumably wasn't considered, though it was only about a year later than Now 10 became the first double Now CD. That's presumably part of the reason why there wasn't a Now '87 at the time, although this album didn't sell particularly well anyway, peaking only at 65 on what was then a combined album chart. Since the CD versions of the early Now albums were combined with the chart runs of their vinyl and tape equivalents we can't really see how much they sold, but I'm guessing the answer is not much, hence their relative scarcity.

Since there's no official playlist for the album I've created my own versions on Spotify and Deezer. No Peter Gabriel but everything else is there.


Available on: Now That's What I Call Music '86

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Tears For Fears 'Everybody Wants To Run The World'

Chart Peak: 5
YouTube

No, I didn't get the title wrong. As most people will know, Tears For Fears had topped the US chart in 1985 with 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' (also a massive UK hit) but this is the less remembered re-recording released as the official single for Sport Aid. Big names at the time, TFF had not been directly on Band Aid (though some of the drums on 'Do They Know It's Christmas' are apparently sampled from 'The Hurting') and famously pulled out of Live Aid at the eleventh hour, so they were under pressure from Bob Geldof to contribute something to his latest charity appeal.

Possibly because they were working under duress (and in fairness may not have been given a lot of time for the project) they seem to have made a fairly minimal effort - I'm not sure if it's re-recorded entirely from scratch or just re-vocalled, but the only change to the arrangement is the addition is a very of-its-time brass section. There are no new lyrics save for the two-letter change in the chorus: they simply drop some of the more jarring ones, including the entire second verse which is left instrumental. Their commitment didn't extend to the video, which leaves Midge Ure, Geldof and some celebrity supporters to take their places. It all sounds a bit odd and is not often mentioned these days. In fact, it inadvertently gave Now '86 a minor place in history as for over 25 years it was the only known CD release of this track. This was finally rectified with the latest re-issues of Songs From The Big Chair compiled with assistance from Paul Sinclair of Super Deluxe Edition, who evidently recognised that all the tracks should be available and it is a bit silly to have a Top 5 single unavailable, even if it's not that good. Whilst I'm giving credits, I should also thank A Pop Fan's Dream for posting the details of Now Apostrophe 86.

Also appearing on: Now 16
Available on: Songs From The Big Chair (Deluxe)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Gwen Guthrie 'Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But The Rent'

Chart Peak: 5
YouTube

Only seems like last week I was posting about Gwen Guthrie, probably because it was. Her signature hit is the only one of the four tracks unique to Now Apostrophe 86 that was actually a hit in the second half of 1986, but it was a summer hit so I suppose the inclusion of her later hit on Now 8 makes a bit of sense. Posterity certainly favours this single, particularly since the controversy around the lyric perceived as as demeaning to unemployed people has largely been forgotten. What remains is a solid club soul track written and produced by Guthrie herself, though it does quote from other song that would presumably have been familiar to fans of the genre.

It's actually a relatively minimal track which if anything sounds slightly underproduced, rather a rarity among big hits in this era. It's quite likable and undoubtedly catchy though it's one of those tracks that seems to sound better in my memory than when I'm actually listening to it.

Also appearing on: Now 8
Available on: Gold - '80s Soul

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Diana Ross 'Chain Reaction'

Chart Peak: 1 [3 weeks]
YouTube

One of the biggest UK hits in the first half of 1986 and one of the most surprising absences from the main Now series - it was even on "home" label EMI - 'Chain Reaction' is one of the many hits in the 1980s written by the Bee Gees but not officially performed by them, though of course they add their usual prominent backing vocals. In fact, the Bee Gees scored only two UK Top 40 hits under their own name in the entire decade, and one of those was actually released in December 1979.

This song was apparently supposed to be some sort of Motown pastiche but while there are obvious elements of the beat, it is more unmistakably the work of Gibb Brothers, as much as 'Islands In The Stream'. It's mostly notable for the rather filthy lyric, which sailed entirely over my seven-year-old head at the time, but contains references to "after-midnight action" and "Your hand goes lower, you taste a little and you swallow slower". I'm not sure I wanted to think about Diana Ross and the Bee Gees having sex and the song doesn't really sound that good nowadays. The single was released twice in the US without making the Top 60 so maybe people in the US didn't want to think about it either.

Also appearing on: Now 21, 22, 44
Available on: Eaten Alive

Monday, 16 March 2015

Pet Shop Boys 'West End Girls'

Chart Peak: 1 [2 weeks]
YouTube

Well, as there's a bit of March left I thought I might as well wrap up the four songs that appear only on Now '86 (or Now Apostrophe86 as I've taken to calling it) and aren't drawn from Now 7 or Now 8. Three of them are from the first half of the year, so were perhaps considered too old to include on Now 8 - presumably both albums were being planned around the same time though Now '86 hit the shops a couple of weeks earlier - and the follow-up to the fourth is also on the vinyl and cassette Now 8. 'West End Girls' is the oldest of the quartet and was in fact released in October 1985 but topped the chart in January 1986; it later repeated that feat on the Billboard chart, making them one British act who had a US Number One that year and had topped their (or rather our) own chart too.

This version of 'West End Girls' is of course a re-recording of the original version that was produced by Bobby Orlando after Neil Tennant passed him a demo tape while in New York on assignment for Smash Hits. As well as dropping the clumsy lyric about "Joe Stalin", Stephen Hague's new production adds a smoothness that's rather effective in this case, setting a luxuriant backdrop for Tennant's deadpan vocal and complex lyrical ideas. Some elements, particularly the trumpet, are a little reminiscent of 'This Is Not America' by David Bowie and the Pat Metheny Group from earlier in 1985, though this may be coincidental. Even claims that this was the first rap Number One are a little stretched, it's a stylish launch to one of the most successful singles careers in British pop.

Also appearing on: Now 7, 8, 10, 11, 15, 18, 20, 26, 28 [as Absolutely Fabulous], 35, 72
Available on: Please

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Nick Berry 'Every Loser Wins'

Chart Peak: 1 [3 weeks]
YouTube
Charted at No. 66 on 30th September, had blasted to No.1 by 1th October and was still topping the chart at the beginning of November. By the way, the first Eastenders star to be on a No.1 record was Mrs Pauline Fowler, A.K.A. Wendy Richard who appeared on the 1962 No.1 'Come Outside' by Mike Sarne.
Just to clarify for younger or non-British readers, Nick Berry is an actor who was an early cast member in the popular soap opera Eastenders. This song was heavily promoted on the show itself as part of a storyline in which his character Wicksy was originally the lead singer of a band and then fell out with them and went solo so he ended up in competition with them. Well, something like that anyway: I didn't watch the show at that time (or ever, really) so I mainly became aware of this through the chart success of this song and of its rival 'Something Outa Nothing'[sic] by the actors Laetita Dean and Paul Medford, which peaked at 12 around the same time. Both songs were co-written by MOR veteran Simon May (who had of course also composed the distinctive theme tune) and Stewart and Bradley James.

'Every Loser Wins' is probably the more competent of the two songs, though it does resemble the quiet section from the end of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' stretched out to a full song. It's barely three minutes long but it feels much longer. There's nothing particularly wrong with it and I seem to recall that when I was eight I thought this was what good songwriting was supposed to sound like, but this is really the triumph of competence over the things that make music enjoyable. It's an inevitable but rather unsatisfying end to Now 8 on the analogue formats, though the CD version is reshuffled to end with Genesis instead. It's been a decent album, but Side Four was virtually a wash-out.

Also appearing on: Now 22
Available on: Eastenders - Peggy's Theme

Monday, 9 March 2015

Gwen Guthrie '(They Long To Be) Close To You'

Chart Peak: 25
YouTube
A hit for the Carpenters in 1970, this Bacharach and David song gave Gwen her second Top 30 hit in Britain following the Top 5 smash 'Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But The Rent'.
If you're taking notes - and why wouldn't you be? - this is the fourth song title on Now 8 to start with a bracketed subtitle, with three of the four having shown up on the first disc. Perhaps it was a fashion in 1986. Gwen Guthrie's first hit was an Eighties pop-soul anthem, albeit one that sparked some controversy for its lyrical insistence "You've got to have a JOB if you wanna be with me," which didn't go down well with some unemployed people.

Despite writing that song herself, she stuck to tried and tested material for the follow-up though this (self-produced) rendition is a broad interpretation of the song; she plays about with the lyric and melody like a jazz singer to produce an admirably un-syrupy performance over a club-friendly beat of the era. It's certainly distinctive but it seems to have confused the marketplace a bit and became only a moderate hit. She never had another and sadly died in 1999.

Available on: True Love (3 CD Set)