Thursday, 30 April 2009

George Michael 'Jesus To A Child'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]


Another big song that I'd totally forgotten was on the album, although we probably didn't play this track more than once, if that. Placing it at the very start of Disc 2 makes is easy to avoid, of course, and it wasn't as if we hadn't heard it before: it was a hit in January 1996, so decidedly old news by the time Now 34 arrived in late summer.

Even when it came out, it seemed a bit late: especially considering the title, it was widely suspected that he had planned it as a Christmas single and wimped out at the last minute, saving it for the easier pickings at the start of the following year. If that was indeed the case, the ploy worked as this not obviously commercial track became his first solo Number 1 since the Wham! days, if that's not too much of a contradiction. There was a lot riding on this release, his first for new label Virgin after the famous legal dispute with Sony, and at the time the choice of a slow seven-minute song (there is a shorter edit but it was never released commercially) seemed a little pretentious on Michael's part. What he didn't acknowledge at the time was that this song was actually about his late partner Anselmo Feleppa, who died two years after they met: thus the references to Jesus are an extended metaphor for the effect on Michael of their brief relationship. Unfortunately, whilst his sincerity isn't in doubt, his natural inclination towards the musically smooth and the lack of an obvious chorus makes it unengaging to the listener; he clearly expressed something in writing it, but failed to communicate it effectively. It did him more good to write this song than it did us to hear it.

Also appearing on: Now 22 (with Elton John), 23, 25 (with Queen), 35, 36, 37, 38,
Available on: Ladies and Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Robert Miles 'Children'

Chart Peak: 2


Another record I found it hard to get excited about, but this one can at least claim the defence that it's not supposed to generate excitement: Miles was famously spurred to create this track by a spate of road accidents involving over-stimulated clubbers in Italy. Thus it is that 'Children' attempts to avoid any surprises, instead assembling itself methodically from a series of synthesisers, guitars, slow beats and - at least on the version that became a hit - that insistent piano riff that most of us know the track by. It's interesting to compare it with 'The Box' by Orbital which must have been recorded around the same time and collates similar elements to a very different effect. I must admit that it's the latter which interests me more.

What Miles surely can't have begun to predict was the sheer commercial success of the track. Whilst it narrowly failed to top the UK chart (held off, on separate occasions, by Oasis and Take That) it was a Number One in twelve other countries and even more remarkably for a record of this type, reached the Top 30 in the USA. At one point, indeed, there were two instrumental tracks at those heights, the other being Mission: Impossible. My own lack of enthusiasm notwithstanding, it's pleasing to see somebody profiting by trying to do the right thing.

Also appearing on: Now 36 (with Maria Nayler)
Available on:Dreamland

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Todd Terry featuring Martha Wash and Jocelyn Brown 'Keep On Jumpin'

Chart Peak: 8

YouTube [not the official video obviously, but probably a lot cuter]

Another case of two competing versions of the song, but a more felicitous choice by the compilers. 'Keep On Jumpin' was originally the flipside of Musique's 1978 disco hit 'In The Bush' (not an ode to Australian tourism) but in 1996 record buyers could choose between one version by the Lisa Marie Experience (which sampled the Musique original) and Todd Terry's, which is re-sung by Wash and Jocelyn Brown, the latter of whom is reputed to have sung on the original. Confused? You will be.

The LM Experience were the first onto the shelves in the UK and peaked one position higher, although Terry performed slightly better in the US. Much as I was annoyed by Todd Terry at the time, largely due to the hundreds of near-identical remixes he seemed to be doing of everything, I have to admit that his version has aged the better, possibly due to the enthusiastic vocal performances. Not the sort of record I get excited about, but I can hear a job well done there. And Box Music - you chose right this time.

Also appearing on:
Now 37
Available on: Jocelyn Brown - The Hits

Monday, 27 April 2009

Wink 'Higher State Of Consciousness'

Chart Peak: 7 [8 in 1995]


Dear oh dear. Far be it from me to suggest that anybody involved in dance music might ever have taken drugs, but it's easy to see how this might appeal to people in altered states, from the title down to the way it builds up and the multi-coloured video. The tension and the release supplied by that bubbling sound towards the end might indeed sound very effective on a dancefloor but to me it just sounded like listening to somebody's car alarm going off for four minutes, and even listening late at night when I was starting to feel a bit bleary-eyed has done nothing to endear it to me.

The original version of this track appears on:
Now 32
Available on: 90's Dance

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Umboza 'Sunshine'

Chart Peak: 14


Before he got Now 34, my brother had the non-canonical Now 1995, and I remember much hilarity about the presence on that album of 'Cry India' by Umboza, a record neither of us had ever heard of (and which noticeably didn't appear on a normal Now album). I remember much hilarity when it turned out that the mother of somebody in his class at school had bought it.

Maybe you had to be there...

Anyway here they were again, with their second and final hit. It's largely a repeated loop of 'Bomboleo' by the Gypsy Kings, with a session singer adding some very cliched words about the summer over the top. It's even worse than 'Blurred' which is at least well-made in its own terms.

Available on:The Original Summer Dance Party

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Los Del Mar 'Macarena'

Chart Peak: 43


Yes, you read that right. Los Del Mar.
Unless you're considerably younger or older than I am you probably already know about the massive phenomenon that was the original Los Del Rio version of 'Macarena', or at any rate the remix that ultimately crossed over to North America and Europe. Evidently, though, Box Music were unable to licence that, so they ended up with this cover version, released in Canada in 1995 and issued here as a spoiler.

British buyers weren't fooled, but in Australia it managed to peak at 2 behind the Los Del Rio version: as if anything like that would ever happen here. Of course, everyone knows the song, and this sticks as close as legally permissible to the Bayside Boys production of the hit. Singer Wil Veloz has a slightly lower pitch than Los Del Rio, but otherwise there's not much to say here.

Available on:
La Bomba (MP3 album)

Friday, 24 April 2009

Maxi Priest Featuring Shaggy 'That Girl'

Chart Peak: 15


I don't know if there's a name for that little subset of pop music where men warn or console each other about the beautiful but dangerous woman. Whatever you call it though, this song seems to want to join the likes of 'Runaround Sue', 'Poison Ivy' and, er, 'Easy Lover'. Of course, it's closest of all to the latter since it's an all-star duo. This turned out to be Maxi Priest's last major UK hit, although it appears somewhere in the middle of Shaggy's on-off chart career.

The trouble is, it all feels a little too low-key. No prizes for recognising the sample from 'Green Onions', but the singing rather precludes the laid-back vibe that the original sometimes gives off. At the same time, sticking rigidly to the original tempo seems to keep the song from taking on a life of its own: Priest's sung sections work out OK, but Shaggy seems a bit lost trying to fit his usual lascivious act over the top of this. It's pleasant enough but it doesn't seem to gel somehow.

Maxi Priest also appears on: Now 12, 25 (with Shabba Ranx)
Shaggy also appears on: Now 24, 31 (with Rayvon), 32, 33 (with Grand Puba), 48 (with Rikrok), 51 (with Ali G)
Available on: The Best of Maxi Priest

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Reel 2 Real 'Jazz It Up'

Chart Peak: 7


Still on a ragga tip - and indeed a following-up-a-big-hit-from-1994 tip - we get this Top 10 success from the men who brought you 'I Like To Move It'. Whilst this single wasn't officially billed as Reel 2 Real Presents The Mad Stuntman, it is indeed him, as he says during one of the verses. Rather in the mould of their first hit, it's an upbeat ragga-tinged house track. Depth and social importance are certainly not on the agenda, but it's a more effective bit of entertainment than a lot of the dance music I've been checking out here, and a worthy successor to the debut - it's their only one I can really remember after that first one. However, Mad Stuntman's claim that "Jazz music make the girls them dance" is not one I've been able to substantiate so far.

I have a vague, not fully researched idea that Erick Morillo is now the sort of serious DJ who might not want to be best known for this sort of thing. Tough.

Also appearing on: Now 27, 28, 29
Available on: Big Mix '96 - 38 Large Dance Hits [Double CD]

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Pato Banton 'Groovin'

Chart Peak: 14


It's not often mentioned now, but in the middle of the 1990s there was a definite vogue for easy-going pop reggae, especially where it revived hits from the 1960s. Pato Banton had one of the biggest hits from this subgenre with his 1994 chart-topping version of 'Baby Come Back', and managed a few more crossover hits, of which this was the last.

'Groovin' wisely retains the charming harmonica melody of the original Young Rascals version, and Banton's appeal for positive vibes is likeable, but ultimately it doesn't entertain me greatly and I'd forgotten it entirely.

Also appearing on: Now 29 (with Ali & Robin Campbell), 30 (with Sting), 31 (with Rankin' Roger)
Available on: The Best Of Pato Banton

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

2Pac featuring Dr Dre 'California Love'

Chart Peak: 6

YouTube [song starts at about 1:24]

This track seems to crop on a surprising number of RnB Love compilations, for no better reason than literal-minded readings of the title. Its presence on the Hip-Hop Classics album I've linked to below seems more assured: it's a tune that seems to have found its place in history. It's also one that sounds surprisingly contemporary, and not only because 2Pac has kept up a surprisingly prolific output for a dead bloke (indeed, this is one of only two UK hits he managed while alive); the talkbox vocals of the late Roger Troutman has a present-day echo in the knowing use of autotune effects by the likes of Lil' Wayne... wow, it almost seems like I know what I'm talking about here, doesn't it?

Anyway, I'm not hugely surprised to learn that the still-alive Dr Dre originally intended this song for one of his own records. He really seems to dominate the track where he nominally guests, taking the first verse and setting the whole tone for a party record (admittedly a somewhat sexist one) about the joys of his home state. I've never actually been to California, so I can make no claims for the accuracy of this portrayal. Neither have I ever bought into the myth about Tupac Shakur as some great visionary figure, or indeed any more than a bloke who was OK at rapping. Credit where it's due to this as a piece of entertainment though. But minus a few points for that bit at the end where they start reading out the names of lots of cities in the state. That's just lame.

2Pac also appears on: Now 61 (with Elton John)
Available on:Hip Hop Classics

Monday, 20 April 2009

Mark Morrison 'Return Of The Mack'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Well, at least this one doesn't really need an introduction. One of the UK's biggest hits of 1996 and a relatively rare case of British urban music successfully exported to the USA. Back over here he was successful enough to score four more Top 10 singles off the back of this, hence his appearance on I Love 1996 (posted on his official YouTube channel!) We used to find this record hilarious at the time, complete with his odd sub-Bobby Brown voice, his curious interjections over the chorus (he's not really saying "terrace", unfortunately), and those repeated phrases at the end of the verses ("But I do-do-do"). Then there was the figure of Morrison himself, hosting Top Of The Pops in a fake American accent (I knew because I'd heard him on the radio without it before) and waving pairs of handcuffs around. He seems to have taken it all too seriously though, as proved by his repeated attempts at comebacks and his picking a fight with his hometown.

On a purely musical level, it's a competent enough track. I suppose the beat from 'Genius Of Love' makes for another very tenuous Talking Heads connection.

Also appearing on: Now 36
Available on: Return of the Mack

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Louise 'Naked'

Chart Peak:


Well, that post title should get me a few more search hits, at least...

Sometimes it's tempting to try and sum up a song in one sentence. Were I to do that here it would be: This song rhymes "sensual" with "sexual".

...OK, but as this post is now two days late, you'll probably be wanting a bit more than that. Well, OK: the background for all who don't know is that this was that Louise Nurding as she then was (perhaps this is why she preferred to work under her first name - I've tagged this entry under the name she's better known by) had been a member of RnB-flavoured girl group Eternal for their first album and six singles, but was then spun off as a solo artist. 'Naked' was the title track of her first album and third of twelve consecutive Top 20 singles. Those rhymes do seem to encapsulate the nature of the song - the sort of subject matter and the level of lyrical brilliance involved. I don't really think you were expected to listen to the words though... It's certainly rather raunchier than anything Eternal would have attempted.

Also appearing on: Now 32, 33, 35, 38, 39, 46, 47, 50, 56
Available on: Finest Moments

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Livin' Joy 'Don't Stop Movin'

Chart Peak: 5


Italian house music alert! 'Don't Stop Moving' was of course the inevitable follow-up to the Number One 'Dreamer', and became the second biggest of several hits for the group around this time: my abiding memory of them is the Top Of The Pops performance of 'Where Can I Find Love?', where it sounded a bit like she was singing about Wigan. As that track proves, the formula wore out pretty quickly, but time has been kinder to this one than I thought. It still doesn't reach the realms of records I'd go out of my way to hear, but it's OK.

Also appearing on: Now 31, 35
Available on:Fresh Hits 1996

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Pianoman 'Blurred'

Chart Peak: 6


A few weeks ago, after I'd decided I was going to be doing this album, this track happened to crop up on the radio. Uh-oh, I thought. It hasn't aged well. In fact, that's a bit generous, because this sounds pretty awful now. For those who don't remember, it's a dance track largely typical of the era except that it samples the chorus from 'Girls And Boys' by Blur (on Now 28, by the way), and after success in the clubs it was only granted a legitimate release thanks to personal intervention of Damon Albarn.

Surprisingly enough, at the time Blur were my favourite band and yet I didn't regard this as an affront to all I held dear, so I certainly don't think so now. This gets some credit for at least introducing a different tune for the middle section instead of being the same all the way through. But really it's supposed to entertain for a few minutes, and I feel like I'm almost doing it a disservice by listening to it over a decade later.

Available on: Big Mix '96 - 38 Large Dance Hits [Double CD]

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Gina G 'Ooh Aah... Just A Little Bit'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


Funnily enough, I've never been that big a fan of Eurovision. Sometimes I listen to it on the radio if I'm in the kitchen on a Saturday night, but that's about it. Even I know, though, that Gina G (it stands for Gardiner, in case you were wondering) made one of the more successful British records to emanate from the contest in recent years; though she herself was of course the first singer from overseas (not counting Cliff Richard) to represent the UK in the contest. In fact, she only finished eighth on the night, but she won something of a victory in a non-competing country - this reached the Top 20 in the USA, one of the most successful songs from the contest over there. And it earned the ultimate honour of a cover version by the Wurzels.

The record couldn't sound more 1996 if it tried, and realistically is as representative of the times as the more obvious 'Born Slippy' or 'Good Enough'. Burbly keyboard sounds, predictable beats, a slight hint of rudeness ("every night makes me hate the day" and some heavy breathing). It's actually good for what it tries to do and a good vehicle for an eye-catching dance sequence, but not the sort of thing that lends itself to detailed analysis. At one point, it looked like it might lead to a glittering career for Ms G, with her next two singles also going Top 10, but the whole business turned rather sour amid contractual disputes and bad blood: apparently she claims to have co-written the song although she wasn't formally credited or paid for this. Naturally, it'd be inappropriate to take sides here. Still, perhaps it's better to remember it this way.

Available on: Beautiful People

Monday, 13 April 2009

JX 'There's Nothing I Won't Do'

Chart Peak:


Now this is exactly the sort of dance music I had no time for in 1996. Mindful of my experience with Underworld, and perhaps tempered by nostalgia for my teenage years, I'm more inclined to be generous. But I still can't honestly claim that this interests me much, beyond a nodding acknowledgement that it's well-made for the intended purpose and some admiration that Jake Williams was able to achieve this while still in his teens.

I'm prepared to recognise that this would work well in a club, and that it's more fun to listen to than a lot of the dance tracks I've had to review. Nonetheless, it still boils down to the same couple of lines sung over and over again. Not really my scene. And, er, isn't keeping your hands off him something you wouldn't do?

Also appearing on: Now 30, 31
Available on: 100 Hits - Dance Mix

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Underworld 'Born Slippy (NUXX)'

Chart Peak: 2 [original version peaked at 52]


Two points that I think need to be got out of the way first: some people dispute whether the original 1995 'Born Slippy' is the same song as this one at all, but I've mentioned its chart position for the sake of completeness. I also dithered over whether to use the "from the movies" tag on this entry, since this track wasn't created specifically for cinematic use; but I ultimately decided it wouldn't have been on this album, nor possibly even released as a single, had it not been used in Trainspotting, so the tag stays.

The one other thing I feel like I should point out about this record is that it didn't change my life. I say that because I'm sure there are plenty of blog posts by people roughly my age who could make that claim, and I can imagine it could almost have happened to me. To avoid diving too deeply into autobiography, though, suffice it to say that when I first heard this, I didn't really get it. And it swiftly became a record more successful than was good for it, picking up some unappealing associations along the way, particularly that moment where everyone assumed Karl Hyde was saying "Shouting 'Lager lager lager!'" and decided to join in. Of course, he really is saying those words, but the punctuation is different, "shouting" and "lager" are just two things he's experiencing and telling us about, and that's at the heart of the song really: not unlike the film itself, it's portraying hedonistic behaviour rather than necessarily endorsing it. Thus we get the exciting but ultimately rather disturbing succession of different sounds and words piling on top of each other: that second percussion loop that arrives about two minutes in is my favourite moment in the build-up of the track. And, intentionally or otherwise, there's a poignant moment towards the end (at least of the edited version we're talking about here) where it lapses back to the unadorned keyboard notes that start the track before the beat kicks in again, as if to say that the cycle won't stop.

OK, so now I know it's a masterpiece. It just took me a while, that's all.

Also appearing on: Now 35
Available on:Trainspotting

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen 'Theme From Mission: Impossible'

Chart Peak: 7


It's probably a while since you've heard this one (unless you've been watching the film, I suppose: I've never seen it). We're in the middle of that slightly odd mid-nineties phase when U2 didn't seem to know quite who or what they were, and for my money wandered into some more interesting avenues than they have in this decade, but that's for another time. What we have here is the rhythm section taking time out to perform the theme tune to the old-TV-series-turned-blockbuster.

In contrast to Dodgy and OCS trying to make their albums sound thirty years old, Clayton & Mullen are evidently trying very hard to be up-to-date, with the inevitable consequence that it sounds a bit old-hat now. It's also oddly lacking in personality, presumably because the nature of the exercise didn't allow them a lot of room for interpretation: you'd hardly know it was them, really. The biggest problem is, though, that although it's a perfectly serviceable piece of theme music (you'd expect no less from Lalo Schifrin) not very much actually happens during it, and it's hard to stay interested for the full three and a half minutes.

Available on: Mission: Impossible - Music from and inspired by the motion picture.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Ocean Colour Scene 'The Day We Caught The Train'

Chart Peak: 4


I'm going to point out right at the start of this review that I was one of the large number of people who bought the Moseley Shoals album. I'm saying that now because I suspect a lot of people will automatically disregard my opinions on that basis, so if you're one of them you can come back tomorrow.

Now I'm among friends, I can admit that I bought the B-sides album. And the follow-up. I even bought their first album, the one even they don't like, in a sale. And I listened to them a lot too, so much so that I still half-expect this one to crossfade into 'The Circle'. If you're expecting this to be the point where I turn around and say I hate this now, though, sorry. It's not a record I get out all that often now, and I did lose interest in the band years ago, but I've got to admit that this still appeals to me, and I enjoyed playing it back in order to do this. Perhaps I don't like this for all the same reasons I liked it thirteen years ago, but it still entertains me.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 37, 38
Available on: Songs For The Front Row - The Best Of

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Dodgy 'Good Enough'

Chart Peak: 4


This being an album from 1996, you might have been wondering where the Britpop was. Well, here you go. Perhaps Dodgy are the archetypal Britpop act: they weren't necessarily the best and they certainly weren't the biggest but somehow seemed to sum up how it looked and sounded.

This, their one and only Top 10 single, is from the sprawling Free Peace Sweet album, which I bought on my way home from school. I'd already heard this track, since it was clearly (and correctly) tipped to be a massive hit. Like many a big summer smash, it became tiresome after a while, but now that you only hear it occasionally, it's become enjoyable again. Not the deepest song ever penned, probably not even as clever or profound as they thought it was after a few funny-smelling cigarettes: but it rattles along charmingly, and the musicianship of the group (and semi-attached keyboard player Richard Payne) is solid throughout. I still prefer the previous single 'In A Room' though.

Also appearing on: Now 35
Available on: The Collection

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Peter Andre featuring Bubbler Ranx 'Mysterious Girl'

Chart Peak: 2 [53 in 1995]


Well, there's no forgetting this one. Back when we first got cable TV and were able to watch phone-in video-request network The Box, this one seemed to crop up a lot, even though this was the time of the first release when it missed the Top 50. Perhaps people weren't requesting it for purely musical reasons, Andre's six-pack stomach apparently being a major attraction to some elements of the audience. My other great memory is my brother and I laughing at the intro that sounded like "Peter Andre, down with Bubbler Ranx and Simon Mayo": actually, it turns out not to sound much like that at all, but we laughed.

Anyway, back to the story. 'Mysterious Girl' was rereleased after Andre had cracked the Top 20 with 'Only One', and went on to become one of the big hits of Summer 1996, narrowly missing out on Number One and hanging around so long the record company ultimately deleted it to help out the follow-up. None of this should distract us from the fact that it's an awful record, a flimsy reggae-RnB hybrid full of lyric touches so lazy they're sometimes incomprehensible ("The tropical scent of you"?). It's typical for what it is, of course, but the fact that it hasn't been allowed to go away is frustrating. And, as I later discovered, Peter Andre is from my hometown, though he was at least raised on the other side of the world.

This track also appears on:
Now 57

Peter Andre also appears on:
Now 35, 36, 28, 40
Available on: Natural

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Robbie Williams 'Freedom'

Chart Peak: 2


Gosh! I'd completely forgotten this track was on here: and something tells me Williams would be quite pleased with that, as he's refused to include this track on any album release, even the Greatest Hits. 'Freedom 96', as it's sometimes called, is of course a cover version of George Michael's self-referential 'Freedom 90' and a fairly obvious cash-in for his first single after leaving Take That (who had in fact split by this point, but he'd jumped first). He later covered 'Making Plans For Nigel' just to labour the point.

As a production, it doesn't sound like any more time was spent on it than it deserved, and the effect is more like a record made by somebody famous for something else than the beginning of a major pop career. Just a pale facsimile of the George Michael record.

Also appearing on: Now 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 51 (with Nicole Kidman), 52 (with 1 Giant Leap & Maxi Jazz), 54, 55, 56, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65, 66, 74

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Spice Girls 'Wannabe'

Chart Peak: 1 (7 weeks)


Yes, those footsteps are on the record, as well as the video...

Making a slight detour from the search for historic instalments in the Now series, Now 34 is one I picked out because it was the first I ever heard: my brother either bought it or got it for his birthday in 1996. This has the extra advantage that I know where I can find a copy of the CD if any of the tracks are difficult to source online.

That was never going to be a problem with 'Wannabe' though. If anything, I face the opposite difficulty, as with 'Fairytale Of New York' back there: it's hard to imagine that anyone who cares doesn't know what this sounds like, or needs any explanation of its origins. What stands out most at this juncture, I think, is how well-tailored a debut single it was: everything about it is cleverly designed to grab the attention and stick in the memory, like it or not. Smartly, the band are introduced, but not as the focal point of the song (compare and contrast 21st Century Girls) and they all get to do a bit of singing, but Victoria Addams (as she then was) has as little as possible. There's even a made-up word to keep people talking.

It seems almost irrelevant to talk about liking or not liking this record, but it hasn't aged brilliantly, thanks to its concessions to mid-90s RnB sounds. But maybe that's part of the reason it was so successful at the time: not just that long run at the top, but a 26-week chart run (half a year!). Like it or not, we were going to have to get used to it.

Also appearing on:
Now 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 47
Available on: Spice