Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Crowded House 'It's Only Natural'

Chart Peak: 24


A comedy sound effect, but we stay in Australasia for the final track on the first disc. 'It's Only Natural' was the fifth single from the UK breakthrough album Woodface and their last hit to feature Tim Finn; he'd already left by the time the single was released, as the video shows. As well as co-writing the song, he's especially evident here thanks to the shared vocal with his brother; I presume it's the combination of high and low voices that my dad had in mind when he said this reminded him of Squeeze.

Like much of the best Crowded House material, it sugar-coats a potentially dark lyrical message, delivered by a protagonist whom you can "read like a book that's fallen down between your knees", yet the effect is more pathetic than scary. I presume that's what the Finn brothers intended all along, they seem like nice enough boys really. It's possible to ignore that aspect anyway, so impressive is the craft of this track, the chiming guitars, the subtle vocal arrangements. In fact, the only problem is that slightly drifty fade which makes for a bit of an odd end to the first disc of the album.

Also appearing on: Now 21, 22, 26, 34, 35
Available on: Woodface

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

INXS 'Baby Don't Cry'

Chart Peak: 20


Well, I sort of remember INXS releasing the album Welcome To Wherever You Are, (their only one to top the UK chart) and I sort of recall the different covers on the CD and cassette versions. I don't remember ever hearing any songs from it though, so here goes...

'Baby Don't Cry' was the second and biggest of four UK hits from the album. It's a big, brassy production of a song that sounds slightly half-baked. The verses feel like afterthoughts hidden between choruses; which makes the chorus sound worse too, because there's nothing for it to contrast with. The ultimate effect is just hollow to me.

Also appearing on: Now 14, 15, 18, 19, 20
Available on: Welcome to Wherever You Are

Monday, 23 November 2009

Genesis : "Jesus He Knows Me"

Chart Peak: 20


This one I knew and rather liked when I was 14, as Collins and colleagues take aim at the (with hindsight rather soft) target of phoney televangelists. Now I'm no longer a teenager, it impresses me less as a piece of satire, especially with the heavy-handed middle-eight, but as I've hinted before I find pop Genesis more appealing than the prog end of their repertoire and I have to give Phil Collins credit for having the sense of humour to wear a comedy wig in the video. In fact the pastiches of low-budget God channels might be the best thing about this.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 7, 8, 9, 21, 24
Available on: We Can't Dance

Friday, 20 November 2009

Richard Marx 'Take This Heart'

Chart Peak: 13


Another song I can't remember hearing or even hearing of at the time. And indeed 24 hours or so after first hearing it, I still can't remember a thing about it. I suppose I'll have to listen to it again then....

Wow. That is so amazingly bland I'm genuinely struggling to find anything to say about it. No wonder the Wikipedia article is all about the video, and how it wouldn't be possible in real baseball. In places it reminds me slightly of the Baywatch theme. Not good.

Also appearing on: Now 16, 22, 27
Available on: Greatest Hits

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Little Angels 'Too Much Too Young'

Chart Peak: 22


As musical subgenres go, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal wasn't one that really attracted my attention much at the time. Indeed, I don't think I heard any of it, as it was so swiftly overshadowed by grunge before it really touched the mainstream. My main experience of the Little Angels before this week was seeing what looked like almost their complete back catalogue donated to one charity shop, the plethora of limited edition formats, boxed 7" singles and free posters that were the stuff of chart success for ambitious rock bands in the early 1990s. It worked up to a point, as the parent album Jam was a surprise chart-topper in early 1993, although it does share the record for shortest total chart-run by a Number One album.

Anyway, NWOBHM seems to have been painted as an attempt to break away from the supposedly dead hair-metal scene (although these guys do actually seem to have a lot of hair) and produce something a bit less macho and cliche-ridden, possibly returning to the sources of early AC/DC and stuff. Well, possibly. This certainly seems less knuckle-dragging than a lot of hard rock before and since and it's fairly catchy, at least until you realise that the chorus is a bit like 'Footloose'. And if it's true that Bryan Adams is on backing vocals, then extra points are awarded for his inaudibility. So, yeah, I feel positively disposed towards this record but I wouldn't say it really convinced me of anything, or made me want to listen to it again.

Available on: Little Of The Past

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Billy Ray Cyrus 'Achy Breaky Heart'

Chart Peak: 3


"Before country was mainstream" claims one wrong-headed online commenter, and certainly before his children started inflicting awful Disney pop on us, the elder Cyrus proved that he was eminently capable of making awful music himself. Don't think I haven't tried, but I can't find anything to like about this record at all, and there's a faint hint of cynical targetting about it. I try not be a snob but this is just rubbish.

The video, which I'm pretty sure I'd never seen before, makes it seem even worse. Still, at least the related videos tab pointed to some Hank Williams.

Available on: Achy Breaky Heart

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

John Lee Hooker 'Boom Boom'

Chart Peak: 16


Just in case anyone thought Erma Franklin's track was the oldest on the album, 'Boom Boom' dates back to 1961 in its original form, although given the large number of different recordings on YouTube I can't be absolutely sure I've found the right one. I remember the song itself well enough though, as like the aforementioned 'Piece Of My Heart' it was brought back to the national consciousness by a jeans advert. It was Hooker's second Top 40 hit in the UK, a mere 28 years after 'Dimples'.

As it happens, my Latin teacher at the time was a big blues fan, an amateur guitarist who sometime did a blues show on a volunteer radio station. Lessons with him were always pretty freewheeling and when the subject came up, he seemed glad to have this song to use as an example of the emotional directness of the music. I don't know whether that totally convinces me, and I tend to feel that you have to make a decision to become a blues fan or not, but the fact that I didn't doesn't preclude me from liking the odd blues record here and there and this one hits the spot just right, somehow. The fact that it's barely a couple of minutes long is an advantage, evading the self-indulgence that puts me off a lot of the blues music I've heard. Also, it doesn't have the burden of self-conscious authenticity that modern-day blues can too often be ruined by.

Available on: Legend - The Best of John Lee Hooker

Monday, 16 November 2009

Simple Minds 'Alive And Kicking'

Chart Peak: 6 (7 in 1985)


I suppose it's kind of a neat coincidence that a song later to reapper in the Now series is followed by a track that had already shown up once. 'Alive And Kicking' was of course a Top 10 hit in 1985 but re-emerged as part of a double A-sided reissue with the somewhat darker 'Love Song' in order to promote a compilation album. In theory, using the other side might have reduced the duplication, but this unlikely to have been a significant consideration - whilst I've discovered over the years that there are such people as loyal Now collectors, the albums don't show much sign of being assembled with them in mind; and that's probably no bad thing.

But am I rambling about this digression just to avoid saying something about this record? Apparently so. 'Alive And Kicking' pushes the right buttons and as stadium rock anthems go, is one of their better attempts, with a chorus that rises in the expected places. Unfortunately stadium rock anthems are one of my least favourite musical forms so I still don't get a lot out of this.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 5, 6 [this track], 7, 14, 15, 30
Available on: Glittering Prize 81/92

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Brian May 'Too Much Love Will Kill You'

Chart Peak: 5


If you missed this track at the time, you got a second bite of the cherry when a version sung by Freddie Mercury was released as a Queen single in 1996 (that rendition shows up on Now 33). It may be that May's decision to release his own recording of the song represented some doubt as to whether Queen's version would ever see the light of day but in any case the song is clearly quite a personal one for him; reportedly it relates to the break-up of his first marriage, in which case he evidently waited some years before putting the song out at all.

Somehow, though, even the burden of this knowledge doesn't entirely enable the song to connect with me. As might be expected, his composition and performance (on all instruments) are thoroughly competent and it's clear that a lot of work went into the arrangement and recording but the pursuit of perfection seems to have been at the expense of grit and drama. This is a problem I have with a lot of Queen records, especially their later ones, but it can be counteracted by Freddie Mercury's innate theatricality. May is a solid, hit-the-right-notes singer but not really a convincing frontman.

By the way, Wikipedia informs me that the original booklet of Now 23 misquotes the chart peak of this single. I'm only too happy to set the record straight there.

Also appearing on: Now 21
Available on: Back to the Light

Friday, 13 November 2009

Erma Franklin '(Take A Little) Piece Of My Heart'

Chart Peak: 9


As the single cover makes plain, this is another case where the Now series doesn't live up to the first word of its name, but rather an 25-year-old track revived after its use in a TV commercial. This was obviously a common phenomenon at the time - to some extent it still is, but of course the instant availability of downloads allows many a featured track to trickle sales over a long period rather than showing up more dramatically when the record company are persuaded to reissue a single.

Anyway, this proved to be the only UK hit for Aretha's big sister (or, indeed, for anyone called Erma) and rather a belated one at that, but if you're only going to have one hit, it might as well be a classic, and this is a brilliant example of how to make soul music, every note exactly where it needs to be. Franklin and the producers are confident enough in the song's own drama not to keen banging you over the head with it. Respect is also due to whoever played the key piano line on this track. There have been many versions of this song and will doubtless be many more, and several are good - but for me none has ever beaten this original. By far my favourite Now 23 track so far.

Available on: The Pop Years 1992-1993

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Simply Red 'For Your Babies'

Chart Peak: 9


The chances are that if you're at all interested in Simply Red, you already have the Stars album from which this was the third of five hit singles - it had already been the biggest-selling album of 1991 and was to be the top seller of 1992. If the song title doesn't ring any bells, well, that's what the YouTube links are for, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend actually looking at the screen, because the video is an annoying parade of clichés and pomposity. The song itself drifts rather in the direction of the sanctimonious too; a fairly typical example of the sentimental song of a new parent but for the fact that Mick Hucknall didn't as far as we know become a father until more than ten years later.

Mind you, this doesn't sound anywhere near as bad now as I thought it might. Perhaps it's the knowledge that Simply Red got so much worse than this but there is a decent if slight tune buried under the self-consciously tasteful production and Hucknall could still sing then. It's not something I'd want to hear too much of and I'd hardly say it deserved the success it had, but it slips down easy.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 7, 9, 20, 21, 24, 32, 33
Available on: Simply Red 25: The Greatest Hits

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Arrested Development 'People Everyday'

Chart Peak: 2


It probably isn't really necessary for me to post a link to the original of 'Everyday People' but it was a good excuse to listen to it myself. That's all the more welcome as I prepare myself for the admission that I've never really got Arrested Development. At the time I was too young or at least too ignorant to understand them, and now I sort of feel like they're too much of their time to make sense if you didn't like them in the early years of the decade. To be sure, I appreciate the appeal of hip-hop that isn't about shooting people, and there are plenty of "daisy"-sounding tracks I like. The trouble is, I think, that this lot don't seem to convey quite the same sense of fun as Jurassic 5 or De La Soul or even the original, and the enforced positivism without that lightheartedness tends to drift into the realms of the preachy; the fact that the leader chose to call himself Speech hardly counteracts that suspicion.

All of which said, 'People Everyday' is a slightly different song from them, as the protagonist actually becomes genuinely irritated by some people grabbing their crotches and bothering his girlfriend. It's a trace of grit that makes this track more human and likeable, although the irritating backing vocals spoil the effect somewhat. I can admire this record from afar but I'm not sure when I'd ever choose to listen to it.

Also appearing on: Now 24
Available on: 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of...

Monday, 9 November 2009

George Michael 'Too Funky'

Chart Peak: 4


At last, a proper hit from a major act who was still alive in 1992! Indeed, the success of 'Too Funky' may have been something of a relief to Michael after the underwhelming chart performances of his previous few solo singles, although this was of course new material and a charity record to boot. Apparently the song was originally intended for a Listen Without Prejudice Volume 2 that never happened, and it does have a livelier sound than the mopey first volume (or so I've deduced from the singles, never having felt the desire to listen to a George Michael album with or without prejudice). Having pondered deep questions on his previous effort, this time around he just wants to get his end away, and isn't going to mince his words about it.

I suppose there are some people who might question whether such a single-entendre packed song ("I've got to see you naked baby" and so on) hits the right mood for a fund-raiser, but you certainly have to give him credit for supplying such commercially viable material at his own expense. A nice gesture indeed, but I can't be quite so positive about the record itself. It lacks the pompousness that puts me off a lot of his work, but that's an awkward disconnect between the animalistic directness of the lyric and the glossy sequenced accuracy of the production here. If he's as passionate as the words say, surely that's got to be either consummated or frustrated, but the dynamics just aren't there to convince me of that.
Also, that "I'm not trying to seduce you" sample at the start sounds maddeningly clichéed, although I'm more keener on the surprise ending, which Wikipedia attributes to Russ Abbott but other sources claim comes from Hancock's Half Hour.

Edit 10th November - as I should know, since I have the DVD case on the desk in front of me, The Radio Ham is an episode of Hancock.

Also appearing on:
Now 22 (with Elton John), 25 (with Queen), 34, 35, 36, 37, 38,
Available on: Twenty Five

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Go West 'Faithful'

Chart Peak: 13


OK, I have to admit I'd never heard of this track before. I obviously remember Go West for what I think of as their big Eighties hits (although looking it up, 'King Of Wishful Thinking' was 1990) and I dimly recall Peter Cox's solo career, but both their Now appearances date from a period when I wouldn't have been sure they were even around had I not looked it up.

It's not totally impossible that I might have heard 'Faithful' at the time, but if I did it must have passed me by entirely. It kind of still does actually, another entry into the long category of "I'm going away but I'll be good, honest" songs, although the chorus lyric "I'll be faithful to my lover's prayer" has a slightly stilted un-English sound. The tune is slight and this strikes me, like a lot of music around this time, as decidedly ho-hum.

Also appearing on: Now 26
Available on: Aces and Kings: The Best of Go West

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bob Marley And The Wailers 'Iron Lion Zion'

Chart Peak: 5


Well, this is a track I certainly remember. Perhaps being at school with somebody called Brian helped. Of course, Marley had been dead for over a decade by this point, and because his death was so early in my life it felt like ancient history, although of course 1992 is longer ago now than 1981 was then. Ouch.

Anyway, 'Iron Lion Zion' was an unreleased track recorded circa 1973 and initially made available on a boxed set. Logically, it ought to be rubbish, and I start with the handicaps of not really understanding the Rastafarian imagery or indeed being much of a reggae fan at all. Actually, though, it's perfectly fine little ditty with a catchy hook and a nice brass section (I'm not sure how much, if anything, was overdubbed posthumously). I also don't entirely know why most sources seem to suggest a credit to the Wailers, when the original sleeve names Marley alone.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 44 (with Funkstar De Luxe)
Available on: Songs Of Freedom

Friday, 6 November 2009

Was (Not Was) 'Shake Your Head'

Chart Peak: 4


The first act on this album to have managed more than one Top 10 single (the other being 'Walk The Dinosaur') and indeed there are another couple of songs I remember in the shapes of 'Spy In The House Of Love' and a slightly iffy cover of 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', but none of those ever made it to a Now album. Somehow, though, their highest-charting single in the UK passed me by utterly at the time, and even when I came to write this post I just sort of vaguely recalled having heard it a few years ago. Well, that and the unusual vocal line-up of Kim Basinger and Ozzy Osborne.

As people who know their Was better than me will already be aware, the original recording of this song dates back to 1983, and they even didversion with Madonna on vocals which remains officially unreleased. The version that finally became the hit is a remix by Steve "Silk" Hurley with the actress's vocal added. And yet for all the effort, re-workings and remixing it's a record that I find it hard to concentrate on, as if it's so busy being pleased with itself for its cleverness that it forgets to do anything clever, merely reciting a list of difficult or impossible tasks (shades of 'All You Need Is Love'? and heading for a chorus I've already forgotten. Certainly not unlistenable, but I don't think I'd care if I didn't hear it again.

By the way, as the video I linked to was posted by the record company, I have to assume it really does fade out that abruptly. Did they run out of budget or something?

Available on: The Collection

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Charles And Eddie 'Would I Lie To You?'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Another good pop record. No more than good, certainly; there's nothing unprecedented about it, but it pushes all the right buttons and you can tell why the record company were so pleased to have this song to launch their new act with: whilst both Charles (Pettigrew) and Eddie (Chacon) were songwriters, they didn't supply this one. They put their all into the performance though, although not in an especially intense way. The song requires and gets a cheerier, lighter-hearted rendition.

There are just a couple of problems. One is that the call-and-response vocal "Would I lie to you?" "Oh yeah" does slightly seem to undermine the intended message. The other different disadvantage is that it doesn't really establish much of an identity for the duo, which might be one reason why they too struggled to repeat anything that even faintly resembled the worldwide success of this number. So far, there's been a bit of a sense of the transitory about this album.

Available on: Original Hits: Number 1's

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Jon Secada 'Just Another Day'

Chart Peak: 5


Now here's one that sounds much more like 1992. A prime slice of radio-friendly pop with a slight Latin accent (it was produced by Emilio Estefan Jr, who'd long employed Secada before he launched his solo career). Much as this isn't the sort of thing I typically go for, I can appreciate this as a job well done and a little classier than some other records in this vein.

What it doesn't do, though, is make me want to hear any other Jon Secada records, and it seems I may not be alone there: like Tasmin Archer, he had more hits than you might have guessed but this is the one that's going to follow him around.

Also appearing on: Now 25
Available on: Jon Secada

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Tasmin Archer 'Sleeping Satellite'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Well, I'd been putting off Now 23 (my mum's favourite number!) for a long time, and it seemed like it was time to return to much earlier days after the slightly awkward experience of trying to cover 18-month-old tracks on Now 69.

So, we're back here with a song that perhaps feels even older than it is, somehow. Perhaps it's the fretless bass on the arrangement, perhaps the not-obviously-topical subject of space exploration - but I think something in the whole style of the lyric, which seems something of a meditation on a broad subject, has a decidedly old-fashioned feel to it. Perhaps this is why Archer, though not in real terms a one-hit-wonder, struggled to build a big career off the back of this.

Unfortunately, if this seemed out of place in 1992, it's even more so in 2009. It's not an enticing start to our visit to 1992.

Also appearing on: Now 24
Available on: Pure 90s Pop