Thursday, 31 December 2009

Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé 'Barcelona'

Chart Peak: 2 (8 in 1987)


And what better way to follow a duet by a dead man and a woman who's still alive than another one? Although this is one of two tracks duplicated from earlier albums in the series, this is one I've written about before so there's no need to say anything much more about it in this post, except to note that its reappearance was due to its originally intended use as theme of the 1992 Olympics. The BBC also used it extensively in TV coverage of the Games, and somewhere between this massive publicity and some sentimentality in the wake of Mercury's death less than a year before, it managed to chart higher than it had the first time.

Instead, I'll take the opportunity to reinvent the conclusion posts I used to do in mentioning that this track seems almost too perfect a summation of the Now 23, which seems exceptionally heavy on secondhand material. It's fair enough that some tracks are repeated over the history of the series, as new generations of buyers emerge, but this is one of four old tracks re-issued here (defined as records from previous decades), plus four re-workings (from Was Not Was, Erasure Heaven 17 and Roy Orbison) and the posthumous Bob Marley track. Throw in another five cover versions and you've accounted for nearly half the album already. It mightn't matter so much were it not that so few of the new acts who feature here seem to have made all that much long-term impact. If this were the only evidence you had of pop music in the second half of 1992 (er, and January when that Simply Red track came out) you'd have to conclude that things had gone a bit wrong somewhere.

Freddie Mercury also appears on: Now 9, 25.
Available on: Barcelona

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Roy Orbison and kd lang 'Crying'

Chart Peak: 13


Another track with a movie connection. As eny fule kno, 'Crying' was originally a 1961 hit for Orbison (though a surprisingly minor one on the UK) and ultimately topped the chart when covered by Don McLean. This duet was recorded for the 1987 film Hiding Out (me neither, but it sounds awful) and I can't really remember why it was reactivated in 1992. Surely not because of Only Fools And Horses?

Anyway, this rendition has quite a good reputation but I have to say that for me it's never really clicked. It's better than some versions of this song out there, but to me it undersells the drama of the Orbison original. It does have a certain weight that some of this album lacks, however.

Roy Orbison also appears on: Now 14, 22
kd lang also appears on: Now 24
Available on: King of Hearts

Monday, 28 December 2009

Enya 'Book Of Days'

Chart Peak: 10


Thinking about this post over the Christmas break, I thought I could vaguely remember how this song went, or at least the chorus. Then it dawned on me that the song I was thinking of was 'Book Of Dreams' by Suzanne Vega. As it turned out, though, I still know this one as the song from Far And Away (or, to be strictly accurate, from the trailer; I've never seen the film). Apparently the song was re-written with English lyrics for the occasion, and this supplanted the Gaelic version for the single and subsequent pressings of the Shepherd Moons album [naughty shepherd!] so I presume that'll also have been the version featured here. But I've got to admit that at the time I never even noticed it was in a language I could understand. Sorry Enya.

I'd always been under the impression that people didn't listen to Enya for the lyrical content anyway. It seems to me that you listen to Enya if you want to hear something that sounds like Enya, and this track certainly delivers on that score. What it doesn't seem to me to have, for all the success, is the obvious crossover appeal of hits like 'Orinoco Flow' or 'Anywhere Is'. Tom Cruise or no Tom Cruise, I wonder how many owners of Now 23 listened to this track every time.

Also appearing on: Now 20, 33, 59 [with The Pirates, Shola Ama, Naila Boss and Ishani]
Available on: The Very Best of Enya

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Peter Gabriel 'Digging In The Dirt'

Chart Peak: 24


One of the more unlikely tracks to show up on a Now album, not least because of its lengthy running time, 'Digging In The Dirt' was Gabriel's first new single in five years. Perhaps it was because his last proper album So had been such a big success that this comeback was thought worth including here, but in the event it was only a minor hit - no wonder given its rather dark nature, apparently inspired by a relationship breakdown. The obligatory state-of-art video is pretty creepy too.

In its way, it's actually a really good record. The disturbing atmosphere is quite convincing and there's just enough melodic interest to make it enjoyable. At the same time, though, it's not his most obvious crossover hit, and indeed not the biggest hit off the album. It's hard to imagine what the kids who are the stereotypical Now audience would have made of it, or for that matter how many of the people who would appreciate it were prepared to sit through the Mario Brothers record to get to it.

Also appearing on: Now 7, 8, 24
Available on: Hit

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Sophie B. Hawkins 'Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover'

Chart Peak: 14


It stands for Ballantine, you know.

Actually, my one abiding memory of this track is from a decade after it was released when Radio 2, in a seeming moment of desparation, selected a compilation called The Sex Album as album of the week. One day that gave Ken Bruce the chance to make the legendary introduction, "Today's track is from Sophie B. Hawkins, who's so excited she'll swear at you". I've got to admit that sort of ruined the song for me.

At any rate, it seemed to crystalise the awkwardness about this song. It's obviously not wholly accidental, but there's something about songs that try very hard to be sexy which I find quite off-putting, much credit as it gets for at least steering well clear of the most vomitorious cliches. Perhaps I just saw too many Carry On films at an impressionable age to react to that stuff about "coming into my Jungle Book" with anything other than a giggle. It's probably a really good record but I can't really enjoy it somehow.

Also appearing on: Now 29
Available on: Best of Sophie B Hawkins

Monday, 21 December 2009

Betty Boo 'Let Me Take You There'

Chart Peak: 12


A few years on from the time when I actually remember her being a pop star (and yes, I know she wrote loads of big hits as well), the only Top 40 hit from her second album proved to be more of a slowie than I'd expected, built upon a sample of 'It's All In The Game'. Over this she raps in mildly annoying way about how it's "so hot 'cause my ice-cream's melting" (other way round, surely?) which must have seemed a bit out of place by the time Now 23 showed up in October. I'm not surprised I don't remember this, if I even heard it at the time.

Also appearing on: Now 18
Available on: Grrr!...It's Betty Boo

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Vanessa Paradis 'Be My Baby'

Chart Peak:


A reviewer of the album where this track first appeared calls it "The best Lenny Kravitz record ever, coz he only sings on one song..." and I think that's a pretty fair point. At the risk of giving too much away for future posts, I find Kravitz quite irritating (though I may not have been very aware of him at the time; his only major hit before this was 'It Ain't Over Till It's Over'). Whilst he co-wrote and produced this track and apparently contributed several instruments too, his presence isn't immediately apparent here so I can judge it more on its merits.

And it's an enjoyable slice of self-consciously retro pop, with a much lighter touch than Kravitz seems to display on his own work. Coming back to it now, it's held up surprisingly well (especially compared to her other big hit, 'Joe Le Taxi') and doesn't sound as dated as I feared it might, the pastiche still outweighing any sense of the 1990s. It's not quite as good as I thought at the time, although my 14-year-old head may have been turned slightly by that bit in the video where it looks a bit like she's naked. Still a good track though.

Also appearing on: Now 11
Available on: Vanessa Paradis

Friday, 18 December 2009

Björn Again 'A Little Respect'

Chart Peak: 25 (Erasure-ish EP)


Well, how else could you follow Abba?

Possibly the world's most famous tribute band, almost to the extent of inspiring their own tributes; they seem to have become a sort of franchise operation which says something about the power of the name. And of course their 21 years in the business means they've greatly outlasted the original group. Their only Top 40 success came with their own response to the Abba-Esque EP (as mentioned in previous post, but actually heard on Now 22), although the concept was stretched to an entire album of non-Abba covers and a Christmas single.

Because the whole point of this record is in its existence, there's not a lot to be said about the music itself, but it's better than I feared, and certainly not the worst version of 'A Little Respect' ever to appear on a Now album. That said, I can imagine the cod-Swedish accents getting irritating and the apparent unavailability of this track now isn't that massive a loss.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Abba 'Dancing Queen'

Chart Peak: 16 (1 in 1992)


As this is possibly the most famous and most-discussed track that I've ever written about on here, I have to admit a definite temptation to duck the whole question and just link to some slightly embarrassing adverts they did. But that'd be wrong.

So, 'Dancing Queen', then. A transatlantic Number One single and a record many people genuinely believe to be the greatest of all time. Now, I can't realistically claim to be one of them, but I can see their point. I suppose I have a bit of an awkward relationship with Abba really; I'm not quite old enough to have been aware of them when they were together, so I lived through that whole period when it was laughable to like them but by the time I started really caring about music, we were well into the period ushered in by this release when it became totally socially unacceptable ever to say anything negative about them. Couple that with VH-1 starting in the mid-1990s and seeming to have Abba Weekend every two weeks and the seemingly ceaseless cavalcade of self-consciously broad-minded cover versions and you've pretty much exhausted my expertly-produced Swedish pop patience. I'm still prepared to stick my neck out and say that all the ballads are rubbish, but even if I can never love this record I can certainly appreciate what impressed people about it - the crucial blend of joy and sadness as the narrator looks from afar at the Dancing Queen who seems to be having so much more fun than her. And yet the Queen herself is an oddly haunted figure too. It seems like an icy wind is blowing through this record (or maybe it's just December) and aren't sad upbeat songs better than sad slow ones? Even the luxuriant production feels like a coat to keep the chill out, with that much-imitated descending piano line to try and keep the mood up. I'm also rather fond of that little string riff that comes in over the fade-out. Maybe there should have been more of that.

And that's probably as much as I need to say, because it feels like everybody in the world (or at least the UK) now owns Abba Gold, as a trailer for which this song was re-issued (with the slightly re-edited video above). Some attribute this success to Erasure's summer hit with the Abba-Esque EP, although the album was probably released for the more prosaic reason that the UK rights to the catalogue had just reverted to Polydor. Perhaps we should gloss over the fact that 'Dancing Queen' was only 16 years old in 1992, and that that year itself is now 17 years behind us?

Available on: The Albums

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Roxette 'How Do You Do!'

Chart Peak: 13


An apt title, I suppose, because I don't think I've ever met this song before. Oddly, despite the fact that I clearly remember the existence of Roxette and what I thought was a substantial tally of hits, I keep finding out about other ones I've never heard of.

'How Do You Do!' (their punctuation, not mine) was the opening track from their odd album Tourism, a mish-mash of studio tracks, live versions and apparent outtakes. Notably, even both the people who gave that album good reviews on Amazon dismissed this track as pretty tacky, and they had a point. It's also notable for featuring a more prominent vocal role for Per Gessle than most of the Roxette songs I know, which I have to admit I don't count as a strength here.

Although this album has a habit of sequencing related tracks together, there's only a coincidental link between this and the previous cut: Roxette later contributed a song to the soundtrack of the Super Mario Bros film. Which is apparently even worse than this record.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 18, 20, 21, 42
Available on: Tourism (Songs from Studios, Stages, Hotelrooms & Other Strange Places)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Ambassadors of Funk and MC Mario 'Supermarioland'

Chart Peak:


And if that wasn't enough for you, we get a second helping of pseudonymous video-game "fun" from Simon Harris of the less shameful 'Bass (How Low Can You Go?)'. Now, I've got to admitthat gaming was never a big deal, and whilst I have been known to play the odd game of Tetris, I never touched this Mario stuff at all, so all I know is that there are two stereotypical Italian blokes with moustaches who have to, er, run around or something. Einstein's relatively (geddit?!!) poor rapping doesn't do a lot to entice me into this. I can well believe that the cheap-sounding bleepy noises did feature in the game, but this about as interesting to me as somebody I don't know showing me their holiday snaps.

Still, it's not as painful an experience as it could have been. Just as long as the next track's not Sonic The Hedgehog, OK?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Dr Spin 'Tetris'

Chart Peak: 6


When I first started doing this, part of the appeal was to try out the Now albums as snapshots of the times when they were released. My thinking was that they might be more effective than the "official" histories of the years, which have a habit of concentrating on the notionally important. Here's where I feel I've struck some sort of gold, with a record that really could not be more of its time: a novelty dance version of the music from the eponymous Game Boy game, which is of course based on the old Russian song Коробейники, as I would obviously have known without looking it up on the internet. The sound effects are obviously referring to the club hits of the time, and even the name Dr Spin has a sort of early-1990s topicality about it.

It wasn't publicised at the time, but this was of course a pseudonym for Andrew Lloyd-Webber and his long-serving musical director Nigel Wright. Well, I say "of course" but actually it's not instantly obvious to me what the Llord does contribute to this track, unless it's those "comedy" Russian accents. This sort of reminds me of the long-standing tradition of supposedly uncool acts releasing music anonymously to see how much more seriously they're taken without the association of the name (not very, most of the time) or supposedly cool ones working under pseudonyms to avoid embarrassment. But this seems a bit too pointless for its own good.

Still a lot better than Undercover though.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Undercover 'Never Let Her Slip Away'

Chart Peak: 5


Follow-up to the not-very-good dance version of 'Baker Street' that was kept from topping the chart by The Shamen. I don't know whether they were originally going to be a one-off project and only continued because the first hit had been so big, but either way there was never going to be an original song. Wisely, Pete Waterman settled on Andrew Gold's 'Never Let Her Slip Away', a Top 5 hit in 1978 (at the same time as the original 'Baker Street' indeed) but probably somewhat forgotten by 1992; I certainly didn't recognise it when I heard this version.

Any praise I have for the song choice is just recognition of the commercial nous though. Now that I've lived long enough to hear the music of Andrew Gold, I can't stand it and this is a decidedly joyless rendition. At least they didn't do 'Lonely Boy' I suppose. Although there was only to be one more hit ('I Wanna Stay With You', which was in a bold new direction a cover of a song from 1976) they did manage to build another connection with The Farm by returning in 2004 with a tacky football record, 'Viva England'.

Available on: Check Out the Groove

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Farm 'Don't You Want Me'

Chart Peak: 18

YouTube {sorry, cuts off early but it was the longest version on there}

Actually, maybe I shouldn't be apologising too profusely, because this really is quite a bad record. I have to admit I'm no fan of the original version anyway, but this version makes the Farm's previous assault on 'Stepping Stone' seem like Jimi Hendrix's 'All Along The Watchtower'. Not only is Peter Hooton's vocal impressively uncharismatic, he doesn't even manage to convey the menace that was obviously intended in the original.

In fact, the strongest sense I get from this track is that they didn't really want to be doing it and were just desperate for a hit. Fair enough, we've all got to pay our gas bills, but this is too cynical to be enjoyable. Fortunately for them, it's not the record they're remembered for despite being their only Now appearance; of course they had the big hits with 'Groovy Train' and 'All Together Now' and a Number One album; perhaps unsurprisingly, they haven't troubled the album chart since.

Available on: All Together Now The Very Best Of The Farm

Thursday, 10 December 2009

East 17 'House Of Love'

Chart Peak: 10


Heaven 17 followed by East 17? Surely no accident!

This was in fact the first hit from the band who were supposed at the time to be the Rolling Stones to Take That's Beatles; you can see the record company didn't want to risk too much of a video budget (they did make a more glamorous version later, presumably for the US market). It predates my awareness of the group but I had heard it subsequently and remembered the chorus. It turns out that's about all there is to remember about this odd blend of rap, rave and pop. I don't think I was ever supposed to like ths record, and that's just as well.

Also appearing on: Now 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 36, 41 (as E-17)
Available on: Around the World: The Journey So Far

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Heaven 17 'Temptation (Brothers In Rhythm mix)'

Chart Peak: 4


And so, for the first time in the history of this blog, we meet a track I've written about before. In fact, I've warmed even more to the original of 'Temptation' in the last 51 weeks or so. But I still think the best thing about it is the juxtaposition of the "Temp-ta-tion!" chant with the more restrained verses, and that's rather flattened out by the remix here, even if they do spell it out in the video. It's still slightly more interesting than some of the more generic dance of the time though. The orchestral track from the single is an interesting little find too.

Still, a big commercial success for them, thanks to heavy promotion work and it even did well enough for the following remix of 'Fascist Groove Thang' to take that song into the Top 40 for the first time. Only just though, which shows just how much this song seems to have overshadowed the rest of their career.

Also appearing on: Now 1 [original version of this track], 4
Available on: Temptation: Best of Heaven 17

Monday, 7 December 2009

Bizarre Inc featuring Angie Brown 'I'm Gonna Get You'

Chart Peak: 3


Not for the first time on this blog, a song that I recognised by not from the title. If it had been called 'You Know You're Gonna Be Mine' things might have been different.

This was the follow-up to the rave anthem 'Playing With Knives' and proved to be marginally the bigger chart hit. It's a more conventional club track, with a full vocal by one Angie Brown, and actually quite pleasant to hear but a little lacking in drama. Possibly best heard on a Friday.

Available on: Club Classics

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Rage'Run to You'

Chart Peak: 3


This clip is better quality but cuts off the end of the track.

Anyway, by 1992 rave had got about as mainstream as it was ever going to: a big flurry of re-issued singles charted late in 1991 and amid the tabloid press hype that seems a lot longer ago now than it really is, it caught the attention even of kids like me, too young to go to warehouse parties even if we wanted to. This might be why the venerable tradition of dance covers of non-dance songs seemed to be so overground for a while. And yes, this is a version of the first UK hit for Bryan Adams.

I think the original is probably the most tolerable thing Adams has ever done, but unfortunately the things I like most about it are the ringing guitars in the intro and the percussion. Take those out and you've got a very generic rock record or, in this case, a very generic soul/dance record. It passes the three minutes OK, but doesn't attract a lot of interest. This charted higher here than the original, but all Rage seem to have ended up getting out of it was a lawsuit from the metal band of the same name.

Available on: Amazon Club Anthem

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Shamen 'Ebeneezer Goode'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)


Perhaps I led a bit of a sheltered life, but even at the age of 14 I didn't really grasp what this song was meant to be about. At least, not until I heard John Humphrys on The Today Programme saying "E's are good, E's are good". Enough people got the joke for a month at the top of the chart, coinciding with a BBC drug awareness week apparently.

In my defence, I never really thought this song was about anything else either. I paid even less attention to dance than to other music back then and it was something I just looked down on. Since then, I've grown to have more of an appreciation of the style (and I've also spotted the "oh what a carry-on" in the fade, so I know the Sid James impression was intentional). Perhaps deservedly for a record that was such a phenomenon in its day, though, it sounds completely of its time now.

Also appearing on: Now 22, 26
Available on: The Shamen Collection

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Erasure 'Who Needs Love Like That (Hamburg Mix)'

Chart Peak: 10 [55 in 1985]


Once upon a time, Erasure were just the latest Vince Clarke project, and their debut single was a song called 'Who Needs Love Like That', which peaked at 55: not a great success compared to the Top 10 debuts of Yazoo and The Assembly, but still outdoing 'One Day' by Vince Clarke and Paul Quinn, which only spent one week at 99. Seven years later they'd proved themselves to be Clarke's most durable partnership, and marked the occasion with the first of many hits compilations and this remixed version of the song; pedants will note that the title becomes 'Who Needs Love (Like That)' on the cover of the 1992 single.

The record industry being what it is, I can't be sure that what I've found actually is the remixed version. Still, it's indentifiably the right song and it sort of confirms my recollection; one of the catchier Erasure songs (one of the few written by Clarke alone) but not one that dissuades me from making the obvious 'Who needs Erasure" joke. I've developed something of a grudging respect for them over the time I've been writing these posts, not least because I've been returning to the early tracks which I like more than their recent material. Still, they're not an act I've ever really been charmed by.

Also appearing on: Now 09, 10 13, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 28, 29, 54
Available on: Total Pop!: The First 40 Hits