Friday, 31 July 2009

Faith No More 'From Out Of Nowhere'

Chart Peak: 23


Sort of an appropriate title, because this is only the second track on the record that I don't think I'd ever heard before. Not even heard of it really; my awareness of FNM (as people seem to call them) is basically one or two big hits and a couple of cover versions. I sort of realised that they're a really important band to some people, hence the excitement about their recent live comeback, but really I find it hard to even get started.

Of course, this is 1990, before Nevermind brought what I suppose they call Modern Rock into the mainstream, which is probably why their most famous original song 'Epic' was released twice within the year and never made the Top 20; in fact this song can claim a marginally higher peak position, even if it's made less impact on posterity. Granted that I'm listening to a low-quality YouTube upload, but apart from a decent bassline and a whiny vocal from Mike Patton (which some commenters evidently like, but I have to admit I don't) not a lot really stands out.

Also appearing on: Now 24
Available on: Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The House Of Love 'Shine On'

Chart Peak: 20


I think I had a dream last night where somebody told me this song was rubbish. Me, I wish I could be so sure. Even as I sit down to write this post, I find it hard to work out what I really do think about this record. When I think of it in the abstract, I can easily deride the "She-she-she shine on" chorus, but then when I actually listened to it, it rather appealed to me. And equally, the way they drop their own name into the first line of the lyric ("In a garden in the house of love") is the sort of thing I tend to criticise, but I find it slightly endearing here. I feel like I should also mention the pretty lead guitar, which my limited knowledge of the band attributes to the perhaps-accurately-named Terry Bickers.

And yet it's not a record that I can imagine myself loving, much as I know some people do. I've never been impressed, or even interested, by any other House Of Love tracks I've heard, and nothing in this whets my appetite. I think I even heard a solo track by Guy Chadwick and it was really dull. The knowledge that this was their first single (three years before the chart appearance that brought it to this album) does add a certain tinge of sadness to the story.

Available on:
The Fontana Years

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Inspiral Carpets 'This Is How It Feels'

Chart Peak: 14


It's a sad fact of life that the Inspiral Carpets are probably fated to be remembered chiefly for haricuts, having a stupid name and the fact that one of their roadies later formed Oasis; although on what seems the opposite end of the North-West indie spectrum, they were also the band who got Mark E Smith onto Top Of The Pops.

When they're remembered at all for their music, it's largely for this song (although the one I have the strongest recollection of is actually 'Saturn V'), their first and longest-running Top 40 single and the only one immortalised by Now compilers. I don't really remember when I first heard this song, except that it probably wasn't in 1990 and that I wasn't immediately impressed by it. It took years for me to appreciate just how effectively this record captures a despondent and dark mood, not the sort of extravagant rage or depression that's commonplace in music, but the sort of unfathomable stew of despair conjured by the key opening lyric "Husband don't know what he's done/Kids don't know what's wrong with Mum". She probably doesn't know either.

There are two different lyrics for the second verse "There's a funeral in the town/Some guy from the top estate/Seems they found him under a train/And yet he had it all on a plate" or "Black car drives through the town... Left a note for a local girl..."; presumably the latter is intended to be more radio-friendly by making the suicide references less explicit, but I think it's the version I prefer anyway because it seems to fit in with the vague quality of the rest of the lyric, which is really about what people don't - or can't - say, not what they do. The band support this brilliantly with a low-key soundscape, Clint Boon's keyboards avoiding the gimmicky use they're sometimes put to and adding to the doomy air. At the risk of sounding like a regional stereotype, you can almost feel the rain. And despite all the above, perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that I really enjoy hearing this track.

I can't claim to have been among the people who rushed to buy the first Inspirals album, Life (kept off Number One by The Carpenters) but I did later obtain a secondhand copy for the princely sum of 50p, textured sleeve and all. None of the rest matches this, but I'm glad I had it. It's claimed that Noel Gallagher is part of the chorus of backing singers on this track: if so contributing to this evocative piece might have some claim to be the greatest work of his career.

Available on: Greatest Hits

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Jesus Jones 'Real Real Real'

Chart Peak: 19


Issued on the then-sort-of-independent Food label, 'Real Real Real' had, by the time this compilation was released, become the first Top 40 and indeed Top 20 single for Jesus Jones - indeed it managed a better peak in their homeland than their biggest US hit 'Right Here Right Now' which stopped at 31 on two separate occasions.

Like that song, and indeed all the other Jesus Jones tracks I can actually remember, the song comes from their second album Doubt. And like all of them, it leaves me with the suspicion that you had to be there; be there in the sense of being the right age, I mean, since I can't deny that I was alive in 1990. I realise this record is almost twenty years old, but it feels like it could be even older, as if it belongs to a slightly different civilisation where the sort of aggressive vagueness of the lyric made sense and the way Mike Edwards sings was considered a good idea.

Available on: Doubt

Monday, 27 July 2009

Depeche Mode 'Enjoy The Silence'

Chart Peak: 6


Some song titles are just asking for trouble, aren't they?

One of Britain's most consistently successful singles acts of the 1980s and 1990s, Depeche Mode have a 24-year span of Top 10 singles, yet have only appeared on three Now albums. I can only presume that when Mute was an independent record company, they were reluctant to licence Depeche tracks, although they evidently didn't feel the same way about Erasure.

It's not something that troubles me vastly, I must admit, because I don't really like them, and yet sometimes lack the courage of my convictions in not liking them. I can sometimes understand why people respect them as pioneers. But generally there's a lot that I just find too off-putting about them; their music just feels cold (no doubt intentionally) and self-important. 'Enjoy The Silence' has both these problems in spades, and also showcases Dave Gahan's vocal at its most one-dimensional, but it does also have a decent enough melody for me to appreciate it on some level. I'm still not sure whether it's possible to be "very unnecessary" though.

Also appearing on: Now 24, 62
Available on: Singles 81>98

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Primal Scream 'Loaded'

Chart Peak: 16


Despite the time it's taken me to get round to writing this entry, in some ways this track seems like part of the same whole 'Step On', as this was another of the few songs in this style to break through to the radio. In fact it was a far bigger breakthrough for the Scream than the Mondays, as it became their first ever Top 75 single; needless to say, at the time I was entirely unaware then that they'd had any history before this. The other thing I didn't yet realise was that, like 'Step On' it's actually a new spin on old material, in this case Primal Scream's own 'I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have'. As remixed by Andrew Weatherall, it became the song that some credit with inventing the entire genre of indie-dance and that certainly enabled the group to - ahem - shine like stars, setting them up for the big critical and commercial success of the following year's Screamadelica album.

Now, I did eventually buy that album and several of their others but I don't really like Primal Scream all that much. I suspect I'm partly influenced by the fact that Bobby Gillespie seems to be a bit of a dipstick. More fairly, I'm frequently put off by his rather weak singing, which is at least one problem that this near-instrumental track doesn't have, but somehow... well, I just don't know really but I can't say this does a lot for me. I can appreciate the creativity going into it, but it's not really for me, somehow.

Incidentally, Last.Fm's copy of the track seems to have dropped the sample of dialogue from Peter Fonda's biker movie The Wild Angels.

Also appearing on: Now 27, 64
Available on: Dirty Hits

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Happy Mondays 'Step On'

Chart Peak: 5


It's probably just as well for people who bought this album on vinyl or cassette that there's a side-break here, as the segue between Phil Collins and the Mondays must be rather a dramatic one.

I've come to the conclusion that, by and large, Shaun Ryder is one of those figures in rock music whom people tend either to buy into or not (Paul Weller is another example of this). Personally, I've never really got it, but I can't deny the impact of this track, which took them into the Top 10 for the first time and became one of the first "baggy" tracks I can remember hearing on the dubious commercial radio station I used to listen to at the time, which was also playing the aforementioned UB40 and Phil Collins hits. And it also seems to have rather displaced the original John Kongos track from posterity. Perhaps you could argue that this is unfair on the original writer but then again, the most memorable part of the track (except maybe "Twistin my melons man!") is the piano riff, which isn't directly lifted from the original; and of course there's that chiming guitar they liked so much they used it again in their next single 'Kinky Afro'.

I think I may have mentioned before the addiction I've developed to watching old Chart Show indie charts on YouTube, and I learnt from this one that this track was originally knocked off for a covers album on their US label, but they decided it was a bit too good for that and kept it for themselves, supplying a version of the other Kongos hit 'Tokoloshie Man' instead. They made the right choice. Meanwhile, Def Leppard show us how much worse it would have been to do a completely straight cover.

Available on: Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Phil Collins 'I Wish It Would Rain Down'

Chart Peak: 7


One thing I've tried to do as I write this blog is examine some of my musical prejudices; I try to approach records honestly and give them a fair hearing even if they're the sort of thing I don't expect to like. And Phil Collins is a case in point, a man surely crying all the way to the bank about the poor reputation he has.

If you're looking to justify all negative sentiments about his work, though, 'I Wish It Would Rain' is a pretty strong exhibit. It comes from ...But Seriously, the album where he started looking for subject matter outside his own life, but this track seems to be an exception, a mopey ballad about, er, being mopey or something - it seems actively to repel interest so I've never really understood what it's about, save that it doesn't seem to cover any broader social issues. Everything about this record sounds like the work of people who are very talented in theory but can't think of anything interesting to do with it, a fault to which Collins is very prone; and just to cap it off here, he brings in Eric Clapton on guitars.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68.
Available on: ... But Seriously

Monday, 20 July 2009

Tina Turner 'I Don't Wanna Lose You'

Chart Peak: 8


From the Foreign Affair album which I remember as an in-car fixture around this time. I think this is also the time in her career when she managed two consecutive Top 10 singles.

Another thing that distinguishes this from most Top 10 hits is that the protagonist implicitly admits in the first line of lyric to be being a woman of a certain age. Admittedly, Turner didn't write this herself (it's by Albert Hammond and the Lyle of Gallagher and Lyle) but it's notable that she was even prepared to sing it. More notable than the song itself, really, which it perfectly serviceable but not very exciting. Certainly a lot less naff than 'The Best' though.

It'll probably ruin it if I mention the bit where I used to sing along "Your dog is responsive," though. So maybe I won't.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 6, 10, 16, 18, 21, 25, 26, 32, 44
Available on: Foreign Affair

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Candy Flip 'Strawberry Fields Forever'

Chart Peak: 3


And speaking of cover versions...

You can see what they were trying to do, recasting John Lennon's famously LSD-inspired original for the E generation (I obviously didn't know this at the time, but the group name refers to practice of taking the two drugs together). Unfortunately, quite apart from the obvious risks of covering something that was so outstanding in its original form, they seem to fall between two stools here, neither replicating the texture of the original nor coming up with many of their own ideas (the Funky Drummer sample doesn't count), so the final effect is more like a karaoke backing track with some really weak vocals that make Ali Campbell sound good. The one part I do remember from the time is that backwards horn sample that appears later in the track. I don't blame them for trying it, but it doesn't really work.

Available on: A Tribute to the Beatles

Friday, 17 July 2009

UB40 'Kingston Town'

Chart Peak: 4


From Labour Of Love II, the sequel to the covers album that spawned the two UB40 tracks on Now 1, 'Kingston Town' is a version of an original by Jamaican singer Lord Creator, and the good news is that royalties from this version apparently did the composer no end of good. Less so for us, though, smothered by a typically drab performance and production. Perhaps the band are too much in awe of the original to believe that any version of it could be less than brilliant, but they suck all life out of it, with a plodding beat and an arrangement so tacky it was copied for a Paris Hilton single.

The biggest problem is, I think, that we never believe for a moment that they believe in the premise of the song. Of course, we all know that Kingston isn't really their hometown, but they could have done a better job of capturing the sense of longing that's implied by the lyric, since they do by all accounts like the place. Instead we get another thin vocal performance from Ali Campbell. How many different ways are there to say "rubbish UB40 cover version"?

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, 18, 26, 41, 56
Available on: Labour of Love II

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Beats International 'Dub Be Good To Me'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)


Four tracks in and we hit a Number One single at last. And we intersect with my record collection too, thanks to a recent MP3 purchase.

I've referred before to the fact that the Housemartins seemed to loom large in my childhood, and after they split I remember hearing a dance record on the radio by somebody called Norman Cook who the DJ said had been in the Housemartins. Even at the age of ten or eleven I could tell that was an unusually big change in direction; I could also tell that Norman Cook wasn't a very cool or trendy-sounding name for that sort of music, so perhaps it's not surprising that he didn't remain a solo artist for long, spending much of his subsequent career in groups or under pseudonyms. Beats International (featuring the sometimes credited singer Lindy Layton) were but the first of them.

'Dub Be Good To Me' seems to have gone down in history as the first chart-topping example of what was later called a "mash-up" (although of course the idea is about as old as music itself), blending the lyric from the S.O.S. Band hit 'Just Be Good To Me' with the bassline from 'Guns Of Brixton' by the Clash and the harmonica riff of Ennio Morricone's music for Once Upon A Time In The West. Back in 1990, though, I was only dimly aware of of that, beyond the connection to 'Just Be Good To Me', which I'd probably even heard when it was a hit, although I don't really remember it from then. Really, when I enjoyed this record, I was enjoying it entirely in its own right. When I listen to it now, unlike some of the music I enjoyed at that time of my life, it still impresses me. What strikes me most about the track, especially now, is the deep air of sadness that surrounds it, as the harmonica that sounds like it's in the middle of nowhere weaves its way around the protagonist to enhance the atmosphere of isolation; by the time we get to the fade-out her desperation is palpable; and the whole thing has an emotional weight that I just don't hear in the rather floaty sounding SOS Band record. Oddly, I don't feel that the more obvious "street" affectations detract from this either; they seem to act as a sort of framing device for the main part of the song. I could probably do without that swallowing solo in the middle, though.

Incidentally, I don't know much about the financial arrangements that may have been made in order to get this track released. I do notice that the writing credit is to Cook and Jam & Lewis (writers of 'Just Be Good To Me') and doesn't mention the Clash element. This may or may not be the reason for the little-remembered cash-in release 'Return To Brixton'.

Available on: Let Them Eat Bingo

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Paula Abdul 'Opposites Attract'

Chart Peak: 2


"I'm playing it cool/With my homegirl, Paula Abdul".

In many respects, this is an awful record. And yet in some it's a good one. Obviously it's ridiculous, but it seems to buy so wholeheartedly into the ridiculousness as to deflect criticism. There's no way you could ever attempt to accuse this song of taking itself too seriously, of trying to make a point, or of being any more than daft entertainment; you pretty much have to take it or leave it.

Paula Abdul wasn't as big a star in the UK as she was in her homeland at this time (four US Number One singles from the same album!) but she certainly still made an impact at times, and this is a song that I remember hearing plenty at the time: I even remember the video, in which Abdul and MC Skat Kat demonstrate that their affection for each other is so strong as to transcend the minor detail that she's a human being and he's a drawing of a cat. Often when I go back to write these things I'm very conscious of the effect that my age has on my opinions; I suspect that if I was a decade older or younger, I'd hate this. Even if you'd asked 10 years before now I might have - but today I feel that the embrace of novelty has made this endure better than her other, more nominally serious singles. You can always ask me again in 2019.

Oh, and MC Skat Kat? He went solo. Really.

Also appearing on: Now 14, 20, 21
Available on: Forever Your Girl

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Rebel MC 'Better World'

Chart Peak: 20


From what I recall as the first wave of British hip-hop, although it does seem a tiny bit late for that to be starting. I didn't think I remembered this song, but hearing it now it is actually quite familiar; so much so, in fact, that I think I must be remembering it from more recently than 1990. Knowing the way things tend to go in urban music, I was also expecting it to sound horribly dated after 19 years, but I was surprised again: to the sympathetic but inexpert ear at least, it's not that far away from the sort of thing that Chipmunk is doing, and he wasn't even born when this came out. The only possible exception is that electric piano sound, and even that looks like it might be making a comeback.

As the above implies, 'Better World' (his first hit without backing group/producers Double Trouble) leans towards the pop-oriented end of rap, even by 1990 standards. The Rebel's lyrics are a little on the platitudinous side, as he expresses hopes for a peaceful, just world and so on, but really who can blame him? This isn't a classic, but it's a pleasant listen. It does seem like a slightly minor hit to be placing so early in the running order, though; perhaps more was expected of it at the time of compilation.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 16 [both with Double Trouble]

Monday, 13 July 2009

Erasure 'Blue Savannah'

Chart Peak: 3


Who says I never listen to reader feedback?

Obvious jokes aside, it's come to my attention that Now 17 was suggested as a good album to write about, and here it is. Of course, the slight downside is that my mission to get out of the Eighties hasn't got that far, only a few months into 1990 (and in fact, this first track was available on album in 1989).

Unlike 'The Circus', 'Blue Savannah' is a song that I distinctly recall hearing at the time. As I said last time, Erasure seemed to have taken up permanent residence on The Chart Show around this time, and I remember that odd video with the blue hands; that and joking that it was about a Renault. I also remember that I didn't like it very much then (although if that seems harsh, at least it made some impact on me: I don't remember the other three singles from this album at all). Now I'm older I'm a bit more sympathetic to what they were trying to do, and the mood they were trying to create; and I can see why it wouldn't make any sense to an 11-year old. I still wouldn't say I liked it though - for me it just doesn't capture the loneliness or dryness of the desert Andy Bell's singing about. Vince Clarke had proved with Yazoo that he could convey haunting emotion (admittedly with the unfair advantage of Alison Moyet's voice) and yet Erasure have never really work for me in that way.

Also appearing on: Now 09, 10, 13, 14, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 54
Available on: Hits! The Very Best of Erasure

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Now II Conclusions

I know I said I was going to stop doing these conclusion posts, and I probably will after this one, but I thought I should apologise for the time it's taken to get through Now II. Part of this is for practical reasons unrelated to the music, but I did find it far more of a slog than I expected, even though I was pleasantly surprised by some of the music. I'm not really sure what to make of that, except that maybe I should leave the 80s for a while.

Rest assured, I'll be back on here soon, but it's time for a few days off to get a few other things together.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Paul McCartney 'Pipes Of Peace'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


And in keeping with the flow of this side, the longest-established star on the whole album, although people who enjoy feeling old might like to reflect that this is longer ago now than 'Love Me Do' was then...

Give or take the odd session musician, Paul McCartney has more UK Number One singles under his belt than anyone else: and yet this is the only one to bear his name alone. The album with which it shares its name consists largely of offcuts from the previous Tug Of War and a couple of collaborations with some guy called Michael Jackson (you never hear anything about him nowadays do you?). This one song seems like the saving grace of the whole project, a slice of typical latterday "can't we all get along?" McCartneyism which is hardly breaking new ground but gains from the man's melodic abilities. In theory, teaming up again with George Martin on production ought to be an advantage, but they do seem to have fallen slightly into the trap of trying to do too much; you can get an idea from this clip of them pretending to mix the track for Russell Harty... it kind of gives the game away that they've already made the video. For example, there's some interesting tabla playing under the third verse, but it's not properly fitted into the arrangement.

Perhaps all this is the reason why, even though the single was released in time for Christmas, and with a suitably themed video, it didn't make it to Number One until early in the New Year. It's still a record I can't help liking though, and a neat finale to this compilation.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 15, 24, 37, 67
Available on: Wingspan: Hits and History