Thursday, 30 December 2010

P.M. Dawn 'Set Adrift On Memory Bliss'

Chart Peak: 3


Unlike the KLF, I don't particularly remember these guys making a much-hyped retirement from the music industry, yet this another track that's not officially available digitally as a download or streaming track. There are of course plenty of karaoke versions and a cover by the Backstreet Boys. Thanks but no thanks, guys.

Way back in the early days of this blog, almost two years ago, I think I mentioned that 'True' by Spandau Ballet was one of the big songs of 1983 that didn't find its way to the very first Now album, but of course it finally puts in an appearance as the basis of this mellow hip-hop track. Unfortunately, even in these days of limited availability, it's a record I find it somewhat easier to admire than like; in fairness, probably more because I've heard too much of it than because there's anything wrong with it. It's fun to hear it when I'm in the right kind of mood for a bit of nostalgia, but I probably wouldn't be rushing to download it even if I could.

And on that note, see you next year on the other disc of the album.

Also appearing on: Now 24
Available on: Best of P.M. Dawn [Us Import]

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu 'It's Grim Up North (Part 1)'

Chart Peak: 10


Despite, or maybe because of, their prankster reputation, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty are fairly well represented on the Now! album; perhaps they thought it was a good way to subvert the mainstream. This is their only representation under their original pseudonym, but they show up on the albums either side of this as the KLF and long-terms readers of this blog will have met them on Now 12 as the Timelords.

Personally, I'm not all that interested in the meanings behind all their stunts. At least, I might spend an odd half-hour reading about it when I'm supposed to be doing something more important, but I'm not interested to the extent of speculating about it in detail or treating it as a selling point of the record. When I enjoy their work, it has to be on the entertainment level or not at all, and in this context 'It's Grim Up North' isn't one of their finer moments. It's no more or less than Drummond reciting a list of Northern English towns in a heavy Scottish accent (presumably the irony that all these places are south of Scotland is intentional, although an early version of the track featured Pete Wylie on vocals instead) over a techno beat - until at the end it mutates into an orchestral version of 'Jerusalem'. Which is a cute enough idea I suppose, but unlike some of their other songs it's really only an idea. Possibly it's more dramatic in the full ten-minute version, but for the purposes of this blog I've assumed they'd use the 7" edit (see the YouTube link).

Of course, this track is no longer available, along with the KLF catalogue. It's not the greatest loss, I must say. 

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Moby 'Go'

Chart Peak: 10


Although he'd surely been knocking about for a while, Moby made his first mainstream appearance with this single, reaching the Top 10 on its second chart run. Considering the obvious pop-cultural hook here (Angelo Badlamenti's music from Twin Peaks, which I could recognise even though I was too young to watch the programme at the time and have never bothered to since) it wasn't that surprising that it took him six years to reach such heights again, and that when he did it was with a cover version of the James Bond Theme. It's not like he was ever going to release an album that sold 10 million copies or anything was it? Oh.

Anyway, here he was, just another dance producer having an apparent one-off hit. Although it coincided with the era of rave hits based around children's television shows, 'Go' is rather a different sort of record, and not only because of the source material. It picks up on the spooky vibe of the music, adding pitched samples from Jocelyn Brown to create a tense atmosphere of anticipation... something's sure to bounce up out of here soon, surely? I presume it's a good fit in DJ sets for exactly that reason, although I don't exactly see how you could dance to it. It's still quite fun to listen to though; it's just a pity that the more famous he got the more annoying he got.

Also appearing on: Now 38, 45, 46, 52
Available on: Playlist - Dance

Thursday, 23 December 2010

2 Unlimited 'Get Ready For This'

Chart Peak: 2


One of those songs that's so familiar as backgound music for TV shows and at sporting events it feels a bit weird to be hearing it as a record in its own right. And yet many people clearly did, throughout Europe and even in the USA where it became their only Top 40 single. Interestingly, for all its sales success here it apparently only peaked at 33 on airplay. I suppose people had to buy it if they wanted to hear it then...

You know what, for all the "2 Untalented" jokes around at the time, this is actually an OK piece of music, at least in this form: apparently there is a version with more extensive lyrics which I'm not that keen to hear. It has enough energy to serve its purpose but it's probably more suited to syncronisation uses than everyday listening.

That song title seems an appropriate point for this blog to take its Christmas break. See you again in a couple of days for the remainder of Disc 1.

Also appearing on: Now 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28
Available on: How To Eat Fried Worms

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Rozalla 'Faith (In The Power Of Love)'

Chart Peak: 11 (original version 65)


You remember Rozalla and her huge worldwide hit 'Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)'? Yes, so do I. But evidently either they couldn't get the rights to that one or they passed over it because there hadn't been a Now album over the summer of 1991. Instead here's the follow-up single, which had admittedly been released first but reactivated off the back of her biggest success.

This is a perfectly OK piano-led dance track with some decent singing on it, but it feels very like a product of its time now.

Available on: Ultimate Woman

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Prince & The New Power Generation 'Gett Off'

Chart Peak: 4

YouTube [it's there at the time of writing!]

And again contractual complexities give us another act slightly curiously represented on the series. To be sure, this track was a huge hit (so much so that an imported remix single even went Top 40 on the album chart) but he'd already had a great many of them and with hindsight, the bulk of his best work was probably already behind him, no innudendo intended. His one other appearance in the series was with a song I've never even heard of.

OK, so we're back into sex territory here, so to speak, and even if the word itself isn't used it's another song that's slightly uncomfortable to hear on the car radio with your parents (or with your children, I presume). Indeed, this is almost the exact opposite of the Color Me Badd song; it doesn't use any ruder words than "ass" - at one point Prince even says "you ain't you-know-what" but the song and performance are rampantly sexual, if not necessarily sexy. Even if you couldn't understand the language he was singing in, and weren't familiar with Prince already, it shouldn't be too difficult to work out what he was singing about here.

What it does have in common with that song is that it's a bit ridiculous, but I think the difference is that he knew and decided to play along with it, as exemplified by the scene in the video where he wields his guitar in the style of a penis. Judging by the various other Prince tracks I've been listening to in order to write this post, it's unlikely that he didn't notice: a little like Serge Gainsbourg he clearly enjoyed being provocative (in both senses of the word) but unlike Gainsbourg he chose to play up his own sexiness. Indeed, it's hard to think of anyone else who's ever had the same combination of machismo, androgyny, irony and seriousness. It's easy to find people who wish they were Prince though.

PS - some releases of this track also give flautist Gary Leeds an artist credit. He does indeed do an excellent job on this track, but so do all the other contributors really.

Also appearing on: Now 22
Available on: The Hits/the B-Sides

Monday, 20 December 2010

Kenny Thomas 'Best Of You'

Chart Peak: 11


One of those odd anomalies you sometimes see where somebody makes only one Now appearance, and not with their biggest hit. In fact, though he's little-mentioned now, Thomas was the British soul singer of the time, and managed as many as eight Top 40 singles between 1991 and 1995, of which this reached the second highest peak. 'Best Of You' is not some premonition of the Foo Fighters hit, but it is a cover of a relatively little-known solo track by Booker T. It's a fairly competent effort, truth be told, but if I'd ever heard it before this month it hadn't made much of an impact on me and it rather pales alongside the original version; admittedly, this is more the fault of the production than Thomas himself. And leaving no memory is probably better than the rather painful recollection of the Color Me Badd track.

As with almost every track I look up on YouTube for this blog, there's a comment on at least one instance of this complaining that this is vastly superior to today's music and making particular reference to Simon Cowell. Which is ironic because he sounds to me exactly like the sort of act who'd stand a good chance of winning the X-Factor, although whether his career beyond the second single would have been any different is anyone's guess. In fact, had this single come out on RCA you could easily have convinced me that it was Cowell who signed him up anyway.

Available on: Outstanding - The Essential Collection

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Color Me Badd 'I Wanna Sex You Up'

Chart Peak: 1 [3 weeks]


Even when the albums aren't in my personal collection, I always make the effort to seek out every track I have to write about so that I know what I'm writing about. Rarely in the history of this blog have I been more tempted to cheat than now. It's not just that this is a bad record (although it undoubtedly is) but it's a really sick-making sort of bad, where the slight discomfort at the word "sex" that I mentioned in the previous post hasn't dimished one jot. With all due respect to New Kids On The Block it's almost the template for boyband music in the rest of the decade, an awkward combination of loverman posturing and half-baked attempts to sound funky. Plus extra falsetto vocals because if you can't sing soulfully, singing high is the next best thing.

I'd forgotten, or possibly never even seen, the creepy video before, but I did remember that one of them looked a bit like a low-rent George Michael. Even he'd be ashamed of this though.

Available on: C.M.B.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Salt-N-Pepa 'Let's Talk About Sex'

Chart Peak: 2


Another of the many runners-up to the aforementioned Bryan Adams single (which, I'm pleased to report, isn't going to show up on this blog). 'Let's Talk About Sex' is sometimes described as a controversial single, although I don't personally remember that much fuss actually being made about it. Certainly I heard it on the radio a lot at the time, even though I was at the sort of age where I couldn't really hear an adult say the word "sex" without feeling faintly embarassed.

Musically, this is actually a pretty decent track for its time, heavily based on the Staple Singers' 'I'll Take You There', but the lyrics don't entirely live up to the billing. They actually spend more of the song talking about talking about sex than actually getting around to the point, as if they're more excited about claiming the credit for raising the subject at all than having anything much to actually say about it. Admittedly, there exists a harder-hitting version of the song called 'Let's Talk About AIDS' but that was obviously a bit too far into a taboo area to be released as a single.

Also appearing on: Now 12, 13, 21, 28 (with En Vogue)
Available on: It's Like That! [Explicit]

Monday, 13 December 2010

Zoe 'Sunshine On A Rainy Day'

Chart Peak: 4 [original version 53 in 1990]


Discounting Vic Reeves, Zoe Pollock is the the first act on Now 20 who hadn't had at least a Top 20 hit in the 1980s. I know we're not that far into the decade, but it does seem to say something about the way they sequence these Christmas-market Now albums. And almost as if to labour this point, she proved to be pretty much a one-hit wonder: perhaps following this up with a song with the chorus "lightning never strikes twice" wasn't a great omen.

As is often the case with songs that seem destined for compilations called things like Ultimate Best Feelgood Anthems Ever For Your Mum, I'm too much of a natural grouch to remember it fondly. Coming back to it now, though, I realise that she was actually a fairly good singer, possibly a bit too good for this song. Certainly the power of the vocals is rather undercut by the generic tendency of the lyrics and that same programmed percussion that seemed to be on 60% of singles in the early 1990s; admittedly, this is only on the remix that ultimately made the Top 10, whilst the original mix is a little more interesting.

Apparently she subsequently married briefly-hyped performance poet Murray Lachlan Young. And even more subsequently split up with him.

Available on: Ultimate Dance

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Lisa Stansfield 'Change'

Chart Peak: 10


There was always something a bit classier about her than most of the other soul singers around that time, wasn't there? And yes, I do include Mick Hucknall in that. Perhaps that's why she manages to make a decent job of that most difficult tasks, a song about contentment. It's difficult to sound pleased with your life without just sounding pleased with yourself, but she comes closer than most, although it's at least as long as it needs to be even in the single edit - I don't think I'd really want to listen to the longer album version, thanks.

One of her greatest strengths is that she doesn't try to oversell the vocal in this song, and this makes her performance all the more believable. She sounds entirely committed to the material, although that may not have been a great imaginative leap since she co-wrote the song with her husband and as far as I know they're still together almost twenty years later. What she doesn't do is sound like she's protesting too much. Probably the best track on here so far.

Also appearing on: Now 26
Available on: Biography - The Greatest Hits

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Simply Red 'Something Got Me Started'

Chart Peak: 11


While Mick Hucknall's in an apologising mood, perhaps he should say something about the hideous intro to his first hit in almost two years. One of the biggest-selling albums of the decade begins with a woman declaiming "I love you" and Hucknall creepily whispering "Show me!" Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Once that's out of the way, the song does improve significantly, though. It's one of the more dance-oriented tracks in the catalogue, which is usually preferable to the slowies. It's also one of the last works of Simply Red as an actual group rather than Hucknall and hired hands, although it was always clear who was in charge. It's no masterpiece, and the lyric and music don't entirely seem to fit but it's got some entertainment value and the call-and-response vocals with keyboard player Fritz McIntyre are memorable. The house piano parts that sound like they're being played with one finger (though for the benefit of any keyboardists reading this, I'm sure they're not) do date this track somewhat but they don't ruin it.

In fact, the middle of this record is about as good as the album's been so far. It's just a shame that the intro is so awful and the last thirty seconds seem to be more about making sure everyone knows the title of the song so they can buy it. And it still didn't make the Top 10.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 7, 9, 21, 23, 24, 32, 33
Available on: Stars

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark 'Sailing On The Seven Seas'

Chart Peak: 3


This is almost another synth duo, except that founding member Paul Humphreys had left the band five years earlier and, after various contractual issues, this single was the launch of OMD as effectively a solo project for Andy McCluskey, though he continued to work with other musicians for promotional appearances, even if he couldn't stop them looking utterly of their time. It was a successful return for the name, equalling their highest ever chart position, and it does seem very heavily oriented to the pop direction that he'd follow until retiring  the name five years later. Even so, it sounds a bit stuck in the previous decade, which is presumably why the hits seemed to get smaller and smaller as the 1990s wore on.

Of course, two more decades further on and a reunited version of OMD are back in the album charts. But even speaking as somebody who's never been a fan, I sort of feel that it was the the time off that gave them more of a sense of purpose than is shown here, in this song which is so hollow I'm not surprised it floats on those seas.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 4, 8, 25, 34
Available on: Sugar Tax

Monday, 6 December 2010

Erasure 'Love To Hate You'

Chart Peak: 4


Another synth-pop duo founded in the previous decade, this time with a nominally original song, although there's an obvious "homage" to 'I Will Survive'; other parts reminded me slightly of 'There Must Be An Angel' and the theme from the Golden Girls, though these might not be intetional. I don't know whether Andy Bell is trying to look like Tim Booth in the video either...

Anyway, I recalled this song as the point when Erasure seemed to go really weird on us, although I can't now remember whether that was something I'd concluded for myself or just a received opinion. I wasn't quite old enough in 1991 to recognise the hints towards sado-masochism in the song. Either way, it tends to leave me cold, as a lot of Erasure songs do, and whilst I recognise that this may in some ways be intentional, it doesn't really encourage me to keep listening.

Also appearing on: Now 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 54
Available on: This Is... 1991

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Pet Shop Boys 'Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)'

Chart Peak: 4


Cute bit of sequencing there. It's not totally forced: despite the several months' gap between the singles, this was the earliest Now album they could have included the track on, as there were only two albums in 1991.

With so many appearances I'm slightly surprised to notice that this is only the second time I've had cause to write about the PSBs on here. Anyway, here they are with their medley pitting the 1987 U2 single against the Boys Town Gang's camp disco arrangement of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You'. Coincidentally, both those singles had peaked at 4 in the UK, and so did this (as a double-A with the self-penned 'How Do You Expect To Be Taken Seriously', which adds up to one of the longest titles ever for a Top 10 entry). It's sort of a cute idea, and makes some sort of sense as a parody of Bono's rather overblown vocal style and his tendency to self-importance; but as I'm sure they'd have realised, actually recording something like that, releasing it as a single and expecting people to buy it and put it into the chart just to make your in-jokey point is itself a bit of a self-important thing to do. It also wasn't exactly topical by 1991. Nowadays I suppose they could just upload it on their Facebook page and everyone could appreciate it for what it was.

Bono's reported reaction: "What have I done to deserve this?"

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

Friday, 3 December 2010

U2 'The Fly'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


Funnily enough, this is U2's first appearance in the series since Now 5. In the second half of the preceding decade they'd proven themselves to be the biggest rock band in the world, and then seemingly worried about what to do with it. So it was almost two years into the new decade before they re-emerged with this radically different single, presumably as a statement of intent, as there were many more conventionally U2-like tracks on the album. Indeed this was such an edgy choice of single that it was supposed to be available for a limited time (though it's since reappeared as a download) so that a more reassuring single could be put out in time for the Christmas market. In the event though, this frontloaded sales sufficiently that the single performed the public service of deposing Bryan Adams from his 16-week stint at the top of the charts, although 'The Fly' was deposed in short order by the aforementioned 'Dizzy' and its initial five-week chart run equalled a record set by Iron Maiden earlier that same year. Over in the US it was rather a flop, which is presumably why it doesn't reliably show up on best-of collections.

That's a shame, because this is better than many of the songs that do reliably turn up on those. Claims of bravery are perhaps oversold (after all, they knew they weren't going to starve even if the album flopped) and as is often the case Bono's lyric isn't as interesting as he thinks it is. But there are quotable one-liners ("All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief") and the soundscape demands attention. Unfortunately, this seems to have become as much of a formula for the band as anything else and, inevitably, it inspired many an imitator too.

Also appearing on: 4, 5, 22, 32, 36, 37, 41, 47, 48, 49, 53, 57 [LMC vs U2], 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 72
Available on: Achtung Baby

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Belinda Carlisle 'Live Your Life Be Free'

Chart Peak: 12


The opening title track from her fourth album, and seemingly about the point in her career when the home market abandoned her, though she remained a star in Europe, even if not to quite the same extent as she had before. At the same time, she was evidently still trying to make very commercial music, working with the same producers as her early hits. Indeed, in places this seems to recycle 'We Want The Same Thing', and the overall effect is that it's trying a bit too hard to please, throwing in more hooklines than there's really room for.
That said, the slick production doesn't seem to have dated quite as badly as some of her 80s work, and as usual her distinctive voice lends the record a bit more personality than it might otherwise have had. But this is more decent than impressive.

Also appearing on: 11, 12, 16, 18, 19, 26, 34, 35
Available on: The Best of Belinda Vol.1

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Vic Reeves & The Wonder Stuff 'Dizzy'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


..And we're back!
Back with Now 20 from 1991, historically noteworthy as the first album to use the familiar three-dimensional block lettering on the cover. Apparently it was also the last Now album with an accompanying VHS tape. You can see a TV advert here, although of course it contains spoilers for what else is on the album.

Coincidentally, we're back where we left off, in the realm of the singing actors, although the context here is slightly different. At any rate, this record is supposed to be funny.

Whether it actually is, though, that's a different question. In the early 1990s I was still too young to be allowed to watch any of Vic's programmes, so my only real contact with him was through the records. I didn't understand his version of 'Born Free' at all, whereas at least this number had some musical chops thanks to a backing band I'd already heard of thanks to their huge hit with 'The Size Of A Cow' earlier that year.

Presumably influenced by the large number of key changes (11 in the original, 12 in this version) the Stuffies amp up the tongue-in-cheek effects, with plenty of wah-wah guitar, drum solos and Miles Hunt's deadpan responses to Reeves in the final chorus. The result is a pub singalong that lasted longer at the top of the UK chart than Tommy Roe's original (which managed only seven days between the last two Beatles chart-toppers) but hasn't aged terribly well. I do rather imagine that out of context it'd just sound like a bloke who could sing very well covering a song that wasn't particularly good to start with. And as some have pointed out, it makes a bit of a mockery of the bile some early Wonder Stuff songs aimed at people who recorded cover versions.

The Wonder Stuff also appear on: Now 21
Vic Reeves also appears on: Now 31 [with EMF and Bob Mortimer]
Available on: If The Beatles Had Read Hunter ... The Singles

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Jimmy Nail 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore'

Chart Peak: 3


Regular readers, if any, may recall that the first time Jimmy Nail cropped up on here (on Now 32) I was fairly positive about him. Perhaps I was in too good a mood then but I do somewhat stand by it: he was never one of the world's greatest singers but on a good day he could come up with something that worked through force of personality.

Ten years earlier, things were a bit different. This cover version was the only hit single from his debut album Take It Or Leave It (most people seem to have preferred the latter option, as the record never made the Top 100). And successful as it was its own right, it didn't eastablish him as anything more than a dilettante in music. In fact he didn't manage another hit for seven years, and I'm not sure he even tried. It has every hallmark of a famous actor cashing in and trying his luck at pop, and in that context it's harder to forgive the poor singing, especially on such a slow song. The really scary part is, I can remember Roger Taylor (yes, he of Queen) explaining that it took him a long time as producer to get the vocal right. What can the outtakes have been like?

It seems to stop quite abruptly too, at least on the versions I've found online,as if everyone involved just can't go on any more. It seems almost apt as a finale to Now 5, which as I've probably made fairly clear, isn't one of the ones I actually have my own copy of to work from; thus I can neither confirm nor deny that it's the first album in the series to use a swear word ("crap" in the Style Council song)> I can confirm that it's been a bit of a disappointment to me, both as listening and as writing fodder. I might take a few weeks off to recover while I work on other blogging projects, but I hope to arrive refreshed in the 1990s again.

Also appearing on: Now 22, 30, 32
Available on: Pure Love

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Howard Jones 'Life In One Day'

Chart Peak: 14


You don't often see Howard Jones compared to the Damned, it's fair to say, but the one thing they do seem to have in common is that they were approaching the end of their hitmaking careers (in the UK at least) by 1985, and yet both remain very much in the business. Musically, though, this is a bit of a swerve from the rock-oriented sound of the Side 4 so far. Howard Jones is one of the hardest people to write about on here, not least because a fellow blogger whom I respect is a big fan and has been known to read here. Moreover, though, he's somebody where I find it very hard to shake off the eightiesness and hear the music as it was presumably originally intended; even though I always want to like him. He certainly seems more admirable than many of a star of this or indeed any pop era.

This time around I actually have a slight head start, because I have no memory of hearing the record at the time, let alone since. Even without external evidence, I wouldn't have mistaken it for any other time, but at least it arrives without baggage. It also arrives with that remarkable video which, especially for the time is a tour de force of imagination and technology - the only problem being that it's hard to imagine any TV channel actually daring to show it. For once, it's true to say that a video is truly ahead of its time: it only really made sense 20 years later when somebody invented YouTube. Anyway, it's worth a look if you've never seen it, but it can be a bit of a distraction from the song itself - you can find a sound-only version (without Tony Blackburn!) here.

The title lyric, repeating an "old man"'s warning not to try and live your life in one day seems almost the diametric opposite of stereotypical 80s values, although on more detailed inspection it seems that this is more a matter of trying to enjoy the present days and resist worrying about the future than a call to indolence. It's a good idea, even if not a very deep one, and I have to admit that in the few days since I first looked this song up I can't get that chorus out of my head. 1-0 to Mr Jones there, then.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3
Available on: The Best of Howard Jones

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Metapost: dear record industry, bite me (again)

I don't normally post here on Sundays, but last night I logged into the Blogger Dashboard to discover that, for the first time in almost two years of this blog (and over five years of blogging in total) I've been served with a DMCA takedown notice, for a post several months ago about a well-known musician who is famously vegetarian. And it's not Paul McCartney.

As I don't post downloadable files of any kind here, and never have, I can only presume that the objection related to my usual practice of linking to a YouTube video of the track discussed; although as I didn't upload the video (it was put up there by the record company that originally released the track and, indeed, have recently re-released it) I have no personal responsibility for it. The post itself was, ironically, one of my more positive ones and in line with my usual practice also included a direct link for readers to purchase the track from legitimate outlets; needless to say, that's no longer there, although as a veggie myself I resisted the temptation to replace it with a link to buy some meat.

I realise that this isn't anything personally against me and I intend to continue with the blog as normal from tomorrow. However, I can't promise that this won't affect my judgement should the artist in question ever crop up on this blog again. Nor can I dispute that there might be a reason why the record companies find it so hard to attract public sympathy these days.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Damned 'The Shadow Of Love'

Chart Peak: 25


One of the slight curiosities of the Now albums is acts who make their only appearance early in the series when they're already veterans of a sort. And whilst they're probably not the most obvious example of this (not least because a version of the band is still going even now), the Damned seem to qualify in terms of their chart career, as their hit singles span 1978-87. That said, this inclusion is a slight reversal of the frequent tendency of this album to cover follow-ups to big hits: the highest-charting Damned single was of course their version of 'Eloise' in early 1986.

That didn't make the cut though, so the only time they crop up on here is during their goth phase. Of course, they have a good name for the genre and for all I know this might actually sound good to goth fans. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them and this doesn't seem to be one of the few genre hits that can break through to the wider public. In fact, I spent most of the four minutes trying to work out what that bassline reminded me of. Any ideas, anyone?

Available on: Phantasmagoria

Gary Moore & Phil Lynott 'Out In The Fields'

Chart Peak: 5


Moore & Lynott's first collaboration outside Thin Lizzy, 'Parisenne Walkways' was a bit of a laid-back classic. 'Out In The Fields' is rather the opposite, a loud, angry rock track of the sort that only really seemed to exist in the eighties. It rails against war and racism in a way that I'm not inclined to disagree with - but I can't really take this sort of thing seriously, not even Moore's widdly guitar solo, which was apparently once voted among the Top 100 of all time.

And there's some more fake-studio footage in the video, where Moore inexplicably reminds me of Cliff Richard. Lynott is already looking somewhat the worse for wear, and in fact this was his last known recording before he died. Still, he could have ended his career in a worse way than this.

Gary Moore also appears on: Now 6, 9
Available on: Out in the Fields: the Very Best of Gary Moore

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Katrina And The Waves 'Walking On Sunshine'

Chart Peak: 8


It must have been the irony department of my subconscious that caused me to wake up with this song in my head a couple of days ago on one of the least sunny mornings of the year today. I mention that because the most surprising part of the experience was that I actually kind of enjoyed it. Like many people, I suspect, I'd got used to thinking of this song as an ubiquitous irritant, and the band reportedly earn a substantial amount of money from synchronisation rights every year, so it clearly is getting used plenty; it's for this reason that I'm not going to bother trying to describe the record at all, as I can't imagine anyone who cares enough to read this post not already being familiar with it.

And yet on that morning, it somehow clicked for me for the first time in about twenty years and I got a sense that I was being unnecessarily harsh to such a joyful piece of music. That doesn't mean I'm a complete convert, and it's obvious that a little goes a long way, which is why I don't feel the urge to own a copy of it. But I guess I've grown up enough to be able to like this when I hear it now.

Oddly enough, in all the hundreds of times I must have heard this song I'd never seen the video before. It's not very good but there are good supporting performances by some ducks between about 2:34 and 2:45.

Available on: Top Of The Pops - Eighties

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Style Council 'Walls Come Tumbling Down!'

Chart Peak: 6


In some ways, this song seems a bit like a sequel to 'Shout To The Top'. The lyrical message is similar, but slightly more explicit - and perhaps not coincidentally, the result is a bit less good. The churchy organ intro seems like a warning that Paul Weller is going to be more Father than Mod here, delivering what sounds rather more like a sermon than a song, and is often awkwardly unmetrical in its phrasing. I don't know whether this was an intentional movement on Weller's part because he didn't think enough people had got the point before, but even that doesn't excuse the notorious rhyme of "those who have and who have not" with "dangle jobs like a donkey's carrot".

If nothing else, though, Weller gets credit for the conviction with which he delivers these words. Indeed, in another universe where he'd acquired a different set of convictions, he could have been quite the gospel singer. And the music does do a lot to make up for, or at least distract from, the words, punching hard in the chorus and building up tension in the verses. Still, I do find myself in the unusual position of saying this is more preachy than the U2 track.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 5, 10, 14
Available on: Sweet Loving Ways - The Collection

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

U2 'The Unforgettable Fire'

Chart Peak: 6


Side 4 starts here. Which isn't very surprising, because this would be an amazingly difficult segue from the previous track, even by the broad-church standards of the Now albums. It's a struggle to believe that these two tracks even existed in the same universe, let alone that they were briefly in the chart together.

In fact, this track doesn't entirely seem to belong anywhere, although the very fact that it went straight into the Top 10 (albeit for a relatively short run) seems a sure sign that U2 had arrived at true stardom and now had a big enough fanbase who'd rush out to grab the limited double-7" single. That's not to say that it's anything other than brilliant, but it's by no means an obvious pop hit. It made so little impression on my seven-year-old self that I don't remember hearing it at all until I started listening to Radio 2 a couple of decades later, and even then I struggled to remember which one it was. Once I had my own copy of the album, it was a different story and this swiftly became one of my favourite ever U2 tracks, instantly engaging with its rock-solid rhythm section but also admirably resisting the big obvious chorus it always seems so close to. And one of Bono's best vocal performances too, for my money: entirely committed but without the huffing and puffing that mar so much of his work in the Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum eras. Around this Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois have built a soundscape that defies detailed description; and that's not just a cop-out on my part, it seems like it'd ruin the mystique a bit. It's for the same reason that I've tried to avoid thinking too hard about what the lyrics are supposed to mean: I know the song and album title were influenced by an exhibition of photos of Hiroshima, but the actual content doesn't seem to be that linear, and the mood is as uplifting as it is gloomy in the end.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 20, 22, 32, 36, 37, 41, 47, 48, 49, 53, 57 [LMC vs U2], 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 72
Available on: The Best Of: 1980-1990

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Commentators 'N-n-Nineteen Not Out'

Chart Peak: 13


Despite what I said in the previous post, we don't quite get a whole side of R&B, because we take a slight detour here. We do still get a slight convergence with some of the other stuff on the album though - Paul Hardcastle's '19' was yet another big hit of 1985 that eluded the compilers, and whilst he did appear with some of his later hits, his first representation was in the form of this parody. It's rumoured that Hardcastle produced this version himself under a pseudonym, which could account for the speed with which it was released, only a couple of weeks after the original had dropped from the top of the chart.

Anyway, this is the first intentional comedy record ever to show up on a Now album, and, I think we can safely say, the only cricket-themed novelty single ever to reach the Top 19. It was also the first most of us would have heard of Rory Bremner, a few years before he began starring in his own TV shows (though I think he may already have been working on Spitting Image by this time). I have to wonder how he must regard this now that he's better known as a satirist, as this is much closer to the broad showbiz comedy he first made his name with. It's probably also funnier if you understand more about cricket, although I do get the central premise that David Gower's batting average in the 1984 West Indies series was only 19 - apparently that's actually true, whereas Hardcastle's numbers are somewhat disputed. Some people might question the taste implications of the parody as well, especially the "side-on" line, although for my money it's silly enough to get away with it. Not that you'd want to listen to it too many times, I suspect.

Even if you did, as far as I can tell the track's never been released on CD. But the wonders of the Internet enable you to hear it, and indeed the 'Second Innings' B-side, which is largely more of the same but slightly less good. It does at least clarify that the voice that sounded a bit like Zippy is supposed to be the late John Arlott. Also thanks to the net, we can see what might be the oldest extant image of monkeys playing cricket.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Loose Ends 'Magic Touch'

Chart Peak: 16


OK, so I had at least heard of Loose Ends. They were so famous, they even got namechecked in a Richard Blackwood song, and I thought I did recall them having hits. But I realised that I didn't actually remember any of the songs, and even after listening back to this track now I can't be terribly sure whether I'd heard it before. It seems like there's an inadvertant theme on a lot of this album of the series missing out on somebody's biggest hit ('You Spin Me Round', 'Some Like It Hot', 'Kiss Me') and then ending up with the slightly less successful follow-up, and that's sort of what's happened here too, although in fairness this wasn't much less of a hit here than 'Hanging On A String'; it failed to match up to the same success in America though.

In fact, we're staying with the same sort of post-disco soul as we've had on the rest of Side 3, which I think is the longest sustained sweep of stylistically similar music yet on a Now album, though it seems to have acted as a template for the long runs of indie and dance on some of the Nineties releases. Like those, it rather taxes my ability to find fresh ideas for each post, since I so often find mysef thinking "This'd probably sound good in a club". But you know, it probably would, it just isn't doing a lot for me. There are rumours of a reunion tour, but I don't think I'll be going.

Available on: The Best of Loose Ends

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Conway Brothers 'Turn It Up'

Chart Peak: 11


This'll be another of the tracks that occasionally show up on here that I've never heard of at all. Not even the (admittedly less than memorable) name of the Conway Brothers rang any bells.

As it transpires, we're staying on the dancefloor for this number, even if the Conways themselves seemed to have a little bit of difficulty dancing to it on Top Of The Pops. It's a very solid funk production, if a little dated-sounding now, but it's a little too clubby to make sense to me in my living room. The gag about people asking them to turn it *up* wears thin over the full length of the track, but I expect I'd like this a lot more on a night out.

Available on: 100 Hits - 80s Dance

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Jaki Graham 'Round And Around'

Chart Peak: 9


Gaah! Again with the fake-recording-session videos. And how come she's got a microphone but the backing singers haven't?

We're staying in the clubs with this one, although it was an obvious crossover pop hit as well. Jaki Graham notched up a decent number of hits at the time, but despite her heroically massive hair seems a slightly forgotten act now, perhaps because she falls between the stools of one-hit-wonder and big star, so there's no one song that everybody remembers her for. This first hit is maybe the closest she comes to a signature hit on her own, one that broke no new ground even 25 years ago but is eminently pleasant to hear. My favourite part is the subtle downward shift of the meldy leading into the chorus, which seems to give a slight flavour of trepidation about the possibly unrequited love she's confessing here.

Also appearing on: Now 6 [with David Grant], 7, 8
Available on: Original Hits - The Girls

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Steve Arrington 'Feel So Real'

Chart Peak: 5


Another one for the list of songs I don't really recall from the time but have become familiar with since. Arrington had previously been the singer and drummer in the funk band Slave, whom I don't remember at all even now, but apparently they had a Number 64 hit in 1980. His biggest UK hit as a solo artist came with this track which sounds quite typical of groove-oriented music of the time. It's actually rather good, but doesn't provide a lot of fodder for discussion.

Of course, talk of "feeling real" sounded like pure disco-speak at the time. However, Arrington had apparently experienced a religious awakening around this time and soon quit secular music for almost twenty years. Only in recent months has be resumed recording, evidently. So perhaps this song can be read another way too.

Available on: Smash Hits 1985

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Simply Red 'Money'$ Too Tight (To Mention)'

Chart Peak: 13


It feels strangely topical to be writing this post now. Not only for economic reasons, but because the seemingly endless Simply Red retirement, which seems to have been going on for longer than some bands' entire careers, is finally winding to a close, with a Greatest Hits album back in the midweek Top 10 thanks to ITV. Back in 1985, though, I don't think many people could have guessed from this successful debut single how enduring an institution Mick Hucknall and his employees would become. Admittedly, this hit didn't launch them on the fast-track to stardom:
their next three singles peaked at 66, 51 and 53.

Although I'd gleaned somewhere down the line that this was a cover version, I hadn't actually heard the Valentine Brothers' original until today - indeed, until fairly recently I'd assumed it was a much older song than it actually is. Actually, aside from dropping a verse, this version hasn't really reinvented the song all that much; the most notable shift of emphasis is that Hucknall seems to downplay the reference to the "almighty father", reading that line as if it's his literal parent. That and the "ad lib" at the end of "Did the earth move for you, Nancy?" which of course I didn't understand at the time. Still, he was in pretty fine voice back then and the record is a good pop track, even if it's too smoothly done to sound realistic.

Also appearing on: Now 7, 9, 20, 21, 23, 24, 32, 33
Available on: Picture Book (Collectors Edition)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Mai Tai 'History'

Chart Peak: 8


It's difficult to agree with the YouTube commenter who says of this "I love these simple eighties' videos as they concentrated on the talent of the singer(s) more than the glitz and glamor of the visuals." There's even a computer in the first shot, and a bloke who, intentionally or not, looks a bit like a low-budget version of Prince in his 18th-century costume.

The record itself is clearly aiming for the same territory as Sister Sledge sometimes were, but despite the lack of big names involved it's much more effective - even if it carries no more wait, it's a much more convincing production and danceable enough to move you physically if not emotionally. The lyric may be acidic "Our love is history/Gonna burn the letters you been sending me" but the emphasis is clearly on the freedom of finally kicking the guy to the curb. Every bit of footage I've found of them performing this shows them having a whale of a time, and I'm not at all surprised.

Also appearing on: Now 6
Available on: Ultimate Woman

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Sister Sledge 'Frankie'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)


After the numerous US Number Ones (by British acts) that cropped up on the first disc of this album, we have to wait until the top of the second disc to find the first and only track that topped the UK chart. Ironically, it's by an American group, but it's a single that was unsuccessful in their homeland, peaking only at 75.

Sister Sledge claim their place in pop history largely thanks to a series of hits from their 1979 album We Are Family, written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic fame. Some of this material was revived over here in 1984 with such success that it seemingly helped pave the way for them to chart with new material the following year. It's probably also the reason why I keep getting them mixed up with the Pointer Sisters, but that's another story. Remarkably, Rodgers is back in the producer's chair for this track (which makes him the third ex-member of Chic to fall from grace on this album, after the contributions of Edwards and Tony Thompson to the Power Station track). The song could hardly be more different from the lush, hedonistic disco of their earlier collaborations though; instead it's a rather childish song, which doesn't get away with it even by admitting that it harks back to a teen romance, because the melody is just too facile. In fact, I think I even liked it when I was seven, which just proves the point, really. And the arrangment and performance is quite astonishingly stolid and one-dimensional; it might just about make sense as the work of children but the whole premise of the song is an adult woman meeting Frankie (a name that doesn't lend itself well to singing, by the way, but I suppose it's gender-neutral enough for the songwriter to have been hedging her bets). Perhaps you could compare the storyline to Hot Chocolate's 'It Started With A Kiss', but with none of the depth.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 24
Available on: Definitive Groove: Sister Sledge

Friday, 24 September 2010

Phil Collins 'One More Night'

Chart Peak: 4


After what feels like a very long time we finally - finally - get to the end of the first disc with another US chart-topping single. Over there this was the first single from his most successful album, No Jacket Required, whilst it was held back for the second single in this country, presumably because it was so slow.

I admit that the subject matter of this song makes the slowness seem logical. Like a lot of his work from this era it's about romantic abandonment, although I'm not entirely sure whether the lyric "Give me one more night, cause I can't wait forever" actually makes sense. It's painfully obvious that he wrote this song to a drum machine, as he often did, because it gives a rather stately effect that completely undermines the desparation he's trying to portray. By the time the obligatory sax solo shows up things have got so dull that in the video even Collins himself walks out during it.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 3, 6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68
Available on: No Jacket Required

Thursday, 23 September 2010

China Crisis 'Black Man Ray'

Chart Peak: 14


Most of the songs on this album so far seem to fall into one of two categories: either they're painfully overfamiliar, or I've never knowingly heard them before. This one certainly falls into the latter category, although I had at least vaguely heard of it. After this and 'Wishful Thinking' I'm rather getting the impression that China Crisis were one of those bands where you had to be there.

There seem to be all sorts of theories about who or what Black Man Ray might have been (see here for the most interesting treatment of the issue I've found) but there's a vagueness about the whole thing, musically and lyricially, that makes the question fairly uninteresting to me. Producer Walter Becker (the one from Steely Dan who wasn't selling solo albums) polishes this to a fine sheen but leaves it too smooth to grab onto; the result is pretty but ineffectual. And just like their biggest hit, it seems to doze off and fade out at the end, without leaving much trace in my memory.

Also appearing on: Now 2
Available on: Flaunt the Imperfection

Power Station 'Get It On (Bang A Gong)'

Chart Peak: 22


A couple of albums ago, a commenter suggested that the All Saints version of 'Under The Bridge' was the worst cover of all time. Would that we could be so sure. Power Station were, you may have the misfortune to remember, a supergroup formed by some of the hundreds of people called Taylor who were members of Duran Duran during a lull in group activity (I presume it was a lull in the lull that produced 'View To A Kill'). The brought in ex-Chic drummer Tony Thompson, who probably should have known better and Robert Palmer, who might not have. Their self-penned hit 'Some Like It Hot' seems to have eluded the Now series, which instead finds itself representing them with the rather less successful follow-up.

Perhaps aptly, given the transatlantic origins of the group, their title seems to split the difference between the UK and US releases of the T-Rex hit, which were called 'Get It On' and 'Bang A Gong' respectively. And that's about the only aspect of this rather constipated cover version that I can call appropriate. Even in this heavily edited single version there's room for excesses of guitar and bass solos, and Palmer's rather earnest delivery sheds exactly the wrong sort of spotlight on Marc Bolan's playfully nonsensical lyric, and the overall effect is that they seem to have emphasised precisely the wrong elements of the song. Somehow, this version is more obviously about sex than the original, but it's not even a fraction as sexy.

Available on: The Power Station

Monday, 20 September 2010

Simple Minds 'Don't You (Forget About Me)'

Chart Peak: 7


Another film I've never seen, and if you feel like making connections even further back, a song that Bryan Ferry apparently refused to record. In fact, even Simple Minds themselves reportedly turned it down at first, but were ultimately persuaded by their record company. And it seems to have been something of a decisive moment too: it gave them a US Number One single (and a long-running UK hit, despite its surprisingly low peak here) but at the expense of a certain amount of their reputation. To be sure, they'd already set off on the path of stadium rock, as can be heard on the very first Now! album with 'Waterfront', but recording an off-the-peg song for a film soundtrack seemed like the point of no return down that road. Of course, they made a fortune in the ensuing years, but when in later decades they tried to return to their art-rock origins, the genie wasn't going back into the bottle.

As for the record itself, I find again that listened to with a critical ear, it's not quite as bad as I thought, but I still wouldn't say it was actually good. The bombast that comes as standard with Jim Kerr seems particularly out of place with such light material, and he sounds utterly punchable by the closing la-la-la-la's. There are some mildly interesting bass parts, but all the rest sounds exactly what it is: part of the dressing for a mid-80s teen movie, and not really comprehensible without that context, or at least the memory of it.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 6, 7, 14, 15, 23, 30
Available on: EMI Presents 'The Great Big Scottish Songbook'

Saturday, 18 September 2010

David Bowie (with the Pat Metheny Group) 'This Is Not America'

Chart Peak: 14


Yes, this track is from The Falcon And The Snowman, which I've never really heard of outside the context of this song. Somehow I'd always assumed it would be a cartoon or something, but I learn now it's actually about a couple of men spying for the USSR. I suppose that explains why they got an experimental jazz fusion band to do the soundtrack, and why they'd have conjured such a bleak atmosphere. It also gives me a hint of what Bowie's lyric might actually be about, although I presume it'd make more sense over the closing credits.

Be that as it may, on the single, or on the Best Of Bowie album where I first heard it, the song has to stand on its own merit and in that context it's still rather good. Not the sort of thing I'd have been able to get my head around when I was seven (if I ever did hear it then, I didn't notice) but it seems most effective to me now as a sort of soundscape. That synthesised horn sound that decorates some of the choruses seems very lonely and Bowie's singing is well-judged, if a little stagey. Perhaps that artificial element is even a help, because it helps add to the mood of isolation; in fact, I might almost go so far as to say that this saves me the effort of seeing the film, because I think I can understand the central character's motivation. Perhaps that wasn't the desired effect, but never mind.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 7
Available on: Platinum Collection

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Bryan Ferry 'Slave To Love'

Chart Peak: 10


Perhaps Ferry's most popular solo song, and despite my general dislike for his music I admit I don't really mind this one. It helps, perhaps, that this is his own song rather than one of the many awful covers he tends to inflict on us, although it does seem a little similar to the late Roxy Music hit 'Avalon'. As there, he seems to rein in the most affected parts of his crooning and set up a mellow, slightly jazzy mood. In fact, the major flaw of this track is that it's so laid back it's easy to overlook it, even when you're trying to pay attention so you can write a blog post about it. Sorry Bryan.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 24
Available on: Best Of

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Marillion 'Kayleigh'

Chart Peak: 2


I've long had the impression that Marillion fans have some resentment of them being identified with this song, although I'm not sure how much of that is to do with the song itself and how much with the extent to which it overshadows the rest of their career. As an outsider I can call it as I see it (well, as I hear it, although the video does seem to prove my point somewhat about fake recording studio scenes).

Actually, this isn't quite as bad as I thought I remembered it being, although I haven't radically changed my opinion. It is notable for its slightly unconventional structure, but even though they are apparently autobiographical Fish's lyrical snapshots don't entirely seem convincing. Maybe his voice just isn't right for the mood, or I was distracted by the thought of him dancing in stilettos. Any other emotion is pretty much beaten out of it by the heavy-handed rock anthem production, complete with screechy guitars, massed keyboards and that big drumbeat to tell us where the chorus is. And the dramatic ending is always spoilt for me by the fact that he has to change the stress on the titular name the very last time he sings it for the sake of scansion. Still, it got enough attention that women of that age are apparently disproportionately under 25...

Also appearing on: Now 6, 10
Available on: The Singles: 1982-1988

Monday, 13 September 2010

Paul Young 'Every Time You Go Away'

Chart Peak: 4


Is he really shouting "dick!" 12 seconds into this track? Perhaps it's aimed at the video director who seems to have spent a good deal of the budget trying to remake Casablanca or something and then drenched PY with the least convincing rain effect in history.

This cover of a little-known Hall & Oates album track became his only US Number One, deposing the aforementioned Duran Duran Bond them and being knocked off in turn by Tears For Fears. No wonder they called it the Second British Invasion; ironically none of those songs made it to the top of the UK chart. Whilst the combination of singer and writers sounds to modern ears almost like a parody of mid-80s MOR-ism, I have to admit that for what it is this is fairly well screwed together; at least the arrangement has just enough spookiness from the electric sitar and the odd tinkles of piano to dispel at least for a moment the sense that this isn't ideal for his voice.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 20
Available on: The Essential

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Kool & The Gang 'Cherish'

Chart Peak: 4


And now onto a song I just wish I didn't remember. I've never had that high a tolerance for sentimentality in pop, or falsetto, and the combination here threatens to drown us all in slush. In fact even listening to this was something I put off, let alone actually trying to find anything interesting to say about it.

In some ways I feel slightly ashamed of myself for being so negative, when I find it easier to forgive records that express less noble sentiments. Perhaps I'm flattering myself to think that positive ideas are too obvious, or maybe it's some sense that these things are too easy to say and harder to live up to. Possibly my head was turned by a documentary that I vaguely recall seeing years ago where somebody explained how they kept being surprised by how many lowest common denominators Kool & The Gang managed to find to lower themselves to. Fairly or unfairly it's hard to feel convinced by this.

Also appearing on: Now 57 (with Blue)
Available on: Music For Romancing

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Stephen "Tintin" Duffy 'Icing On The Cake'

Chart Peak: 14

Another Number 14 single I'd never heard before! Mind you, my ignorance was a little more targetted in the sense that I do actually own an album by him, albeit one from over a decade after this when he was a slightly bitter-sounding Britpopper. Over a long career under various names he's been a folk rocker and even an early member of Duran Duran, but this is during the most commercially successful times when he was a sort of synthpopper. 'Kiss Me' had been released three times (initially credited to Tintin until Hergé's estate complained) before finally becoming his biggest hit. This is the follow-up that seems less remembered now, even though it did OK at the time: mind you, even Roland Rat couldn't get the title right.

It's certainly a good deal less stupid than his more famous success, but there's still something a little bit sneery about it, as if he's patronising the audience a little bit; perhaps that impression comes more from the video than the record itself though. Anyway, if you can forgive that it's pretty and harmless piece of fluff, and certainly better than the Dead Or Alive number. But maybe it's not a surprise that this proved to be his last taste of the Top 40, at least if you forget 'Hanging Around' by Me Me Me - and I'd strongly advise that you did.

Available on: They Called Him Tin Tin

Dead Or Alive 'In Too Deep'

Chart Peak: 14


It's not the first time I've had to write about a song called 'In Too Deep' and it probably won't be the last either, but it'll be the only time I'll have to do it from scratch: like many people I'm sure, I only really knew one DoA song (and you can probably guess which one, too) and aside from that I really knew of Pete Burns as an annoying person who kept showing up on the telly and wore a coat made out of endangered monkeys.

Well, I have heard this song now and I have no idea what the fuss was ever about. It's a very dull song, with none of the drama of Stock Aitken Waterman's most interesting work. It's obviously meant to be about a disfunctional relationship, but somehow that becomes the most boring subject in the workd here. Maybe the video was good or something, because I can't imagine anyone caring about this at all otherwise.

I doubt I've encouraged anyone to buy this track, but just in case, it'd seem only fair to donate a few bob to a primate conservation charity as well.

Also appearing on: Now 63
Available on: Rip It Up

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Fine Young Cannibals 'Johnny Come Home'

Chart Peak: 8


It's pretty much irrational of me I know, but I've always hated videos set in recording studios. Seriously guys, unless you've got some clever twist going on you're fooling nobody: we know you don't all stand about wearing make up with your back to the drummer (and shouldn't you be singing into a microphone?). I'm prepared to forgive them a little because they probably weren't given much of a location budget for their first single, and they do at least add a little silliness with their dance moves.

It's an interesting metaphor, in a way, because the finished record has a certain lightness of touch and a jolly oomph in the rhythm track. That and Roland Gift's distinctive (if somewhat unintelligible) vocal go some way to sugar-coating the dark subject matter of this song. Johnny is a kid (of not entirely specified age) who's run off to the big city and found it's not all it was cracked up to be. A protagonist implores him to come call his mum and come home - but then also repeats in every chorus that "we're sorry". And somebody's asking "What is wrong with my life that I must get drunk every night?" Perhaps that's Johnny himself reflecting on his troubles, or maybe the narrator of the rest of the song has been driven to drink by his absence... but the more obvious conclusion is that drink has made him(?) do what he's sorry for and occasioned Johnny's departure in the first place. It's to the song's credit though that it doesn't hammer you over the head with this, preferring to let you wonder as you listen to that excellent muted trumpet.

Also appearing on: Now 6, 14, 16 (CD only)
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Monday, 6 September 2010

Harold Faltermeyer 'Axel F'

Chart Peak: 2


Needless to say, I wasn't allowed to see Beverley Hills Cop until much later than this, but this instrumental was very familiar to me long before I knew what it was called (and even longer before I knew why). I don't particularly remember it as a hit they way I do with something like 'Crockett's Theme' but I suppose it was used as background music on the telly and stuff like that.

It's an obvious point that I'm sure I've made before, but there's little in the field of human endeavour that seems to stand the test of time less well than mid-eighties synthesiser instrumentals. Such was the march of techology that even by the time this record was ten years old (maybe even five) what was state-of-the art sounded like the sort of thing kids would do at school. Fifteen more years down the line and this sounds almost primitive, the sort of thing that even the smallest portable electronic devices should be able to outdo. In some ways that's a little unfortunate, because melodically it's simple but remarkably effective - one might even say annoyingly effective, so difficult is it to forget. Trouble is, it doesn't really make that much sense when you can't see Judge Reinhold running along during it.

Available on: True Disco (3 CD Set)

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Scritti Politti 'The Word Girl'

Chart Peak: 6


Apologies for the break in transmission, I wasn't feeling too well and thought I should be in full command of my faculties to give this track a sporting chance.

It's a slighty oddity that Scritti's biggest UK hit seems to be about the only one not on YouTube at time of writing (should you be reading this in the future, you can always try your own search).

I'm sure I've said this before, but I never really know what to make of most of Green's work, which it's often easier to be impressed than moved by. There's some clever tricksiness in this song, with the pseudo-Biblical "How your flesh and blood became the word" - this title is apparently to be parsed as "the word 'girl'" rather than being about a word-girl - and the production is so spotless you could eat your dinner off it. But for all the influence of soul and reggae music, the finished article comes over as a bit more of an essay than a pop song. Even though I can appreciate it more fully than I did when I was only seven, I find myself enjoying it less, today at least.

Also appearing on: Now 12, 19
Available on: Cupid and Psyche '85

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Duran Duran 'A View To A Kill'

Chart Peak: 2


Second time lucky, I'm finally going to tackle Now 5 this time. And maybe that was the right verb, because the very first track made a bit of a dent in my enthusiasm, as I seem to have exhausted my current allocation of Duran Duran tolerance.

'A View To A Kill' has a place in history as the highest-charting James Bond theme in the UK (and indeed in the US, where it got to the very top of the chart), but for all that it doesn't seem the most remembered of them. Nor indeed does the film, which is why I'm not entirely sure whether I've actually seen it: the clips in the video look familiar, but that might just be from seeing the video itself at the time. To be fair, the ridiculousness of the Bond films is a good fit for the band, who I can never take seriously for all the huffing and puffing and earnest psuedo-funk of this track. And to their credit, they seem to have entered into the spirit of things in the aforemented promo video, although I'm not sure whether that beret is supposed to be funny or not. It still feels a bit of a throwaway, but in Duran terms I don't always consider that a bad thing.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3, 8, 13, 24, 25, 31
Available on: Best of Bond...James Bond

Thursday, 19 August 2010

E'Voke 'Runaway'

Chart Peak: 30


This record was off to a bad start, because even the name of the act irritated me. I've always found these sort of quirky dance-act spellings a bit of a pain; I can just about forgive N-Trance as a recogniseable pun on the word "trance" but I've never heard of a "voke". It'd be like Jarvis Cocker calling his band P'ulp.

Speaking of N-Trance, this single is a fairly obvious copy of their frequent hit 'Set You Free'. Apparently both of E'voke were actresses, one of whom was in Eastenders for a while, but I don't remember either them or the song from the time. In fact, I barely remember it from ten minutes ago when I last listened to it. It's an underwhelming end to what has otherwise been one of the best albums I've ever covered on here, in my biased opinion. You can find out for yourself with this embedded playlist (may not work outside the UK), which covers as much as I could find of the album.

Available on: Wow (What a Rush) Vol.9

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Wild Colour 'Dreams'

Chart Peak: 25

The Perfecto production team of Oakenfold & Osborne are behind this massive club cover of the Fleetwood Mac standard 'Dreams'... It is the latest hit for the label who have had a great year with hits from Grace, B.T. and the Perfecto Allstarz amongst others.
I don't suppose you'd expect a lot of modesty from people who adopted the stagename Perfecto, but I presume it's somehow related to the press released that there's no mention of the nominal performer in that sleeve note. There is a picture of a crouching woman with corkscrew hair, who I suppose is meant to be Wild Colour, but no indication of what her name might be. The Internet doesn't seem in any rush to tell me either.

They might have been onto something with the idea of covering this song in a dance style. A couple of years later the Corrs scored their breakthrough UK with their version as remixed by Todd Terry (him again!) whilst Deep Dish went the whole hog in 2006 by bringing in the actual Stevie Nicks to sing it again and were rewarded with a Top 20 appearance. But this attempt peaked one place lower than the original during a far shorter run and without the excuse of coming off a multi-million-selling album. Believe me, I'm no great fan of this song in any version, but whoever the singer is could at best be accused of misreading the lyric, failing even to notice the pseudo-mystical elements of it. And the backing track smacks of hubris, merely recycling the most generic mid-nineties dance production elements. It deserved to be no more of a hit than it was.

Available on: Perfection - a Perfecto Compilation: Mixed Live By Paul Oakenfold

Monday, 16 August 2010

Happy Clappers 'I Believe'

Chart Peak: 7 (original version 21)


I could hardly escape remembering this one, as it was a hit three times in four years, and there was the extra aide-memoire of so many other songs of the same title charting around that time. What I hadn't fully recalled was how heavily they laid on the gospel motifs, although that's not entirely surprising given the title.

Of course, it's not really a gospel record, just a dance track that borrows those trappings. Fundamentally, it's much the same idea as The Original - a decent chorus repeated ad infinitum. I have to admit I don't mind this one as much as post, possibly because I can appreciate the joyful mood more in this case. Still not a record I love but it seems more like fun. According to Wikipedia, one of the former Clappers is now a chef who makes a pudding without flour.

Available on: Put Your Hands Up: the Biggest Club Anthems of All Time