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