Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Eagle-Eye Cherry 'Save Tonight'

Chart Peak: 6


I suppose we should give them some credit for resisting the temptation to sequence Eagle-Eye Cherry next to Don Henley.

For a while this song was as ubiquitous as Eagle-Eye himself is in the famous video. It was a huge radio hit, did pretty well as a single and shifted a decent number of albums for him (the memorable name might have helped with that I suppose). In this country at least it set a bar of success he's barely come close to since, barring the immediate follow-up (which had this on the B-side anyway). By any measurement I apply to it, it's a good record: assured, well-produced, well-sung, catchy and not overlong. So I'm at something of a loss to explain why I've never really been able to warm to it. 

Also appearing on: Now 41
Available on: Desireless

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Mavericks 'Dance The Night Away'

Chart Peak: 4


And so 1998 resumes, albeit with a record that has a distinctly retro flavour.

I have two key memories of this track. The first time I ever heard it was at the end of an episode of Top Of The Pops 2 where it was touted as a big US hit soon to cross over to the UK (in fact it doesn't seem to have made the Hot 100, so there presumably wasn't a commercial single release over there) and I took an instant dislike to it, not helped by the fact that the prediction was pretty accurate and that this became yet another of the evidently-much-larger-than-I-remembered number of singles to peak higher than they entered in 1998, which felt like cheating in those days. As a record that appealed far beyond typical single-buyers it managed a longer than average chart run, lasting no fewer than 16 weeks in the Top 40.

The other memory I have is from several years later, when I went to a works do in an out-of-town concrete golf clubhouse with a disturbingly low ceiling. When the DJ played this, two ladies who were obviously regulars made their way to the dancefloor and looked like they were having the time of their lives. From that point onwards I've found myself warming to it somewhat. Maybe part of this is just because I've got older, and doubtless another part of it is just that I only hear it much more rarely now. But I do find it genuinely easier to appreciate this in the lighter-hearted sprit in which it was intended even if it's not something I'd have chosen to listen to.

Incidentally, it's a long time since I'd watched that video in full, and I hadn't previously appreciated how bad the miming was. I don't know whether that was intentional; maybe if they filmed it in a real supermarket they had to wait until 3 in the morning to do it.

Available on: The Mavericks Collection

Monday, 29 March 2010

Don Henley 'The Boys Of Summer'

Chart Peak: 12 (12 in 1985)


If you can cast your mind back to last month, you might remember that the first disc of this album kicks off with a 1990 remix of material from 1978. So obviously they'd want to contrast this with something fresh and new from 1998 itself at the top of Disc 2...


I would have said that I couldn't remember why this was re-released, but in fact what I remember was that even in 1998 nobody could really understand why. It didn't seem to tie in with anything particular, apart from the fact that it was actually the summer (as opposed to the original release in January 1985)... but then again this song isn't really set in summer is it? All the references to the season seem to be nostalgic.

In fact this is one song I thought I could probably have done without re-listening, but in keeping with the spirit of the project I thought I'd better. And it did shed a small amount of light; I'd always thought it slightly odd that a record made by a drummer was so bland rhythmically, but he seems to have tried to fix it by adding a lot of extra cymbals in the middle section. It's to little avail, though, as the finished article has a stilted quality that means even the whiny quality in Henley's vocal doesn't make him sound very engaged with his own  material.

I'm mature enough now to realise that there might be some traces of a good song in there somewhere, but it seems fitting that he managed to inspire possibly the most lukewarm Amazon customer review ever, or that the boy who plays his younger self in the video grew up into a member of AOR American Idol spin-off band Daughtry.

Available on: The Very Best Of

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Peter Andre 'Kiss The Girl'

Chart Peak:  9


"Tipped to be Peter Andre's ninth Top 20 hit" said the sleevenotes, and they were right. If anyone tipped it to be a hit in America, though, they were wrong. I'd always understood this single as being related to the Disney film The Little Mermaid. And yet of course the film was released nine years before this, with an entirely different rendition of the song actually in the the movie itself. Andre's video includes scenes from the animation though, so it obviously was officially licensed, and it now seems to have found its way to a Disney-released compilation. Maybe there was a VHS release or something to promote.

Anyway, 'Mysterious Girl' notwithstanding, it's probably not very surprising that Andre plays down the calypso elements of the original arrangement in favour of a more conventional MOR arrangement that's supposed to show of his voice, which is in fairness OK. Well, better than some people's anyway. The whole thing seems like an effort relaunch his career at a more grown-up audience after the hip-hop-oriented second album underperformed a bit. But in a classic demonstration of the cruel, fast-moving pop market of 1998, even this Top 10 success wasn't enough to save his career and he was soon condemned to ex-popstar limbo. He didn't release another single until 2004, and that was a whole other story.

And that insight concludes the first disc of Now 40, which even more than I realised when I decided to write about it, comes over as one of the most woeful in the entire history of the series. And it's not only my age either, because I'd rate the equivalent sections of the volumes either side much higher. Tune in again in a few days to see whether Disc 2 can redeem the album at all.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 36, 28, 57
Available on: Ultimate Disney Princess

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sparkle Featuring R.Kelly 'Be Careful'

Chart Peak: 7


In addition to his many hits as an artist, R.Kelly has had second and third careers as producer and songwriter for various other stars. The most famous of his protegees was surely teen star Aaliyah, but for a moment Sparkle (not to be confused with Sparklehorse, or Twinkle) seemed to be on the verge of similar success. Although it wasn't eligible for the official Hot 100 chart in the US due to the absence of a commercially-available single, 'Be Careful' performed well on airplay charts, and the parent album reached the Top 3 over there. It didn't last long though, due to a falling-out between the two of them.

Maybe it's all prefigured in the song itself, which features a female protagonist (voiced by Sparkle) bemoaning her useless man and threatening that she might leave, followed by the man (Kelly) claiming that she needs to make sure he doesn't leave her. And, er, that's it, with only two verses and two choruses in the five minutes of the song: both characters ask "let me finish" but there's plenty of space left over for both of them to do so. It's tempting to try and draw conclusions about Kelly himself from the lyrics here, but perhaps that's going a bit far. Still I think the best thing about this is the chunk of Curtis Mayfield's 'Pusherman' that plays early in the video.

R Kelly also appears on: Now 28, 29, 30, 37, 41, 44, 51, 55, 59
Available on: Lifestyles - Urban Groove

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Janet Jackson 'I Get Lonely (TNT Remix edition)'

Chart Peak: 5


At the time, I seem to remember seeing the video for the original version of this track, and probably hearing that on the chart rundowns too. Indeed, I don't think I'd ever encountered this mix before, but presumably it was popular enough somewhere to get the nod here. Mind you, although I remember this record existing it didn't make very much of an impact on me at the time and it seems a bit forgotten now: it peaked only one chart position lower than the previous year's 'Together Again', but it lasted less than half as long on the chart. This seemed like the tail-end of the era when a new Janet Jackson album seemed like an event, though she did indeed have several hits after this.

Coming back now one thing I can definitely say for this mix (by Blackstreet) is that it's something of an improvement over the slightly dated (for 1998, I mean) Jam & Lewis production. Better still, Teddy Riley has for once resisted the temptation to smother it all with vocoders. The song itself, co-written by the producers with Jackson and her soon-to-be-ex-husband, is less impressive. But then it's not exactly my scene and in this company it actually feels quite likeable. Anyway, I was never fond of 'Together Again'.

Also appearing on: Now 8, 26, 38, 39, 41, 49, 53 (with Beenie Man)
Available on: The Best [original version?]

Friday, 19 March 2010

K-Ci & JoJo 'All My Life'

Chart Peak: 8


Potassium Chloride & JoJo McCann, as my brother used to call them, were in fact the "Jo" and "Ci" from Jodeci, a group I remember being very popular in the Harrow area but by present day standards not that big nationally (they never managed a Top 10 hit or got onto a Now album as a group). This was originally announced as a spin-off project, but possibly because it got to Number One in America the band haven't done anything together in twelve years and counting.

'All My Life' is a predictably slushy ballad, adorned by a sample from Frank Sinatra's vastly superior 'PS I Love You'. It's dedicated to one of their daughters, but song and video hedge their bets enough to make it suitable for weddings and all other occasions. I remember this as another one that seemed to clog up the Top 40 forever, but it was only ten weeks, which doesn't seem so long by today's standards. I was never keen on anything I heard by Jodeci, but this feels even more watered down.

Available on: Love Always

Thursday, 18 March 2010

All Saints 'Under The Bridge'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


I don't know whether this is the only instance of the two parts of a double A-sided single appearing on the same Now! album but I can't think of another. Perhaps its only fitting since the single spent two non-consecutive weeks at Number One. It seems odd that they're both strewn haphazardly onto the same disc instead of being spaced further apart; perhaps even odder that this more promoted side is sequenced later, although there's a tenuous logic in that the video for this one follows on from the 'Lady Marmalade' on, rather than vice versa.

Unlike some people, I didn't consider it inherantly wrong for there to be a cover version of this song by some GIRLS, but I did suspect it would be rubbish. In fact, Nellee Hooper does a decent production job, but All Saints themselves let the side down somewhat. Whatever else they might have had going for them, they were never very emotive singers and at best they fail to convey why they don't want to feel like they did that day. In the verses they sound like they've only been shown one word of the lyric at a time. It's understandable that the climactic final section from the original ("Under the bridge above is where I drew some blood", etc) but without it the track seems to lose all sense of direction well before it ends.

In fact the only reason I'm glad to see this track is that it marks my only opportunity to mention Richard Hawley, who appears here as the session guitarist reproducing some of John Frusciante's guitar parts. It's interesting to compare this with his playing on 'All Hype' by Longpigs.

Also appearing on: Now 38, 39, 41, 42, 47, 65
Available on: All Hits [CD + Bonus DVD]

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Boyzone 'All That I Need'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


I'm not sure whether I have any Irish readers on this blog. I'm even less sure whether they'll be pleased that St. Patrick's Day is marked by this particular representative of their nation's music.
As if to emphasise how unreliable my memory is for this era, the first thing I thought of when I saw this title was that it had been the song that kept Geri Halliwell's first solo single off the top. Of course it wasn't - that happened (with another Boyzone song) almost exactly a year later. In fact, this dethroned an incumbent chart-topper by Run-DMC which had itself kept the united Spice Girls from a perfect record of Number Ones.
I did rightly remember a certain amount of surprise about this though, as their previous two singles had been two of their least dislikeable (the upbeat charity record 'Picture of You' and the not-as-bad-as-it-could have been cover of 'Baby Can I Hold You?') but neither of those had made it to the toppermost: somehow this greatly inferior track was the one that went all the way.

By this time they seemed to have given up the pretence that they were anything other than a launchpad for Ronan Keating's solo career, and the other four members are accordingly relegated to barely-detectable backing vocals. And the material itself has shrugged off most of the trappings of teen-oriented boybandnessin favour of a much more middle-of-the-road sound. Indeed, barring the following year's Comic Relief single they didn't have another hit with a song that you could call fast until their recent comeback. The closest any part of this comes to sounding spontaneous or unexpected is the slightly odd way Keating sings "playing a game" in the second verse. Pretty much nothing else happens for the rest of the four minutes or so of your time that this record takes up.

Also appearing on: Now 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 45, 71
Available on: Ballads - The Love Songs Collection

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Lighthouse Family 'Lost in Space'

Chart Peak: 6


Hey, is that 'Away In A Manger' in the intro?
I've mentioned before the seemingly endless stream of Lighthouse Family hits in the second half of the decade, and here we are again with the third of five singles from their second album. That equates to exactly half the tracks from the album, which would be bad enough if there was a wealth of outstanding and varied material on there. This being the Lighthouse Family, of course, there isn't; only the resemblance to a nursery rhyme distinguishes this from most of their other successful releases. It's all impeccably smooth and tidy, but none of the sentiment can really cut through. Even the title is unfortunately un-distinctive: just weeks before this entered the charts, little-remembered Britpoppers Electrasy made their Top 75 debut with a different 'Lost In Space' and by the time it dropped out, Apollo 440 were in the Top 10 with their version of the movie theme.

Also appearing on: Now 33, 34, 38, 39, 41, 50
Available on: Greatest Hits

Monday, 15 March 2010

Lutricia McNeal 'Stranded'

Chart Peak: 3


Another American singer who had her biggest commercial success in Europe (especially Northern Europe, in this case). And more of the kind of ubiquity that set my teeth on edge; she spent more than 26 weeks in the Top 40 in 1998, although her UK chart career didn't stretch very far beyond the year. I was already tired of her music when I learnt that it was being released through Wildstar, a record company co-owned by a commercial radio station which boasted of guaranteeing airplay to the likes of McNeal, Conner Reeves and Alda.

Actually, this is an average, if cheap-sounding slowie. But it's not really good enough for the success it had. An oddly familiar feeling.
And yes, it's yet another track that climbed above the original peak, so my memories of 1998 obviously aren't as good as I thought.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 41
Available on: Greatest Hits

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Ultra Naté 'New Kind of Medicine'

Chart Peak: 14


I have to admit that when 1998 dawned I had rather a downer on Ultra Naté (her real name, apparently) because I didn't like her chart-hogging 1997 hit 'Free'. As a result, I never gave the follow-ups 'Found A Cure' and 'New Kind Of Medicine' (in that order, oddly enough) much of a fair hearing. Whilst this was the smaller of the two at the time, it has possibly become the better-remembered, if only because it was later covered by former Three Degree Sheila Ferguson, reportedly selling hundreds of copies after a reality TV appearance.

Coming back now, I can tell that this is actually a decent record, and that Ms Naté is a better singer than many who've shown up on dance tracks. The soul-influenced production is quite well executed (I bet it would sound even better if I was listening in a way that conveyed the bass better than a YouTube upload) and the whole thing has a bit more class about it than anything we've yet encountered on this album. It's still not the sort of thing I'd have gone out of my way to listen to, but it's better than I feared.

Also appearing on: Now 37, 39
Available on: Top of the Pops Vol.2 Greatest Hits 1998

Friday, 12 March 2010

Bus Stop Featuring Carl Douglas 'Kung Fu Fighting'

Chart Peak: 8


A partner of sorts to the previous track (although unless I'm greatly mistaken they'd be on different sides of the cassette version) this too ploughs the furrow established by the likes of N-Trance and Clock but ups the ante by calling back the original star. In this case, I believe the vocals of Carl Douglas are sampled from the original 1974 hit, but he was still involved in the promotion of the single: you can see him in the video, and he even turned out for TotP. You might also recognise his partner in crime as future Eurovision entrant Daz Sampson, enjoying the first of his many hits in various guises. Naturally, all this is so daft it's difficult to dislike, especially amid some of the stuff here, but you do have to wonder who didn't think 'Kung Fu Fighting' was stupid enough already.

Available on: Line Dance Fever Vol.8 (a nice added touch of late-ninetiesness there!)

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Groove Generation featuring Leo Sayer 'You Make Me Feel Like Dancing'

Chart Peak: 32

Last.FM (30 secords only!)

A track that's left remarkably little footprint online, even though it's just about a product of the internet age. It's not even on YouTube in this guise, although of course you can see the Captain & Tenille introducing the original. So you may have to trust me on this, but it's one of the many Eurodisco/rap versions of disco-era hits that were so popular around this time, and of course is utterly rubbish. Sayer's re-recorded vocal is less piercing than the 1976 original, but that's about the nicest thing I could say about this.

I seem to remember some big campaign from one of the tabloids to restore Sayer to the top of the charts with this (WHY?!!) and perhaps this was what hoodwinked Virgin into thinking this would be a big enough hit to fit on here. Or perhaps including it at this point, midway through the first disc, was some sort of cry for help amid the shabbiness of 1998 pop. Leo Sayer now lives on the opposite side of the world - coincidence or pure shame?

Leo Sayer also appears on: Now 63 (with Meck)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Steps 'Last Thing On My Mind'

Chart Peak: 6


In theory, this record probably shouldn't have existed. By all accounts, Steps were convened to release one single, the line-dance cash-in '5,6,7,8'. But despite being one of the worst records ever made, that actually sold remarkably well (it's still one of the biggest-selling singles not to reach the Top 10) and so Pete Waterman stepped in (er, no pun intended) and a career was born.

Like the Karen Ramirez track earlier on this disc, 'Last Thing On My Mind' was once an unsuccessful single by a familiar act: Bananarama's original peaked at 71 towards the end of their initial run of UK success, when they were already down to their last two members. As a co-writer, Waterman clearly saw it as in his interest for the song finally to shift some units, and in doing so he established the template for future Steps singles; not only did this begin the run of Top 10 hits that lasted until their split, but the sound is all there too. The video depicts Faye Tozer, Claire Richards and Lisa Scott-Lee singing verses in turn, but anyone who can hear the difference deserves some sort of medal. And if they can figure out where the male vocals are, it should be a gold one. Theoretically downbeat lyrical material is delivered with a smile and the whole thing is, like a lot of this disc, utterly flimsy. But dash it if this isn't the most fun we've had yet.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51
Available on: Hits for Kids, Vol. 7

Aqua 'Doctor Jones'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


The second and possibly least-remembered of their three Number One singles, 'Doctor Jones' (as they spell it) lacks the full-on novelty of 'Barbie Girl' but remains decidedly silly, wisely repeating the usual formula of playing Lene Nystrøm's little-girl voice against René Dif's gruff not-quite-rapping. In fact I'd argue that this has aged better than their previous hit, if only because it's been heard less often. Mind you. I have heard other tracks from the album which try the same trick to much lesser effect, eg 'Lollipop (Candyman)',

Perhaps the best thing of all about this song is that it's not 'Mr Jones' by Counting Crows.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 41, 45
Available on: Aquarium

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Tamperer featuring Maya 'Feel It'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


One of those records that seems to straddle the boundaries between novelty, dance and pop, 'Feel It' has some claim to be a precursor to some of the mash-up Number Ones of the early 21st century. No prizes for spotting the elements of 'Can You Feel It?' that give the song its title, but what fewer of us would have spotted is that the vocals come from 'Drop A House' by Junior Vasquez's unappealingly-named project Urban Discharge. Some of the other YouTube uploads imply that Maya sang on that too.

'Feel It' plays up the darkly desperate revenge tragedy, but (probably intentionally) goes so far as to drift over the edge into camp silliness. As such it's hard really to dislike, especially since the radio edit is sensibly brief. But it's hard to make a strong case for it now, either. What is notable is that it actually climbed to the top of the chart, which didn't happen much in those days; few tracks seemed to climb beyond their original entry point at all in 1998, although three that did are on this album.

Also appearing on: Now 41
Available on: 90 Club Hits From The 90's

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Mousse T Vs Hot N' Juicy 'Horny 98'

Chart Peak: 2


I have this strange memory that either Hot or Juicy (can't remember which) phoned in for a competition on Mark & Lard's radio show a few years later. Before that, their calling card was the vocal on this dance hit, although it's since been reported they actually only sing the verses (complete with the in-no-way-dated lyric "I sent a message through the Internet but it rejected"), the chorus having been laid down earlier by American singer Inaya Day - the title supposedly indicating the presence of brass instruments. I presume it's the extra vocals that the '98 refers to.

Anyway, harmless as it is, this did sound quite annoying at the time. It's still obviously rubbish, but so many worse records have been made since, several of them by Mousse T, that it's gained a bit of a glow in nostalgia. Indeed, even this track got worse when it was combined with the unecessarily ubiquitous Dandy Warhols hit 'Bohemian Like You', a monstrosity that found its way to Now 64.

Mousse T also appears on: Now 46 (with Tom Jones), 59 (with Emma Langford), 64 (with the Dandy Warhols)
Available on: True 90s (3 CD Set)

Friday, 5 March 2010

All Saints 'Lady Marmalade'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Oh joy, another cover version.

I can't remember who said that it was a mistake to think All Saints were more real than the Spice Girls just because they wore trousers, but I agree. I can respect that some people might prefer them, but to me it feels slightly self-flattering that some people thought it more socially acceptable to like this lot. If nothing else, you'd think the street cred would have been dented a little by their third single being a double whammy of covers. 

As I recall it from the time, 'Lady Marmalade' was the less promoted "side" of the release.Which was fine by me, as I'm no great fan of the song in any form, but it does mean I've probably heard this version fewer than a dozen times in my life. To give credit where it's due, this isn't an entirely straight cover, as there are new lyrics for the verses which replace the original storyline with a more conventional plea for sex: unfortunately, the new lyrics are cringemakingly bad in places, and with the possible exception of Shaznay Lewis's instinctively dirty rapped verse the performance is resolutely unexciting. The chorus gets undersold too, and that proto-Autotune effect doesn't so much make me think "unbridled passion" as "the producer gave up waiting for her to hit that note". In short, a band I don't like cover a song I don't like badly.

Also appearing on: Now 38, 39, 41, 42, 47, 65
Available on: All Saints

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Billie 'Because We Want To'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


Well, the energy levels are up a bit at least, with the first music you could describe as "fast" since the upbeat section of 'Summer Lovin'. In fact, I remember 'Because We Want To' as being the point when I decided to like "pop" music, rather than the Britpop stuff that was my main interest before then. I was already too old (and possibly too male) to claim to identify with it, and anyway I was far too cynical to consider this any sort of authentic voice of youth, but there's a level of positivity and fun that was lacking in a lot of other music around this time. And a proper memorable chorus, more to the point. I always liked the way it built up to the chorus too, and sort of imagined that it should be the closing track on an album; which apparently it was, though only in America. Over here the nearest it got was ending a Top 40 rundown, at which point she also became the youngest female singer to enter the chart at Number One. Whoever would have guessed that within ten years she'd be the ex-wife of Chris Evans?

Inevitably, what worked so well then is a bit less convincing now. To some extent my memory was just flattering the record: certainly, I'd forgotten the weird beatboxy intro part and the odd mockney rap that uses "upbeat" as a noun. Somehow, I'd even managed to forget the video, where Billie and friends are ushered into a rooftop club by a rhincerous in a suit. The bigger problem is that it's more of its time than I realised, a little too in thrall to the fashionable RnB production of a couple of years earlier. Perhaps it's part of the job of pop to be ephemeral and of the moment, though, and there was enough music in 1998 that didn't even sound good then.

Also appearing on: Now 41, 42, 46, 47
Available on: The Best of Billie

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Karen Ramirez 'Looking For Love'

Chart Peak: 8


As if to split the difference between the preceding two tracks, 'Looking For Love' is a genuine 1998 release, but a cover version of a relatively obscure Everything But The Girl original which peaked at 72 in 1993. So, full marks to whoever's idea it was to take a lost song and make it into a big hit.

I can't really be too enthusiastic about the record itself, which bored me deeply during its eight weeks in the Top 40 (that was a lot by 1998 standards!) and it's no more impressive now. It knocks 'Viva Forever' into a cocked hat as a showcase of bland late-1990s production (More twiddly guitars! Whoosing noises! Endlessly echoing backing vocals) and the whole thing seems to have had a personality bypass. Whatever you think about Tracy Thorn's delivery on the original, it's a distinctive voice and it doesn't sound scared of anything interesting happening.

Available on: Dave Pearce The Dance Years 1998

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Spice Girls 'Viva Forever'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Back to something a little more up-to-date, although it had been available on an album in 1997. There's a definite sense of end-of-an-era about 'Viva Forever' which proved to be the last single released by the original lineup; at least if we forget the 2007 reunion, which is probably best for all concerned. Indeed, a pre-recorded Top Of The Pops appearance was reportedly their last performance as a quintet in their original career. In some ways this is coincidental, and it's a happy accident for the rest of the band that Geri Halliwell doesn't have any very prominent vocal parts that would have to be edited out. Ironically, though, there was no taking her out of the video that had taken months to animate.

Even if the farewell to one member was a fluke, it's clear why this was the fourth and last single from the album, with its reflective mood and nostalgic (if incoherent) lyric. It overdoes some of the late-1990s "tasteful" production tricks (Mmm... flamaenco guitars) but it's a perfectly listenable slice of pop. The imperial phase was ending and I don't think they were ever this good again.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 47
Available on: Greatest Hits

Monday, 1 March 2010

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John 'The Grease Mega-Mix'

Chart Peak: 3 [in 1991]


With the fifteenth anniversary imminent, summer 1998 found the Now albums firmly established and in rude health. It's slightly curious that the first track on this album was released in 1990 to promote the film's release on video; this doesn't make it the oldest track ever to appear on a Now album or even to open one, but this is surely the longest gap after a record had actually charted. Admittedly, a re-issue of 'You're The One That I Want' (which unsurprisingly features prominently here) had reached the Top 10 around this time as part of the 20th Anniversary hype, but even so it feels faintly perverse for that to be replaced by this already dated-sounding artefact; presumably there were some licensing problems somewhere down the line.

I should probably spell out at this point that I've never actually seen Grease on stage or screen, although inevitably it's not totally unfamiliar to me, and I knew at least two of the songs long before I'd heard this. I also know that the sequence here doesn't follow the original narrative. After a quick feint with the intro from 'Greased Lightnin', the aforesaid 'You're The One That I Want' shows up and... well, it annoys me a bit to be honest, especially the Travolta part. We're suddenly yanked out of this by a drum solo and some psuedo-Art Of Noise sound effects, and then 'Greased Lightnin' kicks off in earnest; it wasn't for some time that I realised Travolta sings lead on this too, as the voice is so different. And it's a song about a car, so it's gone some way to winning me over already. Hard to believe they got away with that "pussy wagon" line though - maybe it's because the rest of the song is so camp... It's followed by a clapping solo(!) and then what could generously be called a segue into 'Summer Nights', which deservedly makes up almost half the total running time. For me it's the best song here, and of course comes with two movements itself, shading from the upbeat narration (about half of which is cut here, but the right half) to the sadly smiling end. It's just a pity that I spend the whole thing knowing he's about to ruin it with that "Eau" just before the end.

So, a record that's less than the sum of its parts, but at least doesn't peak to soon. Not the worst opener ever, but quite possibly the most baffling. It's reminiscent of 1958, 1978 and 1988 but never 1998.

Available on: Grease - 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition