Thursday, 10 June 2010

Will Downing 'A Love Supreme'

Chart Peak: 14


It seems quite a while ago now, but we've already had one jazz legend on Now 12 in the form of Miles Davis and his solo on the Scritti Politti track. As the record spins to a close we have another one, as this track is of course based on the famous John Coltrane album. Well, I say "of course" - unsurprisingly I had no inkling at all of this at the time, and approached this as just a smooth soul record like many others of the time. And on that level it's a clear success, with Arthur Baker's production giving it a contemporary sheen and seamlessly incorporating elements of what I presume is Coltrane's original sax playing. The lyric also manages to be neatly ambiguous, phrasing an expression of religious devotion in terms that could also be interpreted as romantic.

Of course, part of Baker's and Alice Coltrane's motivation in doing this was to encourage a younger or less jazz-oriented audience to listen to the original album, and only 22 years later I've finally done so; of course it's a much simpler business than it used to be. Never mind trying to find somebody who already owned it and would lend it to me, or - gasp - spending money, I could just fire up my We7 account and there it was, though I did have to tolerate a few adverts. I was slightly surprised that the refrain of "A love supreme" that forms the chorus of this track is actually sung (or at least chanted) during the first movement of the original. Otherwise they're not really all that similar.

Still, this is a decent record in its own right and makes for a solid finale to an album that's been relatively free of head-in-hands moments for me. It's had its duffers and its makeweights, but the standard generally is more consistent than on most of the ones I've written about before and a lot better than Now 40. It's going to be a relatively tough act for the next one to follow when we return.

Having mentioned the We7 account earlier, I've developed such a compulsion for it that I couldn't resist a little experiment. So I've managed to compile a playlist of most of Now 12 I'm only five tracks short, all from the second disc. And at least one of them so bad it's almost a public service not to have it.

Available on: A Love Supreme - The Collection

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Jellybean Featuring Adele Bertei 'Just A Mirage'

Chart Peak: 13


This is not the first time I've had to write about Jellybean, but I'm quite relieved that it's likely to be the last. It's not that his music is in any way unpleasant, it's just that at least now I'm hearing it outside its original context, it's very unengaging and I struggle for anything to say about it. In fact, almost immediately after playing it I was struggling to remember it.

From what I've heard, even fans of his previous hits thought 'Just A Mirage' a little bit of a disappointing follow-up. Even though Adele Bertei turns out to have been part of the New Wave underground in the late 1970s, this is a very mainstream-sounding record, almost drifting into Stock Aitken Waterman territory; mind you, I think even they would have baulked at that screechy guitar solo in the middle. You could dance to it, but it doesn't really sound that much like a dance record as I'd imagine it. It's starting to feel a bit like filler as we near the end of the album.

Also appearing on: Now 10 [Jellybean with Stephen Dante], 11 [Jellybean with Elisa Fiorello]

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Natalie Cole 'Pink Cadillac'

Chart Peak: 5


Natalie had a massive comeback hit with this track following groups such as Manfred Mann's Earthband, Pointer Sisters & Big Daddy who all had hits with songs written by Bruce Springsteen... charted at No. 49 on 20/3/88, peaked at No. 5 on 17/4/88...
Yes, the motoring theme continues. In fact, calling this a comeback is if anything an understatement, as this was only her second Top 40 hit in the UK (she'd also had a Top 50 hit with the tenuously related 'Jump Start', which was re-issued as the follow-up to this). It really was a comeback in America, though, where a run of hits in the second half of the 1970s had been curtailed by drug problems. Back in 1988, I'd never heard the original Springsteen version (I now own it on the flipside of 'Dancing In The Dark') and I didn't really get the innunedo either.

Apparently it was because of this double-entendre about the song title that Springsteen vetoed a version by Bette Midler in 1983, thinking it unsuitable for a female singer (surely rather a failure of imagination).  By now, his own version had already been released so he had no way of stopping this one even if he'd wanted to: in any case, he was apparently pleased with it. Perhaps he was biased, but he didn't have too much to object to. To be sure, it sounds every bit as old as it is, and it's not exactly packed with gravitas but then neither was the original. As a throwaway pop record it's nowhere near as good as I thought it was when it originally came out, but it does the job in a pleasantly cheery way.

Also appearing on: Now 14, 15
Available on: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

Monday, 7 June 2010

Rose Royce 'Car Wash'

Chart Peak: 20 (4 in 1976)


I can't really remember, if indeed I ever knew, why this was re-released, but it certainly wasn't the last time: this re-working showed up a decade later, and in 1990 a solo version by Gwen Dickey tickled the lower regions of the Top 75.

You can see the sense of sequencing it next to James Brown (perhaps putting it next to S-Express would just have been too obvious) but at the same time this is different in that it's the unadulterated original version (or at least the original 7" edit - apparently the soundtrack album has a slightly longer version). 

I have to admit it's not a song I've ever really been that keen on. It might not help that when I first heard it I was unfamiliar with the concept of a carwash as a place where people actually worked, as opposed to those things at petrol stations with the big rollers. And we never used those anyway, although I used to have a little toy one I could drive my little Matchbox cars through. Anyway, Norman Whitfield's production is very slick and clever, and the band themselves, already established as backing musicians for many other Whitfield clients, play very well: Duke Jobe's bass playing is especially strong. Between them they produce many fine moments, several of which have been extensively sampled on later hits.

The fault seems to lie more in the material itself (Whitfield again, though apparently he wasn't that keen on the idea at first and agreed to do it for the money and as a launchpad). Somehow it doesn't convince as a whole, possibly because it's hard to reconcile the smooth funkiness that the music is aiming at with the rather stupid lyrics. Perhaps it works better in the film.

Available on: Music For Movies

Saturday, 5 June 2010

James Brown 'The Payback Mix (Part One)'

Chart Peak: 12


Mr. Brown returned to the British Hit Parade at No. 25 on 17/4/88, peaked at No. 12 on 1/5/88

Now, here's a logical progression. Early hip-hop tracks (and later ones, come to that) are famously laden with James Brown samples, and 'Bad Young Brother' includes that familiar "Do it!" So now seems as apposite a time as any for him to make his only Now appearance as a performer in his own right.

It's not immediately clear to my untrained ears exactly what this has in common with his 1974 single 'The Payback' or its 1980 sequel 'Rapp Payback', but you can see the appeal of the title as a statement at a time when his voice and riffs were becoming ubiquitous but not necessarily attached to his name; and he may have been after some literal payback too, in the days before rules about sample clearance were as tough as they now are. That said, I don't know how much he really had to do with this record, or when he was even told about it. It's a megamix featuring snippets of some of his most familiar moments, including the legendary Funky Drummer beat and large excerpts from 'Sex Machine'. Oddly enough, there's nothing from his arguably most famous song 'I Got You (I Feel Good)', but that recharted soon enough anyway thanks to Good Morning Vietnam. As a precis to his career and where all those little riffs in big hip-hop hits have come from, it's sort of informative but it doesn't fully convince as a record in its own right. More like a radio feature than an actual record you'd want to listen to, and yet somehow it's one of only three Top 20 singles for him over here.

It turned out to be even more topical, as it's namechecked in 'Tribute' by the Pasedenas, which entered the chart just as this was leaving it.

Available on:The Godfather: The Very Best of James Brown

Friday, 4 June 2010

Derek B 'Bad Young Brother'

Chart Peak: 16


Two consecutive hip-hop tracks (or even three, if you count S-Express), which is not that common in Now history. In fact, Derek B was at the Mandela concert too, although I have to admit I don't really remember him. In fact, I only dimly recalled his career at all, until his death last provoked tributes to his status as one of the first British rappers to achieve commercial success as anything more than a novelty and to indicate that the music was anything more than a passing fad (although he did slightly undermine that achievement by co-writing the 'Anfield Rap'). Indeed, this record sounds remarkably topical now with the increasing popularity of British pop-rap over the last couple of years here and even in the US.

'Bad Young Brother' (funnily enough his second consecutive single to peak at 16 during a 6-week run on the Top 75) still shows its age a little. Well possibly not so much its age (except the bit where he boasts about being a 90s B-Boy) as the lack of precedents for a British rapping. So even as he emphasises his nationality in the lyric "We get paid in pounds, not dollars", he's doing some approximation of an American accent because that was what the audience expected: he does play up the London accent in his secondary persona as the DJ, which at least provides some sense of contrast, even if it does mean a lot of talking about himself in the third person, and that line "Like Lennon and McCartney we're perfect together" doesn't really make sense in this context. On the other hand, when he boasts that his mum{sic} is so proud, it could almost be Tinie Tempah in 2010. Even if the vocals haven't stood the test of time, his backing track (co-produced with Simon Harris) is actually quite good, making wise use of the Prince sample on the chorus; whether there's any connection between this and the current unavailability of the track, I don't know.

With hindsight, his commercial prospects were probably always going to be finite, caught between an underground that seemed to disown him for going commercial and a mainstream that moved on. These two Number 16s were his only proper hits and he only seems to have released one album, although more singles arrived over the years. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Salt 'N' Pepa 'Push It'

Chart Peak: 2

Originally made No. 41... Appeared on Mandela Concert 11/6/88
A spot more prescience here, as by the time the album hit the shelves, 'Push It' was runner-up to 'Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You', thanks to combined sales of the original version that had charted in the spring and a release on another label with a different flipside. More fun with spellings too: they show up on the sleeve as "Salt 'N' Pepa" but "Salt-N-Pepa" seems the more common version. It's a confusing enough name for a trio anyway, and that's not counting producer and credited writer Hurby Azor, who also features prominently as a vocalist.

I do remember watching the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday concert on the telly, possibly at my aunt's house (or I might be getting that mixed up with Live Aid). I don't remember it in a lot of detail, but I do recall Salt-N-Pepa's very energetic performance. Perhaps they were taking advantage of the fact that they were only doing one song, but it's clear with hindsight that they were offering a much more upbeat, pop-focussed version of hip-hop than we'd encountered for quite a while. Of course, I didn't grasp the innuendo at the time either, but it's one of the most fun tracks on here. The borrowed verse from 'You Really Got Me' (a song only slightly older then than 'Push It' is now!) is also, I'm pretty sure, the closest the Kinks ever came to a Now album.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 20, 21, 28 (with En Vogue)
Available on: Push It!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

S-Express 'Theme From S-Express'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Bit of a change of mood here, although this is the start of Side Four on the vinyl and cassette versions. It seems to set something of a tone: after the very lightweight pop of Side Three, Side Four wants to go clubbing. Of course, at the age I was then, I naturally thought there had to be an actual film called S-Express, but there isn't. Oh well, at least I didn't think it was about a local newspaper in Basildon or anything. I do also have this idea that in some places the title was spelt S-Xpress to avoid embodying the word "sex", which I was old enough to recognise if not to understand. Incidentally, I have also seen it written as S'Express, but for the purposes of this post I've used the spelling as it appears on Now 12 itself (and on the original single sleeve, which again appears in place of a photo of any of the band).

For a long time, I'd got used to thinking of this as a sort of poor relation to 'Pump Up The Volume', to which it is in some respects it is a successor as a big overground hit with a lot of samples, although in this case it seems to have been built on the samples, rather than them being a later addition: since writing that post last year, I have obtained a copy of the original, unremixed 12" of 'Pump Up The Volume' and 'Anitina' and it's different, but it still works as a record in its own right. It's impossible to imagine 'Theme From S-Express' without at least the very prominent elements of 'Is It Love You're After?' by Rose Royce onto which everything else is overlaid:
it's probably worth linking to the Wikipedia entry here for a thorough listing of samples used. It's probably also worth noting that the writing credit on the track was to producers Mark Moore and Pascal Gabriel alone, unlike the lengthy credit on the Timelords single, but nobody seems to have sued. One knock-on effect for those of us familiar with both this and the Rose Royce track is that neither one now seems to be at quite the right speed.

Actually, whatever its origins, this is a good dance record with enough distinctive about it to make it worth the time of us non-clubbers. But it's not one that impresses me all-out like M|A|R|R|S.

Also appearing on: Now 14
Available on: Fantastic 80's! Greatest Hits

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Glenn Medeiros 'Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)


Glenn Madiera-cake we used to call him. Maybe you had to be there.

This is one case of Now! spotting a big hit in time - the sleeve notes acknowledge it as a "massive hit on The Continent" (seemingly one of the last non-ironic uses of that turn of phrase in British popular culture) but can quote no higher a chart position than 61 at time of going to press. It climbed pretty quickly, though, and it was the Number One single when Now 12 became the Number One album. Well planned.

As for the song, though, even my relatively uncritical young self thought this was pretty wet, and posterity has been less than kind. The song is pretty shameless, one-dimensional and clichéed, and the performance so inspid that even Westlife managed to improve it: however, all the people who've commented on that video accusing them of overshadowing Mr Medeiros might be interested to know that the first recording of this song was actually by George Benson. And he didn't actually write it either.

Whoever sings it, though, it's still not any good. If anyone ever invites you to "Have some Medeiros M'Dear", say no.

Available on: Nothing's Gonna Change My Love