Saturday, 31 July 2010

Corona 'Try Me Out'

Chart Peak: 6

YouTube

It doesn't seem to be entirely clear whether model and frontwoman Olga Souza is actually singing on this record, thought it seems well established that she's not on all their hits. She seems to be performing as Corona now though.

Anyway, 'Try Me Out' was the third Top 10 hit from the Italian-based Eurodisco act, and it's fairly typical of the era, even to the extent that diminishing returns have set in and this is nowhere near as good as the previous tracks. In fact, the only reason I even remember it is because I found the way that whoever it was sang the word "yours" in the chorus irritating. Apart from that, this only attracts attention towards the end when the arrangement breaks down a bit in a version of that hands in the air section I recall from later dance records.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30
Available on: 100 Hits - 90S Dance

Friday, 30 July 2010

Berri 'Sunshine After The Rain'

Chart Peak: 4 (original version 26 in 1994)

YouTube

For practical reasons, I'm having to write this post immediately after the one published yesterday about 'I Feel Love', and that's only appropriate because just as that track fades out, this one bursts in with an intro that's so obviously sampled from 'I Feel Love' I expected Moroder to get a writing credit. He doesn't though.

In fact, that sample is an addition of the remix that became the bigger hit (the "Two Cowboys edit" to be exact). The original 1994 mix (credited to New Atlantic/U4EA featuring Berri) is more breakbeat-oriented and a bit less repetitive. Mind you, only today did I discover that songwriter Ellie Greenwich had actually supplied verses, as I don't recall the hit version by Elkie Brooks. This, at least in its 1995 incarnation, is precisely the sort of music I hated at the time, and although with hindsight it isn't really that bad, it's still not something I'd listen to voluntarily. It briefly made Rebbeca Sleight a pop star and she was "romantically linked" with Liam Gallagher but in the event there was only to be one more hit, whereafter she retired back to Yorkshire and organised the 2006 World Yorkshire Pudding Throwing Championships. Worth knowing, I think.


Available on: 90 Club Hits From The 90's

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Donna Summer 'I Feel Love'

Chart Peak: 8 (1 in 1977, 21 in 1982)

YouTube [long version]

The original version of this record should, I hope, need no introduction. One reason I hope that is that I can't really be bothered to give it one, but suffice it to say that Brian Eno's oft-quoted prediction that it would change the sound of dance music for the following fifteen years seems to have been wrong only by underestimating how long it would last. So here we were 18 years later and electronic music had become so synonymous with dance that even entirely undanceable electronica like Aphex Twin was filed in the dance section of shops and written about on the dance pages of the NME.

With victory asssured, this new version of the song seems almost like a lap of honour: the remixes were apparently commissioned to promote another greatest hits collection, but they seem to have arrived at the right moment to give Summer her first Top 10 hit since 1989 (and her last to date), as well as inspiring a follow-up re-release of 'State Of Independence'. The version featured here is by Rollo and Sister Bliss of Faithless, who had themselves recently made their Top 40 debut with the original release of 'Salva Mea', though their Top 10 breakthrough was still over a year away. Perhaps if I listened to the full ten-minute version enough I might pick up some sort of vibe from it: but this edit is just boring. Admittedly, I've never really liked the original and I don't like Faithless much either, but this is substantially less interesting in this form than either of them. 

Available on: Renaissance 3d (Faithless)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

N-Trance featuring Ricardo Da Force 'Stayin Alive'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube

Impressively, the packaging of Now 32 manages to spell Ricardo Da Force's name wrong no fewer than five times (back cover, disc label, back of the booklet, sleevenote and credits) and all this despite the fact that the typical publicity shot is replaced here by the single cover.

As the notes do correctly point out, this was the follow-up to the huge, 'Set You Free', which had sold over half a million - and that was only the first three times they released it! This track is a different sort of dance hit: as Mr Da Force explains during his rap, they "took a Bee Gees riff and broke it down like Kenco". Unsurprisingly, in the coolness stakes this makes the Shaggy record look like the Arcade Fire or something, but I have to admit I always rather liked it. It's not a record I'd want to make myself listen to too often, but it usually raises a smile, much more so than a lot of dance records that are supposed to be better.

Incidentally, my brother had this track on the non-canonical Now 1995. The notes to that credit the session singers, one of whom is also credited on 'Fighting Fit' by Gene. And that's the only chance I'll get to link to that track on this blog, tenuous as it is.

N-Trance also appear on: Now 30, 38, 50
Available on: The Best Of N-Trance

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Shaggy 'Boombastic'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

YouTube

Over the last couple of weeks as I've written laudatory posts about Pulp, Radiohead, Coolio et al, I've been slightly worried about the possibility that I might come over as interested only in music considered "cool" by a certain group of people. Not that I feel any need to excuse my own musical tastes, but I try not to look like too much of a snob.

It's good timing that this turns up now, a record that can hardly be accused of trying to be cool. Shaggy had seemed a one-hit wonder (at least in the UK) after struggling to follow up 1993's chart-topper 'Oh Carolina', but finally returned to the Top 10 in the summer of 1995 with a version of 'In The Summertime' that wasn't actually all that good if I remember rightly. Still, it helped re-establish him an pave the way for this follow-up. I remember a lot of anticpation for the release, after this advert hardly ever seemed to be off MTV over the summer, and suddenly it wasn't surprising to see him enjoying his second Number One single.

Had it not arrived some time into his career, 'Boombastic' could almost have been a theme tune for Shaggy, as it seems to define his outlandish persona to a T. He completely owns the song, using every opportunity to play up. Generally speaking, swagger isn't something I especially prize in pop, and I don't really like much else that Shaggy's done. But this one just hits the right spot and is the definitive example of his good-time pop, just about naughty enough to be nice. Just steer clear of the Marvin-Gaye sampling remix in the official YouTube upload

Also appearing on: Now 24, 31 [with Rayvon], 33 [with Grand Puba], 34 [with Maxi Priest], 48 [with Rikrok], 51 [with Ali G]
Available on: The Best of Shaggy Vol.1: Mr. Lover Lover

Monday, 26 July 2010

Coolio Featuring LV 'Gangsta's Paradise'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)

YouTube

'Gangsta's Paradise' was an American No. 1 earlier in 1995.. it is released in Britain on 16th October 1995 and seems likely to chart very very high indeed.
Curious gaps in my family's record collection part 2: even though Stevie Wonder was worshipped in our house, the one album we didn't seem to have was Songs In The Key Of Life, so in 1995 I'd never heard 'Pastime Paradise'. It's possible that in some respects that flattered Coolio's version; if nothing else, the production of 'Gangsta's Paradise' sounds a bit thin nowadays, especially against the intricate cross-cultural brilliance of Stevie Wonder's record.

Listening to it as I did then, though, I can recall how impressive it sounded. Deep in my Britpop fandom, I didn't have a lot of time for gangsta rap, and I didn't see the film Dangerous Minds at the time (from what I recall of seeing it later, it wasn't up to much anyway, just a load of clich├ęs). But this song is something rather different, refusing the stereotypical glorification of violence and instead presenting a protagonist scared of what he's mixed up in. Subsequent events suggest that this may not have been an entirely honest representation of Coolio himself, but that matters little - it's a far more compelling storyline. And the sleevenotes guessed right: this rushed straight to the top of the chart - I recall Mark Goodier announcing it as the UK's first ever credible rap Number One, which is obviously a matter of opinion but there's no dispute that it was the first hip-hop single to sell a million, even if we forget the resurgence after Coolio showed up in Big Brother (oh, if only we could).

Those sales figures suggest that I wasn't the only one who effectively discovered a whole new sort of music largely through this record. And when I say "discovered" I mean I'd heard rap before but never really appreciated it. It's still far from my favourite type of music, but since my brother bought the album I've had a lot more time for it than I once did. A massive hit that deserved nothing less.

Coolio also appears on: Now 37
Available on: Gangsta's Paradise

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Smokin' Mojo Filters 'Come Together'

Chart Peak: 19

YouTube

Since the last two tracks we had here were Paul Weller and a Beatles cover, it seems only fitting to wrap up the first disc with a Beatles cover fronted by Paul Weller. Indeed this is a return to the War Child project which makes this seem almost like a summary of the forgoing side of the album (ignoring the Sacred Spirit track, anyway). And credit where it's due to Noel Gallagher, who pulled a double shift on the Help album, recording an exclusive Oasis track and then working on this in the same day.

The full line-up as given in the single sleeve was:
Paul Weller lead vocal & guitar
Paul McCartney guitar/piano backing vocals
Noel Gallagher guitar
Steve White drums
Carleen Anderson backing vocals
Steve Craddock {sic} guitar
- oddly, no bass player is mentioned, but then Ocean Colour Scene member Damon Minchella is briefly seen in the video and as he was also part of Weller's band at the time, it must surely have been him. Presumably, had McCartney played the bass he'd have reprised the same part he did on the original.

As I said in yesterday's post, it isn't really adviseable to try and cover a Beatles song in exactly the style of the original, and this group seem to have taken that to heart; unfortunately they seem to have been more focussed on not duplicating the existing version than on any fresh interpretation. Of course since one of them actually was a Beatle and the others were huge fans, that's not exactly surprising: also one imagines they wouldn't have had a lot of time together to work this out. Weller's gruff vocal is very different from John Lennon's creepily measured delivery on the Beatles record, and despite the large number of players, the backing track has a rough-and-ready sort of energy which is closer to Lennon's live performance of the song than the original (bag) production.

As a tie-in of all those talented people it's arguably a little underwhelming, but at the same time it remains a solid performance of a classic song and it does the job OK as a charity record; unlike some collective covers, at least you can tell they all like the song. Whether because of the more upbeat style, or the fame of the people involved, or just because it was marketed as a single rather than the confusing multi-artist EP format, this became the more popular of the two singles from this album, reaching the Top 20 just before Christmas (and in fact after Now 32 was released, which might have held down sales even more). In fact it's the only time this song has officially been a hit in its own right, since the Beatles and Michael Jackson both released it as part of a double A-side. Weller himself released another version (very similar to this apart from the absence of McCartney's keyboard and backing vocal parts) as one side of a limited-edition charity single in 2005.
As is my usual practice with charity records, I supply a link to make a donation and I've also linked below to War Child's download store, which is where I usually buy my downloads anyway. As I predicted in the Radiohead post, I have indeed bought another copy of the Help album myself.

And so ends what might be my favourite ever first disc of a Now album. Let's see next week whether Disc 2 can keep up the standard.

Available on: Help (also available direct).

Suggs 'I'm Only Sleeping'

Chart Peak: 7

YouTube

It's a coincidence that I happen to be writing about this song this week. I recently treated myself to The Beatles In Mono and as such have had the opportunity to listen to this (not my upload, I hasten to add!) and compare all the variations between the mono and stereo versions of the original. Hours of fun for all the family there. Thinking back to 1995, though, I was nowhere near as familiar with the original version: I knew it was a cover of a Beatles song, of course, but somehow Revolver was one of the few Beatles albums we didn't have. The advantage of this was of course that I was much better placed to appreciate this on its own merits.

That said, I - like many other people who grew up in London in the 1980s - had a lot of residual affection for the former lead singer of Madness. Well, I say former: technically speaking, the band were sporadically back in action in the mid-1990s, playing Madstock concerts annually, although they didn't release new material until 1999. Thus the launch of Suggs as a solo artist was his first studio collaboration in over a decade with Mike Barson, who co-wrote and produced much of the album. With that sort of reunion in prospect, it seems slightly odd to launch the project with a cover version (officially it was a double A-side with 'Off On Holiday' but only this side seemed to get any exposure). However, it is an attention-grabbing sort of track.

It's a pretty hackneyed observation, but when you cover a Beatles song there's not a lot of mileage in trying to outdo them at their own game; the only worthwhile tactic is to approach the song from another angle. And they certainly do that here, recasting the hazy, stoned original into an upbeat old-fashioned ska track with lots of trombone and cartoon sound effects. It's catchy (adding its own hooks as well as those John Lennon supplied), jolly and an enjoyable listen. The major flaw is that this doesn't entirely match the subject matter of the song, although some sort of excuse might lie in the chorus lyric "please don't wake me"; all this noise is interrupting his sleep. That certainly seems to be the interpretation the video's based on. Anyway, you can always ignore that bit and just listen to the trombone.

Also appearing on: Now 34
Available on: 100 Hits - 90s

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Paul Weller 'Broken Stones'

Chart Peak: 20

YouTube
Astonishingly, it is now 18 years since the teenage Paul Weller first charted with The Jam... 'Broken Stones', a Top 20 hit in September 1995, continued his run of solo successes.
The sleeve note glosses over this a little, but 1995 was the year that saw him score his first solo Top 10 hits with 'The Changingman' and 'You Do Something To Me', neither of which made it to a Now album. So it's left instead for this smaller hit to represent a successful year in the series. I don't mind though, as this is a track I've always rather liked but it seemed a little overshadowed by some of the bigger hits.

Since his revival around this time was widely attributed to the restoration of his rock sound as well as the patronage of younger stars, it's interesting to note that this track features no guitars at all, unless you count Mark Nelson's prominent bassline. Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene is shown miming a guitar part in the video, but he's not on the record so I suppose the director wanted to keep him busy. Conversely, somebody who does appear on there is Mick Talbot (on Fender Rhodes electric piano, alongside the subtly different sound of Weller's Wurlitzer) and with longstanding drummer Steve White tapping away in the background this is almost a Style Council reunion track, not exactly a fashionable thing to suggest. The track shimmers in and out on keyboards and cymbals (it almost fades in, in fact) and it's punctated by the heat-haze of an accordian solo; offset by the momentum of the strong rhythm section it lends the whole thing a relaxed late-summer ambience that makes it seem a very wise decision to release this single in September.

The one part that adds some grit (er, no pun intended) is the singing. It's a soul-searching sort of lyric, I suppose, and it's delivered with enough gruffness to keep this out of the middle of the road. And yet it also avoids sounding too whiny: somehow the vibe comes through that things are going to work out alright in the end. Even if you're on an endless spiritual quest it's a good thing to know that you have a soul, perhaps? Somehow I can even forgive that much-derided opening rhyme "Like pebbles on a beach/ Kicked around, displaced by feet" because it seems to come from the right place. Maybe it helps that I'm writing this at the right time of year (and not in the dead of winter when Now 32 came out) but I'm not sure this could ever be any better.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 33, 34, 70
Available on: Modern Classics - The Greatest Hits

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

McAlmont & Butler 'Yes'

Chart Peak: 8

YouTube
Singer David McAlmont (born Croydon, grew up in Guyana) teamed up with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler to storm the charts with 'Yes'... It reached No 8 in May 1995.
Odd that they're so specific about the chart date there, as it might have lead purchasers to wonder why it wasn't on Now 31: not that I'm complaining, as I'm pleased to see it on here. The insistent repetition of the year 1995 is a common feature to these sleeve notes.

I recall seeing this single in the shops and I remember hearing it a lot on the radio and being very fond of it, but somehow I didn't make the connection during the original chart run. Maybe I couldn't believe it was a male singer (not that the cover of the single indicated his gender anyway) or more likely I couldn't associate it with Suede, a band I'd never really listened to back then, but was utterly convinced I didn't like. I think by the time I did realise the point had become somewhat moot, as the duo had effectively split, announcing that they'd bow out with an album compiling both their singles, all the associated B-sides and the one unreleased track that was left over, plus a cover photo of the twosome looking in opposite directions. I bought that instead and it became one of my favourite underrated albums of the Britpop era, even if its connection to that subgenre is more familial than musical. What we get instead is a storming (and at the time non-obvious) retro-soul stomp with McAlmont delivering a brilliant riposte to an returning ex who once clearly jilted him. "So tell me, am I looking better or have you forgot whatever it was that you couldn't stand about me?" It's one of the best vocal performances on this or any Now album, and Butler wisely recognises him as the star and avoids any showmanship of his own. Yet in truth the whole ensemble are on brilliant form, right the way to the fade; or even beyond on the unfaded album version (from which I learnt what a fade sounds like in the studio). Either way, it's good that this didn't get passed on to Brett Anderson, who apparently rejected the follow-up single 'You Do'. In some ways, this one track is so outstanding it's perfect for a compilation. But I do like the rest of the output enough to have been pleased that they patched up their differences and returned for a second album a few years later.

One minor technical point: although the name is always spelt as "McAlmont & Butler" on artwork, this album refers to them as "McAlmont/Butler", which is very convenient as it's the only way I can tag it.

Available on: The Sound of Mcalmont and Butler

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Oasis 'Roll With It'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube

'Roll With It' was Oasis's 3rd big UK hit single of 1995... It was a No. 2 smash in August as the follow-up to the chart-topping 'Some Might Say'

A lot's been said about this record but I think I might be able to add one entirely original observation: the riff at the start sounds a bit like 'I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow' by Hank Williams. Well, I thought so anyway... Hey, have you heard the one about the Oasis soup? You get a roll with it!!!

Oh alright, please yourselves. There are two things that stand out about the sleevenote there. One is that they're stretching a point somewhat by claiming this as the band's third hit in 1995 ('Whatever' entered and peaked in December 1994, although it continued to sell well into 1995 and beyond). The other is that it entirely ignores the most famous part of this single's history, the famous/notorious/legendary chart battle with 'Country House'; mind you, I do notice they've taken the precaution of putting that Cast track in between the two of them so further hostilities didn't break out. I didn't really mention that aspect much in the post about the Blur song, partly because I'd found so much else to say about that one, and partly because I didn't want to fall into discussing this track before I'd got to it. I was also slightly reluctant to overplay the matter in any case because, after all, there was so much hype at the time and much as some of us enjoyed getting sucked into it at the time, it wasn't really that important musically. Certainly, I don't recall that much serious dispute down here between rival fans: most people I knew liked both bands even though they'd probably have a favourite between them (and of course the overwhelming majority of the world's population had no opinion at all on the matter). I know I didn't buy 'Roll With It' at the time, but I can't remember exactly how pre-meditation a decision that was: in any case, I did pick up a copy in the Woolworths bargain bin a while later and I went straight from school to buy (What's The Story) Morning Glory? the day it came out.

If there was a reason why I didn't rush to buy the single, it might have been because it was more expensive, or it might just have been because I didn't like it very much. I agreed, reluctantly, with the consensus that neither act went into the fray with their best material, but whilst I liked 'Country House' quite a bit then and am still fond of it now, I considered this the worst Oasis single ever, and if that's no longer the case it says more about how much worse they got than about any hidden strengths here. This was the point where all the Quo-asis jokes started, but the sad fact is that now I'm a grown-up I don't even think this is as good as Status Quo. Yes, the song itself is harmless if simplistic, but it suffers from unimaginative arrangement and performance which make it sound like the work of a tired and jaded band going through the motions, rather than the lead single from one of the most anticipated albums of the decade. I can't blame the American record company for deciding to release 'Morning Glory' as the single over there instead.

The uninspired promo video for this track seems to sum it up somehow, and an uncharitable person might suggest that it implies a certain arrogance, as if everyone involved was so confident they didn't really put enough effort in. Perhaps that's harsh, but knowing what we do about the band, perhaps not. A more charitable explanation might be that this was their first recording with Alan White on drums and it took him a while to get settled in, which isn't implausible: there are certainly better Oasis tracks from this era. But this one isn't even as good as the Cast record. Yeah, I said that in public.

I think the CD single is in my mum's attic now (hence no photo), but when I bought it I preferred the acoustic B-side 'It's Better People'.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 38, 52, 53, 54, 61, 62
Available on: Time Flies 1994-2009

Friday, 16 July 2010

Cast 'Alright'

Chart Peak: 13

YouTube

'Alright', A No. 13 hit in September 1995, was the follow-up to the storming 'Finetime'... It gave the fab four (John, Liam, Peter & Keith) their second hit of the year
Making the first of their many Now appearances here, Cast were very much part of the second wave of Britpop; in the early days when the word was first used it concentrated on more ironic, art-schooly acts like Suede and Saint Etienne, whereas this particular foursome were at almost the opposite end of the indie spectrum. Indeed it seems rather a quirk of history that this was ever called alternative music at all, because they'd surely have seen their antecedents as the likes of The Who, very much mainstream acts in their day.

That said, 'Alright' does have its own claim to indie heritage insofar as it dates back to John Power's days in the La's. Indeed that group used to play it live but never recorded it: a radio session recording appears on the recent box set and is probably the closest there'll ever be to a studio version by the La's. It was an obvious single choice for Power's second band, though, and with the demand there was for guitar-led pop in 1995 an unsurprising hit (coincidentally it peaked at exactly the same position as 'There She Goes'). I didn't buy the single, but I subsequently borrowed the album from a fellow sixth-former, and ultimately bought my own copy. I'd pretty much put it away for years until I started doing this blog, but I listened to it again yesterday and rather enjoyed it. Cast were never a really important act but sometimes they did what they did pretty well and this, though not their strongest single, is by no means their weakest. Today, that's enough for me.

Also appearing on: Now 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 43
Available on: Summer

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Blur 'Country House'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)

YouTube
In the week of August 14, 1995 Blur's 'Country House' was bought by nearly 300,000 people - one of the biggest first week sales ever on a single in Britain... Inevitably it entered the chart at No. 1.
A pedant might point out that probably rather fewer people than that bought it as there were multiple formats available. At the time, though, I resolutely refused to multibuy and made do with the second CD of live tracks; I had this idea that I'd bought a second hand copy of the other CD several years later but if I did I can't find it now. That sales figure also accounted for sales of the cassette single but not the 7", which was issued a couple of weeks later and reached the Top 75 in its own right.

'Country House' is the first upbeat-sounding track on this side of the album at least, if only musically. It certainly makes its appearance known quickly, with a thunderstorm of percussion before the brass section comes in, a batch of guitars hammer out the familiar riff and Damon Albarn supplies an almost music-hall like introduction of "So the story begins..." It was certainly these elements of the track that attracted the most attention at the time, as well as other touches like that "Balzac"/"Prozac" rhyme and Damien Hirst's must-have-seemed-a-good-idea-at-the-time video to give the impression that this was something of a comedy song. What was less remarked upon by people who didn't like it (and, I daresay, by many who did) was the darkness of the lyrical content, which is somewhat of a kind with the preceding Pulp song - there's that shared theme of attempted escapes which only lead to disappointment; the major difference being that this song is in the third person and has much less sympathy for the attempted fugitive (there are of course many theories as to who it might have been inspired by). In fact, the use of japery to sneak in this sort of bleakness is quite reminiscent of mid-period Madness, via their mutual influences and I can imagine this slotting onto The Rise And Fall.

I remember an interview in the NME at the end of the year when the band already seemed to be starting to distance themselves from this record to varying degrees, and Albarn claimed that this had only turned into an upbeat song in the studio, which I can well believe: some trace of what might have been its original incarnation survives in the middle section ("blow me out, I am so sad, I don't know why"). Unsurprisingly, the most openly dismissive member was Graham Coxon, who almost seems to be trying to subvert this song with the unconventional guitar solo which sounds like the the sort of anti-solo Andy Partridge used to do on XTC singles. And after a couple of paragraphs of defending the song, I have to admit that I don't entirely blame them for wanting to move away from this. Even at the time, I was conscious that they were having their biggest hit with what wasn't their best material, and time and over-familiarity haven't been entirely kind to it. In fact, controversial as it may be, I think 'Charmless Man' has aged better. Still, there's a lot more to it than initially meets the ear, and I don't think I'll ever dislike this record.

Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 33, 34, 36, 37, 42, 43
Available on: The Best of Blur

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Pulp 'Sorted For E's And Wizz'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube

Another of Pulp's true life stories, 'Sorted', was a massive No.2 smash in early October 1995... It followed the anthemic 'Common People' into the Top 3
Another track that feels like a slight misfit, despite its nominally high chart position: it was of course a double A-side with the more obviously commercial 'Mis-Shapes', which makes this seem an almost deliberately obscurantist choice, though by no means an unwelcome one for those who like me are fans of Pulp and have bought the T-shirt. Well, actually I think it was a present, but anyway I'm wearing it as I write this, so I'm still going to count it.

What I didn't do was buy the single itself, so I missed out on the notorious sleeve that caused a tabloid storm. I have a vague memory that in the panic to be seen as doing something, the video ended up being banned, although it's actually quite innocuous live footage, rather disappointing compared to the usually more imaginative Pulp promos. And they did still get to do it on TotP. There was always likely to be a fair bit of controversy about the title and subject matter of the song in any case, no matter that the song is hardly a ringing endorsement of recreational drug use: a nuanced view wasn't what the red-top press was interested in selling back then. Presumably this is why the record company ultimately insisted on the double-A.

Our setting being a possibly illegal rave, it's clever that the track fades in with a cheering crowd, but that's not a sound effect: the basic track comes from their Glastonbury performance that summer, albeit with considerable overdubs and an entirely re-recorded vocal; even more re-recorded in the single version that appears here (sometimes called the 7" edit, though the track wasn't actually released in that form until a year later) to remove the rude word from the second verse. You can still hear traces of these origin in the reverby sound of Jarvis Cocker's acoustic guitar, and is that a trace of feedback at 2:55? The crowd drift in and out too, although that's obviously a deliberate production effect. I don't know why they chose to work on this version rather than starting from scratch in the studio, but the effect works as more than just scene-setting; there's a slightly distant ambience about the sound that mirrors the lyrical theme of a crowd playing lip-service to togetherness and brotherhood but are unwilling to bond on any deeper level. Indeed, with hindsight, it's really the emptiness of the promise that's the main lyrical theme of the song, more so than any pro- or anti-drug interpretation that might have attracted more attention at the time. At the same time, of course, the production skills of Chris Thomas make this much better than a straight dub of the live version; in particular, Cocker's vocal is masterfully phrased in a way he couldn't have guaranteed in one take, and there are a few lyrical variations too. Most impressive of all is the vocal arrangement on the chorus with multiple overdubbed Cockers: particularly on headphones it sounds like one of them is whispering right down your earhole, creating exactly the right emphasis for the ominous lyric. Between the two songs on offer this was reportedly Island's most pre-ordered single up to that point (though it's not clear whether those were customer or just retailer orders) and widely tipped to become Pulp's first Number One single, but in the end it was outdone by the aforementioned 'Fairground' by U2.

As it happens, a connection did finally emerge between this and the previous track: when Pulp won the Mercury Prize for Different Class in 1996, they donated the prize money to War Child as the Help album had also been nominated.

Also appearing on: Now 31, 33, 35, 39
Available on: Different Class / Deluxe Edition

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Radiohead 'Lucky (War Child)'

Chart Peak: 51 (as the lead track of the Help EP)

YouTube

Radiohead's 'Lucky' is the lead track from the 'Help' EP due for release in late October 1995... The vast majority of monies owed go directly to the 'War Child' charity which is working to alleviate the suffering of children in Bosnia

Another track that seems a bit of a misfit on a Now album, especially noting its lack of success as a single (though it did feature on a million-selling album a couple of years later). In mood as well, it seems unlikely to appeal much to the stereotypical Now purchaser. Indeed it was allegedly rejected by one radio station for sounding "too depressing", not that I'm under the impression many other stations played it either. Between this and the fact that Radiohead aren't named on the front cover, this interrupted an otherwise unbroken run of 16 Top 40 hits over 15 years, and yet only six of those hits made it to Now album. For the record, the other three tracks on the EP were a live version of '50ft Queenie' by PJ Harvey, 'Momentum' by Guru and an untitled instrumental track that was actually by Portishead.

The sleeve note oddly glosses over it, but this lead track derives from the Help album,one of the more laudable achievements of the Britpop era. 20 exclusive (at the time) tracks were recorded on the 4th of September, and the record was in the shops by the 9th, too soon for them to list the tracks on the cover. This didn't stop it shifting enough copies in a single day to become the week's biggest seller, although to Brian Eno's annoyance it was treated as a compilation and thus excluded from the main chart (I should imagine this induced some mixed feelings in the Levellers, who gained their only Number One album for this reason). Over the years, I bought it on both cassette and CD, but last time I looked I couldn't find either of them so by the time you read this I may have to buy another copy.

Whilst some of the material was just rearrangements of old material or cover versions, 'Lucky' was at the time an entirely new song, though I don't know whether it was written specifically for the occasion. It seems to capture Radiohead at a pivotal moment in their career, somewhere between the relatively conventional rock of the first two albums and the more avant-garde soundscapes they've tended towards since. It still sounds like something that was written on guitar and arranged afterwards, but for me at least the emphasis has always been on the atmosphere more than the actual lyrics, which apparently are about a survivor of an airline accident who gains superpowers (or thinks he does?). It's an interesting concept actually, linking with obvious parallels like Spiderman, Futurism and their own song 'Airbag', which ultimately joined this on the OK Computer album. And it raises all sorts of questions about whether he's lucky to survive the accident, or unlucky to have had it. And I realise Radiohead aren't everyone's cup of tea, but for my mind this is possibly the greatest purpose-built charity single of all time at least in musical terms; it doesn't seem to have been quite as effective a short-term fundraiser as getting a load of current stars to bellow a cover version.


Fortunately, War Child seems to have done alright out of it in the long run and it's good to know that they're still going now, though in an echo of the song itself, it's a shame there's still anything for them to do. While there is, though, I've pointed the link at the bottom of the post to their download store, because they surely can make better use of the commission than I would. In line with my usual practice, I'll provide the link for direct donations.

PS - I have to admit that it's a pure coincidence that I'm publishing a post about a song called 'Lucky' on the 13th.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 33, 37, 38, 39, 49
Available on: OK Computer (deluxe edition)

Monday, 12 July 2010

Sacred Spirit 'Yeha-Noha (Wishes Of Happiness And Prosperity)'

Chart Peak: 37

YouTube
Sacred Spirit's Chants And Dances Of The Native American Indians project has already been hugely successful in France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, and New Zealand... This 'Yeha-Noha' single is due for re-release on 30/10/95. From CD/tape "Chants And Dances Of The Native Americans".
Side two starts with another of those tracks that seems a little out of place, although admittedly, it'd be hard to fit it in anywhere on this or just about any Now album. People who write the history of pop in the mid-1990s tend to stick to a certain template: Britpop (of which more soon, BTW), Girl Power, various forms of dance, hip-hop etc. What tends not to get mentioned so often is the whole wave of music like this (mentioned so little that there doesn't seem to be a name for it) that sold by the bucketload, albeit mostly in the album market as you can see by the peak of this single. And this was its second chart run, after it had barely scraped the Top 75 in the spring; in the meantime it had been the Number One single in France for six weeks, which may tell you something about the openness of the UK pop market to foreign languages.

For whatever reason, maybe traced back even to Paul Simon in the 1980s, this seemed to be a time when producers from the Western world (Germany, in this case) seemed on the lookout for "ethnic" sounds to weave with modern-day pop production. Obviously, the source material for this is the music of the people we British were learning to call Native Americans (they were still Red Indians when I was at primary school), and this particular track features a Navajo elder singing a version of a creation myth. I remember having a bit of a WTF reaction when I heard this on the Top 40 countdown and I'm still not sure what to make of it now, really, musically or even sociopolitically. There's a part of me that always wants to condemn this kind of record as patronising, and producer Claus Zundel doesn't exactly help matters by using the psuedonym The Fearsome Brave. But perhaps that's more a reflection of my own predjudices. Either way, I'm not a particular fan of the Western elements of this record either, but the whole thing is so far off what I'd normally choose to listen to that I feel oddly unqualified to pronounce on whether it's good or not, only that I personally don't enjoy it.

Available on: Sacred Spirit Vol.1: Chants & Dances of the Native Americans

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Jimmy Nail 'Big River'

Chart Peak: 18

YouTube

Jimmy follows last year's hugely successful 'Crocodile Shoes' project with this new single 'Big River' on 16th October 1995... He says "It's about me, about my life, about my life, it's the most personal song I've ever written."
As this is the first time Mr Nail has cropped up on here, it's probably worth throwing in some backstory for any non-British readers. Jimmy Nail (b. James Aloysius Bradford) is an actor from the North-East of England who first rose to fame in the popular-with-people-who-were-old-enough-to-be-allowed-to-watch-it TV series Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Whilst he didn't get the theme tune gig on that occasion, he soon launched a parallel pop career with some success, including a Number One single with 'Ain't No Doubt' (see Now 22). The Crocodile Shoes referred to in the sleevenote was a popular series and album in which he combined his two careers by playing a (British) country singer, and on the soundtrack he collaborated with local heroes like Paddy McAloon and Mark Knopfler.

Since Nail conceived and scripted the series, it's not surprising that he used the opportunity to pursue the country direction in his solo career: this track has no connection to the Johnny Cash song of the same title but he'd surely have been aware of the coincidence. The setting is purely British though, the big river of the title being the Tyne: Knopfler's back on guitars here and there's some of the sense of place that's intermittently part of his own music. It's a lament for the shipping and other industries that seemingly collapsed in the region during Nail's own lifetime and it's obviously heartfelt, but in places he's less eloquent than he seems to think and over the course of six minutes the song comes over as a little too self-consciously monumental. As for the singing, it suggests that his later album title Ten Great Songs And An OK Voice was a little over-generous. All of which said, I can't bring myself to be too disparaging about a record so well-intentioned.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 22, 30
Available on: The Nail File: the Best of Jimmy Nail

Friday, 9 July 2010

Louise 'Light Of My Life'

Chart Peak: 8

YouTube

Louise's first solo single since her departure from Eternal was this big ballad... It was an immediate success, racing to No 8 in October 1995

You want a really tenuous link? Judging by the video I linked to in the last post, Louise was presenting TotP the week the Beautiful South were on. That aside, this track seems curiously out of place at this point in the sequence, beyond the fact that fits in with the generally quite mellow mood of these early tracks.

In some ways, though, it'd be tough to find a "right" place for this song, because there's not a lot to it. It's the first song on this album that I couldn't have hummed, though I remember it being a hit. Of course, that's partly because it wasn't the sort of music I was interested in at the time, and we're not yet quite in the era when I was listening to chart rundowns every week; but at the same time it seems quite fitting for Louise. On paper she was a major star of the era, scoring eleven consecutive Top 20 singles (most of them in the Top 10) between 1995 and 2001, plus a one-off charity single a couple of years later. Yet few if any of these hits could really be said to have left a major impression on the world.

I did check the title a couple of times, though, so this really is the single they chose to launch her. Somehow, it sounds of its time without having sounded modern at the time. It was co-written by Simon Climie, who of course cropped up a couple of times on Now 12. It has a very off-the-shelf quality about it, as if they just ordered a ballad and got this by return of post, but it's so utterly unmemorable that I've actually managed to forget it while I'm typing this.

Also appearing on: Now 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 46, 47, 50, 56
Available on: Changing Faces: the Best of Louise

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Beautiful South 'Pretenders To The Throne'

Chart Peak: 18

YouTube

Noting their fairly large number of appearances, I'm slightly surprised that this is the first time we've encountered the Beautful South round these parts, though of course two of their number have shown up before as part of the Housemartins. This was the first new Beautiful South material since the "mega-platinum selling" Carry On Up The Charts singles compilation made the band a household name, even if not many people in those households would know unprompted who David Stead and Jacqui Abbot were.

At the time, I thought this was just an advance single for a fifth album, and not being a completism-level fan of the band I spurned the option of buying the single, even the cheaper 1-track version (quite a novelty in those days). As it turned out, when that album did show up about a year later in the shape of Blue is The Colour, this track wasn't on it (I don't know whether this was the intention all along, or whether they just decided to drop it when they'd written the other songs for the album) and apart from this appearance it didn't show up again until 2002. It's very much the forgotten Beautiful South hit, which I don't think I've heard on the radio or seen on telly since its original chart run. In fact, I even forgot it a bit myself despite it being a significant selling point of the best-of album I have it on. Then when I obtained my copy of Now 32 for the princely sum of 50p and ripped it to MP3 for the purposes of this blog, on the spur of the moment I added this track to my player and it's served me well ever since.

Even after fifteen years I've never totally figured out what the song's supposed to be about, though. It lists the merits of various towns and cities (a faint echo of 'Song For Whoever'?) before ultimately seeming to reject them in favour of an unnamed destination that has "class [and] excellence like you've never seen." But notably, one of the places they dismiss is "Hull with its musical flair" so they're not pleading for their own hometown. Presumably the key line is "if you've been, it's not where I mean" - they're dissociating themselves from whoever the song's being sung to and anything they could possibly appreciate. The middle eight develops this theme with what's perhaps the definitive Paul Heaton lyric; "As I watch them drop the grain into your fishtank brain/How can you like this place when it never even rains?"

As usual, they wrap this confrontational lyric in a pretty little tune, another example of that surprisingly unique sound of theirs. It's also one of their first tracks to show traces of an electronic influence, albeit rather subtly at the end. It's not their strongest track by any means, but neither is it anywhere near their worst. And I don't really know or care whether it's a cool thing to say in 2010 but it's the best track on the album so far.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 16, 18, 22, 27, 28, 35, 36, 41, 42
Available on: Solid Bronze - Great Hits

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Cher 'Walking In Memphis'

Chart Peak: 11

YouTube

Hmm... if you want a tenous connection, she used to be married to somebody called Bono.
For the first few seconds, you get exactly what you're expecting: a straight and rather pointless cover of Marc Cohn's 1991 hit. Then at 0:38 the junglist beats kick in... OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but the most notable thing about Cher's first solo Now appearance is the attempt to make it sound more up-to-date than the original, for all that Cher is the more experienced act. As the sleeve note points out it was thirty years since she had her first solo hit with 'All I Really Want To Do (Marc Cohn would have been about six years old then), but then again it's this sort of attempt to chase the contemporary that has made her career so long lasting: certainly when I first encountered her during her first run of hits in the 1980s it didn't even cross my mind that she might have had hits before I was born.

The other remarkable thing about this version is the changes of gender. "I'm as blue as a girl can be" is only logical, of course, but I'm not so sure why "Muriel plays piano..." has to turn into a man called Gabriel, especially if I'm correct in recalling that Muriel was a real person. Either way, insistently giving the elderly pianist the opposite gender to the singer adds an implication that I don't really think was ever intended.
Nonetheless, whilst her greater name recognition presumably helped this chart higher than the original over here, it seems largely forgotten now. I'd say it hadn't aged well, except that I didn't like it at the time either. I can't say I'm surprised they didn't even bother to release the single in America.

Also appearing on: Now 30 (with Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry), 33, 42
Available on: The Very Best of Cher

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Tina Turner 'Goldeneye'

Chart Peak: 10

YouTube
'Goldeneye', written by U2's Bono & The Edge, is the theme song from the new James Bond film... The single is due for release on 6th November and is Tina's first for 2 years.

Sometimes there are really subtle links between consecutive tracks on these albums. Sometimes they're not so subtle; yes, this is another song written by (some of) U2 for a film. And in this case, clearly written for the purpose since it has the film title in the lyric... well, unless Brian Eno had asked them to write a load of songs about ducks, which I suppose is not impossible.

It's actually a much more cinematic-sounding record than 'Hold Me, Thrill Me...' possibly thanks to the production of Nellee Hooper: he'd never done a film score before and he's only done one of them since but I suppose his work on stuff like Massive Attack had that sort of mood to it. It's not so clear what Bono and Edge's "Executive Producer" credit amounts to. Turner's no stranger to movie themes and she knows exactly how to pitch this for maximum effect, even if the lyrics don't totally make sense. I can't actually recall whether I've seen the film or not, because I only really remember James Bond films by the cars, but I don't know whether it'd help. Perhaps it didn't need to though, as this was a fairly successful relaunch of her career.

Incidentally, I think Tina's the most featured solo artist on this blog so far.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 6, 16, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 34, 44
Available on: Tina!

Monday, 5 July 2010

U2 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube

Another single that peaked at 2! This was U2's first appearance in 10 Now albums, their biggest gap since the remarkable 15-album gap between their second and third appearances: most remarkable because it covers the Joshua Tree era.

Anyway, we find Bono & Co here in the middle of what's typically seen as an experimental period that started with Achtung Baby in 1991 and ended around the time of the first best-of album in 1998. In fact, 'Hold Me,...' doesn't sound all that experimental nowadays, although of course it is fifteen years old. It was an offcut from Zooropa (an album I didn't even know existed until years later) which was pressed into service as the title song from Batman Forever, a film so big even I saw it, although I don't remember much about it except my brother and I mocking the moment when Batman realises that a character called "Edward Nigma" might possibly be The Riddler. The single itself is no masterpiece and like a lot of U2, gives the impression that it thinks it's a lot cleverer than it really is. But it's nowhere near the worst they've ever done and it gets some point for the big orchestral ending which at least makes it sound like part of a soundtrack.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 5, 20, 22, 36, 37, 41, 47, 48, 49, 53, 57 [LMC vs U2], 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 72
Available on: Best of 1990-2000

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Simply Red 'Fairground'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)

YouTube

Taking its inspiration from the Italian city of Milan, 'Fairground' hurtled into the UK chart at No.1 in late September '95 & stayed there for 4 weeks... incredibly it was Simply Red's 1st British chart-topping single. From CD/Tape "Life"
You can draw your own conclusions about how incredible it really is that they'd never topped the UK singles chart before (they'd managed it twice in the US). If anything, the more surprising discovery for me was that this is apparently the biggest-selling Simply Red single here as well as the highest-charting - I mean, you'd think it'd be 'Holding Back The Years' wouldn't you? With hindsight, this was about the last time I can remember actually liking a Simply Red single, albeit that I already felt like I shouldn't. Fortunately the next couple of singles after this put paid to any such dilemmas as they were so thoroughly rubbish I could completely honestly dislike them. In later years I went off this too.

What I didn't realise at the time was that the beat which is possibly the most distinctive part of the record is actually sampled from 'Give It Up' by The Goodmen, as Hucknall sort of acknowledges in the lyric "let's make amends like all good men should." In fact the small print in the Now 32 sleevenotes helpfully points out that the original source of the drum beat is 'Fanfarra' by Sergio Mendes which I'd never heard until now; the Goodmen added the hiccupping sounds. Knowing how much of this is second- or  even third-hand, I was expecting to lay into it, but actually I was not unpleasantly surprised by this. Mick Hucknall is on relatively subtle form here, not making himself the sole focal point of the record for once. His biggest contribution to the writing is the actually not-bad chorus, and the whole thing has a slightly dreamy quality which actually makes it a bit more fun than the one-dimensional Goodmen record.

It's not the greatest record ever but Simply Red were never anywhere near as good again. I can't say it conjures many images of Milan, but then maybe that's why they made the video in Blackpool.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 7, 9, 20, 21, 23, 24, 33
Available on: Life

Friday, 2 July 2010

Meat Loaf 'I'd Lie For You (And That's The Truth)'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube

'I'd Lie For You..', a duet with Patti Russo, is a classic embodiment of Meat Loaf's approach... Due for release on 16th October 1995 and surely destined to join the wonders in the Meat Hall Of Fame. From CD/Tape "Welcome To The Neighbourhood"

It can only be a coincidence, knowing how far in advance they'd have had to go to press, but this was Number 2 the week before the Queen single; and the track that kept them both off the top shows up on Disc 2.

This was Mr Loaf's first single since his career was rebooted by Bat Out Of Hell 2, his most successful album since you-know-what, and although he was evidently unable to do a third Bat album at this stage, he wasn't in any mood to mess with the formula. This single was neither written nor produced by Jim Steinman (Diane Warren and Ron Nevison respectively) but it wishes it was. Right down to the convoluted and jokey song title, and the inordinate running time (though the edit featured here manages to trim a full two minutes from the original album version) this models itself on his biggest hit single. They even made a ludicrously over the top video, which took up seven minutes of TotP before the single had even been released. 

Whilst all the above is entirely understandable, it doesn't leave a lot for those of us who firmly believe that Meat Loaf only needed to make one record. It wasn't this one. And if this really delivered on its promised epicness, it'd be odd to throw it away so early in the sequence; maybe it's just as well it proved to be a bit of a damp squib. As for the "Meat hall of fame", well, I can't remember the last time I heard this outside the context of this album.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 33, 65
Available on: Hits Out of Hell (Expanded)

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Queen 'Heaven For Everyone'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube

This post should probably start with a warning: we're embarking on Now 32, which came out when I was 17. Over the next 40 posts there are likely to be more outbreaks of enthusiasm than anyone not born between about 1974 and 1982 is likely to find reasonable. We're probably also going to be hearing the word "Britpop" a lot.

At the start of the album though, we're in much more conventional territory for Now albums: Queen. Out of thirteen appearances (including collaborations), no fewer than seven are in the coveted Disc One, Side One, Track One position; two more start the second disc. You could even make it eight out of fourteen if you allow for the fact that 'Radio Gaga' opens the CD version of Now 4. It was never terribly surprising that their career wasn't ended by the demise of Freddie Mercury, but it wasn't necessarily to be expected that they'd show up with a whole album of seemingly new material when they'd released Innuendo less than a year before his demise. The reason they managed it was, of course, that not all the material turned out to be new, much of it being outtakes from previous sessions or reworkings of material from solo projects. Once upon a time, this song was a Number 84 hit for Roger Taylor's side-project The Cross - but whilst Taylor himself fronts that single, their album features instead a version sung by Freddie Mercury, from which the vocal was extracted to create this, the lead single from what I keep wanting to call a posthumous album, even though 75% of the lineup were still alive when it came out. 

'Heaven For Everyone' is a fairly typical well-meaning Taylor song full of hopeful sentiments but not wholly convincing. As I'm sure Taylor would be the first to admit, Mercury's vocal performanace lifts this a good few notches, and the Queen version is an improvement over the original production. But with hindsight, it's hard to imagine the Top 3 success of this single not being heavily dependant on sentiment.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 15, 16, 19, 21, 25 [with George Michael], 33, 54 [with Vanguard]
Available on: Made In Heaven