Saturday, 31 December 2011

Fresh 4 featuring Lizz E 'Wishing On A Star'

Chart Peak: 10


'Wishing On A Star' originally made No.3 in 1978 for Rose Royce, whose back catalogue has provided hits for acts as diverse as Jimmy Nail and S'Express... Fresh 4/Lizz E made the Top 10 in October 1989.

Clearly, this was the era for reworkings of late-70s tracks, with the tracks from De La Soul and Inner City on this album and the near-miss from Big Fun. And 'Wishing On A Star' is the gift that keeps on giving, with Jay-Z and Paul Weller adding to the diversity of the covers and making it one of the most-charted songs in UK history: a version by X-Factor finalists is on its way out of the Top 50 at time of writing, though a competing attempt by Seal found less favour.

For all that the song's only shown up on one Now! album to date, and it's this version from an act who drifted so far into one-hit-wonderdom that I can't even tell you what the "E" stood for. Band member Krust and producers Smith & Mighty went on to slightly bigger things as associates of Roni Size and his Reprazent collective, which would tip you off that this was a product of the Bristol scene if you hadn't already heard it in the accent of rapper Flynn. As it turns out this is really rather an impressive version, maybe the best I've heard: it's not dissimilar in approach from 'Dub Be Good To Me' around the same time and whilst I personally  don't think it's quite as good as that, it still has that slightly chilly air about it. A lot more than I'd bargained for and a pretty good way to end the album, if you can overlook the slightly rushed fade on this 7" edit.

Available on: Back To Life

Friday, 30 December 2011

Redhead Kingpin & The FBI 'Do The Right Thing'

Chart Peak: 13


American rapper Redhead Kingpin reached No. 13 in August 1989 with this track.

Anyone else get the impression they were losing interest at this point in the sleeve notes? No mention of the fact that Redhead Kingpin's real name is David Guppy (no relation to Darius Guppy of fraud fame, so far as I can tell) or to the fact that his mother was apparently a police officer. At least the picture of the band makes it pretty obvious where he got the stage name from.

I have to admit I don't remember this at all from the time, but at least that saves me from getting it mixed up with the similarly-titled Simply Red hit. It's somewhere on the border between rap and that New Jack Swing sound we heard earlier on this album from Bobby Brown, though there's more charm on offer here, and a positive message amid the over-familiar samples. He does sound a bit like he's filling when he starts listing various districts of New York in which people should be doing the right thing, and the record's probably about a minute too long but it's rather enjoyable all the same.

Available on: Pure Dance Party

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Neneh Cherry 'Kisses On The Wind'

Chart Peak:


Neneh's third Top 20 hit in a row following 'Buffalo Stance' and 'Manchild'... Surely the only Swedish-born artiste to appear on 4 Now albums in a row.
4 in a row? If they were anticipating putting her on Now 17, they were wrong. Mind you, I can't think of another Swede who's even managed three in a row - not even Ace Of Base. I'm open to correction on that though, feel free to do so.

The third hit from her solo debut did even better in the US than here, and seems somewhat forgotten now. In all honesty it's not as impressive as 'Buffalo Stance' or as melodic as 'Manchild', although it has some lyrical charm with its tale of a precocious teenage girl. Though I do remember hearing it at the time, I haven't really given it a thought in the last twenty years or so and it's not that surprising really. The production has dated worse than I expected too.

Also appearing on: Now 14, 15, 18, 29 [with Youssou N'Dour], 30 [with Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Eric Clapton], 35
Available on: Raw Like Sushi

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Oh Well 'Oh Well'

Chart Peak: 28

'Oh Well' was written by Peter Green, the original leader of Fleetwood Mac (it made No. 2 in late 1969)... Oh Well are a German trio and the song had taken them to No. 28 by 22nd October 1989.
Fleetwood Mac's original of 'Oh Well' is a bit of an anomaly in their catalogue. Their first (and in the UK, highest-peaking) hit on the Reprise, it's invariably ignored on compilations released by that label, which tend to ignore the Green-era blues recordings and concentrate on the more lucrative AOR recordings of the 1970s and 1980s. Another interesting little factoid: the title was translated differently in Spain, Mexico and Venezuela. I don't know whether that says anything about the lyrical content.

Anyway, it might not have seemed the most obvious candidate for a Eurodance makeover, but it was the late 1990s after all and I presume that it was a well-enough-known song in Germany for people to recognise it. This version is based only on the A-side Part 1, rather than the instrumental second half, and resets Green's surreal (possibly improvised) lyric over background music that sounds like the theme to a regional TV news programme - it even has one of those thumping endings where you can just imagine the anchors straightening their paper scripts against the desk, even though they're going to read the entire bulletin from the autocue. I thought this was quite fun at the time but it hasn't aged all that well.

Available on: Oh Well (download single)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Shakespear's Sister 'You're History'

Chart Peak: 7


Former Bananarama singer Siobhan Fahey, AKA Mrs Dave Stewart, found success in August 1989 when 'You're History' became the first British hit for Shakespear's Sister - It reached No. 7
For a while it was their only hit in fact, although you might notice that the notes refer to the act's origins as a Fahey solo project. Her first single in this guise flopped greatly though, so collaborator Marcella Detroit (aka Marcy Levy) was promoted to band membership, at least promotionally. And this seemed like the right place to launch the duo too: even though Fahey is technically the lead vocalist here, it's Detroit's very high-pitched delivery of the title line that is the real hook. You wouldn't want to hear her screech the whole song like that, but as the chorus it makes the ideal contrast with Fahey's low mumbled responses.

It also adds a layer of silliness that makes it easier to forgive some of the dubious rhymes. Yes, it's another one of those "go away useless ex" songs (maybe a stage forward from the situation in the Jimmy Somerville track, if you're listening on vinyl or cassette and haven't got Brother Beyond in between) but it's an unusually effective one, actually sounding generally glad to be rid of him. A record that's more than the sum of its parts.

Also appearing on: Now 21, 22
Available on: Sacred Heart

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Brother Beyond 'Drive On'

Chart Peak: 39


Our third and last CD-only track, so no sleeve notes again. It's a pretty minor hit, but one can only assume that at time of going to press it was expected to climb further than it actually did. With hindsight, Brother Beyond were something of a precursor to the boy-bands-with-guitars of the 2000s, their struggling career having been rescued the previous year by the intervention of our old friends Stock/Aitken/Waterman. After the first album finally became successful they made what they now acknowledge was the classic mistake of thinking they didn't need SAW and could do the next album on their own.

'Drive On' was a self-penned song; ironically enough guitarist David White is the brother of the band's original drummer Eg White, who later made quite a name for himself as a songwriter, with many a Top 10 hit under his belt. I did find a lot of them quite dull though, so I wouldn't necessarily say this was much worse, but it obviously wasn't the target audience wanted, with its grown-up moodiness and attempt at a political lyric. It also seemed to expose some less than brilliant singing and understandably only just grazed the Top 40. Even playing it safe with a cover version as the next single couldn't revive their career.

And on that not exactly uplifting note, Merry Christmas. Next post coming on Boxing Day.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 14
Available on: The Very Best Of Brother Beyond

Friday, 23 December 2011

Jimmy Somerville featuring June Miles-Kingston 'Comment Te Dire Adieu'

Chart Peak: 14


After a successful spell as lead singer with Bronski Beat ('Smalltown Boy', 'Why?' etc.) and then the Communards ('Don't Leave Me This Way', 'Never Can Say Goodbye' etc.), Jimmy looks to France for inspration on his solo debut - due for release on 30th October 1989.
Yes, that's yer actual French you know, although interestingly enough the song was originally written in English and had been a US hit for Vera Lynn of all people. It was given a French lyric by Serge Gainsbourg (which I think is his only contribution to the Now series, unless anyone knows different?) and recorded in that form by Francoise Hardy, which is presumably the version Somerville would have known; nonetheless, it seems that he may have been making a point by recording the song in a language other than English, with its attendant commercial disadvantages for the UK market.

Surprisingly for Gainsbourg, the lyric isn't obviously rude, barring any innuendo detectable only to native speakers. It's notable for the many "ex" rhymes - including references to Kleenex and Pyrex; you can take the song out of English, but you can't take the English out of the song. I quite like that image of a Pyrex heart, impervious to warmth, actually. Anyway, the song isn't best-suited to a duet performance, but Somerville and Miles-Kingston sound like they're having a lot of fun (and look like it in the video too, but if they're pretending to be French shouldn't the car be left-hand-drive?). The dancey production doesn't exactly have the sophisticated air of Hardy's version though and the finished article hovers dangerously between entertainment and in-joke.

Also appearing on: Now 17, 18, 31
Available on: Read My Lips

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Cliff Richard 'I Just Don't Have The Heart'

Chart Peak: 3

Cliff's 101st British single was written and produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman... It reached No. 3 on 27th August 1989. The follow-up 'Lean On You' was a Top 20 hit in October.
It's tempting to suspect an element of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" here, since Cliff's hundredth single was kept off the top of the chart by an SAW act (more on that if we ever do Now 15), but as both songs are from the same album it's unlikely in reality. However, it's easy to forget that for the first thirty years or so of his career, part of his survival plan was adapting to changing trends: a decade or so before this he'd proved the point with the discofied 'We Don't Talk Anymore' and the oddly dark new wave style of 'Carrie'. In a sense it was only logical that he'd gravitate in this direction soon enough. I'm not quite so sure what was in it for the producers though.

It goes without saying that, love him or hate him, Cliff is on a different level of performing skill than Big Fun, and he was presumably a bit higher up the pecking order for songs too: 'I Just Don't Have The Heart' is more memorable than 'Can't Shake The Feeling' (at least, I remembered it more, despite there being many bigger Cliff songs to distract me from it) and coincidentally almost the exact opposite in sentiment - he doesn't need or want to shake the feeling, he wants it back. Catchy as it is though, it's not one of the trio's more inspired compositions - the way the entire song seems to be put on hold for that handclap in the chorus gives it a curiously clumsy air at odds with the mechanical production. It seems to have been one of his last attempts to sound modern, though that's probably just as well unless you wanted to hear him collaborating with Chase & Status in 2012.

Also appearing on: 6, 10, 15, 17
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Big Fun 'Can't Shake The Feeling'

Chart Peak: 8


Big Fun are Jason, Mark and Phil... Their first hit was 'Blame It On The Boogie' - a cover of the Mick Jackson/Jacksons hit, it made No. 4 in early September... This is the follow-up which is due for release on 13th November 1989.
It probably won't have escaped your notice that 'Big Fun' was also the title of a hit by Inner City, and it wouldn't have been totally surprising for them to have been sequenced next to each other for that very reason, although the effect is undermined somewhat by putting them on different sides of the record. And had they actually included 'Blame It On The Boogie' they could have had three revivals of late seventies pop in a row. Incidentally, a note to younger readers: Mick Jackson was not related to The Jacksons, but he did write that song and his version was released in competition with the more internationally famous Jacksons rendition.

You can sort of tell I'm trying to put off writing about 'Can't Shake The Feeling' can't you? It is of course, a Stock/Aitken/Waterman composition and production, coming at the tail end of their imperial phase of success. They'd suffered a backlash as long as they'd been as famous as the acts in front of them of course (I should know, I was part of it) but it has to be said that Big Fun really are everything the SAW detractors accused them of - even with the benefit of studio techniques it's obvious that they couldn't sing, and on the evidence of that TotP appearance they couldn't really dance either. Even the song is pretty second-division for  PWL, a sort of high-NRG without the energy. I'm sure Big Fun were lovely lads but they didn't really have enough going for them to overwhelm the criticism and within nine months of this hit their chart career was over.

Available on: A Pocketful Of Dreams

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Inner City 'Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'?'

Chart Peak: 12


Inner City - Kevin Saunderson and Paris Grey - have already had 4 Top 20 hits in Britain in the last 12 months. This track is due for release on 6th November 1989 and was originally an American hit in 1979 for Stephanie Mills.
Side 3 spins to a close with one of only two American Top 100 hits for the duo (and neither of those made the Top 70). With hindsight some of their material seemed to have pretentions toward being a new Chic, and for a while it worked but they were never totally in the same class. This is a perfectly decent cover version of a perfectly decent track but there's nothing especially exciting about it - possibly some of the club mixes went down better but it's a slight non-event in this form.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 14, 15
Available on: Good Life - The Best Of

Monday, 19 December 2011

De La Soul 'Eye Know'

Chart Peak: 14


The third British Top 30 single of the year for De La Soul... 'Eye Know', which is based around Steely Dan's 1978 American hit 'Peg' followed 'Me Myself And I' and 'Say No Go' into the chart... had reached No. 16 by 22nd October 1989.

Sorry it's not the real video, I couldn't find a full version on YouTube. It's not very good anyway. There's no video for the Steely Dan track either, but then you wouldn't have expected one in those days. I thought I should listen to it for research as the only previous time I can recall hearing it was about 22 years ago,being played on the radio by a DJ who evidently relished the opportunity De La Soul had given him. Although my Dad had (and to the best of my knowledge still has) a copy of Aja, and has always been quite keen on Steely Dan, I don't remember him actually playing it much. Maybe it just wasn't the sort of thing that made an impression on a child.

De La Soul were certainly a band I remembered actually hearing and liking though. Naturally at the time I was too young and naive to place them in any sort of musical context or to be any more than subconsciously aware of the source material: the battle between gangsta rap and the jazzier more upbeat version on offer here was totally unknown to me. Of course being a wimp I grew up with more of an affinity for the latter and nowadays the rap section of my record collection is dominated by the positive vibes of Jurassic 5, Ugly Duckling and other non-Now acts. Inevitably, I ultimately acquired the seminal 3 Feet High And Rising, a seminal work in hip-hop history that was famously called the Sgt. Pepper of the genre; it's also been compared to Dark Side Of The Moon, although that's not as close a match to the colourful and humorous style of this album. One way 3 Feet differs from both those precedents is that it produced multiple hit singles: four of them, in fact, which I'm pretty sure was unprecedented for a rap album in the UK and hasn't happened much since either.

The third of those hits, 'Eye Know' isn't quite my favourite but it's still a brilliant single, one of the few attempts at a hip-hop love song that isn't utterly cringe-making. And it has a brilliant swing in its step that - perhaps controversially - I don't hear in the Steely Dan track which is a bit too pedantic to feel really soulful. It doesn't seem at all wrong that they sample the whistle from Otis Redding, and what greater praise could I give?

Also appearing on: Now 15, 61 [with Gorillaz]
Available on: 3 Feet High And Rising

Saturday, 17 December 2011

D-Mob Introducing Cathy Dennis 'C'Mon And Get My Love'

Chart Peak: 15


The third hit for D-Mob following 'We Call It Acieed' and 'It IS Time To Get Funky'... Had reached No. 23 by 22nd October 1989.
And indeed, this was the single that launched Cathy Dennis to an unsuspecting world, as well as becoming D-Mob's biggest US hit. It wasn't his or her biggest success back home though and seems little remembered now, although it does come from the largely ephemeral field of pop-dance. It's a fun and upbeat track that reminds me rather of Kylie's work around this time (though dare I say it better sung) but who would ever have guessed that over a decade later Kylie would still be around and having be hits with songs written by Cathy Dennis?

As much as I enjoyed this track I don't find myself with a huge amount to say about it. I suppose it falls slightly between the stools of serious fashionable dance and out-and-out pop, or maybe it's because Dennis can afford not to do comeback tours and stuff that her hits are less in the public eye nowadays than some of her contemporaries.

D Mob also appear(s) on: Now 13, 15, 17
Cathy Dennis also appears on: Now 20, 36
Available on: FFRR Silver

Friday, 16 December 2011

Adeva 'I Thank You'

Chart Peak: 17


The Success of 'I Thank You', which had reached No. 17 by 22nd October 1989, gave Adeva her 4th British Top 30 hit of the year... It followed 'Respect', 'Musical Freedom' (with Paul Sampson) and 'Warning'.
If you ignore that Paul Sampson track, this was her third consecutive hit to peak at 17, a chart position it shares with such memorable hits as 'Making Plans For Nigel' by XTC, 'Live With Me' by Massive Attack and indeed the other two Adeva songs. But this one I'd totally forgotten, and I can hear why. It's pretty much house-by-numbers: well-sung and not unpleasant to hear but it's straight in one ear and out the other.

Also appearing on: Now 14
Available on:Pure Summer

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Lil' Louis 'French Kiss'

Chart Peak: 2


CD bonus track time again, so I've had to guess that the version you actually got was the same one on YouTube. Unlike the Fine Young Cannibals track on the first disc, I can make an educated guess that this was relegated to the more expensive format because of its top-shelf content. The younger sections of the audience might not even have known this track, as it was largely banned from daytime radio and presumably owes most of its success to late-night shows and clubs. That said, it's hard to know how anyone actually would dance to this with its constantly slipping tempo and stops; but that might say more about my dancing ability than the record. It's easy to see why people in their late teens would feel very cool about buying it and playing it when their parents weren't around.

I don't want to sounds like I think it's a bad record because it obviously isn't, but by the standards of pop music it's not especially sexy, and to be honest I've always found it a bit creepy. I can appreciate the invention and skill involved and I do sort of like it but I don't really know when I'd want to listen to it.
If ever there was a big hit you wouldn't expect there to be a knock-off version of by the Top Of The Poppers, this is surely it (video possibly NSFW).

Available on: Ibiza 1991-2009

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Technotronic featuring Felly 'Pump Up The Jam'

Chart Peak: 2


Felly, a Belgian-born former model and fashion designer, teamed up with studio wizards Technotronic to make her first single 'Pump Up The Jam' ... It made No. 2 in in early October 1989 for two weeks.
Well the chart info is accurate anyway - those were also the last two weeks at the top for Black Box, which must have been the moment when a lot of older people stopped being interested in the chart. However, it's pretty well-known known that Felly didn't sing on the record (and indeed couldn't speak English at the time): the vocals were apparently by Ya Kid K, who openly fronted some of their later singles. Oh, and she wasn't born in Belgium either, but in DR Congo, or Zaire as it would have been at the time.

Although I do remember some criticism at the time when it became obvious that Felly couldn't have been the singer, there was none of the same sort of outrage as with Milli Vanilli - I guess people didn't feel as duped with dance music because they don't really believe in it or take it seriously in the same way to start with. It's the kind of music I knew I was supposed to be a bit superior about even at the age of 11 and I didn't expect to have much time for it in my thirties but actually it's aged surprisingly well as simple and fairly minimalist dance - they called it "hip-house" back then apparently. The lyrics are as good as they need to be, ie not very, but they do accurately draw your attention to the fact that the beat is pumping. The space in the arrangement actually makes it feel a bit fresher now than it did then, especially to those of us who've heard the 2005 remix.

Technotronic also appear on: Now 17 (with MC Eric), 18
Available on: The Workout Mix: 5k &10k

Friday, 9 December 2011

Bobby Brown 'On Our Own'

Chart Peak: 4


I didn't think I'd seen Ghostbusters 2 (I was certainly far too young to have seen it at the time) but I'm all the more convinced of it having seen the video for the tie-in single: none of the clips look familiar. Mind you, there's not much of the film in there, as this video combines its state-of-the-art-in-1989 visual effects with more of the sort of celebrity cameos that featured in the clip for the theme from the first film. I even recognised some of them. Well, Donald Trump anyway.

That's where the similarities with the previous title song end though. 'Ghostbusters' is one of the highlights of Now 4, as endearingly light-hearted as the movie it was written for. This time around, what we get is, like the video, up-to-date RnB of the time from the hugely successful writers/producers Babyface and LA Reid, fronted by the Brown (no relation) who was a big star in the late 1990s if never likeable - he's also one of only two people on Now 16 to have appeared on the first Now! album, back when he was in New Edition. The song doesn't seem to have all that much to do with the film, aside from the rapped precis which opens the track and is repeated towards the end, rather suggesting that it was something already in the can. It's a perfectly OK record but nothing more than that, and deservedly failed to have anything like the afterlife of the first theme song, despite being one of his biggest hits at the time.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 30, 31
Available on: Dance Ya Know It

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Rebel MC and Double Trouble 'Street Tuff'

Chart Peak: 3


The Rebel MC (Mike West) and Double Trouble (Leigh Guest and Michael Menson) successfully teamed up in the summer of '89 on 'Just Keep Rockin'... 'Street Tuff' is their second hit and had reached No. 3 by 22nd October 1989.
Now, this is a bit more like it. Unfortunately the one thing they do have in common with Milli Vanilli is that one of them is no longer among us: Michael Menson was murdered in 1997. I felt like I had to mention that somewhere but best to get it out of the way first so we can cast our minds back and hear the song as we would have at the time.

For those who don't remember this one from the time, we're still in the early days of non-novelty British rap; so much so that at one point Rebel MC takes it as a sign of his rapping prowess that you'll "Feel the music, and you wonder, is he a Yankee? No, I'm a Londoner." As with Derek B a few albums ago, he evidently expected his audience to be thinking good rapping=American, although to be fair to them they wouldn't have heard P-Diddy yet. As with much hip-hop of this era, his lyrical agenda is largely limited to telling us how good he is at rapping, but to give the guy his due he's not bad at it.
It's possibly more interesting to consider the music, based on a sped-up version of the bassline from '54-46 That's My Number'  by Toots and The Maytals, which in turn refers to 'What'd I Say'. As Desmond Carrington would say, the music goes around. Although some of the samples laid over it are rather of their time, it has an appealingly chunky quality to it now, at least for those of us who remember it from our younger days. A fun, if dated, dance record.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 17 [Rebel MC only]
Available on: Dave Pearce Best Of The Dance Years 1988-92

Monday, 5 December 2011

Milli Vanilli 'Girl I'm Gonna Miss You'

Chart Peak: 2

This American chart-topper gave Milli Vanilli their 3rd British Top 20 hit... It is the group's most successful single to date and had reached No. 2 by 22nd October 1989.
And so Side 3 picks up roughly where Side 2 had left off, with a drippy ballad that peaked at the same chart position at approximately the same time. Ah, but as soon as you saw the names you'll have noticed the one important difference, won't you? It's forever the fate of Milli Vanilli to be remembered for what they didn't do, rather than anything they did - this proved to be their last significant UK hit and it was only a year after this that they had to hand back their Grammy Award. Which is kind of understandable (at least, more understandable than their winning it in the first place) but looking back now there's a side of me that wants to be above worrying about that. After all, nobody seemed to care whether Boney M were singing on their records, so why should Frank Farian's other projects be treated any differently.

Fortunately, there's another reason to avoid the question: the record itself isn't really any good. I suppose it sounded OK when I was 11, but soppy cliches are more tiresome to me now than more upbeat ones. There's no residual charm for me now.

Also appearing on: Now 13
Available on: Frank Farian Summer Hits

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Richard Marx 'Right Here Waiting'

Chart Peak: 2


After phenomenal American success, Richard Max finally made his British Breakthrough this year firstly co-writing Cliff Richard's big hit 'The Best Of Me' and then reaching No.2 in late September 1989.

There's certainly no argument about the scale of the American success: this was his second Number One single over there and he'd had a load of hits from a debut album that was largely ignored here in the UK. With hindsight, it's maybe a little more questionable how permanent a breakthrough this was for him: he did go on to have three more Top 20 hits over the next five years, but never really made himself a consistent hitmaker. There's no disputing the bigness of this song, though; it sat in the runner-up position behind Black Box's all-conquering 'Ride On Time' for a fortnight, but we can safely guess that it had greater pan-generational appeal and would have been more of an airplay hit, though the sort of radio I listen to back then was playing both.

The record itself certainly seems of its time, though as I've noted here before, his 1990s recordings don't really sound any less 1980s. The whole aesthetic is very late-80s AOR: the gruff voice, the mullet, the pseudo-rebellious album title (Repeat Offender). In fairness, this does set itself apart with a relatively sparse production, concentrating mainly on piano and vocal and avoiding big thuddy drums. This does focus attention on the song itself though I can't entirely celebrate that as it's a bit too formulaic for me, as real as the emotion apparently is, and as much as I know that the silent majority of the general public lap this up. I'm only surprised Westlife haven't covered it, to be honest.

Also appearing on: Now 22, 23, 27
Available on: Repeat Offender

Friday, 2 December 2011

Living In A Box 'Room In Your Heart'

Chart Peak: 5


The 6th British hit single for Marcus, Richard and Tich A.K.A. Living In A Box and also their 3rd hit this year... Had reached No. 7 by 22nd October 1989.
Yes, another Box and another act who had more hits than you might have thought. Strangely, the eponymous hit that was their signature song seems to have eluded the Now! series, but we do get their other Top 5 single.

Certainly, we're back in sharp-suited soul territory here, although there's a little bit more oomph to this than to the Wets or indeed Then Jerico. Richard Darbyshire is a fairly convincing facsimile of a soul singer until he starts overdoing it, and the song, co-written by Albert Hammond, moves in a logical enough direction but it's a bit too predictable to do the trick in retrospect. I was interested to learn when researching this post that the bizzare edit I remembered hearing on the radio, which lops out most of the second verse irrespective of rhythm or rhyme, is also the video edit; however the full verse features on Now 16 itself.

Keyboard player Marcus Vere now makes vehicle-related DVDs for little children. I'm quite cheered to know that.

Also appearing on: Now 14
Available on: Gatecrashing

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Then Jerico 'Sugar Box'

Chart Peak: 22


'Sugar Box' was the group's 3rd Top 40 single in Britain this year following 'Big Area' and 'What Does It Take'... It made No.22 in late August 1989.
Back to vinyl for another hit of comparable size to 'I'm Not The Man I Used To Be', but one that certainly made less of an impression on me. In fact I can honestly say that I have no memory of ever hearing it before I brought Now 16 home to time it.

I didn't remember much of that experience either, except noticing that Mark Shaw sings the phrase "Lips Like Sugar", also a song title for Echo & The Bunnymen, and it occurs to me that the two acts have a certain amount in common. Well, they both had stupid names that imprinted themselves more on my mind at the time than the actual songs (so maybe they weren't so stupid after all), and they both seemed like they wanted to be taken quite seriously. They both seem like they were groping towards the same sort of musical territory, but that sort of self-conscious anthemery is always a bit of a turn-off to me. For my money, U2 did this better, Simple Minds did it with more ruthless efficiency and the Bunnymen failed more interestingly. Not only do I not know whether "Sugar box" is meant to be be something rude, I can't even make myself care.

Also appearing on: Now 14
Available on: The Best Of Then Jerico

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fine Young Cannibals 'I'm Not The Man I Used To Be'

Chart Peak: 20


No sleevenote this time, as this is one of the three tracks exclusive to the CD version of Now 16. I don't know exactly what the mechanics were of this, whether this was because the record company refused to clear it for all the formats or whether it was intentionally relegated to bonus track status - but it certainly isn't the smallest hit on the album. Indeed, it was a pretty big song at the time and if it doesn't seem to get mentioned much nowadays it's only because it gets overshadowed by other hits from their admittedly meagre output.

It's only become clear to me as I've been studying the Now! albums that the Fine Young Cannibals were actually really rather good. To be sure I enjoyed hearing the songs at the time, but they seem to have more depth to me now. And for once I can be pretty sure it's not the nostalgia talking, because the picture they paint of eighties Britain isn't all that pretty. On this present track, though, the gaze is turned somewhat inward on a song that sounds like a lament for lost youth (although Roland Gift was still under thirty when he recorded this, so I imagine there may be more going on than the obvious). Possibly it's the return of the narrator from 'Johnny Come Home' further down the road to oblivion. It makes for an odd track to put on  a compilation called "Happy Birthday Dad", really, but at least he might appreciate the music, which seems like a precursor to Emeli Sandé's excellent recent hit 'Heaven'.

Aptly enough, this song of weariness was to be their penultimate major hit. They split after dragging one more single from the second album, and then re-emerged with a one-off single and best of album in the mid-1990s. They deserve to be more remembered though.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 6, 14, 15
Available on: Happy Birthday Dad (Digital Version)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Kate Bush 'The Sensual World'

Chart Peak: 12


'The Sensual World', which made Number 12 in September 1989, was Kate's biggest British hit single since 'Running Up That Hill' in 1985.

So... shall I pretend that taking a week to get round to this post is a tribute to Kate Bush's notoriously slow work rate? If so, it'd be an ill-timed one, since she's just released her second album of 2011, albeit that only one of them had new material. That said, there was an eleven-year gap between The Red Shoes and Aerial, which is roughly the same length of time that divides this from 'Wuthering Heights'. Of course, this sporadic release schedule is one reason she features relatively rarely in the Now! series - just the two solo singles - but even when she does she feels as out of place as an act of her commercial stature might reasonably seem. For all its chart success, 'The Sensual World' isn't really a pop song, and was utterly baffling to my 11-year-old ears; not difficult to listen to as an aggressive rock or hip-hop track might be, just hard to understand; especially since I didn't really know what the word "sensual" meant, although I was pretty sure it was something rude. I didn't know (and wouldn't have understood anyway) that the song was originally based on a  speech from James Joyce's Ulysses, although Bush was unable to get permission at the time - she did manage to clear it for the re-recording earlier this year. I didn't know it was derived from a Macedonian folk tune either, but then I didn't know there was such a place as Macedonia, let alone two of them.

Actually reading Ulysses was somewhat more research than I thought necessary for this blog post, though, so I'm just going to look on this as a record. Interestingly, whilst the word "sensual" obviously implies sexuality, and that's certainly implied by the lyric and the breathy vocals, I think Bush is also using the word in a more general sense, as she talks about her character "stepping out from the page" and embracing reality in all its physical and emotional impact. It's obviously possible to read this as somehow autobiographical from somebody whose first hit was adapted from a book, but whether there's any truth in that we're never to know. Either way, it's a heady mix with the twisty melody and those haunting pipes. And yet, it's not the sort of thing that would realistically ever have been a hit single were it not from a legendary act, and it doesn't wholly seem to make sense without some broader context. It's admirable but doesn't stand alone in the same way as her next single, 'This Woman's Work'.

Also appearing on: Now 6, 8 (with Peter Gabriel)
Available on: The Sensual World

Friday, 18 November 2011

Wendy & Lisa 'Waterfall '89'

Chart Peak: 69 [original version: 66 in 1987]


Former Prince henchwomen Wendy and Lisa finally cracked the UK Top 30 with their previous single 'Satisfaction'... The 1989 re-mix of 'Waterfall' is the follow-up, due for release on 30th October.

Yes, it really does say "henchwomen". Supposedly the song is about their departure from Prince's backing group The Revolution, although the exact facts of the matter seem to remain in dispute. What's obviously not in doubt is that for all their obvious talent as musicians and composers, they struggled to sell singles in their own right.

I can't actually find the 7" version of this mix online, so it's just as well I did have the LP to compare with the original version. It does indeed seem to be a shorter version of the 12" mix, and is noticeably more slap-bassy and less screamy-guitary, but it's hard to say whether this makes it sound more or less dated. It does seem oddly lacking in dynamics now and to be honest it doesn't sound like a major hit in either form. Perhaps they're better off concentrating on the soundtracks that are their bread and butter now.

Available on: Wendy And Lisa

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Transvision Vamp 'Born To Be Sold'

Chart Peak: 22

Released on 23rd October 1989, 'Born To Be Sold' is the follow-up to the group's three Top 20 hits so far this year - 'Baby I Don't Care', 'The Only One' and 'Landslide Of Love'.
I guess they were taking a flyer on the possibility that this would follow suit, but it wasn't to be and indeed The Vamp (as nobody actually called them) never made the 20 again. I am of course aware that there are plenty of people (most of them males who had certain hormones in high concentration circa 1989) for whom Wendy James is an uncriticisable figure, but she's not really my type. I generally don't have much time for her as a singer, associating her and the band with overloud thuddy eighties rock.

As it turns out, 'Born To Be Sold' is a slightly different sort of track, with a slower pace that allows James to adopt a whisper rather than a screech. Still not a voice I'd seek out but far better. The lyric is a slightly annoying conceptual one about celebrity. The thought crossed my mind that with the eclectic list of names mentioned, it feels slightly like the opening song in a musical. The production and the wardrobe for the video aside, it feels more contemporary than most music from 1989.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 15
Available on: Velveteen

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Tina Turner 'The Best'

Chart Peak: 5


Tina's biggest British single hit since 'We Don't Need Another Hero' in 1985, 'The Best' was No. 5 for 2 weeks in late September 1989.

Yeah, it's not really called 'Simply The Best', people just think it is. Another thing people might not know about this song is that Bonnie Tyler peaked at 95 with the original of it in early 1988. Compared to that, Tina's version is at least a bit more assured, leaving Tyler's effort sounding a bit like a demo.

I must say, though, that like 'I Want That Man' this track has now lost any attraction it ever had for me, now sounding lost in a pile of cliched lyrics, clattering excess production and Edgar Winter's naff sax solo. The only hint of any kind of spontaneity is that yelp before the last chorus, which sounds so out of place that the first time I heard this on the radio, I thought it was the DJ. Yes, I used to listen to the sort of radio station where they would do that, and I'm not proud of it. I'm sure the people who made this record aren't too proud that it's developed an association with Northern Irish (and Scottish) sectarianism, which led to it recharting last year.

Also appearing on: 1, 4, 6, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 32 34, 44
Available on: I Grew Up In The 80s

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Queen 'Breakthru'

Chart Peak: 7


'Breakthru' was the 2nd of 4 British hits so far in 1989 for Freddie, Brian, Roger and John... It reached No. 7 in July.

As it turned out, they made it to five singles by the end of the year, all drawn from The Miracle, which is the album where they're all merged into that slightly creepy five-eyed monster on the cover. More seriously, it's also the first album they made in the knowledge that Freddie Mercury was terminally ill (though it was of course a secret from the general public at the time). Heard it that context, it's possible to interpret the chorus lyric "Break through these barriers of pain" in a slightly different way from how they'd have sounded at the time, although apparently this song was written primarily by Roger Taylor; it's officially credited a group competition. And it must be said that Mercury still looks in pretty good shape in the video, although he had less than three years to go by then. And while we're on the subject of lyrical misinterpretation, I've only recently realised he's singing "Your face fills my mind" in the first verse and not, as I'd thought for about twenty years, "your face feels like mine".

External facts aside 'Breakthru' is a good potboiler of a song that just doesn't quite sound as good as it should, somehow. I'm resisting the obvious pun here, but it's one those records that always sounds punchier and more convincing in my memory than when I actually listen to it. Perhaps the fault lies in overproduction, which is a common failing of the band's work in this era, and to be fair of many others too. Still, a song it's no hardship to be reminded of.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 15, 19, 21, 25 [with George Michael], 32, 33, 54 [with Vanguard]
Available on: The Miracle

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Wet Wet Wet 'Sweet Surrender'

Chart Peak: 6


'Sweet Surrender' became the 6th hit for Marti, Tommy, Neil & Graeme since 'Wishing I Was Lucky' started their success in 1987... It made No. 6 on 1st October 1989.
I was slightly unsettled to note that the original album version of this song stretches to six minutes, although fortunately this is a truncated single edit of about four and a half minutes. Even that wasn't enough of a cut for TotP, who seem to lose interest about half way though.

I think they might have had a point too. Of course, in an audiovisual medium there's the extra aggravation of Marti Pellow's deeply irritating cheeky-chappie persona, but in sound only the effect is more boring than actively annoying. I thought I remembered this song more than I actually did, but closer inspection suggest I was actually getting it mixed up with 'Angel Eyes'. This is the sound of the band living up, or rather down, to their name with a thoroughly dull song that only hints at some signs of life with the middle-eight, and doesn't really deliver then either. It marked the end of their first run of chart domination, although TV and the movies would come to save them later.

Also appearing on: Now 10, 11, 12, 21, 28, 31, 37, 38
Available on: End Of Part One - Their Greatest Hits

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Beautiful South 'You Keep It All In'

Chart Peak: 8


Following the success of 'Song For Whoever' (No 2 in July), Dave, Dave, Dave, Paul & Sean teamed up with guest vocalist Brianna Corrigan to score a second Top 10 smash with a highest position of No. 8 on 1st October 1989.

Your eyes do not deceive you, the original lineup of The Beautiful South was 60% Daves (Brianna Corrigan was, as noted above, officially a guest musician on the first album, although she was considered a full member of the band for the next two. Although this is one of only two occasions when the band scored consecutive Top 10 hits, it seems like a bit of a forgotten song now. It was always a big favourite of mine, though.

Of course, when I was eleven I couldn't claim to understand what Corrigan and Paul Heaton were arguing about. Even now I don't really get all the references but I can still enjoy the dark domestic comedy; and this is also a great showcase for the fact that the band usually had three singers (Dave Hemingway gets a go towards   the end) and even though they didn't all sing on every track, it lent them a variety that makes you wonder why so many bands use the same vocalist all the time.

What really stands out for me is the music though. The soul influence on the band isn't always noted (though they covered a relatively obscure Bill Withers song as a B-side), but it's clearer here than in most places. It's impressively tight, packing bundles of energy into less than three minutes, the complex twists and turns, the luxuriant arrangement and the massed backing vocals give it a light jollity that contrasts with the uncomfortable lyric. You can hear more of this on the instrumental version that backed some formats of the single. The bass playing is also excellent, despite being by one of the rebellious band members who weren't called Dave.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 18, 22, 27, 28, 32, 35, 36, 41, 42
Available on: Welcome To The Beautiful South

Monday, 7 November 2011

Curiosity Killed The Cat 'Name And Number'

Chart Peak: 14


After three big hits in 1987 - 'Down To Earth', 'Ordinary Day' and 'Misfit' - Curiosity (Ben, Julian, Miggy & Nick) had a rest and then recorded their second album... 'Name And Number' was the first single and it peaked at No. 14 on 1st October 1989.

Sources seem to vary as to exactly what name the band were using at the time of this single, but judging by the sleeve of this album and the images of the single that I've found online, I've titled this post with the felicidal suffix that they eventually dropped.

Of the many sharp-suited pop-soul acts who emerged in this country around the mid-late 1980s, Curiosity were probably the most teen-friendly (unless you count Wet Wet Wet) and one gets the impression they were trying to shrug off some of the boyband reputation with the second album. Though not lyrically groundbreaking (it's the old standby of phoning somebody who doesn't pick up), 'Name And Number' certainly sounds like an attempt to be a bit grittier and funkier than their earlier material. Unfortunately, they're not the easiest band to take seriously and the ploy doesn't totally come off, but it's a catchy enough pop song. It didn't quite work out commercially either: though this was a decent sized hit, they found themselves in the unenviable position of following a Number One album with a No. 29, and no further hits ensued until they did a U-turn, shortened the name and released cover versions.

At least the chorus to this song had a second lease of life - it was of course used on De La Soul's 'Ring Ring Ring', which was probably more lucrative for them internationally than this. It doesn't really justify "Ben VP"s dance remake though.

Also appearing on: Now 9, 10
Available on: True 80s 3 CD SET

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Sydney Youngblood 'If Only I Could'

Chart Peak: 3


Sydney comes from Texas originally, but has lived in Germany for some years... 'If Only I Could', a call for peace that he wrote himself, was his frst hit reaching No.3 for 2 weeks in October 1989.

Well, he didn't write it all by himself - there are three other writers listed, presumably because this track is heavily based on 'Break 4 Love' by Raze. However Youngblood's (or Ford's, as he originally was) contribution is not to be dismissed. He does have a rather rich, warm voice and his lyric has a charming utopianism about it, although the argumentative might suggest that not being able to make the world perfect doesn't mean he can't improve it. Others might counter that making this record is a significant contribution in itself.

Also appearing on: Now 17
Available on: 101 80s Anthems

Friday, 4 November 2011

Deborah Harry 'I Want That Man'

Chart Peak: 13


This is her 2nd big solo hit in Britain - had reached No. 14 by 22nd October 1989... Debbie Harry was, of course, the lead singer of Blondie who had 13 Top 20 hits (including no less than 5 No. 1s) in this country between 1978 & 1982.

To settle the question of nomenclature first, the single was originally credited to Deborah Harry, and is listed as such on the sleeve here, but I've tagged this entry with the name by which she's most commonly known. Actually, it's interesting to look back now and see how little success she had as a solo artist; it's well-known of course that she spent a significant amount of the 1980s distracted by Chris Stein's illness, but even so it's remarkable how few of even the singles she did release were major hits: this is one of only two Top 20s and just two more reached the Top 40. Blondie were obviously very successful in the UK and it's fair to say that Harry was very much the focal point of the band, so it's curious that she seemed to bring so little of the fanbase with her. Perhaps it proves that the band split (and reformed?) at the right time.

It may or may not be coincidence that both the major hits she did manage came from outside songwriters. 'I Want That Man' was penned by Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie of the Thompson Twins, who were at the time a married couple. Despite this (and the fact that Harry herself is obviously a woman) it has a definite "gay anthem" feel about it, which is interesting in that you don't often hear about Blondie as being a big act in the gay clubs, though I'm not sure whether that's because they weren't or just because it's drowned out by Harry's heterosexual male audience. Either way, she camps it up heroically here, but is perhaps somewhat undercut by the stompy stadium-rock production, when you'd think something more high-NRG would suit the target audience better. Perhaps the 12" mix went down better, but in case it didn't EMI opportunistically commissioned some new remixes a decade later in the wake of the Blondie comeback, taking advantage of the lyric "here comes the twenty-first century". Cash-in or not, those seem to avoid falling between two stools better than this original.

Also appearing on: Now 8
Available on: Most Of All - The Best Of

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Erasure 'Drama!'

Chart Peak: 4


'Drama!' was Vince and Andy's 9th big British hit single in the last 3 years... It reached No. 4 on 1st October 1989 and 3 weeks later their album shot in at No. 1.

I've always had a bit of an ambivalent attitude about the use of punctuation marks in song titles. On the one hand I quite like the idea of them, but on the other they often seem to be an attempt to oversell the song itself. I suspect Erasure were aware of this and used the exclamation mark with some sense of irony in this case, but I must admit things don't start brilliantly; when I started watching the video I found myself looking at the cat  and trying to work out what sort of car Vince Clarke was sitting on more than I was able to concentrate on the song.

Things do pick up a bit as the song digs in a bit. I can understand this more as an adult than I would have at the time, as there's a resigned, exasperated quality about it: as much as Andy Bell bemoans the "infinite complexity of love" he ends up acknowledging the "ultimate necessity" of it too. I also like the big massed backing vocals of "GUILTY!" which seem like a precursor to some subsequent Pet Shop Boys material. It still feels a tiny bit unfinished to me, though, as if it could have been even better.

I think it might be a Hillman Avenger, by the way.

Also appearing on Now 09, 10, 13, 14, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 54
Available on: Wild!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Belinda Carlisle 'Leave A Light On'

Chart Peak: 4

Her 4th British smash hit following the success of the 1988 trio 'Heaven Is A Place On Earth', 'I Get Weak' and 'Circle In The Sand' ...Had reached No. 4 by 22nd October 1989.
And so we go from a one-off appearance to a regular star of the series; and curiously enough this is one of four times when she's the second track on the first disc. The sleeve note is not technically wrong in calling this her fourth big UK hit, but of course it doesn't mention the two less popular singles from her previous album, let alone the cash-in re-issue from her former label that scraped the Top 75. Also curiously unmentioned is the guitar solo by George Harrison, which I believe is his only contribution to a main series Now! album: he certainly doesn't appear as a solo artist or as a Beatle.

The start of this comeback hit is probably the closest her solo material ever got to reflecting her punk roots, with a tense guitar part that faintly recalls 'I Got You' by Split Enz. After that we launch back into full-on eighties stadium rock, for this is a track much happier to be of its time than the retro styles of the Tears For Fears opener. This very confident punch does arguably undermine the sentiment of the song a little, as Belinda never sounds like she needs to implore anyone to wait in for her. But then again it is only a song and whilst the effect is a little wearing on the ears now, this a decent pop record that works on its own terms and was unsurprisingly a massive hit. As if to prove the point, hits were soon harder to come by: her next three singles all fell short of the Top 30.

 Also appearing on: Now 11, 12, 18, 19, 20, 26, 34, 35
Available on: Original Hits - Drivetime

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Tears For Fears 'Sowing The Seeds Of Love'

Chart Peak: 5


This was the first Tears For Fears single in nearly 4 years and has been described as a "towering and sophisticated pop song with some very deliberate Beatleisms"... It raced into the Top 10 on release, finally peaking at No. 5 on 10th September 1989.
I think Now 16 is the most expensive one I've ever bought, costing me the princely sum of £2 in the PDSA shop last winter. I allowed myself that sort of spend because I also got a nice Thinsulate hat for a bargain price at the same time. It's a handsome vinyl LP, one of my favourite Now covers in fact, although I will have to try and remember to include the extra tracks that are only on the CD version. Now afficionados will also know the other thing that distinguishes 16 from every other album in the series, but I won't spoil it just yet.

Anyway, we kick off with the only ever Now appearance for one of the biggest bands of the first half of the 1980s. One can presume that contractual issues kept the likes of 'Shout' and 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' off earlier volumes, and after this big comeback hit they struggled somewhat, never troubling the Top 10 again. As the release schedule suggests, the Seeds Of Love album whence this came had a rather troubled gestation, with the founding duo getting through countless musicians (including three different drummers) and several studios to try and get what they wanted. Rarely are classics forged in such circumstances, although it must be said that their effort was rewarded with a somewhat lusher and more full-bodied sound than their earlier work - the original of 'Mad World' does sound decidedly cheap and tinny nowadays. Even so, this is such an obvious attempt at a Beatles pastiche that even I noticed when I was 11; and unfortunately it sounds like the work of people who've never really listened to the Beatles but have heard other people describe them.

It's true that there are several superficial touches that immediately call Magical Mystery Tour to mind: the trumpet solo that sounds like 'Penny Lane', the ostinato reminiscent of 'I Am The Walrus', the big cello section and a fair impersonation of Ringo's "backwards" drum fills, for instance. But at the same time, there's no way anyone could mistake this for the real deal: of course this is partly because of Roland Orzabal's voice (which I admit I've never liked) and partly because of the lyric which tries to encompass both Summer-Of-Love positivity and Lennonesque cynicism and sarcasm. That's a very tough balance to strike and it doesn't really come off here. Incidentally, I once read in an American newspaper that the line "kick out the Style, bring back the Jam" was a critique of Paul Weller (they didn't mention the MC5 parallel) and if true this is obviously  anachronistic to 1967 as well as being the opposite of what you'd expect TFF to think. The most crucial mistake, though, is that this lacks the economy of the best Beatles work: even the 7" edit we get here clocks in at about 5:40, which is not something John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin would have countenanced at their peak (aside from the extended outro to 'Hey Jude', and even that was done to make a point). There's a strong sense that production has been ladled onto this track rather than being integral to it, and the basic performance isn't really as tight as it could have been, a little too blatantly the product of high-tech eighties studios and click-tracks.

I don't want to sound like this is a really bad record, because it isn't, and it's certainly one of the best things they ever did together (also one of the last, until a reunion in the mid-2000s); it's just that when it's so obvious what they were aiming for, it's hard to ignore how far they missed. 'Sowing The Seeds Of Love' sounds more like a precursor to the self-consciously anthemic Oasis songs than a throwback to Sgt. Pepper.

Available on: Mad World: The Collection

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Amen! UK 'Passion'

Chart Peak: 15


Amen! UK are Panos Liassi, Luvain Maximaba and Candy Girl Pauls Masterson... 'Passion' was a major floor filler in the clubs and then crossed over to make the national Top 15 in early February '97.

The illustration of the single cover shows the "UK" part of the name hidden away in the exclamation mark, which does rather suggest they were forced to add it, presumably due to legal action from the US rock act Amen. And when the starting point of a post is typography, you can probably guess how excited I am about the song.

I've had to listen to 'Passion' several times to try and form any memory of it at all, and I'm still struggling: it's an utterly generic commercial dance track whereon an uncredited female singer informs us about some passion which is not only running through her brain, but also driving her insane. It's nice of her to let us know but I don't especially care. This is precisely the sort of thing that put me off dance music: there's no energy, no surprises in the rhythms or melodies, just three minutes of boredom.

It all makes for a dull ending for what had been a relatively interesting album. Burying a lot of samey dance tracks at the end wasn't a great move.

Available on: Classic Dance Anthems

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

B.B.E. 'Flash'

Chart Peak: 5

Due for release on 17th March '97, 'Flash' is the storming follow-up to the huge British and European anthem 'Seven Days And One Week'.
They mean British in the sense that it was popular in Britain, of course, since B.B.E. were Italian and French. And yes, "British and European" is a bit of a tautology, but we all knew what they meant. There's something quite mid-late 1990s about a dance act from mainland Europe scoring consecutive Top 5 singles (and in this case, two more Top 20s thereafter) with obviously club-oriented material: no cover versions or big name guest stars here.

'Flash' is another totally instrumental track, though a more eventful one than DJ Quicksilver's attempt. Some of the percussive sounds on it remind me a bit of 'Gunman' by 187 Lockdown. It's not quite the sort of think I'd listen to out of choice still, but it has less of the sense of going round in circles than most big trance hits.

Also appearing on: Now 35
Available on: Brave New World 6

Monday, 24 October 2011

DJ Quicksilver 'Bellissima'

Chart Peak: 4


'Bellisssima' is the European club anthem that looks set to invade the the Uk chart sometime around 31st March '97... You have been warned!
I realise it's pretty standard practice to refer to any dance record as a "club anthem" but it rarely seems truer than this. 'Bellissima' is one of those tracks that are so functional it almost feels unfair to try and form an opinion on them out of the intended context, but then again this is exactly the sort of challenge I was trying to set myself when I started this. It's an entirely instrumental track that starts with a standard progression and builds in an odd whistling note every so often to give the track structure. Not really for me, I must admit.

Also appearing on:Now 38, 39
Available on: Positiva Presents Essential Club Anthems

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Sash! 'Encore Une Fois'

Chart Peak: 2 YouTube
Sash!'s Faithless-inspired smash 'Encore Une Fois' flew into the chart at No.2 on 23rd February '97... It is one of the fastest-selling dance tunes of recent times selling around 200,000 copies in just 2 weeks.
Few would have guessed at the time, but Sash! were embarking on a record-breaking career: this was the first of three hits to peak in the runner-up position in 1997 alone, and they ended up with five number 2s, more than any other act who never managed a Number One. And by the way, I did say "they" - although Sascha Lappessen is the public face of the act, they are in fact a trio; I presume the other two DJS shown in this video are the other two members of the groups, but it's hard to tell as they're rarely seen publicly. As usual, they worked with various guest vocalists, sometimes credited, sometimes not: this one is fronted by their fellow German Sabine Ohmes, who capitalised on this success by adopting the stage name Encore! and singing only in French hereafter, most famously on her hit 'Le Disc Jockey' (see what she did there?), which is even more similar to the original of this track than to the British hit version.
I do recall hearing this for the first time on the chart rundown and being totally unable to grasp the appeal of it to anyone. Although it was hardly the first record in this style to become a hit (hence the sleevenote reference to Faithless), it still remained utterly beyond my ken. This wasn't even the "serious" dance I was reading about in the NME, to my ears just a lot of humming noises with somebody speaking French over it. Over the years, Lappeson became a more endearing presence on the pop scene and I can get into "imagining why people might like it" territory with this one now, but it's not a favourite of mine still.
Also appearing on: Now 37 [with Rodrigues], 38 [with LaTrec], 39, 41 [with Shannon], 42, 45, 71 [with Stunt]
Available on: Ministry Of Sound: The Rush 2010

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Source Featuring Candi Staton 'You Got The Love'

Chart Peak: 3 [4 in 1991]
John Truelove's club anthem was originally a Top 5 smash in 1991... New mixes saw the powerful cut, which features the timeless vocals of Candi Staton, return to the chart at No. 3 in February '97.
In fact, Candi Staton's original gospel single crept into the Top 100 just before Christmas 1986, but it's fair to say that more people are familiar with Truelove's dance reworking, originally a bootleg that later went legit. And if they missed it the first time around, they'll probably have caught up with the seemingly endless stream of revivals since: this is the highest-charting version to use Staton's vocal, although of course 'You Got The Dirtee Love' outdid this by one place in 2010.

The main result of all this is that my ears are quite fatigued of this song. It's been just about long enough since the last remix that I can stand to hear this now, but I still find it hard to give it the sort of close listen that would reveal why people might prefer this mix (by Rhythm Masters, says the sleeve note here) over any other. Indeed it's hard to escape the suspicion that they didn't and it was just an excuse to milk a few more bob out of a one-hit wonder.

Also appearing on:Now 19, 63 [other mixes of this track]
Available on: This Is... 1997

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ant & Dec 'Shout'

Chart Peak: 10
Released on 3rd March '97, 'Shout' looks certain to become Ant McPartlin and Dec(lan) Donnelly's 12th Top 20 hit in barely 3 years... They have been described as a cross between Reeves & Mortimer and Zig & Zag (!)

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you might be faintly surprised to learn that the only two song from it I have a physical single of are this and 'Beetlebum'. I was slightly surprised there weren't more of them myself, really. But as for my possession of this single at all, well, that's nothing anomalous. You can probably see in the image that I didn't pay full price and my purchase of the single itself was mainly out of curiosity about Steve Lamacq's remix on the B-side. I already knew the song from the album though because my brother had it; both of us had rather a soft spot for Ant & Dec. As dabbling actors, they always seemed to be having more fun being pop stars than most, distancing themselves from the other boy bands who insisted they were serious RnB groups.

By the time the duo had reverted to their own names they'd embraced Britpop more than any of their peers , presumably because this was nearer their own taste than the watered-down swingbeat of their earlier hits. 'Shout' goes a bit further by adding a bassline after the fashion of 'Walk On The Wild Side' and stinging fuzz guitar as well as the slightly odd lyric which the boys themselves presumably had a hand in. It's a slightly odd mix but an enjoyable pop record. It's just a pity that they followed up with the dull ballad 'Falling' and then retired from pop, if we forget the England 2002 single. Which we probably should.

Also appearing on: Now 31 [as PJ & Duncan], 35 Available on: Ant & Dec - The Essential Collection

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Alisha's Attic 'Indestructible'

Chart Peak: 12 YouTube
Alisha's Attic are sisters Karen and Shelley... They came from Essex to conquer the world and have done alright so far - Indestructible' is their 3rd hit in less than a year and has followed 'I Am I Feel' & Alisha Rules The World' into the top 20.
Brian Poole's daughters were nothing if not consistent chart performers at the end of the last century: this was the second of three consecutive hits to peak at 12, and the singles either side of it peaked at 13 and 14. It's faintly surprising that they're so little represented in the Now! series, although having a lot of hits close together can be a problem in that way. The greater problem is that they're represented here by a rather middling song, which sort of floats by without making much impression on the listener, rather than one of several stronger singles with more attitude or melody that could have been here. Maybe it's a female thing. Like Cathy Dennis (remember my last-but-one post all those months ago?) both Poole sisters moved into songwriting once their stardom as performers was over. Shelly [as she now spells it] seems to have become the more successful in terms of actual hits. Also appearing on:Now 41 Available on: Alisha Rules The World

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Divine Comedy 'Everybody Knows (Except You)'

Chart Peak: 14

Due for release on 10th March 1997, 'Everybody Knows' finds mainman Neil Hannon in real romantic mood this time around... It is tipped to give them their biggest hit to date.
In the end, it didn't quite make it - this matched the peak of breakthrough hit 'Something For The Weekend' but spent one less week in the Top 75. Perhaps I should take the blame as I bought none of the three CD single formats available: it seemed unnecessary when I'd got the album for my birthday two days earlier: it seems to have been a matter of policy for the Divine Comedy to release albums before singles. Apparently you were supposed to buy all three (card-sleeved) CD singles and fit them into the large box around the album CD, but I didn't realise that at the time, and probably wouldn't have bothered anyway.

I did like the song though. Like most people, I'd only become aware of Neil Hannon and his work the previous year, although I had read a review about him in the NME before Chris Evans started playing him so I'm almost cool. Anyway, this seemed like a refinement of the template of his previous album, aided by the fact that he could now afford to record the whole orchestra at the same time: the album was officially recorded at soundchecks at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, although probably with a little touching-up in a studio afterwards. It lends the production a certain lightness of touch that prevents Hannon's ironic lyric from being too irritating. Mind you, even at the most jokey (his dramatic delivery of the line "I made a small boy cry") there's always some sort of sense that the desperation is real - within the scope of the performance, at least, not necessarily in Hannon's own personal life - that saves this from sounding like a joke at the listener's expense.

Also appearing on: Now 42
Available on: A Secret History? The Best Of The Divine Comedy

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cathy Dennis 'Waterloo Sunset'

Chart Peak: 11

YouTube [warning: contains John Barrowman]

Cathy hit big in the early 1990s with tunes such as 'Just Another Dream', 'Too Many Walls' and the Top 5 smash 'Touch Me'... She returned to the UK Top 20 in 1997 with this cover of the Ray Davies classic 'Waterloo Sunset'.

It's not on YouTube, but the original video for this single actually featured a cameo appearance from Ray Davies, so presumably he had no objections to this version. I recall reading at the time that they'd met up at a songwriting retreat or something, and presumably Dennis got her money's worth from that as she has of course become a hugely successful songwriter.

Here we find her at the tail end of her career as a pop star, when she'd made an unexpected swerve into sixties-styled pop, with original material as well as covers. Presumably this was to at least some extent a reaction to Britpop, but commercially it didn't pan out brilliantly for her even here (and needless to say, it made no impact at all in the US, where she'd been more successful than I expected before this). This is, in all fairness, a perfectly respectable version of the song but it lacks some of the depth of the original, not really conveying the mixed emotions of the Kinks version. I'm open-minded enough not to hate it but I can't really see the point.

Also appearing on: Now 16 [D Mob introducing Cathy Dennis], 20
Available on: Am I The Kind Of Girl ?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Space 'Dark Clouds'

Chart Peak: 14


'Dark Clouds' was the 4th hit single in a row for Liverpool's Space... It is the latest in a string of successes following 'Female Of The Species', 'You And Me Vs The World' and 'Neighbourhood'.

Second Merseyside act in a row (and Mansun were from Chester, which isn't all that far away), and another single that I remembered not minding at the time. I suspect that's more because it seemed to tone down the self-conscious quirkiness of their previous hits than because it was an especially appealing song; to be frank it sounds pretty useless now and I can understand why it's almost entirely forgotten. I also recall that one of the B-sides was a song called 'Influenza' which I'd previously had on a free cassette from Select Magazine (this feels like it must have been about a hundred years ago, doesn't it?) and had genuinely liked. I'm somewhat reluctant to go back to it now, but the album I've linked to below contains both tracks should you with to disagree.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 35, 39, 41
Available on: Invasion of the Spiders

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cast 'Free Me'

Chart Peak: 7


Due for release on 24th March '97, 'Free Me' is the stonking new single from the top Mersey combo they call Cast... It is likely to storm into the chart in a fairly big way, like.

So I was all set to start this post by talking about how forgotten this song and band were and then what do I hear on Steve Wright's Non-Stop Oldies the day I start to write this post? Well, actually it was the follow-up to this, 'Guiding Star' but still, it was a bit of a surprise.

At the time, though, Cast were very much on a roll and the first single from their second album cruised easily into the Top 10. I recall quite liking it a the time, although I noticed the very similar middle eight to David Bowie's 'Little Wonder' from earlier in the year. I probably hadn't heard it for a good five years when I bought my copy of Now 36. Sadly it proved to be the track that disappointed me most: not that it's a bad song, but it's not an outstanding one either, and even though all the same people were involved it seems to lack the surefooted production of the singles from their first album. Probably just as well I never bought Mother Nature Calls, then.

Also appearing on: Now 32, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 43
Available on: True 90s (3 CD Set)