Saturday, 30 April 2011

Cappella 'Move On Baby'

Chart Peak: 7


Cappella is the creation of Italian Gianfranco Bortolotti... 'Move On Baby' is the group's 3rd smash hit in the last year and has followed 'U Got 2 Know' and 'U Got 2 Let The Music' into the British Top 10.

Not the biggest of the act's many Top 20 hits, 'Move On Baby' is remembered now if at all for the notorious Top Of The Pops performance on which the public face of the group, Kelly Overett, made it clear that she hadn't contributed the vocal on this track, which was instead the work of an unidentified session singer. I don't know whether Rodney Bishop was really the rapper on this track either but he just about gets away with his vocal. )You can, incidentally, see the full episode from which that clip is taken in higher quality at Pop Unlimited 1994, also featuring people who could sing or at least had the sense to mime.

In truth, Cappella was more of a franchise than a band, with Bortolotti calling in assorted sessioneers and producers to work on tracks and hiring others to represent them on stage. I'm not sure whether this makes it ironic that the name is Italian for church. Whoever put it together, 'Move On Baby' is formulaic but proficient and it is at least catchy. Well, perhaps "unforgettable" is a better word if you've seen TotP.

Also appearing on: Now 24, 26, 28
Available on: U got 2 know album

Friday, 29 April 2011

Right Said Fred 'Wonderman'

Chart Peak: 55

Richard, Fred and Rob's collaboration with Sega's Sonic The Hedgehog, 'Wonderman', is due for release on 7/3/94

Well, some you win some you lose. This didn't do quite as well as the Doop single, although since the two singles before this had peaked at 32 and 60, a major hit never really seemed to be on the cards; possibly the record company agreed to licence this track in the hope of reviving the Freds' career, though it didn't work as far as as the UK was concerned, barring a one-off comeback hit in 2001. The two Fairbrass brothers are still at it though, and as I write this have are on the Night Of The Living Fred tour.

On the track itself, it's not immediately obvious what the computerised hedgehog has contributed, but it is a reminder of the video-game hits on Now 23. I didn't say that was a good thing, mind you. The chorus is not as unlike Tinie Tempah's current hit of the same title as I might have expected, but it's not plausible that this could have been a significant influence because I can't imagine anyone involved would ever have heard of it.

Right Said Fred were fun for a while, and I suppose now they're into the world of nostalgia but at this time in history they seemed utterly pointless. This record doesn't discourage that impression.

Also appearing on: Now 21
Available on: Wonderman

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Doop 'Doop'

Chart Peak: 1 [3 weeks]

'Doop', the crazy happy house tribute to the Charleston, is a product of the imagination of Dutch producers Ferry & Garnefski... Due for release on 28/2/94, it is strongly tipped to crossover from the dancefloors to the National Top 10

Well, they weren't wrong there, as by the time the album was in the shops the single had entered at 3 and climbed to the very top of the charts. It's the kind of performance that had become increasingly common at this time, especially with club or overseas hits where it was easier to build up demand ahead of the commercial release; we are still a couple of years away from the time when new entries at the very top were the rule rather than the exception. Unfortunately this early press date precludes them from mentioning that 'Doop' was the UK's second-ever (and last, to date) self-titled Number One single, mere months after the first by the musical legend that is Mr Blobby.

For almost two minutes it seems like it's going to be the last instrumental chart-topper too, until the vocal comes in, and there's not much to that either. Combining 1920s and 1990s dance music must have seemed like a more original idea in 1993 and if the KLF or somebody had done it this would probably be recognised as some sort of subversive classic or something, but as far as I know it was just a couple of Dutchmen trying to come up with something distinctive enough to be a hit and this has a reputation as a source of irritation. It's not unjustified when you're subjected to it repeatedly and I certainly hated it at the time, but it does have a certain silliness that's sort of appealing in retrospect. And it is at least more remarkable than a lot of dance tracks I've had to write about on here. As with the Enigma track on the previous disc I think I'd rather be listening to the source material.

Available on: Circus Doop

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Smashing Pumpkins 'Disarm'

Chart Peak: 11

Singer Billy Corgan says of their debut British hit 'Disarm' - "It's me coming to terms with cats, dogs, chickens, people and rock!"

Spoken like a man who's been asked that question a few too many times already, perhaps? In another source, Corgan is quoted as saying that he wrote this song as an alternative to killing his parents. For the record, the Pumpkins had already had a Top 40 hit with 'Cherub Rock' and two other singles had made the Top 75 - but this was certainly a big breakthrough and indeed only two of their singles ever got higher than this. They did establish a solid enough run of hits to give the lie to the received notion that Britpop killed off grunge commercially (and yes, I know some people would dispute that the Pumpkins ever were a grunge band, but they were marketed as one anyway).

Despite this success, though, not that many people would have got to to hear this song at the time: it wasn't a big airplay hit and was famously excluded from Top Of The Pops due to controversial lyrical content. I was introduced to the band a couple of years later when they were the talk of the sixth-form common room, and I even bought one of their albums, but for a long time I'd heard of this song but not heard it. When I did eventally encounter it a decade or so after it charted, it was far from what I'd expected on the basis of the title and the knowledge of their other early hits; ironically, that means the title was apt after all because it subverts expectations. In some ways it's quite pretty musically, but it has that slightly empty sound as if a couple of the instruments were left out when they mixed it, and that lends the whole track an unsettling tone. Which I'm sure was the intention all along.

Available on: Rotten Apples: Greatest Hits

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Gin Blossoms 'Hey Jealousy'

Chart Peak: 24

The Gin Blossoms hail from Arizona and comprise Robin Wilson, Jesse Valenzuela, Phillip Rhodes, Bill Leen & Doug Hopkins... 'Hey Jealousy' is the group's first British Top 30 single.
An unfortunate problem of tense there: whilst Hopkins wrote this song and played on an early version of it, by the time the UK single was released he'd been fired from the band over the drink problem the song refers to and had committed suicide. Funnily enough I don't recall this getting much mention at the time though, perhpas because it wasn't the ideal way to launch a new act. Oh, and if you want to be really pedantic, they weren't called *the* Gin Blossoms, but they should have been.

I've mentioned already my experience listening to our then-local BBC station GLR, which had recently been reinvented by Matthew Bannister, shortly before he tried to do the same thing (against stronger resistance) over at Radio 1. And this is one of the handful of songs that most strongly reminds me of that time and that station because it was a big favourite there (and if I remember correctly, it did very well in an end-of-year listener poll) but it's not one I've heard much of since. With hindsight, their style - something of a blend of grunge and power-pop - was exactly sort of thing that was about to disappear from the UK market for the next few years, because it was the type most overshadowed by Britpop at the time when the UK and US markets were at their most divergent in my memory. Even though the band managed three more Top 40 hits before they disbanded, nothing ever got higher than this.

It's a type of music I myself soon tired of too, although at the time I rather enjoyed this and with a decade or so's perspective I've found myself coming round to it a little. I probably wouldn't like it at all if I hadn't liked it at the time, because anything I can imagine as a modern equivalent sets my teeth on edge, but there's something pleasingly solid and well-constructed about it. It's presumably intentional that the protagonist comes out of it looking like a useless idiot, and fortunately that makes the lack of brilliance here more appropriate. I'd count this among the songs I wouldn't have made the effort to hear again but didn't mind re-acquainting myself with.

Available on: New Miserable Experience

Monday, 25 April 2011

Primal Scream 'Rocks'

Chart Peak: 7

'Rocks' is the Scream's first single for two years... This "razor-stomp explosion of wired urban energy" is released on 28/2/94

Evidently they had to go to press before they would have known that this single (officially a double-A with the forgotten 'Funky Jam') was to be the band's first ever Top 10 hit, and remained their highest-charting single until 2006. I don't know whether it's their biggest-selling single, but it might be their most widely circulated if all the compilations it appears on are taken into account. It doesn't seem as much of a fan favourite though, and certainly the recent hype around the 20th anniversary of the famous Screamadelica album hasn't made much mention of what they went on to do next.

Obviously, one thing they went on to to was massive amounts of illegal substances, as I think everyone involved would acknowledge. The fourth album was widely perceived as a retrograde step, much more traditionally rocky than its dancy predecessor, although of course this was a type of music they had made in the 1980s. What concerns me personally less that this material is old-fashioned than that it's not really very good: they worked in all the classic studios with all the classic producers (industry legend Tom Dowd on this particular track) and all the right guest musicians, but the energy doesn't seem to be there somehow, and not enough to cover up the flaws in the song itself, which has little distinctive about it barring the drum pattern they borrowed from Sly & The Family Stone and the arguably sexist rhyme "Bitches keep on bitching/Clap just keeps on itching" (surprisingly uncensored on this album, although partly cut on X-Factor). In fact the more I listen to this track the less I like it. I vaguely recall 'Jailbird' being a better song but I'm not sure I dare listen to it.

Also appearing on: Now 17, 64
Available on: Give Out But Don't Give Up

Friday, 22 April 2011

Meat Loaf 'Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through'

Chart Peak: 11

'Rock And Roll Dreams' was the follow-up smash to 1993's biggest-selling single 'I'd Do Anything For Love'... Meat, born Marvin Lee Aday, has not only sold tens of millions of records but has also made his mark in the last 25 years as an actor.

Although it's true that this was the official follow-up to his Number One, his former record company had re-released 'Bat Out Of Hell' in the interim, thus making Mr Loaf the first act to have simultaneous Top 10 singles since, er, Dina Carroll the week before. One of the B-sides on that single was the original 1991 version of this song by Jim Steinman (who fortunately used a session singer rather than doing it himself). Curiously, it's that original that I remember hearing more of than this technically bigger hit.

The original always sounded a bit like a Meat Loaf record without Meat Loaf, and apparently that's pretty much what it was, with Steinman forced to record the follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell without his lead singer. A dozen years later most of this was recycled into Bat Out Of Hell II, which is logical (and very lucrative) but it feels a little bit pointless: although Steinman is famous for his massive productions he has a fairly limited palette of ways to be massive and so there aren't a lot of new things to be brought to this version, except maybe a slightly bigger budget. Well, that and Loaf's voice which I've never been keen on anyway. And I'm not a huge fan of songs about how good music is anyway, because they always seem to be preaching to the converted too much. In fairness, though, it's exactly what people who buy a Meat Loaf record produced by Jim Steinman would be looking for.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 32, 33, 65
Available on: Massive Hits! - Rock

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Beautiful South 'Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud)'

Chart Peak: 23

'Good As Gold' or 'Carry On Regardless' or 'Stupid As Mud' is the new single from the outfit that have "a unique claim on the middle gound between Andrew Lloyd Webber & The Clash"... The lads have now been joined by new singer Jacqueline Abbott.

I don't normally bother to illustrate album covers on here, but I thought some people might be interested to see my copy of Miaow with the original artwork rather than the version that replaced it. Mind you, if you can see the £1:95 price sticker you'll notice that it's not exactly a valuable rarity.

This confusingly-titled song was one of their many smaller-than-you'd-think hits, although it did manage to spend two consecutive weeks at 23 before it began to drop out of the chart. Perhaps if they actually had called it 'Carry On Regardless' it would have made the Top 20. It was a huge airplay hit anyway, with its big bold chorus and the lively brass section that coincidentally fits in with the Britpop sound that was breaching the mainstream in early 1994 (it's performed by the Kick Horns, who are on legions of other hits by Blur, Shed Seven et al and even got a co-credit on a Dodgy single once). It has a happy-go-lucky air which perhaps draws your attention away from the downtrodden protagonist you tend to find in Heaton's songs. He seems to have been in an especially dark place at this point, in fact, and the two big hits from the album (this and a rather pointless version of 'Everybody's Talking') belie the rather miserable and bleak tone of the remainder; to say nothing of the (possibly ironic) sexism in some lyrics that caused former lead singer Briana Corrigan to leave and thus occasioned the arrival of Abbot. She's only really a backing vocalist here, but she does a good job.

Perhaps I don't love the band as much as I once did but this remains as good a track as we've heard on the album so far.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 16, 18, 22, 28, 32, 35, 36, 41, 42
Available on: Miaow

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tori Amos 'Cornflake Girl'

Chart Peak: 4


'Cornflake Girl' gave Tori her first British Top 10 single when it made No. 4 in January 1994... She was born in North Carolina, was a gifted child prodigy (playing the piano at 2½ years old) and her father is a methodist preacher.

A slightly odd set of information, although as far as I know it is all accurate. I also know that there are people out there to whom Amos means everything and thus I suspect they're not so enthusiastic about her biggest solo hit (and only Now appearance). That's understandable but what they won't thank me for saying is that I still sort of like this song but wouldn't want to keep hearing a steady stream of hits from her.

It's distinctive (though obviously following in the footsteps of Kate Bush) and in many ways impressive track musically. I certainly remember it catching my ear at the time although I didn't really understand what it was about - and to be honest even now that I know the subject matter and understand the cornflake reference, I still would find it difficult to parse line-by-line. It's definitely something of a standout here, not least because it picks up the pace a little after several tracks of similar balladry, but it's a record I could easily tire of. I've never bought into her an artist properly, put it that way.

Nepotism watch: legendary Medway indie band The Dentists, who include a relative of mine, covered this song. It's available on their compilation If All The Flies Were One Fly.

Available on: Under the Pink

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Cranberries 'Linger'

Chart Peak: 14 (74 in 1993)


Dolores O'Riordan, Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan & Fergal Lawler are the Irish group The Cranberries... Their latest album has sold well over a million copies in America & 'Linger' has finally made the UK Top 20 on its re-release.

Be honest though, how many of them could you have named without my having posted that? The reference to their "latest album" is somewhat confusing though, as they only had one to their names at the time: it was true that UK success was a long time coming though, as the first release of this single in early 1993 peaked at 74 (shared with 'Buruchacca' by Mukkaa), and only after this had been a bona-fide US hit did it make a real impact here.

On a slightly more personal note, this is the first track here that I can connect with my aforementioned GLR listening habits. The 1993/early 1994 incarnation of the Cranberries was exactly the sort of thing that station loved at the time, and they even kept playing them when they drifted towards grunge on later albums. Here we find them in their original style though - with hindsight quite reminiscent of the Sundays, though I wouldn't have known at the time. The one obvious difference is O'Riordan's vocal: far from the strident shout of later singles (indeed, her protagonist is actually somewhat shy and put-upon) but still rather screechy. That and the sheer ubiquity of this record made it insufferable for a long time, but I don't mind it so much now, and I can see why people like it. I never really understood that intro that didn't seem to relate to the rest of the song, though.

Also appearing on: Now 29
Available on: Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? (The Complete Sessions 1991-1993)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Richard Marx 'Now And Forever'

Chart Peak: 13


Are you ready to rock? I say, are you ready to rock?
Well, tough, it's another slow song now.
Richard's emotional ballad 'Now And Forever' reached No. 12 in Britain in January 1994... His first three albums have produced sensational worldwide sales of 15 million copies.

If you'd asked me, I don't think I'd have guessed that he was still scoring major hits as recently as 1994. Listening now, the song does sound vaguely familiar but I wouldn't have been able to place it as being from any particular time. It certainly feels older than it is, being very much in the line of earlier Marx hits and topped by his very eighties vocal style: I've struggled to think of a description and come up with gruff-but-empty, the same sort of thing Bryan Adams did (and still does, I suppose).

It's a slushy ballad about how much he loved his wife, and since they're still together almost twenty years on we can safely say that he was telling the truth. I can completely understand why people like this, but it doesn't do what I personally want music to do. 

Also appearing on: Now 16, 22, 23
Available on: Paid Vacation

Friday, 15 April 2011

Phil Collins 'Everyday'

Chart Peak: 15


'Everyday' was Phil Collins' 20th UK Top 20 single making No. 15 in January 1994... He wrote, produced and performed all the songs on his latest album and has now sold in excess of 35 million albums worldwide

It would, of course, be unfair and mean-spirited to suggest that the reason he had to do all the work on the album himself was because nobody else in the studio could stay awake. Still, it's fair to say that this doesn't raise the pace of the album much. Now, Phil Collins crops up quite often on here and I try to be even-handed with him and not just follow the typical consensus that everything he does is inevtiably boring. But unfortunately, this is really boring.

Borne as it might be from the pain of his split with the second Mrs Collins, 'Everyday' finds him reshuffling the same cards he used on 'One More Night', 'I Wish It Would Rain', 'Hold On My Heart' (I know that's techinically a Genesis song) and 'Against All Odds' but in a remarkably passionless way. To be charitable, it may be that the emotional reality of the song made it harder for him to deliver the vocal, but his mumble just makes the listener even less likely to be drawn into a song that's already forbidding by its overslick, hermetic production, its staid synthesised rhythm (if only he'd known somebody who could play the drums, eh?) and its glacial pace. The radio edit featured here cuts almost a minute off the album track but it still adds up to five minutes and feels longer still.

I have to admit that there's a melody in the chorus that I was able to remember for 17 years, but I'd struggle to remember the verses after 17 minutes. This is Phil Collins at his most frustratingly slight.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 41, 44, 68
Available on: Both Sides

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Dina Carroll 'The Perfect Year'

Chart Peak: 5

'The Perfect Year', Dina's 7th consecutive hit, followed 'Don't Be A Stranger' into the Top 5 in January 1994... Her debut solo album So Close has now sold in excess of 1 million copies in Britain alone.
The sleeve note here is technically correct that this single peaked at 5 in the chart dated 8th January 1994 (and so announced on the 2nd) but of course that would have been based mainly on sales in 1993 - entirely logical really, as the song is set on New Year's Eve. It was for one week in December that year when both the singles mentioned in the note were in the Top 10 simultaneously; a rare achievement in those pre-download days and one not matched by any other female solo act in the whole decade.

What remains curiously unmentioned is that this wasn't another selection from her debut album but the big song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's then-new musical Sunset Boulevard. Carroll was not a cast member, but merely a popular singer of the time, presumably called in to record the song as promotion for the show. Regular readers won't be surprised to learn that I've never seen the musical itself and so I have no real idea of how it fits into the story, but of course I know roughly what it's about so I presume that there's some element of delusion somewhere in the song. Out of context, that's not really portrayed in this version but Carroll gives a good straight performance and the song isn't bad by the Llord's standards, though still more MOR than I'd usually go for. And in places it does remind me slightly of 'I Only Have Eyes For You'.

I'm not sure whether this is the end of Side 1 or the start of Side 2, but either way there do seem to be a lot of slow songs bunched together at this point.

Also appearing on: Now 24, 26, 35, 43
Available on: Andrew Lloyd Webber - Gold

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Wendy Moten 'Come In Out Of The Rain'

Chart Peak: 8


'Come In Out Of The Rain' was the debut British hit for the young American singer Wendy Moten... This powerful ballad took her to No. 8 in February 1994.
And so we move from an act with a seemingly endless run of hits to one known principally for one song over here, although Moten did manage one other Top 40 hit in the UK, and was considerably more successful in Japan. Mind you, we could question whether she's really even remembered for this one big hit nowadays - I certainly haven't heard it in a long time (other than in 1994-specific contexts) but then again I don't listen to the sort of radio stations that I'd expect to play it. It does crop up on a fair few compilations at any rate.

I always thought of this as a somewhat gospel-influenced ballad, although I might just have got that idea from the title. Individual parts of the lyric could certainly be read as having religious meanings, although they wouldn't fit together. There are still elements of the style, at least, and it's to Moten's credit that she doesn't overwork the song: compared to Toni Braxton's similar 'Breathe Again' (a bigger hit at the same time, but never on a Now album) this is by far the more satisfying listen, but the song never quite seems to get into gear anyway and I can't call it a great injustice that Simon Mayo's prediction on TotP that it would get to Number One didn't come true.

Available on: True Love Songs

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Bee Gees 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'

Chart Peak: 4

The legendary trio of Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb have recently passed the astonishing landmark of 100 million worldwide sales... 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' which made No. 4 at the end of 1993 was their biggest UK hit for 6 years

A gradual climber of the sort that was starting to become more unusual by 1994, and as the notes explain that peak was their highest since 'You Win Again' topped the chart in 1987. They haven't beaten it since as performers, although they were ultimately more successful in the Nineties than the Eighties.

Of course this was another single that took advantage of traditional low sales at the turn of the year (in the UK at least, it was a major hit in other territories where I don't know whether the same factors apply) and as a record it's fairly typical of what they were doing in this era - a slowie with Barry Gib singing the verses in an uncomfortably high pitch and Robin Gibb coming in for the chorus. Maurice Gibb's contribution is less instantly apparent but he is credited as a co-writer and -producer. Obviously, this was a band who knew exactly what they were doing and could still shift units at an impressive rate without even seeming to rely on an obvious fanbase effect, but I can't claim it interests me in the slightest.

Also appearing on: Now 36
Available on: Love Songs

Monday, 11 April 2011

Enigma 'Return To Innocence'

Chart Peak: 3


The creator and primary force behind Enigma is German writer/producer Michael Cretu... In 1991 the single 'Sadeness' was a No. 1 smash hit and the MCMXCAD project was a multi-million seller and in February 1994 'Return To Innocence was a British Top 3 megahit.

If anything I remember the video to this more than the track. And since the sleevenote's mentioned it, I should probably clarify the whole writing thing: as of 1994 the sole credit was indeed to Curly MC (ie Cretu) but the hook is sampled from an aboriginal Taiwanese song recorded by 郭英男 and 郭秀珠, who understandably sued after the song was used to publicise the 1996 Olympics. They were awarded a credit and royalty on subsequent releases of the track. So yes, a song called 'Return To Innocence' plagiarised a song about drinking. That seems rather ironic.

Even if Cretu/Curly isn't being disingenuous in claiming that he'd believed the chant to be in the public domain, this seems to highlight the main problem I tend to have with this sort of new-agey pop: if I wanted to listen to traditional Taiwanese music I don't necessarily want somebody from Western Europe (arguably Central Europe in this case, since Cretu is Romanian by birth and a naturalised German citizen, but I think the main point still applies) playing synthesisers over the top of it and applying a generic programmed beat.

Oh and as eny fule kno, his first hit was originally released as 'Sadness' in the UK, although it got its full title everywhere else in the world that I know of.

Also appearing on: Now 19
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Eternal 'Save Our Love'

Chart Peak: 8

Easther, Vernie, Louise and Kelle are Eternal... 'Save Our Love', which made No. 8 in January 1994, was the London Girls' 2nd UK smash and followed 'Stay' into the Top 10.

I think this is the first track that's been entirely new to me. I've mentioned before that I didn't hear 'The Sign' at the time, but at least I know it now; whereas to the extent that anyone remembers Eternal at all now this seems to be overshadowed by later hits. Mind you, it is just about possible that I did hear this record at some point in the past and just forgot about it, because it's not a very distinctive record. 'Save Our Love' is solid but standard-issue female RnB of the times, chiefly notable for having been co-written by the Eddie from Charles & Eddie. And possibly also for the fact that the title of their previous hit is repeated several times in this one.

It's impossible to be very critical of this, but not much easier to be very positive because they haven't given us a lot to work on here. A non-entity of a song really.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38
Available on: Greatest Hits

Friday, 8 April 2011

M People 'Moving On Up'

Chart Peak: 2

'Moving On Up' was the 3rd and biggest of the group's 5 massive hits in the last year... It reached No. 2 for the Pickering/Heard/Small dream-team.

Presumably this would have been before percussionist Shovell was officially recognised as a member of the band then, although he does feature in the video. The upbeat mood of the preceding tracks is continued here, although it's not entirely a song of happy times: indeed it more or less follows the same storyline as 'The Sign', minus the religious overtones. It adds a pinch of innuendo instead though, with the lyric "They boast man has walked in space/But you can't even find my place."

With hindsight, it wasn't that M People were actually that bad so much as that they were a bit average and outstayed their welcome with a lot of very samey records. I can understand why they were resented for bringing dance to the middle of the road but I have to admit this is less irritating than most of the album so far.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 28, 30
Available on: The Best Of M People

Thursday, 7 April 2011

East 17 'It's Alright (The Guvnor Mix)'

Chart Peak: 3


Yes, East 17 were so proud of their regional identity that even the names of their radio edits seem to reflect it. 'It's Alright' was the follow-up to their unlikely cover version of 'West End Girls' and this too shares its title with a Pet Shop Boys hit; though of course the PSB song was a cover version already, and they are different songs. The sentiments aren't dissimilar though.

One thing that's surprised me as I've been doing these posts is how dancey early East 17 was - I'd always thought of them as more of an RnB act but I suppose that wasn't really a saleable style in 1992-3. It does have the usual self-important tone of Tony Mortimer's lyrics though ("We are the seed of the new breed"?) and I suspect that's his awful rap in the middle as well. There's a big chorus that I can't pretend isn't catchy, but fundamentally this is rubbish.

Also appearing on: Now 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 36, 41 (as E-17)
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

D:Ream 'Things Can Only Get Better'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks) [24 in 1993]


D:Ream had 4 Top 30 hits last year including a No. 23 {sic} with 'Things Can Only Get Better'... A support slot on the Take That tour and a timely re-issue just after Christmas finally drew full attention to this uplifting tune which took the band fronted by Irishman Peter Cunnah to the top of the charts in January 1994
Indeed, by the time the single topped the chart, Peter Cunnah was the only permanent member of the band as his co-founder Al Mackenzie had left after the first release. The one member people have heard of now is of course Professor Brian Cox, who played keyboards for a while (though I don't know whether he appears on this particular track). That and a reunion of the band (who released a new album only last month) might have contributed to extra exposure of this track recently, although in any case I've been spending a lot of time in the muscial world of early 1994 lately and this has been inescapable there.

To be honest, I was pretty indifferent to this song in 1994, not having heard it in 1993, but I really grew to dislike it third time around in 1997 when, as you might know, it was used as a campaign song by Tony Blair. I don't object on any party-political basis, but I stayed up most of the night listening to the election result on the radio and heard this track looped over and over again while they were waiting for Blair to make his victory speech. Even the best song ever would be hard to enjoy under those circumstances and you know what? This isn't the best song ever.

I have to declare myself as a grumpy old curmudgeon who generally doesn't like this sort of self-consciousy positive music anyway, but Cunnah's OTT pseudo-soul singing in the serious intro totally kills its chances. The more he oversells it the more obvious its weaknesses are. If I'd known Professor Cox, he'd have been used to being told to turn down annoying over-intrusive music.

[NB - I lost the original version of this post and had to rewrite it, so I hope there aren't any mistakes.]

Also appearing on: Now 25, 28, 31
Available on: Summer Holiday

Chaka Demus & Pliers (with Jack Radics & Taxi Gang) 'Twist & Shout'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)

'Twist And Shout', a chart-topper in January 1994, was the 3rd of the duo's 4 UK hits to date... It followed 'Tease Me' and 'She Don't Let Nobody' and has now been followed into the chart by 'Murder She Wrote'

Before we start, I should acknowledge that yes, I am stretching a point somewhat by including the "Beatles cover" tag down there, but I ultimately concluded that they were the act most commonly associated with this song even though theirs wasn't the original version and was never released as UK single - it finally made the Top 50 in 2010 when it was made available as a download. Also, I should point out that Blogger doesn't seem to like ampersands, so if any of the ones in this post go a bit haywire, apologies.

In minor contrast to the preceding track, I remember this one very well but didn't realise until much later how much other success Chaka & Pliers had had: this was their third consecutive UK Top 5 single, an unprecedented feat for a Jamaican act (though it was reportedly only a last-minute change of mind by the record company that awarded them lead credit). I think only Shaggy has matched them in this regard.  And of all the versions of this song, this is the only one ever to reach Number One. That it became one of the few chart-toppers from the mid-90s pop-reggae revival may be something of an accident of timing in that it took advantage of traditionally low sales at the turn of the year, but it's fortuitous because this proves to be one of the best examples of the "cover an old song with some toasting over it" subgenre. It's possibly closer to the style of the Isley Brothers version than the Beatles, really, but what stands out most is the joyful, celebratory atmosphere. It sounds like a huge summer hit, whenever it really came out.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 26, 28, 29
Available on: True Reggae

Monday, 4 April 2011

Ace Of Base 'The Sign'

Chart Peak: 2


I'd been meaning to do one of the 1994 albums for a while, both because it's an interesting pop year and as a tribute to AcerBen's fascinating Pop Unlimited 1994, which offers us a week-by-week snapshot of charts and Top Of The Pops. And his most recent post at time of writing also embeds the original TV commercial for the album, so I've borrowed it here. It goes without saying that this will contain some spoilers as to which other tracks feature on the album.

Swedish foursome Ace Of Base have sold millions of records in the last year all over Europe... They recently had 2 American Top 10 singles at the same time - 'The Sign' (which had reached No.2 in the UK by 27/2/94) & 'All That She Wants'.

A nice informative note there, which omits only to mention that this track ultimately topped the US chart for six non-consecutive weeks; a level of success which surely vindicates the decision to record extra tracks for the North American version of their debut album. Whilst the single didn't perform quite so well over here, it was a big hit and helped a re-issued album to outperform its original incarnation (it finally topped the chart after the next single, but that's another story).

All the rest of this might make it more surprising that I have no memory at all of hearing this song at the time. Perhaps I should explain that 1994 was a year when I (re)connected with pop music: I must have restarted listening to music radio (well, Capital FM) around the start of the year, then shifted to our local BBC station GLR when I helped decorate my new bedroom later in the year. In the autumn we got cable TV for the first time and as MTV Europe was broadcast in the UK at the time I became quite familiar with their hits from 1995-6 but somehow this particular one passed me by, and I've only more recently become acquainted with it.

It'd make good copy to say that this had quickly become one of my all-time favourites, but sadly they're not a group I've ever been able to warm to and this one's no exception. There's something a bit too happy-clappy about them that seems to get on my nerves although I'd be at a loss to say why when other insubstantial acts don't bother me so much. Perhaps it treads the tightrope between seriousness and silly too awkwardly (the song and video have been interpreted by some as depicting a woman who joins a religious order to escape an abusive relationship) or maybe it's just this particular era's dance-pop sounds I don't like. Still, I have to admit this is better than a lot of Now 50.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 28, 33, 41, 42
Available on: Happy Nation