Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Metapost: some sales figures

This might have been a Bank Holiday special if I'd posted in time, but instead let's treat it as a prelude to the new album I'll start next month.

Recently, posters on the online chart forum Haven have been trying to estimate sales of each album in the series. I wasn't able to contribute much expertise but with permission I'm able to reproduce some of the figures. Special thanks to Andy, Shireblogger, Gezza76 and Robbie.

Now 1 – 1,000,000    [1983/2008]
Now 2 – 680,000       [1984]
Now 3 – 975,000       [1984]
Now 4 – 1,050,000    [1984]
Now 5 – 750,000       [1985]
Now 6 – 1,020,000    [1985]
Now 7 – 670,000       [1986]
Now 8 – 1,130,000    [1986] 
Now 9 – 660,000       [1987]
Now 10 – 1,400,000 [1987] 
Now 11 – 720,000    [1988]
Now 12 – 760,000    [1988]
Now 13 – 910,000    [1988]
Now 14 – 650,000    [1989]
Now 15 – 450,000    [1989]
Now 16 – 700,000    [1989]
Now 17 – 300,000    [1990]    
Now 18 – 800,000    [1990]
Now 19 – 250,000    [1991]
Now 20 – 790,000    [1991]
Now 21 – 425,000    [1992]
Now 22 – 400,000    [1992]
Now 23 - 1,060,000  [1992]
Now 24 – 480,000    [1993]
Now 25 – 350,000    [1993]
Now 26 - 1,020,000  [1993]
Now 27 – 490,000    [1994]
Now 28 – 680,000    [1994]
Now 29 - 1,320,000  [1994]
Now 30 – 1,000,000 [1995]
Now 31 – 550,000    [1995]
Now 32 - 1,190,000  [1995]       
Now 33 – 630,000    [1996]
Now 34 – 880,000    [1996]
Now 35 - 1,300,000  [1996]
Now 36 – 580,000    [1997]
Now 37 – 590,000    [1997]
Now 38 - 1,090,000  [1997]
Now 39 – 670,000    [1998]
Now 40 – 564,000    [1998]
Now 41 - 1,160,000  [1998]
Now 42 – 725,000    [1999]
Now 43 – 661,000    [1999]
Now 44 - 1,647,000  [1999]
Now 45 – 674,000    [2000]

Now 50 – 1,350,000 [2001]

Now 69 – 833,000    [2008]         

All dates are, of course, for the release of the respective album, some will have continued to notch up sales into the next year. The one consistent pattern you'll notice is that the last album of each year sells most thanks to the Christmas gift market, but beyond that some of the orders are quite surprising.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Joe Roberts 'Lover'

Chart Peak: 22


Joe has been playing piano since the age of 8 and has been influenced by, amongst others, Al Green, the Isley Brothers and the late Donny Hathaway... 'Lover' is his first hit single.

Another one that's a bit of a gear change, as if to acknowledge that Now albums usually (though not always) end with a slowie. Unfortunately most of the big ballads had already been dumped in the middle of Disc 1 so we end up with this comparatively minor hit from Joe Roberts (no relation to Juliet, as far as I'm aware), Mancunian soul singer.

"Lover, I've got something for you, I want to give it to you when I get home." Ick. The lyrics aside this isn't a bad record but it's a totally uninteresting one and I can't say I'm surprised that it's been utterly forgotten. It's not very different from a lot of songs that did much better though so I can't entirely account for its failure. It makes for a slightly underwhelming ending to an album that's tended to be OK: there haven't been many tracks on here I've seriously disliked but not a lot that's been truly outstanding either. It also seems strange in retrospect that a compilation covering early 1994 contains no identifiable Britpop - I suppose Primal Scream would be the closest we get.

Anyway, time for the usual embed. 29 complete tracks out of 38 for your listening pleasure or otherwise.

And here's a picture of Disc 2. If you zoom in enough you can even see who produced the tracks.

Next month we return to the 80s. I think I've been away from there long enough.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Degrees Of Motion featuring Biti 'Shine On'

Chart Peak: 8 [43 in 1992]


'Shine On', the legendary club anthem, is re-released on 7/3/94.. It was originally a Top 50 hit in 1992 as was their other club smash 'Do You Want It Right Now'.
Again the sleevenotes are mentioning a track that not only isn't on this album but isn't on any Now album, though admittedly 'Do You Want It Right Now' wasn't that big a chart hit. I think it may have been that version of the song that was sampled by Armand Van Helden though.

Maybe it's because we're getting so close to the end of the album now, but I'm struggling to find an angle on this serviceable but underwhelming (from a 2011 perspective) house track. Er, Biti on this record isn't the same person as Bitty McLean from a few tracks ago.

Available on: Degrees of Motion

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Urban Cookie Collective 'Sail Away'

Chart Peak: 18


'Sail Away' was the 3rd Top 20 hit for the  group which is the brainchild of producer Rohan Heath... It followed the Top 5 smashes 'The Key: The Secret' and 'Feels Like Heaven'.
The aforementioned 'The Key: The Secret' is of course their most famous track: it charted three times, and first time out was only kept off the top by a posthumous Freddie Mercury single. It somehow eluded the Now series, but we're compensated by this single which sounds a little too close for comfort. Perhaps they were trying a little too hard to milk the formula but all I hear is a record that reminds me of another song that I don't feel particular nostalgia for anyway. Probably one where you had to be there.

In other news, I notice Diane Charlemagne gets a credit for vocals, buried with the writing credits at the back of the booklet. As was the way then, the production credits are on the disc label itself.

Also appearing on: Now 26
Available on: The Key, The Secret: The Very Best Of

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Juliet Roberts 'I Want You'

Chart Peak: 33


Another relatively minor hit, and one that seems to form a bridge between the soul-diva tracks immediately before it and the dance tracks that follow towards the end of the album. Roberts is a classic example of somebody that I knew had been a pop star but couldn't name a song by.

'I Want You' (unconnected to songs by Marvin Gaye, Pulp, Elvis Costello etc) is from the big, pumping disco-style school of dance, rather than the Eurodance style we heard earlier in the album. It's easier on the ear sometimes but I tend to find this sort of thing rather unengaging. The big string intro is impressive and the singing is very good thoughout but in the context in which I'm hearing this I find it hard to care.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 26, 28
Available on: Natural Thing

Monday, 16 May 2011

Carleen Anderson 'Nervous Breakdown'

Chart Peak: 27


The voice of the Young Disciples gained her first solo Top 30 success with this monumental cut... Carleen's mother is the singer Vicki Anderson and her stepfather is the legendary pianist Bobby Bird, both of whom formed key parts of James Brown's backing band.

There seem to be quite a few relatively minor hits on this album, maybe because there aren't many hits from late 1993 on here so it's highly concentrated on the first couple of months of 1994. I'm not going to complain though, as it gets us an opportunity to hear Anderson's only appearance in the series in a career of more than 20 years, aside from her backing vocals with the Smokin Mojo Filters. Although I recall her hits with the Young Disciples and some of the kids at my school called their Young Enterprise company True Spirit after the album where this song first appeared, I hadn't actually heard this track until I started studying 1994, and I'm glad to have come across it.

I don't know how autobiographical this song might be as a portrayal of a struggling single mother, but it's a powerful lyric and Anderson's delivery is stellar. It's let down a little by the music, which seems a little lacking in drama, and goes a bit jazz-funk to indicate the actual breakdown which doesn't really work. But still a welcome inclusion.

Available on: Up To Now: The Best Of Carleen Anderson

Friday, 13 May 2011

Gabrielle 'Because Of You'

Chart Peak: 24

'Because Of You' is Gabrielle's 4th UK chart hit in the last 9 months... it follows 'Dreams', 'Going Nowhere' and 'I Wish' into the Top 30 and she has just won Best British Newcomer at the "Brit Awards".

Yes, it really does put the name of the award ceremony in inverted commas like that.
At this point in her career the record-breaking debut hit 'Dreams' was proving a tough act to follow, and this fourth single was her second in a row to miss the Top 20. It might have seemed at the time like her career was nearing its end, and indeed I don't think I've ever heard any of the other songs from her first album apart from this one, just now.

It's an OK record, but it does sound rather too much like an attempt to replicate 'Dreams', which is probably why nobody remembers it now.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 26, 33, 35 (with East 17), 36, 44, 45, 46, 47, 49, 50, 58
Available on: Find Your Way

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Shara Nelson 'Uptight'

Chart Peak: 19


'Uptight' is Shara's 3rd solo hit following 'Down That Road' and 'One Goodbye In Ten' into the Top 30... She previously charted with the Bristol-based outfit Massive Attack.

It might look odd now to see such a legendary act referred to in such terms, but of course as of early 1994 they were a band who'd released one album three years earlier and their apparent lead singer had left to go solo. I don't think it was obvious then that they would return to the level of acclaim (and of Now album appearances) that they did later in the year.

So of course I knew of Nelson as the voice of 'Unfinished Sympathy', and 'Safe From Harm' (which if anything I slightly prefer, though it won't show up again on here) but I was only dimly aware that she had a solo career. I did remember one song from her second album but apart from that I was coming to this pretty fresh and I was actually pleasantly surprised by it. The song itself, co-written with Prince Be of PM Dawn, is good in a go-away-useless-boyfriend way, but it's Nelson's vocal really makes the record: impressively soulful and melodic but refreshingly direct and lacking in showing-off. And as I discovered when I was researching this, her earlier hit 'Down That Road' was even better. This is the sort of discovery that makes the blog feel worthwhile.

Despite her obvious talent, success for Nelson didn't last long and her career seems strangely forgotten. That second album was apparently something of a disappointment and relatively little has been heard from her since. New material is promised for 2011, apparently.

Available on: What Silence Knows

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Björk 'Violently Happy'

Chart Peak: 13

The award-winning Icelandic chanteuse Björk Gudmundsdottir first gained international recognition with the Sugarcubes... She aims for her 5th UK solo hit with 'Violently Happy' - due for release on 7/3/94
And she got it too, if you count 'Play Dead' by Björk With David Arnold as a solo hit. It's easy to forget how much of a mainstream star she was for a while. Not only was she famous (as she arguably still is) but she notched up an impressive run of hit singles in the middle of the decade of which this was far from the biggest.

Circa 1994 I was certainly aware of her and I think I heard this but I didn't really get it. I grew to appreciate a lot of her work later but I remained to be convinced that it lived up to the claims made for it.

This present song was never a particular favourite of mine and in all honesty it doesn't seem to have aged all that well. Even Nellee Hooper's production (he also co-wrote the song) seems to lack his usual luxury and depth. It's nice to have a bit of variety on the album of course, but she's undersold by this choice of track.

Also appearing on: Now 26 [with David Arnold], 35
Available on: Violently Happy

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Deep Forest 'Sweet Lullaby'

Chart Peak: 10

Neither an artist nor a band, Deep Forest is based on the musical ideas of French keyboardist/programmers Eric Mouquet & Michael Sanchez... 'Sweet Lullaby' was a Top 10 hit in Britain in February 1994
This does feel a lot like a twin of the Enigma track on Disc One - it's quite similar in style and apparently there was even some controversy about the legitimacy of the sample; in this case it's from the Solomon Islands. It brings out the same criticism from me, although I do slightly prefer this one, probably because the original vocal is more to my liking.

Available on: Essence Of The Forest By Deep Forest

Monday, 9 May 2011

Bitty McLean 'Here I Stand'

Chart Peak: 10

'Here I Stand' was the 3rd UK chart success for new Midlands chart sensation Delroy "Bitty" McLean... His previous hits were 'It Keeps Rainin' and 'Pass It On' and he has just completed a successful tour supporting UB40.

Not a very surprising booking there as they McLean had been an employee of UB40, working as a tape op and sometimes backing singer for them before he went solo. Most of his hits were covers and this one apparently originates with the Jamaican singer Justin Hind[e]s, though I admit I hadn't heard that version until now. Nor had I heard the 1958 US hit by Wade Flemons which this faintly recalls in places. Mind you, I don't think I'd heard Bitty's either.

He has a good enough voice but the song isn't quite interesting enough to withstand the unexciting performance and arrangement. I didn't want to dislike this and I don't quite but I'm deeply unenthusiastic. His nephew had a hit recently (as McLean) and I didn't like that much either.

Also appearing on: Now 28
Available on: Just To Let You Know...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

E.Y.C. 'The Way You Work It'

Chart Peak: 14


E.Y.C. stands for Express Yourself Clearly - they are Damon Butler, Dave Loeffler and Trey Parker... 'The Way You Work It' is theyr 2nd British hit and has followed 'Feelin Alright' into the Top 30.

Unfortunately, that TotP clip cuts out Simon Mayo introducing them as Ealing Young Conservatives; which is especially disappointing as that's by far the most interesting thing about this utterly forgotten boyband hit. Apparently they scored as many as six UK hits but even though I remembered seeing posters for them I don't I could have named one of the songs had I not been doing things like this.

'The Way You Work It' is high on heavy breathing and insincerity, low on actual tunes and in the two minutes or so since the track finished, I've almost entirely forgotten it. It's not even as ridiculous as K7.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Credit To The Nation 'Teenage Sensation'

Chart Peak: 24

Credit To The Nation are Midlands teenage hip hop sensations MC Fusion, Mr G & T Swing... 'Teenage Sensation', released on 28/2/94, looks set to be their first Top 40 hit.

And so it was, although it also turned out to be their last, one of many seeming false dawns for credible UK hip-hop. Arguably it wasn't for another 15 years or so that British rappers were able to build careers in the mainstream, although Credit seem to have had more bad luck than many. By this time they'd already attracted attention with the Nirvana-sampling 'Call It What You Want' and a collaboration with Chumbawamba, but this track seems a little more knowingly commercial, especially the "Radio Friendly" version featured here (it blanks out the word "spliff"). That's not necessarily a bad thing, and that whistled hook is hard to get out of your head (although it's arguably a bit of an obvious trick). It's a fairly enjoyable record but hard to get excited about as anything beyond entertainment.

Available on: Teenage Sensation

Thursday, 5 May 2011

K7 'Come Baby Come'

Chart Peak: 3


K7's first single 'Come Baby Come' was a Top 3 mega-hit in January 1994... Based in New York, they are frontman K7, Prophet, Los, Tre, Deuce & Non-Stop

They're very keen to emphasise the year in these notes, aren't they? Also interesting that they imply K7 to be the name of both the band and the lead vocalist, like Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson, whereas most other sources seem to consider this a solo single: the others mentioned are The Swing Kids, who get joint billing on the less successful follow-up singles but not this one. They do seem to the on the track though, and I'd guess it was them on TotP with him as well.

Technicalities of name aside, what's most striking about this record is how current it sounds now. Of course if you follow the YouTube link you'll see a load of comments about how 90s music was much better than the stuff we have nowadays, blah blah blah, but there's not a huge amount of difference between this and the current Number One at time of writing, and K7's single entendre lyrics could have slotted into something like 'Bedrock' by Young Money easily. The only element that doesn't quite seem to fit into 2011 is the references to the older kind of swing, although that's not so obvious here that you couldn't miss it: it's more explicit in his/their next single 'Hi De Ho', which is based on 'Minnie The Moocher'. I'd have hated this record if I'd noticed it at the time and I don't really like it now either.

Available on: 100 R&B Classics: Original Anthems

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Reel 2 Real featuring The Mad Stuntman 'I Like To Move It'

Chart Peak: 5

This infectious & saucy ragga house anthem stormed out of the clubs to give the Positiva label its first UK Top 10 hit in February 1994... The Mad Stuntman is a Trinidadian toaster who now lives in Brooklyn, NYC

As far as I know that is true about this being the first Top 10 on Positiva, but it hardly seems the sort of fact that most buyers would have been interested in. It's probably more notable that this was a very successful single with a long chart run by the standards of the time, probably because it was largely ignored by commercial radio stations (the Network Chart, which at the time combined the sales Top 10 with an airplay/sales combination for positions 11-40, made this very obvious). It was apparently the biggest-selling single not to make the Top 3 in the first half of the decade, although it has since been eclipsed.

It's not that surprising because with my previously-noted distance from pop in early 1994, this is about the only dance record I can clearly remember hearing at the time. It got played quite a bit at school, I can tell you that. And with all due respect to Erick Morillo's production, it's the Mad Stuntman who gets the credit for making it memorable. He seems to have bucketloads of personality and enthusiasm and he splashes them all over the record, with exactly the right level of sauciness. It's a formula with enough mileage for them to score several more hits in a similar vein, though this is really the only one that posterity concerns itself with. Blame my age if you like, but this kind of joy is all the more attractive to me now and when I bought the CD this was one of the first to go onto my MP3 player. All together now, "big ship on the ocean like the big Titanic..."

Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 34
Available on: 101 Running Songs

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

2 Unlimited 'Let The Beat Control Your Body'

Chart Peak: 6


'Let The Beat...' is the Dutch duo's 9th consecutive UK Top 20 hit in the last 2½ years... Ray & Anita had reached No. 6 with this storming cut by 27/2/94

And that was as high as it ever got, folks. At least, though, the note is arguably accurate in crediting the two visible members of the group who really do perform on the record: by this point Pete Waterman had stopped editing Ray Slijngaard's raps out of the UK versions of their singles. In truth, the producers still own the rights the name and have relaunched the act with new vocalists a couple of times, whilst the reunited frontpeople have new material on the way but can't bill themselves as 2 Unlimited.

Anyway, here in happier times towards the end of their golden era, I can kind of tell why 2Unlimited are the superstars of Eurodance; even though this isn't really my type of music it feels much more effective than most of these tracks and it's very catchy. I don't mind admitting that if I were listening to this in the appropriate circumstances, the beat probably would exert some kind of influence over my body. 

Also appearing on: Now 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 28

Monday, 2 May 2011

Culture Beat 'Anything'

Chart Peak: 5

'Anything' was the third consecutive UK mega hit for culture Beat following 'Mr Vain' and 'Got To Get It' into the Top 5... All this has been achieved despite the tragic loss of their mastermind/producer Torsten Fenslau in a car crash last November

Well, that "despite" might be a little exaggerated, as this single was already in the can (and I think even in the shops in some countries) by the time he died, and of course the nature of the act didn't require him to appear with them in public. For the record, though, his brother did subsequently take over the reins and there were a few more hits under the name, but it was never really going to last. According to their Wikipedia entry, the latest lead singer appeared at a Nineties revival concert in Riga in 2008. Good to know.

We're into that part of a Nineties Now album that I find most difficult to deal with, the run of consecutive Euro-dance tracks. I wouldn't say it was my least favourite type of music, but it's one that I have the least vocabulary for. So, er, this is sort of OK, but not especially memorable despite the impressively surreal lyrics and the rapping that appears to have been recorded in a cupboard. It's not the record they're remembered for and you can sort of tell why.

Also appearing on: Now 26
Available on:Serenity