Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald 'On My Own'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube

'On My Own' charted at No. 19 on 29th April and had sped to No. 2 by 13th May. Patti and Michael were kept in the runner-up spot for three weeks by 'The Chicken Song'
I was all set to put the "from the movies" tag on this entry until I went to look up exactly which film it was from, and found out it wasn't actually in one at all. I'd always thought it was but I suppose it just sounds like the sort of track that would be used in a mid-80s movie. Apparently the song was previously recorded for, but omitted from, a Dionne Warwick album.

It's fair to say, I think, that the big revival of Burt Bacharach's reputation about ten years ago was not centred on this song, but he did indeed write it alongside his then-wife Carole Bayer Sager; they later divorced, which is ironically appropriate given the song's subject matter. Perhaps it could be argued that this song does provide a convincing portrayal of the despondent atmosphere after a failed relationship: but if so it achieves that largely by being dull and unemotive. Indeed, even the production team seem to lose interest in the song and fade it out at a seemingly arbitrary point while they're still singing.


It makes for an underwhelming end to an album that actually started quite well: the first disc was generally quite good but Side Four is almost a total washout.
If you want to draw your own conclusions, here's my usual embed:


And if you prefer Spotify, the official Now Music team have compiled the playlist.

Next album starts in August.

Available on: The Ultimate Collection

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Aurra 'You And Me Tonight'

Chart Peak: 12

YouTube

It's yet another one-hit-wonder, and this time one with a bit of backstory. Aurra had originally been a spin-off act from Slave (a group which once included Steve Arrington of Now 5 fame) but over time they reduced to a duo. Legal disputes over the name meant that this single was credited to Deja in the US [and in the linked video], but somehow they seem to have got away with it for a while over here and released this single under the original name. It shows up on compilation albums under both credits, should you wish to purchase it.

It starts off sounding like it might be going somewhere, with the male protagonist realising that his girlfriend has changed the locks, and on close listening they are arguing throughout the verses, with the man pleading and the woman refusing to trust him. But the effect is so slick that I had to re-listen several times to notice that, and the chorus doesn't seem to fit in at all with the sentiment. The overall effect is distinctly average.

Available on: Top Of The Pops - One Hit Wonders

Monday, 18 July 2011

Midnight Star 'Headlines'

Chart Peak:   16

YouTube
This disco chart-topper crossed over to the national Top 30 in late June and had reached No. 16 by 8th July

This must be about the last time anyone referred to disco music in the present tense. Midnight Star look decidedly overstaffed in the sleeve illustration here, with nine members all lined up. Apparently though, their brief era of British success was followed by a schism within the band whereby the two Calloway brothers (both brass players) left to form their own duo - they're in the writing and production credits for this though.

Like the preceding tracks, 'Headlines' has a gimmicky air about it which is a bit off-putting all these years later. It seems so totally of its time and place that it doesn't really make sense now, and whilst I sort of remember liking their other big UK hit 'Midas Touch' I don't really want to check now in case it's too disappointing.

Available on: Soul Hits Of The 80's

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Lovebug Starski 'Amityville (the House On The Hill)'

Chart Peak:

YouTube

A track rescued from utter obscurity by its appearance on Halloween compilations: the one linked to below is at a real bargain price at time of writing, though presumably because it's July.

I think it's fair to say that even by the mid-80s, rap music wasn't taken very seriously by most people in Britain, and whilst this isn't in the same catagory as 'Stutter Rap' or 'Rat Rapping' and despite writing and production credits for no less than Kurtis Blow,  it's much more obviously a novelty hit than even the track that precedes it. It is of course inspired by the famous book/film/lawsuit The Amityville Horror although in truth it doesn't actually pastiche the original story in any way, it just compiles the usual set of haunted-house clich├ęs. And then half-way through, somebody does some Star Trek impressions. I'm not making this up, honest. The finished article is not so much scary or funny as tedious.

Available on: Monster Halloween Hits

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Real Roxanne with Hitman Howie Tee '(Bang Zoom) Lets Go Go'

Chart Peak: 11

YouTube

I've never seen the film Son Of Rambow, but evidently both this and the previous track appear on the soundtrack. Even knowing that it's set in the 1980s, that's quite a coincidence. I presume the characters were born a little longer ago than I was though, because I was definitely too young to know about the Roxanne craze in mid-80s rap, and in fact I have no memory of this record at all.

Anyway, it transpires that Adelaida Martinez adopted her stage name to record an "official" answer record to a UTFO B-side, and scored a surprise UK hit with the follow-up. It's a decent early rap effort, although the production sounds a bit cheap now and the samples from old cartoons break up the flow somewhat. Especially when the track ends with a lengthy chunk of a Bugs Bunny cartoon that doesn't make a lot of sense in sound only. They wouldn't be able to afford that nowadays, I bet.

Available on: Son Of Rambow (Music From The Motion Picture)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Nu Shooz 'I Can't Wait'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube
Charted at No. 35 on 20th May 1986, rising to the heights of No. 2 by 24th June

One reason why I pushed Now 7 to the front of the queue was because this particular track had become topical: it's extensively sampled on the recent hit 'Buzzin' by Mann. Of course no sooner had I made the decision and started preparing than a track from Now 8 actually entered the Top 40 in its original form, but never mind.

Despite myself (and more to the point despite 50Cent, who appears on the UK version of it) I quite liked the Mann record which went some way to reviving my interest in 'I Can't Wait': in practice one effect is to make this sound terribly slow in comparison. In fact, on a literal basis this seems to lack the urgency that a song of this title ought to have. And yet there's something oddly addictive about its cold synth bass and the cutting-edge-at-the-time pitchshifted vocal. Singer Valerie Day is also a percussionist and so that's presumably her I can hear pinging away at some metal instrument on the right-hand channel - Friendly Fires eat your heart out! Between these various disparate elements we get a record that's both incredibly naff (well, the band name would see to that) and oddly charming, both dated and modern in 2011. It certainly has more going for it than the utterly forgotten version by Ladies First, who were a sort of own-brand version of Mis-Teeq.

Nu Shooz were a a married couple and it's pleasing to see that they still are, though Day loses some points in my eyes for quoting quack psychiatrist Louann Brizendine on her website.

Available on: The Switch: Music From The Motion Picture

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Jaki Graham 'Set Me Free'

Chart Peak: 7

YouTube
The follow-up to 'Mated' charted at No. 62 on 29th April and had raced to No. 7 by 10th June 1986.

Another of those songs that I must have heard enough while they were current for them to sound familiar when I hear them now - but I struggle to remember it any time when I'm not listening to it. At this point in history we're nearing the end of Graham's brief run of significant chart success, although she did re-appear in the mid-90s with a few minor Top 75 entries and she continues to record and tour to this day.

I wanted to like this, not least because British soul music often seems underappreciated, and I don't not like it. I just find it difficult to feel strongly about either way. Everyone does a good job, it just doesn't leave much of an impression.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 6 (with David Grant), 8
Available on: Breaking Away

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Billy Ocean 'When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)
YouTube

Charted at No. 28 on 21st January 1986 - had sped to No. 1 by 4th February where it stayed for 4 weeks.
'Go And Get Stuffed', as my Mum used to call it, was the lead single from the file Jewel Of The Nile,  which I never saw but was aware of thanks to the famous (though seemingly absent from YouTube) video starring Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito. Had I been in America, though, I might have been more ignorant since that video was reportedly banned from the telly over there due to the actors not being members of the musicians union. However, I can neither confirm nor deny this: neither can I confirm Wikipedia's claim that the song was co-written by somebody called Willy Head - he's not credited on the LP label, that's for sure.

It's a song I liked at the time, but about the best I can say for it now is that it does what it's designed for. There's something rather good-natured about Billy Ocean that makes a lot of his records more likeable than they really deserved to be, and this is case in point - fun for a few minutes but ultimately uninteresting.

Also appearing on: Now 11
Available on: The Ultimate Collection

Monday, 11 July 2011

Queen 'A Kind Of Magic'

Chart Peak: 3

YouTube

You see, that's what makes Now 7 different from every other album in the series - it's the only one I know of that features a hidden track. Presumably they only got permission to include this song after the sleeve had gone to press. And Queen's punishment for this brinkmanship was demotion from their usual spot at the very start of the album to the back end of Side 3.

I'd entirely forgotten that this song appears (in a somewhat different form) in the film Highlander; though I do remember seeing the film at school a few years later I'd presumably lost interest by this point. It's obvious once you know though, with the various lyrical references like "there can be only one". In 1986 it was just a song to me, and one I could hardly fail to remember. Listening to the two versions now I have to award a lot of the credit to Freddie Mercury for restructuring and re-arranging Roger Taylor's song from the film version to the more familiar production featured on the single and album (and here of course). Though hardly revolutionary, it's a well-constructed pop record and on that basis one of my favourite Queen hits. Ironically, it's Taylor's dull click-track drumming that's the weakest point in the finished article.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 4, 6, 15, 16, 19, 21, 25 [with George Michael], 32, 33, 54 [with Vanguard]
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Simply Red 'Holding Back The Years'

Chart Peak: 2 [51 in 1985]

YouTube
Originally made No. 51 in November 1985 but it took until June 1986 before 'Holding Back The Years' finally made No. 2 for 2 weeks, becoming Simply Red's second Top 20 hit in Britain.


By coincidence, both A-Ha and Simply Red have recently completed long-trailled farewells; indeed Simply Red seem to have been splitting up for longer than I've been writing this blog but they seem to have been the tortoises here. After securing their place on Now 5 with the substantial hit 'Money'$ Too Tight To Mention' they missed the Top 50 three times and even after this they had to wait another six singles for a second Top 10. It's perhaps strange that the sleeve note doesn't mention one major reason why this track became a hit at the second time of asking - third if you count the original version by Hucknall's "punk" band Frantic Elevators - and rescued them from one-hit-wonderdom. For this is yet another US Number One single, although of course the Reds did eventually do what Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Bananarama couldn't by topping the British chart, but almost a decade later.

It's conventional to say that 'Holding Back The Years' is the acceptable face of Mick Hucknall, and generally, I'd be inclined to chisel away at that. To some extent I already have by revealing that I quite liked 'Fairground' after all, but I can't dispute that this is a good record. I can imagine that people who saw the band live - and they were really a band in those days - must have been utterly wowed by it. On record it suffers from a now rather dated production and of course from the sheer overexposure, but it's redeemed somewhat by what's probably Hucknall's best recorded vocal. Here's where I will slightly break from the consensus; people often say "the guy's a tit but you can't knock the voice," whereas I actually think his singing's got a lot worse over the years. He's in great form here though and does a good job of conveying regret. Perhaps he knew how many awful records he was going to inflict on us in the next 20 years.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 9, 20, 21, 23, 24, 32, 33
Available on: Classic Soul Anthems

Friday, 8 July 2011

A-Ha 'Hunting High And Low (re-mix)'

Chart Peak: 5

YouTube
Their 4th consecutive UK Top 10 single following 'Take On Me', 'The Sun Always Shines On TV' and 'Train Of Thought', 'Hunting' made No. 5 in June 1986.

It's easy enough to forget now just how big A-Ha were for a while in the mid-eighties: it's especially easy if you use the Now albums as your main source of knowledge, since they were rarely allowed to appear by the label WEA, which preferred to divert them to their rival Hits series. Anyway, after a slow start they were genuine stars with a teen following in Britain which outlasted their brief American success - I remember seeing a feature on the making of this video on children's TV at the time. Doubtless Morten Harket's chiseled good looks contributed to this somewhat but they notched up hits in a way they found it harder to do later in their career.

Obviously they're still best-known for punchier electro-pop anthems, but for my money they play to their strengths better with haunting ballads like this one. Which isn't to say that this is a perfect record by any means - it never quite seems to go anywhere but at least it starts to sound like you might want it to It's aged surprisingly well too, or at least this version has: I've never heard the original album track, but the sleeve and label consistently mention that this is the "re-mix" so this may have been considered a selling point. And let's face it, nobody needs to hear 'Take On Me' ever again.

Also appearing on: Now 9, 63
Available on: Hunting High And Low (Deluxe Edition)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bucks Fizz 'New Beginning (Mamba Seyra)'

Chart Peak: 8

YouTube
When 'New Beginning' reached No. 8 for 2 weeks in late June/early July 1986, it became their biggest hit for 4 years. Bucks Fizz are still one of a very select few to have had 3 No. 1's from their first 5 single releases.

It's hard to see how they could have left that oddly-specific group, but of course it has grown in the last 25 years: newcomers since then have included Billie Piper and Britney Spears, as well as everyone who's topped the chart with all their first three singles. But we digress.

The title 'New Beginning' was obviously a hopeful one, as well as a reflection of events in their career - Shelley Preston had replaced original member Jay Aston and this was their first release for new label Polydor. Unfortunately for them, the title of the ensuing album Writing On The Wall proved more of an omen as this was their last ever Top 40 single and they split not long afterwards, before embarking on the endless cycle of reunions, fueds and reconciliations that seem to be the fate of such acts. Curiously enough, I have no recollection of this number from the time - but I do remember the cover version of 'Love The One You're With' that unsuccessfully followed this and from which their career never seemed to recover. It turns out not to be as terrible a record as it might have been, but a rather pompous one, with a subtitle in Swahili to give it that fashionable global feel.

Available on: 80s Triple Set

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Bananarama 'Venus'

Chart Peak: 8

YouTube
Originally a No. 8 hit for the Dutch group Shocking Blue in February 1970, Bananarama had also reached No. 8 with their version by 8th July 1986.

Third cover version in a row there (fourth if you count 'My Favourite Waste Of Time') and for the third side of the album in a row, there's a US Number One by a British act who've never topped the UK chart. Indeed this was by no means the biggest hit for the 'Nanas over here but it's still pivotal in their career as their first of many collaborations with Stock/Aitken/Waterman. It's not an entirely typical SAW production, not least because the band came to them; they were already stars and hadn't been groomed for stardom by SAW, and nor were they signed to Pete Waterman's label so they probably had more power over stylistic decisions.

The other difference is of course that this is a cover of already well-known source material (although I hadn't heard the original at the time, and SAW records often appealed to a very yound audience who wouldn't have either) and it wisely retains the most distinctive feature of the original hit, that guitar riff. It's layered onto a track that was apparently meant to sound like Dead Or Alive and is in some ways more energetic than the original, but somehow seems to lose something else. Perhaps it's the deadpan earnestness of the original vocal that beats the barely-even-one-dimensional singing here. But you know, this does the job it was designed to do I guess.

I presume it's because I've been trying to think myself back into the past for this blog, but hearing this track again has reminded me of a limerick round on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue which might have been around this time. Somebody was given the opening line "A Roman centurion called Nicodemus", and rhymed it with "Had a dirty great enormous passsion for Venus". I can't remember all of it but the closing line was "Derek Jameson said 'Do they mean us?'" It really does seem like a long time ago.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14 (with Lananeeneenoonoo), 15
Available on: Smash Hits 1986

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Doctor And The Medics 'Spirit In The Sky'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)

YouTube
Originally a No. 1 for Norman Greenbaum in May 1970, the Doctor (real name Clive Jackson) and his band took 'Spirit In The Sky' back to the top on 3rd June 1986 for three weeks.

Another one I could hardly fail to remember from those days, although I don't think I've ever heard another Doctor And The Medics song. Not unlike Amazulu, they found themselves stuck in a circle of covers; whilst they never seemed like they were trying hard to be taken seriously, their fans will claim that they started out as a group with slightly more to offer than novelty hits. I'm not going to take a position on that but I will say that now this is older than the original was at the time, it's hard to see the point - aside from the fact that it's the only one of the three chart-topping versions of this song ever to appear in the Now! series.

They make surprisingly little alteration to the song and whilst that saves it from sounding utterly of its time now, it's at the expense of making the Doctor's Kiss-like make-up the only distinctive feature. I was never that fond of the song anyway.

Also appearing on: Now 8
Available on: Laughing At The Pieces

Friday, 1 July 2011

Amazulu 'Too Good To Be Forgotten'

Chart Peak: 5

YouTube
Following the success of 'Excitable' and 'Don't You Just Know It', Amazulu's cover version of the Chi-Lites 'Too Good To Be Forgotten' Made No. 5 in July 1986

Another song title that seems like it's asking for trouble - it's tempting to suggest in retrospect that this record is too forgotten to be good. Apparently Amazulu were at one point a serious ska band but by the time I remember them they were drifting into a covers act who seemed to be on children's TV all the time. Of course there's a venerable tradition of cover versions in ska and reggae and there's nothing wrong with being commercial, but something about this just rings too hollow. It probably doesn't help that the song itself is so self-satisfied in tone to start with.

Available on: True 80's Love