Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Placebo 'Nancy Boy'

Chart Peak: 4


Placebo are Brian Molko, Stefan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt... Singer Brian met Stefan at school in Luxembourg but they didn't form the band until they ran into each other in London years later... The driving 'Nancy boy' gave them their first UK smash in January '97 when it reached No. 4

Another of the songs I associate very closely with that coach trip at the start of the year. At the time I hated this track - and Placebo in general - for their pseudishness, and their rather tiresome "Oooh look we're singing about sex! Isn't that naughty?" atmosphere. When I saw the video a few months later I hated that even more for the same reasons, although I did think it was amusing that Steve Hewitt's face is obscured throughout: he presumably doesn't play on this track as it was originally released on the album before he joined the band. To me the band's name seemed all too accurate.

This single mix is heavily reworked from the original album version and in all honesty the best parts of it do seem to lie in the remix. I'm rather more tolerant of this record now and can appreciate it for what it is, a well-put-together rock single, but I'll never really love it. I certainly wasn't one of the people who helped the album re-enter the Top 200 at 5, a rare achievement.

Available on: 101 Indie Classics [Explicit]

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Chemical Brothers 'Block Rockin' Beats'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]


Due for release on 24th March '97, 'Block Rockin' Beats' is the follow-up to last year's chart-topping collaboration with Noel Gallagher... It could be very large indeed!
On my copy of Now 36, and presumably on everyone else's too, the first note of this track is missing, which would be highly annoying if I didn't have a copy of this track already. It's the only example I've ever encountered of such a production error on a Now album, unless anyone else knows different.
It's particularly irritating that it interrupts the otherwise rather neat intro (better on this single edit than the album version, which starts with a sound effect). Like 'Breathe', this is dependent on a bassline, allegedely inspired by Pink Floyd's 'Let There Be More Light', which hooks in the listener as the Chems run through their familiar repertoire of siren like effects, pounding beats and out-of context vocal samples. Even more so than the previous track, it's a truly outstanding shot of drum programming, twisting and turning with remarkable feel.

Like 'Breathe', it became the act's second consecutive Number One single, although even by 1997 standards  this wasn't a particularly big one: it entered at the top (in a week when the Chart Show on ITV had anointed their old friends and collaborators The Charlatans as chart-toppers instead) but it managed to slip all the way down to 8 the next week. Despite that, it actually feels a more commercially acceptable track than the Prodigy's effort, possibly because it lacks the full-on aggression of their work: indeed, the Chemical Brothers, despite their druggy-sounding name, never seemed to have a controversial or confrontational public image. They've always preferred to come across as craftsmen more than the agitators of their more established rivals.

The other difference is that 'Block Rockin' Beats' stays much closer to the established structures of rock music, and indeed won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance the following year. With their wide understanding of musical history, it was the Chemical Brothers, rather than 2Unlimited, who became the dance act that the Britpop fans could and did enjoy. In a way perhaps they were emblematic of the way pop's relationship with the past changed in the 1990s.

Also appearing on: Now 43, 51, 60, 67
Available on: Brotherhood [+digital booklet]

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Prodigy 'Breathe'

Chart Peak: 1 [2 weeks]


'Breathe' was the Prodigy's 11th consecutive Top 15 hit single... It topped the chart in November '96 as the follow-up to the astonishing 'Firestarter' and propelled Liam, Maxim, Keith and Leeroy into the super-league of UK groups.

Coming at dance-rock from rather the opposite direction to U2, (The) Prodigy are of course one of the biggest singles acts of the 1990s (and beyond - their unbroken Top 20 run stretched from 1991 to 2009) but are largely absent from Now! albums. Doubtless this suited their rather annoying self-conscious outsider image to a tee, but I suspect the more prosaic explanation was that XL Recordings were reluctant to licence the tracks (of their other commercial big-hitters, The White Stripes never appeared in the series, Dizzee Rascal didn't until he'd left the label and Adele only shows up sporadically). That said 'Breathe' does push towards the fringes of what might be acceptable to the mass audience these compilations are aimed at, with its confrontational nature and heavy bass.

The aforementioned 'Firestarter' was a major shift in direction for the act, most obviously because it was their first record to feature any musical contribution from a member other than Liam Howlett, with Keith Flint bawling out a lead vocal. As that had also been their first chart-topping single, the follow-up had to up the ante somewhat, and 'Breathe' does so, not least because Maxim joins Flint as a vocalist: Leeroy Thornhill remains silent, which may be why he eventually left the group. It also goes one better compositionally; where 'Firestarter' relies rather on shock value - both to the general public and to fans expecting something more electronic - 'Breathe' is a much more thoroughly structured piece, if no less aggressive. The lyrics make little or no literal sense, but they work to conjure a suitably dark atmosphere, underlined by the multiple outstanding bass parts - and the (evidently synthesised) drums are remarkably intricate as well. The result was a record both disturbing and exciting, and one that even a long-term disliker of the Prodge like myself had to admit was pretty good. It was a creative pinnacle they couldn't sustain, although they sold plenty of albums off the back of this, and my enthusiasm soon juddered to a halt like the ending of this track.

Oddly, my strongest personal recollection of this track - hearing it in the the chart rundown on a summer evening - is entirely incompatible with its release date in November. I also thought, before I started studying these things, that I remembered it being on Now 34, though it obviously isn't and indeed couldn't have been. Memory is a funny thing sometimes.

Also appearing on: Now 28
Available on: Their Law The Singles 1990 - 2005

Friday, 26 August 2011

U2 'Discotheque'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

U2 were formed at Dublin's Mount Temple School nearly 20 years ago... They are regarded by many as the biggest band in the world today and this cracking cut, 'Discotheque', entered the chart at No. 1 on release in February '97.
I suspect most people who bought the album might have had some inkling of who U2 were already, but nice of the note to clarify things anyway. 'Discotheque' became the sixth consecutive one-week chart-topper, an unprecedented sequence at the time, and gave way after only one week itself, although it was reportedly their fastest selling single yet. And if you've been reading this blog all week, you'll get Mark Goodier's Brian Harvey joke.

Of course we're deep into U2's ironic, experimental era here, as exemplified by their much-trailed Village People impression in the video and the album title Pop. With hindsight, the band have dismissed this album as rushed (they recorded it in only two years!) and especially now there is something rather confused about it. Perhaps it's not wholly surprising that their next move was to rerecord an old B-side as the lead track for a best of album, but it was still disappointing. I wouldn't have admitted it in 1997, but a U2 who don't know what they're doing still have more to offer than the autopilot band that took over in later years. Intentionally or otherwise, the record sounds as confused as the situation I suppose it's supposed to be about, and that distorted Edge guitar riff is impossible to get out of your head. Even Bono's voice isn't that annoying once Howie B's messed with it enough. At worst, an interesting failure.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 5, 20, 22, 32, 37, 41, 47, 48, 49, 53, 57 [LMC vs U2], 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 72
Available on: Discotheque [3 track]

Thursday, 25 August 2011

911 'The Day We Find Love'

Chart Peak: 4

'The Day We Find Love', which was a No. 4 smash in February '97, gave Lee, Spike & Jimmy their biggest hit to date... it followed their previous successes with 'Don't Make Me Wait', 'Love Sensation' and 'Night To Remember'

Yes, 1996-7 was the era of the teen-oriented Shalamar cover version. I've got to admit that at the time I did have a little bit of a soft spot for 911, who always seemed of the more fun boy bands of their era, especially compared to the rather po-faced likes of the Backstreet Boys. But for my money they never bettered 'Bodyshakin', which is one hit of theirs that never made the Now! series.

Like most acts of this type, they let the side down with too many slow songs (especially considering they were originally discovered as dancers), and this is one of those; it's another song that I remembered existing but not the sound of. It sounds like a record that's trying too hard to be grown-up and fails to work on any level at all really. Don't say I didn't warn you about the end of Disc 1, eh? See you on the other side.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 37, 38, 41, 42, 43
Available on: The Greatest Hits And A Little Bit More

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Backstreet Boys 'Anywhere For You'

Chart Peak: 4

Due for release on 17th March '97, 'Anywhere For You' is the follow-up to 'Quit Playin' Games'... It is surely destined to give the American harmonisers another British hit.

You can feel the enthusiasm dripping from that note there. This is one song that I genuinely didn't remember at all - I didn't just not remember how it sounded, like the Boyzone track yesterday, I didn't even remember that it existed. Of course I remember the band (indeed, they're still going now) and many of their songs. They were were particularly notable as one of the few US boybands to be really successful at the time, although they'd yet to conquer their home market at this stage.

Despite making the Top 5, this ballad passed me at the time, and it has again now. I noticed when I was searching online to make the links for this post that autocomplete tailed off after the band name, which implies that not many other people remember it. And yes, I'm aware that I've written a lot in this post without saying much about this song, but it really is utterly featureless. Even other slow Backstreet songs tend to have choruses that stick in the head but this is quite possibly the least distinctive track in Now! history. And that's quite a claim, believe you me.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 37, 38, 39, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 51
Available on: Greatest Hits - Chapter 1

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Boyzone 'A Different Beat'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

'A Different Beat' was the boys' 7th Top 5 smash in a row and second chart-topper... It stormed straight in at No. 1 in December '96.

A strange one this - I remember listening to the chart rundown where it entered at the top (and probably at least some of the other five weeks it was in the Top 40) and I even remember Mark Goodier congratulating one of the band down the phoneline. And yet I don't remember the song at all. So here goes...

Ah yes, it's their "ethnic" one, complete with African children in the video, although Boyzone themselves clearly went nowhere south of Clapham to film their part. Although musically not quite at the level of inspid balladry the band would soon descend to, it's obvious that the group was already being run as a showcase for Ronan Keating and Stephen Gately - you can see in this TotP clip (from the days when they tried to pretend the bands weren't miming by playing the crowd noise very loud) that the other three aren't sure what to do with themselves when the song isn't especially danceable. Oddly enough, four band members have writing credits, I don't know whether that's just a misprint. Were it not for their apparent involvement, I'd have suspected that somebody wrote this as a potential charity single and dumped it on Boyzone when it was rejected. Certainly the sentimental lyric points in that direction but also lends itself well to the Christmas market and promotion of their second album, to which this was the title track.

Also appearing on: 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 71
Available on: A Different Beat

Monday, 22 August 2011

East 17 'Hey Child'

Chart Peak: 3

'Hey Child' was yet another Top 3 smash for East 17... It was the follow-up to 'If You Ever', their hugely successful duet with Gabrielle and their 16th UK Top 20 hit in a row.

Just a quick warning - it's all boy bands till the end of Disc One, so if you don't want to read about them I'd suggest you come back on Friday or Saturday.

Anyway, this was indeed the sixteenth East 17 hit, although the sleevenote's not totally accurate because the second one only got to 28. It was also the last hit for the original incarnation of the band: it was the second new track from their snappily-titled compilation Around The World - HIT SINGLES - The Journey So Far, and at that stage of their career the record company probably would have quit while they were ahead anyway. In the event though, it was during the promotion of this single that lead singer Brian Harvey made his notorious and shocking-at-the-time comments about how great taking Ecstacy was; he claimed at one point to have taken 12 in a night, although as a non-user myself I don't know whether this is possible. In any case, this raised enough controversy (particularly in the slow news time of early January) that the band were more or less forced to sack him, and whilst he subsequently rejoined, main songwriter Tony Mortimer bailed out instead. This remaining trio carried on for a while under the (ironic under the circumstances) name E-17, but it didn't last.

As it happens, 'Hey Child' is (unless I'm hugely misremembering things) their one hit to feature Mortimer as lead singer, although of course he raps on several other hits. I don't know whether this song was especially personal to him, or whether Harvey just didn't want to do it, but either way he isn't a very good singer, and the song is his usual preachiness (presumably aimed at a newborn) with a side order of psuedo-gospel. It feels a lot longer than four minutes, I can tell you, and there's probably a reason why it's not one of their songs that people remember.

Naturally, the success of Take That in the last five years created a lot of pressure for their biggest rivals to reform, and there seems to have been a lot of stop-start activity with various incarnations of the act, usually minus either Harvey or Mortimer. The latest version (which includes Mortimer and a lead singer who was on X-Factor once) has a comeback single out soon, whilst Brian Harvey was recently in the news for filming the police when he hadn't paid his electrity bill.

Also appearing on: Now 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35 (with Gabrielle), 41 (as E-17)
Available on: The Very Best Of East Seventeen (DMD)

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Kavana 'I Can Make You Feel Good'

Chart Peak: 8

Kav's cover of Shalamar's 1982 groover 'I Can Make You Feel Good' gave him his first Top Tenner in January '97 when it made No. 8... It was the third chart single for Manchester's newest singing sensation.
The days were ending when a teen-pop act who didn't make the Top 10 with his first two singles would get to release a third, although perhaps "Kav" was in any case protected by sharing a manager with Take That. Actual quote from the Wikipedia entry about his debut album: "Kavana worked with many big name stars on the album including Lulu and Howard Donald".

Anyway, his version of this song is a fairly straight retread of the original (caution: clip contains Simon Bates getting the title wrong. Twice.), but with a slightly more Nineties production. I was never fond enough of the original to care one way or another about covers of it, and he does an acceptable but uninteresting job. Ten years after his sole Now! appearance, he readopted his first name (Anthony) and re-emerged as a reality TV show competing for a part in Grease. He didn't win.

Available on: Special Kind Of Something - The Best Of

Friday, 19 August 2011

Gabrielle 'Walk On By'

Chart Peak: 7

Brit-Award winner Gabrielle made No. 7 in January '97 with this cover of Dionne Warwick's classic 'Walk On By'... Her other Top Ten smashes include 'Dreams', 'Give Me A Little More Time' and 'If You Ever' (with East 17).

The second highest-charting version of this song (Sybil took it to Number 5) and the only one ever to show up on a Now! album. Compared to the last Burt Bacharach composition I wrote about here ('On My Own'), this is of course a fine song, bolstered by Hal David's passive-agressive lyric; it's a pity that his contribution seemed somewhat overlooked in the big Bacharach revival of the 1990s. But you knew this was a good song, and you probably knew she was going to sing it well too, though if you didn't this Totp version with a live vocal might prove the point.

It gets a good production in the style of Nellee Hooper (I don't think it actually was him, but there's no credit in the booklet for this track) and the only problem is, it seems so utterly pointless. At least, it's not bringing enough new to the song to seem worth releasing as a single, but it's a decent album track.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 26, 27, 33, 35 (with East 17), 44, 45, 46, 47, 49, 50, 58
Available on: I Am Stressed

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Eternal 'Don't You Love Me?'

Chart Peak: 3


'Don't You Love Me?' became Eternal's biggest hit to date when it shot straight into the Top 3 on 2nd March '97... It is the girls' 12th consecutive Top 20 hit.

This is already the third song title on the album that starts with the word "Don't". How negative.

I jest of course, but this is negative in the sense that it speaks of bad things happening. I remember feeling at the time that narrating all this real suffering and then asking "don't you love me?" in the chorus seemed a bit self-centered, but I suppose it's meant to imply that the people in the verses are saying that to God or something. Either way, though, it's about as effective a piece of social comment as Jamiroquai's effort, and less funky.

It feels very like a self-conscious effort to launch the band onto the US gospel market, although as far as I'm aware they never had any real success there. For all that the Bennett sisters are by all accounts committed Christians, it feels to much of a cynical move to convince.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35, 37, 38
Available on: The Best

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Damage 'Love Guaranteed'

Chart Peak: 7


Due for release on 10th March '97, 'Love Guaranteed' is tipped to be Damage's 3rd big chart smash. It follows the London fivepiece vocal group's previous winners 'Love II Love' and 'Forever'.

Still in RnB boyband territory, although of course Damage were an entire band instead of a solo artist. I remember I first became aware of them when somebody overnight stencilled their logo (the band name written into the shape of a footprint) all over the street in front of a nearby school.

The record isn't as tough-sounding as that might suggest. In fact it's quite drippy. They always seemed to fall slightly between the two stools of the serious RnB act they obviously wanted to be and the wimpish proto-Westlife pop act they had to be. Still, slushiness is no excuse to make boring music and this is forgettable in the extreme. In fact about the only part of it I can remember is that Christopher Lee is in the video. Although the band re-emerged in 2000 with a slightly more serious image, they seem to elicit relatively little nostalgia for a boy band with so many hits under their belts.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 37, 46, 48, 49
Available on: Ultimate Pop

Monday, 15 August 2011

Peter Andre 'Natural'

Chart Peak: 6

'Natural' shot stright into the UK chart at No. 6 on 2nd March '97... it followed the No.1 smash 'I Feel You' and became Peter's 4th big UK smash in just 9 months.

If he's no easier to take seriously than Mark Morrison, Andre is certainly more likeable; he seems to have better relationships with his hometown too, having been in Harrow only recently to assist a local charity. 14 years down the line, the title track of his first album is unlikely to be mistaken for a good record but neither is it as insultingly bad as Mark Morrison's effort.

It's watered-down makeweight RnB which clearly exists as an excuse to make a video of him with his shirt open; they even do the classic boyband shot where they get blown by the wind in loose white shirts, though I'm not sure who the other three guys are supposed to be. At least his attempts at seduction are a bit more consensual than Morrison's and the song has a sort of OK bassline.

Also appearing on: Peter Andre also appears on: Now 34, 35, 38, 40, 57
Available on: Natural (Eastwest Release)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Mark Morrison, 'Horny'

Chart Peak: 5

Mark has had hit after hit after hit in the last year... 'Horny' was a Top 5 monster in December '96 - it came after 'Return Of The Mack', 'Crazy' and 'Trippin' and was itself followed by his 5th top tenner 'Moan And Groan'.

If I thought I had any younger readers, I might want to emphasise the truth of that sleevenote to them: posterity recalls Mark Morrison as a a one-hit-wonder (which he seemingly was in some places) but here in the UK he managed five Top 10 singles in a year, though that was pretty much his lot, with only one Top 20 appearance since.

I don't know whether anyone actually remembers this song, but it's unlikely to come as a great surprise that 'Horny' find him huffing and puffing in his usually sub-Bobby Brown style about sex, dropping such couplets as "drop your clothes on the floor and close the door" (why that way round Mark?) and the unmissable "Roses are red and violets are blue/ Get on the floor, I wanna freak you". He even calls in a female rapper to explain how irresistable he is. You see her in the video, alongside some dancers in skintight police uniforms handcuffing him. As if all this wasn't laughable enough - and frankly it is - the way he says "you gotsk me horny" always reminded me of Popeye.

I suppose it's just about possible that his entire career was supposed to be played for laughs, but if so he's been in remarkably deep cover all these years. He was last seen calling himself the Beatles of Leicester and complaining that the city didn't pay enough respect to him.

Also appearing on: Now 36
Available on: Return Of The Mack

Friday, 12 August 2011

George Michael 'Spinning The Wheel (Forthright edit)'

Chart Peak: 2


England's top vocal artiste, George Michael, has returned in the last year with a string of hit records... This is the massive club mix of 'Spinning The Wheel' which was a No. 2 smash for him in August '96.

And a club mix it is indeed. Why it features in place of the jazzy original (or the edited version of it that was the A-side of the single) I don't know but perhaps it's connected to the way the Now albums always seem to be one single behind with his tracks of this era - this fits into the period covered by Now 35, but that has his previous single, which belonged on Now 34, and that has the one that belonged on Now 33.

The song seems, or did to my uninterested ears at the time, to be another of the many songs about a protagonist who wonders where his beloved is and what they're up to, with the strong suspicion that they're being cheated on. In the light of what we know now, though, it takes on a somewhat deeper and darker hue with the implicit fear of HIV transmission; that of course explains the title and some of the shots in the video. And especially knowing what happened to Michael a couple of years later, it's tempting to wonder whether the song is consciously or subconsciously aimed at himself. 

I have warmed to the original of the song somewhat over the years. But this mix seems to miss the point entirely, although Michael himself apparently liked it enough to perform this arrangement live.

Also appearing on: Now 22 (with Elton John), 23, 25 (with Queen), 34, 35, 37, 38

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Robert Miles featuring Maria Nayler 'One And One'

Chart Peak: 3

DJ/Producer Robert Miles has had 3 major British hits in the last year. The Brit-Award winning Italian first hit with 'Children', then 'Fable' and then this tune - the haunting 'One And One' which was a Top 3 smash in late '96.

His first vocal hit, 'One & One' was co-written by Billy Steinberg and Rick Nowels, names I'd associate more with Belinda Carlisle than European trance. Indeed I half-expected it to be a cover of one of Carlisle's album tracks or something, but apparently not. Still, it's the kind of style you'd expect from the credits, and was presumably added to the album in an attempt to get a hit in America. Nayler has a pretty, breathy voice and the finished product is breezy and radio-friendly, but underwhelming.

Robert Miles also appears on: Now 34
Available on: ONE AND ONE

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Jamiroquai 'Virtual Insanity'

Chart Peak: 3

The stormin' 'Virtual Insanity; was the track that broguth Jay Kay and Jamiroquai to an even bigger audience in the autumn of 1996... it was a Top 3 smash in August and was quickly followed by the groovin' 'Cosmic Girl' 3 months later.

Slightly odd for the sleevenote to draw attention to how out of date this inclusion is, but presumably Jamiroquai tracks were hard to get onto Now albums, as their impressive tally of hits only netted them four appearances, and their only Number One single never made it.

This was their second-highest placing though, and comes from their biggest-selling album - allegedly the biggest-selling funk album ever - Travelling Without Moving. I almost bought it myself, having sort of liked a few of the singles, but in retrospect I'm fairly glad I didn't, because I can't imagine I'd have listened to it much - the more I hear of Jamiroquai, the less I like them as they seem to reshuffle the same limited stock of musical ideas in a rather soulless way. On this particular song, Jay Kay also tries his hand at a bit of social commentary, declaring that "It's a wonder man can eat at all when things are big that should be small", trying to deride technological progress even as his album cover flaunts his enthusiasm for the four-wheeled kind of technology. I mean, I like cars and care about the environment too, but I try to avoid this sort of finger-wagging smugness.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 44, 50
Available on: High Times: Singles 1992-2006 (Special Edition)

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Blue Boy 'Remember Me'

Chart Peak: 8

'Remember Me' has been one of 1997's most successful singles to date... Its distinctive Marlena Shaw sample has helped the tune to spend 6 consecutive weeks in the UK Top 15 to date.

Not to be confused with the long-running indie band Blueboy (I've just had to edit the Wikipedia article!) or indeed with the Orange Juice song they were presumably named after, this Blue Boy (seemingly the accepted spelling) was Scottish DJ Alexis Blackmore, but as you'll see he's not named in the sleevenote and he's also the first act on this album whose face we don't get to see - the only illustration is the single cover.

Despite my general lack of radio listening, this is one track I did hear several times during a minibus trip from Lancaster to Norwich and back in early 1997. It reminds me of the times more than almost any other record I didn't buy back then.
'Remember Me' is based on samples from a live version of Marlena Shaw's 'Woman Of The Ghetto (which is a slightly ironic song to linking to on a night when my hometown has been put on lockdown for fear somebody might try to loot JD Sports, but that's by the by). Unfortunately the effect once looped and reedited (and indeed remixed for the single version) is actually a bit annoying, though it doesn't get on my nerves as much as it used to. And the single-buying public clearly loved it because it hung around much longer than most hits of the time, and was one of only a few tracks that year to peak after its first week. The best thing I can say for it is that it was an excuse to revisit the source material.

Available on: Funk Soul Classics

Saturday, 6 August 2011

White Town 'Your Woman'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

White Town is Jyoti Mishra... He hails from Derby and 'Your Woman', with its spanking Al Bowlly sample, raced to No.1 on release in January '97

Officially it was the lead track on the Abort? Retry? Fail? EP, but really a single in its own right, 'Your Woman' is famous as the home-recorded single that got picked up by Mark Radcliffe on Radio 1 and got to Number One. With my aforementioned radio avoidance I don't think I heard this before it charted either and I definitely remember that I didn't like it at the time, but I don't remember why.I know that at the time I was resistant to anything at all reminiscent of 80s synth-pop, and perhaps there's a little too much self-conscious cleverness about the record too.

All of which said, it's grown on me a lot in the years since, and when I acquired Now 36 it was one of the first tracks I ripped and put onto my MP3 player. I'm more impressed now by the mystery of the lyric (Who's singing to whom? Why is an obviously male voice telling us he can't be a woman?) and the sheer number of different musical ideas Mishra manages to squeeze into the track - I especially like the bleepy sounds followed by the crunchy bass and the stumbling finish. It's tempting to see that as some sort of metaphor for his career, but this might not be entirely fair. It's true that the single is a strong candidate for the one-hit-wonder label - the follow-up 'Undressed' managed not to even make the Top 50, whereupon EMI let him go - but Mishra seems happy enough that way now, and this did become one of the bigger British hits in the US of that era, reaching 23 and presumably helping keep the wolf from his door.

My brother was well ahead of me with this song, and he bought the album Women In Technology on cassette when you could still do such a thing (it doesn't even seem to be available on CD any more). I can only remember one other song from it now, though, and it wasn't even the other single. Oh well, it's this song that counts here.

Available on: Violent Veg - 40 Favourite Songs For Dad!

Friday, 5 August 2011

No Doubt 'Don't Speak'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)

'Don't Speak' was an American smash hit first and then a huge British chart-topper in February '97... Gwen and the boys expect a second big hit soon with 'Just A Girl'.

In early 1997, I didn't listen to the radio all that much, but I did listen to the chart rundown. So when Mark Goodier announced that the previous week's Number One had dropped to 6, I was at a loss to guess what might have replaced it; I guessed correctly that it wouldn't have been the one single I bought that week, 'Last Day' by Silver Sun. It turned out to be this lot, who I recalled having a minor hit with the original release of 'Just A Girl' the year before. Years later I was to discover that bassist Tony Kanal (as seen shirtless at the start of the video) went to the same primary school as me, though not at the same time.

Though I hadn't heard it before it became Number One, I've heard it often enough since, even on the radio the day I started writing this post. I must admit I was never fond of it, finding it terribly whiny and self-consciously emotive. Matthew Wilder's (yes, he of nothing breaking his stride fame) production is full of good ideas, but rather too full - we have to have the flamenco guitar solo *and* the muted trumpets *and* the big string section - the full whack just drags on too long. It's very much one of those songs where I can tell why people like it, I just don't want to listen to it myself.

Also appearing on: Now 37
Available on: Tragic Kingdom

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Beautiful South 'Don't Marry Her'

Chart Peak: 8


Top British pop group, The Beautiful South, had another smash with 'Don't Marry Her'... It followed 'Rotterdam' into the Top 10 in late '96

I know the question you're going to ask - and yes, of course it's the censored version. I remember my Dad got the Blue Is The Colour album for Christmas that year and had to be advised to heed the sticker warning of "blue language" on the opening track before he played it in the presence of the various assembled grandparents. Even in sanitised form (complete with the "tribute" to Sandra Bullock") this is a much darker record than its spotless MOR sound might fool you into thinking, clearly a product of Paul Heaton at his most misanthropic.

The siren voice of Jacqui Abbot tempts a man away from his imminent marriage by painting a dystopian picture of settled domestic life. Of course, it's unclear how literally we're supposed to take this since the early lyric "I'll never grow so old and flabby, that could never be" is one of the most transparently empty promises in pop, but even if it's just the man's fantasy it's a pretty bitter pill, even when sugared by the charming melody and brilliant musicianship. I loved this record at the time as a subversive masterpiece, but I admit to finding it slightly harder going as a fully-fledged adult.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 16, 18, 22, 27, 28, 32, 35, 41, 42
Available on: The Beautiful South - Gold

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Bee Gees 'Alone'

Chart Peak: 5


It is 30 years this year since the Gibb brothers first charted with 'New York Minig Disaster 1941'... The trio's songwriting abilities and unique harmonies are again in evidence on their latest Top 5 smash 'Alone'

And if you thought Texas had been around for a long time in 1997, this is in another league. As I said earlier this year, they recovered from a quiet 1980s (at least as performers) with a series of hit singles in the 1990s, few of which are remembered now. Even as long ago as that you wouldn't have thought that the older demographic this sort of thing appealed to would still have been buying singles, but evidently their fans were loyal.

As a record it's as predictable as you'd expect, Gibb-by-numbers with even the gimmick of playing the intro on (synthesised?) bagpipes not attracting much attention. There's a level of craftmanship there that you might admire but the finished product is no more than competent.

Also appearing on: Now 29
Available on: The Ultimate Bee Gees

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Texas 'Say What You Want'

Chart Peak: 3


Texas first hit big in 1989 with 'I Don't Want A Lover'... Ms Spiteri and the boys had their biggest hit to date with 'Say What You Want' - a No.3 monster in January '97.
Though they'd had other hits in between, Texas really seemed to be drifting into one-hit-wonderhood at this point. I remember being very surprised to hear them announced as a new entry on the chart early in 1997 when I'd pretty much forgotten they ever existed; but of course this proved to be only the start of their real commercial peak. Although most of the personnel were the same, they really seemed like a different band from the blues-rock incarnation of their earlier years, with a new slinkier sound influenced by trends in RnB but still old-school enough to appeal to a more mature audience. Perhaps no less importantly, they did what they'd always refused to do before and focussed more attention on Sharleen Spiteri, who started appearing alone on the record covers and in videos.

That description makes things seem very contrived, and doubtless it was to some extent, but they just about get away with it by displaying an apparently genuine love for the music. 'Say What You Want' was clearly "inspired" by Al Green's 'Tired Of Being Alone' and Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing', but any record that can recall that latter song without making me want to throw up is onto a winner. I think they made better records before the formula got too tired, but this was a well-made pop single. And it sets out 1997's stall as a year of comebacks and surprise success from older acts.

Also appearing on: Now 37, 38, 38, 40, 43, 47, 48, 49, 56, 62, 63
Available on: I Don't Want A Lover

Monday, 1 August 2011

Spice Girls 'Mama'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)

'Mama', due for release on 3rd March 97, is tipped to give the Spice Girls their 4th consecutive No. 1 in Britain... Ginger, Scary, Baby, Sporty and Posh would go down in pop music history as the first act to top the charts with their first 4 hits... Oh and 'Wannabe' has just hit No. 1 in America - wow!

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler at this point to say that they did manage it, and that they then extended the record-breaking run to six, though that has been beaten since.

We're sort of back on my home turf here, 1997 being one of my favourite pop years - and indeed one of the best years of the 20th century for singles sales. That's not so say that music was all good, as we'll see in the next couple of months, but it was a time when I seemed to notice and form an opinion on almost any track that charted. My hope is that even when I don't like something on Now 36 I'll at least feel strongly enough about it to make for an interesting post.

We get a good early test of my theory right here at the start of the album. Undoubtedly the Spice Girls had their moments, and at their best they were an exciting an joyful pop phenomenon for a couple of years. But like most manager-led pop acts, they couldn't avoid the call of the big ballad, hence the third hit (and Christmas Number One) '2 Become 1', which went on to sell a million but is ironically their only hit not to appear on a Now album. That should have been enough for anyone, but then came this slush cynically released just in time for the Mother's Day market, and for charity too, making it one of the most inevitable Number One singles of all time. Admittedly, anyone who bought the single was getting a much better song as the other A-side, but this is what we have here - the other side's on Now 37.

Perhaps it's a little unfair to criticise this one track for being cynical when all their songs that I did like were created in an atmosphere of cynicism. Indeed, pretty much every piece of music I've ever heard has arrived through somebody's cynical self-interest somewhere and I'm fine with that, intellectually. The problem isn't that 'Mama' is a cynical construct, it's that it sounds like one, to the extent that I even find myself wondering whether they gave it that title so people in non-English-speaking countries could get the gist. It's too dull musically to distract from the slush of the lyric, and the pointless DJ scratching 19 seconds in doesn't change that. It seems to go on for hours as well. The most notable thing hearing it now is that there seems to be a male voice singing on the chorus. 

Also appearing on: Now 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 47
Available on: To The Best Mum In The World...Ever!