Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Steps 'Deeper Shade Of Blue'

Chart Peak: 4


Before the guys and gals of Steps teamed up in 1997, they were already in training for a life of stardom; Faye was the star of a cabaret band, Lisa was touring as a singer/dancer, Claire was singing in her first band TSD, Lee was working in the theatre and "H" was entertaining kids at a holiday camp... 'Deeper Shade Of Blue' gave Steps their 7th Top Five hit in April 2000.
Apologies to anyone who was hoping to see this post yesterday but even I have better things to do on Christmas Day than to write blog posts about Steps. This also means that I'm writing this as the news arrives of Gerry Anderson's demise, which is a bit of a coincidence given the vaguely Thunderbirds-esque look in parts of the video, although the blue uniforms also slightly resemble the costumes Scooch wore for their Eurovision appearance seven years later (maybe not a total coincidence). Meanwhile, in the fantasy sequences Faye and Claire appear to be inventing Lady Gaga almost a decade too soon whilst Lisa is auditioning for Avatar.

It's the second dose of Steps on this album, of course, a rare event for such an established act, but at this point in their brief career they were flinging out hits at such a rate that it was becoming hard to keep track of them - obviously more easily done by a non-songwriting act and apparently this particular tune was originally recorded by Tina Cousins. Unlike their other contribution, 'Deeper Shade Of Blue' was a song that actually attracted my attention at the time and it's probably as close as I ever came to buying a Steps single, although I could never be bothered with all the remixes so I never did it. Although it doesn't sound to me especially similar to any Abba record, it does perhaps come close to their combination of the euphoric and melancholic, blending a big dancey chorus with the more downbeat verses; whilst those two elements should in theory undermine each other they actually dovetail pretty well, maybe because there's no attempt at gravitas. We're comfortably in dance-to-forget-your-troubles territory and even if I've rarely been able to do that successfully I like the idea. Plus this is appealing enough melodically not to demand much thought. Though it's inevitably dated a little over the last 12 years it's still one of their best singles, despite having the shortest chart run of any of their first run hits. It's a decent end to the album, although it does fade a bit weakly so maybe it should have been reshuffled a bit.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51
Available on: The Ultimate Collection

Monday, 24 December 2012

Atomic Kitten 'I Want Your Love'

Chart Peak: 10


'I Want Your Love' is the 3rd single release from cheeky threesome Atomic Kitten... The girls are busy building a huge following in the Far East there there is phenomenal demand for anything "Kitten" - they are heavily involved with MTV Asia's latest campagin, reaching an incredible audience of 675 million!

Speaking of reality TV, I wonder how many people nowadays can actually remember why Kerry Katona was initially famous. And should anyone think I was exaggerating about the risk of Scooch being dropped after a Number 29 single, legend has it that the Kittens were almost dropped in 2001 without ever having missed the Top 20; their founder Andy McCluskey (of OMD fame) begged the label to give them one last shot with a single called 'Whole Again', and the rest is of course history. If like most people you only know of the group's work after that breakthrough, you'll be used to them as purveyors of limp balladry, cover versions and weak Corrs pastiches, so it might come as some surprise to be confronted with a track like this, which actually sounds the way a band with a name like Atomic Kitten should.

Over a sample of the score from the film The Big Country (familiar even to those of us who haven't seen the movie, not least since it was also sampled on 'The Only Rhyme That Bites' by 808 State and MC Tunes) and credited elements of the KLF's 'Justified And Ancient' (Drummond and Cauty even get writing credits, perhaps ironically) this isn't the best song ever but it's much more outlandish and therefore more fun than what they became known for in the majority of their career. It speaks volumes that when their debut album was re-issued to include their chart-topping hits and new member Jenny Frost, this track was exiled to the very end of the album, they didn't even bother to replace the departed Katona's vocal.

One more Scooch/Kittens connection: Heidi Range auditioned for both groups. She was considered too young for the former act but got as far as recording demos with Atomic Kitten before departing. She of course went on to get further experience of line-up changes as a member of Sugababes.

Also appearing on: Now 45, 48, 49, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57 [with Kool And The Gang], 58, 60
Available on: Right Now

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Scooch 'For Sure'

Chart Peak: 15


Catchy new tune from Scooch, 'For Sure' is scheduled to hit the shops in late July 2000... The video for the new track sees the band carry-out a week-long romance complete with fun office scenes in an Ally McBeal style, packed dance-floor scenarios and a visit from a passing break-dancer!
Taken from the album For Sure.

Actually, the album was called Four Sure. See what they did there? Though not the most successful group of this era, I remember Scooch fairly clearly, not least because they were so transparently Mike Stock and Matt Aitken's attempt at a knock-off of their friend-turned-enemy Pete Waterman's success with Steps. The band members even looked similar (at least after the attentions of a stylist) although the fact that there were only four of them did rather seem to heighten the appearance of a cheapo own-brand substitute. It's presumably through Stock and Aitken's determination that they weren't dropped after the first single only scraped the Top 30, particularly in the knowledge that Steps' first hit was their smallest. But whilst they scored a Top 5 hit with the hopefully-titled 'The Best Is Yet To Come' they didn't make the Top 10 again until they entered Eurovision in 2007. 'For Sure' proved to be the last hit of their original career and was probably their strongest recording - certainly their catchiest number although a bit heavy on the Autotune for my taste.

The track's notable for the use of Latin-style beats that were really fashionable a year or two earlier, which might be another reason why they weren't more successful; they seemed a bit behind the times. Obviously 1999 is a bit late to show up with a pseudo-Steps, and whilst Ally McBeal was apparently still in production until 2002 it seemed to peak in pop-culture recognition. Personally I never saw an entire episode of the show (I have some vague memory of there being a unisex toilet involved?) but I'd like to think their set design was a bit more convincing, and I'd hope that they didn't suffer from that effect you see in the close-up dancefloor shots where it looks like a widescreen picture compressed into traditional aspect ratio. Even Jamelia's office scenes were more convincing. Also the other three members are so peripheral that if you didn't know otherwise you could be forgiven for thinking that Scooch was the name of the blonde woman (who actually seems to have been called Caroline Barnes) rather than a group; in the event it was the other woman Natalie Powers who had the solo career, though not to the extent of actually charting. Thanks to YouTube I can confirm the claim on Wikipedia that Russ Spencer (the blond man) did indeed take part in Boys Will Be Girls, a "reality" TV show in which former boy band "stars" pretended to be a girl group. I think the bit about them playing a gig with the Mission and Fields Of The Nephilim might not be true though.

Available on: Four Sure

Friday, 21 December 2012

Fe-m@il 'Flee Fly Flo'

Chart Peak: 46

Fe-m@il, whose ages range from 15 to 19, are "on a mission to get the nation dancing"... Oyana is easy-going but hates cats, Ans is lazy - but a perfectionist, Nicci is a smiley violinist, Lauz (aka Laura) is a party animal and and Sally (Lauz's sister) enjoys fiddling with her belly-button because it freaks her big sister out!
If you've watched that video, I'd just like to reassure you that the world hasn't ended, you're not having a feverish dream, that song really does exist. There are some records that have a timeless quality, that are so individual that they can't be pigeonholed with anything else or be tied to a specific era; it's fair to say that 'Flee Fly Flo' isn't one of them. The very name of the act, with the pun and the use of the @ symbol (which always looks to me like it should be pronounced "fematil", surely the name of a hygiene product) is an instant throwback to the days when references to this newfangled Internet thing were trendy whether or not they made any sense. Even four years after 'Wannabe', people still thought there was some mileage in the concept of a feisty girl-group and especially one who could be promoted to a very young audience. To this end, the track is apparently based on a traditional song commonly sung at scout camps and similar, so it would be all the more familiar to schoolgirls. Even before release this track was included on a free video cassette with TV Hits magazine (another very of its time reference), but the kids didn't bite and as far as I know this was their only release, in the days when one flop was the end. I don't know whether a second single was recorded and abandoned, and neither do I know what happened to the ex-members of the band. Presumably they've all had to get proper jobs now but I wonder if they ever tell their colleagues about this.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Vangaboys 'Uncle John From Jamaica'

Chart Peak: 6

Originally, "The Vengaboys" was the working title of DJs Danski and Delmundo, who toured Spain in a schoolbus for five years, holding illegal beach parties... Forward to the year 2000 and the band are riding high on chart success with a combined single sales total of over two million on the UK alone!
I said the other day that it was slightly odd to be listening to some of these songs in December, as it's a summer album. But as the end of the album nears, we start to hit the sort of novelty that seems to fit into the pre-Christmas week quite neatly. Though this was far from the last Vengaboys hit, it does find them well past beyond their peak. Though never a serious act, they were once on the same sort of level as pop-dance acts like Alice Deejay, making records you could imagine hearing in clubs; this is much more obviously pitched at kids too young for clubs and MTV viewers: the making of feature about the video indicates that it was actually filmed in Jamaica, although entirely in a hotel so it might as well have been Spain or the Netherlands.

The best thing about this song is that it's not as cod-reggae as the title threatens and nobody actually attempts a Jamaican accent at any point. The remainder of the song is silly but not in an especially outlandish or memorable way, apart from the costumes in the video. Amazingly, it's not even their worst song.

Also appearing on: Now 41, 42, 43, 44, 45

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Jamelia 'Call Me'

Chart Peak: 11

Birmingham-born Jamelia is currently been hailed {sic} as the hottest new talent on the UK RnB scene, claims which were supported by her 2000 Brit nomination for Best Newcomer... The video for new single 'Call Me' is based in an office - an ordinary atmosphere in comparison to the powdered-wig wearing, costume-drama-style video made for her previous single 'Money'.
I don't think it's an entirely accurate representation of an office, I have to admit. 'Call Me' is not a version of the Blondie or Go West songs, but an original composition: Wikipedia credits it to Jamelia alone, although two co-writers are named here. Either way, it was the third of four singles from her debut album, and possibly best described as a functional RnB track that does what you'd expect but little more, and the pastiche of turn-of-century US production styles unfortunately leaves it sounding very dated now, full of acoustic guitars, harps and clicking beats. Songs like 'Try Again' on this album are strong enough to grow into the production but there just isn't quite enough to this one. Generally I like Jamelia but this is just ho-hum. She didn't have another hit for three years.

Also appearing on: Now 45, 56, 57, 58, 59, 65, 66
Available on: Jamelia - The Collection

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Tru Faith and Dub Conspiracy 'Freak Like Me'

Chart Peak: 12

Tru Faith and Dub Conspiracy's debut garage offering started its journey to the dance floor as a bootleg cover of Adina Howard's US No1, also entitled 'Freak Like Me'... Due for commercial release this summer, the track is already an underground anthem following months of extensive airplay on pirate UK radio stations.
Possibly the most obscure act on this album, neither Tru Faith nor Dub Conspiracy merits a Wikipedia entry, and the article about the song makes no mention of this version either. In fact, pretty much the only thing I know about this particular version is that the uncredited singer is Imaani, previously heard on Now 40 as the 1998 Eurovision contestant. She didn't win.

Adina Howard's original was only a minor UK chart hit, but a big favourite on the RnB scene and much rotated on The Box channel. It's credited, if that's the word, with pioneering the "hypersexual" style among female singers in the genre, although it's something I find impossible to take at all seriously. The language barrier about the word "freak" doesn't entirely help here either, it always makes me think of a man with three arms or something. It was obviously familiar enough to clubbers to justify this bootleg (I wonder if they mean it was originally a remix with the original vocal?) in a style which faintly resembles Shanks & Bigfoot's chart-topper 'Sweet Like Chocolate' from the previous year with added garage beats. But there's not a lot to interest the casual listener and I only dimly recall this. There was of course another bootleg of this song a year later which became rather better known, but that's a few albums further down the line...

Available on: Freak Like Me

Monday, 17 December 2012

DJ Luck and MC Neat featuring JJ 'Masterblaster 2000'

Chart Peak: 5

Following the success of their debut single, 'A Little Bit Of Luck', DJ Luck and MC Neat returned to the UK Top 10 in May with 'Masterblaster 2000'. It's twenty years since Stevie Wonder first took lifting reggae classic 'Masterblaster (Jammin'), (written as a tribute to Bob Marley) to No. 2 in the UK chart. 
I suppose they mean that Stevie Wonder's original song was "uplifting", unless it's a typo for "lilting", which wouldn't make much sense. Either way, it's certainly not "hotter than July" as I write this in the middle of December, but the original remains brilliant at any time, proving Stevie's credentials as one of the few pop songwriters able to convey a genuine joy.

 As to this version, though, it's rather thin, as if they were taken by surprise by the slow-burning success of 'A Little Bit Of Luck' and rushed to create follow-up. There are some newly-written lyrics, mainly to replace the now-dated references to Zimbabwe and focus on the party aspect of the song, although they're pretty back-of-an-envelope stuff; nobody gets a credit for writing them, or maybe they just wouldn't admit it. Everything seems half-baked as if it's a dull day in the office and nobody's really trying, and to compound it their next single was a cover version of 'Ain't No Stopping Us Now'. Though they're stylistically different from MJ Cole, and this particular single is a world away from the subtle charm of 'Crazy Love', they did fall prey to the same problem: by the time they got an album out the market had moved on.
Also appearing on: Now 45
Available on: Garage Classics Volume II Summer Edition

Thursday, 13 December 2012

MJ Cole 'Crazy Love'

Chart Peak: 13

MJ Cole is a classically-trained musician - but he perfected his DJ skills out in the UK club-scene... Featuring the sultry vocals of Elizabeth Troy, 'Crazy Love' hit the UK chart in the spring of 2000 and Matt has been described by a prestigious UK magazine as "British garage's biggest hope".
Often when you read that somebody in pop is a classically-trained musician it doesn't seem to amount to much - but Matthew Coleman seems to be the real deal, a conservatoire student in piano and oboe. Moreover, he seems to have carried some of this expertise into this track, which is almost entirely devoid of electronics and built instead on a bed of pizzicatto strings, with a piano part well down in the mix (you can hear it in the left channel on headphones). Recently, Elizabeth Troy was able to perform a pretty similar arrangement live, not something you'd expect Rank 1 to be able to do.

The song, co-written by Troy and Cole(man) is one of the best compositions in dance music of this era. Strongly melodic, but with the same sort of uncertain lyric as 'Groovejet'. It's slightly less of a pop song because the lack of an obvious bass line makes it feel slightly empty: highly effective in terms of the message they're trying to convey but less radio-friendly. The single was still a significant hit, but not a massive one, possibly not ideal for the supposed great hope of garage; especially the man whom the industry was obviously counting on to break the sound into the lucrative album market. He wasn't wholly unsuccessful on that score, becoming the first garage act to get nominated for the Mercury Prize. However he was also the first, and as yet only, act to be announced as a nominee before the album was even in the shops, due to the label's panicked decision to push back the release date for further promotion. It didn't exactly flop but it couldn't match up to expectations and little was heard from him in the mainstream thereafter. It's only from Wikipedia I even know he made a second album.

Available on: Sincere

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Lonyo → Comme Ci Comme Ca 'Summer Of Love'

Chart Peak: 8

Lonyo is already a well-known name in the party resort Agia Napa, where he enjoyed a season as the vocalist behind the big underground record 'Destiny' by Dem2... Influenced by soul greats such as Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer and Kool & The Gang, Lonyo took his debut single 'Summer Of Love' into the UK Top 10 in July 2000.
Once Craig David had become the first big pop star of garage, a style initially associated with unseen producers and DJs, it was inevitable that others would emerge, marketed more obviously at a female audience. Lonyo → Comme Ci Comme Ca, possibly the only Top 10 act with a rightward arrow in his name, was an early candidate, blending smoothie soulish vocals with pop-dance tracks. Whilst the beat on 'Summer Of Love' is recognisably two-step, it's much less prominent in the mix and the pace of the rest of the music is much less twitchy and urgent than on the B15 track, for example. Because it's the summer of 2000, there's also a dollop of Latin, courtesy of a sample from the impressively-moustachioed Oscar D'Leon.

It's music for open car windows, rather than dark clubs, and effective enough, but unfortunately for Lonyo it wasn't the start a big career for him: second single 'Garage Girls' only just made the Top 40 and he hasn't charted solo since.

Available on: Big Tunes Destination Dance

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The B15 Project featuring Crissy D and Lady G 'Girls Like Us'

Chart Peak: 7

The principal members of the B15 project are Angus Campbell and Ian Wallman, whose name is inspired by the postcode of the Edgbaston studio in which they first started working together... Ian used to be Choice FM DJ while Angus - cousin of UB40's Ali Campbell - started out as a bass player.
Back into the world of memorable tracks with singing, although I never did work out why it was called 'Girls Like Us' when the lyric is clearly "girls like this" (and is even subtitled as such in the video, I've just discovered). Possibly there were some sample clearance issues at some point, although I think the truth may just be that the vocal isn't treated that reverently in the track as a whole, being chopped up, sped up and otherwise used as a texture; that makes the live vocal on TotP an odd decision but it's something I can heartily approve of. It feels a bit like a throwback to the speed garage sound that produced a flurry of hits in 1997 but then seemed to tail off until the tail of the century. On the other hand, the arrival of Lady G's lascivious, Jamaican-accented rap partway through makes this sound a bit like the blueprint for Mis-Teeq's hits over the next couple of years. I don't know whether there's any connection between that and the lack of further success for the B15 Project; maybe the name didn't suggest an act in it for the long run. Still, this is a song I've found hard to forget over the years, harder than many a more feted release of the era.

Available on: XX Twenty Years, Vol. 2 - Ministry of Sound

Monday, 10 December 2012

Rank 1 'Airwave'

Chart Peak: 10


Rank 1's huge trance tune 'Airwave' has been championed by DJs from all over Europe, including Judge Jules, ATB, Ferry Corsten and DJ Taucher... Piet Bervoets and Benno De Goeij (aka Rank 1) hooked up at a friend's party 3 years ago and are both respected remixers/producers, having worked with System F, Cygnus X and DJ Jean.
Their biography at Last.FM claims that "they’ve continued to pack out the CD wallets of world’s A-list spinners with speaker-spankers..." but surely big-name DJs don't play CDs? Anyway, they have a decent track record of club hits but their first record as a duo remains their only mainstream hit. Apparently it's rated  as a classic by fans of the genre for reasons frankly beyond my ken (and I mean that as a self-criticism, rather than one of the record itself). At least the radio edit is tactfully brief, and doesn't have too much of the obligatory breathy female vocal.

Presumably they weren't aware of the slang meaning of the word "rank" in some parts of the UK.

Available on: Airwave

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Angelic 'It's My Turn'

Chart Peak: 11

Angelic are hot dance duo Amanda O'Riordan (aka Mrs Judge Jules!) and Darren Tate - Amanda previously trained as a graphic designer before friends persuaded her to take her soaring vocals into the studio, while Darren is a classically trained musician... UK smash 'It's My Turn' has been chosen as the lead track for the new youth-culture movie Brothers. 
No, I didn't either, but I looked it up on IMDB and apparently Brothers is a film about a pair of siblings who go on holiday to Greece and get drunk, based on the real-life experiences of the director and his brother. Starring: nobody I've ever heard of but apparently crediting 63 "associate producers", which I presume was an early form of crowdfunding.

Anyway, the song is somewhat less forgotten than than the flick, although I thought I remembered Judge Jules himself being part of the act. Maybe he was and wasn't credited for contractual reasons but either way this sounds like the sort of thing he'd have appreciated and played even without any personal connection to it, a sort-of-uplifting house track that doesn't seem brave enough to be camp. Mrs O'Riordan isn't that great a singer to be honest, and if YouTube commenters are to be believed she gained a lot from studio technology, but she's good enough for the song.

Available on: Ibiza [Explicit] [+digital booklet]

Friday, 7 December 2012

Alice Deejay 'Will I Ever'

Chart Peak: 7


Alice Deejay, winner of the "Best Chart Act" gong at the Dancestar 2000 awards, release their latest single 'Will I Ever' on July 3rd... The band first pounded the UK charts with their infectious trance sound in 1999, with huge debut 'Better Off Alone' and collossal follow-up 'Back In My Life'.
I'm tempted to make a joke at this juncture suggesting that Alice Deejay's singer Judy Pronk should hook up with the actor Ken Stott, but I'm not sure anyone would get it.

Anyway, this was the third of the act's five Top 40 (indeed, Top 20) hits, but finds them with the typical pop-dance problem of diminishing returns, each single peaking lower than the one before. It is at least a form of dance that's easier to appreciate outside a club environment: indeed I don't know whether any cool DJ would have touched it with a bargepole, but at least there's a song there that schoolkids could sing along to. Not the peak of even their career but passable.

Also appearing on: Now 43, 44
Available on: Who Need Guitars Anyway?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Southside Spinners 'Luvstruck'

Chart Peak: 9


Marco V and Benjamin are DJ/producers based in the Netherlands, who have been an influential force in the Dutch dance scene for over two years... 'Luvstruck' is their debut single release as the Southside Spinners, for which they teamed up with vocalist Janny.
The song seems already to have been a couple of years old at this point, but was revived after featuring prominently in the film Kevin And Perry Go Large. Janny is rightly credited here as a vocalist, rather than a singer, since her contribution is entirely spoken and groaned in a way that's presumably supposed to sound sexy. In fact it's more creepy, especially in the context of the video, though that probably wasn't the intention.

The music possibly is best described as functional, but not really enjoyable out of its intended context. Maybe it would have sounded better if we'd never heard 'French Kiss', where the heavy breathing at least fits in.

Available on: Trance - The Early Years (1997-2002)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Different Gear vs The Police 'When The World Is Running Down (You Can't Go Wrong)'

Chart Peak: 28


London-based producers Quinn Whalley and Gino Scaletti joined forces over seven years ago and 'When The World...' is their first commercial release... The track is based on the 1979 Police recording 'When The World Is Running Down (You Make The Best Of What's Still Around)' which appeared on their Zenyatta Mondatta LP.
That attribution to the original Police album (actually from 1980, which fits neatly with the previous three tracks) appears in the credits page as well. Perhaps this was part of the deal for getting permission to include this track - the only representation of the entire group on a Now! album, though Sting has shown up a couple of times. Perhaps if they'd known how minor a hit this would end up, they wouldn't have bothered: I'd guess this was an example of a club hit that took so long to get a commercial release that the moment had passed.

I'm no expert on The Police, but apparently Zenyatta Mondatta was the album with 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' and the Grammy-winning instrumental 'Behind My Camel'; in other words, the point where they started to disappear up Sting's backside. Their original version is a late example of what the Onion once called the "I used to be kind of cool once years" - although I can cope without Sting droning on about a post-apocalyptic dystopia the actual musicianship is rather enjoyable. (And I quite like that the YouTube URL for that video ends "OyOghZum-Io" which sounds a bit like a Police album title itself). Unsurprisingly, there's not much Stewart Copeland in the Different Gear version, although Andy Summers' guitar part is heavily sampled. Playing against a house bassline it's actually quite catchy if not entirely my scene. I sort of wish they'd just sampled the guitar and left out the vocals.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Frankie Goes To Hollywood 'The Power Of Love (Rob Searle Club Mix)'

Chart Peak: 6 [original version: 1 in 1984, 10 in 1993]

'The Power Of Love' was Frankie Goes To Hollywood's third consecutive No. 1 track in December 1984... Remixed by Rob Searle for the year 2000,the track is back in the chart with a club-flavour and a legion of new fans of this classic track.
Once in a while, an entry on this inherently retro blog becomes coincidentally topical, and here's one such case. It happens that the original mix of the song was Number One 28 years ago this week, but moreover it's become an example of the modern phenomenon that is the recurrent Christmas song - it's in the second string of the established small group of songs people seem determined to buy every November and December and this week a cover version is a serious contender for the top position as well. What makes this an unusual entry into that canon is that the song itself never sounded very Christmassy. The lyrics aren't at all festive (if anything they'd suit Halloween better) and the production lacks sleigh bells or other obvious signifiers. The recognition of this as a Christmas song seems to derive entirely from the video to the original release, which is probably also why the 1993 re-issue (promoting the same best-of album that brought 'Relax' onto Now 26) was at the same time of year. Holly Johnson even released a solo cover version of the song for Christmas 1999, though without troubling the Top 50.

As somebody unconvinced that this was ever a Christmas song at all, I sometimes feel like reminding people that this third chart run for the song was at the height of summer, with a new video and a remix aimed at promoting the group's second hits compilation. It's rather a neat moment in Now! history as this song was the only Frankie chart-topper not to appear in the series first (or second) time around, although I can't share the same enthusiasm for the remix itself, which is at best samey.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 26
Available on: Maximum Joy

Monday, 3 December 2012

Marc Et Claude 'I Need Your Lovin' (Like The Sunshine)'

Chart Peak: 12


Marc Et Claude are Marc Romboy and Klaus Derichs and in addition to their premium trance single releases they also run one of Europe's most successful trance labels "Alphabet City"... 'I Need Your Lovin...' is inspired by the Korgis' 1980 hit 'Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime', which was also reactivated for the dance floor in 1995 by Baby D.

It's a pretty well-travelled tune this; as well as the successful Baby D version there was also a 1992 cover in a more hardcore style by NRG. It's possible that one or other of those inspired this rendition by the duo who I didn't realise had had as many as four hit singles (though only this one made it as far as the Top 20). Certainly it seems like one of those dance tracks that's based on the premise of plugging a familiar chorus into an instrumental track, rather than a real interpretation of the song. I don't really think I knew the Korgis song in 2000 beyond being aware of its existence, but now that I do I reckon its strongest point is the slightly halting quality which is totally absent from all the dance covers; this one isn't musically interesting enough for me to look past that.

Available on: 100% Workout

Friday, 30 November 2012

York 'O.T.B. (On The Beach)'

Chart Peak: 4

York first burst into the European Club charts with debut single 'The Awakening'. Follow-up 'On The Beach' mirrored the success of its predecessor when it leapt into the UK Top 10 in June 2000... The track is based on Chris Rea's 1980s classic of the same name.
"Based on" is, if anything, an understatement: 'OTB' is essentially an instrumental cover of the Rea song: Rea even showed up on TotP with them, although it's not him playing on the record but rather Jörg Stenzel, who teamed up with his older brother Torsten (already a seasoned trance producer in Germany) to form this duo. Whilst Rea's MOR image seemed out of place at the time, and his pursuit of more authentic blues sounds since even more so, with hindsight he is sometimes credited with (accidentally) creating the Balearic dance sound and when you think about it, the ringing but mellow lead guitar part he originally recorded back in 1986 (and re-recorded to greater success in 1988) actually conjures the atmosphere rather well. In the right hands, a dance reworking of this has definite potential, although unfortunately in the hands of the Stenzel brothers and remixer Mauro Picotto it's not all that well realised. Yes, we get a good reproduction of the riff but there's not really enough else going on for the general listener, just some fairly generic beats and a session singer intoning the title a few times lest we forget which song this is. I appreciate it probably sounded better in a club context but I feel that once these tracks escape into the wider world of the Top 40 or Now! albums, they have to be assessed on their own merits. 
In fairness, were I awarding star ratings, I'd probably bung this an extra one to make up for the fact that I'm listening to such an obvious summer song in the depths of winter. But only one. 

Available on: Ministry Of Sound Presents The Beach [Explicit]

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Darude 'Sandstorm'

Chart Peak: 3


'Sandstorm' was originally picked up by Neo Records from an MP3, and has gone on to take the UK club-scene, and the chart, by storm... The track has also been embraced by the European charts, scooping the No1 position in Finland for an impressive 16 weeks.
Of course Ville Virtanen did have home advantage in Finland (I have no idea whether there's any kind of state support or airplay quota for local acts over there, but the regularity with which HIM have topped charts there suggests there is). Nonetheless, success for this track was widespread, with it even crossing over to the US Hot 100 and finally earning a gold disc there after ten years. I'm pretty sure it's the biggest hit by a Finnish act in most other countries, and I'd daresay it trickle-sells a good few downloads even now, though at time of writing it's probably being kept out of the iTunes chart by the influx of Christmas songs.

The trouble with instrumental dance tracks is that they're not the easiest of things to write about. On the positive side, you escape the temptation to write about the lyrics and ignore the music, but without words or obvious structure it's harder to know where to start. To most people within a certain age range, 'Sandstorm's jagged riff will be instantly familiar, and possibly that was something that helped it cross over to a wider audience in a way that more relaxed trance productions can't. He makes a decent effort to vary the tempo over the course of the track and the radio edit at least is one I can listen to all the way through without being tempted by the skip button, although I wouldn't rush to seek out the full-length track. Like many a dance producer, he succumbed to the curse of the near-identical follow-up hit and diminishing returns but this is a track I can appreciate without enjoying as much as 'Groovejet'.

Also appearing on: Now 47
Available on: Trance

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Spiller 'Groovejet 'If This Ain't Love'

Chart Peak: 1

Christiano Spiller's anthemic offering, 'Groovejet', first made its way on to the dance-floor at Christmas, when it appeared as an instrumental on the Mighty Miami EP... Due to the popularity of the track, a version has been produced featuring the outstanding vocals of Sophie Ellis-Baxter [sic], lead singer with indie-band, The Audience [sic].
Like the previous track, 'Groovejet' wasn't instantly chart-ready, starting with the original instrumental so closely based on the sample of Carol Williams' 'Love Is You' you have to wonder how Spiller got away with claiming the writing credit. His record company clearly saw the hit potential though, so he's joined in the credits of this version by Ellis-Bextor (whose name is spelt correctly in the credits part of the booklet) and Rob Davis, formerly of Mud. And if that sounds a bit of a leap from 'Tiger Feet', it makes more sense if you think of Davis as the writer of 1976 TotP favourite 'Shake It Down' (he's the shirtless one). Between them they supply a lyric and vocal melody which turns this into a classic summer pop hit - by accident or design the words being about a holiday romance fit perfectly with the season (it was released in August) and the joyful, slightly light-headed mood of the music. If the single had just come out and been a success it would already have been one of the great summer hits of the era.

However, the song does have an extra place in history as part of a major chart battle against 'Out Of Your Mind' by Truesteppers, Dane Bowers and Victoria Beckham. At the time it was probably the most hyped such tussle since Blur Vs Oasis (coincidentally five years earlier to the day) but it seems less remembered now, possibly because fewer were disappointed by the result. Apparently this was also the first track ever played on a prototype iPod, which I guess makes it all the more important. In 2000 we just didn't know how important.

Available on: 101 BBQ Songs

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Black Legend 'You See The Trouble With Me'

Chart Peak: 1

'You See The Trouble With Me' provided Italian duo Ciro Sasso and Enrico Ferrari (AKA Black Legend) with a No. 1 dance hit of monster proportions... Barry White originally took the track to No.2 in 1976 - but if you thought this version featured his vocals you'd be wrong - the vocals are provided by rising star, and occasional Barry White impersonator Elroy "Spoonface" Powell!
Not a very 21st century name, that. Elroy "Spoonface" Powell sounds like a jazz musician from the days when records were called "sides", somebody Phillip Larkin would have been a fan of. I don't think this'd be his kind of thing at all.

Of the unprecedentedly large total of Number One singles in 2000, a disproportionate number were cover versions of songs that had peaked at 2 in their original incarnations. 'You See The Trouble With Me' is a slight exception in that it did start out as a track which sampled Barry White's voice (and I think some of the import versions of the single that made the Top 75 still featured him) but in the UK at least clearance was not granted, hence the arrival of the impersonator. The gimmick of the original track was that instead of sampling a studio track, it used elements from a live performance, with crowd noise and snippets of White's between-song patter and what was presumably the end of the previous song before he starts. Diligently as this is all replicated by the session players on this version - and you can see why Spoonface had some people fooled - it seems to rob the track of some of its originality and make it more of a cover version. None of this stopped the eventual UK release entering the chart at the very top but, as with many tracks then (and now, for that matter), it seemed to peak too soon and was on its way out pretty fast. Over a decade later it seems a bit thin, although that pulsating synth sound must have made sense at the time.

Available on: Tune!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Richard Ashcroft 'A Song For The Lovers'

Chart Peak: 3


Following the break-up of The Verve, ex-lead vocalist Richard Ashcroft showcased his first solo material this year with the release of debut single 'A Song For The Lovers'... It's been a momentous year for Richard who became a dad in March when his wife Kate gave birth to a baby boy called Sonny.
It's unclear whether a female child would have been named Daughtery instead. Incidentally, his wife was once the keyboard player from Spiritualized, which is the only mention they're likely to get on this blog.

It's perhaps only too apposite that Ashcroft follows Coldplay here. Not only did he briefly end up on Parlophone as a result of corporate reorganisation, but as a member of the Verve he shared the experience of sudden and unexpected massive success with the Urban Hymns album (which, ironically, started out as an Ashcroft solo project). In fact they must have been all the more surprised than Coldplay, having endured a long spell of critical acclaim with only moderate commercial success (boast: I bought one of their singles in 1995). Indeed they'd already split up and reformed once by the time they hit paydirt, and his official solo debut followed a second split. By this time, of course, success was very much expected, and there was little incentive to rein in his grandiose tendencies: you can hear that all the way through this track, from the important-sounding title to the length of the track (over five minutes in the single and album versions - the fact that I only noticed today they'd lopped over a minute off for the version here perhaps shows how much padding there was). It's even carried over to the video, where he seems to think we want to see and hear him brushing his teeth over the song itself. Unfortunately, there's a decent tune hidden in here somewhere but Ashcroft's ego has submerged it under tons of string sections and vocal overdubs and the melody isn't strong enough to cope.

Also appearing on: Now 53, 54, 63
Available on: Alone With Everybody

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Coldplay 'Yellow'

Chart Peak: 4


Coldplay are the latest critically acclaimed rock band to be signed to Parlophone Records... Following in the footsteps of label-mates Radiohead, Supergrass and Blur, Coldplay crossed-over into the pop chart with their 2nd single 'Yellow' in July 2000 and look forward to further success with their debut album released this summer.
Spoiler: that album went on to do quite well. As of February 2012 it had sold over 2.5 million in the UK, comfortably more than any Blur, Radiohead or Supergrass album and it's not even their biggest seller! Coldplay are the biggest-selling UK album act never to have released a best of or hits compilation. All that seemed a long way away in the early months of what we still called The Year 2000, when they released 'Shiver', a single I didn't buy but was pleasantly surprised to see entering the chart as high as 35. I had bought their first major-label release, the Blue Room EP, although I only got the CD version and not the now seriously valuable 12" version. 'Yellow' became the first in a long run of Coldplay records I bought but don't play very often: not because I don't like them (I'd have stopped by now) but because the band soon became so ubiquitous it felt like a busman's holiday to listen to their music in my own time.

I don't to go too far down the "only like the early stuff" route, not least because in this case it would be patently untrue, but the early Coldplay recordings, dashed off in cheap studios by a band who couldn't safely assume they'd even get to make a second album, certainly have a different quality about them from what went afterwards. I actually think it's rather to their credit that the band picked up on the possibilities of bigger budgets and slacker schedules that their success allowed them on subsequent sessions, but this single has a rawness about it that they could never really repeat; it's the apparent limitations of the recording (it has extraordinarily lo-fi production values for a 21st-century Top 5 hit) that help save it from sappiness. It doesn't wholly matter that the lyrics don't wholly make sense, and that we never really know what is yellow (Chris Martin has given various explanations over the years, one of which may even be true): Martin's full-throated vocal persuades us he knows. And that final downward swoop, though possibly R.E.M. inspired, is one of my favourite pop moments of that year.

Also appearing on: Now 47, 48, 53, 54, 55, 61, 62, 63, 70, 71, 79, 81, 82
Available on: Parachutes

Friday, 23 November 2012

Moby 'Porcelain'

Chart Peak: 5

Moby first entered the pop charts in the early 1990s with seminal dance cut 'Go'... His latest album 'Play', has given the New Yorker a magnificent international hit, with platinum or gold discs earned in numerous countries including America, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Iceland and France!
Total worldwide sales of the Play album are reckoned to be in the region of 12 million, including 2 million in the US, an unprecedented success there for an electronic album and all the more remarkable since it never made the Top 30 there. Over here it had already topped the chart in early 2000 (the best part of a year after original release), which makes this sixth single release seem a bit like a lap of honour - but remarkably it managed to become the highest-charting track from the album and indeed of his entire career.

It's the only one of the UK hits from the album to feature Moby himself as a vocalist, although it does also feature the sampled blues vocals with which the album's most commonly associated. It's actually a rather pretty, if decidedly downbeat song, but there is one major problem with it: Moby can't actually sing. He goes most of the way to getting away with it because the sentiment and mood of the song don't demand a very expressive performance anyway, but his lack of energy does bring down the song somewhat and make it harder to empathise. Either that or he's chewing a wet paper towel in the studio.

Also appearing on: Now 20, 38, 45, 52
Available on: Go - The Very Best Of Moby

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Backstreet Boys 'The One'

Chart Peak: 8


The Backstreet Boys recently added another awar to their ever-increasing collection, when they scooped the "favourite musical group" at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards... And band-member Nick has been doing his bit for charity by auctioning three sections of his couch for the Tampa Children's Hospital!
Presumably they'd somehow calculated that three thirds of a couch would fetch more than an intact one. As I mentioned the other day, the Backstreet Boys were well ahead of *NSYNC in the UK market. This was the eleventh of thirteen consecutive Top 10 singles for them here, and by this point they seemed to have hit the sort of rich seam where they could have a major hit with just about anything. 'The One' is a song I only half-remembered at best, and was apparently chosen as a single after a fans poll swung by the casting vote of Nick Carter (the blond one). The song's as generic as the title.

The most memorable part of the video is the odd decision to dub a screechy audience over the soundtrack, which fits with the stadium footage, but obscures the music - it's not a live version, just the album cut. If the song was any good that would have been a loss.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 43, 44, 45, 48, 49, 51
Available on: Millennium

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Stephen Gately 'New Beginning'

Chart Peak: 3


Stephen proved this year that he's not just a member of the UK's premier boy-band, Boyzone, but that he's also a mega-popular star in his own right... Last year, Stephen was named "Irish Personality Of The Year" and voted "Hero Of 1999" by readers of top pop mag Smash Hits. His debut solo single, 'New Beginning', furthered his independent success in May this year.
The second member of Boyzone to go solo, Gately always seemed doomed to play second fiddle to Ronan Keating. Though both were officially lead singers in the group, Keating's vocals seemed to dominate most of the hits, and it was probably for this reason that solo Keating got the most prominent launch, with his debut 'When You Say Nothing At All' not only being placed in a major motion picture but being included on Boyzone's greatest hits compilation; ostensibly because it was only supposed to be a temporary break from the band rather than a permanent split.

By the summer of 2000, though, some people may have started to realise the game was up for "the UK's premier boy-band". In what was presumably an attempt to provoke a high-profile battle for the top of the chart, Gately's solo debut was released on the same day as a single by his now ex-bandmate Mikey Graham, though in the event it was rather a damp squib, with Gately getting no higher than 3 (behind non-movers Sonique and S Club 7) and Graham dribbling in at 13 for his only solo Top 30 week. In truth, this was somewhat inevitable in that Gately, though a likable man with a decent voice, was not a distinctive presence even to the extent that Keating is. The title 'New Beginning' is rather an apt one, for not only was this the start of a solo career it also arrived only a few months after Gately had become one of the first active boy-band members to come out as gay: he was admittedly smoked out of the closet as they say but nonetheless his image was rather improved by his dignified behaviour. In his quiet way, he seems to have helped advance gay rights in Ireland (he also became a cause celebre again in death, of course). Unfortunately, whilst the title was almost certainly chosen with an eye to events in his personal life, it seems to have gone no further than a marketing idea and the song itself is a non-event, an unmemorable string of cliches that seems to lose interest in its own chorus half-way through. Within a year he no longer had a record deal.

Available on: New Beginning

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Steps 'When I Said Goodbye'

Chart Peak: 5


'When I Said Goodbye is the latest single from UK mega-band Steps, and features as a double A-side with sunny pop-anthem 'Summer Of Love'... 'When I Said Goodbye' is a romantic duet featuring H and Claire on lead vocals and is accompanied by a video shot in the notoriously passionate city of Rome.
Somehow, referring to "the notoriously passionate city of Rome" seems to suggest that people are flying off the handle and shouting at each other all the time, rather than the romantic atmosphere that I think is what they meant. The video itself certainly tends to the latter interpretation, complete with lots of shots of them standing in front of famous landmarks so you can tell they weren't just filming in Basingstoke. Mind you, there is that shot at about 1:49 where it looks like the camera is about to run over Lee Latchford-Evans, so perhaps somebody was annoyed with him.

Anyway, this release was clearly an attempt to repeat the success of 'Heartbeat/Tragedy', as a bridge with one side (this) from their then-current album and the other ('Summer Of Love') from their next one: on this occasion they only got the one Now! appearance between them though. It seems like a bridge in another way too, as shifting the focus towards H & Claire as the main singers obviously presaged their career as a duo after the band split. In all honesty, this isn't a song I remember hearing at all at the time (I can't even remember which side they played on the chart rundowns) but listening to it now I'd rate it as one of their better slowies, although let down by some cheap-sounding production. I suspect that my tendency to listen to the tracks for this blog on headphones is bad for this track, although it's good for my marriage. Oddly, there are a couple of points where it seems like it's threatening to turn into Michael Jackson's 'Human Nature', though there's no way they could have afforded that sample.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51
Available on: The Ultimate Collection

Monday, 19 November 2012

Damage 'Ghetto Romance'

Chart Peak: 7

'Ghetto Romance' is the first new single from Damage in 3 years but this Top 10 track has certainly been worth the wait... Since they joined Cooltempo Records in Summer 1999 the boys have been busy promoting their new material - they appeared at the Notting Hill Carnival last August and following a personal invitation, supported Mariah Carey on her European tour in January.
It's pretty unusual for a boyband to resume their career after a break of that length, or more to the point to be able. A very few have been able to come back when they've been away long enough to count as a nostalgia act (though nowhere near as many as have tried) but to resurrect an ongoing career after such a break is all but unheard of. Damage were perhaps fortunate that the enforced hiatus in their recording career (due to insolvency of their previous record label) enabled them to reposition themselves as something much closer to the serious RnB act they obviously always wanted to be, the sort of thing their original fans might have grown into in the meantime. Perhaps it helps as well that the boyband image, or at least some versions of it, is less stigmatised among that audience than among rock fans, for example.

From the title upwards, 'Ghetto Romance' is a more grown-up product than their earlier work, courtesy of writers and producers Tim & Bob. I admit I hadn't heard of them before but they have a pretty lengthy CV of mostly American pop-RnB hits around this time, and as with some of the Swedish productions earlier on the album this delivers exactly what was required for a comeback single with ruthless efficiency. There's no real concession to the band's nationality or identity, just a pure blast of chunky, priapic but somehow not very sweaty RnB. It's not really a crossover record to be honest, but I can recognise how it plays to the demographic it was designed for.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 36, 37, 48, 49
Available on: Original Hits - Top Of The Pops

Saturday, 17 November 2012

*NSync 'Bye Bye Bye'

Chart Peak: 3


Vocal quintet *NSync, AKA Lance, JC, Joey, Chris and Justin, are big news in their native America - the band's eponymous debut album sold over ten million copies in the States and yielded four US No1 singles!... Following the No3 success of 'Bye Bye Bye', their biggest UK hit to date, the boys look set to conquer the UK pop scene too.

This group's name seems to be spelt various different ways, so (as with some other odd typography on this album) I've followed the sleeve credit. Whilst this was indeed their first Now! appearance, I'm not entirely sure they needed this much of an introduction: they'd scored two Top 10 hits in 1999, both re-releases of singles that had originally been released as early as 1997. At this point if you didn't know who they were you probably didn't care. Consistent success was always hard for them to come by on this side of the Atlantic where they always seemed overshadowed by the Backstreet Boys: indeed founding member Chris Kirkpatrick was a rejected Backstreet Boy, who persuaded that group's manager to let him form a spin-off act. Funnily enough, it was *NSync who seemed to have the bigger success in their homeland, whilst only German-speaking European countries seemed to have enough appetite for both acts to be massive at the same time.
By this point, both groups had fallen out with the manager, and in *NSync's case with the record company too, so the titles of this single and its parent album No Strings Attached were openly intended as references to their pleasure at successfully suing their way out of both associations. The song itself of course makes no direct reference to these events, recasting the song in the typical boy-girl context their fans would understand. There are some signs of a harder-edged approach on this than on some of their previous hits, though not to anything like the extent they claimed up at the time, and it's a far cry from the complexity of Timbaland and some other producers of the time. In fact of all the tracks so far on this album the one it most closely resembles is probably 'Day And Night', which shares that insistent emphasis on the title lyric and little else in the verses and chorus.

Oh, and in case you didn't know, that "Justin" who's the last member named in the sleeve note is the now immensely famous Justin Timberlake.

Also appearing on: Now 47, 52
Available on: Greatest Hits

Friday, 16 November 2012

Aaliyah 'Try Again'

Chart Peak: 5

Aaliyah first found fame in 1994 when she recorded her million-selling debut album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number - when she was just 14 years old!... Six years later and Aaliyah is back with 'Try Again', a top track taken from the movie Romeo Must Die, a brand new action film which also stars the young R&B singer.
Her only appearance in the Now! series before her untimely death and inevitable elevation to pop sainthood, though the latter was admittedly more the case in the USA where she was always the bigger star (though she may of course have been on her way to becoming equally popular here, had she lived). Over there this was the first airplay-only single to top the Hot 100; something that had admittedly only become possible in 1998. It had the advantage of a big promotional effort thanks to its use in the film as well - that's her co-star Jet Li in the video, and I can only hope that his acting in the film itself is a bit less wooden.

As a piece of music, this is the sort of thing I still wasn't attuned to in 2000, but I don't think I especially disliked it and through repeated hearings it became quite the grower, to the extent that I loaded it straight onto my MP3 player when I acquired this CD. I have to admit, though, that to me Aaliyah is only window-dressing here, the most important contributor being producer and co-writer Timbaland. He also makes a vocal cameo, rapping lyrics which I now know are "borrowed" from Eric B & Rakim's 'I Know You Got Soul', in fairness an homage that would have been recognised by most of the target audience. What they might not have recognised so easily was the complex electronic soundscape he builds under the track, full of shifting rhythms and unexpected squelchy sounds. At the time, this sort of thing was the most radical music making the pop chart, especially on a global level. It's hard to reconcile it with the lazy rubbish that Timbaland deigns to put out these days, but he's hardly the first person in musical history to let fame go to his head.

Also appearing on: Now 51, 52
Available on: R&B Divas

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Louise '2 Faced'

Chart Peak: 3

After a 2 year break, Louise is poised to take on the UK charts once again with a hot new pop single '2 Faced' and her third solo album... The title of her new long-player, Elbow Beach, is taken from the Bermudan location where she spent her honeymoon with footballer-husband, Jamie Redknapp, in June 1998.
Well, Jamie Redknapp was indeed both a footballer and her husband (he still is the latter) but it seems odd to hyphenate the two nouns like that, I can't quite put my finger on why. Anyway, his wife's acquisition of a new surname didn't persuade her to follow Billie's lead and start using it professionally, but she was emboldened to make what was supposed to be her most personal music yet. Whilst that's obviously very much relative, this particular song does seem to come from from somewhere with the insistent chorus of "stop your bitching," pretty strong stuff from a teenybop star. Whether she had somebody specific in mind I don't know but it inspired what's possibly her best single, a far cry from the insipid balladry she usually ladled onto the Now albums. It became her highest-charting solo single too, but the album performed less well and she's only really dabbled in pop since.

By the way that video is a bit creepy. It's a bit sad that even there she has to do a little dance drawing attention to her groin as well.

Also appearing on: Now 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 47, 50, 56
Available on: 100 Hits 2000's Pop

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Billie Piper 'Day And Night'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]

Billie had a lot to live up when she returned to the chart this year; the youngest female solo artist ever to debut at No1, she'd had 3 hit singles by the time she was 16... But there was no stopping her when, at the ripe old age of 17, she made a blazing return to the top of the UK chart with her new single 'Day And Night'.
For reasons not adequately explained, somebody has also uploaded a backwards version of the video. Perhaps it's her only opportunity to "live up" the record of being the youngest female etc. as she couldn't really be expected to get younger. Indeed, the two years she'd aged since 1998 were a significant amount within her teens and in the minds of record companies, that means an inevitable adultifying of her image and a more "urban" sound, helped in this case by the mixing skills of prolific Swedes Stargate. And her surname appearing on the sleeve too.

As a record, 'Day And Night' is somewhat perfunctory. The part where she sings the actual title of the song is unmistakably catchy, the rest of the chorus let alone the remainder of the song instantly forgettable. It does what EMI wanted it to do, scoring her a third Number One single (which was at the time a record-equalling achievement for a British woman) but leaves little trace and her musical career was effectively over by the end of the year. You have to wonder how she feels about this brief interlude now.

Also appearing on: Now 40, 41, 42, 47
Available on: Walk Of Life

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Shania Twain 'Don't be Stupid (You Know I Love You)'

Chart Peak: 5


'Don't Be Stupid...' is a great example of the insightful and fun-loving sense of humour Shania Twain displays in her song-writing... The track is lifted from the multi-award-winning album Come On Over which has sold in excess of 27 million copies to date world-wide!

It was of course assisted by the barrage of hit singles, of which this was the sixth and last in the UK; an amazing 11 tracks from the album were released as airplay singles in the US alone. It's a remixed version of a track that was released in North America as long ago as 1997, and the images in that video are fifteen years old this week. As you can see by the confusion among YouTube users, it was fairly heavily retooled for European tastes (somewhat in the mould of the popular 'That Don't Impress Me Much' remix) but because there are fiddles all over it, it's also one of her most country-oriented hits here, the result being an odd mixture closer to the Rednex version of 'Cotton Eye Joe' than to the work of Hank Williams or the Chemical Brothers.

Even in all the years since it was written, though, nobody seems to have got round to sorting out the lyric, which does sound very like it was scribbled on the back of an envelope while the studio engineers were setting up the microphones. The music isn't much less perfunctory and as usual Twain sings like she has a rictus grin and determination to make everything upbeat because everything's fine, mmmkay? It does seem a bit greedy to release a sixth single if that's the best you've got in the cupboard, but the lure of tipping the album over 2 million UK sales must have been too strong: they succeeded, by the way. It does make a bit of a change to hear a woman after the overdone masculinity of the previous two tracks though.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 44, 45
Available on: Come On Over (New Version)

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Bloodhound Gang 'The Bad Touch'

Chart Peak: 4


Jimmy Pop, frontman of America's foremost politically un-correct band, The Bloodhound Gang, raps, composes, samples things "no one else would want to" and writes the "fifth grade lyrics"... Bassist Evil Jared Hasselhoff is renowned for his on-stage antics - particularly allowing audience members to throw darts into his back for a prize!
They don't specify what the prize is, but surely injuring a member of the Bloodhound Gang would be reward enough?
I'd never actually seen that video in full before. I suppose the best thing you can say for it is that there's no animal cruelty in it, except possibly to the worms. It also seems to use a slightly different mix from the one released in the UK, which is slightly more electronic; the version heard here also leaves in the phrase "doggy style". It arrived here almost exactly a year after the original US release, which would explain why Eminem was able to drop a reference to the song into his own chart-topper 'The Real Slim Shady' even whilst this was still in the Top 40. Admittedly once 'The Bad Touch' did come out it had a relatively lengthy run by turn-of-the-century standards, rattling up and down the Top 10 for eight straight weeks, though in truth it declined steadily in actual sales, merely being buffeted by the movement of everything else in the chart: still, even that sort of stability was a major success at the time.

Twelve years on though it remains mysterious to me. In mitigation, the lyrics are crude but they don't go as far down the "politically un-correct" (a politically correct euphemism for sexist) road as some of the other songs, in sound only it's more stupid and irritating than truly offensive but it still feels like one of those parties where most of the people are only pretending to be enjoying themselves so they can fit in.

Available on: Hooray For Boobies

Friday, 9 November 2012

Tom Jones and Mousse T 'Sex Bomb'

Chart Peak: 3

With a career spanning over 4 decades, Tom Jones continued to snare a new generation of fans in 2000, winning the Brit Award for Best British Male and enjoying the continuing popularity of No1 album Reload... New Tom Jones "disciples" might like to know that he's been an icon of cool for some time - in 1992 he appeared in cult cartoon The Simpsons, serenading Marge and Homer with a belting rendition of 'It's Not Unusual'.
If you thought Kylie was an industry veteran, Jones The Voice is on an different level entirely, having turned 60 the month before Now 46 was released. He too was enjoying a significant comeback: of course he'd never fallen into real obscurity and was always respected for his talents, and could sell out a decent run in Vegas. I doubt he was ever short of a bob or two either but he had seemingly reached a point where he was way out of touch with the pop market. In the 25 years from 1974 onwards he had only seven Top 40 singles, including a re-release of 'It's Not Unusual' and a charity single. So the Reload collaborations album was a master-stroke (it coincided with Santana reinvigorating his career by similar means in the US, although I don't know whether there was any connection - either way, soon everyone was trying it).

'Sex Bomb' was the highest-charting of the five hit singles from the album but something of an odd one out, as the only one of the five not to feature a prominent vocalist other than Jones: his collaborator here is dance producer Mousse T, best known for 1998's (and Now 40's) 'Horny'. I believe the track was originally planned for a Mousse T project, which would explain it. As you'd have guessed from the title and the people involved, it's not a subtle piece of music, which manages to combine a tired warfare/sex metaphor with lyrics that sound like they've been through several levels of machine translation, including the impressively garbled "Yes I must react to claims of those who say that you are not all there, ha ha ha." He also compliments his paramour on knowing "the way to go to sex me slow", although when the word "sex" is used as a transitive verb it usually means "determine the sex of", and I can't imagine it ever taking anyone that long to do so with him. The music (at least on the remixed version that features here and was the actual hit) replicates the brassy style of Mousse T's previous hit, and the result is something a bit uncomfortable, although certainly not the worst song ever in that regard thanks to a lack of serious intent. It's awful but one of those awful records that you have to have a grudging respect for because it's so thorough about it.

Like Kylie, Jones obviously benefited from timing and trends supporting his comeback; pretty much anyone who sticks around long enough eventually becomes cool, and the revival of the crooner and easy-listening styles helped to pave the way for a revival too - not that he necessarily fits into those categories himself, and still less would he see himself as such, but I think it revived interest in strong singers which he certainly is. Still it was no guaranteed success; indeed he proved this a couple of years later with the ill-advised hip-hop album Mr. Jones. A decade or so later, he's rebooted his image again, this time as a serious, grey-haired, often religious blues singer to some success. He's made some of the best records of his career in that style but is that the real Tom Jones/Thomas Woodward? Is this? We'll probably never really know.

Tom Jones also appears on: Now 13 [with Art Of Noise]; 44 [with The Cardigans]; 45 [with Stereophonics]; 47 [with Heather Small]; 64 [with Chicane]; 72 (with Vanessa Jenkins, Bryn West and Robin Gibb)
Mousse T also appears on: No 40 [with Hot N Juicy]; 59 [with Emma Langford]; [64 with Dandy Warhols]
Available on:Now That's What I Call A Wedding

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Kylie Minogue 'Spinning Around'

Chart Peak: 1


It's ten years since Kylie last hit the No.1 spot in the UK with 'Tears On My Pillow'... 'Spinning Around' sent her rocketing back to the top of the charts in June 2000 and her new album promises to yield even more corkers as it features the songwriting talents of Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Paula Abdul.
Indeed, Paula Abdul co-wrote this very song; it was intended for a comeback album that never happened but ended up becoming the start of Minogue's comeback instead, ultimately helping to pave the way for her breakthrough in the US a couple of years later. Her first single for EMI, it scored her first Number One single of the new decade (thanks to the success of the aforementioned 'Tears On My Pillow' in early 1990, it was the third consecutive decade when she'd topped the chart) and her first Now appearance in more than five years. And from a commercial perspective, everything seemed to fit perfectly - the song lyric dovetails with Kylie's return to dance-pop, which coincided with an almost unprecedented popularity for that style of music. Not only was it the dominant sound of the singles chart at the turn of the century but had a sort of social respectability she hadn't enjoyed during her first imperial phase.

For me, it was always a bit of a sad moment, though, because she seemed to be turning her back on the slightly more interesting music she'd made in the previous few years. I suppose if she'd been literally spinning around then she'd have faced back towards it, but that's probably stretching the metaphor too far. And the video, legendary hotpants and all, seems a bit too desperate. Anyway, listening back to this, I have noticed that it has quite a good bassline so all is not lost.

Also appearing on: Now 11, 18, 19, 21, 29, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 56, 57, 58, 60, 61, 68, 69, 70, 76, 77
Available on: The Best of Kylie Minogue

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Gabrielle 'When A Woman'

Chart Peak: 6


Following hit singles 'Rise' and 'Sunshine', Gabrielle treated us to a sweet soul-flavoured tune with 'When A Woman' in June 2000... It's seven years since Gabrielle first introduced us to her outstanding Motown-influenced sound when she went to the top of the charts with 'Dreams' in June '93.

"Sweet soul-flavoured tune" isn't far off the mark. It marks a bit of a change from the overt eagerness to please of the first five tracks, each of which was clearly built from the ground up to be a massive hit single: it's also a step away from the previous two Gabrielle singles, which both seemed like songs with an emotional burden to carry. Instead, 'When A Woman' has a breezy feel, as if she's letting her hair down a bit and just singing this one for fun. Whether that's true or not, there's something relaxed and warm-hearted about this song that it's hard not to fall for, even if the lyric never quite explains what her "masterplan" is supposed to be. It may not have been my view at the time, but as of 2012 I rate this as the best track on the album so far.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 26, 27, 33, 35 (with East 17), 36, 45, 46, 47, 49, 50, 58
Available on: In Love

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Samantha Mumba 'Gotta Tell You'

Chart Peak: 2


At the tender age of 17, rising R&B star Samantha Mumba, who hit the UK charts at No. 2 with debut single 'Gotta Tell You', is keen to be taken seriously... She says, "I'm black and I'm from Ireland... It means I'm something totally different. There are lots of female artists my age around at the moment... I want to show a bit more attitude."

If you want to see the actual video, it's here but in less than brilliant sound quality.
It's a pretty good start to your career to have a transatlantic Top 5 single: this lost a tight battle with Eminem's 'The Real Slim Shady' for the top of the UK chart, and matched that song's Hot 100 peak of 4 in the US. A series of further hits (in Europe at least) proved that she wasn't a one-hit-wonder either but her career was a brief one and the few who noticed when she announced her retirement from music in 2010 must surely have been surprised that it took her so long. Rumours of an album to be called Legend Of The Red Panda were sadly never proven.

The trouble is that whilst it's a decent enough example of Swedish-produced RnB-lite pop circa 2000 it's a bit too production-line, and Mumba was never able to establish enough of a musical hook for people to latch onto her career. Obviously, as she says herself there hadn't been a lot of black Irish pop stars (Phil Lynott being the other obvious example) but once people had got over that she never seemed to create enough of an image for the audience outside Ireland, where she still seems to be some kind of celebrity. In the cut-throat world of early 2000s teen-oriented pop, this wasn't quite enough.

Also appearing on: Now 47, 48, 50, 51, 53
Available on: Gotta Tell You

Monday, 5 November 2012

Mary Mary 'Shackles (Praise You)'

Chart Peak: 5

Sisters Erica and Tina Atkins chose the name Mary Mary as a tribute to the two biblical Marys - Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus... Formerly members of the cast of a travelling gospel show, Erica says their music is "about Jesus and telling people who He is and o his love. That's the whole purpose behind Mary Mary."
One of the key breakthrough acts from the controversial subgenre that is Urban Gospel, combining the sound of contemporary RnB or even hip-hop with Christian lyrical content. Within the world of Christian music, it's been a matter of debate to what extent these styles are acceptable vehicles for such sentiments (I presume the same arguments go on in the case of Christian metal music, but none of that's ever shown up on a Now album). Some years further into their career, the duo apparently sparked a major contretemps by working with secular RnB autotune singer T-Pain on a track. As an outsider, I don't really understand these arguments at all, but then they're not really my concern.

'Shackles' was their biggest brush with the mainstream, and their only single to make the US Top 40 (curiously, the follow-up did better over here, peaking at 32). Despite the widespread protestations of Delirious fans that the entire record industry is an anti-Christian conspiracy, this particular song had no difficulty getting airplay and was one of the biggest hits of the summer, suggesting that the failing of most explicitly Christian pop music is in its half-baked nature rather than any objection to the message itself. In fairness, it's probably the case that producer-led RnB is more adaptable than self-contained rock acts. This isn't a track I was ever particularly fond of but it sounds eminently comparable with secular hits of the era, which is a fair aim I suppose. Whether it converted anyone is another question, but somewhat beyond the remit here.

Available on: Thankful

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Sonique 'It Feels So Good'

Chart Peak: 1 [3 weeks] (originally peaked at 24 in 1998)


Internationally acclaimed DJ/singer/songwriter Sonique started her illustrious career as a teenager when she signed her first record contract and joined forces with Mark Moore as "S-Express"... So far, the biggest track of the summer, 'It Feels So Good' spent a formidable three weeks at the top of the UK chart.
If I'd realised being a teenager was a career, I wouldn't have spent eight years doing it for free. It was in fact shortly after I'd stopped doing so that this song was first a minor hit, long before success in the US (where it eventually made the Top 10) prompted this reissue. And much better it did this time, making the year-end Top 3 and the decade-end Top 40 (although the latter is arguably not a wholly fair fight since sales were so much higher at the start and end of the decade than in the middle). It briefly made her a major star with three Top ten hits in twelve months, but only one other single ever made the Top 20, or indeed the Top 40 (not counting a couple of hits during her time with S-Express, which were long after their biggest success).

It's a song that seems determined to merge several different styles: pop, trance and soul, and doesn't care how much it has to ruin them to squeeze them in. On top of it, I always found her vocal annoyingly monotone and lacking in emotion. There's something very watered-down about the whole production that irritates me.

Also appearing on: Now 47, 48
Available on: Hear My Cry

Friday, 2 November 2012

S Club 7 'Reach'

Chart Peak: 2

'Reach' is the fourth single release from top popsters S Club 7... The song is featured in the band's brand new TV series LA7 (follow-up to Miami 7) which follows the trials and tribulations of the seven friends as they seek their fortune on the West Coast of America.
No, it's not really called 'Reach For The Stars', that's just the lyric. And no, it wasn't really written by Ronnie Hazelhurst, despite his obituaries: mind you, the actual truth, that it was written by Cathy Dennis and one of Republica, isn't really that much less odd if you didn't already know they were in the songwriting game. It's a good upbeat realise-your-dreams kind of song, although for a cynical old grump like me that kind of sentiment has to work harder to impress me and I've always thought this song was only about 75% as good as it needed to be.

Also, that vamp that runs through the song always sounded distractingly familiar to me and I never worked out where from. I thought it was from the music Jasper Carrott used to use in his TV sketches, but none of the ones I found on YouTube were anything like it.

Also appearing on: Now 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52, 54 (as S Club), 55 (as S Club)
Available on: "7"