Monday, 30 April 2012

Camille Jones vs Fedde Le Grand 'The Creeps'

Chart Peak: 7
Danish songstress Camille Jones has teamed up with Dutch DJ Fedde Le Grand on 'The Creeps'... Fedde, fresh from the huge success of his mammoth hit 'Put Your Hands Up', mixes Camille's haunting vocals with his raw, heavy-bass production to come up woth a huge club tune which smashed into the Top Ten in March 2007.
Yes, it's a slight change from the run of cover versions, in that this is actually a remix, on which Fedde Le Grand gets an artist credit because he was coming off the back of a Number One, whereas Jones hadn't charted in the UK before (and hasn't since, in fact). Beyond his name and a couple of sound effects, he doesn't add as much as you might expect - it transpires that the original is already quite similar rhythmically and the remix is more an enhancement than a re-imagining. Still, he clearly knew what he was doing when it came to making a track for dancefloors so I'm sure he earned his fee. If there's a problem, it's that it undersells slightly the darker hues of the original lyric, which is unsettling in its portrayal of losing it on unspecified substances: I misheard one lyric as "take some happy face", which I presumed to be a drug reference, but it's actually "take some, have a feast". Still, there are definitely "free drinks" involved. It gives the song a slightly dichotomous tinge which is rather appealing. For the first time really on this album, I've found myself wanting to hear more by one of the acts involved.

Actually, there is one other problem - the tawdry video. You got a lot of this sort of thing in the dying days of the physical single.

Fedde Le Grand also appears on: Now 65, 68 (with Ida Corr)
Available on: Decade Of Dance

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Seamus Haji featuring KayJay 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life'

Chart Peak: 13
Seamus is of Irish-Indian descent (which explains the name!), he began his DJing career at 16... He had a hand in the success of Booty Luv's 'Boogie 2Nite', which he remixed and took to No.2 in the UK charts last year - now he's back with a funky electro version of the 80s classic 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life' which looks set to storm the charts in late March 2006.
They mean March 2007, of course. And yes this is yet another in the run of cover versions, if a song that's such an established standard counts as a cover. The name you might have been trying to remember is Indeep, whose  version is notable for its bassline (even more familiar than the rest of the song thanks to its many sampled appearances) and those guitars. It's odd, therefore that Haji dispenses with both those elements in his version relying instead on what sounds suspiciously like the same backing track as his version of 'Boogie 2Nite' (admittedly, I don't know which came first) with the lyrics which were hardly the best bit of the song in the first place. And the rap part seems to be off-mic. The whole thing is almost as odd as the fact that the "official" Indeep video I've linked to above is a TotP performance blatantly videoed from a UK Gold repeat, complete with a bit of a wardrobe malfunction.

Available on: Big Summer Tunes

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Girls Aloud 'I Think We're Alone Now'

Chart Peak: 5

'I Think We're Alone Now' was originally a No.1 hit for Tiffany in 1988... The Girl's {sic} rendition got to No. 4 in December 2006, making it their fourteenth consecutive Top Ten hit and 11th Top 5 - more than any other girl group in UK chart history.
I don't know who writes these sleeve notes and I'm not entirely sure I even want to, but it seems unlikely that it's been the same person all along. There are occasional variations in style and more to the point, when Tiffany's version of this song appeared on Now 12 the note correctly identified it as a cover version. Either way, though, there's no dispute that this version is a cover: weirdly, the credits in the booklet here identify all five members of the group as co-writers, but that must just be a mistake. It was the second new single from their well-received greatest hits collection and does very much have that air of an act grasping for a cover version because they were in too much of a rush to come up with anything fresh; unusually for such an act, there were plans beyond the singles compilation so new material might have been saved for the fourth album, or passed to other Xenomania acts.

That said, throughout their career they had (have?) a habit of throwing out lazy cover versions. Whilst I don't wholly subscribe to conventional wisdom about the excellence of their original singles (which often feels tinged with inverted snobbery), I will follow the common view that their covers are a weak spot, and whilst the best GA has the sound of people playing with the possibilities of pop and a mass audience, this feels like the exact opposite, heading straight for the lowest common denominator. The best that can be said for this is that it's not as bad as their next hit, the aforementioned attempt on 'Walk This Way'.

Also appearing on:Now 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 68, 70, 71, 72, 73
Available on: The Sound of Girls Aloud

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Cascada 'Truly Madly Deeply'

Chart Peak: 4

Natalie Horler, AKA Cascada, had phenomenal success with her debut single 'Everytime We Touch'... Her second single 'Truly Madly Deeply is a pulsing dance version of Savage Garden's 1998 hit and reached No. 4 in the charts in December 2006.
As any pedant will immediately point out, Cascada are in fact a trio which also includes DJs Yanou and Manian, though it's true that Horler is the public face of the band. And yes, we're still in the dance reworking territory, although Cascada immediately outscore the preceding two tracks by actually performing the whole song and not just the chorus. On the other hand, "pulsing" is not the most obvious way to perform Savage Garden's sappy ballad and I daresay that anyone who actually liked the original version would find this depressing or insulting. Personally, though, I hated the original and pretty much everything else Savage Garden ever did, so if anything I rather welcome the concept of the song being wrecked, it's just a pity they didn't mess with it a bit more. As it is, it seems to fall between the stools of a euphoric dance track (which isn't my kind of thing but I can see they've pushed the right buttons here) and the drippy lyric. Perhaps it was recorded with non-English-speaking audiences foremost in mind (though Horler is a native English speaker) but as an outsider to the world of commercial dance I sort of wonder why they didn't write their own words and keep more of the money.

Also appearing on: Now 65, 69
Available on: Everytime We Touch

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Sharam 'PATT'

Chart Peak: 8


'PATT' stands for  'Party All The Time' and is a tribute to the Eddie Murphy song of the same name which was a No. 1 sensation in the USA back in 1985... Sharam's version proved to be a huge hit in Ibiza last summer before storming into the UK Top 10 in December 2006.
When they say "tribute", they mean it's the chorus sung over and over again. Essentially it's the same idea as Eric Prydz vs Floyd, except that this time they couldn't get permission to sample the actual Eddie Murphy so it's a soundalike session singer - and a "lookalike" in the video, by which they seem to mean a black person. I'm sure Sharam (better known as a member of Deep Dish) is a nice enough person but it's hard to resist the temptation to add an extra "R" to the title.

Available on: Ministry of Sound Presents 100

Monday, 23 April 2012

Eric Prydz vs Floyd 'Proper Education'

Chart Peak: 2

Swedish Dj/producer Eric Prydz follows up his massive No.1 hit 'Call On Me' with the stomping 'Proper Education'... The track features a sample of Pink Floyd's legendary 1979 chart-topper 'Another Brick In The Wall part II' - it is the first time Pink Floyd have ever cleared a sample of their work. 
To be honest, most people probably don't need me to describe this track. If you remember 'Call On Me' (the track that repeated the chorus of Steve Winwood's 'Valerie' ad nauseam) and you know what 'Another Brick In the Wall' sounds like, you could probably guess for yourself that this is effectively four minutes of "We don't need no education" over and over again with that sort of washing-machine phasing effect common to dance tracks of the 1990s and 2000s. That's not a concept that appeals much to me, I must say (not least because I'm not a fan of the Floyd track to start with), but enough people were up for it that this was almost a second Number One for each act in the quiet days of January 2007.

The children who sing on the original were famously never paid any royalties on the millions of record sales, although since 1996 they have been entitled to payments in respect of radio play in the UK. Whether they got paid for this I don't know.

Eric Prydz also appears on: Now 59, 71
Available on: Uncovered

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Booty Luv 'Boogie 2Nite'

Chart Peak: 2 YouTube
Nadia and Cherise from Big Brovaz provide the glitterball vocals on 'Boogie 2Nite', one of the biggest club tracks of last year... The original version was a massive hit for R 'n' B star Tweet in 2002 - the 2006 release has had clubbers "cutting some rug" all over the UK and found its way to No. 2 in the charts in December 2006.
It seems rather an exaggeration to call the version by Tweet a massive hit, when in fact it was never released as a single in the UK. A release was planned but cancelled due to lack of interest, but Seamus Haji's remix proved popular enough in the clubs that the singers were called in during a hiatus in Big Brovaz activity to record a version for dance label Hed Kandi, presumably in order to include it on a compilation album where they couldn't get the rights to the original. With Haji brought back in to breathe on this recording, it took off to the extent that it was given a single release of its own and was only kept from the top of the chart by Take That.

So, a remix of a cover of a remix, then, but in fairness the finished product is quite good for what it is, a pretty empty-headed but catchy dance track that has no greater ambition than getting people onto dancefloors. The bass is quite good actually, and whilst it doesn't leave much of an impression it beats most of the album so far for entertainment value. The duo are apparently still together, having discarded the awful name in favour of the unimaginative Cherise & Nadia.

Also appearing on: Now 67, 69
Available on: Summer Sessions

Friday, 20 April 2012

Mason vs Princess Superstar 'Perfect (Exceeder)'

Chart Peak: 3

Iason Chronis, AKA Dutch DJ Mason, whipped clubbers into a frenzy in 2006 with his instrumental version of 'Exceeder', then he teamed up with infamous rapstress Princess Superstar... They created 'Perfect (Exceeder)' - a crossover anthem steeped in underground credibility.
To be more exact, Mason (actually a duo, according to Wikipedia) combined their original instrumental with Princess Superstar's ironic but still poor rap track. Add on the usual tawdry video for a mid-2000s dance track and the Top 10 was almost guaranteed.
It's definitely better than the Princess Superstar solo track, and it's a tactfully brief radio edit, but it still feels a bit watered down, the usual story of an instrumental dance track having a vocal forced on it for commercial reasons. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the word "tits" is audibly left in both the radio edit and the version featured here, so casually I didn't even notice until somebody mentioned it.

Princess Superstar also appears on: Now 51
Available on: Club Anthems 2010 [Explicit]

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Calvin Harris 'Acceptable In The 80's'

Chart Peak: 10


MySpace sensation Calvin Harris set the charts alight at the end of March with the turbo-funky electro marvel 'Acceptable In The 80's'... The Scottish DJ and former shelf-stacjer impressed Kylie so much that after she heard his music she asked him to work with her on her new album.

The phrase "MySpace sensation" does make it feel a bit more than five years ago, doesn't it? Sometimes, though not often, I do worry what might happen if I were to write something critical about a tracks and the artist themselves and they found out about it. Fortunately, the lyric to this song strongly suggests that Harris (born 1984) is only interested in the views of people who were "born in the 80s" and I wasn't. He's sort of lucky there, because this wasn't a track I was fond of at first and I only got more tired of him when the follow-up singles were even worse; in fact I was quite pleased when they started to flop and his career seemed to be over by the end of 2007. As we all know, though, it didn't quite end up that way and he was soon back and bigger than ever: he was the most successful songwriter of 2011 in terms of singles sales. Luckily by then he'd rather grown on me and whilst I don't like all or even most of what he releases, I'm somehow glad he's around.

Even 'Acceptable' has become more, er, acceptable now I've been able to get used to its gimmicky conceit and pseudo attitude. That unforgettable little squelchy riff was irritatingly ubiquitous in its day but has a nice little nostalgic glow about it now. I don't mind hearing this again, though I could do without that video.

Also appearing on: Now 67, 70 [with Dizzee Rascal and Chrome], 73, 74, 79 [with Kelis],80
Available on: 101 Running Songs

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Just Jack 'Starz In Their Eyes'

Chart Peak: 2

Just Jack, AKA North London Boy Jack Allsopp, hails 'Starz In Their Eyes' as a "questioning ode to the Heat generation"... His music fits into the new school of British storytelling but isn't afraid to wear its party hat on its sleeve, he believes that a "delicious, sly groove" is the best way to access the soul.
Wearing a hat on your sleeve? How would that work exactly? Mixed metaphors aside, it's taken ten tracks for us to come to a song I liked enough to put my hand in my pocket. As you can see, I plumped for the rather swish etched 7" single, even if it did mean paying £1:99 for one song (and even that turned out to be the album version, so I didn't officially get the single edit until I bought Now 66). I was disappointed if not surprised when it peaked at 2 behind Mika's first week at the top: Mika was blatantly going to get to the top eventually, but I had hoped he might step aside and give this one week.

It was not to be, but at least it does give Just Jack the same career peak as Squeeze, and in some ways this reminds me of a 21st-Century version of a Squeeze song. Admittedly he's not from quite the same part of London, but this seems to have some of the same light-hearted but acerbic attitude set to a slightly more modern musical style. Generally, I do find this sort of thing - songs bewailing or mocking manufactured pop stars - rather irritating, but this has a certain element of sympathy for them that makes it more palatable, and a rather neat turn of phrase: I like the image of "the rest of these users are just laughing in their sleeves", although he doesn't explain whether there are any hats up there.

Available on: Brits Hits 2008

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Akon featuring Eminem 'Smack That'

Chart Peak: 1


Akon is a big fan of collaboration, his late 2006 No. 1 smash 'Smack That' featured his good friend Eminem... So far in 2007 he has collaborated Snoop Dogg on 'I Wanna Love You' and Gwen Stefani on her hit single 'Sweet Escape'.
Yes, for quite a while back there Akon was a major star, racking up an impressive tally of hits. And then he seemed to fall off the radar: his last Now appearance was as a guest on a flop Flo Rida single. He hasn't just stopped having hits he seems to have stopped making music entirely. Perhaps he's having acting lessons - you'd hope so after seeing the start of this video. Mind you, his disappearance isn't that much more surprising than the fact that he was a pop star in the first place, with his odd pinched voice and simplistic production.

It's also a little curious that Eminem, who was one of the biggest stars in the first decade of the new century (he also had two Top 5 hits in 1999 and the biggest-selling single of 2010), has only two Now appearances, plus one as a member of D-12. The obvious explanation would be that his music is too controversial for a mass audience, which would be understandable but I can't be the only one who finds the casual sexism of this song far more offensive than the cartoon shock value of Eminem's own major hits. Akon charming offers that if we ask nicely (or even if we don't, in fact) he might consider bending us over and "smacking that" until we get sore. He does mention his car, because that clearly proves him to be attractive. It's hard to know which is sadder really, the fact that he thinks girls will be impressed by him or the fact that some of them apparently were.

Akon also appears on: Now 60, 61, 62, 67 [with Snoop Dogg], 68, 72, 73 [with Kardinal Offishall and Colby O'Donis], 74 [with David Guetta], 78 [with Flo Rida],
Eminem also appears on: Now 53
Available on: Konvicted

Monday, 16 April 2012

Kelis featuring Cee-Lo 'Little Star'

Chart Peak: 3


In strong contrast to her breakthrough single 'Caught Out There' which was packed full of attitude, Kelis shows her vulnerable side in 'Lil Star' which scored her a Top 3 hit in February 2007... It was produced by Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley fame and features him on backing vocals.
It's easy to forget that there was a time when Kelis was considered a bigger name than Cee-Lo - I seem to have missed the meeting in 2010 where it was decided that he was the only singer worth playing on UK radio for the next 18 months - but that was just about still the case in early 2007. His assistance was still valuable though as she needed a comeback hit after the much-vaunted first single from her album stiffed at 22. This more mainstream radio-friendly single was her only hope of reviving her career, although it didn't get the album more than one extra week in the Top 75.

Personally I always found this quite irritating. Kelis claims that she wrote the song in a moment of low confidence and that might well be true but somehow by the time it's been recorded and come out as a single it feels a little too much like a forced fishing for respect. Maybe it would have worked better if it didn't sound so drippy musically, or even if they hadn't copied the melody of the theme from M*A*S*H, but both singers seem to be using the least pleasant parts of their voices on this one as well and the finished article is just too cloying. A different sort of desperation to be liked from Mika's but no more to my liking.

Also appearing on: Now 45; 56 [with Richard X]; 57; 58; 59; 76; 79 {with Calvin Harris]
Available on: Kelis Was Here

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Beyoncé 'Irreplaceable'

Chart Peak: 4

Beyoncé co-wrote 'Irreplaceable' with RnB sensation Ne-Yo (of 'So Sick' and 'Sexy Love' fame) - it is the most successful single release from her second solo album B'Day and scored her a No. 4 hit in the UK charts at the end of 2006... It was the last Billboard No. 1 of 2006 and the first of 2007.
It's a possibility that had the UK chart been compiled on the same sort of sales/airplay combination as Billboard, 'Irreplaceable' would have been a Number One here too - it would certainly have outperformed the sales chart-topper 'Deja Vu' because it appealed to many more radio stations: indeed there's a whole set of commercial stations that seemed to play it every day until it was supplanted by the rather similar 'Best Thing I Never Had' in 2011. I don't know if there's a name for songs where the title is meant negatively, but this is certainly one of them, with Beyoncé keen to inform the man she's chucking that he's anything but irreplaceable. And if the protagonist is supposed to resemble the real-life singer in any significant way, that's pretty easy to believe. Of course, if you ignore the video you might imagine that it's sung from the perspective of somebody without her looks, fame or money, but it's even then there's the often-overlooked fact that she's actually rather a good singer for such a big star as well.

The one thing that has always tended to let her down, though, is a shortage of interesting material. Between them, Beyoncé Knowles, NeYo and no fewer than four Swedish people seem to have come up with a song where nothing happens except some cheap synthesised handclaps. It's hard to imagine that somebody who didn't understand English (or Spanish, as there is a version in that language available) being able to guess what this is about: it crucially lacks any of the sense of victory or relief that the storyline requires and the finished article is more boring than entertaining.

Also appearing on: Now 54 [with Jay-z]; 56 [with Jay-Z]; 65 [with Jay-Z]; 67 [with Shakira]; 73; 74
Available on: B'Day Deluxe Edition

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Nelly Furtado 'Say It Right'

Chart Peak: 10


Nelly has had a stellar year so far - her album Loose has gone platinum and she is now the proud owner of a Brit award for Best International Female Artist... She's just finished a sell-out UK tour and is on the road in Europe for the rest of March before heading back to her motherland of Canada for further tour dates there.
Though the download free-for-all unleashed at the start of 2007 allowed many singles to hit the Top 10 in advance of their physical release, or to to remain there after the CD had stopped selling, only a very few managed to reach such heights without any physical formats in existence at all, and this was the first. Already the fourth hit from the Loose album, it shares with the preceding track the contribution of Timbaland as co-writer, producer and in this case backing vocalist. Oddly enough, the booklet here lists his writing credit under his real name rather than the stage name.

This wasn't a song I liked much at first, though I must admit there's something remarkably infectious about the chorus. I'm still not sure whether that very spacious echoey chorus is a help or a hindrance and Timbaland's mumbling is irritating after the first few seconds, but as a song that doesn't pretend to be revolutionary it's actually a decent enough song. It's a pity you never seem to hear this one anymore, it'd make a change from the overplay of her couple of more remembered hits.

Also appearing on: Now 48, 50, 64, 65, 67, 68 (with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake)
Available on: R& SlowJamz [Explicit]

Friday, 6 April 2012

Justin Timberlake 'What Goes Around... Comes Around'

Chart Peak: 4

JT scored a Top 10 hit with the "beautiful yet haunting" single 'What Goes Around Comes Around' in February 2007... The epic music video for the track stars Hollywood siren Scarlett Johansson and features a nine-minute long director's cut which even has film credits!
Before the Bank Holiday break I was crediting Take That for their strategy, and Timberlake is another act who has done well on that score. In the ten years he's been a solo artist, he's released only two albums but not only have those both been massive sellers, he's created such demand for his work that every guest spot he does on somebody else's record turns into a major event and usually a major hit too.

This present track was the third single from the painfully-titled second album FutureSex/LoveSounds, and you were wondering why the ellipsis in the title, which makes it look like he thinks the "comes around" part is a surprising and amusing punchline, rather than the utterly conventional cliché it is. It transpires that 'Comes Around' is an "interlude" in the album version which has been excised from this single edit, though it still goes on for five minutes even in this form. The song is a big string-laden ballad which openly rehashes elements of his earlier big hit 'Cry Me A River', to the extent that I sometimes struggle to remember which lines are from which of the songs. Strangely, I find this one preferable to the original, because I like the melody slightly more and the production is better, but well-done as it is it doesn't greatly change my perception of Timberlake as the successor to Mick Hucknall - a man who has genuine talent but overshadows it with his arrogance and smarm. They are of course both going to cry all the way to the bank if they read this.

Also appearing on: Now 54, 55, 56, 57, 65, 67
Available on: R&B Love Songs 2010 [Explicit]

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Take That 'Patience'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)

'Patience', Take That's first single in ten years, shot to the top spot in November 2006 and has just won the boys a Brit Award for Best British Single... Their album Beautiful World also gave them a No. 1 - They've proved to be as successful as ever with a sell-out reunion tour last year and a new sell-out tour just announced for the end of 2007.
As it turned out, "as successful as ever" ended up being an understatement, with that album ultimately outselling all their previous albums and becoming one of the UK's all-time top-sellers. It's hard to know how intentional it was, but with hindsight Take That wrote the perfect script for a successful comeback: first they (or at least the four of them who weren't Robbie Williams) reunited for a TV show, then released a best-of album to tie in with that. A successful tour followed and only then did they announce they'd signed a new record deal for new material, still leaving the door open for a possible full reunion with Williams. Perhaps this was all planned in advance but at least this arrangement gave them the opportunity to sell each stage in the process as a response to public demand, and of course to have pulled out had the momentum not been there - a lesson that seemed lost on many of the other boy bands who re-emerged in their wake, booked a load of arenas and wondered why there was such a big echo.

Anyway, the stage was clearly set for 'Patience' to become a big hit for them but the sheer scale of that success was still impressive. As I concluded, it was clearly the right song at the right time. But that's not to say I was ever fond of it - for all that the writing credit is to all four members and producer John Shanks this sounds very much like Gary Barlow's show and it's easy to imagine this coming out as a Barlow solo single a couple of years earlier and scraping the lower end of the Top 40. For me it's very much an example of his excessively formal and formulaic writing style, with every note going exactly where you expect and a lyric by turns whiny and patronising "My heart is numb/has no feeling" explains Gary in case we didn't know what the word "numb" meant). Shanks, known largely for his work with North American AOR acts, gives the record a radio-friendly sheen that suggests an attempt to break the US market, and it's precisely the sort of thing that can easily shift units with the right image on the front of it. Even if all the other three Thatblokes seem to do is a bit of humming in the background, lending their collective name did the trick.

Also appearing on: Now 22, 24, 26, 29, 67, 68, 72, 73, 78, 79
Available on: Beautiful World

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Sugababes Vs. Girls Aloud 'Walk This Way'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

Two of our most successful girl groups have teamed up in the name of charidee for their very own version of the Run DMC and Aerosmith classic 'Walk This Way' - it is the official single for this year's Comic Relief and is due for release just ahead of Red Nose Day in mid-March.
There are exceptions but you'd normally expect the Easter Now album from an odd-numbered year to include the official Comic Relief single and here's 2007's addition to the catalogue, which must go down as one of the more ill-conceived entries in the series. There long seems to have been some tension between the two competing visions: do you attempt to mark the occasion with a comedy record or simply grab a currently-popular act and ask them to do a cover version. This time around they seem to have tried to do both at once by combining the two girl groups with a half-baked conceit about rivalry between them - but weren't the Sugababes more famous for arguing with each other than other bands?

Perhaps there'd be some mileage in the idea of recasting the rather leery macho lyrics of the original for female singers, but by the sounds of it either there were problems with permission or nobody actually thought about the words until the last minute; I'd tend to favour the latter theory, hearing how clumsy the rest of the arrangement is, and that odd combination of rushing to get to the famous chorus and trying to shoehorn in a fresh one. It's an impression only strengthened by the video, which ironically suggests the disagreement by making it look entirely unlike the acts have ever met each other, as well as throwing in cameos by comedians too brief to even make out who they are. Between the fanbases of the two acts and the passing trade of regular charity single buyers a Number One was inevitable but the single only lasted three more weeks in the Top 40 and was soon forgotten, one of the most obscure entries in either act's discography.

Sugababes also appear on: Now 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 63, 64, 66, 68, 70, 71, 74, 75
Girls Aloud also appear on: Now 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 68, 70, 71, 72, 73

Available on: Big Night Out

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Kaiser Chiefs 'Ruby'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


The lads from Leeds are back on top form with their stomping hit 'Ruby', which raced to the top of the charts at the end of February 2007 giving them their first ever No.1 single... Their album Yours Truly, Angry Mob hit the No.1 spot a week later.

And fittingly enough, here's the very song that finally ended Mika's spell at the top after a fortnight in the runner-up position; this one did have to wait for the release of CD and coloured 7" formats to claim its peak position. It is of course the big comeback single after the huge success of the Employment album and its four major hit singles changed the band who were once not-even-also-rans Parva into major pop stars during the Britpop revival of 2005. One advantage of a slow climb up the tree is of course the opportunity to hone your craft, and the Kaisers certainly arrived as a full package and knew how to please a crowd.
When it came to working the magic again though, the success is only qualified. 'Ruby' is a catchy song that radio loves and obviously did the business in the short term; it also seems likely to have been a contributory factor to the much larger number of girls who've been called Ruby in the last few years. And yet there's something slightly forced about it that rings hollow and means this doesn't offer the pure pop joy of their earlier work. I know I never felt the urge to buy the single or album, and I probably wasn't alone, global sales of the second album reportedly falling short of UK sales of the first.

Also appearing on: Now 61, 62, 63, 71
Available on: Yours Truly, Angry Mob

Monday, 2 April 2012

Mika 'Grace Kelly'

Chart Peak: 1 (5 weeks)

Beirut-born songwriter, performer, producer and orchestrator Mika stormed to the top of the charts in January 2007 with the wonderfully flamboyant 'Grace Kelly' and remained there for 5 weeks... It is only the 2nd track in chart history to hit the top spot on download sales alone.
I might come to regret pitching myself into the 21st century again, but I thought Now 66 was an interesting one to do as it comes from an interesting time in chart history. At least that was my excuse for spending the £1:49. And if ever there was a time to do it, now would seem to be it, as today is the fifth anniversary of the original release and I've just done two albums in a row that end in 6.

As the sleevenote says, 'Grace Kelly' is an example of one big development in the charts of that time. Download sales data was first incorporated into the UK singles chart in April 2005, but initially only when linked to a physically released single. After further tinkering during 2006 which we'll come to in due course, the stabilisers were finally removed at the start of 2007, hence the barrage of re-entries in the chart dated 13-Jan-2007. Thus Mika's single, released the day after that chart was announced, became one of the first big releases able to take advantage of the freedom: of course digital sales were lower then than they are now so even its first week as the nation's biggest download only got it to third place overall, but by Week Two it was safely at the top of the chart, even a fortnight before the CD and vinyl versions hit the shelves. It's easy to forget just how massive this song (and indeed the singer) was at the time.

Though not strictly speaking his debut single, 'Grace Kelly' was undoubtedly the first most British listeners had heard of the man, and a canny choice: few breakthrough singles can have set out the performer's stall as comprehensively as this. Supposedly inspired by his difficulties with other record companies, the conceit of the song is a golden opportunity for him to show off various aspects of his vocal and piano skills, and to express his obvious desire to be liked. Liked he was, arriving at a time when the British public seemed to be tiring of Robbie Williams (of which more later). But as much as I might be able to praise this song in the abstract, I must admit I found it desperately annoying at the time. Whilst I recognise intellectually that pop stars can't reasonably be expected not to be attention-seekers, it's still not a quality I find especially appealing and combined with whinging about the record industry (again, not something that goes down well when it's bankrolled by a huge investment from Universal), triumphalism, screechy falsetto singing and gimmicky production it fair set my teeth on edge during its months of ubiquity. Now you don't hear it so much it's easier to tolerate and at least to understand what the half a million people who bought this single liked about it, but I've never exactly warmed to it. Though I will give him credit where it's due for posting Rory Bremner's parody on his official YouTube Channel.

Also appearing on: Now 67, 68, 69, 74
Available on: Now That's What I Call The 00's

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Metapost: No No Thugs

Yeah, of course it was a joke. There is no Now! 0 and even if there had been, it probably wouldn't have started with a flop XTC single. I wasn't joking about how great the track was though, or how much of a pity it is that they didn't quite keep having big hits long enough to get onto the Now albums that do exist. You should still get Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles Collection 1977 - 1992 anyway.

Back tomorrow with a proper post from a real album, as long as I get it written in time.

XTC 'No Thugs In Our House'

Chart Peak: none


OK, it's the start of a new month and after a quarter of a year off, about time to get this show back on the road. And we have an exciting place to start, thanks to the recent discovery of a planned prototype Now! album from 1982, which would of course have predated the Now 1 we all know and love. Apparently Virgin were unable to persuade other labels to contribute on this occasion, which left them compiling the entire album from their own catalogue: arguably their loss but our gain since it leads to some rather unlikely inclusions. But in the end, retailers weren't persuaded to order in enough stock and the whole project was binned at the last minute, no copies being known to have survived.

XTC had started the year as one of Virgin's most exciting acts, scoring their first Top 10 single and album in the spring (of which more later). Just when a major breakthrough seemed on the horizon though, lead singer Andy Partridge suffered a breakdown which led to the cancellation of all planned touring and the band's career was in disarray commercially, with this third single from English Settlement failing even to breach the Top 75. That makes it a strange opener (if indeed it was the opener, since documentation is a bit sketchy) but a powerful one. Perhaps Virgin were trying to assert their credentials as an indie label and purveyors of challenging music.
The song is indeed a political one, a morality play of sorts about parents ignoring their son's fascist sympathies, and I've always felt it to be one of Partridge's best lyrics, with clever use of alliteration: "a Boy in Blue is Busy Banging out a headache on the kitchen door..." And although English Settlement is generally thought of as quite a pastoral folky album, with heavy use of acoustic guitar, acoustic have seldom sounded as aggressive as they do here. Biased though I may be in writing about one of my favourite bands, I think this beats most of the official Now openers and it's a shame they never made it to a real Now! album.

Available on: Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles Collection 1977 - 1992