Friday, 29 June 2012

Meat Loaf 'I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)'

Chart Peak: 1 (7 weeks)

The original Bat Out Of Hell album has sold over 25 million copies worldwide... More than a decade and a half later, Meat Loaf and producer Jim Steinman unleashed the follow-up,  which has already spawned this astonishing UK chart-topper.
Astonishing indeed - for all its massive success, the one thing the original Bat Out Of Hell album hadn't even come close to was a Number One single: indeed, it didn't even spawn a Top 10 hit until the title track was re-issued a couple of weeks after Now! 26 hit the shelves. The single is also remarkable for its length: the single edit runs to 7:38, the longest of any UK chart-topper at the time (not counting double A-sides and EPs, obviously) and even that was edited down from the 12-minute album version. The radio edit featured here is a more manageable 5:29 or so, though I'm not sure whether that's the version they intended to use: there's a bit of spare space at the end of Side 2 of the tape, and it does have fewer tracks than the other three sides.

It even got mentioned in a lesson at school. I can't entirely remember how or why, but I know there was some discussion about the mystique surrounding exactly what "that" was that he wouldn't do, and whether that was fuelling the success of the single. In fact, if you listen closely enough he does actually list several things he won't do, but only fans seem to have noticed. Perhaps the sheer scale of the song made it hard to concentrate on the details: it certainly has that effect on me. To be fair to him, though, Mr Loaf does put in a very good vocal performance, maybe his best ever: it takes some skill to sell such a ridiculous song, both camp and macho,  but he manages it here.

I can't help mentioning the spooky similarity between parts of the melody in this song and that of 'I Will Sing' by obscure and possibly non-existent underground musician Y. Bhekhirst. It's fair to say he doesn't have quite the same production values as Jim Steinman though.

Also appearing on: Now 27, 32, 33, 65
Available on: The Very Best Of Sad Songs

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Radiohead 'Creep'

Chart Peak: 7 [78 in 1992]

'Creep' was once described as "one of the finest pieces of rock since Everest"... It finally became a British Top 10 smash in September following the British band's big American breakthrough.
If anyone's bothered, that link at the bottom of this post is to the uncensored album version. The clean edit which of course is on Now! 26 can be found on a compilation called Monster Halloween Hits, should you need it. I'm sure Thom Yorke is very proud of that, probably almost as proud as he is of the rather lame video. He does look like he's telling the truth when he sings "what the hell am I doing here?" at least. 

Reputedly, the history of 'Creep' is full of happy accidents, the song apparently a piece of Yorke's student juvenalia that the producers of their debut album happened to hear the band rehearsing. When they were finally persuaded to record it, Johnny Greenwood's crunch before the chorus was a spur-of-the-moment improvisation that became one of the defining moments of the song; apparently it was also a mistake in the mix that the piano only arrives in the last 30 seconds of the song, although again it was good thinking on somebody's part to leave that in. Even this chart position owes a certain amount to luck: after the single had flopped the first time around, it was apparently picked up by DJs in Israel, which lead to the surprise US success (one of the few songs by a British rock act to make the Top 40 there in the 1990s), and eventually to a belated re-issue on home soil, though the band had supposedly already moved on from the album, releasing the non-LP single 'Pop Is Dead' (they later disowned it). None of this meant anything to me at the time, it wasn't until the success of singles from The Bends in 1995-6 that I was even aware of the band's existence, let alone of how great they were. It leaves me in the unusual position of never having known Radiohead as the band who did 'Creep' and thus coming to this song from a slightly different perspective to most. 

For good or ill, it's a lot more conventional than a lot of the band's most critically acclaimed work, and sometimes dismissed as excessively commercial, but I think that might be something of a retrospective judgement. Yorke has apparently claimed that the portrayal of a misfit is supposed to be a happy one, and if he wasn't just mucking about that offers an interesting perspective, implying that the song is about acceptance of inadequacy as much as suffering from it. That's a difficult interpretation to spin, really, not helped by the naturally anguished tone of his voice. Despite or because of this, I don't find it among their easiest songs to connect with emotionally, and I can't quite tell you why (I certainly don't lack personal experience of feeling inadequate). I like the song, and whenever I hear it on the radio or in a public place I have to listen up to the first chorus just in case they're playing the uncensored version by mistake. But it doesn't mean as much to me as a lot of their best work. That hasn't stopped it turning into a regular chart returnee for them in the download age though, and this very week Macy Gray has released her cover of it. 

They won't thank me for saying this, but I reckon as case could be made for this as the first Britpop track on a Now! album too.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 33, 37, 38, 39, 49
Available on: Pablo Honey (Collector's Edition) [Explicit]

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Crowded House 'Distant Sun'

Chart Peak: 19

Neil, Nick, Mark and Paul are Crowded House... 'Distant Sun' was the first Top 20 hit from the new Together Alone project which has already been hailed as a worthy successor to the million-selling Woodface album.
Well, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that Together Alone is actually an even better album than Woodface, indeed the best Crowded House album of all. It's certainly better-sequenced. This is curiously the only one of five UK hits from the album to appear on a Now album, and more remarkably it's arguably the fourth consecutive folk-rock track on Now! 26, which I'm pretty sure is the only such run in the whole series. Although they have released a lot of genre-based spin-offs recently, so maybe it's only a matter of time until we get Now That's What I Call Folk-Rock.

Anyway, 'Distant Sun' is one of those songs that  has a slightly odd place in the canon: it's not the first song anyone would think of when the subject of Crowded House came up, and I never think of it as one my favourites of theirs. And yet whenever I listen to it, when it comes up on shuffle on my MP3 player or gets played on the radio, I can't resist it, and find myself either singing along or trying very hard not to, according to circumstance. In fact I've just had to put the album on now while I'm writing this post. As I've mentioned before, they're a band who have an undeserved MOR reputation in some places but are actually much more subtle than that, with Neil Finn's melodies often developing in surprising directions and evoking complex moods: often unsettling but also leavened with a comforting human warmth. It's difficult to parse exactly what 'Distant Sun' is actually about: possibly a tempestuous relationship, possibly caring for somebody with a mental health problem (both topics that appear elsewhere on the album), possibly neither. Either way it feels like it's all centred around the key lyric in the middle eight; "I don't pretend to know what you want, but I offer love." There's something deeply adorable about the combination of resignation and hope in that.

Musically, it's a more conventionally accessible track (which is presumably why it was picked as lead single from the album). The structure is fairly conventional, adorned by chiming guitars (presumably from new member Mark Hart) and some of Nick Seymour's usual quietly superb bass-playing. The only real flaw is that it lacks an ending and seems to drift into a fade. Oh and the video's a bit rubbish too.

Also appearing on: 21, 22, 23, 34, 35
Available on: Together Alone

Friday, 22 June 2012

James 'Laid'

Chart Peak: 25

James, who were formed in Manchester way back in 1983, are "a cult group whose cult includes potentially everyone"... Singer Tim Booth describes the new single 'Laid' (due for release 1st November '93) as "daft and uplifting".
Jointly the lowest-charting single on Now 26, which might come as a surprise to some, as it's one of the better-known James songs even in Britain, and the closest they ever came to a hit in the US. It's also the title track from one of their most successful albums, famously one of two they recorded simultaneously with Brian Eno on production.

Knowing how long he's been in the business, it's probably a bit unfair on Tim Booth that he's long seemed to me to be a second-rate Bono, but on this track he seems more of a second-rate Michael Stipe, though it can only be a coincidence that this song shares the yodelling motif of R.E.M.'s 'Sidewinder'. It's arguable that this, no less coincidentally, anticipates the sexuality themes of R.E.M.'s next album, Monster. The trouble is that pop stars who try to stray into this sort of area usually seem to think they're being a lot more clever and edgy than they are, and actually singing the phrase "messed about with gender roles" shows how awkward his lyrics can be. The rest of the song has a slightly lopsided quality that's actually sort of endearing, but as is too often the case for me, Booth seems to get in the way. I bet he hated having to replace the word "comes" for the radio edit too.

Also appearing on: 20, 21, 36, 37, 41, 43
Available on: Laid

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Levellers 'This Garden'

Chart Peak: 12


Those "anarcho-hippy folk-punksters", the Levellers, release their latest single 'This Garden' on 18th October '93.

Excitingly for fans of the number 12, this is not only the third single on this side of the album to peak at that position but the second Levellers single in a row to get there. In fact they managed a total of four Number 12 hits with only one of their fourteen Top 40 singles getting any higher. It's strange to imagine now that they were once a significant chart act: this single comes from their untitled third album, which was only kept from the top of the chart by UB40. Somebody was evidently so proud that the album title gets a mention both in the main sleeve note and in the writing credit, which also mentions that it was "gold-selling". I had to check they didn't mention it again in the the production credit, but they do thank Banco de Gaia for "remix inspiration". I'm not entirely sure whether to believe the Amazon customer who claims that this song "has no tune because they didn't have time to write one," though in the context of a five-star review it's unlikely to be intended as an insult. I suppose rushing the album might be why it's only called Levellers.
Possibly not quite the folk-punk style normally associated with the band, 'This Garden' goes for a slightly more chant-like atmosphere, also featuring what might be the first appearance of a digeridoo on a Now! album. I have been known to like Levellers songs once in a while and even bought a few of them, but this is just too preachy and self-satisfied even for me, particularly the mockney-sounding rap about foxhunting (yes, really).

Also appearing on: Now 33
Available on: Levellers (Remastered)

Monday, 18 June 2012

R.E.M. 'The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite'

Chart Peak: 17

The cryptically ebullient 'Sidewinder' is surely one of the singles of this year... It was the third of 5 British hits in a 9 month period from October '92 to July '93 following 'Drive' and 'Man On The Moon' and preceding 'Everybody Hurts' and 'Nightswimming'.
It's a rare appearance for the band in this series, though as you can see above it's not for lack of hits: more likely it's that Warner Brothers were generally reluctant to licence their biggest acts to Now!, preferring to hoard them for the rival Hits series. Even when they do show up they're out of chronological order, but it's probably best not to look this particular gift horse in the mouth, especially as this sounds so good following up the Spin Doctors' irritating mugging.

As the title, suggests, 'Sidewinder' is loosely based on 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' (as part of their agreement with the publishers of the original, they agreed to cover it on the B-side of this single) and pulls off the great but difficult pop trick of combining light and shade: on the one hand it's among the band's most upbeat recordings (particularly on the brilliant but moody Automatic For The People album), but on the other it's about an eccentric homeless person, trying to make the best of things. That infamously incomprehensible chorus lyric is in fact "call me when you try to wake her", actually a faintly upsetting image if you think about it, especially in the context of the homeless man staring blankly at a payphone that he's seen enough of to notice scratches around the coinslot. And yet the protagonist retains an almost heartbreaking sliver of hope and joy, reflected by the yodelling that Michael Stipe lifts from the original and his apparent love for Dr Suess. It's this last reference that prompts Stipe's giggle into the third chorus: apparently a spontaneous reaction to mistakes on previous takes but obviously left in to lighten the mood.

Incidentally, whilst Automatic For The People is commonly associated with lush orchestral arrangements (by John Paul Jones from Led Zep of all people), they're actually only on four tracks out of twelve, but seem to loom large because three of them are among the first four in the sequence and all four of them were released as singles. This is probably the least guessable of the four, but they emerge about half way through to lend the track and protagonist a greater dignity - I think they're playing pizzicato in the middle-eight. Although the album doesn't seem to feature in best-ever surveys as much as it did ten years or so ago, it remains an extraordinary work, one of the handful of unmissable R.E.M. releases. In fact the only disappointment here is the video, in which Stipe appears to be dressed as Brian Harvey from East 17. 

Also appearing on: Now 25, 29
Available on: Automatic For The People

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Spin Doctors 'Two Princes'

Chart Peak: 3


'Two Princes' was the first big British hit single for the Spin Doctors...Chris, Eric, Aaron and Mark made the Top 3 in June '93 with this storming rocker.

With hindsight, the word "big" was rather redundant, although contrary to what you might expect they did have three more Top 40 hits in the UK. The Spin Doctors - not to be confused with Dr Spin on Now 23 - were an example of the phenomenon known in America as the "jam band", ie groups (usually male) musicians who are too busy playing solos to shave properly. Fortunately, their biggest international hit doesn't drag on for fifteen minutes, as I believe their songs often would on stage, but even at four minutes it's pretty trying on the patience, especially when they break into the scat singing at the end. The self-consciously nursery-rhyme-esque lyrics, doubtless conceived in some stoned jam session somewhere, add an extra level of smugness. And when I read that lead singer Chris Barron had suffered a vocal cord problem that robbed him of the ability to sing... well, I'm sure you can fill in the punchline yourselves. He has since recovered.

I'd be tempted to suggest this is another reason to be glad that I didn't have MTV back in 1993, but to be honest if I had I'd probably have liked this at the time, more so than the Stakka Bo record which is clearly better. I have to admit I did slightly enjoy some of their other songs when I heard them a couple of years later, although I soon grew out of it.

Available on: The Best Of

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Belinda Carlisle 'Big Scary Animal'

Chart Peak: 12

'Big Scary Animal', a No. 1 hit in September '93, is the latest British success for the American singer. The former lead singer of the Go-Go's has had consistent UK chart success since 1987.
Well consistent if you don't count the singles that missed the Top 40, but it was true that she'd managed a pretty regular run of hits from her previous three albums. After those and a successful Best Of collection, she returned with what was presumably intended to be a more rock-oriented sound, co-writing this song with fellow Go-Go Charlotte Caffey (and producer Ralph Shuckett). Unfortunately the finished track seems to fall between two stools somewhat, still a bit too glossy to really work as rock but by the looks of things not really delivering the goods as a pop hit either: it flopped in the US and even here this was a relatively unsuccessful part of her career. At any rate, I was able to resist the CD single (with free poster) I saw in a charity shop today.

What is notable about this release is Michel Gondry's promo video, one of his first for a non-French act. I think he may have recycled some of the forced-perspective ideas into his video for 'The Denial Twist' by the White Stripes over a decade later. In fact the video was so creative the US branch of the record label rejected it and insisted on a more generic remake.

Also appearing on: Now 11, 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 34, 35
Available on: Real

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tina Turner 'Disco Inferno'

Chart Peak: 12


'Disco Inferno', a cover of the Trammps' 1977 hit, made No. 12 for Tina in late August '93 as the follow-up to 'I Don't Wanna Fight'.
I thought it had got a bit quiet on the Tina Turner front lately. This cover of the Trammps song which was inspired by one film and became a hit after appearing in another had been a part of her live act for years but was finally recorded as part of the soundtrack to the biopic What's Love Got To Do With It. I've never seen that in full, although apparently both Turners disputed its accuracy - despite Tina's evident involvement with the project. Either way, this starts Side Two of the tape sounding like a cheap and sterile karaoke backing track. Once Turner herself shows up, things definitely step up a gear: even without a live audience she's a pro and since she must have known the song backwards by now she puts in a strong and committed performance. But it's still not quite enough to remove the sense that this is a box-ticking exercise.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 6, 16, 17, 18, 21, 25, 32, 34, 44
Available on: What's Love Got To Do With It

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Chaka Demus & Pliers 'She Don't Let Nobody'

Chart Peak: 4


'She Don't Let Nobody' was the second big British hit for Jamaican DJ Chaka Demus and singer Pliers... It followed 'Tease Me' into the Top 5 and reached No.4 in September/October '93.

It's not one of the CD&P hits that I remember, but like many of their others it was a cover version, in this case of a Curtis Mayfield track from 1981. It's not made clear in either version exactly what "she" won't let other people do, but I think we can all guess. Either way, it's not Mayfield's finest work and this version is even less interesting, rather lacking in soul and not as obviously danceable as most of their others. Probably the most forgotten of their Top 5 smashes. 

Also appearing on: Now 25, 27 (with Jack Radics & Taxi Gang), 28, 29
Available on: Reggae Love Songs

Stakka Bo 'Here We Go'

Chart Peak: 13


Stakka Bo, real name Johan Renck, first hit in his native Sweden with 'Here We Go'... It reached No. 13 in Britain for 2 weeks in September.
And here's a connection with Now 66: Renck directed the video to 'She's Madonna'. Presumably he also directed this video, which was virtually inescapable on MTV Europe circa 1993 (unless, like me, you escaped by not having MTV at the time). It's certainly attention-grabbing, and gets points for not seeming desperate to persuade you that Swedish rap should be taken seriously, despite the shadow of MC Miker G and Deejay Sven (I think they were actually Dutch, but you know what the Brits are like about pop from non-Anglophone countries). In fact it's much less of a novelty than you might expect, seeming to take its cues more from the Stereo MC's/Shamen school than anything American: that even seems to extend to the accent. The lyrics take a swipe at consumerism, which is hardly the most inventive target but still something a little bit unusual in the image-conscious hip-hop scene. Had I heard this song as much at the time as a lot of people did, I've have become heartily sick of it by now, but fortunately I didn't and can take it as an OK slice of pop.

Available on: Supermarket

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Shamen 'Comin' On' (Beatmasters 7")

Chart Peak: 14 [as lead track of the S.O.S. EP]


'Comin' On', due for release on 25th October '93, is the new Shamen single... It follows the hugely successful recent hits 'L.S.I', Ebenezer Goode', 'Boss Drum' and 'Phorever People'.

It's a pity they didn't put 'Boss Drum' on here, I actually remembered that one. After their remarkable journey from their early psychedelic rock to techno to the almost novelty shock value of 'Ebeneezer Goode', I get the slight feeling that the Shamen ran out of places to go. On closer inspection, that can't literally be true  as this is from the same album as that one - and incidentally, four Now albums later, that gives you an idea of how much they mined Boss Drum for hits - but this does seem to fall into the groove of talking about vaguely spiritual-sounding stuff to a sort of dancey beat. Mr C is more irritating than appealing here unfortunately and the whole thing has the air of one single too many from the album.

Also appearing on: Now 22, 23
Available on: The Collection

Friday, 8 June 2012

Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince 'Boom! Shake The Room'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


Disc jockey Jeff Townes and poet Will Smith met at a party in 1986... They swiftly turned themselves into DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince and hit with 'Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble' and 'Summertime' - 'Boom' became their third big UK hit when it shot to No. 1 in September '93.
And in the days when a rap Number One was still rather a rarity, this was a little bit of a trailblazer. Indeed Messrs Smith and Townes have some claim to be the first black people ever to top the UK chart with a hip-hop single (after Partners In Kryme, Vanilla Ice and Bart Simpson), though this does require excluding the claims of dance acts like Snap! and 2Unlimited and this is arguably as much a dance track as a hip-hop one. It was co-written by the Outhere Brothers and somewhat anticipates the style of their own hits a couple of years later. It is a slightly tougher, more adult-sounding record than the likes of 'Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble' and 'Nightmare On My Street' though of course this is all relative and it's not likely to be mistaken for Public Enemy. Essentially the track is a showcase for Will Smith's likeability and if like me you've always warmed to him this is pretty good. If not, beware becoming one of the many who died trying to stop his show. 

Available on: Greatest Hits

Thursday, 7 June 2012

SWV 'Right Here'

Chart Peak: 3


SWV - Sisters With Voices - are New Yorkers Coko, Lelee and Taj... 'Right Here', with its stunning Teddy Riley Human Nature remix was their 2nd UK Top 20 success. following 'I'm So Into You'. It made No. 3 in September '93.
For those not clued in, the Human Nature remix is so called because it extensively samples Michael Jackson's song of that name: one of the few tracks on Thriller not to have been released as a single in the UK, although it charted here after Jackson's death in 2009. In the meantime, though, it was a popular source of samples and seems so integral to this particular track that it's hard not to imagine it being constructed around it. And yet it wasn't: until writing this post I'd never thought to seek out the original version but it's out there and was a minor US hit in its own right in 1992, though I think the UK label were right to stick with this version. Of course that's partly because RnB of this type was more of a minority interest here at the time - it's notable that SWV's biggest US hit, 'Weak', struggled to a peak of 33 here - and therefore bringing in a proven hookline makes obvious commercial sense. But there is a little bit more to it than that, I feel: as well as being catchier this mix has a different mood, more relaxed and happy than the original. Ironically, using a second-hand melody makes the track more distinctive.

Incidentally, this isn't a song I would knowingly have heard at the time, but I do remember it from heavy rotation on The Box channel when we got cable a couple of years later; notwithstanding what I said about the popularity of this kind of music in the nation as a whole back then, The Box seemed like a special enclave for its fans. I remember thinking of it as an obvious summer hit and I'm slightly surprised at how late in the year it was actually released. And in another minor fact, this was apparently the first appearance of future star Pharrell Williams on a Now! album - it's supposed to be him saying "S Double-U V" in the middle of the track, even if it doesn't sound that much like him.

Available on: Platinum & Gold Collection

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Eternal 'Stay'

Chart Peak: 4

Eternal are four all-singing girls from South London. 'Stay' is their very first hit and had reached No. 4 by 17th October '93.
Maybe it's just my pesky cynicism, but calling them "four all-singing girls" sounds a bit like an insult to their dancing abilities. It's a mid-90s Now album so of course Eternal are going to show up, a moment I rarely look forward to: it's not that I dislike their music so much as I struggle to find perspectives about it. 

'Stay' does at least have the distinction of being their debut single, and also their only hit in the US - it reached 19 on the Hot 100, which is not a bad achievement at at time when there was a little demand over there for British music as there ever has been. But that also tips you off to how exact a pastiche this is of then-current swingbeat. That too is something you can admire, since as far as I can tell it was produced by British people, but it feels rather pointless from any perspective other than a strictly commercial one. It feels too much of its time and place to have any resonance here in the 21st century. Even the title feels generic: it's the third most common one-word title for a hit single, and the group used one of the other two as well ('Crazy' in 1994). I think this is part of the reason why Eternal's actually mildly impressive chart feats rarely seem to get a mention nowadays, they're just too forgettable. 

Also appearing on: Now 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38
Available on: Stay - The Essential Eternal Collection

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

M People 'One Night In Heaven'

Chart Peak: 6


M People are DJ/remixer/producer Mike Pickering, keyboardist/bassist Paul Heard and the wonderously emotive emotive vocalist Heather Small. The euphoric 'One Night In Heaven' was the second of three Top 10 hits so far this year and made No. 6 in July.

So the first song on the album was written in the Sixties, the second in the Seventies, the third in the Eighties and now we finally get a number from the Nineties. SPOILER: the next track isn't from the 2000s though.
Though not their first Top 10 single, 'One Night In Heaven' marks the start of their of their peak phase, which wasn't as long as you might think: their last studio album was as long ago as 1997, although they have toured since then. They packed a lot of hits into those few years though, largely by sticking fairly rigidly to a winning formula, so much so that even the cover versions fit in seamlessly. 

It's probably a bit harsh to criticise dance music for being formulaic when that seems almost to be the point of it, but M People seem to get it in the neck especially because of the success they had in converting the club sounds of house music into something people listened to in actual houses (and cars). This was the first single from the album Elegant Slumming, which even had a lot of sofas on the cover to underline the point. Doing that seems to set a somewhat tougher standard, and although few of their records are honestly dislikeable individually, the cumulative effect does become somewhat tiresome. And apparently Juliet Roberts sings the actual "One night in heaven, one night in heaven" bit that is the most memorable part of the song but isn't fully credited for it. 

Also appearing on: Now 27, 28,  30
Available on: One Night In Heaven: The Very Best Of M People

Monday, 4 June 2012

Frankie Goes To Hollywood 'Relax'

Chart Peak: 5 [originally Number 1 in 1984]


'Relax' was originally a No.1 in 1984 for Holly, Paul, Ped, Mark and Nasher... Frankie's next 2 singles, 'Two Tribes' and 'The Power Of Love' also hit the top then a couple of years later they were gone... This remix shot them back into the Top 5 in October '93.

Before we start here, I acknowledge that the TotP performance in that YouTube link isn't contemporaneous with this appearance (it's from January 1984) but I thought it was an interesting historical document, as a reminder that the single was only banned after it had started to make some commercial impact. Apparently this was represented on 1993 episodes of the show by the cleaner, "laserbeams" version of the video, but you can see that through my original post about this track when it appeared on Now II. In the fairly unlikely event that you're unfamiliar with 'Relax' itself, you might as well read that anyway, because the song itself hasn't much changed here, despite that sleeve note's reference to a "remix": admittedly I'm comparing across different recording formats here, but this doesn't sound that different from the versions I have on my Now II LP, or on another compilation CD. What I could piece together from the Wikipedia entry suggests that whilst there were remixes included on the 1993 version of the single, this is the album version, which is similar but not quite identical to the original 1983 single release whose tenth anniversary it marked.

I suppose the most notable point about this track in a Now 26 context is how it sits among music from 1993. Obviously, sequencing it after two cover versions by long-established acts isn't the most helpful test of that, and given my aforementioned lack of musical awareness in '93 itself, I can only really assess that from a 2012 perspective. From here it seems to sit quite well, but then again the 1993 tracks are almost twice as old now as this was then. 

Fans of connections might be interested to know that the original release of 'Relax' was in the Top 40 when the Pet Shop Boys released their first single (the unsuccessful original version of 'West End Girls') in April 1984, although of course it was somewhere in the chart for the majority of the year anyway. Indeed the additional chart weeks from this re-issue made it the third longest-charting single ever at the time, although that has been overtaken since. UB40 were there then too, and amazingly enough with a cover version. Tune in tomorrow for an act that hadn't charted at all in the 1980s!

Also appearing on: Now 2 [this track], 3, 46
Available on: Bang!... The Greatest Hits Of Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Pet Shop Boys 'Go West'

Chart Peak: 2


'Go West', a cover of the 1979 Village People hit, gave Neil and Chris a No.2 smash in September '93 as the follow-up to 'Can You Forgive Her?'

I think that's what the sleeve note says, anyway, it's a bit difficult to read light grey against a pale red background. The PSBs were of course no strangers to the Elvis catalogue themselves, but picked a slightly less obvious source this time around: obviously the Village People were hardly an unknown act or a surprising influence for them to draw upon, but this was not their biggest hit and indeed this version proved to be more successful in almost every major market (as far as I know it was never released as a single in the USA). I don't think I was alone in not having knowingly heard the original version when this came out.

Unsurprisingly for a Village People song, there's an evident gay subtext - although the writers themselves apparently never confirmed this, it's obvious that the song is about the migration of the US gay community towards San Francisco, though of course the title also refers to the older tradition of Americans seeking freedom and opportunity in the West. The PSBs arrangement (which also earns them a writing credit for an extra verse) makes this subtext more explicit, but also more ironic, with its use of Soviet-style imagery in the song itself and even more so in the video. It's something of a sad irony, I suppose, because of the discovery of AIDS in the years since the original song was written - it's hard not to imagine that the hope here is more a mythical one than the practical one in the Village People's original. Still, that doesn't mean the hope's gone entirely, and Tennant/Lowe's lyric speaks of a promised land "if we stand our ground". The big Broadway choir chanting the start of each line emphasises the upbeat tone intended. Indeed it was anthemic enough that this version was adapted for football chants all over Europe, a development which I'd think would have surprised and amused Neil Tennant.

Confidential to UB40: This is how you do a cover version.

Also appearing on: Now 7, 8, 10, 11, 15, 18, 20, 28 [as Absolutely Fabulous], 35, 72
Available on: PopArt - The Hits [+video]

Friday, 1 June 2012

UB40 'Can't Help Falling In Love'

Chart Peak: 1 [2 weeks]


Formed back in 1978, UB40 have charted consistently ever since... 1993 has been a great year for the band and has seen them record their 3rd UK No.1 with this cover of the Elvis Presley/Andy Williams standard.
Yes, a new month, a new album and a new format. As you can see from the illustration on the right, for the first time in the history of this blog we come to you through the medium of cassette. We can thank a work colleague of mine for supplying this and other tapes, as 26 is an album I'd been planning to cover for a while - it was the last Now album of 1993, which as you might not have spotted was the last year remaining between 1983 and 1999 not covered on this blog. That's partly coincidental, but it's also probably the year I was least conscious or aware of pop music after my toddler days, and even now there are a good few hits on here that I'd never heard before I got this tape home.

Sadly, this track is not one of those. And whilst it might seem slightly out of place to be covering a compilation aimed at the Christmas market in the height of summer, this actually hit the top of the chart 19 years ago next week, so it should have been within the catchment area of Now 25. It later did the double and became their second transatlantic Number One, managing a seven-week stay at the top of the US chart thanks to its appearance in the film Sliver. I've never actually seen that but as the video suggests, it has a strong motif of CCTV voyeurism, and in that context you might expect this to have been a darkened version, somewhat along the lines of Urge Overkill's version of 'Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon' (at least I assume that was supposed to sound creepy, it always did to me anyway) - at least that's what you might expect if you weren't familiar with UB40, who had by this point already released two entire albums of covers and had 13 previous chart singles with other people's material. What you'd expect from them by this point is more or less what you get, cheap sounding karaoke with none of the gravitas of Elvis. 

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, 17, 18, 41, 56
Available on: Promises And Lies