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"

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Britney Spears 'Oops!...I Did It Again'

Chart Peak: 1


It's not enough for Britney Spears to dominate the international teen-queen market - she's now trying her hand at being a best-selling author!... Together with her mother Lynne (who is also Britney'd best friend) she has written her first book Heart To Heart, her life story so far. 

Yes, I sort of said I was going to stop with the albums ending in 6 but in the end this one kind of leapt out at me. Maybe it's the nice bright colours on the cover that look appealing in November and December (the album was originally released in July 2000) but there are plenty of tracks on here that seem memorable.

And we start with one of the big hits of that summer alright. The lead single from the second album by the biggest new star of the day was obviously a big moment for all concerned, and there's a lot of investment and not a lot of risk-taking going on here. As the title hints, the song refines the musical template of ''...Baby One More Time' rather than reinventing her (they even repeat "Oh baby baby.." in the chorus). That should be a bad thing but in practice this is a fun track to hear for the majority of its running time. At the time I preferred to her first hit, partly because it was less overplayed and partly because it lacked that masochistic overtone. Both these things are still true of course, although this one hasn't aged as well musically - the massed backing vocals on the chorus sound very turn-of-the-century somehow - and it still has its greatest flaw, that awful spoken section in the middle that just about works in the video but is bizarre and annoying in sound-only.

It's kind of strange to think now that when she sings "I'm not that innocent" on this song, it's a sign of how innocent she then was.

Also appearing on: Now 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 57, 58, 68, 69, 70, 72, 73, 78
Available on: Oops! I Did It Again - The Best Of Britney Spears