Thursday, 31 January 2013

Eternal 'Good Thing'

Chart Peak: 8

'Good Thing' - due for release on 26th February 1996 - is the trio's sassy new single... It follows 'Poer Of A Woman' and 'I Am Blessed' and is, as ever, chartbound.
Starting to sense a bit of weariness in these sleevenotes, although it's no different from my own attitude to the arrival of yet another middling Eternal single. If there's one band I liked more before I started writing this blog, it's probably them as I'm forced to contemplate yet another functional single, unexciting but not deserving to be lambasted. 'Good Thing' is already their seventh Now appearance and their second with the word "good" in the title. It's unconnected to the Fine Young Cannibals song of the same title, but not wholly dissimilar to the sort of thing you might get if you asked somebody to write a song that sounded a bit like 'Whatta Man' by Salt'N'Pepa featuring En Vogue without risking a lawsuit. It's not that I want to be negative, and this is not an unpleasant one to hear but it offers little.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38
Available on: Greatest Hits

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Lighthouse Family 'Lifted'

Chart Peak: 4 [originally 61 in 1995]

1995 saw the release of two great Lighthouse Family singles - ''Ocean Drive' and 'Lifted' - strangely, they were only minor hits... It all looks so different in 1996 as 'Lifted' has already become a huge No. 4 hit and people are waking up to their soulful vibes. 
There is of course a video for this song, you've probably seen it. If you haven't, it's on some video sharing sites but the record company have in their infinite wisdom chosen to remove all uploads of it from YouTube. That sort of thing could put me off a track if it wasn't by the Lighthouse Family, whom I already hated.

Call me a grumpy old git, but I have an inbuilt resistance to simplistic positivity. Not that I'm not a fundamentally optimistic soul beneath the curmudgeonly exterior, but I always feel like an upbeat sentiment is something a song has to earn. Don't just tell me things are going to be great, I could tell myself that and if I'm not in the mood to believe me, I'm hardly going to take your word for it either. I can be moved by uplifting songs or other art of course - but they have to make that case themselves, they have to feel like they've experienced the joy, and maybe even the sadness it's saved them from too. Although you could make a theoretical argument that the re-issue of 'Lifted' proves its own point - turning what was a pile of unsold cassette singles in WH Smith after the flop original release into a Top 5 smash - but the track itself is emotionally inert. It doesn't help that the band went on to release a whole series of singles from their first two albums essentially saying the same thing, the repetition inevitably cheapening the sentiment and making it sound more like a commercial choice than an emotional one.

Since I have ceased to be a teenager and, I like to think, become considerably more open-minded (musically at least) since the chart run of this song, I was half-hoping to have warmed to it by now. And it's true that on the odd occasions when I hear it nowadays I don't actually dislike it with anywhere near the same intensity I did in 1996. But the closer listen I've given the track for blogging purposes isn't really what you'd call flattering; I thought I might admire it more even if I didn't like it but the production sounds incredibly cheap and tacky -  especially the drum machine - and the whole thing is even more cloying.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 50
Available on: Greatest Hits

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Oasis 'Live Forever'

Chart Peak: 10


'Live Forever' was Oasis' first UK Top 209 single back in late Summer 1994... It has sold consistently ever since and actually re-entered the Top 75 on 25th February 1996 - indeed, every one of their nine singles was in the chart for this week at Numbers 1, 30, 64, 70, 71, 74, 75, 77 and 79 respectively... big or what!!
To be a bit more precise, 'Don't Look Back In Anger' was, as previously noted, at the top of the chart that week and the other Top 75 positions were as follows:
30. Wonderwall
64. Whatever
70. Cigarettes and Alcohol
71. Supersonic
74. Shakermaker
75. Live Forever
This logically puts 'Roll With It' and 'Some Might Say' in the lowest positions, presumably because those were relatively recent hits which latecomers to the band would have bought at the time. It's probably not insignificant that this was the week after the Brit Awards, where Oasis had picked up three statuettes, but even in more normal times Oasis were notable for their unusually strong catalogue singles sales by 1990s standards, not least because they were unusual in not deleting the singles once they'd dropped out of the chart, instead actively assisting them by keeping the CD versions on the shelves in "3 for £10" offers. It was through such a deal, possibly even at roughly this time, that I acquired my own copy of 'Live Forever', alongside 'Whatever' and 'Cigarettes & Alcohol'. Yes, kids, there was once a time when paying £3:33 each for CD singles was considered a bargain. I did at least have the excuse that I didn't own a copy of the Definitely Maybe album until about ten years later, although I had of course heard it (and been a little underwhelmed, to be honest, although it would be hard not to be such was the euphoria around the album then). There were undoubtedly stand-out tracks though, and 'Live Forever' was one of them, intentionally scheduled as the single immediately before the album when it would make maximum impact.

It is, perhaps the definitive Oasis song, the starting point for their mid-paced, musically simple anthems - debut single 'Supersonic' is not dissimilar but this one was written first. For good or ill it's a style that they returned to time and again over the years, but here it's found in its purest form with the unresolved chord sequence suiting the eternity implied by the lyric and perhaps a neat fit with the slightly hypothetical sentiment. Obviously nobody can live forever, but this is a song partly about ambition (a common theme to their first album, unsurprisingly) and partly about friendship, the lyric "we see things they'll never see" a reference to the shared reference points and in-jokes that people who've known each other for a long time will always develop. The seamless verse-chorus transition and the repeated lyrics almost seem like one of those in-jokes themselves, though of course the song comes over as a different sort of joke in hindsight, after all the infighting among the band over the next fifteen years before they finally split. It's especially ironic that the video shows them burying original drummer Tony McCarroll, who was of course fired in 1995; this gives Oasis the rare distinction of appearing twice on the same Now! album with different lineups, an honour they share with Kajagoogoo. The US video takes a different interpretation of the title, with images of deceased heroes like Marc Bolan, John Lennon (whose childhood home is also pictured on the single sleeve), Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Bobby Moore, who may not have been recognised by all the intended audience.

Worth noting, as well, that this is one of the best-produced of all Oasis tracks, particularly in comparison with the rather hesitant original demo version. One thing I always liked about this track was the use of piano - it's not very prominent in the mix but it's an important part of the arrangement and live versions without it never entirely seem to work. It's not often I get to praise Oasis for being subtle, so I'm going to take the chance when I can.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 38, 52, 53, 54, 61, 62
Available on: Anthems Indie

Monday, 28 January 2013

Radiohead 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)'

Chart Peak: 5

Everyone's favourites Radiohead scored their first UK Top 5 single with 'Street Spirit' in January 1996... Since 1993 they have already sold millions of albums around the world.
Second album The Bends is thought by many to be Radiohead's best; it's certainly a key work in their  history, and in that of 1990s rock as a whole. It's the record that converted them from a band with one big song into a major act, and one of the few albums by a contemporary British act to be a major success in America in the mid-1990s. It produced no fewer than five Top 30 singles, of which this was the last and unusually the highest-charting, though you can put that down partly to its release in the quiet January market and partly to the band's increased popularity driving up demand for the four B-sides spread over the CD single formats; ironically, though, indecision between the two CDs meant I never got round to buying it at all, though I ended up getting the album instead.

'Street Spirit' is something of a soothing finale to The Bends, its musical mood notably more placid than the rather restless and worried sound of the previous 11 tracks (you can see why students liked it so much). But that's not to say it's any kind of light relief, it's a very haunted song which Thom Yorke has sometimes spoken of as a warning of threats from beyond this world and said that he can only perform the song in a state of detachment. Whether you buy into that, there's something bleak about the slow arpeggiated guitars that crawl through the song. What saves this from the pure depressiveness that Radiohead's music is often taken for is that there's always the element of hope or at least of a prescription. Yorke advises us to "be a love child, form a circle" and it's clearly meant to be significant that the very last lyric in the song (and thus the original album) is "immerse your soul in love," a slogan that also appears on the cover of some single formats.  Conversely, the genuine pain in audible in the performance keeps those lyrics from sounding as platitudinous as they would in other contexts. The one thing Radiohead have never been is nihilistic, and it's this and the sheer melodic beauty of the song that makes this an ultimately uplifting song to hear.

The only thing is, I'm so used to this being the end of the album, one of the greatest closers ever in fact, that it seems a bit wrong that it's not the last track on the disc. Still, most people wouldn't mind.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 32, 37, 38, 39, 49
Available on: The Bends (Collectors Edition)

Friday, 25 January 2013

Levellers 'Just The One'

Chart Peak: 12


Levellers were created as far back as 1988 and named themselves after a radical section of Oliver Cromwell's Civil War followers... Their hits to date have included 'This Garden', '15 years', 'Hope Street' and 'Just The One', this No. 12 smash from Christmastime 1995.
And just as I ended the previous post with a plug, I can start this with one too: my new "friends" (by which I mean, people who said something nice about this blog once) over at 1p Album Club have just posted about this song's parent album Zeitgeist. It was the band's only chart-topper, though it got there almost by default when all eyes were on the Help! charity album that's represented a couple of times on Now 32 (and to which the Levellers themselves contributed). Its sales that week were by no means the lowest ever but it's a sign of the good times the album market was entering around this time that not until 2012 did another album top the chart on so few sales: in fairness, they'd probably sold more the week before when they were Number 2.

In fact, the album version of this number is a brief ditty of barely 100 seconds duration, tucked away in the middle of the second side, and when I borrowed the album from a classmate I thought it one of the highlights.  For single release, however, the track was entirely re-recorded, with several additional verses and a piano solo by Joe Strummer, formerly of The Clash and perhaps more pertinently The Pogues. True to form, he didn't contribute to either of the Top Of The Pops appearances for this song. These additions stretch the running time by more than a minute, making it more radio-friendly, but in the end more seems to have been lost than gained. Fleshing out the storyline seems to remove a lot of the song's charm, somewhat undermining the lyric "The rest's a blank, and that's the worst/An empty head for an empty purse" in what remains the final verse. And the music lacks the light-hearted spontaneous mood it had in its original form. Still, it got them another Number 12 hit.

Also appearing on: Now 26
Available on: One Way Of Life - The Best Of The Levellers

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Lush 'Ladykillers'

Chart Peak: 22

'Ladykillers' looks set to give Lush their 2nd hit single of 1996... It is the follow-up to 'Single Girl' and is released on 26th February 1996.
Well, that prediction was accurate, although it proved to be the smallest of their three 1996 hits, since both 'Single Girl' and '500 (Shake Baby Shake)' peaked at 21, though these were still comfortably their biggest hits. Sadly, they were also their last, as drummer Chris Acland took his own life later that year and the band were, understandably, unwilling to continue without him. This, however, finds them in happier times. It's their only Now! appearance and one of very few tracks licensed to the series from 4ad (in fact the only other one I can think of is 'Pump Up The Volume'). Their move from the so-called "shoegaze" style they helped pioneer to something more like the standard Britpop sound was certainly criticised in some quarters, and I can understand the reason why some people might resent that but the band themselves would doubtless have claimed that this was partly a result of their having increased confidence in their songwriting and hence less need to hide behind distortion. And in any case, I'd never heard any of their pre-96 stuff, and have only just started investigating it on Spotify while working on this post. They were right to be pleased with 'Ladykillers', a brilliantly waspish song about men who try to chat them up. There are almost too many great lyrics to pick any out but none of it would be as impressive without the brilliant call-and-response vocals and handclaps, one of the most effective attempts to update the Shangri-las sound for the modern age. Remember them this way, and enjoy the continuity error at about 2:03 in the video.

Interesting-if-true fact from Wikipedia: the cover version of 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend' which appeared on the 7" version of this single was later cited in a plagiarism suit against Avril Lavigne's song 'Girlfriend', which was alleged to be based on the Rubinoos original. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

And if you like this sort of music, or like reading about it at least, you might be interested in The Shine Years, a new blog by the noted Simon Tyers, which examines the eponymous series of mid-90s indie compilations in chronological order. It would of course be a spoiler to disclose whether this particular track appears anywhere in the series, but I don't think it's giving too much away to say that at least one track from Now 33 will show up.

Available on: Ciao! Best Of

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Terrorvision 'Perseverence'

Chart Peak: 5


Terrorvision are Shutty, Tony, Leigh and Mark - four down-to-earth blokes from Bradford... 'Perseverence' crashed into the Top 5 on 25th February 1996 following previous hits such as 'Oblivion', 'Middleman' and 'Alice What's The Matter'.
In fact, their previous album had produced an impressive run of five hit singles, each of which peaked between 21 and 25. So they were primed for an even bigger breakthrough, and third album Regular Urban Survivors, with its brilliant Bond-film pastiche artwork, supplied that with four Top 20 hits, of which this was the first, the biggest and the only one to make it onto a Now! album

As you'll see, the album was so outstanding that even I bought one, not a common occurrence as I'm pretty much a metal sceptic. There again, I tend to think of the relationship between them and metal as similar to that between, say, Madness and ska: it's obviously the music they loved and wanted to make together, but they have their own take on it, which isn't watered-down exactly so much as it's filled with other influences and an ear for a great pop hook. For a while this style was called Britrock and whilst the name didn't stick, there is something in the distinction: Tony Wright's Yorkshire vowels immediately mark this out as a product of the UK, and whilst those crunchy guitar chords set it apart from the typical Britpop repertoire it shows some kinship in its openness to lightheartedness, far from the earnestness of grunge or modern hardcore bands but also from the worst of hair-metal machismo. Pulling out the album again for the first time in a few years, I was impressed at how much of it I knew off by heart, and by the fact that 'Perseverance' isn't even the strongest track although its breathless energy and the neat use of low-pitched brass makes it a logical choice of lead single. They sound like a band who enjoy being a band and want you to enjoy it too, and that's enough for now.

Although the band have, like most of this era, reunited for sporadic tours and recordings, Tony Wright now has a secondary career doing letterpress printing.

Also appearing on: Now 42
Available on: Regular Urban Survivors

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Status Quo With The Beach Boys 'Fun Fun Fun'

Chart Peak: 24


Quo's cover of the Beach Boys 60s classic 'Fun Fun Fun' actually features the legendary Amerian outfit on Backing vocals... It entered the chart at No. 24 in 25th February 1996.
It's an inevitable consequence of the Now! albums starting as late in pop history as 1983 that there are several acts who appear in the series long after their best work is behind them. And here we get two for the price of one; it's unlikely to be widely disputed that Status Quo perfected their heads-down no-nonsense mindless boogie at some point in the 1970s, even if you don't prefer the earlier psuedo-psychedelic sound. And as for the Beach Boys, well, there are many who consider them the greatest American act of the rock era and who feel that Pet Sounds is the best album ever. The good news is that the five surviving members of the line-up who made that album seem to have been involved here: Brian and Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, with what I believe were Brian Wilson's first UK performances for fifteen years. The bad news is that, well, they're backing singers for Status Quo on one song. But the Quo certainly got their money's worth for the airfares, as a quick scan of YouTube finds them on a whole slew of ITV programmes, including little-remembered game show Talking Telephone Numbers. When Emma Forbes jokes about them threatening to sue in the intro, it's not a reference to the any lawsuits between the various Beach Boys (not even to the then-recently-settled one about the authorship of this very song) but to the Quo's notorious attempt to sue Radio 1 for not playlisting this track. They've subsequently claimed that this was a publicity stunt instigated by their management, and some people might even believe them, but the whole notion seems even more absurd now than it did at the time.

The elder Wilson (and Jardine) had returned to California before some of the other appearance, including this one on GMTV, which is fortunate as the thought of Brian Wilson being interviewed by Eamonn Holmes is really too horrible to think about. But that clip is notable for its reference to a listener unused to the amount of pre-release publicity records were starting to get in those days, presumably because the potential market for this record would not be regular singles buyers in the mid-1990s. Or Radio 1 listeners.

It's unlikely that you'll be unfamiliar with the original of this song, but in all honesty I needed to hear it after researching all the clips of this new version. Here's a genuine live version from 1964 as a bonus. You might not know that it was never a hit in the UK, though it was the title track of a successful EP; it was certainly a well-known number at the time, as I recall my Mum recounting that she'd enjoyed hearing the song (as a very young person, I hasten to add) despite having no idea what a "T-Bird" was. Predictably enough, Status Quo interpret the song in their usual mode of the time, simplistic but not actually all that rocky somehow. Mike Love sings a new verse not in the original, presumably in order to pad the song out to a more conventional length for the modern era. Needless to say, it's not actually any good, and doesn't even offer the same sort of stupid fun as the other Beach Boys collaboration to wind up on a Now! album, 'Wipeout' with the Fat Boys. It's a bit of a sad end to their UK singles chart career, and indeed to the oeuvre of Carl Wilson, who died less than two years later, fifteen years ago next month in fact. I had to listen to Holland while I was writing most of this to make myself feel better.

Status Quo also appear on: Now 4, 8, 14, 18, 53
The Beach Boys also appear on: Now 10 (with the Fat Boys)
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Monday, 21 January 2013

Mike and the Mechanics 'All I Need Is A Miracle 96'

Chart Peak: 27 [original version: 54 in 1986]

Originally a chart record back in 1986, 'All I Need Is A Miracle made the Top 30 in remix form in early 1996... Ten years after they first got together, Mike And The Mechanics are surely the most popular part-time band in the world.
A pedant writes: just as 'Out Of The Sinking' was a remix and not just a re-issue, 'All I Need Is A Miracle' is an entirely re-recorded version of the original, and not just a remix. I'm not sure why this was felt necessary, as the finished track still sounds rather 1980s, but it did provide some sort of bait for potential buyers of the imaginatively-titled Hits compilation, for which this was the lead single. The original version had not been a major hit in the UK but went Top 5 in the US, I also recall hearing it (and 'Invisible Touch') when we were on holiday in Canada in 1986.

Many members of well-known bands have taken the opportunity of side-projects to record more experimental material, but Genesis are unusual in having seemed to do the opposite. Admittedly, I've never heard anything by Tony Banks or his unappealingly-named band Bankstatement, but whilst Phil Collins possibly had more edge in his early solo work than he's given credit for (not saying much) Mike Rutherford's second-longest-lasting project were headed straight for the coffee table. There's nothing wrong with making pop-oriented music, of course, and in posts elsewhere on this blog I've often been unfashionably positive about the moves Genesis made towards a more commercial sound. The trouble with the Mechanics was that by and large the material wasn't up to the job and whilst they mostly avoided the turgid showing-off that tends to ruin supergroups, a lot of their recordings sound neither spontaneous nor perfectly poppy but a bit stale. 'All I Need Is A Miracle' is according to Rutherford one of their more optimistic songs (I suppose because it at least acknowledges the possibility of a miracle), and it has a decent vocal from the late Paul Young, not to be confused with the Paul Young featured on other Now albums who's still with us, but it deserved to be no more of a hit than it was.

Also appearing on: Now 30
Available on: Mike + The Mechanics Hits

Friday, 18 January 2013

Cast 'Sandstorm'

Chart Peak: 8

'Sandstorm' was a No. 8 hit for John, Liam, Keith and Peter in January 1996... It followed 'Fine Time' and 'Alright' to become their third Top 20 hit.
If you're taking notes you'll spot that this is the second track on Now 33 that's a follow-up to a single called 'Alright', and no it's not the same song. I've mentioned before - and may very well mention again, as they crop up a lot on these albums - that I always had a certain soft spot for Cast, especially the first album which contains nothing especially original or unique but is a solid assembly of pop songs. Yes, I said pop songs, because  that's what they really are; some of their audience might have disagreed, but I don't think Cast ever were or particularly wanted to be an alternative to anything, they were - are, in fact, as they reunited and released a new album last year - simply an band who happened to be playing this kind of music in an era when it was called "indie".

By the start of 1996 I'd borrowed a copy of the album but did not own it so it made perfect sense to buy a CD single of one of the standout tracks. I was tempted by the bonus live tracks too, having heard that the band were really good in concert (it was a lot cheaper to test this by paying £1:99 for a single than buying a gig ticket of course). As a throwaway slice of Merseybeat, complete with John Power's heavily-accented vocal ("We're just not a pair...") 'Sandstorm' is a satisfying snack. It's all the better for keeping the running time down to about 2 minutes 42, coincidentally almost exactly the length of 'There She Goes' by the La's, by far the most acclaimed track Power was ever involved in. I got my money's worth, even though the live tracks turned out to be a bit disappointing.

Also appearing on: Now 32, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 43
Available on: Britpop Anthems

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Paul Weller 'Out Of The Sinking'

Chart Peak: 16 [original version 20 in 1994]

YouTube [original version]
'Out Of The Sinking', with its Steve Marriott influence to the fore, was originally a Top 20 success for Paul in November 1994... It is re-activated as part of a special limited edition single package on 26th February 1996.
To be precise, the version that chart in 1996 (and features here) is the album version, rather than the original 1994 single: it's reworked with a new lead vocal from Weller and a prominent backing vocal from Carleen Anderson. By accident or design, Universal have uploaded only the original video to the usual websites, and of course blocked all other uploads so the more famous version is actually the more elusive one online, though it can be heard on Spotify if you use that. As for the "special" single, it had a shiny cover but was otherwise remarkable only for the fact that it was released only for a short period in a successful attempt to frontload sales and score a higher peak position during its one week in the Top 40.

The song itself is one I've always liked but never been entirely bowled over by. As a single from the Stanley Road album I'd probably have chosen the title track, but this does have a certain energy to it, and the rhythm playing is outstanding. The lyric, though difficult to hear, is a slightly awkward attempt to sound mystical and poetic, which doesn't entirely play to his strengths. But he does sing it with a gritty determination, especially on this second version. The subtle use of phasing and dub-influenced effects in the mix make this seem almost like a bridge between the 1993 Wild Wood album and the more straightforward rock style of most of Stanley Road.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 32, 34, 70
Available on: Stanley Road

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Blur 'The Universal'

Chart Peak: 5


'The Universal' made No.5 in November 1995 as the follow-up to 'Country House'... Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave have already recorded another Top 10 success in 1996 with 'Stereotypes' - their 7th consecutive UK Top 20 single.

If you're lucky enough to have the vinyl version of Now 33, I reckon this is the start of Side 2, which offers ten tracks of what might very broadly be called British rock, though not all Britrock let alone Britpop. Blur are obviously most people's idea of a Britpop act, possibly even the defining act of the subgenre; but 'The Universal' is rather a different sort of thing from 'Country House' and despite its slow tempo and luxuriant orchestral arrangement, it was a brave choice of Christmas single. Or at least it would have been had Blur not been so big that pretty much any second single from The Great Escape was guaranteed to enter in the Top 5, alongside tracks by Oasis, Everything But The Girl and Coolio that appear on other Now albums, as well as a single by Robson and Jerome that thankfully doesn't. I think it's to their credit that they (and EMI, I suppose) were willing to use that power to try out slightly more experimental material, and indeed that at this point in their career they were making records that had clear commercial appeal as well as being interesting. It was the more self-consciously arty Blur that began to lose my attention towards the end of the century, no pun intended.

The lyric paints an insidious dystopia, made all the creepier by the promising tone it has: it's not the song of a fascist threatening the populace, nor of the victims protesting, but the sound of false reassurance, of a world where people have effectively chosen to be trapped. You'll doubtless find plenty of conspiracy theorists and political extremists who'll claim that Albarn was being hugely prescient about the 21st century, but I prefer to think that he's looking at a more fundamental element of the human condition, and our natural desire for pampering and hedonism (remember what Alex James was shoving up his nose and down his throat at the time) and for somebody else to take responsibility. I don't know whether some of the odd scansion is an intentional part of the unsettling effect (for what it's worth, on the live radio session on the second CD, he gets the "tomorrow's your lucky day" part slightly wrong) but his deadpan delivery certainly is, as is Graham Coxon's understated guitar playing. In fact the only thing seriously wrong with this is that they whored it out to those gas adverts. They can't need the money, surely?

Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 33, 34, 36, 37, 42, 43
Available on: The Great Escape (Special Edition)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Boyzone 'Father And Son'

Chart Peak: 2

Ronan, Shane, Michael, Keith and Stephen had a massive No.2 smash at Christmas 1995 with this cover of Cat Stevens' 'Father And Son'.
Well, that's certainly true as far as it goes, although I do wonder exactly how much Shane, Michael, Keith and Stephen contributed as they obviously didn't write it (indeed, they weren't born when the original was first released) and there's not much in the way of backing vocals. Even on their fourth single it feels a bit like a dry run for Ronan Keating's solo career, as well as a conscious attempt to attract what Louis Walsh would call the housewife audience. I'd never heard the Cat Stevens version in 1995, nor indeed the flop cover by Sandie Shaw, but one very obvious difference is that Stevens sings the "father" and "son" parts in different tones of voice in an attempt to differentiate the characters, whereas Keating ploughs through the whole thing in a single voice. That would have made the lyrics confusing had I actually listened to this single at the time rather than enduring it. Keating, of course, later solved the problem by recording the song as a duet with Yusuf (as he then was) but that's on Now 60.

Even now that I have heard more versions of the song, I'm still not fond of it. Like a lot of Cat Stevens it seems too pleased with itself, as if this is a more convincing examination of parent-child relations than it really is; you'll remember from what I wrote about various Steps songs on the last album that I've nothing against shallow songs, but I don't like false depth. Still, the sheer perfunctory nature of this version makes it even worse. The best thing about it is that it's over in less than three minutes.

Also appearing on: Now 30, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 71
Available on: Silver Collection

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Connells '74-'75'

Chart Peak: 21 [14 in 1995]

Originally a No.14 hit in August 1995 for brothers David and Mike Connell and their band, but an even bigger hit all over Europe... '74-75' is due for re-release on 4th March 1996.
As it turns out, this was one of those re-issues that ended up charting lower than the first time out. But notice that both its peaks were multiples of the number 7... I'm not sure whether this was one of those re-releases that got more airplay with a lower chart position, although since it failed to return the album to the Top 75, I suspect not. Mind you, that album was originally released in the US as early as 1993 so perhaps it had just had its day; and yes, that does mean that this song is about as long ago now as 74-75 itself was then.

I'm one of many people who've never knowingly heard another song by the Connells, but this one is firmly enough in my memory, and not only because that apostrophe at the start of the song title makes it the first track alphabetically on every MP3 player I've ever owned; I used to have one that reset the shuffle every time I switched it on or off, so that opening acoustic guitar figure was the first thing I heard on my journey to work every day. Well, until I got bored of that and deleted it, at which point '#9 Dream' by John Lennon took over the slot, but I digress. The reason I took that step was that I didn't want to start with exactly the same song every time (and prefer to save slower songs for later in the day) so I kept skipping it every time and ended up never hearing it. It's too good for that.  Thankfully I now have a different MP3 player which enabled me to reinstate the song, and it's much more of a pleasure to hear that guitar. The other main reason I recall this song is that it was ubiquitous on the then-new VH1 channel with that brilliantly simple video, not the most attention-grabbing promo of the era (nor I should imagine one of the most expensive) but one of the most memorable. What I didn't notice through our mono 1990s telly was what a brilliant-sounding record this is, both the subtlety of the arrangements - listen to how the high and low harmonies support that fragile lead vocal in a way that reminds me slightly of Crowded House at their eeriest - and the excellent engineering on those acoustic guitars, the full sounding bass and the clean electric guitar that plays the solo. In fact it's such a brilliant recording I want to listen to it again right now. See you in 4-and-a-half minutes...

Right, back again. The one thing I never paid that much attention to was the lyrics. I sort of knew what they words were, but I never tried too hard to piece together the exact meaning. It's obvious that there's something about the rejection of nostalgia, trying to push away somebody who's more interested in reliving their youth than the protagonist as he is now. If you stretched a point (and ignored chronology) you could almost imagine it was a kind of answer song to 'Disco 2000'. In that context I rather like the fact that the song ends so gradual: the lead vocal stops and the hum of the backing singers continues over the fade, and you can almost picture the singer walking slowly away, shaking his head. It's easier to feel the emotion than precis the words, which is a pretty good thing for music to be doing.

Even though you hardly ever seem to hear this song on the radio, I know I'm not alone in my affection for this song. My mum's always been a big fan of that video, and I remember noted journalist, documentarist and now blogger Pete Paphides tweeting excitedly that he finally owned a copy of this song on vinyl - through the LP version of Now 33, an exciting and rare find in itself. I don't have his luck, but I'm glad enough to have the song somewhere.

Available on: Ring

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Enya 'Anywhere Is'

Chart Peak: 7

Enya has sold millions and millions of records around the world and is therefore fantastically popular... 'Anywhere Is' was a huge No.7 UK hit in November 1996. {sic}
Am I the only one who detects a slightly passive-aggressive tone in that sleeve note? And yes, this is the fourth track in a row to have peaked at 7 in the chart. I don't know if there's some hidden message there. Her last major hit single in the UK (other than by the means of sample), 'Anywhere Is' ranks among her most crossover-friendly tracks, so much so that even I quite like it, perhaps a cousin to her breakthrough hit 'Orinoco Flow'.  Not only is it in English, but the vocals are relatively high in the mix and intelligible. That's a slight disadvantage when she sings "the waves they keep on waving", admittedly. The music combines her familiar ethereal style with more strident piano-led sections whose time signature strangely reminds me of glam rock. It's a rare example of a track where the verses are the hook, rather than the chorus.

Also appearing on: Now 20, 23, 59 [Pirates feat. Enya, Shola Ama, Naila Boss & Ishani]
Available on: The Memory Of Trees

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Meat Loaf 'Not A Dry Eye In The House'

Chart Peak: 7

'Not A Dry Eye In The House' was another UK Top 10 smash for Meat... It was written by top songwriter Diane Warren and peaked at No. 7 in January 1996.
Unlike most singles that peaked at such levels in 1996, 'Dry Eye' didn't enter at that level - it started its chart career outside the Top 20 and swooping up 16 places after he performed it on the National Lottery draw (note for overseas readers: the UK lottery was only launched in 1994 so the novelty had yet to wear off then) and for a while that show became the top promotional appearance every pop star wanted, rather like X-Factor is now. Although the chart performance was unusual (at the time), the record is less so, a retread of the not-exactly-original formula of his previous single 'I'd Lie For You' (also written by Warren). It seems somehow caught between Loaf's typical desire to present something immensely dramatic and Warren's one-dimensional composition.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 32, 65
Available on: Welcome To The Neighbourhood

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Cher 'One By One' (LP Version)

Chart Peak: 7

'One By One' was a huge No. 7 hit for Cher in January 1996... She has now had big UK Top 10 smashes in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
And in fact she managed it in the 2000s as well with 'Music's No Good Without You', though that's her only hit single so far this century. You might think that Cher was something of an about-turn from the Britpop sound of the previous tracks, but in fact there is a connection: the song was written by Tony Griffiths of proto-Britpop group The Real People, though it's fair to say that their original demo recording isn't that Britpoppy. Nonetheless, Griffiths and his brother have a place in the genre's history as it was in their studio that Oasis recorded the demo which got them signed, whilst he also sings backing vocals on their first single 'Supersonic'. The Real People also recorded probably the only Top 100 single named after a place in the Harrow area: 'Rayners Lane'.

Although Johnny Logan had had a hit in Ireland with the song, this is the only well-known version in most of the world. It's a solid mid-tempo rocker which features some really rather good singing from Cher herself, although it's more potboilerish than truly outstanding, mainly because the chorus doesn't quite seem to hit home. The great weakness is Steven Lipson's production, which seemed staid even at the time and is painfully dated now, though it's still rather better than the lightweight pseudo-RnB remix that was released as a single in the USA. This aging (and maybe the fact that it wasn't much of a hit over there) might be why you never seem to hear this one nowadays, but either it's better than I remember it or I'm more open-minded.

Also appearing on: Now 30 (with Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry), 32, 42
Available on: It's A Man's World

Monday, 7 January 2013

Pulp 'Disco 2000'

Chart Peak: 7

'Disco 2000' became Pulp's 3rd huge Top 10 hit of 1995 in December... Jarvis Cocker's songs are perhaps best placed "on a line drawn between Barry White and Alan Bennett" and Pulp have been rightly deemed "purveyors of some of the most beautifully observed vignettes of English life since the Kinks."
 Now, on this occasion I do have a nice coloured 7" to show you, although it's not strictly prototypical to the era, as the single was only released on CD and cassette at the time of its original chart run: the 7" and 12" formats were released a year later as part of a re-issue programme. I'm quite glad I have this outlet to show off for my investment of £2:49 fifteen years ago, because contrary to the label (and indeed to logic) my copy doesn't actually feature the 7" mix, just the standard album version (which is very good of course, but I already had it) - I'm guessing a lot of purchasers of these formats were collectors and uninterested in actually playing the record.

I don't entirely know why the single version was called a 7" mix when no such format existed (no corresponding 12" mix was released, though other remixes do exist) but it's a track worth tracking down if you can. It's slightly longer than the album track and a bit less rocky; it was reworked by Alan Tarney, not exactly a trendy name in the mid-90s but producer of, among other things, 'We Don't Talk Anymore' by Cliff Richard. You can see why this pedigree would appeal to the Pulp aesthetic, with its ironic but genuine appreciation of vintage pop culture, especially since the main riff in the song was widely compared to Laura Branigan's hit 'Gloria', a record it's probably cooler to like now than in 1995. This mix even adds a spoken middle section from Cocker (I don't know whether it was newly recorded for the occasion or merely edited out of the album cut), something that it's fair to say had ceased to become a regular feature of hit singles by this point, and doesn't really seem to have survived the end of Pulp's own chart career, though it's not something I feel urgently needs a revival to be honest. It only works when Jarvis does it, such is his skill in walking the fine line between parody and sincerity. He's claimed that the lyric is based on personal experience, with only a small amount of artistic licence on the details; but whether that's true or not it's an effective portrayal both of unrequited teenage love (and lust) and of nostalgia for lost youth. I'm just about old enough to remember when the year 2000 seemed like the distant future (indeed, when we still called it "the year 2000") and since Jarvis Cocker's about 15  years older than me that places the main action, and the suggestion of a reunion, somewhere in the 1970s; but by the end of the song at least we're clearly hearing from the circa-1995 protagonist reflecting on his lost crush and imagining the possibility of them meeting up. It's a brilliant detail that the chorus specifies a time and place but not a date: it's both realistic (from the teenage perspective) and pathetic. You can almost imagine our man wondering whether to go there on the off-chance every day for a year... and then of course realising how sad that would be. It's this very pathos that keeps the lyric from being maudlin (as if there were a happy ending) or creepy (as it would be if he turned into a stalker). Instead it's just quietly sad and funny.

Credit is also due to Pulp for effectively banning the track from advertising and trails during 1999, which must have cost them some royalties in the short term but stopped us getting too sick of it. And whilst the video is largely outside our remit here, it seems wrong to deny it a cursory mention, if only to notice that Cocker had a sense of humour about his media ubiquity at the time, and perhaps handled it a little more deftly than Supergrass did.

Also appearing on: Now 31, 32, 35, 39
Available on: Different Class

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Supergrass 'Going Out'

Chart Peak: 5

Gaz, Mick and Danny finally broke through big time in 1995 with 'Alright'... This storming follow-up, 'Going Out', is released on 26th February 1996 and is destined to be very large indeed.
Of course we'll never know what might have happened had they been able to supply an immediate follow-up  to the massive success of 'Alright', but as that was already the fourth UK single from their debut album (even more if you count re-releases) they ended up waiting until there were some new songs, this being the first release from their second album, albeit over a year before the rest of the album showed up. Had I known that I might have bought the CD single (I'd have got the 7" had I seen a copy at the time, but I didn't). As it transpired the album version featured a slightly different version of the track anyway, with a different outro replacing the fade, so I can't try and flog my spare copy of In It For The Money to you as a source of the track featured here.

It's also the first release to award a co-writing credit to Gaz Coombes' brother Rob, who might have played on 'Alright' (it's certainly him miming the piano part in the video) but from this point on became a semi-attached fourth member, playing keyboards and appearing in many videos but not in the cover photos; and of course the credit to "Supergrass/R.Coombes" suggests he wasn't quite an official member of the band. 'Going Out' is a cheery if not wholly substantial song, moving them further away from the punky mod-rock of their first album towards a more sixties pop sound. It also belies some of the jadedness that seemed to creep into the band once they became successful, and which is certainly more directly expressed elsewhere on the album.  Allegedly though, it does reflect some tension within the band: Danny Goffey is reported to have thought that lyrics like "If you want to go out... Read it in the papers, tell me what it's all about... Oh no, not me" (which I just took as being thrown in to give Coombes something to sing) were in fact a sly dig at the attention that he and his partner Pearl Lowe were attracting from the tabloid press at the time. To be honest, I didn't even know they were attracting that coverage, they didn't reach Liam & Patsy or even Damon & Justine levels of hype and my only knowledge of Ms Lowe at the time was seeing her band Powder on This Is Britpop Now the year before. I don't know whether the atmosphere was affected by the fact that Goffey's brother Nick was a co-director of the video; I also don't know whether Mick Quinn has a brother and whether he had anything to do with the track, but I felt bad not mentioning him.

This may be the least remembered of their four consecutive Top 5 singles but none the worse for it. Sorry I don't have a nice coloured 7" to photograph for this post though.

Also appearing on: Now 31, 37, 43, 44, 53
Available on: Supergrass Is 10 - The Best Of 94-04

Friday, 4 January 2013

Babylon Zoo 'Spaceman'

Chart Peak: 1 [5 weeks]

'Spaceman',the million-selling debut No1 smash, is 1996's biggest single so far... It's {sic} creator is Jas Mann, the vehicle Babylon Zoo whose name joins "...The Babylonian colour riot of Jas Mann's childhood years in India to the bleak urban zoo of his adolescence in Wolverhampton".

As you might have noticed with the Oasis post, a lot of personal reminiscences are creeping in at this stage. Part of my reason for choosing Now 33 at this juncture is that most of the music is half a lifetime ago for me - all the tracks were hits when I was 17 and I'm 34 now. My strongest Babylon Zoo memory is the kerfuffle that his album The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes caused in the Upper Sixth Common Room: one of my fellow pupils had bought it and I'd arranged to borrow it on behalf of my younger brother. I surmised from the excitement as I transferred the CD to my briefcase that it was an album that many were curious about but very few willing to pay money for: and since it managed only as many weeks on the Top 75 as this single spent at Number One, I seem to have been right. They weren't quite a one-hit-wonder, managing a second Top 20 hit with 'Animal Army' and scraping a final Top 40 appearance with the album's title track, but neither was it the sort of resounding success you can be pretty sure Jas Mann himself expected. So, presumably, did record company executive Clive Black, who had signed the act to two previous employers before finally landing at EMI when the material was ready for release. My recollection of the album itself, by the way, is that the first nine tracks sounded almost identical but with different intros; only the final two songs varied the style a bit and I didn't like them much either. But it's now available cheaply so you can play along with the 1p Album Club if you don't believe me.

There was only a slightly smaller amount of excitement on the Tuesday a few weeks earlier when somebody brought the single of 'Spaceman' itself into the common room. In the days when hefty pre-release promotion of singles was becoming the norm, it had distinguished itself as one of the most anticipated singles of the year because we'd all seen this Levi's advert for several weeks before the release. I was faintly surprised when I heard the full single for the first time and discovered that the sped-up sections used in the ad only bookend the track, with the bulk of the track being the grunge hybrid we all know now. As it turns out, that was an invention of Arthur Baker's remix B-side and wasn't featured at all on the original edit - it was added to the commercial release purely because of the advert. The album version (which accounts for most of the hits on YouTube) differs again, retaining the chipmunk intro but not reprising it at the end. Buyers weren't deterred though, and this bucked the usually quiet January market by selling 418000 copies in its first week, at the time a record for a debuting act (not counting Band Aid and similar charity ensembles). I think it may only have been beaten by charity records and reality show winners since. And it was no seven-day-wonder either, topping the listings for five weeks until it was finally overtaken by Oasis - with hindsight I suspect at least part of the reason the Oasis single got postponed was for fear it couldn't beat 'Spaceman' earlier in its chart run. What the million plus buyers got was a slightly odd glam-grunge hybrid which was clearly supposed to reflect Jas Mann's own experience of being an alien in a strange land, but seems to be submerged too much under the weight of the complex imagery he's bringing in and his desperation to sound important - songwriters often seem prone to throw religious phrases in to try and sound mysterious even if they don't really make sense. I'm thankful to Wikipedia for pointing out that he is not in fact chanting the name of former World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen after the first verse, he's apparently saying "I'll kill you all" instead. Some have claimed in retrospect that Marilyn Manson was inspired by this style in his late-90s work which I guess is not unthinkable, but it's the closest 'Spaceman' comes to a legacy.

Available on: Greatest Hits: 90s

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Oasis 'Don't Look Back In Anger'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]


On 25th February 1996, 'Don't Look Back In Anger' rocketed into the UK chart at No.1... It sold a staggering one quarter of a million copies in just one week- meanwhile the classic 'Wonderwall' just keeps on selling and was still in the Top 30 after an amazing 17 weeks on release - wow!
Young people, you'll have to trust me that in the mid-1990s it was staggering for a song to spend 17 weeks in the Top 30. The turnover's a bit slower now. Nowadays it would also be effectively impossible for the fourth single from an album to enter the chart on such a high weekly sale, as people would have been downloading it throughout the months since the album came out. In 1996 you could still that though, and Oasis did it without any help from me on this occasion (as I recall I was all set to buy it on the original release date but it was postponed and by the time it did come out I'd spent the money elsewhere, and I never got around to it).

Slightly surprising that they go to such lengths to big up 'Wonderwall', the track that's not on this album (regular readers will know that it finally showed up on Now 34, out of chronological sequence). Still, such were the achievements of the band at the time: I always think of 1996 as the year when their fame peaked, despite the paucity of new material they released: it was the year that saw their huge Knebworth gigs, the year the Morning Glory album wouldn't stop selling and the year that ended with their tribute act No Way Sis in the Top 30; their acknowledged tribute band, I should say, since it was also the point when record companies became increasingly desperate to sign up similar-sounding or even -looking acts. It's the time when annoying young men in town centres started wearing parkas in imitation of Liam Gallagher. There were obviously many reasons for the band's ascendancy to mainstream celebrity and their shifting the centre of gravity of Britpop: the need for pop stars tabloids could write about every day as Take That split was clearly one big factor, but it also helped that the two singles they released around the turn of the year, this and the aforementioned 'Wonderwall', were big consensus hits. They were songs that with their big choruses and lack of distorted guitars could appeal to the older generations but because they came from a band that had already made 'Cigarettes & Alcohol' and 'Roll With It' they were treated as rock anthems too. Thus it was that whilst Morning Glory didn't quite get to be the biggest selling album of 1995 or 1996, it was the runner-up both years and the biggest selling album of the decade as a whole and until last week the second-biggest-selling studio album of all time. My mum probably would have bought it if I hadn't beaten her to it and passed my copy on to her when I got married - it's on her iPod now, as we were listening to it in the car on the way home from her house just the other day. Perhaps I should make allowances for the fact that it played just after a Beatles album - albeit Rubber Soul, which ends with the worst Beatles song ever - but it really didn't seem to have dated all that well, sounding remarkably thin.

If I'm honest though, the biggest problem with this track is just overexposure during the 18 months when it was their most recent single: I have a clear memory of standing in a university building in October 1996, hearing this played over the PA and suddenly thinking "I'm not enjoying this". That was not, as you might guess, the last time I heard it and I think it's now the track I own most copies of but don't want to listen to: as well as Now 33 and the album I have it on Shine 5, The Brits 97 and doubtless others I can't remember. Time has rather dulled the appreciation I had of it at the time and made it less of a refreshing change to hear Noel Gallagher as a lead singer, whilst drawing more attention to its flaws. It's not so much the opening reference to 'Imagine' that I mind because that's so lampshaded it's kind of daring you to take umbrage at it. In fact, I must admit that a lot of what's wrong with it is as much about the fact that it foreshadows what would go wrong with Oasis after this, the self-conscious massiveness, slow pace and death-by-overdub that would eventually drown their next album Be Here Now (which broke down the consensus, if not the fame) and which is perhaps most obvious at the very end of the track when it doggedly refuses to finish: Noel sings the title line three times, then sings "I heard you say". Then there's a bit of guitar. Then he sings "At least not today," which is a bit of a poor lyric and ruins the effect. And he's still not finished, there's a big extended chord to follow it. It all feels like Gallagher's attempt to sound monumental, egged on by the sort of fans who sought to find meaning in his obviously thrown-together lyric. On the positive side, at least Alan White's drumming and percussion gave the production a bit of oomph and save it from being the complete sludge-fest it would otherwise have been. He later married (and subsequently divorced) one of the models from the video.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 38, 52, 53, 54, 61, 62
Available on: (What's The Story) Morning Glory

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Queen 'Too Much Love Will Kill You'

Chart Peak: 15


'Too Much Love Will Kill You' was originally a Top 5 hit for Brian May in 1992... This new version, with the late Freddie Mercury's powerful vocals, is released on 26th February 1996.
As you might have guessed, it's not really that new a version. It predates May's solo version, having been recorded in the late 80s for their album The Miracle but left off, reportedly due to contractual problems with the co-writers. It was apparently a personal song for May, hence the release of his own version, but the original was dusted off for the posthumous Made In Heaven album - unlike much of that set, no work seems to have been done on it in the 1990s so the production is even more dated than the rest, showing Queen's least enjoyable and most blandly sentimental side. Mercury's vocal is always going to be an improvement over May's, of course, though it did lead Rob Newman to make the harsh if not entirely inaccurate joke that "No Freddie, too much unprotected sex will kill you".

It doesn't make for the most dramatic opener to Now 33, in all honesty, but it does give Queen the distinction of being the first act to open consecutive Now albums. It's also the first non-Top-10 hit to open one, and still the only one I can think of, aside from the 'Grease Megamix' (a Top 10 hit but long before it opened Now 40). Of course, the record didn't last long since the Spice Girls went on to open Now 34, 35 and 36. It's also the group's last new material to appear in the series; though two further singles were pulled from Made In Heaven and inquorate versions of the act have managed hits since, their only subsequent showing was the reworking of 'Flash' on Now 54.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 15, 16, 19, 21, 25 [with George Michael], 32, 54 [with Vanguard]
Available on: Greatest Hits III

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Metapost: 2013 begins/opening tracks

Happy new year folks

As some of you might know, 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the Now albums, and thus the fifth anniversary of this blog. Whilst these birthdays don't occur until the end of the year, I thought I would led up to it with some lists and features about the albums... Who knows how many I'll actually get round to writing in time, but I'm starting the year in the most obvious way, with a study of the opening tracks on the 83 albums to date.

I've assembled a Spotify playlist for those who want to listen along, although I have to warn you that 4 isn't quite the right version and 7 isn't officially on there, so you'll only hear it if you've already got it on your computer. Naturally this also contains spoilers for possible future posts, so be warned if you actually care about that. List follows after the jump.