Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Technohead 'I Wanna Be A Hippy'

Chart Peak: 6


Technohead are Michael Wells and the late Lee newman... The quirky club anthem 'I Wanna Be A Hippy' has been No1 in Germany and Holland and has now finally made it to No6 in the UK (as of 25th February 1996)
Another one-off appearance, although Wells and Newman have a larger discography than you might think under their various pseudonyms; Wells has continued to record in various guises since Newman died in August 1995. Confusingly, the hit version is a reworking by Dutch producers Party Animals (hence the T-shirts in the video), who then spun off into a career of their own: who could forget their techno version of Olivia Newton John's 'Have You [N]Ever Been Mellow'?

In line with the duo's art-terrorist origins, the song was apparently intended as some sort of psychedelic treatise about drug laws or something, but the version we all know and love is just a sped up voice shouting "I wanna be a hippy and I wanna get stoned" over frantic gabba beats. Or possibly they're happy hardcore, I could never quite work out what the difference was supposed to be. Either it must be said that the mood of this track isn't quite that conventionally associated with a heavy intake of "maro-marijuana", a reference which perhaps surprisingly remains uncensored even here on Now 33. It could perhaps be argued that in some ways it's more subversive to hide such a drug reference in plain sight on a kid-friendly pop record; I do vaguely recall a tabloid controversy about some kids singing it in their school assembly or something. But to be honest, that's quite a stretch for what is ultimately a fun novelty record. In the field of cannabis-related comedy tracks that end Now albums, it's massively better than 'Because I Got High' by Afroman.

Yet again, I feel faintly disappointed that 'Street Spirit' wasn't the last track on the first disc, because it would have been a nice symmetry to put Radiohead at the end of one disc and Technohead at the end of the other. But such is life. At least they're both there.

Available on: Floorfillers Old Skool [+Digital Booklet]

Monday, 25 February 2013

Goldbug 'Whole Lotta Love'

Chart Peak: 3


Goldbug's inspired coupling of Led Zeppelin's legendary 'Whole Lotta Love' and the also legendary Pearl and Dean music gave them a huge Top 3 hit in January 1996.

I wasn't much of a cinemagoer as a kid so I'd never actually heard of the Pearl And Dean music until it was mentioned in the context of this hit. For those still unfamiliar of it, I should explain that it's a piece called "Asteroid", played regularly before the advertisements in British cinemas, hence its position at the start of the record. To be honest, this is more medley than mash-up, as the theme doesn't really appear beyond the intro. The remainder of the track is a relatively straight cover of the Led Zep track and 1970s TotP theme in a slightly jazz-funk like style. It's slightly subverted by the fact that it's sung by a woman - Scottish-born session vocalist Sandy McKenzie - which lessens the tiresome machoness of the original, even if the lyric "gonna give you every inch of my love" doesn't have quite the same meaning from her. This and the lack of that awful wibbly bit in the middle make this preferable to the original (which belatedly became the Zep's first UK hit the following year) for me. Yes, I said that and I stand by it.
Sadly, quite aside from the plagiarism case against Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones (settled out of court), there were various legal and royalty disputes which left nobody making much money out of this single, least of all McKenzie; judging by her local paper she couldn't even afford to be in focus. A second single with a different singer peaked at 108 a year later, and that was it. No other material emerged, and this track remains out of print today, presumably for legal reasons.

Available on: Whole Lotta Love

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Dreadzone 'Little Britain'

Chart Peak: 20


Greg, Tim and Leo scored their breakthrough Top 20 hit with 'Little Britain'... Dreadzone "orbit the world of music, scanning the positive elements to feedback into a unique sound that reflects cultural diversity in the UK..."

As it turned out, this was to be the only Top 40 success for the Big Audio Dynamite spin-off act, although they had several other hits in the lower reaches of the chart and retain a significant following to this day, seeming almost more like a movement than a band. Their one crossover to the mainstream is not necessarily that obviously commercial a track: it's largely instrumental (a vocal version exists but it wasn't the hit) and based around classical samples overlaid with noises various other types. There's a sound at 2:29 that's very like a loon calling, for example. With the dialogue from satirical film If... ("Britain today is a powerhouse") there's obviously something of a mocking intent, something which doesn't quite fit in with the stereotyped image of the mid-1990s "Cool Britannia" era, but there again we were still in the back end of the John Major government at this point. Of course it's likely that many buyers didn't pick up on the political intent at all and just thought it was a good tune - as indeed it is. It still seems the sort of thing that would only have been a hit at a particular time though.

Available on: Second Light (2012 - Remaster)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Saint Etienne 'He's On The Phone'

Chart Peak: 11


Pete Wiggs, Bob Stanley and Sarah Cracknell are Saint Etienne.. They have been turing out classy hit tunes since 1991 and 'He's On The Phone', which made No. 11 in late 1995, is their biggest hit to date in Britain.
Normally, I can write these posts without having to contemplate the possibility that the subjects will ever see them. However, it did cross my mind in this case, since Bob Stanley (the seated keyboard player in this song's video) is known to be a Now! fan and owns a complete set of the albums; in 2009 he thanked 72 fans who'd assisted him in assembling this complete collection by sending them a unique EP of rare tracks. In fact it was I who informed him via Twitter that long-serving Now compiler Ashley Abram had been replaced for Now 82 (unless of course he already knew this and was just being polite). With that background it's not totally unthinkable that he might at some point see this post, although I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if he did.

You can imagine it might be a bit of a disappointment to him that this is the group's only appearance (though of course Sarah Cracknell gets another bite of the cherry on Now 69) but it seems fitting that it's with what remains their highest-charting single under their own steam ('Tell Me Why (The Riddle)' by Paul Van Dyk feat. Saint Etienne made the Top 10 in 2000 but arguably doesn't count). Strictly speaking, the correct credit on this is "...featuring Etienne Daho" but the French pop star's name presumably wouldn't have contributed much to British sales of the single. As far as I know his only performance on this track is the spoken monologue in the middle, although he earns his writing credit since the track is a remix of a song from the two Etiennes' collaborative EP/mini-album thing Reserection. It's based on an Anglicisation of his 1984 Francophone hit 'Week-End A Rome', though the Cracknell/Stanley/Wiggs lyric isn't a translation but adds an entirely new storyline about a student (or "academia girl" as they put it) having an ill-advised fling with a married, presumably much older man and regretting it. There are some good pieces of imagery in there, not least the opening lines where the girl leaves "shoes in hand" so as not to make a sound whilst her lover's using the phone, these being the days when he'd plausibly still have had to sit in a specific place to do so. For single release the track was remixed by Steve Rodway, better known as Motiv 8, who also co-wrote 'Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit' by Gina G, and as somebody tweeted just seconds before I started writing this sentence, 'Atmosphere' by Russ Abbott. It's Rodway's production that is arguably the weakest link in the track today as it sounds very much of its time, and whilst this was presumably the intention it does mean this isn't quite as joyous a record to hear now as it was in the mid-90s. Still, it's hard not to react bodily at that moment when the beat comes back in after the quiet bit.

So, er, yeah, Bob if you're reading this, well done.

Available on: London Conversations

Monday, 18 February 2013

Dubstar 'Not So Manic Now'

Chart Peak: 18


The Newcastle based band Dubstar scored their first big hit with the sumptuous 'Not So Manic Now'... It made the Top 20 at the beginning of 1996 and they plan to re-release their first single 'Stars' shortly.
And to save you looking it up, I can confirm that they did indeed re-release 'Stars'; including that they had a further five Top 40 singles until the year 2000, although without further Now appearances. Whilst it was neither their first nor their biggest hit, 'Not So Manic Now' is perhaps the song for which Dubstar are most remembered nowadays, although unfortunately for their bank balances it's their only single that wasn't an original; it's a cover of an obscure track by Brick Supply, who were apparently also from Yorkshire and presumably personal acquaintances of the band.

Its origins notwithstanding, the track fits seamlessly into the Dubstar style, sugar-coating a dark lyric about a traumatic attack on a pensioner in a tower block with a bright electronic melody and Sarah Blackwood's clear and heavily accented vocal. It's not a wholly original formula - the Pet Shop Boys are but one obvious precedent - but it's brilliantly executed here, creating a major radio hit at the time and one of the key singles of the Britpop era. Indeed a YouTube commenter reports seeing an actual elderly person enjoy this one on the radio. They weren't always this excellent but they were a solid singles act of their day and deserved  better than the drift into obscurity that befell them. Although last year they, like pretty much every otehr act of the era, reunited and released obscure single from a planned fourth album.

Available on: Disgraceful

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Louise 'In Walked Love'

Chart Peak: 7


Due for release on 4th March 1996, 'In Walked Love' is Louise's hot follow-up to her debut top 10 solo success 'Light Of My Life'.
Hot is not the word I'd use for this song, another from the pen of blandness queen Diane Warren but given a vaguely RnB production by Simon Climie, who doesn't really seem to know what he's doing. It's not one of Warren's more memorable songs and Climie's attempt to make it sound less like a power ballad leave it falling between stools. A star name and glamourous video were enough to lift it to the Top 10 at the time, but like the bulk of her solo material (and Eternal's, come to that) it's almost entirely forgotten now.

Also appearing on: Now 32, 34, 35, 38, 39, 46, 47, 50, 56
Available on: This Is... 1996

Friday, 15 February 2013

Ace Of Base 'Beautiful Life'

Chart Peak: 15

Swedish quartet Ace Of Base have sold a simple staggering 19 million copies of their debut album Happy Nation... This track, 'Beautiful Life', is the first big hit from their new project.
It seems like a fairly specialist definition of "big hit" that encompasses this Number 15 but not 'Lucky Love', which peaked at 20 and hardly seemed to be off MTV Europe back then. It was the first hit from the album in the US, though, where it also peaked at the same position as it did here.

Reading through the tracklisting, I thought this one would be a bit of a departure from the dance sound of the previous few tracks, but this is actually a lot more Eurodance than I remember it. It was apparently written on New Year's Day 1994 so maybe Jonas Berggren (the one with a beard who has nothing to do in the video) had been out clubbing the night before? It would certainly fit in with the happy-clappy mood of the song, even if it doesn't explain why that video shows them being coughed up from a blonde woman's mouth.

Also appearing on: 25, 27, 28, 41, 42
Available on: The Bridge

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Ken Doh 'I Need A Lover Tonight'

Chart Peak: 7

'I Need A Lover Tonight' is the lead track from the Ken Doh EP due for release 18th March 1996... It is already huge in clubland and may well disturb the higher echelons of the pop chart in the near future.
I promise I didn't intentionally plan for this song title to show up on this date, but it is sort of neat. Although this track is more commonly known as 'Nakasaki', also the EP title; that is of course a reference to the masked wrestler Kendo Nagasaki who was later sensationally revealed to be... somebody you'd never heard of.

It's handy to have that angle to work on, because this is really just another big-voiced dance anthem, albeit a male voice on this occasion. I suspect that again this vocal was a later addition to the track but it doesn't seem as well-documented as the last couple of numbers. It's definitely the vocal edit on Now 33 this time, anyway. As these sort of efforts go, it's pleasant in the way of, say, 'I Love U Baby' by The Original, but doesn't seem a real standout as either dance or soul.

Available on: The No.1 90s Album

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Gusto 'Disco's Revenge'

Chart Peak: 9

New Jersy 's happening DJ Gusto flew into the UK chart at No. 9 on 25th February 1996 with the magnificent 'Disco's Revenge'... He will be 25 in July this year.
Another one-off dance appearance, though Gusto did at least manage a second minor hit with a version of 'Let's All Chant' - you'll notice that the record company rather economically used the same footage for both videos. 'Disco's Revenge' itself is presumably so called because it's based on a sample from 'Groovin You', a crossover disco hit by jazz drummer Harvey Mason. Though as so much 90s dance was funk and disco based anyway, it's not really that remarkable a thing to do. Still it makes for an enjoyable if not vastly memorable track with a good bassline (that probably sounds even better through a serious sound system).

Although what we have here is the original near-instrumental version, a more commercially-oriented mix with a full vocal exists and had a video, although how commercial it is to accuse somebody of having a small penis I'm not sure. At least adding a bit of humour makes it more enjoyable than most vocalised dance hits and more engaging than the previous track.

Available on: Anthems 90s

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Gat Decor 'Passion (Do You Want It Right Now Edit)'

Chart Peak: 6 [original version: 29 in 1992]


'Passion' has been huge in the clubs for the last 4 years... March 1996 will see it finally hit the UK Top 10 in a very large way indeed.
You know, as ways to hit the Top 10 go, peaking at 6 is only slightly big really. The massiveness of this track  in clubs had in all honesty eluded me, but by all accounts it was being spun regularly ever since its original release back in 1992. According to people who understand this stuff it was a pioneering example of the progressive house sound, and thus progenitor of those piano loops we non-clubbers were so tired of by the mid-90s.

At some point bootlegs began to circulate with the vocals from 'Do You Want It Right Now' by Degrees Of Motion featuring Biti, another club hit that hadn't translated to the Top 20 (itself a cover of an old track recorded by Taylor Dayne and Seidah Garrett). Eventually chief Gat Decorator Simon Slater responded to the demand with a legal version, the vocal re-recorded yet again by session singer Beverley Skeete. Two club hits made one pop hit, apparently, although strangely only one other Gat Decor single has ever emerged, and even that seems not to have charted at all. One reference book claims that this was also used as the theme to Ski Sunday, which I don't really believe. The lyric made another reappearance with Armand Van Helden in 2007, but what Gat Decor have added is not obvious to me.

Available on: Floorfillers Old Skool

Monday, 11 February 2013

Baby D 'So Pure'

Chart Peak: 3


'So Pure' was the third consecutive Top 5 smash for Baby D... It was a No. 3 monster in January 1996 following 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy' and 'I Need Your Lovin'.
Fans of 90s dance video cliches will enjoy the fact that the one for this features both non-singing members of the band trying to look hard and people dancing in a scrapyard. I also rather love the fact that the uploader's thought to mention that this peaked at 38 in Sweden.

In an interesting chart career, Baby D had three consecutive Top 3 hits in three consecutive years, although this is by far the least-remembered of them. They scored a fourth Top 40 later in 1996, though their only chart appearance thereafter was a 2000 remix of their chart-topper 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy'. Apparently they've continued to perform but not added to the discography. I can't have heard 'So Pure' for over 15 years before I bought my copy of Now 33 but I was pleased with how it had aged, a combination of their usual house and trance sounds with drum & bass, and a surprisingly good fit too. Maybe not a masterpiece and certainly not their finest work but a track that deserves to be remembered.

Also appearing on: Now 31
Available on: Deliverance

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Shaggy featuring Grand Puba 'Why You Treat Me So Bad'

Chart Peak: 11


'Why You Treat Me So Bad' was Shaggy's 4th big UK hit... It followed 'Oh Carolina', 'In The Summertime' and 'Boombastic' inot the UK chart in January 1996.

Because Shaggy seems to have been around forever, it's hard to believe he'd only had as few as four hits at this point. Especially since he has had so many hits that failed to stick in the memory, including this utterly forgotten number. As far as I can tell it has no connection to the Club Nouveau song sampled by Luniz a couple of tracks ago, but does contain elements of Bob Marley's 'Mr Brown'. And of course it also features US rapper Grand Puba, a sometime member of Brand Nubians.  I presume his stage name is meant to be pronounced like "poobah", though my brother couldn't resist pronouncing it like the start of the word "pubic"; to be honest, neither version is really optimal for a British audience. But then, this sounds very like an attempt to attract a US audience, although as it turned out it only got 108 over there. Still, it doesn't appeal to me either much.

Also appearing on: Now 24, 31 [with Rayvon], 32, 34 [with Maxi Priest], 48 [with Rikrok], 51 [with Ali G]
Available on: The Best Of Shaggy

Friday, 8 February 2013

Kaliphz featuring Prince Naseem 'Walk Like A Champion'

Chart Peak: 23

The mighty Prince Naseem teams up with the mighty Kaliphz for 'Walk Like A Champion'... It is due for release around 18th March 1996.
Yes, this happened. Although I suppose if you were working at a record company and Prince Naseem came in with this track, you wouldn't tell him if you didn't think it was any good, would you?

The few sport-related tracks that appear on Now albums are a bit of challenge to me, as one with little sporting knowledge, but Naseem Hamed was one of those stars who even I'd heard of at the time, such was his success and personality. So at least I knew who he was when he showed up on TotP with underground hip-hop collective Kaliphz, although I can't say it made a huge amount of sense. Sadly that footage isn't on YouTube and neither is the promo video (if indeed there was one), so I can't be sure exactly who performs which lines; however logic suggests that it's the Prince himself who raps "I'll make your whole world crumble like a biscuit, don't risk it". He apparently didn't write any of the lyrics though.

Most of the record buying public seem to have been as confused as I was, hence the underwhelming chart performance. If it was a last-ditch attempt to save their major-label contract, it didn't succeed. They later changed their name to Kaleef and signed up with Pete Waterman(!), scoring their biggest hit with a rap version of 'Golden Brown'. According to YouTube they also covered 'Downtown', if that's the same Kaleef. Prince Naseem himself retired from the ring just over a decade ago, though he seems to have resisted the temptation to return to the recording studio. I'm OK with that.


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Luniz 'I Got 5 On It'

Chart Peak: 3

'I Got 5 On It' raced into the UK Top 3 on release in February 1996... It had already been a monster hit all over Europe for these lively young fellas.
Not surely "lively" is exactly how I'd describe them, nor how they'd like to be, given that this song is fairly blatantly about the desire to smoke cannabis - specifically, apparently, the reference to 5 means that they're offering to go halves on a ten-dollar bag of the stuff. If I've learnt anything from 1990s popular culture, it's that one of the most prevalent effects of dope is to induce massive overestimation of how interesting the subject actually is to the rest of us. Admittedly, this only lasts about four minutes so it's not as bad as the fame of Howard Marks, but it's still a pretty boring subject lyrically.

At the time, this track never seemed to be off the music TV channels and I soon grew to hate it, shunning it to the extent that I didn't realise Luniz were only a duo (not counting Michael Marshall, who sings the chorus but has only been given co-credit in retrospect). In subsequent years I've discovered two things: firstly, that it actually has a fairly decent West-Coast-style backing track, which has been sampled a few times; and secondly that that track itself is heavily dependent on samples. The main sample is from Club Nouveau's 'Why You Treat Me Me So Bad', which is itself derived from 'Thinking About You' by Timex Social Club, another track that features Michael Marshall. This one is listenable now if tiresome.

Luniz weren't quite a one-hit wonder - they had a second Top 20 with 'Playa Hata' and a remix of this track was a hit in 1998 - but they seem to fall into that category of hip-hop acts who struggled to attract a permanent audience.

Available on: Original Hits - All American

Metapost: some linkage

According to the Iplayer website you've got until 2099 to listen to The Art Of Sequencing, a documentary presented by Guy Garvey (who appears on Now 83), and also featuring Nick Mason from Pink Floyd (Now 66, sort of) and members of Field Music, Van der Graaf Generator and I Am Kloot, who've yet to appear in the series. It also includes a brief contribution from Ashley Abram, compiler of everything from Now II to Now 81, about the sequencing of these albums, in which he refers to the history of Queen's appearances, and their insistence on only appearing at the very start of the albums; his memory isn't totally accurate, as it happens, but it is true that only twice do they appear in a place where they're not at least the start of the side: and one of those is the hidden track of 'A Kind Of Magic' on Now 7.
Anyway, it's an interesting programme in its own right and worth a spare half-hour.

Meanwhile, this piece about people's first record purchases includes a topical addition from one Alex Hannon.

And it would be wrong not to mention our friends and colleagues at The Shine Years and 1p Album Club.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

East 17 'Thunder'

Chart Peak: 4

Tony, Brian, John and Terry have been consistent hitmakers around the world since 1992... 'Thunder' steamed into the UK chart at No. 4 and spent 11 weeks in the Top 40 up to January 1996.
In case you thought the bit about steaming into the chart was a mixed metaphor, I think it's a pun on the title of their album Steam, although that would have worked better had this song come from that album: it's actually the first release from their third set Up All Night, which is surely the only possible explanation for it making the Top 5. That "around the world" line may also be a reference to their 1994 hit of the same title.

By this point, the band did seem to be - ahem - running out of steam. And whilst the album was another inevitable Top 10 entry for them, it lasted less than half as long on the chart as each of the previous two. That's not an uncommon pattern for the modern boy-band, whose biggest-selling album is almost always their first, and you suspect that the record company must have noticed too, as they don't exactly seem to have gone crazy with the video budget here. 'Thunder' is a bit of an odd song, combining the pretentious chorus lyric "When the thunder calls you/Under purple sun/To the place where horses run" with verses which try to sound vulnerable in the face of love, not a mood that seems to come naturally to the usually cocky group, nor a combination that makes any sense. Tony Mortimer does an amazingly shoddy rap in the middle and the two who aren't him or Brian Harvey wander around a bit in the background. Er, that's it.

In my last posting about East 17, I mentioned that they'd reformed again, replacing Brian Harvey with an X-Factor contestant. Just to keep you posted, they later ditched the frontman, and the remaining trio of founding members released a new album last year with a new musical direction they think sounds like Kings Of Leon, although it sounds to me more like Wet Wet Wet. You have to love the "driving me crazy" mime though.

Also appearing on: Now 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31, 35 (with Gabrielle), 36, 41 (as E-17)
Available on: Thunder

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Gabrielle 'Give Me A Little More Time'

Chart Peak: 5


'Give Me A Little More Time', with its big and brassy Motown influence, returned Gabrielle to the Top 20 in February 1996... It is actually her 5th UK Top 30 hit and could emulate her 1993 smashes 'Dreams' and 'Going Nowhere'.
It's not spelt out exactly how it might emulate those two songs, but its eventual chart peak is roughly half-way between theirs of 1 and 9 respectively: it also seems to sit about in the middle of them in posterity, neither a well known as her debut single nor as comprehensively forgotten as its follow-up. By this point in history it was getting pretty rare for a track still to be climbing the chart as the Now album went to press, although as you'll have seen in earlier sleeve notes it wasn't uncommon for them to have to include a track that hadn't even been released by the printers' deadline. It was by 1996 standards extraordinary that the aptly-titled 'Give Me A Little More Time' had to wait for its fifth chart week to reach its highest chart placing; given that it sat at 5 for three weeks it's a reasonable bet that had it enjoyed the more concentrated sales most singles had in those days it would have been a Top 3 hit at least. The fact that it didn't is perhaps indicative of the struggle she had to re-establish herself after the unloved follow-ups to her first hit and the two year break during which she had some difficulties in her personal life. When she finally re-emerged with a new image (her lazy eye now hidden behind a fringe rather than the eyepatch) and a fresh set of songs, fashion seemed to have moved on a little and the world didn't seem as ready, so it was lucky for all concerned that she came back with such a stormer of a single.

I've said before in other contexts that the strident brassy sound suggests Stax or Atlantic to me more than Motown, but this is a bit picky of me. It's certainly in the right area and whereas most songs that are described as having a retro-soul influence merely adopt isolated elements of the production (usually the tambourines) this one has sixties soul all the way through it; even though the beat is presumably programmed it's got the right sort of ambience and feel about it to make you imagine that there are a team of crack studio musicians with rock-solid timing on there and that they're all playing together in a small room. Even the mix does its bit, with so little stereo separation you could mistake it for mono. Of course, even the most perfect pastiche is at risk of seeming pointless, but that's not a problem I ever had with this particular song, which I liked even before I'd listened closely enough to realise how faithful it was to the sound; having grown up hearing old soul music it never struck me as unusual to hear a song in this style. Although the lyric breaks no new ground, it benefits from that slightly chatty, down-to-earth tone of her best songs, and it's easy to imagine her fumbling around how to express her feelings about her friend, and how to deal with the possibility that they might be reciprocated. Even the slightly inconclusive fade on the single edit helps convey the uncertainty: I've never checked what happens in the extra minute or so of the album version, and I was determined to find a link to the correct version - irrelevant as it is to the song, I always quite liked the final shot in the video where the French kids realise there's a camera pointed at them.

Just in case you didn't believe me about Simply Red going downhill after this period, you can see a bit of his ill-advised collaboration with the Fugees in this clip of Gabrielle accepting the first ever MOBO for best single. She deserved it too.

Also appearing on: 25, 26, 33, 27 (with East 17), 36, 44, 45, 46, 47, 49, 50, 58
Available on: Gabrielle

Monday, 4 February 2013

Simply Red 'Never Never Love'

Chart Peak: 18


Sometimes it's very hard to resist the single-sentence dismissal, along the lines of "I will never, never love this record". Indeed, his/their previous single 'Remembering The First Time' inspired one of my favourite ever such responses in a review on Teletext: "Not to be confused with Pulp's Do You Remember The First Time, or with any other decent record." I admit to adapting that line once or twice over the years.

Anyway, the final appearance of Mick Hucknall and his employees catches him in bland, time-serving mode, a far cry from the mildly triumphant return of 'Fairground'. Although the talk of "good revolution" hints at the politicised tone of some of the band's early work, it's all so vague and soppy as to be meaningless, and his vocal on the chorus is annoyingly thin on headphones. Not a great way to bow out, though worse singles were to come, and Hucknall's awful soul covers as a solo artist almost make you pine for this.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 7, 9, 20, 21, 23, 24, 32
Available on: The Greatest Hits

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Etta James 'I Just Want To Make Love To You'

Chart Peak: 5


Los Angeles born Etta James Hawkins scored her first British hit single in 1996 at the age of 57 (approx.)... Her version of Willie Dixon's classic 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' shot into our Top 5 in February 1996 after its use on the "Diet Coke" Ad.

And indeed her only other credited Top 40 hit came with the revival of the perennial 'At Last' (of which this was the original US B-side in 1961) after her death just over a year ago; though by an odd coincidence her voice was also on two of the Top 10 singles that week - she was sampled on Avicii's 'Levels' which was in turn sampled for 'Good Feeling' by Flo Rida. As the note explains, this one-off success was the product of a commercial, which is a fact that perhaps doesn't reflect too positively on the UK record-buying public. But the song (originally written by blues great and Led Zep plagiarism victim Willie Dixon) was not unfamiliar beforehand and whilst it's not my favourite item in Etta's catalogue it's a powerful record in its own right, thanks largely to her extraordinary vocal: when she tears into that first verse, her singing is almost too good for the early 1960s microphone.

Despite the number of times it's been covered, it's a difficult song to sing because it's so hard to stay the right side of sounding like a sex offender. It requires a very special perfomance to make the sexuality sound heartfelt and directed - about attraction to a particular person at a particular time - without camping it up or just sounding ridiculously priapic. Even though this song was written by a man (and originally made famous by another man, Muddy Waters) this version is one of the most powerful expressions of female sexuality I've ever heard on a record, because it's not just playing up to a male fantasy. I almost feel sorry for Eternal, because knowing this track was coming up next can't have improved my opinion of their attempt at soul music. But I'm sure they'd agree that her catalogue is worth investigating and you could do far worse than pick up the Chess singles collection; especially if, like my wife, you were smart enough to do so while she was still alive. In the light of recent events, it's seeming increasingly possible that her final album might also prove to have been the last thing I ever bought in HMV, though it's hardly in the same league as this and the rest of the work she did at her peak.

Available on: The Very Best Of Etta James: The Chess Singles

Friday, 1 February 2013

Metapost: The Missing Million-Sellers

Second in my monthly-so-far list series, a selection of big million-sellers (since 1983) that didn't find a home in the Now series. I've excluded Christmas songs and some charity releases as they wouldn't be expected to show up, and also 'Impossible' by James Arthur, the most recent single to make seven figures, as that's all but guaranteed to show up on Now 84.
Again, possible spoilers after the jump.