Friday, 31 May 2013

Justin 'Over You'

Chart Peak: 11

Justin had his first taste of the limelight when he was selected from scores of aspiring stars to appear in the children's TV series The Fame Game... And on his fifteenth birthday the Glaswegian singer had lots to celebrate - he got his first recording contract with Virgin Records!
Being out of the regular children's TV audience by the late 1990s, I don't really recall what The Fame Game was, but I don't think he was an actor, I think it was meant to be a documentary about Justin (Osuji)'s experiences as a teenager in the music industry. I do remember some hype about the release of his debut single, a cover of Beatles B-side 'This Boy'. It's presumably because there was a telly programme still running that the project wasn't abandoned when that only got to 34, though a rethink was clearly needed for the second single, with sixties nostalgia abandoned in favour of the emerging trend for anonymous songs written by Scandinavians. 'Over You' sounds like something that might have been turned down by the Backstreet Boys, and a year or so later might even have made it to a Westlife album track. There's nothing memorable about it - I've forgotten it in the time it's taken to type up this post - and his singing is frankly not that great either, though in fairness this may have more to do with the material and production than his inate ability. Despite a decent chart position in January, it wasn't really enough to build a career on, and his third single was another to peak at 34. He made the Top 20 with a half-decent cover of the Everlys' 'Let It Be Me' and released an album to little excitement, before the game was up.

Available on: EMI Presents 'The Great Big Scottish Songbook'

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Sash! 'Colour The World'

Chart Peak: 15

Sash!'s European house sound has been a huge success both in clubs and in the charts over the last two years... Since debut smash 'Encore Une Fois', Sash! has had five Top 5 singles and two Top 10 albums in the UK alone.
It's not exactly a curse, but this glowing report on their massive success was the beginning of the end for Sash! in the UK chart, though they did manage three more Top 10 hits in 2000. 'Colour The World' remains their only single to chart below 10, despite the presence of Dr Alban in his only Now appearence; perhaps it's unhelpful that this is one of their few hits in English, thus allowing Anglophones to consider the lyrical content. In fact, thanks to the Danish Dr (actually a dentist) there are a lot more words than we normally get on a Sash! single, and it's not a style that really suits them all that well. It's the big anthems with minimal lyrics that are their real metier, and the more they attempt conventional songwriting, the more obvious it is that they can't do it. The song mostly sounds tired.

Also appearing on: Now 36, 37 [with Rodrigues], 38 [with LaTrec], 39, 41 [with Shannon], 45, 71 [with Stunt]
Available on: Life Goes On (The Remix Edition)

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Fool Boona 'Popped'

Chart Peak: 52

Based on the classic Iggy Pop tune 'The Passenger', originally recorded in 1977, Fool Boona's interpretation 'Popped' is scheduled for release on March 22nd and is already going down a storm on dancefloors across the UK.
It can be quite an education doing this blog sometimes. I remember seeing a lot of copies of this single in the shops, in its psuedo-Roy Liechtenstein sleeve, but I'd never actually heard it nor even known what it was until I picked up Now 42 a couple of years ago. Seemingly, both retailers and Ashley Abram overestimated the demand for this single. I've also learnt that Colin Tevendale was  Fool Boona's real name. It apparently took him and two other people to write this, not counting Iggy Pop and his original co-writer Ricky Gardiner.

As the note says, Iggy's version does indeed date back to 1977, when it appeared on his Lust For Life album, though its only single release at the time was as a B-side. It finally got promoted to A-side status in 1998 after it was used in a TV commercial (the phrase "get into the car" featuring prominently) and it was presumably airplay of that release that spawned this version. 'Popped' is based not on the distinctive rattling riff of the verse/chorus sections (reportedly inspired by the S-Bahn in Berlin) but on the "La-la-la-la-la-la-la" section sung in the original by Iggy and the producer David Bowie, seemingly in an old man's voice. Not only does this not sample the original, it's not even a convincing soundalike, the vocal closer to Neil Hannon than anyone who was actually an adult in 1977. If you want to hear somebody singing the most annoying part of a classic song over and over again, then you might enjoy this, but it seems most people didn't.

Available on: Popped

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

DJ Sakin And Friends 'Protect Your Mind (For The Love Of A Princess)'

Chart Peak: 3

Based on the orchestral theme from Braveheart and featuring the vocals of Janet Taylor, this "epic mix of cinematic sound and solid dancefloor rhythm" was a No. 3 hit for leading German producer DJ Sakin, in February 1999.
And the cover versions just keep coming. The vocal refrain doesn't seem to form part of James Horner's original orchestration, though it's not exactly lyrically deep, and nor is it meant to be. The whole point is for Sakin (Bozkurt) and his friends (who include Torsten Stenzel of York "fame") to pick on a familiar theme and  remodel it for trance clubs. And I can see that they've succeeded to the extent that this sounds like a trance record to me, pulling out all the usual sounds you'd expect.

This for me is the nub of the problem, trance is perhaps the most difficult type of music on the albums for me to get my head around. It seems so determinedly and openly formulaic that the appeal of each individual track is more elusive to me; not that rock, hip-hop, RnB and other types of music are any less prone to formula in reality, but there seems to be more of an incentive there to pretend otherwise. To an outsider, it feels like the trance audience are actively seeking to hear the same sounds over and over again on every track, the same synths, the same breakdowns, the same beats and a very small range of tempo. That's fine if that's what they want but it does make it harder for the rest of us to understand. Meanwhile it leaves me wondering why the track wasn't called "Protect Your Mind (Braveheart)' on its original UK release, as it seems to be now - I'd guess there must have been some contractual issues about the use of the film title on an unofficial product. Perhaps there's some story about how much of this music seems to be made by second-generation immigrants to Germany too.

Available on: Protect Your Mind - Braveheart

Monday, 27 May 2013

Emmie 'More Than This'

Chart Peak: 5

Twenty-one year-old singer/songwriter Emmie is the latest musical talent to come out of Manchester... Her interpretation of the 1982 Roxy Music hit 'More Than this' launched her firmly into the pop arena in January '99.
Well, maybe not that firmly, as she never troubled the Top 40 again in this guise - the only other hit to credit Emmie was a version of 'I Won't Let You Down' by PHD which peaked at 53. I suppose she had a thing about songs from 1982. Though many will know 'More Than This' as performed by Roxy Music, it may be that the greater influence on this was the version by a post-Natalie Merchant 10,000 Maniacs, which was released with remixes by Todd Terry and, unlike the original, made the Top 40 in the US.

This version pursues the dance direction still further, thanks to producer (and husband) Mark Hadfield, also a member of Lucid. It's a sort of pop-trance version of the song that I can imagine doing well in clubs - and it presumably did, if they could get it into the Top 5 even in January - but it's all very anonymous, the sort of thing you'd normally see charting under the producer's name rather than the singer's, so perhaps it's not entirely surprising that this didn't launch a musical career for her. Fortunately, Emma Morton-Smith had a parallel career as a TV presenter, and was seen around this time by bleary-eyed people as co-host of zero-budget cable TV quiz show Noddy's Electric Ladyland (all? 31 episodes are now on YouTube).

Available on: More Than This

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Deetah 'El Paraiso Rico'

Chart Peak: 39


Blues, salsa and jazz are just some of the musical styles Deetah cites as having a major influence upon her unique sound... Her music has been described as "a balance of hip hop hardcore and feminine softness".

A bit of progress here, this track samples a song from the 80s instead of the 70s. A Chilean-born Swede who seems to have been in the UK at the time, Deetah (Claudia Ogalde) had her second hit with a song based on the melody of Madonna's 'La Isla Bonita', replacing the original lyric with a sermon about the importance of non-monetary riches. Including the composers of the original song, this somehow took seven people to write, though it's hard to see exactly why.

It doesn't sound as annoying now as it did at the time, although it still has a slightly hectoring, preachy quality a bit like Jessie J's 'Price Tag'. But at best it just makes me wish I was listening to 'La Isla Bonita' instead, a risky thing to do on a Now! album of all places. Record buyers don't seem to have been much charmed either, as this barely qualified as a Top 40 hit. She made one more chart appearance as a guest vocalist on a single by Richard Blackwood which won't trouble us here, though producer Bloodshy went on to a more illustrious career.

Also appearing on: Now 41
Available on: Deep Blue Sea (Music From The Motion Picture)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A+ 'Enjoy Yourself'

Chart Peak: 5


Teenage rapper A+ (AKA Andre Lewis) hails from Hempstead, Long Island... Since his mother first entered him for talent shows at the age nine, his career has been on the up, and he became the first act to be signed to Kedar entertainment alongside Chico Debarge and Erykah Badu.
We're still in disco-era sample territory here, since the track is based on Walter Murphy's 'A Fifth Of Beethoven', which of course wasn't composed in the twentieth century but it's Murphy who gets the writing credit here. Still, it's estimated that Ludwig Van Beethoven has sold over a million singles in the UK as a songwriter. The chorus is not entirely unlike the Jacksons hit with which it shares its title (Michael Jackson's first ever music video, apparently), though there's no writing credit for Gamble and Huff here. Neither is there one for Lewis himself, suggesting that he's not entirely to blame for the lyric, which is constructed entirely from cliche. In fact, this song is so lacking in any distinctive features that it's hard to remember now why it did so well - especially as it wasn't much of a hit in America, peaking at 50 on the RnB chart. Presumably for this reason, the label pulled the plug and no further singles were issued, making him a true one-hit wonder. Unsurprisingly, there are various references online to Lewis attempting to restart his career as an adult though none has yet really taken hold.

I've tried to resist doing this, but I can't. I give this song a C-.

Available on: Hempstead High [JP-Import]

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Blockster 'You Should Be...'

Chart Peak: 3


Brandon Block and friends A.K.A. Blockster, had a huge No. 3 hit in January '99 with 'You Should Be...' In keeping with the current disco revival, the track is based on the Bee Gees massive hit 'You Should Be Dancing' first released in 1976.

Nowadays, Brandon Block is probably most remembered for walking on stage unexpectedly during the 2000 Brit Awards, one clip which helpfully is still online. Before then he apparently began his career as a DJ in the John Lyon Pub here in Harrow, just down the road from Northwick Park Hospital - it later became a Berni Inn, a Beefeater, a Hungry Horse (?) and is now an Indian Restaurant called Mumbai Junction. Sorry, you probably didn't need to know that but I don't often get to use my local knowledge on here.

Anyway, he went on from this to become a superstar DJ and, with some inevitability, took to making his own records. His biggest hit is, effectively, a cover of the Bee Gees hit, with the falsetto vocals duplicated by unnamed session singers and some more contemporary dance production. I can see that it was probably cheaper than getting the rights to remix the original if he wanted to play it in a club, but it's not really very interesting to hear anywhere else. I found it deeply annoying in 1999, and still would if I heard it with any regularity.

Available on: 100% Driving

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Ace Of Base 'Always Have, Always Will'

Chart Peak: 12

Swedish pop sensations Ace Of Base are fast following in the footsteps of fellow Swede legends Abba - their debut album Happy Nation sold 21 million copies worldwide and they have already won four World Music Awards.
Another Abba reference? It's a slightly odd note they've written there; odd to talk up the the sales of their first album when this track was from their third, and seems a bit desperate to claim the entirely sales-based World Music Awards (all four of which were won for "Biggest-Selling Scandinavian Recording Artists Of The Year") when they had won at the more respectable Billboard awards. The analogy also falls down in that this was the group's penultimate hit in the UK, and their last to bother the Top 20. They did continue to record in the new century (though, unlike Abba, they've changed the lineup) but the British public seem to have lost interest rather abruptly.

It's a bit unfortunate because 'Always Have, Always Will' is one of their more likable singles. Though it's obviously intended to be the Motown pastiche that non long-running act can resist,  it was in fact co-written by Mike Chapman. Younger readers might need reminding that he was part of the Chinnichap writing team who supplied many a seventies hit to Mud, Sweet and Suzi Quatro, and you can hear some traces of his glam stompers in there too. The inane but passable lyric was apparently a replacement for an original text about a murderer; that was thought insufficiently commercial.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 27, 28, 33, 41
Available on: Singles of the 90s

Monday, 20 May 2013

Cartoons 'Witchdoctor'

Chart Peak: 2


'Witchdoctor' is the debut UK single from Danish exports the Cartoons... Taking a break from Toonland, Toonie, Buzz, Sponge, Shooter, Puddy and Boop are scheduled to hit the charts at Easter 1999.
Unsurprisingly, the success of Aqua prompted the record industry to seek out similar acts who could appeal to the tween market. And so it is that we end up with a bunch of Danes in enormous wigs and two female Elvis impersonators covering David Seville's 1958 US chart-topper (yes, he of Chipmunks fame). In contrast to the original, they give the witch doctor a low voice instead of a high one, although it's hard to say they've greatly improved upon the track. Indeed it could be argued that forty years later, they should have known better than the crude ethnic stereotyping and the slightly disturbing stalkerish tone of the lyric. Then again, it could be argued that they should have known how to pronounce the word "Cartoons" as well, and as you can see from the end of the video, they didn't quite.

I admit that my naturally contrarian side has some desire to like this, but it's easy enough to keep in check. The one thing I will say for this is that one of them has a bass shaped like a giant carrot.

Also appearing on: Now 43
Available on: Toonage

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Vengaboys 'We Like To Party (The Vengabus)'

Chart Peak: 3


'We Like To Party' was the second smash hit single from Vengaboys - Kim, Denice, Robin and Roy... The band have had massive success all over Europe with the track and it has started a new dance craze in Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland, where the single has already gone gold.

With all due respect to the Benelux countries, I do have to wonder how difficult it really is to earn a gold disc in Luembourg, or how one starts a dance craze with such generic dancing. Nonetheless, I do see 'We Like To Party' as the start of the Vengaboys as a pop act, rather than the one-off purveyors of 'Up & Down'. It's the start of them portraying the dancers as the faces of the act and even introduces the gimmick of the Vengabus, and thus spawned a lot of jokes about Arsene Wenger. It's a song that's kind of fun to hear once every few years, but quickly infuriating.

Also appearing on: Now 41, 43, 44, 45, 46
Available on: Ultimate Pop Jr

Friday, 17 May 2013

Tina Cousins 'Killin' Time '99'

Chart Peak: 15 [86 in 1997]


24 year-old diva Tina Cousins was first spotted in the UK charts with her featured vocal on the Sash! No2 hit 'Mysterious Times'... Now a star in her own right, Tina follows top-20 debut 'Pray' with dancefloor friendly 'Killin' Time', due for release March 15th '99.
'Mysterious Times' is one of the Sash! hits not to have made a Now album so this is the first album to feature Cousins - and she turns up twice, making a total of four appearances in there series. Perhaps with hindsight that's a bit disproportionate for a little-remembered act, particularly since - spoiler alert - her other two appearances were both with singles that fell short of the Top 40. But such is the whole joy of this project.

There's not so much joy in listening to the song itself, a 1997 flop revived after the Sash! hit. It's the work of the same songwriters and producers as the Steps song, but they're trying to make a dance track this time with underwhelming results. Cousins herself is hardly a compelling or distinctive presence, but she's also absent for much of the running time. Despite this, the track sounds more contemporary than I expected, thanks to the persistent keyboard stabs. If somebody told you it was a recent Calvin Harris production you'd think he was having a bit of an off day but you'd believe them. And if they said it was competing in Eurovision tomorrow, you'd probably buy that too.

Also appearing on: Now 43, 44
Available on: Killing Time

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Emilia 'Big Big World'

Chart Peak: 5


Emilia was born twenty years ago to a Swedish mother and an Ethiopian father and was educated at the esteemed Adolf Fredniks music school in Stockholm... As well as having a massive No.5 UK hit with 'Big Big World', she is busy studying economic history at university!
It's not exactly record-breaking, but it's still remarkable that after charting with this single over Christmas 1998, she had to wait until early 2013 to enter the UK album chart (as Emilia Mitiku - she's also sometimes credited as Emilia Ryberg). By now she seems to have developed into a decent jazz-pop singer, but in the late 90s she was, as I think David Quantick called her in scathing Q review, "A big, big girl with a stupid, stupid voice". He also went on to call it an insult to the memory of Abba that this track was recorded at their Polar Studios; the connection being apparently that she was discovered by the son of their manager.

After all these years, I don't hate this track as much as I did at the time, and in fact I can't fully understand why I did then. I still dislike it though, it has every hallmark of a record trying too hard to be winsome and cutesy. That's not a style that ever appealed to me and I don't think it's even done especially well here, it seems a bit too half-baked somehow. I don't know why she turns into a dog at the end of the video either.

Available on: I Am Relaxed

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Corrs 'What Can I Do (Tin Tin Out remix)'

Chart Peak: 3 [original version: 53 in 1997]

Siblings Sharon, Caroline, Andrea and Jim Corr have taken their blend of contemporary and traditional Irish music to new heights this year... Their popularity is spreading on a global scale but that hasn't affected their record sales at home in Ireland, where their two albums have achieved a combined certification of 14-times platinum.
Funnily enough, when a searched the well-known retailer's website for "Corrs What Can I Do", one of the results that came up was Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, the album that included their signature hit 'What I Am'. The connection is of course in the similar guitar riff on this track, though that's an addition by remixers Tin Tin Out and doesn't appear on the original version of the track; later in 1999, of course, they covered 'What I Am' themselves.

Though they were quick to find success in many countries, it took the UK a while to warm to the charms of the Corrs, their breakthrough coming when their blend of Irish folk and AOR was combined with the additional element of early 90s dance music. It seems an odd idea, but this came amid a run of Top 10 singles that had been breathed upon by the likes of Todd Terry and K-Klass. Indeed, 'Runaway' from their first album had become a hit at the fourth attempt in early 1999, kept from the top only by Britney Spears. However, the group make their second and last Now appearance with this hit from August 1998, presumably because Warner were unwilling to licence the track too soon. It's a pretty enough unrequited love song and I actually quite liked it at the time, although it didn't take long to get tired of it and the Corrs in general. Surprisingly, this remix has aged better than Jim Corr's original production. I suppose he'll blame the CIA for me saying that now.

Also appearing on: Now 41
Available on: Best Of The Corrs

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Billie 'Honey To The Bee'

Chart Peak: 3

Due for release on March 15th, 'Honey To The Bee' is a sophisticated, sultry number from sixteen-year-old pop diva Billie Piper... With its classy mix of catchy pop and R&B groove, the single is sure to be a hit with fans and new converts alike.
One of at least two tracks on Now 42 to feature the London Community Gospel Choir, the almost title track of her debut album Honey To The B (see what they did there?) was its fourth single. It was presumably chosen for that slot as a possible bridge to her future career, when the novelty of her being a teenager had worn off. As it turned out, things didn't really work out that way, but this is certainly her most grown-up sounding single. It doesn't wholly convince on that score, and it does have that slight feel of a little girl who's been in the dressing-up box, but that probably isn't a bad thing at her age in all honesty. It's her most musically satisfying single at any rate, with a charmingly undulating melody and a production that's aged surprisingly well. It even gives her the chance to do some pretty decent singing for once.

By the time this song surprisingly returned to the chart in early 2007, thanks to Chris Moyles taking advantage of the full inclusion of downloads, she seemed faintly embarrassed by her musical career. I can see why, but this is probably the least shameful part of it.

Also appearing on: Now 40, 41, 46, 47
Available on: The Singles Collection

Monday, 13 May 2013

Honeyz 'End Of The Line'

Chart Peak: 5

If you're a fan of R&B, Heavenli, Celena and Naima are the hottest new names to drop... Following the success of debut single 'Finally Found', the Honeyz returned to the Top 5 with the gorgeous ballad 'End Of The Line' in December 1998.
As I've mentioned before, Honeyz were one of those acts who never quite seemed to reach the tipping point, in an era when a consistent run of Top 10 singles didn't exactly prove you were a viable star. They slipped between the cracks enough that even their allegedly official Youtube channel only has a partial version of the video. On the upside, I was able to find the original version of the song, recorded in 1995 by a quartet of three Malay singers and one Indonesian. This version follows the arrangement almost slavishly, except that the chorus melody is a little flatter. Ironically, considering the demanding lyric, the music and production are decidedly average, and at a time when RnB - particularly when female-fronted - could be quite experimental, this hardly qualifies as hot in any way.

It turns out somebody does remember them though, as they're currently part of the Big Reunion tour. They were in Manchester a couple of weeks ago.

Also appearing on: Now 41, 43, 44, 45
Available on: The Big Reunion

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Spice Girls 'Goodbye'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)

Since scooping the Christmas Number No1 spot for the third year running with 'Goodbye', the Spice Girls collective have taken a break from the world of pop... Victoria and Mel G have been too busy extending the Spice family with the births of Brooklyn Joseph (Baby Posh) and Phoenix Chi (Baby Scary).

Wait, does that mean Beau Jones is Baby Baby? And does Amy Grant know about this? 'Goodbye' was of course the first single by the Spice Girls as a quartet and its release less than sixth months after 'Viva Forever' served a double purpose, both in securing them that Christmas chart-topper (they were only the second act to do so, after the Beatles, though Cliff Richard had also managed three over the course of 29 years) and proving the act to be a going concern without Geri Halliwell. In the event, they didn't release anything else for almost two years and were never really the same again, but for the time being they hadn't collapsed.

Musically, it's a big sweeping ballad that more or less picks up where 'Viva Forever' had left off, though the lyric seems quite consciously to refer to their now ex-member's departure: my recollection is that it was denied at the time, though possibly more for the publicity value of making the song's content a story than because they thought anyone would believe them. Certainly it's hard to hear the chorus of "Goodbye my friend/It's not the end" as anything other than a message to the fans now. In paces the song seems a bit rushed ("look for the rainbow in every star" is a bit of a mangled metaphor) but it slips down easily enough and it's probably the context that's the main reason you don't often hear it nowadays. In fact you're more likely to hear its B-side, the Anglicised cover of 'Christmas Wrapping' that's wheeled out by radio stations every December these days. And in the light of the previous post, I should probably mention that the Spice Girls are proof not every attempt at a songbook musical works.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 47
Available on: Greatest Hits [+video]

Friday, 10 May 2013

Starring: Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched and Billie 'Thank Abba For The Music'

Chart Peak: 4

Knowing Me, Knowing YouTube
This sensational collaboration of pop's hottest young stars - Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched and Billie - was revealed at the 1999 Brit Awards, when this fantastic medley was performed as a tribute to one of pop's greatest ever groups - the legendary Abba.
Apparently the video of that performance is still on Youtube, but blocked in the UK due to the recent intervention of the BPI, who've taken down a lot of unofficial Brits uploads now they have their own channel.  So I've had to make do with an unofficial upload that's oddly synced to pictures of the real Abba, though fortunately the below is still available:

You almost have to wonder whether somebody saw that and didn't think it was a joke, don't you? Mind you, even as late as 1995 such a medley might have been an odd thing for such acts to be associated with - it really seemed like the social acceptability of Abba built during the 1990s, from the band nobody would admit to liking to the one nobody could admit to not liking. 1999 was the year that saw the 25th anniversary of their Eurovision and thus their British chart debut, and was duly marked by such promotional activities as a repackage of Abba Gold (which returned to the top of the chart), ITV's ABBAmania TV special and its accompanying charity album and the UK premiere of the musical Mamma Mia, which as we now know proved to be one of the biggest phenomena in theatre in recent years and spawned countless imitators, though only Queen's We Will Rock You really succeeded.

The teen oriented stars gathered here are sometimes billed as the Supertroopers, though this name wasn't used on the single cover (maybe there was some contractual issue?). Instead they're billed under their separate names  - in order of appearance, in case you're wondering how Tina Cousins gets second billing. Between them they (and some uncredited backing singers) work through 'Take A Chance On Me', 'Dancing Queen', 'Mamma Mia' and of course 'Thank You For The Music', of which this is technically the highest-charting version ever. It's not so much a medley as bits of four songs being sung in sequence, though, with no attempt to join the parts together beyond the fact that they're all being played on the same cheap-sounding keyboards. In fact, with the rushed production and anonymous singing, this sounds more like one of those "soundalike" versions that get thrown onto cheap compilations and lurk on download stores to trick the unwary. It does provide a sort of tribute to Abba, if not the one intended - it certainly emphasises how much effort went into the sound of the original Abba singles, and the fact that this isn't painful to listen to says something for the quality of the original songwriting. Just ask Jeremy Hardy.

Steps also appear on: Now 39, 40, 41, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51
Tina Cousins also appears on: Now 43, 44
Billie also appears on: Now 40, 41, 46, 47
Available on: Thank Abba for the Music

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Cher 'Believe'

Chart Peak: 1 (7 weeks)


High tempo dance tune 'Believe' gave the legendary Cher her biggest hit in the UK to date.. It became the biggest selling and longest running No1 single of 1998, and has also qualifed as the biggest selling single by a female artist in the UK... ever!

OK, we don't have the biggest hit of early 1999 on here, but we do have the biggest one of late 1998 (and a bigger seller in total, in fact). 'Believe' is a track that has several claims to a place in history: it was Number One in the first ever Top 5 to consist entirely of new entries, it made her the oldest woman to top the singles chart in the UK or the US and as the sleevenote mentions, it remains to this day the biggest selling single by a female solo artist, admittedly favoured by its release in a very strong sales climate. It was particularly important as a comeback hit for her in the US, where her releases in the middle of the decade hadn't seen the same success they did in Europe. Not bad going for a single that was rush-released in the UK even before the video had been finished.

The track's biggest influence though is of course musical. 'Believe' was surely not the first hit single to use AutoTune, but it was the first to make a feature of it, with it turned up to overdriven levels to create an odd semi-robotic sound, most obviously on the "can't break through"/"can't do that" lines in each verse. Of course, this is really just an extension of the usual studio effects producers have been trying out on vocals since double-tracking became possible, but it's also the obvious antecedent of the sound of radio in 2013, with pitch correction used as an end in itself and applied liberally whether the singer needs it or not. I have to admit that it's not a sound I'm keen on: unlike some people I have no moral objection to the use of Autotune and more than I have to varispeed or reverb, but I find long exposure to this sort of vocal too wearing on the ear. Even in the four minutes of 'Believe' itself it's tiring to listen closely to. Whether it was intended to emphasise any part of the song's sentiment or simply to be a gimmick for its own sake isn't clear: you could fashion some sort of theory that the protagonist might have sacrificed some of her humanity in order to become a survivor, but I suspect it's coincidental. Mind you, in all these years I've never totally figured out what the chorus is supposed to mean anyway; when she sings "I can something inside me say, I really don't think you're strong enough", is "you" the singer herself or the ex she's addressing (and dismissing) in the verses? Either way, it doesn't seem to matter that much, it's just a vehicle for a big chorus and in that sense it works.

Also appearing on: Now 30 (with Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry), 32, 33
Available on: Believe

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Steps 'Better Best Forgotten'

Chart Peak: 2


Steps ended 1998 with a bang, when their double 'A' sided single 'Heartbeat/Tragedy' hit the No. 1 spot after 8 weeks on the chart!... And things are still on the up, follow-up single 'Better Best Forgotten' shot straight into the Top 5 in March '99.

At rather the opposite end of their career from Boyzone, Steps made their fifth chart appearance with what proved to be the third of thirteen consecutive Top 5 hits. The last single from their debut album - unusually for bubblegum pop, it's as late as ninth in the running order - has a title that invites dismissive comments, but it's actually one of their best singles, almost as close as they ever got to the Abba soundalikes Pete Waterman intended. To be sure, the song doesn't quite have the depth that some of the Swedes' music managed, but it is modelled on the more mature later songs rather than the obvious camp classics. I'm not among the people for whom resemblance to Abba is an instant win, but I can enjoy the melody and that naggingly familar wordless vocal part. It's formulaic, but the good sort of formulaic.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 40, 41, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51
Available on: Step One

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Boyzone 'When The Going Gets Tough'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)


This year's traditional Comic Relief single is a cover of the 1986 Billy Ocean hit 'When The Going Gets Tough...' The star-studded video for the track features comedy greats such as Graham Norton, Jo Brand, Phil {sic} Jupitus and Mel Smith as well as cast members from top soap Emmerdale.
Back after the Bank Holiday break on a new album. And yes, I suppose 43 might have been the more logical place to go after 33 and 3, but I've been meaning to do 42 for some time now because it's particularly interesting (and further away from 44, which I did early in the history of this blog).

The album was released in time for Easter 1999, but as long-term readers will know the biggest hit of early 99, '...Baby One More Time', didn't show up until Now 44 so we start instead with the song that eventually knocked it off the top of the chart. This was the Comic Relief single for the year, and follows the typical formula for this slot around the turn of the century, with a popular vocal group of the day performing a cover version and comedy represented by the celebrities in the accompanying video. I know it's a pretty generous definition of "comedy" that incorporates Mel Smith holding a TV aerial against his groin, but that's how things were in the 1990s. In fact the video's so 90s it even has Mystic Meg in it. 1999 was also the last year of Boyzone's original career, though they were able to go out in some style with two Number Ones that year, plus a solo Number One for Ronan Keating. Unsurprisingly, it's Keating who takes the lead on this interpretation of Billy Ocean's 1986 chart-topper, though there's a solo spot for Stephen Gately who was obviously the main solo prospect already. And the other three stand around and do something, I guess. It's a perfectly competent rendition, but really has nothing else to add (it's actually less funny than the original, because it doesn't sound like they're singing "Go and get stuffed" at any point). It does the job with an almost ruthless efficiency: to sell well for a couple of weeks, raise a handy amount for charity, bolster their image and then step aside to be dethroned by another Louis Walsh-managed act. Nobody seems to be having enough fun.

Also appearing on: Now 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 45, 71
Available on: Key To My Life (The Collection)