Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Verve 'The Drugs Don't Work'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]
The Verve had their first Top 40 successes in 1995 with 'This Is Music', 'On Your Own' and 'History'... Their return has produced two of 1997's finest tunes - 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' (No. 2) and 'The Drugs Don't Work' (No. 1)
Three tracks in and the downbeat mood of Disc 2 continues. In fact, 'The Drugs Don't Work' seems to be a continuation of several themes from this album, including the fact that it's not an obviously ideal song for New Year's Eve. Rather like Chumbawamba (if perhaps less so) they were a surprise package, suddenly spawning two of the biggest singles of the year after being a relatively low-profile act for several years - none of their 1995 hits had made the Top 20, for example.

And of course the Diana factor comes back into play with this single having been released on the 1st of September 1997. History may record that this song was propelled to the top by her death, although I can certainly remember thinking in mid-August that they had a good chance after the success of 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' and decent initial airplay for this one. Still, it was probably helped by the fact that it was still considered suitable for radio play in the week it was released, given its sorrowful mood. At least it spared us a second return to the top by Puff Daddy's 'I'll Be Missing You', as would probably have happened were this single not out that way. Ironically, I didn't buy it myself, as I couldn't decide between the two CD formats: only one unique B-side on each and I wasn't going to pay six quid for both when I knew I'd buy the album anyway.

Although the song is part of their comeback album Urban Hymns and has Richard Ashcroft as the sole credited writer, it was in fact written and even performed live before they split in 1995. Presumably it was just too late for the A Northern Soul album, as it would otherwise have merited a place. Over the years, Ashcroft has been slightly vague as to the exact meaning of the song; note that between 1995 and 1997 the chorus lyric has changed from "They just make me worse" to "They just make you worse". The common supposition is that the later version of the chorus is about the death of his father (which would of course also fit the idea of "as you lay down on your side") and the latter perhaps about how he tried to cope with the depression afterwards. Tragic as it is, the song at least tries to sound a note of forlorn hope on "I know I'll see your face again." What really saves it as a record is that the arrangement is kept interesting with Peter Salisbury's increasingly prominent drums and Nick McCabe's ever-changing guitar parts. When Ashcroft realised that the solo tracks he was working on (with a backing group that included the other two members of the Verve) needed McCabe's input it was probably the wisest decision he ever made.

Also appearing on: Now 37, 39, 40, 71
Available on: The Drugs Don't Work

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

George Michael 'You Have Been Loved'

Chart Peak: 2
The haunting 'You Have Been Loved' was George's 6th British Top 3 hit from the Older album... In the 15 years he has been making music, George has now achieved over 60 million sales worldwide.
It's slightly less dramatic than what happened to 'Sunchyme', but for the first five days of release 'You Have Been Loved' (nominally a double-A with 'Strangest Thing 97') was comfortably the nation's top-selling single yet by Sunday it was Number 2, way behind the huge first-day sales of his friend Elton John's tribute to his other friend Diana Princess of Wales. Still, six Top 3 singles from a studio album remains unique and we'll never know whether her death truly cost him a chart-topper since the literally mournful song was especially appealing to the record-buying public in early September 1997. It's unlikely he cared much about it under the circumstances.

It is of course pure coincidence that this single arrived only a week after a high-profile death, but it was always intended to pay tribute to somebody even closer to home, Michael's deceased partner Anselmo Feleppa; seemingly narrated from the perspective of his mother, which might account for the song's slightly unidiomatic title. By the time the single came out his own mother had also passed away, which is possibly why the official video is a live performance rather than anything more creative. Although the song is well-structured and clearly heartfelt it feels a bit too personal for the rest of us to get involved now.

Also appearing on: Now 22 [with Elton John], 23, 25 [with Queen], 34, 35, 36, 37, 52, 58
Available on: Ladies And Gentlemen... The Best Of George Michael

Monday, 29 December 2014

Wet Wet Wet 'Yesterday'

Chart Peak: 4
Wet Wet Wet's cover of the Beatles' 'Yesterday' brought the group's number of Top 40 hits to a staggering twenty-five... It reached No. 4 in August '97 and was their third hit this year.
Disc 2 starts here, although the sharp-eyed and numerate may have noticed we're already more than half-way through the "41 Chart Hits" promised on the disc tray: tracks are unevenly split due to the longer average length which means there are only nine tracks on Side 3 of the cassette. 'Yesterday' is something of an exception, getting out of the way within three minutes, although this is still significantly longer than the original. It doesn't seem the most obvious way to launch into a 78-minute CD but this was actually the second Now album running (and third overall) where the Wets had occupied this placing; with three appearances at the very start of the album as well they're almost Queen.

Anyone interested enough in British pop of the 1990s to be reading this will surely be aware that the last time Wet Wet Wet recorded a song for a movie, they spent 15 weeks at Number One with 'Love Is All Around'. Since they'd also topped the chart with a cover of 'With A Little Help From My Friends', you could be forgiven for thinking that Wet Wet Wet covering a Beatles song for a movie (Bean, in this case) was a licence to print money. The record company probably did think that, but of course lightning seldom strikes twice in the same place, and as it transpired this wasn't even the lead single from the soundtrack; the more fashionable Boyzone got that. Ten years into their career, the group were approaching something of a crisis point, with the drummer about to quit in a dispute over songwriting royalties whilst Marti Pellow was struggling with his own demons: 18 months later he collapsed in a hotel and was rushed to rehab for heroin addiction. This proved to the the last single release of their initial career, though they have reunited several times since.

Perhaps a great performer could have used this turmoil to wring out a truly emotional performance. But when faced with a ballad, Pellow reverts to low-budget Mick Hucknall form, whilst the production (by bassist Graeme Clark and unofficial member Graeme Duffin), is hamstrung by the need to give all five Wets something to do and the lack of original ideas, so it simply sounds overfussy as if they're playing along with the original track, but with more repetitions. I suppose it's a pretty strong tribute to the skills of Paul McCartney and George Martin that their string arrangements are copied almost directly, but the sparse and direct nature of the original recording is otherwise lost.

Also appearing on: Now 10, 11, 12, 16, 21, 28, 31, 37
Available on: Now That's What I Call 1997

Thursday, 25 December 2014

DJ Quicksilver 'Free'

Chart Peak: 7
'Free' was DJ Quicksilver's 2nd UK Top 10 hit of 1997... It reached No. 7 in late August as the follow-up to 'Bellissima' (No.4)
And a merry Christmas to you, should you actually be reading this post on the day of publication. I'm writing this a couple of days in advance for obvious reasons, and whilst I know some bloggers like to write special festive posts, I'm lumbered by my format with this decidedly un-seasonal trance number. Mind you, thousands of people will have unwrapped a copy of Now 38 17 years ago today and most of them probably played them in their bedrooms or their cars on the day, so they'll have heard this at the end of Disc 1.

In keeping with the spirit of generosity, I'll acknowledge that 'Free' isn't really a track made to be heard in bedrooms or cars, nor on computers in another century. I don't doubt for a moment that it's well-suited to the intended venue of a club where it can be meshed in with similar tracks. Isolated though, it's clearly just a retread of his previous hit with somebody saying "Be free" over the top of it, and sounds like an idea being hammered into the ground. And that's just the radio edit, so I can't imagine sitting through the full version. Still horses for courses and all that. See you next week for Disc 2.

Also appearing on: Now 36, 39
Available on: Quicksilver

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Bellini 'Samba Di Janeiro'

Chart Peak: 8
Bellini are a multi-cultural group of singers and dancers... Their massive Euro hit 'Samba De Janeiro' was a Top 10 smash in Britain in September '97
Notwithstanding what I said in the Ricky Martin post yesterday, songs aimed directly at the dance market are a slight exception to Britain's shunning of foreign-language hits, though of course there aren't many words in this song and none that will be unfamiliar to most Anglophones. Even so, you'll notice that it didn't chart here until September which I think is quite a while after it came out elsewhere; it is of course especially late to release a song called 'Samba of January'.

Wikipedia describes this as a "football based hit" although it's hard to see any connection beyond the fact that it's Brazilian in inspiration and Brazilians are quite good at football. Still, some YouTube commenters have suggested that it would have been a better theme song for the 2014 World Cup than the Pitbull/Jennifer Lopez tie-up that got the official nod, and indeed I'd have tended to agree were the track not 17 years old by then. Inevitably the track was opportunistically re-issued this summer anyway.

Despite its Latin American sound though, the track actually originates from another successful soccer nation: the founding members were three German producers lurking behind the dancers and vocalists. Though the Bellini name never troubled the UK chart again, the same trio regrouped under the more Germanic name Paffendorf, scoring a hit here in 2002 with the rather belated Tarantino pastiche 'Be Cool'. So there's nothing "authentic" about this track, if you believe in such notions, but it's an energetic throwaway with a tactfully short radio edit (two-and-a-half minutes). Probably works better dropped among several similar tracks though, and despite the title December might not be the best time to be listening to it either.

Also appearing on: Now 52 [as Paffendorf]
Available on: Brasil!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ricky Martin 'Maria'

Chart Peak: 6
Latin sensation Ricky Martin made a big impact on the UK charts in September this year when 'Maria' reached No. 6
Easily forgotten now that Ricky Martin had a UK chart presence before the blockbusting success of 'Livin' La Vida Loca' in 1999. In fact, even I had forgotten that he didn't get onto Now 44 with that track (Sony were obviously reluctant to license such a big hit to the EMI/Universal series) and thus 'Maria' marks his only appearance in the main series. At this stage, one might surmise, the promotional value of getting a "new" artist onto a big selling compilation was more useful than it would have seemed a couple of years later.

Of course, he wasn't new to everyone: in fact the track was almost two years old, having been released to the Latin market in late 1995. It was from his third solo album, before which he'd done a five-year tour of duty in the Puerto Rican boyband Menudo, recording 11 albums with them. The song crossed over to Spain, the mainstream US chart and, oddly, Finland the following year, before it swept the board of mainland Europe in the summer of 1997. As usual, Britain was late to the party, being typically resistant to songs not entirely in English, although what was eventually put out here was the "Spanglish radio edit". Obviously its chances were helped by the fact that the song could be translated without changing the title (in fact the UK sleeve calls it 'Un, Dos, Tres, Maria' and the chorus remains in Spanish) and that even people who couldn't understand the language could probably spell the title and guess what the song was about. Well, unless they were British apparently.

As the song continued to chart in various places into 1998, he got the plum job of singing the official song for that year's World Cup, but the single underperformed over here and it looked like he might have to settle for one-hit-wonderhood in the the UK. It turned out that, like garage, the Latin fashion was back with a vengeance a couple of years later. All of which said, this song doesn't sound that great these days, sold more on the energy of his performance than a memorable song.

Available on: The Best Of

Monday, 22 December 2014

911 'Party People... Friday Night'

Chart Peak: 5
Spike, Jimmy and Lee scored their 5th Top 10 smash in the last 12 months with 'Party People'... It raced onto the chart at No. 5 on 26th October '97
Since I mentioned our in-jokes in the LL Cool J post, I might as well point out that my brother claimed to have misheard the chorus lyric in this song as "Fucking Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night," although I don't really believe him. Obviously they weren't really saying that anyway.
The first single from their second album is a tricky time for boy bands, usually about the last chance for them to get really big rather than selling to fans. In the event 911 fell into the latter category, at least so far as the UK was concerned, but they had enough of those fans to make it to the standard three-albums-and-a-Greatest-Hits lifespan for a 90s boyband.

I've long had a bit of a soft spot for 911's more upbeat songs, probably because they remind me of PJ & Duncan's similar work and whilst 'Party People' is no masterpiece it's likely their best song to appear on a Now album - as I've mentioned before, the best 911 song of all is of course 'Bodyshakin' and that never made it at all. It is of course totally soulless, careerist nonsense but we all need a bit of that in our lives and at least it never pretends to be anything else.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 36, 37, 41, 42, 43
Available on: Moving On

Saturday, 20 December 2014

LL Cool J 'Phenomenon'

Chart Peak: 9
LL Cool J had a string of Top 20 hits last year - 'Hey Lover', 'Doin It' and 'Loungin'... The success story continues with 'Phenomenon' which crashed straight on to the UK chart at No. 9 on 26th October '97.
Odd omission from that sleevenote: LL Cool J had a Number One single in 1997 with his version of 'Ain't Nobody', which is one of the least remembered chart-toppers of the era but I didn't expect them to forget it within a year. True enough that you're more likely to hear this one nowadays though.

Hip-hop fans (or owners of Now 3) will of course recognise the "something like a phenomenon" chorus from Grandmaster Melle Mel's 'White Lines', though it is in turn derived from 'Cavern' by Liquid Liquid. That distinctive bassline is derived from the classic Bill Withers song 'Who Is He And What Is He To You, sampled via a cover version by Creative Source. Whilst the aforementioned elements are the highlights of the track, it's well-produced (by Puff Daddy of all people) and has a smoothness that suits casual listening. The lyrics are pretty bog-standard male rapper boasting, but delivered in a whispered tone that always made me imagine he was recording with his mum in the next room and he didn't want her to know he was rapping about rude things. Unless that amuses you, the vocals are probably best ignored. And if that doesn't amuse you, neither will my brother and I pronouncing LL Cool J in the same way as Welsh place names that start with double-l (eg Llanelli and Llandaff). It made us laugh though.

Also appearing on: Now 60
Available on: Club R&B (International Version)

Friday, 19 December 2014

N-Trance featuring Rod Stewart 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?'

Chart Peak: 7
N-Trance's update of Rod Stewart's 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy' crashed into the chart at No. 7 on 26th October '97... Their other big hits include 'Set You Free' and 'Stayin' Alive'
Speaking of old songs from the 1970s with the word "sexy" in the title... Indeed this was also in the chart at the same time as the Clock and Hot Chocolate versions of 'You Sexy Thing'. Ignoring his uncredited vocal for Glass Tiger on Now 20,  Roderick returns to the Now series for the first time since the very first album; and does so via one of several attempts by N-Trance to repeat the successful formula of 'Stayin' Alive' by taking a danceable but uncool oldie and updating the style with new rapped verses by Ricardo Da Force. Unusually this version actually samples the original chorus vocal - hence the featured credit - and parts of the backing track. It's a silly version of a song that was already pretty laughable (Stewart's cowriter Duane Hitchings claims that it was always supposed to be a parody) though it does drop the lyrical idea of the couple being shy or nervous.

This version is one of those tracks that is sort of rubbish but mildly enjoyable, although it does suffer from the sense that they'd already tried this trick a few times too many. It's not as good as 'Stayin' Alive' but I would take it over more "credible" N-Trance songs like 'Set You Free'.

Rod Stewart also appears on: Now 1
N-Trance also appear on: Now 30, 32, 50
Available on: A Night At The Roxbury (Soundtrack)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Hot Chocolate 'You Sexy Thing'

Chart Peak: 6
Errol Brown's 'You Sexy Thing' was originally a No. 2 hit for Hot Chocolate back in 1975... It hit the Top 10 again in 1987 and is due for re-release by public demand on 3rd November '97 following its use in the hugely successful movie The Full Monty.
Now, my recollection from seeing the film is that they used the original 1975 mix of the song (as they used many other songs from that era, although the setting was contemporary) and indeed the soundtrack album uses that version. It was the lead track from the CD single too, and even the Now 38 booklet uses the 1975 copyright date but somehow, by accident or design, the actual CD plays the 1987 Ben Liebrand remix. That's a pity because it duplicates the version on Now 9 (admittedly never available on CD) and, as I've previously mentioned, the remix isn't all that good. It sounds especially out of place on a 1990s album - a 1997 remix might be dated now but at least it would have been somehow fitting at the time, but this is just disappointing.

If you do consider the versions together, this was an unprecedented Top 10 run in separate decades for the track. In another little curiosity, this was the third version of the song to chart within as many months. A cover by T-Shirt slipped in at 63 just a couple of weeks after the film was released (surely too soon for an intentional cash-in) and went on to be a major hit in Australasia, whilst Clock took the song to the Top 20 in October (as 'U Sexy Thing') and that version overlapped in the chart with this reissue.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 9 [same track]
Available on: The Best Of Hot Chocolate

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Tina Moore 'Never Gonna Let You Go'

Chart Peak: 7
'Never Gonna Let You Go' broke onto the UK clubscene when it was discovered on the B-side of Rosie Gaines' anthem 'Closer Than Close'... Released as a single in its own right it peaked in the charts at No. 7.
I'm not sure exactly which version of 'Closer Than Close' this was ever the B-side to: presumably a white label 12" since the formats of the Gaines single which went Top 10 were all mixes of the same song. Either way, of course, I was entirely unaware of this track until it entered the chart although when it did I recognised the looped vocal from the hit 'RIP Groove' by Double 99; that had been a minor hit earlier in the year and was about to be re-issued to greater success. We're in the first big wave of crossover success for UK garage, which produced a number of hits and popular remixes in 1997 and early 1998 and then seemed to disappear (commercially) for a couple of years until the emergence of the two-step sound at the turn of the century. Although the original version of the song had been a minor US RnB hit a couple of years before, it's a fairly generic track and it's only the "Kelly G Bump-N-Go Vocal Mix" the made the song a UK smash. Not the sort of music I cared about at all back then but listening back it has a rather broken, jerky sound that I quite like - it gives it more energy and personality than a lot of dance tracks.

Available on: The Masters Series: 90's RnB

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Dario G 'Sunchyme'

Chart Peak: 2
Dario G sampled the Dream Academy's classic 'Life In A Northern Town' to score a No. 2 smash in September with 'Sunchyme'.

It's probably not the record they wanted to break, but 'Sunchyme' has its own place in history: of more than a thousand singles that have now peaked at 2, none has been as many sales behind the Number One as this was on the chart dated 29th September 1997. Of course that Number One was the biggest seller of all time, 'Candle In The Wind 97' in its first full week of sales so theirs was no disgrace - actual sales were pretty good.

Back in 1997 I hadn't knowingly heard 'Life In A Northern Town', and if you'd asked me to guess what the sample source for 'Sunchyme' was, I'd never have guessed it was a wistful ballad about Nick Drake. It just sounded like another euphoric pseudo-ethnic dance track and I was more irritated than anything else. I don't mind it so much, even despite hearing Chris Evans play it on the radio just after I arrived at work almost every Monday this year.

Also appearing on: Now 48
Available on: The Workout Mix - Beach Fit! [+Digital Booklet]

Monday, 15 December 2014

Sash! featuring La Trec 'Stay'

Chart Peak: 2
'Stay' was the third massive hit of 1997 for Sash!... They are the first act to start their UK chart career with 3 consecutive No. 2 hits, the others being 'Encore Une Fois' and 'Ecuador'.
Not just three Number 2s, but also their first three hits were in different languages, albeit that the music of Sash! was not particularly noted for its lyrical complexity. That said, 'Stay' is a more conventional song with a full lyric (unsurprisingly in English) and for that reason less distinctive than the previous two hits. Nothing actually wrong with it but it doesn't really seem to go anywhere or do anything for me.

Also appearing on: Now 36, 37 [with Rodriguez], 39, 41 [with Shannon], 42, 45, 71 [with Stunt]
Available on: The Best Of

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Gala 'Freed From Desire'

Chart Peak: 2
Gala's 'Freed From Desire' was probably the biggest dance hit of the summer... Firstly it was a hit all over Continental Europe and then a No.2 monster hit in Britain.
One of the bigger dance hits of the era, though I remember it mostly for a slightly awkward Top Of The Pops appearance which demonstrated why energetic choreography and live vocals don't always mix. When she had her second hit she just stood at the microphone. In case you're scratching your head there, 'Let A Boy Cry' peaked at 11 and sold one copy to my brother, who had a habit of buying the follow-ups to big dance tracks. She even snuck a week at 38 with the title track of her album, which isn't a bad run for a Eurodance act from this era.

Back to 'Freed From Desire', it's a song that teeters on the very edge of irritation, and if you dislike the phrase "na-na-na" it'll tip right over that edge. The melody is quite minimal and her voice rather different from typical dance-diva stuff, whilst those lyrics that aren't "na" seem to be aiming for some sort of Zen ideal. There's something insistently unforgettable about it though.

In case you were wondering, this was the start of Side 2 on the cassette version, so I've taken the opportunity to include a photo of the CD. Yeah, I know that doesn't make a lot of sense but it seemed the least bad place for it.

Available on: Come into My Life (10th Anniversary)

Friday, 12 December 2014

Louise 'Arms Around The World'

Chart Peak: 4
'Arms Around The World' made No. 4 in late September '97 and Louise's 6th solo hit since leaving Eternal in 1995... Her 7th hit, a cover of the Average White Band's 1980 classic 'Let's Go Round Again' is due for mid-November release.
Second sleeve note running to plug the follow-up single, which seems a bit like it's underselling the track it actually has to offer. Perhaps they were hoping to keep the 70s retro connection going, tenuously. It's slightly odd to be reticent about this, which proved to be her biggest-selling solo single, although admittedly it was favoured by being the first single from the album, released at the peak of her career and in one of the best years ever for single sales.  It's fair to say it's not the song she's most remembered for these days but it's actually not bad, although it is one of those songs that starts with a panoply of different "ethnic" instruments and then reverts to conventional late-90s pop. Still, it's got a good positive-sounding chorus and at least it makes me want to like it.

Also appearing on: Now 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 46, 47, 50
Available on: Greatest Hits: 90s

Thursday, 11 December 2014

All Saints 'I Know Where It's At'

Chart Peak: 4
All Saints are Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis and sisters Natalie and Nicky Appleton... 'I Know Where It's At' was a No. 4 hit in early September '97 and the follow-up 'Never Ever' is due for release in early November.
And the Seventies rock connections continue, as the distinctive piano intro is sampled from Steely Dan's song 'The Fez', and indeed the  remainder of the song is close enough in rhythm that I'm surprised Becker and Fagen didn't demand a writing credit. The single was actually released in late August 1997, but as I mentioned last time All Saints cropped up on here, it was one of the new entries on the unbroadcast chart on the 1st of September. I wasn't massively impressed with the track at the time and liked it even less as I became more and more tired of the group. But taken for what it is, this is a decent funky pop record, though Shaznay Lewis's pseudo-TLS rap in the middle seems unfinished and it better forgotten. So the song has sort of grown on me, although ironically hearing how the best parts come from the Dan has put me off a bit again.

Also appearing on: Now 39, 40, 41, 42, 47, 65
Available on: All Saints / I Know Where It's At

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Brand New Heavies ''You've Got A Friend'

Chart Peak: 9
Carole King's 'You've Got A Friend' was originall a hit for James Taylor in 1971... It is Brand New Heavies' 12th and biggest Top 40 hit, reaching No. 9 in October '97, and features the spiritual vocals of Siedah Garrett.
It's unlikely to be a coincidence that we get two songs associated with female singer-songwriters of the early 1970s right next to each other. The less obvious connection is that both Janet Jackson and Siedah Garrett have had hit duets with Michael Jackson (on 'Scream' and 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' respectively). And to square the circle, Brand New Heavies also worked with Q-Tip (on a remix of their hit 'Sometimes').

BNH are a difficult group to place, and not only because nobody seems entirely sure whether to call them Brand New Heavies or The Brand New Heavies. They're legends in the British funk and Acid Jazz scenes of course, but despite a decent haul of hit singles little of their material seems remembered these days, and one suspects that only fans of the genre realise they're still going and indeed released a new album only last month. Two of their three Now appearances are cover versions, and there's no avoiding the fact that this biggest hit of all. It seems quite a self-consciously commercial move to release this track as a single rather than knocking it out as a B-side, and I have to admit it's not a song I'm overly keen on. Worse, it's a very easy song to do a bad version of, with plenty of potential for slush, which is pretty much what we get here. This seems to be aiming for a similar sort of update to 'Got Till It's Gone' but in practice it's just not there, and we get  a sentimental ballad with some nice singing and bass. Worst, they don't seem totally convinced themselves. Perhaps it was the record company's idea?

Also appearing on: Now 28, 29
Available on: Shelter

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Janet Jackson 'Got Till It's Gone'

Chart Peak: 6
Janet scored a No. 6 smash with 'Got 'Til It's Gone' in late September '97... This cool cut features inspired sampling of Joni Mitchell's 1970 hit 'Big Yellow Taxi' and the cool rap of Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest.
The first of her hits officially credited without her surname, possibly due to estrangement from the Jackson family, although the cover here uses her full moniker for recognition. Most published charts gave Joni Mitchell a co-credit, thus giving her only her second UK hit single as a performer.

Whatever the actual reason, at the time I perceived the lack of a surname as a sign of arrogance and another reason not to like Janet Jackson, a singer I'd never warmed to. Indeed under my 1997 mindset it was even worse for her to sample an acknowledged classic song for her own inferior single and as a result I never even contemplated liking this. Imagine my surprise on finding , over 15 years later after all the hype has died down, that this is actually quite enjoyable. Admittedly, my attitude to sampling has changed over the years and I'm probably keener on Q-Tip than I was back then (I never really paid much attention to him in the 1990s) but I've also come to some sort of accommodation with Janet. I wouldn't say I liked her, much less that I was a fan, but I did buy a best-of album for 50p because there were enough songs I could listen to. This track's not on there, and since it's not an airplay fave these days it was almost new to me. I'm not that interested in the song itself, but I rather like the melding of different elements - folk-rock, hip-hop and a reggae beat and the luxurious, bass-heavy production. It sounds a bit harsh to say that I was ignoring Janet Jackson on her own song, but it's kind of true. At least I liked something in it though.

Also appearing on: Now 8, 26, 30, 39, 40 [with BLACKstreet], 41, 49, 53 [with Beenie Man]
Available on: The Velvet Rope [Explicit]

Monday, 8 December 2014

Lighthouse Family 'Raincloud'

Chart Peak: 6

Paul Tucker and Tunde Baiyewu are the Lighthouse Family... Theur debut album has now sold in excess of 1.5 million copies in Britain and this latest single, 'Raincloud', from their new album was a mega No. 6 success in October '97.
Is there really such a thing as a "mega No. 6 hit"? 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol probably counts, actually, but that sold over a million and has spent literally years in the chart. 'Raincloud' is a respectably-sized hit and helped save the duo from being a one-album wonder, but that's the most that can be said of it commercially.

As any regular reader would know, I'm no admirer of the Lighthouse Family, even though I've discovered acts I hate even more since; yet I've ended up owning two copies of this track since it's one of the few tracks that defied the stereotype and ended up on both a Now album and a Hits album (I don't own many Hits albums, but I do happen to have New Hits 98). And of course I remember hearing it at the time too, if only on Top 40 rundowns. I'm glad I listened back to it again today though: not because I particularly enjoyed the song but because I discovered that I'd misheard a lyric 17 years ago. He's not actually singing "Let the daylight in on a bed of nails", which would at least have been a distinctive turn of phrase, but the more trite "Let the daylight in on a better day". To me that typifies the competent but empty work of the pair; like almost all their songs it strains to be uplifting but it's just too platitudinous to have any effect. Presumably that's why I haven't heard this song since about 1998 (other than when listening to compilation albums) and why nobody seemed to notice when they got back together in 2011. According to their Twitter, they've split again now so Tunde can release a covers album.

Also appearing on: Now 33, 34, 39, 40, 41, 50
Available on: The Very Best Of

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Eternal 'Angel Of Mine'

Chart Peak: 4
'Angel Of Mine' was Eternal's 3rd Top 5 smash of 1997 and their 14th consecutive Top 15 hit overall since 1993.. It made No. 4 in October 1997 as the follow-up to their first No. 1 single 'I Wanna Be The Only One'.
I've no idea how many of the people who read these blog posts actually click through to the YouTube videos, but for any who don't I shall reproduce the uploader's description of this one: "THIS SONG WAS ORIGINALLY RECORDED BY UNITED KINGDOM PHENOMENAL ICON OF R&B SOUL 'ETERNAL' BACK IN 1997 AT THE SAME MOMENT DIANA PRINCESS WAS GONE BY CAR ACCIDENT AND TERRIBLE CRISIS ECONOMIC IN ASIA.HIKS!!!" Hope you feel more enlightened now.

As we all know now, there was only to be one Number One single for them and in fact 'Angel Of Mine', the new song on a well-timed Greatest Hits album, was the end of that run of Top 15 hits - only one more single emerged, by which time the act had been reduced to a duo of the Bennett sisters, and they were dropped at the turn of the century. Thus we see their last appearance (chronologically) in the Now series and really it's none too soon because I feel like I've ploughed though hundreds of Eternal songs on this blog, and now there are at most only another four to go. By and large my experience has been one of disappointment because I thought they were largely OK at the time and yet I'm mostly bored by them in retrospect. The only difference is that I hated 'Angel Of Mine' from the start, always finding it so sickly and sanctimonious it makes the Backstreet Boys sound like Tom Lehrer. The closest I come to having a positive memory of it is that I remember some of my fellow cast members in the university German drama group singing it in rehearsal - and even then the positive part of the memory is the togetherness rather than the actual performance. The girls (both Eternal and my fellow students) harmonised well but couldn't make up for the poor song. In fact the song was so bad it was a US Number One in 1999; in fairness it knocked off the actually rather good '...Baby One More Time' but this was hardly a golden era at the top of the Billboard chart. It was of course not a hit over there for Eternal but for the RnB singer Monica. Her version was understandably shunned in the UK, peaking at a more deserved 55.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37
Available on: The Best Love...Ever!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Backstreet Boys 'As Long As You Love Me'

Chart Peak:
'As Long As You Love Me' is the American combo's 6th big British hit since August last year... It was a Top 3 smash in October '97.
Fascinating fact I've just read on Wikipedia: apparently the number of female models used in the video for this song was deliberately different from the number of Backstreet Boys so that nobody would think they were "paired up". Presumably this was intended to give the illusion of availability to female fans although as it turns out one of the models did subsequently marry Brian Littrell (he's the one who looks like a rebellious character from Grange Hill). Fascinating insight into boyband marketing there anyway.

In the past couple of days I've surprised myself by being quite positive about some boyband singles. Tjat stops here because, even though it's Friday, I can't muster anything good to say about this rather slushy effort with its mid-tempo beat and flamenco guitars, adorned as if it's scared to actually be anything. Backstreet have always been one of the least appealing boybands because they always seemed to lack any sense of fun. There's a classic mixed metaphor in the lyric "People say [...] I am blind, risking it all on a glance", but that's the only thing classic about it. If anything I might even prefer the Justin Bieber song of the same title. Sadly, Boyzone were listening to this and topped the chart with a very similar template the following year.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 36, 37, 39, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 51
Available on: The Essential Backstreet Boys

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Boyzone 'Picture Of You'

Chart Peak: 2
'Picture Of You', from the Bean movie, was a huge No.2 summer hit for Boyzone... It kept up the boys' splendid run of success and was their 9th consecutive Top 5 hit.
I'm going to come right out and admit something at the start of the post: I actually quite like this song. Yes, it's a cynical product of the pop machine, and comes from a film I have no desire to see (though I saw enough Mr Bean on telly to know that's the wrong car in the video) but even as it uses every pseudo-Motown trick in the book, I can't help having a certain affection for it. Perhaps because so many other Boyzone hits were lame ballads or poor cover versions (or indeed poor cover versions of lame ballads) there's something slightly refreshing about hearing an upbeat song from them, which means this seems to sound better now than it did at the time. And Ronan Keating isn't a bad singer, although he dies his best to oversing the first verse and ruin it anyway. The other members of Boyzone presumably walked past the studio at some point during the recording process. The surviving members are in the Top 20 this week with a Motown covers album that certainly isn't as good as this.

Also appearing on: Now 30, 31, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 71
Available on: Where We Belong

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Hanson 'Where's The Love'

Chart Peak: 4

Tay, Zac and Isaac and a massive No. 4 hit with 'Where's The Love' in September '97 as the follow-up to the huge No. 1 'Mmmbop'... Their third his 'I Will Come To You' is due to hit the charts in November.
It's easy to overlook now how big Hanson were for a while, big enough to beat the Spice Girls to the honour of opening Now 37 indeed. Their Boyband/Christian Rock/Grunge/HipHop hybrid was surely not the most obvious tip for success, but the record company certainly invested plenty in their major-label debut, which is packed with top-notch producers and musicians; you can hear some of that quality on the finished work, which has aged surprisingly well. All though you expect a certain amount of teen hysteria (as seen in the video, filmed in London the day after 'Mmmbop' topped the chart) the wholesome sibling image made it impossible for anyone male or over 18 even to contemplate liking their music, let alone admitting it.
As it turned out, 'Mmmbop' was pretty awful anyway, but 'Where's The Love' (not to be confused with several songs called 'Where Is The Love?' nor with a risqué joke about nuns) is actually half-decent. It's no masterpiece and the insistence on letting them all have a go at singing is a bit annoying, but this is a solid pop song and you can't say that for everything on here.

Also appearing on: Now 37, 39
Available on: Now That's What I Call 1997

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Spice Girls 'Spice Up Your Life'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]
'Spice Up Your Life' was the girls' 5th single and a record-breaking 5th consecutive No. 1 smash... It is now incredible to think that only 18 months ago nobody had ever heard of Scary, Ginger, Baby, Sporty or Posh!
Incredible indeed. Not only was 'Spice Up Your Life' a record-breaker, it also has an extra place in history as the single that displaced the all-time biggest-seller from the top of the chart: as I alluded to in the previous post, that was 'Candle In The Wind 97', a song that presumably wasn't considered for a Now album (surely everyone who wanted it had a copy by now anyway?) although its double-A-side partner 'Something About The Way You Look Tonight' does make an incongruous appearance on the recent Now That's What I Call a Million. Apparently, the death of Diana forced some edits to the film Spice World which was being shot at the same time as this song was recorded, and they also famously had to cut out Gary Glitter for other reasons.

As a song released at the peak of the group's fame, 'Spice Up Your Life' meets the challenge head on, even in the title. It's the sort of self-conscious theme tune that I often find off-putting but this takes it so far it's hard to resist, and the Latin beat was running just at the cutting edge of pop fashion at the time. The lyrics are not by any stretch of the imagination good (do they really say "Yellow man in Timbuktu"?) but they flash by just about fast enough for you to ignore them and the whole thing is over in less than three minutes. It's the first of two songs on Now 38 where I thought it sounded a bit like somebody was saying "wanker", though of course they're not really. Despite a strong first week, though, this single was relatively poorly-received and lasted only a single week at the top (first time for a Spice single) and suffered the unusual-for-1997 ignimony of being overtaken by a climber rather than a new entry.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 42, 47
Available on: Greatest Hits

Monday, 1 December 2014

Chumbawamba 'Tubthumping'

Chart Peak: 2
Chumbawamba were initially formed back in the mid-1980s - they released numerous records with varying degrees of success until August '97 and this anthem 'Tubthumping' which crashed onto the chart at No. 2 and was still Top 10 at the end of October.
It was a bit of a split decision (if one person can have a split decision) what to do as a follow-up to Now 14. I considered running with the 4 theme and going to Now 24, which is an interesting one, but I finally decided that Now 38, the last album of 1997, felt more wintry and would be better suited to the turn of the year. I can't actually remember what time of year it was when I bought this, but I remember I got it in St Luke's charity shop Harrow Weald along with a pair of trousers. The trousers haven't lasted as long as the album.

Anyway, we start with a track that is in some ways a curveball, and yet in other ways is totally logical. There was a bit of a trend in 1997-8 for unlikely long-serving acts to break through, and it's hard to think of a better example than the veteran Yorkshire anarchist collective who not only got signed to a major label but found themselves with a massive global hit that even penetrated the US Top 10 and became the theme tune for straight-to-video sequel Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. Heck, even I bought one (see photo) although with hindsight I probably didn't get my £2:29 worth as I quickly tired of the song. It was a massive airplay hit (apart from a record-breaking drop at the start of September when its upbeat mood was considered inappropriate after the death of Diana, Princess Of Wales, though sales seemed less affected) and never seemed to be off the telly either. At least I did get two B-sides that weren't on the UK CD or cassette singles and it is pretty red vinyl.

Now that it's possible to go as long as a month without hearing 'Tubthumping', I feel I can once again attempt to judge it on its own merits and I can appreciate at least some of what they were trying to do, producing a big defiant anthem out of a song that is actually somewhat pathetic, narrating a tale of a man who sits back, drinks a variety of alcoholic substances and looks back to supposedly happier times. He is, after all, "pissing the night away", obviously a punning reference to booze but also to the time he's wasting. On the other hand, it doesn't sound like there are a lot of other opportunities open to him either. Because of the strong accents this faintly recalls Pulp, although it's not in all honesty up to their highest standards. It doesn't totally convince beyond the fist-pumping, and I'm still quite bored with that, though there is a surprisingly good Flaming Lips remix you can listen to for a change.

Also appearing on: Now 39
Available on: Ultimate Office Party!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Michael Ball 'Love Changes Everything'

Chart Peak: 2
Yazz fan Michael Ball had raced to No. 2 by 19th February 1989 with this song from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Aspects Of Love.
I'm no expert on musical theatre but I think it's fair to say that Aspects Of Love is not one of the Llord's better-remembered productions. In fact I only remember it in the context of this song, and even then mostly because I remember a few months later one of our teachers set us an essay called "Aspects of Spring" and the kid sitting next to me started singing "Spring, Spring changes everything..." The teacher responded, "Well, you've just shown how easy it is to write Andrew Lloyd Webber lyrics," so I don't think he was a fan.

Of course, I wouldn't have admitted to liking this song even if I did at the time, but a quarter-century on I can at least say that I understand what people might like about this song in a formulaic sort of way, and I suppose it makes sense as a show opener setting out the themes, although I suppose it's a bit of a double-edged sword when the big song is right at the start of the show. I also think of this as being one of the last times that a song written specifically for a stage musical became such a big crossover hit, presumably for demographic reasons. It is, though, harder to forgive the very cheap-sounding production on this recorded version, which hardly fits with what I'd expect of the West End stage. It's also hard to forgive Michael Ball for his terrible cover version of 'May You Never', which I heard this very morning.

Still, I can see why this makes a fitting end to Now 14, even at the expense of putting it next to Climie Fisher (who had of course had an identically-titled hit less than a year earlier). And as a big hit it makes up for some of the less successful tracks elsewhere on Side 4. I suspect it reassured some buyers. I still don't get the Yazz joke, though I presume it was topical at the time.

Available on: Love Changes Everything: The Collection [+Digital Booklet]

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Level 42 'Tracie'

Chart Peak: 25
Their 15th Top 40 single in Britain... Made No. 25 in January 1989
It's starting to look like Side 4 is turning into "underperforming January release side", no wonder the sleevenotes are losing interest. It's sort of fitting to hear this track next to Duran Duran: not only were both these tracks taking advantage of the January market to outchart the previous release from the album, but both acts had emerged at the opposite end of the 1980s, and both were now lacking key founder members. The Gould brothers (who were actual brothers, unlike the two Taylors in Duran Duran) had departed and whilst replacement guitarist Alan Murphy was a very talented player who died far too young (less than a year after this in fact) he doesn't get a lot to do on 'Tracie', co-written by Mark King and new drummer Gary Husband. The track is a slightly edited version of the album cut on YouTube (video available on Muzu) and you can hear it's trying for some of the bubbly funk sound of earlier hits like 'Hot Water' but the song itself just doesn't seem to go anywhere and however well King plays the bass it's hard to pay attention.

The group seemed to have lost their way at this stage, though they staggered on a few years. King later revived the name for live work, sometimes joined by co-singer Mike Lindup. A colleague of mine saw that af Watford Collisseum last month, he said they were very good.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 6, 7, 10, 13
Available on: Staring At The Sun (Expanded Version)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Duran Duran 'All She Wants Is'

Chart Peak: 9
This became the group's 15th Top 20 single in Britain - it made No. 9 in January 1989
It was probably too early to say this in the spring of 1989, but this turned out to be their last Top 10 hit of the decade where they were perhaps the dominant act in UK pop. That said, it was also a bit of a comeback for them after the previous couple of singles had charted lower; in fact this was the second single from their album Big Thing but managed to outchart the first because it was released into the quiet post-Christmas market. It was too early in their career to sell on nostalgia but too late for them still to be the coolest thing on the block, especially as they were now reduced to a trio - although on the positive side, this meant there was now only one person called Taylor in the band to reduce the confusion. Big Thing - and if you think that title's bad, you should see the cover - was obviously an attempt to try and catch up with modern trends but it doesn't totally work, partly because house music wasn't a style that really suited the talents of the band, nor their rather cynical songwriting style. There's a half-decent chorus kicking off and the song sounds like it might be trying to say something, but in the end it's as incomplete as the title sentence.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 24, 25, 31
Available on: The Biggest & The Best

Monday, 10 November 2014

Climie Fisher 'Love Like A River'

Chart Peak: 22
Their 5th Top 40 hit in just over a year... Following 'Rise To The Occasion', 'Love Changes Everything', 'This Is Me' and 'I Won't Bleed For You', 'Love Like A River' made No. 22 in January 1989.
The second of the two tracks missing from the official Spotify playlist, this forgotten single between the duo's two albums proved to be their last Top 40 hit.

I've heard this track a few times now and I'm still none the wiser as to how love resembles a river, although like many songs about rivers it has some session gospel singers; I'm not sure of the connection but I suppose everybody really wants to recapture 'Take Me To The River'. Climie Fisher sound like what they were, a couple of jobbing session musicians who got lucky for a while, and this is when the luck started to run out.

Also appearing on: Now 11, 12
Available on: Love Like A River

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Brother Beyond 'Be My Twin'

Chart Peak: 14
'Be My Twin' was the 3rd hit for Carl, David, Nathan and Steve... It reached No. 14 in late January 1989 following their earlier hits 'The Harder I Try' and 'He Ain't No Competition'.
This isn't a Stock Aitken Waterman production, but the two previous singles mentioned in that sleevenote were of course; I've mentioned before the famous story that EMI bought the services of the production giants in a charity auction and asked them to do these two singles for a British boyband-with-instruments who'd had some success in Italy but failed to wow the home market. They were presumably unable or unwilling to continue the relationship, though, so they returned to the group's debut album for a follow-up single. Indeed, 'Be My Twin' was the opener on the original version of the album, though it was booted to mid-table when the set was re-issued to accommodate the SAW tracks. It did at least receive a remix from big-name 80s producer Stephen Hague (with Don Was also producing one of their other tracks, you can tell they were a big investment for the label) and in places it sounds a bit like an attempt to replicate the SAW sound with the synthesised bass.

What it doesn't really have is the catchiness of the big SAW numbers, which are hard to forget even if you want to. Neither does it do enough to distract you from Nathan Moore's rather weak singing. You can almost hear them falling between stools.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 16 (CD only)
Available on: Get Even

Friday, 7 November 2014

Samantha Fox 'I Only Wanna Be With You'

Chart Peak: 16
This song has now been a hit for 4 different acts... Samantha's version, her eleventh single in under 3 years, Made No. 16 in February 1989... Dusty Springfield's original made No. 4 in 1964 (and is featured on the fabulous Unforgettable 2 album).
In case you were trying to remember, The Tourists and the Bay City Rollers. The latter somehow had the biggest US hit with the song. What I didn't know or had forgotten was that Dusty's original had been re-released in 1988 after its use in a TV commercial; that's presumably how it found its way onto a compilation of Sixties and Seventies hits (nice cross-promotion there, even if they neglected to mention that it also featured the original version of 'Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart') and may also be why it was chosen as a Sam Fox single.

I'm not entirely sure how aware younger readers might be of Ms Fox, a "glamour" model who became one of Britain's biggest stars by her willingness to pose topless in tabloid newspapers: she began doing so at the age of 16, which one hopes wouldn't happen today. Indeed under current UK law I think it would be illegal to view those early pictures online. Anyway, it may come as more of a surprise how successful a pop star she was, eight of these eleven singles having made the Top 40 and three even the Top 10. Amazingly, she even had several hits in the USA, where presumably few people had seen her breasts in newspapers. The extent of her chart success would seem to imply that she had more going for her than fame and cleavage, and as I recall one or two of her singles were decent, if you'll pardon the phrase. This, admittedly not her biggest success, applies a standard issue Stock Aitken Waterman production to a tried and tested old song and creates something which is serviceable and not the worst version I've ever heard, but not quite what I would call enjoyable either. It was a last payday for co-writer Ivor Raymonde who died the following year, though. And since his son was a member of the Cocteau Twins, that's the closest they get to making a Now album.

Available on: I Wanna Have Some Fun

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Paula Abdul 'Straight Up'

Chart Peak: 3
A former American No. 1 single... Released in Britain on 20th February 1989.
I was slightly surprised to discover that 'Straight Up' was not in fact Paula Abdul's debut single in the UK or US; she'd even made a Top 100 appearance with 'Knocked Out' in 1988, a song that had to be re-issued twice before it finally made the Top 40. It's was certainly her first proper hit though, the start of a massive (if not very long) run of success in her homeland. It's possibly been slightly overshadowed by one or two of her other songs here, but it's surprisingly enjoyable and has aged better than the Robin Beck track. To be honest, it sounds as much like a rock track, thanks to its booming drums. Only the cheap synthesised brass section seems truly dated, and even that gets some credit for not pretending to be the real thing. "Don't want to get my love caught in the slamming door" is an odd metaphor too. There's nothing truly brilliant going on here but it gets a long way on energy and charm.

Also appearing on: Now 17, 20, 21
Available on: Greatest Hits

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Robin Beck 'First Time'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)

Of course it's not unusual for a song to be popularised by a TV commercial, but there's something a bit odd about a Now album actually printing a corporate logo (other than its own!) like that. Presumably it was a condition of licensing the track on here; the fact that the song was an advert turned into a single rather than an existing track simply used in ad advert is underlined by the fact that the original single sleeve depicted actors rather than Beck herself. I suppose in these days where everyone talks about "engagement" with brands and we all realise that the cash isn't rolling in for musicians, it doesn't seem so strange that people would effectively pay to listen to an advert, but I did find it slightly strange at the time. Mind you, I found it a bit strange that anybody would pay for this record under any circumstances, it's not really the sort of thing that appeals to ten-year-olds.

26 years later and it's still not appealing. Although we're on a new side of the album here, it seems to follow quite seamlessly from Natalie Cole's drab ballad. In fact I'm slightly surprised to discover from the type of compilation albums it shows up on that this is apparently supposed to be a rock song. I certainly didn't hear it as such at the time, and it doesn't sound any more rocky now. The other thing I didn't realise was that Robin Beck had released an album in 1979 - not that anyone else noticed it either, at the time, but I'd remembered her as being a very young pop star, possibly a teenager. In fact she was in her mid-30s and a successful jingle singer when she recorded this and her 60th birthday is the day after tomorrow. This single also brought her the distinction of being a UK one-hit-wonder by the strict, Guinness book definition: a Number One single and no other Top 75 appearances. None, at least, until she guested on a dance re-recording of this song in 2006, though not all sources give her an artist credit. 

I can't even give this much credit for being catchy considering how many times I heard it in its two incarnations. 

Also appearing on: Now 64 [with Sunblock]
Available on: Soft Rock Highway

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Natalie Cole 'I Live For Your Love'

Chart Peak: 23 [86 in 1987]
Became her 4th Top 40 hit in the last year making No. 23 in January 1989... Following 'Pink Cadillac', 'Everlasting' and 'Jump Start' into the chart.
I'm quite surprised to note that this was a bigger hit than the latter two mentioned in the sleeve note, because I remember both of those and I don't remember this at all. Admittedly, its chart performance may have been helped by charting at the turn of the year (when there are fewer releases just after Christmas) and Valentine's Day, but it's still odd. I do give myself the excuse that this isn't a very memorable song, though, a rather wishy-washy ballad that's presumably been classed here as a "soul" track to fit in with some of the rest of Side Three. Even the chorus seems a bit unfinished, like it's about to go somewhere and doesn't. In a word, frustrating.

Also appearing on: Everlasting
Available on: Now 12, 15

Monday, 3 November 2014

Tone Loc 'Wild Thing'

Chart Peak: 21
'Wild Thing' has now become one of the biggest-selling records of all time in America... Had reached No. 30 in Britain by 19th February 1989.
With three of the previous four tracks being cover versions, the uninitiated might be forgiven for expecting 'Wild Thing' to be a cover of the famous Troggs hit. It's not, of course, although it's not a wholly original track in that it is based on early Van Halen track 'Jamie's Cryin', though as was the way of things in those days, the rockers were not initially credited or paid. Unusually for a rapper, Tone Loc has no writing credit either, the lyric being penned by UK-born rap pioneer Young MC. That lyric is a typical boast about his sexual prowess, set to a repeating riff from the Van Halen track. It gets to the punchline when one potential conquest asks him to pay upfront for her services.

Obviously, this should be terrible but there's something strangely and inexplicably likeable about it. Perhaps it's the very minimalism that now makes a change from present-day hip-hop and boastful as it is, there's nothing aggressive in it. Tone Loc of course went on to become one of the biggest two-hit-wonders ever; indeed the follow-up 'Funky Cold Medina' did slightly better in the UK and is probably the song he's remembered for here. Despite last releasing an album in 1991, he continues to tour in the US. And very conveniently his first album has just been re-issued.

Available on: Loc-ed After Dark (Expanded Edition)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Adeva 'Respect'

Chart Peak: 17
This Otis Redding song originally made No. 10 for Aretha Franklin in 1967... Adeva's new version was a worldwide club smash and reached No. 17 in Britain in January 1989.
At this point I think my lack of expertise in club culture - especially club culture when I was ten years old - is quite well-documented. Perhaps if I had known more about it I would understand why Adeva performs the video for this track not only wearing a construction worker's hard hat but actually carrying a hammer around with her. I would suggest that it was some sort of fashion on the scene at the time, but surely nobody would actually be allowed into a club carrying a hammer? However old I might get though, I'm pretty sure I'll never see the day when I understand why an otherwise bald keyboard player would grow a ponytail.

Despite my lack of dancefloor action I do actually remember this track from the time, it being a much-played radio hit at the time. My recollection is, though, that it took me quite a while to recognise this as the same song as the Aretha version I was also familiar with as, unlike many a dance cover version, this is actually quite radical, spreading sections of the original lyric around the track. It almost feels more like a house track that samples 'Respect' than a cover version of it. I'd imagine that if you did want to try that in 1988 it would probably have been easier to get a session singer to redo the vocal than to use the limited capacity of samplers at the time; I'm reminded of A Guy Called Gerald's claim that his classic track 'Voodoo Ray', sadly not featured on a proper Now album, is only so called because his sampler didn't have enough memory for the whole phrase "voodoo rage". It must be said, though, that if Adeva was engaged on those terms she didn't do it, because this is no impersonation of Aretha (or Otis for that matter) but an original performance with its own phrasing and ad-libs: she doesn't even do the famous "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" from the Aretha version. I'm suspicious of glib proverbs like "If you're going to do a cover version, make sure it's different" but this is one case where it's really worked. Perhaps it doesn't pack the emotional punch of the 60s versions, and it doesn't quite have the same proto-feminist anger as Aretha's take, but it's a highly enjoyable

And of course as a loyal Forgotten 80s listener I couldn't let this moment pass without mentioning that this was the first of Adeva's three consecutive solo singles to peak at 17.

Also appearing on: Now 16
Available on: Adeva

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Style Council 'Promised Land'

Chart Peak: 27
For their 17th single, the Style Council chose to do a cover version of Joe Smooth's 'Promised Land'... It had reached No. 27 by 19th February 1989.
Exactly how much choice they really had is a matter of some speculation; it's now a well-known story that the Style Council delivered a fifth album called Modernism: A New Decade that reflected Paul Weller's new-found interest in house music (and presumably Mick Talbot's too, though his contributions seem to get less attention generally, I don't even know why he had a beard on Top Of The Pops) and which was rejected by Polydor. With hindsight, delving into house was no more of a shock than the duo's dabbles with gospel, jazz or even classical music; indeed some would go so far as to argue that the late-80s UK house scene was in some respects a successor to the Northern Soul that Weller had been celebrating since the first Jam album. Still, it was probably a bridge too far for an act with a now severely declining audience, some of whom would inevitably be lost to this new direction.

Although it wasn't included on the album, 'Promised Land' supposedly comes from the same sessions, and was picked off as a non-album single in early 1989 - indeed it entered the Top 100 just three weeks after the Joe Smooth original, though that had been released in the US as early as 1987; maybe it was even advance promotion for the Style Council version that gave the original a boost. I would surmise that Polydor were willing to greenlight this single in the hope that a name act covering a club hit was likely to prove a smash. In the event though, it never preceded past that peak of 27, which probably has more to do with devoted Weller fans buying up all five (!) available formats than major interest in the single itself. If this was supposed to be some sort of test case for the band's new direction, it failed and in the event they ever made another album, fulfilling their contract with a singles compilation a few months later, with the "lost" album finally showing up as part of a boxed set in 1998. I know some fans of the original really dislike this version but as I mentioned a few days ago, I've never really been into house music so I'm not precious about it and I can like both versions, though I must say neither of them really moves me. Weller does at least contribute rather a good vocal performance but it's fair to say he doesn't bring much else to the song that wasn't already there: I suspect this might be another case of a cover where he was too much a fan of the original to do anything special with it. At least he earned Joe Smooth some extra money in songwriting royalties and remix fees.

Also appearing on: Now 3, 4, 5, 10
Available on: Gold

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Living In A Box 'Blow The House Down'

Chart Peak: 10
Their 4th Top 40 single in Britain following 'Living In A Box', 'Scales Of Justice' and 'So The Story Goes'... Had reached No. 31 by 19th February 1989
This could have been awkward, had they ended up including a minor hit from an acts whose bigger hits had missed the cut, but as it turned out their luck held and this was a decent-sized hit though it's probably the first track on Now 14 I have no contemporary memories of: though I can certainly remember the group having several hits I'd have struggled to call any to mind beyond 'Living In A Box', 'Room In Your Heart' and 'So The Story Goes'. Only when I looked this up on YouTube did I learn that this particular track also features an uncredited guitar solo by no less than Brian May.

It's an easy line, but I can't resist saying that this does sound more like huffing and puffing than actually blowing anything down. It's the same trouble I have with a lot of smooth soul from this era; the band are obviously talented but the song just seems to lack body.

Also appearing on: Now 16
Available on: The Very Best Of Living In A Box

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

S'Xpress 'Hey Music Lover'

Chart Peak:
This is the 3rd hit from S'Xpress following 'Theme From S'Express' and 'Superfly Guy'... It had reaced No. 14 by 19th February 1989 and is a cover version of the Sly And The Family Stone original.
All spellings above are as on the original Now 14, and indeed match the image of the single sleeve: it would appear that the first letter E [no puns please] went AWOL from their name somewhere after 'Theme From S-Express', though it was back by the time of their debut album released just a few weeks after this single. And that mimed performance from ITV is the most complete 7" version I could find (to the extent that they even get to be surprised by the fade-out), although you can also find about half the promo video courtesy of German TV.

Mark Moore's second Now appearance is something of a change from the sample-based 'Theme' - indeed all the follow-ups that I can remember were more conventionally song-based than the debut hit, although some of this may I suppose just be a product of the record company's single choices from the material available. 'Hey Music Lover' is slightly closer to the debut hit in the sense that it's directly based on a classic funk track, though with the difference that they actually credited the original writers this time. It's a relatively straight cover of the original, which was issued originally as part of the long track 'Dance To The Medley' (the relevant part starts at about 6:29) and which itself is a development of their hit and album title track 'Dance To The Music', as well as quoting from other Family Stone songs like 'I Wanna Take You Higher'. Some of the more specific references are dropped but essentially this is a simple transposition into the acid house style of the time with various vocalists (including a young Billie Ray Martin) delivering parts of the lyric. You can see the point he was trying to make and it sounds OK but isn't particularly impressive. I'd rather have had 'Superfly Guy', actually.

Also appearing on: Now 12
Available on: Original Soundtrack

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Inner City 'Good Life'

Chart Peak: 4
'Big Fun' and 'Good Life' were two of the biggest dance hits of 1988... 'Good Life' made No. 4 going into 1989 and was still in the Top 75 on 19 February 1989.
It'll be obvious to anyone who reads this blog regularly (if such people exist) but I've never really been at ease with club culture. It doesn't mean I can't like the music, but sometimes I find it hard to equate it to its original context and the way it was meant to be heard. With 'Good Life' though, I feel like I can have a go because there is something very seductive about the promise of a good life, particularly in the dark days of winter in the late 1980s, which I don't recall as an especially optimistic time.

It's a deceptively simple song, one which combines the sort of house/garage beats [see, I told you I didn't understand club culture] that Kevin Saunderson had pioneered with a genuinely soulful vocal from Paris Grey. It's a common idea in dance, but often seems to end up with just an instrumental track thudding away while a vocalist over-emotes on top of it. It's rarer to find a track where the two parts seem to fit together so neatly, and despite or because of the relative simplicity of what they're both doing (obviously, the title phrase is repeated with great insistence), it feels for once as if music and vocals are both pointing in the same direction, both conveying the same mood, both making the same invitation. It has a very warm, welcoming quality about it that's utterly lovable and makes me want to believe in it.

Also appearing on: Now 13, 15, 16
Available on: Paradise

Monday, 27 October 2014

Neneh Cherry 'Buffalo Stance'

Chart Peak: 3
Neneh was born in Sweden and used to be in the band Rip, Rig & Panic... 'Buffalo Stance', the scratch/rap/house record produced by Bomb The Bass, became her first UK hit making No. 3 in January 1989.
Disc Two kicks off in a change of mood from Simple Minds. The internet is awash with different explanations of exactly what a Buffalo stance is, but what I do know is that this song is a reworking of
'Looking Good Diving With The Wild Bunch', itself a B-side remix of a 1986 song by Morgan McVey, a duo that included her future husband. At the time, though, to those us unfamiliar with the flipsides of singles that missed the Top 100, this arrived as something very fresh and different. Remarkably, it still rather feels that way 26 years on; it's one of a lot of tracks that I sort of rediscovered when I developed my habit of buying old compilations in charity shops. In fact the first compilation CD I got with this track on was scratched, but I was pleased to find it on another soon enough, enabling repeated listens with adult ears. Also. posterity has connected me with a cassette of her debut album Raw Like Sushi, which opens with a longer version of this track, and also adds a remix as a tape bonus track.

But enough about me, what of the song itself? I'm always reluctant to praise a record for having "attitude", because it's not only a greatly overused word but one that often seems to connote less than admirable qualities. Indeed it often feels like a euphemism for music that actually has little or nothing going for it but that has to be praised anyway. Still with this track it's hard to avoid because Ms Cherry really is all over this track, brimming with deserved confidence and seemingly trying on voices, melodies and ideas for fun. In fact it's interesting to hear the original track because this sounds so spontaneous, though in fact most of the sections are adapted from that B-side. In fact I prefer this 7" edit to the album track because the shorter running time makes it feel like they've packed as much as possible into this track and creates an energy it's hard to resist joining in with.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 16, 18, 29 [with Youssou N'Dour], 30 [with Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Eric Clapton], 35
Available on: Now That's What I Call 80s Dance

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Simple Minds 'Belfast Child'

Chart Peak: 1
The first Scottish group to top the UK singles chart since Wet Wet Wet way back in May 1988!... Stormed in at No. 2 on February 1989, [sic] progressed to No.1 the following week.
Presumably the reference to Wet Wet Wet is intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since May to February is a gap of less than nine months and I doubt that's anything like the longest gap between Scottish acts at the top of the chart. Still, though 'Belfast Child' isn't the best-known or biggest-selling Simple Minds single, it is their only Number One over here (sometimes listed as a double A-side with 'Mandela Day' or as Ballad Of The Streets EP'). It's also the second track on this side based on a traditional tune, after Status Quo, though the source here is the relatively well-known 'She Moved Through The Fair'. The reasons for using an Irish tune in the context of a song about the Troubles in Northern Ireland are obvious, and Jim Kerr says he was inspired to do so after the atrocity of the Enniskillen bombing on Remembrance Day 1987. I've no doubt he was well-intentioned in doing so and I can imagine how a more subtle take on this idea may have worked, maybe as a brief acoustic track at the end of an album. Unfortunately, Simple Minds never really seem to have understood simplicity, and the finished article, even at the five-minute duration of the radio edit, seems to drag as it strains to carry the weight of its own pomposity; not helped at all by the super-slick production which ramps up the sentimentality at the expense of any genuine feeling, nor the airbrushed-looking video. My copy of Now 14 is scratched during this track so I've never been able to confirm exactly which edit is on there.

I will be fair and say that this might actually have sounded better at the time than it does now, and at least its heart is in the right place. What the band themselves might think of it at this point I don't know, but I suspect they might be prouder of this than 'Don't You Forget About Me'.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 5, 6, 7, 15, 23, 30
Available on: Celebrate: The Collection