Saturday, 30 August 2014

Tin Tin Out featuring Espiritu 'Always Something There To Remind Me'

Chart Peak: 14
Tin Tin Out are Darren Stokes and Lindsay Edwards... 'Always...', due for release on 13th March '95 features the vocals of Vanessa from Espiritu and is a dance reworking of the Bacharach-David classic.
The title is given as 'Always...' on the sleeve image in the booklet too, but elsewhere the full title seems to be used. Perhaps the publishers insisted. This is also the first track on this particular disc I have no memory of from the time.

An odd little phenomenon in 90s music, Tin Tin Out were successful remixers and had a decent crop of hit singles of their own (this is one of six from their debut album) yet seem little-remembered and little-noticed even at the time; I never heard of anybody identifying themselves as Tin Tin Out fans. Indeed, the success and low profile might almost have been part of the same thing; they never seem to have tried to develop a strong identity of their own, treating each single as a one-off commercial effort. The parade of different vocalists fronting different tracks didn't make Stokes and Edwards any more famous either.

The other problem for posterity might be that they were trying so hard to create tracks that suited the dancefloors of the time, and however well that worked then it's not a recipe for making a song that would make sense years later. Nowadays this just sounds like the chorus of the original song being sung over generic dance beats, except that once it's sung in Italian for no apparent reason. I hesitate to be negative but it does nothing for me now.

After the duo's success, Edwards apparently became an academic physiologist. You can download his paper on The Reproducibility of 31-Phosphorus MRS Measures of Muscle Energetics at 3 Tesla in Trained Men, which is something I heartily approve of from an open-access perspective.

Tin Tin Out also appear on: Now 39 (with Shelley Nelson), 44 (with Emma Bunton)
Available on: Always

Friday, 29 August 2014

Nightcrawlers 'Push The Feeling On'

Chart Peak: 3 [previous mix 22 in 1994]
'Push The Feeling On' has been one of the biggest club records of the past couple of years... This new remix finally pushed the Glasgow band into the upper reaches of the national chart when it peaked at No. 3 in March '95.
Back in 1995 I remember this video never seemed to be off MTV, which considering that it looked every bit as cheap then as it does now seems quite a good return on their investment. We used to joke that it sounded like he was singing "You're lying in a pool of sperm," a phrase which in this case thankfully didn't make it into the song title. In fact this track has a bit of topicality about it since the hit version is a remix by MK [the specific version here is MK Dub Revisited Edit] and at time of writing, another MK remix has put 'My Head Is A Jungle' by Wankelmut and Emma Louise into the Top 10 (and possibly into contention for Now 89).

What I didn't realise until this week was just how much MK had done to this record. I finally looked up the 1992 original of 'Push The Feeling On', and it's barely recognisable as the same track, it's more of an Acid Jazz/ funk track than a dance single. And hence the explanation for the indecipherable lyric: it's just brief samples from the first verse of the song (the annotations on that YouTube video show where they come from), not even complete words in some cases, so no wonder John Reid struggles to mime to it in the video. Even the few repeats of the original chorus seem almost like they're there on sufferance to make the song identifiable - the main hookline is definitely the synth part that MK himself added. In fact, I have to wonder whether he actually disliked the original and decided to use as little as possible of it. Whatever the reasoning, he and Reid clearly did rather well out of it.

After the original MK remix had done well in clubs and become a minor hit, he returned with this slightly revised version, which was credited officially to "Nightcrawlers featuring John Reid" (number of permanent members of Nightcrawlers who weren't John Reid: zero) and had one of the biggest dance hits of the 1990s - something which only spawned further remixes. Making hay with this change in career direction, a whole barrage of suspiciously similar Nightcrawlers singles including the shamelessly titled 'Let's Push It' and 'Don't Let The Feeling Go'. He later wrote a Number One for Westlife, but this inane yet unforgettable track remains his calling card. If such people as Pitbull fans exist, they might find this part of the album somewhat familiar since both this and (indirectly) 'The Bomb' were sampled on later hits by him.

Available on: The Pete Tong Collection

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Kenny "Dope" presents the Bucketheads 'The Bomb (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)'

Chart Peak: 5
'The Bomb' is an infectious disco dance floor gem out of Brooklyn, New York City... Kenny is half of hot production team Masters At Work and this cut exploded into the UK Top 5 in March '95.
Mondegreens or misheard lyrics are hardly uncommon in pop music, but it's more unusual to find one in the very title of a song. Yet, famously, that's what we have here as this track is based on 'Street Player' by Chicago, and the lyric that gives the song its (sub)title was recorded as "Street sounds falling through my mind". Here I'm reminded of a tweet by the critic Simon Price where he mentions that he once paid £20 for an imported Chicago CD just to hear the source of the sample; whatever you might say about changes in the music industry since 1995, some things have definitely improved for the consumer.

The other unusual thing about this is that it's a 1990s dance track that I actually liked at the time. Perhaps it's hypocritical of me after what I wrote about 'U Sure Do' but I think this is an example of a sample used right: mind you, I wasn't willing to spend £20 to listen to Chicago, a band I knew only for their sappy ballads, so I only knew this interpretation. I still prefer this one though, one of the best neo-disco tracks of that era, with that odd crunching sound that keeps coming in over it giving it a bit more bite and stopping it from sounding like a Muzak pastiche. The other proviso is that I've only heard the short edit versions - as featured here - and not the full 15-minute version, which I suspect would be a bit more boring. At this length, though, a triumph.

You can now acquire the Chicago track for considerably less money on Nile Rodgers Presents Disco Inferno should you wish.

Available on: Henry Street Bombs Vol. 1

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Strike 'U Sure Do'

Chart Peak: 4 [31 in 1994]
Strike are DJs Andy Gardner and Matt Cantor plus Australian vocalist Victoria Newton... 'U Sure Do', a huge club tune for some months now, is set for re-release on 20th March '95 and is bound for the national Top 10.
It obviously was not uncommon for a dance track to be a minor hit at first and then chart much higher re-released, though this does seem to have been a remarkably quick turnaround.

The main vocal hook is, as fans of 80s soul would know, sampled from 'Serious' by Donna Allen, which has the most 1987 video imaginable. The tune comes from 1991 rave hit 'Night In Motion' by Cubic 22 which I hadn't heard until I came to write this post, and it has to be said that whilst it's not a direct lift, and Strike certainly have added some of their own material, it's harder to credit them for catchiness that's obviously so secondhand. Yes, it's well-produced and from a 1995 perspective you can see that it would have been more "relevant" than Donna Allen and more commercial than Cubic 22. You can certainly see why it would go down well in clubs but it does feel a wee bit pointless now.

Also appearing on: Now 35
Available on: Big Tunes Destination Dance

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Alex Party 'Don't Give Me Your Life'

Chart Peak: 2
Alex Party are Italian brothers Paulo {sic} and Gianni Visnadi and DJ/Remixer Alex Natale together with English singer Shanie... 'Don't Give Me Your Life' had raced to No. 2 in the UK by 5/3/95.
Second track on Disc 2, and as you might expect we continue with the dance tracks that tend to dominate the second discs of Now albums in the mid-90s. A somewhat "purer" dance act than the Outhere Brothers rap/dance hybrid, Alex Party were named after a track that was named after their DJ. However the Visnadi brothers, also members of Livin' Joy, may have been more important to the sound.

'Don't Give Me Your Life' recycles elements from their eponymous hit, particularly those twinkling synth parts, but adds a fresh melody and lyric. That's just as well since the song was later re-worked again as 'Read My Lips'. This is probably the best version though, at least it has a bit of a story to tell with a rejected lover turning the tables and rejecting the rejector. Shanie is a decent singer too, even though she looks like she's been forced to do the video at gunpoint. This doesn't quite cross the boundary into being a song I love, but I can recognise it as a good example of its type.

Also appearing on: Now 32
Available on: The Best Off Dance 90 [Explicit]

Monday, 25 August 2014

Outhere Brothers 'Don't Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]
'Don't Stop' has been a Top 10 hit all over Europe for the Chicago-based manic oddball Outhere Brothers... It charted at No. 9 in the UK on 12/3/95.
Chronologically the newest of the four Number One singles on Now 30, 'Don't Stop' (which loses its subtitle in the sleevenote but has it in the credits, back cover and disc label) entered the chart the very same week as 'Love Can Build A Bridge' but had to wait a week longer to climb to the top. In 1995 it wasn't unprecedented for a new unknown act to have a near-instant Number One - Whigfield had entered at the very top the previous September - but it was still unusual, and the Brothers went a stage further by topping the chart with their second single as well, a then-rare achievement that was soon to become almost unremarkable. Yet if they were in the forefront of one change in the music industry, they were one of the last acts to find themselves in legal trouble over obscenity when the CD single found its way to the Crown Prosecution service because some of the remixes contained references to oral sex. Imagine such a thing happening in popular music!

It's certainly true that the original version does contain some non-family-friendly lyrics, to say nothing of the rather seedy video, but needless to say that's not the version featured here, which is apparently the "Townhouse radio edit". That version plays down the hip-hop aspects of the song and boosts the Eurodance elements for something a little more radio-friendly, though I can imagine it wasn't the version attracting most attention in school playgrounds - my fellow sixth-formers were probably a little too old for this and in any case many were already into "serious" rap (or, like me at the time, had no interest at all in it) so the song made little impact on me at the time. I just remember seeing the broadcastable cartoon video (rather passe by those days) on the telly a couple of times. I didn't like it much then and I don't particularly like it now either, though it sometimes catches me in the right mood when I can admire the energy of it.

Also appearing on: Now 31, 32
Available on: D.J. Mix '97, Vol. 1

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Oasis 'Whatever'

Chart Peak: 3
Oasis - Paul, Paul, Tony and brothers Liam and Noel - come from Manchester and are reckoned by many to be the best new rock band on the planet. 'Whatever', a Top 3 smash, followed 'Live Forever' and 'Cigarettes & Alcohol' into the charts in December '94.
One of the B-sides on 'Wake Up Boo!' from earlier in this album is a weird spoken-word piece called 'The History Of Creation Parts 17 and 35' in which somebody claims that Oasis have everything a great rock band needs "except a bald lead singer". Certainly that was a widely-held view at the time and here in Spring 1995 their second Now appearance may have been about the last time in a long while when it was considered necessary to identify the band members by name in this way. I'm sure there were plenty of dance or hip-hop fans who would not know the names of the non-Gallagher band members even at the peak of their fame, but then they wouldn't care either.

It's safe to say that Oasis had a pretty good year in 1994, with a chart-topping and genuinely big-selling debut album spawning four hit singles, each charting higher than the previous one. So for the coup de grace they had to aim at the big prize - a Christmas Number One. Possibly learning from the mistake of Take That, who infamously topped the chart the week before Christmas 1993, they held back releasing this non-album single until the very last week possible in the hope that it would burst straight in at the top of the chart. But could they claim the big Number One spot? Well, if you've been reading this far you'll know that they couldn't, with East 17 getting the honours and Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' the runner-up. Still, helped by its lack of festive sentiment, 'Whatever' stuck around the chart, joining in with the regular sets of Oasis re-entries in the mid-1990s. It ultimately became their most-charted (though not biggest-selling) single of the pre-download era, helped by the exclusivity of the A-side and the popularity of CD bonus track 'Half The World Away'. Ironically, though, it was their last single to become available as a digital download, even the last of the four tracks from the single to show up in the format, only arriving as part of the Time Flies best-of after the band had split.

The obvious reason for the delayed release that the track isn't on an album, but there again some of the singles were available digitally for their B-sides too. Possibly there was some connection with the fact that Noel Gallagher was successfully sued for plagiarism of 'How Sweet To Be An Idiot' by Neil Innes. Fans of irony will note that Innes was also the songwriter for classic Beatles parody act The Rutles, and was also a friend of George Harrison, who found himself on the receiving end of a plagiarism suit himself once. Still, whoever's song this is it's a pretty good one, though it already seems to find Gallagher already lacking in lyrical inspiration and it's an early case of the self-conscious EPIC sound that eventually ruined the band, as if they were determined to release a six-and-a-half-minute single whether the song was really good enough or not. In fact, the version here is a very slight edit - it fades out the last few seconds of self-applause after the song ends. It's a difficult track to dislike even though it shows the early seeds of what would make the band insufferable; at least they had a few more good singles in them before that.

Of course the post wouldn't be complete without a little Noel Gallagher DVD commentary.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38, 52, 53, 54, 61, 62
Available on: Time Flies... 1994-2009

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Portishead 'Glory Box'

Chart Peak: 13
'Glory Box' was Portishead's debut Top 20 single in January 1995... They mix "Nineties hip hop beats, imaginary 60s film soundtracks with the scorching blues vocals of Beth Gibbons" to produce a wonderously new and original sound.
It's not totally clear where that part in inverted commas comes from, no. Some people would call this music trip-hop, although anyone involved in actually making it seems to bristle (no pun intended) at the suggestion, perhaps because it sounds a bit too druggy. It seems only fair to sequence this track next to the Massive Attack song since they seem almost inseparably bonded; when I went on YouTube to look up the 'Protection' video, 'Glory Box' was one of the "related" suggestions, and on the chart dated 21 January 1995 they were in consecutive positions: Massive were new in at 14 as Portishead fell 13-15. Tricky provides an odd link between the two as well; he infamously recycled some lyrics he contributed to the Protection album on his own solo material, whilst his own 1995 hit 'Hell Is Round The Corner' uses the very same Isaac Hayes sample (from the deliciously moody 'Ike's Rap II') that this song is based on. You could even claim that there are references to gender identity in both songs, as Gibbons sings "I just want to be a woman" - whilst of course that lyric is open to multiple interpretations, it is notable that the non-performance parts of the video are all played by actors in drag.

Whatever the song is actually about - and I'm not sure they really want us to know - it's a beautiful piece of work. Even knowing how much is derived from the Isaac Hayes arrangement, it's the juxtaposition of that and the superb vocals (which are of course very different from his deep rumble) that really makes it, along with the switch to the darker-sounding section at the end. Even the rather odd fade in the middle of a repeated verse seems like it's consciously mysterious; the album version, though longer than the radio edit featured here, has exactly the same fade so it's obviously not just a mistake. In fact the whole track is so good you can see why the group struggled to follow it.

Also appearing on: Now 31
Available on: Dummy

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Massive Attack featuring Tracey Thorn 'Protection'

Chart Peak: 14
Massive Attack - a floating collective of rappers, DJs, singers and musicians - have featured at one time or another, talents such as Tricky, Shara Nelson and Nellee Hooper... 'Protection', a No.14 hit in January '95, features the vocal talents of Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn.
Funny they should mention Tricky, when only a couple of days ago he was performing on Radio 4 alongside June Whitfield. Not a very obvious combination of bookings, that. However, he's not involved with this particular track, though he does appear elsewhere on the album. Nellee Hooper's production is unmistakable of course.
In her autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a pop star, Thorn describes receiving the original demo cassette which included the backing track for the song song that became 'Protection'. With no lyrics or vocal melody, there was only a very minimal loop, presumably just the beat and guitar samples from 'The Payback' by James Brown (which had of course already appeared as part of 'The Payback Mix' on Now 12) at a very slow pace. She admits that it was a difficult sound to get used to initially, but claims to have finally got the inspiration to write a lyric and finished the whole job in ten minutes.
And what a lyric it is too. The arresting first verse "This girl I know needs some shelter... You can't change the way she feels, but you can put your arms around her" was apparently inspired by an unnamed person some friends had told her about, but the later parts of the song are of course based on her own protective feelings towards partner Ben Watt, then recovering from a near-fatal illness. In truth, the two parts are not entirely distinct, the real point of the lyric being about mutual support "I leaned on you for years, now you can lean on me/ That's more than love, that's the way it should be", reinforced by the swapping "You're a boy and I'm a girl" lyric to emphasise the role reversal not as a novelty but as a natural even instinctive reaction. Of course this also fits with Thorn's feminist principles and rejection of gender stereotypes. In this context, it's hard not the feel that the "girl I know" in the first verse could easily be the protagonist, though of course not necessarily the real-life Thorn. A song of determination rather than than physical strength or aggression (and thus, as some have pointed out, an inversion of the James Brown source) it's perfectly set by Thorn's mournful but steely vocal and the gradual sweep of Hooper's brilliant arrangement.

You can see why Massive ended up naming the album (their best one, in my opinion) after this song, although oddly it was only the second single released. Perhaps this was intentional so that they could put it out in January for maximum impact. Even in the shorter radio edit featured here the track packs a big punch, though even more so with the addition of Michel Gondry's outstanding promo video. Much as I'd like to boast about being into this at the time, the reality is that I was even less ready than Tracey Thorn and didn't really appreciate the song until a few years later. Still, I was lucky enough to acquire both CD single formats in that nice cardboard wallet (protection, you see) for only 50p a couple of years ago. And much as I hate to end on a superficial note, aren't the discs a lovely shade of blue?

Also appearing on: Now 19 [as Massive], 29, 40, 54
Available on: Singles Collection

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Eternal 'Oh Baby I...'

Chart Peak: 4
'Oh Baby I...' was Eternal's 5th consecutive hit and one of the biggest to date for Vernie, Easther, Louise and Kelle... It was a No. 4 smash in November '94
Nothing seems more inevitable on a mid-90s Now album than an Eternal track, does it? This at least has some significance as the last appearance (though penultimate hit) by the original quartet before Louise left/was pushed out. It's also the song that gives debut album Always and Forever its title, despite being the fifth single released from it.

To be honest it's a bit sappier than I remembered it being, but it is sort of catchy and the single mix has some nice sitar-like guitars that remind me of some early-70s soul tracks. Much as they remind me that I'd rather be listening to those instead of this, I'm still happy to rank this among the better Eternal singles.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38
Available on: The Best

Monday, 18 August 2014

R. Kelly 'Bump N' Grind'

Chart Peak: 8
'Bump N Grind' was the 4th UK hit in just 8 months for Chicago's Robert Kelly... It made No. 8 in January '95 and followed 'Your Body's Callin', 'Summer Bunnies' and 'She's Got That Vibe' into the chart.
Indeed, there isn't actually anything particularly wrong with a little bump and grind between consenting adults. Anyway, on to R. Kelly, who'd yet to turn into the chart-dominating star he soon was and was just an RnB vocalist with a strong tally of hits behind him. For that matter, this whole style of music wasn't quite mainstream all over the country in the mid-90s, though it certainly seemed to be what the singles buyers of North-West London wanted.

Nostalgia or no nostalgia, this song still isn't very good. In fact, whilst I've warmed to some of this music in the years since it was totally alien to my Britpop-loving teenage self, most of Kelly's music remains equally tasteless and given his success as writer and producer as well as his own hits, I think he deserves a lot of blame for the blandness of the genre (or at least the male-fronted side of it) from this point onwards. At least female singers would often be backed by an innovative production, but male singers seemed to need only some loverman posturing and to repeat the title often enough and there was a Top 10 hit for them. This is perhaps the definitive example of this and so sounds even worse than it actually is.

Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 37, 40 (with Sparkle), 41, 44, 51, 55, 59
Available on: The Essential R. Kelly

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Shut Up And Dance 'Save It Till The Mourning After'

Chart Peak: 25

Duo PJ and Smiley are Shut Up And Dance - they caused a storm with their 1992 smash 'Raving I'm Raving' which reached No. 2 despite being deleted on release... 'Save It Till The Mourning After', based on Duran Duran's 1982 classic, is due for release on 20/3/95.
There's already been a bit of an Eighties theme in the last few tracks, thanks to Simple Minds, The Human League and Sting, so a partial return of Duran Duran seems only fitting. The "classic" referred to in that note is, for those who don't know, 'Save A Prayer', whence this track gets its chorus and punning title.

'Raving I'm Raving' was a track that arguably made No.2 because it was deleted (due to an uncleared sample) and there was a rush to purchase it while people had the chance - presumably this is also why it never made it to a Now album, though a legalised version was later released on one of their albums. Because of that song I'd kind of remembered them as a dance act - and a dance track looping the Duran Duran track would not be a surprising thing to find - so I was faintly surprised that this is in fact a slightly inept socially conscious hip-hop track. It obviously means well but the targets are a bit obvious and there's not a lot of sharp observation or verbal dexterity, and unfortunately I don't really like the Duran song enough to really enjoy this but I have some respect for it.

Available on: Black Men United

Friday, 15 August 2014

Sting 'This Cowboy Song'

Chart Peak: 15
'This Cowboy Song' was a sparkling No. 15 hit for Sting together with toaster Pato Banton in early '95... Sting's other solo successes include 'Englishman In New York', 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', 'Seven Days' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You'.
I'm not sure why of all Sting solo hits up to this point, anybody would mention the Number 25 hit 'Seven Days' over a bigger hit like 'Fields Of Gold', or indeed the single before this 'When We Dance', which had been his only solo Top 10 hit (apart from collaborations). Like that single, the original version of 'This Cowboy song and its hammy video were promotional tools for the former Police man's first hits compilation; however the lead track on the British single was this more reggae-oriented mix with the addition of a verse by Pato Banton. It was a well-timed addition since Banton, though a well-established presence on the reggae scene, had just had a Number One in late 1994 with his version of 'Baby Come Back', establishing himself temporarily as a mainstream presence and as current pop star, he may have been there to make a Sting single seem a bit more relevant than it otherwise would; I know it was barely fifteen years after the early Police hits but Sting had something of an image problem and even though he could still get his singles onto the radio and into the charts, he was already perceived as quite MOR.

If the song had actually been any good it might even have worked. The Banton version is certainly an improvement, just because his "follow your destiny" section emphasises the silliness of the song, but you couldn't really call this a highlight of anyone's career, and that's probably why nobody seems to remember it now. One of those interesting little byways of the Now albums.

Also appearing on: Now 18
Available on: Fields Of Gold - The Best Of Sting 1984 - 1994

Thursday, 14 August 2014

M People 'Sight For Sore Eyes'

Chart Peak:
The last 3 years have seen M People rise from dance act to pop group to household name... 'Sight For Sore Eyes' followed previous smashes such as 'Moving on Up' and 'One Night In Heaven' into the Top 10 in November '94.
Some readers may not be surprised that when I looked up this video, my first thought was to try and identify the scap cars they use as a backdrop. I think it's (l-r): Austin Montego, Ford Escort Mk 3 3-door, Vauxhall Astra Mk1 or possibly Opel Kadet, Escort Mk 3 5-door, Ford Cortina Mk 4 and Renault 11, but I am very much open to correction. Needless to say, the song title also reminded me of a well-known joke by TV's Tim Vine of Housemates fame: ", that's a site for sore eyes."

I suppose you could make some sort of tenuous analogy between M People in the 90s and the Human League in the 80s - both amassed impressive runs of hits (this was the sixth of eight consecutive Top 10 hits, not counting a remix EP that only got to 32) after a slow start and then seemed to fall from favour quite quickly, and neither of them was known for making obviously intellectual music. The difference was that where the League sometimes came over as knowingly inane, M People just got on with things and thus were widely considered uncool. I'm no great fans of either act but I am willing to say in public that Heather Small is a better singer than Phil Oakey, and at least when she sings "at the drop of a hat" on this song she knows what she's talking about - imagine trying to keep a hat on top of that hair.

OK, so it's another post where I've put off discussing the song itself. It's not bad in an upbeat gospel-pop way but neither is it truly inspiring. At least it has some joy to it.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 28
Available on: One Night In Heaven: The Very Best Of M People [Clean]

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Human League 'Tell Me When'

Chart Peak: 6
Originally formed back in 1978, the Human League's ingenious marriage of pop sensibility and synthesiser technology spawned numerous 1980s hits... 'Tell Me When' saw them return with a Top 10 smash in January '95.
Third act in a row with their last Top 10 hit, although unlike the previous two tracks this isn't a final Now appearance. Despite the rather defensive tone of the Wikipedia article on this song, 'Tell Me When' has some strong claim to be a comeback hit, their highest-charting track in the UK since '(Keep Feeling) Fascination' way back on the first Now album, albeit assisted by release in what was then the "dead" week between Christmas and New Year. It was also the first fruit of their new contract with Eastwest, and their first single as a trio. Remarkably, it even went Top 40 in the US "after the early-1990s grunge movement had essentially eliminated their genre from the mainstream," as that Wikipedia article puts it.

So, an eventful single in the band's history. Not that eventful to listen to though, as it's a pale rewrite of 'Love Action' with anything that was distinctive about that track in favour of a very slick production and some boringly competent singing - even the rough edges that were once the most interesting thing about them have been sanded off. I don't hate this track but only because it provokes no reaction at all beyond recognition.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 8, 13, 31, 32
Available on: Octopus

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Boo Radleys 'Wake Up Boo!'

Chart Peak: 9
The Boo Radleys are Tim Brown, Martin Carr, Rob Cieka and Sice - they hail from Merseyside... The joyous 'Wake Up Boo!' became their 1st Top 10 hit in March '95.
Well this is good timing, the official video was uploaded to YouTube just yesterday.
The Boos are of course the second consecutive act to appear on Now 30 with their last Top 10 hit, though it's unfortunate for them that it proved to be their only one. Indeed this was their first Top 40 hit, though they managed a further seven thereafter, all of them now sadly forgotten.

It seems that where the Boo Radleys are concerned, you can divide people into two or three camps: the ones who only like this song or don't know they had others, and the people who make a big deal of how they like the band apart from this song. Well, I'm here to tell them they're all wrong! Unlike most people, I know enough Boos songs to compile a Top 5, an unlike most of the remainder I would include 'Wake Up Boo!' in it (in case you were wondering, the other four would probably be 'Lazarus', 'From The Bench At Belvidere', 'Oh Brother' and 'Ride The Tiger'). The remainder of their album Wake Up! offers some great pop moments, particularly in its expanded form, although ironically it's not the best way to get this particular track because the intro on the album version rather spoils the effect. Still, it was the only Number One album released by Creation Records that wasn't by Oasis.

Perhaps it's a bit of a cliche to talk about "perfect pop" but there's something about this track that seems impossible to dispute. I was going to call it "effortless" but of course it's not that at all, it's clear that there's a lot of work gone into the structure and arrangement. Not only is the song catchy (even its detractors will admit that), but it offers an ideal balance between the sweet and the spicy, with the clashing guitars cutting though just enough to give the song some body without seeming gimmicky. Note that in the chorus lyric the protagonist is praising a "beautiful morning" but also inviting you to wake up "for what could be the very last time". By the middle eight he's turned a bit recriminatory "you have to say what you want to say, do you have to put the death in everything?" but the effect is more of a mixed blessing than Martin Carr deliberately playing tricks on the listener. It's a miniature epic, deceptively subtle in production with judicious use of brass, piano and percussion. And it lasts almost exactly three minutes, complete with a big finish that makes it well-placed at the end of Side One here.

You can see why people rushed to the shops to buy this, even if some of them must have mistakenly picked up CD2 and got 'Wake Up Boo: Music For Astronauts' instead. Fortunately the version from Top Of The Pops 2 where they do the first verse twice and then Steve Wright talks over the end never saw commercial release, but at least the subtitles on that upload are a chance to enjoy the duality of the lyric.

Available on: Pure... Summer

Monday, 11 August 2014

Simple Minds 'She's A River'

Chart Peak: 9
The nucleus of Simple Minds is now singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill. The "sensual and dangerous" 'She's A River' returned them to the Top 10 in January '95.
A hit that is perhaps no less forgotten than 'Independent Love Song', though in this case because it was the last Top 10 hit (and last Now appearance) for an act remembered for other songs. Whilst it's hard to agree entirely with the YouTube commenter who suggested that this was ripped off from 'The Fly' by U2, what it does have in common is that they both seem to have arrived at a juncture in an act's career where they felt they'd need to rethink their approach - U2 at the end of the 80s seemed to realise they were being overwhelmed by their own earnestness, hence the ironic attitude of the Achtung Baby album. Simple Minds, by contrast, seemed to feel they weren't being earnest enough, perhaps still trying to shrug off the reputation they'd got from 'Don't You Forget About Me' and 'Alive And Kicking'. Thus 'She's A River' - first single from their album Good News From The Next World, a title that was just asking for trouble  - feels like the start of their attempt to return to their art-rock roots, whilst still retaining the big stadium rock bombast that made them rich.

Unfortunately for them, even as they plunged deeper into electronics on subsequent recordings they've found it very hard to get that genie back into the bottle. Unfortunately for us, this song doesn't really work on any level - there's certainly nothing dangerous about it, other than the danger of falling asleep through boredom. It just feels like especially pompous AOR with nothing to back it up: cod-Wagnerian, one reviewer called it.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 5, 6, 7, 14, 15, 23
Available on: Celebrate Greatest Hits

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Scarlet 'Independent Love Song'

Chart Peak: 12
'Independent Love Song', a No. 12 hit in February 1995, is Scarlet's 1st big single... They are pianist Joe Youle and singer Cheryl Parker and hail from Hull.
One of these days I mean to compile a proper list of "Now Nuggets" - tracks that obviously had some degree of success at the time of their original release, in order to make it onto such a release, but seem overlooked by posterity. This is one of the songs that would certainly be there (another is 'Breaking (Sugar Samba)' by Julia & Company, by the way). In fairness, the number of cover versions I found on YouTube suggests the song isn't quite as forgotten as I might have thought: the song was also covered by German metal act The Bates, though their version wasn't a hit anywhere I know of. It's not a song I remember hearing on the radio since 1995, nor does it even seem to crop up on compilation albums much.

This exile to the footnotes of pop history is unfortunate, since this is a charming song with a big chorus of the sort that never seems to be wholly in or out of fashion. Whilst it's hard to think of anyone who's become a big star in the past 20 years offering this sort of style, there are many less good songs like this that seem to have become radio staples. Perhaps this would have been more marketable under the name of a solo singer (ironically, Scarlet had already slimmed from quartet to trio to duo by the time of this hit) or even a group with a less generic name. Perhaps it's actually the combination of feisty attitude and big swooping music that people find hard to grab; but it must be said that neither of these things stopped the song making the Top 20 in the first place, and they even scored a Top 30 follow-up with the even more forgotten 'I Want To Be Free (To Be With Him)' a song even I can't honestly claim to remember. Maybe one of these days I'll even pick up one of those copies of their album that always seem to be in Poundland and find out whether they had any strength in depth.

Available on: Naked

Friday, 8 August 2014

Jimmy Nail 'Crocodile Shoes'

Chart Peak: 4
'Crocodile Shoes', the title track from the hit TV series, was the 3rd Top 5 single for Jimmy - it reached No. 4 in December '94... His previous hits were 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore' and 'Ain't No Doubt'.
A slightly odd chart career the former James Bradford had had up to this point, with all his singles either making the Top 5 or missing the Top 40 entirely; he finally broke the mould when the follow-up to this, 'Cowboy Dreams', peaked at 13. At this point, though, 'Crocodile Shoes' was his lowest-peaking actual hit, though it went on to notch up the longest chart run of his career: a total of 20 weeks Top 75, which was a lot back in the mid-90s.

The reason for this success was of course that this was the first time he crossed the two strands of his career. Whilst it's hard to contradict the argument that his previous success was largely thanks to the goodwill he'd built up as an actor, this was the first time he'd been able to promote his music directly whilst in character. In Crocodile Shoes the TV series (which he apparently created as well as starring in) he plays a factory worker who becomes a successful country singer, and the title song is a decent enough fit, offering the sort of sentimental down-home country music that fits in with that storyline. It finds Nail making the most of his limited vocal availability, even if the metaphor of his crocodile shoes crying is a bit confusing - surely crocodiles are famous for fake tears, not real ones? Millions of viewers were presumably too charmed to think that through. Whether this could plausibly have been any sort of hit in "real life" is another question.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 22, 32
Available on: Crocodile Shoes

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Mike + The Mechanics 'Over My Shoulder'

Chart Peak: 12
Mike + the Mechanics are a hugely successful sometime group based around the musical talents of Genesis' Mike Rutherford and singers Paul Carrack (ex-Ace, Squeeze etc.) and Paul Young (ex Sad Cafe)... Over My Shoulder was a No.12 hit in March '95.
"Hugely" successful might be overstating the case a little, but it's true that they have lasted a long time for a side-project. Indeed they're still touring today, though with a different line-up as Young died and Carrack returned to solo activity. They only ever had one Top 10 single (with 'The Living Years', not a song I'm fond of) and this proved to be their next biggest hit. It's a song that gives me a strong sense of time and place, both from seeing the video in early 1995 (it was a big VH-1 favourite back then, as I recall) and from hearing it when I went on a work experience trip to France that summer. Fortunately, the memories are pretty positive and I actually rather like the song too.

Whilst it would probably be stretching a point to call Paul Carrack an overlooked musician, it does seem that he's a less well-known name than he probably should be given his talents as a singer; he has a great smoothness with just enough grit to stay the right side of bland, at least when he gets the right material. Though not commercially successful a songwriter as you might expect the man who penned a pop standard like 'How Long' to be, he certainly has skills in that department: he co-wrote 'Over My Shoulder' with Rutherford and in its modest way it ranks with the best of them both. It's very nearly a classic and then it seems to lose it right at the end, as if Carrack gets bored and leaves the backing singers to finish of as the song drifts into a slightly half-baked fade. As his only real appearance on a Now album though (the other Mechanics track has Young on lead vocal) it'll definitely do.

Bonus factoid: apparently Tom Fletcher, later to appear on several albums as a member of McFly, is an extra in the video.

Also appearing on: Now 33
Available on: The Singles: 1985 - 2014 + Rarities

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

East 17 'Stay Another Day'

Chart Peak: 1 [5 weeks]

'Stay Another Day', the million-selling 1994 Christmas No. 1 single was East 17's 9th consecutive UK hit... Anthony, Brian, John & Terry have now had No.1 hits in countries all over the world from Australia to France to Israel.
The video I've posted above is the one that was shown at the time, rather than the one that gets shown on Christmas TV nowadays. It's interesting that East 17 and Take That were considered pretty close rivals at this time even though TT had six chart-topping singles [in the 1990s] to East 17's only one. Perhaps RCA were just better at knowing how to time releases, but at least Tony, Brian, the one who looked a bit like a baby and the other one could console themselves with the one achievement that their rivals never managed: The Christmas Number One. Indeed, though this was the third single from an album it was to some degree designed for the position, with the sleigh bells added to tug at festive heartstrings.

Though I don't think this was made public at the time, Tony Mortimer has said in retrospect that the song was inspired by the suicide of his brother, which possibly explains the rather atypical nature of this as an East 17 single. Indeed there's something slightly ludicrous about seeing them in the video trying to reconcile their tough street-smart image with singing a sensitive ballad, but in retrospect at least there's something rather likeable about it, helped by the relatively sparse arrangement (those sleigh bells aside) even if the singing isn't actually that good. Possibly the very fact that some people who liked the song knew they wouldn't like the rest of an East 17 album helped sales too, although I'd guess there was a significant constituency of people who wouldn't admit they liked it and indeed many like myself who didn't really listen to it at the time. Now that I have, possibly assisted by the fact that I'm doing so at the height of summer rather than amid saturation airplay over Christmas, I wouldn't say I loved it but I've developed a certain respect for the song. I'm still not convinced it's a Christmas song though, and I don't suppose Ashley Abram was either since the genuinely festive is something rarely included on main-series albums.

On a side-note it's unlikely that 'Stay Another Day' really did sell a million copies in 1994-5: the Official Chart Company have revised down their sales estimates for this era, though they also decided that any single already publicly declared a million-seller should be able to retain that status. The point is largely moot now, since download sales in the past ten years will have comfortably taken it into seven figures by now.

Also appearing on: Now 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 35 (with Gabrielle), 36, 41 (as E-17)
Available on: Around The World - The Journey So Far

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry with Eric Clapton 'Love Can Build A Bridge'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]

The 1995 Comic Relief single is an all-star cover of the Judds' 'Love Can Build A Bridge'... It raced into the Top 5 on release in March '95
Performers on this track are listed in the same order as they were on the sleeve - order of appearance would be Hynde-Cher-Cherry (and then Clapton). And while we're dealing with details, Now CDs of this era have the song titles and production credits printed onto the disc itself, but this is the one case I know of where there are also credits for the three engineers, five assistant engineers and the mastering engineer (as well as the arranger and mixer, jobs which get mentioned now and again). I've attached the photo of this below the jump, just in case anyone wants to avoid spoilers for the remaining tracks on the album; I presume these people took a more prominent credit in lieu of payment, due to the nature of the release. Incidentally, the arranger on this track was David Campbell, which is the closest we've ever got to his son Beck appearing on a Now album.

Regular readers may have noticed that when I write a whole first paragraph without mentioning the song itself, this is rarely a sign of enthusiasm, and so it proves again. We're back in cover-of-a-cover territory here, as the song's obvious sentimentality had already seen a version released to raise money for Rwandan children peak at only 57 six months earlier. The song clearly had potential though, hence this swift re-recording, though it is rather an odd one out among the Comic Relief singles: where previous releases had been out-and-out comedy tracks, and subsequent ones have often been upbeat tracks by currently popular acts with room for clowning in the video, this is the one single that makes no attempt at humour, although whether it actually is the least funny one is a matter of opinion. Speaking of odd ones out, it seemed at the time that Neneh Cherry was slightly out of place among the three singers as she was the only one who'd not previously had a Number One single (in fact, she was the only one of the three who hadn't had a Number One with a version of 'I Got You Babe') but all three singers do a decent job of the vocals, even though the number of technical staff involved implies they recorded their parts separately. Eric Clapton's guitar solo, which also earns him his first Number One single, isn't very interesting though, and he looks a bit stupid wearing a suit and trainers in the video. Still, he's as good as the song itself really deserves. At least it was for a good cause. I believe the Tom Jones/Lenny Henry track on the B-side would have been the audio of this sketch from 1991, though how well that worked in sound only I wouldn't care to speculate.

Cher also appears on: Now 32, 33, 42
Chrissie Hynde also appears on: Now 6, 13 [both with UB40]
Neneh Cherry also appears on: Now 14, 15, 16, 18, 29 [with Youssou N'Dour], 35

Monday, 4 August 2014

Boyzone 'Love Me For A Reason'

Chart Peak: 2

Boyzone are Ronan, Stephen, Keith, Shane and Michael... The Dublin quintet had a huge No. 2 smash with this cover of Johnny Bristol's 'Love Me For A Reason' which was a chart-topper for the Osmonds back in 1974.
Last time I wrote about Boyzone, in November 2013, they seemed about to miss out on the Top 40 with their then current single 'Love Will Save The Day'. In the event they did sneak in at 39 but it seems likely that their Top 40 career is now at an end, though they continue to record. An album of cover versions is due later this year, though of course covers are nothing new for them. Here we find them at the opposite end of their career covering a cover version. Johnny Bristol originally released 'Love Me For A Reason' as follow-up to his big hit 'Hang On In There Baby', but the track was almost instantly covered by the Osmonds, and it's clearly this version that was the model for this version. The Mormon siblings seem to have innovated the addition of the word "girl" into the chorus.

Like a lot of the big Boyzone hits, this seems ruthlessly efficient. It seems like Louis Walsh picked out a song that he knew the target audience wouldn't have heard before and which pleaded directly at a GIRL, emphasising the word in the very chorus. Sung entirely competently and with a video of them standing in a room full of candles you've got a Top 10 single to launch your new boy band. Nobody else needed to care and indeed at this point they didn't. Boyzone would go on to make music for a broader audience, but this is narrowcasting.

Also appearing on: Now 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 71
Available on: Love Me For A Reason: The Collection

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Janet Jackson 'Whoops Now'

Chart Peak: 9

'Whoops Now' is the 6th hit single from the 10 million plus selling Janet album... It flew into the UK Top 10 on release and looks set to become one of her biggest British hits.
Actually, they miscounted: 'Whoops Now' and its double A-side partner 'What'll I Do' became the seventh UK single release from the album. In the event, the single only climbed one position from its entry point of 10 before starting to decline - hardly an atypical run by mid-90s standards, of course but it seems that a littl more was expected of it. Maybe the fact that the album had been in the shops for approximately 22 months by this point might have depressed sales a little.

As a song itself, 'Whoops Now' is actually quite catchy, one song I can remember quite liking at the time. It's a retro number, placed at the end of her album (as a hidden track in some territories) and offers a more light-hearted sound than the rather insistent I-am-making-a-statement mood of a lot of her songs. In fact, it's easy-going almost to a fault, slipping down so easily it's hard to notice the difference between verses and choruses. And as often happens when listening to a pastiche some twenty years later, it has a bit of a weird effect now, neither quite one thing or the other. A lot of Jackson's music has a slightly hermetic atmosphere around it for me, as if she's not quite prepared to let the listener in, but is performing behind glass for us, and for all its charm there's still an element of that here that leaves this a track to enjoy rather than love.

Also appearing on: Now 8, 26, 38, 39, 40 41, 49, 53 (with Beenie Man)
Available on: The Best

Friday, 1 August 2014

Freak Power 'Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out'

Chart Peak: 3 [29 in 1993]

'Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out' is the soundtrack to the current Levi's advertising campaign... It charted at No. 3 on 12/3/95 after just one week on release giving Norman Cook (ex-Housemartins and Beats International) his biggest hit to date with latest venture Freak Power.

OK, so my original plan was to write about Now 30 in the thirtieth anniversary year, but as you may have noticed that ended eight months ago. Still, it's an interesting album, or am I just saying that because it was released around the time of my 17th birthday? One way or another there's stuff in here I wanted to write about anyway, and besides, it's a chance to repay the investment I made in actually buying a copy of the opening track.

As the note there slightly glosses over, 'Turn On...' had been a minor hit two years earlier but was revitalised by that advert, which perhaps hasn't dated too well but certainly got the song (or at least a heavily re-edited segment of it) noticed. It was a clever choice, actually, fitting both the apparent 1970s setting of the ad and the somewhat mocking tone. As with most of his projects, Norman Cook didn't directly front the band; the most visible member was singing trombonist Ashley Slater, he of the baritone voice and shaven head. I'm not entirely sure about the health and safety implications of balancing a candle on one's head, as he does in the video, but at least he doesn't have any hair to worry about singeing.

It's hard to know how seriously to take the apparent anti-drug message of the lyric (my guess is "not very") but it does at least raise the song above some of the more earnest funk pastiches that were around then (and now, indeed). Slater's trombone solo also adds a slightly cheeky edge to the finished article.

Despite Cook's previous success, Freak Power went the way of most acts who have a breakthrough hit from an advert and never enjoyed a big hit again. They just about scraped the Top 30 with one-off single 'No Way' in 1998, but Cook had already turned his attention to other projects like Fatboy Slim, Mighty Dub Katz and Pizzaman so they're deservedly best remembered for this. It's a good song if possibly a bit quiet for the opening track.

Available on: Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out