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

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Poison 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn'

Chart Peak: 13
An American No. 1 single that has become the group's first hit in Britain - had reached No. 20 by 19th February 1989.
I was going to suggest that Morrissey might not have felt totally comfortable with his song next to this one, although it did occur to me when I was typing the phrase "Poison every rose" into various search boxes to set up this post that I could imagine him singing those words.

Poison, who had in fact had a Number 35 hit with 'Nothin' But A Good Time' in 1988 but were new to the Top 20, of course started out as a glam metal band but like so any of their colleagues, hit paydirt with a big power ballad. I suppose maybe the idea was that people thought it was OK to like a soppy MOR song if it was sung by a hard-rock band when they wouldn't have liked it otherwise; and of course people who would have liked it anyway still did and it swiftly became their signature hit, even if it wasn't quite as big in the UK as you might think.

Either way, it is of course ghastly, poorly sung and sounds horribly dated now. It's not even among the few metal songs I can claim to like ironically. Let's move on.

Available on: Poison Love Songs

Monday, 20 October 2014

Morrissey 'The Last Of The Famous International Playboys'

Chart Peak: 6
His 3rd solo single since leaving the Smiths... followed 'Suedehead' and 'Every Day Is Like Sunday' into the 10 making No. 6 in February 1989.
This could be interesting - last time I wrote about this chap on the blog I got my first and so far only DMCA takedown notice (for a post with no media content at all, just a link to the YouTube video). I've linked to an official EMI upload so fingers crossed.

Three Top 10 hits out of three for the solo Moz (which is more than the Smiths had managed in their entire career, though they did sneak a third Top 10 with a re-issued single in 1992), and three Now appearances out of three too - again, that's more than the Smiths but possibly explained by the fact that he was now signed to EMI. Or was it? Although he continued to add to his tally of Top 10 singles until as recently as 2006, he's never been back on a main-series Now album, perhaps he thinks he's too important for them. At least we can savour what we have though because at the risk of posting a spoiler for anything I might write about Now 11, these first three Morrissey singles represent a run of brilliance he hasn't come close to since. Continuing to write with Stephen Street, he also assembled a partial Smiths reunion for the backing group: no Johnny Marr of course, but rhythm section Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce and sometime rhythm guitarist Craig Gannon. Excellent playing of one of his most perceptive songs, which seems almost to anticipate the gangster chic trend of the 1990s, with its tale of a criminal idolising the Kray twins (both still alive in 1989 of course). Apparently not everyone at the time understood the satire (and I was ten years old when this came out, so I didn't even know what a playboy was, but I remembered the chorus) and some might find it ironic in the light of the hero-worship Morrissey himself sometimes garners, but at least his fans don't kill people.

And this is about as close as I think I've come to understanding a fan's love for the man. Obviously, it wasn't as modern as some of the rock tracks on this side, although the synthesiser solo (played by Street) is a surprise from Moz, much as it's more Ziggy Stardust than Paradise Garage. There may be a parallel universe where he carried on in this vein and at this level instead of falling out with people and descending into pointless arrogance. But like I said, let's savour what we have, at least as long as this post stays up.

Also appearing on: Now 11, 12
Available on: Brits In The 80s

Friday, 17 October 2014

Then Jerico 'Big Area'

Chart Peak: 13
Their 2nd British Top 20 hit following the success of 'The Motive' in September 1987... 'Big Area' made No. 13 in late January 1989.
Side 2 is obviously supposed to be the the rock side of the album, and here we find another permutation of late-80s rock with this bombastic stadium sound. Everything about this track wants to be "Big", even the title, and the production thuds along for an unnecessary five minutes.It's obviously supposed to be a big statement but it rings hollow, and placing it close to the modernity of INXS and FYC or even the good-time cameraderie of Status Quo does it no favours.

Also appearing on: Now 16
Available on: The Big Area

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Status Quo 'Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again)'

Chart Peak: 5
Reckoned to be about their 37th Top 40 single in Britain, 'Burning Bridges' turned out to be one their biggest hits in recent years - it reached No. 5 in December 1988.
After two tracks of reinvented rock music, we can turn to one act you can trust not to modernise their sound. At least, I'm sure it seemed that way at the time but the odd thing is that when you listen back to this track now it does actually seem very 1980s. More so than most of their other Now appearances, in fact, and certainly more than 'The Wanderer' four years earlier, though it's still more recogniseably Quo than 'In The Army Now'. Perhaps it's a sign that in those days an act like Status Quo could still hope to have mainstream success by applying a vaguely modern production to their typical songwriting, whereas nowadays they have to work more on a nostalgic basis. Either way, though, it's not a song I remember hearing at the time (or hearing much since, come to that) and the effect is of something written to order, going through the motions as the subtitle suggests.

The most notable thing about this song is that they later recycled it as 'Come On You Reds' by Manchester United, the only single by a football club (ie other than England) ever to top the UK charts, and a single that accounts for a majority of Quo's time at Number One as songwriters.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 8, 18, 33 (with the Beach Boys), 53
Available on: The Essential Status Quo

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

INXS 'Need You Tonight'

Chart Peak: 2 [58 in 1987]
Following semi-hits with 'New Sensation' (No. 25) and 'Never Tear Us Apart' (No. 24), INXS finally had a huge British hit with 'Need You Tonight' which made No. 2 in November 1988.
I'm the sort of person who loves the fact that the first three INXS singles to make the Top 40 in the UK all had titles that started with the letters "Ne", and indeed their fourth was 'Mystify', which would be next to them in an alphabetical list. For that matter, a Top 40 debut called 'New Sensation' is a pretty neat coincidence too. We're pretty lucky to get all these coincidences here in the UK too, since we were one of the last big Western markets to embrace the Australian rock superstars; not only big in their home market and in other European countries, they'd managed a US Top 10 hit a couple of years earlier and this song topped the Billboard chart on first time of asking, whereas over here it took a re-release after other songs had established for this to become their first (and. it turned out, last) Top 10 single.

Looking back now, it's hard to imagine a world where this wasn't a hit single, so massive did it ultimately become. It's equally hard to imagine an act better designed for late-80s success than INXS, with their MTV-friendly combination of hard rock riffs and funky rhythms, to say nothing of the obviously handsome Michael Hutchence and his onstage charisma. 'Need You Tonight' is perhaps the definitive expression of their particular style and an effective showcase for Hutchence's raw sexuality. He's in his element here, from the opening whisper of "Come over here" onwards. Of course, when I was 10 years old I didn't really understand that, nor understand the double-meaning of "I need you tonight, 'cause I'm not sleeping". But I could still tell it was catchy, thanks to the riff that Andrew Farriss apparently came up with in a taxi; it is a little bit similar to 'Another One Bites The Dust' but then again that's derived from 'Good Times' so Queen couldn't, and as far I know didn't, object. And whilst I wouldn't have thought to compare the two until I bought Now 14, this does have something of the techno-rock sound of 'She Drives Me Crazy', with a similarly focused arrangement and a brief running time that makes it seem more action-packed. This even goes one better by having a proper ending - as Hutchence repeats with ever-greater insistence "I've got to let you know", the rest of the band drop out for him to whisper into your ear "You're one of my kind". At least, that's what happens on every other copy of this song I've ever come across (including the video of course), but on Now 14 they've lopped off this punchline, which does spoil things a bit. Still, even as an INXS sceptic I can't dispute that this track is something of a classic.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 18, 19, 20, 23
Available on: Kick (Remastered)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Fine Young Cannibals 'She Drives Me Crazy'

Chart Peak: 5
Became their biggest hit to date when it made No. 5 in January 1989, following 'Johnny Come Home', 'Suspicious Minds' and 'Ever Fallen In Love' into the Top 10.
If 'You Got It' was a semi-successful attempt to recall old rock music, 'She Drives Me Crazy' is almost the opposite, a vision of a kind of futuristic rock. Of course 25 years later most of the biggest rock acts don't really sound like this, but that adds to the chart. Perhaps this is more like an alien's idea of rock music, taking recognisable elements of the sound and structure but turning them into something very different - there's a prominent riff but it's marooned in the sparse arrangement, with the bassline a distant hum and the distorted electric guitar sound dropping in from nowhere (I don't know whether it actually is a sample, but it's being used like one). They jostle for attention with Roland Gift's otherworldly, vulnerable vocal and the track's least rocky element, that insistent snare drum sound. More information is available on the internet about how they actually recorded it, but I'm more interested here in its effect as part of the track. You could see it as almost a parody of the metronomic drum beats forced on most rock in this era (as I criticised 'You Got It' for)., though it's more likely that somebody just thought it would sound cool.

Intentionally or not, the minimal arrangement concentrates the attention and sets up a slightly uncomfortable atmosphere, our protagonist sounding like he fears becoming genuinely unhinged by his obsession. A great comeback single that put the band back into the big league despite the wait since their first album; mind you , it was an even longer wait for more new material after the second album, fans having to hang on until 1996 for a few new songs on a best-of collection. This became the band's last penultimate appearance on a vinyl or cassette Now album, given the odd "bonus track" status of 'I'm Not The Man I Used To Be' on Now 16. For an act who appeared with a non-hit, not that many of their actual hits show up in the series.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 6, 15 16 [CD only]
Available on: The Raw And The Cooked

Monday, 13 October 2014

Roy Orbison 'You Got It'

Chart Peak: 3
'You Got It' was one the last songs recorded before his untimely death, at the age of 52, in late 1988... It made No. 3 in January 1989, his 27th UK Top 40 hit.
Tenuous links continue onto Side 2, as this song was co-written by Orbison's fellow Traveling Wilburys Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty, whilst Sam Brown worked several times with George Harrison, who was of course a close friend of her father. Harrison and Orbison had worked together before, of course, as the Beatles toured with him in 1963. In fact they were scheduled to play here in Harrow, but the date was cancelled and they never made it here. Not that it would have mattered to me if they had played, years before my parents knew each other in a place neither of them had yet been to.

In fact, whilst I remember this single being released posthumously, I was only vaguely aware of Roy Orbison while he was alive. I thought of him as impossibly ancient by then, although 52 doesn't sound such a grand old age now I'm more than two-thirds of the way there myself. Paul Weller and Madonna are both older than that now, for example. Of course his passing seemed especially tragic since his career seemed to have undergone something of a revival, with this single already pressed and comeback album Mystery Girl due for release in the new year - he'd even got as far as miming this single on Belgian TV (hence the music video) just a few days before his death. Perhaps because he'd just re-recorded a whole batch of his classic songs for contractual reasons, and done a relatively good job of reproducing the originals, there's a strong sense of pastiche about 'You Got It'. At least, it's Jeff Lynne's idea of an early-60s pop song, but it wouldn't fool anyone for a moment thanks to his production; it was obviously done to a click-track one instrument at a time, slick at the expense of the energy of an authentic original - this is particularly obvious in the wordless middle section. However, assessed on its own merits this is a fine pop song, though a tiny bit too long; there's a section near the end that sounds like it was edited in and that could have been left out. Still, you can't really expect Jeff Lynne to understand less-is-more. If I had Now 14 on CD instead of vinyl I'd have ripped this track and put in on my MP3 player by now. I have got the follow-up 'She's A Mystery To Me' on there already.

Also appearing on: Now 23 [with kd lang]
Available on: Mystery Girl Deluxe

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Sam Brown 'Stop!'

Chart Peak: 4

Her father Joe Brown had 11 Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1973... 'Stop' wasn't a hit when first released, but second time around it had raced to No.5 by 19 February 1989.
Quick note on the title: Now 14 refers to the track without an exclamation mark, but it's clearly there on the original single cover and the album. This demonstrates one of two notable coincidences oddly unmentioned in the sleeve note - for the first time in the history of the series, two songs of the same title are on the same Now album (and even the same side, in fact). The other coincidence is that this is the second consecutive track by the daughter of a 1950s rock and roll singer.

Ms Brown, though, seems a less pop-oriented type of singer - whereas many of the Kim Wilde singles are brilliant attempts to catch the zeitgeist, Sam Brown obviously thinks of herself more as a jazz singer, and I remember this seemed to have a certain classicism about it even a quarter of a century ago. Even if some elements of the production seem to betray its recording date (and the video certainly does), it isn't exactly typical late-80s fare. You could make some connections to the wine-bar soul of the era, but this goes a step further along. Above all it's a masterclass in how to concentrate on the strongest parts of the track - mostly her extraordinary vocal of course, but also the powerful organ solo. One of the most intense things ever to appear on a Now album, despite its MOR trappings.

Available on: Stop!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Kim Wilde 'Four Letter Word'

Chart Peak: 6
It is now more than 8 years since Kim's first hit 'Kids In America'... 1988 was her most successful year for some time with the big Top 10 hit 'You Came' and 'Never Trust A Stranger'... 'Four Letter Word' made No. 6 in January 1989.
Some might argue that 1987, when she had a Number One single in the US (something she has, of course, never managed here) was bigger than 1988, but it was certainly a good year for her in her homeland, the successful single and album combined with a tour as support act to Michael Jackson at the peak of his popularity. It was a pivotal era for her as well, the last time she was recording mainly material co-written by her father Marty and brother Ricki, although Ricki continues to contribute.

'Four-Letter Word' is sometimes described as her first straight ballad single, although this seems debatable to me. It's certainly a good showcase for her breathy vocals and the slightly halting quality of her singing is a nice way to undercut the somewhat over-the-top lyric. Strangely, even though it sounds very of its time, it's still doesn't come over as dated, where some of her hits now do. It's that understated quality again that stands out. Just as well really, because that title would be a big temptation to a hostile reviewer.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 8, 13, 25
Available on: Close (Expanded Edition)

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Yazz 'Fine Time'

Chart Peak: 9
Her 3rd Top 10 hit following the success of 'The Only Way Is Up' and 'Stand Up For Your Love Rights'... 'Fine Time' made No. 9 for 2 weeks in February 1989.
It's strange that some acts are recorded by posterity as one-hit-wonders, however many hits they actually had. Yazz didn't have as many hits as Status Quo but she certainly had more than the one that seems to be remembered now - five solo Top 40s, plus collaborations with Coldcut and Aswad. 'Stand Up For Your Love Rights' got as high as 2, but it's always 'The Only Way Is Up' that gets put onto compilation albums and with the rest of her catalogue seemingly out of print (this is one of only two tracks missing from the official Now 14 Spotify playlist) the rest seem to have vanished from memory.

In fact the New Order song of the same title, which was replaced in the Top 75 by this, seems to get more of an airing these days, though I don't recall hearing it at all back then. This rather slinky number was a big fave at the time and whilst not earth-shattering, time has been kind. A track that deserves to be better remembered than it is.

Also appearing on: Now 11 [with Coldcut], 13 [Yazz and the Plastic Population]
Available on: At Her Very Best

Monday, 6 October 2014

Hue And Cry 'Looking For Linda'

Chart Peak: 15
Following the mysterious failure of 'Ordinary Angel' which only reached No. 42, the Kane brothers finally achieved their second Top 20 single in Britain with 'Looking For Linda'... Had reached no. 16 by 19th February.
That reference to "mysterious failure" is of course because 'Ordinary Angel' found its way onto Now XIII, putting Hue And Cry among the acts with more Now appearances than Top 40 hits. 'Looking For Linda' is a definite hit; though not technically their biggest it's possibly the song most associated with them. I certainly remember it being a bit of a running gag at my school, although I can't really remember why.

At the time I couldn't really piece together the storyline, but listening back it sounds like Linda ran away from a possibly abusive partner, got drunk, got on a train at Leeds and then met Pat Kane (or at least the protagonist of this song) and snogged him, then got off at Paisley. When you actually think about it in those terms it's a bit awkward lyrically: can't quite decide whether it's social commentary or wistful male fantasy. Luckily, the music is strong enough to sweep you along and P. Kane, annoying though he can be as a media presence, is a genuinely good singer. All it really needed was a bit more grit in the production to be truly impressive. Best avoid the hammy video though.

Also appearing on: Now 10, 14, 15, 24
Available on: Top Of The Pops - Eighties

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Bananarama/Lananeeneenoonoo 'Help!'

Chart Peak: 3
YouTube (Warning: contains shirtless Roland Rivron)
'Help!' was originally No.1 for the Beatles in Augst 1965 when Bananarama/Lananeeneenoonoo were only very little girls... This new version raced to No. 12 after only one week of release in mid-February 1989.
Possibly the most difficult-to-spell artist credit in the entire history of the Now albums, and the second track in a row with an exclamation mark in the title. It is of course also the second Sixties cover out of four tracks so far - as Mick Fleetwood mentioned at the Brits, that era was very prominent in the culture at the time.

This was the third official Comic Relief single, though the first released to coincide with an actual Red Nose Day event (a couple of weeks early in fact, but it was in the chart at the right time). Like the previous efforts by Cliff Richard and the Young Ones and Mel And Kim, it takes the form of a parody cover version that teams a game-for-a-laugh pop star and comedians; in this case French & Saunders and Kathy Burke reprise their parody of "The Bananas" which they debuted on their Christmas Special a few weeks earlier, bringing in the real group to play along. I presume it's only coincidence that Burke, a guest star rather than a regular member of the duo, gets to shadow the least-remembered Nana, Jacquie O'Sullivan.

Apart from a somewhat half-hearted Stock/Aitken/Waterman production, this track shares its main flaw with many of the early Comic Relief tracks - it's really more a soundtrack to a sketch than a record in its own right. It's quite funny to watch them lark about in the video, impersonating the original group and also impersonating the skiing scenes from the original Beatles movie (which are actually associated with 'Ticket To Ride' but close enough) - alas it loses too much in sound only. It's not got enough jokes to be consistently funny but there are too many for it to work as a straight cover version. Obviously, full credit to everyone for agreeing to do it, but it doesn't sound so good these days.

It does mean, though, that both Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke can claim to have appeared on more Now albums than Whitney Houston or the Manic Street Preachers. I don't know if they ever have claimed that, but I would.

Bananarama also appear on: Now 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15
Available on: 30 Years Of Bananarama (The Very Best Of) (Deluxe) [+video]

Friday, 3 October 2014

Erasure 'Stop!'

Chart Peak: 2
Vincent "No Middle Names" Clarke and Andy Ivan Bell have had consistent chart success since 'Sometimes' in late 1986... 'Stop!', taken from the Crackers International EP, made No.2 in January 1989.
That middle names thing would have worked better the other way around, surely?
I must admit that even though I remember the EP charting at the time, it didn't occur to me until I looked it up yesterday that the title Crackers International was because it came out in time for Christmas. There was even a second 12" format which included a version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', though the release finally reached its peak at the turn of the year, when 'Mistletoe and Wine' dropped 1-5 after Boxing Day. It shares with 'Sometimes' the honour of being their highest-peaking original material.

Though the duo offered four brand new songs here, 'Stop!' was the undoubted lead track and one of their catchiest efforts despite some rather daft lyrics, including the "jump before you look/get hung up on a hook"  rhyme that I remember kids at my school making fun of. At less then three minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome either: for those taking notes at the back the version here is the fadeout edit from the original 7", not the slightly longer version that appears on some other formats.

Also appearing on: Now 9, 10, 13, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 54
Available on: Pub Jukebox: 120 Original Hits

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Phil Collins 'Two Hearts'

Chart Peak: 6
The Buster soundtrack album features this No. 6 hit, the No.1 'A Groovy Kind Of Love', one other previously unreleased Phil Collins track, the Four Tops 'Loco In Acapulco', a selection of Sixties classics and incidental music by Anne Dudley.
To follow on from yesterday's post, Buster was, like all multi-artist soundtracks, also banished from the main album chart after its sixteenth week (chart dated 7th January 1989), though it went on to enjoy a handy 36 weeks in the compilations Top 20. In retrospect it seems an interesting cultural artifact that only ten years after the Sex Pistols were trading on the shock value of the Great Train Robbery, Phil Collins - not a man known for his rebellious image - should star in a film where he effectively portrays one of the robbers as a hero. There was enough controversy to keep the Royals away from the film's premiere, but it didn't harm the profits from its recorded spin-offs: both the Collins singles topped the US chart thanks to airplay, and did very well over here too. He even left the infamous 1989 Brit Awards with two trophies, and the imminent "next generation of Collins" he mentions in his acceptance speech grew up to become successful actress Lily Collins.

In keeping with the film's Sixties setting - and also following on from 'Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart', 'Two Hearts' was co-written with Lamont Dozier (of Holland-Dozier-Holland of course) and is another example of Collins' peculiar delusion that he's somehow a soul singer. Doubtless his love of the music is genuine, and 'Loco In Acapulco', written by the same duo, is an enjoyable if not wholly convincing pastiche; but he lacks the swing to really convince with this sort of material, as he'd already proved with the very first track on the entire Now series. The song is longer and less intensely energetic than authentic Motown, though it isn't actually bad in its own right. At the time I remember thinking it a great improvement over 'Groovy Kind Of Love'. The best thing about the track is probably Anne Dudley's string arrangement. The label on my copy of Now 14 also lists her as producer, which would make her one of three members of Art Of Noise with production credits on this album - however other sources attribute it to Collins and Dozier, which does seem more likely.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 17, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68
Available on: Hits

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Marc Almond featuring Gene Pitney 'Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart'

Chart Peak: 1
Pitney's original version Made No. 5 in December 1967 - just one of his 20 Top 40 hits in Britain from 1961-1974... Marc Almond had 12 Tpo 40 hits from 1981-1988 as part of the duo Soft Cell and a solo performer. In January 1989, they teamed up and raced to the top of the charts.
Early this year, an anniversary passed with little fanfare: the 25th birthday of the UK compilation album chart. From the very first day of the year, the most prolific of album acts Various Artists were exiled from the main chart; it's no coincidence that this happened shortly after the fifth anniversary of the Now! series, as it and the Hits series had come to dominate the Number One position and this made it harder for artist albums, as they're now called, to top the chart themselves. For the record - no pun intended - I think this was the right thing to do.
Unsurprisingly, the first ever Number One on the compilation chart was Now XIII, which had crossed straight over from topping the combined chart over Christmas 1988. It was Now 14 that was the first volume actually released under the new regime though, which makes it a good album to write about now, even if it would have been better to write about ten months ago. For tagging purposes it's "Now 14 (UK)" to distinguish it from the South African album I wrote about before.

Our starting point then is Marc Almond's biggest hit since Soft Cell broke through with 'Tainted Love'. Like that song - and indeed many of his most-remembered solo hits - this is a cover version, though it's not a re-invention like his other chart-topper. The tempo and arrangement of Almond's original album version closely echoed the Pitney hit, so when the time came to remix the track for a single it was a canny idea to go a stage further and add a fresh vocal from the man himself. It's a good song from British writers Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway (who also recorded the song under their pseudonym David And Jonathan) though it must already have seemed dated by 1967, which gives it a slightly kitsch appeal in retrospect. I'm not a great admirer of either voice individually, but the contrast between the two, Almond's near-monotone and Pitney'd over-the-top caterwaul, actually works very well here. The only problem really lies in the production here, which has something of the karaoke about it and fails to match the drama of the original recording or of the epic this is obviously supposed to be. .

Marc Almond also appears on: Now 22
Available on: The Stars We Are