Thursday, 13 November 2014

Michael Ball 'Love Changes Everything'

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Level 42 'Tracie'

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Duran Duran 'All She Wants Is'

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

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

Monday, 10 November 2014

Climie Fisher 'Love Like A River'

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Brother Beyond 'Be My Twin'

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

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

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

Friday, 7 November 2014

Samantha Fox 'I Only Wanna Be With You'

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

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

Available on: I Wanna Have Some Fun

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Paula Abdul 'Straight Up'

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

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

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Robin Beck 'First Time'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Natalie Cole 'I Live For Your Love'

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

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

Monday, 3 November 2014

Tone Loc 'Wild Thing'

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Adeva 'Respect'

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

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

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

Also appearing on: Now 16
Available on: Adeva