Thursday, 3 December 2015

Oasis 'Songbird'

Chart Peak: 3
'Songbird' showcases Liam's songwriting as well as vocal abilities and has been described as a "simple, honest, catchy and effective" song... It became Oasis' 4th huge hit from their current album when it made the Top 3 in February 2003
I've read that the week 'Songbird' entered at 3 behind 'Cry Me A River' and 'All The Things She Said' was the first time in UK chart history that all the Top 3 songs shared their titles with previous hits. I can't imagine ever checking that, but I'm willing to believe it.

Give or take the odd plagiarism lawsuit 'Songbird' was the first Oasis single not written by Noel Gallagher, who had of course dominated the composition of their early albums. Only on their scrappy fourth set Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants had Liam been allowed one of his songs on an album, although it's not clear whether he'd particularly wanted to before. Fifth disc Heathen Chemistry was the product of a fresh lineup, with new members Andy Bell and Gem Archer having been the songwriters for previous bands Hurricane #1 and Heavy Stereo respectively so unsurprisingly they got some of their own material on board; whether due to intra-band politics or a burst of creativity, the lead singer got three of his own numbers on too. I was by now far too "over" Oasis to listen to the album so I can't voice an opinion on 'Born On A Different Cloud' or 'Better Man' but I recall 'Songbird' getting some attention even as an album track before it finally got a single release.

I was going to quite Tom Ewing's review of the Troggs chart-topper 'With A Girl Like You' as "Hulk writes love ballad" but as I noticed while looking up the link, that wasn't exactly what he said. Still, it's kind of how I always perceived 'Songbird', a tribute to then-fiancée and fellow Now 54 act Nicole Appleton which succeeds largely on the strength of its lack of sophistication. It's a brief 4/4 number without a distinct chorus or middle-eight and as recorded features Liam (presumably) strumming away on an acoustic guitar, backed by a harmonium-like drone, shaken percussion and a sprinkling of piano. Although he probably didn't, you could imagine him overdubbing all these parts solo, and the effect is slightly reminiscent of George Harrison's early Beatles demo 'You Know What To Do'. It manages to strike home in a way that more overthought Oasis tracks often failed to. I recall one review of the album praising this track but saying it was "telling" that nobody thought to work it into anything more substantial. As it transpired when the demo version saw release on the DVD single format though, they did. The demo is in fact more fleshed-out than the final album/single version, with full drums and a very Beatlesque bassline. Whether they simplified the song as an artistic choice or to avoid being sued for ripping off 'And Your Bird Can Sing', they probably came to the right decision and in my opinion this was the best thing the group recorded in the 21st century.

By the way, whilst 'Songbird' represents Liam Gallagher's first writing credit on an Oasis single, it wasn't his first chart appearance as a songwriter: he also has a credit on 'Love Me Or Leave Me', a minor hit for the Seahorses in 1997. Give yourself a pat on the back if you knew that.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38, 52, 53, 61, 62
Available on: Heathen Chemistry

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Robbie Williams 'Feel'

Chart Peak: 4
Robbie followed the hugely successful Swing When You're Winning project with this Top 5 smash 'Feel'... It was his first release under his new multi-million pound deal with EMI - the 2nd single 'Come Undone' is due out in mid-April 2003.
That deal was reported at the time to be worth as much as £80 million, although even if true that would be a total investment, rather than an amount in his back pocket. Still, it's a massive amount to sink into a pop star, even at 2002 levels of album sales and is testament to how unstoppable the Robbie phenomenon seemed at the time. Also, he'd been in a position to record an entire album at his own expense and shop it around to different labels so they knew they could get it into the shops for Christmas; in the even it probably suited both parties for him to return to his existing home at EMI, since they could use rights to his catalogue as a bargaining chip.

With hindsight though, it was pretty much the high point of his career. His productive songwriting partnership with Guy Chambers had run into trouble and as a result Escapology had to be padded with some songs composed in previous years. 'Feel' was apparently a warmed-over demo from 1999, with Williams retaining large parts of the demo vocal. This might be why his performance comes over as more natural and less sneery than he often seems even on his other self-pitying songs. In fact I have to admit this is actually a decent song as well, with an understated quality pretty much unique in his catalogue. It took me a couple of years to realise though. I didn't even start to until we went on holiday to Berlin and during a ride on the S-Bahn a young man got on with a guitar, performed this song in its entirety and got off at the next stop. Somehow because this was so unexpected the memory has stuck with me and opened my ears to this a little.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 51 (with Nicole Kidman), 52 (with 1 Giant Leap & Maxi Jazz), 55, 56, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65, 66, 74, 75, 77 [with Gary Barlow], 83
Available on: Escapology [Explicit]

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

David Sneddon 'Stop Living The Lie'

Chart Peak: 1 [2 weeks]

David is the self-taught pianist and sometime drummer who won Fame Academy... The former singer with The Martians who says his main musical influences are The Beatles and Van Morrison, shot straight to No. 1 in January 2003 with this song that he wrote in Glasgow when he was 17.
It's a much-noted irony that despite the title, neither of the winners of Fame Academy actually seemed to want to be famous. Presumably this the confusing format contributed to the BBC dropping te show after two years, although celebrity/charity spin-off Comic Relief Does Fame Academy actually made it to a third series. Whilst the initial series ran roughly concurrently with Popstars: The Rivals, nobody was brave enough to risk a chart battle so David Sneddon's coronation single was released in January, replacing Girls Aloud after they'd had four weeks at the top over Christmas.

It's not Sneddon's fault that he has one of the last pop-star-like names ever, but it kind of is his fault that he wrote such an insipid song. It's slightly ironic, given the show's supposed focus on training the contestants to write songs, that his career was to be launched by a song he'd written years earlier but in any case, he loses me in the first verse by rhyming "café" with "coffee". Despite this hit, by the end of 2003 he'd announced that he didn't want to be a pop star any more after all and publicly retired from recording, though he did briefly stage a comeback in 2007. Instead he's taken to writing songs for others, with some degree of success.

Also appearing on: Now 55
Available on: Now That's What I Call 2003

Monday, 30 November 2015

Daniel Bedingfield 'If You're Not The One'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]

Daniel has proved himself to be a lot more than just the UK garage artist he seemed to be on his debut smash 'Gotta Get Thru This'... His hit album also fuses smooth R'n'B, soul and classic pop as aptly demonstrated on this 2nd No.1 monster hit 'If You're Not The One'.
So we don't exactly rock into Disc 2 with this track, which was by Bedingfield's own admission an attempt to write a song that sounded like Westlife in the hope of attracting record company interest. The most positive thing I can say is that it worked: not only did he get his record deal but he pastiches Westlife so efficiently on his own it makes you wonder why there had to be five of them. The single was a big success by 2002-3 standards too; though it only lasted one week at the top in early December, it stayed around long enough to climb the chart on Valentine's Day.

I've seen it suggested that part of the reason it sold so well as the third single from an album was the more club-friendly Metro mix, although I didn't hear it at the time. Mainly Bedingfield seemed to to be an example of "when you're hot, you're hot": he scored hit after hit from the first album, then struggled with the second and I didn't even realise until now that he'd released a third one in 2012.

Also appearing on: Now 51, 53, 55, 56, 59
Available on: The Power of Love

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Ainslie Henderson 'Keep Me Like A Secret'

Chart Peak: 5

Ainslie Henderson was born and raised in Scotland an came to the nation's attention via Fame Academy - he made the final 4 and wrote 'Keep Me A Secret' with fellow pupils Sinead and Malachi... it gave Ainslie his 1st Top 5 hit in March 2003.
Looks like we're getting the full set of pre-X-Factor talent shows at the end of Disc One here, with Zoe Birkett (Pop Idol), One True Voice (Popstars: The Rivals), Kym Marsh (Popstars) and now Ainislie from Fame Academy. He continues the run of acts with short careers too, parting company with his record company without even a second single; it was rumoured that the songs he wrote for his debut album were too scathing in their lyrical content though few have heard any of this material. A freshly-recorded album did quietly emerge in 2006 but actual fame was not to be his. He did, however, win a BAFTA for Best Short Animation in 2013.

He doesn't seem that great a loss to pop, actually. I wasn't a huge fans of this song at the time but I remembered it as more anthemic than it actually sounds now, although the dated production is partly to blame and the chances are that'll sound less glaring in a decade or two. Still quite a dull end to the disc though.

Available on: Fame Academy (UK comm CD)

Friday, 27 November 2015

Kym Marsh 'Cry'

Chart Peak: 2

In early 2001, Kym Marsh was just an unknown singer from Wigan - by early 2002, she had been voted into the original Popstars band Hear'Say, sold a few million records and then left... Early 2003 seems her preparing to release 'Cry', her debut solo single.
I suppose the preparations went well enough, in that the single was kept from the top only by the Room 5 track, but like a lot of the tracks on this part of the album it seems to have vanished into some sort of void beyond memory. In fact, she seems to have had a very similar career to Appleton - first two singles away from the group went Top 10, so did the album, then a third single barely scraped the Top 40 and it was all over. There seems not to have been enough clamour (yet) for a Hear'Say reunion, though, whereas All Saints have already got back together twice since 2003. And if 'Cry' seems even more forgotten than anything Appleton ever did, it's because it's so anonymous from the title downwards. Obviously not a problem in the heat of publicity at the time but there's real reason to listen to it now when you could be listening to a real Natalie Imbruglia record.

Despite the relative brevity of her chart career, Marsh remains well-known in the UK in 2015 as a long-serving actress in Coronation Street. So she can probably afford to stay off the reunion tour circuit for as long as she wants.

Also appearing on: Now 55
Available on: Standing Tall

Thursday, 26 November 2015

One True Voice 'Sacred Trust'

Chart Peak: 2


Matt Johnson, Jamie Shaw, Daniel Pearce, Anton Gordon and Keith Semple are One True Voice, the boys from Pop Stars: The Rivals... Their version of the Bee Gees 'Sacred Trust' famously peaked at No2 just before Xmas 2002, but still went on to sell over a quarter of a million copies.
Famously at the time, certainly although it might be lucky for OTV that most people have forgotten this record ever existed, so comprehensively was it outclassed by the Girls Aloud track earlier on this album. Everything seemed ill-judged from the start, even the name of the group, which just makes me think that the other four voices must have been untrue.

Very much a latter-day Bee Gees composition, their version of the song was recorded in 1998 but only saw release on their final studio album This Is Where I Came In in 2001. I'm sure I remember reading that it had been rejected by other boybands before the Gibb brothers gave in and issued their own version. In fact co-writer Maurice Gibb died in January 2003 while this song was still in the chart.

As an album track it remained little-known - especially to a young audience - so you can sort of see why Pete Waterman thought it had some potential as a hit, but in the event it seems to show how little he'd moved on from his glory days because the song just seems tired, almost as much of a misstep as when he tried to write a song for Eurovision. At least the Bee Gees were already old enough to suit this material, but One True Voice just sound bored by themselves. Waterman reportedly lost interest in the project soon afterwards and the band split after only one more single. Still, oneof them did eventually get to enjoy a Number One single, as Daniel Pearce is the uncredited vocalist on 'Nobody To Love' by Sigma.

Also appearing on: Now 55
Available on: Top 40 - 2000s

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

S Club 'Alive'

Chart Peak: 5

Rachel, Jo, Hannah, Tina, Jon and Bradley tamed up for another Top 5 hit in late 2002 with 'Alive'... 2003 will see the long-awaited release of their film Seeing Double in which they try to stop a wicked scientist from cloning them!
There's a connection here, as a young(er) Zoe Birkett had failed the audition for S Club 7 - apparently she was in the final 12, which seems quite close and in hindsight makes me wonder whether she was "encouraged" onto Pop Idol, given Simon Fuller's involvement in both projects. As that description implies, S Club 7 were seven no more, this being their first release as a sextet after the departure of Paul Cattermole to revive his teenage metal band. With hindsight and possibly even without it, it was clear that they were at the beginning of the end of their career and this ended up as their penultimate single, with the band officially over by the middle of 2003 after the film and soundtrack album failed to do good business, whilst Jo O'Meara suffered a back injury that reduced the act to S Club 5 for much of this single's promotion - Rachel Stevens had to re-record O'Meara's vocal parts in order to mime them. By this point a single only going in at 5 was considered a failure and the writing on the wall.

Although as a tail-end-of-their-career single 'Alive' doesn't get much mentioned it's actually one of their better ones. I was about to call it a good of-its-time pop song but actually it sounds more modern than I expected, with traces of the Scandinavian/American pop sound that has dominated this century. In fact its main flaw is that it sounds so much like an attempt to repeat the success of 'Don't Stop Movin' with even the same pseudo-vocoder effect at the end. But 'Don't Stop Movin' was a good song so I don't mind a second helping.

Also appearing on: Now 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52 [all as S Club 7], 55
Available on: Seeing Double

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Zoe Birkett 'Treat Me Like A Lady'

Chart Peak: 12

Zoe Birkett came down from Darlington, County Durham to enter Pop Idol and became the most successful girl on the programme... Her own pop idol is Whitney Houston and her debut single 'Treat Me Like A Lady' was a No. 12 hit in January 2003.
Birkett in fact finished fourth on the inaugural series of Pop Idol, behind Will Young, Gareth Gates and the aforementioned Darius. Back then the novelty of reality show contestants was strong enough that it was no trouble for her to get a record deal and she was quickly signed up to 19 Recordings, a label owned by the show's creator Simon Fuller. The song was written by UK pop workhorses of the time Ray "Madman" Hedges and Nyge Butler with fellow contestant Sarah Whatmore and is fairly typical fare of its time but less than memorable. Top 20 hit it might have been but in the cutthroat pop climate of the early-mid-2000s that wasn't enough and she found herself dropped before her 18th birthday. She has since followed in her idol's footsteps to the extent that she's touring as the understudy in the musical of The Bodyguard. You can catch her doing the matinées in Crawley this week.

Available on: Treat Me Like A Lady

Monday, 23 November 2015

Jaimeson featuring Angel Blu 'True'

Chart Peak: 4

Rappers Jaimeson and Angel Blu fused drum'n'bass rhythms with UK garage to create the catchy, danceable tune that is 'True', it was a monster No. 4 smash in January 2003.
Well I remember the days when it felt like this was the only record on the Radio 1 playlist, back in the days when that used to move more slowly than the singles chart. Of course the impression was heightened by the roll-call at the start, on which Angel Blu introduces herself, Jaimeson and Steve Feelgood (not sure what if anything he contributes). It's a bit unfortunate that this fundamentally quite likeable track was somewhat ruined by overplay. Angel Blu dominates the track vocally, although Jamie Williams earns his lead credit as the producer and co-writer of the song even if his own rapped vocal seems a bit for the sake of it. There isn't a lot of originality on show here, which might be part of the reason his career proved so brief, but it's fun while it lasts.

I have concluded while writing this post that Jaimeson is the most difficult act name to spell on Now 54. I hope I don't get anyone else's wrong now.

Jaimeson also appears on: Now 56
Available on: Think On Your Feet

Friday, 20 November 2015

Jay-Z featuring Beyoncé Knowles '03 Bonnie & Clyde'

Chart Peak: 2

The American emcee Jay Z first charted in the UK in 1997 and until this year was probably still best known here for his Xmas '98 No.2 hit 'Hard Knock Life'... This collaboration with Destiny's Child diva Beyoncé gave him another massive No. 2 success in January 2003.

The second track on Now 54 to feature a member of Destiny's Child collaborating with a rapper, and the first of three appearances for this particular pairing; indeed the release of this track was seen at the time as the first public acknowledgement of their relationship. It wasn't the first hit for Beyoncé outside the group, as she'd had a solo Top 10 with 'Work It Out' the previous year but it was still part of her staking out the territory for her proper solo career and perhaps trying to make her image a little less squeaky-clean. Conversely, it's a relatively poppy track for Jay-Z, without descending to the novelty levels of the kids-musical-sampling 'Hard Knock Life' or 'Anything'.

It's another track I surprised myself by liking as I hadn't been much interested in Destiny's Child and, as somebody who doesn't hate rap music but doesn't consistently like it either, I'd never liked anything Jay-Z did before and I'm not a big fan of the whole gangster-chic thing either. In fact I subsequently saw the film Bonnie And Clyde and was quite disappointed. Kanye West was responsible for the semi-organic production with live guitars played over the beat from a Tupac song called 'Me And My Girlfriend' (not a big fan of him either, actually) as well as the obvious borrowing from 'If I Was Your Girlfriend' by Prince. I think part of what I like is the thing you'd least expect from Jay-Z (or Kanye West), a touch of humility. He even says in as many words "I ain't perfect..." even if he continues with the line "nobody walking this earth's surface is". Still, that little trace of humour and the fact that he seems to be talking more about the closeness of the protagonists than boasting about any of their exploits gives it a charm you rarely detect in rap of this era. I'm still not quite sure what the sound effect over the chorus vocal is supposed to imply but I'm kind of used to it now. Of all the acts on Now 54 these two are probably the biggest stars in 2015, with Beyoncé even appearing as a guest vocalist on the newly released Now That's What I Call Music! 92.

Also appearing on: Now 56, 65
Jay-Z also appears on: Now 37 [with Foxy Brown], 55, 67 [with Rihanna], 74 [with Rihanna and Kanye West], 75 [with Mr Hudson]
Beyoncé also appears on: Now 66, 67, 68 [with Shakira], 73, 74, 92 [with Naughty Boy and Arrow Benjamin]
Available on: The Blueprint 2 The Gift & The Curse (Edited Version)

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Blue 'U Make Me Wanna'

Chart Peak: 4
In March 2003, 'U Make Me Wanna' became Blue's 7th successive Top 5 hit and the 3rd smash from their 2nd album... It follows a great February when Duncan, Antony, Lee and Simon won the "Best Pop Act" award at the Brits.
Rather as with Atomic Kitten, most people probably remember that Blue existed; indeed the front page of my local paper this week is an advert for Lee Ryan's appearance in pantomime at the Beck Theatre, Hayes. However, many if not most of their hits have vanished from public consciousness over the years and in all honesty some of them aren't very memorable. 'U Make Me Wanna' has the particular disadvantage of a title almost as generic as the band's own name: it's possible that they chose the spelling to distinguish this from Usher's 'You Make Me Wanna...' although they didn't do the same for other hits like 'One Love' or 'Guilty'.

The song itself is no more distinctive, the sort of watered-down two-step that was massive at the start of the century, complete with those double-timed vocals everyone seemed to be doing and some generic loverman lyrics. Effectively, it's pseudo-Craig David. It's not actually any good, obviously, although it reaches a low-point when Antony Costa uses the phrase "make sweet love" without apparent irony. Poor even for them.

Also appearing on: Now 49, 50, 51, 53, 56, 57, 58, 59
Available on: Best Of Blue

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Atomic Kitten 'Love Doesn't Have To Hurt'

Chart Peak: 4
Due for release on 31/03/03, 'Love Doesn't Have To Hurt' is a smooth and soulful acoustic ballad... It is Liz, Tash and Jenny's first single of 2003, following their string of European hits 'It's OK', 'The Tide Is High' and 'The Last Goodbye' in 2002.
Well, I can't argue that it's smooth, although I'm not sure I would describe it as "soulful", "acoustic" or a "ballad". In fact it has that very 2003 mid-tempo curse and although the production certainly includes acoustic guitars it has that rather stolid sound of an act who want to get onto radio in America. They didn't succeed even with a song co-written by Susanna Hoffs - presumably as a leftover from one of her other projects rather than because she was trying to make a career out of writing songs for Atomic Kitten. It's hard to say that there's anything much wrong with this but there's nothing much right with it either and by this point there were too many similar Atomic Kitten singles coming out one after the other for me to give them any benefit of the doubt.

Also appearing on: Now 45, 46, 48, 49, 52, 53, 56, 57 [with Kool And The Gang], 58, 60
Available on: Greatest Hits

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Appleton 'Don't Worry'

Chart Peak: 5
Nic and Nat Appleton were of course half of All Saints until their split in February 2001... 'Son't Worry', the follow-up to last year's 'Fantasy', became the duo's 2nd Top 5 hit in February 2003.
I have to admit that when I did a feature about Canadian acts appearing on Now albums, I totally forgot about Appleton, even though I got as far as excluding All Saints for their two UK-born members. The two Ontario-born sisters can actually claim to be the most successful - or at any rate the least unsuccessful - of all the All Saints spin-off acts, with their two Top 10 singles and Top 10 album, although their career was not a long one and they seem little-remembered now.

By far the most surprising thing about 'Don't Worry' is that I actually quite like it, despite a lack of enthusiasm for almost anything they did before or after it. It has a slightly halting quality which actually makes it more rather than less effective, as if the assurance of the title is actually needed. With an unexpectedly understated production it was a pleasant surprise from two people I'd always thought of as more like professional celebs than anything I was interested in. Count me out next time there's an All Saints reunion though.

Also appearing on: Now 53, 55
Available on: Wedding Night (International Version)

Monday, 16 November 2015

Darius 'Rushes'

Chart Peak: 5

Darius was brought up on the sounds of the Beatles, George Michael and Alanis Morisette {sic} and got his first guitar at the age of 9!... His debut album has been a huge success and from it came 'Rushes' his 2nd Top 5 single.
Darius Campbell [Darius Danesh as he was then known] had been a contestant on the initial series of both Popstars and Pop Idol. Although neither of these shows involved songwriting he had some experience in the area, claiming to have written this song on the back of a bus ticket at the age of 16 (it shares the same co-writers as the preceding Sinead Quinn track so I suppose they must have been on the same bus). He apparently had something of a reputation as a clown on the shows themselves but he seems to have been aiming for a slightly more serious singer-songwriter image on at least some of his recordings with partial success. This song is still a bit leery, especially when he describes a woman as having "legs she shouldn't hide" - isn't it up to her whether she hides them or not? At least the song seems to be more consistently stupid than the previous track, so it gets away with it but isn't really memorable.

Also appearing on: Now 53, 55, 59, 60
Available on: Dive In (UK Comm CD)

Friday, 13 November 2015

Sinead Quinn 'I Can't Break Down'

Chart Peak: 2
Sinead is the Fame Academy runner-up from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland who raced to No. 2 in February 2003 with her debut single 'I Can't Break Down'... She loves all music from "Dolly Parton through to Pink, Skunk Anansie and pop stuff like Kylie".
I suppose the most positive thing you could say about Fame Academy is that it lasted more series than Popstars: The Rivals. Possibly intended as a more Reithian alternative to the Popstars and Pop Idol franchises, it lacked the vicious elements that were the main selling point of the commercial rivals, but was supposed to focus more on training potential stars and songwriters. This song was written during the series with established (though not A-list) co-writers and producers Pete Glenister and Deni Lew and perhaps shows up one of the faults of the format;  if people learn to write from established songwriters, they'll learn to write the same songs that are already being written. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself but it seems to undermine the selling point of the show and indeed few major stars emerged from the UK series. Quinn herself obviously got off to a strong start with this single, kept from the top only by t.A.T.u. but after only one further single and a poorly-received album she vanished from the studio and seems to have drifted into semi-retirement. 'I Can't Break Down' is frankly mediocre, It does have a sort of memorable chorus but like a lot of 2003 pop it seems unsure as to whether it's a big dramatic ballad or a quiet strum and ends up not quite sounding like either.

Also appearing on: Now 55
Available on: Now That's What I Call 2003

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Melanie C 'Here It Comes Again'

Chart Peak: 7
'Here It Comes Again was the lead track from Melanie's 2nd solo album Reason, the follow-up to her multi-platinum 1999 debut Northern Star... Looking back on her days in the Spice Girls, she says, "I was the one who was most serious about my music and the most driven."
As of 2003, people had officially started talking about the Spice Girls in the past tense, even though they hadn't officially announced a split in the way that Take That did and four of them had returned to the group after the first wave of group activity. So Melanie Chisholm will have approached her second solo set as her main creative outlet, though it's hard to tell whether this in practice meant greater personal expression or more commercial pressure. It does seem a bit made-by-committee in places, with various big-name co-writers and producers called in for various tracks, although oddly the collaborators here were both members of the Blow Monkeys. 'Here It Comes Again' is a song that I remembered as having a rather lovely chorus and it is indeed pretty good, but slightly messed up by the crunchy rock guitars low in the mix, as if it's trying too hard to hedge its bets. In the event it didn't do as well as expected, entering only at 7 and hastening the end of her major-label contract.

Also appearing on: Now 44, 45 (with "Left Eye"), 47, 55
Available on: Here It Comes Again

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Busted 'Year 3000'

Chart Peak: 2
London-based Charlie Simpson, James Bourne and Mattie Jay grabbed their second big hit with the single that saw them fast-forward 997 years... The follow-up to 'What I Go To School For', 'Year 3000' saw them race to No. 2 in January 2003.
Last week when I realised when I was going to get to this post, I thought I'd missed a trick. If only I'd started a couple of weeks earlier, I could have been publishing a post about a song that mentions a "flux capacitor" on the very day when the "future" sections of Back To The Future 2 are set. Turns out this post is even more topical than I thought, because just yesterday the three original members of Busted announced a reunion tour, starting six months today just down the road at Wembley Arena. It's a safe bet that this will be on the setlist, especially given the small catalogue they have to work from. At least the promise that "everyone bought our seventh album" seems slightly less impossible now.

As a second single, 'Year 3000' is a canny way for the band to set out their stall, offering a sort of playground-friendly bad-boy image. It's cheeky enough to appeal to the rebellious kind of tween and distinguish itself from more traditional boybands of the time who tended to go for RnB sounds or the full-blown MOR of Westfield. I can imagine how girls could identify with this, although I don't remember ever hearing about any boys who admitted to liking  Busted, their lack of rock credibility making them officially unpalatable to a status-conscious male demographic. It lacks the creepy lyrical overtones of their first hit and is also one of their stronger singles musically, albeit mainly for that electric piano riff that presumably wasn't the work of any of the official band members.

So catchy was it indeed that in the USA, where Busted weren't really a thing, a cover of the song became the first Top 40 hit for the Jonas Brothers, though with a slightly sanitised lyric. In their version, the slightly leery report that "Your great-great-great granddaughter is pretty fine," is subtly changed to claim that she's "doing fine". As some wags pointed out at the time,at least that suggests some impressive improvements in life expectancy. In an odd diminution of ambition the Jonas Bros only expected to outsell Kelly Clarkson rather than Michael Jackson. Mind you, seeing how the music industry has changed even in 12 years, maybe they were more prescient than we realised.

Also appearing on: 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59
Available on: The Party Album

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Girls Aloud 'Sound Of The Underground'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)

Girls Aloud are Nadine, Sarah, Nicola, Cheryl and Kimberley - launched via the TV show Popstars: The Rivals... 'Sound Of The Underground', which was written and produced by pop maestro Brian Higgins, beat boy contenders One True Voice to the Xmas No. 1 and went on to sell over half a million copies
And so begins the longest consecutive run of appearances by any act in the history of the Now albums. Girls Aloud loom so large in the history of 21st-century pop that it's easy to forget they originated via reality TV, perhaps all the more so given the relative obscurity of the show itself, which for all the success of this act only ran for one series. For those who don't remember it, Popstars: The Rivals was a kind of sequel to the original Popstars, with the twist that instead of producing one mixed group, it spawned a girl group and a boy band who were supposed to battle for the Christmas Number One single in 2002. Battle they did and the show worked to the extent that they did take the two top positions, but perhaps taking the final out of the confines of the show made it too public; we could see from the sales figures just how far ahead the Girls were without having to follow the show itself and perhaps there was not enough demand for a second series.

At least we did get one good thing out of it, in the shape of what I think's probably the best Christmas Number One this century, musically. An unlikely blend of surf guitars and soft electro beats, it was originally recorded for a failed girl-group called Orchid but revived when the commission came for P:TR. Co-writer Miranda Cooper recalls recording the contestants' vocals a few weeks into the series, and then having to edit them out as they were voted out. She says she hoped every week they wouldn't lose the best singers, though she has more class than to say whether they actually did. In some ways it didn't really matter though, the song has the advantage of not needing particularly spectacular voices, though as the Xenomania writing/production team continued to work with the group they began to tailor more material to them. As an off-the-peg debut though it was good enough to do the job, and still one of the best-ever talent-show singles.

Also appearing on: Now 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 84
Available on: Sound Of The Underground

Monday, 9 November 2015

Junior Senior 'Move Your Feet'

Chart Peak: 3
Junior Senior are the so-called "Laurel And Hardy of Danish Electro-Pop"... The infectious 'Move Your Feet has been described as "Fatboy Slim Body-popping to Wham!'s 'Club Tropicana'" and indeed Norman Cook is among their biggest fans.
Two surprising things about Junior Senior: the age gap is less then 14 months (Senior was born on Christmas Day 1977, Junior on 5th Feb 1979) and Senior doesn't really sing on this track, merely miming to the voice of producer Tobias Troelsen. I didn't know about any of this dishonesty at the time, but I still found the song very annoying back then, with its relentless repetition, oddly high pitching and "Senior"'s stuttery vocal and inane lyric. I have to admit I don't really mind it so much now, though, partly because I don't hear it very often. It does have a certain energy about it that can be enjoyable in small doses.

Available on: D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat [Explicit]

Friday, 6 November 2015

Room 5 featuring Oliver Cheatham 'Make Luv'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)
Released on 24/03/03, 'Make Luv' is, of course, that slab of funky uplifting house from the Lynx ad... Brought to you by Roon 5 aka Vito Lucente aka Junior Jack and the re-recorded vocals of Detroit soul legend Oliver Cheatham courtesy of his 1983 anthem 'Get Down Saturday Night'.
I never saw the advert. Inevitably though I remember the song, and I particularly remember Mark & Lard mocking the name of the act as excessively generic. "Everyone who's ever been in a band surely always wanted to be in a band," I recall Mark Radcliffe once saying, so why couldn't they come up with something a bit more interesting? With hindsight, presumably the number of other pseudonyms Vito Lucente had already used made him feel a bit tired of coming up with names, but there's no getting away from the fact that it sounds a bit like a dull day at the office. Despite this I didn't mind the song itself although it was hard to get excited about and seemed to outstay its welcome somewhat.

I don't think I'd heard 'Get Down Saturday Night' - a song that barely scraped the Top 40 in both the UK and the US - in its original form at that time. To be honest, it does make this record seem a lot less impressive when you know it's just a simplified version of the original, although at least the middle-8 that Lucente left out got recycled and sampled on another track that ends up on a later Now album. And 20 years didn't seem to have done Cheatham's vocals any harm at all; listening closely, you can tell it's a different take but his singing is just as good. Sadly he died a decade later. So 'Make Luv' is an OK track but it doesn't make me want to buy it. Or deodorant.

Available on: Funky House Classics

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Richard X vs Liberty X 'Being Nobody'

Chart Peak: 3
Richard X was the brains behind the Sugababes chart-topping 'Freak Like Me' last year... On his new project Liberty X perform Chaka Khan's 'Ain't Nobody' over Richard's faithful instrumental version of the Human League's 'Being Boiled' - the result: the Top 3 smash 'Being Nobody'.
People have been doing them for decades, but in the early years of the 21st century there was a particular fad for mash-ups, the ancient art of combining two previously separate songs. Perhaps the Internet made it easier to spread the word, though Richard X first made his name (under his previous alias Girls On Top) with a few bootleg vinyl singles. One of these was 'Being Scrubbed' which put the vocals from 'No Scrubs' over the riff from 'Being Boiled' so it wasn't wholly surprising that when he got a major-label contract in his own right, he'd return to part of the same source material. I'm not sure whether the change in lyrics was voluntary or whether it was just too hard to get permission for the TLC song, but either way the combination isn't a bad fit.

In fact it's rather too good a fit. Possibly because the parts are being replayed rather than sampled from the original recordings, the similarities are emphasised to the extent that it ends up effectively just a cover version of 'Ain't Nobody'. Which is something that's always marketable here in the UK, and indeed there's a version of the song in the Top 40 right now, but it seems to lose the original point somewhat.

Richard X also appears on: Now 56 [with Kelis]
Liberty X also appear on: Now 50 [as Liberty], 52, 53, 56, 62, 63
Available on: The Big Reunion

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland 'Dilemma'

Chart Peak: 1 [2 weeks]
This collaboration between Nelly, the hot rapper from St Louis and the hot chanteuse Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child is already recognised as one of the best black pop records of recent years... 'Dilemma' has also been the most successful commercial single in Britain in the last 6 months with sales of 750,000 units.
Yes, it really does say "black pop records". Is that actually a thing people say? If anyone ever asks you who was the first member of Destiny's Child to top the chart outside the group, remember this record which supposedly became a surprise US airplay hit before they'd even decided to release it as a single though one wonders where broadcasters got the radio edit from. It is evidently true though that the single had made it to the top of the Billboard chart before the video was ready which might be why they rushed it and made that infamous blooper with the text message in Microsoft Excel. Perhaps most dramatically of all, the success of this persuaded Destiny's Child manager Matthew Knowles to prioritise Rowland's solo career of that of his daughter Beyoncé during a group hiatus.

As a record in its own right, Dilemma is a bit of a strange beast, a very obvious attempt at a crossover RnB hit that seems to lack the courage of its own convictions as Nelly keeps dropping in shout-outs to the various coasts in a song that's supposed to be about him having it off with a woman who's already attached. It kind of spoils the mood a bit for me but presumably for some people it made it acceptable for the them to listen to a ballad and helped the song to sell very well but 2002 standards, as well as keeping the much-anticipated Justin Timberlake track off the top.

Nelly also appears on: Now 47, 49 [with City Spud], 52, 59, 60 [with Tim McGraw], 61, 77, 85
Kelly Rowland also appears on: Now 69, 73 [with David Guetta]
Available on: Now That's What I Call Feel Good

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Justin Timberlake 'Like I Love You'

Chart Peak: 2
Justin's first solo project followed on from *NSYNC's 'Girlfriend' collaboration with Nelly & The Neptunes... He co-wrote a lot of the R'N'B/ hip-hop influenced album which produced this massive No. 2 single 'Like I Love You' in Autumn 2002.
I don't want to boast or anything but I was one of the first few million people to hear this record. At least, I remember hearing the airplay premiere of it on the Radio 1 breakfast show,and it was explained that due to time difference,the track wouldn't be played on US radio until five hours later in order to get the breakfast audience over there. I don't think they'd do it that way any more.
It's tempting to go on and say "little did we know how big a star he was going to become", or conversely to boast about how I immediately knew this would be massive. Actually the truth is somewhere in between: allowing for the rather patchy success of Nsync in the UK, the people at Radio 1 and whatever other British radio stations took part in the premiere had obviously heard the track in advance and anticipated it would be more than a typical spin-off single by an ex-boyband singer. I don't recall the same level of fuss around the solo work of JC Chasez.

I can't really remember what I actually thought of 'Like I Love You' that first time, though it would have been filtered through my own predjudices about its origins (which I still stand by because *NSYNC weren't any good) and my lack of enthusiasm for the work of Robbie Williams and Ronan Keating, the top ex-boyband stars of the time. It didn't take me long to reach roughly the view I still take, which is that it's a decent piece of songwriting and I have to appreciate anyone in the 21st century advising somebody to "be limber". However, what really makes it is the Neptunes production with those massed ranks of acoustic guitars which some critics at the time pointed out was largely recycled from their work on 'Pass The Courvoisier Part 2' for Busta Rhymes. Still it finds its best expression here and for at least half its running time this is a truly impressive record. Things start to go a bit wrong with the tacky rap verse performed by vaguely-famous-at-the-time duo Clipse [though they don't seem to have written it] and when Timberlake come back off that by singing "I just wanna love you baby" in a showy falsetto it starts to teeter on the precipice of its own confidence, finally tumbling over with the breathy spoken section at the end which becomes risible in its earnestness. I think that section my even have been cut from the initial radio edit but it's present here and on every other commercial release of the song I've found. Luckily that firt half of the song is good enough for me to forgive it most of the time. I can even forgive him calling the album Justified.

Also appearing on: Now 55, 56, 57, 65, 66, 67, 85
Available on: 30 Stars: 2000s [Clean]

Monday, 2 November 2015

t.A.T.u. 'All The Things She Said'

Chart Peak: 1
t.A.T.u. are Russian duo Lena Katin - the "soulful redhead" and "feisty brunette" Julia Volkova...'All The Things She Said', their story of a love affair between 2 young girls, saw them dubbed by UK tabloids The most controversial act of the year" as the record raced to the top of the UK chart in January 2003.
I suspect I may not be the only man to have searched YouTube for the video of this song after his wife has gone to bed, though I can say I was doing this for linkage purposes only. I have of course seen enough of the video in the past to get the general idea and as I understand it it's similar to the video for the original Russian version, released in the year 2000 (when the duo were aged about 15).

Actually watching it again is officially beyond my remit so I must try to concentrate on the song itself, aware as I am that without the sensation around the video it probably wouldn't have been a big enough hit to open the album. In search of world domination, manager/producer Ivan Shapovalov called in Trevor Horn to produce an English-language version, and Horn also has a writing credit, possibly for assisting with the lyric. I don't know how mainstream an opinion this is, but I've come to think that Horn does his best work when he's most involved in the creative process either by writing the song (like 'Slave To The Rhythm') or by radically reworking source material (some of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood stuff springs to mind here). When confronted with a more specific template as he would have been here (and as I suspect he was when he worked with Belle & Sebastian), he seems to lose his way slightly and this track has never seemed quite as dramatic as it wants to be, and it felt a bit dated even at the time. There again, I was never really minded to like this track because of the slightly tawdry hype that preceded it.

I'm sure you could write a thesis about the fact that Russia of all countries produced a massive global hit single about homosexuality. In fact I expect somebody has by now. They could certainly mention that it was the first single by a Russian act to top the UK chart.

Also appearing on: Now 55, 62
Available on: t.A.T.u. - The Best

Paul McCartney 'Hope Of Deliverance'

Chart Peak: 18
Paul's work with the Beatles, Wings and as a solo performer has now produced worldwide sales well in excess of 100 million singles... 'Hope Of Deliverance', a UK Top 20 hit in January '93, was also a wow in the clubs thanks to an extended dance remix version
I can't vouch for how much club play that remix actually got, but here it is anyway. It's quite interesting but doesn't have a lot to do with the original song so its promotional value may have been somewhat limited. Still, Paul McCartney probably liked them, as he's always liked to drift into surprising directions alongside the more mainstream material.

To say that 'Hope Of Deliverance' is a typical mainstream McCartney recording is not, in my mind, to damn it, though it does include a lot of the things that I know people who don't like McCartney dislike: the hummable upward melody, the slightly predictable sequence and the hopeful but unspecific lyric. It's a record he could have made as easily in 1973 or 2013 though the production (engineering more than arrangement) places it roughly in this era. It's likeable but ultimately insubstantial and I've never bothered buying the parent album Off The Ground though I did pick up the 7" single for the vegetarian anthem 'Long Leather Coat' on the flipside. It makes a nice round ending to Now 24 at least.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 4, 15, 37, 67
Available on: Off The Ground

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ultravox 'Vienna'

Chart Peak: 13 [2 in 1981]
'Vienna' originally ade No. 2 in 1981... It returned to the chart in February '93 reaching No. 13... lead singer Midge Ure also had a successful solo career as well as having earlier hits with Slik and Visage.
You might have noticed that I've been a little late (like, about three weeks) with some of these posts. My apologies for that but on the positive side, it means I can report on what happened when a group of Eurovision fans including my brother went to Austria for the contest.

I've also had time to discover that somebody appears to have done an Ultravox/Shostakovich mash-up. It's handy to have a bit of extra content actually, because the trouble with writing about 'Vienna' is that everyone knows it. At least, I'm fairly confident that anyone who bothers to open this post will be very familiar with the song that was stuck in the runner-up position behind John Lennon and Joe Dolce. It was re-issued to promote a combined Ultravox/Midge Ure compilation and as it worked its way up the chart, I remember my Mum joking that it was at risk of being kept off the top this time by Rolf Harris, who was charting with his version of 'Stairway To Heaven'. Of course it didn't come to that in the end, but it was a big enough hit to justify an appearance on Now 24, if only to make up for the fact that there weren't any Now albums in 1981.

I've kind of vacillated in my opinions of the song over the years. Obviously I was too young to really notice it when it was in the chart originally, then as a slightly older child I wasn't interested in a slow song. Later I learnt of its history as a song denied the Number One position by a novelty record and came to the conventional wisdom that this was a travesty... then I decided it was pretentious and boring (as Tom Ewing said on Popular, 'Vienna' is certainly funnier than 'Shaddap You Face'). Now I've moved on again, probably as part of my greater appreciation of the music of the 1980s, and I've come to see the song's overwrought nature as a feature, more than a bug. I like that they've combined a very icy synth-pop melody with a big (and well-recorded) grand piano part and a string section, and also that this is a rare example of a hit single that speeds up in the middle. It has a proper big finish too, and for that reason I think this probably should have been pushed one place further back in the running order. Still, it's safely in my Top 3 Ultravox songs now with 'Young Savage' and 'The Voice'.

Also appearing on: Now 3
Available on: The Best Of Ultravox

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Bryan Ferry 'I Put A Spell On You (single mix long version)

Chart Peak:
Screaming Jay Hawkins 'I Put A Spell On You' has been recorded by acts as diverse as Nina Simone, Alan Price and Demon Fuzz... Ferry's interpretation returned him to the Top 20 in March '93
Third cover version on the trot. Now I've nothing against cover versions and in fact I'm listening to some as I type this, but Bryan Ferry's covers have never really appealed to me. At best they're over-theatrical expressions of his persona but this song, which is famously dramatic to start with, is tackled in a very bland manner. Presumably this is supposed to be intentional and somehow subversive, but it just sound like he's run out of ideas and filled his album with cover versions out of necessity. He sounds bored by his own record and you can hardly blame him.

Since 1993 the song has of course been recorded by many other acts including Annie Lennox, though the highest-charting version here was by Sonique. If you're one of the people who bought Now 48 after seeing it on Peter Kay's recent TV series you'll already know that.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 13
Available on: Best Of

Monday, 25 May 2015

Faith No More 'Easy'

Chart Peak: 3
Lionel Richie's 'Easy' was originally a Top 10 hit in 1977 for the Commodores... The song gave San Franciscan band Faith No More their biggest UK success to date when it reach No. 3 in January '93.
At least Lionel Richie gets his whole name in the sleevenote. Interestingly they don't mention that the Commodores track had returned to the UK chart in 1988 after being featured in a TV commercial so the song was even more familiar to younger people than it might otherwise have been. The FNM version, actually credited as 'I'm Easy' in the UK (though some pressings in other countries featured the original title) was indeed their biggest hit over here, though they retained a significant following. Indeed, at time of writing they're in the Top 10 with a comeback album despite little mainstream attention. Although the band were famous/notorious for their outrageous behaviour on and offstage, they play this song fairly straight, doing just enough to make it acceptable to people who wouldn't admit to liking a Lionel Richie record though with hindsight they mainly serve to show how well-produced the original version actually was. Perhaps doing a relatively "normal" cover version was supposed to be a shock in itself, or perhaps the release was a way of getting the listed flipside 'Be Agressive' (apparently an ode to gay fellatio) into the unsuspecting public's cassette players. It still seems a bit pointless now.

Also appearing on: Now 17
Available on: This Is It: The Best of Faith No More

Friday, 8 May 2015

Ugly Kid Joe 'Cats In The Cradle'

Chart Peak: 7
'Cats In The Cradle' was originally a 1974 American chart-topper for its writer Harry Chap {sic}... Ugly Kid Joe's version had reached No. 7 in the UK chart by 28th March 1993.
I didn't realise (and you might not have either) that Ugly Kid Joe has as many as five Top 40 singles in the UK, though only two of them were considered worthy of inclusion in the Now series; they were the only two that made the Top 20. The second of them was this, a version of the song Harry Chapin wrote from a poem by his wife about her previous husband's relationship with their son. It's a kind of sardonic morality tale with just enough self-mockery to tone down the preaching. I'm not sure whether UKJ wanted to mock this song or celebrate it and the trouble is they don't seem to either. It's not a sped-up thrashy version but it's not really confident enough to sound like a genuine cover either. Still, they lucked out by picking a song that hadn't been a hit in the UK before and made the Top 10.

Also appearing on: Now 22
Available on: America's Least Wanted

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Peter Gabriel 'Steam'

Chart Peak: 10
'Steam', a Top 10 hit in January '93, was Gabriel's biggest solo success since the classic 'Sledgehammer' in 1986... His live performance of the song was a highlight of the 1993 Brits Awards [sic] show.
The last of Peter Garbriel's four Now appearances, coincidentally (other than perhaps for generational reasons) on the same album as his former colleagues Genesis bow out. Indeed all four Now albums that feature Gabriel also feature his old band, though Ashley Abram resisted the temptation ever to sequence them next to each other.

Released in the UK as the second single from the album Us, 'Steam' is a highly atypical track, much more fun than the rest of the disc both in its upbeat musical mood and in the light-hearted wordplay and unusual rhymes of the lyric ("You know your sinner from your saint/ You know your stripper from your paint/Whenever heaven's door are shut, you'll get them open but/ I know you". Although the song is ostensibly about a woman who understands everything except herself, there's a subtext of the same sexual energy as 'Sledgehammer', the song in his catalogue this most closely resembles. Indeed the song seems in places almost a conscious attempt to produce a successor to his biggest hit, but is saved from the appearance of cynicism by its genuine joie de vivre and the uncommercial decision to release a six minute single with no radio edit; the video edit is a little shorter though, presumably because of the cost of the special effects. It was reported at the time that Gabriel had been scanned into the computers to such a level of detail that future music videos could theoretically be made without his direct involvement, although I don't think he ever tested that theory. Whatever format they were encoded in is probably obsolete these days anyway. Besides, with the dark and highly personal nature of the album it's no bad thing to have a spot of light relief. It would have been false advertising to make this the first single off his album, but that's probably why it wasn't. It still works out of context anyway.

I hadn't seen the Brits performance before. It looks like it would have been quite something if I wasn't viewing it through an ancient VHS recording.

Also appearing on: Now 7, 8, 23
Available on: Us (Remastered)

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Depeche Mode 'I Feel You'

Chart Peak: 8
Consistent hitmakers since 1981, Depeche Mode have now had 20 Top 20 hits in Britain following the success of 'I Feel You' (no. 8 in February '93)... The group are also one of the biggest live acts in the world.
Second of only three Now appearances from DM, and whilst the three songs that made the grade aren't necessarily their best-known work they do give quite a flattering account of the band's work. 'I Feel You' was the first single from their first Number One album Songs Of Faith And Devotion, and showcases their new rock-oriented direction. Even more so than I thought, actually - I'd always assumed that Alan Wilder playing drums in the video was an affectation, but it turns out he really did play live drums, albeit that they were subsequently re-edited to produce a slightly unrealistic sound. Indeed, it's because Depeche Mode were synth-poppers playing at making rock music that this track sounds so odd and dramatic - I almost wish they'd stripped (no pun intended) the track even further down to concentrate on the riff and Dave Gahan's impassioned if not very melodic vocal. Still it's distinctive and I'd probably listen to it more often if they'd included the radio edit without that screechy feedback at the start.

Also appearing on: Now 17, 62
Available on: The Best Of Depeche Mode, Vol. 1 (Remastered)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Lenny Kravitz 'Are You Gonna Go My Way'

Chart Peak: 4
'Are You Gonna Go My Way', No. 4 in March '93, is Lenny's biggest British single to date... As well as being a successful solo performer, he has co-written/produced worldwide hits like Madonna's 'Justify My Love' and Vanessa Paradis' 'Be My Baby'.
It's a fun little game to watch the video for this song and try to work out how many other people Lenny Kravitz fancies himself as. Jimi Hendrix obviously, then he's waving his dreadlocks around like Bob Marley and showing off that he has a female drummer in a way that slightly reminds me of Prince, and he talks over his own vocal like Marvin Gaye did on What's Going On, whilst the crown of bright lights descending towards him suggests he might even have thought he was Jesus. Perhaps this is intended to be a joke, but even so he doesn't come over as a modest man. In reality, as opposed to the video, he actually played the drums on this track himself which is why I suspect that flaunting the lady drummer was a Prince wannabe move - it's also why I don't blame her for how boring the drumming on this track actually is. Kravitz certainly knows his music history and has technical skill, and he's come with an undeniably strong riff for this song but he seems to lack the imagination to do anything really exciting with it, the key change in the second verse is about as far as it goes. Maybe if he'd recorded live there'd have been more of a feel to it.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 42
Available on: Greatest Hits [Explicit]

Monday, 4 May 2015

Genesis 'Invisible Touch (live)'

Chart Peak: 7
'Invisible Touch' originally made No. 15 in 1986... This "live" version was a No. 7 hit in November '92 and haved the way for two successful "live" albums for Messrs. Banks, Collins and Rutherford.
Two consecutive live tracks here, which must be unusual in the Now series, although the effect is lessened somewhat on vinyl and cassette editions where they're on opposite sides. Though little-remembered now, this single is notable as the last Top 20 hit by Genesis, and their last Top 30 with Phil Collins - they did oddly go back to their previous album for the pointless Number 40 hit 'Tell Me Why' in 1993, and they scored a final hit with Ray Wilson on vocals in 1997 - as well as because it outcharted the original studio track in the UK. That probably tells you something about the state of pop in 1992, a year of historically low sales and a time (like now) of hefty pre-release promotion which favoured established acts with loyal fans willing to rush out in release week for the limited-edition numbered 7" and CD single. This version peaked higher but lasted only half as long on the chart.

A slightly shorter version of a performance from Hanover in Germany, this rendition is notable for being transposed to a lower key than the original to fit Collins' changing vocal range. He also replaces the lyric "mess up your life" with "fuck up your life", which is of course bleeped on my copy of Now 24, though I've heard rumours of some copies leaking out uncut; he compromised with "screw up your life" on TotP. As I mentioned when I wrote about the studio version a few years ago, 'Invisible Touch' is not a song I'm especially fond of, but at least this version seems to have a bit more energy than the original. Still a bit of a curio really, but an interesting enough way for Genesis to make their last (collective) appearance in the series.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 7, 8, 9, 21, 23
Available on: Live - The Way We Walk Volume One: 'The Shorts'

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Simply Red 'Lady Godiva's Room' (from Montreux EP)

Chart Peak: 11
'Lady Godiva's Room' was one of the tracks on Simply Red's Montreux EP... I teas the last of five 1992 chart singles following 'For Your Babies', 'Wonderland', 'Thrill Me' and 'Your Mirror'.
The Montreux EP was of course so-called because it was recorded at the well-known Swiss jazz festival. Strangely, although the group performed a full-length set (available as a bonus DVD on some re-issues of the Stars album) with several of their hits, only four tracks were released at the time and three of them were cover versions. Well, OK, Simply Red doing cover versions isn't that unusual (the aforementioned Stars was one of their few all-original albums) but that wasn't the most obvious commercial move. 'Lady Godiva's Room' was the only original song on the release and even then it was a B-side from several years earlier, which would be the second time Mick Hucknall went back to the B-side cupboard: 1988's single 'I Won't Feel Bad' had been the flipside to the original release of 'Holding Back The Years' three years before.  'Lady Godiva's Room' was also the fourth track in the sequence, although it was the promoted track from the EP, even getting a proper video. I'm not sure how they expected to recoup that from a single that wasn't even promoting an album, but they would have had plenty in the bank from Stars.

Perhaps the surprise here is how good the track sounds now. I'm in the relatively small number of people who think Simply Red had already peaked by the end of the 80s, although of course this song was written by 1987. It has a mystique that is rare in Mick Hucknall's work and although it sounds similar to a few of his other songs of this era (possibly why it was only a B-side originally) it's one of his best compositions in my opinion. The lyric, with its continued refrain "the honeymoon is over" is more intriguing than his typical attempts to pastiche old soul songs or his sappy "socially conscious" stuff. Really this song was a bit too good to bury.

Also appearing on: Now 5, 7, 9, 20, 21, 23, 32, 33
Available on: Men And Women [Expanded] (studio version)

Friday, 1 May 2015

Dina Carroll 'This Time'

Chart Peak: 23
Dina first charted in 1991 as featured vocalist on Quartz's 'It's Too Late'... Her solo career has already produced numerous hits such as 'Ain't No Man', 'So Close' and 'This Time' which features the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
I think this may have been another failed bet: her previous three solo singles had all gone Top 20 so this was probably expected to follow them there, particularly as it was a sentimental ballad released in February. In the end it didn't do so well, ending up the least successful of the six singles from the album and has left little impact on posterity - I'm sure I've never heard it outside the confines of this album and the YouTube link I've just looked up. Mind you, Dina Carroll seems a bit of an overlooked pop star generally, despite an impressive run of success in the early 90s.

Strangely, 'This Time' doesn't seem as opulent a production as the presence of a big orchestra (or at least its string section) would suggest. Somehow the rest of the arrangement feels a little bit cheap, possibly thrown together on synthesisers. Carroll herself is in fine voice but the song doesn't seem to go anywhere and it feels like a bit of a waste.

Also appearing on: Now 24, 27, 35, 43
Available on: The Very Best Of... (UK single CD)

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Beloved 'Sweet Harmony'

Chart Peak: 8
The Beloved are Jon Marsh and his wife Helena... 'Sweet Harmony', a No. 8 hit in early '93, became the biggest single in the group's history, following other previous chart records such as 'Hello' and 'The Sun Rising'.
Although of course those earlier hits were the product of an earlier line-up, featuring Jon Marsh and Steve Waddington before the latter was replaced by Mrs Marsh. The slightly overexposed photo in the CD booklet here shows Jon Marsh only, and of course he is overexposed in a different way in the song's (in)famous video, where he sings amid a large number of female models without a stitch of clothing between them. Helena Marsh apparently isn't in this video either, although she did appear in the clip for their later single 'Satellite' and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, also in a hidden sex tape released on VHS video collection of earlier singles. She's visible (fully clothed) in the background of the Top Of The Pops performance.

Slightly creepy video aside, the song doesn't really have a lot to recommend it, being a fairly generic set of hopeful sentiments mumbled over monotonous synth pads. It's not got the ethereal strangeness of 'The Sun Rising' and it's not even an irritating but catchy novelty like 'Hello'. Maybe it sounded better on drugs.

Available on: The Sun Rising

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

PM Dawn 'Looking Through Patient Eyes'

Chart Peak: 11

PM Dawn are Prince Be/The Nocturnal and DJ Minutemix/J.C. The Eternal (AKA brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes)... 'Looking Through Patient Eyes' reached No. 11 in March '93 and follows previous hits such as 'Set Adrift On Memory Bliss' and 'A Watcher's Point Of View'.
Although nobody would have known this at the time, two consecutive acts who are largely remembered as one-hit wonders but actually had multiple Top 40 appearances (five in both cases, in fact). This was their second and final Top 20 hit here, though they hadn't been consecutive. Like the signature hit 'Set Adrift On Memory Bliss' the song is based on an Eighties hit by a British act; in this case it's 'Father Figure' by George Michael (which some people thought might have been about child abuse, in a further coincidence). Clearly this song is about a different father entirely, though and whilst it's far from unusual for rappers to use religious imagery or to profess to belief, fewer have gone so far as this with a song so directly aimed at God it seems almost like eavesdropping for the rest of us to hear it. I'd like to think it did more for Prince Be himself than it did for me, although his subsequent history hasn't been especially lucky: he fell out with his brother a few years later and a series of severe health problems have forced him to retire from performance.

Also appearing on: Now 20
Available on: The Bliss Album

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Tasmin Archer 'In Your Care'

Chart Peak: 16
'In Your Care', the follow-up to the No. 1 'Sleeping Satellite', showcased the depth of the Archer/Hughes/Beck songwriting team and gave the Bradford chanteuse her second British Top 20 single in February '93.
Possibly the most surprising track on Now 24, at least to those of us who didn't hear it at the time (although she had as many as five Top 40 singles, the only ones I recall are 'Sleeping Satellite' and her cover of 'Shipbuilding'). To be sure, the track does continue the relatively mellow musical style of the disc so far, but Archer's vocal is harsher than might be expected from her previous single and she uses the phrase "Son of a bitch" repeatedly in the chorus - it's left unbleeped here and even of Top Of The Pops, presumably thanks to the song's serious subject matter. It's a difficult tale of child abuse from the child's perspective (possibly told by a still-traumatised adult, although this may be a product of her obviously grown-up voice). Certainly a brave choice of follow-up single, although the pill is sugared a little by the smooth production and the exemplary upright bass-playing of the legendary Danny Thompson.

In the event, the courage of this release was not really rewarded and her momentum seemed to fall away. She never made the Top 20 again, and by the time she returned with a second album in 1996 she seemed like ancient history to me. Perhaps calling the first album Great Expectations was a poor omen.

Also appearing on: Now 23
Available on: Tasmin Archer - Best Of

Monday, 27 April 2015

k.d. lang 'Constant Craving'

Chart Peak: 15 [originally 52 in 1992]
'Constant Craving' is the debut British hit single for the much adored Canadian k.d. lang... She has recently picked up no less than 4 Grammy nominations in the States as well as a Brits 'Best International Artist' nomination over here.
So adored is Ms Lang, indeed, that the sleeve note even writes her name in lower-case, the only exception to its ALL CAPS policy. Perhaps that's also one reason why she's seldom included in the canon of one-hit wonders, although this remains her only solo Top 40 single. Although she has had significant album success since, it's probably fair to say that in Britain at least she has hasn't become the major star that was once expected and that her record company probably hoped for.

'Constant Craving', though, has stood the test of time remarkably well, and surely stands as one of the best-arranged singles of the era, with clever use of piano, accordion and even vibraphone to give a timeless, luxurious but not overcrowded sound, whilst a strong bassline gives the track momentum. It's the setting for a lyric which isn't too specific to be universal but is also not fully understandable, because it's a questioning song after all. Perhaps the most effective section of all is the middle section where it seems to slow down and scratch its head as it ponders just what is the nature of desire. It's all so effective even the Rolling Stones copied the melody (on their 1997 hit 'Anybody Seen My Baby?'), allowing lang and co-writer Ben Mink a share of the royalties.

Also appearing on: Now 23 [with Roy Orbison]
Available on: Songbird

Saturday, 25 April 2015

World Party 'Is It Like Today?'

Chart Peak: 19
Karl Wallinger formed Would Party back in 1985 - he is a multi-instrumentalist, former member of the Waterboys and a former music director of the Rocky Horror Show... 'Is It Like Today?' was released on 29th March 1993.
For a long time, I thought the only World Party song I knew was 'Put The Message In The Box', which I remembered hearing a lot on the radio. At the end of the century Robbie Williams of course had a big hit with his cover of 'She's The One' and I think it was around the time that I was able to connect my knowledge that World Party had their only Top 20 (or even Top 30) hit with a song called 'Is It Like Today?' to the song that I'd heard quite a few times without really noticing the title.
It's sort of tempting to dislike this song because it has a slightly self-important quality (it is, after all, written from the perspective of God) and has a slightly fussy pristine sound about it. And yet there's a wisdom that seems to make me like it almost despite myself, and despite my slight squeamishness about the lyric "Blood just looks the same when you open the vein" and the clumsy "he went to the the moon" line. And the melody is very good, in an obviously Beatlesque way;  the group's then-bassist David Catlin-Birch was also a member of long-running tribute The Bootleg Beatles, which probably explains his performance in the video. It doesn't explain why the video is for the slightly overlong album version instead of the single edit though.

Available on: Bang!