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!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Annie Lennox 'Love Song For A Vampire'

Chart Peak: 3
Following the huge critical and commercial success of Eurythmics, Annie's solo career has started in fine fashion wih Top Ten hits 'Why', 'Walking On Broken Glass' and this February '93 smash from the film 'Dracula'.
This is the song I remember from her double A-sided hit, although some people seem to recall the flipside 'Little Bird' instead. I suppose it boils down to which radio station you were listening to in 1993 if any. I didn't see the film Bram Stoker's Dracula, and probably shouldn't have since I wasn't yet 15 at the time of the UK release date. But the song is actually quite good, with hindsight possibly the best thing she'd done since the early Eurythmics days because it has that haunting, spare quality that I associate with 'Sweet Dreams' and 'Love Is A Stranger', but which they started to lose as they got more bombastic and stadium-oriented. At times, solo Lennox drifts into overproduction but on this occasion she and Steven Lipson knew when to stop (perhaps they were working to a deadline?) and the melody is in the right place to show her voice at its best. Not a song I listen to every day, but a quiet masterpiece.

Also appearing on: Now 22
Available on: The Annie Lennox Collection

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Duran Duran 'Ordinary World (single version)'

Chart Peak: 6
'Ordinary World', which made No. 6 in February '93, was the group's biggest hit British single hit since 1985... This epic ballad was also a huge American success.
Start of Disc 2 is a song that mentions a Thursday - and I'm posting on Thursday! It's almost like I planned it or something (I didn't).

'Ordinary World' is a song that confused me a bit in the 1990s because I found myself quite liking it. It's a smooth, melodic-sounding number with a slick production (admittedly slightly dated now, but it was pretty good at the time) and importantly a sadness that gives it a weight most Duran music lacks. Apparently the song is actually about a deceased friend of Simon Le Bon, although I'm not sure whether that was widely-known at the time. Unfortunately, the song has in retrospect become a little over-burdened by the band's own insistence that it's their best work, as part of their insistent campaign that they're not just an Eighties band, etc. Good as the song is, that's a bit too much of a burden for it. Still, they're right to be proud of it, and it is true that the song effectively relaunched their career, at least until they wrecked it again with the dodgy covers album a couple of years later.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 14, 25, 31
Available on: Duran Duran [The Wedding Album]

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Hue And Cry 'Labour Of Love'

Chart Peak: 25 (6 in 1987)
Hue and Cry are Pat and Greg Kane... 'Labour Of Love' originally made No. 6 in 1987 and this well-acclaimed remix returned them to the chart in March 1993.
Slight anomaly here - although the note refers to "this... remix", and the small print shows a 1993 copyright date, the production credits printed on the disc itself are as the original and indeed it's the original 1987 mix of the track that appears on the disc. I'm not sure whether this is a mistake or not (three of the four formats of the single included the original anyway), but for reference the official lead track of the re-release was the 7" Urban Edit, which sounds amazingly dated now.

Oddly enough, the 1987 version doesn't actually seem that out of place among the early-90s tracks, if only because an extra six years seems less significant when everything's already over 20 years old. There's something that seems increasingly ridiculous about the song though, a slightly overdone pastiche of soul and a sense that it's a bit too in love with its own cleverness, though I admit I could be projecting my own impressions of Pat Kane as a media personality onto his music - I certainly liked the song in 1987, before I understood it.. At least it has a nice sudden ending for the end of Disc 1.

Also appearing on: Now 10, 13, 14, 15
Available on: Labours Of Love - The Best Of Hue And Cry

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Monie Love 'Born To B.R.E.E.D. (Paisley Park Radio Mix)'

Chart Peak: 18
'Born 2 B.R.E.E.D.', written and produced in collaboration with Prince, returned British-bornMonie Love to the UK Top 20 in March '93... Her previous hits have included 'Grandpa's Party' and 'It's A Shame'.
After the confusion of the Sunscreem song title, Ms Love (Ms Gooden as she was born) does at least signpost that her title is an acronym; according to the internet it stands for  "Build Relationships where Education and Enlightenment Dominate". I was going to say that this was a relief, given the overtones of a phrase like "born to breed", but then again that actually is what she says. Of course, it's meant in the sense of defending herself against stereotypes about  young mothers, but clearly it's not all she's done with her life. Indeed, she was reportedly the first British rapper to sign to a major label, as well as becoming a successful songwriter and later a DJ. Still, "So ask me again if I need ghetto assistance/There's food on my table and my baby's not wearing pissed pants" is certainly a distinctive lyric.

Although I remember quite a few of her earlier hits, it never really occurred to me that she was anything other than American, which in the context of late-80s UK rap might have been taken as a compliment. This track isn't really cut from the same cloth, although I probably wouldn't have noticed it much anyway. Though a decent-sized hit in itself, it was her last big UK success.

Available on: In a Word Or Two

Monday, 20 April 2015

Sunscreem 'Pressure US'

Chart Peak: 19
Lucia, Paul, Darren, Rob and Sean are Sunscreem... 'Pressure US' is their 4th hit in recent times and has followed 'Love U More', 'Perfect Motion' and 'Broken English' into the charts.
Because the sleeve of Now 24 is all in capitals, as is that of the original single, it's not entirely clear whether this track is called 'Pressure Us' or 'Pressure US' and I've seen both versions used but the latter seems the more common. It's also the more logical since this is a reworking of an earlier single called 'Pressure'. The remake was occasioned by the American Top 40 success of their previous single ' Love U More', a rare achievement for a British techno act then (or ever, really). Mind you, they are somewhat closer to a typical rock band, or at least to early-90s dance-rock outfits like Jesus Jones and EMF (also relatively successful in the US) than to more faceless rave acts. They even have a very of-its-time looking performance video.

It's a good song, if slightly dated now, but it proved to be their last big hit before their career lost momentum and drifted into a leagacy unfinished albums and bankrupt record labels. Officially they still exist but haven't been heard from in a while.

Available on: Pressure US

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Capella 'U Got 2 Know'

Chart Peak: 6
Cappella is actually Ettore Foresti... He is Italian and had a hit in Britain a few years ago with 'Helyom Halib'... 'U Got 2 Know' charted instantly at No. 22 after just one week of release.
Although Foresti was fronting the act at the time of their late-80s hits, he doesn't seem to have anything to do with this track. He's obviously not really on it, as all the vocals are sampled and he's not in the video either. After this single, a British duo were brought in to work as the public face of the act, though understandably they weren't allowed into the studio. If Cappella was really anyone it was producer Gianfranco Bortolotti who is the one constant through the history of the name.

'U Got 2 Know' borrows heavily from John McGeoch's guitar riff on 'Happy House' by Siouxsie & The Banshees (apparently they later successfully sued for a writing credit, although since McGeoch isn't a credited writer on the original I'm not sure whether he benefitted). It's not the most obvious basis for a house track, to be sure, but it does have a persistent quality about it right enough and this is a record that seems to do what it's aimed at.

Also appearing on: Now 26, 27, 28
Available on: U got 2 know album

Friday, 17 April 2015

2 Unlimited 'No Limit'

Chart Peak: 1
2 Unlimited - Anita Dels and Kid Ray Slijngaard are from Amesterdam... They are, of course, the first Dutch duo to top the UK chart since Pussycat in 1976 and 'No Limit' is the latest in a string of hits that started in 1991 with 'Are You Ready For This'.
A pedant writes: Pussycat (who topped the chart with 'Mississippi') were a trio, and the first 2 Unlimited hit was called 'Get Ready For This'. It's on Now 20.

Another track that was released in the UK by PWL, though of course it didn't originate there. Pete Waterman was, however, responsible for the UK edit which, like most of the act's early hits, dropped Ray Slijngaard's rap; he's pretty much left to chant "Techno techno techno techno!" Is this even techno? I never understood dance subgenres. That said, having heard the original version of the track, I wouldn't call the rap a great loss.

'No Limit' - sometimes wrongly referred to as No Limits, which was the title of the parent album - is another of the handful of songs I remember from the time, not only because it was a massive Number One hit but because its rather limited lyrical content was an easy target for parody. I probably agreed at the time but now I look on it with a less jaundiced eye - and of course I know that the version with more lyrics isn't better. It's certainly catchy and has more energy than the West End track, even if I don't want to listen to it every day.

Also appearing on: Now 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30
Available on: Unlimited Hits & Remixes

Thursday, 16 April 2015

West End featuring Sybil 'The Love I Lost'

Chart Peak: 3
Sybil Lynch first charted in Britain with covers of two Dionne Warwick classics 'Don't Make Me Over' (No.19, 1989) and 'Walk On By' (No. 6, 1990)... This version of the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes song was a massive Top 3 hit in Early '93.
"West End - Real name Eddie Gordon (born Edmund Richard Gordon, 9 February 1959, Biggin Hill, Farnborough, Kent) is an English music journalist, a producer, DJ and music business personality." That quote comes from the YouTube video, and I think the fact that making music isn't even the first job of the lead act sums this record up pretty well. From the later days of Pete Waterman's PWL company, it's a lazy cover version that manages neither to replicate nor re-interpret the original, just sort of sits there. Decent vocal performance but not enough.

Sybil also appears on: Now 25
Available on: Pete Waterman Presents The Hit Factory

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Lulu 'Independence (Brothers In Rhythm Mix)'

Chart Peak: 11
Lulu's hit career began back in 1964 as a 15 year old with her storming version of the Isley Brothers' 'Shout'... She had further hits throughout the 60s and into the 70s, but 'Independence' was her first record since 1982 and a triumphant comeback, reaching No. 11 in early '93
At time of writing, Lulu has just released the latest of her many comeback albums, amid the typical bout of publicity about how she's really a soul singer despite her silly stage name and uncool Californian showbiz image. So far, she's being outsold by the new Calexico album.

But back to a previous comeback. It is true that the album to which this was the title track was her first in 11 years, unless of course you count the 1984 exercise instruction record Shape Up And Dance, but she had been more active on the singles market, scoring a big hit with a re-recorded 'Shout' in 1986 and following it up with a cover of 'My Boy Lollipop'. She also recorded the theme tune to a cartoon version of 'Nellie The Elephant' in 1990. It wasn't a hit though, and you can kind of see why she though her career might need a bit of a rethink.

It might not have been the most logical move to switch to contemporary dance music, but it actually worked remarkably well, with Brothers In Rhythm applying a similar sort of production to what Kylie was doing in her post-SAW years. Lulu is obviously the better singer, if not quite as good as she seems to think, and this is one of her best showcases because it doesn't give her the chance to overdo things. Neither is the backing in the way. And she even got Bobby Womack onto Top Of The Pops with the follow-up single, so that alone seems to justify its existence. By the end of the year she'd also had her first hit as a songwriter and her only Number One single (collaborating with Take That) though the run was shortlived.

Also appearing on: Now 54 [with Ronan Keating]
Available on: Greatest Hits (UK comm CD)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Robin S 'Show Me Love (Stonebridge Club Mix)'

Chart Peak: 6
Robin S may now have to give up her day job as secretary for the mayor of Long Island, New York... 'Show Me Love' has been a floor filler in the clubs for months and has now made the Top 10 of the British national chart.
Don't worry, the British national chart isn't some fascist thing, it's just the standard terminology for a non-specialist chart. It's hard to believe that this song was ever new to people (although it had been released even before this under her full name of Robin Stone); the song has been re-released, remixed, sampled and pastiched so many times, particularly in the last few years, that it's hard to come to it with fresh ears at all. I certainly don't feel that I've been able to do so and without any nostalgic attachment to the 1993 chart run, I find this a bit average.
Perhaps that's unfair and purely a result of the overfamiliarity, but I don't feel I can just assume that I'd like it more at the time so I have to be honest here. Ms S is a powerful singer, but her later cover of a Yazoo album track proves she's not Alison Moyet.

Also appearing on: Now 25
Available on: Floorfillers Old Skool

Monday, 13 April 2015

Arrested Development 'Tennessee (The Mix)'

Chart Peak: 18
'Tennessee' became A.D.'s 3rd big British hit in March '93 following 'People Everyday' and 'Mr. Wendal' into the UK chart... It has been described as the group's "open letter to God".
They weren't quite as inventive with their remix titles as East 17. Then again, they probably took themselves a bit more seriously. 'Tennessee' certainly comes from a more serious inspiration, as lead singer Speech's brother died shortly after their grandmother's funeral. The song seems to react with more exasperation than rage, but they're not an act I've ever really been able to warm to. At least this avoids the preachy tone of some of their hits though, and in this remixed form it has a definite funk edge. It owes some of that to an uncleared Prince sample though.

Also appearing on: Now 23
Available on: Greatest Hits

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Stereo MC's 'Step It Up (Radio Edit)'

Chart Peak: 12
The Stereo's have successfully fused 60's psychedelia, 70's rock and 80's rap into a unique 90's sound.. The big breakthrough came with 'Connected' and this storming cut 'Step It Up' gave them a No. 12 hit in December '92.
Did anyone really call them "The Stereo's"? It's slightly funny in retrospect to think of the Stereo MCs as the sound of the 1990s because as of 1992-3 you could plausibly have expected the music of the decade to carry on in this vein, but that didn't predict the rise of Britpop and harder forms of hip-hop and dance, nor the brighter pure pop of the turn of the century. Still less did it predict that the Stereo MC's themselves, after making possibly the most acclaimed album of 1992 (it won the Brit Award in 1994), would release a total of one more single in the entire decade. When they finally returned with the much-hyped Deep Down And Dirty album in 2001, it couldn't possibly live up to the hype and whilst they continue to record and tour their time as a popular or really even an influential act was over. They are however generally agreed to have been the first British rap act to score a US Top 40 single (with 'Elevate My Mind').

Even though I was aware of the fuss about the Connected album, I've never actually heard it - as I've mentioned before I wasn't really listening to modern music at the time and when I did start buying records in the mid-90s my tastes didn't really point that way. I did eventually buy a best of album for 99p and I came to the conclusion that they're a band best sampled in small doses. One or two songs can be very enjoyable but over the long haul they can get a bit boring; perhaps the trouble with fusing a variety of influences is that they can blend into a single style, and upbeat lyrics can get oddly repetitive. But when you hear this, their biggest hit, on its own, it is a fine piece of work, with a strong groove, catchy sythesiser and brass parts and a catchy chorus. Even though the lyrics are pretty daft you can ignore them easily enough. And it has a proper ending, which is good for the end of Side One.

Available on: The Playlist - Club Classics

Friday, 10 April 2015

East 17 'Deep (Breath Mix)'

Chart Peak: 5
'Deep' was the 3rd hit for East Enders Ant, John, Brian and Terry - collectively known as East 17... Their previous two hits were 'House Of Love' (Top 10 in Britain and No. 1 in Israel, Sweden and Finland) and 'Gold'.
Another of East 17's imaginatively-titled radio edits here: some formats of the single included the less-subtly-titled 'Penetration mix' of the song. In fact that kind of gives the game away, because this song is a collection of more and less subtle sexual innuendos ineptly rapped by Tony Mortimer. In retrospect even he sounded surprised he'd got away with it but I don't think anyone except fans really listened to boy band lyrics then. I presume this was very appealing to the pubescent girls who would indeed like Mortimer to "butter the toast" even if they had to "lick the knife". In fairness, it's one of their better moments musically, keeping to a more moderate tempo. You could probably do a good instrumental edit of this.

Also appearing on: Now 23, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 36, 41 (as E-17)
Available on: The Platinum Collection

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Shaggy 'Oh Carolina'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 weeks)
Known to his family as Orville Richard Burrell, Shaggy was born in Kingston, Jamaica... 'Oh Carolina was released at the end of last year and finally made it to No. 1 in March 1993.
So here's the track that topped that all-reggae Top 3, and was by my reckoning the first reggae Number One single since Aswad's 'Don't Turn Around' in 1988 (or since 'Dub Be Good To Me' if you really stretch a point). Who would have guessed then that it was only the first of four from Shaggy? I certainly didn't, even though this was among the few hits of the time that were big enough for even me to notice them. 'Oh Carolina' differs slightly from the two songs it was outselling because it's a straight cover version, merely updated to a more modern style. 'Oh Carolina' was originally recorded in 1958 by the Folkes Brothers (though inevitably there were disputes about who wrote it) as a ska track. Shaggy here is really just applying a 1990s production style (and, in the case of the B-side version, some Jamaican obscenities) to the original ska song, and he pretty much gets away with it thanks to his own larger-than-life lascivious performance. Effectively this sets out the stall for his subsequent ten years of success.

Then after a fortnight it was knocked off the top by the re-issue of 'Young At Heart', which was a bit of a contrast.

Also appearing on: Now 31 [with Rayvon], 32, 33 [with Grand Puba], 34 [with Maxi Priest], 48 [with RikRok], 51 [with Ali G]
Available on: Dread Meets Greensleeves - A Westside Revolution

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Shabba Ranks with Chevelle Franklin 'Mr Loverman'

Chart Peak: 3
Perhaps surprisingly, 'Mr Loverman' was made in New York and was only a moderate hit when first released last year... the ragga explosion saw the track race to No. 3 in March 1993.
Such was the excitement about ragga - described at the time as a fusion of hip-hop and reggae - that the genre occupied the entire Top 3 for a week in the spring of 1993, and this reactivated single by the former Rexton Gordon brought up the rear. In fact it was even older than its original 1992 release date, as it was a reworking of the old track 'Champion Lover' by Deborahe Glasgow. She and Ranks had recorded a version in 1988, but due to ill-health she never got to have the crossover hit with it.

As a black Jamaican, Shabba Ranks was sometimes taken more seriously than Snow although in all honestly this is no less ridiculous a song, it's just that we all got so used to male sexual bragging that we sometimes forget how ludicrous (and yet sometimes disturbing) it is. In fact it's a bit boring and doesn't distract me from the rather unpleasant character he seems to be. My least favourite of the big hits in this style this year.

Shabba Ranks also appears on: Now 19 [with Scritti Politti]; 25 [with Maxi Priest]
Available on: Ultimate 90s

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Snow 'Informer (radio edit)'

Chart Peak: 2
The exciting dancehall-hip-hop sound of Snow comes from Toronto, Canada... 'Informer', a massive No.2 hit in Britain in March 1993, is an autobiographical account of a time the police wrongfully accused Snow of a stabbing murder.
Yes they do specifically mention that it's the radio edit on the sleeve, though as far as I know it was edited for length rather than language since any rude words would likely as not be inaudible to most British listeners. This edit definitely does include the lyric "look up me bottom" (which even got a cheer on Top Of The Pops) although I have heard other versions that cut the word. Chris Moyles played such an edit once, pointing out blanking the word made it sound more obscene than it actually was.
Of course, 'Informer', edited or otherwise is not an easy record to take seriously, Few people's image of a reggae-rap crossover artist would be a white man from Canada, but here he is reeling off Jamaican patois. He even received the ultimate accolade of an unfunny parody by Jim Carrey. If anything, the notion of a white man making what would be considered underground black music was even more controversial in the days before Eminem, but to give him his due Snow didn't pretend to be anything he wasn't; obviously his very stagename foregrounded his ethnicity and he adopted a nerdy visual image. Whatever it is, 'Informer' isn't a novelty record and to my admittedly inexpert ears it doesn't seem particularly inauthentic either. It is a bit silly, but that's intrinsic to the musical style. It's not wholly surprising that it was his only Top 40 hit though.

There is a slight irony that although this song is about being falsely accused of a crime, at the time of its original North American release Snow was actually in prison for an assault that he presumably did do. By the time of the UK release he was able to come here and promote the track though.

Available on: Top 100 90s

Monday, 6 April 2015

Sister Sledge 'We Are Family (Sure Is Pure Remix Edit)

Chart Peak: 5 [original version: 7 in 1979]
Kathy, Debbie, Joni and Kim Sledge hail from Philadelphia... 'We Are Family' was created by legendary 70s disco innovators Chic and first hit back in 1979... This Sure Is Pure re-mix saw the song race back into the Top 5 in early '93.
Third time around for this song, which as well as its original success was also the beneficiary of a previous remix in 1984 as part of that revival of their Chic-produced album. Apparently Nile Rodgers regards that as one of his career highlights which may be why he continues to include songs from it in his live set. However, on this occasion he wasn't involved in the remixing which was clearly an attempt to appeal to 1993 club culture. A Top 5 peak for this release and subsequent Top 20 returns for 'Lost In Music' and 'Thinking Of You' (I guess 'He's The Greatest Dancer' drew the short straw) proves that it worked at the time, but for somebody not steeped in that sound it feels a bit odd 22 years later. Although it's nice to be reminded of Robert Sabino's piano part from the original, dropping in odd bars of it does sort of make me wish I was listening to the original in its entirety: perhaps building a wholly new track around the vocal would have been more effective. The best thing about this remix is probably that it includes some sung ad-libs that weren't part of the original 7" edit.

It remains a good song of course, despite the fact that Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had to write it before meeting the singers. And no, she's not really singing "We're giving love in a Femidom," it's actually "a family dose".

Also appearing on: Now 3, 5
Available on: We Are Family - The Essential Sister Sledge

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Snap 'Exterminate'

Chart Peak: 2
'Exterminate', which made No. 2 in January '93, features the vocals of Niki Harris... It was the follow-up to the worldwide No. 1 'Rhythm Is A Dancer'.
Sources seem to vary as to whether the name of the act or the song title should have exclamation marks in them but the Now 24 sleeve has neither.
I know this isn't setting the bar very high, but Snap (or Snap!) had more hits than you might think. They may only be remembered for their two chart-toppers, but they came close to a third in the admittedly low sales environment of January 1993 with this, the seventh of nine Top 10 singles (if you include the Megamix). Apparently this is a reworking of an album track called 'Ex-Terminator', although you'd have expected it to be the other way around. Despite the co-credit for vocalist Niki Harris in some places, there actually aren't a lot of vocals on this track, which is kind of a relief after the infamous lyrics in 'Rhythm Is A Dancer'. There is a lot of that synthesised panpipe sound that seemed very popular in the few years either side of 1990 and the result is even less involving than the Sub Sub track and hardly memorable, though it's certainly not bad.

Also appearing on: Now 22
Available on: Snap! The Power Greatest Hits

Friday, 3 April 2015

Sub Sub featuring Melanie Williams 'Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)'

Chart Peak: 3
Released on 29th March 1993, 'Ain't No Love' is destined for the charts... Sub Sub are brothers Jez and Andy Williams and Jimi Goodwin - the breathtaking vocal on the track comes from Temper Temper's Melanie Williams.
No, of course it's not that Andy Williams, who didn't even make it to a Now album when 'Music To Watch Girls By' was a hit in 1999. and as far as I can tell Melanie Williams isn't related to either of the Williams brothers. She's a good singer though, and even managed to reproduce the performance live on The Word. Although none of the people involved had ever had a hit before, 'Ain't No Love' must have been a pretty hot track by the time it was actually released to get straight onto a Now album, and in a prominent placing too. It was a good bet though, as the single entered the chart at 10 this week 22 years ago and ultimately climbed to a Top 3 peak. I said "must have been" because I have so little memory of pop music in 1993 - I wasn't listening to music radio or watching Top Of The Pops regularly, and the kids at my school who talked about music all seemed to be into grunge and metal. If I ever did hear this track in '93 it left no impression on me and indeed it was nothing to do with the music I was interested in throughout that decade.

With hindsight, it's actually really rather good in a disco-house sort of way and although I might not go out of my way to listen to it, I do enjoy when I do hear it. I don't mean it as any kind of insult to say that I also like the brevity of the radio edit. It proved to be Sub Sub's only Top 40 appearance, and by the time they released a studio album with this on eighteen months later the momentum seemed gone. A series of other misfortunes befell them before they regrouped (and eventually returned to the Now series) as the more earnest Doves. Unfortunately they did their own singing then.

Also appearing on: Now 52, 60 [both as Doves]
Available on: Hacienda 30

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Take That 'Could It Be Magic'

Chart Peak: 3
Take That's version of 'Could It Be Magic', a hit for its co-writer Barry Manilow, was voted Best Single Of 1992 by Radio 1 listeners... It followed 'A Million Love Songs', I Found Heaven' and 'It Only Takes A Minute' into the Top 20 and finally peaked at No. 3 in January '93.
Not sure I'd have voted it the Best Take That Single Of 1992, but that's boyband fans for you. What's not mentioned in the sleevenote - and wouldn't have been considered worth mentioning at the time - is that this one of the two first-run Take That singles to feature Robbie Williams on lead vocal, and as a result I recall this getting played on VH-1 a good deal at the turn of the century to the exclusion of almost anything else by the group, due to the massive fame of the solo Williams at the time. Oddly, I don't remember 'Everything Changes' getting the same exposure. It's a pretty functional kind of cover, which sounds slightly less dated than I expected now, possibly because it wasn't that up to date at the time either. It's not particularly interesting either though, so my attention is drawn more to the video. Frankly it looks like they were paying more attention to their dance moves than the song too, which might explain why Gary Barlow, whom you'd expect to be bang up for a Manilow cover, is hardly in it. It's one of those singles that seems to do the job rather than impressing.

Also appearing on: Now 22, 26, 29, 66, 67, 68, 72, 73, 78, 79, 90
Available on: Never Forget - The Ultimate Collection

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Bluebells 'Young At Heart'

A new month and I'm not going to bother with the jokes this time (especially as I'm posting in the evening) so we drop straight into Now 24, an album I was pleased to find for a decent price because it plugged some gaps in my collection. Of course any Now album I buy plugs its own gap but I must admit there have been one or two that's I've picked up more out of duty than excitement. It's our second visit to the music of 1993, give or take a few tracks from late 1992, but I have a slight preference for the spring Now albums because they often have some of the more interesting hits from early in the year. 

Chart Peak: 1
'Young At Heart originally reached No. 8 in 1984... the use of the track on a VW advert sent it racing to No. 1 in late March '93... Bobby Ken, David, Lawrence and Russell split up some years ago and are now pursuing different careers.
For topicality's sake, I've included the Top Of The Pops performance of this track from 22 years ago today. I think more people might actually remember the previous week's appearance, with the camera attached to Bobby Valentino's violin bow. I guess that caused too much motion sickness for them to repeat the experiment. I did link to the original video in my previous post on this song, if you want to hear what the original 1984 vocal sounded like. As an aside it was pretty rare for the same act to be allowed on TotP two weeks running, although of course the Number One single was always an exception. It's particularly remarkable that the Bluebells made two consecutive in-person appearances considering that they had split almost a decade earlier. Though they seemed to enjoy these appearances they didn't do as you'd expect a band in a similar situation to nowadays and persist with the reunion; as far as I know it was another fifteen years before a partial lineup returned to live work as a support band for Edwyn Collins.

As to the song itself, well I don't think my views have changed much in the last two years although it might be worth noting that I remember the song more from this release than its original appearance, and that it seemed very old at the time even though it was only from nine years earlier. Hard to imagine a song from 2006 seeming out of place now, although in fairness 'Young At Heart' was already retro even when it was new. Overexposure of this song seems to have put paid to anyone remembering their other material, though. It means too that I don't go out of my way to listen to the song unless I'm doing this and it tends to wash over me when I do hear it, though I realise it's actually a good song.

Also appearing on: Now 3 [same track]
Available on: The Singles Collection