Now, Then

Last year I was asked to take part in TV Cream‘s lookback over all the Now That’s What I Call Music compilations in their wonderful weekly mailout Creamguide (subscribe here). However, being a bit stupid, I misunderstood the intitial request – pick one song from each of the pop music collections from NOW 26 to 30 – and wrote up a whole piece on the first of those albums. Understandably unpublished at the time, here is that noise in full….

Ask anyone over a certain age with a love of popular rock and beat music about the year 1993 for pop sounds and you’ll most likely get a reaction somewhere between utter blankness and murderous intent. It was a year of bland cover versions, radio-ragga and the unfortunate rise in room-related boomings in the localised area. Now 26 with its “stuff it, let’s just chuck a few twinkly lights on a red background” cover is testament to that slightly dubious year. You can see why so many disenfranchised youths flocked the moody sounds of The Other Nirvana, Bjork and one hit wonders Radiohead as disc 1 flounders to connect tracks by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Chaka Demus and Pliers and The Spin Doctors. Do you like the Spin Doctors? Well you should, they’re good.

SWV – “Right Here”

Specifically the “Human Nature Radio Mix” which added that slick, soul pop sound to 85% of chart bound sounds coming from America in the early 1990s. Not that the original wasn’t a head bobbing little treat of its own but Teddy Riley decided to slow the mood down a few tempos and add a looped sample of Naughty Michael Jackson‘s “Human Nature” – apparently to the distaste of SWV themselves, which as we all know stands for Sis Masters Voice (ED: Erm, Sisters With Voices, surely?) And did you know that the person calling out “S…The double! The U! The V!” bit was Pharrell Williams? Oh. You did. Sorry to have bothered you.

Jamiroquai – “Too Young to Die”

When young Jamie Rockway (real name: Jason Rockway) was still a fashionable name to drop as part of your record collection (as long as you didn’t mention his appearance talking stoned gibberish on late night ITV programmes) thanks to the genuinely uplifting soul pop mix which with this single – only the bands second – comfortably broke the top ten. The album “Emergency on Planet Earth” would become a regular sight at parties although, let’s be honest, the songs don’t ‘alf hang on a bit in full.

Leftfield & Lydon – “Open Up”

With its abrasive big name guest vocal and simple, pounding floor-friendly backing, “Open Up” feels now like the blueprint for the next decade of chart-friendly dance music. (Indeed, the Chemical Brothers provide a remix on 12″, still at that point trading as The Dust Brothers.) Just missing out on the top 10 in the UK, the song was unfortunate in that Lydon couldn’t promote it heavily due to conflicts with his record company whilst a series of forest fires in Southern California lead to its steady radio playing being abruptly stopped as the repeated line “Burn Hollywood Burn!” didn’t really seem ok…

Stakka Bo – “Here We Go”

AKA MTV Europe in song form. Despite its 70s-throwback feel and none more 90s “light rap an’ a sample” arrangement, “Here We Go” is oddly timeless and whilst it might not be the banger it once was, there’s a lot of pure joy in its construction and it can still get the party, um, go-ing. Also: Ace of Base are shit.

Belinda Carlisle – “Big Scary Animal”

One of Belinda‘s more “Pointless answer” tracks, this had the misfortune of dropping between ‘the first wave MOR star’ success and the 1996 ‘reinvented pop queen’ eras but still has a lot of fun on its way. Also: ooft.

BEN’S TOP CHOICE: Björk & David Arnold – “Play Dead”

This haunting and beautiful use of Bjork‘s ‘thousand spurned lovers’ vocal with Arnold’s huge, swaggering orchestration warly in both artist’s careers is the only memorable thing from Danny Cannon‘s stepping stone to Mega City One “The Young Americans” which had slumped into UK cinemas briefly in all its The Actor Keith Allen-appearing glory that October 1993. To a wider audience however its simply the always-welcome theme from a million increasingly desperate chill out albums. Dead good. Play on…

And here’s my picks for the next four albums once I’d realised my actual brief…

NOW 27

BEN’S CHOICE: Credit to the Nation – “Teenage Sensation”

Having made a bungalow-shaped impact with their debut release “Call It What You Want” in part due to the marrying of of a Public Enemy-beat to a smart “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sample, Credit To The Nation and frontman MC Fusion – or Matty to his mam – were quickly clasped to the bosom by the more outspoken sector of the British indie rock community and touted as the next big thing for a number of years by the music press. Sadly this was to be their only top 40 hit although it still sounds as fresh as it must have blasting through the nation’s walkmans in early 1994. It even manages to get ahead of the curve by sampling the Incredible Bongo Band before half of the planet did similar. And it makes whistling thoroughly cool to boot.

NOW 28

BEN’S CHOICE: Let Loose – “Crazy For You”

The second best “Crazy For You” to hit the British pop charts, this is a perfect example of a song that would have been a chart smash no matter which shirtless, flop-haired shithouses fronted it. So its somewhat of a surprise to learn that it was actually written by frontman Richie Wermerling himself and had taken a re-release and a slow two month climb to hit its No.2 peak, just behind That Effing Song from That Effing Film. Its not for everyone and by mid-1994 I’d have sooner listened to the sound of my own spine cracking than have it ooze out of my radio one more time but here in the moon future, its one of the better non-Barlow boy band hits of the era. Crazy I know.

NOW 29

BEN’S CHOICE: Kylie Minogue – “Confide In Me”

An obvious pick perhaps but, much like Bjork and David Arnold a few releases back, here comes another track drenched in strings and a sultry, almost-whispered vocal that still sounds like few other pieces of music before or since it. Very nearly the song to finally end Wet x3’s appalling grip of the top spot (the honour would go the following week to Whigfield‘s “Saturday Night”), this is the one that send headline writers into a frenzy as Kylie was ‘reinvented’ and apparently now was smart and even had a sense of humour. Of course, she’d always maintained those abilities but, free of Pete Waterman and pals, we were getting the Kylie we wanted and felt we always deserved. It didnt last and after the unfairly maligned (and Diana-dented) “Impossible Princess” era, Minogue was quickly back in the arms of Classic Pop Classics for a third, incredibly successful chapter full of great material but would never unearth another track as breathtaking, exciting and unusual as “Confide In Me“.

NOW 30

BEN’S CHOICE: Scarlet – “Independent Love Song”

And so we enter 1995 and its the dawn of something clearly happening with an explosion of pie-eyed guitar pop (The Boo Radleys, Oasis, Rednex) nestling comfortably at the bottom of disc one with a number of cool “This Life”-imminent dance-influenced tracks (Massive Attack, Portishead, The Outhere Brothers). For me however though, I’ve gone with “Independent Love Song” because…well, I just really like it. And sometimes thats all you really need, innit?

With thanks to all at TV Cream and Simon Tyers for including me in this project.

For more pop and telly prattle, my book “Kill Your Television” is full of articles on everything from Saturday morning telly to unaired pilots, obscure Teletext relationships, comedy shows as computer games, dangerous kids TV, theme tunes in the top 40 and much much more. Available in paperback here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1717811132 or for Kindle here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CLBCF4Y

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