Friday, 9 December 2016

Cam'ron featuring Juelz Santana, Freekey Zeekey & Toya 'Hey Ma'

Chart Peak: 8
YouTube
Cameron Giles AKA Cam'ron grew up in Harlem wanting to be a pro basketball player until, influence by legendary rap artistes such as NWA and Public Enemy he turned to hip-hop... 'Hey Ma' was a big Top 10 success for him in the UK in early 2003
In some ways it's fortunate that I already knew the song before watching the video, because it's packed with the typical distractions and cliches of a hip-hop video from this era: overly bright lighting, a scene in a jacuzzi, a bit in the middle that stops and goes into a different song, awkward mugging during the extended outro where there are no vocals to mime to and the regular confusion of edited lyrics: how do they decide that "We gon' get high tonight" has to be cut but "I'm ready to do it, ready to bone" is OK?

I heard the song aplenty long before I was aware of the video though, because it was one of the most played songs on Radio 1 at this point, seemingly out of proportion to its admittedly solid chart success. This doubtless helped to combine with the song's existing earworm qualities, thanks to that instantly recogniseable piano hook borrowed from 'Easy' by the Commodores. They played the version that leaves in the getting high references, at the time, but the song has its own distractions. Well, I was always distracted by the fact that he refers to his girlfriend as "Booby", which is of course also what John McCririck calls his wife and I don't think the horse-racing pundit and animal-killing enthusiast was the icon Cam'ron wanted to model himself on, though the lyrics here don't suggest that McCririck's reputation for casual and not-so-casual mysoginy would be a deal-breaker there. In a strange though not unamusing moment in the opening verse, he brushes aside claims that he is young by offering to "tell you what the Eighties [were] like", before emphasising that he "can lay the pipe", which is unlikely to be a reference to his skills as a gas engineer. I don't even think he was CORGI registered.

It's a well-enough produced and catchy enough song to avoid being insufferable, but little of the credit is really earned by the people whose names are above the title.

Also appearing on: Now 55 [with Mariah Carey]
Available on: Urban Floorfillers

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Beenie Man 'Street Life'

Chart Peak: 13
YouTube
Born Anthony Moss Davis in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973, Beenie Man is now regarded as the Island's foremost Dancehall DJ... He has more than 60 (!) Number 1 singles at home and achieved his big UK break with 'Who Am I' in 1998 - Street Life was his latest British Top 15 success in January 2003
I remember 'Who Am I' as a big song at school - which is odd, because I'd actually left school by the time it was a hit in 1998. Perhaps it just seemed like the sort of song that would be a big hit with school kids, with the raucous "Sim-Simma, who got the keys to my Bimma?" chorus. You still see that as a sticker on cars, not all of them actually BMWs. Five years on 'Street Life' is more of a crossover proposition, a mellower track that seems to be portraying itself as a heartfelt ballad about how "sometimes you've got to apologise to a woman". How sensitive he is in real life is hard to guess, although he did get into a big feud with fellow singer Yellowman over the title "King Of The Dancehall". Few would describe his views on sexuality as enlightened though.

I didn't much care for this at the time, and I wasn't particularly inclined to like it this time either, but I have to admit it's well constructed by the usual Scandinavian artisans and it is catchy enough to distract from the very cynical intent.

Also appearing on: Now 53 [with Janet Jackson], 57 [with Ms Thing]
Available on: Tropical Storm

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Sugababes 'Stronger'

Chart Peak: 7
YouTube
Sugababes are the British threesome Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena & Heidi Range... They followed their 2 chart-toppers 'Freak Like Me' and 'Round Round' with this emotive "post Mary J [Blige] ballad" at the end of 2002 and went on to win Best Dance Act at the Brits in February 2003
There's a comment on YouTube which describes this as both "super modern for 2002" and "kinda like Massive Attack", which seems slightly contradictory since the obvious parallel would be 'Unfinished Sympathy', a song that dates back to 1991. I always associate this track with hearing it on the radio while I was having my bath in the morning - we couldn't use the shower in the flat where we lived at the time, in case you were wondering. In fact I remember resenting it because I found it so slow and energy-sapping at a time when I needed the opposite.

And I was expecting to think the same now, but I did my duty to listen back to the song and I have to say that on headphones, as opposed to a cheap bathroom radio, the production does actually have a lot of interesting layering to it, enough to make me wish the song itself was anywhere near as interesting. Apparently it has great personal meaning for Range and I can see the direction of the lyrics towards self-empowerment but the song steadfastly refuses to go anywhere and the verses and choruses are too similar.

In the interests of balance I also looked up the listed flipside 'Angels With Dirty Faces'. It's not a Sham 69 cover.

Also appearing on: Now 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 63, 64, 66, 68, 69, 70, 71, 74
Available on: Heartbreakers

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Lulu & Ronan Keating 'We've Got Tonight'

Chart Peak: 4
YouTube
Ronan fist charted back in 1994 woth 'Love Me For A Reason' and has had over 20 hit singles since - either with Boyzone or as a solo performer... This cover of Bob Seger's 'We've Got Tonght' maintained Lulu's record of having charted in every decade since the 1960s.
Notes on nomenclature: the back cover and booklet of Now 54 both clearly list Lulu's name first, but the booklet shows a photo of Keating alone and the track is attributed to Keating's album Destination.  The credit on the single cover is to Ronan Keating Featuring Lulu and indeed Keating released versions with local singers in Germany, Italy and the Philippines. However the track is also on Lulu's collaborations album together, which features such delights as her trying to rap over 'Let Em In' by Wings. Some editions of the original Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band version (which dates back to 1978 but was only made the Top 40 at the third time of asking in 1995, spell the title 'We've Got Tonite', but clearly Keating and Louis Walsh had no time for such informality. Neither indeed did Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, who seemingly originated the idea of this song as a duet and had the first UK hit with it. And while I'm being pedantic, Lulu had already had a hit in 2000 with 'Where The Poor Boys Dance'.

The fact that I've started this post with a lengthy paragraph about other versions of the song and sleeve credits is not only a result of my verbosity but also a sign that there aren't a lot of surprises here. Two familiar singers work through a familiar AOR standard in a wholly predictable way. They do seem to play down the one-night-stand theme of the original, presumably hoping that the inattentive listener will hear it as a romantic ballad. Ronan lives up/down to his usual role as a man with a good voice who thinks he has a great one, and four minutes filled.

Ronan Keating also appears on: Now 44, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 57, 58 (with LeAnn Rimes), 59, 60 (with Yusuf), 64 (with Kate Rusby)
Lulu also appears on: Now 24
Available on: Together

Monday, 5 December 2016

Coldplay 'Clocks'

Chart Peak: 9
YouTube
2003 has already been an award-winning year for the Berryman/Buckland/Champion/Martin combo we know as Coldplay... They followed their success at the Brits and the Grammys with the release of the Clocks single in late March 2003.


Presumably it was too late in March for
them to predict the chart performance in time for these sleeve notes, but in the event this became their fifth consecutive Top 10 hit in a run of ten (not counting imports). I helped it along myself, during the brief era when I was buying all their singles for the B-sides. By the time of this UK single release 'Clocks' had already been available on the album for more than six months and had been a US Top 30 hit, so it was already on the verge of turning into a cliché.

It might be an unpopular view, then, but I still think that's an undeserved fate for a song that was an obvious standout when I first heard the album. Because of their ubiquity and because they - shock horror - used pianos on their records, Coldplay already had something of an MOR reputation by this point and let's face it, it hasn't always been undeserved. 'Clocks', though, was always a song that seemed really harsh and angular to me, the arpeggiated piano and the guitar pulling in opposite directions while the bass thuds away as if to try and steady the ship. There's an appealing structure too, as the tension ebbs and flows with calmer moments when the piano plays alone and tenser ones when the rhythm section dominates. Even the potential resolution towards the end as Chris Martin sings "Home, home, where I wanted to go" is strangely unsettling, in keeping with the past-tense lyric: did he want to go home and never get there, or did he get home and realise it didn't make him feel better? It's possible that Martin doesn't know either, since the track was apparently recorded relatively fast, which seems to have improved it as the band are not immune to overthinking.

You can;t blame the song for the fact that the same 30 seconds of it was used in every TV trailer for ten years, even if that has contributed to the situation where I own all Coldplay's albums but hardly ever listen to them.

Also appearing on: Now 46, 47, 48, 53, 55, 61, 62, 63, 70, 71, 79, 81, 82 (with Rihanna), 88, 93, 94
Available on: Clocks

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Turin Brakes 'Pain Killer'

Chart Peak: 5

YouTube

Turin Brakes are the duo Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian... Their first record was The Door EP in 1999, their first album the highly acclaimed The Optimist and this track, 'Pain Killer' became their biggest hit single to date when it stormed the Top 5 in February 2003.

The exact title of the duo's only Top 20 single seems to vary depending on where you look - 'Pain Killer' seems to be the official spelling but even the record company's official YouTube upload has it as one word. Some copies of the single also bear the subtitle 'Summer Rain'. There again, some insist that the debut album is properly called The Optimist LP, even on CD. I'd bought that album not long after it was released in 2001 and it was quite exciting to see them seeming to grow an audience. It certainly seemed that their second album was treated as a high priority by the record company, who heard potential hits in its slick production by Tony Hoffer (recorded in Los Angeles), and in a conscious attempt to break the band this single was released as a "limited edition" CD single for the bargain price of 99p, a ploy that was fashionable at the time but unimaginable now.
Equally strange in retrospect is that I was surprised to pay more for the vinyl than the CD, but of course I had to have both for the exclusive demo track on the 7" - indeed back in 2001 I'd spent 99p on the 7" of 'Underdog' at the same time as I bought both the CD singles, and there wasn't even a unique track on there. A couple of weeks later we went into London to buy Ether Song and get it signed, although I managed to make do with only one copy of that (the version with the bonus CD, naturally). As it turned out the album was re-issued at least a couple of times with more additional tracks and even a totally new single '5 Mile (These Are The Days)', such was EMI's ambition at the time.

It didn't quite work out that way in the end and as far as many radio listeners would know this might as well be the only record Turin Brakes ever made. Depending on exactly which radio station they listen to, they may be hearing either the standard radio edit (as featured here) or the "clean radio edit" which removes alternate lines from the second verse: "My love/ [Giving me head]/ Feeling very guilty/ [Breaking the bread]". Neither of these is quite the same as the slightly longer version you'll find on whichever edition of the album you pick up. Pick one up you should because whilst I could fill this post with Turin Brakes songs I like more than this one (including the singles either side of it, in fact) this is nothing less than a fine pop single with the slightly toppy sound of Hoffer's production the only element I'm willing to criticise. Mind you, even that is open to interpretation; it did cross my mind that this song could be about depression, hence the conflicting seasonal references ("batten up the hatches, here comes the cold" but it's "summer rain dripping down your face again") and the line "cycle on your bicycle" could tenuously be a reference to bicyclic antidepressants, a type of pain killer after all. In that context, the slightly artificial sound and those odd, twinkling percussion parts that grow increasingly prominent during the track would actually make even more sense.
 Or of course it could be about none of this at all, but it's an engaging enough song to make me consider what it's about and it features a typically impassioned vocal from Knights, one of our greatest singers currently working, over their trademark dexterous acoustic guitar figures. Their big poppy crossover hit, but nothing to be ashamed of.

Available on: Painkiller

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Metapost: I'm nearly famous

In a brief diversion, yesterday I made my commercial radio debut as an interview guest alongside Joe from Nowmusicfanblog.co.uk on talkRADIO, discussing our collections and the appeal of the series. We're in the 17:30-1800 segment here, though if you're reading this in the future I don't know how long the link will continue to work. It's fair to say that Hollywood offers have not flooded in over the last 24 hours, but it was something to do and whilst copying and pasting the link for this blog I noticed it had been almost exactly a year since I posted here (365 days in fact, since 2016 was a leap year) which was all the incentive I needed to finish up the post I've had in draft since late 2015. It's time I got this show back on the road so that will be published tomorrow and then I should be able to mop up the rest of Now 54 by the end of the year.

In the meantime, if you're here for the first time because of my plugging, welcome along. There are over 1000 posts here since I started in 2008 and whilst I don't necessarily stand by everything I've said about a song in the past, they were my honest opinions at the time.