Week eight of Pig Hits!, where us and then you help determine the outstanding tracks from the first 50 Now! albums, and our compilation of compilations is building up nicely. Last week you told us these were your favourites from our shortlists:
Now! 31: Pulp – Common People
Now! 32: McAlmont & Butler – Yes
Now! 33: Saint Etienne – He’s On The Phone
Now! 34: The Bluetones – Slight Return
Now! 35: Pet Shop Boys – Se A Vida é
We’re onto volumes 36 to 40 this week, where sparkly pop begins its fightback in spectacular fashion. As always our Pop Panel has chosen three tracks from each, a guest has come on board with another, and on Friday morning @tvcream followers will get to make the casting vote. This week our invitee is writer and, more pertinently for our purposes, former editor of the BBC’s official Top Of The Pops website Edward Russell…
Now That’s What I Call Music! 36 (released March 1997)
Rights permitting, a few surprise omissions – LL Cool J’s cover of Ain’t Nobody that was a surprise number one in February, Depeche Mode’s comeback with Barrel Of A Gun, the Orb’s radio-friendly Toxygene, the arrival of Daft Punk – but a good varied selection for the post-vinyl Now! age. Note how Britpop is dropping off in prominence already and its harpooning by Be Here Now is still months away.
Ant & Dec – Shout
Nobody expected Ant & Dec to go serious. Nobody, really, wanted Ant & Dec to go serious. They weren’t arrivistes, they gave the impression they wanted to be a big pop act on something like their own terms so could do boy band slight second ballads but were more at home with cheap hip pop (Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble), cheek (Better Watch Out) and/or plainly inexplicable (Our Radio Rocks), usually in service to whatever they were doing on TV at the time. And yet here they were, dropping the PJ & Duncan monicker, picking up the Walk On The Wild Side bassline, having Declan strum a guitar in the video and making a record that sounded mature in a good way but also with a big chorus kids could wave their arms in the air to. They were dropped one single later, but it was the thought that counted.
Blue Boy – Remember Me
Ging gi-gi-gi-gi-ging ging gi-ging gi-gi-ging gi-gi-gi-gi-ging ging g-ging. Lex Blackmore was the DJ responsible, taking a live vocal from the much sampled soul singer Marlena Shaw and adding all kinds of funk bass and wobbly synth noises for one of those records that everyone remembers as a classic summer sound and nobody remembers was actually a hit in February.
White Town – Your Woman
All hail Jyoti Mishra, who after the best part of a decade of slogging away in a bedroom in Derby making limited run and limited interest 7″s – his preceding album was called Socialism, Sexism & Sexuality, for an idea of what he was dealing in – found a trumpet sample from Al Bowlly’s My Woman and wove around it a bruised, doomed, gender-confusing lo-fi synthpop track that sounded like a weird hit while surely never actually having the means to become one. Only then Mark Radcliffe picked up on it when released on a tiny label in 1996, Simon Mayo picked up on it from him, and before anyone knew where they were Mishra was on EMI and having a number one single that he barely needed to promote. He’s still going, putting out small scale singles and playing the odd gig, and yes, he still does this.
EDWARD’S CHOICE: Cathy Dennis – Waterloo Sunset
“Along with Lisa Stansfield, Yazz and Betty Boo, Cathy had been the voice of ’80s house tracks before branching out solo. Despite initial success, her career stalled until Cathy embraced the Britpop era. Although a strange choice of single (the Kinks original was released two years before Dennis was born), it was a Top 20 hit and is a generally rather adept cover. Cathy would go on to write some of the biggest pop hits for other artists over the next 10 years.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 37 (released July 1997)
Who Do You Think You Are? appears after its double A side partner Mama was on 36, which is clever work in extending the appeal, though it does ruin the Spice Girls’ 100% track 1 record. Paul McCartney makes a reappearance, Young Boy benefiting from the post-Anthology return-to-form press Flaming Pie had. The decision to include Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ Scooby Snacks must have meant a label receiving a lot of harried calls about radio edits.
Hanson – MMMBop
One of them’s a girl. Pass it on. Bubblegum pop in the brief period between the idea being unfashionable and being co-opted for the likes of Lolly, by three Midwest pre-teens raised on roots rock’n’roll and doo-wop writing weirdly profound lyrics about the pain and lessons of life around a deliberately nonsensical chorus. Hip producers of the day the Dust Brothers added the so-1997 scratching effects and made it less ponderous, meaning the lyrics fall over themselves and the chorus sounds like it’s on helium. Perfect big pop fare for all hook-drawn ages, then.
Sheryl Crow – A Change Would Do You Good
Difficult to know where Crow fits in in the 1997 scene, clearly countrified AOR bluesy and all rootsy at heart, the kind of thing that finds a niche and ruggedly sticks there in the UK where we have no concept of the blue collar. Yet at this time she was taking a turn for, if not the avant-garde exactly, then oddly off-kilter. Here the song seems to be driven by handclaps rather than as garnish, the lyrics are stream-of-consciousness slights on people – though she also said at the time it was partly inspired by the story of Joe Meek – and it’s properly infectious in a way her Real Rock stance often wasn’t.
Supergrass – Sun Hits The Sky
The best songs by the Oxford three-sometimes-four-briefly-five-piece who achieved renown on a combination of exuberance, sideburns, Buzzcocks, Kinks, Nutty Boys Madness and the feeling that Britpop could have its own Monkees complete with surprisingly deep songwriting are those that sound like they’re having to hang on to the song for dear life. This is a fine example, where it feels like the bulwarking guitars and drums are running on pure adrenaline and the only way they can be reined in is if Gaz Coombes declares “I AM A DOCTOR!”
EDWARD’S CHOICE: The Cardigans – Lovefool
“Whilst no one would doubt Sweden’s ability to deliver high quality pop, bands like Roxette and Ace of Base were hardly very cool. But along came The Cardigans fronted by Scandinavia’s answer to Sarah Cracknell, Nina Persson. This track featured in Baz Luhrmann’s highly successful Romeo and Juliet movie, propelling the band to international fame.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 38 (released November 1997)
Where’s The Love? making the advert where Mmmbop didn’t even get a mention in the commercial for 37 feels very stable-door-after-bolting wrong. What Queen were to track one Wet Wet Wet appear to be to CD 2, as after leading off a Britpop-flavoured parade with a ballad on 37 they take the spot here with their forgotten and unnecessary cover of Yesterday. We’d like to have seen that contractual obligation document’s wording. In one odd piece of sequencing Hot Chocolate appear after You Sexy Thing was reissued off the back of The Full Monty, but the 1987 remix that had already appeared on Now! 9 is used instead. Coupled with the increasing number of tracks that had already appeared on Now! Dance before the senior series, is there a streak of laziness creeping in?
All Saints – I Know Where It’s At
Not quite as dynamic an introduction as Wannabe for their supposed camo cargo pants and sports vest-clad equivalent, but All Saints were the streetwise crew that would have looked down on the tearaway Spices. The R&B girl group tradition gets pointedly overpronounced accents (even though half of them were Canadian) and a Steely Dan sample, and that early All Saints tradition where Shaznay wraps up the main points of the song again at the end.
Radiohead – Karma Police
Interesting how this period has ended up being represented for our varying tastes by two ballsy girl groups and two weight of the world indie escapees, but maybe that says more about the time than us. Karma Police has half a chorus, changes personality halfway through and is, for all Thom Yorke’s protestation that it’s not meant to be a serious song, is hardly an upbeat banger, but it creeps along very nicely. Or rather not nice at all.
The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work
Emotional string-laden stadium-sized classic post-Britpop pre-Coldplay balladry about feelings from sometime Wigan psychedelic space cadets that accidentally became an avatar of post-Diana society with it being released a day after the accident. Usual Richard Ashcroft trick of going “woah lord” over the coda works a treat.
EDWARD’S CHOICE: Spice Girls – Spice Up Your Life
“It can be argued just how well Spice Girls songs have stood the test of time and let’s face it, this is probably the most divisive of their tracks. Whist some hear it as clattering noise, throwing in random phrases (‘Yellow man in Timbuktu’!) others consider it a masterpiece, destined to get the laziest legs moving at a wedding disco. Whatever you think of it, it’s anything but boring.
Now That’s What I Call Music! 39 (released April 1998)
This really is the first time where Goodybags repeating the title continuously is heavily notable. You don’t need to sell the title that hard, we know by now what the brand is and what it entails. Chumbawamba must have been delighted to find their other hit Amnesia following straight on from a sequence of Steps’ 5, 6, 7, 8, Barbie Girl and Louise’s cover of Let’s Go Round Again. Plus Vanilla’s No Way No Way takes, maybe appropriately, the final slot. Perfect Day means a sole Now! appearance for Lou Reed, Lesley Garrett, Burning Spear, Emmylou Harris, Dr John, Robert Cray, Evan Dando, Courtney Pine, Laurie Anderson and the Visual Ministry Choir.
The All Seeing I – The Beat Goes On
Not a one hit wonder but one of those shortlived acts that had their moment through a happenstance of time, place and oddness. The Beat Goes On was a Sonny & Cher song, Buddy Rich’s jazz swing version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zrn15bYcH4 half-inched and messed around with in a cabaret DIY electronics style by the Sheffield collective, who a year later produced another, practically identical version for Britney Spears’ debut album. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfJRUi8W400 A strange parallel to the almost now forgotten lounge revival of the era, they brought out an eclectic album with Phil Oakey, Tony Christie and lyrics by Jarvis Cocker, one of them then formed I Monster whose 2001 hit Daydream In Blue may well have tipped our hand had it ever made the Now! cut, and afterwards members went on to work with Maxine Peake and members of Radiohead.
Natalie Imbruglia – Torn
Not to get all How Was This Not Number One?!? TV music channel list on you, but it does strike us as unexpected that this apex of vulnerable charm never got past second spot, not least as Barbie Girl kept it there for three weeks. Understandably the year’s most played song on British radio, oh, the tabloid scandal brewed up when it was revealed that this wasn’t an Imbruglia original, despite her never having claimed it was (it was written by her producer with two members of Canadian post-grungers Ednaswap https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OoEdfB7l18) Such is the power of a doe-eyed soft-focus close-up, we suppose.
Pulp – This Is Hardcore
“This is the sound of someone losing the plot”, as The Fear from the album of the same name had it. Literal and figurative lengthy comedown from Jarvis’ swinging London highs, horns sampled from a 1960s German sci-fi series soundtrack to come on like an ominous lounge lizard, filmic world-weariness and pornographic self-loathing decadence all round. Also, Tina from S Club 7 is in the video.
EDWARD’S CHOICE: Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha
“Cornershop were the coolest of bands attached to Wiija, the coolest of independent labels in the ultra cool ’90s. They are probably the last act that would have been expected to gain a massive number one hit, but a well-suited remix by Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim propelled this song to the top. Sped up and with added breakbeats it must be the only chart topper written about the Indian movie industry.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 40 (released August 1998)
One really shouldn’t make snap judgements on a whole era of music based on what opens the year’s middle Now! album, especially when eight of its forty tracks were number ones (albeit including both halves of an All Saints double A side) but when that track is The Grease Megamix, which was originally released in 1990 and here formed part of a remix EP that DIDN’T EVEN CHART… in some kind of fairness You’re The One That I Want had been reissued to mark the movie’s twentieth anniversary and reached number four but, well, that isn’t this. And then halfway through CD1 is the one-two populist punch of a dance version of You Make Me Feel Like Dancing and a dance version of Kung Fu Fighting, and CD 2 doesn’t help opening as it does with a thirteen year old song, Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer. The Verve’s Sonnet is included despite only ever being officially issued on a 12″ chart-ineligible format, although import sales gave it a no. 74 chart peak and the sleevenotes make out it’s “the single that never was” included to celebrate Urban Hymns’ success. Three Lions ’98 – which Frank Skinner regrets, for what it’s worth – does what the original never did and is joined by Vindaloo, which timelocks the tracklisting completely. To July 2018, obviously.
Catatonia – Road Rage
With Cerys Matthews’ reinvention as a husky Cymraeg renaissance DJ it’s easy to forget that in the Britpop fallout she was positioned as Queen Ladette, cheap bottle of wine in hand, alternative pin-up credentials in hand, once comprehensively derailing a live S4C debate on Welsh devolution with “who’s shagging Sian Lloyd tonight?” Beyond all the very much of its time bluster was a pop star swagger, a belting voice with delicious R-rolling to boot, and the kind of stratospheric indie that so many try and fail at harmonising.
Fatboy Slim – The Rockafeller Skank
Norman Cook had been on Now! before in assorted guises, including as himself on Now! 15, and had had two remixes on 39, but this was the track that made a big deal out of both this perma-Hawaiian shirted guise and the Brighton beach-dwelling, luminescently smiley-faced acid house breakbeat pop we came to know as big beat. The formula in full – a cut-up freestyle by Bronx rapper Lord Finesse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRJRh0mEw7s, northern soul club favourite Sliced Tomatoes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yPcvjq5EVg, the Bobby Fuller Four’s original of I Fought The Law, the Art Of Noise’s version of Peter Gunn and a John Barry movie theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF0PRzi5vRk for a forgotten Adam Faith vehicle. The effect: ecstatic.
Massive Attack – Teardrop
Theme From TV’s House, an appropriately unsettling use for a mournful track embalmed in Elizabeth Fraser’s vocals. Mushroom, the member who created the backing, actually wanted to use Madonna and sent it to her but 3D and Daddy G, who were pretty much refusing to work with him at the time (he left the band before their next album) and weren’t that much more enamoured with each other, both wanted the lead Cocteau Twin for her ethereality. Fraser sings actual decipherable words for once, the effect sounding like it’s suspended in aspic.
EDWARD’S CHOICE: Steps – Last Thing On My Mind
“If you were a pure pop band in the 90s, it was pretty much the law that you had to cover a song by the Bee Gees or any of the other big, 70s hitmakers. But, before they recorded Tragedy, Steps turned to this rather disco-like track originally made a few years earlier by Bananarama. Its melancholic key changes owe quite a debt to the biggest hits of ABBA but it’s fundamentally an extremely catchy-slice of pop cheese that would become one of Steps’ most memorable tracks.”
Adopting our best Concerned Chris Serle voice as seems appropriate: that’s what we think, now we want to know… what you think. The polls will be up on Twitter on Friday morning and open until Monday morning, with the most voted for tracks revealed here on Thursday, by which time we’ll be ready for party nine as we head into the far-off space year of 2000.