Sunday, 11 October 2009

1989 Band Aid 2: Do They Know It's Christmas?

Well you know what's coming don't you? It's the 1984 Band Aid single re-recorded to the same ends by the cream of the 1989's crop of 'pop stars' along with Chris Rea, Cliff Richard and Rolf Harris. Strewth indeed.

Or almost to the same ends - in 1984, there was a risk that the whole project could have failed to capture public imagination and fallen flat on its face, but this time around it was known to be a sure-fire CV booster, and some of the folk involved truly needed all the boosting they could get. The song is as it ever was so I'm not going to plough an old furrow there, but what this follow up does usefully do is provide a 'now' snapshot to 1984's 'then' line-up to show the wilderness that was the 1989 UK popular music scene.

The old guard from the first single had long since been wiped clean off the slate of relevance and the world of frilly shirts and big hair seemed a lot further away than five years. The only link with the original single are two members of Bananarama, whose presence must surely be down to more luck than their innate longevity. The pop landscape was now dominated by the likes of Big Fun, Sonia, Lisa Stansfield, Bros etc, all of whom play their part in this and all of whom, like some Looney Tunes telling of 'Ozymandias' would in turn shortly disappear the way Spandau Ballet and Culture Club before them had.

Although the former two never really went away did they? They came to define the decade in the way that football violence, the Falklands war, the miner's strike, the three minute warning etc never could and they live on in the good natured world of nostalgia, retro bars, reunion tours, club theme nights, ironic parties endless 'Best Of's. And blogs like this. But who remembers The Pasadena's with any fondness anymore? Or indeed remembers them at all? As the eighties wore on, the sense of fun and individuality seemed to wear out, bleached by a diet of tunes of workaday electronica until it all blended into one mass of bland. I mean look - even the sleeve couldn't be arsed this time round.

What does it sound like? Well if you've been paying attention then you'll already know. Suffice it to say that Kylie gives one of the worst vocal performances on any recording to reach number one and the famous 'Bono line' is shared between renowned humanitarian Matt Goss and Saint Jason Donovan. If you haven't been paying attention, then shame on you. Your penance shall be to spend all Christmas Day listening to it on auto repeat while 'The Best Of Noel Edmonds At Christmas' plays on the telly in an endless loop. That will learn you.

1989 Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers: Let's Party

Third number one on the trot for Jive Bunny, and no wonder - their postmodern take on the juxtaposition of sounds from the past with the music of the future necessarily created a package that defined, defied and ultimately transcended the zeitgeist. Not least at Christmastime when this skilful collage of the best of popular contemporary Christmas songs are overlaid with the strident beat of Joe Loss's 'March Of The Mods' with the effect of highlighting the relentless commercialisation of the festive season and seeking to thus reclaim its true meaning by rooting it in a golden age (real or perceived? - the question itself illuminates the genius of Jive Bunny) of a Christmas past that even Charles Dickens would have tapped his feet in approval to.

Or maybe the mass delusion and whispered voices are getting to me now too. 'Let's Party' is none of the above, but it does go to show that all music journalism (sic) boils down to intellectualising an emotional response and that it's possible to spin gold out of any old shit if you put your mind to it. Which kind of begs the question as to whose time is being wasted the most with all this - mine for writing it or yours for reading it?

Ah, but apologies. Cynicism is getting the better of me. And why shouldn't it? Compared to some of the classic songs that have held the number one spot, 'Let's Party' is the laziest of the lazy, the crappest of the crap; three chunks of festive Slade, Wizzard and Gary Glitter are dumped in between snatches of the Loss tune with the skill and imagination of a four year old's potato prints. That's literally all there is to it.....

Except that there's even less to it than that - the Slade etc songs aren't the original recordings, they're just vague soundalike cousins of the ones on the Hallmark 'Top Of The Pops' albums that needed a dolly bird on the cover to help inject some excitement and mitigate the inevitable disappointment of not getting such a bargain after all. Probably the best thing you can say about this is that by using the pre fall from grace Gary Glitter tune, they inadvertently ensured that 'Let's Party' has been consigned to a shallow grave of guilt by association and it's rarely revived anymore.

1989 New Kids On The Block: You Got It (The Right Stuff)

Having learned from his exploits with New Edition as to just how much money could be made from a bunch of pretty boys, it came as no surprise to find Maurice Starr once again throwing his hat into the ring by assembling another teen band creation. Except maybe there's a surprise in that it took him so long to get them off the ground.

An all white affair this time round, the very name 'New Kids On The Block' suggests a year zero, the definitive word on the sound of the streets. But alas, it's very apt that 'You Got It' opens with the sound of a car skidding off the road - these new kids were wearing some very old hats. How old? Well the beats that follow could be carbon dated to....oooooh, 1981, with the clockwork rote of the tune very reminiscent of 'Computer World' Kraftwerk (an album that the early hip hop pioneers pillaged mercilessly), albeit with every third note removed.

If New Edition were viewed as a family friendly (i.e. 'white') version of black street culture, then the block these new kids were from and their bleached white sound was further removed from the genuine article than even Vanilla Ice managed, itself no mean feat. Jordan Knight does his very best impersonation of Prince to atone, but mimicry is all it is and even at his most lazy, a Prince B side would contain more style and verve than any part of this.

Because to rub a fistful of salt into an already very deep wound, 'You Got It' sounds like the fragments of three different fragments clamped together with some chanting 'oh, oh, oh, oh' glue, the idea being that five choreographed boys in vests would wash away the sin of not actually having a song to dance to. But it doesn't. The song is very much a secondary consideration and it shows, because as songwriter Mr Starr himself once proudly stated: "My whole thing is promotion, strategy, marketing and management". Quite.

'You Got It' is the distasteful and cynical sound of corporate rock at it's most hollow, soulless and value free. It's food already chewed and chewed in someone else's mouth before being spat out onto a plate and presented as some kind of a rare treat. The most depressing thing is that there were no end of people eager to lap it up.

1989 Lisa Stansfield: All Around The World

A former child star who'd previously charted with dance guru's Coldcut, 'All Around the World' was and remains Lisa Stansfield's biggest solo hit, the one song everybody knows her for. Lisa's man has done a bunk after a quarrel and now she intends searching to the ends of the earth to find him. Well ok, but I'm afraid I find it impossible to listen to 'All Around the World' anymore without remembering Caroline Aherne's clueless teenage mum 'Janine Carr' analysing the lyrics extremely literally on The Fast Show: 'She's like, lost her little baby yeah? And now she's looking for him'.

'All Around the World' is a slab of smooth latter day wine bar R&B which rocks no boats and would have worked far better at half it's length. From the skipping hopscotch beat of the sequenced drums and the drenching of Fisher Price strings, it's too little spread too thinly and the headshot to the air of sophistication (look at that cover picture) it's striving for is the distinct lack of anything going on or, dammit, any sort of tune beyond the chorus that's returned to as constantly as an learner swimmer breaking surface to get air. It's a strong hook on first hearing, but even that's too bland to hold the interest over almost five minutes.

Stansfield can sing, of that there's no doubt, and her voice is the star turn here, but her continuous repetition of the title's refrain
"Been around the world and I, I, I I can't find my baby" bores a little more with each telling, like the ramblings of a freshly dumped, pissed mate up crying on your shoulder to the point where empathy and sympathy curdles to 'snap out of it' annoyance. At 3:50 Stansfield changes key to forcefully re-state "I've been around the world, lookin' from my baby. Been around the world, and I'm gonna, I'm gonna find him" and each separate word is enunciated like someone poking their finger in your chest just in case you weren't clear what her intentions are. But Christ, we've got the message by now girl. And as you've already been around the world once, maybe he doesn't want to be found and it's time to ease up on the obsession, what do you say? One of her friends really should have a word.

1989 Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers: That's What I Like

More Jive Bunny. And more of the same. Almost everything I said about 'Swing The Mood' holds good for this too, except the linking tune is the 'Hawaii 5-0' theme and the likes of Little Richard, Chubby Checker and Dion get the remix treatment. I said 'Swing The Mood' was pure novelty, and so it is but when you get the same thing done twice over then it ceases to be a novelty and leads me to wonder there were subliminal messaages in these grooves, a secret message that generated mass hysteria by whispering 'BUY THIS SINGLE' into the collective minds of the populace. How else can you explain it?

1989 Black Box: Ride On Time

There are two things that everyone knows about Black Box and 'Ride On Time':

1. They were fronted by a very tall, very striking, black female vocalist (Catherine Quinol), who

2. Was outed as not actually singing a note on the song.

Yes, the vocal for 'Ride On Time' was sampled wholesale from Loleatta Holloway's 'Love Sensation' (who herself is actually singing 'Right On Time', though her rough Chicago accent flattened the 't' to a 'd'). In the cold light of day, it's hard to believe that anybody could have been suckered into believing that someone as stick thin as Quinol could have produced those primal, guttural sounds - hell, she couldn't even mime to them properly, especially that artificially savage and impossible key change stutter that falls in the middle of the recurring war cry.

But believe they did, and there was a genuine sense of outrage when the truth was discovered, which was so much grist to those over at the 'keep music real' mill (though they weren't tarred and feathered the way those Milli Vanilli boys were when they tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the public a few years hence. The way the folk over in America carried on you'd think they'd been exposed as faking the moon landings).

As for me, I couldn't give a toss. I've got no beef with sampling just as long as it's done with a bit of verve and imagination and not merely used as a crutch for those too talentless to come up with anything of merit by themselves (I'm looking at you here Mr Bunny). Oh, and make sure your sources are credited too.

And verve and imagination are qualities 'Ride On Time' has by the yard. Typical of the Italian House genre it sprang from, a strident electronic piano picks out a barrelhouse motif from an amplified New Orleans gin joint over a seventies bass driven disco thump that softens the blows to give the vocal space to beat it all into submission by grabbing your ears and yelling right in your face all the while. It's loud, brash, scary, exciting as hell and, when it's played at volume, will shake your windows and rattle your walls.

It's this force that carries 'Ride On Time' as surely as it carried that other essay in style over substance 'Relax', a headwind that blows over even the most reluctant in it's slipstream. Everytime I hear it's gallop, I picture that animated ball device bouncing over visually displayed lyrics to the rhythm of a song, landing on each syllable as it's stressed (something
Quinol could have done with to help her out). Except displaying the nonsensical cut and paste lyrics here would reveal 'Ride On Time' as offering nothing tangible at heart aside from loudly trumpeting it's own existence, and that loud trumpeting of squally vocal can be loosely translated as a scream of 'dance you fuckers!'.

But dance shmance - 'Ride On Time' proves that regardless of all those darned new fangled housey beats and stuff, there's nothing like a primal blues holler to get the juices of excitement flowing. And it's this mix of future and past that elevates ''Ride On Time' above the common herd.