Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 35.

A while ago I looked back at some of the groups that were part of the French dance music scene around the late-90s/early-2000s (including Bel Amour and Stardust, who both only had one hit single, but they were rather great). I thought that I would review this group too, even though, like the others, they were ultimately overshadowed by the huge success of Daft Punk.

Air (sometimes credited as “Air: French Band”, in case you were in any doubt), were a duo consisting of Jean-Benoit and Nicolas (who according to the book that I have was born in “169”, meaning that he must’ve been about 1,850 years old when he made these songs, which is rather impressive). They actually released their first single in the UK as early as 1995.

But their first and biggest hit single in this country came in February 1998 (it was a surprise to discover that they’ve never had a Top 40 hit single in their native France, or in the US either). “Sexy Boy” definitely caught the attention of a lot of people, and reached no. 13. This also increased the interest in their debut album “Moon Safari”, which spent a long time on the chart.

Next in May 1998 was “Kelly Watch The Stars”, which was supposedly a tribute to a cast member of Charlie’s Angels, and also had a rather odd table tennis-themed video (they could become known for their quirky videos). They finished off a successful year when in November 1998 “All I Need” reached no. 29. This was rather dreamy, and I remember that this also soundtracked several trails on MTV around this time.

After a break in 1999, they returned in February 2000 when “Playground Love” reached no. 25. This featured an uncredited vocal from Gordon Tracks, but I don’t know why, because it’s Gordon Tracks, the very famous singer, isn’t he?!! Next in January 2001 was “Radio #1”. Again, this had a rather odd video, and was continuing proof that they were offering something rather different to what else was on the chart.

This reached no. 31, to become their fifth and final Top 40 hit single in the UK. Finally, in August 2004, “Alpha Beta Gaga” reached no. 44. They haven’t made the UK singles chart since, but they continue to be in demand as remixers, and they have had nine hit albums. And unlike their fellow countrymen, they haven’t turned into robots, although some of the people who have been in their videos might’ve.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 34.

This is a British indie group who did some interesting things in the late-90s. One day, I was having a look at some articles in music magazines where they tipped who the big new stars of 1998 would be (although they mostly it wrong). A picture of one group jumped out me though, as they had a rather glamorous-looking singer, and I had to find out who that was.

The group were Theaudience, and the singer was Sophie Ellis-Bextor (who was only 18 at the time). Of course, just about every article about this group at the time had to reference Sophie’s famous parents, her mum used to present Blue Peter would you believe. It turned out that they had already released a single, when in October 1997 “I Got The Wherewithal” reached only no. 170.

Their next single did better though, when in March 1998 “If You Can’t Do It When You’re Young, When Can You Do It” reached no. 48, and the video was shown on The Chart Show, it looked like the interest surrounding them was beginning to increase. The next single release in May 1998 was “A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed” which reached no. 27, to become their first Top 40 hit single.

It was in August 1998 though when the hype machine reached its peak. In this month, their fourth and final single “I Know Enough (I Don’t Get Enough)” reached no. 25, their highest position yet. Their debut album “Theaudience” was also released, which earned a few rather middling reviews, although this did reach no. 22. Sophie was interviewed in plenty of magazines around this time too.

And Sophie also appeared on the cover of Melody Maker, where Theaudience were described as “the best new band in Britain”, although they seemed to say that all the time. By the end of 1998 though, after a couple of years together, Theaudience split, and what was planned to be their second album was scrapped. I was rather disappointed, as I thought that Sophie had blown her chance of becoming a properly famous pop star, and I presumed that I wouldn’t ever see her again.

But little did I know that I would turn out to be rather wrong about that…

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 28.

This is someone who has been on the pop music scene for a long time, eventually becoming a pioneer in the dance genre. Norman Cook first came to fame as a member of The Housemartins, whose hits included “Caravan Of Love”, which was performed a cappella, and was a chart-topper in December 1986. This was expected to also be the Christmas Number One, but was surprisingly beaten at the last minute by a piece of plasticine.

After releasing a few singles under his own name in the late-80s, he formed Beats International, who in February 1990 released “Dub Be Good To Me”, which was also a chart-topper. He then worked under various other aliases throughout the 90s, including Freak Power, Mighty Dub Katz, and Pizzaman. But his most successful time working as a DJ and producer was under the name FatBoy Slim.

This started out fairly quietly, when in September 1996, “Better Living Through Chemistry”, which was his first album under this name, reached only no. 69, and he had a few minor hit singles in 1997. It was in 1998 when he suddenly became an in-demand remixer, these are two of the highlights. In April 1995, British producer Roger McKenzie, under the name Wildchild, released “Legends Of The Dark Black Part 2”, which reached no. 34.

This was re-released in October 1995 as “Renegade Master”, even though this was exactly the same song (a touch of the “Combat Dancing EP”/”Mr Kirk’s Nightmare” unusualness like what 4Hero did in 1990). This earned him an appearance on Top Of The Pops, but barely a month on from this, Roger died at the age of 24 from a heart condition. In January 1998, “Renegade Master” was back once again when this received the FatBoy Slim treatment, reaching the Top 40 for a third time.

Another triumph was Cornershop’s “Brimful Of Asha”. This had previously reached no. 60 in August 1997, but in February 1998, the FatBoy Slim remix became a chart-topper. Although they had already been around for several years, this virtually unknown group were now at the top of the chart, and they seemed as surprised as anybody else about this (people were also amused by the fact that the lyrics contained the word “bosom”, kind of distracting from the point that this was trying to make).

Suddenly everything he remixed turned to gold (discs). But pleasingly, he also saved a few classics for himself. In June 1998, “The Rockafeller Skank” became his first Top Ten hit single under his FatBoy Slim name, and this seems to have been played on the radio at least once every single day since. “Gangster Trippin'” was another great one, and his second album “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” was a big success, being a chart-topper for four weeks.

Further hits followed in 1999, including Number One “Praise You” (meaning that he had now had a chart-topper as a member of three different acts), “Right Here Right Now”, and the lesser-remembered “Badder Badder Schwing”, a collaboration with Freddy Fresh that Chris Moyles used as a bed on his BBC Radio 1 show for a while. Going into the 2000s, he had plenty more hits, and the video for “Weapon Of Choice” seemed to win dozens of awards too.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 27.

It is usually around this time that the football World Cup begins, only this year it’ll be held in November and December. It has reminded me though that there has been a long history of football-related singles entering the chart, as a wide variety of unlikely people not usually known for their singing talents wish to declare their support for England (or whatever country) to record.

Almost none of them beyond 1990’s “World In Motion” and 1996’s “Three Lions” are worth remembering in much detail really. But to pick another as an example, once some various hosts from radio station TalkSport decided to release a song, and Mike “Porky” Parry said “you are here for the launch of the next Number One single!”, and I thought “oh really?”, but it almost happened when their racket somehow managed to reach no. 2.

But this one has a rather interesting story. The actor Keith Allen (who was actually born in Swansea, which isn’t really in England), had contributed to “World In Motion”, and also 1996’s “England’s Irie”. By the time of the 1998 World Cup, he decided to form the group Fat Les, also featuring artist Damien Hirst, Alex James from Blur, and I think Joe Strummer from The Clash was involved too.

In June 1998, “Vindaloo” was released, and this was a rather rowdy song that celebrated English culture, along with a chant-along chorus that it was almost impossible not to join in with. Indeed, a university professor’s performance of this during his YouTube video explaining the etymology of the word “vindaloo” was very popular for a few minutes a long time ago.

And also among the vocalists was Keith’s daughter Lily, who would soon know a thing or two about chart-topping singles herself. The video is also notable, as it is a parody of “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve. The original was made at Hoxton High Street, which is not too far from where I live, and this version was made there too, with the Richard Ashcroft role being played by comedian Paul Kaye.

Soon he is joined by a huge amount of people, who also include David Walliams and Matt Lucas (during their “Mash And Peas” years). “Vindaloo” reached no. 2, staying there for three weeks, and there was also a memorably shambolic performance of this on Top Of The Pops. Well at least it’s not “Sweet Caroline”! This was something of a success, and later in 1998, Fat Les appeared on the cover of NME.

In December 1998, they decided to aim at the Christmas market, when “Naughty Christmas (Goblin In The Office)” was released, although this reached only no. 21, and lacked rather a lot of the spark and humour of the previous single. They returned in June 2000 (this time credited as “Fat Les 2000”), with a straight cover of “Jerusalem”, which is considered to be the unofficial national anthem of England.

This reached no. 10 (and Michael Barrymore was roped in as one of the vocalists too). Then in June 2002 they released “Who Invented Fish And Chips”, clearly another attempt at a lingering anthem, but this got nowhere near the chart surprisingly. Since then, “Vindaloo” has returned to chart in 2010, 2014, 2018, and last year, and probably will this year too when the World Cup finally comes around again.

Great Moments In Pop – The 70s Part 4.

This is an American group who were rather influential and successful in the soul and disco genres, and their singles have been much covered and sampled. It is something to realise what a remarkable range of acts have had hits with covers of their most famous songs, which is proof of how they have endured. Rose Royce formed in Los Angeles in the early-70s, but their most successful line-up had been established by the mid-70s, when Gwen Dickey became their lead singer.

In December 1976, their debut hit “Car Wash” was released, which was also on the soundtrack to the film of the same name. This made the Top Ten in the UK, and was also their only chart-topper in America, winning them a Grammy Award too. I’m sure that when Mike Mason, who really loves his music, was on Bid TV, he said that “Car Wash” was his favourite song, and he’d start to sing this rather frequently, whilst having a boogie.

But Rose Royce’s biggest hits in the UK were in 1978, when “Wishing On A Star” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” both did well. And in November 1979 “Is It Love You’re After” made the Top 20. In 1980, Gwen left, and they would have no further Top Ten hit singles in the UK. But in September 1984, “Magic Touch” was released. Although this didn’t make the Top 40, this has to be my favourite single of theirs (not to be confused with “Magic Touch” by Loose Ends, a hit in 1985, which is also a great song).

“Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” was covered by Madonna (and not released as a single in the UK, but is on the “Like A Virgin” album), and, in 1985, Jimmy Nail (his first Top Ten hit single). In 1988, “Is It Love You’re After” was sampled on S-Express’s chart-topping “Theme From S-Express”, which helped to bring in the House era. And in June 1988, “Car Wash” and “Is It Love You’re After” were re-released together, and this made the Top 20.

The covers kept coming. In 1989, Fresh 4 Featuring Lizz-E made the Top Ten with their version of “Wishing On A Star”. And then in January 1990, “Car Wash” was a hit again, this time credited only to Gwen Dickey. Also in 1990, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” was a hit for Double Trouble. “Wishing On A Star” was a hit three more times in the 90s, for Cover Girls in 1992, 88.3 Featuring Lisa May in 1995, and Jay-Z Featuring Gwen Dickey in 1998.

Now I do remember hearing this version on the radio, although I don’t know if Gwen re-recorded her vocals for this, or if they were sampled from the original, although Jay-Z himself barely seemed to feature, and at least one host wondered where he was on this. And then in October 1998, “Car Wash” made the Top 20 for a third time (and in a third different decade), this time credited to Rose Royce Featuring Gwen Dickey!

Into the 2000s, “Wishing On A Star” was a hit for Paul Weller in 2004, as was “Car Wash” by Christina Aguilera Featuring Missy Elliott. I’m sure that Mike was really pleased. Finally, in 2011, “Wishing On A Star” was a hit for a seventh different act, and was the first Rose Royce cover to top the chart in the UK (unless you count “Theme From S-Express”). Well done The X Factor Finalists Featuring JLS And One Direction. I do feel that none of the covers are superior to the originals though.

Down The Dumper – The 90s Part 17.

I’m not really a fan of the rock or metal genres, but I do remember that there were a lot of alternative American indie-rock groups whose songs had rather quirky lyrics on the British singles chart in the late-90s. These included Ben Folds Five, Fountains Of Wayne, Weezer, The Eels, Cake, Deep Blue Something, Rocket From The Crypt, and more.

But I thought that rather than do pieces on all of them, I shall pick out one of these groups, and I think that this one definitely fits the description that I am aiming for. The Presidents Of The United States Of America were a trio who formed in Seattle in the mid-90s. But would you believe, none of them had ever actually been the American President for real!

In January 1996, they had their first hit single in the UK when “Lump” was released, and this reached no. 15. And in the same month, their self-titled debut album made the Top 20. But in April 1996, “Peaches” was released, and this reached no. 8, to become their first and only Top Ten hit single in the UK (this is was also their first and only hit single in the US).

This is a song where they were rather keen to tell us about how fond they were of peaches, they could eat millions and millions of them apparently, and this had nothing to do with the The Stranglers either. Two further Top 40 hit singles would follow in 1996 with “Dune Buggy” and “Mach 5”, and they finished off this rather busy year with their second album “II” also making the chart.

And then in August 1998, they released “Video Killed The Radio Star”, a cover of the classic 1979 chart-topper by The Buggles. I thought that it was rather interesting to hear this familiar song in a rather different genre. And this also featured that effect that seemed to be popular on some songs at the time that made them sound like they were on the phone.

It was also around this time that The Presidents announced that they had split, and this song was considered to be something of a farewell gift to the fans. However, it seems that not too many of them took much notice, as this reached only no. 52. But a few years on, they did reform, and they have now made six albums. What a zany bunch of guys.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 90s Part 10.

This is a group who only had one hit single, but it is now considered to be a classic, and there is a rather interesting story behind it. Nobody really seemed to know who Stardust were at the time that their single was released, but it turned out that they were a French production group, when there were plenty of them on the chart, and one of them was also in Daft Punk, before he turned into a robot.

Such was the anticipation for “Music Sounds Better With You” (which sampled a Chaka Khan song), an imported version made the lower end of the chart for three weeks. When this was officially released in this country in August 1998, this reached no. 2, and many people were disappointed by how narrowly this missed out on being a worthy chart-topper (doesn’t that always seem to be how it goes). But I still remember some curious things about this one. vlcsnap-00474

On the penultimate edition of The Chart Show on ITV (which didn’t use the official chart), this did reach Number One. But there was one problem. The video wasn’t ready yet, so they decided to show this accompanied by various graphics that they had used going all the way back to 1986, which was rather surprising, and much to the delight of some viewers, this was a rather clever way to solve the situation and seemed a suitable ending. vlcsnap-00470

The video did finally start to appear on the TV, and coincidentally featured some The Chart Show-style graphics itself. Stardust would go on to have no further hits in the UK, and they’re not to be confused with British knock-off Spacedust. At the end of 1998, there was a brief and rather bizarre fad (even by the standards of pop music where things go in and out of fashion rather quickly) for putting dance music to old aerobics records. vlcsnap-00475

“Gym And Tonic” did get to Number One though, although sales slumped when people realised that this wasn’t the follow-up single by Stardust. This definitely didn’t go platinum. But unlike that one that is mostly forgotten now, “Music Sounds Better With You” is considered to be one of the greatest dance singles of its era by many, and even now it stills brings back those memories of a late-90s summer.

Down The Dumper – The 90s Part 15.

This is another singer who was briefly a big deal on the pop music scene. Finley Quaye was born in Scotland and was claimed to be a relative of Tricky (not the CITV animated dragon thing), who denied this, but I presume he was related to someone. Finley had a rather distinctive soulful voice, and we first came across this in the summer of 1997 with “Sunday Shining”, influenced by the Bob Marley song which would be a big hit for Funkstar De Luxe as well in remixed form a couple of years later.

This was followed by his first and only Top Ten hit “Even After All”. In October 1997 the debut album “Maverick A Strike” was released, which soon ascended the chart and made the Top Ten too. There were then further hits with “It’s Great When We’re Together” and “Your Love Gets Sweeter”. This led to Finley winning Best British Male at the 1998 Brit Awards. vlcsnap-00400

Also around this time he gained some headlines for some rather bizarre behaviour including turning up at a film premiere not wearing a shirt, or whatever it was, among other things. In August 1998, “Ultra Stimulation” reached only no. 51, although this low placing could be more of a case of a successful album being milked somewhat for several singles. vlcsnap-00401

After this, Finley went on to have only one further hit single in the 2000s decade with “Spiritualized”, which I remember Chris Moyles on BBC Radio 1 seemed to like because there was a reference to “Persian rugs“. His follow-up albums “Vanguard” and “Much More Than Love” were definitely not big-sellers by comparison though. His seventh and most recent album “Faux Naïf” was released in 2019, but this didn’t chart at all. vlcsnap-00402

I also remember once that Mike Mason on Bid-Up said that he was a fan of Finley too. I took of notice of this, because Mikey is a fan of his music, so to get an endorsement from him would definitely be impressive. And this was also just about the last time that I remember anyone ever referencing Finley, which was rather a long time ago now. I hope that wherever Finley is now he has finally got a shirt long with his rugs.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 12.

Here’s a group that did something interesting in the late-90s. All Seeing I were a dance production trio from Sheffield. One of them was called Parrot, but that was his nickname, none of the group members were actual parrots as far as I know. They also collaborated with a lot of musicians who were famous on the Sheffield music scene. In March 1998, they released “Beat Goes On”, a cover of the Sonny And Cher song, which was their first hit single.

There a few things that I remember about this, such as the video being shown on The Chart Show, and also being used on an advert. And I remember when “Beat Goes On” was played on Capital one day. I have never listened to this station that much, but when I was doing some dial twiddling and noticed that this was being played, because I liked this one I thought I would have a listen.

The host was Neil “Doctor” Fox. He pointed out that someone else who was in the studio (presumably one of the production team) liked this one, and they should get up and do a dance to this, which they did, and Foxy replied, “ooh, you look like a poofter!”. He then did the whole “I’m sorry about that, it just came out” routine, but I can imagine that the atmosphere in the studio at that moment was rather awkward. vlcsnap-00399

Next in January 1999 was “Walk Like A Panther”, their first and only Top Ten hit single. This one featured a guest vocal from Tony Christie. Now this is someone who I hadn’t come across before at the time, but he was a veteran crooner who was trying out something a little different. This one has long since been overshadowed by the huge success of the rerelease of “(Is This The Way To) Amarillo” though. vlcsnap-00396

I remember Mark Goodier on BBC Radio 1’s Official Top 40 noting with some bemusement that this was Christie’s first UK hit single since 1976’s “Drive Safely Darlin'”. It was also rumoured that the video was directed by Jarvis Cocker. I don’t know how it can only be a rumour though, you would imagine that someone would’ve spotted him there at the time. Chris Moyles also did a parody of this as “Walk Like Your Pants Are Too Tight”, and this was recently covered by Rick Astley. Very impressive. vlcsnap-00397

In September 1999 was the third and final hit single with “1st Man In Space”, which featured a guest vocal from The Human League’s Phil Oakey, who had been on the pop music scene for two decades even then. This included the lyric “why don’t they make Golden Nuggets no more?“, and not long after this breakfast cereal made a return. I very much doubt it was because of this song though. vlcsnap-00398

In October 1999, their only album “Pickled Eggs And Sherbet” was released, but despite some good reviews, and the success of the singles, this failed to make the Top 40. After this, All Seeing I went on to work on various other musical projects, including I Monster, who had a Top 20 hit in June 2001 with the rather bizarre and terrific “Daydream In Blue”.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 11.

Who is the best pop star to have come out of Iceland, a country that is not exactly known for its music… or anything else, really. Well of course, it is… Alda! Who did you think I meant? Miss Olafsdottir is someone who had previously been in various groups, and came on to the pop music scene in the UK in the late-90s, when she had two hit singles.

The first was in August 1998 when “Real Good Time” was released and became her first and only Top Ten hit in the UK, which also led to a Top Of The Pops performance. Now there is a rather odd reason as to why I remember this one, but hopefully you will realise what I mean. As I have said before, in the late-90s, I was a regular listener to Capital Gold’s particularly noisy football coverage. vlcsnap-00375

This was fronted by Jonathan Pearce and his remarkably big mouth. I remember there was a trail which featured “Real Good Time”, with the “maybe I squeal…” part, followed by a clip of Pearce yelling “absolutely magnificent!” about some long-forgotten goal presumably, and then going into the “but I enjoy making some noise…” chorus. Well that’s one way to interpret the lyrics of this one I suppose. vlcsnap-00372

And looking back at this again now, I really did notice Alda’s rather remarkable hairstyle, which was blonde and long. It’s not that far off being similar to the hairstyle of Justine, the rather mysterious woman who only released one single in 1986 that I spotted online a while ago, I never did find out any more about her. Is there a chance that they are related, or maybe Alda was Justine all along!! a1

In December 1998 Alda’s second and final hit single “Girls Night Out” was released, which just made the Top 20… and guess what, this sounded exactly the same as “Real Good Time”! Well if it worked a first time, so why not a second time. Also around this time there was the album “Out Of Alda”, but this wasn’t a hit, and barely four months on from her debut she was never heard of again. vlcsnap-00376

I suppose in a way Alda had the perfect pop career really. Turn up suddenly, have two hits that sound the same, make sure they stick in people’s heads, sell some records, feel that you’ve done your bit, vanish off the scene. What a great way to do it. Although for all I know she could’ve had about 23 Number One singles back in Iceland. Somehow I doubt it though.