Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 25.

Having looked back at the careers of just about all of the quirky American indie/rock groups that I have wanted to, I thought that it’s now time to look back at, er, a Canadian one. I know that sometimes these pieces seem to be a little repetitive, because a lot of these groups go through the same cycle of “release a single/manage to get played about 1,000 times a day on the radio/appear on Top Of The Pops/vanish”, but this was just about how it really turned out for this one.

Len had actually been going for a rather long time by the time of their biggest hit. It is rather hard to determine how many members they have had over the years, although they have included such people as The Burger Pimp and The Drunkness Monster, and no, I don’t think that there have been any of them who were actually called Len, how fascinating.

I suppose that Len can be described as an indie/rap group, if it is possible for those genres to collide. And this just happens to be yet another group who were at the upper end of the final singles chart of the 90s, so I do associate them with the millennium feeling that you only get once in a millennium. They probably soundtracked many a party at the time, and had a million miles of fun.

In December 1999 “Steal My Sunshine” was released, and this really did suddenly take off. This was from their third album “You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush”. Part of this song’s success is the simple idea of the sample, which is just about three seconds of Andrea True’s disco hit “More More More” looped (Bananarama did a cover once, you know!). I don’t know what half the lyrics are on about, but did this meet the “entering your head and never leaving” challenge.

“Steal My Sunshine” reached no. 8, and this was their first and only Top Ten hit single in America and Canada, as well as the UK. Now most people think that Len were a one-hit wonder, but this isn’t actually the case. In June 2000 “Cryptik Souls Crew” was released. This was never really going to be as successful as their first hit, but this did reach no. 28, to become their second and final hit single in the UK.

But that really was it for Len. They have released five albums, and I don’t think that they’re currently active, but I’m sure that The Drunkness Monster is proud. All they have to look forward to now is people doing “reaction” videos to their song where it looks like their eyes are going to pop out of their head with shock. They really can’t believe that people used to live like that back then.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 90s Part 11.

I don’t usually do pieces about here today/gone tomorrow faceless dance acts, because however much I might like the songs, there isn’t much of a story about the people behind them. But I have decided to review this one, because I did find it all rather bizarre. Firstly, this is a song by a British production group called Progress Presents The Boy Wunda.

Now I don’t know who “The Boy Wunda” is really, but it was nice of them to present him to us. What is also notable about “Everybody” is that this was released in December 1999, meaning that this was on the final chart of the 90s, and I have said before about the rush by many acts to feature on this significant chart, which ended up unfortunately ended up scuppering a few promising careers, including Thunderbugs.

When I heard “Everybody” on the radio, I did notice a few things. Firstly, this sounded rather similar to the introduction to Madonna’s hit “Papa Don’t Preach”. I’m not sure if it was a direct sample, as I always thought that the original sampled a piece of classical music itself, I’m not sure (you can clearly tell that I’ve spent a lot of time researching this).

There were also some rather cheap-sounding keyboard noises, along with somebody randomly shouting “Everybody“. This didn’t really sound as if it was a big-budget production. But then I saw the video, featuring old ladies miming along to the music, along with some men in hard hats doing a dance, but it was clearly a winning formula that delighted the public.

I also saw somebody say that “Everybody” was a “pumpin’ house stomper”, which I think means that they liked it. This clearly did attract interest from a lot of people though, as this reached no. 7, to become the first and only time that they made the Top Ten (or Top 75). This led to an appearance on Top Of The Pops, featuring a rather curious interpretation of all this.

But I suppose that if you are really ever only going to appear on this show once, then you might as well make the most of it, and get people talking and wondering what it was all about, if they weren’t all too dizzy from anticipating that millennium nonsense. I don’t know where The Boy Wunda is now though. Maybe he works at The Carphone Warehouse.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 22.

This is a British R & B singer whose career took in some good songs along with a few unusual turns in the 90s. Desiree Weekes (wasn’t 80s singer Princess’s real first name also Desiree?) was born in London, and in August 1991, her debut hit “Feel So High” was released, but this reached only no. 51. It was determined that this could do better, and this one eventually managed to gain some more exposure.

At the end of 1991, Des’ree featured on The ITV Chart Show end of year special as one of the acts to look out for in 1992 (they usually got their tips of the big time totally wrong, but they turned out to be fairly successful in this case). In January 1992, “Feel So High” was released again, and this time reached no. 13, to become her first Top 40 hit single.

Her first of three hit albums (which all made the Top 30) was released not long after. I also remember that “Feel So High” featured on one of those CDs that were given away free with weekend newspapers when there was a brief craze for that. It was good to hear this again, and it’s one of the few songs on those compilations that I felt was worth listening to more than once.

After two minor hits that missed the Top 40, in June 1993, “Delicate” was released, this was a duet with Sananda Maitreya (as Terence Trent D’Arby would prefer you to call him now), and this reached no. 14. I remember that this often turned up fairly late at night on some local radio stations for a while, but it was always nice to hear this whatever time of day it was.

In April 1994, “You Gotta Be”, which is one of her more famous songs, was released, and this reached no. 20. After two more minor hits that missed the Top 40, in March 1995, “You Gotta Be” was released again, and this time did a little better, reaching no. 14. That big Top Ten hit single was still elusive though, and she released no singles in 1996 or 1997.

She returned after her break in June 1998 with “Life”, and this reached no. 8. It’s rather unusual for an act to have their first Top Ten hit single seven years on from their debut. However, the lyrics were much mocked, and they even won a competition to determine “the worst pop lyrics ever”. She was probably disappointed by all this, and then in November 1998 “What’s Your Sign” reached no. 19.

But she did go on to have the last laugh somewhat and probably didn’t worry about the stir around “Life” much more when she won Best British Female at the Brit Awards in 1999. And then, in April 1999, would you believe, “You Gotta Be” was released for a third time, and this time reached no. 10, to become her second and final Top Ten hit single in the UK.

It was great that this one had finally got there, although it was a little odd seeing a now five-year-old song in the Top Ten. I’m just surprised that they didn’t take the opportunity to give “Feel So High” a third go too, that should’ve been a bigger hit. But Des’ree never made the Top 40 ever again after this. And I got through this piece without making a joke about toast. Oops!

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 18.

Here’s the story of yet another late-90s act who suddenly hit the big time on the chart when it looked like his moment had passed. Les Rhythmes Digitales was a producer who used the name Jacques, although he was actually the French-born but English-raised Stuart Price. In August 1997 “Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)” was released, but this barely made the Top 100. This one would eventually become more famous though.

In April 1998 he made the Top 75 for the first time with “Music Makes You Lose Control”, which was followed in October 1998 by “(Hey You) What’s That Sound?”, and then in June 1999 his second album “Darkdancer” just missed the Top 50. By he really caught my interest for the first time in August 1999 when “Sometimes” was released, which featured a guest vocal from Nik Kershaw (not to be confused with Howard Jones), and reached no. 56. vlcsnap-00433

I became familiar with this one after seeing the video on MTV, when I had access to that channel in my mid-teens, and I barely watched anything else for about two years. Among the various shows on that channel at the time was one hosted by Zane Lowe. And if like this one, you got your song endorsed by Zane and the video was on his show, then you really were rather trendy. vlcsnap-00435

I also group this one in with “1st Man In Space” by All Seeing I which was released around the same time, because like “Sometimes”, that featured a guest vocal from an 80s pop star, who in this case was Phil Oakey. And despite having plenty of success as a producer and songwriter, it had been a while since Kershaw had a big hit single, so it was good seeing him and Oakey back on the scene again. vlcsnap-00436

And then in October 1999 “Jacques Your Body” was rereleased, doing a little better this time, reaching no. 60. I did like this one because it had something of a synthpop vibe, and I don’t think that Daft Punk themselves could’ve done any better really. I could only imagine what his recording studio looked like at the time, it was probably full of shiny keytars. The big hit that I felt he had deserved still eluded him though by the end of the 90s. vlcsnap-00437

And then, over eight years on from the original release, In September 2005 “Jacques Your Body” was rereleased yet again after being used in an advert for Citroen, and reached no. 9, to finally earn him a Top Ten hit, just when I thought that this one would remain a 90s lost gem. By this point, he had gone on to work on several other musical projects, and he was also a much in-demand producer, including being one of the few people on Madonna’s rolodex, and he has also won some Grammy Awards.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 17.

Something rather strange happened on the singles chart in the late-90s. Any song that seemed to get a half-decent amount of radio airplay and had been a success in the clubs for a while seemed to instantly go to Number One. I didn’t really plan to do many pieces about various dance production groups, but this is one that I think actually has a story worth featuring.

Wamdue Project were American, and I don’t know what a “Wamdue” is. “King Of My Castle” had already been around for a couple of years or so when there was suddenly a big stir around this one following a remix. In November 1999, an imported version made the lower end of the chart, showing that there was now much anticipation and some couldn’t even wait for the British version to be released.

And then a week later, this became a chart-topper for one week. “King Of My Castle” is notable for having a rather distinctive sound, including what I always thought sounded like some bus doors closing. And there was also a female vocalist, who informed us “must be the reason why I’m free to mud wrestle“, or at least that’s what I think she said, maybe it was something else.

With a few weeks of the 90s decade remaining at this point, this was a rather unusual way to finish things off. It all seems so long ago now. And after this, it was presumed that there would be a lot of interest in what they would do next. In April 2000, “You’re The Reason” was released, and this reached no. 39, which was rather a large drop-off from their recent success, and I wonder how many people now even remember that they had a second hit single at all.

I remember seeing the video for this on the music channels, and would you believe that this one sounded exactly the same as “King Of My Castle”! I know that if a dance group lands of a successful sound, there seems to be little reason to change the formula, but this has to be one of the most blatant examples of just doing the same thing again. Wamdue Project went on to release many more singles (under various names) over about a decade, hopefully some of them sounded a little different.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 16.

Here’s another all-female group that came on to the pop scene in the late-90s, and once again, there’s a few reasons why they stand out to me. Hepburn were a group that formed in 1997, they all played various instruments, and this was just about in the era when people still seemed to be surprised by that. I suppose they could be grouped in with the likes of 21st Century Girls and Thunderbugs who were also on the crowded scene around this time.

In May 1999 their debut “I Quit” was released, and this was their first and only Top Ten hit single. I’m sure that around the time of this, someone told me that Hepburn had performed at my school, presumably as part of a promotional tour. But I have no memory of ever seeing them, and goodness knows why they would’ve wanted to come round here at all, and as they were now a success, they probably wouldn’t be returning any time soon. vlcsnap-00417

And this was around the time that I started to do my GCSEs. So maybe while I was in one room trying to do an exam, they were upstairs performing their hit. I do doubt it though. “I Quit” also became popular after featuring on the soundtrack to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and there was a second video made for this too. Next in August 1999 was “Bugs”, which made the Top 20. vlcsnap-00418

There was some surprise that the chorus to this one was “bugs on the windshield“, these Americanisms definitely made this seem like another attempt to be successful on the other side of the Atlantic. In September 1999, their first and only album, also called “Hepburn” was released, this just made the Top 30, receiving mixed reviews, and they all looked rather pouty on the cover. vlcsnap-00420

And in February 2000, “Deep Deep Down” was released, which also made the Top 20, but this was the end of the pop road for them, and they split not long after. It’s a shame that they didn’t get their own TV spin-off series just like another female group of the time, then they could’ve been coming atcha, just like Cleopatra, and they would probably still be chart megastars to this day.

Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 15.

This is another female/male duo whose songs I have enjoyed to the point where I might do a detailed single-by-single look back at their career eventually, but for now I’ll concentrate on the moment when they suddenly, but rather deservedly, hit the big time. Moloko formed in the mid-90s, consisting of Mark Brydon (who had already worked with various dance groups going back to the 80s), and singer Roisin Murphy.

Their first album “Do You Like My Tight Sweater?” was released in 1995, but that wasn’t a hit. In February 1996, “Dominoid” became their first hit single, although it was a rather minor one. It was in May 1996 when they made the Top 40 for the first time with “Fun For Me”. The next hit “The Flipside” wouldn’t be until two years later in 1998, but this missed the Top 40 too. In September 1998 second album “I Am Not A Doctor” was a minor hit. vlcsnap-00418

Then in March 1999, “Sing It Back” was released, and this reached no. 45. There must’ve been some frustration that this wasn’t a big hit, this deserved more. But then in September 1999, this one was given a second chance when there was a remix by Boris Dlugosch, which reached no. 4, at last they had made the Top Ten. Even the group themselves seemed shocked by the transformation of this into a classic, and were satisfied with their success. vlcsnap-00419

I know that it is something of a cliché, but this was a terrific song that seemed to be all over the place and really did enhance the summer for many people. The video was also very frequently on MTV, and I was always pleased when this came on, and it was around this time that I began to realise what the phrase “heavy rotation” meant. I’ll always remember those days. vlcsnap-00420

It seemed to me that Roisin had finally become a pop star with a level of fame that she had long deserved, which was pleasing. After this, Moloko went on to have more chart success in the early-2000s, with some more great songs that made the Top Ten, and in more recent years Roisin has gone on to release some albums that capture her typically quirky and enjoyable style.

Down The Dumper – The 90s Part 16.

This is a group who were briefly big in the late-90s. Barenaked Ladies are a Canadian group that formed in the late-80s. It could be said that some of their songs contained lyrics that were rather quirky and humorous, right in the “you’ll either find it very funny or very annoying” category. And indeed none of them were ladies, and they weren’t barenaked either as far as I know. They must be very difficult to find on Google as well.

It took about a decade for them to find some success in the UK, I remember my sister told me once that she had a Canadian pen pal who told her all about Barenaked Ladies and how popular they were in Canada, when they were still unknowns in the UK (although in 1994 their second album “Maybe You Should Drive” was a minor hit).

It wasn’t until February 1999 that they finally had some success on the singles chart when “One Week” was released, which became their first and only Top Ten hit in the UK. This was on the radio for a while rather frequently… indeed too frequently it could be said. I remember one day on Virgin there was a technical error and the beginning of this one kept playing over and over before being cut off, and nobody seemed to notice for a long time.

I’m not sure if it was the emergency tape misfiring or not, but for a brief moment, they had the radio station all to themselves, that’s probably why can I remember the lyrics so clearly. “One Week” also rather appropriately spent one week at Number One in America, and the video was directed by McG. In March 1999 fourth album “Stunt” made the Top 20. Next in May 1999 was “It’s All Been Done”, but this turned out to be their second and final Top 40 hit single.

They went on to have two more minor hit singles in 1999 with “Call And Answer” and “Brian Wilson” (their celebration of the Beach Boys musician), which reached only no. 73. And that was it. Apart from fifth album “Maroon” becoming another minor hit in 2000, Barenaked Ladies didn’t make the UK chart again. They are still together, and along with providing the theme to US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, they have now made 16 albums.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 90s Part 9.

I’ve never really been that interested in boy bands and girl groups, but then they have never really been aimed at me. But one thing that is notable is just how many of them were on the pop scene in the late-90s/early-2000s, usually featuring people barely out of their teenage years, or maybe still in them, and maybe they weren’t ready to be put though the unforgiving music business, but this group did better than most, even if they did only have one hit single.

Recently when I was looking back at some old Smash Hits online from this era, and I was rather surprised by just how many adverts there were for girl groups that I don’t remember who never had a hit. They were promised that they would be famous, but there were so many manufactured groups at this time that for many them this never happened. But this group had more hype than most, and it seemed like they would do well, there was no doubt about this one. girls0001

21st Century Girls were going to be a girl group that would be different from the others, but then aren’t they all. They’re the next big thing and are here to stay. This was a quartet from England that consisted of Leanne, Fiona, Kate, and Meriam. I remember that among the publicity push there was an interview in the Official UK PlayStation Magazine that I was a regular reader of around this time. vlcsnap-00242

In June 1999 their debut single “21st Century Girls” was released, and this rather surprisingly didn’t make the Top Ten, reaching no. 16. This must’ve been a disappointment for them to some extent, even though they’d already done better than most groups. I think they appeared on Top Of The Pops, and I would hope that pop stars from this era still considered this to be something of an honour, even if there only were about 12 viewers left by this point. vlcsnap-00245

But then, that was it. There were no further singles from them, their album wasn’t released, 21st Century Girls split shortly after, and the project was considered to be a flop. The strange thing about them is that they actually didn’t get as far as releasing any singles in the 21st century. I don’t know much about what happened to them after this though. I suppose it’s proof that not every group’s dreams can come true.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 90s Part 6.

I have already looked back at one song that became a chart-topper off the back of being used on a Levis advert (so many singles found success in this way). In 1999 there was a Levis advert that memorably featured Flat Eric, who was a yellow puppet thing (this is just about the best description that I can make). Eric was in his car enjoying a rather squashed and squelchy song. And yes, I did get caught up in all of the hype somewhat, finding this to be a rather strange yet cuddly character.

So in April 1999 the song in the advert “Flat Beat” by Mr Oizo (who was a French producer whose first name was Quentin) was released, which was just about an instrumental (there was a brief piece of dialogue at the start), and this was a chart-topper for two weeks. Eric also starred in the video. Hearing this in full though, it did seem to be rather repetitive and ran out of ideas rather quickly. vlcsnap-00226

I remember when this was played on the radio once around the time of its success, and the presenter said afterwards “a lot of people will have bought that single and then thought to themselves, is that it?”. This could be considered to be another triumph for marketing over music. Indeed, for a short while you could even buy a Flat Eric, and yes, I did have one. vlcsnap-00227

And while he was the, er, puppet of the moment, Eric was also interviewed in various magazines, although he didn’t have much to say for himself. Mr Oizo would go on to have no more hits in the UK after this though, meaning he joined a rare group of pop acts who were not just a one-hit wonder, but also a chart-topping one. Many years later Eric went on to appear in some more advertising campaigns, and it was great to see him again. vlcsnap-00273

From what I can make out though, it seems that Mr Oizo (who has gone on to make several albums) and Flat Eric are still good friends all these years on, and at least he hasn’t been left in a dusty old cupboard. I’m not sure how many people would remember them now though, this is a rather perfect example of a cultural reference point that was popular for about three minutes. But I will always consider Eric to be a star.