32 tracks from late 1988 and early 1989 include the big boys of the era: INXS (Need You Tonight), Phil Collins (Motown pastiche Two Hearts), Simple Minds (Belfast Child) and The Style Council (Promised Land).
Michael Ball closes the set with his big hit from the Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Don Black musical Aspects of Love. Love Changes Everything. Three decades on, Black and Ball both host shows on BBC Radio 2 on Sundays, Michael greeting his listeners with a ‘hello, my lovelies’ and Don Black dropping names like there’s no tomorrow. Andrew Lloyd-Webber (or Lord Lloyd Webber, for reasons only the hyphen knows about) has just written a memoir, though he doesn’t need the money: in 2017 he had four shows on Broadway simultaneously: the one about cats, the one about the phantom, the one about an old film star (Sunset Boulevard) and his production of the movie School of Rock.
NOW 14 is a curious mix of sounds and styles showing that the record industry was unafraid to be bold. Erasure (Stop!), Level 42 (Tracie), Duran Duran (All She Wants Is) and Yazz (Fine Time) represent shiny disco-pop, while soft rock’s flag is flown by the epochal Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison. Catalogue songs include Sam Fox doing I Only Wanna Be With You, a house music version of Respect by Adeva and a cover of Help! by Lennon and McCartney.
That song is credited as Bananarama/LaNaNeeNeeNooNoo, which is nonsense but raised money for a good cause. Richard Curtis and his wife, Emma Freud, brought the Live Aid spirit to the BBC when they launched Comic Relief in 1985, encouraging people to wear plastic red noses and raise money for good causes. The charity single has been such a huge part of pop music ever since Paul Young sang ‘It’s Christmas time…’ in 1984, and the funny version of Help featured Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, who became well known for parodying popstars like Madonna in the 1990s.
Side 1 on Disc 1 (or Record 1, or Tape 1) is a fascinating duet between Soft Cell’s Marc Almond and the crooner Gene Pitney. Something’s Gotten Hold of my Heart was a tune written by the great pair of Rogers, Cook and Greenaway, which hit the top 5 in 1967. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds covered it in 1986, which may have brought it to the attention of Almond, who had his biggest hit under his own name with it.
All over radio in early 1989 was Roland Gift’s voice. A US number one hit, She Drives Me Crazy sounds of its time but also timeless. The song which replaced it on the top of the Hot 100 was called Like A Prayer, which was the song of the year thanks to the video with ‘black Jesus’ and Madonna acting her heart out to a gospel groove. As you know by now, Madonna didn’t allow it to be included on NOW 14.
Instead, we have other women: Kim Wilde (Four Letter Word), Sam Brown (the mighty Stop, later covered by Jamelia) and Natalie Cole (I Live For Your Love). If I say the name Robin Beck to you, you may draw a blank, but if I mention that she sang First Time, which was on an advert for a well-known carbonated beverage rhyming with ‘smoker bowler’, you’ll know it. Thanks to the power of television, the song topped the chart in Austria, Holland, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and Norway, but didn’t do anything in America. Robin is still alive, and is touring her tenth album Love Is Coming this year. First Time had a second life in 2006 when anonymous dance act Sunblock put some beats over it and had a top ten UK hit.
Another woman on NOW 14 is the mighty Paula Abdul, whose song Straight Up new jack swings its way onto Disc 2. The song was written by the boyfriend of her mum’s friend, who had been a keyboardist for Chaka Khan. Elliot Wolff died in 2016 while hiking in New Mexico.
In conversation with a magazine promoting the Parklife Festival in Manchester, Mabel McVey mentioned that her parents were successful ‘because they were different. They didn’t try to be different, they just were. I always felt like an outcast growing up and my parents showed me from a super young age that actually that’s what’s going to make me my best self.’
Later in this series I will select songs by other ‘different’ women, including Sinead O’Connor, Lily Allen, Ms Dynamite and Amy Winehouse. It is rather embarrassing on my part that the only woman included so far in any capacity has been Kylie (NOW 11), who sang a song written by three men. This makes Buffalo Stance the first song written by a woman, though she wrote it with three others including Cameron McVey, Mabel’s dad and Neneh’s husband. It hit number 3 in both the US and the UK, helped by a funky video and an appearance on Top of the Pops where Mabel’s elder sister Tyson was still inside her mum’s tummy. (McVey’s son from a previous relationship, Marlon, is the voice behind a track called Big City Life, a hit for Mattafix.)
The ‘buffalo stance’ is the look a model who poses for a magazine shoot goes for, which chimes with the era. It’s the late 1980s, looks are in, which makes the line ‘Looking good is a state of mind’ very pertinent. Yet ‘no money man can win my love; it’s sweetness that I’m thinking of’ proves that Neneh will not be swayed by cash, even from a kid enjoying the success from the recent Big Bang which brought the American style of banking to London. It is supremely ironic that in the video Neneh wears a gaudy chain with a dollar sign on it.
A whole essay can be written on the line ‘I give you love, baby, not romance so don’t get fresh with me’. Get Fresh was the subtitle of Mel & Kim’s big hit Showing Out from 1986, produced by Stock-Aitken-Waterman, and the time seemed to be for young twentysomethings to go out and have a good time, dancing to Bros, Neneh Cherry and other fine dance-pop of the era. My mum was giving birth in 1988 to her first child: me.
Buffalo Stance still sounds like no other song, three decades after it charted. If Mabel covered it in her set, or even dragged mum onstage, it would go down brilliantly; she can even mix it in with her hit Finders Keepers.
In 1988 one of pop music’s great voices died. Roy Orbison had recorded his final album with Jeff Lynne of ELO, and You Got It kicks off Side B of Tape 1 (track 9 on Disc 1). The chorus is magnificent, and there are nods to Oh Pretty Woman in the arrangement. Today Roy is on the road, sort of, in hologram form, following the Elvis Presley manual of having his songs recorded with the original vocals and orchestral accompaniment. I’d like to see a strings version of Buffalo Stance!! The video at the top of the article is from May 2018 at the BBC’s Biggest Weekend, at which Mabel also performed.
[Thank you to Lee Thompson for correcting the error. Neneh Cherry is the correct spelling of her name.]