Previously on the KLF: Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond had struck lucky with Doctorin’ The Tardis (NOW 12) and had shot a film called The White Room, which remained unreleased. From John Higgs’ book on the band, it seems like it aped Easy Rider or an old driving movie. ‘It was, all in all, an odd way to spend £250,000.’ They went on to burn four times that amount and invited a film crew to see them do it.
Meanwhile, the band opened the 1992 BRIT Awards at Hammersith Odeon. Youtube holds the clip of the band onstage performing their massive number one. With an extreme metal band. ‘This is television freedom!’ cries Bill Drummond, as massive drums and shouty, throaty vocals take the chorus which so enchanted Europe in 1991. Bill takes the Ricardo Da Force rap, and ENT take the chorus again. It sounds a little like the thrash of Ace of Spades by Motorhead. My favourite moment of the clip is when Bill muffs the vocal and just smiles and laughs. He has played the music industry and won, introducing Britain at large to speed metal.
Or had he lost? When the song finally finishes, Drummond takes a live machine gun and fires dummy bullets into the crowd. But, John Higgs writes, this proved fatal. Mogul and future sex criminal Jonathan King had ‘enjoyed it’. Higgs also writes some guff about how ‘something about the music industry did die around that point’, noting that new genres were not emerging. Britpop, he writes, was ‘a coked-up combination of indie music and nostalgia’, which is a good line I intend to use in a pub (the slogan, not the cocaine).
As for the KLF, the industry had accepted them and ‘had swallowed them up’, but what else was the industry foisting onto the public in 1991, the year of Dangerous by Michael Jackson and some trio from Seattle, Washington who wrote a song about deodorant?
NOW 19 came out over Easter 1991, meaning it contained a number one song from a Levi’s advert by The Clash, Should I Stay or Should I Go, written in 1981 (catalogue strikes again) and one of Britain’s greatest ever pieces of popular music. Massive Attack were a collective from Bristol who included graffiti artists (one of whom is rumoured to be Banksy), singers and DJs. Unfinished Sympathy, produced by Nellee Hooper who would go on to work with Bjork and Madonna and remains a key sonic architect of popular music, sounds like no other piece of pop music that came before it, with amazing strings, some bits of metal being hit and Shara Nelson’s imperious vocal.
It is far better than Robert van Winkle’s version of Play That Funky Music. Robert used the stage name Vanilla Ice, and raided pop history for his latest theft. He’d moved from Queen to Wild Cherry, but people were still buying it, because it was a safe white version of a genuine cultural phenomenon. MC Hammer did much the same thing while black, so his song Pray is also on Disc 1, which pilfers from Prince.
Disc 2 holds an incredible mix of music. Starting with the Gulf War ballad Get Here by Oleta Adams, it goes through Belinda Carlisle (Summer Rain, which Belinda calls her favourite song of hers), Rick Astley (Cry For Help, which is great), Chris Rea (Auberge, which begins with whistling), Chris Isaak (Blue Hotel, why change a winning ‘Wicked’ formula) and INXS (Disappear, sounds like INXS). Catalogue comes from a brilliant medley of Mercy Mercy Me and I Want You by soul boy Robert Palmer, and a reissue of All Right Now, the Free anthem that is one of the go-to ‘classic rock’ anthems.
One of the all-time great pop songs also makes its way onto Disc 2 as part of a great one-two. The famous clay scene of the movie Ghost brought The Righteous Brothers back into pop culture, but whereas Unchained Melody was used in the film, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling was the reissue chosen by whoever was reissuing it. It hit number three and was a hit all over again. Its writers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil bought an apartment with the proceeds, thus proving (mum!) that songwriting can help one make a living.
It helps if your voice appears in a hit movie, but what about two hit movies? Dirty Dancing gave Patrick Swayze complete domination of Hollywood, and it was Bill Medley – one of the Righteous Brothers – who featured as the male voice, alongside Jennifer Warnes, on the wedding disco staple and Oscar Best Song winner (I’ve Had) The Time of my Life, which is so painfully of its time (1987). When Dirty Dancing hit TV screens, it was a hit all over again, giving four songwriters the opportunity to never work again. One of them, John DeNicola, produced songs for an early incarnation of Maroon 5.
But the main thrust of NOW 19, aptly, came from the club and rave scene. The Source’s You Got the Love, C&C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat (the one that goes ‘EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!’) and Nomad’s (I Wanna Give You) Devotion all feature within the first six tracks of Disc 1, proving how dominant the club was as a place for young people to unwind in 1991. They would also have been dancing to Wiggle It by 2 In A Room, which is a lot of fun.
The kids may also have been at the rock club watching EMF play I Believe, Wiganers The Railway Children play Every Beat of the Heart or Scritti Politti play She’s a Woman with a man from the West Indies called Shabba Ranks, who introduces the song with his trademark ‘SHABBA!’ Incredibly, this is catalogue too, a Paul McCartney song from mid-period Beatles which is turned upside down by the genius Green Gartside, one of British pop’s unsung heroes who is written about at length in Simon Reynolds’ post-punk history Rip It Up and was written about in my NOW 5 essay.
Kylie Minogue returns with the SAW-produced What Do I Have to Do, as her career ticks into its fourth year. Kim Appleby, who had been on NOW 18, is back with G.L.A.D. (Good Loving and Devotion), which sounds like 1991 with its light percussion and soulful vocal. Jesus Loves You starts with a minute of chanting before the familiar voice of Boy George pops up. Having travelled around India, he grew familiar with the Hare Krishna movement and wrote Bow Down Mister, which hit number 27 in the UK and number 6 in Germany. Nobody has ever played this song on the radio, to my knowledge, making it a curio in Boy George’s career. I like how he shamelessly sings ‘karma’ on this track.
The US number one over Christmas 1990 had been Stevie B’s Because I Love You (The Postman Song). I have never heard this song in my life, but I have a thousand like it: man gets letter while piano plays, man professes undying love for woman (or man!). Songwriter Warren Allen Brooks (altogether now…) never had to work again. Billboard ranked it the 72nd biggest hit of the 1990s, which is amazing considering how approximate Stevie B’s vocal is, and that he refers to himself in the third person.
Here’s your pop starter for ten points: who produced the 1991 Comic Relief single The Stonk, recorded by forgotten duo Hale & Pace? Clue: he appears on NOW 19 as a guitarist on the song Innuendo, the title track of the last album to be released in the lead singer’s lifetime before he died of AIDS-related complications. Brian May is the link between both songs. Innuendo by Queen is hilarious, mixing flamenco and opera, and a blueprint for what Muse would do in the 200s: everything, including the kitchen sink and every kind of cutlery.
A special mention also goes to Thunder, whose song Love Walked In is a brilliant hair metal song.