Jimi Hendrix made his name in Europe in the late 1960s. He died at 27 and left three albums of music and some astonishing live performances. Without him Eric Clapton would not have sold as many albums as he did, and the guitar solo would not have been elevated to an art form. Today, the rock music that Jimi brought to millions of stereos is now a heritage industry, as shown by the recent bankruptcy of Gibson, the manufacturers, and the paucity of new rock bands having any degree of success. David Hepworth, in his book Uncommon People, noted that people still dress up as the likes of David Bowie, just as folk still dress up as cowboys. The era has passed, but the costumes remain.
Yet kids who don’t want to tidy their room still need an instrument other than moaning on Youtube, so the guitar still sells. It warms my heart to see a guitar case in the hand of someone under the age of thirteen, and I am sure I will get round to seeing Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s stage version of the movie School of Rock, which made Jack Black a superstar and remains his finest moment.
His second finest is Tribute, by his comedy duo Tenacious D. In it, he and Kyle use Stairway to Heaven as the basis for a song that is ‘just a tribute’. Rock tribute acts are an industry in themselves. I love any Beatles tribute band and appreciate Bjorn Again, who play the hits of ABBA because ABBA do not exist as a musical entity (aside from in the studio, as will be shown at Christmas 2018, as I outlined in the NOW 23 essay). Belinda Davids is on a 24-date British tour in the autumn bringing the music of Whitney Houston to a seaside town near you. I love the name No Way Sis as per a tribute to Oasis, and there is a whole festival, Glastonbudget, that caters to acts who impersonate acts.
The 2018 iteration took place in Leicester in May, and was headlined by Whole Lotta DC (a pun on Whole Lotts Rosie), who played the song(s) of AC/DC. Not The Rolling Stones (their ‘Jagger’ looks too young!) and The Darkside of Pink Floyd also headlined. Also on the bill were MJUK, ‘Britain’s foremost Michael Jackson tribute’ according to Glastonbudget.org, newRhythmics, Mused, Kins of Leon (is their sex on fire too?) and Oasish (great name again!).
Lenny Kravitz is, in some ways, a Jimi Hendrix tribute act. His first hit was the marvellous It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over, which includes a soft solo in the middle and a super string passage. At the fourth attempt Lenny had a huge hit, and he finally broke the top ten in 1993 with Are You Gonna Go My Way, which is anchored by two massive riffs: the opening riff, and the one that comes after the second chorus. Only after 20 years did I realise he was copying Hendrix, with a riff that could have come straight from the Electric Lady Studios. Hendrix used his Purple Haze money to open them, and they are still in operation in Greenwich Village, New York and celebrating its 50th birthday in August 2018.
I have a theory about archetypes in pop music, which I will outline in a later essay, but Hendrix is one of them. He took his influences, moulded them into something new and had his face become a t-shirt to inspire a new generation of imitators. Just as John Mayer is the kid who learned how to play Hendrix via music college, so Lenny Kravitz is the kid who looked a bit like Hendrix, played like him and had two massive hits (the other in 1999).
As ever, there is tons of catalogue: Bryan Ferry gives us his version of I Put a Spell on You; Faith No More give us their Easy, a straight cover that seems completely pointless except to top up Lionel Richie’s pension; Ugly Kid Joe give us a whiny cover of Cat’s in the Cradle, the Harry Chapin song about fatherhood that did not need to be covered by a grunge band, even ironically.
In spring 1993, the Bluebells took Young at Heart back to number one off the back of its appearance in a car commercial. The discography says Siobhan Fahey co-wrote it, which is absolutely true. It was a Bananarama song from their debut album which was completely reinvented as a fiddle-driven hit song. Quite correctly the law intervened to give Bobby Valentino, a session musician with a moustache who played the fiddle riff, hopefully enough money to never work again, though goodness knows how much he paid just to get his name on the credits.
A piece on BBC magazine show The One Show in 2010 had Bobby in discussion about the song, written by singer Bobby Hodgens who at the time was dating…Siobhan Fahey. ‘The producer asked me to fill in the holes with something jiggy, so I did a country lick backwards,’ Bobby said, admitting he ‘got £75’ for his session fee and was inspired for the solo by Eddie Van Halen. ‘After I finished it I didn’t think I’d ever hear it again. It was completely out of fashion!’ It still makes my own heart (and Bobby’s pension) soar every time I hear it!
Another classic tune from a bygone era reappeared as Ultravox reissued Vienna, perhaps to finally get it to number one but also to promote The Very Best of Midge Ure & Ultravox. Joe Dolce famously kept Vienna off the top in 1981 with Shaddap You Face for three weeks. That is one of the most magnificently stupid songs (and there have been a few) to sell the most copies in any given week. Vienna remains what the broadcaster and chart fiend Paul Gambaccini has called ‘a Terrific Two’.
Remixes and live versions dot NOW 24. Genesis had a successful live album, from which a version of Invisible Touch begins the second side of the second cassette. Ending the second side of the first cassette is a remix of Labour of Love by Hue and Cry, who were still striking for the right to get into your heart. In 1993, the world had forgotten about Nile Rodgers (though he was producing David Bowie), but hen parties were dancing to We Are Family, his and Bernard Edwards’ song for Sister Sledge. The remix bettered its performance in 1979, when it had reached number eight, by hitting number five. I will gush about Sybil in a later essay, but she was drafted in by West End for their cover of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ The Love I Lost, which hit number three and became yet another hit in the portfolio of Pete Waterman, who will become a key figure in British pop in a big way in about twenty essays’ time.
1993 produced some fantastic songs, some of which ended up on NOW 24. Constant Craving by k.d. lang was written on a typewriter and has about thirty words of lyrics in the entire song, which are crooned by k.d. like Roy Orbison. Ordinary World is one of the highlights of the career of Duran Duran, with Simon LeBon giving an astonishing vocal performance. Then comes No Limit, the only number one hit for 2 Unlimited that, bizarrely, helped give the football world the Kolo Toure/Yaya Toure song: ‘Kolo, Kolo Kolo, Kolo Kolo, Kolo, Kolo Toure! YAYA, YAYA YAYA, YAYA YAYA, YAYA, YAYA TOURE!’ Once heard, never forgotten.
When was the last time you heard Informer by Snow? For some reason, perhaps to do with the Bob Marley box set, reggae hit big in 1993. Snow was a Canadian rapper who was born Darrin and I can reveal, thanks to the Internet (which was quite new in 1993), he wrote Informer while he was being held on two charges of attempted murder. He served a year in a Toronto prison and met MC Shan who helped him out with a rap in the middle in which he says he ‘won’t turn informer’. Snow then went back to jail for assault; as he sat in jail, Informer swept across the world. Well done if you have just realised that a song that has a catchy hook is all about a man ‘born an’ raised in the ghetto’ who is ‘reachin’ out da top’. It’s basically Canadian gangsta rap in a Jamaican accent, and it remains completely extraordinary, even moreso because he topped the American charts with it. This was the era in which Biggie Smalls and 2Pac were having hit albums, and Snoop Dogg was about to emerge through a haze of marijuana, gin and juice. Snow had a friendly face, and white skin.
The next track goes ‘SHABBA!’ which radio personality George Lamb briefly turned into an irritating catchphrase. Shabba Ranks, helped by the smooth hook sung by Chevelle Franklin, hit number three with Mr Loverman (‘Champion lover, no ease up tonight’). For those of you who don’t know the story told in the song: a woman visits Jamaica from England and meets the man they call Mr Loverman (or Mr Lover). The woman feels good and wants to see Shabba’s ‘motion’. That’s handy because ‘thrilling’ is his ‘favourite habit’.
Even more addictive is the song by the man born with the forename Orville, who went to number one (his first of four!) with his debut single Oh Carolina, which amazingly has to be classed as catalogue because it reinterprets the Folkes Brothers song of the same name, which was produced by reggae founding father Prince Buster (‘The Prince’ of the Madness song). Aged 50, Shaggy has just released an album with Sting and performed for the Queen at her birthday in 2018. Here it’s the girl doing all the moving ‘just like a squirrel’ and ‘mi grandfather clock’. (Is this the only UK number one with the words ‘squirrel’ and ‘grandfather clock’ in it?!)
It seems, with the reggae explosion, both that the Jamaican diaspora in Britain was buying records in large numbers, and the stars were friendly enough to appear on TV and radio and sell their personalities. Shaggy has done much better than Shabba Ranks, who has some questionable views on homosexuality, which he shared on TV show The Word. Still alive, he has not put out an album for 20 years. Perhaps he need never work again…
Paul McCartney definitely didn’t need to work again, but his first solo appearance on a NOW album comes with Hope of Deliverance. Michael Jackson bought his catalogue, which Paul has since reclaimed from Jackson’s estate. It seems incredible to note that young Paul McCartney, with his cherubic face, turns 76 years old in June 2018. Ringo Starr is 80 (EIGHTY) in two summers’ time. I have just had an idea to record every ‘Fab Macca, Wacky Thumbs Aloft’ tune by the time he is 80. Wish me luck…
Here are some acts who also appear on NOW 24 thanks to songs they released in 1993: Annie Lennox (Love Song for a Vampire), Tasmin Archer (In Your Care), Dina Carroll (This Time), Simply Red (Lady Godiva’s Room, never played), Depeche Mode (I Feel You), Peter Gabriel (Steam, produced by Danny Lanois), PM Dawn (Looking Through Patient Eyes) and World Party, with their song Is it Like Today.
Also in catalogue, Take That cover Barry Manilow’s Could It Be Magic, giving a platform to Robert Williams for the first time. He would soon be working with a member of World Party named Guy Chambers.