I spoke far too soon about the lessening importance of catalogue. The first CD of NOW 28 has five catalogue songs in its first ten, and I have to pick one of them as the playlist choice.
I was six at the time, and I was listening to the charts every week and starting to buy music. The first single I ever bought is on NOW 28. M People’s Renaissance is a song that doesn’t mention the title in the lyric, with Heather banging on about how she’s ‘going home’. It also has several of my favourite songs: Always by Erasure, Prayer for the Dying by Seal (produced by Trevor Horn), I Believe by Marcella Detroit, who was no longer in Shakespears Sister, and Caught in the Middle (‘of L-O-V-E love!’) by Juliet Roberts.
As ever, there are tracks with beats and tracks with guitars. Beat-driven music, the type banned from being played outdoors thanks to the Act of Parliament, included the bluegrass trance of the banjo-assisted Swamp Thing by The Grid and the equally country-inflected Everybody Gonfi Gon by 2 Cowboys, as well as the pure trance of Get-A-Way by MAXX, which are the first three songs on Disc 2. DJ Miko had a top ten hit with a dance version of What’s Up, while Clubhouse ft Carl brought Light My Fire into clubs. Famously, an early incarnation of an Irish boyband danced to the song on a late-night TV show over there.
Even better is The Real Thing by Tony Di Bart, which knocked the Prince song The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (not on a NOW) off the top before it too was knocked off by Inside, by Stiltskin, a pure one-hit wonder (which is on NOW 28). A marketing idea to soundtrack a Levi’s advert with a grunge song, Inside is awful when compared to any American rock song by Pearl Jam, Pixies, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains or Metallica. But it sounded like them, so people bought it. The verses are quiet, then the bridge is loud and there’s no chorus, just a riff from the jeans advert. And thus Peter Lawlor never had to work again, leaving the band in 1996 which is still going with only Ray Wilson, who sang the song, from the lineup who played on Inside, which sounds like 1994.
Other songs which I still like that came out in the first half of 1994 include Another Sad Love Song by Toni Braxton (written by Daryl Simmons and Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds), I’ll Stand by You by The Pretenders (great song, great chords, great vocal) and Crazy for You by Let Loose, which eventually got stuck behind Wet Wet Wet thanks to a pretty singer singing a pretty song that sounds painfully like 1994. En Vogue provided the hook for Salt-N-Pepa’s song Whatta Man, which took an old song called What a Man out of obscurity. For all his faults, which have been well documented, R Kelly’s Your Body’s Callin’ is the sort of sultry mid-nineties r’n’b that was all the rage from the likes of Boyz II Men, Next and Jodeci.
The usual suspects return: Cappella (U & Me), 2 Unlimited (The Real Thing, a different song from the Tony Di Bart one), Eternal (Just a Step from Heaven), Haddaway (Rock My Heart, which I prefer to What Is Love) and Reel 2 Real and The Mad Stuntman, with the aforementioned Go On Move (‘GWAN! MOVE!’).
We are now at a stage where reggae acts are doing catalogue themselves. CJ Lewis reworked the Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman track Sweets for my Sweet (‘sugar for my honey’) with extra effects, and Bitty McLean gave the world his version of the Mamas and Papas song Dedicated to the One I Love. Reggae is still having a moment, with Aswad putting out a fantastic song called Shine at the same time as Ace of Base have reinvented their hit Don’t Turn Around as a Swedish pop song. Fun fact: Albert Hammond and Diane Warren wrote the song, not Aswad!
China Black reissued their 1992 club hit Searching (‘You’re (pause) MIIIIIIINE’). Fun fact: China Black isn’t his name, they are a duo comprised of the British-Chinese Simon Fung who wrote everything and British-Caribbean Errol Reid who sang everything. The bridge is awesome, while the vibe of the track is terrific. Dawn Penn had a hit with You Don’t Love Me (No No No), another track with a smooth vibe and effortless lover’s rock vocal. It peaked at three, nestled behind the two biggest songs of the first half of the year.
Those two songs stayed in the top two places for two months. Both were wedding songs about devotion to one’s beloved: ‘You know I love you, I always will’, went the first track on NOW 28; ‘I swear by the moon and the stars in the sky’ went the second track. Neither of the bands who sang them wrote them, and both songs were used in movies. I Swear by All-4-One was much later used in Despicable Me, sung by the Minions. It was a hit for John Michael Montgomery on the US country charts first, and I wonder if Gary Baker and Frank Myers live in nice houses. All-4-One had no problems topping the Hot 100, staying there for 11 weeks and being heard on many wedding videos from couples who must be celebrating silver anniversaries in 2019. It was America’s version of Love Is All Around.
That song (that bloody song…) soundtracked the closing credits of Four Weddings and a Funeral, the box-office smash written by Richard Curtis and starring Hugh Grant. Wet Wet Wet were number one for 15 weeks, and were chasing Bryan Adams, who had topped the chart for 16 weeks. In the sixteenth week they told the pressing plants to stop producing CDs, so abdicated the chart throne after those 15 long weeks, but Marti Pellow has a showstopper he still performs around the world today (he does pantomime – oh yes he does – over Christmas 2018). Reg Presley, who wrote the single for The Troggs that went top five in 1967, became a millionaire in his fifties which again (mum!) proves that songwriters can make money thanks to a well-placed cover version.
I had to induct Love is All Around into the playlist, though I usually shy away from catalogue. Chris Imlach and I both love Everybody’s Talkin’, another song from the 1960s updated here by The Beautiful South for their Best Of, Carry On Up the Charts. (Another project of mine is to write a long essay about that album in relation to the British charts. Commissioning editors get in touch…)
I also love No Good (Start the Dance), the first NOW appearance from The Prodigy, whose brilliant Experience album was followed by Music for the Jilted Generation and brought the world ‘Essex house music’ from the mind of Liam Howlett, who would have a big moment a few years later making music for a twisted Firestarter (arter arter…).
The Comic Relief single for 1994 starred Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, with assistance from Neil and Chris from Pet Shop Boys. Neil Tennant sang ‘absolutely fabulous’ amid a series of clips from the TV series including the catchphrases ‘sweetie’ and ‘darling’. I was too young to fully appreciate the show in 1994, but both Jennifer and Joanna remain national treasures. So do Neil and Chris…