NOW 30: Portishead – Glory Box

Chris Imlach does not like NOW 30, which contains music from the first few months of 1995. When I asked him to help me pick one track that is the most important – musically, lyrically, culturally and personally – he felt this was a very weak set of tracks. The rise of independent guitar rock meant the charts had a large quota of music from smaller labels that quite sensibly didn’t want to rub shoulders with Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex, and because the compilation collected the best of the winter months, they had no summer smashes to really go on.

It also didn’t help that there were only three songs at number one before Easter and one was Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex. Celine Dion’s Think Twice was as insipid as it is today but fans lapped it up. Stay Another Day, a song about Tony Mortimer’s late brother, hung over as 1994 became 1995, while the fourth number one of the year was a charity single. A cover of the Judds’ country song Love Can Build a Bridge sung by Cher, Neneh Cherry and Chrissie Hynde at least raised money for Comic Relief.

After fully four months of ballads or Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex being number one, Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) by the Outhere Brothers was the exact opposite, like electing a real estate mogul after a law professor to be President of the United States (it could never happen…) The video used old Disney cartoon footage and always seemed out of time with both the song and the year.

The best tracks on the compilation, we considered, were few and far between. We chose a track that sampled an Isaac Hayes soul song from an album that was the subject of one of those ace 33 1/3 books. Dummy by Portishead is an album to get lost in, a series of scratches and samples tied together by the vocals of Beth Gibbons. Glorybox became the breakout hit, still sounding like nothing else: a little Massive Attack, a little Nancy Sinatra and a lot Isaac Hayes. ‘I just want to be a woman’ is given emotional heft by Beth, who more or less maps out Lana Del Ray’s entire shtick with this track. Sour Times is brilliant, and is on NOW 31, but Glorybox will always be my favourite, especially with those strings.

The other choice Chris and I deliberated about was the title track of Protection, the second Massive Attack album. Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl intoned a great lyric about a girl needing ‘shelter’, thus Tracey would ‘take the force of the blow’ for the boy she loved. Superb production and a great groove made this a wonderful addition to NOW 30. The final track on the first disc is a standalone single by Oasis, released over Christmas 1994, which I loved up until the point that someone mentioned it lifted its melody from the Neil Innes song How Sweet To be an Idiot. Neil, who wrote all the music for successful band The Rutles, now has a credit on a song that includes an amazing bridge (‘Always seems to me…’).

Liam delivers Noel’s nonsense lyrics with gusto, and the last two minutes is full of strings. Noel admitted, when the video was shot, to being ‘drunk…look how pissed I am! I hate everything about them,’ he says of videos. A supercut of his best moments commentating on the Time Flies DVD is worth watching for maximum Noel. The term Britpop is one I’ve never liked. I prefer Noelrock. The day Supersonic debuted on British TV, Kurt Cobain shot himself.

Noelrock tracks are those which have choruses you can bellow along to, verses which have chords stolen from 1960s bands like The Beatles and which have a strong melodic heft throughout. Perhaps the noelrockiest is Wake Up Boo! By The Boo Radleys. Martin Carr, who wrote and sang the song, need never work again but he is still on the circuit playing songs from his solo career and from the Boo Radleys days. I imagine he assented to Wake Up Boo being on NOW 30 to top up his mechanical copyright statement to afford a house.

R Kelly could have afforded several houses thanks to another big hit, Bump n’ Grind, another slow jam that sounds great even in spite of his well-known indiscretions.

Janet Jackson had another Jam & Lewis-assisted track with Whoops Now, the eighth single to be released from her 1993 LP janet, where it was a hidden track (remember those?!). According to a 2009 discography, only seven acts in all of popular music to that moment had been more successful than Janet based on a points metric that put Elvis way ahead of The Beatles, Madonna, Elton John, Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder. Michael beats his sister by 150 points, while Paul McCartney is in under his own name just behind the Rolling Stones. When it comes to the 1990s, only Mariah betters Janet, with Michael Jackson behind the likes of Monica, Brandy and En Vogue. R Kelly is eighth, 33rd overall, in spite of etc etc.

1995 saw the return of The Human League, with a superb track called Tell Me When. Jimmy Nail went very McCartney on Crocodile Shoes and M People had a Sight for Sore Eyes (‘ain’t love a surprise’, sang Heather Small). Sting was still knocking around, and This Cowboy Song follows M People on the compilation.

I think Chris was so disparaging towards NOW 30 because Disc 2 really lets the side down. Who remembers Baby Baby by Corona, You Belong to Me by JX, Here I Go by 2 Unlimited, Run Away by MC Sar & the Real McCoy, Suddenly by Sean Maguire or Hoochie Booty by Ultimate Kaos? Who recalls Mica Paris covering One by U2, the dance remix of Axel F by Clock or Nicki French updating Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart for the superclub?

And then there’s Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex.

Far better are other club classics: Two Can Play That Game by Bobby Brown (despite his indiscretions, still a fab dance-pop song by the former boyband member from New Edition); Alex Party’s Don’t Give Me Your Life is an energetic song that is good to Zumba to, as is U Sure Do by Strike; Chris’s suggestion for the playlist, The Bomb! by the Bucketheads (presented by Kenny Dope), has a great horn part and an insistent vocal hook of ‘these sounds fall into my mi-ee-i-ee-ind’.

Push the Feeling On by Nightcrawlers has a one-finger piano riff running through it and some great vocals from John Reid who (OH WOW moment) was Scottish. Producer Ross Campbell studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music, and has since scored Taggart and Missing, but I think he earned more money with Push the Feeling On.

Catalogue, aside from Nicki French, includes Tin Tin Out remixing a Sandie Shaw song, Always Something There to Remind Me, and Perfecto Allstars remixing Pigbag’s famous remix of James Brown’s Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag: Reach Up (Papa’s Got a Brand New Pig Bag) now makes sense, even if it is a remix of a version of a catalogue song.

Unfortunately reggae will go off to the sun after its moment in the sun, with only Pato Banton and Ranking Roger from The Beat providing a track, Bubbling Hot, that sits as the penultimate track on NOW 30. The big dance sound would be Big Beat, pioneered by that bloke from the Housemartins, Norman Cook, who had a number one in 1995 with Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out, featuring the vocals and trombone of Ashley Slater, which is Disc 1 track 1.

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