Smash Hits ’98 (Virgin, 1997)

Smash Hits 98

Smash Hits 98 r

By 1997, the Smash Hits franchise was struggling. Its heyday had been the 1988 – 1993 era, each annual instalment a vital snapshot of the year’s pop highlights. Now the sleeve design was a moody purple and orange space theme with hardly any artist photographs (just six on the back inlay), song notes or biographies. Ashley Abram was still dealing the cards in association with Virgin Commercial Marketing.

Consequently the vast majority of the tracks had already been snapped up as follows:
Now That’s What I Call Music 36: Kavana – I Can Make You Feel Good, Blur – Beetlebum, No Doubt – Don’t Speak.
Smash Hits – Summer ’97: Damage – Wonderful Tonight.
Now That’s What I Call Music 37: Ultra Nate – Free, Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Scooby Snacks, Coolio – C U When U Get There, Boyzone – Isn’t It A Wonder, Texas – Halo, Seahorses – Love Is The Law, 911 – The Journey.
Pure Hits ’97: The Cardigans – Lovefool (Tee’s Radio – original on Now 37), Blackstreet – Don’t Leave Me, Peter Andre – All About Us.
Fresh Hits 1997: Rosie Gaines – Closer Than Close.
Now Dance ’97: Spice Girls – Spice Up Your Life, PF Project featuring Ewan McGregor – Choose Life, Chumbawamba – Tubthumping, Hot Chocolate – You Sexy Thing, George Michael – The Strangest Thing ’97, Gala – Freed From Desire, N-Trance featuring Rod Stewart – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?, Bellini – Samba De Janeiro, Moby – James Bond Theme.
The Greatest Hits Of 1997: Backstreet Boys – As Long As You Love Me, N-Tyce – We Come To Party, Conner Reeves – Earthbound.
Now That’s What I Call Music 38: Sash featuring La Trec – Stay, 911 – Party People, Friday Night, Janet Jackson – Got Til It’s Gone, Eternal – Angel Of Mine, Meredith Brooks – Bitch, Oasis – Stand By Me, All Saints – I Know Where It’s At.

“What do I get, oh-oh, what do I get?”

Let’s Go Round Again was a late disco smash for the Average White Band in 1980 – even though it sounded like something from 1974. Sadly Louise’s cover lacks the sparkle of the original; the most memorable thing about it is choreography in the video which looks like it was shot in a nuclear power station. Equally uninspired is Shaggy’s watery take on Piece Of My Heart. Of more interest, Bamboo’s Bamboogie; funky house with a video of 1930’s cartoons such as Techno Cracked (1933), Insultin’ the Sultan (1934), Pup’s Picnic (1936), The Hound and the Rabbit (1937), Pup On A Picnic (1955), Paw’s Night Out (1955).

Here comes a soulsaver: Robbie Williams’ Angels – a hot new track in December 1997 – stopped his career from floundering and became the biggest selling single of his career. The monochrome video was largely filmed from the air; Robbie walks around a beach, stares at the sky, kicks a football and rides a motorbike with a woman whilst a helicopter flies around them. At the 2005 Brit Awards, Angels was voted by the public as the best song in the past 25 years of British music. In a survey by UK digital television station Music Choice, Britons chose it as the song they’d most like to be played at their funeral. Not bad for a tune about condoms.

Romo time: so who can recall Catch? Fronted by 18 year old Toby Slater, whose father was in The Mojos. Bigged-up on Radio 1’s Evening Session and a memorable appearance on Top Of The Pops where their neon logo stood out – 1997 and they already had a # Hashtag in their name. They were from a future we couldn’t even imagine. Bingo is a deadly pop tune, delivered in laid back style. Elsewhere Kavana makes a second appearance with the cryptic M.F.E.O. while Aaron Carter’s weirdly-sung cover of The Jets’ Crush On You is repellent with its chipmunk style vocals. The cringe is definitely real.

Favourite tracks
Robbie Williams – Angels

Bamboo – Bamboogie

Sash featuring La Trec – Stay

All Saints – I Know Where It’s At

Moby – James Bond Theme

Lest we forget
Catch – Bingo

Posted in Smash Hits | 4 Comments

Now That’s What I Call Music 38 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1997)

Now 38

Now 38 r

“I wander lonely streets
Behind where the old Thames does flow”

Now That’s What I Call Music 38 was released on 17 November 1997 and contained just two chart-toppers – Spice Up Your Life and The Drugs Don’t Work. A number of its tracks had made already featured on the following compilations:
Now Dance ’97: Chumbawamba – Tubthumping, Spice Girls – Spice Up Your Life, Eternal – Angel Of Mine, Louise – Arms Around The World, Gala – Freed From Desire, Hot Chocolate – You Sexy Thing *, N-Trance featuring Rod Stewart – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?, Bellini – Samba De Janeiro, DJ Quicksilver – Free, Moby – James Bond Theme, PF Project featuring Ewan McGregor – Choose Life. * Also Now That’s What I Call Music 9.
The Greatest Hits Of 1997: Backstreet Boys – As Long As You Love Me, Ash – A Life Less Ordinary, Conner Reeves – Earthbound.
Huge Hits 1997: Dario G – Sunchyme, Tina Moore – Never Gonna Let You Go, Ricky Martin – Maria.

In a disgraceful move by the compilers, the Spice Girls were bumped from pole position and replaced by Chumbawamba. Having really enjoyed Slap! and Shhh at the time; when played now, I just feel that I am being lectured by a group of po-faced anarchists. Moving on to Hanson hit #3: Where’s The Love, a right rollicking pop ‘n’ rock tune with neat harmonies. Next comes Boyzone’s pleasant Picture Of You (see Bean) and the Lighthouse Family’s mega smooth Raincloud, the first 45 from their second LP Postcards From Heaven; let the daylight in. Stopping us all in our tracks is Janet Jackson’s superb Got Til It’s Gone, one of 1997’s greatest jams with its unforgettable Big Yellow Taxi sample.

You’ve Got A Friend lives on in the spiritual vocals of Siedah Garrett who joins the Brand New Heavies on their cover of Carole King’s classic. A rich backing vocal tapestry. All hail the new kids on the block – All Saints. Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis, Natalie Appleton and Nicola Appleton who get their collective groove on with the super fresh I Know Where It’s At. Meanwhile Sash! drops the life-affirming Stay, a carefree and progressive memory slap. And LL Cool J’s Phenomenon samples Creative Source’s Who Is He And What Is He To You with beats from White Lines. Dopes on plastic: 911 and the bland Party People.

CD2 sees the focus move towards Brit Pop and starts off – appropriately in a way – with Wet Wet Wet covering The Beatles’ Yesterday. When I lasted looked at the 1990s, George Michael was still alive. His death hit me hard, listening to the soulful and warm You Have Been Loved now is very sad – “It’s a cruel world”. Listen Without Prejudice and Older – two of the best albums of the decade. Next: The Verve and The Drugs Don’t Work which entered the charts at #1, tapping into Diana grief in a way. Magnificently miserable though: “I know I’ll see your face again”. Another from Be Here Now, the epic Stand By Me with its brass, strings and Liam and Noel both singing. In its wake, the death row blues of Embrace and All You Good Good People. Who else remembers Trigger Happy TV?

A Life Less Ordinary: Faithless’ stripped down and plaintive Don’t Leave. Then there’s Radiohead – now about to mark the 20th anniversary of OK Computer – with its second single, the exquisite and mystifying Karma Police. Close by, Robbie Williams’ star rises but Lazy Days isn’t any great shakes. Better are Texas with their booming reborn modern soul of Black Eyed Boy coupled with Meredith Brooks’ sardonic Bitch. Not so hot: Jon Bon Jovi’s Janie but Ocean Colour Scene have rarely seen Better Days. Lizardly then, the lonely suite. Cast’s I’m So Lonely. Total heartbreaker which is followed by Peter Andre’s slushy Lonely and Boyz II Men’s gloomy 4 Seasons Of Loneliness. One of three ain’t bad.

“I lost myself”

Favourite tracks
George Michael – You Have Been Loved

The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work

Oasis – Stand By Me

Embrace – All You Good Good People

Radiohead – Karma Police

Lest we forget
Cast – I’m So Lonely

Missing tracks and other thoughts
A surprisingly listenable volume when lined up in line 20 years on. CD1 is an enjoyable pop and R&B ride with a decent dance selection while the second half has a great Brit Pop / Cool Feet flow. Other chart memories that deserved a place are:

Roni Size / Reprazent – Heroes. The golden age of drum and bass.
Portishead – All Mine. Melancholia from the outer limits.
Chemical Brothers – Elektrobank. Don’t stop the rock. Top Spike Jonze video.
The Sundays – Summertime. Third coming.
U2 – Please. More thoughts on The Troubles. Pop classic.
Paul Weller – Friday Street. The Heavy Soul era.


Posted in Now That's What I Call Music | 7 Comments

Raiders Of The Pop Charts (K-Tel, 1984)

Raiders Of The Pop Charts (Canada).jpg

Raiders Of The Pop Charts (Canada) r.jpg

Once more: so to Canada, early 1984. K-Tel release another international version of the original Ronco classic Raiders Of The Pop Charts. 2 records or disques. Cover stars are Bonnie Tyler, Eurythmics, Thomas Dolby, Thompson Twins and Bryan Adams. Inside – it’s a lavish gatefold – you can gaze at Rick Springfield, Men At Work, The Police, Ray Parker Jnr, Taco and Styx. Images on an olde world scroll. True international feel.

Unlike the Australian Raiders Of The Pop Charts which had a groove-busting 34 songs, the Canadian version has a mere 20 spread across two LPs – so the sound quality is ace. Eight of these have already been covered on the following reviews:
Chart Attack: Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie.
Chart Wars: Thomas Dolby – She Blinded Me With Science.
Street Scene: Thompson Twins – Lies.
Chart Encounters Of The Hit Kind: Louise Tucker – Midnight Blue.
Chart Stars: Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This).
Hits On Fire: Men At Work – Overkill.
The Hit Squad Chart-tracking: Culture Club – I’ll Tumble 4 Ya.
Chart Hits ’83: Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart *.
* Here we get the full length album version which runs for 6:48.

Cuts Like A Knife was Bryan Adams’ breakthrough album. This Time – which opens up this compilation – is a melodic rock number with a wistful poppy edge. The video was shot near Edwards Air Force base, California. Less immediate is ELO’s Rock’n’Roll Is King, a competent tune with a samey vibe. Ahead of his time: Rick Springfield’s unerring Human Touch which talks about everyone being addicted to their electronic gadgets and not having the skills to interact on a personal level. It’s like a prophecy song for today! And completing this strong first quarter are The Police with the searing King Of Pain. Post-separation: “There’s a little black spot on the sun today, that’s my soul up there.”

Ray Parker Jnr spins a funky tale on the disco bliss of Bad Boy. Break out the leather baby! We go local for the Parachute Club’s uplifting Rise Up, produced by Daniel Lanois. An upbeat call for peace, celebration, and “freedom to love who we please” and remains the band’s most famous song. It has been adopted as an activist anthem for causes as diverse as gay rights, feminism, anti-racism and the New Democratic Party. First performed at Toronto Pride in July 1983; it’s the longer album version that’s here, not the single edit. On a different tip: Taco’s synth cover of Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ On The Ritz. A slinky tune with the original video containing people in blackface going down like a cup of cold sick.

Dionne Warwick’s Take The Short Way Home, another hit from Heartbreaker with a nice smattering of Bee Gees elements. Here’s an oddity: Alabama’s Mountain Music – southern rock meets country. When new wave meets Bacharach and David: Naked Eyes’ dazzling cover of Always Something There To Remind Me. Massive in the US, flopped into their native UK. The spell continues with The Motels; Martha Davis said about Suddenly Last Summer – “You how you know summer is ending when you hear the ice cream truck go by for the last time and you know he won’t be back for a while”. Gorgeous. That just leaves Styx and their classic soft rock sound of Don’t Let It End. And that’s your lot.

Favourite tracks
The Motels – Suddenly Last Summer

Naked Eyes – Always Something There To Remind Me

The Police – King Of Pain

Lest we forget
Rick Springfield – Human Touch

Posted in Pop non-UK | 2 Comments