Big Hits ’98 (Global Television / Sony / Warner ESP, 1998)

Big Hits 98

Big Hits 98 r

Review
In a first for the series, Big Hits ’98 was released in September. That meant it avoided a clash with the Now team who generally released albums in March (sometimes April), July (occasionally August) and November. It remained at number one on the UK compilation charts for five weeks. Just four of its 40 tracks had already been compiled – on these:
Now That’s What I Call Music 39: LeeAnn Rimes – How Do I Live.
Now That’s What I Call Music 40: Peter Andre – Kiss The Girl, The Mavericks – Dance The Night Away, Fatboy Slim – The Rockafeller Skank.

The Five machine steamrolls on with Everybody Get Up. The sample is I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll; Joan Jett and The Black Hearts version my most treasured 7″ single of 1982. Even in 1998, this sounded like a throwback with its high school video. Next up: All Saints and their third #1 Bootie Call, a raunchy R&B groove while it’s a case of second time lucky for Savage Garden’s To The Moon And Back. The latter is a somewhat dark trip that deals with alienation from society and the ongoing search for romantic love. Meanwhile Another Level pull off a surprisingly erotically perky cover of Silk’s Freak Me. Staying on a g-string tip: Sweetbox’s slushy Bach-based Everything’s Gonna Be Alright. Isn’t he lovely? Will Smith’s fresh take on Just The Two Of Us focuses on a father and son relationship.

The covers continue with Cleopatra taking on I Want You Back. You don’t need a second listen. Much better are Kleshay and the smooth and emotional R&B of Reasons, a #33 placing and not well remembered. Mind you, it was Trevor Nelson’s lick pick of the week. Heavy hitters Destiny’s Child drop With Me but I think the London girls have the edge. More unsung heroes: Ultra (named after the Depeche Mode LP) and their bouncing boy band banger The Right Time. Want deep lyrics? Look no further than Des’ree and Life:
“I don’t want to see a ghost
It’s the sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
Watch the evening news”

Say who? Matthew Marsden played the mechanic Chris Collins in Coronation Street. His underrated single The Heart’s Lone Desire pops up on Big Hits ’98. Great voice plus melancholy vibe = winner. Perfect for inclusion on This Life. Then Catatonia’s gorgeously dreamy Strange Glue followed by Garbage’s bendy, shapely I Think I’m Paranoid, as taken from Version 2.0. Things get ugly fairly fast: Rod Stewart’s turgid cover of Primal Scream’s Rocks, Suggs’ super loose ‘n’ ugly I Am and the bloody Mavericks. Saved! There’s a last minute equaliser from Depeche Mode and the haunting ballad Only When I Lose Myself which was the new song on their second singles compilation.

“Spanish bombs rock the province
I’m hearing music from another time”

The Guinness Book Of Records lists If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next as the number one single with the longest title without brackets. After a two year absence, the Manic Street Preachers had returned with a most stirring anthem. The song is about the Spanish Civil War and the idealism of Welsh volunteers who joined the International Brigades. The song takes its name from a Republican poster of the time, displaying a photograph of a young child killed by the Nationalists under a sky of bombers with the stark warning “If you tolerate this, your children will be next” written at the bottom.

More: Jamiroquai’s swirling Deeper Undergound, a delightful funk odyssey. And those Manic remixers, the Sonic Stealth Orchestra are here in their Apollo 440 alter-ago with the breakbeat meets rock Lost In Space. Memory Of A Free Festival provides the foundations for Dario G’s Sunmachine. Bowie permitted his vocals to be sampled and Tony Visconti plays the flute. Cutting no corners; The Corrs made ensure that What Can I Do was a success by getting Tin Tin Out to remix the original and add orchestral strings by the Duke Quartet. Less: I really don’t dig Simply Red’s bloodless cover of The Air That I Breathe while Celine Dion plus The Bee Gees equates to blandness on the dull Immortality.

Steps fought a hard battle against the Manic Street Preachers and led at the mid-week stage. However One For Sorrow had to settle for a #2 spot; another ABBA inspired slice of comforting pop. From the film Sliding Doors came Aqua’s slow paced Turn Back Time. Contrast – the trance rush of Alexia’s The Music I Like. Garage days revisited: Jocelyn Brown’s decent shout at Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Martha Wash’s Catch The Light and Love Station’s Teardrops. Shooting out the lights are Solid Harmonie and the super catchy I Wanna Love You. Elsewhere N-Trance tackle Guns ‘N Roses – Paradise City while Hi-Rise and Echobeatz respectively destroy I Believe In Miracles and Mas Que Nada. Like Now 40 we end with No Tengo Dinero; the Hits team using the cut price Los Sombreros.

Café del Mar: the melody is based on Struggle for Pleasure by Belgian composer Wim Mertens. The track was first released in 1993 by the trance project Energy 52. It is named after the famous bar located in Ibiza. It’s instantly recognisable due its very distinct melody and has been remixed numerous times over the last 20 years. You’ll also know it from 1999 film Human Traffic while it topped Mixmag’s 100 Best Tunes list in 2001 and also made #1 on the the BBC’s Top 20 Dance Tracks Of The Last 20 Years (2011). I’ve heard it on every sun holiday I’ve been on – notably Star Beach, Hersonissos. Good times.

Favourite tracks
Solid Harmonie – I Wanna Love You

Garbage – I Think I’m Paranoid

Catatonia – Strange Glue

Depeche Mode – Only When I Lose Myself

Ultra – The Right Time

Lest we forget
Matthew Marsden – The Heart’s Lone Desire

Missing tracks and other thoughts
The 33rd Hits album is an enjoyable listen but too heavily reliant on cover versions. They could have ditched four of them and used these instead:

Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page – Come With Me. Kashmir treat off Godzilla.
The Audience – I Know Enough (I Don’t Get Enough). Fresh-faced SEB indie sound.
Placebo – Pure Morning. Raw power.
Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute For Love). From her Ray Of Light masterpiece.

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Now That’s What I Call Music 40 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1998)

Now 40

Now 40 r

Review
The Now series reached another milestone with the release of its 40th volume on 3 August 1998. 20% of its songs reached number one on the UK chart and we get treated to a double whammy from rising pop stars All Saints. My opinions on this set of a dozen tunes can be read from the following:
New Hits ’98: Natalie Imbruglia – Big Mistake.
Smash Hits Summer ’98: The Tamperer featuring Maya – Feel It, Aqua – Doctor Jones, Steps – Last Thing On My Mind, Janet Jackson – I Get Lonely, Massive Attack – Teardrop, Perpetual Motion – Keep On Dancin’ (Let’s Go), Imaani – Where Are You?
Fresh Hits ’98: Bus Stop featuring Carl Douglas – Kung Fu Fighting, Lutricia McNeal – Stranded, Catatonia – Road Rage, Baddiel, Skinner & Lightning Seeds – Three Lions ’98.

The Grease Megamix first reared its ugly head in December 1990. This ghastly staple of weddings and bad discos was put together by PWL’s Phil Harding and Ian Curnow. It was released in 1998 when the film turned 20 and in case you’ve been living under a rock, features the three biggest hits from the Grease soundtrack: You’re The One That I Want, Greased Lightnin’ and Summer Nights. Of more artistic merit is Viva Forever, a tired and emotional ballad from the Spice Girls. Yahoo: “A tear-jerking flamenco guitar and lush strings weave into this break-your-heart, I Will Always Love You ballad with a touch of Madonna about it.” Shades of Like A Prayer’s Spanish Eyes. In its wake, Karen Ramirez’s evocative cover of Everything But The Girl’s Looking For Love and then Billie Piper’s cheeky call ‘n’ response pop classic Because We Want To. #1 at 15 years old.

“Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” is a translation of a French question asked by Eleventh Hour, Labelle, Sabrina and now All Saints. A passable entry. Stay smutty with the relentless grind of Mousse T vs Hot ‘N’ Juicy – Horny. And now for one of the most inspired Now sequences ever: The Groove Generation featuring Leo Sayer – You Make Me Feel Like Dancing followed by Bus Stop’s reboot of Kung Fu Fighting. The GGs are CP, Kipper and Carlos and they revamp the ’70s disco classic with a choice rap and extremely funky grooves. Kung Fu Fighting sees the main man, Carl Douglas, get into the action himself. Staying with glitter are Ultra Nate and their string-soaked New Kind Of Medicine.

Postcards From Heaven begat Lost In Space, a relaxed, soulful jam from the Lighthouse Family – complete with heavily religious iconography in the video. Also ploughing a downbeat furrow are Boyzone on All That I Need; additional production by Rude Boy, Andy Bradfield, Trevor Steel, and John Holliday. Elsewhere All Saints second number is a superb take on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge while K-Ci & Jo-Jo’s All My Life is pure gorgeous, an awesome bump. Sticking to R&B, Sparkle sounds like its name, a stripped-down cautionary tale. Closing the first half is Peter Andre and Kiss The Girl, taken from Disney’s The Little Mermaid; a cloying and uninteresting effort.

CD2 starts with a throwback to 1985: Don Henley’s nostalgic and elegiac look at lost youth and aging, The Boys Of Summer. It won best video of that year at the MTV Music Awards. Shot in monochrome, it shows the main character of the song at three different stages of life (as a young boy, a young adult and middle-aged), in each case reminiscing about the past relationship. The crucial line: “A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back.” at which point, each of the three people look back in turn. He also has a pop at Grateful Dead stickers on a Cadillac; an automobile that apparently is a right wing status symbol. The video is absent from YouTube, otherwise it would be first in line.

I can’t get excited about The Mavericks and their turgid timex texmex country Dance The Night Away. Next is the gentle strum of Eagle Eye Cherry’s Save Tonight – “Fight the break of dawn” always gets me. Big anthem spot: Embrace’s deadly serious Come Back To What You Know followed by The Verve’s Sonnet – described in the booklet as “the single that never was.” Not quite. In early 1998, Hut asked The Verve to put out another 45 from Urban Hymns. The band disagreed. Unusually, Hut pressed them on this matter, and so the band finally agreed to release Sonnet, but only in a format that would make it ineligible for chart recognition. It ended up coming out as part of a set of four 12″s (the other three being Bittersweet Symphony, The Drugs Don’t Work, Lucky Man). A cardboard mailer held ’em all. However, sales of an imported format resulted in it charting at #74.

Straight out of Chester came Mansun with a half dozen top 40 hits in just over 12 months. Legacy sounds almost immortal now, built on an amazing riff and a rather creepy promotional video. Back to football, time to score one more – Vindaloo was the work of a Britpop side project called Fat Les AKA Damien Hirst, Keith Allen and Alex James. Watch out for a young Lily Allen in the video. Unofficial piss up anthem. Yes, oh yes: The Rockafeller Skank featuring the repeated line “Right about now, the funk soul brother / Check it out now, the funk soul brother”, a truncated vocal sample of rapper Lord Finesse on the Vinyl Dogs’ Vinyl Dog Vibe. Also added: Just Brothers – Sliced Tomatoes, The Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought the Law, John Barry and his Orchestra – Beat Girl, Art of Noise featuring Duane Eddy – Peter Gunn.

Banger time: David Morales presents The Face – Needin’ U. Perfect summer holiday blaster. In step, Lucid’s I Can’t Help Myself, the sound of a thousand house parties. KAM decks carried down basement steps and placed on the kitchen worktop. Also caned in those sunny months was Barbara Tucker’s uplifting Everybody Dance (The Horn Song). You’ve never too far away from a bad disco cover; this time its star of the Saturday Night Fever stage production, Adam Garcia murdering Night Fever. Lastly, a pair of glorious failures. 1) Kerri-Ann’s likeable Irish #1, Do You Love Me Boy. All the airplay in the world didn’t help. 2) Los Umbrellos – No Tengo Dinero. Catchy in the worst possible way.

Favourite tracks
Spice Girls – Viva Forever

Lighthouse Family – Lost In Space

Embrace – Come Back To What You Know

Mansun – Legacy

The Verve – Sonnet

Lest we forget
The Groove Generation featuring Leo Sayer – You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

Missing tracks and other thoughts
Now 40 is a lot better than I remember with some crackers and impeccable sequencing from the maestro Ashley Abram. Even the rubbish is placed together. Some more songs:

Bluetones – If… Classic single from their enigmatic second album.
Air – Kelly Watch The Stars. Retro electronics and table tennis.
Cornershop – Sleep On The Left Side. Low, fat grooves.
Beastie Boys – Intergalactic. The triumphant return and Hello Nasty prelude.
Hanson – Thinking Of You. Lost in the sands of time, a beautiful noise.

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Fresh Hits ’98 (Global Television / Sony / Warner ESP, 1998)

Fresh Hits 98

Fresh Hits 98 r.jpg

Review
4 July 1998: two more World Cup quarter finals. Netherlands 2 Argentina 1; Kluivert and Bergkamp brewing up a storm for the Dutch. Croatia 3 Germany 0; the golden boots of Davor Šuker. Fresh Hits ’98 was released on that day and became the 32nd volume of the Hits series. Nine of its tracks had already been compiled as follows:
Now That’s What I Call Music 39: Ultra Nate – Found A Cure, Robbie Williams – Let Me Entertain You, Tin Tin Out – Here’s Where The Story Ends, Billie Myers – Kiss The Rain, Lighthouse Family – High, All Saints – Never Ever.
Smash Hits Summer ’98: The Tamperer featuring Maya – Feel It, Steps – Last Thing On My Mind, Aqua – Doctor Jones.

Let the fun begin: B*Witched arrived on stage with C’est La Vie, an ostensibly inane pop tune that only reveals hidden layers many years later. Check out that traditional break. They reached the top spot with each of their first four singles. Also making waves in Dublin at the time were the Chicks who released two coloured vinyl 7″ singles of half-decent yet aloof indie pop. The first was launched at a Virgin in-store. Their debut album was produced by Royal Trux but still remains in the vaults. Moving on with Five and the pleasant – almost rocking – Got The Feeling. And after its ubiquity as a deathless ballad, it’s positively weird to hear Tony Moran’s Mix of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On.

Four seasons in one song, Wyclef Jean’s Gone Till November has still got a good bounce to it. Elevating the dancefloor, Busta Rhymes Knight Rider sampling Turn It Up / Fire It Up. Old school banger straight from the shelves of Abbey Discs. Back to France ’98 with Dario G and the come together vibes of Carnaval De Paris. The music video features children painted in the colours of the representative countries participating in the tournament. Elsewhere Cleopatra’s Life Ain’t Easy spreads a positive message – like a Kids From Fame for the ’90s – while Lutricia McNeal’s Stranded is pure mint, a gorgeously sung jam. The grooves keep fly with Alexia’s energetic Gimme Love and Ultra’s earnest Say It Once.

One more time: Bus Stop’s Kung Fu Fighting, which sampled the original vocals by Carl Douglas and added rap verses from Daz Simpson is great retro disco fun. To Birmingham and the Eurovision which was won by Israel’s Dana International’s Diva. The song is an ode to the powerful women of history. Remembering the good times, Tina Moore’s jerky Nobody Better and Robyn’s heart on sleeve Do You Really Want Me. Jambo on with Will Mellor’s No Matter What I Do; sounds like a Boyzone demo. Lastly Three Lions ’98 which begins with the sound of crowds from Euro ’96 singing the chorus of the original. The new version reflects on the that tournament and its entry alongside previous disappointments, as well as the team’s performance in qualifying for the 1998 World Cup. “We still believe.”

Natalie Imbruglia’s third 45, Wishing I Was There, is unusual in the sense that the radio edit is 35 seconds longer than the album version. Its medium tempo and somewhat less immediate delivery meant a peak of #19. “We all live in the space age” carbon dates Road Rage as a late ’90s song. No matter, Cerys’ rolling Welsh vocal means all is forgiven. It’s followed by the pounding Sound Of Drums; the Kula Shaker tank keeps advancing. There’s more “normal” fare on offer with Simply Red’s plaintive cover of Say You Love Me while The Corrs do Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams and due to Tee’s Radio, enhance its danceability. Rod Stewart covers one of old band’s tunes – The Faces’ Ooh La La – as a tribute to Ronnie Lane who had just died. Far more satisfying are Super Furry Animals and the superb Badfinger-style ballad Ice Hockey Hair. Between Radiator and Guerrilla.

They’re back! Freak Power’s last throwing of their hands in the air comes with No Way. The tail end of the big beat sound. Keeping music evil are Tzant and Sound Of Wickedness. Want that vintage Timbaland vibe? Check out Missy Elliott’s Beep Me 911. NB – The Magoo on this are not the too cool for school Chemikal Underground group. The R&B sequence continues with Aretha Franklin’s earthy A Rose Is Still A Rose, Mase’s sensual What You Want and Jay-Z’s Glen Frey mashed cover The City Is Mine. The latter features Blacksheet, never the Backstreet Boys. In the ugly camp: NYCC’s desperate take on the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right. Finally, a slight martial arts return – 187 Lockdown and Kung Fu; yet another speed garage classic with a killer bassline. Streatham ’98.

Favourite tracks
Busta Rhymes – Turn It Up (Remix) / Fire It Up

Dario G – Carnaval De Paris

187 Lockdown – Kung Fu

Freak Power – No Way

Super Furry Animals – Ice Hockey Hair

Lest we forget
Ultra – Say It Once

Missing tracks and other thoughts
Another pretty decent entry in the Hits series. A few for the final squad:

Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Impression That I Get. Ska(te) on.
Tori Amos – Spark. Total heartbreaker.
Drugstore – El President. Featuring Thom Yorke. Allende tribute.
Pras Michel featuring ODB and Mya – Ghetto Supastar. Windows down, volume up.
Public Enemy – He Got Game. The new found maturity years.

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