“JUST WHEN BOYS with guitars threaten to rule pop life – Damon’s all over Smash Hits, Ash are big in Big! and Liam can’t move for tabloid frenzy – an all-girl, in-yer-face pop group have arrived with enough sass to burst that rockist bubble”.
(Paul Gorman in Music Week, July 1996)
And so Now That’s What I Call Music 34 could only start with the Spice Girls. The all-new girl power pop group sensation had arrived and Wannabe was the most emblematic example of their philosophy. Reviews were mixed; I remember the NME describing it as “a combined force of Bananarama, Betty Boo and Shampoo rolled into one” while The Guardian were predictably sniffy. Zippy pop perfection in my eyes and the public agreed, keeping it at the top of the UK charts for seven weeks. Meanwhile Robbie Williams had left Take That; his debut 45 was a barnstorming version of George Michael’s Freedom ’90. And Jordan’s future husband Peter Andre collaborated with the legendary Bubbler Ranx on the reggae-lite Mysterious Girl. Like a bad penny, this would have an endless shelf life.
The back inlay makes reference to the period – summer ’96 – which was a first. 42 tracks too, the highest number to date. The heat gets turned up with Dodgy’s corking Good Enough and Ocean Colour Scene’s enjoyable chug The Day We Caught The Train. Brendan Lynch on production duty. The NME would twist the knife on OCS and Weller pretty quickly in a perfect example of self-righteous music snobbery. Meanwhile there’s more material for the haters – U2’s rhythm section updating Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme for Brian de Palma’s blockbuster. It’s an accomplished reworking that saw Mullen and Clayton get a Grammy nomination for best pop instrumental. Underworld’s Born Slippy, caned all spring after its appearance in Trainspotting, slots in afterwards.
Pump it up! JX’s pounding time machine trance There’s Nothing I Won’t Do with its epic mid-section breakdown. Then Gina G’s chart-topping UK Eurovision entry Ooh Aah. . . Just A Little Bit which, like Mark Morrison’s funky Return Of The Mack had already been included on New Hits ’96. For all you girls and boys – Pianoman’s massive club anthem Blurred finally got a commercial release that June. Kudos to Blur for approving the sample; couldn’t see Mogwai doing the same. Livin’ Joy finally get going with the Dreamer successor Don’t Stop Movin’ while the south London chanteuse Louise bares all on the hypnotic Naked. And 2 Pac was still alive when he dropped the rousing California Love.
Pato Banton gets back to cover Groovin’. It’s no War. See Now Dance – The 12″ Mixes. Reel To Real lay down the garish Jazz It Up while Maxi Priest gets it on with Shaggy on That Girl. Elsewhere Macarena may be the holiday sensation but the inclusion of Los Del Mar’s inferior cover seems like a bit of a swizz. Umboza’s Sunshine, inspired by the Gypsy Kings’ Bamboleo brings the poolside party sequence to an end. Back to the clubs – starting with Wink’s Higher State Of Consciousness (Remix). No Josh but much more power. The original can be found on Now That’s What I Call Music 32. Todd Terry joins the divas of dance Martha Wash and Jocelyn Brown for the disco-flecked Jumpin’. End: a sombre note – Robert Miles’ Children, dedicated to all those ravers who lost their lives on the road.
“And if your hits all miss, you’re a Punka”
1996 was the year that George Michael returned. Older and wiser. Jesus To A Child was the first single from his supremely great third album. Almost seven minutes in length and not a second wasted. Wonderwall seems out of time; breaking waves in late ’95 but only being compiled now. Better late than never. It was the breakthrough of The Bluetones with the heroic Britpop midfield general of Slight Return. And Paul Weller drops a new tune with the grinding heavy soul of Peacock Suit. We move into rockier territory with Bon Jovi’s earnest Hey God while Bryan Adams has an Arctic Monkeys premonition with The Only Thing That Looks Good On You Is Me. Far easier on the ear is Belinda Carlisle’s evocative In Too Deep; not a Dead or Alive cover. “Lay me down to sleep”.
The Lone Ranger aka Suggs has his biggest solo smash with a reworking of Cecelia. Louchie Lou and Michie One give a dig out. Blur’s difficult Charmless Man is paired with Suede’s glamtastic Trash. No contest as the Coming Up taster is a fabulous stormer that Bowie would be proud of. It’s followed by Joan Osborne’s fusion of blues, gospel, soul and rock on the God bothering One Of Us. Recurring Dream saw Crowded House anthologise their greatest bits; the freeflowing Instinct was one of the token new tracks. Next comes the cool and moody Ocean Drive from the hipster favourites The Lighthouse Family while Tina Turner’s emotional show-closer On Silent Wings keeps the sound low-key.
The rebirth of cool: Everything But The Girl’s third smash of our sour times, the gloomy dance-enhanced Wrong. Once again Todd Terry produces and remixes. Do the haka for the Otara Millionaires Club or OMC with the agreeable summer stroll of How Bizarre. Inevitably only OMD can follow this; Walking On The Milky Way is a return of sorts but not the one I imagined. Time needed to pass before I understood its brilliance. Words.
“This has such a bitter sweet feeling to it. I think it’s something anyone under 40 is unable to feel. The bitter sweet memories of a wild youth. The friends who didn’t make it this far with you. The beauty and excitement of being young, the thrill of new experiences, finding love. The mistakes you make when you’re young, some of which stay with you for the rest of your life. I felt immortal when I was a teenage kid. It was only as I got a older that some of my friends died, my brother was killed. I’m acutely aware of my own mortality now. Live life to the full & have fun when you’re young. There’s plenty of sadness, loathing and fear in life so live hard & fast & loose when you’re young”.
Those of a certain age will always associate Space’s Female Of The Species as the theme tune for ITV’s Cold Feet. The slightly less-cool cousin of BBC’s This Life but just as entertaining. Cast’s All Change is one of the underrated British albums of the era. The dreamy melodies of Walkaway forever associated with England footballers in a grey strip. Gareth Southgate missing a penalty. Rody Boland’s erupting in joy. The final call goes to Boyzone, the unexpected wholly greatness of Coming Home Baby. Shot in Custom House Quay, Sandymount and the Phoenix Park, both video and song are nostalgic and timeless.
“One – She prefers the night to day
Two – She never calls me when she says
Three – Motorcycle riding to the south
Four – The way she puts her fingers in her mouth
Five – Running just in time to miss our train
Six – The old park benches where we scratched our names
Seven- She says do or die, seven reasons why
Eight – Her swerving hips and her lip service
Nine – Consumes the hopes of all men dressed in black and flesh
Ten – Oh she ain’t got the the time to speed
Eleven – She leaves the pie and always always eats her greens
Twelve – Well she cries do or die
Twelve reasons why I love her, oh”
Spice Girls – Wannabe
Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton – Theme From Mission: Impossible
Cast – Walkaway
George Michael – Jesus To A Child
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Walking On The Milky Way
Lest we forget
Boyzone – Coming Home Now
Missing tracks and other thoughts
Not quite as strong as the previous volume but there’s a lot to like here, particularly on CD2. The second half of the first disc would have benefited from these replacements:
Cranberries – Salvation. Heaven and hell in one song.
Orbital – The Box. When time becomes loop.
Sean Maguire – Good Day. From Eastenders to Top Of The Pops.
Super Furry Animals – Something 4 The Weekend. Fuzzy Logic centrepiece.
Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh and On-U Sound – The Big Man And The Scream Team Meet The Barmy Army Uptown. Token football song for Euro ’96. Deleted after one week.
Promotional poster courtesy of the Now That’s What I Call Music Collectors Group UK.