“Give me the food and let me grow
Let the Roots Man take a blow”
Now That’s What I Call Music 35 hit the shops on 18 November 1996 and contains five singles that reached #1 in the UK chart. It was also the last one to get a vinyl release. I remember two copies sitting in the racks of Dublin’s Virgin Megastore for some weeks prior to being sold. That shows the level of demand. The LP format really does justice to the striking sleeve; a comforting nighttime neon vibe. Nowadays it’s the most highly sought-after LP in the series and was featured in a recent edition of Record Collector.
Ashley Abram shows that he means business by lining up four chart toppers in the first five tracks. The Spice Girls went straight in at #1 with Say You’ll Be There. Production duo Absolute incorporated a mix of pop and R&B into the song, which includes a harmonica solo played by Judd Lander. The music video was inspired by the films Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! [Russ Meyer] and Pulp Fiction [Quentin Tarantino] and features the group as a band of female techno-warriors capturing a hapless male. Both films were on heavy post-midnight VCR rotation at the time; rented from the sadly-missed Laser [Ranelagh] and Late Night Movies [Rathmines].
We go back to April for George Michael’s edgy Fastlove, an energetic tune about the need for gratification without commitment. A re-sung chorus of Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots features. And we get the rare-ish Forthright Edit. Nice. Another #1: Peter Andre’s Flava bridging the gap before the next two smashes. East 17 team up with Gabrielle on the pleasant If You Ever while Texans Deep Blue Something give us Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the ultimate so-90s-it-hurts tune. And the Pet Shop Boys broke a three year silence with the underrated Bilingual LP; the breezy Se A Vida É was its second 45. That’s the way life is.
The inlay tells us that Stephen Jones has written hundreds of songs since 1988. Goodnight was a minor hit, reaching #28 in June after it was recorded with a full band. You’re Gorgeous was the monster breakthrough, a well-deserved albatross. The Beautiful South’s bleakest album, Blue Is The Colour, yielded the bittersweet Rotterdam. Unusually downbeat is Dodgy’s If You’re Thinking Of Me while Crowded House’s Recurring Dream best of justified the reissue of Don’t Dream (It’s Over) which finally got the charts success that it was denied in 1987. Flying the British popular music flag are The Bluetones and Ocean Colour Scene. Marblehead Johnson and The Riverboat Song are both hard rockers that complement Sheryl Crow’s swampy blues of If Makes You Happy, a global smash.
It was a very good year for Garbage. The eponymous debut album gave up five singles, with Milk being the last. Remixed for a duet with Tricky and correctly here as the Wicked Mix. The spooked atmospheric continues on Neneh Cherry’s epic Woman with the Lighthouse Family’s Goodbye Heartbreak maintaining the melancholia. Elsewhere Pulp’s Different Class was still providing new thrills in 1996; in this instance, the deep blue soundscapes of the thought-provoking Something Changed. Likewise for Cast’s All Change and the cosmic Flying, the biggest success to date. Just getting into the 45 stride for the Coming Up songs were Suede with the cool dandy groover Beautiful Ones. Finally – and fitting like a glove – is Belinda Carlisle’s steely go-go dancer Always Breaking My Heart.
“Take a short, take a short change
Taking time, time to rearrange”
A different drum, slowdown time: Dina Carroll’s comeback single that September was the dramatic Escaping. Next come Boyzone with a passable cover of the Bee Gees’ Words. Eternal continue the ballad sequence with the help of Eric Clapton on Someday. It’s smooch central as the Backstreet Boys harmonise it up on I’ll Never Break Your Heart, followed by Londoners Damage on the soulful Love II Love. Clock cover the Four Seasons; the world stops turning. Louise spices up our lives on the sultry Undivided Love but Ant and Dec disappoint on When I Fall In Love. 911’s Don’t Make Me Wait sadly doesn’t hit the mark either and Strike’s cover of Paula Abdul’s My Love Is For Real is merely mediocre.
Saved: Faithless and the blissed-out Insomnia. Quickly followed by the Ibiza anthem Seven Days And One Week from Italian producers B.B.E. Plus eight – Stretch ‘N’ Vern’s scorching I’m Alive and its samples of Earth, Wind And Fire. Back to the island for Healy and Amos’ hard-hitting Stamp! Livin’ Joy’s European dance Follow The Rules fits in well before Wildchild’s expressive Jump To My Beat. Underworld’s Pearl’s Girl was nabbed by The Greatest Hits Of ’96; total killer of relentless BPMs and paranoid rhythms.
Comedown: Space’s spidery Neighbourhood. Sounds better. Then Bjork’s Possibly Maybe, wonderfully sparse and calming. Bath music. Check out the brilliant performance from Jools Holland’s show on YouTube. 1 November 1996. So there’s time for one more. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Britpop’s perennial underachievers – York’s Shed Seven. Watching This Life and chainsmoking. Firing up the turntable after every episode. Chasing Rainbows is magical, chord and lyric perfection with a wistful and misty-eyed quality.
“Well, I tell you, that boy
He stopped up at the station
He must be on a mission of passion
Couldn’t make out whether he was from
Salford or Manchester”
Spice Girls – Say You’ll Be There
Garbage – Milk
Pulp – Something Changed
Bjork – Possibly Maybe
George Michael – Fastlove (Forthright Edit)
Lest we forget
Shed Seven – Chasing Rainbows
Missing tracks and other thoughts
A tale of two discs and for the last time, four sides. CD1 is mostly perfect but the second half doesn’t really get going until Faithless join the party. Inspired “Going For Gold” due-for-release final pick though. And this quartet would have certainly livened up things:
Phil Collins – Dance Into The Light. Welcome back and great horns.
Everything But The Girl – Single. Downtempo breakbeat spectacular.
Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun. Noel Gallagher making his presence felt.
Future Sound Of London – My Kingdom. Light years ahead.