“What would you do if you saw spaceships over Glasgow?
Would you fear them?”
Now That’s What I Call Music 36 hit the racks on 24 March 1997 and was the first volume not to receive a vinyl release. Sign of the times. For the third time in succession, the Spice Girls take pole position. But instead of including their December chart topper, 2 Become 1, Box Music decided to choose the forthcoming Mama, the official single for Comic Relief ’97. Mama is a sweeping ballad and banished any remaining doubts regarding the quintet’s musical ability. It was released as a double A-Side with Who Do You Think You Are?
White On Blonde: Texas return with the tearjerking and beautifully sung Say What You Want. Equally emotional are the Bee Gees and the rambling Alone. Still amazing after all those years. The Beautiful South come next, the desperate Don’t Marry Her. Naturally it’s the clean version. Sunny Sundays in the garden. Not Madonna, No Doubt’s radio staple, the rocky Don’t Speak. And from the bedroom to the top of the charts, White Town or Jyoti Mishra and Your Woman. A muted Al Bowlly sample, a pop song with numerous perspectives, a true one-off. Also riding the sample wave, The Blueboy, drilling Marlena Shaw’s Woman Of The Ghetto vocal onto the addictive Remember Me. Belgrave Square.
We go way back to autumn ’96 for Jamiroquai’s sparkling Virtual Insanity with Robert Miles making it three from three One On One. Another summer smash, George Michael’s ultra groovy Spinning The Wheel remixed by Forthright. This ushers in the R&B section with Mark Morrison’s catchy Horny, Peter Andre’s smooth Natural and the anodyne Love Guaranteed by Damage. Ladies night: Eternal’s spooky Don’t You Love Me [their best post-Louise] and Gabrielle’s Walk On By. Kavana’s I Can Make You Feel Good pales against the Shalamar original but East 17’s Hey Child is a expertly sung ballad. Rivals Boyzone drop the impressive slice of exotica A Different Beat complete with stern voiceover but the Backstreet Boys and 911 ensure that CD1 ends with empty slickness.
“And time is a string of pearls
Your blue room
See the future just hanging there”
Pop. U2’s return. The heavy techno sound of Discothèque and the remixes keep flowing. The most common version was the 5:08 12″ cut, included here. The sound and the fury continue with The Prodigy’s Breathe. Meanwhile The Chemical Brothers are out for round 2: Block Rockin’ Beats. The drums are sampled from Them Changes by Bernard Purdie while the vocal belongs to American rapper Schoolly D. The narcotic breaks continue on Placebo’s gritty shaker Nancy Boy. Remember the boy with the oversized red jumper? From Revenge to Monaco; Peter Hook’s new venture. The chugging What Do You Want From Me is about his failed relationship with Caroline Aherne. Ruined in a day. In the melting pot comes Sheryl Crow and her rousing rocker Everyday Is A Winding Road.
Some might say 1997 was the last party for Britpop. Blur had a #1 at the end of January with Beetlebum; neatly distilling the essence of 1992’s Rollercoaster era into a track that sounded quite like Pavement. Even better are James, veterans of The Smiths’ first Irish tour. The dazzling She’s A Star is one of their career highs, an immersive experience. Next comes the pulsating Wide Open Space from guitar heroes Mansun with Cast’s new 45 Free Me bearing psychedelic tinges. Elsewhere Dark Clouds is yet another building block for Space, nice trumpet touch. Cathy Dennis pulls off a unlikely cover of Waterloo Sunset. And the Divine Comedy’s caustic window opens wide on Everybody Knows (Except You).
From Essex dogs to Essex girls: Alisha’s Attic and Indestructible. A wonderful harmony sound. They even make Ant and Dec’s Shout look great. That just leaves five club tunes to see us home. Once again, You Got The Love gets a reboot; the New Voyager Mix with the timeless vocal of Candi Staton. Inspired by Faithless, Sash! blasts off with the massive Encore Un Fois. Then it’s time for DJ Quicksilver and his European dancefloor trance anthem, Bellissima before B.B.E.’s slamming follow-up to Seven Days And One Week, the intense Flash. End with Amen UK’s Passion. Muzik, Mixmag and Ricky Butcher’s stag.
“Child of Eva – your Christianity
I had a dream it was the end of the Seventies”
Spice Girls – Mama
U2 – Discothèque
Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats
James – She’s A Star
Boyzone – A Different Beat
Lest we forget
Alisha’s Attic – Indestructible
Missing tracks and other thoughts
This volume is just like Now That’s What I Call Music 35 – a game of two halves. Disc 1 starts promisingly but runs aground with a interminably long loop of somewhat colourless R&B and boyband tunes. The second CD is a cracker all the way. Even better would be:
Depeche Mode – Barrel Of A Gun. Just like U2, back after a four year hiatus.
Erasure – In My Arms. Heavenly pop hit.
Suede – Saturday Night. The Coming Up comedown.
The Orb – Toxygene. Ideal for playing backgammon to.
LL Cool J – Ain’t Nobody. Straight in with a bullet, Going Underground-style.
Daft Punk – Da Funk. Boombox bassline house.