The 37th volume of the Hits series, Fresh Hits ’99, was released in July 1999. Making the “featuring” section of the front cover were Shanks & Bigfoot, Westlife, N Sync, Boyzone, Another Level, Venga Boys, Robbie Williams, TQ, Stereophonics, Lauryn Hill, Catatonia, 911 “and many more.”
14 of the 40 tracks had already appeared on previous compilations:
New Hits ’99: Shanks and Bigfoot – Sweet Like Chocolate.
Now That’s What I Call Music 42: Boyzone – When The Going Gets Tough, Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched and Billie Piper – Thank ABBA For The Music, Vengaboys – We Like To Party, 911 – A Little Bit More, Honeyz – End Of The Line, Emilia – Big, Big World, Robbie Williams – Strong, Armand Van Helden featuring Duane Harden – You Don’t Know Me, A+ – Enjoy Yourself.
Smash Hits Summer ’99: Phats & Small – Turn Around. Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now, Stereophonics – Pick A Part That’s New, Fierce – Dayz Like That.
Here’s where the Westlife story begins. Formed in the summer of 1998 and originally called Westside, they released their debut single Swear It Again around Easter 1999. It’s an unremarkable ballad and typical of the vast majority of their output. Interestingly Brian McFadden changed his first name to Bryan so that it would be easier to sign autographs. The tempo (and quality) increases with N Sync’s delightfully fresh Tearin’ Up My Heart. Only their second 45 and already a slick machine. Next comes Another Level’s soulful From The Heart which appeared on the Notting Hill soundtrack; pretty tender stuff and still sounds good today. Then we have Cher by numbers, the formulaic All Or Nothing which despite its rather robotic and artificial construction, retains a certain charm. To Eurovision ’99 and the winning song from Charlotte Nilsson, Take Me To Your Heaven. It scored an impressive total of 163 points and very much the atypical Scandinavian girly pop sound that won ABBA the contest 25 years before.
Sugar Ray’s breezy Every Morning is like something you’d hear on a Friends soundtrack. The sound of sunny days in the Belgrave Square basement. Time for some substandard R&B from Glamma Kid featuring Shola Ama, the Sade-sampling Taboo. Never fear, the pop sensation of 1999 is here: Hepburn. Debut single I Quit was written by Phil Thornalley who had massive success with Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn. It’s a blast, girl power with fuzzy guitars or if you prefer, foxy fierceness. The video features scenes from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and featured on the soundtrack CD. The NME hated Hepburn and gave the band’s one and only album a nasty and vindictive review: “Music made by morons, marketed by evil morons and designed to be bought by people they hope are morons. . . The most morally and aesthetically repugnant album ever.” That’s anti-pop hipsters for you.
Killing time: Tina Cousins’ Forever is beautifully melodic trance that belies a melancholic and lonely mood. There’s a ghost town vibe in the music video, possibly a metaphor for the isolation she’s feeling. Meanwhile you can’t keep a good ’90s song down as Des’ree serves up You Gotta Be (’99 Mix). Reissued again because of its use in a Ford Focus advert, this became the most successful of the song’s chart runs, peaking at #10. The Blondie rebirth continues with another single, Nothing To Beat But The Girl, which was written by the band’s keyboard player, Jimmy Destri. Despite a single remix, it could not repeat Maria’s success and just reached #26. CD1 concludes with Andy Williams’ vocal version of The Bob Crewe Generation’s Music To Watch Girls By. You’ll know it from the Fiat advertisement.
By the summer of 1999 I almost off the big beat bandwagon. Wall Of Sound had released some fine records between 1995 and 1997, one of them being Executive Suite, the debut LP from The Wiseguys. In April 1998, I picked the 12″ of Ooh La La in Abbey Discs. Orange company sleeve. It sampled Lalo Schifrin’s Jim On The Move and worked really well on the dancefloor. A year later, following use on a Budweiser commercial, it was everywhere. As was the next tune here, ATB’s banging hedonist anthem 9PM (Till I Come), a regular play in Rathmines’ Tram Co. Going back to Belfast 1982: Harry’s Game was scored by Clannad’s mournful lament which is sampled on Chicane’s rather epic Saltwater with Máire Brennan getting a co-credit. Ferry Corsten + Tiesto = Gouryella, a self-titled dance monster that stormed Europe during May 1999. When trance was trance.
The indie sequence kicks off with Catatonia’s beautifully underrated Dead From The Waist Down. “Make hay, not war.” Suede were the difficult fourth album zone and much of Head Music shows the pressure and strain that the band were under – namely Brett Anderson’s crack addiction and Neil Codling’s chronic fatigue syndrome. The album has a more electronic feel than the previous three with lead single Electricity a right old glam racket. Elsewhere Kula Shaker keep the mystique up with the timeless sound and exotic scents of Shower Your Love. And there’s Lit’s My Own Worst Enemy, a neo-90s blast of power punk reminiscent of Green Day and Blink 182. Addictive despite its derivative style. The same could be applied to Shawn Mullins’ stoned drawl groove of Lullaby, a song which is reputedly about “A girl who is feeling depressed, crying out for a life away from her upbringing, a life full of Hollywood days and movie star-filled nights.”
The final stretch kicks off with a second tune from Another Level, a pretty boring cover of Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years. Next comes the slick R&B sound of Tatyana Ali’s Everytime and Lauryn Hill’s deeply eloquent Ex-Factor which describes the pain of the relationship with a narcissist. Neo-soul that cuts right to the bone and a song that will make you google what reciprocity is. Also on a similar type, Bye Bye Baby, a little gem from Compton’s TQ. After achieving global recognition with It’s Like That, Jason Nevins followed up with a string of hip house remixes: Run DMC’s It’s Tricky, 2 Live Crew’s We Want Some Pussy, Insane Clown Posse’s Hokus Pokus (Headhunta’z Edit) and Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain which is the closing track on Fresh Hits ’99. Uni-Vs-Al. 4/10.
Gouryella – Gouryella
Suede – Electricity
Kula Shaker – Shower Your Love
Lit – My Own Worst Enemy
Shawn Mullins – Lullaby
Lest we forget
Hepburn – I Quit
Missing tracks and other thoughts
It takes a bit of time to get going but for the most part, Fresh Hits ’99, is a good trip. There’s a quite a few tunes here that while fairly well remembered and are not commonly found elsewhere. Here’s a few others that would have fitted in:
Eminem – My Name Is. The arrival. Massive tune that spring.
Blackstreet with Janet Jackson – Boyfriend / Girlfriend. Rip her to shreds.
Offspring – Why Don’t You Get A Job? Outside the Central Bank anthem.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Scar Tissue. Here it comes, the inescapable Californication.
Flaming Lips – Race For The Prize. From the multi-layered symphonic Soft Bulletin.