From mid June 1997 right through until the end of December, every chart-topping UK single sold at least 100,000 copies a week. Like the previous year, 24 singles reached #1 which was twice as many as 1992. Burning at both ends were the Spice Girls with 2 Become 1 ushering in the new year while Too Much climbed to the top on 27 December. Elsewhere the double A-side Mama coupled with Who Do You Think You Are spent three weeks at the top during March while Spice Up Your Life knocked Candle In The Wind ’97 off its perch in October. The second LP, Spiceworld, emerged at the beginning of November and remains one of the best manufactured dance pop albums of its type. The vinyl version sold even fewer copies than Spice and is now highly sought after by fans and collectors with an eye for profit. Another £4.99 special from Dublin’s Virgin Megastore.
Check out these reviews of mine for more discussion on the following tunes:
Now That’s What I Call Music 9: Hot Chocolate – You Sexy Thing**.
Now That’s What I Call Music 36: The Beautiful South – Don’t Marry Her, Texas – Say What You Want, White Town – Your Woman, Bee Gees – Alone, Gabrielle – Walk On By, U2 – Discotheque, Blur – Beetlebum, DJ Quicksilver – Bellissima, Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats, Monaco – What Do You Want From Me?, Cast – Free Me.
Smash Hits Summer ’97: Spice Girls – Who Do You Think You Are*, Eternal featuring Bebe Winans – I Wanna Be The Only One*, R Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly*, Supergrass – Richard III, 911 – Bodyshakin’.
Now That’s What I Call Music 37: The Cardigans – Lovefool, Coolio – C U When U Get There, Hanson – MMMBop, Ocean Colour Scene – 100 Mile High City, Sash! featuring Rodriguez – Ecuador, Ultra Nate – Free, Todd Terry featuring Martha Wash & Jocelyn Brown – Something Goin’ On.
Fresh Hits 1997: Oasis – D’You Know What I Mean?
Now Dance ’97: Chumbawamba – Tubthumbing**, Bellini – Samba De Janeiro**.
The Greatest Hits Of 1997: Backstreet Boys – As Long As You Love Me**.
Now That’s What I Call Music 38: Boyzone – Picture Of You, Louise – Arms Around The World, All Saints – I Know Where It’s At, Radiohead – Karma Police, Meredith Brooks – Bitch.
New Hits ’98: Steps – 5, 6, 7, 8***, Aqua – Barbie Girl***.
Now That’s What I Call Music 39: Robbie Williams – Let Me Entertain You.
* Also on Now 37 / ** Also on Now 38 / *** Also on Now 39.
Dr. Dre is in the house yeah
Omega in the house
Gemini is in the house
Jeff Mills is in the house
DJs on the low
Mark Dana in the house
Tom Allen’s in the house
Romanthony’s in the house
Ceevea in the house
Van Helden in the house
Amanda in the house
Sir Jordan’s in the house, yeah”
February 2005: LCD Soundsystem release Daft Punk Is Playing At My House. The music video is a warped tribute to Spike Jonze’s and Michel Gondry’s promos for Daft Punk’s Da Funk and Around the World. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo got into the groove around 1993 and really came on my radar during 1995 when they were signed to the Soma label, dropping the boombox house of Daft Punk. Despite a number of positive write-ups, it wasn’t until late 1996 and the subsequent signing by Virgin when momentum started to build. Da Funk was re-released and reached the UK top 10 in early 1997. The superb debut album Homework hit the shops around the time of my 25th birthday (celebrations in The Long Stone) and was a major force in bringing French house music to the masses. Compilations such as Source Lab 3 and Super Discount; seminal albums from Dimitri From Paris (Sacrebleu) and Motorbass (Pansoul). But sadly not here.
Cast’s Mother Nature Calls arrived on 14 April 1997. The sleeve is somewhat bland and doesn’t promise a whole lot but persist and you’ll be rewarded. There’s a fantastic psychedelic vibe going on with some nifty orchestration and standouts like the rustic Live The Dream (Neil Young feel), the uplifting I’m So Lonely and the somewhat epic Dance Of The Stars. It reminds me of Champagne Supernova so bring out the joss sticks. The lead single, Free Me, is included as the closing song on CD2 of this Millennium entry and is a snarling Brit pop banger. The finest praise is reserved for the hidden piano loop of Soul Tied: “At the close of a lifetime when you slowly fade away chances are there’ll be some music playing in your mind. That overwhelming feeling of finality in that hidden track made me picture that future moment when I’m about to enter eternity, and vividly so. I’m not a believer of ESP, but it could be it triggered a sudden moment of clairvoyance. Or maybe it was just the associations of the melody. It’s a melancholy little tune, maybe with a slight sense of loss and loneliness to it, which might be the kind you experience at the time of death… Yeah, it definitely got me thinking…” (Hitherto)
More absent friends: 1997 was when the Cocteau Twins bowed out. It had been a tough few years, the Four-Calendar Café tour was very intense and Liz Fraser seemed oddly distracted. Nevertheless the band’s releases continued. There were two EPs in 1995; Twinlights which saw acoustic reworkings of oldies and Otherness, a remix project by Mark Clifford. 1996 brought the unintentional final album, Milk And Kisses, a deeply melancholic and sad listen that’s probably my favourite of theirs. The hallmark of a sad time. In later years, we learned that the album’s most direct song, Rilkean Heart, was written for and about Jeff Buckley, who Fraser became close to following her split from Robin Guthrie, though the relationship was quite brief. The youthful Buckley was mesmerised by her take on his Dad’s Song To The Siren (via This Mortal Coil in 1984) while she found both his music and singing very moving. The song even appears more tragic against the backdrop of Buckley’s unfortunate death in May 1997.
The year of Pop AKA the last great U2 LP: I was awestruck by the leaked Discothèque, Staring At The Sun being spun by 2FM certainly whetted my appetite. I queued up in Virgin at midnight on the Sunday. Do You Feel Loved sounded amazing on the shop’s speakers; the Madchester influences all coming together seven years later. And Mofo, the techno monster that they promised to unleash earlier in the decade. The double LP works like two six track EPs with riffs and grooves in abundance. Virtually every track worked much better live – the material really came alive in the stadium setting. Specifically, the live versions of Please and Last Night On Earth are just brilliant. The studio versions, particularly the latter, merely hint at the potential these songs actually had. The following songs were re-recorded for single release: If God Will Send His Angels, Please, Last Night on Earth while Discothèque, Gone and Staring At The Sun were given new mixes for the 1990-2000 Best Of. Meanwhile we got some great B-sides – Holy Joe, Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad and the full version of Slow Dancing.
“U2 albums don’t get finished. They get released.” (The Edge)
There is a sense of roughness with Pop. Something not quite complete. This adds to its charm but on the other hand, many of us wish that the album had been *finished* unlike the almost-there version that came out. The aforementioned subsequent single and live versions of some of these songs blow away the studio treatments. One reason given was that the tour was booked because they could close it out. It didn’t help that 1996 was regarded as a rather disappointing year for big album sales – examples of perceived failures include Pearl Jam’s No Code and REM’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi. The music industry was eagerly anticipating U2’s album and expecting it to steady the ship, but it slipped to early 1997 and then was met with lackluster sales. Q magazine described Last Night On Earth as “U2’s answer to Oasis”, and the whole dance-club aspect to the album was predicted by many as the thing that would push electronica into the mainstream.
The Pop title is also interesting because the album is quite a strong rock one – Staring At The Sun, Last Night On Earth, Gone and Please are all powerful rock tunes. U2 had begun recording with the idea that they were going to make a real rock ‘n’ roll record. Working with Nellee Hooper, all the rumours said that they’d gone trip-hop. The news that Howie B. was on board surfaced and the focus shifted to dance. But there was one word that would allow them to explore all of these areas at once and not have to consider anything else: Pop. A Hot Press feature and interview from March 1997 identified that rock bands like U2 were susceptible to shifting trends:
“You have to keep in touch with what’s going on at the cutting edge of youth culture and of contemporary music.” (Adam Clayton)
“Structurally-speaking, dance music is probably the most experimental music right now. Albums like the Underworld album and the Chemical Brothers are really interesting — a lot more interesting than Brit pop.” (The Edge)
“At the end of the day, though, it’s more of a rock ‘n’ roll album even though it’s called Pop. It’s like a giant melting pot of different styles. Different things are pushed to the fore on different tracks but ultimately it’s something new — and yet something that’s still very much U2.” (Flood)
In some ways you could argue that the overblown hype of impending electronica actually hurt U2 with conventional fans (put them off purchasing the record) while they didn’t take the dance music far enough (two songs out of 12 isn’t enough) to really be considered an electronic record either. An alternative plan could have been a proper remix album coming out in late 1995 or early 1996. This could have included remixes of Discothèque and Mofo along with the likes of Lemon and all the dance 12″s from Achtung Baby and Zooropa. That could have freed up Pop to be a regular rock album with the inclusion of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me and Holy Joe fitting into the two vacant slots. This would be the last album where U2 pushed the envelope. After all the flack they got, they went back to basics with All That You Can’t Leave Behind. As of March 2018, Pop still hasn’t been reissued. Here is what a fan like JSB would like:
Disc 1: Pop remastered
Disc 2: Pop Reworked
01 (Best Of 1990-2000 Mix)
02 (DM Deep Extended Club Mix)
03 (DM Deep Beats Mix)
04 (DM Tec Radio Mix)
05 (DM Deep Instrumental Mix)
06 (David Holmes Mix)
07 (Howie B, Hairy B Mix)
08 (Hexidecimal Mix)
09 (Phunk Phorce Mix)
10 (Black Hole Dub)
11 (Mother’s Mix)
12 (House Flavour Mix)
13 (Romin Remix)
Disc 3: Pop Reworked
If God Will Send His Angels
01 (Single mix)
02 (Grand Jury Mix/aka Big Yam Mix)
Staring At The Sun
03 (Best Of 1990-2000 Mix)
04 (Lab Rat Mix)
05 (Sad Bastard Mix)
06 (Monster Truck Mix)
Last Night On Earth
07 (Single Mix)
08 (First Night in Hell)
09 (Best Of 1990-2000 Mix)
10 (Allen Ginsberg Version)
11 (Single Version)
Disc 4: B-Sides
01 I’m Not Your Baby (with Sinead O’Connor)
02 Holy Joe (Garage Mix)
03 Holy Joe (Guilty Mix)
04 North And South Of The River
05 Happiness Is A Warm Gun
06 Pop Muzik
07 Slow Dancing (with Willie Nelson)
08 Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad
09 Sunday Bloody Sunday (Live from Sarajevo)
10 Please (Live from Rotterdam)
11 Where The Streets Have No Name (Live from Rotterdam)
12 With Or Without You (Live from Edmonton)
13 Staring At The Sun (Live from Rotterdam)
Disc 5: Outtakes, Alternative Versions & Demos
U2: A Year in Pop documentary
All the video clips: Discothèque, Mofo, If God Will Send His Angels, Staring At The Sun, Last Night On Earth, Please
Alternative videos: Staring At The Sun and Last Night On Earth have additional videos, plus there the video for the live version of Please (the Maps Version).
“Oh I’m gonna go away on a little holiday in the summer
‘cos I think I’m gonna come
Straight in at number 1 and stay there all summer, summer
It’s gonna happen for you and for me
Ooh when I feel the warm breeze then it’s summer” (Denim – Summer Smash)
The Beautiful South – Don’t Marry Her
Monaco – What Do You Want From Me?
White Town – Your Woman
DJ Quicksilver – Bellissima
Lest we forget
Cast – Free Me
Missing tracks and other thoughts
Once again, a fairly adequate representation of the year’s hits. CD1 has a variety of styles, experienced acts like the Beautiful South and the Bee Gees mixing with the new pop of Steps and Hanson. You Sexy Thing is here because of The Full Monty but once again, we get the inferior 1987 remix which wasn’t played anywhere in 1997 – it was the original version that got reissued to capitalise on the film. On the second disc, there’s a Brit pop flavour that really should have included The Verve (Bittersweet Symphony, The Drugs Don’t Work or Lucky Man) while Stand By Me would have my preferred choice for Oasis, although at the time, D’You Know What I Mean?, was only on a Hits album. I do like the sequence of trance that follows Tubthumping. A real beach party – Samba De Janeiro, Bellissima and Ecuador. After Block Rockin’ Beats (would Setting Sons be better?), we go back to guitars on Peter Hook’s Monaco and yet another John Power classic.
There were three regular Now albums released in 1997 and 30 of the songs here appeared on them (some were included on other compilations first) while three more would end up on 1998’s Now 39. As stated in my introduction, there were 24 number ones in 1997; 10 are here which is reasonably impressive. Of the missing bunch, the absence of Puff Daddy (I’ll Be Missing You), Olive (You’re Not Alone) and the Teletubbies is most disappointing. Elsewhere I will make the case for Dannii Minogue’s perfect pop moment All I Wanna Do, Paula Cole’s heartfelt Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?, club classics Basement Jaxx – Flylife, Dario G – Sunchyme and Roy Davis Jr – Gabriel. Others that really hit the mark for me in 1997 were Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn, Gala’s Freed From Desire, Janet Jackson’s Together Again and Tori Amos’ Professional Widow. And for sentimental reasons: Time To Say Goodbye by my old favourite Sarah Brightman (and Andrea Bocelli).