A quickie today courtesy of early 90s Brit quartet Innocence, who enjoyed a solid if unspectacular run of hits with their solid if unspectacular run of downtempo dance-soul choons. Their best-known numbers were “Natural Thing” and “Let’s Push It”, but I always had a fondness for this one, especially the Frankie Knuckles mix.
Link: Innocence – A Matter Of Fact (7″ mix)
Link: Innocence – A Matter Of Fact (Frankie Knuckles Classic Club Mix)
Link: Innocence – A Matter Of Fact (extended mix a.k.a. A Matter Of Dub)
Link: Innocence – A Matter Of Fact (album version)
I have seen the past of the future of 1980s revivalism, and its name is (i.e. was) Younger Younger 28’s.
Straight outta North Yorkshire (namely Scarborough and Harrogate), Younger Younger 28’s began as the solo project of Little Angels keyboard player Jimmy Dickinson. When the Brit hard rockers split up in the mid-1990s, Dickinson started Younger Younger 28’s as a techno act, and managed to place a couple of tracks on the soundtrack of computer game Test Drive 4. He then teamed up with singer Ashley Reaks, and re-tooled Younger Younger 28’s as a synthpop group.
With Reaks taking on the persona of Joe Northern, Dickinson as Jimmy D, and the addition of two female singers called Andie and Liz (the internet seems unable to help with surnames), YY28’s became a partly satirical, partly straight late-90s re-imagining of early 80s synthpop. Particularly (there’s no getting away from it) The Human League. Unfortunately, since it was only 1999, the 80s were still officially uncool, and while the generational cycle of pop guaranteed a revival in the 00s, this attempt to get in early was doomed to failure. Somehow, Younger Younger 28’s managed to be simultaneously behind the times in their evocation of the future, and ahead of the times in their evocation of the past. Bad luck.
Debut single “We’re Going Out” (lyrically less “kitchen sink drama”, and musically less “retro”, than most of their songs, with a hint of the then-fashionable “big beat” sound) crept into the lower end of the top 75 and that was as far as they ever got. A second single, “Next Big Thing”, and an album, Soap, flopped, and a couple more singles (one of them a superfluously faithful cover of The Cure‘s “In Between Days”) only made it to promos.
To add irony to insult (or something), the floptastic “Next Big Thing” was a song that would have a lot of resonance when the 80s revival did roll into town a few years later, co-inciding with the age of Pop Idol, Popstars, The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, and that one the BBC tried which never really took off:
The single was available on two CDs. Both contained the Jeremy Wheatley mix of “Next Big Thing”. One CD also had the supposed “album version” with an extra verse (although in the end, they actually put the Jeremy Wheatley mix on the album instead), and a rubbish remix…
The other CD had two extra songs, both very much tongue-in-cheek:
At some point I really must get around to checking out Ashley Reaks’ numerous solo albums.
If you’re not a reader of The (New) Vinyl Villain then (1) you really should be, and (2) you won’t be aware of the fascinating series of Imaginary Compilation Albums that has been unfolding there over the last year and a half and a month and a bit. These are… well, the clue’s in the name. They’re usually ten tracks, usually sequenced as a notional vinyl LP, usually with a bit of commentary on each track, and since they’re hand-picked by people who know their stuff, always worth a listen.
Last summer (remember summer? Ahhhhh…), I contributed a Martha & the Muffins compilation to that series, and I think it’s a pretty solid ten-tracker, but there’s one particular track which got lost in the shuffle that I always regretted leaving out. So a bit belatedly, here it is now…
This was the only proper single release from their third LP, 1981’s This Is The Ice Age, and it’s a great single on a great album – but compared to the rest of the album it was a bit of a throwback to their earlier sound. I very much recommend This Is The Ice Age, which came out about the same time as labelmates Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark‘s acknowledged classic Architecture & Morality, and while its sound is quite different, it shares a similar icy-warm stateliness, if you know what I mean.
Here, incidentally, is the near-instrumental non-album B-side of the single:
And while we’re on the subject, here are a few more Muffins songs that weren’t even good enough to get onto an imaginary compilation album. (Hmmm… not selling these well, am I?) The first is typical of their early sound, when they could easily have been mistaken for regulars at CBGB; the second is my favourite song from the folk/country/cajun-influenced Modern Lullaby LP; and the third is an ethereal tribute to Paul Gaughin.
Link: Martha & The Muffins – Be Blasé (Trance And Dance, 1980)
Link: Martha & The Muffins – Fighting The Monster (Modern Lullaby, 1992)
Link: Martha & The Muffins – Garden In The Sky (Mystery Walk, 1984)
The very week that “It Aint What You Do…” dropped out of the top 40, a new collaboration between Bananarama and the Fun Boy Three entered. This time, FB3 were the guests, and their vocals were less evident, though their production was front and centre.
In contrast to “It Ain’t What You Do” – a jazz song successfully wrenched away from its natural idiom – “Really Saying Something” was a girl group song from the start. Composed by Motown in-house songwriters Norman Whitfield, Eddie Holland and William Stevenson in 1964, it was a minor US hit for The Velvelettes (whose name seems calculated to make you think you’ve mistyped every time – or is that just me?) early the following year. Perhaps surprisingly, it never broke through in the UK, though both it and their other US hit “Needle In A Haystack” later found favour on the Northern Soul scene. That scene was presumably also responsible for giving them their only UK chart entry when “These Things Will Make Me Love You” belatedly hit the lower end of the Top 50 in 1971, some years after the group had retired.
Of course this is a Bananarama showcase, but underpinned by FB3’s hallmark drums. There’s not a lot to say about this, really, but it did give the collaboration a second top ten hit. Being more of a Bananarama single, it was a surprising choice for inclusion on the first career-spanning compilation of Terry Hall‘s work, Through The Years, especially as “It Aint What You Do…” wasn’t included. Though it was a more obvious choice than “Nelson Mandela” by The Special A.K.A., which Hall wasn’t involved in any way, and which led to the album being quietly deleted after its first pressing.
The near-instrumental B-side is more recognisably Fun Boy Three-ish. They don’t get writing credits (Bananarama are listed alongside former Department S frontman Vaughan Toulouse) but as producers their mark is all over it. Not being a “proper” FB3 track, and rather weird for Bananarama, it didn’t get issued on CD for a very long time, but is now included on the deluxe edition of the Deep Sea Skiving album. I much prefer it to “The Funrama Theme”.
Interestingly, Bananarama weren’t the only group The Fun Boy Three were lending their talents to; a reggae outfit named Musical Youth had just signed a deal with MCA and FB3 produced what was supposed to be their major label debut, “Youth of Today”. But MCA weren’t happy with the result, and as far as I’m aware, it’s never been released. Musical Youth went on to have a surprise number one with “Pass The Dutchie”, and “Youth of Today” was issued as a follow-up, but in a version produced by Peter Collins. You can’t win ’em all…
This one’s a winner, though. I mean, it’s no “Robert De Niro’s Waiting”, but still…
Loads of mixes to get through here – more than for any actual Fun Boy Three single. We’ll start with the 7″:
The 12″ offers alternative mixes of both tracks:
And while this series is really about UK singles, it would be churlish and stingy not to also offer the mixes that John Luongo did for the US market. The “instrumental” actually retains the FB3 vocals, so is the closest you’ll get to a pure Fun Boy Three version:
Link: Bananarama & Fun Boy Three – Really Saying Something (US 7″)
Link: Bananarama & Fun Boy Three – Really Saying Something (US 12″)
Link: Bananarama & Fun Boy Three – Really Saying Something (US instrumental mix)
Next time… ska!
A disclaimer first. Sensitive souls may wish to skip this one as I’ll be discussing the work of a writer known for his use of the Scottish vernacular, and it just won’t be possible to avoid a certain four-letter word beginning with “f” and ending with “k”. You scroll past the picture below at your own risk…
It’s Robert Burns‘ 257th birthday! Well, I’ll tak a cup o’kindness here for auld lang syne…
Yes, it’s folk (except the final track), but you’ll be glad to know there’s not a bagpipe to be heard in this Burns Night selection. First up, two tracks from Eddi Reader‘s 2003 album with the no-nonsense title The Songs Of Robert Burns, recorded with a band including frequent collaborator Boo Hewerdine and BBC Scotland’s favourite folk ambassador Phil “not the New Order guy” Cunningham. It’s a terrific album with a decidedly crossover sound and it would be tempting to post the whole lot, but I’ve picked out the lush, very modern orchestral treatment of “Jamie Come Try Me” and the more trad but very catchy “Willie Stewart” (which goes into a reel called “Molly Rankin” at the end – nothing to do with Robert Burns but the band threw it in anyway).
The most ambitious Burns-related recording project is undoubtedly Linn Records’ Complete Songs Of Robert Burns, 13 CDs in 12 volumes released over seven years, completed in 2003. An undertaking to be applauded, though I’ll be honest, the trad-folkiness of it is a bit full-on for me. (I’m not complaining, it’s just not my cup of tea!) Nevertheless, here are two of the less intimidating selections from the series’ 375 (!) tracks: from volume 3, a pretty accurate summary of current weather conditions from folk veteran Lesley Hale, and from volume 9, a joyous number from a pre-fame Karine Polwart.
We’ve had four less well-known numbers from the Burns songbook, but the only way to finish is with one of the greatest hits. Quite possibly the greatest hit, of anyone’s, ever. And capable of withstanding even this kind of treatment, meted out by the latterday incarnation of hard rockers Girlschool…
[Edit: The original upload of “Willie Stewart” had the title as “Jamie Come Try Me” in the metadata. Apologies for the error. Fixed now!]
When you hit the top, the only way to go is down. 1982 had seen Madness crown their rise to fame with a number one single, “House Of Fun”, a greatest hits album Complete Madness that sold shedloads on both audio and video formats, and a fourth studio album, The Rise & Fall, that was hailed by the critics as their best to date. And while 1983 didn’t bring a new album, it did bring a US hit with “Our House” and a pair of non-album singles (“Wings Of A Dove” and “The Sun And The Rain”) that kept their profile and their momentum high at home. Although to my mind one of the slightest singles they released in their original run, “Wings Of A Dove” actually came within a whisker of repeating “House Of Fun”‘s number one success. On the face of it, there seemed no reason to fear for Madness’ future.
However, changes were afoot in the Madness camp. Their next album would fulfil their contract with Stiff Records, and keyboard player Mike Barson decided it would be his last too. The announcement prompted a flurry of speculation – either that the group was splitting up entirely, or that lead singer Graham “Suggs” McPherson was about to quit too. For the time being, both of those rumours were incorrect, but there was still a feeling that Madness wouldn’t survive without Barson – a feeling that would, to a large extent, be borne out by subsequent events.
The release of “Michael Caine” as the first single from Keep Moving did little to stop the gossip. A moody number which the group explained as being about the paranoia of an IRA informant living under an assumed name (although the lyric is so oblique that you would struggle to work that out without being told), it wasn’t an obvious choice for a lead single – but then again, the similarly gloom-laden “Grey Day” had been the lead single from 7, and that had done them no harm at all. And having the “my name is Michael Caine” hook intoned by the real-life Michael Caine was a masterstroke. The fact that the single barely featured Suggs at all, instead having a lead vocal by its writer Cathal Smyth, alias Chas Smash, was a bit of a shock, but with Barson on his way out, perhaps now was the time for the other members to demonstrate their versatility?
And maybe that’s how it would have been seen, had “Michael Caine” peaked just one measly place higher in the charts. But when you’re used to a top ten single every time, number 11 doesn’t cut it. Especially when it’s the first single from an album with great expectations piled upon it.
A remix was prepared and a release date announced for the album’s second single, “Victoria Gardens”. The more upbeat track had been picked out as an album highlight by many reviewers. But at the eleventh hour, “Victoria Gardens” was replaced on Stiff’s release schedule by the downbeat “One Better Day”. This may of course have been simply because “One Better Day” was thought a stronger track. Certainly, it’s a well-regarded song, often mentioned as deserving a better chart placing than it ultimately got. And the video (which also features McPherson’s wife Bette Bright) is a fan favourite, and clearly tied in to the lyric, so maybe it was partly a case of going with the song for which they had a stronger visual concept. But you’ve got to suspect that there was also an element of cold feet about releasing a second song fronted by Smyth directly on the heels of “Michael Caine”.
The fact that it so prominently featured vocals by Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling, formerly of The Beat and then fronting General Public, may well have counted against it too; although Madness had brought in additional performers on previous singles (“Wings Of A Dove” saw them comprehensively outnumbered by a gospel choir and a steel band), perhaps such a significant guest contribution – one which under normal circumstances would surely warrant a “featuring” credit – would have been thought to send out the wrong signals at a point when Madness’ future looked – and was – uncertain? By this time, contract negotiations between Stiff and Madness had broken down, and with no prospect of Madness re-signing, Stiff declined to fund a video for the single, whatever it was, so Madness paid for it themselves. In the circumstances, a conservative choice may have been preferred.
There’s also the possibility that they suddenly thought better of releasing a single to radio that contained the word “bloody”. A mild expletive perhaps, but it would surely have resulted in the loss of some airplay. Why risk it?
“One Better Day” is a fine piece of work, but it seems a shame that “Victoria Gardens” didn’t get to be a single. Its fate was to be hidden away as a 12″-only bonus track. A double “A”-side of “One Better Day” and the thematically similar, but musically contrasting “Victoria Gardens” would have made a cracking 45. Both songs clearly show Madness as a grown-up band, and as a pairing they would have been a great advertisement for the album.
“One Better Day” peaked at number 17. The now Barson-less Madness set up a new label, Zarjazz, under the Virgin Records umbrella, and invested in their own recording studio, but the next album Mad Not Mad failed to halt their decline. When they split in 1986, “Victoria Gardens” was included on the farewell compilation Utter Madness (as of course was “One Better Day”). Even now the fandom, though near-unanimous in its acclaim for “One Better Day”, still generally regards “Victoria Gardens” as the great lost Madness single. Quite right too.
Well, this was unexpected. Not the presence of Bananarama specifically, but the whole feel of this single. The lightness, the gloss, the joviality. You certainly wouldn’t guess it from the sleeve…
“It Aint What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It” is The Fun Boy Three’s biggest and probably most recognised hit. Its breezy xylophone riff and title refrain have put it up there with “I Got You (I Feel Good)” as an overused advertising staple, deployed to promote cars, printers, a hardware store, at least two different supermarkets and no doubt various other things as well. And while Messrs Golding, Hall and Staple may not personally approve, or necessarily approve of, these ads, I’m sure the remuneration is very welcome. What they don’t get, though, is a cut of the songwriting royalties, since it was written before any of them were born.
It wasn’t the first time that Golding, Hall and Staple had updated a jazz standard; the Specials’ second album More Specials had opened and closed with a ska’d-up version of the 1949 composition “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)”. “T’aint What You Do…” (as the jazz folk normally called it – the first pressing of this single also used “T’aint” on the label) was even older, being penned in 1939 by Sy Oliver and James “Trummy” Young, then members of Jimmy Lunceford‘s band. Lunceford made a popular recording of it that year, as did Ella Fitzgerald, whose version included an extra verse, seemingly unique to her. YouTube offers up a wealth of covers by the likes of Fats Waller, Adelaide Hall, Louis Armstrong, Julie London, and Cleo Laine, all of whom stick to the Lunceford-endorsed lyric.
FB3 don’t quite stick to the traditional lyric. Strangely, they drop the standard introductory verse (“When I was a kid, about half past three / My daddy said son, come here to me / Said things may come, and things may go / But this is one thing you ought to know”), though they do include what I think is a new verse of their own (“I thought I was smart but I soon found out / I didn’t know what life was all about / But then I learnt, I must confess / That life is like a game of chess”). But let’s face it, this number is all about the chorus, which repeats in several variations: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, the place that you do it, the time that you do it… that’s what gets results.
And it really is the way that they did it, that got results here. It’s quite a challenge to make something new out of a song with four decades’ worth of covers already behind it, especially a song that doesn’t have a lot to it in the first place, but FB3’s arrangement is a triumph. Bear in mind that “T’aint What You Do…” is traditionally a song that showcases a horn section – it was, after all, penned by a trumpet player and a trombonist. The Fun Boy Three’s emphasis on percussion, and the complete absence of brass in their version, makes their arrangement quite different to the way the song would normally be performed. It’s respectful to the song yet also fresh; a real achievement. And it’s not even their best single!
But why Bananarama? According to Terry Hall, because “they’re three girls, and they don’t know what they’re doing either”. Fair enough. In truth, it wasn’t quite as strange a team-up as it might appear in retrospect. Nowadays we know Bananarama as purveyors of slick production-line pop, but at the time their only recorded output (other than backing vocals on a Department S B-side) had been a flop independent single covering a faux-African disco track and sung entirely in Swahili. And they didn’t smile on the cover. It wasn’t that much of a leap to see them having something in common with the creators of “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)”.
Bananarama’s contribution is absolutely key – maybe the Fun Boys could have performed the title refrain themselves (although counting against them is the lack of conviction in their delivery of “then your jive will swing”) but it took female voices to do the “doo-do-loo-doo-doo”s, and to contrast with FB3 in the lengthy vocal breakdown that begins about a minute in. In both of these things they are essentially standing in for the absent brass; it works so well that you never question it.
The single reached number 4 in March 1982. Co-incidentally (well, I assume it was a co-incidence!), the number one that week was also a revival – albeit via a somewhat more complex lineage – of a song first recorded in 1939: Tight Fit’s version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. FB3’s single is a bit classier (well alright, quite a lot classier), although I’m sure a lot of people must have bought both.
And so to the tracks themselves. The 7″ version is the one with that familiar intro:
The 12″ version is a two-part track. The first part is the LP mix of the song, which ends with the rewind sound effect at 2:51. After that, you get the dub version, “Just Do It”. The Cherry Red reissue of the album Fun Boy Three adds “Just Do It” as a bonus track, separate from the main song, but it’s presented as a continuous sequence on the original single:
The B side is a largely instrumental track with loads of that “tribal” drumming and the Nanas shouting “Fa-fa-fa-fa-Funrama!” every now and again. The 7″ is the same as the 12″, but faded out halfway through, so you wouldn’t be missing anything by skipping it, but in case you’re curious, here it is anyway:
The Funrama Theme also turned up on the album, but with Dick Cuthell sounding his funky horn over the top:
At this point we have a blip in the Fun Boy Three singles series. The collaboration with Bananarama was so successful that not only did Keren, Sara and Siobhan also guest on two more tracks on the Fun Boys’ LP, but FB3 were brought in to lend a hand with the next Bananarama single. Instead of dealing with that in a bonus post at the end of the series, it’s going to appear here in its proper chronological position, next week.
Three tunes today in honour of Tim Peake‘s spacewalk. It would have been so easy to just post a load of songs punning on “Peake”, but I’m classier than that. Well, today I am. So instead we have Jean-Jacques Perrey‘s much-sampled, and much-bunged-on-TV-soundtracks moogtastic “E.V.A.” from 1970 (which I only just learned today was co-written by a young Angelo Badalamenti), Lemon Jelly sampling a recording of Ed White‘s 1965 spacewalk (it’s beautiful… just beautiful), and Phil Oakey getting, er… phil-osophical about the whole business.
It’s always sightly saddened me that the world in general doesn’t recognise the name, and more importantly the voice, of Deutsche dance diva Billie Ray Martin. I love that voice. She did have one bona fide bought-by-people-in-Woolworths hit, “Your Loving Arms” (1995), which is a great record, but you don’t even hear that on the radio anymore. (The last time I heard that song on the radio, it was a disappointingly pedestrian cover by one Karen Overton. I don’t know who she is, but she’s certainly no Billie Ray Martin.)
Back in 1989, BRM was fronting Electribe 101, whom you could describe as a kind of Brit-house take on the “fire and ice” style of Yazoo. Debut single “Talking With Myself” had been a big club hit, and would later be reissued and become their biggest chart hit too. Nowadays, “Talking With Myself” is the song they’re mainly remembered for. But in between the two issues of that classic came… a forgotten second classic? I think so, actually.
“Tell Me When The Fever Ended” is a dark number, but pretty darned powerful. It’s “I Put A Spell On You”, unpacked – all the obsession, all the threat. And you can dance to it. It’s terrific, in every sense. I’m actually quite glad nobody’s tried to cover it. You don’t mess with a choon like this.
I’m including all four tracks from the CD single, and the two versions from the album Electribal Memories, but really you only need the 12″ mix. If you want a shorter edit, I’d go for the album version which is a bit more effective than the over-pruned 7″.
Link: Electribe 101 – Tell Me When The Fever Ended (7″)
Link: Electribe 101 – Tell Me When The Fever Ended (raggamix)
Link: Electribe 101 – Tell Me When The Fever Ended (instrumental)
Link: Electribe 101 – Tell Me When The Fever Ended (album version)
Link: Electribe 101 – Tell Me When The Fever Ended (Larry Heard remix)
Presenting the first part of a series featuring the singles of The Fun Boy Three. The trio who split from The Specials in the summer of 1981 might never have achieved quite the same critical or popular success as their previous band, but they did produce a solid, if small, body of work that’s worth celebrating. Hence this series.
By the way, I have to say that gathering all the tracks for this series has been a bit of a pain! FB3’s entire output could fit on two CDs, yet their multiple “best ofs” are notoriously patchy, Cherry Red’s expanded issue of their debut album is frustratingly incomplete, and there is no expanded issue of their second album at all. Some tracks are easy to find in their 12″ versions but surprisingly obscure in their 7″ mixes, or vice versa. I even had to buy a particular compilation just to get one track that doesn’t appear to have been on CD (or even available for download) anywhere else. But I think I’ve got them all now, so on with the show…
Of course, the story of The Fun Boy Three starts with The Specials, the seven-piece Coventry-based group whose politicised, post-punk take on ska brought them a string of hits starting with “Gangsters” in the summer of 1979, and culminating with the three-week chart-topper “Ghost Town” two years later. And then out of the blue, they split. Though they denied personal tensions with the other members of the group, it was no secret that vocalists Lynval Golding, Terry Hall and Neville Staple had grown dissatisfied with the musical direction and working methods of leader Jerry Dammers. It wasn’t just that they wanted more creative input – even more fundamentally, they just wanted to get on with it. Following the second album, Dammers had the band take a six-month break to write new material, but the soon-to-be Fun Boy Three didn’t have the patience for that; they preferred to hit the studio and create as they went along.
So that’s what they did – and they took Dave Jordan, who had produced the second Specials album More Specials, in with them. In view of which, one wonders at what point it became a new project rather than demos for The Specials. In any case, by the time “Ghost Town” hit the top of the charts, they had a debut single ready to go. The Fun Boy Three split from the group, and indeed from the 2 Tone label, signing directly to parent label Chrysalis. Their instincts about Jerry Dammers were right, incidentally: left to his own devices, he took so long over the next Special AKA album, In The Studio, that by the time it came out, The Fun Boy Three had already released two albums and split up!
“The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)” was released on 26 October 1981. Nobody expected the name “Fun Boy Three” to be anything other than ironic, but if anything this single was even gloomier than “Ghost Town”. This time it wasn’t just the clubs that had closed down, it was the whole world going to Hell in a handcart. Hall explained to the NME,
“Each verse is about a different lunatic. It’s written about people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – people who take over countries they’re not capable of running.”
Add in a dose of the nuclear paranoia that had fuelled recent hits by Ultravox, OMD and Landscape, and the thunderous African-inspired percussion that had served Bow Wow Wow and Adam and The Ants so well that year, and you had a song as perfectly reflective of its era as “Ghost Town” had been. Reviews were broadly positive but not ecstatic – Sounds reckoned that “This gravelly voiced stroll through woody outback rhythms and cricketing percussion is a start but not a peak”, which summed up the general mood. Personally, I love it…
Meanwhile, the B side was a rather strange, synth-driven track which went down surprisingly well with the alternative dance crowd.
Both tracks later appeared, unaltered, on the debut album. “The Lunatics” reached a chart peak of number 20, which doesn’t sound too bad, but must have been something of a disappointment given that before the split, every one of the Specials’ seven singles had made the top ten.
Join me next Tuesday for part two of this series, in which The Fun Boy Three actually have some fun!