My own memories of Christmas 1992? All a bit of a rush I think, a mixture of driving friends who were mobile DJs around to an endless succession of other people's parties, mixed in with a holiday job working at a firm of accountants. I spent the Christmas period wrestling with the mini computer network of a recently insolvent company, trying to get their accounts system to produce a list of their debtors whom we could chase for money. All very festive. I suspect the actual Christmas celebrations themselves were so unremarkable that not even the sound of Nirvana can stir any of them.
Speaking of whom:
30: Nirvana – In Bloom
Timely, given that this year (2011) marked the 20th anniversary of Nevermind and the moment Nirvana we are told stood the world of rock on its head. The fourth and final hit single mined from the famous album was inevitably the smallest but it made a respectable Number 28 upon release and gave us the most mime-able drum fill since the heyday of Phil Collins. At what point does it become acceptable to admit you never really “got” Nirvana? I read about what a massive influence they were, how they broke the mould and inspired a whole new generation of musicians, and how Kurt Cobain’s tragically early death only served to add to the mystique – and I get it completely. The only problem was that by and large, it was rock music that was too noisy, too uncultured and too, well, amateurish for me to ever work out what made it so good. The Nirvana worship continued apace, but it was a party to which I never felt I was invited.
29: Undercover – Never Let Her Slip Away
A mini craze at the end of 1992 for tastefully club-friendly covers managed to somehow bring out the best and worst of the genre all at once. Truth be told, this was one of the best – a respectful and affectionate resurrection of the song originally written by Andrew Gold and who had a Number 5 hit with it in May 1978. Undercover were John Matthews, Tim Laws and John Jules and they had struck gold (no pun intended) earlier in the summer with a similarly affectionate reworking of Baker Street which peaked at Number 2. The follow-up may have been a smaller hit but to me it was actually the better record with a cheeriness and charm which made it hard to hate, however much affection you might have had for the original. They followed this up with a third hit in early 93, this time taking on Gallagher & Lyle’s I Wanna Stay With You but by this time the novelty had worn off and the Top 30 hit proved to be their final big chart single.
28: East Side Beat – Alive And Kicking
On the flip side of the coin, this is how to get things badly wrong, even if it may have just been a matter of timing. East Side Beat were an Italian collective (six or seven blokes all with names ending in “ini”) who had arguably kicked off the whole “make a naff easy listening record into a club hit” genre with their take on Christopher Cross’ Ride Like The Wind which had been a worldwide smash hit at the tail end of 1991, hitting Number 3 on these shores. The follow-up took a year to appear for one reason or another and truth be told it kind of bombed, peaking briefly at Number 26 before vanishing. There were theoretically a number of reasons for this. First was the usual problem of bad timing, released too close to Christmas and too late for anyone to care about it before the holidays began. Which is possible. Second was the fact that their rendition of the Simple Minds smash hit from the mid-80s was actually a bit rubbish compared to their first single, what was, in theory, a good idea of turning Jim Kerr’s stadium-filling anthem into a floor filler spoiled not a little by some rather lame execution. Again, another good reason why nobody in the UK really cared that much. Thirdly and perhaps more importantly I suspect the single failed as they were completely screwed over by the fact that the original version had returned to the British charts just two months previously, released not only to celebrate a Greatest Hits compilation for the Scottish rock band but also due to its use in a famous series of commercials for Sky TV, hyping the launch of their coverage of the brand new English Premier League. In short, everyone knew the original, and more importantly, was comfortable with the concept of dancing to Simple Minds thanks to the re-release being bundled with a remix of their early single Love Song with which it was a double a-side. By the time East Side Beat came to the party we had kind of had our fill of the song. East Side Beat continued to make cover versions until well into the 1990s, with varying degrees of success on the continent. Alive And Kicking however killed their British prospects off for good.
27: Boyz II Men – End Of The Road
Winding its way gently down the chart after what had already been an epic chart run, this was arguably one of the most significant American singles of the year. The lavish romantic ballad propelled Boyz II Men to worldwide fame in a way I suspect even their creators hadn’t dreamed, in the process resurrecting the concept of a close-harmony vocal group and briefly diverting American R&B down a path of locating men with rich, deep voices. End Of The Road had taken its sweet time to catch fire, entering the Top 40 at Number 36 in early September and then bucking what was at the time a prevailing trend by gently rising up the singles chart, moving 36-31-22-14 before suddenly exploding. Even then it took a while to wake up, spending a fortnight at Number 2 before finally enjoying a two-week spell at the top. It gave Motown records its first British Number One since Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You a full eight years earlier and ultimately was to spend over six months on the Top 75. Heck, it was even hanging around long enough to collide on the singles chart with its follow-up… which we’ll come to shortly.
26: SL2 – Way In My Brain/Drumbeats
There may well have been a reason why it took so long for a follow-up to SL2’s smash Number 2 single On A Ragga Tip to appear, but it escapes me for now and even their rather gloriously detailed Wikipedia page (they only had three hits!) makes no reference to the gap. Anyway, for whatever reason despite having been a springtime hit single, the next release from Slipmatt & Lime did not appear until December, a remix of a track which had actually first appeared in a different form on the flip side of their first single DJ’s Take Control a full year earlier. Way In My Brain appeared to pay dearly for their lack of musical activity – peaking here at Number 26 and in the process bringing the whole SL2 project to a grinding halt.
25: Dina Carroll – So Close
Some things just need heating for an extended period. The lady who can lay a bold claim to be one of Britain’s foremost soul stars of the 90s began her career as the guest singer on Quartz’s cover of It’s Too Late back in 1991. Although she preferred to be a balladeer, her label and management knew that the only way to break her was as a dance diva, and so her first two singles Ain’t No Man and Special Kind Of Love were uptempo floor fillers, both peaking at Number 16 during the course of 1992. Her third single was her first ballad, So Close was the title track of her debut album which eventually hit the shops in early 1993 and although the single did respectably enough, its Number 20 peak was still frustratingly short of the mainstream breakthrough everyone knew Dina Carroll deserved. True stardom wasn’t to be hers until a full year later and the release of what was eventually the album’s sixth single Don’t Be A Stranger – but really that is a story for another time. For now, Dina Carroll was just another dance diva trying her hand at a ballad for the holidays. Nobody quite knew what lay around the corner.
24: Arrested Development – People Everyday
A short-lived but incredibly important act in the development of hip-hop, Arrested Development hailed from Atlanta and for a brief time in 1992 and 1993 were the most exciting group on the planet. Their concept was to be “alternate” hip hop, eschewing drum machines and samples for a more measured and organic approach which reached back to black music’s blues roots and span them into something which proved to be commercial paydirt. People Everyday was their third single and their first to chart in this country, a reworking of Sly And The Family Stone’s Everyday People with new verses added by lead singer Speech along the way. Truly it was like nothing anyone had ever heard at the time and more than deserved its Number 2 peak in early November 1992. 1993 saw them become the first rap group to perform on MTV Unplugged but after a poor reception for their second album in 1994, the group had disbanded by the following year.
23: Boyz II Men – Motownphilly
Ah, here they are again. Proof that nobody was really sure just where Boyz II Men’s comfort zone was, their debut album also featured tracks like the harder-edged R&B track Motownphilly in which they bragged about their “East coast swing” and how they were fusing together two disparate genres of soul music. My honest opinion? As a pop record this truly isn’t half bad, but as the globe-buggering success of End Of The Road proved, their future lay in the syrupy ballad and quite literally nowhere else. Motownphilly suffered slightly from the unfortunate chart collision with its still in the shops predecessor, but at this peak position, it did at least outsell it on the Christmas Top 40.
22: Slipstreem – We Are Raving – The Anthem
I never quite figured out if it was all done semi-ironically or whether it was somehow an important part of the culture for rave tracks to be created from the naffest sources possible. In 1991 it was all the rage for old childhood references to be draped in blissed-up beats, such as Sesame’s Treat and indeed the track Charly which originally shot the Prodigy to national fame. By 1992 this had mutated into a chart-bound form of the “replace x with rave” parlour game, whereby if a song had a word which you could replace with “raving” it was considered a suitable candidate for club treatment. Hence the Christmas Top 40 played host to this piece of nonsense, an air-horn drenched romp through a reworking of the Sutherland Brothers song Sailing (as made famous by Rod Stewart) with the word “sailing” replaced by… well you get the idea. A quick trip to Discogs.com reveals that the single was the work of producers Steve Moore and Justin O’Neal about whom further details are rather sketchy, suffice to say they don’t appear to have been credited with anything else since. We Are Raving – The Anthem clung on to eventually sneak into the Top 20 in the new year and in the most truly random manner possible is actually on Spotify to hear.
21: 808 State and UB40 – One In Ten
“I have a one-inch head…” Not all dance remixes are utter rubbish. UB40’s early period rant at the nonsense of government statistics first appeared on their 1981 album Present Arms and became their fourth Top 10 hit single in the summer of that year, peaking at Number 7. 12 years later it was back on the chart thanks to a surprisingly well-done remix by Manchester pioneers 808 State who transformed the track into an absorbing hybrid of dub-reggae and what would in time come to be called jungle beats. Released in early December, the single had climbed to Number 17 before dipping back to rest just outside the Christmas Top 20.