I feel another chart retrospective coming on, courtesy of the altogether too large collection of Top 40 recordings that live under the bed. This one however should be an interesting challenge.
I’ve always worked on the philosophy that your emotional reaction to a piece of music is coloured by how it soundtracked the events of your life when you first heard it; the people you knew, the places you were living and the parties you attended. This tape, in particular, is one I don’t think I’ve dared listen to since the day it was first recorded, simply because it coincided with the worst, lowest period in my adult life to date. This isn’t going to be a whiny self-absorbed public soul-cleansing session, but I know my take on much of the music that follows is going to be coloured by memories of the only time in my life when I came close to playing in the fast lane of the M6.
Not sleeping properly can do that to you.
Time to wind the clock back and play the tape for the Top 40 show of Sunday, February 27th 1994 as we and 9 million other listeners (it is claimed) join the stars to hear the brand new chart. Cue Bruno who starts the show by playing a track from the Number One album which just happens to be ‘Music Box’ by Mariah Carey. This is not a good sign.
Now I know this is supposed to be a rundown of the music rather than a review of the chart show itself, but it is fun to note that the show gets off to an inauspicious start as the CD for the very first song skips and skates for 30 seconds before the producer gives up, plays a trail and gets Bruno to try again with a replacement disc.
Once the song gets underway we can appreciate it properly, one of the last original chart hits for Jeff Tones and a pre-megastardom Will Smith. The final Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince album Code Red coincided with Smith’s run as the title character in the TV sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air and this added mainstream exposure almost certainly contributed to the duo’s most consistent run of hits of their recording career. Can’t Wait To Be With You was a typically funky pop-rap track that was based heavily on the Luther Vandross track Never Too Much and should in theory have been a huge chart smash. Number 29 was all it managed sadly. Solo chart stardom (and a battle with some aliens) for Will Smith was just three years away.
Who would have thought it. The “thy third single from the album shalt be a ballad” commandment of pop music applied to Eurodisco stars as well. Famous for the global smash What Is Love in the summer of 1993, Haddaway went on to mine a string of singles from his self-titled debut album in the wake of that huge first hit. After Life came the slushy ballad I Miss You which was actually released as his Christmas single but which did not properly catch fire until January when it became a new year sleeper hit. Peaking at Number 9 in late January 1994, this chart position marked the final embers of its slow Top 40 burnout.
Deep Forest were two Frenchmen, Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez whose idea of mixing world music with club beats propelled them to a modest level of European success in 1994 when the mixing of ethnic music with drum machines became a minor chart craze. Their most famous UK hit was this track, Sweet Lullaby which was based on a lullaby from the Solomon Islands called Rorogwela and set to a laid back house rhythm. Somehow it didn’t matter that the lyrics of the song were impenetrable to European ears, the track conjured up such a magical atmosphere that it found a ready and willing audience, one which in this country at least propelled it all the way to Number 10. Three more Top 40 entries would follow for the duo who continued to record and release albums until well into the 21st century.
It took a while for Britain to catch on to just how good Crowded House were. Although early classic Don’t Dream Its Over was a minor Top 30 hit in the summer of 1987 it took a Paul Young cover of the song in 1991 to bring the work of the Finn brothers to mainstream attention. When Weather With You went Top 10 in the spring of 1992 they were finally off and running and a string of pleasing but admittedly never more than mid-table hits followed. Locked Out was one such track, a Number 12 hit from early February and a single lifted from 1993 album Together Alone which saw the group return to their native New Zealand for the first time in years. Locked Out found its way onto the soundtrack of the film ‘Reality Bites’ later in 1994 to further cement its place in cultural history, even if it remains one of their lesser remembered offerings.
The one and only chart single to be lifted from Motley Crue’s self-titled 1994 album, a rare oddity in the long and storied history of the rock group as it marked their only release with a totally different lead singer. Following a series of rows during attempts to record a follow-up to 1989 album Dr Feelgood lead singer Vince Neil quit the group, leaving them scrambling to recruit a replacement almost in secret lest their label declare them in breach of contract. The Scream singer John Corabi was selected to perform vocal duties and so minor Top 40 entry Hooligan’s Holiday marks his one and only chart appearance with the band. The album itself was something of a sales disaster, the absence of their charismatic lead singer adding to the fact that in the five years since the last Crue album tastes in rock music had shifted dramatically and their own brand of hardcore hair metal was seen as embarrassingly passé. By the time of 1997s Generation Swine Vince Neil was back in the fold and setting them back on the right path although his attempts to sing songs that had been written for Corabi’s dramatically different register were at times interesting to say the least.
Make no bones about it, 1993 album Ten Summoner’s Tales marked Sting’s creative and commercial peak as a solo artist, the LP showered with critical acclaim and awards, selling millions worldwide, forming the soundtrack to an entire year for many student friends of mine and spawning no less than six hit singles along the way. The chirpy Nothing ‘Bout Me which closed the album was the final one of these, creeping to Number 32 in early 1994 as one final throw of the dice to squeeze some more sales out of the platter. Really it was little more than a footnote in the promotional campaign for one of the most famous releases of its era, an album which contained soon to be classics such as Seven Days, Fields Of Gold (as made even more famous by Eva Cassidy) and most notably Shape Of My Heart which almost a decade later famously became the basis of near-simultaneous hit singles for Craig David and the Sugababes.
As is the case for these chart shows from the early 90s, the three hour Top 40 show at this point has to be randomly interrupted by a 90-second news summary. Lead story: A fire at a “London sex cinema” with police hunting a man seen fleeing the scene with a petrol can. Who knew that used tissues burned so easily?
These guys were (and indeed still are) Puerto Rican rappers from Los Angeles whose career took off in the early 1990s thanks to the enthusiastic patronage of Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs who produced their first two albums. This was the second of their two minor chart entries in 1993 and 1994 and the follow up to the Little Richard sampling Wopbabalubop which had crept into the lower end of the Top 40 the previous year. Although no further hits followed this one, the group released two more albums during the 1990s and reformed only last year for a comeback release The Golden B-Boys.
Maybe not the most famous Proclaimers single ever, but one which returned the Reid brothers to the charts for the first time since 1990. The lead single from their third album Hit The Highway, itself their first studio recording since 1988 it peaked at Number 21 in mid-February and served as a pleasant reminder that no matter how unfashionable the pair may have always been, they retained the knack of turning out a catchy tune that would be all over the radio in an instant and a chart hit against what appeared to be insurmountable odds. I’m glad the 21st century saw them properly elevated to national treasures, aren’t you?
Looking back at it now, the ongoing success of Michael Bolton in the early 90s seems ever so slightly bizarre. In the midst of an era when dance music was supposed to be ruling all, the man with the big nose and thinning mullet bellowed and howled his way through an ever blander series of soul and rock singles to a constant level of acclaim from what we can only presume were hormonally challenged housewives. Bolton was, in short, what would these days be Radio 2 core act although in an era when the aforementioned network still played Frank Sinatra records in the daytime it was left to Radio One to give him the mainstream validation he apparently deserved. Soul Of My Soul was typical of him, a by the numbers MOR ballad lifted from his 1993 album The One Thing although its chart success was limited and this Number 32 placing this week represented its ultimate peak. His hits continued until the end of the decade, 1997 single The Best Of Love representing his final UK chart entry.
Finally to end this segment we hit the good stuff, for in February 1994 I simply could not get enough of this record and was convinced it was destined to be massive. Arguably the high point of the work the German trance duo put out in the 1990s, Right In The Night was a club epic, based heavily on the melody from classical piece Leyenda and featuring a warm and enveloping vocal from Croatian singer Plavka. Even without the aid of recreational substances this single manages to envelop your senses within seconds and in the right frame of mind can transport you mentally to a different plane altogether. Maybe this is the emotional reaction I was talking about at the start, the one record that during a particular personal low was an escape route to a slightly better frame of mind.
One of those records for which the seven-inch edit seemed inadequate, Right In The Night is seen to this day as one of the most seminal trance records ever made and an acknowledged classic of its genre. Yet for all of that it didn’t really catch fire in the UK at first, stalling here at Number 31 upon its first UK release. It wasn’t until the steamy hot summer of 1995 that the single took off and was reactivated to ultimately peak at Number 10. I may have some bad, bad memories of February 1994 but Right In The Night somehow cuts through all of that to be one of my favourite ones.