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Making Japan: Tin Drum – Classic Pop Magazine

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Japan Tin Drum

Japan: Tin Drum was an album that announced big changes from the group with a more mature, haunting new groove beating at its heart. Classic Pop discovers how David Sylvian and co merged orientalism with high art to forge their final and most esoteric collection… By Steve O’Brien

Few musical journeys are as far-reaching and profound as the one taken by Japan between their first album in 1978 and their last in 1981.

Much is made of The Beatles’ evolution from the simplicity of Love Me Do to the avant-garde stylings of Revolution #9 in just six years, yet Japan travelled from the try-hard glam-pop of Adolescent Sex to the stark, desolate beauty of Ghosts in just three. At the time they recorded their final album singer David Sylvian was just 23 years old.

Japan released only five albums in their brief life, but only three that really matter. “I avoid looking back at the first two Japan albums,” Sylvian said later. “They were enormous mistakes that grew out of extraordinary circumstances. We were all young and surrounded by older people who thought they knew best.”

The first album that really announced to the world what Japan could and would be was 1979’s Quiet Life. It would be their Rubber Soul, a bold restatement of the band’s musical identity, courtesy of disco godhead Giorgio Moroder.

That creative journey continued on 1980’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids and reached its zenith on what would become the group’s final, and most acclaimed record, the haunting Tin Drum.

What’s especially perplexing is that this beguiling, elliptical record would be their best-selling album, and that its third single, the defiantly uncommercial Ghosts, would become their biggest hit. When Paul Morley described Tin Drum in the NME as “gorgeously erotic” and “perfectly evanescent” it didn’t sound as though he was talking about an LP that would make it to No.12 in the album chart.

Sometimes, it seems, the public is more discerning than they are given credit for.

Named after German writer Günter Grass’ 1959 novel The Tin Drum (Sylvian was never shy of showboating his highbrow tastes), Japan’s fifth album started recording on 22 June 1981, with producer Steve Nye at the helm. Just a month before, guitarist Rob Dean had left the band after six years, and his absence hangs over much of Tin Drum.

With his departure went the last vestiges of rock in Japan, and consequently much of the minimalist arrangements on the record come courtesy of Sylvian and keyboardist Richard Barbieri.

Whereas with previous long-players, Roxy Music and Bowie were the most obvious influences, the sounds that fed into Tin Drum were more esoteric.

Sylvian had been hanging out with Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto and there’s definitely a Sakamoto vibe in the album’s silky Far Eastern textures, while Barbieri admitted in 1994 that the music of avant-garde controversialist Karlheinz Stockhausen had also bled into its recording.

“Especially the abstract electronic things he was doing in the late 50s,” Barbieri explained. “Listen to a track like Ghosts, for example, and you’ll hear all these metal-like sounds that hardly have a pitch, yet subconsciously suggest a melody.”

More than any other album, Tin Drum was Japan living up to their Eastern-sourced name, with the cover depicting the band’s breathlessly beautiful frontman eating rice from a bowl with chopsticks, in front of a peeling poster of Chairman Mao.

Then there are the songs Visions Of China (“We’re young and strong in this party/ We’re building our visions of China”) and Cantonese Boy (“Bang your tin drum/ Cantonese boy/ Red army calls you home”) in which Sylvian further explores his fascination with all things Oriental. 

The resulting sound on the album, dubbed ‘art school Orientalism’, was strikingly different to anything else around it at the time, in the charts or beyond.

Much has been made over the years of Japan being proto-New Romantics, but the truth is, there was never much of a crossover between Japan and the burgeoning New Romantic movement beyond a penchant for blusher.

“For them, fancy dress is a costume,” the singer said dismissively of the Blitz posse. “But ours is a way of life. We look and dress this way every day.”

The public may have thought they were being granted a taste of Japan’s next album with the April 1981 single release of The Art Of Parties, but the version that would turn up on Tin Drum was a rather different beast, shorn of its funky, new wave rhythms and given a more subtle, sensuous makeover.

It would prove typical of the LP, which seemed intent more on evoking a mood and a vibe than delivering chart-targeted melodies.

Japan: Tin Drum – The Recording

Crucially, Nye was unfamiliar with Japan’s work and decided, before he started the job, not to listen to any of their previous output. “As it turned out, I don’t think there would have been much to gain in this particular instance,” he told author Anthony Reynolds for the book Japan: A Foreign Place, “since Tin Drum was such a unique album and not really comparable, which I’m sure was the way Japan wanted it anyway.”

Even the recording of Tin Drum was markedly different to how Japan had worked before. The group found themselves living and recording at The Manor Studios, a stately manor house owned by Richard Branson, and located in the picturesque village of Shipton-on-Cherwell in Oxfordshire. 

“The Manor was residential, so we were together for meals and after work for a beer or two and a game of snooker, but usually tiredness would put you quickly to bed,” remembered Nye. 

“Unlike all their other albums where I spent most of the time in the control room, at the Manor there was tons to do if you weren’t recording,” added Nick Huckle, who was in charge of the band’s equipment. “Steve, Rich and I spent a lot of time playing snooker in the games room.”

With Rob Dean’s departure still fresh, and mounting commercial pressure from Virgin, the band knew the end was nigh.

“We started from the feeling that this would become our last album,” said bassist Mick Karn, who on previous albums had worked closely alongside Sylvian, but who absented himself for long periods during the recording of Tin Drum, “so we only did what we felt like ourselves. [It was] very spontaneous, and that put the frame for the whole album. That’s the strange thing about Tin Drum. It was made on instinct.”

Read more: The Lowdown: Japan and David Sylvian

Read more: Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids

“Making that album strained relations within the band considerably,’’ Sylvian recalled. “We were beginning to close off from one another, which meant that we couldn’t give musically to one another. There were differing ambitions, and I was at odds with the band.”

Relations between Sylvian and Karn were, if not hostile, then certainly not as warm as they had once been. Sylvian has been dismissive in the years since of Karn’s role in the making of the album, referring to the bassist’s participation as that of ‘a session musician’ during its recording.

The tensions were still there, it seems, at the time of the photography session for the album’s sleeve, with Karn claiming that the singer “arranged an alternative time for the session to begin”. A set of full band photos were shot, which Sylvian would later reject, on the basis that he didn’t like the clothes that either Karn or Barbieri were wearing.

In the end, the cover would feature Sylvian, sans band, in a photo taken by rock photographer Fin Costello on a set he’d been constructing for an Ozzy Osbourne shoot. All the props in the picture came from Costello’s kitchen, with the exception of the Mao print, which he’d bought in Chinatown for just 50 pence.

Japan: Tin Drum – The Reaction

When Tin Drum was released it won the band glowing reviews. In Smash Hits, writer David Bostock proclaimed that “Japan have made their best album yet” while Paul Morley in the NME wrote that “the music (un)moves with caressing precision” and that it “accepts transitoriness, yet delights in sensation.” The LP even won praise from fellow musicians, with Tears For Fears’ Roland Orzabal calling it “an absolute conceptual masterpiece from lyrics to artwork… just *everything*.”

It was to be the last hurrah though, with Japan finally calling it a day at the end of 1982, capping their career with one final live album, 1983’s Oil On Canvas. They reformed briefly under a new name in 1989 as Rain Tree Crow, producing just one eponymously-titled album.

It’s an intriguing ‘what if…’ to ponder what 80s pop would have looked like had Japan not decided to split. Tin Drum was so bold, so outré, so different to anything else before or since, that it’s impossible not to speculate where they would have gone next. 

The 1980s was a classic decade for music – its only real fault is that it didn’t have enough Japan in it. 

Japan: Tin Drum – The Songs

The Art Of Parties
This is a different version of the song than had been released earlier in 1981. One of Japan’s very best, it’s an arresting opener with its twittering synths and some fabulous bass work from Mick Karn. The slightly funkier 7” version of the song reached No.48 on the UK singles chart.

Talking Drum
A calmer track than The Age Of Parties, Talking Drum is typical of the album’s experimental ethos, as Sylvian sings, “I hear a voice, I hear a sound/ But nothing plays on my mind/ I take the car, I travel ‘round/ But nothing stays on my mind”.

 Ghosts
Not just one of Japan’s best songs, but one of the best songs of the 1980s. Yet for all Ghosts’ fragile beauty, it was a track that signalled the end of the band; “It was the only time I let something of a personal nature come through,” said David Sylvian, “and that set me on a path in terms of where I wanted to proceed in going solo.”

Canton
It wasn’t hard to hear the Ryuichi Sakamoto influence in this haunting, Asian-flavoured instrumental. There’s a celebratory feeling about Canton, and unlike so many album instrumentals, it feels integral to the overall architecture of the record. At one point, Talking Drum was considered as a single, with Canton as its B-side.

Read more: Richard Barbieri interview

Read more: Top 20 Reunion Albums

Still Life In Mobile Homes
Side B kicks off with this eccentric keyboard and drum-led number with Richard Barbieri on fine form. Sweetly melancholic, it’s topped with evocative lyrics from Sylvian: “The sound of wildlife fills the air/ So warm and dry/ The bushland burns in this southern heat/ Like an open fire.”

Visions Of China
Released as the album’s second single, Visions Of China hit a chart high of No.32 at the end of 1981. One of the LP’s poppier numbers, it’s still a significant step up from their earlier singles, with its electrifying mix of synths and analogue instrumentation. “Stay with me/ We could learn to fight,” Sylvian sings, “Like every good boy should/ Cling to me/ We are blacked out in visions of China.”

Sons Of Pioneers
This hypnotic, atmospheric number is one of Tin Drum’s standout tracks. At seven minutes-plus, it’s an epic piece, and one that you could imagine might have influenced Talk’s Talk’s Mark Hollis. Some have criticised the song for being too long, but its unhurried pace is perfectly in sync with the album’s meditative vibe.

Cantonese Boy
Released as the fourth single from Tin Drum, Cantonese Boy peaked at No.24 in May of 1982. Telling the story of the enlistment of a Cantonese boy to the Chinese Red Army (“Bang your tin drum/ Cantonese boy/ Civilian soldier”) it received mixed reviews on its release, with Smash Hits writing that it was “a good song”, but “can’t really be counted as much more than a stop-gap measure until the boys in rouge re-unite and pen something new.”

“Every track tells a story that we never knew about the stars of the 80s,” comments Mauro, “Their choice of song, and how it’s inspired them, reveals a side to each artists that we wouldn’t normally have seen.  Learning what moves and inspires the music makers themselves, and re-discovering those songs through each icon’s own distinctive style, has been magical.”

Check out David Sylvian’s website here

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Top 20 No.1s That Owed A Debt To The 80s

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The 80s didn’t stop in 1989, oh no. In the world of music, the last three decades have leaned heavily on that classic decade. Jon O’Brien looks at the best No.1s that owed a debt to the 1980s…

Top 10 80s no.1s

As LadBaby’s sausage roll-themed retooling of Starship’s We Built This City proved last Christmas, the act of reviving a Top 40 hit from the 1980s can still lead to chart-topping success. In fact, over the past 30 years, more than 30 UK No.1s have borrowed heavily from the decade, whether via a subtle or, more likely, a blatant sample, a straightforward or radical cover version, or simply a re-release of the original.

Ignoring the tracks whose inspirations reached pole position first time around (eg Puff Daddy’s interpolation of The Police’s Every Breath You Take on I’ll Be Missing You, or Gabrielle Aplin’s rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power Of Love), here’s our countdown of the 90s, 00s and 10s No.1s which owe it all to the 80s.

20 The Black Eyed Peas: The Time (Dirty Bit) (interpolation of Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes’ (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, No.6, 1987)

It’s easy to forget that will.i.am and co. were once regarded as an alt-hip-hop outfit in the vein of A Tribe Called Quest. The Time (Dirty Bit) sticks rigidly to The Black Eyed Peas’ super-commercial formula – bleepy synths, clubby beats and enough AutoTune to make Daft Punk sound organic, all topped off with a lazy sample of the Dirty Dancing number. Unlike Jennifer Grey’s Baby, this definitely deserved to be put in the corner.

19 Dizzee Rascal and James Corden: Shout (interpolation of Tears for Fears’ Shout, No.4, 1984)

Dizzee Rascal was hailed as the voice of his generation with Mercury Prize-winning 2003 debut album Boy In Da Corner. And yet within seven years the grime pioneer was fronting a Simon Cowell-backed Tears For Fears cover with one half of Horne & Corden. Shout, of course, was England’s unofficial 2010 World Cup song. But neither Dizzee’s dodgy rhymes nor Corden’s bellowing could inspire the Three Lions to anything more than a humiliating early exit.

18 KWS – Please Don’t Go (originally recorded by KC & the Sunshine Band, No.3, 1979)

KWS’s house-pop reworking of KC & The Sunshine Band’s lovelorn ballad just about qualifies here – the original reached its peak position in only the second chart week of 1980. The group were hastily assembled to cover Please Don’t Go following a UK rights issue with German act Double You’s similar idea. And then there’s the rumour that it was recorded with an ulterior motive – to persuade Des Walker to stay at the trio’s beloved Nottingham Forest.

17 A1: Take On Me (originally recorded by A-ha, No.2, 1985)

Contrary to what the casual music-buying public would probably believe, A-ha’s sole UK No.1 appeared courtesy of The Sun Always Shines On TV, not one of the 1980s’ quintessential hits. Originally reaching No.2, Take On Me did eventually go one better at the turn of the millennium thanks to an altogether more traditional boyband renowned more for their curtains than their cheekbones. A1’s cover version was accompanied by a Matrix-meets-Tron video, which at the time was deemed cutting-edge.

Read more: The a-ha albums

16 Geri Halliwell: It’s Raining Men (originally recorded by The Weather Girls, No.2, 1983)

It seems fair to say that Geri Halliwell doesn’t possess the powerhouse tones of Martha Wash and Izora-Rhodes Armstead. But what she lacks in vocal ability, she makes up for in sheer enthusiasm on this spirited take on The Weather Girls’ classic. Recorded for the Bridget Jones’s Diary soundtrack in 2001, Halliwell gives it her all on her fourth successive and final UK No.1, with its Flashdance-inspired promo only adding to the sense of pure unadulterated camp.

15 DJ Sammy and Yanou featuring Do: Heaven (originally recorded by Bryan Adams, No.38, 1985)

DJ Sammy would later give Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer a similar trance-lite reworking but it was another AOR veteran that inspired his only UK chart-topper. A No.1 hit in the States, Bryan Adams’ Heaven was all but ignored across the pond. However, the diminutive Spaniard’s cover was practically unavoidable in the autumn of 2002, with a stripped-back Candlelight Mix also catering for those who preferred Magic FM to the Ministry Of Sound.

14 LL Cool J: Ain’t Nobody (interpolation of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody, No.8, 1984)

There have been no less than six hit covers of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s funk classic, ranging from Liberty X’s clever mash-up with The Human League’s Being Boiled to Felix Jaehn’s insipid tropical house makeover. This unexpected chart-topper from one of hip-hop’s elder statesmen sits somewhere in-between. The coquettish call and response is a neat addition, but even LL himself sounds slightly bored with its pedestrian pop-rap production.

Read more: Top 20 Side Projects

13 Eminem: Like Toy Soldiers (sample of Martika’s Toy Soldiers, No.5, 1989)

From Labi Siffre (My Name Is) to Dido (Stan), Marshall Mathers’ sampling habits have always been a little more diverse, and indeed a little more unfashionable, than your average motormouthed rapper. Once again sitting at odds with his enfant terrible reputation, the third single from 2005’s Encore gave the anthemic power balladry of Martika’s US No.1 Toy Soldiers an unlikely new lease of life. The pitch-shifted sample sure isn’t subtle, but then Eminem is always at his most palatable when he plays it straight. 

12 The Bluebells: Young at Heart (originally reached No.8, 1984)

Almost unrecognisable from the Motown-tinged original that appeared on Bananarama’s 1983 debut album, The Bluebells’ Young At Heart has more in common with Dexys Midnight Runners than the brilliantly nonchalant girl group. The fiddle-driven folk reworking gave the Scottish outfit their first UK Top 10 hit in 1984. But it went on to occupy pole position for the whole of April nine years later when it soundtracked that memorable ‘Just Divorced’ ad for the Volkswagen Golf.

11 Room 5: Make Luv (sample of Oliver Cheatham’s Get Down Saturday Night, No.38, 1983)

A geeky guy throwing some shapes in a deodorant commercial was the unlikely catalyst for Oliver Cheatham’s rise to noughties chart-topper. Italian DJ Room 5’s chic reworking of the Detroiter’s sole UK hit, Get Down Saturday Night, got a captive audience pretty much every other ad break in 2003 thanks to its use in a Lynx promo. And Cheatham certainly appreciated the career boost. Not only did he re-record his vocals, he collaborated with Room 5 on his follow-up, too.

10 LMC vs. U2: Take Me To The Clouds Above (mash-up of Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, No.5, 1986 and U2’s With or Without You, No.4, 1987)

You get two bona fide 80s gems for the price of one with this floor-filling mash-up from 2004. Well, parts of them anyway. Firstly, there’s the utterly joyous opening two lines from Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, and secondly, there’s the shimmering guitar hook from arguably U2’s career-best single With Or Without You. The whole thing hangs together surprisingly well.

9 Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull: On The Floor (sample of Kaoma’s Lambada, No.4, 1989)

Jenny from the Block had briefly tiptoed onto the dancefloor with second single Waiting For Tonight. But she stomped all over it with both Louboutins in 2011 when she revived the brief Brazilian phenomenon known as the Lambada. The first and best of three party-starting collaborations with rent-a-rapper Pitbull, On The Floor borrowed the melody from Kaoma’s one-hit wonder, which itself cribbed from an early 80s Bolivian ballad.

8 Eric Prydz: Call On Me (sample of Steve Winwood’s Valerie, No.19, 1987)

Transforming Steve Winwood’s Valerie into an unlikely club anthem, Eric Prydz paved the way for a whole wave of faceless one-hit wonders in 2004. Indeed, pretty soon everyone from Hall & Oates to Boy Meets Girl were getting a similar treatment by opportunist hitmakers who quickly realised that slapping a four-to-the-floor beat on an 80s soft rock hit was a surefire bet. Call On Me enjoyed a briefly-interrupted five-week run atop the UK charts but is perhaps still best known for that gyrating FHM-friendly video.

7 The Tamperer feat. Maya: Feel It (sample of The Jacksons’ Can You Feel It, No.6, 1981)

The Tamperer were one of the few acts to climb to No.1 in the late 1990s, taking six weeks to reach the summit. You have to wonder what took the British public so long. From The Wizard Of Oz-inspired poser (“What’s she gonna look like with a chimney on her?”) to the triumphant sampling of The Jacksons to Maya’s vampish vocals, everything about Feel It screams instant earworm. The Material Girl-sampling, brilliantly-titled If You Buy This Record (Your Life Will Be Better) nearly repeated the trick, too.

6 Michael Andrews and Gary Jules: Mad World (originally recorded by Tears for Fears, No.3, 1982)

Like the original, this stripped-back cover of Mad World took the slow-moving route to success. Tears for Fears’ breakthrough was initially recorded as a B-side to Pale Shelter before getting a release in its own right. And although Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ solemn take on the song appeared on the Donnie Darko soundtrack in 2002, they had to wait until December 2003 to pip The Darkness in one of the most hotly-contested Xmas chart battles for years.

Read more: Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

5 Roger Sanchez: Another Chance (sample of Toto’s I Won’t Hold You Back, No.37, 1983)

It’s unlikely that many 00s clubbers would have recognised the vocal hook sampled on Roger Sanchez’s wistful house anthem. Another Chance borrowed from yacht rock stalwarts Toto but it was their forgotten No.37 minor hit I Won’t Hold You Back that imbued the track with an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Its striking promo, which saw a young woman looking for love carrying a giant red heart across New York, also perfectly accompanied Steve Lukather’s yearning tones.

4 The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go (originally reached No.17, 1982)

There’s a certain irony to one of rock music’s most fervent anti-capitalist bands owing their only UK No.1 to a TV commercial for the world’s biggest jeans company. The third of seven chart-toppers to emerge from a Levi’s campaign, the 1991 re-release of Should I Stay Or Should I Go may have sat at odds with The Clash’s punk principles but nine years on, its stop-start riff, tempo-shifting beats and, of course, Mick Jones’ snarling vocals, still sounded as gloriously anarchic as ever.

3 Rui Da Silva: Touch Me (sample of Spandau Ballet’s Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On), No.3, 1981)

A year after Aurora gave Duran Duran’s Ordinary World a subtle dance-pop makeover, Rui da Silva did something similar for their New Romantic rivals. But instead of going for the more predictable Gold or True, the Portuguese DJ opted for Spandau Ballet’s underrated first Top Three hit. Driven by Gary Kemp’s spiralling guitar riff and the longing smoky tones of Cass Fox, Touch Me is more post-party comedown than party starter.

Read more: Making Spandau Ballet’s Journeys To Glory

2 Beats International: Dub Be Good To Me (cover of The SOS Band’s Just Be Good to Me, No.13, 1984)

Amazingly, Jam & Lewis have never scored a UK chart-topper as producers, with a trio of No.2s for their muse Janet Jackson the closest they’ve come. They did, however, inadvertently achieve the feat as songwriters when Norman Cook got his hands on The SOS Band’s signature tune. Beats International threw in everything from Ennio Morricone to The Clash, transforming the sassy funk of the original into an intriguing pop collage befitting of the phrase “jam hot”.

1 George Michael: Fastlove (sample of Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots, No.8, 1982)

A decent Top 10 hit in 1982, Patrice Rushen’s post-disco favourite ended up inspiring two separate No.1s more than a decade later. Will Smith would borrow its melodic refrain for his globe-conquering theme to mismatched buddy sci-fi Men In Black in 1997. But The Fresh Prince was beaten to the punch a year earlier by a man whose vocal talents could also be described as out of this world.

A much more uplifting affair than sombre predecessor Jesus To A Child, and indeed much of parent album Older, Fastlove sees George Michael extol the virtues of the one-night stand against a backdrop of slinky beats, subtle sax hooks and the kind of G-funk synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dr Dre record. Unlike Smith’s hip-pop effort, in which he essentially just raps over the existing track, Michael doesn’t allow the sample to dominate proceedings either, only dropping in Forget Me Nots’ cooing chorus during the infectious middle-eight. Michael never bettered this track commercially following its 1996 release – it was his last UK No.1 and remarkably his last ever entry on the US Hot 100 – and you could argue that he never bettered it creatively, too.

Read more: Making George Michael’s Older

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Top 20 No.1s That Owed A Debt To The 80s

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The 80s didn’t stop in 1989, oh no. In the world of music, the last three decades have leaned heavily on that classic decade. Jon O’Brien looks at the best No.1s that owed a debt to the 1980s…

Top 10 80s no.1s

As LadBaby’s sausage roll-themed retooling of Starship’s We Built This City proved last Christmas, the act of reviving a Top 40 hit from the 1980s can still lead to chart-topping success. In fact, over the past 30 years, more than 30 UK No.1s have borrowed heavily from the decade, whether via a subtle or, more likely, a blatant sample, a straightforward or radical cover version, or simply a re-release of the original.

Ignoring the tracks whose inspirations reached pole position first time around (eg Puff Daddy’s interpolation of The Police’s Every Breath You Take on I’ll Be Missing You, or Gabrielle Aplin’s rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power Of Love), here’s our countdown of the 90s, 00s and 10s No.1s which owe it all to the 80s.

20 The Black Eyed Peas: The Time (Dirty Bit) (interpolation of Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes’ (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, No.6, 1987)

It’s easy to forget that will.i.am and co. were once regarded as an alt-hip-hop outfit in the vein of A Tribe Called Quest. The Time (Dirty Bit) sticks rigidly to The Black Eyed Peas’ super-commercial formula – bleepy synths, clubby beats and enough AutoTune to make Daft Punk sound organic, all topped off with a lazy sample of the Dirty Dancing number. Unlike Jennifer Grey’s Baby, this definitely deserved to be put in the corner.

19 Dizzee Rascal and James Corden: Shout (interpolation of Tears for Fears’ Shout, No.4, 1984)

Dizzee Rascal was hailed as the voice of his generation with Mercury Prize-winning 2003 debut album Boy In Da Corner. And yet within seven years the grime pioneer was fronting a Simon Cowell-backed Tears For Fears cover with one half of Horne & Corden. Shout, of course, was England’s unofficial 2010 World Cup song. But neither Dizzee’s dodgy rhymes nor Corden’s bellowing could inspire the Three Lions to anything more than a humiliating early exit.

18 KWS – Please Don’t Go (originally recorded by KC & the Sunshine Band, No.3, 1979)

KWS’s house-pop reworking of KC & The Sunshine Band’s lovelorn ballad just about qualifies here – the original reached its peak position in only the second chart week of 1980. The group were hastily assembled to cover Please Don’t Go following a UK rights issue with German act Double You’s similar idea. And then there’s the rumour that it was recorded with an ulterior motive – to persuade Des Walker to stay at the trio’s beloved Nottingham Forest.

17 A1: Take On Me (originally recorded by A-ha, No.2, 1985)

Contrary to what the casual music-buying public would probably believe, A-ha’s sole UK No.1 appeared courtesy of The Sun Always Shines On TV, not one of the 1980s’ quintessential hits. Originally reaching No.2, Take On Me did eventually go one better at the turn of the millennium thanks to an altogether more traditional boyband renowned more for their curtains than their cheekbones. A1’s cover version was accompanied by a Matrix-meets-Tron video, which at the time was deemed cutting-edge.

Read more: The a-ha albums

16 Geri Halliwell: It’s Raining Men (originally recorded by The Weather Girls, No.2, 1983)

It seems fair to say that Geri Halliwell doesn’t possess the powerhouse tones of Martha Wash and Izora-Rhodes Armstead. But what she lacks in vocal ability, she makes up for in sheer enthusiasm on this spirited take on The Weather Girls’ classic. Recorded for the Bridget Jones’s Diary soundtrack in 2001, Halliwell gives it her all on her fourth successive and final UK No.1, with its Flashdance-inspired promo only adding to the sense of pure unadulterated camp.

15 DJ Sammy and Yanou featuring Do: Heaven (originally recorded by Bryan Adams, No.38, 1985)

DJ Sammy would later give Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer a similar trance-lite reworking but it was another AOR veteran that inspired his only UK chart-topper. A No.1 hit in the States, Bryan Adams’ Heaven was all but ignored across the pond. However, the diminutive Spaniard’s cover was practically unavoidable in the autumn of 2002, with a stripped-back Candlelight Mix also catering for those who preferred Magic FM to the Ministry Of Sound.

14 LL Cool J: Ain’t Nobody (interpolation of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody, No.8, 1984)

There have been no less than six hit covers of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s funk classic, ranging from Liberty X’s clever mash-up with The Human League’s Being Boiled to Felix Jaehn’s insipid tropical house makeover. This unexpected chart-topper from one of hip-hop’s elder statesmen sits somewhere in-between. The coquettish call and response is a neat addition, but even LL himself sounds slightly bored with its pedestrian pop-rap production.

Read more: Top 20 Side Projects

13 Eminem: Like Toy Soldiers (sample of Martika’s Toy Soldiers, No.5, 1989)

From Labi Siffre (My Name Is) to Dido (Stan), Marshall Mathers’ sampling habits have always been a little more diverse, and indeed a little more unfashionable, than your average motormouthed rapper. Once again sitting at odds with his enfant terrible reputation, the third single from 2005’s Encore gave the anthemic power balladry of Martika’s US No.1 Toy Soldiers an unlikely new lease of life. The pitch-shifted sample sure isn’t subtle, but then Eminem is always at his most palatable when he plays it straight. 

12 The Bluebells: Young at Heart (originally reached No.8, 1984)

Almost unrecognisable from the Motown-tinged original that appeared on Bananarama’s 1983 debut album, The Bluebells’ Young At Heart has more in common with Dexys Midnight Runners than the brilliantly nonchalant girl group. The fiddle-driven folk reworking gave the Scottish outfit their first UK Top 10 hit in 1984. But it went on to occupy pole position for the whole of April nine years later when it soundtracked that memorable ‘Just Divorced’ ad for the Volkswagen Golf.

11 Room 5: Make Luv (sample of Oliver Cheatham’s Get Down Saturday Night, No.38, 1983)

A geeky guy throwing some shapes in a deodorant commercial was the unlikely catalyst for Oliver Cheatham’s rise to noughties chart-topper. Italian DJ Room 5’s chic reworking of the Detroiter’s sole UK hit, Get Down Saturday Night, got a captive audience pretty much every other ad break in 2003 thanks to its use in a Lynx promo. And Cheatham certainly appreciated the career boost. Not only did he re-record his vocals, he collaborated with Room 5 on his follow-up, too.

10 LMC vs. U2: Take Me To The Clouds Above (mash-up of Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, No.5, 1986 and U2’s With or Without You, No.4, 1987)

You get two bona fide 80s gems for the price of one with this floor-filling mash-up from 2004. Well, parts of them anyway. Firstly, there’s the utterly joyous opening two lines from Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, and secondly, there’s the shimmering guitar hook from arguably U2’s career-best single With Or Without You. The whole thing hangs together surprisingly well.

9 Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull: On The Floor (sample of Kaoma’s Lambada, No.4, 1989)

Jenny from the Block had briefly tiptoed onto the dancefloor with second single Waiting For Tonight. But she stomped all over it with both Louboutins in 2011 when she revived the brief Brazilian phenomenon known as the Lambada. The first and best of three party-starting collaborations with rent-a-rapper Pitbull, On The Floor borrowed the melody from Kaoma’s one-hit wonder, which itself cribbed from an early 80s Bolivian ballad.

8 Eric Prydz: Call On Me (sample of Steve Winwood’s Valerie, No.19, 1987)

Transforming Steve Winwood’s Valerie into an unlikely club anthem, Eric Prydz paved the way for a whole wave of faceless one-hit wonders in 2004. Indeed, pretty soon everyone from Hall & Oates to Boy Meets Girl were getting a similar treatment by opportunist hitmakers who quickly realised that slapping a four-to-the-floor beat on an 80s soft rock hit was a surefire bet. Call On Me enjoyed a briefly-interrupted five-week run atop the UK charts but is perhaps still best known for that gyrating FHM-friendly video.

7 The Tamperer feat. Maya: Feel It (sample of The Jacksons’ Can You Feel It, No.6, 1981)

The Tamperer were one of the few acts to climb to No.1 in the late 1990s, taking six weeks to reach the summit. You have to wonder what took the British public so long. From The Wizard Of Oz-inspired poser (“What’s she gonna look like with a chimney on her?”) to the triumphant sampling of The Jacksons to Maya’s vampish vocals, everything about Feel It screams instant earworm. The Material Girl-sampling, brilliantly-titled If You Buy This Record (Your Life Will Be Better) nearly repeated the trick, too.

6 Michael Andrews and Gary Jules: Mad World (originally recorded by Tears for Fears, No.3, 1982)

Like the original, this stripped-back cover of Mad World took the slow-moving route to success. Tears for Fears’ breakthrough was initially recorded as a B-side to Pale Shelter before getting a release in its own right. And although Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ solemn take on the song appeared on the Donnie Darko soundtrack in 2002, they had to wait until December 2003 to pip The Darkness in one of the most hotly-contested Xmas chart battles for years.

Read more: Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

5 Roger Sanchez: Another Chance (sample of Toto’s I Won’t Hold You Back, No.37, 1983)

It’s unlikely that many 00s clubbers would have recognised the vocal hook sampled on Roger Sanchez’s wistful house anthem. Another Chance borrowed from yacht rock stalwarts Toto but it was their forgotten No.37 minor hit I Won’t Hold You Back that imbued the track with an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Its striking promo, which saw a young woman looking for love carrying a giant red heart across New York, also perfectly accompanied Steve Lukather’s yearning tones.

4 The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go (originally reached No.17, 1982)

There’s a certain irony to one of rock music’s most fervent anti-capitalist bands owing their only UK No.1 to a TV commercial for the world’s biggest jeans company. The third of seven chart-toppers to emerge from a Levi’s campaign, the 1991 re-release of Should I Stay Or Should I Go may have sat at odds with The Clash’s punk principles but nine years on, its stop-start riff, tempo-shifting beats and, of course, Mick Jones’ snarling vocals, still sounded as gloriously anarchic as ever.

3 Rui Da Silva: Touch Me (sample of Spandau Ballet’s Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On), No.3, 1981)

A year after Aurora gave Duran Duran’s Ordinary World a subtle dance-pop makeover, Rui da Silva did something similar for their New Romantic rivals. But instead of going for the more predictable Gold or True, the Portuguese DJ opted for Spandau Ballet’s underrated first Top Three hit. Driven by Gary Kemp’s spiralling guitar riff and the longing smoky tones of Cass Fox, Touch Me is more post-party comedown than party starter.

Read more: Making Spandau Ballet’s Journeys To Glory

2 Beats International: Dub Be Good To Me (cover of The SOS Band’s Just Be Good to Me, No.13, 1984)

Amazingly, Jam & Lewis have never scored a UK chart-topper as producers, with a trio of No.2s for their muse Janet Jackson the closest they’ve come. They did, however, inadvertently achieve the feat as songwriters when Norman Cook got his hands on The SOS Band’s signature tune. Beats International threw in everything from Ennio Morricone to The Clash, transforming the sassy funk of the original into an intriguing pop collage befitting of the phrase “jam hot”.

1 George Michael: Fastlove (sample of Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots, No.8, 1982)

A decent Top 10 hit in 1982, Patrice Rushen’s post-disco favourite ended up inspiring two separate No.1s more than a decade later. Will Smith would borrow its melodic refrain for his globe-conquering theme to mismatched buddy sci-fi Men In Black in 1997. But The Fresh Prince was beaten to the punch a year earlier by a man whose vocal talents could also be described as out of this world.

A much more uplifting affair than sombre predecessor Jesus To A Child, and indeed much of parent album Older, Fastlove sees George Michael extol the virtues of the one-night stand against a backdrop of slinky beats, subtle sax hooks and the kind of G-funk synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dr Dre record. Unlike Smith’s hip-pop effort, in which he essentially just raps over the existing track, Michael doesn’t allow the sample to dominate proceedings either, only dropping in Forget Me Nots’ cooing chorus during the infectious middle-eight. Michael never bettered this track commercially following its 1996 release – it was his last UK No.1 and remarkably his last ever entry on the US Hot 100 – and you could argue that he never bettered it creatively, too.

Read more: Making George Michael’s Older

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Gorillaz free show announced for NHS workers

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Gorillaz free show

Gorillaz have confirmed their return to the live stage with a free show for NHS workers and their families on Tuesday 10th August at London’s The O2 arena.

This special Gorillaz free show, to thank and recognise all NHS staff who continue to work tirelessly to keep us all safe, marks the reopening of the venue as well as the band’s first live performance with an audience in over two years and takes place the day before their scheduled sold-out gig on Wednesday 11th August 2021.

All ticket holders will need to present a NHS COVID Pass on entry to gain access to the venue. Further information below.

Gorillaz drummer Russel Hobbs said: “Reap what you sow, y’know what I’m saying? We don’t just want to say thank you, we want to do thank you too, because we care about the people who care for us.”

Steve Sayer, VP & General Manager at The O2 said: “This is such a big moment for us. Our first live show in over 500 days, with one of the UK’s best bands playing to an audience made up of NHS staff and their families. We have missed the fans and live performances so much, we couldn’t be more proud to reopen with this event and to welcome such a great audience.”

For tickets and information on the Gorillaz live show, see here.

 For full ticket and information on the 11th August public show here.

Gorillaz free show

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