Nov 10


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#642, 3rd March 1990

Collage in pop is often an exercise in surprise – finding things which shouldn’t work together, but do. Throw too much into the mix and you can end up with a novel mess. But even then if you get the final element right it can salvage the whole creation. So let’s imagine the recipe here. Norman Cook is by this point already a well-known DJ with plenty of mix-and-match pedigree – he’s recently done some remixes of the Osmonds back catalogue, which the band are very wary of – and he’s got a B-Side called “Invasion Of The Estate Agents”, built round the skanking bassline from “Guns Of Brixton”, with snippets of Ennio Morricone and the occasional scratch. He throws in a kind of kazoo solo-ey thing for good measure.

It’s pretty good. It’s five or six years too early, to be honest – what Cook’s made, as he’ll often make, is a fine example of the goofball, beer-friendly dance music nobody in 1990 knows as “big beat”. Fun, lightweight, stuff. The track needs something else. So he puts vocals over the top – a singer called Lindy Layton singing an old SOS Band tune.

And it works. Oh how it works. The whole track flips over – now all the wacky bricolage stuff is supporting Layton’s stoic ache: the Morricone highlighting her weary hurt, the bassline strong but unforgiving. And Cook adds one last thing, a sample of a radio DJ – “Tank fly boss walk jam nitty gritty…”. The slick chatter frames Layton’s song, turning the track into a cartoon cityscape for her to wander through and giving “Dub Be Good To Me” the solid-gold earworm it needed.

And the latent cheekiness of the track – its lifts so flagrant, its components so random – gives it a warmth, a sense of reassurance that despite Layton’s desperation everything in Beats International’s world is going to be alright. So “Dub Be Good” ends up rather less polished or poised than some of its obvious models – Soul II Soul, for instance. Norman Cook has never made dark music – sadness in his pop is something the rest of the track is there to cure. Later on that will work against him, but for now it’s fine: there’s room for comfort in pop as well as intensity, and what’s also on offer here is the delight of seeing diverse elements alchemised into a confident, magnificent modern hit. Jam hot indeed.

(The kazoo bit is still ropey, but at this point who’s counting?)



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  1. 76
    DietMondrian on 3 Nov 2010 #

    A couple more reverse-chronological greatest hits:

    Sisters of Mercy: A Slight Case of Overbombing
    The Best of Roxy Music

    Any more?

  2. 77
    thefatgit on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Late to this one and most of the relevant stuff has been mentioned already.

    I like the way Norman Cook plays with sparseness and how he uses that sparseness to create texture. Quite special.

  3. 78
    flahr on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Inches by Les Savy Fav* is in reverse chronological order HA HA I SO INDIE

    “Dub Be Good To Me”, then: pretty great all told, as has been established in detail above. What’s the deal with the cover art? Is it representative of something or just a picture Cook liked?

    *a singles collection rather than a GH

  4. 79
    anto on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Re 76: Not really a greatest hits but the before-they-were-famous Pulp compilation Countdown starts with stuff like My Legendary Girlfriend where you can hear the hit-making sound sliding into place and then on the second side goes all the way back to the forgotten stuff from the eighties with a teenaged Jarvis Cocker sounding endearingly earnest strumming the love songs from the IT lp.

  5. 80
    Gavin Wright on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Re #76: Sonic Youth’s Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love compilation starts with tracks from Daydream Nation and works backwards – you can sort of see the rationale there, front-loading the album with the more accessible songs.

    As for Janet Jackson, I’m drawing a blank with most of these Rhythm Nation-era song titles (I probably haven’t heard any of them in well over a decade) but I recently listened to Control for the first time and recognised more songs than I expected to so maybe I should give it a go.

  6. 81
    lonepilgrim on 4 Nov 2010 #

    the Rickie Lee Jones ‘best of’: ‘Duchess of Coolsville’ features two discs of tracks in alphabetical order plus one disc of rarities. Perhaps the reasoning was that in these days of iTunes shuffle the order is no longer significant but even as a fan this seemed a perverse decision

  7. 82
    flahr on 4 Nov 2010 #

    actually entirely reasonable, it is scientifically provable that songs beginning with A,B,C,D and E or U,V,W,Y and Z are better than those beginning with mid-alphabet letters

    thus your compilation begins well, then gets worse in the middle when you’ve stopped listening anyway, then gets better at the end when you tune in again

    (i have just checked and my initial intuition that there are no good songs beginning with X proved to correct)

  8. 83
    lex on 4 Nov 2010 #

    DMX “X Gon Give It To Ya”, Ruff Sqwad “Xtra”, Mariah Carey “X-Girlfriend”, DJ Clock “Xavatha” and Greyman “XZero” would disagree with that assertion!

  9. 84
    El boludo on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Coincidentally, this song featured on the music round in this week’s University Challenge! The theme of the round was songs with Clash samples. It was surprising to me how many good ones there were as I’ve always found ’em a bit dull. Might have to reinvestigate (struggled to make it through London Calling, let alone Sandinista!)

  10. 85
    Mutley on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Re 82. Songs beginning with X. The ‘B’ side of “See You Later Alligator” sung by Bill Haley and His Comets (highest UK position number 7 in March ’56) is called “The Paper Boy (On Main Street U.S.A.)” and begins with “Extra, extra, read all about it” making it a double X.

  11. 86
    wichitalineman on 4 Nov 2010 #

    X Offender by Blondie is no slouch either.

    There are a couple of repetitive sample-able library tracks by Eddie Warner called Xylophagus and Xylo spleen – never in any danger of inclusion on Popular, but more fun than Xanadu.

  12. 87
    Steve Mannion on 4 Nov 2010 #

    worth mentioning ‘Xtal’ by Aphex Twin and the UR ‘X-101’ stuff too.

  13. 88
    justfanoe on 4 Nov 2010 #

    “X-Defect” by Bis

  14. 89
    El boludo on 4 Nov 2010 #

    “Xplosion” by Outkast? Also it won’t be everyone’s idea of a “good song” but “X” by Claro Intelecto is quite nice.

  15. 90
    flahr on 4 Nov 2010 #

    haha i knew by the time i got back i’d have a list of recommendations :) there is also “XXSex” by We’ve Got A Fuzzbox… [they made a ‘comeback’ this year with an, er, interesting cover of “Pop Muzik”].

    (my intensive research consisted of listening again to “XR2” by M.I.A. and “Xylophone Track” by The Magnetic Fields and confirming that neither was much cop)

    (whereas every song i have ever heard beginning with Z has been great)
    (well, except “Zebra” by The Magnetic Fields)

  16. 91
    swanstep on 4 Nov 2010 #

    I *adore* Zebra…. I mean, seriously, rhyming Louvre, manoeuver, and Hoovre as in ‘I must stay home and Hoovre up the gold dust’ in a song that’s written from the point of view of a ’20s (Hoover period) Gatsby-style decadent, whose Zebra’s called ‘Zelda’, and who at the end want’s another zebra….

    And as for your generalization about songs beginning with x, the Passage’s XOYO will see you outside.

  17. 92
    Billy Smart on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Xmas With Simon by The Fall is very good. And ‘X, Y & Zee’ by Pop Will Eat Itself is highly enjoyable…

  18. 93
    swanstep on 4 Nov 2010 #

    And, consulting the ipod, xl-30 by Shuggie Otis is xcellent. (As is xtal above – one of of aphex’s best)

    Didn’t cocteau twins have a song or two about xylem and phloem?

  19. 94
    flahr on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Right, quickly:

    “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” – ace, though i’d prefer it with half a minute taken off
    “Xtra” – “DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN” but they miss an opportunity to rhyme with “Yoshi”; on other hand “cos I ain’t been gymin’ it” is awesome
    “X-Girlfriend” – not for me (wobbleboard?)
    “Xavatha” – pretty good
    “XZero” – the music is a bit too far back :(
    “X Offender” – fairly clearly learning-the-ropes stuff
    “Xylophagus” & “Xylo Spleen” – actually pretty groovy
    “Xtal” – beautiful
    X-101 – as far as I can tell an album rather than a song
    “X-defect” – better than pretty much any facet of its context suggests it should be
    “Xplosion” – good
    “X” – can’t find
    “XOYO” – could quibble but broadly in favour of
    “Xmas With Simon” – good
    “X, Y & Zee” – I prefer their, er, poppier stuff
    “XL-30” – ooh I like this one

    “Zebra” – suspect it is the rather bludgeoning accordion I object to rather than the lyrics (looking it up, my Official Initial Opinion was “this one seems good, but it actually isn’t”)
    (then again, I also h8ed “The Book of Love”)

  20. 95
    wichita lineman on 5 Nov 2010 #

    RIP Cola Boy, an undersung hero of what was once called ‘indie dance’. His fanzines were great, a necessarily smutty alternative to the Peter And Jane side of C86. Bye bye, old fruit.

  21. 96
    Steve Mannion on 5 Nov 2010 #

    HE IS COLA. Very sorry to hear this WL.

  22. 97
    Billy Smart on 27 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: Simon Reynolds, February 3 1990;

    “I really enjoyed Norman Cook’s ‘Blame It On The Bassline’, it was witty and nifty and funked like a mutha, and his reincarnation from jangle-pop drummer to dancefloor maestro is wonderfully bizarre. This is a triffic, deep dub version of the SOS Band’s fabulous ‘Just Be Good To Me’, the heartquake synths of the original replaced by sonar bleeps, ocean bed alarums, lugubrious horns and a lonesome, ‘Midnight Cowboy’ harmonica. Just fine.”

    Reynolds awarded single of the week to AC Marias’ (quite awesome) ‘One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing’. Also reviewed that week;

    The Beloved – Hello
    The Cramps – Bikini Girls With Machine Guns
    Bob Dylan – Political World
    The Wedding Present – Brassneck
    Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
    Fatima mansions – Only Losers Take The Bus
    Faith No More – Epic

  23. 98
    Kinitawowi on 10 Feb 2013 #

    #84: suddenly curious as to what the other two were. Train In Vain -> Stupid Girl by Garbage, probably, and…?

    Christina Aguilera’s Christmas album has a track called Xtina’s Xmas. Yeah.

  24. 99
    rabbitfun on 11 Feb 2013 #

    #98: Rock the Casbah -> Will 2K by Will Smith, possibly

  25. 100
    Steve Mannion on 11 Feb 2013 #

    Straight To Hell -> MIA’s Paper Planes, very probably.

  26. 101
    Kinitawowi on 12 Feb 2013 #

    Just looked it up on dat Youtube, and yeah, that’s all four. MIA first, then Beats International, Garbage and Will Smith as the bonuses, definitely.

  27. 102
    mapman132 on 9 Aug 2014 #

    Last (for now) in my unlikely series of Songs First Heard on Transatlantic Aircraft….

    After having a mostly good time on my exchange trip to England in the summer of 1989, I managed to finagle another exchange trip in the summer of 1990, this time to Germany. Without going into details here, the Germany trip was unfortunately a total disaster for me personally. On the flight home I pretty much sat by myself, even refusing meals, doing nothing but listening to the plane’s looping current hits channel over and over and over again. Most of the songs were already familiar to me from being hits in the US, but one that wasn’t was “Dub Be Good To Me”. Even though it would be years before I heard it again it definitely made an impression on me. The odd nonsensical rap got my attention first and the haunting vocals kept it. I remember the channel DJ referred to it as a song that “sounded very old, but was brand new”. I couldn’t figure out what sounded “old” about it, or even if I agreed with the assessment, but it certainly sounded strange and interesting and I began to look forward to it every time the channel looped back.

    I assumed it was never released in the US, never hearing it on the radio here, but I was wrong: #76 on the Hot 100 according to Wikipedia. Too bad I pretty much stuck to Top 40 at the time. Anyhow, finally purchased it for my phone last night. Should be a good listen on my planned overseas flight in October – hopefully a better trip than the one 24 years ago.

  28. 103
    Lazarus on 9 Aug 2014 #

    #76 and others – the Genesis triple-CD ‘Platinum Collection.’

    I tend to play disc two, mostly.

    And I still like ‘Xanadu.’

  29. 104
    Mark G on 9 Aug 2014 #

    #76 and others, I knew I knew one, and I was right..

    Countdown (1992-1983) – Pulp

  30. 105
    Ed on 11 Aug 2014 #

    @103 Is that Xanadu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m1UWSD-FaA

    or Xanadu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEuOoMprDqg ?

  31. 106
    Lazarus on 11 Aug 2014 #

    I meant the much-decried ONJ/ELO combo. The other is a band that’s rather passed me by, though I’m listening to that track now. Are they rock or prog? About the only one of theirs I knew was ‘Spirit of Radio’ which I suspect is no guide to their output.

  32. 107
    Andrew Farrell on 26 Aug 2014 #

    They are the definition of prog, for the record.

  33. 108
    Ed on 27 Aug 2014 #

    @107 That’s true, although they are definitely Rock as well.

    They have been through many phases in their career, from Led Zep wannabes on the first album to prog-metal in the 70s to Police-inflected AOR in the early 80s (the ‘Spirit of Radio’ phase) to synth-pomp and then back to metal with Grunge shadings. It doesn’t get any more Progressive than that, I guess.

  34. 109
    hectorthebat on 13 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 11
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 33

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