Jun 13

LIVIN’ JOY – “Dreamer”

Popular144 comments • 9,782 views

#721, 13th May 1995

A dance music confession: I never, quite, intuitively grasped what counted as House and what fell under Garage. The bumping, cut-up rhythms and vocals that begin the remixed “Dreamer” feel like garage, for example, but as Janice Robinson takes the song into its urgently blissful chorus I want to call it house – or even go more specific and say handbag house, that showy, uplifting offshoot that strutted across superclub dancefloors in the mid-90s.

These sort of divisions are the meat and drink of dance music – social markers as much as genre markers, guides to who might dance to what – and, in the case of handbag, what might be safely dismissed. Otherwise knowledgeable and thorough histories of dance music wave mid-90s house away as mere disco (as if disco was ever mere), a crowd-pleasing sideshow away from the main action. In terms of ‘progression’, perhaps that’s right. In terms of pop, it’s way off.

After all, most of what you really need to know about Livin’ Joy is in the band’s name. “Dreamer” is indeed the year’s most joyful, delightful, vivacious number one so far. But it’s not just about joy – the song’s chorus is a concentrated blurt of fierce hope, a fantasy of togetherness so intense but so impossible that Robinson takes it in double-time, like she’s trying to grab a moment – or a dream – before it vanishes. The song slinks and builds up to that point, its loping bass and keyboard figures giving Robinson space to stretch out a bit and approach lines like “Love, life and laughter is all I believe” with the lived-in relish they deserve.

It’s an old pop trick, as old as “I Feel Love” at least – the European producers adding a bit of class to their work with a jobbing American soul singer. But the men behind “Dreamer” – on a roll at the time, with Alex Party’s infectious “Don’t Give Me Your Life” to their credit – got lucky here: while never stepping outside genre boundaries, “Dreamer” is one of the great house diva vocals. It captures the thing house, and handbag house, do better than almost anything: condense all the hopes, fears, desperation, and fantasies that a dancefloor magics into being, leaving an intense hit of pop that stays in your mind long after the night ends.



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  1. 121
    weej on 16 Sep 2013 #

    #119 – The “the best music came out when I was 15, everything since then has been a letdown” thing is a massive cliche but still pervades most music-related internet comments I come across, with very little in the way of awareness that since everyone else of whatever age is saying the same thing it much be entirely subjective. Having said that, take a look at “Rave video comments will restore your faith in humanity” if you haven’t already.

  2. 122
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Nov 2013 #

    Another bizarre post: structurally this sounds like “Faster” by a certain intense Welsh band who we’ll get to shortly. Yes, perhaps in respectively their most pedestrian and generic singles. But hey! They talked about the Spanish Civil War at the height of “Er ner, Tony Blur’s in powerr, cheese for cheese’s sake!”

    Better that than the Everton FA Cup squad single, or also released in May 1995, Mark Oh – Tears Don’t Lie – the kind of happy hardcore trolling that handed dance music to the kind of people who laugh in court about beating up pensioners.

    Both Faster and Dreamer try to write the ultimate single by shoehorning too many lyrics into a classic primal genre structure, and it’s a beautiful kind of tension. I’m not sure if Janice Robinson ever thought she “had a gun to her head, forced to condense everything she believed in into one final four-minute edict” (in Simon Price’s delicious prose.) Yet F&D have the kind of freewheeling desire deported from the charts in recent years not so much by Autotune and X-Factor, but the stage school “tasteful” acoustic mafia, unaware of the damage they do through fetishising empty self-examination and apologism over pop’s need to actually want something. (So did the New Acoustic Movement at the end of the nineties, but that’s what false relief about getting a “good egg*” with strange cheekbones into office after years of stifling conservatism does to some. Americans, be smart.. you have been warned.)

    Better to be Faster or a Dreamer than being “freed from desire” (nothing wrong with that song, another excellent Italo-house hit two years from “now”; it’s just the phrase is an unfortunate metaphor for the outcome of the Blair years and rather confused sequence of number ones we’ll see towards the end of the decade. But as I’ve said before, it’ll encourage the spiciest debate. Tom.. what you waiting for?)

    * Before they bomb anyone, obviously.

  3. 123
    @Patrick_Mexico on 3 Nov 2013 #

    I compared Manic Street Preachers’ Faster to Livin Joy’s Dreamer and lived to tell the tale.. http://t.co/pZ0hYqUGl5

  4. 124
    weej on 1 Apr 2014 #

    I keep seeing this floating round the internet this week, and thought people might “enjoy” it based on the conversation above – http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/18/music-criticism-has-degenerated-into-lifestyle-reporting.html – tldr; lifestyle journalism has killed my precious rockism, we need to save music journalism from the 21st century by droning on about the petatonic scale and modulating keys.

  5. 125

    I had that piece a little in mind when I was writing this: and Owen Pallett has been doing sterling work in the days since it broke writing pieces about high-end chartpop that deploys music analysis in an interesting, entertaining and informative way.

    (Pre-this, Gioia was an OK-ish jazz historian and critic…)

  6. 126
    Tom on 1 Apr 2014 #

    Technical knowledge applied in an interesting way is about as hott as non-fiction gets, for me. But WHY OH WHY OH WHY do all these pieces assume that technical knowledge about pop music begins and ends as musicology. I don’t just want musicology nerds up in my pop writing, I want sociologists, choreographers, economists, marketers, historians, dressmakers, shop owners, hairdressers, programmers, graphic designers, and a hundred others TOO. And the moon on a stick for pudding.

  7. 127
    Tom on 1 Apr 2014 #

    (So to back myself up the bulk of the entry I’m writing now is a potted history of ideas about branding. Sorry everyone.)

  8. 128
    weej on 1 Apr 2014 #

    Sure, I agree – nothing wrong with knowing your musicology, but music (especially pop music) isn’t the reserve of an elite group of musicologists, it’s everyone’s – and it’s telling that he compares it to business studies and football commentary as if *that’s* the desired standard.

  9. 129
    Cumbrian on 1 Apr 2014 #

    Sports commentary is a particularly odd one, to be honest. The best, most insightful analysis on sport is not being done by sports commentators (even though Gary Neville has moved things on somewhat). I know my rugby union and the guys on the TV talking about tactics and so on are talking about rugby union tactics, it is true, but not at a standard that should be held up as something to emulate. The best work is being done on blogs and by some journalists, as far as I can tell – and isn’t that the case with music too? I don’t really see a difference.

    Also agree with Tom that there’s room for all kinds of stuff in this analysis, both in music and in sport (the whole sabermetric movement in Baseball is entirely about getting economists/mathematicians into analysis of the sport). The internet is so vast, I guess I just look at complaints like those in the linked article at 124 and think: why can’t we have both? And more besides?

  10. 130
    iconoclast on 1 Apr 2014 #

    #124: An interesting read, although I do side more with Tom here: IMHO the only meaningful test of a piece of music is what happens on the way out – its effect on its listeners – rather than what happens on the way in. Otherwise you get music to look at (evaluate by reading the score, or the “score” if you’re being deconstructionist), not to listen to.

    However, I do think the author makes a valid point in there somewhere about the decline in the quality of music criticism. I think he may be mistaking cause for effect somewhere along the line, though, and it’s a symptom of a fundamental change in the part music plays in daily life now compared to 20 years ago.

  11. 131
    Keith on 1 Nov 2014 #

    Without question one of the best Italo-house records ever made – but what takes this record somewhere else is the 12” Big Mix that Rollo did. It was this mix that makes it a classic IMO – and everytime I hear it I just what to stick my hands in the air ….

  12. 132
    Mark M on 18 Nov 2014 #

    Re95 etc: I’ve been looking for somewhere to say this, and slightly randomly chosen this of the many places the concept of ‘rockism’ has been discussed on FreakyTrigger, and annoyed or confused folk. Anyway, so I’m reading Tracey Thorn’s Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Popstar, and it puts the idea back into its original post-punk context, with due reference to Subway Sect’s A Different Story (‘We oppose all rock ‘n’ roll’), and the intensity people felt and how determined they were to reinvent the rules of popular music. But also the dogmatism and slightly bewildering positions people got themselves into (‘Rule Number One: no snare drum, which was too rockist. Only rimshot was allowed […] Rule Number Three: No acoustic guitars as they meant folk music […] There was some Hammond organ, which we saw as being very 1960s, and therefore cool, but – Rule Number Four: no piano, which meant ghastly 1970s rock ballads.’

  13. 133
    wichitalineman on 19 Nov 2014 #


    I might just be the right age but it never seemed a difficult concept to understand.

    It’s odd that guitar solos were allowed – even by the Pop Group, possibly the most self-negating act in history. Nothing ever seemed more trad rock* to me.

    *I think the title of the Membranes’ Death To Trad Rock struck a deeper chord with me than most people. I’ve never heard the actual record.

  14. 134
    Mark M on 19 Nov 2014 #

    The internet, in its randomness, seems to lack the lyrics to Subway Sect’s A Different Story (aka Rock & Roll Even). So, here’s some of it:

    ‘The lines that hit me again and again/Afraid to take a stroll/Of the course of twenty years/And out of Rock & Roll/Out of Rock & Roll!

    We use no belief in the pre-existing school/And since we’ve got this test/We’ve just been waiting for it to fall/We oppose all Rock & Roll/It’s held for too long/You can’t refuse it’s too much to lose

    The life’s a suit well-worn/And it just won’t fit me at all/It tells a different story/And we just can’t believe that story/We’ve just been waiting for it to fall/Oh won’t you come on fall’

  15. 135
    sukrat sect on 19 Nov 2014 #

    “Of the course of twenty years” s/b “Off the course of twenty years” (by my ears anyway)

  16. 136
    Mark M on 19 Nov 2014 #

    Re 135: You’re right, of course. Makes much more sense and is indeed what VG sings. I was copying it off the insert to the CD version of the retrospective – and failed to spot their mistake (bad sub).

    (The CD is ’1976-1980′ and credited to Subway Sect. The vinyl version is 1977-81 and credited to Vic Godard & The Subway Sect. They, however, contain exactly the same songs in – I think – the same versions. Slightly different running order, but the same first and last songs).

  17. 137
    Mark M on 19 Nov 2014 #

    Re132/133: The Tracey Thorn book is absolutely terrific (e.g. this on Primal Scream in ’86: ‘… Bobby Gillespie’s utterly wet and weedy singing. It’s fabulous in its self-delusion: you can almost will yourself into believing, as Bobby apparently does, that he sings like all three of The Shangri-Las, when in fact he just sounds, and looks, like they’d eat him for breakfast.’*)

    She’s very good on the charity-shop-fashion and Nicaragua-benefit-solidarity 1980s, which is (of course) just one of the versions of the decade written out of the official pop-cultural history. (I would like to read a pop memoir that didn’t have the ‘Spinal Tap – it’s all true!’ bit, but that’s a tiny quibble).

    *Mostly, there were four Shangri-Las, but they were a trio for a bit, so she’s not wrong, strictly speaking.

  18. 138
    hectorthebat on 18 Apr 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 29

  19. 139
    Abzolute on 9 Jan 2017 #

    I know it’s been a while since anyone posted on this thread, but I stumbled across this site due to this post and wanted to add my two pennies worth!

    The comments have been interesting and its surprising to see how polarised the response to ‘Dreamer’ is.

    Myself, I’d turned 15 a month before this hit number 1 so I remember it well. At the time I would’ve given it a 7 or an 8 because I really did like it. It was catchy, euphoric and uplifting although it furiously chugged its way through the 3minutes and 44 seconds making it seem like it only played for 2 minutes.
    I wasn’t really about lyrics back then as I much preferred a good baseline, or a good synth/hook, and this track was packed with them.

    Over the years I have visited various clubs all over the UK, and when this track drops, EVERYONE seems to go mental! Bodies flock to the dancefloor (if they’re not already on it) arms are up in the air and people are mouthing the lyrics. It seems to have become quite a cult classic and is still revered and played in clubs (compared to the likes of Let Me Be Your Fantasy, or Set You Free) so it’s stood the test of time. And rightly so.

    It remains one of (if not my number 1) all time favourite dance records. Gat Decors “Passion” is up there also (with a few that have been forgotten by the sands of time) including Nush’s “U Girls (look so sexy)”, Cappella’s “U Got 2 Let The Music”, Rapination ftr alum Mazelle “Love Me The Right Way”, Urban Cookie Collective “The Key The Secret”, Incognito “Always There”, Robin S “Show Me Love”, N-Trance “Set You Free” and Inner City “Good Life”).

  20. 140
    wichitalineman on 13 Jan 2017 #

    No.1 on a technicality! According to James Masterton, “Some Might Say debuted at Number One only to slide to Number 2 the following week following the release of the 12-inch version leaving Livin’ Joy’s ‘Dreamer’ to become the first ever Number One record not to be the best selling track of the week.”

    Thank you, Oasis.

  21. 141
    Mostro on 15 Jan 2017 #

    Couldn’t even have told you what this sounded like (#), checked it out on YouTube and… yeah. Vaguely remember it, but no more- I probably didn’t even care enough to register its name at the time.

    This is your utterly run-of-the-mill early to mid 90s diva-led club/house track. The production sound is horribly flat and generic- particularly those “organ” stabs in the chorus (##)- and even more grating in their boring datedness today.

    (Can’t believe this general sound is now being resurrected as part of the 90s revival).

    I’ll admit that I was never a fan of this sort of thing, but… ugh. I honestly don’t remember this being at the top of the charts. It’s the sort of track that sounds like it would have gone top 10 at the time- maybe even reached number 4- but you just can’t imagine it making sense at number 1, its mid-chart blandness sure to sound anticlimactic and out of place as the finale of the Radio 1 Top 40 on Sunday evening.

    #139 Abzolute; Just saw your comment about the “polarised” responses. I intentionally didn’t read too many comments to avoid colouring my own, but I *was* very surprised that Tom gave this 9, since I honestly can’t see anything special about it at all- quite the opposite! Polarising indeed.

    Maybe this makes more sense if you were a clubber at the time- and I never was- but I’ve heard dance tracks that still sound great outwith that context. To me, this is incredibly boring, generic and- despite the “double time” vocals Tom mentions and I’ll credit them with- has almost exactly the opposite of the life-affirming feel it’s obviously going for.

    (#) Was getting it mixed up with “Dream on Dreamer” by the Brand New Heavies, but realised it probably wasn’t that…

    (##) Can we blame the ubiquitous Korg M1 for this? A bit of searching suggests this might be the case.

  22. 142
    Mostro on 16 Jan 2017 #

    (I meant what I said about not having read many of the comments- except for the last few which had mostly moved away from the original topic anyway- before I posted.

    Now that I have, I’m genuinely surprised that virtually all the observations and opinions I came to independently had already been expressed by others in very similar form. Not sure if this is a good or a bad thing…!)

  23. 143
    Mk on 18 Apr 2020 #

    Great song idea absolutely destroyed by painfully our of tune vocals, it’s not even close. It sounds like they had a few of the instruments down, recorded the vocal then someone de tuned the instruments which knocked the vocals way out. How they weren’t asked to fix it before pressing is a mystery.

  24. 144
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    Terrific stuff and I am glad Tom has given it a 9, which would be my score as well.

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