17
Aug 13

BABYLON ZOO – “Spaceman”

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#733, 27th January 1996

Spaceman The nu millennium demands nu music. Twinkling neon keyboard and nebular swells of synth herald the cyberdelic overlord of compu-pop. What galactic visions have his mauve eyes witnessed? What secrets of the funk cosmic lie in his androgyne grasp? Cyborgs flex to hip-hop breaks as he begins his star-borne song, his voice pitched high, warped into alien tongues. Speak, voyager!

And then the actual song begins.

One version of the “Spaceman” story has Babylon Zoo playing – with the help of Levi’s Jeans – a mean and hilarious trick on the Great British Record Buying Public. Levi’s were now in the happy position, for an advertiser, of their every creative choice getting actual news coverage, and their sci-fi follow-up to the claymation shenanigans of “Boombastic” buzzed with adland confidence. Punky alien girl shocks the space-squares back home by returning from Earth – gasp! – with a pair of jeans. This cornball idea was gorgeously realised and its soundtrack played a huge part – a thrilling, helium-voiced nugget of breakbeat pop futurism. “Spaceman”, in other words, but only the first thirty seconds – spliced onto the track from its Arthur Baker remix. Viewers rushing to buy the single on the back of the ad had no idea the song was about to plunge into growly rock suet.

This story is backed up not just by the speed of sales but by the near-total indifference shown to anything Babylon Zoo did afterwards. But it’s not supported by the intensity of “Spaceman”’s popularity: five weeks at number one, over a million sold. The radio wasn’t just playing the first 30 seconds – so while some people bought “Spaceman” to recapture a commercial’s shiver of alien glamour, many more will have picked it up because they liked the whole song.

So what’s there to like? On paper, “Spaceman” looks like a hard hitting record. The first British Asian man at Number One, singing about homophobia, incipient fascism, media overload, and how “It’s time to terminate the great white world”. But that’s really not how it sounds. For one thing you have to squint selectively to pull any coherent reading out of dystopian boilerplate like “beyond the black horizon / trying to take control”. And the songwriting feels similar to the last time Levis deigned to pluck a band from obscurity – grunge soup, dynamic shifts taking the place of hooks. Behind the expensive makeover for “Spaceman”, this is no doubt what every fifth-rate indie rock band sounded like in the mid-90s.

But the main reason “Spaceman” fails is that Jas Mann is such a terrible vocalist. His performance on “Spaceman” is horribly overcooked – a nasal cyberpunk snarl distorted and amped up in ways that can’t hide how thin his voice is. It’s a crowded field, but there may well be no single sound on a 90s number one more viscerally annoying for me than Mann sneering “There’s a fire between us – so where is your God?”. Ultimately this dark-future mind bomb is a dud not because of its bait-and-switch, not because its harsh truths flew over listeners’ heads, but because its singer sounded like a tool.

Even then, “Spaceman” is a marker for a 90s current we’d otherwise miss. Babylon Zoo’s Bowie-esque playbook had been well thumbed over the last few years by Suede – a hubristic, big-talking frontman, borrowing from sci-fi and glam, teasing his audience with gender fluidity (“Saris are really comfortable to wear – and a lot of fun!”). And the sound – gothy, contemptuous, faintly industrial – would turn up independently and in a much beefier, more convincing way with Marilyn Manson’s glam rock turn.

Glam haunted the 90s, feeding into ideas, styles, and looks that were floating around pop culture, without ever really threatening a specific revival. I wouldn’t claim “Spaceman” for glam: the guitar textures and the poses fit, but glam rock’s power was in its rhythmic push, and without Arthur Baker ‘s help “Spaceman” gets stuck in its own sludge. But its success shows the appetite for theatre that’s always bubbling under British pop. You need a special talent to turn that urge into a career, though, and Jas Mann only looked the part.

4

Comments

  1. 1
    fivelongdays on 17 Aug 2013 #

    This a stupidly brilliant – or brilliantly stupid – record. The squeaky, dancy intro shifts into grinding rock, the lyrics combine politicised statements with cosmic mentalism, and it grooves harder than an awful lot of the things we’ve heard lately. It’s genuinely menacing (though not as much as a track we’ll come to in *thinks* a couple of entries time). Also, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to go “INTERGALACTIC CHRIST” at people.

    Jas’ voice isn’t that annoying – I can think of a lot more annoying sounds in nineties number ones – and good call on the nod to Mazza. There’s a strange similarity, when you think of it, although Antichrist Superstar (MM’s finest moment, which also came out in ’96) benefitted from a shithot production job by Laughing Boy Trent. The only flaw with it is that the helium bits – especially the one at the end – sound a touch bolted on.

    This is the first of a trend of British Asian Number Ones In The Early Months Of The Year, but more on that later, obviously.

    Where is your God, Tom? This is easily an eight, possibly a nine.

  2. 2
    thefatgit on 17 Aug 2013 #

    I CAN’T GET OFF THE CAROUSEL

  3. 3
    Tom on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Another comparison point – which Babylon Zoo come out well ahead in, even vocally – is “Zeroes And Ones” era Jesus Jones.

  4. 4
    flahr on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Tom you must not know how intensely amusing it is to play this to young adults (unfamiliar with the song except its intro) who

    a) like dance music: who get really pissed off when it turns out to be WELL GOFF

    b) don’t like dance music: who go “oh god no” and then look like idiots when it turns out to be WELL GOFF

    which alone makes it worth 6

    (I think it will take some more comments to decide whether it is WELL GOFF enough for a 7)

  5. 5
    flahr on 17 Aug 2013 #

    (I’m pretty sure I prefer “Slight Return” tho)

  6. 6
    Tom on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #4 this is played at almost every Club Popular for that reason. Well, the first 30 seconds are. And not that young adults unfamiliar with the song ever attend Club Popular.

  7. 7
    Alan not logged in on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Another ref point? Placebo’s first album came out in 96 (sa wikipedia)

  8. 8
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Aug 2013 #

    i am the illest goff and i come among you to ask: ARE SCOOTER BUNNIED? Because surely here is where we celebrate them if not

    viz “Endless Summer” july 1995 –> (= invented Fennesz as well as helium-speed BZoo)

  9. 9
    Alan not logged in on 17 Aug 2013 #

    they are not :-(

  10. 10
    Ed on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Things you know that ain’t so: I had always believed that Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy was a response to this, a sign that although his taste might not have been as impeccable as it once was, he was at least aware of the way his spirit and ideas were stil alive in the nineties.

    Turns out that must be wrong: Hallo Spaceboy was released the year before.

  11. 11
    JLucas on 17 Aug 2013 #

    I vividly remember the school discos at the time when everyone would beg the DJ to play this song, go wild when he relented, then stand around awkwardly not really knowing what to do when the first bit ended.

    I actually think it’s entirely possible that most of those million people *did* only buy it for the first thirty seconds. It’s like wondering who took 16 weeks to get around to buying (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, or who was still buying LeAnn Rimes after nigh on six months of bouncing around the top 40 with How Do I Live. An element of the public can be very slow to respond to things they like, and the advert aired for a very long time as I recall.

    Of course, I’m sure there were a few who really did like the goth element, but I reckon if you asked 99.9% of children, teens and young adults of the 90s to hum any other element of the song, they’d be completely stumped.

  12. 12
    Izzy on 17 Aug 2013 #

    it’s entirely possible that most of those million people *did* only buy it for the first thirty seconds

    Oh, totally. It’s certainly why I bought it. The rest is tolerable, but who’d buy it on its own? I’ve never come across the Arthur Baker remix, it sounds like that’s where I should’ve been heading.

    On the principle that you mark a record by its high point: (8), though obviously as a whole it’s probably (4)

  13. 13
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Aug 2013 #

    So about four minutes in to the 5.42 version I’m playing right now, they start background chants of “Babylon Zoo”, and it struck me that this is quite an unusual thing to be doing. Obviously there are acts who sing songs of the same name as themselves — cue Black Sabbath, cue ancient Monty Smith/Danny Baker joke review of Imagination’s eponymous first alb — but this is not that, and I don’t mean that. I’m trying to think of other songs where the act’s own name is used as a chant during a song of a different title — there must be some!

  14. 14
    23 Daves on 17 Aug 2013 #

    I’ve argued about this record so often online over the last ten years or so that I can barely summon up the will to do so again. But…

    My relationship with “Spaceman” is slightly different to most people’s. The first time I heard it was in a local record shop, who were playing it over the sound system at least one month before the Levis ad was aired. I don’t know if they’d received a pre-release copy, acetate or a demo, but my first impressions were: “Is this Pop Will Eat Itself’s new direction? Seems like a leap forward for them if so!” A backhanded compliment to say the least, and I meant to talk to the cashier to see if my suspicions were correct, but I got distracted and forgot all about it until I heard the thirty second extract yet again on the Levi’s ad. So, unlike most of the UK, I already knew how the rest of the song went and had already made up my mind that I quite liked it. I’ve had this story challenged on a number of occasions and if someone can prove to me that I might have misremembered something along the way and I couldn’t possibly have heard the track so early on (it was a long time ago, after all) I’m happy to step down and admit I may be mistaken.

    So, before the ad I’d already decided that the track stood a chance as a minor breakaway indie hit – a high top twenty or low top ten placing, maybe. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer force of the record’s popularity, which does admittedly seem inexplicable. “Spaceman” is a bit over-the-top and silly, and actually sounds rather dated for 1996. As posters have pointed out above, it has echoes of Jesus Jones about it, whose moment had long passed. My initial comparison with Pop Will Eat Itself seems slightly inaccurate in retrospect, but the vocals do have that slight Black Country grebo whine to them which were prevalent in the early nineties as well. Mann’s roots were also in a Brum trad-indie act The Sandkings (http://youtu.be/oHC0ejrLTbI) of whom I was aware, and were passable and unobjectionable and clearly operating in the shadow of their region’s bigger brothers.

    Whatever I originally supposed, “Spaceman” initially seemed as unlikely a number one as Eat suddenly having a glam-tinged million seller. But I think in its own way the track also shines a searchlight over a wide demographic – the dance kids who probably wanted the Arthur Baker remix, the Suede fans, the goth kids who enjoyed the doomy aspects, the less picky Bowie fans, and any unreformed grebos who might happen to have been listening. Couple that with enormously wide exposure on an advert, and you’ve clearly got a smash, although I actually doubt the construction of the track was as cynical as that.

    And while it’s a strange number one in retrospect, I’ll still maintain that it is a good single. The central hooks are incredibly powerful, the verses theatrical enough to be enjoyable if you tell yourself that Mann knows he’s being ridiculous. I didn’t buy it in the end, but I always find myself enjoying it if it comes on the radio, which happens very infrequently these days. And of course, everything else Babylon Zoo released was total rubbish, which is why they faded from view so quickly – they were complete one-trick ponies. But it’s an interesting 7-out-of-10 trick to my ears.

  15. 15
    23 Daves on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #13 – The Sweet did it at the start of “Teenage Rampage” with the chant “We want Sweet/ We want Sweet”.

    The KLF/ Justified Ancients of Mu Mu also did it more times than I can possibly count.

  16. 16
    Tom on 17 Aug 2013 #

    There’s a Fall track – I forget which – that begins “Fall Ad-Vance! Fall Ad-Vance!” chant style.

  17. 17
    Brendan F on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #13 – Utah Saints

  18. 18
    swanstep on 17 Aug 2013 #

    @13, Mark. Ugh, at least half the tracks on Madonna’s 1987 remix album, You Can Dance, broke down to chants of “Madonna! Madonna!….” over just a beat at various points. As far as I can recall, however, M. never chanted her own name in the principal/original, non-extended mix of any track until the recent, uninspiring,’Gimme All Your Luvin which chanted ‘L U V Madonna, Y O U you wanna’ right from the outset. Gaga, of course, chants her name everywhere in original versions of lots of her songs.

  19. 19
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Aug 2013 #

    My first thought was that the chant was a kind of a tell: indicating that this was a stunt single rather than the first move in a “routine rocky chart-pop career” (whatever that might be). Of course the KLF/JAMMS link — very good call — doesn’t really disprove this. As KLFish first move, this should have been a corker! So did Jas Mann’s nerve fail, did he not see the opportunities open to him, or did he really think that the Levi’s ad was merely a door-opener and now he would shake off such stuff and get back to his “real” music? (The second single of the second LP was a cover of Mott the Hoople’s Honaloochie Boogie, released only as a promo, in France…)

    Hmmm, isn’t the Sweet chant more the invocation of the audience that loves you — the presence of their voices on your record — and thus a slightly different thing again? It disrupts the more classic social-vocal geometry of protagonist — or sometimes protagonist-antagonist — vs the implied Greek Chorus of the “coloured girls go doo de doo de doodedoo” etc.

    Of course the class Greek Chorus generally stands for the authors idea of the rest-of-us observing (“Yes, we see!” or indeed “WHAT ABOUT US!?”), where recordings of the actual audience — even when introduced as a faux verité element by the producer-as-author — surely stands for something less universal. Justified fandom, for example.

  20. 20
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Aug 2013 #

    ^^^ps author’s actual-real best paper in his finals was non-euclidean geometry and he should probably be discouraged whenever his speculations amble in a similar direction :)

  21. 21
    swanstep on 17 Aug 2013 #

    And then there’s always the infamous track A To Z from ABC’s third album.

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 17 Aug 2013 #

    listening to this now, it sounds like a palatable if unmemorable racket – The chipmunk vocals reminded me of The Prodigy’s Out of Space at the time but they’re the nearest thing the song has to a hook. 5 for me.

  23. 23
    swanstep on 17 Aug 2013 #

    ‘Spaceman’ is new to me. At first few listens, then, it seems like a pretty flimsy construction, owing a lot to Filter, Monster Magnet, maybe Placebo, but never quite punching things home. The guitars are loud enough to be irritating but somehow don’t ever deliver anything truly grunty and rifftastic. I dare say that Muse could probably play and sing the hell out of this track so that it’d deliver more in the ways it clearly wants to. Instead, BZ would seem to be the glam/industrial Stiltskin which is not a thing to be (although ‘Spaceman’ transferred a lot better down under than ‘Inside’ did: in New Zealand, BZ peaked at #4 and spent 5 weeks in the top 10 whereas Stitskin peaked for 1 week at #20). Agree with:
    4

  24. 24
    Jonathan Bogart on 17 Aug 2013 #

    That anyone in the decade of Corgan could complain about anyone else’s nasal whine is astonishing to me. (Though it occurs to me that I have no idea how Smashing Pumpkins did in the UK.)

    I’ve had some nostalgic affection for “Spaceman,” perhaps because I only heard it once or twice on the radio at the time, so it retained an aura of mystery until websearching came into my life. (Although sometimes I still confuse it with 4 Non Blondes’ “Spaceman,” which got played about as often on English-language Guatemalan radio.) It’s all tied up with the mix of emotions that was graduating from high school and preparing to leave Guatemala where I’d been a teenager for a largely unknown “home” in the US; early 1996 was the last time I would listen to the radio in quite the same solitary, uncritical way ever again.

  25. 25
    Kat but logged out innit on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #6: I can’t really remember but I think at the last one we followed aforementioned 30 seconds with Cliff Richard’s ‘Congratulations’…

  26. 26
    AMZ1981 on 17 Aug 2013 #

    One thing I’ve only just realised is that Spaceman was pretty much the only million selling single by a rock band in 90s (Bohemian Rhapsody, sixteen years old, was the only other). I remember I didn’t particularly like it at the time and it’s not really stood the test of time either – when was the last time you heard it on the radio? Previous Levi’s chart toppers had really been stopgap number ones so that doesn’t explain why this record broke so big.

    During the five weeks this held the top spot the number two spot was occupied by the well remembered `Slight Return` (yet another Britpop number two) and the completely forgotten Anything by 3T (Tito Jackson’s sons).

  27. 27
    Steve Mannion on 17 Aug 2013 #

    This is sort of all 808 State’s fault. Apparently the ad was originally to feature the intro to a piece of music by Graham Massey (which eventually became their single ‘Bond’) fresh off his success producing Bjork’s ‘Post’ but this was rejected in favour of the Baker ‘remix’ (afaik this really was just the whole song sped up?) of ‘Spaceman’ from a tape of the trio’s radio show. Conf: http://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/archive/showartefact.php?aid=1956&bid=4537

    What the huge fuss over the intro suggested so strongly to me was that Happy Hardcore would’ve been far more popular (chart-wise at least) but the obstacle was not chipmunk vocals but the tempo. There was to be no floodgate breach for HH in the wake of BZ despite being championed by John Peel (who did enable significantly the high-pitched horror of the Cuban Boys a few years on from ‘Spaceman’) on R1 (you could hear HH on Peel but NEVER on Tong’s show and I don’t think the latter played the Baker mix of ‘Spaceman’ either despite its more practical Big Beat compatibility).

    Still we can always savour Jas Mann’s jib-jab with Chris Morris on Brass Eye. “Do you think you’ll ever write a spherical song?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3XgouVH9-Y

  28. 28
    TriffidFarm on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Re the five weeks at number one and not falling for the ‘trick’: The CD single had the version we had all heard, and three remixes of the same track. I bought it with my sister, convinced – CONVINCED – that one of them had to be the dance remix that the first thirty seconds had promised. (The ‘Fifth Dimension’ one promised much.) And we, and a few others that we spoke to on that holiday who had made the same mistake, were astonished – ASTONISHED – to find that they were all awful.

    This may be unfair, but I recall Jas Mann coming across at the time as resentful of the way his song had become famous, and doggedly refusing to give the public what they wanted was his way of insisting that his talents were not further sullied.

  29. 29
    thefatgit on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Jas Mann seems to me the first 90’s pop comedy touchstone since Candy Flip, but he’s indirectly responsible for Fischerspooner (image) and Enter Shikari (dance-rock kludge). I’m willing to cut him some slack and give BZ a 7.

  30. 30
    hectorthebat on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Sample watch: contains a sample of “DMT” by deee-lite

  31. 31
    Tom on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #28 I remember hearing that JM was pretty cross Levi’s only used the sped up bit, dunno if this is true – Wikipedia claims the original has a ‘creepy’ spoken intro.

  32. 32
    Mark G on 17 Aug 2013 #

    Sun Ra, anybody?

  33. 33
    Billy Hicks on 17 Aug 2013 #

    For those wanting “the proper version”, if you can track down a copy of the CD single of ‘The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes’ (third single from the album and a minor #32 hit) one of the tracks is called ‘Spaceman (Zupervarian remix)’ which is a special mix Arthur Baker did keeping all the full track’s vocals but speeding the whole thing up to sound like the ad.

    My only memories of this are from the advert, and the big “Yay it’s…wait what?!” moment for me only came in about 2004 when I heard the full thing for the first time. Interesting that the official Youtube version takes out the Levi’s bit altogether, and has instead the said-creepy intro.

  34. 34
    Billy Hicks on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #27 – Early 1996 does indeed to be the closest gabber/happy hardcore ever came to being a UK chart force. Technohead’s ‘I Wanna Be A Hippy’ is surely the biggest selling example in this country, peaking at #6 around the same time, while Scooter got a #19 with ‘Back in the UK’ and Interactive #28 with ‘Forever Young’ – a slower, housier Red Jerry remix was the lead mix on the UK single but it included the faster hardcore radio edit as seen elsewhere in Europe.

    Then out of nowhere, Nakatomi’s ‘Children of the Night’ suddenly appears at #29 in late 2002, despite being originally a #149 hit in 1996. Possibly a more up-to-date ‘clubland’ remix than the hardcore original?

  35. 35
    Andrew Farrell on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #10 – true sign of Bowie’s awareness of his legacy (and willingness to fk with people’s awareness) = appearing with Placebo at the ’99 Brits!

  36. 36
    speedwell54 on 17 Aug 2013 #

    The advert sold me and I wasn’t on my own. I had it my head it would sell out so went to my local “Badlands” store on the Saturday before release to order it. They had all the new releases on a shelf behind the counter. They had a couple of copies of the Chemical Brothers single with the skier on, two others I don’t know -one copy each – and at least 50 copies of “Spaceman”. It was always going to be massive.

    I don’t quite get the idea that on mass, people were ‘tricked’ into buying it and then disappointed when playing the whole track. I’m not saying it never happened but think it may be over egged. As Tom points out this wouldn’t have sustained five weeks at number one.

    Career wise they were on a hiding to nothing after this. Animal Army with the Kravitz guitar and the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds sounding “The Boy with the X-ray Eyes” were IMO pretty good. I don’t mind “Diamond Dogs” I mean “All the Money’s Gone” either. I think they would have all faired better fronting a massive Levi’s tv advert on heavy rotation.

    8 from me.

  37. 37
    Richard on 17 Aug 2013 #

    #27, #34 – This has reminded me of one of my strongest memories of early 1996. In March of that year I went on an outward bound trip with the school to the Brecon Beacons, and there was an outing to the local swimming pool. On the minibus the popular choice of music was a happy hardcore tape played at ear-splitting volume. At the time I would’ve preferred to hear the new Terrorvision album.

    17 years later and I’m pretty sure I’d rather have the happy hardcore.

  38. 38
    mapman132 on 17 Aug 2013 #

    For a song that never charted in the US, and that I’ve heard maybe 4-5 times in my life, three of which were in the past two days, I have a lot to comment on. Somehow there’s a lot more going on here than just your typical one hit wonder…

    First, from a US perspective, the phenomenon of advertisements spawning hit singles is a bit odd. I’m not saying it never happens here, but I can’t think of anything as big as this or any of the other ad-inspired #1’s I’ve read about on this blog. In fact, outside of the Super Bowl, individual ads rarely become pop culture phenomenons at the level being described here. Ad *campaigns* do, but not individual commercials so much. Perhaps this is a result of the US being so much bigger and geographically diverse (and with more TV viewing options)? Again, the Super Bowl exception would seem to support this theory.

    Also, I’ve never been aware of any specific following regarding Levi’s ads. The brand is certainly well-known and successful in its homeland, but if there were any memorable ads, I must’ve missed them.

    As for Babylon Zoo, I was still following the UK chart from afar via James Masterton’s blog in 1996. So I was aware of the massive sales, the massive press, and (I think) the 7-record deal surrounding this potential new megagroup, and I eagerly awaited the appearance of the mystery song “Spaceman” on US radio. That of course never happened. I think I did manage to download a short clip of remixed version in question, but that’s as much as I ever heard at the time. Then the album flopped, followups flopped, and within a few months the entire music world acted like Babylon Zoo had never existed. It was like an entire music career had been compressed into a few months, making the likes of Vanilla Ice look like a multi-decade long runner by comparison. Again, this was all from my US perspective of never hearing more than that 30 second remix, but it just seemed very, very odd to me.

    So, finally the song itself. I finally listened to it a couple years ago on Youtube. And again a few times in the past couple days because of this blog. And I gotta say…I actually LIKE it. It’s strange that it never got promoted on these shores since I think it would have been right at home on US MTV or modern rock radio of 1996. Maybe the bait-and-switch remix controversy killed it. Too bad. 9/10 for me.

  39. 39
    mapman132 on 17 Aug 2013 #

    OK, now that I wrote the above, I thought of one sort-of example of an ad spawning a US #1. The bunny prevents me from naming the song directly, but there was a six week #1 in 2012 that got major exposure from a Super Bowl ad that year, and propelled it overnight into the Top 3 before radio had taken notice yet. Still though, I say “sort of” because it quickly got disconnected culturally from the ad to the point where I’d forgotten it was in an ad. And the group has become self-sustaining with some other hit singles since then. So an ad can certainly give a huge lift to a song in the US, but I don’t think it get a song to #1 all by itself.

  40. 40
    Tom on 17 Aug 2013 #

    BTW since nobody else has said it, this record has the best sleeve we’ve seen for ages.

    #38

    “First, from a US perspective, the phenomenon of advertisements spawning hit singles is a bit odd. I’m not saying it never happens here, but I can’t think of anything as big as this or any of the other ad-inspired #1′s I’ve read about on this blog. In fact, outside of the Super Bowl, individual ads rarely become pop culture phenomenons at the level being described here. Ad *campaigns* do, but not individual commercials so much. Perhaps this is a result of the US being so much bigger and geographically diverse (and with more TV viewing options)? Again, the Super Bowl exception would seem to support this theory.”

    Yes, the Super Bowl is the only time it would happen – though US advertisers are now starting to make commercials for the web as much as for TV, which might mean more coast-to-coast exposure for a featured song. American commercials are also generally very different in style from the kind of campaigns which launched hit songs in the UK. Here, the brand would generally get out of the way of the story/imagery/song – in the Levis’ campaign, product information tends to be left very implicit or only featured right at the end. In America, voiceovers, testimonials and product claims are a LOT more common. A voiceover would have ruined the “Spaceman” ad (or any of the others). Again, the Super Bowl is something of an exception – it’s when US advertisers get let off the leash and produce more creative, less product-focused work.

  41. 41
    flahr on 17 Aug 2013 #

    I note that an overexcited Tanya Headon forgot about the “hating music” part of their brief and called the intro “an excitingly skittery five second advert tune“.

  42. 42
    Jeremy on 17 Aug 2013 #

    I had some fun speeding up my walkman and hearing the song as it should be heard! Now, it’s easier: just get a speedup plugin for Winamp and listen to Spaceman in the cool sense!

  43. 43
    mapman132 on 18 Aug 2013 #

    #40 Hadn’t thought of the voiceover effect, but that’s an excellent point. Isn’t it true that many of the imagery-based ads, especially the Levi’s ones, are made for a Pan-European audience? Of course, voiceovers could be recorded in multiple languages, but I guess they don’t want to do that for reasons of cost or consistent brand identity.

  44. 44
    Izzy on 18 Aug 2013 #

    They do seem to be, and I’ve never understood why. It doesn’t make sense to me to sell mundane consumer goods to the UK using cycling families, sun-baked cities, or those apartment buildings with neat rows of aluminium letter-boxes in the foyer. Let alone tiny bits of footage with woeful dubbing. How doesn’t this harm the campaign?

    Levi’s not really of this ilk though – they feel more British in humour, and depend on music and fantastical scenarios anyway.

  45. 45
    Another Pete on 18 Aug 2013 #

    #38 #44 You also have to take into effect that in that in 1996 the UK only had two commercial terrestrial TV channels. I think this is why British adverts try to go out their way to entertain as the biggest rival doesn’t have them.

    The explanation to why the sitcom Police Squad! was cancelled by ABC suggests in the US it is more about what you hear than what you see, which would explain the voiceovers.

  46. 46
    Rory on 18 Aug 2013 #

    At last, a cover I recognise (and I agree, it’s a good one; I love the insect-like effect of the arching goggles). I picked up a second-hand copy of “Spaceman” on CD single a few months after it peaked at number 3 in Australia, but it didn’t last long in my collection; my two dollars’ worth of interest was exhausted within a year. (Yes, I can tell this from an archived spreadsheet of my past music purchases. Sad, I know.) Off it went to Revolution CD in Canberra, the same way as a couple of other one-hit wonders I mentally lump with this one, EMF’s “Unbelievable” and Spacehog’s “In the Meantime” (both on their parent albums, no less; at least I didn’t fall for that with Babylon Zoo). Unlike those two, though, “Spaceman” hadn’t enjoyed a slight return in Fraunhofer form.

    I wish I hadn’t ditched it now; not least because the only versions I can find online aren’t the one I remember, the shorter radio edit, which didn’t have the distracting “Babylon Zoo” chant. At least EMF had the good sense to break up their eponymous chanting with the mother of all obscenities. But that silly touch aside, I feel unexpectedly warm towards this. The slide from dancing chipmunks to cod glam doesn’t bother me, and didn’t bother me back then; I would have found it hard to take a whole single of the sped-up vocals, as a listen to the Zupervarian mix has confirmed. I wasn’t introduced to the song by a 30-second snippet on an advert, so there was no bait and switch. No, I liked that sort of doom-laden rock plod back in the mid-’90s, with the synth touches to make it feel appropriately fin de siecle. A few Aussie bands at the time traded in the same, and I liked them too.

    All of which means that “Spaceman” now has a remarkable ability to take me back in Time as well as Space, to see 1996 in all its OK Computer-is-just-around-the-corner glory. Perhaps not coincidentally, after OK Computer was released the following year was when I ditched this CD single; Jas Mann couldn’t compete with the real rock-n-bits thing. I was being a bit harsh on it, though. As taking-themselves-too-seriously one-hit wonders go, this is as memorable and goofy as any, and I’m now inclined to give it… oh, go on then, 7.

    (Eye-opening tidbit encountered while reading around the tracks I’ve mentioned here: Spacehog’s lead singer Royston Langdon was married to Liv Tyler for five years.)

  47. 47
    Rory on 18 Aug 2013 #

    #13: “Who Are You” (Who, Who… Who, Who)

  48. 48
    mapman132 on 18 Aug 2013 #

    #46 Hadn’t noticed until now, but “Spaceman” does bear a resemblance to “In the Meantime” (which I also owned, and still do, via its parent album).

    More Spacehog trivia: I couldn’t remember if they were American or British. Apparently the answer is Yes: all originally from Leeds, but met and formed in New York. Never would’ve guessed the Liv Tyler thing though.

  49. 49
    swanstep on 18 Aug 2013 #

    @Rory, 46. Glad you mentioned Spacehog’s ‘In The Meantime’ (I almost did): that’s not only another one-hit-wonder from the time, but like ‘Spaceman’ it struck some vaguely glam/Bowie-ish notes. Note that Bowie had an early 1996 single from his Outside album, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, so there was definitely a bit of space-rock in the air.

    US vs UK advertizing: I’m pretty sure it’s widely understood that the norm in the US is to offer a list of reasons for purchase whereas the norm in the UK is to go for more nebulous branding, positive assocation-building, etc.. There are plenty of exceptions on both sides, but, for example, you very rarely have the experience with US advertising of not knowing what the ad’s for, whereas that’s not at all uncommon in the UK or down under (which broadly follows the UK tradition in this).

  50. 50
    Jonathan Bogart on 18 Aug 2013 #

    I too associate this with “In the Meantime,” which I heard just as often, and as context-free, around the same time. When I want to be nostalgic, however, Spacehog is on Spotify (in the US) and Babylon Zoo is not.

  51. 51
    Will on 18 Aug 2013 #

    You know what? The tune actually grew on me during the course of its five week stay at Number One. But oh Christ, those lyrics are unforgivable – ‘there’s a fire between us/so where is your God?’…’images of fascist folks’ ‘Fascist folks’? Who’d ever heard the far right described in such a homely manner?

  52. 52
    Rory on 18 Aug 2013 #

    A certain fascist called his country’s most famous vehicle a folks-wagon…

    But yes, very silly lyrics. And I’d never twigged the “intergalactic Christ” bit before. Now I have an image of Edward Woodward screaming “Christ!” in a Wicker Man taking off from Summerisle like a rocket.

  53. 53
    Patrick Mexico on 18 Aug 2013 #

    What the hell is this. It’s a mess, but a quite marvellous mess.

    Jas Mann deserves his five minutes of fame as he knew how to be a pop star – be as colourful, be as preposterous, be as making your parents say “oh god, not him again, what is this awful racket”… to quote Simon Price be as “Top of the Pops or top yourself.. terminal adolescence” as possible. You’re right about the ugly, karaoke-Bowie vocals, but I don’t think anything else soundtracking a Levi’s ad has been this much fun. 6.

    This also brings to mind two great playground memes of the era..

    a) “What do you do when you see a space, man? Park in it, man”

    b) “Rain man, I always wanted it to pour, down with rain, man”

  54. 54
    Chelovek na lune on 18 Aug 2013 #

    This is a dull record. And trying to be too clever for its own good. I can’t quite decide whether it succeeds or fails in that way. But I can’t argue with “fascist folks”: it is surely a deliberate nod towards the concept of “völkisch”…which certainly fed into German fascism…

  55. 55
    Patrick Mexico on 18 Aug 2013 #

    It reminds me of nearly every Muse single, ever. Sometimes that’s a great thing, more often that not that’s a bloody horrible thing. I’ll do them justice later on TPL.

    Images of fascist folk.. maybe Jas just spent a lot of time in Chorley.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDp3Zr0Tk4s

  56. 56
    @jodymacgregor on 18 Aug 2013 #

    Tom Ewing didn’t like Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaeman’, it’s a world gone mad. http://t.co/w1DLIEw3A4

  57. 57
    Tim Byron on 19 Aug 2013 #

    I feel like I must have seen the Levi’s ad for this in Australia, but watching it on YouTube just then draws a complete mental blank, so it’s possible it didn’t get played here, but it was a big hit in Australia, anyway, spending a couple of months in the top 10 and getting to #3 (beaten that week by Joan Osborne’s “One Of Us” and Everything But The Girl’s “Missing”.

    I loved this at the time and so bought the single. I specifically liked the way that the single edit sped up at the end – it gave you something to wait for at the end of the song, and the sped-up-ness and the swirls of keyboards does quite well at evoking alien abduction etc (I was very definitely into the X-Files at this point, so this appealed to me).

    I remember that the local record store had a weekly “mail in your answers and win a CD” competition in the local paper that I would sometimes enter, and that I entered to win “The Man With The X-Ray Eyes”. The next week I discovered that the CD was actually won by an old friend I no longer went to school with because of not being in primary school any more.

    Listening to it now, I am slightly astonished that Tom dislikes the vocal performance, because to my mind, Mann does a pretty good job of it (then again, I had just fallen head over heels for the Smashing Pumpkins in early 1996, so maybe the whine of the vocals was doing something for my authentic mid-1990s just-hit-puberty teen angst). It’s the lyrics that I find hard to deal with now – ‘there’s a fire between us – so where is your God?’ etc. (I definitely wrote similar lyrics in my poorly-formed songs at the time, so clearly those lyrics were tapping some ridiculous teen angst that didn’t seem dumb to a 14 year old).

    The worst thing about the song, in 2012, is the lack of propulsion in the rhythm section. It desperately needs something, some sort of syncopation or maybe a bit of speeding up? SOMETHING. I mean, it sort of works in the chorus (but then that sounds way better sped up, doesn’t it, so maybe it doesn’t!), but the rest of it sounds absolutely turgid.

    My partner who teaches in a contemporary music course at university has a story of 18-year-olds watching the video for this song a couple of years ago. It was on a TV in a hallway that was playing some 1990s countdown on a pay TV channel, and she stopped and watched the video for a little nostalgia. Some young music students who were hanging around the hallway were looking at the TV with confused looks on their faces, and asked her if this was actually a hit (to which she replied, yes). After a silence, one kid eventually said (to furious nods of agreement from the others), “Man, musicians had no idea what the fuck they were doing in the 1990s”.

  58. 58
    swanstep on 19 Aug 2013 #

    @57, Tim. Thin voices like Corgan’s or Bernard Sumner’s or Robert Smith’s or Brett Anderson’s or Liz Phair’s can be just the ticket – they stand or fall on the ideas (lyrical and arrangement) and the attitude with which they’re paired. Pitching’s often a problem but it can add lots of character (although consistently off-key live can be punishing – Juliana Hatfield, Ian Brown, just yikes). Anyhow, small details can make a difference – Spaceman is full of duff moments (for me the ‘I can’t get on the carousel…’ part stops the song dead, as does the 20 seconds of aimless guitar bashing after the first chorus – why not just cut back to verse? maybe if the rising distorted scream in that passage were mixed higher we’d have another hook, but as it is….), and I think it’s the accumulation of those kinds of mis-steps that leaves us resistant to the vocals in Spaceman. For an example of getting all the deatils right, here’s Corgan banging on about God live in 1998 w/ able help from (Aladdin Sane genius pianist) Mike Garson. Sounds fantastic.

  59. 59
    Izzy on 19 Aug 2013 #

    What does ‘thin’ mean? I’d never have said Brett had a thin voice, but I know little about vocal technique. Years of watching The Voice et al haven’t helped either, other than that I’m aware that some people have ‘a lovely tone’.

  60. 60
    Cumbrian on 19 Aug 2013 #

    It’s been said a few times on these pages (in the SMS thread and the ‘95 Poll thread) that Oasis fans were bullies, anti-intellectuals, conservative boors. Having been to a few of their gigs (and I stopped going to see them around 2001), I can definitely see that this must have been the experience for many people. I couldn’t stand going to see Oasis and being surrounded by boors chucking bottles of piss around – by that point, it just wasn’t worth being there and putting up with all of that stuff, nor being associated with it, so my fandom for Oasis became something that was internalised, never discussed with my friends or peers, though I guess this is something for the relevant late-Oasis threads to discuss more in depth.

    The odd thing though is that, for me, at my school, Oasis fans where part of the great Britpop tribe and we were the nerdy kids who tried to get through life without being bullied. The bullies were all into Trance, House, Happy Hardcore, whatever stripe of dance music they could get their hands on. For me, it was that music which I associated – unfairly, I might add – with the people who pushed me around, didn’t put much thought into things and were generally intolerant of the “other”.

    Which is why, put bluntly, I loved Spaceman. A whole load of these bullies at school heard it on the Levis ad, sucked in by the technoish section and ran around singing it all day to the point that they went out and bought it, only to be disgusted that they’d been duped by a slab of glam rock.* What was even better is that the lyrics in the bridge are pretty clearly a diatribe against the closed minded thinking that was running through these guys (and the weight of all the homophobic jokes, impending fascism and so on that Jas/the Jas character has been getting, even leads to confusion – “beam me up cos I can’t breathe” versus “I always wanted you to go into space”, i.e. should you or I be the one to bugger off so that I can lead a life of my choosing without you giving me shit? And does it really matter, so long as I am free of you?). Combine that with dramatic, stylised TOTP appearances in silver sarongs, the makeup and immaculate hair and it quickly became apparent that this guy was clearly so far “other” that this would not stand for my school adversaries. I could see that this, frankly beautiful, androgynous Asian guy had snuck a whole load of stuff that my bullies hated in through the back door. The schadenfreude was delicious.

    I’d still give this a 7 now. The verses are pretty lumpen but I do like the bridge and chorus with the great thrashy Bernard Butler-esque guitars. The Bowie comparisons must have been a bit of a weight, mind; subsequent releases would seem to suggest that Jas didn’t quite have the élan of Bowie and he sank quickly thereafter, with the NME, in particular, keen to describe him as a fluke. Well, to my ears, he was no worse than some of the mid-table Britpop acts they were foisting on us. I could have done with Babylon Zoo sticking around a bit longer I think. A streak of preposterousness would have been good to have in the mix.

    *To those questioning whether this duping of the public happened: it definitely happened. I saw it happen. Who was buying it in ensuing weeks, one can only speculate. But it should be noted that some advertising theory suggests that the effective frequency level of an advert is 3-5 exposures (i.e. enough that you will have seen and remember the ad but not enough that you are sick of seeing it). The aim is to get an average frequency in this range over your entire campaign. It is, I guess, possible that the people that bought it in subsequent weeks were those who were getting into this frequency range.

  61. 61
    Andy M on 19 Aug 2013 #

    I always thought it was ‘Intergalactic Crimes’. I had an entire backstory in my head where he was a fugitive hiding on Earth on the run from the Nazi space police.

  62. 62
    anto on 19 Aug 2013 #

    There seemed to be a lot of Tony le Mesmer types in U.K pop during the nineties. Tony Mortimer was one, Jay Kay was another, Richard Ashcroft after a fashion and Jas Mann for the duration of his 15 minutes at least. Certainly you didn’t have to look very far to find someone wittering on about nebulous concepts that involved words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘energy’ being tossed about.
    I was never disappointed by ‘Spaceman’ because I found the speeded-up part gimmicky anyway so I was merely bemused by the way it slid into a boring song. What surprises me now are the stats mentioned in the review. I don’t remember it being number 1 for that long (even though it felt long). Over a million sold? It seems especially strange that it hasn’t had much of an afterlife. I can’t remember when or where I last heard it (and the name Babylon Zoo was already becoming one of those sniggering that-was-then signifiers as early as about 1999). I suppose any day now a woman with a twee voice and piano will release a cover version.

  63. 63
    flahr on 19 Aug 2013 #

    Funny you should say that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KHMKrFPV-Q

  64. 64
    Cumbrian on 19 Aug 2013 #

    I don’t know which is worse: crap punk/metal/acoustic covers of pop songs by guitar bands or crap breathy/acoustic/piano covers of rock songs by folk/easy listening artists. A pox on both their houses.

  65. 65
    Alan not logged in on 19 Aug 2013 #

    i vote the latter (as being WAY worse). a poll perhaps…

  66. 66
    Tom on 19 Aug 2013 #

    #62 Babylon Zoo became a joke VERY quickly – the only 90s band I can think of whose hype cycle was faster was Gay Dad. I always liked that BZ called the first single off the second album “All The Money’s Gone”, though this appreciation didn’t extend to actually wanting to hear it.

  67. 67
    swanstep on 19 Aug 2013 #

    @64, Cumbrian. Have you heard Sia’s Paranoid Android cover?

    @59, Izzy. Now I think about it, I’m happy to take Brett Anderson off my impromptu list (I was thinking of Suede’s first few singles where everything was in a high register, not the luscious mixtures of lows and highs you get on Dog Man Star). Anyhow, by ‘thin’ I mean literally a very narrow range of frequencies/very few harmonics/overtones normally as a result of no use of the diaphragm at all to help produce sound, it’s all in the throat and upper chest. Anyhow, I think we all know it when we hear it – it almost sounds a little like the singer’s being strangled, which can be a good effect! assuming you find the singer otherwise interesting. Obviously too, if you’ve got a thin voice in this sense, you’re leaving a lot of space for all sort of other instruments to go crazy – and bands like the Cure and New Order really do fill up all that available space with melodic elements from the bass up.

  68. 68
    fivelongdays on 19 Aug 2013 #

    @60 – Yeah, I know what you’re getting at. Until, well, Knebworth, I suppose, Oasis were a bit of a cult thing – and Indie/Rock/Metal fans always formed a touch of an alliance – while all the ‘well ‘ards’ were into dance music. Hence why I always feel a wee bit disappointed when someone as clearly intelligent and pleasant as Tom gives good marks to the likes of ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ such high marks. I appreciate it might have been different if you went to Posh School, though!

    Oh, and is this the first time a number one has dropped the F-bomb, and in such plain sight? I’m convinced the middle-eight’s phoned-in lyrics are ‘Fuck it all, fuck it all, fuck it all, fuck you’.

  69. 69
    Mark G on 19 Aug 2013 #

    Well, there’s the ‘clear as day if you listen’ one by Lennon on “Hey Jude”

  70. 70
    Cumbrian on 19 Aug 2013 #

    #67: No, I hadn’t, though I have now. In my defence (and at the risk of falling into a “No True Scotsman” fallacy), I did say “crap” covers on either side of that equation. There is room for a well judged cover within those genres, I feel, but there are too many that are just by the numbers guff (the worst recent one for my money being the horrible version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” – from a John Lewis ad here in the UK (is it John Lewis? It might have been Waitrose? It’s not the one on the new home insurance advert from John Lewis anyway) – which sucks the peppy, keep on keeping on, life out of the original and replaces it with sad sack vocals and slow tempo instrumentation to which the only answer can be “Please Stop”).

    Anyway, I thought the Sia cover you linked above was OK. I thought it was going to go somewhere really weird and memorable with the theremin initially but rowed a little back from that, though the use of cello and the maintenance of an air of unease (as opposed to the original’s collision of (impotent?) rage and despair) offered something.

    #68: I’m glad it wasn’t just me! Cumbria can be a bit disconnected to what is going on elsewhere in the UK sometimes and all the stuff in the other threads about the yobbish tendencies of fans of guitar groups really didn’t jibe with my own experience at school. In the end, the bullies versus the population at my school delineated on musical lines as dance v the rest of music. It was only when I left Cumbria – to go to gigs or to university – that I started to see some of the stuff people have talked about elsewhere on FT/Popular. Both experiences seemed to be true.

  71. 71
    Tom on 19 Aug 2013 #

    #68 the posh equivalent of the well ‘ards would have been the rugby lads, I guess. Boozing and bullying. They weren’t big into any music, but they particularly detested indie (or, to be fair, they might just have particularly detested *me*)

    The initial loved-up burst of dance music coincided with my boarding school days (though was pretty much invisible within the school – the main quality of public school music is how incredibly out of date it was, literally 10 years behind the outside world. I arrived in 1986 and the main albums the older boys were playing were by Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and Emerson Lake And Palmer.)

    By the “Dreamer”/”Let Me Be Your Fantasy” era I was at university – definitely that kind of superclub house music was ‘townie’ music but not in any very threatening way. And then a couple of years later – around the time we’re discussing now on Popular – when my wife was at Leeds Uni, all her flatmates were going out and dancing to house music, and it was never a threatening or hard vibe – very girly, very dressy, from what I saw of it. And Oasis, Weller etc were definitely shifting over into being bloke music not ‘indie’.

  72. 72
    Cumbrian on 19 Aug 2013 #

    #71: I find this really weird – since I was in the rugby team (albeit at a comp)! I guess it just goes to show how different my experiences are to those of other people. Worth my bearing in mind.

  73. 73
    Izzy on 19 Aug 2013 #

    67: thanks. It’s one of those things I always want to hear explained more – even if only so I might know how to do it better – but all I ever seem to hear are things like ‘good tone’ or ‘off key’ which, whether accurate or not, are no help at all in trying to know what’s good or not and how it all works.

  74. 74
    fivelongdays on 19 Aug 2013 #

    Just realised, my comment at 68 should read ‘a cult thing at my school’.

  75. 75
    Kinitawowi on 19 Aug 2013 #

    @64: The last time I listened to Spaceman it was a live cover done by Katie Melua about seven years ago. Quoth 25-year-old me:

    “Opinion is divided as to whether this was any good or not, and again it depends on your feelings on the original. Personally, I found the original to be a piece of shockingly awful commercialistic crud that nobody would have given half a shit about if it hadn’t been attached to a pair of jeans; so Melua is due some credit for being able to find some sort of heart and meaning in the otherwise nonsensical lyrics. Alternatively, you might like the original for being shamelessly daft and moan at Melua for trying to create meaning where there needn’t be any. It’s up to you.”

    By “divided” I meant “divided between me and my mate wot I went with”. Melua’s version is a nailed-on 5 for being able to play the track for comedy value, but Jas Mann is clearly playing his lyrical bilge dead straight. 3.

  76. 76
    tm on 19 Aug 2013 #

    The scallies at my school were grudgingly tolerant of Oasis though definitely suspicious of their long hair and acoustic guitars. I escaped many a kicking I’m sure by becoming their court jester and trotting out Wonderwall and I Am The Walrus on my acoustic guitar on the way home from school. I remember a younger boy getting all excited about the swearing on Spaceman and me a sixth-former derisively listing all the older, better songs with swearing in them.

  77. 77
    mintness on 19 Aug 2013 #

    The 888 subtitles had the line in question above as “images of fascist votes”. Fun fact.

  78. 78
    leveret on 19 Aug 2013 #

    @67 Talk of thin voices and space filled up with all sorts of instruments going crazy brings to mind another Spaceman – Jason Pierce of Spiritualized – someone who was rather more successful in conjuring up a cosmic vibe than good old Jas.

    I find Jas Mann’s vocal performance here fairly inoffensive. His Americanised intonations might have been jarring in another context, but works OK in this slightly preposterous and histrionic song.

  79. 79
    Tim Byron on 20 Aug 2013 #

    Swanstep – yup, I saw the Smashing Pumpkins in 1998 with Garson on keys, and I was amazed at Garson and the sound of him on the piano – I had no idea what he’d do when I sat in my seat (I don’t think I heard Aladdin Sane til much much later). In the context of the Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan’s voice is particularly effective at piercing their wall of sound guitars. I do have a soft spot for weird vocal tones, anyway, from Karen Dalton to Tom Waits, that I very likely inherited from being a big Pumpkins fan as a teen.

    Listening more closely to Jas on ‘Spaceman’, I reckon the song is pitched too low for him in the verses, and he struggles for control. Perhaps a Marilyn Manson or Trent Reznor could do enough with their voices to make those lines about pungent smells sound less stupid? At least, I was a fan of Muse when I first heard them, and it was only when I read the liner notes for the second album after I’d bought it that I realised that the lyrics were really, really bad. So I definitely agree that there’s an interaction between voice and lyrics, and both halves contribute to the overall feel of the vocals.

  80. 80
    Rory on 20 Aug 2013 #

    I’m just biting my tongue while you guys diss the bestest rock thing of the ’00s. But for those who agree, here’s something I just found: a fantastic Radio 1 promo filmed by the BBC at great expense in 2009 and then scrapped so as not to look as if they spent all that money has just surfaced at Vimeo, complete with soundtrack by said bestest rock thing.

  81. 81
    glue_factory on 20 Aug 2013 #

    Re: Happy Hardcore’s failure to crossover, is anyone familiar enough with the scene to know what records were huge and could have been expected to pick up enough sales to carry them into the Top 40? I’m sure I read at the time about Toytown by Hixxy being massive, but does anyone know of others.

  82. 82
    23 Daves on 20 Aug 2013 #

    Nobody’s really talked in any depth about this standing in the way of The Bluetones “Slight Return” yet (and what a weird top two that is, when you think about it).

    “Slight Return” was a gentle, warm, slightly Byrdsian record which contained a lot of cautious optimism (“I’m coming home… but just for a short while”) and wasn’t necessarily their finest moment (I’d say that was probably “Bluetonic”). But for all its strengths, it was still a very subtle single to power its way up the charts, and probably says more about the public’s taste for guitar-based pop music at that time than anything else. It’s hard to think of anything comparable achieving similar success – even if you dig around Crowded House’s discography there are no UK Top 3 hits there.

    As mentioned on the other thread where The Bluetones cropped up in conversation, it’s also easy to forget just how feted they were in some quarters. I seem to remember “The Chart Show” putting up an info box which suggested that viewers should rush out to their next gig at a moderate sized venue, because it would be “the last chance to catch them this small!” Of course, it wasn’t. Anyone patient enough to sit it out would have been rewarded the opportunity of seeing them again in smaller venues in the new decade.

    Would I rather The Bluetones had got to the top instead of this? Definitely. I do think that theirs is the better song. But had it done so, I strongly doubt it would have made much difference to their career in the long term. For all their strengths, they seemed freakishly over-valued for awhile.

  83. 83
    Billy Hicks on 20 Aug 2013 #

    81 – There was a craze in 2002-3 to take well-loved happy hardcore records, slow them down to a more top 40-friendly BPM and re-record them as poppy trance numbers. Many of Flip & Fill’s hits started out as late 90s hardcore anthems by various artists (‘Shooting Star’ which got to #2, ‘Field of Dreams’, ‘Discoland’ and Kelly Llorenna’s ‘Heart of Gold’ were produced by them) and Ultrabeat carried things on by covering Force & Styles’s ‘Pretty Green Eyes’, getting a well-known #2 hit and perhaps having the most success of the lot. They also did a vocal remake of Scott Brown’s ‘Elysium’ a few years later.

    In certain parts of Europe – Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands etc – it successfully intertwined with pop music and there’s a huge amount of native pop artists producing some quite wonderful high-BPM stuff. Dune, Blumchen, the Party Animals, Marusha and a ton more are all worth a listen if you like your happy hardcore as cheesy and sugary as you can get.

  84. 84
    Billy Hicks on 20 Aug 2013 #

    Oh, and Aquagen also tried to get in on the act around that time by doing a similar slowed-down remake of Highlander’s ‘Hold Me Now’ (which holds a special place in my heart as the first happy hardcore record I ever heard, late at night on Radio 1 as a teen) but had slightly less success peaking at #33. Both used the same sample from Chicago’s ‘Hard To Say I’m Sorry’.

    /\—far too much of a fan of this sort of thing

  85. 85
    James BC on 21 Aug 2013 #

    Not everyone who bought this can have been duped by the advert. The follow-up, Animal Army, got to number 17 with a similar sound (and added monkey noises).

  86. 86
    Rory on 21 Aug 2013 #

    @85 You’ve prompted me to check out BZ’s follow-up singles, and blimey, I didn’t expect to, but I’m enjoying “All the Money’s Gone“. Marc Bolan lives!

  87. 87
    Ed on 21 Aug 2013 #

    @13 The Pixies spell their name out as a sort of chant in ‘Cactus’, if that counts.

    It’s Bowie’s favourite Pxies song, apparently. (See, it’s all connected.)

    The cheeky scamp changes the name when he does it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTQP6tE9tYA

  88. 88
    @voicesby on 21 Aug 2013 #

    Srs 1996 pop (hucksterism) madeleine: Tom Ewing on Babylon Zoo http://t.co/RY3ikHqaFB

  89. 89
    anto on 21 Aug 2013 #

    re82: I remember there was a bit of a buzz about ‘Slight Return’. I’d forgotten it had actually gone to number 2. If it had usurped Babylon Zoo then who knows? The Bluetones appeared on TOTP the same night as Radiohead whose extraordinary version of ‘Street Spirit’ made everything else on the show sound either negligible or in the case of ‘Slight Return’ maybe a bit weedy. When the massive leap for the Bluetones didn’t follow they seemed quite philisophical about it and were content with having built a decent fanbase.
    With the exception of Stuart Murdoch from Mogwai, Mark Morris was the last indie figure I can remember taking issue with sellouts and bands giving songs to adverts.* He was an admirer of Bill Hicks and seemed to concur with the view that not everything was worth doing for success, which always gave me some respect for him even though I didn’t really rate him as a singer.

    *How ironic. I’d forgotten which thread this was.

  90. 90
    tm on 21 Aug 2013 #

    Re: 86: All The Money’s Gone, sounds like the band Beady Eye should have been! can’t believe it wasn’t a hit; I suppose it just goes to show what low regard BZ were held once their 15 minutes was up.

  91. 91
    swanstep on 21 Aug 2013 #

    @rory, 86. All the Money’s Gone sounds a hell of a lot like Oasis to me (points off for the Gallagher-worthy ‘Your tragesty’ lyric!). I think I prefer BZ in space/industrial/glam mode. Too bad for them that it was going to take Origin of Symmetry period Muse to really start to make bank on that front (oh how I love Space Dementia).

  92. 92
    Kinitawowi on 22 Aug 2013 #

    @82: Loved most of their other stuff (particularly Marblehead Johnson, Autophilia and If…, the world’s most blatant attempt to out-na Hey Jude), but I distinctly remember hating Slight Return and it’s a hate that’s never really gone away. Something about the chorus, I think.

    Also worth noting that Slight Return puts us in Now! 34 territory (although we’re not actually through with 33 yet), and pretty much everyone I knew had that one. I bought it for my sister for a birthday present; little did I know that that was pretty much the moment that would kickstart my own collection about ten albums later.

  93. 93
    James BC on 22 Aug 2013 #

    Almost all the Bluetones’ verses are better than their choruses. I think they might be unique in this respect.

  94. 94
    Alex S on 24 Aug 2013 #

    For all the strangeness of the look, the main reaction at my school to the TotP performances was that, in the silver sarong, Jas seemed, shall we say, very visibly excited about being on TV.

  95. 95
    Tom on 27 Aug 2013 #

    Just a quick note to say I’m on holiday in France – I was going to post something last Wednesday when I left but my Internet was down. So don’t expect any updates until September.

  96. 96
    Cumbrian on 27 Aug 2013 #

    So Popular can wait :) Enjoy your holiday Tom.

  97. 97
    Matt DC on 28 Aug 2013 #

    Can someone with more time on their hands than me please analyse this song in relation to Bowie’s drum and bass album a year later?

  98. 98
    Ben on 30 Aug 2013 #

    #13 – “The Groover” T Rex

  99. 99
    James BC on 30 Aug 2013 #

    #13 – “It’s Like That” Run DMC (and 42 other hip hop songs).

  100. 100
    Ed on 1 Sep 2013 #

    Where are they now: Jas Mann.

    In the movie business, is the answer. And apparently doing pretty well: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2168572/bio

    Maybe some rewriting of history here, though:

    “In 1996 Jas developed a visual/music project “Babylon Zoo”, writing and selling the concept to “Levis” as a visual and music advert broadcasted in over 30 countries. The first Babylon Zoo Album “Boy with the X-ray eyes” would go on to sell 5 million copies and achieving 21 number one hit records worldwide at the time entering the Guinness book of records as the fastest selling record of all-time. Jasbinder directed four award winning music videos for Babylon Zoo, picking up MTV and Viva awards along the way.”

  101. 101
    flahr on 1 Sep 2013 #

    @100: “A Fantastic Fear of Everything” (2012)

    Directors: Chris Hopewell, Crispian Mills
    Writer: Crispian Mills (screenplay)

    The plot thickens!

  102. 102
    Izzy on 1 Sep 2013 #

    That album surely did not sell five million.

  103. 103
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Sep 2013 #

    Only if it was the peak of Elton John’s onomania, or there was a vested interest in Jas’s roots on the subcontinent, but that’s about as plausible a cultural exchange as Alexei Sayle in the balti house – “WAAA! I’m sorry for the Amritsar massacre”… “Mate, I’m from Wolverhampton.” Is it really the first British Asian number 1? I’m sure ફરોખ બલ્સારા‌ would have something to say about that, though apparently Freddie Mercury wished to keep his Indian/Persian/Zoroastrian heritage as private as his sexuality (odd parallel with the previous Popular entry.)

    Babylon Zoo could have been a brilliant, self-deprecating Queen in miniature, but I think they knew they were up against it when the press lost patience with Suede for cerebral rape and pillage of a Bowie of their choice.

  104. 104
    Mark G on 3 Sep 2013 #

    Possibly, but that happened a long time after…

  105. 105
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Sep 2013 #

    Really? I was only 10 at the time but thought Coming Up was a huge commercial success but not so much a critical one, kind of their “S** on F***” moment. It’s their most escapist and accessible album but Lazy still sets my teeth on edge. Uncle Teds in their legendary beds. I ask you.

  106. 106
    Cumbrian on 3 Sep 2013 #

    Coming Up was a reasonable critical hit. Made the end of year lists in a number of music magazines, got decent enough reviews at the time – I seem to remember it getting a pretty decent write up in Select. But then, Suede, to my memory, were always critical darlings somewhat, until the Great Britpop bubble had actually burst and A New Morning got a bit of a kicking (though there must have been some naysayers in the press when it came to Head Music, I’d have thought).

  107. 107
    James BC on 3 Sep 2013 #

    No, I think the press were still pretty excited for Head Music when that was about to come out.

    As for the lyrics of Lazy, the odd terrible line was part of Suede’s charm from the very beginning.

  108. 108
    Cumbrian on 3 Sep 2013 #

    Being excited for it before it came out: Did that translate into good reviews though? And did the press recant them?

    Needless to say, the Britpop press were extremely excited about one album released in 1997, gave it great reviews and subsequently recanted.

  109. 109
    Mark G on 3 Sep 2013 #

    I admit I was unsure of the time-line but then again I don’t remember Suede ever getting a ‘good kicking’ until “New Morning” album (an album title that sounds more like Placebo, but there you go) and even then it was more like an “oh no, it’s not very good, who will tell Brett our old mate?” sort of thing.

  110. 110
    glue_factory on 4 Sep 2013 #

    I remember there being music-press interest when they announced the title of Head Music, letter-by-letter (to be honest, I only remember the coverage for the letter H. “Could it be heroin?”. I can’t imagine they strung it out much past the letter A)

    Wikipedia has the NME giving it 7/10

  111. 111
    James BC on 4 Sep 2013 #

    I meant that they were excited about Head Music, so they must have liked Coming Up. HM’s reviews were probably a bit cooler and deservedly so, though She’s In Fashion is one of their high points.

    I remember the one-letter-at-a-time thing too. I followed it via Channel 4 teletext.

  112. 112
    Ed on 4 Sep 2013 #

    Coming Up is Chuck Eddy’s favourite, according to ‘Stairway to Hell’.

    In fact, it’s the 16th-best heavy metal album of the 1990s, he says.

    Not that I would necessarily want to cite him as an example of the critical consensus on anything.

  113. 113
    Izzy on 4 Sep 2013 #

    110: haha yes, they revealed the whole title in week three. They were always so inappropriately playful about this; I was disappointed to learn later that Brett really did spend years disappeared down the drug hole.

  114. 114
    Patrick Mexico on 4 Sep 2013 #

    Re: 112: Ahaha. How in the name of all that does not suck are Suede “heavy metal?” I had never heard of his “top 500 heavy metal albums ever” and might get stuck into that, but it could be grim listening.

    I suppose Franz Ferdinand now occupy Suede’s position in the early nineties. OK, nowhere near the depth or darkness of Suede’s debut or Dog Man Star, but a rag-tag bunch of likeable, well-read men, the very opposite of traditional machismo and therefore darlings of the indie press, and with many tight, peppy songs to back up the eccentricity. However, as their careers have progressed, their 70s influences have become a little bit TOO apparent. I’m still convinced enough to buy their fourth album (as well as Welsh Bunnies’ (probably crushingly mediocre)) 11th next week.

  115. 115
    Ed on 5 Sep 2013 #

    @114 They are metal the same way Miles Davis, Teena Marie and the Dandy Warhols are metal: in Chuck Eddy’s imagination.

    It’s an “idiosyncratic” take, they say.

    A truly great book, too. Grab it if you see it.

  116. 116
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 5 Sep 2013 #

    Chuck’s own pointer here: the salient word in the phrase “500 Best Heavy Metal Albums In The Universe” is “500”

  117. 117
    leveret on 5 Sep 2013 #

    @109 Everett True (aka Jerry Thackray) gave ‘Coming Up’ an absolute mauling in the Melody Maker when it came out, painting it as a 10th rate Bowie rip-off, but I suspect this may have been more down to a personal grudge/narcissism on Everett True’s part as much as anything. I think Coming Up’s reviews were largely positive though.

  118. 118
    Izzy on 5 Sep 2013 #

    I do remember an Everett True Suede savaging – “this is album of the year. And the year is 1973” – but could’ve sworn it was the debut.

    He really hated them, to the extent that he set Gene up as their opposites and wrote reviews going on about his love for them, their musicality and charisma, how much they moved him. Gene! For anyone else it would be a career embarrassment highlight; for True it’d maybe make an out-takes comp.

  119. 119
    Ed on 5 Sep 2013 #

    Everett True had nailed his colours to the mast of grunge, and Select told us that Suede had come to destroy it.

  120. 120
    anto on 6 Sep 2013 #

    @118 A few friends of mine suggested going to see Gene when they played at the now demolished Amser club in Bangor in 1999 but the show was cancelled due to lack of interest. I was astonished that a group who just 2/3 years earlier had been on TOTP and picking up resonably good reviews were already at the stage where they couldn’t sell tickets for a show in a town full of young people.

  121. 121
    Mark G on 6 Sep 2013 #

    We lived in fast times, you know.

    And, when a scene ends, it ends conclusively. I remember one Reading Festival with thousands of people joyously yelling “you fat bastart” at John B when Carter USM headlined, thinking “This can’t be true, can it?”, and in a matter of years they would be playing to the hardy faithful as long as they didn’t play too often.

  122. 122
    love is called my old piano on 9 Sep 2013 #

    This is from memory: stuff that I’d mentally filed under ’embarrassing teenage obsessions’ before Coming Up was even out, but I loved Suede at the time. The music press backlash came earlier, circa ‘Dog Man Star’: Bernard had left, their future seemed uncertain, Brett was reportedly (ISTR a somewhat concerned NME cover story) more drug than man. The actual album got fair, but not glowing reviews. If it got panned anywhere I don’t remember it, although you can probably tell I’m nervous about making pronouncements on such things cos this site is full of people with far more expertise on the music press than me:) But there was a sense that, with the cranked-up drama/darkness/weirdness and other excesses they were over-reaching themselves on DMS…which they absolutely were, but that’s what made it exciting.

    It wasn’t quite Britpop tho, at least not in the form it had congealed into by late ’94. Pulp dressed their bleakness in nostalgic polyester, Oasis’s lightly psychedelic dreams felt firmly anchored in reality, Blur were pop, smart, snarky and semi-detached. Suede, at this point, were lyrically paranoid, desperate and spooked. (I remember the ‘nuclear wind’ of ‘We Are The Pigs’ being cited as a WTF anachronism, and possibly also that Brett was the punchline in a ‘Do you remember the 80s? Cos they sucked’ NME piece. Can’t remember if they pointed out that Numan was secretly the filter they were distilling Bowie through, but they should have and he was.) Musically, I’m guessing that some of the excess had to do with Bernard’s departure – he left us a 7(?) minute guitar solo here so let’s use that, OMG how to fill these other holes since the new guy’s still finding his feet, hey how about doing this one as an epic ballad with full orchestra? Can we get Eno in for some tape loops and stuff? This one needs horns and yes, a children’s choir! – That last one’s ‘We Are The Pigs’, again. Which was the lead single. Which can’t have helped.

    The album and the singles (WATP, the rather lovely ‘Wild Ones’, the anomalously perky ‘New Generation’ with half an eye on ‘Coming Up’, I feel like I’ve missed one but am blanking on what. It can’t have been ‘Heroine’…can it? Decent song, but yikes:/) underperformed, at least by top tier Britpop standards. They were off-message and looked like a sinking ship, fading quietly from view in the music press (Bear in mind here that I was young and obsessed. It might have been a fairly normal between-album cycle, not the eternal banishment to pop purgatory I saw it as. But, at that point, they definitely didn’t receive the same consistent level of coverage as the Big Three + Elastica + Weller + Welsh Bunnies + etc). I wasn’t following things as closely by the Coming Up era, so I can’t really speak for things then – glad that they’d survived, of course, but it was too shiny by half for me. They’d learned that lesson, I guess. As for H…E…admusic (thanks for that petite madeliene moment!), it seemed to contain some stuff that surely *must* have baited the critics, but maybe time has been kinder than my memory. It’ll (astonishingly, to me; I didn’t know it sold so well) come up eventually in an excellent blog not far from here, tho.

    I never did get the appeal of the speeded-up bit, but to my teenage ears the full ‘Spaceman’ was a blatant Suede knockoff*. I obviously would think that, since that was my frame of reference at the time. As such, I had a sort of eye-rolling affection for it; it’s daft as hell, but to have an ersatz version of something I really liked (that had been unfairly shoved out of the public discourse by the beery dominant Fred Perry parka football side of Britpop – that’s how I saw things at the time) hit no.1 was quietly validating, even in a package as impossible to take seriously as this one. Now, I see that the silliness is a huge point in its favour, but then…

    There is a particular appetite for a particular strain of glammy, dramatic rock, particularly but not exclusively amongst a particular subset of teenage girls**. This appetite is eternal, though the bands change; BZ are a fleeting and slightly silly strain of this, but it feels better to mention it here than on a bunnied Welsh band’s future thread, even though I’d put them somewhere on this continuum too. There’s a 21st century stadium power trio (will the spoiler bunny hop out of its black hole if I make this revelation? I haven’t checked. If I’m wrong, I probably still deserve a bite for that terrible attempt at wordplay) who are the machine-perfect polished culmination of this, IMO.*** It needs a genre name, I think, unless there’s already one and I missed it.

    First comment on a blog I’ve been reading forever – far too much about my unexorcised teenage obsessions – random, unprovoked bolshiness – defending Babylon Zoo – yep, my work here is done.

    *the same goes for ‘All The Money’s Gone’, which is indeed kinda great.

    **It feeds the same kind of appetite as vampires do, I think, and like them the trend emerges, fades and reinvents, but never completely goes away. The two fixations don’t necessarily overlap, though…personally, I could never take them seriously enough to get in with the goth kids, and that was back in the 90s, when vampires were nowhere near as godawful as they are today.

    ***Apologies for any potential offence caused by lumping them together, but frankly that pales into insignificance against the suggestion upthread that Suede (of whom I just realised I am weirdly protective, despite not having listened to them for at least a decade) and Franz F’ing Ferdinand (who make my skin crawl) can conceivably be mentioned in the same sentence. Sir, we duel at dawn:)

  123. 123
    love is called my old piano on 9 Sep 2013 #

    (feels strange urge to revisit Gene, fights it)

  124. 124
    Cumbrian on 9 Sep 2013 #

    Good stuff. Nice to have you around.

    Muse are not bunnied – and I doubt they ever will be barring something extraordinary happening when they release a single in the future.

  125. 125
    anto on 9 Sep 2013 #

    @122 Some very good points. I used to go by the principle of never trust any band where not even one member is wearing eyeliner.

  126. 126
    Rory on 9 Sep 2013 #

    @122 Great to have you here. We need all the long-and-thoughtful-comment-writers we can get, to feed our insatiable hunger. We Are the Pigs.

  127. 127
    weej on 9 Sep 2013 #

    I’d like to put in a word for Everett True, who may well have been “wrong” on a number of occasions, but has generally made up his own mind about what he likes / doesn’t like and refused to go with the prevailing wind even if it means being labelled a contrarian from time to time.

    And for Gene, who I listened to again for B*****p N*****s, and who had *something*, even if they never really got it out of their system. I knew the writing was on the wall for them when I was sent their new CD in 1998 for review in my fanzine, circulation of about 30. It wasn’t very good, of course, but there was a track called “You’ll Never Walk Again” which sticks in the memory as a brilliant title for a song by Gene even now.

  128. 128
    Patrick Mexico on 22 Sep 2013 #

    Re: 122. Well, bring it on. I do feel FF are elevated to a position they don’t really deserve due to current press desperation for “proper guitar music with proper tunes.” Franz had that in spades, but the thorax-in-a-vice, post-punk-pop dynamic that sucks any space out of their music, plus their influence become subservient, do mean they’re a band who I’ll treat more as like an occasional nice cup of tea rather than “I could murder You Could Have It So Much Better.. like I could murder a Sunday roast with all the trimmings.” Mind you, there are plenty of similar bands who are worse than murder. We’ll come to them here and on TPL in about eight years.

    See also: a certain Sheffield bunny. Almost everyone seems to be full of praise for them nowadays; I personally think their first album was a corker, full of such genuine teenage angst (and the naivety in the lyrics and music doesn’t bother me – here it serves as a time capsule).. some say it was the work of a poor man’s Buzzcocks, but since then they’ve turned into a poor man’s Wedding Present.

  129. 129
    Mark G on 3 Nov 2013 #

    You could say that…

  130. 130
    Patrick Mexico on 4 Nov 2013 #

    The saddest thing about this hit’s passing is that it might well be the last number one that’s unashamedly, truly, madly, deeply delighted in being “glam rock.” Or is it?

  131. 131
    glue_factory on 8 May 2014 #

    Bruins suck, Orangemen! Go Canucks

  132. 132
    Mark G on 5 Jun 2014 #

    Seasonal, clearly.

  133. 133
    Cumbrian on 5 Jun 2014 #

    I thought it might be because the NBA finals (Raptors and Thunder both NBA teams – though not actually in the finals) are starting and there is some player nicknamed Spaceman but Google is not helping me to identify whether this is the case.

  134. 134
    Erithian on 5 Jan 2016 #

    Certainly Bowie is all over this influence-wise, and that “images of fascist folks” line is in a passable imitation of the Ziggy voice (ironic given what happened to Bowie a few years later). Yes it does get a bit stodgy at times with guitar white noise breaking up a pretty solid song, albeit one which would probably have been top ten at best without the hook at the start. But hey, you have to give some kudos to a song which gets the line “sickening taste of homophobic jokes” to number one – and for five weeks? It didn’t make that much impression on me then, but listening back to it now I’m more impressed than I thought I would be.

  135. 135
    Smilin' Peter on 9 Mar 2020 #

    First British Asian Man to have a number 1?

    Well, as pointed out in comment #103, what about Freddie?

    And, at a stretch, you might even give that title to Sir Cliff (born in Lucknow, India, and apparently has Anglo-Indian ancestry).

  136. 136
    weej on 19 Mar 2020 #

    You could also point to Peter Sarstedt and his brother Eden Kane.

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