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Oct 13

MARK MORRISON – “Return Of The Mack”

Popular86 comments • 13,380 views

#736, 30th March 1996

British R&B – like UK hip-hop – has tended to suffer credibility issues*. Back in the 50s and 60s, British groups lifted American sounds, but the American originals weren’t easy to find, and the signal could be scrambled in transmission. Productive mishearings ensued: the result, to a great extent, was the story we’ve been telling on this blog. By the mid-90s, things were different. News travelled faster, and production techniques were more transferable – the globalisation of pop apparent in the 21st century was well under way.

But they were also not so different – the British response to modern American music was still, typically, a slightly lead-footed imitation of it, just as it had been 40 years before. It’s the curse of the borrowing culture: you accept conventions as limits. When Britain did manage something more creative or divergent, the hybrid quickly got packaged up into its own genre – trip-hop, or later grime – and the more standard local product lapsed into general adequacy.

So one extraordinary thing about “Return Of The Mack” is that it seemed to have none of this cultural cringe. It was very good, and very good in exactly the way American R&B could be. There was nothing even slightly apologetic about its utter self-possession: the kind of absolute, to-the-manner-born confidence that stars exude. Which makes the other extraordinary thing about it – how comprehensively Mark Morrison fucked his opportunity up – even odder and sadder. On the strength of this song, we expected a superstar: we got a trivia answer, a panel show joke.

But in the context of the song, all that confidence might be a front – this guy’s been wounded, publically, by his ex, and he’s putting on a comeback show for himself, for his buddies, but especially for her. “All this pain you said I’d never feel – but I do, but I do do do”. And the more you listen the smaller he sounds – “hold on, be strong” Morrison mutters to himself on the outro.

The music certainly has his back – the rubbery basslines cocooning the song, the satisfying crunch of the drums, the light keyboard touches helping Morrison glide along his comeback trail. “Return Of The Mack” is a pleasure to listen to, a well-tailored suit of sound. But what’s it covering up? This is the final, hardest part of a break-up – the point where you have to turn “over it” from private claim to public practise – and it’s no wonder Morrison starts bolshy and ends up brittle. His smooth, high voice trails away at the end of every line, a vulnerable touch to counter the swagger. Perhaps this song is more British than it sounds.

*(in the case of UK hip-hop this was somewhat unfair: Britain produced a lot of enjoyable local hip-hop, which Freaky Trigger pal Tim Hopkins used to turn into excellent compilations. But it was a tight scene, deep-buried and little-respected, with no chance of national success let alone ever travelling.)

8

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom Ewing (@tomewing) on 3 Oct 2013 #

    The Mack is back (& so, after a quick conference season break, is Popular) http://t.co/bdSONdf0ZI

  2. 2
    Alex on 3 Oct 2013 #

    May I be the first to say: I’m Mark Morrison! I’m Mark Morrison! Don’t you know who I am?

  3. 3
    punctum on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Britsoul’s Pete Doherty became the first black British male solo artist to have a number one single (even though he was born in Hanover), and almost certainly the first chart-topper since Showaddywaddy to have grown up in Leicester. It is a shame that his subsequent exploits and run-ins with the law – most famously, after being found guilty of firearms offences and sentenced to community service, he sent a lookalike to serve out the time while he jetted off to Barbados – brought his career to a premature and ignominious end since “Return Of The Mack” is one of the great Britsoul records, good enough to keep the Manics’ post-bereavement comeback single “A Design For Life” in second place.

    It is an unlikely twin to “Ain’t No Doubt” in its midtempo swagger and its rhetorical address of the double-crossing Other, though Morrison addresses her directly with his repeated, askance “You lied to me” before confidently reasserting his return to the world (“So baby listen carefully/While I sing my comeback song”). In the chorus he exultantly celebrates his triumph against all odds – “here I go!” “oh my God!” “pump up the world!” – against the titular chant. While vocally he appeared to take Cameo’s Larry Blackmon as a role model, the record is an astute celebration of all that was good in the twenty preceding years of British soul and dance music; the easy but insistent rhythm recalls Junior Giscombe, Cutmaster and Joe’s virulent scratching hook it up to the mid-eighties of Coldcut and M/A/R/R/S, the aquatically echoed rhythms place it in the nineties, the vocal arrangements to the late seventies heyday of Hi-Tension. And Morrison handles the voices with deft skill; the (mock?) vulnerability of his “but I do, but I do, do, do” is counterbalanced by the cocksure wink of “wants my pearl.” Another example (thus far thrown up) of great British pop which didn’t quite fit into Britpop.

  4. 4
    Kat but logged out innit on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Far superior to his work with the Bluetones etc

    I remember there was a big hoo-haa about him being in prison for assault/guns/whatever (didn’t realise there were handcuffs on the cover though!) which I guess was played up as much as possible to add to the ‘Americanness’ of it all? In the end I shrugged off the gnawing feeling that I shouldn’t like this song & thus be encouraging this sort of violent dude, and just lapped up the awesome call/response bits (“OH MA GAWD!” “HERR I GAWW”).

  5. 5
    Mark G on 3 Oct 2013 #

    At least two singles by himself predate this one, so that’s my opening “first artist to start with a title indicating a comeback” blown..

  6. 6
    Mark G on 3 Oct 2013 #

    I do remember about a year after this occasion, looking at the US singles chart and finding this one, which is a mark of respect from the origin, yeah. Actually, it stayed in that chart for a very long time!

  7. 7
    EndlessWindow on 3 Oct 2013 #

    This one didn’t translate to the playground in the way Firestarter did, so I can’t claim much contemporary knowledge of this one. Having first heard it a few years back though, it’s a very strong track – as already pointed out, Morrison’s vocal conveys something far more nuanced and emotionally complex and the swaggering comeback the lyrics would have you believe. And personally, I’m in favour of any record that can sneak Genius of Love by Tom Tom Club into the Popular canon…

    As a Manics fan though, I do have to note that while this is probably a 7 or 8, A Design For Life would have been an unquestionable 10 for me. A beautiful eulogy to the band’s past and their roots that felt far mor fin de siecle than any bunny I can recall this side of the millenium.

  8. 8
    thefatgit on 3 Oct 2013 #

    The Leicester connection: if there are any Leicesterites lurking, could you confirm that Mark Morrison is held in as high esteem as Englebert Humperdinck and Showaddywaddy? Or is it all Kasabian, Kasabian, Kasabian these days?

    Anyhoo, ROTM swings nicely, and it’s undoubtedly the best of his output. Punctum beat me to the punch with the “sounds like Larry Blackmon” thing, so not a lot to add, really.

  9. 9
    punctum on 3 Oct 2013 #

    There are still some hardcore Joe Orton, Family and bunnied future Popular act (not Kasabian) defenders out there, I reckon.

  10. 10
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Also from Leicester: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Dodd_(broadcaster)

    (idea PD has a fandom is kind of an in-joke with myself, tho mark morris will possibly get it)

  11. 11
    Nixon on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Help me out here, as I think my memory’s playing tricks. Didn’t Chris Evans (claim to) have something to do with this hitting #1? It had already been a top 5 hit for a few weeks until Evans started playing it all the time, possibly as some sort of hilarious joke – I remember him sheepishly apologising for causing it (in his head anyway) to implausibly leapfrog the aforementioned Manics record to the top. But I have a feeling I may have muddled up several different memories there.

  12. 12
    Nixon on 3 Oct 2013 #

    (Implausibly because that was against the grain of a singles chart lifespan at the time, not because this isn’t good or anything – I agree with 8)

  13. 13
    Tom on 3 Oct 2013 #

    D’oh! Larry Blackmon – of course.

    It sounds like the kind of thing Chris Evans would say (and would fit the Britpop worldview as it started getting less and less ‘pop’ – an R&B record as a silly novelty next to the Important Rock Single) (a dumb attitude even when the rock single WAS great)

    Of course in an ideal world this AND A Design For Life would have got to #1, and I’d have the extremely pleasant problem of writing about the latter. But at least I’ll get to read Lena’s piece on it.

  14. 14
    thefatgit on 3 Oct 2013 #

    #10 Reading that wiki page on Philip Dodd, he’ll sorta kinda feature in just over 1 Popular year from now, as part of a National rebranding exercise, if you know what I mean.

  15. 15
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 3 Oct 2013 #

    PD looms large in my personal mythology — I certainly owe him a professional debt for hiring me at S&S — but i’d take the claims made on his er haha “behalf” on much of that wikip page with an entire radioactive pillar of salt

    meanwhile larry blackmon’s wikip page is distressingly stubform :(

  16. 16
    enitharmon on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Marcello @9 – I’ll certainly put in a word for Family, a fine band whose legacy seems not to have stood up to the passage of time.

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 3 Oct 2013 #

    I didn’t know until now that the song sample ‘Genius of Love’ but that helps to (partially) explain why the song has such an engaging, propulsive shuffle. MM gives a confident performance that balances bravado with vulnerability, qualities that are echoed by the other instruments and voices rising and falling from the foreground to the background.

  18. 18
    23 Daves on 3 Oct 2013 #

    I went to university with someone who had a very minor ‘run-in’ with Mark Morrison before he was famous back in her native Leicester. I got to hear the run-of-the-mill details of this every single time his name was mentioned (he pushed her out of the way in a local nightclub or something – I doubt the tabloid press would have been interested in her story then, never mind now) so whenever I hear “Return of the Mack” it always comes with an internalised commentary of “Eh! He’s a bloody ‘orrible man!” This probably undercuts its intended American R&B sophistication a little bit for me.

    I don’t think this is purely to blame for “Return of the Mack” failing to grab my attention, though. It was a huge single and seemed to be everywhere for awhile, but its mid-tempo swagger did nothing for me. I was neither irritated nor thrilled by it, and its a track I tend to completely forget about until someone else brings it up in conversation.

    I also distinctly remember getting a promo CD for “Only God Can Judge Me” in the post, sitting on the edge of my bed staring at the large titlefont on the sleeve and wondering if it was a genius marketing move or a very, very stupid one.

  19. 19
    enitharmon on 3 Oct 2013 #

    [Goes to YouTube to find this hitherto unfamiliar track]
    [Turns youTube off again smartish]
    [Finds some Wilson Pickett to listen to]

  20. 20
    Tom on 3 Oct 2013 #

    #18 The defiance in ‘Only God Can Judge Me’ is, as Kat points out, very American – incarceration (or community service) as a scar inflicted on the star by the system, whose authority he rejects. In the US it’s still risky, but backed up with a certain amount of cultural power, and a wide audience primed to stand by their stars, and a general acceptance among that audience that the system IS unforgiveably skewed. I don’t think Britain had those elements at the time. I also think you would need to be a REALLY hot star to use defiance as an excuse to cover up only recording 3 actual tracks on a 9-‘song’ mini-LP.

  21. 21
    will on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Well, this is brilliant. No two ways about it. Probably my favourite Number One of ’96.

    But Mark Morrison the person? What a curious individual he was. All that handcuffs-jangling, self-conscious adoption of US gangsta imagery, and eventually, behaviour. Why?

  22. 22
    Tom Ewing (@tomewing) on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Low comments box turnout on the latest Popular entry http://t.co/bdSONdf0ZI I fear this is no way to treat The Mack :(

  23. 23
    Steve Mannion on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Marky Mack’s two previous (and also quite tickable) hits sounded more American than this to me (‘Let’s Get Down’ may actually have had the best prominent bassline in an R&B or hip hop hit since ‘The Humpty Dance’) and I was really surprised how well ROTM did in the US. But the success seemed to go to his head in a bad way – nothing he released after this seemed any good at all.

    On the Chris Evans connection I do recall he was whisked into the TFI Friday studios immediately upon his release from prison in order to perform this song.

  24. 24
    Another Pete on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Maybe the US gangsta imagery might of worked more if he was from London or Birmingham rather than a provincial city like Leicester. Great song though might be better without the spoken ‘Mark, stop worrying about your big break’ bit

  25. 25
    Jon (@jon_roc) on 3 Oct 2013 #

    But they do, but they do do do :( RT @tomewing Low comments box turnout… http://t.co/482wHtJBLa I fear this is no way to treat The Mack :(

  26. 26
    hectorthebat on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Sample watch: as well as the Tom Tom Club sample, there are also samples of “Games” by Chukii Booker, “Rocket in the Pocket” by Cerrone, “Feel the Heartbeat” by the Treacherous Three, “UFO” by ESG, and “Peter Piper” by Run DMC. Most samples so far?

  27. 27
    iconoclast on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Hm – another piece of self-promotion masquerading as a song. Not as bad as I’d feared, but as enitharmon implies, this kind of thing has already been done before, and better. It’s pleasant enough, and quite well sung, but the repetitive backing gets tiresome, and it’s ultimately all rather forgettable. FIVE.

  28. 28
    lonepilgrim on 3 Oct 2013 #

    btw this currently has the same ‘number’ and date as Firestarter – if this gets changed perhaps this comment could be deleted

  29. 29
    Birdseed on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Certainly the best collections of sampled tracks so far! Those are all bona-fide classics.

  30. 30
    pink champale on 3 Oct 2013 #

    I love this. First off, the sound is gorgeous, slighty reminiscent of Creep, I think. And there’s a great tension and release thing going on, with the verses circling and returning obsessively to the same paranoid thoughts – like a bloke pacing in his cell, innit – and then the chorus surging forward triumphantly, but all the time with Mark’s obsessive babble alternately reassuring and undercutting himself. A triumph.

    i remember having a big row with a girl I was seeing about MM’s Brits performance – basically sexy WPCs on his case – with me arguing in vain that it was pop genius and her having precisely none of it for Chris Evans type reasons. It didn’t last and it happened that my feelings changed before hers…

  31. 31
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Oct 2013 #

    This is pretty great, far better than anyone had any reason to expect it to be (his other singles prior to this one, and of those I can recall later were a bit meh, as we didn’t say then). Sure-fire dancefloor classic, no more, no less. Not obviously of its time: could have been made 10 years or 20 years earlier (ah: hello next bunny. you too? ah.) , and would still sound good, and indeed, a few minor technical points (and yes, samples) aside, pretty much identical.

    7 I think.

  32. 32
    Izzy on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Very good record. I hated it at the time of course – indie orthodoxy – but Mark’s utter ridiculosity has left many fond feelings for the guy. Better than being a regular one-hit wonder, but no substitute for a proper career.

    I stumbled on a pleasing a capella when searching for this. The vocal sounds far more processed than I’d’ve thought – lots of echo, very tight double-tracking, the lead vocal sounds autotuned throughout. It may just be for this version I guess, I’m not conscious of it at all on the full version (on relistening it is processed, though it doesn’t sound to be quite to the same extent). The ad libs are left natural, and sound great.

    Made me try to isolate the backing track, actually. It does a good job of sounding like a chilled party; I’m not sure whether that’s actual background chatter or a found sound. It all sounds very sweet and relaxed; no hint that Mark’s going to burst in with loads of guns or anything.

    In summary it’s no *2003 bunny*, but it’d make a decent substitute. (8)

  33. 33
    @sowton on 3 Oct 2013 #

    http://t.co/zgJisLQvyL

  34. 34
    Mark M on 3 Oct 2013 #

    I have good reasons not to love this, but I do. My issue with it was purely personal: for years and years afterwards, I’d give my name on the phone to someone at a utility company or the council, and they’d say, ‘Oh, like the Return of the Mack guy?’ and I’d have to go, ‘Almost, but I’m Morris, not Morrison.’ Still, rather him than Mr Morriss from Britpop bores The Bluetones.

    Anyway, but so, I think Tom and Marcello have done a good job with the song itself. Although I’m not that sure that British R&B has had the same issues that British hip-hop has, and funnily enough, Dizzee Rascal was saying pretty much the same thing on in an entertaining Radio 4 interview this evening. Singing is singing, but rapping is, I guess, less natural and for a long time it was felt that the right way to do it was not just the American way, but the New York way (‘can British people rap?’ was a debate first heard around the same time that ‘can guys from LA rap?’ was still considered a question worth asking).

    What I would say is that Morrison might have come from Leicester, but the song sounded well at home in South London, where it was boomed out of superbass car speakers a lot that spring and early summer. And rightly so.

  35. 35
    flahr on 4 Oct 2013 #

    “it was felt that the right way to do it was not just the American way, but the New York way (‘can British people rap?’)”

    REBEL MC TO THREAD

  36. 36
    flahr on 4 Oct 2013 #

    (oh, and an almost entirely uninformed 6)

  37. 37
    ciaran on 4 Oct 2013 #

    My mum is actually from Leicester.I spent a week in late November 96 over there visiting relatives but no one had anything to say about Mark Morrison.Then again the intial ROTM-buzz had passed by a good 5/6 months at that stage.The talk of everyone in the area was Leicester City’s very good start to the 96/97 premiership campaign when relegation was being tipped beforehand.Also you had tabloid expectations for the forthcoming Only Fools and Horses Christmas specials and the changing of the guard in Pop Music.Ye’ll find out who soon enough!

    ROTM baffled me slightly at first.Why was a singer who I can only remember from a TOTP rundown showing he had a top 20 chart entry during some other music video in 1995 be writing about his own comeback.

    ROTM was also quite a slow burner if I can remember.Not a favourite at first listen but very radio friendly and gaining momentum all the time.An unmistakably British R+B vibe to it and none the worse for it.Leicester isnt the type of city you’d associate ROTM with but there was a strong Black population around the place back then.Around arcades and cars IIRC.

    I liked ROTM at the time and many of the friends did too.Never was heard at school discos though.One of those songs that seemed to get better with every listen.

    It’s surprisingly good to liten to after a long long time.Bouncy and well performed.A 7 from me.

    Morrison’s subsequent shoddy material worked against ROTM in the long run.Its not really remembered as well as it should be now.The fall from favour was not far removed from Vanilla Ice.The number 1 records of this time for many reasons had more longevity too.

    The video is a bit odd.Easy to see it as now as an early indicator of the garage scene that would break around 2000.A bunnied artist from that year must surely have been influenced by Morrison’s success (bo!)

  38. 38
    mapman132 on 4 Oct 2013 #

    This was a decent-sized hit in America – it eventually peaked at #2 in 1997. I couldn’t remember what blocked it, but according to Wikipedia it was [bunny]. And I agree with the general consensus – it’s actually pretty good, even though I usually don’t like R&B much. 7/10.

    Too bad he turned out to be such a jerk…

  39. 39
    swanstep on 4 Oct 2013 #

    This one’s new to me. Hate the guy’s lack of diction (Luther Vandross with marbles in his mouth) but the slow groove’s sweet (Ha! ‘Genius of Love being pillaged for its bottom end and drums here just as Mariah pillaged it for its top end keyboard hook – I guess a jam’s a jam and I assume Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth got paid both times), and the vowels at least are nice. The best hook for me is that just-audible, high, whining swell-synth that emerges every 8, sometimes every 16 bars. Nice.

    Anyhow, I gave Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’ a (high) 8 so this one has to go significantly below that, so for me a:
    7

  40. 40
    Mark M on 4 Oct 2013 #

    For those who weren’t around at the time, or weren’t listening to much stuff in this genre, this is probably the US yardstick Morrison was working against.

  41. 41
    anto on 4 Oct 2013 #

    A very dapper single. One of the best productions on any of the number ones from this time. I didn’t really go for it but it made sense at the top of the charts.
    It was also very timely. At the beginning of 1996 British cinema seemed to be in it’s best shape for several years with the releases almost concurrently of ‘Trainspotting’,’Sense & Sensibility’ and ‘Secrets & Lies’. All three were good films with an apppeal across age ranges and tastes and a wealth of British talent involved. These films were also sucessful at the box office and did pretty well internationally. Around this time, it might have been at one of the film festivals or maybe a press event, but I recall there was a special reception for the people involved with this mini-renaissance. Just about everyone who worked on the films was there, but there was one notable absentee – Marianne-Jean Babtiste the black actress who played Hortense, the optomitrist who goes in search of the birth mother who gave her up for adoption in ‘Secrets & Lies’. As her character is at the centre of the films story you would have thought Babtiste would be one of the first names on the list for this reception, but no the organisers had simply forgotten to invite her, or maybe forgot she was British.
    At near enough the same time a British singer swept the board at the Grammy Awards when Seal enjoyed considerable success with ‘Kiss From A Rose’. Surely there would be a lot of coverage in the UK press about this London-born singer winning a clutch of awards for his song? As it turned out there was virtually nothing about it and far more interest in the obnoxious way Oasis were presenting themselves to the USA – Liam spitting on stage, the brothers rowing again and some embarrassing ‘we’ll-show-these-yanks’type talk all of which insured that America would understandably lose interest.
    I don’t know if it was early ’96 or a bit later that we started hearing the phrase ‘Cool Brittania’ being used, but it seemed for some people British acheivments and Britishness were not so much a black-and-white as a white-and-white matter. In this context ‘The Return of the Mack’ was a much-needed nudge.

  42. 42
    leveret on 4 Oct 2013 #

    #40 I also wonder how much of an influence Bobby Brown might’ve been on Mark Morrison? Some of the same belligerence and defensiveness that you find in something like ‘My Prerogative’ seems to be present here, and they seem quite similar stylistically (to a non R&B afficianado like me, anyway).

  43. 43
    Izzy on 4 Oct 2013 #

    #41: As I recall, Seal got a bit of coverage, roughly in line with what one would expect when someone from here makes it big over there without actually being big over here at the same time. Bush or Dido spring to mind – a little attention, but nothing to bite on.

    The suggestion that he ought to have been on a par with the rolling maul surrounding Oasis isn’t how the gossip media works, I don’t think. Seal’s is essentially a one-off curio which doesn’t really translate – who here really pays attention to the Grammies? – whereas the Oasis fiasco was basically the same running story that had long been filling tabloids, only on a different stage.

  44. 44
    taDOW on 4 Oct 2013 #

    mark m otm bringing up montell! for years i’d get the two confused, until finally the reminders (in the song itself) that ‘this is how we do it’ was part of a def jam resurgence helped remind me that the other one was the british dude. re: british acts having success in american r&b staying very strictly within its limitations or lifting out of the genre completely if they move beyond them, i think it might be somewhat true here (why this is a 6 or maybe a 7 for me) but not entirely sure it is for lisa stansfield and definitely not the case w/ sade, who was and still is a giant in this market. interesting to me that seal never made much headway on r&b radio, he was always an adult contemporary artist whose music owed a little something to r&b (not uncommon in the 90s: des’ree, dionne faris), while sade was an r&b artist whose musice owed a little something to adult contemporary. babyface managed to stride the two like a colossus and ruled the 90s until timbaland came and shifted the ground. r kelly spent much of the later 90s attempting to stride the two – first w/ great success (commercially at least) w/ ‘i believe i can fly’ (from the same soundtrack that features seal doing a steve miller cover), then diminishing returns w/ ‘gotham city’ and the celine collaboration. there was a moment in the very early 00s i thought that grime might manage to have an impact stateside (and not just pfork kids knowing who dizzee rascal is), i can remember hearing signifiers in various tracks i took to reading as fingerprints, that there was some cross atlantic gene flow. turned out not to be the case and any brit influence on r&b came thru a predictable vector, adult contemporary once again. enter coldplay.

  45. 45
    fivelongdays on 4 Oct 2013 #

    This is, taken out of context, a perfectly pleasant, groovy, well-sung and amiably ridiculous song about a bloke who wants to stick two fingers up to his ex. You could, quite easily, see it as Britsoul version of ‘Out Of Time’ and would, in and of itself, get a seven or even an eight from me.

    Since, however, we are talking about the song in context, and that context being that it was a number one. And this is one of those cases where the number two is an unimpeachable classic.

    A Design For Life is a glorious statement, an anthem which – although somewhat unbeknownst to me – would finally make me realise that it was OK to be an intelligent Welsh boy in my backwater, hick, borderline westcountry town. Forget the cack that masquerades as the latest album, ADFL is truly elegiac and properly anthemic. It’s a real comeback, a real return (and what happened to the Manics was far worse than getting dumped), and rather than bang on in detail about what happened, its existence alone says ‘We Are Back’. I have said before that when a great song gets kept off number one, but the act in question either had, or would have, number ones, it isn’t really a Great Chart Injustice (D’you really think The Beatles record was diminished by Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever losing out to Please Release Me?), but this feels like one, that’s for sure. Even though I’m not sure if it’d make my top five, or (sometimes) my top ten Manics singles (trust me, I will have an absolute fuckton of things to say about ’em in the fullness of time, and I hope that you’ll tolerate this post, and the bunny won’t be next), A Design For Life is a 10.

    Which, to paraphrase Billy Hicks, makes me wonder why the hell the British Public chose some bloke from Leicester singing about how is ex is a slag instead.

    Three.

  46. 46
    lonepilgrim on 4 Oct 2013 #

    #41 I’m pretty sure that the event from which Marianne Jean-Baptiste was omitted was an event to celebrate British Actresses at the Cannes Film Festival – when ‘Secrets and Lies’ won the Palme D’Or there was much (deserved) embarrassment that she had been ‘overlooked’ and she was hurriedly flown out.

  47. 47
    Query on 4 Oct 2013 #

    #40 Which, of course, is practically a remix of “Children’s Story”, produced by the London-born Slick Rick!

  48. 48
    thefatgit on 4 Oct 2013 #

    #41 The MOBO Awards began in 1996 didn’t they? Not hard to see why, when some talented and successful black performers of the day were being considered an afterthought.

  49. 49
    Billy Smart on 4 Oct 2013 #

    #45 Except it wasn’t a ‘choice’ for the public. Certainly not for me anyway, because I bought both of them!

  50. 50
    James BC on 4 Oct 2013 #

    Great song and highly recommended for karaoke.

    I used to love the way that every time he went on Top of the Pops, he would keep dropping in lines from other songs of his.

  51. 51
    mapman132 on 4 Oct 2013 #

    #3 “the first black British male solo artist to have a number one single”

    Is this really true? I guess you’re not counting Eddy Grant and Billy Ocean for being born outside the UK (although they spent some of their formative years in London)?

    If this IS true however, it means at least two Afro-Brit males (Maxi Priest and Seal) had US#1’s before an Afro-Brit male had a UK#1. Who would’ve guessed?

  52. 52
    Mark G on 4 Oct 2013 #

    Or even Emile Ford.

  53. 53
    flahr on 4 Oct 2013 #

    He wasn’t a solo act though (and apparently he was born in Saint Lucia, although it was a British colony at the time so dunno what that means)

  54. 54
    Patrick Mexico on 5 Oct 2013 #

    Ah, Mark Morrison, you bastion of macho, swaggering masculinity, you American Adventure Theme Park where guns, bitches and bling are not part of the four elements of hip-hop, but one definite being free scampi-and-chips for every senior citizen, you Ashby-de-la-Zouch and “duck” suffix-infused Fray Bentos pie of a man.

    Adapted IKEA flatpack-style to all the Blade films but looks like he spent too long in a Salford jewellers. You are also the cultural absolutist opposite of Mark Morriss, though in their most fondly-remembered moment visions haemorrhage of pram-pushing jumble sale mums with the inconsistently galloping souls of cheese and onion crisps.

    As the “crap hooligan flick with great 80s club soundtrack pretending everyone in Thatcher’s Britain” bassline kicks in, we know the guy means business. And it’s a nasty business. It’s also a Yahtzee business, as his future misdemeanours would eventually make him run out of throws of the dice. But he’s been let down. Mark, stop lying about your Big Break! And who’s been snookering you, snookering you tonight? Well.. hearing anecdotes on this thread, usually I’d be as quick to leave the table if MM sat down next to me in the pub as Jim Davidson. And the chorus is going on and on and on.. Are you Jimmy Ray? Well, are you? Are you Sting Ray? And who is the Mack? Just tell us, stop teasing.

    It treads an unusual line between absolute confidence (especially about stock elements of this genre to create something distinctive) and a genuine sense of heartbreak, and better still, it was torpedoed into the height of “Bands who aren’t as good as the Sleeperblokes without Louise”, before R&B became oversaturated. Er, that’s all folks.

    7.

  55. 55
    Patrick Mexico on 5 Oct 2013 #

    *crap hooligan flick with great 80s club soundtrack pretending everyone in Thatcher’s Britain wanted nothing but a good time. But not the one by Poison, when the glam-metal beat combo played rocky islands off the Cornish coast – that would just be Scilly.

  56. 56
    Tim Byron on 5 Oct 2013 #

    I recall absolutely despising Mark Morrison and ‘Return Of The Mack’ when it first made a dent on my consciousness when it got to #2 in Australia (held back from the top by Celine Dion and then the Macarena in August-September). The guy just seemed like an arsehole, some incredibly up himself wannabe star who was trying way too hard. I suspect I heard and saw the swagger and confidence, and didn’t hear that the bravado was the thin veil. I don’t think I had any idea he was English – I think I assumed he was from the US, which suggests he pulled off the vibe pretty well.

    In 2008, I lived in an apartment complex that was right next to a service station, and we would often be woken at 1am by cars blaring loud R&B or dance music. On more than one occasion it was “Return Of The Mack”. We found this extremely comical at the time – because I’m sure Return of the Mack wouldn’t have entered my consciousness at all in the intervening time. And so the idea that there was some guy in a hotted up Suzuki Swift who was totally stuck in 1996, who was driving around imagining he was The Mack.

    In a funny way, the song becoming comical, an injoke between me and my partner, has led me to warm to the song where I’d initially hated it; it works much better if you don’t take Morrison at face value, and the song being funny meant that we didn’t.

  57. 57
    calumerio on 5 Oct 2013 #

    To the manor born, surely, unless manner was deliberate.

  58. 58
    Rory on 5 Oct 2013 #

    @57: The title of the Penelope Keith TV series was a pun on the original saying, “to the manner born” = “born into that way of doing things”.

  59. 59
    Kinitawowi on 5 Oct 2013 #

    #45: The Manics’ time will come, but surely with the wrong tracks; ADFL will always be the one that got away. But you’re right, of course – The One And Only isn’t that terrible in its own right, but what it did to James and Sit Down (with the Waterboys’ The Whole Of The Moon at three; how the hell did Chesney frickin’ Hawkes best both of those two?! What chart god looked down at those three songs and decided that The One And Only deserved the top spot?!) is something I’ll never be able to forgive.

    As for Return Of The Mack… it’s one of those that gets my score I reserve for “probably not that bad, but simply not my Thing”. A resounding 4.

  60. 60
    Izzy on 5 Oct 2013 #

    The One And Only must’ve been a close-run thing – iirc both the others made no.1 on the competing chart that counted down on commercial radio on a Sunday afternoon (sorry, can’t remember the presenter or which stations)

  61. 61
    wichita lineman on 6 Oct 2013 #

    The Chris Evans-aided push to number one rings a bell, and ROTM’s peculiar arc to the top bears this out: 6-6-6-4-3-1. Or maybe it was just a grower. It certainly was for me.

    The NME headline that accompanied his first jail sentence – SLAMMERTIME! – suggests he wasn’t taken too seriously by Evans and the Britrock-obsessed indie press.

    The Vanilla Ice comparison way back in the thread is unfair, mind; from memory they were generally weak retreads of ROTM, but Morrison did have four more Top 10 hits in 96/97, the same season Leicester City finished 9th in the Premier League, won the League Cup, and qualified for Europe.

    Only God Can Judge Me’s mention on Wiki (“contains live performances, interviews, prayers, and three full-length songs”) does sound kind of intreeging, in a Neither Flesh Nor Flesh car-crash way.

  62. 62
    weej on 6 Oct 2013 #

    I listened to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show at the time and distinctly remember Evans making a BIG DEAL out of ROTM – i.e it was single of the week for more than one week and got multiple plays in the 45 mins I’d typically listen to it each day. My memory has been wrong before on these pages though, so don’t take my word on it. I just remember being annoyed at the time as it didn’t seem to be anything particularly special. It has grown on me a little now though – the production is excellent, the samples well-used, his voice is still a bit annoying, it’s true, but only enough to require a minor leap of faith. I think I was put off by the fact that he was making a comeback single for his debut which DID NOT COMPUTE, but that seems like a very silly reason not to like something now.

  63. 63
    Patrick Mexico on 6 Oct 2013 #

    Never mind comeback singles for debuts, what about acts debuting with an album called “Greatest Hits?” I’m sure there’s hundreds more than just Goldie Lookin Chain and Sheep on Drugs.

  64. 64
    wichita lineman on 6 Oct 2013 #

    The Cockney Rejects persevered with the gag until at least their third album – Greatest Hits Vol.3 – after which they ‘came out’ as a metal band.

  65. 65
    hardtogethits on 6 Oct 2013 #

    The run to the top certainly was unusual – a record breaker in a couple of respects. Its sales also grew every week from entry to making it to no.1, at a time when most records’ sales peaked in the first week and increases were rare.

  66. 66
    MB on 9 Oct 2013 #

    Some classic Leicester bashing in this thread – poor old East Midlands, forever ignored or lumped in with Brum…

    I was at school in Leicester when this came out, and it was a pretty big deal from what i remember. Plenty of (no doubt fictional) stories going round about knowing him, or his cousin, or (like the comment above) bumping into him in town etc. But it wasn’t exactly unadulterated hero status, plenty of us thought he was a bit of a joke (especially as I was very much in the prime of my 13 year old ‘just discovered Oasis etc’ stage at the time) – but there was certainly an element of civic pride involved.

    Leicester had and still has a sizeable black community, and there were a fair few clubs playing RnB at the time (there was a big RnB scene which crossed over into the later champagne garage stuff), so i don’t think its particularly odd for someone like him to come from there. The contrast with Kasabian is interesting actually – imo Kasabian are much more popular in the (whiter) outskirts of town (which is where they originate from, Blaby, Countesthorpe etc, and where I’d argue most of LCFC’s fanbase are drawn from) than they are in the more ethnically diverse city centre itself. Get the impression the reverse was true with Mark Morrison. And certainly I think the local press found it much easier to get behind Kasabian than they did with MM – the stories about him quickly shifted to the gun stuff. He did attempt a comeback a year or two later – appeared on the Brits waving a gun around I think. Didn’t really work, mainly because he was never able to repeat the quality of this track, and so he just descended into full on ridicule.

  67. 67
    Cumbrian on 9 Oct 2013 #

    Been on holiday, so missed the fun. As ever, when you’re late to the party, the vast majority of things I might have said have been covered (and far better than I would have managed), so I want go on. This gets a 7 from me – it’s pretty good – though I was a bit irritated by it keeping Design For Life off the top spot. That would have been a 9 – 1 off for continuing their career after its release (not that I think that their career post ADFL was worthless – just that it would have been an epic statement to come back from Richey disappearing with one amazing song, encompassing class and loss and the problems with laddism and all the rest and stopping it right there. There’s a #1 bunny that I feel the same about actually).

    I have no problems with Leicester per se, so the bashing was interesting. The main issue I have with the city is that their rugby team is annoyingly successful and, at least currently, is managed by a total arsehole. I’ve not always felt like this. Dean Richards was a boyhood hero for me – though he managed to flush that one away with his joke-shop blood antics after he left Leicester – and I always backed them against Bath in the early 90s, who always struck me as a bunch of (even more) posh boys that I wanted to get a good smashing. Of course, the main team I liked on that basis was Orrell – now sadly well down the league structure after mismanaging professionalism but who were a solid North West outpost in rugby union and were capable of beating anyone on their day back in the early 90s.

  68. 68
    thefatgit on 9 Oct 2013 #

    Cumbrian, interesting post re: Rugby Union. I’m caught in the confluence between London Irish and Harlequins, but it’s only too easy to let club Rugby wash over me (as inevitably, football is my main sporting passion) but Six Nations and test Rugby gets my attention. Having said that, I’ve spent many a happy evening with Rugby types, some poshos but mostly down-to-earth enthusiastic drinkers. I spent one evening with two-thirds of the Fiji squad and got embarrassingly out-drunk and out-sung by some of the nicest hard bastards you’ll ever meet. The Bloodgate story was awful, as I personally believed, somewhat naively, that Rugby Union was the last bastion of integrity in sport. I know now it was never thus, but I still feel there’s something “noble” about Rugby Union, which I no longer look for in footy.

  69. 69
    enitharmon on 9 Oct 2013 #

    I’m now trying to remember whether it was for Orrell or Waterloo that Nick Allott, which whom I shared an office desk in the early 90s, played. Anyway, it was in the dying days of amateurism and Nick told of how the team photos of county champions at Twickenham had the faces of players who had switched to League tippexed out.

    When Orrell/Waterloo came to play at Richmond my friend Maggie and I came away from the Richmond Town Squash Club one Saturday and stood at the edge of the pitch cheering Nick on (or taking the piss, depending on your perspective). I bet that couldn’t happen any more.

  70. 70
    MB on 9 Oct 2013 #

    funny that – noone in Leicester proper really cares about the rugby team. That’s more the wider county, your Meltons and Harboroughs. It’s all about the football for the outer city – the inner city is more complicated, in terms of access to the club etc.

  71. 71
    Cumbrian on 10 Oct 2013 #

    #70: I don’t know enough about Leicester and the environs (having shamefully never visited the area) so I’ll defer to your knowledge. It’s got to be damn busy in Leicester with cars coming in if the Tigers and City are both playing though, I’d imagine. Last year, average attendance for Tigers was 21,244, for City it was 21,301 (stats per Aviva Premiership and ESPN). Obviously, if City were in the football Premiership, their attendances would mushroom beyond those of Tigers but Leicester (and Northampton) must be the only places in England outside the West Country where rugby union properly challenges football. Welford Road is going to be expanded to 30,000 capacity as well, so they obviously think that they can get more people to go along.

    #69: Nick Allott played for Waterloo – another famous old club now much further down the league structure due to the advent of professionalism. Nick, sadly, died at a very young age – he was a victim of motor neuron disease and was struck down at the age of only 40. I would have been too young to have seen him but my Dad thought he was an exceptional player – he was on the fringes of the England team but never got a cap – and he had a young family at the time of his passing. Tragic story really. As for whether you can basically stand on the edge of the pitch taking the piss – well you couldn’t in the Premiership but Richmond play a bit lower down and their ground still doesn’t have stands on all sides and, although there is a metal pole barrier running around the edge of the field, on the bits without a stand, you’re stood 10 feet from the touchline. There’s plenty of opportunity to take the piss should you want!

    #68: Because I played when I was younger (and now ref after an injury forced me to stop), I’ve always been more of a rugby union person than a football person – though, in truth I am a sport tragic and will watch pretty much anything. Rugby union still has some of the old ethos but it is gradually moving away from it and the game has long had a culture of both high and low cheating – perhaps inevitably given its supposed origins in Webb-Ellis cheating to invent the game. I strongly suspect that there is a heavy performance enhancing drug culture that is not being latched on to by the authorities (the ball in play time has more than doubled recently and the players are bigger and hit harder than ever with no seeming drop off in performance – dubious in my view) but the game has long prided itself on skulduggery anyway; cheating at scrum to get an advantage being an obvious one that props take pride in. Bloodgate was just ridiculous – but it was borne of a culture of getting away with what you can, that’s been part of the game for ever. The fact that, for the most part, the ref is still called sir is a bit of window dressing I think!. Despite the diving and what not, I strongly suspect the football is in fact the cleaner game, it’s just under more of a microscope.

  72. 72
    Auntie Beryl once more on 11 Oct 2013 #

    Only God Can Judge Me was a mid price album, even as a new release – so Warners knew it was a busted flush and us retailers reacted accordingly.

    Morrison was last seen duetting with Connor Reeves (remember him?) on a track called Best Friend.

  73. 73
    Izzy on 11 Oct 2013 #

    Connor Reeves! He had one terrific single (My Father’s Son) then I lost sight of him completely.

  74. 74
    Niels Fez on 11 Oct 2013 #

    It’s interesting to read the comments about the Britishness of the sound on ‘Return Of The Mack’. Especially since the version that topped the chart – C & J Street Mix – was created and mixed in Copenhagen, Denmark.
    Mich ‘Cutfather’ Hansen og Joe Belmaati added their sound to quite a few Britsh soul tracks of that period – from Another Level to Shola Ama, Blue and Jamelia.
    The scratching on ‘Return of the Mack’ is by DJ Knud, another Copenhagen native with an ear for US (and UK) r’n’b and hip hop.

  75. 75
    James BC on 11 Oct 2013 #

    Agree with 74. It’s a mistake to categorise this as British Soul in the tradition of eg Soul II Soul, Roachford or the various near-successes of the 90s like Lyndon David Hall and Omar. This is simply a British artist going for the Bobby Brown/Teddy Riley RnB sound of the time and surprisingly succeeding.

  76. 76
    ciaran on 30 Oct 2013 #

    Any sign of the next instalment Tom.Its badly missed.

    #forgetusnot

  77. 77
    Patrick Mexico on 31 Oct 2013 #

    I wouldn’t worry. It’s like the old proverb about waiting for a bus and three turning up at once. Unless it’s Wessex Bus, in which case, Houston, we have a problem.

  78. 78
    Lazarus on 31 Oct 2013 #

    We await the Return of the, er, Ewe.

  79. 79
    Patrick Mexico on 1 Nov 2013 #

    Tom’ll be fine. I remember him tweeting he wrote all his 1995 reviews in one colossal bulk of drafts. It’s best to look at some years anatomically rather than in short-and-sweet one-paragraph ditties. After all, for better or worse, the number ones of this year are a lot more relevant to common pop culture narratives of the time, say, compared to 1988 – or the second half of 1989, where Black Box and Soul II Soul apart, it’s all a bit “These people existed? Really?!”

    We’ll probably soon get to quite a few things worse than Jive Bunny, but the most horrible hits often yield the most piquant threads – more or less, Tom can’t lose.

  80. 80
    mrdiscopop on 19 Oct 2014 #

    For once, I disagree with Tom. Morrison had indeed created a passable facsimile of US R&B but, even at the time, it sounded dated to me. It came almost 18 months after the superior (and very similar) This Is How We Do It by Montell Jordan, and the New Jack Swing beats harked back to earlier Teddy Riley productions.

    The song is saved by Morrison’s swagger and, as someone noted above, he had enough attitude to score a Billboard placing. But the US is already speeding ahead, with The Fugees, Missy Elliot and Destiny’s Child waiting to rewrite the R&B rule book.

    That the genre was so ripe for reinvention is equally responsible for Morrison’s fall from grace. He had three further top 10 hits (none of which I can recall) before his legal troubles caught up with him, but he was already a relic when this hit number one.

    Still a great song, though. 7.

  81. 81
    Erithian on 7 Jan 2016 #

    Revisiting Popular entries from ’96 is interesting in itself – although I don’t have much to say about this except that I wasn’t too keen even before we knew what a prize plonker he was going to be – but it’s fun to look at a comment from just over two years ago to the effect of “if only Leicester City were in the Prem”…

  82. 82
    hectorthebat on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 31
    Porcys (Poland) – The Best Songs of the 1990s (2013) 71
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 14
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 9
    Select (UK) – Singles of the Year 7

  83. 83
    Deonte L Merritt on 15 Nov 2017 #

    I love that song thats my song the beat is on point top songs ever of the 90s I was in elementary school in 96/97 long time ago in Coopers Lane in Elementary that was year when Mark Morrison came out Return Of The Mack top song of 96 my childhood was good amazing nothing like old days favorite song of all time I feel old I am 26 now out of school finally I love that song amazing times of good music like that now its garbage the rap and everything.

  84. 84
    Duro on 28 Aug 2018 #

    Reading the comments from 2013 it strikes me that if A Design For Life had aged better than Return of the Mack 17 years after the event, it’s the former that sounds archaic to my ear another 5 years on. I think I’ve recently heard RotM in a few US tv shows, and when it came on the car radio a few months back I almost crashed in the excitement of it all.
    (A 9. I really quite like this song)

  85. 85
    Auntie Beryl on 30 Aug 2018 #

    Return Of The Mack was sampled extensively for a chart hit recently, the name of the artist I can’t place but much of the work had already been done, if you follow.

    Hard to imagine a 2018 reworking of A Design For Life tickling the Fab Streaming 40 any time soon.

  86. 86
    Paulito on 8 Oct 2018 #

    I note that in the five years since this review, Tom has covered slightly less than six-and-a-half years’ worth of further no. 1s. At that pace his task starts to look somewhat Sisyphean…

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