A chart where singles sales are front-loaded to the first week is a chart that rewards fanbases, which is nothing to be worried about. Except the conveyor belt system keeps working even when there’s no fanbase hits to fill it. We’re now at a point where something is likely to go straight in at Number One whenever a previous record loses its grip – it doesn’t have to be hugely anticipated, it just has to be sitting there, discounted, in the new release racks.
The record labels aren’t quite as good at playing this game yet as they will be. For instance, it’s pretty obvious nobody else realised Blur was going to come back with a record like “Beetlebum”, because the biggest new entries in what would have been its second week are this and The Orb’s “Toxygene”. So “Ain’t Nobody” gets to the top because of lucky timing, and because it’s a cover of a reasonably well-liked song from a reasonably well-attended movie by a reasonably well-known act.
Ladies Love Cool James (for it is he) will always have a higher critical profile for his 80s work, but Britain came late to hip-hop, and the teenage tunnel-vision brutalism of the early Rick Rubin singles – “Radio” or “I’m Bad” – never found a mass audience here. Nor did the glorious “Mama Said Knock You Out”. He was better-liked by Brits for the loverman hip-hop he pioneered – the saucer-eyed hypersincerity of “I Feel Love” shaped UK expectations of him, and here he is, with a romantic rap for Valentine’s Day (a glance at the sleeve suggests this was not an angle marketers pursued).
“Ain’t Nobody” fit LL Cool J’s brand well enough, but it’s nowhere near his strongest record. In fact it feels lazy, in execution and concept. LL’s raps are a wave of the hand towards a general notion of seduction – “passionate interludes and such” – marking time before the song gets to the chorus, as if he knows as well as we do it’s the strongest part of the record. And it is – it carries the entire track – but the satisfied delight of “Ain’t Nobody” is undermined when it feels so unearned. LL is never skeevy, just bland – he only sounds awake in the closing ad libs, offering hokey advice and sex tips.
The song also has nothing at all to do with the film it’s tied to. This, as much as getting a good LL Cool J track to Number One, feels like a missed opportunity. If there was ever a show to justify a “Living Doll” style novelty record – or at least a novelty video – it’s Beavis And Butthead. It would have been extremely hard to get right – to move the pair’s toxic, hilarious a-cultural impulses into a song rather than leaving them impotently outside it – but the attempt would have been more interesting than this.