23
Jul 14

SPACEDUST – “Gym And Tonic”

Popular27 comments • 1,710 views

#805, 24th October 1998

gymtonic In another world, the crassest Number One of 1998 might have been its most chic. “Gym And Tonic” steals a name, a concept, a hook and most of a sound from Bob Sinclar’s “Gymtonic”, written with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, who also co-wrote the gorgeous Stardust hit “Music Sounds Better With You” – from which Spacedust lifts the rest of their ideas, and their band name. It’s not so much filing off the serial numbers as daubing luminous paint on them. “Music Sounds…” had just missed reaching Number One a few months before this – which meant that at the peak of French pop cool in my adult life, the sole representative of “French touch” on Popular is a knockoff by a pair of Brits with an, ahem, “deliberately cheap” video. C’est la vie.

The gap Spacedust snuck into was Jane Fonda’s refusal to license samples from her workout tape for Sinclar’s single release. Spacedust got a voice actress to re-record them, threw in a few “Music Sounds….” filtered orchestral stabs to make the track more familiar and more disco-ish, and let it loose. But away from the club, a lot of the point is lost. “Gymtonic”, less busy and eager to please than “Gym And Tonic”, is a fine enough house track to listen to, but it must have sounded a lot better – and funnier – in the club, where the strict but kindly voice of Fonda cutting across a dancefloor of jacking bodies makes for an excellent contextual gag. Mixing it of the rest of pop, though, it’s just a bit weird: at its generic end, dance music sounds a bit like aerobics tapes, and here’s a record that makes the connection all too clear – and still gets to Number One.

So to an extent this stands or falls on how generic a backing Spacedust have made. And to be honest, it’s not bad. The French sound has a woozy charm – it’s disco refracted through a prism, with different layers of production phasing up and down, giving the nagging, addictive feeling that half the track is being played a room away from you. There’s enough of that here to stop “Gym And Tonic” feeling completely rote, and the bright, five-note riff that’s the heart of both versions of the song is a good hook. But it’s a hook at war with a gimmick – and the workout parts can’t quite survive the translation from joke to novelty.

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Comments

  1. 1
    jim5et on 23 Jul 2014 #

    I have literally no memory of either the original or this knock off. As you say, it could just be a backing tape to a Davina workout tape.

  2. 2
    Tom on 23 Jul 2014 #

    I’ve put the original up on the Tumblr now. I never heard the original until a few years later, either, when I was digging into the French scene on soulseek – I wasn’t going out to that kind of club regularly, and I think you might need to have been. If it had got an official release, post-Stardust, it might have done pretty well.

    Speaking of Soulseek, when I was first looking for obscure number ones at the start of this project, this one – only 5 years old at that point – was THE hardest to find online.

  3. 3
    chelovek na lune on 23 Jul 2014 #

    Dross, to be polite. Tedious and characterless, too. All the “could have beens” make it worse, too, as do the reflections of the greater things in whose shadow it lies. The chart run agrees: 1-6-16-34-OUT. Eminently forgettable.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 23 Jul 2014 #

    I think I was still going to a gym at this point, but never felt at home. At some point huge TV screens were introduced so that you could run on a treadmill towards an unobtainable star on MTV. Everything I like about this is a steal from the original Gymtonic and everything I dislike is what reminds me of the enforced bonhomie of Step classes, etc. I never plan to watch the video again

  5. 5
    Tom on 23 Jul 2014 #

    A Popular admin note, by the way: I’m off on holiday on Friday, the first of three foreign trips in the next 6 weeks (!) but the only one where I won’t have regular internet access. So while I’m hoping to schedule the next entry for Friday, I can’t guarantee it. But if I don’t, I’ll definitely get it written on holiday and try to get ahead of myself a little so there’s a regular schedule when I get back.

  6. 6
    mapman132 on 23 Jul 2014 #

    Are we sure that the Charts Company wasn’t just trolling everyone by showing this POS at number one? This isn’t even worth bothering to mark…

    And thus we thankfully get to the end of a long and largely dismal* string of entries with minimal to no US impact. Next comes what I consider to be Pop’s Main Event of 1998/99. Looking forward to Tom’s commentary whenever it turns out to be….

    *DU, VF, IYTTYCWBN, and oddly enough, Millennium were the four that should’ve been US hits IMHO; the others I’m not shedding tears over

  7. 7
    Kat but logged out innit on 23 Jul 2014 #

    When I see the name of this song written down and try and remember how it goes, I end up humming the awesome (& approx contemporaneous) ‘Spank!’ by D’Menace instead – if you’re going to go aerobics-disco you might as well sample a classic.

  8. 8
    flahr on 23 Jul 2014 #

    So is this the Baby Jump of the 1990s? I had a vague memory of reading that this largely got to #1 on the basis of a video full of lycra-clad bummery, although reviewing it it’s slightly more good-hearted than that.

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 23 Jul 2014 #

    I don’t have a gym membership. I don’t spin. I don’t joge. I don’t pilate or aerobe. I don’t even lift. I don’t Lucozade. I don’t lycra or yoga. BUT I HAVE CLUBBED!

    Vitamin water? Vitamin…water? Seriously?

    Yep, this one is at odds with what clubbers were dancing to. Bob Sinclar’s bassier and longer effort has Jane Fonda weaving in and out of the mix, with loops suppressed and brought front and centre in an elliptical fashion so clubbers can get their euphoric rushes. Spacedust, albeit forced by legal types, lose all sense of nuance and the bass is neutered to fuck. Power Bars?

  10. 10
    daveworkman on 23 Jul 2014 #

    As a thirteen year-old scholar of the charts for precisely eighteen months straddling 1998/99, I remember being righteously shocked at how this appeared from nowhere to claim No. 1. Listening back, it’s even thinner than I remembered it.

    #7 That D’Menace song is brilliant, I’d forgotten that one!

  11. 11
    23 Daves on 23 Jul 2014 #

    This is another one of those entries which made me think “What?! I don’t remember ever even hearing that!” Then, of course, I went to YouTube and remembered that I had heard it a few times before, it had just left so little impression that my brain hadn’t bothered to retain any strong memory of it. Given the chart run quoted above, it’s also entirely possible that it only picked up a couple of weeks of airplay before being delisted and thrown into the archives for good.

    It seems to me that novelty dance records like these had their chips as soon as the Internet (and perhaps more crucially YouTube) became a bigger part of everyone’s lives. While people once had to purchase this stuff to listen to it again, usually only bothering five or six times before leaving the CD on the shelf to become the victim of a later clear-out, you can now fill your boots for free online until you get bored. In cases like this one, that seems like a better arrangement for the charts.

  12. 12
    Tom on 23 Jul 2014 #

    #8 yeah, the soft porn video as sales tool is at the other end of the filter disco era. We will be encountering it, though, oh yes.

  13. 13
    wichitalineman on 24 Jul 2014 #

    This might be in a select group of two Popular entries – records that people were duped into buying because they thought they were getting something else – the other being Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman.

    Spacedust’s “re-recording” lacks the essential space/ebb and flow of the 6 minute Bob Sinclar version, and has far too much faux-Fonda, but… if there had been a radio edit of Sinclar it might not have sounded so different.

    I distinctly remember a sense of mild disgust that this had come out because no one could buy the original (which would surely have been a no.1, and almost certainly have stuck around longer).

  14. 14
    James BC on 24 Jul 2014 #

    Songs with counting in them got really popular around this time, but I think this is the first one (of the era) that got to number one.

    Some other examples are 5, 6, 7, 8 (Steps) and Got The Feeling (Five – band name also a number); there were more to come including at least one that will come up on Popular.

  15. 15
    PurpleKylie on 24 Jul 2014 #

    I completely forgot about this song, and for good reason I guess. I’ve got a soft spot for 90s house but this is very monotonous and repetitive. It would’ve made more sense if this was one of those ephemeral summer #1s that got there thanks to the droves of returning holidaymakers who heard it in Ibiza, but this was October! I don’t see what the appeal in it is/was even after hearing the original version.

    Btw, on the subject of “Music Sounds Better With You”, I’ve got fond memories of that song during the summer holidays of 98. I revisited it last year and it’s amazing how well it’s held up over the years. There’s just something magical about that song.

  16. 16
    wichitalineman on 24 Jul 2014 #

    According to http://www.whosampled.com “Gym and Tonic by Spacedust sampled Bob Sinclar and Thomas Bangalter’s Gym Tonic” which sounds doubly unfair on the original. I hope they got a wodge of money for the sample (not that they need it).

  17. 17
    Mark G on 24 Jul 2014 #

    I’m amazed at the ‘never heard it’s above, it got used as incidental/fill-in music all over the place. Was it this or the original that Pete Tong tipped as a ‘one to watch’ in a Radio Times article, which by the time it came out the track was being overplayed everywhere and he regretted mentioning it?

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 24 Jul 2014 #

    #14 also DJ Shadow’s “The Number Song” got a Cut Chemist makeover in 1998. Not sure if it charted.

  19. 19
    iconoclast on 24 Jul 2014 #

    This comment is not original, but I have no recollection of this at all and amazed that it was a Number One. What a depressingly pointless excuse for a record, anyway. ONE.

  20. 20
    23 Daves on 24 Jul 2014 #

    #15 Amazing, isn’t it (“Music Sounds Better With You”)? I have a summer playlist on my iPod and that sits there and gets repeated airings, year in, year out. Such a shame it didn’t make it to number one.

    It did make it to the top of the “Chart Show” chart, however. It didn’t have a proper video at that point, so on their penultimate show they just played their old eighties animations and intro sequences underneath the track, which felt like an oddly appropriate thing to do at the time.

  21. 21
    ciaran on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Although I knew this was coming I had absolutely no idea of the connection with Daft Punk until I read this at the weekend.It explains where the name Spacedust came from for a start.

    http://doandroidsdance.com/features/best-non-daft-punk-productions/s/bob-sinclar-gym-tonic/

    The Spacedust track is very flat. One of those times the public really missed out.Its gaudy video is the only thing that could explain it topping the chart. The only time I ever heard it was on Monday Nights Irish chart rundown on RTE 2 but other than that it’s almost been erased entirely. Even (erm) discovering the original it’s not making me any more appreciative of what is a botched job. 3.

    One of the most obscure ‘popular’ moments of the 90s. Wikipedia has it as the 109th best seller of the year. It’s hard to know where the audience for it existed.

    I know MSBWY by Stardust is a huge favourite but I’m not as won over as most people are.Its clearly good but a bit overrated, though It’s influence on a certain 2000 bunny is now very apparent.

    I know we’ll get to them in time but I was crying out for more Daft Punk round about this time as they looked like yer typical 15 minutes of fame dance act who would disappear quietly. Da Funk would be a clear 10 from me if it was Number 1.

  22. 22
    punctum on 25 Jul 2014 #

    One of the more nefarious and shameful examples of the quick-buck domestic cash-in cover version, although in Spacedust’s slender defence the original was being forcibly kept out of the competition. One of the absolute peaks of the French disco movement, “Gym Tonic,” as composed and performed by DJ Bob Sinclar and produced by Thomas Bangalter, is the goofy equal of “Music Sounds Better With You,” pounding along and gathering endless momentum with the aid of a carefully chosen sample from Jane Fonda’s Workout Record, principally the looped “BACK, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and BACK!” The moment when the full beats kick in and Fonda’s “BACK” locks into it with perfect timing is beyond immaculate.

    By October 1998 the track had been available, as the closing, climactic track on Sinclar’s album Paradise, for the best part of a year; it was all over the clubs and my first-hand perspective at Massive Records in Oxford , just behind Gloucester Green bus station, confirms that copies were shooting out faster than the shop could get them in. The reason why Virgin France didn’t jump at a full-blown British release was down to legalities; Fonda objected to her voice being used and refused permission for it to feature on any single mix of the track (although the original remained on the album, even when belatedly issued in the UK, and moreover, a few years beforehand, Fonda had played broker in getting brother Peter to say yes to being featured on “Loaded”). So one of 1998’s most in-demand dance anthems was being kept off the mainstream shelves and out of the charts.

    In stepped Paul Glancey and Duncan Glasson, the production duo behind Spacedust, who sniffed an opening; they employed an actress to impersonate Fonda, but rather than stop at simply covering the Sinclar original they rejigged it entirely, changed the title – and appended their own names to the track as composers. So even though “Gym And Tonic” casts its sonic net slightly wider than the original, incorporating more Fonda dialogue, a pregnant mid-track pause and a would-be Chemical Brothers finale of descending electrohowls, it is difficult to avoid the rather nasty smell which pervades its bogus grooves; everywhere the rhythmic accents are changed, the guitar chord sequence chopped up and fed in out of sync, all to prove that legally it is a different piece of music and not merely a cheapskate ripoff of genius.

    The Sinclar/Bangalter original may use fewer sound sources and be more linear, but it works an infinite number of times better than Spacedust partly because of Bangalter’s complete mastery of persuasive micro-minimalism, where the systematic thickening of sounds behind the surface repetition is less sensationalist, more curvaceous, and because the Frenchman, as with Daft Punk and Stardust, achieves a curiously natural swing to his rhythms. Put it this way; “Gym Tonic” makes me want to tango across Goya’s black mountains and turn them into pink, whereas “Gym And Tonic” reminds me of a makeshift gym set up in the corner of a leaky shed in Rotherhithe on a wet and windy Tuesday morning in November. And it’s possible that its intended audience saw right through its hollow hole of an anti-heart; the record disappeared from the charts very quickly and was by some distance 1998’s lowest-selling number one, its sales too low even to qualify for the end-of-year Top 100. 1

  23. 23
    Steve Williams on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Yep, bought this one as well, as I seemed to do with every number one of 1998 (but not the next one), even though I knew the original, which had enjoyed heavy rotation on Radio 1, was miles better. Note the hook is mentioned on the sleeve to remind casual buyers which song it is.

    I wouldn’t say this was the Baby Jump of the nineties, because, unlike Baby Jump or My Camera Never Lies, if you played it to people they’d recognise the song (whether this or Bob Sinclar’s original) from its excessive use as incidental music, but I doubt they’d remember it was ever a number one. Especially in this version. The nineties equivalent of Isn’t She Lovely by David Parton.

    Used to be all over French dance around this time, especially Cassius 1999 by Cassius which is a brilliant song.

  24. 24
    Patrick Mexico on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Aye, Music Sounds Better With You is an excellent piece of refined Gallic flair tailor-made for the dancefloor. Hypothetical Pitchfork 8.7/10. We’ll encounter a few where that came from on Popular, including one rather obscure bunny you wouldn’t have heard of ;) Far better than this dross, it scrapes a 2 for at least not distressing me as much as Mr. Blobby or Cinderella Rockafella.

    Great video as well with the kid building the model aeroplane and meeting “the band.” I loved the TV-within-the-TV “chart show” parodies of Sabrina (Samantha – Luv on the Beach), Robert Palmer (Dave Stavros – Hot Lipz) and Monstarr Bunch – Step on It, which for a few seconds, fooled me that some people in France actually listened to Oi!

  25. 25
    Rory on 31 Jul 2014 #

    With log-ins on the blink I’ll have to note my score in a comment instead. First-time listener, last-time listen: 2, 3. Might have gone a point or two higher if not for the rip-off nature of the thing.

  26. 26
    Weej on 6 Aug 2014 #

    Music Sounds Better With You is negative-proustian for me, taking me instantly back to miserable nights out at shit clubs, everyone else apparently enjoying themselves while I counted down the time until I could leave. Blame this on the wrong company and the wrong drugs, I suppose, but can’t hold them responsible for the guy in halls with two copies of MSBWY who practiced his turntable skills by mixing the record into itself for the best part of a term. In another world I perhaps could appreciate it, but it’s spoiled forever in this one.

    First time I’ve heard Gymtonic, and lacking similar baggage it’s a pleasant enough listen. Gym and Tonic, much less so.

  27. 27
    Zacco on 18 Nov 2014 #

    Never heard this before now. Honestly I don’t find it as bad as others here do. I’m a sucker for French House tracks such as the ones by the likes of Daft Punk and Stardust so the production has me hooked. The lyrics are very silly though and get tiring quickly. After listening to the original version, you really get a cheap ripoff vibe from this record. While not brilliant, the original is much better and would be a 7 from me. It offends me that this made #1 when other French House tracks (Music Sounds Better With You, One More Time, Starlight etc.) that are far superior only got to #2. Not the worst thing ever so I’ll give it a 5, I really can’t resist that beat. Can’t say I’m sad I’m sad it has been forgotten.

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