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Sep 14

911 – “A Little Bit More”

Popular62 comments • 4,574 views

#812, 23 January 1999

911b The formation of minor boyband 911 is a telling vignette of how pop in the late 90s was working. The general boyband narrative is one where a managerial Svengali recruits rosy-cheeked poppets who emerge three or four years later, a little wiser, hopefully richer, and generally sporting unfortunate facial hair as a sign that they are now their Own Man. They celebrate cutting their ties with the pop machine by falling into complete obscurity, and then it’s all over bar the reality show reunions. It’s a career.

What’s – mildly – interesting about 911 is that the motive force for their existence wasn’t a dollar-eyed manager or a talented singer – it’s two backing dancers who saw how well other former backing dancers were doing and decided, quite sensibly, that they wanted a bit of it. So they found a willing manager and then cast about for someone to sing the songs. It’s an origin story that doesn’t really fit the familiar pop storyline of rampant exploitation: instead, you could make an inspiring business case study out of it. And I suspect that’s because British pop was increasingly working like a business – staffed by young people who might not have had formal qualifications but who were more canny about the value of their labour and the structures they were working in. In the stage school era, pop is a job and is advertised, interviewed for and treated (if you’re sensible) with the same clear-eyed unsentimentality as any other desirable but precarious employment. One of the interesting things about reality TV pop is that it made a spectacle of the “wide-eyed kid gets their dream ticket” storyline at exactly the point it was becoming archaic in the biz as a whole.

Perhaps it was 911’s entrepreneurial viguour that made record labels initially slightly wary of them. Or it could have been that, if “A Little Bit More” is any evidence, they were shit. That search for a vocalist had ended up with Lee Brennan, and listening to “A Little Bit More” I wish they’d hunted harder. “A Little Bit More”, like any bedroom jam, requires a mix of conviction and fantasy from its lead singer. “Oily” and “desperate” aren’t really the adjectives you want to be reaching for. Brennan’s pinched, wheedling voice might be the least charismatic boyband performance we’ve met in the 90s – he makes Peter Andre sound like Isaac Hayes. The saving grace, perhaps, is that Brennan is so weedy that he can’t make the lyrics of this hoary old song – “When your body’s had enough of me…” – sound as skeevy as they might sung by someone less callow. But when you factor in the preset twinkles of the production this is one of the most negligible Number Ones yet.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 4 Sep 2014 #

    a lot less

  2. 2
    Chris Retro on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Awful.
    As crap pop, their Party People Friday Night from late 97 was ‘ok’ by me. That’s ‘ok’ as merely ‘ok’.
    The trouble with A Little Bit More is the Dr Hook original – sung by ‘real men’ who could really sing and knew just what they were singing about, and with a fantastic production – was more than the sum of its hairy parts. This might as well be by the ‘Mini Pops’ – far less than the sum of its parts – it’s like taking a steak and serving it up as a ‘Savers Menu’ McBurger.
    Meat is murder, and so is this cover version.
    1

  3. 3
    Tom on 5 Sep 2014 #

    #2 not an original! It was written and first done by a bearded lot hairdo called BOBBY GOSH. I actually couldn’t bear to go back and check the Dr Hook version, let alone the Gosh one – 911’s whole schtick was terrible updates of 70s lovers soul though, they did an absolutely gruesome version of “Private Number” too.

  4. 4
    Tom on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Awesome autocorrect turned “lothario” to “lot hairdo” well done that app.

  5. 5
    Kinitawowi on 5 Sep 2014 #

    The bunny I mentioned during Because We Want To bites back; 1999 was the final year of Radio 1’s summer Roadshows before Chris Moyles’ brief stint of One Big Belly made its rounds, and after the mammoth highlight reel of 1998, Hepburn and 911 really weren’t going to cut it for Hunstanton 1999.

    Very little sticks with me from that day. (Much less than 1998, even – I think I only managed to dive down to The Green in 1999 briefly during my lunch break from my summer job at the local Budgens.) I was most interested in Hepburn, whose I Quit inexplicably turned up on the first Buffy The Vampire Slayer soundtrack album and had proved popular at university – their album has a couple of decent tracks, most notably Next Life – but wretched followup Bugs (On The Windscreen) sucked pretty much all the life out of them and the actually pretty good Deep Deep Down was too little too late to save them from Buzzcocks ID Parade obscurity.

    911 made no mark at all. They existed, but it was clearly way past their time (they split up six months after the roadshow); after A Little Bit More they did nothing much of any consequence.

    Or during A Little Bit More, for that matter.

    3.

    (Also, I was wrong back then. Hunstanton’s cultural highlight of the 90s wasn’t that roadshow, it was my victory in the Hunstanton And District Festival Of Arts Junior Public Speaking Competition in 1992. I still have the plaque somewhere.)

  6. 6
    mapman132 on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Dull. Dull. Dull. Just as well they never crossed over to the US as not only is this crap but their name might have become a tad awkward a couple years later.

  7. 7
    Mark G on 5 Sep 2014 #

    This is the point at which pop trivia reaches that point where it only barely registers as trivia, to whit: The only correct answer to “Who was the lead singer of 911” was “Who Cares?”

  8. 8
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Atrocious, weak, simmering, forgettable.

  9. 9
    tm on 5 Sep 2014 #

    The first band I remember mocking up a CD cover to look like an old Motown record sleeve (graphic design, not cover photo) which I thought was pretty tacky at the time.

  10. 10
    Cumbrian on 5 Sep 2014 #

    I am not sure whether this is right nor not, so please correct me if I am wrong, but I’m fairly certain that Lee Brennan is the only Cumbrian to get to #1 in the UK (he comes from Carlisle). If true, please insert your own mental image of my sad face at this point.

    I’m still not in the mood for music, nor attempting to be fair to records I haven’t heard in ages, so I probably should not be passing judgement, but I don’t doubt that this is terrible. Maybe, at some point, I’ll revisit with a due sense of foreboding.

  11. 11
    Rory on 5 Sep 2014 #

    The best bit is just before the three-minute mark, when there’s no singing. A point for that brings it up to a 2 for me.

  12. 12
    punctum on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Note how, during this period, all of the girl groups and female artists who came to prominence had their own distinct personalities and immediately recognisable approaches, both aurally and visually. In contrast, the rash of boy bands seemed to congeal into a scarcely distinguishable bowl of warmed-over semolina. Was there really a trio of scared-looking boys called 911, and why were they called 911 when they hailed from Essex (of course, the name 999 had been claimed more than twenty years previously)? Moreover, they had actually been Top 40 regulars for three years by the time of their sole chart-topper, and indeed were coming to the end of their barely noticeable run, having been effectively reduced to a revivalist karaoke machine (the one before this was “More Than A Woman,” the one following this was “Private Number”); their greatest hits album, released that Christmas, struggled to reach #40.

    Dr Hook’s original “A Little Bit More” was irritating enough when it clung like pound shop glue to the number two position for five weeks in the summer of 1976 behind “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” but at least it preserved a remnant of character; 911 do nothing with it except add a tinny drum machine in voices so shakily emotionless they remind me of a Pinky and Perky kids’ cover versions album slowed down to 16 rpm. At no point do they betray any evidence of interest in, or even knowledge of, tantric pleasures and inexhaustible passion; they perform the notes blankly, as though petrified in a Thursday night Brentford pub, standing before an audience consisting mainly of their parents, anxious not to frighten them or earn a spanking. And then the record just wanders off into the distance; perhaps its loop still plays in selected weekend car parks to ward off drunken youths. They probably wouldn’t get away with that name now, either. 1 for Popular purposes, but really 0 to represent the weightless void it leaves behind (I thought about subtracting the 11 from the 9, but that would have given them a score of –2, and no number one has yet been bad enough to warrant minus figures. I emphasise that “yet” very strongly indeed)

  13. 13
    Rory on 5 Sep 2014 #

    I should really note my respect for anyone who can turn such thin gruel into interesting and readable entries and comments, because I sure couldn’t in this case. There’s so little here to get a grip on: no edges at all, a surface polished far too flat.

    Did they get reviews back in the day titled “911 is a Joke”? The name seems to be asking for it.

  14. 14
    iconoclast on 5 Sep 2014 #

    @12: This is presumably why G**** A**** went on to great things whereas O** T*** V**** disappeared without trace.

    As for this record: the world did not need it then, and my life does not need it now. Ten seconds were enough for me; I don’t know if that’s enough to justify a rating, but I doubt it would be more than THREE.

  15. 15
    MikeMCSG on 5 Sep 2014 #

    #10 Well done Cumbrian, I wasn’t expecting to be able to add anything here.
    I think Mr Brennan was your county’s only strike; your purple patch would have been Christmas 1975 with Stan Laurel at number 2 behind Bo Rap and Maddy Prior’s Steeleye Span at number 5.

  16. 16
    MikeMCSG on 5 Sep 2014 #

    # 15 I tell a lie !
    Emlyn “Crazy Horse ” Hughes is on “Back Home” although he never got onto the pitch in Mexico.

  17. 17
    James BC on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Band is formed by two breakdancers to show off their sick headspins. Gets to number 1 with this drippy ballad, sitting on stools (or the floor?) and simpering. Louis Walsh is to blame.

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 5 Sep 2014 #

    “Oily… desperate… negligible… shit”… I love a well deposed swear word.

    This was THREE YEARS after their first hit? 911 had scored EIGHT top 10 hits before this?? I think I was only aware of More Than a Woman. History truly does not record…

    Looking at that list of hits (with its Take That-like slow climb to the top), I’m rather curious to hear The Journey which, as a title, seems to fit Tom’s suits ‘business plan’ theory. Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe it’s a late 90s take on the Mamas & Papas’ Creeque Alley, or Felt’s Ballad of the Band, or maybe not.

    So, who were their fans? Any Popular commenters want to stick their head above the parapet?

  19. 19
    Martin F. on 5 Sep 2014 #

    @18: Not that you’d know it from the generic nature of the lyrics, but “The Journey” was very much marketed as being written about/inspired by Lee’s childhood battles with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, something that only sticks in my mind because I recall Cat Deeley taking the piss out of the song on MTV Hitlist UK on the grounds that no one as young as 911 could reasonably sing about having been on any kind of “journey” yet. How times, or at least the reality TV-loaded meanings of words, change…

  20. 20
    Cumbrian on 5 Sep 2014 #

    15/16: Cheers for that. I would wager that Emlyn may well have a better voice than Lee. Maddy Prior was born in Blackpool but lived in (still lives I think) Cumbria for most of her life and has been thoroughly adopted. Indeed, I think she lives in Brampton. Brampton was the abode of the only other Cumbrian pop-star I can think of* Jez Willis from Utah Saints, who I’d take over any of the other Cumbrian acts mentioned here – though Steeleye Span’s “All Around My Hat” is a bit of a stomper.

    *It Bites probably the only other Cumbrian act I can think of – from Egremont, if memory serves. I’m sure someone will be along in a bit to add to this meagre offering to the pop world. At least we had Wordsworth up here.

  21. 21
    MikeMCSG on 5 Sep 2014 #

    #20 I do vaguely remember Emlyn saying that he and Alan Ball were stood together near a mike to balance out the more “manly” voices shall we say.

  22. 22
    wichitalineman on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Re 19: Cheers. So I was being slightly harsh. Though I’m rather less inclined to give it a listen now.

    Going back to A Little Bit More, it has some of the creepiest lyrics ever written. “I’ve got to be touching you”? Oof. Dr Hook didn’t get away with it either, but the extreme bonhomie of their promo clip gave them some leeway. This version sounds needy-stroke-stalky: “Let me rub your tired shoulders… the way I used to do”. He’s a creepy ex.

  23. 23
    Izzy on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Does Stewart Copeland count?

    I always had a soft spot for 911. Bodyshakin’ and Party People .. Friday Night are genuinely good records; and I always liked the name Spike Dawbarn, it has a pleasing cadence to it. I never knew that Spike and Jimmy were the ambitious svengali types here, good on them.

    These third-division boyband acts (sadly 911 fall just short of East 17 championship level, and I can’t really make a case for them to be in that company, much as I’d like to) really did inhabit a weird localised parallel world of minders, people-carriers, ten-minute PAs and ultracondensed yet fervent crowds. I’m going largely by the inserts in their videos, but they do seem to be to Take That as your home wifi is to the Crystal Palace transmitter. Though I did once chance upon Worlds Apart gigging at my local shopping mall, to what might charitably be called frenzy, only it was a frenzy around eighteen inches deep, behind which shoppers went about their business unmoved.

    The other thing is they all claimed some exotic hinterland where actual bigness lay upon them. Worlds Apart had France, 911 Malaysia, from memory A1 had Scandinavia, and so on. Whether this was real enough to bankroll their failed assaults on the UK market, or whether it’s the boyband equivalent of the two-gig indie tour of New York and San Francisco (with a third date in Tokyo making it a world tour), I do not know.

  24. 24
    Cumbrian on 5 Sep 2014 #

    We’ll take Stewart Copeland if we can have Belinda Carlisle as well.

  25. 25
    Izzy on 5 Sep 2014 #

    Good lord, I’d forgotten Spike’s rap* in the middle of Party People. Makes John Barnes sound like Rakim Sterling.

    Still a great record though. It’s kind of forgotten nowadays, except maybe as a precursor to S Club Party, which I’m astonished to find will not be troubling Popular.

    * 911 really should be here, just after Chocolate Salty Balls, with a deep soul number called Spike’s Rap. That would’ve been amazing.

  26. 26
    thefatgit on 5 Sep 2014 #

    I really, really can’t find anything remotely interesting to say about 911 or ALBM. So I won’t. (1)

  27. 27
    Patrick Mexico on 5 Sep 2014 #

    2/10.

    Hilarious thread.

    Bloody dreadful cover of a fairly dreadful 70s soft-rock plodder (that existed four years before the Bee Gees’ How Deep is Your Love, but Take That’s cover came out three before this one, which they steal the hook from and melt it down into hospital cabbage soup.)

    It’s enough to drive a man to give them an extra mark for talking to me on “Nickelodeon Kids’ Chat” on AOL in March 1997. Jesus, the point I’ve reached where we start getting nostalgic about USENET and taking ten minutes to load a grey all-text web page. But though the alpha male in me says I should have been out kicking balls and chasing girls, they did seem like lovely guys, in the 20 word Instant Message they sent me, something like “You rule more than an audacious Philippe Albert chip to make it Newcastle 5, Manchester United 0!*” The funniest part of the chat, though, was when the chat room “guide” accidentally signed out and in a frantic five minutes of fame, assorted tweens started posting [sic] “GUIDEYS NOT HERE WE CAN SWARE NOW” and “Fuc you basterd”

    A few weeks later in the same chatroom, I got the family AOL account shut down after “discussion of illegal activity” (I was talking about a “program where you could hack into chat room guide accounts” and like many daredevil late-nineties pre-teens, didn’t really know the consequences..) We didn’t get it back for another nine months (!)

    @12: On a serious note, I was 16 on that terrible day, and my naive teenage self thought “Won’t Americans have to change their emergency number as dialling 911 would bring back too many distressing memories?” I repeat for integrity – naive teenage self. :-/

    @20: Half of British Sea Power hail from Natland, a village just outside Kendal. I’m glad I remembered, er, Remember Me, just then.. that is a jump from the ridicule of this thread to the sublime.

    * Yet again, I’m altering history to make my posts a tiny bit less boring than usual.

  28. 28
    Cumbrian on 5 Sep 2014 #

    27: I even have some British Sea Power records – I should have known that.

  29. 29
    Patrick Mexico on 5 Sep 2014 #

    I’m going to listen to their discography on Spotify now, anything’s better than wading through this “top 40 of 2007” playlist, with such groundbreaking records as Little Man Tate – This Must Be Love, The Twang – Either Way and Ghosts – Stay the Night…. (plus a bunnied Leeds act. In an age where indie-rock descended into meaning virtually nothing, BSP were second only to the Long Blondes in keeping the flame alive for originality, depth and as much as this phrase makes my skin crawl these days thinking of ironically geek-glassed goons with pop-up farmers’ markets in Shoreditch, British eccentricity.)

  30. 30
    Billy on 5 Sep 2014 #

    I have absolutely no memory of this and reading the comments I think I’ll leave it that way. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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