Apr 15

SPILLER – “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)”

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#871, 26th August 2000

spiller groovejet The revival of disco within pop put a spotlight on something that had gone missing over the 90s: a sense of music not just for dancing, but for dancing with someone. Disco was a music of mutual attraction: cruising, flirtation, negotiation. Its dancefloor is a space for immediate pleasure, but also for promises kept and otherwise. It’s a place where things start, but their resolution, let alone their meaning, is never clear. All of 2000’s great disco number ones explore how to play this hand. Madison Avenue look to impose their will upon it, to set terms and roles. Spiller is less rigid. “Groovejet” accepts the night’s changeability, happily sells out certainty for an amused smile and a few great one-liners. “Just for one lifetime I can be your pastime”, “In it together till I know you better.” Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s original chorus precisely caught the song’s resigned swoon: “And so it goes… how does it feel so good?”.

“Groovejet” – helped along by a whipped-up chart battle with Posh Spice – felt like the hit of the summer. Victoria Beckham’s song, “Out Of Your Mind”, was nowhere near as bad as some claimed – a surprisingly hard-headed, up to date, UK garage record, drenched in vocal effects. It was as modern and forthright as “Groovejet” was nostalgic and enigmatic. But its different parts grated where Spiller’s meshed. There’s a beautiful tension in “Groovejet”, an apt flirtation between Bextor’s languid, cut-glass vocals and the delightful indulgence of Spiller’s music. It’s not just any disco he’s reviving, after all. No Chic for Spiller, none of that poise or aspirational elegance. The sounds “Groovejet” loots are the syn-drums and ray-gun synths of disco’s overripe peak and decline, when it was corny, wonderful, mass-market pop music: you can hear hints of Kelly Marie or Amii Stewart in the song, before that sweetness falls back into the dreamy groove. “Groovejet” is a fond tour of disco when it ruled the world, and proof that it still could.

The music can be playful because the sophistication all comes from Ellis-Bextor. Her vocals were so appealing on this track she could ditch her indie-band baggage and spin them into a brief, well-loved career as a top ten presence, mixing instant hooks with finishing school froideur just as templated here. She offsets the track’s bubbly repetition, adds a bittersweet note without ever sounding like she’s above it. In fact she sounds carried along by it: Ellis-Bextor’s – and the song’s – most powerful moment is the breakdown – “Will you remember me, boy? Remember me – “ and her voice suddenly spirals up into the backing, the thought lost in the music. It’s blissful. And so it goes… but Rob Davis, who changed the chorus, made the right call, getting to an essence not just of the song, but of disco itself. Never mind absolutes, never mind reality, never mind the world outside the song and your body. Trust to pleasure, you’ll be alright. “If this ain’t love, why does it feel so good?”



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  1. 31
    Steve Mannion on 23 Apr 2015 #

    From last week’s (joint) low to the best #1 of the 00s so far. The last #1 and charting single I bought on 12″. Would’ve been happy for ‘Out Of Your Mind’ to have won the battle that week too but agree it’s an ambitious affair struggling with some heavy shopping whereas ‘Groovejet’ breezes through duty-free and flies home from a particularly satisfying holiday in the sun.

  2. 32
    Izzy on 23 Apr 2015 #

    22: ‘something of a fluke’ feels right to me. As I understand things, it was Spiller’s original groove, somebody else wrote the chorus, and she provided the verses last. I heard her once slagging off the chorus as [simpering voice] ‘why does it feel so good?’, whereas what she did was add a bit of realism. Which isn’t wrong per se, but it does miss the point entirely – if this is a wonderful record, and it is, it’s not the verses that make it so. Chalk her up to the list of acts who have no idea what makes them great.

    All that said, the verses are good, the metre very skilled and restrained, her delivery flat but appropriate, and the contrast works so well. What they don’t display (in contrast to the chorus) is any melodic gift, which I feel is also largely true of any of her other records. I’d be interested to know whose the ‘Do you remember me, boy?’ is; I’d always assumed hers, but it is squarely in that sweet spot too.

  3. 33
    Steve Mannion on 23 Apr 2015 #

    As with Madison Avenue’s Pino D’Angio rip-off (and Stardust’s Chaka Khan rip-off, and so on and on), Spiller lifted the groove straight from Carol Williams & The Salsoul Orchestra’s ‘Love Is You’. No idea how much they made from it.

    Spiller’s own delayed follow-up to this ‘Cry Baby’ was quite a bizarre take on ‘French touch’ with twisted talkbox vocals – unsurprisingly not a hit but also worth at least one listen.

  4. 34
    Tom on 23 Apr 2015 #

    #32 the story via Wikipedia is that Rob Davis, the someone else in question (who has a hand in a bunch of hits around this time, including one uber-bunny from 2001), changed Ellis-Bextor’s original chorus, rather than provided the chorus first. (This was the version of events I went with for the review, too, but I didn’t source it more widely than Wiki) Did he tweak/provide the melody? Quite possibly, I guess.

  5. 35
    DanusJonus on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Wow, I must admit to being a bit surprised about the almost unanimous response to this single. I think for me it suffered from being overplayed. It’s a well constructed and produced song, but I’d class it in the ‘accessible effortless’ pop category, which is strange as that’s something that would normally attract me to a song. Despite the lyrics, I always felt the delivery was somewhat ambivalent and too laid back. I can’t quite put my finger on why I never loved this song, I just felt it threatened to go somewhere exciting and never quite reaches that level. Perhaps it was the seeming lack of emotion in the record.

    When I think of singles around this time I can remember The Avalanche’s Frontier Psychiatrist coming out which completely blew me away and to an extent still does. I might be wrong but I’m sure that Soulwax’s Too Many DJ’s was also out, which again was a song I took to. This however, was everywhere and even the first few times I heard it, while I found it listenable and fairly slick, it didn’t appeal to me in the way others have described. One of the posts mentions Salsoul Nugget which is a song I did adore.

    I’d probably give it a 6 or 7.

  6. 36
    Tom on 23 Apr 2015 #

    After almost 20 years I finally knowingly heard a theaudience song – “A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed”. Woeful. No ambition or interest beyond a well-turned title. Would rather hear Gay Dad.

    Though SEB’s get-me-out-of-here looks in the video are funny.

  7. 37
    Andrew on 23 Apr 2015 #

    #34 I wasn’t aware until very recently that Rob Davis was a lyricist for Coco Starr’s ‘I Need a Miracle’ (and therefore a writer on Fragma’s ‘Toca’s Miracle’). 2000-02 really was a resurgence for him!

  8. 38
    Tommy Mack on 23 Apr 2015 #

    For all that the 2000 charts were anyone’s game, or maybe because of that, this feels like so far it was a pretty exciting time for pop. Even the duff records this year feel like noble failures, attempts to do something specific and often quite ambitious, compared to the Emergency Broadcast Signal vibe of the 1999 #1s.

    I’m aware that since I was 18-19 at the time, I’m no doubt biased even though I wasn’t following the charts at the time. In fact when this hit #1, I think I was on my way to my first ever festival, Reading 2000 (the Bunny and Celeste one!)

  9. 39
    Phil on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Re #32/#34 – I remember something similar; I recall SEB bigging herself up for transforming a mindless club banger into something witty and ironic with her clever lyrics for the verses. (Note correct use of semi-colon to introduce a grammatically unconnected sub-clause!) But actually what’s glorious about this song is just how mindless it is. The verses are clever, but they’re the sound of someone being sensible, keeping her feet on the ground, weighing up the options – someone thinking, in the middle of a song that’s about to sweep her away. And it does it over and over again. (A solid 8 from me, by the way; 9 if I’m in a good mood.) In this respect SEB’s biggest assets are the precision of her delivery and her tonal dullness, both of which help stop the verses standing out; if the delivery was at all spiky or emphatic it would run the risk of getting a bit “Parklife”.

  10. 40
    Idris on 23 Apr 2015 #

    I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like this song. I usually feel quite alienated by pop music so indebted to dance, because I’m a little dyspraxic and cannot move to a beat, but you don’t need to move to this to find it charming.

  11. 41
    wichitalineman on 23 Apr 2015 #

    I’m fairly sure Rob Davis wrote the top line and lyric over Spiller’s original instrumental – he was then rather miffed to discover the sample would take up a large chunk of the publishing (so Salsoul presumably did quite well out of it). Spiller had at least one other singer in mind before SEB got the gig so I imagine anything she contributed was a minor add-on to a fully realised hit.

    This single aside, I found her voice – and image – aloof and annoying. She made herself, and her music, easier to dislike than to love. She also received a lot of financial and promotional backing from the very top, as Lucien Grange had a massive thing for SEB. Did anyone else think it was odd when she was the star turn at a televised New Years Eve bash a few years back, when she already seemed like a star of the past? Did it even happen? Vague memory, for obvious reasons.

    OOYM I thought was most odd, excitingly metallic, and decidedly avant for a Spice single. The robo-tech vocals don’t sound as shocking now, having lived through years of extreme autotune, but they sure did at the time.

  12. 42
    MarkH on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Re #41 – I heard that Cristiano Spiller wanted Sarah Cracknell to sing it, but she wasn’t available.

  13. 43
    wichitalineman on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Groovejet’s triumph over Out Of Your Mind seemed to me to be the first time people vocalised their discomfort with “chav” culture. It went beyond the Spice Girls thinking they owned the number one slot. People were happy (see upthread for continuing evidence) that the working-class-girl-made-good got a kicking from a born-and-bred middle class English rose. Groovejet WAS an instant classic though, so simple and easy that it sounded like it had always existed; I think this made it a handy smokescreen for shameful attitudes to be aired.

    Was this contemporaneous with Jade Goody being on Big Brother? Or was that a little later?

  14. 44
    Tom on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Jade is 2002. As mentioned a few entries ago, this is still the ‘social experiment’ Big Brother – probably at peak respectability among the, er, chattering classes (if not at peak viewing/conversation). Nasty Nick is Groovejet’s contemporary.

  15. 45
    Izzy on 23 Apr 2015 #

    I would make clear that I really do rate Out Of Your Mind very highly – it’d’ve scored an 8 or 9 from me had it reached the summit. Certainly the best Spice solo single, though I’d concede that Look At Me, in all its absurdity, has a valid claim to that title.

    But if we are really to set up a SEB/VB dichotomy, leaking on from the last thread’s RW/MelC musings, is it not enough to say that Sophie and Robbie’s efforts are quite obviously better? And that there’s likely nothing more to it than that? The public clearly didn’t hold prejudices against the Spice Girls, or their imperial-phase-almost-without-peer would never’ve happened.

    And yet … imperial phasers falling on their arses will never not be enjoyed by that public. Ask Steven Gerrard. I seem to recall some especially stupid miming incident preceding OOYM’s release – Victoria failing to reach no.1 was almost inevitable after that.

  16. 46
    Tom on 23 Apr 2015 #

    I think Victoria was by this point the least liked of the Spice Girls, though, and that dislike dates roughly from her marriage (or at least her wedding) and subsequent ‘Beckenham Palace’ mockery – I reckon Lineman’s point has some merit, in other words. Though, yes, “Groovejet” is a better record. (OOYM is probably a 6).

  17. 47
    Rory on 23 Apr 2015 #

    #45 Funny to think of getting to number 2 in one of the largest music markets in the world as falling on your arse… all relative, I guess.

  18. 48
    Andrew on 23 Apr 2015 #

    There was a lot of unfair accusations of ‘desperation’ on Victoria Beckham’s part, because she had the temerity to (horror of horrors!) promote the single, doing roadshows and signings up and down the country, including a branch of Woolworths in Oldham.

    Victoria quite rightly pointed out in her autobiography that this was offensive to the people of Oldham (although part of the criticism that was quite fair was that she had, rather ridiculously, taken husband David along with her and he was signing copies of the single along with Victoria and Dane Bowers), and that all she’d been doing was hard work and old-fashioned promotion, which is all she’d ever known from the Spice days.

    VB also quite hilariously refers to ‘Groovejet’ as ‘Spiller’ throughout the chapter, and doesn’t mention SEB by name. In one of her documentaries from the era, she pointedly references “mur-dah on the darrrnce floor”.

    I’d say the public favouring ‘Groovejet’ was part Spice fatigue on the whole, part resentment for the Spices beginning to seem expecting of the number one slot, part classist resistance to VB’s success, part Posh & Becks fatigue and part ‘Groovejet’ being superior as a words-and-music song to ‘Out of Your Mind’.

    They’re both rather terrific songs, and records, to my ears. 9 for ‘Groovejet’; OOYM would get a solid 8 from me.

    The misheard lyric upthread was “10 Below, you’re out of your mind”, btw. 10 Below are credited as remixers on the track. I think Ice Cream was one of the labels/imprints the song was released on. Truesteppers and Dane are self-explanatory.

    “This tune’s gonna punish you” seems a rather bittersweet outro given the chart outcome; it could, in retrospect, have been referring to Spiller’s victory.

  19. 49
    Phil on 23 Apr 2015 #

    #48 “she pointedly references “mur-dah on the darrrnce floor””

    Lightbulb moment – SEB was ‘posh’ b/c she sounded *English*! That explains a lot. (My musical roots are punk, folk and Canterbury, so I was never going to get that unaided.)

  20. 50
    Phil on 23 Apr 2015 #

    As for OOYM, does it feature the lines

    I want you crawling back to me
    Down on your knees, yeah
    Like an appendectomy
    Sans anesthesia

    If not, I’m not interested.

  21. 51
    Tom on 23 Apr 2015 #

    SE-B was seen as posh because i) singing voice, ii) background (she went to a top girls’ public school) and also weirdly iii) she was the daughter of a Blue Peter presenter, which might not cement you as posh but is as unshakeable a middle-class pedigree as you could want. I think this told against her a bit when she was fronting an indie band – there was a sense of nepotism at work somewhere* – but not so much as a pop star, where the overt RP of the vocals was something of a novelty.

    *having listened to theaudience, I think I’d have been on the doubters’ side.

  22. 52
    wichitalineman on 23 Apr 2015 #

    How many Popular acts have sung with southern English vowel sounds? Bolan was playing it for laughs on Get It On (“let’s dance, take a chance”) but otherwise I can only think of Pet Clark. It put me off her for years but then, unlike other Popular commenters, I’ve always been a bit allergic to that “into the woods I have to go” stage musical voice.

    I think I might warm to SE-B over time (though this might also be because I find her rhomboid* features a lot more appealing in her late thirties).

    *can’t believe no one has used the r word yet.

  23. 53
    anto on 23 Apr 2015 #

    #43 – Groovejet was concurrent with series 1 of Big Brother which ironically featured amiable scouse builder Craig outsmarting the game-manship of upper-middle schemer Nick Bateman in a reversal of the class rivalry you’re referring to here.

    The house psychologist actually referred to Bateman as a’ lanky, Machiavellian toff’ – it’s astounding what sticks in your mind from 15 years ago.

  24. 54
    Jonathan on 23 Apr 2015 #

    I’m curious as to why I find SEB so compelling, as I’m usually deeply allergic to especially British class privilege, but I do love her. Perhaps it’s the way she opens up her refinement so that it’s something aspirational — even if her presentation is old world, her performance has more in common with the new world mobility of at least Gossip Girl or Lily Bart or whatever. Or maybe I really enjoy a fully realized character, whatever problems there might be with her politics. In which case, it makes sense that though this is great, I like SEB best in her most concentrated form: “Mixed Up World” (which I called plucky in another thread, and I repeat that because it is); the poised “Murder on the Dancefloor”; and the steely hits “Catch You” and “I’ll Get Over You,” which transformed her reserve, Rihanna-like, into a vivid emotional display defined by absence rather than presence.

  25. 55
    Mark M on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Re51 etc: The funny thing (as I’ve probably said here before) is that the British are supposedly obsessed with class, but nonetheless use class terms in an incredibly crude way. SE-B belongs to the upper-middle class, a small but very high-profile section of the population often confused with the middle class* and not to be mistaken for the either the fuck-off rich or the crumbling (and not so crumbling) aristocracy.

    SE-B’s parents were grammar-school kids (suggesting either middle class or u-mc) who got good jobs in TV, which puts them in tiny slice of the population. SE-B was then sent to private school (putting her in a group that takes in 7% of the population) and a well-respected one at that (putting her in an even smaller niche)**. Conclusion: SE-B is an awful lot posher than most of the people in this country.

    *Certain parts of the media deliberately spread confusion on this, not least in trying to make average voters feel that they can benefit from tax cuts aimed at those earning over £40,000 or from an inheritance tax threshold of £1m. At the same time, in the same circles, you still get criticism of the liberal ‘middle classes’ that mention places like Hampstead!!
    **David Mitchell (the comedian) makes an interesting case that despite belonging to the small slither of people who went to private school, he should count as less privileged than the Miliband bros, who went to comps but belonged to a hyper-wired-in family. He might have a point. But SE-B went to a posh school AND had connections.

  26. 56
    Phil on 23 Apr 2015 #

    She’s *not* posh (or ‘refined’), though – and her diction certainly isn’t RP; she’s closer to Damon Albarn than Alexander Armstrong. I retire baffled. (But #52? There’s more than one way to sing God Save the Queen…)

  27. 57
    wichitalineman on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Re 56: You’ve lost me there.

  28. 58
    p^nk s lord sükråt of that ilk on 23 Apr 2015 #

    I’ve quoted both these before, when noting how confused the British have apparently always been about their own upper echelons.

    Oscar Wilde:
    “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?”

    G. K. Chesterton:
    “‘What happened was this. The old Duke really had a slight malformation of the ear, which really was more or less hereditary. He really was morbid about it; and it is likely enough that he did invoke it as a kind of curse in the violent scene (which undoubtedly happened) in which he struck Green with the decanter. But the contest ended very differently. Green pressed his claim and got the estates; the dispossessed nobleman shot himself and died without issue. After a decent interval the beautiful English Government revived the “extinct” peerage of Exmoor, and bestowed it, as is usual, on the most important person, the person who had got the property.’”

    Alexander Armstrong is by the way literally posher than the Queen. I saw it on telly and know it to be true.

  29. 59
    Phil on 23 Apr 2015 #

    The Sex Pistols were many things, but ‘American-sounding’ was not one of them.

  30. 60
    Mark M on 23 Apr 2015 #

    Re56: I’ll grant you that her speaking voice is accent-wise not a million miles from Damon Albarn’s, although thankfully less mumbly. It’s clearly a generation on from her mum – as RP retreated, London/southeast um-cs had the choice of a hint of estuary or going for the full-posh drawl (the next generation of my family are leaning to estuary, but that might change with secondary school).

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