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17
Mar 14

WILL SMITH – “Men In Black”

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#772, 16th August 1997

The ‘Greys’ – those spindly, abducting, UFO-piloting scamps – were the iconic early 90s monster. They’d bounced around pop culture through the Cold War but enjoyed a final, late heyday when that conflict ended, bringing a whole bestiary with them – the hypnotic MIBs included. Indeed, they made sense as a Cold War epilogue – a goodbye to the age of spies and spymasters and dreadful international secrets, a way for its tropes (conspiracies, disappearances, and brainwashing) to seem romantic and exciting again one last time.

14
Mar 14

OASIS – “D’You Know What I Mean?”

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#771, 19th July 1997

dkwim “Call me naive but I felt something – I’m not quite sure what it was, but I felt it all the same.” – Noel Gallagher on New Labour.

When Tony Blair and Noel Gallagher shook hands in Downing Street that Autumn, they were men facing similar problems: what do you do after you’ve won? Accounts of the first Blair term stress that New Labour never realised, deep down, they were as powerful as they were – Blair stuck to plans which assumed his party would be working with only a modest majority.

Gallagher, on the other hand, believed absolutely that Oasis would be the biggest band in the country. He’d said it would happen by right, and it had. But that didn’t make him any more prepared. If Blair didn’t believe he could tear up his plan, Noel hadn’t seen much need to make one. What do you do after Morning Glory? You do it again – bigger, better, louder, longer, even if the band hate each other and the songs aren’t there. Be Here Now is known as a cocaine album, but just as pertinently it’s a success album. It’s an avalanche of half-worked, muddy, adequate ideas that exist because nobody said they couldn’t and momentum said they had to. Landslide indie: as 1997 as it gets.

11
Mar 14

PUFF DADDY, FAITH EVANS AND 112 – “I’ll Be Missing You”

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#770, 28th June 1997

IllBeMissingYou I don’t normally pay too much attention to the length of a song’s stay at Number One, but the scale of “I’ll Be Missing You”’s popularity is significant. It ran three weeks at the top, was knocked off by the comeback single of the country’s biggest band, then came back the week after for another three – and all this before Princess Diana died, giving it another surge. It outsold “Wannabe”. It was colossal.

9
Mar 14

HANSON – “MMMBop”

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#769, 7th June 1997

mmmbop The word “manufactured” is the most enduring and potent slam on pop music, suggesting music as sheer product – assembled by formula, made by people interested only in money. But what the opposite – more desirable – quality would be is rather less clear. Artisanal pop – hand-crafted for love or art’s sake – is generally what’s meant. There’s a second opposite shadowing that one, though – implicit in the m-word even if it lurks there unintended: not artisanal but natural. An idea of pop as something simple, something that comes easily – think of Paul McCartney supposedly waking up with the melody to “Yesterday” in his head, convinced he couldn’t have thought of it, it seemed so primal a tune. Most people know enough about music to realise such instances are absurdly rare, if they happen at all, but the idea still appeals.

7
Mar 14

Popular ’61

Popular22 comments

There’s a few big Popular entries coming up so I’m giving myself a spare day’s breathing space, which means it’s time for a year poll. To be moved to its proper place in a week or so.

I give every record on Popular a mark out of 10 – this is your chance to say which of the number ones of 1961 you’d have given 6 or more to. This year got three 9s from me – “Johnny Remember Me”, “Blue Moon” and “Moon River”. At the other end “Wooden Heart” and “I Reach For The Stars” got lumped with a 2. As ever, discuss the year in general in the comments…

Which Of The Number One Hits Of 1961 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

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6
Mar 14

ETERNAL ft BEBE WINANS – “I Wanna Be The Only One”

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#768, 31st May 1997

eternal All through the pre-Spice 90s, if you wanted a girl group, it was R&B you looked to, and the reason you looked there was En Vogue. Like the Spice Girls, they were immediately successful and widely copied. They mixed high-gloss beats with rich, harmony-driven soul and used it to deliver short, potent empowerment slogans. They were exhilarating, they seemed exactly right for their times, and their imitators and successors ultimately led to one of pop’s grandest and most inventive eras. And, like any great American band, they received the dubious compliment of a British knock-off: Eternal.

2
Mar 14

OLIVE – “You’re Not Alone”

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#767, 17th May 1997

Olive “You’re Not Alone” walks a line between the mind-expanding and the tediously polite, a nexus point for a handful of mid-90s trends and ideas. There’s trip-hop in the mildly skippy beats, or at least what was left of trip-hop after all the scuzzy, stoned, party-friendly elements had been siphoned off elsewhere. There’s the well-groomed soul of the Lighthouse Family in the songwriting – particularly the drab verses: when I started my business career, the Lighthouse Family had already become the conference call and lobby music of choice, and they were more than fit for purpose. And there’s Everything But The Girl’s “Missing”, too, a dance track whose yearning, thoughtful tone had earned it plenty of post-club usage. As the rave generation settled into their mid-20s and beyond, the music of the chill out room found its way out of the club and into the home.

28
Feb 14

GARY BARLOW – “Love Won’t Wait”

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#766, 10th May 1997

gblww Few figures from 80s pop could match Michael Jackson for popularity and cultural weight. Perhaps only one, and she had also found the 90s harsher going than anticipated. Madonna’s apparent decline was more respectable than Jackson’s, but less interesting: intriguing grapples with R&B, pleasant soundtrack ballads, sales drifting downwards, and finally a solid, unrevealing, turn on a revived Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. “So what happens now?” her final single from that project asked. The answer, in 1997, was cloudy. Meanwhile one of her demos from a scrapped LP ended up in Gary Barlow’s hands, giving Madonna her first number one song in seven years.

26
Feb 14

MICHAEL JACKSON – “Blood On The Dancefloor”

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#765, 3rd May 1997

blooddance “Blood On The Dancefloor” dates from the 1991 Dangerous sessions – and its rigid, peg-legged Teddy Riley production, full of choppy, cut-up synths, would fit with some of that record’s harsher contours – but it works as a coda to his Popular career, too. Surely “Earth Song” would have been a grander way to go out, fitting the heal-the-world fantasies of Jackson the philanthropist. But “Blood On The Dancefloor” is a truer epilogue – a narrow, claustrophobic song, the sound of Jackson slipping into what we know now as his twilight years. At this point, he’s still younger than I am writing this. But it’s not just hindsight that makes him sound worn out and ragged here.

23
Feb 14

R. KELLY – “I Believe I Can Fly”

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#764, 12th April 1997

kellybelieve Every so often on a project like this you meet records made by somebody who is widely seen as a monster. R Kelly has a lengthy history of accusations and lawsuits saying that he is a serial sexual predator, a man who uses his fame and power to exploit underage girls and escape the consequences. The details – to be approached with appropriate trigger warnings – are covered in this interview between Jim DeRogatis (a Chicago music critic who has reported on the lawsuits against Kelly for years) and Jessica Hopper. You should particularly read it if the extent of your awareness is that he’d been tried for something and acquitted.