Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

I think if I could pinpoint one time in my life when I’ve been really, unconditionally happy, this would be the one: April 1995, about half-past eleven in the morning, sitting in T-Shirt and Jeans on the steps of the Bodleian Library, taking a break from some work or other, watching dust dance in the sunlight, watching the sunlight bring out the cream in the marble, and “Finley’s Rainbow” on the walkman. Though I can’t think of a single song more apt, it wasn’t the song that made me so happy. In fact it wasn’t anything that made me happy, which was I suppose the point. I’m not in general a miserable person, but most of the time my mood is pretty much contingent on other people or objects – am I in love with someone? are they in love with me? how are my friends doing? how is my job going? have I paid my bills? isn’t this record terrific? So when happiness creeps up on you like it did to me that morning, you tip your hat to it, and then treasure the moment for a long time afterwards.

A Guy Called Gerald’s Black Secret Technology is a great album, the best jungle album ever, and “Finley’s Rainbow” is at once steeped in its intense, inspired methodology and drawing on something else entirely. Nothing else on the album is as straightforward: the lazy, sweet vocals of a pre-fame Finley Quaye are something earthy and obvious to grab onto. Behind them, the jungle: the word was never, ever so appropriate as when it described Gerald’s teeming music. A drowsy, dislocated bass pulses under twining drums, synthed pizzicatos flit by like strange fauna, and everything’s permeated by a humid gauze of brushes. The drums rattle like bones, and the mood might be arid if it wasn’t for Quaye’s vocals coming down on the song and quenching it like a shower. I didn’t know who Quaye was, didn’t know that “Sun Is Shining” was a lilting reggae standard, but what I did know was that this was at once among the freshest things I’d ever heard and the most timeless. There’s a hint of the jazz singer in Quaye’s voice here, a brassiness, and there’s something like jazz in the music too, something unpredictable, tense and thick. But while his contemporaries took hold of the politest bits of fusion, Gerald – by all accounts a difficult and shabbily treated musician – latched onto a more turbulent tradition, the jazz-funk-electronica of Pangaea-era Miles Davis or Sextant-era Herbie Hancock, and the music he made boiled like theirs had. Combine that with Quaye’s love-drunk lullaby and you have a certain blueprint for wonder.