Nov 10


Popular110 comments • 8,680 views

#642, 3rd March 1990

Collage in pop is often an exercise in surprise – finding things which shouldn’t work together, but do. Throw too much into the mix and you can end up with a novel mess. But even then if you get the final element right it can salvage the whole creation. So let’s imagine the recipe here. Norman Cook is by this point already a well-known DJ with plenty of mix-and-match pedigree – he’s recently done some remixes of the Osmonds back catalogue, which the band are very wary of – and he’s got a B-Side called “Invasion Of The Estate Agents”, built round the skanking bassline from “Guns Of Brixton”, with snippets of Ennio Morricone and the occasional scratch. He throws in a kind of kazoo solo-ey thing for good measure.

It’s pretty good. It’s five or six years too early, to be honest – what Cook’s made, as he’ll often make, is a fine example of the goofball, beer-friendly dance music nobody in 1990 knows as “big beat”. Fun, lightweight, stuff. The track needs something else. So he puts vocals over the top – a singer called Lindy Layton singing an old SOS Band tune.

And it works. Oh how it works. The whole track flips over – now all the wacky bricolage stuff is supporting Layton’s stoic ache: the Morricone highlighting her weary hurt, the bassline strong but unforgiving. And Cook adds one last thing, a sample of a radio DJ – “Tank fly boss walk jam nitty gritty…”. The slick chatter frames Layton’s song, turning the track into a cartoon cityscape for her to wander through and giving “Dub Be Good To Me” the solid-gold earworm it needed.

And the latent cheekiness of the track – its lifts so flagrant, its components so random – gives it a warmth, a sense of reassurance that despite Layton’s desperation everything in Beats International’s world is going to be alright. So “Dub Be Good” ends up rather less polished or poised than some of its obvious models – Soul II Soul, for instance. Norman Cook has never made dark music – sadness in his pop is something the rest of the track is there to cure. Later on that will work against him, but for now it’s fine: there’s room for comfort in pop as well as intensity, and what’s also on offer here is the delight of seeing diverse elements alchemised into a confident, magnificent modern hit. Jam hot indeed.

(The kazoo bit is still ropey, but at this point who’s counting?)



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  1. 1
    Tom on 2 Nov 2010 #

    A short scheduled break now – I’m off to Malta for a conference, then back next with with details of an exciting MULTIMEDIA POPULAR EXPERIMENT. Cor!

  2. 2
    Matthew H on 2 Nov 2010 #


    Actually, I’m a bit annoyed that you mention Invasion Of The Estate Agents. Everyone was mad impressed back then that I had a copy of For Spacious Lies – it was a right hip old secret – you had to find kudos where you could, I guess.

    There was much chatter that Lindy Layton starred in Press Gang, which confused a lot of people I knew, who were squinting to see if that really was Julia Sawalha on TOTP. Turned out Layton was “weeping girl” in one episode, or something.

    I’m just this second forming a theory that many who bought this didn’t remember/never knew the SOS Band original.

  3. 3
    Matt DC on 2 Nov 2010 #

    This is just an amazing record, the opening section was pretty much the first time I had ever heard anyone at school try and rap, the vocal line is heartbreaking. Not sure Norman Cook ever put his name to a record as good as this ever again.

  4. 4
    JLucas on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Oh yes this is very good indeed. You need only listen to this back to back with the recent Professor Green & Lily Allen cover to hear the difference between an intelligent, forward thinking cover version and a lazy, creatively bankrupt one recorded solely for the purposes of scoring an easy hit.

    I like Lily Allen a lot of the time, and God knows this isn’t the week to be taking potshots at her, but if you played the two covers to somebody with no knowledge of pop culture, I bet very few would identify Allen as the vocalist who was a huge star at the time, while Layton quickly vanished back into obscurity. Lily’s lacklustre rendition on the hook brings nothing new to the song whatsoever, wheras Layton’s vocal is a perfect approximation of teenage vulnerability with just a hint of petulance.

    To be fair to Allen, Layton has more to work with.

    As for Norman Cook, this is another stepping stone on one of the more bizarre roads to stardom ever taken by a chart regular. He must be due involvement in another out-of-the-leftfield #1 hit any day now, surely…

  5. 5
    punctum on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Of course the SOS Band original should have been a number one, rather than taking the best part of a year to sneak up to #13 (but then it does appear on The Hits Album/The Hits Tape, so I will get to write about it), but I’ve already described its time-beginning effect on me elsewhere and, among its many virtues, “Dub Be Good To Me” helps put history aright.

    As with Sinead’s “Nothing Compares,” we are again presented with a cover version which uncovers an entirely new perspective on the song. While MC Wildski’s enthusiastic variation on “The Boy From New York City” which begins the record, with an apposite background of street sounds, indicates some Daisy Age absurdist hip hop about to be made British, but the song then dovetails into what is essentially a bootleg, with the vocal melody of “Just Be Good To Me” superimposed on the rhythm track of “Guns Of Brixton.” The intermittent scratching noises sound less like an invitation to party than police sirens, or swift flicks of knives; the introduction of Harmonica Frank’s theme from Once Upon A Time In The West sets the record on a defiantly downbeat canvas.

    And just as the Clash original is imbued with its own guilty dread – revived with not-so-surprising brilliance three years ago by the Arcade Fire in a BBC2 broadcast, busking the song in the foyer of the Brixton Academy and making it sound not only direly relevant to the benighted, bullet-ridden SW2 of 2007 but also as old as the Corn Laws; in their hands, it becomes a thunderous, door-banging protest song such as the Chartists might have chanted 150 years previously (as well as providing a direct and palpable link to Paul Simonon’s work on The Good, The Bad And The Queen, a record whose power and imagination increase with every listen) – so does the “Guns Of Brixton” undertow turn the original Jam/Lewis song from a defiant fuck-me-anyway declaration into a hushed, covert guilt. Layton sings the notes with enough emotion and technique to make you believe her but doesn’t overdo the delivery; now she is clinging to the hope that her multiple-dealing sometime Other will find the mininum of time to devote to her, just so that she can keep breathing – the double meaning of “People are always telling me you’re a user” becomes more painfully palpable in this context. The song becomes a minor-key ballad of confusion, disorientation.

    Behind and around her Wildski continues to be the vital element of surreal; observe the moment of punctum on their TOTP performance came as he delivered his wordless, guttural chant mid-song, and when the backing track briefly dropped out, all the musicians crouched down together, as though avoiding bullets. But the overall mood is disconsolate and verging on desolate, a feeling amplified by Annie Whitehead’s mournful closing trombone solo that this is anything but “jam hot” – if anything, it provides a clear link back to “Ghost Town.”

    Though nominally colourful and playful, there is an undercarriage of dread to the cautious sunniness of “Dub Be Good To Me” which made it the starkly ideal number one record – it was its last day at number one – on the day of the poll tax riots. Our experiences there, and as written by me at the time, are also recorded elsewhere; yet it is difficult to forget emerging from Piccadilly Circus tube station into the blearily hot Sunday lunchtime sunshine and viewing the dazed wreckage all around us. Almost twenty years after Dammers got it right, the first of 1990’s two number ones made by lapsed Housemartins came along at its precise, scheduled moment – not just in terms of helping to make the charts interesting and exciting again, but also with regard to the broader canvas against which these beats did beat.

  6. 6
    Mark G on 2 Nov 2010 #

    It’s early enough to mention Bootmixes, so I would recommend the mix of “Let ’em in” Wings with the vocal off this (ref: GoHome Productions), and the result broadcasts the sadness and desperation that neither track has.

  7. 7
    punctum on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Please sort out post #5; there are only two links there. Thanks.

  8. 8
    Chelovek na lune on 2 Nov 2010 #

    @2 Oh yes, Freedom’s Just a Song by Wham, but we pretend… indeed.

    (Obviously, I owned a copy of “For Spacious Lies” too, but don’t recall anyone being impressed by that, alas. Though it was a fun bit of breezy pop, JUST about the right side of taking itself too seriously.)

    I’ll comment more later, but be warned that I will be most uncomplimentary about Lindy Layton.

  9. 9
    will on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Hmm, t’was a neat trick but I don’t think time has been so kind to Dub Be Good To Me. These days it just sounds lumbering and gauche compared to the still-sparkly SOS Band original.

    I’m not sure it’s true to say that Norman Cook has never made dark music either (didn’t the second Beats International album contain a fairly ropey cover of In The Ghetto?) He tried it, found he wasn’t good at it and wisely left that to others

  10. 10
    Matthew H on 2 Nov 2010 #

    #7 Sorry, yes, they were more impressed by the b-side.

    #8 The 12″ mix of In The Ghetto had a rather good Galliano-esque sparring rap at the start.

    If you can have “a rather good Galliano-esque sparring rap”.

  11. 11
    lord darlington on 2 Nov 2010 #

    This still sounds clean, fun, DIY and delightful. The SOS Band version was one of my favourite records of the 80s so Beats Intl had to tread lightly, and did. I’d say it was a pre-cursor to mash-ups/bootlegs rather than big beat, tho.

    Hats off to Norman’s Reigate dj buddy for coining the expression “this is jam hot”, jam having the propensity to hold more heat than any other substance known to man.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Hm, well this is certainly fun – juggling all of the elements, keeping a groove going, throwing new things into the mix – I do concede. And it works especially well in the context of the album, ‘Let Them Eat Bingo’ – a real forgotten classic, like a great party, packed with enjoyable and imaginative pleasures.

    But I have a problem in deriving any deeper emotional engagement from the song or Lindy Layton’s vocal. This certainly isn’t the case in the devastating SOS Band original, a deeper and deeper groove of masochistic devotion that has an astonishing, almost breathtaking effect, particularly when extended to nine minutes. Nor does it have the integrated urban cityscape effect of ‘Guns of Brixton’ either, come to that.

    Sixth form reaction was grudgingly positive, I’d say, seeing ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ as a cartoony sort of thing holding questionable street credentials when placed alongside the likes of Soul 2 Soul, and therefore nothing to be embraced.

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    Rory on 2 Nov 2010 #

    This was new to me when I checked out the video yesterday. I like it, but in the context of what was to come in the ’90s it doesn’t stand out for me — a 6, then.

  14. 14
    Billy Smart on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Number two watch. Two weeks for Various Artists’ ‘The Brits 1990’ an underwhelming megamix of recent dance hits not all that much superior to Jive Bunny, followed by the start of a three week reign for The B-52s chirpy ‘Love Shack’, a single that I only find enjoyable in theory (‘Roam’ was good though).

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Cook, Layton and Lester adorned a particularly fine cover of Record Mirror at the time, posing with a Dalek – now officially a symbol of defunct evil technology (or just “Evil Michael Grade”), and consequently kitschier than ever before. Fitting enough.

    In that issue Cook talked of his concerns over the track’s massive success wrt how the Clash lads were taking it, and being afraid Paul Simonon was going to beat him up due to some predictable fuss over sample clearance and royalties. As a result I’m not sure Cook made much cash out of this in the end – maybe just enough for a couple of Hawaiian shirts as an investment that would really pay off…

    This wasn’t quite an instant hit with me (same is true with Back To Life tho) but quite a grower. The rap hook and inimitable “mmm”ing are surely more celebrated than anything else – Layton’s voice is fine but unremarkable on its own, relying on the sad ambience under it for strength. It’s probably one of the “saddest” tracks to be widely acknowledged as a ‘club anthem’ (tho there’s another one coming right up so maybe I’m overstating that aspect).

    These days I much prefer the brilliantly brasher SOS Band original, but this was a relatively interesting experiment orchestrated by a man who continued to seem like an affable chancer for much of the rest of the decade, despite demonstrating a real Midas touch for fun party music that owed pretty much everything to US music yet could only have been made and succeed here.

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    Rory on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Wow, the SOS Band original is a totally different animal, isn’t it? Good stuff.

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    Billy Smart on 2 Nov 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Beats International performed ‘Dub Be Good’ to me on Top Of The Pops on four occasions (details of the Christmas show will be supplied at a later date);

    8 February 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Yell! and The Beloved. Gary Davies was the host.

    22 February 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Tina Turner, Chris Rea, Guru Josh, Adam Ant and Sinead O’Connor. Mark Goodier was the host.

    1 March 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Shakin’ Stevens, Jamie J Morgan, Electribe 101 and Michael Bolton. Jakki Brambles was the host.

  18. 18
    Steve Mannion on 2 Nov 2010 #

    I should add that it seems like Cook was making a big statement here, summarising the scope of his peers tastes. To love punk as much as soul (as ideas), essentially. He was quoted in Smash Hits as thrilled that “anyone can have a number 1 hit these days”. “Give ’em enough rope” I expect his critics duly responded.

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    punctum on 2 Nov 2010 #


  20. 20
    Billy Smart on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Just the one UK TV appearance is listed;

    WOGAN: with Ginger Rogers, Charlie Sheen, Amitabh Bachchan, Beats International (1991)

  21. 21
    punctum on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Oh, fuck this.

  22. 22
    Tom on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Sorry punctum – moderating by iPhone on a train here – should be sorted now tho

  23. 23
    Rory on 2 Nov 2010 #

    It was worth the wait. I might have to listen to The Good, the Bad and the Queen again.

  24. 24
    Alan Connor on 2 Nov 2010 #

    First instance known to me of the Addled typeface on a chart single. Prove me wrong!

  25. 25
    Lex on 2 Nov 2010 #

    I love this record – not sure when I first heard it, though I do remember being astonished when I learned that Beats International = Norman Cook; at the time I was only familiar with his Fatboy Slim work, and this seemed so different – so feminine and emotional. I actually had no idea until today that every element was taken from somewhere else, though!

  26. 26
    23 Daves on 2 Nov 2010 #

    I’ve probably spent more time than most people in my life wondering why exactly Lindy Layton didn’t have more of a career – and having chanced upon some of her other singles going cheap second hand recently, I think the answer I came to was that she didn’t manage to get much decent material handed to her after this.

    Ultimately though, she had a voice and a manner which was really accessible and easy to relate to, her vocals always drifting backwards and forwards between chipper and vulnerable. She had a hell of a lot of charm too, and felt like she should have been a major pop star of that time (oh, OK, I fancied her, so it’s possible that’s really skewing my critical judgement).

    “Dub Be Good To Me” is without question a really impressive single, but is sadly one which felt like the backdrop to most of 1990, and so I can’t help but feel that my over-familiarity with it doesn’t lead to me appreciating the work as much as I should do. Still, as said elsewhere, there are flashes of Cook’s later work already at play here, and it’s slightly surprising that he too drifted into the wilderness (relatively speaking) for a number of years after this as well. Although Freakpower won’t have helped…

  27. 27
    Billy Smart on 2 Nov 2010 #

    I remember Paul Heaton pointing out at the time that Lindy Layton was simultaneously appearing on northern televisions in an Army recruitment ad campaign, which provoked ill-feeling towards her.

  28. 28
    Lex on 2 Nov 2010 #

    I always assume that either hard behind-the-scenes graft or blind luck is necessary to turn vocalists on dance tracks into a pop star in their own right, such is the emphasis placed on producers – so many stellar singers have been lost over the years, living on only as anonymous (but also so not anonymous) voices on tracks like these (and lucky if, like Layton, they got a “featuring” credit).

  29. 29
    swanstep on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Like a lot of other people here, the SOS Band original was one of my fave records of the ’80s, just monumental. Interesting how in 1990, that record’s genius producers/writers, Jam and Lewis, *still* couldn’t buy a UK hit for Janet Jackson, whose Escapade was #1 in the US for three of the 4 weeks Dub Be good was at the top in the UK.

    Anyhow, Dub be Good was new to me when I ear-peeked ahead for Popular a few months ago…. and it was a pleasant surprise, for the reasons Tom outliness. It’s a lot harder to do collage well than it looks/sounds, and everything here does work wonderfully well….. with, for me, the slight exception of Layton’s vocal (not strong enough or characterful enough to be worth its slight pitchiness in my books).

    To be honest, tho’, this doesn’t sound quite like a #1 record to me. But it’s a useful sequel to Back to Like tonally and definitely must have felt like a useful solidification of, as it were, the new dance music culture’s hold on the charts if you were there at the time:

    p.s. Why was Thatcher so intent on the pushing through the Poll Tax? Why would she want to pick a seriously ‘nasty party’ kind of fight like that after so many years in power? Shouldn’t she have been cruising at that point/enjoying her status as co-winner of the Cold War, and the like?

  30. 30
    Billy Smart on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Re Thatcher at 29: Good question. I have a few theories;

    1. That all Prime Ministers should quit after the first five years. After that point their judgment goes, and they really start to believe that they are great statesmen of unique insight and infallible instinct – Thatcher, Blair – or they become exhausted and peevish – Wilson, Major.

    2. A fault that a lot of governments make when they start a term in office is to have a stubborn point of principle that they will not rescind a policy, which has an increasingly deleterious effect. Think of Wilson failing to devalue the pound, or Heath refusing to implement a statutory incomes policy. The Poll Tax is the most egregious example of this in recent years.

    3. Picking ‘nasty party’ fights was part of Thatcher’s make-up and approach – “People who drivel and drool about caring”, etc.

    Also remember that the recession was just about to kick in in earnest at that point.

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