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Nov 10

BEATS INTERNATIONAL ft LINDY LAYTON – “Dub Be Good To Me”

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#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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Comments

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  1. 31
    swanstep on 2 Nov 2010 #

    @Billy Smart, 30. Thanks for that. V. interesting.

  2. 32
    rosie on 2 Nov 2010 #

    swanstep @ 39

    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?

    Hubris, swan, hubris. By this time Thatcher thought she was invincible. Behind the scenes the whisky was taking its toll. And rumours of the late-night tantrums were rife on the media grapevine, to which I had a source by then. But Nemesis, in the wooly form of Geoffrey Howe, was not far away now. Just wait until we reach Thanksgiving Day 1990!

  3. 33
    Chelovek na lune on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Actually, having dug out some tunes, I’m feeling more charitable towards Lindy Layton than I was expecting to. I was going to criticise what I recalled as the lack of emotional range in her voice, and the way that she doesn’t seem to “own” the words that she sings here, or apparently or too evidently to be affected by the situation she is singing about.

    But (a) in a rather different style that latter point is kind of true of the SOS Band version too – although there is an arrogance and sense of the singer being in charge of her situation there that is lacking on this version (and in response to @2, well, I was 14 at the time, and had never knowingly heard the SOS Band version when this was released)

    and (b) a focal side-arm part of my attack fell apart when I listened to Layton’s version of “Silly Games”. I was going to really lay into her for making something – ordinary – out of something – extraordinary (which really is what Janet Kay’s original is, or becomes towards the end). But, while that is essentially still true (and the video is really very silly), it’s actually not so bad (and Janet Kay presumably approved, as she is in the background, or at any rate appreciated being momentarily returned to public vision after a long time well away from it), and, she really does have a more than adequately decent voice in a kind of nearly Lisa Stansfield way.

    Does it work on Dub Be Good To Me? More or less, I think it does. The production creates a great, deep, Massive Attack-style atmosphere that the singing more or less floats over – and which holds the tune more or less unaided. Even the odd hint of desperation is hinted at when it comes to the enunciation of the “we could be together….” part …Actually this all reminds me somewhat of Tricky circa “Overcome” (aka “Karmacoma”), so the notion that it is a few years ahead of its time seems to stand up. The mix-match and cut-up of all the different elements works to high effect, but not to the extent that they distract from or intrude upon the song.

    So, sorry, the anticipated evisceration of Lindy Layton’s singing skills has been cancelled. Apologies to those who were looking forward to such a thing. I had been thinking about making comments about the limited singing range of minor soap opera actors (and expressing thanks that neither Craig McLachlan nor Stefan Dennis had troubled us here). But, no, I am won over. Harsh thoughts over.

    Other than to say that her vocal style on the follow up (and, surprisingly, only other top 40 hit credited to Beats International) “Won’t Talk About It” which seems overly childish and playful (rather than vulnernable sensu stricto) still really annoys me, and really isn’t a patch on the rather high-pitched take on the track that Billy Bragg did and was released in Cook’s own name the previous summer.

    But all of that is slightly to one side: Dub Be Good To Me still sounds great.

  4. 34
    lonepilgrim on 2 Nov 2010 #

    I’ve always enjoyed this and it makes a satisfying mixture of its principal ingredients – balancing summery skank with urban dread.

    The GoB bassline has always struck me as being heavily ‘influenced’ by Augustus Pablo’s ‘Baby I love you so’ which Colourbox had covered in 1986 adding a more US soul style vocal and samples from ‘Escape from New York’ – including gunfire. The B-Side: “Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse” / “Shoot Out” features dialogue and Harmonica Frank’s theme from ‘Once upon a time in the West’ – suggesting that Norman Cook, like many artists wasn’t above stealing an idea or two.

  5. 35
    Billy Smart on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Re 35: What I always think when I hear Billy Bragg’s perfectly acceptable falsetto on ‘Won’t talk About It’ is “Why ON EARTH can’t you ALWAYS sing like that?”

  6. 36
    anto on 3 Nov 2010 #

    I appreciate this track for showing how it is possible to merge about 4 or 5 styles on one record and still come up with something cohesive.
    Appreciation is the best I can manage but I prefer it to any Fatboy Slim records which I just think of as sonic equivalents of Norman Cooks Hawaian shirts.
    For all Cooks ingenuity though I reckon Lindy Layton steals the show.
    Possibly the most artless vocal on a Popular entry since Althia and Donna and all the more appealling for that.

  7. 37
    Mark M on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Re 29: worth remembering/knowing that contrary to the retrospective impression of an instant masterplan*, the Thatcher experience was in some way quite gradual and piecemeal, not really hitting its stride until after The Strike. For instance, top rate tax was at 60 per cent for most of her time in office, and the big spike in inequality didn’t happen until the second half of the ’80s. Far from coasting at this point, things were accelerating: water was privatised in 1989, electricity in 1990…(And also, although the Poll Tax certainly wasn’t the answer, there was certainly an argument that local taxes needing reforming).

    *The current government is trying to do much, much more in a hurry

  8. 38
    wichita lineman on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Re 33/36: I’d say Lindy Layton sounds like a good karaoke singer, and that’s not meant as a slight. Artless is right. There’s no chance she’s going to reach the depths of the SOS Band singer’s optimistic but clearly but doomed rendition (“friends tell me I am crazy” – with those chords, Jesus, yes so doomed). So she comes over with a nod and a wink, a little like a proto Lily Allen, altogether more casual, and it works a treat.

    This is no easy victory – Undercover took the weight out of Baker Street around this time (I think, not consulting a book) and obv UB40 did it over and over with deadening effect (still more evidence to come on Popular, unfortunately). A bow, then, to Lord Quentin and Lady Lindy. An 8 from this seat, and a 9 for the SOS Band.

  9. 39
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    “Insouciant” is how I’d describe Lindy Layton’s vocal here, which is perfect for the song: the lyric is vulnerable, placing herself in a position where she’s exposing herself to potential, even likely, hurt; so her street-casual, insouciant approach comes off like a self-defence tactic (“I care…but in case you don’t, I’ll say it like I don’t”) that’s psychologically true and actually reinforces the impact of the words.

  10. 40
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @29 – I find the fact that Janet Jackson won’t be showing up on Popular probably the most outrageous example of pop injustice in the past 30 years. How the hell has Janet Jackson – JANET EFFING JACKSON! – never had a British No 1? Massive fail on the UK public’s part, there.

  11. 41
    wichita lineman on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Has she had a number one as part of a mob-handed effort? I think We Are The World was just too early for her.

  12. 42
    MikeMCSG on 3 Nov 2010 #

    #37 Thatcher was delivering on a pledge to abolish domestic rates she’d made when first elected leader of the party. In her early years in power she’d always been steered away from it by more sensible members of the Cabinet but she’d gradually whittled them down (I suspect Ken Clarke let it through because he realised it would finish her). What she didn’t take into account was how many of her own supporters – people owning small terraced houses – would be adversely affected by the process.

    #32 Rosie, don’t give Geoffrey Howe all the credit. David Bellotti helped her on her way by winning the Eastborne by-election. Which is why I got a bit annoyed by those Brighton fans whingeing about him a few years later. Which brings us neatly back to Mr Cook.

    # 18 Steve, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. That’s exactly what this record is , a statement of what was cool at the turn of the decade. I’m not very fond of any of its constituent parts but put together they made a very effective radio record.

    Wasn’t Lindy also in a spaghetti advert where her boyfriend catches her making silly faces to her little sister ?

  13. 43
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Not according to Wikipedia (closest non-solo singles were “The Best Things In Life Are Free”, with Luther – No 2, and “Scream”, with Michael – No 3). By herself, “That’s The Way Love Goes” reached No 2; “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”, “Let’s Wait Awhile” and “All For You” reached No 3. Cf her TEN Billboard No 1s!

  14. 44
    MikeMCSG on 3 Nov 2010 #

    #40 Well right on the opposite side of the spectrum to you Lex, I find her long list of hits in the Guinness book profoundly depressing. She has no EFFING talent, a weak-voiced dancer lending her name and looks to the producers of the moment. How many of her hits can you sing along to ? That’s why she’s never got to the top.

  15. 45
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    I can sing along to pretty much every Janet hit I can think of offhand! And certainly you can dance along to most of them.

    I probably wouldn’t dispute “weak-voiced dancer” – certainly she’s no one’s idea of a virtuoso singer – but she’s always used her voice in compelling ways in terms of conveying a song’s emotion; and what she lacks in range, she makes up for with an incredible elasticity and sense of rhythm (a modern comparison is Ciara, who possesses much the same qualities and who happens to be my favourite pop star at the moment, so these are qualities that really appeal to me). Being better dancers than singers is actually crucial to getting both Ciara and Janet’s vocal strategies – the elasticity of their voices mirrors how they use their bodies.

    And then there are the themes Janet covered and the visual impact she made – I mean, who else could have given the world something like this performance?

  16. 46
    MikeMCSG on 3 Nov 2010 #

    #45 Maybe a generational thing Lex. A year or so back I was using youtube to acquaint myself with minor hits from 90-91 for pop quiz purposes and obviously there were a lot of rave tracks to wade through. The comments boxes were full of things like “Banging classic tune” and I could only think “What tune can they discern there ?”

  17. 47
    Matt DC on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Given that even Michael Jackson underperformed in terms of UK #1s it doesn’t surprise me that Janet failed to get there.

  18. 48
    swanstep on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @44, MikeMCSG. I sort of know what you’re getting at – something feels a little inorganic about Janet’s whole career. Still, Control and Rhythm Nation compare pretty favorably with Off the Wall and Thriller as state-o’-the-art, hit-packed beasts I reckon (although Rhythm Nation is scarred by inter-song chatter if you play it straight through). Indeed, I thought almost everyone gave it up for at least 4 or 5 tracks on each album – only, ha ha, everyone has a different 4 or 5 (that’s the way it worked with MJ’s key albums too, where almost every track could be and normally was a single at some point)!

    Anyhow, Come Back to me, Escapade and Love will never (do without you) were all fab sing-along-able tunes from 1990 Janet in my books (each w/ a truly fab. mega-$ vid, worth tracking down on youtube).

  19. 49
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @48 I love ’80s Janet – Control and Rhythm Nation – as much as anyone, but it’s the darker ’90s Janet that really blows my mind, when she really pushed everything further outwards on janet. and The Velvet Rope. “If” is probably my favourite single of the ’90s, hands down (the break, holymotherofgod the break).

  20. 50
    swanstep on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @Lex, 49. Thanks for the suggestion – I don’t know later JJ well at all after her first three albums (not sure why that is to be honest). Also, a belated thanks for your long comment on Sinead the other day (really useful links).

  21. 51
    DietMondrian on 3 Nov 2010 #

    I was vaguely aware of the SOS Band’s original but had not really listened carefully before, so I gave the nine minute version a go on YouTube – good lord, what an enormous sound! Marvellous. The vocal is anonymous, though – it’s as though she’s just reading the words rather than meaning it (man). I much prefer Layton’s vocals – I believe her. (And perfectly described upthread as artless.)

  22. 52
    ciaran 10 on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Looking back at this I wouldnt say it was 5/6 years ahead of its time.it would have sounded dated in 1996.If anything it sounded like a late 80s afterthought.a de la soul rave style workout.

    Like most of the popular songs this year this almost screams 1990 at me.without being too cliched it is very much of its time and we have/will come across better records.

    A good pass away the time hit for sure but in no way is it a 9.7 from me

  23. 53
    MikeMCSG on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Thinking about it my sing along comment was a bit silly since if you like any artist enough to buy their records you’ll get familiar enough with the material to sing along whatever its melodic strength. What I meant to say was that none of Janet’s records have the melodic strength of say “Dancing Queen”; they usually seem rhythm-driven rather than tuneful.

  24. 54
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Oh, I’d absolutely agree that Janet’s hooks are (mostly) rhythmic rather than melodic – but I don’t think rhythm is necessarily less catchy than melody, and certainly not inferior (esp in the context of their being club hits as well as radio hits). I’m probably more drawn to rhythmic hooks, tbh – obviously a strong melody is a strong melody, but it’s never been enough to really draw me toward songs like “Dancing Queen” (gimme Janet’s aesthetic and discography over Abba’s aaaaany day).

  25. 55
    swanstep on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Hmmm, her band doesn’t have anyone to play Jimmy Jam’s astounding trilling keyboard fills, but Mariah Carey live sings the hell out of a pretty straight cover of Just be good to me.

  26. 56
    MikeMCSG on 3 Nov 2010 #

    # 54 Yes of course. People who want different things from music will like different records and that’s great. I’m always a bit suspicious of people who like virtually everything.

    For me rhythm is important – I don’t want to listen to slow ballads all the time – but always secondary to “the tune”. I realise that for people who aren’t 6’4 and therefore less self-conscious on the dancefloor it might be the other way round.

    This is definitely a decade where the latter were in the ascendancy even if that wasn’t enough to get Janet to number one !

  27. 57
    pink champale on 3 Nov 2010 #

    as punctum and stevem nail, the lyrics to DBGTM are probably the most self-abasing we’ve had since ‘freedom’*, though like that (or ‘help!’, for that matter) the greatness of this as a record lies in the lightness with which that’s worn – lindy’s artless/insouciant vocals (inventing 00s girlpop?) and the downright bouncy backing. unlike punctum, i don’t much hear dread in the music itself, though probably because i’ve always heard ‘guns of brixton’ as celebratory (method) outlaw bragging rather than anything genuinely spooked.

    *i imagine aiden grimshaw is working up a SLOW and INTENSE and therefore SIGNIFICANT version for Saturday’s X Factor as we speak.

  28. 58
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @55 amazing. Mimi actually manages to bring out the fundamental gangsta in the song – which acts as a precursor to a ryde-or-die anthem. I’m surprised that one great line “people always take about – reputation” hasn’t been sampled more extensively.

    @57 I do hope that Cher’s already having done this – v well too! – will prevent that horrific scenario.

  29. 59
    Erithian on 3 Nov 2010 #

    #57 – Too late, Cher Lloyd has already done a hilariously bad version of “Just Be Good To Me” complete with meaningless rap bit in the middle. (I see Lex got in first with this and we differ wildly in our verdicts.)

    Anyway, to happier things – this record. Superbly put together, every ingredient fits in beautifully even though you wonder about the mind that had the idea of throwing them all in. The harmonica theme alongside Guns of Brixton – madness, but it works. The vocal is mighty fine as well despite the faint praise upthread. Will #9 calls it lumbering and gauche, which actually put me in mind of an appearance by Fatboy Slim on a chat show (might have been with Frank Skinner) where he demonstrated his dancing style – wiggling his arms around while bending his knees in various directions. Lumbering and gauche, but an impossibly cool lumbering and gauche!

    Re the poll tax riot – anyone remember the BBC TV stand-up comedy show that was on at the time, broadcast either live or very shortly after recording? I can’t remember which comic it was who commented on the irony of doing subversive stand-up material on stage while there’s an ACTUAL BLOODY RIOT going on outside the theatre!

    Re #11 “Jam hot” and how jam holds heat – wasn’t it around this time that Pop Tarts were introduced into the UK? Subtle marketing ahoy…

  30. 60
    Steve Mannion on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Annoying pedantry watch: Wikipedia indicates that “The track also features the distinctive vocals of David John-Baptiste, more commonly known as DJ Deejay or just DJ. The opening and closing line “tank fly boss walk jam nitty gritty you’re listening to the boy from the big bad city, this is jam hot, this is jam hot” was from Johnny Dynell’s 1983 hit “Jam Hot” and became an instant classic and was repeated often, being used as the most common reference to the song.”

    Not sure if that means it was a straight sample of ‘Jam Hot’ or not but Wildski himself who iirc was British and sounded a lot more like Silver Bullet has no involvement on this particular BI track.

    As mentioned on the previous entry, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was covered atrociously by The Stereophonics for the NME/Warchild ‘1 Love’ compilation in 2002. The very next track on that comp is the Faithless & Dido cover of “Dub Be Good To Me”, which I doubt is worth hearing really tho probably better than Green & Allen’s take.

    I saw Layton in the late 90s, rocking peroxide blonde hair and specs, performing with Steve Proctor as Hardknox. She’d followed Norm into Big Beat – which he suggested with the excellent ‘Song For Lindy’, opener of his first LP as Fatboy Slim – tho Lindy’s voice is nowhere to be heard on it.

    An interview with her and Proctor in NME (or maybe MM) around that time included an anecdote about having their output mocked by someone else in the studio who turned out to be the Rebel MC (by that point recognised as a credible Jungle producer…but, as fun as his own pop singles were, still easy to counter-zing frankly).

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