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. 61
    pink champale on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @58, 59 oops, she did, didn’t she! i actually saw it too, but had entirely forgotten the fact (in my defence I was round at someone’s house in the midst of lots of shouting children so it didn’t make that much of an impression). i’m not quite sure what to think of cher more generally. in the context of the x factor shows her slightly nutty ‘urban’ styles stands out a mile and seems pretty great, but i have a nagging feeling it would seem totally hokey if you came across it on channel AKA or whatever. (much as x factor’s token rawk singers are always AWFUL).

  2. 62
    Billy Smart on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Re 59. Yes, I remember it well! The comedian was Jeremy Hardy, live on BBC1’s ‘Paramount City’. Also in the studio that Saturday were; Arthur Smith, Dennis Leary, Monica Paper, Angie Clark, Curtis & Ishmael, Helen Lederer, The Christians and The Notting Hillbillies (1990)

  3. 63
    Lena on 3 Nov 2010 #

    I just want to second everything Lex has said about Janet; it is unfathomable to me that she hasn’t had a #1 here, songs like this veritable epic make me want to do the #2 US hits (it was merely #23 here)! (I realize it may have suffered from the everyone-has-the-album-already syndrome…)

  4. 64
    Steve Mannion on 3 Nov 2010 #

    All but one of Janet Jackson’s 31 top 40 hits peaked inside the top 25 which is a remarkable stat (at least before bloody Westlife show up) itself before you add the ‘no #1’ oddity – seemingly routine bad luck/timing, although like her brother she had a habit of releasing too many singles from each album.

    At this point it’s worth mentioning that ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ was effectively the first appearance by The Clash on a top ten hit. Carrot, anyone?

  5. 65
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Nov 2010 #

    I am mildly fond of some of Janet’s stuff, but still from this period I’d say that “Rhythm Nation” the song was surely just a militarized dance, and drum pattern, awaiting a tune or coherent composition, and “Miss You Much” wasn’t even that. “Escapade” and “Black Cat” were …uninteresting, “Come Back To Me” wasn’t a patch on “Let’s Wait Awhile” (excluding the duet with Luther, imo her best track, probably), and, well…they released far far far too many singles from that album…

  6. 66
    Steve Mannion on 3 Nov 2010 #

    What’s wrong with ‘Rhythm Nation’ being just a dance track? Sonically it has a lot in common with a forthcoming Popular entry which I’m sure was heavily inspired by J&L’s work with Janet.

  7. 67
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @65 yes that’s why “Rhythm Nation” is great! And what a beat, so much going on in it – that amazing bass loop, the high synth pulse, the actual beats so insanely full of frenetic energy, the sax coming in towards the end the BREAKDOWN…and then on top of that you have this multitude of desperate, yearning, layered Janet voices, climaxing in that astonishing “SING IT FOR THE PEOPLE!” coda. It’s dance as political protest: you get the feeling that if Janet had organised a march on the White House, it would have been in the form of a fast, furious choreographed routine.

  8. 68
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @66 Nowt wrong with it (much right with it, even: it’s a fine dance track. But definitely one to dance to, rather than to listen to in any other context…)

    But…and for some reason Sandy Nelson’s “Drums Are My Beat” spring to mind …….I can’t help thinking that that the whole album represented in many ways the triumph of marketing (much of which, certainly involving Janet herself, was very slick and interesting and impressive), and of style and form over content or substance.

    (“Rhythm Nation” itself is by no means the most blatant example of that, and does at least have some memorable innovations of its own: I did think “Miss You Much” was a disappointing comeback single, though). Not having much of a tune in itself doesn’t necessarily detract from a decent single (e.g. “Never Let Me Down” by Depeche Mode, the vocal track of which wanders about on about 3 or 4 adjacent notes for most of the song), but I just felt there was something missing here. Too much time and money spent on the videos, not enough on writing tunes…. Just one really memorable, classic, single (yes, like “Thriller” from among the (was it 8 or 9?) that were released from the album surely would not be too much to ask?

  9. 69
    Steve Mannion on 3 Nov 2010 #

    One thing that might’ve improved ‘Rhythm Nation’ is Chuck D and the Flav dropping in halfway thru to try and (re)claim the sound but quickly giving up and joining forces.

  10. 70
    Kat but logged out innit on 3 Nov 2010 #

    #59 I don’t know if you know already but Cher’s rap was taken from the Professor Green/Lily Allen version – she’s a much stronger rapper than she is a singer and was playing to her strengths by incorporating something fresh in the minds of the voting public. And look at the bit of the song she actually used: “But as crooked as I am, I’ll be as good as I can, I’ll try and try, but we’ll settle that my angel face is a disguise for the devil inside“. That’s quite some statement for a 16 year old girl in the middle of a popularity contest who has had to deal with constantly being called a worthless anorexic meth addict in the national press. I don’t think that rap was meaningless at all.

  11. 71
    wichitalineman on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Re 68: The flaw in this argument, in Britain at least, is that Rhythm Nation sold really badly compared to Control; Black Cat at no.15 was the highest charting single. I’m inclined to agree with you, though, in that nothing on the album sticks. I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I love the packaging but I can’t even remember how Miss You Much goes though I’ve heard it plenty of times.

    Drums Are My Beat? In what way?

    Re 70: An old man writes… I’ve skipped X Factor until now but checking youtube, god yes, she’s a far better rapper than a singer. Clumsy but charismatic. Is she likely to win?

  12. 72
    Lex on 3 Nov 2010 #

    @71 Unlikely to win – I’ve no idea how large her fanbase is, but she has a substantial amount of haters (words that crop up a lot: “chav”, “pikey”, “arrogant”, “why’s she always got to fucking rap all the time”). Likely to go deep in the competition. Most likely to have an actual interesting career.

    (She’s only really hit her stride in the past two weeks in terms of singing.)

  13. 73
    wichitalineman on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Thanks Lex. That’s depressing. I’m really looking forward to the day when people think of the term “pikey” in the same way as “wop” or “the Paki shop”. It’s not acceptable in our house, and nor is “chav”.

  14. 74
    Alan Connor on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Go! Discs: At the time, I sometimes reflected that DBGTM was a Go! release and so came from the same space as the two Billys (Bragg and The Fish). Did that mean something more for yer indie-likers (of whom not me) – or did the Go! Beat imprint count against that imprimatur?

    Clash: I was 18 at this point and the Clash song I knew best might, no kidding, have been Cut The Crap. My chief resources were Radio 1, inkies, Smash Hits, briefly RM and the telly, none of which really communicated the band to me. I remember being told to eat my Clash greens in the ’90s, but not in the late ’80s. Maybe I missed the message – or was there a bit of a Clash doldrum until the bunnyable Levis ad?

  15. 75
    Billy Smart on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Not at all – 1988 was the first time that a Clash Greatest Hits had been released, the attendant rerelease of ‘I Fought The Law’ getting into the top 30, and The Clash attracting a lot of attention from journalists who had been around in the 1970s, part nostalgic and part soulsearching. Strummer even got on the cover of the NME again, posing with Roddy Frame, and gaving some silly interviews about football hooligans being working-class heroes.

    ‘The Story of The Clash’ has a baffling reverse-chronological tracklisting, a trick repeated by Take That on their first attempt at a Greatest Hits.

    On the strength of DBGTM, an inferior remix of ‘Guns of Brixton’, ‘Return To Brixton’, struggled to number 57 in the charts.

  16. 76
    DietMondrian on 3 Nov 2010 #

    A couple more reverse-chronological greatest hits:

    Sisters of Mercy: A Slight Case of Overbombing
    The Best of Roxy Music

    Any more?

  17. 77
    thefatgit on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Late to this one and most of the relevant stuff has been mentioned already.

    I like the way Norman Cook plays with sparseness and how he uses that sparseness to create texture. Quite special.

  18. 78
    flahr on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Inches by Les Savy Fav* is in reverse chronological order HA HA I SO INDIE

    “Dub Be Good To Me”, then: pretty great all told, as has been established in detail above. What’s the deal with the cover art? Is it representative of something or just a picture Cook liked?

    *a singles collection rather than a GH

  19. 79
    anto on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Re 76: Not really a greatest hits but the before-they-were-famous Pulp compilation Countdown starts with stuff like My Legendary Girlfriend where you can hear the hit-making sound sliding into place and then on the second side goes all the way back to the forgotten stuff from the eighties with a teenaged Jarvis Cocker sounding endearingly earnest strumming the love songs from the IT lp.

  20. 80
    Gavin Wright on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Re #76: Sonic Youth’s Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love compilation starts with tracks from Daydream Nation and works backwards – you can sort of see the rationale there, front-loading the album with the more accessible songs.

    As for Janet Jackson, I’m drawing a blank with most of these Rhythm Nation-era song titles (I probably haven’t heard any of them in well over a decade) but I recently listened to Control for the first time and recognised more songs than I expected to so maybe I should give it a go.

  21. 81
    lonepilgrim on 4 Nov 2010 #

    the Rickie Lee Jones ‘best of’: ‘Duchess of Coolsville’ features two discs of tracks in alphabetical order plus one disc of rarities. Perhaps the reasoning was that in these days of iTunes shuffle the order is no longer significant but even as a fan this seemed a perverse decision

  22. 82
    flahr on 4 Nov 2010 #

    actually entirely reasonable, it is scientifically provable that songs beginning with A,B,C,D and E or U,V,W,Y and Z are better than those beginning with mid-alphabet letters

    thus your compilation begins well, then gets worse in the middle when you’ve stopped listening anyway, then gets better at the end when you tune in again

    (i have just checked and my initial intuition that there are no good songs beginning with X proved to correct)

  23. 83
    lex on 4 Nov 2010 #

    DMX “X Gon Give It To Ya”, Ruff Sqwad “Xtra”, Mariah Carey “X-Girlfriend”, DJ Clock “Xavatha” and Greyman “XZero” would disagree with that assertion!

  24. 84
    El boludo on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Coincidentally, this song featured on the music round in this week’s University Challenge! The theme of the round was songs with Clash samples. It was surprising to me how many good ones there were as I’ve always found ’em a bit dull. Might have to reinvestigate (struggled to make it through London Calling, let alone Sandinista!)

  25. 85
    Mutley on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Re 82. Songs beginning with X. The ‘B’ side of “See You Later Alligator” sung by Bill Haley and His Comets (highest UK position number 7 in March ’56) is called “The Paper Boy (On Main Street U.S.A.)” and begins with “Extra, extra, read all about it” making it a double X.

  26. 86
    wichitalineman on 4 Nov 2010 #

    X Offender by Blondie is no slouch either.

    There are a couple of repetitive sample-able library tracks by Eddie Warner called Xylophagus and Xylo spleen – never in any danger of inclusion on Popular, but more fun than Xanadu.

  27. 87
    Steve Mannion on 4 Nov 2010 #

    worth mentioning ‘Xtal’ by Aphex Twin and the UR ‘X-101’ stuff too.

  28. 88
    justfanoe on 4 Nov 2010 #

    “X-Defect” by Bis

  29. 89
    El boludo on 4 Nov 2010 #

    “Xplosion” by Outkast? Also it won’t be everyone’s idea of a “good song” but “X” by Claro Intelecto is quite nice.

  30. 90
    flahr on 4 Nov 2010 #

    haha i knew by the time i got back i’d have a list of recommendations :) there is also “XXSex” by We’ve Got A Fuzzbox… [they made a ‘comeback’ this year with an, er, interesting cover of “Pop Muzik”].

    (my intensive research consisted of listening again to “XR2” by M.I.A. and “Xylophone Track” by The Magnetic Fields and confirming that neither was much cop)

    (whereas every song i have ever heard beginning with Z has been great)
    (well, except “Zebra” by The Magnetic Fields)

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