Jun 13

LIVIN’ JOY – “Dreamer”

Popular144 comments • 9,273 views

#721, 13th May 1995

A dance music confession: I never, quite, intuitively grasped what counted as House and what fell under Garage. The bumping, cut-up rhythms and vocals that begin the remixed “Dreamer” feel like garage, for example, but as Janice Robinson takes the song into its urgently blissful chorus I want to call it house – or even go more specific and say handbag house, that showy, uplifting offshoot that strutted across superclub dancefloors in the mid-90s.

These sort of divisions are the meat and drink of dance music – social markers as much as genre markers, guides to who might dance to what – and, in the case of handbag, what might be safely dismissed. Otherwise knowledgeable and thorough histories of dance music wave mid-90s house away as mere disco (as if disco was ever mere), a crowd-pleasing sideshow away from the main action. In terms of ‘progression’, perhaps that’s right. In terms of pop, it’s way off.

After all, most of what you really need to know about Livin’ Joy is in the band’s name. “Dreamer” is indeed the year’s most joyful, delightful, vivacious number one so far. But it’s not just about joy – the song’s chorus is a concentrated blurt of fierce hope, a fantasy of togetherness so intense but so impossible that Robinson takes it in double-time, like she’s trying to grab a moment – or a dream – before it vanishes. The song slinks and builds up to that point, its loping bass and keyboard figures giving Robinson space to stretch out a bit and approach lines like “Love, life and laughter is all I believe” with the lived-in relish they deserve.

It’s an old pop trick, as old as “I Feel Love” at least – the European producers adding a bit of class to their work with a jobbing American soul singer. But the men behind “Dreamer” – on a roll at the time, with Alex Party’s infectious “Don’t Give Me Your Life” to their credit – got lucky here: while never stepping outside genre boundaries, “Dreamer” is one of the great house diva vocals. It captures the thing house, and handbag house, do better than almost anything: condense all the hopes, fears, desperation, and fantasies that a dancefloor magics into being, leaving an intense hit of pop that stays in your mind long after the night ends.



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  1. 1
    AMZ1981 on 23 Jun 2013 #

    In a wider context I’ve always seen this record as marking the start of the `devaluation` of the number one position. It entered (or more accurately re-entered) the chart at number one; as did its two predecessors but they were both by established acts. Two number ones later we’ll have the last record ever to make a conventional climb to number one and within two years we’ll have forgettable records crashing in at number one and holding the slot for a week. It will be interesting to see how this blog responds.

  2. 2
    punctum on 23 Jun 2013 #

    Just because it had been six years since Italian House music had been fashionable didn’t mean that Italian musicians stopped making it or that people stopped dancing to it or buying it. Nevertheless “Dreamer” is the last great record in the line which began with “Ride On Time” and owes perhaps half of its greatness to its happy pitching accident. The musicians/producers behind Livin’ Joy were Italian, but singer and lyricist Janice Robinson – not, I’m fairly confident in thinking, the same Janice Robinson who played trombone in the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and Gil Evans’ band in the seventies – was American. She supplies a lyric and performance which swings between supple restraint and unleashed euphoria, from the brooding of “My Saviour is pure now/Because my lonely heart would bleed” over pondering bass synth notes to the 300 mph adrenaline rush of her choruses, in which her excitement does well to keep up with the song’s tempo as the ascending staccato organ underlines the essential spirituality at work here, making it indivisible from carnality (“Your eyes move my soul, it’s unbelievin’,” “Please don’t dumb it down and never leave me”), though fantasy might not yet be extricated from reality, achievement from hope (“Am I a dreamer?” Robinson asks semi-rhetorically).

    Whether there was a mismatch of sliders at the mixing desk is debatable, but the fact remains that the vocal track is half a tone out of key with the music, or vice versa; and of course, that’s what makes “Dreamer” a special record; the headlong ecstasy rush is so cathartically joyous that it runs ahead of itself, and the slight dissonance works in its emotional favour since it suggests the yearning which may still separate the singer’s thought from her eventual expression. The imperfection kisses it closer to true perfection as Robinson eventually disappears into her own echoing whirlpool of “Am I dreamer/Am I, am I dreamer?” When Eurodance gets the punctum right – even by getting it wrong – it works like everyone’s dream.

  3. 3
    Tom on 23 Jun 2013 #

    #1 I am on record – and if I’m not I am now – as saying the “conventional climb to No.1” doesn’t interest me at all really: I never look chart histories, though I know some people here love to trace the arcs of records – and that’s great! But not for me. There’s obviously a bunch of reasons why the fast turnover of hits started to happen, the main ones as far as I can tell being far earlier releases to radio; marketing departments getting good at timing release dates now that mattered; and the overall decline of singles sales meaning the other two factors counted for more. In a sense, the main shift is that any slow rise in awareness happened on radio, before the song came out, and the sign of a ‘genuine’ hit became its longevity post-release, not its climb pre-release.

    So I suspect this blog will treat the era of the instant #1 as business as usual, criticism wise. Except I do have something a bit special planned for 2000, the year of the great deluge of #1s, but that’s a way off yet.

  4. 4
    xyzzzz__ on 23 Jun 2013 #

    I like revolving doors, oh yes! A most interesting response to #1 by FreakyTrigger there…

    Did the genre confusion mean a point off for this then?

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 23 Jun 2013 #

    I have no recollection of this – I probably wasn’t listening to the right radio station or reading the appropriate music press – but I like it a lot. I always like the type of bubbly synth line that ties this to House and the singers vocal is compelling and commanding without becoming boring.

  6. 6
    Patrick Mexico on 23 Jun 2013 #

    Spot on Tom. Perhaps the most exciting number 1 of the nineties. It hit me like a rock when I was 9, it hit me like a rock when I was 19 and right.. naaaw, it hits me like an express train, careering off the side of the Grand Canyon, backwards, full of husky dogs pepped up on a cocktail of cocaine-laced Buckfast.

    I’ll leave the discussion to the more seasoned ravers/clubbers though, for now!

  7. 7
    Unlogged Mog on 23 Jun 2013 #

    Without any sense of irony, this may be what I think is the best song ever written. Which very much comes down to particular factors in my personal taste but whichever way you look at it: it’s very good indeed.

    There’s an almost impossible propulsion to the vocal, all the more deceptive because it appears to start slow (it’s still pretty rapid if you try singing it) and then that headlong bit is like a rollercoaster cresting and diving.

    The lyrics are so desperate and melancholy and you know, about this human thing you call love. Or at least, this human thing you call really wanting someone to get close to you on a dancefloor. Her voice has this subtly ragged edge to it, which you almost have to listen for to notice but it colours the delivery with this sense of reaching, of this plea for contact that’s almost knife-like in its sharpness.

    I am too about-to-fall-asleep to write a proper comment now but err, I’ll be back.

    (I swear blind I have seen a comic about this song and I thought it was Phonogram but I just went through our copies and it doesn’t seem to be. I seem to remember a lot of strobe silhouettes? Maybe I have made this up?)

  8. 8
    flahr on 23 Jun 2013 #

    The first 9 Tom’s awarded since 1990!

    It’s probably only a four or five for me, but that’s perhaps unsurprising given how I don’t really go clubbing or raving or that.

  9. 9
    Billy Hicks on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I’m going to be the annoying “Yeah, but…” one this time.

    As a huge fan of 1987-2003 dance music and basically giving 10s out to every dance #1 since, ooh, ‘Jack Your Body’, this, bizarrely, is one of the few that leaves me a little cold. Maybe because of all the songs better than this that have deserved the position more, maybe because it doesn’t ever quite have that melodic hook I crave for – the chorus’s 300mph spiel is pretty cool, but where’s the tune?

    It’s *ok* and had charted at #5 or something perhaps I’d have appreciated it more, indeed on first release in 1994 it just sneaked in the top 20. But #1? I don’t get what elevates it up there while something like ‘Set You Free’ or ‘U Sure Do’ just misses out. See also 2000, where tracks like Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ and Delerium’s ‘Silence’ were beaten by the likes of the inferior S*****e and M***o, but that’s for another time.

    There also seems to be two distinct versions of this song and I’ve never quite worked out which was the 1995 #1 and which was the earlier, 1994 #18. The main difference is the middle (about 1:45-1:50 in) where one drops the backbeat for a bit and the other lets it carry on through… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19HT0w1uW4A is Version 1, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VuyQuRAsHI is Version 2. Anyone know?

  10. 10
    swanstep on 24 Jun 2013 #

    This one’s new to me (so evidently this isn’t a track like Set You Free or Wrap Me Up that’s stuck around much), and on first (two) listens now it’s nothing at all. I don’t know what the hell you guys are on about. Too much hi hat and too much trebly reverb on the vocal, bottom of the barrel M-1 House piano yet again – what a mess of a record. Harrumph. It doesn’t seem to have done much outside the UK, for good reason on this evidence. Maybe it’ll grow on me, but I’d currently be inclined to scrape it off if so:

  11. 11
    MBI on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Never heard of it. It’s pretty bad. 4

  12. 12
    Tom on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #10 is it still house piano if they’re using an organ preset? ;) And I almost singled out the hi-hat overload for praise except I forgot to fit it in – ramps up the urgency very nicely, I particularly like those four big hi-hat hits just before the chorus.

    #9 Sorry you don’t like it Billy! “U Sure Do” is fantastic, yes, its only rival this year for rushy dancefloor pop. I put “U Sure Do” on ThisIsMyJam a couple of months ago and got very few takers :(

    #8 I am not a big clubber or raver either – actually the only time I heard this in its natural milieu was on a visit to my girlfriend in Leeds, being dragged out against my introverted will to a huge club at which Graham Gold was DJing. He did not play Livin’ Joy (far too jejune I’m sure) but one of his warm up dudes did and it lit up the night. But basically dance music is a kind of pop I listen to like every other kind of pop – mostly on headphones, mostly sitting down. I suspect if the ‘trackier’ kind of dance music (can’t remember whose distinction ‘tracky’ vs ‘songy’ is – S.Reynolds?) ever got to #1 I’d be a bit more flummoxed by it.

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Jun 2013 #

    A little surprised at the euphoria generated by this track, but mostly pleasantly so, I think. Yeah, it’s pretty good, pretty enjoyable, and the off-kilter aspect is a major contributory factor to that. But the chorus seems to end half-way through. Which could be a pro or a con (certaintly adds to the sense of urgency/desire being sung about).

    Probs a 7 or 8 from me.

    (I rate “U Sure Do”, too, but it’s a bit more straightforward than this)

  14. 14
    enitharmon on 24 Jun 2013 #

    It’s not my music. Like flahr at #8 I’m untutored in the ways of 1990s clubbing. In other circumstances I’m sure it would bring back happy memories of wild euphoric nights, but in the bright light of a sunny Cumbrian morning (what’s this whingeing about cloud and rain in London? We’re enjoying something like a real summer here) it sounds, well, pretty much the same as all other tracks of the genre. The overplayed, overly uniform thud of synthesised percussion doubtlessly carefully calculated in its frequency and intensity to maximise the production of adrenalin on a sweaty dancefloor, overlaid with an ethereal voice so stripped of emotion and eroticism that it might well be synthesised too. No suggestion here of the vertical expression of a horizontal desire. Sex not so much out of fashion as just something you do when you’re not clubbing (but I don’t really know what was going on – was there bumping and grinding and everything short of penetration on these dancefloors?)

    As Popular extends into my 40s I feel like I’m turning into an old fogey but I don’t think that’s it. The affective nature of all popular music dictates that it goes with a context, and it loses much of its power outside that context. I’m sure that many younger than me are as baffled by the pop of the 60s as I am by this.

  15. 15
    James BC on 24 Jun 2013 #

    These were the same guys as Alex Party? Dance music is so hard to keep track of.

  16. 16
    punctum on 24 Jun 2013 #

    The context is 4,000 drunk people going uniformly apeshit at three in the morning in what I will generically call The Club. Not my thing even at the time but then I was thirty-one.

  17. 17
    punctum on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #3 – people like a story, the story of a humble record slowly rising upwards and the associated suspense involved – can it get past its rivals and go all the way to the top?

    As Tom says, the real test of a proper hit now is how it does after it has come in at a relatively high position. The problem was basically that from about 1986 onwards the charts became a measure of relative marketing strategy success rather than genuine popularity. Hence the frontloading of singles in their first week of release, 99p at Our Price, then up to £1.99 or £2.99 in the second week. Add this to the increasing savvy of fans on the still (in 1995) nascent internet and the result is an awful lot of disposable singles which go in high, fall abruptly, have not survived into oldies radio and may not even be remembered by the fans who put it there.

    This problem has continued into the download era; looking back as recently as the charts of 2011, I was astounded how a “real” hit like “Moves Like Jagger” was obliged to play second fiddle to instantly forgettable blobs of garbage going straight in at the top and falling to 4 or 5 the following week. Let’s face it, we’re talking about the fleeting fancies of a few thousand people rather than the foundation of future classics (boy bands are particular offenders here).

    For those who wonder why shows like POTP don’t venture into recent years more often, it’s because so many of the charts over the last 20 years or so are virtually unusable, filled with transient club bangers (most of which have not even survived into Dave Pearce’s Dance Years) or fourth singles off albums.

    So if the arc of chart progress resembles a bungee jump rather than the curves of a traditional story it’s not surprising that people feel disenfranchised by what has effectively become a marketing exercise. But then maybe that’s what the charts already were.

  18. 18
    fivelongdays on 24 Jun 2013 #

    As someone who was 13 when it came out, I concur with #14.

    Sorry, but from my recollection half the top 40 at the time was made up of dull, soulless, unexciting, dance bilge with a female vocalist warbling dull platitudes over the top. This music was designed for cool people, for the ‘well ‘ards’, not for me. And it still doesn’t feel like it could ever be for someone like me.

    I realise that is my problem, rather than the records, but this is a club record, all shined up, all product-in-hair, all stupid bloody dress code (because wearing shoes rather than trainers is going to stop fights/drugs/whatever how exactly?), all music for people who don’t actually like music.

    This is dance. Chop off my legs.


  19. 19
    enitharmon on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Marcello @16 – it’s probably almost exactly this time when the group I was out with for the evening ended up at the Lakota (or perhaps it was the Blue Mountain) in Bristol (I was licking my wounds from a painfully narrow defeat in the city council elections and people were going out of their way to be nice to me (this would change drastically over the next 104 weeks in politics). It was a trial. I’d heard that there were different rooms in these places with different styles of music in each, including a chill-out area. I didn’t notice much difference in the rooms myself, but I did find some respite out on the roof. I expect I heard this track that night, but it doesn’t stand out in my memory.

    However, I was this side of 40 by this time …

  20. 20
    punctum on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Good Lord, eighteen more votes and you would have got through. Meanwhile, back in Chelsea, we still had the late, egregious Sir Nicholas Scott as sitting (or flat-on-face-in-street-only-had-two-white-wines-honest) MP.

  21. 21
    enitharmon on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I messed up the link to the election and now I can’t edit it. It’s here http://www.bristol.gov.uk/LocalElectionViewer/index.html?XSL=main&ShowElectionWard=true&ElectionId=44&WardId=26

    [sorted — a passing FT editor]

  22. 22
    Tom on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #17 – All fair points. The #1 has always been an imperfect barometer of what matters even in the charts, let alone wider music, and I think you’re right that it’ll get less so – though to some extent this is dilution, rather than a year with 20 number ones, 15 of which are ‘memorable’ for good or bad, we’ll have years with 30-40, but roughly the same amount of interesting ones. So yes, I withdraw last night’s bullishness a bit – I suspect we will see a few more very brief Popular entries, particularly for hits which follow the “fourth single of album” pattern. Possibly more combined entries too, a la the two Singin The Blues.

  23. 23
    JLucas on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Yeah I’m a big fan of the 90s dance sound, but I’ve never *quite* understood the veneration this record receives in certain quarters. Billy is dead on, it sounds like a likeable but swiftly forgotten #5 hit to me, not a genre hallmark #1. Honestly, I find the chorus a little limp.

    Give me U Sure Do, Set You Free or Free From Desire any day of the week.

  24. 24
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #3 (etc) I hope/presume part of the year 2000 “celebrations” involve setting alight a (perhaps life-size) effigy of a certain Irish boy band. (And perhaps a quantity of their CDs too). Their unworthy number ones, apart from coming in extraordinary quantity, were often even more egregious chartoppers, anomymous and forgettable than the stereotypical first week-loaded club bangers that to my mind did indeed reflect the triumph of marketing over art. (Well, that is to simplify grossly, as this went way back, and anyway from day 1 the charts were about marketing, and anyway a lot of this stuff really only very tenuously might be described as art anyway. So. In a sense it doesn’t really mark that much of a shift. But still)

    Thankfully that is some way off yet…

  25. 25
    punctum on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Never got “U Sure Do”; it just made me want to go back and listen to the Stephanie Mills record it sampled (“The Medicine Song”?). “Set You Free” and “Freed From Desire” are top-drawer classics, though.

    This one only got as high as #24 and it is still one of my all-time top ten singles, would be on my Desert Island Discs and can still fill my eyes with tears for reasons which are nobody else’s business (tip – ignore the visuals and listen to the music, it is like Elgar):


    And for what it’s worth, in 2013 I think pop has made it through the rain and it’s another great era. The last six number ones are worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with their predecessors (or ancestors).

  26. 26
    Mark G on 24 Jun 2013 #

    So far, of all the songs mentioned as ‘better’ than this one, I’d agree..

    I didn’t like this much at the time, like it better nowadays, still would only give it 7 as opposed to the others that’d get 9 from me.

    This is one of those titles you might have to play the vid to remind youself which “dream” this one is.. “Dreamer, life gets in your way” nope not that one, “AM I DREAMERRRRR-ERR-ERRR???” ah yes.

    Ah, “Freed from desire”, totally on-the-spot that one: The number of girls that had boyfriends that had definite political ideals that prevented him from working from “The Man”, yeah? Whatever happened to that couple? She found someone less dogmatic, right?

  27. 27
    lex on 24 Jun 2013 #

    This song encapsulates everything great about ’90s dance to me – every hook and flourish is in excatly the right place, from the synth organ to the way she belts just when the song demands it and reduces herself to stuttering by the end.

    In 1995 I’d actually grown slightly away from the Eurotechno I’d loved as a nine-year-old – this isn’t the same ballpark as 2 Unlimited etc but by this point I was 12/13 and getting into Portishead and Tricky and Tori Amos. But even at the time I RECOGNISED its undeniable greatness.

    All the ’90s dance hits referenced in this thread are brilliant, obviously, but listening back to this I could easily imagine it being dropped into a 2013 garage/pop-house set and going down a storm – in a similar role to the one I’ve heard Robin S’s “Show Me Love” play par excellence.

  28. 28
    JLucas on 24 Jun 2013 #

    U Sure Do sampled Serious by Donna Allen


  29. 29
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I concur that “Freed From Desire” was fantastic. Without going back to check, wasn’t there something off-key in the singing there, too?

  30. 30
    punctum on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #28 – oh thanks, I knew it was one of those mid-eighties soul diva type euphoric things.

    #29 – Yep. Adds to its charm.

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