Jun 13

LIVIN’ JOY – “Dreamer”

Popular144 comments • 9,343 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. 31
    Mark G on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Also, the fade-out’s “am I a dreamer, am I a dreamer…” holds this message:

    “and for those listening to the 7″ version, we’ve run right out of time, but the tune continues on the 12″ version if you wish to switch over now..”

    (blimey, thread is busy!)

  2. 32
    punctum on 24 Jun 2013 #

    The thing with Livin’ Joy is – is she dreamer or is she dancer?

  3. 33
    Mark G on 24 Jun 2013 #

    My hands are tied, my eyes be crossed..

  4. 34
    JLucas on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I loved the followup to Freed From Desire too, which sounded much the same but with even more inscrutable lyrics

    “And they say silver, I choose gold
    I’m not afraid to be alone
    Someone will judge, these gentle souls
    Let a boy cry, and he will know”


  5. 35
    Rory on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #17 – re savvy fans on the internet, there are a couple of significant dates coming up soon in Popular time: “The filename extension .mp3 was chosen by the Fraunhofer team on 14 July 1995. … With the first real-time software MP3 player WinPlay3 (released 9 September 1995) many people were able to encode and play back MP3 files on their PCs.”

  6. 36
    mintness on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #9, #23 – There might be something in that, actually. I’m almost tempted to draw a parallel with the likes of “Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter” – a song that was by no means the best example of its genre, but that was in the right place at the right time to benefit from an “all hands on deck” push. It could have been any other Maiden song of the era, it could have been any other #5-worthy dance track from ’94-’95 – and yet here we are.

    I do like “Dreamer”, though. Euphoria meets brains. I’d give it a 7.

  7. 37
    Rory on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I’m another who had never heard this before ten minutes ago, and it does sound a bit you-had-to-be-there on first impression. I was waiting for an ecstatic big finish… and then it stopped. Oh. It seems fine as house tracks go, but nothing I’d rush back to. A 5, then.

    Now then, what the hell can I add to the monster Oasis discussion…

  8. 38
    omni-mog on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Ok I am back.

    I was definitely not ‘in the clubs’ when this came out, by dint of being eight years old at the time. It’s still my favourite.

    There’s a particular sort of frantic, sexy, crush desperation to it. When you’ve been driven completely mad by how much you want to touch someone, to the point of trying some kind of summoning ritual (which is what the lyrics and their delivery are) to bring them to you.

    A lot of it is ‘it’s 2am and I put my best dress on and I had so badly convinced myself that you were coming home with me and don’t let this be me making an idiot of myself‘ in the middle of a darkened dancefloor, those bloopy organ presets in time with twisting lights and that’s a thing. In fact I am kind of uncomfortable about how down on that people are being; it’s neither the case that the mid-90s had a monopoly on this nor that it’s solely dance music that does it. There’s an element of this that is, like… Pulp’s ‘Babies,’ maybe. When you’ve really gone disgustingly bonkers over someone.

    (It’s possibly -and ack, I hate drawing this kind of genderised comparison but whatever- it’s possibly a very female, err, euphoric shoegaze thing? Because girls get taught to crush on things and this is absolutely a fantasy song, a Totty Of The Week and daydreams-invading-reality song. It’s conjuring this person you want so incredibly badly and I think the male equivalent would probably be more inclined towards indie invocations of girls, certainly at the time? I was, as I said, eight so can’t actually verify this from any kind of personal perspective)

    The thing Tom draws on, about where garage and house meet is really interesting. I’d never thought of this song as being part of that but it’s easy to see the path between ‘Dreamer’ and, in particular, bassline/4×4; T2’s Heartbroken and H2O’s What’s It Gonna Be are very much in this vein of propulsive desperation.

    (This song always appeared to me as Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems so I’ve always viewed it as euphoric house but I’m totally into the idea that we could draw a new time-hopping microgenre out of it; I don’t think it’s a continuum because otherwise you’d have to go back to 60s, maybe even 40s girl groups to get to some of the root of it but I like the idea of ‘euphoric dancefloor breakdown crushcore’ or something)

    (I’m a dick)

  9. 39
    Mark G on 24 Jun 2013 #

    The one ‘join’ I can make for this is the “My Saviour is pure now” to the “My brother is in me” line in Ultra Nate’s “Free”

  10. 40
    Izzy on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Gorgeous record – a 9 for me too, and would’ve gone higher if we hadn’t recently had Baby D.

    Slightly perplexed by the lineage being traced out in this thread though. Set You Free, Gala, even right up to Heartbroken – these are *precisely* the records I’d’ve named myself. I guess handbag house, as a genre, isn’t going to have a vast unexplored hinterland, but there must be some other favourites that’re new to me?

  11. 41
    omni-mog on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Really? To me it fits into a long history of conjured lovers, like uh… the 60s girl groups did a lot of this, this invoked heartthrob who’s too attractive to be believed (I’m sort of being cautious about calling it an ‘invoked boy’ because I always thought Dreamer was a very sapphic song, although actually have 0 evidence for this besides probably my own mad projection) and they’re in an enormous number of ballads. What Dreamer does is transplant that to the moment when the bar or club or whatever is closing and you have maybe one last ditch and you know it isn’t going to work but god help you, you can’t stop yourself.

    Dreamer is a ballad that’s been placed into a dance context, which is where it fits into the whole bassline thing; with ‘Free’ that was always a dancefloor stormer from its roots. (to me, anyway; obviously opinions vary)

    (it goes without saying that all ballads are improved by being transplanted to a dancefloor)

  12. 42
    Cumbrian on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Like Tom at #12, I have never been a big clubber, so I’m listening to this with no real knowledge of the club context and am mostly getting it through headphones and whilst sat my backside. This still sounds pretty glorious to me though – the big voice, the headlong rush in the chorus – they just give me a sense of the possible ecstasy to be found in a club. That it doesn’t quite connect with me (and thus I have it at 8 rather than 9 or 10), is my fault, not that of the song; but then, I don’t feel like I have much to connect me to the imagery of Koyaanisqatsi either but it still looks great. I guess I am appreciating in the abstract.

  13. 43
    omni-mog on 24 Jun 2013 #

    For a less usual comparator I’d say Miley Cyrus’ See You Again is a good shot.

  14. 44
    Matt DC on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Its natural home at the time was in people’s front rooms, at house parties, and it still sounds great in that context. Given the Duke Dumont tune at #1 earlier this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was due a mini revival at some point soon.

    It’s still a monster by the way.

  15. 45
    thefatgit on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I was hoping this would get a positive response. I think “Dreamer” is right up there with the best “songy” dance tracks of the 90’s. “U Sure Do” and “Set You Free” stand out for me also. “Freed From Desire” I never ever heard in a club environment, only on the radio. The flat vocal? On first hearing it seemed somewhat jarring, but then turned out to be much more fun to listen to on repeat plays. “Charming” is the perfect description for it.

    The urgency of the verses on “Dreamer”…I’m always tripping up on the nuanced parts of what she’s saying, so many thanks to those who quoted lyrics. They’re a lot smarter than I imagined them to be. I wonder if Barlow was taking notice?

  16. 46
    mapman132 on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Wow, this is a surprisingly polarizing record! Count me in the “meh” camp. Despite never being a clubber, I normally like a good dance record, but this just seems a dull 5 for me. FWIW, it reached #72 in the US – I remember it getting airplay but not a lot.

    The side conversation about records climbing vs. debuting at number one is a bit more interesting to me. I remember this being about the time I started to lose a bit of interest in the UK chart. I still followed it (usually) but my personally held myth that the UK chart was somehow superior to my own Billboard Hot 100 was clearly being challenged by this time. Of course, the Hot 100 was also going through a strange time too – ridiculously long stays at #1 were common, but conversely its first ever #1 debut was only a couple months away….

  17. 47
    Kat but logged out innit on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I am super-glad this record exists as it is a BANKER when the dancefloor is empty and I’m scrabbling around in the bag for something to play. I do love it of course, but like Lex and others have said upthread, Strike and 2 Unlimited and Cappella and N-Trance were my favourites. ‘Dreamer’ never gave me the same kind of rush, EXCEPT the bit where she goes really out of tune on the big note and the chords go wonky just before the whispered bit. That bit hit my buttons in the same way that Bobby Brown’s (biggest UK hit!) 2 Can Play That Game did. “Surely pop songs aren’t MEANT to have chords like that”.

  18. 48
    James BC on 24 Jun 2013 #

    This moment of mid-90s magic is made all the more mythic by its makers’ failed attempts to follow it up (often the way with dance music). ‘Follow the Rules’ in particular seemed very limp by comparison.

  19. 49
    swanstep on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Blimey, so Lena’s project for 1995 gets to listen to Common People, Wonderwall, No More ‘I love You’s, Alex Party, N-trance twice, and The Beatles. No fair!

    That said, even though I’m skeptical about Dreamer, this has been a tasty run of Popular entries. Thanks to Tom for getting them out. The joint’s jumping.

  20. 50
    punctum on 24 Jun 2013 #


    That’s part of MSBWT’s purpose: to demonstrate that, a lot of the time, the number twos are better than the number ones. And, boy oh boy, have we got some great number ones coming, especially the next one.

  21. 51
    will on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Hmm, personally I think it’s vastly overrated. By mid 95 I was starting to tire of this sort of diva-led house pop anyway but for my money it doesn’t have the depth of say, De’Lacy’s Hideaway or Brothers In Rhythm’s Forever And A Day. I just got fed up with the way she screams ‘I’M A DREAMER!!’ in a way that’s well, very un-dreamy.

  22. 52
    Tom on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #49 Thanks – I’m not promising anything re.frequency, but I’ve been trying a new working method which seems to be paying off. Hopefully saying it isn’t jinxing it…

    (I see the posting rate for the first 6 months of 2013 is currently triple that of the last 6 months of 2012, so it’s not quite just gut feel that makes me think we’re past the worst entry slumps. Even if we’ve a way to go to get to full speed.)

  23. 53
    omni-mog on 24 Jun 2013 #

    re: #51 -being a dreamer and being dreamy are totally different things, being a dreamer can mean having those dreams crushed and destroyed in front of you or watching them teeter on a knife edge. Howling is a totally A+ emotional response to being consumed by dreams.

    /FT’s feels correspondent

  24. 54
    infvr on 24 Jun 2013 #

    re: the tip over into Garage/House and the similarity to later Bassline; so the place that comes across for me is in the instrumentation, and notably That Damn Organ.

    That Damn Organ feels like it’s from the same workstation-y land as the Ubiquitous M1 Piano, but it’s also not far off the sound of the FM instruments – primarily, the Yamaha DX7 and successors – that (as well as being ubiquitous through the late eighties’ chart) in the 90s drove the bottom end of New Jack Swing, slipped into a lot of RNB, and were picked up later dirt cheap (having fallen out of fashion) by (UK) garage producers for those basslines and organs. The bass parts of bassline are often richer, and feel wider, than I’ve really ever felt FM provides for, but so many of the stabs and synth parts are those FM parts from Garage and RNB before it.

    At least, that’s how I’ve always read it. I really should get around to writing more about tracing individual sounds and instruments through pop, which I’ve been promising to do forever.

    (And: +1 to the utility of Dreamer as a dance floor tool. I’ve always loved it, and can’t quite tell you entirely why, but That Damn Organ is part of the reason why).

  25. 55
    Kinitawowi on 24 Jun 2013 #

    14 years old, and living sixteen miles from the nearest club (a place in Kings Lynn called “Top Of The World” – or, as its location would have it renamed, “Top Of The Argos”) and a scene that had approximately zero interest for me; this wasn’t music to be listened to, it was music to dance to, and on listening merit alone this doesn’t even get above a 3 for me.

    While not the start of the crapflood of straight-in-at-number-ones, this was the point when I knew it was a crapflood.

  26. 56
    thefatgit on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #55 For me, I think a lot of House, or in this case a good quality House/Garage hybrid, can exist happily outside the club environment. As Piratemoggy claims on her blog (http://piratemoggy.tumblr.com/), those instances where songs like this cropped up on Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems, whether it’s revising in your bedroom as she cites, or driving back home from a day out, or when the sun is shining, sitting in the back garden with chilled Chenin Blanc, there’s something about these euphoric songs that just make the moment I’m in feel better.

    It helps of course, if you can invoke a club memory, but “Dreamer” especially doesn’t necessarily require the intimate knowledge of your nearest city centre night club to gain something positive from it. In fact, “Dreamer” has transcended genre definition, although it helps for the purposes of Popular to place it within “Handbag” for context. And there are others which will not stay neatly packed in their boxes, or in their display cases like so many pinned down butterflies, some of which we’ll be discussing here. This is a great feel-good tune or chooon, if you prefer. I’m not feeling it as powerfully as Piratemoggy is, but it does put a huge smile on my face. Sometimes that’s all you need.

  27. 57
    flahr on 24 Jun 2013 #

    “A lot of it is ‘it’s 2am and I put my best dress on and I had so badly convinced myself that you were coming home with me and don’t let this be me making an idiot of myself‘ in the middle of a darkened dancefloor, those bloopy organ presets in time with twisting lights and that’s a thing. In fact I am kind of uncomfortable about how down on that people are being”

    I’m just saying that I have never been on the middle of a darkened dancefloor at 2am (wearing a dress or not), so songs ‘about’ that will, naturally, not connect very well with me. It doesn’t surprise or confuse me that people who do that sort of thing will enjoy songs ‘about’ it.

  28. 58
    Billy Hicks on 24 Jun 2013 #

    Punctum @ 25: Hold That Sucker Down is glorious. Massive underrated gem and involved Rollo of Faithless (a band who criminally we won’t be seeing on Popular). #24 is a criminal chart position. Great to see lots of love for Freed from Desire too, definitely one of my fave tracks of ’97.

    I’ve been getting into Crescendo’s ‘Are You Out There?’ recently, a pretty epic classical/prog house fusion that went top 20 over Christmas 1995. The build-up in the middle (starting 1:18) is slightly heavenly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrOHKz5xqIY . For me it’ll be 1996 when the real dance classics arrive in absolutely bucketloads, but that’s for next year…

  29. 59
    Mark M on 24 Jun 2013 #

    As very much a non-expert in this area, my feeling was that although there are obviously common handbag elements, as one of those term-of-abuse/reclamation genres, tracks tended to slip out and in depending on where they were in their existence – ie, when they were white labels, played in smaller clubs, or first mentioned in iD or The Face, they weren’t handbag – when they hit Dave Pearce, the burbs, the charts, they became handbag.

  30. 60
    Auntie Beryl yet unlogged on 24 Jun 2013 #

    #58 Crescendo! Yes! A fantastic record. The CD single has the full mix, which is eighteen plus minutes but doesn’t drag in any way.

    There’s an element of “it’s dance music so I don’t like it” in quite a few comments here. Unusually kneejerk for Popular. I wonder why that is.

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