Jun 13

LIVIN’ JOY – “Dreamer”

Popular144 comments • 9,274 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. 61
    Unlogged Mog on 24 Jun 2013 #

    I am just going to leave a permalink to my Tumblr ramblings here because it’ll get buried by my blog otherwise and also I just fixed a load of the bad grammar, clumsy sentences, etc:

    #57 -it wasn’t your comment that was aimed at, it was the people saying ‘obviously this was liked by awful people in awful places’ (or a variant on that) -although I personally think it’s got a lot of out-of-the-club joy to be had, that ultimately comes down to personal taste. Play on, is what I mean.

    #60- I am genuinely surprised by the number of people expressing a kind of disgust at the sort of people/club this might have been played in. I guess I was not around at the time and I probably would have been a cock about it if I was, since I was a massive rockist during my formative nightdancing years. But if anyone’s been to Poptimism recently and met me, you’ll know I look more handbag house than anything else and y’know. Still got, like. Opinions and shit. Yeah.

    We have not mentioned Baby D’s Let Me Be Your Fantasy yet but I feel like there is a key link between the two.

  2. 62
    Steve Mannion on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I do like how divisive this is even now. I really Hated It At First (TM) (as with ‘Set You Free’ the combo of drippy sentiment and warbley key-drifting vocal were the initial obstacle to me*) although by the time it dragged itself back to the charts and this time to the top my aforementioned new love of much Handbaggage first cooled my ire then warmed me to it.

    It’s also re-assuring that of the plethora of similar hits mentioned each one gets to be someone’s personal fave (and I already mentioned the De’Lacy and Nightcrawlers on the ‘ENERGY!Wigglewigglewiggle’ entry). But with ‘Dreamer’ lucking out and actually going all the way I like to think its (and/or Livin Joy’s) contemporaries were cheering on from the sides (or the dumper indeed) even if I wasn’t at that point.

    *I’d say the ‘awful people/places’ thing probably did figure a little at firsttoo but for me was more to do with scapegoating over the standard frustration with ‘suburbia/highstreet/shelfstacking/girls/lads/relatives/me/you/everything/ohjustleavemelaone/pleaseinsertdisk2/andnowdropthedeaddonkey…’ in my case) as someone who was starting to be able to go to and really enjoy getting drunk and dancing at whatever local discos were available and let you in (usually neither clubs nor pubs but sports/social club birthday bashes). Ruislip Records was run by a guy who looked like Tom Bailey-meets-Dave Beasant and would often play at these things but was naturally more of a purist (eagerly dropping Gat Decor – either the original or the ‘Actual First Mash-Up Hit Apart From The Other Ones Before It’ with Degrees Of Motion – and other earlier jams all being re-released with new mixes at this time, playing the likes of ‘Dreamer’ with a little less enthusiasm before turning his nose up at me for requesting anything with an actual break beat the SWINE).

    As with Baby D most people who actually heard this in proper clubs copped it upon its original release but the comparison is also worthwhile for the differing measures of emotion in each. ‘Dreamer’ has more urgency and perhaps desperation (Dot Fearon’s voice did quaver slightly when she insists she’s ‘got what it takes to make you mine’ but not much vulnerability on display really) plus the ascending organ (which Rollo & Sister Bliss naturally ramped up a bit more on their mix) while LMBYF’s piano hook can only descend almost in resignation (‘Dreamer’s Garagey cut-up coda is also maybe being overlooked here). Hard to say for me which effect is greater now, but I still prefer Dot’s voice. Maybe she should’ve got together with Janice and Kelly Llorena to do ‘Love Can Build A Bridge’, or even ‘Some Might Say’, rough justice…

    #58 Technically we do get a member of Faithless at #1…a lil puzzle for you there, but ‘criminal’ is a pretty good clue. Maybe a greater crime was that Rollo’s mate Ben Langmaid also beat him to it many many years later depending on how you feel about that particular venture. Not that Faithless weren’t at #1 across half of Europe at some point in 1995.

  3. 63
    swanstep on 25 Jun 2013 #

    @62, Steve Mannion. I much prefer LMBYF to Dreamer (notwithstanding its dreadful lyrics: ‘highest heights’, ‘Let’s be as one in soul and mind’,‘tri-ip to wonderland’, ‘put a smile upon your face’, and so on).

    @60, Auntieberyl. But surely the dominant perspective here is to treat otherwise relatively unheralded, dance stuff very positively: Tom rates Dreamer as highly as he does breakthroughs/landmarks like I Feel Love! And while there may be some rockist, anti-dance music philistinism around, one of the joys of dance music I find is that micro-scenes come and go – some bass sounds or drum sounds or synth packages or particular mixtures of space and sonic density just won’t work for you, but that’s OK; the next season things will be different (I love stuff from 1998 and 2003/2009 that’s not a million miles removed from that Crescendo track you mention, but that doesn’t stop me being unmoved by Cresecendo, Dreamer, etc.).

  4. 64
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #60 the higher the mark, the louder the disagreements – if I’d given this 7 I doubt the comments would have been so pointed. (I vacillated between 8 and 9, as it happens – it’s better than recent 8s but worse than recent 9s – and let my good mood sway me in the end).

    BUT there’s definitely – as there was at the time – a strain of thought re. dance music that it can only really be enjoyed in context, i.e. people say, well, I don’t go clubbing therefore I don’t like this. And to be fair other people who do go clubbing ALSO say of some music, if you don’t you just won’t get this. I’ve never really agreed with these perspectives.

    #63 It’s probably truer to say that I rate “I Feel Love” as highly as I do “Dreamer” (well, if this were pitchfork IFL would be a 9.8 and Dreamer a 9.1 or something silly like that, but it’s not) – hearing IFL as a landmark is exactly what drags it down a little, takes you out of hearing it in the moment.

  5. 65
    glue_factory on 25 Jun 2013 #

    The idea that dance music only makes sense in a clubbing-context is an interesting one. There are definitely records that would have left me cold, had I not heard them out. Picking one at random, when I first heard the Chemical (then Dust) Brothers remix of the Prodigy’s Voodoo People, it did nothing for me. But once I’d heard it in a sweaty basement, seen people leaping around and reacting to it, I could hear peaks and troughs in it that previously escaped me. It wasn’t that the record now reminded me of good times, but that I now heard it differently. I don’t pretend to understand why :-)

    But the vast majority of club records I have loved, I’ve not heard in a club! I’m one of the introspective, club-wary dance music fans that the Pet Shop Boys released the first Disco for.

  6. 66

    As well as the affective element to the sonic context, there’s a relevant acoustic variation: play the same item into a hot large room with bodies and into headphones, and different elements will likely register even if you can set aside the “people jumping about” factor. One of the tougher subtexts of music history to study comrehensively is the degree to which a particular song is made for — or ends up working in — a quite specific context: wax cylinder, shellac 45, vinyl microgroove 33, small tinny hand-held radio, fancy bang & olufson quad system, CDs, disco PA in a large heaving space, digital television with external speakers, cheap mp3 player and so on. Caruso became the huge million-selling star he did because the timbre of his voice perfectly suited early recording technology: not only cut through the crackle, but sounded rich and deep on it. This dimension is hard to explore exhaustively without becoming a hifi bore, but it is never negligeable (and of course sometimes records break through into the “wrong” acoustic territory without planning to, which triply complicates things).

  7. 67
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Yes, I’m not saying context doesn’t make a difference to reception – it makes all the difference – I think I’m caviling at the implicit idea that modern (er mid-80s onwards) dance music is somehow exceptional in its being built for particular contexts: like you say, all music has contexts (temporal and social as much as technological).

  8. 68
    Rory on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Speaking only for myself, when I said this sounded you-had-to-be-there I didn’t mean “there” as in a club so much as “there” as in the UK in 1995. The past in a foreign country is a foreign country squared… Hearing it once over computer speakers hasn’t lent it the same impact as hearing it all around you for weeks on TV, radio and as background music. No doubt if I lived with it for a bit it would grow on me. Whereas I’ve lived with “I Feel Love” as part of my own musical landscape, one way or another, since 1977. (“Dreamer” didn’t do anything on the Australian charts, although I see that Livin’ Joy reached number 6 in Oz in 1996 with “Don’t Stop Moving”. “I Feel Love”, meanwhile, was a number one for us.)

  9. 69
    Chelovek na lune on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #68 Indeed. I was out of the UK (first in Romania, then in Russia, then in Ukraine) from July ’95 to June ’96, which meant that some of the upcoming no 1s (not to mention some fab records that didn’t make no 1 but came relatively close – above all Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet”) passed me by completely at the time. As for the Euro-dance that did make its presence felt in the East: well the discussion of it definitely belonged on the WiggleWiggle thread (or its forthcoming sibling), not on a piece of quality music like this.

  10. 70
    wichita lineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Late to the party, apologies if that repeats anything already said.

    It starts up very much like Alex Party’s Don’t Give Me Your Life, doesn’t it? The big difference is that, when it hits the chorus, Dreamer doesn’t do what it ought to musically. It hangs on the same chord, slightly disorientating the listener, dragging your heart and your ears into an unexpected place (oddly, Wonderwall would do the same thing later in the year, which I reckon is one reason it’s such a standout in Oasis’s catalogue).

    The lyric then simultaneously switches from generic joyous diva-isms into the heart-quickening girl group reverie Mog mentioned back at 41 (like Dream Lover by the Paris Sisters, Am I Dreaming by Tiffany, I Never Dreamed by the Cookies), and that easily lifts it above handbag foot fodder like the Lisa Marie Experience’s Keep On Jumping. This switch reminds me (go on, kick me) of the bridge-to-chorus on Dusty Springfield’s I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten. So, yes, it works for me.

    Great call by Kat on Bobby Brown’s Two Can Play That Game having similarly flat vocals, but still working. I’d guess (in both cases?) this is because the original vocal was recorded over a different chord sequence, leading to some unnatural but very effectively wavering pitching.

  11. 71
    Nixon on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Interesting that the very first reply on this post talks about this record being the standard bearer for the changing nature of the charts; and Tom’s response at #3 makes a good point, much of the radio life of a big hit single now taking place before it was physically available.

    I say “interesting” because that’s exactly how I felt about this record – when I first heard it, I hated it. Absolutely loathed it. On the first few radio plays, I found it incredibly annoying. By the time it actually came out, I bought it.

    I’ve long since figured out how to tell the difference between genuine revulsion and simply being shaken out of one’s safety zone, and that I always like it when people are doing something (anything, really) other than being dull, but back then I couldn’t really calibrate those feelings, and I was suffering from a lot of category errors stopping me enjoying things. If it didn’t sound perjorative, I’d say this is one of the records that taught me it was okay to love spur-of-the-moment pop trash. Or maybe I should quote Noel Coward on cheap music. Impossible to say that without coming across like a snob, or (worse) a snob congratulating himself on slumming it down here at the fun end of the charts, but that’s not what I mean at all – this is great, without anyone (even Janice) sounding like they’re trying all that hard to make something “great”.

    To this day, I can’t hear it without a big smile; even as a child of Britpop, my abiding memory of the summer of 1995 is being on holiday in Cornwall with some school friends, driving around Truro bellowing the hyper-speed chorus out of the car window and seeing how much we could manage before we had to take a breath. But I liked it before those memories had a chance to kick in: it was my CD we were playing in that car. This is what singles are for.

  12. 72
    Ed on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Count me as one of the people who wasn’t going to clubs in this era, so I may be wrong, but isn’t this record a historic marker for the death of Rave?

    The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act received royal assent in November, so was just starting to kick in for its first holiday season. And the anti-ecstasy campaign – with the enthusiastic backing of the big brewing groups – was in full cry.

    As Mark said, different listening environments suit different types of music, and this – for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on – sounds more like a club track, where Baby D, for exanple, is a rave track. It may be something to do with it being so clearly in a tradition, as Tom identifies. It’s almost as much of a back-to-the-seventies move as Get Lucky. (Although, paradoxically, it also sounds utterly modern in the way it sets a template for a lot of 21st century pop.)

    The pharmacology of British youth culture – the shift away from drugs and towards booze – also seems important for understanding Oasis. Although I didn’t go to clubs much, I did go to a few gigs, and the change in the vibe was perceptible, from the wildness of Happy Mondays at Wembley Arena in 1990, to the beery stolidity of audiences a few years later.

  13. 73
    Ed on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Sign of my ignorance: I didn’t even remember this one.

    I had hoped it would be a Scooter-style Supertramp cover.

  14. 74
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Very interesting point. I don’t remember the anti-Ecstasy campaign (or this phase of it, anyhow) really kicking off until Leah Betts died, which was, Google tells me, November 95. But the CJA definitely set the seal on the move from raving to clubbing – another reason why rave-oriented histories like Energy Flash tend to give the music played in those clubs pretty short shrift, I guess.

  15. 75
    weej on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Re #18, #55 & others – It’s interesting that both this thread and the previous one have touched upon this concept of the music of the bullies vs the music of the bullied. Certainly at my school it did feel like dance music was fitted to an environment where the popular kids would flourish and the awkward ones would want to run and hide. On the surface this seems like a mid-90s phenomenon – a divergance from the days of acid house / “there’s always been a dance element to our music,” etc. But then I think of my dad, a reasonable man who loves music but who still holds a grudge against northern soul for basically the same reason.

    It’s an odd thing, a conflict with no blame. On one side there’s good music produced with love and skill not getting a fair hearing, then on the other there’s this honest, emotional connection people have with music – in this case a negative one, but all the same, that’s a good chunk of what makes music important, surely?

  16. 76
    fivelongdays on 25 Jun 2013 #

    OK, having listened to it again, I think I’m willing to raise the mark to four – I was unfairly harsh on it (though the two is what 13-year-old me would have given it at the time), and there are some interesting ideas in it – the organ sound is very distinctive, and for a song with such a fast chorus, it’s pretty catchy.

    That’s not to say I like it (and – please – can the nonsensical, meaningless, mealy-mouthed, snobbish and smug concept of ‘Rockism’* go back to the eighties?), but I don’t dislike it as much as I thought I did!

  17. 77
    wichita lineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Keep the red rag flying high, 5LD! If nothing else ‘rockism’ is anti-snob, surely?

  18. 78
    thefatgit on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #70 “wavering pitching” calls to mind “Isn’t Anything” era MBV, funnily enough.

  19. 79
    fivelongdays on 25 Jun 2013 #

    The purveyors of ‘Rockism’ (if purveyors they be) are usually the sort of people who don’t like music that ACTUALLY rocks, ironically.

    Of course, I might be misunderstanding the term. It generally gets used as a lazy synonym for ‘person who likes rock’, which is what gets my goat.

  20. 80
    anto on 25 Jun 2013 #

    re80: It’s a phrase that seems confusing in relation to both user and target. I’ve never fully grasped it. I certainly don’t understand how preferring rock is automatically seen as conservative.

  21. 81

    This is all v boring ancient history now but the term was NOT invented to describe people who like rock: it was invented to describe people who refused to consider that the definition of rock might have very sharply expanded in the late 70s and early 80s (to include everything from Abba to Rip Rig and Panic, Kashif to Youssou N’Dour). So that Chuck Eddy — a critic who has never stopped asking “yes, but does it rock?” — is the quintessential antirockist, not just because Teena Marie was in the top nine of Stairway to Hell, but because Stairway to Hell featured no less than 500 records, and the last mattered as much as the first.

    Hence it is misleading enough — in its primary formation — and as a consequence misused enough (by important and famous name-critics) that there is indeed an excellent case for its retirement. Except (a) we who fought the relevant wars are scarred and dysfunctional and (b) no one has come up with a better word for the phenom in question. As we who know what it actually means define “the phenom in question”.

  22. 82
    fivelongdays on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Thank you – I think that clears things up for me (I think!).

    What we need is a ‘list of artists ‘R*****ts’ like – would make for an interesting discussion.

    (NB I suspect that the whole concept of R*****m could be discussed better in later Oasis threads – ie once Noel saw how big he was, who his influences were, and panicked)

  23. 83
    enitharmon on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Mark @ 81 I suppose it makes me a “rockist” too – I’ve been called far worse, to be honest. I have a fairly good idea what I consider to be “rock” and I like quite a lot of it but it remains rather limited. Rock is white and sweaty and often raunchy. The Stones are firmly in the Rock box. I might allow for a limited range of Hyphen-Rocks but in my mind Rock remains a subset. If somebody changed the definition I’m sure nobody asked me. Lots of the best music defies being put neatly into a box. Abba isn’t rock to me. Abba is Abba; Youssou N’dour is Youssou N’dour. I don’t know WTF Rag Tag and Bobtail, sorry, Rip Rig and Panic are because I’ve never heard of them before, nor had I heard of Kashif although from the Wikipedia description I wouldn’t call what he does Rock and I won’t be in a hurry to find out for myself,

    The boxing-up of popular music is something that always happened to a degree but it became much more prevalent after my pop days were in decline. If I hear something original and exciting I take it for what it is, I don’t need to put a label on it.

  24. 84
    fivelongdays on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Making up labels for bands is awesome (so is putting bands in genres which you know will annoy certain critics*), and all part of the fun.

    Rock is white? Hendrix?

    Of course, just because something isn’t rock, doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

    *If you tolerate my argument about why a certain act are fundamentally Glam Metal, The Bunny will be next.

  25. 85
    enitharmon on 25 Jun 2013 #

    @84 Did I mention Hendrix as squarely in the Rock box? I’d say Hendrix is a classic example of a performer who is sui generis. Nearer to raw blues than rock, as I see it.

  26. 86

    “Rock is whatever the rock magazines write about” <-- this, in the end, was what was at issue: who gets covered and who doesn't? who do writers want to write about? who do readers want to read about? It's always a battle, and "rockism" as a demoralising epiphet was an ad hoc solution at a particular moment, allowing a particular (younger) faction to discuss what they were keen on, and not feel pressured to go on writing about stuff they'd got bored with. If we'd stopped calling it the "music press" and called it the "good music press" then the whole problem would have vanished. OBVIOUSLY WE DON'T COVER BAD MUSIC, IT'S THE "GOOD MUSIC PRESS". It's always a battle.

  27. 87
    Ed on 26 Jun 2013 #

    #74 Good point about Leah Betts. I had forgotten when she died.

    Interesting background on the alcohol vs E battle for market share here, including the role of the “Parliamentary beer group”: http://ecstasy.org/info/jim.html

  28. 88
    Patrick Mexico on 27 Jun 2013 #

    Last year’s best football chant: The Gers have got no money, they’re in Division Three…

    @34: That’ll be Let A Boy Cry – like this, a strong contender for the best single of the entire decade. It’s like riot-grrrl does Abba on crack. To a lesser extent Come into My Life and Freed from Desire have that offbeat, Pretend We’re Dead meets Italo-disco (!) feel, loved the latter’s lyrics, thought they were about Catholic guilt.

    As far as “mainstream” dance music (whatever that is) goes, this is an absolutely terrific record. I think it’s the way it vertical-drops into that frantic, out-of-step chorus. If they could have just thought up some even more euphoric lyrics for a second verse, this would be an undisputed 10. I know some saw this unsubtle, diva-ish aggression as a shift towards ugly “chav” or “rugby jock” or “pretty boy” denigrations of UK dance culture, but this was 1995, in which “Broken Britain” meant John Major stepping down as Conservative leader interrupting Escape From Jupiter on CBBC. After the last two number 1s of respectively, classicist dignity and kitchen-sink grit, the run needed to be maintained by something a bit stratospheric.

    Should I say, fantasy never hurt nobody..


    Still (only one more crowbarred Twin Peaks reference, but the last one’s just long-off aesthetic debris), the equivalent of riding the best rollercoaster ever, sharing the best dessert ever, with Audrey Horne in real life, during that summer’s record-breaking, month-long heatwave, made even better by the news it made Yorkshire run out of tap water. DAMN FINE. 9. 9.9.

    We just need Pulp to complete the glorious 7-8-9-10.. they got there, didn’t they? Surely nothing could stand in their path.

  29. 89
    punctum on 27 Jun 2013 #

    Except the grannies in Arbroath.

  30. 90
    Patrick Mexico on 27 Jun 2013 #

    Tenuous Links No. 45,873: It was a good era for Scottish grannies, especially transvestite Hollywood ones.. can’t wait for the (second) Popular reign of terror of someone with almost the same name as that actor. Ahem.

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