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. 91
    23 Daves on 27 Jun 2013 #

    It seems to me that there were a lot of great (and very popular) tracks released in 1995 which I failed to adequately appreciate, probably because I was looking in the other direction, distracted by the runaway success of some of my favourite bands. This would be one – I was aware of it at the time, obviously, but never seemed to quite ‘get’ it.

    Then a couple of years back I heard this when I was out somewhere and was instantly blown away. It sounded immense. I heard it once again while shopping in HMV just before Christmas and actually had to fight the urge to start dancing in the aisles, which is saying something for somebody who normally has to have at least three drinks before I can be coaxed on to the floor.

    As for why it has an impact on me now and didn’t in 1995, who knows? But the same is true of a lot of popular Dance music of that period. It feels like a tonic now whereas at the time I was probably turning a blind eye to it because it didn’t seem as if it was supposed to be for me. The boy who loved “Ride On Time” in 1989 was ignoring this in 1995 because it didn’t fit my demographic. It was for ‘the others’, the people who were popular, played sport and went to the kind of clubs who played mainstream dance music. Shame on me, I’d say. I’m wondering how many other instances of this we’re going to uncover as we go along.

  2. 92
    pootle on 27 Jun 2013 #

    I like this genre, but I never gave this song much consideration. After such a – wait for it – rave review, I’ll have to listen more carefully. I find the difference between a dance song you love and one you’re indifferent to is often quite bewilderingly random.

  3. 93
    xyzzzz__ on 28 Jun 2013 #

    Yes @ the Let me Be Your Fantasy ‘link’.

    Maybe I should take up smoking if I want to listen jazz, or go to rock festivals before listening to rock.

    Or become a nasty Tory to go to ballet.

  4. 94
    Sam C on 30 Jun 2013 #

    A record that is an aural representation of the group’s name. I want it played at my funeral. Hearing it makes me smile, jump, dance and sing/shriek along as if nothing else exists. A nearly perfect 10 and possibly my favourite record that doesn’t seem to do anything new or extraordinary, but simply does what it does staggeringly well.

    In light of some of the comments I’ll point out that I’ve never been much into clubbing and I don’t think I’ve ever heard this at a club. I like quite a lot of dance music because I love hearing beauty emerging from functionality.

    Oh, and I didn’t actually realise it got to number one till I read this, as I’d pretty much stopped paying attention to the charts by then. I’m very pleased that it did.

  5. 95
    koganbot on 30 Jun 2013 #

    Contra mark s @81 and @86, I think the term “rockism” should’ve been strangled five minutes after birth. I’ve never been able to find the Pete Wylie interview where he made the pun, “the race against rockism,” though I gather that his basic complaint was that rock had become routine – which is to say that he, a rock musician, was using rock values (rock having once meant electric excitement, the pouring in of the beautifully ugly and the unexpected) to criticize the rock of his day (late ’80/early ’81 was the interview, I believe), presumably worrying that rock had left its adventure behind, that rock wasn’t rock anymore.

    I feel real sympathetic to his argument, naturally enough, since I haven’t actually read it and I’m making it up in my own image. But anyway, Meltzer, Bangs, and Marsh were already wringing those issues massively through their fingers in the late ’60s (think Meltzer puts the death of rock in late ’67), and these guys weren’t called “antirockists” for it, they were called “punks,” which is a much more potent term.

    Chuck Eddy was coming from that line of criticism, and from my variant on it, and also from Xgau’s own attempts to encompass everything. Stairway To Hell was a Christgau Consumer Guide run even more amok than in the Xgau version. I doubt that antirockism was on Chuck’s mind, though you can ask him. I don’t think you get to graft Chuck onto British antirockism any more than you get to graft me onto it. I don’t see how you can justify using the term “rockism” much after ’82. It’s a straw man, easy target, pseudointellectual buzzword. I don’t know what you mean when you say “the last mattered as much as the first.” If you mean that the Zep album at #1 needs a whole world of way way way more than 500 other albums if it’s to continue to live and breathe rather than die on its pedestal, then of course you’re right but at this point that’s just a vacuous platitude. Chuck puts his albums in order for a reason; he makes distinctions; he likes this more than that, and he gives reasons. And that we need a whole lot of Death Angels et al. to keep the Zeppelin afloat doesn’t mean that Death Angel is just as important as Zeppelin. Take away Death Angel and the world’s no different. You can go find another band. Take away the Zep, and we’re in a different universe.

    For anyone who’s interested, I think I made the argument well in a couple of LVW columns in ’08, basically why I believe antirockism is for teacher’s pets. There’s way worse things than being a teacher’s pet, of course, and my argument isn’t simple. But I fundamentally don’t respect antirockism. It’s an attempt to win easy victories over imaginary foes; it’s not an attempt to understand the world. “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)” might sound good in ’82. Now it’s just a received piety. Of course, better this piety than some previous ones, but (sorry, cryptic comment for mark’s benefit), I think my PBS arguments in ’87 and ’88 are way better than anything I’ve heard from an antirockist (my “PBS” epithet not being the same as “rockism”; PBS (the argument and the phenomenon) being far more interesting, which is why you should talk about my ideas instead of talking about rockism). I don’t want you to duck my PBS point, which is that worthy projects like the inclusion of Abba et al. in ’82 and like Popular now, and the rehabilitation of handbag etc., actually, inevitably, put Abba and handbag at risk. It’s still PBS, it still renders what we like lame in the context of our worthiness, even if we have no choice but to be worthy. (Again, my apologies to the rest of you for the crypticism, for referring to ideas rather than stating them.)

    Here is why I’m not an antirockist:

    The Rules Of The Game No. 31: Rockism And Antirockism Rise From The Dead

    The Rules Of The Game No. 32: Where The Real Wild Things Are

    (If you’re interested but don’t think you have time to read both of these, please at least read the last four paragraphs of “Where The Real Wild Things Are.” Key statement: “Antirockism is rockism with a few of the words changed.”)

  6. 96
    Ben on 30 Jun 2013 #

    Billy – FYI the version where the backbeat drops out is the original ’94 version.

  7. 97
    spammer on 6 Jul 2013 #

    [spam removed but left to preserve number order]

  8. 98
    Mark G on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Never doubted it, Ninja

  9. 99
    Patrick Mexico on 7 Jul 2013 #

    Ninja, I’ve always been a big fan of your Kitchens of Distinction. Plus those blenders always come in handy at the Neutral Milk Hotel.

  10. 100
    enitharmon on 7 Jul 2013 #

    Belatedly coming back to the Unlogged Mog’s comments @7 about this being the best song ever, which seems to me to be a rather silly claim anyway (it’s a claim that’s been made about the not-totally-dissimilar-to-my-aged-ears) Unfinished Sympathy too, I believe).

    As it happens I just had Julie London’s version of Cry Me A River come up in my random mix and started thinking something very similar myself ­about that (which is nothing much like either Dreamer or Unfinished Sympathy). And then thinking about whether credit is due to Arthur Henderson (for the song) or to Julie London (for her performance of it, which is surely one of the sexiest renditions of anything, ever). Julie’s version of the one song beats Ella Fitzgerald’s but overall Julie London can’t come close to Ella. Both Julie’s and Ella’s versions wipe the floor with Joe Cocker’s execrable version however, so maybe it isn’t that great a song after all. A really good song should be almost indestructible, don’t you think?

    I wonder what Julie London would have made of Dreamer.

  11. 101
    enitharmon on 7 Jul 2013 #

    [FX: raises bat to acknowledge bringing up the century for this thread]

  12. 102
    punctum on 8 Jul 2013 #

    #100: A “really” good song should be highly destructible, I think. How else would one reassemble it?

    “the best song ever” is 100% subjective, and therefore pop-valid. Much rather have that than Derek Dull-style “objectivity” (and actually DD was anything but).

  13. 103
    enitharmon on 8 Jul 2013 #

    Oh Marcello @102, contrarian as ever, spoiling for a fight when we’re saying the same thing!

    “Indestructible” = take it apart, reassemble it however you want, and it’s still a good song.

    Let me nominate another of my (100% subjective, because I still maintain it’s silly) candidates for BSE: Jerome Kern’s The Way You Look Tonight, seeing as my collection contains five examples. In evidence I bring you:

    Exhibit A: Tony Martin, playing it straight.

    Exhibit B: Billie Holiday, filling it with exquisite pain.

    Exhibit C: Frank Sinatra, swinging it.

    Exhibit D: Peter Skellern, camping it up.

    Exhibit E: Sonny Rollins, tearing it up, throwing the pieces in the air and putting them together in such a way that it’s almost unrecognisable.

    Each and every one of these exhibits a little miracle. Could you do that with Dreamer?

    I rest my case, m’lud.

  14. 104
    punctum on 8 Jul 2013 #

    Everywhere else it might be about what you think and what you say. In my little part of the garden, however, it’s about self-awareness – “why” rather than “what.”

    My comments were a conclusion, not an assumption (“it seems to me,” “don’t you think?”).

  15. 105
    Mark M on 8 Jul 2013 #

    Re 95: On this months British GQ, there is a coverline that reads:

    ‘In Defence of Taylor Swift
    (Yes, really)’

    Whether you call it rockism or something else, there’s still a battle to be fought.

  16. 106
    punctum on 8 Jul 2013 #

    I call it misogyny, mixed with a bit of residual class snobbery, myself – it’s an extension of Inverdale’s “comment” on Bartoli and probably the still rather muted response of Henman Hill types to Murray’s win.

  17. 107
    swanstep on 9 Jul 2013 #

    @Rosie, 103. I have two thoughts about ‘The Way You Look Tonight’. First, I think it’s one of the few songs that Sinatra really butchered. The underlying song’s harmonically amazing with a really sweet melody weaving through a huge number of complex chords, but Sinatra loses all the sweetness, changing the melody line and the odd word so that the song feels arrogant and swaggering, and not especially pleasant to listen to. I’m convinced that there’s no way the song becomes a standard if Sinatra’s version had been the original. Second, to me TWYLT is one of the less lyrically inspired of the songbook standards. Notwithstanding Dreamer’s various clangers and slovenly repetition of verses, I still think I might give it the lyrical edge. A half-speed, piano accompanied version of Dreamer that allowed all the rushed chorus lyrics a chance to stretch out and be actively interpreted would be worth constructing I think.

  18. 108
    Tom on 9 Jul 2013 #

    I used to have a tumblr tag “best song ever” or some such, for something that gave me that best-song-ever rush in the moment I was playing it. I definitely recognise the rush, that feeling that listening to music really can’t get any better than this. I would get it about once a month or so. My idea was that I would write down the records which I experienced this to, then once I reached a nice big number I’d write about them on here. Anyhow I never got around to it and can’t now remember what they were, except I think one of them was by Propaganda.

  19. 109
    Tom on 9 Jul 2013 #

    This Pitchfork column from a few years ago touches on it.


  20. 110
    enitharmon on 9 Jul 2013 #

    swanstep @107: agreed that Sinatra’s version of TWYLT is much my least favourite of the five versions here. And it’s the contribution of Jerome Kern (genius) rather than Dorothy Fields (some way short of genius) that makes it for me.

    Tom @108 – I know that feeling, it’s the one I get every time I hear Peter Skellern’s version of TWYLT. But then he did it with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and I’m a sucker for a proper brass band. When I’m invited to appear on Desert Island Discs it with be the One that I will be clutching on my way to exile, because it represents not one but three of my enduring favourite things: Kern, Skellern, and a brass band.

  21. 111
    Mark G on 9 Jul 2013 #

    TWYLT reminds me of ‘Peter’s Friends’ nowadays

  22. 112
    swanstep on 10 Jul 2013 #

    @111, Mark G. One problem with the songbook standards is that, for many of us, we first encounter them through versions that range from characterless to genuinely awful. For example, I’m pretty sure that I first heard an unctuous Elton John version of ‘But Not For Me’, and shrugged. Sarah Vaughan’s 1958 version then came as a revelation. And once you really get into whole genre then favorite periods and specific recordings even among acknowledged masters quickly emerge (Ella F’s 1950 ‘I’ve Got a Crush on You’ makes one melt – late ’50s and ’60s Ella F versions – normally so very very good – are for this especially coquettish song just OK in my view). My own experience is therefore somewhat orthogonal to Rosie’s idea (with which I nominally agree!) that these songs are on one level indestructible, endlessly coverable and reinterpretable. In practice, that is, I tend to find that all of the attention paid to these songs by generations of great talents has just allowed me to become fussier and fussier. At least when it comes to listening to recordings at home, I only want to hear one of the very few (by my lights) absolutely optimal, transcendant versions. Anything else starts to feel like a defilement or needless destruction. I want my BSE rush and nothing else will do. Having to listen to even a 90% great version (a frustrating BSE-rush-near-miss) of ‘Strange Fruit’ or ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ or ‘Happy Days (Are Here Again)’, etc. is a kind of spoilt person torture!

  23. 113
    Dan Quigley on 10 Jul 2013 #

    A Great American Songbook discussion amid a Living Joy entry is one of the innumerable things that make Popular comments so wonderful.

    While I wouldn’t use Fields’ lyric for ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ to try to convince someone sceptical about pre-rock pop, I think her relatively artless words beautifully ground Kern’s modulations in and out of the B section. And she could do sharper stuff when the occasion called for it, as ‘A Fine Romance’, from the same Rogers/Astaire film attests.

    P.S. ‘Dreamer’ and ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ (and their respective ilks) are non-overlapping magisteria in my book. Eight for the former, and a very high 10 for the latter (if we need to pick a recording I’ll go for the Fred Astaire original, although re:112, I find that the definitive version of a standard is almost always a mash-up in my mind of bits from fix or six different versions.)

  24. 114
    swanstep on 10 Jul 2013 #

    @113, Dan Q. I’d go for Astaire’s original of TWYLT too (and the original scene with Rogers overhearing, shampoo-in-hair is a doozie, and Swing Time is a helluva good film overall). I subscribe to the rough theory that it took 15-20 years for people to figure out how to best sing and arrange most of these great songs, but the delicacy of TWYLT seems to make it an exception – lightness and slight formality, the original ’30s’ metier really suits it.

  25. 115
    Dan Quigley on 10 Jul 2013 #

    @114, swanstep, I am perhaps a little more indulgent of ’20s and ’30s pop’s trappings than you (and would say that as vocalists Louis Armstrong and Connie Boswell already had a pretty good idea what they were doing with the emerging canon by 1930), but I know what you mean – it can be startling to hear how manic and/or stiff many of these songs sound in their original arrangements, especially pre-1930.

    By the ways, the two tracks you link to in @112 are glorious, and well support your contention. I like Ella’s songbooks, especially the Berlin and Rodgers and Hart sets, but I think that Decca Gershwin mini-LP trumps them all.

  26. 116
    ciaran on 11 Jul 2013 #

    Never was fully convinced by this.Inescapable too for the most part of that year.Would have preferred to be discussing ‘dont give me your life’ but even that seemed ultra-camp for some reason.

    Took them a year to release ‘Dont stop movin’ by which time the momentum had gone.Id prefer that to dreamer but not by much.

    This would get a 6 from me.9 is a very high mark for a track that is largely forgotten.Certainly not a justified 9 that chaka khans i feel for you would have been over a decade earlier insofar as dealing with a club favourite.

    Certainly wouldnt have moved me on to the dancefloor back in the day.

  27. 117
    punctum on 12 Jul 2013 #

    Is that a qualitative judgement, or an age thing?

  28. 118
    ciaran on 16 Jul 2013 #

    More qualitative (for me of course!).Not that I dislike it anywhere as much of 95’s other number 1’s LCBAB,DS (WW),BBB,YANA for example

    I was just 12 when this was released which would normally push a memory with a certain fondness up to at least a 7 but I got tired of hearing this quickly with its high profile.

    Just on the dancefloor thing – There was just a little more pleasing to me going on elsewhere. wake up boo,these sounds fall into my mind,keep warm, alright,guaglione,in the summertime to name but a few.Maybe not all ‘7’ records to some but ones I would prefer to this.

    As tom once said before in La Bamba though ‘maybe he can now understand just how bad his tastes were back in his teenage years.

  29. 119
    Erithian on 15 Sep 2013 #

    Speaking as a non-clubber who was probably too old for this the first time round (and no doubt a bit of a rockist too) I think this is an excellent diva vocal, better song than LMBYF, a very fine record but, bloody hell, I’d always take a point or two off for that generic house keyboard sound that infects a lot of stuff from that era. Same with the tedious “rapper guest spot” which I’m going to be fairly controversial about a few years down the line.

    Incidentally, isn’t it the rule that whatever era a song belongs to, there’ll always be someone commenting on YouTube that it’s so much better than what’s out today? In the comments to the “original edit” clip someone says “this shits on modern robotic monkey music!”

  30. 120
    Lazarus on 15 Sep 2013 #

    Generally compared unfavourably to Justin Bieber, in particular.

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