Feb 14

LL COOL J – “Ain’t Nobody”

Popular50 comments • 6,853 views

#759, 8th February 1997

Aint_Nobody A chart where singles sales are front-loaded to the first week is a chart that rewards fanbases, which is nothing to be worried about. Except the conveyor belt system keeps working even when there’s no fanbase hits to fill it. We’re now at a point where something is likely to go straight in at Number One whenever a previous record loses its grip – it doesn’t have to be hugely anticipated, it just has to be sitting there, discounted, in the new release racks.

The record labels aren’t quite as good at playing this game yet as they will be. For instance, it’s pretty obvious nobody else realised Blur was going to come back with a record like “Beetlebum”, because the biggest new entries in what would have been its second week are this and The Orb’s “Toxygene”. So “Ain’t Nobody” gets to the top because of lucky timing, and because it’s a cover of a reasonably well-liked song from a reasonably well-attended movie by a reasonably well-known act.

Ladies Love Cool James (for it is he) will always have a higher critical profile for his 80s work, but Britain came late to hip-hop, and the teenage tunnel-vision brutalism of the early Rick Rubin singles – “Radio” or “I’m Bad” – never found a mass audience here. Nor did the glorious “Mama Said Knock You Out”. He was better-liked by Brits for the loverman hip-hop he pioneered – the saucer-eyed hypersincerity of “I Feel Love” shaped UK expectations of him, and here he is, with a romantic rap for Valentine’s Day (a glance at the sleeve suggests this was not an angle marketers pursued).

“Ain’t Nobody” fit LL Cool J’s brand well enough, but it’s nowhere near his strongest record. In fact it feels lazy, in execution and concept. LL’s raps are a wave of the hand towards a general notion of seduction – “passionate interludes and such” – marking time before the song gets to the chorus, as if he knows as well as we do it’s the strongest part of the record. And it is – it carries the entire track – but the satisfied delight of “Ain’t Nobody” is undermined when it feels so unearned. LL is never skeevy, just bland – he only sounds awake in the closing ad libs, offering hokey advice and sex tips.

The song also has nothing at all to do with the film it’s tied to. This, as much as getting a good LL Cool J track to Number One, feels like a missed opportunity. If there was ever a show to justify a “Living Doll” style novelty record – or at least a novelty video – it’s Beavis And Butthead. It would have been extremely hard to get right – to move the pair’s toxic, hilarious a-cultural impulses into a song rather than leaving them impotently outside it – but the attempt would have been more interesting than this.



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  1. 31
    ciaran on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Other than the chorus I had no recollection of this at all and even after 1 play a few minutes ago I’m struggling to remember it.

    A very dull chart-topper.Not fit to lace Chaka Khans boots. LL Cool J and his Mr, Loverman act here is not endearing in the slightest. 4 is about right.

    Phenomenom would have been a far more interesting Number 1.

    The only thing that stands out is what looks like Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – the bunny will be looking for his memory eraser) in the video.They did a lightweight sitcom called ‘In the House’ in the late 90s which was shown a fair bit over here and that I suppose is my lasting memory of LL Cool J and David Baddiel claiming that LL was short for Lionel Lionel!

    Havent heard much of the early work except for ‘I Need Love’ which is ok. I know Tom also had “Mama Said Knock You Out” on the best hits of the 90s. His later stuff like ‘Control Myself’ with J Lo was terrible.

    #29 Rap’s Van Morrison – Brilliant!

  2. 32
    thefatgit on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Well, I took a look at the video, and I spotted “Carlton” and there’s a Wayans (which one, I’m not sure) in there as well. If he was going for African-American sitcom stars goofing off at the water park, he missed a trick by not including Bill Cosby (in all fairness, Bill was too classy for this kind of video anyway). Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were probably too young for this ride.

  3. 33
    Mark M on 10 Feb 2014 #

    I have no clear memory of this at all. I was still mostly writing about hip-hop at this time, but LL was a distant irrelevance to the state of the art at the time – you could count about six or seven eras of the genre that fit in the time between his blazing arrival* and this… My favourite single of his remains Going Back To Cali. There have been occasional bright moments in later years (unlike Ciaran, I like Control Myself).

    *Rock The Bells and Go Cut Creator Go are awesome in themselves, but also educational for people who didn’t realise the link between Jay-Z’s 99 Problems and hip-hop history.

  4. 34
    Cumbrian on 10 Feb 2014 #

    The original is better than decent and this doesn’t rise to that level – simply waiting for the chorus to come to its rescue all the way around the verses. Shame it wasn’t Mama Said Knock You Out – but LL Cool J is hardly the first, nor will he be the last, artist to get to the top with a work markedly inferior to his career highlights.

    Re: “you can take it girl, stop running” – not very smart but at least there is gumption enough present on the track, for the female voice to answer “say what?”, as if to question just why someone who it is claimed the ladies love, would say something quite so crass at best, threatening at worst.

  5. 35
    anto on 10 Feb 2014 #

    #18 – I feel something similar about the much-covered ‘You Got The Love’. Each time I ask myself, do I really want to hear another version of this huffing, puffing repetitive drag of a non-song, and now Coca-Cola have got a kiddies choir to sing it, great!

  6. 36
    23 Daves on 10 Feb 2014 #

    #27 That was the view expressed by a couple of my (hip-hop loving) friends, actually.

    “LL Cool J’s at number one!”
    “Yes, but the single’s not very good, is it?”
    “But, but… you don’t understand! LL Cool J’s at number one!”

    I never heard them play this in their cars or at parties, and I’m sure they still don’t – but a hip-hop pioneer reaching the top of the singles chart was important to them. It felt correct (They’d respond a lot more enthusiastically to another bunnyable track).

    I had to go on to YouTube to remind myself of how his version of this went (never a good sign) and after twenty seconds or so it clicked with me. It was on the radio relatively frequently back in the first half of ’97, and I think still gets irregular airplay now, but there’s nothing in LL Cool J’s approach to leave you firmly remembering anything except the chorus, which had already been handled better beforehand anyway. It’s not a bad record in that it doesn’t have you running towards the ‘stop’ button, but there’s no real reason for it to exist.

  7. 37
    Billy Hicks on 10 Feb 2014 #

    #35 – I have a love/hate relationship with You Got The Love. I think there’s only one truly brilliant version of it, and sorry to the purists but for me it’s the 1997 mix. The original ’91 mix is too minimal for my tastes (to be fair it’s essentially just a mashup of an old vocal with an old early house track), the 2006 re-remix is just a slightly subdued and inferior version of the ’97 mix…and then there’s Florence’s version which I *really* hate, which took a promising solo act (her first album is excellent) and began her descent into cheesy, commercial chart-friendly bollocks. Seeing her cavort around in videos to a pounding Calvin Harris beat a few years later seemed like such a waste of an initially brilliant talent, an act who started off sounding completely different to anything else in the charts ending up sounding exactly the same as everything else. See also D***** R***** in about a decade’s time. Also it annoys me how a whole generation now think it’s a Florence original, similar to Ellie Goulding’s (not bunnied!) Your Song a year later.

    But the 1997 Now Voyager mix is glorious, the only one that properly takes that epic vocal and gives it a backing to be proud of.

  8. 38
    Garry on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #24 Tom – I’d give at least a cursory listen to both their recent albums with Dave Gilmour and Lee Perry. The collaborators give the Orb some focus which has been missing for a while – plus you can tell they had heaps of fun making them.

    I especially enjoyed the Gilmour one. In my mind it’s a confirmation of the big influence on ambient by the many strands of 70s prog rock in general and Pink Floyd in particular.

    (I’ve always found Banca De Gaia’s Big Men Cry album sound like a love song to Floyd.)

  9. 39
    Garry on 11 Feb 2014 #

    I just listened to Aint Nobody and it doesn’t register in my memory at all.

    I do remember my hatred of Beavis and Buthead but fans I knew soon put it away once it was replaced by South Park as the unorthodox/edgy/whatever animation of choice. Even I watched South Park.

  10. 40
    swanstep on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Living with ‘Ain’t Nobody’ for a few more days (and taking the opportunity to listen to a lot more LL Cool J), it hasn’t worn well. I therefore want to retract my ‘6’ score at #10 and to concur with Tom’s:

  11. 41
    Mostro on 3 Dec 2016 #

    Re: The Orb and “Toxygene”. According to Wikipedia- with sources, to be fair- it had started out as a remix of Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene 8” (from the recently-released sequel to “Oxygene”), but Jarre had rejected it because it bore too little resemblance to the original- they’d disassembled the original and reduced it to a few isolated samples. So perhaps it’s not the case that they consciously set to create an “Orb” record.

    That said, what was it with the 90s and “remixes” that bore virtually no resemblance to the alleged source anyway? Nothing against sampling if it’s done creatively, but there’s a point at which you’re no longer offering a different take or perspective on the original track- an unrecognisably out-of-context two second sample of the original looped over a generic and repetitive dance backing where any claim to *be* the original is pure marketing rather than artistic reinvention (c.f. the “D’Still’d”/”Distilled” mix of Space’s “Female of the Species” which *was* the main track on the 12″ release). I get the impression that in many cases, any samples of the “original” existed purely to justify the connection with the source, the equivalent of the tiny percentage required for a cheap soft drink to claim “contains real fruit juice!”

    CD singles were often full of these- in the typical “two part” release, one version usually had two or three new “B side” tracks and the other contained remixes of the main track by “name” producers.

    I vaguely remember reading an interview in the NME or Melody Maker where some fairly well-known producer/DJ of the time (forget who) said he’d been commissioned to remix a track for some rock band (might have been U2- again, my memory is hazy). Apparently they completely forgot about it until the time came to deliver, at which point they basically grabbed some completely unrelated track they’d been working on off the shelf and handed it over.

    That having been during the 90s, I can quite believe it.

  12. 42
    weej on 4 Dec 2016 #

    Mostro – IIRC that story is from an Aphex Twin interview – and he didn’t identify the band involved, though he did release “26 Mixes For Cash” a few years later, so someone could probably do a bit of detective work if they felt like it.

  13. 43
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Dec 2016 #

    Mostro – How would you feel about Jazz covers in the vein of EG John Coltrane’s My Favourite Things?

  14. 44
    Mostro on 4 Dec 2016 #

    #42 Weej; Ah, thanks- I had a niggling suspicion it might have been him, but I wasn’t sure enough to bring up his name. As I said, my memory of something I read around 20 years was a bit hazy.

    #43 Andrew Farrell; Good question. I don’t claim to be a jazz aficionado (though that’s a pretty well-known cover), but in that case, it’s clear that it’s still the original song at its core, even if it’s being used as a jumping-off point. Even if it lost any connection to the original, that wouldn’t necessarily make it a bad thing, it’s just a question of identity. To me, a “remix” should have some resemblance to the original track (even if it massively deconstructs it) beyond a token sample. Maybe that just reflects my own prejudices and limited perspective, but I suspect a lot of those 90s remixes weren’t so much Coltrane-like reinvention as producers flavouring their own tracks with a brief sprinkling of the source (either for legitimate artistic reasons or as the required “real fruit juice”) and marketing going along with it.

    The example that’s remained stuck in my head for over 20 years as the archetypal “pull the other one”- was on the Pet Shop Boys’ “Disco 2”. The “remix” of Liberation that appeared there had no audible resemblance to the original whatsover. No samples, no melodic or rhythmic similarity, *nothing* beyond the fact both include the word “liberation” (in this case from a female singer). Regardless of what one thinks of it, there’s no apparent connection. It’s not even a cover.

    Anyway, I’ve come across the full version on YouTube- it’s called the “E Smoove” remix. The comments include “despite not actually being a remix of its namesake song at all” and “[PSB fans hated it because] it wasn’t even a remix, it was just an E-Smoove production that talked about ‘liberation'”, so I guess I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t buying it. (#)

    (What’s odd is that the 7″ “edit” of that remix also appears on YouTube and that *does* feature Neil Tennant’s original vocals plastered on top. Which raises the question as to whether E-Smoove’s backing track was designed around that or not. Given that the PSB-less full remix sounds complete in itself and the 7″ version sounds like a mashup, I’d assume not. Anyway, one might have thought they’d have used the 7″ version on Disco 2. Strange.)

    As I said, in this environment, one can easily believe that Aphex Twin got away with the deception. Not that I blame him; I suspect that the record company either wasn’t fooled and/or didn’t care so long as they could sell it as such regardless.

    (#) FWIW, I wish I hadn’t bought the abysmal “Disco 2” full stop..!

  15. 45
    Izzy on 5 Dec 2016 #

    42: I recall that as well, and I’m fairly sure the band in question was The Lemonheads. I also remember that a few weeks beforehand Curve had been in the same pages, gushing about a remix he’d done for them – “we can’t work out where he took the sample from” – but didn’t seem quite so smart once he’d pulled back the curtain.

  16. 46
    flahr on 21 Feb 2017 #

    #12: “By the time this got to number one, King Of The Hill had premiered in the US – unfortunately, I can’t even find the most tenuous connection to any #1s for my favourite of the entire post-Simpsons animation-comedies wave.”

    You’d already passed the point at which you could mention it – one of the series’s three composers, John O’Connor (1998 BMI TV Music Award winner), was half of “Star Trekkin'”‘s The Firm. Here’s an interview with him in Sound on Sound from ’98: https://web.archive.org/web/20140914162546/http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec98/articles/joconer.258.htm

  17. 47

    It’s a shame the Rufus and Chaka Khan original only got to #8 in 1984, that would be a solid 10.

  18. 48
    Patrick Mexico on 14 Feb 2020 #

    This arguably isn’t even the best Ain’t Nobody cover/reworking of 1997 – and this one also got to #8!


  19. 49
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    As much as I want to say this is a bit lazy/pointless, I don’t find this totally without appeal. A generous 6/10 from me.

  20. 50
    Mr Tinkertrain on 4 Mar 2022 #

    A rarity here – a number 1 from this era which I have little to no memory of and barely remember even hearing at the time. Nice that he got a chart-topper I guess, but this is generic stuff that could be anyone. My favourite memory of LL Cool J is from Deep Blue Sea tbh, although Mama Said Knock You Out is a banger. 4.

    Other chart highlights: as mentioned above Toxygene by The Orb made number 4 this week. Another one I never heard at the time, but I discovered it about a year ago and it’s absolutely fantastic, worthy of at least a 9.

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