Feb 14

LL COOL J – “Ain’t Nobody”

Popular49 comments • 6,371 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. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 9 Feb 2014 #

    I bought ‘Love Rollercoaster’ instead. Backed w/ Englebert Humperdinck’s ‘Lesbian Seagull’! What a tune.

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    Tom on 9 Feb 2014 #

    As soon as this went up on Twitter it was pointed out that the track I’m describing in the last para of course exists! Cher, Beavis & Butthead – “I Got You Babe”. I will listen to it and see how well it pulls it off.

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    jg on 9 Feb 2014 #

    not quite a “Living Doll” style novelty record” but there was that version of I Got You Babe with Cher from a B&B compilation in 1993. Charted at 35 according to wikipedia (but was a top10-hit in the Netherlands).

    I don’t remember this tune at all…

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    Doctor Casino on 9 Feb 2014 #

    Yeah, this … isn’t great. Would glide by okay in the midst of an album, a soundtrack, or greatest hits, and LL has enough personality that it’s not exactly generic (love the delivery of “erogenous zones”). But boy, would I rather be discussing “Doin’ It” or “Loungin’,” huge hits from the previous year that do his confident loverman thing much better. Interestingly, while those both did better in the US, they did decently in the UK – #15 and #7 respectively – whereas “Ain’t Nobody” did not make the US top 40 (though it made #4 on the rap chart)! Off the same soundtrack, “Love Rollercoaster” got a lot of MTV play but didn’t move much on the charts either. Perhaps Beavis and Butthead were more potent movers and shakers in Britain by this date? I remember feeling like the movie had come out a little too late to really capitalize on their momentum. What was transgressive and fresh when you’re 13/14 can seem totally old hat at 15/16.

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    Kat but logged out innit on 9 Feb 2014 #

    I nearly did myself a mischief laughing at this in the cinema (aged 15), but I’d barely seen any of the TV show as I only ever got to watch MTV at my mate Shim’s house, so perhaps I was still ‘fresh’ to it? I can’t remember when they started showing it on Channel 4 but IIRC they cut out a load of the video-crit bits due to licensing beef. I saw TONS of episodes of Daria when that got syndicated on Five though. Daria was basically amazing in all respects except for Actual Daria herself who was sulky and rubbish.

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    mapman132 on 9 Feb 2014 #

    It was already mentioned above that this missed the US Top 40 (#46 to be exact). I wasn’t a B&B fan and don’t remember if this got much airplay or not since it’s easily mixed up with the original recording in my mind, minus the rap of course. LL Cool J has never had a solo #1 in the US, although he did get a credit on JLo’s #1 (UK #2) “All I Have” in 2002. 4/10 sounds fine to me.

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    Chelovek na lune on 9 Feb 2014 #

    Verging on the pointless rather than the dreadful. I’d completely forgotten about this; probably the most annoying aspect is that the singing in the chorus is not up to Chaka Khan’s grade . An odd interruption into Popular in so many ways (still: even odder to note is that LL Cool J’s biggest chart hits as main artist were not until 2005 and 2006) – quite some longevity of career there. Still, I would stick to “Around The Way Girl”. 4

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    weej on 9 Feb 2014 #

    The song with Cher is pretty bad, by which I mean “not that funny” as that’s the only way to judge it really – (slightly) better is “Come To Butthead”. My housemates at university had the albums (there were two), that’s my excuse.

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    lonepilgrim on 9 Feb 2014 #

    bland blah redeemed by the original ‘Ain’t nobody’ melody – I liked LL Cool J enough to buy a single by him in the late 80s but this passed me by. I now associate him more with his role in NCIS: Los Angeles

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    swanstep on 9 Feb 2014 #

    It’s alright – lots of LL mini-hooks here over the top of the sturdy Chaka frame with the best of them being ‘You can take it girl; stop running uh (Say What?).’ (The ‘Say What?’ reminds me of Peaches a little – would love for it to have been pushed further in that direction.) I certainly prefer this to the Chili Pepper’s clunky (Dave Navarro *really* not working out), utterly redundant ‘Love Rollercoaster’ cover which is all I remember getting airplay from the soundtrack in the US. Not quite as good as the other Popular ‘Ain’t No’ track of the ’90s in my books, but this is still for me a:

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    thefatgit on 9 Feb 2014 #

    I suppose if one of Rap’s elder statesmen is going to get a UK #1 it would have to be LL Cool J, but “Ain’t Nobody”, for all its commercial sheen is meagre fare, compared to “Phenomenon” with its killer hook and “White Lines” lift from late ’97 or the scorching “” with DMX, Redman, Method Man and Canibus from the “Phenomenon” album. And his earlier stuff, “I’m Bad” and “Rock The Bells” were essential cuts alongside Run DMC and Public Enemy’s output from over 10 years earlier. He deserves recognition on Popular for a long and varied career, as well as being one of Rap’s enablers. It’s just a shame that the only positive thing I’m hearing on “Ain’t Nobody” is that borrowed bassline. Otherwise, there’s nothing vital or exciting. Did Alphonse Ribiero cameo on the video? ISTR it’s a Hip Hop comes to Center Parcs type thing.

    I don’t recall seeing the Beavis & Butthead movie, but I do recall “Love Rollercoaster”, on heavy repeat on MTV.

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    Tom on 9 Feb 2014 #

    My impressions of the B&B film are based on one viewing in the cinema at the time with my (now) wife – we both were way more entertained than we expected to be, and I have only vague but happy recollections of it. In fact I think it created a positive opinion of B&B which we never really had in their heyday. My feeling at the time was the film did the only thing it really could do – i.e. humanise the protagonists to some tiny extent – but having taken that step, it was obviously the end of the road. The incursion of such concepts as “plot” into the world of Beavis and Butthead basically breaks it.

    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.

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    Tom on 9 Feb 2014 #

    And re. LL – a few months before this his greatest hits compilation, All World, had come out – hip-hop artists were starting to get hits compilations (KRS-One had a good one out too) which were invaluable primers for mainstream UK audiences in a pre-Internet world. I remember All World as being particularly solid, once you got over the track-by-track flips between his tough guy and loverman personae. Wikipedia says this is on it as a bonus track – I don’t remember if that’s a later thing, it didn’t make it to my C60 anyhow. Everything on it, even “Big Ole Butt”, is better than this, and as Thefatgit points out there was good stuff to come (tho I can’t remember any of his post “Luv U Better” hits)

    A good distinction between a legit fanbase No.1 and a flotsam-and-jetsam hit like this might be “Can you imagine this being a fan of the act’s favourite song?”. “Beetlebum” passes. “Ain’t Nobody” surely doesn’t.

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    anto on 9 Feb 2014 #

    As with Tori Amos this one was a double-take on the Daily Express weekly ‘pop page’ – A well-known artist, but not exactly a regular visitor to the top 5 and even within rap kinda old hat by 1997, surely? I don’t remember hearing this at the time and any lasting impression has been minimal.

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    Doctor Casino on 9 Feb 2014 #

    Actually, now that I think about this some more, it’s interesting… “Doin’ It” and “Loungin'” had a similar impact on me in 1996 as B&B did in 1994 – they seemed “adult,” and like something I didn’t want my parents to catch me watching. “Doin’ It” in particular is this wonderful marriage of a smooth groove, sharp delivery, and sort of creepy, unquestionably erotic video that together imply more raunch than can actually be found in the lyrics. Boy, would that have made a fine #1, though I have to admit it would be deflated considerably were the video interrupted by cartoon antics and a spliced-in “Huh-huh.”

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    Doctor Casino on 9 Feb 2014 #

    Agreed, by the way, that All World is an excellent compilation – hardly a bad cut on it, and manages to hang together despite the diversity of material. The somewhat ‘monumental’ presentation, with LL’s intense stare looming out of the cover, may have something to do with that, in a way. Certainly better-packaged than most greatest hits records of that era. Not sure about the UK version with this song added – the original release date was November 1996, and “Ain’t Nobody” saw its single release the same month. Maybe they were just thinking ahead, or figuring that even if the song flopped it would still be fine as “bonus” material to the hits record…

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    Ed on 9 Feb 2014 #

    The best live show I have ever seen was LL Cool J supported by Eric B and Rakim and Public Enemy, at the Hammersmith Odeon in November 1987. He was not yet 20; I was a couple of years older, and my friends and I were probably the oldest people in the audience. The crowd was absolutely volcanic – it’s the noise you hear at the beginning of ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions’ – and I am sure the closest I will ever come to Beatlemania or ‘Rock Around the Clock’.

    Even then, it was clear they were a mismatched package: Public Enemy were militants, Eric B and Rakim were artists, and LL Cool J was an entertainer. For now, hip-hop was still young enough for its borders to be fluid, and the three of them could share an audience. ‘I Need Love’, which got to number 8 that year, had provoked some accusations of selling out – it was Britain’s first romantic rap hit, I think – and it was already clear in which direction LL’s career was heading. (Its success was also responsible for much of the crowd’s excitement, of course.)

    ‘I Need Love’ is a much better record than ‘Ain’t Nobody’, though: fresh and inventive rather than old and tired. LL was still not yet 30 when AN came out, but it felt like he’d been around for a very long time.

    I wouldn’t begrudge him any of his success. Thanks largely to NCIS, I suppose, he is a now a luminary of the American pop establishment, hosting the Grammys for the past two years. But it’s impossible for me to see his career as anything other than a decades-long decline from that one perfect moment in Hammersmith.

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    AMZ1981 on 9 Feb 2014 #

    I disliked this with a passion at the time and I’m still prejudiced against it now for several reasons. Something about the song Aint Nobody irritates me and I can’t understand why something so dreary is such a popular choice for a cover (Diana King’s version wasn’t that old at the time). Also I’ve never liked Beavis and Butthead – but that’s just my personal taste.

    For me this record felt like the next stage in the devaluation of the number one slot. It was the fourth new number one in as many weeks but Tori Amos was at least a climber, Blur (and the act who follow) were one of the biggest bands around and White Town could be treated as a special case. Obviously seventeen years I do appreciate that changes in marketing were changing the way we listened to and bought music but to my chart obsessed sixteen year old self seeing stuff like this enter at number one and plummet the next week just felt wrong.

    Now I’ve finished ranting, it’s worth noting that this week saw No Mercy rise to number two with Where Do You Go, a song which outsold all of the five one week wonders that opened 1997.

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    taDOW on 9 Feb 2014 #

    yeah ll by this point wasn’t quite put out to pasture, he was still a legit enough figure that an up and comer like canibus could seek to establish himself by calling him out and ppl could hope said calling out might inspire him to be the rapper he was before we knew what he looked like w/o a hat on (and he approached this kinda w/ ‘4,3,2,1’). the eye of the tiger though was gone and he was effectively already the ll of ncis:la, the ll of ‘going back to cali’ was gone. it’s interesting you can mark this w/ ‘ain’t nobody’ – the original had very very prominent placement in breakin’, part of a wave of mainstream hollywood cash-ins of early hip-hop culture (alongside beat street, krush groove, and of course the quickly generated sequel breakin’ 2: electric boogaloo) . the movie is generally awful (george michael and moz otm about that at least) but it does manage to capture some elements of the first old school at the moment it was becoming old school and yielding to the new school, something that if you wanted to attach a specific event to mark it a very strong candidate might be the release of the first def jam single – ‘i need a beat’ – which was also the debut single of one ll cool j. 5.

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    Another Pete on 9 Feb 2014 #

    I always assumed this got to number 1 because the track was inescapably huge in the US but #6 suggests otherwise. Even at the time I found the release date for this odd, as Beavis and Butthead do America got it’s UK release in late May, RHCP’s Love Rollercoaster was released shortly after as you’d expect with a film tie-in. It’s hard to argue they’ve missed a trick here because here we are discussing it. But I’d of thought to follow up a top ten hit (Loungin’, Oct 96) in a country where your success has been limited (especially with a greatest hits package out) you re-release something from that, or is that something the hip-hop world just doesn’t do. Then follow it up with this when the film comes out.

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    Query on 9 Feb 2014 #

    The fantastically visceral “Mama Said Knock You Out”, and of course “Doin’ It”, are both great LL Cool J singles, but this one ain’t, its only redeemable quality being the great sample from the Rufus & Chaka Khan version. The latter only made it to #8 in the UK charts, but would probably have earned a 7 or 8 from me, partly for Chaka Khan’s vocal delivery, glaringly absent from LL’s remix. Obvious credit to Rufus’s Hawk Wolinski for the great synth work.

    Still, it’s interesting how this kind of lush mid-1990s hip hop production – also visible the year prior “Doin’ It” and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s US #1 “Tha Crossroads” – prefigures the recent turn towards reverb-heavy “cloud rap” that many would have you believe is wholly original.

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    Steve Mannion on 9 Feb 2014 #

    If you’ve not seen it I recommend this clip in which Marley Marl talks about the making of ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2bhfL342nY

    I liked ‘Loungin’ (can’t believe it was only his second top 10 hit) but this was a disappointing follow up. I don’t think I knew it was from the B&B movie so was bemused by its success at the time even with a new #1 almost every week.

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    Garry on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Wait – what? Toxygene for to number #4? I’m frankly amazed because while it’s parent album isn’t as blah as some of the subsequent Orb releases, I thought this was when a certain Orb-by-numbers started creeping in – at least compared to the wonderfully chaotic Orbus Terrarum album.

    Being in Australia I never had a clue of where the Orb sat in the musical conscience of their home. I’m pleased they got another burst of recognition.

    As for LL – I’ll have to go and hear it again. I can’t remember a thing about it.

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    Tom on 10 Feb 2014 #

    My sense with “Toxygene” was the same: it was the first time they’d consciously tried to make “an Orb record” rather than just going where they would. It wasn’t their crassest record – that would be the terrible single mixes of “Perpetual Dawn” with the bodyform ad vocals ruining one of their most charming tracks – and it was pretty enjoyable, but very much a band who’d run out of ideas. I haven’t kept up with them since.

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    Billy Hicks on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Always found it unusual that both The Orb and Orbital had their two biggest hits within weeks of each other, both in early 1997. Neither their most remembered though and both simply taking advantage of the low January-February single sales.

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    Fivelongdays on 10 Feb 2014 #

    ‘it just has to be sitting there, discounted, in the new release racks’

    Uhhuhuhhuhhuhhuhhuhhuhhuh…you said ‘racks’

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    Fivelongdays on 10 Feb 2014 #


    This is a perfectly perfunctory version of a decent enough song, and because it’s not quite my thing, I’ll give it four. I can’t help but think that, were I a fan of hip-hop, it might have got an extra point or two on the grounds of “blimey! It’s LL Cool J at Number One!”

    Beavis and Butthead, though…ahhh, for any provincial teenager who liked Rock music in the fallow years between Cobain’s suicide and something kinda bunnyable, they were great. I rather liked the ‘plot’ bits of their shows, but it’s the videos that stand out.

    The one’s I remember best were:

    “Creep” by Radiohead (If you didn’t have the part that sucked, you wouldn’t have the cool bit)

    “Mouth For War” by Pantera (The only thing cooler than bands who get chicks are bands that scare chicks).

    “November Spawned a Monster” by Morrissey (Quit whining, you wuss).

    Some unknown country track (Country music’s cool when it’s about drinking whiskey and kicking ass).

    I loved the film, saw it with a couple of mates in the cinema when it came out. Contrary to the metalhead/rocker stereotype (which we kinda knew B&B perpetuated but we didn’t care), the 15-year-olds turned into an engineer, a reporter (albeit casual) for a national newspaper and a Cambridge graduate who does something that no one really understands, but makes him a shedload.

    Only slightly odd thing about this as the soundtrack’s lead off single – B&B liked rap, but they would’ve possibly turned it over in favour of something more rocking.

    @25 – If Satan had placed a couple of places higher, then the ‘Dance Music Doesn’t Have To Be Shit’ Trilogy of ’96 would’ve been the ‘Dance Music Doesn’t Have To Be Shit’ Quadrilogy (is that the right word?) of ’96/’97…but then (I think) we wouldn’t have ever had Your Woman at number one…and that one meant something.

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    Steve Mannion on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Loved ‘Toxygene’ and how high it charted (and the ‘Orblivion’ album – not exactly new from them but I was a bit older and could appreciate their ambient stuff more at that point). Nice comfy chairs in the TOTP performance of it too. Minor claim to fame in that Alex Paterson included my mash-up of it with Eminem’s ‘Without Me’ in his DJ sets a few years later.

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    punctum on 10 Feb 2014 #

    You would have thought that the obvious big hit single from the soundtrack of Beavis And Butthead Do America would have been the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Love Rollercoaster” with its seemingly irresistible B-side of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Lesbian Seagull,” but while that did well enough, the now nearly forgotten biggest hit from the film turned out to be L.L.’s equivalent of “My Ding-A-Ling.” Just as the Light Programme of the fifties avoided Chuck Berry like the plague, and the Ohio Players’ original “Love Rollercoaster” – an American number one – flopped completely in a Britain more intent on sending drivel like “Barbados” and “Combine Harvester” to the top, so “Rock The Bells,” a literal beginning of time and perhaps the loudest such in pop since “Maybelline,” was ignored by most of our radio stations and nearly all of the music press. The first two L.L. Cool J. albums – Radio (1985) and Bigger And Deffer (1987) – remain touchstones for nearly all of the hip hop that followed and still sound raw and revolutionary today. Thereafter he became rap’s Van Morrison, issuing endless streams of largely indifferent records out of which you could make a highly listenable seventy-minute CD, though Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), 14 Shots To The Dome (1993) and 10 (2002) all have their moments of iridescent brilliance.

    “Ain’t Nobody” was his flat take on the old Rufus standard and inaugurated one of the more regrettable trends of Popular 1997; eighties karaoke rap, familiar hits with inoffensive but urgent-sounding platitudes hollered in a rush to reassure a slowly ageing audience scared by those new-fangled Wu-Tang fellows (yet another imbalance which TPL will put right). Remarks such as “throw your butterscotch body beneath the red light” indicate that I will never be the right kind of listener for this sort of thing, no matter how proudly L.L. cites “When Doves Cry” or The Road Less Travelled; the number one-ensuring hook of “You can take it girl, stop runnin’, uh” inspires many adjectives in my mind, none of which is “forgivable.” When he belches out the line “I’ll give you a full plunge, uhhhhhhh,” I have sudden visions of Robin Askwith in Confessions Of A Plumber (and if there is no such film, then there oughtn’t to have been one). The closing “I Feel For You” parody is akin to rubbing sulphuric acid into the wound. At least “My Ding-A-Ling” was both good humoured and funny. Business as usual with Popular 1997, then; when the number ones are good, they are very good indeed – but when they are bad, they are truly diabolical. I had to listen to “Go Cut Creator Go” six times in a row afterwards to cleanse my soul, and learn about dignity, and, um, stuff.

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    Alan not logged in on 10 Feb 2014 #

    blimey, I do NOT remember Satan doing so well in the chart. (UK #3!) odd. perhaps I was way later coming round to Orbital than I now tell myself I was – or just off them (and majorly on Underworld). Certainly I owned green-yellow/brown but didn’t hugely take to InSides (which most fans rate highly)

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