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Mar 14

OLIVE – “You’re Not Alone”

Popular85 comments • 8,672 views

#767, 17th May 1997

Olive “You’re Not Alone” walks a line between the mind-expanding and the tediously polite, a nexus point for a handful of mid-90s trends and ideas. There’s trip-hop in the mildly skippy beats, or at least what was left of trip-hop after all the scuzzy, stoned, party-friendly elements had been siphoned off elsewhere. There’s the well-groomed soul of the Lighthouse Family in the songwriting – particularly the drab verses: when I started my business career, the Lighthouse Family had already become the conference call and lobby music of choice, and they were more than fit for purpose. And there’s Everything But The Girl’s “Missing”, too, a dance track whose yearning, thoughtful tone had earned it plenty of post-club usage. As the rave generation settled into their mid-20s and beyond, the music of the chill out room found its way out of the club and into the home.

Olive – whose main songwriter Tim Kellett had even worked for the Lighthouse Family – feel part of this rather tepid moment, but there’s a little more happening here. Mood music shares DNA with new age, and as such it’s easy for a group to take a step or two towards the mystical. Olive’s shifting, echoed chords and promise to “stay till the end of time” are as spooky as they are soothing, and the multi-tracked keening at the end is an eerie moment, making the title a warning as much as a reassurance. But the song, in the end, is too slight to make much of its haunting elements: its sense of the uncanny proves a wisp, something easily forgotten in the cold light of, well, whatever you listen to next.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Tom on 2 Mar 2014 #

    Another quick plug for this http://notquiteaspopular.tumblr.com/ – which is where videos of the tracks and relevant side material are being posted (without editorial comment, in general).

  2. 2
    tm on 2 Mar 2014 #

    This was popular still on the radio later that summer when I started my first ever job, washing pots in an Italian restaurant. £2.40 an hour and it gave me terrible, terrible headaches. The kitchen that is, not Olive which I quite liked.

  3. 3
    hardtogethits on 2 Mar 2014 #

    In May 1997 I took a phone call fom an old friend of mine. My immediate reaction upon hearing his voice was to offer my condolences to him, following his favourite football team’s relegation from the Premier League. Sunderland had lost 1-0 to Wimbledon , a few days before, on the final day of the season, and under absurd circumstances had fallen foul of another of Coventry City’s great escape acts.

    “Aw, I don’t care man, me sister’s number one!” he responded.

    I’m sure my response must’ve been “Eh?” – but I was so surprised I don’t remember exactly how I encouraged him to explain himself. But explain himself he did.

    “That Olive record, that went in at number one last week? That’s our Ruth-Ann”.

    This must have prompted a further reaction. I imagine I swore, heartily and repeatedly, with a mixture of joy and disbelief.

    I’d not seen this coming. Over the years, my friend had said his sister was a great singer – and he’d recounted a particular episode where, hearing the singing from her bedroom he thought he was listening to a Rickie Lee Jones tape. I never doubted that – my friend just isn’t the sort to exaggerate. But obviously I did wonder how good. And here was the answer.

    This number one comes from the time between two dominating chart forces.

    It came after the era when a new chart act would have to climb its way to the top of the chart (1952 – 1994); now, it was possible for an act to spend its first week in the Top 40 at number one – even if the act and the record were relatively unheralded by TV and radio.

    And it came before the era when chart acts would repeatedly be manufactured in public on national TV (2001+)

    And yet in this spell between the eras, its remarkable how very few UK bands – once the dominant form of chart act – made their top 40 debut at number one. DJs did it. Solo acts did it. Singing groups did it. But not many bands. But Olive did. No ITV1 or BBC1 to propel them there, either.

    No matter how transient they were, Olive’s story is a fairly unique one. A story of the extraordinary talent of ordinary people.

    To me, it’s a complete fairy tale. 10.

  4. 4
    Steve Mannion on 2 Mar 2014 #

    After its initial stall just outside the top 40 the previous year I think this is another case of a subsequent remix having a very strong hand in its second life – in this case the remix by Steve Osborne and Paul Oakenfold which starts off as a more stripped down Orbital-y version of the original before launching into the signature epic trance style Oakie became a figurehead for, establishing himself as the archetypal jet-setting superstar DJ in a superclub era getting paid many thousands of pounds per set.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCyaP76w_8I

    Unlike ‘Professional Widow’ it wasn’t a remix already available with the original release but I certainly remember it as inescapable throughout the rest of the year in the same way BBE’s ‘Seven Days And One Week’ had been in ’96 and probably the best thing Oakie did since the remix of Happy Mondays ‘Hallelujah’.

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 3 Mar 2014 #

    this reminds me of a slowed down version of “It’s a fine day” by Opus III – the come down after the high – also reminiscent of William Orbit’s work with Beth Orton from a few years earlier . I like it.

  6. 6
    Alan not logged in on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Love this, and loved it when Tinchy Stryder reused it a few months before Naughty Boy/Sandé/Wiley reused the White Town track in a similar manner.

    Leftfield “Original” had been ubiquitous at 95 festivals. This was or seemed to me to be the late 96/97 equivalent — though again (like Pro-Widow) I’d forgotten why the prolonged life and revival (and I don’t even recall the Oakenfold remix Steve links there). However my brain might be confused by having seen them perform this at the Brighton Essential Festival in 97, which the internet tells me must have been either during or right after it was number 1. Coo.

    Another standout track in this vein, Lamb’s Gorecki (a 10), made an imperceptible dent in the charts 2 months earlier than this finally hitting the top.

    8 no 9 (changed my mind)

  7. 7
    Kinitawowi on 3 Mar 2014 #

    To finish off squaring the circle – you mentioned new age; Ruth-Ann Boyle’s next work with was with Enigma on their The Screen Behind The Mirror album, and it’s fair to say that she knocked Gravity Of Love completely out of the park.

    Enigma, EBTG, Lighthouse Family. All music that I’d rather listen to than this, I’m afraid. 3.

  8. 8
    Weej on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Hm, quite liked this at the time and it still sounds pretty good now – those backward synths, and Ruth-Ann’s excellent, understated performance. It’s a low-key track though, it’s true, and it doesn’t do much to stand out, but that doesn’t have to be a fault. There’s room in the world for this kind of thing, and while it’s not worth more than a 7 I’d absolutely rather listen to it than Enigma, EBTG or The Lighthouse Family.

    Good call on Gorecki, Alan at #6, BTW.

  9. 9
    mapman132 on 3 Mar 2014 #

    This got a smidgen of US airplay that fall and peaked at #56. It had been a while since I heard it and I couldn’t figure out which of the three music videos and multiple remixes was the definitive one so I listened to a bunch of them the other night. I don’t love it, but I do like it enough for 7/10.

  10. 10
    Auntie Beryl on 3 Mar 2014 #

    The Oliveblokes had previously been in Simply Red and Nightmares On Wax, and in the tiny intersection of that Venn diagram lies You’re Not Alone. Polite, bland Radio 2 90s easy listening with enough dread seeping in via the synth lines to distract. It’s not terrible or memorable. FIVE.

    Another vote for Lamb’s superb Gorecki, which led me to buying wire a wodge of classical music over the following couple of years. Would have been a ten from me as well.

  11. 11
    PurpleKylie on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I really like this song, this is one of the best no.1s of the 90s for me. I don’t remember this at the time, I was 9 years old and still fairly new to the UK at this point (my family relocated from NZ in October 1996) so I wasn’t really in tune with British pop culture in the first year of living here until I discovered the Spice Girls (cringe). Anyway, I have a soft spot for songs that have an atmosphere or have a sentiment that grabs me which this song achieves, and I have a nostalgic soft spot for 90s electro-pop. 9.

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 3 Mar 2014 #

    The space-filling, thumb-twiddling verse really lets the song down, because the hook is terrific and the chorus vocal decidedly eerie.

    I wouldn’t have guessed they were from the north east – I’d have laid good money on Surrey. There’s something quite Guildford or Godalming about this.

  13. 13
    Cumbrian on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Not loads to say about this one. It’s alright but not much more – the chorus is quite hooky though and was something I was able to recall before I pressed play on it. Decent enough.

    That pulsing synth hook sounds like Moby – Play, which won’t trouble the top on Popular but, in 18 Popular months time, was absolutely everywhere and the sound definitely reminds me of that (don’t own any Moby though, so don’t know whether he used similar sounds on his earlier records – though I am aware one of those records is a vegan metal record or something (?) so unlikely to be a sound on that record I suppose).

  14. 14
    Izzy on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I do like this, for all the reasons cited above – bar comment no.3, which is a lovely story. It’s also got a bit of Faithless about it I’d say. The whole chill-out-goes-pop nexus is quite a pleasing pop current. I was going to lament its getting blander as time went by, but by definition it must have been bland to start with.

    Anyway the slightly spooky minor mood, heavy delay on the synths, plus a nice vocal, raise this pretty high for me. (8)

  15. 15
    punctum on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Manchester again, and the number one which the Durutti Column helped enable. Both keyboardist/trumpeter Tim Kellett (please note – NOT “Tim Keenan”) and singer Ruth-Ann Kelly worked with Vini Reilly before joining up with Robin Taylor-Firth, on a busman’s holiday from Sheffield’s Nightmares On Wax, to form Olive. Although their general musical tenor was that of a pasteurised Morcheeba – polite variants on trip hop with a long-term eye on Radio 2 – “You’re Not Alone” was strikingly different and proved to be their moment, even though it took a Northern Radio 1 broadcaster the best part of a year of dogged airplay, as well as the band applying some remixing, to make it a hit.

    But when I first heard it on the abovementioned Northern broadcaster’s show in 1996 – in its original and best form, as it appears on their Extra Virgin album – I was immediately struck by its difference. For the first verse there is almost nothing save Kelly’s uncertain voice; only remote bleeps with occasional bursts of squalling interference, trying to contact the uncontactable. Then Kellett’s grandly emotional and oceanic OMD string synth chord sequence cuts through in jagged signals as she sings “You’re not alone, I’ll wait ’til the end of time.” There is a four-bar pause before the drum n’ bass lite beats skittle their way into the picture and the chorus becomes grander, near hymnal. The subject is nearly the oldest of number one song subjects, the reluctant, temporary parting with reinforced faith that their love will be strengthened and their eventual reunion will be joyous (“I will not falter, though/I’ll hold on ’til you’re home/Safely back where you belong/And see how our love has grown” – Kelly taking that “grown” and making it sound like fully-formed pink gladioli springing out of the formerly dry earth) – it was the subject of the second number one single, Jo Stafford’s “You Belong To Me,” and a subject which evidently still spoke deeply to many; in a nineties context, the performance sounded like an ecstatic reaffirmation of unshakeable faith, desire and patience.

  16. 16
    anto on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Moody and rather gorgeous. I really don’t hear anything trip-hoppy in it, and very little of the Lighthouse Family. I also prefer it to ‘Missing’.

  17. 17
    anto on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Moody and rather gorgeous. I really don’t hear anything trip-hoppy in it, and very little of the Lighthouse Family. I also prefer it to ‘Missing’.

  18. 18
    Rory on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Surprised to see people describing this as unmemorable, because I could instantly recall it when I saw the title, despite never owning it; it had a decent amount of radio play in Australia, even though it peaked at number 40 there. The 4:15 radio edit is the one I remember, not the Oakenfold/Osborne remix or the original album mix. The radio edit loses some of the sense of development of the album mix, so I wouldn’t score it too highly, but there’s certainly enough for a 6.

    As with Gary’s previous, there’s a Madonna connection for Olive too: they contributed to one of her movie soundtracks (which we’ll encounter here, though not for their track on it) and then signed them to Maverick for their second album.

  19. 19
    Tom on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Hm – wonder where I got “Keenan” from?

  20. 20
    anto on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #16/17 – I concur.

  21. 21
    James BC on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Huge gulf between chorus and verse quality here. Among recent number ones, only Simply Red’s Fairground springs to mind as comparable for that.

  22. 22
    ciaran on 3 Mar 2014 #

    This sounds very similar to Not Over Yet by Grace. Enjoyable then and still the same now. Up there with White Town in terms of pop that seemed so normal yet distant in Popular 97. And both one hit wonders! 7

    The most surprising chart topper of the year I would say.

  23. 23
    Tom on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Edited the name – thanks for the correction Punctum.

    I am out of step with a bunch of commenters here – I’ll go back to the song and see if it comes across as less ineffectual. Grace is a good comparison point, “Gorecki” I don’t hear quite as much – but, like “Missing”, those are both tracks which seem a lot more substantial and purposeful than Olive. Which I get might be the point – what I like about “You’re Not Alone” is its mood not its events, but the idea that this is a contender for the 90s best is really startling! Still, that’s the fun of Popular and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Their second LP was called Trickle, which is about the most underwhelming album name I can imagine.

  24. 24
    leveret on 3 Mar 2014 #

    The disconnection between the off-kilter synth pulse and the eerie chorus melody acts as a hook in its own right in this. I was never fond of polite Morcheeba-type trip-hoppish stuff and am not particularly fond of EBTG’s ‘Missing’ but this track manages to find an atmosphere of its own and transcend the usual limitations of this style. Worth at least a 7.

  25. 25
    Izzy on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Chillout-style breakbeats, as here, sound very generic to me. Where do they come from? Is there some Al Foster sample that’s been repeated ad infintium, or are they individually programmed with subtleties I’m missing?

  26. 26
    Alan on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I didn’t mean to make a ‘this sounds like’ comparison point with Gorecki. More like a ‘also going on in this genre’ fixed point for orientation. Compared to Gorecki most songs sound sleight! And I’d agree this is sleight, but memorable and with a move into new-age ‘feels’ as it moves up near the end.

  27. 27
    thefatgit on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I’m with Rory on this one. Easy to recall, but not something I invested in. By this stage, I was only buying albums anyway, but still had an interest in what was happening on the Singles Chart.

    This is what I would tentatively call drivetime dance music. Not a club banger, but takes its cues from what the clubs are playing. Radio-friendly, smoothed out and non-threatening. Compared to the previous #1, it’s a reassertion that love will wait and will be stronger as a result. I like it when #1 records talk to each other.

  28. 28
    unlogged mog on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I love this song, I spent hours pursuing it across the radio when it was big to fill an entire side of a C90 with it.

  29. 29
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Hmm, I suppose this is a bit watered down/mainstream radio fare alongside the dance side, but it is a good example of it, and has a haunting aspect that is rather appealing. I rather like it though.

    Re the Lighthouse Family (they are still around, really?): inappropriate tweet of the day https://twitter.com/lighthousefamly/status/439914901403074560

  30. 30
    Tom on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #27 You can nearly always get number ones to talk to each other :) (I sometimes try and avoid it, sometimes give in to the narrativising urge). Easy enough with this and the next one too.

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