The biggest achievement for any British pop star is to make it as a successful artist over in America, and the majority – although Godly to us in the UK – never quite tickle Uncle Sam’s fancy.
But there are some who do make it across the pond…
Lisa Stansfield is the Lancashire lass with the soul voice. Her success in both the UK and the USA, in the late 80s and early 90s, was almost identical – something which few British artists can claim to have.
Few bands that were part of the Britpop explosion of the 1990s were as integral to the genre as Blur.
The six albums Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree released between 1991 and 1999 (not forgetting 2003’s Think Tank) varied dramatically in stylistic terms. Their most drastic reinvention came between the baggy abandon of 1991’s Leisure and the quintessential Englishness of 1993’s Modern Life is Rubbish.
Anyway, enough of that. Were you Blur or were you Oasis? A smart-arse would probably say ‘Neither. I preferred Suede.’ (Suede were something special, mind).
Ironically, whilst Oasis were trying so earnestly to be the Beatles, it was in fact Blur who came closest to the creative thrust of the Fab Four.
To pin a Blur badge to your school jumper suggested you were of an altogether artier inclination; someone who had a sense of humour and who enjoyed that mad eccentricity which defines all that is good and English.
To scrawl Oasis on your school books, though, proposed an appreciation of ‘Classic Rock’, football and scowling.
Me? I was always an Oasis boy but I was dragging my knuckles on the floor back then. In time I’ve grown to appreciate Blur’s inventiveness much, much more. Plus, Girls and Boys (a song which perfectly distils the tacky shag-athon of the 18-30 holiday) is one of the great British singles of the last twenty years.
The two bands’ scrap for domestic dominance (dubbed ‘The Battle of Britpop’ by a salivating NME) was standard copy for the music press during the mid-1990s. This was a tale of chart dominance which embraced the whole of Britain and everyone had an opinion. (my gran thought the Oasis boys needed a good wash.)
In Blur’s defence, they did little to aggravate the situation. Instead it was the Gallagher brothers (ever reliable for a mindless, controversial remark) who gleefully fanned the flames.
The Battle of Britpop came to a head in August 1995 when the two groups released singles on the same day. Blur’s Country House, a wry Kinks-esque jaunt, pipped the more meat and potatoes rock of Oasis’ Roll With It to the number one spot, and with that bragging rights in classrooms across Britain were settled.
Blur’s music provided a perfect soundtrack to the joie de vivre attitude of the mid-1990s.
In times of nostalgic reflection it seemed as if their music played out constantly over blazing hot summer days whilst I ran riot over the park, stuffing my face with pick ‘n mix from the newsagents (you could get so much for 30p back then, couldn’t you?). And is it me or were the scuzzy streets alive with the sound of Stereotypes, Charmless Man and Coffee and TV on an almost daily basis?
The four members have since gone on to other endeavours with Albarn’s Gorillaz the most notable project, but back in the 1990s Blur were that rare thing: an intelligent, opinionated group who infiltrated the charts. They were part of the last batch of such pop stars; playful, free of PR restraints and, gasp!, carrying a bit of personality.
If you happen to find yourself part of a conversation discussing the greatest power ballads or a rock anthems of all time and you don’t name a single Bon Jovi track then you need to read on and educate yourself…
And if like me you are more than aware of this fantastic band and totally get ‘it’, then also read on, if only to revel in how much good taste in music you have!
So… Just in case you hadn’t got the hint from my two opening paragraphs, Bon Jovi are pretty much one of the greatest rock bands in the world. And what makes them even greater is the fact they’re still going strong today (they’re still good-looking too!)
Has anyone had that moment when a song comes on the radio, or starts playing when you’re sat in a restaurant and your mum suddenly shouts: ‘Ooh I remember this one! This band is so cool?’ Yeah? Not just me then? *sigh of relief*
This sums up Human League, but the amazing thing is that I also agree with mum on this one. Human League were one of the coolest British bands of the 80s AND they are still going strong today.
Inspiration can hit at the most peculiar moment, often out of the blue and usually out of nothing at all. But then there’s the kind of great inspiration that’s genuine, honest and sincere, the type that mirrors the truth on all angles it could only come from one’s soul. It’s almost like this inspiration has been crying out loud all this time to be heard, voiced and materialised. When it comes to Alanis Morissette’s groundbreaking album jagged Little Pill (1995), you could go with that… Or you could just go with a deadly wrath of a woman after a very painful break-up.
With six huge and defining hits: You Learn, Hand In My Pocket, You Oughta Know, Ironic, Head Over Feet and All I Really Want, never has an album explored the intricacy of being in an adult relationship with lyrics that carved raw, honest emotions, even rib-tickling funny at times.
Brian Harvey, Tony Mortimer, John Hendy and Terry Coldwell. No? Ok, let’s try again… East 17? Yep, thought that might jog your memory.
Signed to London Records (Warner Music Group) and guided by former Pet Shop Boys and Bros manager Tom Watkins, East 17 had a heavy presence on the UK music scene between1991-1997.
And whether you want to admit it or not, these dudes, who deemed themselves far too ‘street’ to be called a boy band even though they were totally a boy band, and were named after their Walthamstow postcode, had some tunes! And when I say that I’m talking absolute hold your arms out in a shape of a ‘T’ type tunes. From Deep, All Around The World, House of Love, (Shai cover) If You Ever, Stay Another Day, to my most favoured, It’s Alright.
That video, with Harvey’s condom shaped hat and ‘badger on speed’ dance moves… Man the dance moves. Go on, YouTube it, you know you want to. Okay, you’ve twisted my arm, I’ve done if for you – see below!
Everybody has a karaoke song – one they can get up and perform any time any place, verbatim. Admittedly I have a few, all pretty obscure (If you know me, that’s shouldn’t be at all surprising). One of these is Jump performed by Kris Kross, aka braided-haired 13-year-olds Chris ‘Mac Daddy’ Kelly (dark-skinned one) and Chris ‘Daddy Mac’ Smith (light-skinned one).
I don’t even know when I learned all the words to this song. I did play it, along with the whole of their debut album Totally Krossed Out, over and over… And over, when I purchased the freshly released cassette back in 1992! In fairness I was one of four million people who bought the album. These days kids have Willow Smith and Diggy Simmons in the ‘they are so cool and I can’t believe they are my age’ category. In my day it was ABC, Kris Kross and the Boys! But Atlanta-based Kris Kross were a lot less pop than the others. They did that rude boy rap dude stomp in all their videos – you know the one where you wave your hands up and down as you bounce around the place with a mean-ish look on your face? And they wore their ultra-baggy jeans and baseball jerseys back to front, in an effort to create something distinct about their image. Even though they were rappers they could easily get away with doing this because they were kids. It was seen as cute, rather than foolish. In reality it wasn’t anything other than foolish, but it caught on big time as silly fads and kids traditionally go hand-in-hand.
But back to that song I know all the words to… ‘Don’t try and compare us to another bad little fad…’ is the opening line, and in hindsight that was a bit of a premature statement, as these boys were totally a fad and after their second album Da Bomb (which spawned the ragga-tinged Alright featuring Supercat) went platinum they struggled to stay afloat. Their creator and producer; a then 18-year-old Jermaine Dupri also from Atlanta, could only take them so far but with tracks such as Warm It Up, I Missed The Bus and Way Of The Rhyme, on their debut album, he gave them an amazing start. And he didn’t do too badly for himself either as it was the success of Kris Kross which landed him his own label imprint So So Def on Columbia Records. From there he introduced acts such as Da Brat, Lil Bow Wow, Xscape and later Jagged Edge. Jermaine also gained a strong reputation for working well with kid acts and was able to parlay this into getting on board a project by a teenage Usher Raymond, which turned into his multi-platinum breakthrough sophomore album My Way.
I Miss the Old school intern Naomi Phillip’s experience of the band is a little different to mine, mainly because she was only two years old when they came out. She says: ‘I was born in 1990 so I would not consider them to have a direct influence on me… and thank goodness they did not. Their ‘swagger’ was… a lot of things; I’m actually surprised that it even caught on the way that it did. I cannot imagine Lil Bow Wow or Chipmunk, teenage rappers of my generation, doing anything so outrageous like wearing their clothes backwards or having the guts to do such funky dances throughout their videos. But maybe that is what set them apart from all of the other rappers of that era, daring to be different and being fresh and not followers. I guess ‘Inside out really is wiggity wiggity wiggity whack…’
Check out the boys in action below in the official video for Jump, and also a live performance of the popular track.
According to to Wikipedia these days: ‘Chris Kelly runs his own indie label, C.CO. Records, which is based in Atlanta and focuses on developing underground hip-hop and R&B acts. Though rumors had been circulating that he was diagnosed with cancer (based on photos taken of him with several patches of his hair missing), Kelly has gone on the record as saying he suffers from alopecia. Entertainment website Concreteloop.com posted the below picture of Chris, on their site, two years ago.
Chris Smith also works in music; he has completed an album of original material titled Urbane Expressions, yet to be released. Smith also says he’s finished a book of the same title, which includes original poetry, photos, artwork, and short stories.’
I remember first seeing this video on cable TV channel The Box. I was about 15. It was Tupac’s first single as a solo artist (from his debut album 2Pacalypse Now, 1991) and the first time I was really aware of him.
The video and the lyrics really captivated me, and I video-taped it and watched it over and over until I knew all the words. It didn’t hurt that Tupac was fine as hell, and shots of him holding that baby girl are too cute! If you think about it, this video is a mini movie and it tells a similar story to the one that has touched film-goers across the world with the Academy Award-nominated film Precious.
The sudden death of Nate Dogg, on Tuesday March 15th, in a way overshadowed another important and untimely passing of someone a lot closer to home. Old school British reggae singer Smiley Culture, real name David Emmanuel, died instantly from a stab wound to the heart, which occurred during a police raid at his house in Warlingham, Surrey on Tuesday.
According to newspaper reports, the police were acting after two kilos of cocaine were recovered from a drugs mule trying to enter Britain – an incident in which Smiley was allegedly implicated.
It has been reported that Smiley stabbed himself while officers allowed him to go and make a cup of tea. He was 48.
Best known for his mid 80s hit Police Officer (which reached number 12 in the charts in 1985 and went on to sell 160,000 copies), and also his song Cockney Translation, the news was a huge shock to those who grew up listening to his music, which revolved around a mixture of thought-provoking and humorous lyrics delivered in Jamaican patois.
But the explanation of his death is being viewed as suspicious by supporters and family members, and at a press conference in Brixton, south London this week, nephew Merlin Emmanuel expressed:
I woke up this morning to hear the sad news that Nate Dogg, former member of Tha Dogg Pound had passed away yesterday (15th March, 2011) at the age of just 41.
Nate, real name Nathaniel Dwayne Hale, hasn’t been well for a while, having suffered a massive stroke in 2007, and a second one in 2008 (he reportedly died from complications from both), but this was still a big shock and of course a huge loss, not just for his family and friends but to the hip hop community, for which Nate Dogg will forever be embedded in its history.
The classic hooks he crooned for key songs from the genre’s pivotal G-Funk Era (which kicked off in the early 90s as part of the whole Death Row Records movement), including staple classics such as Lil’ Ghetto Boy (Dr Dre’s The Chronic) Ain’t No Fun (Snoop’s Doggystyle), Next Episode (Dr Dre’s Chronic, 2001) and of course global smash Regulate (Warren G’s Regulate… G Funk Era), means he leaves behind a timeless legacy.
Signed to Death Row in his early career, he was certainly known more for his collaborations than his solo work, and throughout his career contributed to over 40 chart singles. His solo work, however, (which encompassed three albums) wasn’t as successful.
In 2001 he familiarised himself with a new generation of rap fans by appearing on Ludacris’ Area Codes. I mean, who else was gonna make that chorus (‘I’ve got hos in different area codes’) sound anything other than vulgar? The same man who had me singing, ‘It Ain’t No Fun if the homies can’t have none’, as a 17-year-old straight-laced female college student, that’s who.
Nate Dogg’s smooth as butter tone could make anything sound like an angel said it, which was a gift, and exactly why the song 21 Questions (2003), from 50 Cent’s debut album Get Rich or die Tryin’, is one of my faves – it’s the chorus, sung so beautifully by Nate, which makes that song for me.
‘Can we get a m**herf***king moment of silence for the small chronic break…’ and for the passing of Nate Dogg. You will be truly missed sir. I Miss The Old School salutes you.