Another number one, the first of 1955. A little personal colour here. I am a Valentine’s baby, and my teddy bear (a dog in a flight jacket, repaired so many times he’s like Trigger’s broom in Only Fools and horses) was called Dickie Valentine.
So I was always predisposed to like this one. It’s great, and it features the Stargazers of the fantastic drunk jam, I See the Moon, reviewed previously.
So, I now have 15 years of Now That’s What I Call Music albums done, and a huge spread sheet detailing my opinions on every one of these. 1407 songs, by 715 different artists. Working on a 4 minutes per song average (which is pretty fast and loose, but it’ll do), that works out at 3 days 22 hours spent listening to pop music. As a big fan of big data, that at least throws up some interesting results- I may add some extra detail for next time, to add some more analytical joy. But for now, it’s just about quality, and the various winners and losers this time around.
So firstly, who sits astride the 80’s and 90’s as a pop colossus? To qualify for this, I set a limit at a minimum of 6 songs featured, and then based it on the tried and true Groom Method™ of rating to work out how well they had done*. They are presented in the time honoured tradition of reverse order, as per the Top of the Pops act, 1973. Feel free to whistle the riff from Whole Lotta Love as you read this. And the winners are as follows;
10) Crowded House & The Human League – 75% from 6 songs
Laid back New Zealand soft rock or 80’s electropop? Does it matter when both are so damned tasty?
9) Tina Turner – 77% from 13 songs
Down four places from number 5, but still hanging on through sheer ferocity. A near permanent fixture in this chart, and deservedly so!
8) Spice Girls & Erasure – 79% from 7 and 12 songs respectively
A new entry for Girl Power here, and no move from Erasure, coming in at number 8 again. Good lord the Spice Girls were really quite good!
7) Queen- 80% from 15 songs
Down one place from number 6, but even by sheer volume (sound and quantity wise) Queen are unstoppable. They don’t even need to tell you not to stop them. Almost renders one of their best songs redundant.
6) Beautiful South (inc. Housemartins) & Duran Duran – 85% from 13 and 10 songs respectively
Down two from number 4 last time, but a great showing for Hull and for Birmingham, from two distinctive pop bands.
5) Oasis- 88% from 8 songs
A massive new entry for Oasis, who due to the cut off point, have only released great music so far. No cocaine induced slide into half arsery yet.
4) Neneh Cherry- 92% from 6 songs
Down one, despite an increase in quality. Everything is still getting better pop wise. Games are being upped!
3) Blur- 93% from 7 songs
Another new entry, surely the top one… Looks like Blur vs. Oasis has been decided… or has it? I think the answer was always they’re both great, but Liam Gallagher is a moronic divot, and Damon Albarn a pretentious div. Graham and Noel are the best though.
2) Pet Shop Boys- 95% from 10 songs
No move. No drop in quality. What a band!
1) Radiohead- 100% from 6 songs
Straight in at the top. Not a pop band, but popular nonetheless. Still strange that such odd, downbeat music would ever get this big!
Not quite enough music released to make the top 10, but still yet to release a bad song are;
5 Songs- KLF, Pulp, Salt ‘n’ Pepa
4 Songs- Fatboy Slim, Massive Attack, Meatloaf, R Kelly, Take That
3 Songs- Bjork, En Vogue, Heaven 17, Morrissey, Peter Gabriel, REM, Transvision Vamp, Wildchild
I have listened to 116 songs by the combined horrors of the below list. I do this so you don’t have to. You can donate by cash for my therapy, if you like.
10) Chaka Demus, Kim Wilde & Status Quo – 40% from 4 songs
9) George Michael, INXS, OMD – 33% from 6 songs
8) Wet Wet Wet- 33% from 9 songs
7) Simple Minds- 31% from 8 songs
6) Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney & Roxette – 30% from 5 songs
5) Boyzone – 30% from 10 songs
4) Culture Club, Level 42 & Louise – 25% from 6 songs
3) Lighthouse Family & Soul 2 Soul – 8% from 6 songs
2) Peter Andre – 0% from 5 songs
1) Paul Weller (inc. Style Council) – 0% from 9 songs
Yes. Peter Andre is catching up with Paul Weller. A damning indictment of mankind. In fairness to the above acts, at least half have at least one great song. Apart from Weller and Andre, the remedial art group of pop.
Keeping it short, only two acts outside of the shitlist above have released three songs without any of them being redeemable. Brother Beyond and D-Ream, I salute your uselessness.
1) Phil Collins (inc. Genesis)- 16 songs
A week after the seventh seal is broken, and the world is destroyed, and mankind gone from the earth, Phil Collins will record a snarky pop number about it
2) Queen (inc. Freddie Mercury)- 15 songs
Probably not going to increase from here, sadly. I mean, unless some of the awful stuff they did with alternative frontpeople gets in. It really better not.
3) Tina Turner & The Beautiful South (inc. The Housemartins)- – 13 songs
Sarcasm and style never go out of fashion.
4) Communards (inc Bronski Beat and Jimmy Somerville) & Erasure– 12 songs
Between these two and the Pet Shop Boys, you could make a whole double CD of great, groundbreaking gay pop, and I would buy it so hard.
5) Eternal & UB40- 11 songs
Reggae and soul, done well is always going to sell.
As you can see from the above low quality jpegs (I should do this as a Powerpoint presentation! Everybody LOVES Powerpoint presentations!) it’s not been a good 3.3 years. A slow slide from a peak in late 1995, showing the exciting new scenes of the early 90’s slowly dying away, with little but bad fluff to replace them. Big Beat, trance and R&B sustain a slight recovery as we come into 1998, but all a bit bleak really. Still, we approach a new millennium, who knows what will change there?
It’s also ruined all the rules I set out previously, which is deeply frustrating.
If you look at the quality over time, even that’s taken a hit from it’s steady rise since 1983.
The only conclusion that can be drawn, I think, is that beyond OK Computer, 1997 was a TERRIBLE year for music.
One Last Top 5
This time, being the top 5 Now! albums so far, and a few tracks that explain why.
- Now 7 (1986) – 66%
Pet Shop Boys- Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money), Housemartins- Happy Hour, Peter Gabriel- Sledgehammer
2. Now 32 (1995) – 64%
McAlmont and Butler- Yes, Blur- Country House, Coolio- Gangsta’s Paradise
3. Now 27 (1994)- 64%
Enigma- Return to Innocence, Doop– Doop, Tori Amos- Cornflake Girl
4. Now 33 (1996)- 63%
Luniz- I Got 5 On It, Pulp- Disco 2000, Oasis- Don’t Look Back in Anger
5. Now 17 (1990)- 63%
Beats International- Dub Be Good to Me, Primal Scream- Loaded, Orbital- Chime
See you in another ten!
* The Groom Method™- A great song is given one point, average half a point, and a crap song, nil points. This is then divided by the number of songs and multiplied by 100 to give a percentage score. You just wasted 20 seconds of your life reading this.
So this week, I’ve been all over the cheaper cuts of meat for some reason (three days till payday!!!). Often these have a bad rep, but with a little longer cooking times, and a few of the right ingredients, you can’t go wrong!
Cheap cuts are generally poorly served by the ’15 minute meal’ mentality. They’ll go tough and horrible, and all the flavour in the world can’t compensate for having to endure a full body workout just to cut through the damned thing. Slow cooking draws out the fats and causes the muscle tissue to fall apart, resulting in tender, delicious meat.
This dish is a Vietnamese stew or curry, depending on your mood. Vietnamese food seems to exist in a perfect middle ground between the umami richness of Chinese food, and the fresh, fragrant fireiness of Thai cuisine, and as a result, it really works for me!
- 750g Pork shoulder steak or cheap chops
- 4 hard boiled eggs
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1 tbsp. white sugar
- Black pepper
- 2 shallots or a small onion
- Dried chillies, to your own tastes
- 1 can coconut milk
- Handful fresh coriander or holy basil (sometimes called Thai basil), to serve
In a small bowl, mix the garlic, finely diced, the fish sauce, sugar and a dash of pepper, then marinade the pork in this for at least 30 minutes.
Hard boil the eggs too, so they’re nice and cool for an hour or so’s time, and easy to peel.
When your marinating is done, dice the onion, and chop the chilli up, and gently soften these in a large saucepan with a lid for 5-10 minutes. When you’re done, increase the heat slightly, and add the steaks and all of the marinade, and seal the meat. Pour over the coconut milk, bring this to the boil, stirring all the ingredients together, then reduce to the very lowest possible simmer*. Put the lid on, and leave for an hour, returning for a stir and a curious look about once every 20 minutes or so.
After an hour, remove the lid, add the eggs, and increase the temperature very slightly. Give a stir every 5 minutes or so, until the coconut milk has turned to a rich, thick gravy, around half an hour or so.
You can eat it as is, but at this stage, I like to remove the steaks and egg, dice them up more finely and stir them back into the sauce.
Serve over a bed of noodles, dressed with a little coriander or holy basil. Rich, coconut sauce, tender melting meat. Proper comfort food.
- As Julia Child points out in the famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the French have about 10 words for different kinds of boil. We have two, simmer and boil, which is a failing of our language. And only one, beginning with a ‘C’ and not usable in polite society to describe our feelings for Piers Morgan. Ours is truly the language of the repressed! Anyway… in this instance, the surface of the coconut milk should be barely disturbed by a small chain of bubbles, nothing more.
Another number one. This time, a Jaunty, Scott Joplin style ragtime number. This was Christmas number one in 1954, and it didn’t even win the X Factor!
I just love this one.
This is a great blog, written by a lad local to me and less than half my age. If I could write half as eloquently as he does about politics about anything, I’d be happy! Well worth a follow.
The left these days seems to be in a very precarious situation. The right-wing media say that the left is full of ranting loonies, austerity is flourishing allowing the rich to get rich, and the major leftist parties of old have moved towards a center-right, austerity lite, authoritarian position. This is clearly not what the left wants. So what has happened?
It starts in ’94, with the death of John Smith and the resulting election of Tony Blair as Labour leader. It’s very likely that Labour would have won the ’97 election with John Smith. A week before his death they smashed the Tories in the council election. People were tired of the Conservative Party. His untimely death, however, paved the way for Tony Blair and his followers to morph the Labour party into a center-right party. As the Blairites took over, chasing the center ground, the Overton window moved…
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Released- 22nd November 1999
I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray. But when I woke up this morning I could have sworn it was judgement day. In other news, Gary Glitters career is over.
I got a job in a record shop. In a small town, this must make me the coolest 15 year old ever. My first shift, I spend my whole pay on a Jeff Buckley import. They are smart guys, I reinvest nearly all my pay back into the shop every weekend for about five years.
If I had to save one track from this album, and the rest were kicked out for trying to shoplift a DMX album, that track would be… Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer, because I’m feeling soft this morning.
Track by Track Breakdown
Britney Spears – “…Baby One More Time”
Irresistible pop magic, thought nobody would play that video in the age of Operation Yewtree. She also cannot pronounce the word ‘baby’ in the verses. I assume she’s talking about Lord Baden Powell, founder of the scouts…
Shania Twain – “That Don’t Impress Me Much”
I’ve never had crabs, but I imagine the experience is akin to hearing this song after 16 years. It’s still very irritating.
Lou Bega – “Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of…)”
So inextricably linked with England winning the Ashes in 2005 (it’s a cricket thing- non UK ed) that I can’t help but love it.
Eiffel 65 – “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”
It’s not average, or so bad it’s good. It manages to be both incredibly crap and incredibly brilliant at the same time. It’s Schrodinger’s pop song, existing simultaneously in both states.
I haven’t cooked anything new this week, so here’s an old archive triple bill of Indian food. I’m cooking this right now!
Yeah, there’s a lot of recipes today- I’ve been a little light on posts but not on actual cooking of food and stuff. These are all yeast and dairy free, thanks to the top tips of The Intolerant Gourmet by Anna Kendrick. Unlike most books for allergies, this book isn’t full of complete crap, but genuinely tasty ideas and clever substitutions.
Three recipes here, but all together they make everything you need from the takeaway, save for the naan, as I am a snob in regards to these, and will only settle for a Keema Naan, cooked in a tandoor oven. Unsurprisingly, I don’t have a clay fired oven at home.
Chicken Rogan Josh
Rogan is a great curry for all tastes. Everybody can live with a tomatoey base, and the almonds give it a lovely sweet note.
I had a cold when I made mine, so went for sinus…
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Released- 19th July 1999
Billy Joel quits pop (it doesn’t stick), Marilyn Manson gets blamed for a high school shooting, and Red Hot Chili Peppers make a successful return, by stopping making good music.
I get my first summer job. I’m working in a chip shop, for a Chinese couple. I make the princely sum of £2.80 an hour, and largely spend my time reheating pots of sauce and flipping burgers. It’s definitely not where I found my love of cooking, and at age 15, I spend a lot of time failing to meet girls because I stink of chip fat.
If I had to save one track from this album, and the rest were to be deep fried in batter and served to the Scottish, that track would be… a dead heat between S Club 7 and The Wiseguys… I’ll give it to S Club for being more pure pop.
Track by Track Breakdown
Martine McCutcheon – “Perfect Moment”
This was a pointless answer on Pointless the other night, which is probably the first time this song has justified it’s existence to me.
Boyzone – “You Needed Me”
I’m not a monster, and they have had a couple of good singles over their career. But this is what I think of when I want to hate them. Duller than a documentary about Piers Morgan.
Backstreet Boys – “I Want It That Way”
Good lord, I never expected these chaps to have such a good run with me. Again with a great pop ballad. That may or may not be about non traditional penatrative sex.
Shanks & Bigfoot – “Sweet Like Chocolate”
As Eddard Stark said, ‘Garage is coming.’ This is fairly pedestrian, lifted up by the newness of the 2 step beat.
S Club 7 – “Bring It All Back”
Great gallumphing positivity pop! I literally can’t find fault with it. It’s 3 minutes of joyful upliftingness.
Did you know sugar thermometers only cost about £3.50? I was not aware of this fact until a week or so ago, but is this not brilliant?
I hope that if you try these recipes you’ll agree that this might be the best money you’ll ever spend!
The whole thing was inspired by having to pick up a lemon last week. I got a hankering for something sweet, and bought a bag of fudge. It was chewy. Vaguely reminiscent of something that might be fudge. It was horrible. I like fudge to have that slight sugary grain, like the Scottish slab, and to be so rich you feel like you may have to call an ambulance to deal with the heart attack that will happen soon after you consume three too many pieces.
And I must be honest. It went wrong at first. I had a dish full of sloppy caramel that wouldn’t set. If this happens, just scrape it back in the pan, add a few tablespoons of water and redo it a couple of degrees higher. Second time lucky.
Inspired by my first success, a few nights later, I made honeycomb. Or cinder toffee if you’re northern. I love Crunchies. I love the Aussie version, Violet Crumble even more. The crunch, and the buttery sweetness are honestly one of the greatest flavours on the planet.
You can use a dairy free spread in the place of the butter too, but in both recipes, the fat content of the butter is needed for it to set properly, so do not toy with low fat options. You don’t eat this stuff to get thin!
Anyway, onwards. Satisfy your sweet tooth!
You will need a sugar thermometer, and a watchful eye
- 100g butter
- 550g soft brown sugar
- 200g golden syrup
- 350ml double cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- a dash of salt
Add the butter, cut up small to melt more easily, the sugar, the golden syrup and the cream to a saucepan over a low heat, and stir together until it’s all melted together. Obviously you need to keep watching and being careful not to let it settle and start burning.
Once it’s all mixed, bring the heat just below medium, and allow the mixture to heat up to 116c, stirring as little as possible.
Once it hits the magic temperature, remove from the heat, beat in the vanilla and salt. Keep beating the mixture till it stops being so shiny and starts to dull.
Pour into a greased or lined tin, about 20 by 20cm would be best. I used the bottom of two loaf tins!
Allow to sit for about an hour, then cut lines in to divide it into squares, or your preferred fudge shape. Put in the fridge for another 40 minutes or so, then feast!
Before I start, the effect of bicarbonate of soda at the end is like magic. But be careful. It’s like tasty napalm at that moment, so DO NOT touch unless you really like having burn scars.
- 165g demerara sugar
- 165g caster sugar
- 60ml golden syrup
- 4 tbsp water
- 15g butter
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
Again, put everything but the bicarbonate of soda in a saucepan, over a low heat until it’s all melted and mixed. Turn up the heat a little, to off medium (for me, this is just before a gas hob starts ‘whispering’).
Allow to heat up to 138c, stirring to ensure that the temperature is roughly even throughout. It’ll go slow then fast, because physics. For some reason the heat seems to gain momentum. Make sure you have your bicarbonate of soda to hand- you’ll need quick access shortly.
As soon as it hits 138c, remove from the heat, and immediately stir in the tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda and stir. The sugar mixture will bubble and swell excitingly, like you imagined secondary school chemistry would be like. Stir well, to avoid salty pockets of soda, then pour into a well greased tin to set. After 30 minutes, you could cut it into squares, but it’s much more fun to let if set, transfer it to a plate, then smash it up with something heavy. I used the tray itself!
Otherwise known as the most important 6 seconds in music, this drum break has been used on over 1800 commercially released songs. The Amen break is a 6 second drum break, from a 60’s cut by a group called The Winstons, from their 60’s cut, a cover of Amen Brother, a traditional gospel song, recorded in an afternoon as a B side.
The break itself is pretty funky, and has a nice syncopated beat in the last bar, and went largely unnoticed for years.
In the late 70’s, the block party scene that gave birth to hip hop came about. At these parties, DJs like Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc would look for great breaks for dancing, and later emceeing over, get two copies, and spin them into each other to stretch these short breaks out for minutes of fun. Breaks like this were the holy grail for these DJs, and having one your rivals didn’t would give you an edge.
This eventually gave birth to sample culture, and the foundation of hip-hop. In the mid to late 80’s, acts who were there ain the early days of hip hop would know these beats, and use them under their tracks.
But after early use by Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Mantronix, the first huge track to use this sample was probably NWA’s 1988 game changer Straight Outta Compton.
But so far, so standard. James Brown’s Funky Drummer has been sampled on plenty of hip hop songs, from Public Enemy’s Rebel Without a Cause, to Bart Simpson’s Do the Bartman.
The sample then took on a second life as rave culture grew in England, and in breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass and jungle especially. Name a jungle track, and it’s 50-50 it will be the amen break, perhaps cut up, but the same nonetheless. The syncopated snare hit in that last bar gives it that extra energy and looseness, which makes it just that touch more hard, more mad than other samples.
And then, as more people heard about it, it spread further and further. Indie bands have used it. Metal bands have used it. The artists formerly known as PJ and Duncan have used it. It’s the beat to the theme of Futurama. It’s everywhere!
So here are my essential Amen break tracks. If you disagree, feel free to listen to any of the other 1800 tracks that sample this classic!
As a small postscript, some kind and lovely person, on finding out that The Winstons had never received a penny for all this sampling, started a crowdfunder to get people to recognise their contribution to music, and raised $24,000 to say thank you.
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