dirty martini

old music for new people

90s brit soul – quality over quantity April 30, 2007

at the turn of the decade, it looked as if uk soul had found an identity. for the most part, artists eschewed the trappings of new jack swing, with its distinctly american, over-produced sound, for a truly local style.


soul ii soul spearheaded this movement, that whilst fiercely british, paid homage to the daisy age, summer of love principles of artists such as de la soul. some stayed true to their soul roots, some moved into dancier territory and others built the foundations of new genres – acid jazz and jungle/drum and bass.


it was looking positive. but as r&b moved into the mainstream in the mid 90s, uk artists gazed enviously at their us counterparts and tried to emulate their success. usually this resulted in a diluted experience that wasn’t street enough for the clubs, yet still too urban for the dinner party set.


these are the ones that survived despite the odds.


ten 90s brit soul survivorsdownload here

shola ama – you’re the one i love – 1996
shola
signed a deal on her 16th birthday that would lead her to become the UK’s most successful r&b female singer in the late 90s. in good rags-to-riches tradition, she was discovered singing at a tube station and released her first single ‘celebrate’ on an independent label in 1995. amusingly, her wikipedia entry declares an addiction to pork pies as a reason for her downfall. when ‘pork pies’ became a euphemism for ‘cocaine’, i’m not sure…





kele le roc – my love – 1999


kele has perhaps become more well known for guest appearances with artists such as basement jaxx than for her solo career. her debut arrived at a time when every r&b single was subjected to the 2-step remix treatment and the uk garage mix of ‘my love’ is one of the best known examples of the genre and certainly eclipsed this underappreciated ignorants‘ r&b mix at the time.


caron wheeler – i adore you – 1992

a stalwart of the uk black music scene since her days in teenage lovers rock band brown sugar in the mid 70s. in the late 80s caron hooked up with legendary dj jazzie b and the rest is history. her role in soul ii soul laid the foundations for a renewed solo career and her album ‘uk blak‘ was released in 1990 to critical acclaim. ‘i adore you’ is her best known solo track, from the 1992 soundtrack ‘mo’ money‘.


elisha la verne – i may be single – 1996

elisha seemed destined for bigger things when she arrived in 1996. like many other artists, she has found enduring success in japan. i can remember a pa she did at my local club in 1996 that was met with cool indifference by the predominantly house-loving crowd. if she’d arrived a few years later things could have been quite different.


tongue ‘n’ cheek – nobody – 1990

tongue’n’cheek’s initial outings, covers of cheryl lynn and patrice rushen disco-era classics, were met enthusiastically after the foundations for brit soul were laid by soul ii soul. this track, remixed from an 1988 original, had a new jack swing feel to it and was far more interesting. tongue’n’cheek suffered somewhat from being difficult to pigeonhole as either a soul or dance music act.


kenny thomas – thinking about your love – 1991

cheeky chappy kenny thomas charmed his way in to the british record buying public’s hearts with a cover of the gap band’s ‘outstanding’, together with winsome video in which he strolled through an east end market. this track was another cover, but not many people realised at the time. he also covered the force md’s ‘tender love’ as if it was his own soon after, capitalising on the fact that mainstream britain knew fuck all about soul music until quite recently. fair play to him.


celetia – missing your love – 1995

with aaliyah, monica and brandy on the scene, it was decided that the UK needed its own underage r&b starlet. enter brixon girl celetia martin, sort of. her debut album failed to ignite, with the then 14 year old slammed for her raunchy lyrics. sometimes i wonder what these critics were doing when they were 14 – knitting? it wasn’t really that shocking… her second album ‘runaway skies’ saw her adopt a more unique and organic persona and was infinitely more successful. she now lives in LA and is working with big name producers such as soulshock and carlin. impressive.


lynden david hall – do i qualify – 1998

could have been one of the biggest artists in the uk if his life wasn’t cut short last year due to hodgkin’s lymphoma. first album ‘medicine 4 my pain’ was a huge success in 1998, and was the first uk artist voted as best male by blues and soul readers. he went on to star in ‘love actually’ as a wedding singer.








don-e – love makes the world go round – 1992

don-e arrived in 1992 with this sunny track, from his debut ‘unbreakable’. although his career stalled after this brief success, he resurfaces occasionally, and joined forces with deni hines to cover new edition’s ‘delicious’ to great effect in 1995.

beverley knight – flavour of the old school – 1994

the most consistently successful artist on this list and owner of an amazing voice. beverley started out in 1994 with ‘b-funk’, and i prefer this early material to her later more poppy/mainstream offerings as I get a bit annoyed when uk r&b artists feel the need to start including guitars in their work to get any kind of recognition…

 

just let your soul glo April 29, 2007

sometime in about 1984 surfaced a phenomenon that would last well into the late 80s – jheri curl soul.borne out of the post-disco movement, curl soul was a more electronic style that made use of damn near every new sound available. jheri curl soul identified itself in a number of ways –

  1. the hair, obviously. before eddie murphy and co satirised said hairdo in ‘coming to america‘, the jheri curl was big business. cue glistening curls and plenty of grease-stained sofas
  2. the bands often resembled an extended family photo – it was not uncommon for groups to have more than five members
  3. a glitzy name – bonus points for inclusion of the word ‘star’ or ‘band’ and for translating your name into fauxfrancais: atlantic starr, five star, midnight star, the sos band, the bb&q band, royalle delite, club nouveaux, intrique
  4. if you can’t convince your family to join in, or are a norman-no-mates, a duo is your best bet – rene and angela, aurra, ashford and simpson
  5. reflective and/or brightly coloured silk suiting must be standard issue, and don’t forget those shoulder pads. essential for the moody yet inviting, hands on hips pose favoured by many of said bands
  6. allude to yet more glamour and excitement in your lyrics. recommended themes are – gold and silver, notoriety, electricity, being the finest, a freak, turning someone on, having secret affairs, taking your clothes off
  7. sprinkle liberally with tinkly sounds, synths, squelchy basslines and hyperactive drum patterns

for all that, the music should have been shit. but it was amazing. yes it was manufactured, so what. it sounds positively organic next to the late 90s robo-pop of the backstreet boys and britney spears. nothing quite sums up the 80s and a sunny day as effectively as this glossy, aspirational music. nothing made me more desperate to grow up and go to a real club so i could pretend to be one of these perfect specimens.

but since i was ooh, a good 8 years from being able to slip into a club with fake id, i danced in front of the tv in my pixie boots and silver dress, hair piled high and as much makeup as i could get away with. i strutted and pointed and pouted, to my parent’s amusement.

ten jheri curl soul classicsdownload here

midnight star – midas touch
midnight star comprised nine members. the exact role of each is unclear, but they all sported the prerequisite curls and loud suit, so contributed in some small way to the band’s success. this ode to all things gold was their biggest uk hit, in 1986.


klymaxx – the men all pause
pioneering ‘curl soul. klymaxx were a six-piece girl band in the traditional sense – they all played an instrument. this track was from their 1984 album ‘ meeting in the ladies room’.


lillo thomas – sexy girl
textbook 1987 example of the genre. associate of kashif and paul laurence, lillo was an olympic calibre athlete before an accident in 1984 forced him to pursue an alternative career.


the sos band – no one’s gonna love you
exquisitely produced track that almost sums up the genre. lovely bells, swooshes and that bassline. if it sounds familiar, it was sampled by r&b singer maxwell for a remix of his first hit ‘ascension’ in 1996.

rene and angelai’ll be good
slightly scary example of the curl’n’suit combo who had several sizable hits in the mid-80s. this 1985 hit was later used to good effect by jay-z and foxy brown.

jermaine stewart – we don’t have to take our clothes off
song that we delighted in singing at brownies, because we thought it was rude. from the poppier end of jheri curl soul and in fact, jermaine had unnaturally straight hair. perhaps in protest? can’t have been any easier to maintain…


atlantic starr – silver shadow
active throughout the 80s, atlantic starr are best known for ballads ‘always’ and ‘secret lovers’. this track was only released in the uk, where it prospered on the back of the club scene ignited by loose ends et al.


kashif – i just gotta have you
a big part of the 80s soul scene, producer kashif‘s own releases aren’t as well known as his work for others, including disco queen evelyn champagne king, george benson and dionne warwick, amongst others.


mac band – roses are red
a good example of the simple but effective lyrics used in many jheri soul cuts. this track still gets played out today.


the jets – curiosity
this polynesian eight-piece family act first rose to fame in 1987 with the poppy ‘crush on you’ led by then 15 year old vocalist elizabeth. since their late 80s success, younger siblings have replaced those retiring, from a pool of seventeen candidates.

 

come back 80s whitney! April 27, 2007

once upon a time, there was a young girl with a big voice. she had the connections, the looks and the talent to have the world at her feet.
by the time whitney houston had completed her third album in 1990, many began to criticise her slickly produced, commercial sound and she was infamously booed at the 1989 soul train awards.
whitney is, and always has been managed by clive davis of arista. this was her choice – since singing on a track ‘life’s a party’ for disco outfit the michael zager band at the age of 14 in 1977, she had been offered countless deals. she turned them down, they’re weren’t big enough. it wasn’t until she caught the eye of clive davis in 1983 that she finally accepted.
whilst her voice naturally gravitated towards soul and r&b, she always intended to reach the mass, not niche market. but, prior to the completion of her first eponymous album, she duetted with r&b singers teddy pendergrass and kashif.
in 1985, the album was finally ready and initially, one of the album’s more soulful cuts, ‘someone for me’ was released in the UK. something wasn’t clicking. arista then released ‘you give good love’ and whilst it flopped in the UK, in the US it was the record that broke whitney.
it was swiftly followed up by ‘saving all my love for you’ her first international hit, and number one on both sides of the atlantic. uptempo number ‘how will i know’ and george benson cover ‘the greatest love of all’ cemented her mainstream popularity, to some extent alienating the soul and r&b contingent. her hugely successful second album ‘whitney‘, didn’t pacify those who thought she had sold out.
hooking up with renowned bad boy bobby brown and the associated kudos for snaring a hot younger man – she had to be doing something right – helped whitney shed her wholesome image. still, right up to their duet ‘something in common’ in which for the video, bobby and a heavily pregnant whitney cavorted poolside, it also appeared that bobby was a reformed man.
after the resounding success of whitney‘s film and soundtrack ‘the bodyguard’, and bobby‘s second album, the pair took a break. although they surfaced frequently over the next 5 or 6 years, for remixes (bobby) and more films (whitney), something was awry. rumours began to circulate that both were addicted to various drugs and bobby faced a series of charges that culminated in a spaced out whitney clinging to her husband as he was released from jail in 1998. recently it was alleged that she was living in a rented hovel with 80s singer cherrelle, having blown her fortune on drugs.
but with their divorce now final, and feisty daughter bobbi kristina more settled, whitney has a new album due and her life seems back on track. no doubt she is older and wiser but I can’t help but wish for the sparkling, curly hair and legwarmers whitney of the 80s, which she’ll now never be again. even if you thought the music was too polished, it was better than yelling-obscenities-in-a-dirty-velour-tracksuit whitney, wasn’t it?
ten reasons whitney should lay off the drugsdownload here
someone for me
80s synth pop/soul, you need to actually listen to it properly or it tends to wash over you.
thinking about you
intended to be the third single, but only released to radio. whitney roped in kashif, whom she had already duetted with for this nice, uptempo grower.
you give good love
a top 5 hit in the US and one of her best songs. the video, showing her singing in an underground club, is said to be one of whitney‘s favourites, due to its simplicity.
how will i know
the song that all little girls who grew up in 80s will remember. this bouncy tune is pastel-wearing fun whitney at her best.
all at once
this ballad is a fan favourite from the debut album.
shock me
duet with jermaine jackson, from 1985’s ‘perfect’ soundtrack. a jumpy uptempo number in the tradition of footloose, flashdance and fame.
moment of truth
1987 b-side of ‘i wanna dance with somebody’. a sweet midtempo number that could have slotted into the ‘whitney album’ perfectly.
love is a contact sport
probably intended to be ‘how will i know’ part 2. most people probably don’t remember this from the ‘whitney album’ due to the proliferation of ballads.
feel so good
1990 b-side of i’m your baby tonight’. nothing groundbreaking but nice to have.
dancin‘ on the smooth edge
whitney does 90s slow jam on this 1990 b-side to ‘all the man i need’.