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…

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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’.
 

the woman behind the ‘superwoman’

sometimes, you discover artists that no one else seems to know about. one day, in my german class at school, we had to name our favourite artist. it was 1990 so the most popular answers, and most acceptable if you wanted to escape the scorn of your peers, were ‘soul ii soul‘ or ‘de la soul‘. and so it went, all around the room. it must have been riveting for the teacher, although he used to play a banjo, so its likely every response was alien to him.

several brave souls ventured ‘new kids on the block‘ (shouldn’t admit to that one) and ‘madonna‘ (so passe by 1990) and a couple of geeks, keen to display ‘underground’ music knowledge, smugly named some obscure 60s bands and impressed no one. then someone said ‘karyn white‘ and the room fell silent. i didn’t have the inclination to let the rest of the class know that i also knew and liked karyn white, i just listened to the person’s explanation with interest. ‘you know, she did that song ‘superwoman’ but the rest of her stuff is nothing like that. oh, i don’t know…she’s kind of like janet jackson‘. fair enough.

karyn, was a young vocalist in the powerhouse tradition who worked with la and babyface and also jam and lewis over the course of her career, and married terry lewis in 1992. she was a session singer discovered by jazz fusion artist jeff lorber in 1986. he asked her to sing lead on two tracks for his new project ‘private passion’ that was to feature soul vocalists singing over his jazz-funk compositions. ‘facts of love’ and ‘true confessions’ proved the perfect showcase for karyn‘s talent and paved the way for a solo deal.

my classmate was right. karyn‘s eponymous debut in 1988 in a way, did fill the gap between janet‘s ‘control’ and ‘rhythm nation 1814’ albums. most people remember it for enduring ballad, ‘superwoman‘, a staple of easy listening radio playlists to this day. but the truth is that the album was far less pop and more classic r&b than that song would suggest, or that janet would have attempted herself.

the singles released from ‘karyn white’ were far more ubiquitous in the US, who were switched on to r&b far earlier than the UK where it remained a specialist genre, or subgenre of dance, until the late 90s. nevertheless, they did ok over here and I can remember her second album and lead single ‘romantic’ being greeted enthusiastically on tv-am. both a blessing and a curse.
‘ritual of love’ was handily split into a ‘dance me’ side and ‘romance me’ side, if you bought the cassette. which a lot of people still did in those days. this concept has been nicked by many other artists, especially for their greatest hits albums. with her third album ‘make him do right’, karyn continued to have moderate success but never really broke through.

over the years, sharing flats and cd collections, precious few people have ever heard of karyn white. but they all remember ‘superwoman’. aaargh! don’t get me wrong, i love the song but it was an obvious hit and a calculated move, not what she should be remembered for.

ten karyn white songs that I prefer to ‘superwoman’download here

facts of love
music by jeff lorber, vocals by karyn white. this track introduced the world to her talents, at the age of 20.

the way you love me
listen about halfway through – did karyn pioneer the speed-singing style destiny’s child and wyclef claimed to invent on ‘no no no’? beyonce….you never learn do you?

secret rendezvous
should have been much bigger than it was, this was late 80s syncopated r&b at its best. one for the bedroom and the dancefloor.

don’t mess with me
out-sassing control-era janet was always going to be tricky, but karyn has the vocals and attitude to pull it off.

family man
karyn finds out her man has a wife and kids at home. she won’t be the last…and this is the way to deal with it.

not thru being with you
in between her first two albums, karyn hooked up with michael jeffries for this uptempo club smash.

romantic
remix of one of her biggest hits, the first single from second album ‘ritual of love’. less percussion, more bass.

the way i feel about you
remix of the other big hit from ‘ritual of love’. should have been the start of bigger things.

how i want you
one of many great slow jams from ‘ritual of love’. worthy of a place on any 90s ‘do me baby’ playlist.
one heart
sweet ballad that stays just the right side of saccharine. probably written with terry lewis in mind…shame it didn’t work out.
 

hiphop love songs April 26, 2007

…collective sigh of relief, one blogger isn’t getting into the whole don imus thing. quite frankly, I don’t know enough about it. more interestingly what it does seem to have triggered is renewed interest in the crusade against misogynistic and violent hiphop lyrics, a cause currently championed by russell simmons.i’m not going to delve for examples of russell‘s back catalogue that contradict this stance. it’s not big and it’s not clever – people are perfectly entitled to change their opinions.

what i’m not clear on though, is why they think the campaign will work this time round. the number of hiphop devotees has multiplied more than every other genre since the mass media last rallied in the early 90s. then, they targeted just a handful of rappers, including too short, tupac and snoop. because that was more or less the scale of the ‘problem’, a couple of record labels, a lot of overblown egos and scores to settle.

in 2007 its a whole different ballgame – they’re not attacking a subsection of underground culture, hiphop is now popular culture. no doubt, the campaign will hold up tupac and biggie‘s deaths, which now happened more than a decade ago, as proof of hiphop beef taken too far. and they were far from an everyday occurrence, the isolation of the incidents involving these tragic figures is exactly what has created their legend. far more people die on the streets every day than have hiphop icons over the last 20 years. and i’m pretty sure most of the street incidents happened to the kind of person who was going to get caught up in that world anyway. listening to eminem in your bedroom does not magically transport you out of the suburbs to the kinds of places where you might face those kind of kill-or-be-killed decisions.

perhaps the real shock factor in these deaths was borne out of a naïve assumption that a celebrity can more effectively shield themselves from someone who wants to kill them than the average member of the same community. that they were granted some kind of immunity and had transcended their circumstances through fame, rather than in fact becoming more vulnerable and a greater scalp.

what we should remember is that genuine hiphop tries to reflect real life. nwa didn’t just rap about compton to entertain you, that’s where they’re from and who they are. they were trying to give their community a voice, not suggest that their reality is anything like yours and that their actions and reactions would be acceptable within other contexts.

in the worst neighbourhoods, shot or be shot is an almost daily dilemma. tupac and biggie‘s deaths weren’t the shocking result of fiction overstepping the boundaries of storytelling, rather a sad indictment of a lifestyle they glorified for cash rather than broke out of. there wasn’t any fiction involved and their late material implied an acceptance of their fate.

so, those that should know better are regrouping to decide how to remove offensive content from hiphop. instead of convening to tackle the real life incidents that inspire it. then the rest of us can pretend its not happening anymore. great, well done.

ten non-offensive hiphop classicsdownload here common and mary j blige – come close
2004 cut from ‘electric circus’. common recognises that relationships can be hard and require sacrifice, but worth saving…

guru – when you’re near
king of non-offensive hiphop, guru and then-acid jazz ingenue n’dea davenport from the brand new heavies flirt back and forth in 1993.

guerrilla black – you’re the one
even g’s get it bad sometimes.

common and jill scott – 8 minutes to sunrise
now this one could really be messy – common has woken up next to his best friend’s girl.

foreign exchange – all that you are

how many men actively try to treat their women right?

ll cool j and boyz ii men – hey lover
ll
pioneered the hiphop ballad with ‘i need love’, then in 1995 he went one better and recruited r&b crooner boyz ii men to assist this tale of an unobtainable crush.

roots and erykah badu – you got me
new relationships are hard…especially when you meet in paris and are worried the spark will fade once you get home.

pm dawn – set adrift on memory bliss

best use of a sample ever. end of.

ali and gipp featuring letoya – almost made you

these relative newcomers are doing their thing, with ex-dc starlet letoya on board.

ll cool j – around the way girl

how come someone as fine as ll never gets his dream girl?

 

boys don’t cry – new edition go solo April 25, 2007

if there was ever a gender stereotype that was true, its that girls can’t get along. so when female band mates part ways, the media holds their breath for the name calling, backbiting and never has to wait for too long. a lot of women would rather eat nothing but salad for the rest of their lives than see a former female friend do their thing.witness beyonce and kelly‘s unceremonious dumping of destiny’s child cohorts letoya, latavia and farrah at the first sign they wouldn’t toe the line. and now, not content with daddy hampering kelly and michelle‘s solo ambitions since the dc3 finale, beyonce is now rumoured to be sabotaging newly famous solo star letoya‘s efforts. recently she allegedly demanded letoya be removed from a soundtrack project before she would participate and made herself look like a petulant child when she flew into london for last year’s mobo awards only to boycott it when the organisers refused to strike letoya from the lineup.

boy bands just never seem to have all these problems. seemingly, they’re happy just to be there having a laugh with their friends. and if one leaves, they wish them well and even make guest appearances on their new solo material. which may well be the clue to why every member of new edition found solo fame – karma.

ten reasons i can’t decide if i prefer new edition together, or apartdownload herebobby brownevery little step, don’t be cruel, roni, rock witcha
bobby wasn’t always the village idiot. before reality tv uncovered the madness that led him to yell at plastic fruit, bobby was the most successful of all the former new edition boys. although the erratic behaviour that led to his eviction from the group would resurface in later years, he pretty much held it together from 1988 to 1994. in 1988, at the age of 19 he hit pay dirt with ‘my perogative‘ and never looked back.

bell biv devoe – poison, do me, in the crib
hot on the heels of new edition’s ‘heart break’ tour, ronnie devoe, michael bivins and ricky bell formed bell biv devoe and has instant success with new jack swing classics ‘poison’ and ‘do me’. in 2002 they returned with a new album, and ‘in my crib’. all are still active as part of new edition and ronnie devoe is married to shamari fears of blaque, who is probably not old enough to remember the boys in their early days…

johnny gill – rub you the right way, there you go
unlike the others, johnny had been successful prior to joining the group, with three albums already under his belt. after, he had one of the biggest hits of the new jack era, ‘rub you the right way’ and went on to record five more albums and joined forces with gerald levert and keith sweat to form lsg in the late 90s. ‘there you go’ was one of the highlights of the popular 1992 soundtrack to the eddie murphy film ‘boomerang’.

ralph tresvant – sensitivity
wacko soundalike ralph was slightly more cautious about striking out on his own. ‘sensitivity’ is his biggest hit although his collab with bobby brown on ‘stone cold gentleman’ comes close. like johnny, he is still part of new edition but has had consistent solo success and is still recording today.

 

new edition – the beginning April 24, 2007

you only have to say their name and ladies of a certain age melt. as noted by kanye west in ‘slow jamz‘, girl needs to hear some new edition if you’re planning to get lucky tonight.bobby brown, ralph tresvant, michael bivins, ronnie devoe, rickey bell, and later johnny gill, gave an entire generation of girls a standard of boyfriend to aspire to. before they wound up with broke ass players ten years later. how big were they? madonna was their support act on tour in 1983. they appeared in ‘knightrider‘ with the hoff.

their first single, ‘candy girl’ was my first ever record in 1983. a shout out to seven year old girls everywhere, we rejoiced as finally there seemed to exist boys who understood how we wanted to be treated.

whilst our infant school nemeses pulled up our skirts, yanked our hair and made us pretend to be princess leia, minus gold bikini, new edition made it clear they were up for playing kiss chase.

sadly boys grow up more quickly than you think. After two great albums, bobby brown left due to behavioural issues (cough) and started his solo career in 1986. johnny gill replaced him and the next two albums were lacklustre.

then, they found their groove at the turn of the 80s on the burgeoning new jack scene with ‘heart break’. due to contractual obligations leaving them an album short of their agreement with mca, they reunited in 1996 as grown men, and their 2008 regroup as thirtysomethings is imminent. not so much a comeback as a ten year reunion.

no matter how old they or I get – I’ll always be their candy girl.

ten sugary sweet new edition classicsdownload here

candy girl
the one that started it all complete with sonic whooshes, bleeps and tambourines.

popcorn love
the follow-up, not nearly as successful, but classic. get the feeling the boys liked their junk food?

cool it now
their only real low point as a band has been letting amish casualwear sweatshop gap use this 1984 hit in one of their insufferably smug adverts.

mr telephone man
smooth 80s boy soul at its best. nice use of late 70s wah wah sound. there are no words to describe how much i loved this song.

my secret
1985 hit from their second and best album ‘new edition’. ‘ooh! sparks begin to fly, lightning in the sky…’

leaving you again
recently sampled for ciara and bow wow‘s ‘like you’….took me ages to recognise where it came from.

delicious
surprisingly mature effort from 1985 ‘new edition’ album. was covered in the 90s by british soulsters don-e and deni hines.

can you stand the rain
lush ballad from ‘heart break’ with johnny gill on lead vocals.

crucial
uptempo hit from ‘heart break’ that showcased the boys transition into new jack swing dons.

hit me off
the lead single from the 1996 comeback. slotted effortlessly into the mid 90s bumpy r&b scene.