Here are my favourite albums of 2021. The very favourite is marked by an * though! On that matter I’m actually in exact agreement with the Guardian, which is a rarity!
I’ve played some of these more than others. But they are all ace in various ways.
There is also a Spotify playlist here with a track each from these releases for your listening pleasure.
Little Simz – SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT Bruno Pernadas – PRIVATE REASONS Axolotes Mexicanos – :3 Jazmine Sullivan – HEAUX TALES Mzylkypop – KIEDY WILKI ZAWYJA? Remi Wolf – JUNO Doja Cat – PLANET HER Genesis Owusu – SMILING WITH NO TEETH Fievel Is Glauque – GOD’S TRASHMEN SENT TO RIGHT THE MESS Haiku Salut – THE HILL, THE LIGHT, THE GHOST Space Afrika – HONEST LABOUR Mason Lindahl – KISSING ROSY IN THE RAIN Cities Aviv – THE CRASHING SOUND OF HOW IT GOES Lost Girls, Jenny Hval & Håvard Volden – MENNESKEKOLLEKTIVET Andy Stott – NEVER THE RIGHT TIME Rochelle Jordan – PLAY WITH THE CHANGES Öona Dahl – MORPH Douglas Kearney & Val Jeanty – FODDER (LIVE AT DISJECTA IN PORTLAND) Anthony Joseph – THE RICH ARE ONLY DEFEATED WHEN RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES Dave – WE’RE ALL ALONE IN THIS TOGETHER Billie Eilish – HAPPIER THAN EVER Virginia Wing – private LIFE Joan As Police Woman, Tony Allen & Dave Okumu – THE SOLUTION IS RESTLESS HARD FEELINGS – HARD FEELINGS Damon Albarn – THE NEARER THE FOUNTAIN, MORE PURE THE STREAM FLOWS Arlo Parks – COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS Nun Gun – MONDO DECAY Tom Jones – SURROUNDED BY TIME NOUS, Laraaji, Arji OceAnanda & Christopher Bono – CIRCLE OF CELEBRATION *Self Esteem – PRIORITISE PLEASURE
Highly honourable mentions to Lindsey Buckingham, Naked Flames, Jana Rush, Claire Rousay, Field Music… Many of these people’s and others’ albums are represented on this other Spotify playlist: MC TOMSTER’S 2021 GALLIMAUFRY. This is a mix inspired by the eclecticism of John Peel and Annie Nightingale and veers far more oddly and expansively than the BANGERS or TREMENDOUS THIRTY playlists.
Some of the videos for the TREMENDOUS THIRTY selections are, in themselves, amazing. Watch them! :
Bruno Pernadas – THEME VISION
Doja Cat – NEED TO KNOW
Andy Stott – HARD TO TELL
Rochelle Jordan – ALREADY (Beckettian!)
Further VHS aesthetics here:
Nun Gun, feat. Mark Stewart – STEALTH EMPIRE
NOUS, Laraaji, Arji OceAnanda & Christopher Bono – GIVING PRAISE
I have decided on my 21 bangers of 2021: listen to them in full on my Spotify playlist here.
1. Joel Corry, Jax Jones, feat. Charli XCX & Saweetie – OUT OUT 2. Caroline Polachek – BUNNY IS A RIDER 3. Kero Kero Bonito – THE PRINCESS AND THE CLOCK 4. AERO GROS M – IN BETWEEN A MANSION’S GATES 5. Shmu – (TECH, NO HUMAN) MEMORIES, THOUGHTS & IMAGINATIONS EXIST WHERE? 6. Go_A – SHUM 7. Fred again… & The Blessed Madonna – MAREA (WE’VE LOST DANCING) 8. Noizu – SUMMER 91 9. Jungle – ALL OF THE TIME 10. PinkPantheress – PAIN 11. Central Cee – OBSESSED WITH YOU 12. Sam Fender – SEVENTEEN GOING UNDER (edit) 13. WILLOW & Travis Barker – t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l 14. SZA – GOOD DAYS 15. beabadobee – LAST DAY ON EARTH 16. Doja Cat, feat. SZA – KISS ME MORE 17. Altin Gün – Yüce Dağ Başında 18. cEvin Key feat. Edward Ka-Spel – WATCHING YOU 19. Hannah Peel – EMERGENCE IN NATURE 20. Jane Weaver – SOLARISED 21. Lizzie Esau – CAFFEINE
Many thanks to Marcello Carlin, Justin Lewis and David Lichfield for alerting me to many of these songs; I wouldn’t necessarily have even been aware of them otherwise.
Welcome to Part Two of my grand gazetteer of the year 1993 in music through its UK Top 75 hit singles. I listened to around 1,100 – which is to say, virtually all – singles that charted that year. I have appeared on David Lichfield’s STORMERS podcast here, where I introduce and talk about five of my favourites – while also being put on the spot about every number 1 that year! In this article, I reveal my loosely ordered Top 25, plus a separate Top 25 of my favourites which are just available via YouTube videos. Here is my full Spotify playlist will all 75 selections; please listen!
Firstly, some other tracks which struck me, whether good, bad, baffling or surprisingly better than expected…
Let’s get the truly woeful over with first! The following three veer on Worst 200 Songs territory:
Go West – STILL IN LOVE (just dismal)
Garry Lee and Showdown – THE RODEO SONG (objectionable attitude to this and banal swearing! Shite),
Covidiots Right Said Fred – BUMPED. (Awful leery cover of HITS! shows on Spotify. Whoever tells you they are mad or whacky totally isn’t. A lesson again proved by this dismal tripe. “Timbuktu. De ja vu, hoooo!” “Turtle dove”… How punchable is the singer due to his forced laugh and smug tone (see 1:15-1:38)!?)
These were actually considerably better than I’d have expected beforehand! I don’t care about credibility, one iota! 😉
Genesis – TELL ME WHY (a left-wing or at least social liberal conscience after all that went down in the 1980s?)
Phil Collins – BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY (ditto)
World Party – IS IT LIKE TODAY? (slacker Americana type ramshackle and affable feel, a more mainstream Sufjan Stevens even!? And YOU’VE GOT ME THINKING is serene stuff, hints of dance)
Duran Duran – COME UNDONE (deft liquid melancholy)
Jellyfish – THE GHOST AT NUMBER ONE (a fair Beach Boys pastiche) & ‘New Mistake’ (similar, if a bit more Supertramp)
The Time Frequency per se; theirs is a great, very 1993 album cover, and their music, while unremarkable is breezy Scottish eurodance pop.
M. People – HOW CAN I LOVE YOU MORE? (actually, this is tremendous; I’d also really disliked them via just how prevalent and overplayed certain songs were in the mid and late-1990s.
As with probably any year, there were a wearying number of pointless, crap, cash-in cover versions. By far the best reissued song in 1993 was Edwin Starr – WAR. Co-written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for the Temptations and it is on the Psychedelic Shack album (released June 1970). An utterly magnificent track that loses none of its power: Whitfield produces. Other notable “oldies”: Prince – CONTROVERSY, Barry Manilow – COPACABANA, Sister Sledge – THINKING OF YOU, Sophie B. Hawkins – I WANT YOU (Bob Dylan).
I also found the following interesting or notable in varied ways:
– The Shamen – RE:EVOLUTION (what does it sound like? Malcolm Clarke’s out-there soundtrack to 1972 Doctor Who serial ‘The Sea Devils’, that’s what!) & POSSIBLE WORLDS – IMAGINARY MIX (ace psychedelic dance) – Fluke – SLID (odd Jagger-esque vocal amid a lengthy dance track) – Hardfloor TRANCESCRIPT (proper hypnotic techno, sliding into trance?) – Belly – GEPETTO (excellent) – Donald Fagen – TOMORROW’S GIRLS (nifty enough from the Steely Dan player) – k.d. Lang – MISS CHATELAINE (Francophile with accordions) – Buju Banton – MAKE MY DAY (hazy eerie high vocals behind the chorus. Dancehall from Kingston, Jamaica. He has apologised for a 1992 homophobic track) – Mad Cobra – LEGACY (Ewart Everett Brown, aka. Mad Cobra doesn’t really sound like the name! Chilled soul uncoils. Ragga type vocalist too, or is that the MC Mad Cobra? Pretty good. Sadly, he was yet another dancehall vocalist guilty of writing homophobic lyrics, though) – McKoy – FIGHT (CITY LICK MIX) (bit baffling, funk, hip hop with prominent vibraphone, which is always good. Interesting curio!) – David Sylvian & Robert Fripp – JEAN THE BIRDMAN (as odd as you’d hope!) – Spiritualized – ELECTRIC MAINLINE (psychedelic drone from Rugby; very good stuff) – The Cat – TONGUE TIED (it features in a Red Dwarf episode ‘Parallel Universe’, 1988, in a dream sequence; Danny John Jules sings, Naylor and Grant lyrics and Howard Goodall music. Fairly acute RnB pastiche. Key change!) – Eskimos & Egypt – FALL FROM GRACE (sounds very like Super Hans and Jez’s music from the Channel Four sitcom Peep Show. It has its moments, but is over-egged. “I’m talking to the human race!”; there’s another one that rants on about “UK-USA”…) – Dina Carroll – EXPRESS (Dina had as many as five hits in 1993, four of which feel like identical ballads, but this is more upbeat. It is archetypal libertarian neoliberal stuff. Freedom of choice. A focus on openly showing emotions. Quite body-centric too. This is individualism writ large, in its heyday) – Lisa B. – GLAM (notable instance of enticing 1990s hedonism) – Freak Power – TURN ON, TUNE IN, COP OUT (This has Ashley Slater vocal and Norman Cook produces. Massive in 1995 due to featuring in a Levi’s ad. Very retro, more than acid jazz or trip hop which they are supposed to be. Admittedly well done. – Midnight Oil – IN THE VALLEY (and several other pleasingly earnest ones) – Chumbawamba & Credit To The Nation – ENOUGH IS ENOUGH (I don’t like most of Chumbawamba’s hits from 1993, but this one is damnably catchy!) – Blaggers I.T.A. – STRESSS & OXYGEN (Riot Grrrl is rightly now remembered a bit more, e.g. the enjoyable, thoughtful film Moxie; this sort of thing is very much in parallel, I suppose. Carter USM but not as mainstream) – Marxman feat. Sinead O’Connor – SHIP AHOY (more leftist hits; The Levellers with flute and dance beats. More anarcho-punk than Marxist?) – Dinosaur Jr. – OUT THERE (a trudging, slacker grunge type tune. Closer to the sort of melancholy of a Daniel Johnston or Sparklehorse. GOOD) – Brad – 20TH CENTURY (Grunge, nicely organ led. Bit psychedelic. The album cover is a fine, weird photograph of masked figures) – Iron Maiden – HALLOWED BE THY NAME (I am not into heavy metal on the whole, but would say this is a good melancholy tune and plays up the melodrama) – Little Angels – SAIL AWAY (sailor boys, Quayside. This is deft, very strings and harmonica based. [Alan Bennett voice]: They’re from Scarborough. Not many bands are…)
Now, for that moment every discerning 1993 reader and listener has been waiting for. My Top 25 hit singles from 1993 that are on Spotify…! Seasonally, such a mix, 9 of these are actually from the autumn months… While 3 were Top 10 hits, a further 8 reached between #11-40 in the charts and 14 charted from #41-75.
#25: Pet Shop Boys – I WOULDN’T NORMALLY DO THIS KIND OF THING (11/12/1993, #13, 7 weeks; Parlophone, CSR 6370) There had to be something from Messrs Tennant and Lowe here: Northerners transplanted to London; this is from one of their finest albums, Very (1993).
#24: DJ Hype – SHOT IN THE DARK (Gunshot Mix) (20/03/1993, #63, 1 week; Suburban Base, SUBBASE 20CD) Hardcore, DnB, why aye. DJ Hype is Kevin Elliot Ford, a DJ and record producer who also founded the pirate radio station Fantasy FM. Suburban Base was started from the Boogie Times record shop in Romford by Dan Donnelly and had released Smart E’s ‘Sesame’s Treet’ (1992).
#23: Martyn Joseph – PLEASE SIR (09/01/1993, #45, 3 weeks; Epic, 6588552) This is among the earliest songs on my Spotify playlist. Joseph was born in the coastal town of Penarth in South Wales in 1960. This reflects on family, working-class community and deindustrialisation and contains an anger at social class inequalities and powerlessness to rival the Manics, frankly. Folk anger from the UK’s Celtic fringe, again an anti-establishment release from Epic.
#22: Ground Level – DREAMS OF HEAVEN (Candlelight Mix 7″) (30/01/1993, #54, 2 weeks; Faze 2, CDFAZE 14) This opens as almost early 1980s synth pop – OMD et al – but from 1:15 picks up as an exciting dance tune. Ground Level were an Australian duo: David Walker from Melbourne and singer Jean Marie Guilfoil from Wisconsin, USA. This has a ood, straightforward lyric and expectant music. Faze 2 was a house/rave label based in London NW1.
#21: Duran Duran – ORDINARY WORLD (30/01/1993, #6, 9 weeks; Parlophone, CDDDS 16) One of a few other early 1980s mainstays still to be charting, like OMD and Simple Minds. Though the latter certainly never produced a song of this calibre post-1982. They were formed in Birmingham in 1978, with singer Simon Le Bon born in 1958 in Bushey, Hertfordshire. This is a song of real gracefulness and heft.
#20: 10,000 Maniacs – CANDY EVERYBODY WANTS (10/04/1993, #47, 3 weeks; Elektra EKR, 160CD1) This is, as the video emphasises, a barbed critique of consumerism and advertising in ‘sweet-centred’ indie pop form. This band were formed in 1981 in Jamestown, NY, where singer Natalie Merchant was born in 1963. The attitude and musical style reminds me of Mary Margaret O’Hara and Kirsty MacColl: high praise. There is a fine live version with Michael Stipe singing with Merchant here.
#19: TC 1993 – HARMONY (10/07/1993, #51, 2 weeks; Union City, UCRD 20) Seems more proper house stuff than most. Good, very danceable. “Everybody shake a hand, make a friend” is a part of the song and this and “harmony, my sisters and brothers” is sampled from The Temptations’s ‘Friendship Train’ from Psychedelic Shack album recorded at the turn of the decade and released on 06/03/1970. Italo. Bergamo, North East of Milan in Lombardy region of Italy. Mark Fisher’s psychedelic Acid Communism writ large!
This is my favourite mix of it, the most spacious, with best nifty synth work and most use of varied parts of The Temptations track. MASSIVE! :
#18: The Boo Radleys – WISH I WAS SKINNY (23/10/1993, #75, 1 week; Creation, CRESCD 169) Underdog indie, openly so in the lyric. This band, active from 1988-1999 (and who I think have returned this year?), were founded in Wallasey, Merseyside. Singer Martin Carr was born in Thurso, Scotland but raised on the Wirral Peninsula. The label, of course, was founded in 1983 by Alan McGee, Dick Green and Joe Foster. Likeably jangly, this, from an expansive, fine LP Giant Steps.
#17: Caron Wheeler – BEACH OF THE WAR GODDESS (11/09/1993, #75, 1 week; EMI, CDEM 282) This is good, unusual. ‘A contender!’ I said in my notes and, aye, it deserves this high placing. Wheeler was born in 1963 in Acton, London. This song is from the album of the same title (1992); it is impossible to pigeonhole, with Acid Jazz, RnB and chanting of the Yoruba Victory Prayer from Fabemi Fashina – Yoruba is a language associated with parts of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. There are raps too from Kundalini and Cinderella MC. This is brilliantly produced by Derek Johnson, a guitarist who has worked with Alton Ellis and John Holt among others and has a fascination from the African Diaspora’s musical styles.
#16: Staxx feat. Carol Leeming – JOY (02/10/1993, #25, 6 weeks; Champion, CHAMPCD 303) A paradox of major key title and minor key chords. Great perennial early 1990s synth sounds. This feels like a particular mix of De’Lacy’s ‘Hideaway’ (1995) with the pinched, unique horizons of Bassline House. Or, a British take on Eurodance with its commanding vocal from Leicester-born Carol Leeming vocal. The song was written by Staxx who were Simon Thorne and Tom Jones (not that one!). Their four singles from 1993-97 were released by Mel Medalie’s Champion, a London label which generally put out soul, dance and house. The video has Carol and others in an abandoned swimming pool. The version there is more upbeat than the one I listened to via Spotify… Both are excellent, though. The initial one I listened to seemed to be a 2009 version. StoneBridge do a remix of it on that single too. 1997 remix reached #14, did 4 weeks then.
This is a great expanded version with added scat vocals, house piano, orchestra hit and an organ which feels akin to Bark Psychosis:
#15: System 7 – 7:7 EXPANSION (13/02/1993, #39, 1 week; Butterfly, BFLD 2) Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy’s techno and plangent prog interface, founded in 1990. Both had been former members of the psychedelic space rock collective Gong. That it spent just one week in the Top 75 despite entering in the Top 40 suggests a notable fanbase. Clearly, Hillage was one veteran (born London in 1951) very much able to reinvent himself and expand his musical reach, as evinced by his collaborations with The Orb. His 1979 LP Rainbow Dome Musick is tremendous new age ambient. This is more than good stuff: it almost invents Forest Swords in the evocative sampled choral vocals – twenty years before the Wirral’s Matthew Barnes released Engravings.
#14: Shakespears Sister – MY 16TH APOLOGY (27/02/1993, #61, 1 week; London, LONCD 337) I love this gleefully messy voicing of erring, apologising humanity. They were ‘formed’ in 1988 with Bananarama’s Siobhan Fahey joined in 1989 by Marcella Detroit. They were from Dublin (born 1958) and Detroit, MI (1952) respectively: great cities yielding great performers. This, from later in the same month as #15, was the lead track of an EP and feels – perhaps just to me – like a unique brew of Kate Bush, The Beautiful South and The Shangri-Las: also charting ground later traversed very well by Alisha’s Attic and Sing Sing.
#13: P. J. Harvey – MAN-SIZE (17/07/1993, #42, 2 weeks; Island, CID 569) This is just extraordinary. It feels like Polly Jean Harvey (born Bridport, Somerset, 1969) represents a new generation fully breaking through – using a unique rock idiom that isn’t slavishly tied to the past, Godot, or anything… The same year’s 50ft QUEENIE is also great.
#12: Urban Cookie Collective – THE KEY, THE SECRET (10/07/1993, #2, 16 weeks; Pulse 8, CDLOSE 48) This is a bit rave, bit Eurodance; vocals Diane Charlemagne. Written by Rohan Heath (born 1964), son of Guyanese Roy Heath, supposed to be a great short story writer and author of The Georgetown Trilogy. This song was actually about taking magic mushrooms. Also good: ‘Feels Like Heaven’, again with Diane Charlemagne vocals. Excellent dance pop. There was a remix that charted in 1996. For me, Manchester’s Diane Charlemagne (1964-2019) is one of the voices of the 1990s, singing the remarkable lead vocal to Goldie’s ‘Inner City Life’.
#11: Björk & David Arnold – PLAY DEAD (23/10/1993, #12, 6 weeks; Island, CID 573) This is co-written by Jah Wobble (born Stepney, London, 1958) and Björk (born Reykjavík, Iceland, 1965) featuring David Arnold (born Luton, 1962). Björk was asked to write the melody and lyrics for the song, while Wobble wrote the bass part and Arnold composed the score – with these vast strings – which Björk described as a “greatest hits of what’s in the film” – crime drama The Young Americans (dir. Danny Cannon, 1993). If #8 is a reaching out to a non-existent, idealised spacey other, this is the grounded answer song from an actual woman mired in “A place called Hate, the City of Fear”, playing dead to “stop the hurting”.
#10: Sybil – WHEN I’M GOOD AND READY (20/03/1993, #5, 13 weeks; PWL International, PWCD 260) I am delighted that this did so well in the charts: tastes converging! Sybil was born in Paterson, NJ in 1966 and this flows with waterfall-like pop modernism. It is assertive, plaintive and deftly produced by Mike Stock (born Margate, Kent, 1951) and Pete Waterman (born Coventry, 1947). I am hearing not just waterfalls, but mills, jaunty boozers and car factories. There is nothing ‘lightweight’ about a song speaking of love and consent. Hedonism and escape? Yes, but with clear, mutual human dialogue. A remix in 1997 reached #66.
#9: The Lemonheads – IT’S ABOUT TIME (27/11/1993, #57, 2 weeks; Atlantic A, 7296CD) One of my favourite songs from the excellent Boston, MA band, led by Evan Dando (born Essex, MA, 1967). Not an official answer record to #10, but a tremendous burst of “SUNSHINE!” as Juliana Hatfield sings as part of her glorious backing vocals.
#8: The Beloved – OUTERSPACE GIRL (14/08/1993, #38, 2 weeks; East West, YZ 726CD) The aqueous video to this dance stormer also has a motif of clocks and time, alongside copious flora. A Cambridge band who released 3 albums from 1990 to 1996. Originally formed as the Journey Through in 1983, they were renamed The Beloved in 1984 doing two Peel sessions the next year. Jon Marsh on vocals. His wife Helena Marsh had joined by this point, and they were now a duo. EastWest label was originally launched in 1957 by Atlantic Recording Corporation, but disappeared a year later, only to return in 1990. Of course they remain best known for the sublime ‘The Sun Rising’ from autumn 1989. Also on the 1993 album Conscience, ‘You’ve Got Me Thinking’ is serene dance stuff. The languid but propulsive ‘Outerspace Girl’ is at the sort of winsome, expansive interface between song and techno later shown by The Aloof in 1996. Or perhaps a less abrasive Underworld…
#7: Björk – VENUS AS A BOY (04/09/1993, #29, 4 weeks; One Little Indian, 122 TP7CD)
#6: Monie Love – IN A WORD OR 2 (12/06/1993, #33, 3 weeks; Cooltempo CDCOOL 273) This is lovely loving stuff, serene music, like Prince blended with Saint Etienne; Monie born Simone Gooden in Battersea, London on 2 July 1970. A protégé of Queen Latifah. She recorded 2 albums. Cooltempo was a London W6 label which started releasing stuff in 1984. Sylvester, Phil Fearon, Doug E. Fresh, Paul Hardcastle, later… Adeva, Gang Starr, Kenny Thomas, Danny B, Innocence. This is the sound of love.
Now for my top 5 from the year, as unveiled on David Lichfield’s stormers podcast: 1993. Only one reached the Top 40, the other 4 charting in the Top 75.
#5: The Other Two – SELFISH (06/11/1993, #46, 2 weeks; London, TWOCD 1) The Other Two were Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, Macclesfield, Cheshire. New Order side project. Gilbert, born 1961 in Whalley Range, Manchester, is lead vocalist. Gillian’s are Mekons or Alison Statton (Young Marble Giants) type vocals alongside deft, synth pop. Buoyant chords underscore lyrics which I assume concern romantic jealousy, paranoia and suspicion, with “No sense of reason”. New Order had several singles in 1993. I’ll go out on a limb and argue that this Strawberry Switchblade-like delight is up there with ‘Regret’ and much better than the others.
#4: Meat Beat Manifesto – MINDSTREAM (20/02/1993, #55, 1 week; Play It Again Sam, BIAS 232CD) John Stephen Corrigan aka. Jack Dangers, a vintage synthesiser enthusiast, born in Swindon in 1965. Jonny Stevens aka. Fire Escape. The band formed in Swindon in 1987. This is industrial hip hop, even leading to big beat and trip hop. Some have even said Illbient! El-P, Dalek, Locust, though I think the best comparison for this has to be the great Underworld. Corrigan had been part of Swindon band Perennial Divide who released Purge (1986) LP. MBM have released 12 albums over their 34 years, the last so far in 2019. Play It Again Sam Records was based in Brussels in Belgium, founded in 1984. It’s now known as PIAS and has an SE1, London base; they have released Front 242, The Young Gods, Vitalic, Simian Mobile Disco, New Fast Automatic Daffodils and, best of all, the Legendary Pink Dots’ Island of Jewels (1986) LP. On 13 December 1992, they’d done a pretty sound Peel Session, but for me, nothing on that quite matches ‘Mindstream’.
The video seems to be a different version to the album version on Spotify. Whichever, though, well, wow… Sublime lap steel guitar. This speaks to 2021 with its lyrics concerning sensory overload and things so easily slipping from the mind. But, “PEACE” and “LOVE” emerge to the surface repeatedly towards the end. As they must, more broadly.
#3: Back to the Planet – DAYDREAM (04/09/1993, #52, 1 week; Parallel, LLLCD 8) Erik Satie Gymnopedies opening loomed. Anarcho-punk band from Peckham, this is an oddity. Punk dance wistfulness, has a plangent hazy rawness to it. The Geezer on keyboards. The great vocals are by Fil Walters, aka. Fil Planet. In 1994 they contributed to an anti-Criminal Justice Bill compilation, putting them into the company of the righteous. They met squatting in Peckham in 1989, Rodney Trotter just out of shot. This was actually one of two #52 hits they had in 1993 after ‘Teenage Turtles’, a trenchant attack on the early 90s pop culture phenomenon. Both were on Parallel Records, a short-lived 1990s UK label. They did three or four cassettes or albums of art pop, alternative dance or anarcho-indie finishing up with Messages After the Bleep… in 1995.
Revel in sublime dreams from a squat. Try and remember this 1990s and live anew through its inspiration.
Here’s a TV appearance of them performing ‘Daydream’ on the top of a roof.
#2: One Dove – BREAKDOWN (radio mix) (16/10/1993, #24, 3 weeks; Boy’s Own, BOICD 15) This was One Dove’s biggest hit, with a Stephen Hague radio mix. Good lyric and vocal from Dot Allison (born in 1969), amid dub reggae swirling alongside enveloping strings. They were a Glasgow band but Dot was born in Edinburgh. Musical giant, DJ and psychedelic techno tastemaker Andrew Weatherall produced their album of this year. Member Ian Carmichael produced The Orchids and The Pastels. This evokes ‘Pale Sceptre’ by The Wake in its downbeat Gothic lyrics of “the moon”, “only dark can wax and wane” and “Tides and werewolves”. In contrast to the shimmering jangling synth pop there, this is spacious spacey dub electronica to a reggae beat. With Allison’s ghostly lovelorn vocals equidistant between a lone Shangri-la and Anna Meredith. Magnificent…
#1: Urban Hype – LIVING IN A FANTASY
(09/01/1993, #57, 3 weeks; Faze 2, CDFAZE 13) And my no 1 of 1993 has to be… Rave pop, so it is…
This is woeful. NOT! Urban Hype’s ‘Living in a Fantasy’ just hits the mark, in every single way. A more concise lyrical variant on the escapist dreaming of The Beloved’s fine ‘Outerspace Girl’. Lyrical and musical and beat repetition, wistful synths, deftly balanced between jubilation and regret. It samples Taylor Dayne’s ‘Tell It To Your Heart’. And it has perhaps the best pan pipe solo in recorded sound of the early 1990s. Lent giddy glee by the lass’s cry of “Yeaaaahhh!”
It was recorded at Greystoke Studios XX. Faze 2 was a London, NW1 label, 1992 to 1997. The main members of Urban Hype, whose origins were in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, on the Winchester to Southampton road, were Bob Dibden and Mark Lewis. The latter produced or mixed Rozalla and Malaika and Goa trance. They were both also in Universal State of Mind, a later trance project. Bafflingly, Urban Hype did a version of Andy Stewart’s comedic Tartanry novelty hit ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers’, also on Faze 2, in 1995!
Now, for the even lost-er continent of YouTube-only singles which charted Top 75 in 1993…
I think the following were all good in different ways and deserve shout-outs:
Sydney Youngblood – ‘Anything’
Saffron – ‘Circles’
Undercover ft. John Matthews – ‘Lovesick’
Gayle and Gillian – ‘Mad If You Don’t’
Suzette Charles – ‘Free to Love Again’
Mother – ‘All Funked Up’
Sister Sledge – ‘Thinking of You (1993 Ramp Radio Mix)’
Motorhead – ‘Ace of Spades (CCN Remix)’, SFX – ‘Lemmings’
Gary Clail, On-U Sound System – ‘These Things Are Worth Fighting For’
Dee Fredrix – ‘Dirty Money’
Subterrania – ‘Do It For Love (StoneBridge Club Mix)’
The Carl Cox Concept – ‘The Planet of Love’.
Now, what were the most notable 1993 curios hidden away on YouTube?
Well, there’s a horrendous Worst 200 Songs Ever contender in Hulk Hogan’s version of a horribly creepy song. Produced by Simon Cowell, no less. There is also Stan – ‘Suntan’. A terrible summer novelty hit: closer to Garry Bushell than Roy Ayers. One of the – thankfully – perishingly small number of artists who have followed Right Said Fred’s example of tabloid pop. This actually reached the Top 40, unlike the vast majority of my Top 25 selections below, reaching a high of #40, and spending a total of 3 weeks in the Top 75. Leery shite, released without any sense of shame or irony, by a record label called Hug.
As well as wrestlers – at least 3 tracks involve the massively popular WWF figures – there is… Well, Bill Tarmey doing his attempt at Frank Sinatra or Richard Harris crooning of a Barry Manilow song, with a Stock and Waterman production which, I suppose, can’t not include a saccharine kiddies’ choir and power ballad percussion… Now, Manilow is an overlooked omnipresent figure through the 1970s to 1990s and Tarmey was a fine soap actor who even appeared in a Brian Glover-written Play for Today, but this… well… I suppose it’s no worse than Tom Jones’s corporate junket-on-a-budget cover version of ‘All You Need Is Love’…
More baffling and somewhat more interesting is Bill – ‘Car Boot Sale’. This was apparently endorsed by Steve Wright and his posse. The main force behind this is a comedian and writer Richard Easter. It spent a mere week in the Top 75, at #73. Fucking hell… It is unique, I suppose, clearly better than Stan’s ‘Suntan’, with an unusual blend of electronic aesthetics and home-brewed, deliberately annoying catchiness . Someone has made a decent stab of comparing it to Half Man Half Biscuit – but I’d say it is limp buffoonery. A real curiosity that Mercury put out this strained, ultimately exasperating ordinariness!
As you might expect, given Spotify’s stranglehold over the music industry, the sort of artists on my YouTube Top 25 aren’t as prominent. Thus, it follows that only four of my 25 charted in the Top 40, while none reached the Top 10! 21 of these utter gems reached the lower reaches and thus didn’t get Mark Goodier or whoever it was in 1993 reading them out in the chart.
#25: Ian Wright – DO THE RIGHT THING (charted 28/08/1993, reached #43, spent 2 weeks in the Top 75; M&G, MAGCD 45) “I’m no saint or sinner”… “If you’ve nothing good to say, keep the peace”. Wise and salient words from Wrighty, then and now. He sings “Keep the peace” as it fades out. The M&G label was founded by Lord Michael Levy with backing from Polygram Records in 1990. Ian Wright was born in Woolwich, London in 1963. Chris Lowe appears in the video! Among more direct footer songs, this low-rent soul oddity by Arsenal 93, Tippa Irie and Peter Hunnigale is not bad either: though Wrighty takes the honours. Great tune, banger territory.
#24: Wendy James – LONDON’S BRILLIANT (17/04/1993, #62, 1 week; MCA, MCSTD 1763) “Revolutionary days were sadly over…” Written by Elvis Costello and Cait O’Riordan. Wry stuff! Lesley Ann Down in the tube station! Unusual film centric lyrics, funk undertow. James’s other single was good too. She was born in London in 1966. MCA Records was founded in Chicago in 1924 as a talent agency, though now is based in Los Angeles and has a London base.
#23: Revolting Cocks – DO YA THINK I’M SEXY?’ (18/09/1993, #61, 1 week; Devotion, CDDVN 111) This is an out-there, aesthetically extreme shrieked cover of the Rod Stewart disco “classic”, remoulded, detonated by Belgian-American band. Formed in 1985 in Chicago, IL. Devotion was in NW3, London, now defunct. It was put out by Sire elsewhere.
#22: Lindy Layton – WE GOT THE LOVE (24/04/1993, #38, 3 weeks; PWL International, PWCD 250) Lindy is cool, a pop artist born in Hammersmith, London in 1970 and singer on Beats International’s 1990 number one hit, ‘Dub Be Good To Me’. This is mildly racy pop soul, less urban than Beats International, but it works very well. The label is owned by Pete Waterman and based in SE1, London.
#21: Sultans of Ping F.C. – MICHIKO (30/10/1993, #43, 2 weeks; Epic, 6598222) Peelite stuff from this Cork, Ireland band, who had been formed on 1988. It feels a bit like a band The Hitchers I heard via the Peel show in 1997/98. Their album of this year has a track about Old Big ‘Ead Brian Clough, this one isn’t on that album. It is odd, really, that this was put out by a New York record label founded in 1953 and one of the majors.
#20: Zero B – LOVE TO BE IN LOVE (24/07/1993, #54, 2 weeks; Internal, LIECD 6) This has a very serene repeated bit! Starts off the Reconnection EP from William Dorez and Nick Coles. The record label is a London W6 one, established by Christian Tattersfield.
#19: Dannielle Gaha, now Dannielle DeAndrea – DO IT FOR LOVE (27/02/1993, #52, 2 weeks; Epic, 6584612) I’d say this was fine pop soul. ‘Secret Love’ is also very good. She was born in Australia in 1967, she is now Sydney-based.
#18: Ten City – FANTASY (11/09/1993, #45, 2 weeks; Columbia, 6595042) Good. Strings and vocals. Elegant bliss. A Chicago, IL House act from 1987 to 1994 with Byron Stingily, Herb Lawson and Byron Burke. ‘That’s the Way Love Is’ (1989) is their best known. Columbia is the oldest brand name in recorded sound, founded in 1889 in Washington, DC. Its US base is in New York, UK in London, W8.
#17: Bryan Powell – IT’S ALRIGHT (13/03/1993, #73, 1 week; Talkin’ Loud, TLKCD 34) This is an atmospheric New Jack Swing tune. Cool. Powell was born on Rugby, Warwickshire, but raised in Hackney, London. The record label Talkin’ Loud was founded by DJs Gilles Peterson and Norman Jay in 1990, in London. Gilles hasn’t been involved since 2001. Galliano and others released on it.
#16: Rhythm N Bass – CAN’T STOP THIS FEELING (03/07/1993, #59, 2 weeks; Epic, 6592002) ‘Can’t Stop This Feeling’ is a demonstrative RnB banger; a UK response to US RnB, led by Alistair Tennant and Wayne Hector. Irrepressible stuff. Good judgement from Epic to put this out: a shame it wasn’t bigger. Tennant was born in London in 1973 and has released albums and singles. Hector became a Sony ATV songwriting and doing vocals for the likes of Boyzone, Peter Andre, Five, Damage, Westlife and Gareth Gates.
#15: Aftershock – SLAVE TO THE VIBE (21/08/1993, #11, 8 weeks; Virgin America, VUSCD 75) The multi-ethnic pair of Guy Routte and Jose Rivera, aka. Frost were behind Aftershock and this fine mix of Prince and New Jack Swing. At least I felt that; RateYourMusic says this is garage house. Virgin is a major label founded by Richard Branson in London in 1972. It is now art of Universal, having been part of Thorn EMI. This is by far the biggest hit in my non-Spotify list! Unfairly elided since.
#14: Krush Perspective – LET’S GET TOGETHER (SO GROOVY NOW) (16/01/1993, #61, 2 weeks; Perspective, PERD 7416) Mint production, this. Krush were comprised of Angie Smith, Ashley Jackson and Christy Williams who, sadly, and unaccountably, only released this one single. The label was formed in Edina, MN by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in partnership with the parent label A&M in 1991 and closed in 1997. It’s no surprise to learn the ace production on this is Jam and Lewis.
#13: Serious Rope feat. Sharon Dee Clarke – HAPPINESS (22/05/1993, #54, 2 weeks; Rumour, RUMACD 64) Serious Rope were Aron Friedman and Damon Rochefort, a UK based duo. Rochefort was a journalist for Smash Hits and the Sun who loved Black music. Friedman a regular producer, remixer, arranger orchestrator and musician on records by Steve Hackett, Bad Boys Inc., Jonathan King and Take That and many more. Sharon Dee Clarke, born in London in 1966, is a singer songwriter who released a range of singles from 1986 to 1999; as well as a theatre and TV actor. With Rochefort and Steve McCutcheon, Clarke was a member of the house group Nomad. This has a good, long intro and a memorable hook.
#12: Sandy B. – FEEL LIKE SINGIN (Def Classic Mix) (20/02/1993, #60, 1 week; Nervous, SANCD 1) Sandy, also known as Sandra Barber, was born in New York in 1955 and attended high school in New Jersey. She had released a soul funk disco LP The Best Is Yet To Come as far back as 1978 and had also been in the band Chew and on Rare Pleasure’s ‘Let Me Down Easy’. Nervous Records was formed in NY in 1990 by veteran Sam Weiss and his son Mike Weiss. This is delightful stuff. What organ! Such woozy wheezing.
#11: JC-001 – NEVER AGAIN (24/04/1993, #67, 2 weeks; Anxious, ANX 1012CD) Strong track, opposing ethnic purity and strongly advocating anti-racism, anti-fascism and anti-ethnic cleansing. The Specials are sampled. We hear Jonathan Chandra Pandy, an Asian-Irish rapper from Ladbroke Grove in London, born in 1966, the son of historian Bob Pandy who stood as a Labour candidate in the 1979 General Election. Bob’s sister Gloria is Killing Joke’s Black Jester Jaz Coleman’s mother. So JC and JCP are cousins. Anxious Records is a record label belonging to David A. Stewart of the Eurythmics. Founded in 1985, it is based in London, EC4N, its parent label is Warner.
#10: Jomanda – NEVER (Band of Gypsies Original Mix) (13/11/1993, #40, 2 weeks; Big Beat, A 8347CD) Jomanda were an RnB house act from NJ, USA, consisting of Renee Washington, Cheri Williams and Yavahn (died October 2003.Actually their only UK top 40, this. ‘I Like It’ is also decent. Their label is New York based, with an emphasis on house and hip hop, having been founded by 22 year old Craig Kallman in 1987.
#9: Shades of Rhythm – SWEET REVIVAL (KEEP IT COMIN’) (20/02/1993, #61, 1 week; ZTT, ZANG 40CD) I love this – classic rave house stuff with Fairlit, collaged vocals. Dance act from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, consisting of Kevin Lancaster, Nick Slater and Rayan “Gee” Hepburn. The Zang Tumb Tuum (ZTT) label was founded by Trevor Horn, Jill Sinclair and Paul Morley in 1983. This is good!
#8: Bizarre Inc. feat. Angie Brown – TOOK MY LOVE (27/02/1993, #19, 5 weeks; Vinyl Solution, STORM 60CD) Bizarre Inc. were formed in Stafford, Staffordshire in 1989. Angie Brown was born in Brixton, London in 1963. The label Vinyl Solution, now defunct, was run from Portobello Road, London, W11. This is more good pop: excellent, lascivious sounds.
#7: JTQ with Noel McKoy – SEE A BRIGHTER DAY (03/07/1993, #49, 2 weeks; Big Life, BLRDA 97) Flute. Uplift. A jazz-funk for 1993. Wise lyrics deepen the effect of what are wonderful chord changes. And that hazy Barry Briggs synth undertow. The James Taylor Quartet was formed in Rochester, Kent in 1985 and vocalist Noel McKoy was born in Clapham, South London. Their previous 1993 hit ‘Love the Life’ is canny too. The flipside to this includes a soul jazz version of the TV theme, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, no less. They did loads more in that ilk. This Acid Jazz emerged from The Prisoners who had been on Stiff Records. Taylor played Hammond organ for them. Big Life Records was founded in 1986 by Jazz Summers and Tim Parry and is based in London, NW1.
#6: Moodswings feat. Chrissie Hynde – SPIRITUAL HIGH (STATE OF INDEPENDENCE) (Remix) (23/01/1993, #47, 2 weeks; Arista, 74321127712) A UK downtempo or New age band who started in 1989. They were James F.T. Hood and Grant Showbiz, aka Grant Cunliffe who had produced The Fall, The Smiths and Billy Bragg. Hynde was born in Akron, OH in 1951. The New York label was founded by Clive Davis in November 1974, subsumed within RCA in 2004. Just class, this record.
#5: Efua – SOMEWHERE (03/07/1993, #42, 5 weeks; Virgin, VSCDT 1463) Efua Baker, who is married to Jazzie B, was born in Ghana, 1967 and has appeared in a recent FKA twigs video. Efua’s delivery of spoken word type vocals is engaging, matched by myriad expressive gestures including judicious eye rolling in the video. The ethereal chorus almost evokes Young Marble Giants or the Shangri-Las, curiously enough. “I live my penthouse, my happening career… I would not like it ever again!” Unusual and refreshing! Should’ve been massive, but then at least it did stay in the lower reaches for over a month.
#4: Inner City – BACK TOGETHER AGAIN (14/08/1993, #49, 1 week; Six6, SIXCD 104) Inner City here are Paris Grey (real name Shanna V. Jackson, born 1965 in Glencoe, IL) on vocals and Kevin Saunderson (born 1964 in Brooklyn, NY) as the mixer. The Detroit, MI group formed in 1988. The label is in Surrey, UK, KT14. While this is oddly unheralded, it is actually fantastic: circling, crystalline soul with an ace vocal hook and chorus. ‘Till We Meet Again (Brothers in Rhythm Remix)’ is also good.
#3: Brothers Like Outlaw feat. Alison Evelyn – GOOD VIBRATIONS (23/01/1993, #74, 1 week; Gee Street, GESCD 44) London, jazz hip HOP group consisted of Isaac Bello and Karl “K-Gee” Gordon, who later did mixes of George Michael, All Saints and Sugababes singles. BLO released two albums in 1990-92, and then a third in 2018. Bello had rapped on The KLF’s ‘America: What Time is Love?’ (1992). The label, founded by Richie Rich and Jon Baker, was a subsidiary of Island Records, and also was home to Jungle Brothers, PM Dawn and others. Alison Evelyn later writes and sings on Ty’s Upwards (2003): ‘Inner Love (Samba)’. This is a fine tune. Evocative as owt.
#2: Rapination feat. Carol Kenyon – HERE’S MY A (10/07/1993, #69, 1 week; Logic, 74321153092) An Italian House pop duo Charlie Mallozi and Marco Sabiu (born Forli in Italy’s Romagna region in 1963) who relocated to London in 1988/89. Carol Kenyon was born in the UK in 1959 and had contributed backing vocals as part of the Sisters of Scarlet with Katie Kissoon and Samantha Brown to Dexys Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay (1982). Sabiu worked with Take That, Kylie Minogue, Leee John, Tanita Tikaram, Ennio Morricone, Luciano Pavarotti and Barry Blue – and in 2010 composed actor Christopher Lee’s first concept album. The label was founded by Michael Munzing and Luca Anzilotti in 1989, has offices in Offenbach, Germany and London W1V, Berwick Street. “We should all love disillusion…” Fantastic line. Should have been massive, like the same label’s Dr Alban track ‘It’s My Life’ rightly was. Has a good track sampled too in one bit.
#1: Seven Grand Housing Authority – THE QUESTION (ORIGINAL MIX) (23/10/1993, #70, 1 week; Olympic, ELYCD 010) Sublime house from Terrence Parker. Born and raised in Detroit, MI, Parker has been a DJ since 1980 and recorded music under a vast array of aliases, including this evocative moniker: Seven Grand Housing Authority. The label was created in Liverpool, L1 in 1992 by Andy Carroll and James Barton. Both involved in managing K-Klass who did a remix of this. This is on ANOTHER LEVEL to so much else, even among everything else I have praised in my Spotify and YouTube lists. A brisk, forceful slice of distended techno disco, this draws on gospel and samples ‘Make My Day’ by Grace Under Pressure. Utterly magnificent stuff.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and listening to this range of music which charted in the UK in the year of 1993. Please let me know: (a) if you agree with my choices, (b) if you have any personal favourites from 1993 I’ve not mentioned…
Over the past few months, I have compiled and then listened to a Spotify playlist of around 880 hit singles that charted in the UK Top 75 singles chart during 1993. To plug the gaps of those not on that platform, I also constructed a playlist of 200 or so YouTube videos and watched those. Even with all these, there were a few not accessible anywhere, if maybe as few as 10-20.
What was the point of all this listening? Well, David Lichfield asked me to pick a year I could focus on and appear on his STORMERS podcast, introducing my four or five main picks. The only proviso being that they were, objectively, bangers or stormers, even! The said podcast appearance is upcoming, including my top five choices of favourite 1993 singles. This blog post features the overall Top 75 of my selected favourites from what was on Spotify. This is presented as a loose list, in a very vague order of preference from. It is simply music I liked very much or loved, that charted in 1993. Part one presents #75-26 of the main list of those Spotify-resident singles. Part two will present the all-important Top 25, plus a Top 25 consisting of my favourite singles not on Spotify, but on YouTube.
Why 1993? Well, I loved living through it as a year. Over halfway into my junior school years and both teachers I had in Year 5 and Year 6 were amazing in different ways. Yet, I was barely cognisant at all of popular music at the time. Starting, just about, to realise quite liked some ABBA songs via the prominence of ABBA Gold, both at home and elsewhere, but I don’t think I was consciously listening to music in any particularly interested way. Reading books and watching television were more typical pursuits.
So, this can’t truly be described as nostalgia so much as a discovery of older material that slipped through my perceptual net. An attempt to partially but empathetically listen to all songs that reached some level of popularity in the UK. My word, yes, even including Michael Bolton, though he didn’t produce the very worst song of the year, funnily enough! Of course, the years 1988 to 1992 are often said to mark the height of house, rave and dance influence, but I was interested to see what 1993 had in its vaults, given just how brilliant a musical year all round 1994 was. Of course, the Chemical Brothers, 808 State, the Prodigy et al were a key strain in late 1990s music, prefacing some tremendous bursts of popular dance music from acts like Basement Jaxx in the years of my youth, the early 2000s.
There was far too much heavy metal for my tastes in 1993, a kind of periodic element that keeps cropping up in BBC Four’s Top of the Pops reruns. I just don’t feel an affinity with or get that particular genre, though certainly have liked individual songs by Metallica and Def Leppard. There was something of a clash between that better more expansive “Britpop” before its time – Pulp, Saint Etienne, The Auteurs, no Denim sadly – and American grunge. All of which sounded more various and interesting than most guitar band music from, the last twenty years.
Consistently sonically adventurous and uncompromisingly direct in lyrics, hip hop was gravitating towards the gangsta, but there were also continued rhizomatic branching out from the Daisy Age tree, or oddities pointing the way to OutKast, Cannibal Ox, the Wu Tang Clan or Clouddead. New Jack Swing was in perhaps surprisingly rude health, clearly not being mainly a 1987 to 1991 phenomenon as I had presumed. It runs in parallel to the forgotten continent of women-led RnB, with the likes of SWV – and several girl groups featuring in my list – pointing the way to later works by TLC, Aaliyah, Lumidee or Destiny’s Child.
The one most annoying tendency – along with seemingly endless appearances by the overgrown laddish Rod Stewart – was the use of unsubtle, “smooth” or “passion”-signifying saxophone solos. These must have appeared in at least thirty tracks across the year. That may seem small, but 3 per cent is a far higher proportion than there are out-there oddities or bemusing novelties.
I have consciously not aimed to regurgitate the received wisdom or my own preconceptions of the key tracks of 1993, but I rather aim to reveal neglected delights and celebrate the less-remembered. #72, #75 and #27, for instance, are long-time favourites where my enthusiasm is cooled somewhat by various ill-advised media pontifications by their vocalists – in order: dissing Abba; going in for tiresome anti-PC/”woke” diatribes and trolling by endorsing Trump; endorsing anti-Vaxx and other Conspiracy Theories. I do think these songs’ musical power transcends the contemporary foibles of their key creative figures – so, it wouldn’t be true to my genuine feelings if I excised them all together.
Of the first fifty (#75-26) I have picked, all charted in the Top 75: 28 outside of the Top 40, 16 from #11-40 and a mere 6 reached the Top 10. The records below deserve recollection, rediscovery and will provoke thought or dancing in 2021.
I embed YouTube videos below, but you can also listen here to the Spotify playlist of the tracks featured here, in descending order from #75. This will be updated once Part Two has been published.
#75: Leftfield Lydon – OPEN UP (13/11/1993, #13, 5 weeks; Hard Hands, HAND 009CD)
Opening up is London duo Leftfield and John Lydon’s ace techno track: every bit unreasonable and anarchic, even if we know that the singer’s unruly libertarianism now trends ever rightwards rather than being in any way righteous.
#74: Kim Wilde – IN MY LIFE (13/11/1993, #54, 1 week; MCA, KIMTD 19) This is cool, heavily Fairlighter-led (Fairlit?) dance pop. Kim Wilde is a reliably lively and attractive pop star, born in Chiswick, London in 1960. I love how she wittily wields a guitar in the video when no guitar is in evidence – quite right too!
#73: LL Cool J – HOW I’M COMIN’ (10/04/1993, #37, 2 weeks; Def Jam, 6591692) East Coast gangsta stuff from the then 25-year-old Queens, New York rapper. Dynamic music and production, with vivid sirens and incendiary bustle. Sultry vocals from women backing singers among LL’s braggadocio; it isn’t going to be regulated!
#72: The Auteurs – LENNY VALENTINO (27/11/1993, #41, 2 weeks; Hut, HUTCD 36) Unquestionably Luke Haines (born Walton, Surrey, 1967)’s most undoubtedly topper tune, though the peak of his career has to be Black Box Recorder, where Sarah Nixey sings (much more recently, he did a tuneful and eccentric concept album about 1970s British wrestling). The Auteurs formed in 1992 in London and Haines remains a kind of metropolitan art school curmudgeon par excellence, who gets it right sometimes.
#71: Jade – DON’T WALK AWAY (20/03/1993, #7, 8 weeks; Giant W, 0160CD) RnB girl group from Chicago, IL consisting of Joi Marshall, Tonya Kelly and Di Reed. This is mint New Jack Swing from a great city. Their ‘I Wanna Love You’ is also good. Jade recorded two albums in 1992 and 1994.
#70: Jonny L – OOH I LIKE IT (ORIGINAL SIN) (28/08/1993, #73, 1 week; XL Recordings, XLS 44CD) A tail end of summer hit, here, if just for a meagre week. The vocal is ran through a vocoder, and feels very pre-Daft Punk or Modjo. Jonny Listers was born in 1970 in the UK. He later did a highly-regarded Drum N’ Bass album Sawtooth (1997) and even was even part of the True Steppers who recorded ‘Out of Your Mind’ in 2000 with Dane Bowers and Victoria Beckham. Good fast but slightly melancholy dance tune age. As Jonny L, five years later, he reached 7 places higher with ’20 Degrees’.
#69: Squeeze – SOME FANTASTIC PLACE (11/09/1993, #73, 1 week; A & M, 5803792) They are a London band, of course, formed as far back as March 1974, surely the only band in this list to date from the Harold Wilson era of British history. This is one of my favourite songs of theirs, I recall hearing it on the satellite channel VH1 long ago. Lilting, circling and plangent stuff.
#68: Sven Väth & Ralf Hildenbeutel – AN ACCIDENT IN PARADISE (06/11/1993, #57, 2 weeks; Eye Q, YZ 778CD) This is the first of two appearances in my list from German electronic ace Sven Väth. Hildenbeutel is a Frankfurt producer, born in 1969. It’s an obscure stormer, apparently perhaps ‘trance’ music, which I know little about.
#67: Kingmaker – 10 YEARS ASLEEP (08/05/1993, #15, 4 weeks; Scorch, CDSCORCHS 8) Jaunty stuff! This Kingston Upon Hull lot are very much an old favourite band of my wife Rachel. Vocalist Loz Hardy was born in Manchester in 1970. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer planet […] So don’t pretend to care when you don’t care”. Incredibly catchy indie pop.
#66: 2 Unlimited – FACES (04/09/1993, #8, 7 weeks; Continental, PWCD 268) Very good euro dance stuff, actually! Funnily moody posing in the decidedly garish video. ‘No Limit’ should perhaps be in here but is too familiar to need promoting. This lot were, of course, from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. You can get there on the ferry from North Shields, why-aye.
#65: Altern-8 – EVERYBODY – 2 BAD MICE REMIX (03/07/1993, #58, 1 week; Network, NWKCD 73) Fine techno from far-sighted mask-wearers from Stafford, Staffordshire in the West Midlands. “Everybody… EVERY-EEEEEE-BODY!” Helium oddity shifts to wistful minor-key chords, to see in the – as far as I recall – hot summer of 1993.
#64: Lena Fiagbe – YOU COME FROM EARTH (24/07/1993, #69, 1 week; Mother, MUMDD 42) Released and charting for a sadly solitary week in the heart of summer, this is tasteful symphonic soul. There is a laudably universalist, anti-racist message. I rather like it… Lena was born in Ladbroke Grove, London in 1972; her song here points forward to Emeli Sande or even the more orchestral Little Simz tracks on her new album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Watch here Simz’s mint performance which opened the excellent, overdue Tonight With Target BBC Three series which features British hip hop, grime, RnB and so much else. Of course that British-Nigerian rapper was only born in February 1994…
#63: Roach Motel – AFRO SLEEZE (21/08/1993, #73, 1 week; Junior Boy’s Own, JBO 1412) There are wistful 1970s echoes here, with minor-key inflections. Roach Motel was UK-based duo Pete Heller and Terry Farley’s house project, which predated many remixes of well-known electronic dance tunes. Heller was born in Brighton and is now London-based, which presumably this was. This record label later released Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy (Remix)’ in the summer of 1996. This feels close to X-Press 2’s ‘Say What!’ but edges it out in its layered hedonism.
#62: Aaron Hall – GET A LITTLE FREAKY WITH ME (23/10/1993, #66, 1 week; MCA, MCSTD 1936) In 1987, Hall had co-founded the crucial group Guy with Teddy Riley in Manhattan. Hall was born in the Bronx, NY, USA in 1964. This is a storming tune musically, properly improper New Jack Swing. There’s a Rick James or Prince element to it: ’nuff said.
#61: Tina Turner – I DON’T WANNA FIGHT (22/05/1993, #7, 9 weeks; Parlophone, CDRS 6346) I never really “got” Tina’s music back in the 1990s itself, just recalling ‘The Best’ being endlessly played at Sunderland AFC’s Roker Park at the instigation of chairman and Darlington furniture magnate Bob Murray. I didn’t know Tina’s horrific life story and how all these later hits were such a triumphant thing. Turner was born in Brownsville, TN, USA in 1939, making her the elder statesperson of this list. There are parallel readings of this as: ending a relationship or ending heated ideological battles in politics and coming to pluralist accommodations!
This is hands down the most baffling 1993 hit single on Spotify! Freaky Realistic were Aki Omori, Justin Anderson and Michael Peter Lord: a band formed in Peckham, South London in the early 1990s. Oddly, they link to Saint Etienne through an engineer Gerard Johnson and Hearsay through a 16 year-old Kym Marsh doing backing vocals somewhere on their only album Frealism. This is just tremendously odd: catchy, 1970s-revivalist disco yet up-to-date. The name of the venerable Trekker actor’s name is chanted in the chorus, alongside winsome vocals by Aki and Lord rapping. Delightful, yet forgotten! Recall it. Play it!
#59: Sinclair – AIN’T NO CASANOVA (21/08/1993, #28, 5 weeks; Dome, CDDOME, 1004) A slow-burning, late-summer into autumn hit here from Mike Sinclair, born in West London, UK. Slightly jazzy New Jack Swing with significant humility and no braggadocio in evidence. This has an unassuming urban conviviality to it; is there a Paul Gilroy in the house?
#58: Ace of Base – HAPPY NATION (13/11/1993, #42, 3 weeks; London, 8619272) This song from Gothenburg band Ace of Base seems to reflect on social democratic Sweden, so long gradually less so from 1976… Singer Jenny Berggren (born 1972) intones generally incisive lines: “That no man’s fit to rule the world alone”, ideas won’t die et al. Interesting, good tune, opening with Enigma-like Gregorian elements, but which are more melancholy, accompanying the band’s patented – and unique – musical signature of moody Nordic reggae. This re-entered the chart in 1994 for another 3 weeks, reaching #40.
#57: Slowdive – ALISON (29/05/1993, #69, 1 week; Creation, CRESCD 119) Lovely dream pop, which charted ridiculously low. ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ is also on this Outside Your Room EP, from the Reading, Berkshire band who formed in October 1989. Luton, Bedfordshire-born Neil Halstead (1970) and Fareham, Hampshire-born Rachel Goswell (1971) sing celestially among the haze of reverb-drenched guitars and drums. This band are underrated besides My Bloody Valentine. Oddly, it almost feels it could be an ode to Alison Cooper (Charlotte Ritchie) of the tremendous BBC sitcom Ghosts!
#56: D:Ream – U R THE BEST THING (Originally, 04/07/1992, #72, 1 week. Did 9 weeks in 1993, reaching #19, re-entering 24/04/1993. Also 1994! Magnet MAG 1011CD)
This is a truly excellent dance-pop song from the Derry, Northern Ireland band. I had no idea – or had forgotten – that BBC presenter Brian Cox (born 1968 in Manchester) played keyboards for them. He does a good job. The one co-opted by New Labour is also good, but this far exceeds it in its grace. ‘I Like It’ is also very good, with fine house piano presumably played by Cox. As Channel Four’s Derry Girls makes well clear, Northern Ireland was in need of uplift and cheer in the 1990s.
#55: dada – DOG (04/12/1993, #71, 1 week; IRS, CDEIRSS 185) Joie Calio, Michael Gurley and Phil Leavitt’s well-named band were a complete discovery to me when listening to the Spotify 1993 singles. The Los Angeles, CA band released five albums from 1992 to 2004. ‘Dog’, from the first, Puzzle, is winsome, tuneful and fittingly surreal.
#54: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – BOOM! SHAKE THE ROOM (11/09/1993, #1, 13 weeks; Jive, JIVECD 335) This is definitely a case where my taste accords with that of the 1993 crowd! This West Philadelphia, PA duo had formed in 1986 and Jazzy Jeff (1965) and Will Smith, aka. “The Fresh Prince” (1968) are both Philly born. There’s some quite weird stuff on the verse leading into the chorus. Evidently, this reflects the pop end of hip hop and very effectively so.
#53: Aphex Twin – ON (27/11/1993, #32, 3 weeks; Warp, WAP 39CD) Not really his best but a grower on each listen and still evidently very good stuff. Richard D. James was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1971 but grew up in Cornwall. The excellent video to ‘On’ is directed by Jarvis Cocker there and seems to use “super” 8mm film to experiment in Salvador Dali-esque fashion. This is also, I gather, Aphex’s second biggest singles chart hit too, after ‘Windowlicker’.
#52: Good Girls – JUST CALL ME (Remix) (24/07/1993, #75, 1 week; Motown, TMGCD 1417) Los Angeles girl group – Shireen Crutchfield, Joyce Tolbert and DeMonica Santiago – on Motown, working in a New Jack Swing vein. This sultry urban tune plays on voice and technological communication means, linking back to Jade.
#51: Orbital – LUSH 3-1 (21/08/1991, #43, 2 weeks; Internal, LIECD 7) Very good stuff per se, if not totally top-drawer Orbital, I’d say… This electronic duo, formed in Otford, Kent, were active from 1989. Nah, actually it is top-drawer, having played it more!
#50: Rotterdam Termination Source – MERRY X-MESS (25/12/1993, #73, 2 weeks; React, CDREACT 33) This is mental. A truly unique Christmas offering from the year of Saint Etienne and Tim Burgess, from this Gabber and hardcore group who, as you might expect, were from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. ‘Poing’ did well in 1992 charts. Maurice Steenbergen, initially with Danny Scholte, erm, programmed!
#49: Aimee Mann – I SHOULD’VE KNOWN (04/09/1993, #55, 2 weeks; Imago, 72787250437) This, Aimee Mann’s first UK hit, is excellent and overlooked. Mann was born in Richmond, VA, USA in 1960. There is even a tangential telephonic link back to #52. In the video, Mann holds a 1940s detective novel she is reading before she starts singing.
#48: Mary J. Blige & The Notorious B.I.G. – REAL LOVE REMIX (28/08/1993, #26, 4 weeks; Uptown, MCSTD 1922) Expansive urban soul from Blige, a Bronx, NY, USA artist (born 1971). This originally surfaced in late 1992, reaching #68 and spending 2 weeks in the chart, before this remix, with added Biggie Smalls (born Brooklyn, NY, 1972, died in Los Angeles, CA, 1997). Also good from MJB in 1993 is ‘You Remind Me’: fine harmonies and low-key synthetic synth work. And in the elegant ‘Reminisce’, is that a harpsichord?
#47: American Music Club – JOHNNY MATHIS’ FEET (24/04/1993, #58, 2 weeks; Virgin, VSCDG 1445)
This is inimitable sad-sack storytelling from Mark Eitzel (born Walnut Creek, CA, in 1959), whose band had formed in San Francisco, CA in 1982. Wonderful! Wonderful!
#46: Martine Gerault – REVIVAL (30/01/1993, #37, 5 weeks in total; 2 weeks in 1992, charting lower at #53; ffrr, FCD 205) Lavish urban soul, like trip hop in its sensuous cool: predating such great bands as Portishead and Bows. Girault hails from Brooklyn, New York. Ray Hayden produced this downtempo delight; he runs the Hackney-based Opaz Records label.
#45: Sade – KISS OF LIFE (08/05/1993, #44, 3 weeks; Epic, 6591162) This is similarly mint. From the same album, the other single ‘Cherish the Day’ is ace, drifting serene soul. Sade were a comparatively veteran band, formed in London in 1983, while Helen Folasade Adu was born in Ibadan, Nigeria in 1959. This is a music which is continually underrated, absurdly derided by some, though Marcello Carlin and Lena Friesen on Then Play Long have never made this mistake.
#44: Ice Cube – IT WAS A GOOD DAY (27/03/1993, #27, 4 weeks; 4th & Broadway, BRCD 270) What a sublime main guitar loop on this! It is from Ohio’s finest, the magnificent Isley Brothers’ ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ (1977). O’Shea Jackson was born in Crenshaw, CA in 1969 and was a key figure in West Coast hip hop. From ’93, ‘Wicked’ is also excellent, with a ragga guest vocalist and an atmospheric siren. That one day in the neighbourhood where no one died from guns.
#43: The Juliana Hatfield Three – MY SISTER (11/09/1993, #71, 1 week; Mammoth, YZ 767CD)
Forceful, sassy, tuneful stuff from Wiscasset, Maine’s Hatfield. Born in 1967, this isn’t the last time we hear this defiant, powerful voice in this story of 1993.
#42: East 17 – SLOW IT DOWN (10/04/1993, #13, 7 weeks; London, LONCD 339) Excellent strings! Good production, sense of space and dynamics for this track from the Walthamstow boy band who are on a different planet, quality-wise, to the vast majority of later 1990s boy bands. Other great slow tracks of 1993 are Debbie Harry’s ‘Strike Me Pink’ and Madonna’s ‘Rain’.
#41: Freddie Mercury – LIVING ON MY OWN (31/07/1993, #1, 13 weeks, 16 including its 1980s debut; Parlophone, CDR 6355)
Born in 1946, Mercury features as an elder statesman here, his great, vital scat vocals anticipating a certain mega hit of 1995.
#40: Baby D – DESTINY (18/12/1993, #69, 1 week; Production House, PNC 065) Not in this instance a magnificent epic of British history from David Edgar, but a first hit from a vital cutting edge dance pop act. This seems the closest here to jungle and DnB so far, coming late in the year. Dee had been a former member of Phil Fearon’s Galaxy…
This seems to be the somewhat tamer pop version:
Whereas this is the one I listened to via Spotify: ’tis the vastly more dynamic breakbeat hardcore bizness:
#39: Janet Jackson – IF (31/07/1993, #14, 7 weeks; Virgin, VSCDT 1474) There is that Jam and Lewis power to this, with a gorgeous RnB drift… As producers, they defined the ‘Minneapolis sound’, alongside Prince. This is high octane and high calibre. See other singles from janet. (1993), including ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’. Janet was born in Gary, IN in 1966, while Jimmy Jam was born in Minneapolis, MN in 1959 and Terry Lewis in Omaha, NE in 1956.
#38: David Bowie feat. Lenny Kravitz – BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA (04/12/1993, #35, 3 weeks; Arista 74321177052) After largely thin material with Tin Machine, the Bowie resurgence continued apace with this, following the decent Black Tie, White Noise (1993) LP. This is the title song from the contemporaneous BBC Two drama adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s novel, directed and co-scripted by Roger Michell (1956-2021; RIP). Also from 1993 it is worth mentioning that track with Al B. Sure! and Timar: ‘Black Tie White Noise – Urban Mix’ which has some good jazz chords. Bowie never lost touch with the urban; while, in this recording, proving an evocative voice of ambivalence regarding suburbia.
#37: New Model Army – HERE COMES THE WAR (20/02/1993, #25, 2 weeks; Epic, 6589352)
Here is a curiosity: a tangibly political Bradford, Yorkshire band led by a guitarist and vocalist called ‘Slade the Leveller’ (Justin Sullivan, born 1956) who were on two major labels, EMI from 1984 and Epic Records from December 1991. They were staunchly anti-Tory through the Thatcher era, writing a song called ‘Spirit of the Falklands’ and a haunting lament, ‘A Liberal Education’. As Discogs also says: ‘The group’s championing of traditional working-class ethics saw an unexpected boost for a dying art and trade – that of the clog.’ They appeared on Top of the Pops at one stage with the slogan ‘Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin’ which attracted derision from anarcho-punk traditionalists Conflict who replied with their own motif: ‘Only Stupid Bastards Help EMI’. Surely there is a way beyond such purism into recognising that putting out left-wing material out on major capitalist labels isn’t a bad thing. No levelling up here: short shrift for that cynical slogan! This is trenchant, expansive and very well produced. The lyrics remind me of Band of Holy Joy but with a decidedly political edge.
#36: Apache Indian – MOVIN’ ON (23/10/1993, #48, 2 weeks; Island, CID 580) They had a strong of varied hit singles including this impassioned, defiant response to the BNP victory in the Tower Hamlets, London local election. Their singer-songwriter Steven Kapur was born in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1967. Far-right candidate Derek Beackon won the seat, was Councillor from 16 September 1993, but was to lose in May 1994 despite winning more votes. We should never be complacent about Nazism and need to keep heeding Apache Indian’s articulate message here.
#35: Sven Väth – L’ESPERENZA (24/07/1993, #63, 2 weeks; Eye Q, YZ 757) Väth was born in 1964 in the city of Offenbach, Germany (though others sources say Obertshausen, also in the state of Hesse). This is gently elegiac electronica dance or ambient techno, according to your predilection. He was later to record a version of the Gainsbourg-Birkin sensual belter ‘Je t’aime’ with Grenoble, France-born electroclash force Miss Kittin. Eye Q was a Frankfurt-based label that Sven co-founded.
#34: Culture Beat – GOT TO GET IT (06/11/1993, #4, 11 weeks; Epic, 6597212) Eurodance from Frankfurt, Germany, adjacent to Sven, but which caught on way beyond the technohead connoisseurs. Their singer, by this stage, was Tania Evans, born in Edmonton, London in 1967. Fine stuff. Enough said.
#33: The Breeders – DIVINE HAMMER (06/11/1993, #59, 1 week; 4AD, BAD 3017CD) They were formed in 1988 by Kim Deal of the Pixies and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses in Dayton, OH – though by this stage it was Deal, Kelley Deal, Carrie Bradley and Josephine Wiggs. ‘Cannonball’ is magnifique, of course, but too obvious, so I am opting for this other single off their Last Splash (1993) LP. 4AD was started in 1980 by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, financially assisted by Beggars Banquet. The significant label has bases in London SW18 and NY 10012.
#32: Ultramarine – KINGDOM (24/07/1993, #46, 2 weeks; Blanco Y Negro, NEG 65CD) This is an amazing folktronica single, with the great Robert Wyatt, born in 1945, on vocals and featuring as a King in the video! The video reminds me somewhat of a more assured Winstanley-reminiscent precursor of Jah Wobble’s promo for ‘Songs of Innocence’ (1996). While I prefer their earlier LP Every Man and Woman is a Star (1991) to United Kingdoms (1993), both are essential listening and this is a rare UK hit single that is intelligently Utopian, grounded yet inspiring, dissecting power relations and social class hierarchies. This Essex band later had a top 75 hit ‘Hymn’ featuring David McAlmont. They were clearly moving in circles with people who made some of the best music past and present: touring with Bjork, Meat Beat Manifesto and Orbital and working with Canterbury legends Kevin Ayers and Lol Coxhill.
#31: Malaika – GOTTA KNOW (YOUR NAME) (31/07/1993, #68, 1 week; A & M, 5802732) Malaika LeRae Sallard was born in 1972 in Seattle, WA. It’s an undoubtedly hip and vivacious vocal performance, Malaika opening with the “hey!” shout. This feels like a softer New Jack Swing: somewhere between Prince and TLC. Malaika had links to Steve “Silk” Hurley and Todd Terry.
#30: The Goats – ‘AAAH D YAAA’ (29/05/1993, #53, 2 weeks; Ruffhouse, 6593032) Great stuff this. Jazz hip hop from The Goats: founded in 1991 in Philadelphia, PA. They were the rappers OaTie Kato (James D’Angelo), Madd aka. ‘the M-A-the-double-D’ (Maxx Stoyanoff Williams), and Swayzack (Patrick Shupe). Its flipside is ‘Typical American’ which is also good and vastly different, both to ‘Aaah D Yaaa’ and to much other music. Yes, there is the terrain of Guru, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, but The Goats were charting their own course.
Here is ‘Typical American’ too, with, impressively, a t-shirt of Belfast left-wing punk band Stiff Little Fingers in evidence.
#29: Belly – FEED THE TREE (23/01/1993, #32, 3 weeks; 4AD, BAD 3001CD) This is a fabulous blend of Pixies-type song and bass sound with a vocal which has Polly Harvey-like intelligence, strength and vitality. Belly were formed in Newport, RI in 1991 by former Throwing Muses and Breeders figure Tanya Donelly (also born there in 1966).
#28: Sabres of Paradise – SMOKEBELCH II (02/10/1993, #55, 3 weeks; Sabres Of Paradise, PT 009CD) Andrew Weatherall (1963-2020): a top man born in Windsor, Berkshire, who we haven’t heard the last of here… The Sabres were comprised of Weatherall, Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns: a London band extant from 1992-1995 and later responsible for the astounding ‘Wilmot’ (1994). Intriguingly, the band’s name seems to based on Lesley Blanch’s 1960 book The Sabres of Paradise, a biography of Tsarist Russian rule in early 19th century Georgia and the Caucasus. This sublime tune – later featuring in longform on their third LP for Warp Records, Sabresonic II – is based on ‘The New Age of Faith’ (1989) by The Prince of Dance Music and L. B. Bad, which had been released on a New York label. Unoriginal, sure, but when is that necessarily the point of dance music which is surely all about sharing? This is JUST magnificent.
While on Spotify, I have had to go for the ‘Beatless Mix‘ version on their debut LP Sabresonic (1993), this is the full original version, in ‘Entry’ and then ‘Exit’ forms:
#27: The The – SLOW EMOTION REPLAY (17/04/1993, #35, 3 weeks; Epic, 6590772)
Another alternative’ act on a major label, The The are Matt Johnson (born 1961 in East London), a follicly-challenged singer-songwriter who gradually shifted from bedroom electronica with a post punk attitude to stadium rock a tad edgier than most. Most of the The The albums from Blue Burning Soul (1981) onwards remain excellent, though you trust his presentation-of-self as truth-telling seer less as time passes and he opens his gob more. This is an unquestionably powerful song, though; featuring one of many stratospheric Johnny Marr contributions to 1990s music: see also everything Marr recorded with Kirsty MacColl, Billy Bragg and Electronic.
#26: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – DREAM OF ME (BASED ON LOVE’S THEME) (17/07/1993, #24, 5 weeks; Virgin, VSCDT 1461)
OMD formed in Meols, Wirral in Merseyside in 1978 with the lead singer Andy McCluskey born in Heswall in 1959. These were the days when a band being a going concern for 15 years was relatively incredible: in the next part of this story, we’ll encounter a band of Brummies formed the same year. This is directly inspired by Barry White’s ‘Love Theme’ released by Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1973 and is that rare thing: a loving, subtle tribute to black American music from Britain that works as homage and as its own unique thing. There’s an arty, popular concern with sensuality from the off in the video with the direct allusions to Busby Berkeley dance choreography.
In part two of this article, we count down my subjectively selected Top 25 singles of 1993! Plus, go through my favourite 25 singles only accessible via YouTube. Oh, and I go over some of 1993’s curios and oddities which are, as expected, mostly to be found on YT rather than Spotify…
Philip Martin, who died last December, was the author of two Play for Todays – Gangsters (1975, which subsequently spun off into two BBC series, 1976-78) and The Remainder Man (1982). Forgotten Television Drama pays tribute by publishing an article in three parts, drawn from extensive interviews with Martin conducted by Tom May last year. In Part One Martin talked about his memories of Gangsters. In this second part Martin discusses The Remainder Man and The Unborn (1980), while Part Three forms a tribute with contributions from Peter Ansorge, David Edgar and David Rudkin.
(Text taken from two Zoom interviews with Philip Martin by Tom May, 17 June and 1 July 2020. Transcribed by Juliette Jones and edited by Billy Smart.)
PM: I was born in Liverpool. My education was pretty rudimentary. I left school at 15, I was…
I rarely comment publicly in any depth on American affairs, but an attempted fascist insurrection, spurred by an incumbent unable to accept actual election results needs some comment. This ‘coup’ was an inept, often buffoonish successor to the Munich Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, that may yet presage more organised, violent threats to democracy from the far right. No-one can deny there was at least some neo-Nazis among the number of protestors nor that one man carried a Confederate flag.
While I await more evidence about the complexion of ‘Antifa’, I currently fail to see any equivalence in proportionate threat between the far right and the far left. Where in the Western World have we seen the far left commit the sort of mass murder committed by the far right that we saw in the 22 July attacks in Norway? In 2011 there, 77 people were killed in a politically motivated domestic terrorist attack.
In the protest marches I have attended in my life, against the Iraq War on 15 February 2003 and as a public sector worker against austerity on 26 March 2011, I didn’t witness any violence or storming of democratic premises. Indelibly etched in my mind is how student protests in November 2010 over tuition fees were marred by the irresponsible violence of one idiot throwing a fire extinguisher from a roof towards a crowded courtyard. Exactly five year later, further student protests were undermined in the public consciousness by reported instigation of violence by the anarchist Black Bloc. Such acts must be unreservedly condemned. These conceited political actors were not directly facing a Nazi threat, as with the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 or the Rock Against Racism marchers of 1977-78, but were needlessly threatening the safety of neutral members of the public.
The “threat” from the anti-democratic left in the UK is paltry and entirely negligible besides that posed by fundamentalist Islamism and, increasingly, far right Nazism. In November 2014, a plot by a disaffected teenager to kill people in my workplace in Newcastle upon Tyne was foiled by police, who raided his home and found a stockpile of bombs and a 9mm Glock handgun. The 19 year was given a life sentence for his planned massacre specifically inspired by the events in Norway 3 years earlier.
Since then, police and intelligence evidence suggests that the threat level from the far right hasincreased, approaching that of its cousin in ideological nihilism, violent and fundamentalist Jihadism. In 2019, Europol reported that the UK had the highest number of far-right terror attacks and plots in Europe.
As any sensible person would, Andrew Neil squarely lays the blame for last night’s events in Washington, DC on ‘TRUMP’. However offended his, Matthew Goodwin or Spiked Online‘s “sensibilities” might be, you just cannot elide though the underlying culpability of the British and American media eco-systems which supported and abetted Trump’s demagoguery at every stage. As Ed Miliband rightly stresses, we cannot be so “high and mighty” in the UK over this as we might like. In 2016 , during the divisive EU membership Referendum campaign – with its abysmal level of debate and rhetoric on both sides – a Leave-backing Nazi killed the Labour MP Jo Cox in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
Thankfully, enough ordinary Americans of all ethnicities in Georgia have pointed towards a way out of this. They voted at the ballot box to deny a fascist President and his many willing senatorial accomplices in the Republican Party their way in thwarting the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Importantly, this means that, in 14 days, the Democrats are in a position where they control all three branches of US government – the Presidency, the House of Representatives and the Senate. More recently, they have only held this strong, unimpeded position for 2 year spells: 1993-95 under Bill Clinton and 2009-11 under Barack Obama. You have to go back as far as to the Jimmy Carter-Tip O’Neill-Robert Byrd Democrat triumverate of 1977-81 to find such an arrangement that has lasted more than one electoral window.
Hopefully, we are going to see more and more Americans making the sort of humane turn the West Virginian senator Byrd made in his career – from opposing 1964 civil rights reforms to strong anti-racist, from supporting the Vietnam War to opposing. Evidently, it is not hard for Biden to achieve a civilising improvement in the level of rhetoric and optics in comparison to his frankly evil predecessor. However, Democrats will seriously need to act in helping people with jobs and wages and work hard to win over voters they have complacently took for granted in Texas and Florida, as Mike Davis has counselled in this excellent essay.
Americans have got to hope that Trump will be the last US President to have had a father being a prominent member of the KKK. They also need to demand that the Democrats make a fairer economy than the Republicans have presided over when controlling 2/3 of the arms of government from 2015 to date.
To end Limited British Take On This #29997, I can do no better than directing you to Albany Georgia-born Ray Charles performing Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s 1930 song ‘Georgia on My Mind’:
‘Other arms reach out to me Other eyes smile tenderly Still in peaceful dreams I see The road leads back to you, yeah’
Mangrove (dir. Steve McQueen, BBC1, 15 November 20200
This is the first in an occasional series of television reviews. No spoiler alert – this television film is about historical events. Yet, perhaps, best if you watch it here before watching or reading this review.
Today, we discuss Small Axe – Mangrove, which was on BBC1, Sunday 15 November, directed by Steve McQueen, not a great album by Prefab Sprout, not a great Hollywood actor, but Sir Stephen Rodney McQueen, CBE, a British filmmaker and video artist, born in Hanwell, West London, 1969.
Mangrove is about the events of 1969 to 1971 when Frank Crichlow opened a West Indian restaurant in Notting Hill as a community meeting place, but faced three incidences of police harassment and attacks on the Mangrove. The film presents the eventual, Black Power-inspired community counter-attack, which takes the form of an angry but peaceful demonstration which is disrupted and attacked by the police. The “Mangrove 9”, who included Crichlow and many others, end up on trial, in the Old Bailey, which tended to be used for the most heinous legal cases like treason.
McQueen and Alasdair Siddon’s script is careful, incisive and intelligent, not portraying a uniform group, but an often fractious and complex Notting Hill community, assailed by the mostly hostile Metropolitan Police force. Yet a peaceful and joyous community it is, as in the scenes with the Trinidadian steel band playing and the customers dancing, or with members of the community simply getting together and talking in what they see as a welcoming, safe space. All of this is facilitated by the devoutly religious, hard-working owner Frank Crichlow, brilliantly brought to world-weary life by Shaun Parkes.
Mangrove emphasises the importance in life of telling the truth and making a stand when you see something wrong happening. Related is the need for leader figures within the Black British community which is rooted deep within that community’s own experiences – we see this in the roles 2 of the Mangrove 9 take – Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) and Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) – who defend themselves and their fellow defendants in court.
For me, the crucial line is when Rhodan claims naively that he can represent himself in court like Darcus and Altheia, telling Frank that “It’s every man for him own self.” To which Frank wisely replies: “Eh! It’s dem and we…” Which ends the scene and emphasises the need for preparation and skill, which Darcus and Altheia have in abundance, and how callow individualism would reduce the strength of the community’s collective voice.
The tone includes humour – there is considerable situational irony in the scene when Judge Clarke tells Darcus off for wearing a beanie-style hat when he himself and all other legal officials are wearing their grey wigs. It is also deeply incisive about wider social ills when PC Pulley gives his dishonest testimony in court about how the Mangrove restaurant was “a haunt of criminals, prostitutes, ponces and the like…” which Darcus Howe later claims is “a myth that has been created about us”, the West Indian community in Notting Hill. A myth which has unfortunately persisted, still resonating in what gets said and printed in our media.
I would link Mangrove with certain recent BBC1 drama series that also depict institutional biases and blind spots of the British legal system with entertaining and illuminating courtroom scenes: Russell T. Davies’s A Very English Scandal (2018) and Amanda Coe’s The Trial of Christine Keeler (2019). These variously dramatized ingrained biases towards straight men and imbalances in power according to social class. Mangrove depicts the British legal system reluctantly being forced to come to terms with racial biases and the truth does out, in this case. Magna Carta, she did not die in vain! Traditional English trial by jury works here the truth is told with sufficient eloquence by Howe and Jones-LeCointe who are juxtaposed with PC Pulley’s arrant, errant lies.
Yet, any “feel good” triumphalist tone is rightly undercut and dissipated at the film’s end: a battle has been won, yes, Britain does make a notable step towards becoming a more inclusive place, but, as the factual on-screen captions inform us, the London Metropolitan police harassment of the Mangrove and its founder Frank Crichlow continued until 18 years later, in 1989… I sense we will get the jubilant, upbeat story with film #2, Lovers Rock, but before that, McQueen here delivers a necessary historical reality check.
Rachel Cooke, television critic of the New Statesman, welcomed this kind of story being told on British television, but added what I feel is an absurd caveat to her evaluation. She expresses reservations about there being too many lengthy speeches. Yes, apparently, a dramatization of one of the most significant trials ever held in this country, at the Old Bailey, needed long speeches cutting down! Surely, a drama of history and ideas and conflict like Mangrove needs this discursive element: it is great to see lots of stimulating and passionate talk on television. While I am certainly not saying that all TV drama needs complex, lengthy speeches, I do feel a bit of the old Trevor Griffiths approach of writing passionate, uncompromising talk is something we need as part of TV drama.
And the actors brilliantly perform these speeches, and other briefer exchanges. Jack Lowden is wonderfully chastened and responsive, adding the lawyer Ian MacDonald to his repertoire of historical British figures: Thomas Wyatt, Stephen Patrick Morrissey, Tony Benn and, perhaps, post-Covid, Siegfried Sassoon… Rochenda Sandall, who I remember seeing in the most recent Line of Duty series, is combative, open, humane but tough. I was talking there about Trevor Griffiths, well what about Derek Griffiths here, wonderfully cast as the Marxist historian, C.L.R. James, long after Play Away, Play School and Play for Today but fully channelling their spirit. Sam Spruell as PC Pulley plays the part with venal deceit, conveying this Constable’s ingrained, unearned sense of racial superiority and casual corruption. This is a fine performance from Spruell in a very difficult role… We still have to come to terms with the history of people like Pulley and their presence today.
Ultimately, this first Small Axe film, Mangrove is a tremendous, carefully calibrated and emotionally and intellectually powerful drama based on real events in 1970: worthy of the name of a 2020 Play for Today. Anyone remotely interested in British history, law or politics, or indeed film or TV drama, should watch it. Really anyone, globally, should try and tune in and watch this on BBC iPlayer, as it has universal resonance beyond its fascinating historical particularities.
Does anyone know whether there were any drama anthology strands of unconnected one-off plays similar to the BBC’s Play for Today (1970-84) from other countries? I ask as I am studying a PhD project that aims to be a history and analysis of PFT and I am conscious of a certain parochialism in my research which I want to address, plus, I am just genuinely stumped on this and wanting to find out!
I am aware of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)’s 1960s-70s transnational pan-European project ‘The Largest Theatre in the World’. Plus, that there were US strands which broadcast plays by Paddy Chayefsky, Reginald Rose, Gore Vidal, Rod Serling and others: the one I am aware of is Playhouse 90 (1956-60). I am also aware there was much “authored” TV work in Europe by film and theatre luminaries such as Ingmar Bergman, Jacques Rivette and Rainer Werner Fassbinder – though these were, I gather, primarily TV films or mini-series rather than for anthologies?
I am aware of the more populist, ‘genre’-based TV anthology traditions of the US and UK – The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-64), The Outer Limits (ABC, 1963-65), Night Gallery (NBC, 1970-73) and UK equivalents Thriller (ATV, 1973-76), Armchair Thriller (Thames/Southern, 1978-80) and Tales of the Unexpected (Anglia, 1979-88), some of which involved creative personnel who also worked on Play for Today: notably, John Bowen, Robin Chapman and Alan Gibson.
Many thanks in advance for any help you can give: you’ll be acknowledged in my published PhD if you can assist! Please comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was delighted to speak yesterday at a fantastic event, Play for Today at 50, from 10.50am, on a panel including Simon Farquhar and John Cook and chaired by Katie Crosson. This necessarily Zoom-based event was on the fiftieth anniversary day of the first broadcast of PFT, as rebranded from The Wednesday Play (1964-70). I outlined a statistical history of the PFT strand, using data visualisation, which would have been infinitely less striking without Rachel Queen’s help!
Simon Farquhar (writer and dramatist) spoke eloquently and emotionally about the small domestic strain of PFT which is rooted in deep emotional truths, lovingly explaining the quality of Julia Jones, Colin Welland and John Challen’s work. John Cook (Glasgow Caledonian University) added to Simon’s extolling of the video studio aesthetic, in deeply questioning “the inexorable logic of film”. John also gave an invaluable account of interviewing Graeme McDonald and made the point that while seen by some as a bland figure, he was a very efficient producer, responsible for producing 4 of the 6 Plays for Today that won BAFTAs for ‘Best Single Drama’, including Spend Spend Spend (1977) – plus, two McDonald-produced PFTs contained ‘Best Actor’ performances: John Le Mesurier in Traitor (1971) and Celia Johnson in Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1973). John’s critical account of institutional change and the anti-video turn was compelling and elegiac with an underlying polemical edge.
The next panel, which I chaired, featured Vicky Ball (De Montfort University) outlining statistics which complemented my own, discerning a decline in the percentage of women working on TV plays from the 1950s to 70s. However, her findings, which accord with mine, noted the significant fact that in Play for Today’s final third (1980-84), 50 per-cent of PFT‘s total credited women writers were employed. There was a definite improvement, following Margaret Matheson’s enabling of Mary O’Malley (RIP) and Caryl Churchill, producers like Innes Lloyd, John Norton, W. Stephen Gilbert, Kenith Trodd and Alan Shallcross all commissioned work by women writers in this era. Vicky also presented interview testimony from writer Paula Milne about her experiences in working at the BBC, some of which were, as Katie Crosson rightly claimed, was “harrowing”. Next, Eleni Liarou (Birkbeck, University of London) outlined a fascinating range of Plays for Today that engaged in complex representations of race including many I must watch: Murder Rap (1980) and Three Minute Heroes (1982), which Helen Wheatley (Warwick University) and others presented for a public screening in Coventry Cathedral in 2018.
Then, Katie Crosson (Royal Holloway, University of London) discussed elisions from the canon of publicly remembered creative personnel on Play for Today, especially championing writer Carol Bunyan (Ladies 1980, Sorry 1981) and producer Irene Shubik and eloquently adding to mine and Simon’s case for Colin Welland as an incredible powerhouse of an actor-writer. Katie’s timely and forceful talk is supplemented by her evocative online exhibition hosted by the BFI and BBC here.
The Q and A included an intelligent discussion from all of the narratively well justified blackface sequence in Barrie Keeffe’s Waterloo Sunset (1979), as well as a lament that nobody seemed to have interviewed Rita May, who wrote England’s Green and Peasant Land (1982). In response to a question from John Wyver, Eleni persuasively argued that PFT was generally one of the more progressive programmes in its representations.
The final panel began with Jonny Murray (Edinburgh University) who contrasted the Scottish-themed plays made from BBC London (though usually filmed on location in Scotland) with a corpus of 14 neglected PFTs made by BBC Scotland. Even I have only seen one of them, Alma Cullen’s neglected delight, Degree of Uncertainty (1979), video-recorded on OB in Edinburgh. In the chat, Vicky Ball and I agreed it was reminiscent of Willy Russell’s stage drama Educating Rita (1980) and Vicky compared it to Helen: A Woman of Today (1973). Simon Farquhar was vocal in criticising the calibre of some of the BBC Scotland plays, which led to lively discussion! Jonny did a vital service in bringing this neglected corpus to our attention: hopefully with a widening of access more than just a select band of academics and enthusiasts may get a chance to decide for themselves…
Finally, John Hill (Royal Holloway, University of London) characterised the 1980s Northern Ireland plays as generally conveying a more consistent bleakness regarding the Troubles, whereas he argued that a range of 1970s Northern Ireland-set PFTs were far more various and complicated in their representations of the Six Counties. Drawing on archival sources and close viewing, Hill incisively compared Carson Country (1972), Taking Leave (1974), The Dandelion Clock (1975), Your Man from Six Counties (1976) and The Last Window Cleaner (1979) – an absurdist comedy which sounded a one-off even among one-offs. John ended on the salient point that the sort of “hard man” working-class Catholic culture Peter McDougall portrayed on screen was echoed by Graham Reid and Paul Seed’s presentation of the violent Thomas Martin (James Ellis) in the Protestant Belfast-set Billy trilogy (1982-84). Aggression and a degree of toxic masculinity were common across sectarian cultural divides.
Most significantly of all, the event included interviews with several of the most important producers and script editors who worked on the show: Tara Prem, Sir Richard Eyre, Peter Ansorge and Kenith Trodd. Ken’s wonderfully rich reminiscences were a vital counterpoint to Simon and John C’s well argued cases in favour of the VT studio aesthetic. There was exemplary interviewing from Simon, Vicky, Ian Greaves and John Wyver, who wrote and directed Monday’s sterling BBC Four documentary Drama out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today.
Earlier, John had opened the event with a keynote lecture on Wednesday evening, from 6.30pm – 8pm. This discussed his personal history with Play for Today from watching Robin Redbreast as a fifteen year old to writing previews (basically review critiques!) for Time Out magazine and attending the location shoot of Plays for Today including Long Distance Information (1979).
Most crucial of all to the smooth running of this symposium was Lilly Markaki (Royal Holloway, University of London) who kept the whole Zoom show on the road. This helped facilitate what will hopefully become many new ideas, projects and friendships. It all felt like that much abused term, a community: dedicated to understanding the past better and looking forwards.
To complement my paper, which aimed ambitiously (!) to provide a broad statistical history of the Play for Today strand within 15 minutes, I have a few extra morsels of research to share. Please correct me if I have made any errors, or if you are aware of any productions I may have missed; this would be a great help and I would be most grateful.
Firstly, I have a provisional list of the Plays for Today that were original commissions for television* but which were subsequently turned into theatre productions. They are listed in chronological order of original PFT transmission date (in brackets, followed by the date of the first theatre adaptation and place of production if known):
John BOWEN – Robin Redbreast (1970 / 1974 – Guildford, Surrey)
Adrian MITCHELL – Man Friday (1972 / 1973 – London)
Dennis POTTER – Only Make Believe (1973 / 1974 – Harlow, Essex)
Bernard KOPS – Moss (1975 / 1991 – London)
Jack ROSENTHAL – Bar Mitzvah Boy (1976 / 1978 – London)
Dennis POTTER – Blue Remembered Hills (1979 / 1985 – Edinburgh)
Andrew CARR – Instant Enlightenment Including VAT (1980 / 1981)
Peter RANSLEY – Minor Complications (1980 / 1984)
Graham REID – Too Late to Talk to Billy (1982 / 1990 – Belfast)**
Appendix of an appendix! The following seem loosely related to previous PFTs rather than adaptations as such? :
Barrie KEEFFE – King of England (1988) – King (PFT 1984) Barrie KEEFFE – Not Fade Away (1990) – Waterloo Sunset (PFT 1979)
* I have also included Spend Spend Spend which was an original commission for TV, but which originated in transcripts of interviews with Vivian Nicholson that Jack Rosenthal then fashioned into a screenplay. **I am unsure as of yet whether the second and third Billy plays have been staged. Surely they have been in Belfast at some point?
List of Plays for Today that were later made as films (if adaptations the original writer is noted; in bold if they were original PFTs):
Adrian MITCHELL – Man Friday(1972 / 1975)
Colin WELLAND – Kisses at Fifty (1973 / 1985 – as Twice in a Lifetime)
Elizabeth TAYLOR (novel) – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1973 / 2005)
N.b. Not including Brimstone and Treacle (1976 / 1982) or Scum (1977 / 1979) as they weren’t broadcast as PFTs during its run. Maeve (Dir. James Ormerod, CAN, 1987) was a TV Movie follow-up to Graham Reid’s Billy trilogy.
Welcome to the last episode of series 1 of May’s Miniatures. If you’ve enjoyed this series at all, please get in touch and suggest other stories or writers you’d like featured in a possible, if not probable, future series! Feel free to add comments on the posts that are on the May’s Britain blog.
Now, this final selection is a short story from one of my favourite writers. You don’t have to be Will to self-diagnose as a Ballardian. I love his work as it is sardonic, strange and taps into undercurrents of our human consciousness that most writers shy away from. Ballard’s work is like a literary equivalent to Max Ernst’s surrealist paintings but with an utterly matter of fact tone to its weirdness. You can’t help but hear his words resounding inside your head as if delivered by a BBC announcer from the Sixties, but who has unknowingly ingested some weird substance – and we’re not talking bleach!
He is not alarmed or moralistic about modernism, about the modern life of cars, motorways and consumerism, but nor is he Panglossian about it. He perceives troubling currents and subtly under plays them. This story is from later era Ballard. He was in his fourth decade as a writer, and wrote this soon after Margaret Thatcher’s pivotal Bruges Speech of 19 September 1988 which was critical in how the UK Conservative Party changed from being a pragmatically pro-European capitalist party to one torn between this and proto-Brexiting euroscepticism. This was published on 7 July 1989 in the Guardian newspaper, accompanied by a Steve Bell cartoon. This was four months before the restrictions between East Germany and West Germany were lifted, and the Berlin Wall took on new historical meaning. This story is incredibly prescient not just of events since 2016, but seems to parallel… In some ways… the, yes, cliché-alert…! strange times we are living in RIGHT NOW…!
Broadcast here on YouTube on Tuesday 11 August 2020:
This story brilliantly depicts cross-European middle class rebellion of leisure with a distinctive English iteration with seemingly divergent tendencies – green, feminist, sporty, Thatcherite. It observes the undercurrent beneath our cultural observance of the Protestant Work Ethic, which could apply on a much wider cross-class basis, given how beloved our holidays in Spain, Italy and Greece are to us.