MC Tomster’s 1993 Gumbo! Part One

Guess the videos! After watching them all below…

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.

(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’.

(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.

(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!

#60: Freaky Realistic – LEONARD NIMOY
(03/07/1993, #71, 1 week; Frealism, FRESCD 3)

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.

Great urban interior photography in the video; evoking Fassbinder or Scorsese cinematography?

#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:

(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…

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.10: J.G. Ballard – ‘The Largest Theme Park in the World’ (1989)

Photo (c) Fay Goodwin, The British Library Board

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.

More detailed thoughts to follow subsequently.

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.09: Angus Wilson – ‘Raspberry Jam’ (1949)

Ahhhh eeeekkk grotesquerie welcome in May’s Miniatures…! Numero nove!

Now, this isn’t a “nasty tale”. But it conveys something of what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”. It was written by Angus Wilson and published in his first volume of short stories, The Wrong Set. Born in 1913, he was a gay writer in the days before, during and after the Wolfenden Committee Report of 1957 and the eventual decriminalisation of homosexual acts in England and Wales in 1967 due to the amendment to the Sexual Offences Act, brought before Parliament by Leo Abse and Lord Arran.

Wilson published the astonishing for its time Hemlock and After (1952) and such thorny, incisive portraits of a changing Britain as Anglo Saxon Attitudes (1956) and Late Call (1964), both of which were adapted for television over the following four decades. This is a complex, atmospheric and disturbing story which depicts the results of a combination of nostalgia, paranoia and alcohol. And, no, it isn’t entirely “feel good” fare…

This episode is broadcast on YouTube here, on Tuesday 4 August 2020:

Subsequent analysis of this story will follow.

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.08: Robert Graves – ‘The Shout’ (1924)

This is a fascinating source text for a 1978 film that has long bemused and delighted me in its surrealism and absurdism. I think I first saw it in around 2000 in a late-night showing on Channel Four, when I was at College. Now as certain friends might be able to tell you, I was laid-back at College, but perhaps quite not quite laid-back enough about my studies to stay up until the early hours and watch weird films. I taped Jerzy Skolimowki’s version of The Shout, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) too, and watched them in early evenings after my days at the City of Sunderland College’s Bede Centre.

‘The Shout’ possesses a mythical power that engages, if in a mediated way, with anthropology and Aboriginal beliefs and customs. Its writer Robert Graves was born in Wimbledon, London in 1895. He served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers during the First World War. Friends during his life included Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, T.E. Lawrence and Spike Milligan. Graves’s autobiography detailing that war service Goodbye to All That was published in 1929. He made the island of Majorca his home that same year where he lived off and on until his death in 1985 but this was one of his ‘English Stories’, written five years earlier in 1924.

A ‘cromlech’ is a megalith or stone tomb. As you might expect from Robert Graves, writer of I, Claudius, there are echoes of the ancient world. The story’s narrator compares Crossley’s tale to the ‘Milesian’ style of erotic fiction written by the Platonist Roman scribe Lucius Apuleius. Please, listen, carefully, or I’ll shout your bloody head off!

Episode 8 was broadcast on YouTube on Tuesday 28 July 2020 here:

Subsequent thoughts and analysis to follow at a later date.

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.07: Muriel Spark – ‘The Snobs’ (1998)

Now, for the most recently written story in this first series of May’s Miniatures: your most arcane of Lockdown entertainments!

Muriel Spark was born in 1918 in Edinburgh, so this was published when she was eighty years old. There is no sign here that the writer of such sharp, vivid and strange novels as The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) was in decline or losing her salience. In 1998, Britain was entering its seventh full year without a recession. The average person was doing reasonably well, economically. The home owner, say, with a permanent job, was doing extraordinarily well and these people happily voted for Blair’s New Labour in 1997.

A shout out is due to the formidable, incredible actress Tilda Swinton. My selection is really down to her selection of this story in a recent issue of Sight and Sound. I remember how she spoke on a DVD extra about the great British film director Derek Jarman and paid tribute to his profound creativity and adventurous. It is really a great shame he never got around to adapting a Muriel Spark story or novel. Expect funny. Expect pointed. Expect a dissection of that perennial British obsession: social class.

Broadcast on YouTube here on Tuesday 21 July 2020:

Further analysis to be published here, subsequently.

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.06: Walter Benjamin – ‘In a Big Old City’ [fragment] (c.1906-12)

Imagine yourself back in Vienna in the early years of the twentieth century. This is a city with historical Celtic migration and which suffered a plague in 1679 which wiped out a third of its population. It has been known for its composers – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. The BBC has reported that in 1913, Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud and Joseph Stalin all lived within a few miles of each other in central Vienna, some of them becoming regulars at the same coffeehouses.

Walter Benjamin is best known for his philosophical history writing which is favoured by intellectual left-wingers. No syllabus seriously aiming to analyse culture is complete without his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. This German Jewish writer committed suicide in 1940 while on the French-Spanish border and trying to escape the advancing Wehrmacht. The rooting of this short fragment in Vienna cannot be random. This was both “Red Vienna” known for its socialist agitation and also the home of the “Austrian School” of liberal capitalist economists, the most famous of whom was Friedrich August von Hayek. They saw economics, jobs and money, being governed by the motivations and actions of individuals and they saw a regulatory state as oppressive. This story consists of two individuals. How do they choose to spend their time? Are they part of a society?

Broadcast on YouTube on Tuesday 14 July 2020 here:

More detailed analysis and thoughts on this story will appear here later.

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.05: Elizabeth Taylor – ‘The Fly-paper’ (1972)

I think much of the bleakness perceived in the 1960s or 70s has to do with an increasingly confident mass media reporting on and communicating the evil of acts of child murder. I remember when I was 10, the prevalence of the story of the murder of James Bulger in Liverpool. You couldn’t be shielded, maybe shouldn’t be from the facts of evil being done. This story by Elizabeth Taylor, born two decades before her more famous namesake, seems a precursor to the 1970s wave of public information films in Britain which used shocking narratives to jolt and petrify children into learning important lessons to make them safe. The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973) and Apaches (1977) will remain ingrained in the minds of most British people who are now in their fifties. 

As explained by Joanne Kingham in her introduction to Taylor’s Complete Short Stories, she submitted the story to the New Yorker, but William Maxwell didn’t like it and told her to consider altering the ending. Listen, now, to my reading of a horrifying tale that the New Yorker refused to publish. 

Broadcast on YouTube on Tuesday 7 July 2020:

Analysis and thoughts to be added later.

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.04: Graham Greene – ‘The Lieutenant Died Last’ (1940)

Now, in May 2020, we heard a lot about the Second World War. Understandably, as this was the seventy-fifth anniversary of D Day and a crucial step in the defeat of the Nazi German regime. You do get a lot of simplified myth making though, which ignores the complex, fraught and not at all homogeneous experiences of people during that conflict. Which brings us to my latest selection… 

Wordly, urbane, cynical, lapsed Catholic, full Catholic, left wing. Yep, it’s time for the Greenester! Graham Greenbrother Hugh Carleton Greene was a great reforming Director General of the BBC, allowing it to broadcast TW3, Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home. Mary Whitehouse hated him. Yep, we all know that! Lesser known is his role in propaganda broadcasting in the Second World War and Cold Warrior journalism during the Korean War. 

He was a hard-nosed liberal realist. Graham’s fiction isn’t too far removed from Hugh’s general outlook, but is crucially independent from his brother’s largely loyal Atlanticism. In his old age, Graham was opposing the US intervention in Nicaragua, a good example of Pinter’s law whereby you get more anti-establishment when you get older. In his younger days, Graham Greene did get a bee in his bonnet about the saccharine commercialism of Shirley Temple films and was embroiled in a libel suit for his negative view of the film Wee Willie Winkie in 1938. He claimed that the film’s sexualisation of its child star undermined its religious, pro-family values stance. He lost and 20th Century Fox and Temple were awarded £3500 in damages. Worth about 220 grand today! Eleven years later, he wrote the screenplay for The Third Man, which profoundly and chillingly exposes Harry Lime ‘s charming amorality and indifference to people’s lives amid wider society.

Now, I am going to read ‘The Lieutenant Died Last’… This was published in the American magazine Collier’s on 29 June 1940; it is Greene, by this time an MI6 intelligence officer, fashioning a morally complicated myth. This is stark, powerful storytelling published at the end of a dark month in British and world history. It says much about social class divisions, then and now, and makes it clear that “heroism” is not at all clear cut…

This episode was broadcast here on YouTube on Tuesday 30 June 2020.

Further analysis to follow at a later date!

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.03: Kurt Schwitters – ‘The Idiot’ (1941)

Ooh ah surrealist folk tale welcome!

This story was written in 1941 by a great and not well known enough German artist, Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters was born in 1887 in Hanover, West Saxony, in North Germany. I first learned of him via an exhibition of his work at Tate Britain, London, in April 2013. I borrowed a friend’s membership card so got in free! Schwitters’s art is a wonderfully everyday surreal art, collaging advertising slogans and material objects from the consumer capitalist society he far preferred to totalitarianism. Lots of sources call him non-political, like Piet Mondrian, but really this his work does embody a worldly liberalism historically embodied from the 12th to 19th centuries by the Hanseatic League. Hanover was a part of the Hansa, a trade confederation of merchant guilds in cities and market towns clustered around the Baltic.

Schwitters’s art work had been publicly ridiculed in the now Nazi Germany of 1935. His close friends the Spengemanns had been arrested by the Gestapo in 1936 and Schwitters fled Germany in January 1937, joining his son Ernst in Norway. Schwitters died in Kendal in 1948, after his experiences in 1940-41 as an ‘enemy alien’ internee in the Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man during the Second World War. His most famous work the Merz Barn was airlifted in the 1960s from the stone cottage in the Lake District it was made in to Newcastle upon Tyne where it now resides. I’ve seen it – it’s in the Hatton Gallery. It’s a towering, odd assemblage that has been well restored in recent years. Visit it yourself if you happen to be in Newcastle under non-lockdown conditions…

This is a powerful, very simple, folk tale-like short story from Schwitters which I’m sure you’ll enjoy:

Broadcast on YouTube here on 23 June 2020.

On their island, the fisherman and his wife – ‘a god-fearing couple’ – live well enough, depending on nature: ‘excellent fish and lobster’. The nearby townspeople – the fish merchants – are also ‘as innocent as a well-trained house cat, at least to outward appearances’.

The fisherman’s unnamed wife comes up with a scheme to make money – understandable as ‘everything is so expensive’. This involves employing an idiot to assist them with catching and selling the fish; who will also benefit them in that ‘The government will give us money to feed him’.

The idiot, however, shows more cunning than his nomenclature would suggest, selling the same lobster on from one merchant to another; he put the lobster into each pot, but then removed it, finally selling it at a lower price to the communal kitchen. The second merchant wanted the lobster to sell to the ‘big hotel’ that ‘needed’ it for the tourists.

In the saloon bar, the idiot ‘drank so much that he thought it was the best day of his life’. He enjoys the company of Rosa here, but she takes the remainder of his money when he was drunk. The idiot gets thrown out. Then come ‘regret’ and thoughts of the ‘future of his soul’ as a lady from the Salvation Army appears. He does regret, and thus gets coffee and cake and engages in religious singing. He takes the Panglossian view, as satirised by Voltaire in Candide (1759) that everything is as it should be on earth and that things will get better.

When the idiot then returns to the story’s original island, ‘feeling quite depressed’ and expecting to be ‘severely punished’ for his enterprising he also gets coffee and cake from the fisherman, for he was a very good man, or at least he appeared to be.’ (my emphasis) The fisherman heartily and gladly welcomes the idiot for his enterprising plan, as it accorded with his own dislike of the fish merchants.

Clearly, the fact that the idiot finally sells the lobster to a communal kitchen at a low price suggests a more socialist reading of the story. However, the idiot’s is clearly an individual agency; his act of generosity is the result of having money in the first place to paraphrase our not-so-glorious Prime Minister of 1979-1990. Schwitters shows generous largesse as bound up with personal gain.

The idiot does not invest his money, but he has a good time in the saloon: implying the carpe diem attitude within European working-class culture. However, he does ultimately benefit as he has inadvertently picked a side in the turf wars between the apparently ‘good’ lone fisherman and the fish merchants who are also associated with the ‘big hotel’. Surviving within the economic system requires aligning in power formations to rival what already exists – these have historically included guilds, trade alliances like the Hanseatic League, or, indeed, trade unions. It is implied that the idiot’s clever trickery might lead to a profitable arrangement with the fisherman and his wife in future, or, even… a beautiful friendship?

MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.02: Anna Kavan – ‘A Bright Green Field’ (1958)

Anna Kavan is a writer I came across when searching for some weird short fiction. Born Helen Woods to wealthy British parents in Cannes, France in 1901 her work forms a temporal bridge between the Blitz in the Second World War and the psychedelic 1960s. Her work is often compared to the surrealist artist and writer Leonora Carrington and was praised by J. G. Ballard – who will later feature in this May’s Miniatures parish, or rather, lecture hall… Or is it boozer…?

‘The Old Address’ (1970) is a portrait of individual paranoia and addiction. The incarceration the narrator experiences is more than just that of the medical institution they are about to leave… This story, ‘A Bright Green Field’, from twelve years earlier, conveys one character’s inner world and perceptions of nature upon a train trip to an unnamed archetypal small town…

Broadcast on YouTube, Tuesday 16 June 2020:

NOT perfectly level, no. Not much is.

Size and colour are relative… And, as this story conveys, they are subject to an utterly subjective human perspective.

Kavan jabs subtly, ideologically: in how the passerby elides the workers toiling on the green with pulleys and the like. Conditions have apparently improved for these who are “not criminals but labourers”! The narrator questions their “health and efficiency” and this elicits an admission from the passerby that they are in danger. He uses the word “expendable” and also discursively places that as at the bottom of the social hierarchy. He makes light of their arduous labour and suffering by claiming they are just engaged in “mimicry” of an earlier generation of workers, and in fact have it far better now with “the introduction of the present system”.

Beyond simply this warped sense of historicism, it is notable that the passerby, in ‘brisk’ and ‘matter-of-fact’ tone, gives such a lengthy justification of the labour practices – workers who die there are “buried in situ”! His attempt at reassurance implies both local ‘pride’ but also a defensiveness which tells us that he is putting a gloss on what is ethically indefensible. Perhaps this polite man’s spiel emanates from propaganda that has been spread by the authorities in this settlement.

We never really get any sense of WHY the narrator is there, and that adds mystery and ambiguity. As far as I am aware there are no markings at all of their gender or appearance, which is perhaps more modern in some sense than in identity-centric 2020.

“The invisible armies of night” will battle the field’s colour. It seems to be a portrait of the narrator’s hyper-sensitivity to nature with its “ardent green” of the field. “Its horrid life”. There are adverbs like “fiercely” and countless aggressive verbs like “packed”, “resist”, “vibrating”, “pulsating”, “threatened”, “saw”, “check”, “burst”, “rear up”, “sweeping”, “spreading”, “destroying”, “covering”, “fought”, “cut down”, “was”, “threaten”, “crushed”, “grow”, “seen”, “fed”. Self-doubt is shown in the narrator’s modal auxiliary verb “might” towards the end.

The narrator’s own obscured torment seems to be reflected in their paranoid, obsessive and melancholy view of this landscape they habitually return to. There is a Borges or Ballard-like mock-grand perspective in the reference to “ancient archives kept hidden from us”. Some obscure “variation” that differed from the norm. As with J.G. Ballard’s great climate change dystopian novel The Drowned World (1962), there is a sense of the primal and what might easily underlie the bare sheen of ‘civilisation’. “Variation” suggests the language of Darwinian evolution.

Kavan’s story is an ambiguous, compelling enigma, utterly controlled in its language to convey the lack of individual control and the irrational ways in which we invariably see the world. The crucial middle section suggests the poisons of class hierarchy are intertwined with the absurd, quixotic attempts to control and tame nature.