Tag: Music

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Liverpool (1986)

It is hard to picture the 1980s without the orchestral stab of Two Tribes or the bombastic overture of Relax. Yet ask the person on the street, and it would be hard for them to name another track, begging the question: What happened to the band whose tracks helped define a decade? Well, in 1986, The group released their second album, one that marked a different sound, a different direction, and unfortunately the end of their partnership. On the album Liverpool.

Rage Hard, the first single.

The 8 tracks provided in Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s sophomoric offering marks a significant change in tone from the recognisable repertoire. To clarify, the album is a darker affair, more gritty and concrete, than the neon aura that Welcome to the Pleasuredome radiates. The album starts with Rage Hard, and sandwiches Is Anybody Out There between Warriors of the Wasteland. Liverpool then moves on to tracks like Kill The Pain and Maximum Joy, before culminating into synth-heavy Lunar bay. Although this change in style could be felt in synthpop with contemporaries. With Depeche Mode putting out Darker albums like Black Celebration, and Music For The Masses, Duran Duran’s Notorious and Grunge just on the horizon, maybe Frankie Goes To Hollywood could sense the change in the air as music was evolving.

Warriors of the Wasteland, the second single.

There is certainly a moodier tone that emanates across this album instead of the flashier Welcome to the PleasureDome, though that doesn’t mean you do not get a little variety. Johnson’s vocals remain strong, whatever the context, from the balladry Is Anybody Out There, to the rockier Kill The Pain. Yet, they feel like they’re more submerged in the mix, with greater focus placed on the instrumentals. Returning producer Trevor Horn wanted the band to play their instruments on this release instead of their debut. I can see how this would be a win for a band wanting to prove they’re not two-hit wonders, and the craft certainly permeates the album.

Watching The Wildlife the final single.

It would be difficult to say, that the tracks are showstoppers like Relax (the chart data would confirm this) with Liverpool’s singles having more of a growing quality than standout hits. Rage Hard works as an opening track, and Watching the Wildlife pizzicato and piano plodding feels in contrast to the band’s previous efforts. Surprisingly not made to coincide with a new Mad Max film, but inspired by one. Warriors of the Wasteland remains a track that starts rather inauspiciously before culminating into a pounding anthem. Liverpool is an album of surprises, you’re never too sure what you’re going to get when each track starts.

Warriors of the Wasteland (album version)

While Holly Johnson would go on to sing about Pepsi and Oreos, legal nightmares would cease the group’s trip to Hollywood. The sophomoric (and ultimate entry) Liverpool marks a peculiar transition, from recognisable pop anthems to a grittier rock sound. Unfortunately, successes didn’t follow this transition. If the group persevered, you can see how both Welcome to the Pleasuredome and Liverpool would have fuelled future endeavours, especially when compared to the upcoming dance craze of the time. Speculation aside, their album, named after their home town, remains a tribute, both to their legacy, and what could have been.

Warriors Of The Wasteland (Attack Full Mix)

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The Hit Factory Part 3: The Reynolds Girls – I’d Rather Jack (1989)

Times change, fashions evolve, yet some staples will remain around for years to come. Initially, there is nothing wrong with acts continuing to bask in the limelight. It can become an issue if this basking eats up the valuable potential exposure for the next best thing. Especially if the gatekeepers of culture are apprehensive to accept this change. In 1989, as an attempt to provide a pop-focused vox populi for the younger masses, Stock, Aitken, Waterman, found two sisters and turned them into a ready-to-go music act. The results were The Reynolds Girls musical unveiling, I’d Rather Jack.

The official music video.

To provide some context for the song’s origins. Stock, Aitken, Waterman were riding high commercially, yet the music was constantly being derided by the music presses. Getting fed up with the constant derision (and lack of airplay). They hypothesised that the old guard of the music industry was out of touch with the youth of the day and felt determined to evoke change. The Hit Factory picked two sisters to act as a voice, of the fans and of the producers, to convince disc jockeys to start playing the fresh new sound. The success of that attempt was debatable, but it did produce an entertaining song out of their efforts.

One of the many remixes.

Like most tracks produced by The Hit Factory, the tune is flashy, catchy, and a tonne of fun, with a high proportion of synthesised sounds. You hear the squelchy origins of the Madchester acid house genre starting to permeate. Considering how the story would end for Stock, Aitken, Waterman, it is quite ironic for them to help lay down the groundings for the styles that would make them obsolete. Though this makes sense, considering that The Reynolds Girls were positioned to be ambassadors for the youthful up-and-coming sounds. All this is accompanied by an electronic drumbeat that adds a driving sensation to the proceedings, and hook-laden elements to give you earworms for days after hearing. Making this song a quintessential example of The Hit Factory sound that divided fans and critics to this day.

An extended mix.

It is in the lyrics, that The Reynolds Girls earns retrospective intrigue. The chorus clearly articulating the manifesto of The Reynolds Girls that the songs on the radio are dated and stale. With the sister’s less than subtle attacks on the perceived old rock bands like Dire Straits and the titularly-called-out Fleetwood Mac. Interesting targets, nonetheless, as these were musicians who were still grabbing the audience’s attention at the time, even to this day. And the curious reference to Jack, and the uncertainty of what that refers to, New Jack Swing? An innuendo? I guess it is up to the listener.

The Reynolds Girls performance on T.O.T.P.

While the solitary single was called out for being a manufactured attempt to appeal to the youth crowd. The song is an entertaining dance song with entertaining lyrics and a pleasing mixture of danceable beats and hooky rhythms. Unfortunately, The Reynolds Girls careers died with I’d Rather Jack, as the track offers some pop potential and could be a blueprint for a bustling regular music career. Though Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and the like still enjoy intergenerational appeal, I would imagine for The Reynolds Girls, they would rather jack.

An instrumental – for the song sans The Reynolds Girls

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The Hit Factory Part 2: Kylie Minogue – Kylie (1988)

It is not unusual for certain actors to transition and try a music career, and vice versa. While these brief dalliances usually do not build lasting legacies, some reshape the music landscape. Showing that the singer is one of many talents. In 1988, riding on a successful part in an internationally syndicated soap opera, an Australian actress, teamed up with the rising behemoth of the Hit Factory to produce an outstanding debut album, that launched a stellar music career. That star’s name was Kylie.

The Single that started it all.

Kylie Minogue dazzled audiences all over the globe as the girl-next-door mechanic, Charlene, on the then-popular show Neighbours. When she first came to London to pursue a music career, scepticism was present and the pressures of deadlines even more so, but better heads prevailed. The first track they produced is The Loco-Motion, which was a respectable cover, that earned a place among the many classic songs that Stock, Aitken, Waterman helped reintroduce to a new age. The result was a perfect mission statement and introduction to Kylie’s potential. With the success of their cover, they soon collaborated again, beginning a long and lasting career.

The original music video for I Should Feel So Lucky.

The eponymous debut boasts 10 songs. Like a lot of records at the time, the album starts strongly with the hits on the first half. But there are some great tracks buried in the B-side, such as I Miss You, due to its 60s/80s fusion that evokes Diana Ross’s Chain Reaction. The track I Should Feel So Lucky is the pick of the pack with its shimmering synth pads, recognisable drums, and electronic bass line. Combined with the youthful vocal delivery of Kylie gives the track a big boost.

The T.O.T.P. variation of I Should Be So Lucky.

Most of the songs retain that distinctive sound, whether they be the pumping dance tracks or slower ballads. However, it is I Should Be So Lucky that steals the show, in conjunction with its enjoyable music video of Kylie on the streets of sunny Sydney. Another symbol of the 80s, an era that certainly was not left wanting for iconic looks. The international artwork depicting Kylie with a leather jacket makes her look like other 80’s stars Like Tiffany, Kim Wilde, and Debbie Gibson. It is this image that is found in the lyrics and styles of the debut album. A surprisingly mature direction for the 20-year-old, with lyrics dealing with cheating, romance, and the like. This was not exactly a leisurely produced record what with Kylie’s continuing commitments to Neighbours, although listening to the album you could not tell that there was any pressure. Still, the results turned out rather well for all parties involved. Another hit album for The Hit Factory, and a launchpad for Kylie’s hit music journey.

Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi: another great single off the album.

Pop music is like building a house by a passing boat in a river; the constant pursuit of the bleeding edge is always going to seem quaint as the progress of the cultural and technological advance, combined with an inexperienced singer’s first attempt, might result in a dated cultural artefact. However, Kylie manages to avoid both shortcomings, Stock, Aitken, Waterman offering a major step in helping Kylie realise her potential. With mature themes and a great late 80s sound, that still makes for an enjoyable listen today. For introducing us to the musical side of Kylie, we should all be so lucky.

It’s No Secret, the last single off the album.

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The Hit Factory Part 1: Bananarama – Please Yourself (1993)

You do not earn the name the Hit Factory without crafting some cracking tunes, and during the late 80s; Stock, Aitkin, Watermen did just that. With their distinct brand of High-NRG pop turned soap stars, newcomers, and pre-established acts, (such as Bananarama) into best-selling sensations. However, success can only stay for so long, with new innovative sounds on the horizon and changing tastes. In 1993, after the success of Wow! a less than fruitful continuation record, and a group departure, Both Bananarama and Stock & Waterman returned to a unique concept album, one that married the past with the present In Please Yourself.

Bananarama came back with their fabulous cover of More, More, More.

A bit of background, the partnership of Stock, Aitkin, Watermen and Bananarama came about in ’86, culminating in the celebrated release of their Venus cover. Their follow-up, Wow! came about in ’87, incorporating more of the iconic Hit Factory sound, however, their input left elements of Bananarama feeling dissatisfied with the arrangement. Bananarama mostly abandoned them in 1991, to less of an impact resuming the partnership shortly after. Stock & Waterman had an intriguing concept when they pitched this album: Marrying 70s Eurovision-style songs with early 90s club dance sounds. The result was a fabulously Euro-pop album, with songs that would feel comfortable in both eras.

Movin’ On serving as a pop based decleration of Please Yourself’s new direction.

It is ironically fitting that both Stock and Waterman & Bananarama have lost members when they came to produce this record. Listening to the album, you would not notice as the music itself retains the craftsmanship of their previous efforts. Starting strongly with tracks like “Movin’ On”, a single that combines ABBA’s sense of memorable disco ballads with Bananarama’s delivery and modern sounds. Of course, it is not alone, as the track “Is She Good For You?” is an earworm-inducing anthem that highlights the talents of Stock And Waterman. In crafting a catchy hook-laden beat that you can shake your head along with, one that is slightly outside their traditional high-NRG sound. Other recognisable tracks include “Last Thing On My Mind”, a track that would find a place in Steps’ repertoire but started here.

Last Thing On My Mind, while a great single, didn’t do as well as…

Lyrics about love, scorned lovers, and the like, while consistent with Bananarama’s discography, certainly enhance the concept of this concept album. This feeling is perfectly crystalised into possibly the biggest single off the album, the delightful cover of More, More, More. Earning success with the combination of classic lyrics with the Korg M1 recognisable sounds, breathing new life into the old faithful. Suffice to say it is a bold rendition that encapsulates the ethos of Please Yourself. While the result was certainly divisive, It is not like the concept did not have much hope initially, as so many acts in the 90s repurposed hits from The Bee Gees and ABBA to ride commercial and widespread acclaim. Maybe if they covered more classics the critics would have been more receptive to Bananarama’s efforts. Or maybe Please Yourself, fell so those tracks could run?

… the Last Thing On My Mind cover made by Steps.

Please Yourself is a solid step for the pop band and an ingenious return for Waterman et al. One could argue that both parties procrastinated about looking towards the future by embracing the past. But the 70s/modern fusion sound plays handsomely into their repertoire. The result is sassy, fun, breathy, the exact qualities you would want in a pop record. Please Yourself is such an appropriate title for the album, one that shows that songbirds can fly with clipped wings, and curse those who reject their new direction. Though Bananarama would continue to find success, Please Yourself highlight that despite their hardship that they are moving on.

Some of the singles were going to have foreign language counterparts… further enhancing the 70s Eurovision feel.

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From Paris to Berlin Part 4: Paris (2006)

Money can be a powerful force in getting ahead in the music business, this is often a case for a lot of the music I cover here. For some, a lot of money can be a big break in getting their voices out there. In 2006, Heiress Paris Hilton turned her efforts towards the music industry, in her eponymous debut into the music business, Paris.

The song Heartbeat.

The album is a standard-length collection of 11 songs or 16 if you brought the deluxe edition. Some are covers like Rod Stewart’s Do You Think I’m Sexy, but the majority are original compositions. Sonically and lyrically they feel like what you would expect from Paris Hilton, I guess this is why the album is eponymously called Paris.

The song Nothing In This World.

Like a lot of pop records, its slick production helps capture the zeitgeist of the pop music scene in the mid-2000s before electronic music had its second comeback. It has been described as having a more R&B influence, and it can be heard with the higher thumping bass and extended danceable beats. I was kind of surprised by the instrumentation going into this album, as the songs have a wide assortment of styles, such as a retro disco sounding homage with violin stabs that were de rigueur at the time. Slide guitars also feature prominently in this New Yorker’s album along with the expected mid-2000s assortment of samples and instruments that can be found on a lot of hits of the time. Her voice is not as auto-tuned as you would expect, there is some processing, sure, but a lot of Paris’s natural quality can be heard.

The song Stars Are Blind.

Remarkably, the album was going to be different before meeting with producer Scott Storch, while it would be interesting to ponder what that would be like, the finished product is found not wanting. The collection rightfully chooses Stars Are Blind as a single, an anthem that evokes Blondie’s Tide Is High and other Reggae inspired classics. It is a song that neither she wrote nor produced, but she delivers. Her production efforts can be heard on the Lead single, Turn It Up, a sonic impact that kicks off the album well. Notably, the infamous track, Screwed, also made it on the album, even after the legal difficulties, but upon listening, I think the song is best served in the hands of Paris Hilton.

The song Turn It Up.

For the fans of pop music, this is another great record, and those casually listening on the radio will be surprised how indistinguishable Paris’s attempts were to other musicians at the time, apart from here uniquely minimally processed vocals, giving the album a distinctive quality as a whole. Paris is currently Paris’s only studio offering. A shame as this release shows the socialite has some potential for the charts, that could be molded into a musical force to be reckoned with. As the hit single famously states the Star Are Blind, but in Paris case, they still shine.

A fascinating behind the scenes look at the album.

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