We’ve jumped decades this month, bypassed years that defined music as we know it today, some enjoyable, some not, into the ‘naughty nineties’. I’m not clear why this decade was tagged so because the words apply to a 1945 film starring Abbott & Costello set in the 1890s. Anyway, to be more precise, we’ve landed in June 1992 when, apparently the weather was rather warm and dray with above-average sunshine. How do I know this? Hah, the computer told me!
By now, of course, the music business had been turned inside out with music being available over the internet, rather in vinyl or CD format only, so with a click on the button, there’s instant music at our fingertips. Lost is the magic of lovingly placing a vinyl album on to a turntable – making sure the grooves are clear of dust, of course – gently placing the needle on the shiny black edge of the record, and listening to the music wafting through speakers placed strategically around the living room, ensuring maximum sound. OK, that’s age talking and technology taking over. So with this instant music, the charts had to change, and looking through this June it seems they changed daily. So, to give an overview of this 1992 month’s music, here’s a handful that jumped out at me.
“Something Good” by the electronic music unit, Utah Saints is one. It peaked in the top five, and gained momentum by being used by the BBC during its coverage of the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympic Games, and later showed up as the pre-launch trailer for Carlton Television. By the way, extracts from Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting” single were swiped but she didn’t mind as they asked her permission beforehand. American rock group Faith No More released their first single “Midlife Crisis” from their fourth album “Angel Dust” to enjoy a high placing. Classed as an alternative metal song, and incorporating hip hop and progressive rock elements, it was said to be about Madonna, as the band’s Mike Patton explained at the time, “..I think it was a particular time where I was being bombarded with her image on tv and in magazines, and her whole shtick kind of thing speaks to me that way.” Now I do remember this one, “Abba-esque” from the lovely pop duo Erasure (Vince Clarke and Andy Bell). It was their first and only chart topper, and performed with such glowing devotion to the Swedish mega group. First included in their live shows, Erasure intended to release an album full of Abba tracks, but opted for an EP (extended play) instead, featuring “Lay All Your Love On Me”, “SOS”, “Take A Chance On Me” and “Voulez-Vous”. A super tribute for sure. Not far behind this duo in the chart stakes, was George Michael’s “Too Funky”, his last single for Sony Music, following which he began intense legal action to extricate himself from his recording contract with them. It was a long drawn out, nasty business, as I recall. Anyhow, George donated the song – an animalistic plea for sexual freedom – and two others to “Red Hot + Dance” , an album produced by the Red Hot Organisation, dedicated to raising awareness and money to fight HIV/AIDS. With the song’s hook sampling Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy”, it featured clips from an Anne Bancroft line from The Graduate and from Anne Leake, swiped from The Radio Ham, an episode of The Tony Hancock Show. All approved before the single was released.
Known for his role as Simon Wicks (“Wicksy”) in Eastenders and PC Nick Rowan in Heartbeat, Nick Berry first hit the top of the singles chart with “Every Loser Wins”. He then returned with “Heartbeat”, his take on the Buddy Holly classic, the theme to the television series, which spanned 1992 through to 1998. “Long Live Love”, his version of the 1965 Sandie Shaw hit, was his third chart buster. Incidentally, shortly before his tenure in Eastenders, he fractured his skull in a car accident, but happily made a full recovery to fulfil his acting commitment and to date his co-star Kathy Beale, played by Gillian Taylforth. Now retired from acting, Mr Berry heads up his own company, Valentine Productions.
And, of course, no decade would be complete without Elton Hercules John. “The One”, the first title lifted from his album of the same name, it struggled into the top ten. However, despite not being among his biggest sellers, it was nominated for a Grammy in the 1993 The Best Male Pop Vocal Performance category. It’s general knowledge, that Sir Elton constantly worried over his record sales: when he felt they didn’t reach his expectations, heads would roll. And this is touched upon in Rocketman, the biographical musical drama released earlier this year. Starring Taron Egerton as the singer (although Elton originally hoped Justin Timberlake would take the role) the film follows Elton’s early days, from his awful childhood, through to being a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music, meeting his musical partner, Bernie Taupin, the climb into stardom as he embraced a flamboyant stage persona, and his plunging into the dark world of debauchery, alcohol and drug dependency. Honestly told, from start to finish, it was the first major Hollywood film to show a gay male sex scene. First developed in 2001, the film was earmarked for a deal with Walt Disney Pictures and Focus Features. Creative differences between the parties led to production being halted, so the project sat collecting dust until 2018 when Paramount Pictures took over as distributor, and production re-commenced. Elton’s husband, David Furnish, steered the film through their company Rocket Pictures, while the singer was credited as executive producer. Rocketman was premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May this year, before being released across the world. To date it’s grossed an estimated $157 million against the original $40 million budget, so Walt Disney’s loss is Rocket’s gain! I’m prompted to say it’s nothing like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as some critics have suggested, and I dare to say, both films stand on their own in excellence. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and would see them over again too. However, I’m a little concerned about the newly released Yesterday as initial reviews have knocked it senseless despite being written by Richard Curtis with Danny Boyle as director. Maybe I’ll get the chance to see the film before next month’s blog, and we’ll chew it over.
After that little diversion, back to June 1992, and Maria Carey with her live EP “MTV Unplugged”, released to placate growing public criticism over her lack of touring and tv appearances, prompting the suggestion she was a studio singer only. British UK pop group, Swing Out Sister, were riding high with “Get In Touch With Yourself”, while that hugely talented musician and composer, Frank Zappa, whose musical virtuosity and satire of American culture on so many levels guaranteed media headlines, released his “Beat The Boots 11”. A box set of bootleg recordings previously available illegally, was issued to dissuade his fans buying, often with massively inflated price tags, counterfeit recordings of his concerts. Wise move. And another box set of note, was the five disc package “The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll – The Complete 50s Masters” from Elvis Presley. It housed all of his known masters recorded during the fifties, and due to its success was nominated for a 1992 Grammy for The Best Historical Album, but lost out to “The Complete Capitol Recordings of The Nat King Cole Trio” box set. Michael Jackson was also riding high on yet another multi-million selling album “Dangerous”, from which nine titles were extracted for single release between 1991 – 1993. So, he cashed in and embarked upon his second world concert tour. Sponsored by Pepsi Cola, all profits were donated to his preferred charities, including his own Heal The World Foundation. Kicking off on 27 June he was on the road until 11 November, and inevitably every venue was standing room only. Following his global stint to promote his previous “Bad” album, his first tour as a solo artist, which grossed $125+ million, he vowed never to tour again, wanting to concentrate on recording. However, he changed his mind when he decided a tour would raise quick money and awareness for his Foundation. “I am looking forward to this tour because it will allow me to devote time to visiting children all around the world” he said at his 1992 press conference. “As well as spread the message of global love, in the hope that others will be moved to do their share to help heal the world.” His intention was to raise $100 million.
Then there was Take That, now reduced to a trio of Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald, with their interpretation of Tavares’ “It Only Takes A Minute”. The first of four singles from their debut album “Take That & Party”, it was also the group’s first top seven single, followed by “I Found Heaven”, “A Million Love Songs” and “Could It Be Magic”, a top three entrant. The group soared from strength to strength, thanks in the main to their original lead singer, the vibrant bad boy Robbie Williams, and the talented composing skills of Gary Barlow. So, let’s move to the present day now, a sunny 28 June 2019 afternoon. A re-worked greatest hits album “Odyssey” was issued last year and my family gave it to me as a Christmas present, which was strange as they’re not a group I particularly followed with any great interest. So imagine my greater surprise when I discovered that with the CD was a ticket to see them in concert at St Mary’s in Southampton. Gary Barlow said “I don’t give a shit whether ‘Odyssey’ is a hit or not. Even if it’s a flop, we’re still going to go on tour to play to 600,000 people.”
The tour, in celebration of their 30th anniversary, debuted in April and ended during June, and when I saw them in this huge football arena alongside thirty thousand other fans, the three guys had honed the act to perfection. Everything but the kitchen sink was produced from the stage to awe their audience. Huge multi-coloured stage lights, strobes, dry ice, fireworks, flame throwers, confetti cannons, and, slightly raised up from the stage floor, what seemed like a giant conker. However, I was assured by a younger family member, who gave me that look, saying it was Pac-man. “And I would know this because?” I retorted back at her. All I got in response was that self-same look with raised eyebrows this time.
With more costume changes than Diana Ross, Take That worked like Trojans to entertain their screaming thousands of fans, usually with dancers behind them; some dressed in ‘tin foil’, or strutting around like peacocks. It was a magnificent spectacle of overwhelming visuality on several colourful levels. As if we weren’t hyped up enough, the ‘conker’ opened and out popped a spritely Lulu when she jumped in vocally for “Re-light My Fire”. All the hits were naturally included, like – “Greatest Day”, “These Days”, “Patience”, “Back For Good”, “Shine”, “Rule The World” and “The Flood” which saw me rise to my feet as I thought Robbie Williams was due on stage. No such luck; his moving image on the huge stage backdrop had to suffice. I do feel the guts of the group left when he did, but what do I know, not being a fan. I’ll tell you what though, the weather was warm and dry which was so lucky, but the small plastic seats caused painful havoc on the bum. Should one have a large posterior, it tended to overhang each side which wasn’t pleasant for your immediate neighbour. I speak from experience because he was huge! There’s loads of other things I could go on about, but am aware it could send you to sleep. So, suffice to say then, this ol’ lady sat – and occasionally stood – in a vast football stadium for nearly four hours to see an aging boy band – and had the time of her life! However, I can say with hand on heart, it will not be repeated. Although I do have a fascination to see The Spice Girls…..