Mar 4, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Frosty Madge versus the ambient sheep guys

We are in the throes of battle. Not Blur versus Oasis, not City versus United, not Emu versus that green witch woman that kept knocking at the door. This is much more epic. It's the fight to decide the ultimate UK 1990s number one hit single.

The basic criteria for judging the best chart-topper is (a) whether it's a banger and (b) whether it bleeps. Let's enter the arena and check out our musical gladiators.

The contenders

Aqua: Turn Back Time  |  ATB: 9 PM (Till I Come)  |  Chef: Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)  |  The KLF: 3 a.m. Eternal  |  Madonna: Frozen  |  Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody / These Are the Days of Our Lives  |  Right Said Fred: Deeply Dippy  |  Spice Girls: Too Much  |  Take That: Never Forget  |  Take That: Pray

Flushing the poo

It's confession time. I have a plush toy of Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo in my bathroom. Yes, I am a grown adult. So I have fondness for South Park, although if I watched it these days it would probably offend my fragile snowflake sensibilities. In any case, Chef's comical poo song isn't worthy of this competition, so this can be flushed pretty early on.

Sad songs

Two of the tracks make me sad. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody returned to the top of the charts in 1991 following the death of Freddie Mercury. It's a belter of a banger, but it's more of a weepy than a bleepy. And I'm ignoring Right Said Fred on the basis of one of the brothers being a right bell-plop. Which is a shame because Deeply Dippy is their best song.

Next come the all-dominating Spice Girls and Take That. Between them, they had 16 number one hits in the 1990s. The Spices delivered a slinky ballad with Too Much, while the Thats gave us Pray, an efficient ballad, plus Never Forget, their iconic stadium singalong. Never Forget, or Nev Forge as I like to call it, is the dictionary definition of a pop music banger. But none of these shall proceed in this competition, which is unashamedly biased towards electronic music.

A final four

The final four tracks in this selection are notable in different ways. Let's stroke their bleeps one by one.

Scandi candy-poppers Aqua surprised us with Turn Back Time, displaying a melancholic maturity hiding behind their plastic pink prattling. This is a bit of a banger, certainly compared to their previous nonsense, and part of the verse reminds me of Heart by the Pet Shop Boys.

After fooling everyone into thinking religion was sexy, Madonna transformed her identity with Frozen. Electronic music producer William Orbit cast a real, er, ray of light on this stage of Madge's career. I love the idea of Madonna listening to Orbit's Strange Cargo albums and thinking, "yeah, I'm gonna work with this guy".

Everyone got their trance pants in a twist when ATB knocked Vengaboys off the number one spot. ATB chose 9pm as his time after a long day in the studio. In all fairness, that is a late finish, and the local Spar probably shuts at 8, so he can't even get a cheeky Pot Noodle on the way home. Both this and the Madonna record would have won this week. Except for...

All hail Rockman Rock and King Boy D, otherwise known as the KLF, furthermore known as the JAMs. The career of the KLF sounds like a random plot generator gone rogue. Timelords, success manual, stadium house, extreme noise, cash combustion, ice cream van, rambling helpline, Stonehenge destruction, machine gun and ambient sheep. At the pinnacle of all of that is 3am Eternal. Everything that pop music should be about. If you don't believe me, look up their eccentric hooded Top of the Pops performance.

Because the selection was so strong, let's pick two of these tracks to go through to the final of this 1990s chart battle. The KLF are the kings of heavyweight jams, so they go through. As does Madonna and her chilly tune.

Mar 1, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Fat Roland says uh-oh


All is woe. My 1990s number one countdown has gone horribly wrong. I flew too close to the blogging sun, and my feathery quill has burst into flames.

Let me explain.

I am judging every UK number one single of the 1990s to find the most banging and, crucially, the most bleepy chart-topper of the decade. All was going well. Fatboy Slim scored a big fat success, and Enigma chanted their way to victory.

I loaded up my third batch of contenders... and this is where things fell apart. Let's go through this latest list one by one, and you'll see what I mean.

The contenders

B*Witched: Rollercoaster  |  Charles & Eddie: Would I Lie to You?  |  Christina Aguilera: Genie in a Bottle  |  Gary Barlow: Love Won't Wait  |  George Michael: Fastlove  |  Gina G: Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit  |  Iron Maiden: Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter  |  KWS: Please Don't Go  |  Pato Banton featuring Ali and Robin Campbell: Baby Come Back  |  Teletubbies: Teletubbies say Eh-oh!

Not so bewitched

Let's start with B*Witched, the double-denimed Dubliners. Rollercoaster is an insipid Marks & Spencer's Sunday shop of room-temperature pop that clearly got ejected by every act on earth before the B-star crew said "ah well, we'll give it a go".  At least the Charles & Eddie track has some songwriting oomph about itself, although if that guy squeaks "oh year" one more time, I'm going to weep.

What is Christina Aguilera waffling on about? Genies don't come in bottles. Absolute tosh. Let's skip past Gary Barlow. He was meant to be the songwriting talent in Take That, yet his solo career was so unmemorable, I've already forgotten-- oh look, a pony. Where was I? Oh yes. George Michael's Faslove is one of his better tunes, made even better by using the same Forget Me Nots inspiration as Men In Black. But none of this twiddles my tassel.

Music for babies

That Gina G song did pretty well in the Eurovision Song Contest, but let's be honest: it's a babyish tune for babies who suck at being babies. It makes the Vengaboys look like Rachmaninov. Next on the list is Iron Maiden, whose New Year 1991 chart-topper came as a surprise to everyone. A wonderfully stupid and bombastic triumph, but nothing that can be considered as a bleepy track.

This list is in alphabetical order by artist, but I really think it's trolling me. KWS's cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's Please Don't Go is one of the most soulless singles ever. It stayed at number one for a month, preventing SL2, Shut Up And Dance and Kris Kross from topping the charts. I think it may be evil.

Cheesy mediocrity

I thought I had reached rock bottom, but next comes the cheesy reggae mediocrity of Baby Come Back, with Pato Banton having any potential credibility beiged out by the UB40 guys. And then there's the Teletubbies. Four overgrown cuddly toys, who have their stomachs ripped out and replaced with televisions, talk absolute gibberish while a burning, decapitated baby's head laughs at a sentient hoover. No. Thank. You.

That's it. That's the list. Not a single song to recommend. Complete waste of time. Let's hope the next batch throws up something better.

Feb 29, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: A rubbery travesty and something Badd

Britney Spears in school uniform, a monk in a brown habit

I've laid down a gauntlet. What is the best UK number one single of the 1990s? Let's pick up that gauntlet and slap a few more contenders about the face.

The contenders

Britney Spears, ...Baby One More Time  |  Color Me Badd, I Wanna Sex You Up  |  Enigma, Sadeness (Part I)  |  Mr Blobby, Mr Blobby  |  Ricky Martin, Livin' la Vida Loca  |  Spice Girls, Goodbye  |  Spice Girls, Viva Forever  |  Take That, Sure  |  Tasmin Archer, Sleeping Satellite  |  Will Smith, Men in Black

Remember the two criteria for judgement. Is it a banger? Is it bleepy?

Rubbery travesty

I am big and pink and covered in spots, like Mr Blobby. I am clumsy, like Mr Blobby. I talk utter nonsense, just like Mr Blobby. However, this rubbery travesty can shove himself right up his own crinkly bottom. He has no place on this list.

Equally terrible is Color Me Badd and their insistence at sexing people "up". Up where? A dreary r 'n' b dirge for creeps. On the positive side, they're named after a horse. No, really. The horse was called Color Me Bad. The band added an extra D so people didn't get confused.

While we're getting rid of rubbish singles, you might like Ricky Martin's late-90s number one Livin' la Vida Loca, but you're wrong. There are many reasons to admire Martin: there can't be many gay Puerto Ricans as leading lights in pop music. But the song is shash. And annoying. And pants. And also shash. Did I mention annoying?

Hey, Will Smith, I see you sneaking out of the room. Get back here. Men in Black sampling of Forget Me Nots is a clever move, but that's as far as it goes. It doesn't half go on a bit. Let's zap ourselves with a neuralyzer and forget this was ever released.

Viva not quite forever

This brings us to the mid-tier choices in this batch. And they are really mid. Both Spice Girls tracks can be placed at the exact middle of their artistic ouvre. I mean, Goodbye and Viva Forever are fine. FINE. But fine is not good enough for this countdown. Chewits are fine, but I'm not choosing them as my last meal. Actually, that's a bad example. Chewits are amazing. Shower them on me when I get to death row.

Meanwhile, Take That's Sure is one of their poorer number one singles, especially in the light of the two singles that followed this, the blistering Back for Good and the iconic Never Forget. The lesson is: never name your single after a deodorant.

Hunks of monks

This brings us to the final three.

As odes to space exploration go, Tasmin Archer's Sleeping Satellite is up there. It's no Bowie, but what a tune. Turning middle-of-the-road pop music into a bonafide banger, It's got some Madchester-style organ action to boot, which gets it some bleepy bonus points.

If sexy schoolgirls are your thing, then look no further than Britney Spears' breakthrough it ...Baby One More Time. Despite the questionable concept behind the promo video, there's no denying how impressive this was for a debut single. Unfortunately, like much of this randomly-picked list, it doesn't satisfy the bleep factor.

In nomine Christi! Yeah, you heard. The unlikely winner for this batch is a bunch of singing monks. Michael Cretu 's new-age noodlings as Enigma produced this unlikely smash hit. Cretu, who was credited on the single as "Curly M.C", refused to publicise the release, and its Gregorian chant samples got him sued. Instant hit. Beyond the novelty, this is a modern ambient classic, and the album holds up better now than it did then.

Bet you didn't expect the monks to win. There are oodles of other 1990s chart-toppers to come. 

More of the Ultimate 90s number one

Feb 28, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Should we praise Fatboy Slim like we should?

Yesterday, I announced my quest to discover the best UK number one single of the 1990s. My two main judging criteria were (a) is it a banger? and (b) is it bleepy?

Time to delve into my first randomly-picked noisebag of nineties tunes. Here are the first contenders, including the record label and the date it got to number one.

The contenders

All Saints, Under the Bridge / Lady Marmalade  |  Boyzone, A Different Beat  |  B*Witched, C'est la Vie  |  Deep Blue Something, Breakfast at Tiffany's  |  DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Boom! Shake the Room  |  Fatboy Slim, Praise You  |  Hanson, MMMBop  |  Lou Bega, Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of...)  |  Michael Jackson, Black or White  |  Tori Amos, Professional Widow (It's Got to Be Big)

Harpooning the worst

Let's harpoon some blubber before we've even cast anchor. Lou Bega can get lost, with his mangling of 1940s Cuban instrumental Mambo No. 5. I don't want to know how much he fancies Monica, Erica, Ethel and Ermintrude. 

And apologies to any Friends fans, but I rewatched a load of Friends over lockdown, and it's horribly one-dimensional and depressing. Deep Blue Something are deep blue nothing. 

Oh and no Boyzone. Absolutely no Boyzone.

A black and white decision

That's three of this ten dispatched pretty quickly. Now it gets more difficult. Black or White is Michael Jackson's best single of the 1990s, but that's not saying much. This whole period felt like echoes of his more spectacular past. 

At the other end of the pop careers were All Saints and B*Witched, the first with a questionable cover version and the second with too much denim. 

And that Hanson single was a, er, bop, but have you heard it recently? Utter hogwash.

A Tori victory?

Which leaves us with three genuinely impressive singles. Boom! Shake the Room, Praise You and Professional Widow.

I knew all the lyrics to the Fresh Prince's 1993 hit Boom! Shake the Room. "Pump it up, Prince!" I used to shout before going "tick, tick, tick, tick, boom" and doing a bomb impression with my hands. The track was so joyful, and yet hinted towards a violence that would erupt at the 94th Oscars when Smith tolchocked Chris Rock across the choppers. Rather too banging for my liking.

Next? Fatboy Slim's Praise You topped the charts in early 1999, and was pay-off for Norman Cook's incredible transformation from humble Housemartin into big beat remixer extraordinaire. He brought the Roland TB-303 to the forefront of chart popularism, and even made Cornershop cool. The sample-and-paste simplicity of Praise You had us all dancing around ghetto blasters. 

You may be less aware of Tori Amos's 1997 hit Professional Widow. You could dismiss Amos as kooky, but here was a titanic talent who refused to compromise in an era of uncompromising women: step forward Polly Harvey and Bjork. In a way, it's a shame that the single that topped the UK charts was a Armand van Helden remix, because it reduced her fascinating complexities to vocal fragments. Still. Very much a banger.

Praising the best

Praise You is the best of the batch. It may not have had Christopher Walken defying gravity, as in one of Fatboy Slim's other videos, but it fits my criteria perfectly. It bangs. It bleeps. We're going to go a long, long way together.

I guess Mr Slim moves forward to.. the final? Yes, let's have a final. Plenty more of this to come.

Feb 27, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: an introduction

What can be said of the 1990s? Blur versus Oasis, war, the rise of grunge, Nelson Mandela meeting the Spice Girls, cults, Dolly the sheep somehow not having a novelty number one hit, the Euro, David Bowie going jungle.

Above all, it was a fascinating decade for music. Rock music got all grubby, and dance music got all aggressive. We didn't think twice about puppets and animated characters topping the charts, or about worshipping boy bands that were closet tax-dodgers or Tories.

So, it is time to decide. What was the best UK number one single of the 1990s?

How hard can it be to find out? All I need to do is listen to all of the number one singles from that decade, then blog about them until I decide what's best.

How will I organise this? I'll do them in batches of ten, randomly picked from a big long list I've copied from the Official Charts website. Other than that list, and listening to the music, there will be no preplanning. It'll be like one of those internet reaction videos, but really slow because it's a blog.

And how will I judge what's best? Firstly, I'll ask the all-important question. Is it a banger? In other words, how well written is the track? Does it poke your ears with a knitting needle? If you played it at a party, would people drop their sausage rolls in amazement?

Secondly, I will judge each track on the basis of this being an an electronic music blog. This will skew things somewhat, but this is an electronic music blog, so them's the rules. Does it have a pleasing bleepiness? Would a robot rock to this? Would it get their antennae in a twist? To be frank, this is going to rule out a lot of number one singles pretty quickly.

So there we go. Batches of ten until I get through all of the 1990s UK number one singles. No particular blog schedule: I'll post updates as and when I get time. By the end of it, I'll have a winner. Probably.

See all of the posts (so far) in this series.

Jan 10, 2024

Dance music has far better lyrics than Liam Gallagher and John Squire

'Just Another Rainbow' is the new song by Liam Gallagher and John Squire. A meeting of musical minds that has Oasis and Stone Roses fans drinking celebratory lager from their bucket hats.

The single is predictable enough. I won't link to the actual song here, in the same way I wouldn't show you a photograph of a turd I'd found in a nearby alleyway. But I can tell you Gallagher sounds like a donkey on a torture rack, while Squire is so unmemorable, I've already forgotten what instrument he plays. Balalaika? Kazoo?

What I wasn't prepared for was how bad the lyrics would be. I wasn't expecting Oscar Wilde, but the lyrics are so banal, I thought the Oxford English Dictionary had glitched and all the good words had fallen out. Here are the main offenders:

"Just another rainbow dripping on my tree."

"Red and orange, yellow and green. blue, indigo, violet. We've crossed a line."

"Just another rainbow paying the bills. Am I your windmill?"

One thing can be certain is that the boys have never seen a rainbow. A rainbow has never offered financial support for my household amenities, never mind been used as a wind-powered turbine. At least they got the colours right, although a true 'bow connoisseur would include infrared and ultraviolet.

This is why dance music is much better than this turgid indie pop. Dance music has a history of innovative lyrics that really speak to the human condition. Its music makers put thought in the message they want to purvey. It is music for intelligent people.

I'm almost reluctant to do this, because I don't want to shame Liam and John. But here are list of the most insightful dance music lyrics of all time. Next time, lads, put your guitars down and don your raving gloves. You may learn a thing or two.,,

Black Box: Everybody Everybody – "(Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody) Oh, everybody (Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody) Everybody, oh everybody. (Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody) Everybody."

DJ Snake: Get Low – "Get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low."

Fatboy Slim: The Rockafeller Skank – "Bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, funk, funk, funk, funk, funk, funk, bro, bro, bro, bro, bro." 

Roni Size: Brown Paper Bag – "Step step step step step step step step step step, p-p-paper paper paper paper paper, mmmmmmmmmmmm."

Duck Sauce: Barbra Streisand – "Oo-oo who-oo-oo whooo-oo oo-oo, oo-oo who-oo-oo whooo-oo oo-oo, oo-oo who-oo-oo whooo-oo, Barbra Streisand."

No wait, hold on. These are way to repetitive. I need something more insightful. Lyrics with real thought. Proper deep thinking as if they were written by Albert Einstein or Lorraine Kelly or something. Right. Here we go...

Prodigy: Memphis Belles – "Lick it once, lick it twice, c'mon, put that sh*t on ice."

Calvin Harris: The Girls – "I like them black girls, I like them white girls, I like them Asian girls, I like them mixed-race girls [etc etc etc]"

Scooter: Friends Turbo – "Can you tell me, how do I get off the bus?"

Ye gods, who ARE these monsters? This is going horribly wrong. Excuse me while I dig into my Warp Records collection. There must be something intelligent in those old purple twelve-inches. Intelligent techno and all that. Ah, here we are...


Tricky Disco: Tricky Disco – "Tricky disco."

I give up.

Pictured: A hyperfuturistic digital 3D rendering of Liam Gallagher

Jan 5, 2024

On the Slipmat with Saturn: a Gorillaz-inspired microstory

I found the following text in my blog drafts. It was an attempt at a picture story, a little micro-fiction slash thought poem, with added pretty pics. The images are taken from the video for Saturnz Barz by Gorillaz, which came out when I wrote this piece seven years ago. Time to finally publish it.

On the Slipmat with Saturn

I was browsing someone else's record collection. Leafing through the seven-inches, flipping them to check the b-sides. You only really know someone by the quality of their b-sides.

There was still something thrilling about placing the record over the spindle. The satisfying 'clump' as the disc settles onto the slipmat. A physical experience before a single note has hit you.

The needle travelled the grooves as the music played. A seemingly endless spiral. Satisfaction in ever-decreasing circles. My mind wandered more freely than that. Lost in eddies and twirls, beyond geometry. 

"You like it when my record goes round, huh?" The fifty-foot worm appeared from nowhere. It seemed flattered. A kindred spirit, connected in musical taste if not in anatomy. I handled it well. My screams were in tune with the music.

How we listened. Let the bass shake us. We jumped between tracks together, hand and tentacle on stylus. Our minds found a rhythm. We travelled to space. Rockets and planets and nebula, playing music in the infinite vacuum with my huge bendy friend.

You can plan your days. Play the music you want to listen to. But sometimes the needle doesn't go the way you want it to. Life can become the b-side. You will know this has happened when you find yourself travelling along a different kind of spiral.

Me and the worm. And the satisfying 'clump' as a new record begins.

Pictured: A hyperfuturistic digital 3D rendering of the worm from the Gorillaz video

Dec 31, 2023

Muskering, sorry, mustering up the courage for 2024

Hello, it's Fat Roland here. You can think of me as your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Except without the spiders. Or being in your neighbourhood. And I'm not sure how friendly I am. Am I even a man?

I'm always sceptical about the effectiveness of new years' resolutions, and I certainly didn't have 2023 down as my "stroke year". But let's play some lip service to this annual festival of arbitrary date-based life curation. Here are ten resolutions I have for 2024. And because I like to cheat, I've made a start on some of these already.

Resolution one. Embrace colour. I wore black for years, but the Johnny Cash aesthetic doesn't really suit my mood. I'm not saying I want to look like Timmy Mallett mating with the Teletubbies, but splashes of colour would be welcome in 2024.

Resolution two. Come up with more contemporary references than Timmy Mallett and the Teletubbies. That said, Mallett has an endearing TikTok account. Not sure about the social status of Dipsy's gang.

Resolution three. Build on my amazing day job. This isn't the most exciting of resolutions. It's a bit like a plumber wishing for more pipes. But I enjoy my work at the Burgess Foundation, and I want to push myself to be more efficient and more creative and more of an ultraviolent droog. Watch out for your kneecaps!

Resolution four. Let writing become the fulcrum of my artistic, erm, lever or something. I really should have looked up the word 'fulcrum' in a dictionary before writing this. I continue my scribbling for Electronic Sound, and in 2024 I shall return to writing short stories. Performance is also a Thing in my life, with a capital T, and I'm sure this will happen to. But writing comes first.

Resolution sixteen. (I've lost count.) Get cartooning again. Drawing my eggs on social media (see my previous blog post) was a way back into restarting the broken visual section of my brain. Expect more of this in 2024. Not professionally. Just faffing. Proper good faffing.

Resolution five hundred and ninety six. Be healthy. I did not do a good job of this in 2023. Stupid brain. But this is not just about a better body, although a healthy(ish) lifestyle will certainly help. Better living space, better relationships, better downtime, the whole holistic sausage. No pressure or anything, but if I do not do this exactly right, I will give everyone on earth a million pounds.

Resolution infinity plus three, and this is related to the previous resolution. Don't have another stroke. This seems obvious, but writing this down makes it official. At some point in 2024, my brain is going to read this back and decide, "Yeah, Fats, that's a cracking idea. Let's not have another stroke."

Resolution alpha epsilon followed by the eye of Horus. Social media has become a big pile of meh. This scrolling world of ours is fractured, and any one social media platform is not the behemoth it was. The only way to get traction is to personally fist dollar bills into Elon Musk's trousers on the daily. I will post, of course, because people seem to like it. But... let's hold it lightly.

Resolution a badly drawn picture of an egg. Learn to count. I mean, seriously. I know most of the numbers. Seven. Is seven a number? I'm going to buy a calculator every day until I learn to count to ten.

Resolution ten. Yes! I did it! Carry on blogging. Sorry to disappoint you with this, but this tired old blog will drag itself onwards like a knackered horse attempting a never-ending lap of the glue factory. This has been my worst complete blogging year in history but HEY, I HAVE REASONS FOR THAT. However, this is my home, and this is where my words belong, and I am grateful for your visit.

Happy new year. As Spider-Man would say, to 2024 and beyond!

Pictured: Hyperfuturistic digital 3D rendering of Elon Musk

Further Fats: My New Year: pub, Gorman, egg, pi (2005)

Further Fats: Happy new 2021 Fat Roland (2021)