“Slippery little suckers aren’t they?” I didn’t intend to start with a teaser this month but, like the snail, it simply jumped out and flew…
Music first. Dominating the singles chart was a strange item from Snap. Titled “The Power”, this was the German Eurodance duo’s third single which sounded much like everything else at this time. Maybe that’s down to my aging ears which much prefer music with a melody and meaning. Anyway, Snap was formed in 1989 by Michael Munzing and Luca Anzilott, yet the single was credited to John ‘Virgo’ Garrett III and Benito Benites, and included a rap by Turbo B and vocals by Penny Ford. “The Power” took a mere two weeks to reach the top where it stayed for, erm, two weeks. “The song juggles aggression and melancholy” wrote one critic, while another raved “this hypnotic street-soul jam should have no trouble duplicating its smash UK success”. A quick look revealed the single was a runaway global hit.
Stuck at number two was “Love Shack” from the American new wave group B-52’s (and I did check the spelling of the name too). By all accounts the song was inspired by a cabin with a tin roof situated in Athens, Georgia, just off the Atlanta highway, where it flourished happily before being burned down in 2004. I’m not making this up, honest, because the story goes that group member Kate Pierson lived in it during the seventies. They pinched the name B-52’s from a beehive hairdo which resembled the nose cone of the aircraft, a look that members Kate and Cindy Wilson sported during their seventies performances. The other members Keith and Fred resisted the temptation! Just below them is an interesting take on The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” by Candy Flip, an electronic duo from Stoke on Trent, which was a pleasant change from our musical friends across the Atlantic. Taking on one of the Fab Four’s songs was a very brave move particularly one such as this which was pure perfection in the first place. Anyway, they did and enjoyed a top three hit with it – and of course John Lennon and Paul McCartney pocketed the composer royalties. Danny Spencer and Ric Peet chose their name after a slang term used for taking LSD and ecstasy which apparently is called ‘candyflipping’. What more can I say.
Other singles of note in the top ten this month 1990 were Madonna’s “Vogue”, They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and a couple that deserve more of a mention. First “Blue Savannah” from the loveable Erasure, a track culled from “Wild”, their fourth studio album. Again, it gave an enthusiastic nod to synthpop while being remembered as an uplifting love song accented by synthesizers and programmed piano, lifting them out of the old drag of Kraftwerk. The other one is instantly recognizable – “Kingston Town” by UB40. A very credible slice of British reggae that for some reason didn’t make the top although I’m happy to report it did in other countries. It was the group’s sixth top five hit and taken from their “Labour Of Love II” album. Formed in Birmingham in 1978, and just in case it’s of interest, the group took its name from a form issued to people needing to claim unemployment benefit from the Department of Employment. UB40 stood for Unemployment Benefit – Form 40. Happily, the band never found itself in that awful dilemma of no work because they went on to sell an incredible fifty million records worldwide while scoring at least fifty singles in the British chart over time.
Glancing down the listing I caught sight of a single that raised my blood pressure simply because it’s one of my all time favourites. I know, a bit of self indulgence coming up but I’ll be brief. From the film Blues Brothers, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (Jake and Elwood Blues) put their stomping version of “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” on to vinyl. Alongside Aretha Franklin’s “Think”, a sequence when she played Mrs Murphy, a waitress in a soul food restaurant, this single was a major highlight in this extraordinary film. Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, Chaka Khan, Steve Cropper and his hand-picked musicians also starred. During a visit to the Universal Studios in Florida, where fantasy becomes a reality of sorts, a Blues Brothers concert was performed on one of the make-believe streets. I was immediately hooked, riveted to the spot. Plenty of music, energy and action, particularly when the bluesmobile roared round a corner to screech to a halt outside the restaurant where the actors were strutting their stuff. It was a spontaneous thirty or so minutes of pure escapism that drew everyone into the world of the crazy yet talented Blues Brothers. “…I need you, you, you; I need you, you, you….”
Of the albums, David Bowie’s “Changesbowie” was the best seller this month. Not a new release but rather a compilation that formed part of a remastered series of his work and, despite its dreadful cut ‘n’ paste collage on the front cover, David enjoyed his first charttopper since 1984 with “Tonight”. Mind you the track listing was beyond special – “Space Oddity”, “Starman”, “John, I’m Only Dancing”, “The Jean Genie” and “Sound And Vision” among them. “Changesbowie” kept three other heavyweight albums from the top, namely, Fleetwood Mac’s “Behind The Mask”; Carpenters’ “Only Yesterday” and Phil Collins’ “But Seriously”. Let’s move on to some random bits….
Gloria Estefan returned to Miami, Florida, after undergoing back surgery following a recent accident when her tour bus was involved in an accident. She suffered several broken bones in her back..ouch and double ouch! In London Jimi Hendrix’ Fender Stratocaster on which he performed his famous version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, was auctioned for approximately £214,000.
And of the arena concerts this month, there were a couple of note. Firstly, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, Lou Reed joined other high-ranking artists, to perform at the annual Farm Aid benefit at the RCA Dome, Indiana. Elton’s contribution included “Candle In The Wind” which he dedicated to AIDS patient Ryan White, a teenager from Indiana, who became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS in America. Tragically, Ryan died on 8 April, a day after the concert. The first Farm Aid was staged in September 1985 in Illinois to raise money for family farmers who were in danger of losing their farms through mortgage debt and other financial problems. With performers including Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, this event raised a staggering $9 million. I put my hand up that I only had a passing interest in this because it was mentioned in dispatches. However, one that grabbed me more was nearer home in London – An International Tribute for a Free South Africa – staged at Wembley Stadium. This massive tribute concert celebrated the recently freed anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela and was actually staged two months after his release from prison. Mandela
appeared on screen in a pre-taped speech lasting nearly fifty minutes during this extraordinary event that included contributions from Anita Baker, Peter Gabriel, Aswad, Patti LaBelle and Lenny Henry among other luminaries. The event was broadcast across sixty-one countries and was staged following the unprecedented success of an earlier concert that celebrated Mandela’s 70th birthday in June 1988, while he was still incarcerated in a South African jail. This time contributing artists were A-liners with Natalie Cole, Ashford & Simpson, the Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder and the Eurythmics among them. Oh, and Lenny Henry!
This was also the month that one of the most dreaded political moves led to riots in London. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced a system of taxation to replace domestic rates. She called it a Community Charge or Poll Tax. To all intents and purposes, it was a people’s tax, or a head tax on every adult, where the amount per person was decided by local authorities. Over three hundred people were arrested and countless shops were damaged during a protest on our city’s streets. Thankfully the tax was relatively short lived: not only did local councils find it near impossible to administer, but it was totally unfair. Common sense prevailed because within a couple of years Community Charge was replaced by Council Tax which strongly resembled the rates system that it had replaced! Hah, not one of Mrs Thatcher’s finest hours.
I actually remember this well as I’d moved back to East Sussex from London months earlier and needed a job. After spotting an advertisement in the local press for part-time staff to input the new tax on computers at Lewes District Council, I spent early evenings – outside the normal working hours – transferring information from hundreds and hundreds of newly-completed Council Tax forms from residents onto specially introduced online Council programmes. It was a dull as ditchwater job but meant I had some money coming in, enabling me to continue my journalist jobs during the day, where payment was always spasmodic. I also remember being encouraged to play solitaire on the Council’s computer to help strengthen my clicking and dragging skills.
Those ‘slippery little suckers’ were of course from the American romantic comedy Pretty Woman when Vivian Ward, played by Julia Roberts, was dining at the Rex restaurant with Edward Lewis, aka Richard Gere. As Vivian was attempting to skewer a snail from its shell, one of several on her plate, the little rascal escaped and flew across the restaurant to be caught by a surprised nearby maitre d’. Wasn’t this just one of the standout scenes in this yuppie film, raising a smile every time. Love it! Vivian Ward was an unemployed sex worker who was hired by said Mr Lewis, a wealthy businessman, to be his escort for social and business functions. he film
follows them through their developing relationship over the course of one week. Reading through the film’s blurb there were several other ‘moments’ that related more to ‘things-going-wrong’. For instance, Julia Roberts developed a case of hives and calamine lotion was used to calm down her skin before filming could re-start. In the love scene, instead of getting down to it, she was so stressed out that a vein on her forehead decided to come up for air, and had to be massaged down again. The scene where Richard Gere snapped the lid of a jewelry box on to Julia’s fingers was improvised and as such her laugh was genuine. There’s other bits and pieces too minor to mention but – and it’s a big but – Shelley Michelle acted as Julia’s body double for the more naughty scenes. And, believe it or not, Shelley’s body is actually featured on the film’s poster. What!? Nonetheless, Pretty Woman was a wonderfully light hearted romp – so named after Roy Orbison’s hit “Oh, Pretty Woman” – and in this month 1990 it was the top grossing film. Not bad at all for a movie that united Julia and Richard for the first time on the big screen. I’ve a feeling I’ll be watching this again before the month is out, such is its timeless quality.
And on that note, that’s it for another month. Please remain safe out there and we’ll meet again in a few weeks’ time.