Greatest Hits 2020

Happy New Year! To celebrate, here are ten reviews from the last few years that you might have missed:

Preview – Ace of Base

Who were Ace of Base, exactly? One of the first acts of the 1990s Europop movement, and yet much more pop than most of the others. One of the earliest acts of the second huge Swedish pop wave. Were they a bit naff, or an inventive and influential pop act? Or were they a bit of a sad case, a family (plus one) pulled apart by fame and fortune?

Well, anyway – here’s Happy Nation, from Gold, out now:

Ace of Base – Happy Nation (US Version)

She leads a lonely life. Mmm.

If you really want to feel old, why not spend a moment contemplating the fact that Ace of Base‘s debut Happy Nation is twenty-five years old this week? Well, actually it isn’t – the reissued and misleadingly titled US Version is, though, which seems a good excuse to relive those happy summery days of underproduced Swedish reggae-pop.

It opens with the UK and Europe-wide number 1` All That She Wants, which might be the only thing you remember from here now. Honestly, it is a great song, pulled together with the kind of simplicity that characterised the plinky plonk pop of the early 1980s. Even in 1993, this sounded outdated, and now, a quarter of a century later, the production is frankly pretty lacklustre, but the vocals are good (apart from that pained “mmm” sound that she makes in the middle of the first line) and it’s a strong song. It’s interesting to wonder how this might perform on the charts now.

Don’t Turn Around dials the reggae up to 11, and unsurprisingly so, as they’re heavily channelling Aswad‘s 1988 version and adding relatively little in the process. It’s not bad, though, and there’s still something uplifting about the “I will survive, I’ll make it through, go on and go,” message.

Young and Proud wasn’t one of the album’s seven singles, and probably rightly so, but it’s a pretty good album track. It’s also nice to see that they can do something other than reggae, as that was starting to wear a little thin after the first two tracks.

Next is The Sign, and if the four reggae-free minutes that preceded it were leading to withdrawal symptoms, never fear – this follow-up to All That She Wants, a UK number 2, but actually a bigger hit in some parts of the world, brings it back with a vengeance. Billboard observed that this was one of the key tracks to propel Swedish pop into the popular imagination for the decades to follow, and I’m inclined to agree, as Abba had left a bit of a vacuum throughout the 1980s in that regard. Then Living in Danger was the final single from this album, but still comfortably scraped into the top twenty in most countries. This is reggae too, in case you were wondering.

Confusingly, this wasn’t actually the US version of the album – The Sign was released the following year and in a triumph of editorial controls, dropped two of the total drivel tracks, Here Me Calling and Fashion Party. For some reason it left this next track on, Voulez-Vous Danser, perhaps because it isn’t quite as bad as the others, or perhaps because of the slight nod to Ace of Base‘s compatriots Abba. With those omissions, this was the USA’s biggest selling album of the year. Voulez-Vous Danser is disco, by the way, because it’s easier to dance to than reggae.

Happy Nation takes things in a more techno, and consequently rather better, direction. The UK was pretty burnt out with Ace of Base by the time we got it as a single, and so it stalled at number 40, but it topped the charts in some countries. Then Hear Me Calling comes next, a thoroughly misguided attempt to do some kind of electronic dance music which changes key unpredictably and just ends up sounding a bit of a mess. You’ll probably find yourself tapping your foot, and you’ll be a little embarrassed about it.

If you’re counting the genres here, Waiting for Magic is disco. It’s also complete rubbish. Surprisingly, Scandinavia and Finland decided to release it as a single, and it was a decent sized hit. Maybe there was just too much reggae in those territories at that point. You could probably guess from the title that Fashion Party is going to be pretty awful too, so no disappointments here. They keep saying something about having a good time, but frankly by this point, I’m really not.

Fortunately, debut single Wheel of Fortune is strategically placed at this point to re-inject some quality. A moderate hit in most countries when it was released as a single, it’s actually up there among the better tracks on here. It’s reggae again, but I suppose if we’ve learnt nothing else, we’ve learnt that Swedish reggae sells.

The last proper track on here is Dancer in a Daydream, which isn’t too bad. If it had been the actual album closer, it might have worked pretty well – it hinges on dance at times (it’s definitely not reggae, anyway), but it’s fairly laid back for the most part. But it’s hard to resist the urge to throw random remixes on the end of an album, and so we get three, starting with the appallingly bad My Mind (Mindless Mix). That’s followed by the awful and chronically misspelt All That She Wants (Banghra Version) and the pointless Happy Nation (Remix), and then the album is finally over.

Happy Nation (US Version) is a mixed bag, really – it’s definitely better than the non-US version, and frankly it’s also better than most of what followed. But there are some good things on here, and viewed as the album that set the blueprint for Swedish pop, it’s certainly important.

At the time of writing, you can purchase a second-hand copy of Happy Nation (US Version) for just nine pence. Which is definitely a bargain, however much you like reggae.

Music for the Masses 3 – 1 December 1999

History doesn’t record who Phil and Mary-Jane were, although as I recall their “thing” was to argue live on air, in addition to apparently destroying the studio while broadcasting, neither of which are likely to make particularly good listening. But these were early days on Bay Radio.


Tracks played on the third show, Wed 1 Dec 1999, from 1pm-3pm

Tracks taken from the playlist (Total 7 tracks). A indicates A-list (6 tracks); B indicates B-list (0 tracks) and C indicates C-list (1 track). S indicates the Single of the Week. R indicates tracks taken from my own collection (Total 10 tracks). L indicates tracks I snatched at random in the vain hope of impressing people (Total 8 tracks).

  • 1. Beastie Boys “Alive” A
  • 2. Primal Scream “Swastika Eyes” L
  • 3. Dubstar “It’s Over” R
  • 4. Robbie Williams “She’s the One” C
  • 5. Olive “You’re Not Alone” R
  • 6. Chicane “Saltwater” L
  • 7. Pet Shop Boys “Closer to Heaven” R
  • 8. William Orbit “Barber’s Adagio for Strings” (Ferry Corsten Remix) L
  • [Advert Break]
  • 9. Grid “Diablo” (The Devil Rides Out Mix) R
  • 10. Garbage “The World is Not Enough” A
  • 11. Murry the Hump “Colouring Book” S
  • 12. Catatonia “Londinium” L
  • [News Break]
  • 13. Suede “She’s in Fashion” L
  • 14. Electronic “Get the Message” R
  • 15. Beloved “Deliver Me” (Salt City Vocal) R
  • 16. Amar “Red Sky” A
  • 17. Kraftwerk “Pocket Calculator” R
  • 18. Yazoo “Nobody’s Diary” R
  • 19. O.D.B. “Got Your Money” A
  • 20. Offspring “She’s Got Issues” A
  • [Advert Break]
  • 21. Ace of Base “Beautiful Life” R
  • 22. Eiffel 65 “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” L
  • 23. Peach “From this Moment On” R
  • 24. Groove Armada “I See You Baby” (Full Frontal Mix) A
  • 25. New Order “Touched by the Hand of God” (Biff & Memphis Remix) R

Producer: None.

Notes: Well this was just plain bizarre. Probably the best show I’ve done yet, but still bizarre. Basically, Phil and Mary-Jane, who are normally after me on Wednesday afternoons, elected to swap with me for one week only, and I obliged. So, I arrived in the studio at about 12.45, to find the studio in complete disarray, with CDs scattered everywhere. The line-in input for CD2 was hanging out of its socket (so presumably they had been broadcasting in mono all morning) – which made it impossible to check levels until I plugged it back in. I couldn’t work out which microphone I was using, so for the first link had to turn them both right up… and then there was another thing. When I arrived, I discovered that the people before me had very kindly played all my tracks off the playlist, so I had nothing to play. I eventually arranged with someone who was kind of in charge, to play most of the tracks off the A-list and the single of the week, which left me with quite a lot to fill. Fortunately I was, of sorts, prepared for this (as boy scouts always are), and duly played loads of bizarre remixes and obscure dance tracks. Whether the open day visitors really appreciated this is debatable, but I did get one “What was that last track?” and one request, so it can’t really have been too dire. Well, not really. The lessons to learn from this are, firstly, never to do a show after Phil and Mary-Jane, and secondly, that it probably isn’t a good idea to do a section in which Yazoo follow on from Kraftwerk. They worked well together, but it suddenly dawned on me half way through, that 1983 was quite a long time ago. Eeeh well, we live and learn. Hopefully.