Discussion in 'Charts, rates etc' started by Ironheade, Nov 12, 2018.
I'm surprised (in a good way) that Chris Isaak is still here
It's fantastic that he has avoided the 'misandryjustice'.
I can't remember who that is.
(EDIT: I don't love the song but I just put on the video and I get why we're rooting for him. Oh hi etc.)
Oh hey, we're losing someone's 11 today! Haven't done that in a while!
...OF FUCKING COURSE IT HAD TO BE THIS ONE. AND NOW I WILL GO AND PUNCH A WALL.
22. THERE SHE GOES
Average score: 7.251
Highest scores: 1 x 11 (@Seventeen Days ); 10 x 10 (@Ironheade , @ModeRed , @pop3blow2 , @berserkboi , @Filippa , @unnameable , @Hurricane Drunk , @4Roses , @Remorque , @Blond )
Lowest scores: 1 x 0 (@əʊæ)
Chart positions: #49 Hot 100, #2 Modern Rock
Year-End Hot 100: N/A
Who? Oh yeah, them...
Now, you may recall that in the 1960's, there was a certain rock and roll band from Liverpool that achieved some minor success, and ever since then, there have been scads of bands trying to get a piece of that pie. Of course, there was one particular “next Beatles” who conquered the world in the 90's and became one of the most successful British rock bands of all time: I speak, of course, of Oasis. But a few years before that, and quite ahead of their time, were fellow Scousers the La's, who with their classic pop hit “There She Goes” both created one of the shining lights of 80's jangle pop and became a key precursor of the retro-minded Britpop movement. But as soon as they said “There She Goes”, there they went... but why, exactly?
Trust me, I don't wanna hold ANYONE'S hand after this.
The La's were formed in Liverpool in 1983, with founding frontman Mike Badger stating that the name had occurred to him in a dream, as reflecting both a musical connotation and the Scouse pronunciation of “lads”. He recruited Lee Mavers on rhythm guitar the next year, and the band started gigging around the city and releasing a few tracks on local compilations. But what would a “next Beatles” be without their very own Pete Best? For you see, Badger would leave the band in 1986, later forming country-meets-punk outfit The Onset, and becoming the founder of the independent Viper label in the 90's. From then on, Mavers would emerge as the La's lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter; the other relatively consistent member was bassist John Power, who had joined the band earlier that year, but the guitarist and drummer positions rotated near-constantly in the early days. They attracted notice around the local area with their live shows and demo tape, and the application of the “next Beatles” tag was almost immediate, thanks to their strongly Merseybeat-influenced music and hometown. A bidding war between record labels ensued, and the La's ultimately ended up signing with the up-and-coming independent label Go! Discs (the first signing to which had been Billy Bragg; they would later attract notice for being home to the Housemartins and the Beautiful South). And even in a fertile time for jangle-pop, the La's stood out from the pack, as a band utterly out of time who appeared to have spent the entire 70's and early 80's in hibernation. This would be both a blessing and a curse.
Yer man's got a pretty impressive fringe there.
The La's put out their first single “Way Out” in October 1987, only scraping into the UK charts at #86, but attracted more attention for their second single, which was released a year later: yep, it's “There She Goes”. It was immediately the object of adoration from the NME and other music papers, with the critical reviews being outright rapturous all around, and every corner of the press were hailing the La's as the next big thing. However, the original release of “There She Goes” disappointed in chart terms, only reaching #59. To make matters worse, the La's were all set to release a third single, “Timeless Melody”, in May 1989, but the release was cancelled due to Mavers being unhappy with the production, despite test pressings already having been sent out for review and the song having been named “single of the week” in Melody Maker. Yes, this is where the one killer factor that ultimately destroyed the band came in: Mavers' insane hyper-perfectionism. He was a man with a fixed image of how he wanted the music to be, and indeed of how all music should be, and would not tolerate the slightest deviation from his vision. For you see, ever since July of 1987, before even the release of “Way Out”, the band had been recording their self-titled debut album... and recording it... and recording it... and recording it... and recording it... and recording it...
The lineup of the band had finally stabilised in 1989 (Mavers and Power now joined by the former's brother Neil on drums and Peter “Cammy” Cammell on lead guitar), but their efforts to put an LP out were proving less than successful, thanks to the ever-mounting eccentricities of their frontman. For Mavers, recapturing the sound of Liverpool in 1964 had become an outright obsession, even resorting to recording on a Walkman at one point in order to achieve his desired lack of polish. In one apocryphal tale, he was said to have rejected a vintage mixing desk because “it hasn't got original Sixties dust on it”. Even though that tale was untrue, he was indeed quite a character with a fragile state of mental health, possibly affected by his marijuana habit – at one point, he decided on setting up the recording equipment in trees, and once brought vintage 1940's radio microphones to a gig insisting that the band sing through them. And all the while, he was fanatically dedicated to following his muse without compromise. The La's recorded material intended for the album in twelve different sessions over the course of two years, all while going through producers at a rate that would put Kevin Shields to shame, with Mavers claiming at some point or another that all of them “didn't understand our sound”; at different points, John Porter (The Smiths), John Leckie (XTC/The Stone Roses) and Mike Hedges (The Cure/Siouxsie and the Banshees) were all attached, and while the final credited producer was Steve Lillywhite, it was essentially just because the final sessions were done with him in London's Eden Studios. At these sessions, Mavers' breakdowns continued, as he found himself increasingly frustrated, never satisfied with what he was able to get down on tape. He also clashed with Lillywhite, hating having to use guide vocal tracks for recording, and disliking his production standards, which were not rootsy or “authentic” enough for his liking. To make matters worse, the executives at Go! Discs had also started breathing down the La's necks, frustrated at having sunk so much time and money into the recording when there was nothing to show for it. Eventually, a disheartened Mavers gave up on recording altogether, and Lillywhite ended up just piecing together what they had produced during their sessions with him and putting it out as the La's self-titled debut LP in 1990.
...Man, that font is all kinds of wrong for this.
Some people would have you believe that the self-titled is essentially one legendary single (you know what it is) with eleven B-sides. These people are not to be listened to. The La's only album is a power-pop masterwork, with acoustic-heavy, stripped-back arrangements that nonetheless still manage to sound grand and cathedral-like, some of the most sweetly tuneful melodies ever to come from a British indie-pop outfit, and a near unmatched gift for taking the best elements of the past while never sounding like a tribute act constrained by it. And the La's songwriting skills paid off commercially, too. A re-release of “There She Goes” as a single in its LP version proved successful in the UK, going to #13, and would cross the pond to find some success in the US college-rock scene the next year. I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Mavers, but I don't think you've got anything to worry about in quality terms...
So what do I think?
TEN. So much for my second choice for my 11, I suppose...
You know, “There She Goes” seems like such an ordinary proposition at first. It's got one verse repeated for times and a short bridge and nothing else, the lyrics are about as stripped-down as you can get, it's really nothing but simple Merseybeat revival mixed with simple 80's jangle-pop... and yet, out of such a basic yet solid foundation, they made an all-time classic, and it all comes together exactly right. And it starts right from that first guitar lick as it slowly fades in, one of the best musical hooks in all of indie rock – a perfect tone that sounds like the sparks of light off a wall of crystals, an unbearably catchy melodic pull, a character to the melody that is somehow both as ethereal as the Cocteau Twins and as loveably raucous as the early Beatles. It's so good that it's impossible to tire of it even as it repeats for most of the song, backed up by a layering of bright rootsy acoustic strums, and a simple yet beautifully melodic bassline that makes the most out of just a few gently pulsating plucks. Neil Mavers, too, has clearly been taking from the best of Ringo Starr, with his light-footed skipping turnaround on the snares and tom being somewhat reminiscent of “Rain”, ensuring that the song strikes the best possible balance between sky-high breeziness and a rough, rollicking dockside edge. The whole arrangement may not have all that many tracks in it, and it's all just one great big euphoric hook at its core, but it somehow manages to sound much bigger and grander than it actually is, just from the sense of space and light there is to it. And for that, we can thank the pop genius responsible for writing it. Lee Mavers' gritty and heavily accented voice, sliding up into that wistful clear falsetto, is one of the most enthralling depictions of love I know of in rock, even without the lyrics! It's no surprise that some have thought that “There She Goes” is not about love, but drugs: even in these lyrics that seem so simple, the raw and heart-rending desire is palpable, particularly when Mavers croons about how “no one else can heal my pain”, or every time he splits his lungs to belt out the “But I just can't contay-ee-ayn, this feeling that remay-ee-ayns!”. And then it's all about the little things that make it so beautiful – the teasing drift of the layered backing vocals, the brief moment where the La's strip the song down to just drums and sparse acoustics before kicking back into the brief explosion on the “she calls my name, pulls my chain” bridge, the twangy leads at the end of the third verse, the subtle castanets and tambourine pushing the arrangement forward, the panning of the vocal harmonies on the last repetition of the verse as if to represent the depths and all-consuming passion of the love that our narrator feels. Everything about this is almost without equal, and I daresay that John and Paul, in their pre-Rubber Soul days, never managed a simple love song quite this transcendent. You know why people say “There She Goes” is one of the greatest pop songs ever made? Because, bottom line, it is. “Epic” only took my 11 because of personal attachment: in purely musical terms, “There She Goes” is the best thing here for me. You lot did this so dirty it's not even funny.
Where Are They Now?™
Unfortunately for the La's, they did not quite become commercial darlings to match their critical status. “Timeless Melody” finally saw release as a single in its LP version, and reached #12 on the Modern Rock chart in the US, but it failed to break into the Hot 100; meanwhile, back home in Britain, neither “Timeless Melody” nor the album's third single “Feelin'” managed to crack the Top 40. The album sold reasonably well, reaching #30 on the UK charts and earning a Silver certification, but across the pond, it has sold less than fifty thousand copies to date. Still, the album was greeted with glowing critical acclaim that was some of the best ever seen for a debut rock album in the indie scene, and more or less everybody agreed that it was well worth the long wait and tortured recording process. So it was all worth it in the end, right? Not if you asked Lee Mavers, it wasn't. He started badmouthing the album publically at every opportunity he got, saying that he hated it and calling it “all fucked up like a snake with a broken back”. (What a simile!) According to him, it bore no resemblance to what he had first put down on his demo tapes. To me, it's evident what the real problem was: he simply could not get anything he recorded to sound like the songs as he had envisioned them in his head, no matter how he tried, and he was obsessed with capturing that vision down to the last detail when it was clearly impossible. Mike Badger and John Power have both characterized him in those terms, and so it comes as no surprise that the story of the La's and Lee Mavers, in its original incarnation, was not a long one.
By the time “There She Goes” had become a hit in the States, the La's were already disintegrating following blistering tours across the US and Europe. Mavers had begun preparations to write and record the next album, but it was becoming increasingly evident that he was not really up to the task, and that his perfectionist tendencies were going to get the better of him once more. John Power quit the band in December 1991, frustrated with having had to play essentially the same set of songs for the past five years, and with him went the last bit of stability in Mavers' musical world. By the end of 1992, the La's had stopped touring or rehearsing altogether, and despite Mavers' claim that he was going to re-record the debut album in its entirety before following it up with a brand new second album, he instead retreated from public life altogether and stopped giving interviews. And so, as with all bands who come out with one brilliant album before disappearing, the La's passed into rock and roll myth.
Pictured above: "There She Goes". According to Lee Mavers, anyway.
But they were not going to fade out so quietly as that. Within just a short year after the La's vanished, Britpop was in full swing, and the 60's revivalism that the La's practised was suddenly the sound of the British mainstream for the next few years (it's interesting to wonder – how would these pioneers have fared in that climate?). And in fact, quite a few former members of the La's did very well out of the movement themselves. John Power scored seven UK Top 10 hits and three Top 10 albums as the frontman of the Britpop band Cast, who also plied a Merseybeat revival sound. Meanwhile, former early La Paul Hemmings did a stint as a guitarist with the Lightning Seeds; also alongside him on drums was fellow ex-La Chris Sharrock, who would go on to a long tenure as Robbie Williams' touring drummer, a short stint as Oasis' final drummer, and currently a position with Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. Even “There She Goes” itself saw new attention, both through its appearance on a slew of film soundtracks including So I Married an Axe Murderer (alongside a cover by the Boo Radleys) and Girl, Interrupted, and the time when Sixpence None the Richer released a cover of it in 1999. That version thoroughly beat out the La's original on the US charts, making it all the way to #32 on the Hot 100 and earning a lot of AC radio play, and charted at #14 in the UK, only one spot below the original. Lee Mavers, however, remained elusive. And on the rare occasions that he did emerge... well, let's just say that anybody hoping for brilliance on the level of the debut album was going to be sorely disappointed. A new lineup of the La's, which was essentially just Mavers and an ever-changing cast of session players, performed some shows in 1994 and 1995 to pay off their debts from the 1991 US tour, opening up for the likes of Oasis and Paul Weller. These shows could charitably be described as “shambolic”, with the Weller gig ending prematurely when somebody pulled the plug on them. Mavers gave an interview to the NME in 1995, but his bizarre rambling answers (at one point, he compared the La's music to “a Nazi tank in Egypt”!) led to rumours that he had a drug problem. Sadly, it seems, given some of his statements in the press around 1990, that he did indeed dabble in heroin at one point. Let's just be glad it didn't kill him, eh?
There she goes again, again.
Following these shows, Mavers started recording again in 1996 with a totally new lineup, but the sessions ended up coming to a premature end because of damp in the studio affecting his voice, though the same lineup continued to rehearse for about a year more. Some early home demos were released on Mike Badger's Viper label in 1998, and around this time some associates claimed to have heard a “mind-blowing” but extremely lo-fi demo tape of new songs; Mavers also acted as a mentor for a new Britpop band called The Crescent, who had some decent material on their 2000 debut album, but unfortunately failed to go anywhere commercially. A few more years of silence followed, punctuated by a short 2005 reunion tour where Mavers and Power played together. This was a pretty serious affair, including a slot at Glastonbury and a few unreleased songs being played live, and though statements from Power had it that Mavers was working on a new album with him (though he stressed “it can't be rushed”), nothing came of it. This, even despite rumours from the Babyshambles camp that they would constitute Mavers' backing band on the elusive second album! (In fact, Mavers had appeared on stage with Pete Doherty during his 2009 tour, and did indeed plan to make some live La's appearances with Babyshambles backing him, but these dates were cancelled. Too bad... I'm sure it would have been interesting to watch, if nothing else. )
The most recent available photo of Lee Mavers, I believe. Oh, for what could have been...
The last we heard of Mavers was in 2011, when he played a surprise show in Liverpool under the pseudonym of “Lee Rude and the Velcro Underpants”, and subsequently, he and bassist Gary Murphy played a series of “stripped back” shows as the La's, including one at the Rock en Seine festival in France. He hasn't been heard from since, and let's be honest, if those songs haven't been released in almost thirty years, they're never going to be. For what it's worth, Mavers' friends and collaborators all adamantly deny that he is the “recluse” that he has often been characterized as, and by all appearances, he lives a perfectly normal and sociable life in Liverpool with his family. In one, rare interview, the ever acerbic Mavers said that the press only call him a “recluse” because he isn't photographed by the tabloids falling out of clubs with a model on each arm. What he's actually doing with his time these days is impossible to say, though, because to my knowledge, he hasn't made any public appearances or statements since 2012. It's a tragic tale, in a way: the story of a man whose perfectionistic tendencies guided him to create one of the loveliest pop songs of his decade, and yet his career was ultimately destroyed by those same tendencies. Allegedly, he still records music in his home studio, but only for himself, a pop genius tinkering away on masterful works of art that nobody will ever hear. There's something so admirable about that, and honestly, I don't even want a second album. The singular, isolated perfection of the debut and “There She Goes” is enough.
OVER TO THE PEANUT GALLERY
Pulls my chain
əʊæ (0): oh god no noo NOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGHHH. (.......................................No comment.)
chanex (4): How much has this heterosexual bore always annoyed me? In large part cause I often find myself humming along. (...It's almost a compliment. I will believe that it is for my own sanity.)
Empty Shoebox (2): It's another one of those terrible vocal moments! Aren't we all glad? Didn't think so. (Well, I am. That falsetto is ICONIC, excuse you.)
WowWowWowWow (5): Perfectly average for me, somehow made even blander by the Sixpence None The Richer cover…
GimmeWork (6): This just reminds me of awful 90’s teen flicks. (Hey, at least the producers of those had good taste in soundtrack material.)
No one else can heal my pain
Auntie Beryl (7.1): It’s a good tune, but DEAR GOD he’s hard work with all the “I’ll only record using a mixing desk which has has Herman’s Hermits snort coke off it” cobblers. (I think, with Lee Mavers and his musical gifts, we have a new definition for "double edged sword".)
Hudweiser (6): Alright, but way overused by American sitcoms and movies around the time - the lead singer went on to form worst-band-ever Cast didn't he? (Nope, that was a different La, but you're right, Cast were pretty awful. Put it this way, if the La's show how to do 60's revival right, Cast show how to do it aaaaaalllllllllllllll wrong.)
Untouchable Ace (8.4): Actually objectively quite lovely, but Youtube says that this is from 1988. (Indeed it is! But since it saw LP release in 1990 and became an American hit in 1991, I decided that it counted, similarly to the situation with "500 Miles".)
DominoDancing (8.5): The Brits really had a knack for catchy jangly guitar pop in the late 80s/early 90s, and this is a prime example.
Ganache (8): Catchy little ditty that doesn't outstay it's welcome. (And yet, with "Looking Glass", the La's proved they can do epic lengths just as well! What a great band.)
yuuurei (6.5): I can't deny that I really prefer Sixpence None the Richer's cover, but the original is decent enough. (...You know, I never thought I'd get so many people preferring that version. Guess I should have known better with what forum I'm on.)
Andy French (7): I prefer Sixpence None The Richer's version teebs.
2014 (8): I love this but again Sixpence None The Richer did a cover and I prefer that.
CasuallyCrazed (7.25): Sixpence None The Richer is the definitive version. (Maybe commercially, in an American context, buuuuuuuut...)
iheartpoptarts (6): I think I thought this was a Cranberries song and it was totally not a guy. Apparently I’m mixed up with Sixpence None the Richer. (This begs the question, WHAT'S IN YOUR HAAAAYYEEEEAAAYYYEEEED?!)
saviodxl (8.1): Back in the day I thought this was sung by Sixpence None The Richer!
DJHazey (8.5): I know this as the Six Pence None the Richer song, so that's where most of my love comes from, but bop nonetheless.
berserkboi (10): Thought my introduction to this track through Sixpence would hurt my enjoyment of this but it is great! (Honestly, I'm kind of embarrassed about how high I would score "Kiss Me" here, but I really do enjoy that song. "There She Goes"... a bit less.)
Blond (10): With both my parents being scousers, I have a huge soft spot for any Liverpool artists, and this song is a stone cold classic. The Sixpence None The Richer version was cute too (remember them?!). (Yeah, they were almost on the list with "Kiss Me" until I remembered "There She Goes" was also a top 40 hit! Honestly, their version isn't so bad as I remembered it, but the original it ain't.)
pop3blow2 (10): The seeds of Britpop! A short little jaunt of a song, that 98% of Brit poppers ripped off paid tribute to in some variety. I always think this is an 80s tune for some reason. Oddly timeless. (Sure, I can maybe see bits of the Smiths and other bands like that in it, just due to the time... I see what you mean, it could have come from 1964 or 1983 or ANY TIME. Pretty amazing really. - Ed.) I do like the Sixpence None the Richer version a bit more, simply because I love Leigh Nash’s voice. I know, I know.
unnameable (10): I was in Liverpool in the late 90s so always remember this beauty.
4Roses (10): The nostalgia came FLOODING back.
Filippa (10): So very 60s. Love it! (I've talked a lot about ideas of "retro" with artists like Spacehog and Charles & Eddie, but this is one moment where I believe it really paid off.)
ModeRed (10): One sublime single and an album I forget I own. But this is an indie classic of the highest order. No wonder they had to split up afterwards, how do you match this?
Seventeen Days (11): Everything about this song is perfect - that divine guitar intro, the melodies, the lyrics. This is one of those tracks that just lodges in your head for days and won’t leave. The La’s were Britpop three years before Britpop was even a thing - talk about being ahead of your time! (We stan a pioneer.)
But again, another song that did far better than I anticipated...
I've never been a big fan of 60's pop let alone the revival of the sound, so Sixpence's 90'sified version just sounds better to my ears. Plus I'm always a sucker for female vocalists covering love songs about women and not changing the pronouns... so I'm a predictable lesbian, sue me!
Still, like I said, this og version was fine, and I'm kind of amazed at how well it did.
The taste jumped back in multiple times, apparently.
Sixpence None the Richer WISHES their version were half as iconic.
Well I prefer the Sixpence None The Richer version obviously - didn't realise how grim the song actually was though
I was nicer to it than I thought - I often get it confused with another song from the same time and one of them goes on waaaaay longer than it should.
And Cast. Ugh. Fucking loathed them.
Sixpence None The Richer's version is awful. Can't stand the singer's delivery.
...I didn’t know there was a cover version of it...
All the right songs leaving before the 20.
'There She Goes' actually did better than I thought it would. So close to the top 20, though.. ugh
Alright, let's round out our top 20 now. Got to be honest, this was one that I was thinking would go that far from the beginning...
...But as it turns out, we know that it will not be back.
21. RETURN OF THE MACK
Average score: 7.322
Highest scores: 6 x 10 (@WowWowWowWow , @iheartpoptarts , @berserkboi , @chanex , @4Roses , @Remorque )
Lowest scores: 1 x 0 (@yuuurei )
Chart positions: #2 Hot 100, #5 Radio Songs, #3 Mainstream Top 40, #4 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, #1 Rhythmic Songs
Year-End Hot 100: #8 (1997)
Who? Oh yeah, them...
One of the recurring themes that I touched on a lot in my 90's #1's rate, due to the presence of R&B as one of the most predominant genres, is how it changed over the course of the 90's. By the end of the decade, it was a lot edgier overall than it had been at the opening, and this was particularly the case with its male vocalists; as a whole, they became a lot more inspired by hip-hop in beats and attitude, and had lyrics that were a lot more overtly sexual or just had a harder edge to them in general. And while he may not have been American, Mark Morrison fit perfectly into that milieu with his iconic hit “Return of the Mack”, which went all the way to second place on the charts thanks to a brilliant sample from Tom Tom Club's “Genius of Love”. But though he may have declared, “you know that I'll be back”, the Mack never returned to the upper echelons of the US charts again... so let's find out why.
OK, I admit it, I typed "Return of the Mark by Mack Morrison" more than once before editing this thing.
Mark Morrison was born in 1972 in Hanover, the son of a British soldier stationed there, and he is of Barbadian descent. As a child, he moved to Leicester, living in the inner-city area of Highfields, which was known at the time for its high rates of violent crime; in 1981, he would have witnessed a major anti-police riot that swept the area. He would later spend his teenage years in Miami, where his father ran a penitentiary and his sister became a lawyer (according to a 2006 Guardian interview with Mark, she worked for Jeb “Please Clap” Bush at the time), before moving back to the UK at the age of nineteen to launch his singing career. His first recording was a 1993 single called “Where Is Our Love”, which was vinyl-only and pressed on his own independent label, but he first made an impact on the charts in 1995. That year, he would score a UK Top 20 hit with “Crazy”, and also hit the Top 40 with “Let's Get Down”, both released on his own Mack Life imprint with distribution by Warner Bros. However, it was “Return of the Mack” that would launch him into the upper echelons of R&B. Released in March 1996, the song ascended to the top of the charts a month later, staying there for two weeks, and eventually going platinum – and it leapfrogged the Manic Street Preachers' “A Design for Life” at that, when everyone in the industry had predicted that song going to #1 instead! An album, also called Return of the Mack, followed in April, making it to #4 on the charts.
Jeb! will win 264% of the electoral college votes in 2020. Thank Mark's sister for it later.
It took some time for “Return of the Mack” to pick up in the US (where Mark's music was distributed under Atlantic) though, as it would not reach its #2 chart peak until its fifteenth week on the Hot 100 in July 1997. It's not surprising that it saw the level of success that it did, though, considering that Mark's flashy image and macho swagger were definitely more in line with American hip-hop soul than with the relatively polite British soul and R&B scene. Self-styled as “the baddest boy of pop”, Mark displayed a clear influence from American gangsta rappers visually, with his fur or leather coats, heavy gold chains and diamond nose stud; he rarely travelled anywhere without bodyguards, was depicted on the cover of his debut album brandishing a pair of handcuffs, and employed female backup dancers dressed as police officers. All of this was very appealing to an American public hooked on harder-edged, rap-aligned R&B, and thus “Return of the Mack” ended up one of the biggest hits of its year, spending forty weeks on the Hot 100. It even managed to squeak onto the Decade-End Hot 100, right in the #100 position! It may not have been much of a “return”, given that it was his first American hit... but the Mack sure did make a great entrance.
So what do I think?
NINE. Oh man, you guys did this one dirty, because “Return of the Mack” is a giant BOP and one of the greatest popular R&B singles of the 90's. The obvious comparison, of course, is “Fantasy”, which also relies heavily on a sample of “Genius of Love” and has a similar mid-to-uptempo pace. But as great as “Fantasy” is, I daresay that “Return of the Mack” is the song that makes better use of the sample. “Fantasy” relies so heavily on elements of “Genius of Love”, from the twitchy guitar and keyboard embellishments to the vocal cadences to even the “I'm in heaven with my boyfriend” bridge, that it kind of just feels like it's spitting back something already recognizable at times. Meanwhile, “Return of the Mack” takes the central bass-and-drums groove and a few of the guitar plucks for the chorus, but it totally twists the vibe of it; rather than a lighthearted boppy song, it sounds more sleek, nocturnal and atmospheric, thanks to the dominance of the smooth electric piano pads and the more minimalistic construction of the verses. It sounds fantastic all around: the turntable scratching is cool and fresh, the drums have an awesome crisp and snappy tone enhanced by the handclaps and a great feel that you just can't resist moving too, the glistening keyboard pads and smooth bass really enhance the misty neon-lit atmosphere, it's a fantastic production all around. And it's one that Mark did himself at that, so pat on the back to him there! Not that he's letting the side down with his singing, far from it. Mark's voice remains powerful and soulful even through his quirky nasal inflections, and he has a tough, almost gritty edge that makes him stick out in a sea of smooth-milled male R&B voices. The lyric walks a tricky line, balancing macho defiance with post-breakup vulnerability and hurt, and Mark manages to nail both with his voice, captivating even despite his avoidance of the typical melismatic theatrics. The vocal layering is great too, particularly as he bounces off the backing vocals through that absurdly catchy chorus, and utilises an almost theatrical feel, where he lets his emotion show through his macho facade more openly, in the prechorus as a counterpoint to the almost resignedly sung “you're lying to me!”. Sure, the spoken word bridge with the female voice is a bit goofy, but he even manages to make that work, thanks to a fantastic return to the opening “Genius of Love” guitar theme and the knowing wink that is almost audible in the woman's voice. Yeah, “Return of the Mack” is just brilliant all around – the fact that it fell out of the Top 20 relatively late in the game does not make me a happy bunny.
Well, I guess they both helped move the Tom Tom Club to a bigger house.
Where Are They Now?™
Back home in the UK, “Return of the Mack” was only the beginning. From the Return of the Mack album, Mark scored a string of hits with “Crazy (Remix)” (#6), “Trippin'” (#8), “Horny” (#5) and “Moan and Groan” (#7). This made him the first artist to get five Top 10s from a debut album in the UK. However, over in the US, only “Moan and Groan” made the Hot 100 at a less-than-impressive #76, and none of his follow-up singles even got much traction on R&B radio, let alone pop radio. But the world was still his oyster: “Return of the Mack” had won Best R&B Song at the 1997 MOBO Awards and he had four other nominations there, as well as four nominations at the BRITs and a Mercury Prize nomination. The album had gone platinum on both sides of the pond, and spent almost nine months on the chart in the UK. By all appearances, Mark was set up to have a stellar career. However, there is one good reason why he wasn't really able to promote his follow-up singles stateside: namely, that by the time “Return of the Mack” had become an American hit, his legal troubles were already beginning to catch up with him. By all accounts, Mark was ill-equipped to handle the pressure of fame, and started drinking heavily and using drugs to cope, and eventually he went completely off the rails. Right as the song was rising on the Hot 100, he was arrested for attempting to take a gun onto an aeroplane, which meant his opportunities to promote it in the country were limited. And unfortunately for Mark, that wasn't the half of it...
...Boy, this cover art would become ironic in hindsight.
Yes, what ultimately derailed his momentum is that, for the next few years, he just could not seem to keep himself out of court. The thing is, that could have been survivable. After all, there's plenty of gangsta rappers out there who've been convicted many times over, and it hasn't done most of them much harm; indeed, with a lot of them, it's only added to their artistic persona and “authenticity”. It never quite did with Mark, however: the British celebrity tabloids have never really gone in for the “bad boy” promotional angle. Thanks to the gory details of his arrests being splashed everywhere, Mark was generally seen as either the butt of a joke, or condemned for the violent nature of his crimes. Where to even start? Well, he served three months in prison in 1997 for threatening a police officer with a stun gun (which he claimed not to know was illegal in Britain). He also failed to appear in court for charges of possessing an offensive weapon in 1998, instead choosing to complete drug rehab in Barbados, and was arrested as soon as he returned home. While he was cleared of that charge, he soon got himself in trouble again after being caught driving without a licence twice. But the worst speedbump came with another 1998 incident. You see, he had already been sentenced to 150 hours of community service in 1995, charged with affray for his part in a violent brawl in which a man had died. In one of the most utterly absurd decisions that I can recall seeing from an artist in this rate, Mark decided to send a lookalike to do the community service for him in 1998 while he went out on tour. No, I'm not kidding you. He ultimately ended up serving a year in Wormwood Scrubs for that, during which time he converted to Islam. But finally, in 1999, once he'd got out of Wormwood Scrubs, Mark decided to turn his life around... by, uh... starting a fight in Leicester city centre that was so severe that the police had to use tear gas to break it up, and being convicted for armed robbery of an off-license. That said, within this timeframe, Mark did find time in 1997 to get out one more UK single, the #13 “Who's the Mack”, and an EP. That EP's title? Only God Can Judge Me. (No, Mark, I rather think the courts can judge you too...)
But of course. He said it himself - You Know That I'll Be Back!
Mark re-emerged in 1999, introducing Whitney Houston at the Brit Awards, and announcing that he was going to make a musical comeback as the first British artist to sign to the legendary hip-hop label Death Row Records. And his first single afterwards, “Best Friend”, which featured Gabrielle and Conner Reeves, charted at #23, so he didn't get off to too bad of a start. 2002 proved to be another bad year for him though, as he left Death Row without releasing an album due to conflicts with the management (and given that Suge Knight is a total psycho, one can't really blame him for that) - oh yeah, and because he got arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and car theft, and a policeman was later arrested after Mark's release on bail due to suspicion of having taken a bribe from him! Following this, Mark ended up signing to 2 Wikid, an upstart label founded as a project of footballer Kevin Campbell, with intent to release an album at the end of 2004. But despite his managing to put out a single, a double A-side called “Just a Man”/”Backstabbers” that failed to crack the Top 40, the album, now entitled Innocent Man, got shelved once more – Mark decided behind Campbell's back to release the album through another label called Jet Star, with Campbell ending up having to take out a court injunction on Jet Star to stop them. Mark left 2 Wikid acrimoniously, Campbell saying that he had betrayed him, while Mark argued that 2 Wikid had not properly promoted the single and forced him to go to another company. (It may not have helped that that year, Mark got arrested again, for his part in a nightclub fight in which one of his medallions was stolen. He only spent the night in custody for it, though.) The album was then set for an April 2005 release, but pushed back further for reasons I cannot quite find out; the long-awaited Innocent Man finally appeared in the next year, back on his own label Mack Life. But of course, the ten year break between albums had done his career no good, and despite the title track (featuring DMX) earning Mark his last singles chart entry by going to #46, Innocent Man tanked in sales and failed to chart.
Big K.R.I.T. has the best verse here, by the way.
Mark seems to have stayed out of trouble with the law since then, with the exception of a 2009 arrest for assault (and ultimately, nothing appears to have come of that). He's never released a third full-length album, though he did put out an EP called I Am What I Am independently in 2014. A few other single releases were promised at various times since 2012, but mostly got shelved. His most prominent appearance in the 10's came in 2012, when “Return of the Mack” was heavily sampled on Trae tha Truth's posse cut “I'm On 2.0”, and he got a chance to interpolate the chorus on it. That song featured a monster lineup of guests, including Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T and Bun B, and it's actually well worth checking out. His most recent appearance was rather less dignified – a 2017 ad for Burger King, where he remixed his signature song as “Return of the Mac and Cheetos”. Unfortunately for him, though, I don't think the mack is going to be returning to light up our pop charts again any time soon. But nonetheless, the promise remains... you know that I'll be back.
OVER TO THE PEANUT GALLERY
Stop lying about your big break
yuuurei (0): His voice just really grates and the song is so repetitive.
ModeRed (4): Have I sung along to this drunk at a party? Yes. Do I actually like it, and that odd vocal? No. (I dunno, I kind of like his nasal oddness. Distinctiveness is the main thing I've always looked for in a singer, really.)
əʊæ (3): More like return of the quack (sorry, his voice is just very Donald)
Empty Shoebox (5): Another that I'm failing to see the point in. What are you telling us here Mark? (That the mack is going to return, perhaps?)
I'm in heaven with my boyfriend
2014 (8): Yath still so good.
Ganache (9): Best R&B jam in the list and by a Brit? *shocked face* (Cool Britannia stays winning.)
unnameable (9): Surprisingly enjoyable.
DJHazey (6.5): Definitely a bop, but it drags on a bitsy.
Filippa (8): I like the sound, the voice and the melody! But what a frightening guy… (Guess it's fitting that he did a song with DMX.)
Auntie Beryl (8.2): Yay! The ridiculous Mr Morrison! Only God, the Met Police, the Crown Court, the general public and the concept of common sense can judge him! Tune though.
DominoDancing (7.5): Great vocal hook. Judging by the Legal Issues section of his Wikipedia page, it seems that he bombarded his chances at a bigger career by being a total moron. (I really do have to wonder... how did he THINK sending an impersonator to do his community service, when he was already a recognisable celebrity, was going to work out?)
pop3blow2 (7): This song is probably 7.5 or 8. It’s a generally absurd earworm, but I dinged it a point for keeping The Manics’ Design For Life out of the top spot on the charts. Petty, I know… but they are my fave band of all time & it’s crime. (The Manics are pretty damn great and "A Design for Life" is amazing, I will agree. Still, at least they got that big number one a couple of years later! - Ed.) That will always make me hate this song a little bit. Return of the Poor Man's Bobby Brown, If we're being honest.
berserkboi (10): I have bopped to this forever and a day and the covers just showed me how perfect this was compared with their horror! (One of them is a tropical house remake. Horror, indeed.)
WowWowWowWow (10): The first song on the chronological list that makes me think that the song that got my 11 might not deserve my 11. I will not acknowledge or dignify whatever 2010s DJ-remixed knockoffs of this song may exist. (Probably wise.)
Untouchable Ace (9.7): It's one if those songs that you remember and it's lyrics blend in your memory. The chorus over time became something like 'Returnin' of the me'. I don't know, I envisioned him having a stutter. (RETURN OF THE ME! That should be an album title.)
4Roses (10): OoooooooOOOOOO it's another j.A.M! Clear the dance floor hunties.
iheartpoptarts (10): Ultimate 90s summer bop.
Seventeen Days (9.75): Oh HELL yes, this was my jam back in the day. It still is now actually. I used to request this all the time when I would go out clubbing, and they would always play it just for me. This is pretty much essential whenever I make a playlist for a dance party. (Make sure "This is How We Do It" is somewhere nearby on the playlist!)
chanex (10): This impeccable jam! How dare you try to deny it! (And yet, people did anyway. Sigh.)
So here's a recap of our Top 20, as we start to figure out what our elite of the elite is, and decide who's been hanging on just that little bit too long...
Groove Is In the Heart - Deee-Lite
Wicked Game - Chris Isaak
I Touch Myself - Divinyls
Sleeping Satellite - Tasmin Archer
Show Me Love - Robin S
What is Love? - Haddaway
Fade Into You - Mazzy Star
You Gotta Be - Des'ree
Freak Like Me - Adina Howard
A Girl Like You - Edwyn Collins
Ready to Go - Republica
Lovefool - The Cardigans
Your Woman - White Town
Bitch - Meredith Brooks
Criminal - Fiona Apple
Bitter Sweet Symphony - The Verve
Crush - Jennifer Paige
You Get What You Give - New Radicals
Steal My Sunshine - Len
I Try - Macy Gray
Well, it's quite the stylistic mix we've got here! At this point, it's anybody's game, and we've got it all to play for. But which of these currents is ultimately going to carry the day... and who do you think are going to soar all the way to our Top 10? Answers on a postcard, please...
More crimes against humanity makes me revive this Selina Meyer gif to the low scorers!
Return Of The Mack was worth the run here, if only because my beloved Manic Street Preachers got two mentions on Popjustice on the same day.
I ... had no idea that "Return of the Mack" sampled Tom Tom Club.
I appreciate 17 of the songs!
FINALLY! I couldn't believe that monstrosity was still in. Can Adina and Edwyn can get outta here next, please?
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