Elton John “Wraps Her Up” with George Michael

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Happy New Years everyone! We finally made it to 2017! 2016 seemed like a long year as we had a series of unfortunate events: Trump being elected as President, the end of SMAP, Brexit, and many celebrities passing on. One of these beloved stars that we lost in 2016 was George Michael.

Many remember Micheal for his catchy tunes during his days in Wham! or his ironic, musical statements during the late 80s and early 90s as a solo artist. But today, I want to talk about the amazing work he did behind the scenes, being a backup singer for many of our favorite artists during the 80s and beyond.

One amazing piece that featured George Michael was Elton John’s 1985 song “Wrap Her Up”. This song was sort of popular in the US. But, more so over in the UK, reaching #20 on the UK Charts. It has since fallen out of obscurity over the years. I actually found out about this song two days before Michael’s death when I  was recovering from eye surgery. I couldn’t do anything but listen to Sirius XM 80’s on 8 and their weekly Top 40 Countdown, which featured “Wrap Her Up”.

According to Wikipedia and Sirius XM 80s on 8’s Top 40 Countdown that aired last week, George Michael was quoted in a magazine that the song made him sound like he “had my [his] willy in a garotte”.[1] Now I don’t know if Michael was really impressed with the vocals he provided for the song or not. But, in my opinion, they aren’t THAT bad. The call and response between Michael and Elton John are really well executed as the two singers’ diverse approaches really compliments the song.

Now I know this is a pop-rock song. However, I swear the bass is playing a funk-like rhythm. I also swear that you could hear the same bass melody in a Go West song. Anyways, the song is pretty basic if you take away the bass and the vocals. The only other instrumentation is the strong horns section, which has a really great solo section before the lackluster guitar break.

“Wrap Her Up” isn’t a memorable song like “Last Christmas” or any other songs in Elton John’s or George Michael’s discographies. However, it does have some good points and it’s worth a listen.

Making Your Week “Happy Go Lucky” with Steps

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A week ago, I started to listen to television and movie soundtracks once again. One soundtrack that I listened to was the one for Disney’s “The Princess Diaries”. One of my favorite movies and book series when I was in junior high school, “The Princess Diaries” had a pretty solid soundtrack featuring known and unknown artists like Myra, Backstreet Boys, Steps, and others. Many would remember such songs like Myra’s “Miracles Happen” and Krystal Harris’ “Supergirl!”. Who didn’t sing “I’m Supergirl, and I’m here to save the world” out loud when the movie came out?

One of the less prominent songs off the soundtrack is “Happy Go Lucky” by the English pop group Steps. Formed in 1997 by music manager Tim Byrne and the writing team Steve Crosby and Barry Upton, Steps featured five members; Claire, Faye, H, Lisa, and Lee. The group released their debut single, “5, 6, 7, 8”, a year later with some success. This techno-flavored single caught the eye of one of my favorite producers, Pete Waterman, who signed them to Jive Records in hopes to create a new ABBA. Doesn’t that sound familiar? A*Teens?

The group released more singles, a mixture of covers and originals, before the end of the millennium. The group’s most successful single was “Heartbeat / Tragedy” featuring an original ballad and a cover of a Bee Gees’ song. The single went onto be the number one single of January 1999 and charted for over thirty weeks. The group released their debut album, “Steps”, and the follow-up, “Spectacular”, while going on tour in America with artists like Britney Spears and Youngstown.

Sadly, the success didn’t last long as the band started to slip when their third album, “Buzz” was released in late 2000. Relations also became fracture with Claire and H leaving the group in 2001 as they said they became miserable. The group official split quietly after the release of the single “Words Are Not Enough / I Know Him So Well” in 2001. The split angered fans back then for various reasons including capitalizing and lying.

The group reunited in 2011 to release new music. During this time, they released an album, “Light Up the World”, and hosted a small Christmas tour. The group also appeared on various talk shows and had their own reality show, talking about the past and why did they break up. However, the reunion was short-lived as the group announced a hiatus in 2013 with many of the group’s members resuming their solo careers.

I never really knew about Steps during the whole pop band epidemic of the late 90s. All I knew in terms of pop bands was the ones featured on Disney Channel or TRL; Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Youngstown, B*Witched,  and 5ive/Five. It was when my mom bought Steps’ debut album from a thrift store during my high school days that I really noticed them. Sadly, I wished I had paid attention to them in the late 90s as they are pretty talented and buoyant group. I really like the fact that there were both male and female members with each one playing an important part in every song.

“Happy Go Lucky” plays on Step’s signature sound of bubblegum synthpop despite “Buzz” being a more mature-sounded album. I feel like the song starts off in a minor progression as the beginning is “a bit under the weather” in terms of a mood. Throughout the verse and pre-chorus, the progression somehow goes major as the chorus is a bit chipper. This cycle of sad to happy to sad keeps on going throughout the song until the ending.

Or, maybe I just imagining this?

The lyrics are a bit sad though. The character laments that she tries to pull off being happy and makes everyone believe that she is ok. However, it’s a lie. Under the emotional mask, the character is truly sad as she just experienced a break-up with a man mentioned in the song. She does her “happy-go-lucky dance even if I am foolin’ myself” in order to make people believe that nothing is wrong. “Happy Go Lucky” makes me feel a bit sad for the singer as the lyrics and melody paints the internal emotional struggle of the main character.

Even though the atmosphere isn’t so happy, the song is definitely a hidden gem in Steps’ discography. The vocals are a perfect match for the song as they aren’t too strong or sweet. In fact, this song is a perfect song for the The Princess Diaries or even anyone’s playlist as it’s an easy-listening tune. The best part for me is the chorus because it’s memorable with the lyrics, which I remember easily and sing them out loud randomly on occasion. Nonetheless, the song is a winner as it’s catchy, displays how skillful the group is with the lead and backing vocals, the lyrics’ plot, and the fervor.

Take a listen to the song below and tell me what you think.

The Fantasy That Pulls You Into “The Land of Make Believe”

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(Originally written on May 4, 2015)

Happy Golden Week everyone! There are a week of consecutive holidays on the Japanese calendar for May that people don’t have to go to work or school and go on vacations. Luckily, I get a week off from work; which I been using to sleep, relax, be lazy, write, and see a lot of free mini-concerts around Nagoya City. Starting this week or the next, I am going to do a write up about the lives I see in additional to the monthly post about the anime songs of 1995. I will try to see indie artists as well as popular artists, so please check them out.

In this post, let’s head “across the pond” to the United Kingdom to check out allSTARS*. This pop band was formed with five members; Sandi, Thalia, Thalia, Ashley, Rebecca, and Sam. Interesting fact, if you take the first initials of each member’s names, you get the “STARS” part of the group’s name. Coincidentally or not, the TV station CITV wanted to bank on the member’s ambitions of being stars after seeing the extreme success of the S Club 7 television series, “Miami 7”, which was co-producer by Simon Fuller (which Japanese TV show “Music Station” labelled him last week as the top producer in the world).[1]

Formed in 2001, allSTARS* starred in their own TV show, STARStreet*. The show featured fifteen minute episodes where each episode focused on the different experiences of the group living in a house together. The show was apparently popular as they made two “seasons” and produced a couple VHS tapes.

While the show was on the air, the band decided to take a stab at a musical career. Hey, if S Club 7 could have a TV show, sing, and dance, allSTARS* could too? To take the chance, the group released their first single, entitled “Best Friends”, on June 11, 2001. The childish fun hit, as the website “This Must Be Pop” puts it, was a mediocre hit as it reached No. 20 on the charts.[2] However, their next two singles proven to be more successful as the second single reached #12 on the charts, due to a tie in with the Scooby Doo movie soundtrack, and the third single managed to get in the Top 10.

After finding their success in being a cover band, allSTARS* decided to release original material. Their fourth single, “Back Then / Going All the Way”, was deemed a failure by their label company Island as it barely made the Top 20. A month later, the band released their self-titled album with the same results; this time charting at number 42 for only two weeks. Feeling like the popularity of the band was waning, Island dropped allSTARS* from the label. The band split up soon after with each member going their own ways.[3]

Most of the members found success after the band’s breakup. The most prolific member was Ashley as he returned to the British soap opera “Hollyoaks” (which he starred in before he joined the group and still acting in as of today) while appearing in various musicals, shows (see Season 11 of “Strictly Come Dancing”), and being nominating for many awards. As for Ashley’s former college roommate and band mate, Sam, he found success off-screen as the co-founder of a well-recognized intern program.

Thalia found success on the small screen like Ashley as she appeared on various TV dramas and shows. Her most recognized appearance was in Big Brother (UK) 8 as she appeared as a “fake housemate” named Pauline. For the other girls of the band, Rebecca and Sandi made minimal TV appearance throughout the years. Eventually, the two woman eventually married their partners and currently living a quiet life with their own families.

allSTARS*’s third single is simply magical. A cover of the same-titled song by the 80s pop band Bucks Fizz, “The Land of Make Believe” reminds you of Limahl’s “Neverending Story”, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s me but I think they have that same “fantasy/magical” sound by the songs’ use of the europop sound, the lyrics, and how each song is sequenced. They also share the same musical technique, especially the use of prolonged notes (like the half and whole notes) in the stanzas. Another thing that sticks out is how the lyrics for “The Land of Make Believe” reminds you of “Neverending Story” due to a connecting theme: a nonchalant mystical world, full of dreams, and adventures. The vocal arrangements and the synthesizers further this concept throughout the song.

I really like the remix version of “The Land of Make Believe”, found on their self-titled album, better then the singles version. I don’t have anything against the original single version, really I don’t. However, I think it’s because the remix version makes the song more magical with the echo effects on the “Fun in the sun” part, how the vocals are softer, the addition of dramatic pauses, and better instrumentation that features more synthesizers, a stronger club-sounding backbeats, and electric guitars. The other reason why the remix version better is because it has a more appropriate speed that is suited for the song. The single version, when listening, makes you feel like you set the speed of 33 RPM on a record that was meant for 45 RPM; just too slow.

The mystic sound of allSTARS*’s remake of “The Land of Make Believe” makes the song a treat to listen to in any environment: dancing, exercising, commuting to work, and etc. Too bad the group disbanded quite prematurely as we could have gotten more delightful tunes like “The Land of Make Believe”.

The Single Version:

You can find the “Almighty Mix” here at Poprush.


References:

[1] “Music Station.” Yamamoto, Takao. TV Asahi. 1 May 2015. Television.

[2] “Whatever Happened To… AllSTARS*?” This Must Be Pop. 25 Sept. 2010. Web. 5 May 2015. <http://www.thismustbepop.com/2010/09/25/whatever-happened-to-allstars/

[3] “Allstars (band).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Aug. 2006. Web. 5 May 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allstars_(band)&gt;.