The year is 1999
The World Worries about Y2K and the millennium bug, Columbine High School shootings, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, found guilty of second-degree murder for giving a lethal injection in a case of voluntary euthanasia, Start of Millennium celebrations worldwide, Euro currency introduced, Pakistan and India fight for control of Kashmir. The worlds population exceeds Six Billion. The Wars in the Balkans continue to cause suffering in the region, but both sides do come to the table and a peace is agreed.
The world prepares for the new millennium parties and computers around the world run testing for the millennium bug which could cause wide scale disruption to business and infrastructure if not fixed. The take up of the Internet and Mobile Phones around the world open up new opportunities for successful entrepreneurs.
This was the year that Toronto's Meow nightclub was going, on Lakeshore BLVD and Toronto’s resident DJ Mark Oliver was holding down Fridays for the brief moment the club was open .
I had made the trek to check it out and that was the first time I heard the track , like many “first time hearing” when you check out a Mark Oliver set.
I remember hearing it and asking Mark what it was , and also saying this is one of those dance tracks that is too good not to end up mainstream .
It had the classic house rhythm , all kinds of disco elements , great guitar overdub, very Nile Rodgers-like , completely sexy, and it took me away on the dance floor.
Summer 1999 was dominated by two songs; Germany's Lou Bega and his lady-listing Latin classic Mambo No. 5 and Moloko's featherlight, disco ball-tastic Sing It Back.
While Sing It Back's parent album, I Am Not A Doctor (featuring the jazzier, more esoteric original version), just crept into the UK top 75, its follow-up, 2000's Things To Make and Do, peaked at 3, with its lead single -- the excellent The Time Is Now -- crashing into the singles chart at number 2. By 2001 they'd been nominated for five Brit Awards, including Best Group (they lost to Coldplay, natch)
The song's inspiration...
When Moloko did their first album [1995's Do You Like My Tight Sweater?], bearing in mind I'd been clubbing for a few years in Manchester and then in Sheffield, we almost thought four on the floor was finished. We were like 'Jesus, how many of these bloody tracks can you listen to?'.
We were a reaction against that and thinking that it was on its way out. I had loved it earlier on in my life but had been going to clubs with more of an eclectic mix of music in Sheffield. In Manchester you could sample all kinds of music cultures but it was all quite separate. Race-wise it was very separate, music-wise it was totally separate, and in Sheffield it was different and all mixed up.
The best DJs could mix reggae and hip-hop and house and techno and all these things and you'd see where the connections were. It was very educational, musically. Moloko was a reaction to that.
Anyway, then I went to New York and I came up with the “sing it back” part of it while clubbing at Body and Soul. I'd go quite regularly, just by myself. This was in 1996 or 97, and I was staying with a girl who was working at Tommy Boy at the time. I felt like I'd got to the source of it to a degree.
Body and Soul was very church-y and it was on a Sunday. It was totally devotional. François K would play a lot of vocal tracks and the whole audience seemed to know all the words so he'd turn down the music and everyone would sing it back to him. That's where I started to think about a club track with the lyric “sing it back” as the chorus.
So I came back to Sheffield and I was totally reinvigorated as far as house music was concerned. Came back buzzing and the first song we wrote for I Am Not a Doctor was Sing It Back and it was over a house beat. Then we continued making the album, and we got into jungle, and all these different styles. It's a submissive song you know. It's about playing the role of the submissive and submission in general. At the end Mark [Brydon, producer] felt like it didn't fit on the record because we hadn't gone ahead and made lots of house music, we'd made lots of bonkers music instead. So he changed it. It was always a disappointment if I'm being honest because it never developed into the song I thought it could be. Once I get the bit between my teeth it's pretty hard for me to let go. I'm like a dog with a bone and I like to chew it to death. We put out the record [I Am Not A Doctor] and it was a disappointment commercially, and whereas Do You Like My Tight Sweater? had all this buzz around it, for various reasons this next one was
Then me and my best friend Dawn Shadforth, who I was living with in Sheffield at the time, made the video. There was an old VHS copy of Michael Jackson's Rock With You video in the flat and I said to Dawn -- we didn't have much money for the video -- 'let's do it like this, it could be brilliant'. She executed it so beautifully. The mirrored dress came from the fact that I was trying to give up smoking at the time so I was covering an old piece of furniture in broken mirror. It was quite a long process so I was staring at tiny pieces of mirror mosaic for a good month, but that's where the idea for the dress came from. I used to get people saying they used to put that video on in front of their three-year-old kids and leave them there for hours and hours just watching it. It shut them up. It's a magic video. I'm never going to make a cheesy video, not never.
But what I will say is that Sing It Back and Time Is Now are both fantastic videos, brilliant, but a little one dimensional. So you're stuck in a rut in terms of the imagery -- on the one hand you've got the nice disco dolly in Sing It Back, on the other you have the
Timotei advert of Time Is Now, and that's what solidified me in people's minds as a nice, sweet blonde girl and I couldn't follow that up continually because that's not who I am. I didn't think I had to, but I think looking back that's perhaps -- not what I should have done, because I wouldn't change anything -- but what they wanted. When you look at someone like Björk, she's like an alien almost – not a woman or a man. Similarly with Grace Jones. Some friends of the family had her album up on the fire place, the one where she's standing on one leg, and everyone in this small town in Ireland was coming in going 'huh? What the hell?'. You can go wherever you like when the base image is so weird, but me swinging my blonde hair around in slow motion, they just didn't fit with what I wanted to do after it.
From the I Am Not A Doctor Album
Sing It Back
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Moments In Music W/ Anthony Donnelly