As fun as 1989 has been so far – and I’ve enjoyed it, at least – it’s not been very cool. Cheesy pop a-plenty, earnest balladeering, charity singles and sixties covers. Madonna romping with our Lord and Saviour in ‘Like a Prayer’ has been as edgy as it’s got…
Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), by Soul II Soul (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 18th June – 16th July 1989
Until now, though. For ‘Back to Life’ is a cool record. A mix of hip-hop beats and soulful vocals. It’s a little bit of dance, a little bit of house. Wikipedia lists it as ‘proto-jungle’, which sounds slightly terrifying but very fun. Yet for all these influences, it’s not a cluttered track. The production is sparse – just a beat and some strings for the most part – and ‘sparse’ is not something I’ve not been able to say about the sample-heavy dance hits we’ve met in recent years.
It started out life as an a cappella track, which makes sense, as Caron Wheeler’s vocal turn is the stand out star of this record. It’s her that makes me want to announce this as the start of the nineties, six months early, as the next decade will be dotted throughout with dance tracks ft. female divas. Elsewhere, the beat and the production is unfussed, and unhurried, almost unbothered whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s upbeat enough to dance to. It’s very contemporary, a world away from SAW’s cheap and cheerful approach, until a scrrraaatch on the DJ’s decks places it firmly in 1989.
Proto-jungle is not my kind of thing (I prefer my jungle fully formed…), but a good record is a good record, and this is a good record, if you know what I mean. It’s moving things along, like a mini ‘Rock Around the Clock’ or ‘I Feel Love’, and for that I respect it. It’s the future, and we’ll be hearing a lot more like it soon…
Soul II Soul were a musical collective of some nine members, founded by DJ Jazzie B, who ran a club night in Brixton that played music with British, African, Caribbean and American influences. They had even hosted a hot new LA rap group called NWA in 1988. ‘Back to Life’ was just their fourth single, and their second Top 10 hit. ‘Keep On Movin’’ had been their breakthrough, but for me that one’s lacking ‘Back to Life’s hook. Impressively, ‘Back to Life’ also made the Top 10 in the US, where it had homegrown hip-hop/R&B to compete with.
As I mentioned above, the difference between this and the earlier dance #1s, like ‘Pump Up the Volume’ or ‘Theme from S-Express’, is that it’s not at all heavy on the samples. There’s just one: the drums from funk band Graham Central Station’s ‘The Jam’. Or two, if you count Caron Wheeler’s a cappella original. This was Wheeler’s last single with Soul II Soul – she would leave to pursue a solo career before returning in 1996.
So, we start a new chart-topping chapter here. And appropriately enough, before we delve further towards the nineties, we have a recap…
5 thoughts on “630. ‘Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)’, by Soul II Soul”
Yep…glimpse into the coming future…not my thing but I coud see it as important…a sign post for things to come.
Every time I heard ‘Back to Life’, I immediately thought of the intro to ‘Smoke on the Water’. The first seven notes are identical (OK, maybe they’re in a different key). I much prefer ‘Smoke’, but you doubtless guessed that!
That is not a comparison that I was at all expecting… But yes, I hear it! Completely unintentional, surely.
I don’t think a lot of people were expecting that. Indeed, there are only so many different notes and combinations of same you can use. As far as I know Deep Purple haven’t called the lawyers yet!
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