Discover more from This Week in The 90s
KWS find the right amount of fame with 'Please Don't Go' [May 3, 1992]
Plus: 2 Unlimited, Morrissey, multiple Simon Cowell appearances, and Nick Cave
Hi there! It’s May 3, 1992 and the Top 5 looks like this:
‘Please Don’t Go’ — KWS (↑)
‘On A Ragga Tip’ — SL2 (=)
‘Deeply Dippy’ — Right Said Fred (↓)
‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ — Marc Almond (=)
‘Temple of Love’ — Sisters of Mercy (↓)
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We’ll be exploring some of the Top 40 and listening to our Album of the Week, but first, let’s listen to…
This week’s Number One: ‘Please Don’t Go’ — K.W.S.
Did you ever want to be famous?
I did, for a while. When I was around ten, I had a teacher who convinced me that I would grow up to be a famous writer. That idea didn’t survive contact with the next or any subsequent teachers, but for a moment it seemed tantalizingly possible.
Why is fame so appealing? Why do people queue for hours to get an X Factor audition? In my case, I was a shy, sickly kid who missed so much of the school year through illness that I often had to reintroduce myself when I returned. How nice it would be, I thought, to walk into a room and have everyone know your name.
Of course, these days we know that fame’s not all it’s cracked up to be. We talked about that last week—about how social media gives us a glimpse behind the curtain of celebrity, and how stardom is a bit like being a human sacrifice.
But it’s worth noting there are different levels of fame. You’ve got your A-list, B-list, Z-list, your has-beens and about-to-becomes. Logically, some levels of fame must be better than others.
To figure it out, you need a place where you can see various levels of fame interacting with each other. And you know where’s a great place for that?
The Never Mind The Buzzcocks identity parade.
A quick explainer for young people/Americans/people who don’t own a television.
Never Mind The Buzzcocks is a long-running comedy quiz show featuring a panel of celebrity guests answering questions about music.
The game is made up of multiple rounds, one of which is a police-style identity parade with five people standing in a line. Four of these people are civilians; one of them is a has-been ex-celebrity. The panel must guess which one is the former star.
You can see an example here:
Buzzcocks was an entertaining show, but the jokes were often quite snide. The most famous moment in the show’s history was when Preston from The Ordinary Boys stormed off because Simon Amstell kept reading aloud from Preston’s wife’s autobiography. It’s a moment that we all thought was hilarious back then, but has since been reevaluated as a bit cringe and bullying.
The justification for the snidery was that they were (usually) punching up at more famous people. “Punching up” is a slippery concept. It usually means that you’re using comedy to deflate the powerful, the pompous, the otherwise untouchable public figures.
Which is great when you’re attacking politicians and billionaires. Dunking on Elon Musk is not only acceptable; it is a moral duty. But looking back on how people used to “punch up” at people like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, you wonder whether this justification was a fait accompli for some mean jokes.
Either way, the identity parade was always about punching down.
The underlying joke here is that the four civilians in the parade are all losers. They exude loser energy and a true celebrity should stand out by dint of their star power. To get lost in the lineup means that you’re a loser too.
Cool story dude, but what’s this got to do with K.W.S?
I’m getting to it.
K.W.S. consisted of two DJs, Chris King and Winnie Williams, plus one vocalist, Delroy St Joseph (King, Williams, St Joseph, you see.) The trio worked on the Nottingham pub circuit, overseeing karaoke nights, and were generally quite happy to be making a modest living from live music.
In 1992, they recorded a cover of KC & The Sunshine Band’s ‘Please Don’t Go’ and managed to put it out on a small label. There was no support, no promotion. The plan was to sell a few copies after karaoke gigs and earn a bit of pocket money.
Somehow, a copy of the single reached the hands of someone in BBC, who got it played on air. The overwhelmingly positive response saw them get playlisted, and the single went rocketing to Number One. The trio canceled their upcoming pub gigs and found themselves driving around London, looking for the Top Of The Pops studio.
‘Please Don’t Go’ spread around the world making the Top 10 in Australia and the US. They got nominated for a Brit, released an album, and had a smattering of minor hits throughout the early 90s.
And then, to all intents and purposes, they vanished.
All three members have left the music industry and don’t seem to have any kind of online presence. They’re not on the nostalgia circuit. Their entire Wikipedia bio reads like this:
Buzzcocks seems to have been the only time that any of them have made a public appearance in 25 years.
Chris King’s Buzzcocks appearance isn’t available online, but here is the other identity parade of that episode, in which the panel tries to identify Wojtek Godzisz from Britpop second-wave icons Symposium:
This scene (and episode) is dominated by Dappy from N-Dubz, a guy who is mostly famous for… making some very entertaining appearances on Never Mind The Buzzcocks.
It’s interesting to think about the fine line between Dappy from N-Dubz and Chris from K.W.S. Both had a little taste of fame before slipping back into obscurity. And at least people remember ‘Please Don’t Go’. If you put a gun to my head, I couldn’t whistle a single bar of an N-Dubz song.
If you go through the list of Buzzcocks panelists, you’ll find dozens of people who would now be good candidates for the identity parade. Just looking at the guest list from around the time of Dappy, you see names like:
All people who were mildly famous in 2008, but you would genuinely struggle these days to pick them out of a line-up.
That’s the cruel nature of celebrity. One day you’re sitting on the panel, making jokes about whether someone’s too fat to have been in Napalm Death. But before you know it, you’re the one standing in the line-up, and some 19-year-old SoundCloud rapper is making jokes about your shoes.
Is there a happy medium? Is there a correct level of celebrity, in which you get the benefits but none of the downside?
Probably not, but people like Chris King from KWS seem to be the closest.
King did an interview with the Nottingham Evening Post shortly after this episode, where he talked about Williams and St Joseph (who are “teaching in Scandanavia” and “still knocking around” respectively).
And his experience as a guest on Buzzcocks?
“It was a laugh. And I got paid.”
Very succinctly, King has described the best possible outcome of being famous. Walk away with some cash and an amusing anecdote about the time you were on Top of the Pops.
People queue for hours in the rain to get on The X Factor because they think fame will give them what they want. Power. Wealth. Validation. Respect. But even if you do obtain some of these things, fame ends up being a Faustian bargain that comes at a terrible price.
But a little taste of celebrity seems like fun. To have a laugh and get paid. That is the correct amount of fame.
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Elsewhere in the charts
Number 7 (↑ from 15): ‘Hang On In There Baby’ — Curiosity
What a weird career trajectory for the band once known as Curiosity Killed The Cat. This blue-eyed soul pop band were initially championed by Andy Warhol, who directed their first video, ‘Misfit’. A few years later, their single ‘Name And Number’ would become the chorus of De La Soul’s superb ‘Ring Ring Ring’.
But by 1992, everything had fallen apart. Their bass player left, their label dropped them, and they found themselves under the wing of probably the worst person in the music industry: Simon Cowell.
Cowell advised the band (now a three-piece called Curiosity) to focus on cover versions. This led to ‘Hang On In There Baby’, a fun version of an old Johnny Bristol song and one of Curisoity’s biggest hits.
But the next couple of singles flopped, and their new label decided not to release the album. A sad end for a band that promised so much. But that’s not the last we’ll hear of Simon Cowell! It’s not even the last we’ll hear of him in this week’s newsletter!
Number 12 (↑ from 23): ‘Workaholic’ — 2 Unlimited
Basically the same as ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Get Ready For This’. For a band called 2 Unlimited, they had a fairly limited sound.
Number 14 (↓ from 11): ‘Finer Feelings’ — Kylie Minogue
A few weeks ago, we covered the end of Kylie’s time with Stock, Aitken and Waterman. This was technically their last release together. It’s only the second Kylie single to miss a Top 10 placement, which is a bit harsh for what is a fairly decent single.
She did a richer arrangement of this in her Abbey Road sessions and it’s actually really good.
Number 17 (New Entry): ‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful’ — Morrissey
I think the thing that drove Morrissey insane is that his solo material is very good, but lacks the magic of The Smiths. It must be unbelievably frustrating. You can see how a man would snap and start ranting about the Chinese.
Number 28 (New Entry): ‘Boy From New York City’ — Allison Jordan
Down here in the lower half of the chart, we can see the beginning of a trend that would dominate music in the 2000s.
Allison Jordan was a young woman plucked from obscurity by a talent competition on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life. Her reward was a record deal (which she signed without reading, as you can see in the clip above), and that paved the way for her to put out a fairly cheesy cover version of an old doo-wop hit. When the public quickly lost interest, she was dropped and banished to obscurity.
Sound familiar? If you’re in any doubt, you can watch the full clip above and see her being welcomed to BMG Records by a smarmy young exec called… Simon Cowell.
That’s right, the Cowell Strategy was alive and well in 1992. The beast has been unleashed upon the earth. Expect lots more of him in the coming years.
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Album of the Week
Henry’s Dream — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
In 1992, a rapidly changing world presented all kinds of previously unthinkable possibilities. Could Russia become a democracy? Could South Africa have a Black president?
Could Nick Cave be… happy?
Everyone’s favourite outlaw junkie preacher gothic art rocker had gotten married, and now he lived in Brazil with his wife and infant son. What would this mean for his music? Was he going to settle down and mellow out?
Yes. But not quite yet.
Henry’s Dream confirmed that Cave was still the fire and brimstone preacher that we knew and loved. The record comes thundering out of the gates with the Old Testament roar of ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’:
But there is definitely a transition occurring on this record. Cave spent much of his early life obsessed with the Old Testament. The violence, the anger, the sense of being at the mercy of a capricious god all play a big part in Cave’s lyrics.
Like Dylan going electric, however, the 90s saw Cave switch his attention to the more positive message of the New Testament. Some traces of this are visible on tracks like ‘Christina the Astonishing’, the tale of the real-life Saint Christina Mirabilis:
Most of the lyrics in ‘Christina the Astonishing’ are about the filth of human corruption, but there’s also the glimmer of new idea (for Cave): the idea that redemption is possible, even for sinners.
Something else that’s new in this song are the Latin American rhythms. This can be partly attributed to the fact that Cave was now living part-time in Brazil, and the sounds of Sao Paolo had broadened his horizons beyond post-rock and delta blues.
The Bad Seeds are a group of phenomenally talented musicians in their own right, and they too had been evolving over the years. Their extraordinary chemistry is best heard on the cacophonous ‘John Finn’s Wife’, one of Cave’s trademark murder-and-sex stories:
The biggest single from this record is ‘Straight To You’, a manic, bombastic declaration of love. Cave’s lyrics are full of astonishing religious imagery (“The saints, they’re all drunk and howling at the moon/And the chariots of angels are colliding”) but underneath it is a strange tenderness, a genuine and warm love that’s missing from older ballads like ‘The Ship Song’.
Here, then, is the beginning of New Testament Nick, the man who would one day give us the heartbreaking beauty of The Boatman’s Call and No More Shall We Part.
But not yet. There is still violence and fury in Nick’s world, and plenty of that is here in Henry’s Dream.
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