The Blow Monkeys
Choices: The Singles Collection | 1989
Following four albums, a handful of UK hits [and some very estimable misses], the next year bought a surprise: a Blow Monkeys greatest hits compilation. As I was living by CD catalogs at this time, I saw an album called “Choices” and ordered it immediately. When it arrived, I was presented with a greatest hits album with not the more typical one new single on it, but a pair of them this time. A title track as well one called “Slaves No More.” Happily, the first time I played the disc, I was treated to even more surprises tucked into this little gem of a compilation; that’s why it is being considered as an album in the thread. There’s enough special, non-LP material here to make this one worth it on its own.
The album began with the dazzling, diamond-cut House of “Wait!” in its unbeatable 3:10 [or “short”] hit single mix. Then came the first of the new singles [released a few weeks earlier in June ’89] in “Choice?;” another great House track performed as a duet with a female vocalist, as had “Wait!” This time, the singer was Sylvia Tella, a Reggae vocalist who had gotten started as a Boney M backing singer. The track was another fantastic House track with an infectious Mick Anker bass line snaking through it. It sported a very political lyric as opposed to the sheer Pop of “Wait!” but the lyric was a brilliant example of Dr. Robert throwing the Tory’s words right back in their faces with defiance.
And Dr. Robert was more than matched by Ms. Tella, who adds considerable power to the song with her full bodied, yet dusky vocal. A strong example of having your groove and brain stimulated at the same time, the single made it as high as 22 in the UK charts; a strong showing for the band.
The next track [released after the late August ’89 album release in October] was the other new single, “Slaves No More.” This was another duet with Sylvia Tella, and another House Music excursion by the band. The single mix was not included on this album. Instead, it contained an alternate version as also produced by Dr. Robert. The prominent 808 “hi-hats”of the single mix were absent and it was taken in a more Italohouse direction, but strongly touched by funky flute over the trumpet more prominent in the single mix. The single mix sounded more likely as a Pop hit, but I appreciated the deeper House sound of the album mix. I love it when bands I collect get lots of alternate mixes out for my ears if they all sound this strong.
As the album had featured nothing but House music so far, this was continued by having a completely new recording of “Celebrate [The Day After You]” that was also included only on this album. The Latinohouse production by Dr. Robert featured completely different vocal takes by both him and Curtis Mayfield and a radically different vibe. The House version of the downplayed the retro 70s funk strings and gave the piano and funky flute the prominence in the mix. Mr. Anker’s bass was deliciously funky here with some aggressive flanging happening!
The 3:45 mix was worlds away from the song we’d heard two years earlier. The vocals were completely different with juicy ad libs from both Mayfield [“It doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t make it sing… get funky“] and Dr. Robert’s response of “monkey gets funky [laughter]” was priceless. At almost the halfway point at the end of “side one” of the album, this was a full program of House music and only one track was familiar. Nice
There was one more non-LP mix offered to close out “side one.” The 7″ of “Wicked Ways” as remixed by Michael Baker was anthologized here, so I could hear it without busting out the vinyl. Which in the environment of 1989, almost never happened! The rest of the main album’s ten tracks picked out the highlights of the band’s UK hits and misses. The one-two punch of “Digging Your Scene” and “It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way” and followed by “Out With Her,” “This Is Your Life ’88” and “It Pays To Belong.”
“Some Kind Of Wonderful” was ultimately the only Blow Monkeys single not included on the enhanced CD version of this album. That song was written, according to Dr. Robert, as a song pitched towards the John Hughes film OST of the same name but passed over ultimately. This sort of thing happened a lot in the 80s. But the CD of “Choices” did contain an extra six tracks. All three of the singles from “Limping For A Generation” as well as the first, non-Hit from “Animal Magic,” the sumptuous “Forbidden Fruit” were also included here in their 7″ edits for the collectors.
Two 12″ mixes were also included as well; a 6:46 “long” version of “Wait!” was here with the long instrumental intro and ad-libbed middle eight. But the other 12″ remix on the CD was mislabeled. The “Choices” CD states it contains “Choice? [long]” in a 5:27 mix, but I’ve just learned that it is actually “Choice? [re-remix]” as on the 2nd UK 12″ [RCA – PT 42958] with a remix by Paul Witts. So after 32 years of thinking that I had the “Choice [long]” mix on CD I now realized that I don’t have it in any form at all! My only other copies of the “Choice?” single are the aforementioned die-cut RCA – PT 42958 12″ [with the 527 re-remix and three other mixes] and the Japanese promo CD-3, which had the non-LP B-side “Oh Yeah!” My next music-buying act is to get that “long” mix!
The “Choices” album came along at an interesting point in the band’s career. After starting out as a Soul/R+B band, they quickly mutated into a potent House act, with fully half of the song versions included on this album fitting into that mold. So if that was one’s only exposure to The Blow Monkeys, it might be forgiven for concluding that this was their dominant genre. In reality, it was a snapshot of the band and at that point in time, it was admittedly weighted towards the band’s exploration of House Music that mostly occurred in ’88/’89! That fact managed to make “Choices” more stylistically coherent than any of their albums since the first two, which were of a piece, but the band had evolved into a unit, by 1989, that was not content to stay put for very long. They were restless souls with a wide world of music to explore…but there were two more stops on the way to tomorrow.
Next: …Elvis Goes To The Movies
While I’m not a completist on this band, I find myself lacking this one and Limping from their early period, so I’ll see what can be done about acquiring these.