Release Date: Aug 95
Chart Position: 7
Suggs dives into his wholly uncalled-for mid-90s solo career with a cover of a hazy, mazy Beatles song about sleep – an odd fit for a man associated with frenetic heavy heavy monster ska. The contradiction actually works to the song’s advantage, though: Suggs and his secret-weapon producers Sly and Robbie seem to be testing John Lennon’s song to destruction, seeing how much noise they can chuck into it and still make it sound at all sleepy. They add a driving rhythm, clattering drums, 2-tone trombones and all sorts of sound effects but the tune stands the test: it retains an oneiric quality amid the racket thanks to Suggs’ unrushed delivery, the slightly meandering song structure and that heavy-eyed Lennon melody.
The trombonist is the MVP here, supplying both the introduction and an excellent solo later on. I wonder if it’s Rico – it sounds a bit like him anyway. Suggs clearly learnt from Ali Campbell’s mistake last week: where Ali took ‘solo career’ a bit too literally, kicking everyone else out and leaving just him and a Casio with the presets from the last UB40 release, Suggsy picks his collaborators well. Sly and Robbie are on drums and bass, Madness’s Mike Barson is on keys and I think the ‘hey, hey’ bits are Chas Smash, aka the Bez of Madness, albeit a Bez capable of writing a worldwide hit song. Add the cameo from Rico or his identical twin and it’s a neggae/ska supergroup, and for once the whole proves equal to the sum of its parts and not a Velvet Revolver-type hubristic disaster.
Sound-wise, the song is very much neggae rather than ska. Sly and Robbie do their job and this fits very nicely alongside their other productions of the era. It’s meticulous, catchy and never short of ideas. If it recalls anything by Madness I’d say it has something of the atmosphere of Cardiac Arrest, especially the chorus, but that would only be the faintest echo and the song succeeds on its own terms. If it has a flaw, it’s the bit about watching the world outside your window – who looks out of the window when they’re trying to sleep? But that’s John Lennon’s fault, not Suggs’. Maybe he let Yoko write that line.
Realising that not every young neg-head would have heard of Madness, Suggs wisely made I’m Only Sleeping a double A-side with a track of his own to avoid being written off as a covers merchant, a poor man’s Bitty McLean or CJ Lewis. For me his original earns its place alongside the Beatles song, the Ray Davies-type lyric suiting Suggs’ voice perfectly and bringing back lots of fond memories of British seaside holidays. Sly and Robbie’s production is on the money once again, a pretty piano figure giving way to triumphant trombones as Suggs approaches his destination, all underpinned by insistent neggae drums and organ. It’s the perfect song to play in the car when you’re going away, alternating with Dizzee Rascal and Typically Tropical all the way down to Redruth.
Much like Suggs’ holidays, this release isn’t all ointment and no flies. I’m not going to stick up for the videos, which both contain some truly terrible dancing; the songs are a slightly slower tempo than Suggs is used to and he clearly doesn’t know what to do with himself, gamely settling on a combination of dad-dance bopping and Marcel Marceau hand waves. But this isn’t music for dancing, it’s music to enjoy on a lazy afternoon. Many ageing artists have attempted songs about middle-aged domesticity and few have emerged with any credit, but Suggs has the charm, the down-to-earthness and the contacts to pull it off.
Score: 7.5 out of 10 (7 for Off On Holiday, 8 for I’m Only Sleeping)
You need pretty big conkers to cover something like this, so hats off to Suggs on that front. But that is as far as it goes I’m afraid, this is poor! I’m struggling to think of what to write about it as I feel any significant time spent trying to analyse this mess would just be wasted. However for some reason it reminds me of something strange. Quite some years ago I used to be a big fan of Live & Kicking (Zoe Ball used to look OK back then) and in particular used to look forward to the Hit Miss or Maybe section of the show, watching the top 3 records of the week and have some celebrities do a quick review of them (almost like an earlier more crude but more fun version of what we are doing with this blog actually). Anyway I remember one week Brian McFadden was on it as Westlife had just hit the big time so must have been roughly 1998’ish and they were reviewing John Lennon’s Imagine as it had been rereleased for charity. Can’t remember who else was with him but he gave a Maybe! Pulling a funny face and waggling his over sized comedy thumb horizontally to indicate neither a yay or a nay! Even Theakston looked stunned: “You what Brian? You think this a Maybe do you?” Brian replied ‘Well it’s OK. It’s not my sort of thing. I would have thought that they could have jazzed it up a bit with some sort of funky backbeat or sumting (Irish for something)” I remember shouting at the TV “What the f**k you talking about you Paddy Di*k!!! You have no clue about anything. Go and be miserable somewhere and never appear on my TV again”. Although I wanted bad things for him I never would have wished Kerry Katona upon him! That is too much!! Anyway even the rest of the panel looked surprised and let McFadden hang himself with them all giving it rave reviews as one of the best songs ever written, timeless, hope it generates some money for the charity, etc, etc. McFadden looked like a twat and started to backtrack but Theakston was having none of it and said that he had given us his opinion and that was that. You have to live with your mistakes Brian, of all people you should know that! Why do I recall this tale I hear you ask? Well I’ll tell you why. I reckon that if Brian McFadden were to review Suggs’s I’m Only Sleeping he would be like a pig in sh*t! He’d love it. Taking a beautiful song and cheapening it seems to be what flicks his switch. This is so bad even Brain McFadden would like it – 2/10 from me.
Oh Suggs. Bugger off. It’s been a hell of a week, I’m late submitting my review, I’m getting the traditional feisty messages from the other Neggae elders that have submitted their reviews on time and are now looking for answers from me. So, I sit in front of my computer at 8am Saturday morning with half an hour to spare before it’s time to shuttle the kids around town for footie. I click on the link with good intentions, and BOOM. Suggs, dishing out more non sensical tripe. As the video opens with a sleepy Suggs, I’m concerned that this is going to be bad. My worst fears are confirmed shortly after the nice horn introduction which helps to make it slightly Neggified. That’s about it though. The slow tempo of this one had me head bobbing, nodding off, finding myself daydreaming and wishing that I wasn’t listening to this. I get a feeling that Ali Campbell had some influence on the direction of this production. I know there is some sort of story going on with the video but honestly, I’m not bothered. It’s silly and annoying. The more the song goes on, I’m not even sure this is allowed to be even considered Neggae. Oh, feck it. I can’t do this anymore. This song and video is beyond awful. Put me down for 2/10 and that goes to whoever is in charge of the horns.
So we’ve arrived at the point of neggae I’ve been dreading, it’s the gurning gooner Suggs. I’m going to come clean straight away, I’ve never been a fan of Madness as novelty bands generally do my head in. I have many friends who hold them in high regard and will bristle at me describing them as a novelty band but any band that plays toy instruments, are associated with a stupid dance and hoist there sax player up on wire are complete zaniacs in my book, Madness are Black Lace in suits and sunglasses. In fact the only thing Suggs has ever done that I enjoyed was the Channel 5 karaoke show ‘Night Fever’ and I think this is because I associate it with blazing zoots and necking Stella in an Acton flat whilst feverishly anticipating how strong that night’s betsys were going to be.
For this entry Suggs has decided to take on the Beatles, yes you’ve read that correctly, its boxing equivalent would be Butterbean taking on Tyson in his prime. The song in question is the woozy, psychedelic ‘I’m only sleeping’ , ‘this could be interesting’ you think, ‘maybe Suggs will incorporate a neg/dub crossover to mirror the lazy, hypnotic style of the original?’. The intro immediately dispels any such thoughts with ‘comedy’ snoring, an alarm clock and a jaunty beat beloved by fat, bald men who’ll hit the dance floor of their local pub/social club as soon as it kicks in and will clear it immediately of any females. Added to this uninspiring production you’ve got a sped up sample of some of the theme from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and various other cartoon sound effects including a skidding car, a cuckoo clock and other Dangermouse cast offs. I’m not even sure this can be classed as neggae as it sounds like a Legz Akimbo ska offering.
Suggs deploys his usual affected vocal style which sounds like a tranquilised Tommy Steele having a stroke, I do have to give that to him, his vocal style is distinctive but mind you so is Orville’s and I don’t see any of my mates queuing up to worship him. He’s got some female backing singers which are probably Louchie Lou and Michie One in attempt to keep the wolf from the door. Lyrically it’s the Beatles so I’m not going to pick holes in it but when Suggs sings this line ‘Please don’t wake me, No, don’t shake me, leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping’ I start to imagine him singing this to me from a roadside ditch in minus temperatures dressed in summer attire, this makes me smile.
The video is standard Madness/Suggs bollocks with that quim taking every opportunity to mug to the camera in a comedic and arch manner. What an enigma, is he basically sharing a knowing wink with the viewers at the absurdity of it all? Actually who cares, he’s an annoying spunkrag. There’s bits of him being literal about the lyrics like a 12 year old with learning difficulties giving a dance recital and some other shit with people playing instruments in a wardrobe or acting like Stag Beetles who’ve been flipped onto their backs. At best it’s an incoherent mess.
As this may have given a new generation an interest in the Beatles I’ll give it a mark, but basically he can Sugg my bloodpumper – 1/10
After their breakup in 1986, Madness never really went away. Thanks to their quirky, witty videos and quality, well-crafted quintessentially English pop music they were fixtures on the radio and TV in the following years that made up my adolescence. In 1992 their Madstock concert caused an earthquake, they sold a few watches too. But unfortunately, Unlike their Britreggae peers UB40, Madness missed out on the Neggae payday – having to wait a few years for their return to the top 10 with the excellent Lovestruck. Wise old Suggs went out on his own though, and at the tail end of Neggae bagged several top 40 hits, thus keeping his profile high and securing the gig as host on the phenomenal Channel 5 Karaoke show Night Fever. Will Mellor and Barry form Eastenders joined him.
The summer of 1995 I completed my GCSEs and rather opened my mind to many new musical avenues. A combination of a heatwave, solid underage pub drinking, full time employment and hash cakes resulted in my exposure to more music, and more music magazines. I grew out of my brief Rave fascination, and although traditionally a fan of black music, delved deeper into the Britpop sounds that dominated the radio.
I started reading Q and learnt about the Beatles periods that weren’t moptop or Pepper. At the same time, my pal Dom Payne unearthed his Mum’s pristine Beatles LPs. She was a Beatlemaniac from the start but found their post-Pepper output ‘a bit weird’ so that’s where the LPs stopped. We did however gorge on Rubber Soul and Revolver that summer round his – the swirling, eclectic sounds were perfect fodder for young fertile minds that were open to any form of stimulation.
From then on I was a confirmed Beatles nut. I did what any teenager in his right mind would do in the 90s to get the rest of their output: I took out the offer with the Britannia music club to receive 5 free cassettes for the price of one in the post. And then spent the next two years getting sent stuff I didn’t want.
So, when Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson took on Lennon’s Psychedelic, Somnambulant gem I’m Only Sleeping and turned it into a jaunty Neggae workout – I took it as a personal affront. It felt disrespectful, cheap almost. All those wonderful sounds and textures flattened out, reducing this country’s two greatest musicians to a CJ Lewisesque romp. I absolutely hated it.
Time has tempered my feelings towards it somewhat, and I can see that it is not without its charms. The BigBeat style drum breaks are well produced, and the riddim overall snaps quite nicely. A quick glance on Discogs revelas that Sly and Robbie put it together – and you can tell. I also like the fact that Suggs retained the services of Monsieur Barso and Chas from Madness, enabling I’m sure the full reunion proper a few years down the line. I like theEnnio Morricone inspired keyboard whistle noise, a reference surely the ScandiNegg classic All That She Wants by Ace of Base. I also can’t deny that the trombone replacing George Harrison’s backwards guitar works well.
BUT… He loses points for stretching the song out for another minute. Thinks he’s better than the Beatles does he? He loses another point for the freakydeaky video. Started off like an advert for Kellogs Fruit’n’Fibre but then quickly morphed into Lullaby by the Cure which as a child gave me nightmares. Thanks for dredging all that up Suggs. This song was pitched as a double A-Side, with Off on Holiday bringing up the rear. Where I come from, a double A-side suggests two songs of such high quality that the artist can’t choose which should lead. If this were true, and Suggs really felt Off on Holiday was Number One material, he would have spent more that £50 on the video. Atrocious.
When Q did Cash for Questions (readers received a tenner if their submitted question gets asked) with Suggs a few years back, I pitched in with this:
“You had a top 10 hit with I’m only Sleeping in 1995. Have you thought about doing a full on Nineties Reggae version of Revolver from start to finish? I’ve done the artwork for you to get you started.”
Note, this was before the EasyStar Allstars started doing reggae versions of entire LPs such as Dub Side of The Moon and Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band. Suggs would have been well ahead of the curve. But, in the words of John and Paul, I received ‘No Reply’.
Score: A surprisingly high 6/10 for me
NEGGAE SCORE: 3.7