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Not Fade Away 1988: Buffalo Stance, by Neneh Cherry

Not Fade Away 1988: Buffalo Stance, by Neneh Cherry.

All change. 1988 is one of those sea change years in pop when everything that had been boiling up over the previous few years - in this case scratching, hip hop, house music and the art of sampling - boils over and once the smoke clears we can see the landscape has altered.

M/A/R/R/S's number one hit from 1987, Pump Up the Volume, opened the door for a kind of cut-and-paste aesthetic that made something new out of old sounds.

You can hear that model over so much of the music of 1988. Running alongside it is the minimalism of house (listen to Voodoo Ray for its most beguiling example).

But this week's choice is maximalist. It's an in-your-face record, full of attitude and humour and street style. It's also a Stock, Aitken and Waterman track. Sort of.

The back story of Buffalo Stance is slightly curious. In 1986 SAW produced a slight slice of Blow Monkeyish pop called Looking Good Diving by duo Morgan & McVey. The McVey in question was Cameron McVey, soon to be a producer and soon to be Neneh Cherry's husband. Cherry even rapped on the B side of the single. It wasn't a hit.

Two years later Cherry took the rap and the synth riff from Looking Good Diving's B side, added in the production talents of Bomb the Bass's Tim Simenon and came up with the freshest single of the year, one that gave rap a female-friendly face and a feminist message (whatever Cherry herself might say).

Public Enemy and N.W.A. made noise for boys (and anyone wanting the testosterone thrill of rock music in the late eighties were best advised to listen), but Cherry's single was for the rest of the world. Both Mel B and Robyn are among those who loved it.

And Buffalo Stance is not afraid to be a pop song. That's what's great about it. In many ways Cherry's the perfect pop star. Like her music, she is a beautiful mongrel mix of influences. No wonder the style magazines of the time loved her.

Born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and a father from Sierra Leone, her stepfather was jazz musician Don Cherry. She grew up in a hippy commune, then cut her musical teeth in post punk band Rip Rig + Panic before immersing herself in the emerging Bristol scene (in fact if you watch the video of Buffalo Stance you can see a very young Mushroom of Massive Attack at the turntables right at the start). Buffalo Stance namechecks Simenon and Bristol sound system The Wild Bunch (from which Massive Attack would emerge). And maybe there's a reference in there to Malcolm McLaren's Buffalo Gals.

The Bristol sound that would emerge in the 1980s was never as bright and fizzy as this (for a sense of how it would develop track down Smith & Mighty's Anyone ...). Of course you can listen to Buffalo Stance for the shiny bright newness of the rap and beats, but in the end the reason it sticks is the central message: "No money man can win my love/ it's sweetness that I'm thinking of ..."

Cherry, who turned up on Top of the Pops performing the song seven months pregnant, would later tell Rolling Stone that the song was about "sexual survival" no less. "It's about being a woman of the Eighties and having something to say ... You have to know yourself pretty well, and then just stick your fingers up to the rest of the world and do it."

You could say she's sticking her fingers up at all those rappers who would spend the next 25 years treating women as little more than sexualised dolls. Lauryn Hill would do much the same ten years later. Not that the men seemed to notice.

Other Contenders

Left To My Own Devices, Pet Shop Boys

Theme for S'Express, S'Express

Voodoo Ray, A Guy Called Gerald

Talking With Myself, Electribe 101

Alphabet Street, Prince

Push It, Salt 'n' Peppa

Strictly Business, EPMD

Wish U Heaven, Prince

Fast Car, Tracy Chapman

Don't Believe the Hype, Public Enemy

Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.

Destroy the Heart, The House of Love

Cars and Girls, Prefab Sprout

Anyone ..., Smith & Mighty

I Say Nothing, Voice of the Beehive

Anchorage, Michelle Shocked

Beat Dis, Bomb the Bass

NME Single of the Year: The Mercy Seat, Nick Cave.

John Peel's Festive 50 winner: Destroy the Heart, House of Love

And the best-selling single of 1988: Mistletoe and Wine, Cliff Richard

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

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