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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Close To You - A "Bonafide" Hit

The 1990s were an interesting decade of sorts in the music industry. After all, it was one of the few decades which seemed to have a distinct mosaic of musical styles topping the charts, depending on what part of the decade you experienced.

Having lived through the entire decade known as the 1990s (I was eight when they began and eighteen when they ended), I can certainly attest to the different styles of music that dominated the charts, depending on the year.

For instance, if you were to visit the late 1990s – the period between 1996 and 1999 – you'd notice a whole lot of pop music dominating the charts. The Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and 98 Degrees all released their debut albums during that period which I affectionately call the “Boy Band Era”. In the mid-1990s, grunge music was all the rage. And, the early part of the decade brought us tons of high energy dance music. I often wonder how many car accidents took place between 1990 and 1993 because of people driving down the road and getting distracted by all that dance music? Literally, it was all you heard for three or four years during the early 1990s.

And yet, I have to admit that some of my all-time favourite music comes from the period between 1990 and 1993. That period that was jam packed with high energy music filled with funky beats, rap solos, and where every single song had at least one piano solo.

I suppose that a part of it could be the fact that a lot of us fondly remember the music that was playing on the radio during our formative years.

Also known as the years that we were entering puberty.

For me, that period was the early 1990s. In fact, if you were to look at my playlist on my iPod, you would find three distinct eras of music. You would find 1980s New Wave (a favourite), 1960s Motown (also a favourite), and 1990s rhythm and blues and new jack swing music.

Most guys my age back in the early 1990s listened to a lot of the rock and roll music of that era, and I will admit that there were some artists and bands that put out rock music that I enjoyed. R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, and U2 were probably among some of my all time favourite rock groups of the time.

But I'll admit that some of my favourite music was music that was a combination of classic pop, blues, and jazz. And, there was no better time in the history of music where all three of these genres were fused together than the early 1990s.

Lisa Stansfield, Shanice, Tevin Campbell, TLC, Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, and Michael AND Janet Jackson.  Those were the people who made my childhood musically memorable.  I don't know if I could "jam" as well to those jams as those guys did - mainly because every time I tried to jam along with the jams, my jams always looked like an awkward version of the "Lady Marmalade" dance.  But, I have to admit that at least doing homework assignments in school were made a lot more fun listening to those songs on the radio.

And,'s flashback to 1990s music continues with a spotlight on a man who some of you may not know.  But you will know him better after reading this article on him, which will include today's Sunday Jukebox spotlight.

Now, if I told you that today's musical artist was born with the given name of Max Alfred Elliott, you'd probably wonder what singles he released, or even who he is.  Some of you might think that Max Elliott is the name of a brand of hair conditioner, while others might believe him to be that guy who lives on your street three doors down.  

But what if I gave you the name Maxi Priest?  Now we're getting somewhere.  Maxi Priest is a fifty-two year old British born reggae artist who has released nine studio albums, two greatest hits albums, and a slew of singles which performed well in both the UK and the USA.  You might not remember what some of his songs were, as he hasn't had an album release in close to six years, but I imagine that once I talk about him some more, your memories will soon be jogged.

But, wait.  A twist!  What if I told you that Max Alfred Elliott and Maxi Priest were the SAME PERSON?  Shocking, I know.

I'm not exactly sure how or why Maxi Priest came about choosing his stage name though.  I wish I could have found that information out, but after half a dozen searches, I came up empty.  But, the one thing that I did happen to find out was the fact that his family lineage contained a lot of music history.

For instance, did you know that his cousin - Jacob Miller - was the frontman of the group known as "Inner Circle"?  That group was responsible for the classic single "Bad Boys", which served as the main theme song for the long running FOX program "Cops".  

And, it seems as though talent has not skipped a generation either.  Maxi's two sons were both involved in musical projects too.  His son Ryan for instance was a member of the boy band "Ultimate Kaos", who were a definite influence on the British pop charts in the early 1990s, and his son Marvin has released a couple of singles, one of which went double platinum in the spring of 2011!

But of course, the main bread and butter of the article is all about Maxi's contributions to the world of music.  And, boy oh boy does he have a lot of contributions.

Like a lot of artists who are just starting out in the world of music, Maxi Priest had to earn his stripes and pay his dues to make his mark.  And just as others had done before him (and many future artists to come), he started off his career by releasing independent releases within his native Britain.

By 1988 though, Maxi Priest had his very first hit single.  Mind you, it was a cover version of the 1970 Cat Stevens single "Wild World", but I thought it was an interesting take on a classic seventies single.  In fact, I have to say that if given the choice between the single released by Cat Stevens and the cover version performed by Maxi Priest, I'd probably rather listen to the Maxi Priest version.

Maxi also had some great success in collaboration efforts as well.  In 1991, he scored an American Top 10 hit by recording a duet with Roberta Flack, and five years after that, he scored a Top 30 hit with the single "That Girl", in which he sang a duet with hip hop artist Shaggy.

But would you believe that his biggest hit was a single that did much better on the American charts than the UK charts?  In fact, Maxi Priest joined a rather elite club with the release of today's featured song.  He was only one of two British based reggae acts to top the Billboard 100 with a single release!  The first was UB40, whose hit "Red Red Wine" reached number one in 1983.

Seven years later, Maxi Priest would also enjoy the rewards of having a #1 single with this release.

ARTIST:  Maxi Priest
SONG:  Close To You
ALBUM:  Bonafide
DATE RELEASED:  July 10, 1990

The single topped the American charts in October 1990, and the success of the single helped make Bonafide...well...a Bonafide hit.  It's only a shame that the other three singles didn't do so well on the charts.  "Just A Little Bit Longer" was really the only other single that reached the Billboard charts from the album, and it only peaked at the sixty-second position at that!  Yet, because of the success of "Close To You", the album still sold enough copies to be certified a gold record in early 1991.

Now, here's an interesting bit of trivia about "Close To You".  Did you know that the single had two different music videos?  The one above was the first video released, I believe.  For all I know, it could have been the official UK version of the video.  But a second video was released for the single which showed Maxi Priest singing on a soundstage filled with musical instruments, small kids, and some lady who appeared to be wearing a hat made out of the fake grass that you find in a small child's Easter basket!  I'm also guessing that the second version of the video was the American release.  You can watch the second video below, if you like.  It's the same song, so you're really not missing much if you've seen the first one.  No crazy remixes or anything like that.

As far as the subject of the song goes, it's a typical love song.  The lyrics basically talk about how he wants to get close to the one he loves and do all of the things that she wants him to do.

(Which, given that the song came out when I was nine years old, I believed implied that Maxi wanted to play a game of Simon Says with her.  Which very well could be true, depending on how...well...kinky they wanted to be together.)

Ahem...where was I again?  Oh yeah.  Maxi Priest and "Close To You".

Okay, so maybe I misinterpreted the chorus of the song when I was busy doing my fourth grade humanities homework.  It was still a fantastic song back then and it still is a fantastic song now.  It's not too hard, but it's not too soft either.  It's a perfect fusion of different sounds to make a veritable feast for your ears.  Where else can you hear the smooth flow of a jazzy beat mixed with the rhymes and styles of British-Jamaican reggae?  I can't really think of another song that does that.  With the exception of UB40, I can't even think of another artist who has blended the two successfully.

(And, no...Snow's "Informer" does not count.  Couldn't stand that song back then, can't stand it now.  Though I admit that "Everybody Wants To Be Like You" is a million times better...well, if I were to offer up a suggestion for all things Snow.)

And, to conclude this entry, since I brought up UB40 in this blog entry, would you believe that at one point, there were rumours circulating that he would be taking over the lead singer position of UB40 from the departing Ali Campbell.  Of course, while Maxi Priest did do some touring with UB40 as a solo artist, the rumours of him taking over the gig just proved to be exactly that.  Duncan Campbell - Ali's brother - replaced him.

But hey...the fact that Maxi Priest was even considered a suitable replacement at one time - even if it was just a rumour - still shows that he holds some clout in the music industry some twenty-three years after his first (and only) American number one single.

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