“Ooh, baby, I love your way. Wanna tell you I love your way. Wanna be with you night and day.”
Inspired by Tom Ewing’s “Popular” (which traces the history of UK #1 singles) and Tom Breihan’s “The Number Ones” (which does the same for US #1s), “We’re #2!” looks at the history of those songs which almost but not-quite managed to reach the summit of the UK Singles Chart. Beginning a quarter century back from this column’s inception (March 2019) up until whenever the Present Day comes about.
006] Big Mountain – Baby, I Love Your Way
Reached #2: 5th June 1994
Weeks at #2: 3
Britain loves movie soundtracks. We always have and, given The Greatest Showman scored five UK Top 40 hit singles (including one, “This is Me,” which peaked at #3 and is obviously a 1 cos The Greatest Showman absolutely sucks) and reigned atop the UK albums chart for 28 weeks at time of writing (and has also never been out of the UK’s Top 10 after its debut week at time of writing), seemingly always will. The breakaway pop hit has of course been a staple of both cinema and pop radio since the two mediums initially started collaborating with one another (Disney’s 1937 take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first commercially released movie soundtrack), but the practice would really start to take hold with the rise of Rat Pack musicals and, later, New Hollywood. “Mrs. Robinson,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Come and Get It,” and so on. Many of Cliff Richard’s mid-60s hits came from the justly-forgotten musicals he was fronting throughout the decade – “Summer Holiday,” “Bachelor Boy,” “The Young Ones” – in case you figured the Elvis Presley career trajectory was a wholly American invention.
Arguably, this obsession hit its peak in the 90s, most obviously in the iron-fisted rule of the UK charts by Bryan Adams’ woeful and already-touched-upon “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for 16 endless weeks in the Summer of 1991 and Wet Wet Wet’s reign of terror with “Love is All Around” from Four Weddings and a Funeral which is responsible for the next four entries. But the beauty of the breakaway pop hit comes from how, in the right moment, it can make anybody the unlikeliest of chart-topping pop stars. Jamiroquai actually have a UK #1 single to their name, that one being “Deeper Underground” from 1998’s woeful Roland Emmerich Godzilla. (It’s a 4.) Will Smith scored a surprise UK #1 hit (at a time when the UK charts were really unreceptive towards rap music) as part of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince in 1993 with “Boom! Shake the Room,” but it was his theme song to 1997 box office sensation Men in Black and its three-week run at the top of the charts which solidified his hitmaker status in the country for the rest of the decade. (We’ll be covering him a bunch of times across this series.) Need I remind you that Bradley Cooper has more UK #1 singles than Pulp?
Another thing that Britain cannot get enough of are covers. Not that you need me to tell you that, of course. We’re going to be covering a lot of covers throughout this series, either as an entry itself or as the #1 responsible for the entry, and it’s really only recently that the British chart industry has managed to ween itself off of this particular habit. And a third thing that Britain couldn’t get enough of was reggae. Fostered by an influx of Jamaican immigrants to the country during the late 60s and early 70s, adopted and appreciated by the rising counter-cultural punk and skinhead movements (back before the “skinhead” look and iconography was jacked by Neo-Nazis and far-right hate groups like the English Defence League), and eventually watered down of all its radicalism and politicism and black pride in favour of cod-reggae peddled by UB40 and Culture Club. (This is a heavily-reductive explanation, I’m aware; check out Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records for an excellent primer on the subject.) All of which gives you some idea as to how Southern Californian reggae-fusion outfit Big Mountain managed to score a fluke UK #2 hit in the Summer of ’94.
So, let’s take this in stages. The song, “Baby I Love Your Way,” was originally written and recorded in 1975 by Peter Frampton for his semi-self-titled fourth studio album Frampton, there paired with a noodly instrumental intro called “Nassau.” Issued as a single from that album, it flopped, failing to make any chart placements in any of the major territories, much like everything else Frampton had released up to that point. Then, a year later, everything changed with the multi-platinum US chart-topping breakthrough double live album Frampton Comes Alive!. This time, “Baby, I Love Your Way” (now with a grammatically-correct comma added to shut up pedants like myself) became part of a trio of hit singles that gave the English soft rocker his moment in the sun… except in the UK where it flopped, failing to make the Top 40, whilst the album (which admittedly went Gold) only peaked at #6.
For some reason, Britain never managed to gel with Frampton. With regards to “Baby,” I’m tempted to blame its cheesy as heck soft rock ballad nature at a time when the country was largely under the sway of glam rock – listening to the live version in particular highlights both how not far removed “Baby” is from something like David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” or T-Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer,” and how vital the latter’s fuzzed-up guitars and sneery delivery are to the glam rock subgenre – but a quick look at the #1s floating about at the time demonstrate a country not exactly ashamed of lame cheese or even soft rock. Elsewhere, the song’s been canonised on classic rock and oldies stations to such a degree that, in 1988, American dance-pop group Will to Power were able to mash the track up with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s iconic “Free Bird” into some strange adult-contemporary synth ballad and take the resulting concoction to #1 in the US. (In the UK, that version peaked at #6. Both of these versions are 3s, although the Will to Power mashup is a borderline case.) But in the UK, it’s never quite managed to achieve the kind of status where a cover could power to the upper echelons of the chart on recognition alone.
Next, the movie: 1994’s Reality Bites directed by Ben Stiller. Divisive with critics at the time and aging about as well as some of the things I wrote on my old (deleted) Blogger account when I was 13, it nonetheless performed reasonably well at the box office and has somewhat of a nostalgic following by those who were in the Gen X target audience when it first came out. Basically, for those who haven’t seen it, think of Cameron Crowe’s Singles but much worse and much more insufferable. Also akin to Singles, there was a carefully curated soundtrack to go along with it, although this one was being pushed along by corporate marketing mandates rather than the sincere love-letter to a burgeoning scene like Singles’ was (another incredible irony for a film so performatively repulsed by anything pushed by “The Man”). Much of this push can be attributed to one man in particular, RCA Records Senior VP Ron Fair, trying to score his label their first big soundtrack hit since Dirty Dancing back in 1988. It was his idea that “Baby” should receive a reggae remake – the Frampton version is briefly featured in-film over the car stereo during one of Michael and Lelania’s dates when the former notes about the song’s ubiquity as he was growing up, but the reggae take would be the one to land on the million-selling soundtrack. Many prospective bands recorded demos for Fair, but only one ended up being picked.
Finally, the band: Big Mountain from San Diego, California. Primarily the brainchild of frontman singer-guitarist Joaquin ‘Quino’ McWhinney and bassist Lynn Copeland – so much so that every other member of what was a sextet left the band between recording of their first and second albums as Big Mountain, with Quino being the only member still left today – they were building up a minor buzz in Southern California off the back of their debut single “Touch My Light,” which peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100, and preparing to jump to a major label imprint (Warner Bros.’ Giant Records). And despite how this all might read on paper, Quino wants you to know that his heart really was in the right place. The son of mariachi musicians and Mexican/Irish heritage, he was drawn to reggae after seeing a documentary about Bob Marley and Rastafarianism and he’s spoken repeatedly in interviews about his insecurities as an American playing Jamaican music, wanting to take the genre seriously, throwing the band into socially conscious issues like environmentalism and Native Americans. The group even played the famous Reggae Sunsplash festival in 1994 and 1995.
Quino spent a long time regretting this cover, feeling that it mislabelled them as much-maligned pop reggae, driving a wedge between his band and Giant Records over their apparent refusal to record more songs like “Baby, I Love Your Way,” and ultimately resenting its impact on their musical trajectory for the longest time. (He supposedly made peace with it by 2015.) And he has good reason to because it is lame as hell. However, I feel his protestations of (and continual dancing around the phrase) selling out are somewhat misguided because, honestly, there is very little musically separating “Baby, I Love Your Way” from the other tracks on both debut Wake Up and the shortly-issued-after-this-single Unity. Overly glossy, maximalist, cheesy, metallic anodyne pop music only separable from UB40 by the overbearing near-brick-walled production and a vocalist whose voice doesn’t make you want to drown yourself in a bucket of hot goat piss. For all his talk of reverence for the genre and insecurity over doing it wrong, Quino’s music often skirts right up to or past the line of inadvertent commercialised parody: the vocal tics and affectations in the ad-libs, the token appearance of steel drums and incongruous calypso vibes (“Reggae Inna Summertime” is the worst offender in this regard), an enforced sense of cheer in the music. In their worst moments, some of these songs come off like rejected theme songs for Dale Winton’s Supermarket Sweep. In their best, the songs are pleasant but not particularly memorable.
For all of its many, many production flaws, “Baby” is mostly an example of the latter. Frampton’s original suffers from his occasionally pitchy voice and drums which are ironically too soft much of the time causing the song to not so much drift romantically as hang awkwardly and never build to a satisfying payoff despite the soloing, but it’s a solid pop ballad whose simple lyrics about battling uncertainty to tell a crush how much they mean to you are quite sweet. Quino can mug a tad in this version but there’s proper feeling in his delivery and the non-chorus harmonies accentuate the romanticism of the lyrics quite effectively; it’s easily my favourite of his vocal performances. Whilst the lack of sufficient forward momentum is solved by Carlton Davis’ forceful heavily-reverbed drums and Tony Chin’s off-beat downstroke guitar. Of course, in doing so, they end up changing the vibe of the song from “insecure attempted confessional” to “contented consummated relationship in progress,” but I’d argue it still fits.
It’s also the only change to the song that actually adds to proceedings. Ron Fair personally produced the finished product and he evidently wasn’t about to take a single chance of this not becoming hit, loading down the song with every single instantly dated and embarrassing early 90s adult-contemporary cliché he could find. So, the second one presses play on the record, you’re blasted in the face with a harsh over-produced and performatively-loud title harmony. Then there’s the excess reverb on the drums, the hollow vacuum-sealed metallic clang of the production that’s actively suffocating to sit within, including cymbal crashes that are painfully distorted. A Kenny G-ass saxophone solo provided by guest star Warren Hill erupts at the midpoint (and kicks off the video version). And it all culminates in, you guessed it, an extremely awkward enforced key change at the last chorus, one which has yet to fail at making me physically cringe when it turns up because the transition is anything but smooth.
I don’t hate it, I don’t even passionately dislike it, but I also cannot deny that 80% to 90% of the reason why I can kind of tolerate Big Mountain’s cover is down to Frampton’s original being a good enough baseline song – I’m kind of shocked it hasn’t already turned up on a Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, quite frankly – and the band themselves don’t bring enough quality ideas of their own to the song to make me want to check out their original work (if I didn’t have to check them out for this feature). Evidently, the general British public agreed as Big Mountain’s two charting follow-up singles failed to crack the Top 40 and they disappeared from our minds almost as quickly as they entered. We got our nostalgia hit and then no longer had any use for them. On to the next flash in the pan. In America, “Baby, I Love Your Way” hit #1 but it was quickly overshadowed as the big hit from Reality Bites by the surprise success of lead single “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb which made headlines by being the first time an artist had ever scored a Billboard Hot 100 #1 single without being signed to a record label – a feat that went unmatched until Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” 19 years later.
Big Mountain would never again crack the Top 40 in the US. Despite that, they chugged along until 2005, gaining and shedding members, putting out another seven albums (none of which charted), touring all over the world before disbanding. Quino went into teaching at San Diego’s Olympian High School and occasionally reunited the group for one-off charity gigs before reactivating the project in 2013. In 2016, they put out their first album in 14 years called Perfect World. It did not chart.
Bonus Beats: Big Mountain’s cover of “Baby, I Love Your Way” also turned up in, of all places, the enjoyably diverting 2017 Jumanji rebootquel during a sequence in which Martha, the socially awkward homely teen playing the body of badass Lara Croft-expy Ruby Roundhouse, dance-fights her way through two armed guards. I will cop to laughing way too hard at teen-girl Jack Black yelling out “YAAAS, QUEEN!”
The #1: One week before Big Mountain rose to the penultimate spot on the chart, Wet Wet Wet began their monstrous 15 week run at the top with “Love is All Around.” Their cover of The Troggs’ 1967 garage-rock ballad was the theme song for mega-smash rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral which ruled the Summer box office and became the highest-grossing British film of all-time (at that point). It is dreadful but I’m finding myself warming to it somewhat as I get older mainly because of how forceful the song is, demanding that the listener pay attention and form an opinion on it regardless of whether that’s positive or negative. Also, it’s not “When You Say Nothing at All” which is the absolute nadir of Richard Curtis rom-com music. For now, it’s a 2.
The gaps: Been a while since we’ve done one of these, I’m aware, and we get back into it by having to make quite the time jump. Between 24th April, when previous entry “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies rose to #2, and 5th June, we saw a number of former and soon-to-be #1s take the slot. They were, in order: “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” by The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (1st May, sliding down from its #1 peak), “Come On You Reds” by the Manchester United Football Squad (8th May and 29th May, with a two-week stint at #1 in between), “Inside” by Stiltskin (15th May, dropping after its fluke #1), and finally the aforementioned “Love is All Around” by Wet Wet Wet (22nd May, bookending its #1 rampage later on).
A brand-new entry of We’re #2! will run here every Saturday.
Callum Petch is infatuated only with ourselves.