Slowing It Down
As a younger man I used to frequent my local nightspots a few times a week (as opposed to a few times a decade nowadays). I not only devoured the music I would hear, but I also longed to meet members of the opposite sex. I was relatively good at chatting to the ladies, but I was never quite sure how interested they were and so would look to the 'end of the night' to seize the opportunity to ask for a slow dance and, in the words of Phyllis Nelson, 'move closer'. I always thought it a rather chivalrous and romantic thing to do and I often wonder how much this goes on in 2019 – if at all?
Personally speaking, I have always slowed my sets down at the end of the night and, in all honesty, it is usually well-received. I do sometimes get initial groans – especially when I lead in with 'Careless Whisper' – but within seconds a few couples are up, and then a few more, and in the end a good proportion of the punters are gliding about the floor.
However, I get the impression I may not be in the majority and wonder if chart climate has played a big part in the demise of slow dances. When I was out and about in the nineties, it was a time when ballads regularly hogged the top spot for what felt like forever, denying all manner of other tracks – usually dance – a turn at the top. These days, we’re a bit short of ballads. Aside from the self-indulgent singer-songwriter pap, there really isn’t the big power ballad any more, or the love theme from a cinema hit, the hard rock group with a token acoustic ballad, or even the boyband with their manufactured slush. I never thought I’d miss Westlife…
So maybe it’s just something that’s of its time. Of course, if you're a regular wedding jock, then you'll at least be playing a first dance. Although I've attended weddings myself where said first dance has been the only slow number all evening and nobody else has had the opportunity to join in, which I think is a shame. If you don't already, then why not add a few more after the first dance, then pick things up as the party goes on? As someone who always ends the night with something for the lovers, at a wedding I will often play the first dance again near the end as a catalyst to get things smoochy. At the end of the day, it's a wedding so why not have some corny love songs? What's wrong with that? I'd like to know...
Wedding or not, when it's nearing the night's end there are several ways of slowing things down. You could, of course, just change styles with a simple announcement and go from there. However I prefer to do things gradually by playing songs that are perceived as being slow, but aren't quite – such as Starship's 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' or 'You To Me Are Everything' by The Real Thing – so it's not quite such a surprise when things calm down. Naturally it is dependent on the function and also the venue, but I find venues often appreciate things ending in a calmer fashion. I've had numerous hotel managers thank me for helping reign things in when it’s still been rather raucous at ten to midnight. That said, it is often nice to leave things on a high too. The right way to go is down to the party itself and, of course, your discretion. You're the DJ, you can choose how to end the night - I just prefer to leave them loved-up over lairy.
Another nice thing about having a slow section, I think, is that it's one of the few opportunities one gets to play something a little less known and people will - on the whole - still dance. That said, it's probably wise to lead in with something that's more familiar or, as I’ve already suggested, a replay of the first dance if you're at a wedding. Once people are all aboard the love boat, then you might like to continue the romance with one of these...
Brenda Russell ‘Piano In The Dark’
Brooklyn-born Brenda had her one and only UK chart entry back in 1988 when this much-sampled ballad peaked at a less-than-impressive no. 23. With its sweet chiming introduction and moody lead in, there's plenty at the start to set the scene and let everyone know that this is a slow one. It's also one of those songs that people don't recognise by either artist or title, nor introduction, or verses come to that. So if you're playing this out, hold tight for some apprehensive/bewildered faces until the chorus comes around. But then what a chorus it is! Russell belts out that “I cry just a little when I think of letting go” line with some gusto. Despite the crying, the subject itself seems rather ambiguous so it's suitable for any occasion.
Natalie Cole ‘Rest Of The Night’
Stepping forwards a year – although it sounds like we've actually gone back a few – we have the much-missed Natalie Cole with her follow-up to the better-known hit ballad 'Miss You Like Crazy'. I've gone for this one instead as I think lyrically it's a bit more suitable and a little bit sexier too. Quite how this stalled at a lowly no. 56 back in the summer of '89 I don't know, as it is quite simply a gorgeous end-of-the-night soul ballad. My only criticism is Cole's supposedly sultry chat in the last minute of the song, which in 2019 sounds a little naff. But you might want to have faded out by that point anyway.
David Foster ‘Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire’
We're staying in the eighties for the next one, but I thought I’d throw you a bit of a curve ball here and suggest something a little different. The clue is the word ‘theme’, as we have here an entirely instrumental piece to set the mood. Firstly, let’s be clear, it’s the most eighties sounding thing you will ever hear. Complete with sensual sax, it sounds like someone was asked to produce a more sexual version of the theme to ITV's 'This Morning' or the theme to an American remake of 'Howard's Way'. If you don’t think you can get away with playing an instrumental as part of your set, it may still prove useful as a backing bed when introducing a 'slow section' or before/after the first dance.
Ed Sheeran ‘Perfect’
Let's consider something a bit more contemporary for a moment with a track from dear old Ed. Probably a rather obvious choice, but that's largely because good old ballads are few and far between these days, so let's at least give the guy some credit for giving us one. I won't, though, give him credit for making what is clearly a blatant attempt to cash in by putting out the definitive first dance song of the decade. That does mean that it's very suitable for pulling out at a wedding in particular (if it isn’t already the first dance), but also whenever you’re playing to a younger crowd. I was asked for a slow song at a school prom recently and this went down a treat. I'd steer clear of all the silly extra versions that Sheeran foisted upon us in order to secure the festive top spot and stick with the original. Like Kellogg's Corn Flakes, the original is the best. Unlike Corn Flakes, though, it hasn't had all its sugary-ness removed for health reasons.
Living In A Box ‘Room In Your Heart’
Rather like the Fast Food Rockers, Living In A Box shot themselves in the foot a little by using the name of a song as their band name. And so when you think of Living In A Box, you tend to think of their eponymous debut single and not this beautiful little swayer which equalled said song by also peaking at no. 5 and spending 13 weeks on the chart. There are lots of classic power ballad traits here, like the strong drums and an electric guitar in the final third. As with 'Piano In The Dark', I'm not terribly sure what point vocalist Richard Darbyshire is trying to put across here, but again it means it's generally suitable for any occasion. Quick pointer – I'd cue past the frankly unnecessary warbling in the first five seconds if I were you!
Breathe ‘Hands To Heaven’
Here's an act and song that appear to have been completely airbrushed from history. Smash Hits readers like me might recall a vain attempt to promote them by regularly including their curtained hairstyles and paisley waistcoats in their pop paper back in the late ‘80s. To be fair, they succeeded to a degree as Breathe managed one hit, but despite 'Hands To Heaven' making no. 4 in the UK and an impressive no. 2 across the pond in the US, have you ever heard it since 1988? I'm doing my best to remedy this and including it in my sets at every opportunity. The breathy vocals and chugging bass create a slightly dark mood, but there's also a bit of sax to sex things up a bit too. The “hold me in the darkness” line in the chorus is a nice sentiment to have too before the house lights come on.
Marvin Berry and the Starlighters ‘Earth Angel’
Here's a curious little novelty which might strike a few chords with the public. The song features in the 'Enchantment Under The Sea' dance in Back To The Future and, unlike other films supposedly set in the fifties/sixties, this one does sound 'of the time'. Performed by Harry Waters Jr. playing Chuck Berry’s fictional cousin Marvin, it’s a bluesy fifties-style cover of the actual ‘50s hit by The Penguins, which should go down well with older crowds as well as ‘80s movie geeks. Give it a go and see if anyone twigs its origin. It's quite short too at only 2.18, so there’s no excuse not to slip it in.
Westlife ‘Written In The Stars’
I did mention the Irish crooners earlier, so I suppose I’d best include one of their many ballads. Not one of their chart hits mind you – although this does for some reason appear on their ‘greatest hits’ album despite not being a hit. But then ‘Their Law’ was on The Prodigy’s singles collection despite not being a single, so never mind. ‘Written In The Stars’ is still kind of familiar to those who aren’t diehard Westlife fans, having been sampled in some god-awful rap thing that doesn’t even deserve being named here. It has a soft and slightly haunting intro, taking it straight into the impressively memorable verses, before blowing up into a super-cheesy boyband singalong chorus. And, being a Westlife ballad, there is of course the customary key change, allowing the boys to stand up from their bar stools for the final minute. Aww… you don’t get that with 5 Second Of Summer do you!
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking/vomiting. I could have reeled off a huge number of better-known ballads, but there's not much point in me reminding you that you could play songs you probably already do. I could also have suggested some ideas for first dances, but you've got that sorted haven't you? In any case, it's not normally our choice anyway! What I'm trying to do is bring back the love, and also bring back some beautiful music. I've unearthed some wonderful songs whilst researching this article.
I would be interested to know if anyone else is still slowing things down or is this part of a DJ’s repertoire largely consigned to the past? If you are still finishing off your gigs with slow dances, great, what are you playing? Any rare gems we need to try? If you're not, then why not give it a try and help spread the love? It’d be nice to think, wouldn’t it, that we’ve contributed to the start of someone’s lifelong relationship? Oh, and whilst I’m in a self-congratulatory mood, I’m rather pleased that I’ve managed to write this entire piece without using the phrase ‘erection section’. Oh damn it…
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 97, Pages 34-38.