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Fatboy Slim
When a musician has had a fairly successful career in several avatars prior to the one he is most famous for, it is clear that he was born with talent to spare. Fatboy Slim’s greatest hits collection Why Try Harder barely begins to encompass the length and breadth of his career which has spawned hits singles for The Housemartins (Caravan Of Love), Beats International (Dub Be Good To Me), Freakpower (Turn On Tune In Cop Out) and The Mighty Dub Kats (Magic Carpet Ride) way before he took on the Fatboy title and made phrases like “I’ve got to praise you,” “Right about now, the funk soul brother” and “Right here, right now” part of the average music-buyer’s vocabulary. This is a man who could walk down a street unrecognized while being able to sell millions of albums around the world solely on the strength of his name.

Fatboy Slim Hits The Big Time
It was the 1998 single, The Rockafeller Skank, that put Fatboy Slim on the map. Born Quentin Leo Cook, better known as Norman Cook, a DJ who neither sings nor writes lyrics seemed to have had a good feeling about the track almost as soon as it was done, “It's the first record I've done where me and my engineer, when we were finished with it, actually looked at each other and went, 'actually, that sounds like a hit!' Normally, when we've finished a tune we've played it so many times, we're bored witless with it and we never want to hear it again. But that one, we kind of listened to and went, 'that actually sounds like a hit record'; which I thought was tempting fate but obviously not. That was the track that got me onto the radio, out of the night clubs.”

Of course this happened a mere thirteen years after he accepted a telephonic invitation from an old friend, Paul Heaton, to move from Surrey to Hull and form the Housemartins. There have been countless stories about people working, or struggling to find work for several years before everything somehow falls into place for them at the same time. Cook was unable to fully comprehend the success of Rockafeller Skank because, “almost the same week that it came out I met a girl called Zoe Ball in Ibiza, and going out with her kind of, again, took me out of the mix magazines and dance magazines and put me into the tabloids.” It’s clearly for instances like this that the adage, ‘when it rains, it pours’ was coined. Whereas most artists’ careers tend to go through swells and troughs, an examination of Cook’s body of work, especially from the track-listing on his greatest hits album, shows a career that has scaled successive heights with almost unfair ease.

Bigger success was to come with the release of Praise You, the third single from the You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby album. The momentum achieved by the album on the strength of Rockafeller Skank had allowed Fatboy Slim to be set up as the ‘next big thing’ and even though Cook suspected that Praise You would be a hit, he chose to release Gangster Tripping as his second single. The buzz was good enough for the track to reach number three on the charts, until Praise You came out and took Fatboy Slim all the way to the top. To listen to Cook tell it, “Praise You is probably what I will be remembered for. And the video of course was huge, had a huge impact. That was probably my greatest hit.”

Right from the way the track was released to the music video that accompanied it, with music video director Spike Jonze (who went on to make the cult movies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) leading a spectacularly clumsy dance troupe through a series of laughable moves, Praise You was being set up to be a track that people couldn’t get out of their heads. After the success that accompanied the release of the song his manager said to him, “I'm not in control of this [Cook’s career] anymore.”

Other People’s Music
Fatboy Slim’s is probably one of the first major greatest hits album which features songs by other artists in the track-listing. Why Try Harder allows fans to own his remixes for the Cornershop track Brimful Of Asha as well as the Groove Armada song I See You Baby. The stories of how those songs came to become massive club anthems are almost as understated as the man who made them that way.

He actually did the Brimful Of Asha remix simply by asking if he could, ‘I loved the tune but I wanted to play it at The Big Beat Boutique and it's a little bit too slow and it wasn't punchy enough. So I said 'I really want to do a dance mix, you know, a club mix of it' and they said 'whoooh, we haven't got any money'. So I said 'will you just give me the parts so I can do a remix myself?'. And then they kinda liked it. It was technically the B-Side - their version was the A-Side - but radio picked up on the B-Side and it went thermo nuclear global (laughs). But I've got a lot of affection for that track and funnily enough, it's one of the shortest, quickest remixes I've ever done.”

Not one to mess with a winning pattern, even if he didn’t know it at the time, Cook asked to remix the Groove Armada track as well. “I just said, 'that hook's really good but the original is just very minimal Acid House'. And I just said, 'I think you can turn that into a hit'. And again, that's why they've just graciously allowed me to use their music on the thing (his album). Basically, I just redid all the music. But the hook, the hook was such a brilliant hook already. Yeah, that one, that one had legs. That one was very big in America too because it was used in a lot of TV adverts over there.”

You can read the rest of our feature on Fatboy Slim in the July 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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