911 – Bodyshakin’

Released: 21st April 1997

Writers: John McLaughlin / Gordon Goudie

Peak position: #3

Chart run: 3-10-16-17-23-28-47

Despite 911 having released Bodyshakin’ once as a B-side, the track proved popular enough to become a single in its own right.

By mid-1997, around a year after making a modest chart debut, 911 – Lee Brennan, Jimmy Constable and Simon “Spike” Dawbarn – had comfortably established themselves as part of the UK pop scene, with two top ten singles. They further consolidated that success with the release of their first album, The Journey, which reached #13. If there was any criticism to be made at that point, it was merely that 911 didn’t yet have a unique signature hit that clearly and distinctively defined them. However, Bodyshakin’ – chosen as the group’s fifth single – would become that song.

Except, in a peculiar twist, this wasn’t technically the first time it had been released. Eight months earlier, two versions of the track – a radio edit and an extended mix – were included on 911’s second single, Love Sensation. While the #21 peak it achieved might have been disappointing at the time, that probably ended up being a better outcome in the long term because it didn’t sell enough to have a significant negative impact when Bodyshakin’ became a single in its own right. In addition, a new radio mix, though not significantly different, did, at least, give fans who owned Love Sensation and The Journey a valid reason to buy the track once more.

911’s debut album covered a lot of bases, and that was apparent in the songs they’d released, from funky cover versions (A Night To Remember) and toe-tapping mid-tempos (Don’t Make Me Wait) to slushy ballads (The Day We Find Love). Bodyshakin’, however, feels like the group’s first track to pitch them – musically and visually – in a contemporary way that matched the audience of magazines like Smash Hits, in which they routinely featured. Production-wise, it’s got a similar hard-edged Europop machismo to early Backstreet Boys singles like Get Down (You’re The One For Me) and We’ve Got It Goin’ On while also boasting a thinly-veiled horniness reminiscent of MN8’s I’ve Got A Little Something For You. In essence, Bodyshakin’ is the kind of boyband single designed to excite and titillate in equal measure, suddenly making 911 a very different prospect.

The track opens on a brief, looming instrumental with wooden agogo-esque scraping sound effects and a synth melody before crashing squelchily straight into the chorus: “You got my body shakin’, sends a shiver to my soul, I didn’t get no warning, you got me shaking to the bone, I got my secret weapon, I’m gonna get you all alone, yeah yeah, so let your body lose control”. It’s a perfect summation of the dynamic that anchored 911: Jimmy and Spike’s growling voices are juxtaposed against Lee’s smoother, earnest vocals, creating an immediately heightened sense of bombastic urgency. While, in hindsight, the lyrics read as more sexual than they come across, when coupled with the thumping production, there is a visceral physicality to the whole thing.

Having assertively set the tone for Bodyshakin’, that energy is sustained through the verses, which are delivered with a similar level of intensity: “I was a boy walking tough, king of the street, believed in making my own destiny, yeah, victim of love, I made a promise that I’d never be, another one of love’s fatalities”. They help flesh out the song with a little more context where, in a suitably melodramatic way, it becomes apparent just how much 911 have been knocked off their feet and are struggling to regain composure: “You pierced my emotional armour, bolt of lightning couldn’t hit me harder”. Given how rousingly, raucously chaotic Bodyshakin’ is, it’s easy to see why the song had become one that would whip the group’s fans into a frenzy when performed at live gigs.

While aspects of the track had their roots in the mid-’90s, nowhere is that more evident than a rapped verse from Spike: “This is as simple as one-two-three, we’ve been drawn together by a love-power energy, I wanna be your lover, I wanna be your friend, I wanna be your lifetime not just your weekend; check, check it out, check it out, come check it out, I wanna be your homeboy ain’t no doubt, I wanna be your first choice, never let you down, love, peace, I’m outta here brothers”. This is where the most noticeable changes were made to Bodyshakin’ for the radio mix. The rap, in itself, remains the same; however, a slightly distorted, phoned-in effect is applied to the vocals, while record scratches are added in the background. It turns what might – by 1997 – have come across as a bit naff and dated into something that sounds instead like a consciously old-school throwback and totally pulls it off.

Compared to 911’s earlier singles, the music video for Bodyshakin’ does have the appearance of a smaller end-of-the-album-campaign budget…but ends up working really well. It comprises behind-the-scenes footage, a live on-stage performance and a sepia-filtered choreography sequence. The visuals present 911 in a way that gives them a little more individuality in terms of styling and personality (cue lots of goofing around and funny faces being pulled). Furthermore, showing the group onstage performing to a crowd of fans – many of whom are singing along to Bodyshakin’ – is an effective way of emphasising their growing popularity.

It’s the high-energy dance routine, though, that completes the package. 911 tumble, flip, kick and gyrate their way through the track, including the iconic bendy legs move. For the most part, they do so collectively, but there are also moments where Jimmy and Spike – as the ‘dancers’ of the group – grab the spotlight, deservedly so. Whether budget factored into the concept and creative choices, it all hangs together and works cohesively with the song.

There were several weeks during 1997 when the 79,000 copies Bodyshakin’ sold to debut at #3 would’ve been enough to top the chart. Nonetheless, it earned 911 their highest-peaking single at that point, which is impressive for the fifth release from an album and a song that had already been a B-side. Total sales of 190,000 copies made Bodyshakin’ the 64th biggest-seller of 1997 and it remains 911’s highest-selling single, just ahead of A Little Bit More. The group’s success (they’d go on to score nine consecutive top 10 hits between 1996 and 1999) never translated to album sales in a significant way, though. The Journey climbed back to #48 after Bodyshakin’ and rebounded again – this time to #45 – several months later after the title track became the sixth and final single. Yet, despite spending 17 weeks in the top 75, only two of those were in the top 40.

It didn’t seem to matter because 911 maintained a high profile in media aimed at the teen market for several years, nonetheless. They were already heading in that direction, but Bodyshakin’ cemented the group’s status as a consistent fixture of pop music in the UK for the rest of the ‘90s.

Post Author: cantstopthepop