Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)

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"Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)"
Single by Soul II Soul featuring Caron Wheeler
from the album Club Classics Vol. One
Released 29 May 1989
Format 7" single
12" maxi single
CD single
Recorded May 1989
Genre R&B
Length 3:52
Label Virgin[1]
Writer(s) Jazzie B
Caron Wheeler
Nellee Hooper
Simon Law[1]
Producer(s) Jazzie B
Nellee Hooper[1]
Soul II Soul singles chronology
"Keep On Movin'"
"Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)"
"Jazzie's Groove"

"Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)" is a song by British R&B band Soul II Soul. It appeared on their debut album Club Classics Vol. One ("Keep on Movin'" in the United States) and was released as its second single on 29 May 1989. "Back to Life" was one of two songs on the album featuring British R&B singer Caron Wheeler and gained success in both the United Kingdom and in the United States.

The album version of the song was an a cappella which was remixed and re-recorded before being released as a single. Two new versions were produced — the first taking the original recording with instrumentation added, and the second was a re-working of the song with new lyrics and chorus (also adding "However Do You Want Me" to the title).

It was the second version that became most popular. "Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)" peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming one of Soul II Soul's most successful singles in the United States (and the only one to enter in the top 10). In the United Kingdom it performed even better, reaching number one in the UK Singles Chart for four weeks in June 1989.[2] For a time, the album was packaged together with a CD3 single including the new versions of the song. In 2006, Slant Magazine ranked the song at number 57 in their list of the "100 Greatest Dance Songs".[3] In 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation's 18th favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.[4]


Tom Ewing, writing for Freaky Trigger in 2010, described the significance of the song:

"A breakbeat isn’t just a steady rhythm or even a pattern, it’s a time-loop. It gains a lot of its power from the combination of the illusion of humanity (the sample coming from real drummers) and the comfort of inhuman steadiness. But more subtly it creates interest by what’s swept up in the loop, the crackles, ambient sound, and other instrumentation producers lift when they sample a beat. So here there’s that tiny glisten of treble at the end of the breakbeat, adding bewitching colour to the track but also drawing discreet attention to its modernist, slice-and-splice origins. The way it sounds like there’s been a cut between "Back" and "To Life" works in a similar way, and the video takes it further, cutting to and fro with abandon, never settling. This track was influential enough, but pretty much every dance performance on TV or video for the next five years looks a bit like "Back to Life".

The great moment in the song is vocal, though: the sweep upward for “I live at the top of the block / No more room for trouble or fuss”. “Urban” has become a genre grab-bag at best, feeble racial coding at worst, but this is urban music – even without the beats, those lines are as vivid about city living as anything we’ve discussed since, oh, "West End Girls" (and that was from an observer’s point of view). "Back to Life" sounds self-sufficient because it sounds local and placed. This points towards the upside of the phenomenon Marcello identified in the comments on Jason Donovan – the way the charts in the 90s became a parade of one-week wonders, thrown to number one by a fanbase. Manufactured and fan communities could act collectively to bag a chart-topper, but so could more organic or physical ones, and if the acceleration in the turnover of hits creates a lot of forgettable ones, it also creates several welcome flukes.

So in a lot of ways "Back to Life" is one of the great turning points on the road to modern British pop – in terms of importance, it's a 10 [out of 10]. But my personal reaction to it has always been a little less enthusiastic, mostly because it gets overshadowed in my listening. The stuff it might serve as a gateway to – the contemporary world of hip-hop – seems more exciting, and the music it helped inspire perfected its ideas: "Back to Life" never chills or transports me like "Unfinished Sympathy" can. But very little does, so this is hardly a criticism: on its own terms, "Back to Life" is a huge and vital success."[5]

Cover versions[edit]

  • The song was covered live by Lynn Mabry and George Michael at the Rock in Rio 2 music festival in 1991 as well as certain shows during his Cover To Cover tour in 1991. A version of George Michael's "Freedom 90" (Back to Reality Mix) features an interpolation of the song.
  • English powerpop trio Dodgy included a cover of the song on the CD single for their 1994 song "Staying Out for the Summer".
  • DJ Clue produced a version featuring Mary J. Blige & Jadakiss called "Back to Life 2001" which was on his sophomore album The Professional 2.

Chart performance[edit]

Preceded by
"Sealed with a Kiss" by Jason Donovan
UK number-one single
18 June 1989 – 16 July 1989 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"You'll Never Stop Me Loving You" by Sonia
Preceded by
"Batdance" by Prince
Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single
26 August 1989 – 9 September 1989
Succeeded by
"It's Time to Get Funky" by D Mob featuring LRS
Preceded by
"Can't Get Over You" by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
Billboard's Hot R&B Songs number-one single
7 October 1989
Succeeded by
"Miss You Much" by Janet Jackson


  1. ^ a b c "Soul II Soul Featuring Caron Wheeler - Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) (CD) at Discogs". Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 502–3. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (25 July 2015). "The Nation's Favourite 80s Number One: 12 more classic 80s chart-toppers which didn't make the cut". Metro. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40, week 30, 1989". Archived from the original on 3 August 2008. Retrieved 14 July 2008. 
  7. ^ "Billboard Top 100 - 1990". Retrieved 15 September 2009. 

External links[edit]