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Black Coffee (All Saints song)

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"Black Coffee"
A filtered split portrait of All Saints dressed casually while seated on one couch, and jeans and trousers hanging over another couch. Towards the top stands "All Saints" in glittering silver font and the title "Black Coffee" is smaller white font.
Single by All Saints
from the album Saints & Sinners
B-side "I Don't Wanna Be Alone"
Released 2 October 2000 (2000-10-02)
Format
Recorded
Genre Electropop
Length 4:49
Label London
Writer(s)
Producer(s) William Orbit
All Saints singles chronology
"Pure Shores"
(2000)
"Black Coffee"
(2000)
"All Hooked Up"
(2001)
Music video
"Black Coffee" on YouTube

"Black Coffee" is a song by English-Canadian girl group All Saints from their second studio album, Saints & Sinners (2000). It was released on 2 October 2000 by London Records as the album's second single. The track was produced by William Orbit, and written by Tom Nichols, Alexander von Soos and Kirsty Elizabeth, initially intended as a single for Elizabeth under the title "I Wouldn't Wanna Be". It is a mellow electropop song, unique for its production-laden sound featuring breathy keyboards, glitching electronics and elements of acid techno, ambient and R&B music. A sad love song, its lyrics stem from Elizabeth's relationship with Swiss entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli, detailing feelings of love at first sight and content.

The track was met with general acclaim from music critics who likened it to the group's previous single "Pure Shores" for their wistful chorus delivery and Orbit's obscure production. Its unconventional structure was also cited as influential for the sound of later girl groups such as the Sugababes and Girls Aloud. A commercial success, "Black Coffee" marked All Saints' fifth and final number-one single in the UK. It also reached the top 10 in Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden.

Bo Johan Renck directed the accompanying music video which features the group serenading an arguing couple in bullet time at a high rise apartment block. According to academic analysis, the video helped popularise caffeine as a beverage for the upper class. All Saints promoted "Black Coffee" with live performances on CD:UK, Children in Need, Later... with Jools Holland, Top of the Pops and at the 2000 Smash Hits Poll Winners Party. Much group in-fighting happened during the promotion of the single, prompting tense live renditions and eventually causing the group to controversially split up in 2001.

Background[edit]

"Black Coffee" was written by Tom Nichols, Alexander von Soos and Kirsty Elizabeth.[1] It is unique for being the only All Saints original single not to be written by group member Shaznay Lewis.[2] Instead, the song was initially recorded by Elizabeth under the title "I Wouldn't Wanna Be". She first wrote the song, basing it on her relationship with Swiss entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli who she met on his yacht off the coast of Sardinia in 1997.[3][4] Gary Davies, a BBC Radio 1 DJ and Elizabeth's manager, passed on the track's production to Nichols who was also under his management at the time.[5] Nichols developed "I Wouldn't Wanna Be" as a quirky pop song, something "slightly out of the ordinary" and "slightly left of centre, not completely mainstream".[5]

Believing the track could be established as a single for Elizabeth, Davies canvassed record companies with her demo, hoping it could result in a major label deal for the singer. The song received a positive reaction from London Records where Davies played it to the label's executive Tracy Bennett. However, Bennett was unimpressed with Elizabeth's potential and wanted "I Wouldn't Wanna Be" to be recorded by his group All Saints instead which Davies, Elizabeth and Nichols all agreed to.[5]

New arrangement and recording[edit]

A street view of the front of a facebrick building.
Olympic Studios, one of the four studios in which All Saints recorded "Black Coffee".

After much time had passed since the recording arrangement, Nichols stressed whether All Saints were going to record the song at all.[5] Over 40 songs were written for the group's second album, Saints & Sinners, for which William Orbit was enlisted to produce, but Orbit's popularity at the time made it difficult for All Saints to meet with him in studio. It was only after the release of the album's lead single "Pure Shores" in February 2000 that they began working on a follow-up together.[2][6] Orbit along with Lewis and group member Melanie Blatt gave "I Wouldn't Wanna Be" a new arrangement and renamed the song "Black Coffee".[1][4]

Recording took place at Guerilla Beach and Larrabee West in Los Angeles, and at Sarm West and Olympic Studios in London.[1] According to Blatt, their collaboration with Orbit allowed All Saints to explore more experimental genres than those of their previous releases,[7] while Nichols viewed Orbit's production in the new arrangement completely different, and better than that of his own on the original.[5] The "Black Coffee" sessions were more frustrating for group member Natalie Appleton who saw the song as an opportunity for fellow member Nicole Appleton and herself to sing lead vocals for a change because it was not written by Lewis. In the Appletons' 2002 autobiography Together, Natalie wrote that Lewis was "staking her claim" by arriving early for the first session because Blatt sang lead vocals on "Pure Shores" and not her.[2] Per Natalie's suggestion, management eventually let her cut a lead vocal, but she was nervous during the recording and believed they were placating her. "Without support, it is hard to do your best," Natalie recalled in Together, adding that she felt "used and slacked off".[2]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"Black Coffee" is composed in the time signature of common time with a moderatrly fast tempo of 120 beats per minute, following a chord progression of E–Bm–D–A in the chorus and Bm7–E–Bm7–E elsewhere.[8] It is an electropop song[9] with elements of acid techno,[10] ambient and R&B music.[11] The song has an unconventional structure with different sections being dislocated from one another.[12] It is also unique for being more production-laden in comparison with other pop songs.[13]

"Black Coffee" opens with a stark introduction sung by Lewis, accompanied only by glitching electronics with no chord progression, before going into the pre-chorus where a a more mellow sequence featuring breathy keyboards begin playing.[8][12][13] In the chorus, the song becomes wistful featuring Natalie on lead vocals singing a call and response with Blatt.[8][14] A subsequent verse sung by Lewis returns to the eerie and sinister sound of her introduction.[13][14] After the second chorus, the song enters into a bridge where the group hum and Lewis sings two lines from the pre-chorus, "Each moment is cool / Freeze the moment".[8] The track later ends in an outro sung by Lewis using the same lyrics and starker sound from her introduction, but enhanced by guitar, synths[1] and welding, clipped dance rhythms.[10][15][16]

A sad love song, the lyrics narrate feelings of love at first sight and content.[3][14] According to Elizabeth, "Black Coffee" recalls how she met Bertarelli during a time when they did a lot of sailing near Sardinia and did not want to be elsewhere.[17] Some of the lyrics suggest disharmony and bitterness during the relationship,[14][18] chronicling more domestic scenarios such as chain smoking and drinking black coffee.[19] The song also has a gender bender theme, encouraging women to make "the first move" instead of men.[20]

Release[edit]

"Black Coffee" was released by London Records on 2 October 2000 as the second single from Saints & Sinners.[5][21] It was accompanied by the B-side, "I Don't Wanna Be Alone", written by Lewis, Ali Tennant, Wayne Hector and Karl Gordon, and produced by the latter.[22] The single's cover art was photographed by Ellen von Unwerth.[22] Several remixes were commissioned, including one by the Wideboys, and another by The Neptunes which featured a rap by American duo Clipse.[23][24] A "Black Coffee" sequel later accompanied the release of the album's third single "All Hooked Up" (2001).[25]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Upon release, "Black Coffee" was met with universal acclaim from music critics. Simon Evans writing in the Birmingham Post described the song as a "beautiful slice of haunting, hypnotic pop".[26] Tim de Lisle of The Mail on Sunday called it a "wispy but beguiling piece" and said that Orbit's "floaty atmospheres proved to be perfectly suited to the girls' slender voices".[27] John Mulvey of The Scotsman praised its "sleek, scrupulously mature sound".[28] Siobhan Grogan of the NME found the track "almost perfect", complimenting its "mellow, glossy haziness", and concluding: "It's wistful in all the right places and makes sadness sound rather alluring like only the bitterest love songs can."[14] Julie MacCaskill of the Daily Record believed that the song was a testament to the group's "pop power".[29] Jon O'Brien from AllMusic felt that "Black Coffee" was among All Saints' most accomplished and mature work, praising its "lush" electronics.[15]

A critic from the Sunday Herald viewed the song as "impressively-lacquered" and wrote that it "undoubtedly [helped] tentpole" Saints & Sinners,[30] while Samuel McGuire of the newspaper deemed it a "gem of a truly wondrous lustre".[31] Nigel Packer of the BBC News called it a highlight on Saints & Sinners, complimenting its acid techno elements.[10] Lindsay Baker of The Guardian cited "Black Coffee" as the album's "particularly infectious" track.[32] R.S. Murthi writing in the New Straits Times described it as "the most endearing" song on Saints & Sinners, likening it to songs by the Cocteau Twins.[33] Eva Simpson of the Daily Mirror regarded the track as sassy and a curtain raiser for the album, noting that Orbit's production "brought the same high-gloss sheen" as "Pure Shores".[11] Adrian Thrills of the Daily Mail found "Black Coffee" and "Pure Shores" brilliantly produced and named them the two best tracks on Saints & Sinners.[34] According to Russell Baillie of The New Zealand Herald, "Black Coffee" along with "Pure Shores" and "Surrender" "put most [of the album] in the shade".[35] A writer for the Western Mail said "Black Coffee" was as "equally tremendous" as "Pure Shores".[36] By the end of 2000, the track was included in year-end lists compiled by Dotmusic (number three),[37] and the NME (number 26).[38]

Chart performance[edit]

"Black Coffee" debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart issued for 14 October 2000 with 60,000 copies sold, marking the group's fifth and final number-one single in the UK. At the time, they overtook B*Witched to become the girl group with the second most number-one singles in the UK.[39] The song dropped to number three in its second week, and spent 21 weeks on the chart.[40][41] It was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), denoting shipments of 200,000 copies.[42] "Black Coffee" has sold 230,000 copies in the UK and is All Saints' fourth best-selling single there, behind "Never Ever", "Pure Shores" and "Under the Bridge"/"Lady Marmalade".[43][44]

The song also had success across Europe, peaking at number five on the European Hot 100 Singles chart for two consecutive weeks,[45] and reaching the top 10 in Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden,[46][47][48][49] and the top 20 in Finland and Norway.[50][51] Elsewhere, "Black Coffee" debuted at number 40 on the New Zealand Singles Chart dated 29 October 2000 and went on to peak at number seven, marking All Saints' fifth and final top 10 hit there.[52] In Australia, the song entered the ARIA Singles Chart issued for 15 October 2000 at number 29, and later peaked at number 20 for two consecutive weeks.[53] The international success of "Black Coffee" helped launch both Elizabeth and Nichols' musical careers.[3] Elizabeth earned royalties of over £12,000,[54] while Nichols stated in an interview for HitQuarters, "when that song was released, the opportunities that [I got] certainly in the UK, but also Europe-wide, [were] absolutely huge."[5]

Music video[edit]

Group member Melanie Blatt serenading the couple during one of their arguments in the music video.

Directed by Bo Johan Renck,[55] the accompanying music video was filmed at Ealing Studios in London on 17 August 2000.[56][57] Renck had to specially edit the video because All Saints requested that each member shoot their scenes separately as they were not on speaking terms at the time.[55][56] According to a report by the Daily Mirror, the group formed two camps with the Appletons on one side, and Lewis and Blatt on the other.[56] Bullet time effects similar to that from the 1999 film The Matrix were used, being considered state of the art at the time.[55][58] The video aired on 4 September 2000 to heavy rotation from MTV Europe.[57][59]

Opening with a night time view of a high rise apartment block, the music video sees the group singing and dancing from the block's rooftop.[58] A couple are shown arguing in one of the apartments while the group appear invisible beside them. The couple throw clothes and pillows at each other, among other things. Their aggressive behaviour is frozen each time while the group serenade them.[55] The girlfriend later sits in a corner and cries before the video ends with frozen shots of the group in a now-empty apartment.

Jon Stewart, author of Oh Blessed Holy Caffeine Tree: Coffee in Popular Music, wrote that the video put emphasis on the romantic disharmony of the lyrics. Stewart also noted that the video's upmarket location helped popularise caffeine as a beverage for the upper class.[18] CBC Television placed "Black Coffee" at number five in its ranking of the group's music videos, praising the special effects and combination of "an angelic serenade during an argument".[58] Lewis Corner from Digital Spy said that the music video showed when cracks within All Saints began showing, adding: "There's a reason they don't appear alongside each other in the music video: by then, they couldn't physically stand each other."[12]

Live performances[edit]

To promote "Black Coffee", All Saints performed the song on CD:UK on 30 September 2000.[60] They then performed it at the BBC's People Awards on 6 October 2000,[61] and twice on Top of the Pops on 13 and 20 October 2000.[62][63] The group also performed "Black Coffee" on the Pepsi Chart Show on 15 October 2000,[64] and at London's G-A-Y on 11 November 2000.[65] All Saints next performed the song on Children in Need on 17 November 2000,[66] after Nicole had announced her pregnancy the previous day, causing much group tension backstage.[67] On 18 November 2000, the group performed "Black Coffee" on Later... with Jools Holland.[68]

All Saints also performed the song at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party on 10 December 2000,[69] but by this time friction within the group now became visible on stage. According to Natalie, Lewis and Blatt were ignoring Nicole and herself, as well as their hairdressers and make-up artists.[70] Betty Clarke of The Guardian panned the performance, writing: "Only All Saints let the side down, going through the motions..."[69] Later that month, the group performed "Black Coffee" at Capital's Christmas Party where the Appletons performed on one side of the stage, and Lewis and Blatt on the other.[71][72][73] This was preceded by a backstage row between Natalie and Lewis over who would wear a particular jacket for the performance, nearly leading to the two coming to blows.[72][74] The rift ultimately caused All Saints to split up the following year.[75]

In 2014, All Saints reunited, performing "Black Coffee" as part of their set list as special guests on the Backstreet Boys' In a World Like This Tour.[76][77] The song has since been performed by the group at G-A-Y on 12 April 2014,[78] the V Festival on 16 August 2014,[79] and at Manchester Pride on 25 August 2014.[80] In 2016, All Saints performed "Black Coffee" at London's KOKO on 4 April 2016.[81]

Legacy[edit]

According to Clem Bastow of The Sydney Morning Herald, "Black Coffee", in particular, won All Saints "major critical points" over the Spice Girls and complemented the group's "impeccable back catalogue".[82] Graeme Virtue of the Sunday Herald hailed it as one of "the best pop singles ever".[83] Kathy McCabe of the Herald Sun deemed the song "the benchmark of sassy, harmony-laden pop".[84] Christie Leo of the New Straits Times wrote: "The aromatic shimmer of 'Black Coffee' alone is all the evidence you'll need to know that All Saints were truly heavenly."[85] Ian Sturgess of the Daily Mirror said the track: "boasts one of the most infectious pop choruses of all time".[86] Caroline Sullivan of The Guardian found "Black Coffee" superior to "Pure Shores", praising its "beguiling treatment of a domestic scenario" and citing its lyrics as "easily the most alluring depiction of a bleary-eyed morning routine ever recorded."[19] Q magazine placed "Black Coffee" in their list of 1010 Songs You Must Own.[87]

In 2007, "Black Coffee" was included in the competitive music video game series SingStar.[88] According to Fiona Shepherd of The Scotsman, the "smart-pop attack" of the song "paved the way" for later girl groups Girls Aloud and the Sugababes.[89] Neil Hannon of the Irish band The Divine Comedy expressed admiration for "Black Coffee", commending its production-heavy sound which "adds to the sound of it, rather than taking anything away", and noted that its sound later became apparent in singles by Girls Aloud: "Girls Aloud do pop like that now: songs like 'Biology' are a bit weird, and they flout the general rules, and I admire that. But 'Black Coffee' is better."[13] Writing for Metro in 2013, Seamus Duff stated that "Black Coffee" still sounded as "fresh and relevant".[90] In 2016, Lewis Corner from Digital Spy placed the song at number three in his ranking of All Saints' singles, commending its "euphoric" chorus and concluding: "It quite literally is pop-form caffeine."[12]

Formats and track listings[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

  • Tom Nichols – writer
  • Alexander Von Soos – writer
  • Kirsty Elizabeth – writer
  • Shaznay Lewis – new arrangement, vocals, vocal arrangement
  • Melanie Blatt – new arrangement, vocals, vocal arrangement
  • William Orbit – new arrangement, producer, vocal arrangement, guitar, keyboards, synths
  • Mark "Spike" Stent – mixing
  • Clif Norrell – engineer
  • Ren Swan – engineer
  • Sean Spuehler – engineer, Pro Tools, programming, keyboards
  • Iain Robertson – engineer
  • Tom Hannen – assistant engineer
  • Michelle Forbes – assistant engineer
  • Nicole Appleton – vocals
  • Natalie Appleton – vocals
  • Jan Kybert – Pro Tools mix engineer, assistant mix engineer

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Saints & Sinners.[1]

Charts[edit]

Certification[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[42] Silver 230,000[43]

^shipments figures based on certification alone

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Saints & Sinners (Media notes). All Saints. Germany: London Records. 2000. p. 8. 8573 85298 2. 
  2. ^ a b c d Appleton 2002, p. 235
  3. ^ a b c Hodge, Gavanndra (11 August 2010). "The ballad of the billionaire". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 24 March 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "Kirsty Bertarelli and Ronan Keating music Video Premiere". Pressparty. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Bouwman, Kimbel (26 September 2001). "Interview with Tom Nichols, songwriter/ producer for All Saints, A1, Kylie Minogue". HitQuarters. Archived from the original on 29 March 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Appleton 2002, p. 248
  7. ^ "Hot Pop: Fans Fund New CD". Birmingham Evening Mail. 28 August 2000. Retrieved 16 February 2016 – via HighBeam Research.  (subscription required)
  8. ^ a b c d "Black Coffee Sheet Music By All Saints". Sheet Music Plus. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  9. ^ Levine, Nick (2 February 2016). "All Saints are back! Is that a good thing?". Virgin Media. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c Packer, Nigel (15 October 2000). "CD Review: All Saints". BBC News. Archived from the original on 7 December 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2016. 
  11. ^ a b Simpson, Eva (2 October 2000). "Eva on the charts: Cool Single". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 16 February 2016 – via HighBeam Research.  (subscription required)
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  13. ^ a b c d Rodgers, Jude (17 August 2009). "The hidden gems that have pop stars hooked". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Grogan, Siobhan (26 September 2000). "Black Coffee". NME. Archived from the original on 21 November 2007. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  15. ^ a b O'Brien, Jon (27 September 2010). "Pure Shores: The Very Best of All Saints - All Saints". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 26 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
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  23. ^ a b Black Coffee (12" single (The Remixes) liner notes). All Saints. London Records. 2000. LONX454. 
  24. ^ a b Black Coffee (CD2 single liner notes). All Saints. London Records. 2000. 8573 85026 2, LONCD 454. 
  25. ^ All Hooked Up (CD2 single liner notes). All Saints. London Records. 2001. LOCDP456, 8573 86545 2. 
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