of the week

Deee-lite - thumb

Until the compilation of the UK chart was done digitally, the sales of singles were, shall we say, less than accurate, maybe ambiguous and open to manipulation. Prior to 1952, any sales were more or less guesswork, so when you hear that Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (originally from 1942) sold in excess of 30 million, I would take that with a pinch of salt. In 1952 when Percy Dickens at the New Musical Express decided to publish a table displaying the best selling singles and thus became the first ever chart, it was done by a method of telephoning a few record shops around the UK to ask what their sales were that week. As technology progressed, a number of shops became what were known as chart-return shops and so they noted down on paper the total sales across all formats and were then posted to the British Market Research Bureau for compilation. But if certain shops ‘accidentally’ ticked off a few copies that they hadn’t sold no-one would be any the wiser and quite often there were ties for the same position. The reason for mentioning all this was that in August 1990 Deee-Lite’s debut hit Groove Is in the Heart got the closest any song had ever come to being number one without actually making it.

When the chart was broadcast by Bruno Brooks on Radio 1 he announced that both the number one and two songs, Groove Is In The Heart and Steve Miller Band’s The Joker had exactly the same sales figures, but Gallup, the chart compilers at the time, decided to put Steve Miller at the top because, “It had shown the biggest increase in sales over the week” said an unnamed spokesman, obviously not wanting to commit himself. This caused uproar when members of Dee-lite and various other industry people complained and this led to the chart rules being changed to allow songs to hold equal positions. This remained in place until Millward Brown took over the as the chart compilers in February 1994. Incidentally, the last two songs to hold joint positions was on January 22 1994 when Mariah Carey’s Hero and Wet Wet Wet’s Cold Cold Heart were both at number 42.

Anyway, Deee-lite were made up of Ohio-born vocalist Lady Miss Kier (b: Kier Kirby), Tokyo-born keyboard players Towa Tei and Kiev-born DJ Dmitry Brill and they took their name from the song DeLovely from the 1936 Cole Porter musical Red Hot & Blue.

Their roots began in 1982 when Kier Kirby met Dmitry in New York City’s Washington Square Park. He had played in a rock covers band in the Soviet Union and came to New York City looking for something more exciting. Initially he was disappointed but he discovered funk music, particularly George Clinton’s group Parliament and that got him into DJing. Kier and Dmitry married and decided to make music together. Shortly afterwards they received a demo tape from a Japanese computer whiz named Towa Tei, who had also just arrived in the States.

The group had an image to match their funky sound by wearing extravagant, almost psychedelic ,1970s clothes with loud colours, feather boas, and high platform shoes. Dmitry was excited by the demo and wrote to George Clinton with a copy of the track and asked him if he would play bass on it. Astonishingly he got a reply saying he loved it and would fly over for the session. He also appeared in the video. Collins also recruited two members of James Brown’s Famous Flames, saxophonist Maceo Parker and trombone player Fred Wesley to play on the track. They felt that the track needed a rap section in the middle and so Dmitry recruited Q-Tip who was a member of A Tribe Called Quest and who he had once produced songs for. The song had added whistles which were sampled from Vernon Burch’s song Get Up.

The single was issued as a double A-side with an original track called What Is Love. This was originally the A-side and issued as a promotional single to club and radio DJs, but got little reaction. Their record label didn’t like What Is Love stating that it was too weak. So, after they’d signed a seven-album deal with Elektra records, they issued Groove Is in the Heart as the A-side and on the band’s insistence What Is Love was also listed.

In December 1990, they released their second single called Power of Love which was also listed as a double A-side with the almost instrumental Deee-lite’s theme. This peaked at number 25. After this the group never troubled the top 40 again.

They released two albums, World Clique which reached number 14 and the follow up nearly two years later, Infinity Within which spent a solitary week on the chart. They continue making club appearance around the world but by 1996 decided to split up.

Groove Is in the Heart was used on the soundtrack to the 2000 movie Charlie’s Angels and two years later for Dasani water adverts on TV during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Since the split, Tei has recorded several albums as a solo artist. DJ Ani (who was Tei’s brief replacement), Kier and Dmitry have maintained individual club DJ careers. In 2011, Tei said in an interview that the chance of Deee-Lite reforming is extremely unlikely due to creative and personal differences, which is what prompted the split. Kier has remained philosophical about their impact. “Deee-Lite is not guiding anything,” she stated, “We’re reflecting it. But I can feel something happening right now. It’s like when animals know that there’s an earthquake coming and they all start running out of the forest.”

In early 2003, Kirby instigated a lawsuit against the Sega Corporation for allegedly stealing her stage persona and using it as the basis of a character named Ulala in the video game Space Channel 5, after she had declined their invitation to participate in the game’s development. It took three years but the court ruled against her.