No Good turned 29 · story & versions
On May 16, 1994, XL Recordings released No Good (Start The Dance), The Prodigy’s seventh single. This release marked a continuation of the new direction in the band’s music, style, and aesthetics that had been established with the revolutionary ‘One Love’ single, which had come out seven months earlier. Today, we will share the short but detailed story of the title track, along with some strictly exclusive details about the single’s artwork and rare information behind the ‘No Good’ video, directed by the legendary Walter Stern.
Available on cassette, CD and vinyl, the release contained four different title track mixes, three of which were created by Liam Howlett in close connection with Neil McLellan – Original Mix, Radio Edit and Bad For You Mix. The fourth was recorded by Christian Jay Bolland, better known as CJ Bolland.
The single, like the track, had a double title, but not everyone knows why there is a ‘Start The Dance’ prefix in the brackets! Initially, the early track was without vocals and was called simply ‘Start The Dance’ — it was a completely instrumental recording. The band began performing this tune live back in ’93.
Also, around the same time, Liam started playing what are called “live jams,” where he was messing around with his W-30 and running each sample in full live mode. One of these jams included the recognizable voice of Kelly Charles, or rather, a snippet of the acapella from the track titled You’re No Good For Me.
It is also worth mentioning that this jam was regularly played right after ‘Start The Dance’.
Our team recreated this original No Good (’93 Live Beats) from scratch.
More about the unreleased live tracks from ’93 in our recent article
Toward the end of 1993, Liam made the decision to combine the two tracks into one, meaning to incorporate Kelly’s vocals from the jam into “Start The Dance.” The choice to include female vocals as the lead line was due to Liam’s uncertainty about whether the record had the necessary hook and core element that singles required. In his book Electronic Punks: The Official Story (The Early Years 1988-1994), Martin Roach mentions that this decision was hard for Howlett to make, and he still isn’t entirely satisfied with it, despite the subsequent success of the single.
Liam Howlett: I almost felt like I had let myself down by putting that female vocal on it. It was such a fine line, and I wasn’t sure if it worked or not. If I think something is no good musically but will sell, I absolutely will not use it. It’s a fine line though between what works and what sells, and with ‘Start The Dance’ there was a doubt in my mind, it was almost too catchy to use.
After that, the track finally got its full-fledged final look in the arrangement… But not in tempo! Over the 1993-94 period the tune had taken on various forms, and the final mix for the single represented a few problems for Liam. The original ‘Start The Dance’ was about 150bpm, a fast breakbeat hardcore track. But in the US, like in some other countries, fast UK breakbeat hardcore was not too popular, and Liam had the idea of creating this track at a slower speed. That’s why in late ’93 and early ’94, the fresh tune was slowed down to 139bpm, but Liam still was not happy with the result.
- No Good (Start The Dance) (Live) | Slower 139BPM version
So just before the single came out, Liam reviewed his position and changed the tempo to its final 145bpm. This is the version that was released at the very end, and the original title ‘Start The Dance’ was left as a prefix in the brackets. Interestingly enough, even after the ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ was released, ‘No Good’ was still listed as ‘Start The Dance’ on the band’s live setlists until 1996.
Design & Video
The original shots for the single artwork and the back cover were taken by British photographer James Fry — among the others, he worked with The Prodigy, Oasis, Public Enemy, Saint Etienne, Gary Numan, Supergrass, and a wealth of respected DJs across the last 30 years. A few years ago theprodi.gy team had the honor of chatting with Jim, and he told us a bunch of rare stories about this period of time working with the band. He recalls how the story began: «Someday Jaffa (Steve Gribbin, the guy from The Unknown Partnership design company) just said: “Can you get me some cracked mud?”…»
James Fry for theprodi.gy: I dug out soil and smeared it across the floor and photographed it in my back garden and took the transparencies to him. Then he said that there’s a power switch downstairs we can take some photos of, a big industrial-looking power switch. That image was shot in a warehouse in Kentish Town, North West London. I put blue gels on the lights and took some pictures. A few weeks later I walked pass a record shop and saw these images on a 12” ‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ single in the window…
That was it: cracked mud and power switch! I had no idea what music they were making at this point, they just asked me to do this stuff, and I love this ‘sideways’ approach to creating covers.
James Fry for theprodi.gy: It was very ‘detached’ unlike any other project when you would listen to a track first. It all starts with these random ideas, but now the artwork is nicely related to the music. It only made sense when you put it all together, kind of seat-of-your-pants stuff. I really love the relationship between the artwork and the music: the best sleeves kind of ‘look how they sound’: you look at it and you know what the music is like inside.
This was at least 25 odd years ago, but it’s not unlike how we use images on Instagram now, you know? For the sake of them.
James Fry for theprodi.gy: Eventually, I would take some pictures of the band later, it was at the No Good (Start The Dance) video shoot. Some of those photos would get used on the back cover of the Jilted Generation sleeve: if you look at it, you’ll see Keith’s Flint head has been replaced. It’s quite basic, in the true ‘cut up’ spirit of Punk Rock. Nowadays we have Photoshop and we would create this really smooth finish in minutes, but back then it was very raw.
‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ music video was directed by Walter Stern and it was his first-ever collaboration with The Prodigy. He appeared to be in touch with exactly what the band wanted to portray. With this promo shoot they took a serious step towards silencing the by-now rather tedious and reactionary criticism that all proponents of techno and its various musical families were faceless acts. Walter found a disused market cellar beneath Spitalfields in the East End of London and concentrated on giving the film a street-level, hard look, something in his words which was «real and normal yet weird, like the party scene in Jacob’s Ladder».
You may find the original ‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ music video on every platform you like, so now we’ll share the rare alternate version of the video below. It differs from the final cut in having several additional frames.
By the way, just a few people have thought about the fact that one of the frames from the video was later used for the ‘Electronic Punks’ cover! This shot appears right at 1:37 in both versions of the video.
Headmasters: SPLIT, SIXSHOT
Additional thanks to: James Fry, Danny Kara & Etienne Lebon
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