Fatboy Slim: You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Blending genres and fusing samples, this 1998 album – now remastered on 180g – cemented Norman Cook's status as the king of Big Beat, says Steve Sutherland

It may well have something to do with the wretched state of the world right now but have you noticed how the 1990s are back in vogue? Celebrated by those who lived through it as a halcyon decade on a par with the legendary 1960s, the '90s are being glowingly reassessed as a time of growth and hope when world politics had not gone totally crazy, we weren't all existing on the breadline, the arts were actually appreciated as something inspirational and worthwhile, and anything seemed within the range of possibility for just about everyone.

The Final Frontier
As an example of what larks those of us who were around in the 1990s were lucky enough to partake in, I'd like to briefly recount a presentation I did to a bunch of advertisers when I was editing NME in 1998. I stood up before them and announced that we had a plan to send a DJ into space. We actually didn't but here's the thing – no one thought I was nuts. The audience – and I for that matter – really thought it was on. The scheme, as I explained it, was to get Richard Branson to stump up the dosh to finance the launch and that, as the DJ was going to be the very first human ever to spin discs orbiting the earth, they could grab some prestigious advertising slots. Oh, and there was some guff about a Guinness Book Of Records entry being chucked in for good measure.


Cook on stage in Kyiv, Ukraine in July 2021

I met with the manager of the DJ that I had in mind and we further cooked up the scheme only to be scuppered when the DJ himself, probably quite sensibly, said he wasn't doing it. The DJ, by the way, was Fatboy Slim. Looking back at it now, I couldn't have chosen a more fitting candidate. I mean, Fatboy Slim was pure 1990s.

'Call Me Norman'
Born Quentin Leo Cook, once he got involved in making music he dropped the Quentin, considering it too posh to be taken seriously by the indie elite, and became Norman. Starting out he was an unlikely pop star – the bass player, of all things, in a rough and ready band from Hull called The Housemartins. As they started to do okay and make a bit of a name for themselves, Cook branched out on his own, firstly hiding behind the monikers Pizzaman and Mighty Dub Katz, and then making tracks under the guises of Beats International, Freak Power and, finally, Fatboy Slim.


Label of the original LP

The thing Fatboy created – alongside other like-minded acts like The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy – was called Big Beat. This new-fangled sound was built from sampling, which was by-and-large just pilfering the best bits from your favourite records and making something brand spanking new and giddily danceable. As one magazine put it at the time: 'The big beat formula is essentially: 1) Grab a breakbeat and compress it liberally. 2) Cut and paste some bits from funk and soul records. 3) Grab a vocal ('Get busy, child') and sprinkle in some samples of old children's records or soundtracks. 4) Fill in some holes with a synth line or two. 5) Add a twist of rocker aggression, psychedelia, or rave influence. 6) Rinse, repeat'.

Most of the Big Beat biggies played at a mid-tempo between 90 and 120 BPM – faster than most hip-hop and trip-hop, but slower than house and techno. As long as the builds and drops worked up clubbers to fever pitch, you had a hit on your hands. It sounded so simple surely anyone could do it – our Norman being proof of that pudding. Except it wasn't quite like that because you needed an ear finely tuned to the ebb and flow of music, and an unshakeable vocal and/ or instrumental phrase. And Norman was a genius at that.


Poster for an appearance in 2015 at Pacha Ibiza in Dubai

Pick 'N' Mix
Growing his audience at the Big Beat Boutique club in Brighton, he released his tracks via Skint, a seaside indie run by an enthusiastic pal called Damian Harris who told the papers: 'I'm tremendously proud of the label. I always thought the formula of Big Beat was the breakbeats of hip-hop, the energy of acid house, and the pop sensibilities of The Beatles, with a little bit of punk sensibility, all rolled into one'.

Fatboy got the ball rolling with his 1996 debut LP Better Living Through Chemistry. But it was the follow-up, 1998's You've Come A Long Way, Baby, that really turned on the world. Assembled in his Brighton home studio, known as The House Of Love, using an Atari ST computer, Creator software, and floppy disks, it's rightly revered for a quartet of monster singles.


The 180g reissue of Fatboy Slim's You've Come A Long Way, Baby costs £32.99 if ordered via www.fatboyslim.net

The first was 'The Rockafeller Skank', which sampled its title vocal from the track 'Vinyl Dogs Vibe' by Vinyl Dogs. Other borrowed bits included 'Sliced Tomatoes' by Just Brothers, The Bobby Fuller Four's 'I Fought The Law', 'Join The Gang' by David Bowie, John Barry's 'Beat Girl', Brian Poole & The Tremeloes' 'Why Can't You Love Me' and The J J All Stars' 'Soup'. Once he'd paid for all the samples, Fatboy reckons he was left with no royalties for himself, and the follow-up singles – 'Gangster Tripping', 'Praise You' and 'Right Here, Right Now' –were similarly sample-heavy.

Hold The Front Page
Not only did the album top the UK charts and win a Brit Award, with the benefit of hindsight you can see how You've Come A Long Way, Baby established a mindset that was later actioned by the digital revolution where, thanks to Spotify, Tidal et al, all music is available so all music is now.


Cook in 2006 – for dates of his 2024 UK tour see www.fatboyslim.net

But all good things must come to an end. One chilly morning in 2003 I walked into my local shop to buy bread and milk when a heavily tattooed skinhead bloke I vaguely knew from the local pub let out a sort of sobbing moan. 'Oh no!' he exclaimed to nobody in particular. He held in his trembling hands a daily newspaper, its front page plastered with the dreadful news that Norman Cook and his wife, the popular broadcaster and nation's sweetheart Zoe Ball, had split up.

The guy was genuinely gutted. And in the harsh, cold light of that Saturday morning the realisation dawned that our honeymoon with hedonism was over. As Damian Harris so succinctly put it: 'Big Beat, which started as a breath of fresh air, exciting and liberating, ended up like the loud, annoying drunken bloke you really wish would leave the party'. C'est la vie.

Re-Release Verdict
Issued toward the end of 2023 to mark the 25th anniversary of You've Come A Long Way, Baby, this 180g double-LP edition [Skint Records BRASSIC11HSLP] features a new half-speed remastering by Miles Showell of Abbey Road Studios and houses its two black vinyl platters in a gatefold sleeve. Also included is a booklet insert with Fatboy Slim 'timeline' and liner notes. Copies purchased through the artist's offical website at www.fatboyslim.net come with a signed cover art card. HFN