While most fans associate Neneh Cherry with her 1988 international pop hit “Buffalo Stance,” the singer’s past reads like an underground-punk guidebook: Raised on a commune in 1960s Sweden by an artist mother and jazz-luminary stepfather (Don Cherry), she spent her teens and early twenties ripping it up with Rip Rig + Panic and the Slits and dancing in Big Audio Dynamite videos. And in the early ’90s, in between putting out a couple more hits (“Trout” with Michael Stipe and “7 Seconds” with Youssou N’Dour), Cherry maintained a close alignment with the Bristol trip-hop scene.
Which makes The Cherry Thing, her recent album-length collaboration with European jazz trio the Thing — a collection of wildly diverse covers (e.g., Suicide, MF Doom, The Stooges) — not all that surprising. “I was completely rolled over by what [the Thing] were doing with a sound that can be classified as free jazz — but to me it was like punk; it was just a life force to be reckoned with,” Cherry says.
In honor of the new record, which drops June 19 and is Neneh’s first solo outing in 16 years — and the fact that it gave us, and her, a case of déjà vu (“It’s like I’m constantly being reborn and dying at the same time,” she says), we’ve assembled a list of seven of our favorite Neneh Cherry songs, which, of course, includes “7 Seconds.”
1. “You’re My Kind of Climate” (with Rip Rig + Panic, 1982)
Rip Rig + Panic (named after an album by jazz saxophonist Roland Kirk) were short-lived (’81-’83) but superfun as evidenced by this rambunctious 1982 guest appearance on the cult British sitcom The Young Ones. The new songs on The Cherry Thing have a similar charge: “We didn’t need to talk or think too much about what we were going to do, Cherry says. “We were almost allergic to that—there was a kind of urgency and a definite, definite feeling that we were meant to be together.” Three RR+P members regrouped in 1985 as Float Up CP, but put out just one album, Kill Me in the Morning, but this is supposed to be a party!
2. “Slow Train to Dawn” (with The The, 1986)
Sax figures heavily here too, but Cherry’s back-up singing, while she was tied to train tracks no less, is where the heart of this song lives. Apparently, vocalist Matt Johnson had gone through 50 or 60 demo tapes to find the female half of this duet when he came upon a Float Up CP tape. Her contribution caught the ear of the industry, and this song put her on the path to solo stardom.
3. “Buffalo Stance” (from Cherry’s Raw Like Sushi, 1989)
The song originated as a B-side to Morgan McVey’s “Looking Good Diving.” At some point, Bomb the Bass’ Tim Simenon heard it and approached Cherry about redoing the track for her debut solo album. The new version, “Buffalo Stance,” included samples from Malcolm McLaren’s classic Bristol hip-hop track “Buffalo Gals” (itself a riff on the traditional American song of the same name) and referenced stylist Ray Petri’s Buffalo collective, of which Cherry was a member. You could spend hours on sites that deconstruct the song, but maybe it’s best to start with this video of a saucy (and seven-months pregnant!) Cherry performing the song on Top of the Pops in 1988. “I didn’t invent it,” Cherry says, of child-bearing. “Women have been doing this since forever.”
4. “Trout” (with Michael Stipe, from Homebrew, 1992)
“We were making Homebrew and ‘Losing My Religion’ was out and we just felt, wouldn’t it be amazing to collaborate?” Cherry says about the duo’s early-’90s college-radio staple. The idea for the collaboration led her to visit Athens, Georgia, for the first time. “I’d never been down to the South before,” Cherry says. “I was shitting myself. But it was amazing, and we had a great time doing that track. [Stipe] has the best laugh of anyone I know. I often think about his laugh and I feel instantly much better about life, always.”
5. “7 Seconds” single (with Youssou N’Dour, 1994)
“Youssou played in my family home in Sweden, when he was 18, so we had that connection,” Cherry says. “My brother was living in Brooklyn, and we were using his little studio in his bedroom. Cameron [McVey, Cherry’s husband and producer] had started writing the chorus, and we left these spaces for Youssou — we were just kind of sketching away as we do, and Youssou came on the second day and just blew it into another dimension with his scales and the way he sings. It just made it soar. It was fascinating afterwards, seeing where that song went. It was the No. 1 track for weeks in France. But obviously, we did consciously want to use the languages that we had with us, the French, the Wolof, the English. Bono from U2 asked me once what ‘7 Seconds’ means, and he was like, ‘Me and my wife decided that that’s how long it takes to conceive [laughs].’ I don’t know. It sounded good. I like numbers. I think it’s about tolerance and patience.”
6. “Go Go Go (This Is It)” (with Rip Rig + Panic, 1981) and 7. “Too Tough to Die” (from The Cherry Thing, 2012)
“The Martina Topley-Bird track, that was the first thing we did, and we did one take,” Cherry says of the latter song. “I really felt like, oh my god, I’m here now, but I was back to the first track I did with Rip Rig + Panic, and it was a kind of unhinged, slightly bluesy, juke-joint-but-not kind of thing. It was just so weird. I think I was 16 when I did that. And now I’m standing here doing ‘Too Tough to Die.’ I like that feeling. You’re sort of being freed.”