The Greatest Pop Songs In History – No 12: Neneh Cherry, ‘Buffalo Stance’

It seems rather quaint now, but the sight of an eight months pregnant Neneh Cherry performing ‘Buffalo Stance’ on Top Of The Pops in 1988 was unforgettable. In those pre- Spice and -All Saints days, pregnant pop stars were ushered out of the spotlight quicker than you could say ‘Mary Whitehouse is watching’.

But here was Cherry, dressed in copper coloured bomber jacket, sporting thick trainers and a huge blingy medallion whilst her lycra covered bump protruding like some ungodly growth. But Cherry wasn’t like other pop stars.

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‘Buffalo Stance’ started life as part of an extended version of the 1986 single ‘Looking Good Diving’ by Morgan & McVey. The McVey in this short lived duo was Cameron McVey, sometime model and later Cherry’s husband and co-writer and producer of ‘Buffalo Stance’. ‘Looking…’ was a breezy, Blow Monkeys-styled track (and also a Stock, Aiken and Waterman production). Neneh’s distinctive rap can be heard on the B-side, which was re-named ‘Looking Good Diving With The Wild Bunch’ (she can be heard rapping this line in ‘Buffalo Stance’). Appropriately enough, McVey met Cherry at Heathrow airport when McVey was flying off to Japan to model clothes from Ray Petri’s Buffalo Posse range. ‘Buffalo Stance’ was defiantly autobiographical but wide open, with a universal heart.

Look! It’s Cherry “playing guitar” in the video

Aided by dance music pioneer Tim Simenon (from Bomb The Bass), the re-worked version of ‘Looking Good Diving’ ripped the original track apart but kept the synth riffs and Neneh’s rap. Neneh’s flow was sophisticated and urgent. She sounded streetwise and cocky but cute and charming too. She was telling us about a fashion savvy posse but from the “rumble in your tummy” line it was clear that this lot didn’t mean any harm. And it was true that ‘Buffalo”s collective of creatives (models, photographers and musicians) were more boho chic than your usual hip-hop crew. The beats were basic too, but it made the “No money man” hook even more seductive. When it was released in late 1988 it became a massive hit both in the UK and US.

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Its success opened the door for the remixes (the track spawned several iconic remixes and was later incorporated into a remix of George Michael’s ‘Freedom 90’) and rap. At a point when most rap tracks that charted were brilliant (yet rather novelty) hits (‘Push It’, ‘Funky Cold Medina’, ‘Walk This Way’ for example), ‘Buffalo Stance’ pushed things a bit further. Although unmistakably fun and fresh, by rapping about real life situations and people, Cherry was making the genre a bit more approachable for Top 40 music fans.

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The ‘family tree’ of ‘Buffalo Stance’ leads into the core of Bristolian trip-hop (McVey worked on Massive Attack’s seminal ‘Blue Lines’ album with Tricky and Portishead), game-changing pop (he contributed to debuts from All Saints and Sugababes) as well as being iconic in the lineage of pop-rap tracks. In the US it’s up there with ‘Get Ur Freak On’, ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ and ‘Paper Planes’ as one of the most successful female rap tracks in Billboard chart history and, obviously, it totally deserves its place.

Did you know?

  • Cherry said the song was “about female strength, female power, female attitude.”
  • She gave birth to the baby seen in the TOTP clip whilst McVey was overseeing Shara Nelson’s vocal on Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’.
  • Also Mushroom from Massive Attack features in the video for the song.

The greatest pop songs in history: Spotify playlist