Christmas Blooper Tapes.
A concept familiar to most fans of archive television thanks to the online circulation of the compilation tapes put together by BBC engineers in the late 1970s (and to a lesser extent those made by ITV companies in the early 80s which were distributed network-wide).
However an even richer vein of nostalgia can be found in radio blooper reels, recordings of those occasions when the words came out in just the wrong order at just the wrong time. Media lecturer Jonathan Hewat made the collection of these the work of a lifetime and for years presented bank holiday specials on BBC radio and released CD collections in aid of blind charities.
Digging through some old cassettes earlier today I came across a tape I’d made of a compilation of bloopers distributed as the IRN Christmas Tape in 1994. A 15 minute compilation of some of the worst radio moments from the preceding 12 months or so, it was produced for internal consumption only and almost certainly forgotten once everyone had gathered around the newsroom to listen to the feed.
However some moments are worth preserving forever, and so for your entertainment here is a digital restoration of the strictly under no circumstances on pain of being sued not for broadcast or dissemination in any form 1994 IRN Christmas tape. As fun as it is hearing accidental swearing and coughing fits, part of the fun is noting the odd household name feature at the very start of their careers. Indeed although I’ve not yet been able to verify this, I could swear that at about 1:30 there is the voice (and laugh) of a well known national radio drivetime host…
Whenever the continuing existence of the pop music charts (itself a surprise for those who find the mighty waters of popular culture only flow past their front door every once in a while) hoves into public view and a greater than usual level of casual interest in the prospects of single x making chart position y results in newspaper headlines, one question above all others makes its way to people’s lips:
“How many singles do you have to sell to make Number One on the charts?”
Few and far between are the places where anything resembling a definitive answer to that question can be found, so it seems an appropriate moment (as I was asked the very same question the other day by someone who assumed I’d be the one to know) to make my own attempt at a definitive answer.
Note that this relates to the state of the market as of now (April 2013) with specific reference to sales patterns from 2012. If you have arrived here in 2016 as a result of a Microgooglesoft search for “how many copies do you have to sell to reach Number One in the charts” the following may well be out of date and I suggest you email me for the current picture. Or at least the picture as recounted by someone whose knowledge of applied statistics failed to progress beyond GSCE Mathematics.
Enough rambling. How many copies do you have to sell to make Number One?
The short, glib, unhelpful and yet perfectly correct answer is simply “one copy more than the Number 2 single”. This actually becomes important later, so don’t dismiss it out of hand,.
To find a more helpful answer I’ll illustrate with the typical figures from 2012. I say ‘typical’ as in this bit of statistical mangling it is necessary to ignore the sales in the final two weeks of the year. Those weeks saw first James Arthur top the charts with a sale of 489,560 copies of “Impossible” followed by the ‘Justice’ Collective with 269,248 sales of “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother” and to include them would skew the statistics unnecessarily.
During the remaining 50 weeks of 2012, the total weekly sale of the Number One single ranged from 50,907 copies for Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling” for the chart dated w/e January 14th through to 152,001 copies for Cheryl’s “Call My Name” for w/e June 23rd. That gives us a median figure of 101,454 copies. The average (mean) sale for a Number One single in this period was actually slightly lower, 89,910 but that still gives us a 12,000 copies spread between the two averages – enough to give some indication of just how big the top end of the market actually is.
Note that none of this answers the original question accurately. You now know how many copies the Number One single actually sold. How many they needed to sell requires reference back to the glib answer at the start – one more copy than the Number 2 single.
The lowest selling Number 2 single of 2012 was Coldplay’s “Paradise” which sold 36,488 not entirely coincidentally in the same week that Flo Rida had the lowest selling Number One of the year. The highest sale of any Number 2 single was the 103,438 copies sold by Emeli Sande’s “Next To Me” for w/e February 25th – that week DJ Fresh was at Number One with a total sale of 127,998. So you will note that to guarantee to be top of the charts during any week in the first 50 weeks of 2012 a single would have had to sell at least 103,439 copies – which is higher than both the mean and median figures quoted above.
In summary, nobody can put a precise number on what sale will guarantee you a Number One single. Like in any good sporting contest, you can only really beat what is put in front of you.
For the curious, the lowest sale ever clocked up by a Number One single is famously the 17,694 copies sold by Orson with “No Tomorrow” w/e March 25th 2006. The record for highest ever Number One sale is likely to be forever held by Elton John and “Candle In The Wind 97” which sold 1,546,688 copies for the chart dated w/e September 27th 1997. I say “likely” as even that massive sale was still constrained by the number of discs that it was physically possible to produce and ship to stores. In the digital era there is theoretically no upper limit to how many copies a single can sell during a seven day period.
Inevitably the presence of a 19 year old novelty record, as performed by two huge TV superstars back when they were aspiring teenage pop stars, at Number One on the UK singles chart attracted a great deal of interest. “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble” by Ant and Dec (but credited to their original Byker Grove characters PJ and Duncan) made good on its early week promise and topped the charts for the week ending April 6th 2013 selling a full 84,000 copies in the process – a large proportion again of the 130,000 the single had clocked up in the years since its release.
However during the week my bold pronouncements about the nature of the idiosyncratic spelling of the song’s title, one which I directly referred to both on About.com and indeed in my previous posting on this site took something of a knock. The seeds of doubt were sown in my mind by the following tweet:
Mike Olton McColin was indeed one of the co-writers of the Ant and Dec single, alongside Deni Lew and Nicky Graham, so of all people I guess he would know the true story. I tweeted back asking for the facts from the horse’s mouth so to speak. 24 hours later he responded:
So that in theory should have been that. I was wrong, it was nothing to do with avoiding being sued by Michael Buffer and simply a rather too clever for its own good play on words conflating the concept of a “rumble” with the dance of the “rumba”. Except that doesn’t really ring true does it? Why on earth would two teenage rappers be banging on about an Afro-Cuban dance which in all honesty can itself be spelled “rumba” and indeed presented that way as default by the Wikipedia page on its origins and uses. Furthermore this flew in the face of everything I had ever been told about the single and its origins. The Buffer story was pretty much common knowledge in the music industry. So why would one of the writers deny it?
Amazingly the story was clearly of enough interest for The Times to set one of their chief investigative reporters Dominic Kennedy on the case. On Page 3(!) of The Times on Saturday April 6th was the following story (stuck behind their paywall, regrettably):
Kennedy’s research turned up something important: facts. He contacted Los Angeles Patent attorney Mark Kalmansohn who told him: “Our client (Buffer) does have a UK trademark for ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rumble’ which covers, among other things, entertainment service. The Ant & Dec song has been the subject of a settlement and forward licence many years ago”. Incredibly enough there is a confidentiality agreement in place, preventing anyone involved from talking about the dispute – hence the secrecy until now.
So that seems to be the definitive word. The truth about one of pop music’s most enduring urban myths finally laid to rest, and curse the producers of that Channel 4 show ten years ago for leaving the footage of me talking about it on the cutting room floor. Maybe one day we’ll similarly find out if ‘No Way No Way’ by Vanilla was indeed Bill Drummond trying to make Number One with the worst record ever made.
I should have seen this coming three years ago, but then again this is why I’m not one of those people who are paid huge amounts of money to be trend-spotters. I refer you back to this article from November 2009 which recounted an evening spent at a radio industry music quiz which our team won in quite spectacular fashion. During the course of the evening I noted:
That’s right. A roomful of some of the most achingly cool radio people around erupting into arm-waving joy as the refrain from ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble’ blared out around the room. 39 months later we are staring down the barrel at the veteran novelty single becoming a surprise Number One hit.
The artists now known as hugely successful mainstream TV stars Ant & Dec both started out as child actors on the hit TV series Byker Grove, playing the parts of PJ (Ant) and Duncan (Dec). A plotline in the series broadcast in 1993 saw the characters team up to form their own rap group and as a novelty tie-in the track they performed ‘Tonight I’m Free’ was released as a single in its own right, just in time for Christmas that year. The single ultimately didn’t make the Top 40, peaking at a mere Number 62 but the germ of an idea had been planted.
Thus a few months later the act, still named PJ and Duncan after their TV characters, were signed to a proper record deal, their official debut single ‘Why Me’ released in April 1994. Again the reaction was slighty muted with the single reaching Number 27 but it was the immediate follow-up which became a surprise smash hit.
Annoyingly the release of ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble’ in summer 1994 coincided with an enforced graduation-related sabbatical from the online chart commentaries so I never actually had the chance to pass judgement on it at the time. History however records that the single climbed to Number 9 for a two week run and established PJ and Duncan as proper chart stars. The cheesy party rap hit indeed was their only Top 10 hit single under that name and essentially the record for which they would forever be defined. Listening back it is interesting to note that the seeds were being sown for the pair to emerge from behind the mask of their TV characters and become themselves, introducing each other in the lyrics under their real names and indeed the single is technically officially credited to “PJ and Duncan AKA” with the verses further stating that everyone is “an AKA fan”. In fact the transition to “Ant and Dec” didn’t come until over two years later when in mid-1996 the pair decided they had outgrown being child stars and released their last batch of singles under their real names before TV stardom came calling.
That, save for quiz night moments, might have been that but for a rather magic TV moment last weekend when to climax a segment on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway featuring the handful of 90s pop acts who had reformed for the “Big Reunion” TV series, Ant and Dec stormed the stage in their old costumes and led the way in a glorious rendition of their most famous hit, during the course of which they proved they still knew the dance moves. Ant and Dec’s legacy as pop stars has been little mentioned over the years and indeed it is fair bet that many of their fans have grown up with little or no memory of them ever being chart fixtures, so the manner in which the pair suddenly assumed character again and became “PJ and Duncan” with effortless ease was something of a joy to behold.
Then something rather unexpected happened. Either because it reminded them of fun moments of the past, or because their performance demonstrated that the near 20 year old record had more in common with the modern day Party Rocking movement than anyone ever considered before, people began to buy the single. Propelled from the depths of the iTunes catalogue, ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble’ shot to the top of the live charts, and perhaps more astoundingly has stayed there ever since.
On Tuesday this week the Official Charts Company noted that sales of the single in just two days had reached fully 27% of its previous lifetime total. It is in the lead, and could well end up as the most surprising and in some way refreshing spontaneous Number One hit for some time. All without hectoring chart campaigns or the notion that it should be bought to prove some kind of social or political point. Just a fun record dragged out of retirement because everyone loves it so much.
The last time I had cause to talk about ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble’ came 10 years ago when shooting footage for the Channel 4 show “100 Worst Pop Records”. Invited to pass comment on the track I noted one bit of trivia which never made the final edit, so it is worth sharing here now. The reason for the idiosyncratic spelling of the title (“Rhumble” rather than “Rumble”) is entirely due to legendary boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer and the trademark he obtained on the phrase “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” in 1992, two years before the PJ and Duncan record was made. His lawyers are notoriously quick to stamp down on any unauthorised use of the phrase in connection with fighting of any kind, and so the cheeky retitling was entirely necessary to avoid the single being accused of a breach of his Intellectual Property or having to pay the American songwriting royalties.
There is a new video for ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble’ in circulation which mashes up the original 1994 footage with shots from the Saturday Night Takeaway ITV performance, because let’s face it, anyone who was 18 back in the early 1990s will find themselves looking very different today. Odd then that when Ant and Dec purchased the rights to Byker Grove through their own Gallowgate Productions company, rumours circulated that they did so to keep the master tapes out of circulation and prevent digital channel repeats of their teenage years. Their legacy as teenage pop-rappers however seems to be one they are only to happy to visit.
When two of your favourite things in the world collide it can be a wonderful thing. “Nuts and Gum – together at last” proclaimed Homer Simpson once in a celebration of a most unlikely pairing.
I make no secret or apologise for having a man crush on Justin Timberlake, a man who at this moment is demonstrating that a six and a half year gap between albums means nothing when you are an artist of his calibre (and can call upon such quality of material to populate his album whenever he deigns to make one). The 20/20 Experience is – David Bowie aside – easily the biggest release of 2013 so far and is on top of the album chart as I write.
Not that he needed to do all that much to promote it, but in the week of its release JT spent an entire week hanging out on American chat show Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, the third incarnation of the late night NBC show which was created by David Letterman in the early 1980s. Fallon’s show is one of the few that is readily available to British viewers as it is reproduced during the evening schedules of business channel CNBC, although often in a butchered form to cram the hour long show down to 30 minutes and in a random pattern of airings which can see shows from fully two months ago pop up randomly in the middle of a contemporary run.
Fallon is tipped to be Jay Leno’s imminent successor on the more high profile Tonight Show, but in the meantime he is living up to the standards set by the previous incumbents of the timeslot with a show that is much about the comic interludes and savvy use of the internet as it is about his celebrity guests. Not to mention the fact that hip-hop legends The Roots are his house band and routinely participate in sending themselves up as well as supplying an effortlessly cool musical backing.
Timberlake has been a guest on Fallon on a number of occasions over the past few years, mainly of course in his movie star guise to promote his latest film, yet a fun music tradition has evolved from these appearances. Paying homage to the original YouTube “History Of Dance” hit video, the pair have taken to performing “History Of Rap” medleys as they run through some of raps finest moments in a frantic and breathless five minute segment. With parts one, two and three having already proved smash hits, it was almost inevitable that Justin Timberlake’s latest stint as resident guest would climax with another History Of Rap performance – although they kept the audience waiting to the bitter end.
With the Jimmy Fallon show tucked away on an obscure digital channel, it is a fair bet that most in Britain will be unaware of this moment of TV gold, so it seems only right to share this example of my two favourite performers on the planet colliding in a moment of pure musical joy. It shouldn’t work. Two thirty-something white men yelling their way through a random selection of high points from black musical culture and yet as they do it, it becomes apparent that for all the sneers that rap and hip-hop music invite from those determined not to understand, a run through of the Greatest Hits of the genre sparks more cultural reference points than I care to mention.
Presenting then, History Of Rap IV, featuring (deep breath): Apache (Jump On It), White Lines, Basketball, The Fat Boys, It’s Tricky, No Sleep Til Brooklyn, Going Back To Cali, Children’s Story, Me So Horny, Scenario, Hand On the Pump, Rumpshaker, Shoop, Gin and Juice, Woo-Ha!, Hypnotize, Get Ya Freak On, Izzo (H.O.V.A.), Ride Wit Me, P.I.M.P, Ridin’ Dirty, Black And Yellow, All Gold Everything, Thrift Shop and Lose Yourself.
A word which for many people evokes images of decline and desperation, a useful shorthand for “desolate northern town gripped with poverty and wracked with racial tension” and somewhere to be avoided at all costs. Yet in actual fact I spent four and a half years of my life living and working in Bradford and enjoyed every single last moment of it.
In a sense I was fortunate to do so during a period of economic upswing, that golden period at the end of the 1990s when the financial toils of the early part of the decade were over, money from Europe and elsewhere was flowing into the city coffers and instead of being shuttered at a dramatic rate, shops were instead opening and flourishing with the City Council making grand plans for the renovation of the centre.
Much of this positive spirit can also be attributed to the continuing rise of the local football team. Perhaps like nowhere else I have ever encountered, the fortunes of Bradford City are inexorably linked to the spirit of its fans and neighbours. Much of that link is regrettably due to past tragedies, the 1985 Valley Parade disaster in which many were killed when the main stand of the football stadium burned to the ground halfway through the final match of the season is a sad memory which is worn stoically and with a quiet dignity at which it is impossible not to be moved by, by everyone who was there that day and anyone who has any link to the club at all. When the football team rises, it in effect does so as if from the ashes of that tragedy. Success on the pitch continues the healing of the heartbreak of that day.
I’ve written before about the first part of that 1990s rise, documenting the involvement I had with their 1996 league campaign which culminated in a memorable afternoon at Wembley Stadium, winning the Play-Off final and starting a steady climb which would see the club in the Premier League by the end of the decade. For that was indeed how it climaxed, after three seasons in what we would now call The Championship, Bradford City finished second in the table to land the promotion to the top flight which famously eluded the club during their previous run of success in the late 1980s.
I remember vividly the celebrations of that promotion. I was tasked with taking the radio station 4×4 vehicle and driving it as part of the celebratory parade which was to wind its way round Bradford and its environs in May 1999. Tucked in behind the second open topped bus containing the players’ families and other assorted members of staff, I steered with one hand and waved frantically out of the window at the cheering crowds which had lined the streets for mile upon mile. Halfway through the parade made a deliberate detour through the densely populated Manningham area of the city, past the streets packed with supporters from Bradford’s Asian community as they let off firecrackers on every street corner, our progress through the streets accompanied by a barrage of explosions, continuing cheers and flashes of light. Once into the City Centre it became almost perilous as children circulated in the road, darting wildly between the vehicles and enthusiastically grabbing handfuls of celebratory stickers that the radio station had prepared and which I was offering from my side window.
Even once the main celebrations were over, nobody wanted to go home. People thronged the streets until closing time and despite the fact that I had a 4am alarm the following morning I was one of them. I took to my own transport, my trusty Peugeot scooter and circulated the city time and time again, hooting my horn at the groups of people still carrying flags and banners and being acknowledged with cheers and waves every time. It was a perfect, memorable and life-affirming evening. An entire city united across social, age and ethnic divides, all thanks to the fortunes of a group of men on a football pitch.
Those with even a passing knowledge of football will know that it didn’t and simply couldn’t last. A series of financial blunders and on-pitch mistakes saw the club lose their Premier League status after two seasons and then begin an inexorable slide down the divisions, coming close to going out of business on more than one occasion and then culminating last season in survival as a league club on the very last day of the season. From the greatest of highs, Bradford City had sunk to close to the lowest of the low.
That’s why last week when like so many others I watched Bradford City’s two-legged victory over Premier League side Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup semi-final, a win which will see them return to Wembley Stadium for the first time since that memorable afternoon in 1996, I felt a strange surge of nostalgia. My Bradford life is long gone, my allegiances switched to sides closer to home, but having once been a part of it, it was impossible not to be swept along with the overjoyed reaction of the players and fans and be reminded of just how much the success of the football club means to the city.
Sure, the economic situation remains dire, the once bustling town centre like so many others watching retailers fall like dominoes and rumours circulate every day of bitter social and ethnic divides and racial tensions which lead to inflammatory demagogues stoking the same prejudices to win elections.. Bradford once again becomes a byword for failure and desolation. Yet once again it is left to the football team to provide that spark of joy, that brief moment of sunshine which suggests that just like before it is possible for the city to rise again. Next month I’ll be cheering on the underdog with all my might as I watch the League Cup Final unfold at Wembley and make it happen live on the radio. I was once a Bradfordian too, and I’ll be proud to be once again.
It has been ten years since David Bowie last made a record. Ten years which has seen music change from something we touch and own, to something which exists solely as files on a disc, to be piped to wherever we choose, and a decade in which the industry which he has been a part of for so long has changed irrevocably and forever.
As one of the first acts to actively explore the possibility of embracing the new digital age with his music it seemed somewhat appropriate that his new single "Where Are We Now" was not only greeted with widespread acclaim when it was unveiled last week but also lodged itself firmly at the top of most daily sales charts, becoming at a stroke one of the most popular singles of the moment. Joy amongst fans at this sight turned however to bemusement when the midweek sales flashes appeared 24 hours later. Bowie’s single was not amongst them.
The sticking point was his use of a smart promotional wheeze to not only stimulate sales of this new single but also to whet the appetite properly for its parent album "The Next Day", due for full release on March 12th. In what is commonly know as an ‘instant gratification’ giveaway, keen purchasers could pledge their cash for the full work and in the meantime be charged just the cost of the immediately downloadable single, the balance to be paid next month when the remainder of the tracks were released. Plenty of acts had pulled this stunt before, and indeed the rules governing the singles and album charts make explicit provision for it.
Rule 7.0 of the album chart rules notes the following:
"One digital track is permitted as instant gratification for an album pre order. A retailer offering this pre order incentive must report the instant gratification track to OCC as a promotional download."
Herein lay the problem. Downloads of the single obtained through an album purchase are classed as "promotional downloads" and are not entitled to qualify for the singles chart. Direct purchases of the single were fine, except that a long-standing technical limitation meant that it was impossible to separate out the two types of sale from the data submitted by Apple from the iTunes store. All sales of the track therefore had to be discounted, disqualifying Bowie from the charts and preventing him from scoring what would surely have been his biggest hit in decades.
As I mentioned, over the last five and a half years a number of tracks have fallen foul of this rule. "Viva La Vida" and "Paradise" by Coldplay were both offered as sweeteners for pre-release purchasers of their respective albums and only arrived on the charts when the promotion had ended. The final Oasis hit "Falling Down" was a hit in March 2009 but had actually first been available for download six months earlier as part of an instant gratification promotion. More recently in 2012, Madonna’s single "Gimmie All Your Luvin" was ‘released’ on a Friday but did not see its sales count towards the chart until the Tuesday of the following week due to the ‘instant grat’ rules.
Such was the comment provoked by the Bowie single’s absence from midweek reports that the Official Chart Company was prompted into the unusual position of commenting on a single they weren’t listing, noting on their website that:
"Owing to chart rules which are agreed in partnership with UK record companies and retailers, data relating to the David Bowie single Where Are We Now? cannot currently be counted towards the official singles charts, as the release is linked to an album pre-order promotion and it is not possible to distinguish album sales from track sales from the retail data received. Should it become possible in the future for regular track sales to be distinguished from album pre-order incentive purchases, then these sales can be counted towards the chart."
That final sentence contained the one note of hope and a major clue that work was going on behind the scenes. Prior to this week the inability to discriminate between the two types of sales had been a minor irritation, something it would be nice to fix at some stage but which for the moment everyone was happy to work with – including the artists and labels who were comfortable to play the instant gratification game knowing full well it would temporarily debar them from the singles chart. This time however things were different. The Bowie single was the first major new work of 2013, a superstar release in a sales period normally devoid of major star power. To have it make such a cultural impact, to be one of the most talked about musical moments of the week and to be visibly and prominently one of the most purchased (by whatever means) track of the moment and for it not to register on the Official Singles Chart – held up by the industry as the definitive and most accurate list of what was selling where – well to say the least it would cause awkward questions to be asked from a PR point of view.
Hence it is my understanding that even as late as Friday afternoon high level talks were underway to resolve the problem. Fixing the bug, separating out the sales and restoring a little more integrity to the sales countdown was suddenly at the top of the agenda. Fruits of those labours were there for all to see on Sunday evening when the brand new singles chart was unveiled. Sitting proudly at Number 6 (a position reached, remember, by explicit sales of the single alone and with the album pre-orders ignored) was David Bowie with "Where Are We Now", his first Top 10 single since "Jump They Say" nearly 20 years previously and his highest charting single since the theme to "Absolute Beginners" occupied the runners-up slot way back in 1986.
Inevitable questions will be asked as to whether counting ALL sales of the single would have given him a Number One hit. According to Music Week it would not, and given that “Where Are We Now” spent just a day near the top of the iTunes tables before sinking gradually, we should perhaps be impressed that it even managed to chart as high as Number 6.
The list of David Bowie’s achievements is as vast and varied as his near 50 year career in music, yet who would have guessed that one of the biggest of his senior years would be to provide the motivation for the resolution of a singles chart technicality.
Happy new year everyone. I thought to ease the pain of these long winter nights I’d do something creative, so following on from the Top 20 of all time mini-show I put together in November, here is my own take on the Top 10 biggest sellers of 2012. From Flo Rida through to Goyte, they are all there and in full, plus you have my own spin on just how they sold and sold and sold.
1999 was one of those years when the calendar didn’t quite co-operate to ensure the “Christmas chart” was a meaningful summary of sales in the run-up to the holiday. Broadcast on Sunday 19th December 1999, it covered sales from Sunday 12th through to Saturday 18th and so missed out most of Christmas week itself altogether, those sales instead counting for the new year chart. Thankfully it made little difference, once the Number One single of the week was there it was not shifting for anyone until mid-January, aided in no small way by the fact that due to extended new year holidays, plus the still genuine fear that the fabled millennium bug would cripple businesses come the start of the new year, the UK music industry gave itself an extended holiday and did not plan any new activity until well into January. Hence the large number of hits which found a new lease of life in the first weeks of the new year – including the first hit in our Christmas Top 10.
10: Vengaboys – Kiss (When The Sun Don’t Shine)
Admit it, when The Vengaboys first emerged at the tail end of 1998 they were painfully bad. The brainchild of two Dutch producers Danski and Delmundo, they flooded the dancefloors of Europe with the inanities of the mostly instrumental ‘Up And Down’ and the easy to hate annoyance of ‘We Like To Party! (The Vengabus)’. Both singles were duly good size hits in this country as well (Number 4 and Number 3) respectively – but then slowly but surely they underwent a transformation. Beneath the banality and the bubbly synths was a desire to turn the costumed foursome who fronted the tracks into something approaching a proper pop group. Hence when their debut album ‘Up & Down – The Party Album’ hit stores in the spring of 1999 it contained something rather unexpected – some perfectly serviceable pop songs. The next Vengaboys single, the fun ‘Boom Boom Boom Boom’ shot to Number One in the summer, swiftly followed by a cover of the old Typically Tropical hit from the 70s ‘Barbados’ with the lyrics changed so the holiday destination and even the title of the song changed to ‘We’re Going To Ibiza’. With a second easy Number One hit in the bag, the Vengaboys were red hot and amongst the biggest stars in Europe.
To see in the new millennium the producers moved on to a second album, one which turned to be full of songs which were even better, not least this introductory single. ‘Kiss (When The Sun Don’t Shine)’ was a fun and rather charming tale of the party girl who only goes romancing after dark and rejects all would-be suitors during daylight hours, reasoning that she’s too busy for “full time love”. A guaranteed hit at any time of the year, the fact that it came out for Christmas somehow made it all the more magical. Although theoretically in contention to be Christmas Number One, the single entered the chart at Number 3 upon release, bringing to a close the Vengaboys’ run of Number One hits, and took something of a tumble to here the following week. As mentioned above, the new year gave the track a new lease of life and it would ultimately spend a total of five weeks in the Top 10, climbing back to Number 5 in mid-January. Not available on Spotify, just for a change this is actually a welcome excuse to air the video. I cannot give a straightforward or rational reason for it, but I love this pop record to bits.
Over the course of a decade William Orbit’s career had taken him from the Guerilla Studios complex he helped run in London, through some highly regarded remix work, a show on a Californian radio station and perhaps most notably of all the ‘Strange Cargo’ series of ambient electronic works. Yet for all that his most high profile chart success had been as one half of dance outfit Bass-O-Matic who scored a Number 9 hit with ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ in September 1990. At the close of 1999 he was set to explode into the mainstream and would start 2000 as the producer of the moment with work for the likes of Madonna and All Saints giving him back to back Number One productions. Just ahead of that however came his first ever Top 40 hit under his own name, a track lifted from the album ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ which had been in the can since 1995 but which had languished in copyright and rights hell ever since. Culled from the selection of classical pieces performed electronically was his take on ‘Barber’s Adagio For Strings’, a stirring yet mournful piece made most famous by its use on the soundtrack of the Oliver Stone film ‘Platoon’. To muddy the waters slightly the version which became a Top 10 hit wasn’t the laid back album version at all but a nicely respectful Ferry Corsten remix which had the dual effect of both making a William Orbit track radio friendly and also fooling many people into thinking its parent album was actually full of dance music. Whatever the circumstances it was a rather extraordinary sight to see even a dance remix of a piece of instrumental classic music in the charts. For William Orbit it was just the start of what would be his most lucrative 12 months to date.
“We’ve all heard of Rudolph and his shiny nose, and we all know Frosty who’s made out of snow. But all of those stories seem kind of gay, ‘cause we all know who brightens up our holidayyyyyy…”
Twelve months after they landed themselves a Number One hit with the delightfully rude ‘Chocolate Salty Balls’, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone attempted to drag the Christmas chart down quite literally to toilet level and very nearly succeeded. The character of Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo actually first appeared in the seventh episode of the first series of South Park which debuted in the UK in spring 1998, but it wasn’t until the following Christmas that the tongue in cheeky merchandising of the character kicked in and he made the British charts, coinciding with the airing of the third season episode ‘Mr Hankey’s Christmas Classics’ which featured an entire album’s worth of satirically festive tracks. For the uninitiated, Mr Hankey is indeed a singing turd who comes to those (or rather out of those) in search of Christmas spirit and his theme song purports to be a recording from the 1950s by TV host Cowboy Timmy. All of which is really background material to cover up the fact that this is a juvenile yet achingly funny song about finding the true meaning of Christmas at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Released just in time for the Christmas chart it is the first of no less than six new entries inside this Christmas Top 10. Never really in contention for the Number One slot, but there will have been more than a few nervous glances at the odds table as people backed it anyway.
With their 1998 cover of ‘Tragedy’ having ascended gracefully to the top of the charts at the start of the new year, Steps were fimly into their imperial phase as Pete Waterman’s last great pop creations spent the next two years sweeping all before them. Their Christmas offering for 1999 was another double a-side featuring ‘Say You’ll Be Mine’ culled from their then-current second album ‘Steptacular’ but perhaps more interestingly a cover version of the famous Kylie Minogue track ‘Better The Devil You Know’. One of Kylie’s most highly-acclaimed singles from her early Hit Factory years, the track does however mark the moment the cracks started to appear in the famous Stock/Aitken/Waterman production line as their efforts to mix the formula up a little seemed to result in ever smaller hits. It was hard not to wonder if there was method in the madness of Pete Waterman getting his new charges to record what was actually an extraordinarily accurate cover version of the original – proving to the world that the hits he wrote during his rubbish period were still as strong as ever. Another new entry and a single which was clearly aiming for Christmas Number One, it was really just warming up and spent four weeks at Number 4 during the new year fallow period.
Yes, this one. An iconic single for maybe not always the intended reasons and the track which all at once established Artful Dodger as the two-step garage act of note but perhaps more significantly introduced Craig David to the world and gave a then unknown comedian the catchphrase for an entire comedy franchise. Mark Hill and Pete Devereux operated Southampton and became aware of the work of a local singer, the then teenaged Craig David who it appeared was being groomed for stardom. They took the vocals from an early demo he had recorded (the genesis of what would become David’s own track ‘Last Night’) and worked them into this slow-burning garage hit, transforming the song from a straightforward seduction piece into what effectively became UK garage’s first signature song. The partnership between the two acts would prove to be a worthwhile one, with Craig David appearing on a handful of other Artful Dodger tracks over the course of the next year whilst Mark Hill would go on to produce much of David’s acclaimed debut album ‘Born To Do It’ including the famous Number One hit ‘Seven Days’.
Meanwhile somewhere in Leeds, Leigh Francis listened to the track with amusement. All he needed now was a latex mask…
With just a couple of hits under their belt, S Club 7 weren’t quite the dominant pop phenomenon they would become, but it was hard to dispute that the launch of the project had been a success. TV series “Miami 7” was a success, their debut single ‘Bring It All Back’ had shot to Number One with a further Top 3 hit following in the shape of ‘S Club Party’ and the album ‘S Club’ had made a respectable Number 2 in the charts to boot. So far so good then, and this was their Christmas offering – yet another double-sided single which paired two tracks from the album and TV series. ‘You’re My Number One’ was the poppiest one, a fun Motown pastiche which hinted at party soundtrack glories to come, but the main focus was on the slushy ballad ‘Two In A Million’ which showed off the vocal talents of Jo O’Meara to full effect for the very first time. A new entry but sadly once more one which didn’t have a sniff of being Christmas Number One, although the single would eventually peak at Number 2 a fortnight later to continue what would eventually be the group’s 100% strike rate of Top 3 hits from their first three albums.
Years before people attempted to fire lame novelty hits into the Christmas chart for the sheer hell of it, the chart of 1999 featured a random novelty which was there just because people loved it so much. Years ahead of its time, the track henceforth known as ‘C vs. I’ was what would nowadays be branded an online viral smash, even if in 1999 most of its promotion came from more traditional sources.
The brainchild of John Matthews, who changed his name to the slightly more exciting sounding Ricardo Autobahn for production purposes, the Cuban Boys specialised in creating endearingly chaotic dance records, characterised by a rapid-fire set of samples from some of the most unlikely sources. Widely distributed online in the early days of widespread internet popularity, some of the earliest Cuban Boys cuts found their way into the hands of John Peel who professed himself a fan of the group who at the time remained determinedly anonymous. However not even he could have forseen the public reaction to the track which would eventually become ‘C vs. I’.
At its heart the track was based around a popular online meme from late 1998, the Hampster Dance website which at the time was nothing more than a page featuring animated gifs of various dancing hamsters, accompanied by an endless loop of what was eventually identified as a speeded up sample of Roger Miller singing the song ‘Whistle Stop’ from the animated Disney film of Robin Hood (released in 1973). The Cuban Boys track took the sample and knitted it into a raucous, frantic and hard to dislike dance track, one which John Peel claimed had become his most requested single since the days of the Sex Pistols when he first aired it in April 1999. Clamour for a popular release grew and after some wrangling over the Roger Miller sample (which eventually had to be replaced by a re-recorded soundalike) the single was set for release as the first ever Cuban Boys hit. Such were the endless delays which beset the project that ‘C vs. I’ was at first slated for release in the new year, but when it was granted its first daytime Radio One play by Jo Wiley in November plans were changed and the record was raced out to make the Christmas chart.
One of those novelty hits which never gets tiresome no matter how many times you hear it, ‘C vs. I’ had the hallmark of genius about it and indeed it is one of the greatest frustrations of the decade that further hits from Autobahn and his collaborators simply never emerged. An album ‘Eastwood’ was released after many delays later in 2000, far too late to capitalise on the success of the single and the group blamed EMI records for losing interest and torpedoing their career, leading to later potential classics such as 2001 white label ‘Drink Drink Drink’ lacking the kind of full release which would have turned them also into hit singles.
My favourite postscript to the tale though remains the fact that Ricardo Autobahn struck up a working partnership with deliberately cheesy pop specialist Darren Sampson, resulting in the pair not only having chart hits together as Rikki and Daz and The Barndance Boys, but also writing ‘Teenage Life’ which Sampson performed as the UK’s Eurovision entry in 2006. As I noted at the time, the prospect of one of the Cuban Boys winding up as the winning songwriters of the annual festival was too delicious to contemplate.
The re-release of one of pop music’s all-time enduring classics wasn’t quite as random or opportunistic as it might at first have seemed as John Lennon’s masterpiece had been officially anointed as the nation’s official Millennium anthem and was due to be played at the Millennium Dome at Greenwich during the new year celebrations. The title track of Lennon’s 1971 album, it wasn’t actually released as a single in this country until 1975 when he announced his temporary retirement to raise newborn son Sean, the single reaching Number 6. In December 1980 the track was one of a number of Lennon singles that arrived on the chart in the wake of his murder at the start of the month and shortly after Christmas it ascended to the top of the charts, staying there for four weeks until it was deposed by Woman, another Lennon song. Imagine had had one other brief chart appearance since then having been reissued as part of a triple pack along with Jealous Guy and Happy Xmas (War Is Over) which made Number 45 in December 1988. Even at the time I was wondering if it wasn’t the case that everyone who wanted a copy already owned one, but there was clearly little stopping one of the greats. ‘Imagine’ smashed its way into the Christmas Top 3 and clung on to remain there to see int he new year in style, in the process selling enough copies to propel the track further up the list of the biggest sellers of all time (downloads since the mid 2000s have helped it now into the Top 20.
The original write-up of this chart for dotmusic took time out to credit the reader who emailed me one particular chart feat which ‘Imagine’ notched up – the fact it had become only the fourth single to make the Top 10 on three totally separate occasions. The others – The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (1965, 1969 and 1990), Madonna’s Holiday (1984, 1985 and 1991) and most curiously of all Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing (1975, 1987 and 1997). Thank you for that nugget of information Marc Williams, any chance you are still a reader?
It was just what the final charts of the 1990s needed wasn’t it? A race for Number One which was nothing short of barmy. To begin to tell this story, it is best to go back to the piece I wrote for dotmusic at the end of November 1999 when ‘The Millennium Prayer’ first landed at Number 2 on the charts:
The story so far: Cliff Richard is far and away the most successful chart star this country is ever likely to see having notched up 122 hit singles and topped the charts 13 times (second only to Elvis and The Beatles) in a career that stretches back to 1958, the only artist ever to have had a Number One single in every decade since the chart was first compiled in 1952. I could sit here all day and recount chart statistics that celebrate his achievements, but you get the picture. Lately he has been letting frustrations get the better of him, complaining about how he seems to be written off as too old to be making pop records and how nobody will play his songs on the radio any more, his last but one hit Can’t Keep This Feeling In being a case in point despite the fact that it reached Number 10 in October last year. A few months ago EMI records declined his request to release his seasonal offering – a new version of The Lords’ Prayer set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. This resulted in Cliff leaving the label, marking the end of one of the most enduring relationships between artist and record company the industry has ever known. Of course there were no shortage of labels willing to take the opportunity to release the song and with all the attendant publicity (along with a few public spats with certain well-known DJs along the way) you could almost stake your life on the fact that the single was going to make a big splash – as it turns out challenging briefly for the Number One slot.
In the middle of all of this it is worth doing something which few have thought to do and actually appreciate the record on its own merits. Believe it or not it is actually very good. However "uncool" it may be to release a fragment of The Bible as a pop record the track remains as touching a piece of work as Cliff has made in years. Cliff’s Christmas Single may have become a chart cliché over the years but to hell with it, the choice of material is spot on, the production here is impressive and his voice sounds as good as ever. No wonder it is a smash hit. Funnily enough this isn’t the first time he has turned a hymn or a prayer into a pop record, his 1982 Number 11 hit Little Town was a rendition of the old favourite O Little Town Of Bethlehem set to a new tune. Back to the present though, Christmas Number One this won’t be (it has come out just a little too early) although the Children’s Promise charity will benefit nicely from the royalties. The future of Cliff Richard’s chart career hangs in the balance – will he actually be able to have a hit record without the attendant "nasty record companies and radio stations are snubbing him" fuss? Time will tell. For now it is worth noting that the track is his biggest hit single since Saviours Day became the Christmas Number One way back in 1990 and his 64th Top 10 hit in all (far and away a record). Not bad for an old codger really is it?
Memory escapes me as to what the spat with a radio DJ referred to above was. It was either Moyles (Radio One Drive Time) or Evans (Virgin Radio Breakfast), had to be. But they weren’t the only names grabbing a cheap headline by sticking the boot in, oh now.
Back on track, my original piece above was so well received that I even got a thank you note from the International Cliff Richard Movement (based in The Netherlands)
Thanks for the correct commentary on the Millennium Prayer. Really appreciated.
Harry @ I C R M
“Many congratulations from all the team, James” was the tongue in cheek comment from the dotmusic editor after I forwarded the email on.
The apparently insane demand for the single was all thanks to some rather clever promotion. Lacking any kind of airplay for what was after all the most unconventional of pop hits, Cliff and his label seeded demand for the track by sending a copy to every church congregation in the country, suggesting to the ministers that they play it at their services. Thousands did, and this rallying of the Christian vote could well rank as the first ever chart campaign ambush in history. The following week the midweek charts contained the shock information that Cliff was leading the race for Number One, leaving the nation facing the very real prospect that a biblical prayer might end up on top of the charts. Come the Sunday this is exactly what happened. It became Cliff’s 14th (and so far, final) Number One and in the process giving him a 41 year span of Number One hits, the single hitting the top almost nine years to the week since he had previously been at the summit with ‘Saviours Day’. Amongst all of that his stated aim however was to be Number One for both Christmas and the new millennium, yet the single had actually been released in a rather old fashioned way – several weeks before the event. As I noted in the original commentary on the single, to become Christmas Number One ‘The Millennium Prayer’ would have to stay on top of the charts for a massive four weeks – in a year when no single had spent longer than three.
‘The Millennium Prayer’ would eventually sell 861,000 copies to rank as the third biggest selling single of 1999. Yet on the Christmas chart it would ultimately have to succumb to a force even stronger than Christ. Louis Walsh….
Having swept all before them in 1999 with three Number One singles to their name, it was more or less a foregone conclusion that Westlife would not only make a play for Christmas Number One but achieve it in some style. Given what we have already noted is the quality of their own material, it was maybe a shock to see them release a double-sided single of cover versions for their seasonal offering, but it was a cleverly calculated move – ensuring genuine pan-generational appeal for their most important single release to date. The two tracks were already classics in their own right. ‘Seasons In The Sun’ was an English language remake of an old Jacques Brel track which Terry Jacks took to the top of the charts in 1974 after he’d failed to persuade the Beach Boys to record his lyrics. Meanwhile ‘I Have A Dream’ had been released by Abba in 1979 and ended up stuck at Number 2 behind ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ for Christmas 1979.
The single was Westlife’s fourth Number One hit in the calendar year of 1999, something which to that point only Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard had ever managed before. The feat is all the more extraordinary when you consider that Westlife’s debut single ‘Swear It Again’ had only been released in April, meaning they had averaged a Number One hit every two months since then. ‘I Have A Dream/Seasons In The Sun’ would eventually go on to become Westlife’s biggest ever chart single, spending a full four weeks at Number One (despite Cliff attempting to rally his fans to send him back to the top for the turn of the millennium itself). In the final two weeks of 1999 the single sold 479,000 copies, adding a further 144,000 in 2000. The final Number One single of any decade is always going to be subject to greater scrutiny and given more historical significance than any other, so despite it being in some ways a rather lazy pair of cover versions it is at the very least a record by a group who could at the time claim to be one of the biggest in pop music and bought by their fans for the sheer love of it rather than to prove a point or because they had won a talent show. For that reason alone it is a welcome memory of the days when Christmas Number One actually deserved the significance which was attached to it.
With the customary shot of the tapes, that is me done for this Christmas chart. I’ve been holding out on you for the past four days, but there is naturally a Spotify playlist of as much of this chart as possible, helped not a little by the number of double-sided singles included. Spotify now allows you to embed players for these things in websites, so with crossed fingers that this actually works for a change, you don’t even need to click away to listen. Happy Christmas, and watch out for a development on this whole chart rewind theme in 2013. I’ve a feeling you may like what I have to reveal…
In the outside world at the end of December 1999, the nation geared up for the launch of the much-hyped Millennium Dome in Greenwich in London as workers raced to finish the new tube line extension on time. The third round draw for the FA Cup took place, controversially without Manchester United who had ducked out of the competition to instead play in the inaugural World Club Championship in Brazil (“lucky losers” Darlington took their place in the draw and were given a second shot at glory). In sadder news ‘Q’ actor Desmond Llewellyn was killed in a car crash, just weeks after the release of the last Bond film “The World Is Not Enough”. Meanwhile in newspaper adverts, PC World were offering a Christmas bargain of a PC with a 433Mhz Intel Celeron Processor, 6MB of RAM, a 64 GB hard drive, 6xDVD Drive, 15 inch monitor, sound card, modem and Windows 98 installed for £599 including VAT. An utter bargain. Meanwhile, fancy a new mobile phone for Christmas?
Whilst you count the pennies we’ll continue – here is the Christmas Top 20 of 1999:
A strange characteristic of the singles charts of this particular era – lots of acts being unafraid to release genuinely double-sided singles. Releases with two tracks of equal quality, both with videos and a willingness to sit back and watch for whichever one becomes the most popular. A dying art in the new digital era, but back in the day of the CD single a viable promotional tool. We’ve already had the Martine McCutheon and Lolly singles following this pattern and now here is the third.
We meet Robbie Williams almost exactly midway through his imperial phase when just about everything he did turned to sales gold. Christmas 1999 saw him at the tail end of the year-long promotional campaign for his second solo album ‘I’ve Been Expecting You’, one which began in September 1998 with the get in before anyone else does ‘Millennium’ and climaxed with a double-sided single which would give him his second solo Number One hit. ‘She’s The One’ was a cover version, a song written by Karl Wallinger and which had originally appeared on their 1997 album ‘Egyptology’ and which in the hands of Williams was turned into such a signature track it is actually hard to imagine it ever being performed by somebody else. Feeling perhaps that as the album’s fourth single release it might need a bit of a leg-up it was coupled with the new track ‘It’s Only Us’ which had been recorded as the official theme to the FIFA 2000 game on the Sony Playstation and which had featured in TV commercials for the title around the time of release. Truth be told though the second track was pretty much ignored, it was all about the heart-tugging ‘She’s The One’ and its tongue in cheek figure skating video. The single charged to Number One in November 1999 and stuck around long enough to give Robbie a presence in the Christmas Top 20.
19: Various Artists – It’s Only Rock N’ Roll
Back in 1997 two producers at the BBC came up with the idea of recording an ensemble single, recording a dizzying array of stars each singing one line of a classic song and then splicing them all together. The result was ‘Perfect Day’, an acclaimed version of the Lou Reed song which topped the chart in November 1997 and raised thousands of pounds for the BBC’s Children In Need Appeal, to this day standing proud of something of a classic of its era.
Figuring that the concept was good for another try, in 1999 legendary producer Arthur Baker was charged with repeating the experiment, the idea this time being to film him for a fly on the wall documentary about the making of the track. As a result Baker spent most of the year chasing artists as diverse as Jamiroquai, Status Quo, The Spice Girls, Natalie Imbruglia, The Corrs and of course Mick Jagger, persuading them to give up a brief moment of their time to sing a few lines from the old Rolling Stones hit ‘It’s Only Rock N’ Roll’ which first hit Number 10 for the Rolling Stones in 1974. For some odd reason it didn’t quite work as well as ‘Perfect Day’. Maybe it was the choice of song, maybe it was the rather limited timescale Baker was given to actually throw it all together (‘Perfect Day’ was the culmination of two years of hard work after all). Either way this time the result was something of a mess rather less than the sum of its parts and the single (all proceeds to charity naturally) which was expected to be challenging for the Christmas Number One slot ended up at a rather disappointing Number 19 in its first week on release. 13 years down the line it stands as a mild curiosity and a fun bit of history and at the very least the only chance you will ever get to hear James Brown harmonising with the Spice Girls. Not on Spotify naturally, but the video still exists online, my grateful thanks to the person who uploaded it within the last month. Keep you ears open for the cleverest moment – the synthesiser line from The Who’s ‘Baba O’Reilly’ buried deep in the mix.
18: DJ Luck & MC Neat – With A Little Bit Of Luck
History records that it was in the summer of 2000 that the two-step garage craze took a huge stranglehold on British pop music but naturally the genre had existed for some time before that – it was in the summer of 1999 that ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ topped the charts after all. We will stumble across a rather more famous example further down this countdown, but taking pride of place in the Christmas Top 10 were Luck & Neat aka Joel Samuels and Michael Rose who landed the first of what would become three straight Top 10 hits with this new entry timed neatly for the Christmas chart. ‘With A Little Bit Of Luck’ is the classic example of a single which survived the holiday maelstrom to become a substantial new year hit, the track clinging on to a place in the Top 20 for five straight weeks before eventually ascending to a Number 9 peak in late January during the course of which it spent a full mont inside the Top 10 – all this in an era when the straight in and straight out again chart performance was pretty much par for the course. A genuine classic of its era then, but you’ll search in vain for it on Spotify.
Another “idea” track, this time the creation of Derby based DJ Rob Webster who did little more than lift the swirling instrumental introduction from ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ by Madonna and looped it around and around to create what has to be said is an inspired and insistently catchy club track. The string riff had been used on television for much of the year as an advertising jingle for Vauxhall cars, suggesting that this was where the idea for turning it into a dance single had originated. Full marks for innovation if less for originality then, and the single had stormed to Number 7 a week earlier, slumping ten places to rest at this position for the Christmas chart – although it spent the next month hovering around the Top 20 indicating that this was far from a flash in the pan novelty hit.
“I was lying in the grass of Sunday morning of last week. Indulging in my self-defeat.” Pop music. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is awful. And sometimes it is responsible for moments which come quite close to perfection.
The curiously named Len were what Wikipedia insists are an indie-rock band from Toronto, made up at the core of brother and sister duo Marc and Sharon Costanzo. Having languished in international obscurity for over five years, they finally hit international paydirt with a track from their third album ‘You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush’, one which had its genesis in a random session many years earlier and which famously was nearly lost on cassette thrown under a bed and forgotten. The idea was to create their own version of ‘Don’t You Want Me’, a song which told a story from both a male and female perspective with each singer taking it in turn to perform on a verse. Thus with a story to tell, the song was constructed around a sampled piano figure from the old disco hit ‘More More More’.
You can have an idea. You can have the music to set it to. Sometimes (like with, for example, the charity single above) when the two come together it just doesn’t work. Something is lacking. ‘Steal My Sunshine’ was the exact opposite – a moment of pure magic that they may well have lucked into but for all that deserved all the attention it attracted. Impossibly cheery (despite the dark tale the song told) and incredibly hard to dislike, the single became a worldwide hit at the tail end of 1999, performing suitably well in the UK too by making Number 8 just before Christmas, dropping down to spend the holiday in the middle of the Top 20 before rallying once more to climb back to Number 9 for a fortnight in mid-January. Look up the track on Wikipedia and you will see reviews quoted which brand the track as one of the greatest moments of its era. I’m not entirely sure it is that good and it dates more and more as time goes by, but for four minutes of pure breeziness and genuine fun ‘Steal My Sunshine’ fits the bill perfectly.
Len are sadly saddled with the tag of being one hit wonders as nothing else from either their current album nor indeed any of their subsequent ones quite captured the imagination in the way ‘Steal My Sunshine’ did. Britain was one of the few countries prepared to give them a second go and follow-up single ‘Cryptik Souls Crew’ crept to Number 28 in summer of 2000 although you will be hard pressed to find many people who can immediately call it to mind.
Success had been a long time coming for the Ohio-born Macy Gray, with early demo tapes leading at first to nothing more than singing dates at LA jazz cafes. A record deal with Atlantic Records in the mid-90s was stymied when her A&R man was canned by the company and by the end of the decade all she had to show for her hard work was a cameo appearance on one of the very earliest Black Eyed Peas tracks. All that changed in 1999 with the release of her debut album ‘On How Life Is’ and in particular its single ‘I Try’ which catapulted her to overnight worldwide stardom. What was unique about her was her voice, warm and mellow but with a raspy timbre to it which many pointed out made her sound just like a muted trumpet. Paired with the right material her sound was absolute perfection. ‘I Try’ wasn’t actually the first single release from the album, that honour had gone to ‘Do Something’ which had crept to Number 51 in this country earlier in the summer but it was with the release of the album’s second single that she became properly famous. Released in late September, the single was a true stayer, entering at Number 10 but not peaking at Number 6 until its eighth week on the charts. At Christmas it was still in the Top 20 and the single was distinctive enough to feature on most of the year-end “best of” lists which were being compiled at the time. Truth be told this was Macy Gray’s one and only smash hit single, for although she had plenty of other Top 40 hits over the next four years her core market was that of the album buyers with her 2001 follow-up giving her an instant chart-topper without spawning much in the way of big chart hits. The tail end of 1999 however was her moment, and this single stands proudly as testament to the time when it seemed she was about to conquer the entire world.
When I first started the research for this chart, I genuinely had no recollection of this single having been a Number One hit, but it most certainly was – spending seven days at the summit in mid-November. Wamdue Project was one of a number of aliases for American producer Chris Brann. He’d actually first made the track in 1997, reportedly as a more chilled out piece than its hit version became. The transformation from lost white label into globe-straddling smash came thanks to a spruced up house remix by Roy Malone which led to the track spreading from the clubs of the summer to the charts of the autumn. It’s UK success (coming after it charted early thanks to import copies) was just a small part of what are reported to be over two million sales worldwide. No tale of Wamdue Project would be complete without the footnote of recalling how despite being American, the act made it onto the “Best British Newcomer” shortlist for the 2000 Brit Awards before the error was fortunately spotted in time.
I have said many times before that if you want to truly appreciate the genius of R Kelly it is necessary to overlook the macho posturing, the slightly dubious sexual rumours and attendant court cases and the entertaining nonsense of the now seven year old ‘Trapped In The Closet’ saga and focus instead on his track record as a balladeer, for some of the most genuinely moving and exquisitely crafted soul records of our age have come from the man from Chicago. Kelly’s album ‘R’ was already a year old by this point and had already spawned one Number One hit ballad in the shape of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ which had preceded into the charts by a year, yet for the holiday period there was still room for the single release of one of his lesser known musical masterpieces. I regard the utterly gorgeous ‘If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time’ as R Kelly’s attempt to rewrite ‘Unchained Melody’ with the new song borrowing much from the old in terms of atmosphere, pace and phrasing although plenty of others have noted pointedly that it bears a marked similarity to the Tyrone Davies track ‘Turn Back The Hands Of Time’ as well as Otis Redding’s ‘For Your Precious Love’. Derivative or not, the single was still a worthwhile hit, making Number 2 in early November 1999 and only denied the Number One position by Westlife’s ‘Flying Without Wings’ making it surely one of the most heartfelt Top 2 combinations of all time.
With Ronan Keating’s star in the ascendancy (helped not a little by a solo turn hosting the MTV Music Awards earlier than year, plus the ‘oi discovered Westlife’ spin that was put on the launch of the new act) it was not unreasonable to ask questions as to the future of the Boyzone project. All concerned insisted that they were by no means breaking up but five years after their debut and with just about every mountain in the music business having been scaled they had little else left to prove. Their promotional schedule for 2000 and beyond was empty for the first time in a long time and with a Greatest Hits album ‘By Request’ in the shops it was quickly becoming apparent that Christmas single ‘Everyday I Love You’ would be for the moment their farewell offering. Released head to head with a notorious single by Mr C Richard (we’ll come to that in due course), the track led the charge midweek but faltered badly to enter at what for them was a comparatively lowly Number 3, their first single to miss the Top 2 first week out in three and a half years. History now records that it was indeed their farewell offering, the next Boyzone release not coming until their 2008 comeback, by which time Ronan Keating had indeed established himself as the first big pop idol of the new millennium.
Think the dance music formula of brief verse/cheesy chorus/annoying instrumental breakdown is a modern phenomenon? Think again. Riding the trace wave to marry the sound up with a sure fire pop formula, Dutch producers Alice Deejay hit paydirt in the summer of 1999 with the single ‘Better Off Alone’ which reached Number 2 here (selling over half a million copies in the process) and was a rather more surprising Top 30 hit in America at around the same time. With an album prepped for a spring 2000 release, the collective unleashed this follow-up hit on the world at the end of the year and it made a similarly respectable Number 4 on these shores in early December. Alice Deejay hits of varying size continued until 2001 after which they went their separate ways. There are only so many blissed-out keyboard instrumental breaks you can take in one lifetime anyway, regardless of whether your album is called ‘Who Needs Guitars Anyway?”
Time flies… Christmas is almost upon us which means just one day left before the big Top 10 reveal. Brace yourselves for the ten biggest sellers of Christmas, and crucially the last Number One hit of the 20th century. No, I don’t care what you say. It was. It was.