Aug 25

The Battle Of Britpop: Afterword

August 2015 was naturally enough not the first time I wrote extensively about the fabled Battle Of Britpop. August 1995 just happened to coincide with the first two months of operation of the fabled dotmusic.com website for which I was lucky enough to write chart commentaries for the whole of its existence. So for one final burst of nostalgia it seemed an interesting exercise to reproduce that very column, although my modern day self may have to interject on occasions. He just cannot help himself.

Here then is a genuine dip into the archives, the chart column as it appeared on Monday lunchtime, August 21st 1995.


 

HEAVY NOTICE: These charts are offered on the Internet as a service to music fans. However, they remain the copyright of CIN Ltd and any reproduction of this information in television or radio broadcasts or in printed or electronic publications without CIN’s formal approval is a breach of copyright. For details of licencing arrangements for the charts, contact CIN@dotmusic.com

[2015 James notes: yep, back in the hinterland of the commercial internet and where the copyright of material posted on it could not be presumed and had to be stated in quite strict terms.]


 
1 COUNTRY HOUSE (Blur)

There has never really been hype like it. The release on the same day of new singles by both Blur and Oasis prompted a media circus beyond any other in recent memory. The release of the two singles has, over the past week, been hyped up by the media into a true ‘battle of the bands’ with insults flying back and forth between both the musicians and fans alike and has resulted almost daily updates on the radio as to the sales progress of both singles. Not for a long time has there been quite so much speculation and interest in the potential chart positions of two records. As thee week progressed it became clear that one would end up the winner and become and instant Number One. Oasis with the larger dedicated fan base started out strongest with sales of their single outstripping Blur easily at the start of the week. Gradually though, the difference was clawed back as the more commercial Blur single picked up sales from the more casual record buyers at the end of the week and by the end of Saturday the result was in no doubt at all. So it is then that one of the most popular groups in the country land their first ever Number One hit. ‘Country House’ is really a continuation of the style that characterised last year’s ‘Parklife’ album and which transformed them into something quite special. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, from the Kinks to the Small Faces yet at the same time producing a style of music that is indescribably Blur. It is no surprise at all that they should get a Number One single, following a string of hits since 1990 and the global attention that focused on them following the release of ‘Parklife’. The single also continues the remarkable string of records this year to hit Number One on their very first week. ‘Country House’ is the tenth record to top the charts since January and the sixth to do so first week out, thus equaling the record set in 1991. All that is left to do now is to wonder how the losers will view this situation after a week of both sides postulating that whoever won the battle would be confirmed as the bigger band…


 

2 ROLL WITH IT (Oasis)

So what of the ‘losers’? Oasis, despite their large following around the country and despite the fact that their last single was an instant No.1, eventually had to give way to the larger commercial audience for the Blur single. Having said that, the achievements of this single should not be overlooked. It gives Oasis a fifth Top 10 hit in a row and a hat trick of Top 3 hits. It also marks only the third occasion in chart history that the Top 2 records have both been new entries. Curiously enough both of the previous occasions were in weeks when media attention focused on the singles chart. The first was in December 1984 when Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas/Everything She Wants’ landed at No.2 behind the very first Band Aid single at Number One. The second occasion was in June 1989 when Jason Donovan’s ‘Sealed With A Kiss’ hit Number One to deny Cliff Richard a place at the top with his 100th single release ‘The Best Of Me’. After the hype though comes the reality and I suspect as the media interest fades away, so will the Oasis single leaving Blur high and dry at the top. Whilst many people I suspect watched on in bemusement as the release of two pop records made news items on TV and Radio it is worth at least reflecting on the fact that, if only for one week, the release of a single became a genuine event, worthy of attention and interest at the highest level. It brought people into record shops who would normally only visit at Christmas time and brought to the attention of millions the two bands currently leading the field in this golden age of British pop. Amen to that.

[2015 James notes: And there you have it, proof that even at the time those of us close to the situation were quite aware that this was something rather historic and that we might possibly be on the verge of something rather special. 1995 saw record sales and singles sales in particular start to emerge from their start of the decade nadir and what helped no end was an event that once more reminded everyone that the singles chart had the potential to really, really matter.]


 

6 EVERYBODY (Clock)

Underneath all the Blur/Oasis hype was sensation of another kind as the shops were flooded with a rash of new releases by major acts, all of which ended up tussling for the lower chart places. It makes for a very busy chart indeed with no less than 15 new entries inside the Top 40. The highest of the ‘also-rans’ were Clock, notching up their third Top 10 hit in a row following chart successes earlier this year with covers of ‘Axel F’ and ‘Whoomph! (There It Is)’. The new single fits snugly in the mould carved out by the previous two, a lively electronic dance record which is commercial enough to find appeal on the radio as well as the more mainstream dance floors. Part of the appeal of Clock is the way they are not just a bunch of faceless producers but an act with a consistent team of faces performing the singles and a brilliant line in dance routines. I remember commenting on this after they performed ‘Axel F’ on television earlier this year only to receive a frustrated email from their management complaining that no TV shows seemed to want to book them. Hopefully that now is changing.


 

8 HUMAN NATURE (Madonna)

There was a time when a new Madonna release would be an event in itself. This week she was relegated almost to a footnote in the list of new releases but that did not stop her landing another instant Top 10 hit to further affirm her place as one of the most successful female artists in chart history. The failure at Christmas for ‘Take A Bow’ to progress any further than No.16 brought her record of consecutive Top 10 hits to a screaming halt but she has bounced back since, first of all with ‘Bedtime Story’ making No.4 back in February and now with ‘Human Nature’ giving her her 35th Top 10 hit, more than any other artist ever save for the usual leaders of lists such as this – Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard with 55 and 63 to their names respectively. The success of this single still does not detract from the fact, however, that she is falling deeper and deeper into the rut that seems to affect all superstars at some stage in their career – releasing records that sell simply because of the name behind them rather than their quality as pop records. Even the most hardened Madonna fan would not argue that ‘Human Nature’ is vastly inferior to many of the classics she has produced in the past and if she heads down this road she may find her commercial stock declining very quickly, especially now at 37 and over ten years into her career she is no longer the idol for millions of teenagers she once was. This kind of rut is by no means inescapable as the recent chart rehabilitation of artists like Diana Ross have proven – something which must give Stevie Wonder cause for hope.

[2015 James notes: OK, now that was quite funny to read – the fact that my main concern over Madonna at the time was “is it possible she is getting all a bit too old for this”. 20 years later she is not quite the force she once was, but a new release of hers still manages to be something of an event. Never mind the fact that even at the time she was on the very of her late 90s renaissance thanks to her “work with the hottest producer of the moment” phase.]


 

12 JUST WHEN YOU’RE THINKIN’ THINGS OVER (Charlatans)

It seems to be a week for British groups. Whilst Blur celebrate the peak of their career so far, some of their contemporaries from almost five years ago find themselves with their biggest hit for a long time. When Blur first had a smash hit in 1991 they were building on the success of bands such as the Charlatans who had proved there was life after the baggy Manchester sound of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and who were arguably one of the original 90s guitar bands. Their biggest commercial success came in 1990 when their debut chart hit ‘The Only One I Know’ reached No.9. Despite the odd hit single they have in effect drifted into the background until now. Suddenly the music press have woken up the fact that the Charlatans are actually quite good and following minor hits earlier this year with ‘Crashin’ In’ and ‘Just Lookin’ (what do they have against the letter ‘G’?) the band explode into the Top 20 with a single that matches the peak of ‘Then’ in 1990 to become their second biggest hit ever. As the band prepare to release their fifth album it appears they are about to experience a second coming. After all, it took REM five albums to hit big and ‘Parklife’ was Blur’s third long player…


 

13 ON THE BIBLE (Deuce)

A rush of hype and a rush of new entries also has an effect on the records already on the chart. Just one or two climbers in a week is by no means uncommon but this week, possibly as a direct result of all the attention paid to the week’s new releases, sees a unique chart situation. For the first time ever there are no climbers at all inside the Top 40. Not one. Aside from the new entries, the only records to even maintain their positions from last week are Deuce at No.13 and Alanis Morrissette at No.22.


 

14 MOVE YOUR BODY (Xpansions 95)

Dance music’s summer of rememberance continues as for the third week running a past hit is resurrected and given new life with a new set of remixes. ‘Son Of A Gun. and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ are joined in the Top 40 by this record from Xpansions. one which has had quite a chequered history. Back in 1991 it actually benefitted in the same way as many records today, Ritchie Malone’s track first being released in October 1990 when it only reached No.49. After retitling the track after its hookline he tried again in February 1991 and was rewarded with a No.7 hit. Now, four years later the track is resurrected to crash straight back into the charts and entertain a new generation of clubbers. Where will it end? The trick now I suppose is not to despair for the future of dance music but to speculate which 90s dance hit is next for a revival. My money is on Cola Boy’s ‘7 Ways To Love’, all other suggestions are gratefully received.

[2015 James notes: yeah, that last bit never happened.]


 

15 HAPPY JUST TO BE WITH YOU (Michelle Gayle)

Michelle Gayle is possibly unique. Many former soap stars have released records in the past but Michelle Gayle is virtually the only one to have shaken off the ‘actress’ tag completely and transformed herself into a credible singing talent. Part of that is due to the quality of the songs she is given to sing. ‘Sweetness’ was arguably the first, the Narada Michael Walden track which made No.4 in September 1994 and this has been followed by two more: ‘I’ll Find You’ and ‘Freedom’. Now comes her biggest and best hit since ‘Sweetness’, another slickly produced pop/dance track in the Eternal mould, complete with a rap at the start. I’m sorry if this throws credibility to the wind, but I like this enough to resist the temptation to make a cheeky comment about its use of an old Chic bassline. So I won’t.


 

19 COME AND GET YOUR LOVE (Real McCoy)

The Real McCoy are a curious act, having managed to supplant most of the current rules and traditions and gone off and had hits in America as well as all over Europe. Their fourth hit is this one, a track currently climbing the US Hot 100 in the same manner as their previous hits. It is typical Euro dance, an uptempo beat, a high powered rap and a catchy female vocal, this time one which is too similar to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘(Hey Now) Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) to be accidental but that is not to detract from the success of the track. It gives the German act four Top 20 hits in a row.

[2015 James notes: yep, walking musical encyclopaedia and avid student of pop music history that I was, I’d never heard of Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love at that point and had no inkling of where the Real McCoy track had come from. To think I was paid for this rubbish.]


 

23 ISOBEL (Bjork)

Bjork singles are usually quite a hit and miss affair, the sheer diversity of the music she puts on her albums means that no two releases are ever alike. One Little Indian records have quite sensibly waited for all the initial fuss surrounding the ‘Post’ album to die down before releasing a second single to follow ‘Army Of Me’ which made No.10 back in May. ‘Isobel’ finds the Icelandic pixie in an ethereal mood with one of those strange meandering songs which shows off her voice to brilliant effect yet hardly makes for a commercial pop single. Never mind, as any Bjork fan will tell you there is one track from the album which received all the attention when it was first released and which is due for single release some time this autumn and which is almost certain to become one of her biggest hits ever. I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you still in the dark…

[2015 James notes: summer ’95 and all anyone cared about was when It’s Oh So Quite was getting its single release. Nothing else Bjork did mattered at that point. And anyway, when was the “Icelandic pixie” not in ethereal mood?]


 

25 LET YOUR YEAH BE YEAH (Ali Campbell)

Ali Campbell’s first solo single ‘That Look In Your Eye’ was released with little ceremony or fanfare yet quickly established itself as a radio favourite and had a creditable 8 week stay in the Top 40. His second single uses a trick he has used with UB40 on many occasions, resurrecting a long lost reggae classic and turning it into a commercial hit. ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ was first a hit for the Pioneers back in 1971 when it reached No.5.


 

27 HOLD ON (Happy Clappers)

One of the more popular dance hits of the moment, the Happy Clappers chart slightly lower than was expected in many quarters. It is their second hit this year, following on from ‘I Believe’ which made No.21 back in June


 

32 SUMMERTIME HEALING (Eusebe)

Summer it is, as if you hadn’t noticed, and there is always a market for a single crafted especially for the occasion. In the spirit of the age, the summer records this year have been based largely around past classics. Shaggy’s remake of ‘In The Summertime’ was the first and here comes another, Eusebe creating a new track around Marvin Gaye’s 1982 classic ‘Sexual Healing’. A small hit I suspect, lacking as much chart potential as it does originality.


 

34 LIVING NEXT DOOR TO ALICE (Smokie featuring Roy Chubby Brown)

OK deep breath, are you ready for this? For most of this year continental dance floors have been filled as a result of a very strange joke. It began in Holland when a DJ there ‘rediscovered’ the old Smokie classic ‘Living Next Door To Alice’ (which first made No.5 here in 1976). Somewhere along the way the joke was created of pausing the song every time ‘Alice’ was mentioned so the crowd could shout “Alice? Who the f*** is Alice?” A record was duly made and Gompie’s ‘Alice (Who The X Is Alice)’ promptly raced up the charts all over Europe. Back in May the concept was exported over here along with the record and the track made a brief appearance in the Top 40 and reached No.34. Call it the British sense of humour if you will, but clearly not enough people got the joke. Around the same time the original artists attempted to cash in on the craze and recorded their own bowlderisation of the song that has kept them on the radio for the past 20 years, teaming up with foul-mouthed comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to add the obscenities. This version made a brief appearance back in May at the lower end of the charts but ultimately lost out to Gompie’s ‘original’ remake. Meanwhile the craze lingered on in Europe, long enough for the usual hordes of British holidaymakers to hear it and create a demand for it back home. This has now prompted the re-release of both versions of the song only for Smokie’s version to curiously emerge the winner at this stage. Quite what will happen now is anyone’s guess. Radio of course will avoid the record like the plague whilst the rest of us will sit and wonder just why shouting ‘Who The F*** is Alice?” should be so funny in the first place.

[2015 James notes: lighten up younger self, and learn to recognise something juvenile and piss funny when you see it.]


 

39 COME ON HOME (Cyndi Lauper)

‘Nuff respect to Cyndi Lauper. Never one to fit into a traditional mould, virtually every single she releases has something to set it apart from all the others, even if this doesn’t always translate into massive commercial success. Not that she is without smash hits though, her last success being her inspired remake of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ which soared to No.4 ten years after her own original version reached No.2. Since then she has fallen back into her usual pattern of having minor hit singles, ‘Come On Home’ follows on from ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ which reached No.37 earlier this year. It’s a shame really as even her smaller hits are fabulous records, the cod-reggae of ‘Come On Home’ proving the point exactly.


 

40 THE KEY (Matt Goss)

Wow, is this going to be fun. The late 1980s saw the phenomenon of the teen idol switch into overdrive. The demise of Wham! in 1986 had left a huge gap in the market for a band of pretty boys making pop music to sell to 13 year old girls. There seemed to be virtually one every year, from A-Ha to Curiosity Killed the Cat until we reached 1988 and Bros exploded onto the scene. They seemed to be a perfect idea, two pretty, blonde, identical twin boys along with a third not-so pretty unrelated member who was offloaded a year later. Matt and Luke Goss became the biggest pair of pin ups Britain had seen in years and scored a string of hit singles which included a Number One in June 1988 in the shape of ‘I Owe You Nothing’. There was, however, one crucial problem. Nobody liked them. You can have all the screaming girls you want buying your records and attending your concerts but if the massed ranks of the music press plus most other record buyers think you are a pair of berks then you are doomed to failure. This is what happened to the Goss twins, no matter what the quality of the music they put out, the industry spent a great deal of time sniggering up its sleeves at the group, noting down every platitude they uttered in interviews and watching, waiting for them to fall. ‘Record Mirror’ in the days when it was a weekly music magazine in its own right even ran a ‘deface the Bros picture’ competition. The end ultimately came, slowly and painfully in 1991 when their third album flopped and their last single ‘Try’ (ironically one of the best things they ever did) only reached No.27. The brothers broke up, reportedly fell out with each other and set out to figure out why the record company had apparantly made more money from the whole affair than they did. Inevitably the music business had not seen the last of the Goss twins. Luke Goss was the first to break cover, forming his own band ‘Like Goss and the Band Of Thieves’ in 1993. He released two singles which deserved better than to just miss the Top 50 and proved himself to be a pretty competent rock vocalist as well as a drummer. Now it is the turn of Matt, Bros’ singer to attempt to launch a solo career. ‘The Key’ is virtually indistinguishable from some Bros album tracks, a funky track that tries desperately to be credible yet spoiled by Matt Goss’ insistence on screeching the vocals. To be fair it is really the choice of song that is wrong, many Bros ballads proved that the lad does have a decent voice but he will need better material than this if he is to end up in the upper reaches of the charts once more.


My only regret? That the internet archive didn’t stumble across dotmusic until 1997 so there was no chance of seeing this piece in its original habitat so to speak. The earliest archived column is one from the spring of 1997.

As far as the Battle Of Britpop is concerned, I guess that has to be the final word. Or at least until I come to write the Top 40 Annual 1995, some time in the next five years or so (at present rate of attrition).

Aug 16

The Battle Of Britpop: The Result

NME-covers---Blur-v-Oasis-017

The most famous singles chart battle of the 1990s very nearly ended before it had even begun. The week before the release Oasis’ label were alerted to a major problem with the design of the sleeve for Roll With It. Tests by chart compilers Millward Brown had revealed that both their own terminals and the EPOS machines of some major retailers were becoming confused by a black border around the all-important barcode and were unable to read it properly. In theory this is normally dealt with by a prompt for the cashier to enter the code manually, but the risk of this being done in error or for frustrated shop workers to skip over it altogether was considered too great to take.

It all meant a herculean effort by both label and distributor staff, stickering or replacing what were estimated to be over 100,000 different CDs over the course of the weekend before release. This meant that shipments of the Oasis single were delayed and so whilst retailers had been delivered boxes of the Blur single before the weekend, many shops opened with empty shelves where the Oasis single should have been until delivery of the discs was taken during the morning.

Stock issues did little to dim the assumption that the crown was Oasis’ for the taking. Based on their previous chart form (where Oasis had reached Number One before but Blur had never charted higher than Number 5) bookmakers made the Gallagher brothers 4/6 to top the charts, canny punters preferring to back the outsider able to get a price of 6/4. Although the major chains were reluctant to reveal too many details, a survey of independent retailers suggested that advance orders for the Oasis single were far higher than those of Blur. It genuinely seemed a foregone conclusion.

Such was the level of interest in the chart race that for the first time the chart publishers drew back the curtain and revealed officially for the very first time that they did indeed obtain running totals of how records were selling. CIN (as they then were) gave the press regular updates on the chart race, enabling the papers to stoke the fires of anticipation all week long.

On Tuesday morning the Oasis camp still had reason to be confident:

tuesday

A genuine regional split was emerging, but perhaps more tellingly a sales gap depending on where you shopped. The more populist HMV chain had Blur edging it, but Tower Records was attracting the Oasis buyers. There was also a split when it came to airplay. By Wednesday the airplay tally was running at 245-173 in favour of Blur on ILR stations. Radio One had a different view however and by the same point midweek had played Roll With It 19 times compared to 15 for Country House.

Three days later the fight appeared to have changed direction dramatically:

thursday

The Daily Express piece unwittingly exposed what, in the final reckoning, was believed to be the decisive factor. Cannily Blur and Food records had struck the better deal with the major retailers, meaning that Country House was selling for just £1.99 compared to the £2.99 it cost to buy the Oasis single (independent shops commanded no buying power and were forced to sell both singles for the ‘standard’ £3.75). Perhaps even more cannily Blur had won the format race. They had two versions of the CD single available, one with the studio recording and the other containing a selection of live tracks (including Country House naturally) recorded at the band’s Mile End Stadium concert on May. Quite how many casual buyers would have found that attractive is open to question, but dedicated fans would have keenly purchased both, giving the Essex boys a further sales edge.

At approximately 6.45pm on Sunday August 20th all was finally revealed as the two records took their place in the charts and their place in history.

2: Oasis – Roll With It

Oasis were popular and their song was good, but in the final reckoning just not quite good or popular enough. Narrowly failing to give them a second Number One single in a row, Roll With It sold 216,000 copies during the course of the week, the highest total of any Number 2 single since Last Christmas by Wham! just over a decade earlier.

1: Blur – Country House

Pricing issues and CD formats aside, what surely swung it for Blur was the fact that at the end of the day Country House was simply the better pop record and with the potential to appeal to a far wider audience than that of their rivals. The culmination of the musical journey the group had been on for the previous two years, channelling the spirits of both The Kinks and The Small Faces to create cheery snapshots of modern life, Country House was the infectious tale of the city banker who retires to the countryside to live in peace with his ailments and addictions. A brightly coloured video starring model Jo Guest and with shades of Benny Hill-esque humour in places only added to the package which would ultimately prove irresistible. Country House sold a huge 274,000 copies that week, a total which by the standards of the preceding ten years was huge but which in 1995 terms actually trailed the 346,000 copies sold in one week by Take That with Back For Good and the phenomenal three week run of 310,000; 460,000; and 320,000 shifted by Robson & Jerome with Unchained Melody. Chart battles be damned, 1995 had already seen some astonishingly high selling singles.


 

Regardless of who “won” or “lost”, the whole week had been a triumph for the music industry as a whole. The singles market overall grew by a massive 41% over the preceding week with 1.7 million singles sold across the board. A knock on effect had been felt by all the other big selling singles of the moment and it was not insignificant that every one of the Top 25 singles that week sold at least 15,000 copies. A week earlier only the Top 17 had reached that total. Indeed it was particularly unlucky for TLC and The Original who both saw their sales increase over those of the preceding week but who fell down the chart regardless.

Blur would release their fourth album The Great Escape a month later, the collection flying to the top of the charts to give them a second Number One album in a row. It duly completed the trilogy of similarly themed albums that had begun with 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish and continued the following year with Parklife. Having reached a commercial high, they then had the room to experiment, the lo-fi approach to 1997’s Blur and 1999’s 13 only enhancing their reputation as musicians. The group would survive a 21st century hiatus to reunite as respected veterans and a proven live draw.

For Oasis the Number 2 single was just another step up the mountain. Released in October, their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory would become one of the defining musical works of its era and a creative peak that many would argue they never quite managed to emulate. Even so, it propelled the group on to such levels of popularity that their third album Be Here Now set a record that is unlikely ever to be equalled, selling 350,000 copies on its first day of release and 696,000 by the end of the sales week – all this on just three days of sales.

Back to 1995 though and there was one final controversial twist to the tale. On September 17th Noel Gallagher was profiled in a piece in The Observer written by journalist Miranda Sawyer. In it she quoted the star discussing his chart rivals in terms which were soon to become notorious.

Observer September 17th

Exactly when this interview took place is open to some debate. Speaking on XFM a decade later to formally recant the comments, Gallagher said: “I was in this dressing room after we played Irvine Beach in that Big Top, and we were all fucked taking drugs – she was taking drugs an all, and I won’t name her on the fucking radio because that’s probably not the best thing legally to do – but I kinda thought we were speaking off the record, but of course there was a tape recorder on”. The Irvine Beach concerts actually took place on 14th and 15th July 1995, a full month before the Battle Of Britpop and indeed the original Observer piece does indeed portray the interview has having taken place backstage at that concert. Yet the infamous “Aids” comment is portrayed as moment of bitterness for losing a chart battle which had not yet happened which makes you wonder just how accurate the account of this particular part of the conversation was. Given that Noel by his own admission was off his head at the time, you do wonder if his only recollection of making the comments he spent the next few years apologising for is based on the Observer piece.


Speaking as a chart fan, and one who had only a month or so earlier been admitted into the inner sanctum of the music industry, being paid by Music Week themselves to write about them online for the first time ever, the Battle Of Britpop was a moment of great excitement. Following a singles chart which, by all accounts, “stopped mattering” sometime in the early 1970s it was rather enjoyable to see such popular attention being paid to the best sellers table outside of the week before Christmas. Over the years that followed such two way battles would continue to grab headlines, perhaps most notoriously in the summer of 2000 when a similar battle between Victoria Beckham and Sophie Ellis-Bextor led to the same levels of media attention, even if the records in question weren’t quite as achingly cool this time around. With the singles chart currently still settling into its new home on Fridays, it would be fun to once again see a proper chart battle inspire mainstream attention once more and to once again hammer home the idea of a race to the top of the charts. For now we have some very fond memories of a very famous Top 40 chart, which you can hear below in full:

Aug 15

The Battle Of Britpop: 10-3

Everyone has times in their life which they can look back on and note just how pivotal they were. At the time I had no idea that the summer of 1995 was anything particularly special, I was simply lost in the kind of blizzard of life activities that are only possible to manage when in the first flush of youth. I’d shuttle from my post-graduation day job creating spreadsheets for an accountancy firm to fanning the flames of my own media career with Saturday afternoon work on the sports show of the local radio station I’d within the year be gracing as a presenter whilst at the same time spending Sunday mornings presenting on hospital radio in an entirely necessary apprenticeship in speaking to virtually nobody. Like preparing to do podcasts I guess.

I will have also eagerly hovered by the computer modem at 1pm that Sunday afternoon, August 20th, preparing for the phone call which would transmit the weekly fax that was at the time the means by which the new chart was delivered to media outlets and people like me. Containing as it did a Top 10 which looked more or less exactly like this:

10: Corona – Try Me Out

The creation of Italian producer Francisco Bontempi, Corona’s flame burned brightly and briefly (at least as far as international success was concerned) but long enough for the group to release a string of Europop hits that gave them a stranglehold on charts across Europe and indeed worldwide throughout 1995 and 1996. Try Me Out was the third of these and duly became their third British Top 10 hit in a row when it peaked at Number 6 for a fortnight in early August, this week its fifth and final one as a Top 10 single. One final original hit followed at the end of the year: I Don’t Want To Be A Star was my personal favourite of theirs but stalled at Number 22. Record label wrangles meant that the group’s next album did not appear until 1998, by which time mid-90s Europop was very much last season’s thing.

9: Seal – Kiss From A Rose/I’m Alive

The second single from Seal’s self-titled second album, Kiss From A Rose had first been released in the summer of 1994, climbing to what seems in retrospect to be a rather lowly Number 20 British chart peak. The singer was at the time rather underwhelmingly marketed, the assumption being that he was enough of a name for his music to speak for itself. Hence the lack of sensation, a situation which led to his next single the dark and brooding Newborn Friend becoming his first single ever to miss the Top 40.

If the public at large did not have much love initially for Kiss From A Rose it was fortunate then that “Batman Forever” director Joel Schumacher did. He wanted the song to use in a love scene in the film and indeed had shot the segment with the song in mind. Oddly enough the song did not end up being used in the scene but was instead played over the end credits of the film, a prime slot to serve as its unofficial theme and ripe to become the smash hit it deserved to be second time around. So it proved. The epic song with its wistful multi-tracked and almost medieval introduction and powerful lung-busting chorus duly became a worldwide smash hit, topping the American charts and in Britain climbing to Number 4, Seal’s biggest chart hit since he opened his solo account with Number 2 single Crazy in 1991. Today the soul ballad stands tall as one of the singer’s greatest ever hits, the defining moment of his career and perhaps regrettably a high point he was never quite able to live up to with subsequent recordings.

8: *new entry* Madonna – Human Nature

Over the years critical analysis has been rather kinder to Madonna’s sixth album Bedtime Stories than many were at the time. Now viewed as the first stage in her 1990s creative renaissance that saw her successfully partner with the hottest new production talent on the block, the collection of songs was a cautious attempt to return to the mainstream following 1992’s Erotica and its attendant naked pictures furore. That said, it was also a period in her career when her chart form became wildly erratic, 1994 single Take A Bow topping the American charts for seven weeks but bringing her record run of consecutive Top 10 singles to a grinding halt when it peaked at a lowly Number 16. Human Nature was the fourth and final single to be taken from the album and you will note that the label stuck doggedly to the originally planned release date, even though its fate was to be largely ignored in favour of the epic battle at the top of the charts and suffered the indignity of not even being the third highest new entry of the week. Following this Number 8 entry point the single had an otherwise unremarkable chart run, dipping to Number 21 in its second week on sale and spending just five weeks on the Top 75, the shortest chart run of any of her singles since the original 1984 issue of Borderline. At the very least it put her in exalted company, as her 35th Top 10 hit it meant she had more than any other act in chart history save for Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. It would be another three years before she released another proper studio album, releasing ballads collection Something To Remember for Christmas 1995 and featuring on the Evita movie soundtrack at the end of 1996 to create a seemingly endless debate about whether this counts as one of ‘her’ Number One albums.

7: JX – Son Of A Gun

So make that three re-issued dance singles on this Top 40 chart and indeed this was effectively the fourth in a row to reach the charts with the hit re-release of Keep Warm by Jinny having finished its Top 40 run a week earlier. JX was the original recording pseudonym of Jake “Rex The Dog” Williams and Son Of A Gun had originally been released in the spring of 1994 when it peaked at a perfectly respectable Number 13. The second JX single You Belong To Me had reached Number 17 a year later, prompting this re-release of his first recording which duly arrived with new mixes and a new-found popularity. The single had entered the chart at Number 6 a week before and this was its second and final appearance in the Top 10. The “he’s a dirty son of a gun” vocal refrain that runs throughout the single was a sample, lifted from 1976 single Ecstacy, Passion & Pain and as performed by Barbara Roy although she received no direct credit for her work. The next JX single would not arrive until May 1996, but There’s Nothing I Won’t Do would prove to be the biggest yet, hitting Number 4 and spending four weeks in the Top 10.

6: *new entry* Clock -Everybody

Strange but true: Clock are in the Guinness Book Of Records for charting with more cover versions of previous hits than any other act, beating even serial revivalists such as Showaddywaddy and Shakin’ Stevens. The group were the creation of producers Stu Allen and Pete Prichard, the original aim being to be a British equivalent of techno act 2 Unlimited. To this end rapper Marcus “ODC MC” Thomas and singer Lorna Sanders were recruited to front the group and they released their first chart single Holding On in 1993. Although 1994 single The Rhythm landed them their first Top 30 hit the formula wasn’t working as well as hoped. Instead Clock switched tack and began to release a series of techno-ed up cover versions of older hits, starting with a remake of Axel F which gave them their first ever big success when it peaked at Number 7 in March 1995. Everybody was their third Top 10 and actually broke the chain of covers, being essentially an original piece of work. I say “essentially” as the track was based for the most part around a vocal sample from Let’s Start The Dance, a 1978 single by disco producer Hamilton Bohannon, the rap by ODC MC the most original part of it. That’s still enough to actually ensure the single has more artistic merit than much of the rest of their catalogue and as a British act performing note-perfect eurodance they are actually fairly unique. Clock’s producers were also notable for reworking their singles into darker and harder versions, often released under pseudonyms such as Visa and indeed Everybody even in its chart-friendly version although unashamedly Europop contains enough Happy Hardcore elements to make it an oddly compelling listen. Looking back on my notes from the time, I’m reminded of having written about their entertaining live performances earlier in the year only to receive an email from their management thanking me for my comments and bemoaning the fact that they were struggling to get booked to perform.

5: TLC – Waterfalls

Phase I of TLC’s career was their 1992 debut album Oooooooh… On The TLC Tip, produced by LA and Babyface and during the time when they were managed by LA Reid’s wife Perri “Pebbles” Reid. After extracting themselves from the bulk of their management deal the trio recruited a range of producers (including Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri and a tyro Puff Daddy) for help with second album CrazySexyCool, and it is at this point we find them deep in the middle of Phase II of what is at all times a quite extraordinary story. Although still marketed as a trio, the CrazySexyCool album for the most part just featured Tionne Watkins and Rozonda Thomas, Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes limited in her involvement thanks to a spell in rehab and working the probation incurred after an attempt to burn her boyfriend’s shoes only succeeded in immolating the entire apartment. Released as the album’s third single, the Organized Noise-produced Waterfalls quickly became their most successful single so far, both in Britain and around the world. By its second week it had become their first ever British Top 10 hit single, peaking at Number 4 in early August, this coinciding with the bizarre news that all three members had filed for bankruptcy in America, the remnants of their previous management contract meaning that despite their extended success they were all effectively penniless. The extraordinary tale of TLC would eventually move on to Phase III, the No Scrubs era and Left-Eye’s rehabilitation as the decade turned into one of the most in-demand guest rappers of note – that is until her tragic death in 2002. Of all their singles Waterfalls remains one of the most memorable, even if only for its status as one of Twitter’s most common and enduring mondegreens.

4: Take That – Never Forget

Although nobody knew it at the time, mid-1995 saw Take That reach both a career high and hit a brand new low. The high was thanks to their third album Nobody Else which continued their near-continuous run of Number One hits, the second of which was the career-defining ballad Back For Good with which they had stolen the show at the Brit Awards ceremony that year and which remains to this day Gary Barlow’s finest moment as a songwriter. As for the low – well we’ll come to that in a moment.

Based on first impressions, Never Forget was an unlikely choice as the album’s third single. In its original album mix it was a rather limp, lifeless and meandering track with little suggestion that it was anything more than filler. For single release however the song was almost entirely revamped, reworked by the seemingly unlikely hand of Jim Steinman, best known for work with rock acts like Meat Loaf but with a history that indicated he was more than capable of working with pop acts too. In later years Gary Barlow would speak in awed tones of the experience of working with the producer, the song ending up with so many musical tracks it had to be mixed on two studios daisy chained together as it grew too large to fit on one desk. But it was all worth it. Never Forget became the grandest, majestic and most impressively realisd single of their career, Howard Donald’s lead vocals augmented by choirs of boy sopranos, a synthesized orchestra and a wall of sound climax that left the listener breathless by the time the five and a half minute epic (six and a half in its full version) finally died away. It was a Number One, the seventh of their career thus far, but then again just about everything they put their name to at that stage was.

As an added twist however the release of Never Forget was preceded by what at the time was quite earth shattering news. After a memorable “lost weekend” as the guest of Oasis backstage at Glastonbury, Robbie Williams decided he was no longer comfortable in the confines of a pop group and quit. Not since Alan Longmuir departed the Bay City Rollers two decades earlier had a pop group which inspired such hero worship discarded a core member in mid flow. Take That were thus forced to continue as a four-piece.

It all made the lyrics of Never Forget all the more poignant, the song itself a lament about the journey that must be taken to achieve success and how it is always important to remind oneself of the struggle it has taken. “We’re not invincible”, the song noted, “some day this will be someone else’s dream.” The parallels with their real life dramas could not have been more poignant. More pertinently however the departure of Robbie Williams made promotion of the single slightly awkward. Although, as already noted, the song was a rare vehicle for Howard Donald on lead vocals (complete with thick Manchester accent: “we’ve ‘ad gud tahms”), Robbie could clearly be heard singing on the bridge and a new edit for TV performances was hastily prepared. 16 years later the reformed Take That, newly reunited with Robbie Williams too, performed Never Forget on the 2010 Children In Need Show, the significance of it being the first time they had ever performed it as a five piece going all but unnoticed. Aside from those of us who understood the true significance.

After three weeks lodged at Number One, Never Forget finally succumbed to the Britpop hurricane, dropping three places to rest here at Number 4. For all the hype and fuss the single actually only sold around 374,000 copies, a drop compared to the near one million shifted by Back For Good earlier in the year. The loss of Robbie Williams dealt the group what appeared to be a fatal blow and after one more farewell single, a cover of How Deep Is Your Love at the start of 1996, they split up. For ten years anyway.

3: The Original – I Luv U Baby

Another club track having a second bite at the cherry, although this time around it was a track which had first charted just a few months earlier. I Luv U Baby had originally been released in January only to limp to Number 31 and vanish. Continuing popularity with DJs meant it became one of the first big Ibiza anthems of the summer, making a re-release all but inevitable. Second time around the single scored big, charging to Number 2 and spending four weeks in the Top 10. The Original were a front for two producers, Italian Giuseppe Nuzzo and Frenchman Walter Taieb but the singer on the track was American Everett Bradley. At the time an otherwise unknown Broadway performer, Bradley would eventually become an award winning producer and director, graduating eventually to playing drums in the E Street Band at the turn of the century. I Luv U Baby was the one and only chart hit by The Original but it remains one of the most fondly remembered hits of its era. And of course, it was the biggest selling single of the week NOT performed by Blur or Oasis.


It was at this point in proceedings that Mark Goodier on the Radio One chart show did something that was itself rather historic. Having reached the Number 3 position he paused the chart and ran the traditional climactic countdown a record early. The real reason everyone had tuned in, the real purpose of the hype and the outcome of one of the most famous sales battles of its era was about to be revealed. So it could hardly hurt to prolong the tension just a few minutes more.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Coming next: the result of that battle, some behind the scenes revelations you may not have previously been aware of and just what happened when the dust finally cleared. The 20th anniversary of the Battle Of Britpop is about to reach its conclusion.

Aug 14

The Battle Of Britpop: 20-11

By the middle of August the heatwave of the summer of 1995 was starting to have knock-on consequences for water supply, with the extended drought causing added pressure to be put on already depleted water stocks. Most heavily hit was the newly-privatised Yorkshire Water which became the first of the new independent water companies to seek government permission to impose restrictions and start drawing water from rivers. It proved controversial once it was revealed that the company’s infrastructure was leaking more than 100 million gallons a day whilst it raked in pre-tax profits of £142million in 1994. Working in local radio in the region as I did at the time, I remember this was a public service gift to us. Yorkshire Water bought every scrap of airtime they could get their hands on in a PR exercise whilst the station itself ran regular “water watch” bulletins that lasted throughout the autumn.

bradford

This week in 1995 also saw a rather curious row envelop the London Evening Standard when it mixed up an on-spec submission by the son of government minister Michael Howard with a commissioned article from former Labour minister Bryan Gould, the result being an implication that one of the Labour party’s own former loyalists was suggesting that first time voters would not be inclined to vote for Tony Blair.

gould

In sport, boxing fans erupted in fury when Mike Tyson’s extensively promoted comeback fight following his two year spell in prison ended in farcial scenes after just a minute and a half. Fighting carefully selected cannon fodder Peter McNeeley, Tyson had floored his opponent with two lefts and right, but as the referee was escorting Tyson to a neutral corner, McNeeley’s manager entered the ring and thus disqualified his charge. Tyson picked up $25million for just 90 seconds work.

And finally on a lighter note, this was also the week when an American man named Patrick Combs decided for a prank to try to cash in a promotional cheque for $95,000 he had received in a mailing. Despite being labelled as a specimen, the bank cashed it anyway and spent the next few months desperately trying to recover the money from him. Combs used the tale of his experience to build a career as a motivational speaker and author, and the full story is recounted in detail on his own website.

combs

Enough topical trivia already, let’s return to the music. Today (August 14th) marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the two famous Britpop singles, as well as the extended string of other new entries on this particular chart.

20: Supergrass- Alright/Time

Supergrass had spent most of 1995 edging steadily towards the mainstream. Although the major label re-release of their debut single Caught By The Fuzz had narrowly missed the Top 40 in October 1994 they had broken through in the new year with Mansize Rooster hitting Number 20 and their third single Lenny even managing to graze the Top 10 when it charted at Number 10 in its first week on release in May. Such was the demand for the group’s material that a limited edition American single release of Lose It saw enough copies imported here for the single to skirt the Top 75 in March. Put simply, the four piece group from Oxford were on the verge of major success no matter what.

So it was really little more than a bonus that their fourth single ended up being the most joyous, infectious and above all commercially appealing piece of music they ever put their name to. One of the defining moments of what came to be seen as the Golden Summer of Britpop, Alright was a raucous and perhaps most importantly summery anthem that sang the joys of being young, free and innocent. Together with a suitably wacky video why saw the group cavorting Monkees-style in Portmerion it was a more or less irresistible package. The single shot to Number 2 upon release, lodging there for a fortnight to become far and away the biggest hit the group would ever put their name too.

The group only too conscious of its potential to become an albatross around their necks, the song an atypically upbeat pop record which bore only a passing resemblance to their other work (the more bluesy track Time on the other side of the single all but ignored despite its status as a double a-sided release). The group released no further singles from debut album I Should Co-Co, declining to follow up their smash hit until well into 1996. By the end of the decade they had dropped the song from concert sets altogether – I remember seeing one Supergrass gig at an event in 2003 where Gaz Coombes cattily responded “yeah, I’m all right – are you?” to audience requests for their most familiar song. Still, the legacy of Alright lives on, the track having featured on film soundtracks and in TV commercials on a regular basis ever since. Twenty years on it is hard to convey the sense of excitement and joy of seeing a single that you knew from the very moment it began was destined to become an all time classic riding high in the contemporary pop charts. But here we are two decades later with the song sounding as fresh and joyful as it did back then.

19: *new entry* Real McCoy – Come And Get Your Love

Never the most enthusiastic of frontsmen, the Real McCoy were a vehicle for German rapper and producer Olaf “O-Jay” Jeglitza, the performing alias for his cheeky cover of Technotronic’s Pump Up The Jam which became a hit in Germany in preference to the original in 1989. A handful of other German only singles followed before 1993 single Another Night (by now credited to the fictional MC Sar & The Real McCoy) became a widespread continental smash, although the single stalled in Britain at Number 61. The track caught the attention of Arista records boss Clive Davis who was fresh from transforming Swedish eurobeat act Ace Of Base into American superstars and wanted to repeat the trick with another European act.

So it was that the Real McCoy were given the full major label treatment, a re-worked Another Night becoming a major American hit at the end of 1994 and a Number 2 smash hit in Britain at the same time. After two more chart hits the MC Sar branding was finally dropped, making this fourth hit the first to be credited to The Real McCoy alone. The single was a barely recognisable cover of the Redbone track of the same name, perhaps not entirely by coincidence the song which had been used by Cyndi Lauper for the reworking of her own Girls Just Wanna Have Fun a year earlier. Entering here at Number 19 it would prove to be the last major chart single for Jeglitza and female companions, the group’s final single release of the year Automatic Lover (Call For Love) crashing out at Number 58. A second major label album One More Time was released in 1997 but failed to spawn any hits, after which the group disbanded.

18: Outhere Brothers – Boom Boom Boom

Just as 2011 was the summer of LMFAO, so too 1995 was arguably the summer of the Outhere Brothers. The thrust of the two acts is essentially the same: cheeky, bubbly and ever so slightly rude rap hits that somehow have the power to dominate both club and radio airplay and batter the innocent listener into submission. During the summer of 1995 it was more or less impossible to walk down a high street without being blasted by a car stereo pumping out the Outhere Brothers, the duo briefly the most ubiquitous and perhaps over-exposed act of their time. Keith Mayberry and Lamar Mahone had been working as writers and producers in the hip-hop industry for some time, their names most notably featuring on the credits for the evergreen Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Yet it was under their Outhere Brothers moniker that they briefly became one of the hottest names in Europe, topping the British charts first with Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) in March 1995 and then with the even ruder Boom Boom Boom which lodged at Number One for four weeks in early summer, selling over 600,000 copies to end up as the year’s 11th biggest seller. The aforementioned Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) only sold a few thousand copies less and was itself 1995’s 14th biggest seller. Both their Number One singles had the curious distinction of being knocked from Number One by the unstoppable force of Take That singles, Back For Good doing for the first and Never Forget sweeping aside this one. Two more Top 10 hits followed before the end of the year but then the phenomenon was over just as soon as it began, their only other hit single coming in January 1997 when Let Me Hear You Say ‘Ole ‘Ole crept to Number 18.

17: Boyzone – So Good

Boyzone’s fourth single, their third British hit and one of their first tentative forays into original pop material. So Good was a single which tried its hardest to to be a bright and breezy radio-friendly smash with a killer pop chorus but which was let down by the still slightly ropey vocals of the group members who were still growing into their roles as performers. Compare this to the similarly fashioned Picture Of You which they would release two years later and the different is like night and day as one single fires on all cylinders whilst the other never quite splutters into life. Still for all that Boyzone were the second biggest pop group around at the time (behind Take That of course) and they were more or less guaranteed hit singles out of the gate. So Good charged to Number 3 on release and spent a fortnight there before zooming back down the charts. It remains however one of their lesser starred greatest hits.

16: Suggs – I’m Only Sleeping/Off On Holiday

Follow Madness’ celebrated 1992 reunion and elevation into the status of true national treasures, their lead singer took his own steps to establishing his own mainstream celebrity with TV hosting duties and an inevitable solo album – one that he claimed at the time was an exercise in restoring his personal finances to some level of health. With reggae superstars Sly and Robbie on production duties the album The Lone Ranger was a pleasing mix of new material and carefully selected cover versions. Case in point was this lead single, led by a jaunty cover version of I’m Only Sleeping which originally appeared on The Beatles’ seminal Revolver album. With the able assistance of Louchie Lou and Michie One, Suggs transformed the song into a jaunty ska romp and had a worthwhile Number 7 hit in early August 1995. The album’s most successful single would turn out to be another cover, his own take on Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia hitting Number 4 in May 1996. You will note that the criticisms I levelled at the Ali Campbell record in the last instalment don’t apply here – Suggs’ record was crammed with the kind of tracks you got the feeling he had been dying to record for years but which simply would not have worked within the strictures of Madness. This was his moment of personal creative freedom and he took it in a manner which may not necessarily have been original or enduring but which was throwaway fun and was sold to us on those exact terms.

15: *new entry* Michelle Gayle – Happy Just To Be With You

Originally a child actress and a star of Grange Hill in the 1980s (featuring a storyline which saw her become part of hip-hop duo Fresh & Fly) Michelle Gayle graduated to the cast of Eastenders, playing the part of Hattie Tavernier for several years. It was during this period that she landed her first hit single, the Narada Michael Walden-produced Looking Up which may have only hit Number 11 but remains one of the best singles ever to be released by a soap opera star and indeed ranks as one of the most gloriously uplifting soul-pop tracks of the first half of the decade. Continuing to be blessed with some rather inspired choices of material, plus a genuine talent as a singer and performer, Michelle Gayle remained a regular visitor to the singles charts during the course of the decade. Happy Just To Be With You was her second hit single of 1995, a disco flavored track based heavily around the borrowed bassline from Good Times by Chic. Entering the charts here this week it would rise to Number 11 seven days later, narrowly failing to become her second Top 10 hit single. That would come with her next release two years later when Do You Know reached Number 6 and led to my first personal encounter with her – an occasion documented here.

14: *new entry* Xpansions 95 – Move Your Body

The second of three re-awakened dance hits on this chart, Move Your Body was actually the most veteran of them all. First released as Elevation in October 1990 the single had reached Number 49 before being re-released as Move Your Body (Elevation) in the new year whereupon the track hit Number 7. Four and a half years later the club classic returned to the Top 20 complete with a new series of remixes, albeit this time with slightly less impact than before. Xpansions was an alias for club DJ Richie Malone whilst the female singer on the track was Sally Ann Marsh for whom this represented the high point of her career as a singer but whose acting and voiceover work has kept her in the public eye ever since.

13: Deuce- On The Bible

Deuce were a creation of Tom Watkins, a vehicle largely for the performing talents of Kelly O’Keefe who had caught his eye whilst she was on work experience at his office during studies at the Brit School. Quickly forming a pop group of two men and two women in the traditional ABBA template, the manager steered his charges to a string of moderately successful hits during the course of 1995, one of which I Need You had even been submitted for consideration as Britain’s Eurovision Song Contest entry that year. On The Bible was their third and final Top 20 hit single, coinciding with the release of their one and only album On The Loose. As an interesting aside this particular Top 40 chart was historical for a very different reason, the first ever to feature no singles climbing and improving on their previous chart positions. Deuce, along with Alanis Morrissette, were the only acts to come close, the two sole non-movers on the countdown. Plans for a fourth Deuce single were aborted at the end of the year when O’Keefe quit the group and they were dropped by London records. Recruiting new members the group soldiered on with one more smaller hit single No Surrender in late 1996 and an attempt to fan the flames of success in Australia but it all came to nothing. The group’s most notable claim to fame is perhaps being as the first ever performing role for Lisa Armstrong, now best known as a TV make-up expert and in her personal role as Mrs Ant McPartlin.

12: *new entry* Charlatans – Just When You’re Thinking Things Over

The biggest hit single from the Charlatans’ self-titled fourth album, released just a week ahead of its own release. Hitting Number 12 the track duly became one of the group’s biggest chart singles for some time, taking them to a chart peak they had not scaled since Then also reached Number 12 in September 1990. Given that the group’s first hits saw them chart contemporaries with the early years of Blur it seemed only appropriate that they charted in the same week that their fellow Madchester-era survivors also ascended to a new level of stardom. The Charlatans’ own greatest chart successes were still ahead of them with the trio of Top 10 singles from their next album Tellin’ Stories their commercial high point, although poignantly it would be without keyboard player Rob Collins who was killed in a car crash during the recording of the album. Just When You’re Thinking Things Over is thus poignantly the last Charlatans single on which he would feature during his lifetime.

11: Diana King – Shy Guy

Signed by Sony Music as the next big thing in reggae, Diana King landed a hit single right out of the gate with Shy Guy, thanks in part to its use on the soundtrack of the Will Smith film Bad Boys. Crashing the Top 10 the moment it was released, Shy Guy would become one of the more enduring pop hits of the summer, spending seven weeks in the Top 10 and ultimately peaking at Number 2. Indeed this was the start of the single’s chart decline, the first time since release it had not been a Top 10 record. It was the 25th biggest selling single of 1995 and remains surprisingly fresh and entertaining 20 years later. Diana King would have two more Top 20 hits over the next two years but would never release anything that came close to the impact of this explosive debut.

For those struggling to keep count, there have now been 11 new entries on this most manic of Top 40 charts, leaving another four to come. There may have been no Michael Jackson, but August 14th 1995 remained a genuine Manic Monday – quite apart from the only two records that anyone seemed to be talking about.

Aug 13

The Battle Of Britpop: 30-21

As you grow older the memories of individual summers seem to fold into one another. However the abiding memory of this particular summer of 1995 is that of the heat. It was, to put it mildly, a scorcher with a 17 day unbroken stretch of sunshine enough to make it the most prolonged spell of good weather since the heatwave of 1976. Temperatures peaked at the start of August with a high of 35.2C, enough to make it the hottest day for five years. Small wonder a battle between two pop records was enough to send people crazy. But we’ve still some way to go to get to that. Here’s the Top 30 as revealed on August 20th 1995:

30: Moist – Push

Hehe moist.

Sorry, was forgetting myself for a moment. Despite the juvenile humour provoked by their name, Moist were actually achingly credible alternative rockers from Canada. Push is considered to be their signature track, the lead single from their 1994 debut album Silver and the one which helped to make both the name and reputation of the group. The song had two goes at becoming a British hit single, reaching Number 35 when first released in November 1994 before managing to reach Number 20 in the summer of 1995 when re-released to coincide with their first ever British live dates. In between two more singles: Freaky Be Beautiful and the album’s title track had also been released but both fell short of the Top 40. Push would remain Moist’s one and only British Top 40 single although they would release two more albums during the 1990s before taking a hiatus, reforming for new material in 2014.

29: Levellers – Hope St.

Having taken huge strides towards the mainstream with their self-titled third album in 1993, Brighton’s favourite alternative folk band continued to make commercial progress with the release of the follow-up Zeitgeist in 1995. Their fourth album turned out to be far and away their most successful even if its attendant hit singles continued their frustrating run of never quite reaching the Top 10. Case in point was this lead track, Hope St. peaking for two weeks at Number 12, their fifth Top 20 hit in a run of seven but bizarrely their third to peak in twelfth place on the charts. Their most enduring chart hit would arrive at the end of the year, drinking anthem Just The One (with a guest performance from Joe Strummer) would spend four weeks over the Christmas period hovering around the upper end of the Top 20. It’s eventual peak? Number 12, naturally.

28: Shamen – Destination Eschaton

Three years on from their Boss Drum album and the attendant notoriety it brought thanks to a long string of hit singles (including seminal Number One classic Ebeneezer Goode) The Shamen attempted to pick up where they left off with their seventh album Axis Mutatis. Second time around the formula of electronic house and out with the fairies lyrics wasn’t quite as successful and even their most ardent admirers couldn’t help but admit the formula had become tired rather quickly. The album’s lead single was this track Destination Eschaton and although it made a respectable enough Number 15 in its first week on release it had slumped to this Number 28 position a week later. It was destined to be their final Top 20 hit, the remaining singles from the album failing to hit even these dizzy heights and the group’s run of hits fizzled out with a Number 35 remix of Move Any Mountain in the closing weeks of 1996.

27: *new entry* Happy Clappers – Hold On

Four piece (or five if you count singer Sandra Edwards) British dance act Happy Clappers are inevitably most fondly remembered for their signature hit I Believe, a track which has the extraordinary distinction of being released on four different occasions over three years. After missing out first time around in 1994 the track reached Number 21 in June 1995, Number 7 the following November and then Number 28 in a remixed form at the tail end of 1997. All of which inevitably overshadows the fact that they did produce a handful of other hit singles, of which this was the second. Hold On charted here less than two months after I Believe had finally become a hit for the first time but its destiny was to peak here at Number 27 and be largely forgotten by history. Wikipedia notes that the Happy Clappers did have plans for a whole album of this stuff only for the group to fall apart over financial issues before it could be released. One of the group was Mark Topham who would later find greater fortune partnering with Karl Twigg to be at the production helm of most of Steps’ singles and albums.

26: U2 – Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me

As the world waited for the recording which would eventually become 1997’s Pop album, U2 plugged the gap neatly with this one-off single as their contribution to the soundtrack of the movie “Batman Forever”. Originally recorded as part of the sessions for their 1993 album Zooropa, the off-cut actually stands tall as one of U2’s best singles of the 1990s. A lavish, majestic and dare I say it cinematic production neatly complements Bono’s growled vocals on a track which marks a fascinating step in the development of the group towards their wildly experimental late 1990s period. An instantaneous Number 2 the moment it was released, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me would ultimately spend eight weeks in the Top 10, more than any other U2 single before or since and it remains to this day one of their biggest selling singles ever. A genuine high point of their 1990s output.

25: *new entry* Ali Campbell – Let Your Yeah Be Yeah

Whilst UB40 took a brief break, the group’s de-facto lead singer stepped out of the shadows to record what was at the time intended to be a one-off solo album Big Love. Although lead single That Look In Your Eye was a comfortable Number 5 hit, subsequent releases from the album struggled a little. The problem was largely that of pointlessness. With the name and legacy of UB40 behind him, Ali Campbell was the distinctive voice of one of the most celebrated British reggae groups of all time. As a solo artist however he was largely irrelevant, producing tracks that might as well have been UB40 tracks and which in all truth would have benefited from the presence of his bandmates. It appeared he had no urge to explore musical avenues his work with the group would have otherwise prevented or to release material that would not have fitted on one of their albums. Neither then did we have any reason to care. Originally written by Jimmy Cliff, Let Your Yeah Be Yeah had originally been a Number 5 hit for the Pioneers in 1971. Ali Campbell’s version entered the chart here at Number 25 and tumbled a week later. Before reuniting with UB40 the singer would have one more solo chart single, a rather extraordinary version of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra song Something Stupid with his then seven year old daughter Kibibi playing the female role. This new twist on a father-daughter duet peaked at Number 30 just before Christmas.

24: Felix – Don’t You Want Me

One of the most famous and enduring club tracks of its era, Felix’s Don’t You Want Me is another of those 1990s dance hits which was re-released and re-promoted on a number of occasions. Created by DJ Francis Wright and based largely around a vocal sample of Jomanda’s Don’t You Want My Love, the track was first released in 1991 but it was not until the summer of 1992 that it charted for the first time, a remix by a pre-Faithless Rollo Armstrong propelling it neatly to Number 6. As one of a veritable blizzard of early 90s dance classics repackaged and re-promoted in the summer of 1995, this re-release came with the obligatory scattering of new remixes and ensured that the single made the Top 10 for a second time, hitting Number 10 upon release in early August. Just over a year later the track was back again, reaching Number 17 after a re-release following its use as the soundtrack to a rather famous Tango commercial. With such a relentless series of chart entries it is hardly surprising that Don’t You Want Me has such the reputation it does, one of the defining moments of 1990s dance and one of a tiny handful of DJ-created club tracks which can genuinely be labelled an all-time classic.

23: *new entry* Bjork – Isobel

The second single to be taken from Post, the third solo album from the former Sugarcubes singer and Iceland’s most successful musical export. Isobel temporarily brought Bjork’s run of successful Top 20 hit singles to an end when it failed to climb beyond this Number 23 entry point, although in truth it was a rather curious choice for single release. A meandering trip-hop track co-written and produced by Nellie Hooper it may well have been one of the album’s standout tracks but a commercial pop record it most certainly was not. Although admittedly the same could be said about the vast majority of her hit singles during the 1990s. She wasn’t about the commercial, just the creative and unusual which was naturally a large part of her appeal. Truth be told though most observers were waiting for the single release of the album’s most notorious moment, her extraordinary take on jazz standard It’s Oh So Quiet which would eventually emerge as the album’s third single in late November and which would peak at Number 4 during an eight week run in the Top 10.

22: Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know

Another single that really needs no introduction here, You Oughta Know was the single which introduced Alanis Morrissette to a wider world and marked the transformation of the Canadian singer into a global star, leaving behind the bubblegum pop with which she had made her name in her home country. 20 years on the vengeful and angry single still has the power to make you sit up and pay attention, the tale of the spurned woman venting her bitterness in a sometimes shockingly explicit manner easily one of the most extraordinary female rock singles of its era. Yet for all that You Oughta Know was only ever a minor chart hit in Britain, stalling here at Number 22 for a fortnight. Her Jagged Little Pill album from which the single was taken also took time to catch fire and it was not until the summer of 1996 when singles Head Over Feet and most famously of all Ironic became sizable chart hits that its sales finally took off. Speculation rages to this day as to just who the subject of the song is, comedian Dave Coulier one of a number of her ex-boyfriends to have admitted in the past that some of the lyrics hit uncomfortably close to home.

21: Connells – 74-75

Presenting one of the great one hit wonders of our time as North Carolina rock band The Connell’s landed their one and only British hit single with this gently strummed tale of class reunions and resurrected love. Originally taken from their fifth album Ring released in 1993, the track did not catch fire internationally until two years later when it became a Number 14 hit and an enduring airplay staple. My notes from the time suggest that the arrival of 74-75 on the the British charts came after a seemingly relentless promotional push with its video getting an airing on just about every TV show possible, leading to its now permanent status as a staple of every Greatest Relaxed Easy Listening Acoustic Radio Driving Anthems In The World Ever compilation released.

Aug 12

The Battle Of Britpop: 40-31

38 other singles made up the Top 40 in the week of the big Blur v Oasis battle, not that anyone would have particularly noticed at the time. Nonetheless the higher than usual level of casual interest in the singles chart will have meant that at least some were of more than passing attention to the new batch of chart fans. Or simply those sitting down to listen to the Radio One Top 40 show for the first time in a while. Here is the bottom end, the title of each single will link to its presence on Spotify (where available) and indeed there will be a full playlist soon of as much of this chart as the online services can manage.

40: *new entry* Matt Goss – The Key

One of the most famous pop stars in the country at the end of the 1980s, the new decade had not been kind to Matt Goss. Bros had finally fizzled out in 1991 when their disastrous third album Changing Faces sank almost without trace, their run of hit singles dried up and all but the most dedicated of Brosettes moved onto other things. Mainly real boys and snakebite. Matt and Luke Goss then reportedly fell out for a brief period, the brotherly schism coinciding with the discovery of the true nature of their management contract with Tom Watkins which essentially saw them doing most of the work for the smallest share of the money. Despite for years being portrayed as nothing more than the drummer of the outfit it was Luke Goss who made the first attempt at post-Bros fame. forming rock group The Band Of Thieves and releasing two well regarded singles in 1993 although neither managed to reach the Top 40. Two years later it was Matt Goss’ turn to have a go at solo stardom. The Key was a genuine effort to roll the dice and re-invent the teen idol as a brand new credible music star, a skittering house beat and a new-found vocal attitude meant that taken on its own merits this was actually a worthwhile musical effort. Sadly the stigma of his previous pop life still lingered and this was a single purchased by the dwindling band of Bros devotees and sniggered at by everyone else. This Number 40 entry was as far as it got, leaving the singer to go away and re-think his solo plans before making a further attempt a year later. Extraordinarily that wasn’t quite the end of the story for The Key, Italian house producers Minimal Chic reworking the track in 2004 and releasing it with the full co-operation of the singer. Sadly second time around the single fared even worse, limping to Number 54 in October that year.

39: *new entry* Cyndi Lauper – Come On Home

It would have been all too easy for Cyndi Lauper to have promoted her 1994 Greatest Hits collection with a straightforward re-release of her seminal 1984 hit Girls’ Just Wanna Have Fun. Which is probably why she didn’t. Instead she did something more inspired and re-recorded it in an almost totally different style. The new version slowed the tempo down and mashed the track up with the chorus and melody from Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love, taking the familiar song onto an entire new level. The result was her biggest hit single for five years in Britain, the newly retitled Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun) climbing to Number 4 in October 1994 and restoring much of the damage done to her career by unloved 1993 album Hat Full Of Stars. Come On Home was the third and final single to be lifted from her 12 Deadly Cyns.. And Then Some hits album, a track available in two different versions depending on where you purchased the album. The European version was a fun cod-reggae pop record that borrowed copiously from Bitty McLean’s Here I Stand and if the stars had been aligned correctly might well have gone on to become another sizeable hit. Sadly they were not and the single stalled here at Number 39, her penultimate chart hit single in Britian.

38: Shaggy featuring Rayvon – In The Summertime

A single from the period just before Orville Burrell’s elevation to true global stardom, this single arriving just a few months prior to the release of the Levi’s advert soundtrack Boombastic, a record which would take him to the top of the charts across the globe. For now there was this track, a typically chirpy take on the famous Mungo Jerry song (which surely requires no introduction here). The first single to be lifted from his third album (also called Boombastic) it was a comfortable Top 5 hit single and is perhaps most notable for being his first chart collaboration with singer Rayvon with whom he would team up again in 2001 on Number One single Angel.

37: Shiva – Freedom

A three piece dance outfit based in Huddersfield, Shiva were producers Gino Piscitelli and Paul Ross with the group fronted by statesque blonde singer Louise Dean. Their first release Work It Out had crept to Number 35 in May 1995 and there was a general assumption that they were destined for far greater things with subsequent releases. Then tragedy struck. Crossing the road outside a nightclub in Leeds, Louise was struck by a hit and run driver and passed away from her injuries shortly after. The record label immediately pulled the planned release of the group’s second single Freedom, only to recant their decision when her family insisted it would be the perfect tribute to her to see it make the charts. The resultant attention was enough to propel the single to Number 18, perhaps a disappointment under the circumstances but maybe a placing appropriate to its overall merit as a club record. Listening back to the track now it is all too apparent just how talented a singer she was, the Shiva singles almost certainly just a stepping off point on a career as a dance diva of some considerable note. An utterly tragic waste of life.

36: A.D.A.M. feauring Amy – Zombie

One of the standout tracks on the second Cranberries album No Need To Argue, Zombie was a powerful and hard hitting protest song, combining references to the 1916 Easter Rising with expressions of anger at the tragic deaths of Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry who had been killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993. Released in October 1994, the single peaked at Number 14 and remains to this day one of the most notable tracks of their career. None of which goes even part of the way to explaining this Eurodance cover by Italian act A.D.A.M. (the name a combination of the initials of the four men involved). Trampling all over the political and emotional significance of the original, the dance remake of Zombie became bizarrely popular across Europe in the summer of 1995 and peaked at Number 16 in Britain in the week of its release.

As a comments thread below notes, the UK release of the single on Eternal records actually came with a remix which was unique to this country. Track 1 of the 12-inch single (the only format readily available) was the “Adams & Gielen Club Mix” which was as a result played most in clubs and which is the version commonly found on compilation albums from the era. However buried deep on Side 2 is a three minute radio edit of the track called the “Eternal Airplay Mix” which has a more ‘pop’ flavour and which naturally picked up the lions’ share of radio spins. So for familiarity purposes, this is the version featured below even if the one in your own library may well be a different mix.

35: Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You

Ah now this is more like it. The erstwhile lead singer of Orange Juice had made brief stabs at a solo career since his old band broke up but suffered from a lack of sales traction until the 1994 release of his third album Gorgeous George. The highlight of the album was easily A Girl Like You, based around a Len Barry drum beat and a buzzing lead guitar, the single was all at once deliciously retro and excitingly contemporary. Naturally enough it flopped first time around. Despite widespread acclaim and a place on many critics lists as one of the best singles of the year, the first release of the song as the lead track on the Expressly EP saw it limp to Number 42 in November 1994. A nation of music fans mourned. Yet where Britain failed to catch on, the rest of Europe led the way. The single made Top 10 on charts across the continent and topped the pile in France for several weeks – all of which was enough to convince the label to give Britain another try. Re-released in June 1995 the single crashed onto the chart just outside the Top 10 and proceeded to edge its way up slowly, moving 13-10-10-9-9 before eventually peaking at Number 4 to become far and away the biggest hit single of Edwyn Collins’ career. He would never again hit these kind of heights, his only other solo Top 40 hit arriving in 1997 when The Magic Piper (Of Love) crept to Number 32.

34: *new entry* Smokie featuring Roy Chubby Brown – Who The Fuck Is Alice

Think the summer of 1995 was defined by the Battle Of Britpop? Not a bit of it I’m afraid. It was the summer of the ‘Alice’ wars. Now get ready because this is where it gets complicated.

The phenomenon began in Holland, Nikmegen to be precise and a cafe bar called Gompie. Resident DJ Onno Pesler was extremely fond of Living Next Door To Alice, a Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman composition. Originally recorded by folk rockers Smokie, the track became one of their most successful British hit singles when it made Number 5 in the first weeks of 1977 and would remain essentially their signature song. Even before the madness. Gradually Pesler’s spinning of 70s hit turned into an audience participation cult, as he faded the record down after each rendition of the chorus refrain for the assembled crowd to shout “who the fuck is Alice?” back at him. So a legend was born.

The ‘Alice’ show was witnessed by a passing Dutch record label boss who quickly spotted the commercial potential. He enlisted singer Peter Koeelewijn to record the song complete with its newly minted post-chorus profanity. Credited to ‘Gompie’ in a tribute to the bar where the phenomenon began the single was a huge hit across the Benelux countries, naturally enough topping the Dutch chart with ease.

All of this was to the initial confusion of Smokie themselves who noticed that their own performances of their signature song during continental shows were being augmented by an entirely new form of audience participation. Pressed by their label at the time to capitalise with their own version, the group swiftly re-recorded the track by enlisting long-time friend Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to provide a suitably comedic intervention in between the verses and during the chorus. The new Smokie version of Living Next Door To Alice had been finished and was ready for release when the group’s tour bus crashed in Germany during a hailstorm. Most badly injured of all was lead singer Alan Barton – formerly of Black Lace but who had been singing with Smokie since 1986 when their original lead singer Chris Norman left the group. Barton’s injuries were unsurvivable and he passed away in March 1995 at the age of 41.

So it was that the initial British release of Living Next Door To Alice (Who The Fuck Is Alice) became effectively a final tribute to the group’s late singer. Yet despite the goodwill that preceded its release the single ran into a problem – namely the challenge of the “original” Dutch version by Gompie which was promoted at the same time. Whilst the Smokie single languished at the bottom end of the Top 75, the Gompie single became a decent sized hit, creeping into the Top 40 to Number 34 during a brief chart run in May 1995 – one which was inevitably restricted by a lack of airplay and consequently mainstream exposure for the now rather rude single.

That might so easily have been the end of the story, but then the summer holidays intervened. With discos and entertainment venues across the continent still playing Who The Fuck Is Alice in heavy rotation it inevitably promoted a new, higher level of demand for the remade song. Both the Smokie and Gompie singles were hastily re-released, only this time the fortunes were reversed. This then was the chart re-entry of the Smokie version, the start of a chart run which would eventually see the single peak at Number 3 in early October, two places higher than the original recording and at a stroke equalling Smokie’s highest ever chart placing – matching that of their 1975 debut If You Think You Know How To Love Me. The single would eventually sell just shy of half a million copies, ending up as the year’s 18th biggest seller. As for the Gompie version, well that too would return to the singles chart, re-entering a week later for its own chart run which would see it ultimately climb to a Number 17 peak.

For such big selling and notorious single there is precious little trace of the actual hit version online – one suspects the presence of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown on the single meaning it is stuck in rights hell. So here instead is a slightly murky copy of the rather sanitised performance from the edition of Top Of The Pops broadcast on October 5th 1995, new lead singer Mike Craft now taking his place at the microphone.

33: Tina Arena – Heaven Help My Heart

Tina Arena had been famous in her native Australia for over two decades before making her international breakthrough. A former child star, she had released four albums and a greatest hits collection before her 1995 album Don’t Ask finally made her name outside her home country. The album’s lead single Chains had landed her a Top 10 hit single when released in Britain in April 1995 but it was a high point she was subsequently never quite able to match. This track was her second British chart hit, and was here sliding down the chart after reaching a rather lowly Number 25 peak. The build up to the single’s release was most notable for a fun incident on the Radio One breakfast show. Then host Chris Evans played about sixty seconds of the track before yanking it off and announcing that it was more suitable for Radio Two. He thus dispatched a member of his team with the CD to invade Terry Wogan’s show on the ‘other side’ with a note that it was a gift from the “ginger tom”. Back to Tina Arena however, and three more Top 40 hits would follow over the next three years before she sank back into antipodean obscurity.

32: *new entry* Eusebe – Summertime Healing

Short lived hip-hop group Eusebe were a family affair, formed by brother and sister Steve and Sharon Eusebe along with their cousin Alison Etienne (previously famous for a bit part in Grange Hill in the 1980s). After releasing their debut single Pick It Up, Fuck It Up And Drop It on their own label in 1994 they were swiftly snapped up by EMI and released their one and only album Tales From Momma’s Yard the following year. Summertime Healing was their sole hit single, an ever so slightly disrespectful reworking of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing which was duly stripped of its soul and funk roots to become a bubbly pop-flavoured rap hit. As long as you did not focus too hard on the original song it was channelling it is less offensive than you might thing and in truth still sounds fresh and inviting today. A new entry here, this was as far as the single got as far as chart success was concerned, diving out of the Top 40 the following week. Steve Eusebe still lives and breathes music, working as a music teacher and youth advocate.

31: Ash – Girl From Mars

Theoretically needing no introduction here, this was the celebrated breakthrough single from Ash, charting in the summer of 1995 when many of the group’s members were still awaiting their A-level results, such was their tender age and the rapid way they had been propelled to stardom. It had actually been preceded by two earlier singles, debut release Petrol in the summer of 1994 (No.96) and Kung Fu which peaked at Number 57 in April 1995. As far as mainstream audiences were concerned this Number 11 hit was their chart debut and one which set the group off on a run of hits which lasted until 2010.

Aug 11

The Battle Of Britpop: Introduction

It was a columnist in music industry magazine Music Week who first flagged up the issue. Writing in July 1995 they noted that August 14th was set to be the industry’s own “manic Monday” with circumstances ensuring that a greater than usual array of big music names had all lined up releases for that day. As well as singles from hot female stars like Bjork and Michelle Gayle (no, really) there were more or less nailed on dance smashes from Clock and The Real McCoy, but perhaps most significantly of all both Madonna and Michael Jackson had new singles listed for the date. The fact that British rock stars Oasis and Blur were also down for an August 14th release seemed small beer in comparison.

In the weeks that followed some juggling of dates took place. Both Madonna and Jackson saw their singles pushed back a week, only for the Madonna single Human Nature to return to its original date when it was noted that there was still going to be an unwanted Michael Jackson-related collision. That still however left two big names in the frame. Blur with their eagerly anticipated new single Country House, the first single from their forthcoming Great Escape album and Oasis with a new song called Roll With It, the follow-up to Some Might Say which had given them their first ever Number One single back in May and the second single from their still untitled second album.

The potential clash of dates came as something of a shock to EMI, the newly minted owners of Blur’s label Food. Their history had one of being studiously avoiding such potential battles, with even releases by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arranged to mutual convenience to ensure the two apparent rival acts never truly went head to head. But their hand was forced. The Great Escape was due for release in mid-September and conventional marketing practice was for the lead single to be given several weeks to bed in before challenging its sales with competition from the parent album. In any event, the promotional plans for the single were set in stone and could not be moved without some difficulty. It was all down to Creation Records boss Alan McGee who had no such qualms and had spotted the potential for mischief. With the Oasis v Blur rivalry having been stoked by his charges in interviews since the start of the year it seemed the most logical thing in the world to have the two acts duel it out in the charts as well. The release of the Oasis single was moved to directly spoil Blur’s party and there it would stay.

The resultant “Battle Of Britpop” was immediately seized upon by the popular (and indeed quality) press, glad of something to fill column inches with during the summer. By the time August 14th  arrived anticipation had been stoked up into a frenzy. This was a battle for a generation, a head to head fight to see who were the true icons of cool. The fact that it made the singles charts the most relevant they had been outside a Christmas period for some considerable time seemed almost a sideline by comparison.

As the 20th anniversary of the occasion approaches there will inevitably be a string of retrospective pieces published across the net and in the printed press and it seemed foolish not to leap about that particular bandwagon too. But what I want to do is put it all in its proper context, that of the rest of the singles chart that week and the records which the two bands were competing against themselves. Over the next few days then I’ll publish a full countdown of the Top 40 singles that week and their place in popular culture. Once we get to the top and THAT battle (the result of which everyone is now familiar with) I’ll put that in its own context and hopefully reveal some trivia that you won’t necessarily read anywhere else.

Stand by then for a quite fascinating ride and an iconic moment in British musical history. One which not only prompted (as you might expect) news reports on children’s television.

But also, as extraordinary as it may seem, serious editorials in the most highbrow of newspapers.

Timeseditorial

Aug 09

The Day Cilla Failed

Having stuttered for a while, the late Cilla Black’s career as a pop star finally fizzled out in 1974 when her single Baby We Can’t Go Wrong made a brief journey into the lower end of the Top 40. She would continue to release singles throughout the rest of the 1970s (even appearing on Top Of The Pops in May 1978 to perform the song Silly Boy) but as far as the mainstream was concerned her musical career was all but dead in the water.

It meant that her past as a singer was little more than a faded memory by the time she emerged as the pre-eminent TV light entertainment star of her era in the mid 1980s. Her only public performances were the weekly singing of the “Surprise Surprise” theme (itself released unsuccessfully as a single in 1985) and the occasional musical interlude during the show. It wasn’t, so the narrative goes, until the screening of the ITV biopic “Cilla” in 2014 that the public were reminded of her roots as a pop star and contemporary of the Merseybeat groups.

Except that this almost wasn’t the case at all, for just over 20 years earlier a big budget and intensely promoted campaign had attempted to resurrect Cilla Black’s musical career, only to end in what in all fairness has to be viewed as utter abject failure.

The project was the brainchild of Rick Blaskey who along with producer Charlie Skarbeck ran (and indeed still does) a company called Music and Media. A genuine pioneer and believer in the synergy between the music business and other areas of entertainment, he had already landed a huge success with the World In Union project in 1991, an album of recorded music associated with the Rugby World Cup of that year, its lasting legacy being the title song which has remained the anthem of the IRB competition ever since. Blaskey believed he was the one to restore Cilla Black to the pop charts after a break of nearly two decades.

Reaching out to her agent, a meeting was brokered in the summer of 1992 between Cilla and Bobby Willis, the pair arriving with no preconceptions and waiting to be convinced that there was indeed a market for music performed by the top rated TV star. The pitch however was compelling. The producers argued that properly crafted and carefully selected songs could help the sixties star reach the same audience as the likes of Barry Manilow or Cliff Richard. They were going unashamedly for the mature, middle of the road audience, a path down which guaranteed success surely lay.

It was Cilla Black herself who noted that 1993 would mark the thirtieth anniversary of her career in show business and the release of her first ever single Love Of The Loved. The timing seemed perfect, for here was now a hook on which to hang the whole project. With the deal signed, the multi-platform nature of the project suddenly began to come together. Her employers LWT expressed an interest in staging a celebratory TV special and a book deal for “Cilla Black – My Life In Pictures” was swiftly signed as well. September 1993 was going to be Cilla Black month across the board.

The resultant collection of songs Cilla Black – Through The Years was hailed in the press as “the album of her life”. An array of stars were lined up to participate on many of the tracks. A cover of Streets Of London was graced with the presence of original composer Ralph McTell on guitar; a new song Heart And Soul was recorded with Dusty Springfield; Cliff Richard duetted on a cover of That’s What Friends Are For and after debuting the song in a surprise appearance at a concert of his at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1993, Barry Manilow himself participated on a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. This was big budget, major star power stuff. Rounding off the running order of the album were new versions of old favourites, with Cilla re-recording Anyone Who Had A Heart and You’re My World after a near 30 year break.throughtheyears

It was hoped that the star could be returned to the singles chart as well, giving the album an exposure and a radio presence right the way through until Christmas. Leading the way would be the title track in September ahead of its release, followed by the Dusty duet in October and the Barry Manilow performance slated for a possible pre-Christmas single.

Cilla Black – Through The Years was also to be the ‘album of the week’ on BBC Radio Two in the week of its release, and the network had even planned a Cilla Black day for September 27th. The campaign had been planned in precise detail it seemed. Surely this couldn’t fail.

Yet bizarrely it did. The first mistake was perhaps taking the singer out of her comfort zone and putting her in a position to have her performing frailties exposed to a large audience. Whilst it may have seemed an inspired move to book her for a Top Of The Pops appearance to promote the album’s first single, the show was still at that stage in its “everyone must perform live” period. The resulting performance on September 2nd 1993 was nothing less than a car crash.

Daily Express

It surely did not help that Through The Years, far from the sensational pop comeback it was planned to be was instead a turgid, under-melodied affair. Lacking anything approaching soul or emotion, Cilla Black’s live performance descended to cabaret level. Often off key, she crooned the disaster of a song to a badly disinterested audience in a manner that was more Hilda Ogden than forgotten diva. It hardly seems necessary to note that the single bombed, creeping into the charts at Number 54 and vanishing as swiftly as it came.

chartrun

If better things were hoped for the album then these were too to be dashed. Cilla Black’s carefully crafted, lovingly compiled and intensely promoted comeback album was released on Monday September 20th 1993 and landed on the album chart at a mere Number 62. The 90 minute LWT special screened that weekend helped a little, lifting it to Number 41 the following week but the collection never charted again. The presumption that there was a huge audience desperate to take Cilla Black to their hearts once again as a singing sensation had proved to be hopelessly wide of the mark. The promised second single with Dusty Springfield did indeed materialise the following month but Heart And Soul only limped to Number 75 and although you could have easily forgiven the label for throwing in the towel at that point, the third single was indeed released in December but failed to chart at all.

Sometimes sneered at as the cloakroom girl got lucky, Cilla Black suffers slightly in that her most famous recordings, the brace of big ballad Number One hits from 1964, were both unrepresentative of much of her later work and indeed not the most ideal showcase for her voice. She was more at home with swinging upbeat numbers such as Surround Yourself With Sorrow or my personal favourite Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight). There she could sparkle with the kind of charm and personality that would sustain her celebrity almost until her death. Nonetheless it was clear that as a singer she had a limited shelf life, something first flagged up by her original manager Brian Epstein who was already pushing her towards a television career just before he died.

As a presenter and entertainer she was in her element on screen, both in her musical spectaculars of the 60s and 70s and as the mumsy and affectionate host of long running smashes such as “Blind Date”. Her previous musical career was merely the starting point of her fame and a long-forgotten irrelevance to the vast majority of her fans.

This is arguably why Through The Years was destined to fail. In a fit of misguided nostalgia she was persuaded to revisit the part of her past which had served her well at the time but which was no longer the core part of her personal brand. People might have bought into her as a middle of the road star like Cliff or Manilow had she been emerging from obscurity. But she wasn’t. Cilla the TV star was the person they all loved. Cilla the singer people could take or leave. And when she warbled out of key on Top Of The Pops – they left.

Jul 13

A Lover Not A Dancer

Even the most ardent aficionado of the whole Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman body of work will admit that the 1981 album Bad For Good is one that is hard to love. The cycle of songs that was reportedly supposed to form the second Meat Loaf album, the follow-up to global smash hit Bat Out Of Hell but the project had been beset by so many delays that its writer and producer despaired of the singer ever finding the time to actually make the record. More pertinently the label were becoming restless.

So Steinman recorded the album himself. A prospect that strayed on the wrong side of tantalising thanks to the simple truth that though a writer and musician of some considerable merit, as a singer he could do little more than yowl with all the soul of a recently trodden on cat. In all fairness he knew that himself, pitching the arrangements on many of the tracks on Bad For Good carefully so he never quite has to stretch his reedy tones into the realms of ludicrousness. For those tracks when the tune was clearly beyond him he enlisted long time backing singer Rory Dodd (he of “turn around, bright eyes” fame on a certain 1983 Number One hit) to supply the vocals instead. Even this was however very much a case of making do and on the album’s most famous cut, the original version of Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through, Dodd too demonstrates just why he plied his trade for years as the bloke in the background singing “oooh” and “aaah” in the most dramatic fashion he can muster.

Yet for all its vocal flaws Bad For Good remains an oddly compelling listen, an important step along the musical journey that would spawn both the 1989 Pandora’s Box album Original Sin and Meat Loaf’s own triumphant 1993 behemoth Bat Out Of Hell II. These are still ludicrous, bombastic yet oddly moving and romantic rock songs, all taking place in a universe where everyone is a horny teenager forever and where music and sex are intertwined as part of the same spiritual goal. All part of a package which was ultimately only let down by its final presentation.

One of those songs however is one which I’ve come to regard as something of a forgotten classic. A bold, breathless and insanely entertaining epic which unlike many of the album’s other songs has never been reworked or re-appropriated by any other act. Conventional wisdom (and WIkipedia) has it that the only official single lifted from Bad For Good was the aforementioned Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through. But there was actually a second, one which had a lavishly staged video filmed for it and which YouTube has preserved for us in full.

Dance In My Pants was singled out by reviewers of the album in rather negative terms for it was essentially a reworking of Paradise By The Dashboard Light on Bat Out Of Hell: a battle of the sexes male and female duet, dressed up in a rock and roll romp and long enough to be divided into several movements as if a core part of the libretto of a musical. Yet it is actually one of the better tracks from the album as it is by and large driven by someone who can actually sing the melody put in front of her.

karla1

Karla DeVito had begun her career working in musical theatre in Chicago, performing as part of the casts of Godspell and Hair. She joined the Steinman circus during the early promotion for Bat Out Of Hell, singing backing vocals and indeed she appears in the promotional videos for many of the songs, lip syncing (not always to great success) to the vocals performed by Ellen Foley on the record. DeVito was also at Meat’s side for the famous set he performed live on BBC Television for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978. She was therefore the perfect choice to step into Ellen Foley’s shoes for the only female lead vocal on the follow-up.

For Dance In My Pants Karla is the protagonist. A chirpy, enthusiastic character so enchanted by music and dancing that she simply has no time for lovers of any kind.

There’s a drummer going at it,
Way down in the core of my soul,
There’s no escaping the music,
And I’m psyching up my feet
And they’re telling me we’re ready to roll.

Quintessential Steinman in the opening lines of the song, working his common theme that music is a deep, primal and all-enveloping passion which can move you on a spiritual as well as a physical level.

karla2

Karla explains how she started the day feeling depressed and blue, but the music lifted her and now there is just no stopping the feeling inside.

I got dance in my pants,
Every time I feel the power of a radio wave,
I turn it up all the way

We continue in this vein for three minutes and all is well with the world. Apart from in Jim’s world. Because at this point he enters the song and makes it plain he has other things on his mind.

I’m a lover not a dancer,
Don’t want to be on my feet when I can be on my back,
Don’t want to be on the floor when I can be in the sack,
I’m a lover not a dancer, baby,
And baby let me prove it to you,

jim1

The pair proceed to dance around each other, both lyrically and physically as Karla suggests the ways they can be together in dance and Jim returns to his blunt attempts at seduction.

It is at this point in the song that the parallels to Paradise By The Dashboard Light kick in as it enters an extended instrumental break punctuated by a back and forth narrative between the pair as Karla persuades Jim that all he needs is a little practice whilst embarking on what we are left to presume is a blizzard of dance moves which finally brings him round to her way of thinking. We emerge, breathless into another rendition of he chorus, performed by both together this time as the seduction – her of him – is complete.

karlajim

The song appears to be starting to wind down at this point as Karla returns to the melody (unused since) of the opening lines:

When they decide that I’m gone,
I know they’ll try to put me to rest,
But I won’t be afraid,
Because I know that there’s dance after dance,

This is the cue then for the song’s euphoric coda as Steinman turns to another of his favourite lyrical themes and sticks two fingers in the face of death. Both boy and girl pledge to each other that they will end their days dancing.

I don’t ever wanna be rescued,
And I don’t ever wanna be saved,
I got a feeling that I’m gonna be alive forever,
Dancing on the edge of the grave.

jim2

Paradise By The Dashboard Light ended with the protagonists stranded together forever in loveless torment. Dance In My Pants ends in euphoric joy as they race together into the sunset filled with a love of music, dancing and we presume each other. It goes almost unnoticed that early in the song Karla acknowledges “sooner or later, we’ll get around to the love” – so in truth there was never any doubt that randy old Jim was going to get what he was after. He just needed to earn it first.

The single of Dance In My Pants was only ever issued in Britain and The Netherlands at the tail end of 1981 but failed to chart in either, hence you suspect its status as being forgotten by history – although it has been known to appear in Meat Loaf live sets over the years, despite the star never having recorded his own version on any of his own albums. Jim Steinman subsequently retreated from the microphone, reuniting with Meat Loaf that same year for the Dead Ringer album which was released almost contemporaneously with the final unsuccessful single from his own work. Karla DeVito also released her own solo album in 1981 before returning to the stage. She succeeded Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates Of Penzance on Broadway where she was cast opposite her future husband Robby Benson. After impressing Sarah Brightman she screen tested for the lead role in a then mooted film version of Evita and would have indeed played the part had the film not taken another 15 years to be made. After becoming a mother she took a step back from performing but has been active again in recording and producing since the turn of the century.

One of the best things about the new social media age is that it is possible to reach out to the stars and your idols and tell them how much you appreciate the parts of their work that others might have forgotten. So it was that last year I was inspired to contact DeVito herself and tell her:

To which she joyfully replied:

The best music is that which somehow reaches deep into your soul, lifts you into joy out of even the bleakest darkness and makes you yearn to sing or dance yourself or even just to perform and express that joy physically and vocally. Karla DeVito and Jim Steinman made such a record once, one which is now buried deep in the grooves of a half-forgotten and hard to love album. I’m glad to have the chance to shine a light on it just a little here.

Jul 04

From Mezzoforte to Propellerheads

The phrase “end of an era” is perhaps sometimes overused by writers like myself, groping for the correct way to describe a change being made to something with a history and a legacy, but it is hard to escape the feeling that this weekend marks the final chapter of a decades old broadcasting tradition.

The Radio One chart show isn’t ending of course, merely moving to a new place in the schedules, but at 7pm tomorrow (Sunday) Clara Amfo will for the very last time play the best selling single of the week at the climax of the weekend. It is actually the direct descendant of a show which bounded around the schedules for the first few years of its existence The first edition of “Pick Of The Pops” listed by the Radio Times went out at 9pm on Tuesday October 4th 1955 on the Light Programme, a show where we were told host Franklin Engelmann would “make a selection from the top shelf of current gramophone records”. By the time David Jacobs became established as host of a show which was now “a review of the current best-selling popular records” a few years later the show was a Saturday night fixture, although sometimes relegated to the very end of the day by sporting coverage. It was not until 1962 when Alan Freeman took over the show with which he is synonymous that it moved to its now traditional Sunday evening slot – the place it has remained ever since.

I first became aware of the existence of this show around 1981. With the house’s newly-acquired radio cassette player I was encouraged to compile a series of tapes for car journeys during the summer holidays. Tony Blackburn’s “Junior Choice” was the most obvious place to start, the tape paused and unpaused for spins of the Wonder Woman theme and other such delights, but I was also directed towards the Sunday night Top 40 show (also with Blackburn in control) where I collected a suitable set of the latest hits for play on hot afternoons hurtling down a French autoroute.

I finally became properly hooked five years later by which time Bruno Brookes was the incumbent of the show. Plugging in to my newly-discovered keenness of for the wealth of facts and statistics that the school library’s copy of British Hit Singles had inspired, I swiftly fell in love with the pace and the rhythm of the show. The singers who chanted the position of each song, the breathless countdown of each set of ten singles (all set to Mezzoforte’s Rockall) but most especially Bruno’s opening speech where he welcomed us to “Europe’s most listened-to radio show”, a script which I soon learned by heart and chanted along with him each week.

The announcement in 1987 that the show was to change format was another watershed in my teenage years, the Sunday night Top 40 show now gifted the chance to reveal the brand new singles chart live on air, rather than just reciting a five day old countdown as had previously been the case. The tape of that show from October 4th 1987 remains an oddly compelling listen to this day, featuring as it did the short-lived conceit that the positions were being decided one by one as they happened with songs having “moved around in the last 20 minutes” to finally settle on their official places. A few years ago I wrote a song by song recap of that particular historic broadcast which can be found in a series of posts starting here.

Teenage exuberance aside, the Top 40 show was the one radio programme it almost hurt to miss each week. Over the years I have offered up many suggestions to friends and family as to why I wanted to work on the radio, but I’m convinced that at the heart of it was the thrill of the chart show and the feeling that more than anything else in the world I wanted the chance to do it too. As a lover of pop music how could I not want the chance to tell people just what the biggest and the best songs of the week were? Plus of course I knew the opening script by heart. I’d be perfect for the job.

I’m sure I’m far from unique, the ritual of the Sunday chart show one that stretches across generations and into the lives of countless thousands. Everyone grew up with “their” favourite presenter or used it as the soundtrack to their last minute dashing off of weekend homework essays. So of course it will be hard not to shed a tear when Radio One signs off on Sunday afternoons for the last time ever. A 53 year radio tradition will soon be no more.

Then again in five days time we’ll start all over again, the Official Chart Show now in a Friday afternoon slot to coincide with the launch of Global Release Day, the catalyst for this whole change. Indeed the Official Charts Company themselves are hyping this up as a move to an increased number of chart shows across the Radio One schedules, the ‘midweek’ update now moving to Monday and the Friday afternoon chart show now paired with the brand new 60 minute show on Sunday evenings which will recap the Number One hits across a range of genre charts. And so too will another generation fall in love with the routine. Only this time one which will mark the start of the weekend, not the end.

Back in 2008 (almost six years ago now – how scary) I was less than impressed with the way the programme was being presented and produced a special one-off podcast examining the various styles of chart show presentation in an attempt to work out how the show had evolved from a straightforward countdown of records to a more general entertainment show that just so happened to have the chart reveal as its climax. I interviewed several hosts, both former and present and the show remains to this day one of the few times presenters such as Stephanie Hirst, Lucio and Joel Ross have gone on the record about what radio chart shows meant to them. Copies of it still circulate today although the production values on the original were not quite up to the standards I set for myself today.

So here for the sheer hell of it is a slightly remixed version of the original show – Counting Down The Hits – pending a full reworking coming soon where I’ll re-record the narration and try to bring its conclusions up to date.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.