Mar 23

Gotta Get Down On Friday

Back in my formative years the only way to hear the brand new singles chart ‘live’ was to break the rules. Smuggling a Walkman or transistor radio into school to catch the moment at 1pm each Tuesday when the brand new singles chart was unveiled on Radio One. Yes, there was always the more detailed recap by Peter Powell or Bruno Brookes later that evening, but you already knew who was at the top of the charts. It was a recap, not a reveal.

All that changed in October 1987 when the march of technology finally meant that the weekly sales tabulations could actually be produced within 24 hours of the last shop closing. The Sunday afternoon chart show on Radio One was all of a sudden transformed from the laid-back recounting of a Top 40 list that was already five days old and which had featured on Top Of The Pops three days earlier into a dramatic, vibrant broadcast of record. As the hype breathlessly explained, both the public and the stars themselves were about to find out live just where their favourite records were. That very first “live” chart show was a significant and exciting moment in my own upbringing, and you can read my memories of that particular broadcast here.

Now for the first time in almost 28 years the publication date of the British charts is set to change once more. As a direct consequence of the decision by the music industry to move towards a global release date for music and most importantly for that date to be a Friday rather than a Sunday or a Monday, the scope of the chart week and thus the publication date has to move with it.

So it is now official. As of this summer it will be farewell to the long-standing tradition of a Sunday afternoon chart show on the radio. Instead the new countdown will be compiled based on sales stretching from Friday through to Thursday with the new countdown unveiled by Radio One between 4pm and 6pm every Friday evening as part of what is currently Greg James’ show. Instead of beginning the week with a new singles and albums chart, we start the weekend with a brand new countdown.

Now inevitably there will be the cries of “shame” from those stuck in a mental rut, reluctant to embrace change and wedded to the idea that things should always remain the way they remember them no matter what. This is however something very exciting for a number of reasons:

  • The Radio One chart show is now moved from what had increasingly become a graveyard slot into a high profile prime time place on the schedule. Five million people listen to Radio One in the afternoons, that’s almost three times the audience the “old” Top 40 show was pulling in. Suddenly the brand chart becomes part of the entertainment for people travelling home from school and from work. That’s a massive, profile-lifting boost.
  • The chart show is also freed from the head to head battle it has been locked in for the past 30 years, moved out of the way of commercial radio’s Big Top 40 show against which it has increasingly proved to be wilting. Whilst there does exist the possibility that the radio groups could move their chart show to match, it seems unlikely at least in the short term. Sunday evening suits them nicely for a syndicated show, with most stations in weekend networking at that time already. Friday afternoons are still one of the few times radio stations have local live programming and they will be very reluctant (not to mention in many cases prohibited by Ofcom) to scale those back in favour of yet more syndicated network broadcasts.
  • High profile music slots on big ticket entertainment shows suddenly become even more important than before. Whilst an appearance on Graham Norton or Strictly or X Factor was always a guarantee of a sales boost, there was a delay in this registering on the published charts. Whilst we’ll still have to wait a week to see just how much of a sales boost a single received from a TV slot, it will show up on the very next chart to be published – rather than the next but one as happens at present.

There will be other consequences too, not least for publications like Music Week which currently hit the streets and inboxes on Thursday. We’ll almost certainly see the music industry’s publication of record shift back to a Monday street date, given that it will be pointless the magazine printing a music chart the moment it is set to go out of date. Or maybe they will abandon charts in the print version altogether now that the Official Charts Company’s own site appears to have taken on the mantle of being the source of record for the data.

Either way this is the latest step in what over the past few years has been a dramatic transformation to the way the music industry calculates, produces and presents its favourite self-fulfilling marketing tool. For the second summer running the British music charts are about to get a whole new look and feel.

Full details can be found on the Official Charts Company website.

Mar 14

Viva La Difference

Anyone who is even the tiniest bit interested in the British charts cannot fail to have noticed the dramatic transformation that the Official Charts Company website has undergone of late. Having listened carefully to what chart fans truly wanted they have undertaken a dramatic transformation not only of their corporate presence but also their entire approach to their archive. Finally we have, officially, a near complete set of singles and albums charts, dating right the way back to the 1950s and all online for browsing. Complete chart histories for each song are just a click away, a comprehensive entry for each artist can be pulled up (except for those with non-alphanumeric characters in their name, a bug which has been flagged but remains uncorrected) and it is possible to jump to any chart in history just by typing in a date. I’ve a groaning shelf of printed books that has been instantly rendered obsolete.

Behind the scenes they have been careful to make sure things are as accurate as possible. Those of us who beta tested the site prior to launch were asked among other things to double check that particular chart listings were correct, and I made a special point of browsing those countdowns which for one reason or another were tweaked and corrected in between broadcast and publication. However it is this very desire for completeness which has had one extraordinary and possibly unforeseen consequence. A hitherto unpublished chart which has for 16 years lain unnoticed in the database is now live for the record – and in the process has rewritten some small parts of singles chart history.

Specifically it is the chart for the week ending July 10th 1999, first broadcast by Radio One on July 4th and which, as this BBC news story from the time recounts, was based on incomplete data.

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As the story goes on to note, missing the data for an entire chain for the whole week was unprecedented and to re-calculate the chart would cause a huge problem, allowing business rivals to compare the two figures side by side and work out the market share of Virgin and Our Price, the protection of which was enshrined in the confidentiality clauses of the agreements that led to sales data being supplied to them in the first place.

Several weeks later the clamour to correct the error became too great. As I noted in my own column of August 7th that year:

It seems like the done thing to demand chart re-runs at the moment. Both the music and the mainstream press gave much coverage to the row that erupted a few weeks ago when it emerged that a chart published earlier in the month was lacking data from some of the larger record chains, resulting in the data for some singles being badly skewed. Both Blur and Semisonic felt aggrieved by this as both Coffee + TV and Secret Smile were expected to land inside the Top 10 but instead were listed as falling some way short. After much behind the scenes muttering their pleas were heard and the relevant chart (the one for the first week of July) is to be recalculated with the missing data the benefit of the record books (and indeed overseas marketing).

Except that as usual I was only partially correct. The 10/7 chart was indeed recompiled with the missing shop data added and the results added to the master chart database. But it remained hidden and unpublished, with the result that every reference book ever since has remained true to the broadcast version and which was printed in Music Week that week. As a consequence several tracks went down in history with what should now be noted as the “wrong” chart peak.

The most high profile single to be affected was Viva La Radio by Lolly. Here is the relevant section of the singles chart that week as published in Music Week:

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Here is the relevant section of the chart, as taken from the Virgin Book of Top 40 charts:

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And here is Lolly’s entry from the third edition of the Complete Book Of The British Charts:

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The record has until now gone down in history as a Number 6 hit, having entered the chart that week, diving down to Number 12 seven days later. But not so according the data now to be found on the Official Charts company website. As of now Viva La Radio goes down in history as a Number 7 hit:

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In actual fact there are no less than 10 singles on that week’s Top 40 which have their chart peaks revised up or down. For example: Word Up by Melanie G is now a Number 13 hit, not Number 14; No Pigeons by Sporty Thievz is a Number 16 hit rather than Number 21; and The Animal Song by Savage Garden is demoted from Number 16 to Number 18.

The ultimate irony however has to be the fate of the two singles whose labels originally kicked up such a fuss and who forced the hand of both Millward Brown and CIN (as they were back then) in re-compiling to hopefully give both the Top 10 berths they appeared to be heading for as of midweek. Coffee + TV by Blur does not move on the revised countdown and remains a Number 11 hit. Secret Smile by Semisonic did indeed benefit, but only to the tune of one place, revised upwards from Number 13 to Number 12.

However perhaps the most significant change is much lower down and which concerns one single whose sales appeared to be entirely concentrated in branches of either Virgin or Our Price who were clearly the only chains who had chosen to stock it in any numbers. Five years ago I told the story of Australian hit Buses And Trains by Bachelor Girl and how it had been released and promoted here thanks to the urging of the managers of one particular group of radio stations. The original chart of July 10th 1999 had listed the track as a Number 84 hit, thus killing off any prospects of the single becoming a UK hit. Maybe that would never have been the case anyway, but as the revised chart now shows the single was slightly more popular than anyone has ever realised.

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Feb 22

Way Too Fast

Now if you want to be picky about these things then technically Coventry indie-pop band The Primitives are not one hit wonders. They can boast a grand total of four Top 40 hits and a chart history that extended into the 1990s, although if their September 1989 near miss Secrets is a core part of the soundtrack of your life, you can at least relax in the knowledge that it is a moment that doesn’t belong to too many others.

No, their destiny is to be forever defined by one single in particular. A single which peaked at Number 5 in March 1988 and which has resonated with surprising consistency across the generations since. It is also rather surprisingly hard to track down on YouTube, with no video available (if indeed it ever had one to begin with – I confess I cannot actually recall) so instead you’ll have to make do with this needledrop by a helpful fan:

Just what is it that makes the barely two and a half minute Crash so utterly memorable and a joy still to hear? My own theory is that it has three distinctive musical hooks which make it the ultimate earworm. To get all onomatopoeic for a moment the single has a guitar melody which goes jangle-jangle, a rhythm track which goes chugga-chugga and a chorus vocal which goes na-na-na. This is essentially a record which grasps spectacularly at every base musical instinct a human being has. And it is glorious.

Even in 1988 though Crash was just another hit single, mentioned in dispatches as one of the moments of the year but little regarded thereafter. Its place in popular culture was largely only cemented almost seven years later when the producers of hit film “Dumb and Dumber” chose it for use on the film’s soundtrack. Yet here lay the problem. The Farelly brothers liked the song but felt it lacked just a little something and requested the track be reworked to better fit the scene they intended it for. By then the Primitives had split up and crucially had lost control of their catalogue of recordings. There was therefore little they could do about the transformation of their song into the version heard on the film soundtrack. The new “remix” overdubbed extra guitars, organs and even new backing vocals, extended the song to include an instrumental break and arguably in the process shattered completely the elegant simplicity of the original production. It should be noted that none of the original members of the band participated in the re-recording. Crash ’95 was a Primitives track in name only.

Yet such was the profile of the film that the ’95 arrangement has unwittingly become the default rendering of the song. Many cover versions since have been based on the re-recording rather than the song as originally published – most notably the one performed by Matt Willis for another film soundtrack (“Mr Bean’s Holiday”) in 2007 and which reached Number 31 in the British charts when released as a single that year.

There is just one place you can be sure of hearing the Primitives’ version of Crash with regularity on the airwaves, and that is if you listen to Absolute Radio. Yet gratingly and jarringly and to my own obsessive annoyance they have until recently insisted on spinning is the ’95 remake rather than the original. I was always baffled as to why. This was after all never released as a single. Not one person who took time out to buy a copy of Crash will have paid money for the remake – one which we must remember featured none of the group themselves and which was made without their consent. For a radio station which is more or less unique amongst commercial operators in Britain in selling itself on the respect it has for the music and the variety of its playlist it always seemed a strange oversight that it had one classic single in rotation in what was effectively the ‘wrong’ version.

Various attempts to point this out on social media and through industry contacts met with no response, so eventually I sent an email directly to James Curran their head of music querying the use of the song. As it turned out they were indeed aware of the issue and he explained the background why:

I think it was effectively a hereditary issue in that was always the version that had been played on Absolute and on Virgin Radio before it ( from which we inherited the database!) . We did get the very odd complaint about playing the 90s version but it was hardly a flood and it was clear it was no great issue for the vast majority of listeners . To be honest unless you know your music inside out , as you obviously do James , I really don’t think most listeners knew the difference between the two versions or were even aware that two versions existed – daft as that may seem most people have a different relationship with music from the one that ‘musos’ like you and I have ! But then you and I love the detail ! In a way the 90s version , perhaps because of those overdubs, has a slightly fuller radio sound but on reflection we came to the decision to revert to the original because this was the original hit version after all.

You can actually understand why in the dim and distant past someone did make the decision to go with the wrong version. The overdubbed version of the song is indeed a better “radio” track in the sense it is beefier, has a proper guitar break and perhaps most crucially of all runs around three and a half miniutes rather than the two and a half of the original. A radio clock hour that presumes 12 tracks averaging four minutes can indeed be thrown out of whack by two many tracks much shorter. Proof if ever you needed it that the choice of what to play on the radio is based far too often on what “works” rather than what sounds correct.

But fair play to them, they considered it and switched to the original. Does one have to be a “muso”, as James puts it, to understand why the two versions are different, or just someone who understands what made the song so good in the first place?

Feb 12

Crossed The (Album) Stream

 

 

On Thursday, August 21st 1997 Oasis released their third album Be Here Now. As befitted their status as easily the biggest rock band in the world at that time, it was a record which saw a phenomenal level of demand. Just how phenomenal is reflected in its documented sales – 356,000 copies on its first day and 696,000 copies by the weekend. The highest single week sale achieved by any album in chart history ever. And all in just three days rather than six (or seven). This was the all-time peak of the CD album, a genuine high water mark in consumer demand.

This week the Number One album is a collection of songs from the 1930s and 1940s sung by a 73 year old man whose career began back in the 1960s. Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night sold just 22,031 copies to beat the rest of the market to the top of the charts this week. Meanwhile lower down the eighth biggest selling album of the week is a 30 year old release by a long-defunct rock band. 8,890 people bought Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits last week, most because Google Play was essentially giving away downloads at 99p a time.

Whilst releases by the biggest names of the moment can still move product, both Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith sold over one million albums each during the course of 2014 after all, nobody is immune to the winds of change. When Take That stormed to Number One with III last December its first week sale of 144,358 was impressive. But in contrast to the 518,601 sold by its predecessor Progress when it was first released just over four years earlier it was a negligible figure. Their fans hadn’t gone away, the recent Number One single the group landed had proved that. They had just moved on to other ways to appreciate their idols’ brand new music,

Last week in the UK, the total size of the album market was 1,204,723. This week five years ago there were 2,034,416 purchases. That’s almost half the market that has evaporated and vanished in the blink of an eye. If you know someone who used to run a record shop you may now also understand why they don’t do it any more.

Put simply, everything we used to know is wrong. Whilst the idea of a physically packaged CD album will never totally die (just as vinyl sales stull chug along to a hardcore of aficionados) a generation is growing up that will never ‘own’ the music they consume. If I want to buy a chart CD I either have to order online or travel miles out of my way to one of the last remaining HMV outlets (where I am confronted with a display showing me what is “trending”).

Yet there is one section of the market for music consumption that is booming. And it hardly needs a nice graphic supplied by the Official Charts Company to explain what that is.

Nice graphic supplied by Official Charts Company

As I’ve written before, the new digital age has further diluted the whole picture of what precisely makes “an album”. A collection of songs by a single artist under a common title, fine. Yet for many acts this collection of songs is something that can be tweaked, remixed, added to and repackaged in an ever-growing array of Deluxe, Special, Version 2.0, Single, Double and Bonus editions meaning that in many cases the album you bought on the day of release may only bear a passing resemblance to the one you buy for a relative a few months down the line at Christmas. The album as a work of art is also dying medium. It is all about the collection of songs and exactly which ones people are consuming at any one time.

Hence the announcement today that the Official UK Album chart is to encompass streaming data in a similar manner to its bigger brother the singles chart did last summer. Whilst streams of individual songs will continue to register for the singles chart, collected streams of tracks from the same album will now be totalled up and combined with downloaded and physical purchases, albeit in a slightly more convoluted manner than we are used to.

This is mainly to avoid a problem that befell the Billboard 200, the chart of album sales in America which introduced streaming at the end of last year and by common assent got it wrong. The problem is that many albums are defined by one or two super-hits, the core tracks that have become big hit singles and which people return to again and again. This is an unrepresentative skew and uncorrected will end up with an album chart that starts to mirror the singles chart – as they are essentially both tracking the same thing.

Hence the brand new look album chart will log streams according to a specific set of criteria. Only the 12 most popular tracks from “the standard version of the album” will count. Streams of the two largest (presumed to be the hit singles) will be down-weighted in line with the average of the rest with the new totals then combined with sales data on a 1:1000 ratio. In other words, an album will have to receive 1000 weighted streams of any combination of its tracks to register the equivalent of one purchased sale.

The fact that there is now a formula to take into account will have a few people scratching their heads, brought up as we have been on a modern chart era where all sales are tracked and all count equally. What is not widely appreciated is that this is a fairly recent innovation. Prior to the 1990s the chart survey represented a smaller subset of the market and sales were logged in terms of weighted “panel sales” according to where they had been made and in what shop. All that has now changed is that the Official Charts Company are being transparent and open about the methodology used to calculate sales in this brand new market.

Another nice graphic

Last summer taught us that the effect of this new data on the chart listings is actually quite limited. The stuff that streams well is the stuff that also sells well which should hardly come as a huge surprise. This is a process of evolution rather than revolution and is simply a case of the methods of chart compilation being ahead of the curve and anticipating what is sure to be a growing trend.

Those who still sit coveting their extensive CD and LP collections will doubtless once more see it as the end of days and a further nail in the coffin of whatever traditions they believe the music industry should cling to. But technology marches on. The way people consume music is changing and thus the way we track what is popular must change as well. My four year old daughter enjoys me selecting a CD to listen to from the large cupboard in the living room. But I know for a fact she is unlikely ever to purchase one for herself. If future music historians are to want a record of what her generation enjoyed listening to, they will need a music chart which properly reflects the way they listen. The new album chart is a crucial step along that road.

If you want to take away one positive, consider this: it will now be in the interest of everyone, artist and label, for all tracks from an album to be streamed and listened to as much as possible. Perhaps more than ever the idea of “all killer, no filler” will start to penetrate the thinking of the industry. No more padding out an album with half-finished material that is there to bolster the running order. Every single track has to count – because put bluntly every single track now really does count. And that can only be a good thing surely.

Streams of album tracks will be incorporated as from February 23rd 2015, the first such chart published on March 1st. Number One will be Ed bloody Sheeran again won’t it? I just know it.

ADDENDUM: Just to demonstrate that there are always unasked questions, talk of logging the “12 most popular tracks” from an album prompted one reader to wonder how that effects catalogue albums that have less than 12 tracks on them. Chart fan and my personal fact checker Ben Cook wrote to the Official Charts Company to raise that very point. They told him:

Where an album has fewer than 12 tracks the two with the most streams are levelled to the average of all remaining tracks, and the sum of all tracks divided by 1000 equals the albums streaming figure

The actual analysis for albums with fewer tracks is quite extensive and complicated – we tested this with a large sample of albums and as an example;

· The last Foo Fighters album was only 8 tracks long
· The average across the 8 tracks is higher than that (on average) across a 12 track album, which means the top two get levelled “less”, therefore the sum of the 8 is not dissimilar to that of a 12+ track album

Feb 04

Take Your Time Son

After a January bereft of anything approaching interesting stories the UK singles chart exploded into action this week. A flurry of new releases (including new singles from Fergie and the Kanye/Rihanna/McCartney collaboration made for a great deal of interest. That’s before we even got to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars spending a sixth straight and seventh total week at Number One to make Uptown Funk the longest running chart-topper since Bleeding Love way back in those crazy heady days of 2007.

Yet there was one other story near the top of the charts that caught my eye sufficiently to mention in the about.com column last weekend. Take Me To Church by Hozier climbed a place to reach a brand new peak of Number 2. Nothing too significant about that you may think – but for the fact that the single has done so it what is now its 22nd week on the Top 75. It was September 13th last year that the track first appeared on the charts, entering at Number 49. It remained there for a fortnight before making the Top 40 for the very first time, and since then it has never left. As I’ve documented in previous columns this is a single which appeared to have peaked on three or four different occasions, falling back only to regroup and emerge more popular than ever.

To take 22 weeks to reach what appears to be your chart peak is an extremely long time. But it is believe it or not a little way short of the all time record. And this is where it gets complicated.

The all-comers record for slowest chart climb has technically stood for 30 years now. Seminal rap classic White Lines by Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five is the record in question. It was February 11th 1984 when the single began its epic chart run, sneaking in at Number 74 (in what was technically a climb from 84 the previous week but in an era when positions below 75 were unofficial and unpublished we can overlook this). Over the next five and a half months the single would move 74-59-52-53-52-49-57-55-56-58-55-52-56-52-48-51-52-46-36-21-12-10-9-8-7, this final peak only arriving on the chart dated July 28th, an epic climb of 25 weeks. To put it another way, the Hozier single will have to wait another four weeks before making an unlikely further climb to Number One in order to beat this particular chart benchmark.

However what I did note on about.com is that White Lines‘ Top 75 climb actually totals 28 weeks if one takes into account the brief chart run the single had at the very end of 1983, during which time it peaked at Number 60. Yet if one is to take total Top 75 weeks into account the single is a long way from being the record holder.

Step forward instead A Thousand Years by Christina Perri which began its chart career in November 2011, this first chart run lasting just five weeks during which time it peaked at Number 32. Since then however the single has made sporadic chart returns, charting twice in 2012 following the release of the second part of Twilight: Breaking Dawn on whose soundtrack it prominently featured – first in cinemas and then on DVD. During the second chart run at the end of 2012 the single reached a new peak of Number 13. Then in 2013 it was back again, hard on the heels of its use as an audition song on X Factor by hopeful Nicholas MacDonald. As readers of The Top 40 Annual 2013 will be only too aware. the single finally reached its chart peak on September 28th 2013 when it reached Number 11.

Yet all these chart runs add up. Taken together it should be noted that A Thousand Years reached its highest chart placing during its 39th week in total as a Top 75 single – 11 more than even White Lines can boast.

So it seemed important to clarify that point. Part of the problem with chart records is that there is no definitive set of rules for them, we can play around with qualifying criteria as much as we want to highlight benchmarks. So take it whichever way you want. The record for the slowest climb to a chart peak is held either by White Lines or A Thousand Years depending on whether chart weeks are taken consecutively or in total. But so far Take Me To Church has not beaten either.

Jan 28

Don’t Want No B-Boys

The home of acts such as Princess and Mel & Kim, Supreme Records had hit something of a groove making music with cool, soulful female artists – many with production duties handled by the hot production trio of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Their latest signing in 1987 was a 16 year old from Newcastle called Louise Nicholson, styled simply as Lou, and who was put on the fast track to stardom.

She was teamed with Phil Harding and Ian Curnow, essentially the PWL b-team, although both were well regarded songwriters and producers in their own right, Harding’s work having included work with Phil Fearon and Matt Bianco’s most recent albums to name but two. The song the trio came up with was Rookie’s Revenge, a record very much of its time thanks to copious references to the London culture of B-Boys and Rookies. You’ve probably never heard of Lou or even her record before. Yet to many it will still sound oddly familiar.

Here’s what happened. Although the single was promoed in the summer of 1987 its planned release was shelved. Quite why isn’t immediately clear, although the suggestion was that the label became nervous about Lou’s age and wanted instead to wait until she was slightly older. Thus Rookies Revenge languished on the shelf.

There it might have remained, but for Phil Harding who had also been invited to apply some remix magic to a flop single by another act whose potential had yet to be realised. Handed the master tapes of the gentle ballad Rise To The Occasion by Climie Fisher he spotted that the vocals would dovetail nicely to an existing bassline and backing track he’d created earlier in the year but which appeared to be stuck in development hell. Thus was born the “hip-hop mix” of the Climie Fisher track, possibly one of the earliest ever examples of the mash-up – one song to the tune of another. The new mix was released at the end of 1987 and was swept into the charts in the new year, the single and act having very little to do with the house music boom of the time but carried along on its wave thanks to the most perfectly timed remix of the era.

Lou herself was more than a little disgruntled that “her” single had been co-opted in such a manner and made pointed comments in the press to this effect. Seeking to capitalise on the success of the Climie Fisher track, Supreme Records at last authorised the release of Rookies Revenge by the now 17 year old Lou in March 1988 but it was clear the moment had gone. The single crawled to a mere Number 93 and sank without trace.

Climie Fisher went on to land a string of further hits, including the monster follow-up Love Changes Everything. Lou on the other hand was destined to remain hitless, a second single was apparently released later in 1988 but there is very little trace of its existence. Rookies Revenge may well be the most familiar flop record of its era without anyone being fully aware of why.

Text adapted from The Top 40 Annual 1988 – coming soon.

Jan 05

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part Four

So here it is then, the ten biggest selling singles for Christmas 1988 and amongst them a number which won’t actually feature in the forthcoming book thanks to the chap below and his presence preventing many from reaching their eventual chart peaks until the first weeks of 1988. Or does this kind of spoil the big reveal?

10: Phil Collins – Two Hearts

It seems almost quaint looking back, but the release of the film ‘Buster’ in the autumn of 1988 was mired in controversy. The reason for the furore was the movie’s alleged glamorisation of the Great Train Robbery and the glossing over of the fact that the driver was so badly beaten he never worked again and died a few years later. In fairness all of this was to overlook the fact that the film itself was a morality tale at heart with the ill-gotten gains causing Buster Edwards nothing but unhappiness and resulting in his returning home to face the music. Nonetheless the fuss led to Prince Charles being officially uninvited to the planned royal premiere, lest he become embroiled in the row.

The soundtrack of the film was by contrast praised to the hilt and was responsible for two singles on the Christmas chart. The first of these was Phil Collins’ own Motown-flavoured romp, the follow up to his cover of A Groovy Kind Of Love which had topped the chart back in September. Still fondly remembered as one of his best singles, Two Hearts is also notable for the innovative video that saw Phil playing all four members of a 60s-era beat combo on a fictional TV show. Little seen but useful to set the scene is the introduction from a cameoing Tony Blackburn who asks “Phil” why the group are the Four Pound Notes. “Well,” he said, “there used to be five of us”.

9: Four Tops – Loco In Acapulco

Beating out Phil however is a genuine set of sixties superstars. The Four Tops had already seen chart action in 1988, a remix of Reach Out I’ll Be There having climbed to Number 11 in the summer. Taken from their well-received comeback album Indestructible as well as the ‘Buster’ soundtrack, Loco In Acapulco was written by both Phil Collins and original Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier. A smash hit worldwide (except oddly in the US), the track wound up as the Four Tops’ first Top 10 single here since When She Was My Girl six years earlier. Less well known is the fact that this was very nearly a posthumous chart placing, and all thanks to a late night recording session in London earlier in the week which meant all four members of the group missed their flight back to the USA. But for a failed alarm call, the most famous vocal group of their era might have all perished on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

8: Bros – Cat Among The Pigeons/Silent Night

Before X Factor came along it was an almost universal truth that the bookies’ initial favourite for Christmas Number One never made it. Case in point: the Bros Christmas single for 1988 which came at the end of a year when they had swept all before them to become the most screamed at (if not necessarily the most universally loved) pop act of their day. An utterly shameless attempt to capture the seasonal crown, the single combined intense ballad Cat Among The Pigeons (a thinly veiled reference to the Goss parents marital problems) with a brand new recording featuring Matt Goss letting his best choirboy tones loose on the old hymn Silent Night and which thus ensured that the Christmas Top 10 would feature two spiritually themed singles. An instant Number 2 when first released, the single simply could not sustain its initial momentum and so by the seasonal chart itself had faded to this Number 8 placing.

7: Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance

“Wot’s ‘e like anyway?”. The debut hit single for Don Cherry’s daughter, famous at the time for the fact she was heavily pregnant with her daughter Tyson at the time, proudly cavorting on Top Of The Pops with her bump, presumably making her unborn child the shows youngest ever performer to that date. Buffalo Stance was produced in bubbly good humour by Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass and introduced the public at large to many contemporary elements of South London street slang. The phrase “Buffalo Stance” I’m told refers to the style of fashion photography popularised by Jamie J Morgan during the late 80s. The track began life as Looking Good (Diving With The Wild Bunch) a b-side by Morgan-McVey, a short-lived group featuring Morgan and Cherry’s future husband (and father of the bump) Cameron McVey. 1988 was possibly one of the most exciting periods ever to be a dance music fan in the UK, the House explosion on both sides of the Atlantic spawning new talent who would go on to become big names in music and its influences creeping into the mainstream at every turn. Buffalo Stance was a glorious example of House being wrapped around a good old fashioned pop record, an all-time enduring classic being the result. Its ultimate destiny was to be a Top 3 placing in the new year, the single still on its way up the charts at Christmas.

6: Inner City – Good Life

Keeping up the Stateside end of clubland was this equally famous single, the second Inner City hit (following Big Fun) and once again featuring the distinctive tones of Paris Grey on lead vocals. The all but forgotten hero of the piece is British DJ Neil Rushton whose work scouting tracks for a compilation album he was curating led him directly to Inner City producer Kevin Saunderson and a track which he and Grey had created a year earlier only to see languish in obscurity. Once Big Fun had become the huge Europe-wide hit it was destined to be, Inner City were well and truly off and running. Good Life was once more a track still on its way up here, eventually to peak at Number 4 the week after Christmas.

5: Status Quo – Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again)

Even as late as 1988 Status Quo could still bring the magic. Riding high after the success of 1986 album In The Army Now, The Quo returned just over a year later with their 18th album Ain’t Complaining. They had kicked off their account in 1988 with the fun romp of the title track but later singles had stalled and it had taken a charity-sponsored reworking of Rockin’ All Over The World (re-entitled Running All Over The World for Sport Relief purposes) to bring them back to respectable chart positions. Their crowning moment was however to be this single, one which proudly took its place as one of their most famous hit singles. The track’s origins as a heartfelt tale of divorce and failing relationships is all but lost these days, partly thanks to its rewriting (and subsequent chart-topping fate) as a Manchester United anthem in 1994 but there are few tracks more likely to provoke a bout of enthusiastic drunken dancing at a party than Burning Bridges. Little-remarked upon at the time was that the song was based in its entirety around an old English folk melody, the track’s central riff essentially a reworking of Darby Kelly, beloved of folk revivalists the nation over.

4: Angry Anderson – Suddenly

So go on then. Where were you on that night in November 1988 when British audiences finally saw the most iconic Neighbours moment of all – the much anticipated wedding of Scott and Charlene? There is no doubt that to the millions of people hooked on the Aussie soap during its imperial late 80s might the wedding of the teenage couple was the TV event of the year. Accompanying the nuptials was a tender love song recorded by the most unlikely of acts, and one that was inevitably released as a tie-in and lodged itself near the summit of the UK charts. Angry Anderson was best known to rock fans as the shaven-headed frontman of Australian rock band Rose Tattoo. Suddenly was written as a tribute to his wife and although originally intended as a Rose Tattoo track it wound up launching his solo career at home and became his one and only chart single in this country. Smash Hits asked him at the time of its charting whether he’d cried at the wedding scenes. “Yes,” he replied, “my song was playing on the telly”. Sadly for him it ain’t playing on Spotify and yes, this isn’t THE video for the track. But it really is the only one that matters. *blub*

3: Erasure – Crackers International EP

Far and away the best album the duo ever recorded, Erasure’s The Innocents album represented their absolute commercial peak was crammed from start to finish with potential hit singles. After smashes with Ship Of Fools, Chains Of Love and A Little Respect they had an embarrassment of riches to choose from when selecting a fourth single with anything from Phantom Bride to Yahoo or even their epic cover of River Deep Mountain High having Top 10 status written all over them. However the duo were on such a creative roll that they rounded the year off with a special present of their own – a four track EP of totally brand new material which when released at the end 1988 became one of their biggest selling singles to that date. Lead track on Crackers International was the infectious Stop which sounded like it was written as a textbook example of how to write an electropop smash but which for all that was as fresh and exciting as anything they had recorded before or since. All but forgotten it appears are the other three tracks, so for the record they were: The Hardest Part – a typical Erasure mellow track that serves as a counterpoint to the frantic nature of Stop, Knocking On Your Door – a Hi-NRG disco track with more than a handful of Acid House influences and She Won’t be Home – a melancholic Christmas song, the only seasonally themed song on the EP. Locked in place here at Number 3 for Christmas the single would eventually peak at Number 2 in the new year, equalling for now their highest charting single ever.

2: Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – Especially For You

So let’s figure this out. Their respective characters of Scott and Charlene had just married in one of the highest rated television nuptials of the year, they had both Jason “Scott” Donovan and Kylie “Charlene” Minogue on their label roster, and yet it still didn’t occur to Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and in particular Pete Waterman to combine the two on a duet until it became clear that public demand was all but forcing them to make it happen. I think Pete Waterman’s view was that as Jason Donovan had only released one single at that point there was the potential to derail his career by teaming him up with the already stellar Kylie Minogue but history records it was probably the best move they ever made. Like many SAW songs, it was written on the back of a napkin in ten minutes and indeed was recorded in such a hurry that Matt Aitken travelled to Melbourne where Neighbours was being shot to record the vocals of the pair in a single afternoon, armed with little more than a piano melody and a click track. Every single note of Especially For You was constructed after the fact in the studio but it sounds for all the world like a lovingly crafted masterpiece, the love song now something of a karaoke classic and a reference point for just about every teenager of the time.

From a sales perspective it was nothing short of phenomenal. Released in the last week of November, the single straight shot to Number 2 on its first week, stuck behind a certain Mr C Richard and then refused to budge. The two singles would spend the next month locked in place in an epic stalemate. In an age when midweek leaks of the chart were practically unknown, the tension each week was all but unbearable. Surely it was Kylie and Jason’s destiny to advance to Number One in time for Christmas, but every week they were denied. Even in the minutes approaching the big reveal of the Christmas Number One, plenty were ready to believe that the crown was theirs to take at the death. The single was indeed to make Number One, but not until the week after Christmas when incredibly despite having spent a month in the Top 3 already it lodged itself at Number One for an impressive three weeks and was a hit single well into the first months of 1989. In an age when it was all but assumed that the days of the million selling single were gone forever, ‘Especially For You’ came incredibly close, selling a reported 982,000 copies, its final 18,000 eventually topped up in the 21st century during the download era with the result that the single was finally certified a million seller in mid-2014.

1: Cliff Richard – Mistletoe And Wine

The concept of “Cliff’s Christmas single” did not really exist in 1988, despite his occasional forays into seasonal releases – most notably 1982 Number 11 hit Little Town which was essentially the festive hymn O Little Town Of Bethlehem set to a brand new melody. Yet the single which was released to promote a new Greatest Hits album Private Collection turned out to be one of the defining moments of the latter half of his career and firmly established the idea of an end of year release as a significant part of his promotional arsenal. The song Mistletoe And Wine had been written over a decade earlier as a component part of a stage musical “Scraps”, intended as a re-telling of the seasonal story of The Little Match Girl. A TV adaptation of the musical had been screened at Christmas 1986, the song performed by Twiggy in her role as a whore and with the lyrics intended to drip with irony. Extraordinarily the entire drama is up on YouTube at the time of writing and the song and melody can be seen in their original context.

Having spent years attempting to find a mainstream star to record Mistletoe And Wine which he was convinced had hit single potential, composer Keith Strachan sent a demo of the track to Cliff Richard who responded enthusiastically, his only wish was that for the lyrics to be adjusted to bring out a stronger Christian message.

Recorded during the summer of 1988, the new version of Mistletoe And Wine was the very definition of a seasonal epic with a lavish orchestral backing, the singer himself multi-tracked to provide his own backing choir and with the added touch of choirboy James Rainbird singing a soprano refrain at the end. In comparison to some of the nailed on pop records he had been releasing over the course of the previous few years this was possibly the geekiest and uncoolest Cliff Richard single for some time, the most unabashedly religious single he had released for years. Yet it turned out to be utterly irresistible. Released in late November, the single landed on the singles chart at Number 7 in its first week on release. One week later it was Number One, his second chart-topper of the 1980s following his 1986 comedy remake of Living Doll and his first ‘proper’ single to do so since We Don’t Talk Anymore a full nine years earlier.

The only question now was whether the single could hang on for an entire month and become the 1988 Christmas Number One. It seemed a lot to ask, especially given the seemingly unstoppable presence of the Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan duet Especially For You which had entered the chart at Number 2 the same week that Mistletoe And Wine had climbed to Number One. Yet this was to reckon without the sheer level of demand for the Cliff Richard single which as Christmas drew nearer began to sell in quantities no other record had managed all year. Attempting to nail down exact sales figures for singles of this era is fraught with danger, but it is clear that Mistletoe And Wine was selling upwards of 120,000 copies per week, figures that even the biggest Number One hits of the year had only managed at the very peak of their popularity. In Christmas week itself the single smashed through the 200,000 barrier to become Christmas Number One in some style and perhaps most significantly the biggest seller of 1988 overall, edging past Yazz’s The Only Way Its Up which had topped out at just over half a million copies and until Cliff came along seemed set to end up with the crown of the year’s overall Number One.

Mistletoe And Wine helped to haul its parent album Private Collection 1979-1988 to the top of the album chart as well, ensuring that Cliff Richard would spend Christmas celebrating a sensational chart double. Perhaps just as importantly it established the idea of a Christmastime Cliff Richard release as a viable promotional tactic, one he would use to varying levels of success over the course of the following decade. The track isn’t his biggest selling single ever, that honour remaining with We Don’t Talk Anymore, but it is justifiably one of his most famous. Cliff’s biggest and most iconic release of the decade and in a recording career which has now lasted his entire lifetime easily one of its defining moments.

That indeed brings us to the end of this wander through the Christmas chart of 1988. It would be remiss to end without congratulating Paul Ranklin of Bishop Auckland, County Durham who was the winner of the Top 3 prediction game on the Top 40 show that week, his reward for guessing that it would be exactly the same as the previous week being a copy of every single one of the Top 40 records of the week. If you read this at any point Paul, please let us know if you still have the collection. If that frantic run through these 40 singles has whetted your appetite, watch out for the complete story of the year coming to a bookshelf near you in the next few months. In the meantime I’ll leave you with the pack shot of the original cassettes of this show and for those watching in a non-rubbish browser the complete Spotify playlist of as many of these featured hits as possible.

Jan 05

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part Three

DExp_1988_12_22_001_PAGScanning the news headlines in the week leading up to Christmas 1988 was a grim business in truth. Just a week after 36 people died in the Clapham rail disaster, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all on board and raining fire on the residents below. For the first time ever the Queen recorded an addendum to her already filmed Christmas message, expressing her sympathies for all the victims of recent tragedies. On a lighter note, a then little known government minister by the name of Edwina Currie was on the rocks after accidentally suggesting that all eggs were contaminated with salmonella, prompting the government to shell out a £20 million investment in the egg market to prop things up. Oh yes, and The Sun published its infamous “Sorry Elton” front cover and paid Elton John £1 million in damages after admitting that just about every revelation they had printed about his private life over the previous year had been totally false.

20: Enya – Evening Falls

Stepping out of her family’s shadow at last, one time Clannad member Enya had become one of the most unexpected Number One hitmakers of the decade when her Orinoco Flow single had shot to the top of the charts in the autumn. To all round general surprise she avoided becoming a one hit wonder, landing a second albeit rather more minor hit single in the final weeks of the year. Lacking the quirkiness and perhaps above all novelty value of its predecessor, the hauntingly beautiful Evening Falls was still diverting enough to justify a short chart run which saw it peak here just inside the Top 20 for the Christmas chart. By no means her last hit either, as history cheerfully records.

19: Londonbeat – 9am (The Comfort Zone)

Despite a smash hit single in 1973 with Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse, Jimmy Helms’ career had stalled somewhat in the intervening decade and a half. A string of solo albums had disappointed, as did some of the soundtrack work to which he had contributed and instead the American singer had been reduced to earning a crust singing radio jingles. Musical salvation would come thanks to the forming of Londonbeat which saw him team up with three other singers in what was at first an experimental close harmony soul group. The four piece had already landed a Dutch hit with the single There’s A Beat Going On before their second single caught the attention of radio programmers over here, propelling them into the charts for the first time. 9am (The Comfort Zone) was if nothing else a diverting record, an atmospheric semi-acapela tale of commuting ennui. Its chart run was respectable enough, this Number 19 peak on the Christmas chart the final destination of the double-a line. Follow-up single Failing In Love Again was prettier but was to ultimately stall at Number 60. As it turned, greater global stardom for the group was just 18 months or so away.

18: A-Ha – You Are The One

All pop groups have a certain shelf life, after which their initial teen audience moves on to other things. 1988 was the year when A-Ha appeared to be about to hit that wall. The title track from the Stay On These Roads album had made a contractually obligated appearance in the Top 10 at Easter, but when they made the bizarre decision to follow it with the impenetrable and experimental The Blood That Moves The Body they ended up with their lowest charting single to date when it stalled at Number 25, their first since their breakthrough to miss the Top 20. Summertime release Touchy! redressed the balance slightly but even that could only reach Number 13, a peak eventually scaled during the new year lull by the album’s chirpy fourth single. None of them were bad records (indeed You Are The One stands proud as one of their best pop hits) but it was proof that even A-Ha were vulnerable to the changing winds of musical fashion.

17: New Order – Fine Time

Having produced the definitive document of their entire career to date with singles collection Substance, New Order found themselves essentially with a clean slate and a chance to strike out in whatever direction they so chose. Their response was to decamp to the newly-cool island of Ibiza for the summer where they immersed themselves in the nascent club scene and the attractions of the Balearic style which would come to define dance music and youth culture for a decade to come. Following tales of wild hedonistic behaviour in between recording sessions (NME and Record Mirror taking delight in reporting in loving detail just who smashed up what and on what substance), the group emerged blinking into the sunlight with what would become their most acclaimed album Technique and perhaps most crucially this lead single. Gone were the lovingly crafted pop symphonies which had been a part of their output for the last three years. In their place was this chaotic melange of beats, vocodered samples and a stream of consciousness monologue from Bernard Sumner which he delivered in a dark, throaty growl that he later confessed was an attempt to sound like Danish synthpop duo Laid Back. I’ve used the phrase a lot in this retrospective, but like so much dance music from the era Fine Time was genuinely like nothing anyone had heard before. On this one occasion their notorious insistence on performing live on Top Of The Pops came to bite them on the backside as the track’s many layers of noise were just impossible to reproduce faithfully onstage and the resultant performance of the track sounded like a cacophonous mess. Nonetheless Fine Time was a respectable Number 11 hit and a suitable herald for the January release of Technique which would go on to become the stuff of legend.

16: Rick Astley – Take Me To Your Heart

After a sensational debut which saw him record the biggest selling single of 1987 and a track which would eventually cement his place in internet legend and western popular culture, Rick Astley had released his second album Hold Me In Your Arms in the autumn of 1988. Although Stock/Aitken/Waterman were on production duties throughout, Rick had successfully lobbied to record some of his own compositions, hence the chirpy She Wants To Dance With Me which was released as the album’s first single. For the second release normality was restored but whilst the production trio were about to embark on their most successful year ever, the formula for Rick was sounding just that little bit tired. Take Me To Your Heart was Rick Astley by numbers, a single which was jaunty and appealing enough but which offered little that had not been heard before. Indeed the most notable aspect of the track was not its chart run but instead a minor legal kerfuffle as the Inner City hit Big Fun had a bassline that sounded just a little too similar to the Rick single for the comfort of the legal profession.

15: Freiheit – Keeping The Dream Alive

It isn’t about Christmas, doesn’t sound particularly Christmassy and in fact isn’t a Christmas single in any sense of the word, yet this one and only UK hit for semi-legendary German group Freiheit is now something of a seasonal standard thanks to its presence on the chart in this week. The release of Keeping The Dream Alive as a single for the festive market was something of a last minute choice, the band’s British label alerted to its potential only at the start of December and embarking upon a hurried rush release to force it into contention for the Christmas Number One race. As it was the record hit the stores just a couple of weeks too late to be properly established, and despite a late flurry of bets raising the possibility that it might well stand a chance the single floundered thanks to a lack of readily available stock and spent Christmas languishing inside the Top 20, eventually peaking one place higher a fortnight later.

14: Kim Wilde – Four Letter Word

She’d been around since the early 80s and had been top of the US charts two years earlier, but Kim Wilde’s career received a major shot in the arm in 1988 thanks to her role as Michael Jackson’s support act during his European dates during the summer. Hard on the heels of smashes You Came and Never Trust A StrangerFour Letter Word was to wind up her third Top 10 hit of the year, although by Christmas the slushy ballad had only limped to Number 14. In truth it isn’t one of her better offerings, the pitch of the track serving only to expose how weak her vocals could be and how the highest notes were just that bit beyond her. Still, at that time she could do no wrong and for all its vocal flaws, Four Letter Word is actually one of the prettiest songs she ever put her name to and I’d suggest is ripe for rediscovery.

13: Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal

Speaking of Michael Jackson. Compile a Top 10 of the most ludicrous choruses and hook lines of all time and “Annie Are You OK?” repeated ad nauseum must surely be one of them. Winter 88 saw the release of “Moonwalker”, Jacko’s rather rambling flight of fantasy vanity film which remains a must see to this day thanks to some of the lavishly staged musical routines it contained. Chief amongst them was the gravity-defying dance for Smooth Criminal which surely helped the track to Number 8 almost immediately upon release in November despite it being no less than the seventh single release from the Bad album. What is more surprising, that there were two more singles to come in 1989, or that Alien Ant Farm took Smooth Criminal back into the chart 13 years later and somehow made it sound even fresher?

12: U2 – Angel Of Harlem

AKA U2’s Christmas single, albeit one that is either overlooked by the increasingly desperate compilers of seasonal fare or which the band just refuse to licence. Nonetheless this is as festive as you can get with copious references to “a cold and wet December day” and “New York like a Christmas tree…” throughout. Fall, I mean Autumn 1988 marked the unveiling of Rattle And Hum, the travelogue album and accompanying film that represented the high point of Bono’s love affair with the USA. Hard on the heels of The Joshua Tree, U2 were at their commerical and celebrity peak – hailed with some justification as the bgigest band on the planet and in the eyes of most unable to put a foot wrong. Quite simply this was a vanity project for which they had the most unassailable of free passes. Angel Of Harlem was the album’s second single, the follow-up to chart-topper Desire and a single which peaked at Number 9 a week before Christmas and was unlucky not to have a presence in the Top 10 on this chart.

11: Petula Clark – Downtown ’88

A candidate for the most outrageous remix of all time? It was certain children’s TV presenters who turned Petula Clark’s most loved hit into something of a cult during the summer of 1988, using it as a bed for write-in competitions during the school holidays. When a re-release of the original failed to catch fire, the staff at DJ mailout service DMC wondered if it would work as a club track (possibly unaware that Petula herself had made a disco version in the mid 70s). They handed the task to Peter Slaghuis (yes, him again) who embarked on what was at the time the most radical deconstruction of a classic hit single ever contemplated. He stripped away virtually the whole of the original production and instead set Petula Clark’s vocals over a stuttering, thundering house rhythm that bordered on disrespect and should in theory have been a disaster. Yet in actual fact it worked a treat, dragging the song into the 80s as a stripped to the bone house track. Just as the mechanical clanks started to overstay their welcome Slaghuis brought the faders back up and allowed Tony Hatch’s original production to force its way back into the mix in manner which made it sound almost triumphant and heroic. The new version of Downtown raced into the Top 5 just a few weeks after it first appeared, helped not a little by Petula herself, who despite knowing nothing of the remix at first or even being involved in its release, gamely made herself available to promote the track to the extent that she appeared on Top Of The Pops waltzing around to a style of music she was almost certainly totally unfamiliar with. Just as the Bomb The Bass record worked by treating the source material with the appropriate respect, Downtown 88 worked as a one off by taking the opposite approach and presuming that nothing was sacred. Naturally enough this is just a little too obscure for Spotify.

Jan 01

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part Two

I remember my plans to record the Top 40 show on Boxing Day 1988 were almost thrown into disarray. After having failed to capture the 1987 Christmas chart thanks to a dodgy cassette which lost one stereo track (and in the process apparently depriving the collectors community of the only clean copy of that programme – unless anyone reading this knows differently), I was determined that the big seasonal countdown for ’88 was to be captured for posterity. The spanner in the works was the then annual family outing to Wetherby races on Boxing Day afternoon, the huge risk being that we would not make it back home in time for the 5pm start of the show. Thank goodness for the winter solstice is all I can say, the fading light meaning that all races were done and dusted by 4pm and with the roads magically clear, I was poised in front of the hi-fi in my bedroom ready to press record on the band new (and thoroughly tested this time) cassettes that had been bought for the occasion.

30: Chris De Burgh – Missing You

Merrily winding its way down was this Top 3 smash from Chris De Burgh, finally a successful follow-up to the career-defining Lady In Red which had topped the charts two years earlier. Over two decades later he is still waiting for another Top 10 hit, whilst his legions of fans wonder out loud just why a man whose upbeat rockers are five times as memorable has only ever had hit singles with atypical romantic ballads.

29: Bon Jovi – Born To Be My Baby

By the time of the release of their New Jersey album, Bon Jovi were arguably global superstars. A rock group of stadium-filling pedigree, they really had no need to troop to TV studios to mime singles on pop shows. Yet it seems they were game for anything, hence a memorable “is that really them?” appearance as the opening act on one edition of Top Of The Pops to perform Bad Medicine in October. It is one of those moments that sticks in your mind for a long time afterwards, although in the event it didn’t do the album’s lead single too many favours, the track peaking at a lowly Number 17, just five places higher than this rather limp second single which suffered from a slight sense of bad timing and was little more than an afterthought in the whole Christmas market. Mind you, Livin’ On A Prayer aside, back in the 80’s Bon Jovi singles didn’t really trouble the upper end of the charts too much, and it wasn’t until the 90’s and singles such as Keep The Faith and in particular Always that they finally crossed over as a mainstream singles selling act. Strange but true.

28: Annie Lennox and Al Green – Put A Little Love In Your Heart

The Bill Murray film ‘Scrooged’ duly popped up during the Christmas holidays as indeed it seems to every single year these days. If you stuck with the modern day re-telling of A Christmas Carol right to the bitter end and the closing credits you will have heard this greatly heralded duet that teamed a powerful British singer with an utter soul legend, Revd Green coming out of secular retirement for his first non-gospel recording in well over a decade. The first single ever to feature a solo credit for Annie Lennox fact fans, this soundtrack cover of the famous Jackie De Shannon song somehow managed to be less than the sum of its parts with the two never quite gelling vocally in the manner the producers clearly hoped. Although a US smash for the season, the rest of the world remained largely unmoved and for the Radio One presenters who had championed this single for months it was rather a surprise that this Number 28 placing for Christmas was as high as it got. Nonetheless there is something rather magical about the track. Maybe it was its sheer ubiquity on the radio, or just the message of universal love in the lyrics, but perhaps more than anything else on this chart this single evokes lasting memories of this particular festive season for me. Thanks to the film it will live long in the memories of others too.

27: Tiffany – Radio Romance

Can there ever have been a star that shone and faded as rapidly as that of Tiffany? Her huge success in the States during 1987 meant that she only rebounded over here the following year and as a direct result we in Europe were playing catch up. So it was that she began the year topping the charts with her debut hit I Think We’re Alone Now and ended it with the first single release from her second album. It sounds incredibly cheesy when viewed from a modern day perspective, back then I kind of had a soft spot for Radio Romance and was utterly convinced it would be huge a Christmas smash. The slightly creepy tale of the girl stalking her man by requesting endless radio dedications to him was wrapped up in a nostalgic 50s production, complete with chocolaty sax and spoken word interlude and what the heck, it just worked as a December hit single. But by this time Tiffany was already yesterday’s news and the single would creep to a Top 20 peak and wind up as her last ever Top 40 hit. Still something of a forgotten classic though and enough to give one a warm nostalgic glow whatever era it reminds you of the most. Oddly missing from Spotify too, her second album one of those which is lost in rights hell and endlessly unavailable.

26: Bomb The Bass – Say A Little Prayer

Tim Simenon’s genius was not so much his ability to create big selling dance records but his ability to surprise at every turn. First came Beat Dis, the commercial release of what was effectively the coursework from a sound engineering course he had taken at college. The frantic mix of house beats and samples that sounded like nothing else that had come before stalled at Number 2 behind I Should Be So Lucky. He could have been forgiven for following it with more of the same, which to a certain extent he did with Megablast, only for the single to be also backed on the flip side with the Latin Hip-Hop of Don’t Make Me Wait which had a strong case for being the best and most credible pop single of the year. Then he ended the year with this, a jaw-dropping cover of the Aretha Franklin standard that set the benchmark for club covers of soul classics. Shockingly underrated and all but forgotten these days it seems, this was nothing less than a masterpiece, singer Maureen Walsh conveying the right mix of sexiness and heartbreak and with a production that was all at once respectful but totally in keeping with the house vibe of the time. Anyone contemplating taking a standard and “updating” it should use Say A Little Prayer by Bomb The Bass as a point of reference.

25: INXS – Need You Tonight

If you are searching for an example of Britain not getting an act when the rest of the world did, then look no further than the fortunes of INXS who spent most of the 80s as a well kept secret in this country whilst the rest of the world fell under Michael Hutchence’s spell. The album Kick was supposed to be the one that finally did it for them, but whilst it was granted the requisite level of promotion and was praised to the hilt in reviews, they still remained bereft of a truly big hit single. New Sensation crept into the Top 30 at the start of the year, Devil Inside inexplicably missed out at Easter and Never Tear Us Apart also only stumbled to Number 24 despite its now near classic status.

Now regarded as the group’s signature song, Need You Tonight was the final track recorded for the Kick sessions, and compared to some of its companions was a raw and spontaneous funk-inspired rock track. The group would later acknowledge that the song had been heavily inspired by the bass and beats vibe of the Queen classic Another One Bites The Dust, the two tracks having more in common musically than is immediately apparent. Yet it was like an open sore that despite having topped the American charts upon first release, Need You Tonight had flopped in Britain and had received a lukewarm reception in Europe. In a last ditch attempt to finally push the group over the edge the single was re-promoted at the tail end of the year. The new version of the song came complete with two brand new remixes. A Ben Liebrand take on the track turned it into a quite extraordinary techno breakdown but the single was led by a far more subtle reworking by fellow Australian Julian Mendelsohn who replaced the finger click rhythm of the original album version with a subtle yet intense house beat, turned up the echo and added in new guitar effects. The result was a track which was different enough to generate the kind of European interest it had been lacking before yet was close enough to the original to be a legitimate INXS track. In Britain the effect could not have been more dramatic. The newly remixed single raced into the Top 20 and within a fortnight was at Number 2 to become what would turn out to be the one and only Top 10 single INXS ever managed on these shores. As time wore on, the original mix of Need You Tonight has been restored as the default choice for radio airplay and rock classic compilations, leaving the Mendelsohn remake largely forgotten – despite it being the one which was a British chart smash hit.

24: Bananarama – Nathan Jones

Having ditched Siobahn for Jacquie with almost nobody noticing earlier in the year, it was time for the first ever Bananarama hits collection. The second single to be taken from the collection was a song which had originally featured on their previous album Wow! but which was now entirely reworked for this single release. Nathan Jones was originally recorded by The Supremes in 1971, in what may not entirely have been a coincidence one of their first big hit singles following a change of lineup with the departed Diana Ross now replaced by Jean Terrell. The original version reached Number 5 with Bananarama peaking ten places lower with their take on the track in early December. The hits album (nattily titled The Greatest Hits Collection) was released in October and would ultimately peak at Number 3, oddly their highest charting album ever – despite being rammed with their best ever hit singles, Wow! had failed to climb higher than Number 26.

23: Shakin’ Stevens – True Love

Three years on from ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, Shaky was still playing the seasonal card for all he was worth although by now his star was rapidly waning. His attempt to crack the Christmas market in 88 was this rather vapid cover of the Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly duet which would be done with far greater aplomb a few years later by Elton John and Kiki Dee. Shaky’s version was delivered tenderly enough but somehow could not avoid being just that little bit risible. Number 23 (this was its peak) was possibly a little more than it deserved.

22: Robin Beck – First Time

“Like a break in the clouds/And the first ray of sun/You said let’s share a Coke ™/Something new had begun”. The 1988 Coca-Cola advert featuring couples falling in love over their phallic shaped bottles had run in constant rotation since the summer. For all of this nobody expected the music itself to become a hit, the first Coke jingle to do so since the 70s. Yet from the moment diminutive rock chick Robin Beck edged her way into the Top 40 in early November the single was going nowhere but the top, racing to the top of the charts to match the feat of fellow Coke advert soundtrack I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing a generation earlier. Following this attempts were made to give her a career of sorts, but when follow up single Save Up Your Tears (later to be handed to Cher) missed the chart altogether she became the ultimate one hit wonder. First Time would eventually suffer the fate of being subject to a mid-2000’s dance reworking, the least said about which the better. At least until that particular book comes out.

21: A Tribe Of Toffs – John Kettley (Is A Weatherman)

This is actually a rather heart warming tale. A Tribe Of Toffs were a schoolboy band from Sunderland whose demo tape so impressed BBC producer Paul Smith that he invited them down to London to record their whimsical tribute to John Kettley and assorted other celebrities of the moment. With both song and video made at public expense, the group successfully persuaded an independent label to release the track as a single and so found themselves with a reasonably sized hit single and one which 25 years later remains disturbingly ironic. Subsequent attempts to follow it up were sadly in vain and the group disbanded a couple of years later, but their brief moment in the sun is clearly regarded with affection by everyone involved, even John Kettley himself who appears to suffer some form of rendition of it as an introduction everywhere he goes. If nothing else it cemented his place in popular culture forever.

Dec 22

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part One

My occasional lapses into silence over the last few months have been down to one thing – a feverish desire to finish my next published project. Whilst it still isn’t quite there, I can reveal that the new year should at some point see the publication of The Top 40 Annual – 1988, an extension of the existing series of chart books, this time looking from a year from a more historical perspective.

In going through the research for the book I did however spot one oddity. The presence of Cliff Richard at the top of the Christmas chart and the immediate post-holiday demise of the single meant that many of the Top 10 hits at the end of the year did not actually reach their eventual peak until the start of 1989, thus for now putting them outside the scope of the book. Fortunately I had once before taken a retrospective wander through the Christmas chart of 1988, but given that was six years ago it seemed appropriate to go back and revisit that piece.

So, in the absence of any proper new content from me this Christmas, here is a festive repeat – the reworking of a classic Chart Rewind. Looking at what is now a quite scary 26 years ago this week.

Two more points of note. Christmas Day fell on a Sunday that year, so for the first and to date only time, rather than run a chart show on the 25th itself it was decided that the Christmas Number One would be announced in a delayed chart show broadcast by Radio One on Boxing Day, thus taking into account sales from the whole of the holiday week right up until the moment the shops closed on Christmas Eve. Regular Top 40 host Bruno Brookes was off that week, so the show is presented by Mark Goodier, this being the first anniversary of his debut on the network.

All song links are to the relevant track on Spotify, where available.

40: Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra – Minnie The Moocher

Founded by one time Steel Pulse performer Mykaell Riley, the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra were an all-star collective of black musicians with the stated aim of bringing what was still at times a rather niche musical form to a mass audience. Throughout 1988 the group had won widespread acclaim for their live shows and had released their self-titled debut album through Island Records at the end of the year. BBC Radio One took up the promotion of the album’s lead single as something of a totem, forcing it through sheer unrelenting levels of airplay into the charts at the very end of the year. A chirpy take on the famous Cab Calloway jazz standard, the single was a true slow burner. First released in early November, the single climbed to Number 45 in its second week on sale only to go into quick reverse, falling back to Number 50. However the release of the song coincided with a triumphant series of end of year concerts by the group and slowly but surely the single began to climb again, finally entering the Top 40 a fortnight before Christmas for a short three week run which saw it peak at Number 35. The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra would manage just one more chart single during their existence, the track Lovely Thing from their second album reaching Number 71 in the summer of 1990.

39: Boy Meets Girl – Waiting For A Star To Fall

The only new entry of the week on the chart (and that itself was actually quite a big deal at the time), this was the very definition of a sleeper hit, as for a long time it appeared it was going to miss out altogether. Indeed I can vividly remember Waiting For A Star To Fall being touted as the big new release of the moment, way back during the October half term holiday. Despite this it took until the end of November for the single to finally hit the chart, and then a full five weeks before this initial Top 40 entry, by which time Radio One were attempting to sell it as “a great Christmasssy record, perfect for the season” in a desperate attempt to finally make it a hit. It seems almost odd looking back, the record now an acknowledged 80s classic and the subject of two competing remix transformations in the mid-2000s. George Merill and Shannon Rubican had penned several hits for Whitney Houston and were more than a little surprised when she knocked back their latest composition. Undaunted, they released it themselves, and after this slow start (including a paltry eight place rise the next week) the single survived the new year clearout and ended up peaking at Number 9 in mid January, helped no end by its use on the soundtrack of the film “Three Men And A Baby” which was the big festive blockbuster of the moment.

38: Humanoid – Stakker Humanoid

On its way out, but possibly one of the most important Acid House records ever made thanks to its launching of the career of Brian “Future Sound Of London” Dougans. As history now records, the track actually began life as a commission, video artists Stakker (numbering among them future FSOL collaborator Mark McLean) needed a soundtrack for their latest project and so contracted Dougans to produce this track. After circulating as a white label (credited as “Humanoid” by “Stakker”) the track became a surprise Top 20 hit in early December. So ahead of its time, the track returned to the Top 40 at the height of the rave boom in 1992, led by the untouched original 1988 mix. Incidentally, the “humanoid” vocal samples? Lifted from famous video game Bezerk, beating Aphex Twin to the idea by the best part of 13 years.

37: Beach Boys – Kokomo

I never remembered it that way, but Christmas 1988 was quite the period for soundtrack hits. Following the Boy Meets Girl track we arrive at this famous single, recorded for the now legendary Tom Cruise vehicle “Cocktail”. Although only a mid-table hit in this country, Kokomo made an astonishing rise to the very top of the American charts, giving the Beach Boys a to this day unsurpassed 24 year span of US chart-toppers. Something of a fondly remembered novelty to this day, I guess the atmosphere of “Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya” just didn’t fly very well on a cold December evening in the UK.

36: Hithouse – Jack To The Sound Of The Underground

Or, as it is best known, “the theme to the Mary Whitehouse Experience”. For many years a prominent DJ and mixer in his Dutch homeland, Peter Slaghuis was notable for being one of the few overseas producers to contribute remixes to the Disco Mix Club’s monthly compilations. He was also a member of VideoKids who had released cult club hit Woodpeckers From Space in 1985. When the house music craze took off, Slaghuis anglicized his name to Hithouse and landed a British chart hit with a single whose iconic status belies its mid-table chart peak .An extended 12 week chart run (itself unusual for such a low peaking single) saw it spend a fortnight in the Top 20 at the very start of December, but the single remained popular enough to still be a Top 40 single by the time the Christmas parties rolled around. Hithouse landed just one more minor chart single but Move Your Feet To The Rhythm Of The Beat could only reach Number 69 in the summer of 1989. Peter Slaghuis’ career would ultimately be cut tragically short, the producer dying in a car accident in 1991 at the age of just 30. Of further note here – the clunky Radio One edit that excised the rudest part of the “ooh wee, you bugger” sample in the first ten seconds although mention must also be made of the use of Kelly Charles singing ‘You’re No Good For Me.. I Don’t Need Nobody’ in a sample that beat The Prodigy to the punch by a full six years. Slaghuis will pop up again later on this chart in the most unexpected of places.

35: Alexander O’Neal – The Christmas Song/Thank You For A Good Year

Few it seems are the American stars who can resist the lure of recording their own album of seasonal specials, just on the off-chance that it provides them with a nice pension plan when it continues to sell year after year. In 1988 it was Alexander O’Neal’s turn to have a go, cashing in on the global success of his ‘Hearsay’ album by recording ‘My Gift To You’. His rendition of The Christmas Song was released as a single in a desperate attempt to push it on a largely indifferent British public, who regard such seasonal offerings as something rather risible. He gives it his all, but let’s face it O’Neal is no Nat King Cole and there appeared to be very little seasonal cheer on offer as he growled his way through the standard. Worth it for comedy value alone perhaps.

34: Natalie Cole – I Live For Your Love

Speaking of Nat, here is the apple of his eye. 1988 was her breakthrough year thanks to the Eastertime success of Pink Cadillac and er, the others. This was the problem really as although Everlasting and Jump Start were appealing enough pop records, they had only wound up as minor hits in the aftermath of that earlier smash. Attempting to catch a seasonal wave, the record company tried with this tender ballad which just like Waiting For A Star To Fall had been released in November and spent five weeks edging its way towards the Top 40. Even this didn’t help and it was only in the new year that the single finally edged its way towards a Number 23 peak.

33: Pet Shop Boys – Left To My Own Devices

Is it a sign of having grown up that you think that the album version of a particular track is the superior one? 1988 was what the Pet Shop Boys themselves refer to as “their imperial phase” when just about everything they touched turned to gold. I remember buying the ‘Introspective’ album (from Woolworths naturally) in the week it came out, the Friday before the October half term, during the course of which I would listen to it relentlessly. The album’s opener Left To My Own Devices was a true tour de force, an epic production which saw the pulsing dance rhythm accompanied by an Anne Dudley-conducted orchestra – the perfect representation of the sound of “Debussy to a disco beat” referenced in the lyrics. In its full length album form the track was undoubtedly the Pet Shop Boys’ personal masterpiece and its seemed an inevitability that the track would be granted a full single release sooner rather than later. Yet the seven-inch version of Left To My Own Devices was somehow an altogether lesser track, the need to edit the track for radio airplay meaning it lost much of its scale and impact. Worse still the single arrived in a remixed form, adding a throbbing dance beat which may well have helped it to work better in the clubs but which only served to grate to those who had been enchanted by the more subtle beauty of the album version. At the very least it was a bigger hit single than its predecessor, becoming their sixth Top 5 hit single and extending their run of consecutive Top 10 hits to eight. Yet for what was perceived to be their masterpiece, the chart life of the single was short and sweet, and following its Number 4 peak the single exited the Top 10 immediately and was lucky to have retained its Top 40 status for Christmas.

32: Gloria Estefan/Miami Sound Machine – Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

Oh way oh way. Or however it went. ’88 was the year Britain finally “got” the Miami Sound Machine, just as the name was about to be confined to history anyway and Gloria Estefan was pushed to the fore as a solo star. Edging its way up the seasonal chart was this frantic bit of Latino pop which despite its eventual Number 16 peak still stands as one of their most recognisable songs of the period.

31: Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care

A very famous single, albeit one which never quite managed the hit status its legacy suggests. Superannuated supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (their name inspired by Prince Charles of all people, groping for a way to describe the sight of the assembled “house band” that had performed at the celebrated Princes Trust concerts in the summer of 1987) had released Handle With Care in late October and by the end of November it had merrily trundled its way up to Number 21, alerting people to their debut album and doing the job nicely. It had just dropped out of the Top 40 when the news broke that Roy Orbison had tragically passed away of a heart attack, the television obituaries mentioning in passing that he had just returned to the charts in tandem with Harrison, Dylan, Petty and Lynne and playing a brief clip of Handle With Care. That was enough to inspire new interest in the single and it dutifully rebounded back into the Top 40 as an appropriate tribute to the late star. It probably would have received a bigger push, but for the fact that stocks of the single were already run down and in any event his label already had Orbison’s own Mystery Girl’ album ready to roll and which would spawn several hits in 1989 as the final tribute to the legend. Later that year the remaining Travelling Wilburys released The End Of The Line as their next single, the video featuring the group looking poignantly at an empty chair when the time came for Orbison’s verse in the song. The absence of this, and indeed their subsequent albums, from Spotify is actually rather baffling.