Sep 02

And We’re Live!

2013 Resized for web

“So when do you plan to release the next book, James?” ran the most common question I was asked this year.

“As soon as I can, and hopefully earlier in the year than the one last year” was my reply. Well I almost made it, given or take a week or so. Anyway, after what were often some interminable delays and time-poor frustrations I’m pleased to reveal that the Top 40 Annual 2013 is now live on the Kindle store and should be live on your favourite alternative online book store in very short order.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, this is intended to be the comprehensive document of every single to have peaked inside the Top 40 during the course of the last calendar year. Artist by artist and song by song, the book will explain when a single started selling, how much and for how long it did so, and crucially where possible just why it was as popular as it was – or not as the case may be.

2013 was a fun year in so many ways. Major smash hits from Robin Thicke and Daft Punk, Calvin Harris’ endless singles from his album, Avicii selling millions and Naughty Boy stepping out of the shadow of just being Emeli Sande’s producer. Then there was the fun stuff: the Harlem Shake, Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble, What Does The Fox Say and OK, if you must, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. Each song is in the book and every one has a story to be told.

Don’t forget the 2012 edition of the book is still available to buy, just check out the BOOKS section of this site for more details – and without wanting to commit to deadlines that I have no chance of meeting, the first of a more historical set should be good to go within the next few months.

Aug 11

One Giant Leap

When I first became a chart nerd in the 1980s, there was one stat above all else which was committed to memory – the biggest ever climb to Number One. Since 1982 the record had been held by Happy Talk by Captain Sensible which leaped 33-1 in June that year (breaking the 14 year old record set by Hey Jude which moved 27-1), due to circumstances which I’ve curiously never seen documented anywhere. Even Alan Jones’ Chartfile column in Record Mirror at the time offered no explanation, instead taking time to note the amusement of Peter Compton, manager of the singles section in HMV Oxford Street at the time, that many of those buying the record were middle-aged and above and that he was having to resist the temptation to sell them records by The Damned when they asked if the nice young man singing the song had recorded anything else. Comments welcomed if any veteran music fans remembers just why the single behaved in such an unusual manner.


It was a stat which flashed back into the minds of many people this week when Am I Wrong by Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz jumped 52-1 after initially becoming the first ever single to reach the Top 75 on streaming sales alone, and thus not selling a single purchased copy.

For a single to make such a large and unusual jump to the top there has to be a particular reason for it, and indeed when you examine the chart history of all the records to have made such spectacular climbs there is always a explanation for just what that happened. I mentioned in this weeks column that Nico & Vinz are only the fifth act ever to achieve a chart climb of over 40 places to reach Number One, so it seemed appropriate the document the others and their own unique stories why. In chronological order then, these are the 21st century singles which did the ultimate – climbing from outside the Top 40 right to the very top of the charts.

2001: DJ Otzi – Hey Baby

Once upon a time the scourge of record labels wanting to carefully manage release dates and delay the arrival of guaranteed hit singles as long as possible was not the copycat cover version but the imported copy. Frustrated by being unable to match high levels of customer demand for the song they had heard on the radio or danced to on holiday with actual official product, the buyers of large chains such as HMV or Our Price would occasionally resort to taking matters into their own hands. Batches of singles from mainland Europe would be sourced and delivered to shops, commanding a price premium of course due to their rarity but still available for people to buy when they wanted to. Such singles were also free to register for the charts and at the turn of the century there were numerous examples of records featuring on the singles chart a week or so before their official release. Number One hits Blue by Eiffel 65 and It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy were cases in point, their imported copies reaching the Top 40 and giving a sneak preview of what was to come.

The singles chart at the time being a ranking of product and not songs registered these imported singles as unique items with catalogue numbers distinct from those of the planned official releases. Thus when the UK issues of the tracks were finally made available (often dragged forward in a panic lest the import sales cannibalised the all-important first week chart position) they were rather improbably listed as new entries, regardless of whether an identical single had been charting a week before. Two different issues, two different products and two different chart entries. That was the way it worked.

DJ Otzi’s Hey Baby was a different matter. Already a smash hit across Europe in the summer of 2001, it had spread to clubs and bars in Britain during August, creating an enormous level of demand for what was destined to become an evergreen party classic. Unusually it was a single already available in the British Isles, the single having been released in Ireland in mid-July, at which point it lodged itself at the top of the IRMA charts where it remained for six weeks. It was therefore hardly surprising that many of the imported copies that found their way into British stores during the course of August and September were actually sourced from surplus stock in the Republic. Significantly these copies carried the very same catalogue number which would be used by the official UK release of the track, an event which finally took place on September 10th 2001. So it was that after reaching Number 45 the previous week as an import, Hey Baby shot straight to Number One in a form which meant the singles chart did not discriminate between sales of the two versions. The result? A then record-breaking 44 place climb as the first single ever to jump to Number One from outside the Top 40.

2009: Pixie Lott – Boys And Girls

DJ Otzi’s record stood for a full eight years, even during a period when large climbs to the top of the charts became a regular occurrence thanks to the early years of the digital download market. When chart rules were changed to allow singles to chart on digital only sales a week ahead of the still-important physical release. It meant chart moves such as the 21-1 leap of Beyonce’s Deja-Vu, 23-1 for Welcome To The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, 35-1 for About You Now by The Sugababes and 38-1 for So What by Pink.

Pixie Lott’s second single on the other hand came after the physical era was all but over and singles were selling predominantly in digital form. Her extraordinary chart leap came thanks to a rather odd release pattern, and one which I’ve never been able to establish whether it was by accident or design. Scheduled for release on Sunday September 6th, a four track bundle of the single appeared on the iTunes store mid-afternoon the day before, quickly spotted by eagle-eyed fans and snapped up with some joy. Half a day of sales wasn’t much, but it was enough for the single to chart at Number 73. One week later the combination of digital and physical sales was enough to propel the single to the top of the charts, an incredible 72 place climb to utterly shatter the record. Five years later, not one single has ever come close to this extraordinary bit of singles chart shenanigans.

2010: David Guetta and Chris Willis – Gettin’ Over You

Virtually all of these stories of major chart leaps are essentially strange circumstances, with this single being no exception. First heard as a track on the first version of David Guetta’s One Love album, the song originally called Gettin’ Over was prepared for release as its second official single in a brand new version, adding vocals from both LMFAO and Fergie to those of original singer Chris Willis for the occasion. Despite the video and the pre-release airplay for the hit featuring the new Gettin’ Over You recording, keen purchasers still snapped up the original album version in the weeks preceding its release, resulting in the album cut charting at Number 41 in early June 2010. By now the singles chart was no longer about product, just the songs and as far as the chart database was concerned a new mix of a track (regardless of added vocals) simply inherited the chart run of the original version. The result was a 41-1 leap to the top of the charts for the Frenchman and collaborators as the third single in chart history to climb from outside the Top 40.

2011: Adele – Someone Like You

Just for a change though, the Adele track was nothing to do with remixes, imports or release leaks. Just a sudden explosion of public demand. Her legendary album 21 was released in late January 2011, a week after its first single Rolling In The Deep had charted at Number 2. Clearly one of the standout tracks from the album, the heartbreaking ballad Someone Like You had already arrived for a chart wander of its own, cherrypicked sales leading it to land at Number 36, climb three places the following week and then subsequently drop to Number 47. It was there it sat during the week of the 2011 Brit Awards, at which Adele would be one of the featured performers. With tears in his eyes even before she started, James Corden introduced the performance as something guaranteed to be special and in front of a spellbound auditorium Adele made the first public performance of the track by which she would always be defined. For those watching at home the effect was almost as stunning. Within hours of the ceremony airing on television the track had shot up the iTunes chart and continued to sell in huge numbers for the rest of the week. Maybe it was always planned to be a single anyway, but spontaneously and with a great deal of goodwill and love, Someone Like You shoulderbarged its way to the top of the singles chart, in the process registering a 47-1 climb, at the time the second biggest jump to Number One in chart history.

Which all naturally enough brings us to the present day and this week’s 52-1 jump by Nico & Vinz with Am I Wrong. Their leap is due to an entirely new set of circumstances, a single available for streaming several weeks ahead of its for-purchase release and under the brand new chart rules eligible to chart even on those terms. These are very early days and record labels are understandably cautious about making songs available to legally stream on demand before anyone can buy them – after all, will people really buy songs in such numbers if they have already played it to death in the weeks before? Inevitably where Nico & Vinz lead, others will follow and whilst the streaming market continues to lag behind that of the download one it is inevitable we will see more and more big hits start their chart life as low level streaming hits before exploding into life when fully released. We could be about to repeat the flurry of giant leaps last seen in 2006-8 and who knows, maybe more additions to the list of extra-Top 40 fliers.

Jul 31

33 1/3

The album is dead.

My collection. yesterday.Not my words (although it echoes what I have been saying for some time), but those of a growing number of people connected with the industry. Sales of the venerable format have been falling through the floor for some time, largely because consumers have now cottoned on to the fact that they can pick and choose their own collections of tracks, no longer required to purchase seven fillers for the three golden eggs amongst a singer’s repertoire that they actually want, and of course with the advent of streaming services now able to curate their own playlists to fit a mood or a style.

Like so many other things in the history of the music industry, the idea of the album as an artform in itself came largely as a result of technological advances. Before the invention of the modern “long playing” disc, music could only be distributed on 78rpm discs, each with a limited running time. To purchase an entire classical symphony it was necessary to buy a series of records, all bound together in individual sleeves – hence the expression “album”. Although the need for discs with longer running times was most keenly felt by the film and broadcast industries who needed a more convenient method of storing film soundtracks and pre-recorded programming, it was reportedly an executive at Colombia records who tired of getting up every ten minutes to change discs whilst appreciating a classical piece and so drove the research to find a consumer product which would fit an entire work across two sides. It is not entirely by coincidence that the first ever 12-inch LP record issued was a recording of a Mendelsson concerto in June 1948.

As any music historian will tell you, the elevation of the long playing album from a mere showcase to came in the mid-1960s and particularly later in the decade with the emergence of the concept album as an artistic statement. No longer an excuse to bundle together a collection of new songs and cover versions, the album was a work of art in itself, to be appreciated as a body of work as a whole. Just look how long it took Pink Floyd to agree to list their back catalogue online for digital download – the idea of people buying just single tracks bereft of their context was horrific to them.

The era of the compact disc may have caused that kind of preciousness to wobble, part of its marketing after all was the way tracks could be skipped and rearranged in personal programs at will, but it was also embraced by many acts to free themselves from the time strictures of the 12-inch vinyl record. CD albums emerged with more tracks than their vinyl or cassette equivalent, or indeed entire discs of extra material denied to the purchasers of alternate formats. Technology enhanced the album and it was embraced with enthusiasm.

Which brings us to the present day and music’s latest technological advances this time conspiring to consign the album apparently to history. I’d suggest though that this isn’t the whole of the story. Almost six years ago I was bemoaning the ever-growing habit of re-releasing already established albums in new extended or “Deluxe” special editions, usually to coincide with the Christmas holidays and the peak period for present buying. You can see a brief quote from me in this piece on the BBC website from November 2008 where I am bemoaning the trend as a rip-off of loyal fans whilst label representatives insist it is just their way of offering people a premium product at a special time of year. Even at the time I was fond of reminding people of the Gold Mother incident of 1991 when Fontana records reissued the James album they had first put out a year earlier with brand new tracks in the wake of their unexpected chart success with the single Sit Down. Today this would have been branded as “Version 2.0″ or a “Deluxe Edition” but back then it was seen as the decent thing to offer a new for old swap deal to anyone with a copy of the original release who now wanted to replace it.

But here is the thing. For a great many acts (particularly urban, dance and R&B) the ‘album’ is no longer a defined set of tracks whose sequence is set in stone from the day you unveil it. Your latest collection is now a set of songs which you can adjust, remix, add to and rework to your hearts content until you or your label decide the well has run dry. In an age when David Guetta can add almost an entire album’s worth of new songs to the set entitled Nothing But The Beat and call it “Version 2.0″ without anyone batting an eyelid or when Ed Sheeran can release as many as four different versions of his new collection, including a track on the physical edition which isn’t even available on the digital versions it is clear that the idea of a modern day album is meaningless. To put it another way, if in 20 years time you wanted to appraise Ellie Goulding’s second album and its status as one of the greatest of its era, which set of tracks would you judge? It is the initial Halcyon release from which its first singles came, or is it the expanded Haylcon Days which added an additional ten tracks to the collection? And who is to say which one is right or wrong?

I remember the first album I ever bought in the week of its release. Introspective by the Pet Shop Boys in October 1988. I slipped out of school on the Friday lunchtime to spend my pocket money on the cassette before carrying it home on the school bus, safe in the knowledge that I would spend the half term listening to it. Today’s teenagers simply sit up at midnight waiting for their pre-order of the latest track from their heart throbs to finally hit their digital devices on the day of release. They don’t need albums.


Jul 13

The Final Gang’s All Here

Having spent the past four weeks (and then some) in some kind of football-related bubble, on the evening of the 2014 World Cup final it seemed only appropriate to gather together those of us who have spent afternoons and evenings confined to the office broadcasting a seemingly endless amount of live football. Presenting then the talkSPORT World Cup Live production team. In all our hideous glory.


Jul 09

1990 In Motion–Part Three

What do I remember about the start of July 1990. Well I was 16 on the verge of turning 17, coming to the end of what in those days was referred to as the lower sixth, and as I recall this was a summer of some hot and sticky days. One of them was spent on a school away day to Newcastle where we university hopefuls were given tours of both the University and Polytechnic, the visits punctuated by my friends and I wandering around the Eldon Square Shopping Centre with me suffering from the mother of all hay fever attacks. On a positive note I also recall stopping at every electronics store (this in the day when you could find five or six on any high street) and worshipping the music centres on display – all of which oddly enough seemed to be playing this week’s Number 9 single.

I don’t think I ever actually applied to go to Newcastle either. Onward with the singles chart then as the broadcast of July 1st 1990 reaches a quite memorable climax.

10: MC Tunes vs 808 State – The Only Rhyme That Bites

Technically the “using an established act to promote a new one” trick dates back to the 1960s and the whole “Diana Ross presents The Jackson 5” billing, but here was a quite blatant example of one part of the Manchester scene giving a vital leg up to another. Thus The Only Rhyme That Bites starts with a voiceover announcement: “the ones who brought you…” followed by a snatch of the seminal 808 State track Pacific State before continuing “…now bring you..” at which point Tunes lets rip. A full six months before the whole Vanilla Ice sensation, Britain had a white boy rapper of his own, Moss Side resident Nicholas Hodgson who growled his way through a frantic track, accompanied by the now familiar squelches and bangs of the 808 State production style along with samples of the cascading strings from the start of Jerome Moross’ Big Country Theme. MC Tunes may not have been the most proficient, lyrically adept or technically sound rapper but the package as a whole made The Only Rhyme That Bites one of the most exciting and diverting British rap singles heard for some considerable time. Peaking here at Number 10, this debut hit sadly marked the high point of MC Tunes’ rap career, the follow-up Tunes Splits The Atom his only other Top 40 entry whilst his second album Damage By Stereo never saw the light of day until earlier in 2014. Hodgson would eventually branch out into singing, forming the band Dust Junkys and landing a Top 40 hit in early 1998. Their main claim to fame though? Recording the b-side track Rinse (Gearbox Wish) which a year later would form the core of the Fatboy Slim track Gangster Trippin’.

9: MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This

A single so famous it barely requires an introduction here, suffice to say that in the summer of 1990 MC Hammer and his baggy pants dance were utterly and totally ubiquitous – as mentioned above to the extent of being heard on every stereo system the 17 year old me was worshipping on that trip to Newcastle. Fresh from taking the US charts by storm, U Can’t Touch This had embarked on an extended UK chart run at the end of May 1990 and was at this point climbing into the Top 10 for the very first time on its way to a peak at Number 3 in early August. Two more Top 10 hits would follow from his Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em album before the end of the year before it turned out his globe-buggering success was something of a lightning in a bottle moment which subsequent recordings failed to recapture. Stanley Kirk Burrell is today the punchline to an early 90s joke, the poster child for ‘too much too soon’ and a cautionary tale of believing your own hype after just one successful album. Perhaps more importantly though he was the first pop-rap megastar, the first man to drag hip-hop out of its credible and radio-unfriendly ghetto and instead dress it up in infectious, bubbly, party-friendly clothes which most crucially of all made him and his music a mainstream proposition in America. Every major worldwide hit from the likes of Flo Rida or Pitbull can trace its roots back to U Can’t Touch This and the musical ground it pioneered. To me that is worth a thousand HAMMER TIME jokes.

8: Wilson Phillips – Hold On

A hit record which perhaps more than any other creation of its era practically screams “Californian sunshine”. Wilson Phillips were three second-generation musical ladies, sisters Carnie and Wendy Wilson (daughters of Beach Boy Brian) and their childhood friend Chynna Phillips (daughter of Mamas and Papas star John). The first single from their Glen Ballard-produced debut album Hold On was depending on your point of view the height of corporate blandness or an immaculate four minutes of liquid honey enveloping an inspiring life-affirming lyric. Technically it was hard to fault the single, polished to within an inch of its life and with the voices of the three women coming together in an almost angelic harmony. Their only flaw really was that they were better experienced in small doses, their album demonstrating that when the material wasn’t as strong as Hold On they became whiny and annoying very quickly indeed. Set alongside a music culture filled with Madchester beats, blistering house tracks and a feeling that British music was on the verge of something very exciting indeed, Hold On is like an injection of liquid glucose, so utterly out of place it seems almost extraordinary to see it here. Yet a major hit it was, probably because all sneering aside the record is so immaculately made and the sentiments of the song so lovely it could hardly fail whatever the prevailing circumstances. Hold On would peak at Number 6, the one and only Top 10 hit for Wilson Phillips who, as you might expect, struggled to find a large British audience for any of their subsequent material, 1992 release You Won’t See Me Cry their only other Top 20 appearance. Nonetheless, if you want to in a moment be transported mentally to a place of golden sands, roller-skating bikini-clad ladies and cocktails at sunset all whilst being serenaded by a choir of angels, this is as good a place as any to start.

7: Maxi Priest – Close To You

Reinvention. It can be a great career extender. Maxi Priest had begun his career as a reggae singer in the mid-1980s, starting out with some small scale independent singles before moving to proper mainstream success in 1987, breaking through with cover versions of Some Guys Have All The Luck and Wild World. Yet his music was at best lovers’ rock. Calm, inoffensive and very middle of the road. Continuing down that path would have won him fans amongst housewives but that is pretty much it. Hence a change of label to Charisma records and a move towards what would become known as reggae fusion, in which elements of hip-hop and R&B were combined with the traditional Jamaican sounds on which he had built his career. Close To You was essentially a revelation, a Sly and Robbie-produced track which invited genre boundaries to go take a long walk as it stirred in new jack swing beats, Soul II Soul string accompaniment and perhaps more importantly a new vocal attitude. No longer was he Maxi Priest the hopeless romantic of his earlier hits, he was MAXI. Streetwise, dark and meaning it. The single was lapped up by British audiences who sent the track to Number 7, the second of only three Top 10 hits he would manage in his career. More extraordinarily however the track found a ready and willing audience in America and by October 1990 he and his tale of “a jezebel, this Brixton queen” were on top of the Hot 100 and on top of the world, along with UB40 one of only two British reggae stars ever to reach the top of the charts in America. Maxi Priest’s later chart form back home was still rather erratic but collaborations with the likes of Shaggy and Shabba Ranks would give him further smash hits over the next few years.

As for the next record, well as if to indicate that World Cup fever had indeed spread to all branches of the media, Bruno Brookes took time out on the chart show that week to introduce it as being by the side who were, in his words, going to “smash the Cameroons later tonight”. En-ger-land!

6: Englandneworder – World In Motion

To put it mildly the England Football Anthem industry was in the middle of a crisis. The template for World Cup celebration records had been set back in 1970 with the seminal Back Home, establishing the principle that a strident military-style march was the best participatory medium for a group of men for whom singing was low down the long list of their celebrated talents. Although a 12 year gap between qualification for World Cup tournaments ensued, the same template was re-used in 1982 for This Time (We’ll Get It Right) and which came close to emulating the chart peak of its now legendary predecessor.

Then the wheels came off in 1986 as the England Football Squad’s single We’ve Got The Whole World At Our Feet, written and created by Brotherhood Of Man creator Tony Hiller and sounding like the theme from ‘We Are The Champions’ crossed with Black Lace bombed out at Number 66 and was gone from the charts before the squad had even left for Mexico. A quick-fire attempt to right the wrong by teaming with “the sound of” Stock/Aitken/Waterman for the official anthem for the 1988 European Championships was almost as disastrous as the team’s performance at that tournament, although the single did at least give us this never to be forgotten live performance by some very big names indeed on ‘Wogan’:

So as the 1990 World Cup approached it was clear that in order to make the official song even close to worthwhile something rather special was needed. Enter then New Order, at the time riding high on the acclaim handed to them by their Technique album and theoretically too cool to get involved in something as naff as a cheesy football anthem. Except that the football-mad group had a different idea and succeeded beyond anyone’s wild imagination in making the coolest and most credible football anthem ever. Not that the production wasn’t without its struggles at times, early plans to call the track E For England were nixed by the FA who weren’t so out of touch as to spot the blatant drug reference.

Technically World In Motion wasn’t a completely original work, sharp-eared fans immediately spotting that the melody was that of the theme to the BBC TV series ‘Reportage’ which New Order had also performed. But this was a minor detail and went unnoticed by most in the joyful fervour which greeted John Barnes’ mid-song “rap” (well, more of a recitation really) that was apparently as a result of a brief talent contest between him, Gazza, Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley. Although the entire England squad appear in the video, the sleeve suggests that the actual vocal work by the footballers heard in the refrain (Bernard Sumner actually sings the main song) is limited to a carefully selected handful of those who could most carry a tune. Make no mistake this record was a labour of love for all involved and born of a determination to, in the words of one of its predecessors, get it right.

In short it could hardly fail. Released at the end of May 1990 three weeks before Italia ‘90 began, World In Motion crashed into the charts at Number 2 and the following week was at the top for a fortnight run – handing the England Football Team what was effectively their second Number One but but perhaps most crucially their new friends New Order their one and only British chart-topping single. Arriving as it did in a post-Heysel post-Hillsbrough hooligan-blighted football culture, World In Motion was arguably the first gleaming nugget of football’s reinvented cool as the football side defied all expectations to reach that famous semi final shootout and have the nation for a brief moment believe that we could once again be on top of the world.

5: Snap! – Ooops Up

The brainchild of two German producers, Michael Muenzing and Luca Anzilotti (who changed their names to the more familiar Benites and Garrett to counter what they saw as a prejudice against German dance music), Snap! were at the time of their first releases fronted by singer Penny Ford and most notably of all rapper Turbo B. They had landed a huge hit right out of the gate with debut release The Power which had stormed to the top of the charts with some ease both in Britain and across Europe and had even come close to duplicating that success in America, peaking there at Number 2. In an era when most dance acts were little more than faceless one hit wonders it was therefore a pleasant surprise to note that Snap! were a fully formed act with an entire album of material ready to roll. World Power was released in May 1990 and from that set Ooops Up became their second smash hit single. The track was based around lyrics and melody borrowed from the Gap Band’s seminal Oops Upside Your Head (as it was known in the UK), Penny Ford by strange coincidence having performed with the group earlier in her career. At the core however was another front and centre rap performance by Turbo B, this time recounting a comic tale of personal disasters “If it can go wrong, yes it will” and including the kind of eyebrow-raising lyrics that would become something of a hallmark of early Snap! singles. On this occasion we learn he is “hard as Chinese math” prior to a condom-snapping encounter with the object of his lust – only a small step removed from the “serious as cancer” lyric which would pass into legend two years later. Also of note on the production is the squeaking sound which appears roughly every eight bars during the track, its origin revealed when the group performed the track on Top Of The Pops, Turbo B carefully squeezing a plastic duck toy into the microphone at the appropriate points. Were they the first hugely successful dance act to not take themselves completely seriously? Ooops Up was here sitting pretty at its Number 5 chart peak. Two more Top 10 singles would follow before the end of the year.

4: Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2: Mona

By this point in 1990 it was more or less a given that any star of Australian soap ‘Neighbours’ who embarked upon a musical career was guaranteed a rapturous reception. Kylie, Jason and to a lesser extend Stefan Dennis had all made the journey from TV to charts, setting the stage nicely for hunk du jour Craig “Henry Ramsay” McLachlan to make his own bid for chart glory. Except as far as he was concerned he was a proper musician with his own chops to prove, so he signed to CBS complete with his own band Check 1-2. By the time the record was released in Britain the actor had actually jumped ship from Ramsay Street to Summer Bay to star in rival soap ‘Home and Away’, but with Britain 18 months behind in the show’s chronology by that point the record was perfectly timed to cash in on his Henry Ramsay persona. In marked contrast to the bublegum pop of his co-stars this was a crunching balls-out piece of Australian pub-rock, a storming cover of an old Bo Diddley song that the artist had first released back in 1957. It was an oddly incongruous hit for sure, but such was the actor’s popularity that it was hardly going to fail, racing to Number 2 in short order upon release and setting the stage for the debut album by Check 1-2 to also achieve respectable sales. A follow-up single Amanda reached the Top 20 later that summer, but after a disastrous transformation into a smooth soulful singer for his second album in 1992 it took a move to stage musicals to return Craig McLachlan to the higher end of the singles chart.

3: Roxette – It Must Have Been Love

Strange though it may sound in retrospect, Roxette were in serious danger of being nothing more than one hit wonders in the UK. Whilst the Swedish duo’s breakthrough single The Look had made a respectable Number 7 in May 1989 on the back of its surprise American chart success, further single releases from their Look Sharp album had bombed. Now familiar standards Dressed For Success and Listen To Your Heart had been resounding flops and presumably left their label scratching their heads over what to do next. Salvation came from the unlikely source of the film Pretty Woman which had become a smash hit all over the world at the start of the year and called attention to its rather brilliantly curated soundtrack which was stuffed with otherwise throwaway tracks from several well known and upcoming artists. David Bowie’s Fame ‘90 and Natalie Cole’s Wild Women Do had already reached the charts before the decision was made to release It Must Have Been Love which soundtracked the movie’s climactic romantic scene.

The track was by this time three years old and was originally written as a Christmas single, released solely in Sweden at the end of 1987 and becoming a Top 10 hit there. Released as a single worldwide for the very first time to tie in with its use in the film, the song swiftly became Roxette’s third American Number One and perhaps most crucially of all restored them to the business end of the UK charts, rising to a Number 3 peak to end up as the duo’s biggest ever British hit. This was the spark that was needed to resurrect their British chart prospects and a re-issue of Listen To Your Heart in August led to the single reaching Number 6, a similarly reactivated Dressed For Success also going Top 20 before the end of the year. It Must Have Been Love remains to this day the most famous of all Roxette’s hit singles and indeed would return to the charts three years after its first visit when an opportunistic re-release to coincide with the TV premiere of Pretty Woman saw it reach Number 10 in early October 1993.

2: Luciano Pavarotti – Nessun Dorma

“You’ll be singing along to it within a week..” warned Des Lynam as he cued in for the first time the classical piece which would act as the theme to the BBC’s coverage of the 1990 World Cup. He wasn’t far wrong either.

The commercialisation of Italian opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti had actually started in earnest earlier in 1990. His label Decca had put together the album The Essential Pavarotti containing selected highlights from the many recordings he had made for them during a near 20 year association. The sleeve notes even contained an essay from the unlikely choice of then Radio One DJ Nicky Campbell who recounted an occasion when he dropped in a Pavarotti track unannounced during a late night show and was inundated with calls from people begging to know just who owned the spine-tingling voice. The Essential Pavarotti had been released in March 1990 and had made the Top 20 with some ease, coinciding with the also unexpected commercial success of Nigel Kennedy’s recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and prompting talk of a classical music renaissance. Little did anyone know.

Meanwhile thoughts had turned to the theme songs for the World Cup coverage of both BBC and ITV, something which had become something of an unofficial race between the two networks ever since the BBC had landed a Top 20 hit with Argentine Melody in 1978. No Top 40 hits had resulted from the themes selected in 82 and 86 respectively, but it was still considered a badge of honour to be the team that landed the most popular music. The choice of Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of Nessun Dorma (taken from Turnadot) was reportedly that of BBC presenter Des Lynam himself. Little did he know just how iconic the music would become.

Most people were probably unaware just how old the recording was, the cut actually lifted from a full recorded performance of Turandot which had been issued in 1972. But at the end of the day most classical recordings are timeless, and as the interest in the World Cup reached fever pitch and schedules were cleared to show as many matches as possible – especially when England were playing – Nessun Dorma became close to an official national anthem as the tournament progressed. Released as a single it became the most astonishing and unexpected hit of the year, leaping 21-3-2 where it lodged for three weeks and in the process dragging The Essential Pavarotti up the charts as well. Number 2 was enough to match the peak of Hooked On Classics by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1981 to become the highest charting classical single of all time whilst the presence of the album at the top of the charts made Pavarotti the first ever classical star to have a Number One record. As chance would have it the singer himself was already booked to play a part in Italia ‘90, the first of what would become a series of Three Tenors concerts taking place on the eve of the World Cup final in early July. From this point the larger than life singer would go on to enjoy a level of mainstream popularity unsurpassed by any opera singer since the days of Mario Lanza, a position he maintained until his death in 2007.

Oh yes, and the ITV theme for World Cup 90? Tutti Al Mondo by Rod Argent and Peter Van Hooke which peaked at Number 81. By a strange coincide these were the titles shown the same evening as this chart show, albeit the ones nobody watched as by this time the BBC had torn up the gentleman’s agreement not to go head to head and were showing the match as well…

1: Elton John – Sacrifice/Healing Hands

Elton John and Bernie Taupin intended to be the 1989 Sleeping With The Past album to be their equivalent of Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man six years earlier, a tribute to the musical heroes that both men had grown up with and with all songs written with a musical nod to classics gone by. The only problem was that it was released at a genuine low point of Elton John’s career, hard on the heels of the disappointing Reg Strikes Back album in 1988 and at a time when the flamboyant singer looked to be a relic of a bygone age, his career winding down rather than set for a dramatic rebound. Despite copious airplay the album’s two lead singles had been resounding flops in Elton’s home country. Four Tops pastiche Healing Hands made a mere Number 45 in September 1989, swiftly followed by the even more disappointing Number 55 peak for the Aretha Franklin tribute Sacrifice two months later. They were two of the lowest charting singles of Elton John’s career.

The impetus for their release came largely from Steve Wright, at the time in his pomp as the host of the afternoon show on Radio One. He utterly adored Sacrifice, played it regularly despite its chart failure and all but demanded that it be re-released to prove it could still be a hit, a sentiment that had some sympathy in the John/Taupin camp who saw it as one of their strongest compositions ever and whose failure had come as a huge disappointment to them. As it happened summer 1990 coincided with Elton’s decision to make all his singles charity releases, donating all revenues hereafter to the AIDS charities that he supported. To launch the campaign it made perfect sense to re-bundle the two underperforming hit singles from the previous year as a Steve Wright-sponsored re-issue. Second time around (and possibly helped not a little by the tactical withdrawal of the album from sale a few weeks earlier) magic happened.

The new double a-side of Sacrifice/Healing Hands entered the charts at Number 26, rocketed to Number 5 the following week, and then seven days later ascended to the very top of the singles chart. To say this was a significant moment was something of an understatement, for the lack of a solo Number One for Elton John in what was rapidly approaching a 20 year musical career was the great chart anomaly. Yes, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart had made the top in 1976, but that was a duet with Kiki Dee and for whatever reason wasn’t viewed as counting (possibly because British Hit Singles at that time listed even one-off duets as separate artist entries and so the entry for ‘Elton John’ solo was indeed devoid of Number One hits). With this one single a celebrated two decade duck had been broken and the monkey was well and truly off his back.

Sacrifice/Healing Hands would spend a total of five weeks at Number One (this was its third) and although subsequent singles from Sleeping With The Past also failed to make the Top 40 its success paved the way for the end of year release of a new Greatest Hits double album collection, allowing for a re-appreciation of Elton’s life work. The momentum arguably only carried him so far, and by the time of 1995’s Made In England album he was arguably on his way back to irrelevance, elevated only to true national treasure status by the Bloody Diana Record two years later. By a strange coincidence Elton’s last chart single before that had been the Number 9 single Live Like Horses, a rather turgid duet with the man whom he had denied an equally celebrated Number One single in the summer of 1990 – Luciano Pavarotti.

So that was the chart of July 1st 1990, broadcast on the night England beat Cameroon in the World Cup Quarter Final and the current hit parade on the night of that famous penalty shootout against Germany in the Semi. As chance would have it this was actually a rather vintage set of records, maybe not as full as million selling blockbusters as some I’ve written about in the past, but rammed with records that were in their own way rather memorable and with a cultural significance which lasted long after they had been relegated to the bargain bins.

For the curious, here is the full Spotify playlist of every song from this Top 40, even the ones not broadcast – plus as a bonus Bruno Brookes with the full chart countdown. See you in a month when the next book should hopefully(!) be ready.

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Jul 05

1990 In Motion–Part Two

The news headlines of this week in 1990? Well there was only one story in town at the end of the day and it was a week which would end with Gazza’s tears, penalty shootouts and press pictures of eerily deserted Trafalgar Square. At the moment this chart was being broadcast though, that was all in the future and indeed this was an evening which would end in no small degree of triumph:


(and in case you are wondering, Chris Evert “really admires Steffi Graf, who is after all a victim of events beyond her control”). We continue the chart show, which by this point was overrunning slightly so the records at 20 and 19 were skipped:

18: Jason Donovan – Another Night

For some reason I remember vividly the review in Q Magazine of Jason Donovan’s second Stock/Aitken/Waterman produced album Between The Lines which in an attempt to put some flesh on the bones of what was otherwise a throwaway recap of a pop album noted that even the most ardent fan of the “Neighbours” star would surely come away feeling more than a little short-changed. The truth was that the album was possibly one of the most uninspired collections of songs the famed production trio had ever put together for one of their acts, material by and large lacking in fire, inspiration or showing even a spark of the commercial bullseyes they had been hitting up to that point. On the strength of this single this was quite possibly fair comment. The second single to be taken from the collection which had been released in May, Another Night was here peaking rather surprisingly at Number 18, his first ever to miss the Top 10 and indeed the first indications that his imperial phase as the heartthrob teen singer of choice was coming to an end. Listen to it below (much of Jason Donovan’s PWL work is lost in rights hell and not streamable) and you will understand what I mean. There is nothing inherently bad about the single, aside from the obvious fact that it is a synthetic three minutes of manufactured pop, but the verses are limp, the chorus melody sounds tired and even Donovan himself sounds like he is going through the motions. The very epitome of a “will this do” album filler, yet here it is masquerading as a Top 20 hit single.

17: Poison – Unskinny Bop

If you believe the narrative that the arrival of Nirvana and their grunge-inspired pals in 1991 cast the 80s hair metal bands into well-deserved oblivion, then it is not hard to see 1990 as their final hurrah. The lead single from their third album Flesh & Blood, Unskinny Bop was the third and final Top 20 hit single for Poison, although they would continue to land hit singles until 1993 when they finally departed the charts for good. A raucous and unsubtle paean to what we would presume to be a good old fashioned shag, the band themselves insist to this day that the expression “Unskinny Bop” has no meaning beyond a placeholder lyric whilst the song was being written. Pull the other one.

16: Big Fun and Sonia – You’ve Got A Friend

No, come back. I know what you are thinking and having not heard it myself for 24 years the exact same thought came to my mind too. But trust me, despite the personnel involved this record is musically more worthwhile than it might seem on paper. Summer 1990 saw the children’s helpline Childline go through one of its apparently regular funding crises, prompting founder Esther Rantzen to plead once more for some musical help. The call was answered by PWL who volunteered the services of two of their acts to record a charity record, hoping to emulate the success of the Wet Wet Wet cover of With A Little Help From My Friends two years earlier. The Wikipedia article suggests that the single was originally intended to be a cover version of the famous Carole King song of the same name and was indeed recorded as such, only for the idea to be scrapped and presumably to avoid wasting the already prepared artwork this original song with the same title was substituted in its place. Ignore the fact that it is being sung by cheesy boy band trio Big Fun and the permanently smiling Sonia and what you actually have here is a rather pleasant jazz-pop ballad, the production aided enormously by the presence of saxophone maestro Gary Barnacle who was given an all-too-rare performers credit on the sleeve three years after he had topped the charts performing the solo on T’Pau’s China In Your Hand. You’ve Got A Friend had a respectable enough chart run although it never progressed beyond Number 14 and indeed this week was the last of its four week run in the Top 20. As things turned out it was the last ever Top 40 appearance for Big Fun, less than a year after their first, a breathtakingly short run even by boy band standards.

15: Bob Geldof – The Great Song Of Indifference

Saint Bob’s attempts to return to a musical career following his mid-80s elevation to Mr Ethiopia had not gone entirely to plan. His 1986 solo debut Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere had been given a polite reception and spawned a solitary hit single in the shape of This Is The World Calling but had remained otherwise unpurchased. Four years later he tried again with The Vegetarians Of Love, a more self-consciously organic and earthy record which also saw the singer attempt to return to some of his Irish roots. All of this was in evidence on the album’s one and only hit single, an acoustic folk song mashed together with an Irish reel and which was memorably produced with the conceit that it was a one-take spontaneous studio jam – complete with Bob asking “are we rolling?” at the start and the singer and band erupting into forced laughter at the end as their musical bedlam finally comes to a halt. “Hehe, let’s listen..” chuckles Bob as the tape abruptly stops. Pull the other one chaps. The song itself was lyrically a rather clunking satire on the kind of people who were by now starting to moan at Geldof’s sub-Bono moralising “I don’t care if the Third World fries, hotter there I’m not surprised” but it was diverting and perhaps crucially different enough to be a worthwhile exercise. A Top Of The Pops performance complete with an elderly Irish dancer (who had to stand stock still during the verses before bursting into action in the chorus) plus the relentless enthusiasm of Radio One breakfast show host Simon Mayo who made the song a Record Of the Week helped The Great Song Of Indifference to this Number 15 peak – believe it or not Bob Geldof’s biggest solo hit ever.

14: Chad Jackson – Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked)

Winner of the DMC World Championships in 1987, Manchester DJ Chad Jackson landed his one and only hit single in 1990 with a record which whilst being very much of its time has remained quite curiously iconic and perhaps more importantly instantly recognisable ever since. A cut and paste house track, Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked) takes Mark The 45 King’s celebrated house track The 900 Number as its base and stirs in samples from James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Public Enemy, Soul II Soul and most memorably of all the bass break from the O’Jays The Love Of Money to create a single which raced to a Number 3 peak upon release in late May. Despite further releases Chad Jackson remained a one hit wonder, but what a hit.

13: Betty Boo – Doin’ The Do

Alison Clarkson’s deliberately cartoonish Betty Boo persona belied her roots as one of Britain’s earliest and most credible female MCs, her role as one third of the She Rockers taking her to New York for recording and touring with Public Enemy, albeit unsuccessfully. After her introduction to the world as the voice of the Beatmasters’ 1989 hit Hey DJ (I Can’t Dance) she launched her own solo career with this deservedly famous hit, one which began her trademark of 60s girl group back-references (in this case Captain Of Your Ship by Reparata & the Delrons). The single barged its way to Number 7 during an extended chart run, this particular week being its eighth week on the singles chart and the first since dropping out of the Top 10. Better known these days for her songwriting talents (her link with Hear’Say’s Pure And Simple being well documented), her former status as Britain’s first ever mainstream female pop-rap star is viewed with a similar level of respect. Throwaway pop hits her singles may have been, but she is rightly regarded as a pioneer and inspiration.

12: FAB featuring MC Parker – Thunderbirds Are Go

Running through these hits it is hard to escape the feeling that this was a period characterised by some rather startling one-off novelties. None more so than this, the highest new entry of the week and a record which you may note was famously the first ever to be played on the BBC’s then brand new Radio 5 service which launched in August 1990. First the track itself, and as the title suggests it is a house remake of Barry Gray’s famous Thunderbirds March, the theme to the Gerry Anderson TV series from the 1960s. Rather cleverly done, the track uses samples of Parker to propel the track during the house breaks with the occasional contribution from Lady Penelope using carefully selected samples to show her at her kinkiest (“Are you going to tie me up?” “YOU BET I AM” “Oh I don’t mind, really”). The single was taken from a fuller project on Telstar Records, an album entitled Power Themes 90 which featured a string of similarly remixed and reworked themes from cult 1960s TV series and which to this day is a much sought-after piece of memorabilia by fans of the genre. Tracking down exactly who was behind the project is however slightly trickier. The credited producers are a collective called 3 To The Power who never appeared on any other work of note. The names of Rod Anderson and Jason Mayo are also on the label along with “executive producers” Gary Schofield, Steve Margo and Neil Palmer, none of whom can be cross-referenced with any other chart singles by the otherwise comprehensive Discogs website. All in all a bit of a mystery, although the presence of Thunderbirds Are Go on the various streaming services suggests it is far from lost in rights hell and somebody somewhere is still making money out of it. FAB and MC Parker would ultimately reach Number 6 but subsequent FAB releases from Power Themes 90 featuring remixes of themes from The Prisoner and Stingray peaked at 56 and 66 respectively.

11: Maureen – Thinking Of You

Just outside the Top 10, a placing it was destined never to improve upon, was yet another soul revival recast as a 1990 club hit. This was effectively the second hit single for Maureen Walsh, previously the featured voice on the Bomb The Bass take on Say A Little Prayer which had reached Number 10 in December 1988. Thinking Of You was the Rogers and Edwards-penned track which had essentially revived the fortunes of Sister Sledge back in 1984, propelling the girls back into the Top 3 and deservedly going on to become one of their most famous recordings. Maureen’s cover dropped the tempo dramatically, re-imagining the song as a soft shuffle in a manner which was actually quite inspired, making this a far more worthwhile exercise than your average early 90s cover version. It is surely worth noting that if released today, Maureen would have been paired with a big name MC to feature on the rap break. Back in 1990 the featured rapper was listed on the record label as “Kev Won”, the identity of whom is lost deep in the mists of time. Spotify again comes up blank for this one, but an excuse to embed a video that is not a SAW track is a welcome one for sure.

Jul 03

1990 In Motion–Part One

July 4th 1990 marks a famous moment in the history of English football. A snapshot in time of shattered dreams, iconic tears and the start of an unbearable cliché that no matter how much hope and expectation we have, England are just never any good at penalty shootouts. With the present day England team having returned home from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil an abject failure, it seems as good a time as any to evince the now faded emotions of that famous England v Germany World Cup semi final with the hits of that moment.

As chance would have it, the Sunday before I had pressed record on the Radio One Top 40 show and captured for what seemed ever more the way the singles chart sounded at the precise moment that Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle shanked their penalties later that week. So here then as a special midsummer treat is a recap of that very chart show. To save a little time (because some of us are supposed to be writing books after all) I’ll take the songs as they were played during the two hour chart show as per the tape, the best 30 in effect, although at the end I’ll link to a Spotify playlist with as much of the full Top 40 intact as is possible.

With all that said, cue the Greenwich pips, cue Bruno Brookes and let’s roll the Official Top 40 as it was broadcast on Sunday July 1st, 1990.

39: World Party – Message In A Box

Karl Wallinger started his music career first as a theatre director and then as a funk musician before joining The Waterboys, being part of the line up of the ground which recorded the This Is The Sea album in 1985 and its classic hit single The Whole Of The Moon. Leaving the group shortly afterwards, Wallinger formed World Party as a proper vehicle for his own multi-instrumentalist talents. His (or their) second album Goodbye Jumbo had been released in April 1990 and whilst lead single Way Down Now had flopped first time around, the second cut taken from the album became the first ever Top 40 hit single for World Party. One of those records which was inevitably cooed over by the ageing Radio One lineup at the time, it would these days be regarded as the perfect Radio Two record, an endearingly relaxed production underpinning Wallinger’s intensely meant vocals pleading for environmental tolerance and global peace and love. Having taken four weeks just to reach this initial Top 40 entry, Message In A Box just didn’t have any steam left to carry it further and so it remains a faded memory and a passing curiosity to this day. Still, the album itself remains a worthwhile listen as indeed does 1993 follow-up Bang! which at last contained something approaching some proper hit singles.

36: Del Amitri – Move Away Jimmy Blue

Intense and soulful Glaswegians Del Amitri had taken their sweet time to become properly famous but the breakthrough hit single had been achieved in the early weeks of 1990 with the enduring classic Nothing Ever Happens. After a re-release of earlier flop single Kiss This Thing Goodbye had failed to live up to expectations and missed the Top 40 for a second time, the group moved on to what was actually the fourth and final single from their Waking Hours album (which was by this time a year old having first hit the streets in summer 1989). Move Away Jimmy Blue was at its heart a rather clever bit of poetry, the tale of a man conceived into poverty as “a love match with the moon in a lay by” and for whom a life of “4 walls of neglected debts and stolen stereos” is only escapable by leaving the small town in which he lives and seeking better in the wider world. An inescapably bleak record it I guess speaks volumes for the hard work the group had put in that it finally became their second Top 40 hit (even if this Number 36 placing was a far as it would get), proof that Nothing Ever Happens was no fluke and formed the bedrock for better things to come.

35: River City People – Carry The Blame/California Dreamin’

Siobhan Maher began her career as a children’s TV presenter, appearing on summertime mornings on BBC1 in 1988 as part of a rotating cast of faces. She had bigger ambitions though and even as her TV career started to take off so her band Peep Show was steadily morphing into the River City People. The group landed a major coup that same summer when, still unsigned, they featured in a specially shot video on The Chart Show performing an early version of (What’s Wrong With) Dreaming which would become their first official single a year later. Despite working with producer Don Gehman in Los Angeles their debut album Say Something Good had resolutely failed to sell and hit singles were thin on the group despite sympathetic support from Radio One. Their chart debut was therefore a last ditch roll of the dice, pairing one final track from the album with a new track, a straight for the jugular cover version of the old The Mamas and The Papas hippie anthem California Dreamin’. Full marks to whoever had the idea though, because it worked. A new entry here this week, the double a-sided track eventually fought its way to a Number 13 peak and became the high point of the career of River City People. Although technically the second track on the single it was California Dreamin’ which attracted all the attention, lead song Carry The Blame an intense but altogether less sunnier anti-abortion polemic.

33: Diana Ross – I’m Still Waiting (Remix)

Consider this our first encounter of something of a leitmotif for this singles chart as for a brief period in the summer of 1990 the British music market was engulfed in revivals of 70s soul hits reworked for modern day dancefloors. I’m Still Waiting is a curious anomaly in Diana Ross’ hit canon, a single which was a hit uniquely in Britain and practically nowhere else with Tony Blackburn having badgered for its release in 1970 and relentlessly promoted it all the way to Number One. Its 20th anniversary revival came thanks to a remix by Phil Chill, a prospect which sounds grotesque on paper but which was actually respectful enough of the source material to ensure that the Motown soul ballad was transformed gently but effectively into a chill-out club shuffle. The new version of I’m Still Waiting only reached Number 21 but was actually a surprisingly worthwhile exercise.

32: James – Come Home

It genuinely seemed as if Tim Booth and the band James were destined never to have proper commercial success. Manchester-based contemporaries of Morrissey and Marr, they were frequently spoken of in the same breath as The Smiths (they were the support act on the Meat Is Murder tour after all) and as the uncrowned second best band in Manchester. By the end of the 1980s the group had overcome additions, spells in religious cults, on-stage fights and a grumpy unwillingness to properly commit to record labels to finally record a their third proper album Gold Mother for Rough Trade records but another dispute over its marketing (and Geoff Travis’ belief that they were only going to sell locally) led them to buy the rights to the master tapes and strike a major label deal with Fontana records instead. Their first release on the label How Was It For You had seen them reach the Top 40 for the first time ever in May and it was swiftly followed by a brand new version of a track which had been their final Rough Trade single at the end of the preceding year. The new mix of Come Home was remixed by Mark ‘Flood’ Ellis, at the time a very hot ticket indeed thanks to his work on the Depeche Mode album Violator. He took the jangling indie anthem and thrust the group headlong into the burgeoning baggy scene, adding house pianos and swirling funk guitars to all of a sudden make James sound like the most exciting band in the world. In spite of its seminal status however Come Home still wasn’t the single that turned James into superstars, peaking here at Number 32 alongside the rather limply received initial release of the Gold Mother album. True salvation from obscurity was another nine months away.

31: Rolling Stones – Almost Hear You Sigh

“Daddy, was there really still a time in the 1980s when the Rolling Stones were still considered a relevant, commercially viable and contemporary musical act rather than a never-ending nostalgia novelty?”

“Why yes, small imaginary child, take for example their 1989 album Steel Wheels which saw Jagger and Richards end their decade-long sulk with each other and start working properly together for the first time in years. It cast aside ill-advised flirtations with funk and disco and was generally considered their best work for some time, prompting their biggest tour ever and prompting their overdue transformation into living legends. Lead single Mixed Emotions had become a minor Top 40 hit the previous autumn and this third single even exceeded its peak even if it was a quite extraordinary mellow love song that basically came gift wrapped with a “please add me to your playlist” note for American rock radio.”

30: Inspiral Carpets – She Comes In The Fall

A record that was very much a victim of second-single syndrome as She Comes In The Fall was simply put the lesser starred follow up to the classic This Is How It Feels which had dragged the Inspiral Carpets kicking and screaming into the Top 20 three months earlier. Dialling down the Hammond Organ a little and actually slightly more representative of the usual meat and potatoes output of the Oldham noisemakers She Comes In The Fall did at least as I recall coincide with the burgeoning popularity of the band’s notorious “Cool as F*ck” line of t-shirts which prompted a brief kerfuffle about just how legal it was to wear them in a public.

29: Janet Jackson – Alright

Single number 596 from Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album (actually the fourth, be sensible, this isn’t Smash Hits) Alright can possibly be considered the zenith of Jam and Lewis’ song writing and production style, the track little more than a blur of New Jack Swing and almost entirely devoid of melody with Janet Jackson reduced to gamely sawing away at the microphone and singing lyrics which might as well have been part of an entirely different song. Simply put this is a record to be experienced rather than heard and whilst it came at the very peak of her fame and was a huge American smash hit, Britain went “meh” and propelled it to a Number 20 peak a week after this chart and then promptly forgot about it. Of more note perhaps is the fact that this was one of the earliest urban singles to be produced in a variety of different versions for single release, including several that added a rap from Heavy D, a contribution absent from the version which charted here in Britain.

27: Massivo featuring Tracy – Lovin’ You

Back on the 70s soul tip and another classic record reworked into a summertime house shuffle. Loving You was the song here, made famous naturally by Minnie Ripperton in 1975 but appearing here in a version that even the extensive Wikipedia page on the song appears blissfully unaware of. The actual identity of Massivo or even singer Tracy has thus far eluded me, but they were a four-piece soul act signed to Debut records and indeed appear to have fluked their way to this hit single given that the version which made the charts was an extensively remixed Soul II Soul-esque take on the rather plastic sounding original that the group had released earlier in 1990. Lovin’ You was a true slow-burner, taking five weeks to reach the Top 40 from its chart debut and here in the middle of a four week run as a Top 30 hit which would see it peak next week at Number 25. It is also unsurprisingly the only track here to be too obscure even for the Spotify catalogue but fortunately there are always YouTube uploaders.

25: Double Trouble featuring Janette Sewell and Karl Brown – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

Numerous acts have chosen to brand themselves Double Trouble over the years, which can get a little confusing. These guys at least are easy to nail down, the trio of British producers who were active from the late 80s onwards and who had made their name in tandem with the Rebel MC with whom they’d had a brace of hits in 1989. Their take on Love Don’t Live Here Anymore duly became the third version of the famous song to be a hit, following in the varied footsteps of original performers Rose Royce in the 70s and Jimmy Nail back in 1985. Taken from their album Be As One, the Double Trouble version is actually a worthwhile listen, a track which takes its cue from the Rose Royce original and blends it neatly with the beats and strings of 1990 house to make this a cover which adds rather than detracts from what should in theory be an untouchable classic. The vocals came from Janette Sewell, one-time backing singer for Simply Red and Double Trouble member Karl Brown who supplies the opening “be true to who you are” monologue and who would go on to become one half of Kiss Fm presenting duo Tuff Jam later in the decade.

21: Glenn Medeiros featuring Bobby Brown – She Ain’t Worth It

A talent show winner in his native Hawaii, Glenn Medeiros had landed a worldwide smash hit (and a UK chart-topper too) in 1988 with his cover version of Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You. Had he wound up a one hit wonder following this few would have been surprised, but it was maybe more of a shock when he re-emerged two years later with some crunching R&B tracks for his self-titled third album. Leading the way was jilted lover revenge track She Ain’t Worth It which thanks to the then white-hot Bobby Brown on guest rap duty (the pair apparently having a mutual friend in Rick James) duly charged to the top of the American charts at around the same time it was becoming a sizeable hit across Europe. Here, the single was on its way to Number 12 as Medeiros’ second and final British hit single although he did have one final moment of notoriety later that year when his follow-up single was selected for review on the Jools Holland-fronted revival of Juke Box Jury. In a clip that has been shown on countless “TV nightmares” shows since, the entire panel listened to the track and elected to be crashingly rude about the record, much to the horror of the host and the teeth-gritting chagrin of the singer himself who was waiting behind a panel to be introduced as the show’s mystery guest. From career-making record to career-killing TV appearance in a matter of months. Now that takes some doing.

Jun 30

Below The Line

“Everyone knows rock n’ roll attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact” – Homer Simpson

I love it when the pop charts make the news. Not just because it naturally validates my continuing childish obsession with music sales, but because it always seems to flush out of the woodwork that odd section of the public which insists on having a strident opinion on something which left them behind a long time ago. I refer of course to the “it is not as good as it used to be brigade”.

Take these examples, culled from recent news stories surrounding last week’s announcement about the addition of streaming data to the UK charts. Those newspapers kind enough to open up the articles for comments meant we were treated to examples like these from The Guardian:


PaddyTheGreek doesn’t elaborate on exactly which aspect of the singles chart is an irrelevant joke or indeed how far back we have to look to the point where he believes it became so, which is a shame. Meanwhile Bradley notes that it is not Christmas and so he has no reason at all to care, but at the very least logged into his account on the website to post a comment on an article about something he genuinely doesn’t care about to let us know he doesn’t think anyone cares. Which is decent of him.

Let’s move on to the BBC:


Our old friend irrelevant again. But at least Taffyman is independently minded enough to listen to “what I like”. Unlike the rest of us who are forced, compelled even to hear the Top 3 singles on endless repeat.


Then we have Bart who is dismayed at the lack of “decent rock and blues” and the presence instead of X Factor rubbish and the sound of banging kitchen utensils together by MC Zanussi. But he does at least acknowledge that perhaps he’s just a little too old to be down with the kids.

You can see the same pattern across just about any news article that happens to mention the singles charts. At least one person will pop up to opine that “it is all rubbish these days, I’ve not listened to the charts for years” and thus conclude that the story is irrelevant to them.

I would merely note the following. Every generation of youth since the 1950s has used their taste in music to demarcate them from their parents’ generation. It was and always has been an elegant form of passive rebellion. You are the past, we are the future, so we’ll listen to a bloke make a guitar go “twang” to prove it. When you were a teenager you would have been horrified if your tastes overlapped with those of your parents. Why on earth do you presume that popular music should continue to reflect yours now that you have become an adult? The music charts may well be irrelevant, filled with drivel and not paid attention to by you other than at Christmas, but trust me. Your kids are loving it.

Jun 23

Islands In The Streams

As listeners to the podcast will know, it was possibly the worst kept secret in music. Months of speculation, rumours and leaks finally culminated last night in the announcement that the music charts as we know them are about to change forever:

Streaming AnnouncementYou will note the emphasis there on “supported by the industry” to hammer home the point that this is a move everyone is on board with, for the change will be met with furrowed brows from some quarters. There is little argument that this represents a major and historic shift in the way the popularity of music is measured, for the first time breaking the link between chart positions and actual monetary transactions.

Nonetheless this is a move which absolutely had to happen. Having been caught on the hop a decade ago by the rise of digital sales and the botched way in which they were integrated with the measurement of physical product, the music industry cannot afford to make the same mistake twice. All indications are that the market for digital downloads (at least for catalogue product if not necessarily new releases) has peaked and the true growth market is in music that is delivered directly to the home from an online library. Music is no longer something you have to physically own, merely something to consume and to remain relevant the music charts have to reflect that.

The announcement does answer some of the burning questions that fans of the charts have had ever since the move was mooted earlier this year. The ratio of streams to sales will be 1:100, it will take 100 streams of a track to be the equivalent of one actual sale when it comes to calculating the rankings (performers will note with a grumble that they receive much less than 1/100th of the royalties but that is an altogether different argument). Note that for now this will actually make for minimal impact on the singles chart as it stands. The most streamed tracks ever to this date have only managed at most 1.5 million in a single week. On a 1:100 ratio this equates to just 15,000 “sales” – less than half of what a Top 10 record might be expected to sell.

As to what constitutes a “stream” it will apparently be a listen of at least 30 seconds which to my mind is slightly short and open to abuse. Only registering a hit when 80% of a track has been heard seems perhaps slightly more logical. However, later interviews by staff of the Official Charts Company have answered that particular question. Streams will be limited to ten of any one track per person (or I guess IP address) per day. So it should be impossible for one person to register any more than 70 ‘hits’ on a track in a single chart week, not even the equivalent of one sale. Given that the rules still allow for up to three digital copies per store to be bought by the same person, a situation which everyone is comfortable with, it is hopefully clear that it will be harder to manipulate the charts through streaming than it is through mass purchases. We’ll see how robust that is come the Christmas chart(!)

What makes some people uncomfortable though is the fact that the singles chart may now reflect a fascination with a song rather than its actual popular appeal. The fact is that if I buy a piece of music I am (unless a member of an enthusiastic Facebook group) doing so because I like it and wish to own a copy to keep and play. I will however stream and listen to a far wider set of product simply to sample it and decide if I like it or not. Yet all I have to do is listen to more than 30 seconds to any one trakc and I’ll be pushing it up the charts, even if I decide its musical or production qualities are lacking and I have no desire ever to hear it again. We are all used to songs becoming a hit because they are “so bad it is good”, but this does raise the spectre of singles climbing the charts thanks to people clamouring to find out how terrible they are. Rebecca Black’s Friday was shared by millions a couple of years ago thanks to its status as the worst pop record ever, but precious few actually bought it and it failed to make the Top 40. In this bold new streaming world that would almost certainly change.

But I repeat, this has to happen. One friend of mine, an enthusiastic technologist and lover of gadgets expressed his genuine bemusement recently that anyone in this day and age would actually buy music given that he has access to a vast library of recordings at the click of a button and one that he can play anywhere in his house. Whilst I may take the opposite view, proud of my physical music collection that I’ve curated over a lifetime and which represents the accumulated memories of my feelings and tastes over 25 years, I’m very much part of a dying generation and an ever growing minority. It is right that the singles chart reflects the patterns and habits of everyone, not just old farts like me.

I’m reminded of the words I wrote in April 2005 on the occasion of downloaded sales being folded into the singles chart for the first time, a text I recycled close to two years later when the full blown digital era was ushered in at the start of 2007:

This week genuinely marks the end of an era. The big day has been put off once already but despite some continued grumbles from independent labels next week will see one of the biggest changes in the singles chart for a generation as online downloads will be factored in to the main chart listing for the first time ever. Sure, different formats have come and gone in the past – we have gone from tracking the sales of 78rpm shellac records through 45rpm 7-inch singles, the 12-inch extended mix, the cassingle and the varied forms of the CD single – but all of those were a simple widening of the scope of the survey. Never before has a new means of music distribution been invented, popularised, belatedly regulated and compiled into its own rundown prior to finally being acknowledged by the “official” singles chart.

Most of the most significant changes in the 50 year history of the singles chart have been technical, from the launch of the “official” chart in the 1960s, the creation of the Top 75 in 1978, Gallup’s introduction of electronic barcode scanning to replace manual diaries in 1983 through to Millward Brown plugging themselves into the EPOS terminals of the major retailers in 1994 and thus expanding the charts from a selective survey into a near 100% mirror of record sales in the UK. This time a chunk of the market that has grown up invisible to the OCC’s flagship listing is about to arrive en masse – a change that could well be as significant as Billboard magazine in the US allowing airplay-only singles onto the Hot 100 in 1998.

It could well be I’ll be repeating them in a fortnight. Online streams will count towards the singles chart as of midnight Sunday June 29th and the historic new countdown will be unveiled on Sunday, July 6th.


Jun 21

Come On! COME ON!

I’m going to stand up and take full credit for this, because it was my idea in the first place.

It all started during the 2010 World Cup, sat at work producing the live coverage of England matches. These broadcasts were anchored by Mark Saggers, an immense broadcaster with a justified reputation for capturing the moment and painting pictures at the biggest sporting events across the world. However sitting in the studio with the line to his microphone faded down but still live on the desk, I noticed that during England matches he underwent an interesting personality change, no longer the intense but mild mannered and sophisticated broadcaster we all know, but instead the angriest, shoutiest, sweariest man on the planet.

Two games into the tournament I suggested to the audio producers out in the office that they might like to roll tape across him, just in case we captured anything worthwhile. As a direct result of this we produced one of the most famous audio clips of the talkSPORT coverage of the 2010 World Cup, Mark Saggers’ screams of joy turning into frustration and anger as Frank Lampard’s clinical finish was incorrectly ruled to have not crossed the line during England’s 4-1 defeat to Germany in the second round.

The audio clip of him repeating “It’s a goal, it’s a goal…” in ever despairing tones has been compiled, packaged, clipped and edited time and time again in the four years since. Few things sum up better the emotional rollercoaster that every single one of us as fans go through as the hopes we project onto the national team are raised and then trampled on, seemingly every single time.

Fast forward to the present day and it will not have escaped your attention that England are at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and are playing utterly garbage. Fortunately for all of us Mark Saggers is there too, and as a matter of course we roll tape on his microphone during the games, something which to his credit he is now completely aware of and is happy to play along with.

You should all guess what is coming. On Thursday night England played Uruguay in the match which ultimately saw them eliminated at the earliest possibly opportunity from the tournament. High up in the stands at the Arena de Sao Paulo a British radio presenter joined the nation in a maelstrom of frustration and annoyance followed by elation and despair. And thanks to a moment of inspiration I had four years earlier my colleagues in the office recorded the whole thing, edited it down and put it up on YouTube for everyone to share the moment.