I don’t normally like to fill entries with endless links to videos of obscure and not so obscure tracks just for the hell of it, but with the weather persistently miserable it seems an appropriate moment for a little musical escapism. So presenting then, one of my favourite pop records ever and the best song you have probably never heard of.
The punningly titled One 2 Many were formed in Norway, led by piano wizard Dag Kolsrud whose virtuoso style was front and centre on their one and only album. With more than half an eye on the international market so neatly cornered by the likes of A-Ha they performed all their songs in English. When debut single ‘Downtown’ became a Europe-wide hit in the summer of 1988 it was more or less a given that they would be signed to the UK and given a hopeful release.
Unleashed onto the British airwaves in late 1988 the track did indeed pick up some pleasing levels of airplay, but in sales terms was a failure, limping to Number 65 in November. That probably would have been that, but for the fact that around the same time a certain other Scandinavian pop-rock act by the name of Roxette were taking America by storm. Suddenly peninsulan pop was where it was at, and the label that already happened to have such an act on their books could potentially make a killing.
So it was that One 2 Many were suddenly a “priority” act and were flown to the UK to have an enormous amount of money lavished on them for a springtime re-release of their most appealing single. The above video dates from that period, filmed in and around Covent Garden on a spring afternoon in 1989 and featuring the band wandering around various London landmarks in between coaxing various members of the bemused commuter crowd to join them in the performance.
Quite why the single flopped once again is one of those great musical mysteries. It was a masterful pop record, blessed with a feelgood vibe, a catchy tune, a singalong chorus and best of all that inspired arrangement which saw the entire record build up to a climactic keyboard solo from Kolsrud which made you wonder why anyone bothered to invent the guitar in the first place. In spite of a great deal of press, Radio One playlisting and appearances on just about every TV show going, ‘Downtown’ fell agonisingly short of the Top 40 and made the whole exercise a complete waste of time.
They tried their hand in America too and the single did at least stagger to Number 37. Their label tried a series of other singles later that year, but it was largely an exercise in pointlessness, especially as the band had dissolved by the end of the year. Not that their British sojourn had been a complete waste of time, statuesque lead singer Camilla having met Black singer Colin Vearncombe whom she would subsequently marry. She still sings to this day, appearing regularly at Jazz festivals across Europe, often with her husband playing on stage alongside her.
Because of the subject of most of my writing, I’m often accused of being too myopically devoted to the charts and ignorant of other music that gets nowhere near. In fact most of my favourite bands are acts that never came within a sniff of mainstream success, something I continually regret given that as far as I am concerned they made some of the most entertaining music in my collection. Maybe One 2 Many would have just been one hit wonders (in truth few of their other singles even come close to the magnificence of ‘Downtown’) but even that would have meant they had their place in the annals of pop music history.
As it stands they are just a forgotten curiosity and a fond memory for those of us who still love the single 20 years on. Here’s to the best pop record you’ve probably not heard for decades.