The Battle Of Britpop: 10-3

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

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

10: Corona – Try Me Out

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

9: Seal – Kiss From A Rose/I’m Alive

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

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

8: *new entry* Madonna – Human Nature

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

7: JX – Son Of A Gun

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

6: *new entry* Clock -Everybody

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

5: TLC – Waterfalls

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

4: Take That – Never Forget

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

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

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

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

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

3: The Original – I Luv U Baby

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


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

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

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

2 Comments

  1. Great review so far James, and I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve got fond memories as this was the summer I got my first CD player but listening along it really feels like one of the best charts of the 90s – even aside from the exciting battle at the top. So much variation! Great examples of pop, rock, dance, R&B, reggae and power ballads.

    Link to the full original R1 show here for anyone who missed it:
    https://www.mediafire.com/?dmsvk61442kvlu5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.