The Battle Of Britpop: 20-11

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

bradford

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

gould

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

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

combs

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

20: Supergrass- Alright/Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

18: Outhere Brothers – Boom Boom Boom

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

17: Boyzone – So Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13: Deuce- On The Bible

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

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

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

11: Diana King – Shy Guy

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

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

2 Comments

  1. The age of fleeting chart runs for some great – and still remarkably fresh – singles (Black Grape, Tricky, several dance tracks that made it onto compilations yet peaked very low) , it always felt like a massive achievement when something good sold enough to hang around for weeks (U2, Diana King, Edwyn Collins, Supergrass)

  2. I’ve uploaded the full Radio 1 UK Top 40 show for this week in 1995 here:

    https://www.mediafire.com/?dmsvk61442kvlu5

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