Rhythm Of The Night (Or Morning)

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or even have the dubious privilege of knowing me personally will be aware I’ve spent the past month some considerable distance from my usual chirpy self. This has by and large been down to an exceptionally unusual working schedule which has seen me eschewing stuff like daylight and proper sleeping patterns in favour (if that is the word) of an extended series of nightshifts.

Here’s how it works. After far too many years of running late night and overnight shows which were frankly something of an embarrassment, consisting largely of desperate phone-ins populated by what became known internally as “the mad, sad and the lonely”, at the start of April talkSPORT revamped its schedule, putting the focus on sport 24 hours a day and in the process kick-starting a new era in late night sports radio. To make sure everything began in the manner in which it was intended to continue, some of the best production talent in the office was parachuted in to work on the new overnight offering, an offer which for some reason was also extended to me. Hence my diary for the month quickly filled up with some extended through the night working, much of it at weekends.

I’m no stranger to the nightshift really. I’ve written in the dim and distant past about the experience of making radio shows in the middle of the night, something which like just about every radio person of my particular generation happened at the very start of my on air career. Yet here I am, close to 20 years into it, still finding myself occupying the twilight zone of the schedule, only this time after being handed a big responsibility and in a slot which at the present time receives high levels of management scrutiny.

Such working hours inevitably require some kind of lifestyle adjustment, and in a sense this has been the most interesting part of the whole experience. Learning how to cope with unnatural sleep and living patterns has been an education in itself. What I have discovered is that the longer the run of shows the easier it all becomes. Doing just one or two shifts in a row is the real killer, as it takes at least a day to shift your body clock round to the rhythm of sleeping days and waking nights and a further day to properly return to normal afterwards. Essentially you spend half the week in a state of utter uselessness all for the sake of a couple of shifts at work (both of which I’d have to do as part of a full working week which included normal hours the rest of the time).

No, believe it or not far better are the longer runs, those of four or even five nights in a row. After just 24 hours you are firmly in the groove and it seems the most natural thing in the world to slip out of the house after dinner, wind your way across town in the gloom and then work all night before stepping back out of the building to greet the dawn and the first trains of the day. I even found myself at one stage wondering if I couldn’t actually get used to it – but then again you can’t. Humans are designed to follow the sun for a reason and there are only so many times you can struggle awake at 4pm and spend a few disoriented moments working out what day it is and what the time should be. Those are the moments when you truly know you are in the middle of something rather unnatural.

On the flipside there is something rather special about being one of the first people to greet the world each day. If you’ve clicked on the link to the older article above, you will know that I spent the summer of 1996 strapping on rollerblades and cruising a deserted Bradford city centre at 6am every day. One doesn’t need to be a skater now to appreciate the sights and experiences that are unique to that particular hour. Normally bustling streets are almost totally bereft of activity, with even mainline railway terminuses giving off the impression of reluctantly blinking awake, with only half the shops open and departure boards normally crammed with trains showing just two or three first-run services ready to depart as the entire system clears its throat.

Travelling home just as everyone else is on their way out means you become oddly disconnected with the one shared experience of the day and become a dispassionate observer to the routine of everyone else’s lives. On the train out of town you have an entire carriage to yourself whilst the opposite platforms on the stations you call at are veritable hives of activity as commuters line up four deep to cram onto peak time trains. This kind of reverse flow, I have discovered, does have its downside. The ticket barriers are configured for one exit to four entrances at that time of day for a reason and there is nothing trickier than fighting your way past the flow of people along the narrow pathway which leads to my local station, the solitary man leaving the premises whilst the working population of the area attempts to enter it. I’ve even become used to odd looks from the drivers of the bus I catch up the hill towards the house as they disgorge their carriages of their entire passenger capacity at the station, only for me to ride away as the only soul migrating in the opposite direction.

Plus of course important stuff does sometimes happen in the middle of the night. Despite once being assured by a news editor that “no important news ever breaks at 2am”, Princess Diana failed to fasten her seatbelt in the early hours of a Sunday morning whilst on one of my last stand-in shifts on old school overnight shows, Michael Jackson grabbed the great crotch in the sky mere hours before we were due to come on air. This time around the events of the night have been rather more mundane, but with six more to go before I finally escape this rather odd professional purgatory I’m hoping for at least one big breaking event to roll with.

Yes, this is my attempt to put a positive spin on stuff. Despite the fact that I’m still at the end of the day getting to make radio programmes (and ones which actually thanks to the hard work of the people who put them together during the daytime are actually some of the best on the station right now) I’ve classed April 2012 as alternately my lost month or my month from hell. The agonising tired headaches to start with, the nights of insomnia afterwards as you try to force your body back to normal, the disconnection from day to day life, the feeling that your entire focus out of the office is being ready for the next shift. None of this is stuff I take unbridled pleasure in. To those who do this week in week out as a career, I can only salute you. I’m just counting the hours and minutes until I can get my life back for the summer.

It’s Easter 1989 For Real – Part Three

Yes, I suck at planning important things like finding time to write over bank holidays. With apologies to all those hanging on in suspense for the final part of the Easter Sunday chart of 1989, here comes the Top 10, as revealed on Radio One on March 26th 1989.

10: Kon Kan – I Beg Your Pardon

The one and only UK hit single for a duo from Canada who spent the late 80s having a series of moderately successful hits in their native land. An incredibly cleverly made tune and in a sense quite innovative for its day, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was an otherwise original hit song but with the selling point of being based around a direct sample of the chorus of ‘Rose Garden’, an old C&W hit for Lynn Anderson which had been a Number 3 hit for the star back in 1971. Whilst much was made of the Anderson connection, a more detailed analysis of the track reveals that it borrows from a variety of old disco hits to create the disctinct aural collage which set this single apart from just about any of its contemporaries. Really the huge shame was that Kon Kan had nothing else to match it, their follow-up single ‘Harry Houdini’ missing the charts altogether and leaving them one hit wonders on what is in truth an all but forgotten 80s classic.

9: Bananarama/LaNaNeeNeeNooNoo – Help!

Having been launched in 1986 with a charity concert and most famously the Cliff Richard and the Young Ones remake of his own ‘Living Doll’, the Comic Relief charity expanded its operations rapidly during the late 1980s. The first ever Red Nose Day took place in February 1988 and was so much of a runaway success that the demand for the small plastic probosces far outstripped supply, leading Blue Peter to suggest manfuacturing your own out of cut up egg cartons. I shit you not.

12 months later the event was back again, this time with slightly more in the way of pre-preparation and an adequate supply of nasal appendages to go around. To accompany the event, this single was released, continuing the theme set by both ‘Living Doll’ and the 1987 festive single ‘Rocking Around The Christmas Tree’ in merrily dicking about with a classic old hit. Taking on The Beatles for comic purposes was fraught with danger, so this cover version was perhaps slightly more respectful of the original than had previously been the case. Bananarama played their part perfectly straight, leaving the comedy parts from French and Saunders to the gaps in between the verses. Odd in a way then, this was perhaps the least deliberately comic comedy record ever released, but it made little difference to the chart prospects of the single as it made a comfortable Number 3 in early March just in time for the charity telethon. The producers of the track were Stock/Aitken/Waterman at what was essentially the height of their effortless hitmaking powers, making this one of no less than four of their creations to be propping up this week’s Top 10.

8: Reynolds Girls – I’d Rather Jack

…this of naturally being the second. Was there ever a one-off hit single which was the subject of so much critical analysis and so ingrained into pop mythology as this record? The Reynolds Girls are a quite extraordinary story simply because the way they are remembered and the reaction to them is almost totally at odds with the number of records they actually sold during their brief flowering of fame.

Here’s how it works. Liverpudlian-Irish sisters Linda and Aisling were plucked from obscurity by Peter Waterman after picketing his weekend local radio show with dogged determination and handed over to the SAW hit factory for grooming and the recording of their first single. Coming off the back of events such as the 1989 Brit awards which had almost totally ignored mainstream pop music in favour of showering gongs on superannuated rock acts, the Reynolds Girls were seen as the perfect empty vessel into which the producers could pour their pent up rage at an industry which was going out of its way to belittle and ignore the legacy of music they were hard at work creating. Hence ‘I’d Rather Jack’ is a musical polemic wrapped up in a bubbly little pop record. The teenage girls rail against the music industry and radio stations like Radio One, pouting at musical snobbery and openly questioning the age and tastes of music radio presenters – to whit “why the DJ on my favourite station/is always more than twice the age of me”. Acts such as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Dire Straits were namechecked as the kind of thing their generation did not want to hear (cynics noted that the likes of Paul McCartney and The Beatles were not dissed, thanks to Pete Waterman’s long standing desire to produce for his musical hero). The instantly rather annoying single went Top 10 and the teenage duo were all over Smash Hits and the like, full of excitement over the journey of fame they were embarking on.

Except that the fame never materialised. For some reason they were held up for ridicule by more credible parts of the press, even after just one single. Never mind that the words were not their own but those of a trio of thirty and forty-something producers. The song was arrogant, presumptuous and incredibly annoying despite the uncomfortable truths expressed in the lyrics. Suddenly the Reynolds Girls were the embodiment of everything that was wrong with plastic pop, and more highbrow writers sneered at the fact that these young upstarts were poking fun at acts with far more talent than they had. Plans for a second single were cancelled and the whole project never went any further, accounts as to why varying from Waterman sacking the girls for going on holiday rather than recording, to the more logical explanation that attempting to make further records with the pair would be an exercise in futility. To this day, ‘I’d Rather Jack’ is held up as a musical nadir despite, lest we forget, being a Top 10 hit. Over the years, the story of what actually happened to the Reynolds Girls spiralled into ever greater heights of ludicrousness. For years the rumour that one of the duo had died in childbirth, giving the whole tale an irresistibly tragic edge, circulated on newsgroups and messageboards until it was cheerfully debunked.

Tracking down an online copy of this one was tricky. The track resurfaced in 12-inch form on the Stock Aitken Waterman ‘Gold’ compilation a couple of years back but the collection isn’t in any online stores. Paging YouTube, where at least we get to see just how much the pair and their insane dancing screamed “annoying”.

7: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine – Can’t Stay Away From You

An interesting one this as it was the single that marked the final phase in the transformation of Gloria Estefan from chubby singer of the Miami Sound Machine to sophisticated solo artist, in spite of the fact that she continued to record and perform with the same musicians throughout. ‘Can’t Stay Away From You’ actually appeared on the final Miami Sound Machine album ‘Anything For You’ and had been its first single release back in May 1988 only to bomb out well short of the Top 75. Several hit singles later it was reactivated and became a comfortable Top 10 hit and in the process began the phasing out of the Miami Sound Machine Brand. Officially credited to her and the group both on the single and in chart lsitings, all the marketing for it suggested that this should be considered a solo single, nothing less. Not the greatest record or most memorable Miami Sound Machine single ever then, but it served as an advert for what we could expect from Gloria Estefan’s first “solo” album ‘Cuts Both Ways’ when it emerged later that summer.

6: Guns N Roses – Paradise City

The journey of Guns ‘N’ Roses from cult rock press heroes to multi million selling mainstream stars had been a long and slow one. Their first single had been ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ which made Number 67 as far back as October 1987 but even after they had made a Top 40 breakthrough in 1988 with ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and a re-release of their first single, they had landed no higher than Number 24 on the charts. The success of ‘Paradise City’ in the spring of 1989 was therefore a rather pleasant surprise, entering just outside the Top 20 and then swiftly rocketing into the Top 10. GnR had arrived as mainstream stars to finally justify the hype they had been receiveing up to that point. and within months ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ had also been re-released and attained the Top 10 position its status as a classic deserved. My own memories of ‘Paradise City’ centre around seeing the video on the original ITV Chart Show. The programme featured pop-up info boxes about each single played which traditionally appeared during the instrumental of each track. Of course the only instrumental break in ‘Paradise City’ appears at roughly ten seconds in, resulting in the Chart Show infoboxes making a premature appearance every time the single was aired. To think I wondered why girls wouldn’t talk to me.

5: Soul II Soul – Keep On Movin’

Sacred cow slaughtering time. I absolutely hated Soul II Soul. They made dull, plodding, unbelievably tedious records that you couldn’t even dance to even if you wanted to. Back in 89 however Jazzie B and posse were treated as the musical second coming, the rebirth of British cool and a brand that could take them to the 21st century such was the way their music was ahead of its time. The summer of ‘Back To Life’ and the presumptuously titled album ‘Club Classics Vol.1’ clogging up the top of the charts was still to come, in the meantime this was their debut hit with Caron Wheeler handling lead vocal duties just as she would on the summertime smash. This wasn’t a bad record as such, but to ears schooled on the frantic noise of the Acid House craze of the winter just passed, this more mellow form of floor-filling came across as nothing more than crashingly dull.

4: Paula Abdul – Straight Up

During the halftime show of the 2008 Super Bowl, Paula Abdul (by then rather better known as a TV talent show judge) attempted what turned out to be a rather ill-fated musical comeback. Nonetheless, when her performance commenced with a quick blast of the opening bars of the title track of her debut album ‘Forever Your Girl’, there was a good reason why the crowd greeted it with warm cheers. For a brief period in the early 90s, the former cheerleader (and lest we forget the lady who taught Michael Jackson most of his best moves) was one of the hottest stars in America, the resultant buzz spreading to most of Europe at the same time. True, on the face of it she had a rather thin voice and somewhat unusual exotic looks, but virtually every one of her singles flew to the top of the US charts in an era before Mariah Carey redefined the words “foregone conclusion”. The UK release of her debut hit gave her an easy Top 5 hit single to launch the expert choreographer as a chart star in this country as well. Several more hits would follow over the next few years, her most famous offering being ‘Opposites Attract’ which would wind up as a Number 2 hit in early 1990. Her comeback single may have been pitifully bad, and her judging contributions on American Idol and US X Factor bordering on the bizarre at best, but two decades ago she was touted as a real challenger to Madonna’s crown as the Queen of pop and most importantly had the massive sales to back the claim up.

3: Donna Summer – This Time I Know It’s For Real

So you are a one time disco star who is ten years removed from the hits that made you famous. Your last album ‘All Systems Go’ was released to rather a muted reception yet you did squeeze out a hit single from it in the UK, ‘Dinner With Gershwin’ which at least served to show to the world that you are still around and still able to perform. What is your next move? In Donna Summer’s case it was to hook up with (you guess it) Stock/Aitken/Waterman who lavished loving attention upon the fallen star, handing her an entire album of some of the best songs they ever wrote together. The lead single was the sparkling and instantly appealing ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’ which not only hit Top 3 here but also gave her a Top 10 single back home in America for the first time in very many years. Its status as a classic is open to some argument as it can hardly stand as the greatest ever work of a performer who fronted ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Love To Love You Baby’, two of the greatest disco records ever made. Putting such contextual concerns to one side however, and the single is actually a pop masterpiece, three and a half minutes of genuine uplifting joy and a towering example of just how good Stock, Aitken and Waterman could get when they were properly motivated and had a genuine superstar to craft music for.

2: Jason Donovan – Too Many Broken Hearts

For this week however the Donna Summer single was still being outsold by another SAW track, one which had spent time at the top of the charts and which had established the Australian actor once and for all as a mjaor pop name. The release of this single was essentially the relaunch of Jason Donovan’s musical career after it was felt necessary to press the reset button and move on from earlier mistakes. Although his first single with the trio ‘Nothing Can Divide Us’ had been a respectable enough Top 10 hit in the Autumn of 1988 it was clear that the style of song was wrong for him and that a whole album of similar material would be to underplay his teen idol strengths. After the distraction of the inevitably Kylie duet ‘Especially For You’ which had topped the chart earlier in the year, ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ was a bold chart-topping statement to the nation (or at least the pre-pubsescent female part of it) that this was the Jason Donovan pop star they were expected to love. Now I’ll be honest with you here, even at the time I firmly believed that ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ would one day be regarded as one of the greatest pop records of the 80s. Of course people sneered due to the SAW link but it was the epitome of a mainstream classic – sunshine lyrics, a sentiment that everyone could relate to and the obligatory singalong chorus. Looking back it was a naïve view, of course nobody would ever regard a manufactured single by an Australian soap star as a musical high point, but it just goes to show the danger of dismissing the music simply because of who is fronting it or who wrote and produced it. It is not a belittlement surely to argue that late 80s pop never got any better than this. ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ remains nothing short of awesome – even if the PWL Records catalogue is for now absent from Spotify and I’m reduced to showing you the video.

1: Madonna – Like A Prayer

Whether she meant it or not, shock and outrage appeared to follow Madonna around wherever she went. During the early years of her singing career whatever outrage she caused tended to be confined to the lyrical content of her records, whether it was the censor-baiting ambiguity of ‘Like A Virgin’ or allegations that she was encouraging underage pregnancies with ‘Papa Don’t Preach’.

After spending 1987 working on and promoting her latest rather woeful movie ‘Who’s That Girl’ and spending 1988 trying her hand at acting in the Broadway play “Speed The Plow” she needed to make an entirely new impact to draw attention to her brand new album and her latest development as a performer. It was time then to confront head on the Catholic faith which had formed such an important part of her upbringing and given her the the distinctive name that she traded on.

Musically speaking the track ‘Like A Prayer’ wasn’t actually all that controversial. Whilst the lyrics of the song which drew a parallel between religious and sexual ecstacy might have had the potential to cause some degree of offence if anyone paid close enough attention, it was the visual accompaniment which had certain sections of the more conservatively minded American press calling for her excommunication. ‘Like A Prayer’ was debuted several weeks before release as the soundtrack to a multi-million dollar TV commercial for Pepsi, which as the clip below demonstrates was itself promoted as something akin to the second coming.

The advert itself wasn’t all that controverisial, but it was famously aired just a handful of times before the drinks giant took fright, pulled it from all airings and told Madonna to keep her money. They took fright at the potential backlash from what emerged as the actual video for the ‘Like A Prayer’ single.

Like all such outrages, much of the fuss about the video was based on a simple misunderstanding. The black “Jesus figure” which Madonna kisses and embraces in the video was actually the animated statue of a Catholic saint, representing Madonna’s guilt over her silence which had caused an innocent man to be accused of a murder. One doesn’t have to be particularly religious to note that the storyline is simply that of her finding redemption at the hands of a gospel choir and eventually doing the right thing and testifying to secure the release of the imprisoned victim.

Imagery aside, it was hard to fault the music itself. An immediate and perhaps inevitable Number One, ‘Like A Prayer’ still holds up as one of her best singles, especially as it marked her desire to move away from the conventional dance-pop singles with which she had made her name into rather more exotic musical avenues. Notable at the time for being one of the first Madonna singles you couldn’t properly dance to (James Hamilton’s BPM calculator in Record Mirror almost throwing a fit as the song dropped to zero during every single verse), the version you sometimes hear in retro clubs today is the remix that appeared on the Immaculate Collection hits compilation rather than the original single mix but both stand firm as one of her best singles of the era and a small clue that the chubby twenty five year old who exploded into superstardom in the mid-80s was maturing as an artist in full control of her destiny and unafraid to innovate at every single turn. As a final footnote, the single famously featured on its b-side the track ‘Act Of Contrition’ which also closed out the ‘Like A Prayer’ album. On it Madonna attempts to check into heaven accompanied by a wail of guitar feedback, the track ending with her shrilly insisting “I have a reservation. WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S NOT ON THE COMPUTER?”

With that, we draw this Top 40 show to a close, taking time perhaps to note the achievement of Ian Brownhill of Oxford who was the winner of the Top 3 prediction competition on the show that week and so won himself a copy of the entire Top 40 singles, making him the luckiest man in the world until the invention of Spotify when we can all virtually “own” our own copy of many of them. That’s technology for you.

Did you know the original posting of this recap never included the packshot? Time to correct that now.


It’s Easter 1989 For Real – Part Two

There is a family photo which adorns the dining room of my parents house back in Yorkshire. Taken on a family day out during the Easter holidays in 1989, it serves as an eternal reference point of that particular time every time I come home. I’m 15 years old, looking fresh faced and bright, with a quiff of blonde hair whilst next to me my just turned 13 sister is beaming proudly with a mouth full of teeth braces. I was staring down the barrel of a summer of exam stress as I approached GCSE time, so that holiday was one last release of pressure before the hard work (or so it felt at the time) truly began.

So we should continue to wallow in the nostalgia of the soundtrack of that time. Here is the middle section of the singles chart as unveiled by Radio One on Easter Sunday 1989.

19: Chanelle – One Man

As I mentioned in the first part, 1989 was the spring of Deep House, and years before the name meant “Big Brother contestant turned reality TV star” Chanelle was the one hit wonder who sang this rather joyful four minutes of magic, a track which one would expect to be regarded as something of a classic but which remains rather off the radar to all but those of us with a dedicated memory of those times. Chanelle hailed from New Jersey and was part of the same music scene which spawned the likes of Adeva, Frankie Knuckles and David Morales yet this single confines her to one hit wonder status. In spite of massive club popularity the track only wound up as a Number 16 hit but still provoked enough memories in people to be revived in a rather disrespectful remix five years later. When I originally wrote this recap back in 2008 I bemoaned the fact that it was incredibly hard to find, a situation now happily rectified by a veritable blizzard of YouTube uploads, of which this is probably the best quality.

17: Alyson Williams – Sleep Talk

Does anything inspire great R&B records any better than a wronged woman? Alyson Williams was the daughter of famed bandleader Bobby Booker and broke into the music business in the mid-80s, quickly carving out a reputation as the guest singer of choice. Her brief foray into chart stardom came thanks to the album ‘Raw’ which spawned four chart singles for her in Britain during the course of 1989. ‘Sleep Talk’ was the first of these, peaking here this week at Number 17 after a steady five week climb. What made this single so outstanding is the tale the lyrics weave, it quickly becoming clear that the singer is ranting at the sleeping form of her man whose nocturnal mutterings have revealed his infidelity. Halfway through he wakes up and starts sweet talking her only for her to give him both barrels. “I always thought/Now I know/You’re just a low down so-and-so.” What’s not to love? Apart from the major pisser that you can’t find the track on Spotify, naturally.

16: Pat And Mick: I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet

When I moved to London at the turn of the decade, it was with some joy that I tuned in to Capital Radio and discovered that their annual “Help A London Child” appeal was still running. Back in the 80s, the only reason those of us in the provinces were aware of it was thanks to a muti-year run of charity hit singles released by then daytime stalwarts Pat Sharp and Mick Brown. They were all fun covers of disco classics helmed by (who else) Stock, Aitken and Waterman. ‘Let’s All Chant’ was the first in 1988 (strangely enough credited to Mick and Pat) which wound up a Number 11 hit. ‘…Dancing Yet’ was the second, reversing the credits and winding up in the Top 10 just in time for the appeal to hit its height. The charity singles continued into the 90s with diminishing returns, but if nothing else the spectacle of the Radio One DJs hosting Top Of The Pops having to introduce their crosstown rivals was worth it for the price of admission alone. I got to meet Mick Brown briefly when he did shows at talkSPORT a few years ago, but at the time didn’t dare bring up the subject of his brief sojurn as a pop star. It’s like Pat Sharp’s mullet, some things are maybe best left to history.

15: Coldcut featuring Lisa Stansfield – People Hold On

Looking back this was actually quite the chart for people who had spent the previous year hitless and who were finally breaking through. The former teenage presenter of Razzmatazz was supposed to have launched her chart career as one third of Blue Zone, Lisa being the lead singer alongside musicians Andy Morris and her future husband Ian Devaney. After releasing a series of flop singles and a little-noticed album ‘Big Thing’ in 1988, the group were busy considering their options when Lisa was invited by Coldcut to supply vocals for their latest single, the followup to ‘Doctorin’ The House’ and ‘Stop This Crazy Thing’. The energetic house track duly became a smash (thanks, I seem to remember, to relentless promotion by this weeks stand-in chart host Goodier who had a major Lisa Stansfield fixation and used his weekend breakfast shows to plug the record to death). Instantly the label had their problem solved for them with flop act Blue Zone now transformed into a marketable brand centred around their lead singer. Devaney and Morris stuck around, but their records were now “Lisa Stansfield” and commercial paydirt (and a Number One hit with ‘All Around The World’) followed. As a footnote of course ‘People Hold On’ was revivied a decade later as one of the first ever mash-up hits, her vocals merged nicely by Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Armand Van Helden’s ‘Professional Widow’ which returned the single to Number 4 in early 1997.

14: Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

In ’89, New Jack Swing was about to change the way America viewed soul music for the next six years. In former New Edition singer Bobby Brown, producers Jam and Lewis found the perfect muse and for a while he was one of the hottest stars in America. ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ had actually been released in 1988 in this country but had missed the Top 40 despite enormous success back home. After ‘My Prerogative’ reversed his chart fortunes and became a January hit, the earlier single was reactivated and duly charged into the Top 20. Back in ’89 my own personal weakness was for R&B hits that had a rap break in the middle and ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ pressed all those buttons perfectly in a manner which would sound cheesy in this day and age but which at the time made it one of the coolest singles ever. His biggest hits and “Mr Whitney Houston” notoriety were still several years in the future.

13: The Bangles – Eternal Flame

Amazing though it may sound now, with both this record and indeed the song itself now firmly established as one of the most famous power ballads of the late 80s, there was a time when Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly’s most famous composition was at risk from not even charting at all. ‘Eternal Flame’ had been released in Britain at the start of February but with the last Bangles single ‘In Your Room’ having been little more than a minor mid-table hit at the end of the previous year, they weren’t exactly a priority for either promotion or airplay. I can distinctly remember hearing the track aired on the radio whilst on the school bus home during the half term that year, falling in love with it instantly and then watching with ever increasing dismay as it failed to materialise inside the Top 40 as the weeks went by. Let’s not be coy about this, had the heartbreakingly beautiful song passed the public completely by there would have been something badly wrong with the world. Gradually though the odd bit of airplay continued as producers dropped it into running orders, buoyed by the fact that the track was slowly but surely turning into a smash hit back in America. Little by little the sales grew but it still took no less than eight weeks for the single to finally penetrate the Top 40. Just as the Jennifer Rush classic ‘Power Of Love’ had proved four years earlier, a play on the chart show was actually all a classic in the making needed. Once the single had indeed penetrated the Top 40 there was virtually no stopping it and within a month it was Numbe One. On the chart this week, ‘Eternal Flame’ was the highest climber, charging up 20 places in a manner which strongly suggested there was only one place it was going to end up. I didn’t actually find the Atomic Kitten cover version a few years back all that offensive, but in truth it is unlikely that any other version would be able to top the original for emotion, production and sheer popular impact. This was the defining moment of the Bangles’ career and arguably one of the most iconic hits of its era.

12: Sam Brown – Stop

Another from the “was a flop in ’88” pile, the debut single for Sam, the daughter of sixties star Joe Brown had seen massive airplay for this powerful track fail to turn into the hoped for sales as it limped to an incredibly disappointing Number 52 in June 1988. Undaunted, her label tried again the following spring and this time managed to hit chart paydirt. ‘Stop’ duly became a March 1989 Number 4 smash hit, even if it did eventually turn out to be as good as she would get as a solo star with none of her subsequent singles quite living up to the impact of her first. Sam Brown’s promotion of the successfully re-released ‘Stop’ was particularly notable thanks to her blonde hair which was cut into a short bob for the filming of the video but which in the intervening period she had grown out to shoulder length. She thus performed the single on TOTP and other outlets sporting a strikingly different image to that which she had in the video – something that would be unthinkable these days.

11: Fuzzbox – International Rescue

Our final stop before the Top 10 is perhaps the most fascinating one of all, a record which essentially told two tales. On the surface of it, Fuzzbox were the guilty pleasure of 1989, four girls in a band who sang radio-friendly pop singles such as the summertime smash ‘Pink Sunshine’ and this earlier single, a thundering rock tribute to the Thunderbirds. On the other hand, the record marked for many a rather disgraceful sellout. Fuzzbox started out as post-punk band We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Going To Use It, formed of four Birmingham schoolfriends whose musical talents were minimal at best, but who gathered quite the following on the indie scene in 1986 thanks to a string of records that were fun, noisy and clearly not to be taken seriously. Their one and only Top 40 hit single in their first incarnation was ‘Love Is The Slug’ which crept to Number 31 in November 1986. Then they signed to a major label and were effectively turned into glamorous puppets, all but barred from the studio for the making of “their” big label debut ‘Big Bang’ which thus demonstrated a musical competence and commercial ear which had been strikingly lacking on their earlier work. Pop groups being an artificial creation of managers or marketeers are nothing new, but Fuzzbox were possibly a unique example of a group who had formed on their own terms and indeed made records in that manner only to sell their souls for the sake of a proper payday. The howls of disgust from longtime fans were loud and long but ultimately it hardly mattered what they thought. The pages of Smash Hits came calling and the singles flew up the charts regardless. Whether you saw them as sell-outs or superstars, the commercial reward was more than satisfactory, even if the ‘International Rescue’ video had to be a rather incongruous Barbarella spoof as director Adrian Edmondson couldn’t secure the rights for the girls to portray the Thunderbirds in line with the lyrics of the song.

And on that note we must pause once more before re-living a rather special Top 10 countdown. The Spotify playlist is once again up to date with all the songs featured so far, including the handful from the Top 20 countdown which weren’t included on the badly overrunning chart show.

It’s Easter 1989 For Real – Part One

OK, now this is something of a cheat. This recap of the Easter Sunday chart from 1989 was first published here four years ago, but was done as one of the first retrospective chart recaps I’d done, hence the style was still to settle down properly. As one of my favourite old Top 40 shows from years gone past, I thought it deserved a slightly more in depth treatment, so in the absence of any completely new material here is a revised reworking of that original posting.

As ever the premise remains the same, this isn’t a complete rundown of every song on the singles chart, taking instead as a reference point the tape of the Radio One Top 40 show from the Sunday in question – March 26th 1989. The original version of this piece was written in the days before Spotify, so it is now possible to go back and compile as close a playlist as possible of the tracks from the chart, with the added bonus of including the songs that weren’t played in what was then a two hour format of the chart show.

Let us now set the time machine back to March 1989. To set the scene, the news was dominated by the Exxon Valdez vomiting oil over half of Alaska, two scientists mistakenly believed they had discovered how to perform cold fusion and earlier that day Nigel Mansell had won the Brazilian Grand Prix. Oh yes, and Bruno Brookes had the weekend off, so Mark Goodier was doing his usual safe pair of hands deputising job.

40: Yello – Of Course I’m Lying

Quite how electronic geniuses Yello are little more than one hit wonders in this country remains something of a mystery. Few will disagree that Dieter and Boris sowed the seeds of modern day dance music, pioneering the idea that you can take a collection of sounds thrown together seemingly at random and create music from them. Their unique selling point however is that their records weren’t just bits of other people’s work thrown together in a new order but instead rhythms and instrumentation that they had created themselves, chopped up and sampled. ‘Of Course I’m Lying’ stands as their second and final Top 40 hit in this country, the third single from their 1988 album ‘Flag’ which also contained ‘The Race’, the one track by which the pair are perhaps best known. This single is a lush romantic ballad, albeit with a rather sideways look at the subject, replete with heavenly choirs and typically impenetrable lyrics detailing a romantic drive with “Julie” who apparently “[lies] so much better when you drive a car”. A new entry here this week, on its way ultimately to a Number 23 peak. In a better world chart history would be littered with Yello smash hits, but in a sense I’m kind of glad that they remain a well kept secret to those of us who know of their talents.

“Of course I’m lying, but I think I love you.”

38: Roy Orbison – She’s A Mystery To Me

Great hypothetical questions of our time: Would the Big O’s comeback album ‘Mystery Girl’ have become quite the hit it was had the legendary sixties star not died just weeks before its release? Orbison’s passing at the tail end of 1988 was an even greater tragedy given that after years in the shadows he had not only returned to the limelight as one fifth of the travelling Wilburys but had an entire album of new material ready to roll, created and crafted by some of the biggest names in music. ‘You Got It’ was the first single released and it had become a deserved Top 10 hit at the start of 1989. The follow-up was the song that served as the inspiration for the album’s title, and it was in a word, stunning. Almost forgotten these days is the fact that ‘She’s A Mystery To Me’ was written by Bono and The Edge with Mr Hewson himself on production duties. Essentially it is a U2 ballad which just happens to have Orbison on lead vocals. With those credentials it would have been fair to assume that it was set to be another guaranteed smash, but for some reason the track was only a minor hit, peaking at 27 the week after this new entry. With many tracks in the can which never made it to the running order of the finished album, there was enough new Orbison material left over for him to still be having hits in 1992, four years after his passing. Is this where 2Pac got the idea?

37: Goodbye Mr MacKenzie – The Rattler

The one and only hit single (and one which had been three years in the making) for the Edinburgh group of whom great things were expected but which ultimately never really emerged. Essentially Runrig with less bagpipes and added cod-American accents, the group made FM friendly borders rock which the likes of DLT wanted you to love but to which the public (at least south of the border) remained indifferent to. Their greatest musical legacy – keyboard player and backing singer Shirley Manson whose later career was to turn out to be less Garbage (sorry) than that of her first band. Was the woodpecker sound effect in the instrumental breaks really necessary though?

Spotify whilst bereft of their studio work does have a live album from them available, so the version on the Spotify playlist is there for completeness rather than an exact representation of the version being bought at the time, sorry.

35: Only The Lonely – T’Pau

Oh Carol. Forever stuck in time as the ‘China In Your Hand’ group, T’Pau spent the next four years loudly insisting to the world that they were actually hardcore rockers and not the weedy balladeers that their most famous hit had pigeonholed them as. ‘Only The Lonely’ was the third single from “difficult” second album ‘Rage’ and was something of a chart comeback after previous single ‘Road To Our Dream’ had been swallowed by the Christmas market and missed the Top 40 altogether. I always thought this single was badly overlooked, treading a neat middle line between the screeching rock they wanted to perform and the intense balladry the public wanted to hear from them. More entertainingly the single version was a different mix from the album (which is frustratingly the only one on the Spotify catalogue), replacing organs with guitars on the basis that “they work better on American radio”, despite the fact that the States had lost interest in the two years previously. Following this minor hit they retreated to lick their wounds before mounting a mini-comeback two years later.

34: Brother Beyond – Can You Keep A Secret

Does everyone remember the Brother Beyond story? Can’t miss, Smash Hits friendly pop group who spent 1987 terminally hitless to the ever-mounting despair of their label who had invested thousands in them, but who had new life breathed into their career when they emerged the winners of a charity auction to have a single produced by Stock/Aitken/Waterman. After the Hit Factory fulfilled their side of the bargain with not one but two Top 10 hits ‘The Harder I Try’ and ‘He Ain’t No Competition’ in 1988 it was time to see if their own material could stand on its own two feet. ‘Be My Twin’ was a new year Top 20 hit and it was followed by this much improved remix of their last-chance-before-we-drop-you third single which had bombed out at Number 56 just over a year earlier. A Number 22 peak was as good as this got though and two flop albums later the dumper beckoned despite a late flowering of hope when ‘The Girl I Used To Know’ became a surprise US hit in 1990. Lead singer Nathan Moore was last seen as Lisa Scott-Lee’s manager on her MTV reality show, holding back the tears when it was suggested she best try her hand at Japan as nobody in Britain cared any more.

33: Transvision Vamp – Baby I Don’t Care

Another chart new entry and a track that went on to become a very famous hit single indeed. After a long overdue chart breakthrough in 1988 with ‘I Want Your Love’ and to a lesser extent ‘Revolution Baby’, post-punk rockers Transvision Vamp rode the coat tails of their photogenic lead singer Wendy James and kicked off the promotion of their most successful album ‘Velveteen’ with this commercial as it gets pop track. Everyone who heard it knew it was ‘1999’ mixed with ‘Louie Louie’ but somehow it didn’t matter, they had created and instant and for all we knew long-running party smash and would be milking the PRS returns from it for years. Strange then how you hardly hear it any more, but trust me at the time it sounded for all the world like the greatest record ever made and to this day is one of the defining musical sounds of the spring of 1989. Also of note: playing bass on the single is Dave Parsons who as a member of Bush would become a member of the most internationally successful British group of the 90s.

30: Paul Simpson featuring Adeva: Musical Freedom

Spring 1989 was the era of Deep House, which fused the original Chicago house sound with warmer funk and soul rhythms and proper melodies – ones which required actual singers to do them proper justice. Our first example on this chart is this all but forgotten hit from New York producer Paul Simpson, distinctive not just for Adeva’s acapella vocal introduction but also the “Move To The Left” spoken instructions gruffly intoned by what we must assume was Simpson himself. This was effectively Adeva’s second hit, hard on the heels of her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ which had been a hit just a few weeks beforehand.

29: Kym Mazelle: Got To Get You Back

An early and to be honest all but forgotten minor hit single for someone who I could safely describe in 2008 as “the future Celebrity Fit Club star” without worrying that it was a cultural reference which would sail over everyone’s heads four years later. Kym Mazelle hailed from Indiana and much was made at the time of her origins in the same small town of Gary which the Jackson family called home. By the same logic then I should become a TV reviewer as I live in the same town as Garry Bushell. This single charted on the back of Mazelle’s own chart breakthrough, a hit duet with Robert Howard on ‘Wait’ which had peaked at Number 7 a month before. As smooth and silky and radio-friendly as they come, believe it or not kids this was the height of R&B back then.

28: Holly Johnson – Americanos

Had it really come to this? The man who gleefully sang about doing rude things to other men and the futility of war, performing a cheesy (albeit slightly tongue in cheek and satirical) ditty about the joys of life Stateside? If there was indeed a deep political message in the lyrics, barely anyone noticed and indeed the ‘Blast’ album was all about the former Frankie Goes To Hollywood frontman playing with barely disguised glee at being the mainstream popstar you always suspected he wanted to be. This was his second solo hit and a worthy and equally massive hit followup to the glorious ‘Love Train’ which would go on to equal the Number 4 peak of its predecessor. Possibly the first ever single to mention Oreos, although as just about the only word in the English language to rhyme with the title it is hardly surprising.

26: The The – The Beat(en) Generation

To the surprise and delight of many, this first single in two years from Matt Johnson’s legendary ensemble became their first ever Top 20 hit and caused every fifteen year old I knew at the time to sing about being “reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation”. Only 1994s re-recording of ‘This Is The Day’ beats this out as their biggest ever hit single. Is it wrong to admit I prefer ‘Infected’?

25: Roachford – Family Man

If you believe in the concept of “priority aritists” then Andrew Roachford was one. Nothing, I mean nothing, was going to prevent the soul-rock star from having his share of hits, even if that meant releasing them over and over again. After a series of flops, ‘Cuddly Toy’ finally became a Top 10 hit in early 1989, to be swiftly followed by this rather more understated but to my ears infinitely better single. To the frustration of everyone involved it still climbed no higher than the position we found it at on Easter Sunday. As a solo star, Roachford still records and performs to this day, even if it has now been a decade since he last tickled the charts.

22: Cult – Fire Woman

So to round off this rapid sprint through the lower end of the Top 40 this week, here is what is curiously enough the highest new entry pof the week. When first writing up this chart in 2008 I confessed I’d all but forgotten this single existed and the truth of the matter is the same holds true today. Whilst research tells me that it would go on to peak at Number 15, the first hit single for Bradford’s most famous rock export (sorry, Terrorvision but it’s true) since the memorable ‘Wild Flower’ in 1987, I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it sounds like but for the fact it is blasting out of the stereo as I write this. Maybe everyone was just keen to move on to the follow-up ‘Edie (Ciao Baby)’ which was hailed as an instant rock classic and we were was certain to be their biggest hit ever. It made Number 39.

Part One complete, although please don’t forget to check out the Spotify playlist which thus far has a pleasing 100% strike rate of these 23 year old hit singles and which is also recommended as it features most of the other tracks which were skipped by the chart show, including classics from Simple Minds, New Order and Texas.

The Shot Heard Around The World

Stoke City v Manchester City was one of those football fixtures which didn’t immediately jump off the page as a classic in the making, but faced with selling it as a matchup, it was possible to see how it could provide the required level of entertainment. Champions in waiting against a side notorious for their uncompromising and sometimes rather ugly style of play. It had the potential to be rather thrilling.

When it comes to choosing Premier League football matches to cover, radio pretty much has to trail in the wake of television, as the TV companies choose their live games and thus fix the kick-off times, leaving radio rights-holders to slot in accordingly. Hence ESPN had selected the match at the Brittannia against the wannabe champions to air in their one and only timeslot, and as Saturday evening rights-holders, we at talkSPORT were handed the game too.

The first half was quiet in places, with the odd heart-racing moment as shots were cleared off the line and nailed on chances were denied by some goalkeeping skill, but at half time it was clear that the 0-0 scoreline reflected two teams well drilled in cancelling each other’s threats.

Then, mid-way through the second half, Stoke’s Peter Crouch received the ball about 40 yards out from the opposition goal, swivelled his not insubstantial frame… and caused most people in the stadium to shout with surprise and joy as he volleyed the ball into the net. None shouted louder than our commentary team of Stan Collymore and Sam Matterface who described it in glowing terms as one of the greatest goals of the season, and in the process creating one of the most entertaining radio commentary moments of recent months too.

Within minutes we were flooded with Twitter messages hailing not only the football skill involved but also their startled reaction to the commentary. I decided that the moment deserved an even wider audience. So inspiration struck. I asked the audio producers to turn around a clip of the commentary of the goal in question and stuck it on Audioboo, making sure the upload was automatically tweeted to the watching world:

I don’t think the clip could have gone viral any quicker had I sneezed it. Within five minutes of going live it had been played over 1000 times. As I write this just under an hour later the play total has topped 3000 with new tweets arriving every minute as people send the link on. EDIT: 24 hours later it had grown almost exponentially, with over 13,000 plays, ending up eventually just five short of 20,000.

(I subsequently took the original Audioboo down after my bosses began to get nervous about whether it violated their contract with the Premier League, but you can still hear the audio clip below.)

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.

If nothing else this just goes to demonstrate the amazing impact that can be had when “old” and “new” media converge. Thousands were listening to the live coverage across the nation at the time, yet with just a few clicks, the most memorable moment was communicated to thousands more across the world. It is all at once quite frightening and not a little humbling to think of the impact what we do can have, and you can guarantee there are hundreds more people tonight who are not only wanting to seek out the footage of the goal in question, but after listening to it also know just what it is we do on air and why we love it so much.

Hat tip to @StanCollymore and @Sammatterface whose voices are those on the clip. I’m just the waiter who puts the plates on the table at the end of the day. They are the artisans at the stove, and thanks to a moment of inspiration from a sometimes underrated footballer, their words and their unabashed joy at seeing something out of the ordinary is for the moment one of the most famous pieces of audio in the world.

Found That Soul Of 2001–Part Four

A word about the Radio One Top 40 show itself for this week, as recorded on March 4th 2001 and which has effectively been the soundtrack to all of these posts. The production of the show was essentially imperial era Mark Goodier, albeit at a point where he was becoming less and less relevant to Radio One and was clearly starting the slow wind down of his career on the network. This was also during the period when the UK charts had their first ever proper sponsorship, and so the start and finish of the show include a note that the Top 40 chart is “supported by Worldpop dot com”. The site was a short-lived consumer music portal founded by former Radio One DJ Peter Powell which died on its arse after a year owing to not being very good and after burning its way through an astonishing £13m of funding (of which £5m was spunked on the chart sponsorship). A minor kerfuffle ensued when the sponsorship deal was first signed as it was noted that Goodier himself was one of the investors in the site – a conflict of interest which meant he had to divest himself of the shares in order to continue to present the show. Politics.

Time to wrap up the chart countdown with a rather thrilling Top 10, featuring some great stories, huge sales and a one of its kind release gimmick which was itself at the time a very big deal indeed.

10: Dido – Here With Me

Speaking of big deals, here is the lady who was Number One on the album chart this week in 2001 on her way to becoming one of the biggest sellers of the decade. How she got there is actually one of the more intriguing tales of all.

Dido Armstrong (younger sister of Faithless maestro Rollo Armstrong and occasional vocal contributor to some of his productions) had signed a deal as a solo artist with Arista records in 1998. The album ‘No Angel’ was delivered for release a year later, but for whatever reason only the American arm of the company elected to release it. No European imprint was interested. Her only notable work to that date was the track ‘Thank You’ which had worked its way onto the soundtrack of the 1998 film ‘Sliding Doors’ and which was serendipitously playing on a commercial for the film seen by Eminem. Flash forward to 2000 and ‘Thank You’ is the core of the biggest hit of his career and suddenly the whole world is wondering just who the chick in the song is (with Dido herself playing the role of Stan’s girlfriend in the video for the song in a cute nod to its origins).

Attention was thus reawoken in ‘No Angel’ which began to sell in America and was finally picked up for European release. It made it to British shelves in late October 2000 but as this was before ‘Stan’ had been a single it was still barely noticed. Nonetheless when asked at a party around the same time what the hot tips for the future were, I put forward the opinion that Dido was set to become a huge star in 2001.

Which is exactly what happened. Rather than immediately go with ‘Thank You’ as an obvious choice for a single, she instead released the more strident ‘Here With Me’ which stormed the chart at Number 4 upon release and was still just about in the Top 10 here three weeks later. ‘Thank You’ eventually followed as a single release later in the summer and went Top 3 in its own right, by which time sales of the parent album were reaching Adele level stupidity. ‘No Angel’ wound up as the second biggest selling album of the 2000s, with British sales to date now in excess of 3 million and its worldwide sales total currently standing at 21 million. Worth noting that at the time of writing Adele’s ‘21’, the modern day equivalent, has only managed 17 million. Make no mistake, Dido was massive.

9: Manic Street Preachers – Found That Soul
8: Manic Street Preachers – So Why So Sad

The Manic Street Preachers arguably didn’t need gimmicks to sell their new album. Their 1998 album ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ had spawned Number One singles and pushed them once and for all over the top to mainstream music stardom. They had rounded off the 1990s with a Millennium Eve concert in Cardiff and started the 21st century with a good old fashioned chart ambush as one off single ‘The Masses Against The Classes’ became one of the first new Number One singles of the new year in 2000. Despite this, they cooked up a wheeze. Ahead of the release of new album ‘Know Your Enemy’ they would release not one but two singles, both on the same day. Could they stage the greatest coup of all and land at both Number One and Number Two simultaneously?

The Manics weren’t the first act to try the stunt, with Lush having attempted a similar trick in 1994 when both ‘Hypocrite’ and ‘Desire Lines’ appeared on the same day in June that year. Those singles made a rather disappointing 54 and 60 respectively, leaving the way clear for the Welshmen to become the first act to have proper hits with such a simultaneous release.

The two tracks were carefully chosen to better show off the two sides of the Manic Street Preachers’ musical personality. ‘Found That Soul’ was an edgy, noisy post-punk track with the group in full on ‘You Love Us’ intense mode. ‘So Why So Sad’ was their poppier side, a chiming and appealing wall of sound anthem in the style of ‘Everything Must Go’. Inevitably it was the latter which emerged the sales winner, selling 37,000 to the former’s 33,000. Observant minds will have spotted that the eventual chart placings of 8 and 9 were some way short of the simultaneous Top 3 success widely predicted when the news of the dual release was announced. Make your own guesses as to what happened here – did people pick and choose their favourite and ignore the other, thus dividing the potential sale of what would otherwise have been a single brand new Manics track, or was the double release just too gimmicky for most people to properly buy into it? Whatever the reasons, this kind of chart stunt has not been attempted since, and with album releases now enabling ten or more potential hits to land on the singles chart at once, the novelty of having two singles available at the same time has rather worn off.

7: Samantha Mumba – Always Come Back To Your Love

Not everything Louis Walsh turned his hand to was Westlife-level blandness or Jedward-level garbage. Plucked from the Irish TV talent show “Let Me Entertain You” at the tender age of 15, Samantha Mumba was carefully guided to a short but respectable pop career which saw her chart with several worthwhile pop nuggets. ‘Always Come Back To Your Love’ was her third chart hit and her second to go Top 3, hitting Number 3 the week before this chart was compiled. It was one of no less than five Top 10 hits to be taken from her debut album ‘Gotta Tell You’ which was released at the tail end of 2000 and went Top 10 itself. Yet oddly enough that was pretty much all she wrote as far as Samantha Mumba’s pop career went. A one-off new single ‘I’m Right Here’ emerged at the end of 2002 and it too made a non too shabby Number 5 but a second album never materialised and the next we saw of Mumba the pop star was on the 2008 documentary series “Get Your Act Together” as Harvey Goldsmith attempted to kick-star her career once again. Mumba has instead turned her talents to acting and has appeared in a selection of films over the years, most notably the 2002 remake of “The Time Machine” wearing the most extraordinarily memorable chain mail top in cinema history.

6: Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag

In an era of memorable and radio-friendly rock hits, Wheatus’ debut single ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ was easily one of the most famous. Telling the story of the high school loser who eventually gets the girl in the most unexpected of circumstances, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ proved irresistible to both radio programmers and music buyers alike with the track spending a fortnight at Number 2 in February 2001, an impressive nine weeks in the Top 10 (this in an era when quick enter-high and exit-quickly chart performances were still the norm) and close to five months on the Top 75 itself. Although the American film “Loser” was something of a flop over here, the use of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ on its soundtrack meant that the accompanying video had the bonus of featuring the reunion of American Pie stars Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari who lip-synched their way through the song whilst acting out its story. If this track was good, then Wheatus’ next single was an inspired joy, a metal romp through the old Erasure hit ‘A Little Respect’ which similarly went Top 3 later in the summer. Their self-titled debut proved to be their one and only commercial hit in this country, but five studio albums and a handful of lineup changes later Wheatus are still active and pop up at rock festivals with reassuring regularity.

5: Nelly Furtado – I’m Like A Bird

Five years before she became Timbaland’s favourite muse and hit proper superstardom with the ‘Loose’ album, this was Canadian singer Nelly Furtado’s chart debut with a track which now sounds atypically light and breezy compared to some of her later output. Still, at the time all this was ahead of her and there was nothing wrong with the impact ‘I’m Like A Bird Made’, debuting here at Number 5 after several weeks of airplay buildup. Her debut album, the punningly titled ‘Whoa Nelly’ was released a fortnight later and eventually peaked at Number 2 during a year on the charts, during the course of which it also spawned Number 4 hit ‘Turn Off The Light’. A great way to open your account then, but naturally even bigger things lay in wait.

4: Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera – Nobody Wants To Be Lonely

I don’t remember this record at all. Which is odd when you think about it. Ricky Martin was here just under two years removed from global smash hit ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ (a Number One hit here) which turned him in to a star in the English speaking world as well as the Spanish one and was also following up the equally extraordinary ‘She Bangs’ which had been a Top 3 hit at the tail end of 2000. ‘Nobody Wants To Be Lonely’ was thus the second single from Martin’s second English language album ‘Sound Loaded’ and as far as its chart placings were concerned performed more than adequately, becoming a hit in all the territories it should have done and Ricky Martin’s fifth and final Top 10 hit in this country. For guest star Aguilera it was her fourth Top 10 single and effectively a final drawing of breath for her before the ‘Dirrrty’ era saw her vamp up her image and cement her status as a pop icon.

Yet for all that, for all its undoubted pedigree, ‘Nobody Wants To Be Lonely’ is surely one of those great lost records, barely given a second thought once its 12 week chart run came to an end, rarely mentioned in dispatches as one of the most memorable hits of either artist and as far removed from classic status as it is possible to get. Yes, it was one of the biggest new releases of the week, storming the chart at Number 4… but 11 years later – can anyone honestly say they have had it stuck in their head since?

3: OutKast – Ms Jackson

Almost ten years since they first paired up and five years since they broke through in the hip-hop world as a name to take note of, OutKast finally achieved a smash overground pop hit just as they were on the verge of running out of steam as a pairing. Fate can be like that sometimes. Lifted from their fourth album ‘Stankonia’, the single ‘Ms Jackson’ was to say the least an eagerly anticipated released, charting from early February onwards thanks to imported copies which climbed as high as Number 48. With the single finally released it made a fresh debut, storming straight to Number 2 and introducing the mainstream to the work and sound of Andre 3000 and Big Boi for the first time ever. The track itself is semi-autobiographical, the Ms Jackson of the title reportedly the mother of Erykah Badu whom Andre 3000 had been dating, but the sentiments of expressing regret about the demise of a relationship to your estranged mother-in-law date back years in song form. Few would disagree that ‘Ms Jackson’ is the spiritual descendent of the old Dr Hook song ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ which weaves a similar tale.

I mentioned the duo being about to run out of steam. They followed the ‘Stankonia’ album with the globe-buggeringly successful double album ‘Speakerboxx/The Love Below’ two years later, but no secret was made of the fact that these were in fact two solo albums with one man making guest appearances on the other’s record, albeit released together under the group name. OutKast still technically exist as a group and have a record deal to their name, but meanwhile we creep ever closer to there having been a decade since their last original work together.

2: Atomic Kitten – Whole Again

By the end of 2000 few would have disagreed that the Atomic Kitten project hadn’t worked. Former OMD star Andy McCluskey’s bold idea of plucking three Liverpool lasses from obscurity and handing them a series of disco-pop songs that he would not have been able to pull off performing himself had produced some very good records but precious little in the way of strong sales. Their first three singles had all performed reasonably well, with ‘Right Now’, ‘See Ya’ and ‘I Want Your Love’ all going Top 10, but a fourth ‘Follow Me’ had stalled just inside the Top 20 and their debut album ‘Right Now’ had spent just two weeks in the charts when finally released at the end of October 2000. They had one last chance to resurrect things, and so the slushy ballad ‘Whole Again’ was selected as the fifth single with the three girls – Liz, Natasha and Kerry – booked onto TV shows to start the process of hyping up the release just after Christmas.

Then on January 10th 2001 this story appeared in the newspapers:


Yes like the good little Catholic boy he was, Bryan of Westlife had knocked up Kerry Katona, the most charismatic member of Atomic Kitten, and in the process propelled them both onto the front page of the tabloids. Yet suddenly Atomic Kitten now had a genuine publicity hook. They weren’t just another nonentity pop group on the verge of flopping, they were at the heart of a proper story. We’ll never know just how well ‘Whole Again’ would have done without the pregnancy tale – history records that in the wake of the tabloid stories the single flew to the top of the charts and stayed there for four weeks, selling in huge numbers in the process.

The one complication was that Kerry had elected not to follow in the footsteps of members of the Spice Girls and All Saints and gave her notice to quit the group, her final day of work being the very day that ‘Whole Again’ was set for release. To plug the gap, fellow Merseysiders Jenny Frost was parachuted in, her performing credentials based on having been a member of 1999 Eurovision entrants Precious. However Kerry’s voice was still all over the hit single, particularly in a cute spoken section in the middle, so the girls swiftly recorded a new vocal take which they used for promotional appearances thereafter. I’m trying desperately to recall if radio stations were furnished with the “Jenny” version for their own use, on the tape I have here the chart show was still playing the “Kerry” take the week the single was deposed from the top of the charts. The phasing in of the new lineup even extended to Jenny Frost being spliced into a new edit of the video for the track, one which replaced the original the moment it was ready to go. Just to demonstrate how subtly it was done, one creative person with time on their hands has even edited the two together to show the old and new versions side by side, which is actually a worthwhile watch, even if it does appear to make the song go on FOREVER:

So what if you suddenly decided that the Atomic Kitten album was a worthwhile listen? Well you had to be quick, as the original version of ‘Right Now’ was swiftly deleted, its last final wander around the bottom end of the album chart during February thanks to the last remaining sales of the original issue. Now under new management and with a new, softer, country-pop direction the Mark II Atomic Kitten re-released the album later in the summer with most tracks re-recorded, save for the handful of Kerry-featured early singles which were bundled together on the running order as the “Back Then” collection. Atomic Kitten spent the next four years as one of the biggest pop groups in the country whilst Kerry Katona herself spent the next decade veering from TV sweetheart to reality TV basket case and back again, with her entire life played out on the pages of Hello! magazine.

With the news that the Kittens are planning a comeback, a few weeks ago the Official Charts Company revealed that ‘Whole Again’ was just 20,000 copies short of becoming a million seller (it sold 934,000 in 2001 alone to become the fourth biggest seller of the year). Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room though, you can change the lyrics to they become “you can fill my hole again” which means the song to this day appeals to juveniles of all ages.

1: Shaggy featuring RikRok – It Wasn’t Me

So to the single making its “debut” at Number One on this chart. I’ll explain the quote marks in a moment.

Not for the first time in his career, Orville “Shaggy” Burrell was on his uppers. Despite his second album ‘Boombastic’ having given him a worldwide smash hit in the form of its title track (a second Number One hit for him here), by 1997 he was out of contract and out of a deal. He signed a new deal for America and recorded a new album ‘Hot Shot’ which was set for release there in August 2000. Just before it was officially available however it was leaked online, where Hawaiian DJ Pablo Sato downloaded it from a source he to this day has refused to name. Spotting that the track ‘It Wasn’t Me’ was the standout cut, he aired it the very next day to a rapturous reception.

Such was the demand for ‘It Wasn’t Me’ that the hand of the label was forced and the track was pushed as the first official single from ‘Hot Shot’, the subsequent buzz ensuring that Shaggy was suddenly hot property and with the album licensed for release across the world. The single was set for release here in early March 2001 but such was the hype that stores imported their own copies, particularly from America where it had topped the Hot 100 with ease in early February. This led to the single spending three weeks on the Top 40 before it had even been released, coming to rest at Number 31 for week ending March 3rd 2001.

You would have thought that these three weeks of early availability would have dulled the edge of the official release of the single wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it. The fully available ‘It Wasn’t Me’ stormed to Number One with a huge sale of 345,000 copies – at the time the highest first week sale of any single since Britney Spears did 464,000 copies of ‘Baby One More Time’ two years earlier. The biggest single on the planet at that moment was far and away the biggest deal in Britain as well.

The single is so famous it hardly requires a recap here, although it was a curious production given that Shaggy was effectively a guest star on his own track, appearing on vocals for less than a minute of the production and allowing guest star RikRok to do most of the work. The single edit contained one crucial change from the album track, substituting RikRok’s description of how he and his girl were “both caught naked, banging on the bathroom floor” to the rather wimpier “both caught making, love on the bathroom floor” although it was entertaining to note that most radio stations started out playing the uncut version without any complaints before switching to the properly available one. For all its huge sales, ‘It Wasn’t Me’ was to only spend a single week at Number One, dumped down into second place by Westlife a week later. No matter, the track would eventually go on to sell 1.151 million copies to become the biggest selling single of 2001 and is to date one of the Top 60 biggest selling singles of all time (at the time of writing it is Number 54 on what is a remarkably fluid list). As comebacks go, that takes some beating.

With that, it is time to bid a fond farewell to the memorable and extremely enjoyable music of 2001. The Spotify playlist is now as complete as it can be for anyone else who wishes to relive the countdown, and it only remains for me to note before packing the cassettes away for another decade that the first track played on Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems after the Top 40 show that week was the sodding Ladyboy Is Mine track again. I’ve now heard it twice more than I ever wanted to again.


Found That Soul Of 2001–Part Three

During this particular period in 2001 it was a pretty grim time to be a farmer, with the great Foot and Mouth outbreak causing entire herds to be destroyed in an attempt to counter the spread of the disease. Other aspects of life were affected too, with parks being closed, horse racing meetings cancelled for a period, the Six Nations Rugby tournament moved to later in the year and even a planned General Election postponed by a month to avoid problems with people moving around from area to area.

Suddenly however the crisis was wiped from the headlines by a tragic chance event:


This was the Selby rail crash, caused when Gary Hart fell asleep at the wheel of his Land Rover and careered down a railway embankment. It was struck by an inter-city passenger train which then derailed into the path of a freight train coming in the opposite direction. 10 people were killed and 82 suffered serious injuries.

Thank goodness we had the first ever Celebrity Big Brother to take our minds off things. Plus TV stars saying outrageous things and getting the humourless frothing at the mouth. Not a Jeremy Clarkson in sight either…


Time to get back to the music, we’ve dallied long enough. Our chart countdown from March 4th 2001 continues as we arrive in the Top 20. As ever the Spotify playlist is updated, although some rather obscure pop hits in this segment means we have to skip a handful of tracks and YouTube them instead.

20: Limp Bizkit – Rollin’

Either the zenith or the nadir of Nu Metal depending on your point of view, there was nonetheless a legitimate case to be made for Limp Bizkit being the hottest rock act on the planet at that point. The source of it was their third album, the marvellously titled ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water’ which might rank as the rudest innocent sounding phrase ever to land on the charts. Despite their previous album ‘Significant Other’ having reached Number 10 when released in 1999, Fred Durst’s outfit were without a British chart hit until the release of ‘Take A Look Around’ a year later, the first single from the follow-up album and a Number 3 smash hit. ‘My Generation’ made the Top 20 at the back end of that year but it was the third single which sent things stratospheric. The grinding, nagging and insanely catchy ‘Rollin’ proved hard for both radio and record buyers to resist and the track shot to the top of the charts at the end of January to give Limp Bizkit their one and only Number One single. In it’s wake it dragged the parent album back up the chart and to the Number One slot itself, making the group the first heavy metal act ever to top both charts simultaneously. In theory the sky should have been the limit from that point on, but once the album had been milked for hit singles Fred Durst’s egotism got the better of him. Entire albums worth of tracks were recorded and binned in a quest for perfection and when the much-delayed follow-up ‘Results May Vary’ finally appeared at the end of 2003 the title appeared more prophetic than anyone could have realised. Limp Bizkit still record sporadically to this day, their album ‘Gold Cobra’ last year having been their first for six years. Not that anyone really noticed or cared.

19: BBMAK – Back Here

Remember all those acts who found fame in Britain and Europe before working their magic back home in America? Well these guys are the polar opposite, a British boy band whose greatest success was actually in the States. The trio first emerged in 1999 and were at pains to stress how hard they worked in writing their own material without a trace of manufacturing going on. Debut single ‘Back Here’ was released in August that year and limped to Number 37 – essentially it was a disaster.

Then something rather curious happened. American radio stations grabbed hold of the single and loved it. The group and their management abandoned any and all plans to conquer Britain and ahead headed across the Atlantic. The net result was BBMAK being heralded as part of a new British pop invasion with ‘Back Here’ hitting Number 13 on the US chart on the way to becoming one of the most played singles of 2000. Their album ‘Sooner Or Later’ sold a million copies on the back of the hit as well. It hardly mattered that nobody back home had heard of them.

Still, it was worth giving it another shot and so with the pedigree of Stateside success as a neat hook to hang their story on, ‘Back Here’ was re-released in Britain where this time it made a vast improvement on its original release and shot to Number 5. Listening back to the single it isn’t hard to see just why American radio loved it so much, the production cleverly aping the breezy Californian pop style that worked so well for the Backstreet Boys. For all that though the trio were never really going to stand out in what was still a crowded pop market, so whilst they landed a second Top 10 hit later in 2001 with ‘Still On Your Side’ and the much-delayed UK release of the ‘Sooner Or Later’ album made the Top 20, they continued to concentrate on America where their string of pop hits continued into a second album before they disbanded in 2003.

18: Human Nature – He Don’t Love You

When it comes to Australian pop stars, with the odd notable exception we in Britain prefer them soap shaped. Hence Aussie pop superstars Human Nature were always going to have their work cut out making their name on these shores. Originally formed as a doo-wop group at the start of the 1990s, the group turned their hand to pop music in 1997 to no small amount of success. An attempt was made at the time to push them in this country too but both of their first two singles fell short of the Top 40. Their one and only British hit came thanks to this track, lifted from their third self-titled album. Penned by the always consistent Steve Mac and Wayne Hector, the track called to mind the thumping beats of ‘NSync, causing it to by no means sound out of place but at the cost of no small amount of originality. For the UK market the video was re-shot to feature a cameo from one Holly Valance, herself a year away from her own British pop career. This not too shabby Number 18 chart entry was the result but it turned out to be their only dalliance with the chart show countdown. When later singles flopped, the great British adventure was abandoned. Human Nature returned back home, still active in the Australian charts to this day even if Spotify tries to pretend they don’t exist. Still, at least we get to gawk at Holly in the shower:

17: Dane – Shut Up And Forget About It

That’s Dane as in “Bowers”, in case anyone was wondering. The late 90s success of the individual solo Spice Girls was great news for high profile members of successful pop bands, as it became clear there was a record company blank cheque awaiting them if they fancied a shot at a solo career. When Another Level broke apart in 1999 after a two year career which had seen them manage seven Top 10 hits and one Number One, it was the aforementioned Mr Bowers who fancied extending his musical career a little further.

To his credit he didn’t rush to make an album of his own, teaming up instead with garage outfit Truesteppers in 2000 to front both Number 6 hit ‘Buggin’ and more notoriously ‘Out Of Your Mind’ which wound up in a head to head chart race with ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ by Spiller, the added frisson being that the Truesteppers single also marked the post-Spice debut of a certain Miss Victoria Beckham. The single peaked at Number 2 in August 2000. Fast forward to 2001 and having dropped his surname he struck out on his own. Debut hit ‘Shut Up And Forget About It’ supposedly had the backstory of being about the time he was the first C-list pop star to have a relationship with Katie “Jordan” Price (one which they took the time to video). For all that the song was nothing special, an attempt to cast him as a mean and moody R&B star but which reduced his vocals to a sultry growl. Yes, both this single and the summertime follow-up ‘Another Lover’ made Number 9 but this was almost certainly solely down to the latent fan power from his Another Level years. An album ‘Facing The Crowd’ was apparently recorded but it went unreleased as Bowers transitioned from C-list pop star to D-list TV star for the rest of the decade. But it is still impossible to shake the image of him putting his toe up Jordan’s… well, THERE. Sorry. Have a rather more tasteful video of his instead.

16: Mario Piu presents DJ Arabesque – The Vision

A second hit single for Italian DJ Mario Piu, a leisurely follow-up to 1999 Top 5 hit ‘Communication’ which was cleverly based around the interference GSM mobile phones cause to speaker equipment. ‘The Vision’ was a new entry here this week but its chart career was short and perfunctory. I think more than anything else here, this single demonstrates just how dance music, possibly more than any other genre, is dependent on context for proper appreciation. This record means nothing to me. It didn’t during its brief foray into the sales charts, and 11 years later it carries no resonance, inspires no memories nor tells me anything about how my life was when it was first released. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are plenty of people to whom this record is the manifestation of a particularly perfect night, a club excursion they will never forget, a holiday which lives long in the memory, maybe even the moment they first met the love of their life. I can’t knock that, there are club records from 1988 with which I identify strongly. I didn’t go to clubs or listen to dance music stations in 2001, so why would ‘The Vision’ have had any impact on my life? I’d genuinely not heard this for 11 years until today. It may be another 11 before I have any urge to hear it again. Does that make it a bad record, or just one that I personally am indifferent to?

15: Stuntmasterz – The Ladyboy Is Mine

My word we are hitting a rich seam of throwaway club records at this point. One of those records you suspect was conceived simply because of the potential for punsome titles which presented themselves, the track by British producers Stuntmasterz was a straightforward mash-up of the vocal lines from Brandy and Monica’s 1998 classic ‘The Boy Is Mine’ with the instrumentation from ‘Lady’ which had spent a fortnight at Number One for Modjo in September 2000. Yes it worked (to a point anyway) and one had to admire the technical work which made such a combination happen (not to mention the legal minefield it will have took to release it in the first place) but when it comes to actually how necessary it was for this record to exist, I run out of reasons to articulate it. It hit Number 10 on the chart before this one. If you helped it there, it is all your fault.

14: Toploader – Dancing In The Moonlight (remix)

For rather longer than they would have been strictly comfortable with, Toploader’s greatest claim to fame was being universally acknowledged as the best band to have not had a hit single. A series of singles released in 1999 had fallen well short of the Top 40 despite much praise for the quality of their work, and for a time it appeared they would never get as far as even releasing their debut album. The breakthrough finally came in March 2000 when a faithful and delightfully twee cover of the long-forgotten King Harvest track ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’, which had been an American hit for its authors but a flop on these shores. The Toploader version made a half-decent Number 19 but more importantly finally kick-started their chart career. A re-release of previous flop ‘Achilles Heel’ made the Top 10 and the album ‘Onka’s Big Mocha’ went Top 5, just in time for the group to steal the show at any number of summer festivals that year.

To round the year off the group put out a new version of their breakthrough hit, remixed in a curious choice of material by bugeoning Scandinavian producers StarGate. The new mix was subtly done, steering clear of turning ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ into a floor-filler but adding some new beats and the odd bit of vocal processing (sadly not on Spotify, so the link above is to the original version). Released at the tail end of November 2000, the single made Number 11 and then floated around the charts at Christmas-time as a pleasing party novelty. By new year it had begun a slow but inevitable burnout.

Then something rather weird happened. The Toploader recording just happened to be the latest in a series of tracks licensed for use in TV commercials for Sainsbury’s as fronted by Jamie Oliver. The ad (which annoyingly I’ve failed so far to track down online) if anyone is interested was the one where the household wakes up hungover after a party and Jamie urges Jools to “go make a nice greasy fry-up” which she proceeds to do using a series of low fat sausages. All with ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ playing over the top. For whatever reason the song struck a new chord with the British public, and after spending three weeks locked at Number 21 in mid-January the Toploader single promptly marched back up the charts, rising to a brand new peak of Number 7 in late February 2001, 14 weeks after the remix first charted and almost a year to the week since it was first released. These days we are kind of spoiled for older singles catching fire out of nowhere, for 2001 this was nothing short of extraordinary, particularly when you consider its new surge of popularity came when the single was dead as far as retailers were concerned and stocks were effectively being run down. The new success of the single had a knock-on effect for its parent album as well as it too raced back up the charts to land a brand new peak of Number 4.

From there the sky should have been the limit for Toploader but they made the classic error of forgetting to make their second album ‘Magic Hotel’ any good when it emerged in 2002. When their label went under the following year the group called it a day as well, before reforming last year to attempt a comeback with a brand new album. If nothing else they have the legacy of this most enjoyable of cover revivals to look back on. After all without it guitarist Dan Hipgrave is just the bastard who made Gail Porter’s hair fall out.

13: Jakatta – American Dream

Just for a refreshing change,a club track which does have some genuine artistic merit. The mysteriously named Jakatta was yet another alias of veteran DJ and producer Dave “Joey Negro” Lee who landed himself one of his biggest ever chart hits thanks to this rather inspired piece of work. ‘American Dream’ was essentially a fusion of two themes penned by composer Thomas Newman for the soundtrack of the acclaimed film “American Beauty”. Dave Lee wove the soundtrack to Kevin Spacey mid-life crisis into a haunting and rather beautiful club track and best of all one that was destined for huge crossover success. ‘American Dream’ was an instant and deserved Top 3 hit and stands proud to this day as one of his best ever works. In this writer’s humble opinion anyway.

12: Melanie B – Feels So Good

The solo career of Scary Spice got off to a flying start in 1998 when she shot to Number One alongside Missy Elliott with ‘I Want You Back’. For whatever reason it took her some considerable time to get around to the messy business of an actual album, releasing a rather lame Top 20 cover of cameo’s ‘Word Up’ in 1999, a single which was confusingly credited to “Melanie G” as she had elected to take her then husband’s name. Foolish girl. When the marriage to “Goldcard Jimmy” as the press dubbed him dissolved, she reverted back to her “real” name and was finally ready to push the button on her solo career for real. The spiky and spiteful ‘Tell Me’ shot to Number 4 in October 2000 and the album ‘Hot’ followed a few weeks later although it failed to impress sales-wise.

Then everything stopped, because the third and final and rather poorly received Spice Girls album came out just a few weeks later. All promotional efforts were diverted into helping ‘Forever’ into the charts. Despite lead single ‘Holler/Let Love Lead The Way’ giving them a ninth and final Number One, by the new year the Spice Girls were officially no more, meaning Scary was free to turn back to her own album which had by now sunk without trace. Hence its second single ‘Feels So Good’ belatedly hit the stores in spring 2001. An attempt at a slick R&B ballad, the jarringly bad production and the way Melanie B’s thick Leeds accent still penetrated through despite her attempts to sound like a Californian soul mama. Try to hear her mumbling “Uh, we’re gonna get all soft an’ smoochy” at the start without cringing. Despite this the single still made Number 5 but sales of the album remained negligible. A third single, the slightly better ‘Lullaby’ made Number 13 that summer, but essentially that was it as far as Mel B the solo star was concerned. A comeback attempt in 2005 with the underrated ‘Today’ missed the target as well (the single hit an unlucky Number 41). Still, at least we took her more seriously than we did Victoria.

11: Kaci – Paradise

American made good over here alert! A child prodigy, Kaci Battaglia had recorded and released her first pop album by the age of 11 thanks to the guiding hand an patronage of her mother. Two years later and before anyone could stop to ask “hang on, are you sure this is the way we want to go”, she was landing in the Top 20 of the UK charts with her debut international single. ‘Paradise’ was an up to date cover of the song originally sung by Phoebe Cates as the theme to the 1982 “teenagers fornicate on desert island” film of the same name. Out of all the countries in the world, Britain was the only one with record labels prepared to chance their arm at promoting a preppy American pre-teen. I cannot for the life of me figure out why either. Her debut album was released here and here alone, failing to chart first time around but eventually being propelled into the Top 50 thanks to a cover of ‘I Think I Love You’ which made the Top 10 in spring 2002. Now aged 24, Kaci is still attempting to become a proper adult pop star and released a new album a couple of years ago. Maybe one day she will become a well known name, at which point we can look back with bemusement at the time when she became an unlikely British pop star before she had even gone to High School.

Found That Soul Of 2001–Part Two

I’ve mentioned before that there is an unbreakable emotional link between the circumstances of your life and how you feel about the music of the time. I’ve written in the past about chart countdowns which mark deep personal lows and how the emotions flood back with every song. I suspect the affection with which I can view many of these songs is similarly based on fond memories of this particular period in my life. I was living the dream, newly embraced by London life, earning money again after a bleak financial period and in the manner of Homer Simpson at the bowling alley was merrily tripping to work in a dream job which combined my two loves of computers and radio. Throughout it all, the songs on the radio made this one of the most memorable times of the decade for me and to be able to relive them all once again is a positive joy. Only a crippling lack of sex prevented life from being total perfection.

Oh I’m sorry, did I shatter the reverie with an overshare? We should play the tape again, and keep a close eye on the Spotify playlist as a string of mainstream acts means there is once again a pleasing strike rate of these songs available for modern day listening.

30: Eminem – Stan

What a difference 13 weeks makes. When the promotion of ‘Stan’ as Eminem’s third single from his second album began and the track began to pick up airplay, the subject matter of the supposedly controversial track caused a great deal of soul searching amongst broadcasters. Uniquely Radio One approved it for daytime play but for the first few weeks preceded every broadcast of the track with an announcement to the effect that it is an important record that they though you should be able to hear, but that anyone who may be upset by it might like to turn the volume down for five minutes.

Was it all a fuss over nothing, or did time wither the impact of the tale of Stan the obsessed fan and his doomed pregnant girlfriend? Either way, come the spring of 2001 the single was still a Top 40 fixture and was still in regular rotation on daytime commercial radio – heavily edited to remove the nastier parts of the tale, naturally – without anyone batting an eyelid.

As a three month old Number One single here on the Top 40 chart doing a slow but steady burnout, a full account of the chart story of ‘Stan’ and just what its cultural impact was can wait for the day we do one of these for the close of 2000. At this point the track was spending its penultimate week on the Top 40, its significance by March 2001 not so much the way it took Eminem back to the top of the charts, but the way that in its wake it turned the lady whose sampled voice forms such a core part of the song into a huge mainstream star. Stay tuned, as they say.

29: Mya – Case Of The Ex

It was actually Mya’s second album which spawned her biggest international hit. The R&B singer had made her American chart debut as far back as 1998, hitting the Billboard Top 10 with the track ‘It’s All About Me’ but the first British audiences heard of her was as one of the multitude of guest voices on the Pras Michel single ‘Ghetto Supastar’ later that same summer. She broke through internationally as a solo star with this naggingly brilliant tale of relationship paranoia which stormed to Number 3 the moment it was released in early February 2001. Sadly neither this single nor the Number 11 follow-up ‘Free’ did much to help sales of their parent album ‘Fear Of Flying’ which barely tickled the Top 100 when finally released later in the summer. Her greatest singles chart success would come later in 2001 when she was part of the ensemble cast of stars who performed ‘Lady Marmalade’ on the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack, a single which was Number One in most of the territories of the world including the UK. Her career fell off the rails following a lengthy delay in releasing her fourth album in 2007, but even by that time she had sadly dropped off the radar as far as Britain was concerned. Sad in a way… ‘Case Of The Ex’ remains nothing short of marvellous.

28: Backstreet Boys – The Call

To think we thought Anastacia had problems being huge in Europe but disregarded in her own country. The Backstreet Boys had this headache in SPADES. Making their debut in the mid-1990s, the first big American boy band since NKOTB found themselves ignored in their home country but feted as the next big thing in Europe with a string of continent-wide smashes. Britain took a while to catch on itself but by 1996 they were regular fixtures at the top end of the singles chart with tracks such as ‘We’ve Got It Going On’ and ‘Quit Playing Games With My Heart’. Whilst America finally took the bait a couple of years later it meant that for a brief period their album releases were badly out of sync, second European album ‘Backstreets Back’ having to be extensively reversioned as their Stateside “debut” in 1997.

Fortunately things had resolved themselves nicely by the time of their fourth album ‘Black and Blue’ in 2000 and the now worldwide hits just kept on rolling. The lead track from the album became its third single in Europe, ‘The Call’ dealing with the rather weighty subject matter of a man calling up to lie to his girlfriend about where he was about to be spending the night. Released in mid-February 2001 it made an easy Number 8 to become the 13th Backstreet Boys Top 10 hit. Whilst their hits may have dried up around 2007, they still actively record and tour to this day, making headlines at present for a dual header nostalgia tour with New Kids On The Block.

27: Dr Dre featuring Snoop Dogg – The Next Episode

The “first” episode was the seminal ‘Nuthin But a G Thang” from Dr Dre’s solo debut album ‘The Chronic’ in 1992. A pre-fame Snoop Dogg guested on that track too, ending by suggesting everyone chilled out until next time. The original idea was that the “next episode” of which they spoke was to appear on Snoop Dogg’s own debut album ‘Doggystyle’ but although it was listed on early pressings of the sleeve for the album the track itself never appeared.

Having kept the world in suspense for eight years, Dre finally delivered as he and Snoop finished the saga as ‘The Next Episode’ emerged on his 2000 album ‘2001’ and was duly issued as its third single. Here I have to once again expose my lack of complete appreciation for the entire hip-hop canon as I can document that the single is consistently ranked as one of the more essential pieces of work that the genre of gangster rap has offered over the years, although it defies my critical faculties to explain exactly why. Credit where credit is due though, ‘The Next Episode’ remains to this day one of Dr Dre’s most famous and biggest selling hits worldwide. Appropriately enough its British chart fortunes reflect its status, peaking at Number 3 it is easily Dre’s highest charting single in this country as a performer.

26: Divine Comedy – Love What You Do

Finally a new entry! And one from the very finest of British performers as well. The release of Greatest Hits collection ‘A Secret History’ in 1999 marked, at least briefly, a break from the past for Neil Hannon and the ever-shifting collection of musicians who backed him as The Divine Comedy. For his seventh album ‘Regeneration’ he took a step back from the ever more lavish productions which had characterised his recent work, recruiting Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich for a more stripped-down back to basics sound. The relative success or failure of this approach is rather tricky to judge, for the new sound suffered from the same problem as many Divine Comedy releases, being long on critical acclaim but rather short on proper mass sales appeal.

Lead single ‘Love What You Do’ was a case in point. Arriving a few weeks before the album it made a perfunctory appearance inside the Top 30 chart before vanishing with rather brutal efficiency. Listening to it, it isn’t hard to see why. Hannon’s poetry and blissful crooning are present and correct but the clinking and chiming production appears oddly out of place here and is rather more reminiscent of, well, a Radiohead album track than anything else. Hannon continues to churn out Divine Comedy albums at regular intervals, which alongside soundtrack work and inspired side projects such as the acclaimed Duckworth-Lewis Method concept album he remains a genuine national treasure, albeit one absent from the Top 40 since 2004.

25: Joe featuring Mystikal – Stutter

Another American star who found European success before breaking through back home, R&B star Joe had opened his chart account as far back as 1994 with the Top 30 hit ‘I’m In Luv’. When debut album ‘Everything’ failed to sell in his home nation he was swiftly dropped, only to re-emerge in 1997 with the rather more successful ‘All That I Am’ album which saw his star shine slightly more brightly (single ‘Don’t Wanna Be A Player’ made Number 16 here that same year). By 2001 he was firmly established as a big name, meaning ‘Stutter’ had an easy path to the top of the US charts and in turn became his biggest hit single on these shores when it advanced to an easy Number 7 when released in mid-February. His hits dried up towards the middle of the decade but after two independently released albums in recent years, talk emerged last year of a potential Joe comeback. The space continues to be watched.

24: Caprice – Once Around The Sun

Here’s a fun game. Have a gander at the Wikipedia entry for Caprice Bourret and see how much attention is paid to her many attempts to carve out a musical career. It is in there, albeit as a two line paragraph under “Other Work”. That’s how much significance her “fans” attach to it. Yes, Caprice’s musical career is something everyone tries to forget, despite the marketing effort which was attached to it at the time. She first inked a record deal with Virgin Records in 1999, hitting Number 24 with her debut effort ‘Oh Yeah’. The lukewarm public reaction to that first release meant things were put on the backburner for a couple of years whilst the American star sought to expand her business interests and public profile. With that done, having reached the point where she was rather oddly a front page fixture in the Daily Star, it was time to try again with this pop lark – hence the presence on the chart of her second a final single ‘Once Around The Sun’. Listening back to it for the first time in a decade you can see just why things never took off. The song itself is far from unpleasant and is a genuinely uplifting country-pop track, spoiled only by the nasal whine of her voice itself which slices through the melody like an electric drill on metal. Caprice’s pop career makes that of Paris Hilton seem relevant and worthwhile. Small wonder it only gets two lines in an otherwise comprehensive online biography, although the fact that the damn thing is actually on Spotify is more extraordinary still.

23: Papa Roach – Last Resort

2001 arguably marked the commercial peak of the genre which came to be known as Nu-Metal. After years of resolutely ploughing its own furrow regardless of other prevailing musical tastes, rock music charged headlong back into the mainstream thanks to an inspired embracing of other styles. Suddenly the vogue was for crunching guitars combined with rap beats, vocals and instrumentation tweaked by studio trickery and a wholesale embracing of the idea that even the angriest of songs could be pop records as well. Yes, it made for music which was more or less impossible to reproduce live in sweaty underground rock clubs, but it turned the likes of Korn into stars.

Californians Papa Roach hit the ground running with their debut album ‘Infest’, with this lead single becoming a Top 3 smash in Britain seemingly almost from nowhere on the back of extensive touring by the group at the tail end of 2000. A decade on the track still possesses an energy somehow lacking in most other modern day rock tracks. This isn’t the last Nu-Metal track we’ll stumble over in this countdown either, as there are even bigger rock hits to come.

22: Debelah Morgan – Dance With Me

Very much a one hit wonder as far as Britain is concerned, this is the sole contribution to the UK chart history of American singer-songwriter Debelah Morgan. After moderate success back home with her first two albums, the title track from her third made her briefly a worldwide name to watch as it charted in many territories, landing at Number 10 here at the end of February 2001. The most notable aspect of the single is its wholesale borrowing (these days we’d call it “interpolation") of the melody from ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, originally written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross for the 1950s musical The Pyjama Game. Despite the hit single, Britain remained otherwise unmoved by the music of Debelah Morgan. Its parent album failed to chart and neither hide nor hair has been seen of her since.

21: A1 – No More

Just what is it about boy bands which means one is elevated when others fall by the wayside? Luck of the draw perhaps, or just the good fortune to be handed some strong material. Created by Steps svengali Tim Byrne, A1’s main gimmick (if they had one at all) was that one of their members was Norwegian, Christian Ingebrigsten just happening to be studying at the LIPA academy in Liverpool when the casting call for the group was put out. After a strong start in the summer of 1999 which saw their first four singles all make comfortable Top 10 placings, they suddenly hit a sweet spot with pop fans, scoring back to back Number One hits with a cover of A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ and the original track ‘Same Old Brand New You’, both in 2000. This single ‘No More’ was the immediate follow-up to both of those, the third and final single to be taken from their second album ‘The A List’ and a more than respectable Number 6 hit in February 2001. Based on the usual half-life of boy bands they timed the end of their career more or less to perfection, breaking up in 2002 after a final album and the news that Paul Marazzi was leaving the band.

That might have been that, but for the extraordinary reunion of the remaining trio in 2009, starting a new journey which has seen them flirt with Eurovision candidacy (for Norway – not chosen), recording a new album for the Scandinavian market in 2010 and playing comeback gigs in Britain at the tail end of last year.  Whilst a chart comeback here seems unlikely (the only people who cared at the time have long grown out of pop music), A1 appear to be doing their best to make sure that their story isn’t quite over yet.

Found That Soul Of 2001–Part One

Why 2001? Well for a start it is the last remaining year of the last 25 or so from which I’ve yet to select a vintage chart show to write about. This seems as good a moment as any to plug that hole. However it is also the case that this year was actually a particularly memorable one in popular music. Every music fan feels the winds of change blowing through their tastes as they get older, reaching the point when pop ceases to be something that talks to them directly and is more for the benefit of other people. I would never wish to submit that everything that has arrived since is utterly without merit, but for me 2001 was the last truly “great” year in my life as a pop fan, when the charts were rammed with classics – some well remembered, some forgotten – and the memories are those of perpetual sunshine.

As luck would have it, a springtime Top 40 is a great place to test this theory. Make no mistake we are in for a belter for this is a singles chart which is nothing less than superb.

As ever, this recap is done with particular reference to the tape of the Radio One Top 40 show from this week which you can presume is playing in the background throughout. Specifically the show broadcast on March 4th 2001. Imperial phase Mark Goodier is the host and the production of the show is so tightly focused on the Top 40 chart that with little more than a brief recap of last week and a quick montage of potential new entries we launch straight into the brand new chart. For those who wish to experience the tracks in real-time (kind of) there is a Spotify playlist of as many of these tracks as physically possible.

40: Anastacia – Not That Kind

For a brief period at the start of the 21st century, American singer Anastacia Newkirk could lay claim to being one of the biggest selling artists on the planet. Blessed with striking looks and a rich, powerful voice which was six parts Taylor Dayne to four parts Tina Turner she hit commercial paydirt with her debut album ‘Not That Kind’ which was rammed with the kind of pop hits (most of them self-penned) which radio programmers and most importantly their audiences found hard to resist. For all their ubiquity, her singles weren’t the biggest of chart hits in this country but somehow they all seem instantly and comfortingly familiar from the moment their first bars ring out. Now that is quality pop music. Debut hit ‘I’m Outta Love’ had gone Top 10 in the summer of 2000 and this title track from the album was her second chart hit, making what could be considered a rather understated Number 11 in early February 2001. She bumped along with more mid-table hits before making a triumphant return from breast cancer surgery in 2004 with the Top 3 hit ‘Left Outside Alone’ only to see her British chart prospects fade away once more. Still incredibly popular in mainland Europe, the only country in the developed world immune to her charms is her native land where she has just one Top 30 album to her name (her last two remaining unreleased there) and bereft of major chart singles.

39: Westlife – What Makes A Man

The eighth Westlife single of their career and a track which was released with immaculate timing to ensure it would not only become their 8th Number One single in a row but also land them the Christmas Number One for the second year running. Except things did not quite work out that way as the moment we had been predicting for a while came to pass – a Westlife single failed to top the charts. Instead in a notable moment of pure poetry, fate dictated that they would be outsold by a TV actor putting a voice to a lump of plasticine as Bob The Builder swept all before him to claim the crown – this despite frantic promotional activity by the group and as many favours as they could manage called in to ensure their perfect chart record was not to be spoiled. In the end though this stands proud as the first true chart failure of their career, although a Number 2 hit at Christmas and a three month chart run after that is hardly something to sneer at. Notwithstanding the rather curious way all their singles flew to Number One with limp sales after never meeting any substantial competition along the way, the worst thing you could say about all their early work was that they were essentially the same lavish ballad reworked in different ways each time. Westlife only really had one song, but as I was at pains to point out, it was at the very least a good song until the point we all got tired of hearing it.

38: Girls@Play – Airhead

For every pop act which hits the dizzy heights of stardom, there are generally three more who fell by the wayside and are all but forgotten by musical history. For the lucky few there are at least some minor chart entries with which they have made their mark on posterity. Five piece girl group Girls@Play were the creations of Mike Stock and Matt Aitken and with a series of individual fashion gimmicks and what was hoped were an appealing set of songs they were launched on an unsuspecting public in early 2001 after a series of low level support slots for the likes of Steps the previous winter. Their debut single ‘Airhead’ (which I actually think was rather underrated even then – it is a long way from being as offensively bad as it could have been) was released in mid-February and stumbled to a slightly disappointing Number 18, causing a pause for a rethink until later that autumn. When their second single, a cover of the old Mel and Kim track ‘Respectable’ bombed out at Number 29 in October inevitably the entire project was canned before they had even got as far as scheduling an album.

The last remaining legacy of Girls@Play is the fact that amongst their number was Rita “Roxy Mitchell” Simons, although a quick search for the remaining four members shows that most have continued in showbusiness in one form or another. Vicky Dowdall currently runs music management company VDM Music, Lynsey Shaw lives in Los Angeles hosting burlesque nights and continuing to pursue her singing career and Shelley Nash refocused on her classic training and works as a wedding singer in the London area. Only Lisa-Jayne White appears to have dropped off the radar performing-wise. Not a bad strike rate all things considered.

Pretty face but a head full of air

37: U2 – Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of

Fresh from collecting an Outstanding Contribution gong at the 2001 Brits, U2 continued their back to basis renaissance with the second single from the ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ album. A mellow gospel-tinged ballad which called back to Bono’s sense of loss after learning of the death of Michael Hutchence, it was a worthy addition to the canon of most memorable U2 singles. Such was their newly renewed commercial power at this point, the track managed to sidestep the usual “second release from a band whose fans already have the album anyway” and the single shot to Number 2 upon release in early February 2001. Granted it was still a rather in and out chart performance (this Number 37 was a dead cat bounce up from 40 on its fifth week on the Top 40), but can you really argue that this wasn’t a worthy contender as one of their highest charting hit ever?

36: Rui Da Silva featuring Cassandra – Touch Me

The man who had the honour of becoming the first ever Portuguese star to top the charts was producer Rui Da Silva. A winsome blend of trance and deep house, the track ‘Touch Me’ was crafted around a sample from Spandau Ballet’s ‘Chant No.1’, something which caused a minor legal scuffle just before the single came out when it was discovered that no clearance had been obtained for this borrowing. Released as part of the usual batch of new year hopefuls, the single stood out as the best of the post-Christmas crumbs and bagged itself a week at the top of the charts in early January. Singer Cassandra Fox was more than just the hired help, writing the lyrics herself and subsequently finding herself on top of the charts. Deciding that dance music wasn’t her thing really she subsequently set out on her own yet met with rather limited success.

35: Spooks – Things I’ve Seen

If you believe in musical evolution, then The Spooks are technically the missing link between the Fugees and the Black Eyed Peas, for a brief period threatening to take the music style of the former to exciting new levels. The hip-hop and soul collective were based out of Philadelphia and after a shaky start hit commercial paydirt with the evocative and incredibly well crafted ‘Things I’ve Seen’, the second single taken from their debut album ‘S.I.O.S.O.S.’ and one which featured on the soundtrack of the Laurence Fishburne film ‘Once In The Life’. The track made a comfortable Number 6 upon release in January 2001 and was swiftly followed by the Number 15 hit ‘Karma Hotel’ although the album itself only made a minor sales impact. After their second album was largely ignored and following the death of founder member Water Water in a car crash around the same time, Spooks quietly disbanded. For apparently random reasons their flop second album is available in full on the Spotify catalogue whilst their hit first one isn’t. Have the video instead.

34: Usher – Pop Ya Collar

Whilst his career now effectively spans three decades (with a chart-topping single in each), this single was at the time a welcome comeback for R&B star Usher who had made a huge impact with his debut hit album (although it was actually his second to be released) ‘My Way’ and chart-topping single ‘You Make Me Wanna’. The three year wait for a follow-up was entirely down to his burgeoning acting career as Hollywood (and TV soap operas) came calling. Returning to the recording studio he appeared to have picked up where he left off when ‘Pop Ya Collar’ shot to Number 2 in the UK. In America however the single underperformed, and after an early version of the album was leaked online it was swiftly retooled with some brand new tracks added. ‘8701’ was finally released later that summer and became the first of Usher’s three Number One albums. Little did we know he was still only just getting started.

33: Safri Duo – Played-A-Live (The Bongo Song)

Sometimes the biggest hits aren’t the most obvious. The Safri Duo were percussionists Uffe Savery and Morten Friis who had been recording classically-themed albums in their native country for much of the 1990s. Having been informed they could make a killing by making club tracks they created the Bongo Song which received a rapturous reception when issued to club DJs in early 2000. Upon commercial release the frantic instrumental track became an inevitable Europe-wide smash and needless to say formed part of the soundtrack to just about every major event over the course of the next 12 months, from the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games onwards. A British release for the track came rather late in the day but that did little to stop it racing to a Number 6 peak in early February. Despite further releases over the course of the next decade, they remain one hit wonders as far as the UK is concerned.

32: Nelly – EI

The second UK hit for rapper Nelly, following up ‘Country Grammar’ which had made Number 7 late in 2000 and helped the album of the same name into the Top 20 upon its release. With many of Nelly’s later singles going on to bigger and better things (he would have two Number One hits to his name before the decade was out) his early work is oddly reduced to little more than a footnote, tracks like ‘EI’ all but forgotten. Or maybe that is just me caring as little for it now as I did back then.

31: Fragma featuring Maria Rubia – Everytime You Need Me

We finish this batch of ten singles with the track which returned Fragma to the charts under their own steam after they had a surprised but no less welcome Number One in spring 2000 with pioneering mash-up single ‘Toca’s Miracle’. Clearly the success of that track persuaded the German producers that a powerful female vocal over their trance noodlings means commercial paydirt, hence the recruitment of British model Maria Rubia for the vocals on this Top 3 hit which neatly coincided with the release of Fragma’s one and only hit album ‘Toca’ which reached Number 19 in late January. Rubia made a brief attempt at a solo career of her own later in 2001, limping to Number 40 with ‘Say It’ before vanishing from sight altogether.

70 Seconds To Define An Ambition

imageIt appears to be one of the great all but forgotten TV shows, untroubled by an endless cycle of syndicated repeats on high numbered satellite channels and undisturbed by opportunistic DVD box sets which end their life piled high near the checkouts in HMV at Christmas with stickers advertising a 70% discount on their originally listed price. Yet for some of us the late 1980s American TV show Midnight Caller retains a resonance which to this day has echoes in everything we do. OK then, to me it does.

First aired by NBC in America at the tail end of 1988 and picked up by the BBC who flung it out on Saturday evenings starting in spring 1989, the show told the tale of Jack Killian, a San Francisco policeman who had quit after the accidental death of his partner and reinvented himself as a late-night radio talk show host, taking calls from the public from midnight to 3am on radio station KJCM and in the process becoming embroiled in the very social issues his listeners were bringing to his attention.

The show lasted for three series before finally being cancelled as plot lines span out of control in an increasing spiral of silliness, but in its early years the show attracted huge praise for the depth of its approach and its willingness to portray issues such as stalking or even AIDS in such an uncompromising manner.

For a teenager whose mind had already generated the spark of an idea that what he really wanted to do above all else in life was to work on the radio it was naturally even more than that. Here was a TV hero who was living your own dreams, paid to do everything you yourself had dreamed of and living a lifestyle that seemed so impossibly glamorous and yet tantalisingly within reach.

Precious little of Midnight Caller exists on YouTube, unless you count a seemingly random selection of episode highlights dubbed into Japanese, but really the (admittedly rather cheaply made) opening titles are all that is required to bring the memories flooding back. They last 70 seconds, but the images they contain helped to define just why I wanted this kind of life for myself, even if the reality is sometimes slightly less gleaming.

First there was the theme tune, written and performed by Jazz trumpeter Rick Braun. A none more 80s smooth jazz piece led by the muted tones of the man himself underscored by a saxophone and steel guitar backing. Think Dire Strait’s ‘Your Latest Trick’ with added east coast authenticity Intended to conjure up the late night mood of the protagonist’s shows, to me it was always the soundtrack to my dream lifestyle. When I grew up I was going to live in a sleek modern apartment, furnished in black and with giant plate glass windows that looked out onto a gleaming cityscape below. My hifi would glow with precision LED and neon lights and every evening I’d be the King of all I surveyed.


Then there was Jack himself, played with career-defining aplomb by Gary Cole (years before all this Brady Bunch or Office Space nonsense). No cluttered desk for him, his working environment was defined by a man illuminated by a spotlight with few tools except for a handful of computer screens and his wits. The producers could never quite decide exactly how it was he communicated with the San Francisco audience and so he would alternate between staring down the barrel of a condenser microphone or wander around the room staring wistfully out of the window whilst addressing the headset device he is also depicted wearing here.

Years later I sat in the same kind of seat as he and contemplated the reality of the situation. Radio studios get as cluttered as everywhere else. Old scripts, yesterday’s newspapers and the coffee mugs left by the breakfast show. Microphones don’t float tantalisingly in mid-air but wobble on creaking anglepoises or heaven forbid goosenecks and the closest you get to a flashy headset is the frayed pair of DT100s which the engineers has screwed into place to prevent them going walkies.


Naturally being the product of a TV producer’s imagination, Jack Killian’s studio was the embodiment of how everyone imagined a radio studio should look. Walls were adorned with thrilling looking equipment, each with buttons which illuminated the gloom. Lights would wink on and off and giant tape spools would whir around for what to the casual viewer might appear to be no apparent reason. The message however was clear, a radio station was a busy, active place to be with a fragile existence which could only be sustained by a bank of gadgetry.

Whilst a real life radio studio might indeed have its fair share of equipment, it generally attracts dust in the manner which electrical items generally do. Banks of equipment with exciting looking switches do exist, but they are tucked away in a plant room elsewhere in the building (although sometimes placed in a glass fronted cabinet and made the focal point of reception). Jack just didn’t know how lucky he was.


As a talk show host (curiously on a radio station which played music the rest of the time – rigid formatting clearly having not reached San Francisco in 1988) Jack had the privilege of his own producer Billy. His work was possibly even more exciting than that of his boss. He sat in his own room, surrounded by a giant console of equipment along with TV monitors and tape players. He had his own line in extravagant hand gestures as illustrated above.


As producer, Billy was special. He actually got to press some of the magical buttons, tap at the dials and generally know what it all did. Frequently namechecked by the host, he was there as part of a double act and always made sure Jack knew it.

Years later I was to become Billy. I was the producer to the late night talk show host. I don’t get to make hand gestures and live in constant fear of having to tinker with any of the other studio gadgets. My life generally consists of grumpily telling presenters in full flow that it is time to break, that finishing your speech any later than the time I’ve put in front of you means the news starts late and sometimes taking the flack for when the highly trained individual in front of the microphone has said something stupid. There is however one job I’ve done which is at the core of Billy’s existence: the call screening.


Thanks to Midnight Caller this is how I imagined it would be. A sophisticated looking console into which the details of all the volunteering participants to tonight’s broadcast would be entered, giving the host a delectable menu from which to select. Even the screenshot used in the opening titles is tantalising… who knows what the “Law Stuff” Mike in Concord wants to discuss is. Don in Novato is discussing “murder”, is he reporting one or about to commit one (both were perfectly plausible MC plotlines incidentally). Better yet Frank in Marin may be a “serial killer”, or again wants to just talk about one. Most intriguingly of all Josh in South San Francisco has an open topic whilst Nick in Oakland is either in the process of being screened or even Billy cannot work out what he is on about.

Strangely enough one of the first jobs I ever did in professional radio (in the being paid to do it sense) was as producer/call screener on a local radio phone in. I was kind of gutted that the level of sophistication illustrated above simply didn’t exist at that level. Instead I’d scribble the names and numbers of callers down on pre-printed grid before promising to call them back. Once done I’d whisper on the talkback to the presenter “Terry, Halifax, line 5” and she would write the detail down accordingly. Calls were lined up in pairs – one to air, one on hold in an endless stream until the small hours.

This is actually one aspect of the job where things have moved on in a manner far beyond that which any TV producer could have imagined. This was my view on Saturday night when due to staff incompetence I was filling the phone operators chair at work.


No text based system this. Now I have an exciting graphical display showing not only the callers details but which even looks up where they are for me based on their telephone number. I can see how long they have been online for, who has been there the longest and at a single click can even refer back to their previous contributions to the radio station and to check the points they have made in the past. That I think is progress.

I’ve been privileged over the years to work on many late night radio shows of the kind Jack Killian used to host. On the inside it doesn’t feel quite as glamorous as the TV made it, there are no windows looking out onto neon soaked city skylines, no new adventures lurking behind each new voice taken to air and as we step outside our nondescript brick building onto the South Bank backstreet which houses the offices it can sometimes seem like just a job rather than the rather evocative fantasy which TV helped to create.

Even so, every time I turn on a microphone and make an exciting red light come alive, every time I gaze at a screen with the name of some person I will never meet and never know but whose innermost thoughts I am about to be subjected to for the next five minutes, every time I hear the highly paid host through the glass in front of me say something which may resonate deeply with someone clinging to the radio for some kind of life comfort I am still living the dream, still drinking in the Midnight Caller lifestyle. Those 70 seconds still define my life, and I am incredibly glad that they do.