Busy Doing Nothing

I’ve finally worked what to answer when people ask me to summarise what it is that I do for a living. I do NOTHING. Best of all though, I like to think I do it extremely well.

Yes, this may require some explanation so indulge me.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I achieved clarity. It was at roughly 5.15pm on the day of the League One playoff final back in May, taking place that day at Old Trafford. We had approached the prospect of the end of the game with some small furrowing of brows. Adrian Durham, our able host, was effectively going to be on his own for the last 45 minutes of the show as his co-presenter and the assistant commentator on the match had to leave shortly after the game finished. Extra time and penalties were a desirable scenario here, taking the match right up until the end of the scheduled broadcast, but in the event it was not to be. Peterborough United demolished Huddersfield Town by the small matter of three goals to nil. The match had finished, the trophy was due to be presented and I effectively had to steer a man sat in the stands at Old Trafford through maybe an hour of solo broadcasting, on the assumption that no matter how dedicated the audience this particular match would be unlikely to generate much in the way of telephone response. It was a steaming hot Sunday on a bank holiday weekend after all.

I therefore did what any other producer of my calibre would have done. I looked at the advertising log, the list of scheduled commercials, and decided that the show could overrun. We would delay taking the scheduled break at the end of the match for as long as possible, necessitating some catching up over the course of the hour and potentially reducing the need to fill the gap with recycled interviews. So as Kev, our pitchside reporter ran around with a radio microphone and grabbed just about every member of the Peterborough United side, I watched the minutes tick by with no small measure of satisfaction. This was burning up my show nicely.

Then I saw a tweet from one of my colleagues, listening in on his car radio. As far as he was concerned this was one of the most compelling things he had heard in some time. All the emotion, all the drama of a team battling their way to promotion, and here we were bringing the innermost thoughts of some of these footballers live and in the moment. Raw, uninterrupted and unedited.

Just thing, if I’d been alert and meticulous, if I had been determined to make my show run to time and to make sure the commercial breaks went out at the allotted time, I would have been in the ears of the presenters, urging them to break, forcing them away from whatever they might have had going on below, just so I could feel I was doing my job correctly. Yet instead we were making brilliant and compelling radio. I realised there and then, the greatest skill of the live outside broadcast producer. Knowing when to do exactly nothing, and just let it all happen.

I say all this because right now I’m looking nervously at my personal calendar for the next month. My employers talkSPORT are the exclusive radio broadcaster for every match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, due to get underway less than 12 hours from now, and as one of the most experienced live sport producers in the building, I’ve got the slightly overwhelming honour of being in charge of most of them. For the next six weeks I’ll effectively be on New Zealand time, arriving at the office in the wee small hours of the morning to steer out team of presenters and commentators through some marathon stints of live broadcasting, often with nothing more than a microphone, a set of notes, and several thousand full voiced egg-chasing fans for company.

Throughout it all, the best moments, the best bits of the coverage and my most effective and potentially award-winning actions will be the ones when I do absolutely nothing and just let it all unfold.

I’ll try to write here some of the best moments as they occur, but for those keen to get the real time view, just follow my Twitter account @talkbackstuck or lock on to the hashtag #RWCtalksport for the thoughts and views of the entire talkSPORT Rugby crew. To tell you the truth, I cannot wait for it all to start.

As One Door Closes….?

One or two of the more astute readers had already figured it out. The news, announced a little over a week ago, that the Yahoo! Music site was to close down at the end of September clearly had implications for the weekly Chart Watch UK column I’d been writing for the site for the last few years. This was particularly pertinent given that Yahoo! were keen to direct traffic instead to their new celebrity-focused OMG! site which clearly had little room for the kind of forensic account of the week’s chart movements that I’d been supplying.

This week my contract to supply content for the internet giant expired, and so the Chart Watch UK column which is now live online is the last one which will appear on those pages. None of this came as a surprise, my editors have been totally upfront about the potential changes from the start, warning earlier in the year that there was a strong possibility this would happen and giving plenty of notice of the changes. Even notice periods have to come to an end though, and so here we are.

In a sense I’ve actually been extremely fortunate to have had such a long unbroken run online, especially given the way internet sites have come and gone over the years. After initially writing a weekly roundup of the UK charts on the old usenet group rec.music.misc in November 1992 (a very early example can be found here) I was hired by the publishers of Music Week in the summer of 1995 to start writing for the brand new website dotmusic.com which they were launching. The full summer of how that came about is one I’ve written about before. Dotmusic went through a variety of incarnations and several different editors and owners during the time in was in existence, becoming a fully fledged consumer facing site in the late 90s, complete with expensively produced TV commercials, before being bought around 2002 by BT who used it as the focus of a series of consumer websites they ran around that time. When BT and Yahoo! got into bed with one another in 2003 to launch a co-branded internet and content service, dotmusic was part of that deal and the brand was folded into their own Launch site, which would eventually evolve into Yahoo! Music.

Throughout all of these changes I just came along for the ride each time, picked up by each new owner and every new editorial team as a core part of the site’s content, even if sometimes they did have to find new ways to shoehorn me into the design. I took it as a huge compliment that the readership I attracted and the unique selling point my weekly ramblings gave the site made it continually worthwhile to have me on board.

For now, at least, the ride is over. For the first time in over 16 years I don’t have a home for Chart Watch UK. However I don’t intend this to be the end for my almost lifelong passion just yet. I’m in discussions with a number of places for a new home for the column and I hope to be able to resurrect it sometime soon. In the meantime the weekly podcast will become the focus of the story each week, and you can access that by clicking on the links in the top right, whether by listening on the main feed or subscribing via iTunes. I’ve loved following the music charts ever since I was a teenager and have been privileged to share that love with a huge worldwide audience for two decades now. That’s not a passion which will die out overnight I promise you.

For now it seems appropriate to thank the long line of editors and curators who have stuck with me for the last decade and a half. They include my original Music Week editor Steve Redmond, Andy Stickland, Chris Sice, James Poletti, Ben “7 Digital” Drury, Gareth Bellamy, Ben “Fear Of Tigers” Berry and last but not least Paul Johnston, as well as all the other weekend staff I used to deal with as we passed copy back and forth over email before content management systems for websites were created.

Hope to see everyone in a new home soon, and in the meantime I’ll keep everyone posted as to what happens next. I might miss the Saturdays getting their first ever Number One dammit!

Massive Cock

Do we actually have “turntable hits” any more? Aside from the obsolescence of the terminology, the idea of a piece of pop music which gains considerable traction on the radio and widespread exposure to the listening audience without, it seems, ever selling much in the way of actual copies appears one confined to history. Maybe it is the lack of ability for radio presenters to indulge themselves in their own choice of music, or maybe it is the almost clinical efficiency of those in the business of promoting and programming music, but in the 21st century it generally follows that if radio plays a record it will be a hit of some kind, and only the variances of the market decide how big that should be.

Yet at the moment there is one tune which has reached my ears in a variety of different places – everywhere from Radio 2 to the in-store radio in my local Co-Op, one which is readily available to buy both as an album track and as a fully released single and yet which has resolutely refused to appear on any mainstream sales rankings anywhere.

The track in question is ‘Yellow’ by the extraordinarily monikered CocknBullKid, the programmer-worrying pseudonym of 26 year old Anita Blay. Hailing from Hackney, she was a contemporary of Plan B when a teenager, helping write some of his earliest raps before developing as a singer herself. After a handful of independently released EPs in 2008 and 2009 she was signed by Island Records imprint Moshi Moshi and released her debut album ‘Adulthood’ in May this year. In spite of her obvious talent and some high profile support slots with acts such as Marina & The Diamonds, none of the singles lifted from the album to date have made the charts or brought her even the slightest sniff of mainstream fame, which is actually something of a crying shame.

What makes the prospect of CocknBullKid finally becoming mainstream all the more intriguing is the way she utterly fails to comply with aesthetic norms. In a world where female pop stars are supposed to be fragile, glamorous things, prepared to pose provocatively and inspire hormonal stirrings in an army of eager fans, Anita Blay is large, curvy and it seems perfectly comfortable with it despite the directors of her videos often going out of their way to avoid shooting her in anything resembling a profile. Whilst you worry that this sets her up down the line for a few sneering profiles in the Daily Mail and a genuinely meant but still patronising article on the BBC website about whether she is a role model for the larger lady, the idea that a bubbly fat girl can become a fully fledged pop star is one that fascinates me and makes me want to see it happen all the more. I don’t think for a minute we are all so wrapped up in body fascism that there is no chance of the larger lady becoming famous, but Marsha Wash and Jocelyn Brown notwithstanding, all it takes is to wonder whither Michelle McManus to note that the deck might be stacked against her.

So here is hoping. ‘Yellow’ appears to have now been written off as yet another flop, and yet the label aren’t prepared to give up just yet with a re-release of the equally as appealing ‘Hold On To Your Misery’ set for a re-promotion as a single in the Autumn. For now ‘Yellow’ is a good old fashioned turntable hit, but if it ends up Top 5 sometime in February 2012, just remember who told you about it first.

Rhymes With “Ibbert”

I don’t like writing tributes to people I didn’t know. Call me cold and cynical, but but I always find knee-jerk online responses of “oh how terrible, my thoughts to his/her friends and family” posted online by people in response to celebrity deaths to be rather self-serving. There to make the poster feel good about themselves by jumping on a bandwagon of sympathy. It is always sad when someone passes away of course, but feeling the need to take time out of your life to mourn the passing of someone you never met? Not for me, and not a practice I indulge in.

Except I’m a hypocrite, because that is exactly what I feel compelled to do here.

His is a name which will have meant little to anyone but a particular generation of music fans, but for the generation I belong to Tom Hibbert, who passed away this week, was essentially the defining voice. Whilst writing for Smash Hits during the 1980s, possibly more so than anyone else he defined the unique style in which the magazine was written. ‘Ver Hits (to use the vernacular) had a language and internal narrative all of its own, inviting the reader into a strange cartoon-like world where pop stars were both lauded and satirised at the same time. It was pop writing for people who loved to listen to music but also loathed the pomposity of the “serious” music press which treated the practitioners like Gods. Lord Frederick Lucan Of Mercury, Dame David Bowie, Ben Vol-au-vent Pierrot from Curiosity Killed The Cat, “Belouis” “Some” and Mark UnpronounceablenameofBigCountry were all the people who soundtracked our childhood, Smash Hits providing the narrative and unbeknownst to most of the readers Tom Hibbert the man who conjured up these daft images. Stars interviewed by the magazine were not asked about weighty matters such as politics or how exactly they created that innovative bass sound in the studio, what mattered was the issues of their favourite cheese, the most unusual place they had been sick or how many pairs of pants they took out on tour.

Of course Tom Hibbert didn’t write the entire magazine, but his influence could be felt throughout, right the way down to the letters page edited by the mysterious Black Type and whose stream of consciousness ramblings in between the readers contributions were actually the main reason for reading it. When real life pop stars just weren’t interesting enough, Hibbert was credited with creating an artificial universe of fictional ones, leading to acts such as Reg “Reg” Snipton and his Useless Toadstools being continually credited with featuring in the next issue.

Yes, you read Smash Hits because it printed the song lyrics and reviewed the upcoming singles releases, but also because you were party to a massive joke, one which you weren’t entirely sure had been explained to the likes of Matt and Luke Goss. My own Smash Hits reading years were sadly at the tail end of this era, as we hit the 1990s and a new editorial team took over, turning the publication back into a slightly less knowing glossy PR pamphlet, but still we picked up up every two weeks just on the off chance the flashes of brilliance would return.

Tom Hibbert had in the meantime spun off to working on the first incarnation of Q magazine, a publication which swiftly developed an internal narrative all of its own. Grown up music was treated with all due deference, but within the news pages there was still a place for the sideways glances to develop. Hence groups were forever pondering that “difficult” second album and the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle were “Rock, and indeed, Roll” as a well as “hanky, and indeed, panky”. On the opening pages of each issue were the Hibbert-penned “Who The Hell…” profiles in which a major star of the moment was afforded every opportunity to damn themselves with their own words, thanks simply to a master interviewer asking just the right questions to make twats of themselves. Whether it was feigning palpitations at Jimmy Saville swearing and telling the world how much he hated children, or just nodding sagely and indulging Ringo Starr as he insisted he was the best rock and roll drummer in the world, the column knew the right tone to take.

Tom Hibbert’s writing career effectively came to a grinding halt in 1997 when a major health crisis forced him into what turned out to be more or less permanent retirement, with occasional enquiries into his whereabouts resulting in his friends and former colleagues insisting he was living quietly with his wife and happy to be remembered with fondness. News of his death at the tragically young age of 59 appears to have been greeted by his friends with a sense of resignation and quiet relief that they would have to watch him decline further.

One cannot pretend to feel too sad at the passing of someone you never knew and never met. I’m just glad his work helped be a part of my formative years as a music fan, and it seems only right to take the time to set that down in writing. Thanks Tom.

Bring 2003 To Life–Part Four

The final furlong! No context-setting ramblings from me really, other than to note that as the tape of the chart show wore on, I started to grow more and more into the way Wes approached the hosting of the chart show. In the opening few minutes when his initial script was full of throwaway one-liners as he recapped the events of the previous week, I started to wonder if this was the reason he lasted but two short years on the show. Then by the end he had settled down, this was his arena and he was in command. The “continuous countdown” aspect of the first half of the show, whereby with a quarter of it taken up with the album chart he was required to rattle through the lower half of the Top 40, skipping some singles at random and playing just 90 seconds of others kind of broke the flow a little, but the Top 20, featuring backstage chats with the stars and just the right amount of knowing cynicism about some of the singles made the whole thing an exciting and engaging show to listen to. Yet somehow he seemed so restricted by the format, you can understand why Radio One ultimately decided the experiment wasn’t working.

That was indeed a context-setting ramble wasn’t it? Bugger. Top Ten Time!

10: Ashanti – Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)

As we spend all our time these days falling over ourselves to praise the superstar achievements of the likes of Rihanna and Beyonce, it is far too easy to overlook just how massive Ashanti was in the R&B world at the start of the last decade. Granted, most of her success came in America where at one point in 2002 she held down three of the Top 10 singles on the Hot 100, the first artist since The Beatles to achieve that kind of chart monopoly. On these shores she still managed a credible and consistent chart career, appearing on four Top 10 hits during 2002, including Number 4 smash hit ‘Foolish’ which was in such demand ahead of its release that it spent three weeks charting on import. ‘Rock Wit U’ was one of the first singles to be lifted from her second album and the rather charming and mellow ballad made a comfortable Number 7 upon release in June 2003, even if it was her only Top 10 single from that particular release. She topped the charts in 2004 as a guest singer on Ja Rule’s ‘Wonderful’ and scored her final Top 10 hit at the start of 2005 with ‘Only U’ only to see her career dive into the doldrums almost as rapidly as it soared. Much of her success had stemmed from her association with Irv Gotti and his label The Inc records, but the pair parted company in May 2009 after her 2008 album ‘The Declaration’ underperformed and the pair disagreed on her future musical direction. We’re promised a release this year for her own self-published album, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for any hits resulting.

9: Metallica – St Anger

The title track from what would be the 8th album from the speed metal specialists, landing here on the chart with what was still at the time Metallica’s customary efficiency and quite possibly to the utter bemusement of most casual observers. I’d be tempted to call ‘St Anger’ “typical Metallica”, except that the most notable thing about it was that it was not, representing a shift in their style and a genuine and well received attempt to fit in with the nu-metal sound which had torn up the rule book for rock music at the start of the 21st century. From a more entertaining political standpoint, this was the first Metallica release proper since they suffered a total sense of humour failure over the possibility of their work being spread on file sharing networks, the band’s self-appointed crusade over the issue of online piracy almost certainly contributing to the continual head in the sand approach to the industry over the thorny issue of digital music and which held them back for the best part of five years. An a truly ironic manner, the release of the album ‘St Anger’ was moved forward five days after the entire work appeared on file sharing networks.

8: XTM & DJ Chucky presents Annia – Fly On The Wings Of Love

The most enjoyable part of any extended wander through the hits and happenings of a particular week in years gone by is the excuse to immerse yourself in the music of that time, and along the way alight upon the one track that you know practically defines the way you felt at that time and which virtually commands repeated plays and renewed appreciation. This single is indeed such a record.

On the face of it, ‘Fly On The Wings Of Love’ seemed an unlikely basis for a Europe-wide summertime smash hit. The song had been the runaway winner of the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest as written and performed by the Olsen Brothers yet had only been a hit single in a selected few countries, coming nowhere near the singles chart on these shores. Over the next few years a handful of trace-inspired cover versions had been made of the song but it was the one by Spanish producers XTM which hit paydirt, topping the charts in Ireland and becoming a smash hit single which spent no less than two months diving in and out of the Top 10 – this here was its second of what would ultimately be three visits to its Number 8 peak.

Maybe it was the sheer contrast between the versions which made it work so well, the Olsen Brothers original a gently paced ballad performed by two middle aged musical veterans, the XTM version an uptempo club track centred around the cute mewing of the lyrics by singer Annia. Whatever it was, a song which was already uplifting and heart-warming was made to soar even higher and become a genuine feelgood anthem which endured way beyond its initial burst of clubland success. So many raved-up versions of pop hits do little more than rip the heart and soul out of a track for the sake of nailing some beats to someone else’s creativity. ‘Fly On The Wings Of Love’ avoided all these pitfalls to become something rather magical instead.

As for hearing it, well We7 have the track as linked to above, but the only version on Spotify is one ripped from the middle of a longer pre-mixed dance compilation. Best to revel in one of the other reasons the single was so successful, the astonishingly cute animated video made to accompany its chart success.

Touching the sky

 

7: Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey – I Know What You Want

“Baby if you give it me, I’ll give it to you, as long as you want.”

You know it is funny, Mariah Carey’s wilderness years at the start of the 21st century – coinciding with her departure from Sony records and her expensively terminated deal with Virgin – was never really such an issue in this country, a territory where her music generally just did reasonably OK with the odd gigantic smash hit here and there. Hence 2001 single ‘Loverboy’, the track that convinced people in the States that she was finished, made a perfectly reasonable Number 12 and the Number 32 peak of follow-up ‘Never Too Far’ was most probably down to both label apathy and the fact that it was shoved out with little fanfare in Christmas week. Nonetheless she needed something to put her on the comeback trail, and it was ‘I Know What You Want’ that proved to be the perfect vehicle. In truth she was actually nothing more than the guest star on the single, one penned by Busta Rhymes for his eighth album ‘It Ain’t Safe No More’ which he’d released in 2002. Even an on her uppers Mariah Carey was still too huge a superstar name to pass up for marketing purposes however and when released as a single the track was a global smash hit, charging to Number 3 in Britain to become Ms Carey’s biggest hit single for three years and Busta Rhyme’s first Top 3 hit in five summers. The track is the perfect crossover of the styles of the two artists, showing all at once that Mariah Carey could do hip-hop with ease, whilst Busta Rhymes could tone down the aggression and do smooth soul seduction – all in the space of one five minute single.

6: Delta Goodrem – Lost Without You

By the start of the 21st century the concept of Australian soap actress wants to become a pop singer was such a well-worn cliche that nobody would even think of using it as a marketing tool any more. Hence it was nothing less than a pleasant surprise that the recording career of the teenager previously best known for being Nina Tucker in Neighbours was such a glittering revelation. The truth of the matter was that she was always more singer than actress, having been signed in her native Australia when she was just 15. After her first single stiffed, she was actively encouraged to take up the soap opera role to boost her public profile and to ensure that she had name value before they tried again. Her first UK single ‘Born To Try’ was released in March 2003 and was an instant Top 3 smash, followed swiftly by this second single which also encountered little opposition in racing to Number 4. Both were tender piano-led singles which showed off her near perfect voice to stunning effect, the icing on the cake being that the album from which they were taken was almost entirely self-penned (although ‘Lost Without You’ was a rare exception with no input from the singer herself). She was no manufactured teen starlet, but a genuine musical talent with a sophistication which belied her youthful years.

Frustratingly the momentum she built up was more or less instantly derailed just a week after this chart was published when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, resulting in both her withdrawal from Neighbours and the suspension of her recording career whilst she battled the disease. Whilst she successfully beat the cancer and returned to recording in 2005, much of her success since then has been confined to her home country, her only visibility to the British public being her seven year relationship with former Westlife star Bryan McFadden after she rescued him from the living hell of being married to Kerry Katona. I think.

5: Wayne Wonder – No Letting Go

Actually no, I was wrong. The defining sound of the summer of 2003 wasn’t one particular record at all, but a whole series of them – all based around the same handclap beat. The distinctive rhythm pattern, known as the Diwali Riddim was created by Jamaican producer Steven ‘Lenky’ Marsden in 2002 and during the course of the next 12 months ended up as the basis of so many different tracks that an entire album was eventually produced to collect them all together. Wayne Wonder’s track was actually the second Diwali Riddim-based hit to chart, the first having been Sean Paul’s ‘Get Busy’ which had dropped out of the Top 40 just before this chart came out. Both ‘Get Busy’ and ‘No Letting Go’ were produced by Marsden himself which goes some way to explaining why the tracks were constructed the way they were. Both were swiftly followed into the charts however by ‘Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)’, a third Diwali track which had no link to the original producer at all.

As for Wayne Wonder himself, he is something of a two hit wonder. ‘No Letting Go’ was this week spending its second week at Number 5, a position it would hold for a third before dropping two places and then charging up to its eventual Number 3 peak. He followed it later in the year with ‘Bounce Along’ which made Number 19 before fading into chart obscurity.

4: R Kelly – Ignition Remix

R Kelly is a genius, and in truth one of the few R&B stars who has, countless times, during his career made me want to stop and applaud the sheer brilliance of his work. At the same time he conducts himself in such a manner that you almost feel bad validating his lifestyle by appreciating his music – best known as the Gary Glitter dilemma. The summer of 2003 was a time when these conflicting emotions threatened to come to a head.

‘Ignition Remix’ was easily the biggest hit single thus far in what had already been a pretty stellar chart career. Returning him to the top of the charts for the first time since ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ in 1997, it stayed on top for four weeks and ultimately sold 478,000 copies to wind up as the third biggest seller of the year. The “remix” part of the title was actually slightly disingenuous as there was nothing remixed about the track at all. The single was actually the second of two tracks from his fourth album ‘Chocolate Factory’ which were based on the same underlying backing track. Although listed as separate tracks, the two parts of ‘Ignition’ flowed seamlessly into one another with the main track ‘Ignition’ being a slow and slick seduction track whilst ‘Remix’ was an uptempo let’s celebrate the weekend party track – their only link being the backing track and the “bounce bounce bounce” refrain which took on an entirely different meaning in the context of each song. That’s why R Kelly is a genius. He made two entirely different songs out of the same piece of music, almost without breaking sweat.

Yet even whilst ‘Ignition Remix’ was at Number One and crushing all the competition it was uncomfortable praising him too much. Hanging over his head at the time were the allegations of improper behaviour after a tape purporting to show him having sex with an underage girl circulated widely online. Yet despite the man on the video looking and sounding exactly like him and despite one of his former musical collaborators positively identifying the girl on the tape as her daughter, Kelly denied it all. It took a full five years for the case to come to trial, and somehow his lawyers managed to instil enough doubt in the minds of the jury that the man on the tape was Kelly that he was acquitted of all charges.

Still the stain of the allegations remain, and any appreciation of the genius of the man who sang moving ballads like ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and ‘The World’s Greatest’ as well as party classics like ‘Ignition Remix’ whilst at the same time writing and performing the epic ‘Trapped In The Closet’ tale always has to be tempered by the nagging doubt that he is a deeply unpleasant, vile individual. The Gary Glitter dilemma indeed.

3: Blazin’ Squad – We Just Be Dreamin’

What must it be like, being part of a large (17-strong) rap collective, performing in what you hope is a very credible style and very successfully too, yet despite this being considered naff and lightweight by true fans of your genre. The truth is that Blazin’ Squad represented the pop-friendly Smash Hits face of British rap music, a world away from the harsh streetwise realities of those nasty people from the So Solid Crew. So in truth they were all pop stars making rap records rather than rap stars making hits, yet for a brief period the formula proved rather successful. After opening their account in 2002 with a Number One cover of ‘Crossroads’ (as made more famous across the Atlantic by Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony) this breezy summery single was their fourth chart hit and the biggest since their debut, the highest new entry of the week here at Number 3, even if its chart career was to be short lived as it plunged to Number 12 just a week later. There is very little actually wrong with any of Blazin’ Squad’s output, but they weren’t “urban” stars in any sense of the word.

2: Fast Food Rockers – Fast Food Song

Depending on your point of view, this record is either the moment when things really did truly start to go to shit, or possibly one of the most brilliant pop moments of the summer. The concept of the ‘Fast Food Song’ was hardly original. Its central refrain namechecking various fast food brands had been a standard part of campfire doggerel for at least 20 years, possibly even more. My baby sister used to come home from Brownies chanting “a pizza hut, a pizza hut, Kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut”. I’d be shocked if any British (or even American as the song originated there) child grew up in the 80s or 90s without knowing how to sing the song. Yet oddly enough the idea of making it into a pop record originated on the continent, via a series of different novelty acts. It was from there that Mike Stock imported the idea back to the UK, recruiting three brightly dressed and squeaky clean performers to form the Fast Food Rockers and have a smash hit single with an idea that was maybe so obvious it was amazing nobody had thought of it before. Needless to say that some commentators grumpily suggested such product placement of such unhealthy food brands was the thin end of the wedge and that it amounted to corporate indoctrination of the younger generation. Which was utter balls at the end of the day.

Sadly so was the idea of the Fast Food Rockers. When the single became a hit, plans were advance for an entire album which did indeed hit the shops later in the autumn. Despite the best will in the world however, they were a one note joke and indeed one which streaming services have more taste than to feature in their catalogues. So you know what’s coming…

You’ll be singing it all day…

 

1: Evanescence  – Bring Me To Life

I got such pelters when this single first came out. The week ‘Bring Me To Life’ hit the charts, entering straight at Number One I wrote:

Having crept into the lower end of the chart on import a couple of weeks ago, the US Top 10 single charges all opposition out of the way to become the record that finally ends R Kelly’s four week run at the top of the singles chart. It is not insignificant that they are the first American rock act to top the charts since Limp Bizkit over two years ago. We are all witness this week to the chart success of what will be regarded in years to come as one of the all-time rock classics.

Was I really that far off? Eight years on, and the epic and intense production remains the biggest ever worldwide smash for Evanescence, a debut that they were always going to struggle to live up to and which did indeed prove to be the case, despite three more Top 10 hits in the three years after it made the charts. You’ll notice that I’m assuming that the Number One single of this week requires little in the way of introduction to a casual audience. The climactic duet between Amy Lee and guest singer Paul McCoy stands tall as one of the most arresting moments in rock music of the decade and it is a single which has its place as a true classic of its time. Indeed by a strange coincidence, at the time of writing this piece and for reasons I’ve yet to see explained, the eight year old Number One single is threatening to return to the Top 40 as a spontaneous download hit:

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If that doesn’t prove how much it endures, then I don’t know what does.

What to conclude then from June 29th 2003? It may well indeed have been the moment just before music sales crashed and everything went dim for a while, yet at the same time there was plenty here to appreciate and refreshingly little in the way of filler. Pop music will always have its worthwhile moments, even if you have to wait for proper historical context to appreciate them properly. That’s really why I still keep these things around:

2003packshot

As for the playlists, they are both now totally up to date, although as ever with rather more missing tracks than sometimes I’d like. With Spotify we managed 32 out of 40 tracks, on We7 33 out of 40 (even if a couple are just previews). Click and enjoy either way.

Bring 2003 To Life–Part Three

As is traditional let us note the news stories making headlines in this week back in 2003. Hen-mania was in full swing but admittedly in its dying throes as Tim Henman marched into the Wimbledon quarter finals, but got no further. A seemingly innocuous two-way conversation on the Today programme in Radio 4 about the Iraq War dossier made Alastair Campbell see red and ended up with far-reaching consequences for all involved, all the mid-market newspapers got very excited about the prospect of a cut in interest rates to an historic low of… 3.5% and for those of us in the media world a rather fascinating court case came to an end, with unfortunate consequences for the plaintiff:

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Other than that frankly the newspapers were crammed with garbage. Please, whatever you do, don’t ever be tempted to spend time in a newspaper archive for the start of July 2003. There’s only so many references to long-forgotten Big Brother contestants you can stomach.

Hello new readers by the way, welcome to the third part of our wander through an archive Radio One Chart show, this for Sunday June 29th 2003, not the 30th which I insisted it was for some strange reason at first. I mean it’s not as if the date isn’t written on the tapes or anything…

20: DJ Sammy – Sunlight

Spain’s DJ Sammy had shot to fame back in 2002 thanks to what turned out to be a rather inspired cover of the Bryan Adams single ‘Heaven’. Trance and club versions of older pop hits had been done many times in the past, but somehow DJ Sammy hit just the right note with his reworking, preserving everything that was good about the rock ballad and transplanting its successfully to the dancefloor with a female vocal to boot. After that single topped the charts in December 2002 he followed it with another Top 3 cover version of ‘The Boys Of Summer’ before finally turning to some original material with this third single. You know what, just before hearing it again for the first time in eight years I fully expected to hate it, another drippy trance anthem full of the usual clichés – you know the kind of thing I mean. Yet I didn’t, because ‘Sunlight’ for one reason or another is so perfectly pitched and so magnificently produced that as the rain battered down on the rooflight window above, I found myself yearning for the warm Ibiza beachside sunrises that the single is designed to soundtrack. The absence of this single from any online services simply means that there is the perfect excuse to break out the hypnotic time-lapse video which accompanied it, all of which only helps to add to the magic.

By the presence of the morning sun..

 

19: Siobhan Donaghy – Overrated

Oh now this is interesting. This was the much-anticipated and enthusiastically hyped debut solo single from Siobhan Donaghy, aka the funny looking one from Sugababes Mk1 and who jumped ship after their first album and before they became really, massively successful. After battling the depression that had resulted from her falling out with her bandmates in such spectacular fashion, the talented singer was groomed and prepared for what was generally assumed to be her inevitable solo success. Cameron McVey (who had also helmed the one and only Sugababes album on which she appeared) produced this solo debut, as well as many of the tracks on her first album ‘Revolution In Me’, yet despite this pedigree, despite her status as a priority artist for the label, despite everything, the whole project bombed. ‘Overrated’ limped to Number 19 and then vanished whilst the album didn’t even reach the Top 100 when released that September. After London records ditched her she resurfaced in 2007 with a self-recorded new album ‘Ghosts’ which even produced a Top 30 single ‘Twist Of Fate’ but still major chart success eluded her. When the Sugababes finally rotated their entire line-up altogether, there was talk that the three original girls might get back together to bring the whole project full circle. In a way it would be nice if they did – rescuing Donaghy from her status as the most talented nearly woman of 21st century pop.

Frustratingly only her second album seems to have survived licence hell and is available online to stream, so back to the video well we go.

18: The Darkness – Growing On Me

We’ve talked already about acts who burned both brightly and briefly, and was there an ever more apt description of the meteoric rise and fall of The Darkness. Justin Hawkins et al shot to fame in 2003 by simply doing everything that was assumed not to be cool any more. Big hair, big chords, guitar solos, falsetto choruses and even at the end of the year a Christmas single which was in strong contention to be the festive Number One. ‘Growing On Me’ was the track that kicked it all off, their second single and the first to reach the Top 40, hitting Number 11 in late June. Whilst they weren’t a comedy act, The Darkness were still a joke that you had to get enthusiastically, and when third single ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ hit Number 2 in October, you kind of got the feeling that a large number of people had enthusiastically jumped on board. Sadly their dedicated pursuit of rock cliches meant drugs and alcohol excess and a bloated and noisy second album in 2005 which wasn’t actually as good and led to Hawkins trying his hand at a variety of other acts. Early in 2011 however The Darkness announced they were back together with a new album being worked on. Now that should be interesting if it ever appears.

17: Moloko – Forever More

This pair were Roisin and Mark, two sweethearts from Sheffield who first started making records in the mid-1990s and who shot to chart fame in 1999 when the singles ‘Sing It Back’ and the rather glorious ‘The Time Is Now’ were massive Top 10 hits. By 2003 however the romantic partnership had ended and whilst the making of final album ‘Statues’ was amicable enough, the whole affair was more of an exercise in contractual obligation than anything else. ‘Forever More’ was the second and last chart hit from the pair, entering the charts here at Number 17 and progressing no further. Roisin Murphy went on to a moderate level of solo success afterwards, but she hasn’t been seen on the music charts since her 2007 solo album ‘Overpowered’.

16: Scooter – The Night

Let’s not beat about the bush. Scooter at their very best are utterly, phenomenally amazing. Their relentless and rarely evolving formula (thundering happy hardcore beats, HP Baxxter ranting at the crowd, samples that sit on the edge of familiarity) has rather meant they have dipped in and out of fashion at semi regular intervals over the years. 2002-3 was arguably the peak of their British appeal as out of nowhere in 2002 they shot to Number 2 with a cover version of ‘The Logical Song’ and proceeded to follow it up with tracks that were almost as identical and yet ever more exciting with each passing minute. ‘The Night’ was the final exclamation point of this 12 months of success, based around what was for a brief time their trademark of a speeded up sample from an older hit – in this case a track also called ‘The Night’ as recorded by Italian star Valerie Dore in 1984. Whilst the original was a moderately famous classic of its time on the continent it was unfamiliar to everyone on these shores and so for all we knew the warbled vocals could have been from anywhere. After ‘The Night’ peaked here at Number 16 the pendulum of popular taste swung back the other way and Scooter singles struggled to chart until they made a brief comeback with ‘Jumping All Over The World in 2008.

15: Christina Aguilera – Fighter

I think this follows the Janet Jackson rule that thy album shalt always have a rock chick track just for the sheer hell of it. One of the best tracks from her second album ‘Stripped’, this was Christina Aguilera’s second chart hit of 2003, hard on the heels of smash hit Number One ballad ‘Beautiful’. Every bit as classic as its predecessor, ‘Fighter’ was her chance to growl her way through some crunching rock guitars and give it the full on black leather treatment. One of her best singles ever.

14: Amy Studt – Misfit

A teenage prodigy, one of Amy Studt’s self produced demos found its way to no less a figure than Simon Fuller when she was just 15 years old, causing him to snap her up to turn her into a superstar. Her first single ‘Just A Little Girl’ came out in 2002 and was a notably odd affair, shifting gears from  a cutesy little girl sing song voice to a full on balls-out song full of attitude. Maybe the intention was to be arresting, but at the time I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to spoof singer Shona McGough from the first episode of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (look it up). Although that debut single made a respectable enough Number 14 in July 2002, a rethink was clearly required and so Studt disappeared for a year, returning with this rather more improved sound. The intention behind ‘Misfit’ was to cast her as the British Avril Lavigne and the sparky and rather engaging pop record made a far more manageable Number 6 and appeared to be setting her well on the road to stardom proper. Even so, the album ‘False Smiles’ hardly set the world on fire and after being dumped by Polydor she wound up as yet another act relying on her management to release her records for her, as 2008 follow-up ‘My Paper Made Men’ came out on 19 Records and promptly sank without trace. Rumours of her re-emergence continue to circulate online. ‘Misfit’ proved she had the pipes and the songwriting talent to be the star she was always supposed to be. Maybe one day she will still pay off that potential.

13: Gary Numan vs Rico – Crazier

For so many years the butt of plane crashing jokes and known only to music fans as the chap who emerged with a new remix of ‘Cars’ every few years, the early years of the 21st century proved to be uncommonly kind to Gary Numan. First Basement Jaxx turned an old album track of his into ‘Where’s Your Head At’ for one of their biggest hits, then the Sugababes shot to Number One using ‘Are Friends Electric’ as a backing track and then a whole string of acts came forward citing him as one of their greatest influences. This prompted the creation of ‘Hybrid’, an album featuring some innovative new mixes of older tracks but also a handful of brand new pieces helmed by some of the biggest names in dance music. Hence this single ‘Crazier’ which shot to Number 13 and became his first Top 40 hit under his own steam (and which wasn’t a remix of ‘Cars’) since way back in 1986. Proper mainstream pop stardom was perhaps still never going to be the outcome here, but this single stands tall as testament to the brief moment nearly 25 years on from his debut that Gary Numan became properly cool again.

12: Tommi – Like What

Yeah, you may well ask “who?”. To explain all, I think it is best here to dig out the exact words I wrote on this single on dotmusic back in June 2003:

We should have had a competition really, giving people a chance to guess what kind of act Tommi are just from the name. Girl group with street attitude is the answer in case you are wondering, the five 18 year olds are being launched with high hopes that they can become the next big thing in female pop. Their sound is unashamedly urban but with deep commercial appeal built in. Their cachet comes from the writing credits of this new single which credits both T-Boz and Kandi as authors and the track is produced by Ms Dynamite’s producer Bloodshy. Want the truth? This is actually a very good single and nothing short of a breath of fresh air. A fair number of people will be quite disappointed that it could not do better than a Number 12 entry.

So there you go, they were a five piece urban girl group (although Wikipedia only lists four members – Lil Chill, Mi$ THing, Bambi and Peekaboo so maybe I was mistaken at the time) about whom we were all keeping an open mind when their debut single appeared. Yet in researching this I simply could not turn up anything else about them, no mentions on newspaper pop pages, no media references other than their names listed on the bill of just about every radio station sponsored summer party going that summer. After this one and only single they vanished utterly without trace. Save for this video:

Kill me now

 

11: Jennifer Ellison – Baby I Don’t Care

Yes that’s right. At one stage somebody actually thought this might possibly be a good idea. Jennifer Ellison had been a star of the TV soap Brookside since she was a teenager, so her departure from the show in 2003 seemed the perfect opportunity to show off what were theoretically her other talents. So she was signed as a pop star and handed this rather offensive and anaemic cover of the 1989 smash hit by Transvision Vamp for her debut chart single. I mean she wasn’t exactly a terrible singer, but for sheer pointlessness you would be hard to find any record on this Top 40 which comes even close to this one. Despite reaching Number 6 it was decided not to proceed with the project after this single, and so the blonde scouser retreated to a potentially lucrative career posing for a series of scantily clad but resolutely nipple-free lads magazine shoots. Strange to relate though that Ellison was back on the chart again a year later, this time after going mainstream as the winner of the first ever UK series of Hell’s Kitchen, prompting the idea of Jennifer the pop star to be resurrected with Number 13 hit ‘Bye Bye Boy’. Thankfully it proved to be her chart swansong. If I told you that ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ isn’t on any of the streaming services either, would you believe me? Of course you would. Here’s yet another video if you can stomach it.

She’s got a nice arse to be fair

There you go, I told you it was a weird chart section didn’t I? Just six tracks have stood the test of time and are still able to be listened to legitimately. All are now added to the We7 and Spotify playlists if you can take your eyes off Ellison’s bottom just for one moment. See you shortly for the final Top 10 push.

Bring 2003 To Life–Part Two

Now this is normally the stage in the proceedings where I recount where I was personally in life when this particular chart was being broadcast and somehow relate the music back to where I was at in time. Somehow this becomes harder the older you get. In summer 2003 I was cheerfully fixing a media company’s computers and mail server during the day and then scuttling off to play at sports radio at night and weekends, during this exact week packing up my entire life to move into the docklands flat with the manic landlady from hell whom I have waxed lyrical about in the past. I don’t really know how relevant the music was to anything I was doing at the time – I just listened because I liked it.

Top 30 time – roll the tape.

30: Dannii Minogue – Don’t Wanna Lose This Feeling

Thinking it over, this is actually quite extraordinary. A couple of years ago I wrote in detail about a chart from 1991 and recounted the very start of Dannii Minogue’s chart career. Fast forward to a countdown 12 years later and she’s still clinging on to a life in hit singles. Minogue Jnr’s somehow clawed her way to decade and a half of chart fame thanks to a series of ever more unlikely comebacks, vanishing once the hits dried up to do other things (such as being an F1 driver’s moll) and then wheedling her way back into contention by persuading just the right people that she was the perfect voice for their latest dance project. Her 21st century comeback was sparked by her appearance on a track called ‘Who Do You Love Now’ by Riva, a hit single which turned into the most consistent run of Top 10 hits of her career. ‘Don’t Wanna Lose This Feeling’ was the penultimate one of these and her second chart single of 2003, the follow-up to ‘I Begin To Wonder’ which had reached Number 2 at the start of the year. Both tracks were lifted from her album ‘Neon Nights’ whose tracks celebrated the dancefloors of the 1980s, five years or so before it became the in thing to do – indeed so seamlessly retro was ‘Don’t Wanna Lose This Feeling’ that it was spun into a bootleg mash-up of ‘Into The Groove’, further expanding its club potential.

Big sister may well have picked up the plaudits, the millions and the adoration but there were times when Minogue Minor was more than a match for her. This single was one such occasion.

29: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Pin

There is an underlying theme to this chart of appearances by a series of incredibly well received rock bands who never quite translated the adoring column inches into proper mainstream chart success. Still, we should thank our lucky stars they charted at all given the way the charts of 2011 avoid men and women with guitars like the plague. New York threesome the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their debut album ‘Fever To Tell’ in 2003 and immediately attracted attention, not just for their sparky and tightly produced tracks, but also thanks to the rather arresting vision of frontwoman Karen O. The two minute long ‘Pin’ was their third chart hit and one of a series of hit singles which were little more than one week wonders on the sales rankings. Number 29 was as good as this one got, 13 places behind the peak of its predecessor ‘Date With The Night’ whose Number 16 peak remains for the moment their best singles chart showing.

28: Flaming Lips – Fight Test

Surely if ever there was a reason to love a particular year, to adore one special snapshot in musical history, it is the fact that in 2002 and into 2003, the Flaming Lips were for a fleeting moment actually properly famous, with hit records and everything. Wayne Coyne’s outfit of lavish stage performers and songs that appeared to be penned by people living on an entirely different plane of existence to the rest of us had laboured in semi-obscurity ever since the mid-1980s, only to finally hit their stride with 1999 album ‘The Soft Bulletin’ which to this day is regarded by some as one of the best albums of that decade. On these shores it became their first ever chart hit, and gave them a first ever Top 40 single as ‘Race For The Prize’ sneaked to Number 39, but it was the 2002 follow-up ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ which saw them become maybe not quite household names, but certainly properly famous for the stuff they had always been acclaimed for. Admittedly much of the appeal of the Flaming Lips is down to their lavish stage shows, but their singles still showed flashes of brilliance. ‘Fight Test’ was the third chart single lifted from ‘Yoshimi…’ and followed the title track into the charts in July 2003. All the usual elements are present and correct, Coyne’s endearing almost but never quite in tune vocals, a gentle, soothing production and quite inadvertently bits of someone else’s song as the melody of ‘Fight Test’ was shown to bear more than a passing resemblance to ‘Father And Son’ by Cat Stevens. Coyne held his hands up to the inadvertent plagiarism and cheerfully gave Stevens a share of the royalties and a songwriting credit, but even knowing that the track is partially copied from another does little to diminish its charm. Number 28 simply seems far far too low.

27: B2K – Girlfriend

The third and what would ultimately turn out to be the biggest chart single for short-lived American R&B sensations B2K. Britain was late getting into them so all their hits came from their second and final album ‘Pandemonium!’, an album which featured not only this Number 10 hit but also its predecessor ‘Bump Bump Bump’ which even had the added star power of P Diddy on guest vocals. ‘Girlfriend’ was written and produced by no less a figure than R Kelly which may possibly explain the enthusiastic way it shot up the charts. Most of the members of B2K have faded into oblivion with possibly the sole exception of Omarion who tried a brief solo career and then found himself the subject of lasting ridicule when a rogue PR person released a statement late on July 7th 2005 stating that Omarion had been nowhere near the bombs in London but that his fans should pray for his safety. Even more amusingly his Wikipedia page is the subject of constant battles between British editors wanting to include this detail as the reason he is famous in this country, versus American fans who can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

26: S Club – Say Goodbye/Love Ain’t Gonna Wait For You

All good things must come to an end, and looking back the writing was always on the wall for the whole S Club project. First Paul Cattermole quit in 2002, knocking the whole “S Club 7” concept for six (if you’ll pardon the pun) and necessitating a change of name. Then their much anticipated feature film “Seeing Double” turned out to be a pile of incomprehensible garbage and when its soundtrack album failed to set the charts on fire in the manner that pretty much all of their previous records had done, it seemed the only sensible thing to do was to draw the curtain and exit the stage. So fair play to S Club 7, their departure was on their terms. Summertime single ‘Love Ain’t Gonna Wait For You’ was bumped in favour of a swiftly recorded swansong single ‘Say Goodbye’, the song ostensibly about the end of a love affair but with an obvious underlying subtext – this was the most successful pop band of their generation bidding farewell. This then was their swansong, their own ‘Thank You For The Music’ and fittingly a Number 2 smash hit, far bigger than any of the other tracks from their final album.

25: Panjabi MC – Jogi

A hat tip to the man who to this day is the only artist to take a pretty much unmolested Bhangra track into the UK Top 10. ‘Mundian To Bach Ke’ was the track in question, a gloriously inspired worldwide smash hit which took the Knight Rider theme as its base before dragging the famous bassline into exciting new territory. Such was the widespread appeal of the track (a Number 5 hit in the early months of 2003) that a remixed version featuring a new rap line from Jay-Z featured on the flip side of this second hit single. Not that ‘Jogi’ wasn’t in the Top 30 on its own merits however, the single possibly the last thing you would expect to see in the UK Top 40 and played on the radio in the afternoon, yet its bizarre fusion of bhangra and hip hop beats worked to near perfection. Rajinder Singh Rai (to give him his full name) continues to make records to this day to a rather more limited audience, but memories of that glorious period when he became a mainstream chart star still live long in the memory. Only on Spotify to stream sadly.

24: Shania Twain – Forever And For Always

Back in 1998, Shania Twain and then husband Mutt Lange had achieved exactly what they had set out to do – record and release the biggest selling Country album of all time. The formula was simple, collect together the best songs possible and then record and mix them in two different versions – a traditional C&W style for the American market and an out and out mainstream pop style for the rather less refined tastes of the rest of the world. ‘Come On Over’ turned the singer into a superstar and practically spewed hits in its wake. So for the follow-up all they had to do was repeat the stunt, right? Well it kind of worked. 2002 release ‘Up!’ admittedly did go on to sell 20 million copies worldwide but that was still only half the total of its predecessor. The songs inside were by and large as sparky and original as before, but the whole project simply had an air of going back over old ground and presuming what had worked before would work perfectly again. The singles from the album performed respectably enough here, tender ballad ‘Forever And For Always’ was a Number 6 hit as the third Top 10 hit in a row from the album but whereas once upon a time she was hanging around the upper end of the charts for weeks on end, all of these singles made rather perfunctory in and out chart performances, suggesting that by and large she was preaching to the choir. ‘Up!’ as a whole is the classic example of a record that is simply blah. Musically and lyrically incredibly well made, but with an air of factory line production that by and large made it all feel rather soulless.

23: Justin Timberlake – Rock Your Body

As I never tire of pointing out, old pubehead here was never actually the main or even lead singer in ‘NSync, but he was somehow anointed as the one with the charisma and star potential to be thrust into the limelight as a solo star. Boy did that turn out well. One of the signature songs of his early solo career, ‘Rock Your Body’ was his third Number 2 hit in a row during 2002 and 2003, following hard on the heels of the emotionally intense ‘Cry Me A River’ which had been a hit in February. Actually of all the singles lifted from his debut album ‘Justified’, my favourite was perhaps the less well received fourth release ‘Senorita’ which dispensed entirely with song structure halfway through in favour of the singer leading his imaginary crowd in a series of girls v boys call and responses. Somehow it cut through all mental images of his then unfortunate nappy-headed image and made him – as everyone subsequently realised – one of the coolest men on the planet.

22: 50 Cent – In Da Club

One of the longest running hits on this week’s chart, 50 Cent’s celebrated debut single was this week holding steady at Number 22 in what was its 16th week on the Top 40. All this pre-downloads of course, so every single one of those chart weeks was down to continuing shop demand for his physical singles. Indeed ‘In Da Club’ during its chart life behaved just like we’d expect a modern day hit to do, entering at Number 4 before sliding to Number 9 and then steadily consolidating its position to finally peak at Number 3 during weeks 5 and 6 of its chart run. I’ll freely confess that of all the superstar rappers of the last decade, 50 Cent remains the one whose appeal remains to me a mystery, with his music and his lyrics as impenetrable now as they were when he first emerged onto the scene. Nonetheless, it is hard to knock a smash hit such as this one. ‘In Da Club’ ended the year with a sale of 278,000 copies as the 13th biggest seller of 2003.

21: Foo Fighters – Low

A typically efficient chart entry for the Foo Fighters with the third single lifted from their first ever Number One album ‘One By One’. What makes this single more notable as far as this chart countdown is concerned is that its ultimate chart position was the subject of Wes’ “One Big Text” competition which he had been plugging the backside off since the start of the show. To qualify for the big prize question, all you had to do was successfully predict where the single was going to land, and so immediately after it was played out host welcomed “Neil” who then correctly answered a multiple choice trivia question about Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and his favourite hobby. Playing golf apparently, so now we know. Neil, a rock and nu-metal fan we were informed, won himself the entire Top 10 albums which admittedly did consist of the likes of Radiohead and the Stereophonics, but also Beyonce, S Club 7 and George Benson. Bet he was secretly thrilled.

There’s more to come from 2003, although next up we hit a decidedly sticky patch of the singles chart, littered with strange one-off singles from acts never to darken our doors again. For the moment, the Spotify and We7 playlists are all updated, with an almost 100% strike rate of available tracks this time around. Trust me, there is a fair blizzard of YouTube embeds coming soon.

Bring 2003 To Life–Part One

Heck it has been far too long since I’ve done one of these. Blame pressures of life, and the fact that once plans to do a Christmas retrospective at the appropriate time went out of the window, I have until failed to make the time to crack open the old Top 40 collection.

Worry no longer because the appointed time has arrived. This time our year of choice is 2003, a mere 8 years ago but a proper lifetime in musical terms. I’ve always seen this year as the very last gasp of the CD single era, for whilst sales were slower than they had been in the past as the whole concept of digital music slowly took a grip there was still nothing to suggest that the industry would take the massive plunge down the toilet it was due to before it finally got its act together. See this then as the final moments before it all went to shit and music sales went toilet – for the singles chart as broadcast on Sunday June 30th 2011.

As far as this tape of the Top 40 show is concerned, we are now Into the Wes era. I’ve always felt kind of sorry for the way things turned out for him, hired in late 2002 in a huge blaze of publicity as Radio One’s new Mr Chart Show, only to be binned at the end of his contract two years later  when after doing everything asked of him the management simply decided to go in a different direction and gave him his cards. His opening speech indicates just how frenzied the competition between the radio chart shows was at this time: “There are other charts, but they are based on airplay.. I think you’ll find this is based only on the CDs you’ve been buying this week.”

This is the real thing people, beware of cheap imitations.

Other highlights of the first part of the show include a reference to the fact that as it is Glastonbury weekend the entire crew are doing the show with mud smeared across their naked bodies and are urinating into bottles. Don’t try this at home kids. Some of the participants in the chat room are namechecked – because online was where it was at people – and then we begin not with the singles but with an interminably long recap of the album chart.

40 minutes later the Number One is finally reached. Bizarrely and coincidentally the Number One album is ‘Dangerously In Love’ from Beyonce. Eight years on she is still storming those very same listings.

Enough of this though, let’s hit the singles countdown running before Side 1 of the tape runs out:

40: DMX – X Goin’ Give It To Ya

To kick us off, and exiting the Top 40 after a none too shabby ten week run is this track, the one and only Top 10 hit single for American rapper DMX. He is a strange phenomenon in many ways, charting five Number One albums in a row in America but never really becoming anything more than a passing curiosity on these shores. He first rose to prominence at the end of the 1990s and charted his first UK Top 40 hit during 1999, but his greatest burst of UK fame came in 2003, the year in which he starred in and performed songs for the soundtrack of the film ‘Cradle 2 The Grave’. This hit single was lifted directly from that soundtrack, and it shot straight to Number 6 in early May, giving him his one and only UK Top 10 hit. Listening to the single now, you can kind of understand just why his appeal remained so limited. This isn’t a particularly terrible hip-hop single, but as it chugs its way via an impenetrable lyric from start to finish it is hard for the casual listener to find anything that hooks them in and makes them want to understand what he is talking about. The best hip-hop tracks, from geniuses such as Kanye West or Jay-Z are inspiring works of poetry. ‘X Goin’ Give It To Ya’ is just shouty and rather dull.

39: Tomcraft – Loneliness

Shamefully I’d forgotten this had been Number One before I looked it up, but indeed it was an instant chart-topping smash hit for German DJ Thomas Brueckner. Not that the haunting and melodic dance single was entirely his own work, fellow countryman Eniac receiving a prominent co-credit on the single whilst the vocal refrain was a sample from a 1999 single ‘Share The Love’ as performed by American R&B singer Andrea Martin. Still, in the last decade nobody ever went poor reworking somebody else’s flop record into a hit idea and whilst Tomcraft himself is something of a one hit wonder (follow-up ‘Brainwashed (Call You)’ bombed out at Number 43 in October 2003) it was a certified Number One hit. Even if many of us have forgotten it.

‘Loneliness’ is sadly missing from the We7 catalogue for now, although it is on the Spotify playlist for this chart. The video however survives intact.

38: The Thrills – Big Sur

Five Irishmen singing wistful 1960s throwback songs with immaculate arrangements and harmonies. Doesn’t sound like the greatest idea in the world does it? Yet in 2003 The Thrills were one of the biggest things going with a Mercury-nominated debut album and a respectable string of mid-table hit singles. ‘Big Sur’ was their second hit and as it would turn out, the biggest, sitting pretty at Number 17 upon release in mid-June. Debut album ‘So Much For The City’ sold in respectable quantities, as did its swift follow-up ‘Let’s Bottle Bohemia’ which came out in 2004. By the time of their third album ‘Teenager’ in 2007 the magic appeared to have dried up and their label summarily binned them after it failed to sell. Still only officially on hiatus, there is always a chance the band will one day return to work wistful wonders again, but for the moment remember them this way with a sweet, tuneful and memorable hit single that sounded so gloriously right and yet so astonishingly out of place.

37: Big Brovaz – Favourite Things

I always saw Big Brovaz as the cuddly, friendly side of the London urban scene. The concept of a rap collective with a cast of thousands had been successfully sold to the public in 2001 with the success of the So Solid Crew, but there was always a feeling that they were too dangerous, too intense to be marketed properly as the mainstream face of grime music. Enter then the Big Brovaz who had already released an independent album ‘Watching You’ before Sony Records snapped them up and groomed them into the cuddly face of young British rap. ‘Favourite Things’ was their third hit single and ultimately their biggest, charting at Number 2 in May 2003 and as the title suggests is indeed based around ‘My Favourite Things’ from the Sound Of Music. Instead of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens however, the favourite things in question are “Diamonds and rubies, and crazy about Bentleys’. Clearly the stuff of people’s dreams had evolved rapidly in this new age of gratuitous consumerism. Just a year later the Big Brovaz hits had dried up completely, although they did spawn (albeit totally by accident) pop-dance duo Booty Luv after members Nadia and Cherise were asked to sing on a track for a record label demo. But that’s another story for another time.

36: Kurtis Mantronik presents Chamonix – How Did You Know

More than 12 years after the last Mantronix hit single, the near legendary 80s dance producer invaded the 21st century under his own name for the very first time as part of the promotional push for his latest new discovery. Although the singer on ‘How Did You Know’ was billed here as “Chamonix” it was a fairly open secret that the lady in question was Miriam “Mim” Grey who would subsequently have a respectable if rather undistinguished career as a club track singer with a solo album of her own following in 2010. ‘How Did You Know’ was itself based on an instrumental Mantronik had created as a standalone project called ‘77 Strings’, with the original vocal-free version also featuring as part of the single bundle. On We7 but not Spotify sadly.

35: Jennifer Lopez – I’m Glad

What is it that sets the true superstars apart from their peers? I have a feeling it is an unbroken run of consistency when it comes to memorable hit singles. The merely famous make good records and then have the odd filler track which comes and goes without anyone noticing. The superstars knock it out of the park every time. Jennifer Lopez is sometimes branded as a superstar, thanks in part to the effortless way she dominated the music scene at the start of the last decade, but a part of me wonders just how valid that label actually is. For every ‘If You Had My Love’ or ‘Jenny From The Block’ there are offerings such as ‘Feeling So Good’ or ‘Do It Well’, tracks you would struggle to hum in asked to and which are unlikely to pop up on anything other than the 9am golden hour slot on your average commercial radio station. ‘I’m Glad’ is another of those wallpaper hits, songs from a theoretically major name which just came and went without anyone ever really paying too much close attention to them. It was the third single from J’Lo’s third album ‘This Is Me.. Then’ and it limped to Number 11 here in June 2003, breaking her run of straight Top 10 singles which stretched back two years. In America it fared even worse, missing the Top 30 altogether in spite of the Flashdance themed video which even recruited original movie choreographer to help recreate the original Jennifer Beals dance step for step.

34: Cosmic Rough Riders – Because You

If ever there was an argument for not always seeing chart success as the ultimate barometer of the quality of an act, then the Cosmic Rough Riders are a perfect case in point. The trio from Glasgow recorded six albums between 1999 and 2006, each crammed with insanely melodic stadium-filling anthems which stood comparison with some of the most inspired moments of Teenage Fan Club – all with a Scottish accent of course. Their penultimate album ‘Too Close To See Far’ came out in 2003 and was instantly playlisted by Radio 2 whose music department fell in love with it from the word go. Sadly their singles never really found a foothold in the charts, and this Number 34 entry for ‘Because You’ turned out to be the best chart performance of their career. Don’t be fooled though, this is a great example of just why listening to old chart countdowns can be such a joy – being reminded of the tiny hit singles which may not have lodged in the memory first time around but which are simply far too good to be forgotten forever.

33: Linkin Park – Faint

Injecting a bit of noise into proceedings after all this laid back stuff are Linkin Park, ‘Faint’ their second hit of 2003 and a Number 15 hit hard on the heels of ‘Somewhere I Belong’. An explanation of what it sounds like is perhaps unnecessary as once you’ve heard one Linkin Park single you have pretty much heard them all. As a minor footnote, their next hit and another track taken from their second album ‘Meteora’ was the original version of ‘Numb’, the track which would eventually be mashed up with the Jay-Z track ‘Encore’ and which would go on to become a more or less permanent chart fixture in the early years of the download era.

32: Electric Six – Gay Bar

Was there ever a band who burned so brightly and so intensely for such a short time? Detroit’s Electric Six shot to fame in early 2003 with their debut album ‘Fire’ and a handful of exciting, innovative and intensely memorable singles. ‘Danger! High Voltage’ was the first, a track which the band insisted until they were blue in the face did not feature Jack White on co-vocals, determined that the track should be a success on its own merits and not just because of a famous guest star. ‘Gay Bar’ was their second hit of the year, a quite breathtakingly brilliant two and a half minutes of funk rock that you almost knew was destined to be a smash hit from the moment you heard it. Actually in chart terms it didn’t have such a long career, charting at Number 6 in mid June and then racing to the depths in fairly short order. Nonetheless this single is possibly one of the defining moments of the decade, alongside its inevitably high camp video in which lead singer Dick Valentine dresses up as Abraham Lincoln and cavorts alongside just about every piece of gay imagery you can imagine (from a pepper grinder to a hamster crawling through a tube). Although still active to this day, 2003 remains the only period of mainstream success for Electric Six, but if you remember them then remember them this way – and preferably with the unedited album version rather than the strange radio edit which censored references to “nuclear war” for bizarre reasons that were never fully explained.

31: Emma Bunton – Free Me

Sometimes there are advantages to being signed to a management company who are so rich they can pretty much do anything they want. So when Heart FM’s, I’m sorry I mean Baby Spice Emma Bunton was dropped by her Virgin Records after the lukewarm sales of her debut solo album ‘A Girl Like Me’ in 2001 and nobody else showed an interest, 19 Entertainment announced they would simply produce and release her second album themselves. It all worked out nicely as well, although the rather dreary ‘Free Me’ was a very strange choice for a lead single, even if it did make a perfectly respectable Number 5 when released in June 2003. You see the album itself (of which this was the title track) finally saw the Solo Spice Girl finally hit her groove, with many of the tracks featuring a breezy bossa-nova style which you could instantly tell was the sort of music she should be spending her life making. Second single ‘Maybe’ was a work of genius, an exciting and quite intoxicating pop record which took its inspiration from ‘Rich Mans Frug’ as featured in the musical Sweet Charity. Also on the album was  the track which would eventually become its fourth single a year later -  a 21st century take on Astrud Gilberto’s samba classic ‘Crickets Sing For Annamaria’ which may have only crept into the Top 20 but which for my money stands head and shoulders above anything she ever recorded.

So really ‘Free Me’ justified every last bit of the faith the massive 19 empire had in her. By the time she recorded her third album ‘Life In Mono’ in 2006 she was back in the arms of a “real” record label, and although she these days is concentrating on motherhood and making radio programmes for Heart, you get the feeling that any new Emma Bunton musical project would be greeted with great interest by a number of different parties. ‘Free Me’ the single though? Horrible, dreary and completely the wrong record to announce her comeback with. Thank goodness it didn’t matter in the end.

So that’s Part One of this countdown over. Check back for Part Two shortly, and in the meantime if you have access to these services, lap up the Spotify and We7 playlists of this chart so far.

Lob It Like Lampard

It barely seems like yesterday, yet it was actually a full seven years ago almost to the week that I chalked off a seemingly impossible item on the great to-do list of life. I “performed” on Top Of The Pops.

I actually wrote about this at the time, and the hastily dashed off contemporary account of the event is buried way back in this site’s database but to save you the trouble of wading through some ill-constructed prose let me summarise the circumstances. The then management of talkSPORT had got into bed with a record label who wanted to promote their cash-in commemorative single for England’s ultimately fruitless campaign in the Euro 2004 championships. The deal was that the radio station’s presenters would be co-credited as “performers” and we would plug the arse of the track when it was released.

The record in question was bloody awful. A cheesy rewrite of ‘Come On Eileen’ with new lyrics talking up England’s football chances. An insult to the artistry of everyone involved, you might say. Yet bizarrely it proved to be strangely popular, and helped by the single being played roughly once an hour on the radio station, ending up selling what was at the time a not too shabby 26,000 copies which was enough to ensure it landed on the singles chart at Number 2, around 20,000 behind ultimate Number One artist Mario Winans.

This meant I had the bizarre honour of writing up in that week’s chart commentary the story of a record that I myself had been involved with promoting:

The two that enter the chart this week both have something in common as both have been heavily promoted by rival radio stations. In the blue corner we have 4-4-2 with ‘Come On England’, sponsored and heavily promoted by national sports station talkSPORT. In the red corner are Twisted X with ‘Born In England’, a veritable supergroup put together by London alternative station XFM’s breakfast host Christian O’Connell and hyped to the hills by him and his colleagues.

In the interests of full disclosure I must confess that I cannot in any way pretend to be impartial in this battle. I work for talkSPORT both behind the scenes and sometimes on air, the people you see dancing around in the video are some of my best friends and I will be part of a cast of thousands (almost) due to perform ‘Come On England’ on Top Of The Pops later this week. Having said that I never in a million years expected it to do this well. The track is based on a genuine 100% classic – namely ‘Come On Eileen’ by Dexy’s Midnight Runners which topped the charts back in 1982 and to this day remains a party floor filler and an immediate choice for one of the best pop records ever made. It was a bold move to rewrite the lyrics as a football anthem but this is what 4-4-2 chose to do – and pulled it off magnificently. Forget the (admittedly valid) point of view that it was a lazy piece of songwriting and a bowlderisation of an established classic. The charts were clearly crying out for a football anthem to bawl along to and ‘Come On England’ achieves that perfectly. Radio airplay has been almost non-existent for the track and its position in the charts owes a great deal to the normally all-speech radio station playing the track almost every two hours and propelling it into the charts. It becomes the biggest new hit of the week and dare I say it, a possible contender to go even higher than its Number 2 placing.

Yeah, bollocks it was.

With a high chart placing under our belts, the inevitable call came to stage the record for Top Of The Pops later that week. The producer of the show hit on the wheeze of staging the song as if it was at a football match, complete with cheering crowds and “England footballers” waiting to do their bit for their country. So it was that the radio group invited every available body down to Television Centre on a blazing hot Wednesday afternoon where a goal and two sets of stands had been erected. We all took our allotted places alongside a smattering of glamour models and a bunch of performers who almost certainly didn’t perform on ‘Come On England’ itself and whom it was noted bore little resemblance to the people purporting to sing the track in the video. With only one Steadicam to record the massive crowd, we essentially did eight different takes of an enthusiastic sing-along performance of the record, dropping to our knees with exhaustion after about Take 5, after which they took pity on us and shipped in an large crate of water bottles.

For years the edited and broadcast video of that performance languished on a VHS I had stuck in a cupboard for posterity, but given that the performance in question has never appeared on YouTube before, it seemed rude not to share it with the world.

Here it is then, the fruits of our labours as broadcast on BBC1 on June 17th 2004. Spot The Moose looking decidedly thin, some other famous faces cavorting in the background and somewhere buried in the back row of the dancing footballers – me! I think I hid myself well.

Two years later we attempted to recapture the spirit of that summer and promoted ‘We’re England’ by the talkSPORT Allstars to cash in on the 2006 World Cup. The record stiffed at Number 37 and thankfully that for now was the end of my personal foray into singles chart hyping.

Hero To Zero (30)

The responsibility for this particular posting just for a change lies not with my own sick imagination, but in fact an old colleague and friend called Laurence Lennard who runs a video production company called Yada Yada Productions. They are naturally superb and should be your default choice for any video production needs.

I know this, because he emailed me a few weeks ago to say he was clearing out some boxes recently and came across a video tape which he identified as mine, one which I had given to him to potentially digitise some eight years ago, back in the day when not all of us had the means to turn old fashioned tape into magical shiny digital bits. Said tape duly arrived in the post, giving me the chance to relive a brief (two weeks in fact) but rather fun time in my life when I became a weekly TV pundit.

Capture

The programme in question was Zero 30, an entertainment roundup which was broadcast on BBC News 24 at half past midnight every weekday (hence the name). I often tuned in to it to hear my own words read back to me, as their weekly roundup of the latest singles chart was often accompanied by a voiceover that featured facts and figures which I could have sworn were lifted from the dotmusic commentary I’d put online a week before. It turns out they were, my suspicions confirmed in April 2000 when I received a email from the programme editor:

Capture

Hey, if they are going to nick your work the least worst thing they can do is to ask you to come on and use your words yourself on their programme. After a quick telephone chat it was agreed that I would travel down and appear on one of the last few Zero 30 shows before they came off air to launch the new BBC Choice show, and so this was how I found myself on the afternoon of May 1st 2000, on a train down to London ready to appear on live TV in the middle of the night.

My BBC taxi collected me from my sister’s house and I was sped to TV centre and ushered into the newsroom where waiting for me were Christopher Price and the chap from Uncut magazine who would also be a guest on the show. Being a bank holiday this was clearly a far more relaxed atmosphere than normal and indeed the whole programme had an end of term feel to it. They were in their last couple of weeks, winding down and getting ready to move onto something else very exciting. All I had to do was show that I was worthy of being a part of it. After a short wait around the corner from the set, during which time I chatted with the autocue typist who it turned out had been at school with Mel B from the Spice Girls, I was ushered on set, had a microphone clipped to my shirt and was live to the nation for the first time in my life.

Get a haircut boy!

A few things to note here. First of all oh my God did my hair look stupid that day. I was pretty much unemployed at the time, so trips to the barbers were something of a premium product which had to be rationed. At the very least the style, plus the power and studio lighting made me look incredibly pretty. Also it was clear that whatever enthusiasm I had for music chart facts and figures on paper was not necessarily going to come across in a series of TV sound-bites, so for all that the programme team were fans of my work, I don’t think I was the most exciting pundit in the world, even for ten to one in the morning.

Nonetheless, everyone seemed happy with the way it turned out, and we returned to the newsroom afterwards for a chat and a coffee, before I was ushered back down to reception to await my BBC taxi home. I ended up sharing a sofa with Jenny Agutter who just happened to be there that evening as well, as if the whole thing wasn’t showbiz enough.

One week later I was back in the same seat again for a second bite at the apple. This time the whole atmosphere was a little more business-like, although it was another marvellous rite of passage to be sat in the newsroom during the pre-show briefing and chatting to showbiz reporting legend Rick Sky who was also on the show that night whilst he read the printout of my column that week with intense fascination.

Yes, this time round I’d had the much needed haircut, was slapped down by the host for trying to build my part with a gag, and for some reason decided the most comfortable way to sit was slumped forward across the desk with the chair some distance behind me. Whereas on the previous show I had slipped off the set once my slot had finished and could watch the rest of the show go out, this time my crisply dressed researcher minder whisked me away the moment the cameras were off me and I was more or less back on the street of White City before the show had even finished. Talk about efficient.

It will doubtless not have escaped your attention that the brand new Liquid News show on BBC Choice debuted a few weeks later without any contributions from yours truly. It is entirely possible that the whole “get the chart expert on screen to be a chart expert” didn’t really make for very exciting television and so the idea was quietly dropped. I also have a suspicion that the producers quickly realised that a slot at 8.30pm on a mainstream entertainment channel meant that the door was open to get actual celebrities on as guests, rather than the parade of semi-anonymous talking heads that a post-midnight show on a news channel was having to make do with. Either way, my glittering TV career was over as soon as it had begun, leaving me with just the memories – until the video tape dropped through my door once again.

Once more, this posting was made possible by the excellent and talented people at Yada Yada Productions, whose website and portfolio you are all going to check out. Aren’t you?