Mar 24

Numero Uno Was Better

The sad passing of disco diva Loleatta Holloway this week attracted an appropriate number of tributes from people who had always respected her work, with the universally expressed view being that it was a shame she never quite became as famous as her impressive vocal talents deserved.

Inevitably many references were made to her most high profile vocal performance, that which featured on the Black Box single ‘Ride On Time’, a global smash hit from 1989 (it spent six weeks at Number One on these shores) and which was essentially created from chopped up samples from her 1980 single ‘Love Sensation’. That original record was itself by and large ignored upon release, save for a brief flurry of popularity in American gay clubs at the time, but it remained a staple of many DJs from the period, people who ended the 1980s as dance producers in their own right. Full Force were the first people to borrow part of the track, incorporating it into the single ‘I Wanna Have Some Fun’ that they made for Samantha Fox in 1988, but it was its subsequent use by Black Box which elevated it to the status of a lost classic.

Yet what most people probably don’t realise is that the vocals they hear on their copies of ‘Ride On Time’ don’t belong to Holloway at all and indeed only ever briefly did.

The Italia house classic was created by DJ Daniele Davoli along with collaborators Mirko Limoni and Valerio Simplici. Davoli claims to have created the concept of the driving piano rhythm by accompanying the tracks he played as a club DJ on a keyboard with a sampler attached. One of the samples he used was a small acapella snatch of of ‘Love Sensation’, prompting Limoni to suggest he brought the full track into the studio to create a record of his own around it,

Snapped up by DeConstruction records for UK release, ‘Ride On Time’ was a classic example of a post-summer club hit. Released in mid August to coincide with the arrival back in Britain of holidaymakers keen to buy the sounds they had been dancing to abroad, the single entered the charts at Number 28 in the week of August 12th 1989. A fortnight later it was a Top 3 single and on September 9th eased its way to Number One.

The only person who wasn’t happy was Loleatta Holloway. “I’ve been around for years trying to get this one hit record”, she stated in an interview later, “It annoyed me knowing that Black Box were Number One [all over Europe] and I was not getting any credit for it.” Adding insult to injury was the fact that for TV and promotional performances of the track Davoli had drafted in his ex-girlfriend Katrin Quinol to mime the vocals, this despite being unable to speak a word of English herself. Holloway threatened legal action and Black Box’s label were confronted with the very real possibility of their hit single being injuncted and its distribution being halted unless they paid out an expensive settlement or took remedial action.

To sidestep the problem they did something that was more or less unique and switched horses midstream. To much puzzlement retailers were told that no more copies of the existing version of ‘Ride On Time’ would be pressed. Instead from the second week of September they were offered stocks of the ‘Ride On Time Remix EP’, a 12-inch single that would still count for the same chart run as the original. To call it a remix was actually something of a sham. This new version (eventually given the official title of “Massive Mix”) featured an entirely new female vocal with another uncredited singer doing her best Loleatta Holloway impression – falling slightly short in the process.

The singer in question was none other than Heather Small, the future star of M People but at the time just another jobbing session performer trying to make it big. A few years ago I asked her about this odd open secret that she was the uncredited voice on the “new’ Ride On Time and she confessed that it only ever seemed to be people close to the music business that ever asked her about it. At the time she had no idea what the purpose of the session was, she was simply booked to spend an hour or so recording the vocal lines needed to recreate Ride On Time from scratch, was paid a flat fee and thought no more of it. Next thing she knew, her voice was on the Number One record of the moment.

Maybe I only noticed because I saw it pointed out, but when you hear the two side by side the differences between the track are obvious. Small was clearly doing her level best to recreate the exact phrasing of the original but she never quite pulls it off. Whereas Holloway sings “hot temptation” raw from the back of her throat, Small growls it from her diaphragm and when it comes to the preceding “You’re Such A..” line she cannot help but sing it in her native Manchester accent, meaning it comes over as “You’re Sooch Uh”. If you are paying close enough attention it is almost comically bad. The new version can be heard below:

The change of singers went subtly unmentioned at the time. When the “remixed” version of the track was hastily flung out during the single’s third week at Number One, it sat on the shelves alongside the original and speculation was that many existing purchasers snapped up a second copy, presuming that the disc contained a different edit of the track. By the following week Alan Jones noted in Record Mirror that three quarters of its sales were of the replacement version as copies of the original became scarce. Most radio stations, Radio One included, continued to play their original promo copies meaning that the version played on the Sunday afternoon chart show was by the end of its run a totally different one to that available in the shops.

Ride On Time wound up as the biggest seller of 1989 and is ranked today as the 20th biggest selling single of the 1980s, Yet despite settlement being agreed with Loleatta Holloway over the use of her vocals (she bought a fur coat with the proceeds we are told) it is the Heather Small starring “Massive Mix” of the track that has become by and large the default version of the track. Certainly it was the Massive Mix that found its way onto the subsequent Black Box album ‘Dreamland’ issued in May 1990 (although see note below). I own three copies of ‘Ride On Time’ in my own collection, all from compilation albums released at different times. My copy of “Hits Monster” from December 1989 features the Massive Mix, and it is even listed as such on the sleeve. On the 1994 compilation “Ultimate Party” there is no reference on the inlay which version is featured, yet it is once again the Heather Small vocal, yet on “Fantastic 80s 3” released in 1998 the Holloway vocals are present and correct.

It seems almost to be pot luck which master you get when you licence the track for release, leading inevitably to consumer confusion elsewhere. Of the handful of different versions you can pick up via the iTunes store today, you can cherrypick it from the still available “Dreamland” (Small vocals), pick it up as part of the 2009 UMTV release “Floorfillers – 90s Club Classics” (ditto) or buy it as part of “Now Dance Anthems” also from 2009 whereupon you will be treated to the proper Holloway-sung version.

So in a sense it is a shame that Loleatta Holloway is being remembered mostly for her vocals on a track which doesn’t actually feature them on most of the copies that were sold, and indeed many that still are today. Far better perhaps to note that one of her other famous performances, and yet again one which went largely unnoticed by the mainstream at the time, was to originate the female vocal line on a disco classic which would go on to become one of the more famous and best loved singles by Take That first time around. Take it away Loleatta. May you always be strong enough to walk on through the night…
(Fast forward to 8:08 into the video…)

NOTE: There has been a great deal of traffic to this post recently thanks to a thread on the Popjustice forums on a similar subject. One point that has been corrected therein is the version of ‘Ride On Time’ which appears on the ‘Dreamland’ album, several people having pointed out that contrary to what I stated originally, it is the Holloway version which is featured. I can only hold my hands up and confess that I originally came to the conclusion thanks to a sampling of the preview available on iTunes rather than having access to an original copy of the album. It would presumably be an interesting exercise to purchase a copy online and discover just which version of ‘Ride On Time’ is delivered to you as part of the package.

Not that iTunes (or indeed any of the online stores) have a perfect track record in keeping track of what is the correct mix or version of some reworked album tracks. For example try tracking down a copy of the Tori Amos album ‘Boys For Pele’ which features the original version of the track ‘Professional Widow’ rather than the radically remixed Number One hit version. Nigh on impossible believe it or not…

Feb 17

Something To Talk About

It has been an extraordinary few weeks to work where I do. In my entire career I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite like it. Yet one fact stands out from the madness. I work for the most talked about radio station in the country, one which has managed to achieve a level of publicity and scrutiny that is surely unique in the modern commercial world. It is an amazing privilege to do so.

The astonishing sequence of events first began to unfold on the afternoon of Wednesday January 26th. Those of us in the office knew something was afoot, but nobody was really sure what. Even those with their ears to the ground on these things could only shrug their shoulders and admit they were as much in the dark as everyone else. All we knew was that the Hawksbee and Jacobs production team had all been summoned to a meeting room an hour before they were due on air and emerged wearing what can only be described as inscrutable expressions, ones they did not take off even to tell people what was going on. There was also a brief flurry of studio tidying and the swift assembly of a tripod and camera, almost as if something was about to take place inside that soundproof box which required preserving.

As managers strutted around with half and eye on the clock and whispered to each other about “coverage” and “press releases”, I wondered if we were set for another announcement of some live sporting rights or some other major programming deal that was subject to an embargo. Then the 1pm news bulletin ended, the opening music for the show played and Paul Hawksbee uttered the magic words:

“Richard Keys will be giving us an interview in just a few minutes time.”

Not for the first time, the printed press had generated what Keys himself described as a “firestorm”, all centred around some illicitly recorded audio of both he and his Sky Sports colleague, the sense of scandal only increased by a steady drip of off air videos mysteriously made public by some mysterious figure with an axe to grind. Within 48 hours Gray was fired, and Keys was left fighting for his career and reputation. His choice of medium – a live interview on talkSPORT in which he would try to explain himself.

Now it was clear there would be a huge level of interest in this piece of soul-baring, hence the tripods ready to video the whole event for posterity. Yet even as those of us in the office took to Twitter to spread the word about our fantastic scoop, I don’t think anyone imagined quite what the reaction was going to be. Within a few minutes the name of ‘talkSPORT’ was a trending topic. My usual search for mentions of the name of the radio station went beserk as people across the country and indeed across the globe all alerted each other to the prospect of this interview and how they could listen in.

Yet that was nothing compared the scenes outside. One of my colleagues returning from lunch muttered something about having to wade through a scrum of photographers just to get back in the building. Surely we weren’t under siege were we? I went downstairs myself to take a look.


This was the view from behind the reception desk. Assembled outside were journalists, TV crews, photographers and associated hangers on. I feared to actually step outside and be confronted by them, but fortunately someone else was prepared to have a go. Entertainingly that person was Graham Norton whose production company shares offices with ours. Seconds after I took the above picture the doors to his quarters opened and he marched out with his pet dogs in tow. The moment the front door opened the press pack went berserk. Here was an actual real live famous person in front of their lenses. Shutters whirred as they got a few pics for the files, meanwhile a few freelancers hared off down the street in pursuit of him, presumably after the scoop on guests for Friday night’s show.

Surreal was hardly the word to describe it.

Coverage in the mainstream media, outlets that generally only mention commercial radio stations whilst holding their noses was naturally extensive. The Daily Mirror even took time out to write a full transcript of the hour long interview for anyone without the patience to sit through the audio, audio that naturally had been reproduced on many of their sites.


Best of all though was the fact that our video of the event was now in circulation and was even being run extensively on Sky News, this despite our receiving word that their editors were incandescent with fury that a man who (at the time) was a high profile presenter with Sky TV was choosing a rival media to put across his side of the story. The footage was faithfully reproduced on their website, with Nick who shot it subject to endless teasing about the professionalism of his camerawork.


We all went home that day knowing we had been a part of something rather special. Little did we know that was only the beginning.

Two weeks later the saga took a new twist. Richard Keys and Andy Gray were not destined to be out of work for long. talkSPORT had done what many in jest had predicted they would do, and signed the duo for a new series of mid morning radio shows.

This time around there was no scrum of pressmen, after all there was little actually going on at the building itself that day. This however did not stop one TV organisation from sending a reporter down to report from the scene of the crime as it were. This was the sight that greeted me as I slipped out to buy some food before preparing to spend the evening at work:


The friendly ITN camera crew inside were only too happy to confirm that they were set to do a live link into the 6.30pm news that evening. This was a news bulletin that naturally was required viewing inside the office. Let me tell you, there are few experiences more bizarre, more unreal than sitting on a sofa and watching your own front door be broadcast live to the nation.


We all kind of felt bad afterwards that nobody had raced down to offer ITV’s Natalie Pirks a cup of tea. Contacting her on Twitter later that evening, I pledged to ensure she was refreshed if ever she was sent to our premises again by her editor.


Now, given the level of interest that surrounded even the first announcement that the pair were joining the station, it kind of stood to reason that their first ever show would be subject to a level of scrutiny far surpassing anything the radio station had seen before. So it was to prove. Arriving at work on Monday morning I have to confess I was a tiny bit disappointed that the area seemed calm. I had visions of another media scrum, of satellite trucks blocking the traffic and maybe even a small band of protesters, doing their bit to register their disgust at either the hiring of the two presenters or the amicable departure of Mike Parry whose slot they were replacing.

In the event the street was almost empty, save for a small band of freelance snappers who I guess were clearly in for a long wait given that it was to be another four hours before the pair exited the building.

The programme itself went off smoothly, but even while it was on air we were party to something unique. Two newspaper websites – The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph – had taken it upon themselves to do a live blog of events as they unfolded. Now this was partially a tongue in cheek “we listen, so you don’t have to” dig at the radio station but in any event the message they were sending out was clear. In their journalistic view, this radio show was an event of major importance and something that required documenting for their readers so they could all share the moment together.



Amusingly the one thread common to both pieces, and indeed many of the reviews that other newspapers felt compelled to publish the following day was a general air of “oh my word, they have Richard Keys reading out adverts for TILES, how irredeemably vulgar and what a humiliation for him”. Because heaven forbid a commercial radio station should actually feature these things called adverts after all. Few writers spotted that the only reason you don’t hear television presenters reading out commercial spots is because the regulations don’t allow this at present. Trust me if Sky were able to have their commentators extol the virtues of the Ford cars being sold by their sponsors, they would be doing it unflinchingly.

We should also skirt around slight pointlessness of attempting to review a daily radio show on the very first day it is on the air. Few, if any, of the best radio shows in the world got it completely right from the word go. The best formats, the best presenting styles and the best examples of the radio art are those which evolve over time. A more considered journalistic view would be to review a show either four weeks, four months or even four years after it first started to gain a greater understanding of what it is about, but naturally this was a story of the moment so a knee-jerk response was really all it was going to merit.

As with the original Keys interview, it was the activity outside that was of far greater interest. Rather more by accident than design I found myself outside on the street at the precise moment the two stars departed in their specially arranged limousines, emerging from the depths of the courtyard car park to face the barrage of press photographers. It would have been remiss of me not to capture that moment as well, so here it is in full:


I think this was the moment when things couldn’t really get any more extraordinary.

So what to take from all this? There is no doubt at all that my boss took an incredibly bold and courageous step when he inserted us into the melee that was following the two presenters around. In doing so however he attracted far more publicity for the radio station than anyone has ever achieved in the past. I worked there when Kelvin McKenzie’s idea of stirring things up was threatening to sue the BBC over sports rights and broadcasting football matches from hotel rooms with some measure of pride. Somehow this new way is far more effective. I think you would have to go back as far as the late 90s and Chris Evans’ tenure as owner of Virgin Radio to find a time when a “mere” commercial radio station was attracting column inches and critical opinion to this degree. Yet I don’t think even he managed to get reporters doing live inserts on the TV news from the station doorstep, or ensuring that he’d created a story so big that even the BBC news website felt it required space in their database:


This naturally is a very good thing, not just for the radio station that I happen to work for but possibly for the industry as a whole. Radio is so much more than the BBC, so much more than the breakfast shows on Radio 4 and Radio 2 which at times you would think were the only broadcasts which mattered. Over the past few weeks we may well have proved that by being at the heart of a story, by being unafraid to attract attention and publicity, you can not so much punch above your weight as demonstrate how you were actually dancing around the ring all the time.

I work for the most talked about radio station in the country. Long may it remain that way.

Dec 30

Saint Peter Don’t You Call Me

Today I have a day off.

Now this isn’t actually all that weird when you think about it. It is the Christmas holidays after all, that pleasant winding down period between the festive period and the new year fun. Many of us have a day of around this time. One of many in fact. Except you see I work in broadcast media, and a media tightly concerned with a form of entertainment which far from taking its foot off the gas, actually ramps up the schedule around this time of year – leaving those of us who ride on its coat tails gasping for breath.

I’ve written in the distant past how in the broadcast media Christmas is actually prepared in advance, leading to the weeks up to the holiday period being a frantic rush of deadlines, panic and staffing crises, but in the wake of the utterly manic schedule I’ve had to live through since a week and a half ago I thought it was worth documenting just for the record why I have barely had time to turn around and fart lately.

Saturday December 18th

My first day back at work after a two week break for other priorities, a factor which probably contributes to the mountain of jobs I have to get through before Christmas Day itself. For now though there is the small matter in hand of live football to produce – or rather than lack of it as the prevailing weather conditions have conspired to wipe out most sporting action around the UK and in particular the live game at Liverpool which was set to be our live commentary this evening. The short notice cancellation of the game has rather gouged a huge hole in the programme schedule and so instead of helming a live football match and subsequent post-match phone in, I spend four hours guiding Danny Kelly and Stan Collymore talking about nothing taking place. Truth be told occasions like this are some of my favourite ones, and those of us locked in the studio whilst the world tore itself apart outside discovered from the sheer volume of audience response that we were providing the nation some much needed entertainment, particularly for those stuck inside cars in slow moving queues of traffic as they fought their way home from a wasted journey to a non-existent football game. Of particular note was the conversation we had with chief commentator Sam Matterface who had just checked in to the last hotel room available along the M6, his journey home having been delayed by a need to find out if the game he was due to commentate on tomorrow was due to take place. It wasn’t, and so he found himself miles from home with little to do except field phone calls from us.

Sunday December 19th

Another day of somehow conjuring radio out of nowhere, the bad weather once more wiping out the sporting fixture list and leaving us with a terrifying hole in the schedules. This one caused my bosses a particular headache. With the original plan having been to broadcast two back to back commentaries it had been decided that the Sunday afternoon show did not require an anchor. One commentary team would go on the air and hand over to the second once they were done. Somehow, in the middle of a giant freeze and with barely 24 hours notice, my bosses had rustled up three presenters and guests for a four hour studio discussion that would take the place of the live games. I sat in the warm, drank my tea and praised the writers of the playout system which coped flawlessly with me scheduling endless amounts of repeated commercial breaks, the schedule naturally having originally assumed that with two live football games on air, few advertising segments would actually be needed.

Monday December 20th

A day in the office, which I had planned to be devoted to the preparation of a three hour World Cup Christmas special, due for broadcast on Christmas evening and which at the present moment consists of a series of raw clips with no linking narrative. However due to an ill-advised pledge to assist with the recording of another show several weeks earlier I am instead plunged headlong into a recording session for Andy Goldstein’s Boxing Day show. The production is further thrown into chaos by the fact that John the producer is stranded somewhere in the Belfast area due to the adverse weather conditions, leaving those of us back in London to manage the vast parade of musicians, footballers and glamour models who are set to appear at the studio at various times during the afternoon. Due to a hitch in the transport arrangements and the plans of some of the telephone guests, much of the show ends up being recorded arse about face and in a completely different order to that which will eventually be broadcast. It is after 4pm by the time the final segment is in the can, leaving me with little time to do anything other than knock together a running order for the World Cup show to assist with the writing of the main script. I return home, staring down the barrel of some intensive work still to come.

Tuesday December 21st

Progress of a kind on the World Cup show as various presenters and pundits are deftly manoeuvred into a studio to record their considered thoughts on some of the more notable moments of the summer tournament. Needless to say all this does is add to the pile of raw material that still requires assembling into a three hour documentary, but I feel a little happier knowing some of the more important contributions are now in the can and ready for use.

Wednesday December 22nd

DAY OFF! Well of a sort anyway, as although I am absent from the office in order to fight my way to Luton airport to pick up members of the extended family, I am still required on the telephone a couple of times to clarify various points about the main narrative script, being voiced this morning by Adrian Durham. The good news is that this passes without a problem. We now have all we need to make the show, although the deadline is looming fast.

Thursday December 23rd

World Cup edit day. Theoretically I could have done all this at home but there were just one too many screaming newborn babies in the house to make this a practical proposition. Instead I trudge to the office through the ever grimier snow and ice, commandeer a desk and then hunched over my laptop with a set of headphones clasped to my ears. By 2pm the first hour is assembled, by 4pm the second and by about 6.30pm I can finally click “save” on the final segment of the final hour of the show. I have no idea if any of it runs to time and will fit in its designated slot in the schedule but I’m so exhausted I might just have reached the point where I don’t care. Besides, I now have another task to fulfil relating to the Christmas shows. I dump the master edits of every single Christmas Day show, each one from 8am to 9pm lovingly prepared by their respective production teams, onto a portable hard drive and head back for home ready for a long evening of CD burning.

Ah yes, did I mention I had volunteered to be responsible for ensuring that the broadcast masters were prepared and placed in the studio ready for the day itself. Each hour of the day fitted onto one CD, I had to make both a master and backup copy of each, there were 11 hours of programming to prepare, meaning my evening was spent shivering in the back room (which the heating never seems to reach) meticulously burning and labelling audio CDs. As the hours wore on the pile grew ever larger and it was with a sigh of deep satisfaction that I placed the final one in its sleeve and retired to bed at 2am.

Friday December 24th

At the start of the week it was my fervent hope that I would not wind up in the office on Christmas Eve. Sadly there was no getting away from it. I transported the precious cargo of discs to the office, bagged each one up in an envelope which contained detailed instructions on when it was to be broadcast and how long each part lasted. I tested a random sample of discs in the studio players to check they did actually play (have been caught out by that in the past) and asked random colleagues to select envelopes from the pile and to check that they did indeed contain the discs they claimed. At 11.34am (I checked my Sent folder) I emailed the staff on duty tomorrow the final details of how to play the shows out before slinking out of the door to begin what might laughably be called my Christmas holiday.

Saturday December 25th

Yeah, this was it basically. No need to go into work, although I nursed my mobile phone all day just in case an emergency arose. For the first time in my entire life I wasn’t spending Christmas with my parents, instead doing my best to relax around the house – in between pushing a fractious baby girl around a freezing cold and deserted neighbourhood in her pram. She still didn’t sleep either.

Sunday December 26th

Now the real work could begin. Cold weather be damned, there was still a big programme of football matches to cover and I was at the heart of it. I drove into town first thing and knocked together a running order for the show. For the first time in what seemed like weeks we actually had some live football to broadcast, and I am pleased to relate that the commentaries of Fulham v West Ham United and Newcastle United v Manchester City passed off without incident – as did the subsequent post-match phone in which I was also due to helm. Those of us foolish to agree to work Boxing Day tend to end up with twice the work owing to the large number of other people who have asked to have the day off. After seven hours of live radio I left the studio and made a large cup of tea,

Go home? Ah no, sadly I couldn’t. The lack of available staff alluded to above meant I had a couple of hours off before going back in to play out the Andy Goldstein show which I had been personally responsible for creating a few days earlier. I may be hating my entire life right now, but when the overtime payments come in at the end of the month it will surely all be worthwhile.

Monday December 27th

A day off. Genuinely this time, with no responsibilities other than entertaining my parents who had travelled down to see us. I don’t think I even looked at a radio all day, let alone considered doing anything involving one.

Tuesday December 28th

At around 11pm last night I had a major crisis of confidence. There was a live football show scheduled, covering all the bank holiday games that were due to take place, but I could not for the life of me remember if I was producing it or not. The days before Christmas when I had cheerily said “yeah, just put me down for whatever” all seemed like another lifetime away. What if I turned up and there was nothing to do? What if I didn’t show up and they couldn’t do the show without me? There was only one way to resolve the problem – post plaintive messages on Facebook:


So with a mixture of innuendo and stern admonishment from various colleagues I was up and about in the morning ready for another full on day of making football happen. The reason for my reluctance to accept that I had agreed to this daytime shift was due to the fact that I’d kept myself on the schedules for my usual Tuesday evening shift as well. The result was a wiped out bank holiday and my second double shift in three days.

Wednesday December 29th

A normal day. Which naturally for me means heading off to work, this time for an evening stint behind the desk. No easy night this either as there is more live football to cover, this time a rare midweek live game for us in the shape of Chelsea v Bolton. In the event, this ends up being a more exciting evening than we had ever anticipated, the dullness of Chelsea’s easy win over their visitors more than countered by Liverpool’s dramatic 1-0 reversal at the hands of Wolves. More pressure on Roy Hodgson results and the phone in after the game is dominated by unhappy Liverpool fans – all of which makes for some terrific entertainment.

With that, I finally reached the end of the line as far as the frantic work schedule was concerned. A total of 12 shifts across 10 working days with just a handful of breaks in between. I’d love to chat more, but of course there is still more to come this weekend with football matches on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I’ve got some urgent sleeping to do to prepare.

Dec 28

Excuse Me While I Adjust Myself

So how are we all? Enjoying the two days of holiday this week? Well some people have been hard at work it seems, most notably in the offices of the Official Charts Company who sent an unexpected missive to the recipients of the weekly charts data earlier this afternoon:

DECEMBER 28th: Last night, Millward Brown discovered a bug in the weighting software used to compile the charts, which has affected a number of positions in the charts published on Sunday December 26. As a result, the OCC has decided to re-run all of this week’s Official Charts. In relation to the Top 40 Singles and Albums Charts, the errors are minimal. But if you wish to correct any charts which you publish online, or simply use the attached charts for reference purposes, please feel free.
Millward Brown is conducting a thorough review of the processes and systems in light of this error. OCC and Millward Brown apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Now a word on what the “weighting system” mentioned above refers to. The average market share of each of the retailers reporting data into the chart system is sometimes used to correct anomalies in the data set to compilers Millward Brown. This arrangement dates from the mid-90s when on two occasions just a few weeks apart, one retailer submitted duplicate data following a system error, forcing an embarrassing re-publication of the affected chart countdown when the corruption was discovered earlier in the week. To forestall these kind of problems in future, the chart rules allow for retailers to occasionally fail to submit data for certain days, the weighting rules used to instead calculate what their sales figures for those periods were likely to have been and those numbers used in calculating the bestseller tables. This, incidentally, is one of the main reasons why music charts don’t reveal the actual sales tallies for all the singles in the countdown. Aside from the commercial sensitivity of such information, the numbers used to rank singles and albums often contain fractions of sales thanks to upweighted calculations. To declare that such and such a single sold 53,424.6 copies would be completely meaningless to the general public, hence you normally never get to see the numbers behind the chart positions.

This is also why when I quote sales figures on Yahoo! Music I tend to talk in vague terms unless the numbers have been formally announced by the Official Charts Company themselves. Apart from the fact that the data isn’t really mine to reveal, however I might have come by it, declaring unequivocally that a single has sold an exact number is fraught with danger. For all I know it may not have done in such a precise manner. Steering clear is the best way forward.

So what went wrong this week? Well in the charts published last weekend there should theoretically have not been any weighting applied. The cover sheet for the chart declared “All expected multiples data was received and available for use in compiling these charts”. I’m sure Music Week will have the full story next week, but it seems entirely possible that some upweighting was applied where it was not required and hence some figures were inflated – particularly when you dig down and note how the revised chart differs from the original version.

So what changes took place? Well as it turns out just one single in particular is affected. It is the X Factor charity single ‘Heroes’, originally Number 18 on the published chart, is relegated all the way down to Number 22. In consequence the singles from N-Dubz, JLS, McFly and Jessie J are all promoted one place. That would kind of imply that the error in the data came from a retailer such as a supermarket who would theoretically only be stocking the X Factor single as a one-off. If there was some confusion as to what sales data they had submitted then it is I guess entirely possible that some upweighting was applied when it was not required.

Further clues as to what actually happened can be gleaned from the changes to the album chart. The Ellie Goulding and Barbra Sreisand albums swap places at 23 and 24 respectively whilst Tinie Tempah and Rod Stewart also swap around at 26 and 27. Cee Lo Green moves from 36 to 34, relegating The Beatles’ ‘1967-1970’ down to 35. The Beatles’ ‘1962-1966’ drops 35-38, promoting Mumford and Sons and Biffy Clyro up a place as well. Finally Take That drop to 40 with ‘The Circus’, swapping places with Lady Gaga.

Spot a pattern here? Rod Stewart, The Beatles and Take That are the artists whose sales appear to have been overstated in the original chart rundown – all of them acts who one would expect to be selling in supermarkets rather than specialist music shops. The fact that lower down it is Daniel O’Donnell and the Chelsea Pensioners who slip places only reinforces that suggestion. The data from one (or maybe several) supermarket chains got accidentally scrambled and forced this extraordinary correction.

I’m sure this will all come out on Monday and to the relief of many no significant chart positions were affected, leaving this to be a minor wrinkle in the grand scheme of things. Imagine the horror if it turned out a single had been promoted to Number One in error. Expect questions to be asked though, the OCC pride themselves on supplying one of the most rigorously researched and scrupulously accurate sales reports of any industry in the world. The fact that they have been required to publish a correction, and in the middle of a holiday as well, will cause a fair number of red faces on the South Bank this week.

UPDATE 30/12/10: As the revised chart permeated into various sales databases over the past 48 hours, it has become possible to get more of a picture as to what changes were required. Many albums, several of them in the higher reaches of the chart, have had their sales totals for the week revised downwards, as much as 20% in some cases. Whilst Matt Cardle’s status as performer of the Number One single was never at risk, it too has also seen its reported sales slashed, to the extent that the single actually slipped from 2 to 3 in the year to date rankings and raising the possibility that he may not after all have the legs to overtake ‘Love The Way You Lie’ as the biggest seller of the year.

Now I stress that much of this is guesswork, but what seems likely to have happened is that data from at least one supermarket chain has indeed been revised in error. Thinking it through, the supermarkets would have reported strong sales for the whole of last week and then exactly zero on Saturday – it was Christmas Day and they were closed after all. Rather than this being flagged as an expected sales pattern, the computers compiling the chart interpreted this as “failure to report” and applied an appropriate level of upweighting to sales from the rest of the week – quite a large chunk given that many albums have had a fifth of their sales wiped out. This was such a serious error that you can understand totally why an extraordinary midweek correction was issued. The number of actual chart positions affected may have been few and far between, but such an error in sales totals simply could not be allowed to remain on the database.

Dec 14

Knitting Her Swag On

My last post, on the subject of the now legendary Cher Lloyd knitted doll and the effort that went into securing her, appears to be one of the most popular things I have written in ages. Either that, or the title of the post managed to chime neatly with the thinking of many viewers of the now concluded series of X Factor, given the number of Google hits this site has been receiving thanks to searches for “Cher Lloyd Eyebrows” although the question of whether they are real or painted on will sadly not be answered here. As to those of you hunting for “Cher Lloyd Bikini” and arriving here too, can I just say that you are all sick and wrong in the head, but give it time – who knows what she will do in a desperate attempt to stay famous come the summer.

The real question I’m sure everyone is asking, is “what did you do with the knitted doll next James?” Well the answer to that is simple. I took her to work the other day.

First she boarded a commuter train from darkest Kent and was relieved to find that her celebrity status entitled her to a seat:


Once she had arrived at the office, Cher paused briefly at reception to sign in:


Next it was on to the computer to check out the latest stories on the talkSPORT website and to update some of the breaking sports news of the day:


By the time she had finished this, it was nearly the top of the hour so there was a news bulletin to prepare. For this photo opportunity I had to enlist the help of my colleague Robyn, a request which may naturally have sounded a little weird, but as I pointed out to her – that ship sailed a long time ago.


Now every superstar has a bit of an ego, even those just on work experience at a radio station for the day. Cher couldn’t resist checking out what people were saying about her on Twitter:


Next it was time for some expert analysis. Keen to find out just what England’s prospects were in the next Ashes Test match, she chewed the fat for a while with England bowling legend Darren Gough:


Preparation done, Cher headed into the studio to make sure everything was sounding good and that her microphones were set to the correct level (very important this).


This task completed to everyone’s satisfaction, she was behind the microphone and ready to give her opinions on the days events, as some people on Twitter commented, possibly making more sense than Mike Parry ever does:


Finally with the show over, Cher headed back home. She had one more job to perform for me that day, and some would say it was the most important one of all. In the manner which led her to fourth place in the competition and a place in so many of our hearts, Cher Lloyd gently rapped my newborn baby daughter to sleep.


Thanks for all your help Cher, I had a great time. Worth every penny in the end.

Nov 28

Cher Lloyd’s Eyebrows Of Doom

I began the autumn having made my peace with the fact that the X Factor competition this year was destined to only be of tangential interest to me. A combination of an adjusted working schedule and the prospect of other disrupting events taking place in life meant that doing a week by week evisceration of the contestants and their performances just wasn’t an option this year.

Despite this it is still hard to resist the lure of a TV show that somehow manages to capture the imagination of all but the really snobbish types who insist that Strictly is the only autumnal TV show worthy of their attention. A series that began with a slight sense of anticlimax given the way things appeared to be engineered from the start in favour of a win for Simon and his pet boy band One Direction has developed into an intriguing battle of the midcarders, both Wagner and Katie competing with each other to see who can have the most spectacular onstage meltdown whilst remaining utterly oblivious to their own lack of ability.

My personal guilty pleasure this year however has to be Cher Lloyd, the alarmingly frail girl singer with a built in gimmick of being able to rap with far more class and conviction than most other wannabe gangsters on YouTube. It is a USP that the producers have been careful not to overexploit, leaving the moments when she does break into rhyme to be very special ones indeed. Her inbuilt insecurity and the fact that she is barely able to cope with the tension of elimination nights also means that you cannot help but warm to her every time she shouts with relief and joy when she is reprieved late on a Sunday evening.

Having said all of the above, I only truly appreciated how far I was prepared to go to express my admiration for Cher Lloyd last weekend, for during the broadcast of the X Factor results show last Sunday the following message appeared on my screen. A message of hope and expectation from a writer and columnist for whom I have the utmost respect and from whom it is hard to turn down such a plaintive and heartfelt request.


It is the kind of bold statement we all make in jest from time to time online isn’t it? Do x and I will seriously do y. Nobody ever actually follows through with that do they? Except Peter “Popjustice” Robinson was apparently serious:


There, he said it himself.

The cause of this frantic and excitable enthusiasm? An auction on Ebay by a lady who appeared to specialise in creating knitted dolls of certain people in the public eye. Amongst the many items she had listed for sale was this one:



Fair play, how could you not love something like that? So in for a penny (or so I thought), I stuck a handful of speculative bids in. Now we’ve all been there on Ebay, putting in token bids for stuff but then suckered in as the price climbs ever higher and higher. A couple of other people either wanted the doll or wanted a Popjustice cake to such an extent that they were prepared to dig far deeper than any sensible person would for a chance to emerge as the winner. When my final “really stupid, nobody would ever go that high for a stupid doll” bid of £60 was beaten by a couple of quid, I stayed my hand from entering a further one for £75, telling myself that as the price climbed ever higher the chances of my winning and having to pay a stupid amount of money for a doll of an X Factor contestant who at that moment was in danger of being eliminated were a little too high for comfort.

So I left it, as did the competing bidder. The week long auction ticked on with the price of the doll stubbornly stuck at £62 something that I’m sure the seller regarded with some puzzlement. None of her other dolls were attracting this kind of attention, let alone this kind of stupid money. I was safe from having to fork out, something which was just as well, given the slight domestic situation which was set to develop. You see I am not the only one in my house with the password to the Ebay account.


Yeah, so I would possibly be in a spot of trouble if I started paying that amount of money for knitted dolls of X Factor contestants. Good job I’m not winning the auction now and some other poor sod has that responsibility.


Yes, the bastard who won declined to go through with it, so now the doll was on my conscience again. To say this was a shocking dilemma to face on a Wednesday night was an understatement. I now had the opportunity to be the owner of something quite unique, the ultimate manifestation of a fans’ admiration for a talent show contestant, and something that might require the man behind the vast and sprawling Popjustice empire to BAKE ME A CAKE. However I was faced with forking out an amount of money that would almost inevitably result in the silent treatment at home and my judgement as a husband called into serious question.

What else was a man in my position to do? I waited 24 hours until just before the second chance offer expired and bought the doll. It arrived on Saturday morning by registered post.

I don’t wish to go into details just how much I ended up paying for the doll, suffice it to say that whilst not a fortune it was still rather more than anyone in full possession of their common sense would do. I’ve told myself that it has at least given me a story to tell, plus the prospect of some other way of making something interesting happen to me this week.

For now the doll is a totem of our, OK my, love and support for Cher Lloyd and her continuing presence in the competition. Negotiations between Popjustice and myself as to the form in which the promised cake will take are on-going, but in light of the domestic strife it has the potential to cause, let it be seen on record that the cake is only likely to be acceptable if served up on a Girls Aloud gold disc and carried into the room by Little Boots. In a bikini.

For now, Cher Lloyd. Let’s be honest. She is pretty awesome isn’t she?

Nov 20

Now Please Let It Be

funny graphs - Verdict: Let It Besee more Funny Graphs

A colleague phoned me up at home yesterday to pick my brains on an issue which had clearly been diverting him from his main job for most of the morning.

“What is the likelihood of a Beatles song being Number One on Sunday?” was the main thrust of his enquiry. He sounded a mixture of shocked and deflated when I told him firmly and decisively my answer.

“None whatsoever”.

The appearance, almost without warning, of the entire Beatles back catalogue on iTunes on Tuesday afternoon finally gave us relief from the great festering sore of the digital age. The absence of the music of the fab four from online sites – a product, we were told, of the long-standing animosity between Apple (the computer company) and Apple (the Beatles’ record label) – was somehow the detail that was lacking from the big online picture. How can we say the online stores are definitive, was the thinking, when the music of the most famous act in pop history is missing from the virtual shelves.

The day that the tracks finally appeared was therefore set to be something of a watershed day in musical history. Right from the start of the download era, feverish speculation began over just how the market would react to this cork coming free from the bottle. There was a very real possibility, so we were told, that we would see an entire Top 10 made up of Beatles songs in the week following the release. I’m not sure who first floated that bizarre idea, but over time it became one of those predictions that was taken as self-evident, bookmakers happy to lay odds on the chances of it taking place and just about every mention of the possibility of the great Beatles digitising coming complete with a bolted on reference to the Top 10 clean sweep.

BOOKIES last night predicted Beatles hits will occupy EVERY space in the Top 40 once they can be downloaded legally.

They reckon fans both new and old will be desperate to have the Fab Four’s songs on their iPods.

One bookie said: “Making these songs available could spark a whole new outbreak of Beatlemania.”

The classic Hey Jude was last night favourite to be the Beatles‘ first downloaded No1 at odds of 8/1.

One UK music boss said: “No one knows how powerful the sales of downloads may be. But half a billion pounds is not out of the question.

“If hundreds of thousands of people start downloading entire Beatles albums, the entire Top 40 could be Fab Four songs now that downloads are taken into account.”

source: Daily Mirror, February 6th 2007, p10

Such was the case back in February 2007 when speculation was first rife that iTunes was about to play host to the Beatles catalogue following the initial settlement of the long standing dispute between the two Apples. I was contacted by a writer for the BBC website who was putting together a piece on the implications and he was rather taken aback by my rejection of the hype and the prospects of this mythical Top 10 domination. I wrote a short piece at the time detailing just why I didn’t expect anything of the sort to happen, even back then. The BBC piece duly appeared with my denials sitting alongside bold statements from Gennaro Castaldo of HMV saying a Top 10 made up of Beatles tracks would be “almost guaranteed” as soon as the songs go on sale.

So let’s take a look at what actually has happened this week. The Beatles catalogue usurped just about every other contemporary release on the front page of the iTunes application from the moment the songs were uploaded. Sales reports began to trickle through about which albums in particular were selling the most, and eagle eyes began to scan the Top 200 best selling tracks to see which of their singles were capturing the imagination of a whole new generation. In fairness there were many, but anyone scanning the Top 10 will have searched in vain for a song by the fab four amongst more up to date acts such as Take That, JLS and Ellie Goulding. In fact the best performance by any Beatles track was that of ‘Hey Jude’ which na-na-na’ed its way up to a high point of about Number 28 before falling back. Even by the end of the week the daily midweek updates had failed to feature any Beatles songs inside the Top 40, ‘Hey Jude’ limping as high as Number 48 by Thursday lunchtime. After all the hype and after all the speculation one thing was abundantly clear – the Beatles re-invasion was an invented bubble of hype and simply wasn’t going to happen.

Not that I wasn’t hedging my bets, even back in 2007. Wild flight of someone’s fantasy that it was, these things have a habit of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and if enough people in the media were to stoke up the idea that the Beatles could manage a clean sweep, then maybe enough people would buy into the idea to participate in such a moment of history. I kept an open mind over the prospect of something close to that happening and secretly wondered if I would end up with a dramatic amount of egg on my face. These fears were groundless, as the original arguments held water. Just about anyone who wanted to own some 45 year old pop records which had never been unavailable from the moment they were released and which had been subject to endless amounts of re-promotion, re-issuing and re-mastering ever since almost certainly already did so. The only people left to buy the Beatles on mp3 or acc were those who hadn’t twigged they could import their CDs into iTunes (such people do exist apparently) or slightly newer arrivals at the musical party who might well be discovering these classic songs for the first time. The Beatles were the victim of some wild evangelising from writers who assumed that the consumer market would react to the appearance of these records in a new format in a way that nobody had ever done before, or simply assumed that the work of the Fab Four had such significance that normal rules of engagement simply did not apply.

So it looks like the popular press will have to come up with a different shorthand for a chart event that may or may not happen in the future. Close observation of the way music releases are reported in the media will reveal that the expression “could be heading for the top of the charts” is a nice hyperbolic similie for “is releasing a record next week”. Towards the end of each year, every novelty release from a bunch of singing gardeners to a children’s choir from Dorset is branded as “a challenge to X Factor for Christmas Number One this year” without any proof of popular demand to back that up.

Me? I’m more preoccupied with working out who now takes over as the biggest name not to be available online. Such digital refusniks are now few and far between. AC/DC’s catalogue remains locked in the vaults, as does that of Def Leppard for reasons that have never been properly explained.

Nov 10

Believe In 1998 – Part Four

Yes, this has indeed taken a while, so thanks for bearing with me. Unless you are reading this all in one go in six months time and pay no attention to the dates at the top of course. Welcome to our final march through the chart of October 25th 1998 and in this final rundown of songs we discover just what it was that made this particular singles chart so very unique.

10: Billie – Girlfriend

Long before Secret Diary, way ahead of the Dr Who years and before even she was “that bird who married Chris Evans”, Billie Piper was plain old “Billie”, the bright teenage pop sensation of 1998. Long before anyone knew what her voice sounded like, we all knew her face thanks to her selection earlier that year as the face of a high profile advertising campaign for Smash Hits magazine. It made for a nice neat hook to hang the marketing of her pop career on and so it was at the tender age of just 15 she was signed to a record deal and unleashed upon the charts. Debut single ‘Because We Want To’ was released in June and was an instant Number One, making Billie the second youngest female star ever to top the UK charts (a record held to this day by Helen Shapiro). Proof that turning a child of that age into a celebrity was fraught with danger came the day after her Number One was announced, pictures in the press of her enjoying a celebratory glass of what appeared to be champagne at a celebratory party causing a few furrowed brows at her label.

Moving past that minor wrinkle, ‘Girlfriend’ was her second single release and it too was an easy and instant Number One and heralded the release of her debut album ‘Honey To The B’. What caught the eye the most however was the list of credits on the album and in particular the fact that it was produced in its entirety and partially written by Jim Marr and Wendy Page. Nice years earlier pair were the leading lights behind indie-pop act Skin Games who were the darlings of the music press in 1989 and indeed made one of the best albums of the period, only for the British public to ignore it totally and for the band to fall apart shortly afterwards. Their association with the Billie album kicked off a flurry of hit songs penned by the pair at the turn of the century with Page herself performing vocal duties on the Tin Tin Out single ‘Eleven To Fly’ in 1999.

Billie’s career as a pop star has been all but eclipsed by her work as an actress as a rather less fresh faced adult. The work of Skin Games is equally as forgotten but perhaps more tragically so. It seems only appropriate to refresh memories of it here, especially as their album ‘The Blood Rush’ is more or less impossible to find.


9: 911 – More Than A Woman

Extraordinary to think that someone once thought of naming a boy band after the US emergency number, but there you go. 911 were a three piece boy band formed of Lee Brennan, Jimmy Constable and Spike Dawbarn whose work was slightly less throwaway than your average pop act thanks largely to Lee Brennan’s own talents as a contributing songwriter which meant that hits such as ‘Party People (Friday Night)’ and ‘The Journey’ had a charm all of their own and were worthwhile works in their own right. Sadly by the time of their third album ‘There It Is’, the group were reduced to little more than a covers band and their final few singles were nothing more than adequate retreads of older classics. Not that it did their chart positions any harm mind, this cover of the Bee Gees’ ‘More Than A Woman’ hit Number 2 upon release in October 1998, at the time their biggest hit to date. They would go on to top it early in the new year with a version of Dr Hook’s ‘A Little Bit More’ which went all the way to Number One, but for the boys themselves you suspect the fun had gone out of it. They famously split in early 2000, picking the Chris Moyles show on Radio One as their platform of choice to announce it truly was the end.

8: Kele Le Roc – Little Bit Of Lovin’

A brand new entry, but by no means the biggest. Not by a long way, which perhaps was ultimately to its detriment as history has all but overlook it since. One of those singles which sits forlorn as a lost classic, the dreamy ‘Little Bit Of Lovin’ was the first of just two major hit singles for East End girl Kele Le Roc, her exotic sounding performing name covering up the fact that in truth she was just plain old Kelly Biggs from East Ham. Showered with Mobo awards for her debut album ‘Everybody’s Somebody’, she more or less fell off the radar shortly afterwards – listen to this record and realise that this was actually a crying shame. Both this single and follow-up ‘My Love’ were utterly amazing.

7: Aerosmith – I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing

It is surely one of the most bizarre, messed up and truly perverse facts in music that in a career which stretches back to 1973 and with some all-time classic rock hits in their catalogue, Aerosmith’s biggest and most famous worldwide smash hit ever is a rather limp Diane Warren MOR ballad which they recorded for a film soundtrack. Even back in the day I watched the success of ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ with a mixture of horror and fascination. It was great that one of the biggest rock acts of all time were suddenly household names and a radio staple with this single, but their greatest record ever it most certainly was not. To this day I can’t quite fathom just what the hold this song has over people is. Diane Warren wrote far better songs and indeed far better love anthems for hit movies in her day and only the most charitable of critics would argue that the register and tone of the song suited Steve Tyler’s vocal range and abilities down to the ground. Yet for all its shortcomings the song from the “Armageddon” soundtrack stands proud as Aerosmith’s biggest ever UK hit single, a Number 4 hit which bucked the prevailing chart trends by entering low and climbing high and which sustained its sales long enough for a nine week run inside the Top 10 – again at a time when even the biggest chart hits struggle to do better than 3 or 4. Perhaps reduced now to a cliche thanks to the insistence of at least one X Factor contender each year insisting on attempting the song, for good or ill this is one of the defining moments of late 1998 in music.

6: Spacedust – Gym and Tonic

Ah, now this is my favourite kind of random dance single. One that has a genuine pull up a chair and listen story behind it. The diverting fusion of club beats and exercise workout instructions was created by a Frenchman – a Paris nightclub DJ called Christope LeFrient who styled himself “Bob Sinclar” in tribute to the famous James Bond spoof film “Le Magnifique”. The writer of the track was a certain Thomas Bangalter- he of the Stardust record we stumbled across earlier. The pair built the record out of samples from an old Jane Fonda workout album overlaid over an old disco track called ‘Bad Mouthin’ and generated enough interest from white label pressings to persuade labels to start sniffing around for the rights to release it properly. Whilst the track (originally titled ‘Gym Tonic’) came out in France under Sinclar’s name, clearance for UK release was rather trickier to obtain. Bangalter was reportedly rather unhappy with the track to begin with, feeling it detracted from his own productions under his own stream and to make matters worse Jane Fonda’s vocals were a further sticking point, with the UK rights holders of the original “Workout” series declining to co-operate and Fonda herself threatening legal action for breach of copyright.

Hence it came as little surprise to see a version begin to circulate with the Fonda vocals removed and a soundalike inserted in her place. What more more curious was that the credited artist on the track was now “Spacedust”, the identity of whom was a mystery at the time – and indeed right up until the official release of the single the assumption was that this was simply Sinclar and Bangalter operating under a new pseudonym to distance themselves further from the illicit original. Needless to say it wasn’t. This new version was the creation of Englishmen Paul Glancey and Duncan Glasson (erroneously credited on the initial pressings of the CD) who had put together their version with an eye to being formally asked to remix the original. Instead the rights to their version were snapped up by East West records who realised they could steam in with a hit whilst the original was tied up in a copyright dispute. Their reward was an instant Number One hit, albeit one which was swiftly bumped down to Number 6 a week later. The track is now a little too obscure to appear on streaming sites, which is odd because follow-up mid-table single ‘Let’s Get Down’ is itself online. Have the video anyway, just for the fun of it.


The reason for its swift 1-6 chart decline? Not actually because its sales crashed to that extent, but it came up against something unique in British chart history – a Top 5 made up entirely of brand new entries.

5: Alanis Morrissette – Thank U

Bringing up the rear so to speak was this, the first single from Alanis Morrissette’s album ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’ and her first new material since the ‘Jagged Little Pill’ album had shot her to stardom three years earlier. Trading on that reputation both the single and album were inevitably going to be her commercial highpoint, and so it proved. The wistful ‘Thank U’ – the lyrics bizarrely recounting a tale of Delhi belly she got on a promotional tour – shot straight to the Top 5 to become her biggest ever UK hit single. Mention has to be made of the video for the track which saw a naked Alanis (with the interesting bits blurred out) being embraced by strangers in a variety of urban settings. The subsequent French and Saunders parody was if anything just as memorable.

4: Culture Club – I Just Wanna Be Loved

Once upon a time, bands from the 1980s didn’t reunite every five minutes for a nostalgia tour or a TV special, so when one did so it was a very special thing indeed. The first Culture Club reunion after they broke up in 1986 actually came in 1989 when a series of songs were written and recorded for an album that was ultimately never to be released. Boy George was more interested in reinventing himself as a dance music star, this work manifesting itself in the Jesus Loves You project in 1991 and in particular the hit single ‘Bow Down Mister’ which somehow turned the Hari Krishna mantra into a mainstream club hit. Having spent most of the decade as a highly regarded club DJ, George was finally persuaded to put his differences with the rest of the group (Jon Moss in particular aside) and reunite with them for a reunion tour. To help an accompanying hits collection based around a performance for the VH1 show Storytellers on the way, the group returned to the studio for the first time in 12 years to produce a handful of new songs, with the lilting ‘Just Wanna Be Loved’, featuring the band well and truly back in the ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ groove selected for single release. The song wasn’t necessarily the greatest Culture Club single ever, but crucially it was a long way from the worst and it more than justified its existence by flying straight into the Top 5 upon release. Part of it may well have been for the nostalgic buzz of hearing Boy George singing lovers’ rock once again but the simple fact was that ‘Just Wanna Be Loved’ was their biggest hit single since ‘The War Song’ 14 years earlier. A group who had barely been on speaking terms for the best part of a decade sounded for all the world like they had never been away. It was hard to resist that kind of charm.

3: U2 – The Sweetest Thing

It was Greatest Hits time for U2 in 1998, the band suffering from the slight commercial wobble that had resulted from the rather experimental sound of 1997 album ‘Pop’. Whilst both the album and lead single ‘Discotheque’ had given them Number One hits, even the most die-hard of fans could not escape the feeling that for the first time ever the seemingly unassailable Irish superstars had made a record that was for the most part a bit rubbish. Hence a retread of the glory years of their first decade in music was the perfect way to remind the world just what made them so good in the first place. ‘The Best Of 1980-1990’ came in two versions – one with an extra disc featuring the b-sides of their singles during this period. ‘The Sweetest Thing’ was itself originally a b-side, having featured on the single release of ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ in 1987 and with a new version featuring a gospel choir finding its way onto ‘Rattle and Hum’ a year later. Bono always felt the song (an apology to his wife Ali for missing her birthday) deserved more attention that it first received, so the track was re-recorded to promote the new compilation and issued as a single. It could well have been Number One, but for the fact its release coincided with the flurry of big hit singles which made up this record-setting Top 5. Even as a Number 3 hit it stands tall as one of U2’s best singles of the decade. Heck, it even had Boyzone in the video.

2: George Michael – Outside

Back in the days when George Michael had a sense of humour about himself, even he had to admit there were probably more dignified ways to come out of the closet. His arrest for exposing himself to an undercover police officer in a Los Angeles public toilet made headlines across the world but also in turn served as the perfect publicity for his planned Greatest Hits collection at the end of 1998. Showing a self awareness that stood any criticism of his misdemeanour on its head, the album was cheerily titled “Ladies and Gentlemen – The Best of George Michael” and divided his solo work into a disc of ballads and a disc of floorfillers. It was from the latter that this newly recorded track came, a sizzling funk workout in which George put on his best “Mr Sex” voice and attempted to extol the virtues of al fresco loving. Coming after the soulful introspection of 1996 album ‘Older’ the track was a breath of fresh air and was hailed widely as George Michael back to his best. Massive chart success was almost guaranteed, and its failure to add to his tally of Number One singles was down to nothing more than there being an even bigger track ahead of it in the queue. History may well record that as the century turned George lost his artistic mojo and was reduced to turning out singles that were essentially carbon copies of this one, but if we are focusing on the now of this particular chart then it is enough to recall ‘Outside’ as being one of the freshest, funkiest pop records of the year and another offering from a man who voice could bewitch us all, regardless of who he waved his penis at.

1: Cher – Believe

It was a bold step turning Cher into a dance star. Her solo work for the previous decade and a half had been firmly rooted in rock music and it was as a leather-clad guitar heroine that most of the world knew her, notwithstanding the rock and roll nostalgia of ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’ with which she had topped the UK charts in 1991. Nonetheless it was believed that a change of direction would be the shot in the arm that the then 52 year old star needed, and at the behest of then Warner boss Rob Dickins, Cher was teamed up some up and coming British producers to make the pop record that would hopefully revive her career. The song ‘Believe’ had been floating around as a demo for some time, much to the frustration of its writers, amongst them a then unknown Brian Higgins. With the help of other Warner staffers, all but the chorus was ditched and the hit song took shape, hence the presence of no less than six different names on the song-writing credits.

Yet it wasn’t the writing of the track that made ‘Believe’ the near legendary track it became. It was all down to the production by Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling which transformed the song into something special. The magic ingredient was what Terry Wogan termed “Sparky’s Magic Piano”, the processing of Cher’s voice with what everyone assumed at the time was an old fashioned vocoder and which everyone “in the know” identified as a tribute to Roger Troutman, congratulating ourselves on our musical insight in the process. The vocal effects were greeted with horror by Cher’s label when they first heard the track, but they remained in place when the artist herself insisted they were her favourite bit. In fact it wasn’t until several years later, after the creators of the track formed the now famous Xenomania production team and label, that the producers revealed that the effect came from running the vocals through Autotune with all the settings turned up to 11. Without meaning to they had invented a production trick which ten years later would come to be the defining sound of transatlantic pop music.

‘Believe’ and its use of Autotune actually remained a one-off novelty until ten years later when Kanye West hit on the gimmick of using it to turn himself as a rapper who manifestly could not sing into an actual singer for the track ‘Love Lockdown’. Nonetheless the 1998 single has its place in history as the first ever Autotuned pop hit – and one that at the time was a global sensation. ‘Believe’ slice through chart records like a butchers knife. This was the first of what would become seven weeks at Number One, the single selling 107,000 copies in its first week and a phenomenal 205,000 a week later. In a year of no less than four million sellers, ‘Believe’ ended it as the biggest seller of them all. Its total sales to date of 1.7 million are enough to make it the 16th biggest seller of all time in this country and far and away the biggest ever by a female artist. It extended Cher’s span of Number One hits to 33 years, dating back to the 1965 success of ‘I Got You Babe’ and at the age of 52 she set a record as the oldest woman ever to have a Number One hit in the UK – one that persists to this day. As I commented at the time, it was enough to make Cliff Richard’s grumpy protestations of “ageism” seem a little like sour grapes. All you had to do was make a record that enough people wanted to hear, and nobody cared how old you were.

So there you are, the hits of October 25th 1998 and thank you for your patience as we finally got there. Relive them all with the Spotify and We7 playlists and we’ll do this all over again at Christmas. Naturally you’ll have to wait until then to find out which Christmas chart we revisit this year. I’m nothing if not a tease.

Nov 02

Believe in 1998 – Part Three

Looking back at the news headlines of the time, October 1998 was an enormously fun time. Not so much if you lived in the West Midlands however as what was billed as Britain’s wettest October since 1987 saw the rivers Severn and Wye burst their banks, cutting off Shrewsbury town centre with floodwaters. Welsh Secretary Ron Davies was forced to resign after what he called “a moment of madness” after being mugged in suspicious circumstances on Clapham Common. He was a former Welsh Secretary shortly afterwards. Still, even his departure was topped by that of Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon who was caught in a tabloid sting taking cocaine in a nightclub, forcing the programme to dismiss him and making him the first presenter of the show to be sacked in the middle of a contract in its history. Looking back at his media career since, you can’t help but think it was the best career move he ever made.

Top 20 time now on the chart of October 25th 1998.. and we start with the wiliest veteran of them all.

20: Cliff Richard – Can’t Keep This Feeling In

How is it every time I do one of these there is a Cliff record in the charts? This one is actually quite a significant moment in his career as I think it marks the point he started to lose touch with reality and see everything as a gigantic conspiracy against him having hits, a point it seemed he went out of his way to prove. Now remember, despite his status as the Peter Pan of pop and a decades-spanning career that is the envy of practically all around, Cliff Richard hit a point round about 1992-1993 when his records ceased to sell on their own merits to music fans in general and were simply items of passing interest to nobody except the hardcore bunch of grannies who had stuck with him from the start.

Cliff being Cliff, could not accept this naturally and was determined to prove he could still be as hip and as relevant as anyone else Daddy-O. Hence the promotion for the admittedly rather sultry and very well made R Kelly-esque ballad ‘Can’t Keep This Feeling In’ which was initially pressed up as a white label and credited to the mysterious “Blacknight” as a way of making people assume it was some unknown superstar soul singer. A positive reception ensued, until the point naturally when Cliff took off his disguise with a Machiavellian flourish and went “ha ha you fools it was me all along, not so useless now AM I?” at which point we all went “shit, we almost liked a Cliff record” and avoided it like the plague.

So in a way he had a point, there was a great deal of prejudice potentially holding him back. The point is however that no matter how much one pretends otherwise, music is as much about image and marketing and it made no difference how up to the minute he attempted to make the music sound, ‘Can’t Keep This Feeling In’ was still a Cliff Richard record and most people were past caring. It wasn’t an age thing either, the top end of this chart will prove that conclusively. All that Cliff achieved with the Blacknight stunt was to confirm suspicions that he was starting to lose his marbles PR wise. The single incidentally made Number 10 anyway upon release, his biggest hit single for five years and the first since he became Sir Cliff, making him I guess the first Knight Of The Realm ever to have a Top 10 hit single.

19: Meja – All ‘Bout The Money

Another final example of a 1998 pop gem, ‘All ‘Bout The Money’ was a rather glorious slice of Scandi-pop, imported directly from Sweden where Meja was already a huge star. Truth be told, despite the copious airplay it received across the board, the single was something of a sales disappointment, landing at Number 12 and then dipping out of the charts within five weeks, this placing here representing its second week on sale. The track received a respectable amount of attention in America, leading the singer to be selected to accompany Ricky Martin on his 2000 single ‘Private Emotion’. That duet aside, Meja remains a one hit wonder on these shores. But what a hit it was, seriously.

18: Rose Royce featuring Gwen Dickey – Car Wash

It is the disco classic that just would not die. A Number 9 hit in 1977 when it was the debut hit single for Rose Royce and then a Number 20 hit in the summer of 1988 during the first of what would turn out to be many disco revivals, the hit single was resurrected once again in October 1998 in what even at the time I termed a rather unnecessary remix. I forget why exactly lead singer Gwen Dickey received her own credit on this re-release – these days it indicates the star has laid down some fresh vocals and so receives a separate performer royalty but the reasons for the 1998 billing are lost in the mists of time. Exactly who made this new mix is lost in the mists of time, and like the Luniz single before it, all I can do is add the original version to the online playlists. Those who wish to subject themselves to the charge of the “Mustard Mix” which is the one released in 1998 are invited to click below. With caution.

17: Lynden David Hall – Sexy Cinderella

A poignant moment this, the biggest ever hit single for the rather tragic Lynden David Hall, a man who promised a great deal upon first emerging but who subsequently faded from view and died tragically young. ‘Sexy Cinderella’ had first been released in late 1997 but had just missed a place in the Top 40. After follow-up single ‘Do I Qualify’ had given him a Top 40 breakthrough, his first release was reactivated and charted here as a new entry at Number 17 to finally justify the positive press he had been receiving for the best part of the previous 12 months. His debut album ‘Medicine 4 My Pain’ followed a few weeks later, but aside from a brief return in 2000 this was his last brush with chart fame. He died of complications resulting from a stem cell transplant he received in treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphona at the tragically young age of 31 – three years after he had made a cameo appearance at the wedding scene in the film Love Actually, a moment which seems to have ended up as a greater legacy than even this overlooked hit single.

16: T-Spoon – Sex On The Beach

I remember the exact moment I first heard this record. It was Saturday September 13th 1998 and I was in the office at work preparing for the Saturday afternoon sports show I used to present. My colleague, the current Absolute Radio DJ Lucio, was at the time hosting the local chart rundown and before spinning ‘Sex On The Beach’ warned the audience he was about to play what he described as “the worst record I have ever heard”. Three minutes later I was dancing around the office with joy. It goes some way to explaining our subsequent career trajectories ever since.

T-Spoon were a Dutch act, fronted by rapper Shalamon ‘Shamrock’ Baskin and who had built up a reputation for fusing styles such as a jazz and reggae with wild abandon in a series of bubbly europop hits that edged ever closer towards proper happy hardcore with every subsequent release. ‘Sex On The Beach’ was possibly their most ludicrous single to date and would probably have never been considered for a UK release, but for the fact copies had been imported over to the Republic Of Ireland earlier in the summer, whereupon it had become a surprise novelty smash. With demand for the single subsequently spreading across the border (in much the same was DJ Otizi’s ‘Hey Baby’ would three years later) T-Spoon found themselves the creators of an equally unexpected British hit, one that hit Number 2 in early September as a hangover from the long hot summer that everyone had enjoyed.

Lucio may well have been correct, it is indeed the worst record ever made. But somehow it is also guaranteed to put a smile on even the craggiest of faces, and it wasn’t even the most ridiculous europop record of its era either.

15: Cardigans – My Favourite Game

It was Chris Evans who first championed the music of The Cardigans, way back in 1995 when he made their second British single ‘Sick And Tired’ his record of the week on the Radio One breakfast show. Although the track only reached Number 34, it was enough to get the Swedish group and their rather quirky laid back jazzy pop noticed by more than the odd reviewer in the heavyweight music press. 1996 single ‘Lovefool’ was the breakthrough, not first time around when it only made Number 21, but upon re-release the following year when it soared to Number 2 on the back of its use on the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s remake of Romeo and Juliet. For their 1998 album Gran Turismo, the group took the bold step of abandoning the bright and breezy pop of their earlier work in favour of a rather grittier and darker sound. It turned out to be a masterstroke. Lead single was the driving and intense ‘My Favourite Game’ which found a natural international audience in the way many of their earlier singles did not. It only crept to Number 14 upon release here (dipping to this placing a week later) but laid the ground for the new improved Cardigans to go on to bigger and better things, follow-up single ‘Erase/Rewind’ going Top 10 with ease in early 1999. This may not be their biggest hit ever, but it surely ranks as their most significant.

14: Dru Hill – How Deep Is Your Love

I’ve always said the worst crime any single can commit is to be unremarkable. So many R&B singles come and go, sticking to a safe formula and containing little in the way of hook or melody that they all tend to wash into each other after a while. Dru Hill’s breakthrough Top 10 single is the perfect example of a single that neatly sidesteps that track to perfection. Lifted from their second album ‘Enter The Dru’, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ is a masterfully produced soul record that knits together the voices of the four men (one of whom was future ‘Thong Song’ king Sisqo) in harmony that is so tight you would struggle to slide a piece of paper between them all. ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ made Number 9 a week before this chart, and although they would better that placing in early 1999 with ‘These Are The Times’, for me it ranks as their best ever single.

13: Fatboy Slim- Gangster Trippin’

Norman Cook had spent the early-mid 1990s making records under so many aliases many thought he was going for a Jonathan King level of chart multiplicity. With the creation of Fatboy Slim he finally seemed to have found a coat that fitted, although it took a few goes for the concept to really take off, the first Fatboy record ‘Going Out Of My Head’ bombing at Number 57 when released in May 1997. The real breakthrough came in June 1998 when ‘The Rockafeller Skank’ charged to Number 6 and finally giving Cook/Fatboy a viable hitmaking persona, one which he would retain for almost a decade. ‘Gangster Trippin’ was the follow-up to that smash hit and turned out to be even bigger, making Number 3 in mid October with consummate ease. Funny to note that these days the origin of every single sample that makes up a dance record is instantly documented and presented for all the world to see, back then we neither knew nor cared that ‘Gangster Trippin’ was stitched together from six different sources. We just loved the way it sounded.

12: B*witched – Rollercoaster

At the time it was hard not to love B*witched (despite it being incredibly difficult to type their name at speed). The four Irish girls in stonewashed denim exploded onto the pop charts like the proverbial breath of fresh air in the spring of 1998, their marketability only helped by the fact that two of the girls – Edele and Keavy – were the sisters of Boyzone’s Shane Lynch. Debut single ‘C’est La Vie’ was one of the most magical pop records of its era, a joyful fusion of Irish reels and pure pop sensibilities which flew to the top with consummate ease the moment it was released. In a year that represented a genuine high point for Irish pop music in the UK charts, they were a core part of that domination. What they did next then was always going to be a matter of great interest. Follow-up single ‘Rollercoaster’ wasn’t half the record its predecessor was (how could it be?) but somehow it was cheery and breezy enough to give the four girls a second straight Number One, despite a few mutterings in some quarters that it was channelling the theme to the Double Deckers during the chorus. Their third and fourth singles were in truth little better but their marketing was so perfectly pitched that in the early months of 1999 they had set a new chart benchmark – going straight to Number One with their first four singles. Not even the Spice Girls had managed this when they started out. The law of diminishing returns hit B*witched hard when it came to a second album and poor sales of its singles saw them ultimately dropped by the label which had initially championed them so hard and the story was over.

11: Beautiful South – Perfect 10

Possibly the final exclamation point on the Beautiful South’s imperial phase, ‘Perfect 10’ was released in September 1998 as the lead single from their sixth album ‘Quench’ and in an instant became one of their biggest ever hits. The typically acerbic track about body image shot straight to Number 2, their biggest hit single since the chart-topping ‘A Little Time’ eight years earlier and only the third Top 3 hit of their career. As big a high point as it was, it was a height the group would never hit again. Follow-up single ‘Dumb’ made a mere Number 16 at Christmas and from that moment on they struggled to even make the Top 20 never mind adding to a total of Top 10 hit singles. Beautiful South singles continued to be minor chart hits right up until the release of their (to date) final album ‘Super Bi’ in 2006 but somehow none came close to hitting the heights of this single, one which was near inescapable on the radio at the time. Or maybe that was just because I kept having to play it on the radio, who can say?

Spotify and We7 playlists are up to date with these songs so far (a 100% strike rate for this segment pleasingly) – one more push and a never to be repeated Top 10 event is upon us.

Nov 01

Believe in 1998 – Part Two

You know what, in October 1998 I was happy. Insanely happy. I was producer and co-host of an enormously successful local radio breakfast show in Bradford, working alongside a former Radio One presenter who essentially dumped everything he ever learned onto me and brought me on in leaps and bounds as a broadcaster. I was driving around on my newly purchased scooter with a new 15 month contract from the radio station in my back pocket, leading a fun lifestyle in my attic room in Shipley and making the most of every minute. True, there were times on freezing cold mornings when I wondered just why I was out of bed and showering at 4.30am and wondered whether certain bits of life weren’t just passing me by a little, but if I was to look back at my entire on air radio career and point to the time when everything was going just as planned, this would be it. Hence these songs are those that soundtracked that era of my life. I was being paid to get up in the morning and play them. No wonder many are so incredibly memorable.

30: Brandy featuring Mase – Top Of The World

Two songs back to back to kick off this second segment, singles from two women who had teamed up a few months earlier to record one of the R&B smashes of the year. ‘The Boy Is Mine’ was the record in question, a call-and-response duet between Brandy and Monica which was not only arrestingly and inspiringly good but also served as a long overdue female equivalent to the famous Jackson/MCartney ‘The Girl Is Mine’ duet. The single was an easy Number 2 in May 1998 and needless to say had a beneficial effect on the careers of both women.

For Brandy Norwood it was the shot in the arm her international career needed. The mid- to late-90s were an odd time as far as transatlantic music tastes were concerned, with a great many American acts finding that European and British audiences in particular were almost completely unreceptive to their charms. There is an endless list of big American R&B hits from this period which simply flopped or were at best only minor hits in the UK, many famous songs only becoming hits here when covered by British pop acts at the start of the 21st century. Hence it wasn’t all that much of a shock to note that before 1998 Brandy’s singles here had failed to set the charts alight. Despite two bites at the cherry ‘I Wanna Be Down’ had been little more than a minor Top 40 hit and its follow-up ‘Sittin’ Up In My Room’ limped to Number 30, both in 1996 and a full two years after they had first turned her into a star back home. Post ‘The Boy Is Mine’ however and it was a very different story. ‘Top Of The World’ became the second single to be lifted from her second album ‘Never Say Never’ and immediately duplicated the success of its predecessor, charging to Number 2 in early October. The single was admittedly what we would now call a one week wonder, but then again most were back in those days – this Number 30 placing was its fourth week on the chart. She would never quite scale these kind of chart heights again, although her last Top 10 hit was as recently as 2004.

29: Monica – The First Night

As for her co-duettee, it was a similar story. Monica Arnold’s first releases during 1995 and 1996 were only minor hits, her best performance coming in the summer of 1996 when ‘Before You Walk Out Of My Life’ reached Number 22. Her first post ‘The Boy Is Mine’ single was this track, released just a week after the Brandy single and which made a comfortable Number 6 to give her the biggest solo hit of her UK career. Although ‘The Boy Is Mine’ appeared on the albums of both women, it was I guess technically Monica’s record to begin with as she named her album after the song, ‘The First Night’ thus qualifying as its second single release. As a side note, in a strange reversal of what would become the trend, Monica’s next single in the States was her version of a song that had already been a hit for a British R&B act – ‘Angel Of Mine’ most familiar to UK audiences thanks to Eternal’s 1997 hit version. Undaunted Monica’s British label attempted to promote her version in this country as well, but despite it being a Hot 100 chart-topper nobody here was interested and when it made Number 55 in September 1999 it became Monica’s final appearance to date on the UK charts.

28: Luniz – I Got 5 On It

No, your eyes do not deceive you. The celebrated hip-hop single had already been a sizeable UK hit first time around, hitting Number 3 in February 1996 as a follow-on from its American success. This chart comeback two and a half years later was thanks to a rather clever jungle remix created by Mickey Finn and Aphrodite and which had circulated as a bootleg white label for most of the summer before being finally licensed for release. Oddly for a track that had such a buzz about it underground, commercially it was something of a failure, entering here at Number 28 and vanishing from the chart within a fortnight. For completeness sake I’ve included the most famous hit version on the playlists and in the link above but the “Urban Takeover” remix charting here can be viewed below.


27: Natalie Imbruglia – Smoke

You see this is the problem when you have hits that are so big and with such massive appeal that they wind up being your defining moment – pretty much everything else you do gets rather overlooked and suffers in comparison. The doe-eyed Natalie Imbruglia would theoretically have been just another Australian soap actress aiming for a brief musical career, but for the fact she was served up an absolute belter of a song for her debut single. Having bounded around Scandinavia in a variety of different versions for a couple of years, the new English language rewrite of ‘Torn’ was handed to the lady formerly known as “Beth from Neighbours” and instantly became one of the bigger smashes of late 1997, impossible to escape on the radio and a single which neatly established her as a bone-fide chart star. That Number 2 single was swiftly followed by another second place track ‘Big Mistake’ in early 1998 and then an album which was mined for hits for the rest of the year. ‘Smoke’ was her fourth single release, a track that returned her to the Top 10 after ‘Wishing I Was There’ had fallen short, but in the grand scheme of things one of her most forgettable releases – such is the fate of fourth singles from the album I guess. She has made sporadic chart comebacks since, often with singles that are equally as well crafted (2005 release ‘Shiver’ a particular highlight) but she has to date never quite recaptured quite the impact she made in the 1990s with two early singles. Neither of which was this one.

26: Robbie Williams – Millennium

Funny this. The singles which made everyone start worshipping every drop of sweat on Robbie Williams’ body were the ones I didn’t particularly care for. I’m sure I am not alone in that view. After a slow star to the promotion of his debut solo album ‘Life Thru A Lens’, during which time he released a succession of singles which were well received but little regarded, Robbie exploded into superstardom with ‘Angels’, a Number 4 hit at the tail of 1997 and which now is so over-exposed it is now little more than a funeral soundtracking cliche. Inevitably after this breakthrough (and its Top 3 follow-up ‘Let Me Entertain You’) the first brand new Robbie material was going to be nothing less than an event. The first single plucked from sophomore album ‘I’ve Been Expecting You’ was the sweeping and majestic ‘Millennium’, based entirely around the string melody from John Barry’s theme to “You Only Live Twice” and which cleverly marked Robbie Williams (and his increasingly high profile songwriting collaborator Guy Chambers) as an artist who wasn’t afraid to indulge his experimental side every once in a while. ‘Millennium’ wasn’t the most immediate pop record he would ever make but it swept to Number One with consummate ease the moment it was released in September 1998. I’ll say this for nothing: I don’t care for it too much. He had made far better records before this one and would go on to write more than his fair share of classics. Nonetheless Millennium stands tall as his first ever solo chart-topper, only his second Number One as lead singer (‘Everything Changes’ was the only Take That Number One on which he took centre stage) and at the very least unique in being the only Number One ballad to use “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” as a bridging lyric.

25: Boyzone – No Matter What

In compiling these flashbacks it is fun to look up the Wikipedia page for each of the songs, just to see how much attention the internet braintrust has deemed them worthy. Extraordinarily ‘No Matter What’ merits just four lines of explanation, half of which are taken up with noting a dance remix that was “very popular”. Astonishing really, ‘No Matter What’ actually ranks as one of the most significant singles of its era, for a whole variety of reasons:

  • Lifted from the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical “Whistle Down The Wind”, the song sailed past ‘Don’t Cry For Argentina’ in fairly short order to become the biggest selling single ever from a stage musical.
  • With a total sale to date of 1,095,000 copies (enough to make it round around the 76th biggest seller of all time, give or take a few places), the track is the biggest selling single ever by an Irish act, the only one by artists from the Emerald Isle to clock up a seven figure sale.
  • Although the track is essentially a two handed duet with Ronan Keating, ‘No Matter What’ is held up as the late Stephen Gately’s finest moment on record and the vocal for which it seems he is best remembered.
  • With lyrics and production by Jim Steinman, it became the legendary producers fourth and, to date, final Number One production in this country. Oddly it also meant the man credited with inventing the Wagnerian Rock genre had produced just as many singles for boy band pop acts (Boyzone and Take That) as he had rock singers like Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler with which he is most frequently associated.

Maybe to modern ears ‘No Matter What’ sounds a bit weak-kneed, not quite the epic it sounded back in the day, but make no mistake it was one of the biggest hits of the year, the fourth biggest seller of 1998 and high point of Boyzone’s career that they would never even come close to matching. That’s actually worth more than a very brief paragraph surely.

24: Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)

Perhaps not the easiest of records to listen to, Lauryn Hill’s one and only post-Fugees album is rightly regarded as a soul classic and one which contains more than its fair share of memorable hits. ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ was the first to be lifted, a single which maybe would not have attracted quite as much attention had she been a complete unknown, but which name value aside comfortably made Number 3 in early October 1998 albeit as part of a rather brief chart run. Two more Top 20 hits followed from ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’, after which we all sat around for the next 12 years waiting for her to record another one.

23: REM – Daysleeper

By the middle of the last decade REM had slipped into a nice comfortable pattern, common to the most well established of rock acts at the time. Appear every couple of years, release a new album, have one contractually obligated Top 10 hit single, go on tour, lather, rinse and repeat. After a while they all merged into one. ‘Daysleeper’ was their Top 10 single of 1998, the first to be lifted in support of the album ‘Up’ which was the first they had recorded following Bill Berry’s departure from the group. The epitome of their mid-90s “experimental” period, the album isn’t their most immediate of records, but the fact that it contained this single and also the surprise 1999 hit ‘At My Most Beautiful’ suggests it wasn’t a total bust.

22: 4 The Cause – Stand By Me

A few weeks back I suggested that the LZ7 single ‘This Little Light’ was the first ever example of God-rap in the charts, but in actual fact it was probably this single. 4 The Cause were a family group from Chicago, originally going by the name of Young Warriors For Christ which I guess was marginally less marketable than the one they eventually settled upon. This happy-clappy remake of the Ben E King soul classic made a smash and grab raid on the Top 20, making a surprisingly healthy Number 20 in early October on the back of being wildly successful on the continent. They have no page on English Wikipedia, but a full write-up in the German version. I think that tells you all that you need to know.

21: Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You (iTunes)

The 11th biggest seller of the year, despite ending up stuck at Number 2 for most of the summer. The club track ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ was the creation of soon to be Daft Punk member Thomas Bangalter, based around a sample from an old Chaka Khan single ‘Fate’. With a new vocal supplied by Benjamin Diamond, its creators called themselves Stardust and had a worldwide smash hit with the single, the only one they ever released as a collective. Near ubiquitous in its day, it is curiously hard to locate these days, unavailable for linking on We7 and I suspect will be unplayable for most in the Spotify playlist. Have the video on me instead, and see you soon for Part 3.