Mar 02

Return To 1994 – Part One

I feel another chart retrospective coming on, courtesy of the altogether too large collection of Top 40 recordings that live under the bed. This one however should be an interesting challenge.

I’ve always worked on the philosophy that your emotional reaction to a piece of music is coloured by how it soundtracked the events of your life when you first heard it; the people you knew, the places you were living and the parties you attended. This tape in particular is one I don’t think I’ve dared listen to since the day it was first recorded, simply because it coincided with the worst, lowest period in my adult life to date. This isn’t going to be a whiny self-absorbed public soul-cleansing session, but I know my take on much of the music that follows is going to be coloured by memories of the only time in my life when I came close to playing in the fast lane of the M6.

Not sleeping properly can do that to you.

Time to wind the clock back and play the tape for the Top 40 show of Sunday February 27th 1994 as we and 9 million other listeners (it is claimed) join the stars to hear the brand new chart. Cue Bruno who starts the show by playing a track from the Number One album which just happens to be ‘Music Box’ by Mariah Carey. This is not a good sign.

40: Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince – Can’t Wait To Be With You

Now I know this is supposed to be a rundown of the music rather than a review of the chart show itself, but it is fun to note that the show gets off to an inauspicious start as the CD for the very first song skips and skates for 30 seconds before the producer gives up, plays a trail and gets Bruno to try again with a replacement disc.

Once the song gets underway we can appreciate it properly, one of the last original chart hits for Jeff Tones and a pre-megastardom Will Smith. The final Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince album ‘Code Red’ coincided with Smith’s run as the title character in the TV sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air and this added mainstream exposure almost certainly contributed to the duo’s most consistent run of hits of their recording career. ‘Can’t Wait To Be With You’ was a typically funky pop-rap track that was based heavily on the Luther Vandross track ‘Never Too Much’ and should in theory have been a huge chart smash. Number 29 was all it managed sadly. Solo chart stardom (and a battle with some aliens) for Will Smith was just three years away.

39: Haddaway – I Miss You

Who would have thought it. The “thy third single from the album shalt be a ballad” commandment of pop music applied to Eurodisco stars as well. Famous for the global smash ‘What Is Love’ in the summer of 1993, Haddaway went on to mine a string of singles from his self-titled debut album in the wake of that huge first hit. After ‘Life’ came the slushy ballad ‘I Miss You’ which was actually released as his Christmas single but which did not properly catch fire until January when it became a new year sleeper hit. Peaking at Number 9 in late January 1994, this chart position marked the final embers of its slow Top 40 burnout.

38: Deep Forest – Sweet Lullaby

Deep Forest were two Frenchmen, Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez whose idea of mixing world music with club beats propelled them to a modest level of European success in 1994 when the mixing of ethnic music with drum machines became a minor chart craze. Their most famous UK hit was this track, ‘Sweet Lullaby’ which was based on a lullaby from the Solomon Islands called ‘Rorogwela’ and set to a laid back house rhythm. Somehow it didn’t matter that the lyrics of the song were impenetrable to European ears, the track conjured up such a magical atmosphere that it found a ready and willing audience, one which in this country at least propelled it all the way to Number 10. Three more Top 40 entries would follow for the duo who continued to record and release albums until well into the 21st century.

37: Crowded House – Locked Out

It took a while for Britain to catch on to just how good Crowded House were. Although early classic ‘Don’t Dream Its Over’ was a minor Top 30 hit in the summer of 1987 it took a Paul Young cover of the song in 1991 to bring the work of the Finn brothers to mainstream attention. When ‘Weather With You’ went Top 10 in the spring of 1992 they were finally off and running and a string of pleasing but admittedly never more than mid-table hits followed. ‘Locked Out’ was one such track, a Number 12 hit from early February and a single lifted from 1993 album ‘Together Alone’ which saw the group return to their native New Zealand for the first time in years. ‘Locked Out’ found its way onto the soundtrack of the film ‘Reality Bites’ later in 1994 to further cement its place in cultural history, even if it remains one of their lesser remembered offerings.

36: Motley Crue – Hooligans Holiday

The one and only chart single to be lifted from Motley Crue’s self-titled 1994 album, a rare oddity in the long and storied history of the rock group as it marked their only release with a totally different lead singer. Following a series of rows during attempts to record a follow-up to 1989 album ‘Dr Feelgood’ lead singer Vince Neil quit the group, leaving them scrambling to recruit a replacement almost in secret lest their label declare them in breach of contract. The Scream singer John Corabi was selected to perform vocal duties and so minor Top 40 entry ‘Hooligan’s Holiday’ marks his one and only chart appearance with the band. The album itself was something of a sales disaster, the absence of their charismatic lead singer adding to the fact that in the five years since the last Crue album tastes in rock music had shifted dramatically and their own brand of hardcore hair metal was seen as embarrassingly passé. By the time of 1997s ‘Generation Swine’ Vince Neil was back in the fold and setting them back on the right path although his attempts to sing songs that had been written for Corabi’s dramatically different register were at times interesting to say the least.

35: Sting – Nothing ‘Bout Me

Make no bones about it, 1993 album ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ marked Sting’s creative and commercial peak as a solo artist, the LP showered with critical acclaim and awards, selling millions worldwide, forming the soundtrack to an entire year for many student friends of mine and spawning no less than six hit singles along the way. The chirpy ‘Nothing ‘Bout Me’ which closed the album was the final one of these, creeping to Number 32 in early 1994 as one final throw of the dice to squeeze some more sales out of the platter. Really it was little more than a footnote in the promotional campaign for one of the most famous releases of its era, an album which contained soon to be classics such as ‘Seven Days’, ‘Fields Of Gold’ (as made even more famous by Eva Cassidy) and most notably ‘Shape Of My Heart’ which almost a decade later famously became the basis of near simultaneous hit singles for Craig David and the Sugababes.

As is the case for these chart shows from the early 90s, the three hour Top 40 show at this point has to be randomly interrupted by a 90 second news summary. Lead story: A fire at a “London sex cinema” with police hunting a man seen fleeing the scene with a petrol can. Who knew that used tissues burned so easily?

34: Funkdoobiest – Bow Wow Wow

These guys were (and indeed still are) Puerto Rican rappers from Los Angeles whose career took off in the early 1990s thanks to the enthusiastic patronage of Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs who produced their first two albums. This was the second of their two minor chart entries in 1993 and 1994 and the follow up to the Little Richard sampling ‘Wopbabalubop’ which had crept into the lower end of the Top 40 the previous year. Although no further hits followed this one, the group released two more albums during the 1990s and reformed only last year for a comeback release ‘The Golden B-Boys’. (Track is absent from We7 but is on Spotify if you are really that desperate to remind yourself what it sounded like).

33: Proclaimers – Let’s Get Married

Maybe not the most famous Proclaimers single ever, but one which returned the Reid brothers to the charts for the first time since 1990. The lead single from their third album ‘Hit The Highway’, itself their first studio recording since 1988 it peaked at Number 21 in mid February and served as a pleasant reminder that no matter how unfashionable the pair may have always been, they retained the knack of turning out a catchy tune that would be all over the radio in an instant and a chart hit against what appeared to be insurmountable odds. I’m glad the 21st century saw them properly elevated to national treasures, aren’t you?

32: Michael Bolton – Soul Of My Soul

Looking back at it now, the ongoing success of Michael Bolton in the early 90s seems ever so slightly bizarre. In the midst of an era when dance music was supposed to be ruling all, the man with the big nose and thinning mullet bellowed and howled his way through an ever blander series of soul and rock singles to a constant level of acclaim from what we can only presume were hormonally challenged housewives. Bolton was in short what would these days be Radio 2 core act although in a era when the aforementioned network still played Frank Sinatra records in daytime it was left to Radio One to give him the mainstream validation he apparently deserved. ‘Soul Of My Soul’ was typical of him, a by the numbers MOR ballad lifted from his 1993 album ‘The One Thing’ although its chart success was limited and this Number 32 placing this week represented its ultimate peak. His hits continued until the end of the decade, 1997 single ‘The Best Of Love’ representing his final UK chart entry.

31: Jam and Spoon – Right In The Night (Fall In Love With Music)

Finally to end this segment we hit the good stuff, for in February 1994 I simply could not get enough of this record and was convinced it was destined to be massive. Arguably the high point of the work the German trance duo put out in the 1990s, ‘Right In The Night’ was a club epic, based heavily on the melody from classical piece ‘Leyenda’ and featuring a warm and enveloping vocal from Croatian singer Plavka. Even without the aid of recreational substances this single manages to envelop your senses within seconds and in the right frame of mind can transport you mentally to a different plane altogether. Maybe this is the emotional reaction I was talking about at the start, the one record that during a particular personal low was an escape route to a slightly better frame of mind.

One of those records for which the seven-inch edit seemed inadequate, ‘Right In The Night’ is seen to this day as one of the most seminal trance records ever made and an acknowledged classic of its genre. Yet for all of that it didn’t really catch fire in the UK at first, stalling here at Number 31 upon its first UK release. It wasn’t until the steamy hot summer of 1995 that the single took off and was reactivated to ultimately peak at Number 10. I may have some bad, bad memories of February 1994 but ‘Right In The Night’ somehow cuts through all of that to be one of my favourite ones.

So far so good then, and if you want to listen to any of the tracks featured above either click on the links or check out the We7 and Spotify playlists which I’m pleased to note have a near 100% strike rate of these singles so far although I’ve a feeling we may come unstuck with FKW coming next…

Feb 18

Absolutely Incredible Football

DISCLAIMER: Just for a change I’m writing about a matter with which I’m directly involved in a professional capacity. For the avoidance of doubt, the following represents my own views and not those of talkSPORT or its management.

Today's lineup! on TwitpicThere have probably been more unexpected radio announcements, but it is hard to recall exactly when. The news last week that national rock music station Absolute Radio had grabbed one of the rights packages for live Premier League football over the next few seasons raised more than a few eyebrows across both the broadcast and sporting industries. What on earth could a music station want with some very expensive (reports put the deal in the region of £2.3 million) sporting rights?

I have to confess to a knowing smile of recognition as in the competitive world of American radio, such deals are far from uncommon. Radio commentary rights to NFL matches are one of the most sought after commodities in American broadcasting, with just one radio station in each market granted the exclusive rights to broadcast their team’s matches live. With the large audiences that are all but guaranteed, it is not uncommon for FM music stations to outbid their AM sports counterparts and break their own formats for several hours on a Sunday afternoon just for a chance at grabbing the lucrative advertising revenue. It leads to the strange situation of leading market sports stations having to talk all week about the fortunes of their local side before flipping the switch to syndicated programming whilst the team is actually in action, knowing that there is just no way the fans of the side are going to stick with them whilst they talk about other things.

In the UK music radio has had a fractious relationship with sport over the years. Many years ago the coverage of the local football team was an integral, nay essential, part of the format of any local station – a testament to its value in showing the regulators that coverage of local action was an important element of their schedules. Just over a decade ago things began to change and radio stations began to evaluate the cost of resourcing such extensive sporting coverage against the audience benefits it actually brought in. Back in the mid-90s as I have mentioned before, I worked at the heart of the Bradford City and Huddersfield Town coverage on The Pulse, coverage which to our general surprise was unceremoniously axed at the end of the 96/97 season. The radio station, it was announced, was pulling out of its sports coverage entirely.

As the man who was instead going to anchor the new music and updates programme that would replace the live sport on Saturday afternoons I clearly had to be brought onside, so my bosses sat me down one morning and explained the situation. They noted that it all came down to numbers. During the week and over the rest of the weekend we were competing head to head with the biggest radio station in the area – at the time Radio 2 – and matching them step for step. By switching format at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon we were essentially conceding the battle and instead taking on the likes of BBC Leeds and BBC Five Live, both of which managed tiny audiences in comparison. Common sense dictated that we were better served playing to our strengths, playing music on a Saturday afternoon but also paying due attention to the fortunes of our local sporting sides. It was the challenge of making this work which was to be handed to me.

Not for the first time I was handed the bare bones of a format and made it my own, creating what I hoped was the lively and informative Super Scoreboard show, one which incidentally was such a priority that I even got to use the station’s forthcoming new jingle package a full month before it was rolled out to the rest of the schedule. As disappointed as we all were that the lavish full match commentary service (complete by then with an FM/AM split so we covered both teams in full) was no more, the switch to music paid off. RAJAR figures a year later showed that between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday afternoon my show was the most listened to in the area. I hold this up as the only time in my career I’ve singlehandedly propelled a timeslot to Number One, so please forgive the indulgence if I bang on about it.

Super Scoreboard came to an end in September 1999, in the same week that my own tenure on the station did. Having bought the group of stations to which The Pulse belonged, talkSPORT colossus Kelvin McKenzie strode into the office that summer to review his new purchases. When he discovered that a radio station serving an area with a Premier League team did not offer live commentary on their matches he was outraged and ordered the managers to get it sorted pronto. The old arguments about the fact we were a music station and that was what our audience wanted went out the window,  “you can never have too much sport” was his bellowed mantra – one which was promptly printed out and pinned on the newsroom wall in tribute to the diktats of the new regime.

What then of Absolute Radio and their unexpected foray into the world of live Saturday afternoon Premier League rights? The logic here seems to be that they are chasing audience and exposure any way they can get it. Their enforced rebranding from Virgin to Absolute has in spite of the best efforts of all involved been a disaster. Whilst some slippage of audience was perhaps inevitable in the wake of the rebrand, with some less attentive listeners no longer sure what it is they are listening to, the audience that vanished almost overnight when they changed their name simply hasn’t come back. Losing close on a million listeners over the last year and a half, Absolute Radio has slipped to a distant third in the ranks of national commercial radio stations.

Hence the Premier League acquisition, which they clearly hope will work for them in the same way the NFL works for the FM music stations in American markets. At the slight risk of inconveniencing their usual music-loving audience, they now have a reason for new listeners to find them on the dial and to tune over, not only in the short term they hope, but by being exposed to promotions and trails for the rest of their output potentially remaining with the station when the match is over. It is a gamble, true enough, but with a million and a half listeners and falling, it is one the radio station needs to take.

Absolute’s awarding of the “Saturday afternoon second pick” package, the one that talkSPORT have owned for the last three seasons, led to much speculation in the media about just where the remaining rights would end up, particularly when the Premier League announced that they had gone to a second round of tenders. The Daily Mail’s often mischievous sports diarist Charlie Sale suggested that both talkSPORT and Five Live “need the Premier League rights to make their stations work”, a statement which is actually patent nonsense, at least from the commercial station’s point of view. talkSPORT’s Saturday afternoon coverage worked perfectly well for eight years without Premier League rights and indeed as welcome as the chance to commentate on the matches themselves was, with consequent benefits to the audience figures, many listeners actually bemoaned the loss of the more comprehensive updates coverage with which we had previously filled the timeslot. You can’t please all of the people all of the time after all.

Happily it is now possible to report the result of the final round of bidding and from the point of view of myself and my colleagues the fantastic news that talkSPORT from next season will have not one but two of the Premier League commentary packages, with the right to broadcast live games on both Saturday evenings and Sunday lunchtimes. The Sunday package also includes the occasional fixtures played on Wednesday evening, meaning that some weeks during the season there will be no less than three live Premier League matches on the station. For those tracking the history of sports broadcasting this is perhaps an even more significant moment than the revelation three and a half years ago that the BBCs monopoly on football coverage had been broken after seventy years. Whereas before the two radio stations were competing head to head for an audience for the 3pm games, commercial radio now has a free run at an exclusive audience. Want to hear national radio commentary on the matches played at those times? talkSPORT is the only place to be.

For the audience, the variety on offer can only be a good thing. I’ve never really been a fan of the BBC style of commentary which with every passing year sounds more tired, more stuck in the past, overwhelmed with a desperate need for neutrality and reflecting little of the passion that the true fan feels for the game. Their archaic staffing structure which means two commentators share the match calling duties and do one quarter of the game each doesn’t help either, although I’m told that these days this is less a matter of practicality and tradition as a way of sating the inflated egos of the commentators who would otherwise sulk if they didn’t personally participate in the broadcast of some of the bigger games. Over the past three years I’ve tried to play my part in steering the talkSPORT coverage in a livelier, pacier and altogether more entertaining direction – most of the time on a tiny fraction of the resources available to our rivals but I’m glad to say surrounded by a team of people who are just as talented as their Broadcasting House counterparts. Whether we succeeded or not is down to the views of the individual listener, but it is a matter of record that the Saturday afternoon show has steadily climbed in the ratings to last quarter record its best figures in the history of the station. I’m very pleased to have played a part in that.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Next season the path is clear for Absolute Radio to come to the table with their own ideas for Saturday afternoon, ones which I sincerely hope continue our good work in persuading listeners away from the BBC and forcing them to shake up their ideas a little. The dedicated radio listener and football fan now has good reason to tune in to three different radio stations – two of them commercial. It is a huge boost for the sector and one which will be welcomed throughout the industry. From news that came as a total shock to many arrives the dawn of an exciting new era in sports broadcasting in this country. I can’t wait for next summer, can you?

Feb 13

JACK your memory

I love my internet radio. The fact that this grey box on the bedside table can give me access to the output of just about any radio station I choose across the world is nothing short of a joy, and never more so when amongst the inevitable dross you come across one that you want to sample for an extended period.

My current fascination is the JACK-FM format that you can find in many American and Canadian markets (and indeed one or two in this country to a certain extent), with my current favourite randomly being KJAQ in Seattle. The format originated with and indeed has to be licenced from a Canadian company. The idea is to stand current radio thinking on its head, moving away from a tightly formatted and limited number of songs in heavy rotation and instead embracing the notion of “playing what we want”, with the station output being selected from a playlist of as many as 1000 different songs spanning a variety of eras. The JACK-FM format calls for the stations to be more or less presenter-free (at least at first), the only between song continuity being provided by a sardonic voiceover which acts as the voice of the titular “Jack”.

The format has had mixed results across America, becoming a raging success in some markets and all but collapsing the audience of other stations that have flipped to Jack and then switched back in a panic not long afterwards. For the music lover a Jack station is a voyage of discovery, the chance to hear songs that you never get to hear on the radio normally and with 1000 songs in the database, very little chance of regular repetition.

A recent session sat in bed listening to KJAQ threw up two songs in particular which were in their own different way quite unexpected treats – and yes, you would never expect to hear either of them played on any UK radio station.

First out of the hat was The Promise by When In Rome which has for years been one of my favourite long-lost hits.

The group hailed from Manchester, formed out of the ashes of Beau Leisure, an early 80s outfit that numbered future Swing Out Sister singer Corinne Drewery amongst their number. Now reduced to a duo of Clive Farrington and Andrew Mann, When In Rome were signed by 10 Records in the UK and released ‘The Promise’ as their first single. As the video above shows, the single was a lavish romantic epic, the impassioned echoing chorus sitting in stark contrast to the low key whispered verses which precede it. The guy in the song is in all honesty a bit of a loser, reaching out hopelessly to the object of his dreams in the vain hope that she will notice that he can be the romantic and personal salvation she is searching for and almost obsessively stating the song’s titular promise “I’ll make you fall for me”. It is either a song of innocent devotion or the ode of a stalker, depending on your point of view.

Released in 1988, the record bombed totally in Britain, despite the odd bit of Radio One airplay. Unexpectedly the 12-inch version became a club hit in America, prompting Virgin records to release the song properly in the States. Whilst remaining complete unknowns in their home country, When In Rome found themselves the proud owners of a Billboard Top 20 hit, ‘The Promise’ peaking at Number 11 in the summer of 1988.

When In Rome weren’t the only flop UK act of the time who had instead found a welcome berth on US pop radio with London trio Breathe also briefly finding themselves at the vanguard of an unexpected British invasion of the US charts. Whilst ‘Hands To Heaven’ subsequently rode the coattails of its Stateside smash hit status to grab a spot in the Top 10 back home, When In Rome weren’t so lucky. Despite an opportunistic January 1989 re-release of ‘The Promise’, the single could only limp to Number 58 and with subsequent American hits from their self-titled album having failed to emerge the label simply gave them up as a bad job.

‘The Promise’ re-emerged just a few years ago when it found its way onto the soundtrack of “Napoleon Dynamite” in 2004 but despite this it remains a song that is pretty much unknown to British ears. Having heard it when it was first released, I’d always loved it and in the pre-digital age always longed to own a copy myself – an ambition I realised when I picked up a German “best of the 80s” import in Bradford HMV in 1998. Film soundtracks notwithstanding, it is a song you never ever hear anywhere which is why having it pop up on the KJAQ playlist was such an unexpected delight.

The other unexpected treat that popped up on the bedside radio? Well this one isn’t quite so obscure, but it is another track that inspires emotions in me that I had to take time out try to explain. If This Is It by Huey Lewis and The News.

Hearing this song always inspires in me warm feelings of nostalgia, but for the life of me I can never quite pin down why. It surely can’t be nostalgia for remembering when the song was a hit – because it never really was. ‘If This Is It’ barely scraped the UK Top 40 in its day, limping to Number 39 in October 1984 at a time when the British charts had too many other obsessions to bother with such cheesy feelgood American pop. I was barely even aware of the charts back then and would surely not have heard the song on the radio at the time (if it was ever played at all). That can’t be what it reminds me of.

Maybe it is the retrospective vibe of the track itself. Huey Lewis and The News made their career on an appealing fusion of modern day rock and 1950s do-wop, creating records that sounded like they were the product of a The Fly-esque time machine accident, planting feet firmly in both the modern day and the roots of Rock and Roll. ‘If This Is It’ is one of the finest examples of this style, a track which is pop, soul and gold all wrapped up in one delicious package. Yes, you can get nostalgic about the record but the fact it that it apes a style of music that never really existed in the first place. The sound was uniquely Huey Lewis and to imagine this was what all music sounded like in the late 50s is to misread it completely.

My only conclusion is that ‘If This Is It’ makes you nostalgic for a lifestyle you never actually experienced yourself. It is due in part to Huey Lewis’ inexorable link with the modern day Hill Valley scenes from the first “Back To The Future” film, of which ‘The Power Of Love’ was an integral part of the score. It is almost as if his voice makes you yearn for the squeaky clean all-American lifestyle of the 80s, this inevitably artificial image of a teenage lifestyle that is all McDonalds and milkshakes, of skateboarding to the local mall, of watching the world go by in the sunshine and most importantly of romancing the picture pretty high school sweetheart you always dreamed you would have. ‘If This Is It’ is the soundtrack to the Coke advert of your dreams, a horrible superficial and sticky sweet world that many would find nauseating but which for the brief three and a half minutes while the record plays you would give anything to have been a part of and for it to have been a real and tangible part of your memories. I think it is for that reason alone that I can listen to it over and over.

That, my friends is what great radio can do. Over the course of two songs make you long for hits that never were and for a lifestyle that you never actually had, and that is why I’ll keep the internet radio linked to KJAQ for just a little while longer. Meanwhile back in the UK, I think Toby Anstis is about to play some Leona Lewis on Heart. Can’t wait.

Feb 02

Cassettes and Prince’s Trust

Allow me to begin with an illustration.

TapeLibrary

Aside from the copious boxes of archived Top 40 shows that live under the bed, this is what is left of my cassette collection. I know a great many people who don’t actually have a cassette player any more and so have lost forever a great deal of the music they bought growing up. Mine is still going strong and was purchased only a few years ago, for the simple reason that I still have so many of them. Every so often when the urge takes me I will venture into town with a list in hand and upscale many of the old albums to CD, thus thinning their ranks a little more. Some however remain stubbornly unavailable even in the new medium – the mystery of why every Thomas Dolby album save his best (‘Astronauts And Heretics’) can be picked up on CD ranking alongside the sad knowledge that a digitally rendered version of the obscure import ‘Kylie’s 50+1 megamix’ is likely to cost far more than I would ever be willing to pay for it. Also I doubt that I’d ever really want to swap my cassette of the ‘Gladiators – Series One’ soundtrack from 1992 for its CD equivalent. Why do I even still have that?

Buried right at the very back of the rack are a few ancient gems, tapes that I was handed as presents over the years and which rarely get an airing. For some odd reason I was motivated to dig one out the other day and was reminded what a fun snapshot in time it was. Presenting then the tape gifted to me by my Godparents as a 14th birthday present and if I remember correctly, one of the first things ever to be played on the shiny new tabletop record player that was my main wish for the anniversary.

This is the story of the Prince’s Trust Concert – 1987.

image

The first such all-star charity ensemble had taken place a year earlier, a collection of the great and the good of the music business all gathered together by Midge Ure to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the charity. It was apparently such a success that they decided to do it all over again the following year, booking Wembley Arena for two nights over June 5th and 6th 1987.

The gimmick was that the concert wasn’t so much a stop-start parade of acts taking their turns on the stage. Instead the assembled galaxy of stars would perform together as a House Band, with various guest singers wheeled on to perform some of their greatest hits. So it was that the paying punters (plus those who bought the subsequent video and compilation album) were invited along to an extended jam session – the band featuring the likes of Mark King on bass, both Ringo Starr and Phil Collins on drums, Elton John on piano, and both George Harrison and Jeff Lynne on guitar alongside one man whose enthusiasm for it all meant that he inserted his unique style into just about every single song performed – as we shall see.

It should be noted that as a live album it is one of the most badly produced and abysmally mixed recordings you are ever likely to hear. There is no continuity to any of the performances, running orders having been chopped and changed to cram everything onto one album and naturally to highlight the best bits of the two different performances. The result can sometimes be a jarring mess, with stars appearing and vanishing at will and separate songs by the same singer scattered around the disc almost at random. Plus this was either the quietest concert audience ever, or someone forgot to mic up the arena as the cheering fans in attendance can be barely heard – something that kind of takes away from the atmosphere and on a couple of occasions ruins the songs where the performers invite them to participate.

Why is this recording remembered with such fondness then? Well as a snapshot of a moment in musical history and as a gathering of stars whom these days we would regard as rather superannuated and over the hill but who at the time were some of the biggest names around it is actually pretty hard to top.

TrustCover

With little fanfare the tape opens with ‘Running In The Family’ from what appears to be a near complete Level 42 lineup. An all too rare nod to current sounds, the song had only been a Top 10 hit a few months before, but the house band are clearly still finding their feet and struggle to stay in tune at times, as if in sympathy with King himself who bellows his way through one of his most famous hits as if he is hearing it for the first time. That is at least until the magic moment halfway through when King beckons a spotlight over and announces “ladies and gentlemen – Mr Eric Clapton”. For the first time that evening we hear the man in whose presence virtually none of the other participants can compete as he improvises a guitar solo on the spot and drags the pop song as close as he can to blues-rock territory. As the tape progresses this quickly becomes tedious, but the initial joy of hearing him appear from the shadows is one that is worth revisiting.

Just for a change there is no edit between the first two songs as Mark King acknowledges the cheers and introduces “our musical director Mr Midge Ure”. For the only time of the evening the man who has put the whole thing together takes to the floor and performs the song that he had taken to Number One two years earlier. With the band taking a back seat and allowing the song’s synthesised backing to do all the work, this is actually one of the best and most heartfelt performances of the night.

Time now for Clapton to have a turn behind the mic and he goes for the safe option with a perfunctory run through ‘Behind The Mask’, his unexpected cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song with which he’d had a huge hit earlier that year. It is a song he rarely if ever performs these days and I don’t recall it being part of the sets in the marathon runs he did at the Royal Albert Hall in the early 90s. Whether it is the appalling mixing or just the terrible acoustics in the arena, but here he just doesn’t seem to be interested.

Here the jarring continuity comes to the fore as Clapton now vanishes, only to reappear a few songs later and is instead replaced by a pair of singers who will reappear for a longer set later on the tape. For the moment though we welcome both Paul Young and Phil Collins who croon their way through ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ (with Young playing Bill Medley naturally) with no band in sight, just Elton (presumably) playing the melody on piano.

No sooner are the pair on however then they are off, replaced instead by an unannounced Ben E King who treats the crowd to ‘Stand By Me’, hot off his recording having been a surprise Number One earlier in the year thanks to a Levis TV commercial. He is replaced in short order by the token pop stars of the night, Curiosity Killed The Cat who sing misfit to what I suspect is a slightly nonplussed adult audience who in truth have all come to see the superstars and not a bunch of fly by night heartthrobs.

Superstar presence is restored with another Clapton performance edited in, this time the guitar legend treats us to ‘Wonderful Tonight’, a song he has performed a thousand times but still manages to sing with love and feeling and soul. In later years Clapton would allow his imagination to take flight even on this most simple of ballads and in live shows would swamp the song with a five minute solo halfway through. At this point however he was still staying faithful to the source material – or maybe he had promised not to confuse the house band by taking off on flights of fancy and leaving them stranded.

More contemporary pop gets a look in with Alison Moyet popping up for a token appearance and a run through ‘Invisible’. A hugely underrated live performer, even in her pop heyday, this somehow manages to be the best rendition of the song I’ve ever heard. I never really took to her music when a teenager but this one track alone is enough to make me realise what I missed.

Side One of the tape ends with “Spandau Ballet” although you suspect this is no more than Tony Hadley popping up to be one of the gang. His song of choice is the much maligned ‘Through The Barricades’ which was sneered at for being overblown and pompous when first released but which in the hands of the superstar house band (Clapton as well) suddenly becomes the soaring rock epic you knew it always had designs of being.

Side 2 opens with Labi Siffre, who in 1987 had come out of self imposed performing retirement and had landed himself a welcome smash hit with the anti-Apartheid song ‘(Something Inside) So Strong’. This would have worked wonderfully in the arena at the time, but sadly the poor production on the tape means that the crowd adding their own backing vocals and performing the African chants from the record are all but lost.

Now for another magical moment as Bryan Adams, at the time the owner of nothing more than a handful of mid-table hits in this country and a long way from the chart-dominating superstar he would become, steps forward to sing what was at the time his one and only Top 20 hit – ‘Run To You’. To make this just a little bit special, step forward Eric Clapton once again as he joyfully takes over the lead guitar part of the song and even restrains himself from improvising as he follows the original arrangement exactly and contributes the howling melody line for the second verse onwards. It is on tracks such as this that the true appeal of the evening becomes clear. Two stars who ordinary would never be on stage together, performing each others songs but in their own trademark style. A Bryan Adams/Eric Clapton duet is surely pretty much unique outside of this concert and that makes it a collectible in its own right for sure.

More star power takes to the floor next in the shape of Elton John. As the press clipping at the top indicates, the concert came at one of the lowest points of his professional and personal life after The Sun newspaper elected to try to destroy him with a series of lurid exposes accusing him of all manner of illegal and semi-illegal practices. History records that everything turned out well, with a million pound libel settlement and a front page apology plus his own personal rehabilitation as a national treasure, but at the time Elton could have been forgiven for thinking that everything he had worked for was in danger of turning to dust. Hence he takes to the stage with a wave of public sympathy for what was a rare public appearance at the time. He sings ‘Saturday’s Alright For Fighting’ as part of what was clearly a longer set, but once again the bizarre editing takes over and he is faded out at the end as soon as he arrived. He’ll return though in just a couple of songs time.

First we head back to Collins and Young (remember them?) who in a session that is either a continuation from the one on Side One or taken from a different night, treat us to a fun Four Tops medley. After a quick run through ‘It’s The Same Old Song’ they launch into ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ during which Phil decides it is time for the crowd to do some work. “It’s ordience participation toime” he breezes, “I sing, you sing. Get it?” The Wembley Arena crowd roar their approval, or at least we presume they did as once more we can barely hear them. Thus the call and response exchange that follows somehow never translates properly on tape and listening back at home you find yourself wanting them to move on and start singing themselves again. This they do, finishing with a rousing bout of ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’. Paul Young is a better singer than Phil Collins by the way, but I guess you knew that.

Up next are Go West who were a curious addition to the bill given that their big hits had been a full two years earlier and they were about to enter a barren patch that meant it was a new decade before they started having hits again. Having been invited along though the pair make a good fist of ‘Don’t Look Down’ but I care about this even less than the crowd does.

Elton is back now (see how confusing it gets) and runs tenderly through ‘Your Song’, the most notable part of the performance being at the end when he acknowledges the applause with a heartfelt  “Thank you for all your support”. The subtext is clear. The papers all seem to hate him, but he has just learned he still has the public on his side and that is all that matters.

There is one more surprise superstar collaboration to come as Dave Edmunds teams up with Bryan Adams for a romp through ‘The Wanderer’, but the casual listener will by now have noted the next items on the tracklisting and will be fast forwarding to what may well be the really good parts.

No less a figure than George Harrison takes to the stage. He was at this time preparing for the release of the ‘Cloud 9’ album which would go down in history as his big commercial comeback and take him back to the top of the American charts, but for this concert he digs out two particular Beatles classics. Yes, he had probably performed ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ many times over the years, but rarely had he done so not only with Ringo Starr thumping away just as he did on the record, but standing next to the very man whose weeping guitar famously featured on the original. Eric Clapton had originally resisted the invitation to perform on the original track but his uncredited solo is one of the more famous bits of Beatles trivia. For the Prince’s Trust concert it approaches it with gusto and the coda of the song features both Harrison and Clapton duelling back and forth in a manner which is nothing short of captivating.

Clapton and Harrison remain together on stage for the next song ‘Here Comes The Sun’. Clapton didn’t play on the original version, but the song originates from a songwriting session the pair had together at Clapton’s house in the summer of 1969, having grown out of the melody that would eventually also become the Cream song ‘Badge’. If you appreciate the significance of it, then it is a great moment. 18 years later the two men are stood side by side, rows over stolen wives behind them, and singing the song each had inspired the other to write.

For the finale the mini Beatles reunion continues as Ringo Starr himself steps out from behgind the drums and leads the assembled cast in a rendition of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. Once again the terrible mixing of the live recording comes to the fore as the assembled chorus can barely be heard and so what was meant to be a triumphant climax sounds like a drunk man wailing as loud as he can to hear the echoes coming back off the surrounding buildings.

The tape and the night finishes with a quick breeze through the National Anthem, in honour of the Prince and Princess Of Wales in attendance on at least one of the nights. The performers here are Buddy Curtis and the Grasshoppers, a name which even to this day prompts a “who?” from people looking back at old programmes and ticket stubs. The acapella group had a brief run of festival fame in the mid-80s, their presence on this particular bill explained by the presence in their ranks of a certain Jason Starkey whose Dad may or may not have been involved in proceedings along the way.

So that was the 1987 Prince’s Trust Concert, as lovingly captured on this dusty old cassette which sits in my collection nestled alongside Tape 2 of ‘Who’s Last’ (Grandma, Christmas 1985) and Billy Idol’s ‘Idol Songs – 11 Of The Best’ (birthday money, 1988). Historians of many of the acts involved do point to the event as the moment that inspired two more famous superstar projects. In Harrison and Lynne you had the germination of the idea that became the Travelling Wilbury’s, whilst the idea of assembling a team of mates for a superstar charity concert prompted Ringo Starr to set up the travelling All-Starr Band which went on to sell out arenas around the world.

The audio recording of the event appears long deleted and copies of the LP can only be found second hand. The film of the concert went on to win a Grammy award the following year and was re-released on DVD as recently as 2001. Amazon still appears to have copies for sale as well. As a result there are a handful of YouTube videos kicking around, so here are a couple for your entertainment.

First the performance that opens the tape, ‘Running In The Family’:

Then the climactic moment as the true superstar power takes the stage:

Feb 01

…and at the halfway stage…

Well it isn’t every day you wake up to the news that the Official UK Charts Company has done something bold and unusual.

For a great many years, the Holy Grail for dedicated music fans who were not directly connected with the music industry was to catch a glimpse of the midweek figures. As data collection moved into the digital age, the music industry was no longer restricted to waiting until the end of the week to find out exactly how well their product was performing at retail and charts compilers began to produce informal data tables to provide a midweek update – a tantalising glimpse of what may or may not be the state of play come the weekend.

I remember my first indication that there was a deeper story behind the weekend chart countdown came in January 1989 when Alan Jones’ Record Mirror chart column recounted the progress of ‘Somethings Gotten Hold Of My Heart’ by Marc Almond and Gene Pitney towards its eventual berth at Number One. He revealed that at the start of the week in question, Kylie and Jason led on Monday and Tuesday, Mike and the Mechanics took the lead on Wednesday but following their performance on Wogan that evening, the Almond/Pitney duet stormed ahead and was comfortably the Number One single by the weekend. If you had the information, day by day the it was possible to see a story develop.

By the mid-90s the midweek information could always be obtained if you had the right contacts, and it wasn’t uncommon for fifth-generation faxed copies of the secret earlier sales flashes to be circulating by Thursday of each week. I remember being sent a copy of the sheet in May 1995, one which revealed that ‘Back For Good’ by Take That had sold more copies in three days than most singles did in a week and that by the weekend it would be Number One by a country mile.

It was always important to remember that these listings were as raw and unofficial as it was possible to be. Virtually no filtering of the data had taken place with missing reports taken into account and before security checks had been applied to the figures. One or two of the more famous chart deletions of the mid-90s were exposed when records which had shown up on the midweek sheets were nowhere to be seen on the published chart when it arrived on Sunday. So you had to be careful when relying on the data. More than once I’d been caught out badly by preparing a lovingly constructed column on the significance of a particular act reaching Number One, only to have to discard it completely when the proper chart came through and it turned out the midweek numbers had been completely wrong.

Hence officially the midweeks didn’t actually exist. You couldn’t request a copy or a licence to publish them, and anyone trying to be “helpful” and release them online was slapped down with extremely stern legal letters complaining of copyright breaches.

Recently this attitude began to soften. In an information led age, it was almost perverse to assume that even trivial information about which records were outselling each other would not circulate in any form. Hence even Music Week began making the data readily available to its subscribers, with midweek information published on their website each lunchtime from Tuesday to Friday. Hence whenever you see press stories recounting that “early reports suggest” such and such a record is in the lead (stories which appear everywhere from tabloid pop pages to the BBC News website) they are sourcing the data from these Music Week tables. Nonetheless the information was still raw and unsorted, the “Top 40” would habitually only contain 38 singles, and tracks would often appear twice as sales of different versions had not been properly merged in the database. These were details that would be corrected in the “official” chart at the weekend, so attention to detail didn’t matter at the start of the week.

The other spanner in the works came with the rise to prominence of the online stores, outlets which had immediate access to their sales data and which in time honoured tradition made the rundown of their biggest selling singles of the moment a focal point of their front pages. Hence it is possible to get an up to the minute picture of what is selling by simply firing up iTunes on your computer. Not that this too isn’t without its pitfalls, as not only is the chart just the data from one store alone but its methodology remains a closely guarded secret (it is a 24 or 48 hour rolling average according to most popular theories) and it is subject to quirks of the iTunes database. Hence if a song is temporarily deleted and then re-added to correct a listing problem, it immediately vanishes from the online chart and has to spend the next 24 hours or so climbing back to its true position in the rankings.

Then there was the relaunch of the commercial radio chart show, the Big Top 40 which made a virtue of basing its Top 10 rundown on the “live” iTunes rankings. With new singles arriving online on Sundays, it meant that very often a popular new releases would be at or near the top by the end of the day, allowing the upstart chart show to showcase next week’s Number One immediately and leaving the Radio One show looking dated. Chart purists may loathe its illogicality and disregard for the facts, but in programming and promotion terms it remains a masterstroke.

The culmination of this all is the announcement today that Radio One is to broadcast an official midweek update for the very first time. It is a move that even the OCC notes is the “biggest change to the chart in almost 60 years”. For the first time ever, the midweek data becomes official and public and in the process now allows everyone to follow the internal narrative of the weekly race to become Number One.

Note that this doesn’t mean we end up with two charts a week, as the Sunday countdown will still be based on Sunday-Saturday sales, it is just that on Wednesday afternoon we will officially know what the Sunday-Tuesday sales data looks like. Lest anyone things this somehow ruins the surprise, it is worth noting that in a close race a great deal can change in just a few days. The Music Week piece linked to above notes the race a couple of weeks back between Sidney Samson and Iyaz when both singles spent the week in a neck and neck race with the lead changing hands several times. The Christmas Number One race also had hidden twists that only the full day by day figures exposed, with the Joe McElderry single closing the gap between it and the RATM track almost hour by hour, taking the lead by Saturday morning only to be denied at the last by some blatant cheating from the campaigners and a surge of sales proxied in from overseas purchasers which technically should not have been allowed.

Personally I welcome anything that drags the industry’s most useful promotional tool back to the prominence it needs to have and to see if being shown some attention and care after being abused and taken for granted by the industry over the last decade and a half is very good news indeed. I’ve long maintained that the singles chart’s main problem is a lack of visibility with no record stores to pin the listing up in, no Top Of The Pops to use it as a narrative and a flagship radio show presented by a man whose lack of familiarity with his source material is sometimes uncomfortable to hear.

Midweek data can sometimes tell you things that make you happy after all. At the moment iTunes is telling me that Jedward are trailing Owl City and if they keep that up won’t be Number One at the weekend. That might be the best news some people hear all week.

Jan 28

King Of Books

I don’t think I’m alone in observing this. In pursuit of quick payoffs and the easy profits so beloved of middle management, the publishing industry has in recent years contrived to devalue one of its most worthy genres. Once upon a time the celebrity autobiography was a lovingly crafted work, written (or ghosted) by someone at the end of a long and distinguished career and crammed not only with insights into the most famous moments of their life’s work, but also offering an explanation of how they grew to be the person they are and what hurdles they overcome along the way. Now all too often the shelves of what is left of the bookselling market are crammed with lightweight tomes from barely-famous starlets barely out of their teens. These aren’t books that teach us about the individual but merely attempts to frantically cash in on a name before the inevitably transient nature of their celebrity passes them by.

This does mean that the few celebrity autobiographies that are truly worthwhile are the ones most deserving of appreciation. Particularly as in this particular case, the best life story you will read all year is one you might not even realise exists thanks in part to a de-facto media blackout. Imagine if you had a story to tell, a lifetime of experience and influence to impart and yet due to circumstances beyond your control your reputation had taken the worst kind of public battering. What happens if you are about to tell the full, unexpurgated version of your life story with no holding back or skimping on details and had absolutely nothing to lose by doing so?

Jonathan King - 65 My Life So Far

Welcome then to “65 – My Life So Far” by pop star, label boss, impresario, presenter, producer, consultant, legend and (according to the popular press) vile pervert Jonathan King. He acknowledges at the start that had he not experienced the dramatic fall from grace he suffered at the start of the decade, he might well have written a very different book, one that was slightly more circumspect and which glossed over details – if nothing else for the sake of propriety. With that restriction removed he is left with the freedom to tell the absolute truth, in all its sticky details.

Thus the first part of his story is taken up with what Frank Skinner once memorably described as the “hurry up and get famous you bastard” years, detailing the early life of the young King as he progressed through the public school system of the 1950s. It is as much a tale of sexual awakenings as it is of personal development as friends, classmates and comrades (but thankfully no Masters) all learn together the meaning of their erections and what they can achieve with them. Of course there is more to it than just wanking games – hearing described in detail the moment anyone discovers their lifelong love of music is always worthwhile – but by the time he takes A-Levels you are left feeling flushed and abashed, King taking an almost childish glee in documenting the details of horny adolescence that we all experienced but never imagined we would hear discussed in such detail. Through it all there is a serious point to be made, his sexual tastes having been dissected and scrutinised in court and demonised by the press, he simply feels entitled to explain their origins.

Once school (and a tantalisingly brief university career) is out of the way, the book moves on to King’s years as a celebrity and it is here that the rollercoaster ride truly begins. All too conveniently forgotten is the fact that Jonathan King over a 35 year period found himself at the heart of popular culture, and every single episode of his career is documented with pride. Whether it was through making his own records, discovering and signing acts such as The Bay City Rollers, Genesis and 10cc, presenting on television and radio or rescuing both the Brit awards and the Eurovision Song Contest from the doldrums, Jonathan King has not only been there, done that and worn the t-shirt but as it turns out the branded clothing was his idea in the first place. There are no bold and exaggerated claims made here – just about everything you have reason to doubt is backed up with press clippings and memorabilia.

The narrative is peppered throughout with appearances by the great and the good of the music and entertainment business with the odd scandalous revelation along the way. Some are anonymous, some are not, King careful to note the privacy of those still alive to regret their past behaviours. That said I am sure the world is a better place for knowing it was George Harrison who punched one particularly abusive fan in the face when she turned up on his doorstep and thus made himself a hero amongst the other celebrities of the time who had taken the full brunt of her fury. As a man who found himself falling in love with Sandie Shaw in the 1960s, Jonathan King is certainly far from unique – and indeed those who have formed their view of the man based solely on what the newspapers have chosen to write about him recently may even be taken aback slightly by the large number of adult heterosexual encounters and relationships documented here. Even taken on its own as a set of celebrity memoirs, this section of the book would make for a truly essential publication in its own right.

The most astonishing revelations of all are held back for the final chapters of “65”, recounting as they do the events from the day in November 2000 when the police knocked on King’s door and announced they were investigating allegations of sexual assault. What follows is an account of the investigation, the subsequent trial, King’s conviction and imprisonment and his subsequent release and the ongoing battle to clear his name. Along the way there are breathtaking tales of police incompetence, coaching of witnesses and the British legal system’s own cavalier disregard for some of the principles of natural justice even the most naive observer would assume to be taken as read. Throughout the tale there isn’t a single moment of self pity by the author – he is at pains to point out that throughout his youth both he and his friends engaged in activities which were technically illegal back then – but you cannot help but share his frustration at the way his life and reputation were disrupted by what he demonstrates were the allegations of an fantasist, allegations which in turn prompted other glory seekers to emerge from the woodwork and spin their own tales of “abuse” in the hope of a compensatory payoff. The book even has its own Shawshank Redemption moment when a witness comes forward with a testimony to prove that the allegations against King were all false, only to withdraw co-operation when the time came to swear a statement.

This isn’t an impartial book review, nor is it intended to be. Jonathan King is a man I’m very privileged to be able to regard as a valued contact and a friend. Nonetheless even friends can be critics of each other’s work, and “65 – My Life So Far” ranks alongside works by Bob Monkhouse and Frank Skinner as one of the most essential and fascinating autobiographies I have ever read.

Naturally you will struggle to find it in bookshops, although I often amuse myself by asking for it anyway and berating the assistants when they confess they don’t have it in stock (when I’m not taking 9/11 conspiracy books and helpfully re-filing them under ‘Fiction’, naturally). Order it directly from Amazon instead and treat yourself to a true tale of a life well lived and a story that finally deserves to be told.

Oh, and if you are still disturbed by the notion of appreciating the work of a (wrongly) convicted sex offender, consider my own favourite quote from the book, uttered in King’s London apartment by Jimi Hendrix as he contemplated his oozing and infected genitalia:

“Christ, she can’t have been more than 14 years old! What is the matter with fans these days?”

Bill Wyman would be proud of him.

Jan 21

Brits Nominations 2010

It is new year, so it must be awards season again. This incidentally accounts for my post-holiday silence as in my proper job I’m suddenly snowed under with a mountain of work connected with the annual fruitless task of competing with the BBCs bottomless resources and compiling entries for the Sony Radio Awards. Back in the real world however, music fans are clearing the fog from their minds and working out if they have a reason to care about the Brit awards, nominations for which were announced this week.

Each year the only category that mildly sparks my interest is the vote for Best British single, one of the few awards that is actually based on public opinion rather than a shadowy academy of judges. As in the last few years the long-list of nominations is to be gradually whittled down to a final winner thanks to the votes of “listeners to commercial radio”, or at least the ones that have chosen to participate in the promotion. So if you do have a mind to pick up the phone and choose the song which you think was the least forgettable single of the last 12 months, these are the select few from which you can make your choice:

Alesha Dixon – Breathe Slow

Top 3 back in February 2009 if your memory is slipping, this was the follow up to ‘The Boy Does Nothing’ and scored points with many people for not being quite as annoying as its predecessor. It is pretty enough, very well produced and movingly sung by the pop star/dancing judge/whatever who shows on this single that maybe, just maybe, she has the talent to back up her personal high profile. An award winner as the best single of the year though? I’m not so sure about that. The bookmakers agree, ranking her as the 50/1 outsider.

Alexandra Burke featuring Flo Rida – Bad Boys

Here is an interesting one, does the presence of an American guest star still make a record eligible as “British”? Apparently it does. This is actually Alexandra’s second nomination in a row (see below) albeit with a single that is actually far worthier of the accolade than her previous gong-eligible track. Not a bad choice for a nomination but I can’t help but think that the still obviously manufactured nature of her stardom will count against her, even for an award voted for by the Heart FM listening public. A 10/1 shot.

Cheryl Cole – Fight For This Love

Credentials: one of the fastest selling “ordinary” singles of 2009 and the track that more than lived up to the hype it received thanks to the endless amount of free promotion the singer and her record received thank to X Factor. By definition however it is not the best single of the year as I think there isn’t a single person on the Brits committee that would be able to keep a straight face at the prospect of Biffa Tweedy winning an award for her singing. Worryingly Paddy Power have her as the 5/4 favourite. I can only hope they are guessing.

Joe McElderry – The Climb

Oh dear, really? Yes, sadly as there seems to be some rule that says the X Factor winners single has to be nominated for a Brit award automatically just a few weeks after it was on the charts. It happened to Alexandra Burke last year and so here comes Geordie Joe – in line for one of the most prestigious honours the industry can bestow thanks to half an hour in the studio singing a song that four other people did in the same session and which was originally meant for an American star who is even younger than he is. Look, we all know this isn’t going to win. ‘Hallelujah’ got eliminated after the first round last year and there is no reason to believe this single won’t suffer the same fate either. He’s 25/1 at the bookies for heaven’s sake.

JLS – Beat Again

I’ll be honest, I still don’t really get the appeal of the whole JLS project although I will readily admit my perspective is clouded by having spent the whole of November and December 2008 shouting at them on TV for their inability to sing in tune. Spruced up and properly trained they have somehow become the teen favourites of choice with some unobjectionable pop songs handed to them. They may leave me cold but it is hard to knock success. The bookies have them at 5/4 joint favourites and although they are certain to remain in contention come the final round of voting there are surely far worthier recipients of the trophy.

La Roux – In For The Kill

Take this one for example. Never a Number One but one of the biggest sellers of the year as it simply sold and sold and sold throughout 2009. My honest opinion: ‘Bulletproof’ was less whiny and the better single overall, even if it was a straight retreat of every song Vince Clarke had ever written but as one of the defining moments of 2009 and a true reflection of the popular culture of the year, ‘In For The Kill’ surely has to stand a chance. Bookies have it at 7/1 which to me looks incredibly good value.

Lily Allen – The Fear

Then again we have to bear in mind who is voting – listener to commercial radio. And what just happened to be the most played song of 2009 on the radio? Step forward Miss Allen, your time has come. Lily has been nominated before, having been eliminated in the second round back in 2007. This time around she has a more mature, more rounded and if anything far more critically acclaimed Number One single to compete with. I’m not completely convinced she stands a chance of winning outright, but ‘The Fear’ deserves to be one of the last surviving nominees. She’s priced at 10/1.

Pixie Lott – Mama Do

Now if this was being voted for by the industry itself then Pixie Lott would probably run away with it given her status as one of 2009s big promotional priorities and the way she rewarded that faith with two smash hit singles. As for a public vote, well at the risk of being accused of sitting on the fence, this could go either way really. ‘Mama Do’ was sultry and soulful and an easy Number One but – and I hate to say this – a long way from being one of the best records of the year all things considered. She’s way out at 14/1 in the betting. If she is truly a contender it will be something of a shock.

Taio Cruz – Break Your Heart
Tinchy Stryder featuring N-Dubz – Number 1

Bracketing these last two together as to all intents and purposes they are the joint representatives of the UK R&B sound that was one of the defining sounds of last summer. The careers of the two men are pretty much intertwined already thanks to Cruz’ guest slot on Stryder’s debut single a year ago and indeed given that Taio Cruz has contributed to both Cheryl Cole’s and JLS’ albums his influence over the acts who have been chosen as the most successful of the year is there for all to see. On that basis alone ‘Break Your Heart’ deserves the gong pretty much by default, especially given his surprising lack of nominations in any other area. Cruz is way out at 20/1 in the betting which surely has to be worth a flutter. As for Tinchy Stryder, somehow given the alarming propensity for his guest stars N-Dubz to make twats of themselves, I can’t see it being his year. He’s way out at 25/1.

Conclusion then – hedge your bets between La Roux and Taio Cruz and hope that common sense wins out. Voting proper opens next Monday at the official Brits site, and I’m sure radio stations up and down the country will be pushing the numbers with vigour. I’m sure few people reading this will be unfamiliar with any of the songs listed above, but just for completeness there is a We7 playlist of them all. I’d embed it here, but their widget never seems to work on this site :(

Dec 24

Christmas 1995 Pops – Part 4

Also in the news in December 1995 – well quite a bit actually. Jack Charlton quit as manager of the Republic Of Ireland following their failure to qualify for Euro 96, Conservative MP David Ashby lost a libel claim against the Sunday Times which had accused him of sharing a bed with a male friend during an Indian holiday (truly they were very different times), two people who threatened to release mice in the Harrods food hall were charged with blackmail, the government majority shrank to just 3, and new Labour leader Tony Blair announced that if elected he would revamp Prime Ministers Question Time and introduced elected city mayors. Plus the European Community finally announced they had worked out what their new currency would be called –The Euro.

On the Christmas chart we’ve reached the Top 10, and in all the time I’ve been writing these retrospectives I don’t think there has ever been one quite so crammed with classics.

10: Eternal – I Am Blessed

First to Eternal and their ever-shrinking lineup – and you thought the Destiny’s Child personnel history was confusing. Having ditched Louise Nurding/Redknapp in the spring of 1995, Dennis Ingoldsby’s finest creation pressed ahead with the release of their second album as a trio. The title track from ‘Power Of A Woman’ became its first hit, going Top 5 in late October and it was followed for the holiday season by ‘I Am Blessed’ As a Top 10 hit for Christmas it is hard to knock the track too much but opinions by and large are divided between those who compare the powerful ballad and the strength of the trio’s voices with the best of Whitney Houston and people like me who find it just the wrong side of whiny and annoying. Never mind, this was nailed on popular UK originated R&B from the group who, whatever their complicated and rather catty history together, made some of the best pop and soul records of the 1990s. I still retain rather a soft spot for them. But maybe not this track so much.

9: Robson and Jerome – I Believe/Up On The Roof

Unlikely performance of old song is received with raptures by the public. Label impressario signs the singer(s) up and sells millions of records with the simple concept of old songs remade in a Granny friendly style. Sound familiar? Well guess what, Simon Cowell didn’t need to search too hard for the inspiration of how to package Susan Boyle. 14 years earlier he had done it all before with two TV actors.

Robson Green and Jerome Flynn were at the start of 1995 starring in the TV series “Soldier Soldier” and were part of a storyline which culminated in the duo having to team up and perform ‘Unchained Melody’. After the episode aired, ITV were inundated with requests from people wanting to buy the song, but at the time such 360-degree thinking was alien to most broadcasters and they had nothing of that nature prepared.

Opinion differs depending on who you talk to just who it was that suggested that the pair might make a useful set of recording stars, but it was a certain BMG records A&R man called Simon Cowell who pursued the pair relentlessly and eventually overcame their reluctance to ink a deal and release the record for real. With immaculate timing their double single featuring ‘Unchained Melody’ on one side and ‘White Cliffs Of Dover’ on the other was released just in time for the 50th anniversary of VE day. When the early sales figures came in, jaws hit the floor all round. Robson and Jerome sold 314,000 copies in their first week, a further 460,000 in the second when production was ramped up to meet demand and another 320,000 in week 3 to land themselves one of the fastest million sellers of all time. By the time it had finished the single had sold a staggering 1.8million copies, enough to place it amongst the ten biggest sellers of all time, a place it retains to this day (it is currently in ninth place). It was all the more extraordinary considering that their take on ‘Unchained Melody’ was a more or less note for note remake of the Righteous Brothers version which had famously made Number One four and half years earlier.

Needless to say an album of similarly smoothly done covers followed and with an end of year follow up single prepared for release. Their second offering was another double header, coupling the old Drifters song ‘Up On The Roof’ with a new version of ‘I Believe’, thus introducing a whole new generation for the very first time to the song that famously spent more weeks at Number One than any other thanks to Frankie Laine a full 40 years earlier. Another instant Number One ensued, with their second single also racing neatly past a million sales, this track currently the 72nd biggest seller of all time. When the end of year tally was in, Robson and Jerome had both the first and the third biggest sellers of the year. The duo released one further album in 1996 before feeling they had milked the concept as far as they could and returned to acting. Meanwhile the man who signed them, released their record and (some say) saved his job by earning millions for his bosses had made a very important discovery. Nobody ever went broke heading straight down the middle of the road.

8: The Beatles – Free As A Bird

Truly it was an historic era. 1989 – Berlin wall comes down. 1990 – German reunification. 1995 – Beatles reunite. The occasion that saw McCartney, Starr and Harrison beaming from the cover of Q Magazine proclaiming “We love each other!” was the release of Anthology, a TV series documenting their career from start to finish and which was accompanied by three new albums of rarities, alternate versions and esoterica. As a final bit of fairy dust, the surviving trio recorded their first new songs for 25 years, all thanks to some old tapes supplied by Yoko Ono which featured some unfinished songs by the one man who wasn’t able to participate in the reunion. Lennon’s 1977 tape of the half-written ‘Free As A Bird’ had been in widespread circulation as a bootleg for some time, but with Jeff Lynne on production duties the group refined it and polished it for release as their grand reunion single.

Needless to say anticipation for the new track was intense, and the prospect that upon release it would shoot to the top of the charts and give them a record breaking 18th Number One hit was nothing less than mouth-watering. When premiered by Radio One at the crack of dawn on November 20th 1995 the reaction was ever so slightly muted. Whilst nobody could really say just what they were expecting from this first Beatles record in a generation, I don’t think anyone was quite anticipating what they heard. ‘Free As A Bird’ was nothing like the Beatles of the 1960s, but then again it wasn’t recorded by them and in truth needed to be judged on those terms. Released at the start of December, the single flew out of the shops and charted… at Number 2, beaten to the top ironically by the man who owned the rights to all their previous material. Unable to go down in history as a famous new Number One, ‘Free As A Bird’ now exists as a curiosity and along with its follow-up ‘Real Love’ just a minor modern day footnote in the story of one of the most famous pop groups of all time.

Online streaming? Well of course not, this is The Beatles and they don’t do digital, not yet. Thankfully the video, featuring an almost frame by frame reference to just about any Beatles track you care to name, is in wide circulation.

7: Oasis – Wonderwall

Easily one of the Gallagher brothers’ finest tracks and one of their most famous moments on record, this Number 2 hit taken from the seminal ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ album requires little introduction here. The song penned by Noel as a tribute to his then girlfriend Meg Matthews may well have wound up stuck at Number 2 behind Robson and Jerome but it still finished 1995 with over 650,000 copies sold as the 10th biggest seller of the year and in the years since has shifted enough units to become a million seller and at the time of writing the 67th biggest seller of all time in the UK.

‘Wonderwall’ is also worth noting as possibly one of the best CD singles of all time, dating from an era when the chart rules allowed up to four different tracks on chart eligible releases. Hence following the title track we have the uplifting Blues stomp ‘Round Are Way’, recorded for the soundtrack of the film “A Life Less Ordinary” and in its own right a classic Oasis track. Studio warmup ‘Swamp Song’ you can take or leave, but it is notable for a cameo appearance from Paul Weller who plays guitar and harmonica on the instrumental. The CD then finishes with ‘The Masterplan’, consistently voted one of the best b-sides of all time, one of the best Oasis songs of all time and notoriously the source of several rows amongst the bad over just why it hadn’t wound up on the album and was just a b-side. “I don’t write shit songs bro” was Noel’s elegant putdown of this criticism – or at least so the legend has it. Either way, Liam to this day regrets that he didn’t sing on the song and Noel himself admits his best song ever was the hit single that never happened.

I’d love to share as many of the tracks as possible here, but Oasis tracks are some of the more notorious absences from the online streaming services although luckily ‘Wonderwall’ sneaks under the wire on We7 and is linked to above (no sign of it on Spotify sadly). Fortunately a video was made for ‘The Masterplan’ in 2006 to promote the ‘Stop The Clocks’ compilation and although just about every music fan reading this surely knows the song already it would be wrong to pass up the chance to include it here.

6: Coolio featuring LV – Gangsta’s Paradise

There are just a handful of rap records amongst the list of the UK’s all time biggest sellers, and this just happens to be one of them. Recorded for the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film ‘Dangerous Minds’, this hypnotic fusion of gangsta rap and the melody from an old Stevie Wonder song somehow transcended all previous genre boundaries and became a huge mainstream hit on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ was only Number One for a fortnight, but this is one of those occasions when appearances can be deceiving. Despite being toppled by the Robson and Jerome record, the Coolio track simply locked in place and kept on selling hundreds of thousands of copies a week. By the end of the year it had edged past a million copies – the first ever rap single to do so incidentally – and was the year’s second biggest seller behind ‘Unchained Melody’. Accounts differ as to exactly how many copies it has sold to date (there has been some downward adjustment of some mid-90s figures for reasons that the OCC has never quite explained) but even taking the lowest figures quoted, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ is still on the cusp of being one of the 50 biggest hits of all time. That’s a measure of just how big that track was.

5: Everything But The Girl – Missing

Everything But The Girl were never known for their hitmaking consistency. After their cover of ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ went Top 3 in 1988 it took them four years to have a Top 40 follow-up, this time another cover with their take on ‘Love Is Strange’ which crept to Number 13. Their 1994 album ‘Amplified Heart’ was supposed to be a grand comeback for the duo following Ben Watt’s extended period of hospitalisation a year earlier, yet as per usual the singles they released were by and large ignored – in particular the track ‘MIssing’ which limped to Number 69 in the summer of that year.

When the track picked up a modest amount of American radio airplay, it was Watt himself who wondered if there was potential for remixing it as a club tune. He had deliberately written it with what he described as a “laid back house groove” and so handed a copy to Todd Terry and asked him to do his worst. The Todd Terry version of ‘Missing’ turned out to be a masterpiece, removing the tinkling acoustic guitar and replacing it with a chugging four-on-the-floor beat over which Tracey Thorn’s heartbroken vocals floated as if on a carpet of air. The single shot up the charts, well, pretty much everywhere actually. A Number 3 hit in the UK, it remained in the Top 10 for 14 weeks during the winter of 1995 and at the same time raced up the US charts, hitting Number 2 there and setting new longevity records for Hot 100 runs in the process. Without really intending to, Everything But The Girl had a whole new career and a whole new direction although the pair would spend the rest of the decade trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle of their most famous hit. Seeing as this chart seems to be all about massive sellers, lets note that ‘Missing’ sold over 600,000 copies during 1995, was the 9th biggest seller of the year and has to date shifted around 910,000 copies.

4: Bjork – It’s Oh So Quiet (7Digital link)

When Bjork’s latest album ‘Post’ was released in the summer of 1995, due attention was paid to standout tracks such as ‘Army Of Me’ and ‘Possibly Maybe’ as you might reasonably expect, but for the most part the most genuine heard turning moment of the long player was its fourth track. A brand new take on an obscure Betty Hutton track called ‘Blow A Fuse’, ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ was a near irresistible combination of big band bombast and Bjork’s own unique way of turning squeaks and squeals into an integral part of her singing style. An obvious choice for single release, it was cleverly held off until the end of the year and as a direct result wound up far and away the biggest worldwide smash hit of the Icelandic star’s career. A popular airplay choice to this day, particularly around Christmas time owing to its association with this particular festive chart, it is possible you may have grown to hate it over the years but as a genuine straight down the middle pop classic it is actually pretty hard to ignore – unless that is you are searching for it on We7, sorry. Spotify has the song complete.

3: Boyzone – Father And Son

By the end of 1995 Boyzone were just over a year into their chart career and had clocked up a respectable number of Top 10 hit singles, their hits ranging from the appealing (‘So Good’) to the downright awful (‘Key To My Life’). In the teen star stakes though they were still very much on the second rung, with both Take That and East 17 owning the hearts and minds of both the teen market and the pop mainstream. Signs that the tide was about to turn came with the release of their fourth single in November 1995. ‘Father And Son’ had originally been written by Cat Stevens in the 1970s and had over the years become one his most famous recordings. The Boyzone version was an odd arrangement to say the least however. Whilst the Stevens original had been sung in two distinct registers to reflect the verses sung by the father and son of the title, Bozyone effectively disregarded the entire concept of the song and presented it as a straightforward pop track, Ronan Keating singing the entire song in the same tone and with the rest of the group doing their best harmonising on the chorus. It possibly wasn’t the most respectable way to treat a classic, but very few people seemed to care. ‘Father And Son’ raced up the Top 10 and spent most of the holiday period shuttling between positions 2 and 3 on the chart, never really in contention for Number One but maybe more importantly establishing Boyzone once and for all as a chart force to be reckoned with. Three months later their biggest rivals Take That decided to call it a day, leaving the way clear for Louis Walsh’s most famous creation to steal away the hearts and minds of the little girl population of Europe and embark on a run of hits that would see them well into the next decade.

There was even a final footnote to the story to come almost a decade later. When Yusuf “Cat Stevens” Islam decided that Allah was happy for him to make music again, his first chart appearance came in collaboration with Ronan Keating on a brand new version of ‘Father And Son’, restoring the track to its original cross-generation concept and in the process hitting Number 2 for Christmas exactly nine years after Boyzone exposed the song to a whole new generation.

2: Mike Flowers Pops – Wonderwall

A busker with a 50p wig tipped to be Christmas Number One? This calls for Kate Thornton to explain it all:

MikeFlowers

Yes it is true, once upon a time there was a neck and neck race for Christmas Number One, with the outsider being a record that was released for a giggle at the last minute but which was backed by a popular grassroots campaign. Except in this case the bland cheesy song was the popular challenger and the song written and performed by a major American talent was the one they were trying to topple. Funny that.

The Mike Flowers Pops Orchestra had been performing their own tongue in cheek homage to sixties easy listening for a couple of years with little mainstream attention. That was until their leader was approached by the producer of the Kevin Greening show on Radio One to re-record some of the hits of 1995 in a Burt Bacharach style for a regular feature every weekend. The second song recorded for the project was a wild romp through the then current Oasis hit ‘Wonderwall’ and after hearing it on his colleague’s show in mid November, breakfast host Chris Evans begged for a copy of the tape, playing the track on his own show and announcing gleefully that he’d tracked down the original version of ‘Wonderwall’ that had been forgotten for years.

From that moment on a bandwagon began to roll. Rights to the track were quickly snapped up and a released date for the single was planned. Time was tight, but the track made it into the shops for the start of Christmas week and there was wild speculation that the unthinkable could happen – a global superstar could be beaten to the top by a cheesy piss take.

bookies 

Make no mistake this was a race and a half, and best of all was based on genuine popular demand and public affection for the record in question. Part of the problem was however that the late turnaround for the single meant that production of the record was always going to struggle to meet demand. I remember wandering around record shops after finishing work that Friday and noting vast tracts of empty shelves where the Mike Flowers single should have been. It had sold out everywhere, but the question was had it sold out too soon? History records the answer, as sadly the dream could not be realised and Mike Flowers Pops could only make Number 2 for Christmas, at the very least matching the peak of the original Oasis version which as we have already seen was still in the Top 10 and which received its own sales boost on the back of the publicity for the Mike Flowers version.

In the new year it was speculated that a whole new craze for easy listening style music was set to take over but that swiftly died down when ‘My Unknown Love’ by Flowers’ own protégé Count Indigo bombed despite copious airplay. Two more Mike Flowers Pops singles followed, notably a cover of ‘Light My Fire’ which made the Top 30 in June 1996 but after that he and his musicians retreated back to the live circuit before finally calling it a day at the end of the 90s.

1: Michael Jackson – Earth Song

Mike Flowers’ failure meant that the way was clear for no less a legend than Michael Jackson to score a very famous Christmas Number One hit. Even by his own lofty standards ‘Earth Song’ was a smash hit. Lifted from his part Greatest Hits part proper album ‘History’ (home also to ‘You Are Not Alone’ which had topped the charts the previous September), ‘Earth Song’ shot straight to Number One when released at the end of November 1995 and pretty much took up residency there. WIth every passing week speculation grew – could it be that the single would sustain its sales long enough to become Christmas Number One? It was a particularly pertinent question – the festive chart would be its fourth week at the top.

Sales figures for ‘Earth Song’ speak for themselves. 116,000 copies in week 1, 149,000 in week 2, 150,000 in week 3 and finally a massive 262,000 in Christmas week itself to secure the festive crown, even in the teeth of Mike Flowers shaped opposition. What may also have helped is a major health scare the star suffered a week before the event, some reports even suggesting at one stage he was at death’s door and raising the spectre of a huge superstar passing away whilst he was already at Number One. Needless to say that day would actually come a decade and a half later. For the moment the huge sale meant that Earth Song raced past a million sales in the new year, giving Michael Jackson his biggest ever hit both in terms of sales and indeed chart performance as Earth Song went on to notch up a massive six weeks at the top. It was the song he performed at the Brit Awards ceremony a couple of months later, debuting what came to be known as the “Jesus routine” and prompting the famous stage invasion by Jarvis Cocker that is now an integral part of the history of the event.

So there you have it, the Christmas chart of 1995 and one which even without its own watershed significance for me can surely rank as one of the greatest ever with the Top 10 alone featuring no less than four million selling singles, one more that came close, and a fair hatful of acknowledged classics.

All that remains to do is to finish up the tape which has Mark Goodier reeling off a list of potential hits for the new year. With the benefit of hindsight we can note that whilst ‘Imitation Of Life’ by Billie Ray Martin, ‘Little Britain’ by Dreadzone, ‘Lump’ by Presidents Of The USA, ‘Not So Manic Now’ by Dubstar and ‘Oh Father’ by Madonna did indeed become hits of varying magnitude in the new year, ‘Life’ by Blair never did become the Top 40 hit it was expected to be. ‘Have Fun Go Mad’ was their far better song anyway.

Coming up next on Radio One, “A Very Merry Pet Shop Boys” as Neil and Chris share with us their favourite records of 1995. Sadly the tape runs out at that point, so all I can do is invite you to enjoy the We7 and Spotify playlists of every one of the available songs we’ve featured over the last week although a strike rate of just 30 out of the 40 songs is a shockingly poor strike rate.

See you in the new year.

Xmas1995PackShot

Dec 23

Christmas 1995 Pops – Part 3

My other favourite memory of the 1995 Christmas holiday came a couple of weeks week before the big day itself. Mr Cheeseford announced that he would be in Leeds that Friday night as part of a media junket, Shed Seven’s record label having invited the best of the student press along to their gig that evening in exchange for some positive reviews. Thus it was that I joined him as a freeloader, having been introduced to the record company PR rep as being “from the local radio station” and thus someone that she should be nice to, we settled in to the lounge at the Hilton Hotel and drank on what appeared to be a very generous record company bar tab. Things very nearly began to undo when some members of the party attempted to order food and charge it to the company account, prompting the hotel management to start to wonder just who these people were who appeared to try to avoid paying for anything but by and large it wound up as the most extravagant evening I’ve never had to pay for.

The odd thing is I never got to go to the gig, having to get the last bus home and with a radio job to go to the following morning. That and due to the fact that at 11pm we were still in the hotel lounge knocking back drinks with the band themselves sitting two sofas along and equally incapable. I got the feeling that they weren’t in any hurry to go out and play.

Winding forward the clock again, we are back at the Christmas chart show from December 24th 1995 and a Top 20 with some quite intriguing tales to tell…

20: Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson – The Best Things In Life Are Free

Take this song for instance. Justly famous thanks not only to the superstar pairing singing it but also as a genuine high point in the songwriting and production talents of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, ‘The Best Things In Life Are Free’ is one of those strange records where the version most commonly heard today bears little resemblance to the one most British record buyers turned into a hit twice over in the 1990s.

To explain: the song was originally written and recorded for the soundtrack of the 1992 film ‘Mo Money’ and hence features neither Luther nor Janet lip-syncing to the song in the famous fairground set video but the stars of the film itself. The version you will find online and indeed which was originally a hit in the United States is a breezy pop track drenched in artificial strings and full of the joys of summer. This “classic club edit” is essentially the track as its creators intended.

The problem was that in 1992 the differences in taste between American and British buyers was considered so wide that the UK label decided that the original mix stood little chance of becoming a hit. Hence CJ Mackintosh was enlisted to remix the track for the British market. He stripped out virtually all of the original production and instead transformed the single into a minimalist yet irritatingly catchy club track which even managed to give the guest rap from Bel Biv Devoe and Ralph Tresvant a greater prominence than in the original edit. The tactic worked perfectly and ‘The Best Things In Life Are Free’ spent a fortnight at Number 2 in the summer of 1992.

Its re-release three years later came complete with a brand new set of mixes from K-Klass. Their version took the track even further away from its original intentions, adding their trademark Latino house piano to the mix and softening the beats to add a more pop-dance crossover flavour to proceedings. Intriguingly the seven inch edit of the 1995 version deleted the guest rappers altogether, my presumption at the time being that the stars of the former New Edition members had fallen so far that their presence on the single was now an irrelevance rather than the added star power originally intended. ‘The Best Things In Life Are Free 95’ peaked at Number 7 in mid-December yet for whatever reason has not been revived since.

As I mentioned above, the only version to be found on streaming services is the original US version, but I include it in the playlists for completeness.

19: Madonna – You’ll See

Following the abject commercial and critical disaster of 1994 album ‘Bedroom Stories’, a quick fix was required to keep Madonna’s name in the charts whilst she was distracted filming “Evita” and effectively to reposition her image prior to the release of the film as a serious intense singer and not the wailing banshee who thought asking Bjork to write her songs was a good idea. Hence the production of ‘Something To Remember’, a compilation of some of her most famous ballads coupled with a handful of brand new songs. ‘You’ll See’ was one such new recording and it made a suitably efficient trip to the Top 5 in early November. Bizarrely the next choice for single release from the album was ‘Oh Father’ which had originally appeared on her 1989 album ‘Like A Prayer’. Although it had been a single in America at the time it had been passed over internationally, perhaps sensibly as when released in the UK in early 1996 it bombed out at Number 16 and became only her second single in over a decade to miss the Top 10.

18: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince – Gold

It was the production of his ‘Gold Experience’ album that caused Prince’s famous falling out with Warner Brothers records after they scuppered his original plan to release it as a “symbol” album contemporaneously with the “Prince” branded ‘Come’ back in 1994. Instead the album finally emerged a year later with Mr Nelson still sulking about being (his words) “a slave” and insisting on the ludicrous “Artist Formerly Known As…” moniker which inspired much parody elsewhere. His reluctance to promote it or have much to do with its release ultimately meant it underperformed commercially, a huge shame as ‘The Gold Experience’ is widely regarded as one of his best works of the 1990s. Lead single was the semi title track which was intended to be the ‘Purple Rain’ of the 90s and whilst not quite coming near the level of this classic is indeed up there with one of the best singles he ever made. ‘Gold’ made Number 10 in early December and in truth should have been a bigger smash than it was. Perhaps due to the strange circumstances of its release, ‘The Gold Experience’ is entirely absent from both online stores and streaming services, rendering this the great lost Prince record and regrettably one which I’m actually unable to share properly with you here thanks as well to his legal lapdogs squashing any attempt to put him on YouTube. A huge shame.

17: Enya – Anywhere Is

The lead single from Enya’s ‘The Memory Of Trees’ album, this was arguably the Celtic earth mother’s most commercial moment on record, a joyful lilting single whose lyric was as impenetrable as ever but which you couldn’t help but find appealing. Part of the magic of Enya’s chart career has been her ability to have hit singles with the most unconventional sounding records (the presence of ‘Orinoco Flow’ in the history books as a Number One single in 1988 a particular joy) but ‘Anywhere Is’ is notable in itself for being the closest she has ever come to making a straight down the wire commercial pop record – in her own inimitable style naturally.

16: Molella featuring The Outhere Brothers – If You Wanna Party

Remember the golden summer of Britpop? The heady days of the long hot summer of 1995 when Blur, Oasis, Supergrass and Pulp ruled all? Except that on the singles chart they didn’t because with a stranglehold on the top for several weeks during that period were rude American rap duo The Outhere Brothers. Their European success is actually a strange curiosity for whilst the pair originally made their records as full blown rap hits complete with detailed verses, tracks such as ‘Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)’ and ‘Boom Boom Boom’ became transatlantic hits in remixed versions which deleted most of the original song and turned the tracks into cheeky but harmless party records. Still, artistic integrity be blowed – they sold records and lots of them. ‘Boom Boom Boom’ spent four weeks at Number One and prompted many at the time to wonder if the world had gone mad. Certainly it was more or less impossible to walk down a street that summer without passing a car that had “girl you booty is so round, let me look you up and down” blasting hilariously from its speakers. Christmas hit ‘If You Wanna Party’ wasn’t really an Outhere record at all but was instead a track they had supplied guest vocals for a year earlier as a favour for dance producer Molella. When the presence of the duo on the track was noted it was quickly prepped for UK release with the Outhere Brothers’ contribution pushed to the fore. A Number 9 hit just before Christmas, it was essentially the final flowering of the brief but stellar UK career of the duo, save for a one off comeback in 1997 which only served to prove that their ship had well and truly sailed.

15: Pulp – Disco 2000

1995 was Pulp’s breakthrough year, Jarvis Cocker et al having scored themselves one of the all time great Number 2 hits in the shape of ‘Common People’ and then followed it with the tabloid-baiting ‘Sorted For E’s And Whizz’ which also made Number 2 and which incidentally cemented Kate Thornton’s reputation as well. Don’t believe me? Look here:

sickstunt

Fortunately for all us kids out there, a genuine authority on the subject was ready to weigh in with his advice:

FoxySpeaks

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. The album ‘Different Class’ when it appeared in the autumn was as much of an instant classic as its preceding singles and most reviewers were united in the view that its most outstanding track was the nostalgic ‘Disco 2000’ which saw Cocker dreaming of a millennium reunion with a childhood sweetheart. Naturally it became the album’s third single and was specially mixed for the occasion by no less a production legend than Alan “We Don’t Talk Anymore” Tarney who gleefully seized upon the much commented similarity between the old Laura Branigan hit ‘Gloria’ and the guitar riff in the Pulp song, ensuring that the single emphasised the link even more and turned the record into even more of an instant party smash than we all knew it would be anyway. ‘Common People’ aside, ‘Disco 2000’ remains the hit record most synonymous with Pulp’s golden age and is deservedly remembered with nostalgia to this day. The only downside was the turn of the century theme to the track which led to the group five years later blocking any attempt to use it in commercials or promotions for the millennium and firmly sitting on any suggestion that it should be re-released for the occasion. Somehow I get the feeling the decision was the correct one.

14: Levellers – Just The One

The release of fourth album ‘Zeitgeist’ in 1995 saw The Levellers top the charts for the very first time whilst at the same time scoring the most consistent run of hits with the tracks mined from its grooves. Modern day drinking fable ‘Just The One’ was the third such release, peaking at Number 12 the week before the holiday, strangely enough the fourth time they had seen one of their singles stall at this position. Strangely little heard today, and one can only assume that their deeply held principles have prevented it from being used in the context of anti-binge drinking campaigns. Either that or people just have no imagination. One thing that you do notice from calling it up online is just how short and sweet the single was – just 1:45 long.

13: Queen – A Winter’s Tale

Hard on the heels of ‘Heaven For Everyone’ came Queen’s Christmas single proper, also lifted from the ‘Made In Heaven’ posthumous album. A very odd single indeed, lacking much in the way of melody or chorus, the single was nonetheless a not too unpleasant diversion, a dreamy almost psychedelic track penned by Freddie Mercury during sessions for the ‘Innuendo’ album in 1991 whilst staring at the shores of Lake Geneva. His vocals were reportedly laid down in one take just a few weeks before he passed away, giving the track an extra sense of poignancy that I suspect was lost on all but the most dedicated Queen fan.

12: Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men – One Sweet Day

If ever there was a symbol of the desperate stagnation and crushing blandness that had afflicted mainstream American music in the first half of the 1990s, it was the runaway success of this single. Teaming two of the most inoffensive and deathly corporate R&B acts of the time to sing one of the most sickly, nauseating and downright trite songs ever written turned out to be a commercial masterstroke Stateside. ‘One Sweet’ Day’ spent an astonishing 16 weeks at Number One on the Hot 100, a record to this day and far and away the biggest ever hit single for both Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey. Fortunately slightly cooler heads prevailed here, but that still did not stop the single having a brief Top 10 run, peaking at Number 6 in early December but then charging down the charts with reassuring haste. This really has been the only burden of this particular chart rundown, having to listen to the track again for the first time in a decade and a half and somehow being responsible for providing a link for you to hear it as well. Sorry about that.

11: Childliners – The Gift Of Christmas

More novelty crap, this time in the shape of an entertainingly risible ensemble pop record which at the very least had its heard in the right place, being as it was entirely in aid of the Childline childrens charity. The brainchild of svengali Tom Watkins it was penned by the man himself in conjunction with East 17’s Tony Mortimer who once again probably had caused to look back with nostalgia at having the biggest selling hit of the previous season.

For posterity then, we should at least document the full cast of participants. They were: East 17 (naturally), Boyzone, Michelle Gayle, Deuce, MN8, Ultimate Kaos, Let Loose, a pre-fame Peter Andre, CJ Lewis, Sean Maguire, Dannii Minogue (bet this isn’t on her musical CV), EYC, Nightcrawlers, China Black, Backstreet Boys and many other nonentities whose names would mean very little in this day and age. Released in mid-December the single spent a fortnight at Number 9 and just missed out on a place on the Christmas Top 10, slipping to rest here for the festive chart. Hey, it may be rubbish but someone even has their Top Of The Pops performance on YouTube. Too good to miss surely and after this the song is even starting to grow on me…

Incidentally, isn’t it interesting just how many singles in this chart had “peaked at xx in early December and then slipped”. Anyone would think there was a pattern to the releases. See you tomorrow for the Top 10 and the most exciting climax of all.

Dec 22

Christmas 1995 Pops – Part 2

Go on then, I hear you ask, just what was it about Christmas 1995 which made it such a watershed moment for me?

Well the truth is that it marked my first ever proper, paid for, live radio shifts on a real living breathing radio station. Not that I hadn’t presented shows as a wannabe radio star on broadcast radio before, most memorably a week of overnight shows back in Lancaster when I was a student, but on Christmas Eve 1995 a year and a half of patiently making the tea and turning around sports reports finally paid off. I got to fill in on the “Sunday Pleasuredome” on The Pulse Of West Yorkshire and play two hours of 80s hits just before the Pepsi Chart and their own version of the Christmas countdown.

Technically that afternoon wasn’t my first live broadcast as it was traditional for new presenters (even those who had driven many outside broadcasts and pre-recorded shows from the on-air studio) to do a warm up overnight shift just to get into the swing of things. Consequently that weekend consisted of me working in the afternoon on the sports show, going home to sleep, coming back in at 2am, presenting for four hours and then going home to sleep once more before coming back in at lunchtime to get ready for the show.

With the Christmas chart show being broadcast that afternoon I had to jump through a number of hoops to get it on tape as was traditional, and indeed playing the recording back and hearing it start during Mark Goodier’s opening monologue brings back all the memories… 4pm that Sunday saw me fire off the news jingle (no computers in those days to do it for you), fade up IRN, run down the corridor to the meeting room to press “record” on the stereo that was tuned to Radio One and then run back to the studio ready for the end of the news bulletin and to cue in the networked feed of Dr Fox and the Pepsi Chart.

I still have both the tape of that debut show (which I’m not going to share) and the carefully constructed running order – which you can see reproduced here.

Hence every single memory of that holiday season, every moment of the build up and every song of the time is coloured with the sense of giddy anticipation I felt at being handed the chance to do for my bosses what I had always wanted to do – prove that I could present on their radio station and do the job asked of me. Under no circumstances was I going to let that chance pass me by.

Enough of this personal nostalgia, let’s get back to the musical stuff and the Christmas Chart as broadcast on December 24th 1995. Don’t miss New Years Day 1996 on Radio One by the way. They are playing 90 from the 90s all day long from 9am-4pm. Can hardly wait…

30: Blur – The Universal

You will know this song possibly without even realising it, thanks to British Gas and their licensing of the track and its opening orchestral riff for their seemingly endless advertising campaigns, ‘The Universal’ began life as the second single to be released from Blur’s ‘Great Escape’ album and was actually the follow-up to smash hit Number One single ‘Country House’, the focal point of the Battle Of Britpop that resulted from great rivals Blur and Oasis releasing singles on the same day earlier in the summer. History records now who really had the last laugh, but at the time Blur were on an all-time commercial high and ‘The Universal’ justifiably remains one of the most famous and best loved singles. Maybe released just a little too earlier to be a proper seasonal smash, the single peaked at Number 5 in late November and by Christmas was gently fading away.

29: Crescendo – Are You Out There? (30 second preview only)

Our first collision with dance music on the chart, ‘Are You Out There’ was a major club smash in its day, a brooding slow build featuring strings and a sonorous narrated intro soon giving way to an infectious classical-rave fusion anthem which was bold enough to feature a breakdown featuring a gothic choir. A cut above most of the Eurotrash that was clogging up dancefloors at the time, it is something of a shame that ‘Are You Out There’ (which ran to 19 minutes in its full unedited version) is something of a forgotten classic these days. Crescendo was a pseudonym for Jon Crosse who would later form trace band The Morrighan, most famous for their 2000 single ‘Follow Me’.

As you may note above, We7 have the track for sale but sadly not for streaming. ‘Are You Out There’ is far to good not to share in full, so have the fully approved by Jon Crosse himself YouTube video.

28: Frank Bruno – The Eye Of The Tiger

After years of waiting, British boxer Frank Bruno finally won the World Heavyweight Title in 1995 to scenes of nationwide joy. We’ll draw a line over the fact that he was subsequently knocked into the middle of next week by Mike Tyson in his first defence and instead concentrate on the brief period in late 1995 when he was on top of the world and a national hero. You’ll be relieved to know that Frank himself did not feature on this cash-in single, the track instead being little more than a knock-off cover of the famous Survivor hit mixed with commentary clips from the famous night in September when he outpointed Oliver McCall to become the king of the world. Mike Stock and Matt Aitken produced the track which was released on BMG records, and if amongst that combination you can detect the slight whiff of Simon Cowell at work your senses are in all probability correct.

Available online to hear or buy these days? You have to be kidding…

27: Queen – Heaven For Everyone

Why should the fact that your lead singer has been dead for four years stop you from making records with him? Queen didn’t think so, and so after a suitably respectful period following the death of their charismatic star in 1991 set about assembling a new album from the fragments of songs Freddie Mercury had been working on before his death, as well as turning some of his solo singles into fully fledged Queen tracks. ‘Made In Heaven’ with the album which, once you got past the slightly morbid nature of its creation, was broadly welcomed with positive reviews. ‘Heaven For Everyone’ was its lead single and the track shot to Number 2 in November, only denied a place at the top by a certain rap superstar. The follow-up single was released with almost indecent haste to further promote sales of the album over the holiday period, so ‘Heaven For Everyone’ was one of two Queen singles on the festive chart. Chances are most people have forgotten just what the other one was as well…

26: Corona – I Don’t Want To Be A Star (7Digital)

Created by producer Francesco Bomtempi, Eurodance group Corona put together a string of hits in the mid-90s, all the while sidestepping rows over just who it was who actually sang on the records. The single version of ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Star’ featured a variety of different Lee Marrow mixes, but the one favoured by radio was the “70s Radio Edit” which replaced the euro beats with disco strings and in the process transformed it into something quite glorious. The single was their fourth and final hit (save for a Megamix release two years later) and peaked at Number 22 the week before Christmas. On Spotify but not We7 for some odd reason.

25: Michael Barrymore – Too Much For One Heart

And the classics just keep on coming! Having wormed his way into public affections as an all-round entertainer and at the time the undisputed king of Saturday night television, it kind of made perfect sense for Michael Barrymore to release a cash-in album. The long player itself never sold enough to chart, but it did spawn this single which crept into the Top 30 just before Christmas. Barrymore had actually recorded comedy records in the past at the very start of his career, scaling the dizzy heights of Number 90 with ‘Kenny The Kangaroo’ in 1983 and Number 81 with ‘Doin’ The Crab’ in 1987, but as far as most people were concerned this barely adequate piece of crooning was his first ever attempt at becoming a singing star. Whilst 1995 was arguably a career high for him, it also marked the start of his personal decline, with the infamous drunken coming out during a Soho pub crawl and his subsequent split from wife and manager Cheryl all taking place during the course of the year. For the moment his fans stuck by him and his shows remained as popular as ever. History doesn’t document what he spent the royalties from this single on. Let’s hope it wasn’t a swimming pool.

24: Passengers – Miss Sarajevo

Following the 1993 sessions that lead to the ‘Zooropa’ album, the members of U2 developed their creative partnership with producer Brian Eno stil further, creating a series of tracks which were so far removed from their usual sound that it gave their label something of a headache. There was no way the collection of experimental soundscapes could be released as a “proper” U2 album, so the group instead elected to release them as a side project under a widely publicised pseudonym. Operating as “Passengers” with Eno effectively a full member of the group for one time only, they released ‘Original Soundtracks 1’ with the conceit that all the tracks were taken from the soundtrack of films – most of which were just figments of their imagination. One of the few that did exist was “Miss Sarajevo”, a Bill Carter documentary that Bono had helped produce and which documented the famous beauty pageant held amongst the war-torn buildings in the Bosnian capital.

The single itself is a thing of quite exquisite beauty. As if Bono’s gentle crooning over Eno’s aural ,meanderings isn’t enough, the crowning glory of the single arrives with the guest vocal from Luciano Pavarotti who takes over the track three minutes in and transforms it into the most arresting, diverting and downright moving record you are ever likely to hear. Few and far between are the pieces of music that literally make you stop what you are doing and then scramble to work out what it was at the end, and so it is something of a joy to document the existence of ‘Miss Sarajevo’ and its chart peak of Number 6 in early December 1995. Take a few moments to savour what even this seasoned U2 hater couldn’t resist snapping up a copy of the moment it hit the shops.

23: Smokin’ Mojo Filters – Come Together

Speaking of Bosnia and the Yugoslavian civil war which was dominating the foreign news at the time, the conflict also prompted the founding of the War Child charity and in 1995 the first in what became a semi-regular series of charity albums. The concept for ‘The Help! Album’ was apparently inspired by John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’, the idea that records should be released the moment they are recorded. Hence a stellar array of artists was assembled to each record a track on Monday September 4th 1995, tracks which were then mixed, pressed and released so the album hit the stores the following Saturday. The release gained much publicity and shot straight to Number One – at least on the compilation chart, its ineligibility for the main listings despite pleas that the rule should be relaxed winding up as a bone of contention that Brian Eno still hadn’t come to terms with over a decade later.

Although a selection of tracks had been released as a single at around the same time as he album, ‘The Help EP’ had peaked at a mere Number 51, and so it was decided to further promote the product with a single release for the final track on the disc. The Smokin’ Mojo Filters were a veritable supergroup, consisting of Paul McCartney, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Steve Craddock, Steve White and Carleen Anderson. Together they enthusiastically plodded through a cover of the old Beatles track ‘Come Together’ in manner which inevitably sounded like a spontaneous jam session (which naturally it was) but which was notable simply for the sheer weight of star power behind it. Released the week before the Christmas chart, the single peaked at Number 19 before slipping back to here. Never quite the contender for the top it might have been planned to, as the token singles chart presence of a very worthy and very famous cause, it seems churlish really to knock it. Not on Spotify for some reason (for shame!)

22: Skee-Lo – I Wish

The first of just two hit singles accumulated by California based rapper Skee-Lo, better known to his mother as Antoine Rountree. A tongue in cheek send up of aimless materialism, the track may have been a light hearted novelty but it still pops up in the most unlikely of places and has managed a shelf life far beyond its brief UK chart run. A Number 15 hit at the start of December, the track was even up for a Grammy as Best Rap Solo Performance but was to ultimately lose to a certain record which we will come to later.

21: East 17 – Thunder

One year on from grabbing the Christmas Number One with ‘Stay Another Day’, East 17 had the honour of another seasonal hit thanks to ‘Thunder’, although the track had effectively been and gone and was by this time easing its way down the chart after peaking at Number 4 in early November. Just three more hits would follow in 1996 and early 1997 before the band started to disintegrate, although give them credit they have been attempting comebacks at regular intervals pretty much ever since. What do you mean you hadn’t noticed?

That is your lot for today.. more tomorrow but despite a fair number of gaps, the We7 and Spotify playlists contain as much of this chart as we can find.