Jul 11

Live Football. Breathe Football. Part Five

Let Me Illustrate

Do you remember a time long ago when you had to wait until people returned from trips away in order to be subjected to their endless holiday photographs? Our new brave digital age means these waits no longer exist, and at times it appeared that the remote team in South Africa spent most of their free time (and, it seems, some of the time they were theoretically supposed to be working) taking pictures and uploaded them online.

If nothing else it gave those of us stuck back in London a chance to see how the other half lived and what their working environment was like. My esteemed colleague Stan Collymore was the most enthusiastic digital snapper, and it seemed that every time he attended a big game he was abusing the press room wifi connection to treat his Twitter followers to extensive views of the stadium and his personal broadcasting position.

Hence pictures such as this, showing you just what a commentator sees during the game:

(click any of the photos above for the full size version)

Then there were the pack shots of our entire team for the big games – this was just prior to the now infamous England v Algeria game.

When not in the stadium, our guys were broadcasting back at what became known as “The Lodge”, the sprawling Johannasburg guest house where our team were based for the duration of the tournament:

Why they felt the need to share Adrian Durham in a pair of shorts I wasn’t really all that sure.

As a kind of reaction to this, I amused myself during the other games by constructing my own travelogue of our experiences back in the studios.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic This was the thrill of the activity in the control room, taken on the evening of the first Saturday during England v USA. As you can see, producing the actual football matches involves a great deal of craning one’s neck to see the screens hung from the ceiling and waiting for things to go wrong.
The mountain of sponsored features that had to be worked through for every game included a vast sheet of in-game reads and I felt that these too should be preserved for posterity. Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic …and this was the main on air studio sitting empty and folorn for a large portion of the time. A major overseas event such as the World Cup meant that the usual broadcasting facilities were almost underused at times. On many of the earlier days in the competition we were on air from South Africa from 10am right the way through until 11pm. I was almost shocked people didn’t start having meetings in Studio One just to make use of the office space.

Of all the media that was sent back from the remote base however, I think this one was my favourite. Join Alvin Martin for a guided tour of the Lodge, and a chance to see not only how the other half lives but also just what kind of state Moose keeps his bedroom in. Ugh.

Jul 10

Live Football. Breathe Football. Part Four

Hoping For A Double Deflection

OK so we are notionally covering the whole of the World Cup. The big selling point of talkSPORT’s dedication to the tournament was our proud boast that we were to cover Every Game Live and most importantly, communications issues aside, without any interruptions. This was actually more than the other side could boast, their agnostic commitment to other sporting events meant that they were forever dipping out of matches to cover horse races, or dumping even big knockout games onto digital platforms because of scheduling collisions with Wimbledon or Grand Prix races etc. Having said this, when it came to the early stages many of the games were just a background distraction to the only World Cup story that mattered – the fate of the England team.

I think it is now approaching seven years since I’ve watched a competitive England international match from the comfort of my own home or at the very least outside the confines of the office. Instead I’ve always been a work, be it at the controls of the desk or masterminding the production and presentation of the coverage. From this first hand point of view I can tell you without fear of contradiction that nothing even comes close to inspiring argument, debate, opinion and passion amongst both our presenters and the wider listening audience than the fortunes (or otherwise) of the England football team. An England match is like a ratings gift, an instant tune-in point for many who cannot otherwise watch it and an immediate focus for reaction afterwards. I’ve produced shows on the most mundane of England fixtures that can and indeed have stretched deep into the night. If it is England then it matters to a vast hungry audience who at times do not even seem to need the prompting of our phone number.

It is actually a matter of some considerable regret to me that my spell at the coal face of sports broadcasting hasn’t coincided with a major tournament run for any of the other “home” nations. World Cups and European Championships are the domain of the England fans with the only token Scottish contribution coming from those who seek to gloat at their misfortunes or the odd brave soul who will confess to being an England follower from north of the border and can offer a neutral’s post-match perspective. I’ve no doubt that the commitment of Scotland fans to their side in a major competition would be every bit as noisy and vociferous whilst the team were playing – but would the after-match reaction to a bad result be quite as soul-baring, would the sense of disappointment and frustration be quite as palpable, or do Scotland fans have a more realistic view of the level at which their side can play? I’m hoping one day I get the chance to find out.

As will be evident to anyone reading this now, England’s 2010 World Cup was only just above the level of abject failure. Whilst they didn’t quite suffer the first round humiliations of other European football powerhouses such as Italy or France (although it was at times a close call), their first encounter with a side that was what we in the business call “any good” saw a total on field humiliation and an inglorious tournament exit at the first knockout stage. Here lies the broadcasters dilemma, for when England are progressing it is a quite wonderful thing with our hype and expectation able to continue for a few days more, but when England are woeful and on their way home it makes for some absolutely compelling, spellbinding radio.

We are used to England stuttering their way through the early rounds of tournaments, so the opening weekend 1-1 draw against the USA was not the total shock it might have been, especially given the scoreline was down to Robert Green’s infamous goalkeeping howler which gifted the Americans their equaliser. No, it was the second game – the Friday evening goalless draw against Algeria that exposed the poor form and baffling lethargy of our supposedly world-beating superstars – which kicked frustrations into high gear. England were bad, shockingly bad and the phones were ringing off the hook even as the referee was blowing up for the merciful release of full time. The listener reaction however was nothing compared to the anguished howls coming from our presentation lineup, people whose jobs required them to have an opinion on just about everything and who were in no mood to hold back that evening.

What else could have prompted me to find a keyboard and Tweet the following within minutes of the final whistle:

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Actually no, sorry that was during the game when the suggestion that the match could turn into a Friday evening party in front of the big screens in the office was scuppered by a lack of food. No, the post-match Tweet was this one:

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This was no exaggeration. Just about every voice we had available was live on the desk almost apoplectic with fury over what they had just witnessed. Mark Saggers was anchoring in the stadium on one line, sat next to him was Stan Collymore who had just been commentating and was theoretically supposed to be catching his breath before doing the phone-in, Adrian Durham was live on the line from our base in Johannesburg where he had been watching the match after presenting earlier in the afternoon and even Andy Townsend who had himself been commentating on the game for ITV made a point of striding over to our position in the press box to croakily sum up what he had just seen. It was breathtaking to hear. Grown men echoing the views and emotions of so many people across the country, almost shaking with fury at England’s failure to overturn a side who were regarded as the whipping boys of the group and should have been brushed aside with ease. This is that ten minute spell of magic:

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Looking back I can enjoy this rather more than I did at the time. Wearing my producers hat I spent most of the above broadcast bellowing at the producers at the remote end that we were actually supposed to be discussing the match in line with a sponsored feature and that I wasn’t hearing very much of that on air. Try telling that to four men who have a great deal to say and are going to say it on their terms however, there are times when I have the cape but simply cannot fly.

Possibly even better was to come. England negotiated their final first round game against Slovenia with a much needed win, but Landon Donovan’s now infamous last kick goal against Algeria in their final group match meant that England had only qualified as group runners-up and were dumped into the lions den with a second round tie against old foes Germany. The first stage of the match was a roller-coaster of emotions even for the supposed neutral, England going two goals down but then showing some hitherto unseen spirit to fight back and only be denied the chance to equalise by a crushing refereeing mistake. As Germany’s fourth goal sailed in however it was clear that we were watching something that was pretty much new to all of us covering the game – a huge and quite humiliating defeat.

I’ve been in the studio for England’s exit during the later stages of several major tournaments – most notably Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006. Both were little more than unfortunate, defeat on penalties after a brave and battling performance. We hadn’t gone though but nobody could truthfully say that we deserved to go out. Reaction on the telephones afterwards was sad and numb. It was as if we’d cut the pack, drawn straws or flipped a coin to decide the game. Fate was against us and that was all that could be said.

This time it was different. This wasn’t bad luck it was bad play. The German side whom our pundits had spent the week reminding us were “not that good” had proved that they were not only good but a whole new level above our homegrown heroes. This time the presenters didn’t need to use fired up words and emotional language. Even with ten minutes to go before the end of the match we had calls six deep on the switchboard. Our audience knew it was their turn, knew it was their moment to explain where we had gone wrong and they simply could not wait for the cue to call.

It was that simple sight which summed up why I’m so proud to do this, why I knew we were creating magic with every moment on the air. We had built a platform for people to express themselves about a game they loved and set the stage for a major event in the lives of many people. For those who could not see the game in person we had helped them to hear what was taking place on the pitch. Even for those who were not with us during the match, we were there for them at the end having shared the experience with millions of others and were ready to let people react in disbelief.

Nice as it would have been for my abiding memory of this World Cup to have presided over England’s march to the final and ultimate crowning as World Champions, it is a close second to be able to say I was there to see what happened when England were utterly rubbish and get a glimpse of just what that meant to both the fans amongst our presenters and the fans who make up the millions flocking to us to have their say at that moment. Roll on our next England game.

Jul 05

Live Football. Breathe Football. Part Three

Bzzzzzzzzzzzz

Amazing wasn’t it? The most significant aspect of the opening days of the World Cup and one which caused both broadcasters and organisers the biggest headaches was nothing more than a cheap plastic trumpet.

vuvuzela

The thorny issue of the vuvuzelas and the cacophonous noise they made was first flagged up by our team on the ground about two days before the tournament began. They had attended a pre-tournament celebration parade in the middle of Johannesburg and had sent back several minutes of on the spot audio in which they had to bellow to be heard over the drone of the assembled crowd all blowing away with un-abandoned joy. They wondered out loud just what it would be like inside a stadium filled with several thousand of these rather odd instruments, all being blown at once and pondered just how the players would cope with the din, unable to hear calls for crosses or at times to be able to think clearly, so unrelenting was the noise they made.

In actual fact the concerns of the players, if they ever had any, swiftly faded into the background. They were nothing compared to the complaints of what for we broadcasters were the most important people of all – the listening audience. Because by and large they hated them.

First clues that something was amiss came in the opening couple of matches. Mixed in with the grumpy texts and emails about the fact that the online streaming had been shut off the moment the games got underway (rights issues sadly and out of anyone’s control) were the messages about the buzzing drone that at times cut through absolutely everything, even the commentators.

“Cannot stand to listen to this noise any longer – switching off”, appeared to be the main thrust of the messages. A knee-jerk overreaction perhaps but one which raised a problem that was almost unique in my professional experience. The noise of the crowd made the games almost impossible to listen to. It wasn’t just commercial radio that was bearing the brunt of the complaints either – listeners to the other side and viewers on television were almost unanimous in their demands: cut the nasty noise or we find something else to entertain ourselves with.

Now the glib response to such complaints would be to dismiss them as mere cultural ignorance. The noise of the vuvuzelas was far from unique to the World Cup after all. Taking them to games and tooting them throughout is as much a part of the culture of African football as scarves and synchronised chanting are in the UK and Europe. Anyone who watched the coverage of the African Nations Cup at the start of the year would have been instantly familiar with the sound of a million bees buzzing around the stadium. What we were witnessing at the World Cup was something perfectly normal to African football. The truly enlightened would surely have no problem with it at all.

Except that the World Cup is no ordinary football event. It is a sporting and cultural festival that attracts widespread mainstream coverage and an audience on radio and television that would not under normal circumstances sit down to enjoy the a game of football. The World Cup is as much an event for the casual fan as it is a hardcore appreciator of the game – and it was this casual audience that was in danger of being alienated by the noise of the matches themselves.

Consider for a moment just how the television companies must have reacted to this feedback. A game of live football, for so long an instant source of event-driven ratings and a more or less guaranteed source of popular entertainment was suddenly something of an audience turn-off. The assault on people’s ears was enough to ensure they were unable to enjoy the spectacle, unable to take in the game and most worryingly of all were actively indicating that they would rather switch off completely than endure it a moment longer. Even the more dedicated football supporters were rather perturbed. The truth of the matter for them was that the vuvuzelas were practically the only thing you could hear inside the stadium. The subtleties of crowd reaction, their willing on of their teams and their cries of disgust at a particularly bad error were all but drowned out. For many that made the ebb and flow of the game almost impossible to follow, regardless of the skill of the commentators.

So what the hell could broadcasters do? The BBC immediately hurried forward with a detailed technical examination of the noise, explaining just what the note was and what its harmonic range would be – and for that reason how hard it was to filter it out without losing some other more important audio detail. On the radio there wasn’t really all that much that could be done – I mean if you are commentating on a football game at a stadium then the noise you will hear will be whatever is in the stadium, there is simply no adequate way round it. When asked, my view was straightforward -  a commitment to bringing the audience the sights and sounds of the tournament extended to a full reflection of what was taking place in the stadiums and on the pitch itself. To tamper with that in any way, to try to pretend that something was not there when it clearly was would be absolutely unthinkable.

As it turned out, the fuss over the vuvuzelas appeared to be a one week wonder. Maybe we all got used to then and they faded into the background. Maybe the crowds just got bored of blowing them all the time – indeed it could be our imagination but the intensity of the noise appeared to rather die down once the group stages were over and South Africa in particular were eliminated. Could it be that when the new domestic season starts it will be a shock to the system to hear a football game without the noise of a thousand bees in the background? Time will tell – and any foolhardy souls breaking out their trumpets at Premier League games might find cause to regret that their instrument of choice is shaped in such a way that it can be fitted anally.

I’ll tell you one unexpected benefit the vuvuzelas did have though. During England games it was more or less impossible to hear the sodding England Supporters Band and their once every two minutes renditions of the Great Escape. For these small mercies we can all be thankful.

Oh yes – England. Now that is another story altogether.

Jul 02

Live Football. Breathe Football. Part Two

Communication Let Me Down

image

Before the World Cup kicked off there was a fair amount of nervous talk about the implications at staging such an event in an African country (albeit one of the most developed ones of all). Would safety be an issue? Would the stadiums be up to scratch? Would the transport infrastructure cope?

I can happily confirm to you that all of these were totally the wrong questions to be asking. What really should have been foremost amongst peoples concerns was the issue of “will we be able to get a connection to the games themselves?”.

For the outside broadcaster, ISDN technology has for years been nothing short of a bloody miracle. The concept of a little black box that can convert your voice to a string of numbers, squirt them at high speed down a telecoms connection and then have them reassembled intact at the other end with barely a second or so of delay is quite simply genius – when it works. Part of the dark arts of sports producing is knowing the exact amount of love to give a terminal adapter and codec unit, how many times to retry the connection, what standards and indeed often what brands of kit will talk to others and most importantly of all how not to panic when things just don’t seem to be working and the minutes before airtime are steadily ticking away.

Call it instinct, but 60 minutes before we were due to be live in the magnificent Soccer City football stadium in Johannesburg on that Friday lunchtime, I knew exactly the reason my attempts to connect to the commentary positions were were failing. The connection was taking longer than usual to establish and the boxes at our end were simply assuming no answer and timing out. I delved into the little used configuration menu on the Nicral unit and found a setting for “Long Dial” which I enabled. Ten seconds later the little red light winked into life and crowd atmosphere flooded over the studio speakers. The first worry was out of the way.

For purely selfish reasons I’m very fond of talking up the work of the sports producer and how pivotal we are to the entire operation. Truth be told there are some aspects of the job that aren’t really all that hard work. I mean how much effort is it really to say to two commentators: “right, I want you to describe what is happening on the pitch for 45 minutes… and GO”? When all is well, we have nothing to do. Our job is to be there when things don’t go to plan, when the timings of the game are disrupted, when entire running orders need to be reworked at the last minute or worst of all when we lose the link altogether.

The initial connection to Soccer City may well have been established, and indeed seemed perfectly happy whilst we were chatting off air and rehearsing the big opening. Come 1pm however and it was a a different matter.

BOOM! CRASH! THUNDER! Went the grandiose station production, announcing that this was indeed the 2010 FIFA World Cup and was absolutely Big Game Radio. Then the lights began to flash:

“…ood afer… I…. ark… Sag… ….come to the mag… …ity…. asberg…”

Cometh the hour, cometh the technical issues. The sheer volume of noise coming from the stadium, added to the enthusiastic bellowing of our commentary team, proved to be too much for the apparently fragile connection to handle and it steadily became more and more intermittent. I shouted at the tech op to cut to a trail, yanked the presenters off air and advised the staff back at our main base that they were going to have to run with things for a few minutes whilst we got it sorted.

Never have I been more glad to have the back up of the rest of the office as the control room was flooded with senior producers who fussed over replacement material and briefed the remaining presenters whilst I made some frantic telephoning to the stadium and asked them to reset everything and possibly maybe turn the volume down a little.

So it was that our live coverage got off to a rather inauspicious start, fifteen minutes later than planned as the line finally became stable and the big build up got underway. Naturally relaxing even for a moment was a danger, and sure enough about 30 minutes into the second half another crisis presented itself as the commentary fell off air altogether. Not just the commentary it seems as absolutely every link we had to South Africa chose that particular moment to hiccup and reset, leaving the little black box that controls everything looking like Santa’s grotto as every red light it had available winked in alarm. Suddenly I was left with nothing, no stadium, no presenters and nothing to fall back on. Apparently at that very moment something deep within the telecoms network in Johannesburg decided it had had enough and was going to go offline for a few moments, blacking us out totally.

Fortunately the interruption was brief, a minute or so later we had re-established the connection and the commentators were faded back to air as if nothing had happened at their end. At my end however I had caused the office a brief moment of hilarity by filling the silence with the first thing that came to hand – a trail proudly boasting of our LIVE UNINTERRUPTED COMMENTARY which for one very brief moment was the emptiest of empty boasts.

The aftermath of the game prompted a few worried conversations afterwards as everyone wondered whether the flaky communications was going to be an ongoing issue throughout the whole tournament. We were at that point just 24 hours away from the first England game of the World Cup and were facing the prospect of having that too fall off the air dramatically. I did my best to assure everyone that I did not think it was going to happen. In my experience the first day of a major event such as the World Cup is always plagued with teething troubles as the final kinks in the system are ironed out. If we were suffering problems then you can bet that hundreds of other broadcasters around the world were going through the same thing, all of whom would be banging on the doors of the organisers and advising them to get things sorted at their earliest convenience – and preferably sooner.

Sure enough the problems were not confined to the radio, and on the Saturday afternoon whilst preparing for the England match that evening I turned up the sound of the BBC1 commentary on the earlier game and heard the voice of Jonathan Pearce cutting in and out as his own feed from the stadium broke up and at times vanished altogether.

One final amusing postscript to these first day challenges came that evening at the stadium in Rustenburg for the first England game. Still reeling from the challenges of the previous day, the team onsite informed me down the line that they had run into ITV anchor Jim Rosenthal in the press room who had chuckled at their plight and dryly commiserated with them about the technical problems we had suffered. He who laughs last and all that… five minutes into the match came the now infamous ITV technical failure which saw their HD channel cut accidentally to a commercial just as England’s first goal against the USA was scored. After informing the team down the line of this disaster and the shitstorm that was inevitably brewing amongst those watching back home, I am told that a whole band of British radio producers instantly began counting the moments until they ran into Big Jim again, if only to commiserate with him sincerely about the terrible technical problems he and his employers were experiencing.

Jun 30

Live Football. Breathe Football. Part One

….and RELAX. The uncharacteristic radio silence emanating from Masterton towers over the past few weeks is naturally down to a certain football tournament taking place in South Africa at the present time. Working for a sports radio station and also being one of the main live sport producers on said sports radio station means that the arrival of the World Cup brings with it a working schedule which at times feels like it will take almost four years to recover from.

Hence this rather fragmented series of writeups, the product of two and a half weeks of random jottings that somehow I’ve not had the opportunity to collate together into a coherent posting until today – the first day for 19 weeks that I haven’t had a live football match to magic into existence on the radio.

Magic? Well it certainly feels like that at times.

The Phoney War

We had been talking about it for months, the plans for the World Cup, speculating on who amongst the programming and production staff would actually be travelling out to South Africa, what the schedules would be, which superstar signing would be next to pull on on the grounds that he was playing in the tournament (thanks Jamie!) and just how big a party we were all going to deserve at the end of it. The fact that the World Cup was about to start for real was actually only hammered home by a brief online tweet from the man responsible for making sure everything at the South Africa end happened the way it should.

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Without seeing it all in place it is hard to convey just what a huge logistical operation a major event like this is for one small radio station. Aside from the huge crate of broadcast equipment which had to be logged, inventoried, tagged and painstakingly declared for customs at both ends of the journey, the movement of people and where they will all be from one day to the next is a whole new level of stress on top of that. Commentary teams have to be driven, bussed and flown from one stadium to the next in the early stages, with hotel rooms booked, accreditation sorted, communications links prepared and all naturally with a contingency plan in place just in case the worst happens.

On top of this, everyone back at base has to be fully briefed and up to speed on the way management want everything to sound. A week before it all kicked off, this briefing took the form of the distribution of the carefully compiled document which quickly became known as The Bible:

TheBible

This is my now well-worn copy, containing details of the staff out in South Africa and their contact numbers, ISDN numbers for our main broadcast base, our positions inside each stadium, the emergency contact for the host broadcasters, details of all sponsored features around the games, the full programme schedules for the next four weeks and most crucially off all the staffing rotas back at base, a day by day run down of who was working on which game and what duties they would undertake. Anyone expressing confusion as to what they should be doing and when was generally beaten up with a copy of The Bible which contained the definitive picture of who was where, regardless of what people claimed they had been told.

It was at this point at the start of the first full week in June that we entered what came to be known as the Phoney War. Most of the broadcast staff had flown out to South Africa at the weekend, ready to start our World Cup programming on the Monday and to properly build up the excitement and anticipation for the forthcoming festival of football. These four days were in actual fact the most challenging of all for everyone involved because naturally they involved four days of pretty much nothing happening. The team’s solution was to throw themselves headlong into as much South African culture as they could, resulting each day in several packages being sent down the line of our presenters and commentators visiting townships, historical monuments, safari parks and on one memorable occasions standing awestruck as a celebratory parade passed through the centre of Johannesburg. It was this parade in particular that exposed us for the first time to the devastating effect of a cheap plastic trumpet, something which was to become a recurring theme and indeed a headache for just about every broadcaster involved. More on that later however.

For my part I was dizzy with both anticipation and frustration, because essentially I had nothing to do. My role was master of the live matches, games which did not start until the Friday and for which all the preparation was pretty much complete. I was simply counting the hours until 1pm at the end of the week when the output was mine to control, our presenters could welcome everyone to Soccer City and the opening ceremony could get underway. Little did I guess that the problems were only just beginning.

Jun 05

Not Quite A Jaguar

punto int I last wrote about cars a little over a year ago, noting at the time the fact that as I had no need to own a car, my personal parking space was more than a little superfluous. No longer, I now berth my very own car there.

In truth this is more than a little fraudulent, as for the second time in my adult life I have been “gifted” an end of life vehicle that my parents were about to trade in and found it was probably more worthwhile to give it a proper home instead. Never one to turn down an act of familial generosity, I thus am the proud keeper (as the law would have it) of a ten year old white Fiat Punto.

Can I confess now what a weird feeling it all is?

It is literally almost 15 years since I last owned a car, August 1995 being the final burial of the similarly donated Talbot Alpine which had served me so well during my student years. Whilst I’ve driven at regularly spaced intervals since then, be it either driving the officially branded vehicle of whatever radio station I was working at or borrowing one or the other of my parents’ cars whilst at home for a Christmas break, this will mark the first time in a decade and a half I’ve been a regular behind the wheel of a vehicle I have been responsible for maintaining.

You may not appreciate this if you have been motoring for all this time, but whilst I have been “away” it seems that driving has changed beyond all recognition. This isn’t so much down to the price of fuel or the numbers of vehicles on the road, more the numerous ways in which it is possible to fall foul of regulations and which require far more attention to detail than I was ever used to previously. I used to laugh at the number of people who would phone up the radio station and bang on about the “war on motorists” or treat the regular guests who were experts on parking ticket and speeding camera loopholes like they were Gods, but clearly the more wedded you are to your car and its attendant benefits the more you come to resent the obstacles that stand in your way of appreciating it properly.

Back when I was last a regular driver there were hardly any speed cameras or mandatory bus lanes at all. Now it seems you spend half your journey in a state of paranoia about falling foul of the law. Do people really need gadgets on their dashboard to ping every time there is a camera site approaching? Having driven for a short while the other day with a borrowed sat nav on the dashboard chirping away like there is no tomorrow I have to confess to seeing the point. Driving in South London it was clear that whilst the white stripy lines on the road were indeed placed at points where accidents were clearly possible, at times it seemed almost illogical that I was crawling along at some arbitrarily defined lower limit when at the time the journey took place the road and traffic conditions clearly did not merit the same level of caution. Indeed given that I now had half my attention focused on the speedometer and consequently rather less on the road in front, was my driving really any safer as a result of driving under the fear of getting a penalty notice in the post?

Granted London is a special case and with the sheer number of people around and the volumes of traffic involved, it is entirely possible that road interdictions proliferate here to a far greater extent than they do in the rest of the country. Nonetheless any driver reading this will sympathise with the added complication of not only driving to avoid hitting pedestrians or other vehicles but also of maintaining a strict lane discipline for fear of straying even momentarily into a bus lane and being subjected to the three figure fines that the roadside warnings suggest will be the consequence of doing so.

You cannot help but compare this to the way people behave in other countries. I’ve spent a fair amount of time being driven around the streets of Kiev when visiting the in-laws, a city and a culture where road sense seems to be based on instinct rather than a paperback book of laws. Yes there are roads with lane markings and junctions, but these often seem to be based on little more than best efforts, an aspiration when traffic volumes mean people have to wait their turn. The rest of the time it is pretty much as you like, people drifting down multi lane highways in groups of two or three abreast, the occasional thump on the horn being all it needs to bring any errant steering into line. Parking there appears at times to be an enormously liberated pastime. Yes there are properly organised parking areas, complete with ticket issuing attendants, but in other places and on side streets it can often be a cheerful free for all with cars tucked into verge and on kerbs wherever a space may afford itself. Maybe this is all regulated in some way, but to the casual visitor it all seems very relaxed and egalitarian. Everyone with a car needs to park it up, and if a person with a car has put it there and is not blocking anything then it is fair enough, everyone else will work around it.

That is another joy of driving again in Britain, dealing with the perils of parking. On Thursday evening as a way of practising driving into central London when it was relatively quiet, I drove the car into work so I could reap the benefit of jumping into my vehicle at 1am when the show finished and not have to stand in reception in fear that the pre-booked taxi was going to take 20 minutes to show up. Parking outside the office in the evening is normally a doddle, our quiet south bank street relatively free from traffic at that time of day. Not so this week as I had somehow timed my trip to coincide with a five a side tournament taking place on the plastic pitches across the road. Thus the area was rammed and I had to initially tour the block to find a spare space. Mindful of the number of times I had chuckled to myself as the enthusiastic parking attendants of Southwark council towed another hapless vehicle away, I triple checked the nearby signs to make sure the car was safe there at least for a few moments.

It was whilst making the final parking arrangements for the evening though that I discovered the most important change in motoring in the decade and a half that I had been away. Big expensive cars have become far more complicated than ever before.

I discovered this on Thursday evening when I asked the security guard for the gates of the private car park at the office to be opened so I could tuck my car inside rather than leave it to be ticketed or uprooted. In return for this favour he enlisted my help to rearrange the existing vehicles inside the cramped courtyard so better maximise the use of space, proffering me a handful of keys that their owners had deposited with the front desk as is the rule.

This was all relatively easy, except when it came to the final task of shifting Alan Brazil’s car, a vast and gleaming BMW model that positively glowed with top of the range sheen. After negotiating which button to press on the remote control for the door lock, I climbed inside and made to start it up, grimacing slightly at the fact that I needed to teach myself on the fly how to activate the automatic gearbox.

I extracted what seemed to be the ignition key from its pouch and searched for the lock. Only there wasn’t one. Nothing that looked as if it was a spot where you inserted and turned something made of stainless steel – the time honoured way of starting even the most exciting of cars in my experience. Then on the dashboard I saw a button – “IGNITION ON/OFF” – which I pressed. Lights, radio and air conditioning all sprang into life. Despite begging it otherwise, the engine did not.

To my shame then I had to call upstairs to other colleagues in the office who had in the past been on car moving duties.

“How on earth do you start Brazil’s car then?” was my plaintive cry.

Various discussions took place until one of them remembered:

“Hold down the brake pedal whilst pressing the button, that should work.”

I was instantly transported back to the days of my little 50cc scooter with its automatic ignition which too required an application of the back brake whilst pressing the button. Amused that an expensive executive model used the same mode of operation as one of the cheapest vehicles on the road, I pressed the button and the engine coughed into life. Wrestling with the gear stick to work out how to take the car out of “park” mode, a computer screen flashed into life with detailed instructions on what button to press. Shifting the car into reverse, I was further surprised by a fresh display showing how far the onboard proximity sensors believed I was from any nearby obstacles.

At this I was at once amused and insulted. After all part of the art of driving is surely the ability to manoeuvre your car without any kind of remote assistance. Whilst a student I prided myself on my ability to turn and park on a 50 pence piece using little more than my wing mirrors, a necessary skill if you wanted to squeeze in to a perimeter parking space on the university campus. Yet here I was in a vehicle that was presumably owned and driven by only the most experienced of drivers, surrounded by all manner of gadgets that were designed to remove what remaining pieces of skill were required to park. Small wonder that the BMW was parked at an angle across the courtyard and I was the one being required to make the final adjustments to get everything to fit neatly. I ignore the whines from the computers and edged the car up against the metal fences. Its owner wasn’t needing it until morning, and I wanted to fit my car in behind it for the next few hours.

Clearly I do have some catching up to do. In fifteen years motoring has changed to mean that there are pitfalls aplenty for the average motorist to fall into, the chances of falling foul of speed cameras, bus lanes and even congestion charges an order of magnitude higher than they once were. Add to that the fact that people are now driving around in cars that appear to do everything but steer for you automatically and I wonder if I am one of a dying breed of old school drivers who still knows how to use a choke knob.

Oh yes, and I do have a sat nav – the temptation to “do an Uncle Bryn” and thank the woman inside for each instruction appears to be overwhelming. I’m tempted to switch the voice to Russian and start driving like I am in Kiev. That will show a few people.

May 29

One Step To 2002 – Part Four

I did say that would happen didn’t I? You post something even remotely disparaging about a Darren Hayes record and some intensely passionate fan is straight down your throat with outrage. Made me smile anyway.

We are long overdue in wrapping this up, so time to press on and finish this chart of May 2002. If nothing else the public deserves to know what the title of the posts are cryptically referring to.

10: Russell Watson and Faye Tozer – Someone Like You

We start with a genuine out of nowhere oddity, but one which as you might imagine has something of a story behind it. Pop legends Steps had dissolved with an announcement on Boxing Day 2001, the break up of the group prompted by the decision of H and Claire (of whom more later) to strike out on their own. At the time the bitterest comments about the defection came from Faye Tozer who threw words such as “betrayal” around with wild abandon in the press. You suspect she was only silenced when offers of solo deals began to be waved in the faces of many of the former members of the group.

Her one and only moment of post-Steps chart glory however came thanks to this one-off collaboration, born out of a chance encounter between herself and mum-friendly opera star Russell Watson during a Proms In The Park concert the previous summer. Watson had grazed the bottom end of the charts in previous years thanks to records for the 1999 World Cup squad and duet with Sean Ryder of all people on ‘Barcelona’ – his signature track thanks to its association with his performances prior to Manchester United’s Champions League victories that year. Until this moment however he had never landed himself a proper mainstream pop hit single.

‘Someone Like You’ had originally appeared on Watson’s 2001 debut album ‘The Voice’ with Cleopatra Higgins performing the English language co-vocal duties whilst Watson himself crooned the Italian lyrics, but she was replaced for this re-recorded single by the former Steps star who turned in what is truth be told a masterful performance. It seems almost crazy looking back, but somehow the single clicked quite magically, Tozer doing what I described as the time as her best Celine Dion impression and helping to turn what is at the end of the day a slice of easy listening schmaltz into a single which was there in the Top 10 on merit. I’m sure nobody but the most enthusiastic Russell Watson fans will have heard it since its release, particularly as it was a non-album single, but feel free to check it out on the playlists. You may actually be pleasantly surprised.

9: Tweet – Oops (Oh My)

Not quite a one hit wonder (she charted twice more after this one), this single is nonetheless pretty much the only hit for which Tweet is remembered in the UK charts. A slinky R&B song that would perhaps otherwise have little to recommend it, ‘Oops (Oh My)’ was notorious for its slightly daring lyrics which pretty much implied the singer was in the process of bringing herself off. With a straight face Tweet always insisted that it was so much more than a song about wanking, but I suspect very few people were totally convinced. Her one other claim to fame is being the first person to record the track ‘Boogie 2Nite’ which was initially slated to be a single for her in late 2002 only for the release to be cancelled. It would otherwise have languished on her debut album ‘Southern Hummingbird’ before being turned into a pop hit by Booty Luv in late 2006.

8: Nickelback – How You Remind Me

A track that rightly or wrongly needs little in the way of introduction from me, with some justification one of the better known rock singles of the early part of the last decade. Demand for ‘How You Remind Me’ was such that the track had arrived on the UK charts as an import single some weeks before its initial release in March 2002. Made fully available, the track bucked all manner of prevailing chart trends by settling in for a Top 10 run which would be considered exceptional even in the then forthcoming download era. This Number 8 placing was in fact its final week as a Top 10 hit, the end of a run that had seen ‘How You Remind Me’ rocket up and down the table to peak at Number 4 on two separate occasions during an 11 week run. But for the similarly ubiquitous ‘Rockstar’ it would be their biggest and biggest selling hit single ever and it is maybe little surprise that it took them five and a half years to even begin to live up to it.

7: ‘NSync – Girlfriend

It is a strange and almost fitting irony that ‘NSync’s biggest ever UK hit single turned out to be their swansong as a group together, their final single and last ever chart entry making an easy Number 2 the moment it was released. The third hit single from their 2001 album ‘Celebrity’, the promotion of the album was fraught with tension as the rest of the group resented what was seen as the pushing of Justin Timberlake to the fore on lead vocals and promotional work, almost as if he was being prepped in advance for the solo career that was inevitably going to follow. Indeed ‘Girlfriend’ is almost interchangeable with just about any Timberlake record from the next four years, a tight as could be four minutes of funk-pop helmed by The Neptunes in what was rapidly becoming their signature style and a world away from the bubbly Max Martin penned pop that had previously been ‘NSync’s musical trademark. I was always down on the single for that reason as to be it was nothing like the ‘NSync of old, but as its chart peak proves it was absolutely the right record for the group to be making, one which dragged their sound and most importantly that of their soon to be superstar “lead” singer kicking and screaming into a new decade and further musical relevance. In short, see this as the first Timberlake single and judge its quality on those merits – it is unlikely to disappoint on that basis.

6: Sugababes – Freak Like Me

My favourite kind of hit record this – one with a genuine 22 carat gold story behind it.

One of the best pop records of the year started out having nothing to do with the group who eventually were to record it. It was in the summer of 2001 that a bootleg mash up of Gary Numan’s 1979 smash hit ‘Are Friends Electric’ and Adina Howard’s 1995 track ‘Freak Like Me’ began circulating. Credited to “Girls On Top” the mash-up (entitled at the time ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Are Friends’) was the work of a then little known Richard X, a man who would subsequently make the whole “one song to the tune of another” his signature style. The rights to the track were swiftly snapped up by Island Records who set about attempting to clear it for release.

Except they couldn’t, for Adina Howard (or people connected with her) dug their heels in and refused to allow her vocals to be used on what they saw as an unauthorised remix. Never mind that despite worldwide success in 1995 the original version of ‘Freak Like Me’ had crawled to a mere Number 33 in the UK and was more known thanks to a two-step cover version which had charted in 2000, the record was not to come out with Ms Howard’s vocals intact and that was the end of it. Island records had the rights perfect hit record idea but lacked the right act to record it.

Enter then the Sugababes who were themselves at the time something of a lost cause. after making an initial splash in late 2000 with their debut single ‘Overload’ the all-girl trio had seen their subsequent singles struggle badly in the charts (something which to this day I attribute to some awful production that made them sound whiny and grating rather than tuneful) and to make matters worse they had all fallen out spectacularly whilst on a promotional tour and had not for the last time seen one of their members quit. Although Siobahn had been replaced with Heidi in fairly short order their label London records had lost patience and declined their option for a second Sugababes album. To their eternal credit their management refused to lose hope and secured a deal with Island records – a label who just happened to have the perfect hit record in the wings and needed singers to help them over a tricky copyright issue.

So it was that the Gary Numan-soundtracked version of ‘Freak Like Me’ became a Sugababes single and upon release an instant smash hit Number One record. Looking back it is hard to convey just what a sensation this was as a concept. Yes, a mash-up record in the shape of ‘Toca’s Miracle’ had been a Number One hit two years earlier but for an act to cover an already famous song with an entirely new backing track attached was something of a first. ‘Freak Like Me’ has been somewhat eclipsed since due to the fact that the Sugababes have subsequently released original material which was even better than this, but it is a nice reminder to hear again the work of creative genius that rescued the biggest pop act of the decade from the dumper and maybe as well turned one of the most famous R&B songs of the 1990s into a 2000s Number One hit.

5: Nigel & Marvin – Follow Da Leader

A rare and dare I suggest almost unique example of Reaction Calypso making the UK charts. Whilst I don’t think anyone has ever actually made a soca track that wasn’t a hard to resist command to get up and dance like there is no tomorrow, real life brothers Nigel and Marvin Lewis made such records their stock in trade from the 1990s onwards, their tracks a series of enthusiastically shouted instructions to the willing partygoers who would generally lap them up at beachside discos.

‘Follow Da Leader’ was first released by the pair back in 1997 and despite a stripped to the bone Ringbang production had spread to the holiday resorts and carnival seasons of Europe , this leading to the pair securing support slots with acts such as Shaggy, Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill. The track’s long overdue assault on the charts came thanks to a rather inspired club remix of the single which removed virtually all of their original production and replaced it instead with the thundering rave beats of ‘I Wanna Be U’, a Top 10 hit a year earlier for Chocolate Puma. All of a sudden ‘Follow Da Leader’ was transformed from a track that you may have vaguely heard at the Notting Hill carnival into a bone fide club smash  – and a Top 5 hit to boot.

That said, the single release was not without some issues. Those buying the CD single will have felt rather short-changed thanks to the lead “radio mix” which dramatically shortened the track to less than three minutes but perhaps most crucially played down the call and response concept of the original in favour of making it little more than a club record based around relentless repetition of the chorus. Talk about missing the point. The power of ‘Follow Da Leader’ was that it was a record which began gently with some hand waving and built to a frenzied crescendo of jumping, waving and screaming. It is essentially one of the greatest party records ever made, something that was all but lost in the version which was played on the Top 40 and which appeared on Now 52 a few months later. Fortunately the CD single also contained the slightly longer “video mix” which as the title suggests was the same version used on the video which was in heavy rotation on music channels during the spring of 2002 and which properly respected the original structure of the track. With Spotify bizarrely only having the little heard these days original version in its catalogue, the best way to remember it is via this video. Just make sure you have a rum based drink to hand afterwards, for the track will inspire in you an almost impossible to satisfy craving.

4: S Club Juniors – One Step Closer

To think once upon a time the minipops were once considered a bad idea. With the S Club 7 franchise steamrollering pop with apparently no stopping, just about any side project Simon Fuller suggested was grabbed with wild enthusiasm. The S Club Juniors were presumably originally meant to be nothing more than a sight gag, the adult band members having their own mini me equivalents who could join them on stage as support at Wembley Arena at the climax of their S Club Carnival tour in 2001. Somehow it became more than that, and via a series of auditons shown Popstars-style on children’s television, the eight pre-teen singers and dancers who were to form the S Club Juniors were recruited ready for a pop career of their own. ‘One Step Closer’ was their first and most famous hit single, a thundering disco-inspired pop record that was never going to do anything other than charge towards the top of the charts, the single denied by a whisker the chance to hit Number One and so instead was restricted to a none too shabby Number 2 placing.

When the original S Clubbers broke up a year or so later, the juniors were promoted to full status, becoming in the process the S Club 8 for a further album before their label lost interest. Despite the string of hit singles that were to follow this one, I always felt somewhat uncomfortable even trying to appreciate their records. There was no logic to it really, and just about everything to do with the group was done with the purest motives, it was just that there was something quite wrong about a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds dancing around singing what were at times some quite adult lyrics – the “boy you keep me up all night” line from their second single ‘Automatic High’ being a natural case in point. Looking over everything I ever wrote about the S Club Juniors, one theme kept coming to the fore. “This is a fantastic pop record”, I would say, “but the whole thing just feels wrong. I can’t sit and appreciate the dance routines in the video without wanting to alert the Daily Mail about myself”.

Sad that concerns about the age of the group should get in the way of appreciating the records, but what can you do? Forget who is singing it though and ‘One Step Closer’ is a magnificently produced and immaculately performed pop record and enough to inspire anyone strictly over the age of 16 to hold on to their lovin’ with unabashed enthusiasm. As for the fate of the former S Club Juniors, Frankie and Rochelle now remain famous as adults as the core members of The Saturdays whilst Stacey… well….

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3: H & Claire – DJ

It was their fault! Truly it was. Whilst the whole Steps project was surely coming to the end of its natural life, it was the unlikely pairing of Ian ‘H’ Watkins and Claire Richards who tendered their resignations and swiftly inked their own deal, clearly feeling there was more mileage in a permanently smiling pop duo making ever more cheesy bubbly pop. As a statement of intent ‘DJ’ wasn’t the worst record in the world, even if at times it did appear to be little more than a step by step (no pun intended) retread of ‘Don’t Stop Movin’. Nonetheless whilst watching the duo strut their stuff on Top Of The Pops it was impossible to escape the nagging feeling that maybe they were just a little too old to be bouncing up and down to such kid-friendly pop and that the more considered adult direction apparently being pursued by their former bandmate was a more sensible way forward. Still, with both this and ‘Someone Like You’ arriving in the stores in the same week it meant that this chart was a mini battle of the Steps camps, with the cheesy ones winning out in assured style. Sadly for H & Claire continuing superstardom was not to be theirs, and despite two more Top 10 singles during 2002 their album ‘Another You Another Me’ was a colossal bomb and they retreated to count their royalties – as you suspect they probably should have done in the first place.

2: Holly Valance – Kiss Kiss

“I’m not actually naked in the video you know” protested Holly Valance at every opportunity she had, thus shattering the freeze-frame dreams of a thousand adolescents across the nation and neatly undermining the biggest talking point of her debut pop release. The latest in a seemingly never ending line of Neighbours stars wanting to try their hand at a musical career, the erstwhile Flick Scully made her chart debut thanks to an English language version of a rather famous continental hit. Turkish star Tarkan first recorded Kiss Kiss (back then entitled ‘Simank’) in 1997 and its popular blend of traditional Ottoman rhythms with club beats had surely grazed the ears of many a holidaymaker in the intervening period. By a strange coincidence TV star Graham Norton had been using the original track in the nightly trailers for his Channel 4 chat show for several months before Holly Valance’s release, further cementing the song in the minds of a large audience. Thus when ‘Kiss Kiss’ debuted on the radio it was fair to say that many people were familiar with the idea already, perhaps ensuring that the single could hardly fail. Helpful too was the ready made celebrity of the glamorous Australian star and yes, that video in which she writhed around in what were quickly revealed to be flesh coloured pants whilst lighting effects conveyed the impression that were were seeing far more of Ms Valance’s flesh that was generally the case on tea time television. ‘Kiss Kiss’ soared to Number One in the week of its release, turning Holly Valance into a major star, although her single chart career was vanishingly briefly, the hits drying up in late 2003 when her second album stiffed..

1: Ronan Keating – If Tomorrow Never Comes

Ah, topical irony ahoy. Back when he was just a wide-eyed and innocent former member of Boyzone, Ronan Keating was on a roll when it came to his solo career. His debut album ‘Ronan’ had spawned four smash hit singles with both ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ and ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster’ charging to Number One in short order. After a short break during 2001 during which time a failed attempt was made to turn him into an American star, he returned to British shores to plot his next move. Stateside failure aside, there was little reason to presume his second album would not repeat the success of the first, and so it proved with this introductory track carving an almost obligatory path to the top of the charts. Although unfamiliar to British audiences, ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ was an already established standard in other markets, one of Garth Brooks’ first ever hit singles dating back from 1989. Mining the back catalogue of C&W stars for potential pop hits was to prove an easy route to success for many of Louis Walsh’s charges over the next few years although it is not unreasonable to bemoan the utter blandness with which the future X Factor judge seemed to want to drown pop music. At the time one could only step back and applaud the almost perfect marketing machine and the attendant fan power that propelled Ronan Keating back to Number One with ease, the tear-jerking video which accompanied the track the perfect way to ensure just about every female heart aged 15-45 was captured. Nonetheless looking back at this chart as a whole, it seems almost offensive that a parade of some quite impressive pop tracks from a golden age of chart music should be headed up for this week at least by an MOR aberration, a comfortably easy listening record that had virtually zero relevance to prevailing musical trends or the tastes of the people who made up the usual singles buying demographic.

Musically it is hard to fault Ronan Keating tracks such as this, but artistically it falls a long way short of perfection. Plus I guess it doesn’t help it is now hard to picture him with his trousers on isn’t it?

So we finally got there, that was the chart of May 12th 2010 in all its glory. For those coming late to the party there are Spotify and We7 playlists online, each featuring 34 of the 40 songs featured. Now please excuse me, I’m off to continue stalking and frightening former child pop stars.

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May 24

One Step To 2002 – Part Three

Outside the world of music in May 2002, the papers were full of this kind of stuff:

This was the weekend of the Hatfield rail crash, when a train derailed on approach to the station and mounted the platform, coming to rest wedged underneath the station canopy. Just prior to departing for the Far East, David and Victoria Beckham staged a star-studded charity “Gucci and Sushi” party on their back lawn with the England star turning up dressed as a samurai warrior. Ahead of the World Cup, many football league clubs were staring at their balance sheets in dismay after ITV Digital collapsed into Administration and ceased paying for its TV rights and meanwhile TV viewers on Teesside besieged the BBC with calls after the revived Auf Wiedersehen Pet portrayed the dismantling of the famous River Tees transporter bridge thanks to some special effects that were so realistic people were worried it was happening for real.

On the chart, we’ve reached the Top 20 – time to hit the play button once more.

20: Darren Hayes – Insatiable

This was the first of what would turn out to be a long string of solo hits for the former Savage Garden front man, the Australian star having abandoned his home nation to set up shop permanently in the UK by this point. ‘Insatiable’ turned out to be the biggest of his solo years, his only single to make the Top 10 with successive releases never making it past the Top 20. Part of the problem was I think that Hayes was very much an acquired taste as a solo artist. Hearing ‘Insatiable’ again only serves to hammer home the reason why, his high pitched vocals manage to irritate just as much as they appealed. Somehow whilst these silky smooth tones worked for the hushed whisper required to deliver Savage Garden classics such as ‘I Want You’, on his solo work his little girl voice just came across as risible. Due to that, ‘Insatiable’ is a horrible, painful record to listen to and features towards the end a key change that is so clunky and so out of nowhere it is hard to believe the producer of the track (no less a figure than Walter Afanasieff you will note) let it out of the studio in that state.

I think this record coloured by view of Hayes’ solo career for the next five years as I could never bring myself to say anything too constructive about the records, dismissing them mostly as lightweight pieces of fluff that were destined for short chart lives – as indeed they all were. This was a continual source of distress to his die-hard fans who would bombard me with angst-ridden emails about what a hero and what a towering talent he was. I just never really got him, and ‘Insatiable’ is a perfect reminder of why.

19: Gareth Gates – Unchained Melody

When we talked about the Will Young single lower down the chart, it was interesting to note the views of one commentator who pointed out that ‘Evergreen’ was in fact “the song that Gareth Gates was supposed to sing”. Gates you see was actually the anointed one throughout the climax of the original Pop Idol, the contestant who was supposed to walk away with the prize at the end.

Gates’ appeal was obvious from the outset, a cherub-faced former choirboy stricken with a chronic stutter that meant he could barely even tell the judging panel his own name at his first audition. Give him a song to sing however and he was pitch perfect – effectively Pop Idol’s first ever sob story and one which propelled him almost by default to the final and what was presumed at the time to be his triumphant claiming of the crown. More than any other contestant on the show, he was a true teen Pop Idol in waiting. Even after his shock defeat at the hands of WIll Young, it was inevitable that Gates would be signed up for a singing career in fairly short order. His first single was a track that a tyro Simon Cowell boldly predicted would sell him a million copies if he were ever to release it – ‘Unchained Melody’.

No matter that the song had already been Number One twice in the 1990s, the second time at the hands of Robson and Jerome and with the guiding hand of one S.Cowell behind it. ‘Unchained Melody’ was released just three weeks after the Will Young single with Gates neatly replacing his rival at the top of the charts. When the final sales tallies for the year were added up, Will Young was at Number One and Gareth Gates was at Number 2, both singles selling well over a million copies and more than double poor Enrique Iglesias in third place. Indeed Will’s single is to this day the 12th biggest selling single of all time in this country whilst Gareth Gates at the time was Number 38 on the all time list.

History would ultimately record that Will Young was the rightful winner, his chart career last far longer than that of Gareth Gates whose appeal proved all too fleeting. Then again maybe Will Young was a proper singing star – Gates really was little more than the titular Pop Idol who bankability lasted only as long as his need for an acne wash.

A word finally on Unchained Melody, as with this rendition it set two important benchmarks of its own – charting in more different versions than any other song ever, and to date the only song in chart history to have been taken to to the top of the charts by four different acts.

18: Bellefire – All I Want Is You

Louis Walsh may have been the undisputed king of Irish boy bands at the turn of the century, but let’s be honest he stunk the place out when it came to replicating that success with females. Bellefire weren’t originally intended to be an all-girl group but the story is they came out when all the prospective male auditionees for a proposed mixed sex group turned out to be duds, so Walsh and his backers went with the girls instead. Bellefire’s first hit single was the dreamy ‘Perfect Bliss’ which staggered to Number 18 in July 2001 but it took over nine months for their second to appear. Attempting to go for a tap-in hit, the girls were handed the song that U2 had taken to the Top 10 thirteen years earlier, the track originally appearing on the ‘Rattle And Hum’ album. It wasn’t that the Bellefire version was a bad record, far from it, but it was clear that whilst the notion of sappy balladry sung by good looking boys was a winning formula for the likes of Boyzone and Westlife, people had little reason to care about the work of fresh faced Irish maidens – at least not outside their native country where their single were far more successful. The supposedly guaranteed hit entered the charts here and fell away quickly before anyone had really noticed it was around. It would be two years before Bellefire reappeared on the charts, reduced now to a trio after having been touted around any label that would have them.

Oddly they are so little remembered that the only tracks of theirs available for streaming are those which featured on their debut single. Hence we’re raiding YouTube for the only opportunity to hear them in action.

17: Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott featuring Eve – 4 My People

A single that marked the very peak of Missy Elliott’s powers as a chart force, one which kicked off a run of four straight Top 10 singles that she has so far yet to better in her long and respected chart career. The third single to be lifted from her 2001 album ‘Miss E… So Addictive, the track was co-penned by a certain Tim Moseley who at that time was busy trying to persuade people to call him “Timbaland” in a change of image that was to work wonders in the years to come. ‘4 My People’ features a guest vocal from Eve in what was surprisingly the only time the two women collaborated on a hit record.

16: Mary J Blige – No More Drama

Every time Mary J Blige releases a record I am forced to note that for all her long career and critically acclaimed work, most people would be hard pressed to name one of her songs, let along sing along to one. ‘No More Drama’ gave her an all too rare Top 10 hit when it made Number 9 in early May 2002 and was the title track from her fifth album which had been released the previous summer. The track is based around a sample from ‘Nadia’s Theme’, a reference which would be lost on most British listeners but which is famous Stateside as the theme to the TV soap “The Young And The Restless”, a fact which is directly referenced in the lyrics of the song. The song’s most recent mainstream use came towards the end of 2008 when Rachel Hylton performed it on an X Factor results show in what turned out to be a successful attempt to avoid elimination. I noted at the time that although a powerful song that had been a Top 10 hit, most people would struggle to even place it.

15: Hundred Reasons – Silver

Their name makes them sound like they should be another Belgian trance act, but Hundred Reasons were (and I guess indeed still are despite a lack of recorded material in the past few years) a British alternative rock act from Surrey. ‘Silver’ was their third Top 40 hit single and heralded the release of their debut album ‘Ideas Above Our Station’ which came out a couple of weeks later. Fate would ensure it turned out to be their biggest, progressing no further than this Number 15 entry point. Not a bad track by any means, but a reflection of its enduring appeal is the fact that hearing it whilst playing the tape to write this piece was the first time I’d heard it since it made the charts.

14: X Press 2 featuring David Byrne – Lazy

Dance trio X Press 2 had been making and releasing records since the early 1990s with little to show for it in terms of crossover mainstream success, that was until they recruited Talking Heads frontman David Byrne to provide the laconic lead vocals on the chilled out house track ‘Lazy’. One of the biggest dance hits of the year, the track soared to Number 2 instantly upon release in late April and to this day is something of a classic of its kind. The single is nothing less than a mini masterpiece, essentially a Talking Heads track with a house piano added, Byrne’s narrative delivery allowed the space to breathe and giving him the highest charting single of his own career – a full 17 years since he was previously a Top 10 artist with ‘Road To Nowhere’.

13: Shakedown – At Night

An early contender for an Ibiza floor-filler, ‘At Night’ was the work of two Swiss brothers Stephane and Sebastien Kohler who branded themselves Shakedown for a string of singles releases during the mid-2000s. You may not quite be able to place the single from the title (I know I couldn’t), but even the first few bars should bring memories of that particular summer flooding back – this single really was that ubiquitous.

12: Aaliyah – Rock The Boat

Something of a bittersweet release for Aaliyah, this her second posthumous release following her tragic death at the end of 2001. Indeed it was whilst filming the video for ‘Rock The Boat’ that she suffered the plane crash that was to end her life at the tragically young age of 22 and hence it was at times awkward to watch the clip without being reminded that the woman in it had literally just hours to live while it was being filmed. At the time of her death the track ‘More Than A Woman’ was the one prepped for release and it was that track which had the honour of hitting Number One in her memory at the start of 2002. Truth be told it was actually the better track of the two and a far better choice to have her mark her place in chart history. ‘Rock The Boat’ is a laid back but ultimately rather plodding R&B ballad which gently peaked here as a new entry at Number 12.

11: Shakira – Whenever Wherever

Well you could hardly pick a better single to pause the countdown on could you? Surely this needs no introduction, the single that launched Colombian singer Shakira onto the English speaking world, one of the most diverting, appealing and downright enjoyable singles she would ever release and an opening gambit she herself would confess took a lot of living up to. Featuring the now infamous line about her small and humble breasts and a video which at the time I described as containing “more raw sexuality than is surely legal to broadcast on daytime MTV” (I told you I watched all my music down the gym at that time didn’t I), the single was a smash hit worldwide and did the business in this country too, peaking at Number 2 in early March. The single would ultimately sell over half a million copies and wind up as the seventh biggest seller of 2002, beating any number of Number One hits in the process. Fire up the streaming services and revel in the company of a genuine pop classic.

Streaming services? Spotify and We7 playlists naturally (featuring 25 of the 30 songs so far) which are now up to date for this piece. See you shortly for the Top 10 as we conclude this wander through the May 12th 2002 Top 40 chart.

May 19

One Step To 2002 – Part Two

Just for a change I don’t have an interesting “where I was in life” story to tell about May 2002. I was living in a shared house in Tottenham, going to work in my media/IT crossover job Monday to Friday and then contemplating my ever diminishing bank balance during the course of each weekend. Seriously, I think summer 2002 was the only time in my life when I’ve bounced a rent check that was due just a week after I got paid. Thank goodness for a temporarily overseas landlady who didn’t spot the anomaly until a year later when I was about to move out.

My exposure to most new music at this time seemed to be via the TV screens at the gym as well, although this does mean some of them prompt a subconscious link and give me flashbacks. Most men break out in a sweat when they see Shakira videos, I just do it for honourable reasons.

Chart time. Press play….

30: Ali G and Shaggy – Me Julie

Another novelty track, this time the immortalisation of Sasha Baron Cohen’s first famous creation on record. ‘Me Julie’ was recorded especially for the soundtrack of the film ‘Ali G Indahouse’ but had little or no connection to the plot of the movie, the track simply an excuse for Ali G to exercise his full pretentions as a dancehall star whilst the ever game for a laugh Shaggy gamely attempted to hold things together around him. The danger with comedy records is that they can get old very quickly and lose their impact as the humour dates. ‘Me Julie’ just about straddles the line between fun pop record and joke, meaning that even with only a limited knowledge of the character and just why his deluded posturing is so funny it is possible to appreciate the record for what it is eight years down the line.

Honourable mention has to be made of Ali G’s own rap break towards the back end of the track, the first stanza of which is reproduced here for your entertainment:

You is better than J-Lo, next to you she is just a minger
Better than Destiny’s Child, well, apart from the lead singer
You is fitter than the Spice Girls including the Ginger
Give it a shave, ‘cos me wanna be in yer.

Incidentally the “clean radio edit” played on the Top 40 show provides some unintentional comedy as well, censoring the word “shave” in the above rap and thus making the line sound far ruder than it actually is.

29: Jennifer Lopez/Ja Rule – Ain’t It Funny (Murder Remix)

Speaking of “minger” J-Lo, here she is herself with a track that is one of my all-time favourite headscratchers. For this is a record which stretches the definition of the word “remix” to its very limits.

The original ‘Ain’t It Funny’ appeared on her 2001 album ‘J.Lo’ and was released as a single in the summer of 2001. A fun, latin-flavoured track it ranks as one of her best pop records ever and is forever in my head associated with wandering around the West End of London on a steamy summer Saturday, surrounded by lots of drunk happy people and with the track blasting out of the PA system of just about every bar you walked past.

Nine months later came this identically titled track, hailed to the world as a “remixed version” of her earlier hit. Except it was nothing of the sort. The 2002 ‘Ain’t It Funny’ was actually a totally different track, with different lyrics and a different melody. The only thing remotely “remixed” about the record was its use of the same title and an expanded set of collaborators, rapper Ja Rule joined by Cadillac Tah to drag Jennifer Lopez into the world of hip-hop for the very first time, one which arguably opened up whole new doors to her and gave her career a lease of life far beyond the latin-flavoured pop records with which she had started it.

So tell me blog readers, I’m not wrong am I? ‘Ain’t It Funny’ (2002) is in no sense of the word a remix of ‘Ain’t It Funny’ (2001) vintage. Despite writer Cory Rooney being credited on both, the two are entirely different songs written in different styles and on completely different subject matters. Was the word “remix” really added to the title just to cover up the fact that Lopez was promoting two different singles with the same name just a few months apart from each other?

28: Lost Witness – Did I Dream (Song To The Siren)

A new entry here on this chart, this was the fourth and final Top 40 entry for Messrs Paul and Kemper who traded at the start of the decade as trance act Lost Witness. Arriving two years after their previous hit ‘7 Colours’, this single was either a moment of inspired genius or the ultimate offensive sacrilege depending on your point of view. As the title suggests, the track is a blissed-up cover of the famous Tim Buckley track ‘Song To The Siren’, focusing in particular on the “did I dream, you dreamed about me” hook. Hardcore dance fans will note that this was not a totally new idea, the “did I dream” line having featured prominently almost a decade earlier thanks to rave classic ‘Temple Of Dreams’ by Messiah – itself sampling the equally classic This Mortal Coil cover version which had been a hit in 1983.

For some annoying reason the only version availble to stream is a rather ragged DJ Tiesto remix, so have the proper version here.

27: Moby – We Are All Made Of Stars

You had to feel for Moby slightly. After a decade of slogging away as a producer and writer of ambient electronic dance records, he was launched into superstardom thanks to 1999 album ‘Play’ which after a distressingly slow start suddenly exploded into a phenomenon early the following year. The catalyst was the enthusiastic marketing by his label which led to the album not only spawning eight hit singles but which also saw every one of its 18 tracks licensed for commercial use somewhere in the world. Follow-up album ‘18’ was never going to come close to topping that and so was released in May 2002 to rather lukewarm reviews. Its one and only Top 20 hit single in this country was lead track ‘We Are All Made Of Stars’ which unusually featured the man himself on lead vocals and which made a comfortable Number 11 a few weeks ahead of the album release. Not a bad Moby record by any means (and he has made a few over the years), its only misfortune being the track that had to follow everything that had come before it.

26: Britney Spears – I’m Not A Girl Not Yet A Woman

There was a received wisdom back in 2002 that this was one of Britney Spears’ strongest singles for some time. Originally recorded for the soundtrack of her semi-successful movie debut ‘Crossroads’, the track instead wound up on her album ‘Britney’ and was released as its third single. Its songwriting pedigree was mouthwatering, ‘I’m Not A Girl Not Yet A Woman’ written not only by the hit factory pairing of Max Martin and Rami but with additional contributions from no less a figure than Dido. Released in April 2002, the single appeared to justify the hype by shooting straight to Number 2, her biggest hit single since ‘Oops I Did It Again’ had topped the charts two years earlier.

Here is the issue though. The single is utter garbage. The record is an anodyne, under-melodied pop ballad that is sung with all the emotional gravity of a rag doll. Britney’s musical reputation at the time was quite rightly based on the towering genius of pop records such as “Oops..” and ‘Baby One More Time’ but to give her a free pass for this turgid waste of plastic was more than I could stomach either back then or even now. Britney Spears would later make a career of having big hits with incredibly bad records (step forward ‘Gimmie More’) for example, but this single was possibly the first time I can remember sitting down to and wondering just what everyone else was hearing that I wasn’t.

25: Lisbon Lions featuring Martin O’Neill and the Celtic Chorus – The Best Day Of Our Lives

Funny you know, once upon a time when people wanted to chart with a football record they sat down and made their own rather than reactivating tired old hits from decades earlier. ‘The Best Day Of Our Lives’ arrived on the chart as a kind of warm up to the World Cup fever which (just like now) was set to descend on the country. A tribute to the Celtic side of 1967 who famously battled their way to the European Cup Final and became the first British side ever to lift the famous trophy, the track began life as a short jingle on a website dedicated to the Lisbon Lions (as the side were forever dubbed). Expanded by its composers to a full song, it was released as a charity single to mark the apparently random 35th anniversary of that famous victory. Those nervously studying the performing credits can be reassured that then manager Martin O’Neill’s contribution to the track was limited to a monologue reminiscing about the day Celtic won the European cup. The “Lisbon Lions” on the track were however a rather more star-studded bunch, celebrity football fans such as Noel Gallagher, Billy Connolly, Rod Stewart, Ian McCulloch, Shane McGowan and even good old Huey from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals all pitching up (so to speak) in the studio to add their vocals.

In an ironic twist, the single (a swiftly in and out Number 17 hit) kind of hit the charts a year too early as in 2003 Celtic battled their way to an eventual defeat to a Jose Mourinho-led Porto in the UEFA Cup Final, a game which once more prompted fond memories of the Lisbon Lions and that famous 1967 final.

24: The Hives – Main Offender

Few and far between are the bands who have summed up their own sound and approach to music in one single eloquent quote. So it is that The Hives are indeed “like a velvet glove with brass knuckles, both brutal and sophisticated at the same time”. The back to basics Swedish rock band might have languished in European obscurity but for a trip to Germany by Alan McGee who made them one of the first signings to his brand new Poptones record label. ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ became their first Top 30 hit in early 2002 and this single was the follow-up, perhaps immortalised forever as the music to which Kylie rode a bucking bronco in her infamous lingerie commercial. Really the song deserves more than to be the soundtrack to a wank fantasy about a flat chested Australian, ‘Main Offender’ is two and a half minutes of raw blues rock perfection, a sparkling antithesis to every over-polished pop record that it nestled up against. I’d hate for all music to sound this way, but it represents part of the balance of the universe that at least some small part of it does.

23: Oasis – The Hindu Times

I remember one day in the office in the week that ‘The Hindu Times’ was released, Hilary one of our entertainment reporters approached me with a strange request:

“Can you come into the car park and sing the new Oasis single for me?”

Lacking anything else to say about it, the newsroom were out to prove that the single could indeed be performed by anyone with even half a musical ear. I’d barely paid the song any attention before that point, but armed with just a quick listen on a walkman and a sheet of lyrics, I was indeed able to perform the song almost note for note. The point (I think) was that this was possibly the laziest record that Oasis ever released, a track that might as well have been presented by a bunch of music students as the most typical Oasis track they could generate in half an hour. The first single released from their fifth album ‘Heathen Chemistry’ it was possibly the best indication so far that musically Oasis’ glory days of the 90s were well behind them and they were by and large starting to run on fumes creatively.

For all that the single was at the very least a Number One record. The first brand new Oasis material it could hardly not be, but its swift debut at the top of the charts and its equally rapid dislodging and subsequent plummet demonstrated that the track was a hit more or less by default. Oasis tracks are notoriously absent from online jukeboxes, so have a listen for yourself below. In no sense is ‘The Hindu Times’ a bad record, far from it, but it is most certainly a long way from being the best thing they ever recorded. Was this the moment the most famous British group of their era began to play to the gallery.

22: The Cooper Temple Clause – Who Needs Enemies

The second hit single for the six piece alternative rock band from Berkshire whose three album career spawned some eminently listenable music, even if none of their singles ever quite made it to full mainstream attention. ‘Who Needs Enemies’ was their third chart record and second to make the Top 40, entering and peaking here as the follow-up to Top 20 hit ‘Film Maker/Been Training Dogs’ which had been released three months earlier. The chart show noted that the band had just been guests on the Jo Whiley show during the previous week, their role being to officially launch the “1Music” website which gave guidance to young people on how to break into the music business. As a test, I typed in the url given in the show to see it if still worked, and curiously it does, redirecting automatically to the BBC Introducing website devoted to the discovery of unsigned bands. Same concept, different approach I guess.

21: 4 Strings – Take Me Away (Into The Night)

The halfway point is reached with something of a throwaway, the one and only Top 20 single for 4Strings, a production alias of Dutchman Carlo Resoort. It is four minutes of disposable trance nonsense, that is all you really need to know about this one.

Halfway there, and that last lot was all much of a muchness really wasn’t it? Stick with it, the Top 20 gets a bit better. In the meantime, aside from the singles referenced above, everything can be heard on Spotify or We7.

May 18

One Step To 2002 – Part One

Eight years. No small amount of time when you think about it. Eight years ago there was no such thing as the Iraq War, only the earliest of early adopters had even heard of this thing called an iPod and petrol was about 70p a litre.

Despite this I’m still curious to see how this turns out – looking back at a Top 40 chart from what seems like only yesterday, that of May 12th 2002. Has pop music really changed since then? What acts have evolved from the sounds of that era? More importantly will I be able to get my head around where dance music was at during this period, and just how many of the tracks will we find to playlist on streaming services?

These questions and many more will be answered over the next few days. Let’s roll the tape, a diligently preserved copy of the Radio One Top 40 show from that date – still presented at this time by Mark Goodier who by the middle of 2002 was just a few months from his eventual departure from the network. I think by this time the Sunday Top 40 show was practically the only regular show he had on Radio One, his position on the show still reasonably secure and with a generation of listeners having grown up hearing nobody else but him present the Sunday afternoon flagship programme.

40: Kosheen – Hungry

The dying embers of Bristolian trip-hop were briefly fanned to a smoulder at the start of the early 21st century thanks to Kosheen, a still active quartet from that city who were fronted by the silky vocals of lead singer Sian Evans. Their first album ‘Resist’ was home to some of their biggest hits – ‘Hide U’ going Top 10 in September 2001 contemporaneously with its release. ‘Hungry’ was their third single to reach the Top 40, hitting Number 13 in early May the following year. Eight years later it still sounds utterly gorgeous, Evans’ vocals riding a wave of acoustic guitars and blissed out beats and ensuring that this particular retrospective has been worth the trip even before it has started.

39: Marilyn Manson – Tainted Love

Far and away the biggest hit single of Marilyn Manson’s career, outstripping every other single he has released to date, ‘Tainted Love’ stands out as a marvellous oddity in his discography. The occasion was his contribution to the soundtrack of ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ which featured some original interpretations of 80s classics alongside some of the cheesier choices featured in the tongue in cheek parody film. Hence Manson’s version of ‘Tainted Love’ takes its cue from the most famous Soft Cell version, borrowing wholesale some of the electronic effects on the original production whilst applying his own unique style to take the song in an unexpected new direction. As I noted when originally reviewing the single, it is amazing how the most innocuous of songs can take on a totally different meaning when certain people perform then. Manson changed virtually nothing about ‘Tainted Love’ and yet by drawling “don’t touch me… please!” in his trademark groan he somehow elevates the 1960s song into an ode to sadomasochism. It remains today as it did then, a moment of joyful inspiration.

38: Shy FX and T-Power featuring Di – Shake UR Body

A rare mainstream hit for Drum N Bass producer Shy FX, his usual frantic style here tempered by a collaboration with fellow producer T-Power who was known for his more experimental temperament and a willingness to make tracks that had a lighter, party friendly vibe rather than the more aggressive style that his contemporaries favoured. ‘Shake Your Body’ is regarded to this day as a shining example of how well what you might term pop n’ bass could work. Singer Di’s languid vocals sit prettily atop a jazz piano tracing out a descending chord that at time sounds for all the world like a slowed down version of the Sex And The City Theme. About to exit the Top 40 here, the track had peaked at Number 7 in early April. Once more a terrific pop record that I genuinely can’t recall hearing again since.

37: Anastacia – One Day In Your Life

This was the second single lifted from Anastacia’s second album ‘Freak Of Nature’, a release that struggled to quite live up to the explosive success of her debut release ‘Not That Kind’ whose hits such as ‘I’m Outta Love’ and ‘Not That Kind’ shot her to Europe-wide stardom. Not that ‘One Day In Your Life’ was a bad record, far from it, just that for the most part it was more of the same from the small lady with the huge voice and without anything in the way of sensation she was for the most part playing to the gallery with her singles selling to a rapid fanbase pretty much by default. A Number 11 hit in April 2002, she would not hit such chart heights again until two years later after her breast cancer scare and a brief enforced career break. It remains one of pop’s more amusing oddities that the Chicago born singer commands a special place in the affections of music fans worldwide except in her own country where she remains a virtual unknown and resolutely hitless.

We appear to be fair sprinting through these songs so far, although this may have something to do with the fact that all four records were played back to back on the Top 40 show with no links between them. Our host finally breaks his silence to recap the four fallers that have gone before, teases the tracks yet to be played and directs us to the Radio One website where we can all participate in the core feature of what passed for online interaction in 2002 – the chatroom! My abiding memory of said chatroom was Easter Sunday 2002 and the Top 40 show which had the misfortune to be aired 24 hours after the demise of the Queen Mother. Not wishing to show disrespect, the producers of the show dropped all features and indeed half the songs on the chart just in case any of them were either too frivolous or mentioned death in any way. All Mark Goodier could do on the show was fill time by encouraging participation in the self same chat room – filled entirely with disgruntled listeners marking each skipped track with a cry of JUST PLAY THE BLOODY RECORDS.

36: P.O.D. – Youth Of The Nation

Just to prove that Xtian music isn’t all happy clappy and gleeful, presented here as the first new entry of the week is one of a handful of hits for American god-metal band P.O.D. – the initials cheerfully standing for Payable On Death. The group had made their UK chart breakthrough earlier in the year with the Number 19 hit ‘Alive’ and this was the only week of Top 40 glory for the follow-up single. As you might expect, ‘Youth Of The Nation’ had a message behind it, a wry commentary on school shootings such as the Columbine Massacre three years earlier. Both tracks were lifted from the album ‘Satellite’ and although the group continued to release singles here throughout the 2000s, their two hits of 2002 remain for now their only mainstream success.

35: Mad Donna – The Wheels On The Bus

Only in Britain could you get an oddity like this – a novelty record inspired entirely by an online viral video. ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ was the creation of American writer and director Richard Snee who hit on the idea of updating nursery rhymes and children’s songs by remaking them in the style of modern day pop records and parodying the artists who performed them. The project came to be known as Mother Goose Rocks and their website claims hundreds of thousands of CDs sold worldwide. Many of the tracks had flash videos made to accompany them, and it was the widespread circulation for the animated video for ‘Wheels On The Bus’ (as performed by a Madonna soundalike all to a backing sounding uncannily like ‘Ray Of Light’) which prompted one British label to sign the track up for single release. Launched into the world in early May 2002, the single shot into the Top 20 and promptly charged back out again, proving perhaps that it was a one shot joke that wasn’t necessarily an essential purchase. Nonetheless for a brief time the TV music channels were airing this track in heavy rotation, complete with the “click to play again” caption still intact at the end.

Needless to say this kind of novelty is absent from streaming services, but really it is a track that exists only for its video, so it seems only right to include it here.

 

34: Blue – Fly By II

Blue’s fourth single and the final one to be lifted from their acclaimed debut album ‘All Rise’. Simon, Lee, Duncan and Antony had a great deal to live up to here, having topped the charts with their two previous singles ‘Too Close’ and ‘Come Back’. As its title suggests, ‘Fly By II’ was a reworked version of a track that appeared in its original form on the album, the single version having been dramatically remixed with a few Herb Alpert samples sprinkled here and there. The track reached Number 6 upon release in April 2002, really all it deserved given that melodically it was a straightforward retread of their first hit ‘All Rise’ a year earlier and was little more than a final roll of the dice on their debut release. The continuing antics of some of their members and their at times ever more desperate attempts to remain famous are still to this day a source of some amusement, but Blue were always more than just another boy band, their ear for soul and some well produced records ensuring their career stretched until late 2004 with a 100% strike rate of Top 10 hits.

33: Enrique Iglesias – Hero

The single which arguably rescued Iglesias Jnr from the dumper at a time when it looked as if his 1999 hit ‘Bailamos’ would forever mark him as a one hit wonder – on these shores at least. ‘Hero’ was on the face of it a fairly straightforward love ballad but it took on a whole new meaning in the USA at the tail end of 2001 when it was paired with footage of 9/11 firefighters and other suitably “heroic” images, the metaphor extended still further by radio stations which remixed the track to include soundbites from people involved in the aftermath of the WTC attacks. Upon release in this country the song shot to Number One, turning Enrique Iglesias into a bone fide star and enabling him to emulate the chart success of his father just over 20 years earlier. As a pop record ‘Hero’ simply shouldn’t work, the lyrics filled with every cliche imaginable and with Enrique delivering each line as if he is about to burst into tears any moment. Somehow the production just manages to press the right buttons, lending the song a suitably epic feel and one which in an instant you just knew merited its sensational debut at Number One the moment it was released. ‘Hero’ remains one of those which can tug at even the most cynical of heartstrings and catch you out just when you are least expecting it.

32: Will Young – Anything Is Possible/Evergreen

Oh yes, the song that pretty much started it all. Everyone kind of knew that the first single released by the winner of Saturday night TV sensation Pop Idol was going to do well. After the original documentary format of “Popstars” created Hear’Say and propelled them to Number One in their first week, it was kind of a given that the follow-up series which introduced the innovation of having the public vote week by week for their favourite singer was going to connect with an even wider audience. What happened in the week after Will Young was crowned the series winner however surpassed all expectations. The double-sided ‘Anything Is Possible/Evergreen’ became only the second single in history to sell a million copies inside a week (1,108,269 to be exact), blasting the competition out of the water and setting a benchmark which will surely never come close to being equalled. We all knew that television was the most effective promotional tool the music industry had – Pop Idol simply took this to the most logical conclusion.

This CD single was arguably the final exclamation point on the singles boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, one final rush of glory before people got out of the habit of buying singles and left the industry frantically scrabbling for a new format. As for the track itself, the record was the first of what has now become the standard formula for coronation singles by TV show winners. Although the Cathy Dennis-penned ‘Anything Is Possible’ was theoretically the lead track it was really just a supporting act to ‘Evergreen’, a song from three Cheiron studios writers that had originally appeared as a Westlife album track but which was instead handed to the Pop Idol winner. The lyrics fitted perfectly after all, with lines about taking the moment and making it last forever. Think back to your memories of the record and the chances are they are synonymous with the moment in March 2002 when Will Young stood centre stage, surrounded by all the other eliminated competitors and sang the song with glitter raining down on him from above. There is more Pop Idol related music to come before we are done with 2002, but it seems only appropriate that our first encounter with a song from the series is the biggest one of all.

31: Lasgo – Something

So to finish this first quarter of the chart, the first of four hits in 2002 from Belgian trio Lasgo, whose singles are typically unremarkable Eurodance but which found their own modest degree of success at the time. Is this me flannelling for something constructive to say about the most inconsequential track we’ve heard on this chart so far? Damn right it is. ‘Something’ at the very least made a creditable Number 4 upon release in March 2002. Given that I have all the dotmusic articles from this time on file, it seems only appropriate to look this one up and see if I had anything particularly insightful to say about it back then:

On Positiva, so you suspect it is going to be good, comes this bubbling piece of Belgian euro-trance complete with the obligatory female vocal. Evi is the name of the lady on the track, better known back home than she is here and indeed a singer with a vocal style that is eerily reminiscent of Kim Wilde. The truth of the matter that Something is really just an Ian Van Dahl track with a little more energy but it sounds great on the radio and is more than worthy of its place in the Top 5. Which is all that matters really.

Hooray, I didn’t so much, and what a twatty thing to write really “better known back home than she is here” – of course she bloody wasn’t it was her first hit after all. Cut me some slack, I’d just written six paragraphs on the Will Young single which had hit Number One in the same week.

That’s 40-31 then, and the obligatory Spotify and We7 playlists are in place and growing nicely. Surprisingly pretty damn good isn’t it so far? I always argued that 2002 was a far better time for pop than it was often painted. See youy shortly for Part 2 – there’s a football song in there somewhere. I knew it couldn’t last.