The Forgotten Third Lion

Go On Getting Bad Results

Typical isn’t it? Just as making football-themed songs goes out of fashion, England go and perform unexpectedly well at a major football tournament. The most fascinating side effect to date of the England team’s progress to the semi-finals of the World Cup has been the spontaneous “rediscovery” of 3 Lions as performed by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds.

Embed from Getty Images

First recorded as the official England team anthem for the 1996 European Championships, the song was uniquely re-worked and enhanced for the 1998 Fifa World Cup. Like clockwork, it has reappeared on the charts for each successive World Cup tournament. Not for 20 years though have we seen an explosion of interest in the song like we have this weekend, the track outselling the rest of the iTunes Top 5 put together briefly and lodging a quarter of a million Spotify streams on Saturday 7th July alone.

Chart rules will almost certainly prevent the single from topping the actual singles charts this week, but that’s an entirely different story.

What continues to fascinate me is the existence of the two versions of the song, the ’96 and ’98 recordings. Both of which topped the charts upon first release but both of which have been duking it out for supremacy ever since. Or so it appears.

Then One Night In Rome

It was all so simple, to begin with. The original 1996 release flew to the top of the charts, was briefly deposed by The Fugees after a week but then fought its way back as England progressed to – yes – the semi-finals of the European championships. They failed to reach the final after losing to Germany in a penalty shootout, the decisive kick missed by a young defender by the name of Gareth Southgate. Such are the whims of fate.

Two years later the same performers re-recorded the track with brand new lyrics, updating the song to reflect the memories of that summer and with a more optimistic look forward to the forthcoming World Cup to be held in France. Unaffiliated with the England team this time around, the production this time gave prominence to the fan chants that the song had so neatly inspired, it already had become something of a terrace anthem.

Writing in his 2001 autobiography, Frank Skinner noted that a new take on the idea meant an excuse to remake the video with all concerned looking slimmer, and that they got to do the Top Of The Pops performance they missed out on in 1996. But he also rather felt that the ’98 remake of 3 Lions sullied the memory of the track, writing:

“…I wish we hadn’t bothered. Respect to everyone who bought the ’98 version, but 3 Lions was all about a specific moment in time: one hot summer in ’96 when England suddenly started playing like winners again, and the crowd had their own, specially written party piece so they could provide the perfect soundtrack.”

Not Creative Enough

Alas for Frank, it was the ’98 version which the record label elected to push as the de-facto standard for the next decade.

The single reappeared in 2002 in a re-issue timed to coincide with the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Although the CD single contained both versions, it was the ’98 recording which led the disc. Confusingly the single was listed on the charts as “3 Lions” without the year modifier, logical really given that a single suffixed “98” on the charts in 2002 would have been confusing and dated the hit – despite its lyrics referencing events of six years earlier and expressing hope for a competition already played.

It is, for this reason, the Official Charts Company’s own database on their website gets confused here and treats the 2002 re-release as a continuation of the chart run of the 1996 original with which it shares its name. The single peaked at Number 16.

Four years later in 2006, the song was back again. Although we are now into the digital era, chart rules in place at the time meant a physical re-release of the track was still necessary for its downloaded copies to be chart eligible. So a CD was duly flung out, once more featuring 3 Lions ’98 as the “lead” track. It isn’t documented which version of the song people were buying digitally but in any event sales of either counted towards its eventual chart peak of Number 9 and the single’s chart run is once more bolted on to that of the original.

3 Lions returned to the singles chart twice more before this year, conveniently enough in the World Cup years of 2010 and 2014. No re-release was necessary at this point, the hit returned as a result of spontaneous downloads alone. But fascinatingly records from the time show that the, no pun intended, lion’s share of the sales were in fact for the original 1996 recording. Which up to that point had been treated as the poor relation of the revised version by the record label. The moment they no longer had control, however, public taste and popular opinion took over. In any event, as before, sales of either version counted towards its eventual chart position. Number 10 in 2010, a lowly 27 in 2014.

We Still Believe

Which all neatly leads us to 2018 and where once again it is 3 Lions (96 version) which has commanded comparatively huge sales and streams ever since England started showing signs of being able to win the damn competition. The ’98 remake is still hanging in there, but very much a secondary consideration as far as the public is concerned. Although as I noted on the Chart Watch site this week, radio has once more tended towards the revised edition of the song, primarily for the Gareth Southgate references it contains.

Yet did you know there was a third version of 3 Lions? And no, I’m not referring to the ill-advised all-star remake from The Squad which limped to Number 21 in 2010. This is one which received copious airplay at the time it was made but which has never been made available for release.

Pearce Of The Action

It is all because of commentator Jonathan Pearce. It is his voice which can be heard both over the introduction and during the instrumental break of 3 Lions ’98, replacing the soundbites from the likes of Jimmy Hill and Alan Hansen who featured on the original.

Back in 1998, Radio One had a big problem with that. Pearce at the time was well known as the voice of Capital Radio’s sports coverage. His commentary of Southgate’s infamous penalty miss against Germany was that which he did for the commercial radio network during Euro ’96. The BBC at the time had this quaint attitude that the competition did not exist, and so there was no way they were going to play a record featuring the voice of someone who worked for the opposition.

Faced with the prospect of no airplay for the new track, the label had no choice but to allow the BBC to re-cut 3 Lions ’98. Producers at Radio One made their own edit of the track, splicing in commentary and associated soundbites from Five Live commentators Alan Green and Mike Ingham. Replacing Pearce’s bellows with, shall we say, a more Auntie-flavoured take on the moments described. It was this new edit which was played by Radio One during the Top 40 show. Regardless of the fact that it bore no resemblance to the version being bought by everyone else.

By the time the single was re-issued in 2002, the problem had neatly resolved itself. Learning to his dismay that Capital Radio had no plans to cover the World Cup that summer, Jonathan Pearce made the call he arguably should have done years earlier. He joined the BBC just in time to feature as part of the Five Live commentary team for the 2002 World Cup. He’s remained with the corporation ever since. It meant that when 3 Lions reappeared on the charts that summer his voice could be heard on the version of the track played on the Top 40 show for the first time. Because he was now “one of us”.

This does mean that the BBC edit of 1998 is now more or less lost to history. Unless you click below to hear the relevant clips of the song. Enjoy.

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Lazy Buggles Headline*

I Wanna Move With Ya

It has been over 65 years, and the UK charts have always remained in step with changing formats. Whether it is the transition from 78rpm to 45rpm singles, or new forms such as the 12″ single, cassette single and CDs, where the market evolved so too the charts followed. That change also extended into the digital era, with the addition of electronic downloads to the survey in 2005. Then ten years later came the streaming revolution, and it was only right that the charts took this into account as well when measuring the popularity of music, even if that represented a significant paradigm shift as we began to measure repeated consumption rather than discovery and purchase.

However since 2014 and the start of what I always refer to as the “streaming era” there have been voices asking an awkward question: what about YouTube? The survey includes every audio streaming platform, so why not the video one too? Indeed, I’ll often explain the compilation to people with only a passing interest in such matters and surprise them with the revelation that up to now YouTube plays do not count for singles chart purposes.

The same question was repeatedly being asked behind the scenes. Should video streams count for the pop charts? And each time there has been pushback from somewhere in the industry. “Not right now,” has been the view and one that I had always concurred with. To me, there was an important distinction between consuming music aurally and taking it in visually. OK, visuals have been added to music for decades, and the pop video is considered an art form of itself. But the term “incidental music” also exists for a reason.

Music can even be relegated to the background, there for effect only, and the visuals allowed to dominate. Proof of that comes in the way precious few people would honestly sit down an enjoy an OK Go track (their hit singles are few and far between). But we’ll all eagerly tune in to see just what piece of cinematic art the group are going to come up with next.

Time To Move On

It is now clear that this is an outdated view. After all, the personal entertainment devices we all carry around with us have screens as well as headphone sockets. When you play music on your phone, you all too frequently have your eyes upon it also. I may well have a subscription to Google Play Music as my streaming service of choice, yet when I want to call up a particular song for reference or research, time and time again, I’ll end up going to YouTube to see if the video is there. We live in 2018, and music is a visual format as much as it is an audio one. Just look at the way acts such as Clean Bandit have built their success, taking control of the production of both sound and vision in the creation of their art.

Clean Bandit with their Official UK Number One award for 'Solo' - Credit: Official Charts Company

Clean Bandit with their Official UK Number One award for ‘Solo’ – Credit: Official Charts Company

With the announcement in recent weeks that Google is to fold the Play Music streaming service into its new YouTube Music service, merging the two propositions and indeed taking advantage of their dominant role in the online video space, the time has come for the UK chart to answer the question in the affirmative.

Never Be The Same Again

As of Week 27 – the chart published on Friday, July 6th – video streams from services such as Tidal, Apple Music and yes indeed YouTube will count towards the weekly singles charts.

I gather it has been quite the challenge to achieve. YouTube is by no means exclusively a music platform, regardless of the creation of the new dedicated premium service. What truly counts as a “music video” in amongst all the other user-generated content it contains. The answer is apparently that a play counts as a “music stream” if a copyright owner has claimed both sound and vision. So this not only includes official music videos uploaded through the Vevo platform and via official artist channels but also where an independent content creator has associated the visuals with an audio soundtrack registered for chart purposes.

This last detail is important because when Billboard began counting video streams for the Hot 100 five years ago, they only enforced ownership of the audio side. As a consequence, any video featuring more than 30 seconds of a copyrighted music track saw its plays count for the charts, resulting in the bizarre sight of Bauuer’s Harlem Shake flying to the top because the Hot 100 was logging every single Harlem Shake video watched at the height of the 2013 craze. That won’t happen in Britain. It is official video plays only.

Get Your Calculators Out

That’s the headline change, but there is another adjustment to the chart compilation process which may have passed people by. In a move which has been desired by some sectors of the industry for a time, a distinction will be made between premium, paid-for audio and video streams, and ad-supported free ones. Instead of the single flat rate 150 streams = 1 sale ratio there will now be two. Paid streams will revert to the 100:1 ratio first introduced in the summer of 2014, while free streams are to count at an extended 600:1 ratio.

That’s not a typo. Listen to a track on Spotify’s free tier, or on the standard YouTube site, and you will need 600 plays to clock up the equivalent of one purchased sale.

Britain is actually behind the curve on this in many ways. The charts in countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy don’t count free streams at all, while Billboard switched to downgrading free plays some time ago. I’ve never myself seen the need for this adjustment, arguing that a stream is a stream regardless of whether you have paid for the privilege or sat through an advert first. The royalty return to the artist is the same no matter what.

Billboard made the change for tactical reasons. Free streams were heavily used by fans of hip-hop acts and it was skewing the Hot 100 to detriment of the rest of the market. So they felt the need to re-balance. In Britain, that is not so much the case, and this separation of powers as it were is more symbolic than anything else. Rewarding those who pay for music rather than taking it “freemium”. Or perhaps more to the point, rewarding the performers who persuade people to pay to listen to them. These are meaningful gestures to make.

There is no need to fear that the charts will now be susceptible to kids and fanbases repeatedly hitting reload or replay on a video to play the game of boosting its view count. Because you’d have to do that a heck of a lot to game the charts. In any event, I have a feeling there’s a technical bar to it as well. YouTube may well only be logging a play for a video every time it delivers the data to a client, rather than the number of times the user clicks the play button. When you replay a YouTube video you are playing pre-buffered data from your browser cache, so it doesn’t count twice.

Simmer Down

The imminent introduction of any change to chart rules immediately conjures up images of drastic changes to the musical landscape and a whole new way for singles to behave. The numerous test charts compiled have revealed no drastic changes to the status quo at all. Indeed at no time has there ever been a Number One single which would not have been there under the existing rules. Like all the adjustments that have taken place since we embarked on this journey, the change will be one of evolution, not revolution.

To recap then: video streams from online services will count as of this Friday (29th June) and register on the singles chart published the following week (6th! July). The ratio of sales : streams will now be adjusted. 100:1 for paid for streams, 600:1 for free tier. How this affects the Accelerated Chart Ratio has not yet been made clear, but I suspect it will remain at 300:1 for paid streams. With freemium plays already at 600:1 they are downgraded almost into insignificance already.

UPDATE: A comment on a Music Week post online has confirmed. A move to Accelerated will double the ratio of a track in the same way it does now. So paid-for will end up on 200:1 and freemium will be a colossal 1200:1.

So strap in for the ride, next week’s chart will be the last under the old rules. And we then have to re-learn the market all over again. Here’s the future (2018 version)!

 

* (Video Killed The Radio Star – duh).

The Lotus Fax Of Knowledge

Back Then Everyone Used Lotus

Our information-led world is a beautiful thing. Facts, help, knowledge at the click of a mouse or the tap on a screen. Such a state of affairs is especially true if you work in any technology-related field where the solution to any problem you may encounter is just a carefully crafted search away, and because someone else has almost certainly faced and solved the same problem.

But how did we manage this before the age of the internet? Before everyone was online on a near-permanent connection, how did your average computer operator sat at his desk in the mid-1990s go about solving problems with no internet to speak of available to him?

I remember it well. So here is my tale of how it all happened.

Wavy Lines To Indicate Flashback Sequence

Picture the scene. I’m in my first job out of university, being paid a vanishingly low sum of money (hey, it was better than nothing) to be the office “IT Assistant” for the local branch of a large firm of insolvency practitioners. For the first time in a year my immediate boss has gone away on a two week holiday, meaning this is also the first time in a year I’ve not been subject to random data entry or spreadsheet processing jobs landing on my desk within ten minutes of the working day started. In short, for the first time in forever once I’ve completed a handful of daily admin tasks, I’m genuinely at a total loose end.

So I seize my chance to pull out a small project which has been sat on the to-do pile for some time. Automate the production of the diary.

When dealing with corporate or personal insolvencies, there are a myriad of statutory filings you have to make, reports you must prepare for a specific schedule. And historically our office had been rubbish at keeping up to date with them. Details of what was due, and when, were all kept in the bowels of a Clipper-based application called IPS of which only a handful of us in the admin team had access. So once a week the program was commanded to spit out a text file of all the statutory returns required on a case by case basis. This file was then wrestled into shape in Lotus 1-2-3 before being formatted in a manner readable by the office’s internal videotext system. And so a variety of pretty graphs could be issued to the partners to show just how many late events we were enduring.

Production of this report was not a straightforward process. The work instruction for this in the office’s ISO9001 quality manual ran to about 12 pages, step by step instructions on how to format, sort, weed out and ultimately re-export the data. It took the best part of an hour for even the most dextrous of spreadsheet wrestlers to do it. And it was ripe for automating with a macro.

Happily, this was well within my talents, as in the months I’d been there I’d become quite the wizard in the Lotus 1-2-3 macro language (everyone used Lotus in offices back then. Excel was only beginning its march to dominance in the spreadsheet market). I would joke that eventually, I’d get it to stand up and fart the national anthem on command. So with the coast clear, a whole two weeks of just being left alone to get on with stuff ahead of me, I set to work on what was set to be my greatest gift ever to the admin team.

Circular Reference in Cell B55

Only within five minutes I’d hit a snag. The text file output by the IPS application would always contain random line feed characters at random intervals. Sadly this was enough to trigger a strange assumption made by the writers of the 1-2-3 application. If you imported a text file directly into Lotus 1-2-3 containing these characters, it would assume you wanted a new page in your worksheet and create a new one on your behalf. It was a behaviour hard-coded into the program. The only way around it (we assumed) was to open the file in a text editor and manually remove all the line feeds you could find. And then rinse and repeat if it turned out you had missed any.

This, however, was not part of my plan to automate the entire process. Convinced there had to be another way to work around this, my first mission of the project was to work out what it was. Temporarily mystified, I began browsing the application help files in search of inspiration. It was here that I turned the screen which would transform my life for the next two weeks. Details of a faxback service of solutions to common technical issues. Hey, even if this didn’t contain the answer I was looking for it would be fascinating to see how it worked anyway.

So I phoned the American number given. An automated voice instructed me to enter my fax number, plus the extension number of my desk, followed by the code for the document I wanted. Or just “1” for the index. Transaction completed, I walked to the post room and waited for the phone to ring.

What emerged behind the “for the attention of the person at extension XXXX” cover sheet was what must have been a 15-page document. A full list of technical articles containing how-to guides and solution to everyday problems. It was my first ever encounter with a technical support knowledgebase. And I had a fantastic way to access it.

It took five minutes to track it down, but yes, the solution was in there. A specific document relating to my problem of line feed characters in text imports creating multiple sheets. The bump in the road had suddenly become smooth again.

Slash Command Not Recognised

What was the workaround? There may be people who had spotted it already. Open the file up, let it populate as many sheets as it required. Then select all the data, re-export and re-import. Messy, but the result was a flat file contained in a single layer that I could then set my macro to work extracting and formatting.

By the time the boss returned from holiday, waiting on his desk was bound documentation detailing how I’d implemented my one-click solution to one of the office’s messiest tasks. Not that there weren’t other bumps in the road, including one that led to me staring at the screen for three hours without typing. I had no idea how to get a spreadsheet macro to make a human decision based on the type of event it was processing (solution: do a text search on a lookup table containing the choices), but I steadily figured it out. Often with the help of my new-found bible. The Lotus Corporation Faxback Service.

Six months later I was given a login for the then-experimental Lotus Notes system the company was planning to roll out in future. The knowledgebase came bundled with the install, I discovered. I couldn’t help but think that had taken away part of the fun.