Gambo-Lit

gambocoverIt is to my continuing frustration that my life and career has so far not resulted in my ending up in the same orbit as broadcaster and all round musical expert Paul Gambaccini. Despite mutual friends, the closest the veteran entertainer and pop charts fan has ever come to knowing of my existence is introducing some of my recorded contributions on a 2008 Radio 2 documentary about the charts which he narrated.

Back in 2013 he had made headlines for all the wrong reasons, arrested as part of the Metropolitan police’s misguided Operation Yewtree, his name leaked to the press and thus forced to spend a year in career and personal purgatory as the police investigated false claims of sexual offences dating from the early 1980s, the torment only ending when it became clear to even the CPS that the allegations were a nonsense and he was free to resume his life with little in the way of an apology.

Like many other names put into the same position, his catharsis has been to write a book Love, Paul Gambaccini and it is this compelling read – a diary of his year of hell – which I recently devoured in the space of 48 hours.

The book is an absorbing account of how he deals with each stage of the struggle: his initial arrest, the media scrum outside his front door, the publicity fall-out and above all the continuing and all-pervading anger he feels at being subject to what he and everyone who knows him well knows to be a colossal and painful injustice.

Along the way we meet celebrity friends, institutions such as the Labour Party who turn their backs on him for fear of toxicity (an issue Gambaccini is particularly scathing about) and others who have been through similar battles such as Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Davidson, politician Nigel Evans and Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan.

Not that the book doesn’t contain some entertaining moments, his regular tracking of his moods via the most played songs in his iTunes collection for a start, as well as the fun fact that his apartment block is virtually round the corner from where I work with his daily footsteps and lunchtime hangouts ones that could at times almost match my own.

Despite the final attempt by the CPS to smear him, announcing to the world the exact nature of the allegations he faced as part of their public statement that he will not be charged for them (and thus giving the “no smoke without fire” conspiracists all the information they need), Gambaccini emerges from his year in limbo with his reputation intact, free to resume his career but now crucially a man who is now a passionate and eloquent campaigner against the injustice of extended police bail and the sheer impossibility of defending oneself against accusations of misdemeanours three decades ago and in an era where old fashioned principles such as innocent until proven guilty fall silently by the wayside.

Only those who have yet to encounter it still labour under the misapprehension that our justice system is engaged in pursuit of the truth. It isn’t, its only desire is for a “result” of some kind, and only the truly naive believe that they need nothing more than their innocence to save them from a judicial miscarriage. Sadly this can lead to the kind of Kafka-esque nightmare to which Gambaccini and his family were subjected, auditioning Barristers, selling heirlooms to fund legal fees and entertaining thoughts of emigrating to start anew back home in American after having contemplated the very real possibility that he would end up serving a prison sentence for crimes that never took place – just like others before him.

You may end this book having some small degree of sympathy for the police, bound by procedure which leaves no room for common sense and who had little choice but to investigate the allegations, even though they’d quickly concluded that Gambaccini’s first accuser’s story had little or no merit. But you’ll also share the author’s contempt for a system that can leave the accused in legal limbo for months or even years whilst the bureaucratic wheels slowly turn, and gasp in horror at Liz Kershaw’s revelation that the police told her they don’t need actual physical evidence of a crime where historical sex offences are concerned “just people who agree”. Two wrongs never make a right, but three lies can combine to be seen as the truth in modern Britain.

Gambaccini ends the book with the pointed question: “what are you doing to do about it?” but the sad truth is that few people will do anything about it, not until they or someone they know is plunged into the pit of false accusations. But you can make an excellent start at least by reading Love, Paul Gambaccini. It is well worth the time.

Know The Score By Now

Back in the summer of 1992 I developed a deep and lasting love affair with 1970s soul and disco, prompted if memory recalls by an HMV sale which meant I picked up two volumes of a Telstar-released disco compilation (the identity of which will have to wait until I’m at home) which were crammed with classics from the era.

Returning to university that autumn I immediately instigated a disco show on the campus radio station. Every Monday night at 8pm I pitched up on air with the choicest cuts of the era along with some hidden gems too and basically lost myself in Philly strings for two hours. If memory serves the show’s theme was a hideously bad version of Pink Floyd’s Money as performed by an Australian outfit called Rosebud on an album called Discoballs, one which every week I regretted due to the fact that the album’s cover featured a very of its time depiction of a naked lady and the show preceding mine was the weekly women’s issues show co-hosted by the union Women’s Officer.

Discoballs

I’d end the show each week with a selection of all-time classics. The tracks that were justifiably famous and had remained so for the decade and a half (or more) since. There was one song that I would come back to again and again and ended up describing it on air as “the reason this show exists”. To this day I view it as one of the most perfect records ever made and one I can listen to ten times in a row and still discover something new about it each time.

Who would have guessed then that the only thing capable of making it even better was a YouTube video of the full length 12-inch disco mix being played out on an SL1200 record deck? Even if the uploader has disabled embedding. Click through anyway, it is still well worth it.

Native New Yorker

Philatellically Ancient

Last week, with time on my hands and a bit of spare cash jingling in my pockets, I went online to continue the long process of replacing some old cassettes with their CD equivalent. Given that some of my remaining collection of tapes represent albums purchase in the early 1990s, this frequently involves bagging good prices of second hand discs, frequently from the kind of warehouse traders you get on Amazon – bragging of high ratings and 100% genuine stock etc.

One disc in question was relatively obscure, so I didn’t baulk at paying £6 for a copy. The CD duly arrived intact and plays perfectly. It is not the subject of this article.

Instead it was the envelope it arrived in. After berating me for destroying the jiffy bag rather than carefully opening it for future re-use, my wife peered at the stamps that adorned the front and noted the number of them, the varied designs and the rather unusual values they held. A closer look revealed this was the most extraordinary package I’d ever received. The sender (whoever they really were) had paid postage using a series of mint condition stamps of a vintage you would normally see in the pages of a Stanley Gibbons catalogue. In some cases they were over 40 years old. Take a look:

Stamps

It prompted me to look them up on one of the many online catalogues to track down their true vintage.

The two 15.5p salmon stamps were part of a commemorative set entitled British River Fishes, issued in January 1983. According to stamp-exchange.co.uk its mint value is approximately 30p.

Top middle is a 15.5p Christmas stamp, part of the festive set issued by the Royal Mint for Christmas 1982. These are rather more collectable, so its mint value is around 50p to dedicated stamp collectors.

Now we come to the extraordinary bits. The 9p stamp depicting Robert Falcon Scott was the top priced item from a collection of British Polar Explorers issued in February 1972. Almost 46 years ago. As a mint, unused stamp, it is valued by collector websites at 55p. Rather curiously my now franked version is worth slightly more fetching 75p if resold.

Bottom right might have been slightly harder to identify, devoid of any narrative or anything to help locate the collection. Fortunately its value and the clearly festive nature of the stamp made this less painstaking detective work than would otherwise have been the case. This is part of the Christmas 1972 commemorative issue, depicting “Angel Holding Trumpet”. Modern day value: a rather less exciting 10p, whether unfranked or not.

Finally top right is a generic first class stamp which in the absence of any other evidence to the contrary can be assumed to be of contemporary issue and with a current worth of 63p was duly the highest value stamp on the envelope.

Strange to note then that the total cost of postage of the item, as per the face value of the stamps affixed to the parcel was £1.21. Yet it was sent using a set of stamps whose actual monetary value in collectible terms amounted to £2.38.

Part of you feels kind of bad for them and rather sad that these items of postal history ended up being affixed to a jiffy bag and franked. They could so easily have been discarded without my ever noticing, but at the same time who on earth raids packs of old stamps to post out second hand CDs to Amazon customers?

Late Night Fucking

There is no 9pm watershed in radio.

That’s a detail that often surprises people, most of whom assume that the strictures that apply to ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ material on television also cover radio broadcasts as well. In actual fact the only content restrictions on radio broadcast enforced by the almighty regulator Ofcom are that they must have “particular regard to times when children are particularly likely to be listening” (Broadcast Code Section 1.5) and in the case of offensive language “unless it is justified by the context” (Broadcast Code Section 1.16).

I’m fond of reminding people that just over 20 years ago Radio One once broadcast the whole of Bono’s “fuck the revolution” speech from the performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday in Rattle And Hum on a Saturday lunchtime as part of a documentary on Northern Ireland. The request to do so was handed up to the highest levels of the corporation and it was decided that the language was perfectly justified in context of an adult documentary on a subject that aroused intense passions on both sides of the debate and that as long as it was preceded by a warning it was fine to go out. It remains the most high profile deliberate broadcast of daytime profanity on national radio. And a fine example of what is allowed if the context merits.

Over the years one of the jobs I’ve ended up with at work is being the final port of call for any of the occasional pre-recorded shows broadcast on talkSPORT. Tapes of the award-winning My Sporting Life are handed to me to check for technical quality, scheduling in the playout computer, editing for the timeslot if required and making sure anything that was supposed to be cut has indeed been removed.

This also means I have to deal with potentially the hottest potato on the schedules, the monthly “Matt Forde’s Sports Party” specials. These are live recordings of comedy chat shows, held in the intimate surroundings of the St James’ Studio in Central London. Guests from the world of sport and comedy are interviewed at length and in an envrionment where everyone has let their hair down. That does mean people use language you wouldn’t normally expect them to. Which can often lead to some soul searching. It is one thing to say something in front of a crowd of 50 people who have paid to be there. It is another thing altogether to inflict on a national radio audience the spectacle of a much-loved hero or entertainer saying “fuck”. Or is it?

The edition of the programme which went out in September required a fair bit of soul searching at times, the process of which I thought it would be interesting to share here. The Sports Party is an adult show, and is promoted as such. It is broadcast at 10pm on a Sunday evening, far removed from anything Ofcom might consider “when children are likely to be listening”. The start of each hour of each show is preceded by a clear warning: “The following programme contains swearing, and may not be suitable for younger listeners”. Theoretically that is more than enough to fully contextualise and forestall any complaints about fruity language in what follows. It means that “piss”, “shit” and “bastard” and other invectives of that ilk can actually be broadcast unexpurgated in a manner you wouldn’t contemplate at any other time of day and in different circumstances.

The f-word is a different matter. Right from the start, regardless of the nature of the programme, we judged that even a late night talkSPORT audience would baulk at hearing presenters or sportsmen saying “fuck”. That’s possibly over-cautious, after all you can hear extensive profanity in late night Radio 4 plays, but it is comfortable line to draw for our status as a commercial organisation. Having decided to remove the word, the question now is how to do it. You either bleep it out or edit the exchange out of the programme altogether. The latter is safer but in truth not always possible to do cleanly. It also for me kind of undermines the whole integrity of the programme. There is little point in advertising an adults-only show if it doesn’t actually contain anything adult (I’m reminded of Victor Lewis-Smith once satirising the censorship of his programmes by portraying a manager demanding dangerous radio that is also very safe and so not actually dangerous). Bleeping is perhaps better and respects both the sensibilities of those who don’t want naughty words but also those who are grown up enough to deal with them. Too many bleeps however and things get painful. By its very nature a burst of tone calls attention to a profanity that might otherwise just be background chatter and makes it a more prominent part of the dialogue than was actually the case. You run the risk of making a guest sound incredibly foul mouthed by just trying to clean them up.

So it is a balancing act, and one which often causes me much heartache. I loathe censorship in all forms, but with my professional hat on I have to remember that I’m not the regulator. Sometimes things have to go that I myself don’t have a problem with, but which I know others will. Here then are a few examples of how I attempted to create that balance last weekend.


First the edit. Here is the audio from guest comedian Paul McCaffrey as he recounted the trials of supporting a seaside club:

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Should that be left in? On balance, no – particularly as it was at the end of a section of the show which had featured multiple instances of fruity language. You could leave the swearing out without damaging the joke or treading on the point Paul was making. So here is how that particular exchange went out in the broadcast programme:

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Pretty seamless. So far so good.


Earlier in the show however was an instance of swearing it would have been wholly wrong to take out. This was the exchange in question:

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To put this in context, it is a powerful description by Brian Moore of how he was taught to confront inner demons and not let them dominate him. To edit that would have been wrong and undermined the whole point he was making. So this one I bleeped, protecting those with sensitive ears, those who didn’t tune in to hear a much-admired rugby player and broadcaster swearing but also keeping the integrity of his story intact.

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You’ll note that I wasn’t particularly precise with the bleep there. That’s my own personal sop to creative freedom, a nod to the intelligence of the audience to say “yeah it is obvious what he said, but if anyone asks we can say we took it out, right?”.


The final example is one which caused a great deal of argument in the office, even on the afternoon of the broadcast. Something that wasn’t actually profane but could be construed as such. Here was the original tape:

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The expression “see you next Tuesday” as a theoretically polite shorthand for one of the rudest words of all has tripped broadcasters up in the past. A footballer used the phrase one afternoon on an edition of Sky Sports’ “Goals On Sunday” show, the reference sailing over the heads of presenters and production crew and resulting in some heads rolling when it was subsequently picked up on by management.

My instinct however was to leave the above reference in. The comedian was after all self-censoring, unable to bring himself to use the word even in front of a paying audience. Nonetheless the weekend editor was unhappy with it having reviewed the tapes at my request. “Take it out” was his instruction. My argument was that by editing or bleeping we were actually making it sound like he had actually sworn when he didn’t which to me was unethical. But then I opened up the file and tried it anyway. Extraordinarily it made the joke better.

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The whole point of the anecdote was after all to recount the forlorn experience of refereeing a football match (badly) and taking constant abuse from the crowd. The comedy comes from the moment when a spectator tells him he’s a c**t, and all he can do is regretfully agree with that assessment. But it doesn’t work without the profanity, there is far less comic pathos in being called a ‘see you next Tuesday’ than there is being called a c**t. So against all instincts I bleeped the self-censored epithet. The story now carried far more resonance and most importantly of all humour. Not all censorship is bad it appears.


So that’s a brief lesson in editing rude words, and the fine tightrope you have to walk when preparing a recorded show for broadcast. If I’ve fired up your curiosity, then if you are in the London area then why not come along to the next recording of Matt Forde’s Sports Party (on the evening of October 20th) and if you look very carefully at the back of the auditorium you’ll see at least one sweating radio producer noting down times and preparing for arguments over the exact contextual justification of the third utterance that night of the word “wanker”.

 

Apple Slices

In a perfect world, the British singles and album charts are compiled with a full set of sales and streaming data from all the registered sources they survey. When that happens it is such a deeply satisfying feeling that even the data sent to those of us in the media smugly points it out.

alldata

Sometimes things do go wrong, glitches in the matrix occur, and a chain of stores for whatever reason may not be able to report its sales information to the required schedule. This is all transparent and once again is flagged up for anyone who cares.

tescomissing

“Upweighted to compensate” refers to the process used to ensure the charts can be compiled even if there is a small part of the data missing. Just over a year ago Alan Jones explained the mathematics involved in his Music Week column:

The chart is compiled down to eight decimal points – or one hundred millionth of a sale. Obviously records only sell in whole numbers but the complex weighting matrix employed to take account of shops which are unable to report on any given week produces these fractions. For example, if an album sells 15 copies in seven shops in a weighting cell where there are two more shops whose sales were not collected for whatever reason, the upweighted sales for all nine would be 15 divided by seven, multiplied by nine, or 19.28571428.

Yes, that is so convoluted that unless you are the most dedicated of chart anorak it is enough to know that the system is there and it works. Sometimes it has worked a little too well, like in December 2010 when the zero sales registered by supermarket chains on Christmas Day were mistakenly flagged as missing figures and the upweighting algorithm used to account for sales that physically could not have happened at all. The entire set of charts had to be reissued a few days later when the error was discovered. More recently in Eurovision week 2014 iTunes suffered a data hiccup on the Saturday and could not produce their figures in time for chart compilation the following day. The upweighting algorithm had no way of knowing that many of the songs performed during the contest itself on Saturday night would have seen their sales rise and the usual impact of the airing of the Eurovision Song Contest was lost. These however are isolated incidents and on the odd occasion when the system is called into use it is to the satisfaction of all.

But here is the thing, since the start of the summer – the changeover to Global Release Day in fact – this upweighting system has been called into use every single week. Not one chart since July has been compiled using a complete set of data.

allmissing

For the past nine weeks (at the time of writing) both Apple Music and Spotify have failed to deliver their Thursday data in time to be included in chart compilation with Apple’s losing run stretching three weeks further, right back to the very launch of the service in fact. Every week without fail the information from both giants arrives too late to be included in Millward Brown’s sales survey and the UK charts wind up being compiled with guesstimated streaming numbers for the end of each sales week. Now you could put this down to teething problems with the new Apple Music streaming service, although quite why a company that has been able to report music sales from iTunes with a reasonable level of consistency for well over ten years now should suddenly be struggling remains a mystery. It is also rather odd that Spotify are repeatedly failing to deliver too given that over the previous year they have finished the week with a complete set of figures more often than not.

I’ve heard conspiracy theories that this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the two streaming services which are aggressively competing for market share and are particularly interested to know just how large a chunk of the market their rivals have. Solid facts to back that up are a little harder to come by however.

One industry contact has indicated to me that in actual fact both services are taking longer to deliver data to chart compilers Millward Brown than they are supposed to on a daily basis, this delay only noticeable when Thursdays data misses the final deadline for the charts to be compiled. A source inside the Official Charts Company acknowledged to me last week that this is an issue with the sheer volume of data the two services are now generating and that for the moment they just cannot turn it around in time. That’s certainly plausible, as since the start of the year the streaming tracks market has grown at a phenomenal rate. To put this in some kind of context, this week digital streams accounted for 4,887,190 ‘sales’ on the singles chart. This week 12 months ago they totalled 2,350,366. The market has grown by almost exactly 100% in the space of a year. Which means double the data to process.

A systems engineer friend of mine noted: “There’s absolutely no chance that Apple & Spotify are finding it any harder just because sales have doubled. Unless the number of records AVAILABLE has doubled then the aggregates remain the same size in terms of data. Especially since they both have systems that extract and render how many times YOU have played something with no trouble at all”. This does however presume the retailers declare the data pre-aggregated. “50 copies of track number ABC123” is quicker to declare than “track number ABC123” 50 different times. But the latter is easier to audit and is the more likely method used.

All I know is that if I sell a copy of one of my books I am notified instantly that it has taken place, even if it does take Amazon up to seven weeks to actually pay me the royalties for it. It is hard to believe that Apple Music don’t know at midnight each day exactly how many plays a track has had in the last 24 hours. Theoretically this would then point to the transfer to Millward Brown being the bottleneck, the transfer or receipt of the data simply not proceeding in a timely enough fashion. The charts director for the market researchers assures me that everything is being processed in time:

Our connections and servers are all capable of processing any retailer data if received by the agreed deadlines. And, to clarify, we can, and often do wait for late data received from retailers. In virtually every case where data arrives late, it doesn’t actually arrive until after that day’s charts or Sales Flashes are published.

The pertinent point here is “if received by the agreed deadlines”. Which clearly in this case are being repeatedly missed on Thursdays. The precise reason for this remains a mystery, at least for the moment. I’m assured the problem is known about and a solution is being worked towards. What this does mean though is that for now the UK charts are actually working from an imperfect data set. A statistical averaging which was designed to accommodate isolated system issues is being called into use week in week out as a patch for an ongoing data snafu. That cannot be to anyone’s satisfaction long term.

The Battle Of Britpop: Afterword

August 2015 was naturally enough not the first time I wrote extensively about the fabled Battle Of Britpop. August 1995 just happened to coincide with the first two months of operation of the fabled dotmusic.com website for which I was lucky enough to write chart commentaries for the whole of its existence. So for one final burst of nostalgia it seemed an interesting exercise to reproduce that very column, although my modern day self may have to interject on occasions. He just cannot help himself.

Here then is a genuine dip into the archives, the chart column as it appeared on Monday lunchtime, August 21st 1995.


 

HEAVY NOTICE: These charts are offered on the Internet as a service to music fans. However, they remain the copyright of CIN Ltd and any reproduction of this information in television or radio broadcasts or in printed or electronic publications without CIN’s formal approval is a breach of copyright. For details of licencing arrangements for the charts, contact CIN@dotmusic.com

[2015 James notes: yep, back in the hinterland of the commercial internet and where the copyright of material posted on it could not be presumed and had to be stated in quite strict terms.]


1 COUNTRY HOUSE (Blur)

There has never really been hype like it. The release on the same day of new singles by both Blur and Oasis prompted a media circus beyond any other in recent memory. The release of the two singles has, over the past week, been hyped up by the media into a true ‘battle of the bands’ with insults flying back and forth between both the musicians and fans alike and has resulted almost daily updates on the radio as to the sales progress of both singles. Not for a long time has there been quite so much speculation and interest in the potential chart positions of two records. As thee week progressed it became clear that one would end up the winner and become and instant Number One. Oasis with the larger dedicated fan base started out strongest with sales of their single outstripping Blur easily at the start of the week. Gradually though, the difference was clawed back as the more commercial Blur single picked up sales from the more casual record buyers at the end of the week and by the end of Saturday the result was in no doubt at all. So it is then that one of the most popular groups in the country land their first ever Number One hit. ‘Country House’ is really a continuation of the style that characterised last year’s ‘Parklife’ album and which transformed them into something quite special. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, from the Kinks to the Small Faces yet at the same time producing a style of music that is indescribably Blur. It is no surprise at all that they should get a Number One single, following a string of hits since 1990 and the global attention that focused on them following the release of ‘Parklife’. The single also continues the remarkable string of records this year to hit Number One on their very first week. ‘Country House’ is the tenth record to top the charts since January and the sixth to do so first week out, thus equaling the record set in 1991. All that is left to do now is to wonder how the losers will view this situation after a week of both sides postulating that whoever won the battle would be confirmed as the bigger band…


 

2 ROLL WITH IT (Oasis)

So what of the ‘losers’? Oasis, despite their large following around the country and despite the fact that their last single was an instant No.1, eventually had to give way to the larger commercial audience for the Blur single. Having said that, the achievements of this single should not be overlooked. It gives Oasis a fifth Top 10 hit in a row and a hat trick of Top 3 hits. It also marks only the third occasion in chart history that the Top 2 records have both been new entries. Curiously enough both of the previous occasions were in weeks when media attention focused on the singles chart. The first was in December 1984 when Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas/Everything She Wants’ landed at No.2 behind the very first Band Aid single at Number One. The second occasion was in June 1989 when Jason Donovan’s ‘Sealed With A Kiss’ hit Number One to deny Cliff Richard a place at the top with his 100th single release ‘The Best Of Me’. After the hype though comes the reality and I suspect as the media interest fades away, so will the Oasis single leaving Blur high and dry at the top. Whilst many people I suspect watched on in bemusement as the release of two pop records made news items on TV and Radio it is worth at least reflecting on the fact that, if only for one week, the release of a single became a genuine event, worthy of attention and interest at the highest level. It brought people into record shops who would normally only visit at Christmas time and brought to the attention of millions the two bands currently leading the field in this golden age of British pop. Amen to that.

[2015 James notes: And there you have it, proof that even at the time those of us close to the situation were quite aware that this was something rather historic and that we might possibly be on the verge of something rather special. 1995 saw record sales and singles sales in particular start to emerge from their start of the decade nadir and what helped no end was an event that once more reminded everyone that the singles chart had the potential to really, really matter.]


 

6 EVERYBODY (Clock)

Underneath all the Blur/Oasis hype was sensation of another kind as the shops were flooded with a rash of new releases by major acts, all of which ended up tussling for the lower chart places. It makes for a very busy chart indeed with no less than 15 new entries inside the Top 40. The highest of the ‘also-rans’ were Clock, notching up their third Top 10 hit in a row following chart successes earlier this year with covers of ‘Axel F’ and ‘Whoomph! (There It Is)’. The new single fits snugly in the mould carved out by the previous two, a lively electronic dance record which is commercial enough to find appeal on the radio as well as the more mainstream dance floors. Part of the appeal of Clock is the way they are not just a bunch of faceless producers but an act with a consistent team of faces performing the singles and a brilliant line in dance routines. I remember commenting on this after they performed ‘Axel F’ on television earlier this year only to receive a frustrated email from their management complaining that no TV shows seemed to want to book them. Hopefully that now is changing.


 

8 HUMAN NATURE (Madonna)

There was a time when a new Madonna release would be an event in itself. This week she was relegated almost to a footnote in the list of new releases but that did not stop her landing another instant Top 10 hit to further affirm her place as one of the most successful female artists in chart history. The failure at Christmas for ‘Take A Bow’ to progress any further than No.16 brought her record of consecutive Top 10 hits to a screaming halt but she has bounced back since, first of all with ‘Bedtime Story’ making No.4 back in February and now with ‘Human Nature’ giving her her 35th Top 10 hit, more than any other artist ever save for the usual leaders of lists such as this – Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard with 55 and 63 to their names respectively. The success of this single still does not detract from the fact, however, that she is falling deeper and deeper into the rut that seems to affect all superstars at some stage in their career – releasing records that sell simply because of the name behind them rather than their quality as pop records. Even the most hardened Madonna fan would not argue that ‘Human Nature’ is vastly inferior to many of the classics she has produced in the past and if she heads down this road she may find her commercial stock declining very quickly, especially now at 37 and over ten years into her career she is no longer the idol for millions of teenagers she once was. This kind of rut is by no means inescapable as the recent chart rehabilitation of artists like Diana Ross have proven – something which must give Stevie Wonder cause for hope.

[2015 James notes: OK, now that was quite funny to read – the fact that my main concern over Madonna at the time was “is it possible she is getting all a bit too old for this”. 20 years later she is not quite the force she once was, but a new release of hers still manages to be something of an event. Never mind the fact that even at the time she was on the very of her late 90s renaissance thanks to her “work with the hottest producer of the moment” phase.]


 

12 JUST WHEN YOU’RE THINKIN’ THINGS OVER (Charlatans)

It seems to be a week for British groups. Whilst Blur celebrate the peak of their career so far, some of their contemporaries from almost five years ago find themselves with their biggest hit for a long time. When Blur first had a smash hit in 1991 they were building on the success of bands such as the Charlatans who had proved there was life after the baggy Manchester sound of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and who were arguably one of the original 90s guitar bands. Their biggest commercial success came in 1990 when their debut chart hit ‘The Only One I Know’ reached No.9. Despite the odd hit single they have in effect drifted into the background until now. Suddenly the music press have woken up the fact that the Charlatans are actually quite good and following minor hits earlier this year with ‘Crashin’ In’ and ‘Just Lookin’ (what do they have against the letter ‘G’?) the band explode into the Top 20 with a single that matches the peak of ‘Then’ in 1990 to become their second biggest hit ever. As the band prepare to release their fifth album it appears they are about to experience a second coming. After all, it took REM five albums to hit big and ‘Parklife’ was Blur’s third long player…


 

13 ON THE BIBLE (Deuce)

A rush of hype and a rush of new entries also has an effect on the records already on the chart. Just one or two climbers in a week is by no means uncommon but this week, possibly as a direct result of all the attention paid to the week’s new releases, sees a unique chart situation. For the first time ever there are no climbers at all inside the Top 40. Not one. Aside from the new entries, the only records to even maintain their positions from last week are Deuce at No.13 and Alanis Morrissette at No.22.


 

14 MOVE YOUR BODY (Xpansions 95)

Dance music’s summer of rememberance continues as for the third week running a past hit is resurrected and given new life with a new set of remixes. ‘Son Of A Gun. and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ are joined in the Top 40 by this record from Xpansions. one which has had quite a chequered history. Back in 1991 it actually benefitted in the same way as many records today, Ritchie Malone’s track first being released in October 1990 when it only reached No.49. After retitling the track after its hookline he tried again in February 1991 and was rewarded with a No.7 hit. Now, four years later the track is resurrected to crash straight back into the charts and entertain a new generation of clubbers. Where will it end? The trick now I suppose is not to despair for the future of dance music but to speculate which 90s dance hit is next for a revival. My money is on Cola Boy’s ‘7 Ways To Love’, all other suggestions are gratefully received.

[2015 James notes: yeah, that last bit never happened.]


 

15 HAPPY JUST TO BE WITH YOU (Michelle Gayle)

Michelle Gayle is possibly unique. Many former soap stars have released records in the past but Michelle Gayle is virtually the only one to have shaken off the ‘actress’ tag completely and transformed herself into a credible singing talent. Part of that is due to the quality of the songs she is given to sing. ‘Sweetness’ was arguably the first, the Narada Michael Walden track which made No.4 in September 1994 and this has been followed by two more: ‘I’ll Find You’ and ‘Freedom’. Now comes her biggest and best hit since ‘Sweetness’, another slickly produced pop/dance track in the Eternal mould, complete with a rap at the start. I’m sorry if this throws credibility to the wind, but I like this enough to resist the temptation to make a cheeky comment about its use of an old Chic bassline. So I won’t.


 

19 COME AND GET YOUR LOVE (Real McCoy)

The Real McCoy are a curious act, having managed to supplant most of the current rules and traditions and gone off and had hits in America as well as all over Europe. Their fourth hit is this one, a track currently climbing the US Hot 100 in the same manner as their previous hits. It is typical Euro dance, an uptempo beat, a high powered rap and a catchy female vocal, this time one which is too similar to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘(Hey Now) Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) to be accidental but that is not to detract from the success of the track. It gives the German act four Top 20 hits in a row.

[2015 James notes: yep, walking musical encyclopaedia and avid student of pop music history that I was, I’d never heard of Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love at that point and had no inkling of where the Real McCoy track had come from. To think I was paid for this rubbish.]


 

23 ISOBEL (Bjork)

Bjork singles are usually quite a hit and miss affair, the sheer diversity of the music she puts on her albums means that no two releases are ever alike. One Little Indian records have quite sensibly waited for all the initial fuss surrounding the ‘Post’ album to die down before releasing a second single to follow ‘Army Of Me’ which made No.10 back in May. ‘Isobel’ finds the Icelandic pixie in an ethereal mood with one of those strange meandering songs which shows off her voice to brilliant effect yet hardly makes for a commercial pop single. Never mind, as any Bjork fan will tell you there is one track from the album which received all the attention when it was first released and which is due for single release some time this autumn and which is almost certain to become one of her biggest hits ever. I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you still in the dark…

[2015 James notes: summer ’95 and all anyone cared about was when It’s Oh So Quiet was getting its single release. Nothing else Bjork did mattered at that point. And anyway, when was the “Icelandic pixie” not in ethereal mood?]


 

25 LET YOUR YEAH BE YEAH (Ali Campbell)

Ali Campbell’s first solo single ‘That Look In Your Eye’ was released with little ceremony or fanfare yet quickly established itself as a radio favourite and had a creditable 8 week stay in the Top 40. His second single uses a trick he has used with UB40 on many occasions, resurrecting a long lost reggae classic and turning it into a commercial hit. ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ was first a hit for the Pioneers back in 1971 when it reached No.5.


 

27 HOLD ON (Happy Clappers)

One of the more popular dance hits of the moment, the Happy Clappers chart slightly lower than was expected in many quarters. It is their second hit this year, following on from ‘I Believe’ which made No.21 back in June


 

32 SUMMERTIME HEALING (Eusebe)

Summer it is, as if you hadn’t noticed, and there is always a market for a single crafted especially for the occasion. In the spirit of the age, the summer records this year have been based largely around past classics. Shaggy’s remake of ‘In The Summertime’ was the first and here comes another, Eusebe creating a new track around Marvin Gaye’s 1982 classic ‘Sexual Healing’. A small hit I suspect, lacking as much chart potential as it does originality.


 

34 LIVING NEXT DOOR TO ALICE (Smokie featuring Roy Chubby Brown)

OK deep breath, are you ready for this? For most of this year continental dance floors have been filled as a result of a very strange joke. It began in Holland when a DJ there ‘rediscovered’ the old Smokie classic ‘Living Next Door To Alice’ (which first made No.5 here in 1976). Somewhere along the way the joke was created of pausing the song every time ‘Alice’ was mentioned so the crowd could shout “Alice? Who the f*** is Alice?” A record was duly made and Gompie’s ‘Alice (Who The X Is Alice)’ promptly raced up the charts all over Europe. Back in May the concept was exported over here along with the record and the track made a brief appearance in the Top 40 and reached No.34. Call it the British sense of humour if you will, but clearly not enough people got the joke. Around the same time the original artists attempted to cash in on the craze and recorded their own bowlderisation of the song that has kept them on the radio for the past 20 years, teaming up with foul-mouthed comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to add the obscenities. This version made a brief appearance back in May at the lower end of the charts but ultimately lost out to Gompie’s ‘original’ remake. Meanwhile the craze lingered on in Europe, long enough for the usual hordes of British holidaymakers to hear it and create a demand for it back home. This has now prompted the re-release of both versions of the song only for Smokie’s version to curiously emerge the winner at this stage. Quite what will happen now is anyone’s guess. Radio of course will avoid the record like the plague whilst the rest of us will sit and wonder just why shouting ‘Who The F*** is Alice?” should be so funny in the first place.

[2015 James notes: lighten up younger self, and learn to recognise something juvenile and piss funny when you see it.]


 

39 COME ON HOME (Cyndi Lauper)

‘Nuff respect to Cyndi Lauper. Never one to fit into a traditional mould, virtually every single she releases has something to set it apart from all the others, even if this doesn’t always translate into massive commercial success. Not that she is without smash hits though, her last success being her inspired remake of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ which soared to No.4 ten years after her own original version reached No.2. Since then she has fallen back into her usual pattern of having minor hit singles, ‘Come On Home’ follows on from ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ which reached No.37 earlier this year. It’s a shame really as even her smaller hits are fabulous records, the cod-reggae of ‘Come On Home’ proving the point exactly.


 

40 THE KEY (Matt Goss)

Wow, is this going to be fun. The late 1980s saw the phenomenon of the teen idol switch into overdrive. The demise of Wham! in 1986 had left a huge gap in the market for a band of pretty boys making pop music to sell to 13 year old girls. There seemed to be virtually one every year, from A-Ha to Curiosity Killed the Cat until we reached 1988 and Bros exploded onto the scene. They seemed to be a perfect idea, two pretty, blonde, identical twin boys along with a third not-so pretty unrelated member who was offloaded a year later. Matt and Luke Goss became the biggest pair of pin ups Britain had seen in years and scored a string of hit singles which included a Number One in June 1988 in the shape of ‘I Owe You Nothing’. There was, however, one crucial problem. Nobody liked them. You can have all the screaming girls you want buying your records and attending your concerts but if the massed ranks of the music press plus most other record buyers think you are a pair of berks then you are doomed to failure. This is what happened to the Goss twins, no matter what the quality of the music they put out, the industry spent a great deal of time sniggering up its sleeves at the group, noting down every platitude they uttered in interviews and watching, waiting for them to fall. ‘Record Mirror’ in the days when it was a weekly music magazine in its own right even ran a ‘deface the Bros picture’ competition. The end ultimately came, slowly and painfully in 1991 when their third album flopped and their last single ‘Try’ (ironically one of the best things they ever did) only reached No.27. The brothers broke up, reportedly fell out with each other and set out to figure out why the record company had apparantly made more money from the whole affair than they did. Inevitably the music business had not seen the last of the Goss twins. Luke Goss was the first to break cover, forming his own band ‘Like Goss and the Band Of Thieves’ in 1993. He released two singles which deserved better than to just miss the Top 50 and proved himself to be a pretty competent rock vocalist as well as a drummer. Now it is the turn of Matt, Bros’ singer to attempt to launch a solo career. ‘The Key’ is virtually indistinguishable from some Bros album tracks, a funky track that tries desperately to be credible yet spoiled by Matt Goss’ insistence on screeching the vocals. To be fair it is really the choice of song that is wrong, many Bros ballads proved that the lad does have a decent voice but he will need better material than this if he is to end up in the upper reaches of the charts once more.


My only regret? That the internet archive didn’t stumble across dotmusic until 1997 so there was no chance of seeing this piece in its original habitat so to speak. The earliest archived column is one from the spring of 1997.

As far as the Battle Of Britpop is concerned, I guess that has to be the final word. Or at least until I come to write the Top 40 Annual 1995, some time in the next five years or so (at present rate of attrition).

The Battle Of Britpop: The Result

NME-covers---Blur-v-Oasis-017

The most famous singles chart battle of the 1990s very nearly ended before it had even begun. The week before the release Oasis’ label were alerted to a major problem with the design of the sleeve for Roll With It. Tests by chart compilers Millward Brown had revealed that both their own terminals and the EPOS machines of some major retailers were becoming confused by a black border around the all-important barcode and were unable to read it properly. In theory this is normally dealt with by a prompt for the cashier to enter the code manually, but the risk of this being done in error or for frustrated shop workers to skip over it altogether was considered too great to take.

It all meant a herculean effort by both label and distributor staff, stickering or replacing what were estimated to be over 100,000 different CDs over the course of the weekend before release. This meant that shipments of the Oasis single were delayed and so whilst retailers had been delivered boxes of the Blur single before the weekend, many shops opened with empty shelves where the Oasis single should have been until delivery of the discs was taken during the morning.

Stock issues did little to dim the assumption that the crown was Oasis’ for the taking. Based on their previous chart form (where Oasis had reached Number One before but Blur had never charted higher than Number 5) bookmakers made the Gallagher brothers 4/6 to top the charts, canny punters preferring to back the outsider able to get a price of 6/4. Although the major chains were reluctant to reveal too many details, a survey of independent retailers suggested that advance orders for the Oasis single were far higher than those of Blur. It genuinely seemed a foregone conclusion.

Such was the level of interest in the chart race that for the first time the chart publishers drew back the curtain and revealed officially for the very first time that they did indeed obtain running totals of how records were selling. CIN (as they then were) gave the press regular updates on the chart race, enabling the papers to stoke the fires of anticipation all week long.

On Tuesday morning the Oasis camp still had reason to be confident:

tuesday

A genuine regional split was emerging, but perhaps more tellingly a sales gap depending on where you shopped. The more populist HMV chain had Blur edging it, but Tower Records was attracting the Oasis buyers. There was also a split when it came to airplay. By Wednesday the airplay tally was running at 245-173 in favour of Blur on ILR stations. Radio One had a different view however and by the same point midweek had played Roll With It 19 times compared to 15 for Country House.

Three days later the fight appeared to have changed direction dramatically:

thursday

The Daily Express piece unwittingly exposed what, in the final reckoning, was believed to be the decisive factor. Cannily Blur and Food records had struck the better deal with the major retailers, meaning that Country House was selling for just £1.99 compared to the £2.99 it cost to buy the Oasis single (independent shops commanded no buying power and were forced to sell both singles for the ‘standard’ £3.75). Perhaps even more cannily Blur had won the format race. They had two versions of the CD single available, one with the studio recording and the other containing a selection of live tracks (including Country House naturally) recorded at the band’s Mile End Stadium concert on May. Quite how many casual buyers would have found that attractive is open to question, but dedicated fans would have keenly purchased both, giving the Essex boys a further sales edge.

At approximately 6.45pm on Sunday August 20th all was finally revealed as the two records took their place in the charts and their place in history.

2: Oasis – Roll With It

Oasis were popular and their song was good, but in the final reckoning just not quite good or popular enough. Narrowly failing to give them a second Number One single in a row, Roll With It sold 216,000 copies during the course of the week, the highest total of any Number 2 single since Last Christmas by Wham! just over a decade earlier.

1: Blur – Country House

Pricing issues and CD formats aside, what surely swung it for Blur was the fact that at the end of the day Country House was simply the better pop record and with the potential to appeal to a far wider audience than that of their rivals. The culmination of the musical journey the group had been on for the previous two years, channelling the spirits of both The Kinks and The Small Faces to create cheery snapshots of modern life, Country House was the infectious tale of the city banker who retires to the countryside to live in peace with his ailments and addictions. A brightly coloured video starring model Jo Guest and with shades of Benny Hill-esque humour in places only added to the package which would ultimately prove irresistible. Country House sold a huge 274,000 copies that week, a total which by the standards of the preceding ten years was huge but which in 1995 terms actually trailed the 346,000 copies sold in one week by Take That with Back For Good and the phenomenal three week run of 310,000; 460,000; and 320,000 shifted by Robson & Jerome with Unchained Melody. Chart battles be damned, 1995 had already seen some astonishingly high selling singles.


 

Regardless of who “won” or “lost”, the whole week had been a triumph for the music industry as a whole. The singles market overall grew by a massive 41% over the preceding week with 1.7 million singles sold across the board. A knock on effect had been felt by all the other big selling singles of the moment and it was not insignificant that every one of the Top 25 singles that week sold at least 15,000 copies. A week earlier only the Top 17 had reached that total. Indeed it was particularly unlucky for TLC and The Original who both saw their sales increase over those of the preceding week but who fell down the chart regardless.

Blur would release their fourth album The Great Escape a month later, the collection flying to the top of the charts to give them a second Number One album in a row. It duly completed the trilogy of similarly themed albums that had begun with 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish and continued the following year with Parklife. Having reached a commercial high, they then had the room to experiment, the lo-fi approach to 1997’s Blur and 1999’s 13 only enhancing their reputation as musicians. The group would survive a 21st century hiatus to reunite as respected veterans and a proven live draw.

For Oasis the Number 2 single was just another step up the mountain. Released in October, their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory would become one of the defining musical works of its era and a creative peak that many would argue they never quite managed to emulate. Even so, it propelled the group on to such levels of popularity that their third album Be Here Now set a record that is unlikely ever to be equalled, selling 350,000 copies on its first day of release and 696,000 by the end of the sales week – all this on just three days of sales.

Back to 1995 though and there was one final controversial twist to the tale. On September 17th Noel Gallagher was profiled in a piece in The Observer written by journalist Miranda Sawyer. In it she quoted the star discussing his chart rivals in terms which were soon to become notorious.

Observer September 17th

Exactly when this interview took place is open to some debate. Speaking on XFM a decade later to formally recant the comments, Gallagher said: “I was in this dressing room after we played Irvine Beach in that Big Top, and we were all fucked taking drugs – she was taking drugs an all, and I won’t name her on the fucking radio because that’s probably not the best thing legally to do – but I kinda thought we were speaking off the record, but of course there was a tape recorder on”. The Irvine Beach concerts actually took place on 14th and 15th July 1995, a full month before the Battle Of Britpop and indeed the original Observer piece does indeed portray the interview has having taken place backstage at that concert. Yet the infamous “Aids” comment is portrayed as moment of bitterness for losing a chart battle which had not yet happened which makes you wonder just how accurate the account of this particular part of the conversation was. Given that Noel by his own admission was off his head at the time, you do wonder if his only recollection of making the comments he spent the next few years apologising for is based on the Observer piece.


Speaking as a chart fan, and one who had only a month or so earlier been admitted into the inner sanctum of the music industry, being paid by Music Week themselves to write about them online for the first time ever, the Battle Of Britpop was a moment of great excitement. Following a singles chart which, by all accounts, “stopped mattering” sometime in the early 1970s it was rather enjoyable to see such popular attention being paid to the best sellers table outside of the week before Christmas. Over the years that followed such two way battles would continue to grab headlines, perhaps most notoriously in the summer of 2000 when a similar battle between Victoria Beckham and Sophie Ellis-Bextor led to the same levels of media attention, even if the records in question weren’t quite as achingly cool this time around. With the singles chart currently still settling into its new home on Fridays, it would be fun to once again see a proper chart battle inspire mainstream attention once more and to once again hammer home the idea of a race to the top of the charts. For now we have some very fond memories of a very famous Top 40 chart, which you can hear below in full:

The Battle Of Britpop: 10-3

Everyone has times in their life which they can look back on and note just how pivotal they were. At the time I had no idea that the summer of 1995 was anything particularly special, I was simply lost in the kind of blizzard of life activities that are only possible to manage when in the first flush of youth. I’d shuttle from my post-graduation day job creating spreadsheets for an accountancy firm to fanning the flames of my own media career with Saturday afternoon work on the sports show of the local radio station I’d within the year be gracing as a presenter whilst at the same time spending Sunday mornings presenting on hospital radio in an entirely necessary apprenticeship in speaking to virtually nobody. Like preparing to do podcasts I guess.

I will have also eagerly hovered by the computer modem at 1pm that Sunday afternoon, August 20th, preparing for the phone call which would transmit the weekly fax that was at the time the means by which the new chart was delivered to media outlets and people like me. Containing as it did a Top 10 which looked more or less exactly like this:

10: Corona – Try Me Out

The creation of Italian producer Francisco Bontempi, Corona’s flame burned brightly and briefly (at least as far as international success was concerned) but long enough for the group to release a string of Europop hits that gave them a stranglehold on charts across Europe and indeed worldwide throughout 1995 and 1996. Try Me Out was the third of these and duly became their third British Top 10 hit in a row when it peaked at Number 6 for a fortnight in early August, this week its fifth and final one as a Top 10 single. One final original hit followed at the end of the year: I Don’t Want To Be A Star was my personal favourite of theirs but stalled at Number 22. Record label wrangles meant that the group’s next album did not appear until 1998, by which time mid-90s Europop was very much last season’s thing.

9: Seal – Kiss From A Rose/I’m Alive

The second single from Seal’s self-titled second album, Kiss From A Rose had first been released in the summer of 1994, climbing to what seems in retrospect to be a rather lowly Number 20 British chart peak. The singer was at the time rather underwhelmingly marketed, the assumption being that he was enough of a name for his music to speak for itself. Hence the lack of sensation, a situation which led to his next single the dark and brooding Newborn Friend becoming his first single ever to miss the Top 40.

If the public at large did not have much love initially for Kiss From A Rose it was fortunate then that “Batman Forever” director Joel Schumacher did. He wanted the song to use in a love scene in the film and indeed had shot the segment with the song in mind. Oddly enough the song did not end up being used in the scene but was instead played over the end credits of the film, a prime slot to serve as its unofficial theme and ripe to become the smash hit it deserved to be second time around. So it proved. The epic song with its wistful multi-tracked and almost medieval introduction and powerful lung-busting chorus duly became a worldwide smash hit, topping the American charts and in Britain climbing to Number 4, Seal’s biggest chart hit since he opened his solo account with Number 2 single Crazy in 1991. Today the soul ballad stands tall as one of the singer’s greatest ever hits, the defining moment of his career and perhaps regrettably a high point he was never quite able to live up to with subsequent recordings.

8: *new entry* Madonna – Human Nature

Over the years critical analysis has been rather kinder to Madonna’s sixth album Bedtime Stories than many were at the time. Now viewed as the first stage in her 1990s creative renaissance that saw her successfully partner with the hottest new production talent on the block, the collection of songs was a cautious attempt to return to the mainstream following 1992’s Erotica and its attendant naked pictures furore. That said, it was also a period in her career when her chart form became wildly erratic, 1994 single Take A Bow topping the American charts for seven weeks but bringing her record run of consecutive Top 10 singles to a grinding halt when it peaked at a lowly Number 16. Human Nature was the fourth and final single to be taken from the album and you will note that the label stuck doggedly to the originally planned release date, even though its fate was to be largely ignored in favour of the epic battle at the top of the charts and suffered the indignity of not even being the third highest new entry of the week. Following this Number 8 entry point the single had an otherwise unremarkable chart run, dipping to Number 21 in its second week on sale and spending just five weeks on the Top 75, the shortest chart run of any of her singles since the original 1984 issue of Borderline. At the very least it put her in exalted company, as her 35th Top 10 hit it meant she had more than any other act in chart history save for Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. It would be another three years before she released another proper studio album, releasing ballads collection Something To Remember for Christmas 1995 and featuring on the Evita movie soundtrack at the end of 1996 to create a seemingly endless debate about whether this counts as one of ‘her’ Number One albums.

7: JX – Son Of A Gun

So make that three re-issued dance singles on this Top 40 chart and indeed this was effectively the fourth in a row to reach the charts with the hit re-release of Keep Warm by Jinny having finished its Top 40 run a week earlier. JX was the original recording pseudonym of Jake “Rex The Dog” Williams and Son Of A Gun had originally been released in the spring of 1994 when it peaked at a perfectly respectable Number 13. The second JX single You Belong To Me had reached Number 17 a year later, prompting this re-release of his first recording which duly arrived with new mixes and a new-found popularity. The single had entered the chart at Number 6 a week before and this was its second and final appearance in the Top 10. The “he’s a dirty son of a gun” vocal refrain that runs throughout the single was a sample, lifted from 1976 single Ecstacy, Passion & Pain and as performed by Barbara Roy although she received no direct credit for her work. The next JX single would not arrive until May 1996, but There’s Nothing I Won’t Do would prove to be the biggest yet, hitting Number 4 and spending four weeks in the Top 10.

6: *new entry* Clock -Everybody

Strange but true: Clock are in the Guinness Book Of Records for charting with more cover versions of previous hits than any other act, beating even serial revivalists such as Showaddywaddy and Shakin’ Stevens. The group were the creation of producers Stu Allen and Pete Prichard, the original aim being to be a British equivalent of techno act 2 Unlimited. To this end rapper Marcus “ODC MC” Thomas and singer Lorna Sanders were recruited to front the group and they released their first chart single Holding On in 1993. Although 1994 single The Rhythm landed them their first Top 30 hit the formula wasn’t working as well as hoped. Instead Clock switched tack and began to release a series of techno-ed up cover versions of older hits, starting with a remake of Axel F which gave them their first ever big success when it peaked at Number 7 in March 1995. Everybody was their third Top 10 and actually broke the chain of covers, being essentially an original piece of work. I say “essentially” as the track was based for the most part around a vocal sample from Let’s Start The Dance, a 1978 single by disco producer Hamilton Bohannon, the rap by ODC MC the most original part of it. That’s still enough to actually ensure the single has more artistic merit than much of the rest of their catalogue and as a British act performing note-perfect eurodance they are actually fairly unique. Clock’s producers were also notable for reworking their singles into darker and harder versions, often released under pseudonyms such as Visa and indeed Everybody even in its chart-friendly version although unashamedly Europop contains enough Happy Hardcore elements to make it an oddly compelling listen. Looking back on my notes from the time, I’m reminded of having written about their entertaining live performances earlier in the year only to receive an email from their management thanking me for my comments and bemoaning the fact that they were struggling to get booked to perform.

5: TLC – Waterfalls

Phase I of TLC’s career was their 1992 debut album Oooooooh… On The TLC Tip, produced by LA and Babyface and during the time when they were managed by LA Reid’s wife Perri “Pebbles” Reid. After extracting themselves from the bulk of their management deal the trio recruited a range of producers (including Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri and a tyro Puff Daddy) for help with second album CrazySexyCool, and it is at this point we find them deep in the middle of Phase II of what is at all times a quite extraordinary story. Although still marketed as a trio, the CrazySexyCool album for the most part just featured Tionne Watkins and Rozonda Thomas, Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes limited in her involvement thanks to a spell in rehab and working the probation incurred after an attempt to burn her boyfriend’s shoes only succeeded in immolating the entire apartment. Released as the album’s third single, the Organized Noise-produced Waterfalls quickly became their most successful single so far, both in Britain and around the world. By its second week it had become their first ever British Top 10 hit single, peaking at Number 4 in early August, this coinciding with the bizarre news that all three members had filed for bankruptcy in America, the remnants of their previous management contract meaning that despite their extended success they were all effectively penniless. The extraordinary tale of TLC would eventually move on to Phase III, the No Scrubs era and Left-Eye’s rehabilitation as the decade turned into one of the most in-demand guest rappers of note – that is until her tragic death in 2002. Of all their singles Waterfalls remains one of the most memorable, even if only for its status as one of Twitter’s most common and enduring mondegreens.

4: Take That – Never Forget

Although nobody knew it at the time, mid-1995 saw Take That reach both a career high and hit a brand new low. The high was thanks to their third album Nobody Else which continued their near-continuous run of Number One hits, the second of which was the career-defining ballad Back For Good with which they had stolen the show at the Brit Awards ceremony that year and which remains to this day Gary Barlow’s finest moment as a songwriter. As for the low – well we’ll come to that in a moment.

Based on first impressions, Never Forget was an unlikely choice as the album’s third single. In its original album mix it was a rather limp, lifeless and meandering track with little suggestion that it was anything more than filler. For single release however the song was almost entirely revamped, reworked by the seemingly unlikely hand of Jim Steinman, best known for work with rock acts like Meat Loaf but with a history that indicated he was more than capable of working with pop acts too. In later years Gary Barlow would speak in awed tones of the experience of working with the producer, the song ending up with so many musical tracks it had to be mixed on two studios daisy chained together as it grew too large to fit on one desk. But it was all worth it. Never Forget became the grandest, majestic and most impressively realisd single of their career, Howard Donald’s lead vocals augmented by choirs of boy sopranos, a synthesized orchestra and a wall of sound climax that left the listener breathless by the time the five and a half minute epic (six and a half in its full version) finally died away. It was a Number One, the seventh of their career thus far, but then again just about everything they put their name to at that stage was.

As an added twist however the release of Never Forget was preceded by what at the time was quite earth shattering news. After a memorable “lost weekend” as the guest of Oasis backstage at Glastonbury, Robbie Williams decided he was no longer comfortable in the confines of a pop group and quit. Not since Alan Longmuir departed the Bay City Rollers two decades earlier had a pop group which inspired such hero worship discarded a core member in mid flow. Take That were thus forced to continue as a four-piece.

It all made the lyrics of Never Forget all the more poignant, the song itself a lament about the journey that must be taken to achieve success and how it is always important to remind oneself of the struggle it has taken. “We’re not invincible”, the song noted, “some day this will be someone else’s dream.” The parallels with their real life dramas could not have been more poignant. More pertinently however the departure of Robbie Williams made promotion of the single slightly awkward. Although, as already noted, the song was a rare vehicle for Howard Donald on lead vocals (complete with thick Manchester accent: “we’ve ‘ad gud tahms”), Robbie could clearly be heard singing on the bridge and a new edit for TV performances was hastily prepared. 16 years later the reformed Take That, newly reunited with Robbie Williams too, performed Never Forget on the 2010 Children In Need Show, the significance of it being the first time they had ever performed it as a five piece going all but unnoticed. Aside from those of us who understood the true significance.

After three weeks lodged at Number One, Never Forget finally succumbed to the Britpop hurricane, dropping three places to rest here at Number 4. For all the hype and fuss the single actually only sold around 374,000 copies, a drop compared to the near one million shifted by Back For Good earlier in the year. The loss of Robbie Williams dealt the group what appeared to be a fatal blow and after one more farewell single, a cover of How Deep Is Your Love at the start of 1996, they split up. For ten years anyway.

3: The Original – I Luv U Baby

Another club track having a second bite at the cherry, although this time around it was a track which had first charted just a few months earlier. I Luv U Baby had originally been released in January only to limp to Number 31 and vanish. Continuing popularity with DJs meant it became one of the first big Ibiza anthems of the summer, making a re-release all but inevitable. Second time around the single scored big, charging to Number 2 and spending four weeks in the Top 10. The Original were a front for two producers, Italian Giuseppe Nuzzo and Frenchman Walter Taieb but the singer on the track was American Everett Bradley. At the time an otherwise unknown Broadway performer, Bradley would eventually become an award winning producer and director, graduating eventually to playing drums in the E Street Band at the turn of the century. I Luv U Baby was the one and only chart hit by The Original but it remains one of the most fondly remembered hits of its era. And of course, it was the biggest selling single of the week NOT performed by Blur or Oasis.


It was at this point in proceedings that Mark Goodier on the Radio One chart show did something that was itself rather historic. Having reached the Number 3 position he paused the chart and ran the traditional climactic countdown a record early. The real reason everyone had tuned in, the real purpose of the hype and the outcome of one of the most famous sales battles of its era was about to be revealed. So it could hardly hurt to prolong the tension just a few minutes more.

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Coming next: the result of that battle, some behind the scenes revelations you may not have previously been aware of and just what happened when the dust finally cleared. The 20th anniversary of the Battle Of Britpop is about to reach its conclusion.

The Battle Of Britpop: 20-11

By the middle of August the heatwave of the summer of 1995 was starting to have knock-on consequences for water supply, with the extended drought causing added pressure to be put on already depleted water stocks. Most heavily hit was the newly-privatised Yorkshire Water which became the first of the new independent water companies to seek government permission to impose restrictions and start drawing water from rivers. It proved controversial once it was revealed that the company’s infrastructure was leaking more than 100 million gallons a day whilst it raked in pre-tax profits of £142million in 1994. Working in local radio in the region as I did at the time, I remember this was a public service gift to us. Yorkshire Water bought every scrap of airtime they could get their hands on in a PR exercise whilst the station itself ran regular “water watch” bulletins that lasted throughout the autumn.

bradford

This week in 1995 also saw a rather curious row envelop the London Evening Standard when it mixed up an on-spec submission by the son of government minister Michael Howard with a commissioned article from former Labour minister Bryan Gould, the result being an implication that one of the Labour party’s own former loyalists was suggesting that first time voters would not be inclined to vote for Tony Blair.

gould

In sport, boxing fans erupted in fury when Mike Tyson’s extensively promoted comeback fight following his two year spell in prison ended in farcial scenes after just a minute and a half. Fighting carefully selected cannon fodder Peter McNeeley, Tyson had floored his opponent with two lefts and right, but as the referee was escorting Tyson to a neutral corner, McNeeley’s manager entered the ring and thus disqualified his charge. Tyson picked up $25million for just 90 seconds work.

And finally on a lighter note, this was also the week when an American man named Patrick Combs decided for a prank to try to cash in a promotional cheque for $95,000 he had received in a mailing. Despite being labelled as a specimen, the bank cashed it anyway and spent the next few months desperately trying to recover the money from him. Combs used the tale of his experience to build a career as a motivational speaker and author, and the full story is recounted in detail on his own website.

combs

Enough topical trivia already, let’s return to the music. Today (August 14th) marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the two famous Britpop singles, as well as the extended string of other new entries on this particular chart.

20: Supergrass- Alright/Time

Supergrass had spent most of 1995 edging steadily towards the mainstream. Although the major label re-release of their debut single Caught By The Fuzz had narrowly missed the Top 40 in October 1994 they had broken through in the new year with Mansize Rooster hitting Number 20 and their third single Lenny even managing to graze the Top 10 when it charted at Number 10 in its first week on release in May. Such was the demand for the group’s material that a limited edition American single release of Lose It saw enough copies imported here for the single to skirt the Top 75 in March. Put simply, the four piece group from Oxford were on the verge of major success no matter what.

So it was really little more than a bonus that their fourth single ended up being the most joyous, infectious and above all commercially appealing piece of music they ever put their name to. One of the defining moments of what came to be seen as the Golden Summer of Britpop, Alright was a raucous and perhaps most importantly summery anthem that sang the joys of being young, free and innocent. Together with a suitably wacky video why saw the group cavorting Monkees-style in Portmerion it was a more or less irresistible package. The single shot to Number 2 upon release, lodging there for a fortnight to become far and away the biggest hit the group would ever put their name too.

The group only too conscious of its potential to become an albatross around their necks, the song an atypically upbeat pop record which bore only a passing resemblance to their other work (the more bluesy track Time on the other side of the single all but ignored despite its status as a double a-sided release). The group released no further singles from debut album I Should Co-Co, declining to follow up their smash hit until well into 1996. By the end of the decade they had dropped the song from concert sets altogether – I remember seeing one Supergrass gig at an event in 2003 where Gaz Coombes cattily responded “yeah, I’m all right – are you?” to audience requests for their most familiar song. Still, the legacy of Alright lives on, the track having featured on film soundtracks and in TV commercials on a regular basis ever since. Twenty years on it is hard to convey the sense of excitement and joy of seeing a single that you knew from the very moment it began was destined to become an all time classic riding high in the contemporary pop charts. But here we are two decades later with the song sounding as fresh and joyful as it did back then.

19: *new entry* Real McCoy – Come And Get Your Love

Never the most enthusiastic of frontsmen, the Real McCoy were a vehicle for German rapper and producer Olaf “O-Jay” Jeglitza, the performing alias for his cheeky cover of Technotronic’s Pump Up The Jam which became a hit in Germany in preference to the original in 1989. A handful of other German only singles followed before 1993 single Another Night (by now credited to the fictional MC Sar & The Real McCoy) became a widespread continental smash, although the single stalled in Britain at Number 61. The track caught the attention of Arista records boss Clive Davis who was fresh from transforming Swedish eurobeat act Ace Of Base into American superstars and wanted to repeat the trick with another European act.

So it was that the Real McCoy were given the full major label treatment, a re-worked Another Night becoming a major American hit at the end of 1994 and a Number 2 smash hit in Britain at the same time. After two more chart hits the MC Sar branding was finally dropped, making this fourth hit the first to be credited to The Real McCoy alone. The single was a barely recognisable cover of the Redbone track of the same name, perhaps not entirely by coincidence the song which had been used by Cyndi Lauper for the reworking of her own Girls Just Wanna Have Fun a year earlier. Entering here at Number 19 it would prove to be the last major chart single for Jeglitza and female companions, the group’s final single release of the year Automatic Lover (Call For Love) crashing out at Number 58. A second major label album One More Time was released in 1997 but failed to spawn any hits, after which the group disbanded.

18: Outhere Brothers – Boom Boom Boom

Just as 2011 was the summer of LMFAO, so too 1995 was arguably the summer of the Outhere Brothers. The thrust of the two acts is essentially the same: cheeky, bubbly and ever so slightly rude rap hits that somehow have the power to dominate both club and radio airplay and batter the innocent listener into submission. During the summer of 1995 it was more or less impossible to walk down a high street without being blasted by a car stereo pumping out the Outhere Brothers, the duo briefly the most ubiquitous and perhaps over-exposed act of their time. Keith Mayberry and Lamar Mahone had been working as writers and producers in the hip-hop industry for some time, their names most notably featuring on the credits for the evergreen Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Yet it was under their Outhere Brothers moniker that they briefly became one of the hottest names in Europe, topping the British charts first with Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) in March 1995 and then with the even ruder Boom Boom Boom which lodged at Number One for four weeks in early summer, selling over 600,000 copies to end up as the year’s 11th biggest seller. The aforementioned Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) only sold a few thousand copies less and was itself 1995’s 14th biggest seller. Both their Number One singles had the curious distinction of being knocked from Number One by the unstoppable force of Take That singles, Back For Good doing for the first and Never Forget sweeping aside this one. Two more Top 10 hits followed before the end of the year but then the phenomenon was over just as soon as it began, their only other hit single coming in January 1997 when Let Me Hear You Say ‘Ole ‘Ole crept to Number 18.

17: Boyzone – So Good

Boyzone’s fourth single, their third British hit and one of their first tentative forays into original pop material. So Good was a single which tried its hardest to to be a bright and breezy radio-friendly smash with a killer pop chorus but which was let down by the still slightly ropey vocals of the group members who were still growing into their roles as performers. Compare this to the similarly fashioned Picture Of You which they would release two years later and the different is like night and day as one single fires on all cylinders whilst the other never quite splutters into life. Still for all that Boyzone were the second biggest pop group around at the time (behind Take That of course) and they were more or less guaranteed hit singles out of the gate. So Good charged to Number 3 on release and spent a fortnight there before zooming back down the charts. It remains however one of their lesser starred greatest hits.

16: Suggs – I’m Only Sleeping/Off On Holiday

Follow Madness’ celebrated 1992 reunion and elevation into the status of true national treasures, their lead singer took his own steps to establishing his own mainstream celebrity with TV hosting duties and an inevitable solo album – one that he claimed at the time was an exercise in restoring his personal finances to some level of health. With reggae superstars Sly and Robbie on production duties the album The Lone Ranger was a pleasing mix of new material and carefully selected cover versions. Case in point was this lead single, led by a jaunty cover version of I’m Only Sleeping which originally appeared on The Beatles’ seminal Revolver album. With the able assistance of Louchie Lou and Michie One, Suggs transformed the song into a jaunty ska romp and had a worthwhile Number 7 hit in early August 1995. The album’s most successful single would turn out to be another cover, his own take on Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia hitting Number 4 in May 1996. You will note that the criticisms I levelled at the Ali Campbell record in the last instalment don’t apply here – Suggs’ record was crammed with the kind of tracks you got the feeling he had been dying to record for years but which simply would not have worked within the strictures of Madness. This was his moment of personal creative freedom and he took it in a manner which may not necessarily have been original or enduring but which was throwaway fun and was sold to us on those exact terms.

15: *new entry* Michelle Gayle – Happy Just To Be With You

Originally a child actress and a star of Grange Hill in the 1980s (featuring a storyline which saw her become part of hip-hop duo Fresh & Fly) Michelle Gayle graduated to the cast of Eastenders, playing the part of Hattie Tavernier for several years. It was during this period that she landed her first hit single, the Narada Michael Walden-produced Looking Up which may have only hit Number 11 but remains one of the best singles ever to be released by a soap opera star and indeed ranks as one of the most gloriously uplifting soul-pop tracks of the first half of the decade. Continuing to be blessed with some rather inspired choices of material, plus a genuine talent as a singer and performer, Michelle Gayle remained a regular visitor to the singles charts during the course of the decade. Happy Just To Be With You was her second hit single of 1995, a disco flavored track based heavily around the borrowed bassline from Good Times by Chic. Entering the charts here this week it would rise to Number 11 seven days later, narrowly failing to become her second Top 10 hit single. That would come with her next release two years later when Do You Know reached Number 6 and led to my first personal encounter with her – an occasion documented here.

14: *new entry* Xpansions 95 – Move Your Body

The second of three re-awakened dance hits on this chart, Move Your Body was actually the most veteran of them all. First released as Elevation in October 1990 the single had reached Number 49 before being re-released as Move Your Body (Elevation) in the new year whereupon the track hit Number 7. Four and a half years later the club classic returned to the Top 20 complete with a new series of remixes, albeit this time with slightly less impact than before. Xpansions was an alias for club DJ Richie Malone whilst the female singer on the track was Sally Ann Marsh for whom this represented the high point of her career as a singer but whose acting and voiceover work has kept her in the public eye ever since.

13: Deuce- On The Bible

Deuce were a creation of Tom Watkins, a vehicle largely for the performing talents of Kelly O’Keefe who had caught his eye whilst she was on work experience at his office during studies at the Brit School. Quickly forming a pop group of two men and two women in the traditional ABBA template, the manager steered his charges to a string of moderately successful hits during the course of 1995, one of which I Need You had even been submitted for consideration as Britain’s Eurovision Song Contest entry that year. On The Bible was their third and final Top 20 hit single, coinciding with the release of their one and only album On The Loose. As an interesting aside this particular Top 40 chart was historical for a very different reason, the first ever to feature no singles climbing and improving on their previous chart positions. Deuce, along with Alanis Morrissette, were the only acts to come close, the two sole non-movers on the countdown. Plans for a fourth Deuce single were aborted at the end of the year when O’Keefe quit the group and they were dropped by London records. Recruiting new members the group soldiered on with one more smaller hit single No Surrender in late 1996 and an attempt to fan the flames of success in Australia but it all came to nothing. The group’s most notable claim to fame is perhaps being as the first ever performing role for Lisa Armstrong, now best known as a TV make-up expert and in her personal role as Mrs Ant McPartlin.

12: *new entry* Charlatans – Just When You’re Thinking Things Over

The biggest hit single from the Charlatans’ self-titled fourth album, released just a week ahead of its own release. Hitting Number 12 the track duly became one of the group’s biggest chart singles for some time, taking them to a chart peak they had not scaled since Then also reached Number 12 in September 1990. Given that the group’s first hits saw them chart contemporaries with the early years of Blur it seemed only appropriate that they charted in the same week that their fellow Madchester-era survivors also ascended to a new level of stardom. The Charlatans’ own greatest chart successes were still ahead of them with the trio of Top 10 singles from their next album Tellin’ Stories their commercial high point, although poignantly it would be without keyboard player Rob Collins who was killed in a car crash during the recording of the album. Just When You’re Thinking Things Over is thus poignantly the last Charlatans single on which he would feature during his lifetime.

11: Diana King – Shy Guy

Signed by Sony Music as the next big thing in reggae, Diana King landed a hit single right out of the gate with Shy Guy, thanks in part to its use on the soundtrack of the Will Smith film Bad Boys. Crashing the Top 10 the moment it was released, Shy Guy would become one of the more enduring pop hits of the summer, spending seven weeks in the Top 10 and ultimately peaking at Number 2. Indeed this was the start of the single’s chart decline, the first time since release it had not been a Top 10 record. It was the 25th biggest selling single of 1995 and remains surprisingly fresh and entertaining 20 years later. Diana King would have two more Top 20 hits over the next two years but would never release anything that came close to the impact of this explosive debut.

For those struggling to keep count, there have now been 11 new entries on this most manic of Top 40 charts, leaving another four to come. There may have been no Michael Jackson, but August 14th 1995 remained a genuine Manic Monday – quite apart from the only two records that anyone seemed to be talking about.