The Battle Of Britpop: 30-21

As you grow older the memories of individual summers seem to fold into one another. However the abiding memory of this particular summer of 1995 is that of the heat. It was, to put it mildly, a scorcher with a 17 day unbroken stretch of sunshine enough to make it the most prolonged spell of good weather since the heatwave of 1976. Temperatures peaked at the start of August with a high of 35.2C, enough to make it the hottest day for five years. Small wonder a battle between two pop records was enough to send people crazy. But we’ve still some way to go to get to that. Here’s the Top 30 as revealed on August 20th 1995:

30: Moist – Push

Hehe moist.

Sorry, was forgetting myself for a moment. Despite the juvenile humour provoked by their name, Moist were actually achingly credible alternative rockers from Canada. Push is considered to be their signature track, the lead single from their 1994 debut album Silver and the one which helped to make both the name and reputation of the group. The song had two goes at becoming a British hit single, reaching Number 35 when first released in November 1994 before managing to reach Number 20 in the summer of 1995 when re-released to coincide with their first ever British live dates. In between two more singles: Freaky Be Beautiful and the album’s title track had also been released but both fell short of the Top 40. Push would remain Moist’s one and only British Top 40 single although they would release two more albums during the 1990s before taking a hiatus, reforming for new material in 2014.

29: Levellers – Hope St.

Having taken huge strides towards the mainstream with their self-titled third album in 1993, Brighton’s favourite alternative folk band continued to make commercial progress with the release of the follow-up Zeitgeist in 1995. Their fourth album turned out to be far and away their most successful even if its attendant hit singles continued their frustrating run of never quite reaching the Top 10. Case in point was this lead track, Hope St. peaking for two weeks at Number 12, their fifth Top 20 hit in a run of seven but bizarrely their third to peak in twelfth place on the charts. Their most enduring chart hit would arrive at the end of the year, drinking anthem Just The One (with a guest performance from Joe Strummer) would spend four weeks over the Christmas period hovering around the upper end of the Top 20. It’s eventual peak? Number 12, naturally.

28: Shamen – Destination Eschaton

Three years on from their Boss Drum album and the attendant notoriety it brought thanks to a long string of hit singles (including seminal Number One classic Ebeneezer Goode) The Shamen attempted to pick up where they left off with their seventh album Axis Mutatis. Second time around the formula of electronic house and out with the fairies lyrics wasn’t quite as successful and even their most ardent admirers couldn’t help but admit the formula had become tired rather quickly. The album’s lead single was this track Destination Eschaton and although it made a respectable enough Number 15 in its first week on release it had slumped to this Number 28 position a week later. It was destined to be their final Top 20 hit, the remaining singles from the album failing to hit even these dizzy heights and the group’s run of hits fizzled out with a Number 35 remix of Move Any Mountain in the closing weeks of 1996.

27: *new entry* Happy Clappers – Hold On

Four piece (or five if you count singer Sandra Edwards) British dance act Happy Clappers are inevitably most fondly remembered for their signature hit I Believe, a track which has the extraordinary distinction of being released on four different occasions over three years. After missing out first time around in 1994 the track reached Number 21 in June 1995, Number 7 the following November and then Number 28 in a remixed form at the tail end of 1997. All of which inevitably overshadows the fact that they did produce a handful of other hit singles, of which this was the second. Hold On charted here less than two months after I Believe had finally become a hit for the first time but its destiny was to peak here at Number 27 and be largely forgotten by history. Wikipedia notes that the Happy Clappers did have plans for a whole album of this stuff only for the group to fall apart over financial issues before it could be released. One of the group was Mark Topham who would later find greater fortune partnering with Karl Twigg to be at the production helm of most of Steps’ singles and albums.

26: U2 – Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me

As the world waited for the recording which would eventually become 1997’s Pop album, U2 plugged the gap neatly with this one-off single as their contribution to the soundtrack of the movie “Batman Forever”. Originally recorded as part of the sessions for their 1993 album Zooropa, the off-cut actually stands tall as one of U2’s best singles of the 1990s. A lavish, majestic and dare I say it cinematic production neatly complements Bono’s growled vocals on a track which marks a fascinating step in the development of the group towards their wildly experimental late 1990s period. An instantaneous Number 2 the moment it was released, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me would ultimately spend eight weeks in the Top 10, more than any other U2 single before or since and it remains to this day one of their biggest selling singles ever. A genuine high point of their 1990s output.

25: *new entry* Ali Campbell – Let Your Yeah Be Yeah

Whilst UB40 took a brief break, the group’s de-facto lead singer stepped out of the shadows to record what was at the time intended to be a one-off solo album Big Love. Although lead single That Look In Your Eye was a comfortable Number 5 hit, subsequent releases from the album struggled a little. The problem was largely that of pointlessness. With the name and legacy of UB40 behind him, Ali Campbell was the distinctive voice of one of the most celebrated British reggae groups of all time. As a solo artist however he was largely irrelevant, producing tracks that might as well have been UB40 tracks and which in all truth would have benefited from the presence of his bandmates. It appeared he had no urge to explore musical avenues his work with the group would have otherwise prevented or to release material that would not have fitted on one of their albums. Neither then did we have any reason to care. Originally written by Jimmy Cliff, Let Your Yeah Be Yeah had originally been a Number 5 hit for the Pioneers in 1971. Ali Campbell’s version entered the chart here at Number 25 and tumbled a week later. Before reuniting with UB40 the singer would have one more solo chart single, a rather extraordinary version of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra song Something Stupid with his then seven year old daughter Kibibi playing the female role. This new twist on a father-daughter duet peaked at Number 30 just before Christmas.

24: Felix – Don’t You Want Me

One of the most famous and enduring club tracks of its era, Felix’s Don’t You Want Me is another of those 1990s dance hits which was re-released and re-promoted on a number of occasions. Created by DJ Francis Wright and based largely around a vocal sample of Jomanda’s Don’t You Want My Love, the track was first released in 1991 but it was not until the summer of 1992 that it charted for the first time, a remix by a pre-Faithless Rollo Armstrong propelling it neatly to Number 6. As one of a veritable blizzard of early 90s dance classics repackaged and re-promoted in the summer of 1995, this re-release came with the obligatory scattering of new remixes and ensured that the single made the Top 10 for a second time, hitting Number 10 upon release in early August. Just over a year later the track was back again, reaching Number 17 after a re-release following its use as the soundtrack to a rather famous Tango commercial. With such a relentless series of chart entries it is hardly surprising that Don’t You Want Me has such the reputation it does, one of the defining moments of 1990s dance and one of a tiny handful of DJ-created club tracks which can genuinely be labelled an all-time classic.

23: *new entry* Bjork – Isobel

The second single to be taken from Post, the third solo album from the former Sugarcubes singer and Iceland’s most successful musical export. Isobel temporarily brought Bjork’s run of successful Top 20 hit singles to an end when it failed to climb beyond this Number 23 entry point, although in truth it was a rather curious choice for single release. A meandering trip-hop track co-written and produced by Nellie Hooper it may well have been one of the album’s standout tracks but a commercial pop record it most certainly was not. Although admittedly the same could be said about the vast majority of her hit singles during the 1990s. She wasn’t about the commercial, just the creative and unusual which was naturally a large part of her appeal. Truth be told though most observers were waiting for the single release of the album’s most notorious moment, her extraordinary take on jazz standard It’s Oh So Quiet which would eventually emerge as the album’s third single in late November and which would peak at Number 4 during an eight week run in the Top 10.

22: Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know

Another single that really needs no introduction here, You Oughta Know was the single which introduced Alanis Morrissette to a wider world and marked the transformation of the Canadian singer into a global star, leaving behind the bubblegum pop with which she had made her name in her home country. 20 years on the vengeful and angry single still has the power to make you sit up and pay attention, the tale of the spurned woman venting her bitterness in a sometimes shockingly explicit manner easily one of the most extraordinary female rock singles of its era. Yet for all that You Oughta Know was only ever a minor chart hit in Britain, stalling here at Number 22 for a fortnight. Her Jagged Little Pill album from which the single was taken also took time to catch fire and it was not until the summer of 1996 when singles Head Over Feet and most famously of all Ironic became sizable chart hits that its sales finally took off. Speculation rages to this day as to just who the subject of the song is, comedian Dave Coulier one of a number of her ex-boyfriends to have admitted in the past that some of the lyrics hit uncomfortably close to home.

21: Connells – 74-75

Presenting one of the great one hit wonders of our time as North Carolina rock band The Connell’s landed their one and only British hit single with this gently strummed tale of class reunions and resurrected love. Originally taken from their fifth album Ring released in 1993, the track did not catch fire internationally until two years later when it became a Number 14 hit and an enduring airplay staple. My notes from the time suggest that the arrival of 74-75 on the the British charts came after a seemingly relentless promotional push with its video getting an airing on just about every TV show possible, leading to its now permanent status as a staple of every Greatest Relaxed Easy Listening Acoustic Radio Driving Anthems In The World Ever compilation released.

The Battle Of Britpop: 40-31

38 other singles made up the Top 40 in the week of the big Blur v Oasis battle, not that anyone would have particularly noticed at the time. Nonetheless the higher than usual level of casual interest in the singles chart will have meant that at least some were of more than passing attention to the new batch of chart fans. Or simply those sitting down to listen to the Radio One Top 40 show for the first time in a while. Here is the bottom end, the title of each single will link to its presence on Spotify (where available) and indeed there will be a full playlist soon of as much of this chart as the online services can manage.

40: *new entry* Matt Goss – The Key

One of the most famous pop stars in the country at the end of the 1980s, the new decade had not been kind to Matt Goss. Bros had finally fizzled out in 1991 when their disastrous third album Changing Faces sank almost without trace, their run of hit singles dried up and all but the most dedicated of Brosettes moved onto other things. Mainly real boys and snakebite. Matt and Luke Goss then reportedly fell out for a brief period, the brotherly schism coinciding with the discovery of the true nature of their management contract with Tom Watkins which essentially saw them doing most of the work for the smallest share of the money. Despite for years being portrayed as nothing more than the drummer of the outfit it was Luke Goss who made the first attempt at post-Bros fame. forming rock group The Band Of Thieves and releasing two well regarded singles in 1993 although neither managed to reach the Top 40. Two years later it was Matt Goss’ turn to have a go at solo stardom. The Key was a genuine effort to roll the dice and re-invent the teen idol as a brand new credible music star, a skittering house beat and a new-found vocal attitude meant that taken on its own merits this was actually a worthwhile musical effort. Sadly the stigma of his previous pop life still lingered and this was a single purchased by the dwindling band of Bros devotees and sniggered at by everyone else. This Number 40 entry was as far as it got, leaving the singer to go away and re-think his solo plans before making a further attempt a year later. Extraordinarily that wasn’t quite the end of the story for The Key, Italian house producers Minimal Chic reworking the track in 2004 and releasing it with the full co-operation of the singer. Sadly second time around the single fared even worse, limping to Number 54 in October that year.

39: *new entry* Cyndi Lauper – Come On Home

It would have been all too easy for Cyndi Lauper to have promoted her 1994 Greatest Hits collection with a straightforward re-release of her seminal 1984 hit Girls’ Just Wanna Have Fun. Which is probably why she didn’t. Instead she did something more inspired and re-recorded it in an almost totally different style. The new version slowed the tempo down and mashed the track up with the chorus and melody from Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love, taking the familiar song onto an entire new level. The result was her biggest hit single for five years in Britain, the newly retitled Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun) climbing to Number 4 in October 1994 and restoring much of the damage done to her career by unloved 1993 album Hat Full Of Stars. Come On Home was the third and final single to be lifted from her 12 Deadly Cyns.. And Then Some hits album, a track available in two different versions depending on where you purchased the album. The European version was a fun cod-reggae pop record that borrowed copiously from Bitty McLean’s Here I Stand and if the stars had been aligned correctly might well have gone on to become another sizeable hit. Sadly they were not and the single stalled here at Number 39, her penultimate chart hit single in Britian.

38: Shaggy featuring Rayvon – In The Summertime

A single from the period just before Orville Burrell’s elevation to true global stardom, this single arriving just a few months prior to the release of the Levi’s advert soundtrack Boombastic, a record which would take him to the top of the charts across the globe. For now there was this track, a typically chirpy take on the famous Mungo Jerry song (which surely requires no introduction here). The first single to be lifted from his third album (also called Boombastic) it was a comfortable Top 5 hit single and is perhaps most notable for being his first chart collaboration with singer Rayvon with whom he would team up again in 2001 on Number One single Angel.

37: Shiva – Freedom

A three piece dance outfit based in Huddersfield, Shiva were producers Gino Piscitelli and Paul Ross with the group fronted by statesque blonde singer Louise Dean. Their first release Work It Out had crept to Number 35 in May 1995 and there was a general assumption that they were destined for far greater things with subsequent releases. Then tragedy struck. Crossing the road outside a nightclub in Leeds, Louise was struck by a hit and run driver and passed away from her injuries shortly after. The record label immediately pulled the planned release of the group’s second single Freedom, only to recant their decision when her family insisted it would be the perfect tribute to her to see it make the charts. The resultant attention was enough to propel the single to Number 18, perhaps a disappointment under the circumstances but maybe a placing appropriate to its overall merit as a club record. Listening back to the track now it is all too apparent just how talented a singer she was, the Shiva singles almost certainly just a stepping off point on a career as a dance diva of some considerable note. An utterly tragic waste of life.

36: A.D.A.M. feauring Amy – Zombie

One of the standout tracks on the second Cranberries album No Need To Argue, Zombie was a powerful and hard hitting protest song, combining references to the 1916 Easter Rising with expressions of anger at the tragic deaths of Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry who had been killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993. Released in October 1994, the single peaked at Number 14 and remains to this day one of the most notable tracks of their career. None of which goes even part of the way to explaining this Eurodance cover by Italian act A.D.A.M. (the name a combination of the initials of the four men involved). Trampling all over the political and emotional significance of the original, the dance remake of Zombie became bizarrely popular across Europe in the summer of 1995 and peaked at Number 16 in Britain in the week of its release.

As a comments thread below notes, the UK release of the single on Eternal records actually came with a remix which was unique to this country. Track 1 of the 12-inch single (the only format readily available) was the “Adams & Gielen Club Mix” which was as a result played most in clubs and which is the version commonly found on compilation albums from the era. However buried deep on Side 2 is a three minute radio edit of the track called the “Eternal Airplay Mix” which has a more ‘pop’ flavour and which naturally picked up the lions’ share of radio spins. So for familiarity purposes, this is the version featured below even if the one in your own library may well be a different mix.

35: Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You

Ah now this is more like it. The erstwhile lead singer of Orange Juice had made brief stabs at a solo career since his old band broke up but suffered from a lack of sales traction until the 1994 release of his third album Gorgeous George. The highlight of the album was easily A Girl Like You, based around a Len Barry drum beat and a buzzing lead guitar, the single was all at once deliciously retro and excitingly contemporary. Naturally enough it flopped first time around. Despite widespread acclaim and a place on many critics lists as one of the best singles of the year, the first release of the song as the lead track on the Expressly EP saw it limp to Number 42 in November 1994. A nation of music fans mourned. Yet where Britain failed to catch on, the rest of Europe led the way. The single made Top 10 on charts across the continent and topped the pile in France for several weeks – all of which was enough to convince the label to give Britain another try. Re-released in June 1995 the single crashed onto the chart just outside the Top 10 and proceeded to edge its way up slowly, moving 13-10-10-9-9 before eventually peaking at Number 4 to become far and away the biggest hit single of Edwyn Collins’ career. He would never again hit these kind of heights, his only other solo Top 40 hit arriving in 1997 when The Magic Piper (Of Love) crept to Number 32.

34: *new entry* Smokie featuring Roy Chubby Brown – Who The Fuck Is Alice

Think the summer of 1995 was defined by the Battle Of Britpop? Not a bit of it I’m afraid. It was the summer of the ‘Alice’ wars. Now get ready because this is where it gets complicated.

The phenomenon began in Holland, Nikmegen to be precise and a cafe bar called Gompie. Resident DJ Onno Pesler was extremely fond of Living Next Door To Alice, a Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman composition. Originally recorded by folk rockers Smokie, the track became one of their most successful British hit singles when it made Number 5 in the first weeks of 1977 and would remain essentially their signature song. Even before the madness. Gradually Pesler’s spinning of 70s hit turned into an audience participation cult, as he faded the record down after each rendition of the chorus refrain for the assembled crowd to shout “who the fuck is Alice?” back at him. So a legend was born.

The ‘Alice’ show was witnessed by a passing Dutch record label boss who quickly spotted the commercial potential. He enlisted singer Peter Koeelewijn to record the song complete with its newly minted post-chorus profanity. Credited to ‘Gompie’ in a tribute to the bar where the phenomenon began the single was a huge hit across the Benelux countries, naturally enough topping the Dutch chart with ease.

All of this was to the initial confusion of Smokie themselves who noticed that their own performances of their signature song during continental shows were being augmented by an entirely new form of audience participation. Pressed by their label at the time to capitalise with their own version, the group swiftly re-recorded the track by enlisting long-time friend Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to provide a suitably comedic intervention in between the verses and during the chorus. The new Smokie version of Living Next Door To Alice had been finished and was ready for release when the group’s tour bus crashed in Germany during a hailstorm. Most badly injured of all was lead singer Alan Barton – formerly of Black Lace but who had been singing with Smokie since 1986 when their original lead singer Chris Norman left the group. Barton’s injuries were unsurvivable and he passed away in March 1995 at the age of 41.

So it was that the initial British release of Living Next Door To Alice (Who The Fuck Is Alice) became effectively a final tribute to the group’s late singer. Yet despite the goodwill that preceded its release the single ran into a problem – namely the challenge of the “original” Dutch version by Gompie which was promoted at the same time. Whilst the Smokie single languished at the bottom end of the Top 75, the Gompie single became a decent sized hit, creeping into the Top 40 to Number 34 during a brief chart run in May 1995 – one which was inevitably restricted by a lack of airplay and consequently mainstream exposure for the now rather rude single.

That might so easily have been the end of the story, but then the summer holidays intervened. With discos and entertainment venues across the continent still playing Who The Fuck Is Alice in heavy rotation it inevitably promoted a new, higher level of demand for the remade song. Both the Smokie and Gompie singles were hastily re-released, only this time the fortunes were reversed. This then was the chart re-entry of the Smokie version, the start of a chart run which would eventually see the single peak at Number 3 in early October, two places higher than the original recording and at a stroke equalling Smokie’s highest ever chart placing – matching that of their 1975 debut If You Think You Know How To Love Me. The single would eventually sell just shy of half a million copies, ending up as the year’s 18th biggest seller. As for the Gompie version, well that too would return to the singles chart, re-entering a week later for its own chart run which would see it ultimately climb to a Number 17 peak.

For such big selling and notorious single there is precious little trace of the actual hit version online – one suspects the presence of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown on the single meaning it is stuck in rights hell. So here instead is a slightly murky copy of the rather sanitised performance from the edition of Top Of The Pops broadcast on October 5th 1995, new lead singer Mike Craft now taking his place at the microphone.

33: Tina Arena – Heaven Help My Heart

Tina Arena had been famous in her native Australia for over two decades before making her international breakthrough. A former child star, she had released four albums and a greatest hits collection before her 1995 album Don’t Ask finally made her name outside her home country. The album’s lead single Chains had landed her a Top 10 hit single when released in Britain in April 1995 but it was a high point she was subsequently never quite able to match. This track was her second British chart hit, and was here sliding down the chart after reaching a rather lowly Number 25 peak. The build up to the single’s release was most notable for a fun incident on the Radio One breakfast show. Then host Chris Evans played about sixty seconds of the track before yanking it off and announcing that it was more suitable for Radio Two. He thus dispatched a member of his team with the CD to invade Terry Wogan’s show on the ‘other side’ with a note that it was a gift from the “ginger tom”. Back to Tina Arena however, and three more Top 40 hits would follow over the next three years before she sank back into antipodean obscurity.

32: *new entry* Eusebe – Summertime Healing

Short lived hip-hop group Eusebe were a family affair, formed by brother and sister Steve and Sharon Eusebe along with their cousin Alison Etienne (previously famous for a bit part in Grange Hill in the 1980s). After releasing their debut single Pick It Up, Fuck It Up And Drop It on their own label in 1994 they were swiftly snapped up by EMI and released their one and only album Tales From Momma’s Yard the following year. Summertime Healing was their sole hit single, an ever so slightly disrespectful reworking of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing which was duly stripped of its soul and funk roots to become a bubbly pop-flavoured rap hit. As long as you did not focus too hard on the original song it was channelling it is less offensive than you might thing and in truth still sounds fresh and inviting today. A new entry here, this was as far as the single got as far as chart success was concerned, diving out of the Top 40 the following week. Steve Eusebe still lives and breathes music, working as a music teacher and youth advocate.

31: Ash – Girl From Mars

Theoretically needing no introduction here, this was the celebrated breakthrough single from Ash, charting in the summer of 1995 when many of the group’s members were still awaiting their A-level results, such was their tender age and the rapid way they had been propelled to stardom. It had actually been preceded by two earlier singles, debut release Petrol in the summer of 1994 (No.96) and Kung Fu which peaked at Number 57 in April 1995. As far as mainstream audiences were concerned this Number 11 hit was their chart debut and one which set the group off on a run of hits which lasted until 2010.

The Battle Of Britpop: Introduction

It was a columnist in music industry magazine Music Week who first flagged up the issue. Writing in July 1995 they noted that August 14th was set to be the industry’s own “manic Monday” with circumstances ensuring that a greater than usual array of big music names had all lined up releases for that day. As well as singles from hot female stars like Bjork and Michelle Gayle (no, really) there were more or less nailed on dance smashes from Clock and The Real McCoy, but perhaps most significantly of all both Madonna and Michael Jackson had new singles listed for the date. The fact that British rock stars Oasis and Blur were also down for an August 14th release seemed small beer in comparison.

In the weeks that followed some juggling of dates took place. Both Madonna and Jackson saw their singles pushed back a week, only for the Madonna single Human Nature to return to its original date when it was noted that there was still going to be an unwanted Michael Jackson-related collision. That still however left two big names in the frame. Blur with their eagerly anticipated new single Country House, the first single from their forthcoming Great Escape album and Oasis with a new song called Roll With It, the follow-up to Some Might Say which had given them their first ever Number One single back in May and the second single from their still untitled second album.

The potential clash of dates came as something of a shock to EMI, the newly minted owners of Blur’s label Food. Their history had one of being studiously avoiding such potential battles, with even releases by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arranged to mutual convenience to ensure the two apparent rival acts never truly went head to head. But their hand was forced. The Great Escape was due for release in mid-September and conventional marketing practice was for the lead single to be given several weeks to bed in before challenging its sales with competition from the parent album. In any event, the promotional plans for the single were set in stone and could not be moved without some difficulty. It was all down to Creation Records boss Alan McGee who had no such qualms and had spotted the potential for mischief. With the Oasis v Blur rivalry having been stoked by his charges in interviews since the start of the year it seemed the most logical thing in the world to have the two acts duel it out in the charts as well. The release of the Oasis single was moved to directly spoil Blur’s party and there it would stay.

The resultant “Battle Of Britpop” was immediately seized upon by the popular (and indeed quality) press, glad of something to fill column inches with during the summer. By the time August 14th  arrived anticipation had been stoked up into a frenzy. This was a battle for a generation, a head to head fight to see who were the true icons of cool. The fact that it made the singles charts the most relevant they had been outside a Christmas period for some considerable time seemed almost a sideline by comparison.

As the 20th anniversary of the occasion approaches there will inevitably be a string of retrospective pieces published across the net and in the printed press and it seemed foolish not to leap about that particular bandwagon too. But what I want to do is put it all in its proper context, that of the rest of the singles chart that week and the records which the two bands were competing against themselves. Over the next few days then I’ll publish a full countdown of the Top 40 singles that week and their place in popular culture. Once we get to the top and THAT battle (the result of which everyone is now familiar with) I’ll put that in its own context and hopefully reveal some trivia that you won’t necessarily read anywhere else.

Stand by then for a quite fascinating ride and an iconic moment in British musical history. One which not only prompted (as you might expect) news reports on children’s television.

But also, as extraordinary as it may seem, serious editorials in the most highbrow of newspapers.

Timeseditorial

The Day Cilla Failed

Having stuttered for a while, the late Cilla Black’s career as a pop star finally fizzled out in 1974 when her single Baby We Can’t Go Wrong made a brief journey into the lower end of the Top 40. She would continue to release singles throughout the rest of the 1970s (even appearing on Top Of The Pops in May 1978 to perform the song Silly Boy) but as far as the mainstream was concerned her musical career was all but dead in the water.

It meant that her past as a singer was little more than a faded memory by the time she emerged as the pre-eminent TV light entertainment star of her era in the mid 1980s. Her only public performances were the weekly singing of the “Surprise Surprise” theme (itself released unsuccessfully as a single in 1985) and the occasional musical interlude during the show. It wasn’t, so the narrative goes, until the screening of the ITV biopic “Cilla” in 2014 that the public were reminded of her roots as a pop star and contemporary of the Merseybeat groups.

Except that this almost wasn’t the case at all, for just over 20 years earlier a big budget and intensely promoted campaign had attempted to resurrect Cilla Black’s musical career, only to end in what in all fairness has to be viewed as utter abject failure.

The project was the brainchild of Rick Blaskey who along with producer Charlie Skarbeck ran (and indeed still does) a company called Music and Media. A genuine pioneer and believer in the synergy between the music business and other areas of entertainment, he had already landed a huge success with the World In Union project in 1991, an album of recorded music associated with the Rugby World Cup of that year, its lasting legacy being the title song which has remained the anthem of the IRB competition ever since. Blaskey believed he was the one to restore Cilla Black to the pop charts after a break of nearly two decades.

Reaching out to her agent, a meeting was brokered in the summer of 1992 between Cilla and Bobby Willis, the pair arriving with no preconceptions and waiting to be convinced that there was indeed a market for music performed by the top rated TV star. The pitch however was compelling. The producers argued that properly crafted and carefully selected songs could help the sixties star reach the same audience as the likes of Barry Manilow or Cliff Richard. They were going unashamedly for the mature, middle of the road audience, a path down which guaranteed success surely lay.

It was Cilla Black herself who noted that 1993 would mark the thirtieth anniversary of her career in show business and the release of her first ever single Love Of The Loved. The timing seemed perfect, for here was now a hook on which to hang the whole project. With the deal signed, the multi-platform nature of the project suddenly began to come together. Her employers LWT expressed an interest in staging a celebratory TV special and a book deal for “Cilla Black – My Life In Pictures” was swiftly signed as well. September 1993 was going to be Cilla Black month across the board.

The resultant collection of songs Cilla Black – Through The Years was hailed in the press as “the album of her life”. An array of stars were lined up to participate on many of the tracks. A cover of Streets Of London was graced with the presence of original composer Ralph McTell on guitar; a new song Heart And Soul was recorded with Dusty Springfield; Cliff Richard duetted on a cover of That’s What Friends Are For and after debuting the song in a surprise appearance at a concert of his at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1993, Barry Manilow himself participated on a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. This was big budget, major star power stuff. Rounding off the running order of the album were new versions of old favourites, with Cilla re-recording Anyone Who Had A Heart and You’re My World after a near 30 year break.throughtheyears

It was hoped that the star could be returned to the singles chart as well, giving the album an exposure and a radio presence right the way through until Christmas. Leading the way would be the title track in September ahead of its release, followed by the Dusty duet in October and the Barry Manilow performance slated for a possible pre-Christmas single.

Cilla Black – Through The Years was also to be the ‘album of the week’ on BBC Radio Two in the week of its release, and the network had even planned a Cilla Black day for September 27th. The campaign had been planned in precise detail it seemed. Surely this couldn’t fail.

Yet bizarrely it did. The first mistake was perhaps taking the singer out of her comfort zone and putting her in a position to have her performing frailties exposed to a large audience. Whilst it may have seemed an inspired move to book her for a Top Of The Pops appearance to promote the album’s first single, the show was still at that stage in its “everyone must perform live” period. The resulting performance on September 2nd 1993 was nothing less than a car crash.

Daily Express

It surely did not help that Through The Years, far from the sensational pop comeback it was planned to be was instead a turgid, under-melodied affair. Lacking anything approaching soul or emotion, Cilla Black’s live performance descended to cabaret level. Often off key, she crooned the disaster of a song to a badly disinterested audience in a manner that was more Hilda Ogden than forgotten diva. It hardly seems necessary to note that the single bombed, creeping into the charts at Number 54 and vanishing as swiftly as it came.

chartrun

If better things were hoped for the album then these were too to be dashed. Cilla Black’s carefully crafted, lovingly compiled and intensely promoted comeback album was released on Monday September 20th 1993 and landed on the album chart at a mere Number 62. The 90 minute LWT special screened that weekend helped a little, lifting it to Number 41 the following week but the collection never charted again. The presumption that there was a huge audience desperate to take Cilla Black to their hearts once again as a singing sensation had proved to be hopelessly wide of the mark. The promised second single with Dusty Springfield did indeed materialise the following month but Heart And Soul only limped to Number 75 and although you could have easily forgiven the label for throwing in the towel at that point, the third single was indeed released in December but failed to chart at all.

Sometimes sneered at as the cloakroom girl got lucky, Cilla Black suffers slightly in that her most famous recordings, the brace of big ballad Number One hits from 1964, were both unrepresentative of much of her later work and indeed not the most ideal showcase for her voice. She was more at home with swinging upbeat numbers such as Surround Yourself With Sorrow or my personal favourite Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight). There she could sparkle with the kind of charm and personality that would sustain her celebrity almost until her death. Nonetheless it was clear that as a singer she had a limited shelf life, something first flagged up by her original manager Brian Epstein who was already pushing her towards a television career just before he died.

As a presenter and entertainer she was in her element on screen, both in her musical spectaculars of the 60s and 70s and as the mumsy and affectionate host of long running smashes such as “Blind Date”. Her previous musical career was merely the starting point of her fame and a long-forgotten irrelevance to the vast majority of her fans.

This is arguably why Through The Years was destined to fail. In a fit of misguided nostalgia she was persuaded to revisit the part of her past which had served her well at the time but which was no longer the core part of her personal brand. People might have bought into her as a middle of the road star like Cliff or Manilow had she been emerging from obscurity. But she wasn’t. Cilla the TV star was the person they all loved. Cilla the singer people could take or leave. And when she warbled out of key on Top Of The Pops – they left.

A Lover Not A Dancer

Even the most ardent aficionado of the whole Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman body of work will admit that the 1981 album Bad For Good is one that is hard to love. The cycle of songs that was reportedly supposed to form the second Meat Loaf album, the follow-up to global smash hit Bat Out Of Hell but the project had been beset by so many delays that its writer and producer despaired of the singer ever finding the time to actually make the record. More pertinently the label were becoming restless.

So Steinman recorded the album himself. A prospect that strayed on the wrong side of tantalising thanks to the simple truth that though a writer and musician of some considerable merit, as a singer he could do little more than yowl with all the soul of a recently trodden on cat. In all fairness he knew that himself, pitching the arrangements on many of the tracks on Bad For Good carefully so he never quite has to stretch his reedy tones into the realms of ludicrousness. For those tracks when the tune was clearly beyond him he enlisted long time backing singer Rory Dodd (he of “turn around, bright eyes” fame on a certain 1983 Number One hit) to supply the vocals instead. Even this was however very much a case of making do and on the album’s most famous cut, the original version of Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through, Dodd too demonstrates just why he plied his trade for years as the bloke in the background singing “oooh” and “aaah” in the most dramatic fashion he can muster.

Yet for all its vocal flaws Bad For Good remains an oddly compelling listen, an important step along the musical journey that would spawn both the 1989 Pandora’s Box album Original Sin and Meat Loaf’s own triumphant 1993 behemoth Bat Out Of Hell II. These are still ludicrous, bombastic yet oddly moving and romantic rock songs, all taking place in a universe where everyone is a horny teenager forever and where music and sex are intertwined as part of the same spiritual goal. All part of a package which was ultimately only let down by its final presentation.

One of those songs however is one which I’ve come to regard as something of a forgotten classic. A bold, breathless and insanely entertaining epic which unlike many of the album’s other songs has never been reworked or re-appropriated by any other act. Conventional wisdom (and WIkipedia) has it that the only official single lifted from Bad For Good was the aforementioned Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through. But there was actually a second, one which had a lavishly staged video filmed for it and which YouTube has preserved for us in full.

Dance In My Pants was singled out by reviewers of the album in rather negative terms for it was essentially a reworking of Paradise By The Dashboard Light on Bat Out Of Hell: a battle of the sexes male and female duet, dressed up in a rock and roll romp and long enough to be divided into several movements as if a core part of the libretto of a musical. Yet it is actually one of the better tracks from the album as it is by and large driven by someone who can actually sing the melody put in front of her.

karla1

Karla DeVito had begun her career working in musical theatre in Chicago, performing as part of the casts of Godspell and Hair. She joined the Steinman circus during the early promotion for Bat Out Of Hell, singing backing vocals and indeed she appears in the promotional videos for many of the songs, lip syncing (not always to great success) to the vocals performed by Ellen Foley on the record. DeVito was also at Meat’s side for the famous set he performed live on BBC Television for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978. She was therefore the perfect choice to step into Ellen Foley’s shoes for the only female lead vocal on the follow-up.

For Dance In My Pants Karla is the protagonist. A chirpy, enthusiastic character so enchanted by music and dancing that she simply has no time for lovers of any kind.

There’s a drummer going at it,
Way down in the core of my soul,
There’s no escaping the music,
And I’m psyching up my feet
And they’re telling me we’re ready to roll.

Quintessential Steinman in the opening lines of the song, working his common theme that music is a deep, primal and all-enveloping passion which can move you on a spiritual as well as a physical level.

karla2

Karla explains how she started the day feeling depressed and blue, but the music lifted her and now there is just no stopping the feeling inside.

I got dance in my pants,
Every time I feel the power of a radio wave,
I turn it up all the way

We continue in this vein for three minutes and all is well with the world. Apart from in Jim’s world. Because at this point he enters the song and makes it plain he has other things on his mind.

I’m a lover not a dancer,
Don’t want to be on my feet when I can be on my back,
Don’t want to be on the floor when I can be in the sack,
I’m a lover not a dancer, baby,
And baby let me prove it to you,

jim1

The pair proceed to dance around each other, both lyrically and physically as Karla suggests the ways they can be together in dance and Jim returns to his blunt attempts at seduction.

It is at this point in the song that the parallels to Paradise By The Dashboard Light kick in as it enters an extended instrumental break punctuated by a back and forth narrative between the pair as Karla persuades Jim that all he needs is a little practice whilst embarking on what we are left to presume is a blizzard of dance moves which finally brings him round to her way of thinking. We emerge, breathless into another rendition of he chorus, performed by both together this time as the seduction – her of him – is complete.

karlajim

The song appears to be starting to wind down at this point as Karla returns to the melody (unused since) of the opening lines:

When they decide that I’m gone,
I know they’ll try to put me to rest,
But I won’t be afraid,
Because I know that there’s dance after dance,

This is the cue then for the song’s euphoric coda as Steinman turns to another of his favourite lyrical themes and sticks two fingers in the face of death. Both boy and girl pledge to each other that they will end their days dancing.

I don’t ever wanna be rescued,
And I don’t ever wanna be saved,
I got a feeling that I’m gonna be alive forever,
Dancing on the edge of the grave.

jim2

Paradise By The Dashboard Light ended with the protagonists stranded together forever in loveless torment. Dance In My Pants ends in euphoric joy as they race together into the sunset filled with a love of music, dancing and we presume each other. It goes almost unnoticed that early in the song Karla acknowledges “sooner or later, we’ll get around to the love” – so in truth there was never any doubt that randy old Jim was going to get what he was after. He just needed to earn it first.

The single of Dance In My Pants was only ever issued in Britain and The Netherlands at the tail end of 1981 but failed to chart in either, hence you suspect its status as being forgotten by history – although it has been known to appear in Meat Loaf live sets over the years, despite the star never having recorded his own version on any of his own albums. Jim Steinman subsequently retreated from the microphone, reuniting with Meat Loaf that same year for the Dead Ringer album which was released almost contemporaneously with the final unsuccessful single from his own work. Karla DeVito also released her own solo album in 1981 before returning to the stage. She succeeded Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates Of Penzance on Broadway where she was cast opposite her future husband Robby Benson. After impressing Sarah Brightman she screen tested for the lead role in a then mooted film version of Evita and would have indeed played the part had the film not taken another 15 years to be made. After becoming a mother she took a step back from performing but has been active again in recording and producing since the turn of the century.

One of the best things about the new social media age is that it is possible to reach out to the stars and your idols and tell them how much you appreciate the parts of their work that others might have forgotten. So it was that last year I was inspired to contact DeVito herself and tell her:

To which she joyfully replied:

The best music is that which somehow reaches deep into your soul, lifts you into joy out of even the bleakest darkness and makes you yearn to sing or dance yourself or even just to perform and express that joy physically and vocally. Karla DeVito and Jim Steinman made such a record once, one which is now buried deep in the grooves of a half-forgotten and hard to love album. I’m glad to have the chance to shine a light on it just a little here.

From Mezzoforte to Propellerheads

The phrase “end of an era” is perhaps sometimes overused by writers like myself, groping for the correct way to describe a change being made to something with a history and a legacy, but it is hard to escape the feeling that this weekend marks the final chapter of a decades old broadcasting tradition.

The Radio One chart show isn’t ending of course, merely moving to a new place in the schedules, but at 7pm tomorrow (Sunday) Clara Amfo will for the very last time play the best selling single of the week at the climax of the weekend. It is actually the direct descendant of a show which bounded around the schedules for the first few years of its existence The first edition of “Pick Of The Pops” listed by the Radio Times went out at 9pm on Tuesday October 4th 1955 on the Light Programme, a show where we were told host Franklin Engelmann would “make a selection from the top shelf of current gramophone records”. By the time David Jacobs became established as host of a show which was now “a review of the current best-selling popular records” a few years later the show was a Saturday night fixture, although sometimes relegated to the very end of the day by sporting coverage. It was not until 1962 when Alan Freeman took over the show with which he is synonymous that it moved to its now traditional Sunday evening slot – the place it has remained ever since.

I first became aware of the existence of this show around 1981. With the house’s newly-acquired radio cassette player I was encouraged to compile a series of tapes for car journeys during the summer holidays. Tony Blackburn’s “Junior Choice” was the most obvious place to start, the tape paused and unpaused for spins of the Wonder Woman theme and other such delights, but I was also directed towards the Sunday night Top 40 show (also with Blackburn in control) where I collected a suitable set of the latest hits for play on hot afternoons hurtling down a French autoroute.

I finally became properly hooked five years later by which time Bruno Brookes was the incumbent of the show. Plugging in to my newly-discovered keenness of for the wealth of facts and statistics that the school library’s copy of British Hit Singles had inspired, I swiftly fell in love with the pace and the rhythm of the show. The singers who chanted the position of each song, the breathless countdown of each set of ten singles (all set to Mezzoforte’s Rockall) but most especially Bruno’s opening speech where he welcomed us to “Europe’s most listened-to radio show”, a script which I soon learned by heart and chanted along with him each week.

The announcement in 1987 that the show was to change format was another watershed in my teenage years, the Sunday night Top 40 show now gifted the chance to reveal the brand new singles chart live on air, rather than just reciting a five day old countdown as had previously been the case. The tape of that show from October 4th 1987 remains an oddly compelling listen to this day, featuring as it did the short-lived conceit that the positions were being decided one by one as they happened with songs having “moved around in the last 20 minutes” to finally settle on their official places. A few years ago I wrote a song by song recap of that particular historic broadcast which can be found in a series of posts starting here.

Teenage exuberance aside, the Top 40 show was the one radio programme it almost hurt to miss each week. Over the years I have offered up many suggestions to friends and family as to why I wanted to work on the radio, but I’m convinced that at the heart of it was the thrill of the chart show and the feeling that more than anything else in the world I wanted the chance to do it too. As a lover of pop music how could I not want the chance to tell people just what the biggest and the best songs of the week were? Plus of course I knew the opening script by heart. I’d be perfect for the job.

I’m sure I’m far from unique, the ritual of the Sunday chart show one that stretches across generations and into the lives of countless thousands. Everyone grew up with “their” favourite presenter or used it as the soundtrack to their last minute dashing off of weekend homework essays. So of course it will be hard not to shed a tear when Radio One signs off on Sunday afternoons for the last time ever. A 53 year radio tradition will soon be no more.

Then again in five days time we’ll start all over again, the Official Chart Show now in a Friday afternoon slot to coincide with the launch of Global Release Day, the catalyst for this whole change. Indeed the Official Charts Company themselves are hyping this up as a move to an increased number of chart shows across the Radio One schedules, the ‘midweek’ update now moving to Monday and the Friday afternoon chart show now paired with the brand new 60 minute show on Sunday evenings which will recap the Number One hits across a range of genre charts. And so too will another generation fall in love with the routine. Only this time one which will mark the start of the weekend, not the end.

Back in 2008 (almost six years ago now – how scary) I was less than impressed with the way the programme was being presented and produced a special one-off podcast examining the various styles of chart show presentation in an attempt to work out how the show had evolved from a straightforward countdown of records to a more general entertainment show that just so happened to have the chart reveal as its climax. I interviewed several hosts, both former and present and the show remains to this day one of the few times presenters such as Stephanie Hirst, Lucio and Joel Ross have gone on the record about what radio chart shows meant to them. Copies of it still circulate today although the production values on the original were not quite up to the standards I set for myself today.

So here for the sheer hell of it is a slightly remixed version of the original show – Counting Down The Hits – pending a full reworking coming soon where I’ll re-record the narration and try to bring its conclusions up to date.

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Food For Thought

In sync with the contemporary broadcasts for once, on December 13th last year BBC4 re-ran the edition of Top Of The Pops originally broadcast 35 years ago that day –  December 13th 1979. Although edited for a 30 minute slot for its prime time airing, the show was rebroadcast later that evening in what was as usual billed as the “uncut” form.

Only it wasn’t. Missing from all editions of the show was a performance by Midlands parodists The Barron Knights of what at the time they hoped would be their third straight Christmas hit single Food For Thought, a romp through some comedic reworkings of some of the more memorable pop moments of the year. Their performance had been completely excised. It was not hard to work out why.

The problem was a show which had been broadcast a month earlier by Channel 4 -“It Was Alright In the 70s”. The premise of the show was to cherry pick some of the more esoteric cultural moments of this bygone decade and replay them to a procession of comedy performers, all of whom required to play up to the camera and express how shocked they were by representations of bygone attitudes towards women and racial sensitivities. In truth the show did end with the subtle note of the dangers, as I’ve so often noted myself in the past, of looking at the past through the prism of modern day prudery and morality, but this was done in such a throwaway nature at the end of the narration that most will not have spotted it. For the most part the programme was simply an excuse to sneer at the Black And White Minstrel Show and feel smug about it.

One of the “outrages” highlighted therein was indeed the Barron Knights performance of Food For Thought and in particular a section which re-imagines Pop Music by M as Chop Suey and featuring the group putting on exaggerated Chinese accents to sing a song about what was at the time the exotic world of the Chinese Takeaway. The clip was presented devoid of context, its origins as a comic rewrite of another record either ignored by the commentators or deemed irrelevant to their shock and outrage. But the mere fact that it had featured naturally presented the BBC with a dilemma when they realised they were due to air that self same performance just a few weeks later. Should they respect the artistic and historical integrity of their archive, be bold and show the performance in full context and to a loyal and self-selecting audience on a minority digital channel – or should they just take the path of least resistance and snip it out, hoping that not too many people notice. Regardless of the fact that but for the Channel 4 programme the song would almost certainly have passed without comment, they naturally chose the latter.

 

Now in the grand scheme of things this is a minor wrinkle. Food For Thought stalled at Number 46 that year and brought to a shuddering halt the group’s run of Top 10 seasonal singles. It has genuinely remained unheard by the mainstream since and was destined to sink once more into the abyss of history once the performance had been repeated. Its loss to the show wasn’t something I was going to get particularly worked up about. However one or two people of my acquaintance felt strongly enough to request an explanation from the BBC for this unannounced edit. The reply they received was actually rather telling:

…when airing archive content we must think carefully about how the material is likely to be viewed by a modern audience … as the Top Of The Pops repeats are positioned primarily as entertainment rather than as a historical account, the decision was made not to air this particular song…

Confirmation then that the BBC genuinely, truly, do not understand their audience. Leaving aside the nonsense of claiming to be presenting a show on an arts and documentary channel “primarily as entertainment” they are clearly clueless of the way people are engaging with this show. The repeats are followed, pored over and analysed both on live social media and on a variety of web forums as a fascinating historical snapshot, one which not only brings back memories for those there at the time but which presents the student of popular culture with a fascinating document of both popular music and social fashions. Yes, even when that involves putting on a comedy Chinese accent to talk about noodle based dishes. The BBC sees fit to cut out songs or skip entire editions altogether if they fear nobody will get the joke or they no longer approve of the personal life of the presenter because after all, it is only entertainment.

I bring this up simply to close the saga of my journey through the BBC complaints process as I attempted to escalate my dispute over the continual absence from the repeat schedules of Dave Lee Travis hosted editions of the show given he is no longer the subject of criminal proceedings or even penal sanction. Having failed to wrestle a satisfactory explanation from the standard complaints department I attempted to escalate the issue to the BBC Trust.

All credit to them, this stage of the process is done with care, respect and careful scrutiny. The considered reply to my submission took careful note of my now well-trodden arguments, ones which had clearly been noted and considered. It noted:

  • The archive was significant and relevant, both historically and musically.
  • Audience enjoyment was spoiled by withholding some editions.
  • The only justifiable reason for not airing those editions would be if there was any legal or regulatory barrier to doing so, which did not apply in this case.
  • He queried why a convicted criminal could appear on a prime time family show on BBC One but 35 year old editions of a music programme featuring Dave Lee Travis on BBC Four could not be shown.
  • He believed this amounted to an extra-judicial punishment for the presenter and the BBC had no business acting in that manner.

The advisor assigned to my case:

noted that the selection of BBC programmes from the archive for repeat broadcast was a matter of editorial choice. The Royal Charter and the accompanying Agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC drew a distinction between the role of the BBC Trust and that of the BBC Executive Board, led by the Director General. “The direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output” was specifically defined in the Charter (Article 38, (1) (b)) as a duty that was the responsibility of the Executive Board, and one in which the Trust did not get involved unless, for example, it related to a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards which did not apply in this case. Decisions relating to the choice of programme content for broadcast on any BBC channel fell within the “editorial and creative output” of the BBC. The Adviser believed that Trustees would consider that the responsibility for such decisions rested with the BBC Executive rather than the Trust.

And there the matter rested. I could theoretically have pursued this further, have pressed the Trust to consider the serious issues this raised and the deep concern I and many other licence fee payers felt that archive programming was being withheld without good reason, but it seemed clear that all we would do was run into brick walls. The notion that the BBC Trust is not there to intervene in editorial matters sits alongside the ability of the BBC to avoid Freedom Of Information requests about its programming. As far as the shows it chooses to broadcast, the BBC is as unaccountable as any commercial broadcaster.

My good friend Steve Williams, editor of the funny and essential weekly TV Cream Creamguide mailout has noted a number of times that complaints about the skipping of editions of the show are irrelevant. “They don’t have to show anything they don’t want to,” he reasons, “and they never showed them before. Just be glad they are showing anything now.”

It is a fair point, but an incorrect one. Back in 2011 the BBC’s commitment to the repeat run of Top Of The Pops shows was such that it was determined to air as complete a run as possible. Hence the decision to start airing the series from 1976, the point at which it was nearly complete in the archives. This commitment even extended to inserting into the schedules a previously “lost” edition which had been supplied to them on a VHS tape owned by its host David Hamilton just a few weeks beforehand. When a performance by Jonathan King was excised from one edition the Director General personally intervened after a complaint to ensure that “history would no longer be rewritten” and that all remaining shows should be aired in full.

My desire for a detailed explanation as to why shows were being skipped was a genuine one, but I always knew I would never receive a straight answer – the true reason for the scheduling. The BBC has gone from being an organisation proud of its history and a defender of its output to one which is scared of its own shadow and utterly petrified of being the subject of negative gutter press attention. Creativity in both television and radio is being choked by an obsession with compliance and a fear that the Daily Mail will write something nasty about them. That’s an utter disgrace and an insult to every reasonable-minded licence fee payer. The corporation which once stood by its production of The Monocled Mutineer and faced down the government of the day when it attempted to suppress reports on matters which would embarrass them is now reduced to a pale shadow of itself, basing scheduling decisions on “will anyone be upset by this at all?”

Meanwhile logic fails to come into it. A few weeks before writing this piece the Graham Norton Show worshiped the talent of special guest Snoop Dogg. I like the rap star and am a big fan of his music. Yet his colourful past includes once being accused of accessory to murder after driving a car from which a man was shot and killed, producing pornographic video tapes in which he rapped to the scenes of explicit sexual intercourse, banned from Britain for several years following a disturbance at Heathrow Airport in 2006 during which seven police officers were injured and with long history of criminal convictions for drug and firearm possession. In spite of this he is a welcome guest on prime time entertainment shows. Meanwhile decades old performances of men from Birmingham putting on comedy Chinese accents and shows hosted by a man convicted of a minor misdemeanor which took place when he was not under contract to the corporation are banned for fear of upsetting our delicate sensibilities. No, I don’t get it either.

The only positive to take away is that the censors can never win. If you know where to look and whom to ask, bootleg versions of the “banned” Top Of The Pops shows circulate freely online. Some sourced from old satellite repeats, others directly from master tape copies as obtained by dedicated overseas collectors and which now surface via torrents and forums as if they were illicit contraband. But they aren’t. They are a silly pop music show, one whose legacy and historical importance is celebrated by people of taste, sense and above all the intelligence to judge everything in its proper context.

A typical BBC 4 audience you might say.

“No It’s Not, It’s A Piece Of Kitchen Towel”

A large breasted Italian model singing an astonishingly cheesy Europop hit about how wonderful Boys are. Would never ever work in Britain would it? Yet extraordinarily in the summer of 1988 it happened. Here’s the full story of Sabrina Salerno, as taken from The Top 40 Annual 1988, links to which are festooned around this very site.


SABRINA

A former model and TV hostess, statuesque Italian Sabrina Salerno began her singing career whilst still a teenager, landing herself hit singles in both Germany and her home country. Realising that she could command a far larger audience by singing in a more universal language, she recorded her self-titled debut album entirely in English, one which was released to a positive reaction on the continent at the end of 1987.

BOYS (SUMMERTIME LOVE)
First charted: 11/6/1988 –  Chart peak: 3 –  Peak reached: 25/6/1988

Having topped the charts in France, Switzerland and Spain at the end of 1987, there seemed no harm in attempting to sell the bubbly Europop hit Boys (Summertime Love) to a British audience as well. London Records picked up the UK licence for the track and released it as Sabrina’s first British single in January 1988. The release date itself was a pretty bold step. Previous wisdom had it that Europop hits worked best in Britain at the end of the summer, when people returning from continental trips were more than happy to snap up the sounds they had been dancing to on holiday. But with the single sitting at the top of charts all over Europe it appeared to make sense to strike whilst the iron was hot. As it turned out the concept of “summertime love” failed to catch on with record buyers shivering under wintry conditions and so despite a reasonable amount of airplay for a singer who fitted nicely in with the whole “teenage invasion” swamping the charts at the time, Boys (Summertime Love) stalled at Number 60 and seemed set to be just another statistic in a long line of European hits that Britain just didn’t get.

However four months later, and almost certainly buoyed by the success of French language continental hits from the likes of Vanessa Paradis and Desireless, the record company re-activated the Sabrina record and this time hit paydirt. Aided by the availability of the singer for promotional work, the re-released track charged into the charts at Number 24 and was a Top 5 hit a week later. Helping no end too was the song’s rather racy video, actually filmed as a promotional clip for an Italian magazine show and which featured the singer cavorting in a Venetian hotel swimming pool. The cavorting itself wasn’t the issue, more the fact that her bikini top resembled what Jonathan Ross described on TV show The Last Resort as “a piece of kitchen towel” and repeatedly failed in its role of completely concealing the singer’s nippular area. This all meant that the version screened on mainstream TV shows such as Top Of The Pops was a hasty re-edit featuring re-framed shots and scrolling text, all designed to draw attention away from the Italian singer’s embonpoint. Boys (Summertime Love) would spend a fortnight at Number 3 in late June and had only just exited the singles chart when the summer holidays began for real.

ALL OF ME
First charted: 1/10/1988 –  Chart peak: 25 –  Peak reached: 22/10/1988

The delay in Sabrina’s arrival in the UK charts meant it was necessary to skip over the rest of her debut album, meaning Euro hits such as Hot Girl were never released here. Instead her label moved along to the first release from her second album Super Sabrina and a track which had made the Top 20 across Europe at the same time that Boys was finally achieving British success. Demonstrating just what a priority she had become for her continental label, Sabrina was dispatched to work with the hottest British pop producers of the moment and thus becoming a small footnote in the story of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Written especially for the Italian star, All Of Me was almost by the numbers PWL production but oddly enough only of passing interest to British buyers. Number 25 was enough to ensure she was no one hit wonder but the single fell some way short of the lofty expectations created by her debut hit. It also turned out to be Sabrina’s last brush with major British chart success, her next release Like A Yo-Yo stalling at Number 72 later in 1989. The singer would continue to be a major success in Europe and particularly in her home country with a long career in singing, acting and presenting to her name, with a reported career total sale of over 20 million records.


Enjoyed that and want to read more? Then why not buy The Top 40 Annual 1988, available in paperback and Kindle versions as well as in all other major e-book stores.

Happy Rebecca Black Day

The last time the UK singles and album charts switched their date of publication was in October 1987. In what was hailed as a revolution in computer technology (but which in actual fact was simply due to all shops now reporting sales via the Epson terminals installed in chart return outlets) it was no longer necessary to wait until Tuesday lunchtime to hear the new singles chart. The Radio One Top 40 show on Sunday evenings was now the place to be, the latest sales information available less than 12 hours after the shops had closed. At the time it was pretty revolutionary stuff.

It should be noted however that this was merely a change in publication date, moving it up two days. The actual survey itself remained Monday through Saturday (Sunday trading laws at the time meant few if any outlets could sell music on that day). The only noticeable consequence was that the Radio One show, traditionally the broadcast outlet of record, skipped a week so the show on October 4th 1987 instead of counting down the singles chart first revealed on Tuesday September 29th ended up revealing the brand new countdown for Week Ending October 10th. It meant that Pump Up The Volume‘s first week at the top was never to be broadcast.

The last time the survey period was changed was actually just prior to that, for a brief period at the start of 1982 when then compilers BMRB changed from Monday-Saturday to Friday-Thursday to sidestep the problem of the manually compiled shop diaries from the weekend being delayed in the post. The only problem was the labels hated it as it meant that the impact of Top Of The Pops appearances was delayed for a full week. The arrival of Gallup and their computer terminals at the start of 1983 put an end to postal issues forever.

Next month however there is to be a genuine change. As previously documented the British charts are to move their date of publication to coincide with the introduction of Global Release Day, or as it is now rather clunkily being branded New Music Friday which will see music released in key markets on the same day globally. Until now it has been a matter of guesswork as to how and when this change will be made, although listeners to this week’s podcast will have heard me speculating wildly about what is to take place.

Now all can be revealed, and this is how it will work:

Week 27 will be the final Sunday-Saturday chart survey. It will run from June 28th to July 4th. The last ever Sunday afternoon Radio One chart show will announce this countdown on Sunday July 5th.

Week 28 will be a truncated five day survey, gathering sales from Sunday July 5th to Thursday July 9th. It will be the subject of the first ever Friday afternoon chart rundown on Radio One, broadcast on July 10th.

That just so happens to be the first ever Global Rele New Music Friday and handily the UK charts are now nicely in sync with this. Week 29 will therefore survey Friday July 10th to Thursday July 16th ready for broadcast on Friday 17th. And all will be well with the world.

Finally you will note this impacts the publication of Music Week which has been delivered to subscribers on Thursdays and hits the streets on Fridays since 2011. They are to revert back to Monday publication to remain the journal of record for the music charts, the first such issue landing on Monday July 13th.

Indeed the only question left unanswered is that of the dating convention for each music chart. For consistency, starting with the original British Hit Singles book back in 1977, chart reference books have used the Saturday cover date of the corresponding issue of Music Week. It is a convention I follow, hence all my columns, podcasts and books refer to charts of Week Ending xxx – ie the end of the week that the chart is announced. Technically that link between Music Week and the date of the chart ended in August 2011 when the new owners of the magazine began branding it with the street date, a Friday rather than a Saturday, but the convention has stuck.

Now that will indeed have to change. A Week Ending date of Saturday will actually mean the chart is ‘dated’ after its successor is unveiled. I’ve asked the Official Charts Company if they have an official view on the subject but am still awaiting a formal reply. That does imply nobody has actually thought it through yet.

My personal view is that it is probably now appropriate to switch to referring to singles charts from the date they become valid, and for consistencies sake this can still be a Saturday. It will simply mean there will be two charts for July 11th, the Week Ending chart first revealed the previous Sunday and the new Week Commencing chart unveiled the previous day. This would actually align it with the historical archive on the Official Charts Company website which currently presents archive charts as being dated from their Sunday of publication – even though this is not the case for those tables pre-October 1987. I get more grumpy emails from people about that issue than anything else at present.

Major Miscarriage

I’ve met Charles Ingram, the infamous “coughing major” on two occasions when he’s come into the office to be interviewed. The first was on a Sunday afternoon not long after he was convicted of cheating to try to win Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the second as a guest on an evening show when he was plugging an espionage novel he had just published. He was friendly, affable but as you might expect continually bewildered at the hand that fate had dealt him.

On both occasions he was asked on air by James Whale the (if you’ll pardon the pun) million dollar question. Did you actually do it? Did you really conspire to have someone in the audience coughing to hint at the correct answers?

His response each time was to shake his head. Noting that he had lost absolutely everything: his career, his reputation, his prospects and was now a figure of ridicule, the target for abuse in the street and to all intents and purposes an utterly ruined man he simply asked “what would I have to gain by continuing to lie about it? I didn’t do it. That’s all I can say.”

Now there is a book, written by an investigative journalist and which seeks to uncover the truth about what took place in that TV studio back in September 2001. Bad Show –  The Quiz, The Cough, The Millionaire Major by Bob Woffinden and James Plaskett takes an in-depth look at not just the alleged conspiracy but the origins and the culture of the show itself. It demonstrates the way the multiple choice quiz show invaded popular culture at the end of the 20th century, the tactics people employed to try to increase their chances of getting on the show and winning through to the hot seat and how this fed through to dedicated clubs of competitors who swapped tips and insider information to attempt to gain a competitive edge.

Rather cleverly the book also takes time to talk the reader through some of the more famous questions, illustrating along the way how a process of logic and deduction can often point the way to the correct answer in a question that might otherwise have stumped a contestant. It is a game after all, and to win you just had to know how to play it.

This point becomes crucial when discussing the case of Charles Ingram and his alleged co-conspirator Tecwyn Whittock (the two men had never met or even spoke to each other before the show). It casts doubt not just on the evidence put forward by the Crown at trial of the coughs and signals that were allegedly in use but also demolishes the notion put forward at trial that Ingram was a bumbling fool who could not have begun to know the answers to some of the questions put to him. In fact the former army major was a MENSA member and a well read and literate individual. He was also very good at quizzes, better in fact than Whittock who took the chair immediately after Ingram at the original recording and performed startlingly poorly.

It hardly needs saying that the parallels between Slumdog Millionaire and this real life case are actually quite startling.

A picture is painted in the book of a man and his wife still struggling to come to terms with what happend to them. More than ten years later they are just about scraping a living, fighting the endless failed attempts by Charles to rebuild his life and career, the memories of his conviction still counting against him no matter where he applies. Yet it also paints a picture of a massive injustice, a failure of the legal system and the sheer impossibility of an individual fighting against a process which is determined to bring him down at all costs. A jury who were expected to decide if someone was coughing in code to provide quiz answers were not even shown the set of the programme to judge for themselves the sheer implausibility of it and who were played only an enhanced and doctored soundtrack of the show and did not hear the true ambient soundtrack of the evening in question. No wonder they came to the wrong decision.

My opinion of our legal system is currently the lowest it has ever been, and reading this book only serves to add to that sense of outrage. It will also make you angry at the conduct of ITV and Celador who withheld a major prize from a member of the public based on little more than a hunch and who then colluded to manipulate the available evidence to back up their suspicions. By the end you too will come to the same conclusion as the authors. Somebody somewhere owes Charles Ingram one million pounds. And an apology.