70 Seconds To Define An Ambition

imageIt appears to be one of the great all but forgotten TV shows, untroubled by an endless cycle of syndicated repeats on high numbered satellite channels and undisturbed by opportunistic DVD box sets which end their life piled high near the checkouts in HMV at Christmas with stickers advertising a 70% discount on their originally listed price. Yet for some of us the late 1980s American TV show Midnight Caller retains a resonance which to this day has echoes in everything we do. OK then, to me it does.

First aired by NBC in America at the tail end of 1988 and picked up by the BBC who flung it out on Saturday evenings starting in spring 1989, the show told the tale of Jack Killian, a San Francisco policeman who had quit after the accidental death of his partner and reinvented himself as a late-night radio talk show host, taking calls from the public from midnight to 3am on radio station KJCM and in the process becoming embroiled in the very social issues his listeners were bringing to his attention.

The show lasted for three series before finally being cancelled as plot lines span out of control in an increasing spiral of silliness, but in its early years the show attracted huge praise for the depth of its approach and its willingness to portray issues such as stalking or even AIDS in such an uncompromising manner.

For a teenager whose mind had already generated the spark of an idea that what he really wanted to do above all else in life was to work on the radio it was naturally even more than that. Here was a TV hero who was living your own dreams, paid to do everything you yourself had dreamed of and living a lifestyle that seemed so impossibly glamorous and yet tantalisingly within reach.

Precious little of Midnight Caller exists on YouTube, unless you count a seemingly random selection of episode highlights dubbed into Japanese, but really the (admittedly rather cheaply made) opening titles are all that is required to bring the memories flooding back. They last 70 seconds, but the images they contain helped to define just why I wanted this kind of life for myself, even if the reality is sometimes slightly less gleaming.

First there was the theme tune, written and performed by Jazz trumpeter Rick Braun. A none more 80s smooth jazz piece led by the muted tones of the man himself underscored by a saxophone and steel guitar backing. Think Dire Strait’s ‘Your Latest Trick’ with added east coast authenticity Intended to conjure up the late night mood of the protagonist’s shows, to me it was always the soundtrack to my dream lifestyle. When I grew up I was going to live in a sleek modern apartment, furnished in black and with giant plate glass windows that looked out onto a gleaming cityscape below. My hifi would glow with precision LED and neon lights and every evening I’d be the King of all I surveyed.


Then there was Jack himself, played with career-defining aplomb by Gary Cole (years before all this Brady Bunch or Office Space nonsense). No cluttered desk for him, his working environment was defined by a man illuminated by a spotlight with few tools except for a handful of computer screens and his wits. The producers could never quite decide exactly how it was he communicated with the San Francisco audience and so he would alternate between staring down the barrel of a condenser microphone or wander around the room staring wistfully out of the window whilst addressing the headset device he is also depicted wearing here.

Years later I sat in the same kind of seat as he and contemplated the reality of the situation. Radio studios get as cluttered as everywhere else. Old scripts, yesterday’s newspapers and the coffee mugs left by the breakfast show. Microphones don’t float tantalisingly in mid-air but wobble on creaking anglepoises or heaven forbid goosenecks and the closest you get to a flashy headset is the frayed pair of DT100s which the engineers has screwed into place to prevent them going walkies.


Naturally being the product of a TV producer’s imagination, Jack Killian’s studio was the embodiment of how everyone imagined a radio studio should look. Walls were adorned with thrilling looking equipment, each with buttons which illuminated the gloom. Lights would wink on and off and giant tape spools would whir around for what to the casual viewer might appear to be no apparent reason. The message however was clear, a radio station was a busy, active place to be with a fragile existence which could only be sustained by a bank of gadgetry.

Whilst a real life radio studio might indeed have its fair share of equipment, it generally attracts dust in the manner which electrical items generally do. Banks of equipment with exciting looking switches do exist, but they are tucked away in a plant room elsewhere in the building (although sometimes placed in a glass fronted cabinet and made the focal point of reception). Jack just didn’t know how lucky he was.


As a talk show host (curiously on a radio station which played music the rest of the time – rigid formatting clearly having not reached San Francisco in 1988) Jack had the privilege of his own producer Billy. His work was possibly even more exciting than that of his boss. He sat in his own room, surrounded by a giant console of equipment along with TV monitors and tape players. He had his own line in extravagant hand gestures as illustrated above.


As producer, Billy was special. He actually got to press some of the magical buttons, tap at the dials and generally know what it all did. Frequently namechecked by the host, he was there as part of a double act and always made sure Jack knew it.

Years later I was to become Billy. I was the producer to the late night talk show host. I don’t get to make hand gestures and live in constant fear of having to tinker with any of the other studio gadgets. My life generally consists of grumpily telling presenters in full flow that it is time to break, that finishing your speech any later than the time I’ve put in front of you means the news starts late and sometimes taking the flack for when the highly trained individual in front of the microphone has said something stupid. There is however one job I’ve done which is at the core of Billy’s existence: the call screening.


Thanks to Midnight Caller this is how I imagined it would be. A sophisticated looking console into which the details of all the volunteering participants to tonight’s broadcast would be entered, giving the host a delectable menu from which to select. Even the screenshot used in the opening titles is tantalising… who knows what the “Law Stuff” Mike in Concord wants to discuss is. Don in Novato is discussing “murder”, is he reporting one or about to commit one (both were perfectly plausible MC plotlines incidentally). Better yet Frank in Marin may be a “serial killer”, or again wants to just talk about one. Most intriguingly of all Josh in South San Francisco has an open topic whilst Nick in Oakland is either in the process of being screened or even Billy cannot work out what he is on about.

Strangely enough one of the first jobs I ever did in professional radio (in the being paid to do it sense) was as producer/call screener on a local radio phone in. I was kind of gutted that the level of sophistication illustrated above simply didn’t exist at that level. Instead I’d scribble the names and numbers of callers down on pre-printed grid before promising to call them back. Once done I’d whisper on the talkback to the presenter “Terry, Halifax, line 5” and she would write the detail down accordingly. Calls were lined up in pairs – one to air, one on hold in an endless stream until the small hours.

This is actually one aspect of the job where things have moved on in a manner far beyond that which any TV producer could have imagined. This was my view on Saturday night when due to staff incompetence I was filling the phone operators chair at work.


No text based system this. Now I have an exciting graphical display showing not only the callers details but which even looks up where they are for me based on their telephone number. I can see how long they have been online for, who has been there the longest and at a single click can even refer back to their previous contributions to the radio station and to check the points they have made in the past. That I think is progress.

I’ve been privileged over the years to work on many late night radio shows of the kind Jack Killian used to host. On the inside it doesn’t feel quite as glamorous as the TV made it, there are no windows looking out onto neon soaked city skylines, no new adventures lurking behind each new voice taken to air and as we step outside our nondescript brick building onto the South Bank backstreet which houses the offices it can sometimes seem like just a job rather than the rather evocative fantasy which TV helped to create.

Even so, every time I turn on a microphone and make an exciting red light come alive, every time I gaze at a screen with the name of some person I will never meet and never know but whose innermost thoughts I am about to be subjected to for the next five minutes, every time I hear the highly paid host through the glass in front of me say something which may resonate deeply with someone clinging to the radio for some kind of life comfort I am still living the dream, still drinking in the Midnight Caller lifestyle. Those 70 seconds still define my life, and I am incredibly glad that they do.

It Oughta Sell A Million

It is for most performers the ultimate dream. Something which marks them out as something particularly special, yet at the same time is not so out of reach as to be a wild unattainable fantasy. Selling a million copies of a record, any record. For years it has been a badge of honour for any track, so much so in fact that before the totals were revised down in 1989, the only way to be awarded a Platinum disc for a single release was to ship a million copies of it. In the near 60 year history of the British charts, just 110 different singles have been officially noted to have sold a seven figure total, their numbers swelled just this last week by ‘Party Rock Anthem’ by LMFAO.

LMFAO’s accolade comes just a couple of weeks after million seller #109 was announced to the world, as ‘Moves Like Jagger’ by Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera inched over the line to be officially certified as having shifted seven figures worth of product. I noted in many places online that this made it one of just a small handful of singles to have reached the magical figure without actually having topped the charts. For years this was the rarest of rare things, famously just one record in chart history had officially topped a million whilst peaking at Number 2, but since then the numbers have grown. Just how many are there? Five, I thought, starting a mad mental scramble to name them all.

Yet I wasn’t actually correct, because there are a handful more.

The waters of “total sales” are these days rather muddied thanks to the effectively constant availability of singles to be purchased. Back in the days when records dropped out of the charts, copies ceased to be pressed and stocks dried up it was possible to call a definitive halt to brand new sales of a record and thus tot up its final total. In the 21st century a single is theoretically available forever, and indeed many older singles whose sales had previously ground to a halt are suddenly finding themselves revived either as brief high end chart hits, or as catalogue product which continually bubbles under.

Therefore we should really draw a distinction between the singles which sold a million during their “regular” shelf-life (or inside a year in the case of more recent hits) and those which have crept over the line some time after their initial success. With that in mind then, this I hope is what is at the time of writing the definitive list of “unsuccessful” singles which have sold one million copies in the UK:

Last Christmas – Wham!

Total UK sale: 1,601,000

For a great many years it was famously the only single ever to sell a million copies and miss the top of the charts (although see below), this thanks to circumstances given that it spent the Christmas period at the end of 1984 locked at Number 2 behind the original Band Aid single. Although it easily passed the million mark during its original chart run, the single has also added to its total with a re-release the following year (upon which it made the Top 10 again) plus naturally an annual topping up of its total as it returns for a brief chart run as a seasonal download.

Stranger On The Shore – Acker Bilk

Total UK sale: 1,145,000

Now this is an interesting one. For years this 1961 single simply did not figure in countdowns of the biggest sellers of all time, the difficulty in pinning down exact sales for singles from that particular era just one of the reasons behind this. I don’t think it was until ten years ago when an attempt was made to compile a definitive list of the all-time biggest sellers in time for the 50th anniversary of the singles chart that it was noticed that the haunting jazz instrumental could be certified as having sold seven figures, and so into the best sellers list it went. It should therefore be noted that Acker Bilk actually beat Wham! to the honour of selling a million copies of a Number 2 single some two decades before they became the “first” to pull off the trick. Before then ‘Stranger On The Shore’ was at least notable for what used to be the longest unbroken chart run of all time, clocking up 55 weeks on the Top 50 chart without a break. All without being downloaded once.

Blue Monday – New Order

Total UK sale: 1,125,000

Another retrospective addition to the list as it is only possible to arrive at this total by adding up the three separate chart runs of the classic single. Its two spells on the Top 40 in 1983 were enough to make it the 18th best seller of 1983, whilst the Arthur Baker remix which saw it released as a seven-inch single for the first time in 1988 made it the 57th best seller that year. A further re-release in the summer of 1995 has further added to the number, yet for all that the single has never climbed higher than a peak of Number 3.

Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jnr

Total UK sale: 1,080,000

A single which is contemporaneous with the Wham! track but which was actually only awarded its seven figure honour some years later. A Number 2 hit in September 1984, the track memorably dropped out of the Top 40 just prior to Christmas that year only to gain second wind as the popularity of the film for which it was written steadily grew. This led to a renewed burst of interest which saw the track return to the Top 10 early in the new year. For years its sales held film until the arrival of the download era which saw it become one of a handful of “ghostly” themed singles which ensured it shifts a couple of thousand more copies every October.  Add these to its original 1984 total and it is an easy million seller.

Torn – Natalie Imbruglia

Total UK sale: 1,075,000

Another latecomer to the party and a prime beneficiary of the download era. Natalie Imbruglia’s most famous hit, a cover of a Scandinavian single which had been doing the rounds for some years beforehand, the track peaked at Number 2 in November 1997. By the end of that year it had sold an impressive 810,000 copies, adding a further 157,000 in 1998 to take it to 967,000 copies in total. The 99,000 it has added since have all been as a result of downloaded sales over the last seven years.

Angels – Robbie Williams

Total UK sale: 1,060,000

Robbie’s most famous single was never a Number One you will note, its eventual chart peak being a mere Number 4 in February 1998. Released at the very back end of 1997 it had shifted 340,000 by the end of that calendar year, adding 467,000 in the following one. Total in its first chart run then, 807,000 which has since been topped up thanks to a constant demand for it to soundtrack funerals and weddings. Nobody listens to this dirge for fun surely?

Wonderwall – Oasis

Total UK sale: 1,050,000

Another track which spread the love across two calendar years initially, the bulk of its sales coming in 1995 when the ballad first peaked at Number 2. 653,000 units of the single were sold by December 31st that year, the track remaining available throughout 1996 when it added 270,000 to its total. Thus it was never going to take much for it to reach seven figures from a starting point of 923,000 and as Oasis’ most famous single ever, it seems certain to steadily add to that total for some time to come.

Love The Way You Lie – Eminem and Rihanna

Total UK sale: undetermined, but was confirmed to be over a million during 2011

The biggest selling single of 2010 is famously the only track ever to outsell all others in a calendar year without ever topping the charts, the track peaking at Number 2 in the summer of that year but hanging around the the Top 10 until well into October. We can argue until the cows come home whether this counts as a single which topped a million during its initial chart life – the track was only confirmed as having reached seven figures during October 2011, 15 months after it was first released.

Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera

…which is where we came in, the smash hit single selling its millionth copy over the Christmas period after just five months on the charts. Before the holiday it was also reported that Fairytale Of New York had been confirmed as a million seller too, but I think this was based on a miscalculation of its original 1987 sale as the claim has now been withdrawn. Best estimates are that it is about 100,000 copies short, a gap it should theoretically make up over the next couple of years if its popularity remains undimmed.

So it is confirmed. As of January 2012 there are nine of the (so far) 110 million selling singles which never actually topped the charts, of which three (or possibly four) did so during their first chart runs, the rest nipping over the line with downloads or as a result of re-releases some years later.

For those curious, the next million seller is likely to be one of either ‘Price Tag’ or ‘We Found Love’. The Jessie J single ended the year just 19,000 copies short, but may need a boost from something like the Brit awards or a talent show performance to edge over the line ahead of the Rihanna track, currently sitting pretty on about 933,000 sales but for the moment adding to them still to the tune of about 20,000 copies a week. Both, you will note are Number One singles. As for lower charting hits ‘The A Team’ and ‘Rolling In The Deep’ both have 800,000 sales to their name at the present time, but at their present rate it will be a long haul to cross the line.

In Defence Of Christmas 1992–Part Four

Want to know what the odds were for the big Christmas Number One race in 1992? Well sadly the only clippings I can turn up are quoting prices as of Tuesday December 15th, which was during the week of sales covered by this chart. Nonetheless, it shows you where the thinking was at the time, especially as before these days of chart leaks and midweek updates, nobody really knew from one weekend to the next just how well certain singles were doing. The market lined up as follows:

  • 1/7 Whitney Houston
  • 3/1 Rod Stewart
  • 4/1 Michael Jackson
  • 16/1 Freddie Mercury
  • 16/1 The Shamen
  • 16/1 WWF Superstars
  • 16/1 Madonna
  • 33/1 Diana Ross

Yes, by then it really was all over bar the shouting… and the final countdown of the Christmas Top 10.

10: Madonna – Deeper And Deeper

The flap and publicity over the release of Madonna’s infamous “Sex” book in which she posed clunge out in a variety of artistic poses did rather overshadow the fact that it came out alongside her ‘Erotica’ album, a work which stands tall as one of her most consistent and impressively produced works of her first decade in music. After the blissed out house beats of the title track (A Number 3 hit back in October) came this rather more conventional sounding club track which even today ranks as a critics choice of one of her best releases of the 1990s. Shep Pettibone produced the track, just as he had done with global smash hit ‘Vogue’ back in 1990 and in a nice nod at what might otherwise have been its own derivative nature, ‘Deeper and Deeper’ briefly turns into the earlier hit towards the end. For all its popular brilliance, the chart performance of the track caused a rather uncharacteristic wobble in Madonna’s fortunes, peaking at Number 6 it became her first single to fail to reach the Top 5 since ‘The Look Of Love’ five years earlier.

9: Rod Stewart – Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)

After releasing what was possibly one of the best records of his career with a cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Downtown Train’ in early 1990, the only surprise was it took over two years before Rod Stewart dipped into his extensive songbook again. His second Waits cover version was a track taken from his album of reinterpretations ‘Lead Vocalist’ – a reworking of a song originally performed by the American singer for his 1976 album ‘Small Change’. Just as on ‘Downtown Train’ this was a perfect example of singer and song working in perfect harmony, Rod imbuing the gin-soaked track with the perfect amount of regret and longing. Although not the most immediate of hit singles (or so it seemed), ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’ became his first single ever to smash straight into the Top 10 upon first release, peaking eventually at Number 6 a fortnight before Christmas. Not quite the Christmas Number One it was touted to be, but a fine addition to the holiday soundtrack.

8: Gloria Estefan – Miami Hitmix/Christmas Through Your Eyes

What a horrible term. Once upon a time sequences of different songs were called “a medley”, in the early years of pop all performed live by the singer but as production techniques developed, cut together in the studio by creative producers. At some point in the 1980s though this term didn’t seem, well, EUROPEAN enough so a selection of songs jammed together in the studio became “megamix”, the kind of expression which can only conjure up images of naff continental DJs bellowing it over badly balanced microphones. Come the 1990s and the Greatest Hits megamix was seen as a great way of rounding up an artist’s career with minimal promotional effort required save to issue club DJs with extended versions of the same.

After the seasonal chart of 1991 paid host to both the ‘Joseph Mega-Remix’ and the ‘Jungle Book Megamix’, Christmas 1992 saw two of these badly made abominations clogging up the bestsellers list. The smallest of these was an energetic romp through some of the early highlights of Gloria Estefan’s career as old Miami Sound Machine tracks such as ‘Bad Boy’, ‘Dr Beat’, ‘Conga’ and ‘1-2-3’ were all paraded one by one. Longtime MSM re-mixer Pablo Flores collaborated with Florida DJ Javier Garza for the ‘Miami Hit Mix’ which took the curious step of removing much of the original production of the composite tracks in order to sequence them with a consistent set of dance beats. Bizarrely released to promote Estefan’s then-current Greatest Hits collection (which naturally featured all the original versions), the rather messy track did at least register a presence in the Top 10, with festive double a-side ‘Christmas Through Your Eyes’ strangely all but ignored by radio and record buying public alike – although that is at least the one track from this single which we can Spotify.

7: Boney M – Megamix

As to what this was doing here, heaven only knows – there was no new Boney M hits material in the shops at the time. A “megamix” of Boney M classics had raced up continental charts in the summer of 1988 but had never been granted a release on these shores (although something called the “Summer Megamix” did creep into the bottom of the Top 100 in September 1989). I’m unsure as to whether the rendition which finally graced us with its presence in the shops three years later was the same production or a brand new sequence, but suffice it to say they both saw all the usual Boney M classics given a quick spin in sequence, their choruses bolted together like bleeding chunks of Eurodisco. Hitting Number 7 with perfect timing for Christmas, the track did at the very least give Boney M their first Top 10 hit since ‘Hooray Hooray Its A Holi-Holiday’ was a Top 3 hit way back in 1979. To date it remains their last.


6: WWF Superstars – Slam Jam

Perhaps inevitably this was a Simon Cowell idea. He documents in his autobiography how he marvelled at the ability of the World Wrestling Federation to sell out Wembley stadium in mere minutes when they staged their Summerslam event on these shores in the summer of 1992. With Vince McMahon having long made good use of the links between his performers and music (remember Cyndi Lauper and the rock n wrestling connection?) he needed little persuading to buy into the idea of a concept album featuring the vocal talents of some of the Federation’s then stars. Fortunately the alarming prospect of Randy Savage or the Ultimate Warrior crooning away was never to be realised. Instead the WWF musical project consisted of a series of Mike Stock and Pete Waterman created club tracks, all loosely themed around the shouted utterances of a series of wrestling stars. Proving once more than Simon Cowell can turn the naffest of ideas into pop music-ruining commercial success, the opening single ‘Slam Jam’ did indeed slam its way into the charts, forever leaving a legacy of the likes of the British Bulldog, Bret Hitman Hart and The Undertaker featuring on a Top 10 single. ‘Wrestlemania The Album’ would ultimately come out in April 1993. Copies presumably in a charity shop somewhere near you, but nowhere near Spotify, naturally.


5: Shamen – Phorever People

Ah, proper music at last. The apparent furore over the Shamen’s Number One single ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ from September 1992 seems to be one of those legends which grows ever larger in the telling. Yes, the almost blatant drug references in the track caused a few furrowed eyebrows and airplay restriction, but nothing like the pitchforks at dawn outrage that clip shows ever since would have you believe took place. Nevertheless you get the feeling that subsequent single ‘Boss Drum’ (title track from their then current album) was raced into the shops out of sequence in an attempt to get some non-controversial Shamen product into the shops and onto the radio. It did appear though that this played havoc with plans to make ‘Phorever People’ their end of year offering, with the net result that the two singles arrived in the shops just six weeks apart from each other. ‘Phorever People’ arrived on the charts on December 7th at Number 7, just as its suddenly deleted predecessor dived down to the depths of the Top 75. Both tracks in truth would have made fine Christmas hits, but it was left to this single to be the standard bearer, a track featuring both Mr C and singer Jhelisa Anderson in equal measure and the sound of a group at what was arguably their commercial and creative peak.

4: Take That – Could It Be Magic

If you divide Take That’s career up into stages, then this is the final act of their pre-superstar years. Commercial breakthrough was a long time coming for the soon to be famous fivesome. A desperate cover of ‘It Only Takes A Minute’ had finally taken them into the Top 10, but a bizarre choice of follow-up in the form of the Robbie Williams fronted ‘I Found Heaven’ later that summer had dumped them back into mid-table. ‘A Million Love Songs’ may well have returned them to the upper reaches and given us our first clue that Gary Barlow was a songwriter of considerable merit but the truth of the matter was the initial hype of how they were saviours of pop was starting to wear off. Their debut album had appeared in the shops to little fanfare and the truth of the matter was that Take That needed to do something special to get the world on their side.

So they released this single. Yes, it was another cover, but their take on Barry Manilow’s 1975 Number 6 hit turned out to be an inspired move. Taking its cue from Donna Summer’s own disco version from the late 70s, this was an upbeat party smash hit – featuring an all too rare vocal duel between Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams who had now discovered his true singing voice and was ready to take a bow as the most charismatic performer of the group. ‘Could It Be Magic’ ultimately peaked at Number 3 to become their highest charting hit thus far. One year later and they missed out on Christmas Number One by the skin of their teeth.

3: Charles & Eddie – Would I Lie To You

A distinctly old-fashioned soul ballad by two upcoming American stars becoming a worldwide smash hit single yet only a minor chart entry in its home country? It happened. Despite virtually the whole of the developed world falling in love with ‘Would I Lie To You’, it made a brief Top 20 appearance in America, peaking at a mere Number 13. No matter, with this one single Charles & Eddie became global and award winning superstars. Just like ‘End Of The Road’ before it, ‘Would I Lie To You’ had an all too rare wander up the singles chart on its way to Number One, albeit moving in a rapid 34-14-2-1 arc which suggested it was only ever going to peak at the very top. Number One for a fortnight in mid-November, the single simply refused to go away and indeed this was the third of what would end up a four week stretch locked in place at Number 3, the single spending ten weeks in total in the Top 10. To all intents and purposes however the duo became one hit wonders in this country, follow-up single ‘NYC’ peaking at Number 33 early the following year and none of their other singles ever climbing higher than Number 29. When Charles Pettigrew died of cancer at the age of 37 in 2001, I don’t think I remember even reading an obituary.

2: Michael Jackson – Heal The World

When Michael Jackson’s long-awaited ‘Dangerous’ album was released at the tail end of 1991, much was made of the rather startling way it was sequenced. With all the Bill Bottrell- and Teddy Riley- produced swingbeat tracks banded together on Side 1 in a never-ending mush, the arrival of ‘Heal The World’ at the end of them hit you like an overdose of Sweetex. One of the more notable tracks on the album, ‘Heal The World’ prompted endless jokes about whether Jacko was going to sue himself for plagiarism, given that it was more or less a chord for chord copy of his work on the famous USA For Africa single ‘We Are The World’. I remember the Q magazine review of the platter musing that the two tracks would be banned from getting married in most countries as they were simply too closely related. Heck, they even performed a medley of the two tracks at his 2009 memorial service!

Composition issues aside, it was always inevitable that the sweet gospel ballad was going to be turned into a hit, and so with immaculate timing it was unleashed as Michael Jackson’s Christmas offering. Despite being the fifth single to be released from ‘Dangerous’ it became one of its biggest, charging to Number 2 and holding firm there for an impressive five weeks – denied the chance of becoming Number One (whether for Christmas or the new year) by a superstar of equal stature above him. Three years later of course he would have his revenge and become Christmas Number One for real, but for now ‘Heal The World’ simply fell agonisingly and frustratingly short. I can’t help but wonder though, had Quincy Jones still had a hand in matters, would he have had the courage to tell Jackson just what a blatant copy of his earlier work it was and suggest it be reworked to be a touch more original?

1: Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You

Typical, just typical. Four days of waxing lyrical about semi-forgotten pop records and we climax with one of the world’s biggest selling singles of all time and thus a record which really needs no introduction. Let’s instead deal with the elephant in the room. Whitney’s cover of the old Dolly Parton song and which formed the centrepiece of her performance in “The Bodyguard” and in its own way helped it become the biggest film of the moment when it finally hit the cinemas just after the Christmas holiday. It’s not actually very good is it?

Call me hard hearted. Call me a musical ignoramus if you must, but ‘I Will Always Love You’ falls a long way short of being the most moving track on the soundtrack album, never mind the best record of Whitney’s career. It is under-melodied, lazily and rather shoddily produced and designed more to show off her prowess as a diva rather than actually being sung to the melody lines printed on the sheet music. I’m sure plenty of people get chills down their spine as her vocals re-enter after the bridge, but I can’t hear it without wincing as she howls and hoots and strips what was once a rather sweet C&W ballad of every last shred of emotion.

As has been noted by many people before me, the classic irony of ‘I Will Always Love You’ is that it stands tall as the most misinterpreted song of all time. People get married to it and I’ve presented love song shows on the radio where people phone up wanting it to become the soundtrack to a romantic proposal. Yet this all ignores the central point of the lyrics – the couple in the song are breaking up. She’s waving him goodbye with a tear and the knowledge that she will never be quite good enough for the man in question. Just try pointing that out to people though, just try.

To the facts then, and you could have asked as many experts as you wanted when it was first released -there was initially no way at all that Whitney was going to be Christmas Number One with this single. When the market was first formed, I believe prices of 33-1 were on offer. It had simply been released too soon, hitting the shops at the start of November. No matter than it had moved to Number One at the end of the month in its fourth week on the chart, there was little chance it had the legs to remain there until the end of the following one. Yet it did. This was in fact its fourth week at Number One, marking the first time any record had topped the chart in November and stayed there until the end of the year since ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ and the original issue of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the 1970s. In fact ‘I Will Always Love You’ would go on to duplicate another feat of those celebrated predecessors, remaining on top of the charts until well into February to eventually clock up ten weeks at the top of the charts.

In my original write-up of the 1992 Christmas Number One, I supplied some sales statistics which I’d presumably cheerfully lifted from Music Week that week. By the end of December 1992 it had sold a million copies in the UK, 4.5 million around the world, was Number One in nine different countries and was the second biggest selling single in American chart history (an accolade it holds to this day as the second biggest physical single of all time across the pond). Fast forward to 2011 and its total sales stand somewhere in the region of 1.37 million copies, enough to make it one of the 40 biggest sellers of all time in this country. I may hate every last note of it, but it is still justly one of the most famous records of the decade.

As I may have mentioned a few times, this particular chart came out during the very first weeks of my weekly British chart commentaries, posted at the time to the rec.music.misc newsgroup via a rather flaky email gateway from university. Although the Google archive for this period can be patchy, the original posting still exists in full – but be warned, intense analysis of each song is somewhat thin on the ground. I think I was in something of a hurry that day.

So as Bruno signs off and hands over to Pete Tong with the Essential Selection (opening track: ‘The Sun Rising’ as tonight’s Revival Selection) we can reflect on a Christmas chart which may not quite be as stuffed full of classics as some over the years, but did at least contain its fair share of cheerful novelties, popular club hits, legendary names and naturally one of the biggest singles of all time by a female artist. For that reason alone it has a worthy place in our memories, and I hope it stirred a few of your own whilst reading this.

Happy Christmas everyone, see you on the other side.