I’ve mentioned before that there is an unbreakable emotional link between the circumstances of your life and how you feel about the music of the time. I’ve written in the past about chart countdowns which mark deep personal lows and how the emotions flood back with every song. I suspect the affection with which I can view many of these songs is similarly based on fond memories of this particular period in my life. I was living the dream, newly embraced by London life, earning money again after a bleak financial period and in the manner of Homer Simpson at the bowling alley was merrily tripping to work in a dream job which combined my two loves of computers and radio. Throughout it all, the songs on the radio made this one of the most memorable times of the decade for me and to be able to relive them all once again is a positive joy. Only a crippling lack of sex prevented life from being total perfection.
Oh I’m sorry, did I shatter the reverie with an overshare? We should play the tape again, and keep a close eye on the Spotify playlist as a string of mainstream acts means there is once again a pleasing strike rate of these songs available for modern day listening.
What a difference 13 weeks makes. When the promotion of ‘Stan’ as Eminem’s third single from his second album began and the track began to pick up airplay, the subject matter of the supposedly controversial track caused a great deal of soul searching amongst broadcasters. Uniquely Radio One approved it for daytime play but for the first few weeks preceded every broadcast of the track with an announcement to the effect that it is an important record that they though you should be able to hear, but that anyone who may be upset by it might like to turn the volume down for five minutes.
Was it all a fuss over nothing, or did time wither the impact of the tale of Stan the obsessed fan and his doomed pregnant girlfriend? Either way, come the spring of 2001 the single was still a Top 40 fixture and was still in regular rotation on daytime commercial radio – heavily edited to remove the nastier parts of the tale, naturally – without anyone batting an eyelid.
As a three month old Number One single here on the Top 40 chart doing a slow but steady burnout, a full account of the chart story of ‘Stan’ and just what its cultural impact was can wait for the day we do one of these for the close of 2000. At this point the track was spending its penultimate week on the Top 40, its significance by March 2001 not so much the way it took Eminem back to the top of the charts, but the way that in its wake it turned the lady whose sampled voice forms such a core part of the song into a huge mainstream star. Stay tuned, as they say.
It was actually Mya’s second album which spawned her biggest international hit. The R&B singer had made her American chart debut as far back as 1998, hitting the Billboard Top 10 with the track ‘It’s All About Me’ but the first British audiences heard of her was as one of the multitude of guest voices on the Pras Michel single ‘Ghetto Supastar’ later that same summer. She broke through internationally as a solo star with this naggingly brilliant tale of relationship paranoia which stormed to Number 3 the moment it was released in early February 2001. Sadly neither this single nor the Number 11 follow-up ‘Free’ did much to help sales of their parent album ‘Fear Of Flying’ which barely tickled the Top 100 when finally released later in the summer. Her greatest singles chart success would come later in 2001 when she was part of the ensemble cast of stars who performed ‘Lady Marmalade’ on the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack, a single which was Number One in most of the territories of the world including the UK. Her career fell off the rails following a lengthy delay in releasing her fourth album in 2007, but even by that time she had sadly dropped off the radar as far as Britain was concerned. Sad in a way… ‘Case Of The Ex’ remains nothing short of marvellous.
To think we thought Anastacia had problems being huge in Europe but disregarded in her own country. The Backstreet Boys had this headache in SPADES. Making their debut in the mid-1990s, the first big American boy band since NKOTB found themselves ignored in their home country but feted as the next big thing in Europe with a string of continent-wide smashes. Britain took a while to catch on itself but by 1996 they were regular fixtures at the top end of the singles chart with tracks such as ‘We’ve Got It Going On’ and ‘Quit Playing Games With My Heart’. Whilst America finally took the bait a couple of years later it meant that for a brief period their album releases were badly out of sync, second European album ‘Backstreets Back’ having to be extensively reversioned as their Stateside “debut” in 1997.
Fortunately things had resolved themselves nicely by the time of their fourth album ‘Black and Blue’ in 2000 and the now worldwide hits just kept on rolling. The lead track from the album became its third single in Europe, ‘The Call’ dealing with the rather weighty subject matter of a man calling up to lie to his girlfriend about where he was about to be spending the night. Released in mid-February 2001 it made an easy Number 8 to become the 13th Backstreet Boys Top 10 hit. Whilst their hits may have dried up around 2007, they still actively record and tour to this day, making headlines at present for a dual header nostalgia tour with New Kids On The Block.
The “first” episode was the seminal ‘Nuthin But a G Thang” from Dr Dre’s solo debut album ‘The Chronic’ in 1992. A pre-fame Snoop Dogg guested on that track too, ending by suggesting everyone chilled out until next time. The original idea was that the “next episode” of which they spoke was to appear on Snoop Dogg’s own debut album ‘Doggystyle’ but although it was listed on early pressings of the sleeve for the album the track itself never appeared.
Having kept the world in suspense for eight years, Dre finally delivered as he and Snoop finished the saga as ‘The Next Episode’ emerged on his 2000 album ‘2001’ and was duly issued as its third single. Here I have to once again expose my lack of complete appreciation for the entire hip-hop canon as I can document that the single is consistently ranked as one of the more essential pieces of work that the genre of gangster rap has offered over the years, although it defies my critical faculties to explain exactly why. Credit where credit is due though, ‘The Next Episode’ remains to this day one of Dr Dre’s most famous and biggest selling hits worldwide. Appropriately enough its British chart fortunes reflect its status, peaking at Number 3 it is easily Dre’s highest charting single in this country as a performer.
Finally a new entry! And one from the very finest of British performers as well. The release of Greatest Hits collection ‘A Secret History’ in 1999 marked, at least briefly, a break from the past for Neil Hannon and the ever-shifting collection of musicians who backed him as The Divine Comedy. For his seventh album ‘Regeneration’ he took a step back from the ever more lavish productions which had characterised his recent work, recruiting Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich for a more stripped-down back to basics sound. The relative success or failure of this approach is rather tricky to judge, for the new sound suffered from the same problem as many Divine Comedy releases, being long on critical acclaim but rather short on proper mass sales appeal.
Lead single ‘Love What You Do’ was a case in point. Arriving a few weeks before the album it made a perfunctory appearance inside the Top 30 chart before vanishing with rather brutal efficiency. Listening to it, it isn’t hard to see why. Hannon’s poetry and blissful crooning are present and correct but the clinking and chiming production appears oddly out of place here and is rather more reminiscent of, well, a Radiohead album track than anything else. Hannon continues to churn out Divine Comedy albums at regular intervals, which alongside soundtrack work and inspired side projects such as the acclaimed Duckworth-Lewis Method concept album he remains a genuine national treasure, albeit one absent from the Top 40 since 2004.
Another American star who found European success before breaking through back home, R&B star Joe had opened his chart account as far back as 1994 with the Top 30 hit ‘I’m In Luv’. When debut album ‘Everything’ failed to sell in his home nation he was swiftly dropped, only to re-emerge in 1997 with the rather more successful ‘All That I Am’ album which saw his star shine slightly more brightly (single ‘Don’t Wanna Be A Player’ made Number 16 here that same year). By 2001 he was firmly established as a big name, meaning ‘Stutter’ had an easy path to the top of the US charts and in turn became his biggest hit single on these shores when it advanced to an easy Number 7 when released in mid-February. His hits dried up towards the middle of the decade but after two independently released albums in recent years, talk emerged last year of a potential Joe comeback. The space continues to be watched.
Here’s a fun game. Have a gander at the Wikipedia entry for Caprice Bourret and see how much attention is paid to her many attempts to carve out a musical career. It is in there, albeit as a two line paragraph under “Other Work”. That’s how much significance her “fans” attach to it. Yes, Caprice’s musical career is something everyone tries to forget, despite the marketing effort which was attached to it at the time. She first inked a record deal with Virgin Records in 1999, hitting Number 24 with her debut effort ‘Oh Yeah’. The lukewarm public reaction to that first release meant things were put on the backburner for a couple of years whilst the American star sought to expand her business interests and public profile. With that done, having reached the point where she was rather oddly a front page fixture in the Daily Star, it was time to try again with this pop lark – hence the presence on the chart of her second a final single ‘Once Around The Sun’. Listening back to it for the first time in a decade you can see just why things never took off. The song itself is far from unpleasant and is a genuinely uplifting country-pop track, spoiled only by the nasal whine of her voice itself which slices through the melody like an electric drill on metal. Caprice’s pop career makes that of Paris Hilton seem relevant and worthwhile. Small wonder it only gets two lines in an otherwise comprehensive online biography, although the fact that the damn thing is actually on Spotify is more extraordinary still.
2001 arguably marked the commercial peak of the genre which came to be known as Nu-Metal. After years of resolutely ploughing its own furrow regardless of other prevailing musical tastes, rock music charged headlong back into the mainstream thanks to an inspired embracing of other styles. Suddenly the vogue was for crunching guitars combined with rap beats, vocals and instrumentation tweaked by studio trickery and a wholesale embracing of the idea that even the angriest of songs could be pop records as well. Yes, it made for music which was more or less impossible to reproduce live in sweaty underground rock clubs, but it turned the likes of Korn into stars.
Californians Papa Roach hit the ground running with their debut album ‘Infest’, with this lead single becoming a Top 3 smash in Britain seemingly almost from nowhere on the back of extensive touring by the group at the tail end of 2000. A decade on the track still possesses an energy somehow lacking in most other modern day rock tracks. This isn’t the last Nu-Metal track we’ll stumble over in this countdown either, as there are even bigger rock hits to come.
Very much a one hit wonder as far as Britain is concerned, this is the sole contribution to the UK chart history of American singer-songwriter Debelah Morgan. After moderate success back home with her first two albums, the title track from her third made her briefly a worldwide name to watch as it charted in many territories, landing at Number 10 here at the end of February 2001. The most notable aspect of the single is its wholesale borrowing (these days we’d call it “interpolation") of the melody from ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, originally written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross for the 1950s musical The Pyjama Game. Despite the hit single, Britain remained otherwise unmoved by the music of Debelah Morgan. Its parent album failed to chart and neither hide nor hair has been seen of her since.
Just what is it about boy bands which means one is elevated when others fall by the wayside? Luck of the draw perhaps, or just the good fortune to be handed some strong material. Created by Steps svengali Tim Byrne, A1’s main gimmick (if they had one at all) was that one of their members was Norwegian, Christian Ingebrigsten just happening to be studying at the LIPA academy in Liverpool when the casting call for the group was put out. After a strong start in the summer of 1999 which saw their first four singles all make comfortable Top 10 placings, they suddenly hit a sweet spot with pop fans, scoring back to back Number One hits with a cover of A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ and the original track ‘Same Old Brand New You’, both in 2000. This single ‘No More’ was the immediate follow-up to both of those, the third and final single to be taken from their second album ‘The A List’ and a more than respectable Number 6 hit in February 2001. Based on the usual half-life of boy bands they timed the end of their career more or less to perfection, breaking up in 2002 after a final album and the news that Paul Marazzi was leaving the band.
That might have been that, but for the extraordinary reunion of the remaining trio in 2009, starting a new journey which has seen them flirt with Eurovision candidacy (for Norway – not chosen), recording a new album for the Scandinavian market in 2010 and playing comeback gigs in Britain at the tail end of last year. Whilst a chart comeback here seems unlikely (the only people who cared at the time have long grown out of pop music), A1 appear to be doing their best to make sure that their story isn’t quite over yet.