The problem with 1995 is that it didn’t play out the way we’d imagined. The problem with 1995 is that it was animated by Hanna-Barbera; off-cuts from the studio floor, in which our cartoon avatars all bounced about Camden High Road on Union Jack space hoppers. There we are, pole-axed in the Good Mixer again. There we are, getting carried home by that bloke who used to be in Sleeper. We listened to nothing but bands such as The Pulps, and The Blurs, and Noel Gallagher and his Singing Ape – and if we weren’t listening to them, then we played stuff that was even worse; the singles chart of this week 19 years ago had ‘Daydreamer’ by Menswear tumbling down the numbers; the fact that it was still the realm’s 25th biggest selling single in this week I mention for purely for posterity.
Except, the UK Top 40 of 8 July ’95 doesn’t necessarily reflect our inane and gibbering decadence. Sure, Pulp’s ‘Common People’ had recently slipped out of the Top 10, but the rest of the chart is as eclectic as it ever was. Dross, for the most part, but still eclectic. So it is that records beyond the Top 10 include a ropey ‘Heart Of Glass’ remix, Duran Duran’s unintentionally hilarious cover of ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’, ‘Guaglione’ by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra (which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Hit Parade of June 1955), as well as the usual anodyne fayre beloved by the hard of hearing (Bon Jovi, East 17, Ali Campbell, etc). Indeed, the most alluring track in the Top 40 is at #40 – ‘Stars’, by Dubstar, a ripe cherry of a record that manages to straddle the border between summer and wry melancholia in a most pleasing fashion.
You’ll know the drill by now. I sit down and listen to the week’s ten biggest selling singles in horrific close-up detail, then mutter vaguely misanthropic comments until atrophy kicks in. Links in each track’s title, should you be up for further punishment.
Come to think of it, there are some weeks when it’s preferable to stick to a top nine.
Ah; dear Edwyn. I’d argue that his best-known track isn’t even his finest of the period; that’ll be follow-up single ‘Keep On Burning’, perhaps. Yet there’s little denying the pomp, the swagger, the pop song joy behind ‘A Girl Like You’ – in a certain light, it’s the sharpness of cut you can imagine a Vegas Elvis performing.
The swinging vibraphone intro and looped ’60’s drumbeat plunges into the call and answer – Edwyn’s unorthodox, cola-stained baritone verses warped, puppet-voiced guitar stub – of verse as we’re carried into a buzzing, building, retro intensity that never feels like pastiche. We’re all oh-so familiar with this track – perhaps too familiar, considering the over-exposure this accrued – hence you don’t need me to dig too far into the detail. It’s just a pity that so many only know Edwyn from his solitary US hit single when there’s so much else to explore.
I hold no recollection of exactly half of this week’s top 10. Perhaps surprising, considering I was working in a record store at the time (MVC in exotic Bromley, south-east London, should you be an aficionado of failed music retailers). With that in mind, I kicked off the listening process with high expectations around ‘Humpin’ Around’ – how could a song with such a marvellous title, suggestive as it is of a wildlife documentary, disappoint? There’s goes Bobby, the pack’s alpha male, ambling across the plain, preparing to claim his latest concubine. Alas it transpires this is nothing more than limp and excessively generic RnB lite, as if produced by Stock Aitken & Waterman and performed in one take by that bloke at the bus stop.
That effete TV physicist Dr Brian Cox played keyboards for D:Ream is such an exaggeration. It could almost be considered apocryphal; he merely played a few gigs and contributed piano to but a solitary album track – rather like me and Suzi Quatro. Therefore there’s no wistful staring off into the quasar-heavy mid-distance whilst some vaguely uplifting dinner jazz underlines the awe we’re all supposed to be experiencing – ‘Shoot Me with your Love’ is far more dull than that.
The headline track from one of the hundreds of Batman movies the ‘90’s begat. And yes, I’m going to defend it – ‘fun’ is not a concept you’d usually associate with U2, but it’s abundant on ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’. The point being that it’s from a soundtrack rather than a studio album and is therefore not canonical, allowing the band to subvert notions of what U2 otherwise represent. Built upon a big, cheesy riff, the melody is transported by juggernaut bass, the strings unfold in camp layers of dénouement, and Bono’s lyrics (and, more importantly, his annunciation) for once don’t suggest that he’s been booked to address unimpressed dignitaries at the United Nations. For sure, the song is over-produced to within an inch of relevance – slick and cartoonishly outsized – but I’m not sure that this would have worked any other way.
And having now written nice things about a U2 track, I’m gonna go and inject smack into a vein in my groin whilst listening to a GG Allin record.
One of the less-explored elements of Drummond & Cauty’s The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) is the chapter concerning that guy who works at the takeaway – the smiling, overgrown man child who looks like he’ll have his mouth in the trough beneath the rotating döner kebab spit any second – and how, should you lure him into the recording studio with the promise of free pork scratchings and the opportunity to stroke the studio cat (not a euphemism), then get him to gurn a dumb phrase into a microphone over and over, you’re guaranteed a #5 smash.
Another track new on me. I was hoping that the Diana King in question was Diana King the actress, who had bits parts in various British sit-coms of the 70’s, but apparently not. Instead, a single that sounds like it was the Azerbaijani entry to the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest – knocked out and about in the semi-finals, then quickly forgotten by everyone unfortunate enough to have heard it in about the same amount of time it takes a Pot Noddle to rehydrate.
The history of chart music is the story of the novelty single (and, by extension, the novelty interpretation, the novelty cover version). The first weekly ranking of vinyl sales appeared in the NME as far back as 1952, and even then vaguely comedic vaudeville throwaways were old hat. Music Hall has a great deal to answer for (which is kind of apt, considering Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are nothing but Music Hall).
Not that every novelty single is automatically risible; Patrick McNee & Honor Blackman (‘Kinky Boots’) didn’t show themselves up, for instance. Bernard Cribbins and his ‘Right Said Fred’ will always have a place in my heart. You could also build an argument that this week’s Top 10 is heavily influenced by novelty. #10 – certainly. #5. Even #6, should you wish to stretch the definition just a little.
And #3? Well, Reeves has form here, most notably on his 1991 album I Will Cure You, and his take on Tommy Roe’s ‘Dizzy’ with The Wonder Stuff, which somehow hit the #1 spot. Four years later, and he was still mining similar territory – considering that the world has never needed an uninspired, unamusing and unapologetically pointless run-through ‘I’m A Believer’, delivered by a comedy duo not renowned for innovation and backed by one of the early ‘90’s more hideous faux-indie outfits – well, this version is far worse than I’ve just described.
2 – Robson Green & Jerome Flynn / Unchained Melody / (There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover
The great thing about the charts is that they’re inclusive, and democratic (when not being rigged by the record companies, that is). Thus it’s my great pleasure to introduce the discerning tastes of great British public. ‘Unchained Melody’ has been recorded by over 500 different artists – it first reached #1 in 1955, possibly by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. So obviously the definitive version comes courtesy of two actors from one of those Sunday evening dramas designed to anaesthetise the audience. They can’t really sing, but on the plus side do both look like they’re in pain from botched vasectomies. Neither vocal nor arrangement bother to even attempt to add the slightest sense of verve or life or originality to an admittedly tired and mawkish construct, but hey, it’s sung by those chaps from the telly, and I love telly, me.
If ‘Unchained Melody’ is dead-eyed karaoke, the flip side is even more cynical (it’s also ornathologically irresponsible; bluebirds aren’t native to the British Isles, although that’s the least of its problems). Nothing screams target audience stronger than a feeble-minded American ballad that became a de facto British National Anthem during WW2, unimaginatively covered fifty years later by two performing goons and an intelligence-free accompaniment more at home in the Third Reich. The only conclusion: the government made purchasing mandatory for everyone over the age of 70.
One of several No.1 singles from 1995 directly inspired by Anna Karina. ‘Girl your booty is so fine, let me look you up and down’ being a direct Dostoevsky quotation, I believe. ‘Boom Boom Boom’ – which I’d never heard before penning these words – is a horrid slice of female objectification that’s difficult to compute at this end; because the music I listen to is alien to misogynistic leanings, it comes as a shock to hear something so mainstream that applies the language of casual sexism so readily. Maybe I’m being naïve here, and wilfully ignoring entire swathes of musical evidence to tell me otherwise (what with contemporary examples being dressed up in faux-irony and a satire misunderstood by the culprits); this track, straight from the ‘Whoomp! (There It Is)’ school of songcraft, does contain many other lines, yet I still can’t get past that one hideous sexist lyric; I now yearn to curl up with the Sarah Records back cat and think happy thoughts.