1 KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR (Dunblane)
On the morning of March 13th this year Thomas Hamilton marched into the gym at the local primary school in the small Scottish town of Dunblane armed with two shotguns. 16 children, all aged between 5 and 6 were gunned down along with their teacher before the madman turned his guns on himself. It was an outrage which stunned the entire world and whose shockwaves still echo round the hearts and minds of virtually everyone. As the families prepare for their first Christmas since the tragedy this single has been released in memory of those who died. It is the brainchild of musicians from the town itself who were determined to make a tribute in song. Together with several celebrity contributors they recorded a heartfelt version of the old Bob Dylan classic and are joined in the chorus by a choir of Dunblane children, including some who are the brothers and sisters of those murdered, to a quite moving effect. Without a shadow of a doubt a Number One smash and it deservedly achieves that placing - yet not without a small hint of controversy on the side.
[This was an incredibly hard piece to write. Arguably the first ever "virtue signal" charity record, bought by people to make themselves look good, this probably kicked off my continuing ambivalence towards records bought for what they symbolised rather than the music underneath. Still inexperienced as a writer, I worried about getting the tone wrong and knocking the appeal itself rather than the record. Hence I asked the dotmusic editors to scrutinise this carefully. What they eventually put up may well have differed from this original text, but all I have here are my original notes so...]
What has in the minds of some observers soured the tone of the single is the message that is behind it. Uniquely, with the permission of Dylan himself the second verse of the song has been completely rewritten and now refers to the tragedy and carries with it a plea for all guns to be destroyed. This has been the year-long message of the Dunblane Snowdrop campaign, led by the parents of the murdered children which argues that the only way to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again is to ban the private ownership of all handguns, such as those which Hamilton used to carry out his atrocity. For the first time ever a charity pop record is thus inexorably linked to a political campaign and at that one which for all its worthiness has yet to carry the full weight of public opinion. As a direct result of this, although the single has sold copiously to a great many people, there are equally those who have felt unable to justify a purchase and thus imply their support for the cause and it is a sad but true fact that the impact of the single and its potential sale has almost certainly suffered because of this.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the track, few would argue that it is a worthy contender to be Christmas Number One next week. The Dunblane single has not featured in the annual betting race at all, bookmakers declining to try to profit out of such a tragedy - as a result all bets will be honoured for the disc at Number 2, should this single be ruling the roost on Christmas Day. Its main challenge will come from the Spice Girls. Their new ballad 2 Become 1 should have been released last week but was delayed (in common with many others) to give the Dunblane record a shot at the top. As it turns out this could also have been quite a shrewd move, as the way is now clear for them to have their third chart-topper of the year and also become the first ever Christmas Number One to enter the chart at the top in Christmas week itself.
2 UN-BREAK MY HEART (Toni Braxton)
3 ONE AND ONE (Robert Miles and Maria Nayler)
Seemingly fated to be locked together the oldest singles in the Top 10 are both still climbing this week to reach new peaks. Robert Miles' song is now on its sixth week on the chart and ascends to within one place of the peak of Children back in February. Meanwhile Toni Braxton's single continues to be all things to all men, both ballad and dance versions getting exposure and helping to prolong the life of the track, eight weeks on from its release it climbs yet again to match the peak of Breathe Again as the biggest hit single of her career.
5 HORNY (Mark Morrison)
Just three acts have had four Top 10 hits this year and all of them are in the Top 40 this week. The Manic Street Preachers are one and the other two both get consecutive new entries. Mark Morrison may have been doing his best to disgrace himself in the press of late but he has still made some of the most memorable singles of the year, not least of which the springtime Number One Return Of The Mack whose six week climb was the slowest ascent to the top of the year. His final offering of 1996 swims against the current chart tide. Not for him a scaled down slushy ballad, instead as the title suggests this is a full-on swingbeat celebration of love, lust and libido. Hardly the sort of record the granny browsing in HMV would pick out for the grandchildren but as the Top 10 threatens to be drowned in a sea of romance, novelty and nausea this is probably the greatest breath of fresh air this week.
6 ALL BY MYSELF (Celine Dion)
In line with Mark Morrison and the Manic Street Preachers, Celine Dion stakes her claim as one of the most successful chart acts of 1996 with her fourth Top 10 hit. For this release just in time for Christmas she once again attacks a classic ballad, although unlike It's All Coming Back To Me Now it is one that is likely to be familiar with a great many people. Eric Carmen's ultimate tale of loneliness and longing ranks alongside Without You as one of the greatest broken heart songs ever recorded. Released in April 1976 it reached Number 12 and has remained a radio favourite ever since. Celine's new version wisely does little to alter the spirit of the original and plays it straight down the wire. Hard to fault, it is one of those songs that short of putting to a jungle rhythm it would be very hard to spoil. My only query would be exactly why this track is a choice for a single, classic covers are the kind of thing that regularly feature on her albums but as she has proved in the past with songs such as Because You Loved Me and Think Twice her original material is strong enough to stand up as classic in its own right and surely it should be this on which single releases concentrate.
8 YOUR CHRISTMAS WISH (Smurfs)
With just one week to go before the Christmas chart, this is most astonishingly the only Christmas-related record in the Top 40. With the apparant trend this year being a backlash against the usual parade of naff Christmas classics it is maybe slightly galling for the seasonal flag to be flown by a childrens novelty. The second hit for the little blue men this year, but unlike I've Got A Little Puppy this is no tongue in cheek remake of a trendy hit - instead it is a simple ditty about the joys of Christmas - pitched at the kind of level a four year old would probably appreciate. You may well wonder just what business a single of this kind has in the British Top 10 - but then again this is Christmas and all sorts of oddities are possible and given that recent years have seen seasonal hits from the WWF Superstars, the Power Rangers and Mr Blobby the presence of the Smurfs can hardly be too much of a surprise.
9 SALVA MEA (SAVE ME) (Faithless)
It is with this single that Faithless become a phenomenon. Although dance acts such as the Prodigy and The Orb have become personalities in their own right with public appearances and tours, Faithless are probably the first producer/DJ supergroup. Made up of mixers Rollo and Sister Bliss, Faithless have been picking up an ever growing profile over the last few months and must now be considered genuine stars. The breakthrough came back in October with the re-release of Insomnia. Previously a minor entry around this time last year, the hypnotically spoken track shot to Number 3 and despite having been officially deleted over a month ago is still managing to sell and this week slips to Number 38. Salva Mea was originally their first single, released in August 1995 it reached Number 30 but now becomes their second reissued smash on the trot and gives the group a second successive Top 10 hit. More look increasingly likely - the smart money being on a springtime re-release of their third single - Don't Leave which made Number 34 in March this year.
12 HILLBILLY ROCK HILLBILLY ROLL (Woolpackers)
The seasonal surge in record sales is well underway and is beginning to take its toll on the usual chart form. Off all the records in the Top 40 this week, the linedancing anthem from the TV stars of Emmerdale is far and away the most likely to be picked up by the casual browser doing their Christmas shopping. As a result the sales of the track experience a surge and its steady decline of the past few weeks is reversed with this three place climb.
13 SAY YOU'LL BE THERE (Spice Girls)
The Spice Girls just go from strength to strength. The album Spice is currently lodged at Number One and looks set to stay there for the whole of the holiday whilst their new single 2 Become 1 is set for release this week and is odds-on favourite to become Christmas Number One next week (the odds are now so short it is hardly worth a bet). On top of all this their second single refuses to die and this week becomes the second hit on the yo-yo, climbing back five places to make it almost certain that they will have two Top 20 hits next week.
14 OFFSHORE (Chicane)
As the clubs fill up with seasonal partygoers it is an ideal opportunity for a club hit to cross over to a large audience. Such is the case with this track, produced by group of producers who are friends from college days [that's a slight corruption of the fact that Nick 'Chicane' Bracegirdle's records were released by Xtravaganza Records which had been set up by Alex Gold, who was indeed a college contemporary of his]. Offshore was one of the big Ibiza anthems of the summer and now finally the rather brilliant dance instrumental gets a full commercial release to land inside the Top 20 just in time to become a Christmas hit.
17 STEP BY STEP (Whitney Houston)
Incredible fact: it is now six years since Whitney Houston made a record that wasn't connected with a film soundtrack. The runaway success of her most recent projects does suggest that she is rapidly becoming the Queen of the soundtracks. Face it, it is an obvious formula. Cast Whitney Houston in a film, get her to contribute to the soundtrack and you are almost certainly guaranteed a hit single and increased exposure for the film. It worked for the Bodyguard (and how!) and to a lesser extent for "Waiting To Exhale" earlier this year. Whitney's latest film is "The Preacher's Wife" from the soundtrack of which this single is lifted. Fortunately it has the added advantage of being one of the best singles she has released in years. The track is written by Annie Lennox (who also conributes backing vocals) and starts off in full-blown power ballad mode for all of ten seconds before turning into the kind of rampant dancefloor stormer you thought she had forgotten to make. Tangled up in the Christmas rush the single makes only a moderate debut (indeed it is the lowest entry for a totally new Whitney single since the start of her career - Saving All My Love For You entered at Number 23 in November 1985) but you can expect this one to grow steadily over the holiday period. Christnas may be just one week away but it is always worth bearing in mind that at least one of the singles on the chart sneaks in for a quick spell at the top once the Christmas chart-topper is on the slide in the new year - this single could well be a good bet for that honour.
20 LOVING EVERY MINUTE (Lighthouse Family)
To round off their successful year the Lighthouse Family notch up their fourth hit and maintain a 100% strike rate of Top 20 hits.Ahead of them now is the challenge of maintaining their success and following up on the impact of their debut album. As makers of some of the most memorable singles of the year it will be a great shame if they fail to do so.
23 CHAMPAGNE (Salt N Pepa)
Respect is due to the ladies. Who would have guessed when they burst onto the scene in 1988 with the Number 2 hit Push It that they would still be having hit singles eight and a half years later? Perfect for Christmas parties, the catchy Champagne becomes their first hit single since None Of Your Business reached Number 19 in November 1994. Since their debut they have had five Top 10 hits, the last of these being Whatta Man in conjunction with En Vogue which made Number 7 in March 1994.
27 I'D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING (No Way Sis)
In this day and age a sign that you have genuinely arrived is to have a tribute act touring with your songs. By all accounts of Australian origin, the concept is now so widespread that concert halls all over the country are filled with soundalike lookalikes of just about any act you care to name. Oasis are no exception and this year has seen the rapid rise of officially approved soundalikes No Way Sis whose audience has been growing steadily over the course of the last twelve months. Mike Flowers Pops aside, Noel Gallagher is notoriously precious over 'tributes' to his music, earlier in the year the Smurfs were prevented from re-recording Oasis songs and just this last week a jungle version of Champagne Supernova by the Urban Cookie Collective had its release blocked by the band's lawyers [it was promoed to radio stations and is out there if you want to search for it]. No such problems for No Way Sis who make their chart debut with a tribute to one of their mentors' most astounding pieces of unoriginality. August 1994 saw the release of Shakermaker, Oasis' first Top 20 hit and one which attracted considerable comment, mainly centred around the fact that what little tune the song had was largely borrowed from the New Seekers' 1971 Number One hit and Coke jingle I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing. Events now come full circle with this single, the original song performed to the arrangement of Shakermaker to truly bizarre effect. It has echoes of the Abba tribute band Bjorn Again who had a hit in 1992 with Erasure-Ish, two Erasure songs recorded to Abba arrangements and followed it up that same Christmas with a rendition of Little Drummer Boy, set to the arrangement of Fernando.
32 IN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS (Tina Turner featuring Barry White)
One of the years most consistent hitmakers, Tina Turner rounds off her year with a fifth chart entry. None of her single releases from the Wildest Dreams album have become major smashes but a tally of four Top 30 and two Top 20 hits is respectable enough for anyone. Her Christmas offering is the title track, a breathy duet with the Walrus of Love himself, Tina and Barry purring seductively at each other at the beginning in a shameless attempt to be bought by romantically inclined couples. It is Barry White's first chart appearance since 1995 when he had two Top 40 singles, the biggest being Practice What You Preach which reached Number 20. Arguably one of the greatest male soul voices of all time, big Barry has never been the collaborating type. His only previously credited duet was back in 1990 when he appeared with Al B Sure, James Ingram and El Debarge on Quincy Jones' all-star Secret Garden although a remarkable duet with Lisa Stansfield on her 1989 Number One All Around The World made an appearance as one of her b-sides in 1992.
33 ONLY HUMAN (Dina Carroll)
The second single and the title track from Dina Carroll's current album. A beautiful song, nicely done but it has clearly become swamped by the pre-Christmas rush and is certain to become her smallest chart hit since her guest appearance on Quartz's Naked Love which made Number 39 in June 1991.
34 IN THE ONES YOU LOVE (Diana Ross)
The concept of a Diana Ross ballad released for Christmas dates back to 1991 when with the release of When You Tell Me That You Love Me she scored her biggest single success for five years and breathed new life into a British hitmaking career. Ever since then it has been a fairly safe bet that the seasonal period will see the legendary lady release a slushy ballad in the hope of repeating the feat. Such cynical and unimaginitive marketing has recently failed to reap the desired rewards, last year's I'm Gone only reaching Number 36 and this year's offering managing to land just a couple of places higher. Still, nobody performs a love ballad quite like Miss Ross and the single is good enough to rank alongside many of her past classics, besides few would argue that anything is an improvement on her massacre of I Will Survive which made Number 14 back in February.
35 MOVE ANY MOUNTAIN '96 (Shamen)
The Shamen are so much a part of mid-1990s club culture that it is easy to forget their rather humble roots. Colin Angus founded the band in the mid-1980s out of the ashes of forgotten indie band Alone Again Or and they mutated over the years from a manic set of Psychedelic Rockers into the focused set of dance hitmakers that they are today, along the way influencing bands such as Jesus Jones. Their first chart entry was in 1990 with a track called Pro-Gen, the band at the time consisting largely of Angus and Will Sinnott. Well received in the clubs, the disc reached Number 55. A year later they had breached the Top 40 for the first time with Hyperreal and so their first chart single was lined up for a re-release to boost their name further. The track was duly remixed for the purpose with a new contribution from rapper Mr C and the band were flown to the Canary Islands to shoot the video. After filming had finished Sinnott went for a swim - one from which he would never return. The resultant publicity and emotion generated by this sad news propelled the single to its expected heights, reaching Number 4 in August 1991 and set the band off on a run of hits that was to include the Number One Ebeneezer Goode. Lately their sound appears to have fallen off the rails somewhat, their last Top 40 hit being February's Heal (The Separation) so the time has clearly come for a retrospective. By no means the first remix of a classic dance hit to chart over the last few weeks, there are still more planned for the new year but what is certain is this will be the last chart hit to have the suffix "96" in its title.
36 IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU (SWV)
SWV clearly believe in taking things steadily. Since their smash hit breakthrough with Right Here in the summer of 1993 they have notched up a solitary four hit singles. Their last chart appearance was back in May with You're The One and now just in time for Christmas they return with this single release. If the delayed appearance of this track was a deliberate tactic then it has clearly backfired as this lowly chart entry pales into insignificance compared to the Number 13 peak of its predecessor and the hit is almost certain to be lost in the pre-Christmas scramble. In a way it is a shame, the song takes a nod towards the Staple Singers and proves that whilst New Jill Swing may be yesterday's news, its main protagonists still have some life in them.