1 EVERYBODY'S FREE (TO WEAR SUNSCREEN) (Baz Luhrmann)
Is there really anyone who doesn't know the story behind this single yet? The newspaper column that became an internet chain-mail that became a novelty album track that became a worldwide phenomenon now becomes a massive Number One single in the UK. Endless radio hype and news reports about the single weeks before its release have helped to propel the track to the top of the charts with a sale of well over 200,000 copies. Radio stations that would normally shy away from playing a single that clocks in at over seven and a half minutes have quite happily played the full-length version despite the existence of a radio edit that removes the musical interludes and just leaves the central sermon intact (this version, in fact, being the one that appears on the CD single to the annoyance of many). Owing to the unusual nature of the record - far removed from anything approaching "pop" music it is a single that will have chart addicts discussing its significance for many weeks to come.
For a start, it is only the third spoken word single to top the British charts. The other two came within two years of each other back in the 1970s - Telly Savalas hitting the top with If in 1974 whilst JJ Barrie took No Charge to Number One in 1976 - exactly 23 years ago last week. To be pedantic Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) in its full version does actually feature singing, namely the occasional musical refrain that is taken from Rozalla's 1991 Number 6 hit Everybody's Free (To Feel Good) and whose title the single clearly apes. Nonetheless, it is Lee Perry's narrative that is the central point of the track. Of course, this does raise the question of what constitutes a spoken word track - do rap singles count? It is also worth noting that Keith from the Prodigy doesn't sing a note of the lyrics to Firestarter.
The other point of significance is the artist to whom the single is credited. Although Australian actor Lee Perry is the main performer on the track the single is the man who thought of making the record in the first place - film director and producer of the track Baz Luhrmann. For a Number One record to be credited to the producer by name rather than the performer is certainly a first but once again it is worth pointing out that dance singles have been blurring this distinction for years. After all, Norman Cook didn't play a note on Praise You, yet it was Fatboy Slim aka Cook himself who received the artist's credit.
Let's be honest though, quibbling over statistics is to lose sight of the fact that the track is possibly the most emotionally charged single to hit the chart in many a long year. Even if the novelty wears off after a couple of plays, can anybody honestly say they weren't captivated, moved and in some way inspired the first time they heard the record? Opinions are divided as to whether the track will be just a short-lived novelty or one of the biggest selling singles of the year. Somehow I suspect the latter although the first rumblings of a backlash and the inevitable parody versions are only just around the corner.
[The official video (if there ever even was one) has long since vanished online. But this is one of those occasions when fan made lyric renditions are actually the best way to appreciate the track].
3 HEY BOY HEY GIRL (Chemical Brothers)
Silent since the Number 17 peak of Elektrobank in September 1997, the Chemical Brothers return to the chart hoping to recapture the form that saw them place both Setting Sun and Block Rockin' Beats at the top of the charts almost three years ago. Hey Boy Hey Girl rides nicely on top of the current wave of massive trance records but still features the barnstorming rhythm tracks that have come to characterise their own particular sound. Perhaps more commercial than much of their past material but a hit was almost assured although I surely can't be the only person to have wondered if this isn't the Knight Rider theme tune mixed with every record the KLF ever made.
6 FROM THE HEART (Another Level)
The new Hugh Grant film Notting Hill has had everyone searching for parallels. Written and directed by the same team that gave the world Four Weddings And A Funeral in 1994, starring the self-same Mr Grant and once more with an American star - Julia Roberts - as the object of his affections. It is as close to a sequel as a film that isn't a sequel can get. So too people are searching for parallels in the soundtrack. Four Weddings... you may remember spawned the monster that was Love Is All Around, Wet Wet Wet's cover of the old Troggs song that topped the chart for a staggering 15 weeks and is still one of the biggest hits of the decade. So will any of the singles from the Notting Hill soundtrack repeat the feat? First out of the starting blocks is this single from Another Level, hot on the heels of the re-release of Be Alone No More and their first brand new material since their debut album. There is no doubting that From The Heart is lushly produced, sweetly sung soul ballad that almost certainly ranks as one of Another Level's best singles ever and easily gives the band their fifth Top 10 hit - but a potential million-selling Number One? I don't think so somehow. The soundtrack is set to produce a number of other hits over the coming weeks - Ronan Keating's When You Say Nothing At All is guaranteed to be big but I rather suspect Elvis Costello's rendition of Charles Aznavour's She could well be the dark horse of the lot.
15 SCAR TISSUE (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
[In which John Frusciante rejoins the group and inspires them to their most critically acclaimed run of albums and hit singles ever]. It isn't unfair to argue that the Red Hot Chili Peppers' finest moments have been their mellower ones and their ability to have hit singles has been helped enormously by their recent material which has seen them tone down the rather manic energy of their earlier work. Since they were last in the charts (their version of Love Rollercoaster which made Number 7 in June 1997) virtually everyone has become familiar with one of their most famous songs thanks to All Saints' Number One version of Under The Bridge. It is against this background that they release this new single from their long-awaited new album and in doing so find themselves in the Top 20 for only the fifth time in their career. The band are on familiar ground here, a melodic guitar line and a tender Anthony Kiedis vocal mean that Scar Tissue could almost be Under The Bridge Part II, something that has probably done its prospects no harm at all.
16 21ST CENTURY GIRLS (21st Century Girls)
Brace yourselves for this feisty foursome are the brand new creation of Simon Fuller, the pop svengali that gave the world the Spice Girls. Their debut single inspires images of Shampoo fronting a Transvision Vamp record, spiky guitars and an in yer face attitude as the barely post-pubescent girls unveil their plans for world domination. Bright and energetic it may be but you cannot help but feel that this has all been done before. Granted with Fuller at the helm they will be seen and interviewed in all the right places to guarantee them maximum exposure and you can bet your life they will go down a bomb in Japan (where their natural predecessors Shampoo rank as one of the biggest selling Western acts ever) but it could well be that this initial Top 20 entry will mark a glorious peak in the career of the 21st Century Girls. I wait to be proved wrong. [They were - inevitably - one hit wonders].
22 INSOMNIA (Feeder)
Feeder's second single of the year improves on the Number 31 peak of their last hit Day In Day Out which was released back in April and indeed now holds the honour of being their biggest hit ever, beating High which made Number 24 in October 1997. Although they don't exactly break any new ground on this single their melodic sound which evokes memories of virtually everything Bob Mould ever had a hand in is far from unpleasant even if greater commercial success appears to be beyond them for the moment.
26 NOTHING IS REAL BUT THE GIRL (Blondie)
Blondie's new album which produced the shock Number One hit Maria inspired most reviewers to dip into the "Music Writers Book Of Cliches" and dig out No.27: "It would have made a good EP." The second single illustrates their point exactly as although Nothing Is Real But The Girl is another fine rock song and sounds remarkably fresh for a band whose initial fame was 20 years ago it somehow lacks the sparkle and magic that made Maria such an international smash hit at the start of the year. Following up a Number One hit with one that enters the chart at Number 26 is a good illustration of line No.14 from the aforementioned book "You are only as big as your last hit single."
30 NEW (No Doubt)
The first chart hit from No Doubt in almost two years finds the band struggling to recapture the momentum they had after Don't Speak became a worldwide Number One at the start of 1997. In fairness New finds them doing exactly what they do best, energetic ska-rock that this time features a synthesizer figure that evokes memories of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The single has a film to promote as well, in this case taken from the soundtrack of the new film Go! Gwen Stefani remains one of the most striking and energetic performers in pop music today but it is clear that unless she is singing heartbreaking power ballads No Doubt will continue to struggle for another massive British hit - of all their past chart singles only Sunday Morning has charted lower, peaking at Number 50 in December 1997.
34 CRAZY HORSES (Osmonds)
The power of the TV ad strikes again with the re-release of this classic single following its heavy exposure on television. Although are quite rightly regarded these days as one of the biggest pop phenomena of the first half of the 1970s, Osmondmania took a while to catch on in this country. Indeed One Bad Apple (their first US Number One) never charted over here and their first British hit single Down By The Lazy River barely scraped into the chart by landing at Number 40 in March 1972. It fell to Donny Osmond to first take the British teen population by storm, landing a Number One with Puppy Love in July that year, following it up with the Top 5 hit Too Young a few months later. This was the spark the brothers needed and when the glam rock-inspired Crazy Horses was released in November it duly shot to Number 2. By Christmastime had been joined in the Top 10 by Donny's own solo hit Why whilst Little Jimmy Osmond was firmly entrenched at Number One with Long Haired Lover From Liverpool - a unique example of members of the same family occupying almost a third of the places in the Top 10. Crazy Horses has made one more appearance in the chart since then, a remixed version making Number 50 in September 1995, rest assured though that this particular chart hit is the original version.
37 I KNOW MY LOVE (Chieftains featuring The Corrs)
Well over a year ago, just before the world woke up to them, the Corrs agreed to appear with the Chieftans (best known over here for their work in the past with Van Morrison but legends elsewhere as their stack of Grammy awards testifies) on a track for their then forthcoming new album. Now with the Corr sisters some of the most famous faces in pop the track has been released as a single but if the hope was for some of the success of the girls to rub off onto the veteran Irish folksters then things clearly haven't quite gone to plan. The traditional Irish folk song is a long way removed from the material people are used to hearing from The Corrs and even the presence of none other than Youth on remixing duties for the track and saturation Radio Two airplay has not helped the single become any more than a minor chart entry. This shouldn't be taken as an indication that the bubble has burst for The Corrs, rather that releasing an 18 month old album track just because your guest vocalists have suddenly become superstars isn't a guarantee of a smash hit single. If nothing else it has lifted the Chieftains into the Top 40 for the first time ever, their only other chart appearance to date was with Van Morrison on his version of Have I Told You Lately That I Loved You - a Number 71 hit in March 1995.
40 DO YOU WANT ME? (Leilani)
The second hit single for Pop Princess (it says here) Leilani, the follow-up to Madness Thing which made Number 19 back in February and is released on the back of her recent support slot across Europe with Boyzone. Worth a listen if you want a fascinating example of a rather strange record trying its hardest to be a fabulous pop song and failing miserably.