This week's Official UK Singles Chart

1 UNCHAINED MELODY (Gareth Gates)

As was mentioned a couple of weeks ago when the Rik Waller single charted, the TV show Pop Idol didn't so much create one star as a whole bunch of potential Pop Idols. Right from the very start 17 year old Bradford lad Gareth Gates stood out. One of the most memorable moments of the early episodes was when he was wheeled out in front of the judges only for us to discover he suffered from such a chronic stammer he was unable even to say his name. Then he opened his mouth to sing and regaled them with a heartbreakingly perfect rendition of Flying Without Wings. From that moment on he was always going to be in it until the end and true to form the grand final was a battle of the voices between him and Will Young. Will may have aced the final vote but it was inevitable that Gareth would be given the same opportunities. After Will had sold 1.1 million copies of his single in the first week, retailers last week made sure 1.3 million copies of Gareth's track were on the shelves and rubbed their hands at the prospect of another record breaking week. For whatever reason Gareth didn't quite manage as well, selling "only" 850,000 copies (the second highest first week sale ever naturally) but it was enough to give him the Number One position, knocking his TV rival off his perch in the process. As for the song he is singing, well that has a story all of its own.

The film Unchained came out in 1955 and in truth is a painfully average b-movie about life on a prison farm. The only notable thing about it really is the theme music, a rather sweet melody written by Alex North and Hy Zarek and which actually doesn't even have a proper title (it is literally the melody from "Unchained"). The singer of the original movie theme was American Todd Duncan but as was usual in the mid 1950s, the song was recorded by a wide variety of artists. Indeed during the course of the year 1955 no less than four different versions made the UK chart, Al Hibbler's US hit version eventually having to take second place to British crooner (and nowadays radio presenter) Jimmy Young who became the first person ever to have a Number One hit with the song. A full 35 years later Britain's love affair with the song began all over again. Following its use in the movie Ghost, the Righteous Brothers' 1965 recording of the track was re-released and shot to the top of the charts. Five years later the song became part of a storyline in the TV series Soldier Soldier which prompted a certain Simon Cowell to sign up the two actors involved - Robson Green and Jerome Flynn - and persuade them to release the song themselves. They duly did, using the exact same arrangement as the Righteous Brothers version and to the amazement of many not only topped the charts but also wound up with one of the ten biggest selling singles of all time in this country.

During the course of the finals of the Pop Idol TV series, the contestants one week had to perform a Number One song of their choice. Gareth chose to perform Unchained Melody, a performance which prompted one of the judges (a certain Simon Cowell again) to comment that he could have a chart-topper of his own with that rendition. Freed from the constraints of having to release Evergreen as the winner (although his versions of the two Will Young songs are on the CD single), Unchained Melody was the obvious choice for the former choirboy to make his recording debut. Of course Simon Cowell was right in his original assessment and as a result Unchained Melody becomes the only song ever to be Number One in four different versions. Not only that, it is the only song ever to become a hit single in nine different versions, thus edging ahead of White Christmas which has charted for eight different acts.

Of course we must not forget that Gareth Gates has become a record breaker of his own. At just 17 he is now the youngest British male ever to have a Number One single, beating by a matter of months the record set by Craig David back in April 2000. Once more the cynics will (perhaps rightly) question just what kind of career Gareth Gates has ahead of him but in years to come we will look back on the charts of this week, remember fondly the way the top two were filled by stars from the original Pop Idol TV show and marvel at what was genuinely a chart phenomenon.


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2 ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE/EVERGREEN (Will Young)

Honourable mention must of course go to Will Young who may have slipped down a place but still maintains a healthy sale of his own. The fact that versions of Anything Is Possible and Evergreen also appear on Gareth Gates' single makes for a very unusual chart coincidence with the same song appearing on the records at both No.1 and No.2. The only other time this happened was at Christmas 1967 when The Beatles were at the top with Hello Goodbye, a song that also featured on their Magical Mystery Tour EP which just happened to be one place behind.

Figures produced during the week have called to attention the curious regional split that has been going on with record sales of the two Pop Idols. The bulk of Will's sales were in the south of the country whilst in the last week demand for Gareth's single has been enormous in the north, particularly in his home county of West Yorkshire. Moreover the mere presence of the Gareth Gates single in the shops prompted some tabloid muttering about how Will's 'prize' in the TV show appears to have been nothing more than a three week head start on releasing a record and how Gareth has been the recipient of more promotion than Will ever had. Of course such cries of favouritism are irrelevant even if they may well be slightly true. Let's not kid ourselves here. The phone vote part of the show was a device to stimulate public interest in the contest. At the end of the day the svelgalis behind the show will turn whoever they want into a star. Despite the phone vote, Gareth is actually the more typical pop idol, particularly where the teenage girl vote is concerned. Both will quite possibly have good careers, one may well be more successful than the other. Fate will decide that, not a telephone poll.
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5 TAINTED LOVE (Marilyn Manson)

Well what are the odds of this? The two biggest hits of the week are both cover versions of already famous songs. The soundtrack to the forthcoming film Not Another Teen Movie features an array of alternative stars performing their own versions of 80s pop classics. First out of the blocks is none other than the God of F**k himself with his jaw-dropping rendition of Tainted Love. The song began life as a 1960s floor filling stomper as recorded by both Edd Cobb and perhaps more famously Gloria Jones, and it was these old recordings that became a part of the 1970s Northern Soul scene, Big fans of Gloria Jones' version were Marc Almond and Dave Ball aka Soft Cell and it was of course their own version which made the song famous, topping the charts in 1981 and becoming an American hit the following year. Indeed Almond re-recorded the vocal track on the song for a 1991 "remix" and that too became a smash hit, hitting Number 5. Coming up to date and Marilyn Manson's version is a revelation all of its own. A song that was once Motown, then electronic disco is now a dark, brooding alternative rock track and yet one which stays faithful to the original even if Manson's cry of "don't touch me, please" is less the cry of a broken hearted lover and more something from a masochists handbook. Needless to say it is Marilyn Manson's biggest hit single ever, taking him and his group into the Top 10 for the first time. Prior to this the best they had managed was Number 12 with both The Dope Show in 1998 and Disposable Teens in 2000.


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6 FLY BY II (Blue)

After two straight Number One singles in a row, Blue come back down to earth slightly for their fourth release, a re-recording of a track from their debut album All Rise. Having dabbled with US R&B and big ballads for their chart-toppers they return now to the subtly catchy pop sound of their debut All Rise. Indeed Fly By II might as well be All Rise Part II for all the difference it has in melody and had they released it as the followup they might have been forever branded as one trick ponies. Of course thanks to Too Close and If You Come Back we know that this is not the case and instead Fly By II serves as a refreshing reminder of just why they became famous in the first place. Sample spotters may well have noticed that this new version of the track features elements of Herb Alpert's Rise. Their first single to miss the Top 5 it may be but in a week of major new releases by major stars they have proved that in terms of popularity they are right up there with them.
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7 FREEEK (George Michael)

Ooh now this is an interesting one. The last time we saw George Michael was three years ago at a time when he had played a blinder regarding the incident in the public toilets and proved that even when you have no choice, the ability to laugh at yourself is one to treasure. On the back of that he had also released a Greatest Hits album and scored some massive hit singles in the shape of Outside, As and If I Told You That. Basically as the original teen pop star turned mature artist, he was still the man. Now he is back with his first album for six years and is about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his first releases with Wham! Let's face it, it wouldn't be George Michael unless he tried to make an impact and Freeek does its best to shock with its censor-worrying video and raunchy, semi-explicit lyrics. Musically it is best described as I Want Your Sex crossed with Monkey and maybe a pinch of TooFunky. This is of course the problem as it is essentially the same record he has been making for the past ten years. As Michael Jackson has already found to his cost, the 21st century audience isn't content to welcome back superstars with the same act that made them famous years ago. They want something interesting and different. Much was made of the fact that George Michael stood little chance of topping the charts with his comeback single owing to the presence of Gareth Gates in the shops, but as it turns out even without him he never really stood a chance. Number 7 may not be a bad chart placing but for a single that was almost universally expected to go Top 3 it is something of a surprisingly poor performance. Freeek is actually a very good and in truth quite exciting single but I can't be the only one hoping that his next one is much, much better.


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8 INSTATIABLE (Darren Hayes)

Who is this chap who has come from nowhere into the Top 10? Well one listen to the track should give the game away. Darren Hayes is the former lead singer of Savage Garden, the Aussie duo managed to tap into a global market in the late 1990s with their own brand of sugar coated pop rock and balladry. As a solo artist, very little has changed and on his debut single Hayes croons excitedly over a layer of guitars and synths. There is very little to dislike about the record, but still less to care about.
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14 HOME AND DRY (Pet Shop Boys)

Chalk this up as a week for the veterans as it is now 20 years since Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe ran into each other in a hi-fi shop on the Kings Road and 16 years since their debut single West End Girls topped the charts. A part of me loves the fact that Tennant will be 48 years old this year and yet he still loves pop music. Although their last album Nightlife wasn't exactly perceived as one of their best, it still produced a handful of hit singles, the biggest being You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk which crept to Number 8 during the post-Christmas sales lull in January 2000. A true reflection of their current popularity was the 15 and 14 peaks of I Don't Know What You Want... and New York City Boy respectively and it is in this comfortable mid-table zone that Home And Dry (their 34th hit single in all) lands comfortably. Johnny Marr guitars have crept into the production once more but this is still typical Pet Shop Boys. Nothing that will give them a big chart hit of course but the old magic is still glimmering under the surface and half the fun with the pair is waiting to see if they will pull an ace out of their sleeves and charge into the Top 3 once more. It could still happen and even if it doesn't, an act whose latest album is called Pet Shop Boys' Release don't take themselves seriously enough for it to matter too much.


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18 A WOMAN'S WORTH (Alicia Keys)

A headline-maker a few weeks ago when a North London MP (my MP as it happens) invited her to the House Of Commons to perform, Alicia Keys returns to the charts with her second solo hit single. Fallin' was of course the first, the gorgeous ballad that made Number 3 in November last year. Since then she has made a guest appearance at the lower end of the Top 40, appearing on Angie Stone's Brotha just a few short weeks ago. A Woman's Worth possibly doesn't quite have the same bluesey magic that made her first single such a smash but if the aim was to make her famous enough to make her album find its way into some trendy CD collections then it has worked perfectly and she doesn't need massive hit singles to help it to keep selling.
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23 POOR MISGUIDED FOOL (Starsailor)

After the somewhat shocking failure of Lullaby to climb higher than Number 36 just prior to Christmas, Starsailor are back in mid-table once more for their fifth single release. It comes as they return from a US tour during the course of which they performed on the David Letterman show. Back home they aren't doing too badly, the album has gone platinum but somehow you get the feeling that they aren't quite as mainstream as their supporters would like.
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39 MINDCIRCUS (Way Out West featuring Tricia Lee)

Presenting the proud return to the Top 40 of Way Out West. The duo are perhaps better known for their remixing than the production of their own singles but since the mid-90s they have produced some inspired and quite beautiful club hits. This is actually their first Top 40 entry for quite a long time, the direct followup to Intensify which made Number 46 in August last year. Prior to that they reached Number 61 in December 2000 with The Fall but to find their last Top 40 hit you have to look back to November 1997 when a re-release of their 1994 debut Ajare made Number 36. Their only Top 20 single to date was the now semi-classic The Gift which sampled a Joanna Law rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and which made Number 15 in September 1996.


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