1 SPACEMAN (Babylon Zoo)
This is a record with a number of tales behind it. Equally so this is a record which is certain to annoy a number of people. The first tale is of a TV advert. The public's first exposure to the track first came a number of months ago when it formed the soundtrack to the latest Levi's Jeans advert, by far the most bizarre yet with a bizarre psychedelic storyline accompanied by a thumping techno track. It looked and sounded great. As has been well documented before, Jeans adverts have a knack of turning their soundtracks into hit singles, starting way back in 1986 with Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine and coming right up to date with Shaggy's Boombastic. To date the series has meant Number One singles for five different acts and at a stroke Babylon Zoo have become the sixth, soaring past a surprisingly ailing George Michael to top the charts by a mile.
The second tale is that of Babylon Zoo themselves. Frontsperson and chief spokesman is Jaz Mann, arguably one of the scariest looking pop stars of the decade. The act have been regarded within the industry as the proverbial 'next big thing' for a number of years and have been gradually nurtured for stardom by A&R man Clive Black who has taken them with him to a number of different record labels. Now it looks as if 1996 could well be their year. No less than the seventh straight single to enter the charts at Number One, this one looks as if it could be there for a number of weeks. Finally, why should it annoy people? The answer is owing to the way it has been marketed. The aforementioned Levi's advert did indeed feature the track - but only the first 30 seconds which do indeed feature a manic, thumping techno track. Following that the single stops dead and turns into a more conventional industrial rock track which bears no relation to the style of the advert. I overheard quite a number of annoyed wailings when the track was first heard in full but that does not detract from the brilliance of this record. A quite deserved Number One.
2 JESUS TO A CHILD (George Michael)
Back on planet earth the comeback of George Michael comes to a grinding halt as he is dumped from the Number One position after just a solitary week. This should possibly not come as too much of a surprise, fabulous though the single is it is far from being a conventional commercial pop record. Still, it has done enough to prove a point, George is back and regardless of how well future singles perform you can be certain that the album will be a massive seller upon release.
3 WHOLE LOTTA LOVE (Goldbug)
At the start of January you may remember I speculated on three likely chart-toppers for the new year. One was a resurgent superstar (Michael), one was a jeans advert (Babylon Zoo) and the third was the most extraordinary Led Zeppelin cover ever. So here it is. The fact that the track is on the legendary Acid Jazz label may give you some idea of the direction it is coming from but even that cannot prepare you for the first time you hear the record. What the track does is reproduce faithfully the driving guitar riff of the original. It replaces Robert Plant's voice with a female vocal close in pitch to the original. It then throws in the Pearl and Dean theme music. Advertising agency Pearl and Dean may not be the force they were in the 60s and 70s but their distinctive fanfare is forever synonymous with the experience of cinema going. Nobody would ever have thought of combining it with Led Zeppelin - yet this lot have. Led Zep themselves never released singles in this country so the original version from Led Zeppelin had to be content with a Top Ten placing in America in early 1970. Over here the gap was filled by Alexis Korner and CCS whose largely instrumental version made Number 13 here at the end of that year. That recording was further immortalised by being used throughout the decade as the theme music to the BBCs Top Of The Pops show. Other cover versions of Led Zeppelin tracks have appeared over the years, most notably Far Corporation's 1985 Top Ten version of Stairway To Heaven. Curiously enough the last version of a Led Zeppelin song to chart came comparatively recently - Page and Plant's own UnLedd-ed version of Gallows Pole made Number 35 at the end of 1994. The pair are not yet on record with their reaction to this latest reactivation of one of their most famous recordings. No doubt there are a number of people waiting to hear.
4 ANYTHING (3T)
Offspring bands have been tried many times in the past but few have been very successful. The most recent example of this was in the early 1990s when the Osmond Boys attempted to recreate the success of their fathers in the 1970s yet never managed to break into the Top 50. Full credit then to 3T, all of them sons of Tito Jackson and thus nephews of the man who is a place below them on the chart this week. It would be wrong to lean on this factor too heavily as Anything is a perfectly creditable soul record but for it to crash straight into the Top 5 surely has a great deal to do with the origins of the boys. One can only speculate as to whether this is a one-off or the start of a regular chart career.
9 WONDERWALL (Oasis)
The reluctance of many hits to stop selling continues apace. In the same week that Wonderwall explodes onto the American charts, the single drops to the edge of the UK Top 10 in its 12th week of chart life. The significance of this is that this week should have seen the first chart entry of Don't Look Back In Anger which had been scheduled for release in this week for many months. That release has now been delayed as the band's biggest selling hit ever shows little sign of burning out for a few weeks at least.
11 GANGSTA'S PARADISE (Coolio featuring LV)
This has stopped being spooky and is now getting scary... You would have thought that the release of Too Hot would finally sound a death-knell for Coolio's long-running former chart-topper... but no. Having entered the chart at Number 9 last week, Too Hot this week tumbles to Number 19 and instead its predecessor takes yet another leap up the chart to land at this position. The reason for this is possibly the anticipated release of Dangerous Minds and the prominent use of the track in trailers for the film both in cinemas and on television. For followup singles to fail to outlast their predecessors is, as you might expect, pretty uncommon. Normally it happens with long-running megahits such as Bryan Adams' Everything I Do which was still languishing at Number One in September 1991 whilst Can't Stop This Thing We Started charted, peaked and fell out altogether before its run at the top ended.
12 CHANGE YOUR MIND (Upside Down)
Change Your Mind, the first single from the latest all-boy band to be manufactured and marketed by Ian Levine et al was released a couple of weeks ago. Last week it disappointed somewhat, hitting Number 35 and in such a manner that suggested its chart stay would be a fairly short one. The power of television, however, should never ever be underestimated. During the week the group were the subject of a BBC Inside Story documentary which detailed the rise of the band, from the initial auditions right through to recording and preparations for stardom. As an insight into record company cynicism it made fascinating viewing but that is probably missing the point somewhat. In a similar manner to the way Sheena Easton's career was launched by a similar documentary in 1980, the TV show proves to be the boost the band needed and the single rockets up the charts to become the biggest leap for many months and suggests that however manufactured they may be, there could well be life in them yet. Let us not forget Take That started out in the same manner.
13 LOOPS OF FURY EP (Chemical Brothers)
The Exit Planet Dust album was on most critics' list for one of the albums of the year. It marked the transition of the Chemical Brothers from semi-obscurity to one of the most mainstream hardcore dance acts around. This EP is one of their first single releases for a number of months and instantly becomes their biggest hit to date, beating the Number 17 peak of Leave Home in June 1995. Critically feted though they are I have to make the reluctant confession that to me the single sounds just like a nasty collection of bleeping noises and I cannot honestly see what all the fuss is about [oh mate].
14 GETTING BETTER (Shed Seven)
Never has there been a more appropriate title for a Top 20 hit single. Shed Seven have been charting hit singles over the last couple of years with gradually increasing success. Their first hit came in 1994 with Dolphin which was closely followed by Speakeasy - both were Top 30 hits. Last year they had their biggest hit single to date with Where Have You Been Tonight which reached Number 23. Now they breach the Top 20 for the first time with what is easily their most commercial hit to date. 1996 looks even better for them.
15 WORLD OF GOOD (Saw Doctors)
Irish folksters The Saw Doctors have never really desired commercial success. Their track record in their native Ireland has been respectable enough but over here their hit singles have been few and far between. In fact this is only their second hit single ever, the first being the delightful Small Bit Of Love which reached Number 24 in November 1994. Few and far between their commercial singles may be but they are no less welcome for that. World Of Good is less folky and more mainstream than many of their previous releases - it sounds great.
20 WEAK (Skunk Anansie)
It seems to be a week for acts to have their biggest hits to date... Skunk Anansie are yet another one, crashing past the Number 40 peak of Charity back in September with their most commercial and accessible single of their career and an instant Top 20 hit.
21 BEAUTIFUL LIFE (Ace Of Base)
The transformation of Ace Of Base from dub-reggae to Europop continues apace. Lucky Love was the first of their new releases last November and it peaked at Number 20. Now comes the second single from their current album and yet again it is a pleasant enough piece of bouncy pop that quite justifies its placing just outside the Top 20. My qualm is that this record says to me 'summertime' all over and on a bitterly cold January day feels somewhat out of place. Still, it is not to be sniffed at, their seventh Top 30 hit since 1993.
23 NOT A DRY EYE IN THE HOUSE (Meat Loaf)
Welcome To The Neighbourhood was never going to be a spectacular success like the two Bat Out Of Hell albums so a lot was going to depend on the success of the singles. I'd Lie For You... was big enough, making Number 2 on release last October. The problem was Christmas and Virgin records quite sensibly avoided throwing a follow up single into the melee, choosing to wait until now to release the second single. That may still have been a mistake as by now the momentum of a new Meat Loaf release has passed by and as a result this new single struggles to perform. Not that there is anything wrong with it, another Diane Warren ballad, leaning on the theatrical nature of most of his songs to create yet another classic stadium epic. It is still only a Number 23 hit though, and this could be as far as it gets.
31 WHO CAN I RUN TO (Xscape)
The second hit single for Xscape, following on from Feels So Good which reached Number 34 in July last years. It is a shame both singles have underperformed so much as both are rather lovely soulful tracks that deserve much much better.
32 INSIDE OUT (Culture Beat)
Two and a half years on from Mr Vain and Culture Beat are still racking up hit singles. One crucial factor that is missing, however, is that of producer mastermind Torsten Fenslau who was killed at the end of 1993 in the middle of Culture Beat's first run of hits. This first brand new single since his death is inevitably going to be tinged with this loss, not least because Culture Beat were never your average Europop act but one of the first European Garage [was that even a thing?] acts, combining a more poetic muse with the world of the dancefloor. Devoid of their creator's inspiration Inside Out sounds pretty much like any other European dance record and this may struggle to breach the Top 30.