1 THE MILLENNIUM PRAYER (Cliff Richard)
Week Number 3 at the top of the chart for Cliff as the date of destiny (aka the Christmas chart) edges ever closer. It is perhaps somewhat fitting that The Millennium Prayer should have managed to do what only two other singles have managed this year and top the chart for longer than a fortnight - Cliff joining Ricky Martin and Eiffel 65 in holding that particular honour. It should be noted that to end up topping the chart over the whole of the Christmas period Cliff will have to hold on for a fortnight more, thus bringing his total to five weeks. This would result in The Millennium Prayer becoming his most enduring Number One single for decades. The last time he topped the chart for more than four weeks at a time was back in January 1962 when The Young Ones clocked up six weeks at the summit. Time will tell. The lyrics of The Millennium Prayer are by and large taken from The Lords' Prayer but believe it or not the song isn't the first Number One single to be based on a biblical passage. That honour has to go to Boney M's Rivers Of Babylon from 1978 which I am told is based on the words of Psalm 137.
Back to the present day and whilst Cliff looks reasonably secure at the moment next week is when the big guns arrive, new singles from Westlife, The Cuban Boys and John Lennon are released, all of which are expected to be gunning for the very top slot. As for exactly when the Christmas Number One will be announced the debate continues. Next week's chart is being called "The Christmas Chart" even though it will be published at the very start of the last full sales week before Chrismas Day itself. Go figure.
3 KISS (WHEN THE SUN DON'T SHINE) (Vengaboys)
Unable to dislodge both Cliff and The Artful Dodger from their stranglehold at the top, the Vengaboys have to content themselves with a Number 3 hit for the biggest new single of the week and their fifth single in total. We are told that all is not well in Vengaland with a slight shift in personnel although if you consider the departure of Robin from the group to be in any way significant to their musical direction you are clearly thinking about these things far more deeply than I am [coincidence or not, this coincided with the Vengaboys suddenly producing a string of quite amazing pop records, of which this is the first]. Anyway, back to the song and the usual Vengaboys formula applies with more bouncy, bubbly bubblegum pop the order of the day. Hard to believe that this time last year the Vengaboys were floating around the Top 20 with their debut single, the largely instrumental Up And Down. 12 months later they have wound up one of the world's biggest selling acts of the year and have become one of four acts to have topped the charts more than once in this country during 1999. Be assured though that Kiss (When The Sun Don't Shine) is not considered to be in the running for Christmas Number One.
4 BARBER'S ADAGIO FOR STRINGS (William Orbit)
Just for a change, a dance track that does exactly what it says on the tin. William Orbit has to date only ever had one chart hit - Water From A Vine Leaf which reached Number 59 in June 1993. He is of course rather better known as a producer and mixer, most notably as the creator of Madonna's Ray Of Light album and also the man at the controls for Blur's 13. Just in time for Christmas he steps out of the shadows with a rather gorgeous ambient treatment of... well Barber's Adagio For Strings. First performed in 1938, the piece of music can rank as one of the more recognisable 20th Century classical pieces having been used in countless film soundtracks, most notably The Killing Fields and The Elephant Man. Curiously the radio edit is actually not Orbit's own original mix but a rather more uptempo version thanks to the remixing talents of Ferry Corsten, the man behind the two Gouryella hits.
7 EVERYBODY (Progress presents The Boy Wunda)
Bizarrely enough both of this week's dance hits are based around orchestral passages, albeit from rather different sources. Hot on the heels of William Orbit's hit comes this smash that like a great many good dance records is based around a concept so simple you wondered why nobody thought of it before. In this case it is the orchestral introduction to Madonna's 1986 Number One hit Papa Don't Preach which gets the full on trance treatment thanks to Derby-based DJ Rob Webster. Just one question remains though. Did he get the idea from the original single or just the fact that car manufacturers Vauxhall have been using the same snatch of music as an advertising jingle for over a year?
8 STEAL MY SUNSHINE (Len)
Presenting the most eagerly anticipated new release of the week, even if it does only just creep into the Top 10. The naggingly catchy Steal My Sunshine first came to people's attention on the soundtrack of the film Go and has now been transformed into a global smash hit and is set to make stars of the Canadian group who recorded the track. Those who have heard it will know just what I mean, the nagging piano rhythm is complemented perfectly by the call and response chorus. A more perfect radio record you would be hard pressed to find.
13 I SHALL BE THERE (B*witched)
Now you know I like B*witched so I won't gloat in their decline but if you listen carefully to this single you can just about hear the sound of a bubble deflating. As recently as March the four girls were being trumpeted as record breakers, becoming the first act ever to go straight in at Number One with their first four singles. In the few months it took them to come up with a second album their support has almost seemed to have melted away. First came Jesse Hold On which performed respectably enough, hitting Number 4 in October but now this appropriately seasonal follow-up fares even worse, missing the Top 10 altogether. Of course they couldn't go on having Number One singles forever (and there are several acts outside the Top 40 this week that would probably kill for a Top 20 entry right now) but when one looks at the consistency shown by the likes of Boyzone and The Spice Girls, this current lack of form is startling in the extreme.
14 UNDER PRESSURE (Queen and David Bowie)
Do you think Anita Dobson needs a new kitchen or something? How else can you explain the current promotion of Queen's Greatest Hits Volume 3, a collection of odds and sods that is the musical equivalent of warming up the Christmas dinner leftovers a week later and calling it a New Year feast. One of the fleshed out tracks on the new collection is a "new" version of Under Pressure. Famously recorded spontaneously in a studio when both Bowie and Queen happened to find they were working in the same complex, the track topped the charts in November 1981. 18 years later it is back in what is essentially a remixed form, Brian May and Roger Taylor having reworked the backing track to give the song what I'm sure some will regard as a new lease of life. Purists of course will differ. Still, whatever the issues behind the reworking of the single it is a hit all over again to return Queen to the Top 40 for the first time since they appeared on Wyclef Jean's reworking of Another One Bites The Dust (which has also found its way onto Greatest Hits III). The remodelling of the track also extends to the video. Originally the promotional clip for the track was various clips of library footage of buildings collapsing etc. that was just as famously thrown together in 48 hours prior to being shown on television. The 1999 version is a clever fraud with old concert footage of Freddie morphed with specially shot clips of Bowie, thus creating a live performance which never took place during Freddie's life.
17 BABY IT'S COLD OUTSIDE (Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews)
Of all the duets on his current album, this collaboration between Tom Jones and the goddess-like lead singer of Catatonia was perhaps the most obvious. After all Cerys Matthews had already sung on The Ballad Of Tom Jones with Space so to actually appear on record with the man himself was the next step. The follow-up to the Talking Heads cover Burning Down The House (which hit Number 7 back in September) is this faithful version of a song which has never been a chart hit in this country before but which was first written for the 1949 film Neptune's Daughter (for which it won an Oscar for composer Frank Loesser) and most famously recorded by Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark. If the premise of the duet was obvious then for it to be a Christmas single was even more of a no-brainer and it is quite deservedly a reasonably sized hit - although Top 10 would have been nicer.
20 A CHRISTMAS KISS (Daniel O'Donnell)
Cliff Richard take note. There is one artist who has been consistently having chart hits for almost a decade now with minimal amounts of airplay and only a few sporadic promotional appearances. He is of course Daniel O'Donnell, the Irish country singer who is virtually guaranteed a Top 30 hit with every single he releases without fanfare. Having already made Number 18 in March with The Way Dreams Are and Number 25 with Uno Mas, hits in March and July respectively, he returns to the Top 20 with this seasonal offering which is certain to be ignored by the media at large but can probably count on a few extra sales from people braving the crowds in record shops to seek out Cliff's single. The single is at the very least worthy of note for being the only single in the chart to actually mention Christmas.
28 ALIVE (Beastie Boys)
Clearly never ones to rush when it come to single releases, this is the Beasties first chart hit since Remote Control which made Number 21 back in May. Who would have thought back in 1987 that they would still be having hits, this track being their 11th Top 40 single.
31 MY BEAUTIFUL FRIEND (Charlatans)
The second hit of 1999 for the Charlatans and one you suspect has wound up lost in the Christmas rush, this Number 31 entry a far cry from the Number 12 peak of their last hit Forever which charted back in October. A shame really as you will be hard pressed to find songs from their back catalogue that are more appealing than this one.
32 DEAR LIE (TLC)
TLC have clearly been taking lessons from the Eternal book of togetherness with rumours rife that all is not well between the threesome with frozen royalties and threats of solo careers abounding. Make the most of them while they are around appears to be the message and the girls round off one of the most successful years of their chart career with this third hit single from the album Fanmail. Not that this doesn't come as a disappointment of course after the Number 3 peak of No Scrubs and the Number 6 followup Unpretty. The slushy Dear Lie is only able to sneak inside the Top 40 and is set to become their smallest hit single since What About Your Friends only managed a paltry Number 59 in October 1992. It is worth pointing out that they can be thankful for even this much given the rather shocking performances this week from some even bigger acts, as I shall explain shortly. Whatever the future of the group it is worth bearing in mind that TLC have survived one of their number having a solo career in the past, T-Boz having hit Number 48 with her solo single Touch Myself in November 1996.
36 CRAZY (LeAnn Rimes)
For the second year running LeAnn Rimes makes a seasonal chart appearance with a cover of an old Patsy Cline song. Last year it was Blue which reached Number 23 and now it is the turn of this favourite, the first single to come from her current album of re-recorded standards. Although first recorded in the early 1960s shortly before her untimely death, Patsy Cline's original version didn't chart here until 1990 when it made Number 14 just in time for Christmas. Just four years later it was back in a version by none other than Julio Iglesias who made Number 43 in June 1994.
39 WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER (Nine Inch Nails)
An all too rare Top 40 appearance this week for the masters of industrial noise. Trent Reznor et al have only ever had two previous Top 40 hits in the shape of Sin (Number 35 in November 1991) and the wonderfully obscene Closer (Number 25 in June 1994). To the untutored ear five wasps caught in a glass jar make a more musical sound than this track but of course as always that is hardly the point of the record.
I don't normally comment directly on singles charting outside the Top 40 but the lower reaches of this week's Top 75 make for some interesting reading - that is of course unless you are connected to the acts involved. Just to prove that it is still impossible to absolutely guarantee a big chart single, just check out the somewhat disastrous chart performances from several big names who could normally expect a great deal better. Take Thunderbugs for instance whose follow-up to their Number 5 hit Friends Forever could hardly have fared worse, It's About Time You Were Mine hitting Number 43. Then there is Enrique Iglesias who can only reach Number 45 with Rhythm Divine as the follow-up to the Number 4 hit Bailamos. Bryan Adams has a new Greatest Hits collection out in time for Christmas but the token new track isn't likely to wind up as one of them, Best Of Me enters at Number 47 this week, his smallest hit single since his duet with Bonnie Raitt called Rock Steady only reached Number 50 in November 1995. Perhaps most shocking of all though is the fate of Lou Bega. Two weeks at the top in September with Mambo No.5 you may remember, a track that is one of the five biggest sellers of the year. This week the follow-up to that massive smash hit was released. I Got A Girl has entered the UK charts at Number 55.
[The above paragraph was almost certainly prompted by the Radio One chart show that week also taking time out to note the rather large number of big name hits which fell by the wayside during what was one of the most extraordinarily busy release schedules of the year. Indeed this week has now passed into industry legend as a cautionary tale of how mistiming releases can derail some of the most carefully laid plans. The failure of the Thunderbugs single, in particular, caused what had until that point been a priority project with a large amount of money invested in it to be abruptly aborted and their career brought to a crashing halt - as documented by the excellent Into The Popvoid blog back in 2016].