1 THE MILLENNIUM PRAYER (Cliff Richard)
So what are we supposed to do? Act all surprised? Actually, despite the newspaper headlines screaming since the middle of the week that Cliff was going to wind up as Number One this week the very fact that he has done so is still something of a shock. As if to prove that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the struggle he had to get the single released in the first place and the headlines he has generated in his attempts to promote it have all helped to raise the profile of the single to such heights that it was perhaps inevitable that this would translate into increased sales. The timing of the single was all important as well for you cannot fail to have noticed that we are on the verge of the annual Christmas sales rush. Music buying is one of the more bizarre aspects of consumer behaviourism as studies have shown that time and time again record shops sell in more or less a flat line to the same group of people throughout the year. All of that changes at Christmastime as shops are flooded with people who would not contemplate going to buy records or CDs at any other time of year. It is a fair bet that many of these people are those to whom a sappy seasonal song by Cliff is likely to appeal. That is why the concept of Cliff's Christmas Single isn't that much of a cliche - more a fairly sound piece of marketing in much the same way that say, Foster and Allen only ever seem to release albums in December.
Back to the matter in hand though and The Millennium Prayer can rank as one of the more exciting Number One singles of recent months as by hitting the top Cliff has carved a swathe through the record books. For a start, the single is his 14th Number One, part of a run that stretches back to Living Doll which topped the chart in 1959. In the process, Cliff edges ever closer to the all-time record of 17 UK Number One singles jointly held by The Beatles and Elvis Presley. His strike rate of chart-toppers has slowed down a little since his days as a teen heartthrob in the late 50s and early 60s as this his only his fourth Number One hit in the last 15 years but nonetheless, Cliff is drifting ever closer to that all-time record. Cliff's span of Number One hits is nothing short of phenomenal as he first hit the top on July 31st 1959 - 41 years and 4 months ago. With this, he wins back the record that was claimed by Cher last year who with Believe could claim a 33-year span of chart-toppers that stretched back to I Got You Babe in 1965. Want some more? OK then, Cliff Richard can also lay claim to being the most patient man in chart history when you look at the time that has elapsed in the past between his Number One hits. First of came the gap between Congratulations hitting the top in 1968 and We Don't Talk Anymore climbing to the summit in 1979 - a wait of 11 years and 4 months. After that he waited no less than 6 years and 7 months before reaching Number One again with his comedy re-recording of Living Doll. Now we come to The Millennium Prayer which tops the chart just a few weeks short of 9 years since Saviours Day last saw him nestling at the summit for Christmas 1990.
Don't turn off now as there is more to come. For a man who has so often been termed the Peter Pan of pop he can ironically lay claim to being one of the oldest men ever to top the singles chart, Cliff having celebrated his 59th birthday on October 14th. Happily for him he has a long way to go before beating that particular record, Louis Armstrong being the long-standing holder of that honour being (according to which source you believe) just over 69 years old when What A Wonderful World hit the top in 1968. Whilst this is one record Cliff may have a wait a while to break there are certainly plenty of others within reach. Elvis Presley currently holds the record for Most Weeks in the Top 10 with 359. This week marks Cliff's 323rd. Elvis has also spent more weeks on the UK charts than anyone else, to date racking up 1155 weeks - Cliff again is only just behind with 1128 to this week. Perhaps more out of reach is the record for spending the most total weeks at Number One. Elvis leads once more with 73 weeks, The Beatles (as a group) are just behind with 69 whilst this is "only" Cliff's 45th week at the top of the charts. Finally, to bring this parade of statistics to a close, it cannot have escaped anyone's attention that The Millennium Prayer is the first record to actually climb up the chart to reach Number One since Steps' Heartbeat/Tragedy single way, way back on January 9th.
3 EVERY DAY I LOVE YOU (Boyzone)
Believe it or not it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Cliff was going to be Number One this week. Boyzone had been running him close since the start of the week and I was tempted to think that they would have the edge once the weekend rush of sales arrived. 'Twas not to be and in actual fact Boyzone faded badly, slipping behind the Wamdue Project to only enter at Number 3, believe it or not the first time they have entered the chart outside the Top 2 since Coming Home Now charted at Number 4 in March 1996. The single is their first since You Needed Me hit the top in May and comes as there is renewed speculation as to the future of the band. The say they are not splitting up but the fact remains that nobody can say when they will reassemble to record a new album. In the meantime lead singer Ronan's star is ever in the ascendant as his performance hosting the MTV European Music Awards a few weeks ago proved to the world. If this is to be the end of Boyzone they have certainly had a good innings, this single coming just a week short of five years since they first charted with Love Me For A Reason, a span of hits that is way in excess of the generally assumed three-year lifespan of a teen-appeal pop band. You can argue that the torch has already been passed to Westlife and that Boyzone have little else left to prove. Certainly their record is astonishing, a 100% strike rate of 16 Top 10 hits and 6 Number One hits which include No Matter What, itself a record breaker as the million-selling biggest ever hit from a stage musical and far and away the biggest selling single ever by an Irish act. In years to come the musical history of the 1990s will be written many times over. It will almost certainly tell of how Take That dragged the pop industry out of its early 90s dance dominated doldrums and reinvented the concept of a all-male pop act but that it was left to Boyzone to carry the torch and hit new heights in terms of pan-generational appeal. That isn't a bad legacy in anyone's book. [Boyzone never truly split, but merely went on a "hiatus" which would last almost nine years].
4 NORTHERN STAR (Melanie C)
Watching the way the promotional spin-machine reacted to the performance of Melanie C's first solo single Goin' Down back in October was quite entertaining. At first she was promoted as raucous Spicemould-breaking grunge star of the future on the back of the single and live performances. When the single landed at Number 4 and then plummeted to Number 18 the following week, taking sales of the album with it the spin rapidly switched to emphasising the diverse range of styles on which Miss Chisholm was capable. Actually they weren't wrong as the title track from her solo album proves, Northern Star being a rather epic sounding production as Melanie C lifts her quite impressive voice to vent her soul over a lush backing of both strings and guitars. It is a ballad with a sharp edge of which Madonna would be proud. Chart-wise it matches the peak of Goin' Down and lifts her into second place in the "most successful solo Spice" table for now. Meanwhile the world sits and waits for the next (last?) Spice Girls album which is due sometime in the new year.
5 BACK IN MY LIFE (Alice Deejay)
No longer needing to be presented by DJ Jurgen, Alice Deejay (who are apparently a "they" as the lead singer is called Judy) return with the follow-up to Better Off Alone, the rather lovely dance tune that spent three weeks at Number 2 in the summer to rank as one of the biggest selling singles of the year not to actually top the chart. A similar formula applies for this follow-up which has the honour of being slightly less catchy than the first hit but which is actually a more substantial song. If that makes sense of course.
6 TALKING IN YOUR SLEEP/LOVE ME (Martine McCutcheon)
One of no less than three double-sided singles inside the Top 10 this week, Martine McCutcheon hits the chart with her third hit single, one which was supposed to have benefitted from the promotional push of her first ever series of live dates but which were postponed for what have now emerged to be rather tragic reasons. After the fuss over the exact origin of her first hit Perfect Moment, this new single is a more obvious cover version, a new version of the song that Crystal Gayle took to Number 11 in September 1978. The second song on the CD is also a cover, this time of an old Bee Gees song and those who were watching the BBCs annual Children In Need telethon on Friday night last week will have seen her perform the track surrounded by a vast choir of schoolchildren. All proceeds from the track will go to the charity.
10 BIG BOYS DON'T CRY/ROCKIN' ROBIN (Lolly)
According to the News Of The World this week her real name is Anna Kumble but as far as a nation of seven year olds are concerned she is Lolly, purveyor of cute bubblegum pop records to the nation's youth. She has two Top 10 hits under her belt already this year, Viva La Radio which made Number 6 in July and a remake of Toni Basil's Mikey which hit Number 4 in September. Just in time for the festive period she hits the chart with this double-sided single. Rockin' Robin dates back to the golden age of Rock and Roll having first charted in this country for Bobby Day who reached Number 29 in 1958. The most famous cover version is of course by the then 12 year old Michael Jackson who reached the Top 3 with the song back in 1972. The other song Big Boys Don't Cry is a new song, a sweetly sung ballad-cum-lullaby that in all honesty transcends her cute bubblegum image and is a rather nice pop record in its own right. Lolly's single has the honour of being the third double-sided record in the Top 10 this week, alongside hits from Martine McCutcheon and Robbie Williams and all three are joined in the Top 40 by A1s Everytime/Ready Or Not and Paul Van Dyk's Another Way/Avenue.
11 TONITE (Phats and Small)
The third hit of the year for Phats and Small, following up the Number One hit Turn Around and its summertime follow-up Feel Good. No surprises here for this new release as the mutant disco beats keep on pumping in a manner that is odly reminiscent of classic Chic hits of the past. Circumstances and the sheer weight of other big new singles conspire to keep this track just outside the Top 10.
27 WALHALLA (Gouryella)
The second hit single of the year for Gouryella who is known as Ferry Corsten to his mum. His first hit, the self-titled Gouryella made Number 15 in July and of course he charted still earlier this year as System F with Out Of The Blue which made Number 14. The usual formula applies here, a bubbly trance backing over which the occasional female vocal can be heard and dare I suggest the effect is almost Christmassy?
30 EVERYTIME (Lustral)
No I have no idea why dance producers insist on using different names for different records as it makes life very hard trying to keep up with them. Lustral is yet another alter-ego of Messrs Ricky Simmonds and Steve Jones aka the Space Brothers and aka Chakra. This single was actually first released in October 1997, climbing to Number 60. Second time around the sweet haunting song does much better and in all honesty deserves to be higher as the rather laid back production interacts nicely with the soft female vocal which whispers a song that sounds like a second cousin of The First Time I Ever I Saw Your Face. To hell with it, this is the best small hit of the week.
31 SISTA SISTA (Beverley Knight)
Hit single Number 3 of the year for Beverley Knight who you feel has spent 1999 still agonisingly on the edge of mainstream recognition in spite of now being a two-time MOBO award winner. The law of diminishing returns means that this single falls short of the Top 20 placings of Made It Back and Greatest Day but this mid-tempo ballad still stands as a fine example of her talents and just why she is considered one of Britain's leading soul stars.
33 L'ESPERANZA (Airscape)
More Euro dance, this time a record hailing from Belgium. Although this is the first chart entry to be credited to Airscape, the same team also record as Balearic Bill and reached Number 36 last month with Destination Sunshine. As for the record itself, this is a not too unpleasant commercial trance record even if it is destined for now to be a minor chart entry and makes me want to go listen to a copy of Puls(t)ar.
36 MARY (Supergrass)
Well if Cliff Richard has made the most of the controversy surrounding the release of his single, Supergrass ironically seem to have suffered. The fuss hasn't centred around the song itself of course but rather the shlock horror video which has had to have dancing skeletons and scenes of projectile vomiting excised in order for it to be shown on TV. Entertainingly the scenes have been replaced by captions giving a website address where the unedited version can be seen in full, a two-fingered gesture that ranks alongside the Sugarcubes' splicing of shots of monkeys in place of censored scenes from one of their videos. For the single to chart this low down is something of a shock. OK so it is a rather dark, noisy record but certainly no more uncommercial than previous innovative offerings from the band. Nonetheless Mary may well end up ranking as their smallest hit single since Lost It clipped the bottom of the chart at Number 75 way back in March 1995. [Two decades on and the 'controversial' video is sitting happily in its entirety online].