Christmas Countdown: 2 weeks and counting. Once again the singles chart takes on an uncommonly barren appearance with a wave of major new releases set to land on the chart over the next couple of weeks in the hope of grabbing that all-important Christmas Number One. That hasn't stopped rampant speculation as to whether any of the current singles could be challenging for the honour... Westlife notwithstanding it would be a foolish person who totally rules out the possibility of Bob The Builder rising to the top...
1 STAN (Eminem)
Back in October when Eminem's last single The Way I Am charted I noted that Stan was set to be the next single from the album and that I had yet to meet anyone who didn't think it was going to be massive. It turns out they were all correct. If you have not heard it yet then you have my every sympathy, for the third single from the Marshall Mathers LP is surely the crowning achievement of Eminem's artistry and one which makes you realise that beneath all the posturing, the obscenities and domestic problems that seem to follow him round, is a man whose talents quite possibly border on genius. Stan tells the haunting tale of the obsessed fan who writes a series of increasingly psychotic letters to the rapper without response. At this point, he snaps and drives his car off a bridge with his pregnant girlfriend locked in the boot. Only after the carnage does Eminem sit down and write a response to the letters, realising at the end that he is doing so just too late. The song is so disturbing that Radio One had its presenters read out a disclaimer before it was played in the daytime to warn people of its content. [Actually a pre-recorded voice-over from Mark Goodier along the lines of "this record contains subject matter you may find upsetting, but we think it is very important that you hear it which is why we are going to play it". The first ever trigger warning in radio history perhaps, but also a quite fearless stance for the broadcaster to take and they deserved every credit for doing so].
As an emotional performance, it is right up there with 2Pac's Ain't Mad Atcha, Ghostface Killah's All That I Got Is You and pretty much anything by KRS-1 as one of the all-time great rap tracks. With that in mind, it is hardly surprising that the single storms to the top of the chart to give Eminem his second UK Number One and, get this, become the 8th act this year to top the chart more than once. This also means Eminem is now only the second rap star to have had two Number One hits in this country. Will Smith was the first, topping the chart in his guise as the Fresh Prince on Boom Shake The Room in 1993 and as himself in 1997 with Men In Black. Honourable mention should also go to Snap who had two chart-toppers in the 1990s but as not all their singles actually featured rapping they cannot correctly be labelled a rap act.
Also worthy of note in the tale of Stan is the lady who doesn't receive a direct chart credit but whose voice provides the melancholy refrain heard in between each verse. She is Dido Armstrong, sister of Rollo Armstrong and indeed it is her voice that can be heard on the handful of Faithless tracks that feature a female vocal. Signed to a solo deal, she released her first album No Angel back in 1999 with very little fanfare, so little in fact that virtually nobody noticed. Except Eminem, who was clearly inspired by the track Thank You [which he actually spotted in the trailer for the movie Sliding Doors on whose soundtrack it first featured way back in 1998] and it is the first verse of this song which is sampled wholesale for the refrain in Stan. As a result of this Dido's album has found its way into prominent positions in the racks of record chains and can this week be found at Number 60 on the albums listings. Next year this is to be followed up with a larger promotional push and it is entirely possible that she is set to become one of the first breakout stars of 2001 [and then some]. Needless to say Dido has already returned the favour and she can be seen playing the part of Stan's tormented girlfriend in the acclaimed video that accompanies this, one of the greatest Number One singles of the year.It isn't my place to lecture people on what they should and should not listen to
It isn't my place to lecture people on what they should and should not listen to but if you read this column with even just a passing interest in what goes on in popular music then make a point in listening to this week's best-selling track from start to finish. I guarantee it is worth the effort. [It is hard to convey from a modern perspective given that the single has passed into history just what a big deal this was, but just like the people at Radio One I genuinely did have to break character there and all but insist every reader took time to hear what to this day remains one of the most breathtaking rap performances ever. Regardless of what he has done since, this remains Eminem's all-time masterpiece and rap music's own high water mark].
2 CAN WE FIX IT (Bob The Builder)
This has been a funny old week. The race for the Number One slot has been tightly contested between one record whose subject nature probably makes it suitable only for adults and another whose appeal is confined to those under five. Just over a month since the Tweenies made their chart debut, another cult children's TV show spins off into a chart record as Bob The Builder (alias actor Neil Morrissey) makes his first ever Top 40 appearance. Call it the nature of the animated series (which has even featured a cameo appearance from Chris Evans) or call it the fact that the approach to Christmas tends to do funny things to the tastes of the British public but for whatever reason this single has sold in phenomenal numbers, selling over 100,000 copies this week and for most of it running neck and neck with Eminem in the race to the top of the chart. In the end it is the pouting rapper who takes top honours but that is to take nothing away from the jaw-dropping chart success of Bob The Builder who joins the Tweenies and the Teletubbies as pre-school TV stars who have made the transition to the world of popular music. It is worth noting that this is a fairly recent phenomenon as success on children's TV did not always guarantee instant chart success. Just ask Ken Barrie whose theme to Bob The Builders' animated predecessor Postman Pat spent almost four months on and off in the charts in 1982-3 without ever climbing higher than Number 44.
7 STRONGER (Britney Spears)
So should we be shocked that a lady who has challenged for the top of the chart many times in her career to date is to be found languishing lower down the Top 10, her new single totally overshadowed by two other big releases this week? No of course not, Stronger is after all the third single take from the Oops album, the followup to Lucky which reached Number 5 in August whilst of course she is one of those eight acts who have topped the charts twice in 2000. Stronger is released in the wake of her recent series of concerts in this country but is set to become her first single to miss out on a place in the Top 5. Be thankful for small mercies - nobody has yet contemplated releasing her massacre of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction as a single.
9 911 (Wyclef featuring Mary J Blige)
No wrestling stars this time around, just the impressive pipes of Mary J Blige for the followup to September's No.3 hit It Doesn't Matter. Most reviewers agreed that 911 was the standout track on the album The Eclectic so it makes sense for it to appear as a single, one of the few tracks Wyclef Jean has produced lately that would not have sounded out of place on the legendary Fugees album. Mary J Blige's last chart hit was in April with Give Me You and she can now claim to have collaborated on chart hits with artists as diverse as George Michael, George Benson, Jay-Z, Method Man and now Wyclef Jean.
13 INCOMPLETE (Sisqo)
It would be incredibly unfair to judge every single Sisqo record in terms of its success at recapturing the lighting in a bottle that was The Thong Song so it is a trap I will avoid falling into if at all possible. Instead it is best just to note that this is Sisqo's fourth hit single of the year and one which lands on the chart one place above the peak of Got To Get It which was his solo debut back in February.
17 I JUST WANNA LOVE U (GIVE IT 2 ME) (Jay-Z)
Speaking of former Mary J Blige collaborators, here is one of them. Jay-Z rounds off 2000 with his third single of the year and one which proves to be slightly more commercial than June's Big Pimpin' which could only peak at at rather disappointing Number 29. I Just Wanna Love U sadly doesn't feature a crowd of children singing an old musical number for the chorus which means that the success of Hard Knock Life (which was at Number 2 exactly 2 years ago) is for the moment but a memory.
28 7 COLOURS (Lost Witness)
Call me strange but I like Lost Witness. They manage to make trance sound like a valid style of music rather than a dance genre whose mainstream popularity came and went over a year ago. They first charted with two singles in 1999, the much-hyped Happiness Happening which made Number 18 and Red Sun Rising which peaked at Number 22. Their first hit single in well over a year is bizarrely not the track that everyone is getting excited about. That honour belongs to an impressive trance reworking of Coldplay's Trouble which is causing such interest it is entirely possible it will find its way onto a single early next year - and not necessarily as a b-side either [never happened sadly and it is startlingly hard to track down these days too].
Do we still call this mutant disco? I've lost track. Usual continental formula applies here, 1978 vintage rhythms over late 90s breakbeats accompanied by a soulful male vocal, in this instance one which bears a striking resemblance to Alexander O'Neal, back in the days when he still knew what the inside of a recording studio looked like.
You know I often count my lucky stars that the UK charts have grown out of the phase they went through around 20 years ago when every Christmas the bestseller lists would be swamped in a tidal wave of Easy Listening crap. These days the only granny-friendly artist capable of placing singles in the Top 40 is Daniel O'Donnell so I guess we can allow him his odd moment of glory. Morning Has Broken is now perhaps incredibly his 14th Top 40 hit since 1992 although only five of these have managed to broach the Top 20, his biggest hit coming in April 1998 when Give A Little Love reached Number 7. The childrens hymn Morning Has Broken was originally written by a lady called Eleanor Fareon and was first turned into a chart hit by Cat Stevens who made Number 9 in 1972 with his version that featured none other than Yes' Rick Wakeman on piano. More recently no less a figure than Neil Diamond took the song back into the charts when his version made Number 36 in November 1992.