1 UPTOWN GIRL (Westlife)
After their not quite so spectacular but still memorable failure to top the chart at Christmastime, the status quo is restored to Westlife's chart fortunes as their ninth single goes the way of the first seven and tops the UK chart. Eight Number One hits is enough to put them level with Take That - who hitherto have been able to claim to be the most successful boy band ever - and just one short of the nine clocked up by the Spice Girls who remain for the moment the most successful act of the last decade. What is even more impressive is the timescale in which Westlife have notched up this total, their first Number One hit coming in May 1999, a little less than two years ago. Compare this with The Beatles who took from May 1963 to August 1965 to top the charts eight times whilst Elvis Presley took close to three years for the first 8 of his 17 Number One hits.
The song itself is just as notable as its chart position of course as for the first time ever the group deviate from their established ballad formula and go uptempo. Uptown Girl was arguably the high point of Billy Joel's career, a worldwide smash hit and his biggest ever chart smash in this country when it topped the charts for five weeks in November 1983. The song was taken from his album An Innocent Man in which he paid musical tribute to the sounds of the acts that had inspired him as a child. Uptown Girl was a pastiche of the Four Seasons and the fact that Westlife's version is almost a note for note copy of the arrangement of the original means that the song reaches back further into musical history than most of their fans will be aware. In one of those bizarre coincidences the last act to have a Number One hit with a cover of a song that had previously topped the charts were Westlife themselves (Seasons In The Sun in December 1999). Exactly two years ago this week Westlife's fellow countrymen Boyzone were also on top of the charts with a cover of a 1980s Number One pop hit, in this case, Billy Ocean's When The Going Gets Tough. The two records are linked of course as both were special releases in aid of the Comic Relief telethon, all proceeds going to the charity appeal which will be highlighted by a telethon at the end of this week.
Over the years Comic Relief singles have almost always managed to be big hits whether they have been comedy records or, as in recent years, hits from established acts who have donated money to the charity. The full list of Comic Relief singles (not all of which have actually been tied into Red Nose Day itself) reads as follows:
- Living Doll - Cliff Richard and the Young Ones (No.1 1986)
- Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Mel and Kim (No.3 1987)
- Help - Bananarama/Lananeeneenoonoo (No.3 1989)
- The Stonk - Hale and Pace and the Stonkers (No.1 1991)
- Elected - Mr Bean and Smear Campaign featuring Bruce Dickinson (No.9 1992)
- Stick It Out - Right Said Fred and Friends (No.4 1993)
- Love Can Build A Bridge - Cher/Neneh Cherry/Chrissie Hynde with Eric Clapton (No.1 1995)
- When The Going Gets Tough - Boyzone (No.1 1999)
- Uptown Girl - Westlife (No.1 2001)
The official song of the 1997 charity appeal was the Spice Girls' Who Do You Think You Are which also topped the charts but as this was not recorded especially for the event I'm not counting it as a proper Comic Relief single. [I also missed the Absolutely Fabulous single from 1994 out, which although it too was not linked to a Red Nose Day event, was still a Comic Relief track].
4 CLINT EASTWOOD (Gorillaz)
For those who managed to avoid the carefully stage-managed hype, Gorillaz are a high concept "virtual" supergroup. Blur's Damon Albarn is the brains behind the project along with his flatmate Jamie Hewlett. At first the other contributors to their debut album were being kept a close secret, but as you may have read on dotmusic they number such names as Chris 'Talking Heads' Frantz, Tina 'Tom Tom Club amongst others' Weymouth and Ibrahim 'Buena Vista Social Club' Ferrer. So it is that the album and indeed its first single is a product of the most musical collision of styles that you are likely to hear. Even this single is more high concept than most, the music itself seemingly incoherent without the animated video and the CD seamlessly linking into the accompanying website. All of this comes together in a Top 5 hit that fuses rap, reggae and electronica plus the speeded up vocals of Damon himself [only on the remix, not the album version used by the video, sadly] into one amazing single. Actually I'll be honest. I hate it but it actually has far more legitimacy than Westlife singing a note for note remake of an already classic record. [That's one of the few snap analyses I would later recant, having belatedly caught on to the brilliance of the Gorillaz project].
10 SHIT ON YOU (D12)
Be nice to these guys, for they are mates of Eminem. Just as Dr Dre took the young Marshall Mathers under his wing and turned him into a superstar, so Eminem is now keen to return the favour. Hence his strong vocal presence on the debut release of these guys from Detroit as they rampage through a radio-unfriendly tale of er, well actually it is best you just listen to the record and hear for yourself. D12 may have scored a Top 10 hit first time out thanks to their superstar mentor but the honest truth remains, this isn't anywhere near as good as the material he saves for himself.
11 THINK ABOUT ME (Artful Dodger featuring Michelle Escoffery)
Forget rap, lets go garage. Or do we? Having established themselves as the names to drop in 2000 thanks to their four Top 10 hits (as well as the almost incidental fact that they gave Craig David his first chart exposure) the Artful Dodger could be forgiven for resting on their laurels or at least milking the 2-step formula a little more. Not so for their first release of 2001 (also taken from their debut album). The usual elements are in place, a light understated backing along with the sweet vocals of Michelle Escoffery. What is different is the rhythm for this is not 2-step but well, 3-step. Those with a musical background will know exactly what I mean the moment they hear the track for this is possibly the first modern dance record to be set in waltz time, albeit once more with the twist that the emphasis is on the upbeat. OK so blame the Grade 5 music theory certificate I have buried in a file somewhere but I think this is a great bit of musical arrangement, even if it does become the first Artful Dodger single to miss the Top 10.
12 PIANO LOCO (DJ Luck & MC Neat)
Speaking of garage heroes, here are the other leading 2-step duo who coincidentally slide into the chart just one place below the Artful Dodger. This is the fourth single from the pair and the follow-up to Ain't No Stoppin' Us which made No.8 in October last year. This single too is genre-busting as Piano Loco sees UK garage go Latino, complete with old school house pianos and shouted countdowns in Spanish. It seems almost a shame to point out that this too is their first single not to reach the Top 10. For the moment.
13 JADED (Aerosmith)
With a flurry of rap hits landing on the chart this week it is worth taking time out to acknowledge the effect the genre had on the career of Aerosmith. Having apparently self destructed a few years before, the rock legends were brought screaming (literally) back into the mainstream in 1986 when Run DMC enlisted them on their famous cover of Walk This Way. Since then Steve Tyler and the boys have never looked back. The UK is a case in point. Before 1986 they had never had a hit single. Now they have a chart career that befits their status as legends of the business. Jaded is the first chart hit for Aerosmith since the re-released Pink hit No.13 in June 1999, that single itself the follow-up to I Don't Want To Miss A Thing, the theme from the movie Armageddon that gave them far and away the biggest smash of their career when it reached No.4 and hung around the charts for 20 weeks. This new single heralds the release of their first album for four years and as befits a rock single that is as radio-friendly as it is anthemic it lands a chart place that is the second highest of their career, matching as it does the chart peak of Love In An Elevator from 1989.
14 X (Xzibit)
All eyes are on Xzibit, not just for the music he makes but for the fact that he is the latest rap act to benefit from the sponsorship of Dr Dre. It was Dre's influence that was largely credited with helping Eminem rise from a nobody to the rap megastar he is today. The question is, can lightning strike twice? Just as My Name Is... was designed to be Eminem's signature song, so X is the track with which Xzibit sets out his musical philosophy, his attitude and his personality. For whatever reason it doesn't come off as well as the record everyone is insisting on comparing it too. Without the Dr Dre link this would be just another hip-hop track without anything to recommend it to those outside the market to whom this is pitched. Still, for the sake of saying something positive he does manage to become one of the highest charting acts whose name begins with that most obscure letter of the alphabet. In fact only two acts whose names begin with X have ever had Top 10 hits - Xpansions and XTC.
17 HE LOVES U NOT (Dream)
Never let it be said that Puff Daddy is predictable. Surprise was the reaction in July last year when he unveiled the latest act to be championed by his own label, eyebrows being raised when Dream were revealed to be a girl group, four clean-cut white Californian teenagers. This then is their debut release and pop based R&B is the order of the day. He Loves U Not has already been a big American hit, selling over half a million copies but the truth of the matter is that there is little here that we have not seen before. Unless they have something incredibly good to offer, girl bands appear to almost be dead as a concept and true innovation in the realm of female acts is already going on here with the likes of the Sugababes For the moment the chance of another same old stateside act, regardless of who their mentor allegedly is, becoming anything more than a passing curiosity is slim to say the least.
20 THIS YEARS LOVE (David Gray)
This is the third Top 40 hit single for David Gray, the follow-up to Babylon and his last single Please Forgive Me which made No.18 in October last year. This Year's Love actually began life as the theme to the film of the same name and was originally the first single to be released from the White Ladder album early in 1999. Two years later it finally becomes a chart single but then again David Gray's career is already a lesson in itself that patience is always a virtue.
24 JUST ANOTHER DAY (Jonathan Wilkes)
Of course we all know that unless you have featured in a prime time fly on the wall TV documentary, pop success relies on a number of important factors. Talent, looks and not a little luck all help. Being the flatmate of someone who is already famous is almost certainly another major plus. Meet Jonathan Wilkes, the man who shares a postal address with a certain Robbie Williams, a fact which has been trotted out so many times that you could be forgiven it is printed on the sleeve of the single. In fact Wilkes is no fly by night wannabe who is riding on the coattails of a famous mate as he has an entertainment background of his own and a wide and engaging personality that makes you understand just why he and Robbie have been friends since childhood. Whether that is enough to make him into a pop star remains to be seen. Still in his favour, he writes his own music and and if there has been a better upbeat male vocal pop record released this year then I have yet to hear it. It is no secret that there were high hopes in many places for this debut single and the fact that it has charted as low as it has may well prompt a rethink in just how Jonathan Wilkes is promoted. Would the world have been so cynical about him if his flatmates were as boring as mine?
29 TENDER HEART (Lionel Richie)
Well the Lionel Richie as trendy dance hitmaker experiment didn't work. The chart placings of Angel and Don't Stop The Music last year (18 and 34 respectively) prove this nicely. Hence I suspect this latest single from the Motown legend as he reverts back to type with a wonderfully intense ballad that proves that his powers as a master songwriter remain undimmed. Sadly this is 2001 and not 1982 so nobody is really interested and Tender Heart is but a small footnote in the career of a man whose reputation really deserves more than a series of inconsequential minor hits. If you want to know how a legend still manages to keep himself relevant whilst retaining all of the old magic, just wait for Rod Stewart next week.
32 WHOOMP THERE IT IS (BM Dubs presents Mr Rumble)
Now this one is more interesting than your average last hit of the week type of record. Whoomp! There It Is is a hit that is probably ingrained into the consciousness of a whole generation of Americans. In 1994 the original version by Tag Team took up what seemed like a near-permanent residency in the American charts, spending an astonishing 41 consecutive weeks inside the Top 40. If nothing else it proved that mainstream rap did not have to be the soft sanitised pop-orientated version as performed by the likes of Tone Loc, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice and opened the door to the mainstream chart success of people like Master P and the whole Death Row empire. But I digress, in this country it was a different story. The Tag Team could only reach No.34 when the single was released in January 1994 and even a remixed version later in the year could only stagger to No.48. In fact it took a cheesy eurobeat version by Clock to make the track a smash hit, the retitled Whoomph! There It Is made No.4 in July 1995. Seven years on from the original release the rap single has now been covered by BM Dubs. I say covered as the vocal line has been completely re-recorded but other than that the rap itself has been left intact. Only the backing has changed, the single mix featuring the sweeping bassline as used by Azzido Da Bass on Dooms Night whilst all manner of other producers try their hand at remixes. So whilst it may be the smallest hit of the week it does at least have a story to tell. Even if the most interesting part of the story is where the track came from in the first place, not what it has ended up like in this version.