1 PURE AND SIMPLE (Hear'say)
[A watershed moment in pop music history here, as the reality TV era dawns. And things (mainly talent discovery and promotion) truly would never be quite the same again].
Once upon a time, there was a pop group. They began life at a series of auditions conducted by men in suits who wanted just the right people to be in the band and sing the songs they had prepared for them. Once the members had been chosen they were sent away to live in a house together whilst they were groomed, coached, rehearsed and schooled before they were unleashed on the public. Their first record sold a huge amount and they all became famous and rather rich almost overnight. You may have heard of them. They were called the Spice Girls. Or Boyzone. or S Club 7. Or indeed virtually any pop group you care to name. Now for the first time, the whole process has been documented and turned into a prime time television series watched by around 12 million people. For those who have been living under a rock since Christmas, Hear'say are the product of the British version of Popstars, the television concept that was born in Australia and which has spawned a number of copies (and as a direct result, hit singles) all over the world.
Never before has the somewhat calculated and cynical process of the record industry been so publicly documented in this way. Much has been written on just why this is not necessarily a good thing and indeed virtually every point I was going to make this week was covered in a wonderfully bitchy Lost In Music column on dotmusic written by Ben Gilbert and which you are strongly recommended to read if you have not done so already [luckily for us grabbed by the Wayback Machine, so the link above works and will take you to that piece].
Instead, let us here concentrate on the positive. As a marketing exercise, as a way of persuading a large body of people that this four-minute pop record was not only available but also so incredibly important that they had to rush out and own a copy for themselves the Popstars TV series was perfection itself. It helps of course that Pure And Simple is actually an incredibly good pop song but when 12 million people have watched the process of its passage from audition to record shop in documentary detail then it is hardly any surprise that this is a single that has broken several records and hammered on the doors of a number of others. At the start of the week, it was clear something big was happening - Hear'say did, after all, sell more copies in one day than most Number One records sell in a week. For the first time ever Radio One actually gave out the exact number of sales on the chart show, an astonishing 549,823 copies were registered by CINs computer systems. Just to put that in perspective, it is five and a half times more than even the biggest chart-topping singles usually sell and almost eight times as many as most of this year's Number One hits have sold. In fact, this weekly total eclipses the 450,000 shifted by Britney Spears' Baby One More Time in February 1999 to ensure that Pure And Simple is the third fastest selling record in chart history. Only Do They Know It's Christmas (750,000) and Candle In The Wind 97 (1.5 million) have sold more within a seven day period.
Of course this isn't totally a good thing. Nothing that Hear'say ever do from here on will have quite the same impact and the success of this first single will inevitably be something they aspire to but never quite reach again. However it is always possible that they may have done the music industry a service. I've said for months that the recent slump in singles sales is largely due to the fact that the past couple of years have lacked a big mainstream crossover single that has appealed to the nation as a whole rather than the usual concentrated knot of singles buyers [the industry was busy attempting to put all the blame on illegal file sharing at the time. It was a small factor, but quality of product also has something to do with it, as 2001 would prove]. Recently we have had plenty of contenders from the Atomic Kitten single even through to recent hits by Shaggy and Westlife. Trust me though, you don't sell 550,000 records by just appealing to those who make a weekly stop in HMV and Woolworths part of their weekly routine. Pure And Simple may well go on to sell a million copies by the time it is done. In the process, it could well make pop music genuinely popular again, even if the whole myth of the pop band has been killed off for good.
2 UPTOWN GIRL (Westlife)
Do we feel sorry for Westlife? Last week they topped the chart with an impressively large sale of their own. This week they are almost forgotten in the excitement despite the fact that their single had plenty of airings as a result of last Friday's Comic Relief day. To give them some consolation, let us consider Uptown Girl the official start of another fun countdown. Westlife's eighth Number One single was the 892nd Number One single since the very first singles chart in November 1952. Thus Pure And Simple is the 893rd and this could mean that the milestone of the UKs 900th Number One single is as little as two months away.
6 I WANNA BE U (Chocolate Puma)
So what about the week's other new releases. Believe it or not there were one or two. First of all is/are Chocolate Puma, better known as Dutchmen DJ Zki and DJ Dobre. Phat house beats and a funk vocal thanks to Evo make this the big dance tune of the moment. I Wanna Be U is in truth no more or less remarkable than the big dance tune of the moment from last month or even the one from a few weeks time but on such popularity are top ten hits made. Even if we never got to watch them making it. [You'll note that this was the biggest "other" hit single this week. Most other mainstream acts stayed the hell out of the way of the Popstars record. There was just no point competing].
11 PLUG IN BABY (Muse)
The path to superstardom currently being trodden by Muse is nearing the end. What better way for them to commemorate this than with their finest single to date, a storming guitar anthem that has just the right amount of noise, melody and catchy chorus to be the kind of record that makes you wonder if 2001 isn't 1995 reborn. Even if Hear'say have killed off the pop group forever you can rest assured that British music still has plenty of life in it. Number 11 beats the Number 20 peak of June 2000's Unintended to give them their biggest hit to date.
13 GIRLS DEM SUGAR (Beenie Man featuring Mya)
The award-winning reggae star returns to the chart in his own right for the first time since 1998s Who Am I gave him a Number 10 hit and marked him as a name to potentially watch for the future even though Glamma Kid appears to have stolen his thunder in the meantime as reggae's fastest-rising new star. Beenie Man's last chart appearance of any kind came just over a year ago when he featured on Jamelia's debut hit Money. Now though he is back in the Top 20, on a major label for the first time and in tandem with no less a star than Mya who (thanks to the way Case Of The Ex plunges to Number 53 this week) misses out by just one week on appearing on two different Top 40 hits.
24 PUSH IT ALL ASIDE (Alisha's Attic)
I'm sure they must get sick of people constantly bringing up their family connections but it is worth repeating one last time that sisters Karena and Shellie are the daughters of Brian Poole, once a pop star himself in the sixties and sad to say the owner of a number of hits that are far larger than anything his daughters have managed to date in their five year chart career. Not that they haven't made some wonderful records, I Am I Feel, Alisha Rules The World and The Incidentals should surely rank high on the favourites list of any critic. Love songs written from the point of view of the empowered female are their speciality and this first offering from their brand new album continues this noble tradition. If anything Push It All Aside drags them close to C&W territory and the song would hardly sound out of place on the next Shania Twain album. That's a good thing by the way, even if Number 24 is actually a bit of an insult to a single this good. Number 12 is as far as they have gone in the past (three times actually). One day I'd love them to do even better [nope, this would turn out to be their final chart appearance sadly].
26 I CAN'T DENY IT (Rod Stewart)
How does the old dinosaur do it? No matter how long his career goes on he never seems to slip into being a musical has-been and instead is taken seriously as a recording artist, even if his chart fortunes do tend to come and go in bursts. For the moment it seems Rod is on a downswing as even the writing talent of Gregg Alexander (who has thoughtfully rewritten his own You Get What You Give to make this track) can't bring him anything more than a Top 30 hit. Still, this does give him his first Top 40 since his re-recording of the old Faces track Ooh-La-La made Number 16 in May 1998 and is but the latest chapter in a solo chart career that stretches back almost 30 years. His last Top 10 hit came in January 1994 when he teamed up with Bryan Adams and Sting on All 4 Love. I would never ever bet against him having another one day.
30 25 MILES 2001 (Three Amigos)
The Three Amigos return to the UK chart for the first time since their cover of Louie Louie reached Number 15 in July 1999. This new offering is also based on an old track, albeit a slightly more obscure one. This time their inspiration comes from Edwin Starr who first took 25 Miles to Number 36 in September 1969. The Three Amigos may not have had the massive party hit they deserve with this but at the very least should get credit for being the latest act to drag the sound of one of the most underrated soul acts back into the charts once more. Starr himself now lives in the UK and regularly participates in revival tours and festivals (I saw him live in Bradford in September last year as it happens). Last year he sang on the Utah Saints' Funky Music which made Number 23 whilst back in 1989 he happily helped the Cookie Crew promote their own hit Got To Keep On which sampled his own hit of the same name. Starr's biggest ever UK hit was his legendary recording of War which made Number 3 in 1970 although the disco hits Contact and H.A.P.P.Y. Radio probably remain his best-loved tracks.
31 DELIVER ME (Sister Bliss featuring John Martyn)
Sister Bliss' Sister Sister may not have been a major chart smash, reaching only Number 34 when released last October but it has certainly proved an enduring club hit, its Gary Numan-esque tones still fighting for attention alongside this new track. The big selling point here is the vocal contribution of Jazz legend John Martyn, here making his first ever singles chart appearance. The collaboration apparently came about when Sister Bliss' Faithless collaborator Rollo contacted Martyn to ask if one of his tracks could be used on one of his Back To Mine chill-out mix collections. Who ever thought John Martyn would become a club star?
32 DIRTY BEATS (Roni Size/Reprazent)
A return to minor chart placings for Roni Size following the Number 17 success of Who Told You back in October last year. The second hit from the current album, the inclusion of a fiddle track almost makes this record sound like the Levellers do Jungle. In a good way.
34 TRUE LOVE NEVER DIES (Flip & Fill featuring Kelly Llorenna)
Listening to this track almost makes you think it is the 1980s once more. A long time ago this kind of sparkly dance record was called Hi-NRG and you had to go to gay clubs to seek out music with this amount of, well, energy. Selling point her is singer Kelly Llorenna whose solo career has never quite taken off but who has featured on a small handful of dance hits since she first came to people's attention as the singer on N-Trance's Set You Free which made Number 2 after several false starts in early 1995.
35 I CAN CAST A SPELL (Disco Tex presents Cloudburst)
Well if you wanted any proof that Hearsay eclipsed just about everyone else this week, look at the way there have been no less than five successive new entries down in the lower reaches of the Top 40 in positions usually dominated by older hits on their way out. Bringing up the rear is this club hit that uses the chorus from Chaka Khan's disco classic I'm Every Woman. What is more notable is that Disco Tex are actually former members of rap legends Stetsasonic. I'd go into this more but it has been a long week...