It is new Number One time. That is the most understated way I can find to kick things off this week as I'd hate to tread all over the words that follow. How often do we get to talk about what is almost certainly one of the records of the year after all?
First of all the facts about Lola's Theme by the Shapeshifters. Simon Marlin and Max Reich are the pair behind the track, Lola being Simon's wife. As so many club records do, the record began life as an instrumental white label at the end of last year proving itself to be a smash out of the blocks. After Positiva records picked up the rights to the track (for what is reported to be a tiny sum of money making it the steal of the year) the final bit of commercial fairy dust was sprinkled on the track in the shape of a vocal track by Cookie, a gospel choir singer who had previously sung backing vocals for the likes of Ms Dynamite.
Reckon you haven't actually heard the track yet? Think again, because Lola's Theme has quickly become one of those tracks that you have heard everywhere. A thumping house track, punctuated by the most addictive brass melody [a Mark Summers replay of a riff that originally came from a 1982 Johnnie Taylor track What About My Love], Lola's Theme is that rare beast - a club record that is at home on the most mainstream of pop radio stations as well as on the dance-floor and if ever a summer had a guaranteed floor filler then this is it. Just scanning the web for reviews of the track tells a story, as well as even the most jaded and cynical of writers, have been rendered helpless by the appeal of the track. For Lola's Theme is the kind of record it is impossible to hate. Even the part of you that recognises it as the cheesiest of cheesy dance records feels compelled to break out into a huge grin, down your drink and hit the floor to revel in its three minutes plus of utter joy. Best of all, unlike Take Me To The Clouds Above, the last cheesy dance record to top the charts, it is not a lazy amalgamation of two other songs but a totally original piece of work.
Not since Spiller's Groovejet has one record come close to encapsulating the spirit of an entire summer and after months of the charts being clogged up by worthy but somehow rather tedious US R&B, it is worth celebrating the kind of record that restores your faith in pop music. My only hope is that it winds up selling as many CDs as it will ringtones. [That's the closest you will ever see me come to essentially writing a love letter to a club record, but it is just an illustration of how captivating it was. Now regarded as a genuine high point of its era, there's the evidence that Lola's Theme stood out as a classic almost from the word go].
Moving on, and the record that enters at Number 2 may not be as superlative as Lola's Theme but it is one that is worth celebrating for entirely different reasons for it is proof that when record companies put their minds to it, they can rescue even the deadest of careers from the dumper if the artist is of a high enough priority. With Rachel Stevens, the record company had a problem you see. As the most high profile and photogenic member of S Club, she was an obvious choice to be launched into a solo career when the group dissolved. For her first single she was given an instantly memorable track, Sweet Dreams My LA Ex. OK so it was a Britney Spears cast off but Rachel made it her own and the percussive, insistent track was an instant smash, hitting Number 2 in September last year. Then came a damaging misfire. Next to be released was Funkydory, the Bowie-sampling title track to her debut album. Released just before Christmas, the track was nothing to write home about and Rachel Stevens was suddenly A.N. Other female solo singer with little to make her stand out from the crowd. The single stiffed at Number 26 and took sales of the album with it down the toilet. With just one stroke, all the good work done by Sweet Dreams had been undone.
The simple answer would have been to dump the singer and start over with somebody else, but to their credit, the record company took a longer term view. Emma Bunton had proved that female solo stars could still work, all they needed was the kind of material to make them distinctive. Suitable tracks were located and Rachel Stevens was propelled back into the studio in a final roll of the dice. She also needed something to make her next single more of an event, and so Some Girls was signed up as the official anthem for the Sport Relief charity campaign, thus guaranteeing it plenty of exposure on television over the past couple of weeks. It almost seems too easy. Distinctive the track certainly is, a thumping pop track that at times appears to be turning into Goldfrapp's Soft Machine [not a coincidence]. Happily, the record stays on just the right side of originality and in a stroke wipes out all the memories of the poor performance of her last single. Some Girls is also accompanied by a re-release of her debut album containing a handful of new tracks - in a way it is a perfect example of how to push the reset button on an artist and instantly make the investment in her start to make sense. The performance of her next single will, of course, be noted with interest (and it is only then that we will see how much of a factor the Sport Aid link was) but for the moment Rachel Stevens has two Number 2 hits under her belt and with the potential to make something of her solo career after all.
It is a busy Top 10 this week, with no less than five new entries arriving with a bang, Usher's former Number One the only one of last weeks Top 6 to stand a chance of maintaining its position. Arriving at Number 4 is J-Kwon's Tipsy, The rapper has barely turned 18 but has already made waves in many territories with his debut single, the UK being one of the last countries to catch up to him. Those with an ear for the more earthier sounding track will find Tipsy a welcome relief from what has gone before. I'm unsure exactly how much of a one-off this single success will turn out to be but a Number 4 hit first time out is a chart performance that makes you sit up and take notice.
Next up is Jamelia who has a tough act to follow after two Top 3 hits that were both in their own way instant classics. Happily, she is more than up to the task with this attention grabbing single co-written by none other than Coldplay's Chris Martin. He appears on the track as well, playing the piano and in a way it is a shame that See It In A Boys Eyes had to be released in a week when so many other big singles appeared. At any other time, this would have been a guaranteed Top 3 smash - especially when you take into account her own unique take on Linkin Park's Numb which appears on the b-side. The track gives Jamelia her third successive Top 10 single and quite rightly too.
Finally the Top 10 welcomes back Morrissey once again, hard on the heels of Irish Blood English Heart which gave him his first Top 10 hit in a decade just two months ago. First Of The Gang To Die is probably the best track from his comeback album and as such a worthy single release, telling the tale of Mexican anti-hero Hector. Never let it be said that he shies away from difficult subjects. The record continues the Morrissey renaissance in some style, giving him a second consecutive Top 10 hit for the first time since 1989. Yes, you read that correctly. Not since the dawn of his solo career in the 1980s has Mozza shown this level of consistency in the singles chart. [Mozza's last record to be any good at all, discuss].
You have to feel a certain degree of sympathy for Flip & Fill. In any other week, their new single Discoland would have easily been one of the club hits of the week. It is certainly a return to form musically and after the failure of their last two releases Field Of Dreams and Irish Blue it was set to return the producers to the upper reaches of the charts. In the same week as Lola's Theme however, the track hardly stands out at all and although it's Number 11 entry makes it their biggest hit since Shooting Star two years ago it is still relegated to being something of a chart also-ran. Singer Karen Parry last appeared as the vocalist on Pascal's 2002 cover of I Think We're Alone Now, a Number 23 hit in December that year.
At Number 16 are Marillion, still not quite the mainstream act that they and their followers think they deserve to be but who continue to lead by example with a triumph of self-marketing. Don't Hurt Yourself is the follow-up You're Gone which was entirely promoted to their fan club and via their website to become their first Top 10 hit in 17 years back in May. This new track may not have had quite the same impact but still contains the same Marillion magic all the same. Don't be fooled by this understated write-up, I remain as much in awe of their comeback as I did before, it is just that I've used up every last drop of praise on singles higher up.
Moving out of the Top 20 now (and overlooking the dramatic 16 place tumble suffered by Elvis) we come to Snow Patrol, who are indeed struggling to match the Number 5 peak of their first Top 40 hit Run from back in February. Number 23 hit Spitting Games is the follow-up to Chocolate which similarly made a disappointing Number 24 back in April. At the very least they can take heart from the fact that Spitting Games has done better than it did the first time around - this, in fact, being a re-release of their very first single which originally made Number 54 in September last year. They've sold their fair share of albums of course, so singles success is almost certainly a secondary concern.
At Number 28 there is the always welcome sight of a Top 40 hit for Counting Crows. After over a decade of hardly any hits at all, the veteran rock band have spent the first part of the 21st century clocking up some well spaced minor hit singles. June 2002's American Girls gave them their first Top 40 hit in 8 years when it made Number 33 and they followed it with their biggest hit ever just under a year later, teaming up with Vanessa Carlton on a cover of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi which hit Number 16. Now in 2004, they return with a brand new album and a brand new single Accidentally In Love, one which slides into the Top 30 to become what is only their fourth [and last, sadly] Top 40 hit ever. [The video for this remains a fascination. The track was recorded for the "Shrek 2" soundtrack and Counting Crows even picked up an Oscar nomination for it. Yet the video goes out of its way to downplay the link to the movie, relegating references to it to the TV screens in the background].
Finally this week it is a toss-up as to which acts gets the most sympathy for their poor performance this week. Is it Nelly Furtado who sees her fourth hit of the year Forca make a dismal Number 40 to become her first chart single ever to miss the Top 20? Or maybe it is relative newcomers FYA who had a solid start to their career back in March when Must Be Love made a credible Number 13. High hopes were pinned on the follow-up Too Hot but it can do nothing more than crawl to Number 49 this week, its chances of ever being a hit well and truly dead and buried.
This is a negative note to end on though isn't it?
See, even the mere mention of it makes you smile.