We begin this week as we mean to continue, by setting the way back machine to the summer of 1996. Peter Andre had spent most of the previous year becoming something of a sensation back in his native Australia but attempts to launch his career in the UK had met with something approaching indifference. He had released two singles - Turn It Up and a little track called Mysterious Girl without either having troubled the Top 40 and only made a breakthrough after a sustained period of promotion which led to his third single Only One creeping up to Number 16.
Heartened by this his label attempted to rediscover the potential of the happy go lucky summertime sound of Mysterious Girl and re-released the track at the start of May. The single slammed into the Top 3 with a bullet and proceeded to spend the rest of the summer there. One of the defining singles of that summer, it actually spent 10 consecutive weeks in the Top 5, run which even back then was quite sensational. For some odd reason, the myth has grown up that the single actually topped the charts - in fact the highest it climbed was Number 2 for a solitary week. The single was so successful that Mushroom records actually had to resort to deleting the track in early September as it was in serious danger of eclipsing his follow-up single. Peter Andre with his six pack stomach and curtains hairstyle was the biggest new sex symbol of the year and despite being utterly bland and forgettable his next two singles Flava and I Feel You both topped the charts. A move away from pop to a more urban sound appeared to do little to diminish his appeal and Andre managed a further run of Top 10 hits for another two years, his last chart appearance coming in July 1998 when a remake of the Little Mermaid soundtrack song Kiss The Girl hit Number 9.
Then he vanished, moving to Cyprus with his family and only emerged just after Christmas when it was revealed he was one of the contestants set to take part in the third series of reality TV show I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. A re-release of Mysterious Girl had already been pencilled in for a few weeks after the end of the show but I suspect nobody could have guessed what a smash the former teen heartthrob would have been. His will they or won't they romance with the seemingly reluctant Jordan made headlines for the two-week duration of the show and although he didn't win, Peter Andre emerged as a star reborn.
Hence the Number One single this week. Almost nine years after it was first released and seven and a half years after it first became a hit, the bubbly pop song has finally become a Number One hit single. Peter Andre himself returns to the top of the singles chart for the first time in over seven years - the longest any artist has had to wait since Cliff Richard's nine year gap in-between chart-toppers in the 1990s. Always the unlikeliest of pop stars (let's face it that voice isn't exactly up to much), Peter Andre appears to be set for a quite spectacular comeback year. The only odd thing is how much of the talk has been about how entertainingly naff Mysterious Girl is/was. Make no mistake, in the summer of 1996, it was the soundtrack of the summer.
The action in the Top 3 doesn't stop there. Knocked into second place this week as expected is Jamelia. Her last single was of course Superstar which defied most current chart trends by selling consistently for many weeks. Originally charting at Number 8, the single peaked at Number 3 four weeks later, spent six weeks inside the Top 10 and 10 in total in the Top 20. Make no mistake this was a smash hit, and a welcome return to form after her first comeback single Bout had flopped badly earlier in the year. Thankfully she has followed Superstar up with a track that is just as good, Thank You may not be quite the pop stormer its predecessor was but the R&B ballad (also the title track of her album) is nothing less than a thing of beauty. It beats the peak of Superstar to boot to become her biggest hit single so far.
With all of that, you have to feel a small degree of sympathy for Westlife. Having returned to chart-topping ways with their cover of Mandy just before Christmas they find themselves relegated to being pretty much also-rans in the chart race this week. Looking back at their recent chart performances it is interesting to note that the last time they topped the charts outside the Christmas period was back in March 2002 with World Of Our Own - all their other non-seasonal hits since have charted lower down the Top 5. Thankfully the days when a Westlife single not topping the charts was big news have long passed. This year will mark the fifth anniversary of their first ever single release which means they have now hit the upper limit of the generally recognised lifespan of pop bands. It is, of course, possible that they have moved beyond being mere teen dreamboats and could well settle into a long period of Ronan Keating-esque ubiquity.
Those who remember the early days of Westlife will recall that part of their gimmick was that they were 'managed' by Ronan Keating himself, thus helping to engineer the idea that the Irish Boy Band baton was being gracefully passed on. In a similar way this week the chart sees the debut of R&B boy band VS who, the hype says, are 'managed' by none other than Simon Webbe of Blue. Thankfully nobody really believes a word of this but it is good a hook as any and at least has meant that VS have attracted the attention of the legions of Blue fans. All this has helped their debut single to make a strong chart entry well inside the Top 10 this week. [Their biggest claim to fame is being the first brush with celebrity for a pre-JLS Marvin Humes. Oh, and also not actually being a boy band since two of them were, you know, women].
Two more singles also enter the Top 10 this week. First up is Lemar who sidestepped the Fame Academy jinx quite nicely - duly becoming the first contestant to manage three Top 10 hits. Another Day is another quality release from the singer and follows up Dance (With U) and his Christmastime hit 50:50/Lullaby. Just below is 50 Cent with his fourth hit single and one which just about maintains his unbroken run of Top 10 hits. Of note is the fact that he is accompanied on the track by G Unit, his proteges having already had a Top 40 hit of their own in December with Stunt 101 hitting Number 29.
A wry smile will play on the lips of many an 80s child when hearing the Number 14 hit this week. Sometime N-Trance and Flip & Fill singer Kelly Llorenna was last in solo action back in 2002 with two hits - one of which was a cover of Taylor Dayne's 1988 hit Tell It To My Heart. To launch this new chart assault she has gone with the same tactic, in this case picking a Stock, Aitken and Waterman track that was a memorable Top 10 hit for no less a legend than Donna Summer back in 1989. Even those who loathed the Hit Factory team back in the 1980s will admit that This Time I Know It's For Real showed the trio at the height of their production powers and in a way it is a shame to hear the single appear again in what is inevitably a slightly lesser version. Still a good pop record is a good pop record, no matter what form it appears in and just like Tell It To My Heart two years ago it is good to see it back in the charts.
The spirit of 1996 is evoked again with the next two new entries. First up is the long awaited chart return of Jake 'JX' Williams, whose biggest hits did indeed come eight or nine years ago when the producer was just a teenager. He had two Top 10 hits in total, Son Of A Gun which made Number 9 in August 1995 and most memorably radio staple There's Nothing I Won't Do which went to Number 4 in May 1996 - coincidentally around the same time that Mysterious Girl was a hit. The last JX chart appearance was in March 1997 when Close To Your Heart made Number 18 since when he has worked more behind the scenes, his most famous production triumph being Planet Perfecto's Bullet In The Gun back in 1999 and 2000. Now he returns to the chart as a performer with this fast paced trance track Reckless that manages to evoke memories of past glories whilst remaining firmly in the 21st century.
Just below are Placebo whose 1996 connection is based on their most famous hits Nancy Boy and Bruise Pristine. English Summer Rain follows on from their three hits last year, this hit beating the peak of Special Needs to match the chart placing of This Picture which charted in June.
Honourable mention is due to Elbow who get their chart career back on track with Not A Job, this following on from Fugitive Motel which missed the Top 40 at the end of last year, a rather disappointing follow-up to Fallen Angel which hit Number 19. The most fascinating stories of the bottom end of the chart however come right at the very bottom.
Oddly enough there are echoes of 1996 in the tale of the Cha Cha Slide. It was in that year that Willie Perry Jnr was working as a Fitness trainer when he developed a new dance during his workout classes. Being something of a producer and DJ on the side he turned the workout into a club record, credited to his alter-ego Mr C or DJ Casper. The track took some time to emerge commercially, finally hitting the shops in the States in either September 2000 or September 2002 depending on which archive site you believe (I've not been able to turn up the true date) [Wikipedia nails it fairly firmly to the 2000 date]. Its commercial progress was hampered somewhat by the presence of a rival version by MC Jig, both versions vying for popularity in a manner that echoed the cover battles that raged over the Macarena in 1996 and the Chihuahua just last year. For whatever reason the MC Jig version has been bubbling around in clubs for the best part of the last six months, thus prompting a new pressing of the original release. As a result the single has been climbing the charts since the new year, three weeks ago creeping into the Top 75 for the first time ever. Since then the track has moved 61-53-37 where it finds itself this week. Wild speculation this may be, but is it possible we are about to witness a genuine climb from nowhere hit single for the first time in years?
Finally to bring up the rear is a genuine novelty. Bernie Nolan is these days best known as an actress, appearing as Diane Murray in Brookside and in recent years as a regular cast member of the ITV series The Bill. Prior to that she was of course a pop star, lead singer of The Nolans - she and her sisters notching up seven successive Top 20 hits between 1979 and 1992 including the immortal I'm In The Mood For Dancing. Now she has embarked on a parallel solo career, kicking off with Macushla which was somehow shoehorned into the recent plot of the police drama series. The single thus slides into the Top 40 with all proceeds going to charity. She thus becomes the first Nolan sister to score a solo hit - 22 years after their last single hit the charts.