Last Friday saw the bi-annual Comic Relief telethon broadcast on the BBC, the latest in a long series of charity appeals which see the great and the good of British comedy encourage us all to wear red noses and raise money for charity projects both here and in Africa. In a tradition which now stretches back over two decades, the appeal has had a charity single released in its name. For the second time running, however, the appeal has wound up both with an official track and a secondary unofficial release. Both arrive on the singles chart simultaneously this week and present us with a fascinating study in contrasts. One gets things very wrong, the other getting it right in the most glorious way possible.
First, the one that got it wrong. The "official" Comic Relief single is the track that storms to the very top of the charts after arriving both in the shops and online at the very start of the week. The approach to the charity track this year has been to use a theme which we have not seen since 1995 - that of the superstar collaboration. Twelve years ago it was Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry who along with Eric Clapton took a cover of Love Can Build A Bridge to the top in aid of the charity. This time around it is the potentially mouthwatering combination of the Sugababes and Girls Aloud who have been selected to perform the single. The only problem really is the choice of song.
Walk This Way began life as a single by Aerosmith back in 1976. At the time they were total unknowns in this country but as part of their first wave of American fame, hit Number 10 on the US charts early the following year and has been a concert favourite ever since. The place of the song in musical history was however assured a decade later when it was covered by rap group Run DMC who invited Steve Tyler and Joe Perry along for the ride. At the time such a fusion of rap and rock was nothing less than revolutionary. The single duly became the first ever hip hop track to break the American Top 5, the first rap track to gain heavy rotation on MTV (which until then had avoided the genre as much as possible) and not only launched Run DMC as a mainstream act but also revived the career of the all but defunct Aerosmith. A Number 8 hit on these shores in September 1986, the recording stands tall as an all time classic and in terms of what it went on to inspire can rank as one of the most important rap singles of all time.
It is in this context that the new Sugababes vs Girls Aloud version should be viewed, and the huge problem is that it is found badly wanting. Whereas both prior versions of the track have been huge, in yer face, ball breaking records, the need to arrange it to suit the vocal styles of both acts has resulted in a half sung, half whispered production that renders the song all but meaningless and makes for a rather underwhelming aural experience. The single was clearly made with half an ear on the Run DMC version, the video even paying homage to the "two acts breaking down the wall between them" concept of the original. Sadly though the record itself cannot even begin to compare.
Still, let us briefly look at the positive. The single returns Girls Aloud to the top of the charts after a gap of two and a half years, in a strange coincidence their first Number One since I'll Stand By You released in aid of the "other" BBC charity telethon Children In Need. For the Sugababes, it is their fifth chart-topper, their first since Push The Button hit the top in October 2005.
So much for the official Comic Relief song then. Fortunately, there is salvation at hand from a rather familiar source.
Cast your minds back two years. In 2005 the official Comic Relief single was All About You by McFly but it was quickly supplanted both in the public mind and in terms of sales by a second single which also donated its proceeds to Comic Relief. Comedian Peter Kay sponsored a re-release of Tony Christie's (Is This The Way To) Amarillo and starred in a new video which helped the single soar to the top of the charts and shifted well over a million copies. In 2007 history is all but repeating itself.
Scottish anthem (I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles was first released by The Proclaimers in 1988. Their second large hit, the single reached Number 11 in October that year. Since then it has taken on a life of its own, featuring heavily on the soundtrack of the 1993 film Benny and Joon and having been adopted as a theme song by Hibernian FC in Scotland. Ever since the new chart rules came into play at the start of the year, the track has consistently hovered around the Top 100 as a regular online seller. With that kind of pedigree, it was almost inevitable that someone would find a way to revive it properly.
Enter then, Peter Kay. This new Comic Relief version stars Kay (in character as Phoenix Club boss Brian Potter) alongside Matt Lucas who in turn appears as his little Britain character Andy Pipkin. The two wheelchair bound characters duet on the first two verses of the song before being supplanted by Craig and Charlie Reid - the Proclaimers themselves making a triumphant and quite joyous chart return. The single is in the classic comic relief style, which saw artists perform songs whilst comedy partners disrupted things around them, although not since the very first Comic Relief single in 1986 has the original artist returned to mess around with their own track. To this day Living Doll by Cliff and the Young Ones stands up as one of the finest comedy records ever made and whilst 500 Miles doesn't pretend to be anything more than an affectionate tribute to the original version, it is closer to the true spirit of a Comic Relief track than anything released in the name of the appeal in years.
Very much a last minute rush release, the single was only released online at the very end of last week but still sold enough in its two days on sale to charge straight into Number 3. It becomes the first Top 40 for the Proclaimers since 1994 and at a stroke matches the peak of their biggest ever hit Letter From America which charted in 1987. Number One this time next week is all but a given.
Oh yes, and remember the original version which has charted on and off since the start of the year? Well, it is back once again, charging into at Number 37 to land its highest chart position in over 18 years. This in itself is quite an achievement as the Proclaimers become the first act in over 20 years to chart simultaneously with two different recordings of the same song. The last person to achieve this was Lulu who in the last week of July 1986 had both her original 1964 recording of Shout in the Top 75 alongside a brand new '86' version. This state of affairs only lasted a week before sales of the two releases were combined for one chart position, rocketing the single into the Top 40 and ultimately into the Top 10. Two different chart placings for the same track has happened more recently, most notably at the end of 1991 when for a short time chart rules allowed for a remixed version of a track to be given a separate chart entry if its release exceeded the four formats allowed for a single at the time.
With pretty much everything else in the Top 10 on a downward slide this week, the only other new arrival is Calvin Harris with Acceptable In The 80s which moves 17-10 with the expected boost from physical sales. The single has arguably only just started to pick up mainstream airplay which suggests at least one more climb may well be in order. [I'm amazed that none of the mentions of this so far have noted the glorious way it reproduces the sound of the Tom Tom Club. Must have totally passed me by].
Also moving quickly is P Diddy who leaps 30-14 with Last Night. Another single from his Press Play album, the single is the follow-up to the Number 8 hit Tell Me. The single features a guest vocal from Keyshia Cole, last seen on the Top 40 in November last year when she duetted with Sean Paul on the minor hit single (When You Gonna) Give It Up To Me which reached Number 31.
Just time this week to make reference to three more songs which arrive on the chart. Alex Gaudino lands at Number 18 with Destination Calabria, a track destined for the Top 10 next week with its physical release. It is notable for the presence on vocals of Crystal Waters, best known for her famed 1991 hit Gypsy Woman. The Fratellis follow up their last two Top 10 hits with the rather less impressive Number 24 placing for Baby Fratelli which arrives on combined sales, but watch out for Maximo Park's Our Velocity which lands at Number 30 thanks to online sales but which should also soar with its physical release. There will surely only be one story in the coming week - can anything stop Potter, Pipkin and the Proclaimers?