1 2 BECOME 1 (Spice Girls)
So here it is, the moment has arrived. The biggest chart of the year following a frantic week of record buying and intense speculation as to exactly who would be sitting at the top of the charts, all can be revealed. The game of Christmas Number One appears to be uniquely British, no other territory in the world appears to attach such importance to what is, after all, just another Top 40 rundown but the strangled howls of pain from Bookmakers this week has indicated there are substantial numbers of people who are willing to stake part of their Christmas shopping money on the outcome of this week's sales.
To say that the race this year was a foregone conclusion is perhaps a slight understatement. In spite of the competition from the much-hyped Dunblane single there could really only be one winner once the Spice Girls had announced they were to release a single in time for Christmas. The slushy love ballad 2 Become 1 could almost have been written for this moment, a lavish production, awash with strings, the five girls purr seductively around a song that is based entirely around enticing their man into bed (lucky devil). One has to marvel at the way they have managed such an all-round appeal, girls can identify with their forthright "Girl Power" attitude whilst there is no red-blooded male alive who can resist them purring "Wanna Make Love To Ya" on this single. Pre-release orders from record stores indicated that a phenomenal sale was likely and so it turns out, well over half a million copies shifted in just one week [429,000 was the adjusted total in the end], causing the single to outsell the Dunblane track by a margin of 3:1. This should surely leave nobody in any doubt that the Spice Girls have efficiently steered themselves into the position of the biggest pop band in Britain today.
Virtually everywhere you look they have set records tumbling and this disc sets them apart as one of the greatest chart acts ever. All three of their singles to date - Wannabe, Say You'll Be There and 2 Become 1 have topped the charts, making them only the fifth act ever to achieve this remarkable career-opening hat-trick. As is well documented, Gerry and the Pacemakers were the first in 1963, Frankie Goes To Hollywood matched this in 1984 and since then the glorious three has been achieved by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers (1989) and more recently Robson and Jerome whose last single What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted completed their set just a few weeks ago. No act has ever managed four Number One singles to open their careers, both Gerry and the Pacemakers and FGTH saw their fourth singles stall at Number 2.
The Spice domination looks set to continue for a good few weeks yet, the single clearly untouchable whilst the holiday lasts whilst the album Spice is locked solidly at the top of its respective chart, without a doubt one of the most popular gifts of the season. Congratulations are due all round for this; to the girls themselves, brief encounter with them earlier in the summer ranking as one of the most memorable moments of the year and also to Virgin records whose victory in the frantic bidding war for their signatures at the start of all this has paid dividends many times over. Finally thank you to you, the .dotmusic readers for all your visits and all your comments over the course of the last year. Remiss of me not to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
2 KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR (Dunblane)
For all the hype, for all the arguments over the rights and wrongs of the single and its attendant issue, nothing could stand the way of the Spice Girls and the Dunblane single slips down from the summit and looks set to begin a fairly rapid decline once the holiday season is over. On achievement of the single which has hitherto been overlooked is that it gives Bob Dylan a Number One single for the first time in his long and distinguished career. Although his songs, whether sung by him or by others have been hits many times over, none have ever come close to reaching the summit [nope, this is to ignore Manfred Mann's Mighty Quinn or The Byrds' Mr Tambourine Man. But I'll correct this error next week]. Knockin' On Heaven's Door was first released by its writer in 1973 when it reached Number 14. Eric Clapton took his version to Number 38 in 1975 but it was Guns N' Roses who came the closest when their remake made Number 2 in 1992. Until now that has been the highest ever placing for a Dylan song, his biggest hit single came in 1965 when Like A Rolling Stone reached Number 4.
3 DON'T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA (Madonna)
It has been quite a week for Madonna, the best reviews of her career for her performance in 'Evita' and now a Top 3 single for Christmas in the UK, her best chart placing since Erotica peaked in the same position in September 1992. Although the new composition 'You Must Love Me' was an inevitable choice for the first single from the soundtrack (it reached Number 10 in November), this was the single everyone was waiting for. The song that is 'Evita' in the minds of most people was first recorded in 1977 by Julie Covington who took it to Number One, the only artist ever to do so with an Andrew Lloyd-Webber song [was I pissed writing this? Jason Donovan's Any Dream Will Do in 1991 also topped the charts. Another matter I revist in the next column in the absence of anything else to talk about]. Two years later the Shadows released an instrumental version which made Number 5 whilst most recently Sinead O'Connor made a brief appearance in the Top 75 with her version for Christmas 1992. As lifted from the soundtrack, the song is a fairly straight rendition of the standard, Madonna's voice having never sounded better, but there is more to come in the new year. Without wanting to give too much away, this single could well see her top the charts for the first time in nearly seven years in the most surprising of manners. [A reference to the rather thrilling dance remake, but more on that in a couple of weeks].
15 STEP BY STEP (Whitney Houston)
A small climb for Whitney Houston, the progress of this single hampered by the logjam towards the top end of the chart and the continuing sustained sales of many older singles as the turnover of singles inside the Top 40 slows to a crawl for the only time of the year. The continued progress of this single is worth observing as for a brand new Whitney Track this will be considered a very poor showing indeed, especially in the light of the forthcoming release of other tracks from the 'Preachers Wife' soundtrack which are set to make strong debuts during the first few weeks of January.
17 SAY YOU'LL BE THERE (Spice Girls)
Still hanging around, the Spice Girls' second single lands them another place in chart history by making them the first female band ever to have simultaneous Top 20 hits. The feat has been achieved by solo females before, most notably Madonna and Whitney Houston but the Spice Girls are the first ever female group to achieve this. The hit, which is now three months old has found itself in the news again this week following the somewhat curious claims of another songwriter in the Middle East who has alleged it is a copy of a single she released two years ago. [An Israeli soldier called Idit Schechtman who threatened to sue. Although nobody seems sure what happened next].
29 IN THE MEANTIME (Spacehog)
To make your Top 40 debut in Christmas week is an interesting feat, but this is just what Spacehog do with this track whose blast of noise comes as a breath of fresh air amongst all the Christmas schmaltz. The Leeds band have hitherto been more popular in America than in their native country but now look set to change all. Does this bode well for Bush too? [One of the first singles to sample the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, this based on Telephones And Rubber Band which would gain ubiquity during 1997 thanks to mobile phone commercials].
30 DON'T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA (Mike Flowers Pops)
It was exactly a year ago that Mike Flowers Pops nearly managed to debunk the cult of Oasis with their tongue-in-cheek easy listening take on Wonderwall. Their cover nearly caused an upset by crashing in at Number 2 just in time for Christmas and it made the leader an unwitting star for a good few weeks. They reappeared in June with a fairly straight remake of 'Light My Fire' (following the Jose Feliciano arrangement) and now try to get in on the act this Christmas with an attempt to pour water on Madonna's fire. Whilst Madonna's version of the track is (for now) a fairly ordinary rendition of the ballad Mike Flowers has taken a different tack with a galloping Mike Stock and Matt Aitken production which cheekily turns into a reworded version of Macarena halfway through. If you were trying to pick the most entertaining novelty on the Christmas chart, it is between this and the Smurfs. No contest really.
32 ULTRA FLAVA (Heller and Farley Project)
Trying to hype singles into the upper reaches is fraught with danger at Christmas and even the biggest club hits can find themselves struggling. Such is the case with Ultra Flava which was first released in February this year when it reached Number 22. That release was for one week only, the track was quickly deleted and has been unavailable ever since. As a result, demand had built up to such a level that a good sale appeared to be assured when the track was re-released. Not so, the single falls ten places short of its original peak.
40 BLOW UP THE OUTSIDE WORLD (Soundgarden)
Soundgarden round off a good 1996 with their third Top 40 hit. Inevitably set to be the smallest, which is quite a shame as this commercially-appealing track is possibly their most accessible since Black Hole Sun - their biggest hit ever which Number 12 in August 1994.