1 SPICE UP YOUR LIFE (Spice Girls)
Believe it or not it was the middle of March when the Spice Girls last released a record. Yet since then the biggest pop band of the moment have hardly been out of the public eye, the publicity machine still working overtime as they film their first film, prepare for their first concerts and endorse everything from soft drinks to crisps and deodorant [I proudly owned two pairs of Spice Girls socks]. Finally, with a workrate that would put many so-called superstars to shame, comes the first single from their second album. Surely familiar to most by now, their salsa-styled fifth single follows the same path as all the rest, straight to the top of the charts. In this respect the feisty five are far and away the most successful singles act ever, nobody else has ever come even close to starting their chart career with five Number One hits. Moreover to have five in a row at any stage is remarkably rare. It is a total matched only by The Rolling Stones in 1964 and 1965 and by Elvis Presley in 1961 and 1962, beaten only by the Beatles themselves who not only had six chart-toppers in a row between 1967 and 1969 but of course famously had 11 in a row between 1963 and 1966. Indeed it has not been since the days of the aforementioned Liverpudlians that an act has been all but guaranteed a Number One hit with every single release. With the quality of the tracks on their forthcoming new album SpiceWorld as high as ever, when they finally do have a single that fails to reach the top it will be nothing short of a sensation. In the meantime, expect Spice Up Your Life to settle in for a lengthy run at the top with plenty more hits to follow, leaving us only to ponder the unanswerable question posed by the lyrics of the song - exactly how does one "polka the salsa"?
2 BARBIE GIRL (Aqua)
There can be few people who aren't familiar with the concept of this record. The novelty track has been a hit single all over Europe and made a sizeable impression in America where the concept of a novelty hit is almost alien. In the process it has upset toy giants Mattel, makers of Barbie who have objected not only to the appropriation of the character name but the implications about her personal life contained in the song. Happily they are the only ones who have failed to get the joke and after selling on import for a number of weeks the track explodes onto the chart in this country, denied a Number One ironically by the very group who this week launched their own range of Barbie-style dolls.
9 YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND (Brand New Heavies)
The lack of competition for places in the Top 10 this week is illustrated by the way last week's Top 6 in its entirety drops two places to make way for the two big new entries of the week. Taking advantage of this state of affair s are the Brand New Heavies who advance two places to finally and deservedly land a Top 10 hit for the first time ever. Just like the Lightning Seeds earlier this year, it is perhaps a little sad that their biggest ever hit should be in the form of a fairly straightforward cover version rather than their far superior original material.
10 A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (Ash)
From the makers of "Trainspotting" comes "A Life Less Ordinary", a new film starring Ewan Macgregor and Cameron Diaz. Directors Andrew McDonald and Danny Boyle proved with Trainspotting that they know the importance of a credible soundtrack and their new venture looks set to continue the trend. First off the starting grid is the main theme, performed by Ash although the song is perhaps not one of the best they have ever released. Nonetheless, it scrapes a Top 10 placing, the second such hit for the newly-expanded foursome and their first chart hit since Oh Yeah made Number 6 in July 1996. Expect a flurry of other hits to follow from the soundtrack, Faithless set to follow in a couple of weeks time.
11 U SEXY THING (Clock)
With only a few big singles entering the Top 10 this week, once again several hits have a chance to shine, advancing a few places where normally they would quickly fall away. Along with the Brand New Heavies, Clock become beneficiaries. However painfully bad their Hot Chocolate remake may be, it sustains its sales sufficiently to climb one place, mirroring the chart run of the last 70s classic they massacred. Said record was their version of the Four Seasons' Oh What A Night which was a Top 20 hit last September which spent six weeks in the Top 20, four of those dancing betwen Numbers 13 and 14. None of this inspires me to be any less rude about such a lazy, disrespectful piece of music-making, the only salvation coming in the shape of the imminent release of Hot Chocolate's original which should hopefully prove the point nicely.
13 ARE YOU JIMMY RAY? (Jimmy Ray)
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Jimmy Ray, the latest teen hearthrob on whom Sony records are piunning a great deal of hope. When an uncharted act is appearing on posters in Smash Hits three weeks before he has even had a single out then you know the hype machine is in full effect. [He had a huge marketing spend and was being positioned as a huge star]. As his name suggests, Jimmy Ray is being cast as a modern-day rockabilly, complete with 50s style quiff and a Gene Vincent-inspired single to match. It is an interesting tack and on the basis of this first hit, could well be one that pays off. [It didn't].
17 BURNING WHEEL (Primal Scream)
Primal Scream continue to notch up hit singles from the acclaimed Vanishing Point album, this being their third Top 20 hit of the year but on the face of it, not one of the tracks for which the album received such rave reviews.
19 WALKIN' ON THE SUN (Smash Mouth)
A good debut for Smash Mouth, the band from San Jose who, thanks to extensive radio airplay and press attention look set to duplicate their US appeal over here. Their extensive use of a hammond organ has led to accusations that they are nothing more than Doors copycats... but isn't it about time somebody was?
23 CRUSH ON YOU (Lil' Kim)
Reissue time for this single which was Lil Kim's first hit when it reached Number 36 as recently as July. Following the success of the followup Not Tonght which reached Number 11 in August it has been reactivated and dutifully registers a 13 place improvement. Even with the mid-90s trend for giving dance singles two bites at the cherry, so to speak, to reissue a Top 40 single in the hope of further success after just three months is extremely unusual although given that Not Tonight appeared just six weeks after the original issue of Crush On You Atlantic records are people in a rush.
25 SUNSHINE (Jay-Z featuring Babyface & Foxy Brown)
The most commercial offering yet from Jay-Z who notches up his fourth hit of the year and the third to feature Foxy Brown on guest vocals. This single also includes the vocal talents of Babyface, for him, his third Top 40 hit this year, following Every Time I Close My Eyes and his soon to be classic duet with Stevie Wonder How Come How Long. It is Foxy Brown, however, who has the most to celebrate. Since the start of the year she has duetted with Jay-Z three times, appeared on Blackstreet's Get Me Home and just a fortnight ago sang on Dru Hill's Big Bad Mama and so therefore becomes the first act this year to have five Top 40 hits.
26 SUN ARISE (Rolf Harris)
Yes that's right Rolf Harris. The bearded Australian who has inspired several generations of bad impressions and breathless cries of "Can You Guess What It Is Yet". After many years as the genial host of children's TV programmes he has reinvented himself as the presenter of TV programmes about animal hospitals. The time is also ripe to remind people that he was once a moderately succesful pop star with a succession of novelty hits in the 1960s. One such hit was Sun Arise, derived from an old aborigine chant which first made Number 3 in 1962. With as mich aplomb as is possible, Rolf Harris has re-recorded the song with - believe it or not - 808 State and persuaded a number of well-known names to remix the single. As a result, here he is in the charts once more to perpetuate his cult following amongst students. His last chart hit was as recently as 1993 when a jokey recording of Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven for an Australian TV showe gave him his first Top 10 hit for 24 years. Bearded goon or enduring popular entertainer, Rolf Harris has a place in pop history forever as the singer of the last Number One single of the 1960s, the tearjerking Two Little Boys.
28 ***K THE MILLENIUM (2K)
If the name means nothing to you here are a couple of other acronyms. JAMMS... KLF. To the delight of many Messr Cauty and Drummond appear to be well and truly back in business. Just over five years ago the pair had the potential to be superstars. As far as most people were concerned they were with a string of hit singles such as the Number One 3am Eternal. By late 1991 they had even persuaded C&W legend Tammy Wynette to sing on Justified And Ancient. Then in February 1992 after a performance at the Brit awards involving machine guns and dead sheep they announced their retirement from music. Instead they turned to bizarre performance art, as the K Foundation awarding a prize for the worst piece of art on the same night as the Turner Prize and then convincing most they had gone off the rails altogether when they made a film of themslelves throwing £1 million on a bonfire. Those who get the joke realised that it was only a matter of time before the ultimate artistic terrorists turned to music once again to make a point. Their target this time is the forthcoming millenium and the apparant need of governments worldwide to spend money to celebrate the event. To this end they have bought billboards and graffitied the walls of art galleries with the slogan Fuck The Millenium and to accompany it is this single, effectively a rehash of their classic hit What Time Is Love in a variety of mixes and littered with obscenities [inspired by the Acid Brass project whose work they decided to make use of]. Next week they plan another stunt to unveil the results of a telephone poll where the general public are invited to have their say on whether the millenium should be well and truly... well you get the idea. Those interested can call 0890 909 2000 with Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty pledging that with the appropriate mandate they will do all they can to carry out the will of the people. Dismiss them as cranks if you will, but this is pop music being used as art and it is a truly wonderful thing. [The existence of this single is actually rather awkward as it kind of treads on all the "returning after 23 years" hype surrounding what is at the time I'm writing this in early 2017 a rumoured comeback by the duo].
31 I AM THE BLACK GOLD OF THE SUN (Nuyorican Soul)
The third hit from Nuyorican Soul, the ensemble formed by Masters At Work plus various guest vocallists. I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun is the second to feature Jocelyn Brown, following on from It's Alright I Feel It which reached Number 26 back in May.
36 BULLITT (Lalo Schifrin)
One of the most talked-about television and cinema adverts of the moment is the current campaign for the Ford Puma which employs the latest technology to transplant images of the late film legend Steve McQueen into the car. Appropriately enough the music used to soundtrack the ad is Bullitt, the theme to the 1968 film from which the original footage was taken. As a direct result, here comes the single of the theme, destined only to become a minor hit but bringing the work of the famous film composer Lalo Schifrin to public attention again. This isn't his first chart hit, the Lalo Schifrin orchestra's original version of the theme from Jaws charted in October 1976, reaching Number 14. The 21 year gap between his chart appearances is impressive but only enough to rank at 19 on the all-time list of slowest followups. The record is held by Perez Prado whose appearance on the chart with Guaglione in late 1994 was his first chart single for over 36 years.
38 HAPPY (Travis)
A single which will probably wind up being Travis' last offering of the year. 1997 has seen the band become the trendy darlings of a least one glossy magazine, build up a tremendous following, received many rave reviews and yet still not quite manage the transition to selling lots of records. Happy, their fourth single release of the year is another rather wonderful rock song but is also their fourth single release to enter the chart near the basement with little chance of further progress. Indeed, of all the acts to reach the Top 40 this year Travis have been the most consistent minor hitmakers, only once managing to climb as high as Number 30 with their last single Tied To The 90s. Their time will surely come, but then again this was being said back in April when they first hit the charts. [It amuses me that I spent the whole of 1997 predicting Travis would become huge but had largely forgotten I had when it finally happened two years later].