[In which the biggest selling single of all time makes its triumphant debut in the strangest of circumstances. And in which 1997 James thought from the outset it was bloody awful and in the boldest move of his short writing career thus far had no hesitation in saying so. A quite famous piece this one.]
1 SOMETHING ABOUT THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT/CANDLE IN THE WIND '97 (Elton John)
It has been a very strange couple of weeks to be living in this country. Depending on your point of view it has either been the most touching, moving time imaginable as the public fell over themselves to pay tribute to the late Princess Diana, or alternatively it has been like living in a world that is badly in need of a sense of perspective as the media embarked on the canonisation of a woman for whom they appeared to have little respect when she was alive. Either way it was perhaps inevitable that the music industry would end up involved in some way, and so it has proved.
Elton John's performance of his rewritten version of Candle In The Wind at the funeral was seen by millions of people all over the world and almost immediately afterwards he went into the studio to record the new version to be released in aid of charity. First performed on Saturday September 6th, the song went on sale exactly seven days later with every available copy being snapped up within hours. As a result,Candle In The Wind becomes far and away the fastest selling single of all time. Never, ever before has a record managed to reach Number One after being available for just one day and it is a feat unlikely to ever be duplicated. Naturally, a frenzy of speculation has surrounded the prospects for the record with wild predictions being made that it will end up the biggest selling single of all time.
Such talk skirts around one very crucial point - it is actually not very good. Whatever the motivation behind its release, whatever the causes set to benefits from the profits of the record there is no escaping the fact that the song that originally celebrated one of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's childhood idols has been turned into a rather tacky dirge in memory of a woman who was as famous for her eccentricities and flaws as she was for her charitable work. One should never denigrate something that will raise money for charity but there are far far better ways of paying tribute to the life of a person than this single which only serves to spoil the memory of what was a rather lovely song to begin with. Elton John himself has taken a refreshingly level view of the whole thing, refusing to perform the song ever again and concentrating on promoting the first track on the CD Something In The Way You Look Tonight, a brand new single from a forthcoming new album which was due for release this week anyway. Aside from his duet with Luciano Pavarotti last Christmas with Live Like Horses the legendary entertainer had not had a Top 10 hit since early 1994 when he duetted with RuPaul on a remake of Don't Go Breaking My Heart. The Diana factor has given him just the shot in the arm he needed to sensationally give him his fourth Number One single following on from his original duet with Kiki Dee, 1990s Sacrifice/Healing Hands double-header and of course his Christmas 1991 duet with George Michael on a remake of his own Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me - thus making him the first chart act ever to reach Number One with re-recorded versions of two of his own hits.
2 YOU HAVE BEEN LOVED EP (George Michael)
I use the word with some hesitation but if anyone can be said to have benefitted from the events of the past few weeks it is George Michael. A slightly reworked version of the album track You Have Been Loved had just been serviced to radio stations when the news of the tragic accident broke. As playlists were torn up and databases searched for suitable music to play, the plaintive ballad fitted the mood perfectly. As a result the sixth single from Older found itself instantly in heavy rotation all over the land. The net effect was for the album itself to register a surge in sales during the first week of September and now the single makes a similarly inspired debut, beaten only by the inevitably large sales of the Elton John single. It reinforces the fact that Older is far and away George Michael's most commercially successful album ever. Six different tracks have become singles, two have topped the charts with all the rest landing at Number 2 or Number 3. Not even consistent hitmakers such as Take That ever managed to lift six Top 3 singles from one album, it is a quite phenomenal feat. This week must also be unique for having two records debut at the very top end of the charts by two different artists who once duetted on a Number One hit of their own.
6 (UN, DOS, TRES) MARIA (Ricky Martin)
After all the intensity of the records above it, this single comes as a blessed light relief. Ricky Martin's annoyingly catchy song dominated holiday discos across the whole of Europe this summer. In the truest tradition of holiday hits it would barely get a look in at any other time of year but fuelled by an army of tourists keen to bring back memories of their summer it duly crashes straight into the British Top 10. Sung half in English, half in Spanish the record has about as much credibility as Macarena but just as much appeal.
8 ALL MINE (Portishead)
Since their award-winning debut album Dummy was released in 1995 Portishead have been ominously quiet, prompting worries that they might never again contribute to the trip-hop revolution. Fortunately the delay was down to little more than perfectionism and they are rewarded with their first ever Top 10 smash, beating at a stroke the Number 13 peaks of their two previously legendary hits Sour Times and Glory Box. Their brand of melancholy balladeering may not be to the taste of everyone so do not expect anything more than a rapid exit for this hit, just be grateful for the welcome prospect of plenty more to come.
10 4 SEASONS OF LONELINESS (Boyz II Men)
As if they had never been away, Boyz II Men break an extended silence to notch up their first Top 10 hit since One Sweet Day, their duet with Mariah Carey reached Number 6 in December 1995. Their brand of sweet modern-day barbershop soul seems to come and go in terms of popularity over here, despite their 1992 Number One with End Of The Road their chart career has been somewhat erratic, this only their fourth Top 10 hit.
13 WHO'S THE MACK (Mark Morrison)
Mark Morrison is back, and boy is he angry. It has been a year of contrasts for the Leicester soul man. One the one hand he has performed what may have seemed impossible, selling his US-style R&B straight back to its country of origin, spending almost three months inside the Hot 100 with Return Of The Mack. On the other hand his chances of promoting the single have been severely limited owing to his incarceration as a guest of Her Majesty following that famous incident with a stun gun earlier this year. Straight from prison he went into the recording studio to produce the mini-album The Mack Is Back and from it comes this brand-new single, his first release in this country since Horny made Number 5 just before Christmas. Possibly less appealing and less commercial that his previous hits, it ends his run of four Top 10 hits but is a welcome reminder that despite his sometimes erratic behaviour and his persecution complex that is oh so evident in this record and all his recent interviews, he remains one of this country's finest R&B songwriters.
14 NIGHT NURSE (Sly and Robbie featuring Simply Red)
Although legends as producers and engineers, Sly and Robbie have rarely had commercial hits with their own recordings. Indeed, until now their only previous hit single was Boops Here To Go which reached Number 12 in April 1987. Since then they have been the brains behind many hit singles, most notably Chaka Demus and Pliers whose version of Twist And Shout gave both performers and producers their first ever UK Number One hit. Now they charge back into the Top 20 with a single that has proved to be an instant club classic, being itself a cover of a classic hit. Night Nurse was originally recorded in the late 1970s by Gregory Isaacs and although the song has never been a commercial hit it is a favourite of many classic soul fans, amongst them Simply Red's Mick Hucknall who leaped at the chance to perform vocals on this new version.
15 SUMMERTIME (Sundays)
There can't be many bands who command the same kind of respect as the Sundays after just two moderately successful albums. Nonetheless this is the situation in which the Sundays find themselves. When they first appeared in 1989 they were critical darlings, sounding like a cross between the Smiths and the Cocteau Twins they released just one single Can't Be Sure which bizarrely only reached Number 45. Their debut album took a year in coming, but no new singles were released, rumour had it the band had no other song to put on the b-side. Two years later they returned with a new album Blind and a second single Goodbye which made Number 27 but yet again failed to translate their critical adoration into significant sales. Thankfully Parlophone records are more patient than most, a full five years on from their last release the Sundays have a new album ready and if this single is anything to go by it should be their best yet. The gentle Summertime could hardly miss and it charges up the charts to give them their biggest hit single ever. We should enjoy it while it lasts, if their previous form is anything to go by it could be seven years until we hear from them again.
17 ELEKTROBANK (Chemical Brothers)
Stranger and stranger. After two successive Number One singles in the shape of Setting Sun and Block Rocking Beats the fortunes of the Chemical Brothers appear to take a slight dip as Elektrobank becomes their smallest hit single for many months. In many ways this is a shame as it is by far their most appealing single yet, aided to a large extent by what has to be the most unusual video ever made to accompany a dance single. The video, instantly put into heavy rotation by MTV features a teenage gymnast going through her routine in a competition, desperate to beat her sour-faced rival who has just performed as the film begins. The combination of graceful gymnastic moves with the frantic rhythms of the Chemical Brothers works perfectly and should have helped this single to cross over to an extent that their past hits failed to do, despite their lofty chart entries. [Yep, totally this. One of a series of incredible, ground-breaking videos to accompany Chemical Brothers singles over the years].
22 SOME KIND OF BLISS (Kylie Minogue)
Whilst younger sister Dannii slips quietly down the charts, the other singing Minogue makes her long-awaited return to the Top 40. With her bubblegum pop years well behind her now, Kylie has had to tread very carefully to sustain her hitmaking career. The first step was singles like Confide In Me and Put Yourself In My Place which saw her team up with producers such as Driza Bone and Brothers In Rhythm. After a three year recording absence she now takes a different and altogether more surprising tack. Imagine Kylie Minogue covering a Manic Street Preachers track and you have Some Kind Of Bliss summed up - written and produced by none other than Sean Moore and James Dean Bradfield it is nothing less than astonishing, a wonderfully sophisticated track that proves that the former soap actress has more depth to her than anyone could have realised. Her first hit single since her 1995 duet with Nick Cave on Where Wild Roses Grow it also has the potential to be her most disappointing chart performance ever. Since her first hit with I Should Be So Lucky in 1988 Kylie has established herself as one of the most successful female chart acts of all time with a string of 23 Top 20 hits - one which could well come to an end if Some Kind Of Bliss fails to improve on this initial chart placing. [Chart failure be damned, to this day this is one of my favourite Kylie singles of all time. Simply because it is so completely different].
28 TOURNIQUET (Marilyn Manson)
A second hit single for the shock rockers and one which demonstrates yet again why their [its a 'he'] grotesque stage antics are the only thing that could make the music in any way appealing.
31 STRINGS FOR YASMIN (Tin Tin Out)
By rights Tin Tin Out should be massive. So far this year they have already produced one of the most brilliant pop-dance singles of recent months in the shape of Dance With Me featuring the much-heralded vocals of former Spandau Ballet hero Tony Hadley. When that single made a disappointing Number 35 attention turned to Strings For Yasmin, an album track which was highlighted by most reviewers as a masterpiece. As indeed it is, the single dominated by a string melody that builds to an emotional and rousing crescendo. The effect was so superb the track was used by Satellite TV company Sky as the soundtrack for their trailers for their football coverage. That exposure alone should have been enough to send the single crashing into the Top 20 but clearly the normal rules do not apply here, Tin Tin Out are stuck with their greatest ever release being nothing more than a minor hit with one of their worst - the dance bowdlerisation of Always Something There To Remind Me that made Number 14 in March 1995. [Truth be told it was the Sky promotion which made this one, just watch.]