1 FLYING WITHOUT WINGS (Westlife)
Gosh, where do you begin? First of all let us deal with the record itself. Westlife's third single doesn't vary much from their own now well-established formula. Flying Without Wings is a pop power ballad very much in the George Benson/Jeffrey Osbourne/R Kelly mould, an epic sounding track (I'll resist the temptation to say "soaring") that cannot fail to raise some emotions within you, regardless of what mood you are in to begin with. In any circumstances it would be a masterpiece. More than this however the mere presence of the track at the top of the chart elevates Westlife into very esteemed company indeed. Strange though it may seem, for decades the 1963 achievement of Gerry And The Pacemakers - reaching Number One with their first three singles - was regarded as a one-off, a unique achievement that acts could aspire to but never duplicate. Frankie Goes To Hollywood of course did indeed duplicate the feat in 1984 followed in 1989 (with rather less ceremony) by Jive Bunny And The Mastermixers and now we have reached a point where the list of acts to manage such a chart feat seems to grow by the year. Since then, however, the stakes have been raised and the real ultimate chart record is to actually enter at Number One with your first three singles. Robson and Jerome were the first, B*witched duplicated this late last year (adding an unprecedented fourth earlier this year) and now it is the turn of Westlife to join this elite group.Of course they haven't actually broken any records with this thanks to the aforementioned achievements of B*witched, which goes some way to explaining why the mass media have chosen to focus on what is on the surface the rather spurious honour of their being the first Boy Band to open their career with a trio of chart-toppers. In this era of big new releases being almost guaranteed a place near the top this trio of honours for the Irish band may not seem all that difficult a feat. However as has been proven plenty of times so far this year there are many "
Of course they haven't actually broken any records with this thanks to the aforementioned achievements of B*witched, which goes some way to explaining why the mass media have chosen to focus on what is on the surface the rather spurious honour of their being the first Boy Band to open their career with a trio of chart-toppers. In this era of big new releases being almost guaranteed a place near the top this trio of honours for the Irish band may not seem all that difficult a feat. However as has been proven plenty of times so far this year there are many "sure-fire" Number One hits that have fallen at the final hurdle, beaten into second or third place by the continuing large sales of well-established singles. The fact that this fate has yet to befall Westlife makes them either the luckiest band in the world [closer to the truth that I realised there] or shows just how good RCA Records are at playing the release dates game and steering them clear of any strong competition. Finally, if you can take any more record-breaking facts, Flying Without Wings is the 30th new Number One single of the year, a fact that means that 1999 will go down as the busiest year in the 47 year history of the UK charts.
3 IF I COULD TURN BACK THE HANDS OF TIME (R Kelly)
Ah, seeing as the man himself had a namecheck above, what better time for him to have a hit single with a power ballad all of his own? Despite his roots in R&B raunch his biggest hit singles in this country have always been soul epics. He hit Number One in 1997 with I Believe I Can Fly and followed that up with Gotham City which also reached the Top 10. If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time was always destined to be massive, simply by virtue of the fact that it too has been selling strongly on import for the last few weeks, the track having reached Number 57 last week before the import copies were supplanted in the shops by this more readily available official release. Proof, just as Christina Aguilera's single was, that public demand for the records they have been hearing on the radio for weeks is not confined to dance singles and that slowly the message is creeping out that there are limits as to how long people are prepared to wait in order to buy a copy of a record whose existence they have been aware of for months. Market forces are striking back. Anyway, back to the single - If I Could Turn... is R Kelly's first hit single since his duet with Celine Dion I'm Your Angel reached Number 3 last November and if one counts his appearance on Sparkle's single Be Careful it is his 7th UK Top 10 hit. Dare I suggest though that it sounds like a bizarre hybrid of Unchained Melody and Cliff Richard's 1976 hit Miss You Nights?
5 LARGER THAN LIFE (Backstreet Boys)
Here if you want it is more proof that no act can ever be confident of always being able to challenge for a Number One single. Just as Steps raised a few eyebrows by only entering the chart at Number 5 with After The Love Has Gone last week, so now the Backstreet Boys creep into the Top 5 with a single that you could be forgiven for expecting to see much higher up. Just look at the evidence, the US group had already had their first UK Number One this year with I Want It That Way, a single which was in turn their fourth Top 3 hit in a row. Larger Than Life is, by popular consensus, one of the most accessible and appealing BSB singles to date, another Max Martin-penned classic that brims with attitude without ever becoming cheesy and of course the single is accompanied by that expensive looking video that features the band as CGI robots. In short, it would be a worthy candidate to top the charts, or at the very least go Top 3. In the event Number 5 is the best it can manage for the moment. Not a bad chart placing in anyone's book but for the Backstreet Boys it is something of a recent low point - failure for the single to climb any higher will result in it becoming their smallest hit single since I'll Never Break Your Heart reached Number 8 late in 1996.
8 I TRY (Macy Gray)
If Macy Gray's single raised your eyebrows last week then you may need to consider transplanting then higher up your scalp to maintain the effect. I Try is rapidly turning out to be the sleeper hit of the year and turning the shape of the singles market on its head by selling in consistent and ever-growing amounts. The single has now moved 10-10-9-8 in the four weeks it has been on release, and you surely don't need me to spell out what a delight it is to see a single whose continuing success defies all rational analysis.
9 BUG A BOO (Destiny's Child)
Thud thud thud, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. It is in danger of becoming formulaic but what a formula it is, this type of machine gun soul as characterised by the last two Destiny's Child singles and by TLC before them. Bug A Boo is another jerky modern funk classic in the same mould as Bills Bills Bills and returns the girls to the Top 10 for the second time this year. How long before the Sporty Thievez comeback version though?
10 WHEN THE HEARTACHE IS OVER (Tina Turner)
As a special chart theme this week we present the parade of the veteran females as Tina Turner is one of two acts in the Top 40 this week who can boast a hitmaking career that stretches back to the 1960s. Although now almost of pensionable age her popularity in this country remains undimmed as the success of this brand new single from her first album for three years goes to prove. When The Heartache Is Over becomes her first Top 10 single since 1995's James Bond theme Goldeneye also made Number 10 and is her 9th such single since her 'rediscovery' by Heaven 17 and her subsequent solo comeback in 1983. In the light of these achievements it may be churlish of me to suggest that the single is by no means the best she has ever released and that the word "plodding" is the one that springs to mind when hearing it but what the heck, I've been too nice so far this week.
11 IN AND OUT OF MY LIFE (OnePhatDeeva)
Something of an unusual track this, a rare example of a bootleg getting official recognition. Ever been in a club and heard a rather brilliant sounding mix of two totally unrelated tracks which constantly switch from one to the other seamlessly? Chances are the DJ is either a master of his art or he has a bootleg pressing of the inspiration of someone with an ear for these things and access to the appropriate equipment. Such is the case here. In And Out Of My Life was a track that first appeared on Adeva's self-titled debut album back in 1989, back in the days when she was the uncrowned Queen of Garage. In that year she had a string of hit singles, no less than three of which reached Number 17. Although still active she has not had a major hit for years, her last Top 40 entry coming with a remixed version of I Thank You which made Number 37 in May 1996. The brains behind this new version DJs on the South Coast and one day noticed that In And Out Of My Life sat nicely on top of the string melody of Fatboy Slim's Right Here Right Now. Bootleg copies of his mix have been circulating all summer, one of which fell into the hands of Norman Cook himself. He loved it, played it in his own sets and the end result was the official approval and this very unusual high-profile release of the track. Not so much a remix as a re-melody and at the end of the day the record is fundamentally just two existing tracks glued skilfully together a represents a different kind of skill to that exhibited by most of the acts on the chart this week. Nonetheless, it works and is a massive hit single.
14 AIN'T THAT A LOT OF LOVE (Simply Red)
You may have read that the music industry is suffering from Millenium Tension. There are a great many big acts with new material in the can who are waiting until the new year and after the fuss over the Year 2000 has died down before releasing it, rather than as is usual, getting the records in the shops ready for the Christmas rush [This was completely true. Q4'99 simply didn't happen in the way it ordinarily would and instead there were a huge flood of superstar releases in Q1'00]. Good tactics it may be but it does mean that the record industry is bracing itself for a rather unseasonal slump with the lack of any strong new product. The fact that Simply Red are pressing on regardless with their new album has therefore come as something of a relief, even if Mick Hucknall's last offering Blue proved something of a disappointment last year, despite its two Top 10 singles. Even with the hype, this new single hasn't done all that well either, only able to enter at Number 14 this week. Those who are keen enough can actually get hold of this cover version twice as not only will it appear on the new Simply Red album but it appears in fundamentally the same form as a duet (again with Hucknall on vocals) on Tom Jones' current album Reload.
16 WHAT'CHA GONNA DO (Eternal)
Didn't we all love Kelle Bryan's scandalous allegations about the bizarre behaviours of the Bennett sisters which she claimed forced her out of Eternal? Didn't we all look forward to the response as the two of them prepared to release their own new single. Shame they have refused to be drawn on the matter really isn't it? Eternal, now reduced from the foursome who began their career in 1993 to a duo of Esther and Vernie have merely shrugged their shoulders and wondered aloud about why it took so long for Kelle to leave if she was that unhappy. Then they have got on with the task in hand, promoting this new single. Sad to say it does not seem to have done all that well. Although still very much an Eternal song it pays homage to the current vogue for machine gun soul with its stuttering beat. Although they have never been as big overseas as they are here, Eternal have always managed to sound mid-Atlantic without ever compromising their commercial appeal but you cannot help but feel that here they seem to have come unglued. In their whole career the band have only ever had two singles miss the Top 10 but can now up that total to three - believe it or not a Number 16 peak would represent their smallest hit single ever. [It would also be their last as after six years and a string of huge hit singles the Eternal project finally ground to a halt].
21 LEARN TO FLY (Foo Fighters)
UK hit singles notched by Nirvana = 7. UK hit singles notched up by the Foo Fighters = 9. Somethings tells me it is time to stop referring to Dave Grohl in terms of his former band and concentrate on the achievements of the Fighters as they prepare for the release of their third album. OK so they are unlikely to achieve mainstream crossover success and you aren't going to seem them larking around on Live And Kicking anytime soon but their string of hit singles is still admirably consistent, Learn To Fly sadly just misses out on a place in the Top 20 but you can bet it won't be their last chart appearance whilst promoting the new album. Tell you what, I'll make a pledge not to refer back to Nirvana the next time they chart - after all nobody ever seems to want to hammer home the point for Garbage do they?
26 IF YOU EVER LEAVE ME (Barbra Streisand/Vince Gill)
Bet you were wondering where the other chart veteran was? Well here she is, Barbra Streisand this week makes one of her sporadic Top 40 appearances to extend her span of hit singles to almost 34 years - right back from January 1966 when she first charted with Second Hand Rose. This slushy ballad by contrast marks the first time Vince Gill has ever appeared inside the Top 40, his only other chart credit to date also coming as the lesser-known half of a celebrity duet, reaching Number 46 with Amy Grant on the track House Of Love in 1995. He is now Barbra Streisand's eighth partner on a hit single, joining a list that includes Barry Gibb, Michael Crawford, Bryan Adams and Celine Dion. It is an impressive list, but still some way short of the record held currently by Elton John who to date has duetted on the chart with no less than 12 different singers. Meanwhile the parade of the veterans continues. Last week it was Shirley Bassey, this week Tina Turner and Ms Streisand whilst Donna Summer fails by a narrow squeak to make it into the Top 40. Cher is on the way next week as well.
30 SHE'S SO HIGH (Tal Bachman)
Recognise the name? Tal Bachman, as most people probably know by now is the son of Randy Bachman, he of Bachman Turner Overdrive. A sensation in the states this year, he may well struggle to achieve the same level of success over here despite the fact that his debut single is an enormously catchy driving rock single with a soaring chorus that achieves the all-important feat of burying itself into your brain. Sadly as is the case with all tracks such as this, perfect as it may sound on FM radio in America, over here there just doesn't seem to be the same market for this kind of music.
31 SYMMETRY C (Brainchild)
A throwback to the golden days of rave music now with the reappearance in a new version of this track, first produced in 1992 but which has lain hidden to commercial eyes ever since. Is the fact that it doesn't sound too dated a testament to the production on the track or just an illustration that dance music really hasn't come all that far in the last seven years?
32 FEEL THE SAME (Triple X)
Why use lots of words when just a few will do? Dance. Mutant Disco. Strident male vocal. Surprisingly low chart position for what is actually a very good record. A candidate for re-release after Christmas perhaps?
38 SWING LOW '99 (Russell Watson)
Where one arrives, so surely the other must follow. It seems that every Rugby Union World Cup requires versions of both World In Union and Swing Low Sweet Chariot to hit the chart. Both have done so three times now. The story of Swing Low... is actually just as interesting as that of World In Union. Although the singing of the track by crowds at big rugby matches is held up as a noble tradition of the game it actually only dates back to the late 1980s when the negro spiritual was adopted by English fans. The track first made the chart around the time of the 1991 World Cup when it was performed by Union and entitled Swing Low (Run With The Ball) and featured the England players themselves singing the refrain. 1995 was of course South Africa's year and so Ladysmith Black Mambazo released both songs at the same time, Swing Low Sweet Chariot doing rather better than World In Union, peaking ultimately at Number 15. So to the present day and one week after Shirley Bassey reached Number 35 with her version of World In Union here is Russell Watson with Swing Low itself... ironically charting on the very day that England were knocked out of the competition in the quarter-final stage. Both singles of course are on the official World Cup tie-in album which will be available for £1.99 from your local record shop in the post-Christmas sales.