So I did Top Of The Pops this week. Now OK, if I was a member of say, Westlife, this would not be so significant but as I've never seen the inside of a recording studio in my life this is actually quite an achievement. I was one of the cast of hundreds gathered on a makeshift football pitch in the centre of Television Centre to perform the Come On England song. Watching the whole thing back in slow motion I spotted myself several times although on occasion I appeared to be standing directly behind the breasts of a Page 3 model. Such are the perks of stardom I guess. Anyhow although we didn't exactly mingle with the stars (our bit was filmed early evening before they did the studio bits) it was still the experience of a lifetime to hang out in the Top Of The Pops bar before filming, get shouted at by an increasingly flustered director and discover that performing a song eight times in a row (don't ask) is a very tiring business.
[This is taken from my VHS of that show. And I promise I'm in there somewhere, but it requires some creative use of the pause button].
All of that didn't actually do much to help the record it seems as 4-4-2 slip to Number 3 this week, still being outsold by Mario Winans but he too is forced to surrender his crown to the lady who has spent this last year reclaiming her own as the Queen of pop. Having hit a career nadir in late 2002 when her cover of I Love Rock and Roll reached a miserly Number 13, Britney Spears bounced back at the end of last year thanks to some sapphic shenanigans with Madonna and the duet Me Against The Music which hit Number 2. She then, of course, followed that up with Toxic back in March which returned her to the top of the charts for the first time in four years. With the follow up she has done it again it appears, the ballad Everytime racing past the opposition to chalk up yet another Number One single, the fifth in her career. It is the second time she has managed back to back Number One hits, having first done the double in 2000 with Born To Make You Happy and Oops I Did It Again. Away from the studio, her life appears to be lurching through the usual crises, badly received tours, dodgy boyfriends and knee injuries but for the moment it appears in the charts she is pretty much untouchable.
Last week's Top 4 all retain their chart order, moving down a place to accommodate Ms Spears, leaving the Number 6 position free for the next highest new entry of the week. Talk About Love marks a triumphant return to the charts after a two-year absence for Brandy, the actress/singer having last had a hit single exactly 24 months ago with the Number 15 hit Full Moon. This new hit duly returns her to the Top 10 for the first time since February 2002 and is her fifth to chart in the upper reaches. She is accompanied on the track by the man who is verily this year's Sean Paul, Kanye West making as many guest appearances on other people's tracks as he has hits of his own. The Brandy single arrives on the chart just a week after his own All Falls Down charted at Number 10, and this follows up his feat back in April when he appeared on Dilated Peoples' This Way alongside his own Through The Wire as well as sitting in the producer's chair on Twista's Slow Jamz.
Number 7 marks another chart return for Jessica Simpson whose brief chart career at the start of the decade has been somewhat eclipsed by her starring role alongside husband Nick Lachey (from 98 Degrees) in the MTV reality show Newlyweds where she famously (staged or otherwise) demonstrates the intellectual capacity of a Big Brother contestant. Time then for her to return to the medium that first made her famous as With You storms the Top 10 to finally match the peak of her debut hit I Wanna Love You Forever which charted back in April 2000. This is her first hit single since Irresistible made Number 11 in July 2001.
A candidate for most welcome Top 10 entry of the week is possibly the one at Number 9, Brit rockers Razorlight' storming the charts with their second Top 40 hit. Golden Touch has an odd air of The Strokes about it but with a distinctly British air. The single knocks the Number 27 peak of their first single Rip It Up into a cocked hat and in truth is probably the best record you will hear this week.
This week appears to be quite the renaissance week for acts who took 2003 off as alongside Brandy, Paul Weller chalks up his first hit since the heady days of 2002. 27 years on since he made his chart debut with The Jam, 21 years since he split the band and re-emerged with The Style Council and almost 10 years since his stuttering solo career finally took off as he became the grand old man of Britpop, Paul Weller this week shows he can still churn out a memorable hit single. Strange to relate then, that for his new album he has chosen to release a collection of covers. The Bottle is such a song, a new version of a song by Jazz legend Gil Scott Heron. Heron himself has never had a UK hit single but astonishingly enough this is the second time The Bottle has been a UK hit for another act, The Christians taking their version to Number 39 in March 1993. Nonetheless, the track duly becomes his first hit since Leafy Mysteries was a Number 23 hit in November 2002 and his biggest chart hit since It's Written In The Stars gave him his first Top 10 hit in six years a few months prior to that. All told this is his 15th Top 20 hit since he made his solo debut in 1991.
Skate-rock still has some life in it if the antics of Slipknot are to be believed, the band who redefined extreme performances a few years ago also get a Top 20 new entry this week at Number 15. Perhaps astonishingly Duality is far and away the biggest hit of their career as none of their three previous chart singles (back in 2000 and 2001) managed to penetrate the Top 20.
What of the other new entries then. The career of Javine continues to stutter along, defying its earlier promise. The outstanding talent who was controversially voted out of the lineup of Girls Aloud in the Popstars series which created them was signed for a solo career last summer and was expected to become a major new star. Her debut single Real Things made Number 4 in July last year but it took until November for her second to appear, the Diana Ross homage Surrender making a mere Number 15. Now she chalks up her third hit almost a year on from her debut and can do little more than limp into the Top 20 with Best Of My Love. The song is produced by Jon Douglas whose production CV includes many of George Michael's most memorable hits. Shame he could not work the same magic here.
At Number 22 is an all too rare chart hit for the Freestylers, Aston Harvey and Matt Cantor seemingly spending their lives as Britain's best-kept secret in dance music terms. They first broke big back in 1998, pioneering the big beat sound that went on to turn the likes of Fatboy Slim into a huge star. In the process, they chalked up their one and only Top 40 hit to date, B-Boy Stance which crept to Number 23 in February of that year. They were never able to follow it up properly, coming the closest in 1999 when the MTV favourite Here We Go narrowly missed the Top 40 in the summer. Earlier this year they had their first chart hit since when Get A Life crept to Number 66 and now to much rejoicing finally storm back into the Top 40 with this new single Push Up. Six years between Top 40 hits takes some doing, especially for a dance act. Welcome back to the upper reaches gents. [A very famous video this, see if you can work out why].
Number 25 sees N.E.R.D. rather disappointingly down on their luck. March's She Wants To Move finally gave the Neptunes duo their first big hit as performers but this follow-up single fails to capitalise on that success and drops them back to the level of chart also-rans. Better news perhaps is down at Number 34 where Agnetha Faltskog surprisingly lands herself a second Top 40 hit from her rather quirky album of 60s covers. After hitting Number 11 back in April with a version of Cilla Black's If I Thought I'd Ever Change Your Mind the former Abba songstrel now creeps back in the Top 40 with a sweet version of When You Walk In The Room. As if to prove the longevity of the song, hers is now the fifth version of the track to chart. The song was originally a Number 3 hit for The Searchers in 1964 but has subsequently charted in versions by Child, Paul Carrack and Status Quo. Faltskog's version matches the peak of The Quo's version from 1995 - none of the others have managed to climb higher. I actually marvel that a 40-year-old song can chart and still sound so fresh in 2004. When I was a child growing up in the 1980s it was natural to see the music from my parents' era coming around again as a nostalgia trip. To see this song chart now is the equivalent of a second world war song being covered by an artist in 1984. Robson and Jerome (who had a Number One hit with White Cliffs Of Dover as a double a-side in 1995) aside, it simply would not happen. Maybe the dawn of Rock & Roll in 1955 was a bigger musical watershed than anyone could ever have realised.