[A discovery! This piece was originally missing from my own archives and I'd failed to turn up a copy from elsewhere. So grateful thanks to the denizens of Haven Forum who identified a defunct mailing list to which it had been posted and from whose archives it could be retrieved].
If your only source of musical news was the tabloid newspapers you could have been forgiven for thinking that Britney Spears' career had plunged dramatically down the toilet recently, her only headlines being for excessive partying, sunbathing and the odd drunken wedding. Well, how many of us can honestly say they have not done any of these things in wild moments really? Her chart stats show a slightly different story of course. OK so I Love Rock And Roll (Number 13 in November 2002) wasn't her finest moment on record but at the end of last year she bounced back in spectacular fashion, hitting Number 2 in collaboration with Madonna on Me Against The Music.
This won't stop the chart performance of Toxic being hailed as a glorious comeback though and in all honesty, if she needed something to drag her music back into the mainstream then this single would be it. The erotic yet appealing Toxic smashes its way past some heavyweight competition to give Britney Spears her first Number One single for almost four years. Oops I Did It Again was her last single to get this far up the charts, hitting the heights in May 2000. In all it is her fourth Number One single, the others being Baby One More Time and Born To Make You Happy - just in case that comes up in a pub quiz this week.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all is the writing credit on Toxic, as the track is co-written by none other than the UK's own Cathy Dennis. This now makes it five Number One singles written by the former chart star, her first since Will Young's Anything Is Possible back in 2002. Word has it that Sweet Dreams My LA Ex (another Dennis composition) was originally written for Britney as well before she passed on it and the song became a hit for Rachel Stevens last year.
Although she led for most of the week, the battle for Number One was by no means a foregone conclusion. Hard on her heels came DJ Casper's version of the big club sensation of the moment, the Cha Cha Slide. As mentioned last week, this is the original version first conceived back in 1996 as an aerobics workout before being turned into a club track - one which has been in circulation for the best part of four years. What had threatened to turn into a covers battle appears to have been resolved nicely in DJ Casper's favour, the potential spoiler version by MC Jig languishing down at Number 33 this week despite finally gaining an official release after six months in the lower end of the chart on import. You can blame the complex world of European licences for these occasional covers battles; the race to turn a hit concept into an international smash will often lead to rival versions jostling for position and correspondingly the labels hoping to hit paydirt. Just last year mainland Europe witnessed a showdown between the three rival versions of the Chihuahua although ultimately none made much of an impact. Another famous battle came in 1996 when the Bayside Boys mix of Los Del Rio's Macarena was almost derailed by a more straightforward version of the track credited to Los Del Mar. In the event, the spoiler version missed the Top 40 whilst Los Del Rio had a Number 2 hit. The only real example of the UK going for a different version of a hit to the rest of Europe came in 1995. Dutchman Gompie's expletive-laden version of Livin' Next Door To Alice was on its way to becoming a sizeable hit before the song's originators Smokie got in on the act with their own version (featuring Roy Chubby Brown), hitting Number 3 and leaving the Gompie version trailing at Number 17. Fascinatingly both versions charted together in May that year but were only minor hits. It was only in September when demand for the single picked up after the summer holidays that the cover battle broke out in earnest.
Back to the present day and to a return to form that manages to eclipse even that of Britney's. George Michael's last brief chart run came back in 2002 when he was without a label but with a handful of songs that he hoped would get him a deal for an album. First to be released was the Number 7 hit Freeek, which failed to shock with either lyrics or video. It wasn't a bad single, it just represented nothing new. Effectively the nation told one of the greatest chart stars of the 80s and 90s to go away and try again. His next offering then was the politically charged Shoot The Dog, an intense funk workout that saw George growling at the very bottom of his register. I have to confess I loved every last moment of it but few others agreed. The single crashed out at Number 12 and that was the last we heard of him for almost two years.
Hence Amazing comes as nothing less than a very welcome surprise. The single is a lavish and lovingly done track that is set to repair every last bit of the damage he did to his reputation with the brace of 2002 singles. In effect, this is George Michael removing his head from his backside in music terms and producing a single that is up there with some of the best tracks from the Older album. Amazing is his biggest hit single since As also made Number 4 back in March 1999 although he has now gone almost six years without a Top 3 hit.
There is a surprising connection between George Michael's Amazing and Kylie's new hit Red Blooded Woman, which charts just one place below it - but we'll save that for a little while. As far as Kylie is concerned I seem to swim against the tide on every occasion. Back in her cheesy SAW days, she was as naff as could be but I was a huge fan. When she went indie with the Impossible Princess album in 1997 it was seen as her career nadir but it remains my favourite of all her albums. When she made her celebrated hot pants come back with Spinning Around in 2000 I was ambivalent and had some disturbingly angry mails in return. Her last single Slow was hailed as a further work of genius (and it topped the chart for a week last November) but in truth was a chronic piece of washed-up nonsense that was the aural equivalent of eating a stick of celery. There, I've said it.
Hence I'm pleased to report that Red Blooded Woman continues the pattern. It is a far better single than Slow, conforming to the usual conventions of having melody, hook and rhythm. Oddly enough reaction to it has been muted with some reviewers branding it "disappointing" and "bland". Ah, what do they know? Co-writer of the track is Karen Poole, the former Alisha's Attic star steadily making a name for herself as a pop songwriter following her work on many of the tracks on Amy Studt's album. The song also gives a writing credit to Johnny Douglas, who also had a hand in the composition of er, Amazing by George Michael. Yes, this week George Michael and Kylie Minogue are singing hits written by the same person. Welcome to bizarro world, hope you enjoy your stay.
Two more singles make up the six new entries inside this week's Top 10. Leading them is Beenie Man, who has been absent from the singles chart since Street Life made Number 13 back in February last year. Teaming up with Miss Thing on the single Dude, the ragga star blasts into the Top 10 for the first time since his last female collaboration - the Janet Jackson-starring Feel It Boy, which was a Number 9 hit in September 2002. His biggest ever hit also came in collaboration with the fairer sex, thanks to his guest appearance on Jamelia's breakthrough hit Money, which was a Number 5 hit in March 2000.
Next up are Blink 182, the US proto-Busted if you like. They made a welcome return to the charts back in December with the Number 15 hit Feeling This but this week manage to better that, hitting the listings with what is surprisingly only their second ever Top 10 hit. Since they hit Number 2 back in March 2000 with All The Small Things, they have never managed to progress beyond Number 14. All that changes today with this uncharacteristically understated mid-tempo single. Saturation airplay on alt-rock stations such as XFM and 6 Music have helped the single become their biggest for four years, and quite deservedly so may I add. [Over a decade later it is still an airplay staple and a genuine stop you in your tracks moment when it plays. Far and away their finest ever moment].
At Number 13 is a new name but with a single that will surely be familiar to anyone who has turned on a radio in over the last week or so. FYA are Kizzi, Tenza and Emma and are the new R&B girl band on the block, destined to give Mis-Teeq a run for their money if Must Be Love is anything to go by. A mid-Atlantic single with a distinctly West London twist (the girls are all from Slough), this may well rank as one of the most refreshingly different singles of the week. Number 13 is certainly not a bad start and the nagging doubt that this single isn't quite all it set out to be just for a change suggests that there is better to come from them. Hey, even Mis-Teeq didn't catch fire until their second hit. [The second FYA "hit" missed the Top 40 and that was it for them].
An oddity hits the chart at Number 17 as No Doubt chart with the same song for the second time in three months. Taken from their current Greatest Hits collection, their cover of Talk Talk's It's My Life was widely hailed as a masterpiece when first released back in December last year. It was, therefore, one of the month's biggest surprises when it peaked at a mere Number 20, charging out of the listings even before Christmas had arrived. In what has to go down as a very bold move, the record company has refused to give up on the single and has repackaged it, bringing in the track Bathwater to act as a double a-side for this re-promotion. Exactly what they hoped to achieve is open to some question (especially as the album has had a nice run inside the Top 10) but if helping It's My Life to become a Top 20 hit for the second time in three months was the aim, then it has succeeded nicely.
Actually, this kind of strategy is to be applauded as many worthy singles often flatter to deceive when first released, the lower end of the charts often littered with tracks that you are sure would stand a chance if they were released under different circumstances. Sometimes the results can be very rewarding as two US superstars discovered to their benefit a generation ago. Prince's all-time classic hit 1999 had been a minor Number 25 hit when first released in 1983 but following his commercial breakthrough in the UK with the Purple Rain album in 1984 the single was repackaged as a double a-side with Little Red Corvette in early 1985 and shot to Number 2, a chart placing he would not better until almost a decade later. Similarly, Bruce Springsteen was something of a nobody as far as the UK singles chart was concerned in the early 1980s. In 1984 his own classic single Dancing In The Dark had made a lowly Number 28 but was reactivated in January 1985 at which point it accelerated to Number 4. The tactic worked again four years later for Eurodisco star Sabrina whose single Boys (Summertime Love) had stiffed in early February but which became a smash hit later in the summer. In truth, we are actually all trying to forget that one.
Dropping outside the Top 20 now and the biggest new hit of the bottom half is an all-star collaboration featuring production legend Timbaland steering Magoo and Missy Elliott on this dark rap track that pays due homage to hip hop hits of the past. The first verse of Cop That Shit caught my, ear in particular, the lyrics being lifted wholesale from Eric B and Rakim's Follow The Leader, the track (and album) that first inspired my own rap interests [the whole track in fact an extended tribute to a large number of Public Enemy and Eric B & Rakim hits of the past, prompting flickers of recognition in every line]. Timbaland's last direct chart credit came back in 2001 when he featured on Aaliyah's 'We Need A Resolution'. Interestingly enough the charts credit the full title of the single as Cop That Sh*t whereas most people will have heard the radio edit, which tactfully renames the track to Cop That Disc.
At Number 24 are Starsailor with the third single from the Silence Is Easy album, Four To The Floor performing rather better than Born Again, which shocked many when it made a mere Number 40 back in November. Finally a mention in dispatches goes to Goldfrapp, still struggling for that all-important mainstream crossover which eludes them. Black Cherry is their first hit of the year, following on from the four Top 40 hits they clocked up in 2003. Next week looks to be an interesting one with singles releases due from the likes of Jamie Cullum, Fountains Of Wayne and Phixx. None are likely to challenge for the top but all three have something to prove. Can a jazz prodigy turn albums success into a singles crossover; can a sure-fire hit single get lucky second time around; and are a group of Popstars rejects still a viable chart prospect?
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