A confession. This next series of retrospective articles is a tiny bit of a cheat. Regular visitors to these pages will be aware that the overarching concept for archive Top 40 reviews is as an excuse to dip into the vast collection of old Radio One Top 40 shows that I have stockpiled on cassettes dating back to 1987. Just in case you are curious, this is what the full set looks like:
This particular Top 40 isn’t actually one of these tapes however. Having never done a chart from 1998 before this seemed a good opportunity to fill in that gap, yet the most interesting countdown of the month was one that my regular recording schedule didn’t actually capture. Hence I’m bending the rules a little for this one, writing about the songs as I’ve looked them up online rather than hearing them in the true context of a Radio One broadcast at the time.
At the end of the day though, you don’t really care how this is being sourced do you? Let’s just roll the tape anyway. Welcome to the UK Top 40, as would have been broadcast by Radio One on Sunday October 25th 1998.
We begin this particular trip back through the years with a record which I always hold up as a classic example of an artist being reduced to the status of guest star on their own record. First the bare facts. I Want You Back made a small piece of chart history, being as it was the first ever extra-curricular Spice Girls single, the erstwhile Scary Spice having been plotting her solo record even during the promotion for the 1997 Spiceworld album. The single was released at the tail end of September 1998 and naturally raced straight to Number One and then naturally enough straight back out again, this final Top 40 appearance being merely its fifth week on the chart. The odd thing is however that it was never intended to be quite this way. Our first clues that a collaboration between Missy Elliott and Mel B came earlier during the summer when PR snippets suggested that Mel B had been invited by the hip hop star to help her our on a single she was preparing for a forthcoming film soundtrack whilst the Spice Girls were on a European tour. Mel B you will note had very little to do with its creation, the track is credited entirely to Missy Elliott, Gerald Thomas and Donald Holmes and had the invited singer been any other R&B diva, you suspect that the track would have wound up as “Missy Elliott featuring…” and landed on one of her albums.
This collaborator however was Mel B, one part of the biggest pop group in town, and one can only presume that an explicit condition of her participation was that she received lead billing when the single was promoted internationally. Hence Missy Elliott is little more than a featured guest on a track she co-wrote and indeed produced herself. All the plaudits, chart credits and heck even the cover picture on the single go entirely to the shouty lass from Leeds, grabbing as well the track for her solo album Hot when it emerged a few years later. To the best of my knowledge I Want You Back has never appeared on any Missy Elliott album, which somehow seems wrong.
In a desperate attempt to confuse the record books and to give us all a reason to laugh at how naive she was back then, this looked for a while as if it was to be the only solo record Scary Spice made under the name of “Melanie B”. By the time she released her next solo single (a lame cover of Cameo’s Word Up in the summer of 1999 she was insisting on being billed as “Melanie G” to reflect her ultimately short-lived marriage to Jimmy Gulzar. Needless to say, the moment Goldcard Jimmy was kicked to the kerb, she was back under her maiden name for singles that came out in 2000 and 2001. Cheryl “Cole” take careful note.
One of the more overlooked Garbage singles, which is something of a shame as at the time it provoked more than its fair share of attention, thanks largely to its affectionate lifting of some of the vocals from the Pretenders single Talk Of The Town during the coda of the song. Special was the third single lifted from the band’s well-received second album Version 2.0, landing on the chart after both Push It and I Think I’m Paranoid had both made the Top 10. Musically speaking Special is an upbeat jangly indie-pop record that hits you like a blinding shaft of sunlight compared to the rather more brooding and angry tracks for which they are rightly famous. The single made Number 15, a higher chart placing than acknowledged classics like Only Happy When It Rains and Breaking Up The Girl, yet I have to confess that as a casual fan this might be the first time I’ve listened to it since it was released.
Still, at least Garbage singles don’t tend to run into each other after a while. History has maybe been less kind to the collected works of Steps, tracks which on their own and in their own time stood head and shoulders above the competition but looking back tend to mash together as the disposable pop it always was. Not that there is ever anything wrong with disposable pop of course, and as a shining example of it One For Sorrow stands up to close scrutiny. The track is a masterful creation by Pete Waterman and the PWL team, a textbook example of the “sounds like an ABBA track but at the same time nothing like them” style that they created for Steps. The tinkling piano line is straight out of I Have a Dream, the chord sequence used in the chorus is a direct lift from The Winner Takes It All and yet at the same time the track is a distinctively original piece of work, a feat which deserves nothing less than the highest praise. Released at a time when sales at the top of the charts were going mental, One For Sorrow arrived in the shops with a sale of almost 140,000 copies, yet this still wasn’t good enough to see it top the charts. Damn those Manic Street Preachers and their tolerating of stuff children wouldn’t approve of. Damn then.
It hurts to say it, but by the mid-1990s even a venerable chart institution like UB40 had jumped the shark, their only route to hit singles coming thanks to another visit to the well of cover versions and the ever-diminishing returns of the Labour Of Love concept. Nine years after Volume II of their interpretations of classic hits came Volume III and with it this lead single, a remake of a song first recorded in the 1970s by Jamaican star Johnny Osbourne. Naturally, there is very little wrong with the track; give Ali Campbell a sweet love song to sing and the band will sit gently behind him like a well-oiled machine and together they will make a record that washes over your ears like a mothers caress. The problem was that by 1998 we had simply heard it all so many times before. For Come Back Darling you could read Kingston Town or Can’t Help Falling In Love. UB40 had made so many classic covers of already classic songs that adding one more to the list just wasn’t going to contribute anything to their creative legacy. Had they covered Come Back Darling in 1983 it would have sold a million, it was that beautiful. In late 1998 it was a Top 10 hit single (their last to date, incidentally), and very little else.
36: Bus Stop featuring Randy Bachman – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
Years before his ill-fated attempt to drag the Eurovision Song Contest kicking and screaming into the 21st century with Teenage Life, Daz Sampson was a man on a mission to turn the charts into a non-stop pop party via a series of cover versions of classic songs, all dressed up with bubbling beats and incredibly bad raps for a new generation of wedding receptions and birthday parties. Bus Stop was the main vehicle for this and in a manner which is quite breathtaking in its unashamed dismantling of famous hit songs, Daz and his collaborators proceeded to dismantle such venerable singles as Jump and Kung Fu Fighting, very often with the consent and participation of the original writers and performers. Thus for this second hit it was the turn of Randy Bachman who either needed the money urgently or was given an enormously preferential royalty rate, to cheerfully re-record the vocals to the Bachman Turner Overdrive’s most famous hit record. The original You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet has long been overplayed into the realms of cliche, but the Bus Stop version manages to be quite gloriously bad in a way that few other cover versions can aspire to. Of course, it is intended to be nothing more than a throwaway party hit, so it takes a particularly hard-hearted individual to get angry about the fact that for an entire generation of music fans this might well have been their first-ever introduction to one of the most famous rock tracks of its generation.
Online streams of the track? Let’s be honest that was never going to happen. Enjoy the video and watch a future Song For Europe star throw the rap shapes that he was eventually to take to a worldwide audience.
Another single I genuinely don’t think I have heard since it was first released, and a track which sadly represented the moment the awesome Dina Carroll’s career fell of the rails thanks to record company dithering. The smooth soul of One, Two, Three was destined to be the first single from her third album, following up the well-received Only Huma’ released in 1996. The single itself came out on schedule in October 1998 and made a respectable Number 16 to remind the world she was still around. Its follow-up was destined to be a cover version of Son Of A Preacher Man but when Dusty Springfield passed away early the following year the release was deemed either to be in poor taste or at risk of being branded a too-obvious cash-in so it was shelved. With doubts surfacing over the quality of the other tracks on the album the label decided to postpone release and reworked the production, moving Dina Carroll back towards the dance diva style with which she had begun her career (and which she confessed to me years later she was never particularly comfortable with). A further Top 20 single Without Love followed but then for reasons that were never properly explained the album was shelved completely and Dina Carroll was dropped shortly afterwards. She attempted a comeback in 2001 after a period of ill health but in truth, her time had passed and she moved to America to start a family. I was privileged enough to meet her in early 2006 when she did the promotional rounds for an ultimately cancelled nostalgia tour which was enough to elevate her in my eyes as one of my favourite 90s stars. One, Two, Three was maybe a little underappreciated at the time, so it is nice to use this opportunity to call attention to it once again.
The debut, and far and away biggest, hit single for the three-piece British R&B group The Honeyz, created by Dennis Ingoldsby of First Avenue management in an attempt to continue to mine the commercial vein he had tapped with Eternal. Initially consisting of Heavenli, Naima and Celena, the three girls were well served by the material they were given to perform, sugar-sweet R&B ballads that were produced with just the right amount of respect for their crystal clear vocals. It meant tracks such as Finally Found had an effortless magic to them and a quality that was almost wasted on the frantically moving pop charts of 1998. History hasn’t been kind to them and they hardly helped their legacy with an endless series of personnel changes which set the template for the Sugababes in years to come, but for me Finally Found and its follow-up Never Let You Down remain some of the best soul tracks of the turn of the century. Some day they will be ripe for rediscovery.
The biggest hit in the briefly flowering chart career of Chilean-born Swedish singer Deetah, this rather cleverly made single saw her rapping and singing over a backing track which is readily identifiable as the guitar riff from the Dire Straits track Why Worry. Some may quite correctly see this as an outrage, but it was a formula which was good enough to send the single to Number 11 in late September 1998 with a follow-up El Paradiso Rico, this time based around La Isla Bonita, following in May 1999.
This was naturally enough Savage Garden’s imperial phase, when after initially struggling to gain a toehold on the charts here the Aussie duo was guaranteed a smash hit with every record they put out. Having originally flopped when first released in September 1997 (it made Number 55), the brooding track was reactivated as the follow-up to global smash hit Truly Madly Deeply and it dutifully made Number 3, a chart placing they would never better with any subsequent single. I still thought I Want You was a thousand times better though.
I spent much of 1998 pointing out that music was in the middle of a golden age of pop music, the charts crammed with enjoyable radio-friendly pop hits that were all selling in quantities that would have been unthinkable just five years earlier. Pluck out any chart from this period and you land on a whole series of singles that would have graced any era in chart history with consummate style. We end the bottom end of the Top 40 with this single, the first of just two chart hits in this country for Jennifer Paige and one which rocketed to Number 4 with minimal effort in early September, hard on the heels of its American release which had seen demand for the single reach fever pitch when one station began playing it on heavy rotation before a release date had even been set. The singer’s self-titled debut album proved to be her commercial peak as far as most of the world was concerned but she still continues to write and record to this day, her 2008 album Best Kept Secret spawning a handful of minor hits in Europe. In Britain, she remains very much a one-hit-wonder.