Looking back at the news headlines of the time, October 1998 was an enormously fun time. Not so much if you lived in the West Midlands however as what was billed as Britain’s wettest October since 1987 saw the rivers Severn and Wye burst their banks, cutting off Shrewsbury town centre with floodwaters. Welsh Secretary Ron Davies was forced to resign after what he called “a moment of madness” after being mugged in suspicious circumstances on Clapham Common. He was a former Welsh Secretary shortly afterwards. Still, even his departure was topped by that of Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon who was caught in a tabloid sting taking cocaine in a nightclub, forcing the programme to dismiss him and making him the first presenter of the show to be sacked in the middle of a contract in its history. Looking back at his media career since you can’t help but think it was the best career move he ever made.
Top 20 time now on the chart of October 25th 1998.. and we start with the wiliest veteran of them all.
How is it every time I do one of these there is a Cliff record in the charts? This one is actually quite a significant moment in his career as I think it marks the point he started to lose touch with reality and see everything as a gigantic conspiracy against him having hits, a point it seemed he went out of his way to prove. Now remember, despite his status as the Peter Pan of pop and a decades-spanning career that is the envy of practically all around, Cliff Richard hit a point round about 1992-1993 when his records ceased to sell on their own merits to music fans in general and were simply items of passing interest to nobody except the hardcore bunch of grannies who had stuck with him from the start.
Cliff being Cliff, naturally could not accept this and was determined to prove he could still be as hip and as relevant as anyone else Daddy-O. Hence the promotion for the admittedly rather sultry and very well made R Kelly-esque ballad Can’t Keep This Feeling In which was initially pressed up as a white label and credited to the mysterious “Blacknight” as a way of making people assume it was some unknown superstar soul singer. A positive reception ensued, until the point naturally when Cliff took off his disguise with a Machiavellian flourish and went “ha ha you fools it was me all along, not so useless now AM I?” at which point we all went “shit, we almost liked a Cliff record” and avoided it like the plague.
So in a way he had a point, there was a great deal of prejudice potentially holding him back. The point is however that no matter how much one pretends otherwise, music is as much about image and marketing and it made no difference how up to the minute he attempted to make the music sound, Can’t Keep This Feeling In was still a Cliff Richard record and most people were past caring. It wasn’t an age thing either, the top end of this chart will prove that conclusively. All that Cliff achieved with the Blacknight stunt was to confirm suspicions that he was starting to lose his marbles PR wise. The single incidentally made Number 10 anyway upon release, his biggest hit single for five years and the first since he became Sir Cliff, making him I guess the first Knight Of The Realm ever to have a Top 10 hit single.
Another final example of a 1998 pop gem, All ‘Bout The Money was a rather glorious slice of Scandi-pop, imported directly from Sweden where Meja was already a huge star. Truth be told, despite the copious airplay it received across the board, the single was something of a sales disappointment, landing at Number 12 and then dipping out of the charts within five weeks, this placing here representing its second week on sale. The track received a respectable amount of attention in America, leading the singer to be selected to accompany Ricky Martin on his 2000 single Private Emotion. That duet aside, Meja remains a one hit wonder on these shores. But what a hit it was, seriously.
It is the disco classic that just would not die. A Number 9 hit in 1977 when it was the debut hit single for Rose Royce and then a Number 20 hit in the summer of 1988 during the first of what would turn out to be many disco revivals, the hit single was resurrected once again in October 1998 in what even at the time I termed a rather unnecessary remix. I forget why exactly lead singer Gwen Dickey received her own credit on this re-release – these days it indicates the star has laid down some fresh vocals and so receives a separate performer royalty but the reasons for the 1998 billing are lost in the mists of time. Exactly who made this new mix is lost in the mists of time, and like the Luniz single before it, all I can do is add the original version to the online playlists. Those who wish to subject themselves to the charge of the “Mustard Mix” which is the one released in 1998 are invited to click below. With caution.
A poignant moment this, the biggest ever hit single for the rather tragic Lynden David Hall, a man who promised a great deal upon first emerging but who subsequently faded from view and died tragically young. Sexy Cinderella had first been released in late 1997 but had just missed a place in the Top 40. After follow-up single Do I Qualify had given him a Top 40 breakthrough, his first release was reactivated and charted here as a new entry at Number 17 to finally justify the positive press he had been receiving for the best part of the previous 12 months. His debut album Medicine 4 My Pain followed a few weeks later, but aside from a brief return in 2000 this was his last brush with chart fame. He died of complications resulting from a stem cell transplant he received in treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphona at the tragically young age of 31 – three years after he had made a cameo appearance at the wedding scene in the film Love Actually, a moment which seems to have ended up as a greater legacy than even this overlooked hit single.
I remember the exact moment I first heard this record. It was Saturday September 13th 1998 and I was in the office at work preparing for the Saturday afternoon sports show I used to present. My colleague, the current Absolute Radio DJ Lucio [dated reference, he drives trains for a living now fact fans], was at the time hosting the local chart rundown and before spinning Sex On The Beach warned the audience he was about to play what he described as “the worst record I have ever heard”. Three minutes later I was dancing around the office with joy. It goes some way to explaining our subsequent career trajectories ever since.
T-Spoon was a Dutch act, fronted by rapper Shalamon ‘Shamrock’ Baskin and who had built up a reputation for fusing styles such as a jazz and reggae with wild abandon in a series of bubbly Europop hits that edged ever closer towards proper happy hardcore with every subsequent release. Sex On The Beach was possibly their most ludicrous single to date and would probably have never been considered for a UK release, but for the fact copies had been imported over to the Republic Of Ireland earlier in the summer, whereupon it had become a surprise novelty smash. With demand for the single subsequently spreading across the border (in much the same was DJ Otizi’s Hey Baby would three years later) T-Spoon found themselves the creators of an equally unexpected British hit, one that hit Number 2 in early September as a hangover from the long hot summer that everyone had enjoyed.
Lucio may well have been correct, it is indeed the worst record ever made. But somehow it is also guaranteed to put a smile on even the craggiest of faces, and it wasn’t even the most ridiculous Europop record of its era either.
It was Chris Evans who first championed the music of The Cardigans, way back in 1995 when he made their second British single Sick And Tired his record of the week on the Radio One breakfast show. Although the track only reached Number 34, it was enough to get the Swedish group and their rather quirky laid back jazzy pop noticed by more than the odd reviewer in the heavyweight music press. 1996 single Lovefool was the breakthrough, not first time around when it only made Number 21, but upon re-release the following year when it soared to Number 2 on the back of its use on the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s remake of Romeo and Juliet. For their 1998 album Gran Turismo, the group took the bold step of abandoning the bright and breezy pop of their earlier work in favour of a rather grittier and darker sound. It turned out to be a masterstroke. Lead single was the driving and intense My Favourite Game which found a natural international audience in the way many of their earlier singles did not. It only crept to Number 14 upon release here (dipping to this placing a week later) but laid the ground for the new improved Cardigans to go on to bigger and better things, follow-up single Erase/Rewind going Top 10 with ease in early 1999. This may not be their biggest hit ever, but it surely ranks as their most significant.
I’ve always said the worst crime any single can commit is to be unremarkable. So many R&B singles come and go, sticking to a safe formula and containing little in the way of hook or melody that they all tend to wash into each other after a while. Dru Hill’s breakthrough Top 10 single is the perfect example of a single that neatly sidesteps that track to perfection. Lifted from their second album Enter The Dru, How Deep Is Your Love is a masterfully produced soul record that knits together the voices of the four men (one of whom was future Thong Song king Sisqo) in harmony that is so tight you would struggle to slide a piece of paper between them all. How Deep Is Your Love made Number 9 a week before this chart, and although they would better that placing in early 1999 with These Are The Times, for me it ranks as their best ever single.
Norman Cook had spent the early-mid 1990s making records under so many aliases many thought he was going for a Jonathan King level of chart multiplicity. With the creation of Fatboy Slim he finally seemed to have found a coat that fitted, although it took a few goes for the concept to really take off, the first Fatboy record Going Out Of My Head bombing at Number 57 when released in May 1997. The real breakthrough came in June 1998 when The Rockafeller Skank charged to Number 6 and finally giving Cook/Fatboy a viable hitmaking persona, one which he would retain for almost a decade. Gangster Trippin’ was the follow-up to that smash hit and turned out to be even bigger, making Number 3 in mid-October with consummate ease. Funny to note that these days the origin of every single sample that makes up a dance record is instantly documented and presented for all the world to see, back then we neither knew nor cared that Gangster Trippin’ was stitched together from six different sources. We just loved the way it sounded.
At the time it was hard not to love B*witched (despite it being incredibly difficult to type their name at speed). The four Irish girls in stonewashed denim exploded onto the pop charts like the proverbial breath of fresh air in the spring of 1998, their marketability only helped by the fact that two of the girls – Edele and Keavy – were the sisters of Boyzone’s Shane Lynch. Debut single C’est La Vie was one of the most magical pop records of its era, a joyful fusion of Irish reels and pure pop sensibilities which flew to the top with consummate ease the moment it was released. In a year that represented a genuine high point for Irish pop music in the UK charts, they were a core part of that domination. What they did next then was always going to be a matter of great interest. Follow-up single Rollercoaster wasn’t half the record its predecessor was (how could it be?) but somehow it was cheery and breezy enough to give the four girls a second straight Number One, despite a few mutterings in some quarters that it was channelling the theme to the Double Deckers during the chorus. Their third and fourth singles were in truth little better but their marketing was so perfectly pitched that in the early months of 1999 they had set a new chart benchmark – going straight to Number One with their first four singles. Not even the Spice Girls had managed this when they started out. The law of diminishing returns hit B*witched hard when it came to a second album and poor sales of its singles saw them ultimately dropped by the label which had initially championed them so hard and the story was over.
Possibly the final exclamation point on the Beautiful South’s imperial phase, Perfect 10 was released in September 1998 as the lead single from their sixth album Quench and in an instant became one of their biggest ever hits. The typically acerbic track about body image shot straight to Number 2, their biggest hit single since the chart-topping ‘A Little Time’ eight years earlier and only the third Top 3 hit of their career. As big a high point as it was, it was a height the group would never hit again. Follow-up single Dumb made a mere Number 16 at Christmas and from that moment on they struggled to even make the Top 20 never mind adding to a total of Top 10 hit singles. Beautiful South singles continued to be minor chart hits right up until the release of their (to date) final album Super Bi in 2006 but somehow none came close to hitting the heights of this single, one which was near inescapable on the radio at the time. Or maybe that was just because I kept having to play it on the radio, who can say?