Heck it has been far too long since I’ve done one of these. Blame pressures of life, and the fact that once plans to do a Christmas retrospective at the appropriate time went out of the window, I have until failed to make the time to crack open the old Top 40 collection.

Worry no longer because the appointed time has arrived. This time our year of choice is 2003, a mere 8 years ago but a proper lifetime in musical terms. I’ve always seen this year as the very last gasp of the CD single era, for while sales were slower than they had been in the past as the whole concept of digital music slowly took a grip there was still nothing to suggest that the industry would take the massive plunge down the toilet it was due to before it finally got its act together. See this then as the final moments before it all went to shit and music sales went toilet – the singles chart as broadcast on Sunday, June 30th 2003.

As far as this tape of the Top 40 show is concerned, we are now Into the Wes era. I’ve always felt kind of sorry for the way things turned out for him, hired in late 2002 in a huge blaze of publicity as Radio One’s new Mr Chart Show, only to be binned at the end of his contract two years later when after doing everything asked of him the management simply decided to go in a different direction and gave him his cards. His opening speech indicates just how frenzied the competition between the radio chart shows was at this time: “There are other charts, but they are based on airplay.. I think you’ll find this is based only on the CDs you’ve been buying this week.”

This is the real thing people, beware of cheap imitations.

Other highlights of the first part of the show include a reference to the fact that as it is Glastonbury weekend the entire crew are doing the show with mud smeared across their naked bodies and are urinating into bottles. Don’t try this at home kids. Some of the participants in the chat room are namechecked – because online was where it was at people – and then we begin not with the singles but with an interminably long recap of the album chart.

40 minutes later the Number One is finally reached. Bizarrely and coincidentally the Number One album is ‘Dangerously In Love’ from Beyonce. Eight years on she is still storming those very same listings.

Enough of this though, let’s hit the singles countdown running before Side 1 of the tape runs out:

40: DMX – X Goin’ Give It To Ya

To kick us off, and exiting the Top 40 after a none too shabby ten-week run is this track, the one and only Top 10 hit single for American rapper DMX. He is a strange phenomenon in many ways, charting five Number One albums in a row in America but never really becoming anything more than a passing curiosity on these shores. He first rose to prominence at the end of the 1990s and charted his first UK Top 40 hit during 1999, but his greatest burst of UK fame came in 2003, the year in which he starred in and performed songs for the soundtrack of the film ‘Cradle 2 The Grave’. This hit single was lifted directly from that soundtrack, and it shot straight to Number 6 in early May, giving him his one and only UK Top 10 hit. Listening to the single now, you can kind of understand just why his appeal remained so limited. This isn’t a particularly terrible hip-hop single, but as it chugs its way via an impenetrable lyric from start to finish it is hard for the casual listener to find anything that hooks them in and makes them want to understand what he is talking about. The best hip-hop tracks, from geniuses such as Kanye West or Jay-Z are inspiring works of poetry. X Goin’ Give It To Ya is just shouty and rather dull.

39: Tomcraft – Loneliness

Shamefully I’d forgotten this had been Number One before I looked it up, but indeed it was an instant chart-topping smash hit for German DJ Thomas Brueckner. Not that the haunting and melodic dance single was entirely his own work, fellow countryman Eniac receiving a prominent co-credit on the single whilst the vocal refrain was a sample from a 1999 single Share The Love as performed by American R&B singer Andrea Martin. Still, in the last decade, nobody ever went poor reworking somebody else’s flop record into a hit idea and whilst Tomcraft himself is something of a one-hit wonder (follow-up Brainwashed (Call You) bombed out at Number 43 in October 2003) it was a certified Number One hit. Even if many of us have forgotten it.

38: The Thrills – Big Sur

Five Irishmen singing wistful 1960s throwback songs with immaculate arrangements and harmonies. Doesn’t sound like the greatest idea in the world, does it? Yet in 2003 The Thrills were one of the biggest things going with a Mercury-nominated debut album and a respectable string of mid-table hit singles. Big Sur was their second hit and as it would turn out, the biggest, sitting pretty at Number 17 upon release in mid-June. Debut album So Much For The City sold in respectable quantities, as did its swift follow-up Let’s Bottle Bohemia which came out in 2004. By the time of their third album Teenager in 2007 the magic appeared to have dried up and their label summarily binned them after it failed to sell. Still only officially on hiatus, there is always a chance the band will one day return to work wistful wonders again, but for the moment remember them this way with a sweet, tuneful and memorable hit single that sounded so gloriously right and yet so astonishingly out of place.

37: Big Brovaz – Favourite Things

I always saw Big Brovaz as the cuddly, friendly side of the London urban scene. The concept of a rap collective with a cast of thousands had been successfully sold to the public in 2001 with the success of the So Solid Crew, but there was always a feeling that they were too dangerous, too intense to be marketed properly as the mainstream face of grime music. Enter then the Big Brovaz who had already released an independent album Watching You before Sony Records snapped them up and groomed them into the cuddly face of young British rap. Favourite Things was their third hit single and ultimately their biggest, charting at Number 2 in May 2003 and as the title suggests is indeed based around My Favourite Things from the Sound Of Music. Instead of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens the favourite things in question are “Diamonds and rubies, and crazy about Bentleys’. Clearly the stuff of people’s dreams had evolved rapidly in this new age of gratuitous consumerism. Just a year later the Big Brovaz hits had dried up completely, although they did spawn (albeit totally by accident) pop-dance duo Booty Luv after members Nadia and Cherise were asked to sing on a track for a record label demo. But that’s another story for another time.

36: Kurtis Mantronik presents Chamonix – How Did You Know

More than 12 years after the last Mantronix hit single, the near-legendary 80s dance producer invaded the 21st century under his own name for the very first time as part of the promotional push for his latest new discovery. Although the singer on How Did You Know was billed here as “Chamonix” it was a fairly open secret that the lady in question was Miriam “Mim” Grey who would subsequently have a respectable if rather undistinguished career as a club track singer with a solo album of her own following in 2010. How Did You Know was itself based on an instrumental Mantronik had created as a standalone project called 77 Strings, with the original vocal-free version also featuring as part of the single bundle.

35: Jennifer Lopez – I’m Glad

What is it that sets the true superstars apart from their peers? I have a feeling it is an unbroken run of consistency when it comes to memorable hit singles. The merely famous make good records and then have the odd filler track which comes and goes without anyone noticing. The superstars knock it out of the park every time. Jennifer Lopez is sometimes branded as a superstar, thanks in part to the effortless way she dominated the music scene at the start of the last decade, but a part of me wonders just how valid that label actually is. For every If You Had My Love or Jenny From The Block there are offerings such as Feeling So Good or Do It Well, tracks you would struggle to hum in asked to and which are unlikely to pop up on anything other than the 9am golden hour slot on your average commercial radio station. I’m Glad is another of those wallpaper hits, songs from a theoretically major name which just came and went without anyone ever really paying too much close attention to them. It was the third single from J’Lo’s third album This Is Me.. Then and it limped to Number 11 here in June 2003, breaking her run of straight Top 10 singles which stretched back two years. In America it fared even worse, missing the Top 30 altogether in spite of the Flashdance themed video which even recruited original movie choreographer to help recreate the original Jennifer Beals dance step for step.

34: Cosmic Rough Riders – Because You

If ever there was an argument for not always seeing chart success as the ultimate barometer of the quality of an act, then the Cosmic Rough Riders are a perfect case in point. The trio from Glasgow recorded six albums between 1999 and 2006, each crammed with insanely melodic stadium-filling anthems which stood comparison with some of the most inspired moments of Teenage Fan Club – all with a Scottish accent of course. Their penultimate album Too Close To See Far came out in 2003 and was instantly playlisted by Radio 2 whose music department fell in love with it from the word go. Sadly their singles never really found a foothold in the charts, and this Number 34 entry for Because You turned out to be the best chart performance of their career. Don’t be fooled though, this is a great example of just why listening to old chart countdowns can be such a joy – being reminded of the tiny hit singles which may not have lodged in the memory first time around but which are simply far too good to be forgotten forever.

33: Linkin Park – Faint

Injecting a bit of noise into proceedings after all this laid back stuff are Linkin Park, Faint their second hit of 2003 and a Number 15 hit hard on the heels of Somewhere I Belong. An explanation of what it sounds like is perhaps unnecessary as once you’ve heard one Linkin Park single you have pretty much heard them all. As a minor footnote, their next hit and another track taken from their second album Meteora was the original version of Numb, the track which would eventually be mashed up with the Jay-Z track Encore and which would go on to become a more or less permanent chart fixture in the early years of the download era.

32: Electric Six – Gay Bar

Was there ever a band who burned so brightly and so intensely for such a short time? Detroit’s Electric Six shot to fame in early 2003 with their debut album Fire and a handful of exciting, innovative and intensely memorable singles. Danger! High Voltage was the first, a track which the band insisted until they were blue in the face did not feature Jack White on co-vocals, determined that the track should be a success on its own merits and not just because of a famous guest star. Gay Bar was their second hit of the year, a quite breathtakingly brilliant two and a half minutes of funk-rock that you almost knew was destined to be a smash hit from the moment you heard it. Actually, in chart terms it didn’t have such a long career, charting at Number 6 in mid-June and then racing to the depths in fairly short order. Nonetheless this single is possibly one of the defining moments of the decade, alongside its inevitably high camp video in which lead singer Dick Valentine dresses up as Abraham Lincoln and cavorts alongside just about every piece of gay imagery you can imagine (from a pepper grinder to a hamster crawling through a tube). Although still active to this day, 2003 remains the only period of mainstream success for Electric Six, but if you remember them then remember them this way – and preferably with the unedited album version rather than the strange radio edit which censored references to “nuclear war” for bizarre reasons that were never fully explained.

31: Emma Bunton – Free Me

Sometimes there are advantages to being signed to a management company who are so rich they can pretty much do anything they want. So when Heart FM’s, I’m sorry I mean Baby Spice Emma Bunton was dropped by her Virgin Records after the lukewarm sales of her debut solo album A Girl Like Me in 2001 and nobody else showed an interest, 19 Entertainment announced they would simply produce and release her second album themselves. It all worked out nicely as well, although the rather dreary Free Me was a very strange choice for a lead single, even if it did make a perfectly respectable Number 5 when released in June 2003. You see the album itself (of which this was the title track) finally saw the Solo Spice Girl finally hit her groove, with many of the tracks featuring a breezy bossa-nova style which you could instantly tell was the sort of music she should be spending her life making. Second single Maybe was a work of genius, an exciting and quite intoxicating pop record which took its inspiration from Rich Mans Frug as featured in the musical Sweet Charity. Also on the album was the track which would eventually become its fourth single a year later -  a 21st century take on Astrud Gilberto’s samba classic Crickets Sing For Annamaria which may have only crept into the Top 20 but which for my money stands head and shoulders above anything she ever recorded.

So really Free Me justified every last bit of the faith the massive 19 empire had in her. By the time she recorded her third album Life In Mono in 2006 she was back in the arms of a “real” record label, and although she these days is concentrating on motherhood and making radio programmes for Heart, you get the feeling that any new Emma Bunton musical project would be greeted with great interest by a number of different parties. Free Me the single though? Horrible, dreary and completely the wrong record to announce her comeback with. Thank goodness it didn’t matter in the end.


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