There are always two pegs on which I like to hang these semi-regular retrospective pieces. One is simply to celebrate a particular period in musical history when the music was particularly memorable or to put a celebrated classic in its correct historical context. The other is to note how the music that soundtracks a particular event or memorable period in your life can serve as a kind of musical diary, the songs of the time triggering the memories, feelings and emotions that were all part and parcel of life experience at the time.
Hence the choice of the Christmas chart of 1995 for this latest rewind of an old Top 40 tape. Not only does it feature near the top some very famous singles, not only was it the final culmination of a year that saw the golden summer of Britpop create a musical movement as fresh, exciting and above all British as anything that had gone in the previous ten years, but the real-life events at the time marked a personal watershed for me and the blossoming of a career that I’d been working towards for most of the previous decade. Oh yes, and topically enough it also featured a genuine two-way battle for the coveted Christmas Number One slot. One song was the default choice of most and the assumed winner, the other a maverick late entrant to the race which was backed by a wave of popular support.
All that will come in time, however, for the moment it is time to set the clock back to December 24th 1995 and cue up Mark Goodier as he eagerly counts down the Christmas chart, back in the days when a contrived internet campaign wasn’t required to create the tension and when few people listening had any inkling of what the final result was going to be.
40: Mary Kiani – I Give It All To You
A suitably festive sounding song to open with. Scottish singer Mary Kiani first tasted chart success as the uncredited voice behind Time Frequency club hits such as Real Love and Ultimate High in 1993 and 1994. After falling out with the group she signed a solo deal with Mercury records and made the Top 20 first time out with When I Call Your Name in the summer of 1995. This soulful single was unashamedly aimed at the seasonal market, but such is the thin line between flop and smash at Christmas it could progress no further than its Number 35 entry point the week before the seasonal chart and by the time of the holiday itself had fallen back to here. Still a pleasure to hear it again, however, and the bagpipe accompaniment to the final bridge is a cute nod to her Glasgow roots. Wikipedia says she now lives and resides in Australia.
39: Mr Blobby – Christmas In Blobbyland
“Its Christmas Eve, Mr Blobby” intones Noel Edmonds in his best “I’m going to make another fortune out of this one” voice at the start of this track, an ultimately ill-fated attempt to capture the lightning in a bottle that had propelled the original Mr Blobby single to the top of the Christmas chart two years earlier. With little in the way of novelty appeal, cultural bandwagon or urgent pressing need for anyone to buy this record its only purpose was to spoil Mr Blobby’s hit status as a genuine one-hit-wonder and to provide retrospective bloggers 14 years later to note that this was actually not the worst festive novelty to be clogging up the lower end of this particular singles chart. Understandably hard to come by these days, it took years for anyone to stick it on YouTube. Although at least one sick minded individual now has.
38: Wet Wet Wet – She’s All On My Mind
The fourth and final hit single of 1995 for Wet Wet Wet, a year in which they successfully moved on from what could have been the potential albatross of forever being associated with Love Is All Around and with the album Picture This successfully reminded the world just how good their own songs could sound, three years after their last studio album. In a sense, it is a shame that hits such as Julia Says and Don’t Want To Forgive Me Now are all but buried in people’s memories as they ranked amongst their best ever work. She’s All On My Mind was the perfect holiday release, a mellow soul ballad replete with harmonies, muted trumpets and chocolaty saxophone instrumental break which had peaked at Number 17 in early December. Granted it broke very little new ground musically and criticisms of blandness and pointlessness would be well made, but the very sound of it conjures up warm thoughts of frozen evenings carrying home the shopping and department store PAs inviting us to indulge in festive bargains. A perfect seasonal evocation.
37: Tina Turner – Goldeneye
Forget all the hype about what the first James Bond film for six years (the first to star Pierce Brosnan in the title role) was going to be like, what people really wanted to know was how good the theme song was going to be. In fact, the singer was chosen before the song, and when it was announced that Tina Turner was going to perform the theme no less a pairing than Bono and The Edge offered to write the music that would eventually soundtrack the opening minutes of the Brosnan era. The dark and brooding Goldeneye was the result, produced and mixed by Nellee Hooper, at the time one of the most in-demand producers of the moment thanks to his work with the likes of Bjork and Madonna as well as his role in creating Massive Attack. Although the single entered at Number 10 first week out in November, this was the era of the top-down chart run and so the single spent the rest of the month gently meandering down the listings to rest here in what would be its final Top 40 week. Still, it was a benchmark for Bond themes, elevating them from the showbiz camp of the 80s to being a vehicle for some very credible stars indeed over the course of the next decade and a half.
36: Jimmy Nail – Love
Although he had a one-off hit single in the 1980s with a Roger Taylor produced cover of Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, the notion of actor Jimmy Nail as a singing star didn’t really take root until 1992 when he scored a surprise Number One hit with Ain’t No Doubt and the subsequent album Growing Up In Public. Never the most conventional singer, he still wasn’t half bad as a crooner and his two loves of acting and singing were combined to mild acclaim two years later when ‘Crocodile Shoes’ cast him as a Country star and led to the theme from the TV series giving him another Top 10 hit. 1995 saw the release of his album Big River and the title track had been a moderate Top 20 hit in late October. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the follow-up, because Love was the very definition of a bad idea. An attempt at a wistful ballad, it saw the star straining for a register he was clearly never meant to attempt, reducing his vocal on the track to little more than a strangulated whine that is almost painful to listen to. We are left to marvel not only that someone thought it was a good idea for him to sing, that the track made it onto the album in the first place and also that somebody, somewhere thought it was the perfect choice as a December single. Wrong on possibly every count I’m afraid.
35: M People – Itchycoo Park
Either a fun and enthusiastic reworking of a classic or a dreadful insult to the memory of Steve Marriott and the rest of the Small Faces, this dance cover of the sixties classic, reimagining it as a gospel epic, gave Heather Small and M People a Number 11 hit in the closing weeks of 1995. Demonstrating that the “special edition” concept is nothing new, the track was one of a handful of new recordings to feature on the album Bizarre Fruit II which was released as a repackaging of their by then year-old long player Bizarre Fruit around the same time. Initially a limited edition release featuring a bonus disc of live performances, the “Version 2” pressing of the disc eventually replaced the original issue as the default version of the album, a situation that persists today even online.
34: Simply Red – Remembering The First Time
Proof positive that you are only ever as good as your last hit, this was the rather startling flop follow-up to Fairground which had famously given Mick Hucknall and his rotating cast of musicians their first-ever Number One single in September 1995. The second single lifted from the album Life, Remembering The First Time was by no means a bad record but for some strange reason, the group and their label struggled to find a way to make people care. The single charted at Number 22 the week before Christmas, and its presence this low down the chart the following week rather than locked inside the Top 10 was expected was nothing less than a huge surprise for everyone. I’ve never quite worked out the reasons why.
33: Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)
Even before the download era, songs featured in TV adverts could be propelled back towards the charts although it took a formal re-release to make that happen. Steve Harley’s most famous song returned to the Top 40 for the first time since its spell at Number One 20 years earlier thanks to a TV commercial for Carling which was airing at the tail end of 1995. The single had been back in the charts only three years earlier but had only peaked at Number 46 and was further re-mixed in a 30th-anniversary version in 2005 which also fell short of the Top 40. Oddly enough the song had also been recorded by Duran Duran in 1995 as a bonus track on their ill-fated covers album Thank You although their version was never released as a single.
32: LV – Throw Your Hands Up/Gangsta’s Paradise
Singer and rapper Larry “Large Variety” Sanders was the voice of one of the biggest global smashes of the year without many people noticing, thanks to his turn on the chorus of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise (of which more later). In a masterpiece of mistiming the hit single also coincided with the promotion of his own solo album I Am LV which understandably struggled for attention in the face of the mainstream attention given to his collaborator on the earlier single. LV’s one and only hit in this country was this initial release, the rather average West Coast R&B of Throw Your Hands Up coupled with the diverting novelty of an expanded vocal version of Gangsta’s Paradise, the chorus based heavily on Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise and now expanded into a fully-fledged track rather than just being the chorus on a rap single. LV released a second album How Long in 2000 but no further hits were forthcoming and even his first unavailable for streaming. Cue the video.
31: Whigfield – Last Christmas
Danish singer Whigfield had inevitably become a global star at the tail end of 1994 thanks to smash novelty hit Saturday Night which all at once became one of the fastest-selling and most irritatingly catchy singles of the early part of the decade. Inevitably on the back of that, she released an album and had three more Top 20 hits on these shores, culminating in the badly advised ballad Close To You which peaked at Number 13 in September. None of this, however, can explain the crass and almost insulting decision for her to record a seasonal cash-in with this dreadful retread of the famous ‘Wham!’ hit from 1984, 1985 and practically every Christmas since. Not that she ruined the track exactly, as the song is so very hard to spoil, but her barely in key warblings married to a funky drummer dance beat served only to prove that there are some projects that should never be mounted, no matter how good they look on paper. I suspect my venom towards the single (which had peaked at Number 21 two weeks earlier) is due to the fact that every household owns at least one Christmas hits double CD compilation. My own is Polygram TV’s The No.1 Christmas Album, also released in 1995, which not only features the Whigfield track in a prominent position on CD1 (the Wham! version thankfully popping up on CD2) but which was even sold with a sticker on the front altering potential purchasers to the presence of the track! I’d like to record that I bought the album despite this, not because of it.