My other favourite memory of the 1995 Christmas holiday came a couple of weeks week before the big day itself. Mr Cheeseford announced that he would be in Leeds that Friday night as part of a media junket, Shed Seven’s record label having invited the best of the student press along to their gig that evening in exchange for some positive reviews. Thus it was that I joined him as a freeloader, having been introduced to the record company PR rep as being “from the local radio station” and thus someone that she should be nice to, we settled into the lounge at the Hilton Hotel and drank on what appeared to be a very generous record company bar tab. Things very nearly began to undo when some members of the party attempted to order food and charge it to the company account, prompting the hotel management to start to wonder just who these people were who appeared to try to avoid paying for anything but by and large it wound up as the most extravagant evening I’ve never had to pay for.
The odd thing is I never got to go to the gig, having to get the last bus home and with a radio job to go to the following morning. That and due to the fact that at 11pm we were still in the hotel lounge knocking back drinks with the band themselves sitting two sofas along and equally incapable. I got the feeling that they weren’t in any hurry to go out and play.
Winding forward the clock again, we are back at the Christmas chart show from December 24th 1995 and a Top 20 with some quite intriguing tales to tell…
20: Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson – The Best Things In Life Are Free
Take this song for instance. Justly famous thanks not only to the superstar pairing singing it but also as a genuine high point in the songwriting and production talents of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, The Best Things In Life Are Free is one of those strange records where the version most commonly heard today bears little resemblance to the one most British record buyers turned into a hit twice over in the 1990s.
To explain: the song was originally written and recorded for the soundtrack of the 1992 film ‘Mo Money’ and hence features neither Luther nor Janet lip-syncing to the song in the famous fairground set video but the stars of the film itself. The version you will find online and indeed which was originally a hit in the United States is a breezy pop track drenched in artificial strings and full of the joys of summer. This “classic club edit” is essentially the track as its creators intended.
The problem was that in 1992 the differences in taste between American and British buyers was considered so wide that the UK label decided that the original mix stood little chance of becoming a hit. Hence CJ Mackintosh was enlisted to remix the track for the British market. He stripped out virtually all of the original production and instead transformed the single into a minimalist yet irritatingly catchy club track which even managed to give the guest rap from Bel Biv Devoe and Ralph Tresvant a greater prominence than in the original edit. The tactic worked perfectly and The Best Things In Life Are Free spent a fortnight at Number 2 in the summer of 1992.
Its re-release three years later came complete with a brand new set of mixes from K-Klass. Their version took the track even further away from its original intentions, adding their trademark Latino house piano to the mix and softening the beats to add a more pop-dance crossover flavour to proceedings. Intriguingly the seven-inch edit of the 1995 version deleted the guest rappers altogether, my presumption at the time being that the stars of the former New Edition members had fallen so far that their presence on the single was now an irrelevance rather than the added star power originally intended. The Best Things In Life Are Free 95’peaked at Number 7 in mid-December yet for whatever reason has not been revived since.
Absorbingly the track has long been absent from Spotify, tied up in rights hell as it is "owned" by the publishers of the Mo Money soundtrack and not linked to any Luther or Janet deals. But that's a good excuse to share a needledrop of the '95 mix.
19: Madonna – You’ll See
Following the abject commercial and critical disaster of 1994 album Bedroom Stories, a quick fix was required to keep Madonna’s name in the charts whilst she was distracted filming “Evita” and effectively to reposition her image prior to the release of the film as a serious intense singer and not the wailing banshee who thought asking Bjork to write her songs was a good idea. Hence the production of Something To Remember, a compilation of some of her most famous ballads coupled with a handful of brand new songs. You’ll See was one such new recording and it made a suitably efficient trip to the Top 5 in early November. Bizarrely the next choice for single release from the album was Oh Father which had originally appeared on her 1989 album Like A Prayer. Although it had been a single in America at the time it had been passed over internationally, perhaps sensibly as when released in the UK in early 1996 it bombed out at Number 16 and became only her second single in over a decade to miss the Top 10.
18: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince – Gold
It was the production of his Gold Experience album that caused Prince’s famous falling out with Warner Brothers records after they scuppered his original plan to release it as a “symbol” album contemporaneously with the “Prince” branded Come back in 1994. Instead the album finally emerged a year later with Mr Nelson still sulking about being (his words) “a slave” and insisting on the ludicrous “Artist Formerly Known As…” moniker which inspired much parody elsewhere. His reluctance to promote it or have much to do with its release ultimately meant it underperformed commercially, a huge shame as The Gold Experience is widely regarded as one of his best works of the 1990s. The lead single was the semi title track which was intended to be the Purple Rain of the 90s and whilst not quite coming near the level of this classic is indeed up there with one of the best singles he ever made. Gold made Number 10 in early December and in truth should have been a bigger smash than it was. Perhaps due to the strange circumstances of its release, ‘The Gold Experience’ is entirely absent from both online stores and streaming services, rendering this the great lost Prince record and regrettably one which I’m actually unable to share properly with you here thanks as well to his legal lapdogs squashing any attempt to put him on YouTube. A huge shame. [A situation rectified in every possible way since his death in 2016 and the online availability of his tracks no longer subject to his petulant whims].
17: Enya – Anywhere Is
The lead single from Enya’s The Memory Of Trees album, this was arguably the Celtic earth mother’s most commercial moment on record, a joyful lilting single whose lyric was as impenetrable as ever but which you couldn’t help but find appealing. Part of the magic of Enya’s chart career has been her ability to have hit singles with the most unconventional sounding records (the presence of Orinoco Flow in the history books as a Number One single in 1988 a particular joy) but Anywhere Is is notable in itself for being the closest she has ever come to making a straight down the wire commercial pop record – in her own inimitable style naturally.
16: Molella featuring The Outhere Brothers – If You Wanna Party
Remember the golden summer of Britpop? The heady days of the long hot summer of 1995 when Blur, Oasis, Supergrass and Pulp ruled all? Except that on the singles chart they didn’t because with a stranglehold on the top for several weeks during that period were rude American rap duo The Outhere Brothers. Their European success is actually a strange curiosity for whilst the pair originally made their records as full-blown rap hits complete with detailed verses, tracks such as Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) and Boom Boom Boom became transatlantic hits in remixed versions which deleted most of the original song and turned the tracks into cheeky but harmless party records. Still, artistic integrity be blowed – they sold records and lots of them. Boom Boom Boom spent four weeks at Number One and prompted many at the time to wonder if the world had gone mad. Certainly it was more or less impossible to walk down a street that summer without passing a car that had “girl your booty is so round, let me look you up and down” blasting hilariously from its speakers. Christmas hit If You Wanna Party wasn’t really an Outhere record at all but was instead a track they had supplied guest vocals for a year earlier as a favour for dance producer Molella. When the presence of the duo on the track was noted it was quickly prepped for UK release with the Outhere Brothers’ contribution pushed to the fore. A Number 9 hit just before Christmas, it was essentially the final flowering of the brief but stellar UK career of the duo, save for a one-off comeback in 1997 which only served to prove that their ship had well and truly sailed.
15: Pulp – Disco 2000
1995 was Pulp’s breakthrough year, Jarvis Cocker et al having scored themselves one of the all-time great Number 2 hits in the shape of Common People and then followed it with the tabloid-baiting Sorted For E’s And Whizz which also made Number 2 and which incidentally cemented Kate Thornton’s reputation as well. Don’t believe me? Look here:
Fortunately for all us kids out there, a genuine authority on the subject was ready to weigh in with his advice:
Anyway, back to the matter in hand. The album Different Class when it appeared in the autumn was as much of an instant classic as its preceding singles and most reviewers were united in the view that its most outstanding track was the nostalgic Disco 2000 which saw Cocker dreaming of a millennium reunion with a childhood sweetheart. Naturally, it became the album’s third single and was specially mixed for the occasion by no less a production legend than Alan “We Don’t Talk Anymore” Tarney who gleefully seized upon the much-commented similarity between the old Laura Branigan hit Gloria and the guitar riff in the Pulp song, ensuring that the single emphasised the link even more and turned the record into even more of an instant party smash than we all knew it would be anyway. Common People aside, Disco 2000 remains the hit record most synonymous with Pulp’s golden age and is deservedly remembered with nostalgia to this day. The only downside was the turn of the century theme to the track which led to the group five years later blocking any attempt to use it in commercials or promotions for the millennium and firmly sitting on any suggestion that it should be re-released for the occasion. Somehow I get the feeling the decision was the correct one.
14: Levellers – Just The One
The release of their fourth album Zeitgeist in 1995 saw The Levellers top the charts for the very first time whilst at the same time scoring the most consistent run of hits with the tracks mined from its grooves. Modern-day drinking fable Just The One was the third such release, peaking at Number 12 the week before the holiday, strangely enough, the fourth time they had seen one of their singles stall at this position. Strangely little heard today, and one can only assume that their deeply held principles have prevented it from being used in the context of anti-binge drinking campaigns. Either that or people just have no imagination. One thing that you do notice from calling it up online is just how short and sweet the single was – just 1:45 long.
13: Queen – A Winter’s Tale
Hard on the heels of Heaven For Everyone came Queen’s Christmas single proper, also lifted from the Made In Heaven posthumous album. A very odd single indeed, lacking much in the way of melody or chorus, the single was nonetheless a not too unpleasant diversion, a dreamy almost psychedelic track penned by Freddie Mercury during sessions for the Innuendo album in 1991 whilst staring at the shores of Lake Geneva. His vocals were reportedly laid down in one take just a few weeks before he passed away, giving the track an extra sense of poignancy that I suspect was lost on all but the most dedicated Queen fan.
12: Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men – One Sweet Day
If ever there was a symbol of the desperate stagnation and crushing blandness that had afflicted mainstream American music in the first half of the 1990s, it was the runaway success of this single. Teaming two of the most inoffensive and deathly corporate R&B acts of the time to sing one of the most sickly, nauseating and downright trite songs ever written turned out to be a commercial masterstroke Stateside. One Sweet’ Day spent an astonishing 16 weeks at Number One on the Hot 100, a record to this day and far and away the biggest ever hit single for both Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey. Fortunately, slightly cooler heads prevailed here, but that still did not stop the single having a brief Top 10 run, peaking at Number 6 in early December but then charging down the charts with reassuring haste. This really has been the only burden of this particular chart rundown, having to listen to the track again for the first time in a decade and a half and somehow being responsible for providing a link for you to hear it as well. Sorry about that.
11: Childliners – The Gift Of Christmas
More novelty crap, this time in the shape of an entertainingly risible ensemble pop record which at the very least had its heard in the right place, being as it was entirely in aid of the Childline children's charity. The brainchild of svengali Tom Watkins it was penned by the man himself in conjunction with East 17’s Tony Mortimer who once again probably had caused to look back with nostalgia at having the biggest selling hit of the previous season.
For posterity then, we should at least document the full cast of participants. They were: East 17 (naturally), Boyzone, Michelle Gayle, Deuce, MN8, Ultimate Kaos, Let Loose, a pre-fame Peter Andre, CJ Lewis, Sean Maguire, Dannii Minogue (bet this isn’t on her musical CV), EYC, Nightcrawlers, China Black, Backstreet Boys and many other nonentities whose names would mean very little in this day and age. Released in mid-December the single spent a fortnight at Number 9 and just missed out on a place on the Christmas Top 10, slipping to rest here for the festive chart. Too good to miss surely and after this the song is even starting to grow on me…
Incidentally, isn’t it interesting just how many singles in this chart had “peaked at xx in early December and then slipped”. Anyone would think there was a pattern to the releases. See you tomorrow for the Top 10 and the most exciting climax of all.