Go on then, I hear you ask, just what was it about Christmas 1995 which made it such a watershed moment for me?
Well, the truth is that it marked my first ever proper, paid for, live radio shifts on a real living breathing radio station. Not that I hadn’t presented shows as a wannabe radio star on broadcast radio before, most memorably a week of overnight shows back in Lancaster when I was a student, but on Christmas Eve 1995 a year and a half of patiently making the tea and turning around sports reports finally paid off. I got to fill in on the “Sunday Pleasuredome” on The Pulse Of West Yorkshire and play two hours of 80s hits just before the Pepsi Chart and their own version of the Christmas countdown.
Technically that afternoon wasn’t my first live broadcast as it was traditional for new presenters (even those who had driven many outside broadcasts and pre-recorded shows from the on-air studio) to do a warm-up overnight shift just to get into the swing of things. Consequently, that weekend consisted of me working in the afternoon on the sports show, going home to sleep, coming back in at 2am, presenting for four hours and then going home to sleep once more before coming back in at lunchtime to get ready for the show.
With the Christmas chart show being broadcast that afternoon I had to jump through a number of hoops to get it on tape as was traditional, and indeed playing the recording back and hearing it start during Mark Goodier’s opening monologue brings back all the memories… 4pm that Sunday saw me fire off the news jingle (no computers in those days to do it for you), fade up IRN, run down the corridor to the meeting room to press “record” on the stereo that was tuned to Radio One and then run back to the studio ready for the end of the news bulletin and to cue in the networked feed of Dr Fox and the Pepsi Chart.
Hence every single memory of that holiday season, every moment of the build-up and every song of the time is coloured with the sense of giddy anticipation I felt at being handed the chance to do for my bosses what I had always wanted to do – prove that I could present on their radio station and do the job asked of me. Under no circumstances was I going to let that chance pass me by.
Enough of this personal nostalgia, let’s get back to the musical stuff and the Christmas Chart as broadcast on December 24th 1995. Don’t miss New Years Day 1996 on Radio One by the way. They are playing 90 from the 90s all day long from 9am-4pm. Can hardly wait…
30: Blur – The Universal
You will know this song possibly without even realising it, thanks to British Gas and their licensing of the track and its opening orchestral riff for their seemingly endless advertising campaigns, The Universal began life as the second single to be released from Blur’s Great Escape album and was actually the follow-up to smash hit Number One single Country House, the focal point of the Battle Of Britpop that resulted from great rivals Blur and Oasis releasing singles on the same day earlier in the summer. History records now who really had the last laugh, but at the time Blur were on an all-time commercial high and The Universal justifiably remains one of their most famous and best-loved singles. Maybe released just a little too earlier to be a proper seasonal smash, the single peaked at Number 5 in late November and by Christmas was gently fading away.
29: Crescendo – Are You Out There?
Our first collision with dance music on the chart, Are You Out There was a major club smash in its day, a brooding slow build featuring strings and a sonorous narrated intro soon giving way to an infectious classical-rave fusion anthem which was bold enough to feature a breakdown featuring a gothic choir. A cut above most of the Eurotrash that was clogging up dancefloors at the time, it is something of a shame that Are You Out There (which ran to 19 minutes in its full unedited version) is something of a forgotten classic these days. Crescendo was a pseudonym for Jon Crosse who would later form trace band The Morrighan, most famous for their 2000 single Follow Me.
28: Frank Bruno – The Eye Of The Tiger
After years of waiting, British boxer Frank Bruno finally won the World Heavyweight Title in 1995 to scenes of nationwide joy. We’ll draw a line over the fact that he was subsequently knocked into the middle of next week by Mike Tyson in his first defence and instead concentrate on the brief period in late 1995 when he was on top of the world and a national hero. You’ll be relieved to know that Frank himself did not feature on this cash-in single, the track instead being little more than a knock-off cover of the famous Survivor hit mixed with commentary clips from the famous night in September when he outpointed Oliver McCall to become the king of the world. Mike Stock and Matt Aitken produced the track which was released on BMG records, and if amongst that combination you can detect the slight whiff of Simon Cowell at work your senses are in all probability correct.
27: Queen – Heaven For Everyone
Why should the fact that your lead singer has been dead for four years stop you from making records with him? Queen didn’t think so, and so after a suitably respectful period following the death of their charismatic star in 1991 set about assembling a new album from the fragments of songs Freddie Mercury had been working on before his death, as well as turning some of his solo singles into fully-fledged Queen tracks. Made In Heaven with the album which, once you got past the slightly morbid nature of its creation, was broadly welcomed with positive reviews. Heaven For Everyone was its lead single and the track shot to Number 2 in November, only denied a place at the top by a certain rap superstar. The follow-up single was released with almost indecent haste to further promote sales of the album over the holiday period, so Heaven For Everyone was one of two Queen singles on the festive chart. Chances are most people have forgotten just what the other one was as well…
26: Corona – I Don’t Want To Be A Star
Created by producer Francesco Bomtempi, Eurodance group Corona put together a string of hits in the mid-90s, all the while sidestepping rows over just who it was who actually sang on the records. The single version of I Don’t Want To Be A Star featured a variety of different Lee Marrow mixes, but the one favoured by radio was the “70s Radio Edit” which replaced the euro beats with disco strings and in the process transformed it into something quite glorious. The single was their fourth and final hit (save for a Megamix release two years later) and peaked at Number 22 the week before Christmas.
25: Michael Barrymore – Too Much For One Heart
And the classics just keep on coming! Having wormed his way into public affections as an all-round entertainer and at the time the undisputed king of Saturday night television, it kind of made perfect sense for Michael Barrymore to release a cash-in album. The long-player itself never sold enough to chart, but it did spawn this single which crept into the Top 30 just before Christmas. Barrymore had actually recorded comedy records in the past at the very start of his career, scaling the dizzy heights of Number 90 with Kenny The Kangaroo in 1983 and Number 81 with Doin’ The Crab in 1987, but as far as most people were concerned this barely adequate piece of crooning was his first-ever attempt at becoming a singing star. Whilst 1995 was arguably a career-high for him, it also marked the start of his personal decline, with the infamous drunken coming out during a Soho pub crawl and his subsequent split from wife and manager Cheryl all taking place during the course of the year. For the moment his fans stuck by him and his shows remained as popular as ever. History doesn’t document what he spent the royalties from this single on. Let’s hope it wasn’t a swimming pool.
24: Passengers – Miss Sarajevo
Following the 1993 sessions that lead to the Zooropa album, the members of U2 developed their creative partnership with producer Brian Eno still further, creating a series of tracks which were so far removed from their usual sound that it gave their label something of a headache. There was no way the collection of experimental soundscapes could be released as a “proper” U2 album, so the group instead elected to release them as a side project under a widely publicised pseudonym. Operating as “Passengers” with Eno effectively a full member of the group for one time only, they released Original Soundtracks 1 with the conceit that all the tracks were taken from the soundtrack of films – most of which were just figments of their imagination. One of the few that did exist was “Miss Sarajevo”, a Bill Carter documentary that Bono had helped produce and which documented the famous beauty pageant held amongst the war-torn buildings in the Bosnian capital.
The single itself is a thing of quite exquisite beauty. As if Bono’s gentle crooning over Eno’s aural meanderings isn’t enough, the crowning glory of the single arrives with the guest vocal from Luciano Pavarotti who takes over the track three minutes in and transforms it into the most arresting, diverting and downright moving record you are ever likely to hear. Few and far between are the pieces of music that literally make you stop what you are doing and then scramble to work out what it was at the end, and so it is something of a joy to document the existence of Miss Sarajevo and its chart peak of Number 6 in early December 1995. Take a few moments to savour what even this seasoned U2 hater couldn’t resist snapping up a copy of the moment it hit the shops.
23: Smokin’ Mojo Filters – Come Together
Speaking of Bosnia and the Yugoslavian civil war which was dominating the foreign news at the time, the conflict also prompted the founding of the War Child charity and in 1995 the first in what became a semi-regular series of charity albums. The concept for The Help! Album was apparently inspired by John Lennon’s Instant Karma, the idea that records should be released the moment they are recorded. Hence a stellar array of artists was assembled to each record a track on Monday, September 4th 1995, tracks which were then mixed, pressed and released so the album hit the stores the following Saturday. The release gained much publicity and shot straight to Number One – at least on the compilation chart, its ineligibility for the main listings despite pleas that the rule should be relaxed winding up as a bone of contention that Brian Eno still hadn’t come to terms with over a decade later.
Although a selection of tracks had been released as a single at around the same time as the album, The Help EP had peaked at a mere Number 51, and so it was decided to further promote the product with a single release for the final track on the disc. The Smokin’ Mojo Filters were a veritable supergroup, consisting of Paul McCartney, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Steve Craddock, Steve White and Carleen Anderson. Together they enthusiastically plodded through a cover of the old Beatles track Come Together in a manner which inevitably sounded like a spontaneous jam session (which naturally it was) but which was notable simply for the sheer weight of star power behind it. Released the week before the Christmas chart, the single peaked at Number 19 before slipping back to here. Never quite the contender for the top it might have been planned to, as the token singles chart presence of a very worthy and very famous cause, it seems churlish really to knock it. As a one-off charity release Spotify naturally seems to have forgotten it ever existed.
22: Skee-Lo – I Wish
The first of just two hit singles accumulated by California based rapper Skee-Lo, better known to his mother as Antoine Rountree. A tongue in cheek send up of aimless materialism, the track may have been a light-hearted novelty but it still pops up in the most unlikely of places and has managed a shelf life far beyond its brief UK chart run. A Number 15 hit at the start of December, the track was even up for a Grammy as Best Rap Solo Performance but was to ultimately lose to a certain record which we will come to later.
21: East 17 - Thunder
One year on from grabbing the Christmas Number One with Stay Another Day, East 17 had the honour of another seasonal hit thanks to Thunder, although the track had effectively been and gone and was by this time easing its way down the chart after peaking at Number 4 in early November. Just three more hits would follow in 1996 and early 1997 before the band started to disintegrate, although give them credit they have been attempting comebacks at regular intervals pretty much ever since. What do you mean you hadn’t noticed?