So for the climax of this particular retrospective and the ten biggest selling singles, as revealed by Radio One for June 2nd 1991 – just in time for my A-Levels.
Oliver Stone’s biopic of Jim Morrison and The Doors inspired a welcome revival of interest in the music of this most seminal of 60s rock groups. The result as far as their music was concerned was a smash hit ‘Best Of The Doors’ compilation and most significantly for us, a return to the charts for the first time in 24 years of one of their most famous songs. Light My Fire had originally been little more than a minor hit on these shores, charting at Number 49 in August 1967 although naturally its legacy and reputation extended far beyond mere chart positions in this case. The re-release was a different matter altogether, charging into the Top 10 to give the group their biggest ever UK hit. Almost exactly 11 years later the song would be at Number One thanks to Will Young’s rendition, although that particular version was informed more by Jose Feliciano’s 1968 jazz arrangement than the original.
Looking back at how we viewed the song at the time, it does throw into sharp relief the way the passing of years is viewed somewhat differently as you grow older. To most of my peer group, Light My Fire was a track from ancient history, recorded and released years before any of us were born. The equivalent today would be a famous single from 1985 being re-released and discovered by a rapturous new audience of teenagers. Yet having lived through then, the music of the mid-80s is far from ancient history – just the soundtrack of my childhood. Still, here’s hoping for the Mai Tai or Belouis Some biopic to show the young generation how it felt to be alive back then.
Now there is a danger that anything I say about the work of Cauty and Drummond will be branded a misinterpretation of what it was they were trying to say and achieve, or at the very worst be accused of missing the point altogether. We have to have a go anyway. The most artistic dance music rebels in history were at the height of their fame and powers in 1991. The KLF had released the out of this realm hit album The White Room and supplemented it with a series of singles which, if truth be told, actually bore little resemblance to the laid back sounds that shared their name on the album. Last Train To Trancentral was the final instalment of what came to be known as the “Stadium House Trilogy”, three singles of inspired and exciting dance music dressed up in an everything but the kitchen sink production designed to make the records sound like the greatest work ever. To many ears they were. This single charted as the follow-up to Number One smash 3AM Eternal and although it was in essence a mash-up of both that hit and its own immediate predecessor What Time Is Love I still had to rank Last Train To Trancentral as my personal favourite of the three. Perhaps it was the driving piano rhythm, the samples of their older hits or maybe just the vocoder effects that made them sound for all the world like the Electric Light Orchestra on speed. Either way this was a towering masterpiece of a record.
It did seem at one point that REM were never going to have a British hit. Like so many music fans of the time, I’d watched as The One I Love was a turntable smash at the end of 1987 without ever really troubling the business end of the charts. Watched as Stand was released not once but twice and bafflingly failed to become a hit, even in the summer of ‘89 as Orange Crush gave them their first-ever minor Top 40 hit. So it was something of a joy to watch Losing My Religion fly to Number 19 in the spring of 1991, establish itself as something of a classic and ensure that the celebrated Atlantans were finally being talked of as mainstream stars at last. Their Top 10 breakthrough finally came with the second single from Out Of Time as Shiny Happy People raced up the charts to a Number 6 peak, and guess what? I failed to get it at all. The song is justifiably one of their most famous pop hits, its bubbly sound and naturally the star guest appearance from Kate Pierson on co-lead vocals making it an FM radio staple for most of the next decade. Nonetheless compared to their other work I just thought the single was a throwaway, and if you want the honest truth if I was asked to name my least favourite REM single of all time, I’d ignore tuneless rubbish like E-Bow The Letter and point to the giggling inanity of Shiny Happy People as one of their all time creative lowpoints. What may also have been a factor is that Kate Pierson is just a year younger than my mother, so to see her dancing around in a ra-ra skirt like a schoolgirl in the video was something quite scary and disturbing.
Another golden oldie, Soft Cell’s most famous single charting here as part of the promotion for a Greatest Hits collection which was selling in respectable numbers at the time. The rather curious billing for the single should provide a clue that despite all appearances to the contrary this wasn’t a straightforward re-issue of the track that had shot to Number One nine years earlier. Although Marc Almond’s inability to quite hold the tune and sing a little flat at times was an endearing quality of the early Soft Cell recordings, you suspect that as the years went by he felt it misrepresented him as a singer. As a result certain of the tracks on Memorabilia – The Singles were re-recordings with Almond adding new vocals to the original tracks. Tainted Love was one such track afforded the treatment although in truth you would be hard-pressed to notice the difference. Let’s not split hairs though. It may not have been their song to begin with, but with Tainted Love Soft Cell recorded one of the most famous singles of the 1980s. To see it back on the chart and back in the Top 10 even as early as 1991 was nothing less than a joy.
As I will never tire of pointing out, the cool and sophisticated and worshipped from the ground up Kylie Minogue image is at total odds with the way she was viewed by the “in crowd” at the start of her career. Back then she was a cheesy pop puppet in the hands of Pete Waterman et al, releasing a series of throwaway pre-teen pop songs that may have all gone Top 3 without fail but were hardly the work of a credible artist worthy of widespread acclaim and attention. The first inkling that this all might change came at the start of the decade when yes, she did start doing rude things with Michael Hutchence, but also when her producers upped their game and allowed her to fill third album Rhythm Of Love with some rather more mature and club-friendly material. The odd thing was that Shocked wasn’t intended to be one of them and was seen as little more than a filler track by Stock/Aitken/Waterman who wrote and produced it. That was before remixers DNA got their hands on it, adding a house beat and a rap from Jazzi P and turning it into what was instantly acclaimed as the coolest Kylie Minogue single yet. Of particular note at the time was the suspicion that the lyrics of the track may well have been tampered with in the overdub to add a slightly ruder edge to things. Whilst on the original album version Kylie does indeed sing about being “rocked to my very foundations” things are a little less clear cut on the DNA mix. For radio purposes the line on the 7-inch mix was rather more muffled but the 12-inch version leaves you in no doubt that she is now bragging of being “fucked to my very foundations” in what was a radical departure from the sweet clean-cut image she had, thanks to being just a couple of years removed from “Neighbours” at that point. Kylie herself has always refused to comment on just what she is actually singing, thus adding neatly to the mythology.
As a final aside, with this single at Number 6 and Dannii’s ‘Success’ at Number 11, this is the closest two sisters have ever come to having simultaneous Top 10 hits.
The first chart appearance of what is naturally a very famous dance record and one which had the unfortunate effect of eclipsing just about everything else Crystal Waters attempted to do afterwards. A smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic (Number 8 in America and Number 2 here), the single made chart history when first released, flying in at Number 3 to set a new record for the time as the highest ever new entry by an unknown act. Widely expected to be Number One, it eventually could only stall at Number 2 behind the record that on this particular chart was three places above.
The one and only major hit single for singer-songwriter Beverley Craven who had been something of a label darling and thus the recipient of a prolonged promotional campaign to even get her this far. The tender piano ballad Promise Me had first been released a year earlier to little chart success but after relentless plugging (led by DLT on weekend mornings on Radio One who was particularly enamoured with her sound) it gained a Top 40 foothold and eventually had a creditable run at Number 3. Don’t get me wrong, Promise Me is a sweet, classy song performed by a lady with a pure voice and undoubted talent, but it is as Smooth FM as it gets and to hear it in tandem with its chart contemporaries makes you marvel even more at how the song became a hit when it did.
The first and greatest mainstream hit for Amy Grant, who until this point had confined her attentions to the Christian rock circuit in America. To that audience she was a superstar but to the rest of us a virtual unknown. Even before Baby Baby she had been making baby steps before this single, her duet with Peter Cetera on The Next Time I Fall having topped the US charts in 1986 whilst her 1988 single Lead Me On had received its fair share of airplay in this country, largely thanks to the relentless plugging by Simon Mayo on Radio One. Nonetheless, her Heart In Motion album marked her headlong plunge into the secular mainstream, the bouncy pop collection presenting her with a string of international hits and naturally the admonishment of the bible-belt community who had hitherto been her biggest supporters. Indeed as was widely reported at the time, the video for Baby Baby was banned or restricted by many Christian rock channels back in the States due to the scenes it contained of her embracing a man who manifestly was not her husband (this in spite of the fact that the song is about the joys of motherhood and the feeling her newborn daughter inspired her with). Although her UK hits can be counted on the fingers of one hand, Amy Grant remains a huge star in gospel circles to this day, her career even surviving the slight wrinkle in the mid-90s when a duet with the equally already-married Vince Gill ended up with the pair making sweet music in ways that didn’t involve a recording studio.
..and last week’s Number One is this week’s Number 2 as the five week chart-topping run of this single came to an end this week. Eschewing the rock chick image she had spent the previous decade cultivating for herself, Cher stormed to Number One for the first time since the 1960s thanks to this deservedly famous version of the song made popular by Betty Everett in 1964 when Cher herself was just 18 years old. The song was taken from the soundtrack of the film ‘Mermaids’ in which she starred alongside Bob Hoskins and with Winona Ryder and a cherubic Christina Ricci playing both her daughters and the backing singers in the video. History now records that Cher would end the decade back at the top of the charts with one of the biggest female-led singles in history, but at the time her return to the top 26 years after she was first Number One with I Got You Babe was something of a chart miracle.
Just 17 different singles topped the charts in 1991, and for the first time ever a grand total of four of them were taken from film soundtracks. This was the third in a row to hit the top, hard on the heels of both The Shoop Shoop Song and Chesney Hawkes’ The One And Only which had by this time dropped out of the Top 40 altogether. The sweet harmonies of Color Me Badd originated in Oaklahoma, the foursome having been discovered by Robert Bell of Kool and the Gang back in 1990. Their biggest international smash hit came about after it was featured on the soundtrack of ‘New Jack City’ but the single also featured on their debut album CMB which was released later that year. Aside from its rather naughty lyrics (something which would become a common theme during the course of the summer), the most distinctive thing about I Wanna Sex You Up is the fact that it exists in two distinct versions and the one that topped the UK charts is a different one to that which is most commonly heard today.
To explain: the single release for the UK was the soundtrack version of the hit and is characterised by its “hey, beautiful lady/I need you/tonight” opening verse. The version that later appeared on the CMB album featured different lyrics for the verses and was sung to a totally different melody – this one the “come inside/take off your coat/I’ll make you feel at home” variation. The New Jack City version seems hard to track down these days (although the soundtrack itself remains on the catalogue and is readily ordered online) and so consequently it is the “wrong” version that finds its way onto just about every “Greatest R&B Love Songs Ever” compilation going and indeed it seems the online streaming services. I leave it to more informed commenters to explain just why the two radically different versions existed, and more to the point why it was the rarer of the two that became the hit.
With that the Top 40 show comes to an end and Mark Goodier hands over to the Annie Nightingale Request Show (still going strong in its post-chart slot at this time). Annie’s first record of the evening is Loose Fit from the Happy Mondays which means she has to wait almost a full minute before uttering her trademark “hi” at the last second before the vocals begin.
That was summer 1991, hope you enjoyed this as ever, and don’t forget that the full Top 40 is on the full Spotify and We7 playlists for your online streaming pleasure. Going back to the subject of ageing for a moment, it is worth noting that my next bit of music writing will be to talk about the 2009 chart debut of Pixie Lott who it should be noted was barely 5 months old when these songs were all hits. Pass my Zimmer frame.