My A-level exam timetable is buried inside a folder inside my parents’ loft, but if memory serves most of the exams I was taking were staged after the half-term break. The one exception was the General Studies paper (for which I gained my one and only A-grade back in the days when they weren’t given out like sweets) and I remember on the morning of the exam being stuck for a way to properly revise for that most nebulous of subjects. I did so in the most unique way possible, by taking part in and winning the mid-morning nostalgia quiz on local radio.

It was the Jonathan Cowap show (he’s still there to this day) on BBC Radio York which I had for some reason taken to listening to at the time. Every morning he played with a caller the “yearquest quiz” in which the contestant had to answer three questions about the events of this month in a particular year in the past. Listening to it one morning, I opened up my copy of Chronicle Of The 20th Century at the appropriate page to see if I could glean any clues, only to realise that all the questions asked related to events referenced in the book. Having thus stumbled on the research material for the quiz, I reasoned that I could hardly lose and so spent the next week phoning up each day for the qualifying question in the hope of being selected.

I think the morning of the General Studies exam was the third time I’d tried and for whatever reason (maybe because I was calling from West rather than North Yorkshire and sounded rather brighter than the old ladies who were the regular participants) it was that day that the producer chose to ring me back and put me to air. I kept the tape of the occasion for several years but despite a flat-wide search last night I clearly don’t have it any more. It is enough that I tell you that I answered correctly all three of my questions on the events of May 1972, pausing for careful thought between a couple of the answers to hide the fact that I was cheating furiously with the reference book open in front of me. After being congratulated and thanking the host profoundly, my details were taken and a prize promised to me in the post. I had to wait until the day after the exams had finished for it to arrive, and by sheer coincidence it was the brand new album from one of the acts featured in the 30-21 rundown on this chart of June 1991. Precisely which act that was shall, I hope, become clear by the end.

30: Kirsty MacColl – Walking Down Madison

Wow, do you remember the shock and delight this caused the first time you heard it? It wasn’t that Kirsty MacColl hadn’t already signalled her intention to move away from cheery 80s jangly-pop into something a little more, shall we say, urban – hooking up with the Happy Mondays saw to that. Nonetheless, the debut single from her ‘Electric Landlady’ was a dramatic shock to the system. Co-written by Johnny Marr and produced as always by her husband Steve Lillywhite, Walking Down Madison was a six-minute epic, drenched in hip-hop beats and featuring extensive rap breaks from Aniff Cousins. Intact as always were her heartwarming vocals, swooping and diving over the melody in her own always immaculate style. Radical it may have been but as a means of dragging one of the most 80s of alternative stars kicking and screaming into the new decade, it worked a treat. As was always the case sadly, her records were long on critical praise but short on massive sales, and Walking Down Madison stalled at a disappointing Number 23 and indeed but for a re-release of Fairytale Of New York later that year would ultimately be the last Top 40 hit of her lifetime. Personally I loved (and indeed still do) the follow-up My Affair to which only the emotionally bereft can avoid wanting to salsa around the living room. Her Greatest Hits album remains one of the few CDs I can listen to over and over again without ever getting bored, and whatever its chart shortcomings Walking Down Madison has pride of place amongst them.

29: Jason Donovan – RSVP

Looking back, Jason Donovan has cause to thank his lucky stars that Andrew Lloyd-Webber came along when he did and offered him the chance to do “Joseph”. Up to that point his musical career was swiftly running out of steam, a situation hardly helped by the (even by their early 90s standards) weak-kneed SAW production on his second album Between The Lines which contained ten knocked up and by and large identikit pop songs that for the most part dropped out of the mind within moments of hearing them. RSVP was a brand new recording, one of two new tracks for his Greatest Hits collection (yes, he’d made two albums and was already releasing a compilation, go figure). The single stalled at Number 17 in what to most fans would have been something of a shock, but in truth he was already moving on. Three weeks after this chart was published he was sitting pretty at Number One with his rendition of Any Dream Will Do and whilst we now know that a rather nasty drug addiction was on his horizon, at the time it seemed that the blue-eyed boy from Down Under had just neatly swapped a pop career for one on the musical stage.

28: Zucchero featuring Paul Young – Senza Una Donna

“I changed the world. Ooh! Ooh!” A huge superstar beyond all reason in his native Italy for most of the 1980s, Zucchero was a complete unknown throughout the English speaking world, something he and his label were keen to correct. Taking the best songs from his previous two albums, they enlisted the help of some better known international stars to re-record them as English language duets, a move which you might argue was something of a masterstroke. Leading the way was Sezna Una Donna which had first appeared on his 1987 album Blue’s and was duly transformed into a smash hit thanks to the recruitment of Paul Young whose own 1990 comeback attempt had hardly set the word on fire. It was by any standards an inspired pairing, the gravelly voices of both men dovetailing nicely and injecting the record with just the right amount of soulful longing. The single flew to Number 4 (Paul Young’s biggest hit for six years) and was a smash all over Europe although America remained frustratingly indifferent. Sadly Zucchero just couldn’t repeat the magic the second time around, and a Randy Crawford-fronted rendition of his old classic Diamante missed the Top 40 in early 1992. His only other chart hit came later that year when the Luciano Pavarotti duet Miserere crept to Number 15. Given his superstar status elsewhere it seems unfair to brand him a one hit wonder, but to all intents and purposes he is to British audiences. Still, if you are going to only have one hit it might as well be a track as fondly remembered as this one.

27: Pixies – Planet Of Sound

One of just three UK Top 40 hits for the semi-legendary American alt-rock band, Planet Of Sound crept into to the Top 30 just over a year after their chart breakthrough with Velouria.Looking back it is actually strange to note that they never really managed a proper overground breakthrough on these shores, as in another lifetime they would have rode the grunge explosion of the early 90s to mainstream success and heralded as elder statesmen of the movement. The truth was however that by 1991 the band were all but falling apart, relations between Black Francis and Kim Deal having been fractious for several years and the album Trompe Le Monde from which this single came wound up being their studio swansong. They did at least have one more surprise to pull, landing their biggest ever hit single in late 1997 when Debaser from retrospective hits collection Death To The Pixies landed at Number 23.

26: Roxette – Fading Like A Flower

The second single lifted from their Joyride album, Fading Like A Flower was on its way out of the chart at this point having peaked at a somewhat indifferent Number 12, a figure indicative of their rather stop start chart career on these shores. Needless to say America was the real target market for this unashamedly radio-friendly power ballad and the single spent most of the summer hovering around the US Top 10. That would be just about the most interesting thing to say about the single, but for the extraordinary postscript that saw it turned into a looping house Eurodance single by the Dancing DJs who dragged the track back to Number 18 in a radically new version in 2005.

25: Salt-N-Pepa – Do You Want Me

A large part of the reason people have so much respect for Cheryl and Sandra aka Salt-N-Pepa is not so much their seemingly effortless rise to the top in the male-dominated world of hip-hop but their uncanny ability to pull themselves back from commercial oblivion time after time thanks to a knack for picking the right hits. All but forgotten since their 1988 breakthrough and apparently dumper-bound when 1990 comeback single Expression flopped upon first release, the duo (or trio, if one properly acknowledges DJ Spinderella as an integral part of the act) steamrollered their way back to stardom in the summer of 1991 with a pair of back to back and very memorable hits. Do You Want Me (remixed dramatically from the version that first appeared on the album Black’s Magic kind of wound up overshadowed by the censor-baiting and delightfully candid Let’s Talk About Sex which followed it later in the summer but as far as I am concerned it was this track which was the far superior pop record and which rightfully soundtracked every club night and disco until well into August. To this day one of my favourite memories of the time, even if the remixed version takes some finding online.

24: Queen – Headlong

Even five months prior to the tragic events of that November, Queen were making the wrong kind of headlines in 1991. The papers all knew Freddie was dying, but until he admitted it himself could do nothing more than drop heavy and ever less subtle hints. Musically the group had started the year on a high thanks to Innuendo charging to Number One, but even the songs they continued to release from the album raised more questions than there were answers. Why were all the videos filmed in black and white? Why, during the video for Headlong, a typically fist-pumping Queen rocker, was Freddie lying down while the band danced around him? Never did the elephant in the room loom so large, and it meant that the memory of Queen’s final “proper” album is tainted by the endless gossip and, well, innuendo that accompanied it. Headlong was the album’s third single and bested the rather meandering I’m Going Slightly Mad by easing its way to Number 14 from where it had fallen to this position on this chart. Little did we know, although perhaps we should have guessed, that their next single release would be the last of their charismatic lead singers lifetime.

23: Pop Will Eat Itself – 92 Degrees

I’ve had cause to write before of the masterful way that Pop Will Eat Itself rode the dance revolution to long lasting success by marrying their usual sound with house beats to quite wonderful effect. 92 Degrees was another perfect example of this, a thundering and intoxicating club track that somehow managed to appeal to both indie and dance crowds in one fell swoop. Quite why this was such a small hit I never really worked out, but Number 23 was as good as it got although most fans will agree the single stands proud as one of their very best. Even if some more cynical reviewers couldn’t resist wondering why they spent the song singing about a “hardcore dancefloor yawn”.

22: Kenny Thomas – Thinking About Your Love

Acts whose appeal you never got ever: Kenny Thomas. I mean just why was everyone kissing his backside so much in 1991? Yes he was a young British star, yes he had a far from unpleasant soul voice but his 1991 hits such as Outstanding and this follow-up effort were some of the blandest, dullest, meaningless pieces of watered-down R&B you could have the misfortune to hear. Thinking About Your Love was a 14 place climber on this chart and was on its way to an eventual Number 4 peak as his one and only Top 10 hit. He continued to chart hits until 1995, but I don’t think most people could name more than three.

21: T’Pau – Whenever You Need Me

So, remember the album I won on Radio York that bright May morning? It turned out to be The Promis’ the third and final release from the legends that were T’Pau. Few would argue that by 1991 their time had been and gone and it didn’t really matter how enthusiastically the goddess-like Carol Decker tossed her mane of hair around in the video for Whenever You Need Me, commercially they were all but running on fumes. Not that this wasn’t a bad record (and indeed the album itself does still have its moments) but music had moved on from the world of radio-friendly rock in which they operated. Not that they vanished forever of course, Carol Decker jumping aboard the nostalgia train with enthusiasm from the late 90s onwards and the band with the odd original member feature on “here and now” shows with pleasing regularity. I don’t care that she’s now 51 and a mother of two. I’d still crawl over hot coals for her.

Jonathan Cowap if you are reading this I confess I did cheat at the yearquest quiz 18 years ago. You can have the T’Pau album back if you want, it is still in excellent condition.


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