Two confessions before we start. I’d originally “scheduled” this chart recap to be the big Christmas countdown a year ago, but certain baby-related events got in the way and the opportunity to do writing of any kind just didn’t present itself in the run-up to the holiday. Hence we’re winding back a rather random period of 19 years to the Christmas Top 40 of 1992, but I don’t doubt that the results will be no less entertaining for all that.
Secondly, looking at the line-up of tracks featured on this Christmas chart, at first glance this doesn’t appear to be a particularly vintage year. A selection of lame covers, throwaway dance hits and as we shall see some rather lazily made “megamixes” does not a parade of famous pop tunes make. That said, it can be an interesting exercise to peel back the covers of the music which history has forgotten. Buried in here are some rather memorable singles which I suspect have hardly had an airing on the radio since they dropped out of the charts first time around. So let’s roll the tape.
This then, is the Top 40 chart, as broadcast by Radio One on Sunday 19th December 1992. Your host for this show as is only right and proper is the one and only Bruno Brookes, restored to the chart show to see out the dregs of his Radio One career earlier that year, and so here presenting his first Christmas countdown since 1989. After a re-run (in full) of last week’s Top 3, we are into the meat of the countdown.
40: Brand New Heavies – Stay This Way
Maybe one of the few acts in history to have never released a bad single, at the very least during their chart heyday, the Brand New Heavies were the commercial standard-bearers for - well, that’s a debate in itself. The most high profile and commercial act on Acid Jazz records, you will find people prepared to argue the toss for hours over whether it was a genre and not just a corporate marque. Essentially some good old fashioned early 80s jazz-funk with dance beats grafted on, the Acid Jazz “genre” nonetheless ensured that music resembling proper jazz had a place on the singles chart for the whole of the decade – indeed the first version of their self-titled debut album came out in 1990 in an almost totally instrumental form, so rooted were they in music rather than songwriting. 1992 was the breakout year for the Heavies as they made the Top 40 for the first time in February with Dream Come True and breached the Top 20 later that spring. Stay This Way is possibly one of their least-remembered hits, their fourth to make the charts that year and one which was here spending its one and only week amongst the bestsellers. They would return in 1994 and take things to interesting new levels.
39: Uncanny Alliance – I Got My Education
Depending on which way you look at it, this is either a strange tale of wasted potential or a fine example of record labels, even in the sales and financial nadir of the early 90s, desperately throwing money at what they hope is going to be the next big thing. Uncanny Alliance were New Yorkers Brinsley Evans and EV Mistique. They created I Got My Education in early 1992 as a tongue in cheek response to the Crystal Waters smash Gypsy Woman, spinning out the tale of “Miss Thing” and how she wound up homeless due to her own personal uselessness. After developing into a club smash in their home state a bidding frenzy erupted around both the track and the pair who had made it for the right to release I Got My Education and anything else they might come up with subsequently. Having shelled out a fortune, A&M records were rewarded with a 1994 album The Groove Won’t Bite which duly bombed after several flop singles and the pair were never heard of again. The UK release of their wave-making track had the misfortune to be delayed until the end of the year when even its novelty value wasn’t enough to make it stand out in the holiday market. Number 39 was as good as it got for the track which was briefly quite famous but now is simply notorious.
38: Louie Louie – The Thought Of It
Another act who frustratingly never quite became the name he should have done was Puerto Rican producer and singer Louis Cordero who performed as Louie Louie. After a first brush with fame as the object of a tyro Madonna’s affections in the video for Borderline he re-emerged as a singer in the early 1990s with a Top 20 American hit at the start of the decade Sittin’ In The Lap Of Luxury. His one and only brush with the British charts came with a track lifted from his second album Let’s Get Started, and once more a track which wound up lost in the festive rush to do little more than poke its nose into the Top 40 at the end of December. My original notes from the time remind me that he was cleverly booked as a surprise guest on the televised Smash Hits Poll-Winners Party in an attempt to propel him up the charts. Clearly it didn’t work quite as intended. The Thought Of It isn’t actually half bad, an energetic funk workout which would not have disgraced a Was (Not Was) album at any stage in their career. Sadly now all but forgotten, it feels good to have the chance to reappraise the single in this manner.
37: HWA featuring Sonic The Hedgehog – Supersonic
Bandwagon alert. The mini craze for turning children’s TV themes into semi-ironic drug-laced rave tracks had by late 1992 morphed into adapting computer game soundtracks for use as club records. Leading the charge was Dr Spin with Tetris (an idea believe or not of Andrew Lloyd-Webber) to be swiftly followed by Supermarioland from Ambassadors Of Funk, both hits in the autumn. This HWA (Hedgehog With Attitude apparently) track was the co-creation of former Haysi Fantayzee performer turned superstar DJ Jeremy Healy who crafted it along with Mat Clark. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Supersonic actually originally existed in some form with no video game connection at all, but it was a simple matter for the purposes of marketing to remix it with a few noises ripped from a Megadrive, sign a quick licence agreement and release the track as the “official” Sonic The Hedgehog dance record.
On a serious note, the music industry slump of 1992 saw the first indications that the home console market was as much a spending priority for the young as pop songs used to be and it was with some horror that labels saw music stores clear huge swathes of shelf space for the latest electronic titles, in much the same manner that stores are turning themselves over to technology now. Releasing dance records based on video game music may seem rather quaint now but at the time it was a product of an urgent need not to lose an entire generation to music altogether.
36: KWS featuring The Trammps – Hold Back The Night
OK now, this is interesting, as this is a fine example of what is surely a rather minor hit single triggering the perfect emotional response. Nottingham-based group KWS hit chart paydirt in 1992 with a club-friendly cover of Please Don’t Go, and followed it up with a similarly styled take on Rock Your Baby. By the time of their third hit of the year they had enough clout to be able to recruit the original hitmakers for a background contribution to their next cover, and so it was that the new recording of Hold Back The Night had the honour of featuring the Trammps themselves treading all over their musical legacy. By this time the novelty had perhaps slightly worn off, or maybe it was the old “lost in the mix” syndrome again, who knows, but this single could do little more than reach Number 30 before dipping down to sit here on the Christmas chart.
Wait though, I remember this record. The moment it played on the chart show, I knew exactly where I was. I was dancing down the Headrow in Leeds City Centre, Walkman headphones plugged in, catching the bus home from my holiday job and feeling merry and seasonal as council’s festive light display illuminated my journey down the hill. Hold Back The Night was playing on the radio and as the chorus washed over me I instantly acknowledged the joy of hearing a soul classic, even in such a lame new version and wrapped that up in the thrill that it was just a few days to Christmas. One song, just because it happened to be played at that moment, creating a snapshot of a particular second in time. That’s why I love music.
We interrupt this Top 40 countdown for an impromptu news bulletin.
Yes, this was the strange period where the expanded Top 40 show on Radio One didn’t quite dovetail with their public service commitments, meaning everything has to stop for the 4.30pm news at this point on the tape. Your newsreader on duty this evening is Mallary Gelb who left Radio One for America in 1995 and who is now a big name in current affairs TV back in Britain. The things you learn from Google.
35: U2 – Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
To come back down to earth briefly, the fifth and final single from U2’s creative shot in the arm that was the Achtung Baby album was this, its fifth track on the running order. After the genre-hopping stunt of the Paul Oakenfold remix of their last single Even Better Than The Real Thing, this single had a rather more conventional sound and release – flung out at the end of the year to wring one last gasp of sales from the album just in time for Christmas. Neither U2s greatest hit ever, nor one of their biggest, but it made a respectable enough Number 14 at the start of December and was at this point gently winding its way down and out.
34: Darlene Love – All Alone On Christmas
What should be in theory a throwaway single from a forgotten film soundtrack actually ended up something of a musical treasure thanks to the personnel involved. The presence of Darlene Love alone should be enough to set the pulse racing, one of Phil Spector’s favourite vocal muses and the voice behind Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) from his legendary Christmas album after it was decided Ronnie Spector wasn’t able to pull it off. She was the obvious choice then to sing this Spector-esque track for the soundtrack of “Home Alone 2” but it was the fact that writer and producer Steve Van Zandt simply invited the whole of the E Street Band along to perform the single with her which made it a thing of great beauty. Some of the greatest rock and roll musicians of all time coming together for an enthusiastic tribute to the music that all of them must at one time or another have fallen in love with as children. For all that it was perhaps out of place in Britain in 1992 and so the single limped into the Top 40 and is extraordinarily enough all but forgotten now – if you hear it on the radio at all this Christmas it will be in low rotation to break up the monotony of Mariah Carey or Wham! In actual fact All Alone On Christmas is one of the most lovingly made retro-sounding Christmas records ever created. Surely long overdue for rediscovery, in this house it just isn’t the holiday proper without hearing it.
33: Mike Oldfield – Tattoo
An almost forgotten part of the tale of 1992 is the brief creative and cultural revival of Mike Oldfield. Despite a regular release schedule in the intervening decades, his last Top 10 album had been 1983 offering Crises and to all intents and purposes he was a forgotten man outside of a still loyal fanbase. Having parted in acrimonious terms from Virgin Records, he signed a new deal with Warner Bros who finally persuaded him to do something he had resisted for some time – revisit the work which first made his name (and indeed whose revenues formed the bedrock of Richard Branson’s entire empire). The result was Tubular Bells II, co-produced by both original collaborator Tom Newman and Trevor Horn who worked to do something nobody else had managed for a decade – make Mike Oldfield musically relevant. The album shot to Number One and sparked a renewed interest in the talents of the multi-instrumentalist with lavish concerts at Edinburgh Castle and Carnegie Hall staged to unveil the work to the public. It also resulted in Mike Oldfield’s first forays into the singles chart in a decade as well, with opening track Sentinal reaching Number 10 and this second single landing here on the Christmas chart. Tattoo wasn’t an explicitly festive record, but its lilting air and bagpipe led melody lent it a suitably seasonal air. Mike Oldfield’s new-found profile didn’t last much beyond this release admittedly, and his subsequent need to revisit the Tubular Bells concept rather suggests an attempt to dip into the same well once too often, but subsequent releases showed a continual desire to innovate and embrace multimedia and new platforms in a manner which put him years ahead of his time.
32: Guns N’ Roses – Yesterdays/November Rain
With two vast, sprawling albums to mine for hits, it is small wonder that Guns N’ Roses span the promotion of the Use Your Illusion project out over a considerable period to time, removing the messy need to go back into the studio to record new material. Yesterdays was the sixth single to be taken from the pair of albums, a gentle mid-tempo flag-waver lifted from Volume II of the pair. Released in mid-November it made Number 8 to become their ninth Top 10 single. An extra sweetener the single came with November Rain on the b-side, despite it having made Number 4 in its own right earlier in the year.
31: Kriss Kross – It’s A Shame
…and we end this first segment of the chart with the third and final Top 40 hit for child rappers Kriss Kross, the pair causing a mini-sensation earlier in the year with worldwide smash hit Jump but whose novelty value had diminished somewhat by the end of the year, although they managed two further hit albums back home in America before their voices broke and they discovered girls or something. As ever, we should note that Kriss Kross’ greatest musical legacy is launching the career of producer Jermaine Dupri, himself no more than a teenager when he helmed their Totally Krossed Out debut LP.
Ten down, another thirty to go, and be assured there is a similar mix of sublime and ridiculous in the rest of this chart.