We are long overdue in wrapping this up, so time to press on and finish this chart of May 2002. If nothing else the public deserves to know what the title of the posts are cryptically referring to.
We start with a genuine out of nowhere oddity, but one which as you might imagine has something of a story behind it. Pop legends Steps had dissolved with an announcement on Boxing Day 2001, the break up of the group prompted by the decision of H and Claire (of whom more later) to strike out on their own. At the time the bitterest comments about the defection came from Faye Tozer who threw words such as “betrayal” around with wild abandon in the press. You suspect she was only silenced when offers of solo deals began to be waved in the faces of many of the former members of the group.
Her one and only moment of post-Steps chart glory, however, came thanks to this one-off collaboration, born out of a chance encounter between herself and mum-friendly opera star Russell Watson during a Proms In The Park concert the previous summer. Watson had grazed the bottom end of the charts in previous years thanks to records for the 1999 World Cup squad and duet with Sean Ryder of all people on Barcelona – his signature track thanks to its association with his performances prior to Manchester United’s Champions League victories that year. Until this moment however, he had never landed himself a proper mainstream pop hit single.
Someone Like You had originally appeared on Watson’s 2001 debut album The Voice with Cleopatra Higgins performing the English language co-vocal duties whilst Watson himself crooned the Italian lyrics, but she was replaced for this re-recorded single by the former Steps star who turned in what is truth be told a masterful performance. It seems almost crazy looking back, but somehow the single clicked quite magically, Tozer doing what I described as the time as her best Celine Dion impression and helping to turn what is at the end of the day a slice of easy listening schmaltz into a single which was there in the Top 10 on merit. I’m sure nobody but the most enthusiastic Russell Watson fans will have heard it since its release, particularly as it was a non-album single, but feel free to check it out on the playlists. You may actually be pleasantly surprised.
Not quite a one-hit-wonder (she charted twice more after this one), this single is nonetheless pretty much the only hit for which Tweet is remembered in the UK charts. A slinky R&B song that would perhaps otherwise have little to recommend it, Oops (Oh My) was notorious for its slightly daring lyrics which pretty much implied the singer was in the process of bringing herself off. With a straight face Tweet always insisted that it was so much more than a song about wanking, but I suspect very few people were totally convinced. Her one other claim to fame is being the first person to record the track Boogie 2Nite which was initially slated to be a single for her in late 2002 only for the release to be cancelled. It would otherwise have languished on her debut album Southern Hummingbird before being turned into a pop hit by Booty Luv in late 2006.
A track that rightly or wrongly needs little in the way of introduction from me, with some justification one of the better-known rock singles of the early part of the last decade. Demand for How You Remind Me was such that the track had arrived on the UK charts as an import single some weeks before its initial release in March 2002. Made fully available, the track bucked all manner of prevailing chart trends by settling in for a Top 10 run which would be considered exceptional even in the then-forthcoming download era. This Number 8 placing was in fact its final week as a Top 10 hit, the end of a run that had seen How You Remind Me rocket up and down the table to peak at Number 4 on two separate occasions during an 11-week run. But for the similarly ubiquitous Rockstar it would be their biggest and biggest-selling hit single ever and it is maybe little surprise that it took them five and a half years to even begin to live up to it.
It is a strange and almost fitting irony that ‘NSync’s biggest ever UK hit single turned out to be their swansong as a group together, their final single and last ever chart entry making an easy Number 2 the moment it was released. The third hit single from their 2001 album Celebrity, the promotion of the album was fraught with tension as the rest of the group resented what was seen as the pushing of Justin Timberlake to the fore on lead vocals and promotional work, almost as if he was being prepped in advance for the solo career that was inevitably going to follow. Indeed Girlfriend is almost interchangeable with just about any Timberlake record from the next four years, a tight as could be four minutes of funk-pop helmed by The Neptunes in what was rapidly becoming their signature style and a world away from the bubbly Max Martin penned pop that had previously been ‘NSync’s musical trademark. I was always down on the single for that reason as to be it was nothing like the ‘NSync of old, but as its chart peak proves it was absolutely the right record for the group to be making, one which dragged their sound and most importantly that of their soon to be superstar “lead” singer kicking and screaming into a new decade and further musical relevance. In short, see this as the first Timberlake single and judge its quality on those merits – it is unlikely to disappoint on that basis.
My favourite kind of hit record this – one with a genuine 22-carat gold story behind it.
One of the best pop records of the year started out having nothing to do with the group who eventually were to record it. It was in the summer of 2001 that a bootleg mash-up of Gary Numan’s 1979 smash hit Are Friends Electric and Adina Howard’s 1995 track Freak Like Me began circulating. Credited to “Girls On Top” the mash-up (entitled at the time We Don’t Give A Damn About Are Friends) was the work of a then little known Richard X, a man who would subsequently make the whole “one song to the tune of another” his signature style. The rights to the track were swiftly snapped up by Island Records who set about attempting to clear it for release.
Except they couldn’t, for Adina Howard (or people connected with her) dug their heels in and refused to allow her vocals to be used on what they saw as an unauthorised remix. Never mind that despite worldwide success in 1995 the original version of Freak Like Me had crawled to a mere Number 33 in the UK and was more known thanks to a two-step cover version which had charted in 2000, the record was not to come out with Ms Howard's vocals intact and that was the end of it. Island records had the rights perfect hit record idea but lacked the right act to record it.
Enter then the Sugababes who were themselves at the time something of a lost cause. after making an initial splash in late 2000 with their debut single Overload the all-girl trio had seen their subsequent singles struggle badly in the charts (something which to this day I attribute to some awful production that made them sound whiny and grating rather than tuneful) and to make matters worse they had all fallen out spectacularly whilst on a promotional tour and had not for the last time seen one of their members quit. Although Siobahn had been replaced with Heidi in fairly short order their label London records had lost patience and declined their option for a second Sugababes album. To their eternal credit their management refused to lose hope and secured a deal with Island records – a label who just happened to have the perfect hit record in the wings and needed singers to help them over a tricky copyright issue.
So it was that the Gary Numan-soundtracked version of Freak Like Me became a Sugababes single and upon release an instant smash hit Number One record. Looking back it is hard to convey just what a sensation this was as a concept. Yes, a mash-up record in the shape of Toca’s Miracle had been a Number One hit two years earlier but for an act to cover an already famous song with an entirely new backing track attached was something of a first. Freak Like Me has been somewhat eclipsed since due to the fact that the Sugababes have subsequently released original material which was even better than this, but it is a nice reminder to hear again the work of creative genius that rescued the biggest pop act of the decade from the dumper and maybe as well turned one of the most famous R&B songs of the 1990s into a 2000s Number One hit.
A rare and dare I suggest almost unique example of Reaction Calypso making the UK charts. Whilst I don’t think anyone has ever actually made a soca track that wasn’t a hard to resist command to get up and dance like there is no tomorrow, real-life brothers Nigel and Marvin Lewis made such records their stock in trade from the 1990s onwards, their tracks a series of enthusiastically shouted instructions to the willing partygoers who would generally lap them up at beachside discos.
Follow Da Leader was first released by the pair back in 1997 and despite a stripped to the bone Ringbang production had spread to the holiday resorts and carnival seasons of Europe, this leading to the pair securing support slots with acts such as Shaggy, Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill. The track’s long overdue assault on the charts came thanks to a rather inspired club remix of the single which removed virtually all of their original production and replaced it instead with the thundering rave beats of I Wanna Be U, a Top 10 hit a year earlier for Chocolate Puma. All of a sudden Follow Da Leader was transformed from a track that you may have vaguely heard at the Notting Hill carnival into a bona fide club smash – and a Top 5 hit to boot.
That said, the single release was not without some issues. Those buying the CD single will have felt rather short-changed thanks to the lead "radio mix" which dramatically shortened the track to less than three minutes but perhaps most crucially played down the call and response concept of the original in favour of making it little more than a club-record based around relentless repetition of the chorus. Talk about missing the point. The power of Follow Da Leader was that it was a record which began gently with some hand waving and built to a frenzied crescendo of jumping, waving and screaming. It is essentially one of the greatest party records ever made, something that was all but lost in the version which was played on the Top 40 and which appeared on Now 52 a few months later. Fortunately, the CD single also contained the slightly longer “video mix” which as the title suggests was the same version used on the video which was in heavy rotation on music channels during the spring of 2002 and which properly respected the original structure of the track. With Spotify bizarrely only having the little heard these days original version in its catalogue, the best way to remember it is via this video. Just make sure you have a rum-based drink to hand afterwards, for the track will inspire in you an almost impossible to satisfy the craving.
To think once upon a time the minipops were once considered a bad idea. With the S Club 7 franchise steamrollering pop with apparently no stopping, just about any side project Simon Fuller suggested was grabbed with wild enthusiasm. The S Club Juniors were presumably originally meant to be nothing more than a sight gag, the adult band members having their own mini-me equivalents who could join them on stage as support at Wembley Arena at the climax of their S Club Carnival tour in 2001. Somehow it became more than that, and via a series of auditons shown Popstars-style on children’s television, the eight pre-teen singers and dancers who were to form the S Club Juniors were recruited ready for a pop career of their own. One Step Closer was their first and most famous hit single, a thundering disco-inspired pop record that was never going to do anything other than charge towards the top of the charts, the single denied by a whisker the chance to hit Number One and so instead was restricted to a none too shabby Number 2 placing.
When the original S Clubbers broke up a year or so later, the juniors were promoted to full status, becoming in the process the S Club 8 for a further album before their label lost interest. Despite the string of hit singles that were to follow this one, I always felt somewhat uncomfortable even trying to appreciate their records. There was no logic to it really, and just about everything to do with the group was done with the purest motives, it was just that there was something quite wrong about a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds dancing around singing what were at times some quite adult lyrics – the “boy you keep me up all night” line from their second single Automatic High being a natural case in point. Looking over everything I ever wrote about the S Club Juniors, one theme kept coming to the fore. “This is a fantastic pop record”, I would say, “but the whole thing just feels wrong. I can’t sit and appreciate the dance routines in the video without wanting to alert the Daily Mail about myself”.
Sad that concerns about the age of the group should get in the way of appreciating the records, but what can you do? Forget who is singing it though and One Step Closer is a magnificently produced and immaculately performed pop record and enough to inspire anyone strictly over the age of 16 to hold on to their lovin’ with unabashed enthusiasm. As for the fate of the former S Club Juniors, Frankie and Rochelle now remain famous as adults as the core members of The Saturdays whilst Stacey… well….
It was their fault! Truly it was. Whilst the whole Steps project was surely coming to the end of its natural life, it was the unlikely pairing of Ian ‘H’ Watkins and Claire Richards who tendered their resignations and swiftly inked their own deal, clearly feeling there was more mileage in a permanently smiling pop duo making ever more cheesy bubbly pop. As a statement of intent DJ wasn’t the worst record in the world, even if at times it did appear to be little more than a step by step (no pun intended) retread of Don’t Stop Movin’. Nonetheless whilst watching the duo strut their stuff on Top Of The Pops it was impossible to escape the nagging feeling that maybe they were just a little too old to be bouncing up and down to such kid-friendly pop and that the more considered adult direction apparently being pursued by their former bandmate was a more sensible way forward. Still, with both this and Someone Like You arriving in the stores in the same week it meant that this chart was a mini battle of the Steps camps, with the cheesy ones winning out in assured style. Sadly for H & Claire continuing superstardom was not to be theirs, and despite two more Top 10 singles during 2002 their album Another You Another Me was a colossal bomb and they retreated to count their royalties – as you suspect they probably should have done in the first place.
“I’m not actually naked in the video you know” protested Holly Valance at every opportunity she had, thus shattering the freeze-frame dreams of a thousand adolescents across the nation and neatly undermining the biggest talking point of her debut pop release. The latest in a seemingly never-ending line of Neighbours stars wanting to try their hand at a musical career, the erstwhile Flick Scully made her chart debut thanks to an English language version of a rather famous continental hit. Turkish star Tarkan first recorded Kiss Kiss (back then entitled ‘Simank’) in 1997 and its popular blend of traditional Ottoman rhythms with club beats had surely grazed the ears of many a holidaymaker in the intervening period. By a strange coincidence TV star Graham Norton had been using the original track in the nightly trailers for his Channel 4 chat show for several months before Holly Valance’s release, further cementing the song in the minds of a large audience. Thus when Kiss Kiss debuted on the radio it was fair to say that many people were familiar with the idea already, perhaps ensuring that the single could hardly fail. Helpful too was the ready-made celebrity of the glamorous Australian star and yes, that video in which she writhed around in what were quickly revealed to be flesh-coloured pants whilst lighting effects conveyed the impression that we were seeing far more of Ms Valance’s flesh that was generally the case on tea time television. Kiss Kiss soared to Number One in the week of its release, turning Holly Valance into a major star, although her single chart career was vanishingly briefly, the hits drying up in late 2003 when her second album stiffed..
Ah, topical irony ahoy. Back when he was just a wide-eyed and innocent former member of Boyzone, Ronan Keating was on a roll when it came to his solo career. His debut album Ronan had spawned four smash hit singles with both When You Say Nothing At All and Life Is A Rollercoaster charging to Number One in short order. After a short break during 2001 during which time a failed attempt was made to turn him into an American star, he returned to British shores to plot his next move. Stateside failure aside, there was little reason to presume his second album would not repeat the success of the first, and so it proved with this introductory track carving an almost obligatory path to the top of the charts. Although unfamiliar to British audiences, If Tomorrow Never Comes was an already established standard in other markets, one of Garth Brooks’ first-ever hit singles dating back from 1989. Mining the back catalogue of C&W stars for potential pop hits was to prove an easy route to success for many of Louis Walsh’s charges over the next few years although it is not unreasonable to bemoan the utter blandness with which the future X Factor judge seemed to want to drown pop music. At the time one could only step back and applaud the almost perfect marketing machine and the attendant fan power that propelled Ronan Keating back to Number One with ease, the tear-jerking video which accompanied the track the perfect way to ensure just about every female heart aged 15-45 was captured. Nonetheless looking back at this chart as a whole, it seems almost offensive that a parade of some quite impressive pop tracks from a golden age of chart music should be headed up for this week at least by an MOR aberration, a comfortably easy listening record that had virtually zero relevance to prevailing musical trends or the tastes of the people who made up the usual singles buying demographic.
Musically it is hard to fault Ronan Keating tracks such as this, but artistically it falls a long way short of perfection. Plus I guess it doesn’t help it is now hard to picture him with his trousers on isn’t it?
So we finally got there, that was the chart of May 12th 2010 in all its glory. Now please excuse me, I’m off to continue stalking and frightening former child pop stars.