Outside the world of music in May 2002, the papers were full of this kind of stuff:
This was the weekend of the Hatfield rail crash, when a train derailed on approach to the station and mounted the platform, coming to rest wedged underneath the station canopy. Just prior to departing for the Far East, David and Victoria Beckham staged a star-studded charity “Gucci and Sushi” party on their back lawn with the England star turning up dressed as a samurai warrior. Ahead of the World Cup, many football league clubs were staring at their balance sheets in dismay after ITV Digital collapsed into Administration and ceased paying for its TV rights and meanwhile TV viewers on Teesside besieged the BBC with calls after the revived Auf Wiedersehen Pet portrayed the dismantling of the famous River Tees transporter bridge thanks to some special effects that were so realistic people were worried it was happening for real.
On the chart, we’ve reached the Top 20 - time to hit the play button once more.
This was the first of what would turn out to be a long string of solo hits for the former Savage Garden frontman, the Australian star having abandoned his home nation to set up shop permanently in the UK by this point. Insatiable turned out to be the biggest of his solo years, his only single to make the Top 10 with successive releases never making it past the Top 20. Part of the problem was I think that Hayes was very much an acquired taste as a solo artist. Hearing Insatiable again only serves to hammer home the reason why, his high pitched vocals manage to irritate just as much as they appealed. Somehow whilst these silky smooth tones worked for the hushed whisper required to deliver Savage Garden classics such as I Want You, on his solo work his little girl voice just came across as risible. Due to that, Insatiable is a horrible, painful record to listen to and features towards the end a key change that is so clunky and so out of nowhere it is hard to believe the producer of the track (no less a figure than Walter Afanasieff you will note) let it out of the studio in that state.
I think this record coloured my view of Hayes’ solo career for the next five years as I could never bring myself to say anything too constructive about the records, dismissing them mostly as lightweight pieces of fluff that were destined for short chart lives – as indeed they all were. This was a continual source of distress to his die-hard fans who would bombard me with angst-ridden emails about what a hero and what a towering talent he was. I just never really got him, and Insatiable is a perfect reminder of why.
When we talked about the Will Young single lower down the chart, it was interesting to note the views of one commentator who pointed out that Evergreen was in fact “the song that Gareth Gates was supposed to sing”. Gates you see was actually the anointed one throughout the climax of the original Pop Idol, the contestant who was supposed to walk away with the prize at the end.
Gates’ appeal was obvious from the outset, a cherub-faced former choirboy stricken with a chronic stutter that meant he could barely even tell the judging panel his own name at his first audition. Give him a song to sing however and he was pitch-perfect – effectively Pop Idol’s first-ever sob story and one which propelled him almost by default to the final and what was presumed at the time to be his triumphant claiming of the crown. More than any other contestant on the show, he was a true teen Pop Idol in waiting. Even after his shock defeat at the hands of WIll Young, it was inevitable that Gates would be signed up for a singing career in fairly short order. His first single was a track that a tyro Simon Cowell boldly predicted would sell him a million copies if he were ever to release it - Unchained Melody.
No matter that the song had already been Number One twice in the 1990s, the second time at the hands of Robson and Jerome and with the guiding hand of one S.Cowell behind it. Unchained Melody was released just three weeks after the Will Young single with Gates neatly replacing his rival at the top of the charts. When the final sales tallies for the year were added up, Will Young was at Number One and Gareth Gates was at Number 2, both singles selling well over a million copies and more than double poor Enrique Iglesias in third place. Indeed Will’s single is to this day the 12th biggest selling single of all time in this country whilst Gareth Gates at the time was Number 38 on the all-time list.
History would ultimately record that Will Young was the rightful winner, his chart career last far longer than that of Gareth Gates whose appeal proved all too fleeting. Then again maybe Will Young was a proper singing star – Gates really was little more than the titular Pop Idol who bankability lasted only as long as his need for an acne wash.
A word finally on Unchained Melody, as with this rendition it set two important benchmarks of its own – charting in more different versions than any other song ever, and to date the only song in chart history to have been taken to to the top of the charts by four different acts. [A comment that has now dated as two more have subsequently done so].
18: Bellefire – All I Want Is You
Louis Walsh may have been the undisputed king of Irish boy bands at the turn of the century, but let’s be honest he stunk the place out when it came to replicating that success with females. Bellefire weren’t originally intended to be an all-girl group but the story is they came out when all the prospective male auditionees for a proposed mixed-sex group turned out to be duds, so Walsh and his backers went with the girls instead. Bellefire’s first hit single was the dreamy Perfect Bliss which staggered to Number 18 in July 2001 but it took over nine months for their second to appear. Attempting to go for a tap-in hit, the girls were handed the song that U2 had taken to the Top 10 thirteen years earlier, the track originally appearing on the Rattle And Hum album. It wasn’t that the Bellefire version was a bad record, far from it, but it was clear that whilst the notion of sappy balladry sung by good looking boys was a winning formula for the likes of Boyzone and Westlife, people had little reason to care about the work of fresh-faced Irish maidens – at least not outside their native country where their single were far more successful. The supposedly guaranteed hit entered the charts here and fell away quickly before anyone had really noticed it was around. It would be two years before Bellefire reappeared on the charts, reduced now to a trio after having been touted around any label that would have them.
Oddly they are so little remembered that the only tracks of theirs available for streaming are those which featured on their debut single. Hence we’re raiding YouTube for the only opportunity to hear them in action.
A single that marked the very peak of Missy Elliott’s powers as a chart force, one which kicked off a run of four straight Top 10 singles that she has so far yet to better in her long and respected chart career. The third single to be lifted from her 2001 album Miss E… So Addictive, the track was co-penned by a certain Tim Moseley who at that time was busy trying to persuade people to call him “Timbaland” in a change of image that was to work wonders in the years to come. 4 My People features a guest vocal from Eve in what was surprisingly the only time the two women collaborated on a hit record.
Every time Mary J Blige releases a record I am forced to note that for all her long career and critically acclaimed work, most people would be hard-pressed to name one of her songs, let along sing along to one. No More Drama gave her an all too rare Top 10 hit when it made Number 9 in early May 2002 and was the title track from her fifth album which had been released the previous summer. The track is based around a sample from Nadia’s Theme, a reference which would be lost on most British listeners but which is famous Stateside as the theme to the TV soap “The Young And The Restless”, a fact which is directly referenced in the lyrics of the song. The song’s most recent mainstream use came towards the end of 2008 when Rachel Hylton performed it on an X Factor results show in what turned out to be a successful attempt to avoid elimination. I noted at the time that although a powerful song that had been a Top 10 hit, most people would struggle to even place it.
Their name makes them sound like they should be another Belgian trance act, but Hundred Reasons were (and I guess indeed still are despite a lack of recorded material in the past few years) a British alternative rock act from Surrey. Silver was their third Top 40 hit single and heralded the release of their debut album Ideas Above Our Station which came out a couple of weeks later. Fate would ensure it turned out to be their biggest, progressing no further than this Number 15 entry point. Not a bad track by any means, but a reflection of its enduring appeal is the fact that hearing it whilst playing the tape to write this piece was the first time I’d heard it since it made the charts.
Dance trio X Press 2 had been making and releasing records since the early 1990s with little to show for it in terms of crossover mainstream success, that was until they recruited Talking Heads frontman David Byrne to provide the laconic lead vocals on the chilled-out house track Lazy. One of the biggest dance hits of the year, the track soared to Number 2 instantly upon release in late April and to this day is something of a classic of its kind. The single is nothing less than a mini-masterpiece, essentially a Talking Heads track with a house piano added, Byrne’s narrative delivery allowed the space to breathe and giving him the highest-charting single of his own career – a full 17 years since he was previously a Top 10 artist with Road To Nowhere.
An early contender for an Ibiza floor-filler, At Night was the work of two Swiss brothers Stephane and Sebastien Kohler who branded themselves Shakedown for a string of singles releases during the mid-2000s. You may not quite be able to place the single from the title (I know I couldn’t), but even the first few bars should bring memories of that particular summer flooding back – this single really was that ubiquitous.
Something of a bittersweet release for Aaliyah, this her second posthumous release following her tragic death at the end of 2001. Indeed it was whilst filming the video for Rock The Boat that was involved in the plane crash that was to end her life at the tragically young age of 22 and hence it was at times awkward to watch the clip without being reminded that the woman in it had literally just hours to live while it was being filmed. At the time of her death the track More Than A Woman was the one prepped for release and it was that track which had the honour of hitting Number One in her memory at the start of 2002. Truth be told it was actually the better track of the two and a far better choice to have her mark her place in chart history. Rock The Boat is a laid back but ultimately rather plodding R&B ballad which gently peaked here as a new entry at Number 12.
Well, you could hardly pick a better single to pause the countdown on could you? Surely this needs no introduction, the single that launched Colombian singer Shakira onto the English speaking world, one of the most diverting, appealing and downright enjoyable singles she would ever release and an opening gambit she herself would confess took a lot of living up to. Featuring the now infamous line about her small and humble breasts and a video which at the time I described as containing “more raw sexuality than is surely legal to broadcast on daytime MTV” (I told you I watched all my music down the gym at that time didn’t I), the single was a smash hit worldwide and did the business in this country too, peaking at Number 2 in early March. The single would ultimately sell over half a million copies and wind up as the seventh biggest seller of 2002, beating any number of Number One hits in the process. Fire up Spotify and revel in the company of a genuine pop classic.