In the rest of the world in 2000, the News Of The World’s brainless “name and shame” campaign against paedophiles led to a man being surrounded in his house by an angry mob in Manchester, the victim of mistaken identity, ITV were being shouted at by the old ITC as their late news at 11 pm was shedding listeners like there was no tomorrow, Tiger Woods won the Open Championship with a record 19 under par at the age of 24, George W Bush announced that Dick Cheney would be his running mate for the forthcoming presidential elections, and finally a lady called Christine Gwyther was sacked as the Agriculture Secretary of the Welsh Assembly. Farmers had complained that as she was vegetarian, it was like having an Atheist selling bibles.
On to the Top 20 of the chart of July 30th 2000, and our first encounters with the world of 2-Step UK Garage. Whilst the style of music had arguably peaked as a club scene at the end of 1999, hits based on the formula were a regular feature of the singles chart during the summer of 2000. More so that any other club scene since, the UK garage style of sugary vocals and a catchy backing track loaned itself nicely to commercial hits, making for some of the most memorable club tracks of the decade.
Is this the great forgotten Steps single? Certainly, before listening back to this chart I would have had difficulty even singing a note of either of the two a-sides to this hit, despite the fact that it was as big as any of their hits during this period, flying to Number 5 the moment it was released. Pete Waterman’s creation could do little wrong at this point. When I Said Goodbye was effectively the fifth single from their second album Steptacular but just as Tragedy formed the bridge between their first and second releases at the end of 1998, so this single was paired with brand new recording Summer Of Love which would eventually find its way onto their third album Buzz later in the year. It is the latter which the Top 40 show plays and having not heard it for nine years I can report that it is actually magnificent, a lavish Eurodisco production that oozes with a vibe of warm summer nights (not dissimilar to the one I’m writing this in the middle of right now) and represents the height of Mark Topham and Karl Twigg’s songwriting powers. Forget what I said at the start, this is actually THE great forgotten Steps single and I’m happy to be the one to bring it back to your attention.
So to our first encounter with 2-step garage on this chart, thanks to the all-conquering sound of the Artful Dodger. The duo first charted at the end of 1999 with the now infamous Re-Rewind which not only gave them a career, but also helped to propel their featured singer Craig David to his own stratospheric level of stardom as well as giving comedian Leigh Francis a TV franchise thanks to a rubber mask and the words "Bo Selecta". Craig David is also in evidence on this single, the third Artful Dodger release, even though his is just a cameo role for continuity purposes and it is Robbie Craig who takes the lead vocal on the tongue in cheek rant at the frustrations of dealing with the females of the species. Of all seven Artful Dodger singles that charted between 1999 and 2001, this is possibly the most appealing and certainly one of the more enduring.
Funny story. I absolutely adored the first Savage Garden single I Want You when it was first released in 1997, although its chart career was all too brief and the group seemed to be quickly forgotten shortly afterwards. Thus it was pleasing to see them resurrect their UK career with the all-conquering Truly Madly Deeply which then prompted a re-release of not only flop single To The Moon And Back but also a remixed version of I Want You which still only made Number 12 (compared to Number 11 first time out) but which at least made me feel justice was finally served. After that, I got a bit bored with the Australian duo as musically they were rather one-trick ponies and later singles struggled to match the inspiration of their early work. Actually, Affirmation isn’t all that bad and just suffers in comparison with some of their earlier work. It would turn out to be their last Top 10 hit together, making Number 8 in July 2000. Oddly enough they retained an almost fanatical hardcore of followers who lapped up with joy the misfiring subsequent solo career of lead singer Darren Hayes. I used to get bombarded with pleas from fans to be nice about every single he released, and thus gained a sadistic pleasure from pointing out how feeble and lame most of them were. I wasn’t just being perverse for the sake of it mind, it was the truth.
From the more annoying end of the dance music scale came Dutch trio Alice Deejay who scored a smash hit straight off the bat in the summer of 1999 with the reflective euro-trance hit Better Off Alone, a Number 2 hit during what was for the time an epic 16-week chart run. Follow-up Back In My Life went Top 5 that Christmas and after a long delay this third single arrived in the summer of 2000 to give them a trio of Top 10 hits. I don’t think any of them really made enough of an impact to live too long in the memory, but at least the follow-up hits didn’t hang around long enough to get too annoying. Fun fact: their lead singer was the extraordinarily named Judith Anna Pronk.
More 2-step now and a cautionary tale on how to go from heroes to zeroes in the space of a single release. The story of Shanks & Bigfoot is really all about one record, Sweet Like Chocolate which stands proud as one of the most famous UK Garage hits ever recorded. Even before it was released in May 1999 it was one of the most sought-after, fought-over and crowd-pleasing club tracks of its era. No garage night was complete without Sweet Like Chocolate being played at least five times, and it even prompted a famous story of one London DJ being threatened with knives by a gang of teenage girls when he made the mistake of confessing he didn’t have a copy. Best of all, this wasn’t just hype as the single really was that good. From the insistent tick-tock rhythm to an exquisitely crafted production featuring strings and harps right the way through to Sharon Woolf’s sweet as the title vocals and the utterly charming animated video, everything about the record screamed perfection. When finally released commercially it was an instant and well deserved Number One.
The loss of the services of Sharon Woolf meant a new singer had to be recruited (a then-unknown Terri Walker) and this had the effect of delaying a follow-up release and a full album until well over a year later. Huge anticipation surrounded the release of Sing-A-Long but when it finally appeared it was a crashing disappointment. Attempting to recreate the charm of their first hit, the duo instead produced a twee and rather sickly track that was almost too naff to even dance to. The single stalled at Number 12, the album Swings And Roundabouts sank without trace and Shanks & Bigfoot were confined to history, albeit a history that still notes them as the creators of one of the greatest tracks of their era. Not a bad legacy overall.
Better known, for good or ill, these days for their fateful attempt to represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007, Scooch’s first run of fame came in 2000 when they were promoted as the natural chart rivals to Steps, featuring a similar lineup and a common sound in naturally bright bubbly pop. It did not escape most people’s attention that whereas Steps were the creation of Pete Waterman, their rivals had their records helmed by his one-time collaborators Mike Stock and Matt Aitken, almost as if the former partners were trying to out-do one another. Scooch did not last particularly long, parting company after their much-delayed album Four Sure sank without trace despite containing all of their hit singles. I always thought they were badly maligned as More Than I Needed To Know and The Best Is Yet To Come are easily some of the finest pure pop records you will find this side of the mid-90s. The Latin-flavoured For Sure was their final single release before their Eurovision inspired reunion and was this week reaching its eventual chart peak, despite surely deserving so much more. Serious music writers are supposed to sneer at music like this, dismissing it as mindless pap for teenagers, but I’ve never subscribed to that view and hopefully never will. For Sure is what pop music is really all about, a song that makes you want to smile, to dance, to sing along and to just feel great about the world without worrying what consequences follow in the morning. I just hate the fact that the received wisdom is that you have to be gay to appreciate this stuff without irony.
Coming back down to earth with a bump though, we have a prime example of poorly conceived boy bands of our time. Point Break languish in such obscurity they don’t even have a Wikipedia page to commemorate them [a situation that has happily changed since I wrote this], so let me refresh a few memories. Point Break were formed from a handful of Byker Grove cast members (either two or three, my own notes from the period are actually inconsistent on this point) and released five singles during 1999 and 2000. The biggest and most successful was Stand Tough which became their one and only Top 10 single in January 2000. You was their penultimate hit, the fourth to be released from their one and only album and for some reason remains instantly familiar from the very first note right down to its lighters-aloft stadium-filling chorus. How strange. By no means the worst boy band of the time of course, they were chart contemporaries with Northern Line after all.
In a way, it is kind of sad that Samantha Mumba’s career over the past few years has consisted of Z-list activities such as Dancing On Ice and that rather painful Harvey Goldsmith show which manifestly failed to resurrect her singing career in any sense of the word. Back in 2000 the Irish teenager was set for superstardom, helped not a little by this tremendous debut hit single which not only charged to Number 2 here but also crept to Number 4 in America at the end of the year as well. Even with a 100% strike rate of Top 10 smashes, the hits dried up totally at the end of 2002 leaving her to spend the rest of the decade trying out for acting roles and finding some way of making use of her undoubted talents. It would be remiss of me not to mention her one high profile role in the 2002 remake of ‘The Time Machine’ and that extraordinary chain mail outfit that meant you could hardly bear to take your eyes off her for every moment of her screen time.
It took Aaliyah’s tragic death in 2001 to elevate her from also-ran to proper superstar on these shores. Until then she was the singer with a string of middling to indifferent hits who may or may not have been hitched to R Kelly at an age when she should have still been experimenting with makeup. Her one and only major UK hit single during her lifetime was, I’m happy to report, one of the best. Try Again was created for the soundtrack of the film ‘Romeo Must Die’ in which she also starred and is an outstanding example of Timbaland’s early work, an eerie yet naggingly catchy R&B track sung by Aaliyah in a dark, husky tone that draws you in compellingly. Mention must also be made of the “It’s been a long time/I shouldn’t have left you/Without a dope beat to step to” rap intro which is a slightly altered quote of the opening line from Eric B and Rakim’s I Know You Got Soul as a nod to all us old school hip-hop fans. It charted at Number 5 upon release in July 2000 and until the posthumous Number One hit More Than A Woman was her one and only Top 10 hit single.
The first and most famous hit single for Finnish DJ Ville Virtanen, Sandstorm having hit Top 3 in the summer of 2000 after first surfacing as a white label at the tail end of 1999. Quite possibly the defining sound of continental clubs that summer, Sandstorm is a track that will evoke many happy memories in those who danced around mashed to it at the time. For the rest of us it is simply that record which fades out to silence about a minute in causing panic to unwitting DJs everywhere.