And 1994 here:
- Twist and Shout – Chaka Demus and Pliers – 2 weeks, January 2nd to January 15th
Twist and Shout is one of those songs that almost everybody knows; though originally performed by The Top Notes it got blasted into the public consciousness when the Fab Four recorded a version for their debut album Please Please Me. The Beatles really did make that song their own so much that it made it hard to top their rendition, especially after its continued immersion in popular culture thanks to an appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But of course the right people for the job to surpass the Fab Four would be a reggae duo, right?
Wait, what do you mean I’m coming into this review with severe bias?
Yeah, it should be noted that I had a negative perception of this song before I listened to it due to my strong, well-documented, distaste for reggae. And my perception for this song goes downhill even further in the opening where the annoying spoken vocals drown out the slow and dull rendition of the music. Pliers doesn’t have a great deal energy with the song despite how raucous and exciting it has been in the past, with his somewhat monotonous tones making this rendition of Twist and Shout a bore to listen to. The only somewhat interesting part of the song comes from the backing vocals– and they’re not interesting in the good way, as it sounds as though dogs are barking in a very shrill and obnoxious manner. This became the sole focal point for me in this utter snoozer of a song and dragged it down even further. Speaking of dragging – this song really drags along and feels like it goes on for an eternity, though oddly enough it feels as though it fades out at a rather inappropriate time – as the song begins yet another chorus. This paradoxically make this version of Twist and Shout ridiculously overlong and yet strangely incomplete at the same time. Yeah, sorry Chaka Demus and Pliers, but you guys are not even fit to polish the boots of The Beatles.
- Things Can Only Get Better – D:Ream – 4 weeks, January 16th to February 12th
Things Can Only Get Better is a number that’s made interesting by a lot by the circumstances that went on around it. It initially flopped on the charts, coming in a lowly number 24. Then it got remixed to give it a much poppier flair and it managed to strike the top spot. Many people probably know it best as being the theme tune to Tony Blair’s ridiculously successful Prime Minister campaign. All of these factors are far more exciting than the song itself though.
It’s understandable why this song got popular – and why Blair used it for his campaign. Things Can Only Get Better has a very uplifting and inspiring feel to it and tries to be grand with its sweeping piano intro at the start of the song and the vocals from Peter Cunnah going for a grandiose, almost Bono-like, feel to them in an attempt to make the song an epic. And it works somewhat in the beginning, where it’s just the piano and vocals, even though Cunnah’s vocals are somewhat irritating in their hilariously exaggerated nature and the lyrics are quite silly with their almost unbridled optimism. But things go downhill once the dance beat of the song enters; the two sections of the song sound like they really don’t belong in the same song and it becomes annoying to listen to as Things Can Only Get Better just plods along a bit from there. Once again the song also has a distinct feeling of being bloated – when the song feels as though it’s coming to a natural conclusion about three minutes in as the dance beat fade out, the song just continues to crash on, with the entrance of horribly out of tune bass synthesisers being the absolute nadir of the song. This all adds up to a song that had promise to start with but squandered it with a shift into dance pop that just doesn’t work.
Also, you probably noticed a distinct lack of science jokes in this review – whilst Professor Brian Cox was famed for being in this band before his career really took off, he doesn’t appear on this song. So sorry, but I’d sooner get my research correct than resort to cheap humour – I’m not from CNN, after all.
- Without You – Mariah Carey – 4 weeks, February 13th to March 12th
Without You, originally recorded by British rock group Badfinger, has become a staple ballad over the years, mainly thanks to the cover versions of it that have been enormously successful. Neither of those cover versions are particularly good though – the version by Harry Nilsson has earnest intentions but it’s oversung and boring and emphasises how cheesy the song is lyrically and musically. It feels like a song to be regurgitated by boring “starlets” on TV talent shows like The X Factor – and that’s made even more obvious with this rendition by Mariah Carey, a woman who probably is tied with Whitney Houston as the person who have most had their songs wrecked by tryhards on these talent shows.
Mariah Carey’s version effectively feels like a glorified karaoke version of Harry Nilsson’s cover; the instrumentations are similar with the piano plodding along and the drums making a big drum entrance in a clichéd pop ballad kind of way. Mariah meanwhile like Nilsson before her has a strong tendency to oversing the lyrics and sometimes reaches the point of being incredibly strained. The main place we can see this is the chorus where her fire engine of a voice blasts the “I CAN’T LIIIIIIIIIIVVVEE” with all the subtlety of a Tommy gun – combined with the glossy production work done to her voice and it gives Without You an annoyingly overblown feel to it that feels like it’s trying to be a showcase for Mariah’s vocal range but ends up being annoying instead.
The easiest song that I can compare this to is I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston – both songs are overblown and oversung cover versions that would become the biggest hits of their respective singers in the UK (if not globally), and both would go on to be spewed out ad nauseum by talentless hacks on TV talent shows. Without You trumps I Will Always Love You for two primary reasons. Firstly there is mercifully no truck driver’s gear change to make the song even worse than it was before. And secondly Without You doesn’t ruin a more serene and beautiful song with its over the top nature – the version it’s based upon was already ridiculous and hammy. So in the battle of the divas it’s Mariah 1, Whitney 0. But that doesn’t improve Without You.
- Doop – Doop – 3 weeks, March 13th to April 2nd
A strong contender for the worst musical track to ever come out of The Netherlands, Doop (by the imaginatively titled group of the same time) takes the form of an (almost) instrumental that blends together a 1920s Charleston style instrumental with a house beat and the results are so obnoxious that it will make you despise everything that came out of the Roaring Twenties. All of the instruments are incredibly annoying, with the tune that the trumpet, saxophone and clarinet among others play being absolutely inane and repetitive, whilst the instruments all sound absurdly squeaky and rather flat. This leads to possibly the worst use of jazz instruments on a song that I can think of. And shockingly that’s not the most annoying bit of Doop; the entrance of the “vocals” at around about the one and a half minute song transforms this song into atrocious as a high pitched and obnoxious female voice chants out the titular nonsense word over and over ad nauseum until your brain is fried by just how annoying it is. These all add up to create an utter cacophony of awful music, a track that’s perhaps the worst dance song to top the charts since Jive Bunny and The Mastermixers and a track that makes the music of the twenties sound off putting. Good job.
- Everything Changes – Take That – 2 weeks, April 3rd to April 16th
Everybody knows how Robbie Williams became the breakout member of Take That upon its dissolution thanks to his infectious and charismatic attitude blending with upbeat and exciting pop songs that often displayed his energy and enthusiasm. During his time with Take That he hadn’t quite gone all the way with his compelling presence but he certainly doesn’t do too badly for himself with his biggest known song within the band. He delivers the lyrics of Everything Changes with his compelling drawl rather well and makes the song, which is overall pretty much just a standard love song in its content, a fun number to listen to and gives it a genuine feel. Musically the song’s upbeat and exciting enough with a high energy disco beat and the pounding keyboards, whilst a saxophone solo proves to be a pretty solid addition to the song. This adds up to a song that’s another fun entry into the back catalogue of Take That and gives an early hint to how well Robbie would do when he struck out on his own.
- The Most Beautiful Girl in the World – Prince – 2 weeks, April 17th to April 30th
I don’t think that there’s a more blatant case of “the only song of a musician that went to number one was far from the biggest known or best song” that we’ve seen many times before than with Prince. His only song to reach the summit in Britain wasn’t Let’s Go Crazy or When Doves Cry or Purple Rain. Or 1999 or Little Red Corvette. Or Raspberry Beret or Kiss or U Got the Look or Sign ‘o’ the Times. No, it was this song from the period where he’d changed his name to the infamous unpronounceable symbol and was generally beginning to slip off the radar in terms of success.
This obviously would be less of an issue if The Most Beautiful Girl in the World was as strong a song as those aforementioned classics, but it isn’t – it’s not bad by any means but it’s far from the most exciting song in the Purple One’s vast discography. Musically it’s decent if not a bit cheesy with the glossy sounding synthesiser that pops up many times combining with the slow drum beat. Overall though the song sounds at least OK but it’s far from the most exciting thing that Prince composed. His vocal delivery meanwhile leaves a lot to desire in this song; instead of the sultry, smooth and funky tones that he imparts on so many of his other songs he instead sings in a falsetto throughout, which gets rather grating after listening to it for a while. He goes back to his regular singing style for a bit in the last chorus for a little while but it’s too little too late, especially when he engages in some incredibly annoying high pitched squealing/scatting over the end of the chorus. Lyrically The Most Beautiful Girl in the World feels far too safe for The Artist; whilst many of his romantic songs are sexy and slightly provocative, this song comes across as a sappy serenade with very cheesy lyrics (particularly the very sugary “It's plain to see you're the reason that God made a girl”). It’s no wonder then that The Most Beautiful Girl in the World has for the most part been forgotten amongst the slew of classics that Prince made; it’s too boring and syrupy to stand out in the rest of his awesome discography.
- The Real Thing – Tony Di Bart – 1 week, May 1st to May 7th
Tony Di Bart is one of the strangest cases of a chart topper that I have ever seen. Originally a Buckinghamshire bathroom salesman he first had a go at charts success in late 1993 with his song The Real Thing. It only reached a dismal number 83 at its first go around but all of a sudden it came back with a bang when it received a remix and soon Di Bart saw himself possessing a number one single. But he never received the same success again and soon he coasted on The Real Thing’s success, being effectively a one-hit wonder. A rare example of a rags to riches story in music, all of which, you can probably guess, is much more interesting than the song itself.
The Real Thing starts out alright – it has a pretty funky bassline that combines well with the main melody and the drumbeat that makes the song rather groovy and danceable. If it were an instrumental I’d be inclined to give this song a much higher rating. But unfortunately we have the vocals to deal with and they really bring down the song. Tony’s vocals are rather weedy and ineffective, making it sound as though he was incredibly unconfident in his singing abilities and contrasting wildly with the big fat sounds of the main melody. The song seems to know his vocal deficiencies too as the music keeps on drowning him out in some very poor production work – it’s often a stretch to listen to what he’s singing for the most part. These feeble vocals drag down an otherwise pretty fun and groovy dance track and take it from strong and pounding into insincere and slightly boring singlehandedly.
- Inside – Stiltskin – 1 week, May 8th to May 14th
After creating adverts that featured tracks from artists such as T. Rex, Marvin Gaye, Bad Company, Muddy Waters and B.B. King, Levi’s Jeans must have got tired of using classic rock songs. It appears that their tactic for music in their ads for the rest of the decade was to use songs by up and coming bands and artists to propel them into chart success when it was likely that they wouldn’t have bothered the top of the charts much without the advertising assistance. And the first time where we could see this success working was with Scottish alternative rock band Stiltskin – who then proceeded to break up two years later and not resurface until 2006, where in the meantime lead singer Ray Wilson managed to bring Genesis to an end with Calling All Stations. Good work with giving bands long lasting success, Levi’s!
But all jokes aside Inside is a genuinely strong song. Grunge didn’t make a great amount of waves in Britain as it did over in the States so this may be the biggest success that a song in the grunge sort of genre has ever had over in the UK. Though Inside throws you for a bit of a loop initially with a choral beginning it soon breaks through with a thrashing guitar riff that manages to push the song up to becoming another contender for the heaviest song to top the charts. The verses have a dark aura to them that works really well with the prominent bass line, soft guitar and drums and Ray Wilson’s dark vocal delivery; he has a soft yet somewhat sinister nature to his voice and manages to go effectively from that into the harder tinged vocals that he displays in the chorus. The guitar solo from Peter Lawlor meanwhile has a wonderful feel to it, almost being psychedelic in nature and adding to the glorious atmosphere. These factors combine to make Inside an exciting and swirling hard rock tune that delivers a strong burst of energy to the limp charts and, for just a brief moment, put these boys from Scotland on top of the country.
- Come on You Reds – Manchester United F.C. – 2 weeks, May 15th to May 28th
Whilst a good number of songs concerning The Beautiful Game have made it to the top of the charts, Come on You Reds is the only example of a club side football team outright topping the charts. Sure there have been other efforts; you need only to look around to find songs like Ossie’s Dream by Tottenham Hotspur (#5) and Anfield Rap by Liverpool F.C. (#3). But the combination of The Red Devils and rock group Status Quo was clearly too infectious to resist and for two weeks the British charts were led by a football team, to the displeasure of good music lovers, not to mention Manchester City fans, the nation over.
Following the melody of Status Quo’s previous hit Burning Bridges (On and Off and On Again), Come on You Reds literally is a chant as all the players belt out the Manchester United theme at the top of their lungs with little regard for being in tune with the melody or having any form of subtlety with the material (not that the lyrics require this kind of deep insight into them). It’s somewhat infectious in the same way that songs at a football stadium are in that it makes you want to sing along with the crowd and create an inglorious harmony. But at the same time it’s also obnoxious, especially when listening to it outside a football stadium, as the footballers chant the lyrics out with such an overbearing nature that Come on You Reds quickly wears out its welcome. And… yeah, the lyrics are obviously very stupid, which probably shouldn’t be too big a surprise given what sport it’s written for. And the key change at the end feels absolutely ridiculous. This leads to a song that has some infectious spirit to it – mainly thanks to the presence of Status Quo’s upbeat melody that helps to drive the song along – but ultimately ends up being annoying over time as a result of its chanty nature and tuneless belting from the players, and you have to wonder just why it got to the top spot for two weeks when so many other club football songs failed to make it. Hopefully none of these players have even considered another stab at pop music ever in their lives.
- Love Is All Around – Wet Wet Wet – 15 weeks, May 29th to September 10th, biggest selling single of the year
Storytime: when I was seventeen years old I worked as a volunteer in a charity shop on Saturday mornings. I mainly did filing but some days I would work on the till. One day I was at the till when I suddenly heard the opening chords Love Is All Around crash out of the speakers. Then when the song ended it suddenly came on again. And again. And again. And AGAIN. By the fourth or fifth time of hearing those opening guitar chords I just wanted to go to the speakers, rip them off the wall and destroy them right in front of the customers. Eventually it ended and a co-worker, somewhat older than me, commented about how he was also glad that it was over. I responded to him “Was this what it felt like when that song was number one for fifteen bloody weeks?”
Yes, just as with (Everything I Do) I Do It for You back in 1991, Love Is All Around, a cover of the number by The Troggs, is a song that would have been tolerably bland had it just spent just a few weeks at number one but ballooned into being into a monstrosity when it started to spend more and more weeks at the summit. It can’t be a coincidence that both songs are sappy love songs aimed squarely at housewives and used as the theme songs from big blockbuster films; Love Is All Around is taken from the megasmash British comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, of course. It’s pleasing to see that Four Weddings director Richard Curtis has been happy to mock the song somewhat as seen in his later film Love Actually, where Bill Nighy’s aging rock star Billy Mack records a deliberately shit Christmas rendition to get a number one (“So if you really love Christmas, come on and let it snow”). But all the piss taking can’t erase the fact that he had a huge part to play in this song’s ridiculous and inexplicable success.
The song does genuinely start out with promise though; the opening guitar riff is grand and bombastic, giving off a rousing and epic feel. That is all immediately eliminated once the song itself starts proper though as Love Is All Around slows down to a crawl with the music being overly soft and quite boring. The grander style returns in the chorus and it’s quite welcome – until the hackneyed string arrangements burst in for a dose or two of diabetes. Marti Pellow’s voice is better than we’ve seen before, having some semblance of tunefulness to it, but he’s ultimately not a particularly interesting presence and his attempts to go bolder on the chorus fall quite flat as he just doesn’t have the charisma or power to bolster the song. And then there are the lyrics, something we can’t blame Wet Wet Wet for. From beginning to end the words of this song are complete sappy love song mush and it indicates this sappiness right away with the despairingly awful opening lines: “I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes”. Love Is All Around continues to go down these lines for the duration of its four minute runtime, showing how sickly it is in its lovey dovey sentiments all the way through.
The most depressing thing about this song? Of the three number ones that Wet Wet Wet had, this is the best one. There are some indications of excitement and Pellow is better than usual. But it’s ultimately still a sappy and boring love song that definitely did not deserve the insane chart run that it achieved.
- Saturday Night – Whigfield – 4 weeks, September 11th to October 8th
Last time we had a sappy ballad spend such an inordinate amount of time atop the UK Charts we were saved directly after by an epic rock song from a great band. This time? Not so much.
Saturday Night manages to annoy right from the opening as you’re greeted by the recurring riff of what sounds like mechanical ducks that constantly go on and on until you go mad from their presence. Whigfield herself as a vocalist also is quite an obnoxious presence on the track, with her Danish accent being quite overwhelming in its strength and delivering annoyance enunciations on certain words, which makes Saturday Night an irritant of a dance track. That becomes more obvious by the entrance of the piano after the first verse which sounds very flat as it plods along in a way that feels out of kilter with the track. It gives the song an impression of being actually quite feeble in spite of its aspirations to be a club floor filler. Overall Saturday Night is a track that fails to deliver in the levels of fun that it seems to want to achieve, instead being an inane and repetitive tune that sounds flimsier than it really ought to.
- Sure – Take That – 2 weeks, October 9th to October 22nd
With the leadoff single from their third studio album Nobody Else Take That began to experiment a little bit with their sound. Whilst their previous two albums were filled to the brim with nothing but exciting and upbeat pop dance numbers, Sure indicated a more R&B oriented direction, almost similar to American boy bands of the time. Unfortunately it’s an experiment that’s not especially successful as Sure is much weaker than the singles from Everything Changes. The R&B influences come in with the main beat which clunks along without much grace and contrasts a bit too much with the more fun and poppy image of Take That. The rest of the music also sounds oddly flat and restrained this time around as if it’s trying to go for a slower and more chilled out vibe but it just doesn’t feel right for the spirit of the band. Barlow’s vocals are decent but not his best and the rest of the group manage to provide a solid backing harmony throughout the rest of the song, even if their falsettos are a little much. And the lyrics aren’t bad but they’re not too inspired with their light innuendos as the narrator attempts to seduce a lady. Sure isn’t terrible by any means but it’s far from the best song that Take That did in the 90s and is a great step down from the strong run of number one singles that they had.
- Baby Come Back – Pato Banton with Ali and Robin Campbell – 4 weeks, October 23rd to November 19th
The presence of the Campbell brothers from UB40 gave me a negative view of this track even before I listened to the song – why does this band keep on showing up at the top of the charts in some form even when it’s been established that they’re shit? And in true UB40 style – even though they aren’t technically at the forefront of the song, instead falling behind Brummie Pato Banton in the pecking order – Baby Come Back, a cover of the song by Eddy Grant’s band The Equals, is a slow plodding reggae number that tries hard to pretend it’s exciting when in actuality it’s as dull as dishwater. Musically it tries to be an upbeat song but fails due to the somewhat muted nature of much of the instruments – it’s hard to describe but it sounds like they’re actively being drowned out by the vocals throughout most of the song. That wouldn’t be as bad an issue if the vocalists were better, but as we know from UB40’s discography that isn’t the case. Neither of the Campbell brothers are effective singers on this song whilst Banton, who appears in specially written verses, doesn’t do much to liven the mood, also sounding tired and rather irritating in this number, especially when he adds on his own stupid improvisational scats over the final chorus of the song. The worst thing about Baby Come Back though is its dragging nature – it’s nearly four minutes and feels so much longer than that thanks to the way the song keeps on plodding along, never changing in rhythm and never becoming exciting. It’s quite a good thing then that Baby Come Back is somewhat unmemorable as it never sticks in your head long enough to be terrible. Still the fact that such a bland, weakly sung and downright overlong song managed to be number 1 for a month is utterly astounding to me.
- Let Me Be Your Fantasy – Baby D – 2 weeks, November 20th to December 3rd
Baby D is another artist who had little success with the initial release of his work but later saw his fortunes rise into stratospheric levels (and chart topping success). In this instance Let Me Be Your Fantasy was initially released to a miserable number 76 position but strong success in nightclubs led to the song being given another go round by the little known Systematic Records where it promptly got to number one. It’s quite easy to see why this became such fodder for the clubs as Let Me Be Your Fantasy relies on a fairly strong melody as the backbone for a danceable track – it has a pounding drum machine line and a somewhat sparse and haunting piano line that helps the song to be upbeat and yet a bit scary at the same time in a strange way – the absence of a strong chunky bassline does pull the song down a bit though as it does make the song sound ever so slightly tinny. The vocals from Dorothy Fearon meanwhile are decent if not exceptional and help to bring the uplifting elements to this dance song. There are some annoying parts of Let Me Be Your Fantasy, particularly the air horns following the second chorus, and it is a little repetitive but as a nightclub tune it works in being energetic and having a strong danceable beat to it.
- Stay Another Day – East 17 – 5 weeks, December 4th to January 7th 1995
Thanks to its success around Christmastime, a music video with East 17 all dressed up in winter gear and the addition of Christmas bells on the track, Stay Another Day has gained a strange reputation as being a full on Christmas song, popping up on a few festive compilations here and there. It’s nothing of the sort to say the least, instead being a song allegedly inspired by the suicide of Tony Mortimer’s brother and having lyrics that pertain the theme of having a loved one leave you. Though the themes are obviously very sad and the song tries to go in that gloomy direction it doesn’t quite work, mainly because of its unfortunately treacly delivery and a fairly weak vocal performance from the group. Beginning with a glittery and plonky piano line, the group enter in a harmony that sounds annoyingly loud as they blast the lyrics into your skull, with the vibrato making the number sound even more annoying. The vocals in the verses from Mortimer meanwhile sound obnoxiously flat and surprisingly feeble despite the fact that you can hear that he’s trying – this makes any sense of tragedy that could be contained in the lyrics hollow due to his irritating delivery. Those Christmas bells I alluded to earlier just feel completely unnecessary and very out of place, feeling like a cynical attempt for the group to associate themselves with the big holiday rush. Overall Stay Another Day is a song that has noble intentions but sounds too overproduced, oversung and just flat out oversentimental to make any sort of real positive impact.
FINAL THOUGHTS – Before I took a look at the number ones of this year I had a really positive view of 1994. So many fantastic albums I knew were released in that year – Definitely Maybe by Oasis, Parklife by Blur, Ill Communication by Beastie Boys, Superunknown by Soundgarden, The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, Grace by Jeff Buckley, Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains, The Division Bell by Pink Floyd, Music for the Jilted Generation by The Prodigy – all classics in their own right. As such this made the number one singles of the year an especially bitter pill to swallow as there were next to no standouts. There were only one or two flat out awful songs, to be sure, but the vast majority of the tracks that reached the top spot this year were just so dull. Forgettable and drab, barely any of them left any sort of impact on me and thus made this year a hard one for me to write up – I can comfortably say that this is the countdown that I’ve least enjoyed doing. This isn’t the worst all around year I’ve encountered thus far – 1989 is still worse in quality of music. But at least those songs had modicum of interest in their terrible nature. 1994 was just… yawn.
Bright lights are on the horizon though – 1996 and 1997, two years I have been particularly looking forward to dissect in full (especially the latter), are coming right up soon. But first…
- BEST SONG – Inside
- WORST SONG – Doop